In And Out of South Africa

May 23, 2016

After visiting Cape Town, which felt a little like the grand finale of our South African trip, we decided it was time to head north to Namibia, and learn what all the fuss was about.  We had been forewarned that a vehicle was essential to exploration, and yet not worth the hassle unless it was a 4×4. We had been eyeing several camper trucks with envy during our road trip across the tip of Africa, and Dan had managed to convince me that the next part of our journey MUST be experienced as a camping expedition. Unfortunately, we committed to our plans too late to secure our dream vehicle, the Ford Ranger Luxury Safari Camper, so we settled for the next best option, a Toyota Hilux dual cab with two pop-up roof tents. Our truck came kitted out with a mini fridge, one water and two gas tanks, mattresses, pillows, sleeping bags and blankets, a table and 4 folding chairs, and all the cooking supplies required for cooking and eating on the road.  We rented our trusty truck for 26 days, at the total per diem cost of roughly $90, including car insurance.

With 676 kilometers between Cape Town and the Namibian border, we wanted to break up our drive North with a few stops.  We first opted to spend two nights in the Cederberg Wilderness Area where we were able to test out our new home, trying to improve our Dan’s speed with setting up and taking down our tents. I was already dreading a month of those late night pee breaks, which required having flashlight, glasses and flip-flops by the ready, as I shimmied out of the tent, down a metal ladder and walked into the deep, dark African night toward the ablutions block.  Only 25 more nights to go!  Cederberg and it’s steep hike to a waterfall pool full of tadpoles and grown frogs, marked the start of a month of pushing our kids to climb mountains, cursing the complaints, and trying our damndest to connect with the quiet isolation of nature. It also was the beginning of figuring out a realistic meal plan with a single gas stove, based on the limited produce and canned goods that we could secure from a small country store.  Those bottles of wine that we had stocked up on in wine country, were heavenly at sunset, as we rushed to prepare a meal before dark, and then finally sat down to reflect and give thanks.

Our final South African stop before entering Namibia, was a night camping in Goegap Nature Reserve, famous for its vast wild flower display in Spring (late July thru October).  It was Gabriel’s 8th birthday (March 6), and low season for the park, so that we had the entire campgrounds to ourselves – literally, not a single other camper.  After driving around the semidesert, rocky kopjes of the park, and seeing succulents, springbok and our first “black & white socked” gemboks (oryx), we returned to our sandy campsite, surrounded by hills of boulders that changed into rosy shades of terra-cotta as the sun went down.  Before we missed out on seeing the views around us, we climbed to a nearby plateau with birthday cupcakes and candles to celebrate Gabriel’s very special day.

After stocking up on groceries in the little Afrikaner town of Springbok, we crossed the desert border into Namibia.  *The tales of our amazing adventures there will be included in future posts.*  In the meanwhile, I will skip ahead here, to our eventual return to South Africa, and the final place we visited before returning to Johannesburg for our flight out of Africa.

After 16 days in Namibia, we crossed the Mata-Mata border directly into the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.  This massive National Park of 3.6 million hectares also occupies a part of Botswana, but we did not drive into the regions of the park within that separate country. This is a desert scrub and red dune park most famed for its surplus of big cats.  We can never get enough of lions, cheetahs, and leopards, and were looking forward to easier spotting of these felines.  However, after 3 days and close to 15 hours of safari driving, we only spotted two young Kalahari lions atop a hill, in the distance.  Of course, the park is full of plenty more cats, as we listened with envy to other campers describe close encounters with lions feeding on their prey.  The main difficulty with sighting a plethora of wild animals was the wet season we were traveling in.  The park had gotten more rain than it had in a year, with plenty of watering holes keeping the activity far from the only roads we were allowed to drive on. In fact, two of the nights we stayed in the park saw severe flash floods.  For the first of those nights, we had coincidentally chosen to treat ourselves to a cabin instead of sleeping in our tents.  As the rain fell in buckets, canceling our planned guided night drive, we holed up in the dim light of our room, watching water seep under the doors and onto the tiled floor of our back kitchen area.  Daytime was mostly dry, and thankfully, the gravel roads were not too muddy, so we could continue our animal scavenger hunt.

What was crazy about Kgalagadi Park is that they have designated picnic/bathroom areas where you are allowed to leave your car (at your own risk) while on safari.  Several parks we had previously visited had secure, fenced and gated picnic areas to keep you safe from danger.  Kgalagadi, a park of wild CATS had no such thing.  We were preparing lunch out in the open, huddling together and staying close to the truck.  Each bite of food has us looking over our shoulders. At one point we ventured around the picnic area and discovered several large lion prints in the mud. They were somewhat recent, which was a little too freaky for my comfort. Only those crazy, daring South Africans would prepare a grill of game meat in one of these open-attack areas!

The final night, we were back to our roof top camper tents, and were staying in the most popular Twee Rivieren campsite. In the early evening, it quickly became apparent that another storm was brewing, and this one was a doozy.  Dan was in the midst of setting up the tents, and they were nowhere near secure, when the wind began to pickup in great gusts.  As slate grey clouds enveloped our overhead sky, large drops of rain came almost immediately.  The wind picked up speed, nearly knocking me over as I stood, stupidly confused.  Stella had left us minutes before to head to the bathroom on her own, and I felt assured that she was in the safest, most protected place, while Gabriel somehow ended up inside of one of the roof top tents with Dan furiously working to lash down all the ties in the pouring rain.  I had quickly tucked into the truck’s cabin, where the muted sounds of a storm rushed on about me, and sporadically rocked the truck.  I could hear terrified screams coming from Gabriel, whose tent was partially lifting and almost smothering him within. Dan had earlier dodged into the other tent, and quickly ran to Gabriel’s aid to use the weight of his body to shelter and batten down the integrity of the tent.  Outside was utter chaos, as tree branches fell on cars, punctured holes in tents, and flew through the campsite.  There were those in hiding, and those actively trying to protect their temporary homes from the tempest.

I don’t know how long it all lasted, but the squall could not have been more than 15 minutes.  It came and went, leaving destruction and rays of sun in its past. At least half of the pitched tents were drenched if not sitting in an ankle-deep pool of water.  Our neighbors had a newly dented fender, with half a tree partially crushing their tent.  For all the pandemonium, campers were working together to quickly remove debris, lift bags and boxes out of the muddy waters, and try to come up with solutions for their soaked bedding and poorly pitched tents.  A tearful Stella returned to us, before we came to her rescue in the loo, and with adrenaline pumping, we all giddily shared our own personal experiences during the wind and rainstorm.  I was never so thankful that we had rooftop tents as I observed the destruction and sodden sleeping bags hanging to dry, until Stella and I went to assess the damage of our own tent.  It seems that when Dan ran to Gabriel’s aid, in the midst of the maelstrom, he didn’t have time to completely zipper up our tent flap.  The sideways rain had no problem making its way in, and all of our bedding and half of the mattresses were soaking.  It was too late to dry it all out, so we slept that night in the stinky damp using dirty but dry blankets as our only buffer from the extreme wet.  What a night!

Strangely enough, this was also the night of getting a rain check on our previously canceled guided safari tour, and it was on!  So we left the drama of the camp behind and headed out into the moody sunset to spy elusive nocturnal creatures.  We were able to see social weavers at dusk, bat-eared foxes, a mongoose, porcupines, springhares, wildcats, a serval, owls, and a nightjar to add to our bird list. In the morning, we began the long journey back to Johannesburg, the city where our South African adventure began.  Many of our hours in the car, were spent being nostalgic for all that had passed, and wistfully daydreaming about the Africa of our dreams.  My motto for this part of the trip is “In Africa, everyday is an adventure”.

 

 

 

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3 Comments

  • Reply Poppy & Grammy May 24, 2016 at 3:45 am

    Another amazing adventure…the good with the bad….the wet with the dry….the scared with the excitement….and the doldrums mixed with the fear…all together in God’s country!

    Thanks again for taking us with you.

  • Reply Janet Storton May 24, 2016 at 8:18 am

    Tom and Gail, you are absolutely correct when you say “in God’s country!” On each trip I make to Africa I write daily journal notes. I keep track of the adventures, crisis, wildlife, sudden storms with biblical rains, and the incredible beauty around each bend in the road. Anyone wanting a true adventure, come to Africa with me!

  • Reply Julie j June 5, 2016 at 4:51 pm

    What a special place for Gabriel to spend his birthday – not sure how you managed to find a cupcake there All these stories are things you will laugh & marvel at one day. See you so soon back in LA

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