Africa In Focus – On The Road At Last!

Finally!  Almost free of South Africa – not that you’d really want to be free of it.  One couldn’t ask for a more a beautiful country and we wish we’d seen more: Cape Town and environs, Citrusdal and the countryside in between were about it. But we are free in a sense of moving on toward large, hairy mammal-creatures and especially the “big five”.

It is the morning of Oct. 14, 2009 when the largely unacquainted tourists pile out of the Bellevue Manor B&B at 7am sharp and head for the truck, loaded with all their possessions.  This is the first day of 21 spent together: the routine truck/camping life were unknown at this point, what exactly we’d see and where precisely we’d go, unknown.  North, north to  Namibia and beyond which was as well because from Cape Town it is quite impossible to  go south.

Piling out of the Bellvue Manor the first morning

The “truck” or referred to as “bus” by numerous people was named, Benji. All trucks carrying tourists on the route from Cape Town to Nairobi have name: Billy, Benji, Tigger. Ours was Benji: this is he.

Benji in front of Bellevue Manor the first morning

You can see Chiyemi listening to the driver and guide. Also you may see that we would be sitting waaay up high, that there is a row of compartments visible below, probably a meter or so off the ground. These latter were our personal storage lockers – reachable only when the bus, er, truck stopped. The passengers were separated from the crew by a small pass-way and I’ll try to dig up a photo of that later. It’s buried in the 8500 Africa photos. Here’s our storage compartment. It’s lockable and required a bit of thought to get what you needed into the truck before taking off for a drive – until a pee stop, say, when you could snag something from down below.

Terry and Chiyemi's exterior storage: 1m wide and 1.5m deep more or less

We had a nice big storage locker inside also and I will try to dig out a picture of that, as well, unless one of our companions happens to have a picture I can use. Imagine a space in front of our two seats (we’re all in rows two abreast with an aisle down the middle) with a 1.5m wide locker, roughly .6m deep and similarly tall. Nice for putting what you’d need during the day. Good place to rest your feet, as well.

The four days we spent on the Cape of Good Hope were a memory. Everyone (16 tourists and crew of 3) loaded onto Benji our intrepid truck with the estimable Will at the wheel where he would spend the next 7000 miles or so, reaching Nairobi, Kenya November 29. After a stop at a grocery store, we hot footed it out of South Africa like our tails were on fire.

First Supermarket Stop - South Africa

Shopping at the supermarkets along the way (you might have envisioned primitive little mud huts selling bags of potato chips, six packs and bars of soap, but that would be Central America). Along the Cape Town to Nairobi “tourist highway” large, clean, well-stocked supermarkets like Choppies were the rule and where we would stop every couple days to stock up – 19 people eat a LOT of food!

We also looked for ice quite often to put into one of the various coolers (or as the Brits or the Aussies called them “Eskies” as in Eskimo, I suppose). Sometimes we even found it but not always. Then what meat, cheese and very perishable veggies were popped into either the smallish freezer compartment loaded in front of us passengers or back in the kitchen storage which was on the back of the truck: both small but better than the alternative.

Last view of Cape Town - Day 1

Water you might ask? Well, we all carried our own water bottles with us on the truck and could refill these in the clean water tank on the back of Benji. Not cold, not even cool, but wet!

The occasionally iced “Eskies” held sodas, water that we hoped would cool before we were compelled to drink, beer (I must say, African beer was nearly a total loss but we drank it nonetheless), tonic water for the gin fizzies we shared along the hot, dusty trail. Cries of “Where’s my Tusker (a local brand)” were not uncommon as someone had grabbed the wrong longneck.

First lunch on Benji by the side of the road - South Africa

I will, with your permission, spend a bit more time on the kitchen-karma details of the trip because you might be asking yourself: “What would it be like to travel through Africa for 42 long days, hot rainy weather, cold dark nights with wild animals wandering about, camping, cooking, cleanup, bathing and eliminating in unknown lands with a great lot of total strangers?” Well you might ask. I would frankly worry about you if you didn’t ask!

South African vista - from the road day 1

To begin: there were duties assigned by George, our nominal tour leader.  A daily list  rotating through 1) bus cleanup, 2) food prep (possibly at each meal), 3) dish washing and cleanup (yuk! everyone hated this for multiple reasons).  Plus there were duties involved in setting up each meal and individual tent/sleeping setup at each place we camped.  This kept everyone together (at least on the 1st half of the trip) as we were assigned to teams of three.  No husband/wife combos were permitted: Chiyemi was on one team, I on another.  There were 5 teams total and two of them got to relax each day.

Having two slack days in  a row was nice as the other three teams did one of the previously mentioned chores.  Everyone got to set up their own tent, drag out their own mat (we had a 8 cm foam mat  provided), and set up their own sleeping location.  This occasionally led to races for the “best possible camping location” for the fleet of foot.  Everyone also got to set up for breakfast (if we weren’t set up from the night before) and everyone set up for lunch (chairs, tables, water, silverware, etc).

Meanwhile, there was plenty to see on the road – though taking photographs “on the fly” was a challenge!  Everyone had a nice big window next to them (or next to their seat-mate).  We had airline style, reclinable seats that were extraordinarily comfortable.  I reckon we spent 150 to 200 hours in these same seats over the next 6+weeks.  What we saw was nothing less than remarkable!

Approaching Namibia - Day 1

I think that’s quite enough for one day. Here we are on the road at last and furry mammals in our sights.

12 Responses to “Africa In Focus – On The Road At Last!”

  1. 1 Marjorie Ratner
    March 7, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Thanks for the wonderful photos and narrative. The layered rocks above Capetown are quite wonderful, with lots of previous erosion. Thousands of years? Millions of years? I think the latter.

  2. 2 Marjorie Ratner
    March 7, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    The photo of the mountain peak above Capetown shows a splendid rock bedding–and lots of erosion over many thousands of years. Millions? Of course. Thank you for these glimpses into the land!

    • March 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

      Thanks, Marjorie!
      I very much appreciate the thoughtful and detailed comment and, of course, the kind words. You are naturally welcome to use any of these photos you like in your rocks class. Wikipedia says the top of Table Mtn. is Ordovician sandstone – 480-450 MYA. Your keen eye caught the characteristic layers.

      It’s an absolutely spectacular location (very windy) but with a sweep of ocean around front and back of the peninsula on which Cape Town is located.

      The statues were quite beautiful, solid, lively and I put them in to point out that South Africa has a huge amount of history and recognition (we could ALL learn) to make peace with our enemies. I’m sure there are still plenty of problems but we saw much to make us optimistic.

      I don’t know that there are more varied plants in South Africa or the southern Africa that we saw but they are definitely much, much different than we see here. Other than the exotics, it seemed that all the plants were all different. It’s odd, but going to South America, the plants are wildy different but not so different in structure. The baobab tree that you are probably familiar with is a good example. It seems that it is the prototype for a whole series of trees that are simply shaped and constructed on a different evolutionary line.

      You could probably go back to when the Americas spun off across the Atlantic from Pangea 135 MYA. Would be interesting to know what plant evolution was doing then – the early Cretaceous (according to Wiki) had wide spread, but not predominant angiosperm/flowering plants. That awaited the coevolution of bees.

  3. March 5, 2010 at 3:17 am

    Hej Terry and Chiyemi!

    Nice to travel here with you again and remember the trip. From a cold and “snöigt” Sweden.

    Birgitta and Arnold

    • March 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

      Birgitta & Arnold,
      So nice to hear from you! This is one of the main reasons for doing the blog, you know. Sorry about the snow in Sweden, but, after all is Sweden you know. 😉 My best to Anders and Netta. Not sure whether they are reading the blog or exactly who’s email I’ve got for distribution. I hope all is well with you as it is with us. Hope to see you on the trail again!
      -Terry & Chiyemi

  4. 6 Larry Kellogg
    March 3, 2010 at 2:22 am

    Terry, this looks like really great trip. Would you consider putting together a Community Lecture (formerly one-shot) for OLLI?

  5. 8 Barbara Keen
    March 2, 2010 at 12:37 am

    Fun seeling their way of life, and how you guys experienced it! Terry, you are wonderful to keep us tenderfoots enlightened with your wonderful photos. Thanks, Barbara

  6. 9 Ray
    March 1, 2010 at 11:50 pm

    Very nice Terry, this is truly a journey to enjoy. I was a bit worried when you broke up into teams of three and not with your mates………especially when the statement was preceded by setting up tents.

    Thank God I had that wrong………..all kidding aside, this is great.


  7. 10 Brian Bechtel
    March 1, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Fantastic Voyage! Really great to see all the details of life on the road. Keep it up!

  8. 11 Dean Farrell
    March 1, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Terry. . . . Thanks for all of the good pictures and comments from both Ecuador (where we attended the same school) and Africa. You have certainly got a lot oput of both places and thanks for sharing.

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