Namibia    More information below videos.
 
AFRICA!   Cape Town to Windhoek Part 2
Experiencing the Namib Desert, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Tsauchab River bed, climbing red sand dunes, Dead Vlei,  Sesriem Canyon, Solitaire, Tropic of Capricorn, Walvis Bay & the Skeleton Coast.
 
 
AFRICA!   Cape Town to Windhoek Part 3
Highlights quad-biking over and sand-boarding down Namib desert dunes, Swakopmund, a lichen field, Herero tribe, Twyfelfontein ancient rock art and the Darmaraland petrified forest.
 
 
AFRICA!   Cape Town to Windhoek Part 4
Features wildlife around an Etosha National Park waterhole and game safaris.  Encounters with the Khorixas and Himba people before moving on to Windhoek.
 
 
AFRICA!   Windhoek to Livingstone Part 1
Another leg of Travel Tales Africa! adventure begins with G.A.P's  "Delta and Falls Discoverer" leaving Windhoek and visiting with the San (Bushmen) before crossing the border into Botswana.
 
              
July 3 continued ...

We knew we were camping tonight by the Orange River but we were most pleasantly surprised with the comfortable tents at Felix Unite. Each tent had single beds with real mattresses, hotel quality bedding and were lit by a small oil lamp ... the bathroom was a short walk away.

A chicken braai dinner was prepared for us in the open sided wood and reed shelter.

We finished off the evening with a nightcap in the outdoor bar and the good news that Gerda had been picked up from the border and was safe in South Africa. Attempts were already underway to have her rejoin us later in the trip.

 

 

July 4

Sherrie was up before sunrise with her camera.

By the time she got back the large cone-shaped kettle was steaming and Gerda had made it back across the border in time for breakfast.

 

 [Photo of Gerda, Joseph and Guts pouring the big kettle.]

"Don’t expect this kind of comfort the next time we camp," said Guts as we packed up our gear and headed back out onto Namibia’s dirt roads.

Yesterday, shortly after crossing the border, Guts did a count down "... 5 ... 4 ... 3 ...", he glanced out the front window "... 2 ...", another glance ".... 1 !! We are now officially in Namibia!" he said with excitement as we left one of Namibia’s tar roads, which link major centres, and hit ... literally hit ... one of the more common gravel roads. "Isn’t this great! Now we can FEEL Namibia as well as see it!"

While we were spending the day in Cape Town atop Table Mountain and touring the city, Joseph had taken the bus in for maintenance, a new right front tire and an extra spare tire and rim.

Driving these roads takes skill, patience, concentration and kidneys on springboards. No need for speed signs; if the pot holes don’t slow you down the gullies bottoming out on a river bed will. Namibia’s gravel roads undulate with the landscape. It would be to costly to try to level then out and would be a exercise in frustration as a road’s condition at any given time is only as good as heavy rains, winds, dust storms and road graders will allow. The grader operators have a steady job and their commute to work is not a long one ... just a step outside their mobile tent and into the cab of their machine. Namibian roads are the kind of roads men talk about over a beer as though they were telling fish stories. "I was driving in Namibia late one night when I saw a rabbit on the road. Not wanting to run over the little critter, I stopped. Good thing I did, it wasn’t a rabbit at all but a giraffe in a pothole."

"Okay, G.A.P Group ... everyone out!" We had been watching the flat landscape around us with low mountains in the distance ... there was nothing out there except the odd tumbleweed and spaced telephone poles. What could we possibly be getting out for?

"Line up G.A.P Group. Make one long line right over here." Like sheep we followed Guts’s instructions (except Sherrie who had to get a photo of this peculiar behaviour).

"Come on, Sherrie, you too." She joined the line with our backs towards the sun. "Okay G.A.P Group make funny shadows."

Nothing brings strangers together quicker than making idiots of themselves in the middle of Namibia’s flatlands.

It is amazing what the near desert will produce if given water. The Cape Orchard Company grows table grapes ... hectares and hectares of grapes which are sold in the United Kingdom, Europe and the Middle and Far East. Next to the fields, workers live in colonies of grass dwellings, some with metal roofs.

 

If it were not for the signs ... and for our guide and driver having been there before ... we would not have recognized that within the flat appearing valley, there was yet another valley ... a canyon.

The Fish River Canyon is the second largest in the world, surpassed only by the famous Grand Canyon in Arizona. For approximately 180 km the Fish River, Namibia’s longest river, snakes through the canyon within steep walls that soar up to 550 metres high and 27 km wide. We were at the Hobas viewpoint. It was windy and cold as we walked from one viewpoint to another and posed for our first G.A.P Adventures group photo.

Let us introduce you: left to right:

Ros, Meredith, Stacey behind Kelley, Terry and Sherrie, Nadine, Joseph, Sam in front of Alistair, Carley, Debbie, Kaye, Hartley, and in front with the yellow scarf is Dana (allergic to sun), Fiona, Nick (from England), Nick (from Edmonton) and Jim.

Twenty kilometres away from the Hobas viewpoint, we stopped for lunch at the Canon Roadhouse. It’s not a large place and any available corner is taken up with interesting antiques, like an old enamel stove, washtub, gas pumps and post office mailboxes. Old cars add to the outside decor and prove they have been there for awhile by their patina and the cacti growing through the engine compartment. We were still comfortable from breakfast so tried to order the lightest things on the menu, telling each other that dinner tonight would be "eat-in" at our accommodations; we had accumulated enough snacks to tide us over nicely.

Also outside the Canon Roadhouse are two Bastard Quiver trees (Aloe pillansii). We had seen them elsewhere breaking the low arid landscape. Its English name was penned because the San (bushmen) used the tree’s soft branches to fashion quivers for their arrows. This iconic tree of southern Africa is known to reach the ripe old age of 450 years but rain pattern changes because of climate change have caused its lifespan to shorten considerably. As older plants are dying and few seedlings are successfully sprouting, the Bastard Quiver is in danger of becoming extinct with estimates suggesting less than 3,000 remaining in the wild today.

A quick pause that refreshes was taken at Seeheim Hotel.

It started to rain and Joseph’s job became doubly hard even at lower speeds. Somehow, without sliding off the road or getting stuck in mud holes, he got us to Gondwana Sperrgebiet Rand Park Lodge. Ahhh we’re here ... we thought. Guts told us to stay put and he would be right back. He had just checked us in at the main lodge; Joseph still had to slip, slide and spin wheels in muck holes for another twenty minutes in order to reach the lodge’s ‘Geisterschlucht’ dormitory (self catering accommodation).

The name of the dormitory, ‘Geisterschlucht’, means Ghost Canyon and the eerie low cloud seemed to echo that sentiment.

The ‘dorm’ had three rooms plus a bathroom area with showers and chemical toilets. The first room, more like an enclosed veranda than a room, had a few damp tables and chairs, wooden kitchen counters with a sink and a raised fireplace. The walls were solid rock to about thigh height; above, the only thing solid about the stick walls, were the windows facing front. There was also a door and window between this room and the second which held four bunk beds to sleep eight. The bunk sitting tight to the window was also pushed up against an abandoned fireplace. This room had three doors, one leading back to the kitchen, one leading to the toilet facilities and the third to another bedroom with six more bunk beds and a window to the kitchen.

Guts asked if we wanted to have girls in one room and boys in the other or co-ed. Co-ed was the resounding response with one identified person adding, "old folks in one room and the rest of us in the other."

Joseph backed the bus up as close as he could to the doorway and we off loaded the bags, two propane gas hot plates and two propane tanks. No sooner did we get everyone settled into who was going to sleep where, when the power went off. After some fumbling around in the dark and quiet mutterings, flashlight (Brits, Aussies and Kiwis call them ‘torches’) and headlamp light started filling small areas. Sherrie remembered seeing a candle in the kitchen. She lit it with a not too damp match and put it on one of the kitchen tables away from the puddles of dripping water. The wind came through the wide cracks between the wall sticks and blew it out. Guts found the fuse box but couldn’t get the power back on.

Using one of the four remaining matches, Guts managed to start both burners on one of the propane hot plates and put it on the counter in hopes, futile though they were, to warm the windswept room. Darkness, dampness and cold settled in and people were anxious to go somewhere warm for dinner.

"Are you sure you don’t want to change your mind and come?" Guts asked. We glanced at each other wondering what the other really wanted to do.

"No, we’re fine."

"You’re staying here?" someone asked in amazement. "Are you crazy?"

"You’ve got to be kidding," someone else added.

"We actually kind of enjoy this sort of thing. We have some snacks. We’ll be fine."

"Alright then," and with that they all left and piled back into the bus. We wondered if they would get stuck in a mucky hole. We didn’t envy Joseph having to battle the darkness, rain and terrible water soaked roads.

We didn’t waste much time getting settled in. Sherrie pulled one of the tables to a dry spot, wiped down two of the chairs and relit the candle using the propane stove to save a match. The wind through the walls blew it out again. This wasn’t going to work.

We surveyed the second room; it would be warmer ... well, at least less breezy. A table wouldn’t fit through the door and would take up too much room. Instead we took the plastic container that holds pots and pans into the second room and put a towel tablecloth on top.

Terry moved in two chairs and the propane hot plate, putting it on the floor between the chairs. In the light of the candle, which now stayed lit, we got our bag of goodies and spread our bounty on top of the towel: four different kinds of gourmet cheeses and the complimentary bottle of wine from Zevenwacht Wine Estates, dried ostrich from Cango Ostrich Farm, crackers and apples from a market we stopped at yesterday and for dessert some fine rich Tomes Chocolate from Blacksberg Wine Estates. We huddled over the propane stove, sipped wine from the bottle, nibbled our delicacies and laughed. These are the kind of travel moments that become the fondest of memories.

After cleaning up and putting things back we took off our shoes and climbed into our bunk beds, in the second room, pushed up against the window and the unused fireplace. Water dripped down from the seeping roof above Terry’s head and splashed against the cone shaped chimney, what didn’t splash on Terry, dribbled down the rest of the chimney and dripped from the firebox opening onto the bed-high hearth to give Sherrie just a hint of what Terry was experiencing. We squished ourselves further down the bed and under the blankets.

We were just drifting off when the others arrived back and teased us for staying here in the cold and wet and eating leftover snacks. We smiled, closed our eyes and rolled over.

July 5

We got up before the rest with intentions of starting a fire in the kitchen’s fireplace and putting on hot water for washing and coffee. It had rained all night and the roof had leaked. Anything we had brought in from the bus was now damp. After having to disturb Guts for matches, we lit the propane stove first and then the candle. It blew out again. By putting a dishcloth over a dish rack and using it as a windbreak, we were able to keep it lit. On the floor of the fireplace there was a deep puddle of water and more was coming down the chimney ... it would not allow a fire.

As the others got up without light, without heat and without hot showers ... their focus was to leave and find someplace warm ... and dry. Only the very caffeine-needy stopped long enough for coffee as Joseph once again backed up the bus to the door.

The breakfast buffet at the lodge was plentiful. The porridge was hot, as was the coffee. Holding a cup of the hot brew was as pleasurable as drinking it. Once we were full, warm and had caught up on world soccer scores, we ran to the bus and wished Joseph a trouble free driving day.

 

The windows in the bus were constantly steaming up and Guts continued to wipe Joseph’s window with newspaper while the rest of us used our sleeves to clear spots in order to see the limited view, punctuated now and then with antelope and ostrich.

The rain ceased as we stopped for a stretch and to have a closer look at a Social (or Sociable) weaver nest. These little sparrow-related birds are aptly named for as many as three or four hundred of them can live together in a single "apartment block". By pushing straws, one by one, into this freeform structure, it is continually added to and maintained by all its inhabitants. The trouble is, they don’t know when to stop. Some of these architectural masterpieces are more than a century old and can become so heavy that they break branches upon which they settle.

 
 

Living in a large common nesting site has considerable advantages over small isolated nests when it comes to living in the desert. Days can get blistering hot; the thick thatch roof keeps the apartments beneath nice and cool. At night when desert temperatures can fall below freezing, the thatch acts like insulation for the nest chambers, maintaining much of the heat from the day, so the birds inside remain snug and warm.

Not all the chambers are for nesting, some are simply bedrooms in which several of the colony members snuggle together for warmth. So comfortable are these rooms that they are sometimes appreciated by others, like lovebirds, barbets, tits and finches. Vultures, owls, eagles and even geese have found the weaver’s roofs to be handy ready-made nesting platforms.

While we oohed and ahhed under the weaver’s nest, Guts was proving once again he is a ‘company man’ who takes a negative and turns it into a positive. This time, using his finger, he was writing "G.A.P Adventures" in the dirt covering the bus.

 

Helmeringhausen is a little ... real little ... town sitting on a limestone plateau amidst distant mountains and plains peppered with thorn bushes and succulents. Our purpose for stopping was to pick up a sandwich for lunch on the road and to allow Joseph to top up the gas tank. A visit to ‘the’ store in town reminded us of all-purpose stores we had seen in other small towns, offering everything from tools to toilet paper.

   

While waiting to board the bus again, the rest of us added to Guts’s in-mud-advertising with our own names, countries and sayings.

 
 
 
 
 
 

Clouds parted and the sun broke through showing blue sky. We shed our raincoats and heavy fleeces.

"Boys on the left. Girls on the right." It was toilet break time, but no toilets in sight.

The bus was used as a privacy wall. For some it was a hard reality to grasp and they went off in search of vegetation taller than their kneecaps. Some headed a distance down the road.

Jim and Terry decided to walk up the hill behind the bus. "Hey, have a look at this big guy," Terry called out to Jim. Guts was within hearing range.

 

"What’s going on over there?" Guts inquired questioningly. In a landscape which, at first glance doesn’t look like it has much to offer, in reality offers much to see.

"What’s this, Guts?" Terry asked looking down at a large bug. It looked like something out of a bad Japanese sci-fi movie ... body armour with spikes on the neck plate, long thorny legs with flexible feet, two thread-like antenna and a body similar to that of an armadillo.

"Oh, that," Guts said, not hesitating to bend down and pick it up, "is an armoured corn beetle. They are harmless." He picked up a second and took them onto the bus.

Joseph, pulled the bus forward stopping to pick up passengers as he approached them. Guts put the two beetles on his red shirt and sat on the seat opposite the door. It was fun to watch the reaction as people noticed; some pushed back as far as they could and squirmed passed, not taking their eyes off Guts or the bugs; while others bent in for a closer look. We were wondering how Nadine, who doesn’t like small unidentified creatures, would react. Joseph stopped again to let Nadine and Hartley board. Much to Guts’s disappointment and our amazement, Nadine stopped and talked to Guts about something without noticing the 60mm long bugs right in front of her and then continued down the aisle and took her seat. The bus exploded with laughter.

"What? What?" Nadine questioned, looking around to see what she had missed and still not noticing the corn beetles making their way up to Guts’s neck.

"You didn’t notice my friends," Guts pointed to his chest. It was then that Nadine screamed, jumped back and covered her eyes. Guts, didn’t approach her but instead extracted the insects from his shirt, climbed down from the bus and put them safely on the side of the road, telling them to be careful and have a nice life.

Trees gave way to cacti as we got closer to the Namib Desert.

 

Our night’s lodgings, at Nubib Nature Camp, were individual cottages made in adobe fashion with canvas tent-style windows. We were pleased to see extra blankets piled on one of the deep window sills, because the sun was setting and already the desert air was cooling down rapidly.

When we walked over to the main building, where the owner’s family was serving dinner, the moon was on the rise in the royal blue sky. A lone tree and distant mountains created silhouettes against the sun’s last rays.

 
 
 
 

Later, walking back to our cottage, we were surrounded with blinding black ... no house lights ... no street lights ... no city lights in the distance ... just black. It was even difficult to see our outstretched hands without a flashlight ... but ... the moon and stars were unbelievably brilliant. The milky-way spilled across velvet black. This is how the ancients would have seen it ... clear ... without air pollution or light pollution ... we understood why they named it ‘the milky way’.

 

July 6

It was still dark when we got up around 04:30. Guts had said it would be worth our while to do so. He wanted us to be at Namib-Naukluft National Park when the gates opened at sunrise. "It will be worth it; you’ll see."

"Namib" means "open space" and the Namib Desert, thought to be the Earth’s oldest desert (at least 55 million years), gave its name to the country ... "Namibia ... land of open spaces." These dunes are the world’s tallest, some rising more than 300 meters (almost 1000 feet) above the desert floor. The winds created them, but today they are settled and relatively stable with only the tops shifting slightly, one way or the other, by changing winds.

Their colouring is magnificent ... a painter’s ‘burnt sienna’ ... a rich rust colour ... and that is exactly what causes it ... rust ... the iron in the sand has oxidized, like rusty metal. The older the dune, the brighter the colour.

 
 

Guts demonstrated, with piles of sand, how the dune ridges run primarily north-south. We were travelling east to west on the dry riverbed of the Tsauchab River (great view on Google Earth ). Guts was right to have us up early ... the shadows accented the angles of the dunes and created a virtual candy-store of photo opportunities.

 
 

The park tries to keep people off most of the dunes but allows climbing on Dune 45. It’s a little like being in the world’s largest Crayola coloured sandbox. Guts suggested taking our shoes off to climb the dune; those who did, loved the feeling but complained that the sand, so soft and fine, was impossible to clean out from between the toes. Those who kept their shoes on didn’t miss having to clean their feet, but did miss out on the feeling. After our sandbox playtime, we ate boxed brunches and continued to drive deeper into the desert along the riverbed.

     

 
 
 
 
 

Guts has been in pursuit of a personal photograph of an Oryx against a red sand dune. He didn’t have any better luck today, but he was able to capture an ostrich. It is amazing that any animal or bird would venture into this parched territory of less then 10mm (0.4 inches) of annual rainfall and infrequent flash floods.

 

We transferred to 4x4s to go even further and when the 4x4s could drive no further, we got out and walked.

Photo by "Guts" 
 

Walking over the rust coloured sand of the Namib Desert on our way to Dead Vlei, Guts stopped numerous times to show us small local wildlife which manages to survive off morning mist and rare rainfalls. He picked up a couple of different beetles and then a shovel-snouted lizard. It took a lot of big people to catch one speedy little 11 cm long lizard whose gait is an odd one as it alternatively raises opposite front and hind legs high in the air as if it were on stilts, using the base of its tail for support.

The shovel-snouted lizard has another odd trait which Guts demonstrated, using Debbie as a model. When the little fellow ... actually we could not tell if it was male or female ... bites onto something, it won’t let go. Guts held it until it clamped onto Debbie’s earlobe and there it hung, like a piece of living jewellery, until he gently took it off. Don’t tell Paris Hilton, she just might give up her purse dog for a matching set of lizards.

   
 
 

Dead Vlei was once a shallow clay pan lake. The water allowed camel thorn trees to grow and thrive ... until the desert closed in. Some of the black, sun scorched tree skeletons, preserved by dry desert air, are believed to be about 900 years old.

 

Leaving the valley of dunes, we joined up with the Tsauchab riverbed again at Sesriem Canyon. In pioneer days, travellers would rest and water their animals here. They had to know where it was because, like the Fish River Canyon, it is almost impossible to discern it in the flat landscape.

 

The name, Sesriem, was derived from the need for those early visitors to lower a bucket down from the canyon rim to a pool of water at the bottom. To do so, they needed six (ses) leather thongs (reim). We hiked down to the bottom and then along the narrow riverbed between 30 metre high walls. This is winter, the dry season; in summer with heavy rains in the mountains, this slim canyon can witness flash floods with water wall to wall within minutes.

Most times of the year there is a small pool of water near the location where recently a huge, bus size, piece of canyon wall broke off and crashed to the floor. It was in spots such as this that two young German geologists, Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, sought refuge from internment during World War II. They lived a Robinson Crusoe existence for two and a half years. How they managed such a feat is the subject of their book, ‘The Sheltering Desert’.

   
 

We had our own geologist, Alister. He kindly gave us an impromptu lesson on the canyon’s two million year old sedimentary layers of gravel, sand and lime. Some holes in the canyon walls are inhabited by birds while storks have built a nest of thick branches, making use of the Canyon’s more moderate temperature swings and it’s supply of water.

 
 

Along the edge of the desert the land became more hospitable with natural grasses, still not in abundance but enough to satisfy herds of springbok.

Namib Desert Lodge, another of the Gondwanna group of accommodations, was a pleasant way to wrap-up a day of stimulating natural beauty. Fiona, Carley and Alister tried the winter temperature pool (not for long) while we, with visions of the red dunes still clearly in our mind’s eye, sipped a drink beside the pool and watched the sun set behind fossilized dunes of ancient Namib.

 

July 7

The view of the morning sun on the red-rust dunes from our little cottage reminded us of yesterday’s experiences and promised a clear sunny day for travelling.

At the T-junction of highways C-14 and C-19 is a place called Solitaire. As the name suggests, there is not much around it, so most people coming this way stop in. It started off in 1948 as a 33,000 hectare farm that Willem and Elsie van Coller bought from the government. They built the first man-made structures ... a two room cottage, a stone corral and a dam across the riverbed. Later the current shop was built and a gas pump installed. The shop became the regional post office with once a week pickup and delivery. Then came a little church and so on and so on. Old cars, motorcycles and a gas pump planted among the cacti are in keeping with local decorating styles. The "farm" was purchased by Mr. Martiz in 1968. Recently a motel with swimming pool and a campground have been added. It’s getting harder and harder to be solitary in Solitaire.

   
 

Unless you are a local, it would be most difficult to pass the "Tropic of Capricorn" sign (about 40 km north of Solitaire) and not have a picture taken ... so we did ... the three of us.

"Okay, G.A.P Group; boys on the left, girls on the right." This time there were no knee-high tumbleweeds for modesty ... only two options ... to pee or not to pee.

At the north-west corner of the Namib Desert, we joined up with the coast at Walvis Bay. Up until 1994, Walvis Bay and its offshore islands were held by South Africa. Now they have been incorporated into the Republic of Namibia. Walvis Bay, dominated by its fishing industry, is considered Namibia’s major port and the lagoon Namibia’s most important wetlands.

 
 
 

For lunch we went to the Raft Restaurant which stands on tip-toe stilts at the edge of the lagoon ... prices reasonable, food quite tasty, the atmosphere and view relaxing and ideal.

Heading north from Walvis Bay, we passed Brad and Angelina’s home; they were out somewhere with the kids.

   

Along the coast road Guts pointed out the reason for Walvis Bay’s distinctive aroma. It was an unimpressive, flat topped, man-made "island". With all the fishing in the area, some brilliant fellow took the waste products, turned them into fish meal creating the "fish meal fertilizer capital of the world" and became stinking rich in the process. After forty years, however, a number of residents are creating a stink of their own saying the city has discovered its tourism potential and the income which could be generated ... but ... "the smell has got to go or the tourists won’t come."

 

Northward we drove with Namib Desert dunes on our right and the Atlantic Ocean on our left. This area was named the Skeleton Coast because of all the bleached whale and seal bones which covered the shore when the whaling industry was still active, as well as the skeletal remains of shipwrecks scattered along its often foggy coastline.

We reached Swakopmund (meaning mouth of the Swakop River), Namibia’s second largest town. In the summer months, December and January, Swakopmund’s population swells with people trying to escape the desert heat and cool themselves with ocean breezes; but this is winter and we were looking forward to some fun in the sun. To that end, we stopped in at Desert Explorers Adventure Centre and saw a video on all the activities they offer. Many in our group signed up for skydiving and sand boarding.  Their ad said, "Quad biking with Desert Explorers is the best way to experience the pristine beauty of the Namib Desert and its magnificent dunes." It continued with, "No prior experience is needed and you will never be too old ... Do it or regret it!" We signed up for tomorrow.

July 8

One of the Desert Explorer guides explained the tour groups ... there are three. Fast for those with experience who wanted an adrenalin rush; moderate for those who wanted some adventure and a little speed; easy for those who wanted to take it easy, safe and see the views. Continuing without hesitation, he described the different quad bike styles ... there were three. First there were the "fully automatic over here," he pointed right and Sherrie followed his direction. The other choices were full gears, which would require using a clutch between gears, and on the left were the semi automatics; 6 gear changes, no clutch ... Terry went over there, as did Guts, Gerda and Alistair.

"Everybody ready? Lets pull out?"

On the left side Guts pulled out following the guide, then Terry, Gerda and Alister. Behind them a guide and another group pulled out. Lastly another guide with Carley, Dana, Fiona and Sherrie.

Sherrie was aware she was in the easy group but many of the others didn’t know that "pull out" meant pick a group and follow the leader. Consequently Dana, Fiona and Carley were soon frustrated with the lack of speed and challenge in the easy group and Terry was having the experience of a lifetime.

 
Photo by "Guts" 

The leader of the fast group, in which Terry now found himself, kept pushing the limits. He would fly over a dune with Guts doing the same thing close behind. "If Guts can do it so can I," was Terry’s mantra (not aware that Guts is an accomplished motorcyclist and that Terry was too naive to know better); and he too leaped over dunes and made rooster tail turns.

"You’re a wild man, Mister Terry." Guts exclaimed.

"What a rush!" Terry said to Sherrie when they met up at a high dune for sand boarding.

After a few minutes instruction those willing to hurl themselves down a steep slope of sand, were given a board, rough on one side and waxed on the smooth "race base" (sand dune) side. They started off at a "lower" dune elevation while Sherrie parked herself halfway down the slope to take photos. Guts also took his camera and got some great shots.

 
 
 
 
Photo by "Guts"   

For the second run, those who dared to venture up further carried their boards to the top of the dune while Guts moved to a lower position and clicked some keepers including Meredith’s incredible wipe-out.

Photo by "Guts" Photo by "Guts" Photo by "Guts"

There were a number of wipe-outs.  Yesterday we thought cleaning out sand from between toes was difficult ... Meredith was discovering sand packed crevices on and about her body for days to come.

Photo by "Guts" Photo by "Guts" Photo by "Guts" Photo by "Guts"

Carley, Dana and Fiona left the easy and joined the moderate group for the quad bike trip back to the Adventure Centre which left Sherrie alone with her guide. She felt a little guilty because she knew her guide also wanted to be more adventurous.

Guts told us that he had never guided a group before where such a high number of people signed up for activities. Sky diving ... including a number of the eleven who had never done it before ... and a number who will never do it again ... " been there, done that". Nick and Nick did the stand-up style of sand boarding. Many did multiple adventures. Debbie and Nadine who took the Township Tour faced their own challenges including eating a traditional township lunch. Debbie brought back appetizers to share with others at dinner.

"Mister Terry" continued on his wild ways, as did Hartley, Dana and a couple of others when Debbie passed around her "appetizer" bag of Mopani worms. They are not actually worms but a caterpillar which may become a moth, if not eaten. They are an important source of protein for millions of southern Africans. They were dead ... perhaps fried and were washed down with a long swig of heady beer ... it had been a heady kind of day.

July 9

A short way up the coast, north of Swakopmund, we stopped at a lichen field.

Though the fields experience little or no rainfall, the ocean fog brings moisture in the air and gives life to over 100 different kinds of lichen. Lichen is a special kind of plant with a perfect interaction between two living things, algae and fungi. These lichen form a protective crust on the desert surface providing food and shelter for a variety of beetles and small animals.

Guts picked up one of the tiny beetles to show us.

The lichen fields along the Namibian coastline are unique worldwide. The rare orange species (teloschistes capensis), which becomes brighter when fog rolls in, is a bushy variety which can grow to 10cm high, while others lie flat on the rocky gypsum surface. We were careful not to step on any of this delicate plant life.

Making a right hand turn on C35, a straight gravel highway stretches on ... and on ... and on ... and ... There is a saying about this road, "If your wife leaves you, you can watch her leave for three days."

 

At Brandberg Rest Camp we took a lunch break, stretched our legs and met the owner of the past four years, Basil. He looks a little like a desert pirate with Kiki, the African grey parrot on his shoulder and a jolly har-thar-matey type personality to match.

Elephants!

We were not in a game farm nor in a wildlife reserve ... just wild, open, Namibia. Long ago elephants were free to roam all the way from the edge of the Sahara Desert to the Cape of Good Hope. They used to follow migratory routes with elders teaching young where to find food and water.

If the 600,000 elephants living in Africa today had their way, they would still be trekking their ancient routes.

Herero are one of Namibia’s main tribes. Most Herero women are easily recognizable by their ankle-length dresses with tight bodices and long puffed sleeves. Their dress, now regarded by them as traditional, was adapted from Victorian era European fashion brought to Africa by German missionaries. On their heads they wear a cloth wrapped headdress which is formed to symbolise the horns of cattle – their most valuable possession.

Traditionally, the Herero were nomadic pastoralists but after contact with Europeans in the mid-1800s, many became subsistence farmers growing grain, raising sheep, cattle and fowl and, more recently, selling homemade crafts to tourists. The most well known craft is their cloth dolls. We stopped by a roadside stand for a closer look.

One of the ladies, with braided hair and not in traditional dress, used wooden crutches to get around ... the result of being bitten by a Puff Adder.

These bad tempered snakes with long fangs and toxic venom, have excellent camouflaging ability which makes them extremely dangerous. Their reluctance to flee and their habit of sunning themselves by footpaths are the reasons why this snake is responsible for most snakebite fatalities in Africa. This lady was asleep in her home when she was bitten, but at the time she didn’t know by what. Over a number of days her leg hurt and became very swollen. It wasn’t until she was cleaning her home that she came across the snake. By the time her father got her to medical care it was too late to save her leg but they did save her life. Today she sells crafts at the roadside stand and will do a little hair braiding for a small charge.

Our next stop was at the Twyfelfontein National Heritage Site, a UNESCO World Heritage site, to view ancient rock art. People have lived at Twyfelfontein for more than 5,000 years. They were hunter-gatherers for most of that time, relying on an isolated spring during the dry months of the year. These people left behind large quantities of stone tools, fragments of bone and beads. Over the last three generations people knew the rock art was here but stayed away from the sites because they thought then to be powerful places, ‘like graves’ and the rock art the work of ‘ancestors’, since no living link to the art remained.

 

Today a community of about 50 people live immediately outside the Twyfelfontein Reserve. Aged between 17 and 35, a number of them work as guides. Tours at Twyfelfontein must be conducted by a local guide and Guts was not allowed to accompany us because "outside guides may intimidate local guides." The woman who was our guide was the most uninformative and uninspiring guide we had met in Africa. A sign said the guides have "a strong pride in their work" but unfortunately ours only showed boredom.

For those who had seen a petrified forest before, this one in Damaraland was not impressive. Those who had not, found it somewhat interesting, not what they imagined, but then it is hard to imagine a 250 million year old "forest". These particular trees had no branches or roots, which suggested they had grown elsewhere and had been carried to their present location by rivers or floods. The trunks were deposited in this silica rich environment and had their contact with oxygen cut off which prevented decay. During the course of time, molecules of silica penetrated the wood, replacing wood molecules and turning the trunk to stone. This site was declared a national monument in 1950 after suffering damaging attacks by souvenir hunters.

The fellow who was our local guide at this site was much more personal than the last, but once he had imparted the above information there was not much else to share so, to give us our money’s worth, he talked about local flora and their language of clicks. It had been a long day, the sun had already set and showing the baby blue and pink glow of an unpolluted sky. Without taking anything away from him, it was time to move on and get settled into our night’s accommodation at Igowati Lodge in Khorixas.

 
 
 

July 10

Namibia’s Himba people are traditional nomadic pastoralists. The women tend to do more labour-intensive work than men and take turns caring for each other’s children.

The Himba wear little clothing. The women are famous for covering their bodies and braided hair with a mixture of butter fat, reddish-brown ochre and herbs to protect themselves from the sun and insect bites. Modern clothes usually go to the men when available. We were told that women who adopt western dress and ways, are chastised by their tribes.

Tourism has changed their lives and groups of women will come into town to sell crafts ... but find it more lucrative to collect money from tourists taking photos. We were told to ask "how much" and agree on a price before taking photos ... even then there are "misunderstandings". A woman will indicate 10. The tourist agrees and takes a photo and pays the mother 10. Then the woman gets upset and indicates it was to be 10 for each person in the picture, or your camera clicked more than once so you owe more; anything to extract more than the agreed upon price. Men step in to interpret and the orchestrated bickering takes away from the experience.

 
 

We entered Etoshia National Park where we would be camping for two nights at Okaukuejo.

Etosha means ‘Great White Place of Dry Water’ in reference to the massive mineral pan which covers almost 25% of the Park. Etosha is noted for its excellent game viewing around numerous waterholes. We set up our tents near one of the watering holes and then quietly settled in to watch an ever changing parade of animals ... elephant, springbok, zebra and oryx.

 
 

Our viewing was only interrupted by a game drive in our bus.

Our eyes scanned the great expanse of flat land between us and the horizon which was only interrupted by the odd tree and the creatures who make this home. "Secretarybird!" Terry called out. This large bird with an eagle-like body stepped through the long grasses on crane-style legs and is the only bird of prey to habitually hunt for prey, primarily snakes, on foot.

"Lions!" Two lionesses were gorging themselves on an oryx while two jackals crept nearer in the tall grass waiting for an opportunity to move in and snatch some of the prize for themselves.

 

One lioness got up, stretched and looked around; the jackals sank to cover. We watched in wonder.

"She’s full now and thirsty," said Guts. "She’ll head to a waterhole to drink. Let’s get ahead of her."

Joseph stopped where Guts suggested and we waited in anticipation.

It wasn’t long before Guts’s prediction proved correct. She walked towards us with a purposeful, competent, fluid gait; muscles moving the powerful yet relaxed engorged body, blood still thick on her face and evidence of a gash across her back made by the oryx’s horn or hoof ... our camera’s clicked and video camera’s whirred.

It was a National Geographic moment. She saw us but didn’t react, knowing full well the advantage was hers, and passed by without hesitating or changing her stride.

Photo by "Guts" 

Photo by "Guts" 

We moved down to the waterhole and waited for her to arrive. In the distance, in the opposite direction from the lioness, what at first looked like a rock, was a male lion. He too was strutting towards the waterhole.

He hesitated and then moved closer ... hesitated again ... moved closer ... and stopped.

What was he seeing? What was he smelling?
Photo by "Guts"   
Photo by "Guts"  Photo by "Guts" 
Photo by "Guts"

Our thirsty lioness came into view on the other side of the waterhole. The lion stopped and watched. She kept approaching. He stayed still, his eyes watching her every move. She drew near to the water. He turned around and walked in the same direction as he had come, stopping only briefly to look over his shoulder for a confirming glance and then left. The lioness crouched down behind a mound of dirt to drink from the waterhole as the sun hid itself beyond the horizon.

Guts, now wearing the head chef’s hat ... well, not literally ... prepared a terrific braai (bar-b-que) of kudo, while Gerda and others pitched in to make salads and pap. Pap is a staple food in Africa ... a traditional porridge, or gruel, made from ground maize. After filling ourselves with the delicious meal, the men carried the dishes, pots, pans and cooking utensils to one of the cook shacks to wash and dry.

The evening wasn’t over. The nearby waterhole is lit at night and has a semicircle of park benches behind a low rock wall with fencing below on the animals’ side. In Etosha, the animals have become accustomed to this waterhole being lit and accept it as "normal"; it’s sounds that they react to so the audience speaks in whispers ... when speaking is necessary.

 Photo by "Guts"

 

Sherrie’s camera needed batteries, so she made a dash back to our tent and found that all the wild animals were not on the other side of the rock wall. Jackals had caught scent of our braai and had used the opportunity, when no humans were around, to see what they could find. They caught Sherrie a little bit by surprise and she caught them by surprise. Staying still she watched them ... they showed no interest in her at all, their focus was finding the source of the kudo smell, ... so she continued to the tent and returned to the waterhole.

Photo by "Guts" Photo by "Guts" 

We sat back, put our feet up on the rock wall and watched ... the critically endangered black rhinoceros ... giraffe ... so many more ... it was better than any tv program ... far better.

Like children wanting to stay up late to watch their favourite show, we struggled at the thought of leaving and going to bed. On the positive side ... it would still be on the same channel in the morning.

     

July 11

 

Sherrie was at the waterhole by 05:30 and sat for an hour but "nothing" was happening ... a few zebra and springbok.

Hot water for coffee and tea bubbled on the propane hot plate. Breakfast was cold cereals, milk and fruit ... something fast and light (more in keeping with what we have at home), so we could get a good start on the day with a game drive.

"Hyena!" Sherrie called out and Joseph stopped and waited until this hunter-scavenger reappeared in the long dry grasses.

Passing jackal, zebra, ostrich and the ever present springbok, we drove out to another waterhole. It was busy with zebra, springbok, ostrich, wildebeest and oryx.

The oryx with it’s black and white "clown" face is an antelope species native to Africa. They prefer near-desert conditions and are able to survive without water for long periods. Their long, straight, swept back horns can be lethal. They have been known to kill lions. They are also dangerous to drivers. When a vehicle hits an oryx, sometimes the horns penetrate the windshield either maiming or killing an occupant. Unfortunately these impressive horns also make the animals prized as trophy game, which has led to near-extinction of two northern species.

 
 

 

One little zebra would every so often break away from the rest, tear around on his own and back again ... show off!

As nice as this was, we wondered what was happening back at our ‘home’ waterhole. Lots.

 
 

There didn’t seem to be any one "rush hour" at the waterhole; animals came and went, passing each other in the process ... kudo, wildebeest and zebra (the latter two never seem to be far apart) and giraffe and ... .

At one point we were photographing a black rhino when it started to walk closer and closer ... and then closer.

 
 

The black rhino’s mouth is pointed to grasp leaves and twigs which is different from the white rhino’s which is flat, square which is useful for grazing. Contrary to their names the black and white rhino are not really distinguishable by colour; the word ‘white’ was derived from the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’ describing their mouth.

Rhinos have terrible eyesight and rely on smell and hearing (their ears rotate like antenna). This fellow must have smelt or heard something that got him curious. He came even closer ... and closer ... until the wall would not let him come any further. He looked up ... we could see each wrinkle, each eyelash ... he was close ... really really close. We took our photos and then stopped ... everything was silent ... we marvelled at the moment ... savouring each second with this incredible beast.

He turned and walked away and then, to our surprise, as though he did not believe what his poor eyes had seen, he returned ... up close and personal ... for another look.

 
 

Sunset over the waterhole was rich in African colours. Most of the G.A.P Group went out for dinner. We preferred leftovers, so made ourselves some sandwiches, grabbed a breakfast apple and headed back to the waterhole ... a whole premiere episode there to watch ... rhinos grunting and challenging each other with mock charges ... hour after hour after hour they would do the same thing, while activity around the waterhole continued. At one point news spread that lions had brought down a kill in the vicinity. We waited until after midnight in hopes of seeing the lions come for a drink but they didn’t come until 02:30 ... after we had finally gone to bed.

July 12

It was a leisurely morning with some time spent at the waterhole, watching elephants, before breakfast around the fire pit. After that came the job of dismantling our tents, unplugging our electronic devices (it is amazing how many cameras, phones and battery chargers you can hook up to one of these post-in-the-ground plugs without blowing a fuse) and squeezing all the tents and mattresses back into the trailer. It eventually took seven people to close the lid and two more to secure the locks. One false move and that thing would have blown open with tent poles and canvas flying everywhere like a New Years Eve party favour.

One last game drive through the park and then we exited Etosha. After dropping the trailer off at the storage facility (it was someone else’s problem now); we drove to the Auas City Hotel in Windhoek (pronounced Vint-hook). The afternoon was free time. There was a mall across the street but since it was Saturday afternoon most of the stores were closed. We found an internet café and then looked in store windows.

 
 
 

Windhoek is the end of G.A.P Adventures’ ‘Cape and Dunes Discovery’ tour. We would be losing four members of the group and gaining four. Leaving were Ros, Nick, Nick and Jim. Jim was moving on to do some volunteer work, here in Namibia, while his wife, Kay, continued on to Livingstone. Guts held a meeting at the hotel and introduced everyone to the new additions, a family of four from Ireland: Nile, Catherine, Sam and Luke.

 

Tonight we all had dinner together. Guts introduced us to his infamous "black book" in which he keeps the many failings, follies and foibles of G.A.P Group members as well as positives or particularly prominent performances.

Each member was recognized and presented with a well deserved "shooter" award. Honourable mentions included a shooter for perpetual tardiness, ones for forgetting glasses and cameras behind and for failing to turn in room keys. Under prominent performances, Meredith’s spectacular spill down the sand dune topped all others. We got off easy with Terry recognized for his game spotting abilities and Sherrie being dubbed ‘trip photographer’ which gave purpose to her constantly clicking camera. That’s enough alliteration for one night.

   

July 13

Windhoek is not only the capital city of Namibia but also claims to be the ‘art capital’ of Namibia because of its active community of artists and craftspeople.

We crammed everyone onto the bus and Joseph drove us to the Namibia Craft Centre. Once an old brewery, it now flows with shops featuring local crafts as well as works from other African countries.

   

 We picked up two music cds ... small, flat and easily carried in our backpacks.

Jim, not liking "goodbye"s left early in the morning. Outside the Craft Centre we said our goodbyes to Ros, Nick and Nick.

It was going to be a short travel day to Gobabis ... and a smooth one ... as we travelled the Trans-Kalahari Highway which is an important link from Windhoek to South Africa.

Gobabis is cattle country and known as the "Little Texas" of Namibia. Gobabis is so proud of its cattle farming that a statue of a large bull with the inscription "Welcome to Cattle Country" greets visitors to town.

By late afternoon we had pulled into SanDüne Private Lodge, got settled into our rooms and seated in and on top of 4x4s within a half hour. We were heading into the bush to meet the Bushmen. We were excited.

 
 
 

The San (Bushmen) are the oldest ethnic group in Namibia and genetic testing suggests they are one of the oldest in the world. There are about 27,000 San people left and only around 2,000 still follow traditional lifestyles. Groups (or bands) usually number 10 to 15 individuals and move around frequently to find new foods to gather, water resources and to follow migrating game.

When white men arrived in Africa, they pushed the San off any land they wanted to use for farming. Now the land upon which the San hunt is increasingly being used for grazing cattle. Fences are being erected to protect the cattle which in turn is changing the migrating patterns for wildlife. Being forced to live in restricted areas has been difficult for the San who struggle to understand the concept of private ownership and, since traditionally they have had no tribal leaders, it has been difficult for them to have a collective voice to express their grievances. The very people who have abused the San are now the people the San depend upon for the survival of their traditional ways.

The 4x4s bounced along a sandy path and when we stopped our surroundings didn’t look any different from that which we had been passing ... no people, no lodgings ... so we thought. In reality we were being watched by the Bushmen.

 

It was the toddlers who grabbed our attention first. The older shook Terry’s hand and then put the hand of the youngest up into Terry’s to shake. The excitement we had felt, knowing we were going to meet these people, intensified.

Their settlement, right there behind a low shelter of trees, had only a few temporary rain shelters made of branches and bark. There was a fire burning in the centre of the circular space which had been cleared of dry grasses. Women sat on animal hides placed flat upon the ground ... this is where they sleep.

   
 

People outside of southern Africa were introduced to the Bushmen and their language of clicks through the 1980 movie, "The God’s Must Be Crazy".

The band’s leader spoke in Afrikaans to Guts who interpreted for us. The men directed us away from the centre to show us some of their hunting skills; first how they would set a trap for ostrich. One fellow pretended to be an ostrich following a scattering of corn kernels until ... snap ... its neck (represented by the man’s arm) is caught in a noose . The noose worked so well and was so tight it took sometime for them to extract the man’s arm.

Guts asked the leader to have a conversation with another man of the band. The leader said something back to Guts and a short conversation ensued which ended in Guts doubling over in laughter.

 
 
 

When he stopped laughing, Guts explained, "I asked him to have a conversation in their clicking language so you could hear it. He asked me what I wanted him to say. I answered back ... ‘anything ... pretend you are out hunting ... have a conversation about hunting.’ He thought about it for a bit and finally told me ... ‘but when we are hunting, we don’t talk - it scares away the animals.’"

Guts laughed again and we joined in, which pleased the leader very much.

They then showed us how they would track with bow and arrow. Bushmen are excellent trackers and expert archers; they must be for their bows are relatively small and arrows travel less then 25 metres. To shoot their prey at such close range requires skill, great patience and nimble bodies.

What the reed-shafted arrow lacks in strength is made up by being dipped into a highly toxic poison ... even a tiny amount is fatal to humans. The poison’s recipe is known only to the San and is a concoction made from the larvae of a certain beetle mixed with plant ingredients. As yet, no one has found an antidote.

After having an opportunity to try shooting with their bows and arrows, our attentions turned to the women.

 
 
 

The oldest of the women wore a wide strip of leather as a headband. When she found out that some of us were Canadian, she turned the band inside out to reveal a large Canadian Flag emblem and some smaller Canadian pins. "She really likes Canadians," Guts explained.

San women are considered relatively equal with men. From infants, male and female children are trained to be neither submissive nor fierce and to freely express their emotions. While men hunt, women gather wild fruit, berries, nuts and wild onions which are rich in starch. The San are very knowledgeable of their surroundings and are able to identify hundreds of plant species.

 

In the spring and throughout the growing season they are mostly vegetarians. It is in the winter, the dry season when nuts are no longer available, they turn to hunting bush meat.

 

Traditionally, Bushmen, do not wear much clothing. Men are usually content with a small piece of animal skin threaded on sinew or cord passed between the legs and tied in front around the loins; and a piece of hide over their shoulders and back.

Women have pieces of skin wrapped like a skirt which is sometimes ornamented with beads. Women seldom wear any coverings over their shoulders or breasts except in very cold or rainy weather. The robes are also used as slings to carry babies, food or firewood. Men and women wear ornaments: necklaces and bracelets made from small pieces of bone, wood or ostrich eggshell.

They break an ostrich eggshell into small pieces. A stick with a sharp piece of metal, like a nail, on the end is twirled to drill a hole through the centre of the shell pieces which are then threaded onto string or gut. The length of beads is then rubbed back and forth in a groove on a long piece of wood to round off the corners of the eggshell bits. They had a few necklaces for sale and Sherrie picked one for herself. Terry asked Guts to inquire which of the women had made this particular necklace.

 

With pleasure the gentleman leader stepped forward and said with pride in Afrikaans, "I made that one."

Being nomadic, they have little desire for possessions other than those needed to survive. The person who owns the land on which this band is free to roam, has made arrangements with them. In exchange for the band allowing their lives to be interrupted occasionally by visitors, the owner will make sure there is game available (ie: ostrich and antelope) and will use tourist’s monies to pay for their children’s education as well as provide transportation to and from school.

The government is well intentioned when it comes to insisting on education to help young San people face a modern world, but this exposure to the "outside world" (fast food, clothing, appliances, computers and cell phones) is creating a desire for easier lives ... lives which are in stark contrast to the day-to-day survival which has, for thousands of years, required certain skills and disciplines. Guts explained that today’s generation will more than likely be the last to live their traditional way.

They sang and danced with joyful abandon and then asked us to join them for a dance around the fire.

   
Photo by Jill

It was with great reluctance we left these friendly, hospitable people. We understand their desires to have, what they have come to believe is, an easier life ... and in many ways it will be ... but we are sad for their children’s children and our children’s children, and following generations, who will not have an opportunity to see a lost way of life and meet a people from whom we can learn so much; and, in the process of being with them, become better world citizens.

continue to Botswana ...

go to top of page

  ©2008 Travel Tales.  All rights reserved. The information on these pages ... writings and pictures ... may not be reproduced without the written permission of Terry and/or Sherrie Thorne. If you have any questions, wish to use or want reproductions of pictures seen here please feel free to contact this site's  Webmaster