And so we arrived on a humid afternoon in ...
Trip Start Feb 01, 2001
7Trip End Sep 05, 2001
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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
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)
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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.