November - December 2019
  • Day95

    Johannesburg - Day 4 Final Day in Africa

    February 27, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ 🌙 22 °C

    I slept reasonably well and got up early for a shower at 6.30am in order to leave time to finish packing all my possessions before checking out of my safari tent at 10am. It proved to be more of a squeeze to get everything into my large and smaller rucksacks than I had anticipated the previous day and I had to dispose of more unneeded things to make room. As I threw out my trial running/water shoes into a dustbin that I had worn pretty constantly during the journey and were now worn through on both toes and smelt terribly, one of the local hostel employees came up to me and asked for the shoes to wear. I explained that the shoes were in a terrible state but he insisted that he could patch them up and wanted to have them. I, of course, let him have them, and he thanked me and also asked for a pair of shorts that I had bought during the trip that were worn and stained. If there was ever a clear demonstration of the disparity of wealth and throw away consumer culture between my country and Africa then this was it. This man was delighted to have something that I was throwing away. I heard from the tour leader, Jemma, the following day that she had seen the man wearing my former shoes.
    After finishing my packing, I went to have the light breakfast of cereal and toast provided by the hostel. I was joined by Graham and later Jemma and Grant. After breakfast I took my large rucksack out of my tent and stored it securely in a room behind the reception area. I kept my smaller rucksack with me. Grant had discovered to his dismay that we had picked up a puncture on one of the tyres of the hire car that we used for our excursion the previous day and he had to change the tyre. Afterwards, Jemma and Grant came and said their goodbyes to me as they were going to the caves in the 'Cradle of Humankind' and I would be heading for my flight home before they returned. Jemma had been an amazingly helpful and friendly tour leader during my trip and Grant had also been a kind, helpful and very enjoyable companion on the journey. It was sad to say goodbye and I knew I would miss them both. Grant kindly invited me to come and stay in New Zealand so I will hopefully see them both again in the future. This really did signal the end of my journey in Africa.
    I then rested, wrote more of my blog, and waited for my transport to the airport provided by the hostel at 4pm. I sat with Graham on one of the picnic benches in the garden area near the pool. We had an enjoyable conversation and I discussed my thoughts about how I would like to take my creativity forwards by combining the writing in my blog, the photographs I had taken on the journey, and make artwork of the journey on my return home. The conversation clarified my creative intentions on my return.
    I had a cooked lunch at the hostel and Graham and I had one last game of pool which we had played a lot over the previous few weeks in different hostels. This particular table was very challenging as the tip was coming off the cue, making playing shots extremely difficult, and there was a big roll on the table.
    Writing my blog and transferring the many photos of animals I had taken the previous day from my camera to my phone meant that the day passed quickly and I was soon settling my bill and getting out my large rucksack in preparation to board the people carrier to the airport.
    We drove through the busy traffic to the airport and I was joined by three other travellers who were flying home to Belfast and Paris. I arrived at the terminal quite early for my flight so waited a while in the terminal foyer until I checked in my large rucksack. I passed through security and had sandwiches for tea while I waited to go to the departure lounge. When I got to the departure lounge, I saw that my flight would be on the large, double decked A380 aircraft which is one of those aircraft that you wonder how it gets off the ground. I was soon then boarding the plane and heading along the runway and lifting up into the night skies with a glittering view over the orange and yellow city lights of Johannesburg. As we left Johannesburg the view out of the window faded into complete darkness. I ate the impressive vegan meal provided by the airline, had two glasses of red wine and watched BBC documentaries of African wildlife on my video screen. Watching all the animals that I'd seen on my journey through Africa in the documentaries, made me quite emotional and helped me to realise how much I had seen and experienced over the previous three months. My experience of seeing these African animals on the screen was richer and deeper now that I had seen them in real life and so close at hand. I now had a deep sense of their spirit, their particular personalities and their ways of being in the world. They had a strong familiarity and recognition to me now which wasn't the case before my journey in Africa. I knew that this would help to deepen my artistic response to them for my upcoming creative project.
    I was fortunate to sit next to a very friendly older couple, living in Bude, Cornwall, who had just been to the Krueger National park and had been on several other safaris in Africa. We were therefore able to share our stories about our wildlife experiences and our love of the African wildlife which helped pass some of the ten hours of the flight enjoyably.
    I tried and failed to get some sleep on the plane as we hurtled through the dark night. Apart from a few minutes of light dozing I find it extremely difficult to sleep on any transport and found it equally difficult to sleep on our overland truck no matter how tired I was. I took the opportunity to sort out the photos for several of my most recent blogs and waited out the long hours of the flight which experienced quite a lot of turbulence at times. Turbulence had previously made me feel a little anxious on flights, but I now seemed to associate the bumping and bouncing of the turbulence with the bumping and bouncing of our overland truck. I therefore now found it strangely comforting and nostalgic.
    In managing to keep myself busy, the flight passed relatively quickly through the dark hours of the night. As we crossed the Mediterranean into Europe, I could see the lights of cities and towns below to remind me of the dominating presence of human activity in this part of the world. Earlier I had seen the lights of small towns that seemed to be illuminating the red sands of a desert that must have been the sands of North Africa. About an hour and a half before we were due to land at Heathrow airport, the lights came on and the flight attendants brought us breakfast. I enjoyed another good quality vegan breakfast of beans and vegetables with fruit. We were soon reaching the English coast and preparing for landing. As we slowly descended, there was a wonderful clear view over the enormous city of London lit up brightly below, with the pitch black curves of the waters of the river Thames snaking through, crossed by the many bridges like glittering bands around the river snake's body. We kept descending to a smooth landing on the airport runway and taxied into to where we would depart the plane. There was a rail shuttle to the security and baggage reclaim areas from Terminal 5 which took me a little while to work out. Once there, it was easy to pass through the automated security and find my rucksack on the baggage carousel. However, things did not go so smoothly after this. I found the National Express coach stop in good time, but a customer service representative misled me as to which coach to catch meaning that I watched my coach come and go and had to get a new ticket for a coach that left over an hour later. It was a genuine miscommunication by a not very competent member of staff, but my extreme tiredness from not sleeping all night, and my frustration at actually watching my booked coach come and go, meant that I became very angry with him, and over reacted to the situation, making a complaint, which I regretted later. This journey had further taught me how my moods tended towards extremes when I was very tired and I reflected on how I could manage these vicissitudes of mood better on future travels and in life in general.
    The temperature felt very cold relative to the stifling heat of Johannesburg and I had to put extra layers on. The rain had also been falling steadily as I boarded the later coach and we headed through the airport terminal stops towards the M4 motorway. I watched the English winter countryside roll by the coach window and reflected on the extreme contrast with the huge vistas I had witnessed from the truck across Africa. English countryside was on a much smaller scale, but still has it's own lush darker green beauty, and in passing several roe deer in a field, i was reminded how it has it's own special wildlife. What the sheer density of life in Africa had taught me though, was that wildlife in Britain has been desperately depleted by industrialisation and intensive farming, confirming my passionate belief in the vital need to rewild the Bristish landscape as well as protecting the diminishing wildlife in a rapidly industrialising Africa and wider world.
    The coach arrived in Bristol which looked very familiar as if visiting a place I once knew well but hadn't seen for many years. The intensity and volume of experiences I had been through over the previous three months had seemed like years in the making. I got an Uber taxi back home from the bus station and had the same experience when I entered my flat. It was as if I had lived there years ago, and couldn't quite remember where everything was or the daily routines I carried out there. My room had the same quality of seeming like it had been unlived in for many years. It felt like it had been deserted like the Marie Celeste and didn't quite welcome me back into its fold. One of my flatmates, Tom, had left the flat to go and live with his girlfriend in January but my other flatmate, Beth, was still there and her boyfriend was staying over the weekend. I emailed Beth at work to let her know I was back and it was good to catch up with her and Tim in the evening and talk about my many experiences in Africa. Beth listened attentively and told me about changes in her working life as she had left her job to start Social Worker training. However, I realised that I was in a position familiar to travellers, that noone at home could really understand what I had been through and experienced in my long journey through Africa. The only people that could really understand were my fellow travellers. It was therefore comforting the following day to be in touch with my fellow travellers on WhatsApp and continue the humorous banter that we had had during our trip. I already missed Africa more than I could express and knew it would take some time and some well needed rest to adapt to daily life back in England.
    A couple of days later I looked at the nature ritual wheel that I used to connect with nature on a daily basis. I had placed 24 African animals around the wheel before I departed for Africa, none of which I had ever seen in the wild. In the long journey around Africa, I had now seen all these 24 animals and so many more which meant that I could connect with them more deeply when doing my daily nature rituals and making art and writing about them. I was closer to their natures and therefore that much closer to my own nature. We need this connection and witnessing of life on Earth to know who we are and our place in it and the wider cosmos. I had found such a place, like so many before me, in the wide plains of a wild Africa which stands as a fading beacon of the wild world we need to recreate and restore to this precious, but ailing, planet that is our one and only true home.
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  • Day94

    Johannesburg - Day 3

    February 26, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    I got up at 7.45am which felt like a long lie in after all the very early mornings on our trip. I got a hot shower and had the light breakfast provided by the hostel. Often, our wonderful driver, was due to leave with his faithful truck, Chui, at 9am that morning and head all the way back to Nairobi where he lives and the truck is kept. I had a last look around the truck to say my 'goodbyes' to our travelling home for the last three months. Then it was time to say a fond farewell to Often who had been so helpful and kind during our trip. I asked Often to sing the ubiquitous Swahili 'Jambo' song one more time so that I could record it and also recorded him saying his cheerful 'Jambo, jambo' good morning which we heard every morning as he arrived for breakfast. It was now my turn to sadly wave off the truck and say goodbye as Often drove off and away.
    Grant and our tour leader, Jemma, then had an intriguing proposition for Graham and I - They were planning to hire a car as part of their longer stay in South Africa and were going to visit another local wildlife park, the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, near to Johannesburg - They kindly offered to take us along for the ride which we readily agreed to.
    I went back to my tent to do my final packing for my flight the following day and made good progress, throwing out all the things I no longer needed and managed to squeeze the rest tightly into my larger rucksack.
    I had some quick lunch in the hostel bar. It was then time to say a fond farewell to Brian who had been a very kind and valued friend all through the long journey from the beginning to the end. He was also a very witty and humorous Irishman who could remain positive and optimistic in the most trying of circumstances - something I often failed to do and could learn from. We hugged goodbye and agreed that we would keep in touch.
    Grant, Jemma, Graham and I then got a lift to the airport to pick up the hire car which unfortunately took over 45 minutes to organise with Eurocar, leaving us less time for our planned safari. We drove out of Johannesburg with the city centre skyscrapers shining in the hazy distance and arrived at the wildlife park about an hour later. The park was in the the same 'Cradle of Humankind' area that we had visited the previous day. It was a smaller park with fenced, but quite large enclosures for different animals. The enclosures for the predators was due to close at 4pm so we drove to there first. We had to drive through the much larger park area for herbivores to get to the carnivores and saw a lot of zebra, eland, wildebeest and warthogs along the way. It was wonderful to see these beautiful African animals for one last time before I left Africa especially as it was unexpected that I would get another chance. We arrived at the gated predator enclosures and entered the lion enclosure. We could see lions in the distance lazing under a tree but couldn't get close on the available tracks through the bush. We therefore drove through another gate to the wild dogs enclosure. We drove around the perimeter track and actually saw white lions close by in the adjoining enclosure. These were stunning looking, large lions with their white coats and manes. We really wanted to see the wild dogs and so started another loop of the perimeter and were quickly rewarded by seeing three wild dogs lying in the shade of a small tree. They looked up as we arrived and I was able to get some nice photos of them. The wild dogs got up a couple of times to walk around before lying back down. They were quite nervous and would jump up if they heard an unfamiliar noise such as workmen working in a nearby enclosure. I was very pleased to see these rare and endangered animals for the first time before I left Africa. We then drove through another gate into the cheetah enclosure. Again, we drove around the perimeter and again we saw two male white lions in the adjoining enclosure. As we continued around the perimeter red mud track we came across two cheetah lying in the shade of a bush out of the hot African sun. One of the cheetahs was lying in the open right in front of us and was a particularly beautiful example of these sleek and lithe cats. We then drove up to the white lion enclosure gate. Unfortunately, one of the large male white lions had laid down near the gates and it was not possible for the woman who opened the gates for the cars to open the gate as the lion was too close to her. She then somewhat bizarrely started throwing small stones at the lion and shouting to him to move away. The lion moved a few metres and laid down, refusing to move again. This seemed to be far enough away for the woman and she opened the gate for us. We then got some great views of this very large and beautiful white maned lion as he looked about and then stood up to walk a few more metres before lying down in the long grass again. We saw several more white lions almost hidden in the long grass as we continued up the track. We later saw an impressive looking female lioness at more of a distance before we left the white lion enclosure and returned to the wild dog enclosure to try to see them again, but this time they had completely disappeared into the long grass of the enclosure and made us realise how lucky we had been to see them and the other predators. We then returned to the normal lion enclosure. As we drove around the perimeter track, we decided to take a turn down quite a rough looking track that bisected the enclosure and were rewarded by seeing two male lions lying in the shade of the bush right by the road. We then saw a lioness peering at us through the bushes. We left the predator enclosures and drove back through the herbivore's enclosure to an area of smaller caged enclosures. Here we saw white tigers and their cubs, a male leopard, a black female leopard and their cub, black jaguar's and their cubs and two more white tiger cubs. While it was lovely to see these exotic breeds of predators, I felt uncomfortable about the small size of the enclosures and saw the huge male white tiger was pacing around like a bored prisoner. These animals are used to travelling over large territories in the wild and I feel it is cruel to keep them captive in such relatively small spaces.
    After the small enclosures, we drove back out into the large herbivore's enclosure. We saw blue striped wildebeest which were magnificent looking beasts with thick, curved horns. We passed a waterhole area filled with zebra, sable, oryx, wildebeest, ostrich and warthogs. As we drove by on our way back to the main gate with only 15 minutes to go until they closed the park, we saw a white rhino walking up to the same waterhole on the other side of the road. We stopped and reversed up the road to watch this magnificent icon of Africa walk up and cross the road right behind the vehicle. We were about to drive off again, when another five white rhino walked up towards the road. We reversed again so that they all passed in front of us and up to the waterhole. The male followed behind the females and was clearly nervous and a bit skittish about our vehicle being close by. He jumped around as an antelope walked behind him. We reversed back along the road as we were concerned that the male rhino would decide to charge the car which would put all our lives at risk. We reversed onto a different road and drove back to the main gates that way. We were all exhilarated to have had another close encounter with wild rhino just before we left the park and it was a wonderful way to finish my experience of African wildlife on this long journey across Africa.
    We then drove back to our hostel in the outskirts of Johannesburg while a beautiful red sunset was forming above the motorway with a large orange sun descending through the bright clouds and shedding rays over the centre of Johannesburg. As we arrived back at the hostel the sun became a deeper orange as it closed down on the residential horizon. Soon after an orange crescent moon lifted above the horizon into the clear, darkening sky. This was another wonderful final view of the epic African skies at sunset. We waited for our beef stew dinner at the hostel and I again retired early to my tent, but sat outside writing my blog before going in to sleep and saw a few bats darting through the night sky. I went to bed and slowly fell asleep in the cooling night to draw a final veil of dreams over my last night in Africa.
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  • Day93

    Johannesburg Day 2 - Cradle of Humankind

    February 25, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 20 °C

    I got up early at 6.30am for Kristen, Brian, Graham and my planned trip to the 'Cradle of Humankind' which is an area of many limestone caves near to Johannesburg where evidence of many fossilized early hominid bones have been found. We had a nice breakfast of cereal and toast in the communal kitchen before getting an Uber taxi to the Maropeng Visitor Centre where there was a large and impressive museum of information about the geological history of the Earth and the complex web of fossil finds in local caves indicating our many early hominid forebears, some of whom became our ancestors and some of whom went extinct. It was incredible to think of the expanses of time during which our early ancestors were living in this region along with many now extinct animals such as a long legged hyena that probably hunted more than scavenged like current hyenas do. The museum outlined the complex webs of hominid evolution with a more recent find of a previously unknown species of early homonid, Homo Naledi, where many skeletons and bones were found in the back corner of a cave where they could not have been washed in, indicating that these early hominids had burial rites where they placed bones of their dead in a particular place. It was previously thought that this was the preserve of later hominids like our own homo sapien ancestors. The museum also outlined the various theories as to how hominids departed their birthplace in Africa in several waves into Asia, Australia and Europe, and how modern humans may have followed this same path and displaced or absorbed earlier hominid migrators through interbreeding like the Neanderthals who went extinct relatively recently several thousand years ago. The museum was very interactive and would have been a fun way for older children to learn about hominid evolution as well. There is clearly a lot of speculation about this complex hominid evolution and ideas are changing with ongoing new and exciting fossil discoveries. This area of Africa is proving to be a fruitful place for this exploration of our ancient past. I reflected on how this journey had taken us back to the birthplace of all our most distant ancestors, right back to early mammals and monkeys. It was humbling to think about.
    After the museum, we went to the Sterkfontein Caves for a guided tour of the caves where the fossilized bones of early Australopithecus hominids have been discovered in quite large number including The Taung Child, Mrs. Ples and Little Foot. Most of these unfortunate early hominids had fallen into the cave through the many sink holes and never managed to escape, were calcified and then fossilized over thoisands of years where they were then discovered during archeological digs. Some of the chambers of these caves were of an impressive size. As we left the caves we could pass a current excavation and look over the surrounding landscape and imagine these early ape faced hominids walking in small communities across the land many hundreds of thousands and even millions of years ago. The museum had earlier displayed some very good reconstructions of what these early small hominids would have looked like.
    After our enjoyable visit to the Cradle of Humankind we got the same Uber taxi back to the Backpackers Connection hostel about an hour away. We ordered some lunch at the bar and had some cool drinks to combat the increasingly hot weather. Kristen was then due to leave for the airport at 4pm and we all said our goodbyes to her. I had enjoyed some interesting conversations with Kriaten during our trip and we also had a shared interest in ancient rock art and early hominid evolution which had led us to find sites with rock paintings and it was Kristen who had found and organised our trip to the Cradle of Humankind that day. I was also thinking of doing the same Oasis Overlamd trip through central Asia that Kristen is planning to do.
    After Kristen's departure, we played pool doubles, and Jemma and Grant finally beat myself and Graham which they had previously been unable to do - they were both pleased to have broken our undefeated status. I then returned to the porch of my safari tent to write my blog as the evening cooled.
    Brian, Graham, Jemma, Grant, Oftan, Chris and I, all had dinner of sausage and mash in the hostel dining room at 8pm. We chatted about our travels and the potential impact that the Corona virus will have for future travels. We all retired to our tents, rooms and dorms after the late dinner. My tent was very cool again as I went off to sleep.
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  • Day92

    Journey to Johannesburg

    February 24, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    I got up early at 5.45am after my last night camping in the tent on this trip. It had been another cold night but i slept quite well with all my sleeping layers on. However, when I opened up the tent zip in the hope of seeing a clearer sunny sky, I was very disappointed to see another morning of low misty cloud hiding the mountain views. We had hoped to trek to see the renowned Amphitheatre of mountains but it would be unlikely that we would see it in this weather. I got a hot shower at the shower block and joined my fellow travellers for a light breakfast of cereals and toast from the truck. The mood was a bit gloomy to match our disappointment with the weather. After breakfast, I was still hopeful that the weather might break and wanted to do the morning trek to the viewpoint for Amphitheatre despite the poor weather. However, my fellow travellers were not so keen and wanted to drive straight to Johannesburg so I was outvoted. As we left the campsiite, crossed the now heavily flooded bridge over the swollen river, and headed out past the ever present troop of baboons, onto the main road, I struggled with my disappointment at not being able to view the Drakensburg mountains on our last day of the trip. We headed down along the lovely river valley and we could see the nearer mountains but not the high mountains of the Amphitheatre beyond. There were bright patches in the sky with the sun peaking through so it looked as though the weather may clear later in the day which was even more frustrating. As we continued back up and through the lower, but still impressive mountains and valleys we had passed going towards the park two days earlier, I began to process my disappointment and remember all the wonderful things I had seen previously on the trip. We saw two kudu by the fence of a wildlife park. We then passed out into more open pastoral countryside and the sun began to peak through the clouds more and more until there was clear blue sky. Howecer, the wind continued to blow very cool into the truck.
    We continued travelling through very western looking countryside of trees and fields and the views were less interesting than the mountainous views we had seen through most of South Africa. The terrain flattened out into large wheat fields which had amazing looking small black birds, 'Wedos'?, with huge ribbon like black tails that dangled below them as they hovered over the wheat sheaves. We stopped in a small service station to buy lunch and some provisions.
    After a few hours, we arrived at the outskirts of Johannesburg and at our campsite, Backpackers Connection. We acknowledged that this was our last stop on this amazing journey across Africa and that we would no longer be boarding our faithful truck, Chui (meaning 'leopard' in Swahili). I felt quite nostalgic and emotional leaving the truck for the last time. We headed for the reception and were shown around the bar, pool and communal kitchen and then to our rooms, dorms, and tents. I had booked a safari tent which was nice, but very hot in the afternoon sun.
    I began to move all my travelling possessions from the truck to my tent. When I went to collect the last of my things, there was no one else on the truck. I therefore sat down in the seat I had most often sat in on the trip, I looked around the truck and up towards the front where the 'beach' opening at the top of the truck was. So many wonderful memories came in a jumbled procession, of time spent on the truck with my fellow travellers, the amazing views I had seen from the beach, all the hundreds of animals I had seen, like the mother cheetah with her cubs, or the black rhino mock charging the truck, or the lionness running alongside, all the thousands of African people I had waved to from the truck through twelve countries, and all the amazing landscapes and vistas I had seen. All these images and more passed through my mind as I looked around the truck and I mused at all the memories that it carried with it along the road with more experiences to come with its next set of travellers. I felt very emotional leaving it behind.
    I spent the afternoon with my fellow travellers, swimming in the pool, drinking cool drinks from the bar, and playing pool doubles on the pool table. I went back over to the truck to see our driver, Often, to photograph his log book that had all our stops, campsites and mileage written down and would give me a record of all our campsites on the trip for my blog. Often and I talked about how we had enjoyed sharing our mutual interest in the wildlife during the trip. Often had enjoyed my interest and questions about species of animals and birds, and I had greatly enjoyed and valued his knowledge of the wildlife. We agreed to keep in touch on Facebook and that I would be in touch with him about any future trips to Africa that I planned.
    I then got ready for our final joint meal in the evening. I enjoyed our conversation, humorous banter and reminiscences about our long 9000 mile journey. I sat next to Often and we had some final banter and I was able to give him a tip for all his help and kindness during the trip. The founder and CEO of Oasis Overland was in Africa to meet the crews and drivers of the trucks and was due to meet with our tour leader, Jemma, who was likely going to work for Oasis in South America, and our driver, Often, who would need a new tour leader to train up or take on the role himself in the future when Jemma left. Chris joined us for dinner and asked us a lot about our experience of the trip. We, of course, gave great praise to our excellent tour leader and driver. I also mentioned how helpful Katie had been in the Oasis office in England when I was planning the trip. Chris talked about his experiences travelling and the trips that Oasis planned in the future. It was interesting and timely to meet Chris and hear his thoughts at the end of our journey with Oasis Overland.
    We got a lift back to the campsite from the manager of the site. I said my goodbyes to Often, and thanked Jemma for all her help and support during the trip. We all then retired to bed as it was getting late in the evening. I settled down to sleep as the night cooled considerably under a clear, starry sky.
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  • Day91

    Maloti Drakensberg Park - Day 2

    February 23, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☁️ 14 °C

    As I got up at around 7am after a reasonably good night's sleep despite the heavy rain, I was very disappointed to find that it was still raining lightly with low heavy clouds that reduced visibility markedly. This was exactly the weather we didn't want for trekking in the mountains and enjoying the views. I got a, thankfully, hot shower as it was very cool with the rain, and joined my fellow travellers under the tarpaulin for a leisurely breakfast of cereal and toast. We managed to keep a good sense of humour and had some fun banter about how Brian was using the Irish rain gods to create the rain, and I was trying to counteract his 'magic' by summoning up some sunshine. So far, Brian was winning hands down. A troop of baboons were mischievously patrolling the campsite looking for free food and were being chased off by various campers, some armed with sticks. Kristen, Brian and I retreated to the relative warmth of the truck to read and write and pass the time while it rained.
    Throughout the morning the drizzly rain occasionally abated, the cloudy sky brightened a little and I became hopeful that we may be able to go for a trek to view the mountain scenery. However, no sooner did I have that thought, than the skies darkened and the rain began to fall again. This happened several times throughout the morning. We decided to go to the park's Visitors Centre about a 15 minute walk down the road. I made a quick sandwich to eat along the way. We left the high fenced campsite and walked down by a very swollen river with all the rain we'd had. The river was actually flowing over the low road bridge. The visitor centre had some helpful information and a 3D model of the impressive Drakensberg mountain amphitheatre which showed potential walks. I was still interested to do one of the walks if the weather cleared but so far it hadn't done so. It also had some information about some ancient rock paintings nearby which sounded like a good alternative activity. My fellow traveller, Kristin, is also interested in rock paintings and so we decided to walk up the road for about 30 minutes to where the path to the paintings began. It continued to rain so that we got pretty wet along the way. There was nowhere obvious as to where we could pay for the guided walk, so we decided to walk up the rocky and slippery path ourselves. After about 30 minutes of climbing we came over a rise into a very attractive valley filled with trees. On our right was a large rock face which had clearly been cut into, damaged, and excavated like a quarry. Further along we found some rather faint, but interesting, rock paintings in red and white pigments. Again, the more you looked, the more you could see. There were some nice renditions of antelope, and a whole series of figures in various poses in white pigment. To the right was a rendition of a buffalo or bull and what looked like a frontal depiction of a giraffe. Then I saw some more vivid and well drawn renditions of antelope high up on the rock that were the best preserved of the paintings. However, we didn't see the impressive animal rock paintings that were in the photo at the visitor centre and then realised by re-reading the information from the centre that most of the better depictions of animals in the rock art had been literally blasted from the rock using dynamite by the British many years ago and were now placed in a museum. This explained the damaged state of the rock face, and we wondered how people could be so ignorant as to blast out rock paintings from such a special and evocative place. We had therefore been unable to see the best images, but I was still pleased to have seen the wonderfully rendered animals that were there. Kristen and I then had the long trek back down the path and along the road back to the campsite. When we reached the bottom of the path we encountered a large troop of baboons including a mother with a small baby clinging to her back and looking at us curiously. There was also another very tame bushbuck antelope feeding amidst the troop of baboons. I reflected that this would possibly be the last time I would see such African animals roaming in the wild and already felt that I would miss this ongoing experience of such animals when I left Africa. Further up the road we saw another tame bushbuck very close to us on the road. We walked back past the visitor centre with the rain still falling. I realised that my hopes to do a trek to see the Drakensberg mountain amphitheatre would be dashed for the rest of the day as the weather wasn't going to lift. This was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the trip on the final day of the trip, but I consoled myself that I had been so lucky to have seen so much on the rest of the trip that at least one such disappointment was to be expected. Kristen and I returned up the path by the swollen river and this time crossed a rickety old wooden suspension bridge over the river to avoid getting our feet wet by crossing the flooded road bridge. When we arrived back at our tents, I retreated to the relative warmth of the truck to rest and dry off. Jemma and Grant returned from doing their clothes washing and we hatched a plan to drive up to a viewing point over to the Amphitheatre the following morning if the weather allowed. It was weather dependent but would give us another opportunity to see this spectacular view of the Drakensberg mountains.
    Kristen, Jemma, Grant and Graham played cards through the afternoon and came into the truck for warmth. I also sat in the truck with Brian and wrote my blog. A couple wearing matching white tops and red shorts arrived at the campsite and spent a long time trying and failing to put up their tent in the rain. Kristen dubbed them Mr. and Mrs, Claus on account of the Christmas colours they both wore, and they provided us with some macabre entertainment as their tent kept collapsing. Then Jemma and Often cooked us a wonderful dinner of soup and cottage pie. Often managed to make a bush oven using hot coals to bake the cheese on top of the cottage pie. It continued to rain and the temperature fell very low so that we could see our breath in the air. I had to put on my fleece for the first time on the trip to keep warm. I opened a bottle of red wine to help keep warm and we all drank some alcohol over dinner, except Often and Brian who don't drink alcohol. The hot soup and cottage pie was delicious and helped keep us warm in the cold night. We reminisced about our long journey now coming to an end and talked about our highlights of the trip. It was a lovely evening of conversation and humorous banter which I knew I would miss when I returned home. I felt fortunate to have travelled with such a friendly and warm group of people throughout this epic journey across Africa and I thought of all the people that I'd met on the trip and the fellow travellers no longer with us. We washed and packed away all our cooking utensils and flapped them dry for the last time on the trip. I stood around the last embers of the burning coals with Brian, Graham and Often and we discussed our journey and how it had seemed so long ago that we started our trip on 26th November 2019. We all then retired to our tents for our last night camping in this unforgettable experience of wild Africa. I slowly fell to sleep with the rain still falling on my tent, the swollen river roaring below and the great continent of Africa stretching thousands of miles to the North, so much of which I had now experienced and seen, and yet so much more of this vast continent I had yet to see and explore. There were many animals prowling and sleeping in the black night that I had now made eye contact with and connected to, and one lion in Antelope park that had somehow managed to open my heart and show me the pure fire of creation.
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  • Day90

    Journey to Maloti Drakensberg Park

    February 22, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 15 °C

    We had another very early start, so I got up at 5.45am for a shower, packed my things onto the truck, and joined my fellow travellers for a light breakfast in the communal kitchen. We had all enjoyed our time in this quirky hostel and lodge and in this wonderful mountain landscape. We headed back along the long and bumpy track back to the main road, passing spectacular mountain scenery that we had missed on the way in because of the rain. We travelled through Lesotho and some sizeable towns, including the capital city. Again, we were waved at and met with friendly smiling faces of adults and children along our way. We passed through countryside with the same warm responses from the local people. We eventually reached the border with South Africa and passed through without difficulty.
    As we journeyed our way towards the Drakensberg mountains we started to see more fascinating geology in the mountains rising from the flat plains in separated sheer rock faces with flat tops. The views of these isolated mountains was once again spectacular and I just kept looking out of the windows on both sides at them passing by in an endless series of shapes with some having giant rock protrusions on their tops - one such rock looked like an enormous Easter Island head statue perched on top of the mountain. We stopped in a town to buy some food for our cook group dinner that evening and to buy our lunch. We continued on through yet more mountain scenery with sheer smoothed rock faces similar to those we'd seen in the valley with the rock paintings the previous day and were probably formed from the same layer of rock. We passed an area of several dams with more wonderful views of the mountains rising up from the rivers and reservoirs. This was also a wildlife park and we saw zebra, wildebeest and kudu. We then began to approach the Drakensberg mountains which were truly an enormous sheer sided wall of mountains on an epic scale. We could see over to an enormous circle of these mountains known as the amphitheatre. We could also see a huge cleft in the peak of a mountain called 'God's window'. We could see waterfalls falling from the top of the wall of mountains hundreds of metres towards the bottom.. We entered the Maloti Drakensberg Park and drove up to our campsite which was impressively nestled amidst the high mountains all around and with a lovely rocky river running nearby. We pitched our tents on the grass and started to prepare our vegetable curry and rice dinner. However, clouds gathered over the mountains and we could hear distant rumbles of thunder. We put up a tarpaulin tied to the truck to protect the cook group from the spots of rain that started to fall. However, we were lucky as we were able to cook and eat our curry without too much rain. After dinner, and washing up, we saw a bushbuck deer tamely walking in our torch light right by our truck. We then sat in the dark and watched a spectacular lightning show behind the mountains which I was able to film. The lightning made wonderful purple colours in the pitch black sky. We retired to our tents just as the storm hit our campsite. The rain began to fall very heavily indeed and monumental claps of thunder and lightning shook the surrounding mountains which amplified the sound down into our campsite. It was all very exciting and I was lucky that my tent stayed dry apart from the odd spot of water falling onto the floor. We were in the mountains and were receiving a heavy dose of mountain weather. After writing my blog, I slowly went off to sleep with thunder still rumbling in the distance and rain falling heavily on my tent.
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  • Day89

    Lesotho - Day 3

    February 21, 2020 in Lesotho ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    We were due to have breakfast at the relatively late hour of 9am so I was able to get up at my leisure. I packed my rucksack for a day's trek I had planned. However, when i tried to open my dorm room door it had completely stuck and wouldn't open so i had to climb out of the window to get out. We had a cooked breakfast of eggs, bacon, mushrooms, beans and toast cooked by the cook group in the communal kitchen.
    After breakfast, Graham, Kristen and I organised to do a trek to a waterfall and then to some caves with ancient 7000 year old rock paintings painted by hunter gatherer bushmen. We were allocated a young local woman as our guide for the day and she took us out of the hostel and down a long hill towards a valley surrounded by high mountains. The guide stopped by a series of graves and told us about the local funeral and burial practice which seemed to be a mixture of ancient burial rites mixed with more recent Christian practice. For example a cow and a sheep were sacrificed and eaten as part of the funerary and burial rites. The family also cut off their hair and mourned until it grew back. The rites were also strictly divided between men and women. If one of twins died there was an even stranger practice where the living twin had to get in the dead twin's coffin and grave and say their dead twins name and say, but I am not him/her, I am the living twin.
    We continued to walk down to a beautiful river valley with a bubbling stream tumbling down it. There were small fields of maize and sunflowers. Apparently, local villagers could claim land for farming with the permission of the chief of the village. We walked along the stream valley with wonderful views of the surrounding mountains until we reached where the stream met a larger river valley. The rain had brought out a carpet of various wild flowers that were visited by a multitude of butterflies and insects. We talked about the density of wildlife and how England would once have had a similar density of life before the intensification of farming. The stream carved through a geological layer of white smooth rock which created sculptural carvings in the rock. A large eagle circled in the thermal updrafts above. We crossed the river with some difficulty as the the river had risen due the heavy rains that fell when we arrived in Lesotho. As we made our way up the lovely river valley towards the waterfalls, the guide realised that the river level was too high to go up the river to reach the waterfalls. We therefore had to climb up a steep, loose rocked, path out of the valley which was a very taxing climb in the hot, strengthening sun as we approached midday. We then crossed over the top of the valley to the top of the waterfalls. The waterfalls were quite high with the river water passing through two narrow outlets to tumble about 30 metres to the floor below. We then had a long walk over and down to the bottom of the waterfalls. As we arrived at the bottom, two herder boys came down and started some very poor drumming on a home made drum in the hope that we would give them money. This rather destroyed the peaceful atmosphere of the place and after a short rest we climbed back up the steep path to the top of the waterfall, climbed back across the valley top, and then had to negotiate a very tricky descent back down the loose rocked, steep path. The rocks rolled under foot and you had to concentrate very carefully not to slip and twist or break an ankle. When we reached the bottom of the valley, we walked back down the valley, and then turned up a long, steep incline up a hill towards the local village. We all got very tired climbing up long incline and rested under a large rock ledge to shelter from the strong, hot sunshine. The views back across the valley to the mountains beyond were again very beautiful. Three young children approached where we were sitting, but did not come too close, and shyly waved at us from a distance. They later cupped their hands to ask for money, emphasising the poverty of the area. There were also children and adults herding sheep and two donkeys, one very young rested in the sunshine. After our rest we passed through the village. Some villagers were friendly and said hello, but others looked at us with a blank expression as if we weren't their. I had noticed this contrast in local people's response to us white tourists already during our stay here.
    We then had a long descent down the other side of the hill towards another valley where the caves and ancient rock paintings were. We could see large, dark clouds gathering over the mountains behind us and could hear worrying rumbles of thunder. but we were lucky as the storm passed by us without raining on us. We had wonderful views over the distant mountains all around us as we slowly descended from the high point of the village. When we dropped down into the new river valley a large group of children ran excitedly down the hill to follow us down. This river valley had huge sheer, polished, rocky sides which opened out into a simply stunning view over the river and to the valley beyond. You could see why the ancient bushmen hunter gatherers regarded this as a special place. We walked down to a small cave and the guide showed us how the bushmen had used this cave acoustically as an impressive echo chamber. I whistled loudly and a perfect echo of my whistle came back a second later as it reverberated down the sheer sided, narrow, rock valley sides. The young children watched on from above and chatted and laughed with each other. After a short rest we continued on down a short path to where another indent in the rocky sides of the valley revealed a number of very interesting 7000 year old rock paintings in red (blood and plant pigment), white, and black (charcoal) colours. Most of the paintings were of elongated human figures with animal heads including birds and antelope heads. Our young female guide suggested that the elongated human figures represented the visionary experiences of the shamans who painted the images. She said that the shamans experienced themselves as tall giants in the landscape. This was a very interesting insight into the nature of the shamanic visionary experiences. There were also images of animals such as antelope, snakes, fish, and a beautifully rendered figure of a large cat. There was also a depiction of a number of human figures congregating together and possibly singing and dancing. This place had a very strong atmosphere and was clearly a sacred place for thousands of years in this stunning valley. The images had faded with time and were difficult to photograph, but you saw more and more in them the longer you looked. We then walked on to another indentation in the smooth yellow rock where there was another series of rock paintings, fewer in number, but perhaps even stranger and more evocative in nature. Some of the figures were painted high up on the rock wall and were more distinct. One of the elongated figures had a birds head and another had two horns. A third figure was more bent over and had a very strange, indefinable, animal like quality. The figures had an other worldliness that almost took you into the visionary experience of the shamans who painted it (apparently only shamans were allowed to paint the images). Another figure that was difficult to make out had an impossibly extended leg and foot which extended for nearly a metre away from the body. This also gave a sense of how the visionary experience allowed the shaman to stretch his spirit body to enormous lengths. We spent some time resting, photographing, and looking at the rock painting. Unfortunately, a third cave with rock paintings was too difficult to reach. We decided to walk back up out of the valley. When we reached the cave with the echo, the children had set up a small choir and sang for us in the hope of us giving them some money. I had no money on me, but left them a big bag of nachos to share among themselves which they seemed quite happy with. We climbed back out of the steep valley with stupendous views of the valley and mountains behind. It was hard work climbing out of the steep valley after many hours of walking up and down steep inclines in this mountain terrain. We then reached a more level path where we could recover our breath a bit. We passed some houses where people waved back in a friendly way - they also knew our local guide. We passed a very old and characterful woman with a dog who also sweetly said hello and goodbye to us. We then had another exhausting climb back up to the hostel and were fantasising about reaching the bar for a cold drink. When finally got there we paid for the guided walk in the reception and I paid in advance for the evening meal. We also left positive comments about our kind and friendly guide in the visitors book which would help her to get future guided walks and gave her a big tip. The guided walks are apparently shared among members of the local community to help give them some extra income.
    I then bought a cold coke in the bar which tasted very good after a long, tiring walk and collapsed into a chair. The evening sun cast long shadows across the distant mountains. My dorm room door had been repaired while I was out walking, so i could now get in and out of my room. I returned to my room to get a shower and rested in my room until it was time for dinner in the dining room and 7pm. I joined my fellow traveller, Brian, for a nice dinner of roast chicken, potatoes, peas and carrots with a gravy like sauce. I had a nice glass of red wine with my meal which was only 20 rand for a large glass, about £1. We sat opposite a young American woman who was working locally as a paediatrician before returning to Texas where she was from. We had an interesting conversation with her about our mutual experiences of Africa before going to the bar for another drink.
    I felt very tired after my day's exertions and soon retired to my room to rest. The crickets were chirping loudly as I slowly went off to sleep on the less than comfortable mattress.
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  • Day88

    Lesotho - Day 2

    February 20, 2020 in Lesotho ⋅ ⛅ 19 °C

    Sadly, I could hear heavy rain on the roof of my accommodation as I awoke at around 7am which would put pay to doing a trek in the mountains as I had planned. I therefore got up for a shower at a leisurely pace and enjoyed having my own space in my own room. I joined my fellow travellers for a light breakfast in the communal kitchen we had been allocated. After spending some more time relaxing in my room, I played some table tennis with fellow traveller, Kristen. It took me a while to get back to playing again as I hadn't played table tennis for many years, but I started to get back into the rhythm of playing, and Kristen played to a good standard, so that I slowly improved even though she was beating me I got closer to matching her. It was an enjoyable game and passed the time while it rained outside. I had some lunch and the weather began to clear so that I could begin to see the mountains surrounding the hostel for the first time.
    I rested in my room after lunch and then returned to the bar. The clouds had further cleared from the mountains so I walked around the perimeter of the hostel and out of the front gates to take photos of the mountain. I then found a really nice spot to take photos of the mountains in a field at the back of the hostel grounds. I then went to the games room to play table tennis with my fellow travellers, Grant, Jemma, Kristen and Graham. We had some more close and enjoyable games playing doubles. After the table tennis we went to the bar to play pool doubles which was equally enjoyable. We then had macaroni cheese cooked by the cook group in the communal kitchen. We all returned to our dorm rooms for an early night. However, I noticed that the skies had cleared and the night sky was blazing with stars of the milky way. This was probably the best night sky I had seen on my travels through Africa so I spent a lot of time looking at the night sky and taking photos. I had been having difficulty getting into and out of my room as the wooden door appeared to have warped with all the rain. I therefore had to force the door open with my shoulder. I eventually settled into sleep on a less than comfortable mattress where the springs pushed through.
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  • Day87

    Journey to Lesotho

    February 19, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 22 °C

    I slept well and woke up a minute before my alarm was due to go off at 5.45am. I always marvel at the ability of my internal body clock to measure time so precisely as to wake me up a minute before my alarm. I got a shower, packed my things and had breakfast of cereal and an omelette before boarding the truck with my fellow travellers for a very long drive to Lesotho. We stopped at a nearby supermarket to buy lunch and provisions for the next few days. We then drove on through a cultivated landscape of fields, trees and farm buildings. After a couple of hours on the road the landscape became more filled with a rocky terrain and mountains with steep rocky escarpments rising up, shining silver in the sun. This was the beginning of the steep rise into the high mountains of Lesotho.
    Kristen, Grant and myself then had an interesting and wide rangimg seven hour conversation about changing the current economic narrative to one that is environmentally sustainable for the future of life on this planet by moving from our current addiction to private consumerism to a narrative of public, shared wealth. This would then meet our basic needs for living whilst allowing us time to pursue more meaningful and nourishing activities such as spending time in nature and looking after the environment. We also spent a long time discussing religious history (which is an academic specialism for Kristen) and the roots of Judaism and Christianity and how a once radical and progressive religious narrative has become fundamentalist, conservative and restrictive. I discussed my interest in a narrative of nature as God which allows a holistic and inclusive approach where science, art and spirituality can have their valued place and where spirit and matter are both part of our experience of nature rather than separated from it.
    After some long hours driving, we reached the Lesotho border and it was an easy and efficient entry into the country that is a kilometre high in the mountains. The transition to a much poorer country was immediately evident in the small houses and shacks that people lived in. We were back in an area with little tourism and the local people waved and smiled at us with some glee as we waved and smiled back to them. They came across as very friendly and welcoming. We continued waving to local people and children on their way home from school until the dark clouds descended and it began to rain heavily which meant that we had to put the tarpaulin sides of the truck down to protect us from the rain.
    We drove on through heavy rain with occasional glimpses of the mountains of Lesotho ahead. We turned onto a long bumpy and muddy track towards our next hostel destination, Malealea Lodge, with the truck sliding in the mud at one point. We arrived at a large sprawling site with a reception, games hall, bar, dining area and a communal kitchen. This was an interesting place that tried to be as eco-friendly as possible and had solar powered electricity. Unfortunately, the rain was still falling and we got quite wet being guided around the site. We were each booked into our own rooms with twin beds and an ensuite toilet and shower which was the first time on this trip I had had my own room and it felt like a real luxury. We had a debrief on activities that we could do while staying at the hostel before we walked over to the dining room for a very enjoyable buffet meal (paid for us by Jemma) along with other people staying at the hostel. I had a glass of red wine with my meal of beans, swede, potato, sudza (maize mash), coleslaw and pork. I was feeling better in my health and enjoyed the evening chatting and joking with my fellow travellers. We all got an early night as it had been a long 11 hour trip on the truck. I was able to get a hot shower before I settled down to sleep with the rain still falling heavily outside.
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  • Day86

    Chintsa - Day 2

    February 18, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ 🌧 22 °C

    I slept well but, as usual, I woke up earlier than I wanted at 6am. I got a shower and joined my fellow travellers for a nice breakfast of cinnamon buns and an omelette which we prepared ourselves. I was still feeling queasy and low in energy due to my virus, and it was overcast and raining, so I decided not to do any of the paid activities such as horse riding or quad biking. Instead, I walked down to the beach with fellow traveller, Graham. The ecology of the lagoon, large sand dunes, and beach, was varied and really beautiful. There were many types of flowers and plants on the walk down with lush forest up on the very high sand dunes. As we approached the smaller sand dunes at the end of the lagoon and before the beach, the dunes were covered in grasses and long stems of a very attractive magenta coloured bell shaped flowers. We walked out onto the beach and walked along the shore with the white foaming waves rolling in. The spray created a mist over the sea and it was very atmospheric. It was very warm despite the overcast skies and I decided that I would go for a swim. Graham walked back across the beach and returned to the campsite. As I walked out into the waves and dived under a large wave, I could feel a very strong undertow current pulling me out to sea and decided that it would be dangerous to go out any further so returned to the shore. I then spent the next couple of hours walking along the shore, paddling in the sea and picking up brightly coloured shells. This allowed me to reflect on the journey through Africa and all the life that I had seen along the way. I fell into a reverie, feeling deeply that everything is alive in nature, including the sea, rocks, mountains, trees, creatures and even the great multitudes of stars and planets above. I experienced nature as God, or the Great Spirit of native Americans, and that I am a part of that nature and everything existing plays their small role in this immense unfolding creation from the grains of sand beneath my feet, to the skipping birds running past me, to the clouds and sun beyond. God as nature is therefore not to be believed in, but to be lived and experienced imminently in the world all around us. In this sense everything is holy, precious and can be loved and cared for. I wondered if humanity could play a vital role on this planet by becoming guardians and protectors of life and nature rather than the current destroyers of it?
    I eventually returned to the hostel, chatted with my fellow travellers, had some lunch down at the poolside bar and wrote up my blog. I then returned to my dorm room to rest as the rain fell gently over the land and sea beyond the balcony window.
    We had a very tasty Indian buffet meal in the hostel's dining room in the evening and I had a nice chat with my fellow travellers where my head felt clearer than it had done since I got the virus which was a positive sign that I was finally recovering. I then got an early night ahead of an early start in the morning.
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