Wednesday, February 25, 2009
February 24th, 2009
Namibia’s number one attraction was our next destination - the place where the famous red sand dunes offset by the deep blue skies live. We entered the park and started the 64 km drive from Sesriem to Sossusvlei. Along our way we saw springbok and gemsbok in the fields and delighted in taking several hundred photos of the landscape where to the left we saw small rocky mountains and the right the sandy dunes.
Our first stop was the famous Dune 45, 45 kms from Sessriem and 45 dunes from Sossusvlei. Climbing out of the car and stretching, we packed some water and began to climb. It was surprisingly easier than we had thought it would be. Perhaps it was the rains the night before or maybe the angle which we climbed. At the top the views were spectacular. We sat and admired the view, snapping another 100 pics.
We drove further on to Sossusvlei and decided to hike the 5kms return to the Dead Vlei. This was amazing and we would recommend that everyone do it if in the area. Although hot, the hike wasn’t too taxing. Arriving at our destination it felt as though we had entered a Dali painting. It felt so surreal, like another world. Karel summed it up well when said he felt as though we entered another world, or that we were in some sort of Science fiction film where you went away in a space ship or submarine and when you surfaced the world had been destroyed. Again another 100 photos were taken.
Our final stop was hiking the Hidden Vlei, a four km return hike. Under instruction to follow markers, we were slightly perplexed as the so called white markers turned out to be wood coloured twigs. The walk was stunning. Views were of perfectly shaped orange, coral and red coloured dunes, sparse glowing green bushes and small flat pans. And guess what, we took another hundred photos.
February 23rd, 2009
After reading our ‘trusted’ guidebook, we headed in the direction of Luderitz a place that the Lonely Planet describes as “a surreal colonial relic- a 19th century Bavarian village…It has everything you’d expect of a small German town- delicatessens, coffee shops and churches”. Setting off with high hopes we made the 280km detour.
Along the way we stopped just outside of Aus to see the amazing Feral Desert Horses. These are a group of wild horses most likely having escaped from German cavalry horses during WWI. Numbers vary but there are over a hundred of them. We waited inside a hide by their main source of water, the Garab Pan- essentially a fancy well/bore hole. It was fantastic. Groups of three or four came to drink.
Doubly excited now, we entered the hub of Luderitz. It felt like small town Saskatchewan with fairly average buildings. Where were the delicatessens – we only saw a biltong shop painted in zebra stripes, where were the quaint coffee shops- we only saw one in a modern building, and churches- okay there was one and it was spectacular, but still where was our 19th Century Bavarian village. The answer my friend is in the authors dreams. Perhaps Karel and I are just too spoilt living in London and being exposed to Europe and European villages, but perhaps the writer has no idea what a Bavarian village should look like. The statement “just about every view in Luderitz reveals its German Imperial and Art Nouveau architectural heritage” is shall we say slightly optimistic. We found one street. It was a beautiful street, but really when you expect to see a whole town a street doesn’t quite cut it. We did however stay at a stunning campsite, Shark Island and we did stock up on some fresh produce.
The next day on our way out we headed to Kolmanskop, a ghost mining town. We booked our place on a tour and headed out of Luderitz. It was really interesting. The mining town was a roaring place where diamonds were abundant. No luxury was spared for the Europeans who came to work and live in this harsh environment. The shop keepers book shows imports of caviar and the finest of champagnes. The town essentially closed down the mining industry after much richer diamond deposits were found at Oranjemund. Buildings have a slightly eerie feeling as they are slowly eroding away and filling with sand. They are now making efforts to reclaim and restore some of the buildings.
February 21, 2009
Preparing to leave the National Park we noticed our fuel was a bit low and decided it best to fill up. Parking by the fuel pumps we noticed a sign stating that no credit cards can be used and that there aren’t any cash machines. A quick count of money revealed 160 rand 15 cents. Yikes. We were about a quarter full, but decided to put it all in. Asking the attendant to do the exact amount, he did surprisingly well and went two cents over. We then headed to the Namibian border. A very friendly and kind gentleman completed our forms and passports without problem. We then needed to pay 160 rand for the car’s insurance. No problem. We have cards, we have the all ‘important’ American dollars. Problem. This particular border post, the only one, doesn’t accept either. Thankfully the customs officer kindly called superior after superior and they decided that we could go without and just pay on our exit with them keeping the all important completed document there. The officer also gave us his name and number in case we encounter any hassles. (Watch this space).
Crossing the border we headed off to Fish River Canyon, a highly recommended point of interest. We cruised along at a steady pace of 80kms per hour as diesel was at a bit of a premium. Map reading was interesting as what I supposed were towns like Wegdraai (Turn away) and Twee Rivier (Two Rivers) were actually their definitions- a turning point in the road and a place of two rivers meeting. Reaching a small town, and I mean small (yes, this is coming from a girl from Saskatchewan) we thought we would try our luck. A quick enquiry of asking a man on his horse drawn cart (seriously – it was the second one we’d seen) revealed that there was a cash machine and a fuel station in town. Fantastic. No luck though as the only cards accepted were visa affiliated ones, no mastercard or maestro. No fair! We steadied on and made it to a major town centre of approximately two thousand, fuelled up and instantly felt lighter.
We approached the Fish River Canyon and weren’t really sure what to expect. Paying a fee of 130 Namibian dollars we entered the gates and drove the ten kilometres towards the viewpoint. Reaching our destination, we climbed out of our car and saw the most incredible sight. A massive canyon, chipped harshly from red and warm brown rock and a beautiful winding river flowing at the bottom. We also took the “4x4 ish” (direct quote from the sign) trail to another viewpoint and saw a very different landscape. This landscape was filled with large rounded rock hills instead of the relatively flat and stony plains of the first viewpoint. We also were lucky enough to see a small herd of the elusive Namibian Cape Mountain Zebra – timid but stunning.
February 16-21, 2009
We headed towards Upington and further North to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park for our first official destination. Karel had heard good things about the park and the park certainly didn’t disappoint. On route we noticed the amazing social weaver houses built on top of telephone poles, awesome quiver trees, and massive social spider nests. Arriving at Twee Rivieren we booked our campsite for the night and headed to the water hole. Driving on the dirt and sand roads we couldn’t believe the amount of millipedes and the size of them. I measured one (using the useful measuring tape- thanks Georgia) and it was 21 cms. Apparently they can live for 8-10 years.
Deciding that we wanted to camp in the Botswana side and eventually exit on the Namibian side, we booked our campsites and went through customs. No problems all around. We then set about exploring our surroundings. It was incredible with red earth, mostly dunes with brilliant green plants, and thorny trees. Gemsbok and springbok were in abundance. It was truly beautiful.
Setting off the next day for Botswana we weren’t really sure what to expect. The roads were certainly 4x4 but in pretty good nick. Landscape changed dramatically into tall grasslands, green and yellow with huge pans. Along our way we met some meercat, who were exceptionally cute and continually scouted out the area. We also encountered some massive Eland (could possibly be on steroids). Our national park map however left something to be desired as the road markings weren’t accurate. We ended up driving around looking for our campsite. Once found it was truly magnificent. Built without fencing, in true Botswana style, and essentially in the middle of nowhere, it was stunning. We had thought we were the only people on the Botswana side, but later noticed a group of vehicles. Going over to say hi, we gained an invitation for dinner from a lovely group of people who were just finishing their tour of Botwana, and ate fantastically well. A lasagne cooked on the fire. Amazing.
The next day we woke early and went on a drive. We turned a corner and there were eight lions, one male, three lioness and five cubs. About four metres away, we gently unrolled our windows and watched them for about an hour. It was one of the most amazing experiences. The cubs were busy play fighting with each other and a few brave ones attempted to play with their dad until he threw them off and a lioness was busy giving a cub a bath during which he growled gently the entire time. Fantastic. There is nothing quite like being in the bush.
Back on the South African side our most memorable sightings included seeing two jackals out for dinner, busy trotting along like crazy checking out every bush in hopes of finding a quick snack and getting a bit too close and personal to a puff adder. Yes, that’s right a puff adder one of the most dangerous snakes. Okay, maybe not too close and personal. At a picnic site I headed towards the ladies. Opening the sliding door, I just happened to notice something in the corner. Thankfully I spotted him, and again thankfully he didn’t seem to notice me at all. After calling Karel and daring to go back to the car for the camera for a sneaky pic (I did it all for you readers) I decided it was best to use the gents. We saw more lions, cubs behind a bush, a lone male and a another small pride. We were also lucky enough to see two cheetahs working together hunting a group of springbok. With one on each side of the herd they took turns rounding them up. It was amazing to watch. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to see the final kill as it was fast approaching night fall and we had to return to camp. We had an amazing time, and hope that in reading this you can share it with us.
February 14, 2009
We departed from Cape Town eventually on the 15th of February slightly behind schedule due to a quick stopover in London for me to attend my British Citizenship ceremony, a comfortable stay with friends – Emile and Alinda, quick drinks on a Friday leading to staying overnight with Piet and Mia, and a final Saturday stop at an internet café with me bent on completing the blog. The completion of the blog left us both slightly dazed due to its intensity. We hit the road with a vengeance. Travelling along the R301 we stopped to take a quick photo. Reaching for the camera and buzzing with excitement we discovered that in our haste we unfortunately left the camera in the internet café on Long Street. We reversed and retraced our steps. Karel driving and me trying to find a phone number in hopes of hearing from an employee whether or not the camera was in fact there. Calling every directory assistance number we knew, we achieved nothing. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t necessarily the directory assistances’ fault, we weren’t sure of the name of the internet café so were vaguely asking for the number of any internet café on Long Street and apparently none are listed. I decided on a long shot to get the number for Mama Africa, a touristy restaurant on Long Street although having never been there the name stood out as memorable. I called Mama and spoke with a waiter there and just asked if he knew the name of the internet café down the road because I had left something behind. When asked what, I unsurely said a camera. He told me he would check if anything was left behind, and to just call him back in ten minutes. Calling back, he said yes, there was a camera there and I just needed to pick it up. Racing back we happily collected our camera and couldn’t believe our luck. Incredible. We still can’t believe it. We heart Cape Town.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
We don’t really know where to begin with this one. We’ve been in and around South Africa for about six months now and have had one of the most amazing experiences of our lives. It has been incredible and even now when I think about it I almost want to cry as it has been so unbelievably perfect. Maybe you’ve read or will read about our experiences but the stories about our activities are just a part of our adventure. The people we’ve met and connected with and the incredible kindness and love they have shared with us cannot be translated with words.
We want to thank Andre and Elize for organizing so much for us, spending their valuable time with us, letting us stay with you and making us feel like we have another set of parents. Wichard, Izelle and Sune, thanks for being so nice. You are such lovely people. Thank you Tannie Bessie for all the amazing vetkoek and the precious time we spent together. We want to thank Oli for letting us crash in his room time and time again, and his parents Dirk and Marindi for Botswana, good conversation and introducing us to the Bowling Club. It’s been great spending time with you again. Special thanks to Andre and Natalie for the fun time in Botswana. Thank you Kallie and Karen and kids for a brilliant Christmas and the amazing meals you prepared. You are such an important part of our family. Ina and DeVille, thank you for sharing your time with us and getting to know you and your children, it’s a real pleasure. Thank you Gerrie and Micheal. It’s been fantastic to reconnect with family after such a long period. Your generosity has been greatly appreciated. Thank you for all the meals together and having us to your beautiful homes Gert and Leanne, Freda and Andre, Charle and Linda, Hein and Rojanne, Bridget and Byron, and Duncan and Tanya. It’s been fantastic meeting you all. Mat and Rene, it's been so great seeing you. We've really missed you. A big thank you to Lance and Gaye, we loved staying with you and the boys. It was great catching up. Thanks for the time we spent together. Thank you to Emile and Alinda for your amazing generosity in letting us stay in your homes, having our parents and consistently demonstrating what kind and thoughtful people you are. You are so special to us. Thank you, Linda, for inviting us to your birthday party. It was really fun. Thank you, Chris and Louise, for your unbelievable kindness. I hope one day we can repay you. Piet and Mia, thank you for an amazing time in Rawsonville and Cape Town. It’s been fantastic getting to know you and spending time with you. We are so lucky. Thank you Lindy for the drinks and good company. Thanks to the Up the Creek crew Tammy, Georgia, Patrick, Arian, John and Will for the amazing weekend- it was incredible. And thank you Johann and Jackie for the drinks and food. Also thanks to Kirk and Dale, Jane, and Niel and Nicolene for the London leg of the trip. It was great seeing you mid-trip. Thanks for letting me stay.
We wish you all well and cannot thank you enough. You have all influenced and changed us for the better. We hope one day we have the opportunity to repay you in kind. Thank you so much, you have really spoilt us.
Near Swellendam, South Africa
February 6th, 2009
With news of my British citizenship ceremony invitation for the 10th of February, we postponed our departure from South Africa by a couple of weeks and joined friends for a music festival, Up the Creek. As Glastonbury regulars and big fans of outdoor festivals we were looking forward to it. Being unemployed meant that we volunteered to set up camp ahead of the arrival of others. We left Cape Town around one thirty, to arrive just as the gates opened at four. Unfortunately we were unaware of the vast road works going on and didn’t arrive until about five. Luckily there was still enough area left to set up a group of six tents. Shortly after we arrived so did Will and John, two of our fellow campers. Setting up tents in rapid succession, we were able to enjoy a Savannah or two before the others arrived.
It was a brilliant weekend, with brilliant company. There are two stage areas- one main and one secondary, food stands including the best pizza ever and caramel coated ice cream, and a few standard festival shops filled with cleverly sloganed t-shirts, colourfully printed skirts and fun hats. The best thing about the weekend besides meeting and spending time with some amazing people (thanks Tammy, Georgia, Patrick, Arie, John, Will, Lindy, Piet, and Mia), was the creek. A few meters away from the main events, there is a creek where people are encouraged to swim and cool down, and float on lilos. Bringing two specially purchased silver lilos from Game was basically the best idea ever. Floating along the creek was fantastic. I think the next time we go to Glastonbury we will need to take lilos, not for the creek but for the mud.
February 1st, 2009
Ready for a change from city life we headed to the Cederberg on the N7, about 160 kms from Cape Town. We turned onto a gravel road, which is currently undergoing major construction to widen and pave it, and arrived at our camp, Algeria which is part of the National Parks. It was a stunning camp, situated underneath massive trees and provided a welcome shade from the heat. The surroundings are amazing with rust coloured mountains, beautiful field flowers, little creeks and waterfalls and interesting rock formations.
In an effort to offset the effects of Christmas (i.e. increasing waistlines) we went for some amazing hikes. The first day we arrived we walked to a waterfall. It was breathtaking beautiful with icy cold water and moss surroundings, very much worth the uphill and somewhat painful effort. The next day we hiked around a river, again with stunning scenery including lush plant life, beautiful field flowers, tall grass and the occasional lizard sighting.
The Cederberg is also home to a collection of San bushman rock art, the most famous of which depicts elephants. After reading about this we decided we had to check it out. Obtaining a world heritage permit pass we drove up to the Stadstill caves. After punching a ‘secret code’ into a lock, we entered the gate driving along a narrow dirt road. We pulled over into a side road and read the signs talking about the Elephant paintings. They are estimated to be approximately 1,000 years old and painted by a religious leader who most likely depicted the elephant due to it’s connotation of power, whether the man wished to draw some of the elephant’s power for himself or for a group purpose is unknown. One thing for sure is that the place where the paintings are is unbelievably calm and serene.
After admiring the paintings and sitting atop some of the rocks nearby we moved unto the Stadstill caves. We weren’t prepared for the beauty of these rocks. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and again is stunning. Wandering for ages we admired the magnificence. Again it is a very peaceful location and we were lucky enough to experience this alone as there wasn’t anyone else around for miles.
Kruger National Park, South Africa
January 12th, 2009
After seeing Andrew and Shannon off at the airport in Cape Town and heading towards the romantic city of Paris, the rest of us flew to Jo’burg. After staying with Andre and Elize and having a brillant mini-Christmas reunion, we drove up to the Kruger. Booked in advance on the advice of a trusted friend and Kruger connoisseur, Riaan, we checked into Olifants. Enjoying sundowners overlooking the river, we sighed with contentment and admired the beauty. After spending two nights there, we moved to Lower Sabie for two nights and then Satara for another two nights.
At each camp we booked a night drive, an evening drive, a morning drive and a morning walk. They were run by the highly knowledgeable park rangers, who were amazing. We lucked out completely and had cooler than usual weather with temperatures in the high twenties rather than the high thirties, and also had amazing sightings despite warnings of the thick vegetation. Seeing the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino and buffalo) four times over was unbelievable. We also were lucky enough to see all of the Small Five, the babies of the Big Five, who are unbelievably gorgeous and really look like they would like to be your friend, even though it would not be a good idea.
The highlight sightings would be seeing a leopard grooming herself after a long night’s hunt, seeing a group of eight cheetahs stalking something in the bush, seeing a herd of about a hundred buffalo and being right in the midst of it, and seeing two lion cubs half sleeping in the early hours of the morning, waiting for their pride to collect them after a hunt.
*This time without any tickets!
January 5th, 2009
We moved into Cape Town on a beautifully clear, sunny day and decided that before doing anything else we must go up Table Mountain. We drove towards the mountain and quickly noticed that we weren’t the only people with the same idea. Traffic was hectic, the car park was overflowing and the q for tickets stretched for what seemed like miles. I jumped out of the car early to line up, luckily the line moved fairly quickly, although we did wait for just over an hour. The trip up on the cable car was very quick with the advertised ‘three minutes’ up being a true fact. Not being much of a fan for heights, I was pleased that the trip was surprising smooth and the rotating floor was actually nice and not as scary as I imagined it might be. Our waiting was worthwhile, as when we arrived the viewing was perfect. Without a cloud in sight and without wind we wandered around, first on our own and then with a free guided tour. We could even hear the 12:00 cannon fire from down below on Signal Hill . It was spectacular and a must for any clear day.
The next day we woke up early and headed into the V&A to the Red Clock Tower to have a tour of Robben Island. We took a ferry housing about 250 people across to the island. Once arriving, tour buses waited and the large group was divided into smaller groups of about 50. The tour buses went around the island pointing out places of interest including an Islamic shrine, guard housing and villages, WWII defensive armaments and more. We then got off the bus and had a guided tour of the prison by an ex-political prisoner. It was fascinating to see the infamous prison along with Comrade Mandela’s cell and its shocking smallness.
Other highlights included shopping at the V&A and wandering along the waterfront, exploring Long Street and making many brilliant purchases, renting motorcycles and cruising the twisty roads, seeing the penguins and walking to the lighthouse at Cape Point and braaiing on the balcony of Emile and Alinda’s beautiful Blouberg flat (thanks again).
*Cape Town is known as the ‘Mother City’