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Offline Sardine

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My African Dream
« on: December 20, 2014, 10:16:18 am »
** Mods, not sure where to post this, so please feel free to move if it's in the wrong spot.

22 years in South Africa, of which a glorious 17 years were spent living in the Western Cape. Beach, surf, mountains, wine, what more could one want? It was perfect. But, I DID want more. Or at the very least, I wanted a change.

So I said goodbye to my home, my family, my friends, my job, and set off on a 3900km journey in my trusty little 1998 VW Golf Chico, in order to start a new chapter in my life. I was chasing a dream 5 years in the making...

I was going to be a bush pilot in Botswana.

Photo 1 - road trip via Cape Agulhas
Photo 2 - Border crossing (took all of 10 minutes)
Photo 3 - +-100km outside of Maun, the Golf had had enough; overheated and low on oil, I gave it a break and used the opportunity to take photos
Photo 4 - Nothing beats an African Sunset. Except for an African Sunrise

Offline Sardine

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #1 on: December 20, 2014, 10:32:39 am »
Maun, Botswana

Where goats, donkeys and cows have right of way.
There are only a handful of tar roads, the majority of which are riddled with potholes.
Houses of all shapes and sizes line the main road, from elegant mansions, to tin-roofed, mud-walled, single-bedroom homes. Grass is scarce, and almost everything is brown. That is, until the rains come; a few days of rain and grass and weeds sprout everywhere.

The people are friendly. Once you get to know them. Initially, you can expect to be ignored in shops, and one needs to be quite assertive in order to do something as simple as pay for groceries. But once they see you around, the warm up, and a "Dumela Ma/Ra" sent their way does wonders. Personal space? The people here have no understanding of it.

Petrol is cheaper than in South Africa, at just under P10 a litre. But then again, that works out to about R12/litre, so at the end of the day, it isn't actually THAT much cheaper.
Food and general groceries... we have almost everything here that you get in SA. A Spar, Shoprite, Pep, Choppies (which is a bit like an Indian Checkers), Nandos, Wimpy, and in Kasane you can get KFC. Prices are the same as in SA, sort of. Once you take the exchange rate into consideration, everything here is actually more expensive. But, things like meat are slightly cheaper, granted, you're probably eating a mixture of donkey, goat and beef.
Fresh fruit can cost a fortune. Melon? Sure, that will be P45 please. And the supply isn't consistent. Then again, neither are the prices; Spar's prices change every week, so shopping becomes a case of good timing.
Alcohol? Depends on where you buy it. Beer can be cheap, especially from the shabeen. But if you're looking for brandy or rum, expect to pay over P200 a bottle.
Crime? It's there, but it's mostly petty. With the death penalty in force, you won't get murdered for your cell phone.

It's a different life out here. A simple life. And it's hot. 30degC is considered a cool day. The rainy season is late, but the few storms we have had have been spectacular.

Photo 1 - the main road
Photo 2 - trying to get photos of the lightning, but there was a tree in my way

Offline Mr Zog

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #2 on: December 21, 2014, 10:30:51 am »
Lekker Heather!  :thumleft:

I love Bots, the people tend to be much friendlier than in most other parts of Africa, the climate is great, and the lifestyle is just.. well... calmer.

Hopefully one day you can get a bike up there, there are some spectacular rides in the area, especially towards Gweta and the pans!
Young enough to know I can, old enough to know I shouldn't, stupid enough to do it anyway.
 

Offline westfrogger

Re: My African Dream
« Reply #3 on: December 21, 2014, 10:47:16 am »
 :thumleft:
 

Offline JonW

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #4 on: December 21, 2014, 11:14:47 am »
Come on Sardine, keep it going  :thumleft:
How can I be lost when I have got nowhere to go?
 

Offline Sardine

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2014, 11:28:33 am »
So, where to begin? I guess at the beginning would be best.

In 2011 I ventured to Botswana in search of work. With the ink on my instructors rating still wet, and barely 300hrs in my logbook, it would be a long-shot. But my mind was made up; I was going, regardless of my chances of employment. After 2 weeks of camping, and 2 weeks of housesitting, I ran out of money. And, with no job offer on the horizon, returned to South Africa where I took up a position as a Flight Instructor at the school where I had learnt to fly.
 
The memories from that trip never disappeared. The quiet simplicity of Maun was calling my name. And I answered.

The result is that I am fulfilling a goal and dream that I have had for a good few years; Flying in the Bush.

My Life in a Box

I planned for at least a month. Routes, accommodation, budgets. I got my car, a 1998 Golf Chico with over 210 000km, road-trip-ready, and kitted it out with a toolbox, tyre pump, puncture fix, tie wraps, duct tape, oil, tow rope, jumper leads, everything I thought I might need. I fixed the dent in my door, and sorted out the speakers (which hadn’t worked for the past 4 years, and took all of 10 minutes to sort out).

As you can see, I’m very much a DIY person, and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. Vehicle ready, it was time to get myself ready.
How was I to pack up 22 years of stuff? Methodically, said the OCD part of me. And so, box after box was filled, and stored in my cupboard. And when the cupboard became full, the boxes lined my room. Wow, I have accumulated a lot of stuff over the years!
The essentials were packed in different boxes, and into the car. Surprisingly, once everything was packed, there was ample room left over (I could’ve taken the kitchen sink if I wanted to!), though the suspension was groaning a little under the weight.

So, with my life in several boxes, I set off from home on the morning of 7 October.
And within 20 minutes of leaving, I was forced to experience one of the scariest things in my life; driving up Sir Lowry’s Pass in the pitch dark, with thick fog, and trucks all over. I almost wrote myself off within the first 30km of my new adventure, when the lights I thought were cats eyes on the road turned out to be the tail gate of a truck.

After some incredibly tense driving, the sky lightened and the fog thinned, and from there it was smooth sailing.

A visit at Cape Agulhas was had.
And brunch at the Blue Crane Farm Stall near Riversdale was most welcome (pull in there if you’re ever in the area!)
Eventually I reached Mossel Bay, and had coffee with friends in Nature’s Valley. My first time there, it is now on the ‘Bucket List of Roads to Ride on the Bike’.
Then it was a final push to PE where I would be staying for the night. Night was fast approaching and I was almost taken out by a buck not 20km from my accommodation. Yee-ha!

Day One done, and the Golf had performed well. Fuel consumption was amazing; 600km on just over half a tank! Sadly, this didn’t continue.
Day Two, and I took the back roads to Port Shepstone. This was the complete opposite to the previous day, which apart from a few scares, was quite relaxing. The back roads, while absolutely beautiful, were busy with plenty of busses and trucks, and being single lane each way, over-taking opportunities were slim. And at some several thousand feet above sea level, the Golf simply didn’t have the power to do more than 80km/h most of the way.

Here I went via the backroads of the Eastern Cape.
I should have had a bite to eat in Queenstown but thought there would be another place to stop. BIG mistake! I ended up doing a 7hr stretch, non-stop, and the first time I ate a ‘proper’ meal was in Port Shepstone; a rather lacking Steers burger and chips.
From there it felt amazing to be back on the N2, and I cruised to Ballito in the setting sun.

I spent two nights in Ballito, and then carried on to Centurion.
Having done JHB-Ballito before, I decided to take a different route this time; Greytown it was. And it was very grey indeed. More fog, and a fair amount of rain. My hopes of seeing rolling green hills were dashed by the weather. But, it was still a nice drive.

As I got to JHB, my Golf proved what a trusty little steed it was when I put my emergency braking to the test on the highway. Locked the wheels I did. That woke me up! (Road works, and lanes merging, and me misjudging the speed of the car ahead).

Two nights in Centurion, and then I set off for Limpopo Valley, Mashatu, to be precise. A short drive compared to previous days, a speedy border crossing at Pont Drift, and before I knew it, I was in Botswana!
Within 5km of crossing the border I saw wildebeest and zebra, and the grin on my face widened and I couldn’t stop laughing; I was finally here!
I spent the night at Mashatu Game Reserve, where I had my first real taste of the African Bush; luck was in my favour, and I had my first wild cheetah and lion sightings. I was on Cloud Nine!

The next morning I set off for Maun. With about 80km of dirt road, the Golf proved it could be a rally car. However, the speakers broke again, and now my car is quite literally held together with duct tape. Ah well.

Up until now I had kept a steady pace, not pushing it too much, but not taking it too slowly. Unfortunately, get-there-itis had set in, and I put foot to Maun once I hit the tar, determined to make it there before night-fall (despite having only set off from Mashatu around 10am).

The A1 was having upgrades done, so a lot of it was freshly-rolled tar, which made me very happy. But from Francistown, I got lost, and then was back on the pot-hole riddled roads. 100km from Maun, with the sun setting, the Golf had had enough; for the first time in over 3000km, it had used oil, and the little red oil warning light stared me in the face. I pulled over, opened up the bonnet, gave it some oil, and allowed it to rest a short while, using the opportunity to take photos.

But, night was approaching rapidly, and my hopes of reaching Maun before it got dark were a distant memory. Driving in the dark out here is a no-go. Not long after my unscheduled stop, I had my first wild dog sighting; it ran across the road in front of me. Quite cool. And as night set in, I had the stuffing scared out of me when I saw cows on the side of the road, their eyes glimmering from the car’s headlights, making them look like demons.

Around 8pm I rolled into Maun, a tired, sweaty, dust-covered wreck. Car overheating and only one speaker working, it was starting to complain again, and refused to idle. Road-trip food eaten and no water left, all I wanted was to crawl into bed and sleep. And I still had to unpack the car, and would be sleeping on the couch. But it didn’t matter. I had arrived!


Offline Sardine

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2014, 11:49:44 am »
Mashatu

And some of the drive to Maun.

Offline oldmannorman

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2014, 12:03:23 pm »
 :sip:
 

Offline Offshore

Re: My African Dream
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2014, 12:04:33 pm »
Subscribed.
 

Offline elandsrider

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2014, 12:11:10 pm »
 Great stuff. Good luck and keep us posted :thumleft:
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Offline Sardine

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2014, 12:23:14 pm »
I wrote this next bit shortly after getting my work permit.

Botswana, Hurry Up and Wait

The lifestyle is completely different. The living conditions while not bad, take some getting used to; things like going from shopping store to shopping store to see who had stock of what that week, and who had jacked up their prices to astronomical amounts. But despite being a village in Africa, Maun has most things you’d get in any small city.

The flying is also something else (obviously, going from instruction to charter). It’s quite a big leap, especially when operating from muddy strips, in hot conditions, fully loaded and at altitude. It’s an eye opener of note. But the view is something to behold. Stark contrasts between brown desert, blue waters and green swamps teeming with wildlife.

The skies are bright blue with unlimited visibility on some days, and on others the smoke and dust means that seeing more than a kilometre or two is the best you’re going to get. And the storms show the true power of nature. Slow build ups during the day, with rumbling thunder and cracks of lightning announcing the arrival of a torrential downpour. The next morning the air is fresh, and the roads have a clean look about them. A few days later the trees get greener and grass sprouts from the sand on the side of the road.

The road has been a winding one, but not particularly long (unless you count that fact that, technically, I have waited some two years for this opportunity).
Since arriving in Maun (start of October), I spent about 1 month doing a lot of nothing. Once the paperwork was done for the work permit, it was very much a game of Hurry Up And Wait. Every day, from 8am to 5pm, spent alternating between helping in the office, and taking a break in the pilot room, made me realise I am not cut out for a desk job.

Trips to the terminal to file flight plans were welcomed, as were any other errands; basically anything that kept me moving, and got me out of the office, improved my mood. And then of course, I was able to jump on some flights and get familiar with the Okavango Delta. I was doing so many flights observing from the right seat of the Caravan that I was starting to become quite proficient at the procedures required to operate it.

Days blur into one out here; there are no longer different days of the week, every day is the same, just a different date. Everyone’s weekend is different, and soon the whole concept of a Saturday-Sunday weekend falls away completely. Really messes with the mind in the beginning.

A lot of patience is required. The work permit application can take anything from two weeks to several months. And if it is rejected, well, sorry for you. Public holidays and the build up to Christmas threaten to slow things down even more. It becomes stressful, and it’s easy to start thinking about the “What If’s”. But, you need to stay positive; rock up in the office every morning with a smile on your face, and display some enthusiasm.

Because the normal days of the week cease to exist, days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like months. “Was my work permit in its second or third week?” were normal thoughts for me. “Oh well, I’ll go check on the progress anyway”.

Good thing too. A decision had been made! But, they weren’t going to tell me, and I would have to wait another day or two.

Long story short (not really), I was granted a temporary work permit! I may now legally work in Botswana! Woohoo!

Relief, joy, happiness, and yet, I’m still too scared to accept that all of this has really happened; in the past things would always tend to take a turn for the worst as soon as I acknowledged them. Ever since being offered the job, I have been too scared to share the news, or accept that it has happened, lest it all turn out to be a dream. Reality still hasn’t sunk in.

Which is a little bit disconcerting. However, all of it feels right. It feels like I have been living here for years. I am settled, I have a routine, and while I do miss home (the South African one), I am happy out here.


Offline BMWPE

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2014, 03:47:55 pm »
Keep it coming   :thumleft:
most enjoyable read
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Offline adamktm

Re: My African Dream
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2014, 04:30:10 pm »
 :sip:
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Offline Herklaas

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2014, 06:21:20 pm »
 :sip: Gooi, ek lees lekker :3some:
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Offline subie

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2014, 06:48:54 pm »
Lekker om jou storie te lees. Hou aan ons lees graag van jou interresante ervarings  :thumleft:
As time washes by, our footprints are all for naught
 

Offline Draadwerk

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #15 on: December 28, 2014, 07:19:39 pm »
Sub
 

Offline nielvn

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #16 on: December 28, 2014, 07:30:59 pm »
Nice, give us more please.


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Offline trevorwb

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #17 on: December 28, 2014, 08:12:28 pm »
  :sip:.keep it coming.
 

Offline B3

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #18 on: December 29, 2014, 09:49:20 am »
What a fantastic adventure!
I lived in Maun for a couple of years, was truely amazing, I would go back any day!
 ;D
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Offline oldmannorman

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Re: My African Dream
« Reply #19 on: December 29, 2014, 09:50:12 am »
 :sip: