October 8, 2006

South AfricaToday we were on our own. We were up about 8 am and had the house breakfast—toast and peanut butter, with tea. Then we finished packing, paid our bill, and were ready to move on. About 9:30 am Maurice, the other permanent resident of the place, drove us out to the airport so we could pick up the rental car. We filled out the forms at Europcar, and everything went according to plan except that the agent forgot to give us the letter authorizing us to take the car into Swaziland, and we had to wait for quite some time before we could get that.

But finally we were ready to drive off in our silver Toyota Corolla. First of all we had to back out of the parking stall, because a large van and trailer was parked in front of the car. Driving on the left side of the road wasn’t difficult at all; what was difficult was that the windshield wiper lever and the turn signal were on the opposite side of the steering wheel, so Paul switched on the windshield wiper instead of signalling turns quite frequently. (Fortunately our car had a licence plate that said it came from Cape Town, and apparently people from Cape Town are notorious for not signalling turns!)

Europcar had given us instructions for getting to Kruger Park, but finding the N4 and heading towards Nelspruit on it was just a matter of following the highway signs. For the first part of the drive we went through farm land. Not very scenic, but luckily the traffic was light so the drive went well and we got a chance to learn about the South African practice of “yellow line driving”. The speed limit was 120 km/h and most people seemed to be obeying this—especially us. About 12:30 pm we stopped at one of the roadside service areas and bought some sausage rolls and buns for lunch, then continued eastward along the N4.

At Middelburg we paid the R29 toll and carried on, then at Machadodorp we paid the R43 toll. After that the route split into two N4’s. We opted to go on the “scenic” route that took us through Schoemanskloof. At first the road went up through an area with forestry plantations, then it went up through some passes and finally down to the lowveld, where it joined up with the non-scenic N4. It was a nice drive.

By about 2 pm we were in Nelspruit and started looking for our hostel, the Old Vic Inn. We tried to follow the instructions we had got from the Internet, but they were totally useless because the streets of Nelspruit had been renamed; “John Vorster” just won’t do as a street name in modern South Africa. However by following the map and instructions in the Rough Guide, we finally managed to locate it. We rang the bell and Bella, one of the owners, came to let us in. We had originally booked a regular double room, but since they were not very busy, Bella put us in a double room with ensuite bathroom (red bathtub!) for the same price. As it happened the bathroom didn’t actually have a door, but it was still a bathroom.

We put our bags into the room and then went to find the Spar grocery store that we had seen on our way into town. After a few wrong turns, almost including turning the wrong way into a one-way street, we finally found our way back to it. We had pre-planned our shopping list for a week so in we went. First stop was the fruit and vegetable department, then the baked goods. Both of us decided that having pasta and veggies or rice and veggies would be good for our dinners, so we went up and down the aisles looking for things. Meat would have been too much trouble, since we didn’t have any refrigeration, so we just didn’t buy any. We found a variety of Knorr sauce mixes that would be good on either pasta or rice, and we also bought tea, sugar, cereal, UHT milk, bread, margarine, jam, peanut butter, and dessert things. Altogether the bill came to R417 which wasn’t too bad.

Back at the hostel we sorted through the pile of food and organized it into bags. We had brought a lot of zip lock bags to store food in, and eventually almost all of the food fit into our grey sports bag. It was now teatime, so we went up to the kitchen and made tea, then sat outside on the deck to drink it. The garden backs onto a nature reserve so there were lots of plants and birds. It was a lovely place to sit and relax.

About 6:30 we collected together our dinner materials and cooked them up. We made rice with Knorr sweet-and-sour sauce plus veggies, and dessert was chopped-up apples plus a crumbled-up All Bran bar (leftover snack food from the tour) with custard on top. The custard is made with UHT milk and comes in a TetraPak box. This was the first dinner we had cooked for ourselves on this trip, and it turned out really well.

After dinner we sat for a while and talked with the other two guests, a couple from Germany, then we washed our dishes and went back to our room to write journals.

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