South Africa: the final stretch to Cape Town

16 – 23 June 2013

Slightly delayed (!), but here is our update for the last leg of the trip …

So, having narrowly avoided being locked up in Namibia and 11 and a half months later, we were in our destination country. Rather than hit the accelerator and hot-foot it down to Cape Town, we took a detour around the Northern Cape in order to visit Marcello’s second mother (their retired maid) Renee in Carnarvon.

We decided to cut across the north of the Northern Cape, primarily because Marcello has always wanted to go to a small town by the name of Pofadder (Puff Adder in case it wasn’t obvious). Thankfully we didn’t see any of these snakes while we were there! The scenery was very similar to that we’d left behind in Namibia: open expanses of farmland, but with very little wildlife around. However, as we turned onto one of the gravel roads, we noticed more and more small purple and yellow flowers all over the ground. We stopped at the side of the road to make some sarnies for lunch and get a better look; when we got out of the car, we couldn’t believe the floral scent that hit our noses. It wasn’t yet the full spring flower season, but there had obviously been a bit of rain, prompting the arrival of these smaller specimens. It certainly gave us some idea of what it would be like in the flower season and we were extremely lucky to have had a taste of it.

For the first time in a long time we had no idea where we were going to stay that night. Having been incredibly well prepared throughout the trip, the one thing we didn’t have was a guidebook for South Africa. This is probably because it’s Marcello’s home country, so you don’t necessarily think you’d need one. Anyway, we took a look at the map, picked a decent sized town (Kakamas) and once we got there checked Tracks4Africa for campsites nearby. Our luck was obviously in, as it turned out to be a lovely spot on a wine estate right on the Orange River. Even better was that it was only 100 Rand (approx £6.70) for the two of us to camp for the night. We watched the sun set over the river while we set up camp, then made a fire with the old vines they brought us – definitely needed as it was a chilly night. We then toasted what was to be our last night sleeping in the roof tent. It was a sad thought as, more often than not, we’ve preferred sleeping in the roof tent than anywhere else. It also seemed to mark the forthcoming end to the trip. However, the nights were getting pretty cold so the thought of a warm(er) room was quite welcome.

We set off early the next morning for Carnarvon and made it there around lunchtime. After a bit of a goose-chase, we finally found Renee’s house (the GPS refused to find the street). It was wonderful to see/meet her – especially for Marcello, who hadn’t seen her for two and a half years. We got the grand tour of her house, which brought a lot of memories back for Marcello as there were many pieces of furniture and knick knacks from his childhood there.

After a couple of hours of catching up, “talking kak” and Renee promising to teach Karen Afrikaans when she comes to stay in July, we were on the road again. It was another case of finding the largest town on route and hoping for the best and we found ourselves in Calvinia (first spotting of an aardwolf along the way). We were encouraged when we arrived as the sun was setting and saw the welcome sign declaring it the “home of red meat”. We stayed in the aptly named Calvinia Hotel and enjoyed a fantastic steak that evening. It was actually a real treat to be in a hotel as, for once, it was a very comfy bed. It was also nice not to have to climb down the ladder if we needed to pee in the night!

After stocking up on some Springbok and Gemsbok at the butcher (yup, Karen did feel a little guilty buying the meat of what she’d recently been looking at in the field), we headed West towards the coast. We were staying in Clan William that night, but first drove to the seaside town of Lambert’s Bay so Karen could get her first taste of South African fish ‘n’ chips. Luckily for us the day’s linefish catch was yellowtail and snoek. It was delicious, and the sight of the blue sea in the background only added to it.

From here we were somewhat killing time. Marcello’s best mate since childhood, Marco, had been hoping to come and meet us for a weekend of camping at some point during our trip. However our timing just never quite came right. He’d then suggested that we meet for the weekend somewhere north of Cape Town … co-ordinates for the destination to be provided. So, the following morning we drove further south down the coast to a fishing village called Paternoster. It has to be said that there are definitely worse places to kill time!

Paternoster is still relatively unspoilt. There’s clearly been a fair bit of development, but it’s in the form of housing in the fisherman’s cottage style rather than large, unsightly hotels. We stayed in the Paternoster Hotel – the draw of the “panties bar” was what sold it to us! As the name suggests, the ceiling is adorned with hundreds of pairs of knickers and the bar with various provocative posters and decorations.

While there we enjoyed a walk along the beach, checking out the biggest mussel shells Karen has ever seen, some delicious seafood and a fun 4×4 trail along the coast behind the dunes to St Helena’s Bay. It’s a lovely spot and we can only imagine how busy it must get in the summer months.

After a couple of very chilled days and a quick lunch in Langabaan, we plugged in the co-ordinates and set off to meet up with Marco and, we imagined, his wife Louise and their two kids. We’d been given clear instructions to arrive at 3pm: no earlier, no later. Marcello figured that we were probably going to be meeting him at a farm where Marco goes hunting and, after two and a half years, was really looking forward to catching up with them, as was Karen to meet them.

As we got closer to the farm, there were a few “where are you phone calls”, prompting Karen to get a little suspicious, and when we rounded the corner we were greeted by not only Marco, Louise and family, but Marcello’s Ma, Pa and brother, GP, Marco’s sister Manuela, her husband Andrew and their kids, plus friends Barry, Theresa and Sarah with her son Tom. The kids were holding and waving South African flags and everyone was cheering – what a wonderful surprise. It was one of the few times Karen has ever seen Marcello speechless!

We were then treated to a weekend of bubbly, beer, red wine, huge amounts of delicious food, catching up/introductions, a game drive, clay pigeon shooting, more bubbly, more yummy food, a birthday party for Tom, rugby, tales, reminiscing and lots of laughs. The farm is owned by Nick and Petra, a South African and his German wife and they run a guest rooms there. Petra is most definitely the hostess with the mostess – the creations she continuously whips up are something else.

After a fantastic weekend and vastly expanded bellies, it was time to put the last few kilometres under our belt (or Charlie’s wheels) before reaching our final destination: Cape Town. We took the coastal route and it was a surprisingly short time before Karen got her first glimpse through the clouds of Table Mountain. It was only really at this point that the realisation dawned on Marcello that he’d just driven across Africa. Usually when he arrives home it’s a case of being collected at the airport: this time he was arriving by road. A very surreal feeling.

When we arrived at the family’s home, we were greeted by balloons and the barks of Bruno the dog. However, it wasn’t long until the barks turned into excited wagging and jumping … and that was just Marcello. The family’s home is in the City Bowl underneath the cable car station and Karen was blown away by the view over the harbour on one side, Table Mountain on the other and Lion’s Head to the side.

The next few days were a whirl of unpacking, visits, shopping for warm clothes and generally getting our bearings. We also caught up with Colin and Diana, the British couple we crossed paths with from Nairobi onwards, who’d arrived in Cape Town the day before us. It was great to see them at the culmination of our trip and have an obligatory story-swapping session as well as celebrate our arrival in Cape Town. They’re now on their way back North again … tempting!

So, what now??? That’s the big question. However we intend to enjoy at least the next few months in Cape Town/South Africa, so expect a few further entries as we experience life SA style.

A few stats for the trip:

Number of days travelling from London to Cape Town: 357

Number of countries: 23 (two (Turkey and Jordan) without Charlie!)

Distance travelled: 25,106 miles/40,404 kilometres

Litres of diesel burned: 4,167 – 10 litres per 100km in Europe, 10.8 litres per 100km in Africa

Average cost per day: €140 per day in Europe and $120 for Africa

Top fives … these are in no particular order and have been hard to pick as the whole trip was full of wonderful experiences

Countries:

  • Italy
  • Sudan
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Namibia

Experiences:

  • Tasting tour of Emilia-Romagna in Italy
  • Chimpanzee tracking
  • Following wild dogs
  • The wilderness of the Kaokoland, Namibia
  • Wild camping: each and every time

Worst moments:

  • Customs in Egypt
  • Dodgy stomachs at various points
  • Not taking a guide to see the Mursi, resulting in an uncomfortable experience
  • Having to pay a bribe in Kenya (our one and only)
  • Nearly getting locked up trying to leave Namibia

Food/dishes:

  • Seafood pasta in Italy (particularly the dish we had in Naples)
  • Giros (Greece)
  • Rolex (vegetable omelette wrapped in a chipata: Uganda)
  • Zanzibar fish curry
  • Marcello’s braais

Most useful items – not necessarily the essentials, but made our life that little bit easier/more comfortable:

  • Fridge/freezer
  • Lifesaver jerry can
  • Tracks4Africa/Bradt travel guides
  • Espresso maker
  • Birkenstocks (of which Marcello’s just lasted through the trip … with a little help)

Camps (not including wild camping):

  • Palm Grove, Sudan (okay technically wild camping, but as it was on private land we’ve included it for its amazing warm well/bath)
  • Peponi, Tanzania
  • Croc Valley, Zambia
  • Mavunje River Camp, Caprivi
  • Khwai Community Camp, Botswana
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