Overlanding from Nairobi to Namibia
  • Day154

    Up the Sani Pass to Lesotho

    February 16, 2020 in Lesotho ⋅ ☀️ 17 °C

    Today we're leaving South Africa and heading into the mountainous country of Lesotho. To get there, we drive away from the coast and head through the Drakensberg (Dragon's Mountain) range, up to the Lesotho highlands.

    Most of the way, the drive is very smooth, on new tarmacked roads which wind up into the mountains, and we soon arrive at the border. We check out of South Africa, and head into no-mans land. Here, the road stops, and it becomes a mountainous dirt road, and we need to engage the 4x4 low gear in order to make it up the last few kilometres. Our little 4x4 handles it well though, and the views are breathtaking. The mountains are reminiscent of a dragon's back, cutting a jagged silhouette against the blazing blue sky. The air gets thinner and thinner, and it takes a nervously long time to turn the engine back one once we've taken a few photos.

    A couple of hours later and we reach the top. We're able to take in the wonderful vista that we've scaled, with a sense of achievement that we've made it up here by ourselves (most visitors arrive in organised 4x4 tours). The mountaintop is rugged, with a rough moorland which reminds Chris of Yorkshire. It's also very cold here, despite the blazing sun, so we wrap up in hoodies.

    After setting up our tent, we head to the highest pub in Africa, just next to the border post. We have a Lesothan beer on the terrace, which is sat right on the cliff edge, affording incredible views down the pass.

    Later, after the sun disappears, the temperature plummets, and we're the coldest we've been in Africa. We head up to the pub for our evening tea, which is a hearty mountainous affair, accompanied by warming red wine. We read stories on the wall about snowfalls trapping people in the pub on top of the mountain for days on end. We eye the extensive wine rack and muse that there would be worse places to be trapped.
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  • Day153

    Durban Day 2

    February 15, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    We wake up with a fairly bad hangover, and a nervousness from last night's events. We're not too keen to explore Durban, especially since one of our friends had told us prior to the trip "you only want to go to Durban if you want to get shot". But, we're only here for a day, so we decide to head to the nearby beach.

    The surf here is legendary, and we watch a surf competition from a beachfront cafe. We try the Bunny Chow, which is a loaf of white bread, hollowed out and stuffed with curry. It's a delight, and perfect for our hangovers.

    Afterwards, we head out on the pier, and watch the surfers. The waves are HUGE, and surfing there looks to be the most frightening thing we could imagine. We leave it to the pros.

    We're approached by a beggar, who says that he just wants some food. We're roped into it, and we let him lead us to somewhere we can buy food. He chooses an expensive pizza place, but fortunately it's closed. We head instead to a chicken place, where he asks for the most expensive thing on the menu, and another for his brother...

    We head back to the hostel, a little disappointed by Durban, but keen to head onwards, out of the city.
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  • Day152

    Durban

    February 14, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Leaving Johannesburg today to head to Durban. We've enjoyed our time in Joburg much more than expected, but we've brought a few local craft beers with us in the hire car to remember the city by.

    It's a long, fairly boring ride to Durban. There have been scare stories that criminals sometimes throw rocks at the cars, forcing them to pull over before car-jacking them, so I have my eyes peeled for falling rocks that don't materialise. The only thing we see is a man running in the middle of the road, and I have to swerve slightly to avoid him. Apparently this is another common problem in South Africa.

    We arrive in Durban around 5pm, and we've got just enough time to get changed before heading out to the cricket. It's the second T20 between South Africa and England, with South Africa winning the first. The ground is a short walk from the hostel, and when we get there, the atmosphere is crackling. Chris gives Katie a quick run-down on the rules, and we get the beers in. It's a great game, with England winning on the last ball of the match.

    Afterwards, we head down to the bar while we wait for the taxi queue to die down. We ask one of the bar staff if we'd be alright to walk back to the hostel, because it's only a block away, but she begs us not to walk, given how dangerous the neighbourhood is. We get chatting to a British couple who have settled in South Africa, and have some pretty questionable opinions about a certain section of South African society. As we're talking about this, a fight breaks out, and a coloured (this is the acceptable phrase in South Africa!) guy is brought to the ground by a white guy. It turns out that the victim actually pushed a security guard over. It's all a bit confusing, then another security appears, who says that he got the coloured guy in a headlock. The security guard says that he was being called a racist by the guy, but doesn't say why. We suspect there may be more to the story, especially as the security shares some of his less-than-savoury opinions with us. It's all very strange.
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  • Day149

    A warm welcome into South Africa

    February 11, 2020 in South Africa ⋅ 🌧 2 °C

    Saying goodbye to Mozambique, we board an early bus from Maputo to Johannesburg. In comparison to the other bus journeys we’ve taken, this bus can only be described as a 5-star hotel on wheels. Who knew travelling could be this luxurious!

    We are a little nervous to arrive this late in the day because of the horror stories we’ve been told about Joburg. But are pleasantly surprised when we arrive in the district where we will be staying, Maboneng; a centre of creative energy for Johannesburg's urban artists. In our hipster hostel, Curiocity, and with murals on every building and an array of restaurants featuring Joburg’s craft beer scene, we feel right at home.

    The next day we join a tour to learn about the history of Soweto and South Africa’s journey to freedom from Apartheid. Our guide, a lifelong resident of the township, gives us a brief history into what life was like in the township during Apartheid. He tends to go on rambles off topic and is slowly losing Katie’s interest. But it’s very interesting to learn: the history of Soweto really encapsulates the history of South Africa, and it’s great to see Soweto as it is now- an energetic place full of colour and life.

    With our stomachs rumbling, we stop at a local restaurant to eat South Africa’s version of a chip butty. Otherwise known as a Kota, this was an oddly cut sandwich filled with chips, processed cheese, lettuce and topped off with an egg and some ketchup. Accompanied by a South African cider it’s not all that bad – albeit, not very healthy.

    After filling up on grease, we dive back into the van to venture to our last stop of the day – The Apartheid Museum. With a little less than 2 hours on the clock we’re running late and are concerned about the time we’ll have in the museum as it’s advised to spend at least 3 hours here. It’s a bit of a shame that we have to rush- the exhibits are very powerful and do well to shed light on the struggles. It doesn’t hold anything back- a video near the end depicts a white South Africa giving details of his crimes to a tribunal. He describes in gory detail what he did to a woman, and where they buried her. It does end on a happier note though, with the elections of the ANC and the promise of a brighter future ahead.

    The next day, we head to Constitution Hill. This is a former prison, now the highest court in South Africa. Our young guide is effusive and energetic, which stands at odds to the sombre location. He’s very charismatic and interesting, and does well to give us a clear picture of the horrific circumstances that black and coloured prisoners were subjected to, compared to the relatively nice conditions of the whites. At one point on the tour, he reveals that even he was brought up to hate the whites, his parents having been victims of apartheid. He’s optimistic about the future of South Africa, but acknowledges that will take time for the scars to heal.
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  • Day144

    Surfin’ Mozambique

    February 6, 2020 in Mozambique ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Surf’s up! Apparently... We don’t know too much about surfing, so we’ve booked into a lesson. Tofo is great for beginners, as the waves are relatively small, and there are no rocks or coral to bash your head on when you inevitably take a tumble. The only annoyance is the portuguese man o’ war (bluebottle), which can drift into the bay.

    Whilst we are having our lesson, we see big fish in the waves, and small flying fish seem to emulate us by falling out of the breakers. We also keep a close eye on the ocean, hoping to spot a dolphin or two- however, given our dolphin luck, our sightings remain at 0.

    After the surf lesson, we relax to regain strength in our arms. Later, we head down to the beach , and see fisherman drag in a MASSIVE TIGER SHARK. It’s quite disturbing to see such a magnificent creature having been speared through the eye and in dragged ashore. Our friends from the hostel later see it butchered in the shade next to the beach. They ask the fisherman what it is, and he just replies “a big fish”. Sure buddy. Apparently, fishing for sharks can carry a prison sentence of 24 years, but this must not be enforced, as the shark was being cut apart on the busy, police-patrolled tourist beach. You can’t find shark meat on any menu or in any market- the only reason the fishermen kill the sharks in for the fins, which can be sold for $40, and will be sent to East Asian countries.

    It’s very disconcerting to see this practice undertaken so brazenly, but it seems that so long as the economic incentive for fins is there, the killing of sharks will continue. Reflecting on this bizzare encounter we enjoy the sunset and chow down on some fresh prawn curry.
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  • Day142

    Tofo- Ocean Safari

    February 4, 2020 in Mozambique ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Another day, another safari. This time, we’re off out on the ocean (Indian version) from the small town of Tofo. Everyone is looking for Whale Sharks (and you are offered a free trip the next day if you don’t see any), but since we’d already seen them in Tanzania, we were on the lookout for dolphins and manta rays.

    It was somewhat ironic, then, that we had gone about 5 minutes out from shore and came across a whale shark. Not that we are complaining- they are incredible animals, and the visibility was much better this time around. Also, we had picked up a knock-off GoPro (GoAmateur?) for $38 in Maputo, so managed to get some footage. We swam with the shark for a good 15/20 minutes, and managed to get quite close.

    From the boat, we also saw a Portuguese Man of War (or Bluebottle Jellyfish). These things really pack a punch, and the tentacles trail quite far, so from then on out, I keep a vigilant eye on the surface.
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  • Day138

    Malawi- Mozambique: Journey from Hell

    January 31, 2020 in Malawi ⋅ ☁️ 22 °C

    Today, we must cross from Malawi into Mozambique, a journey we’ve been dreading, given the huge distances, and what promises to be a difficult border crossing.

    We say our goodbyes to the staff at Mayoka, Beaura the tailor, Machine the rasta jewellery seller and everyone else we’ve made friends with here. Honeyman sends us off with a bag of banana bread that he cooked for us at home.

    Our journey starts by taking a taxi to the police checkpoint outside of town. There, the police promise to flag down the correct bus to take us to Blantyre, Malawi’s second city, close to the Mozambique border. We wait for around 2 and a half hours, whiling away the time chatting to the (assault-rifle-wielding) policemen, who are very charming and talkative. Malawi is often called the warm heart of Africa, and it’s impossible to disagree. I don’t think we’ve met a single person who didn’t want to stop and chat or help us out. We love it here and are hesitant to leave.

    Nevertheless, we reluctantly board the coach to Blantyre. Our first challenge is to find somewhere to sit. The bus has come from the nearby city, and not only are all the seats full, but there isn’t much standing room left. We end up in a small aisle space next to an extremely drunk 20 year old Malawian. He loudly (and, to emphasise, extremely drunkenly) shouts that we have to stand in order to experience the real Malawi. He slurs that we westerners love to write about our travels, and we should write about the real Malawi. Sure enough, here we are. At one point, he gets up and offers Chris the seat. Chris insists that Katie should get the seat, but he screams that in Malawi, the men get precedent over women, so Chris should sit. We refuse the offer, and sit on the floor. After a little while, we get an upgrade from the floor to an upturned bucket (for Katie) and a slanted wicker mat (for Chris), which he keeps sliding down. Later still, Katie secures a seat, whilst Chris now has a child’s head buried in his ribs, another drunk man leaning on his back, a family at his feet and- what’s that? did the baby there just do a smelly poo? yes, yes it did. At 2.50am (not counting or anything), Chris gets a seat and manages to grab a wink of sleep or two.

    At Blantyre, we take another bus to the border. The first (comfortable looking) coach refuses to take us since we don’t have visas- apparently we need to get them at the embassy: but today is Saturday, and the embassy is closed. We hop into a minibus and make for the border, to risk it.

    At the Malawian border, we explain that we need to get Mozambican visas, which is met by a skeptical look and an explanation that visas are extremely hard to get at the Mozambican border. Once we are stamped out of Malawi, that visa is cancelled, so we would need to fork out another $75 each to reenter.

    Nervously, we stamp out, and make our way across no-man’s land to the Mozambique side. The border is chaos, with hundreds of people being processed by two flustered looking immigration officials, whilst their hawkish boss prowls the desks, occasionally pressing a printer button or casting suspicious gazes over the crowd of people. We get his attention after a while, and he gives us some forms to fill in. A little later, one of the lower-ranked officials give us the correct forms. With the right forms filled in, Katie is invited over to the counter and is painlessly issued a visa. Chris’ visa takes much longer, as the system crashes, and we have to wait for the computer and network to reboot. Whilst Katie is waiting, a Ugandan man asks for help with his form. Apparently, the senior official refused to help him, and instructed him to ask the foreigners for help.

    With our visas almost issued, we get chatting to Ian, who had been on the same bus as us, and is also going to Tete. He asks us if we are Christian, and Chris explains that although his family is Christian, people in the UK don’t really go to church much. He looks at us in disbelief and asks “so you are like the animals, Godless?” I suppose so?

    The journey isn’t over yet, though: we still need to get to Tete, before a 1,500km journey to Maputo. To get to Tete, we get into another small minibus. It has four small benches, three fold-down seats, and picks up 31 people. At one point, one passenger is stooped over the others, with his bum out of the minibus. It is African travel at its most challenging, and we decide to fly the remaining distance to Maputo.
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    Traveler

    A very entertaining account of an amazing trip!

    2/3/20Reply
    Traveler

    Enjoyed your account from nkhata Bay to Mozambique. The highs and lows of African travel have not changed much in 35 years. The bus trip reminds me why we took motorbikes whenever possible.

    2/4/20Reply
     
  • Day136

    MV Chambo

    January 29, 2020 in Mozambique ⋅ ☁️ 26 °C

    Today, we are heading back to the mainland. Since the MV Ilala is continuing on it’s route to the south of the lake, we are taking the MV Chambo, a smaller boat that navigates the shorter route from Mozambique to Nkhata Bay via Likoma.

    Before we leave the hostel, however, I have a run in with a bizarre, alien-looking spider, who has camped out right next to the toilet seat. Instead of front legs, it has large crab-like pincers; large antannae wave frantically above it. I keep a close (but not too close) eye on it whilst I do my business.

    The MV Chambo is much smaller vessel, maybe slightly bigger than the Amsterdam ferry. The benefit of this is that the boat can come directly to the shore, so we don’t need to hire another fisherman’s boat. However, the ferry ramp doesn’t quite extend all the way to shore, so we have to climb up onto the boat and scramble to find a seat, whilst every other passenger is doing the same, with giant baskets of dried fish and sacks of rice. The ensuing pandemonium is good fun.

    We are, however, unable to secure enough seats for our group. Fortunately, the captain invites us onto the top deck to find a spot. This simply means the exposed top deck, so we prepare for a good roasting under the African sun. This same sun is also being used by some passengers to dry their fish, and so thousands of drying fish litter the roof of the lower deck. It is fantastically African.

    After a few hours we dock at Nkhata Bay. Despite liberal applications of suncream (for everyone except for one of our group, whose bald head now resembles a tomato), the sun is getting to us, so we spend the afternoon cooling down in the lake at Mayoka Village.
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  • Day135

    Likoma Island

    January 28, 2020 in Malawi ⋅ 🌧 25 °C

    Early in the morning, the Ilala moors up alongside Likoma Island, a small island a stone’s throw from the Mozambican shoreline (though, I suppose, everywhere is a stone’s throw away when you have muscles like mine).

    The boat is too big to get to the shoreline, so anchors a few hundred metres from shore. To disembark, we need to get into one of the ship’s lifeboats. The problem is that the more experienced passengers have already started queueing, and they can only fit around 30 people into a boat (despite the carrying capacity being advertised as 20); there are MANY passengers crammed into the lower deck (alongside sacks of cassava, fish, entire household belongings etc.), so this could take a while. However, it is possible to get a seat on a fisherman’s boat for a small fee- we take this option, as one of our group is heading to work on the island.

    On the island, we pile into a shared pickup and bounce our way to Mango Drift (there are no roads on the island, only potholes), and we arrive just in time for a typically monumental storm. This one is so ferocious that water spouts rise up out of the lake towards the heavens. I am glad we are safely on dry land, rather than out on the rustbucket Ilala (I joke, she’s a fine vessel).

    After the storms subside, we see unfeasibly large swarms of lake flies patrol the waters. There are five clouds, and each inky blot has millions of flies. It is disgusting on an unfathomable scale.

    Now that the skies are blue, we are able to try our hand at the local dugout canoes (sometimes called makoros). The hostel offers a free night’s accommodation if you can make it about 100m out and back with your legs inside the boat, or a free drink with your legs outside. The problems with these boats are numerous- the stern frequently dips under the water and fills the boat, it is incredibly heavy, and there is no keel- it is literally just a tree trunk that has been hollowed out. After a lengthy period of slapstick attempts, I manage to complete the challenge for a free drink- beer please barkeep!

    In the evening, we seem to get caught in one of the lake fly swarms. The entire bar is filled with thousands of the little critters, and the beams of lights become plumes of flies. Luckily, it passes after a short while, and we can safely play drinking games until bed.
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  • Day134

    MV Ilala

    January 27, 2020 in Malawi ⋅ ☁️ 28 °C

    Today we are boarding the MV Ilala, a ferry that has been cruising Lake Malawi since 1951, for what promises to be one of the great African boat adventures.

    In the morning, we head down to the ferry terminal in Nhkata Bay to try and secure a cabin. Upon enquiring, we’re told that the only cabin left is the “Owner’s Cabin”, the most exclusive room on the boat- for £28. We take it, with the justification that we’ll probably never be able to get the most exclusive room on a boat anywhere else.

    The ferry arrives just after 2pm, but we are told that it won’t leave until around 9pm. We wait around, and head down to the ferry around 8.30pm. We settle in with a few beers on the upper deck, swapping travel stories with the other passengers. The ferry leaves at around 11.30pm, and heads off into a curtain of darkness, towards Likoma Island near Mozambique. The upper deck is First Class, but there are no beds. Instead, people find spaces in any nook or cranny, or bring big mattresses to sleep on. Around midnight, a small rain storm forces everyone to huddle under the small amount of covered space. Although it’s fun being up there, drinking beers under the night sky, I’m glad we have our little cabin.

    Not that our cabin especially lives up to the hype. It is next to the engine, so the air is filled with the fumes, and there are small roaches that scurry around the beds. Still, given that that we are a few beers “deep” (first nautical pun), we “drift” (second nautical pun!) off to sleep easily.
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