A Travellerspoint blog

South Africa

Drowning in a desert

And so begins our tale of drowning. I am proud to be able to say that not just anybody can get flooded out of a desert: For that, it takes the special sort of talent that only Lydia and her dumb human sidekicks could produce.

Heading West through semi-nothingness, we passed an average of a vehicle every 8-10minutes or so, the majority of which also had a bored looking man driving and a woman in a reclined position sleeping – sorry, resting her eyes – in the passenger seat. You could pretty much tell that something was not quite right by mid afternoon as we drove north from Upington, the only town for miles around, through 190km of pure unadulterated nothingness except extremely grey (black) skies, huge gusts of wind and dust and numerous lightning strikes. The rain, surprisingly, held off for a while, only to suddenly remember how it was supposed to fall just as we approached the first small village we had seen in 2hours. There, the sudden discovery that the road ahead was now a river with what looked like grade 5 rapids on it, decided us after a short but deep reflection, that perhaps we should go no further after all and instead stop for the night. Perhaps Naively, we still had ideas of camping – after all, camping in a desert shouldn't be a major problem, right? - but they were swiftly dissolved when on reaching the guesthouse/camping ground, the rain suddenly became even more torrential and Maaret was essentially forced to swim across the carpark to the Guest House in search of shelter, and, thankfully, a (absolutely lovely) room. A couple of hours later we were sitting, wet and cold, braaiing in a garage and wondering what on Earth we had done to deserve it.

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Above, welcome to the Kalahari, one of the worlds driest deserts, whilst (below) the area is normally so hot and dry, that these sorts of depots are a necessity.

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The Kgagagagagagagagaladi (better known as the Ksgalagadi Transfrontier National Park, or part of the Kalahari Desert) is a desert area of North East South Africa, wedged in a triangular shape between Namibia and Botswana. The Desert – and Park – continues into both countries, but there it becomes increasingly hostile and passable only in well provisioned parties of 4x4s, which we blatantly didn't have. For us, the South African section would have to suffice.

The South African segment of the Kgalagadi was surprisingly green (the rain we had brought had obviously done its trick) and scrub like, with little in the way of the pure orangey sand dunes that might have been expected. It was also home to a wide variety of wildlife, and we saw a Lion early on, 3 cheetah under a tree a way off, and lots of Oryx (great horns), Springbok, Gemsbok, Wildebeast, Buffalo, Ostrich, one very fat snake sand a couple of Leopards (just to please Greg, naturally) near the end of the day. But mostly we just drove through the the arid scrub, with nothing of particular excitement to see except the scenery itself, and occasional large puddle to indicate that it had recently chucked it down. I am glad that it magically stayed dry – and indeed became very hot – as many sections of road could have been problematic to the low wheel based 2-wheel-drive Lydia if it had continued raining.

A long, long way to come for really not all that much: it could have been much more exciting, but i'm nevertheless happy we made the effort, as i doubt i'll ever come this way again.

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Posted by Gelli 04:15 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Lydia's journey

It was thus in Lydia that the vast majority of the 5500km mentioned in the previous entry were covered, though the rain was constant.

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Lydia. And no. As with all our other cars, I have no idea why she was so named

We had no specific plan for Lydia, just some diverse places we wished to see and a vague idea of how to linkup the disparate corners of South Africa that they were in. For complex logistical reasons to do with a wedding, ships and mostly me being an awkward b*stard, things could not be done in a straight forward, ideal or in many ways, even satisfactory way, and thus would involve regular backtracking and confused destinations.

As such after the obvious failure of the weather to improve and allow us to view the Drakensberg mountains, our whole reason for being there, we decided to call it quits for now and head North West, in search of warmer climes, clearer skies, drier roads and a big hole.

When we had been bouncing ideas back and fore as to what we had wanted to see or do, I had had very few requests. Never having been to the country before, all was good for me, and I was happy to go wherever, with few exceptions: I wanted a few days in Cape Town, to climb Table Mountain and if possible travel Jozi-CT in one direction by train. I needed to visit Cape Agulhas. And I very much wanted to visit the Big Hole.

Really, there is nothing much there at all expect for, well, a big hole. It is the kind of nerdy random thing that I love, but few others care about.

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The Big Hole....

Kimberley is basically the heart of the worlds diamond mining industry. Lying onto top of the most fertile kimberlite pipe known, Diamonds have been dug out of it for almost 150years, and even today De Beers have a huge mining operation in the city. But the big hole is the original site. What makes it so impressive to me at least is the size. Originally it was hundreds of individual claims, before gradually being consolidated amongst a handful of big players as smaller scale miners sold out. By the time it closed down (almost 100years ago), the hole was well over 200metres deep, and has a perimeter of over 1.5km. And the entire thing was dug by hand making it by far the largest hand dug excavation in the world.

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At the end of the day though, however big and however hand dug, the big hole is just a hole, and it was soon time to move on – via some hot donuts and a glance at Africa's oldest pub, naturally – and head for more exotic and remote climes.

Posted by Gelli 22:13 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The short life of Abigail

I drove for 5500km through the rain.

Sometimes it wasn't rain, but more along the lines of thunder storms, lightning storms and torrential downpours. To be fair, it wasn't raining all the time, but on occasions it certainly felt like it. If it wasn't raining at any point you could pretty much put your money on the fact that it would be within the next couple of hours – It followed us constantly, and so we went around bringing rain (and joy to some locals, if not always us) to some of the driest places on Earth, which had a certain novelty value at least, even if it wasn't exactly ideal for us.

Maaret had arrived at ORT pretty much on time, unlike me who got so delayed by other people's incompetence at the car rental place that she was already drinking coffee upstairs by the time I was free. Of Fred, there was no sign.

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The only photo of Abigail that we posses, complete with the inevitable overland truck

Our trusty vehicle had, obviously, been named Abigail, although trusty she was sadly not. A Toyota Yaris with a boot, she had the instruments annoyingly in the centre of the dash, absolutely hopeless central locking (which was not really central, and pretty much never locked anything) and very rapidly, a large red engine warning light which came on and then refused to go out. She got us to the Northern Drakensberg mountains, a UNESCO world heritage site of vast natural beauty although most of which we couldn't see due to a combination of the cloud and/or rain, or because we were recovering from sleep deprived nights.

Sadly the dream was not to last. Abigail and her red light were just too temperamental to be trusted where we planned to trust her, and so on only her second day, at the cost of half a day's holiday (and car rental), 200km and a significant number of rand's worth of petrol, she was returned and replaced.

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We did pass this site, however. Hands up who never knew that Winston Churchill had once been a Prisoner of War? Originally in the area as a newspaper war correspondent in the Boer wars, in inevitable style he successfully escaped barely 3 weeks later

Note – I should point out that from here until I leave Africa, not all the photos will be mine. Many will have been stolen from the lovely Ofelia who has photographic talent, a decent camera and knows how to take pictures. Pretty much any decent one from now on is hers, and the dodgy ones remain mine.

Posted by Gelli 14:10 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Shopping the saffer way

If Harare had given me some culture shock, Pretoria was a revelation. I was fine on arrival, walking through the city and getting a bus to the house of some lovely and welcoming CouchSurfers who I stayed with. But the following Day, with some things to get and some chores to do, I went to Menlyn Mall. And that really freaked me for a few minutes. It was so busy, so opulent and obviously wealthy, and in a way, so white.

Possibly for security reasons and possibly for logistical reasons (everybody pretty much drives everywhere in South Africa, so large parking lots are required), South Africa has developed shopping along American lines: Large malls out in the suburbs, with city centres not especially important, and in many towns and cities, virtual no-go areas. And there are malls everywhere: new ones are sprouting up all over the place, of ever increasing size.

Menlyn Mall was large even by South African standards, and to somebody who had been away for a while, it was an incredible shock. It was painfully obvious that I really am back in what some people would call civilisation.

My introduction to South Africa was slightly atypical, and pretty much involved all the big no-nos that guide books and locals desperately impart on you for your own safety. I arrived in Pretoria not really knowing where I was going, walked through the city alone with my bags, got on a city bus to my destination (even the driver seemed utterly confused by my appearance), and then on my first evening/night went to downtown Johannesburg. If you pay any attention to the guidebooks, that combination of events pretty much has me dead on the spot. A couple of weeks later, talking to 3 South African friends, all looked at me with utter horror at the thought of taking a bus: Between them, they had only made ONE journey (if you exclude 1 of their commutes on a school bus when younger) by bus in South Africa in their entire lives, and that event had obviously left such an impression on the girl in question as to as good as require her to go into therapy. City Buses in South Africa seem to mean poor, and black, and no white South African I subsequently encountered would ever dream of using one.

Johannesburg (or Jo'burg, Joburg or Jozi, depending on your preference) at night was not a death wish, but rather the chance to go to a concert which i couldn't really turn down. An annual music and culture festival, we got the chance to listen to a variety of musicians and styles from across Africa: Namibian, Senegalese, Mozambican and my favorites, a Tuareg ensemble from Mali were amongst them. It was the first 'real' live music i had seen in many months, and I loved it.

A couple of days later, i moved down to Jozi properly for a couple of nights. Not entirely by choice, I must admit, and I got treated to huge dust storms and a couple of magnificent thunder storms for my efforts. But I had to come to Joburg. Maaret and Fred were coming back to Africa, and had arranged to arrive at OR Tambo airport at the wonderfully user friendly time of 04:55. A quick glance at recent flights showed that it was averaging over 30mins early. And I knew there would be hell to pay if I was not at the airport to meet them.

Posted by Gelli 04:09 Archived in South Africa Tagged shopping Comments (0)

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