We are leaving the wilds…"farewell wild beasts, its been amazing." But as Arnold always says, “I’ll be back.” However, we are not leaving the adventures. Leaving Kruger we head to Hazyview where we are staying at a timeshare called Waterberry Hill just outside the town.
After settling in, toasting the sun that dips into the valley below us where a pair of rogue elephants, as we find out later, have escaped for a drink too, I retire for the night. I’m in the shower…and it’s attached to our accommodation, that’s a treat, and I look down at my feet. They tell a story.
The soles are dirty brown and the heels are cracked and dry. I've tried occasionally to put Ingram's lotion on them - I've tried to scrub them, yet they remain irresolutely the same - dirty, cracked, and dry. They are testimony to our months of adventure - wild outdoors - no shoes - no calendars - no worries! The modern conveniences are great, but I still love the great outdoors more.
🍻 Here's to dirty feet! 🍻
Today we have an adventure of a different kind planned - not wildlife, but wild times!
“Hi I'm Dirk, and this is Richard.” We have arrived at a farm near Hazyview in excited anticipation of our first off-road Segway experience. We've seen these self-balancing scooters in shopping centers - in movies - on the beachfront - and always wanted to try them. But what really appeals to us is doing it off-road.
Six alien looking contraptions are lined up awaiting their pilots and soon Richard is explaining how they operate. “They balance themselves,” he says standing atop one of the two-wheeled contraptions. He demonstrates how to operate the Segway. “Who's up first?” he asks. I quickly volunteer, keen to get as much time possible in this experience.
“Whoa…that's so weird,” I say as I navigate my Segway tentatively for the first time. It just has two wheels - it shouldn't stay upright - but it does. Lean forward and it goes faster. Lean back and it slows down. Tilt the handle and you turn on the spot. Soon we are all turning and twisting and scooting around like some alien dance scene.
“OK, follow me,” Richard says, as we wave farewell to Dirk and head down the farm road. It's the most amazing feeling. There's no roar of an engine, there's no effort required, yet you're flying along the road. In fact these machines can get up to 30km/h, but at the moment we're just gliding along slowly.
“These are Macadamia trees,” Richard says as we stop next to some small trees. He then goes on to explain the workings of this farm and the fascinating story behind the macadamia plantations. But the strange part is that we're just gliding along as though we're perched on some invisible conveyer belt. We pass through plantations, past lakes, beehives - “Those are for pollinating the nuts,” Richard says a safe distance from the busy hive. I never realized you needed bees to pollinate these trees.
We've done a lot of amazing experiences on our travels - paragliding, swimming on the edge of waterfalls, mokoro trips with hippos - and there's one thing I've learned and that is it's always more than the activity itself, it's the experience. The same applies today. It's not just the strange, effortless, flying feeling of being on the Segway, it's the experience - the beauty of this lovely area and learning about the plantation and farming.
“Ok everyone, on this straight portion you can all go as fast as you want,” Richard says. Aah..finally we are set free. Josh and I lead the pack as we fly along the road. It truly feels like skiing. You're standing upright and you can sway your legs from side to side to create a weaving motion. The trees rush past me. “Yeehii,” I shout as I soak up the thrill of my “African bush ski experience”. Epic.
We stop next to a dam for a short break and while sipping bottles of water Richard explains how he's been swimming in this dam for ages and now discovers there's a crocodile living here. Gotta love Africa.
“There's two options here,” Richard says, “the easy route or this more technical but interesting route. Which one do you want to do?” Come on…what a question. We want to do the trickier, technical route. Bring it on!
It is amazing what these segways can do as we maneuver them over ruts and rocks and beneath low hanging trees. Soon we are back on the normal track and skiing along around the final block and down towards Dirk and the end. “Wow!”'I say as we arrive, “this is truly amazing Dirk. Skiing in the African bushveld. That's what this is. Epic!”
Dirk's Segway Africa Tours just recently started and I'm convinced it's going to be a huge success, especially as he goes on to explain his future plans - Segway safaris in a game reserve, moonlight tours, sundowner tours. It's amazing as it is - imagine doing this in a game reserve watching wild animals and finishing it off with snacks by a waterhole.
“We definitely will be back!” we all chorus together as we bid Dirk and Richard farewell. “Definitely!” I mean, who wouldn’t want to ski effortlessly along the stunning, wild roads of Africa?
We’re slowly heading south, having left the incredible adventure of Elephant Sands behind, passed through Nata and are now headed to Tuli game reserve, not far from the SA border and about 400km from Nata.
Finally at 5pm we arrive at Molema Bush Camp in Tuli after the road slowly gets smaller and smaller before turning to gravel and then into a 4x4 track. The sun is rapidly heading toward the horizon as we setup our tents under a bug tree - a keep trying to type “big tree” but for some reason this phone changes it…must be a warning? Hopefully, the tree will give us some shade because at the moment we are sweltering.
As hardened campers we have become quite efficient and soon our campsite is set up and Josh is busy preparing homemade burgers for us. As we sip a cold beer I say, “This will be fun guys. Wild beasts everywhere, and just us alone in the bush.”
There’s only one other group at a nearby campsite. “We can handle the wild family!” I say. But little do I know there’s one beast we’re not that good at handling!
“There!” Nicky shouts pointing at something fast and dark scuttling across the floor as darkness settles over our camp and we prepare our evening meal.
“A scorpion or spider. Kill it!”
It's a call to arms and I respond with valor, grabbing a shoe and chasing the beast in the darkness. The last thing we want is a spider running into our tent. It's fast and dexterous but ultimately no match for me and soon it has been dispatched. Peace reigns.
Me:1 - Spider:0
The heat is oppressive. It's now 7pm and it's still in the high 30s and doesn't seem to be abating. “How on earth will we sleep in…”
“Spider!” shouts someone. And sure enough there is another large spider running across our eating area. Like synchronized swimmers we all raise our feet in unison as the beast scuttles past. Didn't I just kill that spider?
“Another one!” screeches a kid, pointing at yet another large arachnid making its way across our eating area.
“OK, spiders. If it's war you want it's war you'll get. We are prepared for this!” I dig out the bug spray. I knew there was a reason we had carried this around for so long. Soon I have sprayed a protective barrier around our eating spot and all around our tents. That will put and end to any more forays by scuttling beasties.
Me:2 - Spiders:0
Bliss reigns…The food is sizzling away, and we’re relaxing (with our feet off the floor).
“Spider!” sounds the shrill cry again. These beasts are immune to the poison and there seems to be no end to them. Are we camped on their house. They're scuttling all over the place and have us on the run.
It's one too many! The family retreats. For a while I try valiantly to hold the fort, much like Don Quixote, I'm armed with a broom attempting to joust with my furry foes. It's a nimble dance as I have to balance keeping my feet briefly on the ground while attempting to wield my ungainly and inappropriate weapon. The family looks on from the safety of the car, faces pressed to the windows.
After a near encounter with one of the beasties…which scuttles through my legs and into our toiletry bag…I realize I'm losing this battle. Discarding my weapon I run for the car feeling the hot breath of my pursuers behind me…or it could just be the hot wind…but either way the battle is over.
Me:2 - Spiders:2many!
It’s 8pm and we're all seated inside the car - the aircon on, our phones plugged in for charge, and the doors shut to protect us from the attack. We laugh as we think of where we are. This is adventure…who knows what else the night will bring. Giant spiders gnawing through our tents, elephants...Oh, forgot about those…
Dawn...There were no spider or elephants in the night…however there were lions. Thankfully after my exhaustion after my gallant display of chivalry while jousting the furry beasties - which are apparently called Solifugids or Red Romans - I snoozed through the roaring. With dawn comes our awaking as the cacophony of bush sounds rudely brings you back from sleep. The bark of baboons, the serenade of doves, the shrill cry of some nameless bird. The bush, it's awake…and so I crawl out and soon have coffee and mealie meal brewing away.
We're camped under a huge Nyalaberry tree which provides beautiful and much-needed shade in this hot part of Africa. We've quickly learned what's important for camping - shade, grass, electricity, water…and the bonus, our own ablutions. Our campsite here has the first and last of this list, and the bonus ablutions.
We can't walk away from the campsite as we're in a game park - hence the roaring - so we spend the day under our shady tree reading, working, relaxing…soaking up Africa.
“Hi, I'm Sakeo,” our guide says. Sakeo is key to the operations at the camp and has been very attentive to ensure our stay here has been comfortable. This afternoon we are going on a game drive wth him.
We wend our way through the bush on the landrover while Sakeo shares his fascinating bush knowledge with us. It's amazing that I've been on many bush drives yet there are still so many things I don't know.
“It's easy to tell which is the male zebra,” Sakeo says as we watch a herd nearby. “It's normally the one at the back as he protects the herd.” Now surely I should have known that by now. However as it turns out there is still plenty I need to learn as Sakeo tells us about the different animals we see.
After stopping to enjoy some sundowners near a dry river bed we head back sweeping the search light in search of animals. The leopard - as usual - are elusive although we do come across a herd of elephants, some bush babies perched in trees and a lone Wildebeest sentinel. Here too I learn how the males remain alone in their territory while the females move around.
“I’m glad I’m not a wildebeest,” I think to myself as sleep slowly draws me away while the night sounds reverberate all around our small tent. I’d far rather be in my tent with my female…Note to self: Don’t become a wildebeest.
Now that was a great night's sleep. Aircon. King-sized bed. Blissful. We awake to a new day and a new journey from Kasane and begin our southward bound travels back towards South Africa. We bid farewell to this oasis and the unmistakable smell of African luxury - polish and thatch.
It's an easy drive on great roads as we head from Kasane towards Elephant Sands, just outside Nata, about 300km away. We hit one road stop and are worried we might lose our meat, but thankfully they don't search the car and we just have to do the requisite “stand on the mat” thing….to kill bugs…we seem to have done this enough times.
We spot the turnoff to Elephant Sands wondering what it will be like. The road is sandy so we quickly engage four wheel drive so as not to have a repeat of yesterday. As we approach the lodge we see that the name is given for a good reason. A herd of elephant are drinking from the waterhole right in the center of the lodge. It's amazing. This is really up-close-and-personal…but it’s about to get even closer!
We are standing about 5m from the herd as they drink. All that separates us is open space and a slightly raised pool deck area. The African sun is doing its thing and soon we are cooling in the pool, sipping a beer and watching the herd drink right in front of us. Our chalet has a great view of the waterhole so we decide to sit there and enjoy our sundowners as the sun dips towards the horizon. We put our chairs in the shade on the side of our chalet and I decide I'll use this time to do some podcast recording. Soon I have my laptop setup up in this blissful environment and am busy recording a scene when suddenly a sixth sense causes me to turn around.
A massive elephant is making its way silently to the waterhole from behind us and is only a couple of meters behind us. With a yelp Nicky and I leap up and make a mad dash for the safety of our verandah while the large dusty grey elephant saunters by. Eish…Africa is crazy.
Soon I'm settled down again and all is good. I'm midway through another scene when I hear someone clapping on the verandah. I look up with irritation to see who has messed up my recording to see that I'm being warned of several elephant heading my way from the waterhole in front of me. A hasty retreat to safety is necessary. It seems my idyllic position is not really ideal for video recording as I'm on the elephants' path.
After rustling up a mince and nachos dinner we decide to stroll back to the pool area to watch the herd drinking at night. More and more elephants arrive. We see their huge dark forms silhouetted by the full moon as they emerge out of the bush. The waterhole is a hive of activity. Slurping, rumbling, stomping and the occasional trumpet of warning. Thick dust hangs in the air mingling with the wet earthy smell of the elephants.
Seated just meters from them it feels like we are in the middle of the herd. Every now and then one of them walks towards us causing a hasty retreat as their massive forms loom too close for comfort. Their thirst seems insatiable as they spend hours slurping the water while more elephant arrive. It's a spectacular scene lit by the dull light of the full moon.
However there is one big challenge. Getting back to our chalet. There is a constant stream of elephants appearing out of the darkness from all directions and leaving the waterhole again. Our chalet is in the path of on one of their main routes. We huddle together standing by the edge of the restaurant peering out into the silvery darkness looking for a safe path. Several large elephant are too close for us to walk and are looking at us. We retreat.
“Ok, family,” I say after five minutes, “this is our chance.” There are several groans of objection from the kids citing their youth and non-preparedness for an early demise as reasons to wait longer. However, we push on. Most of the herd is now on our left near the waterhole. They are at least 5 meters away! Several others have walked off towards our right but are off our direct path.
We scuttle quickly in the light of the moon toward a log, using it as some form of cover. A dark shape looks ahead. We freeze. It moves silently off. We dash and with several elephant coming up from our left we just make the safety of our chalet in time. The children will get to live another day - and more than that, celebrate the amazing invigoration of having lived that day in the incredible majesty and adventure of Africa.
Getting close to the wild…that’s what we have planned for the day here at Ngepi. Today we will navigate down the river, a few inches above the water on mokoros. It's something I’ve always wanted to not do. If that makes sense? It sounds exciting…but then there’s the risk of encountering hippos. But how can we not do it…we love adventure. And so we find oursleves alighting from a vehicle just below Poppa falls where the guides put the mokoros into the water.
"We will stay in the shallow water," Christopher the guide says as we get ready. "We all work together," he continues. "If you see something you tell everyone. If we see hippos we will respect their space." Well, that's a relief...I just hope they respect our space too.
Soon we are seated low in the water in our mokoros. This is going to be up-close and personal. We paddle up stream for a short while and get a great view of Poppa Falls, which are more rapids than falls. "Look there," Christopher says, pointing at a distant rock. "It's a Rock Pranticole. One of the top rare birds of this area."
"Well that's a great start," I think as we all stare through the binoculars trying to locate the bird Christopher could spot with his eyes.
We begin our journey down stream and meet another party coming up. One of their makoros is in a bit of trouble as the guide is caught in a rapid with his two guests. It looks like they could all capsize at any moment. Christopher quickly rows to his rescue and helps him out of the rapid and then instructs him on what to do. It just shows how important it is to have experienced guides, and I’m feeling a lot happier.
The journey down the river is like chilli chocolate. Sublime, relaxing, smooth...but with an edge of zing as you're constantly looking out for the hippo - which we know there are plenty of. And it's not long before, "Over there," says Christopher who is standing and rowing one of the makoro. He points about 100m ahead where a pod of hippos is rising and sinking in the water. Thankfully we will be able to give them a wide berth.
The bird life on the river is abundant and Christopher is like a walking...or paddling...bird book. He names every bird, tossing in the Latin too, plus features of the birds. "A pair of African Skimmers," he says pointing to a little sandy island. We see these rare birds, with only about one thousand in Southern Africa, with their strange red bills looking contently back at us.
"Wait until your guide gets your boat secure," Christopher says as we pull up against the river bank. We all leap out and are soon following him along towards a local village. The midday sun is baking down as the villagers move around doing their daily tasks. We're given a fascinating inside look at village life - how the grain is crushed, their homes and storage places, sleeping mats and much more. It's amazing that so little has changed for these people in thousands of years.
As we continue on we pass locals with fishing poles cut from reeds trying to catch fish on the rivers edge. A herd of cows are grazing on an island in the middle of the river, and we see one wading across. Obviously they're not worried about the crocs and hippos.
And then on cue, as we round the corner..."Hippos!" Christopher says his sharp eyes spotting them. “Up ahead just next to that island." The current and rowing is taking us quite quickly towards them. However from my limited butt-close-to-the-water-with-hippos experience this looks tricky. The hippos are spread from the river bank towards the island. "How do we get past them?"' I'm wondering. The answer comes quickly as we race towards them. We're going to go for the gap between them and the island. If they come our way I'm ready to leap out of the boat and make a mad dash for the island.
As we get near them they erupt as their huge grey forms splash through the water issuing loud threatening grunts of disapproval. Thankfully they all head away from us and not towards us, as we slip through the gap with them still hurling insults at us. I'm left thinking "This is Africa. This is adventure”
It means "Howzit?"
And the answer is "Awesome".
Part of the awesomeness, besides the beauty is the tranquility.
Walking barefoot all day in the soft sand. Soaking up the stunning scenery.
Spotting hippos. Swimming in the river. Relaxing on a soft beanbag.
Lying under a shady tree. Definitely...awesome.
As the sun sinks behind us turning the river golden brown we head out to have a bath. Not just any bath - but a bath experience. We grab some logs of wood and light a fire under the donkey boiler to get warm water. Soon we are seated in a warm bubblebath tub set atop a platform suspended over the river. What a setting to reflect on our day, to watch hippos, to hear the fish eagle cry. A tepid wind stirs the reeds on the river bank. Africa is preparing to sleep once again. Soon night's dark veil will be drawn and a new chapter will begin...
For more information on Ngepi Camp in Namibia see here!
Sparks rising from the campfire.
For more information on Ngepi Camp check it out here!
We’re en route to Ngepi in the Caprivi Strip, leaving behind the hot and dry planes of Etosha. The road is tarred, which is great although the wind which has turned the sky into a grey dusty blur continues. "Oh to see the sun again," I think to myself as we drive. I can't remember what blue looks like. Here's hoping the wind lets up before we reach Ngepi.
As we turn down the dirt track for the last few kilometers to our destination we begin to wonder what we are in for. Various signs mark the 3km dirt track as we bounce along towards our destination, such as, "All 4x4 drivers engage four wheel drive, diff lock, low range and cross your fingers. All other drivers continue driving as normal." The humorous signs continue giving us hope that this could be a great camping spot.
Finally, we arrive. We leap out of the car in anticipation. We're greeted by an amazing looking reception area. An open, thatched area which houses the reception and pub flows onto a lawn - grass - 🎶🎵 - and from there to a deck set on the edge of a huge river, part of the Okavango Panhandle. Wow! We've never seen so much water and lush tropical forest in Namibia. Wow...did I say that already?
Soon we are headed to our campsite which is close enough to walk to the bar area - important - but far enough away to be private. It's on the edge of the river and surrounded on all sides by trees creating a private, shady and grassy 🎶🎶 campsite. Wow...OK, I'm overdoing that "wow", but it is. The sound of birds fills the air mingling with hippos grunting in the river.
Ngepi Lodge is full of character, as the funny signs hinted at. The toilets and showers are another example. All the toilets are open air toilets surrounded by pole fences. But they are amazing - flushing toilets with basins and mirrors, set in stunning surroundings. As we explore we find a closed area with a sign saying "Ladies please remain seated during the entire performance". We enter to see what is inside. I'm wondering if it's a lapa for shows. It's not. It's another toilet with trees growing all around it.
As our campfire crackles on the banks of the river the evening silence is punctuated by roars - not lions but hippos. The ground almost shudders as their roars reverberate through the evening air. What an amazing place. Let's just hope the hippos don't decide to graze on us and our tents as we sleep tonight, because there's nothing between those roaring beasts of the river and us besides a few millimeters of fabric. Africa...only in Africa.
"I'll make some coffee," I mumble to Nicky as the early morning light seeps into our tent. It feels like I'm sleeping in a tropical jungle because outside the birds are welcoming the new day with a chorus of song. However, there's not going to be coffee...not yet at least. "You have to come and see this," I call from outside where I've gone to turn the gas cooker on.
Nicky emerges and we watch a fiery ball of orange slowly lift its huge bulk above the trees across the river. It reaches out towards where we are standing on the river bank with a golden finger as though beckoning us to experience the adventures of the new day. Sipping filter coffee while enjoying the slow rhythm of the river as it slips by, we watch a herd of buffalo come down to drink.
As the day warms up quickly we decide to go and try the "World's first hippo and croc cage dive”. It's a floating swimming pool suspended in the the river. As I dip my feet in the scary feeling of what lies below the dark brown water tingles my spine. Eventually I throw caution to the wind and leap in. It's dark and eerie but deliciously refreshing as I burst out the water as quickly as I plunged in.
Negpi is not just about the beauty of this tropical, desert oasis, it’s about sustainability too. We have heard from Mark, the owner of Ngepi, that he wants Ngepi to be “the most environmentally friendly camp in the world.” And so we head out on a tour with Rob, the manager, to see what they are doing. "We are 100% solar," Rob says as we look at an array of solar panels in a field. He shows us a building that houses banks of batteries that provides all the power for all the campsites, chalets, etc. Amazing what we can achieve from the power of the sun.
I have never been to a place where the ablutions are such a feature. You want to go to the toilet or have a shower, just for the experience. Every one of these is different, and even these tell a story. We arrive at two showers set side by side. The signs indicate one as "Today" and the other as "Tomorrow".
"Today," says Rob as we enter the shower, "is lush and tropical." Inside there are trees and the shower has been integrated into this natural beauty. "However," continues Rob as we exit "Today" and enter “Tomorrow". “Tomorrow is not going to be good if we continue treating the earth like we are!" Inside the shower is barren. Concrete. No trees. A painted tin saying "toxic waste" and no hot water - which Joshua found out when he went to shower there. I’m impressed. Who would of thought of even using your ablutions to teach important lessons, while making them so much fun.
Rob continues to explain various other projects Negpi is involved in like the wood project to stop deforestation of the area, the tree project to provide income and help re-establish decimated areas, the recycling plant, the organic vegetable garden, and more. By the end of the tour, I’m not only convinced Mark’s vision is achievable, I’m exicted about it - because he’s managed to not simply try create an eco-sensitive camp, but care for the local community and educate visitors too.
Tomorrow we will be doing something totally different. Totally crazy, we’re going to get up close and personal with the river… (to be continued)
120 tyre carcasses in approximately 140km! That's the count of blown tyres lying on the side of the road, that I noticed - I'm sure I missed many - while traveling the gravel road from Sossusvlei towards Swakopmond in Namibia. The August issue of Go! Mag featured our family's year long adventure around Southern Africa. And what an incredible experience it has been. We are currently exploring the arid splendor of Namibia. However the start of our adventure here was tyre-ing!
Nearly 20,000km of traveling in South Africa, everything from the game reserves to the Richtersveld, and no problems. But just 80km of gravel road in Namibia and we get two punctures! Eish! We were left wondering how we would handle the thousands of kilometers of gravel roads we had planned ahead of us. And then we learned some vital tyre advice from experienced locals, for would-be gravel road travelers - whether driving on the diamonds of Namibia or the rough tracks of South Africa, advice I wish I'd known before we set out.
We've now driven thousands of happy kilometers on Namibia's diamond studded gravel roads with no problems. Of course this doesn't mean we won't have issues but I really wish I had known all of this tyre'fic advice earlier on. It would have saved us a lot of cost and worry. After all the places where adventure really lies are at the end of those 500km gravel roads. Next stop - Etosha, Caprivi, Botswana and beyond.
Pizza, vino, cappuccino, deez are da things that make life worth living. As I cross the road I see someone looking at the menu. “Ciao,” I say. “We have the best pizzas in the world.” The girl, she looks at me and smiles. I think she will be back. I watch as she walks away. Yes, pizza, vino and cappuccino, they are the things that we live for.
After leaving the network of dirt tracks in Mozambique we return to South Africa. It's like chalk and cheese, sand and tar, wild and calm. It's been fun but it's good to cruise on a paved road with signs and lines and modern things. Yet it's short lived as we turn off on our way towards Sodwana. The route hugs Lake Sibaya, and just like in Mozi, it is mainly thick sand and undulations, winding through dense coastal forests. It's beautiful seeing glimpses of this magnificent Lake Sibaya, but I'm giving the driving full concentration as once or twice Pajey fights furiously to get through the thick sand. Getting stuck out here would be a problem - there is no cell signal, no humans that we've seen. Years later, all that would be discovered would be our remains picked clean by hippos. However, finally after about two hours we arrive at Sodwana Bay Lodge.
We awake and are ready for action. Today we are headed to Mkuze Game Park. Our first stop on route to Mkuze is the Spar at Mbazwane. We've had to adapt to a new style of shopping as we move off the grid, and shop where Africa shops. The shop cuisine sports everything from bulk packs of chicken claws to 50kg bags of mealie meal - enough to feed a small nation for a week. No suhsi in sight....Aah, for a taste of sushi. Actually just chicken that no longer looks like a recently departed chicken would be good.
We make our way along a bumpy dirt road that occasionally gives way to what appears to be the distant memory of a tar road before giving up completely and returning to gravel again. Added to this are the bonus points for dodging cows, goats, and equally non-intelligent pedestrians.
Eventually, we arrive at the Mkuze gate, flash our Rhino card, fill in endless, pointless forms, as though this is a border crossing, and are finally admitted. By this stage we are feeling peckish - it must be the lingering memory of chicken claws. We head to a lake-side picnic spot arriving just after noon having not seen another car or human on route here. It's wonderful having this game park all to ourselves. Soon we've set up our table, poured our chilled wine, and are smelling the wors braaing as we listen to the hiss of our promised meal mingling with the nearby sound of snorting hippos and the distant cry of a fish eagle. It truly is incredible to be just 20 meters away from these magnificent animals while enjoying fine food.
Sodwana Run & Snorkel
'Tis always a joy for the children to be awoken with the news “We're heading out for a run in 10 minutes”. But such is the lot that does on occasion fall upon them, as it is on this fine morn. With Hannah's mumbles muted due to a restraining order already imposed, we head out, and what a rave run it is…for us at least. We run the gently undulating road towards Sodwana beach but are forced to turn at 2.5km as some of the less running inclined kids deem this far enough.
The deep blue sea is calling us and today we will venture into it. We've booked a snorkeling adventure. “It's women and children first,” says the guy who is going to lead our dive as we get ready to launch. “And then when you are waist deep the rest can get in the boat.” So much for equality. Clinging white-knuckled to the side of the boat as the waves roll in I await the call to “abandon sea” hoping it will come before the waves swamp me or the boat propeller slices me into biltong pieces.
Getting out to sea in the rubber duck is like driving on a badly potholed road, which resonates with our driving experience in this area. We bump along the coast for about 20 minutes finding nothing more than a shoal of hyperactive tuna leaping through the waves. Aah, sushi...so close yet so far.
“This is the reef,” the dive master says once we give up on the elusive dolphins, “follow me,” he says leaping overboard into the big wide ocean. Reef? This looks like the great wide open sea. An ideal place for sharks to suck on turtle-looking snorkellers.
In moments we are all bobbing in the ocean like a flock of colorful jellyfish. Putting my face down a hidden world of visual splendor erupts into view. Floating high above the reef far below, I see schools of colorful fish dance and dart to the crackling sound of the coral. The scene is stunning as we “fly” over this hidden world and get a glimpse into the unseen.
Returning to the boat after about 30 minutes I find Hannah and Josh already there having succumbed to the ocean's kiss - nausea. Clinging onto the boat we bounce our way back and before long are showered and warming, like contented lizards, in the sun.
In the evening we attend the local church, Solid Ground, that takes place in a home. We are warmly welcomed and enjoy the worship and the powerful message ahout hearing God - something I really need as the fear of the upcoming Comrades marathon settles upon me! Should I run it this year? It's number 10...but this was going to be the year off. Decisions...
Across the road from the church is an Italian pizza restaurant claiming to be the best in the world. We met the proprietor yesterday and he is Italian both in accent and enthusiastic spirit. The restaurant is just a caravan nestled on the side of the road with a few tables planted in the sand. Candles on the table and stars above create a truly remarkable ambiance as jovial music pumps out of a pair of small speakers coming out of the caravan kitchen.
The thin based pizzas are delicious and we wash them down with the wine served in paper coca cola cups. “It's an epic way to end an amazing stay at Sodwana,” I think to myself as we walk the kilometer or so back to our chalet. Africa just keeps on serving up the best in tastes, sights, experiences and people. Nkosi Sikilele Africa.
It should not be long now. Thankfully it’s winter and the sun is not too hot, but still while standing on the side of the road waiting droplets of sweat begin to bead on my head. A few vehicles pass, fishtailing as they drag themselves through the thick sand. Not long now. A car passes, and then I see it. This is the one. It bounces over the bumps in the sandy track, each bump causing it to leap higher. Surely now. And then the vehicle slows and stops. Yes…we've got one. Moments later it tries to pull off, but its wheels spin in the thick sand. In seconds it sinks deeper and deeper. Yes, we've got one!
First there is the sound of breaking glass and then moments later the air is filled with the smell of wine. “I smell wine,” Sarah says. And soon we are all in agreement. There is no doubt that there is a wine smell in the air, but there's nothing we can do about it at the moment. “I can't stop here,” I say as the back seat drivers suggest I pull over. “The sand is too thick and the dense forest leaves no room to pull over.”
We are on our first adventure as part of our year long travels, out of South Africa. We are headed to a remote town not far from Ponta d'Ora in Mozambique. Crossing the border is always a fun experience. Leaving South Africa is relatively simple. It's now getting through the Mozambique side that is the challenge. We've driven from St Lucia, the secret gem of KZNs north coast and are headed up to Ponta Molangane. After beaming friendly smiles at the Mozambiquen border officials, paying our R220 for some third party insurance and answering, “about 3 bottles of wine” to the inquisitive border guard, we are on our way.
“Insane” is probably the best word to describe the change in road condition from leaving South Africa to entering Mozambique on its eastern edge. A single smooth, freshly tarred road delivered us up to the SA border post. Thick, sandy roads splitting into an inexplicable number of branching tracks explode in every direction before us. Our instructions from the accommodation we're staying say “the route...is a sandy track with little signage.” This is code for “thick beach sand tracks with no signposts”. Who would expect signs on “national roads”? The instructions encouragingly continue...“the road splits in three directions...choose the middle one” - OK, got that, we take the middle fork. However the instructions then become vague... “the road has multiple forks” code for hundreds of forks, “...don't get too anxious...they will all eventually meet up.” Are you serious? As we drive, every few minutes we're suddenly presented with a random split - left or right? Braking or slowing down in the thick sand is not a good idea so I just pick at random and go, and sometimes despite the instructions' reassurance, the tracks don't meet up as we arrive at some lone hut. Obviously this fork is a “driveway” which is inconsiderately unsignposted.
We've arrived in real Africa. This is the Africa of the movies where one expects to see herds of elephant at any moment as open grasslands and cosps of trees frame our sandy 4x4 track. It's as we're bouncing over some mini sand dunes through a thick indigenous coastal forest that we hear the wine bottles clink once again in the back of the car as they are airborne for a moment. And this time the clink is followed by the unmistakable bouquet of an unwooded Chardonnay...or is it the grassy scent of Savingnon...or is it a blend of all our wine we're smelling?
We have to wait until we exit the forest before I can pull over. These sandy national roads are of course two way roads, despite the fact that there is just enough room for a single car. We've already met an oncoming 4x4 sand ploughing a spray of dust in front of him as he slammed on brakes to stop in time.
Leaping out, it is with mounting trepidation that we carefully open the back of Pajey. Will we be in forced sobriety and sipping water for our sundowners for the next three nights or has some of our wine survived? Wine is dripping down the back of the car and reaching an ignoble end in the thick sand. “They're all broken,” Nicky declares as she gently lowers the now sodden box onto the sandy road. I swoon slightly. It must be the 30c heat not the recent news. However on further inspection its discovered the news is not as dire as first proclaimed. In fact what has happened is that our customs declaration has been implemented. “About 3 bottles of wine” is now correct. It seems there were four but now there are three. At least everything is above board.
With the fruity smell of a dearly departed Chardonnay, unwooded I think, filling the car, we continue bouncing, sliding, and guessing our way to our destination. Amazingly all roads do finally lead to Ponta Molangane and we arrive. Paradise unfurls before us.
The glass doors that welcome us into the accommodation at Baleia Azul that we're sharing with the two other families ushers us into the most spectacular view. A deck stretches out before us to a suspended pool and the unobstructed view of the endless sea beyond. It's stunning. The ride here, the adventure makes this worth it. What adventures await us here, in real Africa.
“Come on everyone, we're leaving.” There's a mad early morning scurry as everyone heads to the 4x4s. It's only about a 45 minute trip along the non-existent Mozambique roads to Ponta d'Ora. We've booked a dolphin adventure. The plan...leap onto boats, find dolphins, swim with them, be amazed. The ride to Ponta is fun as usual, as we bounce along thick sandy tracks, but we arrive unscathed. We find the Dlophin place and are soon seated wathcing a video on what we can expect. The excitement is mounting...but just before the video ends, our hopes are dashed. Someone appears and tells us that the trips are cancelled as the conditions are not good. I'm not sure if its a collective sigh of relief or disappointment, as the sea was looking a little turbulent. Either way, the action's off, and so we settle for a stroll around the town. This is Africa of the movies. Shops line a the dirt roads where vendors sell their wares. One vendor has taken up residence in a burnt down building while across the road a modern looking shop competes for attention. It's such an eccelctic mix you can't help but be drawn into the beauty and charm of the place.
“Let's head back and grab a snack at Sunset Shack,” someone suggests, as the shopping spirit dwindles. We all leap into our cars - three 4x4s in covoy and head out of Ponta. And that's when the fun starts. The car behind me suddenly seems to vanish, and so I back up to see what's happened. “Can anyone see John,” I say referring to the ML that is number two in the convoy. “There he is,” Hannah says. And there he is indeed. Belly deep in the thick sand. “Don't worry John, I'm here to rescue you.” My moment of pride is finally here. Soon I've attached a tow rope to John's beleagured ML and Pajey is ready to show his grit. Alas it does not work out as planned. Pajey, with the added weight attached to him, struggles to move. In moments the glory-to-be evaporates and Pajey...well, Pajey is belly deep in the thick sand too. Two vehicles stuck. So much for the gallant steed to the rescue.
Thankfully some locals are standing on the side of the road, amazingly with spades in hand, ready to dig us out. It's amazing their foresight, that they would be at this spot, ready and waiting with spades in hand. An hour later...lots of digging, burning clutch and money changing hands and we are all on our way again. Well, the lesson is, "this is Africa"stunn. She eats cars without a second thought. “But, the adventure is amazing,” I think to myself, as we stop at a roadside pub...OK, not a pub but a shack on the side of the road that sells R&Rs - Mozambique's iconic Rum and Rasberry drink - horribly sweet, but amazing as you sit with your feet in the sand watching the sun dip into the horizon. This is Africa, is so unique...there's nothing quite like it!