Sunday, February 27, 2011

Guest entry - Bree dog's blog! (on high tea)

High tea for the laydees... oh and Michael!

Yo yo yo... So after most of our truckm companions left Livingstone and deserted us for another tour with Acacia, we slowly dried our tears and decided to head for some dessert ourselves!!!

Of we (Sarah, Rayna, Emz, T-dog, Michael and myself) drove to the Royal Livingstone Hotel for high tea. Being the incredible laydees we are we all opted to wear dresses and jazz it up a little bit. Sadly Michael decided not to join us in the dress wearing, however he did scrub up nicely with a freshly trimmed beard!

We arrived and waltzed in, quickly ordering an array of brewed teas from the menu! We were then escorted into heaven! We were seriously like kids in a candy store. The food before us was to die for and incredibly decedant - not to mention scrumptious - and yes we did sample everything - there were cakes, tarts, scones, muffins and savouries! The boys who took the other tour would have thought it was 'well tidy' (sorry guys you did miss you), although there was no strawberry cheesecake for Mole!

Anyway we 'sipped' and 'stuffed' for most of the afternoon, stopping inbetween rounds for a leisurely swim and some exercise to help our tummies (now food babies) for even more cake in!

As the sun started to go down we decided to retire to the river bar for some cocktails. Continuing our posh lady theme we chose pimms - yum yum - though could have been stronger.

We were given some fancy nibbles and chilled out in peaceful bliss but not for long - little did we know that we were being spied on out of the trees - a 'blue balled' monkey jumped up on our table and with two swipes stealthily stole the nibbles and ran off - he sure was ballsy!!!

We sat with stunned giggles and wished we'd caught it on camera. in a group effort of brilliance we tried to lure the monkey back! At this stage we had no idea monkeys loved to drink as much as us - but before long another monkey joined us at the table and took a fancy to T-dog's cocktail - T-dog wasn't going to give up her delicious pimms without a fight, so proceeded to have a tug of war match with the monkey - luckily it was a lot littler than the first! T-dog stood strong and won the battle and happily escaped without any bites or scratches!

Ahhhh a day in the life of a 'posh laydee' is very hard indeed - take me back to camping anyday!!! hahah

Peace out yo

Bree xx

Days 23-24 - Kafue River excursion

Its a depleted group that hits the road again after Livingstone - 4 passengers plus 3 crew - we have a new addition - Arnold, who is training on this leg with us.

First stop is along the Kafue River, about 480km from Livingstone, where we board a boat for a river cruise, following which we set up camp in a basic camp area which the members of the local community have set up, and enjoy entertainment in the form of drumming and dancing by the village members in some rather revealing costumes.

We eat dinner and consume a few beverages on board the boat which is anchored nearby to our camp and then settle in for some drumming lessons. Sadly the weather gods have other ideas and the spectacular lightning which we have seen from afar decides to pay a visit along with bucketloads of rain. So its an enforced early night as everyone retires to their tents.

The next morning we do a dance of a different kind as we hop from foot to foot to avoid some ants which have decided to set up residence under our tents. Misson accomplished, we travel about 20 minutes down the river where the group disembark and visit a local village, where they can find out more about local Zambian life with a Tonga tribe.

On the way back to meeting the truck we get fed a hearty breakfast and then its a short trip to Lusaka (capital of Zambia) where the local markets are in full swing and we can negotiate to our heart's content.

The evening will be spent in a campsite beside a game farm, so fingers crossed for visits from the zebra, impala and giraffe that live there, but hopefully not the buffalo...

Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest entry - Sarah (on Namibia)

Plants and mountains covered in greenery aren't typical images of Namibia. Much of the country is desert where very little grows, but our visit coincided with the highest rainfall in many years. Rivers and pools had formed where the land had been parched. Even when we visited Sosussvlei (meaning Dead Lake) the lake had reformed.
The rainfall brought its challenges - over the week we encountered two other overlanding trucks who got stuck in the mud, but we were fortunate and managed to get through.

The week's adventures include:

Rising at 4:30am to climb Dune 45
With sand dunes stretching into the distance we watched the sun rise and climbed down to discover a proper fry up breakfast waiting for us, thanks to Emma and Letaloi.

Looking out for wildlife as we travel from place to place
We've spotted oryx, springbok, zebra, warthogs, jackals and even a couple of giraffe who had been imported to Namibia.

An evening's mad dash to cross a bridge before the river flooded
With party music blaring and a fantastic storm crashing around us, we raced against the rain and arrived in time to safely cross, saving ourselves an additional 600km drive the next day. Once we were out of the storm zone we found a clearing near the road and set out mattresses to camp under the stars and see a beautiful sunrise the next morning.

Quad biking on the dunes of Swakopmund
A fun couple of hours was spent speeding around the dunes, though disappointingly, there wasn't the option to do more adventurous moves as we had expected.

Watching tens of thousands of seals and their cute pups waddle and splash about
Unfortunately the seals stank - strong "wet dog" smell with a little something extra to really turn the stomach. While the hardier among us "adjusted" to the stench, Michael and I fought the gag reflex and were not ashamed to walk about with tissues stuffed in our nostrils!

Lions and giraffes in Etosha National Park
Letaloi's sharp eyes spotted a brownish object under a tree - which Michael's zoom showed in detail to be a strong male lion and his mate. We watched the male get up and walk a little, and although they weren't as close as we would have liked, we were fortunate to see them, as we spoke with a local who had never seen a lion in Etosha. We also really enjoyed seeing a number of giraffe up close, including some youngsters.

Seeing dramatic mountains and rocky plateaus formed from magma in Spitzkoppe

Wandering in Windhoek
Upon arrival in Namibia's capital city, our truck was greeted by an assortment of intriguing characters - newspaper sellers, blind people with paper sheets telling their story, keyring sellers, and a young man who claimed his brother had just been hit by a car and he needed money to get to hospital. Feeling "welcomed" we strolled around central Windhoek, finding it very similar to Hamilton, our hometown in New Zealand. A similar collection of modern and dated buildings, with nice enough streets to wander and no real standout "sights."

Eating delicious game at Joe's Beerhouse, Windhoek
After much recommendation, Joe's Beerhouse delivered the goods - zebra fillet was succulent and peppery plus flavoursome oryx.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Days 18 - 19: End of an era...

We arrive at the border between Botswana and Zambia with our fingers firmly crossed - the ferries here are known to be unreliable. Sure enough, the new ferry is out of order and the other one has just driven into a bush, so we have a small wait before we can cross the river and set foot in Zambia. This border is a meeting point to two rivers (Chobe and Zambesi) and four countries (Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia) which provides a good geography lesson as people try to orientate themselves.

First stop in Livingstone is a trip to see Victoria Falls, one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. The water is 30cm higher than this time last year, and the spray is visible from the road as we approach. Everyone carefully wraps their camera in plastic bags which proves a necessary precaution as all end up soaked. In high water (May-June) the water over the edge reaches an incredible 9000m3/s and though we haven't reached that figure yet, it still seems like we are in the middle of a rainstorm.

Livingstone is the second adrenaline centre of our tour, which perhaps explains why the group duly heads out for high tea at the Royal Livingstone hotel, a quick round of golf and a meal out. Some rectify this sedateness by throwing themselves off a 111m bridge attached to a thin rope later.

Livingstone marks the end of the road for some, and others are swapping trucks and heading to Jo'burg. So its goodbye to Mark, Mole, Jason, Dan, Haggis, Cho, Mun, Eunjin, George, Helen, Hamish and Tanith - we'll miss you!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Days 16-17: Chobe NP - lions!

The theory is that animals are most active during the cooler hours of the day so its another early start for the group as they head out on an early morning game drive in Chobe NP - home to a massive 64,000 elephants. Despite this number, its not uncommon not to see any at all, especially in the rainy season, so the group is pleased to see a big herd, as well as kudu (now they have seen everything they've eaten), tribes of baboons, many impala - and a huge highlight - a pride of lions with very small cubs.

Breakfast is very welcome (pancakes and all the toppings) and then we head to town for a few hours - and a KFC - before heading out on an evening game cruise down the river. Again, we are lucky - the elephants have come down to the river to play, fight and drink and we see nile monitor lizards, buffalo (so thats four of the Big 5 seen) and mongoose.

Everyone agrees that Chobe has been exceptionally good - so much so that most call it an early night, leaving a few hardcore souls to see the night in with a very competitive cards tournament.

Guest entry - Dan (on Etosha NP)

14 Feb 2011
Valetine's Day at Etosha

Our two-day visit to Etosha National Park started with spotting a few animals on the way in, mainly zebras, springboks, giraffes, ostriches and oryx before arriving at the campsite and heading straight for the pool (how most of us now wash)! We headed back out on the truck for a game drive in the late afternoon in the hope of seeing more animals – though we all knew that there wasn't a massive chance of seeing anything cos all the animals were seeking shade. We did see some of all the previously mentioned animals and our first lion of the tour. He was cotching under a tree not doing very much until some thunder sounded and he stirred a little bit, allowing those with good zooms on their cameras to get some pretty decent pictures.

Back at camp we sat down for a three course dinner. Firstly soup which was followed by, rather appropriately, kudu steaks which tasted amazing. For dessert we had cheesecake – not 'broken biscuit pancakes' as I had naively believed when asking Emma what she was breaking biscuits for. Dumb! After dinner we all went down to the watering hole in the hope of some animals wanting to join us for a drink or two or three... we sat for a while and saw nothing then all of a sudden a rhino emerged from the horizon. It went for a dip in the water enough that when it got out it was like a two-tone rhino. It was accompanied by a smaller animal that none of us could actually identify. It came almost up to the wall that we were sat behind - the most action that any of us got this Valentine's Day!

Back by the tents a few of us sat around saw a jackal interested in something so we naturally got closer and found out it was a snake. We tried taunting it and feeding it a beetle but it wasn't having any of it. Still we fun throwing things at a beetle to try and get the snake to eat it. The next day we were told it was pretty poisonous! All in all a pretty good day.

Guest entry - Mark (on skydiving in Swakopmund)

SWAKOPMUND - The place where all things that make you shit yourself happen. Most people on our tour have been looking forward to this place for about a week. We can do skydiving, sandboarding, quadbiking and anything adrenaline fueled. The other reason were all quite pumped for it is that we get to stay in a dorm instead of a tent and get fairly (ridiculously) drunk. Four of us decide to do skydiving, half for the skydiving and half for the piss up beforehand.

Get picked up in some truck thing and fly across the desert to this tiny remote shack where harnesses hang like dead bodies round the room. First thing I notice is that they are all red (off baby pink) and look very top gunesque. We all have our safety briefing (brief being a big part of it) and just start drinking to soften the idea of the worst case scenario landing. Emma goes first shortly followed by Mole and T-Bag. Me and Jason go last and the flight up seems to be lasting forever. The fact that all around you can see is desert probably doesn't help things and some german bloke sitting next to me has his leg hanging out of the open space where there should clearly be a door.

I'm first jumping out and sitting on the edge felt rather strange although I was only there for like 2 seconds. One thing I did notice is that they should change it to a skyfalloutofadoor instead of skydive cos I dont know about everyone else's experience but I didn't do much diving. The freefall was well cool and it didn't seem scary due to the floor just not getting any closer as you fell. The coolest part for me though was when the shute was pulled (nearly ripping off my bollocks) and there was complete silence. The stupid goggles come down around your neck and all of a sudden the realisation that your floating like 3-4000 foot over a desert in Africa kicks in. The bloke was well cool and let us all take control of it and said to me do what you want. After like 30 seconds of trying my best to flip us over he takes the controls ready for landing. The landing was smoother than my unshaven chest and the beers were back in play. Well worth the money and all five of us were left wanting to do it again.

Mark x

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Days 13-15: Bush camping in the Delta

When you sign up for the Okavango Delta overnight trip you have to expect to get back to basics. It pays to be organised - anything that you - or your guide forgets to bring - cannot be replaced by a quick trip to the shops - there are none.

We get up early ready for a transfer on the back of an open-air truck to the mokoro station where we meet our polers. (Mokoros are dugout canoes made from sausage trees, or nowerdays, fibreglass). The mokoros seat two people in a reclining position, which allows incredible temptation to sleep, which in turn, allows wonderful opportunities to suntan/ sunburn, depending on whether your pre-trip packing included suntan lotion.

Whilst in the delta, we spent the hot part of the day swimming in the safe spots that our guides have pointed out to us - swimming without taking this advice is too risky as there are lots of hippos and crocs in this area. The group uses this time productively, having mokoro races, battles (Mole got beaten by a girl half his size) and making human pyramids. Once the weather has cooled down a bit - its 40 degrees midday - we go for a sunset cruise, and end up sharing a lilypond peacefully side by side with an adult male hippo, who yawns his way into the evening.

Dinner (and all meals) are necessarily simple - we have pasta carbonara and salad - and as the night draws in, the polers light a fire and teach us traditional songs. Inspired by this some of the group decide to sing mostly tunefully into the early hours, conducted and led by Dan.

The next morning its an early start for a wilderness walk - the animals have left plenty of evidence of their presence overnight but only a few zebra were present. However, more than 2 weeks into our journey, its always nice to stretch our legs - wildlife or no wildife!

Once we have had breakfast its time to pack up, leaving the island looking exactly as we found it - completely uninhabited.

Nearly all the group choose to spend their afternoon in a 5 seater plane over the delta, and this time we see plenty of wildlife - including lion, elephant, buffalo and hippos. This was a fantastic opportunity to see the sheer size and scale of the delta, which is the largest inland delta in the world.

The evening is given over to punch night, regardless of the fact that the next morning is a distinctly early start to allow for the 600km journey to Kasane, home of Chobe National Park.

Delta tip: be prepared for anything to be seen as entertainment. Case in point: one person's chief enjoyment of the delta trip appeared to be digging the communal toilet!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Guest entry - by Michael and Sarah (life as an overlander)

For those of you who are wondering about day to day life on our camping trip, here's a quick overview.

Campsites are generally very pleasant spots and often have pools which is very welcome in the mid to high 30's heat. We usually leave camp around 7am to avoid driving in the heat of the day, so that means tents packed in the dark and breakfast around 6am. This is rather different from our usual style, so we're still struggling to transform ourselves into lively morning people! Mornings can be very busy to meet the departure schedule and sometimes it feels like we need to leave the moment we've finished breakfast, which isn't something we particularly enjoy. Later in the day we often have blocks of time to chill out and swim, so the morning rush does balance out with downtime later.

Most of our group like drinking and partying until late, so we're a little different in our enjoyment of a few drinks before heading to bed early to cope with the early starts. It would be nice to socialise more with the group, but our "old" bodies need their beauty sleep! The atmosphere in our group is great - everyone is happy to pitch in to make camp life enjoyable and there's a real acceptance of everyone as they are.

Most days we pack up and move on, with an average drive being four hours and a few long driving days of eight hours or so. Roads are generally on the bumpy side and in Botswana they are unfenced, so we make frequent stops while horses, donkeys and cows slowly saunter off the road. Shashe (our truck) is comfortable, with padded seats, some tables, glass windows, lockers, a freezer, charging stations and an Ipod jack. In early mornings or as the day gets hotter it's easy to catch up on missed sleep as the truck rocks along.

We work as a team to take care of all the practicalities of camping, with rosters for cooking, truck packing and cleaning. Emma and Letaloi are wonderful - often we'll return from a bushwalk or other activity to find they have kindly cooked dinner for us. We also learn a lot  by asking them about things we see along the way. Letaloi is from the Masai Mara in Kenya and we've enjoyed chatting with him and learning about his life.

Days 11-12 - Across the border to Botswana

Day 11: Windhoek has been a place of note for more than a few of the boys on this trip - namely because of 'Joe's Beerhouse', a restaurant which is rightly famous for its game meats. Nearly everyone chooses a game platter - trying kudu, oryx, zebra, crocodile, ostrich - or the zebra steak, complete with garlic butter.

Earlier in the day we had had the opportunity to look around the city centre, though for some, the absence of internet (it was down across the whole city) was more than a little frustrating.

With one last night and one tour extension, as well as a night out of the tents (in dorms) to celebrate, the group made sure the night was memorable...

Day 12: No cook team this morning as breakfast is included, so its a well rested group that pile into the truck, ready to cross the border. First though we bump into a southbound Acacia truck (with Tony and Sammie) so have a quick stop to exchange news and views from the road. The border crossing is again uneventful, and we get to Ghanzi, our first stop in Botswana mid afternoon. On the journey though, the Botswanian wildlife lives up to its reputation and does its best to become tonight's dinner - its amazing how the sight of a truck approaching, with the horn blowing does not even merit a blink of an eye for these donkeys/ cows/ horses, let alone a step from the centre of the road where they have taken up residence. (The reason for this apparent stupidity is because the roads are unfenced and the animals are unguarded.)

Quite a few people choose to reside for the night in straw 'bushman' huts, and set up home here before heading off on a walk with a bushman tribe, which proves illuminating - these tribes live a threatened existance as increasingly they are being forced out of their homes in the Kalahari and surrounding areas, and given alternative accomodation quite unlike what they have used for the past thousands of years.

We only spend one night in Ghanzi, and tomorrow its off to Maun - our gateway to the Okavango Delta!

Guest entry - by Michael and Sarah (on township tour)

In Cape Town our truck tour group visited District Six, where the apartheid system saw black and coloured people cleared from their homes and forced into designated areas, called townships. All the buildings in District Six had been razed except the religious institutions which were spared in a tactical move by the apartheid government. A mall area of new flats were slowly being built for those who wanted to return to their old neighbourhood, but most people were reluctant to leave the communities that had formed in the townships. Looking around us it was understandable, as District Six was still largely empty, despite its proximity to the city.

We were given guided tours of two townships in the Cape area, where we were greeted with friendliness and visited a local beer making business. We sampled sourdough beer in the traditional manner - fresh beer was poured into a steel bucket which we passed around the group. Definitely an acquired taste!

The townships mostly had very small houses built wall to wall, with some hostel buildings and the occasional shipping container acting as a shop. Living conditions had much improved from the apartheid era and we saw the extent of these changes when we visited a hostel. Standing in the lounge/dining area of a six bedroom hostel "house" we learned that the houses had been designed to accommodate 18 men, with three beds per room and a single toilet and shower. At one point the men's families had joined, making for about 96 people per house. Considering that the 14 of us felt cramped and a little invasive as we squashed into the lounge, conditions must have been horrendous for the families who had to live here. In response, some families built shelters beside the township boundaries, where many people still live with no running water or electricity. Directly beside these shacks the apartheid government built spacious brick houses in view of the main highway, to give foreign visitors a good impression of the townships.

When we visited the shacks a group of children welcomed us with amazing trust and enthusiasm. A small hand slipped into mine and Michael and I walked with a beaming child between us. Children were being piggy backed and flipped into the air by our other group members. Apparently young children struggle to recognise white people as individuals, so it's likely they thought we were their friends returning from an earlier visit. This probably explains their exuberance, but it was still a special experience.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Etosha National Park

Days 9-10: Etosha NP is known as the 'jewel in Namibia's wildlife crown' and nearly all the places we have been so far have sold pictures of watering holes packed with herds of animals, including elephants, giraffe, zebra, oryx, ostrich and naturally, the cats. However, in the wet season (now) and especially due to the unusual amount of rain we've seen, the herds are not dependent on the artificial water supplies that have been created and because of this freedom, have migrated elsewhere in the park.

At 22,000km, Etosha is in no way a huge park, but its certainly big enough to lose elephants in. Our game drives in Shashe still provide fruitful, and our highlights include a male lion who obligingly stands up as if to pose for us, giraffe on the road, and white rhino. We also oblingingly trundled off to help another overland truck who had underestimated the strength of the mud, but they got un-stuck after 2 hours - just before we got there!

The campsite we stay at underwent extensive renovation a few years ago, and has excellent facilities as a result, including not one but three pools, a watchtower that is good to climb for sunset pictures, shops and a restaurant. There are even upgrades available if your purse will stretch to a whopping $100 per person. (In general, at a lot of campsites there are often upgrades – rooms, dorms, chalets, huts – available along the way, so if you fancy a night or two away from pitching a tent, it is possible, you just pay the monies due on top of the camping already paid for).

The best feature of the campsite is the watering hole which is just (a matter of feet) outside it – inside the camp, and behind a sturdy wall, are benches all along one side, and the area is subtly floodlit at night so you can sit and watch out for animals who might come by.

In our case, those who braved the wait are rewarded by a young white rhino, who spent an hour and a half contentedly wading through the water.

On the second evening, we are asked to partake in a survey about food on camping tours versus the food available in the restaurant on-site. The conversation went somewhat as follows:

Questioner: Can you tell me what you had for dinner last night?
Me: well... we started with chicken and mushroom soup...with bread, and then we had kudu steaks with potato salad, vegetables and mixed salad. For desert we had homemade cheescake.
Q: (stunned silence)

Etosha Rule: if you go to bed in the evening, don't expect anyone still up at the watering hole to come fetch you if animals arrive. This act of selfishless could cost them seeing the animal they've come to tell you about!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Days 6 - 8 - Deserts fun

Days 6-7: We spent the night bushcamping, after hearing that one of the bridges to Swakopmund which has been unpassable for the last week, can be used. Faced with a choice between a 800km detour round to Windhoek on the way to Swakopmund or a 180km drive, everyone happily packs up after dinner and we just make it through before the rain (and spectacular storms) hit.

Feeling smug, we make it into town the next morning in record time, leaving the best part of two days to explore the town, and get the heart racing with various adrenaline activities. Arriving in the typical Swakop fog, some pax are unsure whether their ambition to throw themselves out of a perfectly good plane from 10000 foot will be realised, but luckily the coastal clouds burn off, and the group heads out to the desert to skydive to their hearts content.

Unfortunately for some, skydiving is addictive, and more than one person has decided to blow the budget on their round-the-world trips by vowing to repeat the experience soon.

We head out to start the evenings entertainment at Napolitanas - a local restaurant famous for its game and massive portions. Nearly everyone was defeated by their dinner, which was anticipated by the restaurant as it had plenty of doggy bags available. After the dinner, it was universally agreed that the night would not be complete without a visit to a club for dancing and drinks...

Most Swakop activites have a very flexible cancellation policy, but this group is tough and despite some sore heads and minimal hours sleep, everyone duly turned up at the alloted times for their activities. Fun for the day was sandboarding (top speed of the day an impressive 74kph), quadbiking and sea kayaking with seals. We welcomed three new pax, and headed out to dinner at a local seafood restaurant before heading back to the same club/pub to close the evening.

Tip for Swakopmund: its not easy to get lost here, but if you really try you can manage it!

Day 8: Leaving the mists of Swakop behind us, we travel up the coast, looking out for shipwrecks, before reaching the Cape Cross Seal Colony, aka the stinky seals. There are 80000 resident seals here and in breeding season (December) this number increases to 210,000. This time, the babies are just beginning to show some signs of independence, much to their mother's concern. We never spent too long here due to the smell, and the group is under strict instructions not to open the windows or push-ups will be issued to the guilty party.

Trying to ignore the faint odour still clinging to our clothes (and apparently, cameras), we drive to the Spitzkoppe mountain, which was formed from magma over 100million years ago. A local guide takes everyone to see the impressive natural formations and the bushman art which is thought to have survived from 2-5000 years ago, and provided vital information between groups of what habitat and animals they should expect to encounter.

Everyone is hoping for another night under the stars, but the weather has other plans, and tents are hurriedly put up just as its getting dark. At least people have had lots of practice by now. The sunset first however is spectacular, with a double rainbow and lightning making it truly memorable.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Days 3-5: through a suprisingly green Namibia

Day 3: Overlanding tours are supposed to be basic but you wouldn't necessarily tell from our first stop in the Ais-Ais National Park, home to Fish River Canyon (second largest canyon in the world and over 600million years old). At the bottom of the canyon is a spa complex based around natural thermal springs, and use of the facilities is included in the park fees – happy days!

In the Namibian winter the indoor and outdoor heated pools are a huge bonus, but at the moment the 35-plus degree heat means that all the group wants is somewhere to chill.

We head to the canyon viewpoint for a sunset dinner – and luckily the sun comes out at the last moment for some picture perfect views. We also see our first animals of the tour – springbok and oryx.

Tip of the day: when camping in National Parks, don't leave anything outside your tents that you don't want to lose – Jackals and baboons will be more that grateful for these 'gifts'.

Day 4: The next day is a big drive – 600km – and due to some exceptional weather the roads are in a bad state, so getting stuck is a serious concern. If that happens the result can be hours of digging, and sure enough after about 2 hours on the road we come across another overland truck whose passengers have just spent an hour and a half doing exactly that. Fortunately for them, the place they got bogged just happened to be outside a plant which had tractors to pull them out. Fortunately for us, they were still there to point us in the right direction. Everyone got out to minimise our weight and Shashe splashed through the mud beautifully.

We camp at Seisreim, just outside the national park gates, which is in the middle of a dust-storm, and get a reasonably early night ready for the unreasonably early start tomorrow.

Tip of the day: don't ask your crew to stop for photos when driving on roads which are knee deep in mud. Likelihood of sticking = high. Likelihood of request being granted = low.

Day 5: At pre-departure we promise/ warn that one early start is non-negotiable, and this day has arrived. The park gates open at 5.15am so at 5 o'clock sharp (or nearly) we are waiting in line, ready to drive the 45km down to Dune 45, to be ready for sunrise. Dune 45 is the designated climbing dune (just one is chosen in order to protect and conserve the others) and at 210m on an empty stomach, it can be quite a challenge. This time the group assure me that everyone made it to the top, and in time to see the sunrise, so they get a full cooked breakfast as a reward. (Usual breakfast is a variation of french toast and beans, scrambled eggs, cereals and fruit).

Once we have finished breakfast we head to Edenvlei ('vlei' meaning valley or dry lake), where we find that the so-called dry lake is actually flooded, which we are definitely privileged to see (this doesn't happen often for sustained amounts of time - the park officials reckon only a handful of times in the past twenty years).

Mindful of the early start, we don't put tents down until we return, and after a quick shower we are on our way again, this time to Cha-Re, where we can bushcamp under the stars, and also take the opportunity to learn more about the local history, area and wildlife habits on a guided walk of the sand dunes and desert.

Quote of the day:
(Campsite owner) 'Don't worry, you can sleep outside and I guarantee nothing will bite or sting you'
(Mark, after a thoughtful pause) '...but what is one of us bites someone else?'

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The day before THE DAY

The blog is back baby!!

Guys my name is Lauren Lees and I am a tour leader here at Acacia, follow me here to get all the inside info over the next 110 days while myself and TJ (my dreamy driver) take a truck full of eager passengers around Africa. Over the next 3 ½ months we’ll be touring all the way to Uganda and back again! Experiencing and soaking up probably the BEST continent on earth!

Having flown in from taking a holiday back home in England it was straight to the office as we wasted no time in getting our truck together. I should probably introduce you to our truck, her name is Mara named after the Mara River which separates The Serengeti and The Masai Mara (all of our trucks are named after rivers in Africa) and she is a beasty 18 tone 224 horse power MAN. Having been worked on for 2 weeks she now looks clean and shiny and ready to rock and roll us safely around Africa over the next 20,000 Km’s. Massive thanks to the boys in the workshop for making her look so beautiful!!

After 2 days in the office sorting out all the paperwork (thank you operations team for putting up with us….and buying me a mcflurry when in need) we are ready to head to our pre departure. . . .

Tomorrow is DAY 1 and my 19 passengers will be heading straight into the depth of Cape Town visiting Langa township for the morning, drinking some of the local home made beer and having lunch at the popular Mzolis. 250Km’s later we shall be hitting Highlanders campsite near the town of Trawal where I am hoping everyone is keen for a spot of wine tasting……if we’re lucky Sparky will turn up in his kilt!!.....we can all hope!!

Shall keep you all posted but in the mean time keep groovy. xx

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Day 2 - how many different types of springbok are there?

Due to the changing transport issues, we don't have any cooking equipment with us until we meet up with Shashe, so its an easy first breakfast as all we have to do is roll out of our sleeping bags, rub the sleep out of our eyes, and head up the hill to the bar where food is waiting. Everyone has been warned not to get used to this - slave labour starts soon!

This trip is a participation tour, which means that everyone gets involved with cooking, cleaning, washing up and the all-time favourite - packing. We've chosen not to run a rota except for cooking - which technically means no one ever has a day off!

With duties still a distant threat until the afternoon we pack up and leave Highlanders for the border. We follow the Oliphants wine route for a while and pass through Springbok, which features mountains where gold was mined. The drive is uneventful and we reach the South African border in good time. Some time later and we're through, all in one piece. We only have 10km to go after the border (the Orange River is the actual physical border between South Africa and Namibia) until we get to our Camp - Felix Unite.

Felix Unite is a beautiful campsite, with a much needed pool overlooking the very swollen river (we couldn't stay at our usual campsite on the South African side as its currently underwater - on the way down last time we were getting reports that the water levels of the river were rising 1m per day - so no canoeing then!)

Tip of the day: South African Rand have the same value as Namibian dollars and can be used in Namibia

Day 1 - And we're off...

Its only day one and already this tour is different! South African authorities have decided to limit foreign registered trucks in and out of the country, so we've had to 'make a plan' (a necessary skill in Africa).

Letaloi and Shashe left the workshop and headed over the border yesterday, and we will be following tomorrow, but in the meantime we're in a special South African charter vehicle for the first two days of our adventure. A sense of flexibility and willingness to adapt is definitely a bonus when it comes to overlanding, and two phrases should be kept in mind at all times - "TIA"  or 'This Is Africa' and of course, Africa time!

There are 14 pax (passengers) starting from Capetown and the first stop is a highlight, as well as an eye-opener. The guys head off on a township tour, run by guides who live in one of the largest townships in the area (Langa). The tour includes a visit to local homes, community buildings and historic areas, such as the old overcrowded hostels where men used to live in appalling conditions to be close to their areas of work. On a lighter note, lunch in a local restaurant is included as well as an obligatory trip to a local bar where the guys could try the local ale (looks, smells and tastes like off milk - nice!)

I use the time during the township tour to go shopping for the fresh ingredients we need for the first couple of days of the tour - and once we're reunited, we load onto our temporary truck and start the overlanding element of the tour.

Day 1 is a nice easy drive - only 260km on sealed roads - luxury! We travel past the Cederburg Mountains, and the famous flower fields (its not the season, but still a pretty drive). Home for the night is Highlanders Campsite, with an awesome bar overlooking vineyards and mountains - a perfect setting for winetasting and sunset pictures.

Winetasting is the perfect icebreaker for a new group, and the African Ruby (the local fortified red) goes down especially well...

Capetown - the calm before the storm...

Arriving back in the office is always a bit strange after 18 days off in between circuits - during which the most challenging thing we have to do is decide where (and when) to sleep. This time, its out with the old and in with the new as we find out we are changing trucks - so goodbye 'tati' and hello 'shashe'!

Before a trip starts, we (the crew) are in the office for three days, preparing the truck, making sure everything is in place and doing possibly the biggest imaginable food shop to (hopefully) set truck supplies up all the way to Uganda - 11000km and over 50 days away.

This time, we must move all our equipment from one truck to the other, not forgetting the essentials that make the truck our home on the road - photos, information sheets, and of course skeleton duty rosters - which can only be filled in once we've met the awesome people who are travelling with us for the next 11, 19, 34 or 41 days.

Tomorrow Letaloi and I will head to Makro, then off to Ashanti Greenpoint for predeparture - we'll next be in Capetown after 120 days on the road...

Overlanding must haves:
  • Sense of humour and willingness to get up early!
  • Sleeping bag (and check first which weight you'll need - the Namibian desert and Ngorogoro Crater in the African winter are COLD)
  • Closed shoes and flip flops
  • Waterproof (for rainy season)
  • Torch (preferably head torch)
  • Ipod or similar (audio books are a good option as you can look out of the window at the amazing scenery)
  • Passport/ yellow fever certificate
  • Camera, batteries, charger (plus spare memory cards, or USB sticks)
  • Phone charger
  • Adapters for chargers (and note - South African adapters are not part of a universal charger)
  • Small padlock and key for internal lockers on truck
  • Pens, paper, cards etc