Thursday, 23 April 2015

Swaziland and Lesotho

Flying was the cheapest way to get out of Namibia, so we boarded for the hour flight to Johannesburg. After a night here we attempted a trip to the centre of the city to find a minibus to the apartheid museum. The centre is insane. We walked round for hours without any luck, but fortunately got to see all the life and sites of the city. We then finally got a ride home from a minibus in one of the multi-storey car parks full of minibuses.

After that failure we decided to walk direct from the centre to the museum, which we thought was about 5km. After 2 hours walking down the side of a motorway with no path we admitted we were lost and a lovely bloke we spoke to in a garage drove us the rest of the way. The museum was worth it with a walk through South Africa's shameful past.

After this we picked up our new beastly automobile. The Chevrolet Spark Lite was the cheapest option, possibly because of its likeness to a children's toy. We skimped out on a gps to save money, making every journey an adventure involving at least a couple of wrong turns. A manic trip out of Johannesburg took us into the countryside, then over the border and into Swaziland.

After a drive through the rolling hills we made it to Ezluwini valley, where we pitched up and had the first nights sleep in our new tent. We took a walk to the craft markets and the super friendly ladies made us buy stuff we didn't need, then hugged us. We spent the rest of the day chilling in the valley and playing some badminton, Sammie got the hint I was bored after kicking a football at her several times.

We then ventured to Maguga dam, where we pitched up on the shores of the crystal clear lake. We were ready for a swim before we saw he warning signs for crocodiles and hippos. The place was completely deserted, so after a short walk around the lake we settled down and cooked a braai for dinner.

Next on the list was Hlane Royal national park, where two days self drive safari and camping overnight cost £15 between us. It was worth the money as soon as we arrived, with a dozen rhinos ridiculously close to us at the waterhole next to the campsite. They spent most of their time rolling around, coating themselves in mud to keep cool. 

On a drive we came around a blind bend and realised we were only a couple of metres away from an elephant. He became very aggressive, blowing his trunk and starting to charge at the car. I absolutely pooped my pants, flooring the car away from him. We then drove round a loop only to find the same elephant, locally known (by us) as psycho Bill, waiting at the end of the road. He started coming towards us forcing me to reverse pretty fast down the narrow, bumpy mud track. It was genuinely scary. 

After watching sunset and sunrise over the waterhole, we went for a quick drive around the park then headed out. On the way back to the border the police caught me doing 71kmph in a 60kmph zone and fined me £3.40. After his warning we slowly headed out of the country. 

The plan was to make it to Lesotho in a day, but after 7 hours of driving it was getting dark. So we camped in a town called Newcastle, not before our first McDonald's of the trip. After 8 hours driving the following day we finally made it to the Lesotho border. The trip was reminiscent of home, with fog slowing us to snails pace and the biggest hailstone storm I've ever seen. In the capital Maseru, we slowly made our way through a city void of street signs to our hostel and treated ourselves to a bed away from the cold and rain.

We headed south down the country, stoping in Quthing to see some dinosaur footprints preserved from 200 million years ago. Our guide told us they were from the Lesothosaurus, but I'm not sure if he was having us on. Our campsite that night was in Moroosi mountain, where an abandoned lodge left a sign with a number to ring if any customers turned up. With no phone we pitched up in the empty place. 

A clear sky and no moon showed us an impressive sheet of stars, we had a braai under them and went to bed. Our sleeping bags are designed for temperatures as low as 9 degrees, when we woke my tshirt which I left out side was lined with icicles, and our Savanna bottles were completely frozen. It wasn't the best nights sleep. 

A short distance turned out to take 6 hours on a horrendous road, but it was worth it to find a beautiful lodge in the hills. Here we were better prepared for the cold night, wearing 3 pairs of socks, 2 jumpers and Sammie's tights under my trousers, it was still cold but not as bad. 

The next morning we went horse riding, heading up and down steep valleys, next to cliff edges and through streams. A small hike in the middle took us to a waterfall hidden in the hills. The horses then took us back, with my stubborn one refusing to let Sammie's go in front, with both of them misbehaving and trying to run past each other. 

The rest of the day was spent killing Sammie at table tennis, pool and table football, before being legitimately beaten at pool by a 7 year old girl. We even got treated to chocolate cake and custard from the lovely owners. The next morning we were up and out of Lesotho, finishing our short but sweet stay in the two tiny countries.

Saturday, 11 April 2015


Immediately as we entered Namibia we realised it was pay day. We sat at a petrol station trying to sort out transport, watching every driver step out of his car unable to walk or speak. A later taxi driver told us the government was trying to introduce a point system on driving licenses for drink drivers, but it wasn't too popular with the public.

Whilst waiting at the station a friendly drunk man invited us for a free breakfast at his dad's restaurant, made us cheese and ham toasties for the journey and offered us a free nights accommodation. He soon revealed his motive for the kindness, admitting he was only doing it because we were white and he wasn't too fond of black people, to put it mildly. We were glad to get away from him as he turned increasingly offensive. Lovely toasties though. 

A 1200km minibus journey took us from the border to the capital; Windhoek. We arrived after midnight and our driver told us the taxis were all waiting to take us into the bush and rob us. He proceeded to take us to our hostel and tried to rip us off massively. We just wanted to go to bed.

Besides the dodgy start we soon discovered Windhoek to be a very easy and attractive city, it was small, pedestrianised and surrounded by mountains. Much more comfortable than a lot of the capitals we had visited. A couple of days chilling and organising later we picked up our new car, a stunning Kia Rio, the Lamborghini of Namibia. 

Once in the car we took a 7 hour journey south to Fish River Canyon, where we spent our first of  10 nights sleeping in the car (we couldn't afford accommodation or a tent). In the morning Sammie turned round from watching the sun rise over a deserted stretch of the canyon to find me down on one knee, with a glorious and very expensive engagement ring in hand. It must have been a magical experience for her.

After a few tears and breakfast we explored the rest of the canyon, with some stunning views. The rest of the day was spent celebrating with a few drinks at the Ai Ais hot springs, where natural water is pumped into indoor and outdoor pools. The outdoor pool was open 24 hours, so we swam in it under the stars and got pretty drunk.

We made an overnight stop in Luderwitz on our way back north, mainly for a night in a bed and some fish and chips. Our next stop was a big drive to Sesriem, where our journey was halted a couple of times with our car getting stuck in the desert sand. Using lunchboxes to dig we soon made our way out. 

By sunrise the next day we had already climbed to the top of a sand dune, watching the sun climb over the red sand. We then had a hike up one of the bigger dunes, where a decision to hike away from everyone else meant that instead of stepping on trodden, condensed sand we were ankle deep every step. It took us 3 hours to get to the summit, with us having to stop for a break every few steps on the steep bits. This was all worth it when we saw the amazing landscape and got to run down the steep side of the dune, which was possibly the most fun I've had this trip.

Another long journey in the car took us to spitzkoppe, one of the biggest mountains in Namibia. Along the way I shouted and slammed the breaks on, scaring Sammie quite a bit. I'd spotted 2 leopards walking along the side of the road, a rare find on a safari let alone when just driving. When we were unpacking the boot at Spitzkoppe Sammie was scared again, letting out a scream when she realised a meerkat was licking her foot.

The campsite was right at the base of the mountain, so we were parked in privacy between a few large boulders. After exploring the rock arch and natural pool we hired a guide to show us the rock art around the site. This dated back between 2000-4000 years, depicting people and wildlife and painted on with blood, rock and ostrich egg.

A night in swakopmund gave us another chance to sleep in a bed and eat real food. After this rest we explored a seal colony along the coast, where over 100,000 seals live. The crazy goat like sounds were topped by the smell of thousands of piles of seal poo. We spent a good hour here watching the seals mess about. When trying to leave we realised one had somehow got into the fenced off walkway and when we tried to leave he tried to bite us. We had to jump over the fence and run away.

We drove through the skeleton coast national park, looking at the shipwrecks, abandoned oil rigs and diamond mines along the way. After this we headed inland to Etosha, Namibia's best known safari park where we decided to spend a day as it only cost £5 each. On the way we stopped at a farm to see cheaters, leopards and hyenas getting fed which we didn't enjoy as we didn't realise the animals would be in enclosures. The only exciting thing here was getting followed by an oryx who ended up head butting me. 

Once in Etosha we immediately spotted a pride of 9 lions walking alongside the road and then resting under a nearby tree. The rest of the day was spent watching the usual suspects, and then seeing a rhino in the distance at the end of the day. 

On the way to the next destination we stopped to visit a Himba village, where a traditional Himba tribe lived. We were pleasantly surprised by this as our guide simply told us about their way of life and the tour didn't feel too intrusive or degrading to the people. After this we visited the petrified forest, where huge trees had travelled down from central Africa 260 million years ago in an ice age flood. The trees had then been buried without oxygen or carbon dioxide and had since been 'petrified' or turned into rock.

After all this travelling we decided to have a few days rest in Uis, where we laid by the pool in the day and cooked on the braai at night. It was perfect. We somehow adopted a dog for the few days, who Sammie decided to name 'Wiggle Waggle Munchkin'. I'm ashamed to say the name caught on.

On the trip back to Windhoek we travelled on the worst road we'd seen in Namibia, causing damage to the suspension and wheel alignment, making the car drive like a kangaroo with uneven legs. After 15 days in the car we'd travelled over 4500km and seen quite possibly the most beautiful and diverse country either of us have ever seen.