It’s 08:00, the first day of a new year and the first New Year’s Day I can remember being awake before at least 10:00am. 10 other people plus 2 guides are on hand to meet us and get things started.
We’ve got an interesting crowd:
- 2 Swiss
- 4 Germans
- 2 Brazilians
- 2 Swedes
- Sandile (our driver) from South Africa
- Shinghi (our guide) from Zimbabwe
I’d wondered if we’d be too old for this sort of thing, but we’re definitely in the lower quartile age wise. I reckon the average age is about 38.
For what it’s worth, when I took a similar tour in 2000 we were guided by 3 white South Africans. Now, our two black leaders perhaps gives another indication of the progress South Africa has made in that time. It’s certainly cool to hear their accents and swahili interactions.
One thing that hasn’t changed about Nomad tours is that they name each truck in their fleet after dead musicians. Our chariot between Johannesburg and Victoria Falls is “Ray” (after Ray Charles).
Today is basically a long drive up to Botswana, but it’s a good chance to already see the pretty South African scenery and a reminder why people call this the most developed country in Africa. Pretty smooth roads leads us with no qualms about doing our own driving here in March. As our guide also reminded us, this is a country where democracy is really happening effectively – which was good to hear – but the contrast was made between Zimbabwe and Zambia, in particular, where the democratic process is not happening anything like as effectively.
We made it across the border around 5 ish and travelled to our first night stop by sunset (around 6:45). There were loads of kids running through the streets waving as we arrived. I’m still not sure whether they’re grateful for the money tourists bring in, or just are genuinely excited to see people come to their town. We navigated our way down some of the streets and across railway tracks to find our campsite – amusingly there was a sign saying something along the lines of, “don’t worry the ugliness will end soon – your campsite is just 100 yards this way”.
After a quick lesson on pitching our tent (pretty straightforward which is good news given we’ll be in it for most of our 42 nights!), we had a beautiful Braai (basically a South African barbecue) dinner and got to know our group. Certainly a good bunch and the only issue seems to be shyness as opposed to obnoxiousness. That’s pretty fine in my book.
Bad news is the announcement that our journey will continue at 05:30 the next day. Uh-oh.
Learnings of the day:
- Botswana is the geographic size of France, with about a 2m population
- 80% of the country is covered by the Kalahari desert
- National Animal: Zebra
- Independent from Britain in 1966, the first president was married to a white woman. Both were loved by their country.
- The currency is the Pula – which means “rain” in the local language. This gives an indication of the importance rain has in this country
- Don’t be lazy when pitching your tent – always put up the flysheet when traveling in rainy season – or else risk getting up at 2 am to do it!