The journey

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Wrexham, Wales, United Kingdom
For the past 5 years, me and my best friend Nathan have talked about the possibility of travelling around the world by land and sea, and so finally we have a route, savings and time to set off around the world. What we are doing is living out a dream, a dream we share with many people worldwide, a dream of travelling this vast, diverse, beautiful and interesting planet, but unlike the many others who keep it as a dream, we have the tenacity to make this dream a reality.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Days 107 & 108: South Africa

Day 107

And so after 107 days on the road which equated to 16,168 miles or 26,202km we had reached the most southerly point of mainland Africa called Cape Augulas. It felt weird to be at such a geographical extreme having got there overland in a 19 year old vehicle.

We sat for a while staring out to sea knowing that Antarctica lay far off beyond the horizon, but after a few waves had crashed against the rocks below our feet, it was time to continue the journey to Cape Town where we would meet up with Joachim for the first time since we towed him to Nairobi.

Joachim himself had only arrived back two days previously, and so was still unpacking when we arrived. After welcoming us into his house in Milnerton and introducing us to his wife Tine, we sat down to dinner discussing the different routes we had taken and telling tales of our differing journeys.

Day 108

We knew that before we could get up the west coast that we would need to get the Landrover looked at by a mechanic to see if it was in good enough condition. We knew that two of the UV joints needed replacing, and that the rear shocks that we had bought in Khartoum were now broken as they were just cheap replacements.

Joachim took us to a Landrover specialist who he knew from when preparing his San Yung 4x4 for the trip, and we found two used shock absorbers and a series of bushes and washers which the garage donated to us for free. Then the mechanic gave the Landrover a quick once over, and explained that the front propeller shaft would need replacing, that we needed a new rear differential oil seal and that all four wheel bearings should be serviced. Coupled with the fact that the new fuel tank was still not sealed correctly and slowly dripping from the side, along with many other minor fixes being required, we knew that we didn’t have enough funds to repair the Landrover and head up the west coast.

In effect, our trip was then over and we would need to ship the Landrover back to the UK. Although slightly disappointed, we had both agreed along the way that to drive all the way from the UK to Cape Town in a 19 year old Landrover like we did would be an achievement, and that if we got as far as Cape Town we would be happy. It was just a shame we didn’t have he funds to return home by land, but on the west coast of Africa we would have needed to spend £1000/€1100 just on visas.

The distance travelled from Wrexham to Cape Town was double what we had planned and accounted for, but we would never regret taking the detours to see some of the amazing places we did see along the way. With us driving on some really terrible roads through Africa, the technical problems that we had with the Landrover on the way had mounted up, but not once had we broken down. As they say, a Landrover is always sick, but never dead, and with the engine still in brilliant condition having done 140,000miles/225,000km given time and money back home, it will be back on the road again soon.

The blog will continue slowly over the next three weeks as we ship the Landrover back to the UK and get the chance to have a look around Cape Town, but there wont be too much to write about from now on having already written more words in the blog than my university diploma thesis.

Days 105 & 106: South Africa

Day 105

With the Congo visas obtained and our passports back, we tried to see if we could apply for any more, but after a morning of finding embassies where the waiting time for visas was over two weeks, we decided to carry on with our journey towards Cape Town.

Before we left Pretoria we had time to go and to see the Loftus Versveld Stadium where the security guard let us in to have a quick look, but sadly wouldn’t allow us to take any photos. The staff at the stadium all seemed to be gearing up heavily towards the world cup, and there was an air of excitement as it was the day that the remaining tickets went on sale to the general South African public.

The roads out of Pretoria led us south west past Jo-berg and down through a number of towns before it was time to look for somewhere to stop for the night. We eventually found a Guest house in a town called Wolmarandsstad knowing it would take us another two days to get to Cape Town from there.

Day 106

We had found that cheap accommodation isn’t really too prevalent in South Africa, and wanting to save on money we hit the road early so that we could attempt to get to a town near the coast called Oudsthoorp by the evening where we knew from the guide book that there was a cheap backpackers hostel.

The drive through the centre of South Africa was made quite tedious due to roadworks in preparation for the world cup, but by taking this route we avoided the tolled N1 route.

We arrived in Oudsthoorp just before sundown and found the hostel where we could park outside and sleep in the rooftent. Although it is often tricky to find an appropriate parking space where we can unfold the rooftent, at times it has been really easy to use, as after three months we can unfold it or pack it away in under two minutes time which is a lot quicker than erecting a normal tent.

Days 103 & 104: South Africa

Day 103

For a while we had realised that we would not have enough money to carry out the intended second part of the trip around South and North America, after many things along the way had cost a lot more than expected and having swallowed up the contingency money in preparation, and travelling through Europe. Plan ‘B’ was to get to Cape Town and ship the car back to the UK, but after speaking to Beverly in Khartoum who had travelled down the west coast of Africa, we realised that once we got to Cape town it might actually be just as expensive to drive back up the west coast as it is to ship the Landrover back to the UK whilst we flew back.

The new route back home would take us through Namibia, DR Congo, Rep Congo, Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco and Spain, and would involve getting numerous tricky and expensive visas prior to starting our return journey. The Angolan visa we knew would be the trickiest, and so we thought we would visit every Angolan embassy along the way to improve our chances of being successful, the first of which was is Gaberone. The official at the embassy told us it wasn’t possible there, but possibly in Pretoria, Cape Town or Windhoek (the next three we knew we could visit).

With no visa obtained, we headed east out of Botswana and into South Africa, the final country on the first leg of our journey. Once we arrived in Pretoria, just like Botswana it was proving difficult to find cheap accommodation, and the one place we had in mind had closed down, so yet again we found a campsite on the edge of town to camp for the seventh night in a row, the longest sequential spell of camping on the journey so far.

Day 104

The night was cold for the first time since Turkey as we were now below the Tropic of Capricorn, well into the southern hemisphere and a temperate climate once more. The first task of the day was to find a few of the embassies of the countries we intend to travel through on the west coast and enquire about visas.

We found the Democratic Republic of Congo embassy and began our visa application before heading to the Angolan embassy to see if we would be able to get a visa there. After chatting to the security guard, we then got to speak to the ambassador who informed us we could only really get them in Namibia. On the way out I explained to the security guard that we couldn’t apply for the visa in South Africa, and he commented: “I don’t know what’s wrong with these people.”

The next task was to find a cheap hostel, as the campsite from the previous night we could only describe as depressing. We managed to find a place near to the world cup stadium and shared a room with a Canadian called Ben, who knew more about world geography and politics than anyone else I know, and we chatted into the evening discussing everything from American States to African politics.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Days 101 & 102: Zambia & Botswana

Day 101

The town of Livingston lies 11km/7miles away from where the water of the Zambezi river crashes down hundreds of metres to give us one of the most famous waterfalls in the world; The Victoria Falls. On the short drive out to the falls the wide river is visible from the road with a breathtaking plume of water spray visible in the distance.

After entering the national park area, the roaring sound of water is audible and the waterfall slowly emerges into view from the woodland that surrounds the opposite edge of the river high up. A bridge links the river edge to an island in the middle of the river from where the experience of being so close to the waterfall really becomes apparent. Walking across the bridge was like being in the biggest torrential downpour ever, with every part of your clothes getting absolutely soaked through with water within one minute, it was unbelievable.

We walked around getting extremely wet, but getting the best views of the falls that the other dry tourists would miss out on. The falls were even more spectacular due to the large amount of water in the Zambezi for that time of year. We had heard how full the Zambezi was from other tourists, as we had been told that the pontoon ferry between Zambia and Botswana wasn’t running as the banks had flooded.

We headed upstream to the ferry and found out that they had constructed some temporary piers for the cars to get onto the pontoon ferry, and so we would be able to get into Botswana after all. The drive on the opposite side of the border was through the middle of the Savanah where we saw more elephants than people along the road to Francistown where we camped for the night.

Day 102

In between Francistown and Gaberone is a small Rhino Sanctuary near the town of Serowe, and having read in the guidebooks how cheap it was, we decided to pay a visit and attempt to tick off a few more animals from our ‘spotted’ list (Not a physical list I hasten to add).

The roads throughout the sanctuary were in really good condition, and we managed to cover near enough every road of the 4,300hectare site within about three hours viewing kudus, wildebeast, gazelles, impalas, vultures, ostriches, giraffes, zebras, warthogs along with five rhinos.

Happy with our game viewing we aimed to get to the Botswanan capital of Gaberone by the evening, and after searching for illusive cheap accommodation, after a few hours we found a campsite on the edge of town for a reasonable rate. The plan in Gaberone was to try and get the first of our visas for the second part of the trip once we had arrived in Cape Town.

Days 99 & 100: Malawi & Zambia

Day 99

The morning was spent trying to exchange money in the city centre, but for some reason which we still don’t understand, none of the banks or bureaux de change’s had much Zambian Kwatcha, and offered a ridiculously poor rate to the dollar if you were looking to buy.

Wanting to get rid of our Malawian Kwatcha we exchanged enough into dollars to get us through the border, then as much as we could into Zambian Kwatcha, some more into Botswanan Pula, and the rest we took to the border to exchange there. The currencies were beginning to become complicated for the first time on the trip.

The border was a relative formality, and we entered the nothingness of east Zambia to cover a lot of ground before the sun set. Without having anywhere in mind to stay for the night, we stumbled across a beautiful small camp called the Luangwa River Bridge Camp just off the main road which was run by a South African guy and his English wife where we rested our heads after yet another long drive.

Day 100

The next real destination of interest on our journey was the Victoria Falls outside Livingston, but we thought we might spend one day in the capital of Lusaka which was on the way. We arrived in Lusaka before midday and parked up to go and get some lunch before we decided whether to stay or carry on driving though the afternoon.

After deciding to carry on driving, we returned to the Landrover to see someone leaning inside with the door open. We both ran down the road towards the car with Nathan arriving on the scene first as I was carrying the laptop bag, when the guy spotted us and began to run. Nathan got a good hard kick at him and ripped the shirt off his back as he tried to apprehend him, but he scampered away having not stolen anything.

We arrived in Livingston and spent around two hours looking for somewhere to camp, eventually finding a hostel where we could park the Landrover around the back and sleep in the rooftent.

Days 97 & 98: Malawi

Day 97

The next morning we resumed our journey towards the Malawian border passing through Mbeya to stock up on money and fuel as the diesel in Malawi would become more expensive. The border crossing was a formality as we parted with no cash what so ever as the VISAs for UK citizens are free.

The road that follows the shore of Lake Malawi eventually twisted and turned its way up into the mountains, and once again the Landrover was overheating due to the increased pressure on the engine from the sudden rise in altitude. After a few stops to let it cool down whilst we watched the mountain baboons running up and down the road and swinging in the tree canopies, we resumed our journey to Nkhata Bay.

The Mayoka Village resort wasn’t the easiest to find, but its’ remote location on the bay was stunning. After we had eaten there we went to another resort to see if they had the Manchester United v Bayern Munich Champions League game on. Some of the locals invited us into one of the bars on the beach saying they would show a place with the game on, and so we got chatting and eventually went around the corner to watch the game in a strange unfinished hotel resort.

Day 98

The journey to the capital Lilongwe wasn’t as long as the previous two days of travelling which had seen us travel 1100miles/1771km and so it made a change when we arrived at our destination just after midday and checked into the Kiboko Campsite on the edge of the town.

We decided to utilise the facilities and spent the afternoon splashing about in the pool with the football. Once again after a few days of hard driving it was to good to have an afternoon off. If we had the money to spend more time lazing about, then Malawi would be the ideal place, but the budget was beginning to tug on our purse strings.

The Malawians seemed really laid back compared to the past few countries in Africa we had visited, and although we were only passing through, Malawi is another country I will probably visit again in the future. It’s just a shame that the beer in Malawi is all brewed by Carlsberg and is piss poor compared to the rest of the African beers we had sampled along the way.

Days 95 & 96: Tanzania

Day 95

The ferry back was due to leave at around 11am, so we checked out after a brief lie-in and went for some breakfast in a small café around the corner from the port. The Catamaran journey back to the mainland was really choppy, and at one stage we were nearly puked on by a little girl at the front of the boat who obviously didn’t like the rough sea that that catamaran was smashing through at pace.

Once back on the mainland, the cheapest way to return to the campground was to get two Matatus from the centre of town. If you can speak the language and can cope with cramped conditions the Hiace is a very cheap and relatively quick method of public transport as the journey back cost us much less than $5 between us.

After getting some money out and changing it to dollars, we retreated once again to the campground to watch DVDs on the beach under the full moon that hovered over the Indian Ocean.

Day 96

With our washing done and the Landrover packed, we started our journey to Malawi, hoping to get somewhere near the border by the time the sun went down. Trying to get the miles under our belt as quickly as possible so that we had more chance of getting to Mbeya, the border town by that evening had one major flaw. On one of the main roads heading through and out of a small town I got caught speeding.

The police had parked on the edge of the town with a radar gun and had clocked me doing 77kph in a 50kph zone, resulting in a £10/€11 on the spot fine. I had wanted to get to Cape Town without any speeding tickets, but when you are travelling 12,500miles/20,000km often at high speed through remote areas, the chances are that sooner or later you will probably get caught out.

We didn’t make it as far as Mbeya, but we found a small town called Matakyoko which wasn’t too much further from the border. We found a hotel called the Mid-town motel with really nice en-suite rooms for £2.50/€2.75 per person per night, and the meals from the restaurant turned out just as cheap. After all the day didn’t prove too costly at all.

Days 93 & 94: Tanzania

Day 93

With the Landrover needing attention yet again, we headed into Dar to see if we could find a garage. Whilst asking in a tyre garage, a local who was getting his wheels aligned offered to show us where a Landrover specialist was located in the city. We invited Matthew into the car to show us where it was, but when we arrived the place was shut as it was a Saturday.

The security guard had the phone number for a mechanic who worked there and so we gave him a call to see if he could help us. He was doing some private work at the time, but said if we drove up to meet him that he could quickly repair our car before returning to the other job. The house he was at was only around the corner from where we had stayed the previous night, and after finding him the job of replacing the bearings and oil seal whilst fixing the brake calliper was complete within a couple of hours.

We drove Matthew home and thanked him for his help in finding a mechanic. He had gone out of his way to help us and we appreciate the genuine kindness of people who just want to help, rather than the usual African way of helping and then asking for commission. We spent the evening having a few drinks before returning to the Silver Sands resort to go swimming/skinny dipping in the sea after sundown.

Day 94

Zanzibar is a small island just off the coast of Tanzania, famed in history as an important part of the early trade routes. Although our budget was beginning to tighten itself, we both agreed that we must visit the island whilst we were in the area, as we might not get a better chance to do so. We got a taxi down to the port, leaving the Landrover safely parked in the campsite, we booked our tickets and then boarded the next fast catamaran ferry that was leaving the rainy mainland.

The journey took just over an hour and a half, and we arrived in sunny Zanzibar to fill out more Tanzanian immigration and health forms before getting our passports stamped and being allowed onto the island. We took a walk around the old stone town passing through the narrow maze of alleyways that only scooters, bicycles and pedestrians could navigate. To lose the way around these twisting cobbled lanes was quite easy as a tourist, but whichever way you went, you would always end up back at the main road on one side, or the sea on the other.

It was Easter Sunday, and despite Zanzibar being a Muslim place it seemed quite subdued. The maze of alleyways led us eventually down to the old fort in which we found a nice little restaurant/bar where we had a drink and a game of pool for the first time on the trip. Just after the sun went down, we returned to the park on the promenade which had amazingly come alive with stalls selling charcoal grilled food enticing what appeared to be the entire town out to eat and socialise on the sea front. All the senses combined at once as the smell, sound, taste and sight threw up a dramatic and unexpectedly pleasant end of the evening in Zanzibar. (I’m not gonna cook it, but I’ll order it from Zanzibar! – not for one minute could me or Nathan get that song out of our heads.)

Days 91 & 92: Kenya & Tanzania

Day 91

Early the next morning we repaired the shock absorber and also managed to fix another leak from the fuel return air hose which meant we had a slightly reduced fuel capacity. With the car parked securely at the hotel, and the ferry across from the south beaches in Diani being a drive and then a ferry journey away, we decided to get a Matatu to the ferry and walk around Mombasa.

As much as I hate Matatus, they are a really quick and cheap method of transport, but to drive or conduct one you need an ego. We arrived at the ferry to see people crowding onto the flat deck around the vehicles like ants and within ten minutes we had set foot on the other side in Mombasa. Walking around the old town felt like being in a caneletto painting with the picture consisting of a place made up of parts of Africa, Europe and India.

After viewing the fort and walking around the old town, we headed back to the south beaches to cool down in the hotel room with a cold shower after spending the whole day in the hot and humid climate of the coast.

Day 92

Looking forward to entering a new country, we started our journey towards the Tanzania border at Lunga Lunga quite early. The border crossing took longer than expected due to a coach load of Tanzanians arriving at the same time, but after just over an hour of getting things stamped, we were into Tanzania.

The road to Tanga was quite poor in parts, and at one stage we overtook the aforementioned coach which had slid down the muddy embankment at the side of the road unable to get out. The roads yet again had taken their toll on the car and the front passenger side wheel wasn’t sounding to healthy, but instead of stopping we continued to Dar Es Salam where we knew we would have a better chance of getting a good fix or parts if needed.

It made a change to arrive somewhere before dark, and we found a hotel resort on the northern beaches of Dar called Silver Sands where we could camp for the night and get something to eat in the restaurant on the beautifully smooth beach sand.

Days 89 & 90: Kenya

Day 89

It was raining for the entire night, and so a few people who were camping on the ground had decided to sleep indoors rather than in a tent. I was OK in the rooftent which was raised 2m (6ft4in) above the flooded campsite and therefore only got a bit damp during the night.

After driving off road again the Landrover needed some slight attention once more, and so me and Nathan got the tools out and started fixing things which had rattled off, whilst at the same time tidying out the back of the Landrover which now looked like an unfinished jigsaw puzzle.

Nathans’ now fiancée Caz had to catch her flight in the evening, and so we drove her out to the airport to say goodbye. I yet again informed Caz on her departure that it’s never too late to change her mind.

Day 90

With Caz out of the way [I’m only joking Caz!!!] it was time for the two of us to back get on the road to Cape Town. The new route we had decided to take was along the coast of Kenya, through Tanzania and then into Malawi, and so our next destination was Mombasa. The entire road from Nairobi to Mombasa was just full of idiots for drivers. The worst incident of the trip happened as I was overtaking a series of slower moving vehicles on the single-carriage road.

Having overtaken one vehicle I continued to try and overtake an articulated lorry, keeping my indicator on and even beeping the horn to warn him that was overtaking. Just as got half way past the long trailer, he decided to pull out leaving me the only option to brake the hardest I ever have and to swerve onto the opposite hard shoulder. The brakes were smoking as we came to a halt only inches away from both the side of the lorry on one side and the grassy ditch to the other side.

After briefly venting our frustration with the driver we sped off towards Mombasa lucky to avoid a serious incident. The roads south of Mombassa along the beaches are cut off by the port, and so we thought the only way around according to the maps was to drive on back-roads through the countryside. This route contained poor roads again, and took a lot longer than we thought. At one stage one of the rear shock absorbers had fallen half way off, and after stopping to remove it completely we continued in the dark to the hotel with one shock missing.

Days 87 & 88: Kenya

Day 87

The park gates to the Masai Mara open every day as the sun comes up at 06:30 and shut as it goes down at 18:30 and so to utilise this timeframe so as only to pay for one days worth of park fees ($60 per person per day) we got up at 05:30 to get ready. Once we had driven through the gates, the first drive heading west took us past hundreds of Thomson Gazelle, Kudus, Wildebeests and buffaloes before Caz spotted a Lioness in the grass. There turned out to be three of them and it was quite pleasing not only to spot them at all, but within ten minutes of being in the park.

Next we spotted a lone elephant, before stumbling across a herd of giraffes, and eventually a herd of elephants. As we slowly approached in the Landrover and pulled over to take photos, we could see one of the elephants that was a mere 10metres (9 yards) away starting to slowly charge towards us! I quickly stepped on the accelerator and we sped off from the elephant that I’m pretty sure was giving us a first warning.

The day continued with spottings of baboons, hippos, warthogs and various other animals of all sizes until we needed to start our journey out of the park back to a hotel. The route out of the park was again off road and it had started raining heavily leaving some of the roads very wet. The real problems started when the rainwater would channel itself into the road to descend the hills, leaving a lot of the roads completely wet meaning we were effectively driving down rivers! The worst part was a muddy stretch where none of the road could be seen for a thin watery/muddy layer that was un-drivable. Luckily we turned around to find the main road out of the area and back towards civilisation, but we spent around five hours driving off road in the rain and dark through terrible conditions just to get a cheap hotel room for the night.

Day 88

With such an amazing day the previous day we decided to close the loop on our trip around Kenya back to Nairobi so that Caz could catch her flight back from Nairobi airport. I hadn’t been feeling too well all night and the dodgy stomach had continued into the day, so by the time we got back to JJs it was time to chill out.

After getting a much-needed lunch cooked by Nathan and Caz, I headed for a late afternoon kip in the rooftent. When I woke up again in the evening it appeared that the rain that we had witnessed in the Masai Mara had caught up with us in Nairobi.

The entire campground was flooded and so we all gathered inside the main house adjoining the campground for some noodles and a beer. This is when Caz informed me that whilst I was driving the Landrover around the Masai Mara with Nathan and Caz sat on the roofrack to get a good view, Nathan had proposed to Caz, and Caz had duly accepted his proposal! I informed Caz that it’s never too late to change her mind.

Days 85 & 86: Kenya

Day 85

The reason for visiting Lake Victoria was to see some hippos, and so after breakfast in the morning we drove south to hippo point to see how much we could hire a boat for. The prices were quite high and we couldn’t haggle a lower price so we decided to go and search at the other end of the town where we knew we would find some fish restaurants.

The whole end of the bay to the north was a long terrace of bars stretching wide along the shore, and long back onto the land, leaving a small space around the waters edge for power boats to dock, and for people to drive cars down into the lake to wash them. The fresh tilapia from Lake Victoria was on sale in the restaurants and so we shared a medium sized fried fish tilapia between us. (Whilst getting constantly hassled by hawkers and glue sniffing teenagers.)

Just before we were about to eat, we were approached by a bloke who said he could take us out on the lake in a powered boat to see the hippos for the same price as we could have hired a rowing boat at the last place. After some cheeky negotiation we haggled down the price to a reasonable figure and headed out onto the lake. We only managed to see one semi-submerged hippo for about two seconds, but the one-hour boat ride was quite interesting and we did get to see some Kingfishers.

Day 86

The night before the Landrover had been broken into at the front and an attempt had been made on the lock on the back as well. Nothing was stolen from the front (we remove all valuables when we leave the car parked), the back is impenetrable because of the second hasp lock we installed, and the car wasn’t stolen because we have an immobiliser and a steering lock. Luckily the two locks still function and so no real damage was done.

We started our journey heading to the Masai Mara just before lunchtime estimating that it would take us half a day to get there. After stopping for lunch we resumed our journey at good speed until we hit the off road part of the route.

Progress off road was slow and we ended up driving in the dark with rain starting to fall. One river crossing proved too difficult, as the approach was a very steep rocky dip on which we got the tow bar caught. After a five-minute job removing the tow bar we were on our way to Talek to find a cheap hotel for the night.