Across Africa on 4 wheels

HELLO | HALLO | BWANJI | MONI | OLA

Trav·el (verb) – The act of moving from one place to another, often used to describe great distances or faraway destinations.

To South Africans there is nothing more appealing than a road trip through the wilderness; it is a symbol of freedom and a chance to escape the chaos of day to day living. I love travelling because it makes my daydreams reality. I dream of the landscapes, the cities, I imagine myself in them, I imagine myself running through open spaces, trapped in busy African markets, meeting the poor and the rich, I dream of struggling through a forest, paddling down a river and I dream of waking up to the most amazing sunrises and I dream of never waking up in the same place twice. I don’t want to think about bosses or what happened on Facebook. I want to get out there, go to amazing places. I don’t want to say I wish, I want to say ‘Damn that was awesome’.

If you have travelled anywhere you have the stories to prove it and do I have a story to tell you! Because DAMN THAT WAS AWESOME!

How do I convey and express the amazing things I saw and experienced on my 3 week long adventure through South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique? I guess I start with where it all began: Any car, any route, 8000km, 18 days, 5 countries, the greatest social rally on earth. And go…!

Team number 6, the South Afristans (JP, Mike, Jason and Diane) packed a considerable amount of bags into a Toyota Fortuner to the point that they were about to fall out and headed to Cape Town from Johannesburg for the start of the 5th edition Put Foot Rally. 1000km done and we hadn’t even started the rally yet. Teams arrived in Cape Town in their weird and wonderful modes of transport with their matching crew uniforms for the Put Foot rally pre-party that started off with a twist of the wrist, a fizz, a ting followed by ‘cheers’ as about 50 teams opened their welcome beer.

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The next day, teams woke up in the early hours of the morning to make their way to the start line on Table Mountain. I looked out the window and the sky was tar-black. As I dragged my tired body into the car, I heard a tapping on the window and it became a pitter-patter as the rain started to leak out of the grey clouds above us. It was an early, dark, wet and cold start to our adventure but nothing could have dampened the teams’ spirits as we hit the road for the first checkpoint (and second party!), which was in Etosha National Park, Namibia.

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As we entered Namibia it felt as if we had just entered into a different world. Within minutes we drove from gloomy skies and lush vegetation to hot, sunny, arid desert with a beautiful blue backdrop and a landscape that seemed as though no one had laid a hand on it. A few days before we had driven through the Karoo desert to get to Cape Town but we had never seen anything like this. The dirt road (which wasn’t dirt, it was just ground) was as straight as an arrow and seemed to lead nowhere, it felt like we were just driving into the heat-shimmering emptiness in front of us. After driving for a whole day and not seeing a single living thing we arrived at the Canyon Roadhouse where we stayed the night. The Canyon roadhouse felt as though we had stepped back in time into an old gas station. The large doors open onto an old fashioned truck converted into a desk and a ‘pompstasie’ (filling station) bar. All around the interior were classic vehicles adding to the atmosphere. The next day we stood on the edge of the second biggest canyon in the world, the Fish River Canyon and looked down into the giant beauty that made us feel minute. For the rest of the day we got back onto the road that just seemed to unroll before us into the emptiness, so empty and straight that we could steer with one knee.

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That night we camped under the black sky full of blazing stars. We stood in the middle of an empty field; the never-ending blackness consumed everything. Not a single light could be seen and not a single sound could be heard (except for the laughter of the other Put Footers at the campfire). We stood there for hours or was it seconds? (Time just seemed to not exist) we just stared upwards as we watched the sky get blacker and watched the stars take over. We could have stayed there all night and stared at nothing, but everything. We headed back to the life of the night where teams; Happy Feet, T@RTS and Mountains Rock had pitched their tents in a cluster and cracked open a Windhoek beer and danced the night away with many other teams that were drawn toward the festivities.

The next day we were woken up by the harsh sun shining into our tent and the sound of gas heating up water for our morning coffee. After we had all packed up we drove in convoy to conquer the mighty Dune 45 in Sossusvlei. We climbed out of our cars and with bare feet we stepped out onto the hot powdery orange sea of sand. Dune 45 (80m high) looks much smaller from the bottom than it actually is. We realized this as we started to run to the top and stopped at what we thought was half way but it turned out that we weren’t even half way to half way. Climbing up a sand dune is much harder than it looks; it is just one big struggle to the top. We walked up the sharp, narrow crest of the dune and followed the fresh footprints of the few people leading the way before the sand blew it away leaving no trace of any footprints. My feet were constantly searching for pockets of stability where they could get enough resistance to push off for a strong step forward. I walked upright for as long as I could until my calf muscles refused to respond to any commands. After that, crawl was the word of the day as we got onto all fours like chimpanzees and proceeded to the top. We were so desperate to stop to take a breath but the steep incline and easily shifting sand forced us to forge ahead, otherwise we would have to walk over the same section again. 30 minutes later we were still climbing (crawling) to the top. Our calves screamed and hearts pounded, we were all waiting for someone to say “okay, this is high enough” but no one said anything, so we just struggled in silence until we got to the top. Once we got to the top it was an incredible sight of orange sand dunes and blue sky for as far as we could see, not a living thing could be seen except for the little sand bugs that ran next to us. It took us about 45 minutes to get up and 5 minutes to get down. I run down the dune with so much momentum it almost felt like I was bouncing off of the sand. I had to put my brakes on every now and then to slow myself down because I had no desire to taste the sand!

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We then went to go see the Deadvlei, we walked over sand dune after sand dune in the harsh sun and strong wind and the landscape just didn’t change. Nobody told us where we were going but they said we would know when we got there. So we just believed them and carried on walking. As we climbed up a small sand dune, there it was, a landscape so dead yet so beautiful. It was so stark and dramatic with a large white bone-dry basin that could not support any kind of life. The ground was so dry that it had solid white cracked clay with a striking contrast of orange sand dunes and bright blue sky that surrounded it. Scattered on the white clay were 900 year old trees, so dead they had turned black and stood in a petrified manner.

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Day 3 in Namibia lead us to Windhoek to the famous Joe’s Beerhouse where we finally met up with team Lone Strangers who broke down 10m from the start line in Cape Town because they had over loaded their Passat and hit a speed bump. For dinner we ate the most delicious game. I ate a combination of 3 different game meats; kudu, oryx and springbok with some “witblits” which is a strong liquer served with the food. Another team mate ate a 1,4kg kudu eisbein. We later tied the bone onto our front bull bar of the car next to our buffalo head made from coke cans and our “diane – a – sore”. That night we slept in the car park at Urban camp because making a booking is for sissies.

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The next day was the day where we were all to meet up again for the first checkpoint in Etosha. By this time many cars had already started to make rattling sounds, no sounds at all and even sounds that only trucks should make, but nothing could stop the Put Footers from making the party in time. We were instructed that we were not allowed at the check point before 15:00 so, to avoid that, team The Rolling Livingstones invited everyone to their “official unofficial pre check point party” on the side of the road about 10m from the official checkpoint party. It was 11:00 and we were 230km from the checkpoint so we did a mental calculation; if we reduced our speed to 230 km/hr, we could make Etosha in an hour. That said we were at the unofficial checkpoint party at about 13:00, ready to crack open a beer with The Rolling Livingstones who were not there. The party went on as teams screamed passed us on the long straight road towards Etosha, once they realized we had beer, what followed were screeching breaks and a handbrake turn to get back to us. The Rolling Livingstones hosted a really festive “official unofficial pre checkpoint party”, it was just a pity they weren’t there. It was then time for the official checkpoint party, as we drove to the entrance we were blasting ‘Men at work – Down under’ out of the window through our annoying pimped out neon radio that changed through 300 different colours. Every 30 seconds we had to restart the song because we weren’t at the entrance yet. We whistled the intro and as the song started we waved our arms out the car window and the driver pumped the brakes to make the car dance with the song. Everyone knew we had arrived.

As the sun started to set, all the teams got ready for the Animal Kingdom themed checkpoint party. One by one people would disappear into their tents and after a couple of shakes of the tents; elephants, lions, bunnies, bears all climbed out. Everyone brought out their wild side and roared the night away in their animal onesies. As the hen crowed at sunrise, everyone crawled out of their tents (some still dressed in their animal onesies) ready for the charity drive. Each team got into their cars and joined the back of the queue until it looked as though Put Footers had taken over as we lined the streets with our cars all branded and decorated with people screaming out their windows and dancing in the street. We drove in convoy where we spent a day at a school just inside the Etosha National Park where we gave all the school kids brand new school shoes and stationary. As we drove into the school, kids immediately surrounded us. In groups of about 10, each child were given brand new shiny black shoes. It was really heart warming to see these little kids walk toward us with a little shy smile but as we took their old shoes off and put their new shoes on their smiles grew and revealed their teeth. Once their shoes were on they walked around with such confidence as they showed off their new shoes. Once we had given all the children their shoes we headed to our next stop in Halali camp inside the Etosha National Park. On our way to the campsite we stopped off at the salt pan which is the centre of the Etosha National park that covers an area of about 4800km2. I stepped out of the car onto the cracked ground and immediately felt as though I had just stepped onto the moon, I stared into the nothingness around me, so flat, so dry and monotonous it felt so alien to me. I kept expecting to see Morgan Freeman appear on a chair and ask if I wanted the blue or the red pill.

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Once we got to Halali camp we made our way to the watering hole for some sundowners and quietly sat amongst everyone as we watched a black rhino enjoy the water in front of the beautiful African sunset. We heard rumours of a resident honey badger in the camp but didn’t see it. Although we did notice that the kudu bone attached to our bull bar was missing but the cable ties were still there. We did some FBI investigation and came to the conclusion that a honey badger must have chomped on it while we slept.

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The next day led us through the National Park as we did some game watching and back onto the main road towards the Kavongo River where we stayed at the unique Ngepi camp. Before we had even arrived at the camp we noticed some tongue-in-cheek signs, like 4×4 (Toyotas) can go left and 2×2 (Land Rovers) can go right, but it was actually the same road, it just split in two around a tree. The camp was covered in quirky signs and elements like a floating cage pool in the river and a very vibey bush bar. My favourite was when I found the greatest toilet in the world. The toilet named Poop-a-falls, it was about 5m high on stilts with wobbly stairs that lead up towards a single white toilet with a view of the dry bushveld below. There was also a toilet called ‘the throne’ which was a toilet with a couple of steps leading up to it and surrounded by tall sticks. There was also a toilet that confused the hell out of me, I followed the sign’s to the ladies, I walked right (because women are always right) and then walked through the door that said ladies and there were 2 toilets next to each other, after doing a investigation, I noticed that both the ladies and men’s doors lead to the same room with 2 toilets. It turned out that one toilet was for ‘him’ with the toilet seat locked up with a pad lock and the other toilet was for ‘her’ with a cute pink seat and fluffy pink mat. I really loved the toilets and made a point to go visit a new toilet every time I needed to go. My obsession of wanting to live in a tree house came true for just one night. We walked along a wooden bridge towards our tree house that looked over the Kavongo River. The tree house was on a thatched platform with grass walls that could be rolled up and a stunning outdoor shower. Not only did the tree house come with a bed, which we hadn’t seen in a week but it also came with an enchanting African experience. As the sun set we sat on the deck over the river and were mesmerized by the sound of nature. We heard hippos yawning and splashing in the river below us, elephants on the other side of the river having some kind of conflict or ritual mating sound we had never heard before and surrounding us was the sound of singing insects in the trees. We slept with the grass walls rolled up and were woken to the most amazing sight of a new day. The stillness of the river glowed in a blend of yellow and orange as the sun peaked up, the stillness was only broken by the sound of a fish eagle catching his first fish of the morning. After an amazing night in the tree house we were all rejuvenated and ready to get ‘dag dronk’ (Day drunk) at our unofficial beach party. We had driven around with 4 big Mexican hats that didn’t fit anywhere in the car, so we decided it was a good excuse to put them to use. We brought the beach vibe into the bar with our hula skirts and coconuts, the perfect way to celebrate our last day in Namibia.

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I saw and experienced a lot while in Namibia from empty landscapes, to canyons, sand dunes and well empty landscapes. I loved everything about Namibia; I loved the illusion of emptiness and its assertive power of exclusion. It was really great to not linger anywhere but to keep being on the move. Travel usually implies seeing a place once and moving on; but this became a trip in which I made lists of places I’d return to. I think I’ve found travellers paradise (for an introvert). How can anything possibly beat this?

To be continued…

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