Southern Africa Part1

Southern Africa August-September, 2017

(Vicki and Mark mostly travel independently in the US and Europe in their own Rvs. However, for 5 weeks they have joined an RV tour in Southern Africa. Their website is www.theroadgoeseveron.com and blog for the last nine years of travel is roadeveron.blogspot.com)

When Mark and I were in England in 2016 we attended an RV Show and picked up a Worldwide Motorhome Holidays brochure from the Camping and Caravanning Club. We were intrigued by the trips to southern Africa and decided to place a deposit for a 2017 trip. We also looked into a US company that does a similar “wagon train” but their trip was shorter and more expensive. Nonetheless, either tour was quite pricey and certainly the most expensive travel we have ever done. We also researched just doing a regular safari but since spotting animals wasn't really that high on our list, and we don't really like tours, we thought the wagon train idea would fit us better. We definitely did not want to do southern Africa independently.

Our trip lasts from August 25 till September 30 and since the group leaves from London we opted out of the airfare. The tour can take up to 20 couples and usually runs in October. Due to heavy demand they added an additional tour this year in September but ours didn't fill completely and will have 8 couples—with us the only Yanks. Coming from the west coast we were facing a 9 hour time change and so flew in three days early. The second leg of our flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg is the longest time flight in the world at 15 hours, 55 minutes. Luckily, we had an empty seat between us and were able to sleep quite a bit as the flight leaves Atlanta in the evening. It really wasn't any worse than our usual trans Atlantic trips.

The tour goes directly to Pretoria the first night, after picking up the campers in JoBurg, so the added time also allowed us to see some Johannesburg sights. Turns out, there really aren't any except the Apartheid Museum. Johannesburg is the business center of South Africa and most parts of it are not tourist friendly. Most tourists stay in the northern or eastern suburbs. Hotels in the city center all provide escort services for when you wish to venture out. We opted for the Mercure Bedfordsview Hotel which is fairly close to the airport and right across the street from a huge mall. We booked an efficiency at about $75 a night and when we checked in they gave us a two bedroom unit. Breakfast was $12 pp so we opted to just pick up what we needed at the huge grocery in the mall. (Note that grocery closes at 7 pm except Friday night and stores at 6pm though the restaurants stayed open later.) We prearranged a pickup at the airport for $19. When it failed to show, the information desk at the airport called the hotel for us and they came right over. We also purchased a Vodaphone sim card with 100 minutes and 1 G of data for 30 days for $27. The ATM machine's charge was about $3.50 but Schwab will reimburse us for those charges.

The Apartheid Museum is south of the city and our round trip car fare was $52, with admission $5.50 pp. We spent about two and a half hours there. It is a very somber and eye opening experience—especially given the fact that the country has only be free of apartheid for just over twenty years. Having been raised a southerner, much of the rhetoric and laws were all too reminiscent of Jim Crow. Some things were even more extreme such as the mass relocation of Black populations away from the cities but still within “commuting distance” to supply cheap labor. Visiting here a week after the neo-Nazi and white supremacy march in Charlottesville was especially chilling. We were glad we went, but it was certainly not a pleasant way to begin a tour.

We met the rest of the tour group and our fearless leaders at the airport and a coach took us to Bobo Campers. The group had all new campers and ours was actually the larger Discoverer 6 with a bed over the cab. This is probably a drag on diesel mileage but gave us some great extra storage and after a night on the bed downstairs made from lounge cushions, we switched them for the much better mattress from the overcab. We keep the back, large dinette (lounge in British) made up as a bed and use the smaller dinette in the mid cabin. The camper is very fully equipped and in fact we packed away much of the glassware and extra pots to free up cabinet space. South Africa is very British in flavor so we had glass glasses and mugs and china plates and bowls and of course two tea kettles and a toaster. I was surprised there were no egg cups.

The way the tour works is that you are on your own during the day—no convoy—and all stay at the same reserved campsites. A few group activities are included and best of all a mechanic in his own motorhome with spare parts travels with the group. The first day we did follow the leaders as it had been over a year since Mark had driven on the wrong side of the road. The first campsite was near Pretoria at Monateng Safari Lodge/Caravan Park in Lynn East, Pretoria, complete with electric game fences. At the cocktail hour get together I asked if this was considered the bush—no, more like bush lite, was the response. Also the first evening we learned how to change a tire. Each camper has two spares, one with a rim and one without. Unfortunately, the mechanic does not change tires and flats apparently are frequent. We haven't had one since the 1960s so we are hoping we won't be one of the fortunate to relive that experience. Our group has 8 couples with one couple from Perth, Australia and the rest from the UK.

Second day was a long drive of 365 k to Merry Pebbles Holiday Resort in Sabie. A Sat Nav comes with the rental but we were told to follow the printed directions in our tour book until we get near the campsite—we also have a road atlas. The Sat Nav way would have caused us to miss the striking Panorama Drive and Long Tom Pass. Almost all of our campsites will have electricity but wifi is only available until we get to Krueger and just like the campgrounds in the States—barely usable. We did get a second SIM card from the widespread Pep shops for a company called MTN. We had to supply a local address but they would accept a hotel. This card was very cheap and can also be used in Namibia and Botswana, unlike our Vodaphone card. Mostly it is for contacting the leaders in an emergency. Our second night was a group welcome dinner at the Merry Pebbles restaurant. Quite good.

We were now getting close to Kreuger but still on the high plateau or high veld. The entire area was part of a gold rush from the late 1800s and large plantations of pines were planted for lumber for the mines. The natural scenery, especially the vistas are nice but the tree plantations and clear cutting not so much. This day is a short 97k stretch and unfortunately we woke to drizzle and low cloud cover. This is one of the few area in western South Africa that gets much rain. We stopped at the preserved mining town of Pilgrim's Rest—pretty run of the mill and we thought not worth the 20k detour on narrow, winding potholed road. Pot holes are becoming way too familiar friends. Off the toll roads there is a major pothole about every 100 feet. The toll roads coming to Krueger were reasonably priced and RVs travel at same rate as a car unless you have a dually. We paid about $16 total. We wanted to stop at God's Window to see the rift where Madagascar tore away from Africa but we were in pea soup. Apparently, we come back this way after Krueger so hopefully the weather will be better. We did stop a Burke's Potholes—the river kind, not the road, and at the overlooks for Blyde Canyon—third largest in the world. Quite impressive—imagine a smaller vista than the Grand Canyon but covered in trees. Our overnight was at Forever Resort Blyde Canyon in Blydepoort.

To get to Krueger we left the campground when the gates opened at 6 am. Krueger has lots of rules and one of them is that the camps (9 of them lodging up to 1000 folks in all kinds of accommodations) lock their gates at sunset—which is 6 pm this time of year—early spring. No wild camping is permitted so if you don't make it to the camp you must drive in the dark all the way to the nearest gate out of the national park—this can be a very long way. We were still two hours from where we wanted to enter at Orphan Gate and most of the wildlife goes to ground after 10am. With only three days in the Park we wanted to optimize our viewing. Getting up early is no problem for us as we are still terribly and unfortunately suffering from jet lag.

Krueger completely changed our attitude to wildlife watching. Viewing giant herds of elephants playing in the river next to an African buffalo herd with a pride of lions silently looking on—hippos floating like logs in packs of dozens while a monstrous croc suns on the shore—giraffes stopping their browsing to stare at you—and big daddy rhino butting the children away from the road—every experience was thrilling. Some a little too thrilling as we watched an SUV swerve to avoid hitting an elephant that emerged up the riverbank but not in the vehicle's line of sight.

Practically we stayed one night in the Pretoriuskop camp which was hilly and crowded and sites not well defined, and two nights in Skukuza which is the largest camp with accommodations for 1000. Sites there were much better, there was a very reasonably priced restaurant but a surprisingly small store for groceries. Each day we headed out just after 6 am to drive the paved and unpaved roads looking out for the wildlife. The last evening the group went on a sunset safari with a guide from 4:30 to 7:30, so part of the time we used floodlights to try to spot the game. It was also an opportunity to ask questions of the very knowledgeable driver. I have no idea what the campsites on the tour each cost, but I'm sure prices are available on line. I know that Krueger camps need to be reserved far in advance. The activities can also be booked in advance with some places available day of in early season in August and September. Had we been paying for the sunset drive ourselves the cost would have been a reasonable $22. By the way, the speed limits of 30 mph are strictly enforced and we saw several speed traps set up to catch folks in the late afternoon trying to get to camps or out of the park before the gates closed.

Krueger is an enormous park, the size of Wales. Had we been on our own we would have spent a couple of extra days so we could have slowed down a bit, gone on a bush walk, and gotten into the northern part of the park. Most folks doing the deluxe safari thing actually stay outside the park in the private game reserves. Not sure if we would have like that. Pluses would have been having drivers with you to find the game but minuses would have included longer distances and having to move on and not being free to explore where you wanted for the time you wanted. Of course, I suppose if you are really rich, you just hire private guides. Oh well—next life.

Leaving Krueger we had a very long 500k drive to the north. It was too far to do in the park due to speed limits and gate closure times. Some folks went back through part of the Panorama Drive to try for God's Window again, we took route R525, which was in good shape but still long. That night was at Forever Resort in Tshipise, a very nice spot with natural hot springs that feed the swimming and other pools. Unfortunately, not for us since we arrived just before nightfall.

The drive to Botswana routed us through Messina on a 302k drive. However, the road between Alldays and Swartwater was a potholed mess and took over 2 hours to go 30 miles. Luckily, the last 30 miles before the border at Martin's Drift had been recently repaved. An alternative would be to backtrack from Tshipse and get on the H1 toll road and well worth it in hindsight. So why does the tour really go out of its way to stay at Tshipse? Because campgrounds are very few and far between except at tourist hotspots. Wild camping is basically out of the question even if we weren't in a group. All of the land is fenced and gated as are parking lots in towns. It would also be terribly unsafe to park in any town overnight. Part of the reason Krueger is so strict about closures and gates is the constant threat of poachers inside the park. These men risk their lives for a few hundred dollars, and robbing a lone camper would be a much easier sport. Doing Africa on your own could be done, but only if you work out in advance where you can stay each night in a campground.

Crossing the border took about 45 minutes with some paperwork to complete and a passport check leaving South Africa. A policeman at the border tried to get us to change money with him, but we refused. He wasn't happy with our no, thanks. Another party in our group did change money and realized later that he had been conned out of about $5. Not much, but still this type of petty graft is apparently rampant. We were also shorted change at the tollbooths. People are friendly but poor and it takes a toll. We had been told that crossing the borders meat and dairy would be confiscated. After getting our passports stamped and paying 165 pula ($16) road tolls we crossed the one lane bridge into Botswana. It turns out the confiscations happen not at the border but at various “vet” check posts along the highway as you drive into the interior. We weren't stopped as the three we passed on a Sunday morning were all closed. The night was spent right at the border at Kwa Nokeng Lodge and Caravan Park in Martin's Drift.

Though we weren't stopped at the vet checks, we were stopped at a traffic control point in South Africa just before the border. The policeman didn't like Mark's Tennessee license because it does not state what weight vehicle he is permitted to drive. We did have an International License with a stamp for class C which he was very happy with. The camper we have rented is a class B (by weight) and we have the paperwork, but the rental company warned that some police and countries we would be traveling through would insist it was class C and there was no point arguing. All throughout Europe if you are driving a motorhome that weighs more than 3.5 tons, do yourself a favor and carry an International License with a class C stamp, and avoid lots of hassle. It is only required in Spain and Portugal, but are you really going to be able to argue your way out of a ticket in Italian?

Botswana is known for its wildlife parks but it takes some driving to get to them. Another 300k day, over good roads, brought us to Francistown, Botswana's second largest city where we stocked up and filled with diesel. We have been advised to fill up at the half way mark as fuel stations can be few and far between and sometimes run out. Diesel is cheaper here. It was $4 a gallon in South Africa and is now $3—both a bargain compared to Europe. Thank heavens with the distances we are driving. The campground at Woodlands Stopover is just north of town but down a very bumpy 7k dirt road. It actually had wifi—but only enough for email.

A relatively short drive the next day of 180k brought us to Nata Lodge about 10k south of the very small town of Nata. It was a nice lodge and campground with a lovely pool area. We signed up for the sunset tour into the Nata Bird Sanctuary for $24 pp for three hours. The bird sanctuary folks had said the sand road back to the pans (large, very shallow lakes) would be fine for our vehicle. After taking the tour we were very glad we hadn't risked them. The animal viewing was not as plentiful as our other tours but we did see lots of flamingos and pelicans, but most spectacular was the sunset reflected in the pan. Truly magnificent and unlike any other we have seen in the rest of the world.

Our stop for the next 4 days was another 310k north at Senyati Safari Lodge. The sand road back to the lodge was difficult and our tour book directions hard to follow. We got stuck twice, but were able to extricate ourselves. We really wondered why this place had been chosen as the swimming pool was small with no shade and no restaurant, wifi only from 5 to 9, etc. And then the elephants came! The Lodge has built a waterhole and “donga”--elephant mud pool, only about 40 ft from the raised bar/patio. In addition, they constructed an elaborate, underground hide that seats about 12 people and brings you within a few feet of the pathway to the pool. Had the elephants wanted to they could have easily reached their trunks inside. It was a thrilling place to be and at one point we counted 71 elephants of all ages and sizes along with antelope, buffalo and assorted baboon troops. Up on the patio we spent the evening sipping wine and watching elephants as the full moon rose. Divine.

The Lodge not only had a campground but lots of small cottages scattered about with several facing the waterhole. Every morning the employees lit the fires in the hot water donkeys that heated the water for the showers—these were stone fireplaces outside the bathrooms. The system actually worked quite well. Floodlights line the perimeter of the camp to keep the elephants from wandering through, though that certainly didn't discourage the baboons. We were told to keep the camper windows and doors closed except when there and that the baboons would also snatch laundry from the lines if no one was around.

Senyati is about 20 miles from the huge Chobe National Park—home to over 40,000 elephants and the largest concentration in Africa. Entrance to the park is $7 pp. Roads in the park are strictly 4 wheel drive so we were off in the morning for another 3 hour wildlife spotting jaunt in a safari truck. These are open air vehicles with canvas tops that seat from 12 to 20 in the back. Chobe is located in part between two large rivers and their deltas and many of the elephants spend lots of time in the shallows. Predators include leopards, cheetahs and the very unusual elephant-killing lions. Unfortunately, we are still without our leopard and cheetah sightings but we again saw lots of wildlife and enjoyed the comments of our driver/guide. Our day concluded with a group brai/barbeque, with everyone bringing something to cook on the wood fire and pulling up their tables and chairs.

One highlight of the trip is the excursion into Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls, the seventh natural wonder of the world. Senyati is very close to the border so we headed out to the pavement in a safari truck where we met the coach bus for the hour ride to the Falls. Going through the border involved about an hour wait in the sun with a visa cost of $30 pp. Zimbabwe's currency went through incredible inflation several years ago, so they gave up on it and everything is priced in US dollars. And everything in the tourist town of Victoria Falls is relatively expensive. $25 for a t shirt, $30pp entrance per day to see the Falls, etc. The Kingdom Hotel where we stayed was perfectly lovely and full. Our bed draped in mosquito netting looked right out of an African movie! We arrived about 2pm and had a quick lunch in the hotel's Chief Grill—very reasonable. Then boarded another bus for the short trip to catch a sunset river cruise on the Zambezi River. Unbelievably, it was an all you could drink—including alcoholic beverages—cruise with snacks. Wildlife was scarce until just at sunset when hippos, crocodile and a nice herd of elephants appeared. Had it not been included with our tour, it was certainly skippable.

Everyone had opted for $45 buffet dinner with African drumming and dancing. Very similar to many such venue's we've visited in Thailand, New Zealand, China, etc. Not quite as good, but a chance to sample crocodile tail, wildebeest, guinea fowl, warthog, etc. Not feeling brave I opted for sirloin and the whole pig roasting over a firepit. Lots of other goodies. Many folks lined up to try a Monaponi worm and get their certificate—not for me.

Zimbabwe in early September is beginning to get hot—lower 90s, so our walk by Victoria Falls was welcome. It takes about 3 hours including all the lookouts to make it to the bridge and back. Since we are in the dry season parts of the 1k of falls were not flowing. But there was still a good bit of water. Unlike Iguazu in Argentina and Niagara, the falls drop straight into a gorge so you never get a wide perspective. Yes, they are dramatic, but don't compare with Iguazu. This is area is rife with adventure activities. You can walk with lions or take a 15 minute helicopter tour for $150, raft the river from 1-5 days, do an elephant safari, bungee jump from the bridge, crocodile cage diving, etc. You name it, they are ready to take your American dollars. There is lots of security around but everywhere off the hotel grounds and out of the Park, you are hounded by touts selling what look like Chinese made wooden animals, bowls, etc. Our short excursion into town was hot and all the shops had the same merchandise. Really nothing too interesting to us. You might be wondering why the tour doesn't just have us drive our campers to the campsite in Victoria Falls. Apparently, the political situation there with their despotic dictator, means that the tour operator thinks too many problems might occur, and so opts for the typical tourist routine of coach and hotel, which provides Zimbabwe with hard currency and thus they are loathe to “mess” with it.

So two weeks down, and off we go to country number four--Namibia. Oh, I forgot, the elephants put on another wonderful show for two hours last night at the Senyati Lodge. We were so thankful, as Thursday night nary a one had shown up. So we urge you go to the lodge—which I can't recommend highly enough, and be sure to book two or three nights. Going into Namibia we had to pay a road use fee and new insurance fee of $78. But other than that the border crossing was fairly routine. Namibia uses both its own currency and the South African rand interchangeably and Namibian currency isn't even available outside its borders. We stopped fairly early in Katima Mulilo at the Protea Hotel Zambezi River Lodge. In town we just missed the 1pm cut off for buying alcohol. Luckily, Mark escaped a dry weekend when one of the other campers graciously offered him a carton of red wine. We are all camped along the river and have noted the no swimming sign due to crocs and hippos.

One of the things that has been fun on this trip is that every three or four nights someone will buy a load of firewood and put on a brai. All the campsites have large firepits with grates appropriate for a group bar b que and everyone here uses wood instead of charcoal. Any couple who wants to brings their table and chairs and one or two nights of meat to cook when the fire burns down to coals. Loads of fun.

A 350k drive took us west along the Caprivi Strip—a tiny protrusion of Namibia between Angola and Botswana. The road was good with no potholes although the 6k of gravel and last 2 of sand wasn't much fun in getting to Mahangu Safari Lodge, 22k south of Divundu. There we had a two hour sunset cruise on the Okavango River—sighting elephants, warthogs, yawning hippos, local fishermen, antelope and crocs. Further south the river splits into the famous Okavango Delta, but our tour continues west and then southwest to Roy's Rest Camp just north of Grootfontein.

To get there is a long 415k drive. The road had recently been repaved so that was great, but in all that distance there was a single gas station and we could travel miles without another car or truck in sight. If you plan to travel these routes in a car, be sure to think about how you will accommodate bathroom breaks—a couple of umbrellas might do in a pinch. We saw no wildlife along the way but hundreds of family compounds, with only a few small villages. The compounds usually have a wood or grass reed fence encircling several round huts, usually at least one rectangular building out of aluminum siding, and a pen for cattle. All along the road we passed women heading to wherever the next well might be carrying jugs for water or 5 gallon covered buckets. Only the compounds in villages ever had a vehicle or electricity, and unlike Botswana where most compounds had a cistern and lots of donkeys were around, these people obviously had no money for things like that. A very sobering experience. The most positive note was the presence of schools all along the way—most with electricity and satellite dishes. Between 7 and 7:30 we passed hundreds of children walking and running to school in their uniforms. Hopefully, preparing for a better tomorrow.

Note that we were already on the road at 7. In Krueger we all were up and out for the wildlife around 6am and pretty much have stuck to an early morning rising schedule. Everyone has commented that they have never been to bed so early for so long since they were children. Also it is hot now—in the mid nineties everyday and most folks want to be at the campsite all settled down before the worst heat of the day. Most of the sites have had enough electric hookups since we are a small group, though occasionally the circuits are overloaded and the breakers trip. There was another vet check and one couple lost their lamb chops but the rest of us had only cooked meat which is not confiscated. The vet checks are to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease.

Roy's Rest Camp was nice and decorated with all sorts of old car parts and other somesuch. Wifi was slow and only available in an open area off the bar. Most of us opted for a so so buffet style dinner at $12, chicken a la king and boobeete (sic)—a ground kudu casserole. I stuck with the chicken. Roy's is close to Etosha National Park. We stopped for lunch and entered at 1:10 pm—they charge by the 24 hr day at $7 pp. We were warned upon entering that no uncooked chicken, meat, or eggs could leave the park. We don't know if it was normal or a heat wave, but the temps are now reaching 100 so we and the animals retreat in the afternoon. There were just some birds at the Namutoni camp watering hole. We purchased an Etosha guide with map and ventured out at 4:30 to the Koinachas waterhole—some giraffes and then to the far larger Klein Namutoni. It was great—we caught a lioness napping under a bush and lots of giraffes, zebras, antelope, etc. Gate closure is at 6:50pm here as we are further west.

Sunrise was at 6:47, the gates opened and off we went, headed for the Goas watering hole with the hope of sighting leopard. No leopard but along the way we were lucky enough to sight a small lion pride with three females and a young male just growing his mane. They were within 25 feet or so and actually scuffling over a brown beer bottle. Occasionally, one would drop it and spend time licking it. Perhaps they liked the feel of it on their tongue? Mark hopes to post the video on you tube. We also got stopped by a big, old male elephant blocking the road while he munched a tree. When he moved off a bit, two pickups edged along the road and he fake-charged them. Too exciting for me! We waited until he moved further off and then proceeded but Mark saw him run after us a ways. The roads through we heavily corrugated (British for washboard) and even at 12 mph, it felt like we were rattling to death. Two latches broke on our cabinets (lockers as the British say), but our mechanic fixed us right up in the evening. One of the side benefits of this trip is our extended time with the Brits. We thought we knew a lot of British terms, but are learning so much more, plus wonderful little gems like the fact that no one in Britain would think of eating a peanut butter sandwich with jelly (or jam as they call it.) As Kathy would say, Who knew? And, of course, the meaning of “posh”--”port outbound, starboard homeward-bound”--where you would want your wardroom on the steamer in India...if you were rich.

Our second night was nearer the center of the park at Halali. The waterhole there is supposed to be quite a good viewing spot, but perhaps it was just too hot. We dieseled up before heading out which turned out to be a good plan as Okankuejo camp, just before our gate out, was out of diesel. We were glad that we had paid attention to the admonishment to fill up when half full. Another very hot day kept most of the animals hidden except some really large herds of wildebeest, zebra, and spingbok antelope near the pan. Then we hit the bonanza at Nebrownii—an pump hole (or bore hole in Brit). A huge elephant, herds of ostrich, zebra, wildebeests, etc. and a huge male lion. The lion worked his way over to where we parked on the road, and then from under the road and culvert, the female came out to join him in the grass. A great show! We also stopped at the waterhole in Okankuejo camp and enjoyed watching the oryx actually swimming along with herds of other beasts. We may not ever see a leopard or cheetah in the wild, but we are very happy with the wildlife experiences we have had on this trip.

The day ended at Etosha Safari Camp just outside the park. This camp had very nice facilities and those that ate at the buffet dinner thought it quite good. Mark and I enjoyed all the posters and decorations from the Sheboteen period when the local bars run illegally were the hotbed of the freedom movement. The store had nice souvenirs at much lower prices than within the park.

The next day's drive of about 200 k was all on paved roads, a blessed relief after the park. Also the temperatures moderated into the low 80s with a pleasant breeze. Not much to see on the way to Khorixas though and our stay at the small iGowati Lodge. In fact the area is almost completely unpopulated except for two or three ranches and the small town of Outjo. Some folks stopped in Outjo which I think had a nicer market than Khorixas. Khorixas had no meat that looked appetizing so the night's dinner was leftovers from the freezer. The lodge did have a very small pool and the usual very slow wifi. I think everywhere we have stayed has had a pool though they have not gotten any use from us. Khorixas did have some fairly aggressive touts like we ran into in Victoria Falls. In this case selling carved nuts with animals and personalized with your name. Since we actually had been looking for an African ornament for our tiny Christmas tree, we indulged in ones for us and one for granddaughter Penelope. I am sure we overpaid at $4 each, but these folks live hard lives so it doesn't bother me. We also have gotten quite used to tipping a few Rand for the diesel fill and the windshield cleaning. Mark could have skipped the window cleaner he bought early on. In Khorixas we also found a fly swatter! We have asked in every store since Pretoria—non-existent. Now we can retire our paper towel core and the pesky flies who slip in won't stand a chance.

From Khorixas it is 115k of gravel, washboarded road. We had been dreading these stretches, but it turned out to be slightly better than the roads in Etosha park—not good, but in my mind better than potholes. A few of the group detoured down a D road to see the Petrified Forest, but since Mark and I have visited the one in the States, we skipped that. Usually rental 2 wheel drive campers are not allowed on any D roads, but Bobo has given the group permission as long as our mechanic gives the okay for current road conditions. No one went the further distance to the Twyfelfontin Rock Engravings. On the map some further rock painting sites were indicated, but just like in Botswana, there are no road signs to show where they are so impossible to visit without a local guide. So on we went averaging about 18 mph to Uis to the White Lady B&B and Camping. The white lady referring to a nearby rock engraving. We circled round a small pool for the night. Several folks walked a couple of blocks to the grocery, but it was Saturday after 1pm so it was closed for the weekend. Two interesting facts about Uis—it had not rained there in 3 years and it was home to the largest open pit uranium mine in the world. There is only a very sparse population on the way there and those villagers live in abject poverty, bringing their handicrafts out to the road to sell as tourists drive by creating massive dust clouds. As an added “attraction” most of the women dress in native costume, with the young ones bare chested to encourage folks to stop. Very depressing.

Only another 200km of worse dirt road brought us to Swakopmund on the coast and the Alte Brucke Resort for a three night respite. This large town was founded by the Germans and most of the historic buildings date from the early 1900s. The resort was just on the edge of town, two blocks from the beach, and each campsite had its own bathroom with shower, barbecue, kitchen sink—very classy. Bad news was the temperature has now dropped to the low 60s with lots of fog and dampness from the Bengueli current which sweeps by the coast from the antarctic. Lovely beaches all along the Skeleton Coast but not for swimming. The name comes from all the shipwrecks, many still poking out of the sea. On our way from Uis we drove a stretch from Henties Bay—a small resort town. The road was paved—yeah, but interesting was that on our road map there were several numbered campsites listed right on the ocean. It turned out that those sites only designated short dirt roads over the block or so to the beach—no facilities, not even a picnic table. Since it was Sunday the beach had lots of folks parked up in 4 wheel drive vehicles fishing from poles that were about 12 ft long.

The group had one bus excursion down the coast to Walvis Bay where we spent three hours on a catamaran watching for small dolphins, pelicans, one glimpse of a whale, and hovering off the coast of Seal Island where up to 40,000 seals bask and play. There was sherry when we came aboard, beer and cold drinks all morning, then a lunch spread of fresh oysters, cold chicken, fish, sandwiches, etc., and all the sparkling wine you could drink. The bay itself is fairly calm though it was chilly and most were grateful for the provided throws. I was most entertained by the pelicans and later the seal who came aboard for petting, photos, and free fish. (see Mark's blog for pix)

Our final day in Swakopmund Mark did some blogging and we walked into town to visit the Crystal Gallery. The $2 admission showcased a wealth of beautiful crystals including the largest crystal cluster on display in the world. The gallery also has some gorgeous hand crafted jewelry for sale. Alas I need none but enjoyed looking. After a visit to the Spar market (a pretty good one) we again walked along the beachfront and enjoyed an excellent gigantic fish and chips meal at the Tiger Reef Beachfront restaurant next to our campsite for the ridiculous low price of $9. Tiger Reef also has a campground—prices posted were about $29 for two, more expensive during holidays.

So here I will close. We are just over half way for our trip but the next week has little electricity and we presume, poor or no wifi, so I want to get this off to Kathy early. Happy Travels. Vicki

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