I started this Blog just over two years ago. One of the reasons I started it was because I had been advised to give up work. You see, after being cancer-free for 6 years, I found out that this awful disease had returned.
As travel had been my job and life for such a long time, I decided to try my hand at writing about my personal travels, past and present. This turned out to be a great decision as it has become a wonderful outlet for me. Sharing my stories, hearing your comments and sometimes or hopefully more than sometimes, even inspiring my readers to get out and go travel has given me a certain sense of satisfaction.
Another reason for the Blog was so that I could try to take a moment is this hectic lifestyle that we have all so become accustomed to, to write down my thoughts on “WHAT ACTUALLY MAKES ONE HAPPY”. Are we confused about what makes us happy, can we actually remember what makes us happy? Unfortunately, I did not get very far with these deeper thoughts…. my travel stories simply took over…..
Looking back at my Blog and reading through my initial “About me” transcript, I could not help smiling thinking back to that day when I decided to call my Blog “Hapidayz”.
2013 has certainly not all been “happy days and happy nights” as I struggled through a further 6 months of chemo, learned to administer injections to myself, had blood transfusions and the worst of all, found out what true PAIN is all about. But, these experiences have actually made it much easier to understand “ WHAT MAKES ME HAPPY”
It’s not rocket science, it’s really the simple things in life each day that make one happy.
So, with this in mind, here are:
SIX experiences that made me very HAPPY this year.
- Hearing that my son, Craig and his fiancé, Michaela were coming back to live in South Africa. He had been living overseas for nearly 10 years! What an amazing “Hapidayz” moment to have him back. And, the longer he stays, the more hapidayz I have!
- Seeing the heart- stopping beauty of the Namib Desert and watching the huge herds of game in the Etosha Game Reserve. Namibia had been on my bucket list for a long time but there always seemed to be something that came up and it would be placed on the backburner….. not this year, not even in the middle of chemo, I was determined to see that dream through – 10 unbelievable “Hapidayz” shared with hubby and our close travel buddies, Kevin and Pat. Wonderful Hapidayz memories!
- Southern France – three glorious weeks of “Hapidayz” moments….. the countryside of this area is just so relaxing to the eye and the mind, I love the formal greetings of the shop attendants and the friendliness of the people of Southern France, very different to the “normal” French. The well marked country roads – “HapiDayz” is never getting lost and we only use old fashioned maps….the beautiful boxes of geraniums and petunias and of course the markets and, don’t forget the food, especially the bread, “Oh Hapidayz” :) Now, when I am having a bad day, I can simply close my eyes and let my mind roll over all those Hapidayz and I immediately feel better.
- Being involved in assisting with a local charity – this wonderful day care school closeby to where I live and which I have become involved this past year has given me so much joy. The conundrum of life is that we all feel like we should be giving something back to society but, we also really expect something back…even if it’s joy, we still expect to get something back. I have found, with difficulty that when one gives without any selfish motives, then only does one gain the best “hapidayz moment”. It’s not easy to get your head round this, but give it a go, “Hapidayz” could be around the corner.
- Moving to a new area has given me the opportunity to make some amazing new friends. That does not mean that I will forget my old friends. One can never replace one friendship with another. A lifetime of “hapidayz” moments with friends is something to cherish and reminisce about. This saying however by Albert Schweitzer is very true: In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” That explains exactly what new friends have done for me this year.
- Last, but not least, my very close family – my husband and two amazing children. Every extra day that I have to enjoy their companionship, generosity, kindness, joy, enthusiasm, wisdom and love, those are all “Hapidayz” – I cannot imagine what life would be without my family. “Hapidayz” moments are watching my children’s relationships extending into new daughters and sons – yes, there is a wedding on the horizon – “Hapidayz are definitely here again” – perhaps even grandchildren?? Okay….we won’t get too carried away
Life is short “Do what makes you happy” but, you better make pretty sure you know what it is that makes you happy! What makes you happy?
Thursday 30 May – After a wonderful breakfast at the Lodge prepared for us by the owner’s wife who was originally from South Africa, we set out for Xai Xai. Turning off the main road to get down to the road that runs along the coast, we encountered very deep sandy conditions. This was where the fun began. Alex got stuck!
Alex is a qualified 4×4 instructor but to be fair he did have a huge heavy trailer to pull. Anyway, in the end, with the assistance of the rest of the men, they unhitched the trailer, turned it round and then Alex pulled it out from there. Needless to say, in true male tradition, he was not going to be beaten and having hitched the trailer back on he took another stab at the sand road, this time at very high speed, and made it through.
It then fell upon us to follow but fortunately, having been pre-warned, we let down our tyres, put our gears into proper 4×4 mode and all made it through, although it was quite scary doing it.
Our efforts were rewarded with the most magnificent drive along the beach road with breathtaking views of the reef and the sea. This area was obviously popular as a holiday destination as there were lovely private homes along the way.
We eventually came to a hotel on the beach where we decided to try and get some famous Mozambique prawns for lunch. Sadly this was not to be but they did eventually produce an amazing crayfish lunch – I was amazed to get 3 crayfish for R200!
Thoroughly satisfied after that feast we motored on to our last stop of the tour – Casa Lisa Lodge just north of Maputo. Once again we upgraded to a cottage with en-suite bathroom and hot showers and Alex, seeming to have now got tired of cooking, organised another lovely meal in the lodge restaurant.
Friday 31 May – this is it – it is over, however not without some last-minute glitches. We woke up early in the dark with no electricity. However, nothing was going to stop me having that hot shower, even if it was in candlelight! Could have been quite romantic but after what my husband had put me through over the last 5 weeks I’m afraid romance was definitely not in the air.
We left very early as we had to drive through the city of Maputo to get to the final border crossing which was really hectic. The traffic was dreadful and it took us some time but eventually we were there and crossing over back into CIVILISATION. Once we were through the border we travelled on to Melalane where we stopped for a final Wimpy breakfast and our goodbyes. I got down on my hands and knees and kissed the ground – I have never been more pleased to get back to South Africa. After our goodbyes we set off for Bosau Guest House B & B in Pretoria which is where we had started from all those weeks ago.
After a wonderful welcome from Willie, we dashed out to buy some proper doughnuts from Woolworths but sadly they were out of stock. Having had such little success in getting prawns in Mozambique we were now dying for them and fortunately managed to find a magnificent restaurant up the road called The Famous Fish Hoek Co. There, we pigged out on the most magnificent tiger prawns I have ever seen and I really think I deserved every last morsel!
Saturday 1 June – After a wonderful breakfast and fond farewells to Willie and his wife, we set off on our way to Cape Town via Colesberg. The weather immediately started getting cooler which was a sure sign we were heading south. We hadn’t made a booking in Colesberg thinking there wouldn’t be a problem as we usually stay at Die Kleipot B & B but when I phoned them they were full. Fortunately they referred us to an amazing place called the Herb Garden Guest House which turned out to be absolutely wonderful.
Our room had everything in it you could possibly need and a wonderful brass bed to complete it. Marius, the owner, recommended we eat at Die Plattelander restaurant in the village and it definitely did not disappoint. The weather by now was freezing cold and we returned to our cosy room at the Herb Garden, switched on the electric blanket and crept into bed for the last night of our journey.
Sunday 2 June – Our last early start with a promise to stop on the way for breakfast. At Richmond we stopped for petrol and were greeted with a temperature outside the car of 5°C – I thought I was going to die! At Beaufort West we stopped for our famous last Wimpy breakfast, then travelled on to Cape Town, marvelling at the snow covered mountains – I thought we had made a wrong turn and ended up in Switzerland. At 3.30pm we arrived at our daughter’s home to be greeted by our much loved grandchildren – oh how I had missed them. What a wonderful reunion that was!
After 13 322Km, mostly on my coccyx, our journey was finally over. The End
Well, I know I have loved Marion’s account of their amazing adventure - seeing the Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater is definitely on my bucket list and it must hopefully coincide with the Wildebeest migration. Will I will do it camping? well… not so sure about that but, there is always more than one way to skin a cat, so I may just have to save a little harder so that I can have a little more luxury :)
So, who has added this trip to their bucket list? And, don’t forget, don’t wait until its a special occasion or you retire or your best friends can make it, JUST DO IT!!!
Sunday 26 May – 5 days to go. Another scenic drive, stopping at curio stalls along the way. Alex bought 40Kg of local rice from the side of the road as some of his previous guests who had enjoyed it on their trip had asked him to get it for them. We tried it that evening – it was quite tasty but sticky, rather like sushi rice.
Spent the night at Steps campsite at Salima on Senga Bay. This was a disaster. The campsite seemed OK, grassed and on the beach but as it was a public site it had been taken over by a crowd of about 50 people who were celebrating someone’s birthday. They had hired a DJ and were drinking copiously from the local bar and the music was deafening. We tried to brave it out but at 10pm Mark, who is one of the partners who would rather have been on a cruise, stormed off to the local hotel to seek accommodation. Sadly he returned saying the price was so exorbitant we were just going to have to bite the bullet. Fortunately, after Mark’s wife, Penni, had plucked up the courage to speak to the party-goers, they did finally turn the music down so we could get some sleep. Due to the fact that the ablutions had been used by the party-goers as well as the campers, I don’t want to tell you what they looked like and also with no hot water. I decided to skip trying to wash at all and keep my fingers crossed that the next campsite would be better, little did I know!
Monday 27 May – After a hasty breakfast and pack-away due to many marauding baboons just waiting for the pickings, we set off for a very long day’s drive to our next camp site. Alex told us along the way that Malawi is actually the poorest country in Africa and survives on 60% donations, a little uranium, rubber and tea. The roads were really bad again and I began to imagine just how much the service on our car was going to cost when we finally returned home. Fortunately Toyotas are renowned for being the best 4x4s in Africa so we were fairly confident ours wouldn’t let us down.
We then crossed over the border into Mozambique. This border crossing was quite difficult as they insisted all British passport holders pay $86 each for a visa. When we questioned it we were told that as the British charge them for visas when they visit the UK, they were “returning the favour”. The paperwork was endless but we were eventually on our way and crossed over a beautiful bridge spanning the Zambezi River at Tete.
It was here that Alex gently broke the news to us that we were really going to experience the bush that night by staying in a “Bush Camp” under a baobab tree with absolutely no ablution facilities at all. Funnily enough, we took the news quite well as we envisioned a deserted glade in a baobab forest which sounded quite romantic. Hm.
Because of the length of our drive that day along the most dreadful rutted roads with large trucks bearing down upon us, we arrived at the “campsite” late afternoon and couldn’t believe our eyes. The site was actually the sandy football pitch of an African school just metres from the main road. The noise of the trucks rattling past through the copious holes in the road was deafening.
We were instructed to form a laager under the baobab tree and were soon surrounded by hundreds of wide-eyed little black faces peering through the openings between the cars. John was all for baling out but having calmed him down and pointed out that there was nowhere else for us to go; we eventually all set up camp much to the amusement of the young spectators.
Their interest was heightened when Mark decided to get out his radio-controlled little helicopter with a camera attached to the underneath which he had wanted to use to get aerial pics of the migration, but as he had never really mastered how it worked he was too nervous to do this for fear of losing the thing altogether.
The children thought this was definitely from outer space and scattered in all directions when it eventually came down to land. We were then visited by the teacher in charge of the school and Penni handed her a big parcel with notebooks and pens for the children for which they was extremely grateful. Alex had organised a couple of askaris (security guards) to watch over us that night so we went to bed feeling that all our belongings would have a good chance of still being there in the morning.
It was here that my husband actually apologised to me for everything he had put me through and I took the opportunity of extricating a promise from him that our next bucket list trip would be with the compliments of the Cunard Line!
Tuesday 28 May – Another long day’s drive but at least the roads were getting better, especially on the EN102. Temperature also cooling down the further south we went. Stopped at Shoprite Checkers in Chimoio for supplies and petrol. Took 20 minutes to process my credit card in the shop so was late back to the cars for lunch which I nearly missed altogether. Arrived at Seta campsite at Inhassoro at 5pm www.inhassoro.org. This was by the sea and had quite nice ablution blocks but, yet again, no hot water but after several days of no showers I just had to grin and bear it. The campsite did have cottages but they were very expensive so we didn’t upgrade. As the “finish line” was now in sight we could put up with anything.
Wednesday 29 May – The campsite was right on the sea and as always we were up very early. The sunrises were something to behold – they were almost like a religious experience. It was usually the women who were up taking pics of these as the men were still sleeping off the effects of any alcoholic intake from the night before.
I was now into panic mode that I hadn’t bought any gifts for the grandchildren so purchased a rather cute handmade wooden 4×4 with trailer for Zac and a little sarong for Zuri. Drove via Vilankulo to visit the Baobab Beach Resort where Penni’s son worked for a while. Seemed quite a hippy village but not really my cup of tea.
Then on to Inhambane to stay at Quinta Santo Antonio Lodge which is listed on Facebook.
Again upgraded to a room with en-suite and even an electric kettle. Almost forgot how to use it! Nearly back to civilisation! The owner made us a lovely seafood supper, I think Alex was really tired of cooking now, and introduced us to her pet goat that was curled up in the dining room! Sadly there were no huge Mozambique prawns on offer but it was still very tasty.
Next up – Stuck in the sand, crayfish lunch and at last, South Africa
Sunday 19 May – After a light breakfast we left for Dar es Salaam via Bagamoya. At Dar es Salaam we queued for the ferry to take us across to our campsite on the sea. John and Lina were stopped from boarding the ferry as they had their gas bottles on the roof of the car and were deemed a danger to board the ferry. Fortunately my John, who is fluent in Swahili, managed to negotiate a deal with the security officers that the gas bottles could be taken across the river on a small boat instead – his Swahili certainly got us out of a lot of scrapes.
We arrived at Mikadi Beach Lodge late afternoon and for once I was quite happy to pitch our tent as we had a site right on the beach and right next to a wonderful swimming pool.
We were there for three nights while two of our party paid a short visit to Zanzibar. The main dining/bar area was delightful with comfortable seating areas.
This was truly 3 days of relaxing, swimming and generally chilling out.
Flushing toilets with toilet paper provided was a luxury we hadn‘t experienced since we left Pretoria. The showers were open air, big, with hot water although the water was salt – you can’t have everything I suppose. We were now bothered by sand fleas as the campsite was made of beach sand, but liberal applications of insect repellent and spending a lot of time in the swimming pool sorted them out.
Spent the evening with a young German girl called Manuella who was one of the many wide-eyed youngsters from overseas who was in Africa hoping to change the world as we know it. Fluent in Swahili, she was on contract to spend her time living in remote African villages hoping to civilize them, but I have a sneaking suspicion she has found out that their life is much easier and simpler than hers and she was very sad to be going home to Germany for a while as her contract had run out.
Monday 20 May – Got laundry done by the lodge – felt I was in 5-star accommodation. It was so hot that I even managed to get my husband into the swimming pool. He had had no intention of swimming on this trip so hadn’t bought his swimming shorts so I persuaded him to swim in his sleep shorts with underpants underneath to cover his unmentionables.
Tuesday 21 May – Another day at leisure – what a treat. John took a tuk tuk into the local village to buy cool drinks – quite an experience. The other passengers looked very squashed!
That evening John and Lina returned from Zanzibar and were very relieved to be greeted with a package containing a new radiator for their Isuzu car which Alex had arranged to be flown up from South Africa. Can you imagine trying to organise that if you were travelling on your own in a strange country? It was one of many times when we realised the advantage we had of having Alex with us.
It also brought home to us how much of an advantage you have if you are travelling in a Toyota. Spares would have been very easy to obtain in Dar es Salaam as the majority of vehicles in most African countries are Toyotas. That evening the Lodge put on a big seafood spread for us compliments of Alex. We were really starting to settle into this life but it was all over the next day, very sad.
Wednesday 22 May – Decamped and headed for the ferry on our way to Iringa to stay at Old Farm again. There were lots of delays getting across on the ferry and then a nightmare ride through Dar es Salaam as we lost our leader, Alex, and had to rely on our Garmins which was pretty dicey as they had detours for roadworks in the city so not even Garmin could really get us out of trouble. Anyway, trusting our instincts we finally all found ourselves on the right road out of Dar much to everyone’s relief. Again stayed in rooms at the Old Farm Lodge – really starting to feel spoilt now. They had prepared a wonderful organic supper for us – spinach soup, beef and vegies and chocolate mousse which was served to us in our private boma.
Thursday 23 May – Set out for Malawi today via Mbeya. Great agricultural industry – every square inch cultivated, potatoes, bananas, mealies and closer to border, tea. Still many overturned trucks on the road. Through the border post where they have a huge parking lot full of impounded cars, trucks, buses and even a fancy speedboat. Thank goodness we had the right paperwork!
On into Malawi where we saw many rice fields and cassava. There were scenic fishing villages on the shores of Lake Malawi although there is not much fish left in the lake except for a few capenta.
Arrived at Chitemba Lodge which was situated right on the shores of Lake Malawi. Again Alex took pity on us and we upgraded to a quaint beach cottage with an en-suite bathroom.
Very basic and only had a cold shower but at this stage we were grateful for small mercies even when I had to share the shower with a rather revolting cockroach! It had a lovely main lodge with bar and restaurant but we ate at the campsite with Alex.
The sunset was amazing and then the full moon on the water gave us plenty of scope for photography. A big plus was a mosquito net over the bed – for the first time the little buggers couldn’t get at me!!
Friday 24 May – Decided to stay an extra night at Chitemba and got some washing done which was all dry by 11am as the weather was so hot.
Just chilled today and visited the local curio shops with their fine Malawian carved wares. Very tempted to buy stuff but at our age are very aware that we don’t need any more stuff in our house! After a chicken braai that night we went onto the beach to sit around a huge log fire before going to bed.
Saturday 25 May – Left Chitemba and drove along the coast and then up a small scenic mountain pass. The mountain was made mostly of coal but difficult to mine as the mountain was found to be unstable and would cost too much to fix first. The locals do a bit of mining for themselves.
On to a rubber plantation – Alex showed us how latex is collected from trees. Looked at more curio shops but, like every country you visit, seen one, seen them all.
Arrived at Chintheche Lodge, late afternoon. Now this was more like it. Lovely main lodge on the beach with big screen TV for watching the rugby and a lovely grassed campsite and ablutions with large HOT showers, flushing toilets and handbasins with plugs – luxury.
Even had electricity at the sites so immediate charging of cameras and lights was the first order of the day. The beach was really beautiful with wonderful white sand – one could almost imagine being in the Caribbean.
Next up – Mozambique, no ablutions and finishing line in sight…
Monday 13 May – This was the day Alex told us we would really see the Migration, but I could not have imagined how spectacular this would be.
We had been travelling for about half an hour and in the distance there seemed to be a thin black line on the horizon spreading for about 180 degrees.
As we got closer, the line got thicker and thicker.
Eventually, we were surrounded by a herd of about 750 000 wildebeest interspersed with zebra. It was just impossible to reproduce this on film, so eventually we just sat back and enjoyed and listened to the grunting noises they made.
We did go on to see a fancy game lodge called Ndutu Safari Lodge but at $242 a night we decided our tent wasn’t so bad. However, it was nice to sit in their lounge for a while in a proper chair! Considered doing a balloon safari but it was explained to us that the balloon just has to go where the wind takes it so there is no guarantee that you would float over the migration. Needless to say we shelved that idea. We were also not able to do the flight over the migration as you need 13 people in the party and there were only 8 of us.
Tuesday 14 May – Another game drive with plenty of animals, but the leopard was elusive.
I did see my first sausage tree – fascinating.
John and Lina’s car broke down and Alex had to tow it back to camp. Was quite scary because there is no one nearby to assist but fortunately John and Alex managed to fix the radiator enough to last until we got back to civilisation. It’s amazing what you can do when you have to.
Washed all the bedding by hand today in cold water – my char would have been proud of me. Fortunately it dried very quickly and the “ironing” was actually me just smoothing it all out with my hands before I put it back on the beds!
More 4×4-ing in water-filled dongas today – our front number plate found a watery grave there. An overlander with 18 people arrived to spend two nights at the camp – sharing 2 toilets, 2 showers and 1 basin was an interesting experience! That night we had a bit of excitement as in the night a hyena stole Penni’s washbasin from right outside her tent. She was crazy enough to run after it but to no avail.
Wednesday 15 May – Experienced my first breakfast of pap. It actually wasn’t too bad as long as there was plenty of sugar and butter in it. Starting to become a real South African! Set off for another game drive via “poo corner”. This was the nickname we had given to the local information centre a couple of kilometres away which had proper flushing toilets. We always tried to pass there at least once a day as no one could face the stand-up toilets.
This time we went on our own for the game drive as we had been given coordinates by Alex on our previous drives of various locations along the route so, theoretically, we couldn’t get lost. Pretty scary stuff but we did all manage to get back in one piece.
Saw the wildebeest again and a lone hyena circling the herd hoping for a weak or injured calf to prey on.
Also saw elephant, bat-eared foxes, silver-backed jackals, lion and giraffe. This was our last night at the Serengeti camp site.
Thursday 16 May – Decamped and set off via a different route for the Ngorongora crater. Very scenic route passing Masai villages, beautiful flowers and vast herds of zebra.
Arrived at Simba A campsite on the rim of the crater late afternoon. This is the nearest you can get to camping in the crater.
We were extremely excited to find hot showers, flushing toilets and electricity – what a treat after roughing it for 6 nights! Although a nice grassed campsite with magnificent views of the crater, the downside was that it gets freezing cold at night – I slept with my clothes on – and you need security guards for your belongings as some of the locals (Masai) have been known to help themselves! Didn’t get much sleep that night due to the cold so was quite relieved to have an early start the next day.
Friday 17 May – 14 days to go! Drove down into the crater – it is half a kilometre deep – for a game drive. Saw flamingos wildebeest, lion, rhino, elephant, zebra, buck and hyena as well as various birds. Alex told us that because of the high levels of calcium in the volcanic dust there, the elephant’s tusks grow 5cm a year instead of the usual 2cm.
We stopped at a hippo pool for a picnic and then did a tour of the rim of the crater back to the campsite where we decamped and travelled back to Kudu Lodge again. After our really uncomfortable night at the Crater Alex thought we needed a bit of luxury so we upgraded to the lodge with rooms that had an en-suite bathroom. We were so excited we were like children on Christmas morning! I spent ages in the shower washing everything that needed to be washed, including my hair, and even painted my toenails – just wanted to feel human again. Unfortunately, I only discovered afterwards that our room’s hot water cylinder also fed the three other rooms so I took all the hot water! I was not very popular with the rest of the party!
Saturday 18 May – Set off for Kerato where Alex had told us was the best place to buy curios etc. Bought a wonderful Masai painting and hand-made toys for the grandchildren.
Also found a roadside store selling doughnuts so the doughnut-eating competition was on again. Passed Mount Meru which is 1000m less than Kilimanjaro in height. It is also a volcano. Passed the usual mealie fields, rice paddy fields and sisal.
That night we stayed at Tembo campsite which had a big sign up that it had been renovated – goodness knows what it had looked like before!! Again Alex took pity on us and we upgraded to one of the big houses which had 4 bedrooms. It was extremely basic having been a private house on the estate which was once a chipboard factory many years ago. I think the whole place was going to be renovated but they hadn’t got very far – the swimming pool was just a hole in the ground. We did have hot water but no electricity but that we were now very used to. There were even cockroaches in the rooms. However, it was just nice not to have to pitch the tent!!
Up Next – Chilling on the beach and upgrades in Malawi
Friday 10 May – Today we set off for the Ngorongora Crater – what an amazing site. It was originally a volcano which erupted 3 million years ago leaving a huge crater. This is now the home of many animals and also the Masai cattle and kraals which are situated on the rim. We rode all the way around the rim of the crater and then down the other side on to the Serengeti with the corrugated roads getting steadily worse as we went. I was amazed that things didn’t start falling off our cars but I suppose 4x4s are made for this type of thing. I wished my body was!
Our first sighting of the wildebeest was actually before the Serengeti entrance when, what we thought at the time was a huge herd of wildebeest and zebra galloped across the road in front of us causing clouds of dust as they went. It was very exciting to watch, but, this was only the beginning…
After going through the official gate we made our way to our campsite, seeing more wildebeest, elephant, hippo, cheetah and zebra along the way. Eventually we arrived at Ngiri (meaning warthog) campsite where we would be for six nights – what a treat, or so I thought at the time.
As we arrived it started to rain a little so Alex suggested we all take a game drive and wait for the rain to pass. After an hour we returned and, guess what, the heavens opened. So there we sat, in our four cars, and waited …. And waited …. And waited. Eventually Alex opened up his huge bat wing canopy on his car and set up his kitchen underneath for supper. None of the rest of us had that luxury so the other two cars decided to brave the elements and erect their tents in the pouring rain – how daft was that.
John and I just sat cosy and warm in our car and watched the antics. Eventually everyone and everything was soaked …. Except us. Finally supper was ready and we donned our raincoats and set up our table and chairs under Alex’s canopy. The others sat there dripping wet. After supper they all asked us what we were going to do. That was easy. We have flown to London more times than we can remember and are adept at sitting upright to sleep – and that is what we did. Cosy and warm in our car, and I must say quite comfortable, listening to the night sounds of hyenas and jackals.
Saturday 11 May – Awoke early to nice sunny day. Everyone else was waterlogged as they had all chosen the wrong places to put their tents. We meanwhile could now see where it was better to camp and had our tent up in a jiffy – for once we had done something right. OK, we did feel as if we had just got off flight BA O58 from London but at least we were dry and were staying put for six nights.
Our delight was short-lived when we investigated the ablution block.
2 Eastern toilets (the ones with just footpads), 2 cold showers, one without even a proper spray nozzle and one basin without a plug and with a big hole in it.
It was bad enough sharing these facilities with the 8 of us but when a safari bus stayed for a couple of nights with 18 people on it – you just don’t want to go there!! Anyway, by this stage we had learned to make the best of it and after erecting washing lines and hand washing a pile of laundry in cold water, we sat down to a hearty “Alex” breakfast before setting out on a first proper game drive.
Before we left, our “baboon monitor” arrived. This was a local who Alex had organised to look after our campsite while we were away and chase away any baboons or any other animals who might feel the need to make off with our laundry or anything else which wasn’t tied down.
Once on the game drive we came across some lionesses in a tree right next to the road and also the most darling cub – what a treat. After seeing quite a few other animals we returned to the camp to find our washing was already dry as the weather was now very warm.
I decided to brave a cold shower which I had now got down to a fine art. Stand in the shower cubicle in a washing up bowl full of cold water. Using a facecloth, I washed down as far as possible, then washed up as far as possible …….. then I washed possible!! :) No pics of Marion unfortunately…. but others were not so fortunate
That afternoon we went out again and encountered some extremely deep water-filled dongas, so the men were happy doing their 4×4 thing. After T-bone steaks for supper we retired to our tents and listened to lions, jackals and hyena for most of the night – quite something.
Sunday 12 May – Mother’s Day. Got quite homesick missing my family. On our game drive this morning we saw 2 cheetahs sitting on a rock eyeing up an impala heard nearby. Although we sat for an hour and eventually the cheetahs did suddenly break cover and chase them, the impala managed to outrun them and somehow I was quite pleased. I’m not one of those people who likes to witness that.
We then went on to the hippo pools which was quite a sight. There were nearly 100 hippos wallowing around. I’ve never seen so many in one place before. The down side was that the place was full of flies so you didn’t know whether to swat the flies or take pics. The upside was that there was a “normal” loo at this site which we all lost no time in making use of!!
After a morning of game viewing we returned to camp for an afternoon “at leisure” and a celebration roast lamb for all the “mothers”.
All went well until I got into bed that night only to find I was sharing my bed with a praying mantis – my shrieks must have scared the wild animals to death!
Up next – The Wildebeest Migration for REAL – spectacular!
Saturday 4 May – After a night of dealing with my itchy bites I was up early to have my last luxurious bath in the hot springs. Many nights after this I would look back longingly at this time as hot showers were not in abundance further into the trip.
We then set off along the 32Km of dirt road back to the main road. I say “main road” with tongue in cheek as, the further north we went, the worse the roads became. It was then that we realised that this trip could not be taken on by anyone who did not own a very sturdy 4×4. That afternoon we arrived at Kalungu for our last night’s stay in Zambia at the King’s Highway Rest Camp.
This was run by a group of Christians who had devoted their lives to educating the natives of the region to assist them in becoming self-sufficient and improving them intellectually. The greeting we received from these very kind people was warm and sincere but I must say the warnings they put out concerning snakes, scorpions and cerebral malaria-carrying mosquitoes encouraged us to put up our tents very quickly and douse ourselves and our tents with all manner of anti-bug sprays and creams. Sadly, I seem to be a very tasty morsel, unlike my husband who seemed to get away with very little bites.
Sunday 5 May – Very early start today – up at 5am and packed away in 15 minutes. Couldn’t wait to get away from the mosquitoes!! After light breakfast we were on the road by 6am on our way to the border post into Tanzania via the most horrendous roads full of potholes.
Took 4 hours to get through the border post – passport control, carnet for the car, car insurance. Fortunately Alex’s “runner” was on hand to assist us through all these stages and often arrange for us to get ahead of the very long queues of people waiting to be seen. He then exchanged money for us into Tanzanian shillings and we were then on our way to Kisolanza, 51Km south west of Iringa.
The scenery seemed to change as soon as we got over the Tanzania border and the landscape was far more hilly and scenic. At 5pm we arrived at The Old Farm House, on the Dar es Salaam Mbeya Road. It was there that Alex advised us that it wouldn’t cost very much to upgrade for the night to a chalet which we heartily agreed to after our bug-infested camping of the night before – it was paradise!!
Old Farm is a working farm with cattle, sheep, vegetables, tobacco and flowers. Everything is organic and beautifully prepared in their restaurant. Alex cooked us ribs that night and we were able to sit in a lovely thatched boma for our meal.
Although our ablution block toilets were long drops, they were scrupulously clean and the showers, although again fed by a “donkey boiler” were hot. The property was owned by a super lady called Nicky who was brought up in Kenya and inherited the farm from her family. She is extremely involved in the farm and is also on the local council. Old Farm was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.
Monday 6 May – A late departure which allowed us to enjoy for a bit longer the luxury of sleeping in a bed!! The Great North Road which we were travelling on, although very scenic and so different to Zambia, is in a dreadful condition brought about by the amount of trucks that travel along it. There are plans to upgrade it and already certain houses along the route have been earmarked for demolition due to road widening. These houses are marked with a big red cross and the ones that are safe are marked with a big green cross. Reminded me of when the plague hit London many centuries ago and all the houses that had people in them with the plague were marked with a big black cross.
We were now climbing to an altitude of 1900m above sea level and had our first sighting of baobab trees. Alex told us that they are actually not trees but herbs.
We also saw sisal fields along the way.
He stopped at a village so we could taste the local rice and bananas cooked in their skins. The rice was nice but the bananas were very dry – not to my taste at all.
Alex also stopped at a little chemist shop to buy extra supplies of medicine in case anyone contracted malaria although I think everyone was well stocked up with malaria pills of their own.
That evening we stayed at the Jozi Campsite 20kms from the Mikumi National Park, unfortunately it was dreadful. It did have a decent boma and bar and TV but the ablutions were almost non-existent and the noise from the traffic on the nearby road kept us awake at night. Coupled with a local lad who left the bar late and triggered off his car alarm which went on for half an hour, the experience was not one I would repeat. We did meet an interesting British guy from Doncaster in the bar who was working on installing electricity to the villages, financed by the USA. Interestingly enough, USA was also funding the road building but it was actually China who won the contract to do the work on the road from Zambia to Dar es Salaam. The cherry on the top was the rain we also experienced and as every camper knows, it is your worst nightmare, especially when you have to pack away your wet tent the next morning.
Tuesday 7 May – After a very wet start, the road took us through a game park area of the trip, seeing buck, zebra and giraffe. The road was still very bad but we were getting used to it now.
We bought some bags of cashew nuts at a petrol station on the way which were lovely and a fraction of the price we pay at home. You have to be careful who you buy from as the ones that are on display by the side of the road could have been in the sun for days and are definitely not suitable for eating after that.
As we were in a small party, Alex asked us if we would like to skip the next camp site and push on to Coffee Tree Camp Site in Marangu at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro which would be a 12 hour drive. We all agreed to do this as it was definitely worth the effort and would mean that we could stay there for 2 nights. We arrived in the dark and had to put our tents up with the aid of our car’s headlights and our own head torches but we succeeded. This campsite was run by a very jovial chap called Thomas who promised to “speak to the gods” and get the cloud to lift around Kilimanjaro the next day as they hadn’t seen the mountain for several days.
Wednesday 8 May – We were woken very early by the loud clanging of a school bell. This was rung to get the children out of bed at 5am, not to tell them that school was starting! Needless to say, the entire camp was not amused!!
Sadly Kilimanjaro was still shrouded in clouds so we took a trip to the Reception area of Kilimanjaro and listened to a very interesting talk on the mountain given by one of the guides, on the 9 routes up the mountain.
There are three peaks with Kibo being the highest – 5 895m. It is covered by snow throughout the year. To many climbers, conquering this peak is an adventure of their lifetime. Uhuru, the highest point on Kibo peak is the highest point in the world that can be reached without any technical or life-supporting facilities. The second peak, Mawenzi, 5 149m, is rugged. Climbing this peak is currently banned due to its rock instability. Shira, 3 962m, is the oldest peak that collapsed some 500 000 years ago. Before collapsing, Shira was the highest of the three peaks.
We met an American teacher living in Holland who was about to make the 7 day trek up the mountain via the Coca Cola route with 2 guides – rather her than me! Fancy not being able to change your clothes for 7 days.
We then toured the lower slopes of the mountain by car which was very scenic with beautiful waterfalls and little villages nestling against the mountain.
That night we had some tasty pork chops and settled down for an early sleep as we knew we would be woken again at 5am by the school bell!
Thursday 9 May – The aggravation of being woken at 5am was soon forgotten when Thomas announced that Kilimanjaro had shrugged off its clouded mantle and we needed to get going up the road to see it in all its splendour. It was probably the fastest decamp that we had done so far on the tour and then off to see the mountain – it was magnificent!!
After taking far too many pics we set off on our journey to Arusha passing houses made of red volcanic ash and coffee fields.
Alex told us that the coffee has a different taste depending on whether it is grown in the shade of full sun. Arusha is a large town with a very big Shoprite which is where we could do our shopping before we entered the Serengeti. I must admit it was not like the Shoprites we have at home and only had very basic stuff. They had even run out of sugar.
This is where our fly-in lady joined us to travel in Alex’s car so now our tour was complete. After filling up with petrol we set off, travelling past the magnificent Lake Manyara with its huge population of flamingos and pelicans.
We also got our first sightings of the famous Masai warriors herding their cattle. What majestic people they are.
That night we arrived at Kudu Camp Site at Karatu. The cottages looked lovely but once again we were relegated to the camp site which was quite basic but as my mum used to say, you get used to anything if you do it for long enough! One of the showers didn’t even have a door on it and the shower I used I had to share with several large scary praying mantises.
Next up – Ngorongora Crater, Serengeti, dismal ablutions and first sightings of Wildebeest
Tuesday 30 April – An early start was required to get in line for the Kazangula ferry/border crossing over the Zambezi/Chobe River into Zambia. There were 43 trucks waiting their turn but fortunately we did not have to get stuck behind them – what a relief that was. Apparently it takes up to 2 days for the trucks to get across.
Once we were in Zambia, we met up with Alex’s money-changer. Armed with Zambian Kwacha, we pressed on to Victoria Falls on the Livingstone side. As we arrived at the entrance gate to the Falls, we were greeted by a troupe of huge, over-zealous baboons who, having spied the large pocket of cooking onions on the roof of Alex’s car, decided to relieve him of his load. They made off with them into the bushes closely followed by several equally over-zealous security guards who knew that, if the onions were returned to their rightful owner, they would be in for a sizeable reward!! The upshot was 1-0 to the security guards and the precious onions were returned in one piece.
It was our first time on the Zambian side of the Falls and, as ever, they did not fail to impress. We did, however, show our age this time and unlike in the past when it was great fun to get absolutely drenched to the bone, we decided to skirt round that rather dubiously entertaining part of the walk.
Later that morning we left for Lusaka, travelling through many African villages on the way. There were live chickens and guinea fowl for sale along the road.
One of these villages was called Choma. This was where Dr Livingstone had apparently died. Alex told us the story of how Livingstone’s friends, Suzie and Choma, removed Livingstone’s innards and buried them under a tree before deciding to take the rest of his mummified body back to UK. They carried him 1000Km to Bagamoyo where the body was then put on a ship bound for UK via Zanzibar. His final resting place is in Westminster Abbey and most people say that even though his body is there, his heart is still in Africa. Another story that goes around is that apparently, when the body was received in the UK, the undertaker said the now immortal words “Dr Livingstone I presume”! I always wondered how that came about…
We experienced our first brunch by the side of the road when Alex cooked up some tasty fried fish. It was becoming really interesting as to what our menu would be each day. That night we were back to camping and stayed at “The Moorings” at Monze, a great stopover between Lusaka and Livingstone. Set under the trees on grass it was one of the better sites, although, by this time the mosquitoes had discovered this rather juicy specimen from Cape Town and I was already looking like a child’s “join the dots” page in their first colouring book!
Wednesday 1 May – After a wonderful cooked breakfast which made up for my tantrum at getting up late and being behind everyone else – it was by now becoming a bit of a competition as to who was to be ready first – we set off through more African villages towards Lusaka.
We were amused at the names of the shops along the road side – “Gracious Butchery”, “Coming Soon Investments” – these people certainly seemed to have a sense of humour. There were also a lot of empty or half built houses by the side of the road. Alex explained that often when someone is diagnosed with HIV in the city, he decides to build himself a house to return to when it is time to die. Unfortunately sometimes they run out of time and the house is left half-finished as the owner didn’t make it home.
Lusaka is quite a vibrant city and this is where we filled up with petrol and happened upon some very tasty doughnuts for lunch. This was to become a competition during the trip about who could find the best doughnuts for sale and how many could be consumed!
Later on in the day we passed 2 ancient steam engines resting in a siding near the road at Kabwe. Apparently, they were owned by the MD of Vodacom SA and had been there for some time waiting to be transported. More than likely they are still there even now.
Although Alex was carrying a big chest deepfreeze which contained all the meat we would need for the trip, fresh fruit and vegetables needed to be purchased periodically. These he obtained from the many sellers along the road in various small villages and spent some time haggling for the best price and quality.
We also came across honey sellers who collected honey from the bees that were attracted to the beautiful yellow flowers which were in abundance in this area.
At 4pm we arrived at the Forest Inn at Kapiri Mposhi. A nice grassed campsite within 160 hectares of indigenous forest, it boasted a thatched boma that actually had chairs and tables and electricity! We took the opportunity of charging all our equipment and settled down to some huge t-bone steaks for supper. The campsite boasted hot showers – yippee – but the downside was that there was a leak in the ladies block which left the floor swimming in water. We were to come to realise on this trip that if something is broken, it very rarely gets fixed and you just have to make a plan!!
Thursday 2 May – Early start today as we had a long drive ahead of us. We feasted on huge watermelons at breakfast which were purchased on the side of the road the day before. It was on this leg of our journey that we started to see big stacks of charcoal for sale at the side of the road. The charcoal was made by the local villagers and it would be something we would see many a time during our journey north.
Another sight which we would become used to on our journey was the many broken down trucks and trucks that had been involved in some sort of accident and were now lying upside down in the ditches. As a warning to approaching traffic, the drivers would place big branches along the road at either side of the trucks. There must have been a booming trade in scrap metal merchants. Most of the trucks though, had already been stripped bare of any movable parts.
After a delightful tea break in a lay by we arrived at 2.30pm at Kapishya Hot Springs Lodge camp site where we were staying for 2 nights. This was a real treat as moving every day was quite a task, especially for people in their “senior” years!
Once set up we made our way to the hot springs – what a treat. They were situated in an inlet off the main river and were so hot it was just like getting into a bath.
The lodge itself was quite luxurious and actually had TV so the boys were thoroughly spoilt watching rugby for the first time in nearly a week – you’d think they had been in the desert for six months! That evening we had a wonderful beef curry which I have a sneaking suspicion was brought about by my husband’s not too subtle hints that he loves Indian fare!! Later that night most of the party went for a lovely hot shower – the water was heated by a “donkey boiler” which is a fire which warms up the water before it is piped into the showers.
Friday 3 May - I decided to wait until the next morning for my hot shower treat, but got a rude awakening the next day when I stood in the shower and absolutely nothing came out of the shower nozzle!! Apparently a water pipe had burst in the night so no shower at all. So, armed with my soap, shampoo and face flannel, off I went to the lower catchment hot spring which flowed out into the main river and had the most glorious bath and hair wash I have ever had. Staying for 2 nights gave us time to catch up on our laundry so once the water pipe was fixed my tent was surrounded with wash lines full of our smalls – a sight which would become all too familiar during our 35 day trek.
Having done all my chores, I rewarded myself with a full body massage at the spa which was attached to the lodge. What a treat! I did though have a sneaking suspicion that the body oils were actually cooking oils as they didn’t have much aroma!! Ah well, that’s Africa.
Next up – Tanzania, a 12 hr drive, rain and finally Mt Kilimanjaro
Saturday 27 April - The next day we took our leave of civilisation as we knew it and headed for the Petroport on the N1 on the road to Polokwane and ultimately, Botswana. At the Petroport, we met up with Alex and two of our party, John and Lina.
After we had all put the necessary stickers on our cars and all been given short-wave radios so Alex could keep in touch with us, we set off for the Botswana border, collecting the other couple, Mark and Penni along the way.
After surviving our first border crossing which felt more like negotiating through Checkpoint Charlie at the Berlin Wall and managing to fend off many unscrupulous money-changers, we finally made it to our first overnight camp stop at Kwa Nokeng Lodge. This is a lovely facility situated at the Martin’s Drift Border Post – there is a variety of different accommodation from cottages, chalets to tents and of course, camping facilities.
Once Alex had picked his spot and negotiated his trailer into the right position, we all shyly began setting up our tents, making sure we didn’t look as if we didn’t know what we were doing. Fortunately John had had a bit of practice during his solo sorties into the bush and we soon had our tent in the upright position and the beds in place. Mark and Penni were still reading the instructions and John and Lina were hiding behind a bush on the far side of the camp site as Lina seemed to have no intention of assisting with anything!
During the course of the first evening around the camp fire we established that each couple comprised one person who was on their dream holiday and the other who was not! This was going to be interesting. After a tasty chicken casserole supper we retired to our tents, forgetting to put anything away so the next day everything was covered in a layer of dew – our first lesson in what not to do!
Sunday 28 April – After a light breakfast, we set about packing everything away – isn’t it funny that nothing ever fits in the bag it originally came in!!! As soon as we were on the road Alex came on to our short-wave radios with the coordinates for our destination that night, something he would do every day so that we could feed them into our Garmins and get a good idea how the trip was doing. This really saved our bacon when we got lost in the city of Dar es Salaam but that is another story.
An hour after we left the campsite we pulled over for our first “peep” stop. As we were all in our twilight years, this was an ongoing necessity on a regular basis. The “drill” was that the drivers would go to the other side of the road with their backs to us while we open both nearside doors and crouched in between. The men would have to stay where they were until we had all finished and then Alex’s lady assistant would sound the “all clear”. A most civilised arrangement!
After a Wimpy lunch in Francistown we arrived at a very nice camp site called Elephant Sands which boasted a natural waterhole where elephant came down to drink every night – right next to the main buildings. The 16 000 ha conservancy is unfenced so we had to keep an eye open for any stray elephants or any other wildlife who might have wanted to take a short cut through our camp site.
A yummy supper of ribs was followed by a very cold night in the tent and I was happy that I had insisted on bringing my very warm duvet instead of the sleeping bag John had suggested. In fact, I actually slept in my clothes that night which is a practice I would repeat many times during our travels.
Monday 29 April – Feeling very confident about our tent de-erection, we were quite disappointed to learn that, in fact, we were doing it all the wrong way and had to be given a private lesson from Alex on how to fold a tent down. I must say, once we had learnt how to do it properly, it was a doddle!
Having heard that there was no hot water, we decided to skirt round having a shower and set off for our next port of call, still in Botswana – Kasane at the Thebe River Safaris. The gods must have been smiling on me as it was decided that we would spend the night in the lodge instead of camping – I became a human being again. Lovely hot shower, a bed with legs on it, I even had an opportunity to do some washing and hang it up in the shower – yippee.
It was here that we took the Chobe River Sunset Cruise which is definitely a must when you are in Kasane.
The experience was amazing – so many animals – elephant, hippo, buffalo, crocs, kudu, impala, baboons, and to top it all, the most stunning sunset as we returned. Alex even decided to spoil us and organised a lovely meal in the lodge restaurant so I was really starting to feel that this was not so bad after all!!
Next up – Zambia, Vic Falls, Road Side Stalls and….. a SPA?
Please do let me know how you are enjoying this series. I have had a number of emails from various readers saying that doing a trip like this is also on their “Bucket List” so they are loving all the information – my mind is even slowly starting to think that maybe…just maybe, I could be convinced….
Told by my good friend, Marion Coxall, who, although she will deny it, I think is actually a closet camper…..
When Marion initially sent me her 11 page story, I thought it was really too long, even for a series but, after reading it and then reading it again, I decided that there were just too many people who have always dreamed of doing this very trip, they want to hear all the details and most importantly, where they stayed, what the circumstances were like and who could help them to fulfil their dream.
I have therefore broken the story down into 12 posts and will send out a new post every other day. I hope that soon, you will be looking forward to the next episode with eager anticipation. ENJOY!
For the last 25 years my husband, John has been talking about his “bucket list”. This, of course, can only be attempted on a grand scale once you have shed the shackles of business responsibilities and hopefully made enough wise financial decisions to keep you in the retirement luxury you have always dreamed about!
Right at the top of his list (and about 249th on mine) was a trip to see the famous wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. He had been threatening to drive from Cape to Cairo for a long time, incorporating the Migration on the way. Once this became a distinct possibility on his retirement I immediately put my foot down and told him that I would only go on an organised tour and only as far as the Serengeti – I felt, to go any further, would be too dangerous.
It was just over a year ago when, visiting the local Getaway Show in Somerset West, we happened upon the stand of a company who organised just such a tour – Eco 4×4 Africa Tours, based in Pretoria – and, having established the cost, sat down to do the sums.
We had to provide our own equipment – yes I’m afraid it was camping all the way – but the up side was that Alex Smit, the tour leader, would provide and cook all the meals. It was perhaps the only way I was going to agree to partake in this “adventure”.
Once we confirmed our interest in the tour, Alex came down from Pretoria and gave us a full overview in our home for three hours on all aspects of the trip – it was mind boggling. Not only did we have to have passports for each country but so did our car – it was called a carnet. We needed special stickers for the vehicle, special insurance both for our car and ourselves, special equipment as there would rarely be electricity, and a multitude of other stuff too numerous to bore you with. Suffice to say, it was obvious we couldn’t have done it without him.
And so it was, nearly a year later, at 6am on Thursday 25 April 2013 that I found myself sitting, or should I say squashed, into the passenger seat of our Toyota Fortuna, leaving the comfort of our little home in Cape Town, for I knew not what lay ahead. There was so much equipment stashed in the back that my seat was almost bolt upright and my leg room was almost non-existent! However, like a dutiful wife, I decided to grin and bear it as my husband’s excitement was electric (I’m afraid mine was still waiting for a kick-start!)
Our first night was spent in Springfontein in an absolutely delightful B & B called Prior Grange, a merino sheep farm situated 870km from Cape Town. We were shown to Willow Cottage by the owner, Blackie de Swardt, who left us with the invitation to join him and the other guests in his pub that evening. What an experience.
We got to meet all the other guests for a delightful pre-dinner drink and it was interesting to swap stories about where we were all off to and what we were doing. Needless to say they were all very impressed when they heard about the Groot Trek.
At 7.30pm we all returned to our cottages and the most delightful Karoo meal of lamb pie and vegies followed by apple pie and cream was delivered to our door.
The cottage, which consisted of 2 bedrooms and a large lounge/dining room/kitchen, also doubled up as the local cricket pavilion as Blackie was also in charge of the Springfontein Cricket Club and the “oval” was situated just outside the front door.
Friday 26 April – After a wonderfully hearty breakfast which was also delivered to our cottage by Blackie, we left the next day on the last leg of our trip to Pretoria.
Fortunately we had a Garmin with us (nicknamed Gerty) who managed to get us through the many horrifying motorway junctions in and around Johannesburg although I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had given up the ghost as John spent most of his time yelling at her when he thought she was taking us the wrong way. It almost felt as if there were “3 people in our marriage” at one point! We spent a very delightful night at Bosau Guest House in Pretoria.
Next up – Leaving civilisation as we know it!