A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: capetocape2017

August 2019 - Mongolia - Part 1 - The Gobi Desert

By Nikki and Neil

sunny 20 °C

Gobi Desert, August 2019

Tuyukhuu took the guitar with a gleam in his eye. He tested out the sound of the E string, then ran up the bass string to an A minor chord. His gnarled fingers bending to push the strings. So many decades of tending his sheep and goats. So many horses ridden. We were sitting on the floor in his ger, a 6-metre diameter nomad home constructed of a wooden frame and felt made from the wool of his own sheep, decorated with his family’s possessions and his own old guitar.

He picked at the strings for a moment or two and then started to sing in low, guttural Mongolian:

“My mother was a young woman wearing green…”

His voice was deep, coming from low in his throat. He sang poignantly of his mother and the beauty of her youth in her favourite green dress. And how, after many decades of hard work and life on the land, she still looked beautiful to him wearing that colour. We sat, not understanding the words at the time, but feeling the emotion in his song. Our 23-year-old guide Sagua, raised by his grandmother in the Gobi Desert, knew every word of this traditional song and sang along with Tuyukhuu.

When he finished playing, Tuyukhuu stroked the guitar reverentially and then broke into a huge smile, saying (through our translator) “Such an instrument! Thank you!”

Toyukhuu playing Neil’s travel guitar, with his own instrument in the background – Family ger, Gobi Desert – August 2019

Toyukhuu’s wife and sons were there for the performance, serving the ubiquitous, slightly salted goat’s milk tea, which would be served as a greeting in every ger we entered on the trip. The only variation was the type of milk, sometimes also cow, sheep or yak – although never horse, which can only be drunk once fermented (a taste which requires some getting used to!) We were also served home-made biscuits, dried goat’s curd and, a new favourite, fresh goats cheese.

The traditional greeting of milk tea, biscuits and dried goat’s curd. Unusually there was also fresh goat’s curd, which was creamy and sweet. All washed down with goat’s milk vodka and snuff!


So, Mongolia and Spain is a bit of a strange combination. But then in 2015, we went to Bhutan and Italy. Nik has a real penchant for this part of the world and Mongolia has been on the top of her list since she went to Tibet 15 years ago. I asked her about why she feels such a draw to these remote and isolated countries…

As long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the people, landscapes, culture and spirituality of countries like Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia. The remoteness, the harsh realities of life, the tenuousness and tenacity of cultures under threat, a deep spiritualism which connects them to their land all speak to me as something incredibly important that we are at risk of losing. Encroaching ideologies, outright eradication of culture, threats of climate change are just a few of the challenges they face.

I went to Tibet nearly 15 years ago and it is still one of my favourite places on earth. I loved the vast stunning landscapes, feeling my problems dwindle like me, into a tiny insignificant speck on the Tibetan plateau. There was a profound spiritualism that felt that every small thing that people did in some way related to their connection to the land, their culture and their faith. It felt like a lived experience rather than religion as we so often see it manifest in western cultures. This experience has stayed with me ever since, making it incredibly difficult to watch this beautiful culture be wiped off the earth by the Chinese government. I have always wanted to know if Mongolia would have a similar feeling, with its remote, nomadic, animist background.

So finally, after 15 years I finally found myself flying in to UlaanBaatar. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face. Mongolia! Finally! I didn’t know what I would find. With so much of the population moved into the urban sprawl of the capital city (over half!) would there still be nomads, people living in connection with the mongolian land, language and history? I was ready for anything, but was desperately hoping that some connection still existed, that not everything had gone the way of western capitalism or socialist ‘development’. It was so much more than we hoped….


Mongolia: Some first impressions

Nikki is a fabulous organiser. We joke that, on the Big Trip in 2017 (from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope) if it hadn’t had been for Nikki, I’d still be in Chile where we started. As we only had 14 days in Mongolia and wanted to see both the Gobi Desert in the south and Khovsgol Lake in the north (over 3,300 km round trip), a lot of research had taken place to make sure we could do everything we wanted to do, but in as authentic way as possible (little was I to know what ‘authentic’ would mean for my backside after 14 days in a bumpy truck!) But, sure enough, when we’d arrived at Ulaanbaatar airport from Melbourne (after a measly 20 hour trip), Sagua, our guide for the next 14 days, was there to greet us. So far, so good!

Our guide Sagua, pointing out the image of a deer (which can be seen vaguely on the stone by Sagua’s right knee) on a marker stone dating from the Bronze age. The deer stones are dotted throughout this particular region of the central highlands on Mongolia, always near rocky formations thought to be burial mounds. Their purpose is not clear but shows a connection to that land that has existed for millennia.

Oh My God! Mongolia! Where to start? Ok. I’m an engineer. It’s got to be with a map:

Okaaay. That would be Nikki deleting my lovely world map and replacing it with one that reflects a less China centric version of the world and acknowledging Tibet as an autonomous state. That said, this blog is about Mongolia and so, as you can see, there’s Mongolia, between China, Russia ... and Tibet. It does however show the historic boundaries of greater Mongolia which extended into Northern China. Known as Inner Mongolia (here southern), this part of Mongolia did not form the independent state of Mongolia (otherwise known as Outer or proper) when it was formed in 1921. With Mongolia and China changing leadership between the hordes and dynasties numerous times over millennia, China had subsumed Mongolia as a whole in the 17h century (after many years of Mongol rule). When, after pressure from the then USSR, China relinquished this control, only Outer Mongolia became independent and Inner (or Southern) Mongolia was retained by the Chinese.

And I like a map that shows the actual elevation of a country. Note that very little of Mongolia is below 1,000 metres elevation.

Nikki has written about why she was drawn to Mongolia, let me write about what hit me between the eyes during our trip. Nomadism. AND NO FENCES! I’ve never, and Mongolia is country 87 for me, been to a country that doesn’t have fences.

3 million people. 1.5 million square km (3 times the size of Victoria (our home state in Australia) or France), and 85 million livestock (40 mil sheep, 36 mil goats, 60K camels, 30K horses and 9mil cows - roughly).

And then this. A Ger. A Mongolian home. A meeting place. A community and, despite all appearances, the warmest – both from the perspective of temperature and personally - place you could stay.

Ger camp from our first night. The family lived in four gers and the rest had been set up for tourists and other guests. We stayed in camps like this for most of the tour, where additional gers had simply been added to the family camp with no additional facilities etc. A couple of nights we stayed in tourist camps built specifically for that purpose and on a couple of lucky nights we stayed in a family camp, including our guide Sagua’s. However, every family camp seemed to have a spare ger or two for family or guests.

A ger is built from a lattice of wood, wrapped in a layer of felt from camel, sheep, goat, horse or yak wool to insulate it, and then covered in a layer of canvas. In southern Mongolia, where it was still warm, the top of the ger was open all of the time, allowing the warm air to escape and a breeze to sneak in. As we moved north, each ger would have a stove in the middle both for cooking, but also to keep us warm at night. A little too effective, we often were sweltering once the stove got going and had to step outside into the chill to wait for it to cool down!

Our ger home at the White Lake. Here you can see the lattice work frame. The felt is covered in the colourful fabric for decoration, but in some gers was visible. The floor covering was directly onto the ground and was usually vinyl, although in one ger we had carpet!

The roof of a ger, left open to allow fresh air and the stars in at night. In colder areas, the outer canvas would be pulled over the opening if it rained or was very cold.

Nik took a panorama of each ger we stayed in! Here are a couple for you to find the Neil with! As you can see they would have between two and five beds in each, some with stoves (up north) and some without and with a variety of decorations! The wonky roofs are the camera not the gers!

That’s the physical side of the ger. But the community side, the Connection side, is very important. Every camp we went to, other than the tourist camps, we would immediately visit the family ger for hot tea and biscuits (and inevitably curd of some description). Guests sit to the left of the door and family to the right, in descending age. Despite assurances of the development of gender equality in Mongolia, the patriarchy was evident in the elder male of the household taking pride of place at the head of such gatherings and the women being present but not in a formal recognised way. That said there would always be some interaction with the family and many were happy (albeit surprised) to answer questions. We got the feeling many tourist guest would not try to make much conversation.

When we stayed at the Flaming Cliffs in the north of the Gobi Desert, we stayed with just such a family. An elderly couple both were hobbled with age, but clearly still spry and loved a good chat with both guests and friends (a constant stream of whom arrived on motorcycle and horse throughout the afternoon). The couple set up the first Ger tourist camp at the Flaming cliffs over 20 years before and were relaxed in welcoming us to join them for milk tea. The tea is served in individual bowls which everyone sips while reclining on the floor. As old friends Uugi (our driver) and Sagua happily settled in for the afternoon. With the tea served and stove fired up, our host pulled out his small bottle and then offered it to each of us in turn. We had no idea what it was!

“This is a special ritual” Sagua told us. “You must accept the bottle by outstretching your right hand and supporting your right elbow with your left hand to respect the gift. You then pull out the stopper, sniff it, close the bottle and return it”. I raised it to my nose and had a sniff. Almost like snuff. It smelt like, hmm, incense. It wasn’t unpleasant and at least I didn’t sneeze all over them! I handed it back in the same way I’d accepted it, thanking our host.

Mongolian Snuff Bottle. One lifts the flat part of the ‘stick’ part up to the nose and, well, sniffs…

While his wife chatted with Uugi and Sagua, our host then put a huge pot on the stove and started to carve a very dark looking meat into it. Sagua confirmed that this was horse meat which they were going to share together later that evening. We stayed in the tent asking some questions about the changes they had seen over time (our host had after all joked he had been there since the flood) and heard about the recent efforts to replant the indigenous saksaul trees to prevent further erosion. This welcome was repeated in many of the places we visited.

This sense of welcome, community and connection, was throughout Mongolia and for me, made the biggest impression.


The Gobi Desert

Many people have heard of the Gobi Desert, but what is it? You’ll see from the map above that the Gobi covers all of southern Mongolia.

The low rainfall in the Gobi, 42 mm per year (versus 230 mm in Broken Hill, Australia), is due to it being in the rain shadow of the Himalayas.

We started with a 280 km drive south, half on black top roads and half off road with Sagua and a temporary driver (the father of our driver to be Uugi who was finishing another tour). It took about 2 hours for it to click what was weird. Our vehicle was driving on the right-hand side of the road. No, that’s not weird. It being a right-hand drive vehicle was weird. And made for some interesting overtaking!

UlaanBaatar is 1,300 metres above sea level and Mongolia varies between 900 and 4,300 metres in altitude. The temperature of the country, however, is not moderated by the ocean, since it is landlocked. We’d got within 250 km of Mongolia on the Big Trip when we’d visited Lake Baikal in southern Siberia, and we had been amazed to hear that the whole lake freezes over in winter. Mongolia is not very far north - it’s southern most point is at around latitude 41 degrees (the same as Pamplona in Spain) and the northernmost point is 50 degrees, (the same as London), but the weather in winter is a tad more chilly. In winter it can drop to between -30 C and -50 C with the wind chill! When we were there, it promised to still be warm in the south (low twenties) dropping to the mid teens at night. Up north, it was already getting cold (at the end of summer!)

On day one we visited Baga Gazriin Chuluu within one of the few special protected areas of Mongolia. These spectacular granite rock formations emerge from the green undulating plain in beautiful hues of red and burnt orange, creating a spectacular gorge and viewpoint to watch the sun setting. It is also the site of the ruins of the Choir Monastery, a 17th century Buddhist temple that was destroyed in 1938 by soviet and mongolian forces.

Spectacular cliffs and gorges of Baga Gazriin Chuluu emerging from the plains of the Gobi.

Prayer flags waving over Baga Gazriin Chuluu.

There are lots of eagles, hawks, and falcons in Mongolia, and this nest was really impressive.

That’ll be an eagles nest. I know. I found a feather.

Then it was time for our first Ger camp (see photo of the first camp, below is us wandering out at sunset to watch the view).


It was at this point that the ‘basic facilities’ of the trip we were on kind of sank in. Pit toilets, sometimes with a door, sometimes without. No showers (because there is no running water in a temporary camp out on the plateau). Sleeping bags. The beds looked fine. Frames. Mattress. No. Hold on. That isn’t a mattress, it fabric spread over a wooden board!

It was pretty uncomfortable the first night. And the second. And then we learnt to strip the other beds to pad the beds we were sleeping on and occasionally a real mattress would turn up and we would draw straws for the luxury of sleeping on it. But we did get used to it. And as Nik (repeatedly) pointed out, it was only for two weeks and is a part of the authentic experience that we had asked for!

And the scenery really was stunning...

Camels at sunset

The Wheels!

Waking up the following morning, our full-time driver, Uugi arrived with the real wheels! A Russian UAZ 452. Been in production since 1965 (although its predecessor, the UAZ 450, started production in 1958). It’s produced by the Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod company in, surprisingly, Ulyanovsky, which is 705 km’s east of Moscow.

Couldn’t wipe the smile of my face. I have ALWAYS wanted to ride in one of these!

Now we’re talking! I love people who do stupid things. Like Ewan McGregor and Charlie Borman when they rode motorbikes from London to New York, the Long Way Round, i.e. through Russia, including up the Road of Bones. They took a UAZ 452 on their trip and so I was very excited. It has 4WD. It is, I was going to say unbreakable, but it isn’t. You can break them. But then they are dead easy to fix (as we discovered), if you know how....

Tsagaan Suvraga:

Sagua is from the Gobi region, and day two took us to his home near the Tsagaan Suvraga, also known as the White Stupa. This escarpment is 60m high and 400 long, in amazing hues of red, orange, purple and pink. It used to be a seabed and the different layers project different colours as they have eroded. It was a spectacular (if hot) hike...

The Tsagaan Suvraga escarpment...

Sagua’s ‘Home Ger Camp’, could be seen from the top of Tsagaan Suvraga and consisted of 4 gers. In his absence (while guiding during the summer) it is cared for by his aunt and nephews. We arrived to discover his aunt had gone away for a few days and his nephews, aged 14 and 8, were looking after the camels. Camels have offspring every 2 years and there were three calves at the camp. They had been tethered there to ensure that their mothers would come back to feed them and in turn be milked.

The feeding and milking of the camels, up close!

After milking we relaxed in the ger and played a game of ‘knucklebones’ using, well, real knuckles! The most original of Mongolian games, called “shagai”, knucklebones are played with sheep and ibex knucklebones. We played the most common shagai game, “horse race”. It was pretty close stuff there for awhile, but the boys eventually wiped the ger with us!

Playing ‘Horse Race’ with sheep knuckles! As you can imagine Nik was completely grossed out by the whole thing...

And then Nik was roped, yet again, into the inevitable cultural destruction episode. Yes, the Mongolians now know all the words and actions to the Wiggles ‘Rock-a-bye-your bear’!

After the Wiggles, the boys and Sagua sang a traditional kids song for us in return. It was a lot of fun.

The evening rounded out with a visit to Sagua’s uncle’s camp where more milk tea followed, along with, I think, goat vodka.


Neil nerds out - Third World leap-frogging the First World

Africa has 1.2 billion people and in 2017 I believe there were 700 million mobiles phones. In the first world, for telecommunications copper wire was run to each house. Then Mobiles got introduced and mobile towers were put up. The Africans, however, leap-frogged the whole copper wire bit, and went straight to the towers.

Same in Mongolia with electricity. The nomads want electricity, so they just bought a solar panel or two and a battery and Bob’s your Uncle! Lighting in the Gers? Battery with a light. Fridge? 12 volt fridge off a battery. Hot Water? Put in a solar hot water heater. Gers often have TV, fridge, DVD player, and light.

That’ll be your Mongolian shower heater and water storage….

Love it. So cool.

Yol Valley


If any of you have not been living under a rock for the past 2 decades, you’ll have some sort of awareness of the character above.

The Yol Valley is a highly shaded chasm with a stream running down it. And there are lots of these:

Northern Mongolian Pika…

They look pretty similar to me!

There were also some very scared tree trunks. So scared they were petrified. (What? I’m a Dad! I can do Dad jokes!).

Petrified Tree Trunks…

Walking into the Yol Valley

While a lovely walk, the Yol valley has traditionally been a tourist site for the boulders of ice that remain in the chasm all year round due to the lack of sunlight reaching the bottom of the gorge. However, about 5 years ago the ice completely melted for the first time that anyone could remember. Vans and cars full of tourists continue to turn up each summer in a vain hope that this year the ice would have remained, but when we visited the ice had melted over two months before.

On the way out of the valley we visited the local museum that, while small, was quite fascinating, including the very scared trees, taxidermy of the local wildlife and dinosaur fossils, such as the eggs below.

Dinosaur eggs! Yes! Really!

Looking back towards Yol Valley from a lookout above our ger camp.

Khongoryn Els

On day four we set out for the Khongoryn Els sand dunes, also popularly known as the "Singing Sands". The dune formation lies within the Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park and extends over 965 square kms. Located in the extreme south of the Gobi Desert, the dunes stretch for over 100kms, are up to 26 kms deep and can reach up to 300m at their apex. The dunes can make humming sounds on windy days hence the name the "Singing Dunes".

However, on the way, we had a couple of stops to make. One was to play guitar with Tuyukhuu and the other to drop in on an old school friend of Saguas. Who happened to be breaking in a young horse. This only happens once a horse is two. Enter all young men including Sagua and Uugi, out in the dust, whooping and chasing the horse in order to bring it in. It was a very manual affair which involved grabbing the horse around the neck, being dragged around on your heels for a few hundred metres, falling to the ground and then trying again!

Sagua’s mate, with his arms around the neck of the horse, feet dragging on the ground, trying to bring the horse to a stop…. Which he did. On the fourth attempt.

Until the horse finally gave up and the boys decided to try and ride it. All I can say is that the horse got the last say. Below is the outcome of Sagua’s attempt to ride the horse - at least he didn't fly as high as his whip!

“Righto Sagua. Let me hit the horse on the arse and see how you go…… Oh dear !”. That’s Sagua flying through the air!


One of the most striking features about the Khongor dunes is the lush oasis that runs along their front, fed by a small river. As the water is trapped between the river and dunes, it has created a band of green and luxuriant vegetation, which is an amazing contrast to the pristine yellow dunes behind. From our ger camp we were able to take a camel ride to the oasis and river to relax.

Prince Charles is noted for this quote “Camels are the only animals I know that produce foul odour from both ends”. This is indeed true. Each to their own I say, and I know Sagua rode a camel to school when he was young and that they are an important part of Mongolian society and economy. However, that is the very last time I get up on a camel. I don’t know what was worse - the smell or the vertigous rolling gait that made me think I would fall off with every step. Not my cup of tea! Nik doesn’t ride animals and so made the smart choice of walking along behind - a long way behind...

Camel riding? Er, no….

And then onto the sand dunes. That evening we drove out to one of the highest points on the dune to climb to the top for sunset. We didn’t quite make the sunset. Our guide is 23. I think he made his assessment based on healthy, twenty somethings. Not a forty and fifty something! 50 minutes to get to the top with Nikki and Sagua helping to haul me up the final 75 metres. However, he got us to the top and it was amazing. And we didn’t die! Hoorah! (And for those in the know, it was harder than Namibia!)

Upwards, and upwards… (You can see the green oasis in the background abutting the dunes).

At the top, at last, of the 400m high sand dune (Reports of height varied. We are going with the highest. Of course!)

View of the dunes from the top.

Bayan Zag (Flaming Cliffs)

So, this is all very nice, travelling around, seeing stuff, experiencing lots of new things, seeing Mongolia. Well yes. And bloody uncomfortable beds. And pit toilets. And showering every 2 – 3 days. In a town’s shower house. And lastly, there are very few roads. So it’s a track. And a really bad track. And have you ever been in a tumble dryer? For 6 hours? Ugii did a great job of making it as smooth as he could make it, but Neil was, as Nikki would put it a “Sooky La La”. Ok we had 57 days on a truck in Africa on the Big Trip, but this was so much harder. **Um Nikki just threatened to delete the entire blog if I didn’t pull it together and stop being such a complete snivelling tit and appreciate the incredible opportunity in front of me - so I take it all back - except about the toilets. And the showers. And the, okayokayokay - its all awesome!!!**

I mentioned earlier about the vans being able to be repaired. The bright green one below had blown a, I think, bearing seal on the front differential. 1 hour was all it took for the van to be back on the road.

Nik went for a walk during the repairs and took this photo of the three UAZ vans.

Nikki also went off to look for flowers. They really are quite stunning!



You remember this character don’t you?


He was actually based on a bloke called Roy Chapman Andrews, who came out to Mongolia in the early 1920’s to prove that humankind originated in Mongolia. That got a big raspberry. But he also followed up on some dinosaur fossil discoveries that had been undertaken in the 1800’s.

He found lots of fossils in the Flaming Cliffs...

Dinosaur City, Mongolia

Dinosaurs. Bayan Zag…..

The cliffs are an amazing shade of red (closer to the top photo) and you can walk out to the edge along the top of the formation. To be honest we were a little worried about the lack of preservation and restriction on where people were allowed to walk too! Sagua is a keen environmentalist and spoke many times about the need for greater protection and his desire to set up eco camps to increase knowledge and regenerate the Gobi.

There is little knowledge about the original diggings in the area which came as a real surprise. Despite the wealth of findings, no one has sought to undertake more work or local the site where Andrews dug. Much of his findings were taken out of the country, although we were promised some highlights at the dinosaur museum in UlaanBaatar.

Now we come onto one of the funniest ‘What the?’ moment of the trip. There’s a massively famous South Korean (don’t know who) and she/he came to Mongolia on holiday about a decade ago. They posted about how amazing the country was and overnight Mongolia fever broke out. Now there are THOUSANDS of Korean young people aged 18 to 28 coming to Mongolia. And they are very ……exuberant. They are always jumping up and down, singing, dancing, you name it, with all of this captured on their mobile phones and posted online. The photo below is just a taster!

Koreans in Mongolia…. No, I don’t know what they’re doing but I do know it’ll be posted online…

The view from our ger at Bayan Zag, where we had the warm welcome we spoke of earlier in the blog.

Ongi Temple

What on earth is this all about? Neil listening whilst walking through the Gobi trees.

Bloody Hell it’s quiet around here!

I’ve developed wind farms in the past and in outback Australia your background noise level is very low, say 35 dBa. However, I’d noted that the Gobi, it was VERY quiet, maybe 25 – 28 dBa. And it wasn’t until we’d travelled to the Flaming Cliffs and walked amongst the Gobi trees that I’d connected the dots. Trees are really noisy. And so are birds. And cows. Hmmm….

The Ongi temple. Originally home to 2,000 monks until 1937 when the Soviets came in and murdered them, along with 17,000 other monks from around the country. The number of monks in Mongolia dropped from roughly 110,000 in the 1920’s to just 110 in the 1990s. There are many ruined monasteries in Mongolia and we understand that some are being bought and restored by the younger generation in a hope of protecting this history. Buddhism may never hold such a significant place in Mongolian society again, however we saw many remnants of it in our travels, with small shrines in peoples gers, ovoo rock cairns nearly everywhere you look, and prayer flags.

The mostly destroyed Ongi Temple.

The Ongi Temple is located by the edge of the stunning Okhon River. Well stunning apart from the Koreans partying until 3 am and the myriad of 10 mm long bugs that dropped on the bed all night…..

The Orkhon River where we spent the afternoon paddling, chatting with other travellers and generally relaxing for the day. It was a great break from the driving.

Orkhon Waterfall

On the way to the Orkhon Waterfall we passed an elbow in the river called the ‘Elbow of death’ (Neil’s name for it - there is no actual proof that anyone apart from him has used this phrase). In 1938 Soviet soldiers rounded up monks from the local area, lined them up on the edge of the cliff and shot them. It is a very dark part of Mongolia’s history.

The stunning Orkhon River marred by the remembrance of the monks who were murdered at this site in 1938.

After a long day, with some especially bumpy bits made even more exciting by a huge downpour of rain, we reached the Ulaan Tsutgalan waterfall. At first we could not work out where it was and assumed we would need to drive.

Our camp near the waterfall just after sunrise. The falls are in the distance BUT fall from ground level into a gorge so you cant see the falls until you walk up to them!

However, we set off across the field behind the ger, much to our confusion, as the hills were quite a long way away. However, we could soon hear the crash of water and then could see water mist - rising from the ground! It turns out these falls have been created where the river falls into a canyon from ground level. So you can’t see them until you walk to the edge of the gorge and look down! It was amazing - and such a serene place after a long day!

The stunning Ulaan Tsutgalan falls. You can climb down into the chasm to watch from the bottom but after a long day of driving we weren’t so sure of our feet, so just enjoyed the view from above.

After our stroll, we all agreed that the day would be best seen off with a bottle of red wine. So we got one (a saga unto itself). But it had a cork and we did not have a corkscrew! No problem says I. I’ll just get a stick, and bang the cork into the bottle with a stone….

“Just let me hit the cork into the bottle. It’ll be fine…”

“Er, oops….”

It was, however, also the night when Sagua asked if I’d like to join in eating some goat and sheep with the owner of the camp. ‘Yum!’, said I. The night was looking up! Nikki declined and went to bed without wine or meat. She was strangely silent now I look back. However, it really was very good. And I may have had a little vodka to help it down…

A bowl of lamby and goaty goodness! Nik asked me if this was the bowl of leftovers! No - this was the starting point!

Tsenkher Hot Springs:

The Hangay or Mongolian plateau. Meandering green valleys at 1500m scattered with nomad families tending their livestock who roam freely in this stunning vista. We travelled through the Hangay in order to reach the hot springs.

While a very welcome respite, the Tsenkher hot springs were not at all what we expected! Located at 1800m above sea level, the springs originate from the side of a nearby hill and are fed, through a maze of pipes into drop pools in each of the individual ger camps! No bathing in the woods for us!

As we arrived nice and early, we had another day of lazing in the sun, bathing in the pools and then deciding to share a bottle of wine (opened with an actual corkscrew this time). It really was lovely.

And this is a local holiday spot. Many Mongolians would spend their summer holiday either here or up north at the Khosvgol Lake (next on our list). It was really nice to be spending time with local tourists as well!

Looking out on the Tsenkher Hot Springs from our ger camp (more of the touristy type here). You can see the springs coming out of the mountain in the middle of this photo...

The view back across the tourist camp. Ours must have had fifty gers, and there were about 20 other camps and hotels (the first we had seen) in the valley. However, despite the numbers it was still quiet and had plenty of room to spread out and relax.

Toe shot! And yes, I can see the sneaky look from down the hill…

At this stage we have been on the road for 8 days and over half of the tour. It has been such an amazing experience. Some of it challenging. Some of it curious. All of it awe inspiring.


We now head onto the northern lakes for the second week of our trip. The weather is meant to be getting cold up there now, only in the early teens during the day and below zero at night! Time to rug up and join us for part two!

Posted by capetocape2017 01:26 Archived in Mongolia Tagged milk camel mongolia nomad khan genghis Comments (0)

Chapter 35 - Cape to Cape - The Final Blog

semi-overcast 25 °C
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As I start writing this on the plane back to Australia, I still find it hard to believe that we’ve done it!

On 26th December 2016 we left Adelaide airport in South Australia. On 29th December 2016 we reached Cape Horn, at the bottom of South America, the official start of our trip. On 4th January 2018 we finally reached the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of South Africa, the end of this amazing trip!

And this is what the whole thing looked like on a map….

The map of our little trip!

The statistics

The statistics are just a little bit of fun:

The trip was 378 days.

We travelled on 212 of these days, which means that we were on the road 56% of the time, in other words more than every second day!

We travelled a total of 151,591 kilometres (8,411 km by boat, 15,048 km by train, 44,501 km by road (car, truck, bus), 81,231 km by plane, and we’ve walked 2,400 km (3,852,600 steps)!) – Oh, In case you are wondering, the circumference of the earth is 38,400 km, so we’ve travelled the equivalent of 3.95 times around the earth!!

We went to 49 countries (New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, French Guiana, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Mexico, Cuba, USA, Canada, China, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, UAE, Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa!).

We stopped in 32 capital cities.

Some of the countries we entered and left more than once, so we’ve had 69 border crossings.

We stopped in 19 different time zones.

We slept in 157 different beds.

We travelled in 29 planes, 16 boats, 52 buses, 12 cars, 25 trains and 3 trucks (although we spent a collective 57 days on these 3 trucks!)

We went to 61 UNESCO world heritage areas (Valparaiso, Iguazu National Park, Colonia de Sacramento, Olinda, Salvador de Bahia, Central Amazon, Rio de Janeiro, Cartagena, Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, Old Habana, Trinidad, Leon Cathedral, Antigua, Tikal National Park, Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Mexico City and Xochimilco, Oaxaca, Palenque, Redwood Parks, Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in Beijing, The Great Wall, St. Petersburg, Kremlin and Red Square, White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal, Laike Baikal, Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw, Berlin, Bordeaux, Vienna, Prague, Krakow, Auschwitz Birkenau, Wielicska and Bothnia Royal Salt Mines, Budapest, Sighisoara, Thessaloniki, Acropolis in Athens, Mystras, Meteora, Delphi, Delos, Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Land of the Vines and Olives in Palestine, Hebron, Old City of Jerusalem and Walls, Wadi Rum Protected Areas, Baptism Site, Petra, Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley, Ngorongoro Conservation Park, Serengeti National Park, Stone Town of Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Okavango Delta, Namib Sand Sea, Robben Island and the Cape Floral Region).

We read over 90 books (Neil 32 and Nikki 60)

We each only had to take stomach antibiotics once (Neil in Cuba, Nik in Guatemala)

We only had 1 visit to a doctor (Nik for Bronchitis in Greece)

And we met more amazing people than we can possibly count!

The most common questions we’ve had about the trip

378 Days! How come you haven’t killed each other?

Prior to the Big Trip, we read quite a few travel books and, if it was a couple who were travelling together, they would without fail split up in Chapter 3! So, why didn’t we kill each other?


“I reckon you can’t be doing the same things. Sounds ridiculous when you’re travelling together for a year BUT! What I mean is we had different jobs during the year; mine was to write and research the blogs and get it ready for review by Nik. You thought the blogs that got published went off on tangents!? You should have read them before Nikki reviewed them! Each blog took about 40 hours to research, write, and, once reviewed, upload it to the Travellers Point web portal.

Nikki was, surprise surprise, the organiser, the researcher into accommodation, the person with the aps on the phone (we’ll get to that later), and generally made stuff happen. I joke that, if it wasn’t for Nikki, I’d still be in Chile!”


“The first three months were by far the hardest! Suddenly in each other’s company 24/7, always in unfamiliar places, sometimes in stressful circumstances. I can honestly see why the chapter 3 breakup is such a common occurrence! It certainly took some patience and some very honest conversations. But what we learnt was a new way to respond when the other one of us wasn’t coping. Instead of taking it personally and escalating the situation, we learnt to tell each other (sometimes through hand gestures and monosyllables) that we weren’t coping and for the other person to step in and to help. This honesty and compassion made us closer and better able to respond when things were going pear shaped. All the difficulties of the first three months and learnings of the second three months, really paid off in the second half of the year, which was so much easier.

Not to say we didn’t occasionally loose our sh*t, but we were better at dealing with it when we did and at least we never seemed to do it at the same time!”

How much of the trip did we organise before we left?

We only booked the parts of the trip that needed pre-booking or may have booked out before we left, such as tours and cruises. So, before we left we booked:

- Our flights from Australia to Ushuaia, Argentina, where we started the trip (we didn’t book our flights home from South Africa until about half way through the trip)
- The 4-day cruise that took us from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, Chile via Cape Horn.
- The two-week cruise on the expedition ship in the Russian Far East that left from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
- The two overland truck trips in Africa; one from Nairobi to Rwanda and Uganda (16 days) and the other from Nairobi to Cape Town (41 days).
- The house in Franschhoek, South Africa, where we stayed for a week at the end of the trip.

You’ll see that that is about 83 of the 378 days of the trip, so a little less than one quarter of the trip.

So what about the rest? How did you decide where to go? How did you book it?

We did a lot of reading beforehand. The rough route was drawn on a paper placemat in 2009. But really we’d only got as far as, for example in Chile, of deciding that the Atacama Desert looked cool, and maybe Valparaiso, before we left. The rest we worked out as we went by researching online, reading the Lonely Planet and chatting with fellow travellers and locals.

The Lonely Planet guides were very useful. We had a paper copy for South America, but then moved onto electronic copies for the rest of the trip. The Lonely Planets gave us some history of the country, the top 10 or 20 ‘must-dos’ and some useful details about what to expect on arrival (especially useful for those late-night arrivals into seedy bus stations!).

Nikki booked most of the hotels, buses, etc. We booked nearly everything online (a booking criterion for accommodation on the trip was free wifi, and we had it at nearly every place we stayed on the trip), and mostly used ‘Booking.com’, ‘Hostelworld’ and ‘Airbnb’. Most buses were booked online, although we found that sometimes it was easier to just pick the tickets up at the station. Interestingly, all of the Eurail train tickets had to be purchased in person. We got to know how to ask for tickets in many different languages – including sign language!

We normally booked about 3 to 7 days ahead of our arrival, depending upon how locked in our future engagements were.

All of the flights were booked on the road (including the flight home!). We normally booked these between 2 and 6 months before we flew, but some were last minute decisions like northern Brazil and Colombia where we chose to fly instead of bus. Sometimes it was cheaper to book a flight the week before travelling than a bus ticket!

How did you afford it?!

Nikki set up a Big Trip savings account about 5 years ago and saved the entirety of the money she needed for the trip. I was fortunate enough to have some long service leave (and other benefits) up my sleeve from work and so was on half pay for most of the year. This, along with some savings and rent from our house in Melbourne (which we let out for the year), got me through the trip.

We set the budget based on previous holidays that we’d done. It was a careful budget, but not the budget we were on when we travelled in our twenties. We always booked private rooms and, wherever possible, ensuite bathrooms. We made allowances for eating decent food, and occasionally splashing out on a special meal. It was all very civilised!

The wonders of the regular debit card with the MasterCard logo and letting our bank know where we were meant we were able to withdraw money from ATM’s in every country we went to. If we had too much when we left, we simply exchanged it at the border. We didn’t take travellers cards or cheques, nor rely on credit cards. It was amazing how well it worked! We each had US$1,000 in the money belt as “Oh, Shit” money, but barely used it. We took out money in lumps of AU$200 to AU$400 so we could pay cash for almost everything, thereby minimising the establishments where we put our card through their EFTPOS machines.

Our cards were a safe effective way of travelling and at no time were we scammed or hacked.

And yes, at the end of the trip, we were on budget. Yes, it was a healthy budget.

How did you pack for the trip?

Strangely enough, Nik and I are both seasoned travellers and therefore packers. However, with travelling for a year, we thought really carefully about reducing the amount of stuff we took. The first step in this was to buy smaller backpacks. Nik’s was 55 litres and mine was 40 litres. Then we were in the great position of, if it didn’t fit, it didn’t go!

Us with our backpacks, frontpacks and my guitar on a street corner in Lamia, Greece.

We needed winter stuff for Cape Horn but, by the time we got to St Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile it was hot. So we packed it up and posted it to Nik’s aunt who lives north of San Francisco.

There were laundries everywhere and about once every 6 days we’d put a load in. Clothes and shoes, by the way, last about 7 months. When they wore out, we replaced them. The rule was, throw one out, buy one. The size of our backpacks didn’t increase – in fact over time as we found we had surplus gear, it decreased!

We met up with Nik’s parents in Bordeaux and they took home the winter clothes we had picked up in San Fransisco. So by the end of the trip, we both had 2 or 3 pairs of shorts, 6 or 7 t-shirts and some underwear! It’s amazing how little you actually need to survive.

Even though we thought we travelled light, we sent home a couple of items along the way that we realised we just weren’t going to use, such as portable speakers and some clothes.

The most useful item that we bought before we left? The UV water steriliser. Put it in a bottle of water for 45 seconds and Bob’s your Uncle! Sterilised water. This amazing tool helped keep us healthy the world over (we used it every country) and helped save the environment (just imagine how many plastic bottles we didn’t buy in that year!)

UV water steriliser that saved the environment and our health during our travels. Just don’t carry it in your hand luggage. It gets some interesting looks from the security officers!

What devices did you take?

Nik loves the iPad. I prefer the Microsoft Surface. We took one of each. My phone is a work phone and got left in my locker at work for the year. Nik took hers but it was on airplane mode for the entire trip. We used free wifi for all of our online activities and communicated using Skype, email, WhatsApp, Messenger and Facebook. It worked really well.

There were some really useful apps that we used throughout the entire trip and that we often recommended to other travellers. The most important factor was the app working offline as very often we would not have wifi precisely when we needed it, whether it was to find our accommodation, negotiation an exchange rate or amuse ourselves during a long trip!

Halfway through the trip we moved from Google Maps to Maps.me. Both had offline capability, but maps.me was more flexible and allowed us to pin our trip in greater detail. And now we have a great memento of the trip!


The offline exchange app by XE was also a lifesaver at those border crossing exchange posts, as well as just getting our head around the new currency in each country (and there were a few….).

One of the best internet apps for the trip was called ‘Pocket’. Pocket allows you to download pages from the internet for reading offline, for example on a bus, truck, boat, etc. The blogs involved lots of research and if was great to be able to be able to work on the road, with a little bit of forethought.

Wasn’t it dangerous?

It was something that many people said. “Aren’t you worried about your safety?”

No, not really. We did a lot of research as to how careful we should be. Hands down, the most dangerous place on the trip we stayed was Brazil. We didn’t wear watches, didn’t carry a phone, and Nik carried our money in her bra. Left the money belt in the safe in the hotel room. Didn’t stay out late. But really, it was all about being sensible.

And no, we didn’t have anything stolen. Didn’t lose anything significant. Nor break anything important. We were not threatened during the trip and didn’t have any unsafe encounters. Any illness was commonplace and we didn’t catch anything from poor water and only once from food (those dodgy Cuban prawns)!

It really was quite amazing!

What did we learn about each other?


“Nik’s attention to detail on organising the trip was amazing. We stayed in better accommodation, with better facilities, in better locations than if I’d have booked it.

We saw more of the interesting sites because Nikki did the organising.

The views that Nikki had on Human Rights, Refugees, and the United Nations were spot on and after we’d done the volunteering in Columbia and Greece, and visited the United Nation Office in Geneva, we now have two soap boxes to stand on; one for me and one for Nik.
Everybody loves Nik. Her ability to get on with everyone in a non-judgemental, always respectful way is fantastic.

Nikki really, really, REALLY doesn’t like spiders…..”


“In the same way that I put my time and effort into booking our travels, Neil dedicated all of his spare time researching and writing the permanent record of our trip. Neil has always been very ‘in’ to everything he does, whether it be his exercise regime or work, but his dedication to the blog was amazing. Buses, trains, planes, hotel rooms – he worked on it everywhere and did such a fabulous job on it. It was really inspiring to watch, as well listen to all of the incredible facts he was digging up!

I’m like everyone else, I cant wait to see the book!”

What did we learn about ourselves and have we changed?


“I learnt that I really like learning; learning about the places that we travel, the history, the politics, and the people in the places we travel to. I learnt that I love to write, love to research. I love getting feedback on the writing.

I learnt Spanish, plus a bit of Russian, and a little Greek on the trip.

I learnt that I want to focus on putting more back into society through more mentoring, more time with refugees, and more lobbying of Australian politicians about Human Rights and the plight of Refugees.

I learnt that I really don’t like the way that Israel is treating Palestinians and I want to see what I can do peacefully to improve the situation."

“I think I must have changed. I’m more motivated to put back into society and do what I can to help. "


“I learnt to stop ‘doing’. Just to stop, be where I was, and enjoy it. It took me about 2 months to stop thinking I needed to be doing something all the time. It’s a skill I hope not to loose!

I also learnt to respond better to unusual or unexpected situations. Constant challenges meant constant practice and I have just found I am more relaxed about what is happening around me, I make less assumptions and I am better at listening to others.

I feel that I am a better person for having been on the trip...”

What was the best thing that happened on the trip?

There are many, many fabulous things that happened on the trip. So many beautiful people. Such a lot of fantastic times. However, to pick the best thing that happened on the trip? It has to be volunteering in Greece and in Colombia. Berenice in Colombia and Alaa in Greece are people whose goodness is, well, it fills me with awe.

What was the worst thing that happened on the trip?

You know what? If I have to pick something, maybe it would be getting food poisoning in Cuba? But nothing bad did happen. Lots of experiences that were not a bowl of cherries (just ask Nik about the 12 hour day on a truck after we’d been on a truck for 40 days..), but really bad? No.

Well maybe leaving the refugee kids in Greece. We cried….

How do you feel about coming home?


“I missed my sons. I missed my friends. I missed Apollo Bay. It’s nice sleeping in the same bed!

One of the other questions has been “How on earth do you feel coming back to work?”. To that my response has been the one said by my friend and esteemed work colleague, Bruce Bennett. His pearl of wisdom was “you can’t take a holiday from a holiday”, i.e. how can a holiday be fun if it’s not balanced out by something else, i.e. work. I’m really lucky. I love my job. The people I work with are great. It’s been a pleasure coming back to work. I loved the year away, but it’s nice to be home.”


“Its still early days for me coming back. Its been a real adjustment. The house seems huge and we have so much stuff. I packed everything from my backpack into one draw and am still wearing those clothes! And it feels like nothing has changed. The same house, the same furniture, the same city. Sometimes I pinch myself to make sure we really did it!

But the upside, which balances out any adjustment, has definitely been seeing all our amazing family and friends again. We missed everyone a lot. We have been so loved by everyone and already had a dinner party for some of our nearest and dearest! There are many more of those to come – cooking is our favourite way of telling people we love them!”

The Top 12

Here it is. The Top 12 countries, places or experiences that we had on the trip – in chronological order, as it was hard enough to chose 12, let alone rank them in order of preference!

1. Cape Horn

This is where it all started. 29 December 2016. It was hit and miss as to whether we would actually get to set foot on the Cape. But come rain and hail, we still managed to kick off the trip by setting foot on this historic and treacherous isle!


2. French Guiana

I reckon I was about 14 years old when I first read Papillon by Henri Charriere. A magnificent story of imprisonment and escape from the French penal colony on the Isle de Salut (The Salvation Islands) French Guiana, north of Brazil in South America. I just had to go! Excitingly enough, it also happened to be the launch site for the European Space Agency!


3. Volunteering in Columbia with Manos Amigas

It is really easy to get focussed on our work, ourselves, our travel, our friends and families. Volunteering made us focus on others and their needs, and it gave us so much. Berenice Prieto, who runs Manos Amigas is an inspiration. The objective of this grassroots organisation is to keep local kids in school and off the streets. It provides them with support in their education, a safe and loving environment to come to when not in school and a good meal. Berenice and her team of teachers, volunteers and administrator really make a difference to these children’s’ lives every single day and it was an honour to be part of this amazing place.


4. Guatemala

Semana Santa (Easter Week) in Antigua, the absolutely stunning Lake Atitlan, spectacular Mayan ruins in Tikal and, of course, the fabulous fabrics. Not to mention the amazing people, art and food. Guatemala was a highlight for so many reasons and a country that we both agree we would go back to in a heartbeat.


5. British Columbia, Canada

Crikey, it seems really unfair to not include Mexico, the Frida Kahlo museums, hanging out with friends and family in the USA, but…..
British Columbia. It is, quite simply, stunning. Another country we saw way too little of and would love to go back and spend some time. We hiked, sailed, drove and flew up British Colombia but still didn’t see anywhere near what it had to offer.


6. The Russian Far East – The Kamchatka Peninsula and Chukotka.

It started with an erupting volcano, and then it just got better from there. Our two weeks on the expedition ship in the Russian Far East was filled with one after another sightings of brilliant plants, birds, and animals, including a hunt for the critically endangered spoon-billed sandpiper. Nik even got to have a personal encounter with an arctic fox! The Far East is a photographers delight and we also met a great group of people on the ship to share a few warming whiskeys with, and a sea shanty or two.


7. Going to the United Nations in Geneva and the Headquarters of the International Red Cross/ Red Crescent Society.

Ok, Nik might have had a bit of a girly swot (her phrase!) moment finally going to the UN headquarters and Red Cross Museum in Geneva. Studying humanitarian aid and working with refugees means that these two organisations have a lot of special meaning to her. However, what surprised me was how much I got out of visiting these sites as well. You would have taken away from my blogs how I feel about addressing the human rights abuses that are happening all over the world. These two places really bought home for me the amazing work being done to try and achieve this.


8. Volunteering in Greece

There is no question that for both Nikki and me the volunteering, both in Colombia and in Greece was the highlight of our entire year. The purpose of the Big Trip was to get us out of our comfort zones, to meet fantastic people, experience amazing things, and also to put back into this wonderful, and sometimes not so wonderful, world in which we live.

The founder of the Happy Caravan charity that we volunteered with, is Alaa Jnaid. He set up Happy Caravan to provide much needed English, Maths, art and dance lessons to the children in one of the refugee camps that have been set up in central Greece. Alaa himself is a refugee from Syria and is a truly inspirational person. What he’s been through, what he’s done, is brilliant! The Happy Caravan charity started with nothing and there is now a classroom, volunteers, and it is having a really important beneficial effect on the kids.

The effect it had on us was, is, and will continue to be massive.


9. Visiting Israel and Palestine.

I wanted to go back to Israel, but it was Nikki who insisted spend equal time in Palestine as well and it was one of the most gut-wrenching parts of the trip. It was enlightening and yet immeasurably sad. The blog was one of the hardest to write of the entire trip. If you read only two of the blogs of the trip I’d suggest the one on Israel and Palestine (Chapter 28), and the one on Volunteering in Greece (Chapter 26).


10. Visiting Jacob and Anne in Cameroon

I’ve known Jacob since 1991, from when I was working in Cameroon for Guinness. Back then, Jacob took my mate Dave and I to his village (Ngyen Muwah) and His Royal Highness, Fon Teche made us nobles of the village. Going back there again 26 years later to introduce Nikki to Jacob and Anne, as well as Cameroon, was so cool.

Jacob and Anne took us back to the village and we were again invited to meet His Royal Highness, Fon Teche at his palace. We went to a church service, visited with Jacob and Anne’s family and also spent time on the coast enjoying this vastly underrated but beautiful country. It was a wonderful, joyful time in Cameroon. We experienced some real Cameroonian hospitality and it was special to share the sense of community, caring, and fun that is life in Jacob and Anne’s family!


11. Getting to the Cape of Good Hope

My Lord. I still can’t believe it. We made it! 4 January 2018, 371 days after we stood at Cape Horn, we finally made it to the Cape of Good Hope. The journey of a life time completed!


12. The people and friends

Yes, you can count. There is one more experience of the trip that makes the top 12, and indeed made the trip itself the most amazing experience of our lives.

The people. How many friends we met and made was amazing. And we hope to see many of them again, whether in Oz or when we travel next overseas.

You know who you are. And we hope you know what you mean to us. From the strangers that fed us on the train, to the families that opened their homes to us. From the crew that made carnival the best party we have ever been to, to those that joined us for some hire car fun. From the mutual experience of volunteering, to old friends that hold a special place in our hearts. We don’t have photos of most of you, but we have the most amazing memories and want you to know that it is you that made this trip so special.






So, from both of us here at Cape to Cape 2017, a fond and fabulous ‘til next time’. Please look us up on our personal Facebook pages or feel free to contact us by any our Cape to Cape details. We will use the page again for future travels don’t fear, but we would love to stay in touch!

Stay well and keep travelling!

Love Neil and Nikki


Posted by capetocape2017 00:54 Archived in Australia Tagged capehorn capeofgoodhope traveltheworld Comments (1)

Chapter 34 - Namibia, South Africa, and The Finale

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C
View Cape to Cape on capetocape2017's travel map.


What an amazing trip! There’s a desire to start talking about the trip in the past tense, but we’re still on it and we’re building up to the end! The next blog will talk about the trip in its entirety but, just to refresh, we’re on an overland truck trip from Nairobi, Kenya to Cape Town, South Africa.

Of course, the highlight of our final leg is the Finishing Line! The Cape of Good Hope!


However, before getting to the Cape of Good Hope, we had to get to Cape Town. Here is the map showing the overland route from Nairobi to Cape Town:

This chapter of our blog takes you from Spitzkoppe, Namibia (just below the Etosha National Park) to Cape Town, and then onto our time in Cape Town, our stay in Franschhoek, our visit to our end point (the Cape of Good Hope), and our return to Melbourne.


Southern Namibia – Spitzkoppe and the Himba

Spitzkoppe (meaning ‘pointed dome’) is a granite outcrop in the middle of the Namib desert.


The Namib Desert stretches 2,000 kilometres from Angola to South Africa. The Namib Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world, at about 55 to 80 million years old. Its rainfall is between 2 mm and 200 mm per year, which makes it about as dry as the Atacama desert in Chile, which we visited earlier on in the Big Trip.

The weather is interesting. Why is it so dry? On the west coast of South America there is a cold-water current that flows up from Antarctica called the Humboldt Current. On the west coast of Southern Africa there is a cold-water current that flows up from Antarctica called the Benguela Current. This, and the descent of dry air from 10 to 15 km up in the atmosphere (called the Hadley Cell), results in very arid conditions.

Spitzkoppe has some great San (the ‘Bushman’ referred to in the last blog) cave paintings that are between 2,000 and 4,000 years old. These paintings were like a notice board to other San people. Telling them how many people had been at the cave, what animals had been sighted and what to be wary of.

Rhino cave painting by the San people, indicating a rhino had been seen nearby recently.

The area was used for the filming of ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’. In the far distance near the rounded hill you can see our truck!

It was so nice to be off the truck and going for a walk. It was a little hot that day though and we underestimated the water! It is a desert after all!

Fortunately, we met up with Mark and Benny on the trip who allowed us to use some of Mark’s excellent photos with his posh camera…. (courtesy of Mark Small).

The Himba

The Himba are an indigenous people living in southern Namibia. They are trying to maintain their way of life and, whilst most of the tribe do not welcome the visit of tourists, they have set up one village to educate tourists.

Himba village.

It is always a difficult concept to visit these villages. As with the Masai village in Tanzania, it can feel like one is imposing or interfering with their lifestyle, or that the visit is being done to get money. On the other hand, one comes out with more knowledge at the end of the visit than at the beginning. It was incredibly interesting to visit this village but upon further questioning we found that it was set up by volunteers from a number of villages, each willing to move here in order to access the tourist market. Not exactly a bonefide experience. To visit, or not to visit? It’s up to you.

Mark Small did take this fantastic photo in the village though….


A Milestone! – The Atlantic Ocean!

Well, this was a bit of a “Bloody Hell!” moment. On 17th December 2017 we arrived at the Atlantic Ocean. Yeah, Yeah, I hear you say, BUT, as we looked out at the Atlantic Ocean, we were in fact looking back towards where we were on the 13 February 2017, Rio de Janeiro!

So, we were in Namibia (the orangey-red country towards to the bottom left hand side of Southern Africa), looking out towards Rio de Janeiro (which is at the same latitude as where we stood on the beach in the photo below. We were looking out at the same ocean as we’d looked out at from Rio, just on the other side. However, to get to Namibia, we’ve travelled all the up South, Central, and North America, through Russia, Eastern Europe, and Arabia, and down through Africa. Plus, we’d travelled from eastern side of Africa (the Indian Ocean) to the western side of Africa (the Atlantic) – By Land……

I also like this world map because it shows the difference in Latitude between Cape Horn (at 56 degrees south) and the Cape of Good Hope (at 34 degrees South).

Our first view of the Atlantic Ocean after 50 days on an overland truck….. Yes, that is a shipwreck on the coast…

The coast, by the way, is called the Skeleton Coast because if you were shipwrecked, the land was so dry that, well, your future did not look too good.



Swakopmund. It has a population of 25,000 and is the 3rd biggest metropolis in Namibia.


It’s, er, on the edge of the desert. We hung out, had lunch, and said goodbye to some of our fantastic truck travellers, and said hello a fabulous new addition from South Africa, who joined us on the way to Cape Town. It was a welcome relief from being on the truck constantly and had amazing thing like supermarkets, restaurants and traffic lights!


The Namib Naukluft National Park

From Swakopmund it was time to enter the biggest game park in Africa, the 49,768 km2 Namib Naukluft National Park.

View from the road of the Namib Naukluft National Park. It’s barren. It’s harsh. It’s between 55 and 80 million years old. And its spectacular.

It was also quite like Australia.

Ever had a throwing competition using your ‘non-dominant’ arm? What else are you going to do on a break from a 12-hour overland truck drive.

On the way to the wonderful Hammerstein Lodge we stopped off to see ‘Boesman’ (or Bushman), a bloke who gave talks on the desert. The land is desert but there is life. He taught us a he amount of information we didn’t know, including the damage caused to dune systems by rain (we thought rain would be a good thing!), how some animals survive without ever drinking a drop of liquid water (they get all of their hydration from plants) and that you can survive in the desert just be eating live lizards! If you see one throw your hat in the air, the lizard burrows into the sand, you can then dig it up and eat it (head first evidently)! Then there was the Gemsbok that were all over the place but you gotta watch out for those horns!

You can eat and drink lots of bits of the Gemsbok, but you’ve got to catch it first!

One of the most disturbing parts of the stories from the ‘Boesman’ concerned the Bushman of the Namib Desert. Until 1953 they were not considered human and hunting them was permitted! Imagine it was not only permitted, but encouraged to hunt and create trophies of these people. They were in fact permitted to live in the Etosha National Park until 1953, but when their ‘status’ changed, they were forced to move as only animals were allowed to live in the park.

Cactus trees at ‘Boesman’s’ place.

A view of the desert which has changed significantly since 2011 when it rained more than the 5 years average in one month. It changed the landscape completely and in the months afterwards this landscape was flowing with green grass. This rain has permanently altered the desert system, creating small plants (the black dots you can see on the sand), trapping the sand and making the ground hard, and changing the ecosystem for small animals such as lizards, spiders and scorpions which are now almost impossible to find.

Cactus in flower in the Namib Desert.


Namib Naukluft Park - Sossusvlei

The origin of the word ‘Sossusvlei’ is mixed. Vlei means ‘marsh’ in Afrikaans, and ‘sossus’ means ‘dead end’ in Nama. It is a salt and clay pan surrounded by massive dunes. The marsh reference to the water that would flow between the major path between the dunes creating an oasis of greenery and trees at the end.

It is absolutely spectacular.

The shadow of the overland truck as the sun rose.

The 325 metre ‘Dune 5’ (courtesy Mark Small)

The startling colours of the dunes at sunrise (courtesy of Mark Small)

Yeah. Climbing up soft sand. That’ll make ya puff…


And coming down!


And it’s done!

It is was pretty hard work but we made it – up at sunrise and a hike up the dunes to see the spectacular scenery….


The Deadvlei

When it rains trees grow in the marshy grounds of Sossosvlei. However, as the dune ecosystem changes and the dunes grow, the water was blocked from the marsh and moves back behind the last dune. This creates a “dead” vlei where the trees slowly die. However as there is no moisture they don’t rot and a white salt pans with the stark skeletons of trees remain. This repeated process produces numerous graveyards of trees and salt.

The effect of the red dunes, the salt pan, the dead trees, and the blue sky is a photographers paradise.

The trees in Deadvlei are about 900 years old and extraordinarily well preserved!

Beautiful preserved wood in Deadvlei.

The sand dunes can grow to over 800m in height, quite something to climb up.

But even more fun to run down!

And a couple of amazing photos courtesy of Mark Small…

Courtesy of Mark Small

Courtesy of Mark Small


The Post-Apocalyptic World

Ah! The Mad Max franchise! The story of Mad Max is that the nuclear apocalypse has happened and the world in virtually uninhabitable. The first three films were filmed outside of Broken Hill in Australia. When the fourth film in the franchise was due to be filmed, it rained in Broken Hill. The desert bloomed. So, the filming went off to the Namib Naukluft National Park….


It won lots of praise….

Charlize Theron with a truck.


Heading down to Fish Canyon via the Namibian Outback

The characters you get in both the Australian Outback and the Namibian Outback are amazing. These are pictures from a stop we made between Sossusvlei and Fish Canyon.

An old, very old Austin… (courtesy of Mark Small).

Need a planter box?

That’ll be the Namibian Outback.. (courtesy of Mark Small).

We also passed the Tropic of Capricorn, the southern most point where the sun is directly overhead at the summer solstice (23.5 degrees south).

The last time we passed the Tropic of Capricorn was in Brazil travelling by bus from Barra de Lagoa to Rio de Janeiro!


Fish River Canyon and the Ai Ais Hot Springs

When is a valley a canyon? When it’s bloody big!

The Fish River Canyon is 160 km’s long up to 27 km’s wide and 550 metres deep. It’s the second biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon in the US. It’s rather spectacular.

View into the Fish River Canyon, Nambia

That’ll be our cook, J.P. on the edge then…

And the obligatory shot to prove we were there!

My view is that to fully understand the scale of the canyon, one should do the 5 day walk through the canyon. Maybe at another time.

Then again there is the 100 km ultra-marathon which someone did in under 7 hours in 2016. Yeah, Nah!

The Ai Ais Hot Springs were our last stop in Namibia and it was all very civilised.

Ai Ais Hot Springs, Namibia.

It was a night of hot Springs, great food and dancing, well at least out guide, cooks and one South African fellow tourist showing us what dancing really looks like. Kind of embarrassing for us actually….

The following day we headed down to the border between Namibia and South Africa which is demarcated by the Orange River.

Looking out from Namibia across the Orange River to South Africa.

It was a beautiful spot where we took in some books and blogging while others decided to swim in the river and go canoeing. It was getting progressively hotter as we were heading south though and it harder and harder to spend much time out in the sun. A beer and shade appeared to be the only option!


Thoughts on Namibia

Namibia was a complete surprise. Before arriving it was just a place we had to travel through to get from Nairobi to Cape Town.

However, having spent 2 weeks in the country it has incredible parks (Etosha), striking deserts, great culture, and Fish River Canyon. All in all, we’d thoroughly recommend it!


South Africa – Country 49 – The last country!

Wow! Where to start? It has to be with arguably the greatest human being of the last 100 years, Nelson Mandela. Nik picked up from a hostel in Brazil, volume 1 of this book:

The brilliant, inspirational autobiography of Nelson Mandela.

She read it. I read it. We got to San Diego and Nik bought volume 2. She read it. I read it. Nik has now read over 60 books on the trip and I’ve read over 30, and for both of us, it is our favourite book of the Big Trip. Why?

Apartheid is an abhorrent concept. That it was the law in South Africa from 1948 to 1991 beggars belief. The story of Nelson Mandela’s life, the story told so eloquently in his autobiography, is the story of apartheid, and the battle against apartheid. Nelson Mandela to me embodies all of the best qualities of humankind that we, as a human race, should strive towards:

- Persistence. Mandela started the battle against apartheid in his 20’s. He intelligently worked within the African National Congress against apartheid for the rest of his life including his time in prison, mostly on Robben Island, an island off Cape Town.
- Respect. Mandela wrote “There is a universal respect and even admiration for those who are humble and simple by nature, and who have absolute confidence in all human beings irrespective of their social status”.
- Communication/ Negotiation/ Intelligence. He said “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart”. During his time in prison, he learnt Afrikaans, the language of his jailer and oppressor. When it came time to negotiate with the government, he could speak their language.
- Humble. He said “Lead from the back – and let others believe they are in front”.
- Without bitterness and hate. “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hate behind, I’d still be in prison”.
- And Equality: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all person live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

Mandela is particularly important to me because of the personal connection. He was imprisoned in the year I was born, 1964. On April 16th, 1990 I attended the ‘International Tribute for a Free South Africa’ charity concert at Wembley Stadium that Nelson Mandela attended 2 months after his release from prison after 26 years.

Nelson Mandela – April 16th, 1990 – 2 months after his release.

Wembley Stadium, London at the concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s freedom after 26 years in prison. At that stage, all of my life….


South Africa – first impressions
Archbishop Desmond Tutu called South Africa “the Rainbow Nation”. And it is. In Cameroon we saw 3 white faces in 10 days. In South Africa we saw 3 white faces in 10 minutes. South Africa is 1.2 million square km. 56 million people. 9% white. 9% coloured. 3% Asian. 80% black. But! There are 11 official languages, 9 of them from the black population. Everyone in South Africa speaks at least 4 or 5 languages.

Land. Particularly after what happened in Zimbabwe with the farms being taken from the white farmers, land tenure is a hot topic. However, whilst land tenure is an issue, the productivity of the land is extremely high. Large broad acre farms growing wheat, grapes, barley, etc look immaculately looked after. The best data I can find indicates that 67% of the land in South Africa is “white” controlled.


Opinion on Land

My view is that what happened in Zimbabwe was obviously not the right way to go. It can, however, be viewed as an extreme position – one end of the solutions, if you will.

The other side is the status quo, which can be taken as the other end of the spectrum.

These two positions can be marked as the ‘Black’ and ‘White’ views. My view is that the solutions to complex issues are never ‘Black’ or ‘White’, they are always in the grey area. Complicating factors are that some land has now been in the same white family for over 100 years. On the other side, the farm ownership skills of the black indigenous people needs to be improved (often the actual faming has been done by the black farm managers for decades).

I reckon that, as with most complex situations, there is not one solution that can be implemented immediately, but many solutions that can be implemented over a few decades.
1. Land Tenure Mechanism: Ensure that the land tenure laws and offices are incorrupt and are working. If white people can get (and have) land tenure to land and blacks can’t, then that is wrong. The situation in Cameroon where someone can work but does not have land tenure because the land tenure office doesn’t work or is corrupt, is untenable.
2. Agricultural Skills and Farm ownership skills training: Running a successful business is not solely about how hard one works, or the education one has, or the opportunities one has. It is often about the training one has. Earning money. Steadily building wealth. Managing the risk. Using debt wisely. In the UK, if one considers the movement from massive income inequality in, say, the 1880’s, to now, home ownership, security of land tenure have been extremely important factors.
3. Get state owned land back to the original owners. If there is land owned by the state that was appropriated from the indigenous owners, it should be returned, ie, if it is a national park, an area that is being held by the state and not used.
4. Discuss and implement a process whereby a proportion of productive land can become under black control: Life on the land can be hard. Physically hard. High risk during floods and droughts. The kids of farmers often don’t want to work on the land. Farms get sold. There could be a process of preferential purchase for blacks with the appropriate skills and expertise, maybe at preferential loan interest rates, with perhaps a sharing of the cost of the farm with a State Fund. But this process would need to be agreed with the white farmers and the land would need to remain productive.


The Rainbow Nation.

We were extremely fortunate that at Swakopmund, Namibia, the Fabulous Connie, a black South African from Johannesburg joined the overland truck. We also had J.P., a white South African bloke from Cape Town as our cook on the truck. The irrelevance of colour within their discussions and laughter, and yet their obvious pride in being South African was striking and heart-warming. But was not unique. Nowhere did we see animosity. We saw a nation pulling in the same direction. Where people were/ are just people.

On the safety side, we did the same as on all of our trip, we were careful, didn’t go to bad areas, didn’t stay out late at night, didn’t drink too much outside of the apartment, didn’t keep our passports/ cards in a knapsack, didn’t wear a bumbag outside of our clothes with everything in it. We were careful. But not as careful as Brazil!


Cape Town

We’d heard that Cape Town was a great city and it is. It also marked the end of our truck trip with this fantastic group.


The first view of Cape Town was a little emotional. After 364 days on the road, we’d made it to Cape Town and nearly to the Cape to Good Hope!

After 364 days we arrived in Cape Town. Looking towards Cape Town and the iconic Table Mountain. We’d made it!

We got an apartment in Bantry Bay, a suburb of Cape Town for 6 days of rest and recuperation.

Christmas was simple and quiet. After 57 days on the overland truck, we didn’t want to move.

Christmas Lunch….

Boxing Day at the Bungalow Restaurant to celebrate one whole year on the road.

Looking out towards the Bungalow restaurant.

365 days on the road….

And still holding hands….


Robben Island

Much of Nelson Mandela’s time in prison was spent in the Robben Island prison.

Of course, we wanted to visit and pay our respects.

The board at the entrance to Robben Island. ‘Freedom cannot be manacled”.

Nelson Mandela’s cell.

The Quarry on Robben Island where Mandela and other South African political prisoners had forced labour. The prison stayed open until 1995 when it was closed and there was a meeting of political prisoners following the fall of the Apartheid regime. Whilst only black men were imprisoned on Robben Island – women and white men were imprisoned elsewhere – the reunion in 1995 was for all political prisoners.

On visiting the Quarry, Mandela placed a rock at the entrance to show respect for those people who died during the struggle. Other formal political prisoners followed his example and you can see the pile of rocks in the middle of the entrance to the quarry.

Looking from Robben Island towards Cape Town and Table Mountain.


The Last Hurrah!

My mate Dave and I had been discussing that we wanted to be together for the Last Hurrah and Dave had found us a nice shack to rent for a week in Franschhoek, a town in the middle of the wine growing region outside of Cape Town.

Maybe a little geography to start…..

Cape Town is in the bottom left-hand corner of South Africa and Franschhoek is north-east of Cape Town, adjacent to Stellenbosch.

Nik’s parents, Jan and John made the long haul from Adelaide to Cape Town for the event.

Celebrating the arrival of mumsi and dadsi with oysters and champagne!

The Shack was quite nice….

The house Dave and I rented in Franschhoek!

We had a fantastic group of 13 for the week with people coming from near and far, including some intrepid travellers we met along the way on our trip!

New Years Eve went off like a frog in a sock, with a big cook up and of course a swim in the pool.

New Years Eve preparations

Franschhoek (meaning French Corner) has a selection of fantastic wineries and, with the mountainous backdrop, is very picturesque, and we had a delicious lunch at La Petite Ferme (the little farm) to celebrate our time with all our fabulous friends and family.



Nikki looking fabulous in a frock!

Love this photo of John and Jan!

And me and Davey!



There was also great hiking in the hills around Franschhoek. On one of the days John, Malcolm, Anne and I went for a great walk in the hills!


And saw a Large Protea


And more flowers!



We also explored the local wineries using the fabulous wine tram system! The tram took us to 8 different wineries of which we were able to choose 4 to get off at for tastings, nibbles and general revelry!


We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Mont Rochelle!


It was a great day and a wonderful last week to end our journey.



The End Of The Odyssey!

It all started with a chat on the Eurostar train from London to Paris in September 2009.

The original 2009 map of the trip. The aim? To travel from Cape Horn to the Cape of Good Hope, By Land. Mostly….

And then over the next 8 yeas it turned into this reality:

The map of our actual trip!

And now it was time to go the last point of our trip, The Cape of Good Hope!

The final approach to the Cape of Good Hope in the far distance

And here we are! 376 days. 151,519 km’s in total. The next, and final, blog will have all of the statistics of the trip, but how do we feel? Pretty emotional. Sad to leave the adventure behind, balanced with happy to be going back to Australia to see our friends and family. So pleased to have met so many fantastic people and to have had so many amazing experiences. We have a lot of absorbing to do, and of course the adventure of settling back into Melbourne and our new life there! It will never be quite the same again - it will be better!

At the end of the Odyssey! Great to celebrate it with friends and family. Notice the hip flasks given to us by our lovely Melbourne neighbours, Trish and Dave. The flasks have made the whole trip. One with whisky in it. One with gin!

Lovely photo of Nikki, John, and Jan

And me young mate, Davey!

The final hoorah!

Thank you everyone for love and support!

It's been a blast!


Posted by capetocape2017 23:38 Archived in South Africa Tagged town south africa namibia nelson cape mandela spitzkoppe Comments (1)

Chapter 33 – Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia

By Neil and Nikki

sunny 25 °C


If you want to see the huge variation in language, culture and politics in Africa, then this 16-day segment of our Nairobi to Cape Town trip, supplied a view in technicolour. Travelling west from East Africa to Southern Africa, the change is quite stark, but all of it is stunning.

One of the greatest highlights of the Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and (half of) Namibia was sunset at the waterhole in the Etosha National Park in Namibia….

The waterhole at Camp Okaukuejo which hosts animals from across Etosha National Park both day and night. In the evening, thousands of birds fly backwards and forwards between the water and trees for over an hour. And then the low-lit flood lights come on and you can sit there the entire night watching elephants, lions, giraffes, leopards and numerous other beautiful animals come to drink.

Apart from hanging out with all of the beautiful people we’ve met on the Big Trip, the second most enjoyable aspect of the trip has been learning about this big old world we live in. And these countries provide that in spades. But more of that later on……

Just as a refresher, here is the map of our trip:

This chapter of our travels starts at the South Luangwe National Park in Zambia and goes on to the Etosha National Park in Namibia.


Zambia – Hippo country

Crossing over from Malawi, the second poorest country in the world, to Zambia was a stark difference. Yes, Zambia is blessed with the 15th and 17th biggest copper mines in the world, but it also is much less corrupt than Malawi (Zambia is 87th on the Transparency International corruption index (with the 1st being Denmark as the least corrupt) versus Malawi at 120th). Zambia also has a GDP per capita of US$1,230 per year, versus US$295 per capita per annum for Malawi. Interestingly the literacy rate in Malawi (66%) is higher than Namibia (64%), but is improving.

Zambia was, however, Hippo central. We stayed on the South Luangwa river which has LOTS of Hippos. Each night we could hear them grunting as they climbed up onto the river bank and headed into the foliage to eat. We had to be driven the 500m from the campfire to our accommodation after dark to avoid any inadvertent meetings!

Hippos are really quite big… And the noises at night coming from just outside of our cabin were, er, disconcerting! Here is a footprint in the mud outside our cabin which we took the next morning.

Later that night on a game drive we managed to spot some of the culprits who had been keeping us awake the night before! They stay underwater in the river and mudpools during the day so it is relatively rare to see them out of the water.

In South Luangwa National Park we went out both in the morning and afternoon to spot wildlife. There were wild dogs, hyenas and elephants during the afternoon....

There were lots of baby elephants in South Luangwa National Park.

But after sunset the real treat came as two male lions wandered out of the trees on the side of the road, prowling towards a herd of Impala.

Two male lions, brothers, wandering out of the gloom at dusk.

They evidently wanted to let their pride know where they were hunting that night and one gave a low roar which went on for about half a minute. Using its stomach muscles to squeeze its diaphragm it gave a grunting roar which can evidently be heard over 5 km away. If you want to hear it, Nikki has posted a video on Facebook. It was absolutely amazing.


Tribal textiles

Travelling west towards the Zambian capital, Lusaka, we stopped off at ‘Tribal Textiles’ where they hand make batik fabric and prints.


A gentleman putting the pattern onto a piece of cloth using a flour-water mixture.

It is a four-step process involving the application of the pattern using a flour and water mixture which is later washed out. Dye is then applied to the fabric and it is then baked in an industrial oven. Lastly the mixture is washed off and the fabric emerges with beautiful patterns and motifs.

A woman painting on the dye over the flour water pattern.

Nikki was particularly enamoured with the Singer sewing machines, both electric and manual (for use during the frequent power outages).


On our last night in Zambia we stayed in the Eureka Camp and Lodge and were greeted by a herd of zebras where the tents were to be set up! It was incredibly idyllic.


As mentioned in Chapter 32, our 41-day trip down to Cape Town was in fact two overland trips combined and Lusaka was our last night with the ‘first crew’ before joining a new group at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We’d met, as we do on each overland truck, many beautiful people and we were particularly lucky to have our driver, Casper, and guide/cook, Prosper, taking care of us on the trip.

Our fantastic Nairobi, Kenya to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe Nomad group. The people on the trip changed a couple of times along the way, but it was always a great mix and we had some amazing times!

But we had to say “Au Revoir!” and prepare ourselves for the final leg. The Last Hurrah! The last 20 days down to Cape Town; Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and onto South Africa!


Zimbabwe – Victoria Falls

We were in a bar in Zanzibar with our first Nomad guide Prosper (who is Zimbabwean), when it was announced on TV that Robert Mugabe had, after a 37-year dictatorship, resigned as president of Zimbabwe. There was jubilation, back slapping, and hugs all round! Prosper, who is 33, had never known another leader of his country! It was a very special moment to be in Africa for. I’ll write lots more on that later on in this chapter. It is a fascinating, tragic, and appalling story, that hopefully, hopefully, will move in the right direction.

We made a long and hot crossing into Zimbabwe from Zambia in order to spend two nights at Victoria Falls, which straddles the border of these two countries.

Victoria Falls are an immense spectacle. They are one of the biggest waterfalls in the world, along with Iguazu in Argentina/Brazil, and Niagara Falls in Canada/USA. However, arriving in the dry season one can only appreciate what it must be like in the wet season as only half the canyon face has water flowing over it!

The first view of the falls from the devils throat, looking down the length of the falls.

The view of the falls from the first half which has water flowing over it even in the dry season. Further downstream the flow over the top ceases and there is an amazing view of the bottom of the canyon, which is normally covered by an impenetrable water spray.

Another special selfie moment at Victoria Falls. Unfortunately, it seems to be either us or the scenery….

The falls were named by this bloke:

Livingstone was the first European to see the falls in November 1855. He named them after Queen Victoria.

Similarly to Lake Baikal in Siberia which we would love to see in a different season (winter when it is frozen), our thoughts were that we’d love to see Victoria Falls at the end of the wet season. 500 m3/second were flowing over it when we saw it at the end of the dry season. In the wet season the flow increases to 5,000 m3/ second!


Botswana – Visit One

It’s worth, I reckon, putting in a map of Botswana to allow a bit of orientation of the country.

Here is a map of the borders between Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. We crossed through the very top corner of Zimbabwe for one night in Botswana before heading into Namibia. We repeated this process a couple of times!

On the first day we drove from Victoria Falls down to the Chobe National Park (adjacent to Kasane, right in the north-east corner of Botswana). We were really fortunate that it was a cloudy day and this meant that the hippos, instead of staying in the waters of the Chobe River to keep cool, came out. It made an amazing sight!

Hippos out of water in daylight. A really rare sight!

But, for Nikki, there is no question that the highlight was during the sunset cruise when the elephants came down to have a drink.

Elephants coming down to the river to have a drink at sunset. There must have been over 20 of them milling about in two different groups. You can see the matriarch of one group off to the left, calling them to join her. They soon wandered off in search of something to eat.

But the cutest, and I’ll do a close up so you can see, was the infant elephant, only about 2 – 3 months old…

The baby elephant was so young that it hadn’t learnt how to suck water up through it’s trunk and so had to kneel down and put its head down into the water to drink…..


Namibia – Visit One

“Righto!” said a German bloke in 1890, “I want to have access to my colony, Tanganyika (modern day Tanzania) from South West Africa (which is now Namibia), and most importantly the Atlantic Ocean”.

The German bloke was the Chancellor of Germany. Why an Italian called Leo von Caprivi de Caprera de Montecuccoli was made the Chancellor or Germany, I’m not quite sure but, hey…..

“I can just run boats along the Zambezi all the way from Namibia to Tanzania”.

So the Brits said “Righto then, you can have a tract of Botswana through to Zimbabwe, but you must relinquish all of your claims to Zanzibar in return”. So it was all agreed and signed.

What the Brits didn’t mention was the small impediment of Victoria Falls…..

How I bet the Brits laughed! You can just imagine them in the club in London with a cigar and a whisky!


So Namibia now looks like this:

The Caprivi Strip is the thin strip of Namibia that stretches out over Northern Botswana…..

This tract of rather useless land became known as the Caprivi Strip and stands out like, well, it stands out quite a lot….

It did, however, have a good road and was excellent to get from the Chobe River to one of the most striking river features in the world. An Inland Delta. The Okavango Delta. (Its at the top left corner of Botswana).


Botswana - Visit Two – The Okavango Delta

My first thought when looking at the delta was that it must be unique. But it’s not. There are two other inland delta’s of a similar size in Africa alone; the Sud, off the Nile in South Sudan and another off the Niger.

BUT! Let’s talk about water. Its estimated that 11,000,000,000,000 litres of water flow into the Delta each year (11 trillion litres). (Did you know, by the way, that 11 trillion litres flows out of the Amazon in 18 hours? Just to give a sense of scale.) 60% of the water is used in plant transpiration, 36% is lost to evaporation, 2% goes to Lake Ngami, and 2% goes to the aquifer. The result is, in effect, a humungous waterhole(s). It supports 530 species of birds, 160 species of mammals, etc. Where does the water come from? Here is its catchment area:

The catchment area for the Okavango Delta. The water comes mostly from Angola.

Why is it there then? Well, thanks for asking! In simple terms, there’s a river and it doesn’t flow to the sea (hence an Inland Delta). But why?

It’s due to land rising in the east that stops the water flowing to the Linyanti and Zambezi rivers. The water is forced instead, by two fault lines under the Great Rift Valley, to flow towards the Kalahari….

The difference between the extent of the water in the dry and wet seasons is really stark:

Variations in the area covered by water in the Okavango Delta.

Now our visit to the Okavango was a bit of a special surprise. We didn’t realise that the people who had paid to be accommodated (as opposed to camping) were to be taken to a different lodge for two nights and then flown back out of the delta! Flying over the Delta was in fact something both of us had wanted to do, but had not been organised enough to arrange.

So we turned up in the Delta to a little bit of this….

No, No! Really! It is a tent! Taking glamping to a whole new level. Permanent tents at Mopiri Lodge.

I know. I haven’t seen a bath tub in a tent before either. Or his and her sinks….

And the food was very good. And a free laundry service. And swimming pools.

There were boat trips through the Delta.

Lots of papyrus smacked us in the face, but Moses was nowhere to be found…

Sunset cruises.

Lots of beer to be found, but no revelations.

Flowers! Innit!


Going past the Hippo guards on the creek back to the “tent”.

Bit blurry because I’ve blown up the photo, but that’s a hippo on the right-hand side going “Bloody Hell! What was that?”. There was one stretch of water where you had to get the boat past 4 hippo sentinels, and they would jump out at the boat as you zoomed past. It was more than a little hairy!

Being poled along in a Matatu.

The inevitable toe shot!

A Praying Mantis:

The smallest praying mantis we have ever seen!

And a grinning Cookie!

Neil at the prospect of a flight out of the Okavango Delta…

And that will be a hippo skull!

On our bush walk into the Delta there were plenty of animal skeletons to attest to the wide array of wildlife that stalks the plains. We didn’t see any live ones on our walk due to the dry hot conditions.

It was all rather fabulous! And finished off with a 10-seater flight over the Delta!

One excited guy after our flight out of the Delta. Our photos are still stuck on the GoPro but hopefully one day they will make it to light!

After flying out of the Okavango we had one more day in Botswana in a place called Ghanzi where we stayed in the Kalahari Desert before making our crossing back to Namibia. That night some of the local San people of the Kalahari Desert joined to share their music and singing. The San people are better known in the West as the “Bushmen”. A tribe of nomads discovered in the Kalahari Desert in the mid 1800’s and made famous by the movie, “The Gods must be Crazy”. The reality of their history is that they were the consummate bushmen and women, able to track any animals and survive in one of the harshest environments on earth. They were also hunted like animals and now only number 30,000, spread across Namibia and Botswana.

A performance of song and dance by the San people of the Kalahari Desert. The women sat around the fire, kept time with clapping, while singing. The men performed various dances.

I just happened to have the guitar there and, once they were finished, the San asked us for a couple of songs in return. If you go to visit the San people and they’re singing “Lei La Lei!” that’ll be from my performance of ‘The Boxer’! Ooops!


Namibia – Part Two – Windhoek, Etosha, and the DPRK (The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea - aka North Korea)

Heading across into Namibia ‘proper’ (as opposed to the Caprivi Strip) memories started coming back to me of watching a conflict on tv when I was a lad. Something about South Africa. Fortunately, the Lonely Planet had a bit of information and the Interweb provided a bit more. But more of that later…

Namibia is about the size of New South Wales in Australia - 875,000 square kilometres. But it only has a population of 2.4 million people. The capital,
Windhoek, is a large country town. Suffice to say, there aren’t many people…

The main draw card for the north of Namibia is the Etosha National Park. And the highlight of the highlight was the rhino’s:

A very exciting moment as we managed to see the final large African animal on our list, and one of the big 5. We had seen rhinos in Uganda and Ngorongoro, but only from a great distance. Here it was a real encounter. This is a black rhino, identifiable by its overhanging top lip.

And contrary to first impressions this is also a black rhino, covered in white mud. The white rhino is in fact a mispronunciation of “wide”, which describes the defining feature of their wide top lip. Both the black and white rhinos are in fact grey in colour….

23% of the Etosha National Park is a massive salt pan where no animals live, but is spectacular scenery.

The salt pan of the Etosha National Park. In midsummer it is stiflingly hot.

After 350 odd days on the road we still speak to each other and everything!

We saw zebras with different stripes!

A unique feature about Etosha National Park is that it has many manmade waterholes to keep the animals in the park, as well as ensure they are visible for all of the tourists. As you can see from the salt pan, Etosha is an incredibly dry environment in summer. Without bore water, all of the waterholes dry up and the animals leave the park. However, it is increasingly unsafe for the animals to venture outside of the park, both due to poaching and encroachment on local farms. For this reason, there are many manmade waterholes that are kept full year around to supplement the natural sources of water.

This meant that even in summer we were able to have some very special moments at Etosha:

A solo male elephant who joined us at the waterhole, along with a multitude of zebra, oryx and springbok. We stayed for half an hour and watched different groups of animals troupe in and out, looking for water. At one stage a thirsty hyena threatened the tranquillity of the other animals but was eventually forced away by sheer numbers.

Another of the manmade watering holes inundated with zebra, springbok and a giraffe.

While in Etosha we were lucky enough to stay at two amazing lodges which had waterholes that were accessible day and night, lit by dim spotlights that allowed us to view the animals at any time. The sunset in the first photo is from one of these waterholes, as is the following of a beautiful elephant that came to drink with us on our last night.

A special night waterside watching animals wander in for a late-night drink. There were a couple of lions wandering around in the background, but they decided not to come forward.


The Political, Economic, and People aspects to Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia.

The Capitalist-Communist battle for Africa.

Way back when we were travelling through South and Central America I wrote quite a bit about the century long battle for influence and control between Capitalism (in the Red, White, and Blue Corner – represented by the USA), and Communism (in the Red Corner – represented by the USSR). I didn’t fully understand that South and Central America was just one theatre of operations for Russia and America. A similar battle was being fought in Africa.

Most countries in Africa gained independence in the 1960’s, and it was often a socialist leader that got in. I’m sure a factor in this was the desire for equality after a century of colonialism. I was talking with a young bloke called Matt in a bar in Botswana and he threw in a profound comment. He said that the first leaders in Africa after countries gained independence had been focussed on gaining independence and maybe not so much on running a country. They became corrupt and bled the countries dry. They also generally didn’t believe so much in democracy and freedom and therefore stayed in the top jobs for 2 to 3 decades. The new leaders succeeding these, Matt noted, had lived in corrupt countries for decades and knew that it was not good, and so are better leaders. Interesting, I thought and absolutely true for most of the countries in this blog.

Firstly Zambia. They got independence in 1964 and Kenneth Kaunda, the first president was a poster child for this battle.

Then let’s move on to, as Archbishop Tutu called him, “a cartoon figure of an archetypal African dictator”, the former (Hoorah!) president of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe. He got into power in 1980 after a freedom struggle that was backed by communist powers. He leaned, as intimated above, towards a socialist system. I’ll describe the Zimbabwe catastrophe in further detail below.

Botswana, it can be said, is the ‘successful developing country’ poster child for sub-Saharan Africa, Africa as a whole, and quite possibly the world. I’ve mentioned before the corruption index of the organisation ‘Transparency International’. Botswana is at the same level as Portugal, i.e. not very corrupt at all.

When diamonds were discovered in Botswana in 1967 the government cut a deal with the massive South African diamond house, De Beers, for them to develop the diamond fields with Botswana keeping 75% of the profits. And you know what? The Botswana leaders put those profits not into Swiss bank accounts, but into the country, avoiding both the ‘communist trap’ and the megalomaniacal dictator syndrome.

Namibia was, without doubt, the forefront of the communist/ capitalist battlefield. In 1966 the UN said that South West Africa (as it was then called), was not a colony of South Africa. South Africa said South West Africa was a colony, and so began a 2.5-decade long battle to obtain this county as its own. The Peoples Liberation Army for Namibia (PLAN), the militant wing of the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) were backed by 19,000 Cuban soldiers (Cuba at the time was funded by the USSR) stationed in Angola to the north. North Korea was also a big supporter. And this is when I had a bit of a Eureka! moment. How did South Africa survive with an abhorrent apartheid system for so long? South Africa was capitalist and vehemently anti-communist. To the West (the UK and USA etc.) therefore, this ideology was more important than the human rights violations that were being committed and the apartheid system. It was not until the worldwide tide of public opinion turned against apartheid in South Africa and, arguably, the USSR had failed, that South Africa relinquished its claim on Namibia.

Namibia finally got its independence in 1990.



Once again, let’s include a map:

Map of Zambia, bordering some of the more unstable countries in the Africa, and yet benefitting from the wealth of the southern African countries.

As you know, I love graphs. Take a look at this one.

Yeah, yeah. Blah, blah, blah… But look at it. Gross Domestic Product is a measure of the growth rate of an economy. Look at it since 1997. Above 5%? That is a TIGER economy.

Yes, it is a poor country, but it is moving in the right direction. And at a rapid rate of knots.



Lordy! Lordy! Lordy! This moron:

Robert Mugabe

He is right up there on the list of the worst leaders an African country, or any country in the world has had ever.

Where would you like to start? Murder? Destroying a country? Let’s kick off with murder.

Mugabe got into power in 1980. There was a group of Zimbabweans in Matabeleland. Mugabe ordered the murder, or maybe genocide would be a better word, of up to 80,000 Matabele’s by his Fifth brigade – trained, by the way, in North Korea. No, he has never been called to account.

To destroy (hopefully not irrevocably) a country takes a long time and a lot of effort. Let’s look at the statistics:

- Overall GDP of Zimbabwe is US$ 17.1 billion.
- GDP/ capita is US$ 970/ capita/ year.

How did he do it?

By using quite innovative methods of ruining a country:

- Number 1 – steal money from the country for his own pocket. That is standard African Dictator behaviour.
- In the 1980’s and 1990’s the economy did actually quite well then, due to mismanagement and corruption by the government and the eviction of 4,000 white farmers, the economy declined at a rate of 6.1% per year from 1999 and 2009.

Zimbabweans in 2005 had the same purchasing power as 1953!

Zimbabwe is the blue line. That’ll be a country going into the toilet then. Note Zambia’s increase starting in about the year 2000.

The disaster of the Zimbabwean economy continued with it getting involved in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1999 and 2002.

Zimbabwe’s lack of “democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law” led the world to action. The USA in 2001 passed the ‘Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001’. This imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe. Hyperinflation occurred, and the inflation rate reached 11,200,000% per year. The currency was cancelled in 2009 and Zimbabwe now uses the US dollar.

Zimbabwean dollars are still available for purchase by tourists (the only people interested) at a nominal value. These are our Russian friends holding up a $1,000,000,000,000 note. Yes, a 1 trillion dollar note.

The country is destroyed. Mugabe, you’re an idiot! I really hope Mnangagwa does a better job. But who knows?


The propaganda machine worked very well for Mugabe. One of our guides, who was born during Mugabe’s reign, was very pleased Mugabe had resigned but was very appreciative of what he’d done. I didn’t comment because I hadn’t done the research. Now I have……

I should say, however, that the literacy rate is 89%. Fantastic! But the unemployment rate is 90, yes NINETY percent.



The poster child for African and world good governance. Similar to many African countries, Botswana received independence in the 1960’s. As I wrote earlier, diamonds were discovered in 1967 and Botswana cut a deal with the South African diamond house that Botswana was to keep 75% of all profits from this industry. Protecting their interests by way of agreement was ground breaking. And then the government didn’t steal it! They put it into roads, tourism, education, etc! Their statistics are:

- GDP is US$ 15.3 billion
- GDP/ capita is US$6,788

What have they done? As I wrote in the previous chapter, if you want the wealth of a country to increase:

1. Don’t blow up your, or other peoples, countries. Tick.
2. Don’t put the country’s wealth in Swiss Bank Accounts. Tick. Corruption rating is about 40th out of 176. About the same level of corruption as Portugal.
3. Focus on ploughing the money back into the country; infrastructure, education, and health. Tick, but….

The stain on Botswana’s record? The HIV/ AIDS rate of 21% (versus about 6% for most of the other countries we’ve been through). More on that later….



Wow. Big country. Only 2.5 million people. About half the population density of New South Wales in Australia.

What was I saying before? Don’t blow up the country? Yeah. Nah. Namibia bombed/got bombed/ was a pawn in a bigger battle, up to 1990. But since then GDP has been doing this:

A table of the growth in Namibia. It’s not good, and not bad.

Overall, it appears to be moving in the right direction:

GDP of the country is now US$11.8 billion
GDP per capita is now US$5,078

The ties to Kim Jong Un, he’s the manager of this North Korean Girl Band:

The Moranbong band from North Korea. Set up and managed by Kim Jong Un.

The ties were very strong including, maybe for a bit of Uranium. However, the latest lot of sanctions have put paid to that.

North Korea did build a few nice buildings including this:

The memorial centre in Windhoek.

Overall, Namibia is doing really well. It’s 54 out of 176 on the corruption index.


The HIV/ AIDS epidemic

I mentioned earlier that, whilst the HIV/ AIDS rate in the countries that we’d been to was about 6% (in Australia it is less than 1%), in Botswana it is 21% which is hideous! Yes, there is free retroviral drugs but it got me thinking, why is Botswana’s (and many Africans countries) HIV/ AIDS rate so much higher than that in the West?

In Australia the Grim Reaper advertising campaign ran on TV from 1987 and was very effective in reducing the HIV/ AIDS rate in Australia.

Not having safe sex will bring around the Grim Reaper….

The HIV/ AIDS death rate around the world is shown below:


The number of infections are reducing :


And the number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment is increasing.


In our last chapter I put down a graph of the Life Expectancy for Africa and it was a happy scene:


What didn’t click in the last chapter, however, was the flat line that you can see from around 1990 to about 2005 for the life expectancy for Africa as a whole. A bit more digging, however, shows this graph for life expectancy.


Do you see the line for Zimbabwe? It dropped from 61 in 1987 to 43 years in 2003 and has now recovered to 58 now.

So why is it so bad in Africa? Fortunately, Martina Morris, Professor of Sociology and Statistics at the University of Washington in Seattle has asked the same question. She came up with some absolutely fascinating results:

1. It is common in Southern Africa for both men and women to have more than one sexual partner during the same time period, i.e. for men and women to have long term relationships with 3 or more people at the same time.
2. The risk of HIV infection is comparatively low from a single sexual encounter with an HIV person; between 1 in a 100 and 1 in a 1,000. But from repeated sexual contact with an HIV infected partner, the risk is much higher.
3. The chance of condom use continuing with a long term partner is much reduced.

The HIV/ AIDS infection rate, and death rate are now dropping in pretty much every African country

Of course, comments by certain African Presidents about showering to reduce the chance of HIV infection don’t help the case…


The Finishing line is in sight!

We’re down to the last 3.5 weeks! A bit more of Namibia to go, and then we’ll arrive in South Africa, the last country of our trip, and country 49!

Thank you for reading the blogs. There aren’t many to go! Happy Christmas!


Posted by capetocape2017 10:06 Archived in Botswana Tagged zambia namibia zimbabwe botswana Comments (1)

Chapter 32 – South through Tanzania and Malawi

By Nikki and Neil

sunny 25 °C


Oh My God! We’re down to the last part of the trip. The 41 day truck trip from Nairobi to Cape Town! 33 degrees of latitude. About 10,000 km’s. 9 countries.

Whereas we booked one continuous trip from Nairobi to Cape Town with the African overland company Nomad, it is in fact from their perspective actually 3 or 4 tours joined together. This means the people on our tour change at different junctures. The first leg of the trip was from Nairobi to Zanzibar, about 10 days, where 5 of the ten people on our tour left and we picked up another 14! This group stays together until Victoria Falls, when we join a new truck and group heading south to Cape Town.

This chapter covers our trip from Nairobi, through the game parks of Tanzania to Malawi.

A big call out needs to be made to the rather fabulous, should be professional photographers, Amber and Alina, who have provided us with some of their wildlife photos for this part of the trip. It was that, or play “identify the blob” in our iPhone photos!

As I write this, the highlight of the first leg of the overland trip was this:

When a lion is this close to the car, and is as handsome as this Lion, who can resist? This photo was taken in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area where there were so many lions lolling in the sun, mating or just generally waiting for dinner that even the iPhone had a chance!

This is the route we are taking overland through eastern and southern Africa:

The route of the 41 day truck trip from Nairobi to Cape Town. This blog covers the first 16 days; from Nairobi through Tanzania (including Zanzibar) and Malawi.


The Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area

These two wildlife areas in Tanzania are amongst the best in Africa. The Serengeti is 14,763 square kilometres. What makes it particularly special is that, due to the plain having impenetrable volcanic rock under the surface, trees are rare which makes the wildlife viewing fantastic.

The concentration of animals in and around the Ngorongoro and Serengeti are among the highest in Africa. It was a very slow 4WD ride into the park as there were so many animals to stop and photograph. Credit: The Fantabulous Amber.

I’ve been on a few game drives in my time and to see a leopard is rare. To see one with it’s kill in a tree is even more lucky. On our first evening in the Serengeti, we saw two leopards in two different trees, both with a kill from a recent hunt. One was feeding on a warthog and the other an Impala. The one above had had it’s fill of meat and was having a rest….

Not being one for skins or furs, we had never appreciated how stunning the coat of the leopard is. This one lazed on the branch above us in the sunset, showing off her gorgeous colours. Credit: Amber.

This one, however, was in the middle of munching her way through an impala….

It is amazing how a leopard could drag such a heavy carcass into a tree. They are incredibly strong! I hadn’t noticed this before posting this picture, but in the middle of the bottom is the deceased impala’s head. Credit: Amber

We were in the Serengeti for 1 whole day and 2 half days, and so spent many hours out on the plains spotting the animals. There was an absolute overabundance of impalas, antelope, buffalo and wildebeest, but it was the leopards, cheetahs and lions that were the highlight of the Serengeti.

These beautiful cheetahs were sitting under the shade of a tree in the middle of the road. Despite 6 or 7 vehicles sitting around watching them, they were completely unfazed and out lasted our curiosity! Credit - Amber.

Mother and baby elephant sharing a moment as the herd moved across the plains in the afternoon towards their watering hole. Credit: Amber.

I think this is a Marsh Eagle. Credit: Amber.

An appropriately smug looking lizard! If I had his colours, I’d be pretty happy too. Credit: Amber

We saw both solo and packs of hyenas though out the Serengeti, at one stage having a stand off with a herd of zebras over a waterhole. Credit: Amber

As we said though, the lions were the stars of the show. We saw large family groups with lots of young cubs:

The cubs were so playful and the adults so patient! This mother and cub were sitting in a group of around 15 enjoying the sunset near a waterhole. Credit: Amber.

And solo male lions...

A very special sunset moment with this beautiful guy. Credit: Amber.

And this cheeky fellow! Credit: Amber.

This little one was sitting on a rock near a pride basking in the sun, watched over by 2 male lions.

Here is the group of female lions, adolescents and cubs, snuggled up on the rocks.

And this is us, watching the wildlife!

One of Nik’s favourite moments on the trip was when we were heading out of the Serengeti and a herd of giraffes decided at that moment to wander across the road!

On our way from the Serengeti to Ngorongoro Crater a herd of giraffes crossed in front of the car, gracefully wandering into the distance.

The Masai Mara people live in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania. They have been given special dispensation to live in the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area so as to allow them to continue to live in their traditional nomadic way of life. We visited a Masai village while travelling through the area. It was fascinating to see how little their way of life has changed in hundreds of years. Whereas they now purchase water in the dry season, they do not have electricity or sanitation and their houses are incredibly basic (woven wood and mud, with dirt floors). They are very fiercely proud of their culture and independence. We enjoyed being able to see this culture first hand, but did not really enjoy the experience as it was (as we feared) an exercise aimed more blatantly at extracting money than sharing the culture. I am sure there are much better ways to do this and we would recommend a better planned visit to the Masai should the opportunity arise.

However, we still had fun:

I don’t think I’ll give up the day job! Credit: Amber

The female and male Masai sing and jump for us in front of the village. If you look carefully you will see my hat making a guest appearance on the head of one of the Masai. I think I was lucky to get it back!

We’d noticed a few of the young men with the white painting of their faces. It turns out that they’d recently been circumcised. This happens around the age of 12 or 13. The young men go out into a camp in the bush together for a month for this ceremony and when they return they are considered men. Credit: Amber

Sunset over the Serengeti from our final night. Credit: Amber


Ngorongoro Crater

About 2.5 million years ago a massive volcano cone collapsed and formed what is now the Ngorongoro Crater. The crater is 19 km wide and is one of the biggest unbroken calderas in the world that isn’t a lake. It really is a “Bloody Hell! That’s amazing!” sight. We camped on the lip of the caldera for one night before descending into the crater for a game drive the next morning.

View of the Ngorongoro Crater, created millions of years ago when the volcano collapsed in on its magma chamber, creating this incredible reserve which is fed by natural springs. As it never lacks for water, the crater is also never short of wildlife, who migrate here throughout the year looking to food and water.

And a view of us and the Ngorongoro Crater!

Sometimes on this trip things have happened when we’ve said “Crikey! That was lucky!”. Like when we were in the Toyota Landcruiser going down the very steep dirt road into the Ngorongoro Crater and this happened:

I’m not a car expert but I don’t think this should happen. Witson, who was driving, noticed immediately and managed to steer the car into the drainage gulley and not over the cliff. In his slightly understated way he just said “I think something is wrong….”.

We got out of the car to survey the damage. Other 4WDs stopped and the drivers said in Swahili “Bloody hell Witson! Never seen that happen before!”. While we were standing around watching these discussions we noticed an elephant and buffalo standing on the hill above us. Then we heard the guides all yelling “Get back here! Run! Get back in the car!”. A guy had climbed out of one of the cars stopped behind us a wandered back up the road without telling his driver. What he hadn’t realised was that there were 2 lions also on the hillside above us and one had walked down the hill to look at this tasty morsel! He clearly forgot that we were in the middle of a game park!

Watched over by 3 of the big 5, we waited for another 4WD which came to pick us up and drive us around the crater.

It was as spectacular as we’d been hoping.

We learnt about how lions shag. Did you know they shag for 7 days! Crikey!

Post-coital bliss. Despite a distinct lack of privacy, these two were sharing a personal moment on one of the roads through the crater.

So a lioness gets on heat and picks out a lion as the “shag buddy”. Then about every 20 minutes they get down to business for about 1 minute. Then rest and repeat. For seven days. As I said. Crikey!

Having written about the birds and the bees, this is a bird…

A Superb Starling. Credit: Amber.

And a Blue Starling. Credit: Amber.

There were also hippos, zebras, buffalo, impalas and antelope in abundance:

The hippo pool was such a contrast to the dry plain around it, full of both hippos and birds enjoying the cool water.

This is a juvenile zebra. You can tell by it’s mane which has more brown than the adult zebra.

The Ngorongoro is also the home to 36 rare black rhinos, which are critically endangered. Whereas we technically did see one, it was on the side of hill a few kilometres away and cold only been seen (kind of) through binoculars. So there are no photos and hopefully we will be lucky enough to have a closer sighting as we head south.

Now, I’ve never had the wheel fall of my car before, but if it did happen I reckon it would take a few week to fix back in Australia. But not in Africa. The wheel fell off at 8am due to, we found out, the pins holding the wheel bearing shearing off (did I hear someone say “lack of maintenance”?).

We met up with Witson back in the camp at 6 pm. So the car must have been fixed by 3 pm. 7 hours to fix that problem and it was repaired in situ….

Witson with the repaired car. A true African experience!



We’d been on the road for about 320 days and apart from the San Blas islands off Panama, we hadn’t seen beaches as good as Australia’s. Then we arrived in Zanzibar. My Lord! White powder fine sand. Turquoise water. Great bar/ restaurant on the waters edge. It was sublime!

A much needed beverage to wash away the dust of the Serengeti!

The pearly white beach at Nangwe on the north coast of Zanzibar island. Our haven for 2 days.

It was just what the doctor ordered. Great rooms. Air conditioning. Sleeping in. Restaurant for descent food! Fantastic!

Slavery and the Omani empire

It was the Brits who, having built much wealth and much of the British Empire off the backs of slaves and the slave trade, outlawed it in 1833.

Zanzibar had been the centre of the east African slave trade since the 12th century, as well as an important centre for the trade in ivory, wood, and spices, and was a powerful city state. After a brief interlude of Portuguese control in the early 1500’s, the Omani Arabs took over in the mid 1500’s. Zanzibar was so prosperous that in 1840 this bloke moved his court from Oman to Zanzibar and ruled both Oman and Zanzibar from Stone Town.

Said bin Sultan.

In 1862 Zanzibar became a British protectorate, although it remained under Omani rule. This eventually helped in the banning of slavery. The slavery memorial in Stone Town, the old sector of Zanzibar city, is very powerful.

An evocative sculpture in the Slave Market memorial in Stone Town, Zanzibar. It is estimated that between 1830 and 1863 600,000 slaves were sold in Zanzibar.


Farrokh Bulsara

Another event that happened in Zanzibar that I think is of note was the birth on 5th September 1946 of Farrokh Bulsara.

Photo of Farrokh Bulsara in his school uniform

He was the son of a Parsi family from India, his family having moved from Gujarat to Stone Town, Zanzibar because his father had a job with the British Colonial Office. At age 8, he went to St Peters Boarding School near Bombay, India and was noted to have great skill on the piano, being able to listen to a tune and play it back immediately.

Forward 16 years to 1970 in London when he met up with some blokes Brian May, Roger Taylor, and a little later, John Deacon and formed a rock band. That band has now sold over 150 million records.

Farrokh Bulsara is arguably the greatest rock band leader of all time. He is, of course, better known as Freddie Mercury. The band is Queen. The outfits they wore were very dodgy.

Freddie Mercury in one of his more conservative outfits.


David Livingstone

One of the giants of exploration of Africa by Europeans is this bloke:

Dr David Livingstone, born 19th March 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland.

He was the son of tea salesman and the second of seven children. He went to work in the local cotton mill at the age of 10, working 12 hours a day until he was 25 years old. At the age of 21 he read the appeal for medical missionaries in China and started saving to study Greek and Theology at Andersons College in Glasgow, before going on to Charing Cross Hospital Medical School from 1838 to 1840. At the age of 27, he was ready to go….

In 1840 that Livingstone met London Missionary Society (LMS) missionary Robert Moffat who was on leave from Kurunam, a missionary outpost in South Africa. He was excited by Moffat’s vision of expanding missionary work northwards. Another major influence of Livingstone was T.F Buxtons arguments that the slave trade might be destroyed through the influence of legitimate trade and the spread of Christianity.

After trying missionary work from about 1845 to 1851 in and around Botswana, Livingstone became convinced, after three trips far north of Kolobeng, that the best chance for successful evangelising was to open up Africa to European traders by mapping and navigating its rivers which might then become “Highways” into the interior.

As I sit on the edge of the South Langwe river in Zambia writing this, I find it difficult to comprehend that it was only 160 years ago that this was the map of Africa.

Map of Africa from 1840. Notice the interesting location and expanse of Ethiopia.

It was a deep, dark, unknown entity.

In 1852 Livingstone headed out on the first of his African journey (see the red line on the map below). It was on 16th November 1855 Livingstone became the first European to see what is now called Victoria Falls. On this first trip he was also the first recorded European person to make a trans-African crossing at such a southern latitude.

It was on his second trip (in green on the map below) from 1858 to 1863 he was the first European to see Lake Malawi.

A map taken from the information at Victoria Falls showing Livingstone’s extensive journeys across Africa.

In 1866 Livingstone headed out another trip to try to ascertain the source of the Nile.

On this trip there has been wi-fi virtually everywhere and we’ve been skyping with our families roughly once per week. It seems virtually incomprehensible, therefore, that Livingstone was “lost” for 6 years! The last that was heard from him was in 1867, and then it all went quiet.

In 1870 the New York Herald engaged Henry Stanley to go and look for Livingstone.

It was on the 10th November 1871 that Henry Stanley, in Ujiji, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, after a journey of almost a year, uttered the immortal words “Dr Livingstone, I presume?”. By the way, Livingstone replied “Yes. And I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you”.

The meeting on 10th November 1871 between David Livingstone and Henry Stanley.


Livingstone and slavery

One of Livingstone’s great passions was the abolition of slavery. His efforts raised the profile of the slave trade and helped the world move towards ending slavery.

After all of his work, he unfortunately died on 1st May 1873 in Chief Chitomba Village, close to Ilala, Lake Bangweulu, in what is now Zambia, a month before slavery was abolished in Zanzibar. His heart was buried under a tree:


And a wooden cross placed above it. The cross is now in the cathedral in Stone Town, Zanzibar.


His body was preserved and carried the 1,600 km to Zanzibar, and then transferred to London. He is buried in Westminster Abbey.


Travelling to Lake Malawi

It’s long way from Zanzibar to Lake Malawi. The ferry rider from Zanzibar to Dar es Salam (a thoroughly unnoteworthy city) takes about 2 hours and was pretty uneventful apart from absolutely torrential rain. We then had an overland drive to reach the Mikumi Game Park, where we stayed for 1 night, through the highland town of Iringa, and then over the border into Malawi.

Mikumi was a completely different park to the Serengeti. Full of trees and wallowing ponds, it was harder to spot the animals, but they seemed more concentrated in a small area.

Our safari truck, ready to start looking for animals in the Mikumi National Park.

We had an amazing encounter with a herd of elephants that crossed the road in front of our car…

That’ll be an elephant then!

An unexpected encounter as a herd of elephants crossed in front of the car and walked past. We all held our breath and didn’t make a noise!

As well as Zebras.

The zebras in the south are a different type, with clearer markings and colours. They were incredibly striking. Credit: Alina (another wonderful Nomad traveller!)

And naughty monkeys! Don’t leave a ketchup bottle on the table!

Caught in the act! This sneaky monkey had managed to steal a bottle of sauce and made his way to the bar for a drink! The monkeys were a real issue everywhere we went. It was important to keep tents, the truck and rooms closed at all times as they would sneak in to steal anything they could get their hands on. Credit: The Splendiferous Alina


Lake Malawi, Livingstone, and the great rivers of southern Africa

Livingstone spent much of his life searching for the source of the Nile and, whilst he found the primary source in 1855 and named it Lake Victoria, after Queen Victoria, there was still conjecture about what fed Lake Victoria. When he found Lake Malawi it took some time to discover that it drained into the Zambezi River system. As I was a little foggy about which lake drained into which river system, I thought I’d include this:


Lake Malawi is one of the major fresh water lakes of southern Africa, but also of the world. It is 576 Km long and about 70 km wide at its widest point.

On the way to Lake Malawi we visited a Baobab tree forest:



Then onto Lake Malawi…

The inevitable toe shot….

This is the view from the Ngala Lodge, Lake Malawi.

A great place to hang out and relax……


Malawi, Tanzania, PJ O’Rourke, and Corruption

The Gross Domestic Product per person in Malawi is US$ 295/ person per year. There is one country that has a lower GDP/ person, South Sudan. Malawi is, by that measure, the second poorest country in the world.

It was about 15 to 20 years ago that I read this book:

Why PJ O’Rourke called the book “Eat The Rich”, I don’t know. The premise of the book? “Why are rich countries rich and poor countries poor?”.

Of course, money doesn’t buy happiness, but it does buy health care. And roads. Etc.

PJ O’Rourke was a writer for the music magazine ‘The Rolling Stone’ before moving onto ‘The Economist’. Each chapter in the book was on a particular country. For example, one chapter was called ‘Tanzania – How to make nothing from everything’. Another was called ‘Hong Kong – How to make everything from nothing’.

It was in 1969, under the rule of the President Julius Nyerere, a policy of the ujamaa (or familyhood) village was set up. An agricultural collective whereby tools were commonly owned and everyone worked on the land. Virtually communism. O’Rourke’s view was that Tanzania, a country with everything, lots of fertile and well-watered land, minerals, a significant workforce, was impossibly poor.

Hong Kong, on the other hand, had nothing; no land, no minerals, but also had a significant workforce, and was rich. Why the difference?

He put it down to a number of factors (which I have added to and maybe altered….):

1. The rule of law. There needs to be an incorrupt police force and judiciary. This wasn’t (and isn’t) the case in Tanzania and was, and is, the case in Hong Kong.
2. Education has to have a high priority in the country and be good.
3. The government needs incorrupt and focussed on building the living standards of the citizens
4. A country shouldn’t destroy stuff in internal conflict or external wars.
5. Capitalism, whilst it has its faults, is better than communism (although a slightly middle ground like there is in Scandinavian countries is, in my view, the ideal).


There is on our trip, a lady of the Baha’I faith and, when you’re on a 41 day trip from Nairobi to Cape Town by land, you get a bit of time to converse about life, the universe, and everything. She explained that one of the basic principles of the Baha’i fiath is that humankind has moved from the Judeo-Christian view of the Time of Prophecy to the Time of Fulfillment. i.e we’re in the time when humankind will/ has started to work together for the common good. And, if you know me, you’ll know that I am, to the core of my soul, an optimist. I’ve had a look at the improvements in the lot of humankind over the past 700 years and we have made giant strides. Some of them are in the graphs below:

Life expectancy is getting better!

Colours are good! Look at this! There are now NO countries with a life expectancy below 40. And VIRTUALLY no countries with a life expectancy under 50. And VERY FEW countries with a life expectancy below 60 years!

And kids that die under the age of 5 years. Africa is the red line! This also has the effect, over time, of lowering the birth rate.

Even armed conflicts are killing as lower a percentage of humankind as at any time in the past 700 years:

Now look at this! So on the left hand axis is the rate of deaths from conflicts per 100,000 people between 1400 and now. It is now as low as at any point in the past 700 years.

But after armed conflict, Corruption is the biggest scourge in the world today. I’m a numbers person (in case you hadn’t guessed!). As we’ve been going through Africa, I’ve had the lists of GDP by country, GDP/ capita by country, and the Transparency International corruption ranking open on my computer. Then I thought “I wonder if there’s a correlation between GDP/ capita and the level of corruption?”. And do you know what? Someone else has thought the same question before and put the result on-line.

So, as expected, there is a strong correlation between the level of corruption (on the horizontal axis with 1 being very corrupt and 10 being not corrupt at all) in a country and the GDP/ capita (on the vertical axis).

Hmmmm….. Then I thought “Why?”. Some of it is intuitive. If someone is stealing a countries wealth, then the virtuous circle of wealth creation (more wealth = better education = better educated people = more productive people = more wealth), is broken, or at least, diminished.

Once again, I mention that this is not about money or wealth per se. It’s that, as our Bhutanese friends with their focus on ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH)’ have known for many decades, two of the four pillars of GNH are education and healthcare, and they both need dough. So does money/ wealth buy happiness? Well, No. And Yes.

I mentioned earlier, investment confidence, whether it be from a shop keeper or a multinational is immensely important to an economy. If the factors mentioned by O’Rourke (and added to by me) are not there, investors will either not invest, or will take their money (and jobs, and wealth) elsewhere.

Fortunately, my thoughts about corruption is not unique or new. And, in a similar way to the strides taken to improve infant mortality, the world has been taking well, maybe not strides but certainly steps to address the corruption issue.

In 1977 The US senate passed the Foreign Corrupt Practises Act that made it an offence in America for an American to bribe someone overseas. This was a massive step and one for which the US lawmakers and citizens should be proud. This was followed by the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997. My best mate was involved in rolling out the anti-corruption message across a humongous multi-national company and now that company doesn’t pay bribes. So this is a massive step.

There is reason to be hopeful. China is carrying out massive ant-corruption purges and it is only a question of time before that ethical stance is rolled out overseas.

Overall, I’m very optimistic about Africa as a whole. Massive steps have been taken in the past 100 years and, in my view, the rate of improvement is increasing!


We’re nearly there!

Blimey we’re getting close. It’s onto Zambia now before Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and on to South Africa! Down to the last 38 days of the trip!


Posted by capetocape2017 07:41 Archived in Tanzania Tagged zanzibar malawi slavery livignstone Comments (1)

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