Our African Adventure
Two Months and 10,000 Kilometers in a Rented Honda
By Pete and Camilla Grimm- © 2011 All rights reserved
Have you dreamed of visiting Africa? Does the unparalleled beauty and old-English charm of Cape Town, so rich in history of Portugese, Dutch and English explorers, call to you? Do you want to walk in the footsteps of terrorist-turned-peacemaker and statesman, Nelson Mandela, at Robben Island Prison? Perhaps, a stay in South Africa’s three hundred year-old wine country sounds inviting. In places, South Africa is as modern as any country in the world. Yet, a short drive off the beaten track, one can still experience the magnificent unspoiled Africa, as it was three hundred years ago. Of course, no visit to South Africa should be without a camera-only safari to hunt the big five, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo and elephant. From the pristine white sand and warm waters of its Indian Ocean beaches, to the fascinating Koisan cave paintings of its west coast, South Africa offers a cornucopia of treats to visitors.
Any description of South Africa, should not gloss over recent history. Less than a generation ago, South Africa was a white-ruled country deep in denial, enforcing Apartheid, and the scars of that racism linger. Despite the relative wealth of South Africa’s city dwellers, fueled by modern technologies and enormous natural resources, including gold and platinum, the majority of the South Africa’s black population still ekes out an existence by subsistence farming. With the end of Apartheid, and the election of black governments, an almost predicable level of violence from dissatisfied, impoverished blacks on relatively well-to-do whites occurred.
Yet, despite these problems, of all African nations, South Africa remains the one bright hope. It’s now black government adheres to a British system of law and parliamentary government. In surrounding Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Angola, communism and virtual dictatorships oppress, while South Africa’s economy remains strong and its currency respected. Illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe swim the crocodile infested waters of the Luvuvhu River for the opportunity South Africa represents, and Mozambicans walk (sometimes unsuccessfully) through the lion country of Krueger Park to the same end. Similarly, the opportunity for unique experiences and enjoyment for foreign visitors in this wondrous land far outweigh the minimal risks.
My wife, Camilla, and I have visited South Africa on several occasions, beginning in 2000. More recently, for a year in 2009 and 2010, we had the opportunity to help manage Enkosini, a wildlife sanctuary founded by our daughter, Kelcey. We love the South African people, South Africa, and the panoply of experiences it has to offer.
These posts are our attempt to recreate a two month long trip we took around the coast of South Africa. We began our journey at Enkosini, at the start of the Drakenberg Mountains in the highlands of Mpumalanga. Crossing Swaziland to the coast, we proceeded southward, sometimes travelling only fifty to one hundred kilometers in a day. Sleeping in “backpackers,” hotels and bed and breakfasts, even a tree house on one occasion, we chose to travel relatively inexpensively. We had no particular plan, except to experience as much as we could. One day at a time, we made up our itinerary on the fly. Covering over ten thousand kilometers in sixty one days, with some inland forays, we ran the coastline all the way to Cape Cross in Namibia. Finally, we crossed Namibia and Botswana to Johannesburg and our flight back to the USA. We hope you will come along with us for the ride. In pictures and words, we hope to inspire you to create your own African adventure.
We didn’t come to take such a haphazardly planned trip in a haphazard fashion. The idea for the trip began in the year 2000, when our daughter Kelcey decided to take a year off work and travel the world. We thought she was crazy to quit a high-paying job for such frivolousness, but off she went anyway. Among her many other experiences, Kelcey climbed Machu Picchu, trekked the red-iron dunes of Namibia’s Sossusvlei and rode horseback across Tanzania. Her messages made Camilla and me say, “I want the life my daughter has!” Her sister Lisa joined her for a trek through Kenya, and Camilla joined her for a month-long drive through South Africa and Zimbabwe. Camilla’s trip with Kelcey inspired our two-month trip eight years later.
Similarly, Camilla and Kelcey had no pre-planned itinerary. Most days, they pulled out their guide books, held a finger to the wind, and decided what was next on the spur of the moment. The random spirit of discovery, mother and daughter sharing the new and relatively unplanned each day, added to their joy.
Also on this trip, Camilla and Kelcey visited a little lodge in the Free State that was raising lions. Kelcey’s later involvement with the unscrupulous owners of that place eventually led her to develop the most beautiful thirty square miles of bush into Enkosini, but that saga is a story to itself for another time.
Afterward, Camilla entertained me with tales of what she and Kelcey experienced wandering around South Africa. As the years passed, and we followed from afar the trials Kelcey experienced establishing Enkosini, we began to learn about South Africa. We even started reading Wilbur Smith’s marvelous historical novels set in southern Africa. The two of us began to dream, not very purposefully, about recreating and expanding that trip someday. When we found ourselves footloose and living aboard our sailboat, Nelevonkiel, having recently sold our business and our home, we realized it was the right time.
Getting to South Africa from the United States can be expensive. However, shopping carefully, traveling coach, and being flexible on departure dates and times has always allowed us to get round trip flights from Seattle to Johannesburg for less than two thousand dollars per ticket. At times, we have paid less than fifteen hundred dollars per ticket. Even so, it is a big expense for most. Once there, it is a good plan to stay awhile, and inexpensively enjoy what South Africa has to offer, amortizing the cost of the flight over a myriad of unique experiences.
Entry to South Africa is not an issue. Vacationing US residents automatically receive visas for a six-month term, and two three-month extensions are available. Visitors should research needed prophylactic shots and medications well in advance. If you plan to visit areas subject to malaria (and though we did not on this trip, you should plan to visit Krueger National Park), get the appropriate prescription medications. Some tips: prepare yourself for a long, long flight with reading matter and neck pillows. Try to avoid stops with long connection waits, and take care to exercise during the flight to avoid deep-leg thrombosis from prolonged sitting. Planning a day in Johannesburg to see the sights and recover from your trip might be a good idea too.
Before beginning this journey, Camilla and I had flown into Johannesburg and taken a four hour ride in a small bus called the Bushvedt Link to Lydenburg (now called Mashishing on many maps), still almost an hour by 4X4 from to Enkosini. We spent most of a month at Enkosini, with some time away visiting a reserve called Makalali, which includes two big-five volunteer-vacation opportunities, with daily game drives, we heartily recommend. Knowing we would fly out of Johannesburg two months later, we had gone back to Johannesburg to rent a little white stick-shift Honda, and returned to Enkosini.
The sadness of saying goodbye to our daughter, Kelcey, the beautiful stone chalet that was our residence at Enkosini, the horses, the dogs, the monkeys and even Bella the pig at Enkosini, was balanced by a sense of excitement, an anticipation of adventure, as we drove off to Swaziland. Where would we spend the night that night? We didn’t know.
(to be continued … Subscribe to the blog or bookmark and come back often)