Who knew Africa was so amazing? Well, a lot of people, but certainly not us. I had to work hard to get Tom to agree to include the continent in our journey. He harbored the usual fears: malaria, AIDS, crime, hippos, but I pressed on. I finally obtained his approval when I convinced him it gave us a much bigger bang for our frequent flyer bucks (the more miles we fly for free the more value from our RTW tickets) and promised to limit our travels to the more developed nation of South Africa.
We arrived on the Dark Continent over a week ago and were immediately smitten by this gorgeous, vibrant land. We spent a glorious five days in Pretoria doing absolutely nothing but eating cheap, delicious food, shopping at an actual supermarket, lounging beside the pool, and getting a vision for our month here. Blame it all on a Belgian named Tom, but our itinerary has expanded from one African country to five. Tom has been working at our backpacker lodge, North South, for the past year. Prior to that, he traveled Southern Africa extensively and is a resident expert on the region. When we asked him where he thought we should go, he filled our heads with stories of warm people, ancient ruins, and natural wonders from Mozambique to Namibia and Zimbabwe to Lesotho. After many discussions and picking of other people’s brains, we decided on an action-packed itinerary that includes many parts of South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia (Victoria Falls!!!! Yay!!!!), and Namibia.
We’ve rented the big, bad 8-seater Mercedes Vito to ferry us from country to country. The Vito, which we’ve taken to calling Uncle Vito, should be the source of much shame for Mercedes since it is neither luxurious nor smooth. Uncle Vito is particularly annoying since at the ripe old age of 4, his air conditioning is ineffective and most of his windows and doors do not function properly. The rental company gave us a decent deal and apologized when they delivered him with a cracked windshield and broken sliding side door. Apparently the previous renters trashed Uncle Vito during their two-week tour and even broke his key off in the ignition. The company offered to replace the windshield, but we said no way. Given the likelihood that we’ll take some rocks along the way, we prefer one that is already trashed. We have “super cover” collision insurance but it doesn’t cover glass damage, nor does it cover any damage that is caused by our negligence. In a nutshell, this means we’re covered if anybody hits us, carjacks us, or steals the car, but not if we hit anything, including an animal, a common occurrence in a region where donkeys and elephants roam free. We’re also not covered if we leave the car unlocked or lose the key. South Africa is rife with theft and reckless drivers, so somehow insurance companies get out of covering anyone who is at fault. We can’t figure out how this can be since it undermines the very point of insurance, namely that “accidents happen” and usually someone is at fault, albeit unintentionally.
So we’re going to try really hard not to inflict any damage on Uncle Vito (i.e., repeat the New Zealand Campervan of Shame experience) while we cruise the nether regions of this massive continent. He’s big enough to accommodate camping gear and groceries, which are going to be a necessity in pricey Botswana
and remote Namibia and which we’ve already used in Swaziland and Zambia. We’re excited to see everything from oceans to mountains to deserts, and from giraffes to lions to penguins. Though we vowed never to travel great distances in a car again any time soon after Rajasthan, we’re now well rested and ready to ignore our own advice, especially since we’re the ones driving and most of the roads we’ll be traveling are in good condition. We’ve got three and a half weeks to get to Cape Town. We’ll let you know how it goes!