Celebrating One Year Of Travel - 22nd September 2022 -22nd September 2023 - A Retrospective
A year ago to the day, we set off from Worcester, in the Western Cape, on our African Adventure. Our route took us all along the west coast, the Richtersveld, Kgalagadi, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique for prawns and onwards north we bobbed with the tides and the tradewinds.
This morning Butch had to set me straight; I’m so relaxed in my slacks, I thought it was only wallowing Wednesday. He said it was frisky Friday, looking at his watch, which gave him the date and day. His subtle reminder that my Apple watch is lacking in advanced technology.
We took this selfie today to mark our anniversary.
Our mission statement is unchanged "We have no final destination and no end date, we'll travel for as long as we have health, wealth and a yearning for learning." We'll take it slow, poli-poli.
An enormous crocodile sunbathes on the riverbank below us in the early morning sunlight. A killing machine that has not evolved in 240 million years, it just goes with the flow and adapts to its environment.
The sex of crocodile hatchlings is determined by the temperature at which the eggs incubate. Crocodiles are the most vocal of reptiles. Among more than five different calls are the deep, vibrating bellow of courting males and the ‘peeping’ of hatchlings inside the egg. This ‘peeping’ encourages the female to excavate the nest.
Female crocodiles exhibit impressive maternal care. They use their massive jaws to transport newly hatched young to a ‘nursery pool’ where they guard them from predators.
Did you know that large crocodiles swallow stones, known as gastroliths? These act as ballast, helping them to balance their body underwater.
This one has not moved a muscle in over an hour and will probably lie there for hours.
We are currently exploring our seventh country. According to Polar Steps, we’ve done 34167km. We have experienced a million highlights and a few low lights. We’ve been overwhelmed and underwhelmed. There have been ecstatic moments and disappointments.
I'm a people person, Butch is the raconteur, we agree, the generosity, kindness, selflessness and exuberance of the extraordinary people we’ve met, spent time with or observed have been overwhelming. I can count on one hand the times I was shocked or disappointed by someone. But, I reckon circumstances beyond our, or their control or knowledge account for that. Unfortunately, one bad apple can ruin a whole barrel. There have only been two bad apples. Friends and acquaintances have opened their hearts and hearths for us. We've been treated like royalty.
Butch has ticked a handful of Bucket list items. The Serengeti, Ngorogora crater, and, currently, South Luangwa are off his list. We’ve learnt a lot and realised how things work by experiencing conditions and situations, e.g., the Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti. (more about that in my Serengeti blog).
The vastness of the Ngorogora crater left us breathless. It truly is the Noah’s Ark of Africa on steroids (that blog is coming up soon.)
Yesterday, we were treated to a rare sighting on a game drive in the South Luangwa National Park. A female leopard on the hunt. We can confirm: Leopards do leopard crawl.
In Mozambique, we body surfed, wild camped, and ate seafood daily. Lazy after a day on the beach we'd watch a mercurial sunset reflected in colour on the ocean. Butch negotiated horrendous roads, we met terrific people, and got first-world medical attention in Beira.
Tofo remains one of our favourite destinations, and spending time with my brother and sister-in-law there was like coming home.
Whenever we meet fellow African explorers and Overlanders we encourage them to visit Kruger Park, Etosha, and The Richtersveld or Kgalagadi and we can’t stress enough how magnificent spring in Namaqualand is.
No matter how cheesy, everyone needs to experience an African sunset at least once. That red ball in the sky dipping behind acacias, volcanoes, mountain ranges and Inselbergs casting it's familiar blood orange glow on rivers, lakes and streams often times softening a harsh landscape, and signing the day off in magenta.
Dar-es-Salaam, Maputo, Zanzibar, Magoebaskloof, Swakopmund, Beira and Ilha de Mozambique and Livingstone were extraordinary, vibrant, colourful, cosmopolitan, safe and surpassed our expectations. However, a visit to Cape Town still ranks number 1. we told our new friend Joon yesterday.
Elephant Sands in Botswana was the perfect New Year’s Eve location. But more than elephants we met Braam Oosthuizen a passionate, dedicated trucker who, without fail has helped us whenever Butch has speed dialed him. In my books he is our hero and when we were in need he was a friend.
We felt small muddling among the herds of gentle giants who tread so gently on our earth, and later, in Hoedspruit, we were treated to four days at Antares Bush Camp, where we sat observing herds of elephants in an underground bunker overlooking a waterhole. A hard act to follow.
My spirit animal, and a regular visitor at home, is the beautiful orange and grey Cape Robin-Chat; but trees are an umbilicus providing the release of oxytocin – known as the hormone of love and trust – providing that warm, fuzzy feeling, grounding us in nature. I have seen forests of trees, big and small, gnarled and straight, ancient and new, indigenous and manmade plantations that sweep across the horison for miles. Our bodies are made up of water and trees are for equilibrium.
In the Richtersveld, we were swept back a billion years and experienced nature in survival mode. It’s another planet worth exploring. We saw the devastating effects of open pit diamond mining in this pristine desert where rehabilitation is impossible.
We have made detours to visit a Meerkat sanctuary, a Cheetah rehabilitation farm, and spent a few hours with the Himba in a traditional village. I crawled into a cave to catch a glimpse of the resident colony of fruits bats returning after a night out. I am fascinated by the colonial Roman Catholic churches built in the remotest places and can't resist them. We’ve dodged and waited for a hundred cattle in a Maasai herd and seen ladies carrying heavy burdens on their backs while others’ cart water strapped to their mules, ancient customs where little has changed in a thousand years.
At times the Honey Badger is temperamental, throwing her weight around and delivering maintenance blows unexpectedly, blowing a tyre or two, forcing us to recalculate and recalibrate. Her engine has not given any problems or concerns, and living in a truck remains our favourite accommodation option. We’ve not experienced cabin fever, claustrophobia, or irritability due to a lack of locker space. We've learnt less is more, shrugging off all excess baggage and streamlining our needs and necessities. Butch still thinks he has packed too much clobber. I beg to differ. I’ve worn all my ensembles but, agree I don’t need another white, black or grey T-shirt.
Adopting a country’s customary dress code, religious or tribal, is similar to taking to new fashion trends. I wrapped Kikois, capulanas, a chitenje in Malawi, Kitenges and Kangas. In Tanzania, women wrap bright printed cloths around the chest or waist, over the head as a headscarf or as a baby sling. If not worn, my drawer bulges with gorgeous lengths of fabric that serve as tablecloths and throws.
My hair is grey, tied up in a bun most days, and a plait occasionally (to Lise's horror). My age is lined on my face and around my eyes are more laughter lines. Besides moisturiser and a stroke of lipstick or gloss, I’ve not had a smattering of make-up on my skin. Soon, I’ll have to use Vaseline, which does not bother me. My feet do cry out for a professional pedicure. On a continent of bare, callused soles, gnarled toes, cracked heels and proud ankles, I’ll have to grin and “bare” it. A pair of sunglasses and a colourful hat hide a multitude of sins. In any event there's no masking who we are. We present ourselves warts and all.
Last week, after grooming, Butch reported that his hair clippers have seen better days. One look at his coiffure confirmed this fact, and his distinguishing grey beard, almost shaved off due to an incorrect setting, had us in guffaws. God forbid he grows a ponytail (we have seen a few and now know why.)
We both lost weight initially, but I fear the pounds are slowly creeping back to nest on my hips. Our skins are tanned, healthy, and we're reasonably fit, although we could do better. We cycle, walk or hike when we can but haven’t rolled out the yoga mats or picked up the weights or exercise bands for months. I know we should.
Butch has read dozens of books, and we’ve listened to a list of Audiobooks while driving. My reading has dwindled to a handful of TBR books since we left, but I have swapped my read books where I can and given books to interested readers. My ancient wooden soap box serving as my book box is falling apart at the seams as it shakes, rattles and rolls, weathering the potholes and dongas we dodge.
Our maps, travel guides, GPS, and Mobile Apps have served us well, yet we still get lost. It’s not bad that we’ve ended up in strange yet exhilarating places. It does make us feel like authentic explorers when we’re off the beaten track.
After all is said and done I stick with my statement; "It was love at first sight when I stepped onto Ilha de Mozambique"
We have wild camped in extraordinary places, parked at truck stops, police stations, farm roads, polo fields, workshops and on the grounds of an orphanage. We were refused a spot on Church grounds for the night by a lady who we think misunderstood us. We’ve picnicked with cattle dolefully eyeing us, and we’ve paid bribes, been stopped at police barricades and traffic checks, got fined and wheel clamped but managed to get them reduced without a receipt. I insisted on a receipt for the wheel clamping.
We’ve been held up by goats, boats, and earthoving equipment, the longest trains and been terrified by busses; we’ve used ferries and ponts to get from point A to point B. We’ve been tempted to treat children with cute smiles, momentarily forgetting beggars are despised when they bully tourists calling aggressively "give me money" while suggestively rubbing their fingers together. Not their fault.
We've weathered summer thunder storms and cyclone Freddy, the dry heat of the Namib and the humidity of Mozambique and in Arusha we had to dig out the duvet and crochet blanket.
Being not of the faint-hearted, we hitched a ride on motorbikes to take us up a mountain. We hailed bajajis, sailed on Dhows, went to an island on a motorised wooden fishing boat, chugged across a bay to see the ruins at Kilwa, snorkelled, and attempted a swim with dolphins. But a moon landing would’ve been easier, and we ditched the idea. We've puttered up the Zambezi in a flat bottomed boat and got soaked by a summer squall. We cycled accompanied by a guide through an enchanting forest.
Our story was published in an overlanding magazine, which was thrilling and flattering at the same time, a logistics company Winetrans admires us and we've agreed to their logo emblazoning our side panel. All your comments have been encouraging and inspiring.
Whenever I see an adorable monkey, my fingers itch to photograph it. But they soon have me chasing them after a raiding party, or they’ve trashed our campsite because humans have fed and spoilt them. Last week a teenager (monkey) swiped my bluetooth computer mouse and picked at it until he'd destroyed it. He tossed it when he finally realised he couldn't eat it. We are an easy target, and now we loathe them. Not their fault.
We spent a few weeks along the Tanzanian east coast explorinig hidden gems, white beaches dusted with shells, a beach combers paradise. We suspended our hammocks under coconut trees and fell in love with the people we met. Always smiling, helpful, well educated yet down to earth they patiently taught us some Swahili. I was hopeless. A young doctor painstakingly stitched Butch up after a fall and when Butch consulted him for the last time the doctor said he'd miss his patient.
Butch and I celebrated a wedding anniversary, our birthdays, Christmas, Easter and New Year. We’ve honoured the birthdays of our family, friends, children and grandchildren in absentia with voice notes, phone calls or Whats App messages, depending on our internet connectivity.
Of course, we miss our beloveds, and we often wish to share an experience with someone who would appreciate a sighting, a person we’ve met, or a city or town we’ve visited. I’ve recognised friends and relatives in the faces of strangers and always tell them they have a double at home. This information is very amusing, especially when I show them a photo of their double. It must be like seeing an artist’s interpretation in a portrait. We don’t see ourselves with a stranger's eye: “I see the beautiful light in your eyes.” I tell them.
Butch is very conscientious about sending regular messages to his list of contacts, his way of keeping up his unique relationships, and his favourite time of day is when he sits down with his sundowner and reads the responses he gets.
My blogs are part diary but mainly a conversation with you, my friends. I know there are often too many photographs and words, but I hesitate, not wanting to rob you of an experience, sighting, nor the beauty, or reality’s dark underbelly.
On Polar Steps (an App), I try to keep up our journey almost daily (depending on the photographs). My profile is Maricha Knight van Heerden Robertson if you'd like to follow us.
My blog all about our ferry trip to Zanzibar, our stay on the powdery beach, our nights out and swings in the hammock are detailed. I could become accustomed to island living.
We continue to adapt to living in close quarters, having limited personal space and having each other as our only company for much of the time. At times, the going has been tough. We’ve battled each other and our personalities, our quirks and strange anomalies. We’re pretty similar in some things yet poles apart in others. We’ve both had to compromise, forgive and forget. We are opinionated, stubborn, and don’t take kindly to instruction, and admitting defeat can start a war.
Butch has a golden rule: “What effect or outcome will this situation, argument or discussion have on my life in 5 minutes, 5 hours, five days, five weeks, months or years?” If it affects one of those time spans, he deals with it accordingly. So far, I don’t think I’ve annoyed him to the five-week or later stages yet! Butch thinks and acts like an attorney, I'd describe myself as having the temprament of an Irish-Italian-African-menopausal woman.
I console myself that growth in a relationship does not happen when one is complacent or happy according to Social Media standards. We’re your common-garden-variety run-of-the-mill couple.
A few weeks ago I did burst into tears. Not exactly cathartic, nor my finest hour, but some inner tension was relieved that my sorrow, anger, frustration and disappointment was laid bare. We're only human after all.
I am delighted to report that we laugh a lot, are thrilled by small things, in awe of nature, surprised, relaxed, inspired, humbled and deeply thankful. We're never bored, nor are we at a loss for words or shocked. We are learning not to sweat the small stuff.
There has been much joy: my grandchildren are as cute as buttons, Anna-Louise, the eldest, is writing her matric end exam, Ellen is embarking on an overseas hockey trip, Neil is a strapping young man with a big smile, and Danny is shy and in Grd 1. They’ve relocated to a farm in Saskatchewan and are thriving. They have the freedom to enjoy the carefree childhood my children enjoyed in Langerug. Liam is the apple of his Grandpa’s eye, his favourite grandson (and with good reason). He keeps his parents on their toes and us in hysterics. He’s been on his first overseas trip and regrettably underperformed in his school concert due to stage fright, much to his disappointment his Mom reported. Isla is the Mama of two kittens, can cook up a storm, does the splits and dances unabashed through life. Maeva can count to ten at two, has run her first 500m race and already needs a soapbox for her opinions.
Our children are fine. Yes, we’re besotted grandparents. Our seven children and five in-laws, all almost grey, have been freed to paddle their canoes! I doubt they read my blogs… I can let the cat out of the bag.
On a personal level, I have had to watch, on camera (whatsapp), my Mom, who suffered dementia, become very ill and weak due to pneumonia. She recovered from the viruses, but her mind and heart deteriorated. During lucid moments, my uncomplaining Mom bravely expressed her will to live and fight to recover but later succumbed to her illness after a short period of semi-consciousness. She closed her eyes after assuring my brother Mark, in a whisper, that she was ready to go and passed away peacefully two months ago.
Modern technology allowed us to speak to her, to see her, and to encourage her to live and later, when we realised she was terminal, we assured her we were all fine and stressed that she had been an exemplary wife, Mother, granny, great-grandmother and friend always sacrificing her needs and desires to benefit her family. It was time for her to think only of herself.
Mark and my Dad were her primary caregivers. Lovingly and with utmost respect, they nursed her, prayed with her, read to her and reminisced all the good old days. She smiled and often contributed enjoyable memories and anecdotes during lucid periods.
With the caring, kind and professional assistance of Hospice volunteers and Zinzi, a nurse, Mark and Dad were relieved at night, allowing them to rest and recharge.
When the time came, an understanding Social Worker took my brother and Dad under her wing, preparing and educating them about the dying process. Although knowledge can never substitute the agony of death or mourning, I believe it did enlighten them; with this knowledge, they were better prepared and equipped to understand and cope.
Long before our departure, when we informed my parents of our plans to travel, my Mother enthusiastically encouraged us to follow our dreams. In a conversation with her during her convalescence, she vehemently reiterated that we must continue our journey for as long as we can, adding that “life is very short; do not live with regrets.” I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to speak to her, not in a glowing eulogy, but to her directly. She knows how I feel in my heart.
At night, when the evening star lights up the sky next to the moon, Butch and I salute my Mom and say, “Hi, Ilse!” sometimes the moon is full, waning and right now, it’s a sickle with a promise to wax. We have asked her whether it’s lived up to expectations up there. She twinkles and smiles. I think I’ve seen a nod too.
My umbilicus was severed and tied decades ago. Now, she lives as a polished stone stuck in my heart. The ache, I know, will, like the tides, ebb and flow but never go.
My dearest friend Jurie, 99 years old, passed away three weeks ago. Suddenly, I feel rudderless, a small dugout bobbing on the mighty Zambezi. I swallow another stone. Along with the sunbathing crocodile, the hippos grunt and a warm wind whips frothy waves one minute and smooths things out the next. I know the waters will flow calmly with hardly a ripple tomorrow. That’s life.
In his book Covenant of Water, Abraham Verghese says that no matter how unique we are, how different our thoughts, hopes, dreams and circumstances are, “our tears are all the same.” I mourn these two women who played an unequivocal role in my life.
Last Sunday, while the Springboks thrashed Romania in the RWC, we celebrated Sarine’s 94th Birthday. We have much to look forward to and to celebrate.
The photos are just random pictures of our year in colour, I have tried to keep them in chronological order except where they’re relevant to a story or pargraph.