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Africa part 2 of 6 Cape Town to Namibia

Feb 5, 2012 by     6 Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Namibia, South Africa, Uncategorized, Where we've been

For part one of my Africa series please click here


Cape Town to Namibia




Contents
Cederberg Mountains to the Orange River
Fish River Canyon
Dunes of Namibia
Solitaire to Swakupmund
Swakupmund
Spitzkoppe
Cheetah Park

Our itinerary said that we were to meet up at our hotel at five the day prior to departure. We met the people that we were going to be spending at least the next three weeks on a green school bus with. The cast of characters were in large part awesome and the reason why I loved the trip as much as I did.

The introduction went something like this: Ray, our tour leader, let us know that he’d once had to reimburse the kitty when someone stole from it. He let us know that we’d be responsible and he wouldn’t have a key to the locked cage. The cage was to be from here on out called, “the fridge.” I’d later love Ray but the first day I was a little on edge about the guy. Ray introduced us to the other crew which was Christie behind the wheel. Christie doesn’t talk much, but when he does it is usually something profoundly cool. We met the soft spoken Cook who because of her menu we’d spend way too much money on snacks. Last there was another woman, a leader in training who thought that she was on vacation instead of working, we’ll call her Lit.

Just about everyone from the tour was staying at the same hostel as us so we got to know a few of them at the bar before we departed. We had a couple of beers with Marieke and Rob, a lovely couple from The Netherlands who we’d get to know quite well and look forward to meeting again soon. Marieke is amazing; everything she says undoubtedly ends in a smile from everyone around. After a few dozen beers it was time to retire for the evening; we didn’t want to be in bad shape for the first day.

Day one, we were both pretty optimistic, and a little more reserved than normal. We’d rather be reserved than have people be hesitant about us knowing that we’d be cramped next to them for the next coming weeks. We were the last ones aboard the big green machine aptly, yet sarcastically, named Dodgy. Dodgy which according to www.urbandictionary.com is the British counterpart to shady.

Dodgy is organized with four seats facing another four seats with a table in between which are raised on a platform. There is an ice chest which sits in front of the table so that the people facing the front cannot see what’s under the table. Then there are five rows of seats on the left then an aisle which five seats on the right. The worst seats of the trip were in the very back row, the row had five seats which sat perfectly upright. These seats were miserable on the long hauls.

We were the last ones on the bus so we were put up front, on a platform, with Cook, and the Leader in Training (Lit). This was like sitting in the front of the class on the first day of school, if you faced sideways and were on a platform so everyone could see you. Lit and Cook were rambling on and on in Afrikaans laughing and joking like crazy. We had to stop and pick up supplies (some people did not bring sleeping bags on a camping trip.) Cori and I, when we got back after shopping, were so uncomfortable siting next to Cook and Lit we decided to sit apart from one another rather than sit next to them. Cori in the middle back seat, and me sitting next to someone who was on the trip alone which I cannot recall whom at this point.

The first day Ray didn’t sit the entire way, which was a short trip but this made me respect him a bit as it was crowded on the truck and it allowed for us to interact with him asking any questions we had along the way. Meanwhile Cook and Lit were spread out taking up four seats a piece while Cori and I were squished up in the back.

We arrived in Trawal, South Africa in the Cederberg Mountains. Quite a few of the places that I will mention will only be minor blips on any maps if found at all. We were greeted by mild weather, amazing views of the surrounding wineries, and birds vocalizing in unfamiliar chants. Christie, the driver, showed us how to set up the tents. These were much more spacious than we had anticipated and made from heavy duty canvases which were constructed by hand by their team in Zimbabwe. They were dummy proof to set up and take down.

Nearly every day along the trip we had an optional activity or two to choose from. Almost all cost more money in addition to the fee we’d already paid. The first day was a wine tasting. Cori and I had already done at least 50 on this trip so far both in Chile and Argentina and many in South Africa over the past few weeks. We thought that this may be our last opportunity to have a wine tasting on this trip (we were wrong, we had one in Cambodia, never heard of Cambodian wine? there’s a reason). The wheels were getting greased and we were getting even more positive about the trip.

Cori, being the type A personality she is, suggested that we play a game to get to know everyone’s name because we had no idea who each other were. After getting a small wine buzz and learning everyone’s name it was time for some more formalities, again about “the fridge” and other small stuff. I opened up my mouth in front of everyone and could tell that there was now some tension because of what I said. Ray confronted me in the bathroom, which I have a huge amount of respect for him doing. We had a long discussion about a number of things. I left being a huge fan of Ray’s, and bought him the first beer of the trip.

For pictures from Cederberg please click HERE

We got to the Orange River which is the border with Namibia early in the afternoon. Orange as in Dutch. We had time to kill, beers to drink, dogs to take pictures of and mediocre food to eat. I was expecting for the food to get progressively worse and worse the further out of civilization we got. I was shocked and sorely mistaken. The food would start out starchy and terrible, at least we wouldn’t have to worry about being disappointed later on.

Cameron, a Canadian who’s been volunteering in Africa for at least the last three years decided to share a tent with and Nate, a college student from Gonzaga University who was going all the way to Nairobi on the tour to study for a semester. We got on famously with them, Cameron and I could act as loud as we wanted and Cori could get away from us by being with some of the women on the tour with us.

Ray told us earlier in the afternoon we weren’t to leave anything too valuable in the tents because people from around this particular site were known to get things stolen from them by people wandering along the river. Before going to bed, knowing then that all of the tents looked alike I put a beer can outside at the corner of my tent so that I would easily recognize it.

We went to bed earlier than the latest ones up. Cori had to pee in the middle of the night. She asked me to join her. Armed with headlamps and flip flops we went to the restroom together. We got back to the tent; Cori opened the door and grabbed a man’s foot. Cameron looked at Cori like, what the hell is wrong with you, he looked half scared and half surprised but fortunately he was 100% understanding. I couldn’t stop laughing, I was giggling like a school girl for about 10 minutes. Every time that I would stop laughing Cori would say something and I would just laugh harder and harder. I kept myself up for at least an hour laughing.

The next morning, we all had a pretty good laugh about what happened the night before. I looked at Cameron and Nate’s tent and they had the same kind of beer in the same place that we had our beer can. Obviously, Cori had mistaken our tent with our neighbor’s tent. She remembered zipping ours up as we left to go to the toilet, when we came back the tent was opened a little, she remembered thinking, ‘that’s weird’ even when opening the tent and feeling someone’s foot she thought, ‘why’s there someone in our tent?’ Good times.

We crossed the border into Namibia the next morning. This was the first time that we were going to try to get the VAT refund at the border. What a scam that is. Long story short, we didn’t get any money back from our VAT even though we were eligible for around $100 or so.

Namibia, like many African nations had historically gotten the short end of the stick. Namibia was a German Colony until after World War I when the country was mandated to South Africa which in 1990 finally gained it’s independence. Namibia struggled for autonomy from the beginning and suffered the same under Apartheid. Namibia is home to some of the most stunning natural landscapes on the planet. It has one of the sparsest population densities on the globe being stripped of the title by Mongolia and Greenland. It is home to Etosha National Park and according to everyone in Namibia, the world’s tallest sand dune.

For pictures of crossing into Namibia please click HERE

Entering Namibia proved to be much less difficult than I had read about and what Ray told us. We all knew not to mess about at the border but being warned ahead of time had us all tense. Our first day in Namibia reminded me of being bored and driving alone around Arizona as a teenager. Geologically, Namibia is very similar to much of the American South West. Our first stop was at a place called Fish River Canyon; it is dubbed “the little Grand Canyon.” Walking around it, I was for the first time on our journey, a little homesick.

Pictures can’t capture the enormity of it, but we still took a few dozen to try. After tooling around for a bit we opened a few boxes of wine and a few cheeses with crackers to toast to our second country with one another. We really started to get to know everyone this night. We lubricated the pipes with warm wine. Dusk invited itself to join us as we drank wine and watched the meat cook over fire all the while getting to know one another better.

Christie invited us to join him up front in the truck so that we could get a different perspective on the trip. I took advantage of it. On the way back to the camp we had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting a few zebras. I thought about how cool it was and felt like now we were really in Africa. Nowhere else would you almost run over a zebra. Every campsite has a bar, but this bar was one of the coolest that we’d seen. It had a number of old junker cars in it and a few amazing ones that were restored, right there inside the bar. The bathroom housed one of the most amazing practical jokes I’d ever seen. In the men’s bathroom there was a picture of a naked woman on the wall with a box over her privates. When the box was opened, there was a bell that sounded like a fire alarm so entire bar would know you were the pervert who opened the box. After the first sheepish face came from the bathroom, we thought it was would be so funny to ring it so much that the bar tender would had to disconnect the power to shut us up.

After waking up I realized that there was some drama the night before. I vaguely remember talking trash to Lit about how this wasn’t her trip, how I hated her, and that she made me feel so uncomfortable on the first day that my wife and I chose to sit apart instead of next to one another to avoid sitting by her. I also told Cook something along the lines of her being a terrible cook.

My rant, I believe had something to do with the next day it being decided that we would rotate seats everyday instead of Lit and Cook getting to sprawl out while we had so little room. We had lunch on the side of the road under a social weavers’ nest. That night we took it easy because we had to wake up before sun rise the following morning to watch the sun rise on visit Dune 45 and visit the dry clay pan.

Hiking up the Dune 45 was a fairly arduous task as it is one of the largest in the world and involved walking sometimes up to knee deep in the finest sand imaginable up a steep incline. The sunrise made the walk worth the while and the pictures we took were stunning. Next we over paid a jeep to drive us about 15 minutes to the dry clay pan which is in every picture where Namibia is involved. The movie The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vahn filmed a scene there. I read somewhere that if you were to leave an orange peel on the ground there that it would take over 50 years to decompose.

For pictures from the dunes please click HERE

Marieke and Cori found a common catalyst for coping with the insanely cold evenings and lots of sitting around time, Amarula. For whatever reason the campground in Solitaire, Namibia is known to have some amazing deserts both brownies and apple pie. I’m not a huge fan of deserts, nor am I a big fan of Amarula. After having to force down the food we have been given by Cook, the savory sweet apple pie washed down by a citrusy, cool, creamy alcoholic drink made me think for a minute, however brief, that there must be a god.

For pictures from Solitaire please click HERE

We arrived in Swakupmund and were due to stay there for a few days. Swakupmund is a very German City on the Atlantic Ocean a few kilometers south of the Skeleton Coast. We chose to stay in the dormitory rooms of our hostel, because we didn’t want to pay the outrageous fee of $100 for a private room. When we arrived, were forced to watch a televised brochure for the additional activities that were offered by the hostel this is one of the parts I despise the most about the trip. I’d read some about Swakupmund before we had arrived and was excited to check it out. Swakupmund is still a getaway for many Germans who were found everywhere in town. It is a few kilometers south of here in Walvis Bay that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had their baby. I was thinking that we were going to be in paradise. Not so much paradise is it was a sleepy town with Germanic architecture, good restaurants, a casino, a movie theater, and some hostile locals reminiscent of some we came across in South Africa.

I was really looking forward to going to the restaurants. The food on the trip aside from when Ray barbeques has been terrible, so eating out on our own was a priority for us. Namibia has some of the best mussels in the world and Swakupmund has many restaurants allowing us to sample African game meats. Over the next three days we tried the mussels, which lived up to their reputation, we had zebra, springbok, ostrich, and I even tried tree grubs (bugs) for the first time the next time would be in a mud hut in Zimbabwe when we were guests in someone’s home (I couldn’t throw them up that time).

We spent an afternoon quad bike riding the sand dunes with Marieke and Rob, and Mama Cinzia and David. Mama Cinzia was everyone’s mother away from home on this leg of the trip, she’s seen the world, and is an awesome lady. Her son David pronounced Da-veed-ah and I played many games of catch with an American football and drank tons of beer together. This was Cori’s first time on the quad bike which was a little nerve racking for her. I’d been on bikes and quads since being a kid so I was happy to leave her behind and join the advanced group and shred some gnar on some incredible dunes with the Atlantic Ocean sending cool winds our way.

At night we played pool, drank beers, and went clubbing a few nights with the group. This was a good pit stop and allowed us to hang out with one another and become friends. We heard that Zimbabwe was a great place to trade in old clothes for souvenirs; I didn’t at this point have anything that I wanted to trade. I picked up a bright aqua shirt with a RUN DMC figure on it that says Hip Hop Don’t Stop on it thinking that it may come in handy to trade. I still wear this shirt and think it is one of my favorites.

For pictures from Swakupmund please click HERE

Our Next stop was Spitzkoppe, home to a huge rock with some hieroglyph,s a few small settlements and one of the most incredible night skies I’ve ever seen. At night it was getting near freezing if not a few degrees below. We had no idea we’d be this cold.

For pictures from Spitzkoppe please click HERE

We stayed one night at a cheetah park before going to Etosha National Park. The cheetah park is in the middle of nowhere, no city close by and Google Earth can’t pinpoint the exact location. We first got to visit with a few of the cheetahs which were domesticated and that we could pet. They were wiry, skittish, and let you know that they were still wild animals. The brothers instructed us to only pet them behind the ears and not get behind them. I got to pet a cheetah behind the ear and had one bite my foot for a few minutes before the brother could get it to release its jaws.

We then got in a truck and went to go visit the 20 or so ‘wild’ cheetahs which were all rescues. I don’t remember exactly what or where they were rescued from, but we saw one cheetah who had one of it’s eyes missing. I expect they are cheetahs who probably couldn’t be left on their own in the wild. There was a small dog in the truck which was attacked unsuccessfully by one of the large cats. We stopped and opened up a large garbage can with huge chunks of meat which looked like the weighed about 3-4 kilos a piece. The brothers threw the large chunks of meat up in the air allowing us to get some great pictures of the cheetahs eating.

For pictures from the cheetah park please click HERE

The trip after all the hesitation and reservation was turning out to be much more than we could have ever done on our own without many months of planning and a much larger budget.

For part three of my Africa series of blogs which takes us through Etosha National Park, the Okavango Delta, and Chobe National Park, please click here

South Africa

Jan 18, 2012 by     3 Comments    Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, South Africa, Uncategorized, Where we've been

When we arrived in Cape Town on Friday morning after taking the red-eye from Buenos Aires, it was pouring rain. Table Mountain was a shadowy figure masked in clouds. Hannes, our amazing host we met from Couch Surfing picked us up from the airport around noon. We went to his place where Cori and I tried our best to stay awake to adjust to the new time zone.

Our first night in CT was absolutely amazing and it was 100% because of Hannes. His hospitality, demeanor, and wine collection reminded us of any one of our friends back home.

On Saturday Hannes gave us a few options, take us down the coast to see the Cape of Good Hope or go to a few of the wineries nearby. Being the gracious guests we are Cori and I are, we couldn’t make Hannes drive us to the wineries without the proper indulgence he deserved but couldn’t partake in while driving.



The day was stunning. Clouds in the distance and patches of sunlight gave our adventure a new chapter and it was very clear we were no longer in South America. We did the typical Cape of Good Hope day; drive down the coast looking for whales, stopping to take pictures of the multi-colored beach houses, seeing the penguins, walking around, marveling  the scenery, taking deep breaths of pure air, seeing baboons, elands, and ostriches, Chinese men  trying to take my wife but settling for a picture with her instead, eating one of the best meals I’ve ever had where Michelle Obama and Oprah ate a few days prior, and rounding it off with noodles, “pond weed,” and a few bottles of wine. I think that day I even told Hannes that I could move to Cape Town.

Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope
Beautiful drive around the Cape
Beautiful drive around the Cape

The next day Cori and I got a glimpse into what a racket the tourist industry is in Africa. Everything is incredibly inflated and in order to do anything you have to pay for it. Cori was feeling a little under the weather so we decided to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain rather than hike. We were both blown away by the price of the ticket. Something like $25 per person for a round trip fare, I’m not complaining but after being in South America for as long as we were we choked a bit on the price tag.

Sundays in Africa are dead, I mean dead. It is difficult to even find a grocery store open on Sundays. We did and I made Mexican food for Cori and Hannes. Monday we left Hannes and went to stay with a Privanya and Kapul, a lovely couple from Durban who are now living in the Cape Town suburbs. After a few days of Couch Surfing with P&K we decided to stay on Long Street to party, sleep in a bit, meet other travelers, and I had to stay in CT proper to get picked up for cage diving with great white sharks. Maybe it was because it was off season or I’m getting old, but Long Street really had no allure other than it was one of the safest places in the city. We stayed at a nice backpackers place at the top of the street and met some interesting people.

Stadium in Cape Town
The view from the top of Table Mountain
The view from the top of Table Mountain

Having no flipping clue how we were going to see Africa we tried talking to people about what the hell to do. P&K suggested buying a Land Rover and driving it to Dar es Salaam and selling it when we got there. A missionary suggested that we take the Inter Cape bus from Johannesburg to anywhere in Africa. A couple of young travelers suggested renting a car and getting as far up as Villanculos, Mozambique but it would have to be a 4×4 because the roads were garbage. No one could give us a simple answer as to what the hell and how the hell to see Africa.

When we went to a tourist place in Cape Town they had a chart of all of the overland vehicles leaving soon and the special prices on them. We took a few catalogs and put it in the back of our heads. I booked the shark cage diving and got really excited about that. Looking at the brochures it seemed like this may be the only reasonable thing to do and the only way to see Africa without buying a 4×4, preaching to the locals next to us, or having to figure out how to do the border crossings and logistics on our own.

Robbin Island
Robbin Island
Robbin Island
Inside Mandela's Cell

FACT: I hate sentences that start out with FACT: but, what I say is true. Tourism in Africa is a flipping racket. It is a pyramid scheme with a few jerks on the top who crap all over everyone below. Crass I know, but it is exactly what it is. It is nearly impossible to book anything direct, prices vary significantly, and because no one actually works for the company who you go with (for anything, not just over-landing) the person you book with typically doesn’t know anything. It is impossible to show up in a tourist office without doing your homework before hand.

People will have official looking signage outside of their buildings like a Nomad lighted up sign or an ATC logo out front. These are what they are, fronts. They aren’t actually the direct bookers; they are agents, but mostly idiots working on commission who don’t know anything.

Cage Diving with great white sharks
Cage Diving with great white sharks
Cage Diving with great white sharks

After being put through the ringer we needed a drink. P&K were wonderful enough to invite us to hang out with them and some of their friends. Privanya, a very nice woman, works as an engineer, happens to be in a motorcycle club. It was their monthly get together and we were their guests that evening. This was so far from the stereotype of a typical motorcycle club. These were really nice people who happened to ride motorcycles, far different from our image of bikers in the states.

The next day P&K took us to Fairview, the best winery I think imaginable. Hannes had introduced us to their wines and told us that we must go there before leaving South Africa. I didn’t know how someone could be so right. It was AMAZING. Major props go to Kapul for driving us and really making our day. We opted to have the “deluxe tasting” for around $11 a person which included 8 wines and 6 cheeses. Our sommelier was amazing and gave us a few extra glasses of wine and two extra pieces of cheese. Lunch was exquisite, we were already smashed, but opted to have more wine at lunch and stuff our faces with incredible food. After lunch it started to rain and we decided that we couldn’t leave, but had to go back for another tasting. We snuck in front of the regular tasting and had another 5 rounds. The car ride back to P&K’s place went faster than I remember the ride to Fairview was.

The best...Fairview Winery
Privanya-and-Kapul
The Family

We left to go to Stellenbosch which was a quant university town about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town. We decided rather than taking a car, we would take the train. It was super cheap and we had time. Unfortunately we missed the first train and had to sit around the station for a few hours before the next train was supposed to leave, this was terrible. People were begging for money constantly, but it wasn’t like the beggars back home who would say, “spare any change” and settle for a, “not today buddy.” No these guys were intimidating and would say things like, “I’m not a criminal, don’t make me be a criminal” “I have a knife in my pocket” “I fucking know you have money, give me some.” When I would say “NO” firmly or “not today” they wouldn’t leave, one grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let it go, another stood there less than 30 cms from my face for over five minutes. This was on the commuter train with all of our stuff. We had brief tastes of that on previous days, but being with our big bags and being intimidated made me; honestly, start to resent South Africa.

Stellenbosch was a turning point in our trip. We found out that it was impossible to get around Africa like we could get around just about anywhere else in the world. South America, we could safely take a nice bus from any small town and get anywhere else ten times a day or in India with extensive railways offering the same assurance, get where you need to go safely, without being intimidated like we were in Cape Town. In South Africa you had to have a car. It was impossible to do anything without one. We looked into the option of what is called the Baz Bus which is an expensive gringo hauler that takes gringos from one hostel to another along the Garden Route. With two of us the price of that would have been more than renting a car.

We drank a ton of wine in Stellenbosch, a ton. We put Buenos Aires to shame. We were drinking a few bottles of wine a night. It is easy to; the wine is excellent and super cheap.

WINE!!!

The official tourist information board in Stellenbosch was just as much a part of the scheme as one the unofficial ones. We met a woman named Simone who was less of an idiot than everyone else that we had met so far and decided to trust what she had to say. She was just as much a salesperson as anyone else, nonetheless, we booked our Africa Travel Co trip with her for half price to which she complained that her commission was not going to be as high as if she had not told us about the special pricing.

Sunset in Stellenbosch
Florian and I talking politics

We had around 10 days to kill before we had to leave from Cape Town and decided to rent a car and hit the road to check out the Garden Route which has been described by people who haven’t driven the Pacific Coast Highway through Northern California as one of the most beautiful places in the world. The Garden Route is a stretch of highway which is very beautiful along the Atlantic Ocean then past the southernmost tip of Africa then along the Indian Ocean speckled with great little towns and less hostile atmosphere.

Even all of the small towns on the Garden Route we had to ask, “is it safe to walk there” or “where shouldn’t we go” which wore us thin. Knysna was great because we had oysters for the first time in ages. We went for a long walk along the water marveling at all of the beautiful houses surrounded by electric fencing. On the way out of town we visited the elephant sanctuary and got to feed and pet elephants, which was one of the coolest things we’d done to date.

My favorite town along the Garden Route was the first town into Eastern Cape, Storm River. It’s a bizarre little spot with only a few stores along the main street. Cori had a case of food poisoning so I had a chance to pay way too much to rent a mountain bike for the day and ride an okay route along a logging route then to the Indian Ocean. The scenery was alright until I got to the cliffs edge, which was amazing.

After a few days for Cori’s stomach to rest I decided to bungee jump. The fall was 216 meters or 708 feet. It was one of the coolest days I’d had in South Africa.

We returned back to Cape Town after having a laundry list of things to buy for our overland trip.
























Africa Overlanding Pictures 1 of 5

Jan 30, 2011 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Brandyn's blogs, Namibia, South Africa, Uncategorized, Where we've been

Last view of Cape Town




The Cederberg Mountains to Orange River



Orange River



This is on the Orange River (Orange like the Dutch) on the othe side is Namibia





Namibia
First stop, Fish River Canyon












The Dunes









Solitaire to Swakupmund









Swakupmund











Spitzkoppe










Cheetah Park









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