Good to be back in RSA!

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What a good feeling to have finalized all border formalities at Beitbridge to enter South Africa. No more roaming required, no more foreign currencies, no more border crossings and best of all the prospects of seeing the family and my own bed and shower!

Just outside the border post (@ Limpopo Shell Ultra City) I used the opportunity to fill up the TEN, had a nice cool drink and made arrangements for overnight accommodation in Musina.  I was able to get a chalet at the Baobab Chalets. As I said to Bennie “no more camping when we leave Malawi”. I also had a quick chat with a man coming from Vereeniging who is doing building renovation work at the Ultra City.

It was a quick drive to Baobab Chalets. Booked in, had a quick shower and it was off to the Spur. I had a Castle Lite with a Tomahawk combo (going big – sausage, chicken and ribs). Once back at the chalet I got everything ready for an early morning as I wanted to leave early the next morning.

I eventually left at 04:50 and it was still pitch black. Bennie would leave Mutare more or less the same time on his way to Pretoria. Although early, the road was busy with many trucks. Once through the Hendrik Verwoerd tunnels in the Soutpansberg, the cold really hit me. I put some warm clothes on at the Capricorn Petroport and had a coffee. Then it was back on the road, but as soon as I was back, my hands froze up again. It was a matter of biting on my teeth and just continue. Through Polokwane, there were some roadworks and diversions but nothing serious. I pushed on and at Sasol Zebetiela, south of Mokopane (Potgietersrus), I stopped to refuel the TEN and had a Steers breakfast. My hands were still so cold that I could not cut my food!

There are many tollgates on the N1 and paid in total R250.50. Not sure why a motorbike has to pay the same as a car.

Then it was only one stop at the Shell Ultra City N1 at Midrand for something to drink and nibble. Now it was very familiar driving home and I pulled into Sasolburg at 11:30. Driving for the day was hard – it was 600 km and I could see it from my fuel consumption that came down to 18-19 km/l.

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This concluded my part of the trip and I was glad to be home and thankful for a great trip with so many learnings and without any major incidents.

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Our final Africa route covering about 9,598 km. At the end we were fortunate not to repeat any section.

We will still update some of the site pages and posts, as well as sharing some statistics and learnings of our trip.

More Back Roads to Follow

On returning from the Africa Trip, we have moved to Hartenbos in the Western Cape. Now we are in the so called Garden Route and just on the other side of the Outeniqua mountains are the Klein Karoo. I created a new blog for exploring the scenic back roads and share with others the beauty of our area.

You can follow these stories on https://backroadsexploring.wordpress.com/

Regards

Riaan

 

Going South – Passing through Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

As planned we left the Chintheche Inn at about 06:00 and drove mostly along the shores of Lake Malawi. As a bonus, we had the most beautiful sunrise over the lake.

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Except for one section on the M5 which was very narrow and bumpy, road conditions were relatively good and we crossed many single-lane bridges on our route down. Progress was good and we did long stretches at a time – this was mainly due to good road surfaces, no speed bumps, fewer police checkpoints and the low number of cars and trucks on the roads.

We planned to overnight in or close to Mwanza but soon realized that we would be too early there and decided to push through to Tete in Mozambique. We were at the Mwanza/Zobue Border Post at 12:55. We quickly exchanged all our MWK for MZN. It was easy passing through and could have been quicker had they not convinced us to unnecessarily buy a TIP for Mozambique. They now also accept the Carnet, but this we only realized once at Customs. We left the border post at about 13:50.

From the border post, we were on the 103 which again was good road surfaces with no speed bumps. After one of the villages Bennie was caught for speeding, 88 km/hr in a 60 km/hr zone, but he was able to talk himself out of the fine (no cash). The 60 km/hr speed limit is taken far outside the villages and one is not sure when the 100 km/hr speed limits start again.

We crossed the old suspension bridge over the Zambezi into Tete after 15:30. The Zambezi River is the fourth largest river in Africa and it was impressive to see the river as the level was high due to the high levels of the upstream reservoirs.

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We refueled the vehicles but was unsuccessful to draw some more MZNs. We stayed at Zambezi Riverside. The Cabana on the Zambezi River, an Airbnb which I had to request to bring our stay forward as we were a day early.

Bennie had some things to do on the bakkie and I enjoyed a couple of 2Ms beers whilst chatting with our host Jenni. He then later joined us. One of Bennie’s friends Andre Keyser who works in Tete later came over and after that retired to bed as to leave early again the next morning.

Our “cabana” was two containers stacked on top of another. The bottom section is a small living area and kitchen and the upper section the bed and bath room. Very stylish done and it had the most beautiful views of the “wide” Zambezi River. 

The Wednesday morning we first withdraw some cash at the 2nd ATM we tried and then it was off to Zimbabwe. In general good road conditions but after Changara it deteriorated and for the next 50 km to Guro, it was well potholed. It gradually improved again south of Guro. We believe the bad road conditions are because of the increased usage of this road by heavy trucks.

Where we joined the N6 to Mutare, the bakkie’s differential started to fail (think the bearing) and Bennie crawled at 20 km/hr to where I was waiting for him at the Estalagem da Selva Restaurant, just next to the main road. We had something to eat and Bennie contacted his insurance to discuss his options. English is a big problem in Mozambique and we rather wanted to make further arrangements regarding the repair or towing of the bakkie in Zimbabwe.

Luckily Daniel, who is conversant in English, came along who could help us to get someone to transport the bakkie to the border post. Here Bennie will drive it through the border post. Our host in Mutare, Marilyn, was able to assist with a contact that can tow him from the border post to our overnight place in Mutare. Once the bakkie was uploaded onto the trailer, I left for Mutare. I refueled at Manica and headed for the Forbes Border Post. I arrived at about 15:30 and exchanged my MZNs for USDs. The border post was a bit hectic as it was very busy. On the Zimbabwe side I had to pay Road Access Fees and Carbon Tax and left the border post at 16:37 and arrived about 17:00 at the guest house. Bennie arrived about an hour later.

Our overnight was again an Airbnb in a quiet neighbourhood next to the golf course. One could see that this was once a very “posh” area with very large stands and massive mansions. Our host Marilyn was so accommodating and supportive of our problems. She also made us a quick dinner of mince, eggs, and toast which we really enjoyed – anything than braaivleis was something different (and better for now).

The rest of the evening and the next morning were spent on logistical arrangements for the bakkie. This included ways of getting USDs from South Africa for the towing. Currently, cash is a big problem and one cannot draw money from ATMs.

Just before 10:00 the Thursday morning, when Bennie had plans to transport the bakkie to Beitbridge Border Post and arrangements for the payment with USDs, I left for Beitbridge, but hoping to sleep the night in Musina. From Mutare, the road was a bit bumpy but good enough to maintain a good pace and I pushed through Birchenough Bridge for Masvingo.

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Birchenough Bridge is the name for both a bridge across the Save River and a village next to the bridge.

From Birchenough Bridge the 175 km section of road to Masvingo is in a very good condition with only a few villages (and no speed bumps) and it was easy to maintain an average speed of 100 km/hr. At Masvingo, I refueled the TEN and then it was the next section of 288 km to Beitbridge. This section was more bumpy and narrower and with more traffic. I counted all the RSA vehicles as to pass time – in total, I counted about 150 vehicles of which 90% are trucks. For the day I did 590 km with only the one stop in Masvingo.

Zimbabwe had the best road conditions which made travelling so much easier and faster. The rock formation of the mountains were something different to what I am used to.

One positive in Zimbabwe – NO toll fees for motorbikes. I only had to give my registration on which the boom is opened.

I pulled in at Beitbridge at 17:30. Eager to get through as quickly as possible, I paid 4 USD toll for the bridge, got my passport stamped, cleared the police check and got my Carnet stamped at Customs and it was off to South Africa as I crossed the Limpopo River.

Leaving Tanzania. Hello Malawi!

So we left Kisolanza exactly at 06:00. We continued on the Tanzania Highway and road works and conditions were much better than we anticipated. We drove mainly on the newly constructed road, with minor diversions mostly at bridges. The last 100 km before our turn off at Uyole, we were on the old road again. Although badly driven out and bumpy we still progressed well. We stopped at a petrol just before Uyole, where I refueled and we also quickly put back a pin on the brake pedal of the bakkie.

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Local “mechanics” assisting to relocate the pin on the brake pedal that fell out. It was in a very obscured place and it took an hour to get it back into position again.

At Uyole we turned on the B 345, on our way to the border post. As we have progressed well, we decided to still clear the border and see where we can overnight in Malawi. We passed through several villages and with about 50 km to go, it was the most beautiful scenery with many tea plantations as well. Just before the border post we refueled and exchanged TZS for MWK. We were glad and proud to leave Tanzania without any stoppages for fines. This is a bit unusual as most tourists do not leave Tanzania without at least one fine.

We arrived at the Songwe Border Post at 12:50. We cleared the Tanzania side relative easily but were held up on the Malawian side as we had to buy Road Access Fees of 20 USD. The hold up was mainly due to the fact that we had to go and stand in different ques for this – first to get our invoice, then to pay, and lastly to hand in your receipt again, ending in 1 hr 50 min to get through the border post. Glad to leave, we also found the first 20 km of the M 1 badly potholed and under construction.

We eventually decided on Hakuna Matata on the Malawi Lake between Lwesga and Mkondowe. A very basic overnight place with a campsite and dormitory rooms. It is owned by an ex-South African, Willie who developed the camp over the last 8½ years. He said that we made his day as he was so keen to speak Afrikaans. There were also many young travelers using public transport as well as Taiwanese doing voluntary work in one of the villages as part of their studies. As I was not keen to pitch a tent Willie was so kind to let me sleep on a couch underneath the “lapa” on the beach – what a nice view!

My couch I slept on with the lake in the background. Fishermen caught lake sardines with plunge nets and lights during the night. Sunrise over the lake before we left Hakuna Matata. 

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Bennie and Willie having long chats at breakfast before our departure. Interesting enough, Willie also worked in Kuils River during the early 70’s. He was born in Springbok and appreciated the opportunity to meet with Afrikaans speaking people again.

The Sunday morning we first had a breakfast before leaving, with an overnight place in our minds, about 250 km away. We went up the escarpment with a pass and a beautiful view of the lake. The road had many potholes as we went up, but in the escarpment, road conditions improved again. We continued to Mzuzu for our first stop and I also refueled the TEN. We then took the M 5 to Nkhata Bay passing through a rubber tree estate. One tree can yield in general, about 4 – 5 kg of latex per year. The latex is then harvested to produce solid natural rubber at two different plants. We have seen many locals selling rubber balls next to the road to the tourists.

As wifi is a must to finalize our places to sleep moving forward, we were looking for a more upmarket place to stay. Bennie recommended having a look at Chintheche Inn as they previously stayed there. We found everything we were looking for and then decided to camp here for two nights.

We also met Hannah and Nick, a British couple working in Blantyre, finishing off their four weeks holiday. The late afternoon an overland truck with about German tourists also pitched up. Their overland bus is rigged up in such a way that they can also sleep in it and no need to pitch tents every night.

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Whilst having a sun-downer at the bar, we had this view of an orange moon over the lake.

The Monday we used to sort out accommodation for when we leave Chintheche on Tuesday. I also did some washing, cleaning the TEN, going for a quick swim in the lake, and updating the Blog. Bennie worked on the left rear brake of the bakkie, braai some snoek and meat, and looked for accommodation for the next evening. We also met with Mr. Stuart Chiwona, the Head Teacher of the Bandawe School for the Deaf (see the full story on our Social Outreach Post).

Surely Africa must have the most beautiful and dramatic sunrise and sunset scenes in the world.

Back on African Soil

Once again we are running a bit late with the posts, but as to keep it current we will skip a couple for now and update it later.

Bennie and Elsie flew in from Rome and me from London to meet again in Cairo for our connecting flights. We all then flew to Addis Ababa from where Elsie moved on to Cape Town and Bennie and me to Nairobi. My flight from London was delayed with one hour which made things a bit hectic at Cairo since I had to run from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 in order to make it in time. From Addis, we were then also delayed by about 45 minutes. On our arrival in Addis, the airport was hectic and we then were also informed our flight  ET 302 to Nairobi is also delayed. Elsie got on her flight and she was on her way to Cape Town. Then our problems started: first it was 30 minutes, then another 1 hour and then another 2 hours and then another 3 hours. Elsie was already at home when we only got onto the plane.

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Our flight was delayed with 7 hours and we had to hang around at the airport. Communication was bad and we once on the plane we learned it had technical problems that they could not sort out and had to bring in a replacement plane. Welcome back in Africa!

Arriving at Nairobi there were Ebola forms to be completed as well as Kenia entry forms – the process took more time than we hoped for. Further to this, we could not find Bennie’s luggage. One of the staff offered to help and we found it in an obscure place. Clearly, it was put there to score a quick buck, which we refused to pay. We got to Jungle Junction at 20:00, 8 hours later than planned. Chris was quick to assist with getting our vehicles ready for the next day. We put back the battery terminals and both fired up immediately, ready for the journey down. We got to bed at 22:00 and the next morning finalising everything with Chris we left just before 08:00.

We left Nairobi with the Southern bypass through its outskirts, then took the A104 to the Namanga border post. Although it was a wee bit wet (learned this in Scotland) travelling was easy and we progressed well. At the border post we were again conned with fixers. When we entered a man with a fluorescent bib came out – also indicated that he was an official indicated where to go and before we know were in it! We had a slight delay as we had to pay Kenyan road taxes for our vehicles as we did not only transit through Kenya but stored our vehicles for an extended period at Jungle Junction.

Once on our way again, traveling was easy (except for the number of speed bumps) and only before Arusha things became slower again – we were there just after 14:00.

Arusha is a city in East Africa’s Tanzania, located at the base of volcanic Mt. Meru. It’s a gateway to safari destinations and to Mt. Kilimanjaro. It is a busy town (and apparently fastest growing as well) with all the tour operators. In town, the small bikes are also like bees zooming all over the place.

Bennie had arranged that we can stay in Arusha at Bertus, one of his friends. Due to a sudden illness of his wife, we stayed at Masai Camp for the three nights. A very nice and neat campsite, except for all the disturbing noises at night hampering your sleeping, i.e. music from neighborhood club, the traffic on the Nelson Mandela Drive, Barking dogs from the village next door and the early morning Muslim prayers. We set up camp in the evening and prepared for our braai. We also met a German couple, Christine and Rudi that comes to Africa almost every European summer holiday for the last six years. They have a 4×4 vehicle which they keep in Africa to do their trips here.

The Masai Camp is regularly used by overland companies. On the last evening two groups of about 20 persons each made use of the campsite. 

Most of Monday morning we spent at three Primary Schools with Malkiad. He is the receptionist/barman at the campsite that accompanied us. You can read more about this on our Social Responsibility post. The afternoon we replenished some groceries, had a quick lunch with the locals and did some relaxing at the campsite. We also organized a game drive with Tropical Trials for the following day at the Tarangire National Park.

Having some french fries and beef sosaties (only very small pieces) at a shop just next to the Nelson Mandela Drive.

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Bennie relaxing at the campsite.

The evening we had a very unusual meal the Monday for this part of the world – a very nice snoek braai.

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The next morning we were picked up at 07:00 for our game drive. It is almost a two-hour drive to the park. Tarangire National Park is the sixth largest national park in Tanzania, it is located in Manyara Region. The name of the park originates from the Tarangire River that crosses the park.

Bennie with our guide and driver for the day, Wilson of Tropical Trails. He was fluent in English and we also learned much from Tanzania by speaking to him. The Baobab tree just before the entrance to the park.

Some of the animals were close, but unfortunately the lion we could only see in the distance. The small antelope is a Dik Dik which I have seen for the first time. The giraffe is a Masai Giraffe and it seems if the pattern is more black than I am used to.

The Wednesday morning it was early up to pack and take the road to Dodoma. We continued on the A 104 until Babati from where we continued on a newly constructed tar road to Dodoma. This is the best section of road we drove in Tanzania and at some stage, our average was about 90 km/hr. Finding our overnight accommodation was difficult as we were not sure about the exact location. As the people of the Royal Village Hotel was not fluent in English they came to collect us from town. The hotel was large in size and rooms basic but spacious – except for the communication issues and poor wifi, we had a reasonable stay.

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Thursday morning we left for Kisolonza farm, 50km outside of Iringa. Bennie organised to have early breakfast before we leave but when we were there at 06:00 the message apparently did not go through. Dodoma is now the capital of Tanzania but is relatively small and quickly got out of the city. We continued our journey on the A 104 and after an hour’s drive, we stopped in a Baobab forest for a bun and some cool drink.

Road conditions were good and on our way, we passed over the dam wall of the Mtera Reservoir. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take any pictures as it is a national key point. After that, we did some climbing up into the escarpment. It is scary to see how these big coach busses handle the twisty roads. Nearing Iringa, the villages are closer, meaning more speed bumps. It was frustratingly slow until we got onto the Tanzania Highway. Although not spared from the 50 km/hr speed limits and speed bumps one can move a bit faster.

Bennie first visited the Isimila Stone Age site and I went to Kisolanza directly. I arrived about noon and Bennie about an hour and a half later as he had to walk to the site.

The afternoon we also met with two other South African couples, Glen and Mike – respectively form Deneysville and Krugersdorp. It is coincidence as we also saw them driving behind us in the Tarangire National Park. They are also on their way to Malawi. Later in the afternoon we also met Ettienne from SafariWithUs who is on his way to Arusha to drop-off a Landcruiser to be converted into a safari vehicle.

We had a nice campsite with a grass lapa – all that we were missing is a water point, but this is typical across Africa. 

Friday morning it was some maintenance repairs on the bakkie and I did some routine checks on the TEN. Further time was spend doing the washing, updating the Blog and planning for the rest of the journey down home. Tomorrow we will camp just outside the border to Malawi (Kasumulu) but first need to do a difficult section of road to Mbeya which parts of is currently under construction – it might end up in a long day of driving again.

The Cotswolds – Golden Stone and Rolling Hills

We had the opportunity to visit the Cotswolds with Annemarie and Pierre. Their friends Anne and William Gardiner (also dedicated followers of our Blog) stays in Cirencester. We left Tonbridge the Sunday afternoon. Bennie and Elsie stayed with them as well, whilst I stayed in Fairford,  a small village about 20 minutes drive apart.

Cotswolds is an area in south central England containing the Cotswold Hills, a range of rolling hills which rise from the meadows of the upper Thames to an escarpment, known as the Cotswold Edge, above the Severn Valley and Evesham Vale. The predominantly rural landscape contains stone-built villages, historical towns, and stately homes and gardens. Cotswold stone is a yellow limestone, rich in fossils and when weathered, the colour of buildings made or faced with this stone is often described as honey or golden.

The Monday morning I had a walk in Fairford before having some breakfast at The Bull Hotel. I had a full English Breakfast and my first taste of Black Pudding – a type of blood sausage originating in Great Britain and Ireland.

  When walking around Fairford, I noticed many flags hanging from the buildings and was surprised to the see the South Africa flag above the Londis shop. I later learned it is from Fairford’s Flag Festival when the town council wanted to brighten up the town centro. The Royal International Air Tattoo, held in Fairford each year, loaned the council their 52 flags from all the nations that come to the tattoo.

I met up with the other at the St Mary’s Parish Church. It must be one of the best ‘wool churches’ in England and is a testament to the wealth of the medieval wool trade in the Cotswolds region. Successful and wealthy wool merchants lavished money on their parish churches, taking into consideration the size of the church compared to the number of inhabitants of Fairford.

The St Mary’s Parish Church have probably the most complete set of medieval stained glass in Britain comprising 28 windows displaying biblical scenes.

We walked down to the Fairford Mill House, next to the River Coln.

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The bridge crossing the River Coln. Annemarie with Charlotte, Pierre, Elizabeth, Riaan, Bennie, Elsie, William and Anne with William.

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A familiar sighting in Cotswolds – dry stone walls run across the Cotswold landscape. These walls were and are still today built without mortar and many is hundred of years old.

We had something to drink in Cold Saint Aldwyns where after we went for stroll down to an old mill house (below the Hatherop Castle School) and then through the fields and houses to St Swithin Church in Quenington.

From here we went to see St Johns Lock near Lechlade, an upstream lock on the River Thames. The lock is used to raise or lower boats due to the sudden change of water level.

The afternoon, after the sightseeing Anne treated us to some traditional afternoon tea (Bennie and I had coffee) and scones with clotted cream and strawberries at their home.

The Tuesday morning I also had a quick walkabout in the town of Cirencester before meeting up with the rest of the group to visit Bath. Also a beautiful town with the St John Church at its center.

A big thanks to Anne and William playing hosts (and also answering all our difficult questions) during our visit to this beautiful area of England!

Scotland – A land of Mountain Wilderness

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Both Bennie and I was so eager to see the unspoiled landscapes of Scotland. 

On our way to Scotland, we had a quick bite and a coffee on the A595 just before Carlisle.

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We crossed the Sark River when entering Scotland – this is where the M6 becomes the A74. We fueled up just before Glasgow, with the hope of quickly passing through Glasgow as from there we headed directly north to Loch Lomond. On the motorway we saw several traffic boards with “European Championships – Plan Ahead” but had no idea what it meant. Only once in the city center, we realized what it was all about. We were diverted off the main road due to the cycling event and from there we could not get a passage through the north. We then drove south again to pass the city on the western side in order to avoid the barricaded roads. We wasted about 2½ hours, but at least had the opportunity to cross the Erskine Bridge over the Clyde River.

Some beautiful buildings in Glasgow. A city much smaller than we have anticipated – it was only the European Championship that made our time in the city very long.

Once on the A82, we were relaxed again and it was a scenic drive to Drymen. As we were too early to book in at the guest house we explored the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park Visitor Center. We also had lunch in one of the picnic areas. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle and we moved on south again for our visit to Glengoyne,  a whiskey distillery about 27 km to the south.

At the visitor center we learned more about the formation of the Scottish geographical landscape. Loch Lomond is also Scotland’s largest lake in surface area. This area is also very popular for hiking. In the UK you will see many dogs accompanying their owners and special arrangements are in place for this.

The Glengoyne whiskey distillery is in operation since its founding in 1833. Glengoyne is unique in producing Highland single malt whiskey matured in the Lowlands. As part of the tour, we watched a short video about the distillery and had a chance to taste their 12-year old whiskey.

Unfortunately, we had to stick to gifts at the shop as the price of the whiskey was a bit above our price range – the cheapest, the 10-year old, starting at 33 GBP. Taking into consideration the time to mature the whiskey and the effect of evaporation, the prices are understandable.

Watching the video and tasting of whiskey before going on a guided tour through their facility. Glengoyne has one wash still and two spirit stills. Whiskey is matured mostly in old sherry casks from Spain.

For our first night we stayed in Drymen, a very small village just east of Loch Lomond. Our accommodation was very stylish and the attention to detail was astonishing – the garden and outside of the house also reflect this.

We also had a quick stroll down the village – as it was small, it only took about 10 minutes. Again the gardening.

Attention to detail – the village and shop owners put a lot of pride into the gardens and flower pots.

The evening we had some Scottish Lagers at the Clachan Inn. As the inn was very busy we decided to have our dinner at the pub. Each of us took half a chicken and to our surprise, we both could not finish it off.

Early the next morning we continued our travels up the lakes to Inverness and then down through the Cairngorms National Park to Dundee. This is normally a route done over two days. We soon left the Lowlands for the Highlands where the landscape is much harsher and with the rain clouds, made it even more dramatic.

We passed another couple of lakes (or as it called lochs)  before Fort Augustus. Here we took the smaller roads (in many places single lane) to pass Loch Ness on the eastern side. We often had to use the passing spots to let oncoming vehicles pass.

Loch Ness is Scotland’s biggest lake in volume. It contains more water than all lakes in England and Wales combined – this is because of its deep depth.

We progressed well and arrived in Inverness just before 10:00. We parked the car and went for a quick scenic route and a cup of coffee. On our way to Inverness and observed that the phrase “inver” is used at almost all the lochs. Afterward, I learned that it is a common element in place-names of Celtic origin, meaning “confluence of waters” or “river mouth”.

The beautiful city of Inverness and also the cultural capital of the Scottish Highlands. Here the River Ness meets the Moray Firth and is worth staying a full day to walk around the shops, old buildings and cathedrals. 

Going down through Cairngorms National Park to Dundee, Alison advised us to take The Snow Roads Scenic Route rather than the A9. The Snow Roads are slow roads and we took our time to enjoy the views, villages, and attractions along the route, which also include some ski-slopes on the higher sections. Steep hills, ‘blind’ summits and tight bends on the roads meant we had to drive with care and on the narrow sections we used the passing places to allow others to continue on their way.

Going out of the park we followed the road to Blairgowrie and passed through large commercialized farms.

In Dundee, we stayed at Jean and Alison, our former “dominee”  and his wife from our congregation in Sasolburg Tuinedal. It was good to see some old friends again and had a nice braai with them.

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Last year Jean and his family left South Africa for Scotland to continue his ministry work in the Church of Scotland. In the evening, Jean quickly showed me the Murroes Church, one of the congregations where he is a Minister Reverend – his name also proudly displayed at the church.

The next morning would be a very early start at 04:00 as we would do the trip back to Tonbridge in one go – just about 850 km.

English Lake Districts

With our visit to the English Lake Districts, we decided to start it off with a visit to the Beatles Story, a museum in the Albert Dock, Liverpool. We left the hostel very early the morning and entered Liverpool with the Kingsway Tunnel underneath the Mersey river. Liverpool’s Waterfront is an honoured UNESCO World Heritage Site and the renovated historic docks and buildings (now shops and restaurants) runs majestically along the River Mersey. When the museum opened we quickly had a tour of the museum and learned a couple of new facts about this rock band. With members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they became widely regarded as the foremost and most influential music band in history.

From Liverpool, we continued our journey to the Lake Districts National park with our first stop the beautiful little town of Keswick, situated between the huge bulk of Skiddaw and the gentle beauty of Derwentwater. We immediately bought tickets for a 50 minute boat trip on the Derwentwater Lake. The boats stop at several jetties across the lake to drop-off/pick up people that discover the shores.

From Keswick, we traveled south to our accommodation for the night. It was a small winding scenic road next to the lake. We stayed close to Rosthwaite in the Borrowdale YHA – a very popular overnight place for hikers, making it very busy as it is currently the European summer holiday. We did a combination of driving and walking to explore the splendid scenery. We understand why this area is so popular, especially for hiking and cycling. Unfortunately, photos cannot in any way describe the beauty we observed during our visit. Every few kilometers you will get old buildings and houses just next to the round. Here we also enjoyed our first bottle of white wine we brought along.

Walking on some of the minor roads to explore the area. Crossing a beautiful old styled bridge over the Derwent River on the way to the hostel. 

The evening we had dinner at the hostel. We both tried traditional pub lunches consisting of pork bangers & mash and a chicken pie with vegetables and chips. For us it was relatively early to bed as we wanted to leave early the next morning again. This time we shared the room with 3 other gentlemen but had very little interaction with them.

As we were trying to avoid driving the same route twice, we took the road out through Honister pass. This pass is mostly single lane with gradients up to 20%. As it was very early the area was also deserted, except for the animals. Once at Cockermouth we took the A595 to Carlisle and looking forward to seeing Scotland.

 

Cairo…Going Solo

And so the Africa part of our trip continues… Our plan was to meet up in Cairo again – me from RSA and Bennie and Elsie from the UK. Bennie and Elsie were not allowed to board on their flight to Cairo via Athens as their Schengen visas are only effective from 03 August. Unfortunately they also had to cancel this part of the trip and I continued on my own.

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At OR Tambo – ready to book in for my Egypt Air flight to Cairo.

My flight touched down on Tuesday 31 July, a bit earlier than scheduled. To my surprise, the airport was well organized and neat. I quickly cleared immigration as I had an Egypt visa. I collected my bag and when leaving the building, Ahmed was waiting outside. The car is in quite a bad state but also observed that all cars are scratched and dented. As it was early, we used the ring roads and quickly did the 32 km to the guest house in Giza.

Not a lot of early morning traffic on the outskirts of Cairo. Taking a quick early morning photo of Ahmed and I with the Nile in the background.

The Sphinx Guest House is a bit dated and is undergoing renovations. This I only realized with arrival. The price was fair and the location very good – this is the view (panoramic) from one of the rooms being renovated.

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I met with Gamal, the manager and quickly worked out a schedule (a bit more expensive than I hoped) for sightseeing and after a refreshing shower, the day started with a visit to the Egyptian Museum. It hosts one of the world’s most important collections of ancient artifacts. Inside the glittering treasures of Tutankhamun and other great pharaohs lie alongside the grave goods, mummies, jewelry, eating bowls and toys of Egyptians.

I need to mention the traffic and driving in Cairo – hectic! We traveled from Giza to downtown and is something to experience. Humans have 5 basic senses, but I am sure these drivers also have one (or more) for traffic and taking gaps. It is a continuation of hooting, taking gaps and trying to create an additional lane where it does not exist. The funny thing – no accidents seen so far (or someone shot because of road rage).

On our way back from the museum it was a quick stop at Cleopatra Perfume, an Egyptian essential oil wholesaler.

 The owner and I – I think the sad face of him is because he thought I will buy a lot of his oils. One thing I observed is that the tour guides take you to all these shops with no “obligations”, but if you do not buy, they are not very happy with you. This was especially true at the papyrus and oriental carpet shops. When he told the guy I am not interested in buying a carpet he lost interest to explain what they are doing.

The afternoon we spent some time at the Pyramids of Giza. It consists of the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Cheops or Khufu) and is about 4,500 years old – to think our recorded South African history only dates back about 400 years. The somewhat smaller Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren) a few hundred meters to the south-west, and the relatively modest-sized Pyramid of Menkaure (or Mykerinos) a few hundred meters farther south-west. The Great Sphinx lies on the east side of the complex. To date, there is still just speculation of how these impressive structures were built and the fascination of it still lives on.

Sightseeing conditions were difficult as temperatures were 38oC and our car had no air conditioning.

The Great Pyramid of Giza on the left and the slightly smaller Pyramid of Khafre on the right. The lime casing stone on the top still exist after lower sections was removed to build other temples.

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Sitting on one of the massive casing stones (estimated to have used 2,3 million of these stones to build the Great Pyramid of Giza – one of them could weigh up to 9 tonnes. In the background is the Pyramid of Khafre.

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I only did this camel ride for the photo. I don’t like riding horses, but for me a camel is even more uncomfortable.

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The Great Sphinx of Giza – the Terrifying One. A limestone statue of a reclining sphinx, a mythical creature with the body of a lion and the head of a human.

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Sun setting over the three pyramids.

In the evenings, a Pyramids Light and Sound show are presented – these are photos taken from the guest house.

On Wednesday we visited Sakkara, Memphis (always thought Memphis is in the States) and Dahshur. Sakkara, is an ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis  and the oldest complete stone building complex known in history.  Memphis became the capital of Ancient Egypt for over eight consecutive dynasties during the Old Kingdom. The Dahshur pyramids, the place where they learned to transition from step-sided pyramids to smooth-sided pyramids.

The tombs at Sakkara. My guide at one of the entrances and an example of well preserved hieroglyphics inside the tombs.

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The Step Pyramid of Djoser at Sakkara – these were built before the smooth sided pyramids.

The colossal statue of Ramesses II dates back 3,200 years, and was originally discovered in six pieces in a temple near Memphis. Weighing some 83-tonne.

The Bent Pyramid built under the rule of King Sneferu on the right was the first attempt at building a smooth sided pyramid, but proved to be an unsuccessful build due to the miscalculations made on the structural weight that was being placed onto the soft ground. On the left is the second pyramid of Dahshur, the Red Pyramid, which is is believed to be the resting place of King Sneferu.

On the left, going down in the Red Pyramid to the tomb – a small and inclined corridor one need to descent and ascent in a crouched position – hot and stuffy inside. On the right is one of the tomb chambers (relatively small). It is a massive construction for such a small tomb, but as one Egyptian visitor said – it is for ”eternal life”.

The Wednesday night I was supposed to go on a dinner cruise on the Nile. This turned out to be a bit of a disappointment – I was send with a driver that could not speak English and he also could not find the place. After 2¼ hours in peak traffic and a car without air conditioning I told him to take me back as I was in dire needs of a cold shower. At the end it was a three hour trip for nothing. All this, the state of the guest house as well as the WIFI not working , I moved over to the Hayat Pyramids View Hotel – what a contrast. Mr Galam Eibad and his staff  was so helpful. I could immediately connect to the WIFI and had a very nice breakfast on the terrace.

The last night I walked on my own across to the Pyramids Restaurant and had a very good meal for only about R 100. I ended off the evening – a bit costly – with a local beer on the terrace before going to bed.

The next morning I was picked up by the taxi driver – yet another surprise – he was well spoken in English. He told me lot a about the areas we drove through. We also drove through the city and I also saw some parts of the city (newer) that were extremely clean.

On check-inn at the airport, I had the option to fly out 2 hours later for a 125 GBP compensation. As I had time, I immediately took this option to make up for some of my “losses” at the guest house. Added to this, the flight was empty and had three seats for myself which made the flight very comfortable. And so off to the UK…for yet another part of the trip. Hope all go as planned.

The 12 Year Wait……

Contributed by Annemarie Roberts (Bennie’s oldest daughter).

On Saturday, 21 July I waited outside the London Gatwick international arrival gate for my father (Bennie)…. A moment I have long given up on ever experiencing after 12 years of living in England.

And there he was! He has a fear of flying which adds to the incredibly tough journey he has already endured to get here. My mother Elsie came with him to visit us in Tonbridge, a town in the county of Kent, situated in the southeast of England, about an hour from London.

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While I am sorry that my father couldn’t do his whole drive as planned, we are terribly happy to have him here with us in the ‘first world’ so he can experience a part of the world outside of Africa and experience our lifestyle here.

The first weekend was pretty much spent recuperating from the exhausting journey to here. There was also a lot of sleeping to adjust to the much lower altitude. We have enjoyed some (easy!) drives around the scenic countryside, saw our local park and lake and he had his first pint at the country pub in a local village. Tonbridge has a beautiful castle built by the Normans in the 13th century. We had the pleasure of watching an open air movie next to this spectacular site on Sunday night.

We also took some time out to plan the rest of the UK holiday (which will include a brief trip to Wales and Scotland) and a few other must sees like the Cotswolds, stone henge and London. It is unusually and exceptionally hot in England at the moment, which appears to be the biggest challenge for my parents, but I am hoping the nice comfortable bed, smooth roads and a good hot shower will make up for it!

It is is the best feeling to see my father and mother spending time with the three grandchildren who are 4, 2 years and 9 months old. We hope the days will drag past slowly.

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