For our English speaking friends

Montag, 27. Februar 2012
Namibia and the end of this trip
Windhoek, end of February 2012. Rainy season in Southern Africa means not only late afternoon drizzles, it means very strong thunderstorms and nightly rains, downpours, to be precise!! We’ll definitely take this into consideration for our next trip(s) to this part of the world.
It was a long day of driving to Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia; a look on the map and a quick check up in our Lonely Planet guide told me, I was wrong assuming Namibia is much smaller than South Africa. It is about ¾ the size but has only 2 ½ million people living here, compared to 45 million in SA. Once again we had all the space we wanted on the campground of Hobas Camp and felt very much alone at the rim of the world’s second largest canyon. At peak season, Fish River Canyon is flooded with tourists from Europe, mostly Germany. They travel with 4x4 pick-up vehicles with roof tents and jerry cans “for emergencies”. But Namibia caters well to tourists: lodges, guest farms, campsites with en-suite kitchenettes and bathrooms and tour operators that line-up at the gates of the natural reserves to open up at sunrise. We even found a restaurant that pays for German classes for their personnel! After visiting Fish River Canyon we made the trip to the Atlantic Coast, to Lüderitz. The German name promised some romantic German town – located along the cold Benguela stream, the small town of 9000 people has to endure cold winds and foggy days more often than sunny days. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon – all the shops were closed, and the cold fog gave that deserted place an eerie feel. We took photographs of houses that you would find in Old Berlin of 1900 and returned to our sunny campsite 120 km away to enjoy the sight of wild horses at sunset.
Another day on corrugated gravel roads took us to one of the most beautiful spots in Namibia - the red dunes of Sossus-Vlei, a dry valley, set underwater just 2 years ago by winter rains. We climbed Dune 45 for sunrise, impossible to do in the midday heat and enjoyed a dinner buffet with all sorts of African venison – just like 5 years ago with our kids.
In Mariental we met with globetrotter friends from Switzerland and together we decided to return to South Africa. We had kept one whole week aside for the Kalagadi Transfrontier Park. A fantastic game park in the middle of red Kalahari dunes, partly on South African soil, partly in Botswana, one entrance on the Namibian side. After the December rains the park was green, dotted with yellow flowers – just beautiful. We finally found cheetahs and spent one day observing the moves of a group of 7 lions from our camper van windows. One night we stayed at a wilderness camp on the Botswana side. No water, no fences, no ranger with a rifle, but a golden sunset and the milky way as powerful as never before! To finish off this week of pure nature we booked a 4x4 only stretch of 120 km with an obligatory overnight stop at the Bitterpan wilderness camp (no water, no electricity, no cell phone etc.) – a wonderful experience and one more test for our vehicle. Only when the rains started again, we left the park to move on to Windhoek.
We had to cancel our plans for some days of hiking at the Waterberg Plateau, 250 km north of Windhoek due to the water coming down in buckets and the very poor road conditions. Gravel can take only so much water before being washed away. Instead we found a nice guest farm to clean up and finish our writings and the task of editing the gallery of photographs and some extra time for reading at the pool.
Especially during the last weeks in SA and Namibia we met people who had been touring not only these two countries, but Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia as well. A couple from Germany was probably one of the last ones to make it all along the East Coast of Africa, before the unrest in Syria and Egypt closed that route of travel for an unforeseeable time. We were encouraged to visit the countries north of SA and received plenty of information from people living and working there. We’ll do that, 3 months at a time, the route flexible depending on the beginning of the rainy season. The friendliness, the open minds and the flexibility of the African people we came in contact encourage us to do so.
Conclusion after 3 months of travel: Travelling in South Africa was much easier than we expected. We didn’t get sick, we didn’t run into difficulties with officials, our car took us every where without any problems. We found accommodation where ever we went. We learned to relax and be patient.. Africa was good for us, we’re coming back!!

Samstag, 11. Februar 2012 Namibia
February 2012, Namibia. We’re already in the „cool down phase“of our first journey through Southern Africa. Time to reflect, time to sort the oh-so many photographs, time for the list of things to improve for our next trip – planned for October 2012.
When people in Germany think of South Africa, two locations come to mind immediately – Cape Town and Kruger NP, just 5hrs from Johannesburg – and right so, Kruger NP is a very special place at any given time of the year. As we learned from South African seasoned travelers, everybody has his favorite month to visit Kruger, for game drives, for bird watching or just for some time out in one of the many fancy lodges in and outside of the park. Our experience was slightly different: it started to rain on our drive out of Swaziland and wouldn’t stop for 72 hours. We had been to the supermarket in Malelane to stock up and set up camp in the very South, the Berg-en-Dal campsite. When we looked out the next morning, the otherwise empty camp looked like a small river, the gullies full to the rim. So we moved on, only to have the same experience the next morning in Camp Letaba, where flash flooding from a nearby (normally dry) river kept us waiting for several hours, before we “escaped” to the very North of the park – the park itself measures 420 km in length, nevertheless, it was dry here and a totally different biosphere presented itself with birds chirping nonstop, but less of the usual bigger animals. Those preferred the dry roads to walk on and so the voyage was interrupted by lions, hyenas, elephants and by a gracious giraffe walking ahead of us! On our way out, the middle and southern part of the park presented itself with all the damage too much water can do – somebody told us, now it would be the chance to use all the government money to get all the necessary infrastructure work done at the same time – let’s hope so, because the next season will bring thousands of tourists into Kruger again.
We moved on to the Blyde River Canyon, full of water as well and yet another breathtaking site in South Africa not to be missed. We took the opportunity to stretch our legs after so many days of driving on a day hike and a dip in a waterfall pool and we enjoyed the flora and fauna in the moderate rainforest! The small towns along the Panorama Route still have the air of “colonial times”, charming, relaxed, orderly! The campground of Sabie offered a heated pool and excellent trout on their menu – what a treat!
We noticed that we were closer to the big cities of Joh’burg and Pretoria – much more traffic, better roads and better internet connections – still, we de-toured both cities on a closely woven net of highways, there our GARMIN came in very helpful. The next destination was yet another recommendation of a South African family – The Cradle of Mankind Museum, World Heritage Site , just 2h outside the capital of the country. On the nearby farmland and in the Sterkfontein Caves people had found remains of bones and a skull – it became a prime palaeontological site for researchers. We learned so much and enjoyed the well done interactive exhibits (out of the midday heat).
The volcanic Pilanesberg NR was the last real game drive area for us in South Africa –so we thought. It was the week of the Chinese New Year’s celebration and busloads of tourists from Sun City- an out of this (African) world casino/vacation resort swamped the reserve. But they couldn’t leave the tarred roads and we escaped on to the gravel roads. To be rewarded with the sighting of rare caracals, a breeding herd of elephants, white rhinos, but still no leopards. During a very disappointing night drive (our last one with a commercial enterprise!) an elephant bull told all the game drive vehicles loud and clear to get out of “his” park at night!!
Then we hit the road for 12 hours straight to cross the vast open spaces of the Western and Northern Cape Provinces. You have to love deserts – and we do – to find anything interesting to watch from your car window! Who tries to make a living on this barren farmland? Who set up these endless rows of fences – for what? We couldn’t help but admire the beautifully decorated home of a farmers family of the Ndebele-Tribe along the road. The only other stop was to take a photograph of the big Iscor Mine site – the job provider for many many people. Our day ended in Upington, NC on a lovely small campsite along the Orange River in the middle ot town. The Municipal Campground on the other side of the river was full of weekend campers and in a terrible state. Like so many other Municipal Institutions, where nobody seems to care or the money to keep things running disappears before it can be spend. ( A complaint we heard every so often). Cities in South Africa tend to shut down on Saturdays at 2 pm and so we moved on for a few days to Augrabies Falls NR, just 2h west of Upington. There the Orange River drops 190 m through a gorge- an impressive height. The massive rainfalls of 2010 had left some viewpoints verandahs damaged – one year later none had been repaired, only a little clip of paper on our entrance receipt informed us about the limited possibilities to view the gorge. Same problem as mentioned above? It seems so. The thermometer showed close to 50 C and we spent most of the day in the shade sorting pictures, writing diary-entries and jumping into one of the 3 pools. Nevertheless, the next morming, we went on yet another game drive, the road said 4x4 vehicles only- our Ford Transit 4x4 mastered all the steep declines and the sand pitches very well. It was a test drive for routes to come. The antilopes in this area are not used to cars at their water holes and it took a long waiting period to catch a glimpse of their beautiful bodies!
Meanwhile Pascale was on her way home from her bus tour through Namibia, the Vic Falls and Kruger NP and we had a “skype date”. Skype in rural areas of SA means you’re glad to have telephone reception, so we booked ourselves into a chain hotel in Upington for one night. Our car wouldn’t fit through the gate into secured parking – no problem here, because a test team with at least 6 Porsche Panameras and some Merdedes GLK’s parked their cars out on the road as well. Security was on high alert and we slept peacefully…
Another 250 km through plain and FLAT countryside, a no-nonsense 30 min -tour through costumes offices later and we were on our way to Fish River Canyon in Southern Namibia. We realized that Namibia is very small in comparison to SA and that we’ll have enough time to enjoy the beautiful desert areas here.
Sonntag, 15. Januar 2012
The first 6 weeks in South Africa
January 12, 2012, we’re in South Africa since more than 6 weeks and I think, it is time for a first summery in English. A summary of first impressions of a country that is fascinating and confusing at the same time.
We arrived in Port Elizabeth (PE) early December, at the same time as our car, our “Reisephant II”, our “travelling elephant” or Olifant as they call them here. The station manager of the shipping company did an excellent job and we had our car out of customs without any delay. Other people we met near Cape Town waited more than 2 weeks (of their 5 week vacation) to get going. We drove west to Cape Town, enjoying the fascinating landscape of the “Little Caroo” region (with its high mountain ridges and exciting gravel road passes) which runs parallel to coast line and the wine growing region of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek just one hour outside of Cape Town. We enjoyed the liveliness and mixed culture of this big city and loved the Cape Region with its special eco system (Atlantic meets Indian Ocean). On our way back to PE we stayed along the Garden Route and took advantage of the touristic infrastructure along the coast. A day hike in the Tsitsikamma NP will stay in our memory for a long time not only for the horrific sunburn we got, but as well for the sighting of dolphins and the size of the waves crushing on shore. Our son Phil joined us in PE flying in from Canada’s west coast. Together we enjoyed more than 150 Elephants taking their morning bath in the Addo Elephant NP, took pictures of big turtles, jackals and many more creatures crossing our roads in that park. Another thing we came along was potholes! Potholes out of nowhere, potholes all across the road and potholes “in the progress of repair” as one sign stated somewhere in the middle of nowhere. We got used to them as well as to the many people who seem to be on the move from point A to point B in this country – mainly on foot, carrying their shopping, their laundry or their school books on their heads (mostly women), or just going to fetch water from one of the many hand pumps in their Zulu-villages. Another mode of transport are minibuses, loaded with people and bags, which stop at nearly every turn-off – a thing we have to consider while driving through this pretty and busy country –no day dreaming, please.
After a memorable shopping experience in the all black town of Bergville, KZN (we were the only white people in the supermarket clogged with Africans getting ready for their family reunions African Style), we celebrated Christmas in one of the very quiet nature camps in the Drakensberge NP. There we enjoyed a guided walk to visit some interesting bushman cave paintings, dating back up to 20.000 thousand years. Who knows how many other sites still lay hidden in these impressive mountain range. It rained every night (during the day the weather was mostly sunny), Phil’s tent suffered a bit, so we decided to escape to the coast – yes, it was hot there, hot and humid and peak season! So the campgrounds were packed with large family tents, big people with healthy appetites and lots of fishing rods in their luggage. Many people were interested in our car, our journey; we got good advice where to go as well as which areas to avoid. We had good discussions and learned a bit more about life in South Africa every time.
The three of us spent nearly one week in St. Lucia, 1 hour north of Richards Bay, doing “game drives” in several National Parks (Hluhluwe, Imfolozi and Simangalosi Wetland/Camp Vidal). Feel free to have a look at the wild life gallery on our homepage. I can’t count all the different kind of antelopes, butterflies and beautiful birds anymore! The highlight was a night drive on the beach to find a leatherback turtle coming on shore for her motherly duty of laying more than 200 eggs.
Our daughter Pascale joined us for 2 days after spending 4 weeks as a volunteer in a “nearby” Game Reserve. It was a very special family reunion! After both kids had gone on with their lives (Pascale touring Namibia with a group, Phil back to university and skiing), we took a day off; we visited UShaka-Marine World with its well-done aquarium, fun-park and amazing beaches, packed with folks from Durban. It was Sunday and a good day to drive through Durban city centre. We only got a glimpse of the many different cultures living in this important industrial town.- May be next time we’ll park the camper somewhere safe and guarded to dive into this buzzing centre of activities.
It is hard to believe, that this is the same country as 100 km north, were people life in clay huts without running water, outside toilets and no work except the production of handicrafts by the women staying behind with their little children, while many men look for work in the big cities. Internet in the north of SA is also difficult to find and very slow.
Driving along the Battlefield Route and the Midlands of KwaZuluNatal, we learned more about the historical problems of this country, Zulus fighting Dutch Settlers, Dutch Settlers fighting British troops, migration movements, etc. We spent one afternoon at Elandsberg Farm, the Homestead of previously German farmers, who now make a living by providing jobs for several hundred Zulu families which produce handicrafts and exporting them. Bowls, plates, mats made from telephone wires (I fell in love with the colors and designs!!), as well as beaded embroideries – cushions, placemats, slippers- Zulu women think in round patterns and they are able to create stunning handicrafts. Things you might find in the museum shops in Cape Town, as well as in London, Paris or NYC, just have a look!
“Do you have a reservation?” asked the Gate keeper of Ithala Game Reserve a few days later. We didn’t and we didn’t need one, being practically the only guests there after South Africa had gone back to work and school and most of the international tourists, too. We found a Black Rhino with a baby and some other rare antelopes with young ones in this very special park. It offers fantastic mountain viewing, deep gorges and plenty of wildlife to observe – but difficult roads, unsuitable for caravans in tow.
After all the driving of the past weeks, we felt the need to stretch our legs once more and came across the description of a Nature Reserve - in Swaziland! And here we are, in a tiny little country with high mountains in the west, covered with dense forest. If it were not for the black people crossing our way, we could be anywhere in Europe, the temperatures being in the mid 20ies, cool nights and English spoken with hardly any accent. We enjoyed a day of gliding over the tree tops on a Canopy Tour just like in Costa Rica, three years ago. Meeting three teachers and NGO-workers we learned, that Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in the world, punished with a very high unemployment rate and level if HIV infections and a very uncertain outlook for the future. We feel very sorry, because the people we met, were so very friendly, helpful and faithful in their religious believe and their King.
After one more day in a little paradise called,(look it up!) we’ll carry on to yet another highlight of this journey – Kruger National Park.

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