Category Archives: Gashi Travels / Gashi utazik

Climbing the highest point in Europe. Mt. Elbrus (5642 m) – Part 2 – “Where has the oxygen gotten to?”

The hotel accommodation was more than a big surprise upon our arrival. After 3 days on the road, spent in 40 degrees of South Ukrainian and Russian heat, any minimum form of civilization was welcomed. Instead we got more than we were hoping for. A 4 star hotel with free meals, nice beds and what we haven’t seen for a couple of days; hot showers. We ate and went up to our room to celebrate our arrival with a bottle of wine from home. Soon enough our guide, Dima, appeared, a guy straight out of the Russian story books. A man without a clear image of where he actually comes from (from all parts of Russia, according to his own account), living somewhere in the forest. A freelance guide and climber, who climbs Mt. Elbrus 15-20 times a season and as we soon found out, drinks a form of fermented local milk (with more than an abundant amount of salt and pepper) and is able to casually smoke at 5000 m.

The plan was laid out before us, in a mix of Russian, English, sign language and occasional moments of double guessing whether this guy will actually be responsible for our lives up there. The plan was simple. The first two nights we would spend at the hotel, with one day for acclimatization between them. Then we would go on the Mountain, have 3 days of further acclimatization and attempt to reach the summit on the fourth one.

Day 1

The first day started as in a fairytale. We woke up at 7.30 am, had a good night rest and a wonderful breakfast. The day’s goal was Cheget peak at 3600 m, an initial acclimatization climb. The gear we needed was also quite light. Hiking boots (I took my La Sportiva Nepal Extremes, which are proper insulated mountain boots and handled the job easily), shorts, a base layer and a raincoat. We also managed to meet our group of eight people, only two of us being non-Russian speakers.

The climb itself to Cheget peak was quite easy but with stunning scenery. We managed to mingle a bit with the rest of the group and also have some linguistic talks with our guide, Dima, who turned out to be quite skilled in the theory and history of languages. One of our team-members already showed signs that the summit will be something almost unreachable for him. But he persevered to do the first day’s walk. Our view of Elbrus was overshadowed by a layer of clouds and mist which made our descent quite wet and forced us to spend an hour in a small restaurant/outpost where a good glass of wine and tea, with some Russian soup made the stay quite enjoyable.

The air above 3000m is already thin and you can feel the change in altitude. Your body gets more easily fatigued but physical activity is not yet too strenuous, so any normal, healthy human being can do a climb till 3600 m.

Day 2

The second day also began with good breakfast at the hotel and packing. We packed up all our equipment with the food provided by the agency and headed to the cable cars. The cable car journey is an adventure in itself. It is done in two steps. The first ride is quite pleasant if you manage to get one of the new cable cabins. The second leg of the journey is a whole different story. Single, old, rusty, commy chairs hanging on a piece of wire provide the ride. You have to jump on them and then secure yourself with a metal rod 😀 The cable car system takes you from 2000 m to around 3600 m. Our initial enthusiasm declined a bit with the amount of clouds and rain that followed us through our cable car ascent. From the end point, we packed all our luggage on a snow-cat which took us to 3750m, and our NOT 4 star accommodation, the Azau barracks 😀

The barracks are what they are supposed to be; old containers, pinned on some rocks. The toilet is an outpost, hanging on the edge of a cliff. The journey to the toilet is an adventure itself, so I recommend not using it in the dark, as you might end up with a twisted ankle or who knows, at the bottom of the cliff. There are three barracks, which can accommodate 8 people each. Electricity is only available between 9-11 pm, a time when almost everyone is fast asleep (or trying). There is a fourth barrack where two women cook for the teams and there are also two long dining tables. The food is simple but definitely does the job. The ladies cook well and put everything on the table, that your body needs in the upcoming days. It is recommended to eat dairy products and meat, and also drink plenty of fluids while not yet climbing.

Day 3

We started our third day with an early rise and proper breakfast. We had to gear up for our first day of acclimatization. The day’s goal was to reach 4200 m in elevation and then come back to the barracks. For this climb you already need crampons, proper mountain boots and walking poles. I wore a base layer and a fleece on top. I used a base-layer and gore-tex trousers for my legs. It is advisable to have a balaclava or a face mask, due to the risk of having sun burns. For my feet, I had a first layer of thin socks and a second layer of warm socks. You also need a first layer of gloves, but mittons are not yet needed. For extra assurance, it is also good to have a gore-tex jacket when you stop or if the weather changes. The weather conditions were excellent. The sky definitely cleared out and we managed to see the summit in the distance.

Whenever you climb, a small back-pack is enough. Some chocolate and a thermos of tea or water is a must! Don’t even think of doing even an acclimatization walk without a thermos. It is also better if the water is warm, as cold water makes you sweat more.

Our group had a steady rhythm. Dima dictated the rhythm, which is one step one breath. At the end of the walk the terrain gets a bit steeper. There are also occasional water streams in the snow and small cracks. Try avoiding them. The temperature is close to 0 C in the summer, so do not worry too much.

We did the climb and came back to the barracks by mid-afternoon. The appetite at this altitude changes and many climbers either do not feel hungry or eat less than usual. Sleeping is also a challenge. My first night was delirium tremens in its fullest 😀 If you have ever been high and sleeping afterwards, this is definitely the feeling. Your body is adapting to the lack of oxygen, so sleeping can be tricky, and by most you will manage to actually sleep just a couple of hours.

Day 4

An early rise, a heavy breakfast, water in the thermos and the daily packed lunch (a fruit, chocolate, biscuits, a small sandwich). The day’s goal was to reach 4800 m, the upper part of a place called “The Rocks” and then descent to our barracks. The difference in altitude was already 1000 m, and the air at almost 5000 m is much thinner than at sea level. For this day I took double gloves and an extra fleece. I only used the gore-tex jacket when stopping or when descending.

The group had an excellent rhythm, with few stops but a steady pace. On the steep section, Dima, also did the classic “S” type walking, where you slowly wind yourself up the slope, instead of going frontal. It is less tiring and you can do the climb without having to constantly stop (and freeze :D). At 4800m the daily temperature was slightly below freezing. We were also told how to use the ice-axes in case we fall and we had a general instructions session (mainly in Russian, but by this time we got used to the fact that people in Russia think that everyone speaks their language; especially “the English speaking” guide provided by the company).

By this time the body definitely feels the lack of oxygen and every movement slows down. To make things worse, the last section of this walk is more than steep and can be a bit excruciating. On our way down everyone was left to descent in his own pace. At this point Hunor got a bit ill, as his body took some time to adapt. He instantly fell asleep in the barracks but managed to fully recover.

We also had a group gathering and decided to skip another day of acclimatization, due to fears that the weather might change on the day we initially decided to summit. So with one day less of acclimatization, we decided to go to bed early, as at 2 am we had to wake up and get ready for the summit.

Day 5

The alarm went off at 2 am. We all woke up feeling exhausted. None of us managed to sleep well. Also the idea hit us, that this is what we came for. So we had to make it right. We silently had breakfast and filled our thermoses. Luck had it that both Hunor and I had our ‘periods’. Both of us blew our noses and due to an already high blood pressure at this height, the blood vessels in our noses ruptured. Not exactly an ideal way to start a climb, with a make-shift paper ‘tampon’ in our noses. There was an eerie silence in the group. We all knew that 10 h of heavy climb will be needed to reach the summit and then several hours to descend. We put our harnesses and carabineers on as well. I personally put 1 layer of thin socks and 2 layers of thick socks. I also put one base layer pants, a fleece layer of pants and the outer gore-tex one. I put two base-layers, 1 fleece and the gore-tex jacket. I also had an extra layer of fleece in my backpack. Double gloves, face-mask and warm hat.

The temperature in the morning at 4500 m plummeted to -15/-17 C. The winds also picked up as well. We turned our headlights on and continued the climb. The best way to walk this section is by using the “S” type, due to the steepness of the slope. If anyone thinks this is child’s splay, this is the time when it is recommended to turn back. The member of the group, who had problems with the first walk to Cheget Peak, didn’t try to summit and the wife of one of the guys turned back at this point. What ensues from 4500 m and until you reach the saddle between the two peaks is a good couple of hours of grueling and painful climb. The most strained parts of the body are the lower legs. Our nose-bleed was still in a semi-operational phase 😀 and the air is as thin as it gets. Before reaching the saddle I had the toughest moment of the climb, where I simply dropped in the snow and could not move for 5 minutes. My mind was blank and there wasn’t any clear thought I could grasp. It really is a matter of mental strength and determination to do the remaining climb from this point onwards.

Elbrus has two peaks. We took the southern route, which passes by the first peak (on the right), then goes down to the saddle and follows up to the second peak (the higher one, on the left).

The saddle is the part where your body is given the opportunity to rest. The route slightly descends and it is advisable to sit down and rest before attempting the last leg of the trip. We set down in the snow and instantly fell asleep. We got up again at 10 am and geared up for the last part. Sasha, our second guide, took the lead while Dima set up the ropes for the descent. The guides know the mountain and told us to reach the summit in 2-3 hours, as the weather was about to change (even if it is completely sunny). The first part after the saddle is remarkably steep. The first 1,5 h have to be done on this section.

This is followed by a plateau and on the plateau you can spot a small hill, which is the highest peak. By this time we were so weak, that even the idea of the summit did not give us extra energy. Step-by-step we went ahead. 10 m before reaching the summit, we grabbed our shoulders with Hunor and summited together. This is the moment when a grown-up man is allowed to cry and the moment I cannot describe, even if I tried. Everything comes together and suddenly makes sense. You can barely move but you feel a deep sense of happiness, mixed with the knowledge of one’s self.

Making the summit is only half the deal. One must also descend from it. And our descent was met by an incoming snow storm. Dima made the preparations and hooked us to the ropes which were put on the side of the first peak. We slowly descended and re-grouped in the saddle. After resting, Dima took the lead and tied us together. We took the ice-axes in our left hands and one walking pole in our right ones. The path was narrow, and the slopes steep, so any slip could mean a long slide to the bottom, with almost zero visibility. We did an agonizing descent till 4800 m, when several members of the group started quarelling in Russian with Dima. We stood there with Hunor not understanding what was happening and I yelled at all of them to explain what the hell was happening. Several found that being tied together after the steep section was useless. So we untied ourselves and did the following section like this, in conditions of minimum visibility. One of the guy’s knees started failing so we called a snow-cat. We waited for the snow-cat to pick us up at around 4300 m, where we celebrated our climb with half a liter of coca-cola, which Hunor found in the snow.

Day 6

After our climb we slept like angels for the first time. 12 hours straight, without even going to the toilet (hazardous to our lives). We packed up and went to the cable cars. The ride down was a mix of accomplishment and nostalgia that the best part of the adventure was over.

We rested at the hotel and went in the evening to have a victory dinner. Dima came completely shit-faced and handed out our certificates. We ate good local food, drank vodka and wine and left Dima dancing on the table with the waitress. Not even the Russians could handle our Hungarian Pálinka, and quoting one of our Russian friends, “it feels like baby Jesus is walking on my veins”.

One last night at the hotel and another long and strenuous drive back home.

Some important things to know

–          Do not underestimate any mountain! Above 5000 m the weather conditions are extreme and without proper acclimatization, you can have brain or lung damage.

–          Always have enough fluids in a thermos but do not drink too much during the climb

–          Try walking the steep section in the “S” style as you will not stop so many times and expose your sweaty body to the cold

–          For the summer climb, a pair of Nepal La Sportiva Extremes or any boots in this range (one guy even did it in Scarpa Mantas) is sufficient. You do not need plastic boots, although the most commonly used plastic boots were the good old Scarpa Vegas/Invernos. Just make sure your boot has a layer of Thinsulate or Gore-tex if you are not using plastic ones. It also has to be crampon compatible with a fast locking system (so rigid soles)

–          Have at least 4 days of acclimatization before you summit. It is a high mountain and the biggest danger to the body is the lack of oxygen. By the time you reach the summit you will feel like a vegetable anyways.

–          Try sleeping, even if sometimes it is impossible, and eat as much as you can before doing the climbs. During the climb do not eat too much and drink too much. You will feel like vomiting constantly so it is also difficult to eat or drink.

–          Due to the poor hygiene of the toilets, we did not do number 2 for over four days 😀

–          With the proper equipment, guides and days for acclimatization, any normal, healthy individual can do it, who also exercises regularly during the year

Climbing the highest point in Europe. Mt. Elbrus (5642 m) – Part 1 – “Boss need little present”

So here we are. Back home after a 4800 km long journey through several ex-Soviet countries (some of them not even recognized). We did what we went there to do. On the 1st of August 2012, at 12 o’clock we managed to summit Mt. Elbrus, the highest point in Europe at 5642 m.

The journey itself was an adventure that deserves a couple of words.

As any “properly planned” trip, ours started with not being able to find Hunor’s (the lead driver’s) license. No problem – so we said – mine should be enough for the both of us. The bags were packed, part of Hunor’s equipment had not arrived yet and with plenty of food we set out for what was to become a daunting couple of days on the road.

In Romania, nothing much happened. Partly good, partly bad roads. Lots of winding roads through the mountains, and hills, and plains and we reached the Moldavian border in the afternoon. The plan was to reach Odessa (Ukraine) by nightfall and overnight there. The Moldavian border control asked for Hunor’s license. We simply said we lost it and I had to cross the border, so nothing too much to worry about. The Romanian they spoke in Moldova was a funny mix of Romanian with Russian words and a Russian accent.

Moldova in itself did not offer too much. It is one of Europe’s poorest countries, the roads can range from good to horrible and the small towns and villages are quite run down. The excitement started when after almost an hour of driving from Chisinau we stumbled upon the first Russian army tank and a “Stop” sign in red. ‘Dammit’– we thought. It looks like this whole Transnistrian thing is alive and kicking. For those who do not know yet, the eastern side of Moldova (Transnistria) is an unrecognized, de facto independent country with its own currency, leadership and heavily protected borders. We were stopped by two heavily armed Russian soldiers and we were told to follow a small road (probably used by tanks) to get to the border control.

By this time Hunor was driving again, and just before the border control a police officer stopped us, telling us in Romanian that we did not see the “Stop” sign. ‘Stop sign? Where?’ – we asked. ‘There’ – the police officer said pointing at nothing. So we looked at each other. Hunor slipped a 10 dollar bill in our passports and miraculously the problem got solved; with the condition, that the other driver (me) had to drive through Transnistria.

The border control was yet to start. Our passports and car papers were handed over to several Russian speaking soldiers and officials. Everyone spoke only in Russian; they sometimes laughed and sometimes looked serious. The bottom line was that another 5 dollar bill was slipped into someone’s pocket. The advice followed as well – go ahead and do not stop. We drove slowly in one of Europe’s strangest regions, where the statue of ‘comrade’ Lenin still stands tall and the ‘unknown’ worker’s memorial is the central park’s main attraction. But we must hand it to these transnistrians. Their women are drop dead gorgeous!

There is a strange feeling in the air when going through Transnistria. You have the feeling that someone is permanently watching you and people are reluctant to speak to foreigners, either because they do not speak the language or not too many outsiders pass through (or maybe Big Brother is watching them?).

We continued our journey towards the next border control with the Ukraine. For those travelling for the first time in such a region, you are not given a passport, but a paper (everything in Russian) is stamped instead and you will have to hand in this paper when getting out of the “country”. This however seemed easier said than done. Before entering the Ukraine, we had to go through the same routine; military personnel and officials taking our passports, checking our car, speaking only Russian and our passports ‘disappearing’ in different buildings. We thought everything was over when they told us to pull over and go into ‘the office’.

Comrades ‘Igor’ and ‘Sasha’ were sitting at a table and looking suspiciously at our passports. One of them was pointing to the stamped papers and was asking us, where are our papers? We explained to him in a semi-English, semi sign language that they took it from us. ‘Igor’ and ‘Sacha’ looked at each other and then looked at us. Noo…They? They did not take it. We do not have the papers, well, then we can go back straight to Moldova. ‘Igor’ looked at Hunor’s sunglasses. ‘Mafia! You are mafia.’ – he said. ‘Two boys travelling together, uh?’ – and he showed the sign of two homosexuals. We looked at them and started speaking in Hungarian, just to frustrate them as well.

They told Hunor to leave the room. So here I was with two corrupt transnistrian officials and our passports in their hands. ‘Igor’ pulled me aside and miraculously he knew what to say in English. ‘You know. Boss good man. He need little present’. I looked at him. ‘How much? 20 euros?’. He looked at me with his disgusting smile. ’20 euros? No! No! 50 euros’ and started laughing. I told him we are students and we do not have that money. He looked at me again and said ‘No money? Nice computer in car, nice boots. You have money’. In the meantime Hunor came in and asked me in Hungarian what they want. I told him they want 50 euros. Hunor started swearing in Hungarian, but keeping his normal tone. ‘You two mother fucking pieces of shit. You should go and f..”. I nearly cracked up, when one of them asked me. ‘He speak good or bad?’. I responded, nearly bursting out of laughter. ‘He speak very good. Transnistria great nation.’

There was not much to do. They wouldn’t budge for less than 50, so we gave them the big bill and we got our passports back. Luckily the Ukrainians were slightly more civilized and we were on our way to Odessa. But surprise in Odessa. The hostel we booked (‘The Fat Swan’) was nowhere to be found and no one picked up the phone. So after an hour of searching and people speaking no English, we found a cheap hotel, with a bathroom the size of a toilet.

We woke up early in the morning and took the great Ukrainian sun-flower fields, so we could reach Rostov in Russia (810 km away) and overnight at one of the couchsurfers. Luck was not on our side though. We reached the Ukrainian-Russian border by 9 pm and thought that we will have an easy passage.

It took us an hour to get through the Ukrainian check and we waited another hour in ‘no men’s land’. Before entering the Russian passport control we filled out all necessary documents, we got the stamps but Mr. ‘Vanja’, a Fat old F..ck (F.o.F., in other words a corrupt, bored customs official) had other plans.

Before leaving, Hunor translated his own delegation in Russian, saying that the company car we drove in is delegated by the company to himself. The translator messed up the birth year of 1984 with 2012. Everything else was the same. And Mr. F.o.F. Vanja managed to spot the “big problem”. He looked at us and pointed back to the Ukraine. We started arguing, even slipped a 40 dollar bill in the passports but he threw them back. He said he needs a correct paper. We bagged him to let us fax something, but to no avail. We asked the passport control whether we can still cross into Russia, once we go back to the Ukraine and get a fax. They answered in the affirmative.

So by 1 am we were on the Ukrainian side again, in a copy room, where we were “receiving” our new fax. We took the old document, copied it and found the numbers “1, 9, 84”, glued them and faded the lines with enough copies, that it looked like a new copy. We crossed the Ukrainian control, to go back into Russia. By the time we got to the Russian control at 3.30 am, passport control decided that “well, we cannot cross into Russia again with a one entry Visa”. So once again the whole bargaining started with dumb officials, calling up the bosses, trying to explain in English the situation to only Russian speaking guards. Our luck was about to change when all of a sudden a young official, speaking fare English, managed to convince them to annul the old stamps and give us new ones. By 5 am we reached customs, but Mr. F.o. F. Vanja told us that he will not work until 7 am.

So we managed to sleep until 7 a.m. and went into his office with the ‘new fax’. He looked at us and was asking where the stamp is. We explained it is a ‘fax’. A small argument ensued and suddenly we heard him ‘slipping’ the words ’50 dollars’. We got into the car, gave him the 50 bucks and left disgusted. We gave him 40 the previous night, but he did not accept them.

At least we were in Russia, speeding to Terskol (at the foot of Mt.Elbrus) to reach our team in time. And speeding is not a good idea in Russia. On half way through the Russian leg of the journey, the Russian road police pulled us over. 133 km/h (we had a maximum of 110 km/h) in a 90 km/h zone. Hunor was in a good mood. He talked to them and came back telling me that they need 40 dollars. Two minutes later he comes back and tells me. ‘Hahaha. I told them this is our first time in Russia, so could they only charge us for 30 dollars and give us back the rest in rubbles? And also whether they could let us take a picture with them? And they said yes!”

So not only were the Russian police kind enough to give us back 10 dollars’ worth of rubbles from the bribe money, but they were even happy to take a picture with us. We took our pictures, continued the remainder of our journey and to our big surprise, we ended up staying in a 4 star hotel, with Mt. Elbrus waiting for us J

Mt. Elbrus – Equipment list with pictures :)

Hei everyone. Almost time for the big trip. Three days by car and then 8 days on the mountain, trying to climb Europe’s highest point, Mt. Elbrus at 5642 m. I uploaded my personal equipment list, with the names and quantities of the products, the price and where I bought them. I haven’t included such basic things as personal food items, eating utensils etc. Enjoy the pics (I have gained some weight btw :D)

EQUIPMENT LIST ELBRUS

ITEM RETAILER PRICE TIME OF ARRIVAL
1 Gaiter Hong Kong eBay

5 €

Arrived

1 Base Layer Pants + 1 Base layer shirt eBay

35€

Arrived

2 Base Layer shirts (Take Five) eBay

25€

Arrived

1 Sprayway Fleece Amazon

30€

Arrived

1 Norway Anapurna Fleece eBay

34 €

Arrived

1 Stormberg Fleece Norway (65% sale)

20 €

Have it

1 Polartec 200 Fleece trousers eBay (used)

28 €

Arrived

1 North Face Gore-tex waterproof pants eBay

60 €

Arrived

1 Columbia Gore-Tex jacket eBay

40 €

Arrived

1 Highlander 4 Season + Sleeping bag (-27 C) Amazon –Highlander

57 €

Arrived

1 La Sportiva Nepal Extreme alpine boots Auvieuxcampeur.fr

279 €

Arrived

1 Alpamayo 12 R Laniere Crampons Auvieuxcampeur.fr

63.90 €

Arrived

1 Alpin Top Ice-Axe (70 cm) Auvieuxcampeur.fr

39.90 €

+25 € delivery

Arrived

1 Backpack Borrow from Boroka(70 liter)

1 Small Backpack Haglof I have it (15 liter)

Walking Poles Rent from agency
Ski Goggles Borrow from Levi
Balaclava/Warm Hat

5  

Warm hat Nootka
Gloves – Double layered Black Diamond Heavyweight Nootka

45  

Socks (Mund Elbrus and Qechua) – 2 thin pairs and 3 thick pairs Nootka/Altisport

40 €

1 Lowa backpack waterproof layer

15 €

1 Petzl headlamp Gift from brother
1 Swiss knife From Grandfather
1 Thermos From brother
1 sleeping mat From brother
Sub-Total

847

Travel by car (gas, bribes) + food for the road +couchsurfing Travel insurance + Visa

Approx. 200

100

EWP Travel Agent Food, accommodation, guides, permits, porters

1000  €

Total

2150  €

 1. Base Layer – Cool Base pants and shirt 

2. Fleece Layer – Polartec 200 pants and Stormberg top

3. Third Layer – North Face (Gore-tex) waterproof pants and Norway Anapurna Fleece (instead of soft shell)

4. Fourth upper layer – Columbia (Gore-Tex) waterproof jacket 

5. First and second layer feet – Mundo and Qechua socks 

6. La Sportiva Nepal Extreme Boots and Singing Rock 12 pointed crampons

7. Boots, Crampons and Gaiters

8. Remaining Equipment: Highlander 4 season + sleeping bag (-10 C comfort and -25 C extreme), normal sleeping mat, Haglof 15 L small bag, 65 L big backpack, 70 cm Singing Rock ice-axe, Ski Goggles, Swiss kniw, Petzl headlamp, Balaclava/Hat, Thermos, Black Diamond double gloves

Mt. Elbrus – How are we going to get there?

Ten days left until we depart. I recently got back to Denmark from Italy and I am flying home, via Budapest on Friday. We will leave to the Caucasus on the 25th of July, as on the 28th the climb  begins.

The whole adventure will last for two weeks. We need three days by car to get to Mt. Elbrus and another three days to get back. The climb itself is going to take eight days, the first four of them being used to acclimatize.

The rough route is as follows:

25 July – Day 1 – 705 km – Cluj-Napoca (Romania) – Iasi (Romania) – Chisinau (Moldova) – Odessa (Ukraine)

We will either use couchsurfing or worst case scenario some cheap hostels will suffice

26 July – Day 2 – 802 km – Odessa (Ukraine) – Melitopol (Ukraine) – Taganrog (Russia) – Rostov-on-Don (Russia)

27 July – Day 3 – 481 km – Roston-on-Don (Russia)- Mineralnye Vody (Russia)

28 July – Day 4 – 175 km – Mineralnye Vody (Russia) – Terskol (Russia)

The accommodation shall be provided by the travel agency we booked

29 July – 4 August – Day 5 -11 – Mt. Elbrus – acclimatization and climb – accommodation, food and guide provided by the travel agency

5 August – 7 August – Road back home – probably the same way as we came or through Krasnodar and Kerch, if the region is safe enough after the recent floods. Couchsurfing or hostels for accommodation.

Aarhus, 15 July 2012

 

Mt. Elbrus (5642 m) approaching

SO as the moment of the great climb is approaching and most of the bureaucracy was done, it is time to tell the world that in two weeks I will be heading with a friend of mine to the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia.

I am not a mountain climber and the highest I have ember climbed was a bit above 2000 m. At least we are going with an agency so we will have plenty of time to acclimatize (4 days actually :D)

In the upcomming posts I will describe the route to go from Romania to Mt Elbrus and I will also post my personal equipment list later on with the relevant photos. So let the new adventure begin

Florence, 7 July 2012 

Map of countries one has visited :)


create your own visited country map

I just came across this little map that shows the countries one has visited 🙂 It says I visited 20 countries and 8% of the world 😀  Enjoy

Why I sometimes have a complicated life….All the places I’ve been to in the last 14 months


 

When? Where? Why?
August 2010 GERMANY: Hamburg/Eimsbüttel Intensive German Courses
End of August 2010 SCOTLANDEdinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Lock Lomond Travelling
Beginning of Sept 2010 NETHERLANDSMaastricht Visiting girlfriend
September 2010 GERMANY: Hamburg/Berliner Tor Bucerius Law School Exchange
End of Sept, early Oct 2010 NETHERLANDSMaastricht Visiting girlfriend
October 2010 GERMANYMunich Oktoberfest
Late October 2010 NETHERLANDSMaastricht Visiting girlfriend
November 2010 GERMANYBerlin Travelling
End of Nov. – early December GERMANYHamburg

NETHERLANDSMaastricht

Girlfriend comes over to visit, I go back to the Netherland sas well
December 2010 GERMANYHamburg Bucerius Law School Exchange
End of December 2010 GERMANYHamburg/Berlin

CZECH REPUBLICPrague

Parents come to visit
New Year’s Eve ROMANIA: Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvár Spending time back home
January 2011 NETHERLANDSMaastricht, the Hague

CZECH REPUBLIC: Prague

Living with girlfriend, arranging papers to South AfricaTravellingTravelling
End of January 2011- Middle of June 2011 SOUTH AFRICA: Western Cape, Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, Transkei, Great Karoo, Klein Karoo, Drakensbergs, Pretoria, Jo-burg, Pilansberg, North Western Province, Kalahari – in total 54 dayson the road

BOTSWANA: Kalahari,Gaborone

Stellenbosch University exchange and travelling
Middle of June – End of June 2011 NETHERLANDSMaastricht Living with girlfriend, finalizing my masters thesis
End of June – Beginning of July ROMANIA: Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvar Attending brother’s birthday
July 2011 NETHERLANDSMaastricht

ITALY: Sardinia

Living with girlfriend, finalizing my masters thesisTravelling
August 2011 ROMANIA: Cluj-Napoca/Kolozsvar Living back home
End of Aug- Beginning of Sept 2011 GREECE: Athens Visiting girlfriend
October 2011 BELGIUM: Brussels Interning at the EU Commission

 

Szardíniáról pár sorban

Nemrég jöttem vissza a Földközi-tenger második legnagyobb szigetéről. Végre azt mondhatom, a 2008-as olasz hátizsákos túrát beleértve, hogy kábé bejártam egész Olaszországot: Lago Comotól Nápolyig, Velencétől Rómáig, az Adriától a Tirrén-tengerig és Szicíliától Szardíniáig.

Nagy vonalakban kb. ez történt:

Július 13- reggel 6-kor kelés, 7-kor vonat Maastricht és Liege között, majd Liege és Charleroi között, végül busz a repülőtérig. Idejében megérkeztünk, de Neptunusz és a többi nagyszakállú odafönt elhatározták, hogy a gépet 2 majd 5 majd 7 és fél órával késtetik. Kábé úgy éreztük magunkat, mint Tom Hanks a Terminálban, le föl járva, veszekedvén mindenkivel, tehetetlennek érezvén magunkat. Közben három óra késés után a Rájenér (Ryanair) elhatározta, hogy egy fejenkénti 5 eurós cetlit ad, ami kábé semmire sem jutotta (12 euró volt egy szalmakrumplis, salátás csirke – ketten összedobtuk és még kipótoltuk két euróval). Odament a drága napsütés és tengerpart aznapra. Késő este, 10 után érkeztünk meg a B&B-be, ahol Danile egy remek szobát adott át. Az ár kissé borsos, 30 euró fejenként egy estére, de hát szezonban ennél olcsóbbat nem igazán.

Július 14 – megvolt a reggeli (la colazzione), majd a Poetto strandra bandukoltunk. Hála a Fennvalónak, hogy 30 fokos meleg volt, de jó tengerparti szelő hűtötte a levegőt. A tengerpart remek, a víz átlátszó, egy pár hal is megfordul. A szárdokról, pedig annyit, hogy barnultak, a csávók jóképűek, a csajok soványak és nagybögyűek és mindenki arcát az olasz napszemüveg ékesíti.

Ebéd után pedig a várost is meglátogattuk. Egy citadella (jó sokat kell mászni) tetejéről a környéket jól szemügyre lehet venni. Az óvárosról ennyit: régi épületek, keskeny utcák, Ristorante és Pizzeria minden sarkon, a vakolat kissé hulló félben, de egy gelato a kikötőben a drágámmal egyedi élmény. Közepes fagylaltot kértem, és az asszonyság akkora két gömböt biggyesztett az ostyára, hogy majd meghótam a sok nyalástól 😛

Útban hazafele, a buszt színültig megpakolták tizenéves lükékkel, akik épp egy koncertre siettek. Majd kinyomták belünket… A szerencsétlen buszsofőr kétszer is megállt és hátraordított. Közben nem állt meg semmilyen buszmegállóban, ezért egy lokál idióta a busz elé ugrott és elkezdett cazzozni a sofőrnek. Ez visszakáromkodott, majd veszekedtek, fenyegetőztek. Végül felkerült az ipse és úgy tett, mintha semmi sem történt volna.

Este pedig elnéztünk egy helyi, kissé afféle negyedi pizzázóba, ahol 6 euróért egy óriási pizzát nyomnak elődbe. Hiába, ők találták föl és értik magukat hozzá.

Július 15 – reggel 8-kor kelés, reggeli és irány a buszállomás, hogy egy három órás járatot kapjunk el Sassari, majd Alghero fele. Érdemes megemlíteni a buszsofőrrel történt apró jelenetet is. Fölszállunk és mondom, hogy két jegyet a buszállomásig. Rám néz a szemüveg alól és megkérdi „Ma tu sai quanto costa il biglietto?” (Tudod mennyibe kerül a jegy?) – mondom, persze 1,7 euró fejenként. „Na és nem tűnik neked, hogy kissé drága?”  – és sunyin a szemével vágott. És kábé így utaztunk a városi buszon jegy nélkül ezentúl.

Három óra után, egy váltással Sassariban, elértük Algherot is. A B&B-ről, csak annyit, hogy fél órát vártunk, a fiatal tag jópofa volt, de a fejenkénti 27,5 eurót nem érte meg. Este tele volt lármázó spanyolokkal és a szoba sem volt ki tudja mi. Kocsival le is vitt a központba, miközben kézzel-lábbal gesztikulált, telefonon beszélt és közben vezetett is. Na de a város maga megérte. Hisz gyönyörű kis középkori város, tengerbe ívelő bástyákkal. A strand kissé messze és nem a legtisztább, de a naplemente és a pizzázó, ahol 5 euróért megetetnek és előtted megsütik a pizzát, megérte a fáradtságot.

Július 16 – fölpakoltunk és a csomagjainkkal az algheroi kikötőbe érkeztünk. Egy három órás hajózást foglaltunk le, elég borsos áron, de elvittek a Neptunusz Barlangjához is, ahol rájöttem, hogy mekkora átverés az egész. 12 eurós belépő, egy húsz perces barlang túrára. Ugyanakkor rájöttem, hogy valahol irtó lyukas az olasz kassza és a pénz mindenhol rossz zsebekbe folyik. Kb. 100-an voltunk 20 perc alatt. Ha napi ezer ember ott megfordul, az 12.000 euró egy napra, csak a belépőjegyekből és a barlangba nem valami nagy a befektetést végeztek.

Na de maga a tenger képe megérte. A tornyosuló sziklák, a kék majd átlátszó tenger, a nap a pofánkon hozzátartózik az ilyen élményhez.

Innen a tengerpartra szaladtunk és egy gyors fürdés után, máris buszon voltunk Sassari fele. Itt találkoztunk Micol-lal, egyik jó barátnőmmel, akit anno ismertem meg Hamburgban. Nála szálltunk meg és elragadott a vendégszeretete. Amúgy ezt 2008-ban is megtapasztaltam, hogy az olasz vendégszeretet egyedülálló. A házak rendkívül tiszták, gondozottak és megosztanak mindent. Este a La Volpe e la Uva (A róka és a szőlő) vendéglőben ettünk meg két jókora nagy pizzát és bejártuk az estéli Sassarit.

Július 17 – reggel kelés és gyors reggeli. Micoltól elbúcsúztunk és egy három és fél órás személyvonaton döcögtünk vissza Cagliariba. Na de elhatároztuk, hogy egy busszal szépen elmegyünk és meglátogatjuk Chiat 🙂 A tengerpart nem a legnagyobb, de a víz eléggé átlátszó és egy, egy órás utat megér.

Este fél kilencre értünk a Villa Vagui B&B-be. Hát róluk csak annyit, hogy Putzu úr és neje egy remek helyet vezetnek. Igaz, 35 euró fejenként egy estére, de hát a szoba csodás, az ellátás tökéletes és reggel megtömik a hasad. Ugyanakkor egy pizzázót is javasoltak. Érdekes, hogy mindenhova egy pizzázót föl lehet húzni, még egy tömbház háta mögé is. 10 euróból jóllaktunk ketten (óriás pizza és fél liter házi bor)

Július 18 – egy utolsó séta Cagliariban, majd kezdődtek a buszok és repülőterek és íme, megint „itthon” Maastrichtban 🙂

Tippek és árak

–         kell beszélni az olasz nyelvet!!! (jó, hogy még annak idején megtanultam. Most jól jött). Frász sem tud angolul sajnos.

–         A sziget maga elég drága, tehát föl kell készülni

–         Cagliariban nem érdemes buszjegyet venni. Mindenki blattol.

–         Ha pároddal utazol, egy dupla ágyas szoba kb. 60-70 eurónál mozog (fejenként 30-35), reggelit beleértve. Szerencse kérdése, hisz a legtöbb B&B átalakított családi lakás. Javasolom Cagliariban: Villa Libeticus és Villa Vagui

–         Repülőtér shuttle busz – 4 euró, taxi 20 (nehogy taxiba üljön valaki)

–         Vonatjegy Cagliari – Sassari – 15,75 euró

–         Buszjegy Cagliari – Sassari – 18 euró

–         Buszjegy Alghero – Sassari – 3 eurót (a fentiek egy járatra vonatkoznak)

–         Nagy fagylalt – 2 és 2,5 euró (na de aztán az nagy)

–         Hajózás – 15 euró

–         A mítoszt félretéve, a vonatok és buszok a szigeten pontosan járnak

Szardínia, 2011, július 13-18

Namibia as it never happened – the Kalahari and Botswana instead – part 2


 

18th of May – Wednesday – Tsabong – Mokolodi Game Reserve (510 km)

The morning started with us visiting the Tsabong hospital so a doctor could check Olivier’s foot. The atmosphere was a unique African hospital’s one. First of all you don’t know what to do, neither are there sign. So we waited in a line where people were waiting. Then the lady gave us a paper to fill out and she charged us the doctor’s fees (5 euros – looks like standard). Afterwards we waited with other people in a hall like space. The hospital was relatively nice and tidy. Nothing to exceptional… Some big mommas were interested what two white boys were doing in such a small desert town. Three guards escorted some inmates from the nearby prison and it looks like they were happy to be out of the joint (even if at the hospital). One old papa was curious about our travel as well. Two nurses took the temperature, blood pressure and weight of everyone in the queue then after about 30 min we got into the doctor’s office. Young, skinny fellow… Didn’t even have a good look at the foot and prescribed antibiotics and sent us to the nurse to clean it. Then we waited for the nurse, who eventually bandaged the foot, we bought the antibiotics (60 cents for 1 week) and were surprised that in 1,5 h we managed to do everything.

The road from Tsabong toGaborone(capital) was not particularly eventful. It is quite long and boring actually and it was a bit frustrating that we couldn’t use our foreign cards at the ATMs. Luckily we had some SA rands with us and once again we were at the mercy of the exchange rates. From the desert like landscape we passed through rain towardsGaboroneas the climate, vegetation and landscape changed as well. The country and infrastructure became greener, more densely populated and better developed.

We arrived at the Mokolodi Game Reserve, south ofGaborone. We paid for the tent sight just to discover that well, it was actually a tent sight, in the middle of the reserve, with one donkey-boiler shower, one outside toilet but luckily a sink and a fire place. No one in sight, just us, a hoard of baboons ravaging the toilet and the night falling fast… Well what can you do? We set up the tent, chased away the baboons and as man does, he makes fire. So because probably the previous campers used up all the twigs and branches, you know I was born in the East, so yeah. I started taking some from our bush shower. But I swear just a couple J So now we had fire, the tent and we started cooking our beloved omelet with wieners. Soon some park rangers came and informed us that close buy others will be camping and … are we making a fire with fire wood from the bush? “No, no it is prohibited”…”Oh”, we said. So we gave them 5 euros, they brought wood for a good campfire and it turns out that most probably they didn’t go far to get them (from the bush of course).

While shivering in the tent and sleeping we heard baboons howling, then Oli thought he sensed a big impala next to the tent…

19th of May – Thursday – Around Gaborone – 120 (km)

So we got up early in the morning to discover that we had visitors around the tent. There were impala hoof prints and plenty of baboon tracks. So the 6th sense of Olivier ws right J

We decided to take it easy and pay for a 2 hour game drive around the park. Can’t say we saw much and a couple of zebras and kudus compared to Kalahari lions are you know… Not enough anymore 😛 The lady driver showed us once again that African people are more straight forward. I told her that their national motto “PULA” means something “that hangs between the legs of a male”. And she responded quite frankly. “Ah, penis you mean, then why didn’t you say so?”

After the game drive the Mochudi rock carvings were on the list andGaborone. The rock carvings were a disappointment. First of all no one stood guard at this ‘relic’ which tells the tail of how the Tswana people came from this big hole in the ground. Actually it looks like a big, deep puddle with some foot prints carved next to it…So we decided to visit Bocca Dam, but got so mingled in small unpaved roads that we feared for the car’s safety. So, finally we got toGaboronewhich dear God is the strangest capital I have ever seen and there are no street signs whatsoever. On one street you have a flashy government building, on the other some run down houses. But I must admit. It has a specific charm this little place. You see government people, with ties and fancy suits mingling on the same streets as street vendors and the capital has this small African vibe going on, and compared to Joburg andPretoriait is safe. It really feels safe.

We spent the night outside the park, next to it, at a private tent sight/hostel with proper facilities and no baboons ravaging our toilet.

20th of May – Friday – Mokolodi Lodge – Border Crossing – Mafikeng – Kimberley (600) km

It was the day we came back to South Africaand left Botswana. We filled up the tank as much as we could, abusing the fact that gas is sooooo cheap in Botswana(80c/l) and crossed the border at Ramatlabama. Sounds funny, huh? These guys at the border control are always cool and I can tell you J It ain’t a Schengen crossing. So we got out of the car, the guy asked us whether we have “animals, statues or other things to declare (AK 47?)” and we opened the trunk, he gave it a fast look and we were good to go. Strangely all SA border patrols asked us whether we like SA. Yeah, am, we do? And what if we say no? J

Then as we reached Mafikeng it felt like civilization again but I must admit the rural side of theNorthwesternProvinceis quite run down. Then there were works on the highways, no proper signs so we stopped to ask a big momma the road to Vryburg. She thought we wanted to pick her up for hitch hiking, so eventually we gave her a lift to Vryburg. I asked her whether she was working, studying there. She said “self employed”. I don’t wanna know what that means…

We passed thevillageofTaungand the map said there is some prehistoric skull. (turns out one of the oldest humanoid skulls). But as usual it was some 40 km out of town, next to some quarry. I went to the gate and asked how much is it to get in. Two guards, in typical African fashion replied “Am, no, no. It is closed. Yes, yes… Closed.” Then I insisted that we want to see it and one of them replied “Well you know we could let you in for a small favor.”  Well I though to myself, not the first bribe I have to give in my life. “So, name your price?” I asked. “Well it is not a bribe you know, just a small favor. 50 rands.” Now that is the entry fee for a proper park but what the hell. And the dumber one of them accidently managed to screw it up. “But the skull is not here. No, no. It is inPretoria. In the museum. Here it is only a replica”. Aha. You should’ve kept your mouth shut idiot. “Well in that case bye. Don’t think I will give you 50 rands just to see a fake skull.”

So we got back on the road, stopped to overnight inKimberley. We took a tour at the Big Hole and saw it. And it is what it says to be, a big mother of a hole, 800 m deep, that got filled up with water but there is still a good 140 m from the surface to the water level. And they managed to get out 2.5 tons of diamonds from there, including the famous yellow Tiffany diamond. J

Then we walked around town but discovered that the ‘sparkling city’ is just another run down, dirty mining town. We found a cheap camp place, but ended up not paying (no one was there) and we searched half an hour for one restaurant and one pub.

21st of May – Kimberley – Karoo National Park – Oudtshoorn (745 km)

The road to Beaufort-West was fast, long, desolate and we managed to get into the Great-Karoo, one of my favorite SA places. A huge, vast land where sheep graze, yellow grass is at the mercy of the wind and amazing rock formations litter the landscape. We got into Beaufort-West way ahead of time so we decided to visit theKarooNational Park. And what a priceless gem my friends… We were expecting this run down park. It has recently been renovated, it is only 2.5 euros to get in for SA residents and it is fabulous. It has just amazing landscapes, herds of Mountain Zebra, ostriches, Kudus and somewhere up the 4×4 trails black rhinos and lions. We saw, I must admit, the best sunset in the whole ofSouth Africa.

The sky becomes flooded with every imaginable shade of orange, pink, violet. One side of the sky is a dark, flame like orange as it turns into pale pink and a light violet color. It has been one of the best surprises.

We decided to push to Oudtshoorn and drove the last leg of the journey in the night. We found a good, and cheap hostel and decided that for 10 euros each we deserve a good ostrich steak with some good wine J

22nd of May – Oudsthoorn – Cape Agulhas – 362 km

Early risers. Yes, we became early risers during this trip. We drove up to theCangoCaves, passing some amazing scenery and decided to take the adventure tour. The two of us, a Dutch lady and her at least 65 year old mother (she turned out to be the most flexible of all of us, not kidding) and a Canadian couple.

The first three halls of the caves are just simply amazing. The stalagmite and stalactite formations, combined with the water flow formations provide for a unique spectacle of natural beauty. These formations are hundreds of thousands of years old, and unfortunately sometimes subject to human behavior. But the caves are well managed and I would not recommend claustrophobic and overweight people taking the adventure tour. We managed to pass through the “Kitchen”, the “Chimney” and the “Letter Box”. The worst one is the chimney and the narrowest is the letterbox. A 27 cm high opening so if you have a huge belly you might get stuck. And they told us that once a big momma got stuck and they did have to use 5 l of oil to get her out. J

After the Caves we went and visited an ostrich farm (it is the ostrich capital of the world with over 120.000 of them), stood on some ostrich eggs (they can support 140 kg) and even managed to feed them and sit on one of them.

We continued our journey, passed into the Western side of theGarden Route. And to my astonishment, this land that in March was all dry and yellow became a splendid array of green hills. Soon after, we reached the southern most point of our trip as well as that ofAfrica.Cape Agulhas…  We were standing at 5000 km on our mileage meter. At a point like this you have to stop and sit down next to the ocean and just take it in…The point where the warm Indian Ocean and the cold Atlantic meet, where nothing stands between you and theAntarctica. And it was my dad’s birthday as well J So I couldn’t attend it, again. But I know he understands me.

 

23rd of May – Cape Agulhas – Hermanus – Stellenbosch – 220 km

We packed up the tent for the last time and headed over the hills towards Hermanus. Amazing landscape, some rain and wind but we were spoiled with the countless rainbows that guided our way into Hermanus. The whales haven’t yet decided to come back, but maybe next time.

We drove back in rain but with a huge sense of calm, enlightenment, adventure and wisdom. A trip like this puts things back into perspective and makes you realize that the world is not such a small place and there are many hidden treasures that are yet to be discovered.

Tips and advices

–              when travelling in a desert always have: sufficient gas (full tank), proper equipment (we didn’t have shovels so the frying pan had to do), ample water (4, 5 l each)

–              when in the desert bear in mind that day temperatures even in winter months can go up to 3O C but night temperatures fall close to 0 C. So if sleeping in a tent, have extra warm clothes and blankets (we still froze even with these)

–              drive safely – the distances are huge, hundreds of kms of nothing, with scattered traits of civilization; in countries like Botswana always look out for animals, goats, cattle on the road

–              have all the necessaries for camping: knives, torches, tent etc.

–              do not fully trust maps: you are inAfricaand reality might be better or worse than on the maps or you might end up with a fully paved express way where the map doesn’t show anything

–              be friendly to the locals as they will help you out (thanks bartender in Tsabong for helping us find a place; thanks Big Momma in Tsabong for letting us stay at your place; thanks funny old guy in Kimberley for coming 2 km with us and pointing the way)

–              always have enough cash on you.Botswanadoesn’t have enough ATMs and European banks will not really allow you to withdraw money there

–              always let people know about your whereabouts. You will only find mobile phone signals close to towns and internet is well… You might just forget about it.

–              always call up the embassies to see what papers you need to enter a country. Web pages and even border guards will not be of great help and provide the wrong info. But if not, you might just end up being turned back fromNamibiaand ending up doing a fantastic adventure like we did

 

Costs per person

–              car rental 11 days + wash – 210 euros

–              gas 11 days (5200 km) – 210 euros

–              campsites, accommodation, park entries – 145 euros

–              Food – 90 euros (including restaurants)

–              Total – roughly 650 euros 

Namibia as it never happened – the Kalahari and Botswana instead – part 1


Everything was set for Namibia, the hostels, the sights to see, the mileage each day, the car, the tent, the sleeping bags…And we ended up in Botswana

Friday – 13th of May – Stellenbosch – Springbok – Namibian border – Springbok – 820 km

The car was ready to go, we signed the papers, got the tent from Stephan, the sleeping bags from Martin and all the camping gear from my landlady. Till now it all looked great. But as luck has it, it had to be a Friday and the 13th. As they say “Never turn back, if you leave”. We had to, because finally the lithium battery arrived for my camera (long story), but as my luck continued, the company sent me the wrong one. No worries, 700 km to go till the Namibian border.

Once you leave the Western Cape, the landscape is an endless semi-desert, rock desert called the Namaqualand. The landscape is arid, barren and seems endless. Small towns appear in the middle of nowhere on the highway. We managed to be at the border by 5 pm, we crossed the SA border post, took photos of the Orange river and the ‘Welcome to Namibia’ sign, got our passports stamped. But misfortune so had it that a second guy decided to double check my passport and tell me the verdict ‘Ah, no. Hmm…There seems to be a problem. Romanian citizens need a Visa’. Boom!!! smack in my face. Nearest point to get a VISA isCape Town. What to do? I started cursing, regretting every moment of having this passport (till now it has only done harm to me), but I was lucky to have a travel companion such as Olivier who looks at the bright side of things.

We went back 150 km to the nearest town, Springbok and after calling 10 different B&Bs we settled for a cheap 2 star hotel and decided to rethink everything in the morning.

Saturday – 14th of May – Springbok – Augrabies Falls – 435 km

We decided to go into the uncertain and the unkown. Our Lonely Planet book included Namibia and Botswana as well, but we only had a rudimentary map of South Africa.  I recalled a host of mine at the Tsitsa Falls recommending me Augrabies.

The road is magnificent; open, endless semi-desert like landscape, with the occasional windmills pumping water into wells. You can easily do 150 km/h and travel 150 km without seeing a car or a small town by any chance. The Botswana Embassy was closed on Saturday but my friend Nino told me that I shouldn’t need a visa.

We booked a tent site, but the entrance fee is 10 euros for internationals, 4 times higher than for SA nationals and the lady wouldn’t budge even if we had SA residence permits. The falls are amazing; the Orange River carved a 20 km long gorge which is of outstanding beauty. The falls also contain a national park, with some amazing desolate landscape and we managed to see one lonely giraffe as well.

We enjoyed the sunset with a 4 pack of Peroni, wild hyraxes (Dassies) jumping on the rocks and a mini earthquake underneath us 🙂 It was the first night we set up the tent, cooked food on the gas burner and froze our asses off in our sleeping bags (+blankets).

15th of May – Sunday – Augrabies Falls – Upington – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park (Twee Rivieren) – 400 km

We decided to try our luck with the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, which is a joint park between SA andBotswana, and is bigger than Belgium(38.000 km2). The landscape towards the park changes between semi desert with occasional red sand dunes, to almost savanna like plains by the time you reach the reserve.

Luck finally struck on us. We forgot to make a booking in advance for entering the park, but a wonderful Afrikaans lady (in a hurry) asked us whether we would like to take her luxury chalet for a night as they had to cancel it. For free !!! So we ended up staying in a nice 4 bed bungalow for free 😛 We managed to enter the park as well in the afternoon and spotted herds of  Springbok, Oryxes, Ostriches, Wildebeests and many wonderful birds.

16th of May – Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park – Gemsbok – 250 km

We woke up at 5.45 am to be able to prepare in time, catch the sunrise and enter the park at 7 am. In total, we did 10 hours of game drive with our car and the moment we waited for, happened. We spotted the predators: 2 male lions, then 2 female ones and a young male one, 3 females on a hill and one astonishing male on a hill. I must admit. They deserve the name, king of all animals. Till now, they probably are the most majestic creatures I have ever seen. On our way back we also managed to spot a cheetah with its pray, a dead Springbok, lying under a tree.

Uncertainty struck again, as on the Botswana side the rangers told me that I need a visa and also there weren’t any tent sites available. Plus we were not allowed to cross into Botswana through the park without a 4X4. So we found a nice campsite 40 km outside the park and managed to spend the night there.

17th of May – Gemsbok – Bokspits border crossing – Lost in the Kalahari – Tsabong – 480 km

We got up early as usual, packed up the tent and headed back 20 km to try out sand boarding. 😛 We found a nice sand dune and rented some cheap board like thingies and started acting like stupid kids, first going down the dune sitting, then standing up and even trying out some tricks.

Good news, finally. I didn’t need a visa forBotswana, so we entered through Bokspits but ended up turning back to ask where is theBotswanaborder post? It turned out to be 5 km ahead, in a small town’s police station, in a run down building, with two horses grazing next to it and a capsized car. The police officers were extremely friendly, stamped our passports and wished us good luck.

We decided to enter the Botswana side of the park through Mabuasehube, as we were forbidden to do so from SA because we lacked a 4WD. The nearest town from the border crossing was Tsabong, at the edge of the Kalahari, 267 km away. This meant that our gas and 2 l of water had to last us, as there was nothing till there. To our surprise, two of our maps showed a run down gravel road till Tsabong (even Google maps doesn’t show any road :/), which in reality turned out to be an amazing, new tar road. So we could do 150 km/h without a problem. Even the police officers recommended us to do the distance in 1,5 hours.

The landscape is a mix of semi-desert and red sand dunes with some occasional cow herders living in the middle of nowhere. We reached Tsabong after asking for permission from a herder to view his magnificent sand dune.

TSABONG, oh yes this name would haunt us. A dusty little town with one supermarket, one gas station and one bank.

We exchanged our SA Rands to the local currency, Pula(which quite frankly means ‘c…o…ck’ in Romanian but ‘rain’ in Tswana). So I head the best time of my life at the bank, asking for pulas, paying in pulas and just mentioning that name. 🙂

Then we checked the map and it showed a 120 km long gravel road to Mabuasehube. So I called up the reserve, booked a tent site and we were steaming ahead on the gravel road… Botswana is already remote, wild, with amazing wildlife not in the parks but on the side of the gravel roads. So we passed oryxes, kudus, impalas and we managed to get stuck 50 m in the sand, 20 km from the reserve, in the middle of nowhere before nightfall. Now this is really not a joke. We didn’t have any shovels whatsoever.

So the toil began. We got out the one frying pan we had, the dinner plates and started digging out the sand, which went up to the engine house. In 10 minutes we were already sweating. No cars on the road, no phone signal. Olivier put his leg under the car to scrape out the sand and managed to put a deep cut into his foot. So we stopped the bleeding by cutting his old sock and I rapped it around the wound. Then the digging resumed. The car sank in again. We got rid of the sand for 20 m, put some huge rocks under the front tiers and started pushing. It took us more than an hour. We were dirty, sweaty but happy to be out of there.

We managed to get back to Tsabong at nightfall, but all the hotels we stopped at were fully booked. I found one big bartender, who accompanied us to this motel, but it was booked. I managed to convince the big momma manager to give us a room in her own house for 35 euros a night for the two of us. We spent the night at her place, with her son and grandchild and we disinfected the wound with the first aid kit she gave us….