Aladaglar and the Golden Rain

My heart is beating so loudly that it must be heard. We’re lying in our rooftop tent on top of our Toyota Landcruiser. It is pitch black outside and since a couple of seconds it is completely silent as well. I am looking at the woman next to me who is now awake, she looks at me with her big blue eyes and brushes her long dark hair out of her sleepy face. I answer to her “what is going on” question is an unintelligible murmur, more to calm her down than that I actually have an answer. I stick my head underneath the sturdy and frozen canvas of the tent and stare into the darkness outside looking for a clue. Cold air brushes the side of the Toyota, the tent and my face. Vaguely, I smell burned sulphur and I notice that a load of micro-dust is being taken by the wind. It is dead quiet now, I can almost hear the dust descending on the car and I have to remind myself to breathe. Back in the tent she has managed to squeeze her long slim legs into her trousers and she’s putting on a sweater. It is clear that she has no intention to go back to sleep any time soon.
 
A couple of days ago we started driving a 4wd route through the Aladaglar Mountains in Turkey. The Aladaglar Mountains are part of the Taurus Mountain Range that lies in the provinces Kayseri, Nigde and Adana in the Central Anatolia Region south-east of the more known Cappadocia. The Aladaglar Mountains are sometimes called the Anti-Taurus Mountains and have a surface of 545 square meter. We arrived early in the season and the park hadn’t officially opened yet when we drove through. Cold drizzly days are behind us, but the bright sun warmed up our vehicle earlier today. This area is known for its large differences in temperature, during the day it can get up to 30 degrees Celsius while it freezes at night and on the highest altitudes in the park the snow will stay all year round.
 
We followed a route that led us to the highest peak of the Aladaglar: The Demirkazik with a height of 3756 meters. Tracks through the snow gave us the reinsurance that another car had followed this path recently. We plodded on until we reached a recently descended avalanche with haphazard pine trees poking out of it that covered the entire road ahead of us. We turned the vehicle around and found a beautiful camping spot just on the border of where the snow had started, but behind some rocks which still protected us against the elements.
It is now very cold with bright stars against the dark sky. In the meantime, I have also put on all my clothes and wrapped in a thick down jacket I have just climbed down the narrow stairs of our rooftop tent and wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.
A couple of minutes ago we were roughly woken up by a dull explosion close to our camping spot and I have decided to have a look outside. Slowly, I follow the tracks of our car around the large rock formation which we are camping behind, back to where we turned the car earlier. Besides a few rock climbers here and there, Aladaglar doesn’t get a lot of visitors, especially not in this season. There are some shepherd and nomads living in the vallies, but that is about it.
 
Hidden behind some rocks I can now see what is going on. A group of young men with an old car and head torches are carrying pick-axes and shovels up the narrow paths. The receding snow and good weather the past few days attracted a small group of local gold diggers who illegally, by the light of their torches and the moon, try their luck to find some gold at night in this mineral-rich area.

Sudan-Egypt Border Crossing: South to North

In March 2017 we crossed the border between Sudan and Egypt. Although we surely had border crossings that took us longer to cross or were more unpleasant, we definitely categorize this crossing as one of the more complex ones on this journey. What makes it so difficult compared to all our previous border crossings are the different steps in the process. All those steps can come across as very unorganized and complex which they definitely are!
 
Without the help and assistance of Overland Travelers who went before us this border crossing would have been a total nightmare. We used the information from http://myoverlandadventure.com/sudan-wadi-halfa-egypt-abu-simbel-qustul-border-crossing/ for this border crossing, but some steps/prices have changed over the past year, so here is an updated version on going South to North, including getting your Egyptian Visa on the border.
 
Sudan Border
Costs:
200 SDP Processing fees (50 pp + 100 for 1 car)160 SDP Government fee (80 pp)110 SDP Customs50 SDP Mazar (Fixer, used only to get the carnet stamped)
Total: 520 SDP = 30 USD
(SDP to USD Black Market rate at the time: 1USD – 17.5 SDP)
 
The border gate opened around 9.00 am. We parked next to the Cafetaria and waited for the Immigration office to open. When we entered the building it is not really clear which counter does what, just start with the first one and let them show you which one is next.
At the police office we did NOT have to pay anything, also we did NOT have to pay anything for the photocopies. Make sure they photocopy the following three times (1 for the police, 1 for customs and 1 for the Egyptian customs) :
drivers passportdriving licensecarnet / carnet stampvehicle registrationCustoms document given to you when entering Sudan
 
Customs:
We used Mazar to get our Carnet stamped. (He said we could pay him whatever we wanted) We gave him all the documents while we had something to eat at the cafetaria. They checked our Chassis Nr, but did not inspect the inside of our cars. We drove out without any problems after this.
 
Egypt Border
Costs:
187 EGP Gate fee
60 EGP health fee (30 pp)
110 EGP Car check by Customs
525 EGP Customs (Carnet Stamp)
60 EGP license plates
180 EGP insurance (1 month)
10 EGP copies
150 EGP ferry to Abu Simbel
Total: 1282 EGP = 71 USD
We got our visas for Egypt at the border: 25 USD visa pp
 
1. Gate fee and health fee:
If you don’t have EGP they will allow you into the gate on foot to change money. Pay your gate fee, fill out the health card, pay the health fee and go through the gate.
 
2. Customs car check:
We walked inside the x-ray building and walked into an office behind the X-ray machine to ask someone to check the car. They walked with us and checked the car, without having to get anything out. Just open everything and show them the things they want to have opened.
If one of you want to go ahead to Immigration, just be aware that they will not let you through carrying bags (they should go though the X-Ray machine, but since there is usually a line, just take your passports/money in your pocket and go ahead).
 
3. Visas & Immigration:
Getting your visa at the border:
Go to the bank where you changed you money earlier (or do it at the same time, we just did not know this at the time) and pay for your visa. They will give you the visa sticker that goes into your passport.
Immigration:
 
Go to the Immigration office and fill in the entry form. Give it back to the officer together with your sticker and wait for them to process it. We got a visa for one month.
 
TIP: There are two lines at immigration, male and female. The male one is usually very long, while the female one is way shorter. To all women: get both passports, stand in line, let your partner stand somewhere in sight and call him over when the immigration officers want to see him to check his passport photo. Since we were the only foreigners they gave us back our passports personally. (with the local people they will just hand out 25 passports at once by calling their names one by one).
 
4. Customs – Carnet de Passage:
Hand in:
Copies of passport, carnet, vehicle registration and driving license.CarnetDriver’s Passport
They will allow you to be in the country as long as your visa is valid for. If you buy your visa at the border, you get a standard 1 month (you can extend this), but they will also give you just 1 month for your car (also when you tell them you will extend your visa….).
>>>>>>> Drive around the building <<<<<<<
 
5. License Plates:
There is a photocopy office next to the License plate office.
Make photocopies of:
– Passport
– Carnet
– Vehicle registration
– Driving license
– Arabic form completed by customs
– Insurance
He will put everything in a folder which you take to the license plate office next door.
 
The guy at the license plate office did not accept our Comesa nor our friend’s Alessie insurance for Africa. They would not issue us license plates without Egyptian insurance. The insurance office is across from the License Plate office. Make two copies of your insurance, one for the insurance guy and one for the license plate office.
 
The guys in the office will then fill out all the forms, they keep the original insurance form (??) and give you the license plates. We made sure we made copies of the insurance form to take ourselves, but it just proves how much bullshit the insurance is….
Attach the plates and go 🙂

Ferry:
There are two ferries, leaving from two places close to each other. If you drive down the road to the ferry, all the way to end, there is a fork in the road. To the right is where the big ferry leaves, to the left is where the small ferry leaves. We took the small ferry as someone directed us to go there.
 
Abu Simbel:
Since the whole border crossing will certainly take you all day it is no more than logical than to spend the night at Abu Simbel. Also, you will not want to miss out of the Temple! Go there before 8.00 am at least, before all the tourist busses arrive from Aswan.
 
We stayed at Eskaleh Hotel where they allowed to camp on the premises for 15 USD per night.
 
There is no convoy any more from Abu Simbel to Aswan, but they will not allow you to drive to Aswan after 4pm.

The warm heart of Sudan

Do you also hate to peel a pineapple? The skin is too hard, can be very sharp and it is a hell of a job to get through it in the first place. When you finally succeed to get the fruit out of its shell, you will have this delicious piece of pineapple. 

The comparison is maybe a bit strange, but to us traveling through Sudan is a bit the same. It seems like a hard shell: an inaccessible, very religious country at first glance and it is almost impossible to have no prejudices before entering. But when you do get to the core, it is an amazing experience. The warmth, friendliness and hospitality of the Sudani people knows no boundaries. You can read all about it in this blog. 

But before you start to read, lets start with some background information. In 2015 Sudan was put on the OFAC list of the United States, because the US sees Sudan as a dangerous terrorist stronghold. This list blocks and stops all trade, development and support to a country. For us as independent travellers this meant that it was impossible for people in Sudan to visit our website and for us to update and upload it without using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). 

During the last few weeks all eyes were on Trump and his new policy that prevents people from certain islamic countries to travel to the US, and one of them is Sudan. 

Earlier on we have already blogged about our Sudan adventures to give our readers an impression of what it is like to travel here. For the people in Sudan it is important that travellers tell about the real Sudan. So in this last write-up on Sudan we will tell you some more tales on what makes it so special to travel through this country.

 Sudan is dry, it is NOT not beautiful, it is NOT not interesting, but it is very, very dry. On our journey we follow the Nile. The Nile is one of the, maybe even the longest river in the world which starts as the White Nile in Lake Victoria, Uganda and as the Blue Nile in Lake Tana, Ethiopia. In Khartoum, Sudan, these two rivers meet and become the Nile. The river zigzags through this African country like a life line. It brings life to the land.

The rain season in Rwanda and Uganda fills up the Nile and carries it all the way up to irrigate the countries in the north. Not until Sudan and later on Egypt do we begin to understand the value of this river. When you leave the Nile you will find yourself in between sand dunes, endless emptiness, clear starry skies, small nomadic villages and encampments of gold diggers. When you find you way back to the Nile there is life, green fields, markets, dates and hustle and bustle. Water is the lifeline through this country.

During our travels in Sudan we often get the question: Do you think we are terrorists?

A smile on the face of the person who asks this question makes it a bit more casual than it seems. “ No, I don’t think so” is our answer. “ A lot is happening in the world today and it doesn’t make the whole population terrorists. It would be unfair to tar everyone with the same brush. We love Sudan!” The person who asked the question looks relieved and satisfied. “What is the best thing about Sudan?”  is his next question. “ the hospitality and friendliness of the people!” is our immediate response.

In our first days in Sudan we are a bit careful and maybe also a little bit suspicious, but we find out pretty soon that Sudan is sincere. When we stop for a short break someone will offer us tea, when we sit down in a cafe, order something and ask for the bill we find out that the gentleman in the corner has already paid for us. When we take a stroll on the market to buy some tomatoes we are not allowed to pay, because “you are our guests.” Finding our way through the city on foot and asking for directions we are directly seated in someones car to take us to the right address. These are just a few examples of what we experienced in Sudan.

Dongola: 

Thirsty, dusty and sweaty we arrive in Dongola. A man whose experience in life is written on his

face in deep lines, wearing a traditional white dress, welcomes us. “ Welcome my friends, welcome to Sudan”. He introduces himself as Kamal. Kamal is a farmer in Dongola and proud of what he does. Before he started farming he was a translator and that is why his English is good, but a little rusty. He invites us to the home of his brother in law where we get tea and typical Sudanese food. Kamal has a mission.

“I want to show you the real Sudan. Not the Sudan you know from the television, not what the media tries to tell you. I want to show you how we live, what we eat, what we do from day to day. Not polished or better than it is, I will show you “Sudan without make-up”

For the next two days Kamal and his brother in law take us to their families, we learn about traditional Sudanese houses, their different ways of life, we walk over the market where Kamal teaches us what to look for, we stroll down their farmlands and learn about dates, irrigation, pumps, water channels and the cooperation of the different people. We also have long conversations about believes and the cultural differences between our countries. We tell Kamal about the Netherlands and the way we deal with religion, marriage, alcohol, drugs and upbringing. He blinks his eyes once or twice when we tell him that it is possible for people of the same gender to get married and get or adopt children. Without immediately giving his opinion he listen to our stories in disbelief. Still, he somehow seems to understand and respect it, even though his preference clearly goes out to his own values which he got from his upbringing in Sudan. 

We are very surprised when we get back to the house we are staying at on the second night to find that our host invited around 30 guests to celebrate us being there. Everyone gathers around on the ground, in front of the house on rugs especially laid down for all the guests. Large plates are brought from the kitchen to the front of the house to feed everyone. When we are introduced to some of the guests, all men, it turns out that they all come from the army base nearby and all have different ranks and positions within the military. We quickly get into a conversation with someone who speaks very well English and is a doctor, a gynecologist to be precise.

He invites us the next day for a tour around the hospital. We gladly accept the invitation since it is a good opportunity for us to hand out our last AfriPads to women who need it. Even though there are many women waiting for their appointment with the doctor, he drops what he is doing the moment we come in and listens to our information about the AfriPads. He promises to hand out the pads to women who he thinks can really use it. He also tells us about the government campaigns against female genital mutilation, a very important and good cause, because it is still something that is practiced throughout Sudan in the rural areas. 

Just before we leave he invites us watch him perform a caesarean he is about to do. We look at each other, but decide to turn down this offer. Really, Sudanese hospitality is endless!

Parting with Kamal is hard for all of us. We would have loved to bring him along all through Sudan, but he says he has a family to take care of. We can see emotion in his eyes when we leave and he says: “ today is a sad day, because you are leaving. “

As rich as we are with this experience, as difficult it feels to part. We leave Dongola and turn right, following the train tracks into the desert. 

Recipes on the Road

 

Healthy bread
You will need:
500g malted grain brown bread or wholemeal flour
350 ml lukewarm water
7g sachet of dried yeast
1½ tsp of salt
1 tsp vegetable oil or butter
Handful of additional ingredients like: mixed seed, linseed, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, raisins, or simply use muesli mix.
 
How to:
Mix the flour, the yeast and salt in a mixing bowl. Stir in the additional ingredients if you want to use them. Make a dip in the centre of the flour and pour in almost 300ml of the lukewarm water. Now start working the dough. Mix in the remaining water if needed, until the mixture comes together as a soft, not too sticky, dough. Gather it into a ball with your hands. Knead for some minutes until it feels smooth and elastic, only adding the minimum of extra flour if necessary to prevent the dough from sticking.
 
Now, put the ball of dough back in the bowl or pan that you were using. Cover with a lid or a lightly wetted warm towel and leave for 20 to 45 mins until it is doubled in size. Timing will depend on the warmth of the surrounding environment.
 
Knead just 3-4 times to knock out any large air bubbles. Shape into a ball, and leave it on the side so you can fully grease the pan or loaf tin. Put the ball in the middle of the greased pan. Place the pan above (not directly above) gentle, evenly spread hot coals. Now put a few hot coals on the lid, also evenly spread. Bake for 30 – 45 minutes. Check that it does not burn. Done? You know so if you tap the bottom of the bread. It should be firm and sound hollow. Let it cool down wrapped in a dry towel.
 
Time:
Preparation: 15 Min
Dough rising: 20 – 45 Min
Bake: 30 – 45 Min
————————————————-
Popcorn
You will need:
3-4 spoons of oil sunflower, coconut or peanut oil
1/4 cup popcorn kernels
large pot with lid
Suggested toppings:
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Spices like cumin, chili powder or others.
 
How to:
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Use enough oil to just cover the bottom of the pan, so adjust the amount according to the size of your pot. You can test your oil temperature by tossing in a few kernels and covering the pot. Once they pop, you’ll know your oil is hot enough to add the rest.
Add the rest of the popcorn in an even layer across the bottom of your pot.
Remove the pot from the heat source for 20 seconds to allow all of the kernels to come to the same temperature. Once 20 seconds have passed, return the pot to the heat and cover. Once the kernels are really popping, carefully move the pot back and forth across the burner to keep the kernels inside moving, so they don’t burn.
 
When the popping slows down and there are longer pauses between pops, remove the popcorn from the heat source and immediately transfer to a large bowl. If you leave it in the pot, it will burn. Add topping of your choice and serve while still hot.
 
Time:
10 minutes
————————————————-
What do we use:
For both of these recipes we’re using a cast iron pan. The lid of this pan can also be used for baking bread as the ridged edges mean the coals won’t fall off, cooking the bread evenly.
To place the pan above the coals we are using a small steel tripod.
Not cooking above the fire? When we’re not cooking above the fire we’re using a MSR dragonfly. When using a MSR Dragonfly we advice you to use a MSR Dragonfly aftermarket silencing cap.

 

Sudan: Unbelievable & Unforgettable

It is late, too late actually when we finally approach the border. The sun started setting half an hour ago and if we have learned something from travelling Africa it is never to arrive at borders too late. This time this plan didn’t really work out and we decided to wing it. We drive through a busy street with shops, horses and park in between some donkeys. The first people to approach us are always the hasslers, fixers and money changers. We quickly push through and arrive at the customs office. A friendly young man on the Ethiopian side helps us out and clears our cars rather quickly. He wishes us a great travel and tells us to watch our backs in Sudan. This is not the first time someone tells me this. Somehow it happens quite often that people in the border area are not that fond of their next door neighbours. 

When we arrive in Sudan we immediately feel welcome. A gentleman in a small dusty office sticks his hand through the window to receive our four passports. He goes through them quickly and stamps the entry visas before handing them back. Dusk has set in when we get out of the office and people point us in the direction of Customs, which looks abandoned and closed by the time we arrive. We’ve heard terrible stories about the Sudanese customs procedure and mentally prepare ourselves to have everything, and I mean everything, taken from our cars for inspection. We park in between pick ups set up to carry heavy military firearms. 

When we walk in the place really looks abandoned and we are lucky finding someone in the back who speaks a little English. He immediately knows what we are there for and runs out to get his supervisor. We are put in an office to wait and are offered tea, coffee, softdrinks, water and everything else they know the English name of. 

Ten minutes later a group of Customs officers arrive with the guy who received us up front. They quickly go through all the paperwork, take a quick look at the car, but more out of curiosity than actually inspecting it, offer us more tea and when we kindly thank them we are free to go. 

We find our way out of town and after ten kilometers we take a strong right, off the tarmac and into the bush. For another 10 minutes we battle through bushes and sand until we find a nice riverbed to set up camp. After our Ethiopian wild camp experiences we find ourselves a bit worried. Before setting up the tents we walk around the cars in silence to see how many people are hidden behind the trees watching us. When after half hour, still no one has showed up, we are confident enough to set up camp. The next morning we are woken up by a large herd of cattle passing the riverbed just a couple of meters from our car, being led by a shepherd with a torch who has probably seen us, but takes no further notice of this odd set up.

Fully awake now, we pack up and get ready for a long drive all the way to Khartoum. 

We get stopped at numerous roadblocks along the way where it is hardly possible to see the difference between an official police officer or an undercover police officer. We soon find out that we better respect them just as much and we hand out our passports every time we are being asked for it. It is late in the afternoon when we arrive in Khartoum and covered 500 km easy that day. Somehow Khartoum is an expensive place to stay. We looked for camping options and cheap hotels with parking, but nothing really came up. That leaves us only one option: the German Guesthouse. This place, obviously run by Germans, is a welcoming place for overlanders and offers the option to park (and camp) outside on the streets, while using the facilities of the hotel. For the next couple of days we really find ourselves living on the streets of Khartoum, and surprisingly enough our nights are really good.

During the evenings Sudanese people walk passed our car while we are cooking out on the streets and all they do is greet us, which to us is still mind blowing. After Ethiopia we are used to, even in seemingly deserted places, to have people come up to us, stand 3 meters from the car and stare at us like they are watching TV. 

Over the next couple of days we spend way too much money on official documents, exchange our dollars for a very lucrative rate, have a great night at Papa Costa’s and experience Sufi dancing on a Sudanese cemetery. 

We are happy to leave Khartoum and are heading northeast towards the Mussawarat and Naqa temples. In between we find a great wild campsite in a dry riverbed. We make some tea and soon find out we set up camp too close to a village and within no time we are surrounded by camels and locals. They finally leave when the sun sets and we manage to pack up before they return in the morning. An early start gets us to the Naqa temples and later the Meroe pyramids. 

It feels really special camping next to monuments from around 2000 BC!

That evening we look out over the Meroe pyramids. It is a collection of almost a hundred pyramids and it is one of the most spectacular sites in Sudan. Every pyramid symbolizes a grave, so it can also be seen as a big cemetery. Most of the pyramids are missing their tops because of a 19th Century Italian archeologist who found gold in one of them. Early morning we visit the site and wander among these ancient buildings. 

 

As soon as the temperature rises we get into our cars and head towards Karima. A small shack on the side of the road is our stop for breakfast. When we get out of the car we can smell the overwhelming Diesel fumes and there are big trucks parked everywhere around us. We find some plastic chairs and get a plate of Ful served. Ful is a typical Sudanese meal and consists of  mashed overcooked beans with peanut oil served with flatbread. Not too interesting, but nutritious and combined with some fresh vegetables it can be made into a decent meal. 

We are still traveling with our friends in their Landrover who are getting quite nervous when we find three fuel stations which are out of Diesel. By that time we covered over 330 km from Khartoum and we still had another 270 to go to the next town. Approximately 30 km before the nearest fuel station we find ourselves on the side of the road getting Diesel from our second tank into the Landrover for it to be able to make it. 

We find a great camp spot next to the holy mountain of Jebel Barkal, which we climb in the morning. We decide to trade the desert for the Nile and camp directly next to it for the next night. After a quick swim with some locals we set up camp and we soon start to spot the first scorpions. The yellow Nile scorpions are small, but one of the most poisonous around. The mosquitoes and the scorpions make us get in our tents quite early and we drive to Old Dongola the next day. 

A great desert track following the Nile of the west side, navigating through sand dunes and an oasis here and there takes us to Dongola. We are very much looking forward to Dongola. In Moroto, Uganda, we met a diplomat who insisted we stay with his family when visiting the Dongola area. An offer we can hardly refuse and are happy to take! 

When we arrive in Sudan we immediately feel welcome. A gentleman in a small dusty office sticks his hand through the window to receive our four passports. He goes through them quickly and stamps the entry visas before handing them back. Dusk has set in when we get out of the office and people point us in the direction of Customs, which looks abandoned and closed by the time we arrive. We’ve heard terrible stories about the Sudanese customs procedure and mentally prepare ourselves to have everything, and I mean everything, taken from our cars for inspection. We park in between pick ups set up to carry heavy military firearms. 

When we walk in the place really looks abandoned and we are lucky finding someone in the back who speaks a little English. He immediately knows what we are there for and runs out to get his supervisor. We are put in an office to wait and are offered tea, coffee, softdrinks, water and everything else they know the English name of. 

Ten minutes later a group of Customs officers arrive with the guy who received us up front. They quickly go through all the paperwork, take a quick look at the car, but more out of curiosity than actually inspecting it, offer us more tea and when we kindly thank them we are free to go. 

We find our way out of town and after ten kilometers we take a strong right, off the tarmac and into the bush. For another 10 minutes we battle through bushes and sand until we find a nice riverbed to set up camp. After our Ethiopian wild camp experiences we find ourselves a bit worried. Before setting up the tents we walk around the cars in silence to see how many people are hidden behind the trees watching us. When after half hour, still no one has showed up, we are confident enough to set up camp. The next morning we are woken up by a large herd of cattle passing the riverbed just a couple of meters from our car, being led by a shepherd with a torch who has probably seen us, but takes no further notice of this odd set up.

Fully awake now, we pack up and get ready for a long drive all the way to Khartoum. 

We get stopped at numerous roadblocks along the way where it is hardly possible to see the difference between an official police officer or an undercover police officer. We soon find out that we better respect them just as much and we hand out our passports every time we are being asked for it. It is late in the afternoon when we arrive in Khartoum and covered 500 km easy that day. Somehow Khartoum is an expensive place to stay. We looked for camping options and cheap hotels with parking, but nothing really came up. That leaves us only one option: the German Guesthouse. This place, obviously run by Germans, is a welcoming place for overlanders and offers the option to park (and camp) outside on the streets, while using the facilities of the hotel. For the next couple of days we really find ourselves living on the streets of Khartoum, and surprisingly enough our nights are really good.

During the evenings Sudanese people walk passed our car while we are cooking out on the streets and all they do is greet us, which to us is still mind blowing. After Ethiopia we are used to, even in seemingly deserted places, to have people come up to us, stand 3 meters from the car and stare at us like they are watching TV. 

Over the next couple of days we spend way too much money on official documents, exchange our dollars for a very lucrative rate, have a great night at Papa Costa’s and experience Sufi dancing on a Sudanese cemetery. 

We are happy to leave Khartoum and are heading northeast towards the Mussawarat and Naqa temples. In between we find a great wild campsite in a dry riverbed. We make some tea and soon find out we set up camp too close to a village and within no time we are surrounded by camels and locals. They finally leave when the sun sets and we manage to pack up before they return in the morning. An early start gets us to the Naqa temples and later the Meroe pyramids. 

It feels really special camping next to monuments from around 2000 BC!

That evening we look out over the Meroe pyramids. It is a collection of almost a hundred pyramids and it is one of the most spectacular sites in Sudan. Every pyramid symbolizes a grave, so it can also be seen as a big cemetery. Most of the pyramids are missing their tops because of a 19th Century Italian archeologist who found gold in one of them. Early morning we visit the site and wander among these ancient buildings. 

As soon as the temperature rises we get into our cars and head towards Karima. A small shack on the side of the road is our stop for breakfast. When we get out of the car we can smell the overwhelming Diesel fumes and there are big trucks parked everywhere around us. We find some plastic chairs and get a plate of Ful served. Ful is a typical Sudanese meal and consists of  mashed overcooked beans with peanut oil served with flatbread. Not too interesting, but nutritious and combined with some fresh vegetables it can be made into a decent meal. 

We are still traveling with our friends in their Landrover who are getting quite nervous when we find three fuel stations which are out of Diesel. By that time we covered over 330 km from Khartoum and we still had another 270 to go to the next town. Approximately 30 km before the nearest fuel station we find ourselves on the side of the road getting Diesel from our second tank into the Landrover for it to be able to make it. 

We find a great camp spot next to the holy mountain of Jebel Barkal, which we climb in the morning. We decide to trade the desert for the Nile and camp directly next to it for the next night. After a quick swim with some locals we set up camp and we soon start to spot the first scorpions. The yellow Nile scorpions are small, but one of the most poisonous around. The mosquitoes and the scorpions make us get in our tents quite early and we drive to Old Dongola the next day. 

A great desert track following the Nile of the west side, navigating through sand dunes and an oasis here and there takes us to Dongola. We are very much looking forward to Dongola. In Moroto, Uganda, we met a diplomat who insisted we stay with his family when visiting the Dongola area. An offer we can hardly refuse and are happy to take! 

“For Women, from women, with love”

MilesAlongTheSea: proud supporters of AFRIpads.

Menstruation is one of the most common and uniquely female experiences. Unfortunately, the reality is that around the world millions of girls and women struggle to manage their monthly periods.
 
Unable to afford or access proper menstrual products, many girls and women rely on crude, improvised materials like scraps of old clothing, pieces of foam mattress, toilet paper, leaves, and banana fibers to manage their menstruation – all of which are unhygienic, ineffective, and uncomfortable.
 
Faced with frequent, embarrassing leaks and a susceptibility to recurrent infections, the impact is that many girls and women experience their monthly period as something that prevents them from engaging in daily life – whether this is going to school or work, or carrying out their normal domestic responsibilities.

1 Out of 10 African schoolgirls skip school or drop out of school entirely due to a lack of menstrual products and poor access to proper sanitation, according to UNICEF. This critical unavailability of sanitary products in developing countries is a major barrier to education for girls of school-going age. The inability to effectively manage menstruation contributes to absences of up to 4-5 school days each month, equating to as much as 20% of the academic year intentionally skipped, simply due to menstruation. Eventually many of these girls drop out of school entirely, increasing their likelihood of teen pregnancy health complications and early marriage, and further limiting their future career and economic opportunities.

MilesAlongTheSea: During our travel through the more remote parts of Africa we came across a lot of, in our eyes, “small solvable problems, but unsolved” that would make a huge difference in daily lives. In Northern Namibia, Koakaland we got to meet and worked with over a 100 young school-going girls. Although the topic might be a little taboo to talk about, the problems are real. When we were in Uganda we visited AFRIpads; a social business that locally manufactures and globally supplies cost-effective, reusable menstrual pads. When we got the opportunity from AFRIpads to work together and change some lives we took it with both hands. Coming from Uganda, crossing Kenya in Ethiopia the first real opportunity came up: Tim & Kim Village in Gorgora, Ethiopia.

Tim & Kim Village is a social enterprise with the aim to help the local population in and around Gorgora. The village of Gorgora is a little off the beaten track and facing many challenges. Clean drinking water is hardly available, just like school materials, medical supplies and education could be improved.

MilesAlongTheSea, AFRIpads and Kim&Tim Village combined powers en set up a get together, which in Ethiopia goes hand in hand with a coffee ceremony: 3 strong well prepared espressos, made above a coal fire and sipped from a small cup, where we invited all the young local ladies to participate.
 
With the help of Mebratu, a local, translator and active advocate for raising awareness for STD’s, HIV and the use of condoms, we started the demonstration. Helga explained how to use the AFRIpads with the help of the hand outs and booklets that AFRIpads provided. After the demonstration, the girls got the chance to feel the pads and ask questions if they wanted to.
 
We hope this small support will help the women and girls break the barriers that menstruation creates in their lives and to helping them rise to their full potential.
 

To the Congo Virunga National Parc

It’s the 22nd of December when I walk with a leaden step through the dust. I’m tense, but also excited about this trip. The sand blows up when I walk and falls back down behind me in a puddle. It is early morning and the small little town comes to life slowly. People poke their heads out of simple huts made out of wood, bricks and tinned roofs.
 
From their front doors I get some curious stares and even though I cannot hear them I see their lips make the well know “ Muzungu, Muzungu”, translated “white man, white man”. They whisper it, while they nod towards me with their heads. I think back to the Maasai who tell each other stories until deep in the night and it wouldn’t surprise me if my sudden appearance makes for a good character in one of their stories here.
Not that I have ever experienced it myself, but I can imagine that this, walking through an empty street, is how it feels to be model walking down the catwalk in a set of clothes from a daring desiger. A designer who has yet to make a name for himself in the fashion industry, he’s different from everyone else. As the model wearing it, you’re not entirely sure yourself what you think of the design while everyone stares at you.
My feet lead me to a table with some very strict looking officers. They direct me to a chair in the shadow outside. I am now in the French speaking part of Africa and I am reminded of the fact that this is not a language I am familiar with. From my spot in the shadow I can see people crossing the border with all their merchandise to sell. By the time I have been there of more than half an hour I start to get a bit anxious.
 
I’m looking out over a street filled with little shops, at the end of the street on my side where the borderpost is situated, they made a little piazza. The road and the piazza consist of sand and dust. In the middle of it is a flagpole. A soldier takes his position in the middle of the square and blows loudly on his whistle. It seems like a scene out of “Peep Behind The Curtain”. Everyone suddenly stands still: Donkeys, carts, vehicles, pedestrians, everything seems to be glued to their place. I follow their example and go and stand next to my grey bag on the ground. Three soldiers are now walking from the officers building to the middle of the square. Draped over the shoulder of one of the soldiers I see a flag. They quickly hoist up the flag to the top of the pole and while the soldiers walk back to the officers post I hear the same whistling sound again. Directly after the frozen world seems to come to life again. Children start running, women put down their heavy burdens from their heads and temporarily put it on the dusty ground, men urge their donkeys on and put the train in motion again. They tell me that the border is now officially opened.
 

A few minutes later I see a heavy and impressive looking Landrover Defender coming from the sandy track towards the border post. On the side of the military green Landrover is the logo from “Parc National De Virunga” visible. A sigh of relief goes through me. Two very impressive women poke their heads through the open windows together with their equally impressive barrels of their well maintained AK47’s. Both of them jump out of the spartan vehicle with grace and position themselves on either side of the car. It gives me goosebumps that very instant. The driver and the guide also jump out of the car, both of them walk to the entrance of the border post office and to the place which I now regard as my own. Just like the first ritual of the day, I immediately jump up out of my chair and welcome my saviors. A set of documents is given to the officers at the border. A small nod from behind his desk gives me the permission to go on into Congo. He slowly pushes my passport my way and I don’t hesitate in taking it as soon as I can.
 
I get in the car between the two ladies and get a hasty explanation from the guide: “ We have to hurry, a group of Mountain Gorillas has been spotted not too far from border just an hours drive from here and if we hurry we can still see them. It is a unique chance and a special group, but I’ll tell you all about it later.” The driver listens in on this conversation and starts the car when the guide is finished. A moment later there is no chance of even having a conversation and we need all our attention to stay seated in the shaking terrain vehicle.
 
We are driving through small villages and the view constantly changes. The only thing that doesn’t change is the poor condition of the road. Everyone around me tries to relax in their cramped position while I have to try really hard to keep myself in one place. I’m getting really excited by now to actually see the gorillas and my heart jumps when the speed decreases, the shaking becomes less, the vehicle drives a semi circle before it stops and everyone jumps out of the car (which doesn’t have any doors or windows by the way) with a military precision. We all walk to the park post with me in the middle. One of the trackers (these people are rangers who are specialized in finding the gorillas) is already waiting for us. The guide quickly exchanges information with the tracker, pulls out his machete from his pants and starts making his way through the heavy jungle.
I realize I am extremely lucky when within 10 minutes I am standing eye to eye with the Mountain Gorillas. I know from others this usually takes a substantial hike, but here I am. They almost seem shy and from behind a small tree 6 pairs of eyes stare at me and the group of men whom I came into their territory with. It is obvious that they were just busy with their siesta before we came to disturb. It takes a little while before they are used to our presence. Large branches are being torn from the trees and pulled through their mouths from left to right like they are eating satay. The tasty leaves are the ones being left in their mouths and the branch itself is discarded. It is fascinating to see how humanlike these animals behave and for one hour I feel like I am completely in their world.
 

My experience
My trip to Virunga is probably one of the highlights of my Africa journey. Through Virunga I got to do two activities: visiting the mountain gorillas and climbing the active volcano , the Nyarongo.
 
The National Park itself is just beautiful and one of the most stunning ones I’ve seen so far.
Organization wise I was very impressed with the way Virunga organizes your trip. They are well aware of the safety risks and take absolutely no chances at all. They will not let you drive into Congo yourself, but they will arrange transportation from the border and to all the activities you are going on. The rangers in Virunga are extremely well trained and very knowledgeable about the park.
Visiting the Mountain Gorillas in Virunga is just magical and definitely worth doing! Of course I have no experience with visiting the gorillas in the other neighboring countries, but I can imagine that seeing them in Virunga is a bit more authentic as there are not that many tourists going and because of the sheer wilderness you have to plough through to get to them.
 
Climbing an active volcano is something you can only do in a few countries in the world and to see the lava churning beneath you while you stand on the crater rim is something you can hardly do justice with by taking photos. You have to experience it yourself!
The climb up is long and a serious one, but doable for a different levels of fitness. I would recommend hiring a porter and a cook which will make it a lot easier. The guides take it slow and take the altitude changes into account.
If you have the opportunity to visit this park: Go!
——-

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park. The park’s 7800 square kilometers includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains.
 
Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s two other Great Ape species, eastern lowland Grauer’s gorillas and chimpanzees, make Virunga the only park in the world to host three taxa of Great Apes. Virunga’s southern sector is best known for the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks on the dormant Mikeno volcano (4380m). Dense forests cover most of southern Virunga, which also make it ideal habitat for chimpanzees and numerous species of monkey. Across the valley to the west sits Nyiragongo volcano (3470m).
 
Climbing to the top gives you a spectacular view of the world’s largest lava lake. A little farther north is Nyamulagira volcano, which is considered the most active in Africa. Nymulagira has erupted over 40 times since the late 1800s – the most recent eruptions occurring in January 2010 and November 2011.

Questions Asked:
 
Is Virunga NP safe?
Even though there have been 2 recent killings of rangers in the Northern part of the Park, the Southern sector of Virunga NP is considered safe for visitors.
Virunga officially reopened for visitors 3 years ago and since then there have been no reports of tourists being involved in shootings or incidents. New tourist activities have been developed and the park now offers high-end lodging located near the center of the three main tourist attractions: the mountain gorillas, Tongo chimpanzees, and Nyiragongo volcano.
Personally I consider the park as being very safe. The rangers are highly trained and as a tourist you’re under continuous supervision of an armed ranger squad.
Even though the current situation in Congo is questionable, Virunga NP is working really hard and is very much succeeding in securing a safe zone for tourists, their staff and for the species they’re protecting. I would very much recommend traveling to Virunga NP
 
How does Virunga NP ensure security?
Before opening for tourists and after a tragic event where 5 members of a gorilla family have been killed, the park has undergone significant institutional and security reforms. The international community continues to ensure that Virunga rangers have the equipment they need in order to patrol the park. For National Park standards the rangers are highly trained and used to risking their lives on a daily basis to protect the endangered wildlife and habitats within the park, as well as the people living around the park boundary. Booking a trip through the official Virunga NP website. Virunga NP offers pick up and assistance with the border crossing entering Congo, guarded and armed transportation, guarded and armed trips and excursions and variety of accomodation.
 
Mountain Gorillas?
The mountain gorilla, a large, strong ape inhabiting Africa’s volcanic slopes, has few natural predators. Yet due to detrimental human activity, such as poaching, civil war, and habitat destruction, the mountain gorilla, a subspecies of the eastern gorilla, has become the most endangered type of gorilla. Currently, the mountain gorilla’s habitat is limited to protected national parks in two regions of Africa. One group of gorillas lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. The other group is spread over three national parks in the Virungas mountain region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda.
Mountain gorillas are as shy as they are strong. But when threatened, they can be aggressive. They beat their chests and let out angry grunts and roars. Group leaders will charge at the threat. Mothers will fight to the death to protect their young. Mountain gorillas live in groups of up to 30. The group, or troop, is led by a single alpha male and an older silverback. These males are called silverbacks because of the silver stripe they develop on their backs when they mature. The oldest males of the group are at least 12 years old. These troops also include several younger males, adult and juvenile females, and infants. In addition to providing protection to group members, silverbacks maintain order and decide all activities within their troop. They schedule feeding trips, resting time, and travel. They also father the majority of the young in the group. Female mountain gorillas can produce young beginning at age 10. They carry one or two babies at a time and give birth after a 8.5-month gestation period. In general, they will bear between two and six offspring in a lifetime.

Newborn gorillas weigh about 1.8 kg (4 lb.) at birth. They are as weak and uncoordinated as human babies. For the first four years of their lives, they get around by clinging to their mothers backs. By 3.5 years of age, the young gorillas are fully weaned from their mothers milk and start the same diet as mature mountain gorillas: plants, leaves, roots and shoots.
Fully-grown male mountain gorillas can weigh up to 180 kg (400 lb). Females weigh half that at about 90 kg ( 200 lb). Aside from the silver stripe on their backs, male mountain gorillas are distinguished from females because they have a crest of fur on their heads. Both genders have similar thick black hair covering their body. Their thick hair keeps them warm in cold mountain temperatures. (Source)
 
How endangered are the Mountain Gorillas?
Mountain gorillas are considered critically endangered by IUCN’s Red List. Not only are mountain gorillas threatened by loss of habitat due to human encroachment, they have also become victims of human violence. As civil war rages in Africa, efforts to conserve mountain gorilla populations have been curtailed. Mountain gorillas have also been killed or captured by poachers. Their body parts are sold to collectors, and baby gorillas are sold illegally as pets, research subjects, or private zoo animals. (Source)
Estimated are that there are currently around 300 Mountain gorillas. Talking to the rangers in Virunga I understand that in the area that I’m visiting there are 121 gorillas divided in 8 groups with 4 solitary silverbacks.
 
How does Virunga NP sustain without being a much traveled tourist attraction.
Virunga has 3 ways of generating income. Through worldwide sponsoring and support, through the generation of Electricity produced by a couple of small energy plants and through tourism.
 
How do I get there?
Travel from Uganda and cross the border with the assistance of Virunga NP at Bunagana.
Travel from Rwanda and cross the border with the assistance of Virunga NP at Gisenyi
Virunga NP arranges Short-Stay Virunga Visas for access to the park.
 
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The Lakes of Uganda

In the western part of Uganda you will find an area that looks more te belong in Vietnam, Birma or Cambodia. It gives off a totally different feeling than we are used to in Africa. It makes you realize how large this continent is and how many hidden treasures of nature is has.
 
The land around us looks like a wild frozen sea of nature with giant waves, the green icebergs pointing up towards the clouds and the mist, especially in the morning, makes it look like a fairytale. A lot of the native forest is cut down and is replaced by farmland or other trees like eucalyptus, which grows faster and will therefor supply more wood in time. The mountains around us are like big checkerboards, all divided into different crops like vegetables, maize, grain, tea, bananas and potatoes.
 
Traveling through this area we first visit Lake Bunyoni, which got its name because of the variety of bird species around. The name literally means “Place of many little birds” and is located in South Western Uganda between Kisoro and Kabale close to the border with Rwanda. Located at 1962 m above sea level, it is about 25 km long and 7 km wide. Someone told us that the dept of the lake can go up to 900 m which if true that would make the lake the second deepest in Africa.
It’s a beautiful area, but als also commonly visited by locals throwing a party, overland trucks hosting the young travelers and people coming down for the weekend driving from Kampala. This doesn’t make it less pretty but makes us decide to keep on driving to Lake Mutanda.
 
Lake Mutanda is located between a two and four hour trip (63Km) from Lake Bunyonyi depending on your driving. It lies hidden in the mountainous landscape of southwestern Uganda, in the Kisoro district. We can say that we find it the most scenic and postcard pretty lake of what we have seen of Africa. The Lake is nestled in the foothills of the Virunga Mountain Range, at an altitude of 1800 m. The three volcanoes within the range, that are partly located in Uganda (Mount Muhabura, Mount Sabinyo and Mount Gahinga), can be seen in the background.

Mutanda Lake Resort

It is a warm day, the wind blows through our open windows which we rolled down halfway. I can feel sweat drip from my neck down my back. Even with the windows open and the wind blowing in it is hot. A large cloud of dust from a passing car minimizes our visibility and covers the car in a blanket of fine red dust. While I am trying to look through this cloud, we both try to close our windows as soon as possible to prevent us from being covered in it as well.
 
We follow a narrow road on the mountain, the road is like a long thread woven through a green tapestry. The threads from the weaving loom are pulled apart and different colors of yarn are woven in. Left, right, left, right, uninterrupted we drive from one direction into the other. It is not a cheap tapestry. The colors are deep and endless, but everything ends in green: dark green, light green, bright green and mint.
 
I close my eyes and think myself on top of that carpet, flying over a fairytale landscape. Over deep valleys, along blue lakes, misty mountaintops and active volcanos.
 
The beauty of Uganda that takes my breath away. Taking the backroads from Lake Bunyoni to Lake Mutanda certainly makes for a very interesting drive with stunning scenery all around.
 
When I see the first glimpses of Lake Mutanda, it’s the stillness that makes the first impression. A quiet lake, a few ripples in the water and little islands scattered in the middle. We follow the road on the edge of the lake and after a few corners I think I am able to see Mutanda Lake Resort, perched on one of the peninsulas in the lake.

A simple, but very cozy, partly canvas house/tent with a verandah that looks out over the lake will be our new home for the next couple of days. Opposite from our room, on the other side of the little bay, I can spot the road we just drove on and after a while I realize that apart from the occasional boda boda, not many cars drive in this part of Uganda. An older guy moors his dug out canoe and starts cleaning it. Birds enjoy the nectar in the red blossom on the tree in front of me and in between the banana trees I can see some children walking their goats to the best grazing spot.
 
Sitting on the verandah I wish I was more of a birder. In ten minutes I see more variety in birds, than I have seen in the past 2 days. They come and go, dive in the water for fresh meal and chirp in different songs.
Dinner is a three course meal with a vegetarian and non vegetarian option. Set in a cozy lit restaurant, looking out over the volcanos, we have a wonderful dinner while the sky changes colour for the night. By the time we walk back to our room, the Bell Frogs have come out and their characteristic sound fills the air for a few more hours.
 
In the early morning we are very lucky to see the volcanos in the distance since the sky is clear and we decide to take the boat out after breakfast. Together with Gerald, the guide, we cruise around on the lake and see a multitude of different birds flying and nesting near the water.
 
We pass a few fishermen with their homemade rods trying to catch the little fish which they put on a stick before frying them over a fire. On some of the bigger islands in the lake we can see women working on potato fields where they get dropped in the morning and picked up at the end of the day. Since most of the local people are not really good swimmers, to me, this seems like the perfect way of getting your wife out of the way for a certain period of time.
We turn back when the sun gets too bright and relax the rest of the day.

Even though Lake Mutanda is in a far corner of Uganda it is a perfect stopover coming from Rwanda, or as a basis for a gorilla tracking. It’s definitely one of the best places we’ve visited in Uganda!

From Raids to Peace – stories from the Karamojong

When we visited the Karamojong we were incredibly lucky in capturing two amazing stories. Stories which are told by the Karamojong on the long and dark evenings to entertain each other around the campfire.
 
This second story was told by Elizabeth from Kautakou and she tells us what it was like growing up in a time of violence.
 

A little girl is sitting hidden away in the corner of the house. She pushes herself as close to the wall of mud and branches as she possibly can. If she would’ve been able to vanish in a puff of smoke, she would have. In the stories they tell around the campfire people sometimes can, they disappear in thick smoke to reappear somewhere far away and she wishes she could now.
 
 
A loud scream from outside sets her teeth on edge. She recognizes the voice, it is her mother’s. She is shaking like a leaf and blacks out for a while until she feels another hand in hers. It’s her brother. He whispers: “You have to be brave little sister.”
 
Together they silently crawl on hands and knees towards the exit of the hut. After the first robbery, the place feels different, not safe anymore. It feels like a normal hut instead of their home where they grew up. Her brother leads her outside where it is dark.
 
Once their outside, he looks at her and puts both of his hands on her cheeks. They are warm and rough from working outside on the fields. “Run little sister, run as fast as your legs can carry you,” he whispers.
 
 
They both start running, his hand solidly holding hers. They run out of the village. The thorns are hurting the soles of their feet, but they don’t feel the pain.
 
She hears a shot being fired, coming from the village. Her brother falls down. He looks at her and tells her with a weak voice: “ run, runnnnn!” From the village she can see men armed with guns coming their way. She turns around and starts to run again, as fast as she can, without looking back.
 
Elizabeth grew up in a time when there were a lot of raids. She lost her brothers and parents in these raids.
 
 
“Around 1960,” Elizabeth tells us, “the white people came to Uganda from England. The English didn’t understand the Karamojong, and decided that they would not tolerate people who walked around naked. They would shoot them. Because there were fights between different tribes and because some of the tribes got their hands on weapons, the other Karamojong tribes also wanted them, so they stole them from the English. Between 1986 and 1995 was the height of the war between these tribes. There was hate, jealousy and weapons made it even worse.
 
 
After 1995 this all changed. The new government wanted the Karamojong to put down their weapons freely, Later they exchanged them for food and in the end they simply took the weapons away by force, killing the Karamojong when they needed to.
 
 
Since 2005 there are no weapons anymore and things are better. Everyone still know what happened and the hate is something hard to forget. Still, everyone thinks it is better now without the guns!”

The Brave Man – stories from the Karamojong

When we visited the Karamojong we were incredibly lucky in capturing two amazing stories. Stories which are told by the Karamojong on the long and dark evenings to entertain each other around the campfire.
This first story was told by Matthew Toyo from Kautakou and tells us about how being brave can save your life.

An old man with a wrinkled skin is sitting in the tall grass in the shade of a large tree. He looks up at the sky. The clouds are congregating in a thick blanket above him. “ Will it really rain?” he thinks to himself. It has been dry for so long. He looks around. His spear made out of wood, with a sharp, solid point, stands next to him against the trunk of the old tree. The tree which, just like him, has been around for a while now. This morning he led his cows out of the village and herded them to his favorite spot, a place where there always seems to be grass, at the old tree. He loves this tree. Normally one of his sons joins him, but today he is alone. His son went to town a few days ago to sell some things as he hasn’t returned yet. This is very common he knows, his son will not return before he gets a good price on the market and found himself transport back to the village.
 
He starts to count his cows: 1,2,3,…,16,17,…19,…28,…32…this is the last one he counts before his eyelids start to droop and he falls sound asleep. The moment he wakes up, he hears the raindrops fall on the leaves above him and onto the ground next to him. He wipes a drop from his face. “This was probably the drop that woke me up,” he thinks. He gets closer to the trunk of the tree to shelter himself from the sudden heavy rain. With every raindrop that falls on the dry soil he can see a little bit of dust blow up. “ About time,” he sighs, the rain is late this year.
 
In the distance he can see the familiar sight of his cows. They are taking shelter too and turn their backs into the storm of rain. “Ah good,” he thinks, “ This way, I don’t have to herd them all together again”. He lets himself slide down again and waits until the rain has stopped. Luckily, he doesn’t have to wait long. The drops turn into little drops, and the little drops turn into minuscule drops before the rain completely stops as sudden as it had started.
 
He gets his spear which is still leaning against the old tree and starts to walk towards his cows. The grass is still wet and he enjoys the feeling of cold wetness between his toes. Sand sticks to his feet. He looks at the earth below. His father was a good shepherd and an even better tracker. His father learned it from his father. He never knew his grandfather, but he has heard the stories. He has tried to teach his sons,but they are more interested in women and trips to town. Maybe they will care to learn later, he secretly tells himself to keep his hopes up.
The old man gets on one knee in the wet sand. With his fingers he reaches to the ground. That is strange, he thinks to himself, while he looks at the print in the soil. That is a hyena print and it has been a very long time since I have seen a hyena in this area. He presses his palm against the print. It fits. It’s a front paw, a male alone, possibly pushed off by the rest, possibly wounded by fights with other males. Wounded animals are dangerous, everyone knows that. They look for easy prey and are constantly prepared to attack. They will not hesitate.
 
With a sudden jolt he looks up towards his cows. They are still grazing peacefully, close together. On hands and feet he crawls closer to the animals while taking in his surroundings. The cows will not react to him at all, he knows that, because they are used to having him around. Another fresh print on the ground, he knows he’s getting closer. He gazes over the tall grass, his hand tightly holding his spear and he looks at the sharp point. It’s still undamaged and razor-sharp. His heart is in his throat. This is not the first time, but he doesn’t have the strength of a young man anymore, he knows that, he has to be smart this time.
 
He looks around him, how would his father have solved this? Suddenly, he knows, the soft earth and he starts to dig in the soft soil. He digs deeper and deeper with his hands until he has dug out a narrow hole. He trusts his spear into it, backwards. He makes sure it is in a 90 degree angle with the sharp point facing upwards. He starts to fill the hole again with sand until the spear stands solid as a rock.
 
Now that the spear is in place, he starts to crawl further. Low to the ground as a predator, silent as a mouse, but wise, brave and unbeatable like an elephant. He spots the hyena in between the cows, exactly where he thought it would be. It is lurking around the mothers with young calfs, the easy prey. He crawls closer, closer, even closer. His heart is beating very loudly. He can almost smell the hyena by now. The grass gives him good coverage and the soft earth muffles his sounds.
 
Now, he is close enough. He grabs the grey tail of the hyena, gets up with all his speed and strength and starts pulling and walking backwards towards the spear in the ground. The hyena is totally surprised. His hind legs are partly suspended in the air and the front ones are not getting any grip on the wet grass. The speed with which he is being pulled completely surprises the animal. The sharp point of the spear is rapidly getting closer. Sweat streaks down the man’s face. With his bare hands he still holds the hairy tail. Just a little closer, he thinks to himself, the animal is roughly 60 kg he guesses. At that moment, the ground becomes harder, the hyena is getting his hind legs back on the ground and gets back his grip. The spear is only a few meters away. With all the power the man possesses he starts to pull again, he knows it is now or never, the hyena still hasn’t regained full grip. His hands and knees are hurting, back in the day this would’ve cost him no effort, but he doesn’t want to think about that right now. The hyena is not giving in at all.
 
He has to think of something and fast, his hands are hurting, but he can’t let go.The moment he will let go the hyena will definitely be after him, or worse, his cows. He needs these cows to be able to give a good brideprice for his sons future wives. Letting go is no option and the spear is too far away.
 
Suddenly, he sees someone walking in the distance. How lucky! “ Help me, help me!” he shouts as loud as his tired voice allows him. The young man has heard him and is coming closer. But the moment the other man sees the hyena he stops and flinches. The old man looks at him and says: “ there, two meters away from me, is a spear in the ground, take it and spear the hyena!” The man assesses the situation, thinks about it and answers:” No, that is way too dangerous! The hyena will eat me and then you.” “ Don’t be ridiculous”, the old man says, “ get that spear!”.
 
The other man walks backwards slowly and refuses to.
“ Allright” the old man says, “what if you take over the hyena’s tail and I get the spear and kill him?” The young man contemplates this offer for a few seconds and decides to help the shepherd. He walks over to the hyena and grabs hold of the tail, with fear still in his eyes and the hyena frantically trying to get loose.
 
The old man can finally let go and shakes his stiff and painful arms. He takes a few steps towards his spear and pulls it out of the ground before walking over to the hyena. But then he suddenly changes his mind. He looks at the man and the hyena and says: “ A lesson in life is to learn not to be a coward, I will give you this lesson and maybe you will have to pay a heavy price for it….You’re holding the hyena very well, though. Bye.”
 
He then herds his cows together and walks away.
 
The young man holds the hairy hyena tail tight with his sweaty hands. Now he is totally by himself. Afraid to let go of the tail he can see the sun slowly setting for the night. The moment he feels all the strength go out of his hands, the hyena gives one last pull. He cannot resist it and the tail slips through his fingers. The hyena, finally free, doesn’t think twice and runs as fast as his tired body can carry him. Away, far away to a quiet place for the night.
 
The young man falls down, exhausted, in the still damp grass. He’s tired, but relieved.
 
Moral of this story: when you are brave, you are able to safe yourself.

Karamoja: Dusty faces, amazing places

Moroto is like the dot on the i, it’s not entirely necessary, but it does make a difference and finishes it up nicely. That book on the shelf, with its off-putting cover, it’s been there for years, but you can’t really put yourself to read it. Then comes the day you finally do, you take that book, you forget about the cover, turn the first page and start reading. Before you know it you’re being sucked in by the story. You inhale the letters like it’s the last oxygen on earth. Consciously and full of life. Different and tasteful. That is Moroto. The journey to it is out of the way. The roads are bad and under development, which almost makes it worse. One moment there is perfect tarmac, while the other you are launched out of your seat by giant road bumps or violently shaken apart by a multitude of potholes.
 
But the journey is worth it. At the end of that road is a small village, that looks abandoned but also lively. It’s a village that connects the modern world to its original African roots. It’s where the people don’t know any other way than the nomadic way of life; keeping cattle, building a new village every ten years on a different spot and bearing as many daughters as you can (since they will make a good bride price). This is where the village elders decide whether their offspring go to school or if they stay true to their nomadic roots.
What we find in Moroto is a mixture: traditional clothes, but armed with a Nokia, piled up crates of beer and CocaCola, but on the back of an oxcart, a suit, but worn over Maasai sandals made out of car tyres.
We are warmly welcomed by the team from Kara-Tunga. It’s a small tour operator that tries to promote the Karamoja area with tourists. The guys who work for Kara-Tunga as tourleaders have their roots with one of the Karamojong tribes in the surroundings of Moroto.
 
Sunday 11 december
 
Still drowsy from sleep we find our way out of the rooftop tent. Battered and worn out from the battle we had to fight last night. The itchy welts are an angry red against our white, slightly tinted skin. With our torches we tried to minimize the damage, but the tent must have looked like a discotheque when we chased the mosquitos and killed them one by one.
 
It’s way too early for us, but a strong cup of coffee helps a little bit. Our guide arrives an hour later than we had discussed the day before; it’s African time. We’re kind of used to it by now and we even find ourselves behaving like this sometimes. Still, we try not to show our frustration too much, because in this particular case we could’ve used an extra hour of sleep.
 
With our guide Peter, who grew up in one of the surrounding villages until he was send to school when he was 12 years old, we drive off. He sits in the car like a prince, with his nose almost agains the front windscreen. He’s wearing a bright orange t-shirt with the Kara-Tunga logo and a traditional hat and necklace, it suits him. He leads us off the main road and a narrow track leads us to the entrance of the village.
 
The village is a small settlement made out of local materials. Already at the entrance we are amazed at how it is all constructed. The “walls” that are erected around the village are about 60 cm thick and made out of twined branches, on the inside they are supported by beams which are put in the ground every three meters. This way, the wall can withstand a whole lot of force coming from the outside. The branches are carefully twined and it is impossible to penetrate this structure and get into the village without decent tools. The entrance to the village is the size of the entrance of a large igloo; we have to stoop down to get through. When we get through we have to walk around a very large spiny bush. Peter tells us that at night, this bush is pulled into the entrance. The entrance acts like a funnel and the spiny bush gets pushed together by it. The sharp spines make sure that no one even thinks of entering the village at night. Simple, but effective. They also put steel plates and pieces of tin right behind the entrance, if someone tries to get in, it will not go unheard.
 

Especially since we arrive with Peter as an escort we are being warmly welcomed by the village. He clearly feels at home and easily walks us through the maize of alleys. The whole structure reminds me of a beehive: cells within a larger cell. Areas within the confines of the thick wall, separated from each other by a thinner wall than the one on the outside. The entrance is always a narrow and low gate. Children are running through it with no great difficulty, but we have to stoop low to access the family compound. The different compounds almost always look the same: one, two or three huts, a kitchen area, a place for water and food storage.
 
The occupancy of the compounds doesn’t vary a whole lot: children, ranging from 0 till 15, a dog, chickens, ducks, sometimes goats, sheep and cows. These are usually taken in at night and shepherded out in the morning.
 
After we’ve been walking around for a little while we notice a group of young people gathering in the middle of the village. With their feet they stamp on the dusty soil and we start to hear a rhythm, which is really catchy. It finds its way through the dust, to the other huts, children and under your skin. The first symptoms show when you don’t even realize that you’re tapping, nodding or clapping on the beat.
The whole village seems to be called by the rhythm and gathers around us while the group of people in the middle starts their dance.
One of the elders with a fair bit of charisma and an impressive voice is clearly the motivator. His energetic hip movements and rhythm are catching. The amount of dancers are multiplying and before I know it I’m also dancing and shouting in an unfamiliar language.
 

When the dancing has finished and we look around is, we see that the entire village has turned up. We ask one of the village elders and the charismatic dancer to tell us a story about life in the village. They tell us two wonderful stories that we will write down separately.
Peter finds his way out of the village and we follow him. As soon as we have left we can feel the tiredness from the lack of sleep wash over us. The village for us was like a bath of energy, you fall in and you’re being carried away through warmth, love, simple passion and energy. Overenthusiastic children who grab your hand and take you into their world with their sparkling eyes where the mother of pearl colored whites stand out against their dark skin. The dusty faces, snotty noses who walk with their brothers and sisters on their backs. Hands and feet rough with calluses, but warm and full of love, friendship and honesty. Hands that run through the coarse hairs of a young calf to remove unwanted ticks, hands that run through the soft hairs of a newborn daughter, hands that take a hold of home made tools and that start on a long day from sunrise to sunset. I look at my own hands and see the soft skin, clean finger nails and knuckles with tiny, almost invisible, scars. They are the same hands, but so different. 33 years of age, but protected and defined by comfort.
 
Peter takes us back to Kara-Tunga. We take along one of the village elders, in his best suit, to Moroto. It’s quiet in the car, at the moment we are all in our own little worlds.
 

The Kraal

By the end of the afternoon we leave for another village. Peter climbs into our car again and leads us out of Moroto and onto a long dusty track. All of a sudden he shouts: “Stop! We passed the exit!” I look at him rather doubtful. “ But Peter, we didn’t pass any roads..”. Well, we have to go back he informs us. When we reach a large tree he says: “ Look, here it is.” A very narrow track where clearly only cattle walked recently leads us into the bush.
 
We take the turn and follow the cattle track which is just wide enough for the car. After 2 kilometers we reach some huts that are almost not visible because they have the same colors as their surroundings. A Kraal, a temporary settlement, Peter explains. We are warmly welcomed just like the other village before.
 
We park our car in the middle of the village while everyone watches us with curiosity while we set up camp. The campfire is lit and the men return in small groups with their cattle and find their place around it. We have dinner around the fire and listen to the stories from the men which Peter translates for us. A large pitcher of local brew is passed around. The stories turn into singing and the women also mix into the group, while they were separate from the men earlier on.
 
We go to bed when the fire is almost out. Some of the men find a resting place around the hot coals, while others look for more privacy in the fields. The women return to their huts and children and we find our familiar spot in our rooftop tent.
 

I'd rather be lost in the woods than found in the city

It is 5 o’clock in the morning when I pull open the heavy doors of the gate which leads to the road. I can see the shoes from the night guard poking out of his little office, soft snoring also comes out and fills the warm humid air around us. When the gate is completely open we can see the streets of Kampala, Uganda. We get into the traffic which is slowly coming to life in the city with a population of 1.5 million. It’s a vibrant city with on the one hand the typical African chaos and on the other side the sharp contrast of new malls and international brands and companies who want to get into the developing market like banks, telecom companies and Uber.
 
Chinese investors are slowly working on the roads in Uganda. The existing roads are torn open and replaced by brand new tarmac, signs are put up and roundabouts installed. Everything to make the infrastructure better. The only thing which is not up to date are the driving skills of the inhabitants of Kampala. Roads with two lanes become 4, merging into traffic means pushing your bull-bar against the other car until the weakest link gives in, parking bays don’t have to be used and stopping in the middle of the street to do your shopping is widely accepted.
From the car we see the daylight lighten up the sky around us. I can’t remember consciously enjoying so many sunsets before we started traveling. Slowly the sky turns purple before it changes into a dark orange and when we don’t need our car lights anymore we are well past the boundaries of Kampala. We are on our way to Mt. Elon and Sipi Falls, an area close to the border with Kenya. It’s a bit higher in altitude than its surroundings and famous for its Arabica coffee.
 
On a small ledge, covered in green grass, right next to the abyss leading down the river and with a view over the waterfalls, is our hard to get to, but beautiful campsite for the night. A soft whining from the green grass gets our attention. A young dog, emaciated and tired looking, pushes three hungry pups away from her nipples which causes the whining. Clearly, we set up camp next to their den and the whining is heartbreaking. We don’t really have a choice but to share our dinner with the young mother and her pups. The four of them eat like they haven’t had anything for weeks.
 
As soon as the sun sets and dew covers the grass we find our place in the tent. The moonlight shines through our mosquito net and adds a soft yellow light. It slowly climbs up in the sky and we’re fast asleep before it gets up high.
In the morning we visit the Sipi waterfalls. A narrow slippery trail leads us straight past the local crops. It seems to be a very fertile area around the waterfalls. By the time we walk past there are already a lot of farmers and family members working on the fields. With simple tools they work the land and it’s 50 Shades of Green all around us.

We leave Sipi Falls at 12.30 and arrive at Kara-Tunga in Moroto at 17.30. Moroto is a small village in the North East of Uganda. It’s an area that a lot of tourists skip when they visit Uganda, and we were almost one of them…Luckily, we talked to Wim Kok, owner of Matoke Tours, before we started driving around Uganda. His experience as a tour guide and also as the organizer of alternative African travels gives him all the knowledge to advise us. With a passion for Uganda he gladly tells us where to go and what to do and we talk away during the afternoon bend over the map with our coffees. We try to remember all the information he gives up by drawing and writing on our maps. For him this is common practice, but for us it’s as valuable as gold.

How we got our Ethiopian Visa

Out of all the rainy days we had in Nairobi, there was one sunny one and we spent it inside the Ethiopian Embassy trying to get our 3 month visas.
 
Our original Africa route included Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, but we had heard from various travellers that this visa is really hard to get and most people send their passports home, which was not an option for us. So, because of this we had already decided to drive the west coast until we arrived in Nairobi and talked to two travellers from the UK who had just gotten their Ethiopian Visa!
 
Hearing this we looked at each other and decided: let’s give it a try then! If they just got it then how difficult can it be?…
 
From the UK Overland travellers we got a list of things they needed for their application: a letter from your embassy, an itinerary, why you are applying for the visa in Nairobi and not in your home country, a list of countries you have visited in Africa + the ones you are planning to visit and a bank statement.
 
Luckily, the Dutch embassy in Nairobi gives out a letter, which not all embassies do apparently (for all the Dutchies: make an appointment online!!). Ours simply said: […] Regretfully, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is not in a position to issue a certificate in support of voluntary visa applications. […]
 
The visa office from the Ethiopian embassy is open from 9.00am – 12.00pm. We arrived a little after 10 o’clock and it wasn’t that busy when we got there. We were seated and after 5 minutes we were directly called into the Head Consul’s office. This is a stern looking lady (with tattoos on her forehead, neck and arms) who is clearly in charge and does not joke around.
 
 
She glanced over the papers we gave her, looked into our passports, found out that we don’t have Kenyan citizenship and simply said that we need to fly home to apply for a visa. We explained that we haven’t been home for 2,5 years, are not planning to go home and would like to apply here.
 
She answered that she does not have the authority to give us the visa and that we needed to talk to the Ambassador. So, we walked around the block to the entrance of the Ethiopian Embassy and explained to the security officer that we needed to see the ambassador. She called someone, handed us the phone through the bars of her little office, and I talked to a receptionist telling me that the ambassador was out of town and that we should come back next week……Well, we weren’t planning on hanging around busy Nairobi that long!
 
We walked back to the visa office and explained to the head consul that we tried to talk to the ambassador, but that he is not in and we are not here for another week. Was there another way, we asked her? Apparently not and within a minute we were standing outside again.
 
We felt defeated and didn’t really know what to do next when a business man from the UK who had overheard our conversation with the head consul started talking to us. We explained our problem and he simply said: “I would just walk around to the Embassy building again if I were you and tell them you want to speak to the Deputy Ambassador. He should be in when the Ambassador is not and tell them you’re not leaving until you talk to him.”
Since we didn’t really have any other ideas we decided to give his a advice a try and a few minutes later we were on the phone again with the secretary through the bars of the security office. She still wouldn’t let us in and we told we would just wait here then until we could.
 
Five minutes later, the big steel door opened and we were told to come in.
 
The deputy ambassador was a very friendly gentleman who was really interested in what we do and we talked to him for about 20 minutes about Ethiopia, our travel plans and where we had been so far. He told us he had no problem with approving our visas and he wrote something down (in Amharic) on our letters from the Dutch embassy.
 
Elated we walked out of his office and quickly realized that we had about 3 minutes to walk around the block again before the Visa Office closes at 12 o’clock! We ran, knocked on the door at 12.01 and were told to come back at 14.00……
 
Allright, we needed to have lunch anyway and dealing with the Head Consul is not something to do on an empty stomach.
Back at 14.00 we were the only ones there and she didn’t look too thrilled to see us. We gave her the letters that said she should give us a visa and she said: “He didn’t sign his name”
 
 
What? He didn’t sign? How should we have known this? It was written in Amharic! She clearly wanted us to turn around and admit defeat, but we just said that she should either call him to confirm or we would walk around again and have him sign it ourselves.
 
She didn’t like both of those options and had someone walk to his office to have it signed instead.When our papers came back she wanted to know which countries we were going to visit next. We told her that we would visit Uganda and Rwanda first before heading to Ethiopia (big mistake) and she told us that we could apply for a visa in Uganda.
 
 
Our reasons for applying in Nairobi were that if we got a 3 month visa for Ethiopia, it would give us enough time to drive around Lake Victoria before going to Ethiopia and we needed to be sure that we would have the visa, because if we would not get it we would not come back to Kenya. She didn’t really understand our reasoning and said: “I can only give you a one month visa and if you visit Uganda and Rwanda first you will not have enough time.”
 
 
Yes, we do understand that, but we want a 3 month visa! She told us that she could not grant us a 3 month visa and this is when Rinus’ theater school training became useful: for approx. 5 minutes he gave an intense speech as to why she should give us a three month visa, ending in: if you don’t issue it we will go back to the Deputy Ambassador, because we know he will grant it.
 
Exasperated, she sighed, and said: “ok, fill out the forms.” We grabbed the forms and walked out of the office before she could change her mind.
 
By now it was almost 15.30 and she “kindly” informed us that the bank closes at 16.00 and that in order to get our visas we should hurry to make the payment. The Ethiopian Visa is not paid at the visa office itself (for corruption reasons) , but instead you have to go to a CBA bank (close to the Serena Hotel, a 15-10 minute drive from the Visa Office), with a piece of paper that says the account number and amount. Here you can pay the 60 USD for 1 visa in Kenyan Shillings (cash!) and in return you get a receipt that says you have paid which you give to the Consul.
 
While Rinus found a motorbike driver to take him to the bank, I struggled to get a contact person for the random Backpackers in Addis I filled out in our papers.
 
She insisted that she needed a first and last name of a contact person at the Hotel and that Mr. Martin (the name of the owner of Mr. Martin’s Cozy Place) was not enough information. Since this information was no where to be found and even calling to Ethiopia did not work, I finally filled out the details for the Dutch Ambassador in Ethiopia and that was good enough.
 
 
With our filled our forms and the payment slips we went into the office again and presented everything. The only thing she still needed was a copy of the passports. No problem! I always have……shit, I just got a new passport in Tanzania and hadn’t had time to make copies of it yet.
 
Not really a problem since they have a copy machine there, but they charge 20 shillings for one copy and Rinus had exactly 14 shillings left after he paid for the visas earlier…
 
 
Obviously, she gave us a hard time over those 6 shillings and in the end Rinus had to run outside and ask his motorcycle driver (who he also hadn’t paid yet) to lend him some shillings which he did with a smile!
 
With all the paperwork done all we had to do was wait. The Head Consul left, we smiled and wished her a pleasant day, while one of her minions wrote us our valuable 3 month visas, starting today.
———————-
Bring:
Letter from your embassy (!! most important document, without it you will not get a visa !!). Explaining your travel and why you apply in Nairobi and not in your homecountry. We added a world map of where we have been and where we are planning to go.Itinerary for your travel through Ethiopiabankstatement (no one asked for it, but we put it among the papers anyway). List of countries you have visited and are going to visit after Ethiopia. Make sure you let them know you go to Ethiopia straight after Kenya. Contact name, address and number for a person in Ethiopia (someone from a hotel or your ambassador works). 1 photo. Enough Kenyan shillings to pay the visa.

Tarangire Simba Lodge

We almost miss the exit and with quite some speed we drive off the tarmac. The changeover between tarmac and dirt is a sharp cut off and it feels like we’re diving head first into the gravel road. Immediately we are followed by a large dust cloud as we make our way through Mbuya wa Jerumani. Like every small African town there is a large tree that gives shade to almost half of the village. I have to say that the locals are doing it way better than us. They spend the hottest part of the day sitting underneath the giant tree accompanied by friends, while we are sweating and trying to find the right road. Maybe this is one of the downsides of driving around Africa yourself, like we have been doing for the last year: finding your own way, while the experienced tour guide comes hurrying past, leaving you in a big red African dust cloud.
 
The coordinates we put into the navigation before we left points us in one direction while the sign in front of us directs us in the other. We look at each others questioningly and decide to follow the sign, but not for long. Insecurity hits us when we haven’t seen a sign for a little while and I had just been telling Helga stories about how, as a child, I used to turn signs around to confuse tourists. We decide to turn around and to make sure the first sign we saw is fixed properly.
 
Returning to the sign we find out that it is and relieved we drive back to the point where we turned around earlier.
We soon find out that we should have just trusted the signs and we know for sure when the dirt road eventually leads us to the gate of Tarangire National Park. It clearly shows that during the rain season Lake Burunge comes up all the way to the road we’re driving on. We’re visiting right before the rains start and dark clouds already form a thick, angry blanket which prevents the sun from coming through. Not necessarily a bad thing in the current heat.
 
Looking around us we can tell the land is dry and cracked. The earth seems to be ripped open and deep grooves are waiting to take up the first rain like a sponge. The soil reminds me of the skin of an elephant, deep, furrowed, but still beautiful in its own way.
We now obediently follow the signs to the lodge and it’s not long before we see the main entrance. The car finds a nice shady spot underneath an old tree and we get out, all sticky and sweaty after the long drive. Before we can even walk up to the reception area, the staff comes up towards us with refreshing, but very white, towels rolled up in neat little bundles and a delicious watermelon juice. We are handed the towels and as soon as I have mine it turns yellow from all the dust we’ve had on the way. “that will be difficult to get clean,” I think to myself. The staff are extremely friendly and make us feel like we found a home away from home.
 

We follow them inside and immediately I understand why a luxury lodge like this would settle here. From the wooden deck lake Burunge is visible, but there is also a waterhole closer by. In the dry season this is a popular spot for a variety of animals and we don’t even need binoculars.
Even in the first half hour of our arrival, which we spend on the elevated viewing deck, we see Elephants followed by Wildebeest, Zebras, Warthogs, Nyalas and later on some Eland and Jackals.
 
By now we’ve spent our first two hours on the viewing deck and a cool breeze makes it a comfortable spot to sit and relax. The staff is quick and gets us new drinks before we can even put down the empty ones. It is such a treat to relax among all these wild animals, it’s the real African experience!
 
By the time they take us to our exclusive safari tent, made out of a combination of wood, canvas, glass and brick, we feel like they’ve taken us to the other side of the world. Around us is nothing but wilderness. From the bed with its immaculate white linen, situated in the middle of the room, we look onto the African bush and we feel like we’re watching a documentary by National Geographic.
Helga looks at me and says: “I don’t think I will move from this spot in the next few days.” I look at her and we both start laughing.
 

The waiting game at the Tanzanian border

The gate from the campsite slides open, but they are having a hard time in getting the heavy gate out of the way. The wheels made from steel are rolling with some difficulty on the rusty rail. When we drive out, we immediately drive into town. We squeeze the car through the low hanging branches of a mango tree and can hear the unripe, green mangos hit the roof like hail. A sandy track leads us to the city centre and back on the tarmac. We get in line behind some cars waiting for the fuel station and spend our last Malawian kwachas on diesel because we are leaving Malawi today and head into Tanzania.

Tanzania is mostly known for its Wildebeast migration, the Serengeti, the Kilimanjaro, the coffee production, but also for its friendly people and different cultures which hope to write about in the next few weeks.
 
The tarmac starts to heat up, the morning chill slowly disappears and the car starts to warm up on the inside. It’s early in the afternoon when we leave Malawi, we sign out at a dilapetated office which houses the immigration, customs, bank and sellers of tomatoes, mangoes and other local products. A stamp in our passports and a stamp on our Carnet is enough to continue our travels and move on through the gate.
 
When we drive through the gate we temporarily find ourselves in No Man’s Land filled with car wrecks before we get to the border with Tanzania. We are immediately pulled over by a lazy looking cop getting out of the shade to stop us. Like well behaved schoolchildren we do as he says and I jump out of the car to fill out my name under in a book in which I can’t even read the previous entries. It seems enough though. I’m allowed to continue and we quickly reach an empty customs office. We’re lucky that we don’t have to wait in line as we did at previous border posts. We change 100USD for 2 visas on a flimsy brown piece of paper and a stamp in our passports before getting in the next line. A friendly, but very slow officer starts the procedure of temporarily importing our car. Even though we are traveling on a carnet, he seems to have to fill out all sorts of forms and to start everything up takes so long that by then I have read almost all of the notices hanging around the office. It takes us two hours before this lovely guy finally finishes all the paperwork, we paid our fees and we can enter Tanzania. Later someone tells us that it probably should have worked if we had given the officer some money, it might have shortened our waiting time from 2 hours to 10 minutes. But then, you never know and we don’t pay bribes.
 
Our first impression of Tanzania: green. In comparison to Malawi, Tanzania is much greener. In large quantities they are growing tea, coffee, mangoes, pineapples, corn and potatoes in this area. We also get less attention then we did in Malawi. The people seem to be more used to seeing white people around. The road is of good quality and in a bit of a hurry drive east, towards Dar es Salaam.
Our first impression of Tanzania turns out to be a bit of an illusion. Our view becomes more and more dry and dusty, just like Malawi which is anxiously waiting for the rainy season.
 
The road also changes from well maintained to one where we actively have to dodge the potholes and oncoming traffic. Roadworks make large sections of the road impassible and instead we find ourselves on dusty dirt roads parallel to the soon to be finished tarmac. It is getting dark and it is yet another 70 km before we get to the next campsite. Fully dark now and we are trying to find our way over dust and holes where too many heavy trucks have driven before us.
A moment I remember well is when a motorcycle carrying two people, with a large front light, passes us on the narrow track. And we thought we were driving fast over this potholed dirt road! A few bends later and we can see in our beams that same motorcycle driver picking up his motorcycle from the side of the road. We reduce our speed to see if he needs any help and at the same time we can see his passenger’s head sticking out from a sand hill 20 meters away. The poor guy was launched from the motorcycle by the impact, but luckily the sand broke his fall. Fortunately, both men are wearing helmets and sturdy outfits, which is very rare to see here in Africa.The dazed look on the man’s dust covered face is kind of comical though.
 
Both men can still walk and the damage to the motorcycle also seems to be not too bad. By now it is completely dark outside, and since we not yet speak any Swahili, we decide to continue driving. We heard some stories where Muzungus, white people, were held responsible for road accidents they had nothing to do with and we don’t want to be in that position. The road is busy enough that other people might lend a hand to the two guys when necessary.
 
An hour later we arrive at a deserted campsite and set up camp.
 

The Mushroom Farm Eco-Lodge and Social Enterprise

It is just around midday when we start on a steep climb up the hill. We just left the old Christian settlement of Livingstonia: a dusty little town started around 1600, based in the hills and looking out over the pale blue lake Malawi.
 
We are on our way to the Mushroom Farm, a small settlement from much more recent years. Although the name is giving you the impression that it’s taking you back to the sixties with psychedelic mushrooms, skunk and a hint of LSD, I’m being told that the name originates from the mushrooms which can be found when the rainy season has started and is flushing the dust of the trees, down the hill and is turning the dry tracks in muddy, impassible hazards.
 
Kyle, a friendly young man with an enormous passion and totally adapted to the African way of working, is showing us around. We would describe Kyle as a self taught permaculture enthusiast. As soon as he starts leading us around the 11ha of plateaus with plants we see his dark eyes lighten up. Kyle is telling us that sitting still never worked for him, he worked on permaculture farms in the US and South Africa before settling here. Recently he got his mom to fly down from the US bringing in interesting sounding plant seeds to grow spices that would add perfectly to the food served at the Mushroom farm. Not yet shocked by this he shows us his collection of Asian earthworms (Red Wigglers) who are working hard in a concealed area to fertilise soil. The wigglers did not crawl down here by themselves but also made it to the farm in a suitcase.
 

The rainworms fertilise the ground together with the human waste of the Mushroom Farm. The waste is collected by smart looking compost toilets, and this way everyone gives a small donation to the fertilization of the farm. Accidentally looking down the longdrops it is clearly visible that the farm has been growing in well deserved popularity. The reason I’m saying this is not only because the longdrop is not that long anymore, but also because we have been hearing stories about the Mushroom Farm traveling all through Malawi.
 
After the location has been taking over from a Australian guy, about 3 years ago, Maddy, a fresh and fit looking English lady and her brother Cameron, a total coffeeholic and great carpenter, turned the place in to a total hipster paradise where wearing beards, drinking coffee, playing boardgames, eating vegetarian and sharing travel experiences is cool. To go with this we just heard that Cameron totally mastered the hipster culture by developing a bicycle-driven coffee roasting machine, which we are now very curious about and have yet to see…
 
The guys from the Mushroom Farm are also working very closely together with the local community spreading the vision of creating sustainable tourism in the area. The Eco-Lodge is designed as a social-enterprise; encouraging employment, responsible tourism and donating part of the lodge’s profit to community projects in the area. Over the last 3 years the Mushroom Farm has more than tripled their employees; supporting them and their families by creating work and also creating schooling opportunities. They’ve also started weekly adult literacy classes, nursery and feeding program, and provide scholarships for vulnerable students in the area who would not otherwise have an opportunity to go to school. By staying at Mushroom Farm, you truly do make a difference to the community.
 

At this stage, what we can see with our untrained eye, the farm is producing: Tomatoes, salad, avocados, bananas, capsicum, coffee, spices, cucumbers, beetroot and carrots. The products they are not producing are bought from local farmers or brought in from Mzuzu, about 3 hours away. The quality of the food and the incredible view of the location are without a doubt the main attractions and totally distract you from the fact that some of the buildings could use some love and that there is continuous building activity to improve the place even more. Not that you will be spending much time in your lodgings anyway since the bar is a much better place to hang out and the food will keep you coming back continually.
 

Just to summarise the current facts of the Mushroom Farm. Staying at the farm will give you a totally breathtaking view: overlooking Lake Malawi, with rolling hills also in the backgrounds, it’s a scenery that never gets old no matter how long you stay. Even better, the sun will rise over the lake in the early morning which is something to get up for sure! The best way to take in these views are from the hammocks that seem to be suspended mid air just on the edge of the cliff. The hammocks are also close to the bar, a place you don’t want to get too far away from since the home grown food keeps you coming back. The food is being served with a smile and pride by the most wonderful people who are getting a fair chance to improve their lives. The farm is offering an overland campsite for cars, tent campsites, safari tents, dorm rooms, a tree house, a cob house, 2 showers and 2 toilets, a bar, a restaurant and a sundeck for yoga. The whole place has 22 beds available, so book in advance and make sure that you get there before 16.00 to sign in for that delicious vegetarian dinner.
 

The attack of the TseTse flies

It is Thursday the 8th of October when I close the car door behind me. My hands grasp the light brown coloured steering wheel which is covered in dust, just like the dashboard. The car shakes a bit when I start it and the shaking slowly changes into a more rhythmic shudder: a familiar sound at last. We can hear the dust underneath the tyres when we drive away from the entrance and start on the climb to the village.
On our way to the village we pass by some stalls with local products and some attentive merchants call out to us as we pass. Even though we’re in a driving car, they still think they can sell us some touristy things as we go. When we don’t stop, they walk back to their stalls, heads down, and settle back on their wooden stools.
 
The “27.000 Miles Along The Sea” team has temporarily grown to four people. Two energetic and very enthusiastic Dutch guys spotted our car in Nkhata Bay and heard that we occasionaly take people along. With their typical Dutch directness, they don’t cut around the bush and ask us if they can join us when we visit Vwaza and Nyika National Park. We don’t have to consider this proposal for very long. Their enthusiasm is contagious and we realize that the change in our travel dynamics might be good for us, so we say yes.

A narrow dusty track leads us to Vwaza National Park. We can tell by the condition of the road that the park doesn’t get that many visitors. Just before we really enter the gate we find a large tree that covers most of the road in shade and we pull over for a quick lunch. A young local woman walks up to us and starts talking to us in her own language. It is impossible for us to find out what she wants, so we decide to ignore her. A few moment later she gets down on her hunches near the back of the car, where Helga is making some chicken sandwiches.. She then unbuttons a pocket in her dress and puts some Malawian Kwacha notes on the table which hangs on the inside of the back door. “ She thinks we’re some kind of shop”, I say to Helga. We both laugh, give her some leftovers and put the kwachas back in her hand. Very happy we see her walk back down the road towards the village. “Let’s get out of here,” Helga says, “before she brings her whole family.” We all get back in the car and drive the last few kilometers to the park.
 
Vwaza NP:

We stay in a large hut made from wood and straw. It is the cheapest solution to stay in the park and somehow much cheaper than camping. We move the beds around, hang our mosquito nets from the ceiling and settle for the night. The sun sets and just before seven o’clock everything around us is dark with our head torches as our only light. When we look around us we can see eyes light up in the beam from our torches all round us like shiny marbles. I try to count them, but movement makes it too hard. The long day exhausted us all and it doesn’t take long before everyone is sound asleep.
 
I wake up feeling like I’m in a helicopter. It is not even midnight and I must have slept for at least 3 hours. Helga lies next to me, clearly frustrated with her eyes wide open staring at the ceiling while she keeps the sheets up to her nose. I realize why I thought I was in a helicopter, the mosquito net has filled itself with buzzing mozzies. I follow her example, but can’t seem to relax and get used to the buzzing sound. “ This so called mosquito net is not working as it is meant to be working, “ I tell her, “ I am going to pitch up the tent!”. The next moment I’m in my boxer shorts on top of a skew car, surrounded by hippos, setting up a rooftop tent. The movements are all automatic and within a few minutes I’m finished. The moment I get in the tent I see Helga coming out of the hut with her blanket. “ May I join you up there?” she asks. “ Sing a song first!” I reply jokingly. She’s not amused and with a murmured “f*ck you” she gets into the tent.
 
The smell of a simmering coffeepot and an omelet reaches us up in the tent and tickles our nostrils. There is no way we can resist this and like a bunch of well trained soldiers we are up and ready at six o’clock in the morning and waiting in line for the coffee. We almost inhale the liquid as if our lives depend on it and the person who proves to have a steel esophagus turns around first and hurries to the shower. The rest starts to pack and it’s not too long before everyone had his shower and we’re ready to go.
 
The roads are not clearly signposted and we find our own way through the National Park. We start to follow the riverbed that leads through the park. It is the driest time of the year and our benefit is that all the animals gather around the only water and the little green there is. When it’s around noon all the animals disappear from the sun and start saving their energy in the shadows. The downside is that as soon as you leave the area where there is water everything is dry. We turn of after we’ve followed the river as far as we could and the last drops of water are evaporated. The four of us have a look at the map. Our choices here in Vwaza are limited, there are not a lot of tracks through the park and the rangers have told us not to drive the northern or southern routes because of poaching activity in the area and the condition of the road. As far as they are concerned we take the road east which is the same we drove when we went in.
 
After a long talk we decide to go against the advice of the rangers and choose the road less taken: North. It’s the road that goes through the poaching area and of which the condition is unknown. Our car doors and windows are tightly shut. When we look out of the car the whole side is covered in TseTse flies. When we stop they hit us like hail, probably thinking they can fly through the heavy steel or something. We should really lower our tyre pressure on this track, but none of us has the guts to out of the car, so we deal with the inconveniences and drive a little bit slower. It becomes a bit of a challenge when we also get fallen trees and branches on the dirt road. From behind the steering wheel I look around me, but still, no one volunteers to get them off the road. We’re lucky: we manage to drive around them again and again.
 
As I am writing this story, the next thing that comes to mind and when we are almost sitting on the front seats with four people because hanging out of the windows on the side is still impossible because of the TseTse flies. Ide and Hendrik are both leaning forward as fas as they can to have a look out of the front window. It’s hard to see, but in the distance we can see three men dressed in military outfits, carrying guns, walking on the shoulder of the track in the shade of the trees. It’s already too late to turn around, and there was any space to do so either way. One of the guys is carrying the antlers of a male Kudu over his shoulder while the person in front navigates with a small handheld GPS. They are all dressed in thick canvas and covered in flies. They’ve clearly tried to cover every part of their bodies and it makes them look like guerrilla warriors because of it. Slowly we come closer and I can feel the tension amongst us. The moment the men are passing us I make a quick decision which we will all regret later and I’m still not sure of was the right one. The men pass on my side and I quickly roll my window down…like an avalanche hundreds of TseTse flies stream into the car. We are all dumbfounded for a few seconds while the car fills up with them. Hendrik, who sits next to me makes another quick decision and also rolls his window down in the hope that the momentum of the flies leads them straight through the car and out on the other side. Theoretically that was a very good idea, but it has a reverse effect and twice as many flies get into the car. I chat with the men very quickly and they tell us that they are an anti poaching unit who are on patrol. We quickly close the windows again and start to drive. The inside of the car feels like beehive. We are being attacked from all sides by these ferocious little animals. The other people in the car choose their weapons (towels, newspapers) and start their counterattack while loudly keeping scores. Pieces of newspaper are flying through the car while I get hit in the head by a towel murdering TseTse flies. But they don’t seem to die that easily. I try my best to keep my foot on the gas while I get bitten by the little bastards.
 
Slowly the amount of flies are getting less. We laugh about the situation and find our way out of the park. The closed gate looms up in the distance and we are all a bit scared that it might be locked and no one is there. It turns out not to be locked and I run out of the car and off we go, out of the park.
 
Half an hour later we reach the next national park: Nyika NP. It’s a park that looks like a mix between Wales and the Scottish highlands. It’s clean, green and the rolling hills seem endless in the distance. We put up camp, bake bread and sit around the campfire sharing stories while we enjoy the cool night for a change. We leave early the next morning, drive out of the park and find our way to Livingstonia.
 

Lake Malawi

It is early morning when we leave the campground and start driving north, towards Lake Malawi. When we reach Liwonde we look for some shade and have a look at our map. In concentration we are studying the map as to which route to take. South, to visit the mountain, North to the small lake just before Liwonde National Park or Lake Malawi. In my head I follow the different coloured lines on the paper before me.

The squaking of brakes pulls us out of our concentration. We both look over our schoulders towards the main road. Through the rows of trees we can just see a truck parked on the side of the road. It takes a few minutes before the smell of burned rubber reaches us at the restaurant. At that moment we know something is wrong. It is quiet, an eery silence hangs in the air when we reach the main road. A group of people has gathered on the side of the road and they stand very still, faces staring towards the asphalt. I approach them very slowly, but no one seems to notice me. Looking at the asphalt myself it tells me what has just happened. A middle aged man on a bicycle was hit and probably run over by the truck that is now parked on the side of the road.
 
It wouldn’t have made a difference if there had been immediate help, as far as I can tell, it would have been too late anyway. A man in a grey uniform drapes a piece of fabric over the body with the help of some bystanders. A human life sometimes ends in seconds. It’s not something we are very familiar with, but this shakes us up very much. We both think back to a couple of weeks earlier when we witnessed another fatal road accident.
 
We navigate around the main road and without talking about it we drive towards the lake where we find a nice spot at the beach.
 
A few local guys are busy to get a trawl in on the shore line. They walk in a line and when they reach the end of the rope, they walk to the front again. It looks like a tough job and I can use the distraction. The men seem very pleased when I decide to join the rope pulling to get the heavy trawl out of the water.
 
In the tent that night, the wind picks up so strongly that we decide to pack everything up in the middle of the night. We drive our car away from underneath the trees that sway dangerously, while dropping branches and fruits, and find shelter behind a building. We sleep in the car on the front and back seats the for remaining few hours.
 
Very stiff from a bad night sleep and without having to pack anything up, we leave early.
 
A small track leads us to Monkey Bay. Monkey Bay and Cape McClear are popular tourist destinations because of the unique bay that has a sunset over the lake.
We find a beautiful campsite underneath a mango tree and swim with hundreds of tiny coloured fish called cichlids.
 
In the evening we see small groups of men walking towards the lake where they scrub themselfves until they are almost white, from the soap obviously.
 

When we leave the Cape we run into a checkpoint very quickly. A young police officer stops us and sticks his head in through the car window. We talk a bit about nothing before he asks: “ and, what are you giving me? I can see you have 4 hats hanging in the car, you don’t need 4 hats, you can give me one.” I am taken a back by his straightforward approach and try to explain to him that we do need all those hats. I offer him a cigarette and after he tries to get a hat some more he gives up, takes another drag from his cigarette and lets us go.
 
24 September 2016
 
I walk through the small alley of the village we just arrived in on my flimsy flipflops. In my pockets I have nothing more than a few kwachas. School has just finished and the children are hanging around the low school building and draw figures in the sand with their sticks.
 
I kick the powdery black sand up with every step I take and I can see my feet turning the same colour very quickly.
 
The further I walk, the more the houses are packed together and finally I walk into a tiny alley. It is clear that the residents have tried to create shade by putting pieces of colourful cloth and plastic in between the two rows of houses that flap loudly when the wind gets under them. It’s late in the afternoon and I’m looking for dinner ingredients.
 
The houses, made of clay and home made bricks have little openings, where I can see their variety of goods. I take my time navigating slowly through the market until I reach a place where they sell vegetables. I buy a few tomatoes, a cabbage and some onions which they sell me for a Mzungu price (the Malawian word for white person). With everything loaded up in my backpack I easily find my way back to the place we are camping at.
 

Lake of Stars Festival

29 September 2016
 
It is early morning and we can see that it is getting busier along side the road. Little stalls, made out of bamboo are being built in quick succession next to each other. A long narrow beam blocks off the road. A lot of people squeeze past it, while others shout out instructions over the handheld devices. It is a day before the festival starts, but it is already very busy at the Chinteche Inn. We try to get our car on the festival itself, but that request is denied and we are only allowed on foot.
 
Right behind each other we walk through the gate and immediately we can feel the festival vibe descending down upon us like a warm blanket on a cold winter day. After walking around for a bit, we find out where the central nerve system of the festival is located and before we know it we’re put to work and find ourselves behind one of the festival bars.
 
For three days we enjoy the live bands and relaxed vibe, while also volunteering by selling the drink vouchers.
 

Lake of stars:

Lake of Stars Festival is an annual three-day international festival held on the shores of Lake Malawi, the third largest lake in Africa. The festival was started in 2004 and continues attracts over 3,000 attendees with musical acts from Africa some international known artists. The majority of Lake of Stars staff are volunteers and the majority of performers get little to no pay. Over $1.5 million is generated by the festival for the local economy.

Malawi, home of the friendly

Malawi, our 6th country in Southern Africa.
 
We fill up our tanks with fuel (220 liter) and do some grocery shopping before we hit the border with Malawi. Africa is dry and the last few years it has suffered from extreme draught. We heard that it hit Malawi pretty bad a few years back with severe food shortages due to failed crops. Because of problems with import and political instability Malawi has also known periods of fuel shortages. Since we have two tanks and our jerrycans we can drive around for 1600 km before we have to fill up again.
In the supermarket Rinus gets into a conflict with some of the locals. Usually the lines for the cash registers are pretty long here in Africa and you would say that after 8 months here we would be used to these lines… Well, no, and especially Rinus has a hard time dealing with it!
In some supermarkets, we find out, the trick is to put something on the counter as soon as you walk in. After that, you leisurely fill up your cart, trolley or arms with all the other groceries. Then you walk to the counter, where that one item is still waiting for you. Finally, you skip the line, get in front, since you were obviously there before and “forgot” some more items. People from Africa seem to accept this, they’re friendly and used to wait in line for long periods.
 
Well, Rinus isn’t. He is like a terrier who bites down on his place in the line and will gladly tell everyone in the in the supermarket multiple times how the principle of a proper cue works.
 
When we get to the car, I’m glad our tyres didn’t get slashed in the meantime..
It turns out to be a public holiday in Zambia which we find out when we are about to cross the border. All the employees are lazily hanging around in their office, watching the inauguration of the president on a small tv while eating a fresh load of bananas. I stick my head through the small opening in the window to let them know that there are people here waiting to be helped. Eventually, the least lazy officer walks towards us. With his fingers full of banana, which ends up on our passports, he stamps us out of Zambia and we continue to the Malawi side. We fight our way through a thick layer of money changers and get to our car to drive to Malawi.
Malawi doesn’t have a public holiday, but they’re not very keen on working either. Fortunately, we are expert border crossers by now, so 45 minutes later we are in Malawi.
 
Our first impression: Malawi is poor, poorer than the other countries we’ve travelled through. We also notice that there are more mosques and muslims to be seen.
 
Here in Malawi, it seems that everyone has a business in something and they will always tell you all about it. As soon as we leave the car they will try to sell you their goods. When we stay in the car they will call you from a distance, or tap your window. When we drive past they still shout out to us from the other side of the street to get our attention.
This is all different to the Africa we came from where people tend to display their goods and wait for us to stop by instead of actively walking up and selling it to us.
 
The capital, Lilongwe: we appear to be in a cocktail of raw blues, a sultry but humid heat, covering us in a blanket of exhaust fumes. My feet, worn in flip flops, get very dirty when I walk from our city campsite on the hill down towards the centre. Cyclists come towards me, tense faces to get the old bicycles up the hill.
I hear someone walking behind me and step up my pace as much as the humidity allows me. Not enough, I am soon joined by a young man who introduces himself to me.
 
He tells me he goes to school to be a carpenter. Also, he informs me that he grew up in a large family and that his parents don’t live in the city.
Even though I was not really waiting for this conversation and I need all my concentration to keep my feet on the small path in front of me, I am answering his questions obligingly.
It doesn’t take very long for him to begin his selling pitch. It’s a way of approaching that apparently works for western tourists: Introduce yourself, tell them where you come from, about you siblings, your education and then try to sell your goods when they take a pity on you. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t work with me.
 
I get some cash from the machine and with a wad of money the size of a phonebook I start to walk back up to the campsite. I get the same story as before, but this time from an elderly man who I think has long since passed the “going to school” age. Around him I can smell a very pungent body odor, which makes it hard for me to breath the already hot city air. I wonder why he walks up the hill at this time a day, while his younger and smarter colleague walks down…
 
The next morning we meet a young wood craftsman who makes miniature cars. We give a few photos of our Landcruiser and he begins very enthusiastically to build ours.
 
It’s late in the afternoon when we finally leave the city. We get in line behind a long cue of beaten up cars and while dodging the potholes, we get out of the city as fast as we can.
 
Our camp for the night is at a small pottery in Dedza, a small village south of Lilongwe. At night there is a lot of noise and we have a hard time figuring out if it’s a fight or a party. I decide to get out of the tent and make some noise myself by beating against the fence with a stick or something. It’s a full moon and it lights up the whole area, but even so, I still see no one. I climb back into the tent and put in some earplugs before going back to sleep.
 
The next morning the owner of the pottery tells me that the noise had to do with a chicken theft from one of the neighboring houses. The person who lives right behind the campsite had something to do with the theft and the people from the village had decided to tell him, that night, that he will not get away with this the next time. We had just decided to tell him we were moving on, but after hearing this story we decide to stay another day since it will probably be a lot more quiet this time.

South Luangwa NP

A seemingly endless looking dirt road takes us through small villages where the people walk outside to wave at us. We are far away from civilization, but somehow there are people everywhere. Small huts made out of clay with thatched roofs are all around. The road gets a bit rougher the more we drive inland and away from the main road. It’s a full moon. We can see the sun set and the bright full moon makes his appearance. Too bad they are always opposite each other, otherwise it would’ve been a great photographic shot, I think to myself. Nowhere on my travels have the sunrises and sunsets been as impressive as they are in Africa. When the view is open enough we always try to position the tent so we wake up while watching the sun rise. We always try to camp somewhere before the sun sets and when it does we get the camera out to capture it while enjoying a big mug of cold ginger tea. This ginger tea is Rinus’ favourite and the recipe is Rooibos tea, ginger, lemon juice and honey. It’s very refreshing and Rinus believes that the more ginger you put in there, the more healing the tea becomes. He’s almost getting as superstitious and the locals here.

Today we are having a hard time finding a good spot. The bush is very dense and every livable space has small villages. In the end we decide to ask at one of the small huts if we can spend the night at the open field nearby. With African people, the rules for land are different. You use it, but you don’t own it. When we ask to pitch up our tent on their land, they look quizzically at us. When they do understand our question they still don’t know why you came to ask permission in the first place. Helga and I always love to camp with the locals, they only downside being that you often attract a lot of attention. And that is not always something you feel up to after a very busy day on the road. We timed our arrival just before dark and the local people don’t usually venture far from their homes in the dark because they have no flashlights.
 
It seemed like a good idea, but there is one thing we missed: the full moon. Until very late at night we can hear people singing and dancing around us. From the sounds we recognize a group of young men and even younger females. The women sing, marching in small groups with rotating lead singers. The man react to their singing with yells of oooohs and aaaahs, somewhat rhythmic, but not always in tune.
 
Tired from our sleep deprived night we pack up, make a (very Dutch) peanut butter sandwich and get in the car before the sun comes up. We know that is we linger any longer everyone will come out to see us and it will be hours before we get to leave. We drive out of the small village, over the hill and into the next settlement. Slowly, we see everything around us come alive. Children walk around in colourful clothes, dogs find their favourite spots in the sun and there’s a flurry of chickens running around. The first signs of fires being started give out a homely feel to it all.
 
Around midday we arrive at the National Park.
South Luangwa National Park in the east of Zambia is the most southern situated out of the three national parks down the Luangwa River. There are large populations of Thornicrofts giraffe,elephant and African Buffalo. In the river you can find large groups of crocodiles and hippos. In 1938 the area was already proclaimed a park to protect it and it 1972 it officially became a National Park and is now covers 9050m2.
 
We introduce ourselves at the campsite and are being invited to attend one of the morning game drives. A very knowledgable ranger takes us along and gives us a lot of useful information.
 

Sweat, paint and tears.

We decide to adjust our route. Change, things continuously go differently than we’ve had planned. Helga dislikes it. For me it’s a way of life. Close to your self, survive, judging situations day by day, checking priorities and choose. And then to see whether it was the right choice, deal with the consequences and on to the next travel day.
 
It’s the beginning of September and the summer starts here in Africa. We can feel it starting to be hot and dry. The wind starts in the afternoon and blows warm air past uncovered limbs. Our skins are dry and our lips cracked.
A couple of weeks ago our air conditioning broke down. The windows from our car are opened as far as possiQble and a thick layer of dust has gathered on the inside of the whole car. The dashboard, the doors and the insides of the windows, all covered in dust. The wind seems to help a bit, but not really.
 
Harare, the capital city of Zimbabwe has problems with unpredictable and recurring protests. In Mozambique is tension between the government and the opposition which causes instability in the middle of the country. The far north and south still seem safe, but the travel advice has changed to negative a while ago. We are on our way to Malawi and when we have a look at the map we decide to travel through Zambia. From Zambia it is easy to drive into Malawi and since we will be there before the raining season hits, we can still visit South Luangwa National park.
It’s early in the afternoon when we drive into Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. A while ago we found a bumpersticker which pretty much sums up how we feel about driving through a city: “ I’d rather be lost in the woods than found in the city”. Not that we really have a choice, since it’s time for some repairs on the car.
 
We talk to some people in Lusaka and finally we feel we’ve found a decent mechanic in town. We drive through the city, turn off the main road and end up in a dodgy suburb. A long wall has been erected in between the low buildings and has been painted red and white, although it has clearly seen better days. When we drive up the heavy metal doors swing open and we drive onto a courtyard covered in oil residue. Our car window is open and I can hear our tires sticking to the ground. A mechanic points us towards a corner where we can park the car.
I walk into the office where three middle aged men, who clearly enjoy all that life has to offer, stare at me incomprehensibly. There is one desk, one guy is sitting on an old desk chair, while the others pulled up two different chairs. The guy in the desk chair seems most likely to be highest in the hierarchy. I turn towards him and start by casually dropping some names before I start with what I came to ask. From the corner of my eye I can see that the man slides a small gun, which I recognize as a 357 short barrel, under a newspaper. I don’t really pay attention to this and tell him that we would like to have our oil changed and that we have some other small repairs. I also tell him that I will be present to assist and that we have all the parts ourselves.
 
The man leans back in his chair and shouts something intelligible from the office. Immediately three guys, in what once were blue coveralls come running. In Zulu he gives them instructions and as soon as he’s finished they turn around and walk towards our car. I quickly follow suit and reach the car together with them.
 
We open the bonnet and the workmen divide themselves around the car. I’m a bit nervous and try to keep an eye on everything that is going on. The first thing that happens is that I see one of the guys unscrewing the fuel filters, which I told them was not necessary as I already did that myself. The next thing is when someone else tries to unscrew the oil sump with the wrong size spanner.
I can feel the last bit of control slip through my fingers and decide to step in. With an emotional undertone in my voice I shout: “Stop, stop, stop!” I can feel myself relax again when the guys put their tools away and gather around the hood of the car.
“I don’t know what your supervisor told you guys, but we’re doing an oil change, we’re cleaning the air filter and we’re greasing all the grease nipples. That’s all! I am a mechanic myself, so I just need one guy to help me here.” After this, two guys leave and start working on some other cars. The mechanic who I am left with, takes the air filter out of the car and walks away with it to clean it, I presume. In the meantime I do all the other stuff that needs to be done.
 
When he comes back, he hands over a splotchy grey air filter. I take a look at it and wonder about the colour differences. I ask him to take me to the compressor and see that he used a loaded paint gun to “clean” the air filter. Sniffing the air filter the distinctive paint smell fills my nostrils. “ So, that’s how you do it in here in Africa,” I tell him while I keep the air filter in front of me. “ You spray the filter full of paint so that you make sure the customers have to come back at some point.”.
 
Filled with anger I walk into the office where the three men are still sitting. Nothing has changed and they are still happily chatting. I throw the air filter on to the desk and the paint and dust spill out of it. “ Look at this, one of you mechanics sprays my air filter with a paint gun! What a joke!”
He shrugs, calls down the mechanic and has an animated conversation with him. I step back out of the office and tell him that I don’t need the help of his guys anymore. I also tell him that I am not leaving without a new air filter. Two hours I wait for it in protest right in front of his office, but eventually we drive out of there with a brand new air filter and a car that still works.
 
Very tired now I look at Helga and say: “ this is just an absurd story. I just feel sorry for the guys who work there, they really should go to school or be properly trained by someone. This whole company will not survive like this. What a bust.”
 
The next moment which comes to mind clearly is when we are driving out of the city. We had been busy for two days to get everything organised to finally leave Lusaka behind. A wide stream of cars takes us through the inner city and every 30 meters or so we have to stop. It always happens that there is someone right there where we stop in the middle of the road selling his goods. For a while it’s welcome entertainment while we have short conversations with the vendors, but soon it starts to get boring. I try to create more distance with the car before me so I can keep driving when everyone stops, but I learn that this only encourages other drivers and in particular minibuses, to get in line before me.
Eventually we get to the main road, the aorta of Lusaka and the speed of the cars picks up. Finally making some progress we look at each other: finally, freedom. A black pick up clearly has the same opinion as we seen him zigzagging through traffic. He overtakes us on the inside and disappears out of sight. “ Did you see that?” says Helga. “that guy drives like a mad man.” A couple of kilometers later we find out that his driving didn’t really make the difference he was hoping for when he eventually ends up right in front of us.
 
Luckily we recognize it’s the same car and forewarned is fore armed. The next moment be brakes out of nowhere and I can see the distance between us getting smaller rapidly. Braking myself is of no use, I need to get out of the way. Helga sees it happening, she looks left and says “yes” while I make the quick decision to overtake left and send angry looks to the driver on my right.
 
In the next moment I can see three police officers on the road trying to get through traffic. It is clear that they are aiming for our car and I suddenly understand why the driver in the black pick up braked so suddenly: a speed trap.
 
The road is chaos, I have to switch lanes again and end up in front of the black car. The police officers are not fast enough and before they can stop us we’ve already passed them. There was no way we could’ve stopped. Startled, I look at Helga: “ what do we do now?”
The heavy, spirited driver from the black car, who obviously saw everything happen also turns out to have a spirited character. He starts to behave like an officer himself and tells us through his open window that we should drive back to the police at the speed trap. If we don’t, then we will be stopped at the next roadblock as they communicate with each other. It is hard to get out of this discussion and we take a turn to make it look like we’re heading back. Satisfied, the black pick up drives away. Now, Helga takes over the navigation. She leads us through ghettos, dirt roads, dry riverbeds and eventually out of the city. Just after the last city road block we turn back on the main road and 80 km out of Lusaka we encounter our first police check again. Their friendly smiles tell us that luckily, there is no warrant for arrest on a white Troopy and we might have gotten away with it….

Mana Pools

Mana Pools is a National Park in the Northern part of Zimbabwe, along the Zambezi river. It is not centrally located and certainly not easily accessible. When we are on our way to the park we almost get the impression that they try to prevent tourism instead of stimulating it. The reason for this is that the only road to get to Mana Pools is so heavily corrugated that our teeth were rattling and everything in our car was shaking. Also, the office where we had to pay our fees to the park was charging us 90 USD per person per day for entering the park, car fees and camping on the cheapest spot where the facilities must have worked once upon a time (like most places in Zimbabwe). It’s a surrealistic fortune and astronomically high for African standards.
 
Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop us for once. Mana Pools is one of the only national parks where they make the exception that next to driving around you are also allowed to walk around by yourself. Just before we enter the park we meet up with a young couple who are travelling Africa in a Landcruiser campervan and whose roads we have crossed before: Dave and Tashy. Dave grew up in Zimbabwe and lived there until he was 13. After that he moved to Australia, by himself, to attend school. Tashy grew up in the UK and moved to Australia 10 years ago. You can follow them on instagram @a.wild.life.
 
We discuss our routes and they provide us with the does and don’t in Mana Pools. As soon as we drive into the park we can feel we’ve reached a special place. It seldom happened to me that I am in a place where I feel there is total balance and peace. A place where you can feel that the animals, even though they are still wild, are also used to the presence of a handful of tourist wandering around. The balance does something to your soul and walking around in Mana gives you a sort of energy that is hard to put in writing. It almost seems like you’re walking around in a perfect world.
Never before have I seen a large male elephant of about 5 tons, walk past you and nibble on a branch of the tree you are currently sitting under. I can see him tear the branch off, keep it in place under his foot and with ease pull the leaves and bark off it with his trunk and into his mouth. He is completely aware of my presence as I am of his. Even though, it’s no threat. Human and animal are completely at ease with each other.
 

Later that day we are very lucky to see a group of six lionesses enjoying the shade under some low bushes.
 

Back at the campsite I meet a photographer who spent most of the past four years in the park. Nick is busy documenting the painted dogs. These dogs are wild dogs who live in small packs. The packs consist of an alpha male and female. The rest of the pack is submissive to these two dogs. Usually the alpha female is the only one getting pups and the rest of the pack helps with taking care of them. The dogs will hunt and eat before regurgitating this to the pups. Until they are old enough to hunt for themselves, the little ones grow up in the den and get trained by the rest.
Even though they are really effective hunters, the Painted Dog is threatened with extinction. The BBC just made a documentary about them which will be released in 2018.
 
The next day, Nick takes me along to look for the dogs and we decide to walk. Along the way we have to deviate from our course quite a bit to avoid buffalos and elephants with their young on our path. It’s late in the afternoon when we get back to the camp, all sweaty and tired from carrying the heavy camera equipment around.
 
It’s pitch black, after all the finally monkeys went a sleep we could could wash up and leave our camp without anything being knicked and taken up in the tree.
 
We do our household chores, store our food and rubbish in a safe place and join the world of the sleeping.
It’s very early in the morning when something wakes me up. I can hear it being very close to the tent. I turn around, get the big spotlight, open the mosquito netting and turn it on. Nothing… I have to hang myself down the ladder of the roof tent to get a better view. Very uncomfortable I see myself hanging up side down out of the roof tent. I scan the area around the tent. When I see two pairs of eyeballs lighting up as fire it is when I turn off the spotlight. I turn the light on its brightest setting and move it up and down, Brown, black, bigger than a dog, hairy, filthy, flat face.. Hyenas, and they seem to be busy with something very chewy close to the tent.
 
I turn back around and find the warm comfort of my sleeping bag. It doesn’t occur to me until a few minutes later that I must have left my fine leather Blundstone boots outside. It comes to me in flash, but this uneasy feeling of having to finish this trip without the comfort and safety of those boots gets me out of bed. I turn around again, and with an annoyed, fully awake Helga next to me now I lower myself down the ladder. On the ground, I start looking for my boots which are nowhere to be found. I start scanning the surroundings and barefoot I find the place where I saw the animals last.
The place looks like a true crime scene. Pieces of what were once very fine boots are scattered all over the place. Disappointed I find my way back to the tent. Helga, more worried about me than anything else asks: “and?” “They have only left me scraps” I tell her. “Scraps, scraps of what?” she replies “everything was stored away, right?”.
 
“My boots” I tell her annoyed, they came a long way but are now torn to pieces. I am annoyed because I know her answer will be “I told you to not leave your boots out”.
 
After 4 days in Mana Pools we feel weary, but full of new energy and beautiful experiences.
 

Victoria Falls and a hitchhiking police officer

Ten thousand liters of water are cascading down rapidly and sheer force makes for a giant cloud of mini water drops. It is early morning and Helga and I are visiting Victoria Falls. Wet from the water vapor we walk back to our camping in town.
 

Small dusty roads lead us around Lake Kariba, a large sweet water lake that originates out of the Zambezi river. The lake used to be full of fish, but nowadays you’re lucky if you even catch anything at all. After the inflation the tourist industry has almost disappeared in Zimbabwe. The people who lived around the lake and who made their money in the tourist industry had no other option than to move away or try to make money locally, through fishing. After the local people and their nets went fishing in the lake, not a lot was left. When we look around us now it is like nothing has changed over the last 25 years. We are offered a chalet for the price of camping and talk to the owner about what this place looked like when you still had to book 6 months in advance to be able to even stay there.
 
 
29 Augustus, 2016
 
Slightly nervous we drive towards the police road block we see in the distance. We have been driving all morning, but we’re not getting very far. It feels like we’re driving over a mini-golf course where we are playing a reverse game of dodging the holes.
 
It seems like Zimbabwe is not saving money by cutting in the police force. We are currently driving on a road where we can not imagine more than three cars pass a day. When we are stopped the officer pops his head in to have a look. “ Where are you going?” “ Mana Pools sir,” we reply honestly. “ Ok, can I see your car registration papers?”. We give him the folder full of all the documents. When he sees the amount of paperwork he says: “ Never mind, but can my colleague get a ride to the next town?” He points to a tree trunk where an overweight woman in uniform sits in the shade. We look at each other and sigh. “ Of course officer”. Not that we really have a choice in the matter. The female officer is not very talkative and it’s oddly quiet when we drive her to the next town 30 km away.

Zimbabwean roadblocks

I can hear myself tap the steering wheel with the rhythm of the music from the radio while we are standing in line for the next road block. The sun is intense, but the black officers who are checking all the vehicles are well dressed in their tailored khaki uniforms, high black boots and matching caps. The AK47 straps cut in their necks I see. That weapon must weigh around 10 kg and looks like a real burden to me. Our windows are rolled down all the way and we both lean out of them when we approach the officers. We think it will be a “hello, how are you?” and wave where they don’t really pay attention to us and we are not worried at all.

But it is different this time. The officer’s face is unreadable when he steps towards our car and peeks his head inside to have a look. In very good English he says:” could you please pull over your car on that side of the road, we will do some routine checks.” With a heavy heart we do as he says.

Out of nowhere three officers circle around our car like bees around a honeypot. Their eyes scan the vehicle like it’s a routine and we are told to stay in the car. The officer who seems to be in charge says: “ all right, we’ll start with your lights, could you please turn them on?” His trained eye immediately detect that the lights above our number plate in the back are not working… He asks me to step out of the car and on my way out I grab the packet of cigarettes and a lighter that we have in the car for these circumstances.

Very smug with himself he points out the lights that are not working. I put on my contemplating face while I get the cigarettes out of my pocket. I can tell by the way his eyes follow the cigarettes that I’m dealing with a smoker. I put one between my lips before I offer one to him. Side by side we light our cigarettes between our dry, chapped lips and with the smoking cigarette dangling from the corners of his mouth he says: “ I will have to fine you for these missing lights, $20,-” He pulls out his ticket book and starts to write things down. I look at the lights and back at him. “But really, there is no problem, I can fix that right now!” I say. I get my screwdrivers from the car and start to take apart the lights. He watches me for a little while and answers: “ well, in that case I still have to fine you for driving around without you licence plate lights.” I glare at him.

“I am not giving you $20,-” I say very firm. “ Officer, we’ve been travelling with this car around the world for over 2 years,” and I show him the map on the side of the car. “ I’ve never been pulled over and fined for something so useless. I will repair these lights and not pay anything.”
The officers breaks eye contact and I can see his eyes travelling down to my pockets. I pull my cigarettes out of them and offer him one. His colleagues take this opportunity and also accept one. The cigarettes are being lit and he looks at me meditatively. “ Ok, keep on driving,” he mumbles. I quickly throw the screwdrivers back in the car, get in the car next to Helga who hasn’t left her spot and tell her what happened as we drive away. “ That explains why you smell like smoke,” she says smiling.

Not 20 minutes later and we are back on the side of the road. This time it’s a young woman in police uniform who has directed us off the road. This time it’s the white reflective tape on the front of our car, which she claims is not the right type and she wants to fine us $20 for it. “ I bought this tape 3 months ago in South Africa according to the specifications the Zimbabwean government set, “ I tell her. She looks at me and politely answers: “ Well sir, the specifications changed about three weeks ago, I will have to fine you for neglecting to follow the rules.”

I look at her quite stunned and decide to follow a different tactic. By now I know that Zimbabwe is mostly run by males and I ask to speak with her supervisor. She walks away to pat an older guy on his shoulder. He walks towards us and repeats what the police lady just told us. Luckily I am now “an experienced smoker” after the last roadblock and I start to perform the same routine as I did at the previous roadblock.

With the cigarette in between my lips I say: “ Sir, we’ve been travelling with this car around the world for the past two years. I have never been fined for something so absurd as this. As you can tell by the reflective tape we put on the front of the car we are trying to follow all the rules the Zimbabwean governments sets. We were not told that the rules had changed recently. Just tell me where to get the right tape and I will make sure everything is sorted out by the end of the day. To fine me for this seems totally unnecessary. “ “ I’ll decide what is necessary,” he replies gruffly. I get my cigarettes out of my pocket and offer him another one. After he’s taken it he say: “ all right, continue.”

That night I am not celebrating our road block victories, but instead I am in bed early with a major headache trying to sweat out all the nicotine from my body.
 

Close encounters with Buffalos

Early in the afternoon we leave the fully booked Imvelo Lodge and find ourselves a camping spot under three enormous trees. We can tell by the black patches of charcoal that there have been earlier campfires and probably campers around here.
 
It is late in the afternoon when I walk around the car with rooftop tent. All of a sudden I feel a wave of discomfort in my body. I stand still, press my back against the hot steel of the car and look around. Sometimes you just know that something is out there watching you. Still with my back against the car I walk to the front of the vehicle to get a better view of my surroundings. When I reach it I can finally see what I felt staring at me for a while now: two male buffalos have separated themselves from the herd who we were told are in the area at the moment. Apparently we were not the only ones attracted by the grass and shades of the large trees we are under. I can feel my heart beat in my throat. Buffalos are part of the Big Five and without a doubt one of the most dangerous animals in Africa, especially when they are in small groups or when they are hurt do they tend to attack in unsure situations. We’ve never seen it before, but we were told it is as if the animal gets a red haze in front of its eyes. Whenever it decides to attack, it will not back off. Usually this happens to young males, who separate themselves from the herd and are driven by testosterone and possible injuries from earlier fights.
 
I shuffle back to where I came from and out of sight. Luckily the doors in the front are open and the car is unlocked. I open the door of the Landcruiser as quiet as I possibly can and slide down on the passenger seat. I try to close the door behind me with a minimum of sound.
 
I am now watching these magnificent animals through the front windscreen of the car. Both animals appear not to notice me anymore and I suspect that they can not see and smell me anymore through the tinted glass. Slowly I can feel my heartbeat return to normal.
 
I take a closer look at the buffalos. They have a large crown of big horns that look like a curly wig from the 1600s plastered on their heads. Two beady dark eyes which are unreadable and give no clue as to what it’s thinking. Nostrils that are big enough to fit cans of soda in and a broad chest supported by giant front legs. The animal wears a thick layer of black hairy skin where you can clearly see the outlines of some powerful muscles.
 
Both animals don’t really like the presence of the car it seems. After a while they turn around and walk towards the rest of the herd that I can see drinking at the waterhole a little distance away.
 
I get my camera and walk a little detour to get to the lodge where Helga is. The lodge gives a perfect view over the waterhole where the whole herd of buffalos is enjoying the cool water.
 

24 augustus 2016
When we wake up the embers in the fire from last night are still glowing. We use them to make our Chili con Carne in the early morning. While I am peeling the onions I can hear sounds of the coffee being almost ready and I cannot really imagine having to eat this meal just yet. The heavy pot is put on the fire which contains a mix of beans, onions and minced meat. We enjoy our strong coffee and can see the sun rise slowly. We pack up our camp, Helinox chairs and brush down the layers of dust from the car. We take big black pan from the fire and put in a towel so it can simmer a bit longer.
 
With a car that smells like Chili con Carne we say goodbye to the people we have met and we start to drive north alongside the border of Hwange NP. When dusk sets in we take our Troopy from the main track and park it in the thick vegetation. Even before it turns completely dark we’ve set up the tent and dished up our food.
 
That night we are totally alone. The moon lights up our surroundings in grey-blue hues. When we get up in our tent we have a look at our map, tomorrow we will reach Victoria Falls.

Visiting Ngoma Village

Helga and I wait for Sipps for most of the morning, he is the head guide who is supposed to show us around and tell us about the lodge. It looks like he is very busy with some high maintenance guests and we decide to take a drive to the nearest village.
 
Ngoma village is a small settlement of about 65 permanent residents. The village contains 6 fenced of pieces of land and in every compound lives a family. Usually these families consist of father, mother, sons (when they are married, also their wives and children) and daughters who are not yet married. The reason their properties are fenced off with large branches is to keep the kettle in and the wildlife, like lions and elephants, out. In these fenced off areas are several small buildings. In the middle is the kitchen and every family has its own hut. The huts are made out of clay, straw and thatched roofs. They are often painted white to keep it as cool as possible. When we have a look around we see that there is a small vegetable garden, a mango and a lemon tree. There is also a cart which can be pulled by a cow or donkey.
 
The house in the middle has solar panels. When we have a look inside we see that there are several TVs, a video recorder and a small satellite dish to receive the channels. We realize that they have everything they need to live a comfortable and self sufficient live. The only thing that seems to be missing is water. When we ask them about it they tell us that the nearest water point is 2 km down the road. Usually in the mornings, one of the older children will go with the cart to get water for the day.
 
When everyone is comfortable with having us around I get the chance to talk to the father of the family. He tells me about his life and what it is like to grow up in a community like this. He is very grateful for his four sons who support him financially. He saves up every dollar he can get. Education and progress are important to him and we can definitely tell by the level of English proficiency of his children. Even his youngest daughter gets the chance to study. We hear that studying in Zimbabwe is not for free. The fees to pay for schooling are about the same as selling one cow. He is very proud to be self sufficient. Nowadays, it is possible to get a connection to the electricity, but he chooses to use solar power instead.
 
He lives with his family among the elephants and lions every day. When I ask him about stories of people being attacked by these animals, he informs me that he knows of none. He tells me that the nightly visits they get from elephants mainly result in material damage. When the elephants are coming it’s usually the dogs that chase them away by barking. If the dogs don’t succeed they will try to scare the animals away by banging on pots and pans and making a lot of noise. Lions wear GPS collars nowadays and when they are near the village the people get a text message to tell them they are close. Usually this gives them enough time to move the cattle and get the children inside.
 
Lastly he tells me about the many differences there are between the people in the tiny community. Some want the progress, while others are totally against this. Superstition and the village chief are important factors in these matters. When there is a good chief who can mediate between different families, the community will prosper. Alcohol abuse and HIV are major problems in these villages and they are things a village chief and the community itself has to deal with.
 

An invitation to Imvelo Lodge

We drive past Bulawayo. It is weekend and along side the road we see groups of people dressed in white robes. We suspect it has something to with the local tribes, but we’re not exactly sure. We try to dodge the giant potholes in the tarmac and are on our way to the north-west: towards Victoria Falls.
 
We take a break between Kenmeur and Hwange at Halfway hotel. We park our Landcruiser in between a couple of Safari cruisers where guides are waiting for the arrival of their customers. We start chatting to them and they tell us about Hwange NP and the luxurious Imvelo Lodge that they work for. We introduce ourselves, tell them about our travels and a few phone calls later we’re invited to stay over at Imvelo Lodge.
The Safari vehicles are driving in front of us over the sandy track. The tourists, mainly Americans, are slouched on the bench seats in the back of the car. Including the driver, you can fit 11 people in one of those cars. These cars are open on all sides and the benches in the back that can sit 3 people are all a different height like a theatre to give everyone an open view. The track is rough and the vehicles are tossed to either side. We can see the guests in front of us sliding left and right while they try to hold on to their expensive cameras with tele-lenses, which they purchased for this trip of a lifetime.
 
The drive to the lodge takes about 1,5 hours and we arrive just before dark. One of the managers takes us to our accommodation: a luxurious tent that looks more like a chalet than a tent. The floor is made out of teak wood, as are the window panels and doorposts. In the middle of tent is a very comfortable looking high bed, with many pillows on top.
 

On my way back to the main building I meet the pilot of the small 6 person Chesna airplane. He tells me that he has the best job in the world. He flies back and forth between 6 luxurious safari lodges in the remote parts of Zimbabwe. He doesn’t fly in the dark and he doesn’t take off until all the wildlife is off the airstrip. The next morning we see him fly over us. Just in time, because we can see a herd of wildebeest make their way to the airstrip and towards the nearest waterhole.
 

Caves in Matobo NP

Our morning routine: Ventilation screens open so the tent can air out, put on our clothes, slowly descend our ladder backwards and find a tree. Our stove is in the crate with kitchen supplies, light it, get the percolator, rinse it, fill it with water and scoops of grinded beans. Put the Helinox sunset chairs in the sun, while we quickly make breakfast before the coffee is ready.

A young national park ranger has come to visit us this morning. We are the only guests on the campground and he asks us if we are having a good time. He tells us that he goes out on foot patrol quite regularly and if we’d like to we can join him. Helga rolls up her pants as an answer to his question and her leg full of bandaids becomes visible. He looks a bit disappointed. “I’d love to join you,” I say hastily. An hour later and I’m walking behind the ranger with a backpack filled with water and lunch. He is wearing a military canvas coverall and high shoes.
On the way he tells me that the National Parks here get their uniforms from Australia, as a thank you for the work they do against the poaching of the rhinos. He walks in big steps in front of me on the uneven terrain where I can barely see the path. I ask him where he wants to go and he answers that there is a cave with rock paintings about 6 km away. He would like to show it to me. I prepare mentally for the distance and terrain and follow in his footsteps.
 
During the walk he talks about his life in Zimbabwe. He is 29 years old and has a wife and child. Both of them live with him in the park. When he wants to do his shopping it takes him a whole day. He knows people with a car about 10 km from the campsite and he pays them for a ride to the main road, about 30 km away. From there he waits for a ride to Bulawayo, which is about 50 km away. First, he goes to the bank to get money. Sometimes the lines are so long that it takes most of the day to get money. Even though he has more money in the banks, they will only let him get 100 USD per day. He gets his groceries and hitchhikes back to the park.
 
He has worked for the park for 10 years now. He earns 350 USD a month, but hasn’t been paid for the past 2 months because the Zimbabwean government has a financial crisis. The police, government personnel, the military and park rangers are suffering from this.
Eventually, we get to the cave. My first impression is that it looks like a tunnel where different graffiti artists have been covering each others work over and over again. But here, they have used only earth tones. When you look closely, you can guess the stories that they try to tell you through them: of hunts, wars and beheaded women. The drawings are said to be between 4000 and 6000 years old and were made to tell stories and share information.
 
That night we camp just outside the park so we don’t have to pay the high park fees again for another night of staying.
 

The vicious streets of Bulawayo

We pack up early morning when everything is still wet from the dew. It has been a long time since we had that, with Namibia and Botswana being very dry. We drive towards the main road on a dirt track and give a ride to a local carpenter. When we reach the tar road he thanks us profusely. “ That saves me about an hour walk!” He says smiling. “ Almost everyone in Zimbabwe walks from A to B and we just take that time for granted. I left at 5 o’clock this morning.” We turn onto the highway and drive the last 30km to Bulawayo.

On our way we see a few police road blocks, but they all wave us through without stopping. In the city we get a Zimbabwean simcard for our phone. We park the car opposite the company right on a busy intersection. I stay with the car for a while to check out the situation while Helga crosses the street to get the simcard. I look at the oncoming traffic: overloaded trucks, pick-ups filled with workers and very old buses packed skilfully on the top.
 
The traffic comes to a stop when the light changes from green to red. Cars that are in a hurry still try to squeeze through even though the green light is long gone. Luckily, traffic starts again so slowly that it doesn’t create any dangerous situations. I’m just glad there are barely any motorcycle drivers here.
 
The car gets some attention, but not a lot. Every once in a while people will slow down while they walk past and look at our signs on the side of the car. I’m sitting on the grass opposite the car and from the other side of the road I can see Helga returning from her sim card mission. She crosses the first street in a group of people and has to wait again for the next red light. I can see her looking at her phone that she just connected to the internet in the telephone store. The light is green again and she crosses the last street before she gets to the car. The moment she reaches the sidewalk it seems like she doesn’t see the curb. She trips and I can see one of her flip flops sailing through the air before landing on the sidewalk where she ends up herself too. Before I can even react, I see two black arms hold on to her and lift her back on her feet. When she reaches the car I can see that she has some nasty cuts on her knees and big toe. We get out our Adventure Medical Kit yet again in Africa and bandage up the wounds. “ Maybe you should wear shoes next time we are in a city,” I tell her, she nods, “and knee and shin protection”, she answers sarcastically.

A little abashed by what happened, we drive towards Matobo National Park where we have to pay a small fortune of $47 to enter and camp. While driving through the park we become even more quiet. A steep dirt road leads us over a mountain ridge to get to the dam where our campsite is. The drive is very technical and large boulders lie haphazardly over the “road” so that we need to engage low gear 4wd. A couple of times we have to drive around fallen trees. I look at Helga and say: “ I don’t think a lot of cars drive this road.” Eventually we reach the end of the road which ends in a t-junction. When we look back to the “road” we came from we see a sign (that wasn’t there when we entered from the other side) that says: Road Closed. Well, that explains that. We find our campspot, cook our meal and crawl into our tent before it’s dark.
 

Into Zimbabwe

It is early morning when we fold up our tent. I’m standing on the roof and I can feel that the day is slowly starting to warm up. I swing the cover over the packed down tent. My head is still hurting a bit, it is too early and I celebrated my 33rd birthday yesterday.
 
An empty bar, filled with several wobbly bar stools. You really have to keep your head together while sitting on them. The bar itself is made from nailed together railway tracks. It is so wide that it is impossible to shake hands with the bartender, a coloured man with long straightened blond hair and gleaming bracelets. As a surprise for my birthday, he pushes two shot glasses of tequila our way, while keeping one for himself. He clearly takes every opportunity to have a drink himself. One of the cheap plastic shot glasses gets stuck in the deep lines of the wooden bar and the tequila finds its way quickly down the bar onto the floor. His hands dive under the bar and come up with an old rag of a tea towel with indistinguishable colours. He wipes the bar quickly before pouring new tequila, while we half expected him to wring the tequila-soaked tea towel over the glass. He firmly grabs hold of the small glass and says: “Cheers, to your birthday! You will have to imagine the salt and lemon, because I don’t have any!” Helga, who is not a fan of alcohol and who really tries to make my birthday a memorable one, takes her cue and says: “but we do!” before running to the car and coming back with the salt grinder and a lemon. An elderly man, trying to mount one of the wobble barstools says: “ you guys did bring everything with you on this trip, didn’t you?”. He kind of reminds me of a drunken cowboy trying to get on his horse. The three of us quickly grab our shots from the bar and drown them with the salt and lemon.
 
The people around me haven’t known me for longer than a few hours. One year ago I celebrated my birthday on Bali, the year before that in Perth, Western Australia with new friends.
 
I climb down the roof rack, fasten the ladder on the side of the car and sit down in the driver’s seat. Everything is covered in dust from the past few weeks. I get the map out, which colours have clearly faded and is covered in notes and tears. I unfold it and trace our proposed route. We are on our way to the border with Zimbabwe. I scan the possible route on the map and set the Garmin to our final destination of the day.
We reach the border just when the sun is past its highest point. In front us is a large bus filled with passengers and emitting a lot of black smoke. The driver clearly knows where to go and drops his passengers in front of the customs office. We park our car next to him, walk inside and also get in line. 45 Minuets later and we’re stamped out of Botswana and are on our way to the Zimbabwean border: Plumtree.
 

We’re being send from desk to desk, but eventually we acquire all the stamps needed to drive into Zimbabwe. We decide to drive on until the last light and find a camp right before Bulawayo. When we drive up we find out that the gate to the campsite is locked and there is no one around. We wait for a little while and honk our horn, but eventually decide to pitch up the tent along side the fence of the campground,
 
18 Augustus, 2016
The next day we meet the caretaker of the campground, Vincent, a very friendly Zimbabwean. Full of pride he shows us around the campsite and he is so disappointed that he missed us the evening before that we decide to stay another day. We make a small fire where we bake our bread and make dinner. The sun sets while the full moon rises from behind the rolling hills. It lights up the campground the entire night.

Close animal encounters at Mogotlho Lodge

It looks like fog, the dust behind our car when we drive out of Maun, onto the dirt road full of potholes towards the well known national parks Chobe and Moremi. We drive onto a drive way to let our tires down. I walk around the car and by the time I am full circle there are four children of different ages and sizes staring into the back of our car. I tell them something in English, but I’m not getting any response, while they do talk busily amongst themselves. I wonder what they are looking at. The back of the car is not that interesting…some crates, a fridge and two drawers. I walk towards the back door and close it, feeling like I am closing a safe filled with gold. The children walk away disappointed. With a loud hissing noise I deflate the last two tires before we continue the drive.

Our deflated tires let us drive considerably faster and more comfortable now. We’re relaxing in our seats and we see the breathtaking surroundings pass us by. We take the road off the main road and follow the tracks left by previous cars which will lead us to the lodge we will stay at. There is dense vegetation on the side of the road and the sun is setting which creates shadow patches on the road. From behind one of these shadows a giant elephant steps onto the road ahead of us. I’m just in time to hit the brake full on and Helga, who was looking at the map when it happened, is startled by this and looks up. She gets a second scare when she sees the enormous elephant in front of us. The 5000 kg animal is just as scared by us apparently and quickly makes a turn before it storms off into the bushes it came from. It leaves behind a path of destruction, broken down branches and trampled plants. It takes a while before my heart rate is back to normal and Helga is settled back into her seat. Very slowly we continue our way towards the lodge.
 

The safari lodge consists of luxurious canvas safari tents. We are warmly welcomed by the staff of Mogotlho Lodge and get some information on the area of the lodge. We quickly drop our bags on the crispy white bed linen before we get into our car again to check out the concession area belonging to the lodge for more animals. We see waterbucks, impalas, elephant and buffalos. When we drive back we pass a young male elephant. The moment it is behind us Helga hears a trumpeting and looks behind. In her rearview mirror she can see the male running towards us: “Drive. NOW,” she says, “we are being chased.” Luckily, it decides to change its mind when we drive away quickly.
 

Back at the lodge we share our elephant stories around the campfire.
 
The next day, one of the guys who works at the lodge, joins us on a game drive. They call him Bingo, and we believe that is because he has a lucky eye for spotting animals. He directs us to a narrow track along the river and we see: giraffes, elephants, hippos and crocodiles. During our drive with Bingo we meet another male elephant in the middle of the road who tries to come at us. Bingo teaches us to wait and drive on at the right moment. The elephant breaks off his attempt, turns around and heads for the bush again.
 
The next morning, we just woke up and look through our fly mesh windows when we see an elephant coming right towards our tent. We both dive into the space between the two single beds and crouch to the floor. The tent was set up under the shade of a large tree and the trunk sits about 20 cm from the tent itself. The elephant heads straight for that tree, trunk rolled up and tusks on both sides, and it rams the tree. The tree gives in slightly and we can see its impression in the canvas tent. We can hear a shower of branches and nuts landing on the tent. The elephant, who towers over the tent, is not yet satisfied with the results and goes for it again. We crouch even lower between the beds and smell the distinct smell of male elephant: We feel the impact against the tree: bang, bang. He’s now searching the ground around the tent with his trunk for the nuts. We keep very still, hearts beating in our chest, marveling about how close we are to this wild animal.
 

Okavango Delta Safari

It is six o’clock when the alarm goes off. From underneath a pile of blankets I can see a hand, quick as lightning, reach for the phone before they both dissapear underneath the blankets again. The last rings are muffled sounds before it stops all together. My foot pokes out from underneath my own blankets and I’m struggling to get it back under. It is about 5 degrees Celsius, still dark and we are about to embark on a Delta trip offered to us by Delta Rain (www.deltarain.com). Very quickly I gather my warmest clothes. I’m in such a hurry that my shirt is in side out the first time, then backwards before I’m finally dressed. Slowly, I’m starting to feel warm again. We have a quick breakfast at the restaurant, which was warm when it left the kitchen, but has already cooled down by the time it reaches our table. Nothing they can do about that during the African winters.

A Landrover with a safari unit built on the back takes us down a sandy track to the main road. The cold air blows straight through the car and the driver wears, just like us, a lot of clothes in layers.
 
It is now 7.30 and the sun is working really hard to warm things up around us. We reach the hotel where we pick up the rest of the group. We meet the friendly mixed group of travellers, who greet us very warmly, and although this doesn’t do much for the temperature, it sure makes us feel welcome. The car is now fully loaded and we continue on through the city centre of busy Maun. Eventually we leave the tar again and the last part we get to hobble through potholes and sand again. We reach an open area where we can see the river and spot the Mokoros for the first time. A Mokoro is a small, narrow boat that looks like a canoe and is pushed by a “poler” who stands on the stern with a very long pole. The Mokoros used to be carved out of trees, but nowadays they are made out of the more tree friendly glass fiber.
 
I see Helga looking doubtful at the small boat. Will that carry the two of us, our backpacks and the Poler? She inches carefully onto the back of the boat and I sit down in front of her. Sara, our poler for this trip, is a slim and fit girl and with her pole she pushes the boat forward as we are gliding through the shallow waters. It takes Helga a little while, but eventually she also gets enough confidence in the balance of the boat to enjoy the beautiful scenery and absolute quiet.
 

The Okavango Delta has a dense vegetation and will be under water for a large part of the year. The terrain is often uneven en the parts that are a bit higher will become islands in the wet season. We are visiting in between the wet and the dry season: there is enough water to be transported by a Mokoro, but the grass peaks stubbornly through the shallow waters. The Mokoros form a long line and glide effortlessly it almost seems.
 
We reach an island in the middle of the delta where we can already see some sturdy canvas tents. A large tent in the middle with tables and chairs underneath gives us some protection from the sun, Africa is the land of opposites. This morning I was trying to layer my clothes as best as I could, but now I’m peeling them off while looking for cover from the intense sun.
In the afternoon we get the chance to be a Poler ourselves and handle the Mokoros. After some attempts to balance ourselves and akwardly trying to position the pole, we all manage to glide around the Delta without anyone falling in.
 
When we are leaving for a walk on another island a little while later there are hippos around. Everyone gladly leaves the poling to the professionals who expertly guide the narrow boats past a dozen hippos.
 

During the walk a guide tells us everything about the flora and fauna of this area, but we are not so lucky with spotting any animals. Just before dark we return to the camp and get to see a spectacular sunset from our Mokoro viewpoint. The cook is already waiting for us with a splendid three-course meal made on the camp fire. That evening we share travel stories, enjoy the fire and we get a performance from the local team with singing and dancing.
 

We go to bed early, try to close our tent as well as possible and do a final mosquito check before we snuggle under our many blankets.
In the morning we see the sun come up during the sunrise walk around the island, before the Mokoros take us back to the main land. In our short Delta experience we came to love this mode of transportation. In all its quietness you truly get to enjoy the beauty of the Okavango Delta.

Flat tires and hippos

The moon is still hanging in the now blue and red coloured sky. A grey, sandy track leads us out of Grootfontein, heading east. Dust blows up on both sides of the car and is carried away by the wind. Helga is driving. Her narrow fingers hold on tight to the steering wheel. I look at her and see a strong woman. A woman who has been traveling on my side for the past two years. Travel days filled with meeting new people and handling new situations.

The grey road keeps getting rougher, the uneven soil is now covered with sharp stones. Helga’s face tightens and I can see the muscles in her arms. Then suddenly, I can hear her holding her breath while she tries to keep the car straight. We can hear a loud “whhooosshh” coming from underneath the car. For a second I get a puzzled look from her before she turns her gaze onto the road again. “ Flat tyre!” I shout, “ Don’t break, let it roll out and find a flat, solid piece of ground to park”.
 
A few seconds later we’re standing still and the car is leaning a lot to the left since it is parked on the side of the road. My door swings open easily while Helga has trouble opening hers due to the angle we are in. By now, it is very hot outside, We’re still in the middle of the road and hurry to get the safety triangles on it to warn oncoming traffic.
 
I get the jack out of the back of the car, lift the car to get the flat tyre of the ground and level the car. We lift our spare tyre off the roof and replace the broken one fairly quick.
 
By the time we get back in the car it is late in the afternoon. We stop under a Baobab tree that gives enough shade, put some coffee up on our old fuel stove and take a look at the map. Due to the flat tyre, we won’t be able to reach our planned destination, so we decide to find a suitable camping spot on the way.
 
A zigzagging track leads us to an old farmhouse. It gives a rather forlorn impression. The fences have been trampled by cattle and the goats, dogs and chickens roam freely over the property. A large, black man, is leaning over a part of the fence that is still standing. Deep creases on his face show us his hard, but not yet long life. I shake his hand and I can feel the rawness of his callused hand, like a bear claw. I ask him if it is possible to camp on his terrain for the night. He nods and points at a corner far away from the house. Relieved we pitch up the tent before the sun sets.
 
The next morning I walk to his house with a large bag of beans. He happily takes them and tells me about the previous, white, owner of the property who died. He and his brother now live here and try to run it. “We barely manage, but we are still happy”, he tells me.
 
We drive on towards Tsumkwe. A long, winding and unsealed road leads us through the land of the San, a local tribe. They are also known as the bush-men. The San, which means foragers, is a collective name for a several tribes in Southern Africa. They consist of small communities of hunters and gatherers of edible plants. The tribes live in small huts made out of clay and grass. Next to the San, this area is also know for its Boabab trees. We’ve seen them for the first time in Australia. These trees will grow to be between 5 and 25 meters high and can have a extraordinary wide trunk. The tree holds water in these trunks during the wet season to survive the dry season.
 
Because of its form, it kind of looks like the tree is up side down. An old legend says that the tree was thrown out of heaven as a punishment from the Gods and it landed upside down. They can get very old and will live through generations. Elephants eat the soft bark from the African Baobab and the baboons eat the fruits.
 

From Tsumkwe we drive towards Khaudum National Park. We have to adjust our tyre pressure in order to get through the long stretches of soft sand. Khaudum NP is a park in the Kalahari desert in the east of Namibia along the border with Botswana. In this remote spot the elephants, lions and hyenas truly live freely. We camp just inside the park in an open area among the trees. As soon as it gets dark we find our torches to get a good look around. We stay close to the campfire and burn our trash to prevent animals from being attracted to our scraps.
 
The next morning we drive through the park. We take the most eastern route that follows the border with Botswana. The waterholes in the park are the main spots of animal activity in Khaudum. Contrary to parks like Etosha and Addo, the animals are clearly not used to vehicles passing through their territory. We have to be careful when we meet a group of male elephants. Males are abandoned by the group of females when they hit puberty. The males then form their own group usually led by a dominant, older male.
 
Some of the males turn their heads towards us and start flapping their ears in a threatening way. They are clearly not happy to see us. Male elephants can be between 3500 and 5500 kilograms and don’t recoil for anything.
We back up slowly to create a greater distance between us and the elephants until we notice they’re more relaxed. When the road is free again, we continue driving.
 
It is a beautiful drive, but a very strenuous one. Navigating is difficult since not all the road are clearly marked on the map. The environment is changing constantly: loose sand, stones and thick vegetation. Heavy trucks have been driving on the same road as us and left their deep tracks for us to get through. We end up camping just outside the park.
 
The next morning we start where we left off the night before. The soft tyres plough through the soft sand again. We are leaning very much to the right since only one of our tyres can follow the deep tracks from the 6×6 trucks, their tyres are too far apart for us to drive through both at the same time. Eventually we reach the tarmac of the B8 which leads us onto the Caprivi strip.
 
We drive off the main road when we pass Mudumu NP. A long track full of potholes takes us to a small police office. Three heavily armed officers come walking our way when we park next it. They tell us that we are allowed to camp and that they are there to prevent poaching. They carry heavy arms, but have no cars to drive around in, which seems odd. We continue on the track until we are stopped by a few logs on the road. We find a way around them and very slowly we continue. Another roadblock, we both get out and pull them away to create a narrow passage. We can see the water of the Delta when we drive on. A group of hippos are standing next to the waterline. Very quietly we remove the last road block en drive around the obstacles. We are now driving next to the water and we see dozens of hippos in and around the water. Without trying to disturb them we drive towards our camping spot for the night.
 
From our spot next to the water we can see multiple eyes being reflected in the lights we use to shine around. The darker it gets, the closer the animal sounds seem to get. When it is completely dark we look up and it almost seems as if the stars are closer to us than normal. We enjoy the cool evening, but we have a hard time getting used to all the animal activity around us. We build a large fire with some dead trees to chase away the cold, to braai our meat and light up our camp.
 

Etosha National Park

It’s 5.30 in the morning when I pull down the zipper of the rooftop tent. A noisy, rattling sound follows, one of the main irritations of campers: tent zippers. It is a loud and unavoidable sound in the early morning. It is still dark and cold. I am wearing the same clothes as last night, and if I wouldn’t have had a down sleeping bag, I would’ve slept in them. Africa can be cold! In the evening it cools down from 30-40 degrees Celsius to about 5 degrees…We don’t speak to each other, in our routine we pack up the tent and throw the last things in the back of the car. The heater in the car blows hot air into the cabin. This seldom happens. I cannot remember the last time we had the heater on. We drive down a sandy drive way and onto the tar road. The car slowly heats up and our lights light up the road ahead. We are only one hour away from sunrise and on our way to the largest National Park in Namibia, Etosha.
 
 
Just after sunrise we drive through the entrance of Etosha National Park. The tarmac disappears and we continue through sand and dust. Sand and dust is clearly the main soil here in Namibia. I’ve never tried to cover up all the cracks of car with tape before to prevent the dust from getting in. And also, I’ve never before wondered about the amount of dust cars can launch into the air by just driving. As the oncoming car, all you can do is wait until most of it has blown away.
 
 
While I’m sitting in the car I get the feeling that something is looking at us. I slow down to get the chance to look around. Nothing….I turn my gaze back onto the road and speed up again. As soon as we’re back on our previous speed I get the same feeling again. I slow down again and look around. At that moment a large black rhino steps from the shadows of a fallen tree. My heart starts to beat faster and we are both leaning out of the car windows to get a good look at this magnificent animal: 2,5 tons of muscle, packed in a thick, almost impenetrable harness with a beautiful horn who waits for the temperatures to cool down in the shadow of a tree.
 
That night we set up camp near one of waterholes. A large part of the evening we are hidden away near the waterhole and looking at all the different animals who tentatively stop by to have a drink after a hot day.
 
I’m startled when a honey badger starts to make a racket just behind me while I was quietly watching the animals at the waterhole. The badger is not scared at all, but cautious nonetheless. He has four paws with large claws and it almost looks like they are too far from its body. It walks towards me when I point my head torch towards it. I jump sideways while it walks straight past me following a rocky track. It is a beautiful animal, black with a white belly. Their skin is very loose and when they are caught by a predator they are able to turn their bodies 360 degrees and counter attack. Their teeth are razor sharp and they have exceptional strength in their claws. The honey badger is the only animal who is resistant against snake poison. When it is bitten, it will simply go into a coma which it will get out of after a few hours.
 

Omuhonga Primary school

A long, narrow sandy track leads us through low bushes. Around us we can see small huts, built from thin branches put together tightly and fixed in the ground. The roof is made of a combination of dried grass and clay. Next to the huts we see women who almost have the same colour as the brown huts and disappear in their surroundings. They put a combination of mud, animal grease and plants on their skin to prevent themselves from getting burned by the scorching sun.

We are on our way to the Omuhonga Primary school, a local school where children can go to school when their parents allow it. A small road leads us there and we can distinguish a few buildings. The sun is about to set and luckily it starts to cool down. People are moving around and move from the shadow into places to catch the last sun. We drive onto the school premises and park our cars in front of the main building. It is a stone building in a U-shape, painted white, with red window frames and a motivating text on one of the walls.
School hours are over, but most of the teachers are still there. Most of them grew up in the area and belong to one of the tribes represented in the area. The only difference is that they now wear western clothes instead of the traditional garb. Minutes after our arrival the children start gathering at the middle of a field, as if they were being called by a bell. In the middle of this field is a giant pot cooking on a fire. It is filled with white porridge and we can see the bubbles on the surface. An elderly woman with a long apron stands next to the pot and tries to stir the heavy mass with a long wooden ladle.
 
The children start to form long rows. The children who haven’t yet queued up are still looking around for plates, which are scattered around the schoolyard as if they are Easter eggs. Not everyone seems successful. When the plates are all taken, the less fortunate have to make do with cups, containers or lids. Finally, when everyone is in line, the scooping up of the porridge begins. The older children help with doing this. With a plate the porridge is scooped out of the steel pot and handed out in even portions. The whole process is very smooth and without talking dinner is being served.
 
We are watching this on the sidelines with our strange cars in the background, but except for some curious glances no really pays attention. One of the teachers stands next to us and explains that this is the meal the children get every day. Most of these kids stay in the hostel that belongs to the school, because they live too far away to walk there every day. One meal in the morning (11am) is paid for by the government, a second meal (6pm) is paid for by an international organization that supports education in third world countries. You cannot study on an empty stomach! What they are getting is the same everyday: corn porridge. The students all spread out over the school’s property to eat and the only thing left behind is a dust cloud and some older boys fighting over who gets the last out of the pot. The teacher tells us that the last of the porridge is always burned and it is the most popular among the kids. We walk away from the school and we see several small groups of kids sitting on the ground. With their fingers they scoop up the porridge. We get a spot assigned to camp behind the school and set up our tents.
 

It is 5am when we wake up from all the noise around our tent. I don’t really want to, but I open my eyes and look through the fly screen to see what is going on. The sun has just come up and it is still pretty cool while everything has an orange glow. The most beautiful time of the day! A little distance away from our camp a few children stop shortly in their tracks to have a look at these odd cars in the middle of the school’s property. They hurry on after this and walk to the water trough at the other end of the property. This waterpump and trough are donated by an Icelandic organization. It was built to get water for the Himba people and their cattle who used to be a nomadic tribe so that they could be sure of water.
Throughout the years the Himba’s established villages and stayed more in one place and with that there also cam a school. The entire population and kettle around this water point are now dependend on this source, for as long as there is no water elsewhere. They built a 12.000 liter watertank on a steel frame and the pump is running due to 4 solarpanels. The tank doesn’t get any chance to fill up during the day, and as soon as the sun comes up, the first people are already waiting for the water. The school is now trying to get the funds for a second watertank, because the amount of people has outgrown the capacity of just one tank.
 

When the students want to participate in the school’s program it is expected of them that they are clean. When you want to wash yourself with the first fresh water of the day, you have to be an early bird. This is the reason we heard the commotion around our tent this morning. At 6.40am lessons start and this is announced by a loud bell summoning all the children. At the moment we hear this bell we are all already wide awake and not all of us voluntarily.
 
It quiets down quickly after the lessons start and we have our breakfast. During this we talk about the food the children get here and how it is always the same. We decide to see what we have with us that we can give and maybe give a little bit of variation to the diet. We come up with pasta, sugar, potatoes, flour and rice.
 
I am on my way to the principal to donate the food and I can see the students look at me from behind their desks through the open windows.The principal is very happy with the food we bring him. He tells us that a lot of his staff are not qualified teachers and as soon as he hears that Helga and I are he asks if the four of us would be so kind to think of something to do that afternoon, entertaining 200 kids. He says that the children learn more from a few hours with us than they do during their normal school lessons. The amount of children scares us a bit, but we agree to do it and start planning right away.
 
We decide to do four different activities in which groups of kids rotate until they’ve all done them. We are going to be doing bottle-soccer (without bottles, but with a pile of stones), dancing, slacklining & Boule and drawing. Communicating is sometimes difficult, but the the aid of the teachers we manage to make our activities work.
 

At the end of the day, we are all exhausted. The school organizes some singing and dancing for us by the students as a thank you and we enjoy this very much. After the activities the children are now less shy and curiosity has definitely won. We are surrounded by curious kids until well after sunset and when they go, we are glad for the peace and quiet.

Kakoaland: technical driving

We are glad we stopped early the day before when we see the road ahead of us…we are shaking all over the place while I attempt to climb up a rockslide in first gear. We can see there have been cars before us, by the rubber prints on the rocks in front of us. I sit very straight while I manage the pedals. The car is able to do this, we know this, it is the driver who chooses the location for the tyres. I can feel one of our front wheels driving over a large rock, our rear wheel follows, the weight of the car dislodges the rock and our rear wheel slips off while the rock ends up underneath the car. I can feel the car come up slightly at the back. I wait for the moment that we land again, but that doesn’t come. I push the gas pedal, but other than the engine making loud noises, nothing happens. Even though the car is on a steep hill, I don’t need the handbrake. I get out of the car to have a look at the situation. The front wheels are stuck in a ditch, but not too bad. Momentum will get them out. The rock that changed position is now underneath the leaf springs and one of my rear wheels is off the ground. A very good position to change tyres, I observe, but that won’t do me any good now.
A jack will do, but as soon as you lift the car at the back to remove the rock, there is a lot energy that wants to go down…
Eventually we decide to build a ramp underneath the suspended back wheel. This way we use gravity to get the car lifted and we will be able to remove the rock. I put the gearbox in the lowest gear backwards and with a lot of effort the car drives upwards on the ramp we build. Now we can move the rock and the road to the top is free!
 
The road takes us through a small Himba village. We stop to see if it is possible to get some water. It doesn’t take long before we are surrounded by curious people. We are welcomed, as curious and hesitant , as we are approaching them. Stefan and I hand out noodles and soap. Surrounded by Himba women we try to explain how to use these items. Insecure about whether we succeeded we leave the small settlement.

It takes us another hour to drive to the Omuhonga primary school where we are invited to visit.

Kaokoland: rocky roads

I start to get down the ladder from our bedroom, my feet are on the narrow aluminum steps and when I leave the last one, my feet are in the soft sand. It feels nice and smooth between my toes. The sun is already up and warms up everything around me. The trees in the riverbed hang very low and almost give off a sad look. It has probably been a while since it last rained here, I think to myself. Our mornings consist of the same ritual: breakfast, coffee, packing. We try to do that last thing quickly, since it saves us valuable time if everything is done in an efficient way. Even though we do this every day, we have to pay attention. If we forget to tighten something, if something is loose or lies somewhere where it can break, than it will definitely happen. The road and terrain are unforgiving here. Everything has its own spot, which helps a lot when you need to find something quickly, but it also prevents us from leaving something behind.

Today, we are lucky, we’re driving away and while we do this we hear a strange sound like something drops down from the roof. We don’t stop, but we are both mentally checking lists to see if we can figure out what is was. While I’m concentrating on the soft sandy road I can hear Helga’s brain work as hard as the motor of the car. Don’t get the impression that driving a technical route is a quiet affair. Sometimes it sounds like we’re driving in a can full of stones or nails and are rolling down the mountain. Everything squeaks and groans. I even think that riding a motorcycle might even be quieter sometimes. The thick helmet and possible earplugs keep the ears from all the noise while the chassis of a half filled car sounds like a resonance box.
Suddenly I can see her face go white when she realizes what just made the sound of something dropping: “my phone!” she yells. She jumps out of the still moving car and starts to run back through the soft sand looking for her phone that fell of the roof. First, I wait patiently, then I start to follow her. I try to follow her footsteps, but the distance between them is so large, I’m having trouble doing so. The moment I reach the top of the hill I see her coming my way with a large smile on her face. Her purple shirt has some dark patches and the drops of sweat trickle down her cheeks like tears. But, most importantly, she is holding her phone in her hand like a trophy. A needle in a haystack.
 
Around midday we meet a group of people from the UK. They shipped their own vehicles for a 6 week round trip through South Africa and Namibia. We exchange stories while the more technically inclined men of the party fix a problem on one of the Landrovers. We drive in the same direction as they do and in a parade of cars we navigate the narrow track until we part ways.
 

At the end of the day we find a hidden campspot, but we also are clearly back in civilization. The last 50km before the campsite we drive through small villages. Small huts made out of branches with clay roofs. We see a lot of people in traditional clothes, or rather, lacking clothes, walking towards the road to see where the noise comes from.
 
I once read that humans are the loudest creatures on earth. It is hard to imagine when you hear an elephant at night tearing down a tree next to your tent. But this night we hear people all around our campsite: adults, children, music. Familiar on one side, but we also feel intruders from another planet since our cultures are so far apart.
 

Kaokoland: Desert and Savannah

 The sun rises and the rays of light find their way through the tiny little holes in the mosquito net. I turn around on my stomach and look out over the riverbed where we camped. The footprints from our nightly visit are clearly visible from the tent.

They lead to the water where they disappear. I get myself out of my warm sleeping bag and get dressed in the same clothes as the days before. My shirt is starting to get stiff from dust and sweat. My legs look tanned, but are actually covered in dust. I get down the ladder backwards and walk towards the tracks. My foot fits in it 5 times. I follow the steps towards the small stream, and can see they continue through the river away from our camp. I walk back to the tent, when Helga just comes out of it. I take the dusty towel which hangs on the ladder, look for the soap en walk back to the river. Time for a little wash.
 

When I walk back, all washed, the coffee is ready and the map is spread out over the breakfast table. While I am leaning over the map and are tracing the riverbed north, Helga grabs my elbow:” Look, they are back!”. I look up and see a small herd of elephants slowly walking our way. They also see us and are clearly hesitating to come any closer. They decide to change their course and stay at a distance. We pack up our tents quickly, finish our breakfast and are on our way. Via the riverbed, partly through the river itself, we drive north. We haven’t traveled far before we see another amazing sight: a large mother elephant with a newly born calf.
 

We leave the river behind and start on a deserted piece of desert. The ground looks covered with small black strips and is seemingly endless. It reminds me a bit of my trip through the Gobi desert in Mongolia. Except for the view in the distance, it is very similar. Luckily we are now traveling with two well equipped cars instead of riding my motorcycle solo. The desert slowly turns in to the familiar Savannah and it’s not long before we see the first animals. It starts with springbokken, widly spread out over the vast area, and later on a herd of gemsbokken. We stop for a little while when we see an enormous giraffe.
 

That night we find our camp spot in a dried out river. We start to make a fire and make a fire pit out of stones lying around. As the fire gets hotter the stones we so carefully selected out of the riverbed, start to explode. Pieces shoot away from the burning fire and force us to sit at a safe distance. Luckily our cars are away far enough and safely in our rooftop tent the exploding stones keep us awake for some time.
 

Kaokoland: a nightly visit

We don’t have to set the alarm, the sun burns us out of the tent anyway. The ladder of the tent sits in the loose sand and the fire still smokes a little bit. Slightly neurotic I scan the ground around our car for fresh tracks. I don’t see any. Satisfied I pull the salami out of the fridge for breakfast.

We put the coordinates for a waterhole in our navigation. Waterholes are often meeting places for different types of animals. A dry riverbed leads us to it. This riverbed is particularly sandy and the cars have to work hard to get through. It helps to be with two cars where one can follow the tracks from the first.
 

From behind a large tree and a curtain of leaves we get looked at by a large male elephant. He turns himself towards the cars the moment we pass him. He see him move rather nervously and his large ears move front to back. We leave him be and drive on slowly. We don’t have to wait much longer before we’re in luck again: a group of giraffes are gorging on the green trees on the side of the riverbed. The cars don’t really seem to bother them.
 

We leave the riverbed, drive for hours through the rocky desert and end up at another riverbed, but this time it has water. Recent car tracks prove that it is possible to drive through it. A narrow gap in the rock gives us enough cover to set up camp. We make a large fire to keep the animals and flies at a distance. We also cook on the fire and go to bed early while the fire still burns a little bit.
 

A low rumble gets me out of my sleep, it is 12 o’clock. I can hear it’s close. I squeeze Helga’s arm and she wakes up quickly. I stare out of our roof top tent into the darkness. Helga also turns her gaze outside, but we both see nothing, it is pitch black. Slowly our eyes adjust to the dark. We can feel the ground underneath the car tremble when the large thing moves: An enormous elephant, less than 4 meters away from the car. Silently we stare outside. We can hear it munching on the trees next to us. My heart is in my throat. My eyes are now even better adjusted to the dark and I can see a dark shadow. A deep rumble, next to our tent, we can almost smell its breath. We can feel the wind when it turns around and elegantly, without touching anything, it walks past the car in the direction of the water. We look at each other and take a breath. It takes a little while before we fall asleep again.

Kaokoland: Dust & Wildlife

The sun comes up slowly and the first rays of light manage to get through the thick layer of dust. We’ve been awake for a while and are sitting on narrow wooden benches with our freshly brewed coffee and the map. The sun heats up our surroundings quickly and the heat plus the caffeine helps us to get going.

We pack up the tent, put the cutlery in its place and wash our plates. The sun shines down on our windscreen and we can see our reflections in the dusty window.
 
I’ve been on the road for almost 2 years, my hair has grown and now sits in a ponytail at the back of my head. It’s more convenience than fashion. The hairs on my chin form a messy beard. My nose and shoulders are raw and red because of the sun and my lips have deep creases. They hurt from time to time and start bleeding when I smile. I’m walking on my bare feet which have callusses and are brown from the dust. There is a faint trace of white on them: my flipflops. My hands are also dry and the tips of my fingers shed their skin due to physical work and the dry climate. I smile at my reflection and get behind the steering wheel.
 
We are now in the Northern part of Namibia, Kaokaland, and on our way to Sesfontein. Sesfontein is a dusty “town” cut in two by a broad sandy road full of corrugations. The first shed we pass has a hand made sign that says: Tyre repair shop. The door consists of an old shower curtain. An old CocaCola refrigerator fills the room and some men are sitting outside waiting for work. Unfortunately for them our tyres have survived the trip. The next shed has a sign in the same handwriting and says: “Bar”. Too early for that. A police car races by and leaves us in a cloud of dust, we even have to stop to let it clear up around us. We drive past another tyre repair shop with the same handwritten sign. It shows that people can actually make a living out of the bad roads surrounding Sesfontein.
 
We turn off into a small road that leads us to a fuel station. We are meeting a German couple here, Stefan and Annette, who have been on the road for two years now with their Mercedes G Wagon (The Beast), the same car that the Dutch and Australian army uses. Together we will travel through the more remote northern part of Namibia. This is a place where it is better to travel with multiple vehicles. It is dry, hot, navigating is a pain and you will have to prepare for days without getting groceries, fuel or water.
 
We know them from an earlier meet up in Capetown and are looking forward to the trip.
 

Together we drive west towards the Skeleton Coast. Alongside the road we see small huts made out of clay, where whole families live. The dogs, cows, goats and sometimes pigs reluctantly leave the road to make way for us. The women are usually dressed traditionally, with dark red clay on their skin and bare breasts. The men wear t-shirts with a traditional cloth around their waists which kind of looks like a coloured diaper. We drive on GPS coordinates and leave the small huts behind. The road is very corrugated with loose sand on top which makes for heavy dust clouds, but also makes it a bit more comfortable to drive on.
 

A white sedan in the middle of the road slows us down. Two men come running at us when they see us approach and gesticulate animately. As soon as I roll down my window it becomes clear that they broke down and that they want us to tow them out. I get out of the car to get a better look at the situation. This is a very deserted road and the men have been waiting for help for most of the day. The tracks in the sand show us that they tried to push the car out, but had no luck. Eventually we decide to tow the car for a little while to get it out of the thickest sand and hopefully to start again. It takes a little while but in the end we manage. The car runs again and we leave it and the two men behind so they can continue on their own on the sandy track: destination unknown.
 
We turn off again, onto an even smaller track. After a while we have to stop on the side of the road because of a car coming from the opposite direction. Through the open window we exchange pleasantries. A very large antenne on the roof of the sand coloured Landcruiser points to the fact that this is not just your average car. The man behind the wheel, with a tanned skin and a long white beard acknowledges this. He is a biologist and tells us that he works in this area and that he studies the lions here. We drive on slowly after meeting him. The moment we see a tree which has been trampled and eaten by an elephant we stop to collect firewood. The idea of having a fire seems like a very good idea now we know there are lions around.
 

A large rock wall protects us from the wind that night. The sky is very clear and the stars light up everything. Mesmerized we stare up until the cold forces us to bed. The red glow of the fire coloures the inside of our tent scarlet. It gives us a safe feeling, Even if it’s for a little while until we fall asleep.

Crossing the border - Namibia

The early morning glow slowly colours in our surroundings. It is early and we are on our way to the Namibian border. We park in front of the border office, get out of the car and smile at each other when we see the numbered offices: 1 til 6. All different cubicles for different authorities. We prepare for the worse. But surprisingly we find ourself walking from office to office in no time. Before we know it our passports are stamped, the car is checked and we’re driving into Namibia.

Our first impression is: empty. It is dry and the views seem endless. We drive passed the first small villages and directly to Fish River Canyon and the Ai-Ais Hotsprings.

 

 The Fish River Canyon (Afrikaans: Visrivier Canyon or Visrivier Afgronde, German: Fischfluss Canyon), is located in the south of Namibia. It is the largest canyon in Africa, as well as the second most visited tourist attraction in Namibia. It features a gigantic ravine, in total about 100 miles (160 km) long, up to 27 km wide and in places almost 550 meters deep.
 
The Fish River is the longest interior river in Namibia. It cuts deep into the plateau which is today dry, stony and sparsely covered with hardy drought-resistant plants. The river flows intermittently, usually flooding in late summer; the rest of the year it becomes a chain of long narrow pools. At the lower end of the Fish River Canyon, the hot springs resort of Ai-Ais is situated.
 
Public view points are near Hobas, a camp site 70 km north of Ai-Ais. This part of the canyon is part of the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park. The other 90 km of this canyon are privately owned.
 

The emptiness goes on. Luderitz is a small village which is know for its diamant industry and early German settlement We stay here for two days, look around and enjoy the peace and quiet. It feels like the whole population of Luderitz went to visit family, because nothing is happening here.
 
We leave Luderitz to go to Sossusvlei, a place amongst the sand dunes. Sometimes it gets a little bit of rain which will then run down the 700m high sandslopes towards the lowest point. A layer of clay will form on this lowest point which will hold the water like a sponge. It’s like an oases surrounded by sanddunes.
 
Sossusvlei (sometimes written Sossus Vlei) is a salt and clay pan surrounded by high red dunes, located in the southern part of the Namib Desert, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia. The name “Sossusvlei” is often used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area (including other neighbouring vleis such as Deadvlei and other high dunes), which is one of the major visitor attractions of Namibia.
 
The name “Sossusvlei” is of mixed origin and roughly means “dead-end marsh”. Vlei is the Afrikaans word for “marsh”, while “sossus” is Nama for “no return” or “dead end”. Sossusvlei owes this name to the fact that it is an endorheic drainage basin (i.e., a drainage basin without outflows) for the ephemeral Tsauchab River.
 

On our way to Sossusvlei we see a large yellow cloud coming towards us. As everything around us turns darker and we get closer we see that it’s a sandstorm. We turn our lights on and by the time it hits us, it is like we just passed a large truck doing 140km/h. We stop and wait for the dust to clear up. A couple of minutes later it’s like nothing ever happened and we’re looking at a clear blue sky again.
 
On our way we see gemsbokken, springbokken, zebras and ostriches.

Explaining AfrikaBurn

We go to sleep early and wake up to realise that AfrikaBurn is really starting today! During the whole day we see new people arrive and every spot where a tent could possibly fit is taken. We get some good coffee at the Alienz, a theme-camp that makes you a cappuccino or espresso in exchange for a compliment. Right next to the coffee tent is the Pancake Posse tent where we patiently wait for our pancakes while the volunteers are running around trying to serve everyone.
Below we will try to describe the feeling of and ideas behind AfrikaBurn.
 
Tickets: half a year before AfrikaBurn starts the tickets are up for sale. These 12.000 tickets are sold out quickly, months before the festival even starts. To be able to buy tickets you have to make a profile and fill in a questionnaire that makes you aware of the nature of the festival. In the weeks before the Burn, there is a re-selling of the tickets. People who bought tickets, but can’t make it anymore get a chance to hand in their tickets which will then be resold again for them by the organisation.
 
Got tickets? Then it’s time to start thinking on how to get to the AfrikaBurn location which is in the middle of the Tankwa desert. It takes you at least 5 hours driving from Cape Town over a road that starts out as a tar road, but most of it is gravel, layered with a lot of dust. The dirt road is heavily corrugated and covered with sharp stones that are just waiting to empty your tires…
Got transport? From the moment your drive into “Tankwa Town”, money is of no use. Advertising is prohibited and nothing is for sale (except for ice). You will have to be self sufficient for at least 7 days (food, water, camping gear) or hope for the generosity of others.
 
You made it! What can you expect?
I think the AfrikaBurn days are best described as a beautiful spring day, like the first warm day of the year. Slowly, the parks in the city fill up with people, but this time everyone is dressed up as if they are joining the Gay Parade. Everyone walks around with snacks, wine, rugs, skirts, umbrellas against the sun and happy faces. Unlike the cityparks there are activities all around. There is no set program so everyone walks, drives or catches a lift (on a mutant vehicle) until they find something they like. The diversity is immense, from art to theatre, dancing, music, eating, drinking, doodling, creating or just hanging around. These activities are offered by theme camps. These group camps are usually run by a group of friends and have a certain theme. A couple of examples: a hot outdoor shower, a spa, a library, a coffee tent, lectures, a post office, a pancake tent, making art tent and several places with Djs or bands playing.
 

At night some of the mutant vehicles and themecamps change into music platforms. The vehicles carry a DJ stand, lights and huge speakers. You just walk around until you find one that plays the music you like.
 
The largest and most famous of these drive-around-Djs is the Spirit Train. The Spirit Train is a tractor with 5 carriages where the middle one is DJ booth.
 
AfrikaBurn starts on a Monday and on Thursday night the first Burns begin. The small and large wooden artworks are set on fire while the public sits around in a large circle to watch. Most of these artworks are really build to burn, and you only see that when they are lit and the different sorts of wood burn at different times which makes for some spectacular sights.
 

Ready to Burn

It is 5am when the alarm goes off. Helga and I almost bump into each other head first from the noise of the alarm which we are no longer used to. It at least makes sure that we are immediately wide awake. We slowly walk towards the kitchen, press the coffee machine to life and gather the last clothes and things that need to go into the car. An hour later we drive in a convoy from the courtyard towards the Tankwa Karoo desert.

We are being separated from James when we run into an old militairy truck with dead batteries who is also on its way to AfrikaBurn. Helga and I stop to help them. With a set of starter cables we try to boost the batteries, but when I see the wires giving off smoke I quickly pull everything loose and tell them that we cannot take any risks here. They will have to find another truck to help them out. They look disappointed, but they understand. The owner of the truck tries to convince me again that is a converted 12v system, but I won’t budge. We have too much to lose. We get into the car and start to chase James and his trailer. The road changes to sand, filled with corrugations and loose stones everywhere. The horizon is filled with dust clouds and other people on their way to Burn, one of the largest clouds in the distance will probably belong to James and Yolandi with their heavily loaded trailer.
 
The moment we get off the main road, I have to pull up on the side of the road to let another car pass. When we continue the car pulls me strongly to the left and when I lean out of the window I can see one of the tires getting flat rapidly….Sh*t. Puncture. We put the car on the side of the road and quickly change our tire. We have some experience by now and within no time we are back on the road again towards the entrance of the festival.
 
We are being welcomed by a merry group of people who are totally into the festival vibe. To our relief we quickly find James and Yolandi, we unload the stuff we brought for the organisation and start looking for a good spot to set up camp.
Around us the desert turns into a giant encampment while we are concentrating on setting up our tent. We work until the last light, start again in the morning and are not finished until late afternoon. For our standards we are glamping. In the past 12 hours we managed to build a kitchen, set up a large gas cooker, a braai and set up a large tent from scratch to protect us against the sun, wind and sand. Both our cars are parked next to the tent for extra stability and kind of gives the idea of two sundowner decks.
 
I ride around on a bicycle and plough through the desert sand. Most of the ground looks like a solid mass, but some places are rougher and the sand seems to come out from underneath. I’m amazed by all the bedouin style tents, the strange (mutant) vehicles and the artworks that were all transported over the same road we came from and are now built up to be looked at and burned at the end.
 

Preparing for AfrikaBurn

It’s the middle of the night when I lift my head of the pillow. I crawl out of bed on my hands and feet and look through the window of the narrow little room we sleep in. Through the cracks in the single glass window I can smell burned plastic. My eyes slowly adjust to the darkness and the vague outlines outside form recognisable shapes. A Landrover Defender is parked in the courtyard. The car sits heavy on its leafsprings and leans slightly backwards. I try to look through its windows, but I can’t make out very much since the inside is meticously packed top to bottom. Next to the car is a large open trailer. It has been packed to the brim. My hands slide over the wet window-frame and I have to wipe away the moister on the glass to see more. By now, my eyes are fully adjusted to the dark. Our car is parked in the corner of the courtyard, surrounded by walls and a gate. We are also a bit heavier packed, but you can hardly see this through our closed off windows.

I peer in the distance where see the glow of a small fire. The house we’re staying at is located next to a small “park”, more like a patch of grass. During the day people collect rubbish from the city, to burn on the grass at night to get a little warmth. It’s a very cold night and I hope they collected enough rubbish to stay warm. I let go of the window-frame and feel my way back to my pillow. My head falls onto it and I hope to catch my sleep again soon.
 
After we approached the organisation of AfrikaBurn, Helga and I managed to be able to buy tickets through the re-selling of the tickets. Our enthusiasm went through the roof and we immediately changed our itinerary to accomodate this detour.
 
We get the opportunity to stay with James and Yolandi in the days before AfrikaBurn. We met them when we stayed in Cape Town a few weeks earlier and they are also going to Burn. James and Yolandi are both industrial designers and they totally fit in hip Cape Town as we came to know and appreciate it.
James takes this AfrikaBurn “project” very serious, as he does with all the projects they take on as a company. He puts his staff and workshop to use to make this a memorable festival for all of us. The fully packed trailer and cars are a result of this. We are taking everything to build a huge tent made out of fabric, wooden poles and rope, we are even making a kitchen and we’re taking 8x25L jerrycans with water.
 
By bringing some stuff for the AfrikaBurn organisation, James managed to get us early access tickets. We leave one day before everyone else and this means we have one more day to make our camp before 12.000 people come hurdling in.
 

From Montagu to Stellenbosch

Helga slams the car door shut with a loud bang. Sweat trickles down her forehead and her breathing is rushed. I react to the bang, I let the clutch come up and we immediately start moving. We can hear the branches swishing around us when we drive through the fruit trees. When we reach the main road we can finally pick up the pace. A few days earlier we heard that one of the roads leading us out of Montagu will be closed entirely due to roadworks. This road is our only way of getting where we want to go without having to drive many more kilometres.

When Helga’s breathing is back to normal she starts to prepare for her role as navigator. She suddenly looks at me and asks: “Where are the maps?” I try to divide my attention, not my strongest skill, and wreck my brain where those maps are while driving through a busy pass.
 
I can see both of us running out of the small reception area while the sprinklers try to liven up the sad looking grass and we try to avoid getting wet. We’ve used the maps to get information from the owners of the campsite, who just recently moved here from Botswana. The maps are probably still there…At the same moment I can tell that Helga has reached the same conclusion. This is one of those moments where you wish the cabin of the car was a bit bigger. We make a u-turn and pass the long row of cars trying to get out of town while we drive back to the campsite where we eventually find our precious maps.
 
We now know the way and decide to try our luck again. We end up being one of the last cars to get through before they close the road to start the explosions to improve the road. We are very lucky, but it still takes about 20 minutes before Helga talks to me again. We are now on the most southern point of the continent of Africa: Cape Agulhas.
 

Stellenbosch March 24, 2016
 
Even though we’re 10.000 km from home, we sometimes feel like we’re at home. In Montagu we met some climbers: Canadian Becky and South African Johann. They invite us to their home in Stellenbosch, an offer we don’t have to think on for very long. Over the next few days we stroll through pitoresque Stellenbosch with friends, we run, climb, go to pubs and walk through Franschoek NP.
 

Boulders instead of kites

Langebaan, a sleepy town close to Cape Town. Nothing happens here until the wind picks up. When it does, it seems like everyone drops what they’re doing and head towards the water.

Langebaan lies next to a shallow bay which is surrounded by low dunes. When there is wind, it is the most ideal place for kite and wind surfing. In the few days we spend here there was no wind unfortunately…the sun is blazing on our tent and after two days we give up.
 
Cederberg, April 11, 2016
 
A small patch of green finds it way through the small valley, the rocks are grey coloured and made out of granite. A farm has camping and mainly has climbers around. We find ourselves a spot next to a large rock and surrounded by climbers and boulderers we share stories around the campfire. The next morning, armed with a bouldermat, we are starting our search for some good routes. We don’t have to walk very far…We hang around for a few days and leave to drive towards Wuppertal and Ceres. Why down and not up towards Namibia? We got tickets for Afrikaburn!

Capetown

The neighborhoods we drive through show us a wide variety of colours. The brand new highway we drive on splits the suburb in two. We see kids play soccer on the side of the road where a sign tells us we are allowed to drive 120 km/h…sheep, goats and cows all seem to look at the same thing: the patch of grass on the other side of the road. A large sign tells us not to stop on this road, and if you really have to stop call the police for assistance.

 
We’re driving towards a large city, a gust of wind picks up a variety of white and grey plastic bags and blows them over the road and into the streets. We get in behind all the small city cars and manoeuvre our way through the small streets of Capetown.
 
 
We’re invited by a scouts organisation to camp on one of their campsites. This campsite is on top of a hill called Signal Hill which basically divides the city in two. From the hill we can walk to the city in about 20 minutes. The caretaker of this property is the well known South African Braam Malherbe. Braam is a adventurer, a conservationist and multisporter. Recently he ran the total distance of the Chinese Wall, 89 marathons, a marathon a day. He also walked north to south on the Northpole and is currently in the preparations of his next trip: The Cape to Rio sailing trip, but rowing the entire distance. I feel excited to finally meet someone who has taken adventure travel to a model in which he can provide for himself and his son.
 
We seem to be on the right track because we meet a lot of interesting people over the next few days.

Seweweekpoort & Montagu

March 18, 2016

In the morning we find our way back from Hell, drive through the Swartbergpass to Prince Albert and the Seweweekpoort.

To get an idea of the Seweweekpoort, check out this clip: https://youtu.be/1QXm7Q8gp5c

March 19, 2016

Montagu, a little village in the Eastern Cape, about 180 km from Capetown. The village is surrounded by accessible rock formations which makes it one of the best climbing destinations in South Africa. It is almost evening when we drive down the drive way of a campground full of climbers. We know we’re in the right place when we see a lot of small dome shaped tents of brands like MSR and Black Diamond. Next to a fire we meet enthusiastic climbers and the next morning my incomplete equipment is complete and I’m ready to go climbing.

After this great climbing session we visit a small festival in town with our new friends. The Parlotones are playing, a South African band from Johannesburg who have had a few international hits. 

The road to Hell and back

Die Hell (wikipedia)

Die Hel is a narrow isolated valley about 20 miles long with a maximum of 600 feet wide located in the Swartberg mountain range.

The Gamkaskloof was discovered in the early 19th century by farmers, but the first permanent settler settled in the valley in the 1830s. It grow to a community of around 160 individuals. The residents lived there in comparative isolation for about 130 years. They used donkeys and walked across the Swartberg mountains to reach the nearest towns.

They farmed grain, vegetables, fruits, tea and tobacco, along with distilling witblits and brewing beer made from wild honey.

The only road in to the valley had not bin build until 1962 which led to the depopulation of the community. The children attended high schools in the nearby villages and most of them did not return to the subsistence life in the valley. The elderly retired to retirement villages outside the valley and the number of residents diminished until all but one person sold their homes to the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board in 1991.

Die Hel: Nobody is sure where the ‘Die Hel’ name came from. One popular story is that a Piet Botha (an animal inspector) visited the valley in the 1940s and used a particularly difficult route known as the ‘die leer’ into the valley. He described the experience as “hell”. Another story is that workers that worked at the farms where not allowed to leave once arrived in the vally. This valley is one of the most historical places in the world, still having many untold stories and surely a few secrets never to be known.

Up until today the drive to Die Hell stays a hell of a ride. A 46km one way route. Getting there is possible, but you need a 4WD and nerves of steel to navigate the snaking dirt road that offers the only access to Die Hel.

A small, winding strip almost looks like a divide. We try our best to stay on the track, but doing your best is not enough, looking into the enormous abyss we figure that a small mistake is all it takes…Rusty carwrecks deep down show us what remains of small mistakes.

At the end of the long and winding road we reach the highest point and before us the valley opens up. We descent and drive past the remains of some old farmhouses. Just before we reach the end of the gorge (kloof) we see a beautiful green lawn with firepits. It gives us the impression that we have reached the oasis in the desert. The owner is a friendly guy who gives us permission to camp.

As soon as it turns dark we really notice that we are all alone, the moon and stars are at their brightest. When we look around us we see a lot of glowing eyes out of the vegetation: baboons, badgers and frogs are hiding all around us.

We build a slackline in between two trees, we run and build a fire for a hot shower. Or rather, we try to do that last thing. Many places in South Africa where there is no permanent source of gas or electricity they use a donkey system. This is barrel made of (stainless) steel which is under pressure from a water pipe. Cold water from the water pipe comes in from underneath and hot water comes out of the top when you have a fire under the barrel.

It is already very dark outside when we wait by our campfire for the water to heat up so we can have our shower under the bright stars. Our wait comes to an end when we hear a pipe burst and we see a mixture of cold and hot water come from the ground while the barrel looses its pressure as does the water pipe itself. Like a little fountain the water leaps us from the ground. Helga runs to the nearest stream to get water to douse the fire under the barrel while I get the shovel to find the waterpipe. Just before Helga comes back with the water I can see the barrel shrinking due to the uneven distribution of heath and no water in the barrel. The plastic waterpipe is soon found and when I close the supply of water towards the donkey the pressure is back up. No shower for us though…

When we inform the owner of the campground what has happened we get a big smile: “Ah well,” he says, “I made the donkey myself and I was still testing it. It doesn’t really matter, I’ll either fix it or build a new one.” Enough time here in Hell.

The Swartberg pass

The wind screams outside our tent and we are on a dreary campsite. The wind seems to push away the dark clouds and morning dew and leaves us with a sunny morning. The rays of sunshine slowly start to heat and dry up everything around us. We can also feel it in our bodies as we heat up with the rest.

The Swartbergpass, (Wikipedia)

The Swartberg Pass runs through the Swartberg mountain range in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

The Swartberg is amongst the best exposed fold mountain chains in the world, and the pass slices through magnificently scenic geological formations. Much of the Swartberg is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The pass is especially famous due to the spectacular geology that is exposed at its Northern end. The contortions in the rock display astonishing anticlines and synclines, and the vivid coloration of the surrounding Quartzite is remarkable. At the Northern end of the pass seven-hundred-metre-high quartzite cliffs of the upper Table Mountain Group can be seen, and these are often tilted through 90 degrees . Arguably the most famous of all these cliff faces is the spectacular ‘Wall of Fire’.

Loose yellow coloured gravel leads us up via a winding road. It almost looks like a snake. The road is a contrast to the mountain and is strengthened by a low stony wall on the side. The missing crash barrier gives us the opportunity to look down, deep down. Helga moves on her seat to the middle of the car while she leans a little bit to the left so she can just look outside. She’s been quiet for a while and she only lets me know she’s there by sighing every so often. When I look at my own hands I can see that my knuckles are white from holding the steering wheel too tight. I so would’ve preferred to drive this road with my motorbike, I think to myself. If we meet up with another car, there is going to be a serious challenge in passing each other….I follow the road as far as my eyes can see. The big cloud of dust behind us is clearly visible and when I look ahead the sky is clear.

A couple of signs on the road tell us that the pass is closed. We were warned about this by the owner of the campsite. He told us this is a way of stopping in transit traffic going to Prince Albert, since this is the fastest route. He told us to tell the workmen that we have a reservation in the area and that they would let us through.

Helga moves the sign on the middle of the road away and we drive past the first workers. They give us a look of slight disapproval while we pass the first machines. We drive all the way in to the shoulder of the road when a grader passes us with high speed. The two of us just fit on this road…

After a few kilometres we take a turn left and continue to Die Hell. 

From the Wilderness into the Caves

Wilderness, a small village on the coast. It almost feels like you are in Austria.

We find a good place to camp, high up in the hills, watching over the town. We stay a few days before we start our trip to the Cango Caves.

Cango Caves: (Wikipedia)

The Cango Caves are located in Precambrian limestones at the foothills of the Swartberg range near the town of Oudtshoorn, in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The principal cave is one of the country’s finest, and best known, caves. Although the extensive system of tunnels and chambers go on for over four kilometres, only about a quarter of this is open to visitors, who may proceed into the cave only in groups supervised by a guide.

The caves were discovered in 1780 by a local farmer named Jacobus Van Zyl. The chamber he first was lowered down into is as long as a football field.

The cave’s first official guide is purported to have walked 29 hours to find the end of the caves in 1898. When there, he is said to have calculated that he was 25 km from the entrance, and 275 m underground; his route apparently followed an underground river. So far, they are finding more and more caves to support this story.

Baviaanskloof

Our aluminium ladder leads me down the rooftop tent. The ground is moist and two deep brown eyes follow me around. These eyes belong to a pitch black farmdog who belongs to the farm where we decided to camp. Even though it is only 7 am his tongue hangs far out of his mouth. I look for my running shorts, tighten my laces and start on a route that leads me through a giant rock formation to a spring. The dog turns out to know the way. For an hour he leads me over the best track, rocks and sometimes water.

Around midday we decide to start on the Baviaanskloof.

Baviaanskloof (Wikipedia)

The Baviaanskloof Wilderness Area lies approximately 120 km. West of Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape Province, South Africa and comprises of approximately 270 000 ha. of unspoiled, rugged mountainous terrain. Starting in the East at Komdomo, the road leads through the rugged beauty of the “Grootrivier” Gorge on its winding path through this pristine conservancy, all the way towards Willowmore in the West. A total distance of about 203 km. The area offers a wide range of eco-recreational opportunities as well as a unique wilderness experience!

Road Conditions: The road (R332) through the Baviaanskloof is a narrow, steep, gravel surfaced, winding road, through breathtaking mountainous terrain. The distance between Komdomo at the Eastern entrance, to Willowmore in the West, is approximately 203 km. The traveling time however, is 6 to 8 hours. Presently the stretch of road between Cambria and Geelhoutbos can only be accessed with a 4×4.

Our tire pressure, which we adjusted to the terrain, helps us on the uneven path that we follow, but it doesn’t do us any good against the low hanging branches scraping against the side of the car and windows. We’re both sitting straight up in our seats and try to follow the movements of the car. Like a compass used on ships we adjust to the angle of inclination. We are startled when a branch scrapes over our roof rack and makes a very loud noise. We push the car through a reedy passage and follow the stream of a shallow overgrown river to the other side where we hit the gravel again. Groups of baboons run away for this giant white car invading their habitat.

This road leads us up to a narrow pass andwhen we are halfway up we encounter a group of Landrover Defenders. We try to put our car as far off the road as we can to let them pass. We get strained, but friendly smiles before they drive out of sight.

I hadn’t realised how technical this drive would be, otherwise we would have left well before midday. I can feel the sweat trickle down my forehead while I try to steer the car over the best track.

Suddenly a rock hits the inside of the wheel. Immediately we can hear a high pitched whistling noise. We stop the car on a slope and I get underneath the car to assess the damage. A rock turns out to have hit the protective shield for the brake disc. The shield is now pushed against the brake disc which makes the noise. By using a large screwdriver I manage to create some space between the two.

We set up camp in the dark right after we get out of the Baviaanskloof at a place where they farm limes and tobacco next to having a camping site. 

Winterclothes and Treehouses

March 7-11, 2016

Hundreds of drops at the same time beat against our front window. The window wipers are busy keeping it clear. The road in front of us is barely visible. The heater is on and Helga is driving while I put my bear feet where the heat comes from. We’re following the coast like we have been doing for a while now. There is no conversation and we are both miles away in thought. In my mind I am far away from where I am now; home in the Netherlands where our friends live, careers are chased, jokes are told and fun nights in the pub take place without us.

We stop in Port Elizabeth. We find a hostel where we can camp in the front garden. We find our winter clothes, dress ourselves in warm layers and even get out our warm Australian Uggs from deep down in the car. We did not think we would be needing those here in Africa. It’s a good day to stay inside.

The wind has been blowing full strength and it seems that all the rainclouds have blown away.

A wooden gate serves as an entrance to a farm. We see a ladder that goes up in to a large tree and ends in a plateau. From this plateau you can see the sun set. We park our car amongst the horses, fold out the tent and get visits from different cats.

The farm is not an active farm. Surrounded by trees of which some of them are nearly 800 years old, it has developed into a hostel and runs on volunteers. We feel at home.

Here we meet Richard le Sueur. He is a travelminded South African who published a book about Winter in Africa. He doesn’t own a house, lives from his suitcase, usually travels on his motorcycle and is also a South African actor. He spends hours with us and our maps and full of advice we continue our travels.

 

 

 

Meeting Wildlife

With my teeth I tear open a bag of muesli. It’s early, very early. The bag gives in and opens up. “Maybe it’s too early”, I muse to myself. Helga crawls out of the rooftoptent, a sleeping bag tucked around her. We have a quick breakfast before packing everything up. Everything got wet because of the rain last night. When we went to bed the whole sky was clear and hundreds of stars shone bright. But the wind brought a vast amount of clouds above us while we were sleeping and unceremoniously dropped its contents. We woke and from the tent we could see lightning finding its way to the ground while thunder kept us from our sleep for a while.

We fold up the tent while it is still wet and put everything in its place. The sun manages to get through the clouds when we get in to our car and we head west.

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One of the largest national park in South Africa, Addo Elephant National Park has expanded to conserve a wide range of biodiversity, landscapes, fauna and flora. Stretching from the semi-arid karoo area in the north around Darlington Dam, over the rugged Zuurberg Mountains, through the Sundays River Valley and south to the coast between Sundays River mouth and Bushman’s river mouth, Addo covers about 180 000 hectares (444 700 acres) and includes the Bird and St Croix Island groups.

The original elephant section of the park was proclaimed in 1931, when only eleven elephants remained in the area. Today this finely-tuned ecosystem is sanctuary to over 600 elephant, lion, buffalo, black rhino, spotted hyena, leopard, a variety of antelope and zebra species, as well as the unique Addo flightless dung beetle, found almost exclusively in Addo. The park can exclusively claim to be the only national park in the world to conserve the “Big 7” – the Big 5 as well as the southern right whale and great white shark off the Algoa Bay coast.Plans are currently afoot to include the proposed proclamation of a 120 000 ha (296 500 acre) Marine Protected Area which includes islands that are home to the world’s largest breeding populations of Cape gannets and second largest breeding population of African penguins.

https://www.sanparks.org/parks/addo/

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Light-yellow coloured sand tracks lead us through the park. The sun rises slowly into the sky while we drive along looking around us for wildlife. We’re in luck. We’re caught of guard by one closer than we expected. A leopard turtoise slowly, but confidently crosses our path while he chews on a green sapling which managed to grow through the sand on the track. We drive around it like a large rock in the savannah.

The sandy track leads us past something we came to see: We drive on while the big male elephant barely seems to notice us. The creases in his skin are noticeable, his ears are frayed and his trunk scans the ground, probably looking for water or food.

The next time we are eye to eye with an elephant is when we drive on a path with a lot of bushes on the sides. The whole way we try to look sideways and through the vegetation, but only the enormous piles of dung give the impression that animals live here. Every once in a while there are small clearings on the side of the road which we eagerly look in to. We both look into the fourth clearing or so when our gaze is being met. A male elephant, three meters from the road, partly hidden, turns his head to our car. I brake and we’re standing still immediately. I’m not so sure this was the best idea. His trunk is waving towards us and glides like a garden hose on the loose past our car. Our windows are open and we both hold our breath.

The moment is broken when an even larger male elephant comes towards us aiming for the one who was exploring our car with its trunk. He turns around quickly and we can feel the car move. He puts his heavy feet in front of one another and makes his way fast into the bushes again. The other elephant is not that interested in us. He walks straight up to us, looks into the car, turns around and walks in the opposite direction as we are heading.

I let my camera fall into my lap and feel the excitement through my body. What an experience!

We lean out of our windows while scanning the horizon hoping for the luck we had earlier. And luck we have! At the end of the day, we have seen:

Elephant, Buffalo, Lion, Red Hartebeest, Warthog, Common Duiker, Eland, Burchells Zebra, Kudu, Black backed Jackal, Cape Grysbok, Flightless Dungbeetle, Ostrich, Secretary Bird, Leopard Turtoise.

From Chintsa to the Wild Woody Cape

March 2-5, 2016

Packing up is quick, Adam is a valuable new member to the team: the sidewalls of the awning are folded up quickly, packed and disappear somewhere in the car. We turn down on the tarmac road and touch the gravel that day. A small ferry brings us across the Kei Mouth and we drive on to Chintsa. When we drive up to the reception of the campground we park next to a well equipped Landrover Defender. It turns out to belong to a captain who sails out 2 months a year from Dutch Harbour, Alaska, fishing for King Crabs and you can see him on the Discovery program “Deadliest Catch”. He travels around Africa with his wife a large part of the year in search of various wildlife.

We say goodbye to Megan and Adam and head down to Wild Woody Cape, or Wild Wind Woody Cape as we would like to call it. A huge storm takes us unaware, the fly of our tent is sent flying and the tentpoles holding it up crash to the ground. The next morning we do some running on the beach, the majestic sand dunes next to us, and we write our blog. 

Dinosaurs in Dwesa

During a trip to the small community shop Helga, Adam and Megan run into a guide. The man seems eloquently and helpful and he has been working as a guide for DwesaNational Park for the last 6 years. They hire him for a walk through the mangroves where he will tell us about the flora and fauna and lead us through narrow hard to find tracks. We decide to start this later in the afternoon when the sun is past its highest point of the day. .

With our backpacks filled with water and sunscreen we wait for the guide’s arrival. Half an hour after the previously agreed time Vojany comes running into the campsite, shoes in his hands. He needs a moment to catch his breath. He introduces himself to me, but doesn’t look me in the eye. For a second I think I can smell alcohol on him, but the smell coming from his shoes takes over. We follow him and before we turn into a narrow path he starts a long speech about safety while we have a hard time understanding him. We get the impression that he was not wearing his shoes earlier, because he doesn’t really feel comfortable in them. He hops from one leg onto the other like he is standing on hot coals. He takes the first step into the forest and picks up a stick of about 60 cm. With this stick in front of him he starts to lead the way. Like a magician he waves the stick wildly around and his feet follow slowly behind. We follow his example without a wand and me as the last person. I have a hard time keeping my face straight. He stops at a plant that looks like a fern and starts his story: “ Before the dinosaurs in 1860, this was plant was everywhere”. This time he looks at us all.

We look back at him and he receives a bellow of laughter. He looks around the group dazed. I am now sure, the guide is drunk. I tell him I don’t want to walk around the mangroves with him if he’s drunk and that he should go back home and sleep. He nods at me, turns around and walks back to where we came from. Without his wand. We look at each other surprised, start to laugh again and decide to walk on without a guide. Pretty soon we find out that he actually taught us something useful: the wand is for cobwebs.

The perfect (tight) spot

The Wild Labunzi is build on something that resembles the coastline of Wales: green sloping hills and steep, rocky walls rising up from the ground like a boundary between land and sea. After a rocky track we arrive. The only flat part within the property is very suitable for the car and the rooftoptent. The way to it on the other hand consists of many tight bends that are kind of impossible for a Troopcarrier. The headstrong me insists though and half an hour later, after having moved many stones, plants and fences, the car is there. I hope we can get out of here again….

A single track, consisting of a narrow sand coloured trail that snakes through the hills ahead. It’s a nice walk and we left before it got too hot. In good speed and without any baggage we walk through the small communities with houses made of clay. Most of them have fences around their property, some of them don’t and we see sheep hiding from the sun in the shadow of the rondavels. We’re startled by two dogs who obviously think we’re intruders. Luckily the owner comes out, yells at his dogs and calls them back.

A lonely rock, in the mouth of the river where the depth is decided by the incoming tide. The rock resists the water coming at it ferociously from the sea while river water flows on both sides into the sea. Its years as gatekeeper show the consequences: the giant rock is worn around the edges and in the middle a large hole is cut out. The Hole in the Wall.

 

Mdumbi: tourists and the local Xhosa community intertwined

A wall full of surfboards stares at us, Danish Rasmus and I both pick one and walk to the beach. The waves hit the rocks hard. We run behind each other down to the beach, jump over the sharp rocks and land flat on our stomachs on the surfboards. We paddle out while we get hit by the first brakes. A moment later we’re sitting on our boards, waiting for the perfect wave.

When the wind increases (level full power in no time) and the thunderstorm starts, Helga and I decide to pack up the tent temporarily and hide out with the dogs in the kitchen.

Getting excited by the drummer’s first beats at a concert, that’s how I feel. The hail falls loudly on the steel roof and the noise is overwhelming. The wind also lets us know it’s here with the branches slashing agains the building.

 

After the hail stops we move to the “living room” where everyone else is and a couple of hours later, slightly intoxicated, after hearing a lot of travel stories, we pitch up the tent again.

February 27, 2016

We wake up from the sun heating up the green canvas and the inside of the tent rapidly. The sky is clear blue and all that is left of yesterday’s storm are the branches and leaves on the ground. Bare feet we walk on the wet grass towards the kitchen. A large cup of coffee washes away the light headache.

Johann, the owner and instigator of Mdumbi Backpackers takes me on a walk around the property. He grew up here. His father used to have a holiday home in the area and Johann spent a large part of his childhood in this area. He uses the money the backpackers generate to improve life in the community. For example, he oversees a project building a hospital. He also brings the community closer to the tourists who visit Mdumbi by having the church and pre-school on the property.

Johann also feels close to us. Together with an old Honda African Twin he travelled around Africa. He integrates sports (surfing), local community, travellers and tourists. He does it in a way I have never seen before, it is like a good cocktail where you don’t taste the alcohol.

For the last time I paddle out to catch a few waves before they all disappear and the ocean becomes quiet again. Afterwards we drive on to the next place on the map: The Wild Lubanzi.

Mdumbi Community Projects

Mdumbi Backpackers is situated on URC premises at Mdumbi Beach and was founded on January 2002. Thirty% of this backpackers is owned by 5 local employees, 10% of its profits are given to the local community representing body and 9% to TransCape NPO. It is closely involved with the community and formed Transcape NPO to respond to the educational, economic and health needs in the area. There vision is to active communities that address and improve their own health, education and economic development. There mission is to provide access to the support, knowledge, and resources necessary for communities to initiate the process of change towards a better quality of life. See www.transcape.org

On the health side Transcape has started a HIV/Aids program which include the implementation and management of awareness days, support groups, an ARV clinic, training programs, wellness and home base care. Transcape is managing a malnutrition project at Canzibe hospital, does maintenance and upgrading of the hospital and surrounding clinics, support community members with transport for medical emergencies and maintain a project concerning multimedia communication between Canzibe Hospital and clinics.

On the education side Transcape has started an education project at Mdumbi Backpackers. This involves a library; extra English and life-skills classes for school goers; preparing matriculants for final exams; computer, business, secretarial, entrepreneurial and vocational training for young people ready to explore the labor market; a pre school and ABET. Transcape also sponsors a pre school at Canzibe Hospital.

For economical growth Transcape started an interest free micro-financing project through which multiple small businesses like shops, brick-making, gardening, chicken farming, ext. are formed. Transcape is also involved in tourism development and agricultural programs.

 

Roadblocks and stones that hit the mark

We are camping outside the fence that marks the boundary of the Kraal and we are woken by people walking around the car who are obviously packing up. We get dressed and walk towards the main building. This is what is happening: the government is busy constructing a new, tarred, road to make the hospital and this part of the Transkei more accessible. The local community believes that the government is not using enough local people to do this work and are therefor planning to create roadblocks to demonstrate against this.

Bags are being packed, doors closed, laundry folded and before we know it everyone has left to hopefully get through it before it’s really closed. There are stories that these roadblocks could last weeks before the police is able to end them. Helga and I are a little agitated by this, but decide to stay. We are not in a hurry to go anywhere and we are told that for our car there are enough (4×4) alternatives to leave the area. We use the rest of the day to write the blog, get coordinates for 4×4 tracks in the gps and finish our books.

February 25, 2016

We decide to go, we pack up and drive up the steep path leading to the road. Just before we left we heard that the demonstration had stopped and that the roadblocks are gone. We decide to take the road less traveled nonetheless. On the road to Isilimele, where the hospital is, we see an older woman slowly walking up the hill. We give here a ride and she tells us her name is Christina, that she’s 65 and is on her way to the hospital for TBC treatment. She speaks good English and tells us a little bit about her life while we tell her about our travels. We drop her off at the hospital and walk around quickly to get an impression about how things go here.

Helga and I leave the hospital and drive south over old roads with washed away bridges. We are heading towards Mdumbi.

 

A small track leads us towards the coast. Schools are just out and we drive through large groups of children all neatly dressed in similar uniforms. Almost all the groups we drive past turn towards us and cup their hands to beg for “ssssweeeets!”. We don’t respond to this request, but wave and give them a smile. I loose my patience when a group of boys, who we pass without giving attention, pick up some stones from the ground and throw them at the car. I can hear one of them hit their mark.It resonates through the car. I quickly brake and reverse, but by the time we reach the spot again they have all fled. With a huge adrenaline rush we drive down a road that will take us to the coast. When we get here we realise we took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of the bay….we can almost see where we need to go, but we have to drive back through the small town we just came from, towards the main road and get the next exit.

Slowly we drive back, luckily the children are all spread out by now and they are no longer a bother. 

The Imposing Policeman

It’s late in the morning when we leave our camping spot and leave Port St. Johns. School kids seem to have their break. Kids in uniform are along side the road and watch the cars pass by. The speed bumps turn out to be camouflaged and have the same colour as the tarmac….Helga gives me an angry look when she is almost lifted out of her seat and thrown into the backseats because of me missing it. I give her an apologetic look and mumble “sorry” while I try my best to spot the next one.

An imposing man in a uniform steps in front of our car. By the way he moves you can see it is not the first time he does this. His belt is heavy from his gun and he almost seems to lean to that side when he walks from the weight. I brake while I look around me. I missed it completely at first, but it turns out there is a police car on the side of the road kind of hidden behind the bushes. Around the car are three policemen. One handles the speeding camera, while the others are leaning on their rifles. The imposing policeman’s hand is sliding over the bullbar and while he walks towards us his gloved hands are tapping rhythmically on the bonnet. His destination is the driver side window which I already opened. A large head comes into our car and asks us: “where are you going?”. I see his nostrils move like a nervous bull and he seems to take in the air of the car. If I would have some popcorn on my lap that would have been funny. Helga answers his question by telling him the next big city on our map. He gives her a serious look and he almost seems to want to smell if we are speaking the truth. “ How long are you staying in South Africa?” Helga answers: “four weeks sir”. He takes another big gulp of air and I think: I hope he leaves some for us too. “ Alright, continue” says the policeman while he gets his head out of the car. I look at Helga, who shrugs, and with both windows open we quickly drive on.

Via a long track through several small villages, cornfields, groups of schoolchildren going home for the day and a lot of lazy cows standing in the middle of the road without any inclination to go off it, we end up at the Kraal. We are invited by our Dutch friends, who work as doctors at the hospital in Isilimele, just a few kilometres away, to enjoy pizza night.

"Sir, that car is from Australia!"

The car shakes when I start it up. We just packed up our tent and pushed everything in its original place before we head off to Port St. Johns. It rained the night before and kept us out of our sleep while litres of water found their way over our tent towards the ground.

The potholes on the sandy track are filled with water and there are spots with thick mud. We have faith and navigate ourselves out of this and back to the main road.

It feels like we’re driving into an ant farm. Streets are filled up with people, school kids, trucks and men trying to push heavy wheel barrows. We drive into Lusikisiki, mix with the local traffic and end up parking in between a rusty truck and a market stall selling bananas. Helga stays in the car while I bump my way into the supermarket. While I push my cart I try to find the right products. I seem to be the only white guy in the supermarket. Not something I feel uncomfortable with while I think back to the time I taught PE at a juvenile hall in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles.

I look up when somebody starts talking to me in really good English: “ sir, that car outside, that must be yours? It’s from Australia, how did it come here?” I smile, he is the first one to notice since the colours of our Australia number plate are the same as the area in South Africa we’re driving in right now. While I explain how the car got here I see his expression change, his eyebrows are now raised and he says: “really?”. I try to nod as convincingly as possible and say: “really.”. Deep in his own thoughts I see him push his cart to the cash register.

I quickly find the last items on my grocery list and follow his example. When I leave the store a security guard picks me out of the stream of people also leaving. I have to hand in my receipt and all my groceries are checked against my receipt. Behind my I see all the locals leaving the supermarket without raising their heads. In the reflection of the window I can see myself and I wonder if I am giving out the wrong impression by the way I look? After carefully checking every single item they let me go. I quickly leave the store, put everything in the back of the car and get behind the wheel. Away!

A large grassy site almost like a golf course is our camping spot for the night. From our tent we have a view of the chocolate colour river and the large cliffs, or “the gates” that are the entry to Port St. Johns. 

The Kingfish

When we wake up we are immediately followed by 4 kids from the surrounding villages. In the beginning this is a bit threatening, but when I return later to talk to them it turns out that they are bored and are looking for something to do. It is Saturday and there is nothing else for them to do. When I talk to them I call them boys, but soon I am being corrected by one of them. He points at the others and says: “ They are boys, I am a man”.

A brochure about local culture tells me that boys need to do a ceremony of a certain period in which they do assignments and rituals after which they become a man. Apparently the kid I called boy previously already completed the ceremony while the others had not.

The sun slowly crawls its way up in the sky and we know our morning hours are over when it begins to burn in our faces. We quickly pack up a day backpack with lunch and the camera and start on our hike towards a waterfall that ends in the sea. A narrow track leads us through the hills and down to the banks of the river. This river turns out to be famous, because this is the only river where the Kingfish, who normally only lives in deeper waters swims up. They swim against the stream until they reach a small island, they circle this and swim with hundreds of them back to the sea. Numerous scientists have done research on this phenomenon, but so far it is unknown why they do this.

We have to cross this river and I let my eyes skim over it with the story of the Kingfish in the back of my head. Nothing to see. The path continues on the other side of the river. We put our clothes in a dry-bag together with the camera, the daypack and our shoes. We quickly wade into the water and push the dry-bag in front of us to the other side of the river. We can feel the cold water pass by us, but we manage to reach the other side and we quickly get dressed again to continue the small steep track up the cliff.

Let's start on the WILD COAST!

Our footprints show on the dew of the wet grass. We take over the last things to the car before we begin on the first real travel day in Africa. A wave of emotion overwhelms me when we leave the familiar entrance path. The main road takes us through Harding again and bends afterwards onto a gravel road. We have felt welcome here. People walk in long rows on the side of the road and welcome us with their broad smiles of white teeth, contrasting against their dark skin. We are not driving fast and we see the children run towards the fences to see us and the car a bit better. We’re driving with our windows open to be closer to these beautiful people.

“I realise that in 2011 I bought an old Landrover, with the dream to make this trip we are doing right now. It took me years to get the car ready and equipped to take us safely through Africa. Every spare hour was spent by driving down to the car, sitting and waiting in a dusty shed, and turning the ignition to hear it start, just to keep this dream-journey alive while I was preparing. Just the sound of a car who had seen so much more than I, who was waiting faithfully for adventure in a dusty shed, like a tiger on a leash.“

The white palms, full of lines and raw of working on the fields, wave at us from a distance. I don’t know if it’s fair, our background and education gives us such an advantage. It feels good to be welcomed by such a beautiful country like South Africa, but I don’t think I deserve being cheered at.

 

We get in line behind a long row of cars waiting in front of a women in full workman’s wear and a flag. We got the recommendation to leave enough room between cars so there is always the opportunity to get out. The inhabitants of the village nearby make the most of these stops by selling drinks and fruit. Helga and I are captivated by the smile of a short, heavy, black lady who carries a bowl with ice and cans on top of her head. We did not think that smile could get even bigger, but it certainly did after we bought two Cokes.

After this interruption we notice that the villages become less fortunate and the road gets worse. We have a hard time navigating and the heavy rain from the last few days shows in the broad muddy tracks and water filled potholes. I can see Helga’s white knuckles from holding on to the rail in front of her which is attached to the dashboard. The last time we drove through mud we got stuck big time and it took us a few hours to dig ourselves out.

People have stopped waving and children hurry towards the road, not to say hello, but to fold their hands into little bowls and shout: “ Ssssweets! Sweets!”.

F*ck the tourist who ever thought of doing this! I am shocked when I look in my side mirror and see the previously folded up hands picking up stones from the ground and throwing them towards the car. I feel angry and powerless. Absorbed in our own thoughts we drive on, and on some level I understand them, as a child I was also not the best in dealing with disappointments. And yet, I believe that giving out candy is not the solution. There is a challenge to find something that works for us, but is also beneficial to the children.

 

We stop when the land makes way for the sea and we find a good campsite. All the facilities are built in small wooden huts which are all connected by a boardwalk suspended a metre above the ground.

Among friends in Harding

The rain falls down hard on the tin roof of the cottage. We’re on the couch, watching an empty fireplace in the corner. The cottage’s interior is stylish and spacious. Our shoes are muddy and placed on an old newspaper, full of political news. Not a bad place to put your muddy shoes.

The continuous drum of the rain on the roof seems to get louder until we realise someone is banging on the wooden door. I quickly open it and in the dusk I see someone, panting, wet, with rubber boots. He’s pointing towards some really dark clouds in the distance.

He turns around and points to the car, which is the only one still outside in front of the house. I understand and I follow the rubber boots up the slope towards the car. Hail is common in this area. With soggy shoes I climb behind the steering wheel and see the large wooden doors of the hay shed being opened. I start the car and drive inside. The wind is so loud around the shed that it drowns out all other noise. We both wait for a second at the door, before we both start running back, he to his family at the farm, me back to the cottage.

February 19, 2016

It’s early morning when we drive down the muddy path that leads us back to the main road, it’s covered with leaves and broken branches from last night’s storm. We turn onto the highway and mix ourselves with the few cars heading towards Harding. We are on our way to a workshop to have one of our batteries tested. Since our arrival in Durban, our starter battery seems to not have enough power to start the car. A test at the workshop proves this and we decide to leave the battery to see if slow-longterm charging helps.

We look around the village, do an extensive puzzle journey through the supermarket in search for familiar products and enjoy ourselves on the farm.

 

The Howling Moon Factory

It’s the Tuesday after we drove our car out of the container and we’re on our way to the Howling Moon factory. We drive through sluggish Durban traffic and ask ourselves:” Who drives their car in the middle of rush hour when they don’t have to?” that is the question I ask myself as I pull up behind a smoking Toyota Corolla and try to gain enough speed to shift from first to second gear. Let’s ask another question: “Durban, a South African city with the busiest port and over 3 million people, you’ve had your car for one day…Is it wise to drive it during rush hour”? answer: “No.” Question: “Is it fun?” answer: “Kind of!” We both lock our doors when we drive through one of the more shady neighbourhoods and we both wonder as to who locked the back door, something we’ll have to get used to. It’s Africa.

Howling Moon is a South African producer of camping equipment with its head office in Durban. I’ll try to describe one of the things they make that is so important to us.

You climb on the roof of the car, unzip a sturdy canvas cover and throw over the back of the car. You slide the ladder to its full length, climb off the roof and pull the ladder downwards while stepping backwards. Like a harmonica the rooftop tent unfolds made from a wood/aluminium floor, aluminium poles to make the frame and a thick canvas.

Helga and I walk into the factory where mainly women are working on tables set up into long rows and where they get kilometres of thick green cloth through their hands and their Singers (sewing machine). We get some curious looks when we walk through the factory and when walking the stairs to the office. I wonder about the steady noise the sewing machines keep making while they follow us with their eyes. I would probably have sewn my own shirt into some canvas when doing to same.

 

Camping, it’s not for everyone: it’s being creative with what you have, dealing with inconveniences and constantly looking for new and easier ways to do things. If you add a fit, energetic and colourful person to this mix you get Dave, the progenitor of Howling Moon. We come into his office and introduce ourselves, we tell him about our travel plans, experiences and adventures. One of the first questions we get back is: “how do you think we can improve the rooftop tent? After this we are summoned to get our tent out of the car as soon as possible so they can do a service of the tent and add some improvements that have been made over the years.

Dave has them to clear a space in the factory so we can start to unpack and re-pack the car, since nothing was where it should be after the shipping.

 

While we are working on this, every once in a while an employee will come and have a look as they are curious about who we are and what we do. They have no experience with camping like this, but they are interested in our stories. Dave will often invite overlanders to visit the factory so his employees get an idea of how their products are used and they can “travel along” through the stories they tell.

 

We are captivated by the friendliness and the enthralling smiles we get from behind the sewing machines. We feel as at home here as we do in our home for the past 11 months: our Howling Moon Tourer rooftop tent.

 

Durban, SA: Will the car arrive?

February 6, 2016

Walking over a blanket of clouds, I am carried away by white horses to a castle in the sky. Tyres banging on the landing strip of Johannesburg shake us in our chairs, I suddenly wake up and take a deep breath. It has been 24 hours since we left Melbourne and it will be another hour before we reach Durban, the place where our car will arrive too. I lean back into my uncomfortable airplane chair and start looking for my horses on the clouds again.
 

February 7, 2016

We end up in a great place in Durban, a hospitable couple welcomes us in the only gay-friendly guesthouse in Durban. The guesthouse is surrounded by a large stone wall, an electric fence, 24 hour camera security and an electric sliding door. This could leave the impression that having a gay guesthouse requires this sort of security, but looking around in the neighbourhood you can see that all the houses have this extreme form of security. It’s almost as if they are competing against each other with the height of their walls and the amount of electric fencing. We’re staying in Berea, a part of Durban not too far from the city and the harbour. That evening we get the conformation that the ship which holds our container has arrived in the port of Durban.

February 8, 2016

On Monday we start with a positive attitude on the process to get our car cleared. We know that the ship is in the harbour, but locating one of the 1221 container on board is difficult. We chose a large agency in South Africa, hoping they would have the experience to get this process finished as quickly as possible. The choice for a large organisation appears not to be the wisest, we are constantly dealing with different people. Finally, after 4 days of waiting, which consisted of a lot of calling, we learn that our container has moved to the depot for collection. Helga and I spend another 2 days amongst heavy industry, dodging forklifts and eating dust while seeing a lot of containers being emptied and filled with boxes. In the end our waiting is rewarded: after 8 long days we drive our car out of the container and we say goodbye to the people of the depot who took good care of us.

In the meantime Helga used her time productively by getting a South Africa Sim card and making appointments to get our travel vaccinations.

 

Collaborations

I am open to new collaborations in 2019.
For an overview of my previous work,
please visit the Projects page.

For more information about us 
check out the About page.

If you have any questions or an inquiry,
feel free to contact us.

Contact details

Rinus Hartsuijker
Groningen
E-mail: contact@rinushartsuijker.com
Chamber of Commerce (KVK): 69508410