Backpacking in South Africa: Pretoria to Tlokweng Via Groot Marico

Backpacking in South Africa: Pretoria to Tlokweng Via Groot Marico

A mid-day sun was shyly beaming through the clouds as I left the city of Pretoria behind. I arrived at Pretoria’s Main Railway Station by taxi for about 40 Rand from my hostel in Sunnyside.
From Pretoria I had booked myself a cross-border bus the night before all the way to Gaborone, Botswana. It was to be my first of 4 African border crossings within 2 weeks.
Pretoria had an odd air of false security about it – walking around I saw only black people, yet this is meant to be a white dominated part of South Africa, or whatever. I would later learn the inner suburbs (which were very upmarket and by no means slums or rundown) were mixed, and that there was still a quite obvious black and white divide in the city, based on race and income. The city is not all that safe either, and I enjoyed what I saw of it. I also made a good friend there in Takeshi Suzuki from Japan who I will meet again in May 2012!
It was another exciting journey for me – leaving South Africa for Botswana, this time not “just for the sake of it” or “to clock up an extra country”, but almost to keep a promise once made in the seaside town of Bournemouth, Dorset, England a few years before. A promise that one day I will visit my Botswanese friends.
Yes, I was now living in Australia and on a travel adventure in southern Africa, but the reasons for the visit to Botswana stretched back to my days in England.
Bournemouth(pictured above) was a home for me for about 6 years, and is a place where I met people from over 60 different countries. I met with this international flavour mainly through working in Bournemouth, but my Botswanese friends I had met through University.
In 2003 I did a presentation with Fingile Makgalamele, from Botswana. She was the first Botswanese person I had ever met, and I connected with a lot of the international students a lot better than the English ones did. I always enjoyed geography, culture and meeting people. Bournemouth opened up so many doors for me in terms of global travel, in fact it is probably the reason why I travel so much these days.
In 2004 I later met Louis Baseki, Allan Molefhe and Boikhutsu Ncube, all on the same course as me, studying Public Relations. A subject which I know I am good at, excel in and was perfect for my studies. Even if the posh, upmarket fellow students on the course looked down on me (slightly more up themselves than the friends I normally keep). There was a stuck up attitude on that course, though I have kept some friends from the course itself. But my best mates on the actual course were always those not stuck up and most similar to me – Clare Tweedy, a gem of a girl from Ashington, not a bit of posh-ness about her, and the international students, a diverse flavour which stretched from Botswana to Costa Rica to Australia. The point of this report is of course Botswana, so let’s get on with the story.
The night before I had booked myself on the one-way Intercape bus service from Pretoria to Botswana. (My actual bus pictured there just before I boarded). It was only an 8 hour journey, which I found incredible. Given the previous buses I’d taken in South America (particularly Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, some of which were day-long), this was a walk in the park, and even included a stop off for lunch/dinner as well as a guaranteed border crossing – the bus wouldn’t speed off and leave you stranded (in fairness the only time this had happened was entering Paraguay at Ciudad del Este – and even that was something I had made allowances for beforehand).
My Bus ticket. Due to leave at 13.15 pm from Pretoria and arriving in Gaborone at 21.10 pm (time I was sure for a night out! – which turned out to be spot on).
The IntercapeBus Office. Welcoming, friendly, and yes…I was the only foreigner or even “white” person in there.
Railway Station Square in Pretoria. Hardly the most eye catching square of all time, but that’s hardly the point.
Pretoria main bus station, opposite the train station. I loved the way from here they have international buses to four countries including Namibia and Zimbabwe. Some day I’ll do Africa properly and go to a station and just think…”right today I fancy Rwanda…”
I boarded almost on time, and had a window seat. I was traveling very very light – just a small back-pack with clothes, toiletries and water in it. I didn’t even bring my iPod with me, as that would have meant also bringing the charger. I left it, my laptop and all my other possessions in Soweto Backpackers, where I would return in 10 days. It was nice to travel so light again, yet still feel the thrill of border crossing, visiting pastures new and meeting more fascinating people. The bus did leave slightly late though at 13.25 pm. 

There were a few suspicious characters around that’s for sure. One guy, dressed in an Orlando Pirates top appeared to be a traveller and was being friendly, then he started asking for money from people. In the photo above, I caught him taking a photo/making a video right in front of the face of the friendly Intercape Bus worker. Of course I blindly refused to give him any money. In the end he wasn’t even on our bus, just got on asking for money and left. I turned my eyelids at him and also noticed there were two other “white” passengers now on my bus. This is not a racist thing in any way, it’s just when you’re in a black dominated society you tend to look out for others of “your type” – entirely natural to do that.

Soon Pretoria was history. It’s bleak suburbs had me comparing them between Thames Mead, West Belfast and Venezuela in equal portions.

The bus to Gaborone was actually via Johannesberg, so headed south for a while before heading northwards. Managed to get a nice few shots of the railway station there, taken from the bus, you can also see Freedom Bridge in behind. We stopped for petrol at 14.10 pm near Johannesberg, and by 14.33 pm at Park Station the bus was now full and ready for Botswana. I had no idea whether the passengers were South African, Botswanese or neither.

That’s us stopped at Park Station in Johannesberg, which I would visit again on my way back south a few days later. It’s one of the dodgiest bus stations I’ve been to!
Leaving Johannesberg behind, on a quiet motorway.
A woman comes serving drinks and tea – I wasn’t feeling like a hot drink or an alcoholic one, so I went for Iron Brew! Probably just because I hadn’t seen it for years!!The cost was 7 Rand.
The countryside was phenomenal, without being amazingly different to Australia or New Zealand. Fields were rich with an array of vegetables and animals. The road was smooth. It was relaxing and peaceful. We passed a place called Koster at 3pm, on route to Groot Marico.
Just before dinner time we arrived at Groot Marico, a small village with a petrol station and accommodation. It owes its name to the Dutch clearly, which also influenced the fact that there are windmills there.
Petrol Station at Groot Marico.
Windmills at Groot Marico. It’s actually an elaborate hotel complex these days, but pretty all the same!
Groot Marico came just after the town of Rustenburg, the rest of the journey up to that point had been largely sparse countryside. 
We were only stopped at Groot Marico for about 45 minutes or so – to refuel, grab a bite and get back on board.
A roadsign just past Groot Marico. It was a toll called Swartruggens Plaza
I can’t remember what I had for lunch/late dinner – it wasn’t substantial but I munched a packet of biltong on the bus journey to Botswana.
We passed a village called Zeerust, and I was awake to picture an off licence there! AT one point, we stopped there to let 2 people off. I had drifted to sleep for a bit, and closed my curtain.
The sun pierced its way through my camera’s lens, as I was given my Botswana immigration card…
My Botswana Arrival Card. They handed them out on the bus so we could get into Botswana faster. Contrary to what you might think, I love filling these in and enjoy it every time – all part of being a happy traveller.
The sun was setting as we neared the end of this remote part of South Africa, and headed closer to the Botswana border.
Sunset before the border. Approximately 6pm.
Arrival at Kopfontein – Border Control – it was time to live that dream and cross into Botswana. The sun was almost gone and it was 7pm ish when I crossed the border on foot. The bus drives through to the entry point at Tlokweng and waits for you.
In the queue for leaving South Africa – a nice simple and easy procedure. It was at this point that I spoke to the only other “white” person on the bus – there was one other – one may have got off earlier but I don’t recall – she was a Dutch girl called Jennifer heading to Botswana to work for a year.
This was the welcome sign to South Africa, I grabbed a few photos of that side of the border just before darkness totally fell. It was hot and stuffy.

Posing at the South Africa – Botswana border. This was actually all a dream.

The first sign of Botswana was their national flag (light blue, black and white) flying in the darkening sky.

There was a quick border check here with vehicles – our bus had already passed through it – I simply had to empty the contents of my bag and tell them how long I planned to stay.

Once inside Botswana I grabbed this photo at Tlokweng, taken by one of the guys on my bus. However there was nothing in this photo to suggest I was in Botswana and in the darkness I wanted some proof!

In Tlokweng, Botswana waiting for our bus.

I then found a bin with “Keep Botswana Clean” on it – this would be my border “proof” photo. The locals nearby were giving me odd looks! I’m guessing nobody ever brandishes a flag beside this fence tree and raised Botswana flag.

It was dark and I arrived in Gaborone early. Around 8.45 pm I reckon. I had a map in my guide book of where the hostel was – it was called Brackendene Lodge. I was bang in the centre of Gaborone – the bus left us at a petrol station near The Mall. It was immense. I had no idea I would see or meet my Bournemouth friends that night, but a surprise was in store.

After 10 – 15 minutes walk, including asking two locals who had no idea what or where it was, I finally found it myself. I passed a peeler station and Roboansin Road (which reminded me of chuldhood due to its similarity to Robinson Road) and there was my guesthouse on Tati Road. Brackendene Lodge, which was “a home away from home” is in a lonely, quiet street. One thing which got me about Gaborone was the buildings are all low. It’s a capital city but spread out – no need to build up high.

On arrival at Brackendene Lodge I was given the keys to Room 13. Posh, comfy and welcoming. It was bliss. Then came a business card – “Mr. Blair – a friend was here 10 minutes ago looking for you – phone him on this number”!!! Oh really, I’ve been in the country less than 2 hours and I have a friend here?? It was Allan Molefhe who called thinking I would be here already and up for a beer or two. They let me phone him and in he arrives minutes later. It’s now 9.30 pm and Allan says I can take an hour to freshen up and he will pop back and pick me up at 10.30 pm to take me round the bars!

Flags in reception in Brackendene Lodge.

Reunited with Allan in the reception at Brackendene Lodge.

My immense bedroom at Brackendene. Had my own fridge and mini-kitchen – though didn’t actually use it much. I also had another problem – I had no money to my credit. I had not been able to withdraw any money in Pretoria, and had NO Botswanese Pula – yet was heading out for a few beers. It was “hope they accept my credit card” time, or get an emergency money sent through the next day. The pressure was on and was intense and I was worried. But at least I was safe, in good company and had a night out in Gaborone ahead!!

And believe me, the first night in Botswana was as sweet a night out as I can remember. Allan turned up at 10.30 pm with TWO tins of St. Louis lager – both of which I put in my fridge in the hotel. However once we got to the first pub – News Cafe (inside a posh – private car park) I had my first ever St. Louis – the local beer. It was amazing…it had been some journey and I’d kept my promise to the Botswanese.

The crazyness of the night wasn’t over though and the third bar we visited had a Northern Ireland flag up on the roof of the mus hut/shack. Next to the Botswana one. This was all a big big dream.

From – Pretoria to Gaborone

Via – Johannesberg, Koster, Groot Marico, Bakwena, Swartruggens, Zeerust, Kopfontein, Tlokweng

Countries Visited – South Africa, Botswana

Transport Used – Pretoria Taxi, Intercape Bus, Allan’s Car

Border Point – Kopfontein (South Africa) to Tlokweng (Botswana)

Beers Tried – St. Louis

Bars Visited – News Cafe, Linga Longa, Bull and Bush ( a report on the night out will follow)

Nationalities Met – South African, Botswanese, Dutch

Strange Currencies – South African Rand, Botswanese Pula

Old Friends – Allan Molefhe

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