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Two Weeks in South Africa, 1999


The first part of the drive was not a lot more interesting than the one to Pretoria. So far, I was not terribly impressed with my South African adventure. Along the way, I passed black hitchhikers standing along the road outside scruffy black townships. The road was flat and just winding enough to make the 120 kph speed limit a flirtation with danger, especially as drivers from behind continually wanted me to move into the emergency lane. I carried on over nondescript farmlands until I came into a range of mountains at about dark. Unfortunately I missed the last of the scenery as I emerged into the lowveld into Nelspruit, around 40 km from the park entrance.

It was clearly too late to go further toward the park so I overnighted at Nelspruit. The town was awash with fast food outlets and travel lodges, and could have been a town outside any national park in the USA, except that black people wandered around on foot in the shadows while whites, and more fortunate blacks, drove the cars. I selected a motel that advertised rooms for 145 rand, about $25 USD. This hotel had a spectrum of clientele, black and white. The rooms were formulaic but clean (except for the cigarette smell). Each had a double bed and a third bunk across the top, and each had a bath cubicle with shower and toilet. There was a/c and a tv, and it seemed secure, good value.

Across the road was a restaurant that served a delicious seafood salad, huge helpings. I had that and a calimari "starter", also substantial, for around $5, and washed it down with pints of Castle on tap at a dollar (6 rand) a wash-down. The black help at the restaurant were friendly and courteous, especially after I expressed interest in them (Where are you from, I was asked. I told him And you? A bit taken aback .. me? I'm from Swaziland, ... outpouring about friendliness of Swazis follows - as per pattern, a white guy at the main bar seemed to run the place, only guessing though). I relaxed there before going to bed.

Come morning, I still had no clear idea about how to get to the park, but I had to visit the Avis office at the airport before starting out in the morning, since I was seriously thinking about going to Swaziland by now, and at the airport in Johannesburg they hadn't wanted to give me the letter I thought I needed to export the car, but they had told me to just get it at any Avis office on my way to the border. I had by then worked out that the only Avis office between Kruger and the border was right there in Nelspruit, and only the day after getting the car at the Joburg airport, I had to report there for this letter. On my way to the Nelspruit airport I passed a bevy of runners doing a half-marathon, mostly white, some black. At the airport the black counter staff told me that I didn't actually need this letter, and in the exchange, it was discovered that my contract number brought up someone else's name. As the agent tried to sort that out, I forgot to mention the gas cover on my car which I'd just discovered fell off when opened, apparently the result of a break-in to siphon gas on the watch of a previous renter of the vehicle. The only tangible outcome of this visit was that they were able to direct me up the road to the Melelane Gate to Kruger Park.

Later, at the head office of the park at Skekuza Camp, I happened on an Avis agent (white) at reception there who informed me that I did indeed need this letter, and she proceeded to dash me off one. It was simply a matter of filling out a form. She also noted on my contract that the gas cover on my car was broken, something I didn't want blamed on me. (Later, having transited Swaziland, it turns out that I was never asked for this letter, so it turned out to be just another bureaucratic hurdle).

Next episode:
I spend a couple of days in South Africa's famous Kruger Park

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Last updated: December 20, 1999