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 Swakopmund, Namibia 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!
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.
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:
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!
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:
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
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 River, Fish River Canyon, Namib-Naukluft Park, Sossusvlei, Swakopmund, Etosha 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!
Join us on and adventure of your own! Contact our Groups and Charter department if you’d like to build your own tour: firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would prefer to join us one one of our scheduled tours to experience Namibia – we have a whole selection for you!
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
BY: ANNELIESE KORSCH | 2012-10-29
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.
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
We are also running a special at the moment: **FREE GORILLA PERMITS** on the following departures;
1237 – 23 May 2012
1253 – 18 July 2012
1265 – 29 August 2012
1269 – 12 September 2012
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.
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
Stay tuned for Part Two!!
- Mambo Jambo Masai Mara – Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya (travelpod.com)
- Lions of the Masai Mara – closer than ever before (greatcatsoftheworld.wordpress.com)
- Masai Mara Kenya – A Memorable African Safari Getaway (boldstate.com)
We pass the town of Alice, seeing the University of Fort Hare where Nelson Mandela and other well-known politicians studied. We then made our way on to Grahamstown, well known for it’s annual Arts Festival in July, but this time we just stopped for groceries for the next few days.
Time flies so quickly and my last stop on this tour is the Addo Elephant National Park. Heading to the park we see Private Reserves along the highway and spot giraffes sitting on the ground (as there was clearly no threat to them). We wait for a train to cross in front of us before we enter the park. The keys for our chalets are collected and we make our way with Ella to our accommodation. We were handed the keys and I had chalet 41, luggage off-loaded and I made my way to my own chalet. WOW!! I just smiled. It was just so beautiful. The double bed looked out onto a balcony overlooking the other chalets and the parks forests ahead.
After I took in the comforts of my room I quickly freshened up as we were to meet at the camping site to have lunch. En route to lunch, I stopped over at the bird hide looking for interesting birds; walked over to the waterhole when a Kudu made its way down to the hole and I discovered that there was even an underground hide. It was a lovely stroll to the camping site where Rimson was setting the lunch table. Sven asked me if I would like to see a snake and I said yes! Yes!! I took my camera as we headed behind the truck…and there was the snake …a rubber snake! There were independent travellers from South Africa and being regulars to Addo, they were aware of the Vervet monkeys that roamed the area in search of the food. Apparently they stay away when they see the snakes ‘strategically’ placed around the couple’s cool kitchen camp setup.
Addo National Park is in the malaria-free Eastern Cape province of South Africa which is great for travellers who are pregnant or travelling with children. There are elephants, lions, black rhinos, buffalos, leopards, zebra, and a variety of antelope and bird species in Addo. I was very excited for my game drive. After lunch, we collected our water bottles and jackets (as it started getting chilly). All eagerly waiting with our camera’s and binoculars, we had to be back in camp as the gates closed at 18h30.
In distance we could see a herd of about 50 elephants crossing the road and heading to a waterhole. Johannes slowly made his way and parked so that we could all get a view of the herd and admire these graceful creatures. Elephants are my favourite animals so I was over the moon to see so many of them drinking water and watching the mothers look after the little ones. The interaction of the herd was fascinating from bulls playing with each other to the little ones watching their mom’s every move and being camera shy. Catching a glimpse or a snap of them was so difficult as they were almost always hidden behind their Mom.
It starting drizzling as we made our way to the other waterholes where we saw more elephants and more…we must have seen at least 150 elephants so far. The park was originally established to protect the remaining African elephants in Addo and it is doing a good job by conserving these majestic mammals.
We make our way to the gates to find Rimson to see if he has managed to fight off the monkeys near the kitchen camp, everything looks well protected from their cheeky little hands. Dinner is ready and is smelling great! We all sat under the canvas awning, drawn from the side of the Nomad truck and talked about the game drive. It was a beautiful calm night and sadly, my last dinner with the group. I was truly going to miss the African road. It is something so special that every South African or lover of the wild should experience.
An early morning as we get ready for our game drive at 6am. We saw zebra with their young, black backed jackals, kudu, ostriches, a buffalo, Red Hartebeest, warthogs, Leopard Tortoises and a scrub hare. No luck with lions or leopards today but hey, I got to see my elephants.
We stopped for breakfast at Jack’s picnic site to fill our stomachs. We were now making our way to the exit of the park driving to the Southern Gate to reach the N2. Goodbye Addo see you again, soon I hope!
I reached Nomad’s post tour accommodation, the Eltham Lodge in Port Elizabeth at about 12h00. A well located guest house about 5 minutes away from the airport and walking distance to the beachfront.
Port Elizabeth is known as the friendly city and it is where I had to say goodbye to my family as they headed to Tsitsikamma National Park to end their tour in Cape Town. I truly wished I was going to see more of my own beautiful country.
I met great people, had good fun, learnt more than I could have imagined and can’t wait for my next Nomad Adventure Tour…. see you on the road fellow nomads!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
- An overland adventure full of hiking activity and beautiful scenery (nomadafricaadventuretours.wordpress.com)
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!)
Please contact me on email@example.com 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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!
I am going to veer a bit off topic, but I assume some people have never been to a Southern African National Park and need a crash course in people spotting. Now by National Park, I mean a place with animals, preferably some of the Big 5.
With that in mind, there are two things that you need to know about, one, are Animals – that would be the furry and feathered types; the other, is the people coming to look for, and at the animals. Also, the furry type.
Now the second category can also be subdivided into quite a few smaller categories, and even share some common traits with other categories.
Lets start with the most well know. Mr Big 5, that is the guy, usually in a Bakkie, with a much cowed wife in tow. Also, can be recognized by the fact that he usually shows up with a caravan, and a trailer in tow. He can mostly be spotted, zipping at top speed, between waterholes, and carries a humongous pair of binoculars (not to be confused with the Bird watcher, which we will dicuss later).
Now Mr Big 5 is not a guy that will keep quiet about his findings ( unlike the Ms/Mr Yuppie Big 5). Any chance he has, he will stop you, and gleefully tell you all about the Lion he saw that morning. Nearly. Well, his paw was peeking out! It was a magnificent paw! And it was at a waterhole so and so. Tomorrow morning, he will be back there, looking for the Big sighting!
Now Mr Big 5 is good for some limited information on where to find some of the animals you are looking for. When the day is done, Mr Big 5 can be found, in his chair, outside his caravan, while his wife organises supper.
Ms/Mr Yuppie Big 5, well, difference here, she/he shows up in a brand new Pajero. With Aircon. Also differs slightly from Mr Big 5, in that he/she stays in chalets, and uses the very expensive high tech camera in a dual function of binoculars as well. Ms Yuppie Big 5 will Never share info with the other weary travellers, as this would most probably necessitate for them to open the Pajero window, and that in turn will get dust onto the GPS system, which in turn will delete all the info, triangulated, of the previous visits Big 5 sightings. Ms Yuppie Big 5 will only share this vital information with the other Yuppie friends, at home. And have a right giggle at those other fools, looking for birds! And telling other people where to find stuff! This all over a glass of carefully selected Sancere.
Briefly mentioned above is the Bird Watcher. Fantastic type, who mostly accidentally see the big 5, as he is so busy scanning trees, and driving so slowly as not to disturb the lesser breasted, immature, never spotted here before bird, that he just kind of stumbles over the Big stuff. Mr Twitcher actually does not secretly yearn to see the Big 5 ( unlike Mr Tourist), and sees animals as a bit of an inconvenience, especially if said member of Big 5 is lying close to the much sought after Lesser breasted, immature, never before spotted Tit. Mr Twitcher is easy to identify. He also carries a pair of binoculars, but these have distance and height and all kinds of vital statistics showing on the inside lens. He is also the one driving really slowly. And when parked, please watch angle of head. If pointed upwards into a tree, chances are he is Mr Twitcher. Mr Twitcher’s wife, Mrs Twitcher, shares his passion, but secretly yearns to see the big five, as she gets very tired of handing over one of the 12 different bird books that Mr Twitcher carries with him. Always. Even to the shop, as one never knows when, a lesser breasted, does not exist wading Mossie, will dart around the next isle. Mrs Twitcher, however, can’t cook to save her life, and is thus dependant on Mr Twitcher’s good will, in the evening, when they park off next to their small tent, made of recycled Gwano platform pillars.
Mr Tourist can be divided into two sub-categories. One would be the large luxury coach type tourist, usually from some Asian country (where cameras can basically cure cancer, while operating on your pet parakeet, and cost barely absolutely nothing in their currency, and can link to your iMattress, that in turn can call up your stock broker, who can programme the iFax to bounce off iSatellite, to make sure you choose the right pair of underpants). So, Mr Luxury Bus Tourist is pretty much like Mr Big 5, only not in a bakkie, or with a caravan, and won’t tell you where the Big 5 is, as he basically doesn’t know if he saw a cheetah or a goose. Also, he can only say: “Where is the bathroom?” and “my pants are on fire”, in English. Mr Luxury Bus Tourist comes stock standard with a guide, who wears his Field Guide badge proudly, and reports anybody else, who looks like they can actually communicate with their own clients, as non registered. Mr Luxury Bus Tourist Guide also knows to shut up, find the Big 5, or as close as possible without Mr Luxury Bus Tourist knowing it is actually a domestic cat, and not a cheetah he so kindly pointed out.
The second sub category of Mr Tourist, is actually Mr Undercover Tourist. Now Mr Undercover Tourist has heard about the other types of tourists who visits National Parks, and would never want to be known as one of those. So, Mr Undercover Tourist can be recognized by the rental 4×4 he is driving, and his obsessive road rule use. Mr Undercover Tourist also invested big money on a mammal guide book, a bird book, a map of the said park, a book written by rangers about their stories in the bush, as well as a book on the Traffic Act, the full 12 editions.
Mr Undercover tourist will carefully read the park rules and instructions at reception when clocking in, and will never ever ever be late for a gate closing time. He is unfailingly polite, and will stay on the left side of the road, even if on the right side there is a lion, chasing a hyena, using a springbok leg as a club, and every Mr Big Five in the district is blocking his view. It says so in the 12 part Traffic Act book. Drive on the left side of the road, and when he sees a crocodile, hanging from an elephants tail, smoking some marijuana, he will not slam on brakes and pull out cameras. No, he will first indicate that he will pull off. To the left. And once the car has come to a complete halt, he will then put on the hazards.
Mr Undercover Tourist would secretly also like to see the big 5, but that brings him too close to Mr Luxury Bus Tourist. So he keeps that to himself. Mr Undercover Tourist also bought the full Bush Pride Safari Wear range, including the zip off pants. He carries a regular sized camera, with interchangeable lenses, in case he has to take some shots of the chalet as well. Now the first two days of his 7 day stay in the park, with the days carefully divided between the main camps, will be spent getting the lay of the land. So if you should stop next to him, and ask him to roll down his window so that you can have a chat about sightings, he will first be hesitant, and only roll down two centimeters (he also researched the crime stats in SA, and was told to never ever ever open your car window to strangers). So, when you then tell him, two kilometers on, he will see two lions under a tree, he will first look shocked, and then start doing the calculations in his mind to convert miles to kilometers. But, two days later, if you should meet up with him again, he will flash lights at you, and greet you like an old friend, and swap sighting stories with you. He catches on fast and is a great source of info, as he is actually very diligent in checking out every bush and tree, and generally enjoys the small stuff too. He is easily identified in the evening, as he will be spending it inside his chalet (he really wanted to camp, but he could not get the tent he used for last years everest attempt through customs, and also could not find a place on the internet who rents out tents) eating a plate of cooked food. He does not know how to braai. He would love to, but is scared this will give away the game, and then everybody will know he is a tourist. Please invite him over if you should be braaing yourself!
One of my personal favorites, is Mr Wannabe Photographer. Not professional, them you never see, they hang out on the no access roads, because they grew up in the park, and their father is the head ranger etc. No, Mr Wannabe Photographer is the one whom you must not park close to at any sighting as when he starts to unroll the camera lens, chances are you are going to lose your car windshield. The lenses Mr Wannabe Photographer carries are bigger in circumference than Mike Tyson’s thigh. It is so big, that Mr Wannabe Photographer must carry it with a special pillow and pulley system, just to lower it onto the window frame. Mr Wannabe Photographer also hogs all the space at any sighting, and stays there until whatever animal you wanted to see, has disappeared beyond the 10 km mark, which is how far his lens can see. Mr Wannabe Photographer does not have time for chats about where to find what animal as he is too busy cleaning his lens and hoisting it back into the car, which is also a Pajero. Because if one can afford a NASA lens, as a hobby, chances are a Pajero costs nothing to him either. Mr Wannabe Photographer is not the happiest type, as he secretly yearns to find the Big 5 and then talks incessantly about it. But he can’t, as he is busy with his lenses. No time.
Just on a side note, if you should ever run into Mr Professional Photographer: He drives a beat up old 1980 Uno, as he spends all his money on cameras and Park Fees. He is also dating the current Miss Slovakia, who he straps onto the roof rack of his Uno (or Landrover), as his custom built camera box, that is also bullet proof, water proof, sand proof and has in fact survived Sarajevo, takes prime seat in the front. In the back of the car he keeps his emergency supplies, in case he has to sit next to a sand dune for 10 days, where 9 days ago somebody saw a Lion. Miss Slovakia he keeps on hand for, well, things that only Miss Slovakia can do. Also because it looks cool!
Another of my favourites, just because of sheer dogged determination, is Family Joe Soap. Now Family Joe Soap can easily be confused with Mr Big 5, as they also pull in with a caravan. But that is about where it stops. They have 3 kids, of which one is a baby. The reason why they show up in a National Park is to instill the love of nature that their parents taught them at that age, and their parents before them etc. So, very optimistic bunch this, as they rock up at the camp site, where Mom runs off with baby to find some space somewhere to change diapers, and Dad starts leveling the Caravan. Boet and Sus will go suss out the shop, and the swimming pool. On gate opening time, the whole family will sit ready at the gate, with baby on mom’s lap, and Boet and Sus with their noses smashed up against the back windows, ready for action. And all goes well for at least 30 minutes. But after 3 hours in a non airconditioned sedan, Boet then has his finger up Sus’ nose, baby is screaming, and Sus is trying to hide under the driver’s seat from the spider she saw three hours ago at the gate. Dad actually really wishes with all his heart for the big 5, preferably within 30 minutes of leaving camp, so that he can then turn around, go start the fire for his afternoon braai, while the kids play in the swimming pool for the rest of the day. Mom wishes for the same, but instead of the braai part, she wishes fervently for somebody else to be changing diapers, while doing said task on the dashboard on a side dusty road. After about 3 days if this, both Mom and Dad promise each other to rather go to Bela Bela next year. But, next year they will be back, as this is what their parents did, and their parents, and they can only remember how much fun it was to sit in the back with their noses pressed to the windows, waiting for the first sight of lion. Bless their hearts, at least they are trying to get their children into nature! As much hell as it seems. And please don’t disturb them with questions about sightings? They most probably only saw dirty diapers, and Boets bleeding foot which he stuck out the window and which then got torn open by a branch, and really can’t tell you anything, as much as they want to.
And so the list goes on. The Amateur Field Guide, who will tell you where he saw animals, but who would also want to share his limited knowledge of wildife, gleamed from a National Geographic channel in the process, to be avoided unless you have no other choice.
The Forever Couple who have been coming to the same park for the last 20 years, every year, and keeps to themselves, unless you ask them where to find what. Fantastic source of info, as they won’t talk your ear off, but will be very precise in the info (third bush to the left, tree that looks like a dog upside down, 1 metre behind, is a Cape Fox. In the tree above him, is also a Rock Kestrel, in case you like birds).
So, the bottom line of all of this, you will meet some strange and wonderful people in National Parks, and lets face it, everybody really wants to tell somebody of the luck they had today when they saw blah blah. So go make friends, start a chat in the bathroom, speak to the gate guard, roll down the window, flash the lights if you saw something, as when you leave the park you will not know anybody’s name, but you still would have made a friend for life!
As I near the end of my visit to the Kgalagadi National Park, I look back and realize I saw, interacted with and met most of the above, and a little of each of the above is in me too!
To the Indian gentleman from Botswana, who described a waterhole scene in one sentence (hyenas with pups played and splashed and caused big drama and all); To the Dutch couple, with wife in the back seat, and husband in the front, and the most exited smiles ever; To the North West farmer who missed the lion by 2 hours; To the quantum full of Spanish folk who really tried to look for any predators, as I asked them to, while I was busy running a couple of metres into the bush to pick up a glass bottle there; And even to the two drunk Frenchmen, who made my life hell at a lion sighting with their “You want drinky?”. Here’s to seeing you all, in some form or other, at the next park!
Keen to find out what adventure awaits Tosca next? Here’s a clue… she will be playing on the longest one in South Africa!