In and Out of Africa
There and Back Again
The morning was still cold and wet and we drove through a rather soggy Namaqualand to Clanwilliam. Namaqualand is noted as one of the worlds most spectacular wildflower areas. All the guidebooks say this, even Africa on a Shoestring. What none of them tell you is that its moment of glory is brief. For one month a year this area is ablaze with colour. As luck would have it that month was three weeks ago. Now a few brief impressionist blobs of colour were all that remained of the world famous flower lands. The countryside we drove through was drab and uninspiring compared to the stark beauty of the Namib desert or the textured greens of the Okavango.
Clanwilliam is a small town noted for its dam and Rooibos Tea. Rooibos tea is a herbal infusion made from a local bush. As is always the case with herbal infusions, apart from perhaps PG Tips, it is endowed with all manner of wonderful powers. It is also very tasty and we had been drinking copious amounts ever since Liette had introduced us to it three months ago. We had decided to visit the Rooibos Tea Board information centre while we were here and find out more about this remarkable herb. Unfortunately the next 'tour' was Monday morning, it was now Saturday afternoon. The decision to wait or not would depend on the quality of the campsite.
Clanwilliam dam is a local watersport haven and the municipal campsite is in park area next to the lake. The sun was poking through the clouds and the prospect of spending sunday lazing in the sun next to the lake seemed rather appealing. Unfortunately this weekend seemed to be a rubber boat enthusiasts convention and there were lots of people generally flexing muscles and revving overpowered outboard motors. Fortunately most of the revving was going on at the other end of the dam however and muscle flexing isn't usually a very noisy activity. The campsite was also less than half the price of Springbok so we decided to stay.
The other campers kept staring at us, we should have been used to it by now. After all people had been staring at us since we got on the Ferry in Marseilles. We were getting the same looks from the other campers here. I don't know quite what it was, perhaps the Landrover with foreign number plates and a neon painted Kiwi on the side. Perhaps it was the sight of a man travelling with two women. Or maybe it was simply that we didn't have a rubber boat. One couple did eventually come over and ask us who we were and where we came from, which is a lot more polite than just staring.
The campsite was quite idyllic until 01:30 in the morning. It always puzzled me why drunk south africans drive cars without exhaust mufflers. Perhaps alcohol makes the steel rust quicker, or carbon monoxide poisoning drives them to drink. These particular drunk South Africans also had a rubber boat and a very loud car radio. They proceeded to shout at the top of their voices in some form of gibberish which bore a remote resemblance to Afrikaans and turn the radio on full. Fiona asked them politely to be quiet although she may possibly have used a rude word. "We've just driven a HUNDRED AND EIGHTY kilometres to be here and we WON'T shut up". Our reply of "We've driven THIRTY THOUSAND kilometres to be here, so shut the fuck up", didn't seem to impress them. Obviously South African kilometres are bigger than everyone elses. They then continued around the campsite honking their horns and shouting. Eventually they came back around to the lakeside and turned their radio on again, once more shouting in gibberish. The air was cut by the sound of a gunshot. There was only a moments pause before the radio was silenced and the car drove quietly away. Even the muffler seemed quieter.
As usual we woke with the dawn and lay dozing peacefully watching the sun come up. A little later, at 07:30 the morning was cut by the sound of revving outboards as the boys all tried to impress their peers with their enthusiasm. Fortunately it wasn't long before all the engines were revving and someone decided it was time to put a boat in the water. Once that had happened all the boats raced off to the other end of the dam. The rest of the day passed lazily lying in the sun by the lake side, occasionally punctuated when one of the rubber boats would come back to the shore to refuel or impress wives and girlfriends with little spinning antics.
By late afternoon they had all finished their watersports and were taking the long road home. The campsite was now almost empty and there were no more drunken arrivals to disturb our slumber.
The Rooibos Tea factory was an interesting diversion. The tea itself is produced from an unusual looking plant with feathery red leaves. This would have been less surprising if we had realised that Rooibos means 'plant with feathery red leaves' in Afrikaans. This versatile plant is caffeine free and packed full of trace elements and vital minerals. There was a small slide show explaining how healthy and good for you Rooibos is and showing the diverse products available. One of the slides showed a bottle of what looked like an alcoholic beverage. "What was that", we asked in unison. "Er, Rooibos schnaps", the lady replied. Ideal for a serious drinking session as it replaces all the trace minerals and salts even while the alcohol is stripping them from your blood stream! After the talk a tray of various different Rooibos Teas was brought out for us to sample. "Can we try some of the schnaps?", I asked. The lady looked surprised but said "I think we might have a bottle somewhere". She returned several minutes later with a fresh bottle of schnaps for us. It was still 11:00 in the morning, fortunately the road to Paarl is a straight one.
On the way to Paarl we stopped at a small bank to try and withdraw some money from the bank. "I'd like to withdraw some money", I said handing over the cheque book etc. The Lady spoke rapidly in Afrikaans. "I'm sorry, I don't speak any Afrikaans". "Oh", she replied rather hesitantly in English. "Where is your branch?". "Randburg, Johannessburg", I replied. She replied once again in Afrikaans. "I don't speak Afrikaans". After a half an hour, repeatedly asking me questions in Afrikaans, photocopying my passport and phoning Randburg twice to see if the transaction was in order I left the bank. This was a milestone in our trip, the longest bank transaction in Africa. I dread to think how long it would have taken had I attempted to exchange a travellers cheque!
Paarl is the centre of the Cape wine growing area and we were looking forward to sampling the world renowned wines. These had been effectively unavailable in much of the rest of the world for the last ten years of sanctions and therefore renown was all we had to go on. Apparently, when sanctions were lifted in the UK one of the major supermarket chains produced lots of nicely aged bottles of KWV wines which had been languishing in their cellars for ten or more years and proceeded to sell them at a highly inflated price. The only South African wine I had ever previously drunk had been at a Jensen Car owners club outing in New Zealand where Phillip Barker had a few bottles of smuggled Nederburg german style sparkling white wine. This had been rather tasty, perhaps more so because of its illicit nature!
Our first stop was the visitor centre to book on the next available wine tour. There were still three places on the last tour of the KWV (Wine growers cooperative) in about an hour. While they were booking the tickets I skimmed through the visitors book. Whenever we came across a visitors book I usually took time to search out the people from New Zealand, well, it's only a small country and lots of New Zealanders travel, there might have been someone we knew pass through here. There, two pages back, was some familiar handwriting. Phillip Barker had been here less than two weeks ago also, one assumes, sampling the local wines. The world suddenly seemed frighteningly small.
The KWV winery was interesting although, being the last tour of the day, the guide rushed us round as fast as possible. In the cellars there were three large vats containing Eau de vie (pure alcohol). These were reputed to be the largest wooden vats in the world, then again everything in South Africa was the largest or the longest or whatever so I was a little skeptical. They were indeed rather large. The KWV was formed by a cooperative of all the wine growers in the region and intended to stabilise the industry by reducing competion for overseas orders. Instead all exported wines were marketed through the KWV. This helped the industry grow and ensured a buyer for at least a portion of the grapes grown. A cooperative of this size probably doesn't exist among the fiercely uncooperative family vineyards of Europe so maybe their most barrels in one cellar type claims are true. There were rather a lot of barrels in any event. Unfortunately the wines which they offered for sampling were this years and far too fresh and new. Perhaps a wine expert may have been able to taste them and imagine what they would taste like in two, five or ten years but we couldn't and were therefore a little dissapointed.
There is one campsite in Paarl which is in an ideal setting by a small lake. There are squirrels squirelling aroung in the trees and dusky coloured ibis screeching in the trees. This was also the first time we came upon a uniquely South African phenomena. A campsite which wouldn't allow tents. Caravans were OK, even ones with the large covered awnings used as extra bedrooms and almost indistinguishable from tents. Actual tents with poles which didn't somehow attach to a vehicle were forbidden. "Our tent is on the roof of the Landrover, doesn't that make it a bit like an awning? and if June sleeps inside the Landrover that will make it a bit like a caravan?". "I suppose that will be alright" the owner said reluctantly, concerned that this was the thin end of the wedge. Obviously a caravan has a strong emotive link with the Voortrekkers of old and therefore almost respectable, anyone without one must be a vagabond and troublemaker. This was also the first time June had slept in the back of the truck. She found it very comfortable, perhaps too comfortable...
The Nederburg Winery was smaller yet managed a better presentation and had a very nice selection of wines, most of which were nicely aged. The winery has a modern bottling plant and we paused for a while to watch the machines. There was a hopper full of corks which was emptying at an incredible pace. No one seemed to be watching as the level got lower and lower, and lower. There were about ten corks left in the hopper when a man came running in with a bag full corks and refilled the hopper. The excitement wasn't over though as one of the wine bottles objected strongly to being corked and smashed into a million pieces and another man had to rush in to clear up the damage. After the tour and tasting the guide asked for any questions or comments. There were a couple of South Africans on the tour and they said they found the wines too bitter. "We select the wines for tasting depending on the makeup of the tour party. Most of the people in this party are from overseas and we find they generally have a more mature palette and prefer the less sweet wines". She then produced a bottle of late harvest wine which was sweet enough even for the South Africans. Significantly far more bottles of wine were bought at the end of this tour than the KWV tour and many of the other people had been with us on that tour too.
We visited a couple of other smaller wineries and sampled more wine and some excellent goat cheese before continuing down to Cape Town. The mountains formed a spectacular back drop to the town especially with their tops covered in an imposing layer of cloud. A layer which coincidentally completely obscured the flat top of Table Mountain. The centre of town was rather unnerving, people kept staring into the back of the truck as if to work out what there was to steal. I suppose we should be grateful that there was an information centre at all. This one could really be called a lack of information centre. If you knew what you wanted to do or where you wanted to go they could tell you if it was open or book a ticket. A simple question like "Is there a campsite in Cape Town" was completely beyond them. They did supply a map of Cape Town which had some campsite symbols marked on them.
Before we started the trip I expected there would be many situations where we drove into a place and instantly felt we were unwelcome and should leave before someone got around to telling us. This hadn't really happened, yet. We drove into the first campsite and started to drive around. The inhabitants turned and stared at us as we drove past, curtains rustled and doors opened. People in old shabby clothes stared at us with a look of vehemence and hatred which made my flesh crawl. No discussion was necessary, if we stayed here the night we would not get out unscathed. The facilities were the worst we had seen in South Africa and a shower here didn't look like a pleasurable experience. We had driven through shanty towns at the edges of other cities in Africa and felt more at ease. Here among the poor whites of Cape Town we were less than welcome. With a feeling of relief and a look back to see if we were being followed we headed off with trepidation to the next campsite sign.
After several kilometres along a bleak foreshore inhabited by fishermen and people walking dogs we found the next campsite on the map. It was closed and looked like it had been closed for at least a decade. Eventually we found a campsite at Imhoss, close to the sea but sheltered from the wind.
We read the scant brochures on Cape Town and decided to go to Hout Bay, which was described as a 'world class' fishermans market. The picture showed people sitting at a rather nice cafe with little boats in the background and a lots of fresh fish. This sounded like the fish market in Sydney where you can wander around and buy all manner of incredibly fresh fish, some are even still dripping and flapping about, there are also little cafe's and ice cream places.
When we arrived the restaurant in the picture was closed for repairs and the few fishing boats were a long way around the bay. We walked around hoping for some fresh fish. When we finally got to the 'world class' fish market we found several warehouses marked 'authorised entry only' and a small shop, about the size of a high street fish shop, which only sold frozen fish and postcards. "Can't we buy fresh fish here", Fiona asked. "No, this is a wholesale market for the trade. We aren't allowed to sell fresh fish to the public here". Yet another world class dissapointment from the Republic of South Africa.
As we were leaving Cape Town in the distance the clouds were blown away by the increasingly strong winds giving one brief view of Table Mountain in all its glory. We passed the infamous 'crossroads' squatter camp. It didn't look particularly unusual as we drove past and rather better facilitated than the poor white caravan site in Cape Town. By the road we saw the famous fence used to great effect in several prize winning photographs, with pathetic children hard against the links. The barbed wire clearly in view at the top of the frame giving the impression of some form of concentration camp. In fact the fence doesn't surround the camp and is not there to keep people incarcerated. It is there to stop the children from running across the road towards the journalists' cameras and killing themselves. The image, of course, is much more important than simple truth and the world had to be made aware of the oppression of the Apartheid regime. Does it matter if the camera lied in the path of justice? I don't know, I sometimes wonder if anyone does.
Our drive around the coast included one important detour. In the cool damp of late autumn in New Zealand, June 1990 we had a foolish idea. Four months later on the 17th of October we had arrived (a day early) to an English Autumn turning rapidly into winter. Almost exactly a year later, on the 24th of October 1991, at the beginning of summer we had reached Cape Aghullas, the southern most point in Africa and the farthest point south that can be driven from Europe overland. Fiona and I had made it, 30,000 km overland. The monument said 11,174 km to Wellington, New Zealand, we didn't even notice the distance from London, it didn't seem important. Emotionally this was the goal and we had made it, taken the photographs, touched the sea and from now on we were on our way home. The tape in the player was Chris Rea and the tune was 'Driving Home for Christmas'. The weight of the distance and a year of raw experience was, I think, heavy on our shoulders. The desire to be sitting on the Auckland motorway driving home for christmas, like the man in the song, was now very strong indeed.
Summer is a wet season in South Africa and once again electric storms were a nightly event. When a lightening bolt landed less than four hundred metres away, just beyond the campsite, I decided that a tent on the top of a landrover was a less than desirable place to be. Within seconds we were in the safety of the front of the truck. We would probably have spent the rest of the night in the back of the Landrover but June was already there, her tent having lost its waterproofing a long time ago. When the storm seemed to have passed over we returned, a little nervously, to the tent.
The next tourist delight on our lightening tour of South Africa is Oudtshorn, noted for its ostrich farms and crocodile ranch. We chose the Safari Ostrich Show Farm to visit first. The guide was a young English lad working his way around the world, in fact very few of the guides were South African. Ostrich farming has been a major industry here for over a century and almost every part of the ostrich is put to use as ostrich meat, leather and of course the feathers. The small amount of wastage from the heads and internal organs is sent to be fed to the crocs at the crocodile farm. You can sit on the ostriches or even, if you are feeling brave enough, ride them. June, being a horse rider, volounteered to ride the Ostrich. First the poor beast was blindfolded while June got on and then two of the handlers guided the bird to make sure it didn't throw her off. At the end the handlers, being more experienced riders, had a little race. We were all taunted into having a little wager on the outcome, the proceeds of which went to the handlers. Not surprisingly the race was rigged and we ended up paying out.
The Cango Caves Crocodile Farm is a fairly recent addition and includes a small zoo stocked with sad looking creatures. The most unusual animals there being a pair of pygmy hippos, which live deep in the jungles of West Africa. They were incredibly small, being the size of a large domestic pig, and rather cute looking. The farm was also extremely good at breeding cheetahs. It was apparently possible to play with the young cheetahs but I couldn't find anyone who would let me into the cage with them. The crocodile tour guide fancied himself as a bit of a 'Crocodile Dundee' character, with teeth around the band of his Australian style bush hat, like Mick Dundee in the film. He started his tour by opening his mouth wide and snarling at us revealing a ridiculous looking set of dentures made from crocodile teeth. All the tourists of course laughed which only encouraged him. He snarled and snapped in the air once again before replacing them with his normal false teeth. The tour went rapidly downhill from then on as he told a whole series of appalling crocodile jokes. He did seem to know quite a lot about crocodiles when he wasn't telling jokes or trying to make the ladies blush.
We were now on what is described as the Garden Route, again noted for its beautiful wild flowers as well as the impressive scenery. All of which are 'the best in the world'. As usual we were a month too late for the wildflowers and the scenery, although undoubtedly beautiful, paled into insignificance after Fish river Canyon or the Namib Desert or Okovango from the air or Victoria falls or the jungles of Zaire or the view across the Rift Valley from Iten or the plains of Tassilli from the Arak Gorge or... We had seen so many truly beautiful sights in the last year that one more made little impression. This is one of the hazards of travelling for a long period, the mind becomes numbed from too much experience. It would take something really impressive to have an impact on us now.
The campsites however seemed to keep getting better. Those which allowed tents that is. At a small and unassuming dorp (a small sleepy town) called Humansdorp for instance, each tent site had its own little ablution block with a toilet and shower. At Port Elizabeth there was even a television room and a kitchen with sinks and electric hobs. This was very fortunate as it started to rain as soon as we arrived and rained torrentially for the next two days and we spent rather a lot of time in the kitchen! The rain found its way through the small gap at the bottom of the tent door and after several hours the bottom of the mattress was soaking wet. "Isn't this rain depressing", I said to one of the locals. "No", he replied, "It's wonderful, we've been having the worst drought for years, there has even been water rationing".
It continued to rain for the whole of Fiona's birthday. Her card and box of chocolates were damp, the ride into town was wet, the Nederburg Champagne in the evening was wet too. The mattress was by now completely soaked and we had to place a plastic sheet over it before going to bed. It rained all night. The water conservation sign outside the tent grinned at us with an ironic gleam in its paintwork.
In the morning the clouds briefly parted. We weren't fooled and decided to head inland towards the diamond mines at Kimberley. As soon as we had dropped the tent and driven into the filling station for more fuel the rain started again. The weather steadily improved as we travelled the long slow road inland. Although well maintained and tar sealed the road presented one last unique African road hazard. tortoises. They were large and cute and crossing the road en masse. I think I managed to avoid most of them though.
Kimberley is right in the centre of South Africa and a long day's drive from the coast, especially in a Diesel Landrover. About halfway there we found yet another well kept campsite beside a dam. The sky was now almost cloud free and crystal blue so we stopped early to let the warm sun dry out our damp aching bones and sodden mattress. As we lay relaxing in the sun roads were being washed out by the rising flood waters behind us. Phrases like 'since records began' were being used to describe the week long torrential rain still falling in Cape Province.
Kimberley is the centre of the South African diamond industry. In 1871 diamonds were found on a large hill. This is reputed to be the largest man made hole in the world. The hole is now surrounded by an open air museum and many of the buildings from around old Kimberley have been moved to the site. There is even an Ox waggon, complete with stuffed Ox, and Mr De Beers own railway carriage. The Diamond exhibition in one of the rooms has replicas of the world's most famous diamonds, the Kohinoor, Star of India, Star of Sierra Leone etc. There were real examples of diamonds of every shape and colour and even the worlds largest uncut diamond. It was a perfect octahedron shape, about the size of two cupped hands held together, smoky coloured and full of dark inclusions and other flaws. The six centimetre thick safety glass in front of it was also quite impressive. Eventually we came close to the 'big hole'. I walked up the platform, expectations dulled by false advertising and looked down into... a very big hole indeed.
The campsite at Kimberley is a monument, perhaps, to lack of thought or planning. Behind the campsite are several old heaps of mine tailings. These could have been readily landscaped into an interesting camping area with shady paths. Instead they chose a flat and boring piece of ground with no shade. There wasn't even an attempt to plant trees and create some shade in the future as that would take up valuable camping space. The campsite was also riddled with mosquitos, more than we'd seen anywhere else in Africa. The reason for this became apparent when we walked along the only path into town. In a belated attempt to add character to the campsite someone had decided to build a genuine malarial swamp. This is simple to do and every authentic African campsite should have one. First dig a large hole, which they are good at in Kimberley. Next line it with black plastic so the stagnant water won't drain away into the ground. Then fill it with water from a small hose sticking up in the centre so that the resulting water level will be just below the tip of the hose. Then turn the hose off and wait a few days in the tropical heat for the mosquitos to have time to breed.
We mentioned the profusion of mosquitos to the lady in charge of the site. "They are only a problem when the grass has just been cut", she said. "Don't you think the stagnant pool full of mosquito larvae might have something to do with it", I asked. "No, they only come when the grass has been cut", she said adamantly. There was nothing for us to do except liberally spray the last half can of insect repellant over any exposed flesh and hope that malaria really was absent from the South African hinterlands.
In the morning my ear was aching, a deep throbbing ache coupled with the amplified sound of blood coursing through my veins. After surveying the mosquito damage on the rest of my flesh I can only assume that one of the insects had crawled into my ear for a more private meal out of sight of her companions.
From Kimberley we drove back to the coast, through the foothills of the Drakensburg mountains. We assumed these were foothills as the Drakensburgs are reputed to be among the most impressive mountains in the world and the ones by the roadside didn't look like much. Perhaps the pain in my ear also dampened my enthusiasm.
The road into Durban is long and several lanes wide. The spring air is hot and humid, like a summer's day in Auckland, as though the next bend would take us home. Nearing the crest of a long slow hill a battered brown Toyota Landcruiser slowly overtakes us. The four guys inside start waving and sounding the horn. We wave back, unsure of what brought about this extra attention. "What are they on about", June says waving back. At least they weren't simply staring like everyone else seemed to do. As they pull away there is something about their car which looks familiar, yet out of place. I look again black and silver plates, two letters followed by four numbers. "New Zealand plates!", I said flashing my lights and sounding the horn. We might be a long way from home but we're not the only ones.
Durban is by the sea and a simple campsite by the beach would have fulfilled our needs. Instead we found a campsite with only a road, a large wall and some rocks between us and the sea. At least we could walk to the beach and play in the warm surf even if all the sites with a view had been taken. From our tent all we could see was other tents and caravans.
Late in the afternoon a crowd gathered by the wall overlooking the ocean. We got to the wall in time to see a large whale and her baby splashing about in the bay. The mother was splashing furiously with her flipper and thrashing about with her tail while the baby was doing spectacular back flips in the air. The mother seemed to be agitated and kept splashing the water as though trying to frighten something away. For a fraction of a second I thought I saw a third dorsal fin cutting through the water. This fin was aggressively recurved unlike either the sharp triangle of a shark or the long graceful fin of the mother whale. Perhaps this was a killer whale harrasing the mother and her child. The whales slowly swam away, hopefully safely, on their annual trip from the southern breeding grounds to warmer tropical seas. The last and largest animal we would see in Africa.
After spending the day in Durban looking around the tourist shopping malls we started driving up the coast in search of a simple camp ground next to the sea. We try town after town but they are either too far from the beach or don't have a campsite or both. Then, 40 km north of Durban and just before the road moves inland again, we reach the town of Ballisto. The brochure shows a site by the beach and we head towards it expectantly. The campsite didn't seem to be close to the sea, perhaps it extends further than we think. There was a sign by the office saying 'out to lunch' so there was no one to ask, so we parked the truck and went in search of the beach. After finding the path out of the campsite, crossing the road, locating the hidden steps between two hotels and finally crossing the sharp boulders strewn along the foreshore we reached the sea. The boulders provided a nice sheltered spot for lunch but didn't encourage cavorting in the surf. "Tents aren't allowed", the lady said pointing to a faded sign on the wall.
In a state of shock we parked the truck almost at the edge of the field, just before the beginning of the sand. To the left of the site was a rocky tidal pool with a little pier where some people were fishing for tiny sharks, to the right was a long sandy beach. The sea was warm, the surf strong and the beach clean and sandy. As I lay relaxing in the tent looking out to sea a school of dolphins swam along the beach, just inside the shark nets. Finally we had found the place we were looking for. Somewhere we could spend the rest of the day relaxing. A long day's hard day's relaxing was followed by that special night's sleep which only happens within earshot of the rolling surf, as though all of your cares are washed away by the tide.
The next day came all to soon and it was time to leave, there was still so much of South Africa to see. We walked up to the office. "We'd like to stay another day please". They smiled, "Yes, we thought you might". The day slid slowly by, swimming in the rock pool, lying in the sun, playing in the surf, lying in the sun, lying on the grass, watching the dolphins, swimming in the rock pool, lying in the sun. In the evening we had a meal in the country club across the road. Residents of the caravan site are automatically members, even if they are staying in a tent!
The next day came and all too soon it was time to leave. "We'd like to stay another day please". "We thought you might". As the day slid by I thought about the last six weeks travelling with June. We had covered 9,704 km (6,030 miles) almost without a break. Perhaps we needed a rest. It was now Friday and in the afternoon the weekend caravans started arriving. It was the Durban Caravan club outing. South Africans have a special relationship with caravans, which seems to stretch back emotionally to the ox wagons in which the Voortrekkers travelled in search of new land. Each night the Voortrekkers would form the wagons into a special protective circle called a laager, make a campfire and sit around drinking and telling stories into the night. The caravan clubs continue that tradition and will drive across the country, or in this case 40 km north of their homes, to relive the old days.
The Salt Rock caravan site is laid out neatly with the sites in parallel rows down the field. This didn't deter the modern day voortrekkers. The laager is deep in their soul and as more caravans arrived through the afternoon a rough circle began to form. The caravans and their great awnings all opening into the centre of the circle regardless of the spectacular view behind them. Some of the sites were already occupied by other caravans and campers like ourselves. The laager circle formed through us as though we were a natural obstacle, like a tree or boulder. If anyone was offended by our truck pointing at an angle and spoiling the graceful curve of the circle they didn't say so.
As well as a weekend away from the city Boer family values were being strengthened by the parents and children sharing quality time together. The men formed one big group near the centre of the circle drinking beer, telling stories and cooking on each others Braais, the women sat around drinking and gossipping, while the children ran around inside the protective circle of the Laager, rarely venturing out to the beach beyond. They were however remarkably quiet, making less noise between them all than the ten people on the tour truck at the campsite in Maun.
In the morning as usual I lay dosing with my head poking out of the front of the tent admiring the view. The view was now partially obscured by the caravan which had filled the whole in the circle next to us. There was something strange about the caravan. It was gently rocking from side to side in a rhythmical motion. At the end of each stroke the stabilisers at each end would almost lift off the ground while the others visibly bent with the strain. The caravaners were generally on the large side, due, one suspects, to a diet of red meat, beer and bread. The couple in this particular caravan were larger than most. They were obviously moving in unison and building up an enormous amount of momentum. We watch the movement with anticipation expecting the poor abused stabilisers to give way at any moment. The designers of these particular caravans had obviously taken this type of treatment into account and the movement subsided before the frame collapsed. Eventually I am sure metal fatigue will take its toll, sadly this wasn't going to brighten up our morning.
Finally, after another day of relaxing and talking to the permanent residents of the campsite, which served as a retirement home for many, it was time to leave Salt Rock. We carefully picked our way through the subdued looking Voortrekkers who, after a long night of drinking games and jollity, were all looking a little worse for wear. The campsite manager was only slightly surprised when we said "Thanks and goodbye", instead of, "We'd like to stay another day". Time had finally caught up with us and June's plane wasn't going to wait. We headed off towards Swaziland, a short cut between Durban and Johannesburg, one last stamp in our passports before leaving Africa, one last border crossing. Or so we thought. At the South African border post the official looked carefully at Fiona's visa extension. "This is only a single entry visa, if you enter Swaziland you won't be able to return to South Africa". "That can't be correct. We specifically asked for a multiple entry visa". "Your original visa was for multiple entry but the extension only allows you to stay, not to leave and return. You can enter Swazi but I can't guarantee that you'll be allowed back into South Africa at the other side". Meaning that she would almost certainly phone the other border post and make sure that they don't let us through.
This all seemed to be a complete mystery to us, after all we had already been out of South Africa and back in again without anyone questioning our visas. Either this official was making a mistake or the person who had extended our visa had made a mistake. It was Sunday morning and there was nowhere we could get clarification today. Instead we drove around the Swaziland border and stopped for the night at another drought stricken town called Piet Retief.
It started to pour with rain.
The department of Home Affairs at Piet Retief comfirmed that Fiona's visa extension was not valid for re entry into South Africa. The person in the Randburg office had made a mistake, which was especially annoying as she had spent a while talking to us about all the world class sights we would see on our intended route. We had obviously been very lucky when we crossed from Namibia to South Africa. If they had spotted the problem there we would have had to drive all the way back to Windhoek to sort it out. Unfortunately the man in Piet Retief couldn't issue the extension to the extension and we would have to drive even further out of our way to another town. By the time we had driven to Ermelo to get the visa corrected we would be almost as close to Johannesburg as to Swaziland. It had become a challenge, a matter of honour, we weren't going to be defeated.
We finally sorted out all the necessary paperwork, crossed the border into Swaziland and drove the 30 km to Mbabane. On the way we passed a small glass works where they make glass animals for the tourist trade out of recycled soft drinks bottles collected by local children. There was a mezzanine floor where you could stand and watch the men making the animals. The factory was being run as a kind of workers cooperative, one of several similar ventures encouraged by the government. The tourist trade is a major revenue earner for Swaziland and many of the souvenier items for sale in South Africa, candles, glass animals, wooden carvings, originated here. The souveniers from Swazi seemed to be a unique mix of modern 'western' sensibilities and African themes. The glass animals for example would not look out of place on an Italian coffee table whereas a hideous voodoo mask would clash horribly with the limited edition impressionist print on the wall. These items seemed to draw rich European tourists, especially those with Italian coffee tables, like a magnet.
At the Swazi candle factory we had spent an interesting hour watching the intricate patterns being formed in multicoloured wax and then gently moulded into animal or bird shapes. Then we had started carefully choosing a selection to take home with us, mostly to give to friends. June had set up a little menagerie of the best animals on the counter and was selecting her final piece when a party of coffee table owning European tourists arrived. They showed no interest in the candle making process, or reading about the importance of small industry to the Swazi economy. They were just after cheap souvenirs. June turned around to see her collection begin to be dispersed among them. "Hey! Put them down". They turned as if to ask who this insignificant person, not off their coach, and who probably didn't have an Italian coffee table, was. Within seconds June had all her animals back, leaving the tourists to fight among themselves over the best of the remaining stock.
There was only really time for one day and night in Swaziland, we had been cheated out of the scenic drive along the Southern African escarpment by time and other people's mistakes. So we returned once more, this time with no unforseen border disputes, to South Africa. We were now on the final leg to Johannesburg. With time for one last campsite in one last drought stricken town. This town was called Badplaas, which means Bath Farm, and is noted for its hot mineral springs. The campsite was, as usual, excellent and even allowed tents. As we drive through the gates it began to rain.
By now we were almost used to the rain which seemed to follow us everywhere. Perhaps we could take a small commision every time we end a drought. At least the rain meant we had the hot pools to ourselves. It is just as relaxing to float in warm mineral water in the rain as it is in sunshine, perhaps more so. There were also indoor pools, with hotter water, available for a small extra fee.
Our adventures were now almost over, just a few loose ends to clear up. The truck had to be shipped back to New Zealand as we couldn't feasibly sell it in South Africa. The import duty, diesel fuel surcharge and other costs came to about 155% of the value of the vehicle. Even if we had wanted to give it away someone would have had to pay one and a half times the value of the vehicle in duty. That is assuming we could get an import permit, which they only give to vehicle with a value of less than 1000 Rand. The company Fiona had worked for in Johannesburg had contacts in the shipping business and we managed to arrange a container from Durban. All we had to do then was arrange air tickets for ourselves.
We stopped at the Pick 'n Pay shopping centre before returning to the plot at Lanseria for the last few days. When we returned to the truck there was a mysterious note pinned to the window. "Kia-Ora mate, come round for a beer and a Barbie - Geoff and Mike" and a phone number. Geoff and Mike turned out to be two more Kiwi's. They had seen the NZ stickers on the truck and left the note. They had just bought two army surplus forward control Landrovers and were heading up through Africa hoping to run small safaris. Tonight was their leaving party.
As our adventure comes to a close another begins...
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