And so we arrived on a humid afternoon in ...

Trip Start Feb 01, 2001
Trip End Sep 05, 2001

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Flag of Malawi  ,
Tuesday, May 1, 2001

And so we arrived on a humid afternoon in Umzumbe. We decided to stay at a backpackers called The Mantis and Moon (there is a nice little bushman story connected to that), run by our great host Murray Must say that the outdoor jacuzzi and shower were a definite draw card for us!! We spent the next three hazy days relaxing in the hammock and comfy sofas, bodysurfing at the beach and basically doing as little as possible. The weather was humid and hot so there was little energy to do anything. I tried my first springbok shooter on the last evening there - a combination of Creme de Menthe and Amarula Cream. Yum!! Needless to say I had several!! Needing two weeks to process Daniel's visa for Zimbabwe, we thought we'd better head off to get the process started. We wished Murray a fond farewell and we were off to Jo'burg via the Drakensburg...

Unfortunately for us we got about 70kms down the road before we had to stop suddenly as there was smoke pouring from the right front wheel. There was a mechanic nearby so we rolled in and he had a look at the brakes for us. He stopped the smoke (and removed all our braking capacity) and then sent us down the road to Amanzimtoti where we stumbled onto Lucky's Mobile Repairs in the nearby township. Lucky said we needed to find a new caliper kit for the right wheel - easily done in a new car but then Twoey is a 1971 VW kombi... An angel in disguise introduced himself right then. His name was Jay Gumede. Jay owned one of the taxi companies in town - (these are usually mini vans, some of them being vw's). Jay knew where to find the parts and offered to ride with us and navigate through Durban and surrounds. Lucky blocked the right brake so we could still drive (with a only a left brake) and off we went. We found the part we needed but by then it was late so we had to stay in Amanzimtoti for the evening. Jay offered his house for accommodation and we gratefully accepted. We couldn't have asked for a better host. By lunchtime the next day we were on the road again thanks to our new found friends!

By sunset we had arrived at our next destination, the Drakensburg ("Dragon Mountains" in Afrikaans). The first Afrikaaner settlers had to cross this mountain range to get to what is now called Johannesburg. Quite an amazing feat. The backpacker's camp was set up at a place called Olivier's Hoek Pass (between Ladysmith and Harrismith). It overlooked a beautiful valley in the shadow of a giant, natural amphitheatre of steep cliffs which curved to the right for some 20 or 30 km. Over the next three nights we watched some amazing storms. Every night whilst eating dinner we sat out on the back porch of the homestead and watched the lightening in the distance. We even had a go at night photography but alas nothing could record the beauty half as well as the real thing. In the mornings we arose early to watch in awe as the sun rose and we wondered what all you wonderful people were doing in the world just then. We spent two beautiful days driving through the national parks, the highlight being a 6hr walk in the Kwazulu-Natal National Park up the Tugela Gorge, which put you at the base of the Amphitheatre. The river running through the gorge is amazing. Smooth pale rocks and crystal clear water made swimming in the naturally formed pools amazing (although icy cold!). With great sorrow we left our piece of heaven and headed for Jo'burg.

Our number one aim there was for Daniel to apply for the visas required to carry on our journey north. Late in the afternoon we entered the Murder Capital Of The World (Jo'burg) where, unfortunately, we were all murdered almost immediately.

Although our brakes had now been fixed (or so we thought), they pulled hard to the left when you applied some pressure. With Dave navigating and Nat driving we expertly cruised through traffic along the M1 (doing all of about 70 in a 120 zone!), until we found our way to Melrose where Dave's aunty lived. Phew!!! A relief to get there safely especially as it was hot with all the windows up and the doors locked just in case some dude decided they wanted to hijack our groovy van. It seems to be quite a problem in Jo'burg. Jacqui (Dave's aunty), told us that they had had 16 hijackings in their area alone this year already!

Three days was all we needed in Jo'burg to obtain what we required. We didn't see many sights in Jo'burg other than the Santon City Shopping Centre, and the inside of a repair shop when our breaks failed on our way to Pretoria! Yes it seems we had been fixing the symptoms and not the problem but after 7 hours in the waiting room of the workshop we were certainly up to date on the latest gossip in Fair Lady, Marie Claire, Reader's Digest and travel mags. What an informative day that was!

On the afternoon of our third day we rushed off to see the sites of the Kruger National Park stopping overnight at a quaint little town called Belfast. The sunset as we headed east was superb - fiery red. The town of Belfast was interesting... We drove out to a campsite on the far end of town near to a dam which seemed to us, in the middle of nowhere. It was extremely dark and there was not a soul to be seen other than a security guard who mysteriously appeared out of the shadows. It was all a bit spooky. Needless to say the assurances of the guard that the area was safe were not quite enough to convince us (we knew we were being a bit paranoid - our recent murder in in Jo'burg was most probably to blame). We headed back into town, hoping to find something a bit more welcoming and to have a bite to eat. We didn't find any alternative accommodation but did spot a cute little pub where we filled our stomachs and sunk a few drinks which built up our courage enough to return to the spooky campsite.

In the morning we had a laugh about the evening's events - the site was beautful and we savoured our coffees on a chilly morning as the early morning rays filtered through the trees. Daniel had managed to photograph the stunnng sunrise over the lake although it was probably our security guard waking us up to announce his departure (and subtlely asking for a tip), that motivated him to rise so early!

It was time to see some animals! So hurriedly we packed up and arrived at the gates of the Kruger Park by lunchtime. The Kruger Park is SA's largest game reserve and is a couple of hundred kms long and about a hundred kms wide - bigger than the Czech Republic The drive through the Lowveld was lovely and I was surprised at the passing countryside. In my head I had imagined it to be flat country but it was quite the opposite.

The Kruger Park we found to be great value. Entrance was only about R20 (2) each and R50 for the car. Satara was our choice of campsite (thanks Debs - it was great!). Camping was about R25 a night with great facilities. We thought that once in the park all the prices would be jacked up so that they would "cash in" on the fact that there wasn't any other alternative establishment to purchase from. We did so enjoy drinking beers for 25p each!! As for the prime attractions, we got to see most of the animals, bar the rhino and leopard. It's interesting to see how blase you become about spotting these amazing creatures. You become chanelled in your viewing preferences. Zebras and giraffes are no longer as interesting as they were two days ago. You suddenly only want to see a lion or a leopard or whatever it is that has evaded your gaze so far. It becomes a "been there, done that" kind of attitude I think, particularly when the camera is involved. Put down the camera and watch the behaviour more and even the common creatures become facinating: baboons are the best. It's also surprisingly for me a bird watchers paradise. So many beautifully colourful birds.

On our last night in Kruger we cruised back into camp to find a large thunderstorm approaching at a rapid rate. This was to be the first test for our tent. It failed miserably!! We rushed around, ensured everything was packed away and safe inside little Twoey, poured ourselves a large glass of red wine and as the first rain drops hit our faces, locked ourselves in the car to watch the storm and our tent do battle. It was a massive storm! Lasting a good hour. Within 10 minutes one side of the tent was lying horizontal to the ground. Great idea leaving the sleeping bags in there wasn't it? We thought about going to see if water had made its way into the tent yet but were discouraged from doing this by the lightening bolts that were hitting the ground within eyeshot. When the storm subsided we found our sleeping bags thoroughly soaked by the huge pool that had formed at the bottom of the tent. The campsite was in mayhem by the time the storm withdrew. There was a queue for the dryer but eventually the sleeping bags were warm and cosy again and we all fell asleep safe and dry in Twoey. In the morning we did have to do some tent repairs and put the tent in the washing machine but were on our way back to Pretoria (near Jo'burg) by lunch.

We took a different route, this time through Graskop and stopped the night in Sabie. We wanted to view God's Window and The Pinnacle - two landmarks that we'd heard much about. It was raining and a thick fog lay on the mountain so it was pointless driving up there that day. We went to Sabie (only 25km down the escarpment) and found ourselves a cool backpackers with some wonderfully cosy cane couches - you know the ones that are like a half sphere? Very comfortable indeed!

The next morning found the weather more favourable, so we drove out to see God's Window etc. We were a little disappointed with the view. The area is beautiful but looking over the surrounding area there is thousands of hectares of plantations - mainly pine but also eucalyptus. The remaining patches of indigenous forest looked much more appealing.

We didn't leave the area until late afternoon after eating a most unenjoyable lunch at The Spur, (for some reason Dave had been raving about the great value of this place but I didn't see it!) Finally we arrived in Pretoria late evening at a great backpackers - great outside bar, satellite tv, full kitchen, cheap internet and cool people. Unfortunately Dave and I had to leave the very next day. We were hoping to be able to pick up Daniel's visas and be on our way but as luck would have it South Africa was having a public holiday that day. We really were running out of time as we had to be in Malawi by the 1st of April so we headed for the border of Botswana leaving Daniel to collect them and made a plan to meet at Vic Falls. Originally we were to drive through Zimbabwe but at the time there was no petrol so we would have had to carry our fuel with us which was not appealing. Botswana's petrol ended up being very cheap so we felt it was a good move in the end. Dave and I ended up about an hour short of the border at a litle conservative town called Ellisras. The people at the campsite were a tad on the wierd side we decided. There was a nicely framed certificate on the wall made out to the Entrepreneur of the Year - we were suitably impressed!? The best thing was that we got to study a pack of mongooses (we think), at sunset, and in the early hours of the morning a large group of monkeys.

We got started early, planning to make it to the northern Botswanan town called Kasane which is the meeting point of 4 countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia. The day turned out to be longer than expected............ (to be continued).


The view from Oz

Dave asked if Daniel and I would write a summary of South Africa because we all know that if he wrote it then we would only learn that "Cape Town is the best town in the world"! My answer generally to a comment like this is that it reminds me of a particular place in Australia - a great way to get up any South African's nose!

Well Dave may have a point, Cape Town is a very cool and laid back city. Certainly a good place to chill out on holiday. It has fantastic beaches - and you will find at least one which is sheltered no matter which direction the wind is coming from, (although the water is bloody cold!). It has a mountain right on its doorstep with a greater diversity of organisms than some countries have in their entire land mass. It even has a hard house club which we liked (Studio 47) - that was a pleasant surprise! Most people were very friendly - and that goes for all of South Africa I am happy to report!

So what do people like to do in their spare time? Well they're very much an outdoor bunch. Very into their sports. On the beaches you'll see alot of people playing "Beach Bats", (funny enough, being on the beach and all). They are a bunch of Rugby and Soccer Freaks. With Africa having about a third of the world's soccer players you have to wonder why the World Cup has never been awarded to an African city. Go figure.

South Africans love their food. Braais had to be the highlight for me and I felt very much at home around the fire, and they do have fabulous meat, (well i hear anyway now that I'm vegetarian). The Afrikaaner hospitality is amazing. If I lived like that every day I'd be as big as a house in no time at all! The service industry is also very good. After spending time in London it definately seems like the best in the world! The local art is interesting and the curios original and resourceful. Where else in the world can you find curio chickens made out of old plastic bags?! And coke cans made into all sorts of amazing objects. There are wonderful wood and stone carvings and fantastic beading, woven baskets and colourful paintings. You could spend a small fortune if let loose in Cape Town's Green Market Square!

The cuisine is varied and yum!! On a visit you'd have to try Biltong (dried meat), maize porridge (the locals staple diet), and Dom Pedros (liqueur milkshakes). A drive around the country would no doubt portray the love affair South Africans have with American diners and steakhouses. It's very odd and still unexplained to me but you'll find the petrol stations often have their restaurants specially decorated - juke box and all. During my stay in Cape Town I sampled two of the most delightful Kurdish restaurants. I like the informality of sitting on cushions and the vegetarian food is always good.

In line with their love of the outdoors the South Sfricans are very aware of their environment. Water is a major issue at the moment. There is a huge programme underway to rid the countryside of alien plants that hold onto the water instead of allowing it to run into the rivers. We met a gentleman who explained with wattle trees, they chop them down and use them to produce charcoal which this particular company was using to produce silicon. Not a bad little programme really - provides alot of jobs which the country needs to be providing (they still have about 35% unemployment).

In a country of 45 million people there are still about 7 million that still have to walk an hour or two to fetch their water every day but this is changing. Running water is being installed in houses at the rate of one million people a year. Cholera is a problem in parts of Kwazulu- Natal but they are educating people on water consumption in the schools and these problems look like they will be overcome.

South Africa is blessed by a diverse landscape - from the rolling plains of the Mpumalanga in the east to the surfing beaches like Jeffreys Bay, from the natural beauty of places like Dutoit's Kloof to the amazing flora and fauna throughout. The climate is favourable pretty much all year round. A warm summer and pretty mild winters.

It's easy to get around South Afica. They have a good network of coaches, there is a great service called the Baz Bus which pretty much connects up all the main backpacker hangouts across the country, and the roads are pretty good all over. The only dramas driving are the amount of pedesterians and livestock on the roads. In many areas, the main highway is the only road so it is a market, a walkway, and a taxi stand all in one. Whilst we were there the budget had just been released and the government was to add a couple of cents to the petrol price. No-one was happy with this (not surprisingly), but the money was to go towards better roads. Most of the main highways we travelled were in excellent condition (many had pot hole sign warnings but most had now been resealed or filled in!) - we started viewing these signs with humour - 'oops there's another sign accidently left up'! In country areas though, there are some not so good roads and most of the township areas had no roadwork at all so I guess they had to start building roads out there and spending less on the city areas. Overtaking traffic is not much of a drama as they construct very wide emergency lanes, so slow vehicles pull over and drive in these so you can pass. Essential when you think of the many winding and steep roads across the country.

In short the country has gone through a lot of changes since the end of aparteid in 1994. Any country going through such amazing change cannot be everything it wants to be overnight but it makes for an exciting and interesting time and it must feel great to know you are a part of that - knowing that as an individual you can make a huge difference to your nation's growth and prosperity. Indeed I hope that within our lifetimes Africa will unite and be an important voice in the growing concerns of global issues........If we just give them the chance.
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