Tour dates: 24 Jan to 22 Feb 2007.
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In 2002 we did an overland trip with Guerba from Zambia to Namibia. It was excellent and we wanted to do another like it. The present trip was chosen from the Guerba brochure and when we booked it, the paperwork arrived from Intrepid. A bit of a puzzle, but we went ahead with our booking.
Our trip started late morning when we got an inter-airport coach from East Midlands Airport to Heathrow Terminal 1. There were some minor problems, but our plane got going about 40min after the scheduled time.
Arrive about 09:30 local time (2hrs ahead of UK). Not a promising start when we could not find our bus driver. After getting some local money I rang the hotel and they told me that the driver would be upstairs by Nando's restaurant. He was there. Would have been nice to be told this in the joining instructions! Some other people were collected from a later plane and we finally got rolling at 12:30.
We drove through the Johannesburg suburbs to the Backpacker's Ritz. Joburg was like a new city to me, despite having previously worked there for 5 weeks. Things change and you forget a lot during 46 years absence!
The Backpackers Ritz was not how I visualised it. The buildings are those of a formerly affluent house with pleasant gardens set on a steep slope. The gardens were well kept and, it being S. Africa, well walled with security fences. Not much changed here then! Joan and I were weary with travelling and spent the afternoon dozing in the garden. There was an adequate meal in the evening, served in the hostel. After it we went to bed early, having booked a trip for tomorrow. It was extremely hot and humid at night there were 20-odd people in the dormitory including a few noisy ones. It was a contrast from the cold of the UK and, although we did not realise it at the time, we would only once more feel this hot at night during our entire four weeks of travelling.
Breakfast and then at 8:30 got driven to the Gold Reef City theme park by Steve from the hotel. We are not usually theme park people, but we chose this one since it included a visit to real mine workings.
Had a good tour with Wilma, a local lady in retirement, as guide. We looked at the surface mine workings and watched gold being cast. (The same gold is melted an re-cast several times each day: something one can only do with gold or platinum.) Then went down 250m in an old two-storey lift cage to an old gold mine. While 250m is a shallow mine by local standards it was still a fascinating visit. The galleries are no longer worked, but they are as they would have been when in action. After returning to the surface we parted from Wilma and sat for a long time outside a sunny cafe having a cold drink. This was a pleasant contrast to the winter we had just left in the UK.
In the afternoon we walked a few steps from the theme park to the Apartheid Museum, which proved to be a fascinating visit. We had not appreciated how good this would be. The whole afternoon passed quickly and we had to rush the last part! Steve collected us at 16:30. Back at the BR we a quick shower then attended a briefing at 18:30 in the garden. The briefing meeting was at the top of a big rockery and overlooked downtown Joburg, which sparkled in the darkness below us.
We met our leader and driver, JD and Wessel, and the other twenty-odd people with whom we would share the first part of the journey. Then we had dinner and an another early night.
Breakfast was at 6:30 and we were in the truck by 7:00 and off around 7:30. We drove all day, on a route via Belfast, to reach Bushmans Camp near the Kruger at 15:30. On the way we had one of the side windows of our truck shatter completely and had an entertaining time improvising ways of blocking of the draughty hole.
Bushmans Camp is a small private camp and game park just outside the Kruger Park to its SW. The camp was prettily laid out in deep undergrowth through which wind narrow sandy paths. It is likeable place, if a little OTT in places. Once the tents were up we were off for a game drive, our party split between two vehicles. Our main sights a herd of elephants which ambled alongside our track and, later, three male lions who sat around in a firebreak showing the complete indifference that lions have for tourists. Our drive then extended into darkness. The highlight of this night drive was a procession of lionesses past our vehicle, almost at touching distance! We got back to camp at about 20:00 for an Impala steak dinner.
We set off early and spent the day in the Kruger Park, entering via the Orpen Gate. The Kruger is famed for its Big Game, but I see that by 08:20 I was photographing a rather pretty little tortoise. However, 10mins later the photographs were of large elephants dwarfing cars as they strode past. I also see in the photo that the roads are now tarmac. It wasn't like that on my last visit to the Kruger in 1960! Back for shower and sitting around before a dinner of Eland stew in Bushman camp.
Up before 5am to pack. Drove for most of the day and crossed into Botswana. The route via Potgietersrus and Groblersbrug. The travelling was incident-free but during a stop at a shopping centre we witnessed something close to an outbreak of war - courtesy of a waiter who could make Basil Fawlty look like a model of efficiency! Finally arrived at Camp Itumela, which is tucked in behind a railway shunting yard at Palapye.
Up at 6:45. Drove on and had another ultra-slow coffee stop (they must be a local speciality). Arrived Elephant Sands. The campsite is rural and has only a strong and slippery-feeling brine for washing. Went for game walk at 16:30. It was great to be out and walking. We found an elephant to look at and some giraffe then went to a charming stopping place where cold beer arriving by 4wd. Later we walked into a rich red sunset. (This was just after we had all jumped down from the 4wd, just missing a baby Puff Adder) There was the a long evening with a slow brai, followed by washing greasy dishes in brine.
Lazy 7am start and drove through scrubby woodland for several hours. Reached Kazungulu in time to do our food shopping there. Got to good campsite at Chobe in time for lunch, followed by a shower and clothes-washing. At 15:15 we departed for boat trip along the rivers. The best bit was seeing several herds of elephant coming down to the river bank in the late afternoon. Also there were some very unconcerned hippos and a totally inert croc to look at. We got back before dark to find all washing dry. Steak for dinner tonight. Joan and I went to bed, but a good number of our group went on a late night mud wallow.
Up at 6:30 and away by 8:20. We crossed river at Kazungulu Ferry and hung about for the very slow immigration process on the Zambian side. Afterwards there was a truly stupendous rain storm as we drove on towards Vic Falls. We went for a 90min walking tour around the falls. There was a massive amount of spray and we got very wet indeed (no problem with it so warm). We then drove back to the Safpar camp (Safari par Excellence) as on our previous Guerba trip. We pitched tents and some had a late lunch. Then there was a presentation of activities plus some tribal dancing. Joan and I had a late dinner in restaurant by the river in the company of two cruise ship employees, who were pleasant company.
Picked-up at 7:20 for a rhino tour. Within a few hundred metres we found ourselves bogged as we tried to get past an already-bogged heavy lorry. We stayed firmly bogged for an hour before being towed out. Back on our original plan again, we drove on to find the rhino guards and walked with them into the bush.
The two rhino that live in the park have a 24hr anti-poaching guard, so they have become used to having humans near then on foot. When we found the rhino we were able to spend more then an hour with them. Our minimum distance from them was about 5m. Charles, our guide, was excellent in telling us about the rhino and advising us on how to behave while near them. After our visit we walked on and then had a picnic by the river.
Back by 12 then a lazy afternoon with some washing done. Had a pleasant dinner with the same couple as last night. Also moved tents and changed our allegiance from the truck Wami to Limpopo and meeting Kirsty who would be our leader for the rest of the trip.
Up at 7 then gentle breakfast at the lodge. We are now in limbo for a few days. Quite a lot of the people we came from Joburg with are now away heading South, while we stay here and do very little. Two other trucks departed today. We heard later that one had left eight people behind. The eight had apparently spent too long on a morning trip to Zimbabwe. Now they would be having to catch up the truck in Botswana, travelling by taxi.
I sat around all day reading an Adrian Mole book. The Safpar camp is pleasant enough, but it is rather like a high class Open Prison. The only way out is to sign up for something expensive like bungy jumping, when they come and fetch you. I did not find bungy jumping very appealing and I have done the white water rafting twice before (it is very good, especially in the dry season).
In afternoon we had some discussions with Kirsty about why we had 4 days in same place. Her timings did not agree with our brochure. In evening we assembled by the truck for a potjie meal. Had a discussion with Angus the local Acacia rep. and realised that Intrepid, with whom we had booked, had either got their facts totally wrong or were trying to hide the wait in their presentation of the facts. Acacia are the company actually running the trip and their information sheets had a different schedule and also their information sheets were very much better. (Are you all listening?)
Idle day. Read Adrian Mole book. Did go to swimming pool in the afternoon. In evening we did all go into Livingstone for a "traditional" meal and some tribal dancing.
Our truck was under repair today and whilst doing that, Angus and James have fitted a 12V outlet which will be good for re-charging the camera batteries. Agreement has been reached to start our tour tomorrow, since our two last arrivals raised no objection to an earlier start.
Up 6:30 and packed. Changed money at the hotel and away by 8:15, heading NE across Zambia in the general direction of Malawi. For me it was interesting to be travelling through the country I have often seen on one bank of the Zambesi, but had never previously been further into it than the area around Livingstone. This part of it consists of long straight roads and no wildlife. We had lunch under trees by road. Arrived at Lusaka for shopping (it looked big and somewhat like Harare) and then we travelled out of town about 5km on dirt road to get to our campsite. A pleasant but very sloping campsite.
Today had more interesting scenery than yesterday. It was more wooded and in the afternoon it was hilly. We had some slight problems with the truck.
Lunch by the roadside amongst hordes of local kids. We arrived at our new campsite about mid-afternoon. It has an interesting dining room made of adobe and there are good showers, but no wash basins. Evidence of a previous four days of rain is showing everywhere. The camp is only 20km from the Malawi border (Chipata). In evening we had Lasagne for dinner, followed by hot chocolate and Amarula in the bar.
It rained heavily overnight. We were away 7:55 and across the border at about 9:45 and drove to Lilongwe. We parked by a sort of shopping centre and had three hours available for money changing, a walk, lunch and a supermarket visit.
We bought some brandy at the supermarket (it turned out to be quite good) and had an interesting chat with the Indian manager of the Nando's cafe. He was able to tell us the news of an outbreak of Avian Flu in the UK. Afterwards we got to our campsite early and did some washing.
Away by 8, heading for Lake Malawi. Passed Kasungu at 10:20 then diverted through Nkhotakota National Park. The park road is tarmac but it has quite a few places where the surfacing has collapsed. The lorry got bogged almost immediately. It looked ominous since we were well away from any potential rescue. After digging-out ramps failed to work we got out the sand-ladders and embedded them in the mud of the ramps. It worked and the truck got moving again.
The same process was repeated several times and I must admit I was expecting to be on the road for a few days and maybe end up needing a major rescue effort to get us out. However a lot of hard work got us through five major and several minor boggings and eventually the road improved, so we did not get marooned in the park! We were back on real roads by 16:00 and passed Dwanga Bay at 17:00. Arrived at Chintheche Inn as it got dark and put the tents up in the dark on a surface which was good grass but rather waterlogged.
Today was hot and sunny. In the morning we had a guided walk to a local village and to two church schools. The village visit was particularly good. Malawians are a friendly and helpful people and they made us very welcome.
In the afternoon we were unable to snorkel as boat engine is missing a starter cord. We had a quiet afternoon with cloud cover developing. Just drank beers in the bar in the evening and then dinner.
There were thunderstorms and torrential rain all night. Much of site was under shallow water by morning. About noon we got a boat to an island where we snorkeled. This was pleasant although the fish are small and the underwater scenery is limited compared to a good seawater site.
We returned by a route with good views of the shoreline. It was overcast but dry in the afternoon. In the evening there was a display of tribal dancing on the beach.
A sunny day. We set off on our travels again at 8. We stopped at Mzuzu for 11-12 then went round local market to buy cheap queer clothes for the evening. Got to Chitemba Beach by 15:10. This was a place with a nice bar and a lack of running water for the toilets and showers.
Joan and I went for a stroll along the beach. On the beach we met some extremely determined but very unsuccessful plants that were trying to colonise the beach. After dinner we had a dressing-up party with some pretty unlikely outfits on display in the bar!
Up at 5:10 and started by 8:50 after some last-minute souvenir shopping sessions. We passed a lot of rice fields today. I also noticed that there are lots of houses made of good bricks without any burn marks throughout Malawi. I am at a loss to explain why. In contrast they are much less successful in making good thatched roofs.
We crossed the border into Tanzania, paying $50 each for a visa. When we stopped for lunch we managed to bog the truck again. Just a minor event this time! By 3pm we were at Makambako then headed onwards, destination Iringa - the Old Farmhouse. Arrived 17:30 and had shower - the campsite has good showers although no wash basins.
We had a good evening meal at campsite in an interesting dining room apparently constructed of adobe. Had a bottle of wine with our meal, followed by hot chocolate and Amarula in the bar. It rained heavily during the night, but we slept well after our dinner!
It was still pouring rain at wake-up time. We were up at 5:30 and took the tents down in the dark and the rain after which we had breakfast under cover and got away by 7:10. By 9am we were in the hills and making steep descents in the company of heavy lorries as we passed through some marvellous scenery. Later we passed through Mikumi National Park, where the main road cuts straight through the park. We finally arrived at Dar es Salaam and spent an hour doing nothing (everything shut on Sunday)
We crossed using the harbour ferry to reach the campsite. There we pitched tents under the coconut palms and had a buffet meal at camp restaurant. The night was horribly hot and humid. We slept with tent door open. One cannot complain though: this was one of only two really uncomfortable nights in four weeks of travel. We had been expecting worse and we were a little apprehensive after all our previous African visits which were in the cooler and drier Winter season.
Today we re-packed with minimal gear and left our tents standing on the campsite. By 8am we were in a queue for the harbour ferry. Once across the harbour we changed money then by 10:45 we were setting off on a fast boat for Zanzibar. We arrived in Zanzibar at 13:15 and went to our hotel, the Safari Lodge, in Stone Town. We had a pizza lunch in Mercury's on the sea front and then strolled around a little. In the early evening we walked to Africa House for drinks and to watch the athletic dancers performing there. Afterwards saw some fine food in the open-air market, but we were not hungry after our cooked lunch. Instead we went back to hotel and had a dramatic power cut as we walked down the alleyway to the hotel. It was quite an experience being in the dark in an unfamiliar place but we made it back to the hotel quite easily.
Today we were away by 8am to visit the fort, church and slave cells. Then we drove to the plantations out of town to see spices growing and to taste fruit. It was a very good visit. Afterwards went for a lunch at a private house built courtyard style. Then drove to the far North of the island to check in to the chalets. (Sunset Bungalows, Kendwa Beach) After settling-in we swam in the sea and had dinner at the restaurant on the beach.
Leisurely breakfast and a quiet morning. No Valentines cards! Not much to do at all. Went for an early dinner after having no lunch. Took approximately 3hrs and 40mins to get served, during which time we left the table and went to two other restaurants which were by then finished serving for the night. Did not get the food ordered either.
Had breakfast and then walked both ways along the beach. There was a choice: it was quieter left than right and there were crabs to the left and a tidal-trap to the right. Both were very beautiful beaches and the beach to the left was particularly good with vast tracts of empty sand. Well, that is to say empty of people. There were hordes of crabs in residence in holes they has dug in the sand. Later we had some soft drinks then retired to the room to do nothing in particular during the heat of the afternoon.
In evening we went to the next restaurant along the beach which had quick service, better food and was 25% cheaper.
We paid-up at Sunset Bungalows by 8:30 and then drove to Zanzibar town. There we walked around town followed by sitting in cafe 11-12. Finally set off on the ferry at 13:30. This time the crossing took only two hours and then we had over an hour to kill while standing around in the car park. Later when we got back to the campsite across the harbour we found that the tents were still up but had been moved. No problem - we just dragged them somewhere else. It was very hot so we had a beer and then a shower. Dinner was at the restaurant.
Awake 5:30 and off about 7am. Drove to a transport cafe we had visited previously. We had a very slow breakfast and left at 9:45. Today we had a long hot and dusty drive to Arusha and then on to the Snake Park. Arrived just at dark and put the tents up. Clear and cool night.
In the morning we were intrigued to find that the fence behind our tent was separating us from a pond full of large crocodiles. Breakfast was at 8. Afterwards the truck went to Arusha with much of the group, but Joan and I stayed put. Everyone was back for lunch and then we visited the snakes. Today was feeding day and the food was live animals. This was a curious sight and not for the squeamish. We did some filming since we were fascinated by the mismatch between our conceptions of hunting snakes and the reality. Reality was a slow and bumbling action with the both sets of animals confused about their roles! Later went via a Masai museum to local Masai village. Had a quiet evening.
Up at 6:10 for 7:00 Breakfast. Today we are taking reduced gear in three smaller 4wd vehicles. We drove to Ngorongoro, arriving late morning, where we had a lengthy check-in before entering the conservation area. Behind the office the road rose steeply and we drove up it to the crater rim for a picnic lunch stop. Afterwards we continued on along the crater rim and onwards to the Serengeti past big herds of Masai cattle. Once in the Serengeti Game Park we did a game drive, the highlight of which was seeing a leopard sitting above us on a rock.
After dark we spent the night in an open bush camp but with food and washing-up provided by local staff. We were given strict instructions not to even look out of the zip doors of the tent during the night. Good advice I am sure, but it seemed a little odd when I have clocked up about twenty nights worth of sleeping out in wildlife areas just in a sleeping bag or sometimes covered by a mosquito net.
We got up in dark for a near-dawn start. WE toured Serengeti Park until midday or later. The game viewing was excellent. Saw two more leopards today! After lunch we took the tents down and drove on to visit to Olduvai Gorge and its associated museum: another excellent visit. Afterwards we continued back to Ngorongoro for the campsite on crater rim. On the way we stopped for firewood to make ourselves a camp fire to sit around at dinner time. The night was cold and there were some buffalo visitors to the campsite.
Breakfast was at 6 and we were off by 6:35. As we descended the road into the crater we were met by two Cheetahs striding across the hillside above us. That set the quality of game-viewing for the day (superb!). It could not have been better and the whole set in the such a setting with the crater walls rising around us in all directions. The whole thing is on a vast scale (the crater is 20km across) and there are animals everywhere.
After several hours of rich viewing we drove back up to the rim and back for lunch tent-collecting at about 12:45. By 16:00 we were back at the Snake Park campsite near Arusha.
Our holiday is now nearly over. Amongst the other trucks at the campsite is one with whose leader has just come down with malaria. As a result we now lose James, our driver, who is going to take over the other group. Kirsty is going to drive us on to the finish at Nairobi.
Off at 8:15 leaving James with the "malarial leader" truck. By 11:40 we had completed the border crossing at Namanga and at 12:45 we had lunch by the roadside. There was a stop for an hour for coffee in the Nairobi suburbs and we arrived at our destination by 17:30. Joan and I got showered, changed and fresh-smelling, which seemed preferable to simply joining the others for dinner. By 19:00 we were off to the airport. We had a remarkably slow security check and then the flight was late, so we were quite glad to get our dinner in the plane and then doze for the rest of the flight.
Landed early, waited for the bus and got home early in the afternoon. I make it 31hrs of travelling since taking down the tents!
Well, it was an enjoyable trip and we got a lot out of it. But it fell just a little short of the earlier overland trucking trip with Guerba. The Guerba trip looked like a lot of interesting places joined together to make a route. This one was more A to B and buy the T-shirt.
We did have a problem with 5 nights (later reduced to 4 nights) spent marking time at Vic Falls out of a 28 night holiday. Intrepid (who now seem to own Guerba) did not make this clear at the time of booking and indeed the paperwork they issued hides this fact by lumping information together. The holiday was actually run by Acacia-Africa whose own brochures were better-produced and more honest than Intrepid. On this evidence we might travel again with Acacia, but we would avoid booking through Intrepid.
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