While I hate, abhor even, waiting, I have often found great ways to fill that time find me. This is certainly true of the time we spent waiting for the Jeep to arrive in South Africa. We arrived from Madagascar to Durban, the port we had shipped our Jeep to from the USA. We had spent a couple of days in Durban twelve years ago, and not explored thoroughly enough to be impressed. This time, we opted to try something new, renting a room with a host family through Air B&B. Usually, we rent a whole house with friends, or look for a small flat that we can rent to ourselves. This time, we chose a well reviewed home stay opportunity, where we got our own room, but shared living quarters with the homeowners. It was fantastic! They quickly offered us the opportunity to share meals with them, alternating cooking duties. We shared recipes with them, and they with us. We shared stories, becoming fast friends by the time we collected the Jeep at the port and headed towards Johannesburg. What a great experience, they were so gracious sharing their time and space with us.
Collecting the Jeep from the port was also quite the experience. We had found a clearing agent prior to shipping and he was lined up with all the details of our shipment. We were able to track the actual ship carrying our precious cargo, and even got to watch it come to dock as the house we were staying at overlooked the harbor. Once Desmond, our clearing agent, had gotten it through the Customs check, he called us to his office so we could pay him and go get our Jeep. He even line up a ride for us to the port facility where the Jeep was waiting. They had already unloaded it from the container, and let us know that it wouldn’t start. 2 months at sea had zapped the battery. I thought our second battery with it’s jump start connection may get it started, but that battery was dead as well. The port guys were great, bringing a jump start battery, then a forklift to pull start the Jeep, to no avail. They towed us over to their maintenance shop, where the mechanics tried a 24V jump start that worked! We had to sit with my foot on the throttle for 15 minutes to get the batteries charged, but had no problems after that. We spent one more night in Durban and then headed off towards Johannesburg to get our trailer.
Conqueror trailers are made 45 minutes outside of Johannesburg, in the small town of Heidelberg. It has an isolated, rural feel to it, which we loved, even though it is only 30 miles from Johannesburg. We pulled into the factory the day we arrived in town, and got to see our trailer for the first time. It was just like we had seen on YouTube videos over the last few years, but it is ours! We were pretty excited, and worked out what we thought was a good schedule for them to finish a few things, like mounting our solar panels. This would keep us there through the weekend, so we also planned some outings to get the last few items we needed to outfit the trailer. One of these was getting tires for the wheels we brought with us, wheels that match those on the Jeep. We tried a couple of tire shops to find the ones we wanted, again to match the Jeep. The team at Tiger Tyre and Wheel were great, most of them had never seen our type of split rims before. Jen and I jumped in to help and we all learned together. When I brought the Jeep inside to load them, one of the guys noticed something loose underneath and they brought out a couple of bolts to get our anti-sway bar properly mounted again, at no charge. We then took the wheels and tires back to the Conqueror factory and helped mount them on the trailer. Unfortunately, the solar panel mounts were delayed, but that meant we got to see the next load of trailers for the US get loaded into containers. It was pretty neat seeing a batch of trailers bound for America go into containers. We finally got the final “How To” tour of our trailer and headed out for it’s last stop, a dealership in Johannesburg who would mount the awning to the outside. After another couple of days there, we were headed for Namibia.
During our time in Durban, we realized that we had failed to get a critical sticker that identifies the Jeep as registered in the USA. A small white oval with “USA” printed in the inside is legally important in some countries, and we didn’t have one. When we were unable to locate on for sale in South Africa, I reached out to the South African 4×4 community online to find someone who could print one. One of the guys got back to me, he owned a print shop and they could print them for us, no problem. When we stopped by the shop to pick up the stickers, he stopped everything he was doing to pull us aside and talk about our trip. He even had advice about which border crossing to use to minimize hassle with officials. He then let us know that he and his wife were planning a three month trip through Botswana and Namibia, inviting us to meet up with them for part of the journey. It was pretty amazing that this guy was willing to take time out of his day to find out about our trip and invite us, complete strangers, to join him and wife on their trip. This was just another example of the wonderful hospitality we experienced throughout our time in South Africa.
After getting the awning installed on our trailer, and getting our stickers, we hooked onto it and headed for Namibia. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and we had about 650 miles to get to the border. We had already found and booked a campsite midway to the border, all we had to do was get there. Before the trip, we had set a rule for our own safety; no driving at night. The first day saw us break this rule, arriving to our campground about 9:30 PM. The first time we set up our trailer, our home for the next couple of years, was in the dark. We tried to keep quiet so as not to disturb other campers, but you know how that goes. We got set up and hit the hay. The next morning, we were among the last to break camp, and got on our way towards the border. We knew that the border post closed at 4:30 PM, and when we reached the turn-off from the highway at 3:45, we made the decision to find a campsite for the night and cross in the morning. We had to cross the next morning, as that was the last day we were allowed in South Africa! We drove around for nearly an hour, looking for a lodge advertised on the highway, before finding out it was no longer in business. Our search found us in a beautiful rocky canyon of the Orange river, and we even found a vineyard, but nowhere to camp. We took the next best option, a campground in Pofadder (yes, a town named after a deadly snake, a first for both of us). It was clean and quiet, we got our own bathroom, and they directed us to a fun little restaurant with both a pool inside, though it was not for public use, and menus in Spanish! Apparently, a bunch of Spaniards live in town and work at a solar power plant, so the restaurant/bar printed their menus in Spanish for them. We appreciated hearing a language we understood, as most people speak Afrikaans, which we don’t understand.
We got up the next morning and headed for the border. This took us over about 20 miles of some of the worst gravel roads I have ever driven. Wash board and pot holes beyond anything we had ever seen. We took it slow and arrived with time to spare before lunch. The South African side was in a beautiful little canyon off the Orange River, and a fairly easy crossing. The police refused to stamp our Carnet, so we will have to figure out what to do about that. We then crossed a one lane bridge over the Orange River, arriving in Namibia. Again, an easy border post, a little paperwork to complete, a cursory inspection of the Jeep and trailer, and we were ready. It took a little gentle pushing to get the carnet stamped by the Namibian Police, but not much. The roads from here were, quite simply, the best gravel roads we had ever seen. Better than some state highways in America! Wide, flat, well maintained, they are a thing of beauty. Occasionally, water from a cloudburst had crossed the road, leaving it a bit bumpy, but these were few and far between. The roads to our first camp in Namibia, at Fish River Canyon, were almost all gravel, and all fantastic. We’ve heard Namibia has a lot of gravel roads, and seen a lot too, and the bar has been set high for their quality.