From Robertson to Uganda
Ben and Iza Kriel (both 60) have been exploring Africa since 1995. In June and July 2017, they drove all the way to Uganda.
Why this tour? We’ve been to all of South Africa’s neighbouring countries and also to Angola and Tanzania (Serengeti and Ngorongoro). This time we wanted to see mountain gorillas in Uganda and also fish for Nile perch at Murchison Falls. June is a quiet month on the farm – our son Kobus offered to keep an eye on things. When we travel long distance, we like to go in a convoy of three vehicles. It’s a nice number because you can move fast and many campsites can accommodate three vehicles per stand. Our braai grid also has enough space for meat for six people! Ben’s brother Jacques and his wife Johanna – also from Robertson – and our friends Francois and Isabel Marais from Worcester decided to join us. We’ve done many trips together and we understand each other. How do you plan such a trip? We plan long in advance. We never use a travel guide and tend to rely on Google. In 2010, our eldest son Pieter-Ben and four of his friends drove from London to Cape Town in a beat-up old Land Cruiser. He gave us lots of helpful information. We used Google Maps to determine driving distances and to estimate travel times. It’s slow-going in Tanzania because you drive through built-up areas where the speed limit is 50 – 80 km/h and there are traffic officials around every corner. (Set aside some money for traffic fines.) Although we plan our route carefully, we don’t usually book accommodation beforehand. We did have to arrange permits for the mountain gorilla excursion, however, and book in advance for the fishing outing at Murchison Falls. We bought the permits online via Uganda Wildlife Authority ( ugandawildlife.org) and had to collect them at their offices in Kampala. Because the dates were fixed, we had to stick to a rough itinerary. Your route? We followed the Great Northern Road – the most direct route through Botswana and Zambia – to Kapishya Hot Springs north of Mpika in Zambia. Then we took the main road through Tanzania to Iringa, where we turned north towards Dodoma and then further north to Arusha. It took only nine days to drive from Robertson to Arusha! From there, we were in unknown territory. We went a bit slower, but the driving was still strenuous. We went to Nairobi in Kenya and on to the Maasai Mara for the wildebeest migration. Next up was Uganda, where we flew over Queen Elizabeth National Park in a hot air balloon to celebrate turning 60! Then it was time to see the mountain gorillas. Our permits were for Rushaga in the southern section of Bwindi National Park. Since we were the most senior hikers, we were placed in the group that visited the closest gorilla family. We reached them within two hours. Those first sounds we heard… Making eye contact with the gorillas… Those are moments that we’ll remember forever. Rwanda was the biggest surprise on the tour. There’s no litter anywhere. In Kigali we visited the Genocide Memorial and marvelled at how a country can be rebuilt. From Kigali, we crossed the border at Rusumo and travelled back to Tanzania where we drove south along Lake Tanganyika and entered Zambia at the small Kasesya border post. Exactly a month later we were back at Kapishya Hot Springs. North of Lusaka, we turned west to Kafue National Park. Afterwards, we entered Namibia at Katima Mulilo and travelled south to South Africa. What did you drive? A 2005 Toyota Land Cruiser 2.4 diesel pick-up. The other vehicles in our convoy were a 1996 Land Cruiser 80-series station wagon and a 2017 Ford Ranger double cab. JW Swart from Infanta Trailers ( infantatrailers. co.za) built a canopy for our Cruiser. It has a kitchen, a cupboard for our clothes and a Honiball roof tent, among other things. The benefit of a customised canopy is that you don’t have to unpack anything except your camping chairs when you arrive in a
campsite. Everything stays clean and you can start cooking, boiling water or go to bed without much hassle. And when you want to strike camp and hit the road, everything folds away in minutes. The Cruiser has an extra long-distance tank that holds 210 litres of diesel. We also travelled with 80 litres of drinking water. We had a winch and a high-lift jack for emergencies. We also packed extra diesel and air filters and serviced the vehicle as required. Clean diesel isn’t a given in Africa and dusty roads determine how often you need to clean or replace the air filters. Our trip went smoothly – there were a few flat tyres, but we sorted them out ourselves. We always travel with two spare wheels. Documentation? Copies of your vehicle’s registration certificate are essential. A Carnet de Passage en Douane (CPD) is a requirement in Kenya. It cost R3 500 and we got R1 500 back. We always took out third-party insurance at each border post. At the Tunduma border post in Tanzania it was easier because we could get insurance for Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. We bought all our visas at the border post, too. We took along American dollars because you can use them at a lot of places. Otherwise we exchanged currency before entering a new country, always checking the exchange rate so we wouldn’t be ripped off. What did you eat? We planned carefully for the 42 days on the road and bought food supplies in South Africa. Our main meal was in the evening. We stored preserves like beetroot salad, carrots and quinces in jars or in the freezer, and we prepared fresh vegetables. We packed dry rations in ammo boxes or cardboard boxes that we could throw away when empty to make space in the vehicle. Breakfast was anything from bacon and eggs to fruit, muesli and yoghurt. If we were in a rush, we ate Corn Flakes. Lunch was something we could eat on the road like smoked snoek or hamburger patties on bread rolls. At night we braaied or made a potjie and served it with vegetables and salad. We rotated cooking duties among the couples so the people who were not cooking could relax. On the road we stopped for tea or breakfast at scenic spots and we sometimes braaied a quick round of boerewors while we were there. We took frozen meat in an 80-litre National Luna freezer and we never had any problems. It’s only when you travel south through Botswana and Namibia that your vehicle will be searched. By then we’d eaten most of our meat. We bought fresh produce at markets, and yoghurt at supermarkets. We took along our own box wine – we’re wine farmers after all.
What to pack? Our packing list is comprehensive and includes a freezer, a GPS, a portable shower, a converter for the 220 V hairdryer and a vehicle recovery kit. Laundry? We usually wash our clothes ourselves – laundry dries quickly in the heat. When we spend two nights at a place, we sometimes make use of the laundry service. How can you cut costs? Fuel is the biggest expense. Our accommodation costs were minimal because we camped every night – it makes a big difference. We paid an average of R124 per person per night for our 42-night trip. (Sometimes we camped wild where there were no facilities.) It all depends on what you want to do and see. Entry to the national parks in East Africa is expensive, so decide beforehand which parks and attractions you’d like to see. Border crossings? It’s a challenge. Remember, you’re in Africa so take it slow. We put aside enough time to cross the border and didn’t stress about it. We usually try to cross without assistance, but sometimes we’d pay a runner if the border post was very busy. Many borders have one-stop posts (like Rusumo makes the between whole process Rwanda so and much Tanzania), easier. which Road conditions? The main roads were generally in a good condition. Some tar roads had lots of potholes – a good gravel road is better to drive than a bad tar road! Most countries are currently upgrading their roads. A GPS with Tracks4Africa is essential. Did you ever feel unsafe? No, we always feel safer when we leave South Africa. In Kimberley, someone opened the car door on Isabel’s side and grabbed her cellphone. Any medical emergencies? We took along all the necessary medicine and injections like adrenaline. (Ben is allergic to bee stings.) We use prophylactics like Malanil for malaria and this time we took along a malaria test kit. We’ve never had a serious emergency and don’t have travel insurance. How did you stay in contact? We’re with MTN and we enabled roaming on our cellphones – we had reception in most places. There was Wi-Fi available at many of the places we camped. What have your travels in Africa taught you? It’s a privilege to be able to travel together – we’ll always savour the memories. Africa is home to spectacular scenery and friendly people. It also has the potential to produce enough food to feed the world through agriculture. Every time we return home, we realise: We live in a beautiful valley, but we’ll always have a soft spot for Africa and its people and we’ll travel north as long as it’s possible. Any other advice? Plan well and just do it!
BUSHCAMP NEAR TARANGIRE ,TANZANIA
FLOOD DAMAGE NEAR MAASAI MARA, KENYA
MPOSHI, ZAMBIA VEGETABLE STALL AT KAPIRI