Africa Adventure Tours and Overlanding Stories by Nomad

Posts tagged “Africa

Namibia Aerial Acrobatics! Skydiving in Swakopmund!

BY: CHEMONE CARPENTER | 2012-11-19

The very first time I ever came to the realization that I was going to be skydiving was literally when I was in the activity centre in SwakopmundNamibia standing in the queue to pay for it … Yup… that was it, I’m doing this!

The next morning a group of us were collected in a small van and we headed off into the desert.  There were quite a few of us and upon arrival at the hanger in the middle of nowhere in the Namibian Desert, we were greeted by another approximately 60 people all waiting for their chance to brave gravity and throw themselves out of a perfectly good aeroplane!  Oh dear…  What had I been thinking!

Getting ready to skydive

Everyone there was so supportive and happy and seemed to have no cares in the world at all, they had a small radio playing and it was very festive with everyone hiding their fears on the inside.  They suited up, climbed into the plane, soared off into the sky and then one by one they jumped and landed… simple!

My turn next!  The harness fitted snugly between my legs and under my arms, it was very tight and rightly so!  They wormed me into the suit as I had to be as secure as possible to remain attached to them when we jumped out of the aeroplane.  Harnessed up, all set and scared to death, off we went!  My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, yet other than that I felt calm.  We climbed into our little plane feeling like sardines as we launched into the air.

Skydivers in their jumpsuits and in the plane

Looking back, and at the photos above, it really does look like I am over the moon to be travelling at snail speed in the smallest plane known to man, climbing to heights no one could ever fathom wanting to throw yourself out of?

Before I tell you what it is actually like to throw yourself out of the plane, I have to tell you that I did it again!  Yes, I did it again…  It is honestly the most amazing and truly amazing adrenalin rush you could ever dream of!  My new goal is now, one jump a year!

I’ll try to get together the correct words for this phenomenal experience:

Chemone Skydiving

They slide you slowly to the edge of the plane, kick your legs out so that you are literally just hanging onto the front of your jump buddy on the outside of the plane.  You look down and look around not really able to comprehend what you are about to do.  He starts rocking you, taps your shoulder and gives you a thumbs up.  3…. 2… 1.. and off you go!!

You drop at an incredible rate with the wind blowing past you so quickly that through all the screaming and all the magical and expressive words you can possibly use in your 36 seconds of freefall, you are left with a very dry mouth, a heartbeat that feels like it is now on the outside of your chest and a smile that no one could ever take away from you!  You did it!  The sky is no more the limit!  Conquered!

After my jump, I found this on the wall in Swakopmund Jump Club which is the best description of the life changing experience of throwing yourself out of an aeroplane!

Skydiving Quote

You must jump to know, no words can describe the incredible rush when the wind invides you to play.  You are one of the few.  For a moment you doubt, but the doubt is short lived, as gravity pulls you from the safety of the plane you understand, this is freedom!  No turning back now, but who would want to??  The dream of human flight.  You know what it means to SKYDIVE!

Swakopmund is the adventure capital of Namibia and there are so many phenomenal activities to do here!  You can visit Swakopmund on a number of our tours and experience all of these activities yourself!  Here are a few of your options:

Camping:

20 Day Vic Falls to Cape Town – available in the opposite direction
14 Day Vic Falls to Swakopmund (Desert and Delta) – available in the opposite direction
12 Day Cape Town to Windhoek (Namibian Experience) – available in the opposite direction
7 Day Cape Town to Swakopmund (Desert Explorer) – available in the opposite direction

Accommodated:

7 Day Desert Explorer (Cape Town to Swakopmund)
12 Day Best of Namibia (Cape Town to Windhoek)
14 Day Desert and Delta (Swakopmund to Victoria Falls)
20 Day Cape Town to Victoria Falls 

 

 

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Expect the Unexpected – a waterfall in the Namibian desert!!

Sunset and a waterfall in the Namibian Desert

I have been fortunate enough to participate in three scheduled tours with Nomad and decided it was time to share the experience with my friends, so we headed to Namibia for 10 days, on a private charter, booked through the Groups & Charters department.  We decided February was the most convenient for us, taking into account our work schedules and for our overseas based friends to be able to join.

The route was simple, but most importantly included all the highlights Namibia has to offer, Orange RiverFish River Canyon, Namib-Naukluft Park, SossusvleiSwakopmundEtosha National Park & Windhoek, or so that was what we planned & expected, what we got was the “unexpected”….

Heading North from Cape Town, we made our first overnight stop at the Orange River, now what I need to explain is that a few weeks before our trip, we received news of “heavy rains”, “not seen in decades” in Namibia.  “Really?  But it’s a desert, it never rains in a desert, does it?”. 

Crossing the border between South Africa and Namibia, we had our first glimpse of the “heavy rains” and upon arrival at our overnight stop, we saw further evidence, but, we had blue skies, sunshine and the most delicious bobotie (a dish of curried mince with an egg custard baked on top) for supper, besides, we were on holiday, what’s a bit of heavy flowing water?  As we had a mixture of camping & accommodated, the campers chose to sleep under the stars, while those that chose accommodated settled into their river facing bungalows for the night.

Water Under The Bridge Felix Camp under water

Our journey continued north, next stop Ai-Ais hot springs, tucked away in the southern end of the Fish River Canyon.  The afternoon was relaxed with a few rounds of poker being played while the chicken potjie was on the go.  As the evening approached, we all hopped on the truck and headed to the Fish River Canyon viewing site for a spectacular sunset, and spectacular it was!  We spent about an hour hanging out at the Canyon viewing point just staring into the sunset and beyond.

Day three greeted us with a sprinkling of rain as we headed for the Namib-Naukluft National Park and our overnight spot, Sesriem.  Every kilometre driven showed more evidence of the “heavy rains”, the normally dusty gravel roads were soaked, muddy and slippery which made for an interesting ride.  The landscape was something I had never before witnessed – green, green, green.  Having travelled to Namibia on many previous occasions with my family, I was used to the dry, arid landscape, I was in awe at the amount of water and the shrubbery and felt privileged to have been able to see the desert this way.   Upon arrival at Sesriem, we pitched our tents, lit the fire and had an early night in preparation for our earliest morning and the climbing of Dune 45 at sunrise.

A green desert A muddy lunch stop

Sadly our dream of climbing Dune 45 did not materialise, the road into Sesriem and Sossusvlei was closed as the river had come down during the night which made the road impassable, however, this did not deter us as we made our way into Sesriem and found the next best dune called Elim dune.  Taking all the huffing and puffing into account to get to the top of the dune, it was all well worth it.  While we were up there, a hearty cooked breakfast was being prepared, which we gobbled down upon our return to the truck.  Next stop… Swakopmund.

Now this is where the fun really began and the warnings of “heavy rains” started making sense.  Just outside Solitaire we came across a number of cars parked in the road, the river was in full flow over the road and was impassable.  Luckily there was a detour further back, so we backtracked and carried on our merry way, it was after all tea time and we were salivating just thinking about the famous Solitaire apple pie.

Examining the road Road Washed Away

Take a moment to notice the beautiful blue skies, we opted to spend a few moments admiring this raging river and photographing it as we all thought it rather impressive.  Finally, after our detour, we made it to our warm apple pie.  If ever you find yourself in Solitaire, buy yourself two slices, one to eat while in Solitaire and the other to save for later, you will regret it if you don’t!

Now what I have not mentioned yet is that Sonny, our beloved truck, developed a disliking to the mud, rain and river beds which he had to pass through on the last two days, he was starting to choke up.  But it was manageable as we would be in Swakopmund within a couple of hours and there Sonny could be sorted out and given a rest.  Ready to leave Solitaire, we heard a couple of stories from the shop assistants that the Kuiseb pass was closed as the river was raging down, that is the only direct route to Swakopmund from Solitaire.  In the meantime, another Nomad truck had pulled into Solitaire, and a second truck was well on his way to go and investigate the Kuiseb situation.  We decided to follow truck #2 and investigate the Kuiseb pass, after all, we wanted our photo at the Tropic of Capricorn which was in the same direction, so off we went, poor Sonny huffing and puffing along.

While having our pics taken at the Capricorn sign, in the distance we saw truck #2 coming back, not a good sign, he was headed back to Solitaire as Kuiseb was full of debris and there was a strong build up of water.  Back in Sonny, we turned around and headed back to Solitaire, once there we would plan our next move.  Heading back to Solitaire, we saw the reality of the situation right before our eyes!  A huge big rain storm was in front of us and we were heading straight for it.

Another Storm is Brewing

Sonny had now decided enough was enough and he was going to wait while the rain passed, so we decided to wait with him.  While our guide and driver attended to the problem, we watched as the storm moved over and so the downpour began.  Who would have thought that a river could form within five minutes!

Waiting out the storm in Solitaire

It was late afternoon and we were still waiting in Solitaire, would we still make Swakopmund?  The baker of the famous apple pie had just heard a rumour that there was a grader down in Kuiseb busy moving debris and the pass would be open soon.  Truck #2 headed back down to the Kuiseb Pass.  Sonny was still being stubborn, so we waited.  Truck #1 in the meantime also decided to leave, after consultation with our operations department, they headed to Swakopmund via Windhoek on the C24.  By now it was probably around 15:30, our guide proposed the alternative, that we follow truck #1 to Windhoek and onto Swakopmund, which meant arrival in Swakopmund would be late, very late.  We all agreed to and were very happy with this plan (we had big plans in Swakopmund, we packed the snowboard to play on the dunes and we had a birthday to celebrate).

Truck Sonny getting some love

Off we headed towards the C24, cellphone reception was dodgy while we were making our way through the mountains, so only about an hour into the drive, our C24 journey came to an abrupt end as a message was received from Tosca, our beloved operations manager “STOP, C24 has been closed – road in bad condition, do not proceed” (in case you were wondering, Sonny had since been given a good talking to and was happy to continue).  We all stood there, in the mud in the middle of nowhere, speechless.  Our operations department had already put Plan B into motion, we would be backtracking to a lodge just between Sesriem and Solitaire.

Getting to our Plan B overnight stop was without incident, back through the mountains, past the detour and so we arrived.  Lucky to have a beautiful sunset and a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon – a waterfall in the surrounding desert mountains!  Yes, a waterfall in the middle of the desert, how many people can honestly say they have seen a waterfall in the desert of Namibia?  After a long day on the road, well, over 500km, 10 hours in and out of Sonny, we ended up 47km from Sesriem, where we had started that morning.

Sunset and a waterfall in the desert

After a group meeting, we all agreed that to go to Swakopmund would no longer be realistic and therefore opted to proceed north, to the gates of Etosha National Park, which would mean we would have more time to explore Etosha and relax.  The C24 had been opened and off we went, quick shop stop in Windhoek and onto Outjo where we spent the night in Plan C accommodation.

And so we entered Etosha National Park and the game viewing started immediately.  Over the next few days, we would encounter an old male elephant, 2 packs of lions, a rhino and her calf at the watering hold in Halali, antelope and various bird species.   And what would a trip to Etosha be without a stop on the pans themselves.

Desert elephant and lion in Etosha
Salt pans in Etosha

After 2 wonderful days of sunshine, spending hours staring at the campsite waterholes, we said goodbye to Etosha and headed back South to Windhoek, which would be our second last night of our tour.  While we only had one night in Windhoek, we chose to spend this evening at Joe’s Beer House, enjoying a great meal.

Our second last day of tour saw us taking the long drive back down to the Orange River, back to where our journey had begun 8 days earlier.  Having had a late night out in Windhoek, the morning felt a bit rough, so I thought it would be a good idea to slip on my three quarter pyjama pants and travel in those, after all, it was going to be a long day in the truck and comfort was my number 1 priority.

Just outside a town called Rehoboth we pulled off to the side of the road to have a quick “bathroom” stop, making use of bathroom #3 (which for those that have travelled with us before will know is a bush toilet), you look for a bush and squat.  Myself and two others eyed out the perfect spot and off we went through the ankle high grass.  All of a sudden, there is a scream and my name being called!  With a “WTF” expression on my face, I turned around to my friend who was waving her hands and screaming wildly, yet no words came out her mouth.

In the movement of me turning around and my “WTF” face – something became entangled in my legs, natural instinct told me to start screaming, jump, shake my legs and run!!  S.N.A.K.E!!  Aha, that is what my friend was trying to warn me about!  I stood on a snake and apparently not a small one either.  The moral of the story, never wear your pyjama pants when in the bush!

And so we arrived at the Orange River, our final night of our adventure.  Exhausted, we had a refreshing swim followed by copious amounts of red wine, reminiscing about our last 9 days.  Our last day saw us head back to Cape Town.  Our wonderful, memorable adventure had come to an end, but that was not the last adventure, as soon, we would be heading to Mozambique to start a brand new adventure!

Namibia is a dry country, please adapt! 

Join us on and adventure of your own!  Contact our Groups and Charter department if you’d like to build your own tour:  groups@nomadtours.co.za 

If you would prefer to join us one one of our scheduled tours to experience Namibia – we have a whole selection for you!

Camping:

20 Day Vic Falls to Cape Town – available in the opposite direction
14 Day Vic Falls to Swakopmund (Desert and Delta) – available in the opposite direction
12 Day Cape Town to Windhoek (Best of Namibia) – available in the opposite direction
7 Day Cape Town to Swakopmund (Desert Explorer) – available in the opposite direction

Accommodated:

7 Day Desert Explorer (Cape Town to Swakopmund)
12 Day Namibian Experience (Cape Town to Windhoek)
14 Day Desert and Delta (Swakopmund to Victoria Falls)
20 Day Cape Town to Victoria Falls 

BY: ANNELIESE KORSCH | 2012-10-29


How to minimise your risk when booking your dream holiday adventure tour!

Off the back of the unfortunate collapse of overland tour operator, Kumuka Worldwide, and an unstable market economy, we’d like to offer you a few suggestions of how to ensure that your dream holiday does not get ripped out from underneath you before you’ve even travelled.

It is not likely that your personal travel insurance or a travel company’s bond (which insures your deposit or full payment) will fully cover every single traveller if a tour operator goes into liquidation.  Do your homework and find out as much information about the company that you’re going to be travelling with before booking your next tour.

Whether you’re booking through a travel agency or directly with a tour operator, you are entitled to information about the company that you’re planning on travelling with.  A few questions that you could ask your consultant are:

  • What is the tour company doing to improve its standards and ensure growth in the market?
  • Is the company currently active on travel forums and social media sites?
  • Has the company gone through any redundancies or restructuring in the last 6 months?
  • What sustainable best practices does the company adhere to?If a tour operator is offering exceptionally large standing discounts and add-ons, this is indicative of either a pricing error, a lack of bookings or the inevitable cutting of corners on tour.  None of these bode well for future tour operations.

To answer these questions for you from Nomad’s perspective:

Currently, our trucks are full and we have had to rent in additional trucks to cover our requirements.  We are also currently building 6 new truck bodies to cater for the demand and to improve the quality of our trucks.  All of our trucks on the road are less than 5 years old and are SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) compliant , making them the safest and well-maintained adventure trucks on the road in Southern and East Africa.

We are continually and consistently active on travel forums and social media sites to ensure that guests have a clear understanding of our product.  We also use these platforms to advise on any situation and to respond to any constructive feedback from our guests.

Nomad has not had any redundancies or restructuring and 2012 has seen us experiencing our best sales months in Nomad history.

We invest in our guides education and careers to ensure that they are knowledgeable and passionate about Africa and the tours they are running. Continuous investment in our trucks ensures that they are some of the safest on the road and as we are a local specialist, we are always close at hand to resolve any situation immediately.  We maintain a rigorous maintenance schedule on our trucks and each one is roadworthy tested every six months.

We do offer select discounts on specific departures to ensure that we run full and healthy tours but no standing discounts or add-ons.

We’d love to have you on tour with us to experience the wonders that Africa has to offer, please do come and join us!  Our sincerest condolences go out to those who have been affected by Kumuka Worldwide’s collapse.

http://www.nomadtours.co.za


Win a Free Masai Mara and Gorilla tour with Nomad Tours and Safari Interactive Magazine!

Win a FREE Masai Mara and Gorilla Tour

Answer an easy question and win a Masai Mara & Gorilla trekking adventure with Safari Interactive Magazine and Nomad Africa Adventure Tours

Win a Masai Mara and Gorillas Trekking Tour

Click on the competition page to win a Masai Mara and Gorilla Trekking tour with Nomad Africa Adventure Tours, read the article on page 15

 

We are also running a special at the moment: **FREE GORILLA PERMITS** on the following departures;

 

Tour

Code

NMG

1237 – 23 May 2012          

NMG

1253 – 18 July 2012          

NMG

1265 – 29 August 2012     

NMG

1269 – 12 September 2012 

NMG

  1273 – 26 September 2012 

 

There is no catch, book any of the above listed tours and receive a free gorilla permit (one permit per guest).  This is for all bookings made between today and the end of May 2012.


Nomad Africa’s Masai Mara and Gorillas Tour, Part One by Caroline Kullendorff

One of our guests, Caroline Kullendorff, very kindly let me steal some of her photos from her Facebook page to give you a better idea of what to expect when coming on a camping tour with us to see the Masai Mara and Uganda’s Silverback Mountain Gorilla… This is part one of her tour, from Nairobi to Kampala

Construction work outside our hotel in Nairobi

Construction work outside our hotel in Nairobi

Caroline at the Great Rift Valley

Caroline at the Great Rift Valley

The roads in East Africa are not for the feint hearted!

The roads in East Africa are not for the feint hearted!

Our campsite in the Masai Mara

Our campsite in the Masai Mara

Driving past a Masai Village

Driving past a Masai Village

Game Drive in the Masai Mara

Game Drive in the Masai Mara

Cheetah up close on a safari in the Masai Mara

Cheetah up close on a safari in the Masai Mara

Hanging out with the Masai in Kenya

Hanging out with the Masai in Kenya

Children of the Masai Mara

Children of the Masai Mara

Masai men doing their traditional high jump

Masai men doing their traditional high jump

A warning about hippos at Lake Naivasha

A warning about hippos at Lake Naivasha

Dinner time with the crew!  Awesome new friends!

Dinner time with the crew! Awesome new friends!

A boat trip on Lake Naivasha

A boat trip on Lake Naivasha

On an island nature walk with a baby zebra

On an island nature walk with a baby zebra

On a nature walk with wildebeest in the background

On a nature walk with wildebeest in the background

Time for a snack attack and water resupply at Naivasha

Time for a snack attack and water resupply at Naivasha

Spotted a white rhino at Lake Nakuru

Spotted a white rhino at Lake Nakuru

Our safari van with Lake Nakuru in the background

Our safari van with Lake Nakuru in the background

Sometimes the roads do get a little wet

Sometimes the roads do get a little wet

Finally we meet up with Freddy our truck again

Finally we meet up with Freddy our truck again

When in Africa....

When in Africa….

Yummy dinner time with Sean and a braai

Yummy dinner time with Sean and a braai

I recommend that you don't stay in the Msariri Hotel

I recommend that you don’t stay in the Msariri Hotel

At the border between Kenya and Uganda

At the border between Kenya and Uganda

A view over Lake Victoria in Uganda

A view over Lake Victoria in Uganda

Arriving at Ngamba Chip Sanctuary

Arriving at Ngamba Chip Sanctuary

Feeding time for the chimps

Feeding time for the chimps

Roadside Life in Entebbe

Roadside Life in Entebbe

Our Campsite in Kampala

Our Campsite in Kampala

Stay tuned for Part Two!!


Nomad’s 8 day Lesotho, Addo and Drakensberg tour – Part Two

Day three of the tour was a long driving day as we made our way to Lesotho.  We crossed from the KwaZulu Natal Province to the Free State Province in South Africa.  We drove through one of South Africa’s untouched and I think most beautiful national parks – the Golden Gate National Park – it’s name came about from the sunsets and sunrises in the area, when the sun shone on the rocks it reflected a golden colour.

Golden Gate National Park

Golden Gate National Park

Zebras hanging out at the Golden Gate National Park

Zebras hanging out at the Golden Gate National Park

Stunning mountain cliff formations and the various layers of the rock could be seen as the colours changed from layer to layer.  There is a pass in the park where we reached the height of 2041m.  It was a quick drive through the park before lunch was served, we still had to get through the border.  Rimson, our guide, found a comfortable grassy space and we all got out and started helping with the lunch preparations.  The camping chairs were stored underneath the truck and the Nomad family helped with setting them out and taking the table out – which is stored in the back of the truck where we clean, wash and cut the fruits and vegetables.  It is actually quite amazing how much Ella, the truck, could hold and store within her.

Getting involved and preparing lunch for the hungry travelers

Getting involved and preparing lunch for the hungry travelers

Sitting down to a delicious lunch

Sitting down to a delicious lunch

A group photo of the happy Nomad Family

A group photo of the happy Nomad Family

The border crossing process lasted about 45minutes.  On the Lesotho side there was a man and this huge book where he wrote all of the foreign nationalities details from their full name, passport number, date of birth, expiry and necessary information.  On the South African side a simple scan of the passport was efficient with high tech (relative to Lesotho only) scanners.  One of the travellers on tour had quite a long name, Gerarda Williamena Maria Cloudmans so the gentleman was in a troubled spot as he tried to fit her entire name into a small block and still needed to fill in her other information – this was quite amusing for us.  For South African travellers, there was just a simple stamp and I moved on, back to the truck.  Benefits of having a South African passport – moving faster in queues when travelling in Africa.

Dumelo – greetings in Basotho.  The Kingdom of Lesotho, land of Basotho culture, a landlocked country in the centre of South Africa.  I found the people to be very caring, friendly and proud of their nation.  When you see photos of Lesotho, a common picture are the men wearing colourful woollen blankets and grass hats in the fields.  Before entering Malealea we stopped for a photo stop on the rim of the valley which was called Gates of Paradise (2001m high).  It is the gateway to the Malealea valley which is in the remote part of western Lesotho.

On the rim of the Malealea Valley

On the rim of the Malealea Valley

On arrival at the Malealea lodge, we were informed that there was a generator for electricity from 5pm to 10pm so torches or headlamps are a must to bring along to find your way through the night.  Our cook headed straight into the kitchen to prepare dinner.  After dinner, we played Uno and headed to our rooms for an early start of more adventure.

Malealea Lodge in the heart of Lesotho

Malealea Lodge in the heart of Lesotho

Basotho woman wearing a traditional blanket... it gets cold in the mountains!

Basotho woman wearing a traditional blanket... it gets cold in the mountains!

Today Ella rested again.  We could choose from a selection of hikes according to our fitness and a group of us headed to the Botsoela Waterfall Hike.  This is about a four hour hike down into the base of the valley along a river bed.  It was raining for a  few days so the rocks were wet and slippery so I slid around in the mud quite a lot which was all part of the adventure.  A hat, raincoat, sunscreen, water and snacks again were important on this route.  Depending on the number of hours hiked the fee is paid to the local Basotho guide.  Pony trekking is another activity that is well known and can be done in the valley.

One of the views from our Lesotho hike

One of the views from our Lesotho hike

Basotho huts against the mountain

Basotho huts against the mountain

Luckily, the weather held up for us but as we headed up the valley it starting drizzling.  After lunch a visit to the Malealea village was organised. Three Basotho’s took us into their village and showed us their local store, shops, craft centre, school and museum which was housed in a traditional Basotho hut.

A more traditional Basotho hut

A more traditional Basotho hut

One of the younger members of the Malealea Basotho clan

One of the younger members of the Malealea Basotho clan

Heading back to the lodge, in the games centre, the Malealea City Choir (MCC) sang a few songs and then a local music band called Sotho Sounds entertained us, using their home constructed instruments.  It was a great way to interact with the locals by dancing to the rythyms of the Malealea. Great fun was had by all as we joined in with dancing to the African beats.

The wonderful local Sotho Sounds Band!

The wonderful local Sotho Sounds Band!

I awoke to the sounds of peacocks calling each other so it was a great African wake up call.  At breakfast, the sun rose above the valley and the two male peacocks were actually doing a face-off against each other showing off to the female who was not interested as she was nowhere to be seen.  Typical men haha!

 

This Lesotho peacock had everything going for him, except a peahen!

This Lesotho peacock had everything going for him, except a peahen!

After our 6am breakfast, we drove out of the valley passing Basotho children going to school waving and shouting hello to us.  This day was another long distance driving day as we needed to make our way to Hogsback.  Passing van Rooyens border post, the town of Wepener and road works you could expect to have delays of up to 30 minutes.  We passed through Aliwal North, stopped at Queenstown for a break and on to the town of KathKath where we took a gravel road – like our guide said – Ella was going for an African massage – as the truck usually experiences big bumps on the gravel roads.

Basotho kids playing in the tractor tyres

Basotho kids playing in the tractor tyres

As we proceeded, we could see mist hovering over the hills in front of us.  As we popped over the top of the hill, we could see a valley filled with mist and trees – it was a forest of the unknown ahead – a tranquil chill hung in the air.  We entered deeper into the magical forest to our lodge.  I can see where Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings author, found his inspiration.  We continued to meander through the green lush forests, eventually reaching the quaint town of Hogsback.  A mysterious town with a restaurant called ‘Enchanting Eatery’; hair studio called ‘Hair on the Hogs’; a hostel called ‘Away with the fairies’; chalets called ‘Never Daunted’ and a whole lot more!  Well, at least the place where we were staying sounded a little more realistic, Kings Lodge, it definitely lived up to its name!  A warm and extra comfortable bed, what more could I ask for more!

The magical mist over Hogsback

The magical mist over Hogsback

At Kings lodge, there is a fireplace in the reading room combined with a pool table and an outside deck to enjoy the sunshine.  Some of us played card games and others became amateur to intermediate pool players.  Dinner was served inside and again, Rimson’s food was delicious!  After dinner, we were briefed on the activities we could do the following day.

My warm and comfortable room at Kings Lodge

My warm and comfortable room at Kings Lodge

After breakfast, we walked through the town, only realising then that the town of Hogsback sleeps on a Tuesday as it is their day of break from being open throughout the weekend.  Reaching Hogsback Arboretum we strolled through the Garden of Trees from all over the world including 5 Californian Redwoods over 100 years old.  It was a gentle walk to the beautiful 39 Steps Waterfall.

Giant Californian Red Woods in Hogsback

Giant Californian Red Woods in Hogsback

39 Steps Waterfall in Hogsback

39 Steps Waterfall in Hogsback

Hogsback is nestled on the slopes of the Amatola Mountains with centuries old forests around you – magical forests making it a place I will return to very soon.

Next, we move further into the Eastern Cape, stay tuned for my next update!


Tosca’s Epic Kalaroo Adventure… The End

I am sitting at home, unpacked, washing machine going merrily (with possible clogged pipes tomorrow, full of desert dunes), the dogs have now licked every available piece of skin they could find on my feet and legs, and the blurry photos have been deleted.

At home, dreaming of what it would be like to be one of these gulls in a row

At home, dreaming of what it would be like to be one of these gulls in a row

I know, I know, you’re thinking, what happened to Darling?  Little known fact, I actually lived in Darling for years, and have a house there, where my mom lives.  So I went to Darling, I just did not visit Evita.  I forced my poor mom to sit through 1784 photos, which took me an hour to setup on the laptop as a slide show (and don’t be shaking your head now, we have all put poor unsuspecting souls through this same torture of a pictorial review of our just completed holiday!).  Mom is 81.  Ten photos later, she was yawning, and recalling when my Dad could not buy cool drink at the Lamberts Bay Hotel, because he was not wearing a tie.  This was in 1950.  And by photo 1531 she was actually nodding away.

She snapped right out of that again when I mentioned that my writing has been put on the internet.  “How did you get it there?” she asked.  Well, I have this dongle thing, it is like calling on a cell phone, but instead of using my voice, it sends text.  “Yes, but how did you get it to land on the internet?” I emailed it to the office, and they pasted it on there.  “No, that’s not possible, there’s no cable or aerial.  So, how did you get it on there?” Ok, Mom, focus.  My stuff was on the internet, don’t worry how I got it there.  And people I don’t know read it.  “How did they know to read it?  Did somebody call them?”.  Laugh all you want, you try and explain the internet, and wireless, and Facebook to somebody who worked in DOS years ago for two months!  And now she wants to buy a laptop, so she can find recipes and needle point patterns on there.  She can barely send an sms yet!  I am keeping myself out of that little debacle!

Luckily, my brother is one of the people who actually read this, so there was no need to explain this to him.  But he is actually a Mr Twitcher.  He has 14.5 bird books and promptly downloaded all my photos, and is most probably sitting as we are speaking, identifying all the shots I took of avian life in the Kalahari!  And he faithfully read my story every day: Hey Boet!

A forgotten car in the Kgalagadi, a sign that a beetle probably isn't the best option for the desert!

A forgotten car in the Kgalagadi, a sign that a beetle probably isn't the best option for the desert!

The recap done with the family I now sit and reflect on my absolutely Epic adventure.

I met some amazing, and odd people!  The game spotters in the Kalahari, some from close, some from far, all were there with one purpose, to see wildlife.  In each other or in the bush there are questions not fully answered yet, but still.

The two drunk Frenchmen, who took their lives in their own hands by getting out of their car next to lions, and to offer me drinkies, after I sat in the sun for three hours next to said Lions.

Two Kgalagadi male lions, bored of being stared at, "leeu loop"

Two Kgalagadi male lions, bored of being stared at, "leeu loop"

The people of Kenhard, who stepped into the 21st century, and had their first interracial wedding the evening I was there and let me tell you, it was a big makietie!  I actually also met a true wildlife photographer, Hannes Lochner, from the back seat of a land cruiser, but still, I met the man, I saw his photos, and let me tell you, he actually lives permanently in the Kgalagadi.  One can see that.  Ok, I did not actually meet him per se, more like waved at him.  He would not know me from a bar of soap!

Then the crazy kayak people from Khamkirri, who really fell with their career bums in the butter, seeing as they live right next to the river where they can practice and enjoy their passion!  Kayaking you sickos!

One can say I nearly met Lord Milner’s wife.  Thank goodness I did not! And one can say I nearly met the Polish space people as well, but seeing as they do it all remotely from Poland, also not.

I am very sure I met an Alien, but they wiped my memory after they did the tests and stuff, and concluded that there is intelligent life down here!

The seafood man from Lamberts Bay, the laughing locals in Brandvlei, farmer Jnr and his dog, the perpetually late gate keeper at Kgalagadi, the old man with the road phobias at Hyundai in Upington, and all in all, most of the road workers between Keimoes and Kakamas!

The places were a revelation, and yet strangely familiar!  Perhaps because I have been to most of the places before but every time, is a new time with new sights and smells.  I am still looking for the broken bottle of shampoo in my car, but the smell is apparently the Katbos and Kambroo bushes from the Karoo, and not shampoo!  The Bullet and I traveled from Cape fold mountains, to flat stretches with bicycle warning signs, to deep red sand dunes, and flat salt pans, all with its own appeal and enough space to actually have a thought or two.  We also had very nice acoustics, hence missing the V8 engine sounds for half a day!  And I swear, the higher up in altitude one goes, the higher one can sing as well.  I could reach that one spectacular note with Alphaville!  A couple of times.  And I am technically classified as a tenor, more like James Earl Jones after the ciggies and the vodka drinking from my youth.  Like Rebroff in his hey day!  But I hit that high note (also nearly popped a vein in the process)!

Animals.  More Animals.  The strange, the furry, the bald, the evil, the lazy and the funny!  My personal heroes, officially, the fantastically brave suricates!  They surpassed the wild dog, cheetah, and hyena in my affection now.  No other animal poses as well for photos, pulls the weirdest faces, and just generally are soo busy, they don’t have time to just sit back and hide in bushes. Oh, and the Mice.  Man, the smallest little things, but Braveheart is nothing compared to them.  They should really paint their faces blue as well.

A jackal is surprised at a water hole as the flock becomes unsettled

A jackal is surprised at a water hole as the flock becomes unsettled

And the animals were not contained to the Kgalagadi.  No, baboons at du Toits Kloof, rock hyraxes next to Tankwa Karoo, raptors on telephone lines all over, seagulls, and attacking Kelp Gulls on the coast, and I even saw a klipspringer close to Citrusdal.  And not to mention the one gazillion locusts who bravely died, in full battalions, on a 100km stretch in the karoo.

I do hope the two frogs from Sutherland got the feeling back in their legs, after sleeping under me for a night.

Not to forget the livestock.  Chicken, geese, donkeys, peacocks, sheep (different types as well) goats, dogs, cats, cattle, emus and some horses.

And then there was Damien.  My friend, the narcissist, mirror crashing bat straight out of a Meatloaf song!

I think of doing a list of what I did see, I should perhaps note what I did not see!

My final thoughts after all this excitement:  One should never go on holiday with big expectations.  No place, person or event would ever be able to live up to that which one built up in the head.  Expect to see a nice tree, that way, the crocodile hanging from the elephants tail, while singing karaoke, will be more visible under the tree!

One should always pack medicine, that way you won’t get sick while on holiday.  It is when Murphy comes calling because you have no stomach remedies, or flu medicine that things become a little on the uncomfortable side.

Prepare for the coldest ever, and think summer holiday.  It takes double the space in the car, but, you won’t be caught wrapped up in your beach sarong, beach towel, oil rag and three pairs of jeans, with dishtowels around the feet, and having to shove your hands into live coals to get some heat going!

Don’t look for the big things.  Keep the eyes open, the imagination running, and make up stuff in your head!

Doves, the calm before the storm

Doves, the calm before the storm

And watch out for Aliens, ghosts, and all things that can make an appearance in a Spielberg film.

(And note to self, I watch way too many movies!)

Things I have learnt:

I need to take more leave.

Unusually, after a stint like this, I do not regret not going to work for San Parks.  If I did, I would still be there, and not be able to tell anybody any off this, as it would be every day.  This way, I could tell everybody about my Epic Adventure, ad nauseum (the Latin rears its ugly head again).

Bullet is not a 4×4.

My tops become shorter, the more I eat!  I am practically wearing a boob tube today!

And I have the coolest job of all times!  I can go do stuff like this, write about it, have people go oe and aah, and still have a job when I come back!

I am back at work, broke and heart sore.  But in my dreams I am running with the cheetah, lying on sand dunes, and driving a rally car on a deserted stretch of a two lane dirt track through the Karoo.  With not a care in the world.  In my dreams I am strapped to the roof of a Landrower, and some khaki clad Marlboro man is calling me Ms Slovakia!

In my dreams…..

( Hene, all dramatic ne!)

 

Giant Eagle Owl, the wisest bird in the world says you should go and visit him on the Karoo, Kalahari and West Coast Tour.

Giant Eagle Owl, the wisest bird in the world says you should go and visit him on the Karoo, Kalahari and West Coast Tour.

Please contact me on jess@nomadtours.co.za for any information on the 9 Day, Cape Town to Cape Town, Karoo, Kalahari and West Coast Tour, we would love to have you on board with us!


Tosca’s Epic Kalaroo Adventure… From the Desert to the Deep Blue Sea

You will not believe this!  Serious, what can the weather and South African roads still throw at poor Bullet!  Seeing as farmers sleep on Sundays in Nieuwoudtville, and I agreed to the 6 am meeting, outside the town, I am up with first chicken fart (hehehe, considering the welcoming committee chicken at the camp site the previous evening)!  I get all my stuff into Bullet, and on trying to start it, I see some dew on the window and put the windscreen wipers on.  Guess what, it is not dew, it is ice!  And a heavy layer of ice!  What more can Bullet face was my question.  So it took half an hour to get the ice defrosted!  Off to the farmer meeting I went.  13km outside town, and thanks to the lovely rain the previous day, the full 13km of dirt road (you guessed it) was muddy and full of holes.  That took a while.

The vicious welcoming party and The Bullet on departure

The vicious welcoming party and The Bullet on departure

The meeting with the farmer started off with the big farmer’s dog of 6 months, coming out to meet me.  Please picture this, a dog, belonging to a farmer.  You are seeing a massive bull mastive, or like horse dog or some such ne?  Hah, Miniature Doberman Pinscher!  Seriously!  This was the most ridiculous sight of all times!  But, in this dogs head, he was a Bullmastiff.  In his mind, he was Goliath.  He promptly lifted his leg against Bullet’s tyre, and although it was only two drops that actually found target, and the other three drops that landed on the Pinschers back leg, he looked as if he just peed the whole of the water capacity of the Mississippi on the tyre! Proudest moment of his life.  And his owner’s thoughts on the whole thing?  Ya, sometimes he is what we call a sample.

Farmer Jnr's place, no sugar bowls or miniature Doberman's in this photo unfortunately.

Farmer Jnr's place, no sugar bowls or miniature Doberman's in this photo unfortunately.

But, true to the farmer’s word, he was up, dressed, and apparently went on the first run to find missing lambs already by the time I showed up.  He just failed to locate the sugar pot.  I know, not a problem to face at 6 am in morning.  When I say farmer, it is actually farmer Jnr. Dad and Mom were somewhere in the house, so loud screaming ensues, about who saw the sugar pot last.  Bathroom doors opened, and there is furious searching under furniture (I am thinking, what does this family do with sugar?  As my search would have been contained to the kitchen area).  No, says farmer Jnr, this pot can be anywhere.  I offer to go get the sugar in my food box in the car, but as I get up, the sugar pot is located, in the kitchen zinc!  I told you, contain kitchen item searches to the kitchen.  I won’t find the garden hose in the bathroom, for instance, so why waste time, by looking there?

I really wish that one could translate Nieuwoudtville Afrikaans to the same intonation, and sentence construction in English.  But, I can’t even translate it into Afrikaans.  Needless to say, I laughed a lot on this hour long sojourn (see, now I am getting way too confident.  English done, moving on to Mandarin.  Sorry, French).  I also actually learnt a lot too, about farming, and when lambs can take a ram without it being slightly sick and under aged, and about the biggest danger to sheep farmers.  On this I got a very short, one sentence answer:  Do not even think about bringing a match close to me.  So, apparently fire.  Then I made the mistake to ask if they then prepared for veld fires with a fire break: “Oe, noooo, I said, don’t even bring a match close to here”!  But, even with English being a compulsory subject in schools, poor farmer Jnr’s biggest concern, these people we are going to bring for this tour, are they from overseas?  Mostly yes, I said.  Long silence.  Then the next question, “So, they speak English?”, “Yes”, I say, “mostly”.  Again, long silence.  Then comes the clincher.  “Well, then we have a problem.  The last time I spoke English was the 9 months I spent in Australia.  And I had to take my cousin with to help with the translation”.  So it seems that we will be running the Kalaroo tour with at least one Afrikaans speaking guide to help translate for farmer Jnr!

His last question to me was, “ so, how much should I charge you for this per person”!

Absolutely priceless!  I actually did learn a lot, and besides the 20 gates we had to open and close, found it a thoroughly enjoyable time spent!  I would recommend though for clients to rather ask farmer Jnr questions.  He is of course not a guide, but he is passionate about farming, so you ask him one question, he starts going like Old Faithful!  Spouting all kinds of interesting farmer trivia and logistics, and points excitedly in the direction of his uncles farm, about 200km that way, who tried that new thing with the grass sustainability etc etc.  Again, priceless.  But remember, please ask him questions, otherwise the hour is going to be very quiet.  In Afrikaans.

Now as I came into Nieuwoudtville late afternoon, and felt slightly attacked by silence, I decided to rather leave my explorations of the town for this morning.  I did a drive through, in both directions, as well as photo shoot of most of the buildings, and that took about 5 minutes!  No, really.  Although the church was absolutely beautiful!  On the side of the church is a marble headstone type thing and on it, in very High Dutch, the following message (not verbatim).  O, hene, now I am throwing Latin!  Message on marble slab:  “This is to remember the 11 000 pounds sterling debt that the congregation of this church paid back after a long struggle, of which the 11000 pound debt was incurred completely by accident, and was nobody’s fault”  In Marble!  Seriously!

The beautiful church in the town of Nieuwoudtville

The beautiful church in the town of Nieuwoudtville

It was finally time to take my leave of Nieuwoudtville and get back into the Western Cape province which happened somewhere on Van Ryns pass, that is not a pass.  It is a nearly vertical downward spiraling road!  Massive decline/incline.  I really wanted to take photos, but I doubt if Bullets handbreak would have kept holding if parked on that for more than 5 minutes!  I rather went down.

Lamberts Baai!  Yayaya!  The last time I saw Lamberts Bay, I was still in diapers.  So, about 16 or so?  Lamberts Bay was named after a guy called Lambert.  That is about what I do know, and even that might be incorrect, but this is one weird ass town.  The information centre also serves as entry to the graveyard!  The Nature Reserve is also a putting range, and the restaurants are mostly all closed until December, when they make their years profit, and leave it at that!  And the Lamberts Bay Hotel faces out onto the fish factory that totally covers the beautiful view of the harbour with its colourful fishing boats.  So, I had some trepidations (Oh hell, it is now becoming out of hand, this English thing!), but what an absolute breath of fresh air.  As I walk in, they know who I am, without me opening my mouth.  Out comes the owner of the Hotel and takes me on a walk through.  She has owned the hotel for more than 10 years, and is slowly busy with upgrades.  Most of the rooms were looking beautiful, tastefully decorated, bathrooms comparing favourably with a boutique hotel, and not a snobby tone to be found anywhere.  All the staff greeted me, every time I walked past, even the two parrots in the lobby greeted me!  The hotel cat was a bit old, and just opened one eye slightly.  See, I am a sucker for service.  Even if the place looks like the return of Mad Max, with friendly staff, a lot of battles can be won.

Colourful Fishing Boats in the harbour at Lamberts Bay

Colourful Fishing Boats in the harbour at Lamberts Bay

Now listen, this is Lamberts Bay.  One can’t expect the Lord Nelson, and frankly, I prefer this type of setting and place to the big fancy ones, where you feel you are definitely using the wrong fork and where you are not sure if you should tip the eyebrow plucker or not, or if that was included in the R900, 10 minute job.

Nice food, comfy bed, normal people working there, wearing normal uniforms, not starched spaceship shirts, and this is the place for us normal people to go.

Oi, now I waxed lyrical.  Not that they can’t be fancy, I got a full cheese/olive/snack platter in my room, with garnish, and the correct knife and, two point plugs was not like a non spending American President.  It was actually readily available!  That is unusual.

Enough, Enough, Enough!  Bloody nice place.

Lamberts Bay Hotel, excellent service, warm and comfortable

Lamberts Bay Hotel, excellent service, warm and comfortable

The rest of Lamberts scared me a little, also scarred me a little!  I went to check out the camp site, the bathrooms can use some work, and, with sea sand, not a lot of grass.  But there were a lot of workers about, on ladders, and with paint cans, so I am assuming they are sprucing it up.  But, just in case, I went on a search for some alternatives (one never knows if space might become a problem).  I was zipping through town like a soccer mom, campsite to campsite.  In this zip through, I actually drove into somebody’s yard, just outside town.  Seeing that I was there, I decided to take some photos in any case.  I think the family was hiding behind the living room furniture.  I discovered a great outdoor restaurant with a Prickly Pear plant with flowers! Pretty!

Flowering Prickly Pear

Flowering Prickly Pear

Off I went again, calling ahead to warn the hotel of my imminent arrival, and unfortunately, Muisbosskerm was not open for this evening, but they did have a couple of hours open over lunch time, so off I went there as well!

View from Muisbosskerm, a rustic little seafood restaurant in the heart of the West Coast.

View from Muisbosskerm, a rustic little seafood restaurant in the heart of the West Coast.

Very rustic, all outside restaurant.  But I have to say, one of the owners made me slightly upset.  He sprouted all kinds of facts and figures (rated one of the worlds best seafood restaurants in National Geographic was one of them), but then he kept on mentioning one of our competitors, and how they always come in there, and how they get a special rate, and did he mention when that Other-Company-Who-We-will-Not-Mention comes here, blah blah blah!  Listen, buddy, we are not that Other-Company-Who-We-Will-Not-Mention.  We are Nomad Africa Adventure Tours, and we’re going to rock this route!  Demmit!  But, I kept my conversations in my head and just smiled at him.  That’s fine, he will see!  But the food did look amazing, although primarily seafood, which is not my first, or even tenth love.  But they also do have meat, and vegetarian meals, and fresh bread, and dessert and all.  Great!  Clock in at 6pm, and food stops at 9pm, an orgy of eating!

The entrance to Muisbosskerm Restaurant, Lamberts Bay

The entrance to Muisbosskerm Restaurant, Lamberts Bay

Seaside bread ovens at Muisbosskerm outdoor seafood restaurant

Seaside bread ovens at Muisbosskerm outdoor seafood restaurant

With all the work parts done, I went for a walk about to Bird Island, behind the town harbour.  Crossing the harbour wall, where, as the gate keeper said, the ocean is a bit upset, but I should be fine walking over it.  Hmmmm, but true, on the first section of Bird island, is a sign board warning tourists about Kelp Gulls, who can get a little upset if one walks too close to their nests, and will then attack.  Yes, I say in my head, bloody tourists.  One has to put up boards to warn them to not go traipsing through the short grass and then I forget all about this little, very apt and valid warning and see gazillions of Malgas birds (Cape Gannet)!  The smell!  The Noise!  OMG, chaos in a very small space, with some seals trying to stay cool a little further away on the rocks.  With that amount of things to aim at, I took a constant barrage of photos, and had to physically stop myself!  Ridiculously pretty, crazy chaos!

Chaotic Cape Gannets on Bird Island, Lamberts

Chaotic Cape Gannets on Bird Island, Lamberts

Off I go on the walking trail again, I have been going a bit artsy on my photos the last couple of days, I spot a perfect opportunity for a contrasting photo of the water breaking bollards and waves.  So I am pulling my body this way and that, and go down on one knee, and one elbow, to get the low to high angle, with camera bag abandoned on the side, when the next thing, a male Kelp Gull attacks from above!  They warned me!  I abandon ship, fall flat down, in gull poop, scream like a girl, and this monster attack gull plays the role of all 3 000 birds in Hitchcock’s movie.  Hitchcock should have cast this guy!  He was relentless!  He was vicious, he was a Spartan Kelp Gull, he would fight to the end!  All this while wifey calmly stays on her nest, about one hand span away from me.

Seemingly innocent Kelp Gull, heed all warnings about this killing machine!

Seemingly innocent Kelp Gull, heed all warnings about this killing machine!

I leopard crawled away, a bald spot on my head from attack one, dragging my camera bag behind me. Bloody tourist!

Lamberts Bay is charming, funny, and a little odd.

Have you booked your spot on this tour yet?  Don’t miss your opportunity to experience these wonderful places with Nomad Africa Adventure Tours – details about the tour here!  9 Day, Karoo, Kalahari and West Coast Tour.


Tosca’s Epic Kalaroo Adventure …. Binneboud Pink Days and Ghostly Quiet Nights

Grab a pen and paper, or your iSheet, tablet?  If nothing else close at hand, a coal from last nights braai.  I am about to give you very sound, thorough advice.  If you are going to come and experience the Kalaroo adventure, pack a beanie, and a scarf, and gloves, and mittens, and polar socks.  Also, pack your minus 200 degrees parka.  Did I mention a beanie?  Scrap that, pack a balaklawa!  It Is Cold! Enough said.

Saying Goodbye to Khamkirri Waterfront, thank you for your warm hospitality!

Saying Goodbye to Khamkirri Waterfront, thank you for your warm hospitality!

My morning started with the sound of a softly flowing Orange River behind my tent, and little birds cheeping… and the absence of my fingers.  I first thought I forgot them somewhere again, but it is just the cold.  Numbingly cold, cold.  With Visions of Sutherland, I pack up the paper tent, which actually stayed quiet last night.  It can also be that the Farmers Association party drowned out the sound of the Encyclopedia Britannica being crumpled up.  Oh, yes, write this down as well.  Do not, under any circumstances, pitch your tent a metre from the main reception/dance hall.  You might have some problems with drunk farmers tumbling over your tent on the way to their carefully pitched, 1 km away, tents.  And if you should have a party the previous evening, then rather pitch your tent close to a light source, and close to where you are having your party.  I think I saw one farmer on the opposite side of the Orange River, sleeping on the banks, hugging a reed.  I of course, slept the sleep of the dead, and, thanks to my careful wake up training from the Kalahari, woke up at 5h30 AM, with a vague desire to have some coffee.

Two hours later, I was skulking around, trying to sniff out anybody with a little caffeine in their tents.  Maybe hidden in the toilet tank. Perhaps the bar has a secret lock, and inside they store the best mocca ever.  Coffeeeee!  Please, just inject it straight into the veins. Finally some of the kitchen staff shows up, and I try and pull my best, “Oh, look at this poor thing, one can clearly see she needs a cup of coffee” look.  To no avail.  They most probably thought I had indigestion.  Then I thought, if I can steal some wood somewhere, and start a fire, then I can boil water and have COFFEE!  Nope, no wood.  I even considered making coffee from warm tap water.  Finally, after the tables were set, and farmers were all in attendance, and Bullet has been packed, and standing ready with bleary eyes, does somebody say, oh, would you like a cup of coffee?  Nah, thanks, I’m ok.  YES demit, can you not see the craving stamped on my forehead!  Now, having to make inane conversation with a red road map eyeball farmer, about the strange weather, meanwhile it is screaming in my head, can you please just get the sugar in your cup, so that I can get to the good stuff!  Finally, I had coffee.  Good stuff too.

Then I heard the bad news that there is no shortcut to Niewoudville, my camp for the night.  It is back to Kakamas, then to Keimoes, then down to Kenhard, Brandvlei, Calvinia, and there, finally a turn to Niewoudville.  And it is about 500km.  In my search for coffee, I was still standing at the Orange River at 9am this morning.  But, with sad goodbyes to Phillipa and Danie, and the three kittens running around, and Sparky my canoeing guide from Mafikeng, I started the 500km journey.

Kakamas first.  After my 3 hours craving, just one cup of Java would just not do it.  So, I decide to turn into Kakamas town.  Two streets really, please do not expect a metropolis.  And there, on the side of the road, I find The Pienk Farmstall.  Yes, you heard me correctly. The Pienk Farmstall.  And not just the name, everything from the name board, to the lady at the till, all pink.  And not just any pink, binneboud pink (inner thigh pink?  Hidden part of bum pink?).  And absolutely nothing of any value, or to do with a farm stall inside.

But a coffee machine!  Besides the coffee machine, there was an old typewriter.  Pink porcelain savings piggies, stuffed and mounted Springbok head, wearing a pink baseball cap.  One spectacular sundress, surprisingly not pink.  Thinking that a biscuit or some kind of baked goodies will go nicely with the machined pure half mast cup of coffee, I only find four empty serving plates.  But wait, dining tables outside under the awning.  So I ask the pink clad ladies, do you serve breakfast?  Nope, they say.  Aaa, I thought to myself, they cater for the lunch crowd.  Lunch?  I ask.  Nope.  Well, then dinner surely, nope.  They don’t serve meals, but then why in all that is logical, do you have a seating area like a restaurant?  Answer:  In case people want to sit down (in my head, this amounts to teasing, people can bloody go sit in their cars if they want to sit).  Anyhow, I walk out with some stale koeksusters, and the last biltong muffin, and I must admit, not bad.  Very salty, but not bad.

Die Pienk Padstal, I'm not kidding!  Binneboud pienk, everything!

Die Pienk Padstal, I'm not kidding! Binneboud pienk, everything!

Seriously, everything is pink inside Die Pienk Padstal!

Seriously, everything is pink inside Die Pienk Padstal!

Ok, rest of the driving.  I swear, I have solid 8 hours sleep.  Solid, despite the farmer doing a Nuck Chorris over my tent, with a double Flick Flack, side split, ending with an overhead roundhouse, so I should have been bushy tailed and very awake.  My personal opinion is, it is the damn roads!  5 min into taking the long road, I feel like I have the Titanic attached to my eyelids.  But I soldier on, get through Kenhard, and then had to stop about 20km’s outside of town.  Not because of sleepy eyes, 20km outside Kenhard there is nothing.  Some large farms, no farm houses, just grass, broken telephone lines, and a fence.  That’s it.  No other signs of civilization, or people living there.  Yet, on the side of the road, a very clear road sign, to please be cautious of the Bicycles.  Where?  What bicycles? Really?  You serious?  I actually had to do a U-turn on the highway, to get a shot of this.  I am sitting here typing, still wondering about that.

Bicycle sign, seriously, who is this for?

Bicycle sign, seriously, who is this for?

Ok, off the 500km I did, it went quiet for about 150 of those.  To Brandvlei.  But by then I could have just as well put Bullet on autopilot, and slept.  Luckily, Brandvlei, with all five of it’s houses, do have a wide open stretch of sand, with some iffy shade trees.  I pull in there, and decide to just close my eyes for a bit.  An hour later, I wake up, (or possibly I snored myself awake) with two locals sitting next to Bullet, against a tree.  A couple of slow blinks later confirms it is not a mirage.  Two locals, and they are giggling away. Looking at the only remaining reg number plate on Bullet, the one asks me, so, you from Somerset West?  My reply was, no, of course not, this is a rental car (yes, I know, I disavowed poor Bullet, but she got it), and off I sped.

Now I have been saying from the start, there is something amok with spirits and ghosts and freaky stuff in the Northern Cape.  I am driving along, full sunshine, thinking to myself that I should maybe exchange the sweat pants for shorts, when it starts raining!  Big drops.  Not a lot, but causing me to look up, and again, I swear, clouds!  And then Arabian days started.  In that area are lots of pans, with no vegetation.  Just sand.  I see a couple of sheep to the side, trying to actually dig a hole, so close to the ground they are lying, and think, strange, why aren’t they hopping along like sheep do?  When to my right, a sand storm the like I have only seen once in the Namib, approaches, and together with the sand storm is a cloud bank, with rain tinted a brown colour due to the sand storm.  I did stop Bullet, who also promptly tried to start digging a hole to hide in, and just looked at this spectacular freaky bit of wind magic going on!

It was sand and dust, and rain altogether!  I was actually expecting Omar Sharif on a camel to come tumbling past at least!  I actually started humming the theme song to Caravans!  Then a Land Cruiser drove into that whole sand water aerial mess!  Bravely going where no other vehicle (except for the Nomad Truck that other time in the Namib) has ever gone!  William was waving from the back seat! Spectacular!  I stopped a little further down, and called farmer Tractor Wagon, to arrange for the meeting re the tractor wagon trail at Niewoudville.  He says, lady, on a Sunday, farmers sleep in the afternoon, so I would have to call him at 6am the next morning.  So, nothing to rush forward to, I meander on to Niewoudville, in pouring rain, glad I have my sweat pants on!

A dust storm so big it made the sheep stop bouncing

A dust storm so big it made the sheep stop bouncing

Then I get another urge for coffee.  Luckily in Calvinia, the local petrol attendant has a kettle.  Working like an Old Model T Ford, but still working.  Thirty minutes after starting it, we had liftoff, and I had a flask full of coffee.  Only to arrive in Niewoudville sooner than I could get a cup poured.  But, 500km, not to be sneezed at, so I am rather tired at this point, and not one soul to be seen on the streets, or rather, street, of Niewoudville.  A little like Tommy Knockers.  I find Olive camp ground, get the gate open, drive around to the back, and am greeted by, wait for it, a chicken! And an aggressive chicken at that!  And following close behind him, two Peacocks! Tommy Knockers!

Calling the number on the gate gets me through to the owner, who it seems, owns most of the town.  He directs me to the Smidswinkel restaurant, where one lady waits.  Shame, I don’t know what she does on weekends there, but definitely not gather with a sociable group or something fun like that.  No other people!  And then comes the good news, I don’t have to stay in the camping ground, they prepared one of the guest houses for me!  Great!  Historical house, restored.  With no other soul in town?  AAAAaaaaaargh, Matjiesfontein all over again!  I start a fire, which cheers me up slightly, make a massive amount of food, which cheers me up even more, and then the sun sets.  And still, no sound.  No wind through the trees, no sound of kids playing, grownups talking.  Only a sad sheep baaaaaa coming from two houses down.  The last ciggie I had, I was huddled in the corner of the stoep.  Trying my best not to give off body heat, or a heartbeat! You know they can find you like that!


Tosca’s Epic Kalaroo Adventure … Wet, wild and very muddy!

I don’t know what day it is.  I have lost count.

Oh yes, the day I leave the Kgalagadi.  Oe, sad.  I have my last coffee, leave the gate, and as I do my last drive, I just want to rock myself to sleep I am sooo sad, did I tell you I nearly got eaten by a leopard?  I decided on a last game drive, early morning.  The gate lady, who on a previous occasion, was 2 minutes late in opening the gate, asked me if I can open the gate to the park, when I go through, as she was running a little late this morning.  Again.  This is about 1km from the camp itself.  Yes, of course.  I am like a local by now, I can open the gate!  I get there, still semi dark, and I make like, !Ku!?,  The Busman tracker, and spot some Serval tracks at the gate.  Oh fantastic, you Field warden you, spotting something like that!  As I drive that first bit after the gate I nogal keep an eye out for the said Serval (that’s the cat with the pointy ears.  Like Dr. Spock, just not as handsome.  No, the new Dr. Spock!  Not William Chatners buddy!  Demmit, I am not that old!  First Dr. Spock is living in a nursing home in Florida!  Or the cat could have been an African Wild cat, or Civet.  Wait, the Civit is possibly the Dr Spock look alike).

Anyhow, back to my bush signs interpretation!  After my 5 Lion spot, I drive back to camp, and very sad, crying quietly in the corner of Bullet, I meet up with two South Africans.  Now important to note that it was South Africans, as two days prior, a German(?) lady pointed out the 5 cheetahs as:  there are some animals lying under a tree.  And true as Bob, that evening, somebody (?) put up the leopard spot on the sighting board for the exact same spot as the cheetahs were in.  So, not trusting anybody but a South African anymore with vital info like this.  Back to the story, two South African guys tell me, they saw two Leopard that morning, at the main gate!  Yes, that gate.  Leopard, not Serval, not Civet, not even Dr. Spock!  Leopards!  I could have died, I could have been Leopard fodder!

Ok, sob fest over.  I leave the park, take some nice shots of dunes and stuff, and then tackle the 250km to Upington.  Lawn capital.  And place of dodgy lamb chops, that gives one food poisoning.

A lone windmill and a sad goodbye to the Kgalagadi National Park, I will miss you Kalahari!

A lone windmill and a sad goodbye to the Kgalagadi National Park, I will miss you Kalahari!

First things first, Bullet gets down on bended knee, no, wheel, and kisses the tar!  I heard smacking noises.  In fact, I think there was some tongue involved!

20km later, I am so sleepy, I can barely keep my eyes open!  And the road there is flat.  Not only flat (I mentioned flat yes?) but not a single thing along the way to distract.  No highway robbers, no GQ men’s show, no farm stalls with funny farm implements.  Nothing.  I played tunes, I yawned, I sang with the tunes, I yawned some more, honestly, I don’t know how I made it.  But, there it is, Upington!  First order of business, get Bullet to a Hyundai doctor!  Thinking of the prime plan, I don’t watch as carefully as I normally do with side roads joining the main road I am on and some bloody nincompoop eases over a stop street, right in front of me, and then does not try and stop.  No, he meanders on by, not even putting up a semblance of stopping.  I slam on brakes, still have a cramp in my calf from the pressure force, and nearly pee in my pants!  Of course, language in the Bullet at that moment, should never ever be repeated in public. Not even in the bathroom when one is alone.  You Bloody  @&#^%@%$#!)(R$*&%#  gulp @^$^**&$##  gulp more  &$^@^%##!!!!!! And don’t you even try to make as if your brakes failed, you @*&$&^$@))*^.

20 minutes later, arriving at the Hyundai dealership, my knees are still knocking together like Flip from Maya fame! (and seriously, somebody should contact Hyundai and say they should start sponsoring this blog.  They are in Korea I think, you can call now, really)

Then comes the second shock of the day.  The (very old) sales person at Hyundai (call Korea now, demit) says: “Lady, these cars are not built for roads like the Kalahari ne”.  No, really?  You shit me not?  Why did nobody tell me this??  I thought it was an innate 4×4 (and the x button on this laptop does not work.  Luckily I don’t have to write xenophobia too much.  Or x ray.  Or with Neanderthal man, XXX…..).

The old Hyundai dodger at least confirmed, Blue Bullet’s digestive tract ie. silencer/exhaust pipe (and now I have to use the x) has a hole in it.  Which will make consumption a little less than the stellar 20km per litre it has been up to the park.

On to the next ( Whats with all the x’s?) order of business, I make the mistake of asking Mr Senior Senior citizen if he knows how to get to Khamkirri Camp?  The poor old man slams down on both his arthritic knees, and nearly starts sobbing!  What?  Heart attack?  Should I call somebody?  No, he says, the road turns off from Kakamas town.  It is the worst road ever!  Dirt road, oh my god, it is bad, he moans, he cries, he nearly pulls his hair out, and Bullet gives a quiet sigh in the background, then pulls herself together, and points her eyes in the direction of the bad, evil road.

Now, with thoughts of “bad road” reverberating in my head, I take direction Keimoes.  Then turn there for Kakamas.  And what a little oasis Keimoes turns out to be!  Reminds me a lot of Malawi, with the Orange river running through town at several tribunals (English, not first language remember).  Every couple of minutes there’s a bridge, across another tri bunal.  Tribularies.  Trifactas.  Grrrrrr, Man, side bits of the big river.  And the bridges are all single lane, which means, you have to spot the car on the other side, about a kilometer away, and decide if he stopped first or if you did, as a miss spot can lead to a serious case of playing chicken on a bridge over the Orange River! Ah, Tributaries!

And everywhere, people meandering.  With umbrellas and hats!  Beautiful.  And graveyards in red sand dunes, and not 20metres later, green lush vineyards.  Contrast rearing its head again.

Ok, I make Kakamas, and seriously, these are some of the normal sounding town names I have come across in the last couple of days.

Oh, and I saw love bloom!  Between Keimoes and Kakamas, on that 40km stretch of road, it is road works everywhere.  Now road works basically means there will be a  long stretch of road where only one lane is open.  No visible work is being done in this 1 km stretch, but there are a lot of construction vehicles driving around, with drivers shouting conversations out the window at any pretty girl walking past.  And then on both sides of the long stretch would be a stop and go.  At each stop and go, is the lady with the red flag, and walkie talkie.  Once all the cars from one end pass the finish line, she then hops on the walkie talkie, and asks the other side if all the cars are through.  Although all of us, sitting on this side can clearly see the other end, and can see not a single car coming from that side.  Then she changes the stop sign to a go sign.  So, one of these stop and go ladies, obviously on a tea break, walks off and one of the construction workers, on full day break, starts chatting with her.  As I drive off, I see in my rearview mirror, he puts his arm around her waist.  She shrugs it off.  Tony Bennet starts crooning softly from the back seat of Bullet.  The worker puts his arm around her again, and this time, she leaves it there!  And they walk off into the sunset!  See, government, creating jobs, and environments for love.

Wait, still on my way to Augrabies.  At this point I am tired, and grumpy, and heartsore, and thinking off just skipping the whole thing.  I have been to Augrabies plenty of times.  It is a lot of rocks, and big water.  Very big water.  Something like 3000 cubic something per spit of drop per second or some such (see, and some people think I was appointed for my people skills).  I thus take the Augrabies turn off as I was under the impression that Khamkiri turnoff should be on this road as well.  And just to mention here, and not pointing any fingers, but somebody who wrote the operations manual for this tour, wrote directions to Khamkiri:  On leaving Augrabies NP, there is a road that turns right, then follow the signs.  Now, this confuses me slightly, as if you are coming from direction Augrabies, the river is to the left.  But maybe the person did not check which arm his watch was on when he was writing it.  So I check on the other side and see Khamkirri sign turn off.  Yayaya!!

This is where the mud section comes in, Bullet went bananas!  I end up somewhere in a strange vineyard, on very bumpy dirt tracks (aa, the old mans nightmare, I think) and plot on.  And then all signs disappear.  And the road starts getting more overgrown, and bumpier.  So I call Khamkirri.  Oh, no, I am on the wrong side of the river!  What do you mean, wrong side?  How can there be a wrong side?  Well, Philippa explains, I should have taken the turn off before Kakamas.  But never mind, I can always park my car on this side, and they will ferry me across the river.  Long discussion on that side, about what car I have (a big monster car, is my answer) and how much does it weigh (Hmmm., ferry me and Bullet is what crosses my mind)?  Before I can think this through, I agree, and off we go, following the directions.  Mud, and hang bridges, and large boulders!  And the next thing, Bullets parks with wheel basically in the very fast flowing river! IN DEEEEEEEP mud!  The motor boat comes in from across the river, and I get out, knee deep in mud, and there docks this little small boat.  And no ferrying of Bullet.  Only all my stuff and me, and Bullet stays on this side!  Nooo, I don’t think so.  NOBODY puts Bullet in a corner!  How far exactly is the correct turn off?  50km, approximately. So, off we go, with a spin start.  Mud is flying everywhere, and Bullet is going nowhere, but, seasoned rally driver that I am, I go into reverse, get bullet out, and mud slide skid out of there, over hang bridges, through little rivers, up mountains, but out of there.  Bullet is now blue, with a faint undertone of mud!

The road the old wise man talked about?  I spit on bad roads!  Ga!  Nothing!  Some bumps, some dongas, some 4 wheel drive required. Ga, I spit I say!  23 km of this.  Ga!  I am Sarel Van Der Merwe!

And what a spectacular site, beautiful.  Nice camp ground, very small swimming pool, really, very small.  More like a bath.  Spectacular lapa, overlooking the river, with lounge chairs, and a great bar area and 95 local farmers attending a dance do.  But fantastic place. Warm, friendly staff, who came to meet me at my car, and got me a cold drink immediately, introduced me to literally all the staff, helped me with my tent, and generally made me feel so much better.  They even gave some very sympathetic nods in Bullets direction, after I told them the hell we have both been through.

View over the Orange River from the bar at Khamkirri, welcome to paradise!

View over the Orange River from the bar at Khamkirri, welcome to paradise!

My camp on the banks of the Orange River, heaven!

My camp on the banks of the Orange River, heaven!

Then came the shock, they are taking me canoeing this afternoon!  No, really, not necessary I say.  I can see you’re busy.  I have this thing with water, and a headache, and darn, I forgot my rafting clothes at home, and …. off we went in some kind of 4 wheel drive, bakkie thing, with kayaks, and one inflatable canoe thingy for me, and my own guide.

Loading up the croc and kayaks, ready to hit the river!

Loading up the croc and kayaks, ready to hit the river!

Ok, I am thinking it can’t be too bad right?  Rapids!  Big ones!  Zambezi is nothing compared to this wall of water waiting for me.  They dragged me by the hair, and dumped me in the canoe, and said, don’t worry, we can all swim!  Hmmm, did you check if I can?

Rocking it on the Orange River, now this is a jol!!

Rocking it on the Orange River, now this is a jol!!

The First 20 minutes go nice and peaceful, and then off goes Danie and Phillipa, in their kayaks, which I suddenly realize, is what they call “Safety Kayaks”! No, why would we need this?  And why do I not have a paddle thingy?  And why am I wearing a helmet with a lifejacket resembling a bomb disposal unit’s flack jacket?  Oh, because of rapids!  Halfway through the first one, I expected to see Keanu standing on the beach, with a long board under the arm!  I am very embarrassed to say, but I screech like a Banshee, and with the PITH helmet on, with Maya the bee sunglasses, and the 30kg flack jacket, I make an absolute stunning picture.  Do please see the photos.  One of my prouder moments, even beats the time I fell down in the main road in Pretoria, or when I lost my skirt on an escalator in a massive mall, or when my pants fell into the long drop in Zambia.  No, ok, that takes a lot to beat.

My safety kayaker doing a rekkie of the rapid where I will see Keanu!

My safety kayaker doing a rekkie of the rapid where I will see Keanu!

And then the second rapid, which was not even a surprise, as we actually had to get out of the canoe thing and  walk around some obstacles and through the Long Grasses to get to the start of it!  I looked like a chameleon trying to walk on a smartie box as I am attempting the world speed record through reeds barefoot!  And off we go again, and I did see Keanu!  As my life flashed in front of me, he was also wading through the long grass like a chameleon!

Bouncing through a death defying rapid, with Khamkirri on the Orange River

Bouncing through a death defying rapid, with Khamkirri on the Orange River

I had a blast!  And yes, I know, in the photos that Danie so kindly took (again, really, I looked so fantastic, no wonder people wanted to take shots of, or at me) it looks like a very small little bit of fluff water, not really a rapid.  I tell you, it was an evil monster rapid, one just cant see it from the angle the photo was taken.

Fantastic food later, nice long chats about the overnight adventure waiting for our clients, and off to bed I went.  With the sound of Tony in the background…  Love is in the air… or was it Elvis?  Keanu can’t sing can he?  As he can’t act, so just checking.

Has somebody called Korea yet?

Lessons learnt today:

Leaving makes one sad. Like R.E.M.
Do not believe kind people with promises of a gentle meander down river, they have evil intentions.
Always question why you don’t get a paddle.
Keanu and Korea generally don’t respond fast.
The 9 Day Karoo, Kalahari and West Coast Tour is available for booking now, contact us to get your piece of the action!

Orange River sunrise, magical!

Orange River sunrise, magical!