Month: February 2018

Namibia 1

Standing on the Waterberg Plateau

Early in my life, I was inspired by the Adventure fiction novels of Wilbur Smith.

One of my favourites, The Burning Shore, takes place in Namibia.

Namibia is quite an expensive place, and would require 3 planes just to get to it, and 3000km driving in a truck to see it all, but I knew it would be worth it.

Above, I’m standing in front of the Waterberg Plateau in the mustard coloured Rohan jumper I’ve been wearing a lot this year.

Arriving at Namibia airport

We arrive at Hosea Kutako International Airport after travelling for nearly 30 hours.

The airport is 45km from our first stop, the capital Windhoek.

We needed to change money and buy sims for our phones. I would have preferred to do it later, but these sorts of things are best sorted out at the airport and I was pleasantly surprised by the professionalism of everyone who worked there.

A taxi ride, and we arrive at the Safari Hotel, a really large hotel complex that was used as the start and end point for expeditions run by several companies like Explore (who we went with).

It was a bit out of town, so we decided to have a dip in the pool and relax at the bar for a few pints (you can guess which one of us did which).

I tried to stay awake as long as I could to combat jet lag, then off to bed around 11pm Namibia time and a deep sleep.

View from the Independence Memorial Museum, looking down on the Alte Feste (Old Fort)

We’d arrived early and our tour was due to start at 6pm that evening, so we decided to head into town and do some exploring.

The Alte Festa (or Old Fort) is the oldest surviving building in Windhoek and built by the Germans during colonial times.

Inside is a statue called The Rider. Quite controversially, it is a symbol of German victory during the Herero/Namaqua war in 1904.

Outside the Independence museum

The newer Independence museum, has a statue of Sam Nujoma, Namibia’s first president, holding a copy of the constitution.

I thought the building looked a bit like a coffee machine. It was built by North Korea and stands on Robert Mugabe avenue.

Revolutionary propaganda

Inside, lots of propaganda stuff.

Reasonably interesting, but mostly pictures of people and some shocking paintings of massacres.

Only thing was, if you didn’t actually know what event it referred to, there was no text there to tell you.

A major visual display, didn’t work and I found the section about life before colonialism, where everyone lived in peace and harmony a little bit unlikely.

But otherwise, an interesting museum which focused more on politics than facts.

Bow and arrow and other San artifacts

Far more interesting to me, was the Owela museum, which had details about different tribes and how they lived.

Of special interest was a section on the San people. Up until something like 1940, people were not only allowed, but actively encouraged to “shoot Bushmen and wild dogs on sight”.

They can live comfortably in a desert where most people would be dead in 10 hours and have lived the same way for the last 20,000 years.

A wikiup inside a museum

I find shelter building fascinating, and in the past I’ve had a go at building a Wikiup.

This one in the museum was built by 2 local woman who were featured in the exhibit.

Fallen Meteorites outside the shopping centre

We continue wandering around, and find the Gibeon meteorites.

In any other country, they would probably be in a museum. In Namibia, they’re next to a shopping mall on Post Street.

We decide to get a taxi back. Our driver (a young man) invites us back to his car. It has no seat belts, I sit in the front, Nikki sits in the back with his 2 “girlfriends”.

As the car careers off at speed there is some sort of African rap screaming out of a cd player and an open pocket knife on the dashboard (no keys are used to start the car …)

But, despite a terrifying journey, he gets us back to our hotel and says a smiling thank you as we pay him. You don’t get things like that happening when you travel with Thomas Cook.

Later, once the official tour begins, our guide points to the area where we got the tax and said “don’t go walking around there”.

An itinerary map of our Namibia trip

Our tour meeting begins at 6pm sharp and were introduced to our Explore guide. Wendy was South African, very tall and incredibly well organised.

Our driver Shepherd from Zimbabwe, was quietly spoken but having driven across deserts and mountains for 20 years new his job inside and out.

A detailed itinerary is supplied. We’ll travel over 3000km by the end of the trip.

We have dinner, get a few drinks and retire to bed.

Inside our bus with Wendy at the front

In the morning we see the bus that will take us across Namibia. The seating was raised so we could see things more easily and underneath in the hold, were tables, chairs, shovels and just about everything you’d need for an adventure.

At the front of the upstairs cabin, it even had a freezer and places to charge phones and laptops.

And with that, we load our bags, stock up on water and head for the Zebra River Lodge.

Truck stop, preparing for lunch

We travelled 284km on our first day. Driving on tarmac roads for part of it was fine, but once we got onto the open tracks, it was really hard going.

We had lunch on the trail most days.

Typically, Wendy would cook an amazing lunch, served on a big table near a tree to provide shade.

The food was excellent (vegan and lactose intolerance aren’t widely acknowledged in Africa, so she did really well to cook for everyone without incident).

It was nice to sit on a comfortable chair in the bush and have a can of lager afterwards.

Our room at the Zebra lodge

We arrived at the Zebra River Lodge around 3:30pm and are shown to our rooms.

Our accommodation on the trip notes had been described as basic, but I found them all to be the lap of luxury like the one above.

Zebra lodge weaver bird at its nest

In the afternoon, I sit on the terrace and watch this Weaver bird construct its nest. I’m not normally into Ornithology, but some of the birds I saw in Namibia really were fascinating.

I’d see something even more fascinating the following day.

Zebra Canyon at Sunset

There were a number of interesting trails and hills nearby.

We went walking for a couple of hours.

Pouring rain outside the Zebra lodge

But this is Africa after all.

Twenty minutes after we get back, the gorgeous sunny day is transformed as torrential rain and then hail batter the hotel terrace.

Nikki celebrating her birthday with the Zebra lodge staff singing

We had dinner on the terrace later that evening. Wendy had realised it was Nikki’s birthday from her passport and laid on a really nice cake. All the kitchen staff came out and sang happy birthday 🙂

Enormous birds nest

Today we’d be doing a 360km round trip to a place called Sesriem and the start of our real adventure.

We stop at the Sesriem gate and get some coffee. With time to wander around, I find this.

Believe it or not, this is also a Weaver nest.

A bit of a sort of apartment block idea, it has multiple nests inside. It’s possible for a chick to grow up, find a mate, find a chamber inside the nest and have her own chicks without ever leaving the nest.

Walking through the desert

We have to use local jeaps once we get to the main area. Not well organised at all, and we are standing in baking heat.

After much faf, and superb organisation by Wendy, were off careering through the soft desert sand.

Were going to see one of the worlds most incredible sights – The Deadvlei in the Namib desert, the oldest desert on earth.

Sossusvlei sand dunes

As we disembark, some people decide to go off climbing sand dunes. I enjoy a flat walk-in and get my camera ready.

Deadvlei salt pan

Deadvlei is a salt pan surrounded by the tallest sand dunes in the world.

Inside it’s really quiet and serene, and the dead trees growing everywhere make it quite spooky.

After 40 minutes, we head back. A pretty amazing experience.

High sand dune with an Oryx sheltering under a tree

As we drive back along the desert highway, we visit “Dune 45” although that sounds like the name of a local nightclub in Newton Heath, it actually relates to a very popular sand dune which is 45km from the Sesriem gate.

It’s very popular with Japanese tourists as its right next to the road and easy to get too.

I took this picture of the dune, with a tree at the foot and an Oryx relaxing in the shade. I think it’s probably the best photo I’ve ever taken and I’ve even had it framed and put up at home.

Inside Sesriem canyon

We wander around in the Sesriem canyon.

Sesriem means six thongs. Six thongs of rawhide rope would be tied together and a bucket fastened to the end.

It would then be lowered down into the canyon to collect water.

Our accomodation at the Zebra River Lodge

Back to the Zebra River Lodge.

It had been a really long day, so something to eat, bottle of wine and off to bed.

The open desert

Up early today and were heading for Swakopmund where we’ll be staying for 2 nights.

I just put this picture up to show you the view we saw for most of the day.

Honestly, in a whole hour you’d see nothing but desert.

The small town of Solitaire

We stop off at the famous “town” of Solitaire.

A bloke and his wife bought some land, built a cottage and then a few other things. The wife’s brother joined them, but then the wife left.

The two of them ran the “town” together. It’s on a main highway, so the bakery is very popular (I had a Viennese whirl, I really didn’t think I’d get to eat one while I was in Africa!)

They also have old farming equipment and cars (like the one above) which are painted in nice colours.

Best thing I liked about it was they actually have an air strip, and wealthy people can fly in and get cakes.

Namibia 2

Me standing next to the Tropic of Capicorn

We stop briefly at the Tropic of Capricorn.

People had put loads of stickers and rubbish on the sign, so it was a bit difficult to read.

Kuiseb Canyon, where the heroe's of sheltering desert lived for 2 and a half years

As we drove through the desert we reached this interesting area.

Many of the people on the trip had been reading The Sheltering Desert by Heno Martin.

In the book, 2 pacifist geologists refuse to fight in the 2nd world war. Faced with the option of internment, they run away and live a Robinson Crusoe existance for the next 2 and a half years.

This is where they lived.

Dolphins at Walvis Bay

We arrive at Walvis bay where Manfred De la ray and Shasa Courtney have their first fight. Neither realising the other is his brother.

Although that didn’t happen in real life, like many of the places I saw, it featured in the stories I’ve read, and they brought books read 30 years earlier to life.

Flamingo’s are fairly common in this area and as a special treat, there was a family of Dolphins as well.

Swakopmund beach with a confusing sign,

We continue on to Swakopmund (in what was German south west Africa).

We’re staying in a sort of hostel called the Dunedin Star (a ship quite famous to the area).

The beach has this interesting sign, that says “swimming at your own risk” and then 6 things you aren’t allowed to do (one of which is shooting!) but most interesting is no swimming. A contradiction?

Staying here for the next 2 nights, we have a free day the following day and there’s loads to do here.

Our guide with a map of Namibia drawn in the sand

The next day starts early with The living desert tour.

About 30 of us piled into 4 off road vehicles. There were 4 staff who rooted around in the desert to find interesting things to show us.

The basic idea is to show that although the desert looks like a dead place, it’s thriving with plant and animal life, with a wealth of interesting rocks and minerals.

A brief explanation with a sand drawing of Namibia and the places it borders.

Our guide explained that although Africa is known for the big 5, in the desert, we look for the little 5.

Originally the little 5 were Chameleon, Sidewinder snake, Lizard, Cartwheeling spider and Gecko.

The challenge was to see if we could find all 5 during our morning in the desert.

The tour was very environmentally concious and they had stopped seeking out the cartwheeling spider, as it takes 3 days for it to rebuild its home in the sand.

A Chameleon

Instead, it was substituted with a Scorpion. We got to see them all including the Chameleon above.

Railway line leading off into the distance

An absolutely brilliant experience I’d highly recommend if you’re visiting.

As we drive back, we pass this disused railway line, that seems to go on for ever.

Animals in the Swakopmund museum

Back in town, we get some lunch (one thing I love about Africa, is they are unapologetic meat eaters).

Then we look around the Swakopmund museum.

Loads of interesting things including lots of stuffed animals (not to everyone’s taste, but I found them fascinating).

They also had some old equipment that the early settlers would have used. Once again I’m reminded of the burning shore and a cart of the type Lothar De La Ray used in the desert and a Mauser carbine used in a major plot development.

Landrover from the 1950's

I read once, that 85% of all the Land Rovers ever built were still driving.

This one had been donated to the museum, originally shipped from the UK in the late 40’s.

It still works.

Model ship built by a POW

This 1:6000 model of the German cruiser “Nurnberg” was built by Konny Zander whilst imprisoned in an internment camp.

Built from jam and other food tins with melted down toothpaste tubes as solder.

It took him 7 months to make, and all the parts are moveable.

Inside the Tug restaurant

We had intended to visit the Snake museum, but after so much travelling in the truck, decided just to wander around and explore in the sunshine.

We reached the pier and walked to the end. Nikki’s birthday “event” had been fab, but we hadn’t really celebrated on our own.

One of the best restaurants in the town is called The Tug and located at the start of the pier. We decide to have dinner there.

An artistic Pate "installation"

The food and service are superb and the building itself amazing.

Above is a fish pate I had as a starter. A simple dish, turned into this visually stunning creation.

start

The Burning Shore, takes its title from when Centain (the main character) is washed ashore on the Namib Desert. When I read the book the first time, I never thought for a single moment that one day I’d stand there.

And it was amazing, a place doesn’t earn the name Skeleton Coast by accident, the normal odds of survival here with no equipment and water are practically none existent (but it would have made a pretty dull book if she’d died 🙂

Here we arrive at Henties bay, on the skeleton coast and see the Ziela, a fishing boat run aground in 2008 and left for scrap like so many other here.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

This website is named johnsunter.com, The adventures of an ordinary person.

So, I tell it like it is. I think it’s perfectly ok to tell the truth and not everything is for every traveller.

In my case, I found the Cape Cross Seal Colony rather boring. Once you’d seen the first 5 seals, the others were rather mundane and they smelled horrendous.

Walking in the Brandberg mountains

Our next destination is Damaraland where we’ll be staying at the White Lady lodge hotel.

But first, we’ll be doing a bush walk, to see the famous white lady cave painting.

A scorching hot day, but trekking through the Brandberg mountain range was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

White lady paintings. Bushmen paintings dating back at least 2000 years

There are over 1000 cave paintings in the area, but the main one to see is the White Lady (probably because its the most accessible).

Considered academic opinion is that the White Lady is actually a male shamen panted in ritual white, carrying a bow.

Opinions vary on the age of the painting, but the consensus is around 2000 years old.

Our cottage in Brandberg

Our cottage at the White Lady lodge. Typical of the kind of amazing accommodation we used on the trip.

The area was quite spread out and it was possible to rent golf carts and go exploring.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to do that, so we headed for the main hotel complex to relax.

The swimming pool at our hotel

Although I shy away from “beach holidays” that doesn’t mean I don’t like to sit out in the sunshine at the end of the day.

It’s normally Nikki who goes for a swim, I usually find somewhere with lager.

Our food this evening was a barbecue that Wendy and Shepherd cooked by the pool. The steak was cooked just right and one of the nicest I’ve ever eaten.

Have a steak barbecue while watching the sun set.

As the evening progresses, we wander off in small groups to watch the sun set.

Warning about feeding animals

Once it got dark, we headed indoors. I saw this interesting sign on the bar.

Reading with Alan

We’re now moving to the safari part of our trip and the next morning drive to the Etosha Safari Lodge.

Extremely comfortable. So comfortable in fact, that instead of joining an afternoon visit to a Himba village, I decide to stay behind and relax.

I was assisted by the hotel’s cat, Alan.

I had been re-reading The Burning Shore (I’d read it 4 times previously). As I sat there, I came to the end of the book. Quite a special moment, that’s a bit difficult to describe.

Some Himba tribal ladies

As it was, I’d see some Herero ladies the next day, in their spectacular clothes.

They were selling souvenirs and crafts.

Horendous carved animal

I stupidly purchased some sort of hyena/leopard/giraffe carving of Frankenstein design.

As our truck left, they must have howled laughing at the stupid westerner who’d paid good money for this monstrous thing!.

Desert Elephant

We head out towards the Etosha national park (one of the highlights of the trip, considering the trip itself is a travel highlight in its own right).

Before we get there, we see this desert elephant at the side of the road.

Namibia 3

A pictorial book of animals in the Etosha national park

Nikki got me a book with pictures of all the animals in the Etosha national park and I had great fun ticking off all the one’s I saw.

lion

Although all African animals are special, it’s the cats you really go there to see (and that means getting up early).

The park rules around viewing the animals were very strict.

The truck was only allowed to go a certain distance from the animals and when an American group in their own vehicle got too close the park rangers intervened.

The waterhole viewing point at Etosha National Park

After the luxury of our previous accommodation, we’d now be staying for 2 nights in the state run Safari Lodge in the park.

The surroundings were superb and it was an excellent base to explore the park.

The service levels however were another matter. They didn’t cater for vegetarians for example, and simply buying tickets for a night safari was like getting tickets to the FA cup!

I visited this waterhole to view animals and didn’t see a single thing (although it was a nice place to sit).

Cape Starling, Etosha

Another lunch cooked at the camp by Wendy and while relaxing (which means while I was having a beer) I saw this colourful Starling waiting to snack on our leftover food.

In our jeep on night safari

We head out on a night Safari.

A lion at night

We saw loads of animals on the night safari, my favourite was this Leopard.

A jeep with built in accomodation

Breakfast time in the camp the following morning and I go for a walk around.

Some people were unlucky enough to have tents, but we had a chalet.

I would have traded a night in our chalet for a night in this vehicle I saw, which had a sort of roof top shelter for sleeping in.

A group of Zebra

During one of several game drives in the park, a dazzle of Zebra (yes, that really is the collective noun for Zebras).

Giraffe, Etosha

And the ubiquitous Giraffe – the lighthouse of the bush.

or

Not as exciting as the cats we saw, but the Oryx really is a beautiful animal.

After an amazing few days in Etosha, it’s time (sadly) to leave.

But we haven’t seen the end of wild animals.

Cheetah Conservation Foundation.

We visit the world respected Cheetah conservation fund, a sanctuary with literally dozens of Cheetahs.

The park is run mostly by volunteers and their main source of income is providing dogs for local vilages who bark at Cheetahs to make them leave the livestock alone.

This means the local villagers don’t need to shoot the Cheetahs and the system works for everyone.

Cheetah Sanctuary

The Cheetahs were spectacularly beautiful animals.

Cheetah Sanctuary

Unfortunately, if a cat finds its way to the centre, before its parents have taught it too hunt, the professionals there are unable to assist.

So in this case, the Cheetah will be fed raw meet which it will eat in a bowl.

Nikki standing next to a giant termite nest

We head to the final stop on our journey, the strangely named Waterberg rest camp.

Here Nikki finds the largest termite mound we’ve ever seen.

wbmap

Great thing about the park was the area was full of trails and it was nice to wander around on my own exploring.

Exploring the Waterberg Plateau 2

A sort of overgrown rain forest, with wait-a-while vines.

Dik DIk at the Waterberg Restcamp

A Dik Dik.

A fully grown antelope, that’s the size of a dog. They were wandering around the camp and weren’t frightened of me at all.

They have one central area where we all congregated for drinks and later dinner.

The climb up to the Waterberg Plateau

In the morning, were up early and heading up to the Waterberg Plateau.

It took 45 mins to an hour to get up there, but it was well worth it.

A view of the actual Waterberg Plateau

The famous waterberg Plateau.

The view from the Waterberg Plateu

The view from the top, all the way to the Kalahari desert.

The Waterberg Plateau and German Graveyard.

In the morning, more exploring of trails around the park, then breakfast and were heading back to Windhoek.

Joe's beer house - a popular bar

Back at our hotel, we get cleaned up and head out for the groups final evening together at the famous Joe’s Beerhouse.

The beautiful government gardens

Nikki and I have an extra day booked, so the following afternoon, we have an organised tour of the town.

Above are the government gardens, with statues of various revolutionary leaders.

Corrugated steel buildings

The tour included a visit to a township.

I was surprised that most of the building were made of brick and had schools and hospitals nearby.

I realised that my idea of a township had come from a book based on townships in the 1930’s and 40’s. Our guide explained that things arent like that now and what I was talking about was more like a refugee camp.

But actually recently migrants to the area only have houses made of tin and a stand pipe for water when they first arrive.

Dinner on our last night in a place called 'NICE', Windhoek

Our final evening in Namibia and we decide on a top notch meal and wine.

A place called NICE – Namibian institute for culinary excellence, which trains young chefs

Inside, the service food and wine were superb. An evening for reflection and a lovely end to an amazing trip.

Tour advert showing Ronda bridge (which is actualy in Spain !)

But I had to end with the picture above.

As we got into a taxi to go to the airport, I saw this sign on a tour bus, offering all sorts of day trips.

I almost asked him to take us to that bridge 🙂 except I knew his couldn’t, as its in Andalusia in Spain and a bit far away from Southern Africa.

Still, top marks for marketing.

I’ve been to a lot of places, but Namibia really was amazing.