Stories

 

South Africa


From the 8th of August to the 16th of September, 2016



Gradually the arid landscapes gave place to an unfamiliar green coat. With the first streams appeared the first plantations, mainly vineyards and orange groves. With the first rains of the season the first flowers emerged along the roads and gradually covering entire field in bright yellow, orange, purple and white. The kopjes were replaced by the Cerderberg mountain range with their San rock paintings, waterfalls and beautiful rock formations. Approaching Cape Town, the pristine blue sky which we were accustomed to for several months gave way to clouds, grey and mist. The winter in the southern hemisphere wasn't over yet, it was cool and wet.

    


CAPE TOWN - Amazing natural setting

Between the beautiful beaches and the majestic Table Mountain, Cape Town has an amazing natural setting which reminded me of Rio de Janeiro. Downtown, the Lion Head Mountain offers a 360° view over Cape Town, the harbor and the Table Mountain rising to 1086m above sea level. The spectacular Chapman's Drive winds along the steep coast, overlooking the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean. On the Indian Ocean side of the peninsula, a penguin colony is nested in an calm and idyllic cove. The Table Mountain extends as a peninsula for about a hundred kilometers to the Cape of Good Hope, feared by sailors for its very rough waters. Despite to what is often said, it is not the most southern point of Africa, however its cliff overlooking the sea, the force of the water accompanied by strong winds, really gives the feeling of being at the end of the world.

    

Unfortunately, just like the Brazilian metropolis, Cape Town is also one of the cities with the most social disparity in the world. During the years 60-70, the Townships were created as dormitories to provide cheap labor. Lacking legal housing, they built some squatter camps which the government repeatedly demolished. Today they are a permanent feature of the Cape Flats. If the situation has improved by introducing electricity, running water and sanitation, criminality and drugs remain a big problem. Although the apartheid regime has been dismantled, somehow discrimination based on wealth has replaced one based on race.


THE COAST - Whales & tip of Africa

Along the coast, landscapes alternate between steep cliffs and white sandy beaches. De Hoop National Park and its huge sand dunes offered us a wonderful setting for land based whale watching. The mammals enjoyed breeching and waving at us with their fins. In Plettenberg, we hiked along the rocky cliffs of the Robberg Peninsula admiring the funny sea lion colonies in the calm and turquoise waters of the bay and the whales on the open ocean side.

    

At Cape Angulas we reached the southernmost point of Africa. Unlike the Cape of Good Hope, here there is no cliff and not a Cape itself. Nevertheless, the coast is beautiful and surely not overrun by tourists. Since we reached the shores, the weather played tricks on us. It was mostly cloudy, misty or even rainy. In Port Elizabeth, we left the coast heading to Lesotho. After merely twenty kilometers, the green and wet landscapes gave place to drier hills. It is surprising to see how local the climate is.

Click here to read the following story about our journey through Lesotho.


KwalZulu Natal - Land of the Zulu people

After a week discovering the beauty and simplicity of the Kingdom of Lesotho, an enclave within South Africa, we left the heights of the Drakensberg mountain chain to begin the long descent of the famous Sani Pass. We crossed kilometers of hills covered in sugarcane plantations and dotted with corrugated tin roofs of the Zulu people rondavels. Unlike the developed costal region, here the lifestyle is definitely more... African.


SHARKS - Let's jump

Sharks are playing an extremely important role in the ecosystem of our oceans. They remove the weak and the sick and ensure species diversity.

Sadly, the Great white shark population has declined by 79% in the past 15 years. At this alarming rate, they might be extinct in 10 years time. I decided to jump in the cold waters for a closer encounter with this powerful creature. In Gansbaai, my first try was very disappointing. There is an abundance of companies offering cage diving. Instead of passionate divers, busloads of youngsters looking for an adrenaline rush are hauled in from Cape Town. A few days later I gave it another try in Mossel Bay and it was a completely different experience. After a short boat ride, the skipper stopped the engine by a little island, home to a seal colony and feeding ground of the Great White Shark. The cage was lowered into the water and the crew started to attract the sharkies. Within minutes, the first one showed up and we jumped into the cage. During one hour, about six Great White Sharks of around 4 meters took turns swimming past the cage. While novice divers might get the idea that the sharks are on a manhunt, they are actually after the half rotten tuna head which is used as a bait. Protecting their eyes during the attack, they do not always realize the distance of the cage and sometimes end up hitting the bars. No doubt, they are powerful creatures which deserve some respect!

      

A few kilometers south of Durban, Aliwal Shoal is the playground of other types of sharks. After a short boat ride, we started gearing up for our dive. Half a dozen of dorsal fins were slicing through the water line. Regulators in place, we back rolled into the water. Eight meters down, we were at the heart of a group of twenty Oceanic Black Tip Sharks. From time to time, our dive master grabbed a small bait stored in a drum and "threw" it to the sharks. The shark snapped the sardine in a fraction of a second and then lowered their pace again. For over an hour, we were face to face (no cage) with those amazing creatures. They came close, gave us curious looks, but never showed any signs of aggression. And to make this moment even more special, during the whole dive we could hear Whales singing. It felt as if the time had stopped, as if it was a dream which would vanish from one second to the other.

The second dive was a simple (no bait) reef dive were we got the chance to see a small group of Ragged Tooth Sharks resting in the sand. As soon as we reached the bottom, the group split up but they came back, one by one giving us a closer look. I have to say that this specie haven't been granted the most pleasant appearance by mother nature. Their facial expression with their teeth sticking out is not really charming.

I truly hope that humankind will soon open its eyes to the urgency to save our oceans, producing more than 50% of the oxygen in the atmosphere.


WILD COAST - Sardine Run

Being a rather shy person, I never pictured myself in front of cameras, even less speaking in a foreign language. But when it was the price to pay to make one of my dream come through, I didn't think twice. I was selected to be one of 24 divers taking part in a TV production about the Sardine Run. This is one of the biggest migration on the planet, attracting predators such as sharks, dolphins, whales, gannets, sailfish, etc. We also had the opportunity to discover the splendid Wild Coast (ex-Transkei) with beautiful waterfalls dropping right into the ocean, amazing rock formations and lovely white sand beaches. For details of this fascinating experience, you will have to wait for the TV program called "Bait Ball". It will be shown around the world by early 2017. For now I'll have to keep you in suspense...

    

SODWANA - Diving and Braaiing

While reaching Sodwana Bay 200 km north of Durban, a Land Rover overtook us. With a big smile, the driver asked : "Hey, do you remember us?". Three months earlier, while crossing the Chobe National Park in Botswana, Steve and his gang slowed down to let us drive through the deep sand track. As soon as they saw our license plate, they jumped out of the car : "You guys drove all the way down here from Europe? That's so sick!" After exchanging a few words, we continued our journeys going opposite directions. Thousands of kilometers away from our first encounter, here he was with his friend Tim and his new boat ready for a fishing trip. We stayed together at the campsite and had lots of fun enjoying a braai that evening. The following morning, Raphaël went out fishing with them while I went diving. Back to land with a very pale look, Rapha described his day as the worst of his life. Welcome to the sea sickness club... For me however, I really had some really nice dives: Even though the water was just above 20 degrees, Sodwana is having an incredible diverse and healthy reef. There is lots of soft and hard coral and quite some fish life too including rays and turtles.


KRUGER - Fully booked even in low season

On the way to Kruger, we followed the Blyde Canyon and stopped on different viewpoints such as the beautiful Bourke's Luck pothole. It features giant pots carved in red rock.

    

How to fill up Kruger National Park accommodation outside of the holiday period? Simple, you just need to give 50% discount to retirees and they will be happy to anchor their caravan for a few weeks. Even though we booked a few days in advance, there were only a few pitches in the far corners of the park left. For us that meant more driving and being further away from the hotspots in the first hours of the day (dawn and dusk are the best times for animal spotting). Maybe because of that we didnt manage to see a leopard. Nevertheless, we have seen huge herds of elephants grazing in the dry river beds or running desperately for the waterholes, rhinos resting in the shade, families of lions sharing a meal, giraffes reaching for the unreachable, hippos farting in their pond and even a serval (cat) searching for some breakfast.

    


HYUNDI - In need for a SPA

Hyundi recently reached 200 000 kilometers on its clock, but not without the little hick-ups that goes with it. The high pressure fuel line gave up 20 000 kilometers after our previous "fix" in the Omani desert. Hyundai workshops are not servicing models which are not commercialized in the country. We couldn't find a spare one in the Korean spares specialists neither. In order to make it to Cape Town (our best bet for spares) a mechanic came to our rescue by welding a temporary connection. In Cape Town, we finally found new fitting tires and had a new fuel line being custom made for us. After crossing a few 3000 meters above sea level mountain passes with a weak engine, we couldn't postpone the repairs any further. In the Durban area, we drove from one specialist to the next, trying to identify the problem. After cleaning every possible part without success, a Hyundai computer test confirmed one injector has turned bad. Andre, the owner of the very first workshop we met, gave us the space, the tools and the knowledge we needed to change the injector ourselves. After a few phone calls he miraculously found a brand new matching injector which was delivered to us an hour later. By dark, we finally drove back to our campsite. Hyundi was full power again! A huge thanks to Andre and his staff for their valuable assistance, time and advice they generously offered.

      


VISA WAIVER - Pure nonsense

In South Africa, Europeans (incl. Swiss) are entitled to three months visa waiver. A few weeks earlier, when I left Raphael in Namibia to take part in the sardine run for two weeks, I didn't think I would find myself in such a situation. On my return to Namibia, we cruised around the country for 6 weeks before finally entering South Africa by land. To my surprise, the officer informed me that I only had five weeks left. The exemption starts the day you set foot in the country, whether you stay there a day or 3 months, when you leave the country, the days continue to run. If you come back within those 3 months, they give you the remaining days. Extending a visa waiver is not longer possible and visa run into a neighboring country is not accepted neither. If you come back after the three months waiver has expired they give you 7 days to leave the country. The rule is that you need to return to your home country and come back to be granted a new 3 months. This stupid law forced us to speed up the visit of South Africa, we had to drive every day. It was like those traveling packages when you just have time to take a picture and continue to the next point of interest. We had to plan our itinerary counting the days and the different points of interest while taking into account mechanical issues with Hyundi. It was not an easy one!


SOUTH AFRICA - A land of contrast

South Africa is a land of contrast where beautiful natural wonder lies next to some of the most horrendous places. It has the strongest economy of Africa as well as some of the most striking poverty. It has some of the friendliest people living side by side with extremely violent criminals. It is hard not to become paranoid when road signs are giving warnings such as "Crime Alert - Do not Stop " or "Hi-jacking hot spot". It didn't help neither to hear people reminding us about safety rules day after day. Does it reflect the reality or is it pure paranoia? Whatever the answer, it didn't make us feel comfy at all and that's a pity! South Africa has a great variety of landscapes from coast and desert to mountain and savannah as well as a highly diversified fauna ranging from the penguin and the whale to the lion and the elephant.

      

For us South Africa was a real mix of feelings. We spent way too much time looking for spares and fixing Hyundi while on the other hand we met extremely friendly people which didn't hesitate to drop what they were doing to help us. If the safety issue was always somewhere in our mind we made our way around it by driving from one safety bubble to the next. Over years of traveling I realized that whatever I experience, only the good memories will stick. The bad ones simply become something to laugh about. What will definitely stick to my mind are the breathtaking landscapes we discovered while hiking, the diversity of the wildlife, but most of all, the incredible encounters with the sea life. It is hard to describe the emotion of an eye contact with a 40 tones humpback whales, a playing dolphins or curious sharks. Being in the ocean is like entering another universe where I feel embraced by the elements.

Album "South Africa - August-September 2016"

Video : "Shark diving - South Africa"