Friday, 15 July 2016

The long route down to Pretoria, and staying there!

The border back into Zambia was slightly less painful on the wallet than the first time we entered, our road and carbon tax were still valid, and Charles was on his SA  passport meaning only I had to pay the $50 for a visa (sadly a transit visa was the same cost). The roads on the Zambian side were infinitely better than on the Malawian side so we managed to do 400km back to Bridge Camp to spend the night there - yes we were very shocked! We met a Putfoot Rally on the road and then at Bridge Camp. It was a charitable Rally who raise money and distribute shoes to people across Southern Africa. There was about 20 cars at Bridge Camp with another 52 floating around Zambia ( A great charity, and lovely people who shared their fire and their food with two stragglers that evening!

Waking up to travel the next 400km, I realised that somewhere along the line I had picked up a stomach bug.. Always a great prospect, thinking back to Morocco where I also had one, when you are travelling long distances with very few places to stop..! I managed until we arrived back at the Moorings just past Lusaka, where I fell asleep at 5pm, Charles enjoying a steak sandwich with out me! Sadly the next morning the bug still had not disappeared but we pushed on to Livingstone and the Jolly Boys Backpackers to spend the night in their rather noisy car park and chat to Hester their fantastic manager! 

Our short trip back through Zambia was over (first country we have been back to - it will be followed by Botswana, Namibia and South Africa in the next few months) and it was onto Botswana.. The Kasane border was hilarious! We arrived and it was mega busy, lorries and South Africans coming back from their holidays along side loads of touts. One guy latched himself to us, and would not move despite being told we didn't need his help. He was there as we paid for the council tax (to exit.. How cheeky), and for the ferry across the river (150 kwatcha £12.50). Passports and carnet were stamped, and our shadow asked us if we wanted to change money. We had about 550 Zambian kwatcha left and I had looked at the rate that morning .. 100 kwatcha was 113 pula. He offered me 450 pula and I laughed as I showed him the rate. He tried bluffing and told me the pula was the strongest currency in Africa, when I bluntly replied, apparently not, he looked offended. After some arguing and debating and me threatening to move on he upped his offer 1:1.. It was a small victory but we still came out at a loss, something that can happen when exchanging currency on the border. He then had the audacity to ask for something for him for helping us out, to which I replied,
"We didn't ask for your help and we told you so, it's not our fault you wasted your time following us. Listen to what people are saying next time and you won't feel so hard done by!" It maybe sounds harsh but these guys are so persistent and unless you are forceful you get taken for a ride! 

Getting to the ferry the port workers were useless..! They told us our ticket for the ferry was the wrong one and as Charles got out to go and speak to the port master at the end of his tether, they looked at it again and said we could get onto a different ferry.. As useful as chocolate tea pots comes to mind. The ferry ride over was uneventful but pretty cool - three overland cars and a lorry, alongside loads of locals made quite a sight! I am, however, surprised it managed to make it over the river but it did and we got into the long queue at immigration. On the Botswana side it was very busy, it took us about an hour to queue to get the passports stamped, carnet sorted and insurance/road tax paid, it also included a lot of jostling and even more impatient Botswanans. 

(Ferry selfie!)
(Ahoy Botswana)
(Kasane river crossing - and yes that was the ferry - I think when my parents and Gill and Roger did it in April a ferry had sunk the week before..! In the background you can see a new bridge being built.. I am sure a lot of jobs will be lost, however it will quicken up the process. On the Botswana side there was miles of queues of lorries waiting for the ferry!)

Almost immediately, driving through Botwswana the landscape went back to that Southern African feel; long straight roads, cut back verges and animals everywhere! Herds of elephants, warthogs and impala just grazing by the roadside! It made the drive through to Elephant Sands very eventful but quick and easy (this was added onto the Harry Potter Audio tape we had also begun - I really wish I had thought of them earlier on in the trip, such good entertainment!). We arrived at a packed Elephant Sands camp site, loads of South Africans going on holiday or coming back from one (many who we had met at the border), it was also trailer heaven which is a phenomenon fairly new to me being from the UK - for those of you who are also unsure, they are compact trailers which, when open up, look like a house.. Some have a bigger floor space than our old house! They have a sink and fridge that come out, some even have hot water on demand! This is topped off by folding out beds (up to 6 people can sleep) and sometimes an extra room on the side! I was just amazed (look at this YouTube clip to see what I mean The site in itself was amazing, the bar was next to a spring with a herd of elephants drinking there well into the sunset! Lions and hyenas added to the night sounds as we feel asleep under some very bright stars! 

(Elephants on the road)
(Typical road! Amazing condition and just open!)
(Bush baby at Elephant Sands)
(At Elephant Sands, the bar was about 5m from them!)

We have now met lots of travelling South Africans, and I can honestly say they are some of the most friendly, and welcoming people we have met. Just before the border at Martin's Drift, our second night in Botswana we camped at Kwa Nokeng with 2 families from Jo'Burg and Durban - again with amazing trailers which, much to my delight, I was able to have a nose in! They were great, and what would have been rather a gloomy night, turned into one with much laughter around a fire with plenty of alcohol. I was truely greatful that evening for their company for various reasons.

(Rather tame camp donkey!)

Saturday we were home.. For Charles anyway! A strange feeling for him I think! The border again was simple, the carnet didn't need to be stamped out of Botswana or into South Africa because they are common secure countries (it will be stamped when we leave either into Zimbabwe or another country not in the trio). No payment for visas needed for either of us, but I had to decide a time frame - I asked for two weeks which was all fine - we wouldn't need that long as the tent wouldn't take 2 weeks.. We thought! We were soon on our way to Pretoria and Charles' family! Along the way loads of private game parks lined the roads, as well as animals and lots of biltong signs! Hello South Africa! 

Driving into Pretoria was just mind boggling, 4 lanes of traffic all obeying the road laws.. We were shocked! We arrived at Rob and Ronel's beautiful house around 2pm, surprising them whilst doing the gardening (we thought we would be there around 4pm). We were treated to a welcome drink or two and headed to Charles' grand father's (Bancar) flat to see him and his Auntie Tish. Charles was again amazed, his stunningly located penthouse apartment had not changed one bit since he was last there (over 9 years), down to the photos and pictures on the walls! It was such a fantastic welcome to South Africa and we felt blessed to be in such a welcoming environment! Pizza at Rob and Ronel's favourite bistro followed as well as lots of wine! 

(After seeing Rob and Ronel's house, living in South Africa looked like a more appealing prospect!)

(Bancar, Tish, Charles and me - note the warm clothing we are all wearing!)

The first job was to by some warm clothes, whilst Pretoria is not as cold as Cape Town it is still one of the coldest places we have been - think a sunny day in October! My shorts and vest tops were not going to cut it here! Stopping off at Irene Mall (again another wow moment), we stocked up on jumpers and trousers to keep us warm through these coming winter months (mainly the evenings!). 

(Flashing the cash - Paula and Nigel had bought us some rand before we left the UK - I was very excited to use them! Well travelled currency!)

(The upside down cow at Irene Mall - the area was an old dairy farm so there is a strong cow theme!)

(Charles happily eating ribs and chicken wings at Spur, a South African chain restaurant he remembers from living there!)

The afternoon was again spent with extended family; having had fantastic news about a new arrival in the family back in the UK, Charles family poured over to Rob and Ronel's house to deliver presents for Ronel's upcoming trip to the UK on the Monday! Family who had not been seen for between 2 and 20 years were there, enjoying the sun, wine and curry cooked beautifully by Rob! 

By Monday we knew that our tent would be taken off on the Wednesday, and hwhen it finally got to Wednesday we arrived early at the shop, and despite the workshop telling us it would take a whole day to take off the roof tent, Charles, myself and the Howling Moon Rep had it off in an hour! The car looked very strange with no tent, but it drove like a dream.. A few conversations about replacing the roof tent with a ground tent did come up but to be honest we were just too lazy to go any further than talking! There are many pros and cons to both a roof tent and a ground tent, comfort, packing up and moving around, animals .. But hassle wise it just seemed easier to keep the roof tent! We left the tent at the store and despite being told it would have URGENT written on the repair form we weren't holding our breath! 

(Car minus tent, odd looking but very light!)

In the mean time Charles and I chilled and did normal things, which you can afford to do when the opportunities are there.. We went to the cinema to see Me Before You (I have just read the book), went to camping stores - we wondered how we could have survived 9 months without all this 'essential' gear (some was very tempting) - and walked around the estate looking at all the spectacular houses! We spent a fun afternoon with Rob looking at trailers (my new passion!), as well as me baking cakes and cooking macaroni cheese, two things I have missed!! The main things we did were eat, and socialise which is perfect for us both (not our waist lines) - spending a few evenings at a pizza bistro with Rob's friends as well as Charles and I finding other little places for lunch! The meat here is amazing, just a trip to the butchers was an eye opener! 

(Heaven on a plate!)
(Some more of the amazing food we had.. We will be going back on a bush diet after this!)

(A great evening spent with Patricia, James. Firstly at the Village Bistro, and then at their amazing house - see a photo below of my favourite parts! P.s I did ask to take photos!)

(Mandy LOOK at this car!!)

Whilst staying and stopping here we began to think about life after our trip, a tricky one and not one that is easy to think about whilst drinking wine and sitting in the sun! We have a couple of hurdles.. One is the car.. We wanted to import it and sell it here, save on shipping costs and have cash in our pockets to get home. This we found was going to be harder than initially thought, even though Charles is South African and could import it, he would have to keep it here 2 years before selling it on.. Not ideal as we need the money sooner! This we realised was difficult option, however we did make a contact who could help is. The second option could be to ship it home.. We got in touch with various shipping companies and ended up emailing Duncan from African Overlanders in Cape Town.. He gave us a quote and told us he sends cars over weekly, and we would leave the car with him, sign the paper work and he would sort every thing else out! This really seemed like a viable option, letting someone else do the hard work! It is something we have to think about and then decide! We began to look at flights, and I started updating my CV.. as a teacher I would apply for a job in October/November with a hope to start after Christmas - I just hope schools are open to Skype interviews! If not supply work will always be there! These plans may change, nothing is set in stone yet but will have to be by November, I guess it never hurts to know the options! 

Whilst having the time we purchased a 'Wild Card' which is a bit like a National Trust Card for the National Parks in South Africa - it gets you unlimited entrance and will save us a lot of money, especially as we will be in the Kruger for 2 weeks with my family in November! For at least the fourth time we were glad Charles has duel nationality.. His cost £27 and mine a whooping £109! Perhaps the National Trust should start charging more for international visitors...! 

By Tuesday of the second week I was getting slightly nervous that we hadn't heard anything back about the tent.. My visa was expiring on 24th July and with no news we were starting to debate the options. First port of call was immigration which was just the most useless system we have yet to come across in Africa (whole of!). They won't extend your visa on the spot (unlike in Zambia and Malawi where you queued and got it stamped for another month), if I wanted to extend my tourist visa for just another week I would have to download, print off and fill in a form, then apply for it during an appointment.. This, the guy said, would then take 8-10 weeks to go through, I would have to surrender my passport and remain in the country! I couldn't believe it, all I wanted was another week! Slightly irritated by the beauracratics of it all we thought about plan B (by this point it was Thursday and no sign of the tent!).. Plan B was to drive up to Botswana, stay the night there then come back into the country renewing my visa (British Citizens are allowed 90 days in a year free). This was a painful plan but the most sensible! I had even thought about flying home to the UK for a week whilst Charles stayed in SA but the flight prices were rather high! Plan B it was then..

Luckily Friday morning at 5am I had an email from the tent company saying they had DHL'ed it from the warehouse and it would get to us on the same day! Relief, and also panic as we had a lot to get sorted before we left! A route was planned, shopping list compiled and stuff moved slowly back into the car from inside the house (make up and hair dryer back in hibernation!). Arriving at the camping shop to pick up the tent, it was sitting there under bubble wrap, Charles went to open it and lo and behold the old cover was on it. 

(Spot the deliberate mistake!)

We just couldn't believe it, strike two for Howling Moon! Luckily they have very good reps, Mpho and the guys at Lynnwood phoned around for half an hour to find us a new one which was 18km away in Jo'burg but was more expensive. To compensate they didn't charge us for the zip repairs but the hassle of driving through the Friday traffic was enough to fry the brain! We arrived and luckily, despite some false starts the cover fit, relief all around!

With the car getting some TLC the next morning (tyres changed over, a bolt removed from the tyre which had been there since Morocco, and the wheels tracked) at HiQ in Pretoria (fantastic service and a good price), we headed back to pack away to head off... 

(The bolt that has came out of our tyre!)

 It was no to be and strike 3 for Howling Moon.. We opened up the tent to put the bedding in and the U shaped metal insert for the back of the tent was missing. I often say, and have said through out the trip, that things are meant to try us, but this saga was becoming a joke.. The urgency due to my visa, the time and frustration were beginning to show.. A huge international company just failing to do their jobs! Sending a ranting message to the poor rep, Mpho, who again I will say was fantastic, replied he would forward it on to the relevant people (we have yet to hear from the big boss). Rob was fantastic, preserving our sanity, and rushed off with Charles to find something to make a new one, even for short term. They came back with copper piping and over a very well deserved beer, managed to make a new one.. Botswana here we come, after one last braai with Rob - steak rolls with garlic buns and salsa! Wow I will miss the food in this country! 

I have loved my time in South Africa so far, despite the frustration of jumping through hoops to get things done! Yes, we haven't been many places but we have spent time in one place which is just as nice. We got to see the possibility of living here full time, the community, the areas and the facilities, all of which amazing! We have met some great people, and been truely lucky to stay with Rob (who has been our guide throughout the time here) and Ronel! I am really looking forward to coming back here in November when we will be staying at the Kruger with my parents and brother, and then driving down to Cape Town for Christmas! 

One another note, as I have done in the past I urge you to read this blog, whilst travelling down I heard the devastating news that she had passed away. A real talent, and shining star who will be sorely missed. I implore you, if you haven't already done so, and are in the UK, to sign up to the Anthonly Nolan donor list to help someone else in the future - I know when I am back in the UK I will be on it! Do something for someone else today!

#africa #overlanding #travelling #thisisafrica #southafrica #rooftent #howlingmoon #anthonynolan