We’ve spent the last 5 nights camping in and around the Kgalagardi Trans-Frontier Park and the adjoining Wildlife Management Areas.
Friday – quarry just south of the Wildlife Management Area next to the KTFP, south of Mabuasehube Gate Saturday – camping area just inside Mabuasehube Gate. We tried to get a campsite at Khiding, further inside the park, but there were no vacancies. Allegedly. We’ve mentioned/complained about the crazy, fragmented booking systems for National Parks and Wildlife Reserves in Bots before, and it’s no better. The people at the entry gates to the parks have no idea if or where there are vacancies, but if you don’t have accommodation booked inside the park, you can’t get in. There are 3 campsites at Mabuasehube Gate, and we apparently got the last vacant site, but one of the 3 sites was unoccupied the whole time we were there. I’m sure it would be a similar story at all the campgrounds inside the park as well. People book, don’t need to pay until they are at the entrance gate, don’t show up and someone else misses out. Sunday and Monday – Jacks Pan, north of the KTFP north-east corner. We met a South African couple, Quentin and Natasha, here and had a lovely time swapping stories. They love Botswana as much as we do and spend as much of their spare time here as they can. The night before we arrived at Jack’s Pan, they had a horrible night with a group of loud, rude campers who got drunk, played loud music almost all night and were nasty when Natasha asked them to quieten down. I can imagine how they must have felt when they heard and saw Clancy approaching their little haven. When we first met them, we assured them that we are quiet, don’t play music, don’t drink much and keep ‘campers hours’ – in bed early, sleep at least 12 hours. And we kept a reasonable distance between our campsite and theirs. On Sunday night, we heard a lion roar several times quite close to our campsite. The next morning, we chatted with Quentin and Natasha and they had seen the lion amble past their campsite just after sunset and head towards the pan. They lost sight of him then, but tracked his footprints in the morning and realised that he had been lying on the vehicle track at the edge on the pan, and that’s when he started roaring. Apparently there are 2 lions who live in the area – this big one and his smaller brother. We stayed here on Monday night and didn’t see or hear him again, unfortunately. We spent about an hour sitting in the car just after sunset, in case he walked the same way as he’d done on Sunday. Tuesday – Peach Pan, north of the KTFP
We’re on our way to Hukuntsi now, and plan to get to Ghanzi tomorrow.
The Barking Gheckos at dusk at Jacks Pan (turn on the sound)
It seems hard to believe now, that the first time we visited this beautiful country the only thing I wanted to do was go to Gaborone. It’s not far from the SA/Bots border and I’d read so much about it in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books. I just wanted to see it for myself, and maybe catch a glimpse of the Tiny White Van.
We’re now visiting Bots for the 4th time and each time we fall a bit more in love with the place, the people, the incredible scenery and the overall ‘vibe’. And we keep on finding more places to see and more reasons to visit.
We crossed the border at McCarthy’s Rest/Tsabong yesterday and almost as soon as we’d arrived in Bots, we relaxed and heaved a sigh of something close to relief that were back here. Our last full day in Sth Africa had been a bit of a trial – the last big town before the border, Kuruman, is a rough place and we were glad to get out of there. Then the first place we tried for a campsite didn’t offer camping any more, despite multiple signs on the road advertising same. And then when we got to the next place, OppiKnoppi, we got our first flat tyre. At least we were able to spend the night there, in a nice cabin that cost us R150pp – around $30 total.
Last night we stayed at the Tsabong Eco-Tourism Camel Park, which is about 10kms out of Tsabong, and 30kms from the border. We have a powered campsite, which has a braai (of course!), huge stack of firewood, outdoor sink and we also have our own bathroom area with toilet, shower and fancy washbasin. And plenty of hot water! We got here early enough yesterday afternoon that we were able to do a load of washing, Greg got some stuff done and I had an afternoon nap. A couple of groups of camels wandered past our campsite, but otherwise we had our space to ourselves. Lovely place, I’d recommend it to everyone visiting this area
We’re heading ‘bush’ and will be off the air for about a week. Going to the eastern part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park at Mabuasehube, then west to Kaa, leaving the park and heading to Hukunsti, where we’ll have internet access again hopefully, Kang and then north to Ghanzi. Sadly we’ll miss the Heavy Metal Festival in Ghanzi, but we’ve read about it and it looked like a hoot! Then to the CKGR – Central Kalahari Game Reserve. That’s the plan.
See you in a week!
Our plans to only stay a couple of days in Jo’burg while we get a few things done have sort of gone out the window. Greg has been building another fibreglass box on the roof to hold 2 more tyres with solar panels covering them. It’s taking a bit longer than anticipated, but we don’t really mind. We like it here at Airport En Route, and our hosts Marion and David don’t seem to mind us spending some extra time here. There have only been a couple of other overnight campers – one family at the start of their trip and another at the end of theirs – so most of the time we have the lovely campers’ kitchen and bathroom to ourselves.
The weather here is gorgeous at the moment, especially considering it’s winter here too – up to 25C during the day, down to -3 a couple of mornings, sunshine, clear skies. It’s much colder at home. The countryside here looks like Adelaide in summer – very brown and dry. A combination of frequent morning frosts and not much rain. Apparently it’s not usually so warm at this time of the year and the locals are worried that they may be in for a hot summer. I’ve been feeling like one ear is blocked, as if I’m still on a plane and when I mentioned it to Greg, he reminded me that we’re at an altitude of 1750m here! Which also explains why I thought it was taking longer to cook and bake stuff. It’s the altitude.
We returned the rental car on Sunday and now if we need anything from the supermarket or hardware, Greg rides his bike. It’s about 4kms to the nearest large hardware store and there’s a good shopping centre nearby.
While Greg has been adding, subtracting and modifying stuff on Clancy, I’ve been cooking, refining my bread recipe and doing lots of reading. It’s all been very laid-back and low-key and I’m sure we’ll be happy to get on the road to Botswana, but for now, we’re happy doing what we’re doing.
We follow a lot of Overlanders on social media. Recently I read the final post of a guy who had been travelling for several years and he included the last lines from the movie, The Martian, in which Mark Watney says:
At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And if you solve enough problems, you get to come home.
Seems like very good advice for overlanders as well as astronauts.
We hit our first problem before we’d even landed in Jo’burg. On the flight from Singapore to Joburg, we realised that we’d forgotten to bring the keys to the camper part of Clancy. We’ve brought almost 90kgs of luggage and no keys. Excellent. Actually, we’d forgotten to bring any keys at all, but we’d left a car key here with David and Marion at Airport En Route, the vehicle storage place/campground that has been Clancy’s home for the last 4 months. And from now on,the first and last items on our very long lists of stuff we need to bring will be KEYS!
It all worked out okay though. We were able to spend our first night here in an ensuite room at Marion and David’s, which meant we didn’t have to scurry 30m across frosty lawn to the toilets in the middle of the night. The next morning Greg got to work on the camper door lock and managed to lever it open, and we could then access the set of keys we’d left in the camper.
Greg re-installed the injectors he’d removed at the end of Season 1 to get refurbished, and that all went smoothly, got Clancy started without too much trouble and we’re now back to sleeping in the camper, but we’re using the nice camp kitchen here while we can.
After our median-strip camp north of Katwitwi on our last night in Angola, we were thrilled to find a campground in Rundu that had large grassy sites. And power! And a camp kitchen with a sink with running water! And an amenities block with hot water for showers! We felt like we’d landed in the lap of luxury.
The Sarusungu Lodge is about 3kms out of Rundu, on the Okavango River. We had river views and could see Angola on the other side. It was close enough to town that Greg rode his bike there a couple of times, once to buy some things and then to book Clancy in for a wheel alignment.
We spent the weekend at Sarusungu. Greg did some repairs to Clancy, with the assistance of one of the campground’s groundsmen, who offered to lend tools, suggestions and probably learnt a fair bit about fibreglass in the process. I wish I’d taken a photo of the 2 of them sitting together on our green camping mat, peering up at the hole in the wheelwell and figuring out how best to repair it.
Meanwhile, I did many, many loads of handwashing, and felt very lucky indeed to have a sink with cold, clean running water and not have to trudge up to 2kms to get that water from the nearest tank/river/creek/dam/puddle. And then to be able to hang it on a clothesline I’d strung between several trees. With pegs! Angolan women spread theirs out on sand or rocks or grass or fence posts … no pegs there. Everything dried quickly so by the end of the day we had lots of clean clothes and bedlinen.
We really noticed a difference in Rundu, compared with when we visited 4 years ago. Back then it was a dusty town with only a couple of sealed roads. This time, lots of the town’s streets have been sealed, there’s new housing, new shops, new businesses, even a private hospital!
The first time we drove through this part of the country, we thought it was all quite primitive, with the compounds of thatched huts made of sticks or mud. Now we think they are all so neat and tidy after some of the things we saw in Angola. Perspective.
Last night we stayed at another good campground, the Mobola River Lodge just a bit west of Divundu. Once again, it’s on the Okavango River with lovely grassy sites and excellent amenities – power, outdoor shower and camp kitchen at each campsite, and we can see across to Angola. Seems like we’re not quite ready to let Angola go. When we were at Sarusungu, I heard a baby cry over in the Angolan village cross the river. It was the first Angolan baby I’d heard cry! They spend most of their early lives being carried on their mothers’ backs, so their needs can be met quickly while the mothers are doing other things -carrying water, looking after their older kids, working in fields. Extreme multi-tasking!
We’ve added a new appliance to our kitchen kit – a single electric hotplate so that we don’t have to use our gas stove when we camp in campgrounds. I cooked dinner on it last night and am currently ‘baking’ our frypan bread rolls on it and it’s good. I just need to get used to the slower response time of cooking with electricity, and the temperature control, but haven’t burnt anything … so far!
We’re heading south across the border to Botswana today, and will probably be offline until we get to Maun in a couple of days. I love Botswana and have been looking forward to spending some more time there, in part of the country we haven’t seen yet.
We did it! 3 weeks in Angola and we didn’t get sick, injured, arrested or robbed. We really enjoyed (most of) our time there, and feel like we got to see a good cross-section of the country and managed to keep away from the capital Luanda which doesn’t seem to have anything much to recommend it. The Scottish oil worker we met at Arco lives there and he told us not to bother.
We’ve spent the last few days without internet, so let’s have a quick catch-up.
We thought that rather than just head back over the Santa Clara border, we’d see a bit more of the country and cross over further east at Katuitwi / Katwitwi. Greg had saved a trip report of someone’s Angola tag-along tour from a couple of years ago and he gave good information about places they had camped along the way, the condition of the road south to the border and how long it took the group of 15 at each border post. The Angolan post had been recently completed when the author crossed it in 2016, and it had taken the group 8 hours to drive the last 250-ish kms on an unsealed road. So, slow going but we’ve been used to that in Angola.
Blergh, big mistake! The road must have deteriorated since 2016 and it took us a day and a half to do what the tag along group had done in 8 hours. To any overlanders reading this, Don’t Do It! Cross over at Santa Clara or Ruacana.
The author had also very helpfully mentioned a couple of quarries they had camped at along the way, and we stayed at them too, but as we realised the last section would take us more than a day, we had to find somewhere to camp about 60kms north of the border post. In this still-heavily landmined area we couldn’t risk just going off-road and finding something, and there were no convenient tracks for us to just head down, so we ended up on a narrow piece of land between 2 tracks where vehicles had driven to get from one to another. Basically, we camped on a median strip!
The border crossing at both the Angolan and Namibian posts was pretty easy, once we actually found where to go at the spiffy newish mostly unused Angolan post. There were 3 entry booths and an enormous commercial building, a bit like the one at Santa Clara,but it was all sitting empty and overgrown with weeds. No signage, so we just drove until we were stopped by a string across the road, then had to be shown where to find the single immigration desk hidden at the back of a building. It all went smoothly but we were a bit baffled that the customs lady insisted on inspecting nearly all our storage boxes. Um, we’re leaving, what could be in any of those boxes that might be of interest? Anyway, her English was good so I gave her my 2 Women’s Weekly mags. It’s such a quiet post, I thought she might need something to do to keep occupied.
The Namibian side was fine, but Greg had to show the Customs lady there how to fill in our carnet as they don’t get many of them. I noticed on the Immigration officer’s daily log that we were number 4 & 5 to pass through, at about 10.30am. And then when the policeman was checking our paperwork, Greg noticed that ours was the first vehicle for the day. For some reason, even though we had paid our road tax when we entered from South Africa and it was valid for 3 months, we had to pay it again because we were entering from Angola.
And then we were back in Namibia, driving on the left hand side of the road, on a sealed road with line markings and street signs and all that stuff were used to. It was bliss!
This is getting a bit long, so I’ll just add a few general comments about Angola – everyone we met, spoke to and even drove past seems happy and friendly. As a nation the population has a lovely disposition despite, or maybe because of, the incredible hardship of that long civil war and the ongoing poverty amongst the majority.
One of the saddest things we saw were small patches of shredded casava/manioc/yucca being dried on the margin of the main sealed road south before it became a rutted nightmare – what the South Africans call the ‘yellow lane’, the safety or breakdown lane. Better-off locals would dry it in flat baskets or on large squares of fabric within their compound. The poorest people just dried it direct on the bitumen and hope that no vehicle drives over it. When the manioc is dried, it is scraped up, pounded to flour and then mixed with water to make a grey porridgey gloopy mass that is consumed at breakfast, lunch and dinner with small amounts of spice, meat and vegetables. Maize is treated in a similar way.
We saw so many abandoned or incomplete projects, buildings, roads, bridges, multi-storey hotels. This is not a poor country, thanks to its oil, but mismanagement, waste and probably corruption is on a scale we have never seen before.
Would we recommend Angola as a travel destination? Unless you’re an experienced Overlander and have visited other African countries … no. But if you are an Overlander .. absolutely. We’ll remember those 3 weeks for the rest of our lives.
We had a few ‘first experiences’ yesterday before our encounter with the local cops last night, which was another ‘first’ for us, well in this country anyway.
We’ve seen our fair share of police stations and other official offices in our travels. There was the ‘we got deported from Russia‘ story that we still dine out on, 6 years later. Long before that, in 2001, there was the time we were cycling in Vietnam and staying in a small town about 30kms out of Hanoi. Not at all touristy, and apparently by midnight word had got around about the 2 white people on a ze dap hai noi noi bicycle for 2 people. I still remember that phrase, although my spelling is probably incorrect. The owner of the hotel knocked on our door at midnight and told us we had to go to the police. So the 3 of us all hopped on his Honda Wave motorbike and rode in the rain to the local police station, where the cops examined our passports and visas and wrote a heap of stuff in a big book. Then the 3 of us went back to the hotel on the motorbike in the rain. No helmets of course.
Anyway, yesterday …
We stopped and bought bananas from a roadside seller. Small and tasty, according to Greg. A couple of dozen cost 50c. I also bought a bunch of aromatic herbs from a woman sitting nearby for 25c. I didn’t really know what to do with them, but she was delighted to sell them to me.
Not far up the road, 3 young men were doing some informal road repairs – filling in potholes with dirt. We’d seen this before and just driven past – in our defence, the first time we were very preoccupied with keeping all 4 tyres intact until we could get to the next town. But this time, we stopped and handed over a small amount of money to say ‘thanks’.
And then we passed a real cafe, with a verandah, chairs, tables and real tablecloths. So we turned around, stopped and had the first drinks that hadn’t come out of Clancy’s kitchen or bar since we arrived in Angola. We were the only ones there, but it was 10am so hopefully things got a bit busier later in the day. Greg had a Coke Zero, I had a very good short black coffee and the owner gave us a plate of peanuts as well. When we first arrived, he was playing music videos of Smashing Pumpkins, then switched to a telenovella soap opera, I think. They sound the same in every language.
One more thing on our Angolan wishlist was to visit a local market and we did that too. Greg stayed with the car, I wandered around a couple of rows of sellers in the used clothes / fabric / cheap Chinese crap section. I’d thought maybe I’d buy some fabric to take home, but realised that, of course, it’s all made in China and while it looks great on the women here, it will just look like cheap Chinese fabric when I take it out of context and get it home.
Throughout our travels, tyre problems have been an intermittent but irritating companion. Something to do with the places we go to and the ways we get there, I guess. We’ve also returned a few rental cars with their batteries in much worse condition than when we first got them, but that’s another story for another time.
In mid-2001, 6 months after we met, Greg and I took a tandem bike to Viet Nam, back in the day when there was one ATM in Hanoi and one KFC in Saigon. We planned to ride from Hanoi to Sapa, but that plan came badly undone when we wrecked the inner tubes we’d brought with us and had loads of trouble finding replacements. Despite that, we had a great trip and … well, we’re still together 18 years later, and still travelling in unorthodox ways to off-the-beaten-track places.
Then there was the time a couple of years later when we drove to Broome via the Tanami Desert with our kids, Greg’s parents and his niece. We had so much trouble with tyres on the Tanami that I bought a new set at Hall’s Creek. They were eye-wateringly expensive but worth it – it was a great trip and when I remember the trip, the last thing I think of is the cost of those tyres which ended up lasting a long time and took us on other camping trips within Australia – Simpson Desert, Innamincka, across the Nullarbor to Esperance & Israelite Bay.
Which brings us to our latest adventure. 4 punctures and 2 blowouts. I’m not even going to add ‘so far’, because I think that’s quite enough. We’ve had to spend a couple of nights pretty much camping wherever we could find to stop because of a puncture. Always in the right rear tyre. We’re using spilt rims and the tyres themselves are all good, it’s the inner tubes that are our problem.
Yesterday was a really trying day. We ended up on the side of the road to Namibe, a sort-of resort town on the west coast, about 10 kms south of where we’d camped the previous night, with our 2nd blown inner tube of the trip and rapidly dwindling options. It happened on a stretch of road where there was barely enough space to pull off, but thank heavens it WAS the right tyre in this country where they drive on the right side of the road. Changing a tyre right beside traffic wizzing past would be deathly.
Part our emergency kit is 2 hazard triangles and I put them out about 50m on either side of Clancy, to warn oncoming traffic. Trucks were decent and slowed down & drove on the other side of the road, most cars didn’t even adjust their speed although a couple did stop and offer to help. A tow truck drove the 50kms out from Namibe to see if we needed his services but we declined with thanks. At that stage we still only had 3 wheels on Clancy, so getting him on the back of the truck would have been tricky. We think someone must have just sent him out ‘on spec’.
We do have 2 spares, but by then we were down to: 2 wrecked inner tubes, one that had been patched and 3 remaining decent tyres. So Greg hopped online and found a really good piece of advice on the Beadell Tours page which suggested using talcum powder between the inner tube and the tyre to stop friction. We have talcum powder because Greg uses it when he makes fibreglass. Definitely worth a try. So, we limped into Namibe doing 40km/hr and with me watching the Tyredog tyre pressure monitor the whole time.
Then how do find a tyre place? We drove around a few streets in the centre of town without success, then Greg had the excellent idea of asking a policeman. There were a few gathered around a modest building which turned out to be the police station. One of them in plain clothes offered to go with Greg to show him where to go, while I waited inside the station. First place had none, but recommended another place where Greg bought the shop’s entire stock of 2 inner tubes.
We’re now heading south-east to Virei to visit Tchitundo-Hulo – petroglyphs and rock paintings. Last night we pulled off the road about 15kms south of Namibe and drove over a sand dune to be partially protected from the impending thunderstorm which hit about 5 minutes after we stopped. Honestly, the best thing about yesterday was standing naked in the rain, washing off the grime of the day
Sounds so much better than figuring stuff out as we go along, right? We’re still settling into camper life – adding bits, moving things, tweaking how we do things. It’s all going well, though. Clancy is comfortable to sleep in and fairly sound-proof. We’re in Windhoek tonight, the capital of Namibia, staying in the campground section of Arebbusch Travel Lodge. We’re close to the airport on one side and a main road on the other, but so far it’s not too noisy.
We’re learning stuff too – when we were changing the flat tyre a couple of days ago, I put the wheel nuts on the ground and the threads got all sandy, and needed to be washed thoroughly, otherwise even just one grain of sand would have wrecked the thread. Greg already knew that. Now I do too.
Then yesterday we came very close to running out of fuel because we trusted our stupid GPS to tell us where the next servo was … but it had closed down. We must have been running on diesel fumes for the last couple of kms because when we filled up, we put 69.68 litres in the 70 litre fuel tank! The lesson here is to only trust the GPS if our printed map also says there’s a servo.