Thirteen days since our last and first post from Johannesburgi

We’re in Zambia now and in hindsight knowing that cell coverage and WiFi availability would be sketchy we should have provided a little route information in our first post but when you are sitting outside in Johannesburg and the wind is howling and its close to freezing and the internet is slow we tend to keep things short so we’ll start at the beginning…

After a total of 29 hours of travel, 23 hours flying, we arrived in Johannesburg and were met by a nice fellow named Resistance who proceeded to take us to our accommodation. We spent our first three nights at a great lodge, Safari Club SA located near OR Tambo airport. We were warmly greeted by the hotel owners, Jose(sp?) and Alastair MacDougall. The lodge is set in a beautifully manicured setting with a nice welcoming sitting area and restaurant and a separate indoor-outdoor bar. Our room was cozy with a comfortable bed and spacious bathroom. Over the next three days we enjoyed excellent breakfasts and dinners but more importantly we shared great conversation with Jose and Alastair. They are a lovely couple who put their hearts and souls into their business. We highly recommend Safari Club SA and we are looking forward to stopping in for a visit when we return to Joberg in early September.

To date we’ve covered just under 2,000 km and have so far camped in the bush for 6 nights in 3 locations, stayed at a nice little lodge just outside of Francistown for one night, camped 2 nights in a so-so campsite in the North Eastern District of Botswana near the Nata Bird Sanctuary and Sowa Pan and spent 2 nights in a beautiful bungalow at Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge situated in the centre of the the newly formed Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (the largest of its kind in the world). Departing Wildtrack on the 31st we made our way to the Kazungula border crossing where after 2 hours of the most bizarre red tape infested customs process we crossed the Zambezi river from Botswana to Zambia and made our way to Livingstone for 2 nights where we regrouped, picked up a SIM card and loaded up on groceries for our next leg through the wilds of Zambia.

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July 20 to 22, Blouberg Nature Reserve

We started off heading north east towards the borders of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana driving approximately 430 km and stayed at Blouberg Nature Reserve in the lowveld of Limpopo Province where we had a nice campsite located in a very dry and dusty bushveld. Blouberg Nature Reserve harbours the biggest breeding colony of Cape Vultures in the world and hosts more than 1000 breeding pairs. Getting to the reserve was a little bit of a challenge as our GPS told us upon turning right to leave our vehicle and walk to our destination. Walk?  We’re in the middle of nowhere. This was nothing new for us and we have had a very hard time feeling confident using the GPS. In Joburg we had to resort to Google maps to find our hotel after picking up our truck, we were told to turn left when we left Mapungubwe when we new for a fact we had to turn right, we were told to turn left into a farmers field when we were looking for Woodlands and were told to turn left or right or straight or some other bloody thing several other times. When we last visited Africa we used maps. We were told GPS can get you lost. Well whoever told us that was right so now we travel praying to the powers that be that we are in fact going in the right direction and not towards Antarctica or Bolivia or some other place that is not remotely close to where we want to go.

July 22 to 24, Mapungubwe National Park, Mazhou Campsite

Continuing about 150 km north our next stop was Mapungubwe National Park. The park is in South Africa and is located near and on the Limpopo River and the borders of Botswana and Zimbabwe. The park is split in half, the Eastern and Western sections separated by farm lands. The campsite is partially fenced primarily to keep out elephants but monkeys, baboons and enyala roam freely around the site. The enyala are small to mid-sized and are very similar to a white-tailed deer. They are habituated and would literally walk up to you and sniff and lick your hands with the expectation of food. This is great but unfortunately they have become this way because without a doubt, people feed them. Not a good thing. Every evening at sunset two Bush Babies would leap effortlessly through the trees surrounding our site. Quite amazing the distance they can leap and they do so without any sound whatsoever. We didn’t get any pictures of them but we did a little further along in our travels. Before we arrived at our camp we picked up groceries at a Choppies grocery store. Near the check out they had a CFC stand, Choppies Fried Chicken. It looked great so we figured we would be lazy our first night at the campsite and we were very happy we did this as the 4 bundles of firewood we purchased at the park gate might as well have been wet noodles. It was impossible to start a fire, more like a smudge so our CFC chicken came in very handy that evening.

July 24 to 26, Tuli Wilderness, Tuli Block Botswana, Molema Campsite

About 65 km from Mapungubwe we passed through the Pont Drift Border crossing to the Tuli block in Botswana where Molema Camp offered an unfenced wild experience although to our surprise and delight, all 5 sites had a little toilet, open air shower and dish washing station complete with hot water. Rustic but a luxury for sure because elephant, lion and leopard can frequently stop by for a visit so walking to the ablution block (toilets) in the pitch black with only a headlamp or flashlight can can kind of raise the hair on the back of your neck a little. Camping near us were two German couples who we shared a morning game drive with but it was the evening before that the excitement  really kicked in. It was dark and I was in the process of searing/charring our Peri Peri chicken. The evening was quiet and relaxed when all of a sudden, four bright headlamps were pointing our way and quickly making their way towards us.  Through the darkness the Germans were running towards us, pots full of rice and chili con carne in hand. Elephants! Elephants have invaded our campsite! We had no choice but to run! The minutes turned into about an hour so we offered them some bowls and utensils and we  proceeded to chow down all the while keeping our lights and my super duper 1000 lumen flashlight pointed towards their camp. As the ruckus at their campsite settled down all of a sudden we heard noises behind and to the side of our site. Oh oh, more elephants! We all stood and watched and shined our lights waiting in anticipation for the next invasion. Fortunately or not (it all depends if you like this kind of action or not, we do) the beasts (the elephants ha ha) dispersed and we were able to wish our visitors a good night. Joyce and I sat looking at the incredible night sky listening for any further visitors but none arrived so off to bed we went hoping we would have another encounter tomorrow but alas, it was not to be.

At this point in time I was really getting into building fires and cooking on the brai over the fire embers. I chopped wood and collected kindling and used my bare hands to move burning logs to place them exactly where they needed to be. I need to come up with a better way of moving burning logs!

July 26 to 27, Francistown, Woodlands Stopover Lodge

Located just outside of Francistown and about 170 km from the Tuli the Woodlands was a bit of a surprise. We were expecting a lodge complete with a little restaurant and maybe a bar with good WiFi so we could upload some pics and and get the blog updated. Well, this wasn’t really a “lodge”, just a reception office that sold some frozen lasagne and soups and bread and stuff and beer(yes!) and red wine or sparkling white. Our lodging was surprisingly beautiful with a comfortable bed, a microwave for heating our frozen lasagna and a nice bathroom with rain shower and lots of hot water. Joyce was in heaven as she could wash and dry her hair and rid her body of the dust and grime that had accumulated. There were two rooms side by side and as we were unwinding with a cool drink and doing some tech catch-up, our neighbours arrived.

Christian and Nishi (sp?) are a wonderful couple from Norway who have taken a year off to travel. We immediately hit it off and spent the remaining afternoon and evening chatting about whatever subject came to mind. Nishi suggested we share dinner with them so while she cooked up a dish of rice and eggplant spiced with chilies we nuked our lasagna and we sat down and shared our dinners, sipped our drinks into the wee hours of the night. Well, actually until around 9:00 pm which seems to be bedtime for most of us older travellers.

July 27 to 29, Nata Lodge Campsite

Located just off the main A3 highway approximately 170 km north west of Francistown, the lodge offers bungalows, permanent tent sites and a very sandy and confusing campsite. There are too many lights around the sites so we had to keep most of our screens zipped up and we were located near a dish washing station which also acted as a security guard station. It was a little bothersome having a guy sitting at the station constantly looking over at us. To add to that his buddies would show up in the evening and they would chat and shoot the breeze while we were hoping for a little privacy.

We spent 2 nights here but this would have been a better place to just break up the journey and spend one night. The site is located near the Nata Bird Sanctuary which sits on the edge of Sowa Pan. In the wet season thousands of Flamingo gather and a very large variety of bird life can be viewed. Being we’re in the dry season now there is really nothing much to see so we spent the day dealing with slow internet and low on supplies we had a nice chicken schnitzel dinner at the lodge.

 

July 29 to 31, Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge

Continuing a further 220 km north we spent 2 nights at Wildtrack Safaris-Eco Lodge. As mentioned, the lodge is centred in the newly formed Kavango-Zambezi Trans frontier Conservation Area. This area forms a continuous corridor connecting Chobe National park and the Sibuyu Forest area of Botswana with Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe allowing the free movement of wildlife throughout the areas. The main lodge is spectacular and incorporates a large beamed thatched roof and hosts an amazing collection of African art. Our bungalow was thatched roofed with a huge bed, a giant soaker tub in the bathroom and an outdoor shower open to the incredible nighttime Botswana sky. The staff were exceptional and the food (much of it traditional Botswanian fare) was delicious. The lodge offers morning and late afternoon game drives of which we did one afternoon drive. There were some recent brush fires in the area so the wildlife was limited but we did see plenty of elephant, giraffe, Sable, Kudu and other game. All in all a very nice stop if you are heading south or north. Kudos to Johnathon and Jacques for the obvious effort they have put into managing the lodge with guest comfort and enjoyment top of mind.

July 31 to August 2, Kazangula border crossing, Livingstone, Zambia

After being treated at our departure to several local African songs sung by the staff of Wildtrack we continued a further 170 km to Livingstone, Zambia. It is about a 70 km drive to the Kazangula border crossing where you cross the Zambezi River to either Zambia or Zimbabwe. The customs process at this crossing has got to be the most inefficient, time consuming process in the world. Clearing Botswana immigration was a snap. A simple departure form, a stamp and you are on your way to the car ferry (one truck, two pickups capacity). You drive on to the ferry, pay 200 Pula and you cross the river and you drive off to the point of no return, the Zambian side of the river and the awaiting quagmire of trucks, dust, fumes and “Agents” swarming to offer their services for the customs chaos that awaits! After 2 hours of filling in ledgers asking for engine serial numbers, chassis serial numbers, make, model, colour, engine size, registration information, police clearance papers (we didn’t have these), passport info, for the toll fee then repeating the same process for Interpol, and then the same process for the road tax you then proceed to pay the associated fees at several different offices. Total insanity. When we last crossed this border it was by foot so the process was simple.

Below is the first step of many more!

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Mopane Bush Lodge, our last stop before Johannesburg.

We departed Zambia on September 30th after some great adventures. We gassed up and headed out from Livingstone for a one night pit stop at Nata Lodge in Botswana and a final two night pit-stop at Mopane Bush Lodge located in the Mapesu Private Game Reserve in northern South Africa. The drive from Nata was supposed to take about 7 hours. If only we knew what was in store.

I plotted our course using Google Maps and it showed what I thought was the most reasonable route. We had covered some of the same roads heading up into Botswana so it made sense to do a little back-tracking. Sure, there would be some gravel roads but I prefer this to pot-holed roads. The journey would take about 7 hours and we would re-cross Pont Drift border crossing into South Africa and then it would be a short drive to our Lodge. Our GPS had a different route which would take us through Martin’s Drift border crossing. The route was a little further and a roundabout way to go but the roads would be paved and therefore, and therefore what?  I’m not sure. We have had many issues with our Garmin GPS but for some reason we decided to trust it this time. In the back of my mind I knew it was a mistake. We hit Martin’s Drift crossing at 1:00 pm, a 5 hour drive so far. Not seeing any traffic on the way we expected a quick crossing into South Africa. Us and 500 other people, cars and semi-trailers were probably expecting the same thing! An hour later we were off and running. Our GPS showed an arrival time of 5:20 pm. My calculation was 5:00 pm at the latest. We proceeded down some very out-of-the way side roads, mostly good until we the pot-holes. The god damned pot-holes! I thought we were done with this. We followed the R 572 to the R521, turned right then headed east then onto the R522 or 23 or some number then the N1 until finally, our GPS indicated a left turn with only about an hour left to go. Finally! The turn off had a couple of signs. None of them indicated Mopane Bush Lodge. This should have been a warning but we trusted our GPS but shouldn’t have. We drove and drove and finally hit a curve in the road. Our GPS said go straight. There was a road that went straight but it was blocked by a large gate. There was no one in site and there were no signs. That was an ominous sign.

Below is what Google Maps suggested as a route and the one I figured would be best!

Below is what our Garmin GPS suggested.

After we hit the curve in the road, backed up and confirmed we couldn’t proceed as directed we figured we had no choice but to continue on. Our GPS showed us travelling in a large circle. The road became more unfriendly and there was not a soul in sight. We had no choice but continue driving hoping for a miracle. Finally we saw someone up ahead so we asked if he knew Mopane Bush Lodge. He didn’t but fortunately up ahead another vehicle was approaching. We flagged them down, explained our GPS had us going what looked like in circles, we had a laugh, ha ha ha, and they think they had heard of the lodge, they thought near the town of Musina, and yes, there is a tar road only a km or two away. Great, the sun is getting low but at least we’ll be in a semi-civilization area. What we had passed along this road so far were the back sides of game farms and hunting concessions. We hit the main highway, the N1. The N1? That was the road we had originally turned off on our way to “the lodge”. We stopped and pondered our situation as the sun slowly set over the horizon. Let’s try re-entering the damn lodge into the GPS. We did and this time it showed us driving north on the N1 to Musina, about 60 kms away, turn left onto R521, drive another 63 kms and voila, we would be at Mopane. Okay, lets do it. As were driving we passed the road to nowhere which we were originally told to turn left onto. That was about 30 kms before Musina so we had no idea how may extra kms we had done to just get back to our first point of no return. It was dusk and the small bugs started splattering on the windshield making fo a not-so-good driving/viewing experience when all of a sudden we hear a noise, a crash, a thump. Now what. I look in my side view mirror, the only one I have left due to an encounter with a tree at Liuwa Plain NP and I see our table bouncing and crashing onto to the highway. Another “oh no!, Hari Kari” moment. We are so fortunate this didn’t happen on a busy road or highway. I back up, whimpering under my breath so as not to upset my princess navigator, bend the table legs back into place, open the back of the truck and barely get the thing to fit into the back of the truck. Onward we go until we hit the main intersection in Musina. Our GPS tell us to turn left, proceed 63 kms and all of our dreams will come true. We sat at the intersection with our hazard lights blinking. Do we trust our GPS? Nope. We were able to flag down a car and ask if he knew Mopane Bush Lodge. He did! Our GPS was correct so I start driving and then the pot-holes. All we need is a flat tire now. My eyes are not the best driving at night so we took our time, the GPS counting down our arrival time, 55 minutes (damn), 45, 30, 10 and then the sign! Hallelujah! Of course the whole time we were worried the gate would be closed and we would end up camping at the entrance. We turned onto the gravel road and proceeded and in the distance….locked gate! In my mind I’m thinking I can honk the horn, flash the lights, maybe drain some fuel from the tank and make an IED that might get their attention but fortunately, we spot a small glowing light emanating from a post near the gate. An intercom! Mana from heaven, communication to the the other side but will there be anyone on the other side? I push the button, it rings, and rings and rings and then stops. Aren’t they waiting for us? Did they think we changed our plans. Stop crying!, The intercom crackled again and then like Gods voice talking down to Moses a “hello” and the gate slowly opened. 11 hours after departing Nata Camp we had arrived.

Below is our actual route although I couldn’t find the rogue road were told to turn onto so I’m just guessing but it’s close.

Mopane Bush Lodge was a nice spot to pit-stop but in hindsight, well, who the hell knows! We were literally kms away from where we camped at Mapungubwe NP when we were heading north into Botswana

We spent the next day relaxing, they had great wifi so we were able to update the blog. She staff were friendly and attentive and we had a nice bungalow far away from the madding crowd. For the past eight years the lodge has been operating as place to do safaris either in the private reserve or to the nearby World Heritage Site which is Mapungubwe National Park. Previous to this the lodge operated as a hunting lodge so the animals in the reserve are still quite skittish so we opted to just relax and hang around and update the blog as they had very good wifi. One of the guides at the lodge specializes snakes, spiders and scorpions so he he did a little show and tell for us with a scorpion he happened to have on hand. All in all it was a nice stay but a bit expensive for what was offered.

Soweto

For our last day in in South Africa we arranged a tour of Soweto. Soweto is short for South Western Township and was the scene of the 1976 student uprising where the students were protesting the introduction of Afrikaans as the language medium of institutions. The number killed isn’t clear but between 176 to 700 people were slaughtered by the Apartheid police forces. The population of Soweto is approximately 5 million packed into and area of about 106 sq. kms although the last census put the population at 1.3 million. Johannesburg has a similar population and an area larger than 500 sq. kms. Soweto is home to two Nobel prize winners, Dr. Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

We visited the good, the bad and the ugly. Poverty is still endemic and the youth unemployment rate runs close to 70%. Shantytown areas still exist side by side with nice brick homes built in the 80’s.

Soweto was created in the 1930’s when the white government started separating Blacks from Whites. The original settlements were born out of the area in 1886 when gold was discovered. The history of this area is both fascinating and sad as the era of Apartheid took hold and families homes were destroyed and the Black population relocated to make way for Whites.

We visited Nelson Mandela’s home, Walter Sisula Square where in 1955 the Congress of the People met to draw up the Freedom Charter which was an alternative vision to the repressive policies of the apartheid state, and the site of the murder of 13 year old Hector Pieterson who became the icon of the Soweto uprising. In remembrance of these events, June 16th is now a public holiday in South Africa, named Youth Day.

This was a sad period in the history of SA but it was the start of the eventual dismantling of the horrible regime of apartheid, the release of Nelson Mandela and the eventual free and fair elections held April 24, 1994 which changed the history of South Africa.

There is so much more to write about on this subject so I urge anyone who is interested to dig into the details and discover the struggles the Black people have faced and to this day, 25 years later still face under the corruption of their government. Exclusionary financial and economic policies still persist and will continue under neo-liberal systems that were created to suit the needs of Europe but are implemented in Africa which is entirely different than Europe and do not work in the favour of the local communities and do not understand how local communities operate. The African agenda must be considered and policies need to change. Far too many are trapped in poverty and unemployment and the communities will continue to suffer at the hands of the system until a true economic transformation happens.

Soweto is the epicentre of the movement that changed the history of this incredible country. It was a moving experience that opened our eyes to the struggles of the past and the struggles that exist to this day.