Monthly Archives: January 2015

Dune Sunset in Namibia 530 km

Day 7 Dec. 19 Friday
What a way to wake up – a beautiful sunrise enjoyed sitting just inside the door of the tent.

Sunrise from the tent  View from the tentWe were on the road by 7 am. On the bus this morning, before we started driving, Rachel took out one of her bags of chips and commented that we’d better eat them before they turned into crumbs (referring to having carried them around for so long). Mike said,  “Then we can snort Simba dust “. Rachel replied, “Yah, riding the Africa lion”! We had a good giggle. A great sunrise and lots of laughter – could life be any better?

We were heading to Sessriem, to a campsite located on the edge of the Namib Desert, (one of the world’s oldest deserts) a distance of over 500 km so we had a full day ahead of us. Below is a map of our route so far this trip. This laminated map was at the back of the bus. Everyday, one of our crew members would trace out our route but this day was the first day that I thought to take a picture of it.

Bus Map

The terrain continued to change – from sand, rock buttes, and scraggly trees to the same endless sea of stones, bushes and occasional small hills. I twice spotted a type of raptor sitting atop the power poles running alongside the highway we were on. I wondered if they were fish Eagles? They looked much like our bald eagles.

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We stopped for lunch under a feather tree – my name for it – it’s actually a camel thorn also know as an acacia tree (they have 2 inch long spikes on them). When I went to answer the call of nature, I had an encounter with a camel thorn – it went right through the sole of my Sketchers and into my foot. Extremely painful for 5 minutes or so.

Continuing on, we began to see more farms and game farms – our attention drawn to the fencing around these farms. Some of the fencing looked just like a regular fence – fence poles, wires etc. Others, had two  layers of fence, it seemed – imagine a regular fence with another one above it, each supporting the wires with upright strips of wood, to make it that much taller. The private game farms had this much higher, more distinctive – looking fencing than the other, traditional farms.

FINALLY!!! The long anticipated red dunes. The pictures below show the first sighting of the red dunes of the Namib desert appearing through the distant haze.

First dune view Dunes
We finally arrived in Sessriem at around 3! (The end point on the map above shows you exactly where we were.) There was a beautiful bar; the high thatched ceiling and large open windows making it very airy.

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We met Rhea who joined the tour from California. Had a drink, set up camp, played Uno accompanied by uproarious laughter as we nailed each other with the cards, had a cappuccino in the bar and at 530 set off to climb Elim Dune. It looked like a baby dune – nothing we couldn’t manage to climb. (This over-confidence came from our past experiences climbing the dunes in the Wahiba desert in Oman – we knew it would be difficult but….). Below is fellow adventurer, Jan, just starting his climb.

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This was to be our practice dune as there would be two other, higher dunes to climb the next day. We managed to climb to the top and spent the next hour or more enjoying the view, laughter, feelings of accomplishment and of course, the sunset.

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We ran all the way down in less than a quarter of the time it took to go up and were soon back in camp for a dinner of lamb stew (karoo lamb I think because it was so … delicious!)

The Namibia Adventure Begins 460 km

Day 6 Dec. 18 Thursday

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park was unusually good to us in terms of the wild game we spotted. The crew told us they don’t usually spot as much big game as we did on this trip.

While we ate dinner last night, Richard allowed us a glimpse into his private life – his village connection. I don’t think he would mind if I shared it here – I just hope I am remembering it the way he told it to us. I can’t remember the conversation exactly or how the topic came up but during our drive that day, we had passed so many small villages – villages made up basically of very small huts, often quite a few together, enclosed by a fence that looked like it was made from a collection of a reed or grass-like plants woven together. I had seen several people in city clothes in the villages including a woman in sparkling white capri pants and a brightly-colored blouse. As I said, these huts are tiny – no room for closets – so I was wondering, logistically, where and how villagers could possibly keep and organize their clothes. Richard explained that he comes from a shaman background and that whenever he goes home, he goes back to a more traditional way of living. Most city-dwellers, he said, having come to the city for work, also belong to a village. Whenever people return to their villages, they observe all of the beliefs and traditions of their ancestors in the village. If a man is married and has been away from his family for  a week or more, he doesn’t sleep with his wife in the bedroom the first night. Tradition requires him to sleep in the kitchen for the first night as the kitchen is known to be the home of the ancestors. When a man returns to his village he always brings food. Both he and the food stay overnight in the kitchen, to be greeted by the ancestors and to have the food blessed.

We were on our way to Namibia – this is what the terrain looked like; flat plains, areas of rough and tumble rocks and in the distance, red dunes, making me anticipate we would soon be seeing the red dunes of the Namib Desert but it turned out to be a false alarm. We had a lot farther to go before we would see them!

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We crossed the border into Namibia quite early. Immigration was quick and efficient but then, there were few other people crossing. First impressions at the border? There were free maps and brochures. The brochures were of course advertising hotels and adventures but I was impressed by the attention to responsible travel as well as educational brochures about wildlife and environmental conservation. Every border we crossed had Ebola posters up, educating travelers about the symptoms and advising precautions.

Namibia border

Above is one of my first images of Namibia – the first village we came to. My feelings? Excitement about seeing and climbing the red dunes of the Namib desert … curiosity about what we would see and do … the growing anticipation of encountering new cultures – specifically, the Himba tribe.

We traveled on unpaved but excellent red gravel roads with regular slow-downs for dips which I think were for water drainage. Upon entering Namibia, everyone  is required to report, in writing, their entry mileage and type of vehicle (dependent upon gas consumption). The office where you do this gives you a paper with your information on it. When you leave Namibia, you hand in the paper and pay for the amount of miles you have used on their roads. This is for road upkeep and repair. A great idea I think.

As we first drove through Namibia, I was glued to the widow taking in the scenery. Rachel, who sat in the seat in front of me for the whole trip, drew my attention to the other side of the road where she had seen a row of telephone poles without wires which ended abruptly!! That initiated a lively discussion of and laughter about why that might be so. We never figured it out but it wasn’t the first time we saw that phenomenon.

The landscape here is reminiscent of Oman with its tumbled, rock chunk mountains, and miles and miles of rocky plains. We stopped for a quick lunch of yesterday’s leftover pasta with veggies and tuna, meat slices, and fresh melon.

This day we were headed for Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world. It started to get hot … 38 degrees Celsius, 100 degrees F.

Our camp for the night was at the Canon (pronounced Canyon) Roadhouse and it had wifi so our first order of business was a Savanah light cider and emails. With all of us overloading the system, the wifi was naturally quite slow. After a few attempts, I gave up, enjoyed the surroundings, cider and company and then set off to explore the camp. It was our lucky day – the tent was in the shade!!

When we arrived at the roadhouse, we discovered a museum-like atmosphere created by antique cars in the garden and a museum of sorts inside. Of particular interest to Mike was this old vehicle with a quiver tree growing out of it’s engine. Along the way we had been introduced to quiver trees – the tree the bushmen used in the past to make quivers for holding their arrows. They are beautiful trees – they reminded me a bit of the Joshua trees in Southern California.

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After a bit of a rest, we set off for Fish River Canyon, about 30 km away, to take in the sunset. Dumi dropped us at the head of a well travelled hiking trail through the canyon. This trail is a five day hike which leads down to the floor of the canyon, continuing on along the river. We obviously didn’t do this hike, skirting instead the canyon’s edge back to the main lookout. It was indeed beautiful.

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Home for a steak dinner, fries and coleslaw. A perfect ending to a great experience!

Kgalagadi Game Drives

Day 5 Dec. 17 Wednesday

Because we went on an early morning game drive at 530 am, we didn’t follow the usual morning routine. First of all, we were woken up by a thunder and lightning display with heavy rain and then,  a spectacular sunrise! Water water everywhere! What had been dry during the afternoon game drive of the previous afternoon, became a lake.

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Our first sighting of the day was a Leopard Tortoise. Richard explained to us that the bushmen in the Kalahari use it for survival in the desert, poor things. We saw many more Sociable Weaver nests.

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A few springbok close to the truck. The first ones we saw got a lot of photographic attention but as the day passed, because we saw so many of them, we no longer stopped, admiring them on the move instead.

Then … a highlight!! We saw a vehicle pulled over and when we stopped, we saw a lioness, close enough to see red stains on her chest and paws. We watched for a while and then continued on but we hadn’t gone very far when we saw another vehicle. The person driving pointed to a thicket and told us that there was another lioness in the thicket, with a kill. Sure enough. It was right beside the road but so well hidden we could hardly see her. What we did see was tawny fur and the bloody head of a springbok and what we did hear was the loud crunching of bones. We were astounded and stayed watching for quite a while until the feeding lioness joined the first one.lionesses

By this time it was around 11 and all we’d eaten was a rusk and coffee so we set off to find a place for brunch – eggs, bacon, beans, salad, fresh pineapple! After brunch we headed back to camp for an afternoon siesta before heading out for our third and last game drive in the Kgalagadi.

The big, culminating event was seeing this black-maned lion. At first, he was stretched out in the shade and we couldn’t see much but then, he got up and moved to another spot. We had a good laugh about the males of this species as we were told that the lionesses do the hunting and raise the kids. The males? They just lie around doing nothing …. well, they do make a lot of noise!!

Black maned lion Protection from wild animals

And this is to protect game viewers from the lions!! We stopped to use the toilets and this is what was there. Just outside and across the road from this ‘enclosed toilet’, Anne found a paw print and sure enough, Dumi told us it was a lion track!! I guess there’s a good reason to have the toilets enclosed!!

We saw lots more small game and birds including a bird I was fascinated by, the Kori Bustard. I don’t know why – we saw lots of them. They were quite shy and would run to get out of the way and once, we saw one take to the air. They looked prehistoric to me.

Kori Bustard

With all of the driving and looking for game have come many opportunities for quiet contemplation and a deep appreciation of the beauty of nature seen from my window. The different times of day of the game drives presented us with a variety of lighting effects.

On the way back to camp, the setting sun was giving a warm, golden glow to everything it touched. There were a few puddles still on the road; all that was left of the morning’s rain storm.

Dinner was spaghetti bolognaise with fruit cocktail for desert.

CANCER -First Anniversary

17 January 2015…

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of my cancer surgery & the first of the annual follow-up colonoscopies. I’ve already spent most of today at the hospital having blood drawn… an ultrasonic exam, an ECG & chest x-ray; all in preparation for the procedure.

Even though the prognosis is great; I feel a touch of angst… & feeling foolish I push down the emotions of doubt and fear… yet they remain to reemerge, I’m sure, in the dark tonight when the demons escape from their prison cells within my subconscious.

My whole cancer ordeal seemed “just a blip on [our] radar screen” according to a close friend. I suppose it seemed that way to our friends and family because I and Tilly immediately began the process of recovery. Within 7 weeks I was running 5k with no problems… and was healthier than ever. Without the scar on my belly to remind me every morning as i dressed, it was almost as though it had been a bad dream.

I’ve had two check ups since (3 month & 8 month… Missed the 6 month because we were in North America). Each check- was preceded by a few days to a week of niggling doubt…. (WHAT IF? … the cancer is back?… a NEW tumor/cancer is discovered?… etc.).

I am NOT “really” worried…. I feel incredibly good… not as up on my exercise program as I wanted to be this year… But, it is still early… there are no discernible symptoms AND still… the demons slip in a shiver of doubt.

The only person close to me who can totally relate is my son Chris … his one year approaches in another month or so… Chris told me that he ‘gets a little anxious before each follow-up’ … and then we both laughed a little because until the doc looks you right in the eyes and says “EVERYTHING’S OK’… your gut is tied up…So I expect he will be a little more “anxious” ; like I am now.

Tomorrow… Damn,  I hate to wait… and the prep (if you’ve experienced it; you understand… if you’ve witnessed it you’ve got an idea…) is …

Well, what ever comes tomorrow… “it is what … it is!” OR will be. And while I am confident the results will be completely positive, like a good Boy Scout I am prepared..

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park 500 km

Day 4 Dec 16 Tuesday
Another disruption in the middle of the night when the camp dog chased a cat up a tree just outside our window, not just once but twice. We were on the road by 7, heading for Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, in the Kalahari region of South Africa, where we would stay for the next two nights. We would have our first game drive that afternoon.

On our drive this day, as we travelled through the Orange River wine region (which produces about 40% of Africa’s wine exports), we passed through miles and miles of grapevines accompanied by big, flat, rectangular, concrete pads for drying the grapes into raisins. Vinyards stretched as far as my eye could see. We stopped to shop in Upington then continued north. The terrain was characterized by flat plains, white salt pans and and red soil.

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We were on the Kalahari Red Dune Road. Above is what it looked like.

We stopped at Molopo Kalahari Lodge for a lunch of rice salad, veggies, bread, turkey,and pickles. While we waited for the guys to prepare lunch, we went up to the lodge to see if we could use their internet. We found some internet, very slow, but we also found an abundance of ostrich eggs – they were everywhere, being used as decorations.

Molopo Lodge 1 molopo lodge 2 Ostrich egg lamp

We got to our camp, which was called ‘Twee Rivieren Camp’ (2  Rivers Camp) by about 3pm; explored a bit, got our tents set up and did laundry. Then it was time for the game drive. We set off at 430. Saw lots of animals and birds. The first ostrich prompted a photographic frenzy.

DSCN3799 first ostrich sighting

The crowning glory at the turn around point was three cheetahs lying in the shade at the side of the road. WOW!!! We watched them for a long time.

Cheetahs  Wildebeeste sunset

And at the end of our drive, wildebeest at sunset, in a herd, on a ridge in the distance.

our camp  Kgalagadi Camp  our camp 2

Home for a dinner of chicken curry with loads of veggies, a mix of wheat and lentils, and a gem squash. Healthy and good! A glass of wine, good conversation and bed by 10.

 

To Augrabies Falls National Park 480 km

Day 3 Dec. 15 Monday

It was Monday morning and we were awakened at 5 by the resident peacock, its early morning screams shocking us into what would quickly become our regular morning routine. By 6 am everyone was up and  making toast on the grill by 630.

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The morning routine stayed much the same throughout most of the trip: the crew would get up 30 minutes before us sleepyheads, lighting the coals so we could make toast, boiling water for tea and coffee, and setting up the table with with a continental- style breakfast consisting of what became a new favorite – rusks – and yogurt, cereal, toast, peanut butter, jam, and coffee and tea. Meanwhile, we would get up, remove our luggage, sleeping mats, sleeping bags & pillows from our tents, and put them on the tarp prepared for that purpose. While we ate breakfast, the crew would take down the tents, bundle everything up and load it into the truck.

We were generally on the road between 7 and 7:30. On this day, we were headed north into the Green Kalahari region and the Orange River ending our day at  Augrabies Falls (place of great noise) National Park where the Orange River plummets 56 meters into the gorge below. It is the longest river in Africa. Even though it is only 195 km from the Indian Ocean, it flows over 2000 km to empty into the Atlantic.

After made a short comfort stop in the town of Calvinia, in the middle of a great wool producing area originally started by the Afrikaners,  we continued on, driving across the ‘Little Karoo’ which I think, became the ‘Big Karoo’ when we crossed the Orange River. We spotted a few animals along the way: springbok first, then camels followed by a giraffe way off in the distance. There were lots and lots of sheep and goats too, as promised. The terrain was identical to Wyoming’s …. undulating miles and miles of sagebrush …. or at least, the African equivalent. During this part of the trip, Mike kept saying, “We could be driving through Wyoming!” Eventually, the endless sagebrush gave way to endless grasslands.

It was at this point  that we started to see sociable weaver bird nests, looking like mini-haystacks hanging off the power poles.

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Sitting for hours on the bus, gazing out at the scenes sliding by, for me promoted self reflection. So many thoughts came bubbling to the surface …. mostly about how content and happy I was, grateful to be travelling like this. This is definitely my milieu. On the bus, we each had two seats to ourselves so each of us set up little mini-work stations. Here is Mike’s.

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I have been seeing lots of acacia (camel thorn) looking trees with multiple nests. These are the nests of the masked weaver bird. The male builds a nest to attract the female. She must approve of the nest and enter it and look around. If she doesn’t approve then the male must build another one. The female must be pretty picky because these trees have so many failed nests of which only one is being used! Dumi explained to us that the nests, for the most past, are built by the on the west side of the tree, therefore providing a directional guide for desert travelers.

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Stopped for wine tasting in Kakamas, at The Orange River Winery and had so much fun, many of us bought a case of wine (6 bottles, not 12!!). We had our own fridge on the bus and most of it was filled with wine instead of water!! Afterwards, we ate the lunch prepared for us, sitting in the shade of a tree: bread, grated cheddar cheese, bean salad, pickles. It seems we were always hungry.

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At the falls, we walked the three kilometers which was laid out as a boardwalk. It’s actually a national park with opportunities for game drives but we just did the 3 km walk around the area. I enjoyed seeing it. The highlight was the multitude of brightly coloured Broadly’s lizards that seemed to disregard everything except each other …. mating season?? Territorial attentions?? The males were dressed in colors that were neon-bright.

Broadley lizard  Agrabies Falls

Arriving back at camp, we settled into our tented living spaces and and got busy with the individual pursuits of showering, writing, exploring, photography, pub-crawling and chatting which occupied us most evenings, while the crew prepared the evening meal – beef stew with rice.

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Our camp at Augrabies Falls Rest Camp.

Cape Town Tourist

Day 1 Dec. 13

It was Saturday, the first day of our 21 day Africa Adventure. We were introduced to the bus/truck that would be our home for the next 21 days.  This vehicle had a freezer and a fridge on board as well as charging stations for camera batteries, phones, computers and iPads while driving and, when camping, was plugged into direct current so we could pretty well charge anything anytime. At the back and underneath the vehicle was a storage place for all of the gear, food, luggage and other necessary equipment for a hassle – free trip.

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After stopping at the local market for water, wine, rand and snacks, we set off  for a tour of the Cape Peninsula. It was spectacular!! My first impressions? Green …. green and more green …. millions of hikers and bikers out enjoying the sun. The day was bright, clear and slightly windy. Other impressions? As we followed the coastline, all day, we were treated to continuous sights of immense, curling wave action, massive explosions of spray, and surfers galore. We passed through Camp’s Bay, one of the most expensive areas for real estate in Africa, rumor has it. From there we went through Hout’s Bay and up to Chapman’s Peak where we stopped for pictures. The road we followed was a cliff hanger and even there, we encountered a lot of cyclists. At the top of the peak, sitting there, looking out high over the ocean, I was filled with an over-powering sense of gratitude for this trip and for being here. My heart filled, my soul fluttered and began to wake up again to the beauty and goodness still present in our world.

From Chapman’s Peak we continued to the Cape of Good Hope, the most southern point of the African continent. We hiked up to the lighthouse first and from there went right down to the beach  where the waves crashed onto the rocky cliffs. Currents everywhere – as we looked out on the surface of the ocean we could see sudden sprays of water rising into the air. Amazing!

Historic lighthouse was always in the fog as it was too close to the water so a new one was built higher up.

Continuing along the Cape back towards Cape Town, we visited Boulders Beach, world famous for its colony of endangered but now thriving African penguins, set in the middle of the residential area between Simon’s Town and Cape Town. There, a series of boardwalks have been constructed to allow visitors to view the colony without disturbing the the penguins.

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From the penguin colony we headed back to Cape Town to take the rotating, round, cable car up to the top of Table Mountain where we spent the rest of the afternoon. The view was incredible and it was sunny and warm. From Table Mountain we returned to Cape Town for dinner.  Following dinner, we went back to our rooms to prepare for the first day on the road, which would take us from Cape Town through the Hantam region of South Africa and our first night of camping. We savored that last sweet sleep in real beds.

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