DISCOVERING THE TRUE VALUE OF SPONTANEITY ON A FIVE MONTH ROAD TRIP
Day one. It had been dark for nearly an hour by the time we arrived at the campsite near Kuruman in the Northern Cape, and one of our rules was to never drive at night. It wasn’t a very good start.
Being the Easter weekend, the place was packed. The last vacant site was a patch of red Kalahari sand beside a half-built ablution block. It would have to do. Ensconced in their laagers, seated around expertly made fires, the bush-hardened 4×4 set stared as we pitched our little tent for the very first time. They would have heard our whinging too: ‘Where did you pack the headlamps?’ ‘What are we going to eat?’ ‘How did all this sand get into my sleeping bag?’ ‘Why did we leave Jo’burg so late?’
It was the first night of the greatest adventure of our lives, and we were supposed to be bursting with anticipation and excitement. But we couldn’t help but feel completely out of place.
The years leading up to our departure had been filled with much planning, preparing, scheming and strategising – the sort of thing you do a lot of in a city like Johannesburg. A five-month journey around Southern Africa lay ahead of us. It was the realisation of a long-held dream, and we were damned if we weren’t going to be prepared. But the plans started unravelling on that very first night and, as the trip progressed, we became more and more averse to making plans at all.
Day twenty-five. The auto electrician in Swakopmund, Namibia, shook his head apologetically. It would be days before he could see to our broken aircon. That was not ideal. We wanted to continue north up the Skeleton Coast the next day, and there aren’t too many auto electricians up there. Being relatively early on in the trip, this minor setback irritated us much more than it should have. Sensing our frustration, the owner of the backpackers where we were staying suggested we spend a few days at the Spitzkoppe. We’d heard of the place, but we hadn’t planned on going as it was a little off our intended route. And so followed an important lesson: screw the route! When a local tells you a place is worth visiting, make a detour and visit it.
Rising like a sphinx from the surrounding plains, the ancient granite domes of the Spitzkoppe are a sight to behold. At sunrise and sunset, they light up in a thousand shades of orange, and it’s impossible to decide where to point your camera. We found a wonderful little campsite at the base of a colossal boulder, and spent a few memorable days exploring this incredible mountain. All thanks to a little change of plan.
Day sixty-two. We’d been driving around the deserted streets of Binga, Zimbabwe, for over an hour. Any accommodation had either shut down or was in the process of falling down. Clearly Victoria Falls, a few hours up the road, was hogging all the tourists. To add to our frustration, the Springboks were about to play Australia. We didn’t just need a place to stay, we needed satellite TV! Fortunately, the travel gods smiled on us in the form of a man loading up his boat. He was the manager of a lodge ten kilometres down the road.
Masumu River Lodge is perched atop a beautiful peninsula at the Western end of Lake Kariba. Within five minutes of arriving, we were sitting in an air-conditioned bar, sipping ice-cold Zambezi Lagers, watching the national anthems on a huge TV. We didn’t think things could get better, but when we heard how reasonable their rates were, we ditched the campsite and checked into a cute little stone cottage. After going almost fifty days straight in our tiny hiking tent, it felt like a palace.
Day seventy-two. A hundred metres away, a huge elephant bull was splashing about in the languid waters of Zambia’s Luangwa River. Beyond him, South Luangwa National Park sprawled into the fading light. For a change, it wasn’t our own fire that we were sitting around that evening – our kind neighbours had invited us over for a potjie. They had just come from Lake Malawi – our next port of call – and as is customary amongst the brotherhood of independent travellers, we swapped stories, travel tips and beer late into the night. One place they spoke of captured our imagination: a quaint campsite in a secluded bay, set right on the edge of a bleached-white beach.
Makuzi Beach barely got a mention in our guidebooks. Had it not been for that potjie on the banks of the Luangwa River, we might never have heard of it, let alone spent so much time there. Yet magical Makuzi, along with the neighbouring fishing village of Bandawe, became one of the real highlights of the trip.
Naturally, this kind of blissful spontaneity doesn’t always work out. One night at Makuzi, the managers told us about a speck of paradise way out on the Mozambican side of the lake: Likoma Island. So, the next day, we made a beeline for Nkhata Bay, where the Ilala Ferry stops en route to the island. After four days of waiting we heard that the elusive ferry hadn’t even left the dock in Monkey Bay, 400kms down the coast, due to engine troubles. (At least we now have a very good excuse to go back to Malawi.)
But those four days turned out to be wonderful, staying as we did at the enchanted Mayoka village and meeting many colourful characters in the town’s buzzing taverns. The great thing about traveling without much of a plan is that it becomes second nature to go with the flow and accept things as they are. Truly living in the moment is so hard to do in “normal” life with its constant stream of deadlines and weekend obligations. As the trip went on, we began to understand the real value of living spontaneously.
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We’d be lying if we said we didn’t do any planning. A huge amount of thought needs to go into a trip like this – in terms of personal safety if nothing else. Our own wellbeing always came first, and we probably missed out on some great experiences by erring on the side of caution. There were also some amazing places that we would never have got to without booking well in advance. The popular Botswana bush camps of Third Bridge, Xakanaxa, Khwai, Savute and Linyanti come to mind.
We often get asked about our favourite part of the trip. It’s a tough question to answer. But, when we look back on all the incredible memories, one stands out more than any other. It’s not a lion kill on the side of the highway near Chirundu, or a wild dog running through our camp in the Okavango. It’s not a sunrise over the Namib Desert, or a blinding mirage on a sunbaked Etosha Pan. It’s not snorkelling in the aquarium that is Lake Malawi, or counting breaching humpbacks from a dune in southern Mozambique. It’s not the infectiously happy kids of Bandawe Village, or the kindred spirits we met in bars, backpacker lodges and campsites along the way. It’s simply a feeling. It’s that sense of ultimate freedom that comes with waking up each morning and deciding whether to stay put, or hit the road.
Day one-hundred-and-thirty. Despite our rapidly dwindling funds, we were sitting on the deck of a luxurious five-star lodge in Mozambique. We’d bumped into the owners on the beach, and they had invited us round for a drink. Wherever we went in Southern Africa, we’d seen wealthy tourists living it up in five-star luxury. Sipping as slowly as we could on our ice-cold mojitos, we wondered what other treasures we had missed out on along the way. But then it slowly dawned on us that perhaps the five-star travellers were also missing out on something. When it comes to travel, perhaps not knowing where you’re going to be tomorrow is the greatest luxury of all.
Enjoy this video of all the wonderful
places ‘Andy the Landy’ has been
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