Across Africa on 4 wheels | Part 4

HELLO | HALLO | BWANJI | MONI | OLA

There is something extremely exciting about hitting the road with a group of friends with so much to see and experience ahead of you. Out on the open road we would stop every 500m to take another picture, but there comes a point in your trip where you have been in the car for a billion hours and you start to go a little crazy. We were in the car for 13 hours the first day. We were in the car for 10 hours the second day and we were in the car for 8 hours the third day and it goes on and on. Eventually by day 18, driving became stupid, cars became stupid, getting petrol was stupid, but mooning teams as they drove past wasn’t stupid. The days were long, we didn’t get enough sleep, we were hot, we were bored and we had listened to every song on our playlist at least 10 times. In an attempt to try liven ourselves up we found the weirdest gangsta in-your-face, crude, lowbrow rap music about baking soda and fat asses. It wasn’t our first choice of music but it still got the car dance going and it really suited our 100 colour neon radio that changed colour with the beat. We listened to the lyrics and burst out with laughter as the singer (if that’s what you call it) said something like “Do I ever come up in discussion, over double-pump lattes and low-fat muffins?”  After we had drained all of the gangsta out of our bodies we then started to listen to an audio book about the string theory. After hours of trying to understand what the guy was talking about we gave up and went back to “Do I ever come up in discussion, over double-pump yo, yo, yo!”

We entered Mozambique and for the first time we felt as if we were somewhere distant. We couldn’t read or understand the language which really made us feel like outsiders. I am an African, I felt reasonably comfortable travelling through all of the other African countries, but there was something different about Mozambique, possibly the Portuguese influence?

We traveled through Mozambique and stayed over somewhere near Tete for the night and met up with a couple of the other teams who had the same idea as us. Team ‘Happy Feet’ (The all girls team) had some car trouble where their battery wasn’t being charged while they drove so we offered to follow them and swap batteries if necessary. We had also heard of some dodgy guys with guns demanding money at the bridge, so a couple of kilometres before the bridge we stopped on the side of the road and waited for more teams to catch up so that we could drive over the bridge in convoy. Just before the bridge we took all our money out of our wallets and got our gopro ready to film some expected excitement and hopefully make some bucks on youtube. It turned out they were just the bridge security that liked to show off their big guns in their scary camo uniforms.

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Once we arrived in Vilanculos, which is a super chilled backpacker friendly town along the beautiful stretch of white beaches, we went straight to the bar and ordered some it their famous R&R’s (Rum and Raspberry). The sea in Mozambique had such an eerie illusion of emptiness. When we got there it was low tide and the beach stretched out for kilometers with a slight shimmer of water on the horizon. Scattered on the large open beach were boats lying on what was the ocean floor a couple of hours ago. We headed down and walked along the beach on the cold damp sand and followed the tide line created by half crushed seashells and sea weed that lined the beach. Later that evening I looked out into the endless night sky that rolled over the beach and there it was, the most whimsical full moon floating above the sea. The moonlight illuminated the ocean of blackness and the sea glistened, mirroring the dazzling image of the white moon. The faint wind brushed against the waters’ surface and created ripples that shattered the reflection.

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We had planned to have dinner in the town that night and tuk tuks have to be the ultimate way of getting around Mozambique. We ordered 5 tuk tuks and all jumped into them not realizing how epic that ride was going to be. It all started as the 5 tuk tuks that were parked in a straight line released their hand brakes and rolled backwards at the same time creating the sound of hitting two tin cans together. Once we got onto the dirt road it was the start of a tuk tuk drag race (which I don’t think we signed up for). The driver put his foot on the accelerator and the back wheels kicked up some dirt while we just held on tightly to our beer. We drove as fast as we could along the bumpy dirt road that rattled every piece of the tuk tuk. We ramped over stones and fell in potholes and over took other tuk tuks that got stuck in the beach sand. We went ‘pew pew’ passed each other and grabbed onto the tuk tuks that drove next to us to prevent them from overtaking us as we came up to our stop off point. Once we got off, our stomachs hurt from laughing so much and we couldn’t wait for our trip back. We all had supper and ran back to the tuk tuks to try and get a head start.

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The next morning we were woken by people calling “Come see the sunrise over the sea” I crawled out of my tent, walked down to the sea as I wiped away the sleep from my eyes. Once I got to the sea I gazed across the endless sands as the sun was beginning to rise. Waves gently lapped against the shoreline smoothing out the rough sand. The air was still and there was not a cloud in the sky as the fiery orb gradually appeared out of the water that left a glowing yellow trail as it reflected into the still water below. The orange and yellow from the sun slowly engulfed the dark sky until the sky was nothing but an orange glow. The boys, who immediately turned into silhouettes, ran across the beach and jumped into the glowing water for their morning swim, I was still mesmerized by the stunning sunrise.

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Everyone had packed up early and left to get to our final checkpoint in Inhambane. We were one of the last teams to leave as we had lost a teammate from the party night before and had to wait for him to return. Eventually we hit the road for our final day of travelling in the Put Foot rally. We drove along the coastline and passed through beautiful changing landscapes of seas of palm trees and flat plains of baobab trees. We had to get to Inhambane before 1pm to get to our camp before the tide came in and covered the only road to the camp. At about 12:40 we got about 500m from our camp but saw a sign that said “Cold Draught beer”. Team ‘Muskabeers’, who were in front of us, slammed on brakes and said to us “It just makes sense” so we both did a U-turn and headed to get a beer where we met team ‘Braai-Boy’ who had the same idea as us. We enjoyed a quick beer on the beach and then headed to our final destination. The tide had not yet come in and the road towards the camp was an untouched piece of ocean floor with a couple of tyre tracks across it. Well that was before we came along and got excited by the large expanse of ocean floor that had been exposed to the sunlight. The large, white sandy ground played host to a bunch of guys who thought that they were in a stunt movie as about 3 cars and 2 guys on bikes drove around in figure of eights and did donuts in the sand, while everyone else hung out the windows and blasted music ready for our grand entrance at the final check point.

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We drove along the beach towards the finish line where everyone was waiting to welcome us, we felt like movie stars as we drove through a tunnel of flags and people cheered and waved as we came in. Immediately as we parked our car at the end of the line of Put Foot cars we were handed a beer ready for the ultimate Final Checkpoint party. We then stood on the beach and cheered as more Put Foot cars came in and made them feel like they were the movie stars. It was really amazing to see every car that just took part in this amazing road trip. Every car from 4×4 Toyotas and Land Rovers, to Ford Fiesta, VW vans and even the old Delorian had made it across Africa. We all made it that far but we almost didn’t make it home because we had all parked on what was the beach at the time of arrival but the sneaky sea crawled in quietly and turned that beach into the ocean. One by one each team drove up the steep sand bank and parked their car safely at the campsite. Some of the not so powerful cars had to get a push, a tow or a whole army of people behind it to push it up. Once all the cars were away from the ocean’s harm we transformed into the Pirates of Mozambique for our final checkpoint party. The amount of dancing and bouncing around on the beach was incredible; I’m surprised there was still sand in that spot on the beach which we had made into our dance floor for the night. With way too many R&R’s consumed, the night went by as fast as the tide came in and before we knew it, we were walking back to our campsite along the beach as the sky turned from black to mauve as the sun started to wake up. And that was that, as we closed our eyes the Put Foot rally was over and the next day was all about good byes.

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Any trip, adventure, journey ends like a movie. The curtain drops and then you are home, shut off. But this was different to any trip I’ve ever taken. Doing this trip as part of the Put Foot Rally family (which we became) was truly incredible because in the 9034km we had driven, there wasn’t a moment when I felt I didn’t belong, there wasn’t a day where I didn’t wake up excited for the adventure ahead, I never felt alone and there was never a dull moment. We would split up during the day but reunite to watch the golden light at the end of the day. The Put Foot Rally was a pretty remarkable journey and leaves me thinking about what we can do next that will top that. I am not sure we can beat “the ultimate pub crawl through Africa” experience for some time, I have certainly got the travelling bug and I have a serious case of itchy feet.

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Across Africa on 4 wheels | Part 3

HELLO | HALLO | BWANJI | MONI | OLA

 

We made an early start and headed to the Zambia/ Malawi border, stamped our passports and off to explore another country in Africa. As we entered  Malawi, it was as if we had warped into a slow motion zone where the speed limit was 60km/h. Slow down was the common word for driving through Malawi. We found out very quickly that Malawian police take their road rules very seriously. After we drove through 3 countries with our buffalo head attached to the front of our car which covered our number plate, we got pulled over at one of many road blocks in Malawi and had to pay a fine, and of course we had no money on us. While we waited for another Put Foot team to come to our rescue we removed the buffalo head along with the remains of bugs that were splatted all over it. We jammed it between 2 people, a potjie pot, beers and about 5 different types of party hats, but it somehow was able to fit. To be honest it wasn’t a bad thing driving slowly. It gave us time to examine the surroundings and we were surprised at the little details that were tucked away. We witnessed true African culture where whole families; moms, dads, big kids and little kids all worked hard in the fields, and women and children collected water from the nearest borehole. Malawi is the nation of bicycles and this got me so excited (I felt left out driving in a car). Bicycles are used for transporting almost everything. All the bicycles come with a built in passenger seat for the ladies or used as a boot (trunk for the Americans) to transport huge loads of coal and maize meal, probably 5 times the width of the bicycles, I have no idea how they stayed balanced.

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When we got to Livingstonia we met up with all the Put Footers who were already there, running around in their costumes in the middle of 30°C winter. Livingstonia was absolutely mind-blowingly beautiful. I stood on the beach with my toes in the sand and the cool water around my ankles. All I could see was bright blue water, on either side of me, in front of me and below me. The glowing blue sky cast a glow over the churning waves as they reached out for me and got pulled back into the huge body of water that seemed to have no ending. Don’t be fooled, I wasn’t standing in the ocean, I was standing on the beach of Lake Malawi, yes a LAKE, approximately 600km by 80km. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t the ocean. Lake Malawi is everything you love about the sea but without everything you hate about the sea; No salt that stings your eyes, no sharks and no humid air, it is just perfect! We set up our tents with team ‘Lone Strangers’ who had already set up camp in the most perfect spot on the beach with their tents facing the lake, its not the sea, so we didn’t have to worry about the tide coming in.

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Our first day in Malawi was planned for Braaiboy’s potjie competition. Finally we got to use this big black, round heavy pot with 3 legs that did not fit anywhere in the car. We had driven for 15 days across Africa with the annoying pot rolling around on the back seat, it was about time we used it. (For those who don’t know, a potjie is Afrikaans for a small pot of food, Potjiekos. The potjie has been part of South African culture for centuries and brings everyone together to prepare a stew like food that cooks for hours on hot coals in a round cast iron, three legged pot.) The potjie was scored on appearance, tenderness, taste and gees (Afrikaans for ‘spirit’, you know, the type that cheerleaders have way too much of!).

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Time to prepare for the potjie competition, and for South Africans that means one thing, drinking beer while standing by the fire watching food cook. And potjie’s take a long time to cook, which equals more beer drinking which equals more gees. Our food preparation started as we used our charm to get a section of team ‘4bees’ hot coals for our poitjie and by the afternoon the whole campsite was filled with the wonderful aroma of various potjies, carefully nursed by the teams. While our food was cooking we headed down the road to restock on beer from the shebeen, while we were there we saw men sitting at the bar drinking what looked like milk from a cardboard milk carton, but it was the local beer, Chibuku Shake Shake (because you have to shake it before you drink it). Chibuku is a commercial sorghum beer with an alcohol volume of 3% to 5% (because it is drunk while still fermenting in the box). We bought 2 boxes and headed back to the campsite, everyone gathered around as we took it out of the car. We shook it and smelt it and quickly took a step away as if something was going to jump out and bite us as we cringed our noses. Before tasting it, we sent it around for everyone to smell, people quickly scattered to avoid the next step of tasting it. I can’t quite describe the taste but imagine taking a sip of beer and eating it. It is like drinking alcoholic porridge in curdled milk that fizzes on your tongue. The first sip it quite a shock but it did get better, although we still pulled a face as we took each sip and the more we drank the soggier the cardboard got, which did not make the experience any better.

After we were done fizzing our taste buds with Chubuku we then set up for the potjie competition. We set up a table on a perfect section of the beach where the table was placed firmly in the sand towards the romantic view of Lake Malawi alive in the wind. The table was decorated with a carefully picked out beach towel as the tablecloth and 2 headlamps that glowed red light to add to the ambiance. 2 metal plates and plastic wine glasses were carefully placed in front of our guests. On our menu was “The finest Zambian Nguni bunny chow with shallots and tatties in a pampoen jus served with a king kapenta garnish and paired with a 2013 Fat Bastard (and some wine). Rounded off with a slice of Gees!” Upon our 2 judges arrival, they were offered a glass of wine with a selection of cork for texture. They nibbled kapenta while we entertained them by singing ‘Oh Potjie pot’ in the tune of ‘Oh Christmas tree’ just to get them in the mood. They were then served the bunny chow where we carefully nibbled out the inside of half a loaf of bread and inserted our potjie meat and vegetables that had been brewing in our pot for 5 hours with a few dribbles on the side. We then brought out our gees written on a freshly baked green cake, because everyone loves green cake! We did have a glitch with our gees because our teammate who is Canadian thought we told him to bring geese, so out popped 2 pink blow up geese that honked as we squeezed them. Even with our geese we made it to the semi-finals where our judge was Braaiboy. Unfortunately he didn’t like what he ate but at least we were his entertainment for the evening. The rest of the evening was spent gathered around team ‘Band of beards’ where they performed for us and later on other teams joined in with whatever musical instruments they had. The day ended in a perfect “Summer of ‘69” way, drinking, singing and laughing on the beach.

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After breakfast we all jumped into a big wooden fishing boat with its peeling paint and semi-rotten boards with tiny fish scatted on the floor. The boat was  thrown back and forth by the waves while it waited for us. Once everyone was ready, the boatmen started the engine and headed towards the island on the horizon. The front of the boat flew in the air and slammed down as the waves hit. We rocked up, down, up, down until we escaped the rough water and landed into the calm glimmering blue water. Once we got to the island we climbed out of the boat and stood on the rocks on the shore. I got my snorkeling gear and climbed into the water. I floated while I stuck my face under the water and looked down into its depths. At first all I saw were rocks beneath me but after my eyes had adjusted I saw little fish darting about. I swam along the edge of the island as I breathed steadily through the plastic tube. It felt as though I was staring at a HD television screen at the nature around me. The view from above the water was spectacular but the view from below the water was breath taking (Literally). After we were done stalking fish we then started to mess around in the water. We swam back to the boat which was anchored  a few metres away from the island. We climbed back into the boat; well we didn’t just climb in (it was much higher than it looked). I held onto the boat, pulled myself up as far as I could, threw one leg over while one person pushed from below and the other pulled any body part they could as I ungracefully flopped over the edge of the boat. Now that all the hard work of getting into the boat was over, It took us a split second to jump, bomb, back flip and belly flop back into the water.

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We swam back to the shore and shuffled through the trees and over rocks to the highest point of the small island. From the moment I arrived at Livingstonia I was taken aback by the gorgeous, pristine view of Lake Malawi, but it was nothing compared to standing on the small island and looking out at the flat lake that stretched in all directions. All I saw were scattered twinkling diamonds across the surface of the bright blue water. The calm water had so many different hues of blue, reflecting the bright blue sky. Near the shore it was pale blue and as it got deeper the light blue changed to dark blue.

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Once we got back down we swam towards a huge boulder that was submerged in the crystal-clear water. Everybody thought it was a great idea to climb up to the top of the boulder just so they could jump off it. I enjoy cliff jumping but everything in me hates taking the leap. I especially hate that moment when I almost jump but then don’t because my trembling legs send a signal to my brain that says, “This is a bad idea.” Only after I launch myself out and realize that I am at the point of no return, I actually enjoy myself. I kick my legs as I fall through the air and everyone cheers as I wait for the water to swallow me just to spit me out again. Once I pop my head up above the water I get a sense of pride that I was brave enough to follow all my friends.

That night checkpoint number 3 got underway. The sun-bleached sands of Lake Malawi played host to one of the most memorable parties I have ever been to. It started with big colourful buckets of punch and ended as the last piece of firewood turned black. Checkpoint 3 party was the lumo beach party, we put on our retro lumo outfits and covered ourselves in glow sticks. For that night we could be whoever we wanted to be and no one cared. Half way through the night Jason and I went to use the lava‘tree’, when we were done we climbed up onto a rock under the dark night sky and were immediately absorbed into the peacefulness. The night was dark and the air still. All we could hear were little ripples and the flickering of the moonlight as the faint wind brushed against the water’s surface. We sat away from the party and let our senses take over as we observed the energy and excitement of the group. I got absorbed into the happiness and joy that filled the air and it felt as if I was living in a childhood imagination world. I sat there with a smile on my face as I experienced one of those little moments of true joy and satisfaction. I looked towards the life of the party and it looked as though there were millions of orange, yellow, pink, and green fireflies bouncing around and dancing on the beach and everyone of those little fireflies let out the sound of song and laughter that echoed down the beach. In front of us was the sound of flickering flames around the burning wood of the campfire that drew more glowing people in. While it was great watching the party, it was even better being part of the aliveness, the energy quickly pulled us back in and we turned into one of those fireflies dancing and singing on the beach.

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The next morning I woke up to the most amazing view of lake Malawi through the open door of my tent. While still covered in glow sticks I climbed out of my tent, ran down the beach and dived straight into the sea, I mean lake. After a fun filled 2 days in Livingstonia we then headed to Monkey Bay where all the teams kept to themselves to recover from the night before. Our last night in Malawi began with the most beautiful sunset, all sunsets in Africa are beautiful but this one just pulled on our heartstrings as the glow of red and orange reflected into our tired eyes. We walked along the shoreline and the suns rays spread across the sky and lit up the clouds. The reds and oranges of the sunset sparkled in the lake with the silhouettes of the local people cleaning their boats from the days fishing trip and the kids playing soccer on the beach in front of it.

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Malawi came at the perfect time of the Put Foot Rally trip. We became reunited with the Put Foot family after been scattered around Zambia for a few days. It was really nice to get a break from the car seat and stay in Livingstonia for 2 days. Before setting out on The Put Foot rally, I didn’t really read any guidebooks or search the internet to get a glimpse of what I was supposed to experience. I came into this adventure with a completely open mind (The only research we did was Wikipaedia the country as we drove towards the border). I never imagined how great an experience Malawi could be, but I have fallen head over heels in love with what they call “The heart of Africa”. I absolutely loved the constant view of the lake that I kept referring to as the sea. I loved the whole vibe of the country, I loved driving through the country as I dodged everyone on bicycles and I loved sitting on the beach as the sun set and thinking to myself “Life doesn’t get better than this”.

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Across Africa on 4 wheels | Part 2

HELLO | HALLO | BWANJI | MONI | OLA

My Put Foot Rally adventure continues as we left the sea of sand in Namibia to the sea of ranging water on the Zambezi.

As we drove into Zambia, the character of the land suddenly changed into open grassy land with plenty of trees, a sight not often seen in Namibia. We headed straight to the mighty Zambezi River in Livingstone for our second check point party, Zombia Zambia. Well we didn’t head straight there; thanks to our not so trusty GPS, the man (no, not a lady) inside the GPS took us to a road that does not exist in the middle of a township. Thankfully as a South African, the idea of getting stuck in an African township in the dark is not a completely foreign experience. Although it was still a bit nerve racking as we turned onto a dirt road with tin houses pressed against each other right next to the road that seemed to get narrower and not very drivable. People stopped what they were doing and stared blankly at us as we drove past, I don’t know if it was the fact that we had a buffalo head stuck to the front of our car or the fact that we were driving down the road which could have actually been a foot path. Eventually we got to the end of the road as the last bit of sunlight disappeared and did a u-turn in the open grassy patch. A friendly local came out to ask if we were lost but the friendly situation quickly turned into a not so friendly situation where we may or may not have driven over a cat. With his accent we thought he said we drove over his ‘kid’. Our hearts stopped and tension filled the car until I turned around and saw a cat walk away. My heart went from completely stopped to pumping really fast. The local got all defensive and told us to get out of the car, my palms got clammy, my heart pounded and my breathing started to speed up as I thought about everything that could go wrong. We were in such a vulnerable place; deep in a township, in the dark and in a foreign country with no money. After apologising and giving him what money we had, he let us go. We locked all the doors and drove out of the township as fast as we could as our adrenaline pumped through our veins. Once we got to the check point party we didn’t even need to get into our zombie costumes, because after travelling the whole day, being stuck at the border and in a township we already looked like zombies. After a combination of a great meal, team mates joking around and the DJ playing good music we got back into the spirit.

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Day 2 in Zambia was our extreme rest day where we decided to go white river rafting down the Zambezi. I wasn’t too keen on doing it, but everyone else was so I wasn’t going to say no. I’ve always heard people describe rafting as fun. I crave adventure and have done lots of adventurous things like skydiving, rock climbing, jumping off cliffs but when it comes to water sports, I believe the odds are against me, because how can you control raging water? But anyway I hadn’t done something adrenaline pumping in a while (Except for the whole cat thing in the township, but that doesn’t count). The Zambezi River rapids are regarded as some of the best in the world. People from all over the world come to raft the monstrous surge of water, classed from 1 to 6 (1 being the easiest and 6 being commercial suicide), so how could I miss this opportunity. After suiting up in our life jackets and helmets we were given a pre- trip safety talk. The raft leader told us everything that could go wrong and how to survive them, So that if someone fell out of the raft we knew what to do (Wait, someone is gonna fall out?). Usually the leaders tell us all the scary stuff just because they have to, but it doesn’t often happen, I think we did everything he told us except call a helicopter (although it did cross my mind).

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In teams of 8 we all jumped into the big yellow rafts and our guide lead us through some of the drills as we practiced them on some of the small rapids. As we went down a small rapid we laughed and high fived each other when we got to quieter water. The next team went down the rapid and 2 people fell off and within a split second they were no where to be seen, it made me second guess myself because I swear I just saw 2 people fall in but nobody had come back up. About 15 seconds later they popped up and we grabbed a hold of one and pulled her into our raft. She lay on the bottom of the raft and coughed as she gasped for air with a petrified look on her face. We hadn’t even started the rafting and 2 people almost died, I was ready to get out and walk back to the car. Before I could say anything we were half way through our first rapid as I held on for dear life, OK it wasn’t that bad!

Each rapid had a horrible name like “The Mother”, “The terminator”, “Double trouble” and “Oblivion”. I don’t know why they couldn’t give them nice names like “The Rainbow” or “Bunny tail”. As we glided across the river our guide explained to us exactly what was going to happen as he made sure our life jackets were tight. In a panicked voice I asked him why he was tightening our life jackets and of course I knew the answer as he said we were coming up to “The Mother” rapid. We paddled hard as our guide chatted to us and then, suddenly, we were bouncing in a class 4 rapid. Our guide morphed into a drill sergeant as he yelled out ‘hard paddle’ followed by ‘HOLD ON, please’ . We slammed into a surge and the boat was launched into the air as we dropped like pebbles into the water. I had point zero of a second to suck in any oxygen along with half the Zambezi before I resurfaced under the dark over turned raft, I grabbed ahold of the rope on the raft and pulled myself up as I tried to catch a breath. Once we were in calm waters I looked back and all I saw were helmeted heads bobbing in the rough white water. I got back onto the raft and didn’t know if I was shaking from the cold or shaking from the fear, but hey, I still had a smile on my face unlike some men who started to have panic attacks after going down a couple more rapids. They had way too many near death experiences for one day. Another rapid that stood out for me was about the 10th rapid of the day, by that time I had started to have enough and really didn’t want to fall in again. Our guide told us to paddle as we approached the rapid, we paddled as if our lives depended on it, and, of course they did.A  2 metre high wall of water smashed into us and broke into a million little droplets. I turned my face away from the spray and held onto the rope on the side of the raft. The waves continued to push us around as though we were on a rollercoaster, but there is always that one wave that has a little bit more power, enough to overturn the raft again. I was so adamant  that I was not going to fall in again, I held onto the rope so tightly and started to run in the air as our raft was surfing vertically down the river on its side. I started to climb up in the air hoping to land on the bottom which was now the top of the raft. I wasn’t quick enough as I flew though the air and landed into the churning water still holding onto the rope but the water was so rough I couldnt get a breath between all the waves smashing against my back. Mike, who had his gopro on his helmet witnessed my whole running in the air stunt and hoped he got footage of that, and he did, so I’ll forever have footage of me thinking I am spiderman.

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That evening we all hopped onto a boat for a well needed relaxing sunset booze cruise. We drank sundowners and ate finger foods while we glided along the quiet section of the Zambezi and past some hippo yawning and splashing about and some buffalo relaxing on the river banks. We watched the sunset as the fiery red orb of light slowly sank beneath the horizon, its rays of light glimmered on the water and lit up every ripple in orange. The sky first turned to orange, then red, then dark blue, until there was nothing left but a chalky mauve. There is something very soothing and relaxing about watching the sunset while floating down the river, especially after a very interesting and tiring day where we thought we would never see a sunset again.

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The next day we went to see the largest curtain of water in the world; Victoria Falls (1708m wide). We didn’t have much time so we made our way to the bridge on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe to get a quick glimpse of the falls. On our way there I saw a puff of what I thought was smoke until I saw this ‘smoke’ had a rainbow in it. Thinking my mind was playing tricks on me I then realized that it wasn’t smoke it was the spray from the falls. The local people call it “Mosi-oa-Tunya” meaning the smoke that thunders. We quickly ran to the bridge and had a look at the giant towering column of spray surrounded by beautiful green forests.

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What followed were 3 full days of driving on what felt like the moon with potholes the size of our car (the roads were just dirt roads with patches of tar). There were tons of road works which slowed us down a lot. Between dodging pot holes we also had to dodge cows. The cows owned the roads, they would just walk onto the road and plop down for a nap and no matter how much hooting we did, the cows just didn’t respond, the only response we got was a slight turn of the head towards us and a flutter of the eyelashes with not a care in the world. Eventually we made our way to Lake Kariba (the world’s largest man-made lake and reservoir). We got there just before the sunset and what was waiting for us were 3 large towers of wood piled on the beach ready to burn and throw sparks out into the open, 3 big  potjies cooking on the coals for dinner and an ice cold Mozi beer. Unfortunately we did not make it in time to go on a cruise to see the world famous dam wall. We just had a quiet night at the bar on the beach.

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We woke up early for our second day of driving, driving, dropping into pot holes and more driving to our next over night spot. As the sun came up and lit up the road we hopped into our cars again and sat on the seat where our bum shape had moulded into the seat from sitting there for 2 long days. When we got to our next spot we went on another sunset booze cruise just so we could say we actually did something other than drive for the last 3 days. We jumped into a small canoe, cracked open a beer and were chauffeured by 2 paddlers paddling down stream along the calm, peaceful river. As we got close to the banks of the river we would see a disturbance in the calm water where a crocodile would jump in and swim away from us. We stopped on the sandy river bank of Mozambique for a quick break (We got to Mozambique before everyone else). After running across the sandy river bank it was time to head back. Row, row, row your boat upstream time. The sun was disappearing very quickly so we started to help paddle, 2 at the back and 2 at the front. We all took our feet out of the water as we got a bit nervous being stuck in a tiny boat on the river in the dark when we knew there were crocodiles in the water around us. With our heads down and arms burning as we paddled hard we could see a star reflection appear in the water one by one. When we got back to the camp we made our 3rd attempt to roast a chicken. Our first attempt at roasting our chicken ended up just being put on the braai with all our other meat because we forgot about it and had to cook it, our second chicken was confiscated in Namibia because we weren’t allowed to take meat across the border and our 3rd chicken finally got cooked in our fancy coal oven thingy and it tasted amazing, mostly because we had to wait like 3 hours for it to cook. After going to bed with a full belly we were up early and ready to head to Malawi.

Zambia felt as through it was just one long drive across the county, it just tested our long distance driving abilities and how aware we are on the road. We had to drive around pot holes, be diverted around road works, watch out for cows stepping on the road and crazy local drivers. I was a little bit disappointed because Zambia has so many world famous amazing things to see but because we took so long to travel we were not able to see everything and if we did it was only for a short amount of time. We also didn’t get the amazing social aspect of the Put Foot rally because all the teams were scattered around the country, some teams avoided the bad roads, some motored ahead to get to Malawi and we were just stuck somewhere in the middle. Zambia is definitely a country I will have to return to, to get the absolutely best experience the country has to offer.

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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Put Foot Rally 2015 info graphics

The Put Foot rally is a charity rally through 5 African countries; Starting in Cape Town, South Africa we then went to Namibia, Zambia, Malawi and ended in Mozambique. We had to make it to each themed check point party in each country. It is the biggest social rally on earth and was described as just one big pup crawl through Africa.

Floating down a river

Witels

I didn’t start my new year with a bang, watching fireworks and drinking Champagne but instead I fell asleep under a billion stars and woke up to the sound and sight of the Witels River flowing next to me, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start a brand new year.

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Have you ever walked along a balance beam with your heavy backpack on your back in a dense forest? No, why would you? But if you want the same experience, just go on a 5 day hike down the Witels River in the Western Cape, South Africa. The trip started with a long twisty scenic drive up Bainskloof Pass through many wineries. The drive was very exciting as we took hairpin turns on the side of a mountain with a high mountain on one side and a very steep cliff on the other side.

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We got to the car park in the afternoon and had a very steep 5km’s ahead of us. My pack was heavy and it was one of those days when sweat beaded on my forehead and ran down my face while standing still. The hike got difficult very quickly as it got steeper and the sun beat harshly on my back. Halfway up, our wobbly legs, and the heat, forced us to take a break. With our lungs gasping for air and our bodies drenched in sweat, we all sat squashed together as we tried to fit into the narrow strip of shade that one lonely rock offered us. Halfway and I was already so exhausted, my shaking hands struggled to open my energy bar. I was warned that it was a very steep hike up but usually when my friends say “Its really steep” I think “Ya whatever” but wow, they weren’t kidding.

An hour later we stopped to watch the sun set. Well, we didn’t stop to watch the sunset, we stopped because we were tired and the sun just happened to be setting, but it was a good excuse anyway. Eventually as the last bit of sun disappeared we were at the top. We walked about 1km to our hut in the bright moonlight, occasionally got spooked by our own shadows because since when are there shadows at night? We got to what I would call a 5 star hut with a 5 star view. The hut was stocked with food and every kitchen utensil you can think of and even a platform for sleeping with mattresses and blankets, oh and even solar powered LED lights.

Day 2 began with a beautiful sunrise and white fluffy clouds poured over the mountain like liquid candyfloss, unfortunately the clouds did not cool down the day. In 36°C heat we hiked along the ridge and descended down to the river. You know the really steep mountain we hiked up the day before, well we hiked all the way down the other side, slipping and sliding through the harsh rocky landscape.

Eventually after half a day of hiking down hill in the unbearable heat we heard the little trickle of the river, but we had to push on until we were all the way in the gorge, and bam, the most beautiful river you have ever seen. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and admired the stunning landscape. Perfectly round grey boulders stuck out of the clear water that sparkled in the sunlight; the water was so clear we could see the smoothness of the grey, brown and purple pebbles beneath the surface. I cupped my hands and took a sip of the fresh water and looked up at the mountain cliffs to my left and the trees standing tall next to the river to my right. And so, that was the beginning of the next 3 days.

For the next 3 days my boots were packed away and with sandals on, we jumped from one wet boulder to another. At the beginning my balance was off but I quickly learnt to use muscles I didn’t even know I had to keep my body upright. When I wasn’t on a boulder, I was bundu bashing, climbing up the side of a cliff or lying in the river because I had just slipped.

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The beginning of this wet and slippery experience started next to a beautiful waterfall. The white stream poured over the rocky outcrops above us and crashed into the blackness of the deep rock pool. We started boulder hopping as fast as we could while we figured out the best path to take without getting wet, but I was looking forward to the swims we had to do, just to cool down. After a few jumps, bumps and slips we got to the moment I had been waiting for, the first swim of the hike. We jumped into the chilly water chest deep and carried our backpacks on our heads across the river. The sun was so hot we dried within seconds and couldn’t wait to get back into the cold water. The next swim was too deep to walk so with our backpacks floating on their raincoats we pushed them along the river while we doggy paddled with our heads above the water, too scared to look down because the ground disappeared into the darkness below us. As we went further down the river, the gorge seemed to get narrower and colder which made the swims feel like we were swimming through a frozen tunnel in the mountain. At this stage we blew up a boat that only held 3 bags. We swam and pushed the boat along the river; we had to make 3 trips for everyone to get across but while we waited we got colder and colder. I was shivering and couldn’t wait to get to camp and get dry.

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We set up our camp on a small section of sand right next to the river. We marked out our sleeping spots on a well-chosen section of sand with a rock conveniently placed as a pillow. We hung up our clothes to dry on natures washing line while a pot of tea was on the gas in the center of a cluster of rocks on which we sat. I had forgotten how pleasant it was to hike in summer, I could walk around the camp barefoot and washing dishes in the river wasn’t a painful experience. It felt like an upgrade from the cold winter Drakensberg hikes. The nights made a hard long day so worth it. The sun was gone and the moon was up casting shadows on the cliffs around us. The sky was filled with billions of stars and I made a rule that I wasn’t allowed to go to sleep before I saw a shooting star. And once I saw that shooting star I fell asleep to the tranquil silence of the river that never sleeps.

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The next morning I woke up desperately trying to get out of my sleeping bag but I was just so stiff I could barely move, which isn’t a good thing when you still have 3 days of hiking to do. Sandals on and down the river we go again. We jumped from one wet boulder to another and I tried as hard as I could to keep my balance. When we weren’t boulder hopping we had to lift ourselves up and over obstacles and figure out the best way through the underbrush. Occasionally our path crossed a trail and we veered onto it, we climbed our way up the gorge wall and I dug my fingers into every crevice and pulled myself up and sideways. Those miss-spent hours climbing all sorts of things definitely paid off. We bundu bashed through thick over grown bush next to the river and got stuck on branches and fell through decaying piles of washed up logs. To our relief we made it back to the river for more swims. The swims seemed to get longer and scarier as the walls closed in. While I kicked like crazy to stay afloat, I felt tiny (It was different to that tiny feeling of standing on top of the world and looking down); it was a ‘tiny’ I had never felt before. While floating in the middle of the gorge I could hear myself breathing and my heart pounding in my chest. I would look down and see nothing but a black hole beneath me and above me was a tiny strip of blue sky between two giant cliffs. In front and behind me was nothing but more water, I couldn’t see where I came from or where I was going.

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Two days hiking along the river and my legs were getting tired and the more tired I got the more frustrated I got. I had visions of being stuck in an evil enchanted forest where the trees had an evil sense of humour. As I walked past the trees the branches turned into hands and grabbed ahold of my backpack, holding me back as I was about to jump across the river. Or these ‘hands’ gave me that unnecessary little push a few seconds before wanting to take the leap. The roots on the ground weaved around on purpose and made sure I tripped. We got scratches on scratches and scratches on bruises but there were still smiles as we got through the day of more wading, more swimming, more slipping, more falling into the river and more bundu bashing.

Our final day was a long hike along the side of the river, occasionally following a path but mostly bundu bashing until we reached the main road to the end and into civilization. This was a challenging hike with no luxuries, just roughing it in the most beautiful unspoiled spot, just the way I like it. It was all worth the scratches, bruises and sore muscles.

Nepali flat. A little bit up and a little bit down | Part 2, And a little bit down…

What goes up must come down. Part one of ‘ Nepali flat, A little bit up and a little bit down” was all about being amazed by the spectacular setting, but here is what really went down.

As we sat down to eat breakfast we could hear the beat of rain against the window and outside all we could see was mist trapped under the grey clouds. I do not like the rain, I do not like being trapped inside because of the rain and I do not like being trapped outside in the rain. I stood outside for a moment under the gloomy clouds as a light pitter patter hit the plastic bag that I was wearing, in an attempt to stay dry. Our porters, who were always by our side had quickly disappeared over the horizon and we only saw them again once we reached Jhinu that afternoon.

We started hiking and the water droplets began to grow larger and fell more frequently as they raced to hit the ground. Within minutes the cold rain soaked our hair and skin, I could feel water running down my skin and creeping into every opening of the plastic bag, wetting my clothes, which shot goose bumps up my spine. Water sloshed about inside my shoes as I picked up one foot at a time dodging mud puddles and mule dung that looked like rocks. All the paths had turned into rivers and the stairs created little waterfalls. All of the mountains in the distance seemed to have leaks because waterfalls just seeped out of the side of them. Despite being tired, wet, cold and hungry, I couldn’t help but to appreciate the beauty of the scenery as we approached Jhinu. Amongst the misty mountain and water droplets was steam rising up from the hot springs down in the valley. After hours of hiking in the rain we reached the colourful and cheerful town, Jhinu. The building was made up of multi coloured painted bricks with little flower gardens surrounding the rooms, what a nice contrast to the dull grey sky.

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After we hung ourselves out to dry, Jason and I decided to head down to the hot spring, no one else wanted to get wet again. After a 30 minute walk in the rain we reached the hot spring that lay next to a fast flowing river fed by the heavy rain. We sat in the hot spring and rejuvenated as the cold rain droplet hit our heads and we watched the rapids of the of the river race by. After a few failing attempt to get out of the hot spring into the cold wet air, we jumped out, put our clothes on and ran up the mountain before our bodies had time to realise it was cold.

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And of course, what follows a horrible wet day? Rum, beer, rum, rum ,rum. We tried out the local Khukri XXX Rum, apparently we shouldn’t drink too much of it, because it is poison (according to the porters). Ooops! But our rum bottle pyramid was pretty awesome. A night of messing around and laughing was just what we needed.

The next morning the sun peaking through the window woke us up. As we hung up all of our clothes to dry and we absorbed the sunshine, the villagers were already hard at work on their fields and waved to us as we called out, “Namaste!” The hike for the day was a nice flat walk through the mountains with views of the forest tree tops below us. We often had to cross rivers on wobbly bridges but on this day, it was the rickety bridge of hell. Swinging high above a fast flowing river was the longest bridge we crossed all trip and not like the others that were made of metal, this one was made of cracked and moulding wooden planks nailed together. The bridge tilted to one side and as we got to the centre the railing (witch was just a piece of wire) dropped lower than expected as we tried to grab onto it when we lost our balance and found that we didn’t grab onto anything, the railing was actually at our knee. We stopped for a moment and looked down at the river racing below us and grabbed onto our hat and belongings incase they flew off. I am not afraid of heights and kind of like the thrill of crossing unstable bridges. As I walked across the bridge I stepped one foot in front of the other pushing a little bit harder to make the bridge swing. The porters in front of me also thought this was quite fun so the 5 of us all swung the bridge and laughed as we lost our balance. We walked along the path at a swift pace stopping every now and then because we got distracted; along the route Jason had a quick swim in the river and we went swinging on a big swing made of long bamboo sticks tied together at the top. We got to Hotel Namaste in Tolkaha and surrounding us in all directions were lime green fields and straw huts with looming mountains in the background, so close that it felt like they were within reach. We sat and enjoyed a beer as we watched the sunset turn the clouds pink and orange and the snow on the mountain glowed gold.

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After spending 9 days out of South Africa we were missing it a bit and decided to show the Nepali and Australians a South African braai. We chose 2 of the fattest chickens clucking in the field. While the locals did the messy bit, we got the fire ready. Our porters helped us make a makeshift braai grid out of mesh wire and a metal type base we found lying around. Werner, our South African braai master, did all the cooking while we all gathered around the fire under the stars. The view was amazing, all we could see were lights sparkling from the houses on the black mountain in the distance. When our chickens were cooked we invited our porters to eat with us and sat at a long table inside and enjoyed the mind-blowing freshly cooked chicken.

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Today is the day, and down, down we go. Remember all the stairs we walked up? Well, what goes up must come down. We headed down the stairs and through the jungle. All of a sudden we reached a beautiful open field with bright green mown grass, a stone foot path and a river. We thought we accidentally ate magic mushrooms and the rugged jungle turned into a beautiful open field where we expected to see unicorns grazing along a sparkling river and a rainbow in the background. I think with all the oxygen at the bottom, we were like the energizer bunny and walked straight past the road up to Australia camp and headed into Dhampus, which was an extra 20min walk. We weren’t really sure where we were going so decided to wait, but nobody came. I then realised that Dhampus was after Australia camp. We asked a local where Australia camp was and her big smile quickly disappeared as she pointed upwards. Well up, up we ran through Dhampus, through the unicorn valley and up some more until we found one of our porters looking for us. With a little bit more exercise than the others we made it to Australia camp, just in time, before the mist came rolling in.

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Our final day of hiking had arrived, and… then it was over, the trail literally just stopped. Before we knew it we were standing on the side of the road in Phedi waiting for our bus. While we waited for the bus, we looked back at the mountain we had been part of for the last 7 days, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sadness that it was over. But I guess there’s no easy way to rip away the best experience in ones life.

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Nepali flat. A little bit up and a little bit down | Part 1, A little bit up…

Why hike, why not just take the cable car? Sure we got blisters and burnt noses, got grumpy when we didn’t eat. Risked the rain, mudslides and getting lost. So why do I hike? It’s an experience to reminisce and an adventure to cherish. You feel a whole range of emotions as you recall, you talk, you laugh, you cry and ponder. A certain mountain somewhere has always served the purpose of catering pleasant memories for many people around the world. These memories are not a haze but a highlight that will sparkle throughout your life, Thank you Himalayas.

4 Australians and 4 South Africans ditched the idea of the usual 5 star hotels in Paris and Italy and headed to the Annapurna region in the Himalayas, where we stayed in a tiny room with nothing but two hard beds and if we were lucky we had flushing toilets and hot showers. For many of them this was a very foreign experience but for me it was a hiking luxury. I’m used to sleeping on the ground with puffs of grass and rocks sticking in my side while I sleep and digging a hole to have an uhuh, number 2 (with a view).

Day one of our hike was upon us as I was woken up by a very excited Jason calling from our hotel balcony in Pokhara “Diane, wake up! Look at this mountain outside!” It was quite overcast the day we arrived that we didn’t even know there was a massive mountain surrounding the town. I walked outside with my eyes still trying to open, but they quickly went from slits in my face to popping out cartoon eyes. That was when my excitement hit and it started to get real.

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We took the bus from Pokhara to Nayapul and were dropped off on the side of the road where we were to start our journey. Shailesh, our guide, said it was a short flat 2 hour hike to our guest house in Tikhedhunga. Our group all exploding with excitement started trotting along at a fast pace down the path and over a bridge covered in colourful prayer flags waving in the wind. We whisked through villages, hopped over rivers and climbed gradually up the gentle slopes (oh no wait, that was our porters). We on the other hand were huffing and puffing with sweat dripping off our faces, pushing our burning legs up this long hill, shouting to Shailesh, “Flat? What Flat?” Apparently our flat is different to Nepali plat (flat). After about 2 hours hiking and a long lunch break we arrived at Tikhedhunga and the first thing we did was order a cold Everest beer. We had dinner with our new group of friends and swapped stories, laughed and joked like we had known each other for years.

Day 2 we really got a feel for the mountain and the way of life of the villagers. We hiked from village to village up about 33 000 stairs, these stairs were made up of flat rocks stacked together to form a stairway to heaven. The Annapurna region is all about the scenic beauty, the panoramic views, the little villages on the hills and the hard working villagers ploughing fields on the steep slopes, harvesting produce and raising animals. As my feet tramped the stony trails and my lungs gasped for air, I took it all in. Villagers turned to us with a smile as they said Namaste, kids overtaking us as they ran to school, old men carrying over flowing baskets full of daily supplies from village to village. The mealies drying on corrugated roof tops, a woman grinding rice to flour by hand and a couple sifting and shaking large mats to separate husk from grain. The mules transporting gas cylinders and bags on their back fascinated us, as we had to run off the path to get out of their way, we didn’t realizes that we would pass many more as the days went by. After 11km of hiking we reached Gohrepani at a cold 2874m.

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The next morning before the sun had a chance to turn the mountains gold, we climbed out of our warm beds, put on our jackets and headlamps and headed up Poon hill to 3210m. There were 100’s of tourists walking up the single track path all trying to get up before the sun, I’m not accustomed to rush hour traffic in the mountain but we all had something to share as we stood in astonishment as the snow capped peaks (Annapurna II, Annapurna III and Annapurna IV, Annapurna South, Himchuli and Macchapuchre aka. Fishtail) slowly appeared under the golden sunrise. We sipped hot chocolate and took in the refreshing morning mountain air as we watched the sun rise over the glorious mountains; it’s a sight that never tires. It’s not everyday that I get to see such impressive landscapes from a vantage point like that.

 

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Our hike from Gohrepani to Tadapani was something from an enchanted fairytale as we walked through the beautiful jungle. From trees covered in moss woven together almost touching the clouds above our heads, to fallen leaves under our feet. The roots of the trees formed intertwined trails that lead us through the jungle. At every opening in the trees we saw the snow peaked mountains reminding us that we were in the Himalayas. Tied to tree branches was a web of colourful but faded frayed prayer flags amongst the green, yellow and orange leaves.

So far hiking the Annapurna circuit has offered more variety than any other hike I have done. Taking us through virtually every type of scenery, Snow capped peaks above us, jungle around us and rivers below us. We also got to spend time in the villages inhabited by the Nepali people, both Hindu and Buddhist. It has been an absolute amazing experience getting a feel for the mountain communities and being surrounded by the world’s biggest mountains.

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Kathmandu- Can you handle it?

Talking to strangers scared me. Taking part in new challenges froze me, being left in the unknown made me break down.

My first time travelling overseas as an adult and the thought of entering the unknown made me want to curl up into a ball in the corner of the room and rock myself to sleep. Just to make my anxieties have anxieties, I went with Jason who seems to LOVE the idea of entering the unknown. I am one of those people who, before I leave the house I have an agenda in my head of who, what, why, where and when. If I didn’t know every little detail I would make up excuses not to go. Since I have started going out with Jason, who never has any clue what the plans are. I have learnt that I cannot let my fears hold me back. So instead, with sweaty palms, I take the leap of faith and hope my brain and heart won’t explode when I’m stuck alone in a crowded street not knowing where to go or what to do. For Jason that is all very exciting, for me I just stand there stunned with my eyes wide open and my jaw slowly dropping to my shaking feet that are glued to the floor. My trip to Kathmandu with Jason was definitely one of those eye popping, jaw dropping experiences.

It’s always quite scary arriving in a foreign country. I haven’t travelled overseas much but I’m pretty sure arriving in Kathmandu airport is more of a pupil dilating experience than anywhere else. We were picked up from the airport in a tiny toaster looking van driven by a madman who seemed to enjoy ignoring basic road rules. Well that’s what I thought until I realized the whole city was filled with madmen and there are in fact no road rules. He hooted as he squeezed between cars in the narrow streets, barely missing the person on the right and a family piled onto an 180cc motorbike on our left. The streets were filled with deafening hooter sounds from all directions (beep, beep, I’m driving behind you and don’t know where my brakes are). Jason and I just looked at each other, but what could we do? That was when I realized that we had just been sucked into the vortex of Kathmandu’s fast pace and chaotic atmosphere.

After driving for a few minutes we arrived in Thamel (Nepal’s gateway of tourists). The streets were lit up with many bars, restaurants and shops lining the streets with crowds of people of all nationalities meandering through the hustle and bustle. If you like crowded conditions and tons of people, then this is the place for you. It was a bit overwhelming for me. When we walked through the streets of Thamel our senses went into overdrive with the abundance of sights, sounds and smells.

The next day we saw a totally different side to Kathmandu. Lit up in sunshine, the city was warm and welcoming as the word “Namaste” echoed down the street between the beeping of the cars and the horrific sound of spitting, but not any spitting, ‘ultimate’ spitting, where we could hear the saliva being collected from deep down in the esophagus and forced out with power onto the floor in front of us. After drinking a bottle of Everest beer I felt so much more confident, I was ready to conquer the chaos of the city (Don’t underestimate the power of alcohol).

After a little bit of patience (and alcohol) I learnt to lose myself in this magical mayhem and instead of rushing through it all, we uncovered some of its charms. As we walked down the street under the moonlight we would hear the welcoming sound of music playing above us, which lead us upstairs into a small den of locals enjoying a beer with a live band playing in front of them. The streets were filled with old wooden or stone sculptures outside tiny temple looking structures that held burning candles and incense. These structures were really good to use as landmarks as it was very easy to get lost. One evening as the sun was setting we found ourselves wondering out of the tourist streets into the local ‘territory’ where the locals were selling crates of vegetables and caged chicken on the side of the road (to be honest I didn’t pay to much attention to what was going on, I was in too much of a panic to find my way back). We closed our eyes as we ran across the main roads, and hoped that no one would hit us, we looked for the familiar lit up streets. The buildings in Kathmandu are old and decaying with decadent architecture and intricate details carved into wooden doorways and pillars; particularly in Durbar Square.

As a shy person I always try find the calmness in the chaos. If you crave complete serenity, you wont find it here. However beneath the chaos of the main lanes and market place lie a simple way of life and the kind nature of the local people. Music, rituals, painting and sculpture seem to be the ‘way of life’. Because of their culture they have a deeper connection to the human life. Although there was always a crowd of people, there was as sense of calmness in the temples (the Hindu temple, the Buddha temple and the monkey Temple). These temples truly depict the life style of the various ethnic groups living in Nepal.

Travelling seems to be an extrovert’s dream- meeting new people, crowded streets, new challenges and experiences. But for me, even though I was terrified and stunned, I loved every minute of being part of the fascinating culture. It just takes me awhile to process it all, and yes I would probably go back. So be scared, uncomfortable, but do it anyway. Stretch boundaries slowly, conquer one awkward situation at a time. Kathmandu can be an intoxicating, amazing and exhausting place, that’s why we sought immediate comfort in the nearby mountains and the amazing scenery…

To Be Continued…

 

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The mountains are calling, and I must go.

The best answer to people who ask ‘why climb mountains?’ is George Mallory’s answer to climb Mt Everest “Because it is there.” No one will understand why we do it until they have spent sometime on the mountain in the severity of nature.

I have so much love for the mountain, I come from a hiking family and I have been hiking since I could walk, I have hiked the Drakensberg, the Magaliesberg and done 10 day hikes in the Cederberg. I have had my trusty Hi-Tech hiking boots since I was 16 and those have done many hundreds of kilometres and they are still going strong with a little bit of glue and duck tape here and there. From my experience of hiking mountains, small and large, I have learnt how mountains test your essence, they bring out the best and the worst in you, and they are completely unforgiving. There is an element of the unknown and will always test your physical and mental skills. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing, but what you take away from the mountain goes well beyond the satisfaction of pushing your limits. No matter how much the mountains test you, they drive your adrenaline that keeps you coming back for more, after all if you had a good experience with good conditions you will have no stories to tell people. There is always a sense of curiosity of what is around the next bend; That horrifying exciting sight of a higher mountain than the one you just climbed, a beautiful clear rock pool sparkling in the sunlight, walk out of a forest into a completely open landscape with not a tree in sight or a small secluded village. What you see around that next bend will often be unknown, a surprise, bring a sense of excitements, fear or all 3. The best part is even if you have been there a million times, it’s never the same, and you rarely have the same experience.

For a quiet person like me, who loves her space, I think my favourite part of hiking mountains is the thrill of reaching the top after pushing my limits and looking down as the ground suddenly drops away into the valley below. I love how quiet and peaceful it is. Quiet is the best noise. I love the stillness and calmness of an empty trail. It reminds me how much I love hearing no noise at all. I feel absolute freedom as I have the opportunity to slow down and disconnect. I love to wake up early and climb to the highest point just to watch the sunrise before it does. Actually I don’t love to wake up early, but it is just worth watching the sun peak over the valley below turning everything gold, it is just magical.

Go climb a mountain, you’ll love it!