South Africa – The Wild Coast

We head for Ballito, a ritzy community about 40 KMs east of Durban.

Willard Beach

It’s very pleasant here. We stay for three days. Maria arranges to attend a yoga class at the exclusive Simbithi Country Club.

Then it’s back down the slab, through Durban to the Wild Coast.

This lies mainly in territory that used to be the apartheid-era homeland of Transkei.

The apartheid government probably meant to create this as a dumping ground for unwanted South Africans. But at least visually, it’s very pretty. Lots of green hills and empty spaces. Good for sheep and cattle.

Most people live in typical rural settlements. They’re picturesque, if not exactly luxurious.

The few cities in the area, such as Mththa and Dutywa, are pretty awful, like most African cities. (Dutywa, aptly enough, means “place of disorder” in the Xhosa language.)

The word ‘post-apocalyptic’ comes to mind

Lots of garbage, noise, and chaos. Lots of idle, drunken guys at 10 in the morning. Lots of crumbling buildings. We don’t linger.

Straight Outta Mthatha

It’s a relief to be back in the countryside. Nelson Mandela was born around here somewhere.

The hills are alive

Many people paint their houses in pastel colours.

One theory we have about the origins of the name “Wild Coast”: the sea is very rough in these parts. The roar of waves crashing on the rocky shore is our soundtrack for the next five days or so.

We spend three of those days at the Coffee Bay Campsite, set in lush indigenous forest, with a private beach. Sort of. Locals seem to to wander through at will and at all hours.

Not-so-private beach

Our constant companion is Frisky. (Pronounced “Frrrrisky”, with a heavily-rolled Afrikaans R.)

Good dog, Frisky

At night, he sleeps near our tent. During the day he sleeps, well, just about anywhere. As long as he’s around us.

He’s such a well-behaved dog. If we could, we’d bring him home and adopt him.

Our sidekick

(Sidebar story about adopting dogs: The Economist recently published a story about people in India going ga-ga over dogs as pets. We find it surprising that in an article describing how people are opting for Lhasa Apsos and other ‘pure’ breeds, there is no mention whatsoever of the estimated sixty-two million stray dogs in the country. These are the most wretched, miserable, diseased and cruelly-used creatures imaginable.

Then I realized – the author is probably an Indian national. We find that people who live in developing countries are oblivious to the everyday horrors that surround them. And it seems impolite to point them out.)

We drive to a local attraction, Hole-in-the Wall. We plan to hike there, but are surrounded by touts that just will not leave us alone. They claim we need a ”guide”.

So we go home again, with the Hole-in-the-Wall unseen. Next day, we drive into the nearest village to have one of our tires looked at.

The tire guy removes the tire, tests it for leaks, and puts it back on. The charge is 50 rand, or $3.59 CAD.

Sight or Insight of the Day

Hey, we forgot to mention something that happened in Botswana. In a previous entry, we mentioned a pair of Finnish women we met in Cape Maclear in Malawi.

While making a brief stop in a mini-mall in Kasane, Botswana, who do we see in the parking lot in their snazzy Land Rover? The Finnish pair! They had spent the intervening month or so traveling around Malawi and Zambia and were on their way to Namibia. We chat for five minutes and part ways again.

What are the odds that two parties, following completely different (and random) itineraries, encounter each other in the vastness of Africa? It was a kind of “Livingstone, I presume” moment.

After we first met them, they often came up in our conversation – their fearlessness, their completely realistic and un-romanticised approach to traveling in Africa, their tutoring us in the best way to repel monkeys. (One word: slingshots.)

Back in South Africa

We drive from Gaborone through the platinum-mining belt around Rustenburg to Pretoria.

We would’ve thought that Pretoria, as the capital of South Africa, would be more orderly than it is. Like most large South African cities (Cape Town being a glaring exception), the middle of town has been left to degenerate into a slummy, unsafe no-man’s land.

Church Square is about the only picturesque place in town.

Church Square

Our accommodation is in the slightly more upscale neighbourhood of Hatfield, where most of the embassies are. We still hear gunfire at night, though.

Dutch bank building in Church Square

The Pretoria Art Museum is our first stop. On its grounds is a memorial to our old friend Bartholemeu Dias.

With a quote from Camões

From the Pretoria Art Museum, we walk several kilometres through the town centre to Kruger House, the last home of potato-nosed president of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger.

Kruger House in Pretoria

We are told by a security guard there that we are taking a serious risk walking around central Pretoria, that at any moment we could be robbed of everything, including ‘the shoes on your feet’. We heed his advice and take an Uber home.

One day, we take the fast, safe Gautrain into Johannesburg to do some business and shopping. (The Gautrain uses Bombardier cars, I believe.)

The Drakensberg Mountains are a day’s drive away. We’re happy to say that the major highways are still in top shape. Being toll roads probably helps.

The N3 between Johannesburg and Durban

The scenery is beautiful as well.

Adrift on the veldt

The Dragon Peaks Resort is where stay for the next few nights.

Must be braai o’clock

Camping, of course. We splurge on a site with a private kitchen and bathroom.

The eponymous Dragon Peaks

Next day, we visit the Boer War battle site of Spion Kop.

View from atop Spion Kop
Boer memorial
British memorial
Another British memorial

The most recent addition (2015) to the memorials is one erected to the Indian Volunteer Ambulance Corps, whose presence gets little mention in the history books. One of the names may be familiar – M.K. Ghandi.

Mahatma was here

We think this is the Monk’s Cowl. A lot of these formations have been given names that are, um, a bit overimaginative.

Winston Churchill was here as a war correspondent during the Boer War. He was captured when the troop train he was on was derailed. We finally track down – no pun intended – the small memorial commemorating this event.

Off the rails right here

We drive to visit the formation known as the Giant’s Castle. The only towns we see are Zulu settlements.

Informal settlement

After a 60 kilometre drive through scenic countryside, we arrive.

‘Doesn’t look like a castle to me’. says Maria

When we were visiting Spion Kop, we came across a South African couple who asked if we were going to Durban. We said yes. They said ”Ach, Durban’s a dump now. You should go to Ballito.”

So we do.

Sight or Insight of the Day

Apparently, a few weeks ago South Africa officially charged Israel with genocide at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. (We don’t pay much attention to news when we travel.) That’s pretty rich. Can this be the same South Africa that failed to arrest a crazed, blood-soaked Sudanese warlord, Omar Al-Bashir, in 2015?

Zuma yuks it up with Al-Bashir

Besides its unabashed life-long love affair with Moscow, the South African ANC government is well known for embracing genuine, bona-fide gĂ©nocidaires. Just this month, President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed another crazed, blood-soaked Sudanese warlord: Mohamed Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo, leader of the Sudanese rebel group, the Rapid Support Forces. The RSF’s tally of victims climbs higher every day.

Ramaphosa grasps the blood-soaked mitts of Hemedti

The hypocrisy is staggering. Can people really be fooled by the performative song-and-dance of the South African ANC government, surely one of the most rapacious and incompetent governments on the planet? Any shred of virtue the ANC ever held died with Nelson Mandela. I shake my head in despair.

Botswana north to south

While in Chobe National Park, we see this enormous lizard crossing the road.

Crossing monitor

Because we visited Moremi and Makgadikgadi last time we were in Botswana in 2020, we make a beeline for the south of the country. We overnight in Francistown and stay in a guesthouse for a change. We even go out for pizza!

Next day, I get a speeding ticket for going 95KMH in an 80KMH zone. 400 Pula, which is about 40$ CAD.

Document of shame

We reach Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. We stay at the delightful Mokolodi Backpackers just outside of town. It’s home to a menagerie of animals, including several cats, an enormous pot-bellied pig, and a very friendly bull terrier-type dog, Lizzie, who loses no time in attaching herself to us.

Good dog, Lizzie

Meat is a real bargain in this part of the world, as we’ve mentioned. For example, we purchase this gigantic tomahawk steak for the equivalent of 9.20$ CAD. They usually go for a lot more than that at home. As in ‘prohibitively expensive’.

We drive to Khutse Game Reserve. The reserve is 2,500 square kilometres. We are the only people in the park. It’s VERY remote: no cell service, no electricity.

A good test of our 4X4 skills

We don’t see any lions or big cats. We DO see elephants, giraffes, eland, ostriches, and several interesting birds.

At Molose waterhole

It involves 50-KM drives down 2-wheel tracks like this.

That Lonesome Road

We stay in a couple of campsites. This is Moreswe Campsite KHMOR-02.

Tracks4Africa describes the sites like this:

“There’s no water inside the park so visitors must be totally self-sufficient when staying here. Facilities at the campsites consist of a wooden shelter with concrete floor, bucket shower, and a surprisingly ‘unsmelly’ long drop chemical toilet. But no running water.”

Roughing it

Note the screening material duct-taped to the windows: we sleep in Dassie because these unfenced sites are well known for having wildlife walking through during the night. Including lions and elephants.

We are unvisited all night. Not sure if we’re relieved or slightly disappointed.

Sight or Insight of the Day

Going back to JoJo the mongoose – turns out he’s not just friendly, he’s super-friendly.

JoJo jumps into Maria’s lap

It’s unusual, because mongooses usual wander in big groups and are very social. This one seems to like hanging out with people.

He tracks us down to our campsite to pay a visit.

JoJo jumps into my lap

And his name isn’t even JoJo. When we first see him in his house, “JoJo” is emblazoned on the front.

This turns out to be a South African company that sells agricultural products. Including this owl house that the proprietors here provided for his dwelling.

Exit Namibia, Enter Botswana

It’s January 10th, Maria’s birthday! <Cue wild celebration>

We spend New Year’s Eve in Opuwo. We settle in for a comfortable stay at the ultra-posh Opuwo Country Lodge.

Said to be the largest thatched building in Namibia

Again, we stay at the campsite, the steerage class of posh hotels, where available. This has become a habit of ours: find a fancy lodge that has a camping option and enjoy all the amenities at a fraction of the price. Imagine staying at the Chateau Montebello for 30 or 40 dollars a night. Canadian dollars!

Maria spends a lot of time in the infinity pool overlooking a beautiful valley.

Opuwo has a lot of National Geographic-style costumed locals, mainly Himba people and Herero people. They are related, but quite different, both in lifestyle and clothing habits.

The following is a selection of each. (All photos taken surreptitiously by Maria.)

Herero women
Himba women
Herero woman
Himba couple
Herero woman
Himba women

We drive to Epupa Falls, on the Angolan border. It’s 350 kilometres down a gravel road and back.

On the way to the Caprivi Strip, we wind up stopping in Etosha for one last night.

King Nehale Lya Mpingana Gate

So we are back in Botswana. We stay at the Senyati Safari Camp.

On the road to Senyati

We stayed here in 2020, just when our trip was cancelled by COVID. It’s still a great place to stay.

Especially because of their waterhole, which always has lots of wildlife slaking their thirst.

We drive into Chobe National Park for some game viewing.

Hippos on the Chobe River

Sight or Insight of the Day

Among the pleasures of being back in Senyati: there is a tame banded mongoose on the property.

JoJo at rest

Turns out he is super-friendly. I can cross ‘pet a banded mongoose’ off my bucket list.

Namibia – Inland to Etosha

From the Skeleton Coast, we drive inland. We visit a petrified forest.

Petrified tree trunk

Nearby is the UNESCO-listed site of the Twyfelfontein cave engravings.

One-way menagerie

Our guide, Harold, is very knowledgeable and well-spoken. He says ‘Indeed!’ a lot.

The mute stones speak, Harold interprets

This is a puff adder sleeping between some boulders. They’re extremely poisonous.

Aptly enough, its Latin name is Bitis arietans

The next day, we visit another cultural relic, the cave paintings in the Brandberg mountains.

Brandberg Mountains

We have to hike a few kilometres in the company of a guide to get here.

The game’s afoot

Among the figures on display are the ‘White Lady‘ who it turns out is actually a man. Possibly.

We end up overnighting in the mining town of Uis, a rough-and-ready place with a tin mine on the outskirts.

After a lightning detour to Windhoek for an obligatory vehicle inspection, it’s back up north.

Near Outjo, we stay at the luxurious Sophienhof Lodge. (Just camping, of course.) There is a wild female ostrich that casually walks around the grounds.

We plan to spend Christmas in Etosha National Park. When we first arrive in the district, we stay at the Etosha Trading Post. It’s close to the Etosha’s main gate leading to Okaukuejo, the park HQ. In the park itself, we also stay in Namutoni (with its cool German fort), Halali, and Olifantsrus (about which see below.)

Site of the Great Windstorm

On our first day in the park, we are lucky to see some lions. This big male is guarding an eviscerated zebra carcass.

At Maria’s insistence, I’m inserting a photo of the eviscerated zebra carcass.

Some lionesses are nearby.

You can see how close we are.

One benefit of the recent rainstorm – the roads in the park are full of puddles that are fun to drive through in a high 4X4 vehicle.


We are really lucky to have a close encounter with a rhinoceros.

It really feels like being up close and personal with a dinosaur.

I ask Maria to take a lot of photos – these creatures could become extinct in our (dwindling) lifetime.

We always get a kick out of seeing elephants.

We see lots of other wildlife in the park – zebras, giraffes, many kinds of antelope, a hyena – but it’s more of a thrill to see them in the flesh rather than in repeated photos. So we limit ourselves to a few good examples.

For some reason, the local moths go berserk over wine. We have to put some in a plate to keep them from harassing us.

Moth Bacchanalia

There are giant termite mounds everywhere. Often they envelope a tree tunk.

Our last campsite in Etosha is Olifantsrus. It has a wonderfully designed waterhole observing platform.

It’s the most austere of the Etosha accommodation options. Remote. 10 Campsites only. No shop, no curio stalls. We love it.

Sight or Insight of the Day

Olifantsrus – which means ”elephant’s rest'” in Afrikaans – is ironically named. This was the site of an outdoor elephant abattoir between 1983 and 1985.

Over 500 elephants were butchered here. It reminds me of abandoned whaling stations. There is the same haunting sense of vast amounts of blood being spilled for dubious human purposes.

The Culling Fields

It has an excellent information centre describing the reasons and method for this considerable culling. In short, it was believed the number of elephants in the park at that time was unsustainable.

See you in another life, Jumbo

I was hoping to find the entire text online somewhere, but no such luck. One excerpt:

‘Taking the life of an animal, let alone entire herds of a species regarded as highly intelligent, is a decision made only after careful analysis and circumspection.’

According to this info, three conditions were strictly adhered to:

  1. Entire elephant herds (family units) had to be dispatched rapidly, in order that there be as little disturbance and trauma as possible for surrounding elephants.
  2. Optimum utilization of all elephant body parts was essential.
  3. As much scientific data as possible must be obtained from the culled elephants.