Africa

CDN Couple’s Great Africa Adventure (Part Two)


Photo credit: FLickr user benny_bloomfield

Following is the Day x Day tale of Mr and Mrs L who spent between October 25 and November 28, 2012 travelling in South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The retired but “young at heart” couple, who are ages 70 and 68 respectively, have travelled many long and taxing trips during the last 15 years. And now it was time to visit Africa.  

Read on. In part two of the four part series, we make our way through Namibia

November 13

Namibia

Namibia is calling us as we motor along with animals mostly in the distance such as an oryx (antelope with pointed antlers), wildebeast, baby springbock with parents in their herd, jackal leisurely stretched out on all fours devouring his prey, another stalking a springbock, a giraffe sitting lonely in the grass, a juvenile white backed vulture, a speckled eagle owl staring at us with his ‘owl’ eyes from a tree branch and many ostrich.

Leaving the Kalahari of SA at the isolated Namibia border crossing at Mata Mata, we continued our fascinating journey into the Namibian Kalahari, then through the Giant’s Playground, a part of the Karoo also previously seen in SA. It is an area filled with dolomite boulders piled erratically on top of one another in an artistic fashion, a wonder of nature left from the erosion of the earth’s surface in this semi-desert area 180 million years ago. Much of the areas have developed in this fashion.

Suddenly we were driving through a modern Keetmanshoop town typical of the mission station established communities which dot much of Africa. Dutch and German origins have predominated in the areas visited. This area comprises 20% of the size of Namibia and is home to many black sheep valued for their wool.

Fish River Canyon is a name hard to comprehend due to the lack of water flowing through it and consequently no fish and very little river. This canyon was created by changes in the earth’s crust and erosion by the previously plentiful water flow, making it second only to the Grand Canyon in the USA. SA Brut (aka Champagne) was served as we took in the spectacle at the rim of the canyon.

The particular lodge that we stayed in at Fish River was owned by a SA person. It is hard to believe that this lodge was on a piece of property that fronted on half of the 160km length of the Fish River and totalled 67,000 hectares or approximately 260 square miles.

Our SUV’s are tame compared to the 4×4 Toyota Land Cruisers and Jeeps that were used to ferry us from the lodges to our different viewing scenes, bumping along the long distances on the rutted and sometimes rock strewn or bouldered dirt roads.

The animals we encountered on this lodge property were situated quite distant from the pathways we travelled as the property had previously been a game farm where animals were hunted. The adjacent property still is a private game farm stocked with animals and is used for hunting. It appears that it will take quite a few generations for the animals to readjust to being accepting of the intrusions and for them to develop a trusting nature toward us.

November 14

Sesriem


Photo credit: Flickr user betty x1138

Entering the semi-desert exposes us to more of the ever changing scenery on the drive to Sessriem. A mirage ahead beckoned us. The mirage was a funky decorated restaurant and garden for a welcome lunch stop. Along the way were flat top mountains eroded over thousands of centuries. The famed Namib desert was hot and dusty right up to our arrival at our home for the next two nights in a desert tent constructed in a similar fashion to those at a previous lodge. M wandered over to a small pool, a beautiful oasis in the desert.

November 15

VERY early in the morning, we did breakfast and arrived for the 6 AM opening of the gate to the Sossusvlei to begin our adventure in the famous, colourful and changing sand dunes of Namibia, the world’s highest.

Our truck was only able to drive us in to a parking area about 15 km inside the park where we started to trudge our way across the desert sand toward the dunes. As the sun brightened the day, expanses of sand dazzled us in their miraculous shapes and variegated colours, mostly orange hues as you see pictured in magazines and documentaries. It is inconceivable that any artist could paint such a scene without having any prior knowledge of this world treasure.

Each dune was unique in its structure and formation. The sides and top surfaces were nature’s carvings producing intricate and beautiful designs. After a difficult walk of 5-6 km through and along the bases of many dunes and through many dried ancient water hole beds (pans), we reached ‘our’ dune which was waiting for us to climb to its top-most crest. The sand was extremely soft making each of us use leg muscles we didn’t know existed as we moved ourselves upward to the crest.

The local Bushmen or San had delivered their glitter stones (diamonds) which they had found, to white dealers and requested a reward for them. They were brought to this pan and slaughtered, thus the name Deadvlei (vlei meaning pan).

A 4×4 had been arranged to drive us back to our truck. Even after the climb and long walk to the 4×4, it seemed like an endless drive until we were reunited with our truck. Climbing the dunes was physically challenging as we had been out for about 3 ½ hours in bright sun on soft sand. Temperatures warmed until they were almost as hot as our summer heat wave this year and we had consumed almost 2 litres of water each.

November 16

After stopping at the Tropic of Capricorn for photos, we proceeded to the Badlands of Namibia. The desert continued until a modern city appeared out of nowhere with paved roads watered down to minimize the effect of windblown sand. The flamingos at Walvis Bay, this modern city on the west coast of Africa, had decided we were not important enough, so we missed seeing them in their wetlands, but we stopped anyway and lunched on the beach overlooking the busiest seaport in Namibia.

Namibia is a country with an economy that is ready to explode. Oil and diamonds, some gold and uranium mines have recently been discovered.

Shortly we were off for about 30 km to Swakopmund, a community established by the Germans so they would then have a beach head and a foothold in the area.

November 17

Swakopmund


Photo credit: Flickr user Tscherno

Swakopmund is very much a bustling town on its own as well as a tourist stopover on the route from all directions. Here we had the opportunity to fly in a six-seat Cessna 210.

Our destination was primarily to view desert sand dunes which we had walked and climbed upon and what a sight … even more spectacular to enjoy their natural beauty from above. The views of the colours, shapes and designs that we saw from above were of a wider expanse providing another perspective. The 2 ½ hour flight starting and ending on a sand airstrip also brought us over several canyons with rock sculptures and other creations that took millennia to produce. We viewed salt mining sites and exhausted diamond mines, as well as a shipwreck in the middle of a sand desert. The ship apparently was somewhat off-course when it hit a sandbar where it has remained. The intervening years saw an encroachment of the sand on the sea, the sand filling in the space from the seashore to and beyond the shipwreck.

November 18

A long days drive again … this is the way of overland travel … through another region that varied from wide gravel plains to sandy yet somewhat vegetated plains, to hot and dry valleys, to mountain ranges showing parallel ribbons of dark stripes in the rock faces at various angles, all so effective to the eye, that it was like a painting.

We stopped at a Herero tribe roadside craft stand. Here we encountered the women dressed in clothing fashioned after dresses worn by 19th century missionary wives who had come to convert them to Christianity.

Old does not go to waste. Your grandmother’s long forgotten and never to be seen again Singer sewing machine operated only by turning the wheel by hand is alive and well in Namibia. Dolls dressed in the Herero fashion were made from materials sewn on the Singer at this craft stand.

Other crafts were also offered by these women as well as by others found in each of the areas we visited, which included necklaces and bracelets with colourful pieces of stones, porcupine quills, ostrich egg shells and other sometimes exotic items to make these trinkets attractive and very inexpensive.

There is a multitude of souvenir items available anywhere you happen to be. Wood and stone carvings of every creature you can imagine from the giant elephants and rhinos to the small geckos and insects. Just as the variety is immense so are the sizes of some of the souvenirs. Shipping in many cases outweighs the item cost.

That evening we arrived at a lodge perched on a high ridge overlooking valleys an all sides. Our drive to the lodge was up a ridge just wide enough for a 4×4 land cruiser. Looking out from either side of the vehicle all one could see was a drop off to the valley below. Not a drive for the weak at heart …

November 19

Etosha National Park


Photo credit: Frank Vassen

Have we told you that mornings start VERY early? Well, today again, we awoke early, had breakfast and then went off to visit the Himba tribe in their traditional village. Along the way we were ‘waved’ over to see the wares of a number of exuberant young women in ‘full’ dress wearing nothing but skirts. Their topless waving was in vane as we were doubtful about what wares they had to sell!

Shortly thereafter, our truck arrived at the Himba village where we were met by young women in ‘full’ dress wearing nothing but their skirts. (Yes, the repetition from the above paragraph is correct.) As we were guided through this village, we were told that it was a traditional Himba culture village, but with a special purpose. This village housed young children who were orphans of Himba parents. The children were being cared for and nurtured by young volunteer Himba women along with their own children. We also found a Herero woman in this village and were informed that the two tribes spoke the same language (unusual for the African tribes as they almost all had their own language) and were only different in that the Himba moved to a different community.

The Himba women had a lighter coloured skin than the men as a result of the application of a natural copper coloured cosmetic made from a paste of ochre. Their entire body and hair had this colour applied to not only enhance their appearance, but it provided them protection from the sun.

Then, it was on to Etosha National Park, which provided us with another game drive as we ventured through the park along the way to our lodge, the largest of the accommodations we had so far attended. Warthogs and fields of termite mounds greeted us on route as well as some giraffes and their young ones. The lodge accommodated tourists like ourselves in permanent structures as well as having campsites available for individuals with their own or rented vehicles, food and equipment as well as organized safari vehicle tours outfitted with all the essentials for camping and eating. This last group were often responsible for pitching and packing their own tents as well as cooking their meals. As adventurous as it sounds, good luck folks!

When we arrived, we headed over to the lodge’s watering hole, to be entertained by three obviously male elephants (elephants with five legs) spraying themselves to keep cool. When they left, a small group of about 10 or so zebras arrived to take their place. It was as if there was a performance and each set of performers took the stage at the completion of the previous act. All the while the ensemble of springbock for this performance remained at stage left.

Once everyone had a chance to settle into their accommodations, we headed out in our truck again for an afternoon game drive with Mischek our driver/guide. We viewed giraffe mothers and babies, more zebras, more elephants and McDonald impalas (striped with a big letter M on their tushie) and a jackal.

After dinner, we returned in the dark to the waterhole which was now floodlit. There was a baby elephant followed by its mother. The elephants remained at the water hole drinking and spraying and then they slowly plodded away. Again the performance continued with the appearance of a mother rhino and her young one accompanied by another rhino, which we could not determine as male or female. Slowly the three of them made their way to centre stage at the edge of the waterhole. Some while later, we began to see some action between the two adult rhinos, starting with snorting by the single adult rhino towards the mother, all the while the child remained seemingly protected by its mother at her side. Soon after, each of the adults began to approach each other with their heads down and their two fiercely looking horns pointed at each other. They butted heads and horns in an angry fashion several times. The single adult then backed off a short distance and the child rhino took over from its mother. It too snorted then paced with its head down and pointed its small horns toward the single adult although they did not actually meet. It appeared then that the single adult had lost whatever battle there was and it sauntered off slowly by itself. What a performance, but we were all quiet and whispering so we couldn’t applaud.

November 20


Photo credit: Frank Vassen

Another early 6 AM game drive started with a large herd of zebra, estimated at more than 100, a hyena gnawing on a zebra leg, a huge Etosha pan (a former body of water, once a water hole now exhibiting a cracked dried up surface) and many large vultures in a tree. What did they see that we didn’t? White rhino, giraffes, jackal, six adult female and one male lion, springbock, and red hartebeast with days old babies in the distance continued to excite us as we clicked away.

The Etosha pan did now have water because of an excessive rainfall this past March, encompasses an area of 110 x 60 km.

Although we saw many birds as previously indicated, most went unnamed except for a few of the more significant or unusual larger birds, such as the Marabo stork, an omnivorous bird eating meat and vegetation.

So far in our travels, we had seen four of the big five (BRELL – Buffalo, Rhino, Elephant, Lion, Leopard) but the leopard had eluded us until today. Well, we sort of got to see the leopard, although it was a leopard tortoise. So, we wait for the REAL leopard.

November 21

On the way out of Etosha, which is some 22,000 sq km, on the hillsides were the white trunked Moringa trees only found in Namibia. It is said that the locals powder the bark and leaves and use it to boost the body’s immune system, for example with AIDS, but it is not a cure.

Many of the animals previously encountered met us along the way. It became such that we seemed to be blasé with their appearance, with the following exception.

… a group of three lions, one female and two black mane males. One male was lying in the grass closest to our roadside stop, with the other two lying down a hundred or so metres away. Then the further distanced male began an approach to the female who had picked up her head and was eyeing this male. Almost as soon as the male approached the female, he mounted her in the male superior position. Within a very short period of 10 to 15 seconds, there was a large open mouth male exhibiting a satisfying mating experience and then he retreated to his previous position and lay down. Ten minutes or so later the two of them were at it again. What stamina and what testosterone! This act evidently continues over a period of time, but it appears we arrived at the end of the performance period for the day. It does continue for about two weeks during the female’s period of ovulation. Now, what about the other male who has only been a voyeur? The successful suitor continues to be the mate of this female until and unless the ‘voyeur’ challenges and wins over the present suitor. We wished him luck and moved onward.

We encountered more herds of zebra, almost appearing as a migration as there were again a hundred or so in the herd while giraffes wandered the roadside.

Leaving Etosha our heading was for the Okavango River in the Caprivi Strip region, passing many small encampments of villagers. Each consisted of huts with a thatched roof, clay walls reinforced with straight tree branches, all surrounded by reed walls to protect from winds. Most had no sanitation other than bush pits far from the encampment with a very few having ‘Johnny on the Spot’ type toilets. Water was supplied to the people by the government and held in centrally located large cylindrical containers placed often up to 3 km from their abodes.

Our truck slows for goats and cattle along the roadside as well as large flying birds and we eventually reach our new home for the night among the more lush vegetation on the banks of the Okavango River.

Next stop…Botswana. Part Three of a Five Part Series

Part One: South Africa

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