Even though we hadn’t been really deep into the Okavango Delta, the car most definitely looked like it. Getting it clean took 5 (!) guys at a local gas station outside J-Burg who did a tremendous job and actually got the car back to white.
We had a hotel booked in the center for a quick stop over and were planning on returning the car the next day. But after having taken us thousands of miles across Namibian gravel roads, Botswana mud and countless potholes along the way, Achim decided it was time for a flat tire on a parking lot of a hotel in J-Burg. You would think that a 4x4 camper is equipped with tools for changing a tire and, in fact, it was - just not the complete set.
At this point, the experience with the rental company started to go downhill. After a mechanic came to fix the flat tire, we drove to the branch where we had to return Achim and were met by a guy who apparently had a lot of experience in rejecting costumer complaints. The leaking rooftop and the worn tires didn’t seem to strike him as reason for costumer dissatisfaction. Why hadn’t we checked the cover of the roof tent? Why hadn’t we measured the tread depth of the tires? Well, probably because we’re naïve and unexperienced first-time 4x4 camper renters and were - inexplicably so - expecting those things to be in order. Legally, of course, he was on the safe side; after all we had signed the contract. So, with his promise to forward all our complaints to customer service and the note to ourselves to maybe not go for the very cheapest offer next time, we left.
After having travelled around with Achim, changing locations every day and quite some rain we were ready for a cozy home for the next couple of days. It was Christmas season and very few rentals were still available, so we searched AirBnB for a good-looking house with a Braii option and found one in - Potchefstroom, 100km southwest of J-Burg. Yep, we had never heard of the town either before but it didn’t really matter to us. While Katha was baking Christmas cookies, Benzino fired up the Braii and after enjoying our delicious Beyond Meat sausages with German potato salad it was time for Netflix and Chill!
A visit to the Cradle of Humankind was on our 2do list and so we booked a tour to explore the beginnings of mankind. The site is located about 50 km northwest of J-Burg and is part of a larger area in South East Africa in which the oldest humanoid fossils up to date have been found: a 2.3 million years old Australopithecus africanus going by the name of Mrs. Ples. The site is also home to a lot more excavated fossils of extinct hominid species.
We were overwhelmed by our visit to the site and can highly recommend it, especially since the annexed exhibition is a great source of information presented in an appealing multimedia and interactive context. Walking through your own history it makes you realize that every single person on this earth has their origin in one single place, having diversified over millions of years. And you can’t help but wonder how some people nowadays can perceive this diversity as a threat rather than a fascinating (and crucial for survival) development of humankind. We stepped out of the exhibition, still flashed by the overwhelming magnitude of our own history and took a stroll around the side.
"The conclusion we had drawn (…): We better enjoy the time we have now (…) Live the life we imagine for ourselves."
As we were walking, another thought crossed our minds: isn’t it unbelievable what a ridiculously little amount of time we get to spend on earth if set into the historic context of our existence? And then, following right away, the conclusion we had drawn long before we visited the Cradle of Humankind: we better enjoy the time we have now, never knowing how much there is left. Live the life we imagine for ourselves: always exploring and never stop learning, being thankful for what we have and staying true to our values and believes. Because at the end of our tiny timespan, what do we want to look back on: the life we wish we had lived or the life we lived?
Alright, alright - enough with the cheesy indulging in reminiscences, but the Cradle of Mankind really does evoke those thoughts in you, you should try it for yourself.
After the relaxing and food-centered Christmas Days we were ready to move our bodies again and took off for some hiking in the Royal Natal Drakensberg National Park. On our drive the landscape changed from vast grasslands to impressive, treeless mountain ranges with views as wide as the horizon.
Our first hike took us to the Tugela Falls - supposedly the highest waterfalls on Earth but as with every superlative in nature this title is probably also claimed by at least 3 more waterfalls. We were shuttled to the beginning of the hike on the back of a pick-up truck (which was an adventure in itself) and started to hike our way up until we reached pretty creepy looking loose ladders.
After my unpleasant experience at the Olympus in Greece with a sudden fear of heights shortly before the summit I had been dreading this part of the hike. Surprisingly, the wobbly and unstable ladders didn’t bother me at all and it was Benzino’s turn to be freaked out. But he managed and the ladders took us up on the plateau where we followed the river and even dipped our toes quickly into Lesotho. Maybe the air in South Africa is thinner in general or the views were just too good, but for some reason the height of 3166 m at the Sentinel peak took our breath away (cheap wordplay, but had to be done).
On the next day, we were completely alone on our hike and since it was pretty hot, we decided to finish the time out in the mountains with a naked shower in the waterfalls - nothing better than that!
New Year’s Eve was coming up and our plan was to celebrate the end of a crazy year full of events in J-Burg. So, we had booked ourselves into a rooftop bar and were looking forward to some drinks and people watching.
TRAVEL TIME: December 20 - 28, 2020
CAMPGROUNDS / HOTELS:
Royal Natal National Park (Tugela Falls) : Witsieshoek Mountain Lodge
Johannesburg: The Capital on Bath