The national park near Nyanga is said to have been Cecil Rhodes favourite spot and by all accounts has fabulous hikes through lush green mountains with waterfalls, breath taking views and great trout fishing. We knew that these hikes would be out of bounds for us with a dog but we hoped that as the park is not home to many animals and has no predators, the rangers may turn a blind eye and allow us to stay for one night in their campsite with Bow Wow. However, they were not to be charmed and once again we found ourselves in the stressful situation of having to find alternative accommodation with less than an hour of daylight left. Blaming himself, Bow Wow felt horrendously bad about the whole thing and increasingly worse when we were turned away from a motel in the town of Nyanga which was fully booked and did not allow camping in their grounds. On hearing us discussing our last hope, which was to ask if we might stay at the local police station, the snooty receptionist reluctantly suggested that we try a place just out of town called Angler’s Rest but she definitely did not recommend it. (Includes 3 videos)
Rusape is a real Zimbabwean town not featured in any travel guides. We camped in the grounds of an achingly retro, yet empty, motel with a swimming pool full of frogs and provoked lots of laughter as we wandered through Rusape’s bright and bustling streets. Our taste buds had a real treat when we tucked into mouthwatering sadza with local farmers, sampled some thirst quenching Zimbabwean beers and sunk our teeth into the most flavoursome fruit that we have ever tasted. At Lovely’s Hair Salon we learnt how to braid while her gogo held court and swigged Coca-Cola on the stoop.
With so few tourists for so many years, all of the official campsites in Harare closed long ago. We eventually found a safe place to set up camp at Cleveland Dam and sampled the local “brain kicking” tipple, Chimbuku. At a vibrant market we felt the true hustle of Africa but our search for Vagabond Van products continued.
During our three hour long delay, I took pictures of the chaotic Zimbabwe border crossing but was caught and asked to delete them from my camera. It was a total shambles; Bow Wow’s forms were filled out in a rotting make shift caravan with a missing floor, great chasms in parts of the pavement waited to swallow humans whole and disorderly queues seemed unformed in all directions.
Once through, we were warned by a local to not stop for anything or anyone until we reached Great Zimbabwe. On registering our concerned expressions he added “Don’t worry, it’s not like South Africa; they probably won’t kill you but they will rob you.” Off at last, we chased the setting sun past mountainous boulders muffled in lush vegetation and colourful clusters of roadside pedlars touting pyramids of golden mangoes and baking mielies in their leaves over smouldering embers.
After a break in Cape Town and with only 4 days left on Lucie’s South African visa, it was a case of pedal to the metal, past the boerewors curtain and all the way through Afrikaans country until we reached the Zimbabwe border.
These Chip Bags are hand woven by a woman called Penane in Maun, Botswana. Her daughter called Onalenna (which means ‘I am with her’) and friends collect discarded chip packets and sweetie wrappers (this is what gives the bags their futuristic shine) and Penane expertly recycles these by weaving them with reeds to make the bags. They belong to the tribe called Okavango Hambukushu.
On safari with Stephen Fry and the BBC’s Last Chance to See crew we learn of Swaziland’s efforts on the frontline of rhino conservation. The high value of their horn, due to its imagined medicinal properties, has attracted mafia type gangterism with shoot-outs, petrol bombs, attempted assassinations and murders. Now a foreign backed NGO called Yonge Nawe is irresponsibly offering poachers legal aid. The last thing that rhinos need is any form of incitement and encouragement that gives hope and strength to poachers. In this world, driven by the accumulation of financial wealth rather than the conservation of our ecosystem, we only wish that there were more people like Ted Reilly. Perhaps then the future of our wildlife and wilderness would not seem so uncertain.
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.
Bird About the Bush, Beatrice the Bee-Eater invites you to soar with her above Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary’s game dense savanna, the home that she shares with Back to Africa’s Roan Antelope Project. Discover how Ted Reilly, a man who has dedicated his life to preserving Swaziland’s wildlife heritage, provided refuge for animals when they had nowhere else to turn and of the wonderful work that he continues to do at Mlilwane.
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.
Stephen Fry’s is the only name on everyone’s lips and beaks at Mliliwane Wildlife Sanctuary in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Roan Antelope, Tsandziwe explains why all zoos should support Back to Africa by taking part in The Animals’ No. 1 Dating Agency and in doing so save more species from extinction. Let’s cross our hooves and hope that this bush telegraph makes its way around the globe.
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.
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.
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.
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…