Cycling Pinawa to Seven Sisters

Approximately 17 kilometres from Pinawa town centre to Seven Sisters town centre.

Pinawa’s favourite cycling path is back! The Trans Canada Trail between Pinawa and Seven Sisters is open for business again.  This trail has been closed for almost two years – first due to construction at the Pinawa lagoons, and then because of construction over the Manitoba Hydro Dam in Seven Sisters.

Trail Conditions
New trail through the new Pinawa lagoon

The trail up to the lagoons is in excellent condition. The grass has been mowed and the trail is dry and a pleasure to cycle on. The new trail through the lagoon needs a little leveling but is still a pretty nice ride. Just past the lagoon the trail turns into a soft grassy bed, a tougher ride but still okay. There is about a kilometre or so of very muddy patches, but with only one exception I was able to get through in low gear without stepping into the mud. One larger puddle got me, but Ray got through it all. Wear sandals and you won’t care.

 

There is a fork in the trail where one section heads up to Hwy 211 that locals commonly call the Smoky the Bear fork because that’s the sign up on the highway that marks the spot. The mud ends just a few metres west of this spot, and from here the trail is again fantastic.

New Trail Signs

New on the trail are some awesome signs. These signs are maps of the trail with a “You Are Here” star and a listing of distances to all important destinations along the trail.  I’ve actually never seen such useful trail markers on any other trail – well done Pinawa.

You may also notice some new branding on the signs. The Trans Canada Trail has made the bone-headed decision to re-brand the name of the Tran Canada Trail to “The Great Trail”.  I have no idea how much this re-branding will cost, but I’d like to see how many kilometres of trail those dollars equate to.

The Hydro Dam Crossing

My sources tell me the Hydro Dam will be open for hiking and cycling all summer long. I removed the sign on the Pinawa end that warned people about the dam closure, but there is still a sign at the dam. Currently the dam is open, so lets hope my info is correct.

We like to head over to Seven Sisters for lunch, and starting Thursday there’s quite a few choices. We ate at the Seven Sister’s Motel, but the Tourist Hotel, Little Maria’s and Jennifer’s are other options. Jennifer’s opens on Thursday (May 18) and Little Maria’s appears to be open every day except Monday and Tuesday.

There’s a pile of gravel at the town yard that  I hope is meant for this trail. The pile would go a long way to solving the mud puddles, but experience tells me that so will the season. That trail has been muddy every spring since it was built. A couple of weeks will make all the difference.

Many thanks must go out to all the Pinawa trail builders. I don’t even know who they all are so listing them would be an assurance that I’d miss someone. I do know that we should be naming our trail after Marsha Sheppard as she is tireless in her trail efforts.

 

 

Cape of Good Hope

Cape Town to Cape Town complete. Our 11,400 kilometre African road trip is over, ending fittingly at the Cape of Good Hope, where sailors breathe easier once rounding.

We too were a little emotional today. The trip was fraught with things that could go wrong, and none of them did.

I started thinking about this trip over two years ago. There were many times when I didn’t think it would happen. When I first told Ray I wanted to drive around Africa and live in a van, it would not be a stretch to say he wasn’t completely convinced.

Ship wreck at the Cape

No matter what other way I found to travel Africa, none of them measured up. I finally decided I would give up on the whole idea if we weren’t self-driving and camping. It was at the end of a month-long Westie road trip in eastern Canada that Ray suddenly said “Okay, I’ll drive you through Africa.” He’s been quite the companion / driver and braai-master for a reluctant participant.

Animals of the Cape

Two months is a long time to live in a van. We’ve watched two full moons, one on top of the largest sand dunes in the world in Namibia, at sunrise, the other while enjoying Passover with some campground mates on ToFo Beach in Mozambique. We’ve made some wonderful friends, but we’ve also been the only two people around for as far as we could see, We’ve grown tired of the cramped quarters and the nomadic life at times, but then we find an amazing spot and it’s all forgotten. It’s been the most romantic adventure we’ve ever shared.

Britzie down below, waiting for us as usual

We got stuck in the sand, in the middle of nowhere on the Skeleton Coast. We followed our Garmen up D1212 – a road that was so treacherous neither one of us slept that night. We went to a music festival in the mountains of South Africa and tasted wine in the elegant wineries of Stellenbosch. We dodged police and cars and people for 500 kilometres through Mozambique. Ray learned that two lanes become three easily, and four when needed. He figured out the left hand side of the road mostly, but still hasn’t got the signal lights figured out. I’m not sure how he’ll drive back home.

We will never be back this way again, of that I am certain. Besides the fact that we have 34 hours of airports in front of us, there is no duplicating the sense of discovery and adventure of a trip like this. We have one more day here and that will be spent on the impossible job of cramming twice as much stuff into our backpacks as we came here with.

It’s been lekker.

Sunset over Long Beach, our final camp

Stellenbosch

First tasting

The two wino’s have finally made it to the heart of some of the worlds best wineries, Stellenbosch, South Africa. It is a painful reality that Canadians are only allowed to bring back two bottles of wine per person. One of life’s regrets.

Stellenbosch

Stellenbosch is a lot like the Okanagan Valley – on steroids. Like the Okanagan, we are in a valley, with a big craggy mountain as a backdrop but the sheer number of wineries here sets this apart from anything we’ve seen in Canada.

The weather has suddenly become pleasant again – warm during the day and perfect braai and sleep weather at night. We arrived in a dramatic thunder, lightening rain storm, but that subsided in time to light the fire.

Tasting in the cellar of Kleine Zairze

When we first arrived here, the reception office of our campground was closed for lunch. We thought we may as well get started on things. For our first tasting, at the Kleine Zairze winery, we sat in a private room in the cellar with some big cushions on the bench. The walls were covered with awards. Every wine we tasted was fantastic, the generous portions appreciated. Cost for the tasting was R30 ($3 CDN) for 5 wines, waived of course if we bought a bottle, which of course we did.

Britzie patiently waiting for us

The next day we spent a couple of hours walking through the very pretty town of Stellenbosch. It’s a University town, vibrant and youthful. The Botanical Gardens highlight the centre of town. The streets are lined with interesting shops and restaurants. The very modern mall is a hustle bustle place.

Lunch at L’Avenir

Our next wine stop was French , L’Avenir. We thought we’d order a snack with our tasting and both got a generous lunch. We ate and sipped wines on the deck, surrounded by beautifully manicured lawns. We brought back two bottles of Shiraz from here. In Canada wine tasting are comparatively rather rushed affairs. Expect at least an hour here, maybe two if you eat something. Very relaxing.

Our winery map

Our last stop of the day was more rustic, we tasted wines while chickens walked under the table. Louisenhof Winery poured us the most generous portions, but unfortunately not of the best wines. There was an amazing rose that cost R45 ($4.50 CDN) that I was tempted to bring home for one of those hot evenings on the patio, but with space for only 4 bottles I had to be selective.

Mountain Breeze Campground

We’re leaving today, heading down to the Cape. I still have room in my back pack for one more bottle, so we’ll take the wine route out of town. There really are only wine routes to take anyway.

The diversity of Africa will never cease to amaze me. Stellenbosch, and this wine region, makes me feel like I’ve fallen out of Africa completely and landed somewhere in Europe. If I had time to linger anywhere, I’d linger here.

South Africa – the Garden Route

Last week of travel and it looks like we’re going out in style. We’ve reached the “Garden Route” of South Africa.

If Namibia was Africa light, Botswana Africa wild and Mozambique Africa crazy, the Garden Route is Africa civilized (Ray says soft but I disagree). We are skipping from one phenomenal National Park to the next right now, with just a couple hours drive in between. One day we are on safari roads in Addo National Park, surrounded by wild elephants, zebras, kudus and then, as if sending us off in style, two beautiful lionesses who just narrowly missed bagging a warthog. The next day we’re enjoying a brutal coastal hike (the start of the 5 day Otter Trail that I couldn’t get a booking for) in Storms River National Park, along the Indian Ocean. Tonight we are in Wilderness Park, on the shores of a lazy river – quiet except for the sound of birds, frogs and crickets.

Laundry on the road

Ray was most worried about this part of the trip. On the crime map, we’ve hit the red zone. From Durban all the way down the coast to Cape Town has the highest crime rate of anywhere we’ve been so far. After 7 weeks on the road with no problems, and the appearance of utter colonial civilization all around us, it’s easy to become complacent, but the signs are everywhere and not all the subtle.

We’ve driven through some beautiful cities the last few days – Port Elizabeth, East London, Knysna. There are lovely homes with beautifully landscaped yards – surrounded by tall, usually concrete fences and topped with razor wire. As we passed by these beautiful homes on one side of the highway, the other side were townships. The contrast is remarkable.

Hiking the Otter Trail

Razor wire is everywhere, around every one of our campgrounds, even on the side of a bridge we hiked over. They are no longer meant to keep out lions. When we read reviews of campsites, security is almost always mentioned – as in “security not what was advertised”, or “was the victim of crime here”.

We’ve met many South Africans, all of whom live in gated communities and couldn’t imagine it any other way. We’ve met a young man whose mother was murdered in a robbery, a farmer whose neighbours were murdered just recently. The dark side of this paradise.

Ray starting the braai at 5:30 PM

Dark side aside, South Africa may just be the most beautiful country in the world – with the most beautiful climate. We’re here in late fall, short days and cool evenings and yet it’s just about perfect weather. They could use some rain, I hear – Cape Town is nearing the end of it’s water reservoir, but there doesn’t seem to be any in our forecast. The worst that happens here is the need to don a sweat shirt after dark, but there’s almost always a braai (fire) started anyway.

With our last week looming time seems to be speeding up. So much to see yet, so little time left. Tomorrow we will see the Indian and Atlantic Oceans clash at Cape Agulhas.

South Africa – The Wild Coast

We’ve been on the road for a long time now and feeling road weary. There are days that all we’d like is a transporter machine to get us home.

We’ve arrived on the eastern shore of South Africa now – to an area inexplicably called The Wild Coast. We were heading to Gonubie Beach because some Jews in Mozambique told us this was our best chance of some good snorkelling. At the 11th hour of the day I found a slightly different spot, a little bay with a river and a campground with great reviews, so we’re staying just beside Gonubie Beach.

Our spot at the Yellow Sands Resort was just what two road weary travellers need to refuel. Our camp spot is perched on a cliff above the beach, with a temperate climate of 25 degrees all day dropping to 18 at night. The water is 24 degrees. What a relief from the frigid mountains, but also from the extreme heat of Namibia and Mozambique. We are camped on grass and there are NO bugs. The sound of the ocean lulls us into sleep at night.

During the day there is nothing to do here but go to the beach. Our first snorkel into the mouth of the river was disappointing to say the least – nothing but murky, sandy water. While we were swimming the tide began to come in. You could feel the pull on your body, it was like swimming in a current pool. Right before my eyes, the water cleared and the fish arrived. Twice a day here for about an hour and a half the snorkelling is amazing – the rest of the time – nothing.

We spent the day snorkelling when the tide was right, and reading and watching surfers when it was not. We got up early the next morning for an hour more of snorkelling before leaving.

As much as we’d like to stay, we have to press on. We’re on the last leg of the journey now and Britzy is due back in Cape Town on May 1, as are we. Next stop – Addo Elephant Park.

The Drakensberg Mountains

All those places that were just names on the map are coming alive to me.

Since we’re in the neighbourhood, we decided to check out some world heritage site hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains. We got out the maps and asked some advice, and landed ourselves at the Garden Golf and Spa resort in the southern Drakensbergs, just an hour away from Splashy Fen. On the way we stopped at the Underberg Cheese Farm for some great selections of local food.

For 300 Rand a night (or $30 CDN) we camped at a resort that had every amenity you could possible imagine. Go ahead, pick something a resort should have… I’ll likely miss something on this list: swimming pools (three), squash, tennis, restaurants (three), bars (not sure how many), zip-line, petting zoo, climbing wall, mountain bikes and trails, BMX bikes and trails, trampolines, golf course, spa,  lawn bowling, wildlife and hiking trails. All we did was hike.

We showed up at the resort tired and dirty from the music fest and found the campground almost full to capacity – of people packing up to go home. We decided to park and go on one of three hikes while everyone else got going, and climbed high above the resort for an hour of much-needed leg-stretching.

By the time we’d visited reception the place was virtually empty and we picked a wonderful spot beside the babbling creek. We both took off to have a warm bath – yes campgrounds here have bathtubs, and in case you’re worried about cleanliness they also have doting attendants to clean up after you, that you hardly ever see. We had our usual braai, this time of steak and baked potato, before turning in early. Sleep eluded us both even in our exhausted state because of the cold. Yes, we’re still in the mountains and it’s still really, really cold at night – below zero I think.

In the morning we decided to combine hikes 2 and 3 to make for a 3 hour hike. The trail was spectacular, climbing high over the resort and the beautiful green gentle Drakensberg mountains. It warms up significantly during the day and we worked up a good sweat. We unexpectedly walked into a couple of elands, an animal we’d yet to cross off our list. We also spotted a few baboons playing on the golf course – looked like a mother teaching her baby how to putt on the green. We packed a lunch and ate it at the hippo pool, cooling our feet off in the water. That’s a South African joke – there are no hippos here (apparently), just rocks that look like them. We were told to bring our “cozzies” (South African for bathing suits).

A braai is essential here in the mountains, if only to stay warm. As the sky darkened, at 5:30 PM now, we lit the fire and threw on some South African sausages. The highlight of the evening was getting a skype call through to my sister, who is hiking the Camino right now and another to my son. Killed all the cell data, but it was worth it.

There’s a drive up here called the Sani Pass that climbs up to about 3000 metres, into the country of Lesotho that is apparently not to be missed. 4X4 is required but there’s no doubt Britzie could make it. There are Sani Pass tours available from the resort it’s so popular. As we lay in our freezing bed we decided we were going to take a pass (pun intended) on this one and head to a beach – enough with the cold already. We set Garmen to Gonubie Beach, on the wild coast, and the alarm to 5 AM because the beach is 8 hours away and shivered through the night.

 

Splashy Fen

Want to know how South Africans celebrate the Easter holiday? Well, at least about 5000 of them go to Splashy Fen, a music festival in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. It’s much like any music fest you might attend in Canada, but with a distinctly crazy South African flair.

First of all, Easter is not spring in Africa – it’s fall and it’s not exactly warm in the mountains. In fact it dropped to almost zero or maybe even colder (Ray did see frost on the ground) overnight. It was so cold we Canadians froze our butts off in Britzie, but most everyone else were in tents.

I really feel like the most culture I saw so far took place at Splashy Fen. Sure we drove past the bushmen’s village in Namibia and stopped to look at trinkets being sold by the near naked Himba people in Botswana. At Splashy Fen the Zulus showed up to party and we joined right in. We sat around a fire with a great bunch of South Africans, listening to what it’s really like to live in South Africa – having a lekker time of it.

I did notice a few differences from any music fest I’ve been to in Canada. The first thing you’d notice when you drive in is the typical African chaos. If there are any rules to the camping or parking we didn’t know them. Just go wherever. Ray saw a sign pointing to Electronic camping and wisely thought this might mean we could plug in and have WiFi. I threw out the theory that it might be where electronic music is played loudly all night long. We asked the person with the vest at the corner of this intersection but she didn’t appear to speak English. Luckily, before a debate could break out, someone else walked by and said just keep going straight. Later we discovered I was closer to the mark.

Somehow we got through the throng of people walking on the road, the cars parked just anywhere and bumped into a fairly level spot among wonderfully considerate campers, where we spent two of the coldest nights on the road trip. Thank goodness you could just light a fire wherever you wanted, which we didn’t but which our neighbours did for us. At night, when the music stopped, so did all the parties. Maybe it was the cold , or maybe we lucked into a great location, but this was the quietest festival camping I’ve ever experienced.

There are three stages at Splashy – the River stage is, you guessed it, down by river. Here you can lay in the warm sun, leaning on hay bales while watching one band after another – or you can bring your floaty and play in the frigid water. We did the hay bale thing.

There’s an acoustic stage in the food court where we enjoyed a couple of good bands, one of them a cover band that had everyone up dancing through their entire set. This was a great place to settle in with your stir-fry or hot dog or whatever else you purchased from the food vendors.

Main stage started at 5 PM and by then it appeared that there may have been some drinking going on. Again about the rules – there were no drinking rules. Buy you r drinks from one of the bars available near every stage or bring your own. There was some kind of bright green cocktail being consumed by the youth out of 2 litre plastic bottles that appeared to be quite potent.

I just read the web site and its possible there was an actual electronic stage that we missed completely. Wherever it was, it was set up to somehow not bother those not inclined to that kind of music, even at night.

A couple of bands that seemed to be really big here were The Temper Trap that we missed because we showed up halfway through the festival and the Parlotones. Our new friends at the fire were amazed we’d never heard of the Parletones – they’ve gone international! They came on stage like the rock stars they are here – half an hour late and in a puff of smoke. The audience had life-size card board cut-outs of the lead singer to wave with one hand, swilling back bright green cocktail with the other. Great fun.

We met the mounted police, one of who has always had the dream of joining the RCMP. It was fun being Canadian here. On Easter Sunday we followed a group up the hill and enjoyed a pleasant Easter ceremony, complete with a sing along and bible reading.

The best part of the music fest were the group of kids we met across the street from us: Louis, Kevin, Byron, Stormy and Martin. I’d really like to thank them for their hospitality around the fire, the shots, the insight into life in South Africa and all around good time.

The blue plastic toilets here flush. If there’s anything I’d like to bring home to the Folk Festival it is this.

Swaziland

With relief we crossed the border from Mozambique into the Kingdom of Swaziland, with a friendly border guard and a 50 Rand ($5 CDN) road fee for Britzie.

The drive immediately became saner, although everything is a matter of perspective. Looking back now Swaziland was not quite as modern as we thought that day. The roads are still pot-holed and there’s still a lot of slowing down and speeding up, but it was better than the last week.

We had three choices for leaving Mozambique – to Kruger Park again, south along the east coast of South Africa and some amazing looking coastline, or through Swaziland. We elected this route because we are heading up into the Drakensberg Mountains, for a music fest, some hiking and some relief from the heat. We’ve also heard that Swaziland is teeming with animals.

This country is ruled by a Swazi king. Most everyone here is Swazi and speaks only that language and English. I heard real pride in the country when I spoke to people. The money is on par with the Rand, in fact I got mixed currency from the ATM here. The economy seems to be quite good, with tourism being a major contributor.

Swaziland turned out not to be our cup of tea. There may be animals everywhere, but they are not for the free-wheeling Britzie types. The country is full of private game reserves, one of which we camped at – Nisela Safaris.  Turns out there’s no way to actually see these animals unless you pay to be taken to them. We had a caged zebra to pet (and don’t tell anyone but we fed him our carrots). They told us the zebra had been rescued as a baby. We had a very expensive restaurant on site, so we had wine, cheese and olives for dinner again. We were the only guests at this resort and it just wasn’t the nicest of places. Just to add to the miserable-ness, it rained.

Maybe we missed the best of Swaziland, or maybe it just didn’t suit us but we hightailed it out of the country in the morning through the closest exit – heading up into the mountains.

Mozambique

I apologize for any spelling, grammar or other errors in this post. I’m trying to upload it at a Wimpy’s in some obscure South African town and we have a music fest to try and get to before dark.

What the heck is going on in this country? Insanity mixed with paradise – lost opportunities, greed and corruption, a recent devastating cyclone and one of our best stops on the trip so far. Was it worth it? I don’t know.

Every South African we met told us Mozambique was not worth it. In fact the country has seen a 30% drop in tourists recently, and I know why. When your GPS tells you that a less that 500 km trip is going to take you 11.5 hours, you should pay attention.

Our first taste of Mozambique starts right at the border. Some guy wanted to “help us” get through, someone else warned us about dealing with him. Chaos right from the start. The $90 CDN visa fee per person was not particularly welcoming either, though in true Mozzie style, they were friendly as could be while collecting it.

One thing we’ve learned is don’t put your papers away too fast at any African border. You go through this check point and that one and then, when it looks clear and you’ve stashed the passports, there’s always another check. This time the soldier was so impressed with Britzie he forgot to look at what was in her. The bathroom really wowed him.

It’s greed and corruption that’s killing this country – I have no doubt about that. There is one main road that runs up the country from north to south. It’s a colourful, slow highway, a village every 5 or 10 kilometres and a speed reduction through each one. I don’t know where everyone is going, but everyone is going somewhere all the time, and most of them are walking along side the highway. Women carrying baskets of bananas or bundles of firewood on their heads, wearing bright beautiful dresses, children walking to school and from school – sometimes at the same time. Men carrying machetes, off to work in the fields, or so we assume. The people that aren’t walking are cramming themselves into little white van/buses – that usually have trailers overloaded with goods towed behind. It’s chaotic for sure, but it’s beautiful and lively.

The villages hug this highway because, as of only a few years ago, it wasn’t safe to drive off it because of land minds. Our slightly dated guidebook still warns not to drive the side roads.

What is ridiculous are the stupid police. They actually have a check point at almost every village – more than 50 that we had to pass through – each way. They used to blatantly request bribes, but now there’s a hotline you can call to report them, so they’ve changed it up a bit. Each village has a speed limit of 60 through it that changes to 100 once you leave town. Their game is that they remove the 100 sign at the end of the town, then set radar up to catch you. Our GPS tells us what the speed limit should be, but when we got caught they just said “show us the sign”. We got stopped once for a checkpoint, we didn’t do anything wrong yet so we were just harassed a bit, and then again for doing 67 in a 60. That got us a 1000 metacais fine (or $20 CDN). Pay right here, in cash. I suggested we would pay at the next police station, and they suggested that would be fine. We could come back with the receipt to collect Ray’s driver license, that they had actually wrestled right out of his tight grip, because we’d heard of this game to.

So if that’s not bad enough, everyone had to drive within this game of theirs. They only fine out of country plates, so Britzie is a target, as is everyone from South Africa. Hello, can you say tourism industry? We pretty much had to do 55 kph all the time. The locals are rightly pissed off at this and just scream around us, narrow roads, blind corners and crowds of people walking no matter. The poor buses are still in the bribery loop. They get stopped all the time, and just hand a little cash over with their license. It made the drive horrible, and South Africans were right to warn us not to come. It’s also made the beautiful resorts and beaches virtually empty. What a shame for Mozambique.

We heard the story of an entire resort town here that lived off of the visit of a cruise ship once each week. There was a large resort that employed many people, and of course all of the hawkers and support businesses. Well, one day the government said they needed to get a cut and decided to charge the ship $50 US per passenger. That was the end of the cruise ship, the resort and eventually the town.Greed and corruption.

Our plan was to drive to the resort city of Inhambane, the most northern point we are allowed to take Britzie, and have a little rest on the beach. We hit on a place called Tofo Beach only because the guy at the border needed to write down a destination, and that’s where he assumed we were going. It’s about 450 Kms from the border, a longish drive but not too bad, we thought.

That’s how we ended up driving a long sand road, along a beautiful beach in the dark, hoping our ancient GPS was truly steering us towards a campground. She was and we spent a couple of night in Xai-Xai (pronounced shy shy). Xai-Xai is a good example of what’s going wrong in Mozambique. We stayed at a little resort that had huts and camping and a nice little restaurant, right on a beautiful stretch of coastline on the Indian Ocean. The shore was lined with these kinds of resorts, and there’s even a little resort town with a bar and dance floor built right on the beach. It’s spring break in South Africa, Kruger Park is booked solid, but there’s nobody here.

We did have second thoughts about continuing up to Inhambane, but obviously in the end we decided to go. The drive was painful and we just hoped it would be worth it. When we drove into the little resort town, if that’s what you want to call it, it was completely underwhelming. The roads are deep sand – 4X4 or foolhardy required just to drive in. We found the campsite/hostel I’d emailed from Xai-Xai right away. I thought it looked rather awful, but Ray looked relieved, and happy.

Tofo Beach, and our little peace of paradise at Pariango “Resort” might just go down as one of this trips best highlights. Sometimes paradise is hard to get to.

Our little hostel had all sorts of different lodging options, from tents to huts and dorm rooms, and one spot just big enough for Britzie. It had been hit with a cyclone just 3 weeks before we arrived so it looked messy, which is what I saw, but before the storm it had won awards for its gardens. I still find that a little hard to believe, but it was full of the most interesting people. Lynette and BJ were two South African women about our age, there with Lynette’s daughter and visiting her son who was a dive instructor. Glen grew up in Zimbabwe but fled to New Zealand with his parents when he was a teenager due to unrest in that country. He and his Canadian girlfriend Chelsea were going to rent a car and tour Namibia, after this little beach stop. Three Israelis and a South African were camped in tents in the back. On Passover the whole hostel joined in a braie together, and ate late in the evening on the beach, to the light of candles and the full moon. Our first evening the owner apologized but there was live entertainment until midnight in the restaurant, promising us it would be quieter after that.

The town of Tofo is a lively little market full of (not that great) restaurants, markets and shops. There’s a large fresh market where the pineapple and avocados were the best I’ve ever had. The market was aggressive – “How much is this wine?” “400 I can give it to you for 350 “. You know you’re only starting.

Then there’s the reason we’re all here – the beach. The water here is the most beautiful I have ever seen. If you can imagine, when a large wave is about to crash over your head and give you a great body surf, you can actually see right through it. It’s the clearest water I’ve ever seen. The temperature of the water is perfect. The temperature of the sand at midday, not so much. Ray kept forgetting his flip flops. The waves were our entertainment. Surfers love this beach too. We even went out on an ocean safari looking for whale sharks, but saw dolphins and snorkelled with the fish instead.

Our place was right on the beach. When I woke up early, I took long walks on the sand, watching the fishermen sorting out their nets, and the locals all walking to work. The sunrise was dramatic every morning. We sat on the beach one day and fried like lobsters, but we realized the thing to do was swim and then sit at our hostel, in the shade, fridge full of drinks and a cool outdoor shower. We, and everyone else here just did this all day. Once the sun went down we lit the fires and the communal cooking began. It really was our little paradise.

Lynette and BJ left at 4 AM to try and make that horrible drive in one day, but we found a caravan park in the GPS that was just before Maputo and decided to make for that for the night. I’m not going to say that by the time we got off that highway, and the Garmen said “prepare to board ferry”, that we were a little snippy with each other. When we started following different campground signs that both needed the 4X4, I won’t say that we weren’t a tad crabby. When we did “arrive” it was to beautiful resort on a beach, huge – big enough to accommodate at least 100 holidaying families, with huts and chalets, a beautiful big swimming pool, restaurant and bar – all completely empty but for the staff and the owner. The only thing they didn’t have was camping. They were not about to turn us away though. I suggested we camp outside an empty hut, plug in and spend the night in Britzie. Instead he sent his staff out to build us a campsite. They raked and cleaned and even installed power and a light, but it didn’t work so we plugged into a nearby hut.

After the party on the beach and the crazy ride, this empty resort turned out to be the perfect rest stop. We cooked a simple meal of South African sausage and salad with that fabulous avocado and other fresh vegetables from the market. Ray even talked me into an early morning skinny dip in the pool.

I’ve learned something about Ray on this trip. I’ve always felt safe driving with him, even on long trips in the Westie, but he’s never been tested like this. I see him boldly following local traditions and turning 2 lanes into 3 (or more), swerving pot holes in unison with truckers and engaging 4X4 at every interesting side road. I never expected that. He calls me Miss Donna and he is my private safari driver, that never says no. This has been the most romantic trip we’ve ever taken.

So we survived that stupid highway and had our beach holiday. Thankfully we made it back without more fines or death and crossed into civilized, and beautiful in a whole new way, Swaziland.

Kruger Park

Camped on the water hole in Punda Maria

A week in Kruger Park, a week of great campgrounds, amazing wildlife and South African families kicking off their three-week school holiday.

Honestly, we’ve entered a completely different world now in Mozambique and Kruger seems like it was weeks ago. One thing I’ll say about Africa, its diverse. Blink and everything changes.

It just happened that we came to Kruger just as the school holiday started. African kids don’t get 2 months off like our kids, they get three weeks now and then others through our the year. They have no cold, harsh winter to recover from.  We were warned that we would have trouble getting camp-spots because of the crowds, but we got lucky.

The view from the restaurant in Letaba

We entered the park at the quieter, northern end. Our first campsite, Punda Maria  was nowhere near full, and the staff here booked the rest of our spots so we always knew where we would be going. In Punda Maria we camped right on the edge of the water hole. I was woken twice during the night by elephants coming to drink. I just rolled out of bed in my pyjamas, watched the spectacle and then went back to bed. At 6 am I was woken again by horrendous screaming. I was sure something was being eaten, but apparently it was baboons and monkeys have a squabble.

Hiking beside the electric fence

Every day we would pack up Britzie and drive safari roads to the next campsite, always heading south to the next campground.  You have never seen so much elephant poo on the roads. We would drive slowly, like everyone else and stop for any wildlife viewing. Once we came upon a big traffic jam, all stopped to look at a turtle. We saw herds of elephants, Cape buffalo and giraffes. We saw rare sightings, two jackals, kudu and others I can’t even remember. Ray was bold. One day he took a crazy drive right down to a lake. It seemed not to have been worth the risk, until every rock in the lake suddenly stood up, and the young hippos started swimming right towards us, to get a better look.

I feel quite privileged to have shared Kruger with all the South African families. We think we’re pretty good campers in Canada, but I have to say I think SA might have us beat. We kept talking about the business we could start importing the cool SA camping equipment – from stoves to trailers and so many other cool gadgets.

Out braie

Every campground in Kruger is incredible well-appointed. There’s always a pool, kitchen facilities, ablutions (we call them washrooms) and a shop. Most of our spots had a restaurant but everyone had a braie each night. A braie is a BBQ over wood or charcoal or usually a mix. When in Africa… we had our own braie every night but one in Kruger.

Picnic spots

There are no park patrols or anyone instituting any rules in the campgrounds. It’s completely unnecessary. The gates open at sunrise and close at sunset. No one except professional safari drivers are allowed on the roads after dark. If sunset is 6 PM everyone is out game viewing until then, fires starting shortly after. There are children playing and fathers grilling until about 9, when silence prevails. You don’t want to be sleeping in here. Diesel engines are ticking by 6 am, and the SA families have been cooking and eating and packing long before. It’s all about the wildlife here.

By the time we finished Kruger I was feeling a little claustrophobic. Each campsite is protected by razor wire and electric fences. You can walk around inside the camp but you’re not going anywhere. While driving you can’t get out of your car for anything. There are wonderful picnic spots along the way where they rent out these cool gas stoves, and ALL the SA families show up here ready to cook and eat some more. If you’re like us, unprepared, there’s sometimes a restaurant.

Kruger Park will undoubtedly be one of the highlights of this road trip, but it was time to move on, find a beach and go looking for ocean animals. We left Kruger through the border to Mozambique. And now for something completely different, again.