The Caprivi – Zambezi Valley

After we sadly left N’gepi we visited the real Pupa Falls, which are only 10kms away. At Pupa Falls the Kavango river breaks into a collection of streams, each with their own rapids. The river is so low that there isn’t much of a show.

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One of the bigger streams of rapids

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A family enjoying their day at the river

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The boardwalk leads to the chalets overlooking the falls

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We spent an enjoyable time visiting the falls as day trippers but don’t plan to sleep over. It’s very expensive and there are other more affordable places in the neighbourhood as well as N’gepi.

The road through the Caprivi passes by mixed usage tribal areas where wildlife lives alongside rural family villages and livestock.

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Everybody knows of the Big Five. Do you know what the Little Five are? With names and characteristics derived from their bigger counterparts they are:
The Elephant shrew, the Buffalo Weaver, the Leopard tortoise, the ant-lion, and the Rhino beetle.
Thank you to Roy Rudnick and Michelle Weisz from their book “World by Land” for the above piece of interesting trivia.

Katimo Mulilo, a border town in the Zambezi Valley. The commercial and administrative centre of the area.  We’ve stopped there on numerous travels north and south, and is our prefered border into Zambia and Central Africa. We usually stay over at a lovely campsite at the Protea Hotel, with a view of Zambia across the Zambezi river, and hippos!
We know our way around town and have our favourite places to shop and enjoy a coffee or bite to eat. It’s a town where even the supermarkets become a tourist attraction!  But, it can become somewhat repetative and not portray the true experience of the Caprivi. 

Solveig maintains that by being a smoker she always meets the most interesting people while having a quick puff outside. Well it happened again!  Fellow smoker Bruce,  MD of Island View Lodge about 25kms downriver told her of their facility.

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This sounded like just what we were wanting as a change from the norm in Katimo Mulilo :- Nature,  River frontage, Electricity, Pub area deck, Free WiFi, Shaded sites, Swimming pool and clean ablutions. If you’re not Wild Camping and you’re paying for it you expect the lot! We booked in until after the New Year madness!
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Not one of the Small Five, but a closer look at nature.
Here’s another….
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Pieter, the birdlife was incredible!

Namibia (N’gepi revisited)

The Namibian border was only a short drive from where we’d been staying at Shakawe. We were soon at N’gepi.
Mark’s offer overwhelmed us  when we’d enquired about accomodation over the Christmas weekend. Since finding the campsites rapidly filling as Christmas approached we thought we’d better make enquiries before simply pitching up.

Mark invited us to stay in a reed and thatch Tree Hut, usually reserved for special guests and honeymooners! We were speachless! We never expected such generosity. What an amazing Christmas present for both of us and fantastic birthday present for Solveig. I could never have matched that!  We had such a good feeling about being back at N’gepi again, almost as if we were home.

There are numerous signs dotted about the property. Mostly humerous, but there is a serious side too….

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N’gepi is a fully sustainable property on the banks of the Kavango River – change of name in Namibia. By fully sustainable I refer to the various projects successfully embraced, such as all electrical power is from solar energy as well as hot water and water purification of water for drinking. Refrigeration in their kitchen is from a water and charcoal evaporation construction. Many of the vegetables and salads are grown on the property and there is an interesting sustainable tree project practiced by the many staff required to run a place of this nature and the locals.

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The facilities like showers and toilets are so creatively constructed they’ve just got to be seen to be believed!

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Late Christmas afternoon nature delivered the best present ever…much needed rain!

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The heavens opened up and an almighty storm ensued as witnessed from our bed where we sheltered.

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My dad’s Bass Saxophone finds a new home alongside my Autoharp and other instruments, hanging from the ceiling in a riverside lounge.

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The sign says it all!

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Our campsite

We stayed on for a further two enjoyable nights of camping after our complimentary Tree Hut  stay. Thank you so much to all of those that made this such a memorable occasion for the two of us.

The Okavango

Our route to the Caprivi took us up the panhandle on the western side of the Okavango Swamps. We weren’t in a hurry and wanted to make a few stops on the way.

For our first night we had chosen the Ngoma Island Lodge and Campsite . The description in the T4A book on Botswana and Veronica Roodt’s wonderful travel guides looked inviting. After 12 kms of sandy track with detours around washed away bridges we arrived at the camp.

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A beautifully shaded camp on the edge of the swamp. The lodge was a number of en-suite tented huts on raised decks with a communal kitchen.

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We were accomodated in a shaded campsite.

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At 140 Pula per person it was the most expensive place we’d stayed at. No electricity, nor Internet.  But we enjoyed the setting so much, and we were on our own again, so peaceful…

We were sidetracked on our way to the Tsodilo Hills, a world heritage site, that has 4500 rock paintings in a 10sq.Km area created between AD 850 and AD1100. There are also numerous archaeological finds such as metal spearheads, pottery, glass beads, stone tools. The cliff faces  consist of 4 hills. Ledgend has it that they make up a family. Male, female, child and grandchild. Too good to miss! We’ll have to go there tomorrow!

On our travels we are often sidetracked.  We go where our fancy takes us…. We’d  seen signs every now and again advertising  Sepopa Swamp Stop Rest Camp. The final straw was getting a pamphlet handed to us at a Vetenarian check point.

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We were hot and thirsty and and decided to  look in.

Next we’d found a shady riverside site and booked in for the night. It wasn’t even lunchtime!

We met up with Ziggie and Catrin again who we’d first seen in the CKGR at Piper Pan and again in Maun. We just spent the day chilling in the campsite and pool.

George approved of our choice. While travelling he has to lie on the seat in the back and doesn’t get to see much.

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It’s amazing the difference water makes to nature.

Early the next morning we did visit Tsodilo Hills, but never stayed over.

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The colours of the rocks were such a contrast to what we’d been used to seeing.

A storm was brewing on the way. We hoped it would develop and some rain would fall.

It’s so hot and dry everywhere.

At last the heavens opened and there was a short but heavy shower. The poor domestic animals, so desparate for water just stood in the middle of the road and drank from the puddles and wouldn’t move out of the way.

There are numerous placed to stay along the Okavango River part of the panhandle near the Namibian border . The well known Drotsky Cabins offer camping too, but we stayed at the Shakawe Lodge which has 10 campsites on the banks of the river in paradise.

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The campsites were fully booked but we went to have a look anyway as we were there.  Imagine our surprise when we found Ziggie and Catrin there too. The campsites were large and they suggested we share theirs.

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We made many new friends along the way. Always discussing where we’d been and what we’d seen, but we seldom discussed details of our future route as none of us really knew. Most, like us, had a vague plan only. This is one of the best things about the way we travel.

Having said that, we knew definitely where we were going for Christmas Eve and Christmas day, Solveig’s birthday….

We’d been invited to stay at N’gepi by the owner, Mark Adcock. We’d become good friends since meeting him on our Cape Town to Oslo atempt in 2014. More about that later….

Central Kalahari Game Reserve.

This post disappeared from the blog for some unexplainable reason!  I’m going to recreate it from scratch as I feel that it was the whole reason we undertook this journey.

Joe and Pam Stallebrass were to have been with us. In fact Joe had asked us to accompany them and he did the advance bookings. Unfortunately Pam became ill just before our scheduled departure and they had to cancel.

Our route took us via Witsands Nature reserve in North Cape. On the way we encountered  Sociable Weaver nests decorating the disused telephone poles from an earlier era.

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The stop enabled us to acclimatize ourselves to extremely high temperature of the Kalahari at this time of the year – 42C !

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Resting in the shade on the way up
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Solveig at the summit

I surprised Solveig by also making it to the top, just 5 months after a knee replacement.

The original reason for the two night stay was to give us an extra day to explore the Nature reserve. All we managed to do was spend almost the whole day in the swimming pool. It was too hot to hike around in the dunes. 

Mating tortoises at a waterhole

Never the less, it was worth the detour. The reserve was very well managed and the shady campsites had water and electricity.

Witsands campsite

We entered Botswana at the MacArthy’s Rest / Tshabong border post later the next day and proceeded to Merry Bush Farm. The owner, Jill, recently widowed, was struggling to run the the place, which needed some TLC, on her own. We hoped she would succeed. We enjoyed our stay there and would support her when we pass that way again.

We travelled the Trans-Kalahari highway through Kang to Gweta, refueling there before entering the CKGR. The first section was good gravel which ended abruptly. The last 80kms to the Xade entrance gate, and our first camp, was in deep sand.  The Cruiser’s diffs left a twin trail in the middelmannetjie.

Twiga’s Penthouse (our cruiser) coped well in high range 4×4,  mainly in 3rd and 4th gear, occasionally having to drop to 2nd. Some welcomed rain showers cooled the parched land slightly. We never had to use low range during our entire stay.

Our first night was at Xade #1, about 5 kms from the entrance gate near the artifical waterhole. It was fed by a solar pump which only ran during daylight hours.

Xade waterhole

During the night we were woken by about 10 elephants rushing around the tree which we’d parked beneath, searching for water. Fortunately we had secured all liquids and fruit inside our vehicle. We were relieved when they eventually stormed off making lots of noise. So unlike elephants which are normally so quiet you hardly hear them.

At about 4:30 am we were again woken. This time by an awful crashing of metal and trumpeting a good distance away. Sound travels far when you are in such a silent environment.

In the morning we went back to the entrance gate to ablute and found what the nights noise had been about……

Elephants had damaged the taps in their search for water

We were thankful that they never found anything in our camp earlier that night!

We spent most of the day in the air conditioned comfort of our vehicle. The outside temperature was 42° C ! 

Early the next morning we set off to our next two night campsite at Piper Pan. With numerous stops for photopgraphs it took us most of the day to cover the roughly 80 kilometer distance through thick sand.

Piper Pan waterhole
A thirsty ground squirrel at Piper Pan

We heard the rare sound of a vehicle passing our camp and rushed out waving and shouting, thinking that it might be Pam and Joe. A HiLux resembling theirs dissappeared off in the distance on the road around the pan! Then the HiLux returned in our direction and our expectations rose. However, it was a kind couple from Germany in a rented vehicle. They had seen us running after them and thought we may  be in trouble so came back to investigate. 

Sue and Pieter had given us a container of sprouts which we’d been nurturing and were looking forward to enjoying with our salad that evening!

Home grown sprouts from Sue
A concoction of Strawberry Jam and Vodka

The two  unfenced Piper Pan campsites, located a few kilometers apart, comprised of a simple setup of a firepit, long drop toilet in a shelter and a similar structure with a shower bucket, but no water at all. You had to provide your own from your precious supply.

We hoped for some rain to cool the evening

We had never before experienced such a oneness with nature. The complete freedom we felt, removed from our daily comforts and completely on our own……. to observe how the animals, birds and insects existed side by side and were all dependant on one another for their very existence in this harsh environment.

Water was the most important resorce for all creatures.

Waterhole at Piper Pan
Our campsite at Sundays Pan

The campsites,  although basic, were all situated in beautiful surroundings. Another feature of the landscape was the “tree islands ” on the pans..

A “tree island” with Springbok sheltering from the heat
Sundays Pan #1 at dawn
Chilling in the shade at Passarge #1

On day 6 we calculated that our water was going to run out before we completed our stay. On our arrival the gate officials recommended that we should have 10 litres water per person per day with us. A total of 160 liters!! We had 120 litres which would have to be enough. We had no more space.

So we took a trip of 90 kilometers (and back) to the exit gate to get water instead of a game drive. It took the whole day!! We also had a taste of the road that lay ahead. The worst sand of our entire stay. At least we knew it was doable!  

We could only get 15 litres of water as their well was dry and they were shipping water in from Maun.

Pale Chanting Goshawk 

Mexico. Eventually after three attempts……

Our last night in Antigua we spent as guests in Brant’s Hostel as we no longer had Michelle.
It was going to be a hard adjustment to make. No freedom to travel as we chose.  We’d be tied to schedules. We now have to stay in hotels and eat restuarant food!
In other words we’d just become ordinary tourists

We left early in the morning on a shuttle bus filled with happy, young backpackers for San Christobal. 
There were two ex South African girls, now living in Australia. A young Israeli girl, a young Dutch couple, a British couple and a family from France.
We had lots of laughs. Luckily we’d learnt to adapt to anything that came our way and enjoyed ourselves too. Especially me who was able to relax and enjoy the scenery for a change!

Back at the La Mesilla border for the second time we had a surprise when we came out of immigration.

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A Palomino the same as ours, but on the back of a Toyota!!
Was it there just to torment us?

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We had to wait for our new transport to pick us up on the Mexican side of the border.

In San Christobal that evening we had to find a place to stay. The first hostel we tried was full. They recommended a few others to try. We’d already dragged our massive pile of luggage to the first hostel and had barely made it!

We asked if we could leave it all there until we found a place and set off by foot. We couldn’t find the first recommendation but fortunately the next place we tried was ideal and we booked in.
We fetched our luggage in a taxi and afterwards looked for a place to eat and get a much needed drink.
Will we ever adjust to this form of travel????

San Christobal is a lovely old city with many beautiful buildings. We were staying near to the Plaza so headed in that direction.

Looking for a restuarant that served regular food we ordered a very tasty schwarma and a salad, which we shared.
To celebrate, I had a cerveza and Solveig red wine and a bucket of ice, followed by wonderful cinnamon flavoured iced coffee…. A lovely end to our first day in Mexico! At Last!!

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The next day we explored San Christobal.

Sue and Pieter had said that it was their favourite Mexican City and it cetainly looked as if it could be our favourite too….
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The streets were filled with colourful people and musicians which all add to the soul of the city.
We checked out the bus options and found tickets to Mexico City on an overnight luxury bus. Expensive – about the same as flying – but we’d save on the hotel expense for the night!
We’d also been dying to try bus travel as an alternate method of getting around.

We enjoyed our stay in San Christobal for another three days before bussing out.
While there Solveig came out with a massive itchy rash all over her body. So off to see a doctor. The big surprise was the visit was free!! He diagnosed an allergy of sorts and also found she had hypertension which she’ll have to see to when home again.

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We weren’t cooking for ourselves any longer and had to get used to eating out in the colourful restuarants.
So many amazing dishes to try…..We even found a favourtite treat of ours – Chorros – a crispy doughnut-like deepfried pastry, with a cinnamon and sugar coating. Yummy!
Haven’t had those since our last visit!

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The bus left in the evening and was almost in Mexico City by the time we awoke.

It was a pleasure for me to just relax and watch the countryside pass by even though we weren’t able to stop on the way.

I’d found a weekend special on Booking.com for a Howard Johnson hotel in the centre of Mexico City and we took a controlled fare taxi from the bus terminal. We were amazed at the absence of traffic from the centre of the city (other than public transport, commercial vehicles and taxis). It was so much quieter than the previous times we’d been there.
Considering that it’s the largest city in the world it’s a miracle. The controlling of which vehicles may enter the city, and when they may, really works.

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It was great to be back again. I’m sorry Sue, but Mexico City must take the prize for being our favourite city in Mexico with its many parks and historic buildings.
We returned to the Grand Hotel near the Zócalo where we’d stayed before. The Zócalo is the main Plaza of the city and has been since the Aztecs. image

The hotel is magnificent with its stained glass ceiling, bird cages and wrought iron elevators.
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We enjoyed returning to all our favourite sites using the topless city tour bus.

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But our stay was dampened somewhat by Solveig not being fully recovered yet. We took the intercity bus through the beautiful countryside once again in comfortable luxury to San Luis Potisi, our next stop.

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San Luis Potisi, Gisela’s home town…..She married our nephew Ryan. We were sorry we hadn’t attended their wedding there 5 years before…..

We spent a few days staying with Gisela’s parents, Juan Luis and Carmen.

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Coco, her aunt and Sissi her sister also accompanied us while we were being royally treated.
What wonderful hosts they all were. We’re so glad we’d made the decision to include San Luis Potisi.
A highlight was our day trip to the hacienda where Ryan and Gisela were married. A Christening was taking place there and luckily we were included on the guest list! Juan Luis and Solveig at the Hacienda…

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So we got a taste of what the wedding might have been like. What a party!

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We also visited an old mining town outside of San Luis Potisi .

When we sadly had to say goodbye to our generous hosts, we undertook an 18 hour journey to Houston in USA in another overnight (and all day) bus trip.

Our thoughts on bussing ?
A comfortable way to travel offering an alternative to flying. The cost is much the same; it takes a lot longer; you don’t see that much on the ground as much of the time we travelled was at night; during the day we never stopped anywhere half decent, only service stations. Not a suitable way to overland. Renting a car and staying in the same accommodation as we did would have been a far better option. We’d give it a try in the USA.

Our final thoughts on our stay in Mexico were that the experience would have been so much better in Michelle. We had been so looking forward to that. It was to have been the highlight of our entire journey. But that wasn’t to be unfortunately.

But we’d done it very differently and still had a great time there. Thanks to the wonderful people that made us so welcome.

Guatemala. The return.

As the impact of being turned away at the border sank in, we were devastated.

We examined the options…..
1. We could try again at a different border. Maybe it was the official that didn’t understand our documents.
2. We could ship the camper to USA.
3. We could forge the papers required.
4. Or sell the camper in Guatemala.

We drove back to Panajachel.The rain had stopped and we made better time.
We still arrived at the lake after dark but fortunately knew where to go.

In the morning we met a couple camping there too. Richie and Leeza. A young couple from the USA travelling in Central America. We told them of our problem. They suggested we alter our vehicle’s title papers.
We just couldn’t afford to take this chance. If things went wrong the consequences were unimaginable – it was also against our principles – and we decided to make another attempt at getting into Mexico.
The next day we left for the Tucan Uman and Hidalgo border for another attempt.
This time a very decent Mexican customs official who could speak English gave us the full story. We were not going to get through with the papers we had. He suggested the only solution would be to sell the vehicle in Guatemala.
So we returned to Antigua where we felt we had a better chance in getting a solution to our dilemma. Back to the Tourist Police campsite.

We were overjoyed to meet Andre and Monique there. The Belgians we’d met on the ferry. So much had taken place since then! A new couple from France were there too.

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Everybody had so much advice for us, it was confusing.

The police commissioner at the camp knew of somebody at a different border who had a contact in the Mexican customs that could fix our papers for $300.
After much deliberation we decided to try and sell the camper in Guatemala. It felt like the best solution for us. We felt comfortable with that.

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We needed to inform Sue and Pieter of our problem as the car was registered in his name. So we went to the Rainbow Cafe where we had spent a lot of time on our previous visit to Antigua.
We were definitely being looked after. Someone there informed us of a local advertising site on Facebook that sold everything you could imagine. He was a young British visitor that had arrived in Antigua to learn Spanish 8 years before. Fell in love with the country, and a lucky lady, then never returned to England.
Oh boy did we meet amazing people!

Solveig made contact and we posted details and a few photographs of the camper on the site.
Back to the campsite to await replies.

More surprises awaited us there.
Richie and Leeza had returned from their short trip to the Atlantic and the towns of Livingston and Rio Dulce.
The Brazilian writers, Roy and Michelle, who we’d met in Panama had also arrived!

It was like the final act in a play with all the characters appearing on the stage! With so many good vibes around we must be successful!

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Was this another good omen? Volcan Fuego which had erupted recently was smoking again!

We had three enquiries by the next day!! ONE WAS POSITIVE!

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Here I am with the new owners counting the money!

The camper was purchased by Brant who owned a Hostel in Antigua and Jan. They were opening a campsite on the coast. The camper was needed for alternate accomodation and the van for transport to and from the coast.

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A sad moment for us as the camper was dismantled for storage until they were ready to take it to the coast.

We had sooo many memories of the wonderful time we’d spent in Michelle on the most fantastic journey we’d undertaken.

We looked into the various options that lay before us completing our fairytale journey.

We chose to take a shuttle bus to San Christobal in Mexico and then a luxury bus to Houston. At least we would be able to say we’d gone overland all the way.
We looked forward to continuing our adventure and booked our places on a shuttle.