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South Africa and the end of part one + Lesotho and Swaziland

11th July 2005 to 22 August 2005

Luckily for us not all the South Africans had gone on holiday and a few remained long enough to let us cross the border. The crossing was very swift, no hassle, no presents, no searches, just straight forward and efficient as you would expect, they even had computers so none of the usual need to write all our details out in triplicate. We were now nearing the close of the first half of our trip.

The contrast in the landscape from that in Namibia is quite incredible. The same desert and same hills but here in South Africa the whole landscape is in bloom, literally carpeted in flowers, yellow, white, purple and blue flowers everywhere. Small farms now dot the landscape with a mix of arable, cattle and sheep along with the odd vineyard. There is now another road hazard, tortoises well actually a lumbering 101 screeching to a halt and a crazy guy rushing to rescue tortoises from the road.

As we cross the pass on the approach to Citrusdal in the heart of orange and lemon country the landscape looks more like the highlands of Scotland than Africa, yet there are always the odd ostrich or grazing springbok to remind you where you are.

Our first night stop was just outside Citrusdal and The Baths with its natural hot springs is a fabulous place to stop and relax for a while. Blanca managed to get us the overlanders rate in spite of the fact that we weren’t a huge truck with 20 people but real overlanders.   We decided to have a Jacuzzi supplied with hot spring water at 43deg C and when we emerged ¾ of an hour later, we were both looking and feeling like lobsters, pink and very hot! The following morning I helped Arthur change two of the enormous tyres on his Ifa, a process involving large hammers and crowbars and I thought Grommet’s tyres were big!  Then it was off to the hot pool to ease those abused muscles and if you are particularly adventurous or have a masochistic streak, there is a cold pool. After the evenings obligatory barbi, it was back to the hot pool to warm up before turning in. The weather here in S.A. has really been a bit of a shock and it’s even colder than Namibia.

Reluctantly we left the Baths and headed for the coast near Paternoster were there is a small nature reserve that allows camping. The place looked closed for the S.A. winter season and we were hoping to get away with free camping, but we were quickly spotted, it’s hard to sneak about with two big 4x4’s! The park attendant was ok and it was cheap to camp. By the weekend the place was fairly busy and I was glad we arrived early and grabbed the best spot. I’m starting to get the impression that South Africans are a crazy bunch and will go camping whatever the weather. When we Europeans would stay locked up in our cosy little homes the South Africans load up their 4x4’s and head for the coldest most desolate place possible and camp, in tents!

We were going to go wine testing following camping at the beach, but being Sunday, of course, everywhere was closed so we arrived in Cape Town more or less by mistake.

The search was then on for somewhere to stay, this is not a problem if you are a “backpacker” but with two trucks, the only option seemed to be street parking or one of the few camp sites by the coast and drive in to the city. By chance we picked up a copy of Coast to Coast backpacking guide and found The Riverlodge Backpackers, ( www.riverlodge.co.za) situated in Oude Molen Eco Village who catered for independent travellers and overlanders as well as the usual backpackers. The Riverlodge is run by PJ and his partner Rene on the site of an ex mental asylum and although it seems as though some of the inmates never quite left, the complex is alternative and full of artists, workshops and an organic farm with horses, goats, sheep and rabbits. Oude Molen is quite different from the rest of new suburban Cape Town which is more like a scene from the “Stepford Wives.” Just across the road from the “village” is Pinelands metro station, so it was time to brave the weather and public transport and venture in to town. It was strange being the only whites on the train, white South Africans apparently don’t do this and take the car everywhere. We had no problems at all and the “locals” were very helpful and friendly making sure we caught the right train.

We had a few things to do before we could do the tourist bit, find info on Mozambique and get my films processed, then it was off to the “Waterfront” a kind of “Covent Garden” by the sea for a look and a bit of shopping. We didn’t stay long as we were both keen to see the slides. Back at the processors there was a little pile of slides, nine months of memories waiting for us to go through. There are already e-mails from friends expressing their concerns about future slide shows………

Having missed the “wine lands” tour on our way down, and as the weather was so bad, what better way of curing the “bad weather blues” than lots of alcohol and an organised trip means I don’t have to drive! Pretty soon we were sampling South African wines like wine snobs, commenting on colour, bouquet, flavours amount of wood etc and the girls were of cause were pissed in no time at all. It was a great day out, we arrived back at the River Lodge all a little bit merry and then hit the bar to carry on drinking and play some pool. Arthur eventually had to ditch his Australian partner Barry (Swantje had to retire early!) and enlist the help of pool hustler PJ to beat Blanca and I and restore some German “supremacy.”

In spite of all the alcohol we had some how made arrangements to go to the Cape the following day with PJ for the Cape of Good Hope photo and get some large sea snails along the way. We all got a fishing licence which allowed us 15 snails.

Boy, was I glad that there were only two wet suits as Arthur and PJ waded out in to the ice cold water in the rain an began snorkelling around in search of these elusive molluscs. Arthur managed to last for about half an hour and found nothing amongst the kelp but fortunately PJ an ex professional diver managed to get our quota.

Then it was on to Cape of Good Hope and the sign board that indicates the fact, despite the appalling weather the place was very busy indeed, but with a little bit of luck just as the whole world left us alone the sun came out and poor PJ was darting about with a huge selection of cameras to record the event. The light was perfect but only left us with a few minutes to dash to the entrance before they closed the park.

The next day we had another DHL moment, by chance their offices were just down the road so we could walk there. This time it was some paper work to sign and send back to the UK along with all my slides for safe keeping. That evening we had a barbeque with the Germans, PJ, Rene and a couple of their friends, PJ had cooked and cleaned the snails and prepared a pate from the roe which we had with some snook, a fish from the barracuda family, which I must say is very tasty indeed. It was a great night, good food, good wine and good company.

We needed a good feast as come hell or high water Saturday was going to be Table Mountain day. The Germans and Barry the Australian had decided to walk/climb up, but Blanca wasn’t climbing anywhere so we took the cable car. It was a little strange to be on the mountain again after 38 years, it was pretty much as I remembered it, except the last time there were lots of rock hyrax (a large Guinea pig like animal who’s nearest relative is the elephant), but this time none. Since Blanca and I had taken the easy way up, I managed to convince her to do the long hike around the top. The views were breathtaking and once again we had been blessed with fine weather.

That evening we met up with Nad a friend of Siobhan and David from London and we went out for a curry. It was heaven, I’d been yearning for a good curry ever since we left the UK over a year ago. Oh, how I miss the Halal take away just off Stoke Newington High Street. Over dinner Nad said we could stay at his place as he was going to be away and that we would have the place to ourselves. How could we refuse, so the next day we bid farewell to the Germans and the Riverlodge Backpackers and moved.

Nad’s place was on a luxury estate in Newlands in the shadow of Table Mountain and just round the corner from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. So after we had settled in, we grabbed a pick nick and went to check out Cape Towns answer to Kew Gardens. The most obvious difference is as a result of the climate here, they don’t need glass houses thus allowing for a fabulous display of the indigenous trees, plants and shrubs. It was the perfect place to spend a quiet relaxing afternoon, oh, and it was very cheap too.

We had missed the Jack Ass Penguin colony at Boulders near Simon’s Town so it was off to Cape Point to check them out. I was quite surprised by the actual number of penguins in the colony and how close you can get to them via the raised walkway.

Staying at Nad’s thrust us back in to luxury modern living and a welcome escape from the cold winter weather. It’s been very hard to prise myself away from the TV and the movie channel and Blanca chained herself to the washing machine. Life was so good that we took some time off from our busy schedule and spent a day “at home.” Then it was back to business, this life isn’t easy, I can tell you. Back in Cape Town we still had to get some cards printed, visit the Aquarium as well as checking out some 4x4 shops.

It was at one of these shops we met some Spaniards who had shipped their vehicles all the way from Spain and were doing a little last minute shopping before setting off for Mombassa in Kenya. I checked out one of the Toyotas which had been beautifully prepared, money no object! They have a time scale of one month for the trip and it will be interesting to see how they get on.

Having done more or less all that we wanted to do we thanked Nad for his hospitality and headed for Cape Agulhas the southernmost point of Africa.

We had been invited to stay on a farm just north of the cape, but somehow managed to miss it ending up in Struisbaai near the cape. It was late and the local caravan park was closed for the day, but fortune smiled on us in the form of Ossie and Hanna who invited us to park in their garden and gave us access to a toilet and shower which was very kind of them. Cape Agulhas is the point at which the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet and apparently you can see the difference, it just looked like very cold sea to me.

Photos over, with it was on to the Garden Route, this started well but following a cold night in an overpriced caravan park at Mossel Bay which had the feel of a tacky English sea side resort. We decided to head inland to the north of the Eastern Cape and towards the Karoo. The place reminded me a little of middle America, vast empty areas of farmland with the odd little tiny rundown town thrown in every now and then. It is hard to believe that even in this vast open space (all fenced off) each little town no matter how small has its “town ship” for the local blacks, the real indigenous population, to live. These can range from monotonous rows of little tiny bungalows in a good area to the typical corrugated iron and scrap shacks in others or a combination of both. You can appreciate why the blacks were and still are dissatisfied with this situation and the whites are nervous of a Mugabe, Zimbabwe situation arising. You get the feeling that the early white settlers never quite achieved the same results as their American counterparts did in North America with the Red Indians despite what appears to have been a very good try.

Back to the route, we headed for the Mountain Zebra National Park on the northern slopes of the Bankberg Range with some spectacular views over the Karoo. Again it was very cold which was probable why we had the camp site and its spotless facilities all to ourselves. I managed to coax Blanca in to a long hike through the hills behind the lodge so that we could experience the view and see if we could spot some game.

In the morning we took a drive around the park spotting lots of the wild life on offer there, including quite a few of the rare mountain zebra. Not so much of the “big five” more of the “smaller hundred or so!” Unfortunately they wouldn’t allow us to camp without paying the entrance fee each day so we were forced to move on.

Following another disappointing night in a run down caravan park in Aliwal North, were it was so cold that the water from the sprinklers froze on the trees in long icicles, the frozen grass crunched under foot and clouds of steam rose from the sulphur pools.

The weather was beginning to get a bit too much for us so we headed of for Lesotho, the country in the sky. The only problem was finding the place, we had left the asphalt and were now on dirt roads with no road numbers or signs and it was really by chance and GPS that we found the small border crossing at Sepapus. This was defiantly the easiest crossing so far in Africa. Lesotho has that real Africa feel about the place, gone where the fences and vast white owned farms. The land is still cultivated, in fact the whole country appears to be under the plough or grazed, with only the most remote areas escaping any attention at all. Having both read “Swahili for the broken hearted” by Peter Moore we had to go pony trekking at Malealea Lodge, it had also won many awards for its community based tourism which we are always keen to support. The place was well signposted and we found it with ease. Yet again we were the only people camping, but the rest of the place was packed. Being late and cold it is hard to drum up the enthusiasm to cook especially when there is a cheap all you can eat restaurant nearby. So much for the African Diet, it’s taken a bit of a hammering here in S.A. Warming ourselves by the fire on the porch outside, drinking Tassenberg (very cheap S.A red wine), listening to the local quire and band playing in the background,  we struck up conversation with a couple of English girls. Susan lives in Jo’burg and her sister Alison had popped over for a little holiday, both girls were keen to go for the six hour pony trek, so that was that sorted, a group of four is cheaper than two groups of two.

Blanca who has never been on a horse of any kind before was very excited. The morning was crisp and clear, with all the disclaimers signed, hard hats on we were off. We set off at a gentle pace, Blanca was like a natural, it must be something to do with the conquistador heritage or maybe just a Don Quijote and Sancho Panza thing going on. Still Blanca was taking all the steep descents and climbs in her stride with none of the usual screaming or getting off and walking. After a few hours on the ponies we were all relived to get off and take the short walk to the waterfall. Then it was back on the ponies once again and on to the cave paintings and a lunch stop then back to the lodge. We were all amazed how quickly the time had passed, the scenery had been quite spectacular and the ponies offered quite a different perspective to Grommet. But there was a price to pay, the next morning Blanca could hardly move, everything ached so we weren’t going anywhere! After a few days rest and Blanca could move once more we headed for the hills and Katse Dam. When I say hills what I really mean is mountains and some high ones at that. Some very steep 1st gear climbs followed by very steep 1st gear descents, with each pass being higher than the last. On one such climb poor Grommet cuffed to a halt and refused to restart. I reversed back a bit on to some level ground and he was happy to restart and we could carry on. I guess it was a little touch of altitude sickness. That night we spent a cold night parked high in the mountains but it was great to be in the bush again. The next day we carried on, climbing ever higher peaking at over 3000m above sea level.

We arrived late at the Katse Dam and spotted some South Africans camped at the view point and decided to join them. They invited us to share their poyker (meat stew), it was very nice. In the morning we decided to take a tour of the dam, it was very interesting, on the top of the dam I had one of those James Bond moments but fortunately the damsel in distress was next to me and I’d left all of “Q’s toys” in Grommet. The tour was incredible value, which combined with the camping came to £3 for the two of us! The weather was on the turn and it was trying desperately hard to snow, with a few flakes falling as were back to “mountain climbing.” We didn’t want to get trapped in Lesotho for a few weeks in the snow, so it was time to head back to South Africa. Lesotho is a bit of a paradox here in South Africa and one can’t help feeling it is a bit like a national park for white South Africans to go and play while getting a little potted taste of what real black Africa is like. Unfortunately the down side of all this tourism is that the local kids have been spoilt with gifts of sweets, pens money, etcetera in a similar way to those in the north west of Africa and in the same way have now come to expect gifts from all passing foreign registered cars. Those that can’t be placated by a smile and a wave are now resorting to the throwing of stones, etc.

We left Lesotho behind us and headed for Johannesburg, which was too far for us to reach in one day so we decided to break the journey at a place called Rustlers Valley which is described as an alternative eco kind of a place. Unsurprisingly when it’s cold, dark and raining, the eccentric charm of trying to find wood to make a fire under an old oil drum hopping the water won’t run out while you are showering up kind of, loses its charm. Blanca who wanted a shower of course, wasn’t amused. The owners were great though and we enjoyed a great curry in the restaurant but the camping sucked! I wanted to have the full English breakfast the following morning but with Blanca still fuming about the shower and the camping, we hit the road early. With out any breakfast at all, which I think has to be a first, for as those who know Blanca will know she has to have breakfast come hell or high water. No breakfast equates to not happy at all……..!

Johannesburg is huge and very similar to London in a way with a large orbital motorway trying desperately to contain the growing urban sprawl. Here the city centre is fast being abandoned to the street gangs and the homeless as businesses move to fortress style estates in the suburbs with their paranoid white work force living in their own fortress style estates with electric fences and patrolling “armed response.” With muggings and car jacking a reality here we were quite relived to arrive at Rockys at Fourways in one piece. We found Rockys, a backpackers with camping, with surprising ease an no impromptu township tour. Rockys was perfect, large space to camp/park, close to the shops, a good well stocked kitchen and great showers. Blanca was happy at last! Apart from a Soweto tour or to get mugged, Joburg is one of those tourist transit places for people arriving or leaving S.A and is only really explored by the brave. But boy, oh, boy there is plenty of money here with all manner of exotic cars on show to transport you to and from fortress home to fortress office in the quickest possible way. Still I have to say that we had no problems at all and found everybody we encountered very polite and friendly but so saying we didn’t venture very far. I had quite a bit do on Grommet, an oil seal had failed so it was time to change the front shoes and at the same time I changed a suspect wheel bearing along with a routine gear and transfer box oil change. While staying at Rockys we met Dion a South African trying to develop communications in the rural community by means of a mobile telephone van. He is a bit like us living a nomadic life, camping at back packers and he has a Land Rover. Dion was a great help, running us about the place so that we could stock up on things for the way up. We found a veritable treasure trove for the older Land Rover owner in Rob Leimer and I was able to swap the non 101 break shoes for some far more useful things. I had a quick look around his yard, he has a big collection of S1’s and a few ex South African army pink panthers. It made a pleasant change to talk to someone who understands what vehicle you have and is not solely governed by new models and chassis numbers. Is a chassis number really essential when buying a windscreen wiper blade? Rockys was a very sociable place, helped in part by the warmer weather and we were quickly in to barbeques and late night drinking. One night I was treated to some real ouzo by Ritsa, a very pretty Cypriot girl here for a short holiday. I think I would have stayed in Cyprus for the summer and come to S.A in December when the weather is better, still that’s me! While in Jo’burg we also took some time out to catch up with the American family that we had helped in Namibia. Fortunately they had survived the rest of their trip unscathed and we spent a very pleasant evening swapping Africa stories over wine and cheese. Eventually it was time to move on, we had a text from Arthur and Swantje that they were still in Pretoria with gear box trouble. But before we could see them I wanted to check out the De Wildt cheetah reserve near Hartbeesport. Some how we managed to arrived at the right time and on the right day to join a tour. They have a huge collection of cheetahs along with a darker variant known as the king cheetah, which is a quite spectacular beast. They also have some of the few remaining packs of African wild dogs as well as African wild cat, caracals and a few honey badgers. The tour was very informative and the best bit for me was the drive through the cheetah and wild dog enclosures at feeding time, when you have a chance to actually hear some of the unusual sounds cheetahs make. And then, there was the highlight, a chance to get really close and have a photo with a cheetah. Just down the road from the Cheetah Reserve was the Moonlight Backpackers a good place to chill out and just forty minutes away from the dangers of Jo’burg.

Pretoria, the Germans were still waiting for parts from Germany and weren’t going anywhere, so much for all that German efficiency……..! But they did have news of Ralph and Judith the other IFA Germans, apparently the hand break had failed on their IFA at a camp site nearby and the truck was now rapped around a tree. So we all climbed aboard Grommet and went to see what we could do to help. At the camp site sure enough the IFA had hit a tree but it didn’t appear too terminal. With a little work we managed to free the pedals so that Arthur could drive it away from the tree and on to some level ground. Arthur had to drive as Ralph had somehow managed to get run over by his own truck! Luckily he escaped with a lot of bruising and a few cuts, which when you consider he was run over by a nine tonne truck, isn’t bad. We spent a few days with Ralph and Judith swapping stories and in the meantime Arthur had the parts for the gearbox fabricated, which meant that they could join us and continue on to Swaziland.

We arrived at the border, only to find that it had closed at 4pm, but Adolph the South African border guard allowed us to camp in the compound and invited us to join him for a barbeque. This was quite unexpected and a bit of a relief as there were few bush camping options and a lot of signs warning of “High Jack Hotspot” and “Crime Alert, Don’t Stop” which doesn’t install one with a lot of confidence of a peaceful nights sleep! South Africa may not have been one of our favourite countries but you definitely can’t beat the people for their hospitality.

In the morning we at last said goodbye to South Africa and entered Swaziland, real Africa once more. The Swazi people may be poor, but at least they appear happy and proud not miserable and downtrodden. There is a completely different feel about the place that is hard to describe. Small farms replace the huge empty tracts of land and all around people are busy. Swaziland isn’t that big but we managed to convince the Germans in to stopping for a couple of days at Hlane Royal National Park. Again we had the place virtually to ourselves. On an evening game drive we managed to spot a small family of elephant and a little latter some lion despite the very dense brush. But the water hole near to the lodge was spectacular, with a group of white rhino passing within 50m of us with just two puny strands of electrified barbed wire between us and them. When they momentarily expressed an interest in us, I think we were all rapidly forming some form of escape plan……..! In common with our Safari lodge camping experiences elsewhere, Hlane was no different except here we were joined by ostrich and impala. The ostrich were so bold one would have to protect ones food with the aid of a long stick. An ostrich even tried to make off with my packet of rice crispies, I happened to be in the toilet at the time and Blanca wasn’t going to tackle anything bigger than she but luckily Arthur drove it away and saved the day, well at least my breakfast cereal. Off again for another game drive, this time different types of antelope, some hippo and crocks at another water hole and a group of about five rhino asleep but again so close it is hard to believe it is such an endangered shy animal.

As I said Swaziland isn’t very big and almost before we new it we were at the border and the next country Mozambique.


Desert in bloom


Tortoise encounter!


Farming SA style


Paternoster


Wine testing


101 meets SA equivalent


Rubber fetish


At Cape of Good Hope


At Cape of Good Hope


Cable car to top of Table Mountain


Top of Table Mountain


View from the top


Kirstenbosch


Penguin Colony


Jack ass penguin


Cape Agulhas


Hu?


Typical landscape


Mountain Zebra


Township


Township


Icicles in South Africa


Grommet at the Gates to Paradise (Lesotho)


On the ponies (Lesotho)


On the ponies (Lesotho)


Us in Lesotho


Cave paintings (Lesotho)


No loud shouting (Lesotho)


In the mountains (Lesotho)


Up, Up and Up (Lesotho)


Ice!! (Lesotho)


A local (Lesotho)


Lesotho village


Katse Damm (Lesotho)


Umm, Mr Bond


Fixing the breaks


Lots of Land Rovers


SA Pinkies


African Wild Dogs


Cheetah


King Cheetah


Us with a Cheetah


Woops!!


The reunion


Rhinos at waterhole (Swaziland)


Hipos (Swaziland)


Sleeping rhinos (Swaziland)