Luxury, lions and trouble with the Defender!

Please note.. there is an image of a lion’s meal towards the end of the post, so don’t scroll past the first couple lion pictures unless you want to see it!

We didn’t have far to go for our next stay. We decided it was time to treat ourselves to a luxury African lodge, which happened to be fairly close to Sossusvlei. We drove about an hour to Hoodia Lodge, and to our luck, they were able to accommodate us in one of their bungalows!  It was stunning. We were able to clean up, enjoy the pool and catch up with a little wifi (albeit slow). Photos by Chris Bennett.

It was a typical African Lodge where they come out and meet you with a cold beverage and then treat you like royalty, constantly checking to see if anything is needed or if they could do anything. We had some laundry done, as our clothing was starting to get a little stinky, and simply relaxed. We had been driving significant distances for the past week, so it was nice to unwind and relax.

Our next stopping point was towards Mata Mata – a border crossing into the Kalahari in South Africa. We decided to check out the Kalahari Game Lodge just before the border to South Africa, which offered both lodge facilities and camping, as well as a large lion reserve.  I had emailed the day before to check availability, as we were unsure if we would make it the whole way or not.

Maybe I jinxed us, but as we were driving, we had to cross a couple very large puddles (there was no avoiding them). A few minutes after going through, the engine slumped and we lost most of the power to the engine. We got out the satellite phone and called the rental company. They said try to get to the nearest town and find a garage, then call back. We were about 15 km from the smallest town, and we found a couple garages in the GPS. Going about 35 mph the whole way, we made it around 10:30, and since it was Saturday, one garage was closed and the other had to call in the guy who worked on diesel engines. He came, took it for a drive and said it was the fuel filter. He said he couldn’t help and for us to drive to the next town, a small city where they would have more options. We started making our way there and called the rental company back. They told us to find the Toyota fuel/service station and to ask the attendant where Christie lived. Apparently he lived nearby and they would know.

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After going through the water

We get to the fuel station and ask, and they direct us around the corner to Christie’s. He came right out and started taking apart the engine. He pulled out the air filter. The engine had essentially started eating the filter after it got wet. He cleaned it up with the air compressor, flipped it around, took the defender for a spin and we were off! Even better, we weren’t charged a thing. We got that sense throughout our travels – people in Africa are inherently kind – and not looking to make money at every instance!  It may sound like it was a seamless day, but it’s a little stressful when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and your satellite phone only works some of the time!

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The engine ate the air filter

We did eventually make it the Kalahari Game Lodge, and when we arrived we opted for camping – as the sites were set up with individual eco-friendly bathrooms and washing stations. It was an impressive set up!

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Our camping set-up. The stars were insane! Chris Bennett Photo.

We signed up for a ride through the Lion reserve the next morning. All the ‘dangerous’ animals were kept in a large (read thousands of acres) area that was blocked off from the camping/lodging area for safety.

The next morning, we woke up early, layered on clothes (it was probably around 50 degrees, but after 100 degrees it felt like 20!) and headed out in the truck to find some lions. The excursion didn’t disappoint – we saw 1 female and 4 male lions. 3 of them were relaxing after a nice meal of orix, which we saw nearby. Also nearby was an enormous giraffe – the photo doesn’t do the size justice. If you don’t want to see the orix leftovers, only scroll through the next 4 photos, the 5th is a little graphic!

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The photographer
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The photo doesn’t do the size of this guy justice
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We got pretty close!
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Watching the lioness.
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They had just feasted.

After the tour, we decided to head towards Johannesburg, where we were going to meet the rental guy for a new air filter. From there, and in my next (and I think final Africa post) – on to Kruger National Park!

Desert, dunes and finally some animals!

Up until this point, our wildlife encounters had been limited to cows, donkeys and goats crossing, standing or laying in the road. As we drove into Etosha, we knew our luck was turning as a huge giraffe crossed the road just inside the gate. We got our permit at the gate and made our way into the park. After reserving our campsite, we started taking our time driving. Like most wildlife parks in Africa, we had to stay in our car in most areas – you never know what may be lurking in the tall grass!

We weren’t very far in when we noticed we were surrounded by zebra! We joked throughout the remainder of the trip that we thought the parks baited the entrance/exit gates as we saw more animals near those than within the park! Etosha was a fairly flat park, but we drove through and down roads to the different view points and pans. We stayed the night in the park – right next to a water hole, so were treated to seeing a couple rhinos at sunset!

From Etosha, we headed to Swakopmund – a city on the coast of Namibia that seemingly arises out of nowhere from the desert!

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The second time we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn!

We had some fun stopping in the middle of the desert road to have some fun with the Defender and also stopped to check out the items the Herero tribe women made and sold along the way to the Skeleton Coast (which is known for its many shipwrecks). Photos below are by Chris Bennett.

Swakopmund is a very German city that reminded me a lot of Nice, France. There was a promenade and pier and it seemed almost tropical. We opted to stay in a hotel to freshen up, and treated ourselves to pizza and skewers at a restaurant for dinner. I was expecting kebab style skewers… This was my surprise!

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100 grams each of rump, venison, Orix, Ostrich and Eland!
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Hotel Balcony in Swakopmund! Chris Bennett Photo

From Swakopmund, we made our way to Sossusvlei, catching sunset at Dune 45 and spent the next day exploring the Deadvlei.

We left Sossusvlei sweaty and sandy. Next stop – a luxury African lodge!

Into the bush…the search for border officials (Africa Part 2)

Picking up where we left off, Chris and I had made the decision to head towards Namibia. We decided on a route that would take us through one of the most remote areas of Botswana, and one of the most, if not the most, remote border crossings into Namibia. Because of the remoteness, and not knowing where we could next fuel up, we filled up the three tanks of the Defender and the two jerry cans and started our way towards the Dobe border crossing.

The road was….challenging. Like most roads in Botswana, it was dirt, but because of all the rain they had gotten, it was washed out and slow-going. We probably averaged 30 mph for most of the 85 miles to the border. The road was bumpy and definitely required a 4×4. The Defender took on it’s first puddle (more like a pond), and after a quick stall and a skipped heartbeat, pulled itself out like a pro.

We knew the border would be quiet, but we didn’t realize we would have to search for the border officials. The official from Botswana saw us drive by and came running towards us shortly thereafter. We completed the required paperwork, got our exit stamps in our passports and then they opened the gate for us to leave. After the first gate, we had to get out, step on this pad with liquid on it as they sprayed our tires for foot and mouth. Then they opened the gate for Namibia and we drove through.

There was no gate to stop at once we were in Namibia, but knowing we needed stamps we stopped at the first building we saw and got out. The office doors were open, paperwork and stamps sitting out, but no one was in sight. Chris walked around back and after several minutes, found the police and immigration official. Chris sat down with the police and did the paperwork for the car and I sat with the immigration official to get the passports stamped. I had left my occupation blank by accident, so when he asked and I said I was unemployed, he looked at me confused. “I’m just traveling the world” I said… and his reply was “So…. housewife?”  Sure. I went with it because it would have been harder to explain. We asked them how many people they saw come through that border. One car…. every few days.

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Camping! Chris Bennett Photo

Once we got our stamps, the roads became much easier and we made our way to our first camp in Namibia in the Naye-Naye Concession Area, near local bushmen villages. Here, we met another couple who had rented a Land Cruiser from SA 4×4 and were traveling a reverse route to us and going from Cape Town to Nairobi. They were doing our trip, but on steroids. They actually made it to Zimbabwe and encountered the road blocks that we opted to avoid. Check their trip out at beyondboundaries.blog.

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Eric and Monika – en route to Nairobi! Chris Bennett Photo

From there we began working our way to the Atlantic. We stopped on our way at a local San Bushmen village, where they welcome visitors who make the drive down the 4 mile sand track to learn about their culture. It definitely was a highlight of the trip. Photos by Chris.

We made it to Roy’s Rest Camp that evening – which was quite the experience! Complete with a bathtub filling the swimming pool.

At this point, we realized our trip was turning around and getting a little more exciting. Botswana was unfortunately a bust, but we hope to go back in a drier time. The next stop would bring some wildlife…Etosha National Park, and some dead trees…Sossusvlei. More on that next week!