A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: vandewme

There's No Place Like Home...Now Can We Go Back?

The bittersweet return.

After 22 hours of flying, 3 trips to Portillos and many wonderful hot showers I'm finally ready to write the final entry in the Africa travel blog.

What a trip. To sound like the cheeseball writer that I am, it was a magical three months on the road and I will never forget the places we visited, people we met and experiences we had while cruising from Nairobi to Cape Town. Unfortunately, as it happens with many great things in life, its already starting to feel like a million years ago and the memories are beginning to take on that haze that comes with time. I'm grateful to the blog if only because it forced me to document the trip as it happened and will remain the best possible souvenier we could have given ourselves.

Alright - enough of the sentimental blabber. Lets wrap this puppy up.

As you know, one of our last nights was to be spent at Casa de Skanky near Jeffery's Bay in South Africa. Jeffery's Bay, if I didn't mention it before, is located on the ocean and is, oddly enough, the South African Surf Mecca. What's odder to me is that Skanky doesn't surf. Go figure. Anyway, the farm itself is set back from the ocean and is nestled in the hilltops with a view of the sea.

I'm not exactly sure what I expected from the farm - maybe a sprawling red barn with hardwood floors and cute curtains - a chicken coop or a horse stall near by. Some kind of cross between "Little House on the Praire" and The Barn of Barrington. I completely neglected to remember that his family doesn't run a B&B out of the joint. Its actually just a normal house attached to acres and acres of land. The only thing that might seperate it from a house you'd find here is the 10-12 heads of wild game that adorn every bit of wall space in their living room. And the bushbok that roam on the hillside with the sheep. And the incredibly large kitchen that Mrs. Skanky's Mom uses to cook her delicious homemade pies, cakes and cookies. Mmmmm. I liked it here.

One thing I have to hand to Skank is that he's a great host. And his family shares the Van De Walle motto of keeping guests happy "Just Keep Feeding Them". We ate like kings. We also got to experience the inner workings of a functioning farm (complete with 5am wake-up when the workers fired up the tractors outside). A real treat was piling in the back of Skank's pick-up to see where he and his girlfriend may open a guesthouse someday on the farm. With a bit of vision you can imagine a cozy lodge with a fab view of the ocean amidst rolling green hills. I'm not sure if my vision was the same as their vision (assuming their vision includes wild game heads) but if it does I'd officially like to sign up as the first guest.

To be honest, we were expecting to wake up the next morning hung over from a night of drinking with Skank and his pals around a bonfire. Fortunately for sleepy Col and I the Skankster was out late the night before and needed some recovery so we had a relatively chill night. Our evening was contained to watching South African soaps with his grandma and chatting with his mom in the kitchen as she whipped up 200 meat pies. Supposedly the last friend of Skankys that came to visit stayed for two months so I think it was refreshing to his mom that we were only in for a night. Never-the-less I ended up with an entire carry-on bag of her tastey biscuits to bring home. All in all it was a great way to cap off our time in South Africa.

Our official last day was spent at Addo Elephant Park. The park is filled with (shocker) elephants and on the last night of our trip we were surrounded by 30 or so at a watering hole. The moon was coming up full opposite a brilliant sunset of red and pink and the elephants were quietly walking past our car. It was a fitting African farewell. The next morning we headed to Port Elizabeth to begin our long journey home.

And now, sitting at home on this chilly spring morning, I'm left asking myself what did we learn from this experience? I'm not really sure if we know just yet. Sure, there are obvious things ...like never order nachos in Africa no matter how tempting it may sound (a lesson I refused to learn). But the impact this trip has had on the bigger picture of our lives may not reveal itself right away. What we can say for certain is that it HAS impacted our lives. At the core we are different people then we were when we left three months ago. Luckily for both of us I think its different in a good way.

So thank you to all the folks we met along the way and for our new and old friends who joined us - you added to the magic of the experience. A big thank you to the Ozars for an incredible time and an unforgettable experience in Meru. And a shout out to James, Annie and Skanky for getting us from the top to the bottom in one piece. We'd also like to thank our employers for recognizing the importance of this trip and giving us the time to take it and our family and friends at home who encouraged and supported the dream. And last but not least, thank you, loyal blog reader, for taking this virtual journey with us. Until our next big adventure - safari njema!

Mar and Col

Posted by vandewme 08:49 Comments (1)

Jaws Attacks Colin...Kinda

Great White Watching in South Africa

Da dum. Da dum. Da dum da dum da dum.

The author asks herself, "is it possible to start a blog on Great White watching without doing the theme song?" I'm sure it's possible but I just can't help myself.

Where did we leave off? Yes, foggy Cape Town where we said good-bye to James, the original handler of the oryx horn. Funny, the minute we left James was the same minute the fog started to clear. Seriously. We made our way out of Cape Town via the Cape Point route and it was clear skies as far as the eye can see. If this was a chapter out of the Time Life Books Mysteries of the Unknown we'd have to dismiss this as coincidence. But it's not so I can fully blame James for the bad weather luck in CT. Sorry James, I told you not to move that horn.

Onwards...

The Cape Point route brought us, surprisingly, to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope (for all you fans of the explorers). It was hauntingly like being at the Cliffs of Moher only less rainy (for those wedding goers) and less dangerous. They actually took measures to make sure you didn't plunge to your death. Oddly enough, this entire trip on the southern coast has been extremely reminiscent of our trip in Ireland (minus the getting married and having all our friends/family there.) Rolling green hills, steep rocky cliffs plunging into the ocean, warm and welcoming people and the topper - Enrique Inglesias. It seems Col and I can't drive through these countries without hearing Enrique numerous times on the one radio station they have to offer. Odd. I wonder if there is some sort of interesting correlation. (Note to Alison who is going to Scotland, please continue to investigate this phenomenon).

After rounding the point we made our way to Boulder Beach, home of the ridiculously cute African Penguins. Every time we go to see these coastal colonies its very easy to pretend you are at Sea World. It just looks man-made. For instance, you know those fake boulders that you see in penguin exhibits? Well, when you see the real deal you just think, "hey, cool fake boulders." Hard to mentally go the other way. We stayed for a half hour to observe these little guys doing whatever it is that penguins do (which isn't a whole lot) and continued on to Hermanus.

Hermanus is a town on the coast that is famous for its whale watching in the SA winter. Its also a popular stop for folks like Colin and I who wanted to take the plunge into the ocean to see great white sharks up close and personal. We were advised to go with a company run by a guy named Brian McFarland because he is a) a shark enthusiast and b) a conservationist. Some of these shark viewing companies aren't the most ecologically ethical and we wanted to make sure we were in no way harming the environment or the sharks. You know Col and I - poster children for not doing anything ecologically endangering. Kinda. Maybe? Anyway, we didn't want to go with some shadey company and end up as shark bait. Always better to go with the professionals in these large predator situations.

We had heard a few raves about the whole shark cage thing and admittedly I was pretty stoked to get in that cage. Given our luck of late I was hoping that we might encounter one or two sharks and have the chance to see them up close and underwater. Col wasn't as hopeful but he was willing to go in a small cage to view sharks 6 meters long with me and for this I will always be grateful.

The day was absolutely beautiful. We set out on Brian's boat, the Apex Predator I, with a marine biologist and several marine biology students who were studying shark behavior in the area. The "area", for you Discovery channel buffs, was Dryer Island - home to a large cape fur seal colony and therefore a large number of great white sharks. In fact, we passed Brian's other boat, the Apex Predator II, which had a handful of crew from the Discovery channel who were in the middle of filming the next installment of Shark Week. A very good sign!

On our way out to the island area we were fortunate to see a "super pod" of dolphins swimming, jumping and frolicking next to the boat. A super pod consists of over 100 dolphins so you can just imagine how amazing this was to see. A real bonus on the ole shark trip.

As the dolphins passed we noticed a small cage floating in the ocean. We saddled up to the cage and the crew attached it to our boat. It was time. Now sharks won't just come up to a catamaran unless there is a good reason. Large tune heads on a long rope is good enough reason. This is what the crew uses to "bait" the shark. According to the marine biologist, a shark will only visit the area we were in for 3-4 weeks. This is not enough time to associate humans or boats with food. Likewise they don't actually let the sharks take the bait. The guy throws it out and gently tugs it closer and closer to the cage (one time it actually landed on Colin's head). The shark senses the tuna head and makes a grab for it while the crew member pulls it back on the boat. It's quite a site to see the shark head come out of the water and grab for the tuna as its being pulled back onto the boat.

Once the first tuna head went in it was a matter of moments before the first shark arrived. The visability from the boat was amazing. We could see 7 meters below the surface. Sharks swim at about 3 meters below surface so we had an incredible view just from the side of the boat. But what fun is it to watch from the side of the boat if you can get in a small cage and see them up close? Exactly. Col and I donned our full body wet suits (a hot look) and jumped into the cage. Admittedly I was a little nervous as the cage fits 5 people comfortably but is approximately the width of one person. Its also floating in the choppy, freezing Atlantic Ocean...and there are sharks in there. You could say there was legit reason to be a tad nervous.

This all changed the first time I looked at a shark underwater. I was awestruck. It's an absolutely beautiful creature. And one that will humble the strongest man the first time it stares right at you and opens its mouth. On one of the shark "passes" I had come up quickly for a breath of water before ducking down again. When I did I was literally a food away from a shark barreling down on the cage with it's full set of choppers on display. I was so stunned I actually screamed underwater and was frozen to the bar that I was hanging on. I looked to my right and saw Colin and the guy standing next to him fly to the back of the cage. It was unreal. I feel really bad for those seals on the island because they don't stand a chance.

We were lucky enough (thank you off-season) to have a relatively small group of people on the boat so we were able to go into the cage for a second run. By this time we had roughly 14 sharks in the area and circling the boat. According to the biologist this was the largest number of sharks she had seen near the boat in the past two years. This could only mean one thing - the curse is over. Our luck had officially changed for the better.

On the second run in the cage the crew was having a lot more fun given the sheer amount of sharks near the boat. And the sharks were no longer out for a slow Wednesday stroll. On our first run they'd slowly come towards to the bait. On the second run they'd sip out from now where and attack that thing full throttle. One managed to pull the tuna head off the line and Colin and I watched from below and is thrashed about trying to rip it apart. You could actually hear the thrashing from underwater. On several occasions the sharks would be thrashing so much they'd ram into the cage and shake the whole thing until I could swear they were going to have Gildea for lunch. It was the most spectacular show of strength and agility I've ever seen. I will definitely be watching Shark Week from now on.

We ended this perfect trip by heading back into Hermanus for a good night's sleep at our B&B. I mention this B&B because in my short but illustrious career of traveling I have to hand the prize of "Best B&B" to 138 Marine Dr. Guest house. What a fab place to stay. It hit on all the B&B cylinders: great atmosphere, great breakfast and wonderful, wonderful hosts. Their location, right at the waters edge, might be enough for some but I loved the interior design of the house so much that the hostess gave me one of their dvds they use to promote the house to travel agents. If you are in the area you MUST stay here. And that is my 30 second plug for 138 Marine. Go, go 138!

High on life after the shark dive, Col and I had a dinner of traditional South African cuisine (yay babotie, boo ostrich neck) and continued on the next day for the famous South African Garden Route. The garden route is named so because of it's lush vegetation and "Garden of Eden" like setting along the coast. I can see that. It's quite lovely and reminded me not only of Ireland but South Haven, Michigan. It has that "summer resort/ice-cream by the water/sea shell art" kind of vibe.

The highlight of our time on the Garden Route was a 5 hour hike along Robberg Pennisula in Plettenburg Bay. We had read that it was a "nice coastal walk" and we are always up for a little coastal hike. I know I've used words like "amazing" and "fantastic" and "spectacular" so often in the blog that you might think everything couldn't possibly so awesome. Well folks, this was that awesome. We walked by seal colonies feeding on the bay side and had lunch while dolphins swam by on the Indian Ocean side. The hike went down to the rocky shoreline and up to the sandy dunes and high fynbos laden peaks. A beautiful walk. And the icing on the cake? We saw a pod of three whales right below one of our lookout points. There they were, a mom and baby, just splashing about while the third did his/her thing a little farther out. The whales aren't supposed to arrive for another month or so which made the sighting an extra-special bonus. Penguins, sharks, seals, dolphins and now whales. Who knew we'd have such aquadic encounters in South Africa?

We ended our time on the Garden Route with a little canopy tour in Tsitsikamma National Park - the Seattle-y part of the area. The canopy tour allowed us to zip from tree top to tree top to view the trees from 90 meters above the ground. Not a bad way to kill a Saturday afternoon.

We had to leave the forest today because we have a very special lunch date this afternoon with our friend Hendrick and his family. You may know Hendrick by his other name in the blog....Skanky. That's right (Peter you'll love this) we are headed off in a few minutes to the family farm in Jeffrey's Bay. Skank has invited Col and I to spend the afternoon having a huge lunch/dinner with his mom/dad/grandma/girlfriend/brother/sister-in-law-to-be on the farm and then to spend the night there before we leave for Addo Elephant park in the morning. I really can't wait. There is destined to be a blog in there somewhere. Stay tuned.

And with that I sign off on the blog for now. Unfortunately we leave Africa on Tuesday so I won't be able to get another one written before I get home. I promise to update with the Skanky Family Dinner and final days in Africa once I get back. We are ending our trip with one last game drive the morning we fly from Port Elizabeth. A fitting way to go. Well, it was great having you along. I guess this is so long from the Dark Continent. See you when we return! Oh, before I forget...

Some of you may be wondering where the infamous "ride on an ostrich" went. Well, given our lack of time in South Africa we had to make a heartbreaking decision between ostrich and sharks. You know who won. I can only say it gives us yet another reason to return someday.

Posted by vandewme 02:31 Comments (2)

Hiding Under the Tablecloth in Cape Town

sunny 75 °F

We made it! We've officially crossed the last border of our big Africa trip. One more stamp out and we'll be headed home. Sigh.

Okay, that's enough meloncholy about finishing the trip. We have the next 50 years to reflect on this trip. Lets get you up to speed:

The last time we blogged we were dodging the oryx horn curse and headed for South Africa. Obviously the curse didn't cross the border as easily as we did because we arrived unscathed in good ole Springbok country. First stop: Stellenbosch. A wine lovers paradise! Rolling vineyards set against a mountainous backdrop with college students drinking in cafes as the autmun leaves fall from the trees. Dreamy....which is why its a darn shame I don't like wine. My friends can vouch that I've officially come out of the closet this year as a non-wine drinker. I just don't like the stuff. I can swirl around the glass, pretend to smell oak and eucalyptus, comment on the tannins with the best of them but I'd much prefer a Diet Coke, vintage 2008 fountain any day. (Note that I thought wine "tannins" were called "talons" until Colin corrected me. Oops.) Fortunately for Colin he enjoys a glass or two of the red stuff and fortunately for me most of the places in Stellenbosch where you can taste the wine offer a bit of cheese as well. Dear Cheese, I love you. Love, Mary.

It is a bit unfortunate for you wine loving blog readers that given my distaste for such things I can't recall a) where we went wine tasting or b) if it was any good. All I can say is that the cheese platter at Cafe Fromage was DELIGHTFUL! If you have any additional questions about Stellenbosch please direct them at Colin.

The day after Stellenbosch we were headed to a place that Colin and I have been eager to see: Cape Town. Many of our pals (shout outs here to Lauren, Pat and Blake) have told us that Cape Town is a fabulous city and we'd enjoy it tremendously. Many have often remarked that it has that San Francisco feel to it which is a huge bonus considering my love for San Fran (shout outs here to Aunt Mar and Sister Judy). The real draw to Cape Town is its setting. Its located at the base of Table Mountain and stretches to the Atlantic Sea. A "must do" Cape Town activity is to climb Table Mountain and watch the sunset on one side and the city lights from the other. Sign us up!

Here's the kicker: On certain days Table Mountain is covered at the top by what is known as the Tablecloth, a layer of fog that prevents visitors from taking in the magnificent view. We were in Cape Town for three days. Each day the table had been set and apparantly the tablecloth has the capability of extending all the way to the floor. We didn't even see the bottom of that mountain and we were lodging a mere 300 meters away. (Note to non-metric friends - this is extremely close). Darn you oryx horn!

No worries - Col and I had plenty of other activites to occupy our time in Cape Town. The other main attraction was a visit out to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandella lived for many years. The tour is actually conducted by ex-prisoners. I had been looking forward to this as I've heard from numerous sources that its extremely educational and moving experience. I'll have to take their word for it. Cancelled due to fog. Moving on....

Any good Van De Walle female knows that if the weather doesn't agree with your planned activities you do the next best thing: shop. Col and I spent a good deal of time doing just that. We strolled down Long Street, the Bucktown-y part of the city, and made a trip to the V&A Waterfront, the way cooler Navy Pier of CT. It didn't take long before we (and by "we" I mean Colin) tired of shopping so we decided to hit a few more sites. This is where our curse ended and luck finally re-entered the equation. We met Frank.

Folks, if you are ever, EVER in Cape Town you must call Frank the taxi driver. People have casually entered his cab for a $5 fare and ended up with Frank for a 9 day tour of Cape Town and the Garden Route. He's fantastic. Frank was born and raised in Cape Town and is one of the most helpful, fun and delightful guys around. He first drove us to the Kirstenbosch Gardens (more on that below) and picked us up later to take us to Robben Island. When that was cancelled he saved the day by taking us on a tour of the Bo-Kaap district and the rest of the city. He took us to the District Six Museum to learn about the colored people (see definition of "colored" below) and how one of their major neighborhoods was demolished during apartheid. Another educational opportunity missed - it was closed. No worries, Frank decided to give us his own history and perspective of living in SA during apartheid and how life has changed since. (Editor's note: First Robben Island cancelled now District Six Museum closed. Hey, we tried to learn about your history CT but you kept bringing us down.)

Anyway, Frank is considered part of the "colored" Afrikaans community- the group of people who are neither white Afrikaan or black Africans. It's not a racist term at all (we asked)- its just what this group of mixed race, Arabic, Asian, etc. folks are referred to as collectively. Frank is the son of an African woman and a white British man. His stories about living in Cape Town during apartheid were both fascinating and alarming. During the time of "white rule" the colored people were treated like the Africans and terribly discriminated against. The black and white issue is something we all know at least a little bit about (and would know more if the darn museum was open) but it was interesting to hear where the colored group fit in. According to Frank the first few years post-apartheid were promising. Unfortunately, there is a general sense now that the current government is just as corrupt and discriminating as it was in the past only the racism is reversed. Its his feeling (and the feeling of many other people we've spoken to) that the new South Africa is only a hair split away from becoming "like before" if the corruption and racism isn't controlled. He says the colored people are stills stuck in the middle and that its a shame more people don't realize apartheid and the current situation is more than just a black and white issue. Needless to say, I will certainly be learning more about apartheid and paying closer attention to international governments when I return home. A very interesting and insightful guy that Frank. And he'll pick you up from the airport at any time of day - that's a promise!

Okay - on to less serious matters. Kirstenbosch Gardens: A World Heritage Site. No trip to foggy Cape Town would be complete without a visit to this stunner of a botanical garden. It absolutely took our breath away. Our breath and the breath of about 12 East Indians - the only other people in the whole of the grounds. I guess there are some bonuses to coming in the off season. Anyway, I would rank Kirstenbosch up there with any of the natural wonders we have seen on this journey in terms of beauty. Serious flower power. I say this and there weren't even any flowers in bloom (remember May is the SA November). Regardless this garden packs a punch. Google break! We've arrived at the part in the blog where you can break for 10 minutes and look up some images of Kirstenbosch on Google. My recounting of its beauty won't do it justice. In a nutshell: Go there. Stay there. Eat a sandwich in the cafe.

So, after a busy day of shopping, hanging out with Frank, visiting the Botanical Gardens and taking a final stab at education by visiting the Cape Town Slave Lodge museum, Col and I wrapped up our stay in this beautiful but foggy city by doing what we do best - eating a slab of wildebeast and going to the movies. Like Colin said to me last night, "I bet the folks at home don't picture us in Africa strolling along the waterfront with an ice-cream cone after the movies." Ah, Cape Town. A little slice of African Heaven. Oh, and I almost forgot...for those taking the virtual African pub crawl with us - Hansa beer. Delicious.

Well, that's about all I have in me for today friends. We are at a beautiful B&B in Hermanus, SA winding down after our exciting GREAT WHITE CAGE DIVE today. It was incredible(as Uncle Norm, part of the Original Five, predicted) but we'll have to save that for another post. Word to our families: We still have all of our arms and legs.

Love from South Africa....

Posted by vandewme 13:21 Archived in South Africa Comments (3)

The Long Road to Fish River Canyon

How the Curse of the Oryx Horn screwed us again.

sunny 80 °F

Before I begin the blog I'd like to change what I said about the Germans bringing the sausage roll to Namibia. A few nights ago I recalled all the many delicious sausage rolls we had with Skanky in East Africa and it dawned on me that the sausage rolls in Namibia were most likely an Afrikan influence. After traveling extensively with Skanky, our resident Afrikanner, I can say with certainty that this is a culture that values a good piece of meat. Alright - we are free to move on....

I believe we last left off in the German oasis of Swokomund, Namibia. Our adrenaline fully pumping and the bags packed back into the car we headed off for our next destination: Sossusvlei National Park. This is home to the images of Namibia that you may be most familiar with after your extensive Google search of this fascinating country. Enormous coppery red sand dunes melting into jagged rocky hills, salt pans peppered with dead trees, endless rolling mounds of ever-changing desert landscape. Most visitors come for two reasons: to hike Dune 45 and to take in the stunning Sossusvlei. Both of these activities were on the agenda and we were anxious to see what the area had in store.

Free from camping for one more night, we rolled into our accommodations at Desert Camp - individual "tents" in the middle of the desert - and enjoyed a rare couple hours of just chilling out. To be clear, the "tents" at Desert Camp were more like individual chalets. They were about as nice as you can get in the middle of the Namibian desert...or so we thought. The plan was to head to Dune 45 for a sunset hike about an hour or so before sunset.

Dune 45 for you non-Google fans is the only major sand dune you are aloud to hike up in the Park. Its very trendy to climb up at sunset or sundown in order to see the dune's sand go from brown to copper to a brilliant red. Its also quite practical to hike at this time as the dune is located in the desert and you stand a solid chance of burning your feet on the sand or getting a nasty burn if you hike up in the middle of the day. You fans of the Indiana Dunes know exactly what we mean.

Here's something I didn't know about myself: I'm deathly afraid of climbing up extremely steep sand dunes. Who knew? I was all smiles and "lets go gang" when we set out but literally 10 minutes into the hike I was frozen on that hot dune like a dik-dik in headlights. To be fair, it was EXTREMELY windy that day and the strong wind coupled with the pelting sand was enough to give anyone pause. I suppose that's how it got to be a dune in the first place but I wasn't that keen on the whole wind thing. And it just looked so steep! Sure there were 4 year olds running down the side of his "steep dune" but it was still darn scary to me. Col ended up coming back down the dune to coax me down the side and out of harms way. A real desert hero that guy. Fortunately the scare on the dune did not take away from the breathtaking scenery and I was able to enjoy Dune 45 for it's natural beauty. Bravo to the rest of our group who made it to the top without fail and thank you to them for not rubbing it in my face.

That night we were treated to dinner at what is officially the nicest place to stay in the area the Sossusvlei Lodge. They have this fab game meat buffet and Col and I rounded off the gastronomic part of our journey with a couple fillets of impala, hartebeast, kudu and the best of the bunch: zebra. Who would have thought zebra would taste so good? The real disappointment was the Nile Croc tail. Ugh. Like dry fish with a hint of chicken. If you come across it give it the wave on. Not worth the calories.

The plan for the next day was to get up early and make our way to Sossusvlei, an area in the park that is known for it's salt pan, dunes and dead trees. After killing 45 minutes there we would head out to our next destination - Aus. Aus is known for being the halfway point between Sossusvlei and Fish River Canyon and for its great camping and proximity to the only herd of feral desert horses in Namibia. Delightful! Before we did that, however, we tried desperately to book a morning safari walk with this guy Bushman who is known in the area for his fantastic desert wildlife tours. We called and called and eventually cursed and cursed Bushman because he never called us back. We had been looking forward to this desert tour so it was a major disappointment when he didn't call us back. Darn that guy! Oh well...we could just make up our own useless facts about the desert. "Did you know dunes are caused by unicorns? Yes! Their wings cause the sand to fly into the air..."

Arriving in Sossusvlei I immediately noticed that the best way to appreciate the surroundings was to, you guessed it, climb a dune and survey the area. Bummer. Determined to redeem my poor showing on Dune 45, I followed my trusty partner in crime up the Sossusvlei dunes. Well, look at me! There I was making a total mockery of that dune. I was practically skipping up the darn thing! I suppose I owe this surge of confidence to the fact the dune was a lot flatter and there was absolutely no wind to contend with but I like to think of it more as a triumph of spirit. And to the victor went the spoils of some fantastic views of the pan and the surrounding dunes. Really a magnificent place. Even Alex who has traveled to some of the worlds most wondrous spots had to admit that he had never seen any place like it. Well done, Sossusvlei!

Alex, Col and I spent a little more than the allotted time hanging out in the dunes so by the time we got back to the cars only one was waiting for us. The girls (Jo and Lee) had left with James to do a few chores and we were to go back in Annie's car and meet them for a fill up at the petrol station. You may be saying "that's a lot more specific then you've been in the past about your travel plans from point A to B." Yes, that's true but its relevant here because this never happened. We never drove out of the park. When we got to the car it wouldn't start. Dead as the trees in the park. Yikes. A double yikes because we had stayed a little later goofing around in the dunes and didn't notice that all the smart tourists had headed out of the desert before it got blazing hot. Oops. Fortunately there was one car left - a safari vehicle taking 2 Germans on a private tour. After officially proclaiming our car dead the driver offered us a ride back to the gate. You may think this is an extremely lucky turn of events and you'd be absolutely correct. The park entrance was a good 40 minutes by car and the only way to get there was to walk. Some of you may not have noticed but Col and I aren't really "desert people." We would have lasted tops 30 minutes on foot...especially because we only had about 1/2 a liter of water and a few chocolate cookies to sustain us. And really, chocolate cookies aren't made for the desert either.

The real bummer of the breakdown was that the car required a new part not just some simple garage maintenance. Those of you who may have traveled through Namibia are fully aware that there are little, if any Toyota parts distributors in a 300 mile radius of anywhere. We thought we were screwed...until a strange twist of fate came our way. It turns out that the Toyota dealership in Windhoek (the capital city) had one starter motor available for our car. Guess who was in Windhoek and willing to drive the part out that very night? The very man we were cursing not 12 hours beforehand - Bushman! Apparently he hadn't answered our calls because he was away getting his cars fixed. Coincidence? I don't think so. God love that guy.

We were "forced" to stay at the swank Sossusvlei lodge that night and dine yet again on their delicious buffet of game meat while the car was fixed (Editors note: anyone who thought we might come back from Africa down a few lbs will be sorely disappointed). Although it was a super huge bummer that we had to miss out on Aus and spend the entire next day (Lee's last) driving from Sossusvlei to Fish River Canyon it was just as much of a relief that the car broke down where it did vs. out in the bush. I shudder to think.

The next day we headed out for the 9 hour drive to Fish River Canyon. Fish River Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon in size. The goal was to get there in time to view the canyon at sunset. Of course we would have enjoyed a hike down into the canyon but this is no longer an option unless you take a 2-5 day guided hike. Apparently some French guys went down there without enough water and didn't make it out thus ruining the fun for everyone. French guys (editor shakes her head). It was really important for us to get there on time because Lee had actually extended her stay just to see Fish River Canyon. After all of her spills and thrills on the sand dunes at Swokomund the least we could do was see the darn canyon as the sun went down.

Yeah. Didn't happen. The curse of the oryx horn strikes again everyone. The first sign was the late departure. Apparently the mechanic was supposed to get up at 6 to start on the car. I guess 6 to us meant 8 to him. Ouch. We were supposed to leave at 8 but made it out of there at 10. The ole Sossusvlei Lodge starts to lose a bit of its sheen when you are just sitting in the lobby waiting for 2 hours. Once the car rolled in we eagerly popped in the cars and headed out. About 5 hours into the drive one of the tires on Annie's car blew and blew in a way that would lead you to believe it had something personal against us. 45 minutes, one spare tire and a cranky James later and we were back on the road...for about an hour. That's when Annie radioed us to say that she felt the spare we put on was feeling a bit funky. Good instinct Annie. The tire we had just put on had developed a strange case of boils in the short time it had been carrying our load. The thing looked like someone had blown massive bubbles in several locations on the tire. Another 45 minutes for a change...only to realize the next spare was flat. Another 20 minutes to change that one and we were off again. By now the sun was quickly making its way towards the horizon and we were all making our apologies to Lee. Needless to say we arrived at Fish River Canyon in the dark and the thing could have been 10X the size of the Grand Canyon and we'd never know. James, exhausted by the driving and the tire changing decided to screw camping and booked us all into this little mountain self-catering place (a small bonus). We toasted to Lee that night over hastily made spaghetti and meat sauce and joked that certainly the oryx curse was over once and for all.

The next day we woke at 5 and motored to the canyon to see the sunrise. It was, well, a large canyon but quite beautiful in the morning light. I think these are places that are best appreciated with a hike but hey, nothing you can do (editor shakes head at French again). We said our goodbyes to Lee and Annie as the road off into the sunset to the Windhoek Airport. James, Colin, Alex, Jo and I piled into the car for yet another long day on the road. Fingers crossed that the oryx wouldn't have our way with us we began the journey to South Africa. Can curses cross borders? I guess you'll have to stay tuned to find out....

Posted by vandewme 06:44 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

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