Overland Tour Part 1: Kruger National Park and Mozambique

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to our Overland Adventure! We met most of our group the evening before our departure for our pre-departure meeting at a backpackers outside of Johannesburg. We met our guide Manda, chef Avel, and driver Ian. We learned there were 12 people on the tour, of which 2 would be doing the entire 49 day tour with us. The others would be leaving us at Victoria Falls and either heading down to Cape Town with another truck or ending their tour there. We filled out all of the necessary forms to protect the company, Africa Travel Company, from any legal responsibility should there be any accident, robbery etc. We had our supper and sat around the fire chatting for a few hours before turning in for the evening as it was an early start the next day.

We had breakfast the next morning early before departing at 7:30. We had a big day of driving as we were going all the way to Kruger, approximately a 5-6 hour drive and we had to stop to have lunch. It wasn’t a very exciting drive as that area was mostly farm land and coal mining. It was nostalgic smelling burning coal as we drove through towns, it reminded me of my trips to visit my grandfather in New Victoria. We arrived to our campsite by late afternoon and had the option to pay for a sunset game drive. We opted out of that as we are going to go on so many game drives on our entire tour we didn’t think it was worth it. Instead Chris and I decided to get a run in while the others went for their drive. We were staying in the National Park but in a fenced in campsite so we ran within the boundries of the electric fence to avoid being “fast food” for a lion. There was a watering hole at one end of the camp site and as we passed by were able to see hippos in the water. After our run we had a shower with a view, as the ablution block was open on the side facing the fence, so any animals passing by we could still see while showering (or using the toilet). Supper that evening was a delicious stew with rice sitting around the camp fire, which is lovingly known as ‘African TV.’

The next day we had two options; pay for a game drive in an open land rover or go on a game drive in our truck for no extra charge. We opted for the game drive in our truck and were very happy with our decision. The truck is massive and you are up quite high so you have an excellent vantage point for spotting game. Our group wanted to see the ‘Big 5’; Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Rhino and buffalo. The ‘Big 5’ was started by hunters and was based on the most dangerous or difficult animals to hunt. The only shooting of these animals that goes on now is that from tourists cameras as the ‘Big 5’ is on everyones list to see while in Africa. From my last safari in the Serengeti and our trip to Mkhaya in Swaziland I have already completed the ‘Big 5’ so I was content to see anything and everything. We were able to see giraffes, which were a different species from those that I saw in Tanzania, elephants, hippos, crocodiles, hyenas,a massive eagle feeding on a dead Genet which is a small cat like animal, and of course tons of zebras and species of antelope. Unfortunately all of the cats seemed to be hiding that day as neither our truck or those that upgraded has seen any cats by lunchtime. It wasn’t until we were driving to meet the other group at the end of our day that we were able to spot a male lion who had just eaten a large meal and was sleeping in the shade on a nice sandy spot. Our guide joked the lions are part of the ‘Lazy 5.’ While the group didn’t get the ‘Big 5’ all in one day we did have a great game drive and everyone was happy if not a little sleepy. We drove out of Kruger and continued to our campsite that was on the border of South Africa and Mozambique.

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The next morning we hit the border early as it is notorious for having massive queue at all hours of the day. Chris and I were very sad to say goodbye to South Africa for the last time. We had the most amazing two months there and cannot speak highly enough about the country. It has overtaken Colombia for my favorite country I have traveled. If you get the chance to visit, do not miss it. We then headed to the Mozambique side of the border and got a small taste of the attitude of the police and military officials. We had been warned beforehand by our guide to not take pictures and be very courteous to the officials. They in turn took every opportunity to assert their authority. It was very comical as one of the military guys looked about 12 but I didn’t dare laugh. We made it through unscathed and proceeded our drive to the coast.

Our guide had warned our driver (who had never visited let alone driven in Mozambique before) to obey the speed limits to the kilometer as the police have tons of speed checks and issue tickets even if you are only a kilometer over the limit. If you don’t want to pay the ticket you can negotiate a price that is more acceptable, but you will not be given a receipt. We got through the first few speed points before being stopped. Our driver was going 87 in an 80 zone and the police wanted 2000 met cash which is about $50 CAD. The driver negotiated this price down to 600 met cash, a much more reasonable price. We continued our drive and not 3 kilometers down the road we were stopped again! This time we were going 63 in a 60 zone. He argued this tooth and nail and it wasn’t until he told them he had just paid off their friends 3 kilometers down the road that they let us go! The drive itself was very interesting as we drove through many small towns with tons of people who looked at the truck as if an alien spacecraft was driving through the town. It was really entertaining as I imagine the looks on their face to be similar to what we will all would look like during an apocalypse. As many people that were dumbfounded were incredibly excited by the truck and would wave with enormous toothy grins. The time passed effortlessly on the drive.

We pulled into our campsite at Zavora Lodge just as the sun was going down. We all felt awful for our driver who had a very stressful drive and were saying he must be happy it was over when we felt the truck sink in the sand. We were stuck. Very stuck. He got out of the truck shaking his head and said we all might as well get our tents up as he would need us out of the truck to get it out. All of the guys gave him a hand and it took an hour of digging and gathering wood, partnered with a tractor to get the beast out. Our driver had a well deserved beer after that hectic day.

One of the guys who worked at the lodge came and spoke to us about excursions the next day. There were two options; snorkeling or diving. Even if you weren’t dive certified they were willing to give some instruction and take you down (the definition of ‘This is Africa’ or T.I.A). Chris and I opted for snorkeling as we thought the first time we dive should be in a more controlled environment with more teaching and opportunity to get comfortable with the principles and the equipment. Two others made the same decision, one opted not to go at all, and the other 9 signed up for diving.

We met at the dive center at 8 am and sat disparingly staring at the beautiful beach and water while the guys who hadn’t dove (or dove only a couple of times before) had their lesson. Perhaps it is the fact I learned all about everything that could go wrong when you dive during my travel medicine certification, or the talk I went to at the ISTM conference on diving, but it is something I wouldn’t undertake lightly. Chris teased me that I was being motherly, but it is an activity that has serious consequences if something goes wrong. You could argue the same of jumping off a bridge, but I would counter that you need education and understanding to complete a dive rather than complete stupidity and a bit of courage to make the leap off something. That is just me though and they all seemed more than ready to get in the water!

After what felt like eternity the guide finally said we were ready to go before repeating the itinerary for the day one final time. The divers would dive first, then we would motor to somewhere else and the snorkelers would get in the water, and then we would look for the humpback whales which were in the area at the time. We took off on a small zodiac and the ride was more than a little choppy. We stopped for the divers to kit up and felt the full force of the water as it rocked the boat noxiously. I scanned the boat and 4-5 people were looking greener and greener. The process to get your gear ready for the dive was interesting to see, but I could also see the less seasoned divers beginning to look a bit apprehensive along with sea sick. They finally flipped backwards into the water and before we knew it they were under. The rough seas and cloudy water meant it took no time at all for them to disappear below us. It made me think of how much is under the surface that you don’t see. After giving one guy a lift to the line as he lost the group we set off to find dolphins. They were easy to find and a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately we spent a lot of the time stopped and just sitting getting smashed by waves while the divers were under, so all of the other 3 snorkelers were feeling quite ill. I am lucky that I don’t get motion sick but I did feel poorly for the others. The divers surfaced earlier than anticipated and we were happy to take off. They told us we were going to look for the whales, and we assumed that afterwards we would snorkel. We luckily found a whale and were treated to seeing it lift its tail out of the water and we saw it jump out of the water from a distance. Once it had left we began heading back to the lodge. It was late as it had taken the divers so long but we assumed at some point we would stop to snorkel. They continued directly back to the lodge and after a very rough beach landing with the boat the snorkelers were more than a little confused. We approached the guide once back to the lodge as to why we didn’t stop to snorkel. His response was absolutely laughable as he said it was because we didn’t want to. After much back and forth he stated that we were on an ocean safari and that if we had gotten cose enough to the whales to snorkel then we would have been able to. The only problem with that being they cut the engines when we were about 200 meters from the whale, so it clearly wasn’t possible. We were not impressed as none of us would have done it if we had known this information beforehand. His prices he told everyone the night before were also lower than what he wanted, but he said he would be nice and give us a ‘discount’ which ended up being the price he had originally told us! Mozambique was really living up to its reputation by this point.

We hit the beach for the rest of the day and Chris and I went for a run on the sand just before sunset. We had sundowners at the lodge bar that was perched on the beach before having a delicious dinner back at camp.

The next day we hit the road bright and early only to get stuck again on the way out of the lodge. We were all muttering about the place by this point and just wanted to leave! It was a quick drive to our next stop and we were very pleased when we arrived as we had a pristine, postcard perfect beach all to ourselves. After spending the day on the beach Chris and I and an Aus/Kiwi (we thought that mix was illegal) couple, Laurelle and Brad headed to the lodge for a game of mini-putt. The course was in pretty rough shape and we had to clear numerous obstacles off each hole but it was great fun. We had dinner and then were treated to our guide singing his national anthem for us and telling us a few African folklore tales. I will share one with you about hippos.

Hippos went to God one day and told him that their skin was so hot from the sun and they wanted to go in the water. God didn’t want them to go in the water as he feared they would eat the fish. They argued that they were vegetarians and only ate grass so they were no threat to the fish. God obliged, but said he would be watching them. He sent birds to check on the hippos and when the hippos saw the birds they would open their mouth wide in a big yawn to show them that there was no fish in their mouths. Now when you see a hippo yawning opening its mouth you will know why!

We played the card game ‘Shithead’ that evening and the loser would need to fetch all the drinks for the rest of the group whenever they wanted until we played again and a new loser was crowned. Brad was the unfortunate loser but somehow got away with most people forgetting his role. The photos below are all of the beach and resort we stayed at and were taken by the lovely Brad and ‘Rel!

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The next day we headed to Vilankulo to a campsite that was beachside again. Our first day we spent on the beach playing with a ball in the water and being harrassed by locals who prowled the beach targeting the tourists. That afternoon a guy from the lodge spoke to us about possible snorkeling trips for the following day off of some of the islands. We were very specific with our questions for this snorkel trip such as, “When you say island, do you mean a piece of land that floats in the water or a traffic island?” or “When you say snorkel, do you mean we will get in the water and snorkel no matter what, or only if there are things to see?” The poor guy was a bit confused but we wanted to be perfectly clear as to what we were going to do. We were fooled once and weren’t prepared to let it happen again!

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That afternoon we went as a group into town to go to a bottle shop and visit the local market. I was a bit apprehensive going as a big group as it draws so much attention and everyone has a different comfort level in those type of situations. My worst nightmares were confirmed when I saw members of our group snapping pictures of people, almost touching their faces with their lenses without asking permission first. Chris and I are on the opposite end of the spectrum that we don’t take enough pictures but I think it is because of our travel experiences so far. It is far better (and more respectful) to experience those things fully and not from behind a lens. Also, what do you do with those types of pictures? They usually aren’t the ones you hang on the wall rather they just sit on your SD card forgotten. For all of these reasons I cringe at the sight of cameras in these settings. This is one of the only downsides of the tour, being such a big group and having different travel styles and experiences.

We made our way back to camp and enjoyed some beers while waiting for dinner. The town surrounding our campsite was alive with music and shouting as it was a Friday Night. I headed to bed early as I wasn’t feeling 100% and unfortunately woke up the next morning with a migraine. I took some pills and slept it off for the day while the others headed snorkeling. The trip wasn’t all the guide had said it would be the evening before, they spent a lot of time on the boat and the island waiting for the tide to go down, but they did actually enter the water and see things this time. The group said the reef and fish were beautiful

We headed to bed early as the next morning was a 7 am wheels turning morning. We had a very long day in the truck and our campsite for the evening had cancelled our reservation so we had to make an ’emergency landing’ at a rather sketchy establishment. It was a “lodge” that appeared to be just the backyard of the local bar, and potentially local brothel. Needless to say we were extra careful with our belongings and headed to bed very early. Our soundtrack for the evening was drunken arguments, lots of yelling, and pounding music. We left very early the following day because we had to cross the border, but also because we all wanted to get out of there. The border with Zimbabwe took several hours due to utter lack of organization on the borders behalf. The border post also didn’t have the Kaza or UniVisa so we had to pay $75 as Canadians for our Visa. The drive to our final campsite, Antelope Park, was longer than anticipated and we didn’t arrive until later in the evening. My next blog will cover what we got up to at Antelope park and the rest of our time in Zim.

Cheers !

**We booked our tour through African Overland Safaris, the Adventure Travel Division of Tshokwane Safaris, on behalf of Africa Travel Co. We experienced incredible customer service and were fully satisfied with the price we paid and the information we were provided about the tour. Find more information at: http://www.african-overland-safaris.com OR http://www.tshokwanesafaris.com.

The Kingdom of Swaziland

Hi everyone!

The Kingdom of Swaziland is another landlocked country within South Africa that also borders Mozambique. It is just over 17 000 square kilometers in size, making it even smaller than Lesotho and in fact, one of the smallest countries in Africa.

Our journey to Swaziland was much more tame than that of Lesotho, but it was still longer than anticipated. We left plenty early after our previous debacle and were on tarred roads the entire time so the extra time was no problem.

Coming directly from Lesotho, through South Africa, to Swaziland prompted serious reflection about the discrepancies between the three countries. South Africa and Swaziland were on equal playing fields in terms of wealth and infrastructure, while Lesotho has been left in the dust. I found it interesting the contrast between Lesotho and Swaziland seeing as they are both landlocked, small, resource rich countries. The other major contrast between Lesotho and Swaziland was the climate; Lesotho of course had been very cold yet Swaziland was almost tropical even in the winter months. We were delighted at how warm Swaziland was, especially in the evenings for camping!

We were booked to pitch our tent in the Milwane Game Reserve at Sondzela backpackers. Milwane is a privately owned game reserve with a focus on conservation. Between 1960 and 1970 over 20 000 snares were lifted from Milwane and another parked owned by the same people called Hlane. They have the snares within the park and it was astounding to see exactly what 20 000 snares looked like. See the picture below!

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We rolled in to Sondzela just after dark, pitched our tent quickly and made a bite to eat. Wimbledon was on so we were able to watch a match before bed.

The next day we woke up and opened our tent door to a view of beautiful mountains and a few antelope grazing nearby. The park has no predators so it was perfectly fine to camp, but the wildlife were free to roam where they pleased. We just hoped none became too curious of our orange tent and got too close and damaged it in any way.

That morning we went for a game drive in the park and were able to see tons of zebras, blue wildebeest, and antelope. We parked the car and did the Summit Hike, a steep ascension to the peak of the park where we had a spectacular view of a large majority of the Kingdom. Unfortunately my phone was dead so I have no photos to share! That evening we relaxed by the fire taking in more of Wimbledon.

The next day we started our day with a beautiful run through the park. It was one of our most incredible runs as we were amongst the wildlife as we ran. It certainly didn’t seem like forced exercise with such stimulating scenery!

We then headed to Malandelas Lodge and restaurant for lunch. The lodge is set on a beautiful property and also is the site of House on Fire, Swazilands most famous bar. While we were there we enquired about entertainment for the following night, a Friday night. Unfortunately the bar wasn’t opened that evening, but the manager informed us that on Saturday they were hosting Swazilands first ever Craft Brewery Festival. It was as if he told us Christmas was coming early, we were so excited! We rearranged out plans to ensure we could make the festival.

We checked out the craftstore onsite and I found another pair of beautiful earrings. We then headed to a few other craft markets to check things out. We can’t buy much due to our baggage restriction but we were told the crafts in Swaziland were some of the best in Africa so we wanted to at least look. They definitely had a higher end craft market, with pricetags to match. It was fun browsing but the only thing we walked away with was a bottle of hot sauce for our upcoming tour.

We made our way back to the backpackers as the sun was setting and I was able to snap this beautiful picture below of the hippo pool.

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The following day we had booked a game drive in the Mhkaya Game Reserve, which belongs to the same owners as the Milwane Game Reserve where we were staying. The biggest reason we wanted to do a game drive in Mhkaya is because they have a very successful rhino conservation project which gives you a high chance of seeing them on your drives.

We had just over an hour drive to get to the gates of the park. We were met by a ranger who then led us into the park where we boarded our open viewing landrover. We set off immediately in pursuit of rhinos as they are the most difficult to spot. Within half an hour we had the incredible fortune to find a rhino, and not just any rhino, the very elusive and ill-tempered black rhino! I could hardly believe what I was seeing, he was very close to the vehicle and came even closer (due to his poor eyesight) to investigate further. When he was facing us straight on I was a little shocked as he wasn’t as tall as I thought a rhino would be; but then he turned to the side and he was the size of a small tank.

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We continued with our drive after sitting and admiring the rhino for over half an hour. Not long after we were lucky enough to stumble upon several white rhinos within a close vicinity to one another. We admired from afar a group before pulling up further to a mother and 3 year old baby. As soon as the ranger cut the engine the mother started walking [slowly] towards the vehicle. All of the guests were a bit apprehensive and held our breath as she approached. The ranger however, said hello and grabbed her for an affectionate rub! I was surprised to say the least, but the rhino seemed to enjoy it. She then proceeded to walk along the side of the vehicle scratching her horn along the way. The ranger encouraged us to give her a pat and say hello. Chris and I were hopeful at the start of the day to even spot a rhino, let alone pet one! It was a really incredible experience.

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The ranger had to try and get away when he could, apparently she would stick around all day if allowed! This also enabled me to get some great shots of Chris and the baby.

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We were totally satisfied with the drive after that incredible encounter and we were only a few hours in! We headed to the watering hole where we were fortunate enough to see hippos and a crocodile!

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We drove further into the park to the park lodge where we had a delicious lunch that was included in the price of the game drive. We had guinea fowl and a young antelope visit during our meal. You are able to stay overnight at the park lodge as well which seemed like a very beautiful setting to spend a night (a bit out of our budget).

The afternoon game drive was much quieter than the morning, we joked everyone was having their afternoon nap. When we reached the watering hole for the second time we found more rhinos, the hippos were further out of the water, and the croc was still around. The afternoon light was perfect for picture taking!

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We had an absolutely fantastic time at the game reserve and highly recommend it to anyone!

The following day we went for another run and then headed to the Swaziland Craft Beer Festival for the day. We were able to have a delicious lunch at Malandelas restaurant before we got down to business with the beer. The only craft brewery from Swaziland was there along with 16 South African Craft Brewers. We were able to try 18 different beers throughout the day (it was from 11 am on) and were very impressed with the quality of the beers. We enjoyed Darling Brews beers, their Silverback Dark Wheat Beer shocked and impressed us, it sounds very unappealing but was fantastic! We were even interviewed by the local newspaper, Swazi Times, for our take on the festival. It was an awesome day of sun, excellent beer, and fantastic live entertainment. See below for some pics of the day!

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The following day we left Swaziland for Pretoria where we have spent the last week sorting out our visas for our upcoming tour. On the way out of Milwane we noticed we had a flat tire, which seemed appropriate for the beating we gave the car. Chris changed it no problem!

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We did a ton of running around to obtain our visas, I could detail it for you but just know that if it appears it will be an easy process to apply for a visa it most definitely won’t be. We did all of our shopping for our tour (see pic below) and tried to relax a bit as these next 50 days are going to be hectic! The only thing we did worth noting was visit the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg and the South African Brewing Company World of Beer where we had an awesome tour. The Apartheid museum was absolutely phenomenal and it is a must do on any visit to Jo’berg.

We head out tomorrow on our tour and unsure how reliably we will have internet along the way. I promise to keep up on my blogging and post whenever I get a chance.

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Cheers everyone!

The Kingdom in the Sky

Hi Everyone!

Lesotho (li-soo-too) is an independent country that is landlocked by South Africa. We didn’t know much about the country before going so I thought I would share some information about it before I detail our time there.

It is known as ‘The Kingdom in the Sky’ because it is the only [independent] state in the world that lies entirely over 1000 meters in elevation. With over 80% of the country being over 1800 meters and its lowest point being1400 meters, it is the highest country in the world. It is 30 000 square kilometers and has a population of two million. The people are the Basotho and over 40% of the population live below the international poverty line. The average life expectancy is 37 (Lonely planet gives this number, Wiki says 48.2. Either way the numbers are heartbreaking) and the prevelance of HIV/AIDS is 26%.

The country is renowned for its beautiful scenery and friendly people. It is the Mountain Kingdom that has been frozen in time. One of the main modes of transport remains as pony or horse. We decided to visit after hearing these things and so much more from our tour guide Matt, on our Namibia tour.

We wanted to go from our beach haven in Bulungula to the Mountain Kingdom in one day. There was no wifi or cell service in Bulungula so we had to rely on our lonely planet book and a few road maps a fellow guest had to plot our route. As Lesotho is landlocked by South Africa there are many border posts to enter through. We plotted what we felt was the most logical route based on the information we had, with our goal entry point being Telle Bridge.

We departed Bulungula at 8 am with an anticipated driving time of 6 hours. We made it to Mthata by the midway point and went grocery shopping as there is very little in terms of food in Lesotho. We then began the second half of the drive armed with google maps as we were back in cell reception. The route google came up with was the same we had plotted the old school way of maps and books so we were feeling very confident. Within an hour and a half we came to a junction where we had to turn off the highway we were on to another highway that would give the most direct route to the border post. The only problem was we were going to turn off a tarred road onto a dirt road. You heard correctly, a dirt road highway. We were very hesitant with this but both google and our paper research had lead to this route so we decided to go with it. The dirt road was maintained and signed with all of the official highway signs. Unfortunately, we were only able to go 60-70 km/h on it, so our driving time was being lengthened by the minute. There was another turn onto a different highway 70 km after starting on the dirt road so we were hopeful we would be turning back onto a tarred road. If nothing else, the scenery while on the dirt road was spectacular.

We arrived to the junction and our hearts sunk; we were turning onto another dirt road for a further 80 km. It was 1:30 pm by this point and it gets dark around 5 pm so all we were praying for was to be off the dirt road by dark. Based on the previous dirt road we thought we could do it. It didn’t take long for us to realize that this dirt road was not well maintained. There were massive washouts due to water, and there were many rocks and potholes that had to be avoided. We were averaging 20 km/h or less on this road and became increasingly aware of time slipping by. We arrived to a military post marking the end of the South Africa border and had to have one of the guards open the gate for us. He spoke a little English so Chris asked him if the road was okay from there on. He heartily laughed and replied, “No. Not until after the mountain pass, down by the river.”

Mountain pass?

What had we gotten ourselves into! We were now officially in no-mans-land heading up the pass. The road condition continued to deteriorate and become narrower and narrower. Again, it was some of the most spectacular scenery we have encountered but it was now cast in the late afternoon sun which was a constant reminder of our race against the clock. We rounded a hairpin turn and saw two men on horses herding their massive pack of bulls down the [one lane] road. There was no way of going around them so I gingerly made my way to the back of the herd and hoped they would get out of the way. Some of them moved to either side of the road and others continued to move leisurely infront of the car. I inched my way forward, and all I kept thinking was,

I cannot hit one of these bulls. I cannot hit one of these bulls.

We were in no-mans-land between two countries, if I hit one of those bulls, or even knicked one I don’t even want to fathom the trouble we would be in with those two men. Thankfully, the rest of the bulls moved to one side at a slight widening in the road and we were able to pass. Not long after we arrived at a very troubling patch of road. The road was almost entirely washed away, and was barely wide enough for our small compact car to pass. I slowly made my way forward with my mirror grazing the rockface on one side and my tire just barely staying on solid ground on the other. As I mentioned in a previous post the Chevy Aveo has a high clearance, but was no match for this treacherous road and we bottomed out more than once. By the time we made it to the bottom of the pass (which was over 2000 meters) my arms and hands ached from gripping the steering wheel so hard. As the guard had said, the road did improve at the river but just barely. We then could average 40 km/h versus less than 15 km/h going down the pass. The sun set as we hit the river bed and soon enough we needed our headlights to navigate our way. Fortunately it was only for 15 km and then we hit the tar road that brought us to the Telle Bridge Border Post. When I finally put the car into park more than 10 hours after embarking on our drive, I half expected the car to just fall apart.

The immigration officers didn’t know what to do with us as not many foreigners utilized this post. They were very entertained by us and had great fun trying to teach us how to say the name of the city we were going in their language which necessitated a click in the middle. We just barely saw the humor after the hell of a drive we had been through. Luckily we didn’t get any trouble and made our way through the border quickly.

We were rewarded with more dirt road, this time in total darkeness as there are no street lights in Lesotho as most of the country is without electricity. They were doing work on the road so it was incredibly difficult to navigate and more than once we lost the main road and ended up by a piece of heavy duty machinery. We arrived to Quthing and the city was in full swing as it was a Friday night. We found our guesthouse after getting turned around a few times and collapsed into our room. It was 11.5 hours by the time it was all said and done and it was one of the most remote and terrifying days on the road. We were incredibly lucky to have not had a flat or other mechanical problems along the way.

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The next day when we awoke and walked out of our room and saw the spectacular scenery we were slighty comforted that the journey would be worth it. We set out early with a quick stop to view the dinosaur footprints outside of the city and then continued on to the small village of Malealea to Malealea Lodge. The lodge was originally a trading post and now serves as an excellent mountain oasis (partly owned by the local community) and pony trekking center. We arrived and settled in and then simply sat and marveled at where we were in the world.

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That evening after we had supper we sat around the fire with two South African families on holiday. They were lovely to chat with and thankfully kept the fire going all evening.

The following morning we woke up to catch the sunrise, it was one of the best we have experienced yet. The lodge was surrounded 360° by the most beautiful mountains, it is definitely one of the top 5 most beautiful places we have been in our lives.

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That morning we set out for a hike. Not long into the hike we were surrounded by local children. One of them cracked me up, he kept saying “My name is KYTE!” but when I would respond he would simply repeat his name. After several rounds of this he introduced, “Give me a TREAT!” For about a kilometer or so he followed us saying louder and louder, “My name is KYTE, Give me a TREAT!” Although adorable we never indulge children as it fosters a culture of begging. He eventually gave up saying anything except “TREAT!!!!” before finally accepting we weren’t going to give him anything. We had a beautiful hike along the rim of the gorge surrounded by mountains.
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We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine and enjoying the onsite coffee shop. The evening was passed at the bar where they were selling handmade crafts. I found a beautiful pair of earrings which may be my favorite purchase to date. The rest of the evening was again spent by the fire chatting with the families. The power was turned off each evening at 9:30 pm so it was candle light after that. There is something so special about having nothing but candle light to illuminate a room. As Lesotho is at such a high altitude it was very cold in the night so we opted for a nice farmhouse room rather than our lightweight hiking tent.

The next day we signed up to go pony trekking as it is one of the best places in the world to go for a ride. This was incredibly exciting for me as Chris had never been on a horse before. I had ridden growing up so it is one of the only times I was proficient at something he wasn’t! He was a little nervous before we got started but as soon as he met his horse, Rasta Man, he felt much better. Our guide was very helpful and entertaining, we stopped early into our trek at a small shack so he could buy airtime. He musn’t have had airtime in a while because he spent a lot of his time texting and calling! We did a 4 hour trek to a waterfall and it was one of our favorite activities we have ever done. It was so relaxing and beautiful, it couldn’t have been a more perfect day. Chris even got to trot for a while which made him very happy! I did manage to snap a picture of him on his horse but the bugger deleated it!!! I am still rotted about it.

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After our epic horse trek Chris was adamant he wanted to check out the local pub, called a ‘Shebeen.’ The brew master is usually a woman and she brews in a massive [dirty] bucket. She advertises what type of beer she has by flying a flag made of plastic bags outside her little shack. White means hops beer, yellow means maize (corn) beer. We found a shebeen and Chris went in and ordered a ‘glass’ of hops beer. It cost 5 Rand which is 50 cents Canadian and he was handed a 750 mL tin can of the most disgusting looking liquid I have laid eyes on. I was not even going to consider indulging in one of these beverages.

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The frequent flyers of the Shebeen were very excited to see foreigners at their haunt and happily smiled toothless grins and gave us the thumbs up on our drink choice. Chris decided to buy a round for the “boys” and it was as if god himself had walked into the bar (a round for the entire bar cost less than $3 CAD). After much cheering we convinced them all to step outside of the smokey, dark shanty to have a picture taken. This was quite the production and they were all very excited to see the pictures after as I don’t think they had ever seen a picture of themselves. They had great fun zooming in to get a better look. One guy was more than impressed with himself, repeatedly pointing to himself and saying, “Nice!!” It was a very entertaining outing.

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The following day we got an early start as the sun rose to make our way to Swaziland. Again we were relying on research from road maps and the Lonely Planet book, so it was with a hope and prayer that we set off for another day on the road. We stopped at the Gates of Paradise to capture these amazing photos of the sunrise. It was the perfect cap to our incredible adventure in the Kingdom in the Sky.

The sign at the Paradise Gates that is pictured in the first photo reads:

Wayfarer pause and look upon a gateway of paradise

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The Wild Coast

The Wild Coast, formerly known as the Transkei during the Apartheid era is famed for its beautiful scenery and terrible road conditions. It had repeatedly been recommended to us to visit from locals we met along our travels as they felt it was like an entirely different world compared to the rest of South Africa. It is also quite famous for being a cannabis growing and consuming region with many warnings about “Pondo Fever.”

We arrived to Port St Johns, our first stop on the coast, in the late afternoon after taking 7 hours or so to make our way from the Central ‘Berg. The roads were excellent and it was not hard to navigate. Our accommodation was Amapondo Backpackers where we had a beautiful campsite overlooking the ocean. The backpackers was ideally located close to the beach and had a plethora of animals, including two donkeys who were free to roam where ever they pleased and would turn up from time to time at the bar looking for carrots. We quickly learned the Wild Coast wasn’t a place with specific activities or attractions, but rather a place you went to relax and take in the scenery.

Our first afternoon/evening was spent doing both aforementioned activities by socializing at the onsite bar. We met quite of few interesting people thanks to the icebreaker one of the staff initiated early in the evening; wigs for everyone! Chris and I looked lovely in matching green. We met Will and Aaron who are both university professors and work together to study and record the local languages. It was really neat to hear their linguistic backgrounds and the work they are doing in South Africa. I am not sure if I have mentioned previously or not but South Africa has 11 official languages and many different dialects of these! They are working to record and differences between tribes. We met Dean and Tim who were very entertaining if not slightly deranged. We also met a local guy who spent a significant amount of time explaining to Chris his history of drug smuggling. It was a mixed bag to say the least!

A large chunk of the next day was spent at the beach watching a pod of dolphins of at least 100 in number. We have never seen so many dolphins so close to shore! It was really incredible to watch them all playing in the waves and jumping out of the water. We were enthralled!

That evening we went to another backpackers in town for music and a performance by a group of local girls. They were really adorable and had many of us up dancing with them (except Chris). We crawled into our tent early as we planned to hit the road early in the morning for our next stop; Coffee Bay.

We had high expectations for Coffee Bay as it was the town consistently recommended when we were pointed towards the Wild Coast. We arrived to the Coffee Shack Backpackers early in the afternoon and were pleasantly surprised to see 3 other tents in the camping area. We walked the bay which the backpackers is located on and were followed by a few local women hasseling us to buy their beaded jewelry. They were rather unpleasant when we told them we didn’t bring any money with us!

The next morning we were woken up by the South Africans in the tent beside us having a full on conversation at 6:00 am about their upcoming day fishing. They missed the memo tents aren’t yet sophisticated enough to be soundproof. We headed to the beach for the day that was a short walk away. It was very picturesque and we spent a long time soaking up the sunshine. We did not swim as we were rather terrified of sharks seeing as it was the sardine run and there had been attacks at the beach before. We headed back to the backpackers for the daily sundowner excursion. They load you up in their vehicle and bring you to a beautiful hill overlooking the beach for a refreshing drink.

The next day we decided to leave Coffee Bay and go really off the beaten track to a place called Bulungula. Coffee Bay was nice, but it certainly did not live up to our expectations. It seemed a bit run down and negatively influenced by tourism. We were hassled there more than any other place in South Africa. We were looking for a more authentic, rustic experience which is why we decided on Bulungula.

The map we downloaded from the Bulungula Backpackers website estimated it would take us 2.5 hours to get there from Coffee Bay despite it only being 20 kms away . We were a bit apprehensive of the roads based on this trajectory but we mutually decided to give it a go. Even worse than the estimated driving time was the actual map; it was handrawn, not to scale, and the instructions seemed quite vague. As soon as we left the tarred road for the gravel road we realized how remote we were going, the roads were not maintained in any way shape or form. We had to go excruciatingly slow due to the massive craters formed by water washing the road away. We were doing well with regards to the map and the landmarks we were given until we came to a fork in the road we weren’t expecting. From that point on we resorted to “Plan B” listed on the map; “If you lose your way just follow the road that looks like the main road.” We continued to try and identify landmarks but an example of one landmark given was several peach huts with a yellow corner post in which we were meant to turn right after. The only problem with this was every single hut was peach and every post yellow. Hence implementing “Plan B.” I began to worry as we really only had directions to the backpackers, there was no cell service, and we were not convinced we were on the right road. What if we were so lost we wouldn’t be able to find our way out? By that point we were so remote it was only sprawling landscapes dotted here and there with traditional rondavel huts and not much else. The villagers we met while driving either laughed their heads off at us, which worried me, or greeted us like royalty by waving and running alongside the car. It is a bad sign when you are trying to judge the reactions of the villagers to decide if you are on the right track or not. Finally we pulled up alongside a friendly looking woman and asked her where Bulungula lodge was. She smiled and in perfect english pointed us the right way. Not five minutes later we pulled into the parking lot very relieved to have made it.

It was a 500 meter walk to the lodge with all of our bags, tent and groceries. When we arrived we realized we didn’t just make it to the lodge but we made it to a little slice of heaven. Perched overlooking the ocean with nothing around for as far as the eye could see we succeeded in finding the perfect off the beaten path location.

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The view from the front lawn

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The lodge and view!

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The accomodation was in the traditional rondavel huts. We of course, pitched our tent with a spectacular sea view!

The lodge is 100% owned by the local community and the project is incredibly unique and very successful. It was started with the idea to break the poverty cycle of the village. The locals are encouraged to come up with businesses that can be run in conjunction with the lodge and supported by tourism. The revenue generated by these businesses goes directly to the person who owns it, the lodge does not get any commission or cut. For example there is a canoe guide, horseriding guide, someone who has a small souvenir shop, etc. The lodge itself also employs a large number of people so it created jobs just by being open. The lodge is 100% off the grid; it is solar powered, its water is collected rain water, it has long-drop compostable toilets, and it has rocket showers. What are rocket showers you ask? They have a pipe that has a small opening at the bottom in which you put some toilet paper, a heavy dosing of paraffin, and light it on fire. It roars to life and heats the water for your shower for 7-8 minutes. The overhead is therefore very low for the local community. The same people that started it also have something called the incubator project which you can read more about at http://www.www.bulungulaincubator.org. We were very happy to spend our money on such an incredible project.

We started with a lunch of toastie sandwiches on traditional Xhosa Bread. When the sandwhiches arrived they were absolutely massive; I would estimate we each had a loaf of bread by Canadian standards. The bread was devine and worth every single carb it contained. It was soft and spongy with perfect crusts. It was very windy that afternoon so we lazily spent it chatting with Mike and Nicola; a father daughter duo from Cape Town. We walked the beach at sunset and could hardly believe how beautiful of a place we were in.

The next day we had an early start as we were signed up for the canoe trip. We were joined by Warrick and Kim who currently live in Johannesburg. Somehow we [Chris] managed to tip the canoe as it was low tide and we needed a “push” off a sandbar. Luckily we had everything in a waterproof bag and there was no damage to any of our belongings. Far and beyond the best part of the trip was the stop at the local pancake house named iLanga on the walk back to town. It is also part of the incubator project and employs several women from the village on certain days of the week. We split the Three Nut Pancake consisting of butternut squash, cashew nuts, and coconut milk as well as the Bulungula Special which had dates, raisins and walnuts and tasted much like the filling of date squares.

Below are some pictures of the village from our walk back from the pancake house!
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The river we canoed on


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The next two days were spent blissfully doing nothing; I ran each morning barefoot on the sand and we went for a long walk on the beach each afternoon, and we spent the rest of the days relaxing. We celebrated Canada Day while at the lodge by sharing our love of Canada with the rest of the guests and I purchased a white and red anklet and a red bracelet from a local woman. It was a rather tame Canada day for us, but a very memorable one due to the beautiful setting.

We set out for what was meant to be a 6 hour drive to Lesotho at 8 am, and I will leave the tale of getting to the ‘Kingdom in the Sky’ for my next post…

Back to South Africa

Hi Everyone!

As promised I will continue to get you all caught up on our adventures over the past few weeks. If you are looking at a map thinking our route in Africa is rather illogical; you are absolutely right. As with most things in life, our trip has not gone 100% according to plan. We are making the best of it, with the only major downside of our change of plans being having to answer the question, “…So where else have you travelled so far?” from every fellow traveller we meet. While we used to entertain answering this with each person we met we have grown rather exhausted of our complex, nonsensical route so our usual answer is, “A little bit of everywhere.” That means if you are sitting home slightly confused by our path, don’t worry, you aren’t alone!

After picking up our car at the O.R Tambo airport we ran a quick errand to do with our big overland tour and then headed to Pretoria to meet up with Anna-Marie, the local South African we had met on our first wine tour in Stellenbosch. She was heading to England for three months so it worked out that we were able to meet up. We had a lovely evening of port, dinner, and catching up. We were lucky enough to be able to stay at her sons apartment with her, the only downside being he had two “pet” terantulas. I almost had a panic attack falling asleep that night as I envisioned waking up with one having escaped and being in the bed with Chris and I.

We survived the night and the next day we headed out bright and early for the Drankensberg Mountain Range. We stopped along the way in a small town called Harrismith to stock up on groceries for the next few days of hiking. We based ourselves at Karma Backpackers in the town of Kestell, which is in the Northern ‘Berg. The backpackers was absolutely lovely, owned by Vera-Anne who was a fantastic host. She makes all of her own [award-winning] jams from ingredients out of her own garden and you are able to have as much as you like with breakfast. The flavors were unlike any we have tried before, and many incorporated wine or champagne. We loved them so much we made sure to buy a bottle when we left! We pitched our tent much to the apprehension of Vera-Anne seeing as it is winter in South Africa and we were in the mountains. Our first night she provided us hot water bottles and I doubt we would have made it through without them. It was -2 during the night and our sleeping bags are really only graded to 3°C. We awoke plenty early for our first day of hiking.

We tackled the Chain Ladder Hike that has been made infamous thanks to Pinterest and The Chive. The hike starts from the Sentinel Car Park which is a bit of a challenge to get to as about 7 km of the road is unpaved and in poor shape. Thankfully our Chevy Aveo has a very high clearance, otherwise I think it would have been a real challenge to get up. I wouldn’t suggest going if you have a small car with a low clearance. Apparently there is a shuttle that can take you up from the main gate which would be a better alternative.

The hike involved a steep ascent to the region known as the Amphitheater, then a rather lovely gentle walk to reach the ladders. The views along the trail were incredible, we easily understood why it is ranked as one of the top 10 day hikes in the world. When we reached the ladders I will admit I was more than a little apprehensive about them. The incline was almost vertical and the only point of attachment was at the top. This meant they moved freely around as you made your way up. I gingerly started and instantly began to feel a sense of panic. I know that may seem crazy considering my love of adrenaline but I was terrified on this ladder. Chris was perfectly amused by this and passed the time by taking pictures of me. The only thing I kept thinking going up was, “How on earth am I going to make it down?”

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The views from the top more than made up for the extreme effort to get up the ladders. We had our lunch with a beautiful view before turning around to head down.

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We did look into taking an alternative route through the gully on the way down but it sounded even worse than the ladders as there were many points where you traversed rock faces and had to scuttle down on your bottom. I resigned myself to the fact I had to make it back down the same way I got up. Chris still teases me about my knees-knocking the whole way down.

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We spent the evening by the warm fire with our friend Pixel, the largest cat we have ever met. Load shedding wasn’t a problem for our tired bones as we passed it easily with a nap. Vera-Anne insisted we sleep inside in the dorm that evening as we were the only guests at the time and it was meant to be even colder that evening. We gratefully obliged.

The next day we continued on to the Central ‘Berg to Inkosana Lodge. The frustrating thing about the Drakensberg region is that you must always drive out of the region and then back in as the roads do not follow the range. A small number of kilometers as the crow flies takes several hours by the roads. We arrived at the lodge by late afternoon and relaxed for the evening. The lodge is owned by Ed who is a former mountaineer that participated in South Africas expeditions in the Himalayas. He has climbed Annapurna and a few other famous 7-8000 meter giants. He is very knowledgeable about the local hiking in the area and entertainingly grumpy with age.

We again were camping despite the negative temperatures at night, and that first night was exceptionally cold. When we awoke in the morning both Chris and I decided we were in no shape to hike. The beauty of having lots of time is we can have those precious down days and not feel bad about it. We were in a beautiful setting with perfect mountain views so we passed the day easily in the sunshine and chatting with other guests. We met Hugo at the lodge who was from France and we all set out together on a hike the following day. We hiked starting from the Monks Cowl and completed the Blind Mans Corner hike. The views were spectacular and the conversation was very interesting. Hugo had been volunteering with a baboon project our of Cape Town so we learned quite a lot about them!

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We had a lot of planning to do after the hike as we had originally wanted to enter Lesotho via the Sani Pass in the Southern ‘Berg but we learned that is only possible if you have a 4×4. Looking at other points of entry lead us to another discovery; you need an official Letter of Authority from the car rental agency to bring your car across the border. The girl at Avis asked if we were going to cross any borders when we picked up our car and she failed to provide this letter even though we told her we planned to go to Lesotho! We had to quickly regroup and come up with an alternative plan based on these facts. We decided we would loop out to the Wild Coast, travel south down it, and then loop back up into Lesotho after picking up a letter of authority from an Avis along the way.

Our planning completed we hoped to attend the Drakensberg Boys Choir performance that evening as they usually perform every Wednesday evening, but their school holidays had just started so they were taking a break from performing. It is such a shame as they are quite famous! We spent it instead by the warm fire reading the up-to-date Time Magazine collection, getting caught up on what is going on in the rest of the world. Having a car means we listen to the local radio as we drive and thus are quite up-to-date on the local news. If you want a laugh google “South Africa Presidents Fire Pool” It will give you a good picture of what happens regularly in this country. We also like to chat about news and politics with as many local people as we can as it is very interesting hearing their perspectives and we learn a lot. With that being said, we are quite behind on our world news so it was nice to get a bit caught up.

The next day we set out plenty early for our first stop on the Wild Coast; Port St. Johns. My next post will detail our time on the coast!