A Travellerspoint blog

Apple strudel in the desert

Back to civilization... but oddly, German civilization

sunny

Mary mentioned in her last entry how quickly the Namibian landscape has changed as we've gone from north to south and traveled through the Kaokoland region. I dare say that after a week or so we kind of got used to it. But then we entered the city of Swakopmund (which I refuse to call "Swako" no matter how many other travelers do) on the coast of Namibia. We've jokingly been referring to Swakopmund as "the Emerald City" because it's been the light at the end of the tunnel following our bush camping adventures. But I think encountering the great Oz at the Emerald City would have actually been less of a culture shock than the actual Swakopmund. Honestly, if you closed your eyes and were dropped in the middle of Swakopmund, Africa is the LAST place on earth you would guess you were. German architecture, cobblestone shopping streets, art shops, bakeries. Sadly, though, no lederhosen.

Besides being a sweet oasis of apple strudel (and shopping) for Mary, Swakopmund was also our "Adrenaline Stop, Part Deux" (see our Victoria Falls blog entry for Part One). On the docket were sandboarding and quad biking on the nearby sand dunes, and our first ever sky dive. We managed to get through them all unscathed, although we can't say the same for one of our traveling companions, Lee, who achieved legend status in our eyes by the time all was said and done.

We were mildly concerned about our first activity, sandboarding, when we found out that the only equipment involved was a thin plank of wood about 2 feet by 4 feet. But we were still on such a high from our good night's sleep and warm shower that we grabbed our boards with a smile and made the arduous climb up to the top of the dunes. It was a little windy, but the view was gorgeous: rolling dunes as far as the eye could see in three directions, and then the Atlantic ocean off to the west. Our activity leader briefed us at the top, essentially by saying "You can reach speeds up to 80 km/h, but wiping out doesn't really hurt too bad... who wants to go first?" And away we went. We made about 8 runs down the dunes, unfortunately having to climb back up the dunes each time. We both managed to eclipse 70 km/h on our final runs, but neither one of us could beat the top speed of our 63-year old friend Lee, who checked in at 75 km/h, got thrown off her board twice in the process, and still kept climbing up and sailing down. By the end of the day she was bruised an battered, but she did it all with a smile on her sand-covered face.

Quad biking, our second activity, was a fantastic experience as well. It was a 2-hour sunset ride through the gorgeous dunes that are only a few miles from the city itself. Again, the views of the dunes as we rode up, over and around them were amazing. The colors and shadows created by the setting sun were truly spectacular, and even though we knew that our German utopia of a town was just a few minutes away, it really felt as if we were riding off into the middle of the desert. We were going along great for about an hour and a half, enjoying the scenery and taking pictures, when a sudden sharp turn around a dune threw a twist into things. This sharp turn was made even trickier by the fact that we were riding into the setting sun, and our friend Lee rolled head over heels down the dune! We all rushed down to make sure she was OK, which she was despite the bike rolling onto her head (thank you helmet). And after a few minutes to collect herself she was off again at the head of the pack.

And then that left skydiving. Ah. Ever since the trip started we had been talking a big game, to ourselves and to skydiving addict Skanky, that we were going to do our first ever sky dive when we got to Swakopmund. By the time the day came, the weather was perfect so there was no turning back. We hopped in the car and headed out to the desert where our plane would be taking off from. Wearing sweet pink and yellow flying suits and clear goggles, it certainly didn't feel like we were going to be jumping out of an airplane... it felt more like we were going to be filming an 80's music video. But the plane's arrival and getting strapped into our parachuting gear quickly got us into skydiving mindset, and we took a deep breath and got into the plane with our tandem divers and camera men. So in total there were six of us crammed into a tiny tiny cabin. There were arms, legs and cameras everywhere, and at one point I tried to adjust my foot to aid circulation and actually ended up moving Mary's foot by mistake.

So there we were, on our way to 10,000 feet over the Namib Desert. Mary was all smiles and hamming it up with the crew, while I was basically saying prayer after prayer to my Dad and trying my best to look calm on video and enjoy the scenic flight leading up to the jump. It really was a beautiful flight: blue skies with puffy white clouds, golden sand dunes and miles of ocean coastline surrounded us. After about twenty minutes, we starting prepping to jump. Mary was set to go first. We unraveled our limbs, gave each other a quick kiss, and she and her tandem diver and camera man scooted toward the open door. Before I knew it, she was gone, hurtling towards the desert below. Being the only other jumper on board, there was no point in procrastinating from there. "You ready?", I was asked. "Let's go!", I said, with less authority than I probably imagine. But I really was eager to jump at this point, if for no other reason than to regain the feeling in my lower legs.

So we made our way to the door, wind howling through, and I dangled my legs over the edge. My brain balked for a millisecond as it tried to process the fact that I was exiting an aircraft without a tarmac directly below, but I knew it was time to jump. I gave the thumbs up, and the next thing I knew I was tumbling through space, watching the plane disappear above me. From that point on, it all happened incredibly fast. The 30-second freefall was unlike any other feeling in the world, an incredible rush that seemed to last for about three seconds. Then the chute opened, and I had the next five minutes or so to process the previous 30 seconds, wave to Mary who was also in the air, and enjoy the view from up above the dunes. Wow.

Lee and Alex then went up right after the two of us. Alex is a veteran skydiver and had no issues tossing himself out of the plane. Lee, always up for something new, did her first ever sky dive as well. So in the span of a day and a half she 1) wiped out on a sandboard going 75 km/h (fastest of our group), 2) rolled down the side of a sand dune in a quad bike, and 3) did her first sky dive. Oh, and I should also mention that when she first arrived in Africa, the car she was traveling in from the airport struck a kudu. Unbelievable. Lee, you are a true adventurer.

Well that about sums up Swakopmund, aka the German oasis in the middle of Namibia. From here we move on down to Sesriem and the red dunes of Sossuvlei and Dune 45...

Posted by cmgildea 09:21 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

A Mar in a Lodge is worth Two in the Bush.

Getting back to nature...or just staying in nature but cranking it up a notch.

sunny 85 °F

Namibia is a country roughly 1.5 the size of California*. Bordering Botswana, South Africa and Angola, Namibia is primarily desert with a sweet coastline that does a number on any boat that comes even close to landing on her shores. The coast is so treacherous that its called "the Skeleton Coast". The skeletons belong to both the ships and the men who made it safely to land only to learn they were stuck in the desert. That's got to be a painful realization. It's also home to one of the largest seal colonies in the world. The Cape Cross Seals (a great name for a band I'll never front) number in the millions and, speaking from personal experience, smell like they number in the millions. It's truly an amazing site to see all of these seals at work and play on the coast. It's also reassuring that you can buy a seal skin wallet and not feel like a jerk because the survival of the colony relies on the reduction of numbers by natural and humane efforts.

Moving on, Namibia has approximately 2.5 million inhabitants. Most of these inhabitants live near the German influenced city of Windhoek. For a while Shiloh Jolie-Pitt was the most famous of these inhabitants (unless you count our friend and blog reader Rachael). I've mentioned the Himbas in a past blog but the other tribe worth a mention is the Herero. Really the Himba are the traditional version of this tribe, the original Hereros if you will. When the Herero are mentioned its usually in reference to the folks who have "modernized" and adapted to a more western way of life. While most of the Herero have taken on the western dress, etc, what really boggles the mind is seeing the woman who still wear traditional dress. They've adopted the clothing of the Germans who colonized the place a hundred years ago. This means they wear this extremely large petticoat with layers upon layers of brightly colored dress. A practical outfit for the desert. The dress has puffy sleeves and is topped with a cool little hat thing that's very hard to describe in a blog. May I direct you to google yet again for visualization. I LOVE this traditional garb but can't help but think it looks like something out of a Grimm's fairy tale. Oh you Germans - bringing the sausage roll and the petticoat to Africa. What will you think of next?

One thing that many of you may know about Namibia is that it's a land of incredibly diverse landscapes. We have covered a LOT of ground here in Africa and I can say with certainty that Namibia is the only country we've driven through that can change it's face in a matter of minutes. Rock canyons that lend themselves perfectly to a Western movie one minute (complete with scary vultures) and rolling hills dusted with a baby fine blond grass the next. Volatile coast lines transform into sandy dunes and then level out to salt flats within a miles drive. Its absolutely incredible. There is no way you can get a sense of the landscape with a picture as no camera could possibly capture the uniqueness of this country. We say this now and we still have the southern region, perhaps the most famous of the country's geographies, to tackle. I can't wait.

Okay, so that was my Namibia 101 just to give you a bit of context for our bush camping story. If you can't appreciate the changing landscape then you can't appreciate how difficult it was to navigate a 4X4 through this diverse landscape with little but a few tire tracks left by past travelers to guide the way. Wow. Bush camping is NOT for the faint of heart. One might say it really "bonds people together" ...if they don't kill each other in the process. The rewards, however, FAR outweigh the difficulties it takes to go from point A to point B.

The highlights:
- UNBELIEVABLE scenery and being the only humans around for miles to appreciate it
- Tracking the elusive desert elephant only to lose it's tracks somewhere in the bush
- Coming across a small hut and being greeted by a woman that looked like a Herero version of a German cook from the 1800s (sidenote: I'm an expert on German cook fashion in the 1800s)
- Driving along non-existent roads and watching giraffe, oryx and ostrich stare at the car as we road by
- Finding the world's best bush campsites and sitting around the fire under a dome of crystal clear stars (seriously we've never seen stars like we have here in Namibia)
- James' delicious camping dinners of kudu, eland and oryx. It's a little weird to take pictures of these animals in the day and eat them at night but hey, such is life in the bush.
- Realizing we were a little lost but that getting lost was kind of the point in the first place

And the lowlights:
- Car number one getting so far stuck in a sandy riverbed that if a donkey and trap carrying 6 local guys hadn't come by we would still be sitting there.
- Car number one over heating in another riverbed while car number two radioed to tell us that she'd "gotten stuck in quick sand and was sinking fast."
- Setting up our tents in the pitch black only to realize in the morning that we'd set up camp near the only hut in a 50 mile radius. Doesn't sound so bad except we realized this while we were going to the bathroom and suddenly noticed a group of onlookers.
- Having to walk across the sand in the middle of the HOT HOT day because the cars would sink in the sand if we actually road in them
- Getting to the absolute middle of nowhere only to find an abandoned research tent with a mysterious rock display marked with an oryx horn. Some say the rock display was a chair for the researcher. "Some" may say this but I ask "where is the researcher?" Hmmm. Looks a little grave-y to me. Anyway, James made the poor decision to move the horn. I believe this cursed us the entire ride back to civilization. Note that the "Curse of the Horn" is only a theory but if you saw this little rock display you'd know where I was coming from.

Of course you could argue that the best part of bush camping was coming out of the bush and landing at Fort Sesfontein lodge for a shower and a Coke. It might have felt that way at the time but this little adventure was definitely a highlight of our African adventure. Our trip through Namibia is not even halfway through and I can tell you without hesitation we will be back. It's truly, truly a magical place.

Stay tuned for more Namibia adventure....

  • This is a total guess regarding the size of Namibia. It's big. Let's just leave it at that.

Posted by vandewme 01:46 Archived in Namibia Comments (2)

Good fences make good neighbors

Especially when your neighbor knocks you down a rung on the old food chain.

semi-overcast

A giraffe peed on Colin.

I know that's a random way to start off the blog but it was hilarious and I can't find another relevant part of this entry to mention it. Fortunately it was a baby giraffe and Colin moved out of the way before too much damage could be done. Why were we near a giraffe you ask? Well, we were camping on a farm just outside of Etosha before heading out to bush camp. The farmers had rescued the giraffe when it became stuck in a fence a few months ago and it was now living with them on the farm. I officially want a baby...giraffe (even if it did step on my foot).

You may also be asking yourself what these farmers were growing on the farm. Berries? Corn? Pumpkins perhaps? Nope. Cheetahs. Several years ago they rescued 3 baby cheetahs (I'm seeing a trend) from certain death and have raised them in their home as family pets. We were able to play with these somewhat scary house cats and watch as they noshed on some fresh donkey carcass. Fun! They have about 18-20 wild cheetahs living on the farm as well and we piled on the flatbed of a pickup truck to pay them a visit. This would have been a pleasant stroll through the farm had the truck not been strapped with two barrels of the aforementioned donkey meat. Ever really feel like prey? We have.

Now I've been called a lot of things in my day but "Cat Lover" has never really been one of them. I suppose "sneaky" and "always plotting" would be ways I would've described cats in the past. However, when the cheetahs smelled the donkey and appeared from out of nowhere to stalk the car, well, color me a cheetah lover. They are absolutely gorgeous. We had seen a cheetah before in the wild - which is awesome - but to see 20 cheetahs surround you while the sun sets is in a league of its own. (Note that when I say we were standing in a flatbed I mean that we could've easily bent down to pet one and watch as our hands went the way of the donkey meat. Like they say at Great America, keep your hands and feet in the flatbed at all times).

The owner of the farm proceeded to feed the cheetahs by chucking raw meat at them as we watched them battled for the prime cuts. To see cheetah rip a donkey leg in two is crazy (and yes Dad, it was better than watching it on HD). After this impressive predatory display we were shown back to our campsite which bordered the cheetah fencing. Not as scary as the times we were surrounded by wild hippo but enough to give you a momentary pause. Luckily our site was right next to the lair of a female cheetah and her three baby cubs. The close proximity to our campsite meant that we could sit, read our books or eat breakfast and listen for the tell tale coo of the mother cheetah. This was our cue to look up from the camp chairs and viola! there they'd be just staring at us. I loved it...but made sure I stayed a good distance after the cheetah snarled at me when I got a bit too close for comfort. Maybe I'm not ready to embrace the cat as a species after all. Anyway, I officially want a baby cheetah to be the sibling to my baby giraffe. It's too bad our apartment barely fits Colin and I or I would definatly be taking one home. A guard cat. I like it.

Editors note on the Farm: It's important to mention that the farm is in no way a zoo. It's HUGE and once they raise enough money they will add better fencing and introduce additional wild game to turn it into a game park. They have a little bar (sans electricitly) where you can drink for cheetah conservation. Cheers to that we say!

After leaving our furry friends behind we FINALLY started our 4 day bush trek into the wilds of northern Namibia. I know I've been hyping this whole "bush trek" thing for the past couple of blogs. You may even be thinking "didn't they do that a long time ago?" Well, it takes a little more planning than we thought to just make your way into uncharted territory. For those who need a bit of clarification, a bush camp is different from regular camping in that you don't stay at a designated campsite. You basically find a flat piece of land in the middle of nowhere and pitch a tent. The idea is to really get away from it all, be one with nature, sleep under the stars, etc., etc.

When Col and I were reading about Namibia we were really interested in visiting the Kaokoland region in the northwest part of the country. It's home to the Himbas, one of the last tribes in Africa to retain their tribal way of life (and not just to fetch a dollar or two for a photo). I suggest looking up Himbas on google so you can see why were were fascinated by their culture. Unfortunately (or fortunately, which ever way you look at it) getting up to that part of the world is difficult. To quote from the guidebook we had regarding this area, "it's beautiful and ever changing scenery make this a magnificent place to visit. However, due to the unpredictable nature of the roads and few inhibitants we have decided not to include any information on how to travel to this part of the country." Hmmm. Foreshadowing?

We packed the car with food, fuel, water and our sense of humor and set out for a real adventure...

To Be Continued.

(To learn more about our trek into the bush you'll have to wait for the next blog entry. The suspense! I used to love when sitcoms did the To Be Continued. And to learn more about Namibia and the Himbas visit your local library. More adventure calls....)

Posted by vandewme 08:53 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Skanky Leaves. Colin and Mary Mourn.

How we were touched by a South African angel...inappropriately.

sunny 85 °F

Well! An unexpected turn of events - internet in Etosha! We are on a quick bakery stop on our way out of Etosha National Park and they happend to have internet. This means I happend to down a sausage roll and hash out a blog for all of you loyal readers. Just a side note: DELICIOUS sausage roll. German colonization of Namibia is turning out to have its advantages.

Alright - so much to catch up on. Where to begin? Let's start where we left off....

I promised to tell you how Skanky and Grubby, like a modern day Batman and Robin, saved us from border doom in Zambia. As it turns out we were stopped by a shady policeman for some bs reason or another and they threatend to hold us at the border until we paid some ridiculous amount to pass. Ironically we had just passed one of the many "Stop Corruption in Zambia" billboards about a mile before hitting this "police stop." Anyway, our new guide Annie was getting quite the run around before those of us driving with Skank realized what was happening. After cursing in Afrikans, Skank makes a mad dash to the overly crowded border and demands to talk to the police chief. They tell him that the chief is at the road stop. Nice. So we fly back to Annie who is all fired up and Skanky (barefoot but in a posative turn of events not shirtless) gets out of the car ready for what we have come to recognize as a classic Skanky police block encounter. Usually this involves a bit of yelling, some storming around, maybe a few hand gestures and ends with him giving the officer a cigarette, they share a laugh and we drive off. This time it required a little more palm greasing than a cheap cigarette. In comes Grubby - a regular Livingstone man about town (with decidedly hobbit looking feet). He quickly gives us the number of the real police chief which Skanky calls immediately to explain the situation. Here is the part of the conversation that we heard, "And YOU have these men who do not know the law stopping us as we are LEAVING the country for no reason. Now explain." After a pause he hands the phone over to the busted bad cop and it takes about 30 seconds before we are back on the road. I guess the anti-corruption campaign is making some headway at the senior levels. About 20 minutes later we were crossing over into Botswana by ferry. Note that "by ferry" means we all pile on to a large pontoon and go about half a mile. It sounds much more romantic (and less diesel-y) then it really is.

The next day we headed out into the Okavango Delta by traditional wooden canoe- a very reed-y, marshy, strange part of the country. We bush camped there for a night and headed back the next day. I'd write more about the experience but it mostly involved Colin and I running down to the stream to get water and running back every time we heard a hippo snort. I will never forget bottled water again. Shout out to Erin and Brendan for supplying us with the water bottles with filters. We really put them to the test and yes, they do filter out hippo dung and dragon flies. Mmmm.

We followed the trip up with a scenic flight over the Delta the next day. Seriously, if you ever come this way you must do the scenic flight. It's THE BEST way to appreciate the Delta. Both Colin and I (jaded already) were a little underwelmed with Botswana until we took the flight. Seeing this crazy landscape which looks like a golf course/swamp/free range zoo from above was magical. Ah, Botswana. Never judge a book...

Our Botswana adventure ended with what may have been our riskiest move yet: We let Skanky cut Colin's hair. In the dark. After he'd had at least 4 brandy and Cokes. Not our most rational decision of the trip. It really didn't look bad at first. Of course we were looking at it with a $5 flashlight...looked a bit more, oh I don't know, bowl-y in the morning. Col has since cleaned it up a bit but I wouldn't be surprised if the shears come out again before the trip is over. It was a nice parting gift from Skanky. He left the next morning and we would be lying if we didn't say that we were sad to see him go. The good news for us and readers alike is that he'll likely make an appearance again in the blog. We will be visiting his parent's farm in South Africa and we may meet up with him in Cape Town. And who knows...he's talked of visiting us in Chicago when he's next in the States. Fun for all. Skank - if you are out there - we miss your Mrs. Balls.

Like I mentioned I'm in a bakery in Namibia which means we just finished several days in the northern part of the country. We had some noteworthy camping experiences and I expect, as we prep for our 3 days in the remote bush, that I'll have more to report when I return. Given my limited computer time here I can't expound on the details but I will leave you with this bit of advice: Mongeese love socks and jackals love baked goods. Both were lost to these scoundrals while we prepared out dinner. On a posative note the warthogs in our camp just wanted to hang out. And who's not down with hanging out with warthog?

Alright - must go get water and supplies before heading out into the bush. Quick shout out to our April birthdays: Finn Navs, Dupee (aka: Pat), Dan, Liz and of course Mr. Africa Bush Colin Gildea. Much love to all! Stay tuned...

Posted by vandewme 04:22 Archived in Namibia Comments (2)

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