Children in Rearview Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear ...
..... Couldn’t decide on the best title. So the adventure of Erik’s and my independent travel has begun. With a debacle. The Land Rover with full camping equipment that was supposed to be delivered to us at Richard’s Bay airport did not arrive. After some time we were able to contact the company and it was revealed that the car had broken down on the way to Richard’s Bay and they had to tow back to Joburg to fix. They told us to rent another vehicle and they’d reimburse us the cost, and as soon as the Land Rover is fixed they’d deliver it to us wherever we are. The veracity of these claims has yet to be verified. We have a 4x4 truck but with no camping outfit at all, it’s just a single cab pickup with a topper. However, to date we are staying in accommodations and the 4x4 capabilities of this vehicle have proven adequate. Most of our first day here, though, was eaten up trying to rent this other vehicle. So we pulled into our tiny cabin in Sodwana Bay and pretty much just ate dinner and went to bed (I needed to catch up on some sleep).
Next day we tried snorkeling at Sodwana Bay but it was very windy and the water was quite cool and it’s a holiday weekend, so mostly all you could see was other peoples’ fins. So we moved on to Kosi Bay. I had a hard time finding accommodations because of the holiday weekend, so I booked us in a place a bit more swanky than our typical budget. It’s perfectly lovely and we’re being fed delicious dinner and breakfast, which is convenient, because there are not a lot of great options locally. So I guess it’s worth the cost. Compare our first night's lodging (left) with our second night's (right) ... you see why we decided to book several more nights at #2. Not that I don't appreciate rustic accommodations, but I have been living in tents and tiny rooms with 5 roommates for the last 2 weeks ..... (Wanna stay at lovely Kosi Moon B&B? I recommend: check them out HERE)
All roads except the main highway around here are just tracks in the sand. There are extremely few “cars,” only 4x4 vehicles driving around, and not even very many of those. We wanted to go snorkeling at a place, Kosi Bay Mouth, where you have to get a permit, only a few issued each day, and must have 4WD in order to access. Our proprietor here at our B&B has been fabulous and helped us get the permit.
So the next day, despite a fierce and chill wind, and rain on the horizon, we set out for Kosi Bay Mouth with our snorkeling kits. Our first attempt at accessing the bay resulted in getting wonderfully lost. It seemed fairly apparent after awhile that both the sign and the man we asked were incorrect in their assessment of the viability of getting to the Bay from this road. But it was such a nice drive paralleling a lake shore through jungle corridors (hopefully the Land Rover-rental people will also pay, when paying for this vehicle’s rental, the damages sure to be charged to us from the massive scratching of branches lining the narrow corridor). Some challenging sections to drive, utterly deserted most of the way except for a handful of men, one of whom was building his fish traps near the lake. Ancient-technology fish traps made of sticks that funnel the fish into a pen from which they can’t swim back out of. Ultimately we ended up at somebody’s house and had to turn around and retrace our tracks.
Erik made the comment along the way: “You know it’s a good road when 25 mph seems like breakneck speed.” I would add that it’s also a good road if you hit your head at least once on the ceiling of the cab. It was a good road. Er, “road.”
We figured out what the true route must be and then made it to the Bay to find the wind and chill hadn’t abated. To get to the good snorkeling, we had to wade across some challenging sections of water. When we got to the “pool” where we wanted to snorkel, the wind was driving the current so strongly, we couldn’t swim against it. So we had to walk up the shore and then let the current carry us back down while snorkeling. Unfortunately because of the overcast day with no sunlight to penetrate the water, we saw very little. And because of the chill, we left after a fairly short time to embark on a new adventure. But it was a beautiful location and because of the limited permits, very few people. Totally worth the trip.
Having driven quite extensively in England and Ireland, Erik has picked up driving on the left side of the road quite easily again. However, the lever for the blinker and the lever for the windshield wipers are reversed on the steering column. So we generally signal to traffic that we are about to make a turn with a swish of the windshield wipers, and clear water off the windshield with a blinking light. We have encountered some rain and the other water was acquired while fording puddles. At one of these puddles, on a 4x4-only road (they’re not kidding about needing 4x4) to Kosi Bay Mouth, a gang of kids lined the roadside making hand signals we didn’t understand. We forded the water hole at a slow speed and kept driving, waving and smiling at the kids. Suddenly we looked behind us and were shocked to find the entire back bumper of our truck loaded down with all of those children crammed on, holding on to god-knows-what to stay on. Five kids had boarded our car with amazing adeptness. They weren’t hurting anything so we let them stay on and they got a kick out of it whenever Erik sped up over the rough terrain. How they managed to hold on through the bumpy sand tracks is beyond me. They eventually signaled us to stop and they got off when we passed their apparent village.
So after leaving Kosi Bay Mouth we decided, since we were a stone’s throw away from the Mozambique border, to cross over and visit a town I’d read about online that had a somewhat famous restaurant and we thought we’d get some fresh seafood for lunch (a late lunch). So we crossed the border quickly and simply. It seemed perhaps a bit too simple with only one thing to do and no money to pay. We drove away slightly leery but no one chased us down, so we continued. We knew that 4WD was required to reach this town, but what a shock to go from a two-lane pristinely-paved highway in South Africa to, upon crossing the border, a single-lane track of pure sand. Again, no kidding about the necessity of 4WD. It was very reminiscent of driving through the proto-Sahara desert in Tunisia up to the oasis at the edge of the “true” desert…. a braid of track through the sand, take your pick whichever looks the most passable. This is the main and only road from South Africa into Mozambique at this particular border. So it was much slower going than we had envisioned.
When we finally arrived “someplace,” that is to say somewhere obviously touristy and not a ramshackle stick-and-thatch village lined with idle kids and women with bundles on their heads, we discovered it was not our intended destination. But by then a significant amount of time had passed and the border post closed at 6pm so we needed to retrace our steps before then. But we were a bit famished. So we stayed there, which turned out to be a fairly posh resort right on the coast, and ordered a beer and some lunch. We felt slightly crunched for time to return to the border and hoped our food would arrive promptly. Just for kicks I decided to ask one of the hotel staff who seemed to speak good English about the route back to the border, if maybe there was a better or faster one. What a stroke of genius I had in this respect, for this is when I found out that the border in fact closes at 5pm not 6. And therefore, we needed to leave immediately if we didn’t want to spend the night in Mozambique. So we canceled our lunch order, chugged our beers and headed out in a race for the border. Though the hotel staff recommended a different route, the landmarks for this route seemed slightly nebulous – we had encountered no signs of any sort in Mozambique, so we decided it was safer to retrace our steps. But we needed to make better time back than we had coming. So Erik had a fine time as Mozambique Rally Car Driver of the Year, or at least Driver of the Day, getting us back to the border. Fortunately we were not slowed down by any cars in front of us … this is the desolate nature of these roads. About 50 minutes driving as fast as one could (approx. 35 mph in the sand) (and if you know us at all, you know we are fast drivers compared to the general population) encountering no other cars in front of us. We made great and rather fun time. Arrived at the border at 4:30pm.
To discover that we had missed a crucial part of the immigration process into Mozambique, so that upon return into South Africa, we had an “issue.” In effect, we had crossed the Mozambique border illegally. Fortunately they neither charged us the hefty fine of 6,000 Rand they claimed was justified for this offense, nor did they wave guns and handcuffs in our face, which our B&B proprietor said we were lucky for; rather, they just doubled the price we would normally pay for re-entry and made Erik stand outside for ½ hour in the cold filling out and processing paperwork. We ultimately crossed the border at about 4:58. We are more poor, but had a nice adventure.
That night there was a storm outside and the electricity at the B&B went out. No worries, though, as I just typed on my laptop by battery and Erik napped on the bed. We’re now in Swaziland. Didn’t do anything except drive all day. Got a late start because our B&B proprietor had many soap boxes to speak to us from. Which was fine; he had many very illuminating things to say about his country and he also has some excellent ideas for getting himself off the grid and helping the local impoverished population.
We were further set back by missing a turn-off and driving quite far off track. Though, we could hardly be too upset over it as we saw some interesting scenery and a relatively high-class black town, which was a good counter to the general depth of poverty we’ve seen everywhere else. The tourist facilities typically are fenced off from the locals, which only accentuates the haves from the have-nots. This (below) was outside the shed we stayed in the first night.
If you ever come to this southeast part of South Africa, be warned that signage on the road is minimal to nonexistent, and any maps you can buy online (I have 2 with me) render this area as a black hole. The maps are void of any information… no road names/numbers, no mileage (kilometerage), few town names…. it’s weird, literally just a void in cartographic information.
Well, nonetheless, we crossed the Swaziland border fine and made it to the hostel where we had reserved a room here in the middle of Swaziland. It’s quite noticeable the difference in economic equality… that is to say, there seems to actually be some equality here in Swaziland whereas in South Africa, there seems to be a line of difference drawn nearly exclusively along racial lines. Our B&B proprietor in Kosi Bay explained to us some of the ridiculous ways in which the South Africa government tries to solve its Third World problems with First World solutions, and pretend that it is more First World than the majority of the country really is. At least on the surface, it seems that Swaziland is a much more egalitarian society. Just judge by the cars alone…. in all of my travels around the world, I have never been in a country in which the roads are so desolate as in South Africa. You travel miles and miles without encountering a single vehicle. No one can afford cars in the rural areas where the population is mostly black. Here in Swaziland we’re constantly in a line of cars even along the roads lined with nothing but hovels. In South Africa, the roads are lined with people walking. Like, hoards of them; no one even has a bicycle. Very few people line the roads in Swaziland except for the occasional gang of school children. It’s interesting.
We have been in the internet boonies in South Africa… no access. Now we’re in Swaziland and there’s an internet café with high speed just down the road. The hostel supposedly has wi-fi but it’s not working tonight.