So for this last part of the Vegan Without Frontiers blog things are going to be a little different. As I’m starting on a 2 week final episode, I will hope to not only report back on the experience as it happens, but also to reflect on how we got here and whether we achieved any of those aims we set out with. Maybe we achieved other things too, and maybe there’s lessons to learn?
I’ve been through a whole range of emotions these last few months – going to work to pay off the costs of our adventures so far while trying to look ahead to the future. Having this unfinished business hanging over me has made it tough to make progress. There was definitely a temptation to just pay someone to deal with shipping Troopy back from Namibia and get on with the next thing, but I managed to resist that way out.
So here I am getting on a plane tonight back to Namibia with a mission to complete, and a lot of questions about life I’ll probably never be able to answer. Commitment? What does it mean to finish? When things don’t turn out as you hoped, why do you carry on? When you can’t see the point anymore, do you just keep going because you set out to do it? OK so most of those questions are about more than this trip, they are questions that I ask on a daily basis since losing Lena. But maybe I can come up with some of the answers between here and Cape Town. To borrow a catchphrase, I’ve started so I’ll finish.
It was all so different back in November when Katana and I reaffirmed our commitment to the mission, to each other and to ourselves – to come back and finish as a team. But then I’ve been here before on the other side – almost literally – 10 years ago I left my crewmates in Australia and came back to Europe as they set out on the leg of the race from Sydney to Cape Town. I had good reasons – injury, finances and the need to be here for my new wife all played a part in my decision. I still believe it was the right one back then. But the failure to finish what I had set out to do still hurt at the time and has in some way been hanging over me ever since.
I do wonder about commitment and finishing – and how my crewmates felt about me leaving back then. I think they understood, but I never fully considered what they felt about it. I guess it wouldn’t have made a difference to my decision, but understanding our fellow humans is never a bad thing is it?
But what does it mean to me to finish? Without my friends – my crewmates and Katana? And without my best Lenachka? I don’t know what it will feel like to get to the end – its a bit scary to be honest – but I’ll let you know in a couple of weeks when I finally drive into Cape Town.
We had our disappointments on this adventure. Like being turned back from the desert near Siwa or failing to get into Mozambique, or finally being refused permission to apply for Katana’s visa for South Africa. For me though, the biggest disappointment was saved up til last. When we were thwarted in our ultimate goal of reaching Cape Town, we pulled together as always and came up with a plan that would see us achieve our goal together.
Sadly, after heading back to Europe to put this plan into action, Katana concluded she could not go back to finish after all. But Troopy is still there, and there’s another 2000km to go. So in a couple of weeks time I will be heading back to Namibia to collect Troopy and make the final push South to Cape Town on my own.
This does however provide a moment to reflect on the whole mission. We had already thought that Vegan Without Frontiers should more accurately be termed ‘vegan with no more frontiers than anyone else’, though that’s not quite so catchy and the web address would be horrendous! But we never set out to suggest we were any better than anyone else, and our very human falling out pretty much underlines that. In the end, we were just 2 human beings who set out to do something a little unusual, and nearly came through it smiling and unscathed. Despite a joint conviction, being vegan had really nothing to do with any of our trials, tribulations or triumphs. Isn’t that the point though? You can do anything, or nothing with your life – being vegan doesn’t necessarily help you (though it may do!), but it certainly doesn’t put any extra barriers in your way.
I will have 2 weeks to experience life on the road by myself. I’m looking forward to it, though of course I’m going to miss my co-conspirator in this project. It really wouldn’t have been the same without her. I hope you will join me in this last leg from 24th March – let’s see what lies between Windhoek and the bottom end of the continent!
We are back in London, slotting back into the rest of our lives. I haven’t seen Katana in a whole week – which is quite a change after spending 24 hours a day in each other’s company for 6 months. But we are off out for an Ethiopian dinner and a catch-up this evening and hope to be booking our return to Africa soon – there is the small matter of getting to Cape Town to deal with!
But first we should wrap up the last part of our journey, having left you in Tsumeb on our way South towards Windhoek. We set off into the Namibian wilds again aiming to find some traces of extremely old wildlife. On the way we passed the Waterburg Plateau, and were almost tempted to stop a night on a private game reserve there, but the campsite pool wasn’t quite enough to stop for since it was only just lunchtime. Instead we carried on, admiring the ever grand scenery from some good gravel roads. The maps were a little vague on the subject of exactly where we were to find what we were looking for, but Katana’s usual navigational magic worked again and we rolled up to the Dinosaur’s Tracks campsite in time for tea. Our host told us all about the dinosaur’s tracks and the history (short term and geological) of the place, whilst firing up the hot water. We were again the only people on the camp site, and enjoyed another special evening in the bush…aware that these were coming to an end so soon and making the most of them.
In the morning, we walked to the tracks – 190 million years ago some dinosaurs walked through the muddy remains of a pool, which was then covered by the encroaching sand as the climate dried out. Just like the pans and dunes of the present day Namib desert. Perhaps we should have left some footprints while we were there for whatever species there is to find in another 200 million years?
But we had to move on – when we first looked at what to see in Namibia, Katana was keen to check out the work of other artists in the area. At Phillipps Caves, there are some impressive examples of 3500 year old rock paintings. We followed the roads marked on our maps into the mountains, and they were rough and stony tracks, until they stopped. It seems that someone has drawn a road through the mountains from their imagination, since it has never existed in reality. There was plenty of wildlife and scenery to make the detour entertaining though, and we were in no particular hurry. Again we considered camping early, having driven off the track into a fold of the hills, but again it was just a bit too early and we headed on. This was to be our last night in the wild areas of Namibia, and we spent it at the Ameib Ranch campsite – a wildlife reserve which also provides access to Phillipps Cave, and a swimming pool for our private use since there were no other guests. This was not a bad way to sign off!
In the morning we visited the cave and admired the rock art – Katana making the hike/climb without too much trouble to her injured leg. After some lunch at the strange rock formations called ‘Bulls Party’ and ‘Elephant Head’, we turned towards Windhoek and began our journey home.
OK, we spent a few days in Windhoek before flying out, but it was all about preparing Troopy for storage and ourselves for the cold weather of Europe.
Whilst in Windhoek, we had intended to go to an Ethiopian restaurant we had heard good things about – already pining for the tastes from earlier in the trip – but it turned out to be permanently closed. Home cooking in Troopy was a good solution anyway – after a second lunchtime visit to La Marmite Royale for some African specialities. So we tidied and cleaned, threw away worn out clothes, agreed to come back in the Spring and then headed for the airport, leaving Troopy behind. I hope he doesn’t mind too much.
Last time I talked about vegan meals on the road, we were crossing from Malawi into Zambia. The more south we have gone in the last couple of months, the less we have gone out to eat and started cooking more and more in the car. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, there are better stocked supermarkets; secondly, there isn’t as much traditional foods to try, but rather a mix of different cuisines, mostly meat-based; and thirdly, the places we have been staying in lately have “game” on the menu, basically the animals we see running around wild end up on people’s plates. No thank you.
When we got to Lusaka, I thought I got rid of yet-another-illness of the stomach and we got some tomato juice and pickles and celebrated with a Bloody Mary. A day later I ended up going to the hospital (unrelated to the drink) and found out I have multiple infections in my digestive system and got put on yet another platter of pills, so Jonathan had to drink all the consecutive gin&tonics and Bloody Marys for a few weeks.
While in Lusaka, we had gone out to eat twice (not counting chips). The first meal was at the mall, and we ate in an Indian fast-food place, which was alright and even good by mall standards. The second time we ate at a backpacker place where we had gone to check out the wifi and the bar. Jonathan ordered a veggie burger, while I opted for the beans and rice; the food was quite yummy despite taking about an hour to make and driving us into hunger-induced bad tempers. I found the “veggie burger” option in a few places actually, which is a nice addition to the usually predictable chips.
Before leaving Lusaka, we found a little Indian shop that sells Indian snacks, so of course we had to buy some. The most bizarre looking one ended up being the insanely oily but addictive one, whereas the others left us mostly indifferent. They are good to munch on before lunch, but they are so oily that everything in the front of the car gets oily as well.
After Zambia we headed to Zimbabwe, and in Harare went out to eat the first night – to the Holiday Inn restaurant. They had a buffet which surprisingly had quite a few (accidentally) vegan options. On top of that, they apologized tremendously that they didn’t have more for us, and only charged us the price of one meal. Incredible? We had some salads and then some sadza (maize meal) for the first time on the trip, and I wasn’t impressed. I know it is a staple in many countries but it was just a bit bland and reminded me of baby food – or kindergarden food.
The other amazing thing about Harare of course was that we visited V Delights – the Vegan Friendly Products (read interview here) restaurant, which is completely vegan. There are many items on the menu, all catered for different kinds of people, some are vegan African dishes, some more Western ones, then there are a whole lot more “healthy” options, and then again more options suited for new vegans or transitioning vegans. The pies and the cookies we had in V Delights were just out of the world. If you are ever in Harare, you have to stop by there!
While staying in Victoria Falls, we went to one restaurant twice – and had some tapas. There were a few vegan options (I had maize again, this time with some spinach things inside) but the second time we came the food quality had dropped significantly. Their gazpacho was too salty, their toasted bread was soggy, but overall it wasn’t so bad I guess.
The last place I want to talk about (before mentioning that we are going to check out the Ethiopian restaurant here in Windhoek!) was called La Marmite in Windhoek. We accidentally stumbled upon the place in the “Zoo” park in the center, thinking we would only have drinks but then saw the menu and decided to try out the vegan options. The food was pretty good, and the dishes are supposedly variations on Western African cuisine. I had a stew with okra, Jonathan had another stew with groundnut sauce, and we also shared spring rolls and salad. Windhoek has a lot of places to eat and drink, and I am sure traveling vegans would have no problem finding food here.
The rest of Namibia – not so much. In Botswana and Namibia a lot of expensive lodges (where sometimes we end up staying because they do cheap-ish camping) the menus pride themselves on having extravagant game steaks – gemsbok, springbok, kudu, oryx, and so on. The first place we stayed in Namibia, in Gobabis, was one of those places. I think I already mentioned how awful the service was in a previous post, but let me add that the menu was incredibly un-vegan, and when we tried to get something altered, it came as is, so I ordered potato wedges, asked for “no mayo” and they still brought mayo. Trying to ask for some olive oil instead of creamy dressing turned into another ordeal. This is sadly the way it is in most places where expensive guests are catered for. We had another buffet experience, this time in the Etosha Park, and I ended up eating sad salad and boiled rice with mustard. Only after we paid we were told “oh yes there is a separate thing for vegetarians” like the waiter couldn’t have told us earlier or figured something was wrong as he saw a pile of sad rice with nothing on it on my plate. Oh well – I was just getting my cold then and I was already in no mood for food anyway.
As for us cooking our own meals, we have come up with some real highlights lately. We have been buying leeks because I personally love them and Jonathan makes a really nice potato leek soup. Sadly one day I decided to make it, with a special twist (pickles) but I didn’t manage to achieve the taste I wanted, which was a shame. Otherwise we’ve had a lot of curries and chillies, there was a particular evening meal I remember well. We bought a box of white wine, which was quite fancy (by our standards) and I wanted to make a few dishes. I made a stew / chilli with cabbage, cauliflower, potato, beans and so on. I also made guacamole (the avocados are good again) and Jonathan toasted some brown German bread as we had no tortilla chips to go with the guac. It was truly magical, the whole combination!
And then just the other night Jonathan made one of his coconut curries which was supposed to be very good for my sinuses, as I was really ill at this point. There was chilli sauce and ginger, and many other ingredients, and they blended so well together that we had to restrain ourselves to leave some for the next day’s lunch.
A word about chakalaka: what is it? where does it come from? It is a tasty canned mixture of tomato gooeyness with some veggies and curry flavoring – and quite spicy too! It has an unforgettable taste and smell, I mean I recognized somebody else having it in our campsite yesterday. It can be put on bread, it can be used in stews and sauces and curries. We mostly put it on bread, but sometimes we also use it in sauces. They even make chakalaka packet soup! Which we had once as well, it didn’t look like much but it was spicy and it was better than tomato packet soup.
We’ve had a lot of snacks, most of them quite unhealthy, so instead I am adding a picture of me snacking on tomato paste, something I do quite often. We are done with our adventure for now, excited to try out the Ethiopian restaurant in Windhoek(we really miss Ethiopian food) and overall it hasn’t been hard being vegan on the trip at all! I do realize we have the option of cooking for ourselves, which a lot of times saved us, but in reality everywhere will have at least rice or maize and some vegetables. However, Ethiopian food has been the most memorable by far on the whole trip, both in terms of availability and quality of taste!
We were 30km up a rough, 2-wheel-track, rocky hill and sandy riverbed alternating ‘road’ leading off the main gravel run between Opuwo and Epupa Falls into the wilderness of Namibia’s North West. Then there was an excruciating metal grinding noise as we crawled up a boulder slope. We stopped. Oil flowed down the rear left wheel again – the infamous driveshaft oil seal had gone again…only this time it looked a lot worse.
This was the moment our plans changed again. We were heading for Van Zyl’s pass – touted as one of the most beautiful, yet harsh and steep routes there is. Instead, we found ourselves some 30 minutes later being assisted in a strip-down and rebuild of the wheel bearings by a Himba guy who happened to be walking that way, watched by his wife and buzzed by hundreds of little flies whose sole intent appeared to be to commit suicide by flying into any available orifices. These are the things that make a trip memorable.
We had already gone North to the Angolan border and teetered on the edge of the thundering Epupa Falls as the river Kunene slices its way down a jagged stairwell towards the distant Atlantic. The base for this launch into the wilds of the North West was Opuwo – a frontier town far from the national border where the colourful Herero and Himba people mix with a few intrepid tourists and a lot of locals. It’s a dusty, chaotic town of supermarkets, petrol stations, bars and tin shacks….and one luxury lodge – on the way up we stayed there in the attached campsite and made good use of the infinity pool.
As we took the hub apart it became clear that the damaged lock-screws had once again come out, only this time the whole retaining mechanism had completely unscrewed itself and shaved bits of metal into a nice greasy-oily-paste which was then deposited into the brake drums and onto the desert sand. The good news? The bearings seemed to be still functional, if only we could get the whole lot back together over squashed screw-threads and tighten it all up again. And thankfully I had had the foresight back in Botswana to get an extra spare oil seal! It was messy, hot and frustrating work, but we did the necessary road-side repair and turned back to limp towards Opuwo again. Having paid off our helper with cash and apples, we were sadly not able to give him, his wife and 2 dogs a lift as Troopy was full of firewood.
The return to town was uneventful, and the repairs held out well – even though we only had 1 (badly bent) lock screw left, and that wasn’t in fact doing anything helpful, and the oil seal failed again! Over the next 2 days I discovered the intricate details of how the whole thing works. I also found that we are no longer in a part of the world where every corner shop sells Troopy spares. The oil seal had to be sent for from another town. The lock-screws were just unobtainable so I had to make my own – walking for hours around town finding tools and bolts, then cutting bolts to length and shaping the ends to match what was left of the mangled originals. It was nearly a perfect repair…except for a couple of sheared off bolts!
During this time we stayed at the Ameny Rest Camp in town – it was cheaper that the original lodge and walking distance to the spares and food shops. It did however come with shouted arguments between customers and the owner at 2am, and was basically a dust-bath…soft but bad on the lungs when crawling around under the car. So, by the time Troopy was fitted out with new bearings and put together as well as possible given the limited resources, we were definitely ready to leave! Where to though? In the circumstances, with less time and less confidence in Troopy, we decided to abandon the extremely remote North West, and simply head into the remote North West along the border with Angola. It is still a wild place with beautiful and varied scenery, but the odds of being stuck for a couple of weeks with a breakdown looked a little lower.
After following the river Kunene and staying on its banks (where we were robbed of our spaghetti from inside a cupboard by a cheeky and swift raiding monkey) we dropped in at the border post at the Ruacana Falls to see if we could get our visit permits extended to cover the extra time before our flights, but despite a lot of sympathy from the immigration guy, it seems this can only be done in Windhoek. I’m sure this won’t be a problem. The falls themselves are a little dry now, since the water is nearly all diverted for a hydro power station, but they must have been impressive once!
So onward towards Etosha, where we hoped to see some Rhino at one of the park’s waterhole camps. First though we had another night of wild camping, tucked away amongst the rocky outcrops off a sandy track. It was a really nice wild camping spot despite the tiny flies, but not without consequences – after an evening of playing cards (with gin) we had both managed to accrue forfeits which required us each to wear clothes chosen by the other for the following day. Entering the National Park and obtaining the permits in the morning was therefore a little entertaining, but I did find the skirt more comfortable than my usual trousers in the heat.
As to the park – it was remeniscent of the Central Kalahari in Botswana, but with more visible wildlife – elephants, zebra and all sorts of antelope gathered at and around the natural and man-assisted waterholes. In the evening we sat by a floodlit waterhole and waited…and just when I was thinking we were going to see little more than the birds hoovering up the flying insects in the floodlights, along came some giraffe, followed by a rhino…then another, and a family of 3. A sole male lion also turned up for a drink to complete the evening’s viewing before bedtime, though this didn’t seem so popular with the other animals!
In the morning, with a sick Katana suffering from a cold, and Troopy showing small signs of oil around the rear hub, we set off for a leisurely tour of the eastern end of the park. As usual we found our way into the less-travelled parts! Here we found lots of elephants, Kudu, Gemsbok, herds and herds of Zebra, Springbok etc. We did have to crawl along for a while behind a group of giraffes that were well aware they had right of way and looked slightly disapproving of the car using their track, but in the end they were nice enough to step to one side and let us pass. Then as we were heading towards the exit…a pride of lions dozing under the shade of a bush! This pretty much completed all our aspirations for wildlife in Africa…though a Cheetah would have been nice!
We rolled out of the park and onto tarmac, turning South again onto the last leg of this trip in the direction of Windhoek. Thunderstorms were gathering and dropping curtains of dark rain to the West and North. In Tsumeb we stopped at a backpackers campsite, on a nice clean gravel and grass area, where the infamous driveshaft came out again and the seal was replaced after a morning trip to the local (genuine) Toyota garage. The bearing is all holding out well, but it looks like a new driveshaft may be required to put an end to the leak…however, that and the annoying lock-screws are not in stock even here! In any case…its going to be a bit tricky to disassemble on the road as I first need to contrive a way of extracting the decapitated home-made lock screw which is still firmly doing its job! Oh well, we must leave some things for the next chapter!
Vegan Adventure Travel – Holidays, Expeditions – Overland Africa
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