Who: L U C I E, L A C H L A N, and B O W W O W.
Their occupations: Gypsy, Slick Suit in Finance, Dog
The trip: Crossing Africa by 4×4, helping communities through trade.
We’ve cut our teeth on over 25,000km of dirt roads across Southern Africa with our dog, Bow Wow, sourcing wonderful, handmade treasures… Think Summer of Love! Here are our highlights so far…
The Tree4Hope survived the mud at The Secret Garden Party & we have never known such an abundance of beautiful hopes. Everyone should experience the secrets of the garden!
Hop Farm festival was brimming over with great music, eccentric characters and a whole lotta fresh hope. The stand out performance came from Damien Rice who we were honoured to meet the following day. We were fascinated to hear that, despite his success, he chooses to live a gypsy life, always on the move and with few possessions, just as we do.
The Tonga tribe were forced to move from where they’d lived and fished for centuries so that the power of the Zambezi could be harnessed for electricity and yet 50 years on and they still go without electricity or running water. No wonder they smoke dagga.
We discover why Lake Kariba’s southern shores are less travelled and live to tell the tale.
We returned to Harare and stayed with our Zimbabwean friends, Bruce and Nicola. It was fascinating to hear about how people coped during the desperate days of hyperinflation, when the enormously devalued Zimbabwean dollar was not even worth the paper that it was printed on. We joined them for extreme sundowners on a granite outcrop until a nearby lightning bolt caused our hair to stick right up on end (not a good sign!) and visited their sun filled factory called Copperwares.
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.
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.
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.
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.