Thursday, May 13, 2010

Out of Africa – by Ellen

Well. Here we are, back in sunny Sussex, bundled up in jumpers and scarves, shivering and unable to feel our toes. Even as we recount the tales of everything we’ve done and seen and experienced, and look through all the hundreds (thousands) of photographs, it still feels strangely as though we’ve not been away at all.

I think we can be pretty proud of what we’ve achieved on our epic adventure. And particularly chuffed that we’re still talking to each other! I can’t imagine many newly-married couples would be crazy enough to resign from work and go and spend four and a half months, twenty-four hours a day, in the baking heat, within a few feet of each other. So to do that, and to come out of it still laughing, and still happy to be within a few feet of each other, is no mean feat.

We’d successfully bought (and sold) a car, navigated our way around four Southern African countries, crossed some tricky international borders and not had a single puncture!

We’d read an article in Getaway magazine about a group of people who’d hired a convoy of fully kitted out 4WDs to cross Namibia – complete with tyres which cost around £1,000 each. The end of the article reflected on how important it was to have all the right gear, and how the tyres had most certainly been what had prevented them from getting a puncture, especially as much of the distance had been covered on gravel roads.

But we know better than that. We know that you can do the whole thing with very little preparation, only the bare minimum of equipment, and even less mechanical know-how. And we know that you can do the whole thing, in a 2WD Corsa with fairly old tyres, without getting a puncture – just so long as you have that shot of brandy at the Dop Steek.

Homeward Bound – by Ellen

We spent our last night trying to squash the things we wanted to bring home into our bags – which I’m sure have shrunk. Attaching a ‘please give me a home’ note to the things we couldn’t bring with us, we set off at dawn.

As if helping us with the acclimatization process, the weather presented us with torrential, blinding rain and a drop in temperature to 11ÂșC. We did the drive to Jo’burg in good time, and didn’t get lost at all! Not even round the tangle of fly-overs and road works near the airport. Perhaps in their rush to get the roads in place in time for the World Cup, they’d put a few of the road signs up in the wrong order:

Jo’burg 53km
2 kms later
Jo’burg 40km
2 kms later
Jo’burg 38 km
2 kms later
Jo’burg 40km

The Icelandic volcano hadn’t managed to spew its ash far enough into Europe to stop us flying, so we were soon speeding home.

At the airport we’d bought a cuddy elephant for Josh and Renee’s highly anticipated and newly arrived daughter, Maya. I decided I wanted to take a photo of the ellie on the plane, and as I sat there with it on my lap (ok, I might have been cuddling it – it’s sooooooo soft) an air stewardess came up and presented me with a kiddies activity pack. Ha. Ha. Ha.
Oh yes please, can I have a beer with that?

Adventure Stats

Number of countries: 4 (South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe)
Number of kms: 11,978 (in Toto – there were a few in the hire cars as well)
No of nights in a tent: 64
No of nights in a room: 62
(Camping wins, yay!)
Favorite camsite: Dias Point, Namibia
Least favourite campsite: Okakuajo, Etosha, Namibia
Best braai: Dias Point, Namibia
Best experience:
Ellen - Running down the sand dunes in Sossulvlei, Namibia
Evan - Sitting by the watering hole watching the elephants, Hwange, Zimbabwe
Campsite to come back to: Ngweshla, Hwange, Zimbabwe – it’s actually a picnic site in the middle of the park, looks amazing
No of birds on Evan’s list: 190
Number of trees we can recognise: 35
Number of constellations we can recognise: 11
Favourite picnic: 2 minute noodles and cold beer in the middle of the desert driving through Namibia
Favourite view:
Ellen - Sea of sand dunes, Soususvlei, Namibia
Evan - Oliphants, Kruger, South Africa
Favourite drive: Up to Nyanga, Zimbabwe
Most stupid thing we did: Drove down a closed road and got stuck in the mud in Etosha national park
Best thing we bought: Storage containers. Not only useful keeping us tidy day to day, but the lids are great if you get stuck in mud...

Thing we could have done without: Skottle braai
Things we didn’t use: Fire extinguisher, tyre weld, tow rope, jerry can (probably a good thing!)
What we’re going to miss the most:
Ellen - Warm outdoor living and all the animals
Evan - Sounds of the night
Favourite night noise:
Ellen -Hyena
Evan - Lion
Most time consuming check in: Etosha
Number of photos taken: I lost count at 3,500...
What to do next time:
Ellen - See Wild Dogs!!
Evan - Proper 4x4ing
Casualties of the trip:
Tent poles – snapped
Tent pegs – bent
Potjie leg – fell off
Potjie stand – left it somewhere
Oil, salt, cheese, crisps, kettle box – taken by jackals
Marshmallows – got wet
Ellen’s new iPod – oops
Enamel mug – trapped in the car door
Egg – broken into the cooler box
Car window – got stuck
Back left tyre – hit a pot hole
Starter motor – needed brushes!
% of 2010 spent in Africa: 97%

Funny Things Along the Way


Meat Market and Pet Shop
Burial Society, General Store and Bottle Shop
Little Swallow Hotel

Road Signs:
Deadly Hazard!
Road Failure Ahead

Dumbo School
Yorkshire Primary School
Wankie Secondary School

South Downs (just outside Gweru – there was even a 27a bus!)
Hove Farm
Bubi River


Jack-up “nutrition” club

Bathroom Bizarre

Gavelotte Skool

Missing P: Rice Busters (Who you gonna call when that rice needs busting?)

Errant L: Swimming Poo, Residents Onlyl (Kruger NP official brochure!)

Eleven thousand, nine hundred and seventy eight kilometres – by Ellen

After adventuring together for 11,978 km, we sadly handed the car and the keys over to a dealer.

I hope he’s happy in the garage with the other cars (I think there was a nice lady car he had his eye on). Considering that we’ve hammered that poor little bakkie for almost 12,000 kilometres over the last 10 weeks, and most of that was on shocking gravel - with an unhealthy amount of sand and mud thrown in - it’s a wonder that a) he’s not fallen apart completely and b) we got someone to give us some money for him!

He really was a super little car, and an integral part of our adventure. As we drove back in our nice shiny new hire car, with air-con and power steering, and no ominous rattling noises coming from anywhere, and a back left tyre that didn’t need worrying about/pumping up every few days, Toto’s Africa once more came on the radio.

If in doubt, go on safari – by Ellen

On the Monday, we managed to get through to Emirates, who told us the earliest flight was over 2 weeks away. So, what to do in South Africa for two weeks with no money? Hmm.

On the plus side, Toto was ready to be collected. Thankfully, the bill wasn’t anywhere near as scary as we’d convinced ourselves it would be. The problem, it turned out, was that Toto didn’t have any brushes. Or needed new brushes. Or something. Apparently cars need very special brushes, not hair brushes, tooth brushes or dust pan and brush brushes, all of which we had.

Anyway, that drama over, we decided to try and sell the car before something more expensive broke. Surprisingly enough, we found out that we weren’t going to get as much for it as we’d hoped (!). Two new tyres, work on the exhaust and the scary number of kilometres it had been driven were all noted after a cursory inspection by the dealers. I dread to think what screws and nuts and bolts had been loosened by rattling along for thousands of kilometres on gravel roads, and then there was the small matter of all the Etoshan mud in the engine...
We decided, after much deliberation and a couple of bottles of wine, that if ever in doubt, go on safari. Our other options were to sell Toto before the wheels dropped off, hire a car and go and spend 10 days on the beach in Mozambique, or drive down to Cape Town and sell the car there, where we’d possibly get more money for it. The former seemed too expensive, and the latter too sensible. The other bonus of going on safari was that we’d not be in Polokwane for Freedom Day. We’d been seeing news reports that there was text message going round suggesting that blacks should kill as many whites as possible on Freedom Day. Nice.

So, safari it was.

Once again, Evan’s African accent (which rivals Leonardo Di Caprio’s in Blood Diamond, and certainly beats Matt Damon’s in Invictus) paid off. We were given local rates for Kruger – which works out at about £4 per person/day rather than £16 per person/day. Not bad!

It was great to be back in the bush again, and, once we’d opened the second roll of Duck Tape to hold the poles together, we even managed to get the tent to stay up. A gang of hornbills invited themselves to lunch. Disgruntled at being shooed off, they started attacking the windscreen wipers with their enormous beaks and pooing on the bonnet. Evan - the great bird lover – retaliated by turning the windscreen wipers on. Ha ha ha!

Kruger is very different to Hwange. The roads are tarred and pothole free, there are at least 20 cars queuing at each major sighting and accommodation gets booked out even during the week. It all felt a little...zoo-like. But nonetheless, it was great to be back, and we saw some great stuff including lions...erm...making baby lions, and even got close enough to a cheetah that we could hear it’s claws clicking on the tarmac as it walked past my window. It’s going to be odd being back in Sussex, where there’s a distinct lack of wild elephants roaming along the side of the A27.

Toto’s Near Death Experience – by Ellen

We had a potential buyer for the Toto (yes, we named the car Toto, and yes, after the band, not after the dog in the Wizard of Oz) in Cape Town, so we were up nice and early to leave Polokwane and head south.

But Toto wouldn’t start. Ten thousand and three kilometres into our epic adventure, our trusty car died – but fortunately not in the middle of a desert...

Despite the best efforts of some workmen to push-start us (into a wall), he still would not start. A friend of the receptionist’s came over to jump start him, but even after swapping batteries, still no joy. Oh.

Eventually we got there (without hitting the wall) and set off to buy a new battery. As the old battery was removed I could hear the tick-tock of his hazard lights faltering, getting weaker, and then...silence... I half expected to hear the long ominous beep of a heart monitor announcing a flatliner. (Sorry, I’m quite attached to this little car!)
As the new battery was hooked up, a feint tick...tick-tock...could be heard, then a full, healthy tick-tock, tick-tock. Yay! There was life!

We turned off the engine.
We tried to start the engine.

And then started the pushing of the car around the back yard of a back-street shop in Polokwane. It dawned on me – as it probably dawned on you car-savvy folk a while ago – that it probably wasn’t a problem with the battery. We decided that, seeing as the new (R550) battery didn’t make the car go, they should probably give us our old battery back. As, despite what they tried to tell us, we didn’t think that our battery was ‘f***ed up’.

We found a service centre who directed us an auto electrician who’d have alook at our started motor. But not until Monday. Today was Friday.

Deciding it probably wasn’t sensible to drive anywhere in a car that couldn’t be switched off (especially as we needed the ignition key to open the petro cap) we surrendered the car to the auto electricians who drove us to the tiny airport to collect a hire car.

We went to AVIS.
‘Do you have any cars?’


We went to Europe Car
‘Do you have any cars?’


By this point we’d exhausted half of the car rental options. Luckily Budget had cars, so we were back on the road!
It took us longer than anticipated to leave Polokwane (mainly as we were driving round in solid traffic trying to decide which of the three KFC drive-thrus to go to). So (much) later that day, as we were on route to Kruger along a road that had an 80k speed limit which took us up and down windy, misty mountain roads, we realised that we weren’t going to get to the park gate in time...and that I had forgotten my camera so I’d be sulking all weekend as I’d be camera-less on safari. So we went back to Polokwane and indulged in room service, beers and a film.