Sand, Sea and Painted Dogs!

We entered Mozambique at Espungabera and it was all very easy once again, although the customs official did insist on searching the van and declaring that we had “too much beer” – hint hint!

We took to the road heading for the coast and stopped one night in a town buzzing with life.  We parked up in a hotel compound in the centre of town and soaked up the very “African” atmosphere around us: water being hauled up in  buckets from a well, a massive pot heating up on the open fire in the middle of the yard, people coming and going, chatting, shouting, laughing, market stalls, tin shack shops, fruit sellers with large bowls of pineapples perched on their heads, huge trucks parked up along the street.  This town was clearly a major stopping off place for truckers.

The road was appalling – potholed tarmac, the worst kind of road surface (after corrugations) and incredibly hard work for Bruce to navigate as he had to concentrate 100% on the road ahead, dodging and swerving round massive holes in the road. It is an impossible task to avoid all the holes, so Buster was bucking and rearing like a bad-tempered stallion, throwing us and the contents of the van all over the place! However, the road improved once we got over to the coast and a bit further south (where the South Africans come up for their holidays).

The roads in Mozambique  are not just full of potholes. Cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, horses and dogs all wander around unperturbed by oncoming traffic.  Slightly more worrying though is that there are children absolutely everywhere!  There are schools in every village and the children literally swarm onto the roads.  It has been similar in both Botswana and Zimbabwe but more so in Mozambique.

Also, the roadside sellers are prolific – avocados, mangoes, bananas, and pineapples piled on bowls and buckets perched on top of the heads of women and children, whilst cashew nuts are hung in plastic bags from trees by the side of the road like weird Xmas decorations.

Our first port of call on the coast was Inhassoro where we stayed in Goody Villas, the best campsite we found during our stay in Mozambique, an ideal location right by the beach in a beautifully kept garden. We stayed there for 4 days and the only reason we didn’t stay longer was because I started to form a dangerous attachment to a beach dog! What can I say? She knew how to pull on my heart strings!

Our plan was to have a couple of weeks “holiday” on the beach in Mozambique before heading over to Swaziland and that was exactly what we had, it was fabulous.  However, there are places along the coast which are not so great, where the 2017 cyclone which hit this area has left evidence of the devastation caused, with skeletal buildings in abandoned lodges and near deserted villages.

When we started our travels we had a few “bucket list” sightings we would love to achieve, like Rhino,  Leopard and (for me) the African Wild Dog – a beautiful animal which looks like it has been splattered in paint (hence the other name for it, Painted Dog) and with huge ears!  Although we had not originally intended to visit Kruger, we decided it would be our best chance to spot these animals, so we headed off to Limpopo, which together with Kruger forms a trans-frontier park between Mozambique and South Africa.  A slight hiccough with our visas for South Africa resulted in the border officials giving us 30 days instead of the expected 90 days, but we had to just hope we could sort that out on one of the other border crossings to come (Swaziland or Lesotho).

Kruger was very much as expected, ie busy, slick and very commercial (the park lodges were heaving with coach loads of people and reminded us very strongly of motorway service stations back in UK, only with worse food!).  On a game drive, if one vehicle stops then everyone stops to find out what they’re watching.  Not long after our arrival we saw some vehicles had paused so we duly pulled up alongside and I was thrilled to see a pack of Wild Dogs sleeping under a tree just by the edge of the road.

At the lodges there are Sightings Boards indicating where certain game has been spotted that day.  We were pottering along the road when I said to Bruce “I think this is where a Leopard was seen” and his reply was “there it is”.  By the time I looked over there was just a tail disappearing into the trees!  We stopped and waited hoping for a reappearance (joined of course by half a dozen other vehicles) but he/she wasn’t going to indulge us.

The best moments are when we are completely alone and have a sighting all to ourselves.  This happened for us twice, once on our first evening drive we headed down one of the lesser used tracks and spotted a couple of male lions sauntering slowly down the bank beside us.  The second occasion on the next evening we were on a long drive taking to the back lanes once again and following a river.  As we drove down a track to cross a dry river bed there were two white rhino making their way along the river bed towards us.  It was a truly special moment to see these vast, powerful beasts at such close quarters! They came right up to have a look at us, a thrilling and nerve-wracking moment!  Luckily they decided we weren’t worth worrying about and turned round to saunter off.  Altogether we saw eight rhino on that game drive.  Because of poaching, Rhino sightings cannot be put on the board so it was sheer luck we had decided to take that particular route.

When we left Kruger we stopped in a campsite on a golf club just outside the Park.  It was here that we bumped into a lovely Dutch couple, Tom and Ans  for the third time, having previously met them on two separate occasions at campsites in Mozambique!  Travelling overland in Africa proves the expression “it’s a small world”. This was also where we had our first close up view of a venomous snake, a Vine Snake, that had got itself into the golf bag of one of the lady golfers having tea on the terrace!  After much shrieking and shouting, the snake was slowly ushered out of the bag, along the railings, down the stairs and into the grass by the golfer brandishing a feather duster!

From here we drove straight down and into Swaziland.  Our first destination here was the village of Bulembo up in the hills.  As we drove up the heavily forested, steep, dirt road a thick fog blanketed everything from view so we  could only hope it would clear before we made our descent tomorrow.  Bulembo proved to be a fascinating place. From about 1936 until the late 1970s it was the site of the Havelock Asbestos Mine, employing 4,000 workers. The Mine was home to 10,000 people and ran very much as a self-contained town with its own schools, shops and hospital. When it closed the whole town was abandoned and frozen in time.  It is now run by a religious charity who houses and trains orphans of the AIDS epidemic into the hospitality industry. Many of the houses have now been renovated and let out as holiday accommodation.

We camped on the lawn beside the building which had been the Sports and Social Club for the staff, with a pool, sports fields, braai area, a cinema(!) and the most glorious view from its terrace.  This building has not yet been renovated and still retains such a strong air of colonial era that I could almost see, smell and hear the partying that must have taken place every weekend!

The workers had their own “beer hall” down the road where all the worker accommodation was, not quite so salubrious a location! In the morning we visited the excellent and really fascinating museum on the site of the old mine. We watched a rather cringe-making video made in the 70s to promote the Havelock Asbestos Mining business and it is frightening to think about all the workers  exposed to the dreaded asbestos during all those years.

Luckily when we left Bulembo the fog had cleared and we had wonderful views of the stunning hills as we drove away. We didn’t know what to expect in Swaziland and have found it to be a delightful country with great beauty and unaffected friendliness towards visitors with no evidence of the antipathy between black and white that still remains evident in parts of South Africa.

We visited and stayed in the fabulous Malalotja Nature Reserve with its rolling green hills and rocky outcrops, a lovely hiking area, and home to Zebra and Blesbok, or Brian as we called the one who came to lie down next to the van in the campsite!

After a visit to a glass factory to watch wine glasses being blown and to replace one of our own broken beer glasses, we drove down the 5th most dangerous road in the world! Apparently it used to be the number 1 most dangerous but has been superseded by others now. It was pretty scary, and seemed never-ending, even in Buster who only goes a top speed of 50!

We stopped for shopping in Manzini, an industrial town in the centre of Swaziland which has its brothels marked on Maps.Me, the navigation system we are using, Handy to know!

Our last few days in Swaziland were spent on a fantastic working farm called Maduba.  It is a dairy farm and also grows crops, fruit and Macadamia nuts (we had avocados dropping off the tree by our van). However, the farm appears to be run just to keep the 50 or so employees in work as it is not really profit-making.  There are also chalets and rondavels and a bunkhouse for paying guests.  Mainly the farm serves as a base for visiting medical staff and overseas students undertaking internships at the local hospital. It also serves as a base for doctors and supplies to be flown in, there is a landing strip where a couple of helicopters from Mercy Air arrived during our stay. The owner of the farm is the Doctor running the hospital.  It is a very beautiful place and guests are free to wander around the whole estate where paths through the long grass are kept trimmed for riding and walking.

Eventually it was time to move on and we drove on down to the border and back into South Africa, where luckily for us  the kindly border guard gave us a further 30 days visa, enough to last till we fly home.

We drove on through vast swathes of sugar cane extending as far as the eye can see, heading for the Drakensberg Mountains before entering Lesotho. We took the Sani Pass up through the mountains, a steep and rocky climb with hairpin bends (where one of the shock absorbers sheared off) and the most incredible views over the green hills and valleys, arriving eventually in Lesotho and the highest point in Africa south of Kilimanjaro.  Once in Lesotho the road improved dramatically thanks to China, the new colonial power in Africa!  That is, until we diverted off the main highway and hit the dirt road through the mountains!  With its cold, mountainous terrain, Lesotho is a hard place to live with the majority of people struggling on subsistence farming and everywhere we looked there were herders either on foot or on horseback, shrouded in their blankets and balaclavas and invariably wearing white Wellington boots (Chinese job lot no doubt)!

We spent a few days travelling through the beautiful, alpine-like hills of Lesotho and would like to spend longer in this fascinating country but we needed to start making our way down towards Durban where Buster has a passage to England booked at the end of March, and we had a need for good internet access and some warmth to end our trip, so we have headed off to the Wild Coast of South Africa for our final couple of weeks.

I know it sounds churlish, but we are feeling quite low about having only two weeks left until we fly home!  However, I do appreciate how lucky we have been to have this opportunity to travel extensively around the southern countries of this wonderful continent!

Painted Dog in Kruger
Pineapple sellers in Muxungue in Mozambique
Fishermen in Inhassoro
Clear blue sea
Relaxing in the lovely garden at Goody Villa
The king of the jungle
That horn is bloody scary at close range!
The worker accommodation at Havelock Mine, there is an asbestos spoil heap just to the right of picture!
Coming down from Bulembo
Hiking in Malalotja Reserve
The Brians (Blesbok)
Arty farty moonscape
Thousands of snares recovered from the area around Milwane Game Park . Quite apart from the moral argument against poaching, the sheer barbaric cruelty of snaring is horrendous!
These beehive chalets in Milwane Game Park were lovely, Nyala in the foreground.
Arty farty Zebra pic, they are just so gorgeous!
Looking down the valley from Maduba Farm
Splendid Greater Kudu. The background is an illustration of the severe erosion caused by over-grazing – evident in so many parts of Africa.
Our route up into Lesotho through the Sani Pass in Drakensberg
Herder on the excellent Chinese built road in Lesotho
More of these very proud people and the standard mode of transport
Everybody strides purposefully in Lesotho, in contrast to elsewhere in Africa (Kribi Shuffle!)
Standard neat village in Lesotho
Market day in Semonkong, Lesotho


A nice cup of tea!

Birthday blog!  Posts have been infrequent because of the problems I am having with data.  It’s not that downloading the words is difficult, but it is the pictures which are causing me big problems.  So I had to wait till there was access to some high-speed wifi.

After Christmas we had an excursion to the Nxai and Makgadikgadi Pans National Park.  It may sound like an alien concept to some people but we do like using maps that can be spread out on a table and poured over – I know, how quaint!  Sadly, on this occasion our map of Botswana let us down badly  (there will be words with Stanfords on our return to UK!) and the appalling inaccuracies sent us on a 100 km detour to a town that didn’t exist!  To add insult to injury we attempted to make a ferry crossing over the river and into the Park (African ferry crossings are wonderfully hair-raising experiences) but failed due to our weight (I mean Buster’s).

We spent a fantastic couple of days in Gweta, driving round the Pans, visiting the Baines’ Baobabs (a group of huge Baobab trees made famous by an explorer called Baines who painted them, though I haven’t ever seen the actual painting) and watching large numbers of elephants and hippos as we travelled along the beautiful river bank.  Sadly, because of our earlier wasted journey, we ended up with not enough fuel to get to town to fill up, and the newly opened fuel station at Gweta didn’t have any diesel!  We eventually managed to buy a few litres from a friendly South African and carry on our way.

Back in Maun for New Year we had a great night at The Old Bridge Backpackers bar celebrating with mein host, who generously plied us with alcohol  (mind you, we were still in bed by midnight!)

From Maun we didn’t travel into the Okavango Delta, simply because of the cost, and decided to try and get to the Khwai Community area instead (it is still not cheap to stay in their camps but the fee goes to the local community and not into the pockets of the big tour operators).   However, we clearly had not done our research properly because when we tried to enter Moremi NP which we needed to cross to gain access to Khwai, the Park Warden asked us the weight of our vehicle and we told him. Mistake! Any vehicle over 3.5 ton (we weigh 5.4) has to pay US$100 plus the park fee per person.  We decided to drive round to Khwai via another, longer route.  Camping right beside the river in one of the Community run camps we had a wonderful evening, visited by a herd of Impala, watching Hippos as they travelled downstream just a few feet away from us, and seeing Buffalo chewing the cud just across on the opposite riverbank.  It was blissful.

On into Chobe National Park where, miraculously, we weighed 3.4 ton and paid $5 for the van instead of $100! We took the Marsh road through Chobe and it was fabulous.  One of the first sights to greet us was a pack of Spotted Hyenas, angrily guarding their breakfast, a leg of some sort of antelope!

Because we are travelling in the rainy season, much of the wildlife has dispersed, so we didn’t see much more game but the landscape of Chobe is fabulous, so our trip through was very enjoyable.  That evening, after many miles of driving through deep, soft sand we exited the National Park and camped in a small clearing in the forest just outside the gate. During the night we heard a lot of trumpeting, grumbling and crashing about. This continued in the early morning and we are unsure whether it was just the elephants having a few histrionics, or if there was a lion in the area causing a bit of a rumpus.

Back into Chobe Riverfront the next day we saw a lot more game, including the endearing Waterbuck which we hadn’t seen before and, of course, hundreds of wonderfully entertaining elephants.  As we drove along the track we would come upon individuals or herds moving to and from the river where they bathed, played and drank.  Occasionally, one of them would give us a trumpet, ear flap and swing of the head, but generally these huge animals take no notice of the vehicles and just meander on their way.

We stopped at a lovely campsite on our way to Kasane where we ate the best salad we had had on the trip so far!  The campsite has its own, beautifully tended vegetable garden and they sell the produce to campers.  Our next campsite, in Kasane, was also very good but we had to adjust the scenery somewhat in order to fit Buster in.  The sight of Bruce balancing precariously on the bonnet, wielding his saw was highly entertaining to everyone!  Once in, we decided to spend a few days here enjoying the facilities of this Lodge, including the beautiful restaurant, the pool and a river cruise along the Chobe to see the wildlife from a different perspective (somewhat marred by loud Russians and yelling babies – don’t get me started!).

Now it was time to leave Botswana and enter Zimbabwe, sad but excited! We stocked up with as much fuel and food we could carry because we knew that Zim would be very expensive.  The border crossing was yet another walk in the park. So unlike our previous experiences of border crossings in Africa.  Plus, no Police blocks!  This post-Mugabe Zimbabwe has been great for us as the roads are clear of the dreadful blocks which used to occur every few kilometres, in order that the corrupt Police could extract bribes and/or impose spurious “fines” on the public.

We spent a few days in Vic Falls, visiting the essential sights:  the Falls themselves, in fine flood and so very impressive; a stroll to The Lookout Cafe overlooking the gorge where people (with a death wish in my opinion) can hurtle across on zipwires or fling themselves off the bridge on a bungie; and enjoying afternoon tea at Vic Falls Hotel, an icon of the colonial era, with its terrace and beautiful lawns overlooking the gorge and bridge.  It was at Vic Falls that we caught up with Richard, an old friend who lives in Zim and works with wildlife, and he took us for a lovely tour round the Zambezi NP, what a stunningly beautiful river the Zambezi is!

From Vic Falls we went to Hwange National Park for a day, a really lovely park to travel round with good roads (makes such a difference to us in Betty!). Here we watched a couple of crocodiles tucking into their dinner – a buffalo carcass! What immense and evil looking beasts crocs are, but so fascinating!

We arrived in Harare a few days later after stops in Bulawayo and the aircraft museum in Gweru, and having been merrily waved on by the very few Police encountered en route!

We have had a few days “holiday” from our travels in Betty Buster, staying with a dear friend, Jenny, and being taken around town and out into the beautiful surroundings for lovely walks and picnics in Dombashava hills and Ewanrigg Botanical Gardens, as well as looking round Patrick Mavros’s incredible studio (gold and silversmith to royalty and stars) and being spoiled rotten by Jen and introduced to many lovely people who live in this amazing country! It has been a joy and a delight!  Wonderful Zimbabwe! So good to be here in the best country in Africa!  Well, the population believe that and who are we to disagree? We feel the spirit of optimism and unity here at the moment – long may it last and here’s hoping that the new, emerging Zimbabwe prospers!  The people are without doubt the friendliest and seemingly the happiest we have encountered on our travels.  I love this country!

After a sad farewell to Jenny, we moved on to spend a further couple of days in Harare staying with Richard and his wife, Sian and meeting yet more lovely folk, visiting an impressive private classic car collection, a walk in Mukuvisi Woodlands and being given a guided tour of a large tobacco farm. This was incredibly interesting but horrifying at the same time.  We were led through the hottest, steamiest drying shed along a deep, dark tunnel of tobacco.  Imagine smoking thousands of fags all at the same time – we emerged from the shed coughing, spluttering, bright red and with our eyes streaming.  The workers can cope with being in the shed for 20 minutes at a time.  5 minutes was too much for us!

From Harare we moved on to the Eastern Highlands, stopping off in Marondera in order to try and find the farm which once belonged to some relatives of mine.  They had been turned off their land in the bad old days when farms were requisitioned by Mugabe’s cronies, and they have long-since died but I have vague, happy memories of visiting them in 1983.  Unfortunately, the house no longer exists (or if it does is unrecognisable as a house) but we did find the spot where the farm once was, a very beautiful area in the hills.

The Eastern Highlands comprises Nyanga NP, Bvumba Reserve, and Chimanimani Hills NP.  In Nyanga is the site of the highest mountain in Zim, spectacular far-reaching views and some amazing waterfalls (not on the scale and breadth of Vic Falls, but one of the longest drops (479 metres) in Africa.  Cecil Rhodes used to hang out here and there is a nice old colonial style hotel and a museum at the site where he stayed.  Nyanga is also where there is an area of wonderful tea plantations, which we enjoyed visiting and taking a tour round the factory (although the subsequent tea tasting was disappointing – think cold, stewed, black liquid that would make a pot of builders’ taste weak and watery)!

From Nyanga we went to Mutare and into the Bvumba where there is a lovely Botanical Gardens to wander round admiring the tropical trees and plants as well as spotting many, many birds.  A trip to the Vumba must include a stop at Tony’s Coffee Shop, set in beautiful gardens. We were served tea in an elegant silver set with wonderful bone china, AND the most delicious (and most expensive) cake we have ever tasted by the charmingly camp Tony! Also a must is a visit to The Leopard Rock Hotel, another colonial-era icon of elegance and sophistication with a stunningly appointed golf course  (I sound like a commercial, but it’s true!)  After we had a look round and a drink on the terrace we asked, just out of interest, how much a room would be and they offered us a bargain dinner, bed and breakfast deal we just could not refuse, and the biggest ever super king-size bed! Luxury!  We had a lovely walk all round the beautiful grounds – if golf courses in England were as lovely as the four that we have visited here in Zimbabwe (The Royal Harare where Jen plays, The Country Club, Newlands in Harare,  Aberfoyle in Nyanga and this one at Leopard Rock), then I would seriously consider taking up the sport myself! From our room balcony overlooking the gardens, pool and the golf course we had Sykes/Samango monkeys swinging in the trees opposite.

Onward to the Chimanimani NP with its very dramatic landscape where we camped at the National Park Base Camp site from where it is possible to hike up into the hills.  In the morning, Bruce yomped up the mountain and I took a much shorter and more leisurely wander (in between the outbreaks of rain and wind).

We have been very lucky with the weather on the trip so far.  Although it is the rainy season we have had very little rain (good news for us, not so good for the local population).

Time to head for Mozambique! So sad to leave Zimbabwe and we will definitely be back one day – there is so much more to see and explore here.

Afternoon tea at Vic Falls Hotel
Croc In Hwange NP
Woops, unidentified birds (left book in van)
Chobe Ellies
Fish Eagle on Chobe river
The incomparable Vic Falls
The Zambezi river
Champagne bush breakfast in Ewanrigg Botanical Gdns
Beautiful Dombashava
Sorting the tobacco
Factory tour at Aberfoyle Tea Plantations

Moving East

DSCN0700Goodness, time has flown by! Opuwo seems a very long time ago now. It was the first place where we had a sense and feel of real Africa on this trip, a busy, dusty town where you see many Himba women covered in red ochre and Herero women dressed in long Victorian gowns with matching impressive headgear.

Our next stop was Etosha National Park. We entered from the far west, paid for two days, and stopped at the over-priced and rather shabby NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) lodge.  We did see a lion from their viewing platform in the morning  so all is forgiven.  The next day we continued along the horribly corrugated road but were rewarded with seeing lots of game en route at the watering holes.  For our second night we left the Park (being searched for meat, guns and ivory at the gate) and found a very special campsite (half the price and ten times better than NWR) just outside the Park (Etosha Village Camp).  Probably our favourite campsite so far on this trip, we had our own area of bush to camp in with great facilities and a pleasant pool to wallow in! We also had a pair of pet Hornbills who sat chatting to us (actually I think they were complaining we were in  their house) .

We re-entered the Park and carried on alongside the Pan with some lovely natural waterholes.  The Pan is a vast dust bowl extending over the horizon and at one point you are able to drive out onto it, an impressive sight as it spreads out all around, with dusty whirlwinds whipping up in the distance.

We then left Etosha and headed south towards Tsumeb. To illustrate just how ponderous our pace of travel is, I must tell you that at this point on our trip we had overtaken a total of 4 moving vehicles (in 6 weeks), the last of which was a train travelling alongside the road to Tsumeb with whom we played tag  for a while, as we stopped and started in search of a camping spot.  He was chugging along at about 20mph and we became quite pally, hooting each other every time we passed!

Unfortunately, it was around this time we discovered the dreaded corrugations had caused our spare fuel tank to split and we were gradually leaking diesel which couldn’t be transferred to our main tank as it was already full, an environmental, as well as a costly, nightmare!

In Tsumeb we spent a few days in another great campsite, big lawn, lovely shady Jacarandas and massive pool!  We met, and spent a very pleasant evening with a couple from Switzerland travelling in their big Steyr truck. It is always good to meet and swap information with fellow travellers.

Another town, another mechanic’s yard! Ah the joys of overland travel in Africa! Not getting the tank fixed (too great a problem to sort out before we get home) but getting the back door catch welded (again!) and getting a roll bar stud replaced before all the others had a chance to snap off!  I am getting quite fond of my days spent in and around workshops and this one gave me a chance to slobber and be slobbered over by a pack of 4 delightfully friendly, huge, push you over in their exuberance, dogs.

Have to feel for Brucey though – not only does he have to work blooming hard driving the van on these roads (they are worsening, with the dreaded potholed tarmac as we go east) but when we do stop there are countless repair and mend jobs to be done screwing back everything that has come loose en route!

Onward and upward we moved towards Rundu (another town another … yes well, least said….)  and to Caprivi Strip, via Grootfontein and the Hoba Meteorite (an enormous slab of nickel and iron).  As we trundled north the population increased, with mud hut settlements lining the road and it became more tricky for us to find secluded spots to camp out.  But we did, and so far on this trip we’ve had no problems, always managing to spend quiet uninterrupted nights alone with the stars, the occasional  cattle or wildlife and the trillion insects (a bit of an irritation admittedly).

We  stopped in two lovely campsites right on the edge of the Okavango river (with Angola on the opposite bank), and enjoyed the fabulous birdlife on and around the river as well as the atmosheric ambience of sundowners overlooking the river, before leaving Namibia (sad moment) and entering Botswana (exciting moment).  The smoothest border crossing we have ever experienced in Africa (we are not expecting the same ease as we go east!) despite the fact that we failed to produce a certain vehicle permit that should have been issued when we picked up the van in Walvis Bay, and we knew nothing about!

Things are definitely now becoming more African, yay!  People, cattle, goats and dogs everywhere, the delightful aforementioned potholed tarmac (ouch! on behalf of Betty Buster) and crazy drivers!  As wonderful as Namibia is (and it is truly a wonderful country) this is what we have been missing.  The first town we visited in Botswana was ALIVE!  Busy, busy, busy with everyone out on the street, chatting, laughing, selling their wares, doing their deals, playing their music (at last some African sounds, fab!)

Our first port of call in Botswana was the Tsodilo Hills to see some rock paintings.  We did a guided walk up the hill (designed to highlight how unfit this particular “old folk” has become) and were impressed at how well preserved the prehistoric art is, despite being open to the elements!  On the road back masses of butterflies and dung beetles gathering on elephant droppings – I love these little sights of Africa.

We are now in Maun and have spent Christmas in a Lodge campsite on an island at the edge of the Okavango delta, though we have yet to visit and experience that wonderful area.  Every evening the locals have been gathering on the opposite bank for a bit of a rave, blasting out sounds from the back of their cars before the Police come along at about  9pm and turf them off.  Funnily enough, for us it is preferable, listening to the cacophony of African rave music wafting over the water, than it is to endure  the sound of (as Bruce terms it) “another wailing woman” (don’t ask us who, possibly Miley Cyrus?) coming from the pool party at the Lodge! Hahaha!

On Christmas Day we had the unexpected, but delightful, pleasure of meeting Andy and Hilary, fellow campers who originally hail from Bristol (yup, small world!) but have been living for the last 30-odd years in South Africa.  We had both booked in to the Lodge restaurant for Xmas Dinner so teamed up to enjoy it together which was great (despite the restaurant claiming to be full when we arrived, even though Hilary had made her reservation a month before)!  Having a natter about African travels, Clevedon and the Long Ashton Park and Ride, whilst sitting in Botswana eating turkey and stuffing, what more can you ask for on Christmas Day!

Happy New Year everybody!

Herero women


Southern Yellow-billed Hornbills, our camp mates.
Blue Crane
Refreshing natural pool at Mobola Camp near Divundu
Sundowners on the deck at Mobola


Sausage (aka Hermut) who adopted us during our stay


Rock paintings, Tsodilo Hills
White-faced Whistling Ducks!

African delights

One of the joys of overlanding independently and in your own self-contained home on wheels, is that you can change your mind about an intended route and spontaneously head off in a different direction!  That is what we did a few days ago and it proved to be quite a momentous decision for us! More of that later.

From Luderitz we drove towards Fish River Canyon via Rosh Pinah. Once we entered the Canyon Park area we were back on dirt road and following the river (SA on the other side) stopping for lunch at a good view point, to be entertained by a troupe of baboons and a couple of fish eagles.

Further down the road we looked for somewhere to park up for the night.  I liked the look of a potential spot not far off the road and watched dubiously as Bruce sank up to his axles in soft sand, woops!  Shovel and sand-ladders out for the first time this trip!  As it was getting late, we just parked on top of the sand-ladders for the night and didn’t worry about getting out of the sand till morning (it wasn’t a problem).

We reached the resort of Ais-Ais and had a welcome stop to use their swimming pool before carrying on to Hobas where we could view the Canyon, quite an impressive sight.

It was around this time we decided to go to Windhoek. We needed to extend our visas as were only given 30 days on arrival (apparently because we didn’t show them our return air tickets) instead of the normal 90 days.  We also wanted to get some new shock absorbers for Betty Buster. Although unsure whether it would make much difference on the corrugations, we are not really in a position to get air suspension fitted on the van at the present time, so new dampers will just have to do!

I was pleasantly surprised by Windhoek.  We only stayed a couple of days (and one of those was sitting in Namib Truck Centre’s workshop while new shocks were fitted on BB) but it seemed a more relaxed city than I was led to believe by what I have read and heard.  We have been given several warnings about many crime-ridden places and, touch wood, haven’t been affected ourselves at all, yet!

We then headed back to Swakopmund, to dust off and cool down!  What a relief to feel the sea breeze!  We took the opportunity to visit the Aquarium, interesting but sad.  A mass of fish swimming round and round and round in circles all day every day. I know I shouldn’t relate to it in human terms, but how boring a life is that?

However, the lovely ladies who run the burger van outside the Aquarium are definitely worth a visit! Their burgers are truly vile and yet we went back for a second visit purely because they are such a delightful couple!

Our intention was to drive up the Skeleton coast from Swak, and after a rather typically African encounter with the Namibian Parks and Wildlife office where we were told to go upstairs to get our Park permits and told to go back downstairs by those upstairs, to pre-book our camping, and then told by downstairs we didn’t need to book the camp but to go upstairs for our Permit and then told by those upstairs we didn’t need to book a Permit, eventually we set off with neither pre-booking or permit.

The coast road north from Swakopmund is all about fishing!  It is one long, long road with fishing spots at regular intervals and people having fishing holidays. The fishing lines are carried upright on the bumpers of the Landcruisers, in what look like candle holders, sometimes four or five in a row!

We drove up to Cape Cross and visited a seal colony.  Oh my goodness, what a fascinating, amazing and extremely disturbing experience that was!  In early December the seals are giving birth.  When a “colony” is mentioned I never really consider how many that actually means.  This seal colony is a seething mass of thousands of seals and pups,  wherever you look!  The first thing that hits is the smell and then the deafening noise of the calling, pups for their mum and mums for their pup!

As you walk around and see the sheer numbers, it is really hard to imagine how they can possibly find the right pup or the right mum, and it was clear that sadly they don’t always.  We quickly moved away from the official tourist viewing area which is far too close to the seals, and found a quiet, solitary place to stop and watch at a reasonable distance.  Fascinating watching all the seal action on the rocks, the squabbling, posing, basking, swimming and even surfing the waves!

At this point we made a big decision to go no further up the coast, but to head inland along a back road into Damaraland towards the Doros Crater.  Well this proved to be more daring than we actually anticipated, but brought amazing rewards.  We drove for two and a half days without seeing a single other vehicle, or indeed human being apart from one.  In fact for the first 70 km there was little sign of life at all, animal or vegetable!  It was an incredible, lunar landscape and I have never had such a feeling of being alone.  We parked up for the night at a wonderful spot close to some boulders and enjoyed the expanse of it all and the silence.  The following day, we reached the end of the dirt road and turned onto a track (4WD required) leading to a camp run by the Save the Rhino Trust where we saw our one human, the camp custodian .  We were hoping to carry on along the current track to reach Twyfelfontein, another 75 km further on.  However, the track we’d already passed along had proved incredibly difficult and hard on the van, driving over rocks and boulders so Bruce asked if the road ahead was the same. The park attendant said it was bad for about half an hour but improved once we reached the plains.  Yeah right! It took us two full days to drive that 75 km, along the most challenging track imaginable (we have just met a German couple who did the same journey in 5 hours in their Landcruiser!)

However, it was all made totally worthwhile by the wonderful encounter we had the morning after parking up by a few trees in a dry river bed. We spotted a few elephant in the distance and then watched in awe as gradually the herd of 22, including several youngsters and babies ambled towards us, stopping to munch on the bushes and vegetation.  They took barely a glance at us despite passing within a few yards.

This is what it’s all about!  The kind of magical moment you hope to experience but cannot possibly plan!  To have a herd of elephant come and visit, giving us our very own, individual game viewing experience! Total joy!

We eventually rejoined civilisation, having lost a few more bolts on the way, as well as the back door catch which has sheared off completely.  As we can’t close the back doors at the moment, the van fills up with piles of dust every time we drive along the dry, dusty, dirt roads, so unsurprisingly we are delighted that we are now getting our first rains of the trip!

So here we are sitting in a campsite in Opuwu, in northern Namibia, waiting for a storm to blow our way with welcome, cooling rain. It’s been a hot and dusty few weeks, but with some great experiences, one of which will prove to be a major highlight of our trip I am certain!

A la prochaine.


Moon rises over our bush camp
First dig out of trouble
Fish River Canyon
African Squirrel
DSCN0384 (2)
Actually only just outside Swak, but looks good!
A tiny section of seal colony at Cape Cross
Our morning visitors
Moving on
First rain, first rainbow!
Himba women in Opuwu

Shaken and Stirred

Well, we’ve made it down as far as Luderitz!  What a week it’s been – shake, rattle (and no roll thankfully) as well as dust, dust and more dust!  Corrugations! OMG!

Funny how you can forget these things isn’t it?  Despite having driven across the Sahara desert, over the worst corrugations possible in Mauritania and through a dust storm in Libya we were somehow still a bit taken by surprise when we hit our first set of corrugations just south of Walvis Bay, en route to Mirabeb, a small camping spot in the middle of nowhere in the Namib Naukluft Park.  Luckily for us, when the bumper fell off Buster, Bruce somehow heard the sound above the noise of the rattling and shaking!  Also, weirdly, it was only when we stopped the vehicle that the bolt conveniently chose that moment to fall out of the exhaust!  Sadly though, one of the cupboards was unsecured (remember the exploding wine bottle scenario on our last sailing trip, T, J, S & G?) Well, it turns out that my prized break resistant Corelle vitrelle china can’t quite cope with being violently hurled from a height onto a hard floor!

Nevertheless, fabulous to be back on the road (or off it) again!  I must say, Bruce’s skill when it comes to driving on-road, off-road, through soft sand, over rocky ground, avoiding holes (massive great badger-sett sized holes dotted around) and other hazards (such as small ravines!) is par excellence!

What  an amazing landscape! From flat and bleak looking, to Dartmoor-like huge boulder outcrops, to rolling Scottish-like hills, to long escarpments, to towering sand dunes.  The colours are extraordinary (especially through polarizing sunglasses!)  My camera just can’t do it justice unfortunately, I should have got a polarizing filter!

We have already seen some fabulous wildlife including Zebra, Oryx, Wildebeest, Ostrich, Springbok and Vultures. There are amazing Weaver bird colonies in the trees or at the top of telegraph poles along the route, there were Kestrels on the rocks above Mirabeb and for our second night on the road we were treated to the fantastic sight of a herd of Zebra coming down to drink from a watering hole right in front of us at the campsite.

On Thursday we reached Sesrium, from where it is possible to drive to Sossusvlei to see the vast red sand dunes. However, before setting off to Sossusvlei we were on a mission to get our gas tank filled. Back in UK Bruce had contacted the Ballooning company at Sesrium to ask if they would supply us with gas which they agreed to do.  It is just about the only place we can get gas because of the compatibility of fittings so we were relying on them. Luckily it all worked well (after a bit of fiddling around with pipes, fittings, valves etc etc – all gobbledygook stuff to me).

The 60-odd km from Sesrium to Sossusvlei (barring the final 4 km) is tarmac.  I cannot tell you how blissful it was, after being shaken to pieces over the last couple of days, to drive smoothly, able to hear other than the sound of rattling!  I even had a go at driving myself, which worked out absolutely fine until we got to the end of the tarmac and I drove straight into soft sand!  Once we’d swapped drivers, dear old Betty Buster managed to chug along a fair way in 4WD, and I am sure we’d have reached the end if an official hadn’t come along and advised us to go back as we are too heavy to manage the worsening sand!  Bruce was very tempted to carry on but erred on the side of caution.

We have been spending heavily over-budget during our first couple of weeks so wherever possible we wild camp, which isn’t a problem when away from towns.  We would prefer to get away from the road but the route so far has been bordered by fencing (is this for cattle or game?  Not sure what exactly is being kept in or out because despite the fencing there are plenty of Oryx and other animals wandering about on the road).  On a couple of nights we have parked up just by the side of the road, it’s not like there is any traffic anyway!  Once it is dark not one vehicle has gone past.

After Sesrium we had one more day of dirt road to drive before reaching black top at Aus.  But this was the sort of dirt road it’s great to drive on – newly lain and mostly smooth! Joy!  We were on our way to the campsite at Aus when we spotted a nice dry riverbed area where a culvert runs under the railway so decided to save some more pennies.  Very decently, Eva Braun waited until the morning before turfing us off her land (named Eagles’ Nest – get it?)

From Aus it is a 100km drive to Luderitz, along dead straight tarmac road with nothing but the occasional picnic spot (a table under a shade).  After about 80 km we passed a man hiking along purposefully in the opposite direction, pulling a four-wheeled trolley with his belongings. That is quite a feat of endurance!

We are now at the very pleasant campsite on Shark Island, a promontory attached to Luderitz where we are spending a few days of essential maintenance, ie getting rid of as much of the dust as possible from inside the van, and screwing various bits back on which have fallen off or loosened up while rattling over those bloomin’ corrugations!

Anyone familiar with Bruce and his prediliction for “bits of wood” will appreciate it when I tell you he got up super early this morning in order to go and half-inch a couple of choice morsels (off-cuts) from a building site just outside our camp!

Till the next time!

Walvis Bay & Swakopmund

We’re here!  Writing this from Desert Sky Backpackers in Swakopmund just north of Walvis Bay on the coast of Namibia, where there is an attractive though small camping area for campervans and overlanders in pleasant gardens, and two resident dogs, as lazy as lazy can be!

We had a frustrating 6 day wait in Walvis Bay until Betty Buster arrived on the ship, Cosco Tengfei. Walvis is a strange place indeed. Not somewhere you would want to be holed up in a b&b for 6 days, unless your idea of heaven is dinner every night in a shopping mall!  The only decent place we found was a nice little cafe on the waterfront where we idled some hours away watching the seals basking, the flamingos shimmering in the distance, and the pelicans gathering to contemplate and rest their enormous beaks,  but it closed at 3pm every day!

After a final day of waiting in Betty Shilongo’s office at BS Clearing (think Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency) together with half a dozen highly entertaining chaps (patiently awaiting their UK imported cars for onward import to Zambia and Zimbabwe) and several thousand N$ the lighter, we at last took possession of our precious cargo, to be home for the next 5 months, hoorah!

A quick inspection revealed that nothing had been pinched from inside our van, phew!  But Bruce is a bit annoyed with himself for having left a rather vital metal pin in the front bumper which had disappeared. Ah well, c’est la vie.

Although it was fairly late in the day, we made our getaway from Walvis and drove straight up the coast to Swakopmund and booked in to Desert Sky Backpackers which is conveniently located close to the centre.  Not bothering to unpack anything – desperate for a beer as usual – we hot-footed it in to town and were delighted to find several bars/restaurants!  Wow, an actual choice and not just steak house or pizzaria!!  We had the best meal in a week at a seafood restaurant and retired contented to sleep our FIRST NIGHT EVER in Betty Buster!

Luckily for us, and our forthcoming tour, the bed is comfortable!

This is where we will be for a few days because, as some of you know, there are one or two little things to be finished in the van!  Such as ….. the water!  Although Bruce and Tim worked all hours to get the plumbing done before shipping, Bruce didn’t actually have time to finish fitting the pump and test it!  What do you think happened when he turned it all on yesterday?…..  That’s right!  (Hey Timbo – Bruce says it’s all the bits you fitted that are leaking!  As well as all the bits he fitted of course!  As soon as he tightens up one connection, another springs a leak!)

The other finishing touches to be undertaken are less vital.  However, as Bruce discovered when he drove the van out of the port, the button to stop the engine no longer works, which is a pain as it means he has to stall the engine every time he parks – not good.  Despite extensive investigation, he can’t figure it out so we are now looking for a decent Mercedes mechanic!

Swakopmund is entirely different in every way to Walvis Bay.  It is a more attractive town for a start, with a few trees (which Walvis has none whatsoever of) and there are older, more characterful buildings.  There is a centre, with both shops and bars and restaurants – Walvis had streets and streets of shops and offices but you could search all day and not find a place to eat or drink (apart from a small area around the bay, or at the out of town shopping mall).  Swakopmund is much more touristy so we are looking forward to getting everything finished on the van, stocking up with supplies and heading out to discover some real Namibia!

By the way, for those interested in the climate, it is a lovely warm temperature during the day, and very changeable from sunshine to cloud and breezy, cooling off a lot in the evening.  It was incredibly windy when we were right by the sea in Walvis Bay but doesn’t seem so windy here as we are staying a short way in from the front.  To avoid the high winds was one of the reasons we chose to stay at Desert Sky instead of the campsites on the beach.

More anon, hopefully from somewhere further down south.  We must make our way to Sossusvlei before too long in order to get our gas tank filled up.


OFBT round southern Africa 2017/18

We are two old folks, who like to think of ourselves as seasoned travellers, with a yearning for adventure (well, one has the yearning for adventure and the other a keen sense of caution, but desperately doesn’t want to miss out), about to embark on our third big trip, together with Buster (or Betty) our wonderful mighty 4X4 Mercedes T2 who is just one year short of being officially classed as a “historical” vehicle, bless him/her!

2017-09-30 16.11.30 (2)


Personae non grata (I mean personae dramatis – sorry I did say we are old!)

The leading man is Bruce and he really is a seasoned traveller having started trotting around the globe aged 19 in 1977, with no intention of hanging up his boots any time soon! By the time Bruce and Jo met in 1984 he had already trotted round Europe, the Americas (north, central and south), Asia, Australia and New Zealand and East Africa! Bruce is a trucker back home so driving Miss Daisy (sorry, I mean Buster/Betty) will be a piece of cake to him.

Our leading lady is Jo, Joey, Josie (take your pick) who first got a taste for travel when she signed up for a London to Jo’Burg overland trip in 1983 and had her mind blown by the wonders of Africa.  Jo is a dog lady (walker/carer) back home and will no doubt be wanting to pick up every stray she meets en route.

Together, we have undertaken a couple of major trips, the first was 6 months round West Africa and the second was 6 months circumnavigating the Med (through eastern Europe, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia) in 2006 with Bronco our 4×4 Iveco Turbo Daily.

2005-10-26 13.09.38

Our supporting act on this occasion is Buster/Betty the mighty Merc.

(We haven’t been able to decide on his/her true identity yet so we are waiting for this to be revealed on the road.  It took Bruce two years to find our Mercedes (registered in 1993), eventually acquiring her in Norway, where she had been used as a police surveillance vehicle.  It has taken another two years to convert the Merc to a camper (well, one and a half years sitting in a barn, five months hard graft and a month of utter panic and calling on talented, willing friends to help) ready for shipping down to Walvis Bay in Namibia.

She’s off!  Bruce has delivered our van to Sheerness where she will embark on a ship to Namibia.  Safe journey Betty Buster! See you on the quayside of Walvis Bay on 4th November.

2017-09-01 14.49.44


That’s the scene set – wait for the next Act, once we’re on the road!

If anyone wants more detailed information about the van, the conversion, the trip preparation, the paperwork or any other aspect, please contact us (once I’ve sussed how to put up a Contact page!).

Blog at

Up ↑