|Day 1 of Camping Safari, photo by Andrew Ingersoll|
Johannesburg and GAdventures
by Andrew Ingersoll
Last week I shared how I had to flee Madagascar to avoid an approaching tropical cyclone. I arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport in the evening with no accommodation pre-booked, so you can imagine my delight upon exiting the arrivals hall I was greeted by the Intercontinental Hotel façade. Previously in the day I had awoke in the humid jungle of Andasibe National Park, endure stifling heat through the crowded streets of Antananarivo to get to my South African Airways plane, so understandably by the time I reached the front desk of the Intercontinental my own smell offended me. I had a feeling the front desk staff was also not amused. While the cost of the room was by no means frugal, I provided my Intercontinental loyalty number and was provided a massive breakfast for the morning, a nice well serviced and stocked room and a late 2pm checkout. I made it a point after showering to present myself to the front desk staff to jokingly assure them they had not just done business with a foul smelling tramp. We had a good chuckle and I spent my evening wandering the expansive airport terminal. OR Tambo has numerous food outlets, a bakery, full service banking, proper sit down restaurants, a grocery store and plenty of souvenir and clothes shopping stores.
The next day I hitched a ride on the Gauteng Airport Train Link into the Jo’burg neighborhood of Sandton. While unassuming, Sandton has a nice shopping arcade, restaurants and plenty of people watching. Now I’m sure some people will have a thing or two to say about Johannesburg’s safety record. I have heard plenty of horror stories or carjacking, muggings, stabbings, ect. As a result I did not venture into the Central Business District, instead I enjoyed a couple days of bad TV, take away food and a nice bed to rest my head.
I was picked up and taken to the Airport Game Lodge, a swift 15 minute drive from the airport, which was the starting point of my GAdventures camping safari tour (formerly Gap Adventures, but the Gap clothing store sued them for the naming rights and they are now GAdventures, gotta love pointless litigation). On the night of joining the group we met at 6pm for an informational getting-to-know-you meeting. Our South African tour leader and Zimbabwean truck driver gave us 22 safari campers the run down on how the next 9 days would pan out. We discussed visas into Botswana and Zambia, the importance of flexibility when traveling, team work in meal preparation, respect for fellow campers, etc. I have done two Intrepid tours previously so had a vague idea what to expect and ultimately my expectations were fulfilled.
|Chobe National Park, photo by Andrew Ingersoll|
Now 22 may sound like a large group, but the interesting diversity provided for global appeal; four Germans, two Swedes, two Kiwis (New Zealanders), two Americans, a Canadian, an Irishman, a Brit, and the rest Australians. I’m told for GAdventures camping safaris, 22 is the maximum number of people with an average in the mid-teens. A lot of the group had come with someone, with only 6 of us being solo travelers; we were paired up with a fellow solo traveler to share a tent. GAdventures does not charge a single supplement, but they do however offer an option for a solo to have their own tent/room if that is wanted/necessary.
What I really like about joining a tour is the hassle free experience. Each morning we packed up our tents, ate breakfast, got on the truck, stopped along the way for rest breaks, and were usually at our next destination for a late lunch. Nearly all our meals were provided; transport via our massive truck was comfortable, so long as the windows were open (no aircon), and we were able to go places off the beaten track. Had I attempted to arrange the exact same trip on my own it would have been a nightmare trying to navigate the roads, cross borders, find safe reliable food, and yet still find the experience relaxing. I will always use a tour when traveling to remote places as I can relax and enjoy my surroundings without the headache and hassle of developing infrastructures. Additionally, it’s great having local guides to explain cultures and customs.
Overall I’d give GAdventures a good rating. They delivered an enjoyable experience with minimal hassle. Comparing my Intrepid and GAdventures experiences, I’d say neither one was better or worse than the other. If you want to go remote and are hesitant and unsure, join a group. There are like minded people who enjoy traveling, usually have good stories, and there are often times places on the itinerary that one would never think of visiting had it not been for the knowledge of local guides. My 9 day Jo’burg to Victoria Falls was roughly $800, plus a couple meals not included, a game drive in Kruger National Park, Whitewater rafting on the Zambezi, and of course alcohol is not included in the price. Next week, I’ll go into some more detail about the experiences I had along the way. Until then happy travels.