We leave Namibia and head onto the final country on this leg of the journey with a huge amount of excitement, getting the immigration officer to apply our final sticker. The northern cape continues the desolate theme however it has one treat which we’re both keen to explore. Etosha had been exceptional but we had seen very few predators. The Kgaligadi Transfrontier Park is known as one of the greatest national parks in the world for predators and for us, was a must. It happily coincided with my birthday. So we booked the last campsite in the place and drove towards it. The night before was spent outside the park, to save money on park fees, and what a bargain we found. The campsite was right outside the national park and was the home of a meerkat sanctuary, so we decided to brave the meerkats for the evening. We arrived, read the sign that meerkats bite, and should not be petted, and James jumped out to discuss camping. As soon as we drove over the threshold, I spotted three meerkats and squeaked this information to James who was outside the car. He turned, and not wanting to scare them backed towards the car. They then charged him, which resulted in him legging it back to the car, jumping as they nibbled at his ankles. He had to run round the car, whereas they could run under it, champing at his shoelaces. As I wet myself laughing at James running from three creatures which are small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, the lady who runs the campsite emerged and called off the bandits. She was a professor of animal behaviour, who had spent most of her life studying dwarf mongeese, but had recently diversified into meerkats. She was rather amazing, and we sat watching the little critters til sunset, as they squeaked and manically dug around us, hearing all about their social interactions.
The next day we drove into the Kgaligadi and were educated as to what an organized National Park was. My God. We needed to check in at various locations. There were maps. They had fuel and cash machines. This was all a bit of a shock, but one we embraced happily. We immediately headed off for a game drive (we were a bit late setting off as James couldn’t stop rubbing the meerkats' bellies). After six hours driving, during which the highlight was spotting a melon and not an animal in sight, we headed home suitably disgruntled. On arrival back to the campsite, we discover that everyone else had been watching a cheetah with her three pups devour an impala. “Tomorrow will be better” “You have to work for your animals” etc. We are up at sunrise and back out into the park. It is still a desert National Park, like Etosha, but it has much more scrub and there are red dunes disappearing off into the horizon, with huge flocks of ostriches running across the grassland. We eventually spot a pack of Hyenas at around 4pm, after having been on the road all day, and we watch as they lounge beneath a tree for shade. The next day is my birthday, and we had planned to do a night drive, so we were both quietly confident our animal count was going to go through the roof, until we pull up to our campsite and the signs clearly says no night drives this evening. Oh, and we have of coursed missed some more cheetahs during the day. We decide to head out straight away, find a watering hole and sit there until something comes, and if nothing does, we shall have a beer and watch the sunset. We arrive at the watering hole to see the bum of a lion disappear over the horizon, both sigh and open our beers. What then ensued was incredible. The lion came back and sat down beautifully positioned in front of Stanley, joined immediately by his lady friend (National Geographic style journalism this). They then preceded to mate for thirty seconds, and then both pass out. James and I watched this occur every 10 minutes for the next hour, until we realized that we were bordering on perverted. It was so difficult to leave, and the sun started setting, and we needed to get home in time for curfew - one of the many rules of the park that had been explained to us. It became even harder when they came and sat in front of the car, continuing their shenanigans. They passed so close if I wasn’t such a wimp and had the window up, I could have reached out and petted them. Us, and a few die hard fans stayed with the lions far too late, and eventually put our foot down and drove homewards, arriving 20 minutes late. Not too bad, we thought. As we arrived back, another lion was pacing around the fence surrounding the campsite, making her way to the watering hole, being followed by a handful of jackels and everyone abandoned their fires to watch her drink. As we lit our fire, and congratulated each other on our excellent game viewing, one of the wardens came to join us, along with a fine for being out after curfew. Maybe I’m not so keen on these well organized national parks. We grudgingly accepted, but both secretly agreed it was well worth it.
The next morning, on our slow meander out of the park, we spotted an African Wild Cat, and spent a good twenty minutes watching her, before it dawned on both of us that she could have been switched for a domestic cat and we would have no idea. We paid our fine on the way out, but the girl at the desk was so charming it was impossible to have a bitter taste. What a great park, especially if you like melons (Oh grow up)!
We head to Upington, the first town of any note in South Africa, with a view to finding a nice hotel on the Orange river, a restaurant and a 4x4 shop – all the necessities. We located a cute chalet, with the most outlandish bathroom and I set myself up in the bath with feet and scalding hot water, whilst James tried to find the poshest restaurant he could for my birthday dinner. This turned out to be the Irish bar, so we put on our glad rags – jeans and a clean T shirt, and headed over for what turned out to be pretty good pizzas and questionable clientele.
So now we were getting very close to the goal of our whole trip – to make it to Cape Town. We drove the 700 or so miles over two days, stopping at a vineyard for wine tasting on the Orange river, and arrived in Cape Town late. It seems I had forgot to phone ahead for the marching band and ticker tape parade. We had been getting quite lazy over the last few weeks as the weather has got colder, and camped less and less however, it was still such a treat to arrive at our Air B&B flat in the centre of Cape Town with a nice safe, underground parking space for Stanley – well, he deserves a treat as well. We spent just over a week in the city, and what a fantastic city it is. We drove around the peninsula to Cape Point, and it must be one of the most beautiful coast roads in the world, went down to the penguins, ate fish dinners in the restaurants on the V&A waterfront and had the obligatory photo at Cape of Good Hope.
A few days after our arrival there was to be a rugby match between Ireland and South Africa. I do wonder how long James has known this and how long he had been trying to coordinate our arrival with this match, but he assures me that is not true. I believe him, millions wouldn’t… So we headed off to Newlands stadium to watch what turned out to be great game, with the end result being a very happy James, and a stadium of less than happy Springboks. A pleasant evening was had surrounded by Irish & English in one of the many lovely pubs in Cape Town, and it was generally a very enjoyable return to civilization. Cape Town felt so familiar and friendly. I wonder if it’s just the European influence, or the lack of cities like it on the way down but I found it hugely enjoyable and we both struggled to leave when the time came to move on.
The last thing we planned to do was a Cape Town essential – climb Table Mountain. We planned to climb the most simple route, the Plateklipp Gorge which is meant to be a 2 hour hike, so simple that in fact I only put my hiking boots on as an afterthought. Being not very bright, this was the only route we had looked up, and after an hour when we were confronted with a sign saying India Venster we realized we had somehow lost the path. However, it was a sunny cool day and we decided to carry on via this new route. This was our first mistake. Our second mistake was assuming the signs further up the Venster saying “experienced climbers only” and “Use chains and ladders at your own risk” was an exaggeration and their way of weeding out the weaklings. As we later found out India Venster is a very difficult route. Well, we worked that out quite quickly but googling it afterwards sends shivers down our spines. In total it took us four hours, and most of my shins. It was not a hike, more a less than dignified scramble including pulling yourself up chains and staring blankly at a flat cliff face trying to work out how on earth you're meant to get up it. At one stage, we decided we could no longer see an obvious route, and decided it would be safer to turn around, despite being a few hundred feet below the cable car. As we started descending, we met the very chirpy tones of Cleo - a South African woman/mountain goat. We told her our problem and she insisted on us joining her merry crew of equally underprepared foreigners. She leapt at the wall we thought impassable whilst singing, taking photos and carrying her own little posies' water bottles and phones, and ascended it in seconds. It seems she's been climbing this mountain her whole life, and my God she was good. With her help, we made it to the top just in time for the final cable car, and the views were spectacular, with a cloudless view over the city and sea. At the top we met 2 Irish medical students who chirped how they would have taken our route but decided against it after reading that several people had died on it this year alone. After getting back to our accommodation, we looked up the route and the first thing we found was “5 reasons people underestimate India Venster.” Well I can safely say we had achieved all 5 of those, but at least the pain in our thighs and bruises on our shins will remind us for a while how ridiculous the idea had been.
The Cape of Good Hope is the most southwesterly point of Africa, a not very impressive title, but it is of huge historical significance. It is the point where sailors finally could go more easterly then southerly, and was named due to the optimism this offered with regard to opening up trading routes with India and the East. It was previously thought to be the most southern point of Africa, and where the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet, however, this is actually Cape Agulhas, which is 150km to the east, so this is where we headed next. We stayed at a lovely backpackers located 5km from the Cape and the next morning, approached the end of the first stage of our trip. I must say, it felt very strange after 21000 miles to finally be arriving at this point, and we both felt very proud of ours and Stanley's achievement. Stanley had to be left 150m from the actual most southerly point but I think we can forgive him this. We bounded down to the plaque and both stood staring at it, smiling our most dazzling smiles. It felt very good. I asked James what we should do now. He shrugged and said, “I suppose we start going north.” So this is what we shall do.
It’s been an incredible journey, with some spectacular highs and some devastating lows. We have learnt so much, unfortunately nearly all of it the hard way and mostly how not to do things rather than how to do them. I’m sure we’ll learn that bit later.
Somehow, despite next to no mechanical knowledge between the two of us, our car has made it in one piece. Well almost one piece. Stanley is 80% of the car he was when he left, with 15% butchered Toyotas and 5% Gaffa type.
Somewhere along the way we have lost the modern obsession with plans. We now make none, to the point that we are infuriating to be around, especially if you ever ask, “What are you doing tomorrow?” We have met plenty of people who would be testament to this. We would often change our destination two or three times a day, however I suppose this makes us exceptionally difficult to follow as we never have a clue as to where we are going.
We have been to beautiful, off the beaten track places and met amazing people, from a whole host of cultures and backgrounds. We have slept in campsites, hotel car parks, police stations, convents, churches, schools, yacht clubs, a logging camp, the middle of a road (that was a bad day) and swamps (that was a worse day). We changed location so much that in the early days, it became a common occurrence that one of us would wake up and ask the other where we were. Often it took us ages to remember what country, let alone what town, and it wasn’t that reassuring when the answer is Mali or the DRC. We have not only got to experience this incredible continent but also had the privilege to see the subtle changes that you can only see from moving from one country to the other. Africa, far from being a scary, unwelcoming mass has been endlessly friendly, helpful and an extremely enjoyable place to be.
The most incredible thing of all, after 6 months sharing a Landcruiser, is James and I don’t seem to want to kill each other. Yes, there were certainly times, including one when I would have happily left James in a Nigerian jungle, when he left the mosquito net open all night or when I wake James up in the middle of the night and insist he comes with me to go to the loo in case a lion eats me. What exactly I expect him to do I’m not sure but I’ve seen his skills with a honey badger so I want him on my side.
Now, we are going to take a couple of weeks off and plan the next stage. As things stand, we plan to drive up the East Coast of Africa but for now it’s time to go home for a well deserved holiday.
Liz Jarman & James Nunan
Our trip from Essex to Cape Town & back again
Km travelled : 50818km
Countries visited: 30