On the Road Again…

So we rented our Wicked campervan, picked up some supplies including food, bedding, and a couple of regional maps from the South African equivalent of CAA (which we got free, thanks to my BCAA membership, yeah!). Then we got out of the city as fast as we could –within the speed limit, of course!

Earl and I pretty much consider ourselves experts when it comes to road trips. We’ve driven a lot in the last 10+ years of our lives. We’ve driven all over the USA and Canada, and in 2010 we also got the chance to do a bit of a road trip, as we mentioned before, in Australia. We were really looking forward to getting out on the open road and experiencing a little of the South African countryside. As we found out quickly, South Africa is a little different than other places, not in the least because in addition to watching out for other drivers, you also need to look out for pedestrians and livestock all the time, no matter what the speed limit is!

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So, another difference is camping. In Canada, the US, and Australia, you can camp for free. Okay, so it’s not typically advertised, but it’s not unheard of, and generally safe, to pull off the road into a day-camp area, viewpoint, or quiet rural road to cook yourself a small meal and sleep for a few hours. We were kind of hoping we could do that in South Africa too, to save a little money since we’d be sleeping in our van anyway. However, apparently that’s not really something people do there.

To be fair, we really did try to find a guesthouse to park at, our first night. We even called ahead and let them know to expect us. The trouble was with the directions. Google Maps gave us the most impossible directions ever: after merging with Route 15 (sorry, was there supposed to be a sign for that?), take the second left (did that dirt track count as a road or not?), and turn right to your destination after 500m (is that the second driveway or the third? does it really look like a guesthouse that caters to backpackers?). In the end, we were not convinced that we had found the guesthouse, and weren’t sure how those people would prefer a couple of lost tourists ringing on their doorbell at 10 o’clock at night. So, since it seemed to be a very quiet road with gated country estate homes, we figured it would be safe enough to pull to the side and sleep there for the night. And it was fine. We woke up early since it got a bit chilly, and got on our way. Incidentally, we did a bit of back-tracking and found we had missed the guesthouse road… Oops. (Don’t know how that could have happened…) So that turned out to be an unexpectedly cheap night!

The second night, we camped at an Ultra City, a large, 24-hour gas station along the freeway. We got there just before it got dark, cooked some dinner, and admired the scenery, our first look at South African countryside. Again, it was safe enough as we parked directly under the big lights, and got up early.

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After our second night in our campervan however, we had some technical details to attend to — laundry and showering, which our “campsite” wasn’t exactly equipped for. So, since we are excellent problem-solvers, we did just that!

I took a “sink bath” in the bathroom, which had some sinks inside the stalls (it’s always challenging to wash your hair in those sinks), and then heated water for Earl to bathe behind the van in my laundry bucket. As you can see, Earl was neither impressed with the situation, nor the fact that I insisted on documenting it with a photo.

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Then we washed laundry by hand, and hung it to dry in the van as we drove. I was so happy I had invested in a travel elastic laundry-line before we left!

Anyway, having attended to the details, we were on our way again!

The great thing about travelling in the countryside is that when you’re hungry, you can pull off just about anywhere to prepare a snack. Here I am making some popcorn for us to enjoy.

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Once we really made it into the countryside, we were warned we should be off the road and at our destination by about 6pm, as it got dark then, and animals (such as hippos) come out and roam around.

Our third night had us just outside a small town. Just around 6pm we spotted a sign for a backpacker’s hostel that allowed camping: “Turn right after 100m”. After maybe 50m there was a little trail, which we thought surely could not be the right road. So we continued. Three herds of cows and a half-a-dozen cornfields later, we were pretty sure we had missed the road. But in all that driving time we hadn’t seen a single person or house, so we figured that even though this wasn’t an exactly wealthy area, no one would see our car after dark, so it would be okay to pull over for the night.

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Just as we started cooking dinner, we saw headlights form a car pass, then reverse, and pull over. Earl went to talk to the driver, who turned out to be Hector, the farmer of those half-a dozen cornfields. (And yes, it appears he is holding a beer in his hand). We explained our situation, and he was okay with us staying for the night, and actually let us pull further off the road and park inside his cornfield!

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We enjoyed a starlit sky that night through out sunroof from our bed, and this beautiful lightening-of-the-sky when we awoke the next morning. (Alas, once again, there wasn’t exactly the picturesque sunrise we were expecting of an African morning…).

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So once again, we had a perfectly alright experience, though we were getting increasingly worried about the wisdom of our camping choices with regards to safety. I guess we were becoming more concerned just because it seemed like everyone else was. Hector the Farmer even let his night guards know to look out for us the night we stayed in his field. So, partly because we had already booked our stay at a guesthouse/campground for the next night (since we planned to get up early from there and head off on our Kruger safari), and partly due to concerns about safety, we planned to look more seriously into staying at designated campsites in the future. Anyway, that would give us better access to hot water showers, something our free accommodations were sorely lacking…

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