Namibia: The 1,727 km Journey

While living in South Africa, I knew I had to get to Namibia as I’ve heard it’s an incredible country. With only a few months left to live in South Africa and budgets being tight, I didn’t know if it was going to be feasible. But I realized I’m not going to be living in this region ever again and it’s a lot cheaper to get to Namibia from South Africa than from the U.S., so I decided to go for it! I told myself that I was saving money in the long run🙂

Other than hearing good things about Namibia, I honestly didn’t know very much about the country or what to expect. I went with 5 friends, 2 of whom did most of the planning such as the route we were going to take, so I just packed my bags the night before and mentally prepared for the adventure!

I flew direct from Cape Town to Windhoek (the capital) on South African Airways and the flight was an easy 2 hours. Once in Windhoek our planned itinerary was 1 night in Windhoek, 3 nights in Etosha National Park, 1 night in Uis, 3 nights in Swakopmund, 2 nights in Sossusvlei and 1 night in Windhoek before returning home. The total journey in Namibia: 1,727 km.

Screen Shot 2014-01-18 at 10.13.51 AMWe rented a large 8 passenger VW van (emphasis on large) and after 1 night in Windhoek we got on the road headed to Etosha National Park. In Etosha National Park we stayed at Okaukeujo Rest Camp and rented a camping site. I’m starting to get slightly used to camping as living in South Africa has been my first experience with camping. It’s definitely a fun experience and I’ve learned to embrace the outdoors in a whole new way!

IMG_0436IMG_0444If you’re ever planning a trip to Etosha National Park, I’d highly recommend staying at Okaukeujo Rest Camp (they have nice rooms and lodges for those on a larger budget) as one of the highlights of the Camp is the watering hole. There is a watering hole right next to the Camp that you can venture to throughout the day and at night there are spotlights on the hole so that you can view the animals 24/7 in their natural habitat. I spent every evening at the watering hole, 1 sunrise and then periodic trips there throughout the day to see what I would wonder upon. Off the top of my head, I saw an elephant, numerous zebras springbok and wildebeast, wild dogs and rhinos. It was so fascinating to observe them there.

IMG_0443 IMG_0474 IMG_0475 IMG_0463 IMG_0465The entire stay at Etosha was very relaxing and laid back, which I enjoyed. We went on a guided sunrise drive and then we did an afternoon self drive the day before we left. Other than trying to spot as many animals as we could, we hung out by the pool and played games at our camp site. We fully stocked up on food and (more importantly) alcohol while we were in Windhoek before we got to Etosha. There is a small convenience store (with food, alcohol, ice and fire wood) inside the Camp, but we were glad that we did a big grocery shopping trip before we arrived. Our diet for the 3 days consisted of bread, peanut butter, rice, pap (pronounced more like pop – Wiki article explaining it), apples, bananas, beans, corn, rice and chakalaka. I’m going to gender stereotype and say thank goodness for the 3 guys with us who were always around to start and keep the fire going. That’s one camping skill I haven’t quite mastered yet.

The meal highlight of Etosha was the 3 course meal that the guys prepared for us girls. It included a thoughtful restaurant name (Franklin’s Beerhouse, named after Franklin the bug who wouldn’t leave our campsite no matter how hard we tried), menu with presentation for each dish, candle light, cocktails and a 5-star wait staff. They came up with this idea all on their own and were quite proud of the meal and I was pleasantly surprised with their creative genius. You gotta think outside of the box while camping!

IMG_0476 IMG_0477 IMG_0478 IMG_0480IMG_0479I’ve been on a few game drives and walks in southern Africa, but the landscape in Etosha was very different. I had also never been on a sunrise game drive, so that was something I highly enjoyed even though it was cold and I was sleepy, but it was well worth it.

After driving around for approximately an hour and seeing some of the same animals over and over, one of the fellow passengers made an amazing discovery! From a far distance, she spotted a family of lion’s resting in between bushes. Where they were was significantly off of the path. However, the guide was nice enough to break the rules and drove the truck off rode. We saw the lion’s for literally 5 seconds before we had to turn around as another car was coming and the guide didn’t want other cars to pull the same illegal move. The guide was nice enough to then be on the lookout for another 10-15 more minutes to make sure no cars were in the nearby vicinity. After he made sure we were the only car around, he did another quick trip so that we could see the lion’s up close and personal. This time, we were able to observe them for about 2 minutes and it was definitely the highlight of my day. They were so calm, yet intimidating and powerful at the same time. It was my first time seeing a whole family of lion’s.

IMG_0455 IMG_0453 IMG_0454 IMG_0452More animals…including the endangered black rhino and a giraffe carcass.

IMG_0446 IMG_0448 IMG_0449 IMG_0450 IMG_0482 IMG_0484 IMG_0485 IMG_0487 IMG_0486After we left Etosha, we headed for Swakopmund, with one night in Uis to break up the drive….

Country 2: Mozambique

So after a 2 am wake up in Maseru, Lesotho, we packed up the car and hit the road for our 12 hour drive to Mozambique. The reason we had to leave so early is because we were staying on Macaneta Island about 30 km outside of the capital city Maputo and we had to catch a ferry to get there. We were told that the last ferry left to the island at 7:00, so we wanted to ensure that we had plenty of time to make it because nothing ever goes as planned in Africa!

At this point my roommate and I were joined by another intern who works at GRS’s site in Alexandra (a township outside of Johannesburg). The drive was pretty uneventful, but we were anticipating a few struggles once we got to the border of Mozambique because we heard it could be crowded, confusing and take a long time. Before we got to the border we decided we should change our money from Rand to Metical. We saw a sign for a bank, so we drove for a few kilometers but couldn’t exactly find it. So we went into a convenience store and asked where we could change our money. He pointed across the street to a large woman sitting under a tree with a large suitcase like bag. So we were like, ok, let’s see how this works. Thankfully, it was totally legit, the lady was very friendly and she gave us the exact exchange rate that we had looked up before we had left. 3.3 meticais for every rand. I can confidently say that that is my first time doing banking with a stranger under a tree.

Shortly after we got our money, we arrived at the border and thankfully, it wasn’t as painful as we had anticipated. I think we were at the border for about an hour and the employees there weren’t very helpful or friendly, but we managed to get our visas without too much of a hassle. Also, as we were standing in line, we met an American doctor who practices in Maputo and knows a former employee of GRS that was just visiting us in Cape Town a few weeks before, through ultimate frisbee tournaments….small world!

The drive through the city of Maputo was a little hectic. Lots of traffic with vendors on the side of the road selling items for kilometers and kilometers. We still had about 2 hours until the last ferry was scheduled to leave so I wasn’t too worried. We weren’t 100% clear on the directions to get to the ferry, but luckily we found a sign and made our way to the line to the ferry. However, when we pulled up, it wasn’t exactly the ferry experience I was expecting. I guess I had forgotten that I was in Mozambique, but the ferry didn’t exactly look safe, but they were piling cars and people on it, so I knew we’d be fine.

At this point my roommate and our new travel companion decided to ask around to find out how long the ferry would take and where we could get some food. They ended up talking with a young guy named Matt “Rise and Shine” who ended up becoming a lifesaver throughout the rest of our trip. He helped us to get food and let us use his cell phone to call the owners of the camp site we were staying at to let them know we had arrived to the ferry. At this point it was getting dark and after 7, but Matt let us know that the ferry never leaves any cars behind, so we had nothing to worry about.

After about a 45 minute wait, it was our turn to load onto the ferry. It was somewhat of an incline, plus a small space, but I was able to navigate our car (with a manual transmission) onto the ferry in the dark. After a short, 5 minute ferry ride to the other side, we reached the island. Our car didn’t have 4×4 drive, so the owners of the camp site met us at a petrol station near the ferry, where we securely parked our car. They drove us the rest of the way to the resort/camp site because it was nothing but sand roads and our car would have most certainly gotten stuck.

Since we arrived late and it was dark, the owner graciously let us stay in the lodge, instead of having to set up our tents in the dark. The lodge had several beds, a nice shower, and kitchen. I couldn’t have been happier. After eating a little bit of food and taking a nice shower, we all headed to bed and fell asleep quickly. In the morning we woke up, found the camp site and set up our tents.

The rest of our time on the island was VERY relaxing. Our routine included walking to the beach, laying by the pool, reading and setting bonfires on the beach. It got pretty hot even early in the morning so it was impossible to stay on the beach for the entire day with no shade. The beach was nice, secluded and very peaceful. Matt “Rise and Shine” visited us 90% of the time we were there and shared so much about the Mozambique culture. He even helped the guys catch fresh fish with some local fishermen and cooked us breakfast 2 mornings.

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On Thursday morning we packed up our campsite, hopped back on to the ferry and back to Maputo. We had a flight out the next day from Johannesburg to Maun, Botswana, so we decided to spend the night in Maputo in order to avoid any delays with the ferry and to get a good nights rest. We drove back into the city and had reservations at the Southern Sun Hotel. It was definitely an upgrade from camping for 4 days! We had a nice seafood dinner at a restaurant near the hotel, then lounged by the pool for the rest of the evening with drinks in hand.

IMG_1818 IMG_1819  IMG_1821 IMG_1822 IMG_1823 After a few hours of sleep, we had another middle of the night wake up call as we had to get to Johannesburg (about a 7 hour drive) for our flight to Botswana. I had heard a few horror stories about driving at night in Mozambique, but we really had no choice, so we packed up the car and hit the road.

About 1 km in to our journey police pull us over. It was pretty obvious that they targeted us when they saw 2 white people in the car. At first they assumed I was a local and started talking to me in Portuguese and then were confused when I said I only spoke English. They said we made an illegal turn and would take us to jail if we didn’t pay them. Thankfully, everyone stayed calm and we explained we didn’t have any money. They pointed to an atm and told us to take out cash and we all basically laughed at them and said no. So they kept threatening to take us to the police stay and we all said, “Ok, let’s go and we’ll explain to them” to obviously call them on their bluff. This went back and forth for several minutes before finally my roommate said that he did have 100 meticais, which is the equivalent of about $3. So they took it and then eventually left us alone.

At this point, I’m realizing that although we were only stopped for about 15 minutes, I didn’t want to take any chances with missing our flight, so we needed to be extra careful. However, we get about 5 km down the road and more police pull us over. We go back and forth with them again, telling them we don’t have any money and they eventually let us go.

Big sigh of relief on our parts…but then it happens again. Yep, we get another 5 km and this time there is a road block. They let some cars go through, but once they see our car with 2 white people in it, we immediately get told to stop. This was probably the most frustrating, challenging, funny and scary time we got pulled over. There was a major language barrier this time, handcuffs and automatic weapons involved and lots of confusion. The police seemed very confused when we said we were all friends and were questioning why we weren’t married. Then, there was some talk that the guys were film stars. It was all very, very bizarre. Again, they tried to scare us with threats of going to jail, handcuffs and the gun if we didn’t give them money. We told them we didn’t have anything because we had already been stopped 2 times and had given our money away. This went on for awhile and then it’s like all of a sudden they realized they weren’t going to get any money out of us, so they became friendly, smiled, wished us a good night and sent us on our way. So bizarre.

We made it to a toll about 5 km away without getting stopped, then another 25 km to the South African border. I was never so happy to see a border in my life! I knew we were still probably ok on time and making our flight, but I was starting to get slightly nervous. Luckily, since it was the middle of the night, the border was super easy to cross and then with little traffic, we made it to Johannesburg to drop off the rental car and check in to our flight with time to spare!

Next up: Botswana!

Country 1: Lesotho

Let the adventure begin! (yep I was able to pack everything I needed for 24 days into 1 small back pack!)

After about a month of planning, my roommate (who is another American and intern with Grassroot Soccer) and I picked up the rental car and headed north. He had done a similar drive previously, but this was my first time driving this far in South Africa, so I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. We left Cape Town around approximately 11:30 am (after a very long goose chase to pick up the rental car) with the music playing and the windows down. After about an hour or 2 I realized we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere surrounded by greenery and hills. We’d stop for snacks and the bathroom when we needed petrol at about 1/2 a tank left because petrol stations were few and far in between. The drive is pretty much on a 2 lane highway, which means there is a lot of passing trucks and other slow cars, which definitely keeps you on your toes.

Fortunately, we made it to the Lesotho (pronounced li-soo-too) border around 11 pm (1,149 km later!) and entered into Maseru (the capital). The border was very easy to deal with and we got our first new stamp in our passports with little hassle. Once across the border, we had a little adventure finding our friends (also fellow Grassroot Soccer interns) house due to the fact that our cell phones didn’t work anymore and their house didn’t have an actual address, but we eventually found our way about 20 minutes later.

The next day we spent our time visiting the Football for Hope Center that the other interns work at as they were having a Christmas event there. We also drove around the city, got food and enjoyed the views of the “Mountain Kingdom” which Lesotho’s famous nickname.

*Disclaimer – unfortunately I lost my camera in Mozambique (after we left Lesotho), so I’ve had to rely on my roommates pictures for this portion of the trip. Luckily, I was able to buy a (overpriced) camera at the airport before heading to Botswana.

The next morning we were excited to head further into Lesotho to Semongkong. This is probably where the real adventure began. There is only 1 lodge in Semongkong and we hadn’t made reservations. We didn’t have internet access or phones, so we were hoping we’d have somewhere to sleep when we showed up. Plan B was to sleep in the car. The next challenge was the fact that the road to Semongkong is a combination of dirt, rocks, and mud. Unfortunately, it had been very rainy for about a week before we arrived and people told us they weren’t sure if our little Chevy, non 4 wheel drive car, would make it. Again, plan B was to sleep in the car if we got stuck. However, we went for it anyway. We spent a lot of time in 1st and 2nd gear on the 3 hour drive (it’s only about 90 km, but you have to drive very slow), but we eventually made it to our destination and it was breath taking!

The drive was through the mountains and clusters of villages. The Lesotho people (which are called Besotho people. Please read more about Lesotho here as I don’t want this post to be any longer than it already is going to be🙂 But Lesotho’s people and history are very interesting) are very friendly and we exchanged waves and hellos as we drove through different villages. They use donkeys and horses as their main transport and wear traditional blankets called the Basotho blankets (google image Basotho blanket to see some beautiful blankets).

We arrived at the only lodge in Semongkong and waited patiently as the receptionist checked to see if there were any rooms available. Not only was there a room available, but it was 1 of the nicest rooms in the lodge! We were definitely living in luxury while there. The room had a fireplace, very nice shower and comfortable bed. The cost was approximately $45 per person and it was a $45 well spent.

After we settled in, we headed out to attempt to find the famous Maletsunyane waterfall. At this point, I had another “omg, I’m in the middle of Lesotho, in the middle of nowhere” moment. It was very peaceful, serene and simple. There was no clear path after about 5 minutes so we just walked in the general direction of where we were told the falls were located. We walked through some villages and by people transporting items on their donkeys from in town. After about an hour (we were told it would take about an hour to get to the falls) we didn’t think we were making much progress and a swarm of about 10 kids ran up to us. 1 of them could speak very limited English, but the others just smiled at us and grabbed our hands. We spent about 15 minutes with them smiling and laughing and realized we weren’t going to make it to the falls that evening, but the journey was worth it up to that point. After about 15 minutes we attempted to explain to the kids that we had to leave. After about 3 attempts to walk away in which, the kids would stop for a second and then continue to follow, they eventually ran back to their huts.

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At this point we decided that we didn’t want to be too adventurous and end up lost at dark. So we decided to head back to the lodge and try to make it to the waterfall the next morning. The lodge served us a great meal, including a bottle of wine and we were in a food coma. We made it back to the room and took advantage of the fireplace and fell asleep by 9:30 pm. It was pure heaven.

In the morning we woke up and ventured out to attempt to make it to the waterfall again. The walk was absolutely gorgeous. We heard cow bells and farmers in the distance, but other than that it was very quiet and peaceful. After about an hour we reached the waterfall and enjoyed its beauty. We relaxed by the falls, both of us in silence for much of the time, taking in all the sights, sounds and feelings for about 30 minutes. It was blissful.

lesotho21 lesotho22 lesotho23 lesotho24 lesotho25After enjoying the waterfall, we trekked back to the lodge to pack up our stuff and head back to the big city of Maseru. Along the way we ran into our friends and other interns who had just arrived in Semongkong and would be spending the night in the area as well. We had a quick bite to eat with them and then said our goodbyes and enjoyed the bumpy and slow ride back to Maseru.

We made it back to Maseru uneventfully and spent the day getting ready for the next leg of our journey. At about 10:00 pm we headed to bed and woke up at 2:30 am for the next adventure.

Next up: Mozambique!

5 countries, 7,000+ km & 24 days later

I’m back from my trip throughout southern Africa. I don’t think words can do the experience justice, but I’m going to try over the next few posts. I don’t think I had too many expectations going into the trip, as I’m a pretty go with the flow type of person, but everyday was simply amazing. Things didn’t go perfectly, but I couldn’t have asked for a better journey.

I don’t think my time living here in Cape Town would be the same without this trip. I got to see some very remote settings, beautiful landscapes and met the most wonderful people (locals and fellow travelers). I already had the travel bug, but this solidified it for me; as long as I can help it, travel will be one of my top priorities.

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This is the route that we took. It was a combination of driving, flying, overnight train, overnight bus and even 2 ferry boats thrown in there. It was definitely a lot of time on the road, but not too tiring and the landscapes everywhere that we went were gorgeous, so I couldn’t complain.

Over the next few posts, I’ll try to highlight each destination. I honestly don’t have a favorite because each stop was great in its own way. But for now, I’ll leave you with a picture that I really like from Livingstone, Zambia at Victoria Falls.

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Happy Holidays from South Africa!

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So I’m a little early in wishing everyone happy holidays (unless you’re Jewish!), but that’s for good reason. This week, I head out on a 5 country, 25 day adventure throughout southern Africa. I’ll spend Christmas eve and day camping in the Okavango Delta and I’ll spend New Year’s eve on an overnight train to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

My stops include Lesotho, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia. I’ve never done anything like this, but like moving to Cape Town, I’m ready for the journey. Like I do best, I waited until the night before to pack, but I made it work. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”

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T.I.A

So I mentioned in a previous post, that Cape Town isn’t exactly the “real” Africa. Most people joke and call it Halfrica because it is so different than the rest of the country and continent. However, there are certainly moments on a semi-regular basis that I quickly remember that I’m in Africa.

That’s where T.I.A. comes in. It comes from the movie Blood Diamond in which Leonardo Di’Caprio says T.I.A, this is Africa. So my (American) friends and I will often encounter something that doesn’t quite compare to how things work in our normal lives back home and will exclaim “This is Africa!”

It’s not necessarily said in a negative light, just that things are obviously done a little different and often slower here. Like I mentioned in yet another post, learning to be patient is definitely something I’ve been practicing while here.

So my most recent “This is Africa” moment began about 1 week ago. I had a local doctor call in a prescription to the pharmacy for me. Luckily, that part was easy and the doctor was able to fax in the prescription just like it happens in the states. So I was pleasantly surprised things were working so smoothly.

2 days later, I go to pick up the prescription after work around 5:30 and the pharmacy is closed, even though their hours state they’re open until 7. I didn’t think much of it, so decide to go back the next day. The same thing happens. I find a customer service person who was working in the store and ask about the pharmacy counter being closed and she said that they couldn’t find a pharmacist to cover for the afternoon, so they closed.

Now mind you, this isn’t a small mom and pop type pharmacy. This is a store equivalent to CVS or Walgreens with branches everywhere. So I happen to go to that shopping center quite regularly for other things, so 2 other occasions I was in the area and peaked in and yep, the pharmacy was still closed in the evenings although they’re usually open until 7.

Luckily, I didn’t need the prescription right away, so I was finally able to pick it up today. Which leads to my 2nd “This is Africa” moment. I picked up the prescription from the pharmacy, but you can’t pay for it at the pharmacy. The prescription is wrapped up and enclosed in a steel cage with a zip tie. So I continued doing the rest of my shopping with the steel cage in one hand. I thought it was pretty funny and wonder how often people attempt to or get away with stealing their meds.

There are small moments like that in which I’m able to step back and appreciate that I’m living somewhere completely new and foreign. I don’t think I’m taking my time for granted here, but here in Cape Town, it’s pretty easy to feel comfortable and not go out of your comfort zone on a regular basis since it is “Halfrica.” I do my best to learn, understand and think about how even the smallest things are different here. It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day routine, but I enjoy the simple reminders, like picking up my prescription in a steel cage, that keep me on my toes.

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Red, red wine, you make me feel so fine!

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This past weekend I finally got a little taste of the wonderful area of Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is the premier destination for wine lovers in South Africa. It’s located about 50 km from the city of Cape Town and it’s definitely a must see attraction if you’re ever in the area and like wine and good food. Even if you don’t like wine and good food (which is crazy talk!) the area is very beautiful and worth a visit.
I only made it to one winery in Stellenbosch, but it got me so excited to venture out for more. I was on my way to work one morning and I saw a flier for the Spier wine festival, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to make it out to Stellenbosch for the first time. I definitely wasn’t disappointed!

I was able to take the train to Spier for only R17 roundtrip ($1.95), which took about 1 hour. Although the ride wasn’t very scenic (it’s not along the water), it was on time, not too crowded and the perfect opportunity for a nap.

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Spier is absolutely amazing! It’s one of the oldest wine farms in the area. It is a beautiful farm with the winery and a hotel. Although the festival was contained to a smaller area, I was able to venture throughout the winery to check out some of the scenery.

For R70 (approximately $8) I got 5 tickets for tasting wine specifically from Spier, plus unlimited tastings of several varieties of Chenin Blanc from other vendors. All of the Chenin Blanc’s were different and some were infused with lime, pineapple, almonds and other flavors. They were all really delicious!
After wondering around for a little while I decided to embark on deciding what to eat. They had a wide variety of food vendors from drinks, to seafood, to dessert. For some reason my sweet tooth was really calling that day and I had 2 desserts. One dessert was a s’more cookie…heavenly! I walked up to the booth and said hi to the lady. She then proceeded to tell me which cookies were available and was excited that she didn’t have to explain to me what a s’more is after she recognized my American accent. I guess the s’more concept is unfortunately not a thing in South Africa. She was actually from Florida and we talked for a few before I devoured my s’more cookie. I did make up for the excess junk food by having a fruit salad as well before I left.

After enjoying the food I bought, I did a little more eating with some cheese tasting. Cheese tasting is something that I’ve always been interested in, but never explored it very much. I honestly don’t remember everything that I tried, but it was all delicious. I decided to purchase some camembert cheese to take home with me because it was only R15! (Less than $2).
So overall it was a wonderful day and I’m looking forward to spending some more time in Stellenbosch throughout the rest of summer!

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