From Maun in Botswana, we successfully navigated the length of the Makgadikgadi Pan, camping half way across, surrounded by nothing but blinding salt for as far as the eye could see. We then travelled cross country to Gabarone in search of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective, Mma Ramwotse and found the next best thing; a policewoman called Precious.
We met and Bow Wow licked the Ju/’hanse San people, or as they are more commonly known, the Bushmen, near Tsumkwe, eastern Namibia. Bow Wow impressed the tribe with his tricks, while I learnt how to make jewellery out of ostrich eggs and Lachlan considered ditching his Calvin Kleins for some Bushmen budgie smugglers.
At a foot and mouth control point, we lent a few dollars to a man who had run out of fuel and cash. His name was Eugene and not only did he pay us back when we got to Grootfontein, he also organised for us to camp at Kalkfontein Farm which is owned by an eccentric Swiss fellow who keeps some surprising pets.
We’ve seen some watering holes during our time in Africa but nothing quite like these. Cruising down the C46 highway in Namibia, we couldn’t get over how original, weird and brilliant the bar names were. Feel free to add your own punchline.
We had fun at the Epupa Falls but going there made us realise how vulnerable the Himba culture is and how lucky we had been to access remote areas by 4×4 and experience the customs of those who are still largely unaffected by the modern world.
After driving up a dry river bed and accidentally scaring the hell out of unsuspecting animals, we got a taste of our own medicine when we were snuck up on by a band of Himba men bearing spears and axes.
In Purros we visited Himba women whose fine jewellery made of metal, bone and skin would not look out of place strutting down an Alexander McQueen runway. We listened to the snap of branches and the purr of dessert elephants as they tramped past our tent on their midnight moseys and Bow Wow ate so much of their poo we renamed him Shitlips.
Having fought, picnicked and played at Namibia’s most ancient geological and spiritual sites we leave the beaten track for Koakaland, home to the Himbas.
Camping in the vast emptiness of the Namib Dessert under a camelthorn tree and the great glittering arc of the Milky Way, we saw so many shooting stars that we ran out of wishes. We didn’t realise how easily Bow Wow could have been cheetah, spotted hyena or leopard padkos! Having successfully smuggled our stowaway in to the soaring sand dune sea of Sossusvlei, we then pushed on to Windhoek via the Gemütlichkeit of Swakompmund.
We kept our eyes peeled for shining stones and glamorous ghosts as we explored the deserted diamond town of Kolmanskop in Namibia that is now almost lost to the dunes.
We reach Lüderitz, where the seas of sand meet the glittering Atlantic! Lucie gets radioactive highlights, Bow Wow plays with a jackal and our perception of hyenas is changed forever.
From battle fields to diamond fields, Kimberley and its surrounding area is drenched in history. We stayed with a wildlife vet at Magersfontein Farm where the British suffered their greatest losses during the Boer War and explored Kimberley’s preserved ‘New Rush’ streets. With so many fortunes made and lost in this historic area, Back to Africa’s Sable Project at Mokala National Park is proving to be another success for the history books.
From Mozambique, we headed back in to South Africa and with new visas, we picked up Bow Wow and headed for Johannesburg. Here we found out more about South Africa’s history by going to Constitution Hill, the site where thousands of political prisoners including Mahatma Ghandi and Nelson Mandela were once detained for opposing the apartheid regime. The former prison is now home to the Constitutional Court which protects human rights and embodies South Africa’s new culture of democracy. We also visited the Cradle of Humankind where some of the oldest hominid fossils have been and still are being discovered.
Watching the sun rising over Pomene’s palm fringed shoreline, it felt as though we had woken up in a Bounty chocolate advertisement. What a paradise! The night before, under barely an eyelash of winking moon, we had rolled in over the dunes towards our friend Pat’s remote reed-walled hideaway. The morning’s rays brought straight backed locals, balancing baskets of vegetables, fruit and warm Pão (bread) on their heads for us to buy.
All flippers and limbs, we gracelessly fell backwards from the boat and in to the sub tropical Indian Ocean. Before I had a chance to adjust my eyes, I felt a bump and turned to face every plankton’s worst fear; the gummy cavernous mouth of the world’s biggest fish. Unperturbed by my slack jawed mimicry, the whale shark casually propelled itself past with a few languid flicks of its powerful tail. It appeared to be moving in slow motion and yet we could barely keep up. More whale sharks appeared and we followed them until they dived too deep. We could hear humpback whales singing to one another in the distance.
Much like the whale sharks, Tofo’s locals have an unhurried, laid back approach to life. Fisher folk still sail in and out of the bay in dhows and time is measured not by ticking clocks but by the ebb and flow of the tide. We learnt how to play an ancient game called Bao as we waited (an African length of time) for our tasty prawns and calamari to be cooked up in a shack by the sea.
With so many travellers washing in on its white shore, we felt blessed to witness Tofo’s culture, pristine dunes and abundant marine life before they are inevitably spoilt by its popularity.
Maputo is a patchwork city crumbling beautifully beyond repair. The botanic gardens are now a lawless jungle few dare to enter. 4×4 walking skills are required for navigating the potholed pavements of its hustling streets. Nothing is thrown away; everything is inventively mended and re-used. It’s colourful, filthy and inspiring with the best seafood we have ever tasted.
It’s 4:59am at the Kruger Park, the camp gates are about to open and we just can’t wait. Dawn breaks over the savanna and clasping tin cups of hot coffee and marmalade rusks we head for the Lion highway. What delights await us?
Reunited with Bow Wow we made for recently revived Bulembu, once an asbestos mining town and now home to over two hundred AIDS orphans.
In our support of the charity Back to Africa, we visited their Roan Project at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Stephen Fry was there with the BBC filming an episode of Last Chance to See but even he was out shone by the charismatic Roan Antelopes. We were honoured to spend time with Ted Reilly, Swaziland’s pioneer nature conservationist who provided refuge for the Kingdom’s creatures when they had nowhere else to turn.
We catch soccer fever and make more furry friends in balmy Durban. I pass my state vet inspection without even a solitary flea. Lachlan is forced to carry me through a throng of amused football supporters but we are rewarded with a view of the staggering Moses Mandhiba stadium. We enter Swaziland to begin the most important phase of our quest.
High in the Lesotho mountains we meet South African chef, Justin Bonello and the Cooked in Africa crew. This chance encounter makes us feel, more than ever, that we are on the right track and that perhaps our destiny is written in the stars. We contemplate how, like life, every great road trip is about the journey, not the destination and like every great recipe, there are certain key ingredients that are required…
Lachlan receives a proposition from a frisky old lady with blood shot eyes, an afro goatee and more than a faint whiff of beer on her breath. Bow Wow alerts us to an intruder by doing his best Scrappy Doo impersonation and then later mysteriously disappears. We finally find a public telephone and call home but as per usual the line to Westridge is engaged.
Our first border crossing successfully behind us, we experience Lesotho’s unique beauty and simpler way of life that is both humbling and inspiring. We meet a brave Frenchman, finally understand why the Queen waves in the gentle way that she does and Bow Wow learns an important lesson.
Lachlan does the World’s highest bungy jump and Bow Wow joins a crew of salty surf mutts at J Bay which leads to a chance encounter with rock star scientist Brian Cox. We spend a few luxurious nights with Lucie’s relatives stocking up on biltong and gaining invaluable advice for the trip ahead. Humbled by the Wild Coast we can feel the bittersweet beauty of Africa’s extremes already getting under our skin and touching our hearts.