Cape to Cairo officially begins

Day 1

On September 5th I left Cape Town with fellow traveler, Nick. Our first destination was Namaqualand National Park in the Northern Cape. We were hoping to see the blooming of the wildflowers, which is supposed to be an incredible site. Arriving on time to see this is an exact science, and we missed the main bloom, but there were still tons of beautiful flowers to be seen.
Namqualand wildflowers2
From there we traveled up to Ai-Ais National Park in Namibia. I was a little worried about having trouble crossing the border, since my South African travel visa had been expired for almost 3 months. I was fined R1500 (about $190), but luckily I was told that I could pay when I re-enter the country. Score! Ai-Ais is popular because of a hot spring there, so you know I was stoked to check it out. It turns out the hot water from the spring is diverted into a pool. Rather then relax in steamy hot water, you swim in a luke-warm pool. The air temperature was pretty cold, so I wasn’t into it.

The next day we headed north to Fish River Canyon, but were sidetracked to the Canon Lodge in Gondwanaland when Nick noticed some buildings blending into the mountainside. We decided to check them out and found a cool resort and sustainable farm. All of their food is grown and made on the farm. After several delicious meals we were finally ready to head on to Fish River Canyon. This beautiful area is very much like the Grand Canyon, so I felt right at home.
Fish River Canyon
A couple of Swiss travelers we camped next to suggested visiting the Giant’s Playground and Quiver tree forest near Keetmanshoop. I had already fallen in love with the quiver trees on the drive there. The Giant’s Playground is a boulder field, with huge rocks stacked on each other, as though they were a child’s building blocks. Keetmanshoop is a small town with not much going on, but the Quiver tree campground was a nice place to stay, and they have daily cheetah feedings that you can view up close, and even pet the cheetah.
Giant's playground2
After leaving Keetmanshoop we had a long drive to make it to our next destination of Sesriem, from which you enter Soussusvlei, the most beautiful dunes in the world. We had the good fortune of stopping to camp at the Lovedale farm. A very interesting man named Jacobus gave us a tour of the enormous farm, and told us everything we could ever want to know about farming sheep. That night we feasted on bbq mutton.

Soussusvlei was beautiful and frustrating at the same time. The “town” of Sesriem, is really just a campsite and a reception desk from which to purchase entry into Soussusvlei. There is a gated entrance into the campsite, and then an internal gate on the road to Soussusvlei. From Sesriem it is a 65km drive to the dunes. The entrance fee to Soussusvlei is fairly reasonable at R80 per person, plus R10 per car. The campsite, however, is a huge rip-off at R300 per car plus R150 per person. The catch is, if you want to enter the park in time to see the sunrise, and stay long enough to see the sunset you are forced to stay in the campsite because they control the gates. I would have had no problem with this except the receptionist was on a bit of a power trip, the showers barely worked, and the ‘toilets’ at the dunes were…well, I’ll just say they could be better. Also, if your car gets stuck in the sand, you’re on your own. There are no park rangers or telephones, and no cell-phone reception. There are no other campsites in the area, but Nick and I camped on the side of the road just outside the gate for free. Other than that, the dunes were amazing. I think the pictures speak for themselves.
From there we went northwest to the coast, and a little town called Swakopmund. There are more cool dunes in here, and some of them even sparkle! The first 2 nights we stayed at the Seagulls Cry campsite, but had some items stolen while visiting with other campers. Turns out leaving the car doors wide open in a dark campsite and walking away is a bad idea, go figure. It was an unfortunate, but valuable learning lesson about choosing travel partners. Consequently, I am on my own again. For the next couple of days I stayed with a really cool girl named Eva and her cousin Elias. Now I’m staying with Tashia and Dalene in Windhoek. I’m telling you, there are such awesome people on Couchsurfing. I feel like I’m making best friends all over the world, and I love it!

Check out my awesome new friends
Today I head to Livingstone and Victoria Falls. Believe it or not, I am excited to be back on the bus. When planning trips, most people instantly start looking for flights to their destination and rental cars to get around. They don’t even consider taking the bus or a train. People are totally missing out! I love using public transportation, and here are a few reasons why:

1. See the countryside
Sure, it’s a 10-hour bus ride instead of a 2-hour flight, but think of all the beautiful landscapes, funny farm animals, and unusual attractions you’ll see. There are great photographic opportunities, especially when you arrive or leave a city at sunset (which I will be doing today from Windhoek). Plus, if you factor in the ride to the airport, the time you wait before boarding the plane, and standing around to get your baggage afterwards, the time difference probably isn’t that much.
2. Meet cool people

Turns out, that creepy-looking guy sitting next to you is actually a German diplomat, and has cool travel stories from all over the world. He even flew with Nelson Mandela once. You never know whom you’ll meet, or what crazy stories you’ll hear if you talk to people.
There is also the chance that a local will give you good advice about where to go, and may even help you get there. Once I had a 10-hour layover in Port Elizabeth. A local offered to show me around the city for the day, and we had a great time! (Thanks Farai ☺)

3. Music therapy

No one to talk to? Awesome, this is my chance to finally listen to the new music I picked up in Cape Town. I think Blk Sonshine is my new favorite band. Really, when do you ever get to just sit and listen to music?

4. Cute kids

Kids can be a great source of entertainment, especially when they are doing funny things like stuffing their mouths with marshmallows (I so wish I had taken a picture). If the kid is actually interested in you (and the mother doesn’t seemed disturbed by you), it’s a great opportunity to do kid things, like coloring. Worried about crying kids? Carry some marshmallows with you, just in case.

5. Environmentally friendly

Don’t forget that air travel has a huge impact on the environment. Here is a chance to reduce your carbon footprint. Plus airplanes are pumped full of nasty chemicals, so you will be saving your body too.

6. Saves money
Not only is public transportation cheaper, but also it may allow you to spread your money to more people by stopping for food at local shops. I always take overnight buses, that way I won’t have to spend money on a hostel.

7. Practice your language skills
Even if you only know a few basic phrases, people in other countries will love hearing you speak their language. You will probably learn a lot as well, so be sure to have a notebook with you. This is another time when little kids come in handy. If you’re in Madagascar, know that they will laugh hysterically at you. Don’t worry, it’s a good thing.

Many people avoid public transportation because they are afraid. Certainly there are a few places where taking trains may be dangerous, but more often it just requires being cautious and aware of your surroundings. Remember, what you focus on is attracted to you. So think positively and smile at those around you. For me, this works every time. So go take a bus trip somewhere…go now!


2 thoughts on “Cape to Cairo officially begins

  1. Maureen, I love this posting, the photos and what you're doing. I run South Africa Travel Online and plan to draw my readers attention to this post in a future newsletter.

    Glad you enjoyed the Quiver Tree Forest and Devil's Playground. Here's a write-up of Keetmanshoop we did recently.

    Keep up the great writing.

  2. Maureen, just a quick note to let you know that we linked to this post from our weekly travel newsletter.

    You may have noticed a bump in your web traffic!

    Bon Voyage,
    Rob & Karen

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