Tag Archives: Africa

Into Himba Country; Opuwo Country Lodge 550 km

Day 11 Dec. 23 Tuesday
This was the day I was convinced that Mike had contracted Ebola!!!

The day began perfectly. Mike had set his alarm for 5 am so he could climb Spitzkoppe in time to photograph the sunrise. Much to the surprise of both of us, I managed to wake myself up enough to join him on the mountain. It was truly spectacular . . . . from almost completely dark to the first lightening of the sky to the full splendor of the newly awakened sun casting its rays on the surrounding rocks.

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As we were leaving Spitzkoppe, we found a cave. Richard told us that tribe members will go to a cave like that with a candle and some medicine from the local shaman and will spend ‘alone’ time there, meditating. . . . communing with the spirit world . . . . time spent in prayer and ritual.

We were enroute to our next 2 nights in Kaololand, reputedly one of the most remote, harsh environments in Namibia. It was also one of the longest days in terms of the number of kilometers we were to cover. In Opuwo, our final destination and where we would stay for 2 nights,  we had a visit planned with the Himba people. It was one of the things I was most eagerly anticipating.

The first part of jelephant signourney took us through Damaraland, the north-central part of Namibia. The Damara people who live here are an ethnic group making up 8.5% of Namibia’s population (thank you Kiboko for those facts and figures). We had been informed in our pre-trip information that the terrain here is rugged, consisting of mountains interspersed with gravel plains and hot, sandy valleys. We entered elephant country and started to see numerous  “caution elephants”  road signs. We never did see any at this point. The road was rough and by 830 am,  Mike became violently sick.

Dumi barely had time to stop the bus. Initially, I thought Mike was sick from the combination of cough medicine, wine the night before and the rough road, but as the day progressed, Mike went from bad to worse. From 830 am until late afternoon, he was sick, both ends trying to clear his system of whatever had disturbed it so viciously. Every hour we had to stop the bus. It got so that I dreaded any change in the motion of the bus. Every time the bus slowed down, panic-stricken, I would grab the roll of tissue and a plastic bag and support Mike out the door to his new favorite spot by the rear wheel. By afternoon, he could no longer stand up or support himself . . . Dumi and Richard had to help him or he would fall. Meanwhile, we were in the middle of nowhere in “one of the most rugged, inhospitable regions of Namibia”. Trust Mike to choose this day to be sick.

Mikal’s point of view:

Today was the shits, literally. It was both the longest drive of the trip and the roughest road too. We started out as usual but the road was very much rougher than I thought it would be which would have been bad enough… but I caught a bug ( besides single handedly downing an entire bottle of red wine last night.. incredibly STUPID!) and after about an hour of bouncing I was sick … Out of the bus and spewing from both ends….

Memories  of the rest of the day are nothing but a blur because from that point on I had to stop every 30-45 minutes to be sick… again and again and again…

I had lots of time to think and worry on this worst of all days. I thought back to when we entered South Africa at the Cape town airport and being ordered to “go this way if you have been in an Ebola infected country”. But there didn’t seem to be any enforcement of that order that I could remember seeing. When we entered the country, Ebola was the least of my worries . . . I didn’t give Ebola a second thought, my mind being much more occupied with the adventure about to begin. I did, however, think to myself as I was going down some stairs, my hand resting on the bannister, that I must be sure to use my hand sanitizer. Of course I forgot. I had never ever seen Michael so sick before – I started to think maybe ???? Especially since all of us on the trip had been eating the same foods . . . he was the only one who got sick.

The rough roads not only created a problem for Mike bus also for the bus . . . a problem with a brake line. Fairly early on, we stopped at the side of the road for the crew to try a patch job until we got to the nearest service station. A short distance up the road stood a rustic stand operated by three Damara women and their children selling handicrafts they had made. We decided to shop while we stopped. Not for long . . .  no sooner had I started to look then ….  I followed Mike into the bushes again.

 

Mikal’s point of view:

Dehydrated & extremely weak, I had Tilly very worried to the point she was thinking “Ebola?”. I  even had to be helped to the bathroom by Dumi …too weak to walk a straight line.

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We finally found the proverbial service station. We were deposited at a local, enclosed camp/resort spot where we had lunch and where we put Mike on a mat, in the shade to rest. These flowers were a small bright spot during this short stop.  So vivid! We waited for about an hour or so for the truck to be repaired and then, once again, we were under way.

I have to commend Dumi, Richard and Mandhla. They handled the situation superbly,  panic – free (I was doing that for all of us!!), but steady and helpful. Mike had by this time lost all of his bodily fluids. Dumi made him a concoction of  water, sugar and salt and Mike tried to keep it down.

Mikal’s point of view:

The crew – Dumi, Richard, Mandla were phenomenal in their care for me.They concocted  a homemade re-hydration salt/sugar solution… (1 teaspoon salt to 7 teaspoons sugar per liter). Getting it down my throat was easy… keeping it down? … We stopped every 30-45 minutes for me to be sick… again and again and again…

Our fellow travelers were incredible also, being supportive of Tilly and understanding of my situation by NOT taking a video for YOUtube posting later.

At this point, you’d think it couldn’t get any worse. It did. Mike just couldn’t get comfortable. After some discussion, it was decided he might be more comfortable in the cab of the truck, beside Dumi, who was driving.  All of a sudden, the brakes went on. There was a commotion in the front seat. I leaped out of my seat, and just as I got to the window and able to see Mike, I saw him having a seizure. He had thrown up again (thank heavens there wasn’t much left by this time). The seizure was very short – only a few moments. We quickly got him out – the nether region was also excreting. Mike told us that he thought maybe he was too hot but too incapacitated to say anything – basically I think he lost consciousness. Little did we know the sun had been shining on him full blast, through his open window, so on top of whatever bug he had, we had inadvertently caused him to have heat stroke too. We soaked everything we could find in water and laid him on the floor of the bus where he stayed for the duration of the trip. Once we got him cooled off, he started to rally and I started to hope that maybe the worst was over. Thank heavens we were finally on a paved road.

Finally, after a stop at the ‘already closed’ medical clinic, we arrived in Opuwo, at the Opuwo Country Lodge. Our tent was the priority that evening (it was already 7pm). We were already much later than planned with the numerous stops for Mike and the longer stop for truck repair. I think we were all exhausted. We showered, washed clothes, ate dinner and headed off to our respective tents.

Spitzkoppe Bush Camp 100 km

Day 10 Dec. 22 Monday
Much as we loved camping and were happy and content in our tent, we certainly appreciated ‘real beds’. We woke up early, washed and hung the rest of our clothes and went for the breakfast included in our guesthouse stay. We both had a continental breakfast and coffee. Knowing that shopping was on our agenda and that we only had until noon, we packed up as much as possible and headed towards the shopping area a few blocks away.

The previous day, we had decided we would celebrate Christmas Eve by doing the ‘Secret Santa’ game that some of us had done so many times in Christmases past. When consulted as to the best day to do this, either the 24th or the 25th, Dumi, Richard and Mandhla  enthusiastically agreed to participate and that in terms of our travel plans, campsites, and mileages, the 24th would be the best day. That meant we had to find some secret Santa gifts. Of course, we were looking for grand baby gifts too – you never know if the grand baby might turn out to be as much of a gypsy as Mike and I. The Bush Babies were still slumbering after their night on the town so Rhea decided to join us on our shopping spree.

We discovered to our delight, that Swakopmund is a really ‘tourist friendly’  little town with lots of great shopping. I bought a travel mug and a fly swatter for my secret Santa gift; Mike bought a set of plastic wine glasses for his gift and we found a small present for the ‘baby’. Some mosquito repellent cream, sunscreen and Advil cold and flu meds completed the shopping list. We returned  to the guesthouse to pack and put things away, buy water for 2 days and have lunch. Lunch was a Greek salad, bread and melon.

From Swakopmund we made our way north along the coast. The ocean was in view the whole way , miles and miles of sand, surf, and sea.

We even dipped our feet in the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped to see a ship wreck and just had to test the waters.

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The Zeila, a fishing trawler, being towed as scrap metal to India in 2008, came loose from its towing cable, becoming one of the many ships which, over the years, have become stranded on ‘the Skeleton Coast’.

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We all were fascinated not only by the ship but also by the waves crashing onto the shore, and the fishermen further up the coast. The Atlantic at its best!

 

 

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We were making our way to the one and only remote ‘bush camp’ of the trip, a place called ‘Spitzkoppe’, translated as “sharp head”, nicknamed “The Matterhorn of Africa”. It’s one of Namibia’s most recognizable landmarks and as you will see from the pictures, absolutely stunning. This was by far our favorite part of the trip.

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This is what it looked like from afar.

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As we got closer and closer, we started to get an idea of the grandeur and size of these Spitkoppe Mountains.

 

 

 

 

We arrived at our remote, “only place with a long-drop toilet” campsite. Our crew got busy organizing our camp; we got busy exploring. First, the camp.

bcd1This is Richard setting up the first of our tents, always checking for shade and comfort. In the foreground you can see the acacia tree with its many weaver bird nests.

Below – the long-drop toilet! In the shade, no less!bcd2  bcd3

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Our bush camp with the mountains as the backdrop. Absolutely spectacular!

 

 

After exploring the camp and getting things ready for the evening routine, we set off to scramble around on the mountains.

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These big huge boulders were easy to climb up but higher than they appeared and very steep coming down.

Below left, Mike & Jan “getting to the top”, right, the ‘Bush-babies’.

 

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Next, we had a 2 hour walking tour scheduled with a local Damara guide who showed us the bushman paintings done with blood and ‘something something’, a bottle tree and finally ‘the bridge’.

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We made it to the top, right into the arch from where took a picture down, at Jan’s suggestion, of our shadows!

 

 

We continued our walk through the boulders and surrounding grasslands.

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The sun was starting to set so up the mountain for sunset we went, each of us with a bottle of red or white in our arms. What a sunset and what a party! We all made it back down safely, believe it or not!!

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This is what our camp looked like in the evening. By the time we got down it was quite dark and our dinner was waiting for us.

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We had a dinner of fish (Snooke I think it was called, cooked in foil over the fire), an African version of scalloped potatoes, a rice dish, wine, all accompanied with lots of laughs and good conversation. In this remote area without the reflection of lights, the display of stars overhead was brilliant. Mike stayed sitting outside for a long time, fascinated by stars, satellites, and shooting stars.

 

Dune Sunrise

Day 8 Dec. 20 Saturday
Up very early at 430 and on the road to Dune 45 before breakfast to catch the sunrise from the top of the dune. Mike, feeling rough with the effects of his cold, didn’t climb with us, opting instead to take pics from below. We climbed …. and we climbed ….. rested …… and then we climbed some more. Finally, when we couldn’t go any farther, we just plopped ourselves down in the sand and enjoyed each other’s company until, in awe, we witnessed the rising of the sun in silent splendor. As the sun continued to rise, the light became good enough for a selfie or two which turned into a selfie flood. Here are just a few of the pics I took from both top and bottom of the dune.

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Victorious Rachel selfie

Panorama from the top of Dune 45, looking down, framed by  Claire on the right, Rachel on the left, and our crew below.

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Panorama shot from the bottom of Dune 45, looking up.

Sunrise Panorama

Ran down the face of the dune, creating little mini-sand-slides as we went, supervised by an oryx below who wasn’t too concerned (probably came to see the show from his perspective – crazy humans!).

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Our different styles of descending the dune.

The guys were waiting for us with a big breakfast of french toast, coffee and the ever present rusks.

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Parting shots of Dune 45 and the ridge we climbed, as we left for the next challenge, Big Daddy Dune.

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Big Daddy Dune was indeed, BIG!! After breakfast we drove a few kilometres further and parked the bus. We set off walking cross country but parallel to a sand road much the same as what we drove on in the Wahiba Desert in Oman. Rides in safari vehicles to the dune were on offer but we opted to walk the 5 kilometres to the dunes. Here is some of the spectacular scenery we saw.

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Mike and I had had enough of climbing the shifting red sand of the dunes and chose instead to skirt the edge of the dune and watch the others trudge their way to the top.

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We took the lower altitude route around the base of the dunes to Deadvlei, a huge white salt pan with twisted, blackened, dead, acacia trees. It made for some spectacular shots with the red dunes as a background and the blue sky above. Saw some great abstract art in the sand/salt pan.

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Everyone else in our group went up the dune and I took pics of them perched way above us. (You can just see them there, in the last pic on the right, perched as a small cluster, on the very top, in the “V” of the tree branch.)

DSCN3952We met these two women who were also visiting.DSCN3927

We left to walk back to camp while the others came down, took pics and caught the shuttle back. It was a long walk back, and very hot but still, I enjoyed it. We walked over 10 km.

One last view of the most beautiful dunes in the world and then lunch where we were parked. Then, back to camp.

We were all tired but our tents were in the full sun so we sat in the bar for a while sipping a beer and chatted, waiting for the shade to reach our tents so we could snooze. We didn’t feel the wind rising. When we finally settled into our tents for a snooze, the wind gathered strength and before long, we were covered in a layer of fine sand. We closed up the tent and returned to the bar.

IMG_2781In the late afternoon, we walked into another canyon, Sesriem Canyon. Beautiful but too tired to appreciate it fully.

Back to camp for a dinner of  stir-fry beef and veggies with macaroni.

 

To bed and sleep.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

DSCN3792 Mikes Workspace on the bus

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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