Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Belonging to Africa



25th March 2012
We are in South Africa! After hanging around in Felix Unite camp in Namibia for a few hours trying to sort out but failing to go canoeing we crossed the border last night from Namibia.  As we couldn’t go canoeing we availed ourselves of the campsite’s luxury pool, ate some crisps and drank chilled orange juice and as fate would have it, once again bumped into some of the first aiders we had met at Hobas camp who were able to update us on the progress of Ms X. She was at that very moment sitting in the shade and up to her hip in strapping, waiting to go back to Cape Town with the others. She was they informed me ok, her knee had been popped back in under anaesthetic so she was no longer in pain. Ah all’s well that ends well methinks. When we got to the Namibian border we went through the usual rigmarole of getting our passports stamped but met with a bit of a hiccup when it came to light that we should also have had documents for our Namibian ‘extra special car insurance’.  I didn’t actually know we should have bought this upon entering Namibia but James did and made the executive decision of not bothering to get it or tell me. Well there was no time to ‘review’ his executive decision making so we decided the best way out of this was to look like total eejits.  Believe me for us this was not hard at all.  James went into ‘ah yes I have that document here but can’t find it please have pity on me I am a useless fool routine’ and I went into the ‘what have you done with it you are a useless fool routine’ all of which was designed to 1) fool the official into thinking we had it and had lost it 2) feel sorry for James for having such a belligerent wife and 3) we were useless fools so not worth bothering with.  Amazingly after about 10 mins of our amateur dramatics the official lost concentration and wandered off so we were free to do the same…we wandered over to the other side of the barrier and engaged with the usual formalities to enter South Africa.  It was late in the afternoon when we crossed over, the temperature was hot but pleasant. Alfred had told us of a campsite near to the South African border so we headed for that and after about half an hour were set up for the night. 

2nd April 2010
I am writing this many miles up the road in the Drackensburg mountains but I will have to back track a bit so you know how it was we came to be here. After some discussion on which route to take in South Africa we decided to drive across what is known as the ‘Free State’ as I thought it would be great to get to the Drakensburg mountains and travelling across the veld might be interesting if only to meet some of the die-hard Afrikaans who still believed in segregation .  So I plotted a course that would take us that route and the first place we stopped was Augrabies Falls National Park which as it turned was an absolutely stunning place.
The drive from Noordoewer border crossing  to Augrabies  (about 400k) took longer than we thought it would. James wanted to ‘wild camp’,  but you know I just didn’t fancy it where we were. Although the roads were pretty empty of other vehicles, there wasn’t anywhere where we wouldn’t be seen from the road and one thing I had learned about being in Africa is that no matter where you stop pretty soon someone will be at your side. I really think you have to go with your instincts on this so when I took over driving I upped the speed a bit. 
James was slightly crestfallen when his plan to camp by the side of the road was thwarted but the miles beat even me, I was feeling mighty tired by 9p.m and it was dark. The danger of driving now was that of hitting one of the locals who were not savvy about road safety at the best of times and were now wandering about mostly drunk. Anyhow cue the wonderful randomness of good fortune because suddenly out of the darkness blinging by the side of the road was a sign advertising the Grapa Ski School, Winery and Lodge……so I pulled off the road and drove up the track. If you look at this you can see how close (but no cigar) we got to our destination. http://www.augrabies-falls.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=frontpage&Itemid=68
We drove up along a track surrounded by vines and came to a rather salubrious establishment which we soon learned boasted its own lake upon which you could learn to slalom ski and which was the designated site for the under 18’s world championships in a few days hence!  We learned all of this from the site manager Siegfried, a black Namibian who had been working and living on the farm for 32 years. After pitching our tent opposite the lake we joined him in the lodge bar/restaurant and he told us a bit about himself. He had not planned on staying at the farm as long as he had done but he had met a local white SAFA, fell in love and had children and the years had just rolled by. He told us of their difficulty in finding work as a mixed race couple, and his children’s struggles because they were ‘coloured’. ‘The big change in South Africa is that now it the blacks who have the opportunities, they have the jobs, everything goes to them first, the coloureds have to wait and if you are white you wait the longest’.  After a bar meal of steak and chips Siegfried walked back with us to where we were camped and left some food for the kudu and the giraffes, ‘if I leave food fthen the animals will come and then tourists will come to see them’.  He was right too because late on that first night our tent was surrounded by kudu. 
We rested couple of nights here then carried on up the road to beautiful Augrabies which is tucked away in the heart of the exquisite Green Kalahari. I am not going to be able to really do justice as to how beautiful this place is here is an introduction..‘The Khoi people called it ‘Aukoerebis’, or place of Great Noise, as this powerful flow of water is unleashed from rocky surroundings characterised by the 18km abyss of the Orange River Gorge’ and  suggest you look at http://www.sanparks.org/parks/augrabies/  
When I first saw the place it wasn’t just the way the land had aged that made me think of how aesthetically beautiful it was, I just felt how immensely old Augrabies was and how at the same time it seemed both enduring and vulnerable.  The gorge itself is massive, the water that piles down there in full flood must make a deafening noise, when we were there the water was low but it even then it was loud enough to be able to hear it from our tent at night. And do you know what else? The water in the orange river is a deep olive green. No way? Yes way, green green green water.
Time-wise we were at the start of the South African Easter holidays and potentially the camp-site would fill up with folk keen to spend some time in nature, but the holiday rush didn’t happen while we were there so we enjoyed the place more or less with only a handful of other people, all of whom were immensely friendly and amused by our wanderings from the UK. I got talking to a white SAFA  lady in the ‘camp kitchen’,  I asked what she was cooking, ‘posho’  because it makes you full and is cheap, but you need sauce, my husband won’t eat it without  sauce’. I only mention this because I was surprised that white SAFA’s fill themselves up on this and not just black SAFA’s, ‘we fill ourselves up on potatoes back home’, I offered. My fellow camper owned and ran a game park near to Mozambique, she told me she preferred animals to humans …’they’re easier’.
The camp-site was a slice of luxury, one afternoon I got caught by a German lady staring open mouthed at the sight of a washing machine and saying the words ‘a washing machine a real washing machine’, she looked at me like I had crawled from under one of the baboon’s arses but I just smiled at her in my scruffy British way and wondered if James would allow some time to machine wash some clothes. He didn’t… ‘you’re kidding aren’t you when we have off roading in the park to do?!’ The camp also had two small swimming pools but the notices that had been put up advised against swimming if ‘lightening is present’ and ‘open sores, wounds of running of the nose’ and ‘evidence of contagious disease’, well the lightning bit didn’t bother me but the idea of water filled with the effluence of running sores kind of put me off. We were staying a couple of nights at Augrabies so could plan some time out of Milo, don’t get me wrong, Milo is wonderful but even when you what are doing what appears to be ‘travelling in the great outside’ you are actually inside and I get ‘cabin fever’. If you are driving it is not so bad but if you are the ‘passenger’ then it can make you a little bit mad. The chance to go for a walk was not to be missed, here in Augrabies you can wander about a landscape that is staggeringly beautiful and although it is different from where we have been before in a strange way the place felt like home. Odd that. Our walks took us over rocks/boulders over river beds and up to ‘Moon Rock’ (James says this is some sort of extrusion or exfoliation of rock or something like that) which is a big bald dome shaped rock and upon which we saw some ‘twiggers’ then over to the gorge and the falls where James perched as far near to the edge that he could.
 

Besides baboons and twiggers Agurabies has a rather marvellous little creature called a dassie. The dassie looks a bit like a big guinea pig but its closest relative is actually the elephant! There are lots of dassies all over the rocks, they are not tame but they will come pretty close. Check out this guy’s little elephant type feet.
   

Our drive from Augrabies took us on the road to Groblershoop,  James was driving his usual 50mph and it was getting dark but this time we found a place to stay without having the ‘discussion’ about bush camping. The place we found was set back from the vineyards, it was called ‘Duin in Die Weg’ and was owned by a couple of SAFA farmers (Cobus and Carrine)  who also ran outdoor education courses; the course they were running that weekend was for upcoming footballers to learn to be ‘team players’ and deal with the stresses heaped on them to win. Our camp dog friend was Bassion a lovely Jack Russle who stayed with us the whole time and who even managed to charm James into letting him sit on his knee (you have no idea how rare this is). Cobus told us he was planning a big adventure for himself and his wife in 2013 when they planned to drive up through Mozambique to Kenya, then into Botswana and Namibia. They had lived all their lives in SA and hadn’t travelled that far before, ‘it is a dream this year but next year our dream will be real’. We knew all about that, living the dream, it was good to be in a position to say that the dream lived up to our expectations…and some. We left out new friends the next day armed with recommendations of where to stop for lunch and dams for James to visit; yes I kid you not dams. James told Cobus he was an engineer so Cobus thought we might like to see some dams….why  not!  We felt all warm and full of ourselves leaving our camp spot, we were even more smug when we found the place Cobus recommended for lunch…an old magistrates house that had been turned into a restaurant.
 
We ate kudu steaks and drank top quality wine, lingering in the coolness of the place, assured that we would find the next camp spot easily enough. Yes well we are a pair of twits and of course we left it late in the afternoon and of course it was very dark and raining by the time we got anywhere near to where Cobus had suggested we camp. Actually the place he had suggested wasn’t a campsite at all and turned out to be a fishing spot next to one of the dams so was useless, after hours of driving to this place we then had to drive 90k back to Blomfontein in order to find somewhere else. We did too, it was a sort of ‘trailer trash’ caravan park and we were the only campers there. The lady on the gate was about 400 years old with an enormous beehive hairdo and lots of cats running around her legs,  James was none too pleased with the spot as he had seen one earlier down the road and I had insisted we kept going, anyhow it was dark and raining and cold. We were both fed up with each other so after we set up camp we didn’t even have any tea just went to bed in sulky silence. The next day though I crowned myself genius camper of the world, not only was the place incredibly cheap (equivalent of £6 for the two of us), but I had a camping revelation.  We had been rolling out our tent up with the bed inside it, which was fine if the weather was dry but no good in the rain, top tip is to take off the fly sheet and lay the tent/bed out in the back of the vehicle. As you drive along the air dries it all out. Unfortunately my brilliance did not put James in a good mood, he stayed sulky for ages.  James had asked me to plot our route across South Africa so we were now heading towards the Drakensburg mountains, I had the feeling that despite James saying that he was happy with this deep down he wasn’t,  through his sulky gob he made references to going to Kosi bay (which is up near to Mozambique) but I chose to ignore him.  He drove very very slow, like a child that drags it’s feet when being made to leave the park James sulked and delayed the turn off to the Drakensburg’s as long as was possible. Deep down I believed that when he saw the mountains and the great place I had found on the internet he would be so glad we had come this way that he would fall at my feet with gratitude.  My plans for being worshipped as the best camper/tracker in the universe were dashed though as the place I had found, the ‘Halanathi’, described as  ‘a working farm set at the foot of the Drakensburg mountains’ turned out to be a golfing resort full of SAFA’s with kids making a right old racket.  Well I thought it was funny but as James was now utterly miserable I adopted a fa├žade of thwarted disappointment.  It turned out as it should have done though because it was here that I met Agnes the cleaning lady and I will now tell you how our meeting came about.  A while ago I had started giving my clothes away, to do this I wanted it not to be awkward for the person I was offering them to or for me either so I had decided to leave clothes in places we had stayed, often in the shower/toilet block as I figured the people who did the cleaning were usually poor. I had a bag of clothes waiting to be left somewhere but when I got talking to Agnes I wanted her to have them. Agnes is a black woman, about 56, she has 5 children (twins make up the 5) and one of her sons is ill in hospital 6 hours away.  She hasn’t seen him for weeks as she can’t afford to travel or leave the other children. She does not have to tell me any more for me to know that her life has been hard but she has this way about her, when she looks at you it is as if her heart is wide open and you can feel the goodness just pour out of her.  She is beautiful too with a big big smile. The second time we got talking I told her about Kate and how much I missed her, I told her about mine and James’ lives and how we had worked and saved for years to be able to come to Africa. I asked her if I gave her some clothes could pass them on to anyone who might find them useful,  this way I wasn’t insinuating that she needed my clothes and I could get over my British awkwardness. ‘Sure’ she did, so I ran off and found the bag of clothes to which I added a couple of James’ t-shirts and gave them to her quickly. I told James what I had done (minus his t-shirt donation bit) and about an hour later she came over to us. She asked how long we were staying (we were off the next morning) as she would like to see us before we went. The next morning she came over to me, she gave me a glass bottle filled with different coloured sands, one of her children had made it to say thank you. I was overcome by her kindness and we just sort of looked at each other, I decided I loved Agnes, I decided she was an angel, I decided I was so glad we had come this way.
‘Talked’ to Kate on FB, missing her lots, don’t want the trip to be over yet but I so want to see her.  



From here our journey took us further into the Drakensburg mountains to ‘Monks Cowl’,  this is set between ‘Champagne Castle’ and ‘Cathedral Peak’ mountains.  Monks Cowl campsite was pretty much right in the mountains and was pretty much nearer to nature than the Halanathi. When we eventually got to here James said he was glad we had come this way, I think he finally got the fact that as we had spent a fair old time in the deserts in Namibia combined with all our years spent living in Wales made me yearn for the mountains, cooler air and greenery. We had some lovely hiking routes that started right from the camp, we went up to the Sphinx one day and up to Nandis Falls another.
 


It is very green here , there are lots of trees and birds and lizards and flowers, the walks are well marked too so you can just wander off and enjoy the space.  Hilarious though are the signs warning you  to stay off private property, we saw one that told us there were ferocious dogs loose on the property and once the dogs had pulled you down then the guards would shoot you.  Mmm  We stayed in the Drackensburgs a couple of nights and got talking to a very nice bunch of men from Scotland (they had blue skin) who come out here every year for the hiking.
Sat 7th April 2012
We are in Philippa’s house in Port Edward. A couple of nights ago I managed to talk to Kate for real, she is struggling with Uni life and me being away.  I have a deep ache inside, I want to go home now but she says no, she says that this is my big adventure, she said this through sobs. It is so hard to agree to stay in Africa when suddenly it is all wrong now, and I feel like I have let her down so badly. There she is swamped by her life and telling me to go on with my dream, it is one of the hardest things she will ever do, it is one of the hardest things I will ever do to stay. We started heading towards Cape Town, there was to be no more time in the mountains. Philippa is a friend of a friend back home who offered us a place stay if or when we were passing through, after a few emails explaining we would be heading this way sooner rather than later she generously left the keys to her house for us while she went off on a walking trip.  Being here also provided the opportunity to keep good email/phone contact with Kate.  I spent a fair bit of nervous energy catching up on chores like cleaning Milo in order to attract a buyer.  It was an odd intense few days, the only thing that held me back from driving immediately on towards the nearest airport was that I knew if Kate could get over her fears then she would have the skills to deal better with what life would inevitably throw at her later. So we sat it out, and walked along some of along the wild beaches of Port Edward.  
 


Staying in Port Edward made James twitchy, he didn’t enjoy being nearer to going home and this place reminded him that is ultimately where we are heading. So he didn’t twitch himself into a mess I suggested we head off to Coffee Bay which we were told was a more secluded spot and a favourite hippy retreat, importantly for me though it took us closer to Cape Town. I spoke to Kate and told her we were heading nearer towards Cape Town now and to my relief she was getting a handle on things. Thank you so much my friends Fiona (Kate’s godmother) and Soo (who is also an artist) who were able to help me guide her through her crisis.
The drive to Coffee Bay was very African and had the usual smattering of animals, humans and other vehicles wandering dangerously close and mostly refusing to move out of the way; the road is full of big holes too and most of locals appeared to be celebrating, drunk and careless about any harm they might cause. The first campsite was a bit of a dump with back to back backpackers who were all young and not wise enough to know or expect any better, The locals were pretty trashed on weed and booze and just outside the camp entrance there was the usual smattering of fishermen/women selling oysters and jewellery. Anyhow not far back up the road and on the beach we found the quieter ‘Coffee Bay Campsite’ and it was here that we caught up with Johannes.
Johannes had contacted me via FB to see where we were and if there was any possibility of meeting up before we all went home. I really wanted to see him again as I had promised to give him and Igor copies of the photos and video’s we took of them when they were travelling with us in the Chalbi desert. Plus he had just started travelling on his own now, Igor had gone off to see his girlfriend Moira in Ghana; I still felt kind of protective over these guys so thought it would be good to make sure he was ok and pass on some tips for his drive up the road.  It was so nice to see him again, James and I had been up for a walk on the headland around the bay when he called to say he was outside our campsite. He had been on his own for about a week and was just finding his way. His English was good now and he chatted away like a thing that chatters.  He was sleeping in a leaky tent, with not much food or drink and in that wonderfully young way was just ambling along knowing that he would be ok. We fed him (on fresh oysters and steak) and watered him on wine/beer and our excellent Ethiopian coffee. It was a bit like old times, and with Igor otherwise engaged I saw a change in Johannes that came with being confident about being in his own space.  We could only spend one night with him though as I wanted to get nearer to Cape Town in case I was flying home early, but it was a wonderful distraction from my daughter worries.
 
14th April 2010
We arrived in Cape Town yesterday and booked into the ‘Jambo Guest House’.  I found this place on the internet, to be honest I thought we might have difficulty finding somewhere to stay at such short notice but found out when we got here that the story is the same, fewer tourists generally so they were glad to have the booking.  The place is sumptuous, completely OTT with regards furnishings and architecture (from outside you just would not guess), I immediately loved the place and was fascinated by the owners, Mina (Jewish/German) and Barry (British) who are as exotic and intriguing as the guest house.  


Mina ‘escaped’ Israel when she was 17, she was running from the war, this was history repeating itself as her parents had fled Germany because of the war, and her son had left South Africa when the new anti-apartheid regime took over government with Nelson Mandela.  Her son was fleeing from possible repercussions from years of white rule, he went to America and according to Mina has been unhappy since.  Mina is a beautiful 70 year old woman she used to teach but now she runs the guest house and paints, Barry is about 65 and was a professional diver. They are marvellous company and they are also interested in buying Milo.
I guess you can tell by now that my crisis with Kate has begun to calm. I am proud to say that despite feeling life was overwhelming her she was able to sort through her troubles (with a little help from family and friends back home) and was now more grounded.  We spoke every day at length on the phone, a process which made me desperately sad but also relieved to hear her voice. James ran around like a mad thing getting phone credit and trying to find a place where we would have enough signal.  When she began to settle we decided not to continue in a direct line to Cape Town and home and spend a few nights with our friends the Cloughs from back home who were on holiday in Sedgefield.  We met up with Andy (Dad), Jasper, Finley and Jay (kids) and spent a few days exploring more of the wild coast along the garden route.