Ok so where did I finish last time? That’s right I had just experienced my first ever back packing adventure around Ireland and I was desperate for more!
I got in touch with on of the guys I had worked with on the isle of Wight. A south African Lad called Kev who I had got on with really well while there but had since moved back to Johannesburg. When he had left he had made it very clear I was welcome to visit whenever I wanted.
So that was that, I was of to Africa for 3 months. plane booked, backpack packed and excited beyond words.
Now while Ireland had given me my first taste of backpacking and travelling it was still very similar to the rest of the UK. It was only a half hour flight away, the same weather, no scary exotic animals etc.
South Africa was the great unknown; All I knew of the place was Nelson Mandela lived there, there had been a racist movement in charge many years ago, it was ridden with crime and that it was next to Zimbabwe which at the time was in all sorts of turmoil.
I had 2 months before I left so I got down to my research. I learnt all about Mandela and the Apartide government. I learnt more about Steve Biko and Donald Woods. I learnt about the country the places the sites, the history. This made me even more excited to get there.
Finally the time came to go so off I went, I hopped on my plane, via Switzerland to Johannesburg.
I was collected at the airport and taken to a local bar to meet some of my friends. I remember having an awesome evening but the flight had taken it out of me so I ended up starting to flag a bit earlier than usual.
I informed my new friends I was ready to head back but not to ruin his night id get a taxi. The looks I received from his friends were priceless. I was quickly informed that the use of taxis was really not a good idea, that I would literally be taking my life in my own hands.
so I found a corner of the bar and curled up to get a bit of sleep.
South Africa is a beautiful place, but it is deeply suffering still. While Apartide has been gone for 20 years its legacy was still very prominent. Subtle and not so subtle racism, a clear divide between the Whites, Blacks and “Coloured”. The people I met on this trip were lovely kind and wonderful people,
but all to often there was a casual racism about them. It was ingrained. I was also introduced to poverty for the first time. I saw a lot of townships and street beggar’s and legitimate people trying to get by on the side of the road.
That being said I also experienced the best hospitality I’ve ever experienced. My friends family welcomed me into their house and included me in everything. I was made to feel like part of the family. This was true for every home I visited and the majority of people I met.
We decided to get away from Johannesburg and take a road trip out to the Pilansburg Reserve. This is a huge area north of Joburg that is fenced off and filled with wildlife. These parks are all over the country and contain within them all the animals you associate with Africa, I didn’t realise before I got there
that most of these animals are not native or wild in South Africa.
Anyway this is where many people will go to go on their Safari. You enter the reserves in your car and enter the wilderness and follow the various roads and trails and try and see nature at work. I loved every second of it. Its the most exciting thing you can do. I was like a small child filled with wonder seeing Elephants and Zebra, Rhino and Hippos.
The challenge is to see the big 5. Elephants, Rhino, Buffalo, Lion and Leopard. I was lucky enough to tick off 4 of the 5 over 3 days.
In the evenings we would leave the reserve and go to a campsite on the outskirts where we slept out in tents. This was amazing as well although slightly frightening as you could hear the lions Roaring through the night and we were told by Locals that it wasn’t unusual for the Leopards to get out of the Reserve.
Pilansburg was also the site of my first Brush with death in Africa. We were driving round this reserve in a Vauxhall Corsa. An awesome reliable car that would later take us around country. But a Vauxhall Corsa is not a 4×4. We kept passing trails marked with a strange symbol that we couldn’t work out. Eventually we decided to go down one and do some exploring.
Turns out the symbols meant 4×4 tracks. We got stuck, really stuck. Right in the middle of the bush. No way were any of us getting out of the car to push it. I mean we were in wild Africa. thick bush on either side, no line of sight. To compound matters not a one of us had any signal. A few arguments and drawing straws later and we decide we have to get out to push
Not 5 minutes after getting out the car and we hear an engine approaching. I tell you I was relived, but it was short lived. A big army truck rounds the corner filled with about 15 men in army fatigues, shouldering different rifles and semi automatic weapons, shouting at us in a language we didn’t understand. After a moments panic we realised these guys were rangers, the guns were to protect against animals. They towed us
out of the mud before giving us a stern talking too about staying on the trail and not leaving the car. Turns out we were slap bang in the middle of elephant territory and a German tourist had been killed not a week before in similar circumstances.
A lucky escape and a lesson to follow all road signs.
Following this trip we decided to take a nice long road trip. Down the Transvaal highway, from Joburg down the east coast to Cape town. A lot of mile and an awesome road trip. This trip aloud me to see more of the country. I discovered that as much as I enjoyed Joburg, the countryside is stunning. We stopped off on the east coast in a small beach town south of Durban called Margate. It was a beautiful paradise here. We had an awesome hotel and spent a lot of the time on the beach.
It was also the site of my second near death experience. Since what had happened to my friend when I was younger I had held a longstanding fear/respect for water and the open ocean. Anyway long story short while my 2 friends were swimming in the waters of Margate, they got caught in a rip tide. Kevin being a strong swimmer made his way back to shore but was exhausted when he got there. Matt was not so good a swimmer and was in a lot of difficulty.
For a very foolish minute I decided I was superman, despite the fact I had avoided all water for the preceding 4 years and was not a strong swimmer, I decided to try and help him out. If anything I made it worse. I got swept out as well. Kev was able to get back in and help Matt before bravely coming back in to save me. By the time he was able to get to me I was exhausted, barely afloat, delirious with my head going in and out of the water. I was near Panic. This is the first time in my life I truly thought I was going to die.
Had Kev taken a few minutes longer that may well have been the case. Exhausted himself he managed to get me onto a boogie board and slowly bring me back to sure. I’m fairly certain I passed out on the Boogie board as I have no memory of it. Infact my strongest memory from afterwards was throwing up a lot of sea water that had mixed in with my spaghetti hoop breakfast.
It was a very sobering prospect, believing wholeheartedly that you are going to die, only to not. It allows you to look at your life and make some choices. At the time I decided that what I wanted to do was see the world. If I was going to die at any point I wanted to have lived as much as I could and travelling was living.
The rest of the road trip is a bit of a memory blur but I have some clear memories of Port Elisabeth which I found a beautiful city and Cape town. I loved cape town, it was a totally different city to Joburg and much nicer. ON the coast with a big old mountain slap bang in the middle of it. I was lucky enough to go to the top of Table mountain and it provided some beautiful views of the city.
We also discovered a town called Robertson a few hours drive out of cape town. We went for a drive here just for some novelty photos, but on arrival discovered that this town was home to the Klipdrift distillery, A type of brandy I had got quite a taste for while away. We took a great tour of this.
Anyway back to Joburg, we took the shortish route back, 14 hours driving straight up.
I decided to say goodbye to Kev and do a bit of solo travelling. Well soloish. I signed up to an organised tour that went North, through Botswana into Zambia. This proved to be one of the best decisions of my life.
Botswana was the Africa I imagined, not 10 miles after crossing the border and we drive past a wild elephant on the side of the road.
We visited the Okavango Delta, as seen on top gear. A huge wilderness in Botswana. We camped out for a few days and spent time in a local village. They took us around in their dug out canoes and invited us to visit their homes.
It was the ultimate cultural experience. Being in the wilderness was an experience, lots of bugs and lots of bites but the most beautiful sunsets.
While in the delta I also learnt a very valuable lesson: Do not get so drunk while lying on top of a bus enjoying the incredible nights sky that you pass out. I woke up the next morning with over 100 bites on various parts of my body.
Botswana was also the site of my up close and personal experience with a wild Black Rhino
While in Botswana my luggage managed to fall off of our van as we left one of our camp sites. We didn’t realise until 200 miles later. Arrangements were made for us to recover it in a few days as we drove back through. Not a problem. Except I wear contacts, my specs were in my bag!!! 3 days with keeping the same contacts in was not comfortable I can tell you.
From Botswana we went to Zambia to visit the world famous Victoria falls. These are spectacular, they have the world record for the greatest amount of water following over a waterfall.
The spray from the fall rises around 50 metres above the waterfall. You can walk across a rope bridge totally dry and emerge on the other side looking like you have been in a shower.
I was also offered the opportunity to fly over the falls in a Microlite. Now I’m not a great flier but I wanted to experience everything I could. Plus in all honesty I had no idea what a Microlite was. Well I was in for a surprise when I got to the airstrip.
It was a moped with wings! I plucked up the courage and went through with it. I remember gripping on for dear life during take off, to frightened to do anything. Then I looked down
and was struck absolutely speech less, the fear was gone and I was filled with Awe, The falls were just breath-taking.
I’m not skilled enough to convey this with words and my photos don’t do this justice. But even now, 9 years later I still cant do this justice in my descriptions.
At one point we flew into Zimbabwe airspace and got a bit lower to the floor and saw a herd of elephants, giraffes and Zebras from the air. It was hands down the best experience of my life and is probably to blame for my future travelling. Kind of like chasing the dragon looking for that feeling again. I’ve found it a few times but never to the extent of Victoria Falls.
We made our way back to Joburg and a wished Kev goodbye and expressed a lot of jealousy as he was about the embark on a trip to Australia and I was having to go back to the UK.
But not for long……………………………………….