Up to East Africa – Part 1

Hello everybody,

time is flying so fast! It’s been already a couple of weeks since I published my last post and some of you are now really eager to read about my adventures in Africa. Guys, sorry for the delay, here is the first report about my Overland tour starting from Capetown and going up to Nairobi. I hope this will warm you up and help you prepare for the coming winter (for readers living in the Northern hemisphere and the Game of Thrones fans πŸ™‚ ).

As musical background for this post, I chose to play a bit with prejudices about Africa. Indeed, when most people think about Africa and especially African music, they picture a group of people that had almost no exposure to the Western world, are half naked, dressed in colorful outfits and dancing around in circles. Well, here is a video proving that this prejudice is pretty close to reality πŸ™‚

And now back to my trip. For those who don’t remember the last episode, don’t worry, it didn’t end on a crazy cliffhanger like in Walking Dead Season 6 (And in my story, -spoiler- the Asian main character is still alive πŸ™‚ ). I was just saying goodbye to my friend AD in front of the Ashanti lodge after a really nice week in Capetown.

Before I start with the day-to-day activities, let me tell you a bit about the big picture of this Overland tour, as some of you were wondering how this kind of tour could look like. Well to keep it short, the tour I booked is a 42 days tour starting from Capetown and going up to East Africa to finish in Nairobi in Kenya. The accommodation type I chose is camping, so everyday we have to put up (and down) our tents. Tents are usually shared by 2 people. Luckily for me, I had a cool tent mate, Armin, a German guy living in Switzerland, with whom I got along very well during the whole trip. The trip is participative, people are divided in teams and are assigned different tasks everyday like helping the cook, cleaning the truck or cleaning the dishes.
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The crew is composed of 3 members, Josef the cook, Steve the truck driver and Kapillar the main guide and central point for complaints πŸ™‚ We are starting from Capetown with a group of 22 people of different nationalities, the most represented country being surprisingly Canada, followed by officially South Africa (actually China). Transport is done in a big “bus-like” truck with 30 seats and basic comfort, which means for example only “natural” air conditioning.
Readers who are following me since the beginning might be a little surprised that I chose this kind of tour to finish my trip. Indeed, traveling in an organized tour and especially with a big group is by far not my favorite way of exploring the world. I planed at first to do everything on my own. However, due to potential safety issues (especially when traveling alone) and foreseen difficulties like crossing several African borders in a South African rental car with a French passport but an Asian face, I chose to go the easy way in terms of logistics to spare my energy to fully enjoy African nature and people.
Well, that’s it for the generalities, let’s start now with the serious stuff πŸ™‚

Day 1/Sunday 13.11.16
Not surprisingly, the trip starts on day 1 with a short briefing and a presentation of the crew. Everyone has also to introduce him/herself briefly, name, where you’re from, blablabla… At school, this was always the difficult moment when the teacher was telling me that I would have to seat in front of the classroom the whole year. Luckily for me, this won’t happen during this trip, as we will be trying to respect a kind of “seat rotation” (People who joined the tour are already smiling). After that, we finish loading the remaining luggage in the truck before getting ready for the first scheduled activity, a township tour of Capetown.
It takes quite a long time before our drivers show up. “T.i.A” (“This is Africa”) as the locals say. This funny acronym is used to describe things or events that run “the African way”. Almost (same same but different ;)) like in South East Asia, time in Africa is a bit more flexible than in westernized areas and this can get really annoying for people who prefer German style time management.
The drive to the township is quite short. On the way there, we stop at a petrol station to pick up our local guide. The first stop of the visit is at a painter workshop. The guys invites us into his home/workshop so that we can get a feeling about his living conditions. He tells us about the difficulty to make ends meet in this social environment as well as the safety issues he faces on a daily basis. Nothing really new after my visit in Soweto when I was in Joburg, but still, it is always interesting to see the energy of people with almost nothing trying their best to do something good out of life.

The second stop of the tour is at a local traditional bar/brewery. Here, we have the opportunity to try a traditional African beer. As you can imagine, it has nothing to do with the nice clean and clear beer we are used to drink. A traditional African beer looks more like a dense brownish malt soup with an acid beerish taste. Serving an African beer to guests requires to respect a small ritual: before the guide passes the big bucket around, he has to kneel down in front of everybody, take the first sip and only then is he allowed to let the guests enjoy the local malt nectar πŸ™‚ Some locals sitting next to us are observing us amused. It was worth a try but the taste is too strange for me.

After this short beer tasting, we move on to our last stop, a bar/restaurant where we enjoy some nice fried chicken for lunch. The place is a bit strange. One side is a normal bar, the other one is a covered outdoor area used as a food court almost all the time. On Sunday (the day when we were there), it is also transformed into a club and while we are enjoying our chicken, a group of crazy girls in pink and purple shiny outfits next to us are having a nice party and after a while some of our group even join them for some dancing…T.i.A. πŸ™‚
After everyone is done with lunch, our drivers take us back to our truck in Capetown. We take some pictures of happy windsurfers before getting on the truck for a long drive to our camp site.

The campsite is located in the North of the Cederberg mountains area, in the garden of a wine producer. The location is very scenic. After having put up our tents, we enjoy a nice wine tasting with an amazing sunset in the background. It’s a good opportunity to try one more time local grapes like Chenin blanc or Pinotage. To finish the day, we enjoy our first group diner before having some beers with Swedish music in the background played by the Pink bus, another Overland tour group staying at the same camp site.

Day 2/Monday/14.11.16
On day 2, we are woken up very early in the morning (around 04-04:30am) by a lot of noise and loud voices. Some travelers in our group slept a bit less than the others, maybe because of a too strong excitement, and are struggling to put down their tents. They are fighting about the best way to proceed and forgot that tents are not soundproof…
We spend the whole day driving Northbound with a short shopping stop in the city of Springbok. Shopping stops are used to buy first necessity goods like water, snacks, beer and wine for the next days.
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Our camp site for the night is located in Fiddlers creek along the Oranje river near the border between South Africa and Namibia. After having put up our tents, the first thing that we do after such a hot day in the truck is to jump in the river.

To get my daily dose of adrenaline I walk the few meter across the river to set foot in Namibia. Oh my god! I’m an illegal immigrant πŸ™‚ After sunset, we try to improve our photography skills by taking pictures of the beautiful moon, which appears this night as a so-called “Super moon” (almost like me, super Moumoun πŸ™‚ )

Day 3/Tuesday/15.11.16
Day 3 is a bit more active. We start in the morning with a nice 2 hours canoe trip on the Gariep river. I share my boat with En, a crazy girl from Singapore. We are quite good at steering the boat together and as we are moving pretty fast, we have to wait several time for the rest of the group. This gives me the opportunity to relax and switch my camera to paparazzi mode to gauge the mood of the rest of the group. I personally enjoyed all the 8 km of the trip. I think some people had enough after half of the trip and some others had so much fun that they wished they had stayed on land.

Back on land, we just have time for a quick shower before leaving for the Namibian border. The border crossing goes quite slow but smoothly. Actually it started quite fast till the 3 immigration employees stamping the passports decided to stand up and leave at the same time for lunch break leaving another colleague alone to manage the whole queue. Finally, after a bit more than an hour, we are all ready to get back in the bus and a few minutes later, we make a short stop on the side of the road for lunch.

The rest of the drive is very scenic. Namibia is famous for its beautiful nature and we are not disappointed at all. Although we all suffer from the high temperatures, the desert landscape around us is simply amazing.
At the end of the afternoon, we arrive at the Fish river canyon. A short trail on top of the canyon gives us a nice view down the river. It reminds me a bit of horseshoe bend on the Colorado river in Arizona. At the end of the trail, we open some beers to wait until the sunset. The light going down on the canyon is magical and I really have the feeling that Namibia will become one of the highlight of my trip.

Day 4/Wednesday/16.11.16
There’s not so much to report about day 4. We drive the whole day from our camp site near the Fish river canyon to Sesriem. On the way there, we make a short shopping stop in the village of Bethanie. The highlight of the day is the incredible pool of the camp site where we spend the night. The surroundings are super scenic and we just enjoy the view on the Namib-Naukluft desert, the mountains and the passing springboks while sipping refreshing beers πŸ™‚ Sesriem is located near Sossuvlei and is a good point to explore the impressive sea of sand dunes and this is exactly what we are gonna do the next day.
dsc01411Day 5/Thursday/17.11.16
The alarm rings quite early on day 5, at 05:30am. The idea is to have only a quick cup of coffee before entering the sand dunes park directly after the opening at 06:15am. The first stop is the famous Dune 45. On the way there, I am amazed by the beautiful light of the sunrise on the dunes. Dune 45 is a very touristic place. Its name comes from the fact that the dune is located at km 45 on the road from Sesriem to Sossuvlei.

Walking to the top of the dune is quite exhausting. The summit is only 170m above sea level so not really high, but the slope is quite steep and walking in sand is more challenging than progressing on a hard ground. The view from the top is amazing but we don’t stay really long there, as the temperature starts increasing slowly and more and more tourist trucks are showing up.

Back down to the truck, we have a short breakfast before leaving for the next stop: Deadvlei. Deadvlei, which translates in dead marsh in English, is a place that used to be a lake surround by trees, that is now dry due to a climate change. It is surrounded by high dunes like the famous “Big daddy” about 300m high. The remaining of the trees that can be found there are up to 700 years old. After the exploration of this interesting place, we go back to the camp site for a well deserved lunch break.

The last visit of the day is at the Sesriem canyon. The canyon seems nice and is only a couple of km long but as there’s almost no shade and the temperature is very high, we just spend a few minutes walking around before coming back to the camp site and the nice pool πŸ™‚

After diner, we spend the evening with beers and marshmallows around a camp fire to pre-celebrate our friend Jasmin’s birthday. Due to the strong wind, something happens to me that could have end very bad but is finallyΒ so stupid that I still laugh about it. As I get one marshmallow out of the fire and bring it close to my mouth to cool it down, a sudden wind blow pushes the stick to my face and a piece of melting marshmallow gets stuck on my nose and burns it. It was very painful at the moment but as it didn’t last, I didn’t realize how bad the burn was. I saw it only the next day when I checked my nose in a mirror :))
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Day 6/Friday/18.11.16
Day 6 is quite relax, we don’t have to wake up early: the only thing planed for the day is a short drive to the city of Swakopmund and free time to enjoy the city.
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I am very looking forward to this stop in Swakopmund. Indeed, it will be a good opportunity to rest as we are staying 2 nights at the same place and not in our tents as usual πŸ™‚ This time, our accommodation is a hotel made of containers transformed in comfortable rooms with real beds πŸ™‚ After a first quite exhausting week, I can’t really say no to a bit of comfort πŸ™‚

We arrive in Swakopmund around noon. After a short presentation of the possible activities by a partner tour operator, we take our time to unpack and enjoy the free WiFi πŸ™‚ After that, we go for a walk in the city with Armin. Namibia is a former German colony and Swakopmund is known to have stayed very German. This is for us obvious already after a few meters. A lot of signs are still in German, some buildings still have a German architecture and there is a lot of restaurants serving German food.

For our late lunch, we enjoy a nice Weissbier with a DΓΌrΓΌm for me and Leberkas for Armin.
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We then head to the waterfront to enjoy the view on the sea. During the afternoon I also manage to buy and write the traditional postcards πŸ™‚ In the evening, we meet the whole group for a diner altogether followed by nice birthday cake for our friend Jasmin and we finish the day by celebrating with beers and shots.

Day 7/Saturday/19.11.16
On the next day, we are happy to stay a bit longer in bed and to have breakfast only at 08:30am. At 10:00am, we meet with some of the group at the hotel reception to go on a 2h Quad biking session. Quad biking in the sand dunes is really fun, I haven’t done that since a long time and I enjoy it a lot. To better take into account the disparity of level in the group, our guides decide to split the group in 2 after 10 min. Each group explore the dunes by itself and our paths cross again only 1h later for a short break. As we start again for the last part, we see that Sheldon, who was previously in the other group is now joining us. After a while, as he has problems keeping the pace and keeps getting stuck in sharp curves, our guide asks him to come in the middle just behind me. It goes better till we reach a part with a long straight line. Everybody gets excited and goes full throttle. As there’s no technical difficulties, I take it for granted that everybody will follow but when the guide stops, I check behind meΒ and find out that Sheldon and the rest of the group is not here anymore. As we look further behind, we see a quad on its side. The guide starts swearing and hurries there. The missing rest of the group is actually just behind the crashed quad and when the guide arrives there, everybody helps out to put the quad back on its wheels.The crashed guyΒ was actually Sheldon. We start getting worried when we see that the top of his helmet has a big crack and his helmet visor is destroyed. Something must have happened that he hits the ground head first but he just tells us in a calm manner that everything went too fast, he doesn’t remember what happened and he must simply have hit a big stone…happy end but still, it could have been worse.

Back at the hotel, just a quick shower and we are ready to explore the city center. The rest of the day is very relax. After a lunch with a nice view on the see, Armin and I make a stop at the museum of Swakopmund to learn a bit more about the city history and more particularly how life was when the Germans were still here. We finish the afternoon walking near the beach and by having a coffee at the jetty. Funny coincidence, we will come back to the same place a few hours later to have diner with the whole group.

Day 8/Sunday/20.11.16
After 2 nice nights in Swakopmund, it is now time to hit the road again and go on exploring Namibia. The program of day 8 is quite light. After a late breakfast at 08:30, a 2 hours drive takes us to the Spitzkoppe area, about 120 km East of Swakopmund. Spitzkoppe is a granite mountain area with a highest peak culminating at 1700m above sea level (700m above ground). The oldest mountains are 120 millions years old.

The area is very famous because of the rock paintings that were made by bushmen here between 2000 and 4000 years ago.

Our local guide explains us the different animals represented and also tells us a bit about a very interesting cultural specificity of Namibia: the click language. In this language, consonants are replaced by “clicks”,”shh” and “tsss”. It is a bit difficult to explain with words, so I invite you to take a look at this video to get a feeling about how it sounds:

After that, we walk around a bit and take pictures at the rock bridge before going back to the truck to have lunch.

Another 2 hours driving and we arrive in Brandberg. We will spend one night there and it will be our last stop before reaching another highlight of Namibia: the Etosha national park.

Etosha was amazing but be patient pictures and report in the next post πŸ™‚

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