Well here we are, home again. My African Tales are at an end. Just time for one more update . . .
I left you last time at the wonderful cheetah Park in Namibia, so best I fill you in on what I got up to between then and the end of my African adventure.
We left Otjitotongwe and headed toward the coast, the road taking us through the Namib Desert. We made quite good time here, and stopped earlier than we had expected to set up our bush camp. It was a bit too hot to erect tents, so most of the truck decided to play grid iron to kill some time!! Personally I think they're all mad, we're in a bloody desert, for god's sake, and there they all were running around like nutters! Anyway, as you can probably guess, I decided that this type of energy expenditure was really not for me, so thought I'd go for a walk.
It was really very flat where we were, and I decided that to properly commune with the desert, I would have to be out of sight of the truck. I proceeded to walk two or three kilometres until the truck shrunk to a tiny dot, and then I found a small dip to walk down, so it dropped totally out of sight. I sat for an hour or so, enjoying the solitude before returning back the way I had come, watching the specks that were my fellow passengers race around like the mad things that they are. I found out on my return that a few people - after seeing me stomp off into the desert - had thought I'd finally lost the plot, and considered sending out a search party for me!
After eating that night, we sat around a campfire and chewed the cud for a while. Afterwards myself and Chud, one of they guys that I had grown quite close to, retired to my tent. A short while later, we heard a fizz and a bang, and stuck our heads out of the tent to see three separate lots of fireworks going off around the tent, and a the guys who had set them off running away! It was hilarious.
The next morning we packed up camp and continued toward the Namibian coast, hitting the Atlantic Ocean and heading north to the Cape Cross Seal Colony. There we saw thousands of seals and pups huddled together on the beach, against a backdrop of mist, cloud and crashing waves. They were smelly, and noisy - sounding similar to sheep, strangely enough - and some of them would swing their heads from side to side, in a way reminiscent of Stevie Wonder! It was fascinating to watch them.
We left the seal colony after an hour or so, and had a freezing cold drive down the coast toward Swakopmund, adventure capital of Namibia. Our first stop was Desert Explorers, where you can book everything from sea fishing to ballooning to skydiving. I went for skydiving and quad biking on the dunes. We then went to the backpackers, where for a change we wouldn't be staying in tents, but in dorms - which made a nice change. I spent the afternoon alone, enjoying the peace and quiet, and separation from everyone else on the truck . . . then got bored, and went off in search of truck people - never satisfied!
I managed to find them in Rafters, the local bar frequented by overlanders, and another drunken, messy night ensued, punctuated only by a nice Chinese meal. When they finally kicked us out of the pub we headed back to base, and moved the party to Sally and Peter's room. We drank all night - unfortunately keeping awake the same couple from one of the other trucks that we had kept awake during our Vic Falls all-nighter. I personally stopped drinking at 0900, and went into one of the dorms to annoy Chud . . . and everyone else in the dorm, who I woke up!
We were due to go quad biking at half past three, so I tried to get some sleep . . . and failed. Consequently Natalie, Becs and I turned up at the pick-up point still pretty pissed - me more so, having drunk until later, and not having slept at all. As we were driven out to the bikes and given the safety talk I knew it was a bad idea, quadbiking in that condition. As we started off on the bikes I fell back from the fast group (being on a manual, as I have my motorbike licence, I started in the fast, competent group) to the slow, to the back of the slow group. I was so drunk, and also was expecting the bike to handle more like a motorbike, which it didn't (excuses excuses!).
I was so sure that I was going to do myself serious injury, that I spent the whole time tensed and just waiting to fall off, unable to steer straight. I kept getting bogged in the sand because I didn't go up the sandbanks fast enough. At one stage the bogged bike started slipping, and I panicked and jumped off - stupidly on the downside, managing to put my leg against the still moving wheel. I am still sporting a sizeable scab for that little bit of silliness!
After almost an hour on the bikes, we stopped just before a massive dune, which we were to ride up, doing a jump at the top. We were being briefed, and told how we must follow the guide's tracks or we would fall off. Well that was all too much for me - I knew that I had pushed my luck about as far as I could, so bit the bullet, went up to one of the guides and said "I can't do this - I'm too drunk!". Yes, I felt a total eejit, and got a fair bit of stick for it from my friends, but at the same time I knew I had made the right decision.
My bike was abandoned in the desert, and from that point on, I rode on the back of one of the guides' bikes. Then I really enjoyed myself, sitting back and enjoying the resplendent view. The profound, undulating beauty of the dunes - the sand, sparkling and glistening under the hot sun on one side, dark shadowy curves on the other, separating the two a sharp line marking the edge of the dune. The dazzling swell of the wind-sculptured mounds of sand, stretching on as far as the eye could see - stark and stunning, nature at its radiant best - superb.
We stopped a while before the end atop a large dune - the desert to the left of us, and the ocean to the right - and had a glass of champagne before returning back to town, only a short ride away. It had been a great day, but I certainly wouldn't recommend attempting quad biking drunk to anyone! On reaching town we were dropped at Rafters, where we watched the video of the afternoon, which was included in the price and was most amusing.
I'd booked in to go sky diving the next day, and was picked up at 1100 along with Bob and driven to the nearby small airport. I had been getting a little concerned that maybe adrenaline activities were no longer for me. I would have said that I may be too old for this sort of thing, but as Bob (whom we had nicknamed 'Extreme Bob') turned 65 on the trip, I knew that age had nothing to do with it. We were put into really fetching jump-suits, and given a confidence-building chat on how all we had to do was enjoy ourselves & remember to breathe, and then escorted outside to our plane.
My heart dropped when I saw that it was a cessna, similar to the one I had been in on my scenic flight from hell, but fortunately my nausea-related fears were unfounded. Three of us jumpers went up, along with the three guys who would do all the hard stuff. I was to jump first, so got in last, sitting just in front of my tandem instructor, facing the back of the plane, just beside the door . . . well I say the door, what I mean is the opening through which we got in - there is no actual door on the plane! I was most relieved when my guy strapped me onto him straight away - at least if I fell, he too would fall, and he had the 'chute.
The half an hour journey to get enough height for the jump was great; there was a good view, and I didn't feel sick at all. When we reached 10,000 feet, ready for the jump, I had to put both my feet on the small step by the wheel, fold my arms across my body, then he jumped and we were falling through the air. After a few seconds you reach terminal velocity, and the falling sensation ends - apart from the wind rushing past you, you're just floating through space, watching the tiny things on the ground growing bigger, and enjoying the exhilarating feeling. After thirty seconds or so of free fall, the parachute was opened and we were floating gently back down to earth. He let me have a go of the steering on the way down and then we landed so smoothly.
We left Swakomund two days later, after a group meal and piss-up, and that rarity, a free day. Our next destination was Sossusvlei, a place full of the most amazingly colourful sand dunes. After arriving at the campsite and having a quick swim, we drove the hour or so to Dune 45, probably the most photographed dune in the world. The energetic amongst us climbed it, whilst others - like me - preferred to stay around the bottom, and take photos. Once the sun had set, and the seductive curves of the dunes disappeared into darkness, we returned to camp - where not a single tent had been erected, all of us preferring to sleep out under the stars.
On the agenda for the following day was Fish River Canyon, the world's second largest canyon. After a few hours drive we arrived at the tourist board's campsite, 10 km from the canyon. At around four o'clock Willy dropped a few of us out there so we could take a walk a way along the rim, get some photos, and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. The canyon wasn't a patch on the Grand Canyon, but was stunning just the same. Just before sunset the truck and everyone else turned up, and we cooked and ate our evening meal out there before returning to camp, where I enjoyed another night under the stars.
The next day would be our last in Namibia - almost our last on the truck. We drove to a campsite just before the border with South Africa, called Felix Unite, where we were going to be cleaning the truck. It was a good idea to do it here rather than at Cape Town, as quite a few of our number had already stated their intentions to bugger off beforehand to get out of the truck clean. It was too hot when we arrived around lunchtime, so we had a few hours to ourselves to wait until most of the heat had gone out of the day. Of course certain people used this time to get drunk, in the hope that the rest of us would let them off cleaning the truck - which we didn't. More tension!
The plan for the next day was for the truck to enter South Africa at 0600, and for us passengers to follow in the campsite's pickups an hour or so later, the reason being to get around some loophole involving work visas and paperwork, and expense to the company. I awoke in the morning to find Natalie in a bit of a drunken flap. She'd been up drinking with a couple of the others until around 0500, and was about to grab a couple of hours sleep when she realised that her passport had gone missing from the table. The few of them that were still up had spent the remainder of the night searching and re-searching for her passport, and had got no sleep.
Now I don't know whether I have quite stressed just how often my little sister lost things on this trip. It really is a miracle that she has anything left, as she was losing things on a daily basis. Her regular war-cry was "has anybody seen my . . . ", which we heard several times a day [actually as I am writing this, my mother is running around the house saying "have you seen my camera? And I've lost my pen, too", so I am in no doubt as to where Natalie has got this knack of losing everything from!]. She has lost jumpers and contact lenses and hats and T-shirts. It is a wonder she hasn't lost her camera, but courtesy of her leaving it around on drunken nights, she will have a multitude of rude photos when she develops her films . . . providing she doesn't lose them all in the mean time! If any of us found anything lying around, the first person to ask would be Natalie, and nine times out of ten, the item in question would indeed be hers. In fact if it weren't for Jade collecting the debris left at a campsite before we left each morning, she would have lost a great deal more.
So anyway, it was with no great surprise that we greeted this news that Natalie had no lost her passport. She insisted that it had just been on the table one minute, and then was gone, but that didn't help the matter that a border was to be crossed imminently. The truck was already late in leaving, and it was decided that there was only one way around this problem; Natalie would have to be smuggled into South Africa! Still drunk and giggling, she climbed into the cab with Willy, and waved to us as they drove away. The rest of us waited an hour to ensure that the truck had cleared customs, and were then transported to the Namibia-South Africa border - where we relieved by the absence of the truck, which indicated that she had not been discovered. We passed into South Africa without incident, and set off on foot along the road for half a kilometre to meet up with the truck. It's a bizarre set up, and the authorities must twig what's going on - a large, empty truck will pass through, followed an hour or so later by 20 odd foreigners, who wander off on foot into the country!
We were reunited with the truck, and also my sister who was all smiles. She had been lying under the sleeping bag on the bunk, and had actually fallen asleep . . . until her watch alarm had gone off! Fortunately there were no one in authority around, so she was smuggled into the country unimpeded, and was now officially an illegal alien. She and a few others celebrated with a breakfast beer - or a breakfast cider, in Natalie's case. Incidentally, her passport did turn up a few hours later . . . in someone else's pocket! She said that it's not her fault, things just disappear, and on this occasion at least it seems she was right.
We stopped a little way up the road for breakfast, and to get some photos of naked men on the roof of the truck . . . as you do! We were all in good spirits for this our penultimate day on the truck, and before long we were all getting into the spirits! First a bottle of whisky went round the truck, followed by a bottle of vodka. About half the truck were topping up their alcohol levels from the night before. The rest of us - who had initially resisted drinking this early in the day (there were days when I easily felt my 31 years!) - decided that the old adage 'if you can't beat them, join them' may have been invented for precisely this occasion!
It turned out to be the very best day that we'd had on the truck. Everyone was in good humour, all the arguments from the last twenty weeks had temporarily been forgotten, there was singing and dancing and jumping around, group photos and group hugs, tits, bums and willys being dangled out the windows - everyone feeling silly and happy. If only more days could have been like that! Things were a bit more subdued after lunch - we'd stopped into a take away place in a small town, and it had taken them over an hour to get our order together. Natalie's post-lunch cry of "let's drink some more" was a lone one, and before long she too had succumbed to sleep, slumped over a table.
As the evening drew on, we were on the lookout for a spot in which to camp for our last night on tour. We found a wonderful site, just up from a dam. It was just the way a bush camp should be, a scenic spot near to water, enough grass and soft ground to sleep comfortably on - a great way to end the trip. It was lovely to spend another night under the stars - it's going to be a while until I get to do that again, and it certainly won't be in England!
We didn't have too far to go the next day, as we had almost completed our journey from Cairo to Cape Town. We were on the lookout for a winery, but failed to find one, so just went straight into Cape Town, to Ashanti Lodge where we were booked in. Of course the cheapskate brigade found the prices here too high, and trotted off down the road for alternative digs. We had taken five months to arrive Cape Town, and had scattered in minutes. We were meeting up that evening, though, to say our goodbyes over a drink or two - would you believe!
Before that though I headed into town to try and sort out my flight home. First stop STA travel (student travel agency), where they twigged my student card for a fake! The first flight they could have got me (had my card been genuine, or I been young enough to qualify for a young person's fare) was on 11th March. Now I know that wasn't that far away, but I panicked a bit as I had expected to be home sooner than that. Consequently, at the next place I went to, a booked the first flight I could get on, in four days time. Of course - me being the contrary creature I am - as soon as I booked it I kicked myself for not giving myself more time in South Africa. I'd been so intent on getting away from the people one the truck that I didn't like, that I overlooked the option of spending some more time with those that I did like.
We headed beck to the Ashanti, and found out that they had no dorm beds for the following night, so went down the road to a backpackers called the Cat & Moose & booked in there. That night we had a final farewell (only of course most of us were staying in dorms at the same couple of places, and saw each other daily), a few drinks were drunk and a few tears were shed. I'd realised on the truck that morning, that I'd be getting emotional, even over people I'd be glad to see the back of. Strange girl!
I spent most of the next day in bed, but did manage to surface in the evening to go and see a film. We saw The Ring - not sure how long it's been out over here, but I'd not heard of it. Being something of a horror film fan I loved it...by which I mean it scared the shit out of me. I'd recommend anyone into their horrors who has not seen it to make sure that they do.
The next day, Saturday, was a bit of a sad one. My sister, her fella, Liam, Becs - who we'd been travelling with since the Middle East trip - and Chud were all hiring a car, and heading off to Port Elizabeth to watch England -v- Oz in the world cup cricket. They had been characteristically disorganised, and had left the actual booking of the car until that morning, so were not able to collect it until 1500. I spent the day with the four of them, a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes - sentimental old goat that I am! I waved them off tearfully - it really did feel most odd to be going home and leaving my little sister in Africa!
I bumped into Willy, our driver, who had just jacked his job in! After being promised three weeks holiday after our trip, Ron (the company owner, and all round git) had 'phoned him up and told him to transit the truck that afternoon back up to Harare. Willy told him he wouldn't, Ron asked whether he still wanted to work for him, and Willy said no, come to mention it, he didn't. He was the third driver that Ron had lost in just over a week, which must have really caused him problems. It may be mean spirited of me, but I have to say that after being pissed around so much, it was nice to hear that Ron may be experiencing some problems!
I spent the afternoon on Table Mountain, where the views over Cape Town and out to sea are pretty damned impressive. You can hike up there or - like me - take the lazy option and go up in the rotating cable car. Whilst up there I saw some Rock Hyrax (known as Dassies in the southern part of Africa) with rather unusual tastes. It seems that their staple diet consists of cigarette butts and tissues, which they scavenge in the bin for. I don't know whether it was due to their intake of nicotine, but they seemed to me to be quite vicious and mean-looking creatures, not the cute & cuddly animals I expected them to be!
I spent the evening raving at the Gallery, one of Cape Town's top clubs, with Sally & Peter . . . well it was a Saturday night, and it seemed rude not to. Unfortunately tiredness got the better of me, and I had to bail at 0330 - unlike my friends, who stayed until 0830. In the morning, I discovered that my digs were opposite a church, when they kindly rang their bells for half an hour, obliterating any ideas I'd had of sleeping the morning away. My last evening in Cape Town was spent at a trendy bar called La Med, a popular spot on a Sunday. For once it was neither a late nor a drunken night, as I had no urge to be packing up and leaving hungover & tired. I really am getting old!!
So that was it, my African adventure was over, and on Monday 3rd March - two days short of six months after I left the UK - I flew home, back to cold, wet England - where I got a very warm welcome from my lovely parents. Since returning I've mostly slept, trying to catch up on all those late nights. I have also sent my films off for processing; there were a total of 65 films to be done, and developing costs just exceed £250!!!! I can't wait to see the results of my trigger-happy photography - with around 2,400 photographs to choose from, there must at least be some good 'uns!
My journey has taken me from the architectural delights of Turkey, to the ruins of Syria, and bullet ridden buildings of Beirut; through the deserts of Jordan, to the reefs of Egypt. I've gone from the tribes of Ethiopia, to the game parks of Kenya; via the falls of Uganda, to the gorillas of Rwanda. I've been on safari in Tanzania, the beach on Zanzibar, shopped in Malawi, transited through Mozambique. I've walked lions in Zimbabwe, swung across a gorge in Zambia, drifted in mokoros in Botswana, experienced the dunes of Namibia, and seen my sister smuggled into South Africa.
There have been ups and downs, tears and laughter. Times that I've loved my travelling companions, and times that I've hated them. Times my soul has soured at the Africa I have seen, and times that I've been in the depths of despair. I've done exciting things, relaxing things, things I will never do again and things that I hope to do repeatedly. I guess it has been the trip of a lifetime, and I am glad I was along for the ride, grateful I had the opportunities in life to enable me to go. Would I go on a similar overland trip again? Not on your nelly! It's back to independent travelling for me, although I may consider travelling in a group for a short length of time, I will go it alone whenever and wherever I can. An unforgettable experience, but one never to be repeated.
I should be back in the UK for around two months before heading off again into the great blue yonder . . . well, Australia to be precise.
I hope you've enjoyed my Emails, and getting a bit of an insight into my trip through Africa - I know they've been a bit long winded at times, sorry for waffling on!
Visit SerenityPhotography.co.uk, where you can buy beautiful pictures from around the world...all taken by yours truly!