[Jeff 01.12.16] With the bike shipping in hand, it's time we saw ourselves off too. The airport checkin queue was quiet but the security screening is slow and it takes ages to get through. Unfortunately Sally has discarded the sling for her arm, so no priority treatment for us today.
We're flying Turkish airlines to Istanbul first. We board the plane, as I approach our seats I see someone is sitting in mine (I hate it when this happens because it inevitably means they don't understand the seating allocations). I show him my ticket but he doesn't seem to get that I should be in the window seat and keeps nodding and pointing to the seat next to him. It takes a lot of convincing to get him up and out, by this time other people are starting to butt in, including a Turkish pirate (a guy with a gammy eye) standing behind us who thinks it's us who don't understand and also keeps pointing at the other seat. Nonetheless, it's eventually sorted and we can slot ourselves in for the first 10 hours.
In Istanbul we have a 10 hour layover, our next flight is at 2:45am so we collect our bags and take a cheap hotel a few kilometers from the airport to get a shower and some sleep in a proper bed. At 11pm feeling much refreshed we head back to the airport, this time both checkin and security screening is quite fast. We expected to go through passport control, but there was none which felt quite strange. Finally we boarded the plane for the final 12 hour flight to Cape Town.
Cape Town at last! It's 1:00pm, a reasonable time to arrive in a new city. Instead of rushing out of the airport we go to the Vodacom counter and buy prepaid sim cards, (our global sims that we bought in Argentina are expensive to top up). We also check on our shipment, the bikes have arrived so we call the cargo agents. They tell us that we first need to call customs and arrange an inspection. When we call customs we're in for a small surprise, they tell us that we can't deal with them directly - we need a customs agent. We'll leave it for the moment, I don't see us getting anywhere while sitting in the airport so we go and fetch a taxi to Woodstock at the 'Wish U Were Here' hostel.
Settled in at the hostel we start looking for a customs agent. I happen across a company called 'African Overlanders' [http://www.africanoverlanders.com/], who handle shipping. Sally gives them a call and although they can't help directly the guy kindly offers to call a customs agent he knows for us. Later that evening the customs agent, Peter contacts us and says he'll pop by in the morning to pick up our Carnets and arrange a customs inspection. With nothing left to do today we go out for a beer and find a great little micro-brewery a kilometre up the road. The area we're in is deemed by the tourist information office to be 'reasonably safe', so keeping one eye open for trouble we don't feel too much at risk walking around after dark.
True to his word, Peter arrives promptly the next morning to pick up our Carnets, we also sketch out a quick letter of authority for Peter to act on our behalf although this probably isn't necessary but always better to go with more rather than less when dealing with authorities. While we wait for word from Peter (the inspection is unlikely to happen today anyway), we go to buy some maps at a shop about 5km away. It's a hot, dusty and noisy walk beside a busy road through an industrial area full of plumbing supply shops and car wrecking yards, but this feels familiar as we tend to see this side of cities quite a lot in search of tyres, oil and so on. After we buy the maps we decide a taxi back is a better option and later we discover that Cape Town has Uber, then our minds are made up, it's Uber from now on since it's so cheap even compared to public transport. Peter calls and says that everything went well and customs are available the next day to do the clearance.
It's Friday and Peter picks us up on his way to the airport along with two helpers, Joe and Kris. Flashing our passports to the security guard we're allowed to enter the warehouse. There's the usual waiting around, the idea is for the customs agent to come and inspect the bikes as we're opening the crate, but after a long while and several calls they tell us to go ahead and unpack them and they'll inspect it afterwards. All hands get stuck into opening the crate, making some effort not to damage it too much as Peter is going to give it to the African Overlander guys to reuse at some point. The bikes are assembled in no time (Peter and co are surprised, but we've done it a few times now), and we ride around to the customs office. We'd left some fuel in them this time (no one said anything at the Toronto side so we didn't drain it out). Peter, who had gone on ahead of us, comes out as we approach and says it's all done and we can go. Customs just looked at a photo Peter had taken of the VIN's and stamped our Carnets. We simply gear up and ride back to the Hostel, all done by 1:30pm, a record!!!
The rest of our time in Cape Town is spent looking around, visiting the Waterfront and the terrific Aquarium. In the city I liked Long Street very much with it's eclectic mix of bars and restaurants - the food scene here was a real surprise, absolutely world class. We take a ride down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, and rode the amazing Oudekraal road along the coast.
The trip to Cape Point was unfortunately marred by an incident which reminds us to be wary of how we act. We were standing in line to buy tickets for the funicular, there's a group of French or Belgian tourists in front of us accompanied by a black man (he may have also been a tourist or could have been a guide, I'm not sure which). Standing just off to the side is another French or Belgian tourist pointing his bulky camera right at the black guy snapping away like some obnoxious wannabe paparazzo jerk. The black guy suddenly sees him and springs into a rage, vaulting forwards and grabbing for the camera. A vigorous tussle takes place between him and the jerk's friends for a long-lasting minute before it calms down. Faults on both sides I would say, I was surprised by the aggressive reaction from the black man, but no one likes having a huge lens pointed in their direction for unsolicited photos. It's a timely reminder for us, especially in Africa to always ask if it's ok to take a photo.
Back in Cape Town we have some more 'work' to do before leaving. We take another venture into the less savoury parts of town to buy enough Malaria medication to last until Egypt and get a prescription for some broad range antibiotics (just in case). We've stayed some extra time at the Wish U Were Here hostel trying to organise new Carnets as ours are expiring on December 17th. I applied for them back in Toronto and they were supposed to be delivered to Cape Town but this isn't going to happen. The main problem is the time difference with Australia, where business hours is between midnight and 8:00am for us, consequently if any questions arise it takes two days to answer. We now have to get the new Carnets sent to Windhoek in Namibia.
Finally in Cape Town we booked a trip to Robben Island, which has a long and varied history but is probably most famous for being the location of the prison where Nelson Mandela was interned from 1964 until 1982. later being moved to two other prisons before his release in 1990. The tour is one of those 'must do' activities for visitors to Cape Town, but I must say we were rather disappointed in most of it. As usual the tour company brandishes a big stick with the terms and conditions on your ticket saying you must arrive a half hour before the boat is scheduled to leave or you'll forfeit your ticket. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, yet we didn't get on a boat until an hour after the scheduled time. On the island, the prison lacked any interesting displays, there was a talk by a ex-prisoner, but it was a little too matter-of-fact and didn't give much insight into what life in the prison was like. After the prison tour there was a bus tour of the rest of the island, which was far more interesting than the prison tour and the guide on the bus was informative and witty. I wish things like this weren't considered such an essential part of a visit to Cape Town because I would have been happy to give it a miss if I'd known what to expect.
The guys at Wish U Were Here [http://www.wishuwereherecapetown.com/] have been awesome, especially Emma, Lourens and our friends in (and at) the insane bar (closing time 10pm...yeah right, we wish), Irene and Nikki. Thanks for the fun nights and memories (not so much for the hangovers). Irene, safe travels and most likely will see you on the road.
Leaving day, and we're up late again (thanks to that aforementioned bar and several of Irene's special Springbokkie 'deserts'), we pack, slowly - it always takes ages when we've been in one place a few days and spread out. Eventually we're on the bikes and head out through the middle of Cape Town. It's a really slow run out, but I must say it's not too bad riding here, drivers stick to their lanes, use their indicators, use their mirrors and acknowledge bikes as a vehicle that belongs on the road.
So, we're on our way, time to take a deep breath. It's said that Africa is not for sissies, it's a challenge. Between bad roads, tough border crossings, bureaucracy and many other allegations (which I'll not go into - until we experience them first hand), it's going to be tough and I hope we can persevere all the way to the north of Egypt.
The first day I picked a campsite (well...let's call it glamping since we can sleep in a prefab tent), at Cederberg Oasis, which takes us out through the Bain's Kloof pass and onto our first bit of dirt. We're cruising along nicely when our GPS directs us to turn off onto a small track which doesn't feel right, we pass a farm building and then the track turns to sand. We're trundling along slowly in the sand and I see the farmer come up behind us in his Land Cruiser Ute with about 10 kids in the back, so I pull over to let him pass and he stops beside us. He speaks Afrikaans but I get the gist and give him a thumbs up to signal that we're ok. He smiles back and waves as he heads off. We take the opportunity while we're stopped to check our GPS and see that it's decided to take us on a short cut through this farm, but we'll return to the main track soon. The last 5km to the Oasis are tough riding, it's steep downhill and rocky, but we arrive unscathed, although hot and dusty.
We have a quiet night, not many people staying there and the bar works on an honesty system so we don't see the owners much. It's pitch black outside and although the stars are putting on an incredible display above I'm trying not to think of all Africa's dangerous animals as we wonder back to the tent in the dark.
The next day we decide to head back to the coast. A few kilometres from the Oasis the road turns to soft sand, I get the inevitable big whooping head shake (of the bike, not my own) immediately as I try to slow down to warn Sally. We stop and gather our resolve and tentatively set off, I'm managing ok, but Sally dumps it and I turn around to lend a hand. Help has a funny way of just showing up as soon as you need it and this is no exception. Although we haven't seen another vehicle in ages, a French couple suddenly show up in their Land Cruiser and kindly help to lift the bike. Sally isn't hurt badly, just a bruise on her thigh. The soft sand continues for a few hundred meters, we both struggle through one particular patch which grabs my bike and turns it 90 degrees and also bogs Sally down, nevertheless we must be learning something as we manage to stay upright and wrestle them through. Another problem with a sandy road is that you lose trust in the road surface, so even when it's ok you still go slower then usual afterwards and really have to concentrate in case there are any soft patches.
We stopped in a small town on the way to Strandfontein for some lunch. As Sally was dismounting we heard a loud 'TSCHHHHHHHH' noise. I had only just realised what it was when Sally started coughing, followed by me a few seconds later and then people across the street a few moments after that. When Sally fell in the sand, the safety catch on her bear spray (which she has brought from Canada), must have fallen off. As she got off, her foot hit the trigger releasing a burst of peppery goodness right at us. It took several minutes for the air to clear.
Later we improvised a new safety catch (with cable ties of course), and relocated the can to a less vulnerable spot.
The remainder of the road was fine, but like I said we went slower than usual due to a lack of confidence in the surface integrity. The concentration was such that neither us immediately notice that the Atlantic Ocean had appeared in front of us and came as a surprise when we looked at the horizon again. The town we were staying in was Strandfontein (Afrikaans for Beach Fountain), we were gong to camp but couldn't because the office had closed at 5:00pm, so we opted for a homestay instead.
The main attraction in this area (Namaqua) is the wild flowers, unfortunately the time for it is August/September and we've well and truly missed the spectacle. We therefore decide to zip up the highway, but to get there we have a long slog along a sandy track first, it wasn't too bad and quite firmly packed but required a lot of concentration to take the best line. We end up at a town called Kamieskroon for the evening, and take a room at a hotel where we are the only guests and dine in a restaurant that they opened just for us. In the morning I'm woken to Sally waving her phone in my face, peering at it bleary-eyed I can see it's a photo of something but as my eyes and brain haven't had time to boot up I can't make it out. Sally is dancing around the room saying 'what do scorpions look like - is this a scorpion?'. 'Sure' I say and roll over to go back to sleep.
Sally won't have it and gets me up. 'Blimey!, it's massive' when I see it. It's hiding under the siding bathroom door, it's tail and sting sticking out one side and the claws and head out the other. I grab a shoe. As I shift the door it makes a break for cover and WHACK! job done. Sally who had been looking over my shoulder runs to the other side of the room bent double and dry retching, as I scoop the juicy remains into the bin. Right, as I'm up, may as well go for breakfast.
After we've eaten we hit the road for Springbok. It's only a short run so we decide to go to the supermarket and stock up on some rations, pasta, a tin of tuna, biscuits and so on, just enough for some snacks and a meal in case we find ourselves stuck with the shops closed. After the supermarket we were taking a rest in the shade when an energetic young woman comes bounding up 'I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!', it's our friend Irene from Wish U Were Here. We figured we would cross paths at some point but didn't expect it here, brilliant! A quick catch up and we all hit the road again.
We have a room in a nice brand spanking new hotel for just $6, thanks to reward points from Expedia. We need a good nights rest for tomorrow we cross our first African border - Namibia.
We're half expecting leaving South Africa to take a little time as there's a problem with our Carnets. The main issue with the whole Carnet system (apart from the cost and general pfaff of it all) is that no customs official at any border has a clue about how to use it properly. The resulting situation usually evolves one of two ways....
(a) Upon presentation of it, every customs officer in sight gathers around the Carnet, poking and prodding it, lifting and looking under it, turning it over, flicking through it over and over, before the wisest of the group all find something else to suddenly distract them and wander off, leaving the very least wise of the brood to deal with it. At which point we make our first attempt to help by pointing where needs to be filled in, signed and stamped. Unfortunately, they are by nature distrustful and usually refuse to admit that they need help until the situation becomes uncomfortable for them and they want us to go away.
(b) Upon presentation of it, the customs officer doesn't want to admit any level of ignorance so they take it and fill in every line in sight and cover it in stamps for good measure, before hurriedly pushing it back over the counter and going to lunch.
Unfortunately when we got our carnets endorsed in Australia, we met officer type (b), all he had to do was fill in and sign the front page, but before we could stop him, he also filled in and stamped the first export voucher. This is the one we will need today when we leave South Africa. They'll have to score out the parts that super-guard filled in and put their stamps over the top of the Australian ones. One thing in our favour is that the customs officer in Cape Town gave us her phone number and talked to the manager of the border post that we'll be passing through about it in case we run into trouble.
However, as usual when you expect trouble, there was none. The customs agent in Vioolsdrift knew about us (thanks to an email sent by the Cape Town officer) and did exactly what we needed, in no time we were headed down the road to the Namibian frontier. It was pretty straight forward there too, fill in the usual immigration forms, get our passports stamped, then we had to go to an adjacent office to pay some sort of road tax (AU$16), and then customs told us to go to the next office, which was the police where they checked our passports again and then back to customs. Here we met customs officers type (a) and eventually left with correctly filled in Carnets - Hoo-Rah!
And guess what, we see Irene again at the border.
We were planning to stay not far from the border at the Orange River Lodge, but they had no room, so we rode through a dead straight, desert highway to Grunau and found a cheap concrete cell...err, room, for the night. In the evening I was sitting in the reception area catching up on the blog, in the middle of trying to load some photos I realised that the internet connection had dropped out. When we asked about it the receptionist said "oh yes, the fridges will have been turned off, we turn them off at night"..............we're thinking ok, does the internet need to be kept cold??? There wasn't much more of an explanation as they didn't know how or why, but just that the internet was somehow connected to the fridges. Well, this is Africa.
The next day we ride through the Fish River Canyon, supposedly the second largest in the world after the Grand Canyon (as always the case with these things it depends on how it's measured). The roads are generally good, hard packed sand but horribly corrugated in spots. We ride to the main viewing point and then also ride up a 4WD track to a spot right on the edge on the canyon. That's enough for Sal and we leave to head to camp at Seeheim for the night.
Over the following few days we ride up to Namibia's capital city, Windhoek. Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world (after Mongolia), with a population of less than 2.5 million but an area twice the size of California. Windhoek has a population of around 325,000 making it the easiest capital city we have had to negotiate by far. We stay in a backpackers place called "The Cardboard Box" for a couple of days to have a look around then packed our bikes and headed for Swakopmund on the coast. On the way we stay at a town called Karibib where the mercury was nudging 40 degrees. Sally had left her boots and socks out on the patio for the night, proving not to be such a great idea as a thousand mosquitos moved into the warm, moist atmosphere that they offered.
The highways in South Africa and Namibia have shaded rest stops at regular intervals (something the U.S. highway builders could learn from), and it's as we're sitting at one of these a passing SUV turns around and pulls in. The couple are Jean and Letitia who are locals in Swakopmund and they invite us for a catchup when we're in town.
In Swakopmund we find a place to stay in some converted shipping containers. In the morning we swap two wheels for four and hire quad bikes in the desert. If only riding the bikes in sand was as easy. Later we visit the museum which was fully packed with all sorts of displays from archeological finds of early humans, local cultures, artifacts from the German colonisation, animal displays and on and on, so much that we had earned a beer at the adjoining cafe facing the beach by the time we were done. On the way back to our shipping container we bumped into Letitia and made plans to catch up the following day.
We left getting dinner a little late that night and couldn't find anywhere, so we had to dig into our emergency supplies and with only a kettle to 'cook' with it meant going with the 2 minute noodles. The next evening we caught up with Jean and Letitia and their friend Basil, a lodge owner who was a larger than life character. We had a great evening, they're bikers as well! We always seem to have the biggest nights out just before we leave a place and have to ride the next morning. Fortunately there is a cafe in town that does excellent coffee and knows how to make a restorative bacon sarnie.
Onwards from here, back through WIndhoek and then Botswana!