South Africa - Round The World Tour 2003 Day 30
Friday 11th April
Today was a day of logistics. We didn’t go to see any attraction, participate in any adventure activity or take any photos. The main object today was to investigate and plan the next leg of the trip here in Africa. We don’t have a planned agenda and so solving these logistical problems is part and parcel of the game and a necessary evil that we are always fighting with. We want to go to Namibia next and then onto Botswana. I’ve reviewed some of the options for simply getting there over the past week or so but since we are now in Cape Town with Namibia just around the corner, it’s now crunch time. Mainly, we want to see Etosha National Park, the Okavango Delta and the Chobe National Park. The idea is to maximise our time viewing game. With this objective in mind, we set off this morning to see what the options were.
Since another logistical hurdle I wanted to tackle today was to get some more photos online, I called around to see which Internet Café had the best uplink speed. The 128K-link at the Internet Café in Oudtshoorn the night before last was too slow and my attempt to get the photos online failed miserably. I did manage to send out the e-mail telling people that the photos were almost there but the upload of the photos failed after the e-mail went out. The e-mails from various people looking for something that was not there started to arrive today so I had to rectify this. The fastest connection in town was at the Odyssey Internet Café at the shopping mall down by the seafront so we headed there this morning with the laptop in tow. It’s a pretty nice place with twenty or so workstations and a bar. I sat at one of the barstools and ordered my connection from the waitress behind the bar. She handed me a UTP cable and a piece of paper with some IP addresses and I was off. Within a minute or two, I was surfing the web and started the fifteen-megabyte or so photo upload without delay. The connection was not terribly fast but still a lot better than anything I’ve seen so far. I took the opportunity to download some system upgrades (to the tune of about sixty-megabytes or so) for the laptop also. Strangely, soon after I hooked myself up, several other customers started to complain about their connection speeds drastically diminishing. Funny how these things happen, isn’t it. Not long after the complaints started to come in, the place started to slowly empty until I was the only one left. It’s nice to have the entire bandwidth to yourself J
Whilst I was busy hogging all the bandwidth (and the staff were busy trying to locate the source of the apparent traffic bottleneck), Sandy meandered around the mall looking for a new fleece top to replace two other tops that she is not happy with. She will cut down on the amount of clothing that she is going to continue to drag around in her heavy backpack. Although I was convinced that I had reduced the amount of clothing in my backpack to the bare minimum essentials, even I am going to leave one or two thing s behind also. It’s amazing what the difference is between what you think you need before departure and what you think you need after having travelled for a while. This is just one of the many learning curves that we’ve been through so far.
After a light lunch down by the seafront hive of activity, we went in search of a travel specialist that could assist us with our Namibia & Botswana dilemma. Luckily, this place is teeming with them. We consulted our new companion bible (the little Coast-to-Coast book for backpackers) and stopped in at Ashanti Travel Specialist. We chatted with the nice young lady with various piercings all over her body and a very peculiar combination of facial makeup designs. If she could be any more laid back or mellow, I swear she would be dead. She basically told us that we would find it difficult to try to arrange the next few weeks independently and didn’t give us much hope that we would be able to meet our unofficial objective of getting more time in the national parks that the couple of days here and there provided for by the organised tours. We left Ashanti without booking anything and went in search of the next place that the Coast-to-Coast book recommended.
In Long Street, where we had looked over a selection of backpackers places the other night (without success, I might add), there was a small place that came highly recommended in the little bible. We went in and chatted for a while with the young lady who was indeed very helpful but also of the opinion that an organised, overland tour was the way to go. At this point, we were starting to buckle under the pressure when the owner came through the front door. The nice, young lady vacated her seat, making way for the owner who we then dealt with for the next three quarters of an hour. He is a very nice man and patiently addressed all of our concerns and wishes one-by-one. He’s very good at his job and did go out of his way to work things out for us – as was promised in the book. After almost an hour of discussion, we were sold on the idea of an organised, overland tour from Cape Town to Victoria falls and then, subsequently, another organised, overland tour from Victoria Falls to Dar Es Salaam and Zanzibar. After factoring in all the costs of transportation from South Africa to Namibia, rental cars, accommodation, food, park entrance fees, etc., etc., etc., the actual cost of the overland tours were starting to look more and more favourable. When allowing for the fact that we have a $50 per day budget for food and lodging anyway, the actual cost of the combined five weeks of overland touring only worked out to be about $1000-$1500 more than we would be paying just to sustain ourselves for that period of time. In effect, we would be getting all the activities that the tours offer, including Etosha, the Okavango Delta, Chobe and Victoria Falls – not to mention the transportation all the way through to Tanzania for just $1000-$1500. Since there is no way we could manage all of this on our own for that little money, the overland tour seemed the best way to go after all. As luck would have it, we were able to book in with a tour that departs Cape Town for Victoria falls on Wednesday (just five days from now) as well as reserving places for a tour from there onwards to Dar Es Salaam. We would have about five days between the tours, which gives us the opportunity of a three-day jaunt back into Chobe for a second time. Suddenly, the vast bulk of the remainder of our time in Southern & Eastern Africa was now arranged and taken care of. What a relief. At the same time, however, this was a bold move and I do feel a little bit of anxiety.
One of my biggest concerns with travelling with an organised tour is the fact that it will be a participation tour that is largely camping oriented. In and of itself, this is not a problem (we’ll see if I am still saying that after erecting a tent out in the wilderness every night for weeks on end). The main problem will be access to electricity. Since we can easily average 400-600 pictures per day between us, it is essential that we be able to recharge our digital camera and laptop batteries every now and then. We discussed this at length with our friendly travel agent and he rang around a few of the companies to run the problem by them. After several phone calls and much debate, the general consensus seems to be that although it may be challenging at times, there should be enough opportunity, if not daily then every other day or so, to gain some access to an electrical outlet. We may need to be a little inventive here and there but that’s all part and parcel of the adventure.
The next major logistical problem to overcome was how to pay for the safaris that we had just signed up for. It’s not a problem to pay for it all using the credit card but doing so levies a 5% charge on top, which works out to about R500 (about two or three night’s worth of accommodation). Off we went, then to the ATM at the mall to suck it as dry as we could using our ATM cards. We managed R4,000 ($570 at the now seven rand to the dollar exchange rate) in two withdrawals of R2,000 each before the machine decided that we’d received quite enough, thank you very much. Although this would have been more than enough to bring the remaining balance to be put onto the credit card down far enough for the 5% to no longer be a real concern, we still needed to worry about obtaining US dollars. Some activities in the overland tours require local payment of US dollars which is also the currency of choice in some of the Eastern African countries. Accordingly, we used the credit card (as opposed to the now exhausted ATM card) to withdraw another R4,500 in two bursts. We will probably get hit with two separate 7,5 Euro withdrawal fees for using the credit card in this way but it still works out to be less than the 5% charge so it was the lesser of two evils. Tomorrow, we return to make the deposit payment.
We went shopping at the supermarket after another quick trip to the Internet Café, again, to by some self-catering food for the next few days. All this restaurant eating is laying into our budget heavily and we really have to put a lid on it.
After dinner (a micro-waved chicken and a French bread), we lounged around a bit and watched TV. After Sandy retired for the night, I sat in the TV room watching the Iraq situation with some others. Another young woman and I struck up a rather heated debate about the pros and cons of going to war with Iraq. The debate went on long enough to weed out almost everyone else in the room before the two of us finally decided we would not change the other’s opinion and we politely agreed to disagree, and thus drawing the match to a close. It was a good, energizing, debate and it was nice to have a formidable debating opponent who was very passionate about their point of view. Although she looked very European (and spoke English and German), it turns out that she was actually from Iran.