Another long driving day takes us across the border into South Africa. Immediately, the difference is tangible. The roads are all paved and the landscape begins to get a little more verdant. Supermarkets are modern and shops selling cappuccino are welcomely plentiful. Food in South Africa is great as well, about 20-30% cheaper than in the States. We stop at a small farmer’s market and I pick up a 1.5 kilo bag of red plums for USD 1.50, about one tenth the cost in Cambodia where stone fruit must be imported and therefore prohibitive. I’ve been gorging on peaches, nectarines and plums.
We camp at Citrus Dal, at a small orange grove with an expansive farm house where happily there is a TV. I gleefully get my tennis fix of the Australian Open and wake up early to catch a few live matches. Can fast internet and gourmet food be very far behind?
We make our way to the vineyards of Stellenbosch and I celebrate taking down my tent for the last time because most of us are upgrading on this last night of the tour to a proper bed where we can all re-pack our belongings. I’ve gotten tenting almost down to a science, being able to put up / take down the four-man tent by myself in about 10 minutes. Still it’s a chore that I can’t say I’ll miss…
We camp at Mountain Breeze, amongst the tall pine trees, just outside the town of Stellenbosch, South Africa’s wine capital. In the afternoon, we visit Bergdelker, one of the wineries in the region and do a wine tasting in the refreshingly cool cellar. We stroll around the university town of Stellenbosch, with its trendy boutiques and sidewalk cafes. In the evening, we enjoy our last dinner together at the posh Wjinhuis Restaurant, reminiscing over steaks and wines ordered from a thick book about the over 10,600 km we’ve travelled since Nairobi. It’s been an excellent trip — the best — and we’ve seen amazing things over the course of the last two months with lots of highs – the otherworldly beauty of the Ngorogoro Crater, thousands of migrating zebras and wildebeest in the Serengeti, the electric blue waters of Zanzibar, the unreal beauty of the Okavango Delta, interacting with cheetahs and and the Himba in Namibia, the soaring sand dunes meeting the crashing waves at Swakopmund – and some lows – the mindnumbingly long driving days, getting mired in Himba mud, the absence of game in Etosha. But love or hate the individual events, it’s still a trip that I’ll never forget…
On the last day of the tour, we pull into Cape Town, stopping at Dolphin Beach to admire the view of Table Mountain in the background, with dozens of kite surfers in the foreground taking advantage of the strong winds. The water is surprisingly blue and clear, almost Caribbean-like, except that it is cold as ice. Cape Town looks more European than African with obvious displays of affluence. The group slowly and sadly disperses as people peel off in separate directions. Most stay at the recommended hotel, a quaint warren of comfortable, tastefully decorated rooms within a stone’s throw of the beach…
My aunt and her Swiss husband, who are wintering in Cape Town, pick me up and I spend my last few nights at their beautiful rented lake house. The first night, we take in a solo classical piano concert by a Russian pianist and comments such as, “That was good, but too much Rachmaninoff for me”, swirl around over glasses of wine at the intermission. Definitely not something I’ve heard often (or at all) over the past two months. But sleeping in, leisurely mornings watching tennis, walks on the windy beach and taking meals on the patio by the lake or on the lawns of a nearby posh winery, a gaggle of ducks and geese on parade, are the perfect way to segue back into real life…
Looking back over the last two and a half months, it’s been a truly awesome experience. I think overlanding forces the forging of bonds between people who might otherwise not be friends. (Insert Breakfast Club reference here…) Shared experiences, jointly performing chores (our team was notorious for doing the dishes to loud dance music – Mr. Cha Cha Slide anyone?), communal eating and moments of pure wonder and magic brought us all together. With clients limited to only 16 per trip with Africa in Focus, the number is small enough to keep cliques from forming while the multiple-day stops (Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Lake Malawi and Swakopmund) allowed everyone to do their own thing (even though we still mainly stuck together, adopting a comforting herd mentality…)
I’m also eager to apply the photography skills I’ve picked up. I used to think bringing souvenirs and momentos back were the best way to remember a trip, but with the amazing photos I’ve been able to take, I think I’ve changed my mind. Thanks to all my group members for contributing their best photos to this blog as well. It is amazing how far we’ve come in our photography skills! The comprehensive workshops and more importantly, the many opportunities we had to apply our new knowledge on such a variety of subjects and conditions, were luxuries that aren’t possible in everyday life.
Yes, Africa in Focus may have been slightly more expensive than the average tour company, but the professionalism, level of service and comfort we received in return were well worth it. After countless hours of research, I had narrowed down my choices to three. But pictures from the other websites of cramped trucks, bare feet everywhere and small tents had me asking myself: “Do I really want to live like this for two months?!?”
In the end, Africa in Focus was the perfect choice for me – a mobile, professional, wannabe photographer (even if it’s only on holiday) willing to rough it but appreciating small comforts. Africa is an amazing destination and I know I’ve only scratched the surface. Better start saving up for the brand new Africa in Focus Nairobi to Kigali Gorilla Trek tour…
Things I’m glad I brought:
- Ipod for those long driving days
- Net book pre-loaded with DVDs for my TV fix / blogging and wi-fi / sorting pictures daily
- E-reader (there is a library on the truck, everything from guidebooks, African subjects to novels) but nice to have your own selection of books
- Bungee laundry cord (in a never-ending attempt to stay relatively clean)
- Heavy duty Crocs (which were good for every activity the entire trip)
- Extra duffel bag (to store stuff in the inside locker and leave things I didn’t need in the outside locker)
- Silk sleep sack (tiny and light, anything that adds comfort to camping is welcome!)
- Wraparound neck pillow (for the many long driving days)
- Pants that unzip into shorts (pants for protection against the sun and mosquitoes but shorts for comfort)
- Portable hard drive / flash drive (to be safe, store photos in two places; some people brought DVDs to burn, but the drives were much more convenient)
- Foldable Fan (for those hot, still nights)
- Noise-reducing headphones (it gets pretty loud on the truck with the windows down)
- Universal sink plug (in a pinch, a wad of toilet paper temporarily plugs up the sink, but then you’ll have all these bits of paper stuck to your laundry)
- Ear plugs (if you’re a light sleeper – remember, sometimes the tents are close together and only a sheet of canvas is between you and the unfortunate snorer in the next tent over)
Things I brought and didn’t really need:
- Snacks (there was always a supply of fruit / biscuits on the truck)
- Anything over one pair of socks
I’ve tried to be comprehensive (but hopefully not too boring!) in this blog because I know it would have helped me immensely in the planning stages. But if I’ve left anything out, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll do my best to help where I can!
Here’s wishing you your own great adventures…