26 July 2012 – Day 1
I left the cosy hostel as an independent traveller to join an overland truck tour with Sunway Safaris. Although I enjoy travelling independently where public transport is available, sometimes, some places are difficult to reach due to inaccessibility by local transport. I wanted to explore the Namib Desert region through to Ethosa NP in the north. It is mind-boggling to decide the right company to appoint. Thanks to internet, travel blogs and travelogues, some of the questions may be answered. Who do you trust to part with your hard-earned money? More importantly, are you getting your money’s worth and maximum enjoyment? This journey for most, including myself, may be “one in a life-time experience”. There are numerous companies with a myriad of journeys and activities. The best information would be one from a person whom had traveled with a particular company with positive experience. Those with negative experience will also have a valid story and may suggest other companies suggested by other like-minded travelers. My planning and selection process began months before I landed on the continent. I spent hours reading guide books, overland companies websites and travel blogs.
First, the travel itinerary [inclusive of all side trips, treks, walks, sight-seeing, time allocated, etc] and the number of days required. Then its equivalent cost. Second, select five potential companies. Communicate [ask pertinent questions related to the journey – what is and is not provided, cost, extras, group size, type of transport, insurance coverage, medical aid, duration of travel in truck, dietary requirements, emergencies – which may alleviate any lingering doubts] with them and gauge their response. Some are really good but some – refer to website, and some not even a response. Third, make an informed decision. I picked this company which had mostly positive comments and with a suitable itinerary. It did great help when there was a local travel company [in own country] representing this African Overland company. A human voice over the phone and someone you can refer to after the experience. In my overland journey, I must say we did have several moments of uncertainty but was quickly [at times pleasantly stranded and at times, get me out of here] but resolved. Remember, even the best companies, best planned routes and vehicles, especially the vehicles in our case, can break down due to the sometimes extreme weather, terrain, communication, remote locations [that’s exactly what we wanted] and distance traveled. Besides your gear, preparedness and well-being, a good sense of humor and open-mindedness is a pre-requisite. There are several other members of the group, total strangers! Final step, get there and do it. Other issues to consider – vaccinations, medication, right cloths, visas and the usual travel bits. Malaria is a major concern here in Africa.
Very early in the morning, I checked into Sweet Olive Guesthouse at affluent Sea Point. My room was exceptional. I wondered if I had paid too much for the comfort. I loved it though, a change after five days in a hostel. At breakfast, I met up with my fellow travelers. Our guides were Chriss and Vouther. A mix of ages but all excited. It was also an opportunity to acquaint with the big red overland truck. It was practical, reasonably comfortable and relatively safe. We headed to Signal Hill in Cape Town and later towards picturesque Hout Bay. It was lined with white sandy beach leading towards a bay, homes clustered on the gentle slopes surrounded by towering mountains. The sky was blue with a slight chill near the water. Colorful and rustic fishing boats bobbed up and down with the waves in the calm harbor. A lone seal made this place its home. Sentinel Hill gave a wonderful backdrop to the sheltered waterfront. Several curio stalls were set up along the waterfront vied for customers. Wood carvings, bone carvings, artificial jewelry, textiles, weaving and many more were on offer. Boats offering trips to view a seal colony was signing up clients. A small band of musicians, brightly clothed, livened up the atmosphere with catchy tunes. My work colleague mentioned about the best thing to do at the pier – eat snook fish or locally called snokie – a type of mackerel. Time was limited. I headed to the Fishermans Wharf restaurant. The interior had the usual trimmings of fish shop. Unfortunately, I was too early. The kitchen grills had just been fired up. Orders were not taken yet. I ordered my fish anyway and explained my predicament. Then, rushed into the reception area. The chef acknowledged my presence. Word had traveled. As the chef handed my prized Snook fish and chip, he quipped, just for you. Our transport was about to move. In the comfort of my seat, not a very atmospheric environment, I savored the steaming fish. It was bony but good. The scent drifted throughout the bus. All eyes were on my lunch.