A Travellerspoint blog

The difference in African perceptions

I was expecting the worse. Everybody had warned us. Maaret had been there 3 years previously and remembered it as being very bad. The hostel staff the night before had said it was terrible, and a couple of people who had just driven from Coffee Bay confirmed that it was a horrific road. But a brief chance discussion with an elderly couple along the way had led to the comment 'it's really bad, and you have to go slow, no more than about 70'. And then I started to wonder. 70?! Perhaps it's not really that bad...


Coffee Bay is a small town and resort on the wild coast, nestled in a small valley between the cliffs and with just one road in and out. This road, a 90km stretch from the main N2 to the coast, is what I had been constantly warned about, and I had initially viewed it with some trepidation. This increased due to the fact it was starting to get late and the light was fading, and the by now familiar dark clouds were beginning to gather apace. There were no signs along it, but several small turn offs, and at one point my passengers were convinced we had gone the wrong way and wanted to turn around and go back, or find somebody reliable-ish looking to ask.

Typical houses - Rondavels – in the countryside around large parts of South Africa

In reality, it was fine. We arrived just as night finally drew in, and whilst i admit that it was possibly the worst road I have driven in South Africa, by African standards it was high class. It was tarred for all but the last 1km, 2 lanes wide and had white lines painted on it, and though there were quite allot of potholes they were mostly fairly easy to avoid, and none of them were of the sort of size or depth that swallows cars whole (something I once saw in Romania, for example). In some countries in Africa, the main road of the entire country has been in significantly worse shape. It was also slightly odd in terms of habitation: The map showed 3 small settlements along the road, but we only passed one. However, the whole way along – the full 90km – there were dwellings, often rondavels, along the road and in the surrounding areas, so that at no point in the entire journey were we ever out of sight of at least a couple of dozen houses. Which would have been more interesting had it not been annoying as I was increasingly in need of a rest stop, and didn't find anywhere secluded enough for one...

The kind of rest stop i required, but could not take...

That night, listening to conversation about how bad the road had been an how poor the area had been, i reflected on the road and all the warnings I had heard, and realised that in a way they were correct. It was a bad road, but by South African or Western European standards. And that it is all about perception and experience: Most, if not all, of the people who had warned us about the road were basing the warning on South Africa. I, in my naivety had taken the warning that it is a really bad road as being bad by African standards, and thus been very pleasantly surprised. Yet again, I am beginning to realise how un-African (and in a way insulated) South Africa and some of it's tourists really are.

This is about as bad as the road got. Sure, a few potholes, but on the grand scheme of things it really isn't so bad

Posted by Gelli 00:19 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)


After leaving the Karoo, we headed East.

Posted by Gelli 15:18 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

WooHoo! Into the Karooooooooooooo

Our luck continued unabated the next day. Barreling down the empty road in the early morning back to Upington, I rotated the electronic computer on Lydia to a display which showed that we had 127km worth of fuel remaining. This was an interesting discovery, especially as we had just past a sign saying 'Upington 150km', and there was definitely no fuel – or even a building – until that point. Slowing right down, we then crawled along at 90km/h, allegedly the most fuel efficient speed possible, praying hard. Luckily, that, at least, worked and we made it into Upington showing 11km of petrol to spare and with 3 different warning sounds and lights for low fuel going off.

The road was entirely empty, although there was an occasional phone line following it, with some very scarily large birds nests on them

By the end of the day, we had driven some 850km – stunningly, the first several hours were clear and sunny, though it got increasingly gray with periodic very wet patches - and were in the Karoo, a beautiful, dry (yeah, right) mountainous area of South-Western-ish South Africa. An hour or so before our destination, we stopped over in the small town of Middelburg for more fuel, provisions and refreshment. In a coffee shop, we got talking to the friendly owner who was saying that they were desperately in need of rain, as they hadn't had a drop in 8months. Maaret and I looked at each other, and told the woman not to worry. We were here and the rain was chasing us hard, so it would surely rain soon. The woman didn't seem to believe us, until a full 12minutes had passed and the rain started. We should start charging for our services as Rain gods.

We were staying in Nieuw Bethesda, a small village nestle in the mountains, and a very strange – if picturesque - one. It seemed a very white colonial village, and was one of the first places we had seen that did not have every door and window barred, and foreboding. In a way, it looked like how I expect small villages in rural America to look, but the whole thing looked kind of out of place.


Fred finally made his first appearance that evening, as soon as a bottle of Tall Horse wine made it's appearance. I admit that I was happy to see him, although he did look slightly unwell, and i was not overly impressed: I get up at 4am to go and collect him, and then drive him around for 5whole days before he can even be bothered to awake from his drunken stupor and say hello. Rumours of his escapades in Europe have also reached me, and suggest that the young lad is rapidly going off the rails. The lad needs discipline. And wine, naturally.


A typical street from central Graaf-Reinert

The following day we wandered a bit around the Karoo including the obviously touristy town of Graaf-Reinert, which was again nice but strange. Another, larger, old colonial town, the differences between the richer white and poorer black (as was) area are blatantly obvious, whilst the old buildings are all so well kept, whitewashed and scrupulous clean as to appear almost clinical, as opposed to loved and lived in. Escaping town, we took in the wonderfully named 'Valley of Desolation', which, obviously, is actually a mountain with some great views and a trail around the summit, before heading slowly back towards home.



The small bits of the Karoo that i have seen are beautiful, but the towns whilst pretty and a bit strange and could certainly use some integration into the real world.

It's a slightly different way of life in the Karoo...

This is both part of a pretty sunset, and confirmation that it's about to chuck it down again very shortly

Posted by Gelli 14:16 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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.


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.


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.



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.

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.

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.


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)

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