7280 kms complete – Fish river canyon, Orange river and Cape Town

Day 358 – Sossusvlei to Fish River Canyon

Our long drive day took us to fish river canyon in South Namibia. We had a stop by the side of the road to prepare our slightly repetitive salad sandwiches. The fish river bed was completely dry and Gita and I climbed down into it to explore. A few goats drank from the small puddle of water remaining. As we ate large cargo trucks chucked up dust to enjoy with our sandwiches, as well as coating us with a film of dirt, the real African tan.

The campsite was set out like a western town, lots of old vehicles and an atmospheric bar which had old cars and parts parked inside. After we showered, an exercise more to get cool than clean, we headed out to Fish river canyon. It is the second largest canyon in the world after Grand Canyon and is estimated to be 350 million years old but still I had under estimated it’s grandeur. It is 160kms long, 27kms wide and at the deepest point, 550metres deep. It’s colours, inlets and depth are difficult to photograph, it’s stunning. We walked along side the canyon for 1km, then found the viewpoint where we would watch the sun disappear behind the rock.

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Day 359 – Fish river canyon to South Africa border

From our last stop in Namibia we headed for the South Africa border. Although Namibian dollars and rand are tied one to one and you can spend both in Namibia, in South Africa they won’t acknowledge or even exchange Namibian dollars. Christa said this is because Namibia denied the SA president to buy a farm in Namibia because he wasn’t a citizen and this is the response!

At the border crossing the workers seemed intent on causing a problem for our Kenyan staff, making problems with his visa and threatening to arrest him for a mistake which had been made when he entered the country. Although not immediately apparent to me, this attitude seems to be a bit too prevalent in Namibia.

The orange river divides South Africa from Namibia and unlike the fish river, is usually full as the water flows all the way from Drakensburg which has a high rainfall. It is the longest river in Southern Africa and we camped beside it on the South African side. In the hot afternoon we filled hundreds of water balloons and had a big fight which was hilarious.

At the bar we were treated to a South African delicacy, the springbok shot made with half creme de menthe and half Amarula. To drink them you have to play springbokkie, impersonate a springbok with horns on your head, the shot being a watering hole, then the caller leads.
“I look above to check for eagle”
Reply “there is no eagle”
“I look down to check for snake”
“There is no snake”
“I look behind to check for lion”
“There is no lion”
“I look in front to check for hyena”
“There is no hyena”
*all drink the shot without using hands*

As the bar emptied we sat talking to the barman and the conversation inevitably turned to South Africa’s history. He told us how being “born free” aka after 1994 means he sees things differently to his parents and grandparents who still show racial prejudices.

We had decided not to put up tents and Barbara, Gita, Sven, Gio, Petra, Christa and I were to sleep under the stars. It was a beautifully warm, and somewhat short night.

Day 360 – Orange river to the Cederberg valley

We awoke to Steve hitting a frying pan next to our heads as an alarm, but the smell of bacon wafting through camp.

Our first stop was a little town called Springbok which had a few amenities but was nestled in beautiful hilly countryside. The region gets flowers at this time of year, a huge contrast from the dry deserts of Namibia. The long, straight and Tarmac(!) roads winding through lush vegetation and mountainous roads.

At highlanders camp we put up our tents for the last time and hit the pool. As out last meal from the truck was lunch the chef thought it safe to play tricks and as I was preparing lunch with him I helped him hide a plastic cockroach in the salad. It was a funny reaction to discovering that whilst preparing sandwiches. It was a scorching afternoon. It was also the last meal of flapping plates dry.

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Cederberg valley is a big wine producing area where the valley vineyards spread as far as the eye can see. As the afternoon cooled we had wine tasting up at the bar with the other overland truck. The first a Sauvignon blanc, followed by a Shiraz, a sweet desert rose, a sparkling rose and finally an African ruby wine. The ruby wine had hints of roibos tea and spices in it, almost like a port. Between wines we would put a bit of water in the glass to drink and clean the cup, except Sven who refused declaring “I am not a dishwasher.”

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Dinner was Poitje and rice served with fresh bread and apricot jam, a delicious local dish. Everyone’s favourite wine, the desert rose was 40 rand, about £2.30 a bottle and spirits were high. Our chef, Joseph was teaching us words in Swahili, including the words “I love you” which turned into an unofficial marriage ceremony.

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Day 361 – Cederberg valley to Cape Town

The night drew to a close around midnight, and the alarm sounded at 4:30am. We waved goodbye to our tent which was staying for the next group and headed for Cape Town.

The pass through the Valley was beautiful my description of scenery now begins to fall short, so yeah, it was nice. At our toilet stop, the tour guides mum met us with little packages of homemade goodies, a tradition to meet her daughter everytime she was passing through. Each person got a parcel containing a quiche, sausage roll, lemon bite, chocolate cupcake and red velvet cupcake. From here, the last 100kms to Cape Town the fog descended.

In Cape Town we were staying in a backpackers with a beautiful comfy bed but in true tour style there was only time to dump the bags before we were being picked up for a township tour.

We headed to Khayelitsha, and the first stop was corrugated tin shacks, no electricity or running water supplied this place and the abolitions was the back of the settlement. As the children saw our car they ran out to meet us. The guide told us about the conditions here, the broken promises made by the ANC to provide facilities for these people. In his previous election campaign, Jacob Zuma promised running water and electricity to every home in this area and achieved only 10%. People are awakening to the corruption as he built himself a 20million rand house. When he said any questions I asked whether he felt safe standing as he stood, calling out the current government on counts of corruption and neglect, and he replied he felt perfectly safe, that the people of this area welcomed him, were grateful for his work.

Inside the shack, a small two room place the size of most peoples one room, lived 8 people with minimal possessions. A wire trailed across the ceiling hanging with a fashioned bit of wire, electricity stolen from a nearby estate to power TV. Despite two police forces functioning here the guide told us how they are often scared or oblivious to intervene and township justice is passed in the forms of beatings or necklacing. Sadly drugs and alcohol transfix teenagers early and the lack of education makes this cycle hard to break.

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We drove on to a potent meat market which supplied the area. The area of housing developed with some areas having small brick dwellings with water or electricity supplies. At the side of the road chickens were being plucked and boiled and sheep head laid ready to be sent to market. Our guide said here we were to enjoy local delicacies and prepared a feast of Sheep head, pigs head and liver. Liver was served first with a combination of salt and spice. A small chunk was not that hard to stomach, as long as you didn’t think about where it had been prepared. Next came the pigs face, he carved off the skin and snout in one movement and diced the meat for us to try. Although reluctant, once in a smaller chunk it was easier to cope with. Lastly the Sheep head which about 50 rand, it was hard to believe this could feed anyone. The face was presented cut in half and flattened so both eyes faced forward. Despite his persuasions the eyeball was not taken up by anyone. Under the skin on the cheekbone there was a surprising amount of meat and we sampled it. It was more of a light meat like chicken rather than lamb. Finally the tongue was offered up, and despite the visible tastebuds and strange texture it was surprisingly edible!

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Having taken on the meat challenge he upped the stakes and took us to a wooden shack, or the pub. Although it was hard to tell, I think this was a genuine hang out of the local men as he went in ahead of us and asked if we could join them sitting around on the bench which lined the walls. The "beer" was foamy, cloudy and beige in colour, served in a pasta sauce bucket to be passed around, 24 rand for 5 litres. By the time it got to me the bucket had been passed through 8 people and it was clear you were beyond any hygiene so not to think too much, but the beer was lumpy and tasted like mushrooms, maybe an acquired taste. All the time the guide would purchase things from the local people and leave our leftovers to them.

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Our last stop was a lunch stop, Mzolis meat. This place has a famous reputation and we sat inside tented sides on plastic furniture and a tray of meat was presented to us, sausages and chicken wings. It all tasted amazing, bring your own drinks, finger food. On a Sunday afternoon this place transforms into a party, locals and tourists, drinking, dancing and meat.

Having seen very little of the city but knowing it as a first world tourist destination, it was a shocking realisation of the forgotten realities of the township driving past poorly dressed children playing in scrap metal and rubbish, living in varying levels of squalor.

We were driven back to the hostel and went out exploring. Our hostel wasn't far from the famous long street and we walked through company gardens to get to it. Long street is described as the lively part of the street, bars, restaurants, night clubs and coffee shops. It isn't as upmarket as I expected, some cute spots contrasted with tired looking shop fronts. Walking only a few metres you are confronted not only with begging but also strange requests, please may I sing for you? I don't want money but please can you buy me food?

We walked to the V and A waterfront and here was the posh shop fronts, 5 star hotels and seafood restaurants. The first things you notice are the Ferris wheel, food market and Nobel square, a recognition to this countries 4 Nobel prize winners, Nelson Mandela, De Klerk – the president who negotiated peace with Mandela, Desmond tutu and Arthur Luthuli.

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Gita, Sven and I ate looking back at table mountain and talking about our plans, a sad realisation tour was over!

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Day 362

After a leisurely breakfast to mark the end of tour we headed onto the well known long street. Cape Town was raining and looking a bit miserable so after perusing shop windows we ducked into a cafe at Green Market. When we emerged the rain had stopped enough for us to explore the stalls. The friendly stall holders made us giggle letting us know their curios had international passports and would love to go abroad, at this point believing we were all Swedish!

The 12pm cannon sounded from Signal Hill and we headed to the waterfront where we were to meet the others for our day out at Robben Island, meaning Seal island in Afrikaans. Despite being told to wait at the departure centre at 12:30 for a 1pm departure, the queue snaked around well past one, checking through security at 1:30, and finally boarding the boat at two, African time! The crossing was nearly an hour, despite being only 11km.

On the island we were taken on a bus tour. The islands many layers of history were represented in different ways.

1652-57 – Landing place for ships and first settlers of Cape town
1657 -1700 – Used for importing of slaves to Cape Town
1700 -1809 – The Dutch East India company used it as an outpost for prisoners
1809 -1845 – Used as a British prison
1846- 1931 – Used to house the sick and those with leprosy.
1931-61 – Through WW2 used as a military outpost and later for the navy
1952-91 – Apartheid political prison, only black, coloured or Indian prisoners.
1991-96 – After the release of all political prisoners it was used for common law until it was turned into a national monument in 1996.

We drove past the quarries where prisoners were put to hard labour, often supplying the town with materials, including the limestone to build the castle of good hope. Hard labour was often the cause of poor health and Nelson Mandela suffered with TB during his time on the island. There is also the cells of high profile prisoners of other tribes, such as chiefs and foreign leaders captured and imprisoned here. The Kramat is the memorial to Sheikh Madura who was exiled in the 1740’s and died on Robben Island. We passed through the community which still resides here made up of some ex prisoners and their families and also some prison guards who live alongside them. The island has a school and church and a few amenities. We stopped at the bottom of the island to look back at the beautiful table mountain and long for land as many of the prisoners may have done.

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The second part of the tour took place in the prison, led by an ex political prisoner. He started in C block, an area of large communal cells. D block held prisoners from Namibia’s political fight for freedom. Nelson eventually got his own cell in B block which we were taken to see. The courtyard where prisoners would spend their days had photos of the prisoners playing tennis and volleyball. We were told they would sometimes use tennis balls to pass messages to other sections. Mandela’s first manuscript of Long walk to freedom was hidden in this impound before being found by the guards and destroyed. Despite being full of information, the building felt quite sterile and unemotional.

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The boat ride back was beautiful as we had in sight the mountain which dwarfs the city. The temperature was dropping and we taxied back to the hotel for a hasty goodbye where I met my cousin Michael.

Now for a week in Cape Town.

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