Happy ‘weirdos’: Family swaps city stress for camper van adventure
Home schooling, a tight squeeze and engine problems didn't put a damper on road trip of a lifetime
Two adults, three kids, 299 days, 21,000km and one camper van. These were the ingredients for an adventure of a lifetime for a Cape Town family who packed up their lives to journey across SA.
After 15 years of marriage and life in the Mother City, the Alfinos had only been to Durban. Cindy’s husband Seth was tired of going to work in the dark and coming home when their children were in bed. He felt he was missing out on their childhood and they were caught in a society of “getting more, owning more and living large”.
Their change started by downsizing, but the couple rejected the idea of living in a smaller house, so decided to explore their “incredibly beautiful country” in a cramped camper van.
It was no mean feat for Cindy, who did not like walking, used a stylist, went to the hairdresser regularly, and despised insects.
It took 10 months to plan the adventure with their children, Kyla, 9, Riya-Ray, 8 and Knox, 6. It included renting out their home, rebuilding the inside of the van and rehoming their two dogs for a year.
“We were in fact those weirdos who live out of their camper van while it’s parked in their front garden,” blogger Cindy said, referring to the week the family practised living in a 7.5m² Optimum camper van in the garden of their 140m² Cape Town home.
The week led to 299 days on the road, camping and visiting SA and Mozambique, including the Kruger National Park, The Midlands, Hogsback, Augrabies Falls National Park and Ponto d'Oro.
“Being able to explore places we didn’t even know existed most of the time was a real joy ... South Africa is amazing. Really, it is,” Cindy said.
“We had nothing but awe at how beautiful South Africa is and how amazing we are as a people. Nearly every time our camper van broke down, we had someone stopping to help us. We’ve had people go out of their way to accommodate us.”
She said friends and family had “mixed reactions” when they heard the Alfinos were taking their children out of school, and worried about crime on deserted roads and in quiet campsites.
On the road, Seth home-schooled the children, but they continued to pay school fees to ensure their children retained their places. As for crime, they were held up by gunpoint once but experienced no other incidents.
“On 298 of those days I didn't feel unsafe. Actually, even on the day we got held up at gunpoint I didn’t feel unsafe until it happened.”
The family decided at the last minute to take Cindy’s car as a back-up in case the camper van broke down, so they didn’t have to pack up their life to pop to the shop for milk.
When asked how many times the camper van broke down, Cindy said: “I lost count after 8653865368.”
It could usually be fixed by Seth “tinkering on the side of the road”. It was towed in three times. The lowest point of the trip was being stuck in Mkhondo, Mpumalanga, for two weeks at the mercy of a local retired mechanic. Seth also rebuilt the 1974 engine over two months in Barberton.
The highlight was waking up to snow on top of the Sani Pass. It was the first time they had seen snow.
The family arrived back in Cape Town last month.
“In one way it’s like we’ve never left,” Cindy said. “When we were in the van we were an isolated group. We did what we wanted, when we wanted … We could do it on our own terms. Now there are about a million little commitments that ‘normal’ life brings if you want to be part of a community.”
The children returned home ahead of their classmates in the curriculum, and have learnt how to entertain themselves without TV.
“They’re much more equipped at not being ‘bored’ … as they had to do that (entertain themselves) a lot on the road,” Cindy said.
“Even now that we’re back I actually crave more time with my kids and husband. I miss the van.”