A 1997 VW Kombi 2.3i with 195 000km on the clock; We rigged in a good fridge and good child seats and headed north – Botswana here we come!
And a 1975 Bushman Tracker1 trailer. Going up Oliviershoek Pass we have to go down to 1st gear. Uh Oh!
We get to Bethlehem caravan park, but it’s a pigsty – non-functionally bad! We move on to Kroonstad.
– Kroonstad – We camp
Neat and clean caravan park in Kroonstad. Tommy decides darkest Africa might be dangerous when he is chased by a pet goose.
– Marakela Nat’l Park – We camp
A lovely park; Hot and exposed but we find a small tree. Well, we’re the only ones there. We discover we have left our binoculars at home! One night turns into three as we wait for the courier parcel to arrive. We use the delay to explore the Waterberg. WEIRD not having binocs! Tommy decides darkest Africa IS dangerous when he is stared at by an ostrich in camp. It’s hot. No pool, so this.
– Ellisras – Luxury B&B with a pool and parrots in aviaries, an up-and-downstairs apartment. Our first luxury night. Jessie’s famous comment as we drove off from the luxury B&B: “Mom, that was NICE camping!”
First border post. Botswana. We had taken official letters from the Dept of Welfare stating it was OK for us to have Jessica & Tommy with us – that it’s all OK, we’re fostering them. We didn’t need them – nor did we ever. That’s not good, if you think about it.
– To Botswana – Nata Lodge – Luxury
Lovely room en-suite and they cooked for us. Another swimming pool, to Jessica’s delight. Staff very friendly. They loved the kids.
– Toro Safari Lodge – Camp with barraca
Convenient barraca at each site with sink, toilet and shower to yourself. Not so friendly people, mind you. Afrikaans. Un-welcoming. Lovely view over the Chobe River, the first of 7 great rivers we would cross. Kids enjoy the pool.
– To Zambia
Next day drove to the ferry over the Zambesi. One of the two ferries had dropped a big truck overboard a week before, so only one in operation. About a 4 hr operation all told and we were safely across in Zambia. Tommy took to the “fewwy” in a big way and has called all boats fewwies ever since. The battered ferry and the dropped truck and trailer were visible looking sad and semi-submerged at the side of the river.
Border post pleasant enough. Charged us more for our “minibus” and tut-tutted sympathetically at my exaggerated protests that this was not a fee-earning taxi, but just our vehicle! Laughingly insisted “Well, sir, it’s the rules”. Had a good chuckle and they wished us well in their country. Lunch in Livingstone at the ‘famous’ Cafe Zambesi – overpriced and under-delivered tourist fare, I’m afraid. Oh, well! Jess loved the pool and the beer was cold.
Livingstone – Maramba River Lodge – Camp
Lovely camp. Full, so we squeezed in near the gate – not the best site, but quite OK. Lovely pool again. Drove to the falls at daybreak where a vervet monkey snatched Jess’ breakfast apple out of her hand. Our first sight of the falls from the Zambian side. Spectacular even though very low flow. Drove to Taita Lodge on the very lip of the Batoka Gorge downstream of the falls overlooking where we had rafted years before. Warm welcome and a great lunch on the deck hanging over the river. Ice-cold beer, great sarmies, Verreaux’s eagles soaring below, and OK, Tom & Jess banging on the dinner drum and xylophone. No other guests around so no one minded – in fact the staff loved the brats and spoilt them with attention.
That night to a nightclub on the banks of the mighty Zambesi River. The kids stayed up late for the first time (probably a mistake . . . . )
Victoria Falls with very low flow – And CHEERS!! at Taita Gorge
Left Livingstone for the Great East Road, grabbing a meal of fresh nkuku at a local eating house on the way out of Livingstone. Better prices, and a better experience. The “Great East Road” was just a tar surface until suddenly we hit the best section of road we saw on the whole trip – brand new wide black tar with white centre stripe and yellow side lines! Amazing! BUT: Just as we hit the smooth, the ole kombi died. Stat. Not a shudder or a hiccup first. Just suddenly nothing. That much-dreaded “CAR TROUBLE” thing! Well, after 197 000km I spose it’s OK. I unpacked the back and lifted the lid to stare at the engine. That’s my mechanical trick: I stare at engines. Some school kids said Yes, Not to worry, They knew of a mechanic at the nearby village, and the toothy one on the battered bicycle offered to go and call him. Sure, I said, not hopefully. “JP” from Gauteng, on his way to service some big crane, stopped his rented car and kindly offered assistance. Soon he was joined (I was amazed) by Carl the mechanic, who arrived on foot with a metal toolbox on his shoulder – just as the schoolkids had said! Between the two of them they peered and prodded and unscrewed (and broke the distributor cap!) using mostly my tools and swallowing the ice-cold drinks I passed them. Eventually they gave up. “Must be something computerised in one of these little black boxes” was the verdict. Right! “There’s a VW agent in Lusaka” says Carl. Right! (200km away). As they’re about to leave, Carl spots a loose wire under near the sump. Finds another loose end of a wire and joins the two. VROOOM! Apparently the wire was from a cutout switch to a heat sensor in the block (geddit?). The kombi roared to life to tremendous applause! (Well, me and Aitch certainly cheered). JP said “My pleasure”, Carl said “R200”, I said “Bargain”, Trish said “Thank you!!” and we were on the road again!
– Lochinvar National Park – We camp
Quite a bumpy road got us to the gate of Lochinvar after dark. ‘Tough, you can’t go in’ said the soldier with a gun. Sorry, but I have to, said me. You see, I can’t let these little kids sleep out here near a village, and nor can you, so hop onto your radio and explain that to your main man. Back he came – ‘Sorry. The main man says the gate is closed’. You just didn’t explain it to him nicely enough, I said – Please tell him I can’t, you can’t and he can’t leave a 22 month old sleeping in the sticks. Off he went and back he came. ‘The main man will meet you at the camp inside‘. “You’re a marvel, well done, thank you!” we shouted and drove in on a 4km free night drive in Lochinvar (saw some nightjars). A lovely primitive camp under big trees. The ablutions were kaput, so we rigged up our own shower. Next day we drove to the water of the Kafue flood plain that makes the park special. Lots of birds and Zambian Lechwe.
Then on to Lusaka across the wide blue Kafue River. Wasted time in a city – slow bank queue stretched out into the hot sun and along the pavement, shops, garage (the fabled “VW Dealer” – no spare distributor cap “But we can order one – about 2 weeks”). On to Pioneer camp just beyond the city limits. (At the bank I had drawn 100 000 kwacha, only to fill up the kombi for 90 000! So back to the long queue to draw a further 300 000 kwacha!). Note to self: Take wads of cash. Avoid banks. Avoid cities.
– Pioneer Camp, Lusaka – We camp
Lovely transit camp. Trampoline for the kids. Birds in the garden. On we head east towards Luangwa. A long day. Thank heavens for Trish’s preparation. Homework for Jess each day, plus colouring-in books and (best idea) music and story tapes for the young uns to listen to. Jess’ joy was losing herself listening to her tapes. Bought some black market petrol on the way as we ran a bit low. Filled a jerry can (didn’t need it and later it got nicked in Moz, so we carried it for nothing). Crossed the impressive Luangwa River on a high bridge.
– Chipata Motel – Room with bath ( I said Luxury, Aitch said Don’t chance your luck, so it got classified ‘basic with roof’)
Chipata is big on bicycles. Drove past a bridal couple on a bicycle (who scowled at Aitch taking their picture). At the motel Jess washed her hair and bundled it up “like Dizzi” in a towel on top of her head. The waiters were spiff in their black pants, white shirts and black bowties. They were also v-e-r-y s-l-o-w as we ate alone in a sparse diningroom at plastic tables and chairs. Tasty chicken n rice. Next day we left on a road we were told to dread. We’d been warned back in Pinetown: Their Landrover broke its axle, it took them all day, etc. Well, it had been freshly graded and was easy-peasy. The kombi eased over it like butter on a hot pan. We passed some tinkers with their tin wares on bicycles. At the end this smooth road even became tarred and broadened into a double highway for about 100 metres (honest!). Checked into the famous FlatDogs Camp we’d heard so much about. South Luangwa National Park awaited us – this was my main destination on the trip.
– Flatdogs Camp, S Luangwa – We camp – Three nights
Well, FlatDogs was everything we’d hoped for. Huge shady trees to camp under, hot water, ice cold beers, great food when we ate at their table ($dollar prices, but LOTS and TASTY). Swimming pool for Jess where she wore a hole clean thru her cozzie on the slide: lovely mahogany-coloured butt peering out at me as I followed her up the slide steps! Right on the banks of the wide Luangwa river. We got up before dawn mornings and took our breakfast cereal to a table on the bank and watched the sun rise, the eles wade across (the youngsters underwater with just their trunks visible) and reveled in the dawn chorus. As the sun peeped over the horizon Jess said “Mom, can I swim now?”. Spent only one full day inside the great S Luangwa park as it cost US$65 for the 4 of us and our kombi.
Thornicrofts giraffe, lion, lots of eles, Puku, carmine bee-eater nests, hippos, beautifully-patterned Burchell’s zebra. In the FlatDogs shower I was washing TomTom when he shot out of my grip like a slippery mahogany-coloured bar of soap, landing on the shower floor flat on his back! Much squawking, but thank goodness he was OK! I watched like a hawk till he fell alseep. Phew! Met an American girl with her two Zambian kids (husband was a Zambian working in USA) travelling in an old yellow American school bus. Reluctantly hit the road again – but Trish is looking forward to Lake Malawi. Border post no problem. Get to Lilongwe after dark, so find a simple room with clean sheets and a shower.
– To Malawi – Lilongwe guesthouse – Room with shower
On to the lake at last! The kombi in its eagerness gets too far onto the beach and gets stuck for the first time. As I start letting air out of my six tyres a group of people come running up: “No, no, hop in, we’ll push you!” Turned out to be a party of Baha’i folk picnic’ing on a day of significance to their religion, which promotes world peace. Sounded good to us as they shoved us out and on our way. Peace, my brothers! Drove on to Monkey Bay and then to the famous Cape Maclear, where we had snorkeled ten years ago. On the way a hill gets the better of us and the kombi can’t drag the Bushman any further (I had dawdled up it – we were tree-spotting and we ran out of steam, even in first gear). Handbrake up, unhitch, swing the trailer round manually using its handbrake to face downhill, and reverse the kombi, hitch up again and retreat down the hill. Then look for a place to turn around and take a run at the hill – easy this time. The touts pestered us as we’d been warned, but nothing a smile, a laugh and a resolute “NO” couldn’t overcome.
– Emmanuel’s Resthouse – Room – Two nights
Reached Emmanuel’s Guesthouse, settled into one of his basic rooms, ordered beer, cold drinks and a great meal and set off to explore. What a view, what a place. Just as we remembered it, but more houses on the beach. Luckily the magnificent old fig tree still has pride of place on what’s left of the beach. Signed up with Kayak Africa and headed off on a day of boating, hiking and snorkelling on Mambo Island (snorkelled right round the tiny island). Loved it. TomTom was in his element and Jess was as proud as punch to go kayaking with Dad wielding her own paddle, nogal. Trish had to be summonsed out of the water for lunch, the bright little fishes had her spellbound. Snorkelling into a cave where swallows nest and bats roost overhead is rather special. On the return, Tom dropped his “Stripey” soft toy overboard, but no problem to the kindly fewwy master who swung round to go back and rescue it where it floated behind us. Back at Emmanuel’s more big tasty meals and cold drinks watching the sun set. For me a couple big medicinal gin & tonics. Prophylactic. Can’t be too careful.
That fig tree on Chembe beach
On we trekked, pulling into Club Makakola en-route. It had changed vastly since our last visit. Indulged in the big pool (at a fee) to cool down before setting off southwards to Liwonde. Crossed the magnificent Shire River on route.
– Mvuu Camp, Liwonde – Camp with pool
Enjoyed Mvuu. Trish and Jess bumped into a hippo at night coming back from the showers, but he was peace-loving. Changed money in Blantyre (what a waste of time, must simply take all the cash we need next time).
– Doogle’s Lodge, Blantyre – Room with shower
Doogle’s Lodge was situated near the taxi rank and they warned us it would be noisy camping in the carpark as happy hour was about to start, so we took a room and joined happy hour for cheap drinks and solid (and very slo-o-ow) food. Kids in the pool as always! Next day drove south along the magnificent Shire River to the border with Mocambique. Our slowest border, as I had decided heck with it and not got a visa. Two hours later we were through. Our receipt was for US$20 less than we’d paid, but they laughingly waved us away when we queried the discrepancy. Commission, I guess. Crossed the mighty Zambesi into Tete – what a river!! And what a bridge!
– To Mozambique – Tete motel – Room with shower (I say Luxury, Aitch says RU Mad?!)
Okay, I’ll admit it was a dive, and the pool was empty, but it was cheap, it was on the south bank of the Zambesi, we couldn’t find anywhere to camp, nor did we want to waste time camping: Early start for the coast tomorrow. We had to turn round for petrol, only to find all the pumps in Tete were dry. Luckily 5km back across the Zambesi they had petrol and it was great to cross that wonderful river twice more. Ahead lay our longest day – 16 hours in the saddle. NOT Jess’ best, to put it mildly! Many potholes, but also lots of beautiful rivers to cross. Countryside often looking very sad and poor. Lots of charcoal on sale.
– Vilanculos Beach Lodge – Luxury – Three nights
All was forgiven about the Tete motel and the long drive when I suggested we spend three whole days DB&B at the Vilanculos Beach Lodge! What meals, what service, what friendliness! Tommy still speaks of Joao the waiter as his big china. Snorkelling again, this time marine on Two Mile Reef off Bazaruto Island. An overstocked aquarium they say, and no exaggeration. It was spectacular. Next time I would splash out and hire our own boat, as waiting for the boat to take other patrons meant a long time exposed to the sun on the island shore.
– Barra Lodge – We camp
Camped on the sand and got stuck again. Nothing a friendly LandCruiser bruiser couldn’t handle, though!
– Casa Barry’s, Tofu – Self-cater Chalet
Lovely big shady thatched chalet, with a great pub nearby overlooking (overhanging, almost) the sea.
– Zavora Bay – Self-cater Beach House
Aitch’s favourite spot! “We MUST come back here!” she raved. Got stuck on the beach again, but nothing a LandRover couldn’t handle, taking first the trailer, then the kombi through the deep sandy spot to our very roomy lodge high on the dunes overlooking the vast expanse that is Zavora Bay with its walk-on reef to the south and miles of beach to the north. We LOVED our stay here, snorkelling the reef, chilling on the huge shady veranda and having the kombi and trailer right next to us so we could fix, clean and re-arrange conveniently.
But here’s where the kids got sick around midnight on our last night. Their temperatures rose. I went to the lodge owner who very kindly gave me a malaria test kit and Co-artem tablets. The test showed a BIG POSITIVE, so we administered the muti and left at first light to Xai Xai where we were told there was a hospital. On the way we were stopped by some mean-looking cops who told us to open up (our first ‘Uh! Oh!’ moment with cops). Tommy gave a big shudder just then and I said “Malaria! Hospital!” in my best Portuguese and the cop waved us on, saying “Xai Xai”. Well the hospital wasn’t being used, the doc was consulting under a tree outside and they had no muti. Nor did the ‘pharmacy’ in the main street. On apace to Maputo, where we were told to find “the clinic the expats use”. They had one muti, but not the other, so on to Nelspruit, stopping to give more Co-artem. Tommy refused to take his despite our crushing it, mixing it with jam, etc. I looked deep into his 22-month old eyes and said “Tom, you HAVE to take this, please! You could DIE if you don’t”. He looked at me, opened wide and swallowed the last tablet. My next ploy was going to be telling him “I’ll have to shove it up your bottom if you won’t swallow!” Didn’t have to. Through the border post (felt slow because of our anxiety, but wasn’t really). By now the kids were looking better, thank goodness, and when their blood was checked in Nelspruit hospital at 10pm there was no sign of any malaria! Co-artem! Remember the name!
– Nelspruit – Town Lodge Hotel – Luxury – Two nights
We stayed an extra night in Nelspruit, just to be near the hospital, but the kids were FINE! So much so that we took them to Kruger Park. Next day we left for home, but the exhaust gets exhausted and noisy (couldn’t cope with the smooth roads again?), so in Barberton we hoisted the kombi up high for a quick look with Aitch & the kids still in it. We decided to go ahead and fix right away, so they stayed up there for over half an hour! They’ll tell you longer! Luckily the kombi is a home-from-home with a fridge! Too late to get home, so we overnight in Badplaas at the hot water springs “oord”.
– Badplaas Hot Springs – Self-cater Cottage
After my dream trip, Aitch’s dream snorkelling spots and all the special places we have been, Jess votes the blue, red & green plastic slides in Badplaas’ indoor pools as THE BEST PLACE OF OUR WHOLE HOLIDAY MOMMY! – – *sigh*
– HOME – 7 River Drive
Home! I’m tempted to vote HOME the best place of our whole holiday!! The birdlife and dawn chorus beat anything we’d heard in 7000km!
We camped 14 nights; Enjoyed luxury 5 nights; Comfy 7 nights; Basic with roof 6 nights;
(I tried to claim our camping as “luxury” but Aitch just raised her eyebrows).
We had five 3-night stays; Three 2-night stays; and eleven 1-night stands
Days with a pool, a lake or the sea to swim in: 22
Jessie was 5yrs 10mths old, Tommy 1yr 10mths.