February/March 2019

Return to Africa

Farewell Namibia & Hello Again South Africa

Just in case anyone is thinking we must have finally done ourselves in by driving off a cliff on some lonely road, or let ourselves be eaten by lions, we thought is was time for us to pen a short update to reassure you of our continued existence.  Our last missive was more than two months ago and that can be a long time in all of our busy lives.

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So here goes.  

After spending some time back in the States, at the end of February we returned to Africa all hot to trot, raring to go, fit as a fiddle… and all the rest of those cliches.  The six weeks in the US had been good, but a bit like stepping away from “the game.”  So back we went to Namibia, flying into Windhoek to pick up the truck and head on out to new adventures.  We had a bit of a joke at saying to ourselves, as most folks do, “Well, traveling is OK, but it sure is good to be Home!”.

You may remember that we left the Tiger with the (former) Chevy dealer here in Namibia.  He had a list of things to help us with, some stuff to find, a shipment of parts coming from the States to help with the work he was doing, and lots of good feelings among all of us that these tasks could be handled in good order.  Some actually were.  Others required more purchases, more time, and more decisions on what was/wasn’t possible….

After what seemed to us like a long week following our arrival we were ready to hit the road again.  We’d been somewhat busy ourselves, during that week.  We bought supplies, dealt with problems as they arose, found a nice little restaurant to enjoy while we were lodged at a nearby hotel for some of the time and, best of all, handled our Carnet issues.

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Not to dwell on the technical stuff, but the Carnet de Passages en Douane is a document that lets the Tiger be in Africa and stay out of trouble; pretty much a passport for the vehicle.  It has pieces of paper that require a stamp when you enter a country, and a second stamp when you leave.  Some borders cannot be bothered to go get the stamp, which leads to difficulties down the road, but for the most part the system works as designed.  Also, by now we had an old, about to expire Carnet, and a new one to take its place.  More papers, more stamps, more hassle; but all of it necessary.  

Before we left Windhoek in January, we had found the lady at the Regional Customs Office who was in charge of such things so we headed to her office once again.  She was willing to shake her head sadly, then place a few strategic stamps in certain spots on all those pieces of paper, declare that all was well, and that we were free to move about her country (and many others).  Yeah!  Good to go on that front and a big sigh of relief was heard.

Truck all shiny and fixed, we got outta there.  Our immediate plan was to head pretty much due south and cross back into South Africa in a week or so.  We had friends in Pretoria to visit who had volunteered to help us with further adjustments to Tiger’s workings, as well as new adventures looming on the horizon.

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As we got further south we started enjoying greener pastures.  While we’d been gone, central Namibia had gotten some rain — not nearly enough, but some.  There was better pasture for the cows and goats, and the land looked refreshed.  It was a pleasant surprise.  We spent a couple of nights at farm stays; there were crops in the field at one, with corn and hay among other things.  The second spot, near Grünau, was drier, but nestled in a lovely area with rock outcroppings and trails to hike along, run by a friendly young couple.  We liked this spot so much we spent three days, getting acclimated, storing stuff, doing a little laundry, and enjoying the incredible starry skies overhead.  

Sadly it seemed that by now we’d gotten below the rain area as it got drier as we went along, and we didn’t see much more green until we crossed back into South Africa.

At Grünau we started angling southeast as we dropped down toward the border.  We were now pretty much due east of Fish River Canyon and had come full circle since entering Namibia so many months earlier.  Shortly we were on the western edge of the Kalahari Desert.  It was dry and pretty rocky, with scrub brush for decoration.  We drove past the turn to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.  We really want to spend some time there, but can’t right now because campsite bookings are unavailable.  So… we think we will be back this way again.  It’s supposed to be a great park to visit.

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Not too long after, we crossed back into South Africa, ending up in Upington for the night.  The border crossing had been easy, and the folks were willing to give us a new 90-day visa — and, with a little encouragement, stamp our Carnet.  This is important to us, because said visa is good not only in SA, but also in the neighboring countries of Lesotho, Botswana, Namibia. and Swaziland.  During the next three months we intend to see a lot more of SA, but also explore some of these other areas as well (probably not returning to Swaziland).  This should make all these border crossings simple and quick… we’ll see!  

And hey!  Upington was pretty cool.  We had a lovely campsite (parked on grass for the first time in ages!) down by the river that flows through town and complete with ducks and geese to enjoy.  This is the Orange River, which we had camped beside our very first nights in Namibia, last October.  It seems that Upington was about as far north as civilization got in SA in the early days — and there is a rather cool statue of a camel with a pith-helmet-clad policeman on top.  It’s in front of the police station, of course.

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While we were staying in Upington we made a side trip one day, following the river west to Augrabies Falls NP.  The river is quite large here, and allows for a great deal of agriculture near its banks, mostly grapes.  We went through several small rural towns with lots of people hanging out waiting to be called to work.  They could have been anywhere in the world.  There were lots of racks for drying the fruit and lots for sale, and grapes being hauled away by the ton.  In season it’s probably very busy with roadside stands; it’s a very rich and productive area.

At the falls, there are good trails to follow and overlooks to use to see the Falls, and we enjoyed wandering around and checking out the views.  It’s rather dry now, and not at its fullest, but the waterfall was still impressive.  Probably the best part was looking at the rocks and seeing how they’d been carved by the water.  Rick took a nice hike further downstream and got some good pictures.

By now we were ready to move on again, and anxious to get to Pretoria, our current target.  But along the way we detoured south a bit so we could make a very nice stop outside the city of Kimberley.  You remember Kimberley, perhaps; it’s the place of diamonds, and there’s a huge hole in the ground, a mine, that you can go visit.  Not on our list.

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More interesting to us was the rock art site just northwest of town.  The Wildebeest Kuil  (Vil-da-BEE-est Kale) Rock Art Center — very important to the history of southern Africa, and excellent.  Not only were there cool rocks to wander amongst, with your own private guide I might add, but there was a lot of history of the San people in the museum, and an excellent film to see.  After spending a couple of hours enjoying the site, we wandered on, further east, soon crossing the historic Vaal River and entering a part of SA that’s richer in soil and supports lots of farming.  It was very prairie-like, with huge open grasslands, lots of cattle and crops, even sunflowers.  There seems to be plenty of water for all in this area, and we stopped for the night at a community resort beside a small dam north of Klerksdorp.  

The next day we reached Pretoria, where we settled in with our friends Jakes and Ina.  The following week saw lots of truck work, lots of good food and friendship, and plenty of time to play with the dogs and cats on the property.  

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Some of you may be asking “what are they doing to that poor truck now?”.  Well, it’s pretty simple really.  When we had our flat tire on the way to Epupa falls, in northern Namibia, we reached the conclusion that we really should be carrying two spares.  There’s a fairly long explanation of why we weren’t already doing this, but we won’t go into that here; send us an email if you’re curious on this point.  Suffice to say that Rick had made a plan to accommodate this change and here in Pretoria, with the help of Jakes and Ina, we were going to make it happen.  We’d met these great folks last year when we knocked off one of our solar panels on a low branch and had located Jakes to do the repair.  Out of potential disaster came excellent new friends; such is our life on the road.                                                              Before ☞

First off, we’d carried a new Alcoa wheel back with us in our checked luggage along with some other parts, so that was ready.  Also, before we’d left Namibia Rick had ordered a new, much smaller aluminum storage box from a company in the Pretoria area, so we picked that up on the way to our friends’ house.  

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Jakes and Rick worked hard for four straight days to get a second spare wheel mount made by a welding shop, remove the old storage box and replace it with the new one, and mostly - in terms of time spent - to design and build a custom mount to carry our bright orange MaxTrax sand ladders on the side of the Tiger — previously, they had been fitted to the top of the larger box.  This was the real accomplishment and something everyone was quite proud of.  The pictures show the changes. 

After     Some other projects were also completed, but these were the main items.  Jakes & Ina were also able to, magically it seemed, sell our old box for us during the time we were staying with them — an amazing accomplishment we thought.  Then, while we were getting two new tires fitted to complete the added spare project, Rick got into conversation with a fellow who pointed out that some of the countries we plan to visit were likely to be displeased with our red combination running/stop/signal lights on the back of the Tiger; he said they required amber turn signals and would probably fine us on the spot.  He also made the rather brilliant suggestion to mount some new lights in the center of our now matching dual spare wheels; this addition was happily made, as you can see in the photo.  Tiger continues to evolve to meet new challenges.

Before we move on we’ll say that we continue to like South Africa, particularly as our various friends explain things, show us things, and share their lives with us.  One peculiarity, which is driving them all quite crazy, and which we find totally beyond understanding in what is generally considered to be a first world country, is what are called “load shedding” events — or, as we might say, rolling blackouts.  This phenomenon arrives frequently, sometimes daily — it was every day while we were there.  In the Pretoria and Johannesburg they lasted 4 hours at a time.  Every day.  At different times of day as the week went by; daytime, nighttime, whenever.  Every  day.  A terrible nuisance not only for residences, but also businesses as well, depriving people of work time and efficiency.  This has been going on for years and they do not know when it might come to an end.  Jakes blames it on poor management and a lack of maintenance on the national power system, and it is surely that at least.  Interestingly, some fellow travelers who were here in March of 2015, give a lengthy discussion of the problem on their website as well.  South Africa has many problems related to the operation of its government, and this is certainly one of them.

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We spent several really nice hours with some other friends in the Johannesburg area.  Great folks, we had originally met them at Mountain Zebra National Park several months ago.  They invited us to a braai at their home, fed us prodigiously, and we enjoyed several hours discussing life here in SA, their hopes for retirement and the financial requirements for a successful transition, and the “fun” of selling your business — we could relate to that, having sold ours lo these many years ago (!).  Finally saying good-by until we crossed paths again, we left the big city and started heading further east, towards Kwa-Zulu Natal Province.

Along the way we paid a return visit to Volksrust, a rather nondescript town but one with a very nice, inexpensive campground along the shores of a small nearby lake.  We were both ready for a few days of catchup work and relaxation and this was just the spot.  It is also the location of a friendly pharmacist who had been very helpful to us last September and whom we hoped could be so again now.  

To make a long story very short, people often ask us how we get our prescriptions filled on the road in the different countries we visit.  We typically answer that they are sent to our mail forwarding service in the US, which sends them on to us every three months; easy-peasy.  

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Well, since our arrival in Africa numerous folks have told us that this just wasn’t going to work; the mail service is not reliable and pills are often looked for and taken.  So, last year we approached this small local pharmacy with our problem and were able to obtain a six-months supply of each of our prescriptions.  Our return visit now was to see if we could  repeat our earlier experience.  

The pharmacist was happy to help us once again.  We’re delighted, as it solves our problem of being away from the US for extended periods and, together with the filled prescriptions we brought back with us from the States, will carry us through the next ten or twelve months here in Africa.  If anyone is curious about costs, without any insurance cover here in SA, our prescriptions cost us considerably less than half as much as our medicare insurance co-pay back in the US.

As we continue on our way, heading into the Kwa-Zulu Natal Province, we are approaching the Drakensberg Escarpment, a beautiful area which we had touched on last year but saved for our return to the area this month.  We also will spend some time in the independent Kingdom of Lesotho, right next door.  These areas will be our focus for the coming few weeks.  Then we will begin heading north to enjoy Blyde River Canyon and some other spots we want to visit before leaving SA.  We may even have a return trip to Kruger NP before moving on.  Let the games begin!

Rick, Kathy, and our ever faithful and ever evolving Tiger.

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© Rick & Kathy Howe 2001-2019