A Travellerspoint blog


Day Fifty Three to Fifty Five – Etosha Again

14th -16th November

sunny 32 °C

Not to speak hereto a point of boredom but we had another exceptional few days, more cheetah and cubs, jackal pups, hyena finishing off elephant bones of the carcass we’d seen one month previously, lion, fighting giraffes, with their swinging heads acting like medieval maces. A head that heavy and at the end of a neck that long, swung with ferocity, each male exchanging blows to submission; it was fantastic stuff, a rare sight and straight from the animal behaviour book.

The waterhole by night was stocked well with elephants and rhino and Somers managed to stay there until the wee small hours unable to draw her eyes from the performance. And Somers gave rise to one particular highlight of the trip. Whilst watching a bull elephant alone at a watering hole, Lauras’ mind once more turned to that of watering herself. ” I’m just going to have a wee,” she said cheekily jumping out of the car. As I turned back to the elephant, a commotion ensued behind me, “Oh my holy crap,” said Somers, jumping back into the car and simultaneously closing the door in one fluid movement. So enthralled had we been at our elephant, we hadn’t seen the second elephant two metres behind Redvers; the one Somers had almost just run underneath whilst unbuttoning her shorts.

As we fell asleep at Namutoni Camp on our last night in Etosha, there was a storm in the east. Flashes of lightning strobed the night sky and the thunder that arrived so long after the flashes kept me awake. The rainy season had come and we were heading into it.

Posted by ibeamish 23:11 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Fifty Two – Back to Etosha

13th November 2011

sunny 24 °C

With heads lacking a little clarity after a litre of wine each we set off for Etosha again. Five hours later after retracing those broken-tyred steps we had taken just a few days earlier, we had enjoyed a spot of early dinner in Outjo and now found ourselves a few kilometres from the park gates.

We were being tight again and as such, tonight we were bush-camping. We found what looked to be a quiet little F road just two kilometres from the gate. As we turned into it lorry appeared from nowhere coming towards it. We bottled it and reversed back out. As the guys pulled up we saw the driver had a Liverpool shirt on. Five minutes later, after an exchange of hellos, a discussion of birth places and an insight into our scrooge-like camping desires he’d given us directions to the best spot to camp and that we had his permission and no one would bother us. Football is a universal language.

Posted by ibeamish 23:10 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Fifty to Fifty One - A little shocked

11th – 13th November 2011

sunny 38 °C

“No, there’s not a single thing wrong under here mate,” said Quentin on the phone to Captain Shock in a greatly improved mood. “There’s not a scratch,” he added. “There is a bit of dirt but they’ve driven it for a few hundred k’s.” Somers and I looked at each other. This was promising, we’d spent the previous evening writing account of the events, sorting the photos of the broken shock before and after removal, we even had a video of it. Our confidence was growing.

Before we could even discuss the situation further, a new part appeared, and was fitted. Both Quentin and Captain Shock said they’d never seen a shock so badly damaged before. Quentin still clung to a sequence of events in which the tyre had burst first, in doing so breaking a piece of metal designed to take huge mechanical loads and what’s more, when the tyre burst, it drew the shock towards itself. His logic defied physics; we didn’t care. We’d come for a fight and by nine o’clock in the morning we realised we had nothing to for the rest of the day. Our fiftieth day on the road had turned out nice again.

We wandered Windhoek, and relaxed. Back at the hostel we met a couple of French bankers on a ’round the world trip’ sabbatical. They were leaving and had a couple of sleeping mats and a tent that they needed to shift. The items were three weeks old; we took a mat and the tent off their hands at 50% discount on the tag price. The second mat had a puncture, that one was free. ‘Nice one Rodders, nice one.’

The following day we had Redvers' pressure washed. Laura waxed him in the afternoon. He looked like a beast, his gleaming paintwork and fat tyres, slung on banana suspension, he was ready for anything. That evening we went out to wine bar for drinks with some NGO guys we’d met at the hostel, and drank some very nice wine.

Posted by ibeamish 23:44 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day Forty Nine - Tired of tyres

10th November 2011

sunny 38 °C

We bought two hellishly expensive tyres in the morning whilst taking a leisurely breakfast at the bakery and made Windhoek by two.

We hit every tyre shop in Windhoek, bartering them and playing one against another until we found a nice chap at Tiger Wheel and Tyre who sorted us out with four new pimped ‘You can drive across anything’ tyres. Redvers new shoes made him look very handsome, now he needed a new shock and a wash.

We nipped into the suspension place on the way back, with the banana in hand. It was Thursday afternoon, 4.30pm. Not the best time to present someone with a problem but I wanted the ball rolling before Friday. Quentin, the workshop manager, took one look at it, “Its fucked, what did you do to it?” I told him our story; it was more than obvious that he didn’t believe me. “I’ll tell you one thing for sure, there’s no way they’re gonna honour the warranty on that,” he said, helpfully. He took a picture on his phone and sent it to the head of Old Man Emu in southern Africa. I didn’t hear it but Captain Crap Shocks agreed with him. “It’s late, bring the car in tomorrow and we’ll look under it. We’ll go from there.” I gathered my paperwork, picked up the banana and left. I was furious.

Posted by ibeamish 23:39 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Eight – Halfway back

9th November 2011

sunny 38 °C

Given our trials and tribulations we just wanted to get to Windhoek before the weekend so that we could shop around for some new tyres and try and get our warranty validated on the banana suspension. As it stood Windhoek was 918 kilometres away. We hoped that we could set off early, stop in Outjo for a late lunch at the bakery and hit Windhoek by nightfall. All was going splendidly and we stopped briefly in Opuwo, the capital of Kaokoland. The tat mission was ever present and I quite wanted a Himba head dress. There didn’t appear to be any craft stalls as such and we’d all but given up hope until we saw a lady in our car park with a one in her basket. She was with another tourist and so we sat in our car and waited patiently until she’d finished. We called her over and started business proceedings. Three minutes later we had been swarmed. Somers, in the driving seat, had six ladies of varying age and in varying degrees of dress, thrusting necklaces and such through the window. We’d found what we wanted and when Somers told the motley crew to back off, they looked a little offended.

Our next stop was at the veterinary control point. No meat is allowed to be transported out of Kaokoland due to the risks of foot and mouth. The tender and final piece of Erics’ gluteals was sat in a tupperware box at the bottom of the fridge and that delicious piece of muscle was foot and mouth free. When asked I told the police officer and veterinary assistant that we had no meat. He said OK, but didn’t wave us on. The next thing, he was back. When asked about a fridge we told him we had one and he insisted on looking in it for meat. Uh oh. I clambered into the back making it look very awkward, took the lid off the fridge and noticed Eric partially hidden under a couple of water bottles. I scrambled out backwards, clattering and bumping and finally back on the tarmac told the officer he was more than welcome to get in and look. He unwittingly called my bluff and as he climbed in our heart rates quickened. He took a long look and paused. “OK,” he said, “you can go.” Phew.
As I said all was going well until 530kms into the days’ journey our back left tyre blew out. It was supposedly the best tyre on the vehicle and the fact that half of the road bearing surface was now loose was just bad luck. The rubber had come away at the radial wires; I’d given up trying to understand why. Despite the bits of rubber and metal poking out of it, it was still inflated. The inner tube hadn’t given up yet. It was half past four. We had 60 kilometres to go. We poured water on it to cool it down and set off at 30kph, and at 30 we stayed, and prayed, for two hours hoping we’d make it before the tyre croaked.

We arrived just after six thirty, there was a tyre shop in town, we’d have to pay it a visit in the morning and then try and get to Windhoek.

Posted by ibeamish 23:38 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Seven – Pooped at Epupa

8th November 2011

sunny 41 °C

We had planned on leaving to get back to Windhoek but after our exertions over the last few days we decided we should stay another night and recoup. Using palm nuts we played boules at the river side, we read our books and called our shocks supplier in South Africa to find out where it could get replaced. (Six weeks and ten thousand kilometres for it to fold like a wet tissue.) It can be done in Windhoek when we get our tyres.

The heat was too much to do anything during the day, infact we spent the day moving our chairs with the shade, but as the sun sank we walked west along the river. Few things have left me in awe and Epupa and the Cunene are one such location. Five hundred metres of rocky ground have three or four clefts down which the water is channelled. At this, the driest time of year the water still roared. The river is bordered by huge palm trees that appear as an oasis tonic to the towering yellow scrub hills that fill the rest of the picture. Huge 800 year old Baobab trees cling perilously to the edge of the falls, physics defies their existence when so much of them appears to be suspended over nothing. One of the trees bears testimony to those that got too close to the falls. The names of the deceased fill the visible trunk of a tree that is seven metres in circumference at its base. We walked further along the river to a depth measuring tower. The deepest measurement was in excess of twenty one metres. The water was nowhere near this level. I couldn’t see far enough down the measuring rail for fear of falling into the canyon. Even here where a concrete and iron monitoring tower had been built, drift wood and desiccated plant material had wrapped itself around the ladder way above where the measuring rod ended. All around us, drift wood was strewn amongst the rocks. It was truly beautiful. We agreed that one day we would return at the height of the rainy season.

Another fire and again Eric provided. This would be our penultimate steak.

Posted by ibeamish 23:35 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Six – Shocking

7th November 2011

sunny 40 °C

With our tyres as they were, and the temperatures hitting the low forties, rubber conservation was imperative. We were to start early in the cooler part of the morning before the ground got too hot and then drive for as many hours as necessary during day light maintaining our slow speed to avoid friction heating our tyres any further.

Before we could get going we heard voices coming along the road. Our eyes widened and our pupils dilated with nervous anticipation. The voices grew louder, we weren’t well hidden. Would it be the chief asking for compensation for us using his land, would it be curious locals coming to see if they could get some sugar or mealie meal, (crushed maize meal, the staple of African belly fill,) or would it be the middle aged Himba couple that we now saw approaching us aback their donkey steeds. The gentleman climbed down from his donkey, I say down but his feet were only six inches from the ground to start with, and he loosely tethered it around a bush. He was wearing an old long over coat loosely tied around the middle and I could see his loin cloth and bare chest through the opening of the coat. He then raised a leg onto the river bank and placed one hand on the raised thigh as if striking a thoughtful ‘catalogue’ pose. The silence was broken by the sound of running water and I immediately turned to see what Somers was up to, she was stood next to me. The noise was coming from in front of me. I looked back. The guy wasn’t smiling even though the corners of his mouth were slightly upturned and his eyes were ever so slightly closed, it was the satisfied face of a dressed man looking directly at us whilst having a wee.

His wife approached and we soon realised communication would be based around pointing and the art of mime. We understood ‘sooka’ to be sugar, but we had none so that was easy. The lady kept raising both arms to the blue sky. Sky equals rain, rain equals water. A commodity too precious to be given away, especially in our uncertain circumstances, empty bottles however were more than acceptable. We had four spare 5l empties. We handed them over. I offered them some of our porridge that I’d cooked the day before. It had taken on a burnt wood flavour and wasn’t entirely delicious. But with strawberry jam to sugar coat it, it provided some sort of nutrition. Mr and Mrs weren’t so sure. Mrs tried it first and seemed to like it, she got a second helping; Mr licked it and decided it wasn’t so good. We couldn’t blame him; we’d been battling a bit with it ourselves.

Anyway, no sooner had they taken the plastic bottles they had hidden them in a bush, to collect at alter date, and were back on their donkeys. They told us they were heading to Okangwati, which coincidentally was also where we were heading. I wondered who’d get there first.

Our slow trawl continued and two hours in we started to hear a banging noise from beneath the car. I thought it was the porridge pan at first but Somers advised that it was the car and that we should really have a look. For the next kilometre we repeatedly looked underneath Redvers, shaking his drive shaft, his transmission, his differentials, his exhaust, I even ran alongside to see exactly where the noise was coming from. It was his back right, somewhere near his wheel. After a while Somers worked out it was the shock absorber casing that was rattling. This was the one place that we thought we had covered. We had put brand new Old Man Emu shocks on for just this reason; we’d be driving hard ground. Old Man Emu is supposedly the toughest brand, its slogan is ‘Built Tough in Australia’ that should have been a warning. Even though it rattled it was all still firmly attached and we felt like it was working. We were driving slowly. We thought it should be alright.

An hour later we hit what we had least wanted to see. Ahead our ‘D-road’ became a washed out track that turned into a quite tough 4x4 course with very steep sections. We were climbing rocks two feet high and crossing gaps three feet deep. At times we climbed ten metres in only twenty metres of ‘road.’ Every foot of forward motion involved undue strain on our disintegrating tyres. (Redvers is more than capable of dealing with this territory, it was partly the reason that we’d come this way and we were confident enough that normally we could get through it.) Every inch seemed to have one of the tyres scraping for purchase and then once grip was attained the engine forced two tonnes of Redvers uphill on just a sharp edge of rock. We spent half an hour dealing with the worst of it and we were just getting to the top of a very tricky section when there was a bang and a rush of air.

Crikey was nowhere near as foul as the word I used. We’d had the wing mirrors trained on the back wheels since we set off and it only took a cursory glance at the flat heap of rubber that clung limply onto the back right wheel to repeat the word that sounded nothing like crikey. The sat-nav displayed one hundred kilometres to the main road. We’d been making good time, but once again we had a tyre to change in the middle of the day and this time, without shade. The second spare was on the roof, it took two of us to unbolt it thanks to my dodgy homemade ‘secure’ bolt fixing. I was walking around cursing like a drunk, collecting what I’d need to change the wheel. On the ground Somers was a little more cool headed and methodical. She’d chocked the front wheels and was now under the car looking at the damage. The tyre that we’d so caringly protected for 24 hours would still have been intact had the cheap, prison labour built, banana coloured excuse for an Australian shock absorption device not been neatly jack-knifed through our tyre. Curse, cursing curse, curse, curse. Criking Australians. I got the hi-lift jack and the number 19 spanner out, we’d need them both. The wheel came off. We stabilised Redvers with a small boulder under the diff and we switched jacks to take off our crumpled shock. We switched jacks again and put our spare wheel on. We packed away and set off an hour and a half after we’d heard the pop.

We weren’t yet through the rough stuff and we had no idea how much further it would go on for. Repeatedly we’d hit a nice stretch of track or sand before then hitting a rocky section again. It was on one such sandy section that Somers actually saved the day. With a good 70kms left to the main road she asked me stop the car, she could smell burning rubber. Crikey.

Once again we were on our knees, and then on our backs under Redvers’ back end. Without his shock there had been nothing to hold his suspension spring in place. One of the slow rough sections must have allowed the spring to partially jump out and it was now wearing a line through our already roughened second and final spare. Thus ensued another hour of jacking in loose sand. Jacking in sand is something akin to pile driving, the weight of Redvers just pushed the jack deeper through the sand. We needed a base plate. We found sequentially bigger rocks to act as such. One seemed to have worked before Redvers creaked and slowly leaned forcing the jack to slip and its’ end to dig into the body work. Another dent, another story. The jack stopped working, it took a few minutes before I realised a pin had come out. I dug around the sand and found it and hammered it back into place. More boulder hunting. Eventually we found a huge rock, we barely managed to carry it between us but even this small mountain needed extra support rocks beneath it. With the substructure in place the jack stood well and up Redvers went. We managed to get the spring back in place and lowered the jack. Yet, unless we could somehow secure the spring in place we would have to repeat this debacle every time we crossed a tough 4x4 section.

Somers however was sailing a purple patch and the genius that was spewing forth was uncontrollable. She appeared with a packet of tie wraps. Jeepers, I thought. How can two tonnes of metal be held together with a few narrow strips of plastic. “Just use lots of them,” she said. What else could we do? Redvers right hind leg was now held together using tie-wraps and hope. Our situation was thus: two perishing tyres in front, two suffering but intact and capable tyres behind. One shock missing behind and replaced with twenty seven tie-wraps. Somers had stopped us driving the second spare into another broken mess. We were on a road that was so bad we may not have seen another car for days. We certainly hadn’t seen fresh tyre tracks that day. It wasn’t worth thinking about our situation had we lost another tyre at this point. We’d have had to walk or wait. Somers had saved us for now.

Over the next thirty kilometres we stopped over twenty times to get out and check our spring was in place. We couldn’t afford to lose a tyre. Fortunately the road steadily improved from here. We reached the main road at Okangwati at half past five, it had taken all day to get there, but now we had a level, graded, gravel road. We turned north, away from Opuwo and away from fuel and fresh tyres.

An hour later we got to Epupa Falls. We managed to swim in one of the pools and saw the last rays of the sun setting on the Angolan hills whilst sipping gin and tonics on Redvers balcony. The relief was paramount.

We fell asleep to the rumble of the falling Cunene River and the sound of cicadas in the trees.

Posted by ibeamish 23:34 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Four- Corrugations

5th November 2011

sunny 34 °C

We were fresh today. It felt like something of a beginning for the first major section of our trip. We had left the Atlantic Ocean yesterday. We would now travel across Africa to the Indian Ocean before turning left to head north. Today our little off road trip began. To begin we had to pass through the main town in the area which was Sesfontein.

The road wasn’t too bad, corrugated in places, crossing plenty of dried up tributaries and streams but not too bad. We could cruise at forty kilometres per hour just nicely. We passed Purros. It was a settlement really, hut and kraals. We didn’t see a shop.

This was when the road got nasty. The corrugations were horrific, ten centimetres deep in places, relentlessly pounding the suspension, shaking the car apart unless we travelled below ten kilometres an hour. For much of it we drove off the side of the road following where someone had done the same before us. Still it was awful, looking at the map on the laptop someone had annotated ‘this road will break your suspension.’ It got so bad in fact that we eventually turned off. Somers had spotted a river bed that we could drive up and it had to be better than our current road surface. We turned off the ‘D road’ onto the Khumib River bed. A couple of kilometres along, we stopped. We set up camp, collected wood and got a fire going. Red wine, Eric drumsticks and Scrabble.

We fell asleep to the sound of absolute heavenly silence.

Posted by ibeamish 08:43 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty Three – Beamo Grylls, Grills

4th November 2011

sunny 39 °C

Walking along the beach the next morning the bags under our eyes told of a long night interrupted by lots of rain, the noisy Atlantic and nightmares of waking to find the water lapping against Redvers’ doors. Looking down I noticed a fair amount of discarded fishing line and that gave me an idea for a video.

Beamo Grylls. Using only what I could find here in the deserted Skeleton Coast I would craft a fishing rod and line and catch some Cod for our supper. There was plenty of line which I wound around a thick piece of wood as my spool. I found a piece of wire which I then spent an hour filing to a sharp point with my Leatherman before attaching some shells as my sink weight and another piece of wood as a float. The bait was a piece of liquorice. Whilst this may be frowned upon in fishing circles Somers and I have eaten a lot of fish and I a lot of liquorice and we both thought they might like a nice piece of the stuff. I couldn’t help but think it was all too easy. The beach dropped off quite sharply as it hit the ocean but I’d have to be in the water in order to be able to cast far enough with my right arm. I pictured Bear with his team of well equipped fishermen already out catching what would be the fish used in the final shot, I pictured his beaming face fresh from a night in the eighty quid a night lodge and I saw me, crotch deep in cold rough water, holding a supreme 10 or 12 pound Kappeljou Cod, a champion among men, Somers content with her choice of such a rugged male specimen - able to survive anywhere he is thrown. Generally I thought a lot in what was only a few minutes and when I cast my tackle for a second time the line snapped mid flight. Hook, line and sinker into the briny sea. You can’t imagine my dismay. I stormed up the pebbled beach, past a filming Somers, grumpy as all hell.

The day could have started better but we were soon nearing the park gate formulating excuses for how we’d spent two days in the park with no evidence of accommodation. Fortunately for us the gate keeper was preoccupied with a German couple (both boys, and definitely a couple) who had punctured their tyre on the way in.

We were travelling again, and at a fair old rate on the gravel road. As we rounded another corner the brakes slammed on and we skidded to a halt as the plumes of dust that we’d created sailed past us and through the giraffe that were crossing the road ahead of us. Ten of them in all, mooching around like rabbits might on an English common, as wild as is possible nowadays. We took advantage of the break and had lunch and collected some firewood for later on.

An hour later we were stopping again. At one of our river crossings was a herd of elephant playing in the water a hundred metres away from us, twenty five of them from baby to matriarch. We watched for an hour or so. During that time two vehicles came towards us from the road ahead. One was an open backed pick-up (bakkie) driven by a group of local guys who stopped briefly in awe of their local wildlife; the other was an overland vehicle with a couple of tourists in. We hold the latter responsible for what happened a few miles further on.

Somers spotted him first. A little Steenbok, fully grown but none the less small by nature, just lying at the side of the road wide eyed at the approaching Redvers. Steenbok are normally very shy and all too quick to run, but he sat there quietly, watching. We stopped five metres from him. He still hadn’t moved, but he was clearly looking at us. Something was clearly not right. I got out of the car to see what was wrong and only as I got within three metres from him did he attempt painfully to stand and wheelbarrow himself, dragging his hind legs three feet towards the bush. He gave up and, walking up to him, I stooped to stop him going further. I stroked his back as if to calm him knowing full well that he’d never been touched by a human and that his fear must have been pinnacle. He looked like he’d ruptured his abdomen as beneath the skin of his belly was a large soft protrusion, alien to his other contours. I looked at Somers and we knew what would happen next.

I’d struggle to break his neck in one go, I’d already named him Eric in my mind by this point, God knows why, so we had two options, a knife or strangulation. It makes me feel sick even now. My job means I’ve been at the surviving end of many one sided duels with animals. Each one as justified in its own way as the one I was about to add to the list. I’ve had animals in worse pain, owners grappling at their ‘baby’ unable to control their tears and unable to say goodbye but this was wholly different. Both options available were barbaric but I couldn’t deal with strangling something. I took the kitchen knife from the drawer; I knew it was sharp enough. With the sickening feeling in my stomach building even further I walked back towards him catching a resigned glimpse from Somers. Half way I stopped. “This is the right thing to do isn’t it?” I asked, rhetorically. Laura confirmed the inevitable and my reluctant walk continued. I picked him up in my arms and moved him from the road; it would be easier if the scrub hid the unavoidable bloodshed. He bleated loudly. Like a lamb. I’d never felt this awful before. I was trying to imagine what was running through his brain. To my mind he was no longer thinking ‘Predator! Run!’ I’d anthropomorphised him into thinking about how I hadn’t been so scary the first time but asking why I was now carrying a knife?

I placed his body between my legs and holding his chin in my left hand pulled it towards my stomach. He didn’t struggle. The knife was heavy in my right hand, too heavy to lift. I turned to look at Somers. She was looking away. “Hon,” I said shakily. “You’re doing the right thing,” she shouted in reply. I turned back. Sweat was dripping off my brow and my heart was pounding and my stomach was turning, my skin tingled and my head throbbed with every heart beat. I looked at the knife again, I looked at him, his slender neck, his huge black eyes, his little horns and his helpless situation. I muttered the word sorry as I drew the knife, pressing to make sure I was deep. He passed out. I made a second cut to ensure his fate.

As I’ve already said, I never really thought killing something could be so hard, the combination of the Bambi looks with the lambs cry and I suppose the forty degree heat and a tired mind all played their role. But what had needed doing had been done. Now all that lay before me was a carcass. A fresh carcass. I cleaned the blood from my knife and took the hind limbs off at the hip, taking as much of the hind quarter meat as I could. We wrapped them in plastic and put them in our fridge. Nature would look after the rest of Eric as the circle continued. Spike would be proud.

We found a community run campsite at Khowareb Schluct on the Hoanib River. Yet another extremely pretty location with running water and shady trees that overhung us like protective sentinels shielding the still fierce heat of the sun. We had been away for a few nights and it was good to be clean again in a place with plenty of fresh water. But we knew the next part of our trip would be the toughest yet. We’d be spending anywhere between three and six days in the wilderness of North West Namibia, Kaokoland. Although some of the roads were marked as D roads we’d read they’d been built by the South African army when the British had persuaded Jan Smuts and Louis Botha to take Namibia from the Germans in 1914. At best they’d be well marked 4x4 trails. At worst they’d be impassable.

In some bizarre scene reminiscent of days of yore, Mr and Mrs performed their respective chores. Laura aired our bed linen and then sat stitching our torn clothes. I took Eric’s legs out and prepared them, skinning them first before taking the steaks off and two rather large drumsticks. Given Eric’s small stature there was a reasonable amount of meat; almost two kilograms by my estimate. I washed the meat off, salted it, wrapped it and put it back in the fridge.

We lit the fire, drank beers and cider and braai’d steak trying to piece together the days’ events.

Posted by ibeamish 10:36 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day Forty Two – Oil Rigs and Shipwrecks

3rd November 2011

sunny 35 °C

The day got off to a belting start when the park guys started fixing their car at the break of dawn. We lay still in our crumpled sleeping bags for a while contemplating rising. Eventually we could take the noise no longer. My entrance on the scene in just my boxers was made more impressive as my foot slipped on the first rung of our dew laden ladder. I very briefly hit every other rung on the ladder as I fell semi-graciously to the dirt. I stood quickly, dusting myself off. I pretended that the girly little squeak hadn’t happened and that I hadn’t just fallen seven feet down a ladder. The guys fixing their car stood in bewildered, but only mild, interest at another white man acting weird again.

A short distance into the park we found the wreck of The Benguela Eagle (1975.) Further on we found the cinematic remains of an old inland oil rig. It seems the entire thing was built of iron and steel and now this huge structure sits in the desert rusting away. There isn’t a square inch of it that isn’t rusted.

Somewhat coincidentally, that morning we’d decided it was high time we made a music video and this spot provided an amazing location. Somers, it seemed, slipped very naturally into the role of music video icon and performed brilliantly in front of camera. My talent was lacking, I was well aware of it, and so in an effort to pad out my part of the routine I went for the highest point on the rig. That was a lot easier said than done. The rusted steps had no actual ‘step’ remaining; the square floor panel on which I was stood was covered in about six inches of excrement from the local bird life, not that we could see any of the offending creatures. My scene involved a jump before swinging my arm out towards the sea. I wasn’t sure that the floor would stand a jump and it was telling in my face as Somers started the camera rolling. My half baked jump landed heavily. The floor beneath me flexed. Not like a piece of thick rubber or thick metal but more like a piece of peanut brittle. I heard a crack and looked down to see a line running along past the heels of my feet out to the edge of the golden brown structure. My mojo was gone. I gingerly climbed back down like a criticised prima donna and muttered something about being over this video making crap.

We went for a walk along the beach near Toscanini, an old diamond mine. Sadly we didn’t find any diamonds but we did find bones. The beach was littered with seal and whale bones. In a few kilometres we saw more than thirty seal skulls, we saw whale ribs, 15 or more feet long, Somers lay lengthways next to one, and vertebrae the size of a bath tub; the parks title is clearly no misnomer,

The afternoon was spent hiking across five kilometres of salt pan come sand dune to the oceans’ shore where lay the Montrose (1973.) By far the best wreck we’d seen yet, it still has its mast and is therefore far more potent and pleasing on the eye than previous wrecks. It was also one of the most scenic, and remote, picnic spots I’ve ever dined at. Arabian pepsi tasted amazing. It’s not just the fifty P shop in Liverpool that still sells Arab coke with the old style ring-pulls.

We weren’t allowed to camp overnight in the Park unless we stayed in the eighty quid per person lodge. That didn’t suit, so we drove off to find a secluded spot on the pebble beach at the shores edge nestled in behind some dunes to keep us clear of the road. As we climbed into bed a storm was brewing over the Atlantic the waves crashed thunderously against the shore, lifting and smashing pebbles as big as a human head against the beach. From all the way to my right, north, all the way to my left, the south, and all the way from the roof of the sky in front of me down onto the horizon ahead lay one huge black cloud. It’ll never hit us I thought as I slipped into a dream about Redvers being washed into the ocean.

Posted by ibeamish 10:28 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty One - Beached

November 2nd 2011

sunny 36 °C

We drank coffee whilst we sat watching the distant ocean glow brighter as the sun rose on our backs. Today was a great day. We were to be shipwreck hunters again!

There were a few wrecks on our list that we hadn’t seen with Emma and today was the day we would get to see them. We pretended we weren’t on just another tourist trail. Wired with caffeine and the romantic notion of tracking down these once noble vessels that had come to the end on these inhospitable shores we gunned Redvers to life and the hunt began.

The first on our list was another ‘unknown’ wreck. It was five kilometres from the main road and so there would be some 4x4ing to do. We turned off the road at a position from which we could head due west, following another cars foot prints. The track was easy and two kilometres in we hit a rocky bank running through the centre of a large salt pan with what looked like fairly deep sand either side of us. With the bank as our bridge we were sailing, we were closing on the wreck and the excitement was building. (My mind was playing out the pirate impressions already as I’m sure was Somers’.) But plain sailing was soon to end. Our bank petered out into darker sand with from its appearance was fairly crusted. Somers slowed the engine and looked at me. I looked back shrugging. My words were, “Just gun it I reckon.” Somers took the bull by the horns and Redvers roared as we left our bank and hit a very thin crust beneath which lay deep, sticky but extremely slippy mud. Ten meters onto the pan we stuck. Redvers wheels spun as we gently tried to ease him out, reverse, forward, reverse, forward, spinning wheels, sinking deeper. We stopped, we needed a new plan.

Plan A was exactly as you’d guess. Despite my earlier words of encouragement Somers had been driving. I’m a boy, brash of mind and with confidence (misplaced) when there’s a woman nearby. I got in the drivers’ seat and fired him up. This’ll be easy I thought as I gently got Redvers’ wheels to spin on the spot just like Laura had. Hmmm.

Plan B was to dig our way out. This was never going to be a dignified affair. The folding shovel was unleashed as Somers became rock collector and I dug down to our wheels through wet/mud with the consistency of the thickest gooiest chocolate brownie you can imagine. I had to scrape the earth off the spade by hand as it stuck so firmly. In the dug-out trenches behind the wheels we placed rocks galore. Back in the car it was Somers turn to get us out. I was videoing. Spinning wheels going nowhere. Damn it. No good. Every time we attempted escape Redvers’ wheels dug in deeper. We were three kilometres from the road and a hundred and fifty from the nearest town. It would be embarrassing to thumb down a Toyota driver for help. We needed a Plan C.

The good news was that we’d anticipated this day long before I laughed at Mr Toyota stuck in the sand. Buying accessories we’d been like kids in sweet shop and so our toys weren’t just limited to a folding spade that carried with it an air of Chinese disposability. We had a high lift farmers jack, (made in China,) tow ropes, elastic recovery ropes and shackles (useless without a car to pull us out, probably made in China) and a pair of the finest sand tracks known to man (made in South Africa, but I’m highly suspicious they were imported from China and relabelled.)
We’d had two attempts already and we’d been stuck for about half an hour so this would be it. We found a big rock to put the jack on but even this just sank into the mud under the combined weight of the jack and vehicle. Using lots of rocks we managed to create a strong enough base to lift each individual wheel using the alloys as our lifting point; this was dangerous in itself as we didn’t want to crack one of the alloy rims.

Over the next two hours we tried various combinations: we dug deeper tracks, we dug out the wheels, we placed layers of rocks beneath all four wheels and then placed the sand tracks on top of these rocks, even putting stones in the sand tracks, each time we had a failure we adjusted something, lifted another wheel to put even more rocks down, placed foundation rocks for the smaller rocks, it was bloody hard work. When Redvers finally came unstuck and reversed out,( in true General Sir Redvers Buller style,) it was two o’clock and I had the best sunburnt builders bum since Eve made Adam do the weeding in Eden.

We settled Redvers on our rocky bank, ate a lunch of avocado, tomato and cucumber sandwiches, standard traveller fare, and set off on foot for the bloody ‘unknown’ wreck.

It turns out that my new scarf has yet another use. A pirates’ headscarf. I posed with my eye patch and headscarf with a mean grizzly face, I hadn’t shaved for a few days, you can only imagine the luxurious and full beard I now possess. (“There are at least six hairs,” said Somers. My hurt feelings made me ask just how she gets her teeth such a lovely yellow colour. That gave us some ‘quiet time.’) )

Walking back to the car we found another seal carcass whose flipper had rotted to just its sun bleached bones. Somers picked it up and pulled her sleeve down over her own hand so that the flipper bones became her new prosthesis. Cue an impromptu photo shoot with Somers performing model like poses with her freaky skeleton hand. We laughed to exhaustion and trundled back to Redvers.

Our hiccup had delayed us. We were supposed to be through the park gates by 3pm. It was 3.45pm by the time we arrived.

The gates to the southern entrance of the Skeleton Coast National Park are made with two huge skull and crossbones that are flanked by 15 foot high whale ribs. It was fairly spectacular but we had bigger fish to fry. I walked into the office, permits in hand, and looked for the man in charge. His name was Umshlongo and since we were late we couldn’t enter. No great surprise really, but by no means the end of our discussion. A short while later I had negotiated two options. One was to travel through the park and directly out of the other gate, the second was to stay with these rangers. We chose the latter and agreed it would be for free. Great stuff. As we unpacked the tent, we watched the rangers drive off into the National Park, fishing rods and tackle on the back of their car, straight past the ‘Strictly No Fishing’ sign. They obviously needed dinner and there must be whole load of fish waiting to be caught given no one else is allowed to catch the little fellas.

Posted by ibeamish 10:09 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Forty - Swakopmund and Beyond

November 1st 2011

semi-overcast 28 °C

A day marked by nothing in particular. We bolted for Swakopmund along a road we’d taken previously with Emma. At Swakopmund we used the ‘super fast internet cafe’ to upload the latest edition of ‘Scramble...’ and we filled up with 180 litres of diesel. It would be a long time before we saw a petrol station again.

It was a bush camp evening and we chose our spot next to Mt Lenumun overlooking the flat desolate plain of the southern Skeleton Coast and out onto the Atlantic. From our camp we could only just see the Atlantic Ocean, its thunder seemed far closer.

Posted by ibeamish 09:48 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Thirty Nine – Sat Phone Pursuit

31st October 2011

sunny 29 °C

Arriving back from the Waterberg Plateau we nipped up to the top of the Windhoek Hilton for a couple of cocktails whilst the sun set on our penultimate day in Windhoek. Their Mojitos lacked lime, which at six quid a drink was a sad affair. Their Caipirinhas though scored a nine out of ten. We’re not sure what ten tastes like but we were happy none the less.

Waking up we had a plan, get the phone, get the papers, get gone.

We got to one DHL office, no joy, they told us that they have a bigger office down the road so off we went again. I entered and asked if they had a parcel for Ina Beamish. “Oh, hello Mr Beamish somebody just tried to deliver a parcel for you but I told them I knew no such name,” said the friendly receptionist. Two minutes later I’d ascertained he had no idea who had tried to deliver the parcel, he didn’t recognise the courier and he could be of no further assistance, but he was sorry.

I’ll gloss over seven painful hours of phone calls, e-mails and running around, once again Maria was a complete hero. I walked into the courier office in Windhoek at 5.30pm and got our parcel. Opening that parcel was the most excited I’ve been since I found Father Christmas doesn’t exist. The Motorola 9500 is a real phone. When you lift it you feel your biceps working. He’s about eight inches by two inches by three inches, his aerial is another eight inches extending to twelve, no jokes please and he weighs close to 1.5kg. If it weren’t for his five glorious lines of green LCD and two batteries he could easily be confused with a house brick. His name is Tony. And although he doesn’t work yet, (still no sim,) he gets used a hell of a lot for making fake phone calls and speaking in my broadest Scouse accent.

Anyway that little debacle meant Somers, Redvers, Tony and I were going nowhere until the following day. Over the next three weeks we’ll be heading via the Skeleton Coast into North West Namibia and up to Epupa Falls on the border with Angola. From there we’ll go through Etosha again and then with a bit of luck go through Khaudom National Park, though we’ll need another vehicle to join us as the Wildlife Service says Khaudom is quite remote. We’ve advertised for some company for Redvers, all we can do is wait...

For the first time in a little while we’re actually going to start making progress. It feels like a second start to our adventure and we have towels. From Khaudom we’ll travel into Botswana and roughly due east, but we might struggle for internet for a while so there’ll be no more updates whilst we’re out wandering.

Posted by ibeamish 07:30 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day Thirty Five to Thirty Eight – Poisonous Creatures

27th - 30th October 2011

sunny 38 °C

Waiting for papers and the phone was dreary, we had to escape. We’d heard of a walking safari that we could do for ten quid each in the Waterberg Plateau...

At the Namibian Wildlife Office we were told that for the walk we needed a minimum of three people as it could be dangerous otherwise. (A fact we weren’t previously aware of is that a rampaging rhino or hungry leopard will stop if there are three of you, but should one member be omitted they will continue their stampede/stalk and crush/eat you dead. The lady counted us and told us there was only two of us meaning unless we found someone else we couldn’t go.)

And then a sparkle in her eye; there was another walk. A guided walk. We would have a tracker and a man with a gun to show us around the park, take us to amazing spots and see some wildlife on the ground fully exposed to the dangers, (apart from the fact someone would have a massive gun.) She continued that there was a problem though as they needed a minimum of six people and as we hadn’t yet reproduced whilst stood there, there was in fact still only two of us and this was a problem. True to stereotype we bought all six places on the hike. It was a four day three night hike and at eighteen pounds a place it still seemed reasonable even with our four imaginary friends.

The Waterberg Plateau is a 50km by 30km section of sandstone rock that rises a hundred or so metres out of the ground. On top is a long established ecosystem in which rhino, giraffe, leopard, cheetah, buffalo, antelope etc. thrive.

Our guide was a man called Kapia. He looked like he been a rhino in a previous life, thickly set, deeply barrel-chested with a laugh that sounded like it emanated from somewhere beneath the earths’ crust. We signed our indemnity forms and he explained the rules. This was when we noticed that whilst he spoke excellent English, his R’s were replaced with L’s. He explained that the Lainy season was nearly here and when it came the Livers would be full and the Black Lino would be all over. If we saw them we would hide behind the Locks because we couldn’t out-Lun them. Again our shallow humour gave us a giggle.

Our camp had been built by the Raleigh International lot in the nineties and was cool. Little stone huts surrounding a fire pit that nestled beneath a large red sandstone cliff face. By day we hiked through the park to the edges of the plateau through thick bush and over rocky escarpments. The evening would be spent with sundowners at the watering holes before retiring for fire side chatter.

As a side note our satisfaction at paying for our four friends increased as each night the tourists from the camp would appear after us in a huge 16-seater safari truck. They would then leave before us enquiring as to why we got to stay and watch the rhino/buffalo/giraffe and respective babies for longer. They’d each paid forty quid for an evening safari, they were each paying a tenner a night for a campsite, a tenner a day for park access, and walking around ‘safe’ footpaths by day. The good guys always win, it’ll serve them right for staring a war 97 years ago.

The first night, we were sat supping cold ones by the fire, when suddenly Somers pointed out that there was something by my foot. Her tone of voice implied an interesting stick or maybe a strangely coloured stone. I finished the sentence in my book and looked down to see something massive, scary and most likely poisonous. It ran away before we could get a good look but it was yellow, four or five inches long and had at least eight appendages. (We couldn’t see if the front ones where legs or claws.) Somers till wasn’t in the slightest bit alarmed. I explained that it was either a massive spider or a scorpion and that either of these should instil a deep rooted innate fear within her. I suggested we take a burning stick from the fire and kill it. Somers suggested that I wouldn’t have a girlfriend much longer if I did. I danced a strange tip-toe dance back to the car to find my shoes, and returned to sit cross-legged on my chair. Somers was still reading but had been intermittently watching the monster run circles of fear around the fire and our seats. I got through two chapters of my book, I’ve no idea what they were about.

The following evening we were again driven out to the waterhole. Our transport was a flat bed truck with a mattress in the back on which we sat cross-legged with the wind in our hair. Back at the camp Somers made for bed, whilst I stayed up reading. I’d recovered from the previous nights’ dangerous creatures episode and my heart fate was entirely normal as I read all about a chap following Stanleys’ footsteps along the River Congo. And then I thought about the night before. I looked down at my feet, there was nothing there. Back to my book, images of a white man and his entourage trekking along the Congo dealing with cannibalistic tribes and evil man eating scorpions eating their feet... I looked back at my feet and there was a little black scorpion right next to my left foot. I would have squealed but the air wouldn’t come out. I was on my chair in a flash. Like a granny looking at a mouse. The little creature ran to the chair leg then ran three feet to my left. I jumped onto the raised fire pit and grabbed a stick. The hunt was on. It didn’t take long. I pinned my nemesis to the sand with the glowing end of a two foot stick, as the scorpion sizzled it’s tail struck the stick about fifteen times in three seconds. It was over, I put its half toasted little carcass on the fire, actually thought about eating a bit and then regaining my senses, settled back to my book. Fear leads to death one way or another. The next day I was reassured by my guides that the black scorpions, whilst not lethal, are the most poisonous. They also told me they’d have killed it too. I felt justified.

It was our last days walk, and we got the first of the seasons’ rains. Only a very light drizzle, but infinitely more than they’d had for the last ten months. After a couple of hours we turned for home with Kapia guiding our way, me in second, Somers in third and Sapira the pump action shotgun wielding tracking assistant at the back. Sapira was comedy as every time Kapia looked lost or reached the end of a trail he’d shout from the back “Is this the right way?” The answer was always yes which always encouraged “Are you sure?”

P.S. Quite what effect a shotgun would have when off-loaded into a charging adrenaline fuelled adult male rhino is uncertain especially given the fact that they have a huge horn protecting their head and the effective range of a shotgun is about point three of a second before a ton of 50kph meat goes through you. I was hoping it made a loud bang.

P.P.S. The rangers in South Africa had rifles with bullets so big that they looked like they could take down a fairly large aircraft at range. You couldn’t help but imagine a charging bull elephant cinematically crashing down at the rangers’ feet. As the dust settles and the barrel smokes the camera switches to a close up of the rangers’ face as he pulls the cigarette from his mouth and utters his perfect one liner...)

As we trundled along there was suddenly a shriek from Sapira at the back. We stopped suddenly and spun to see him backing away. We followed his eyes to the ground. Next to Somers’ footprint was a small Boomslang snake. Any real fear had been avoided by the fact that we’d all missed spotting it and now we were sufficiently far enough away to just want to take photos. But still we’d come close. Back in Windhoek I read that the Boomslang is ‘highly haemotoxic... with a delayed onset of poisonous effects which include soreness, burning, lethargy, vomiting, headache, nausea, skin rash, oozing punctures, developing into bleeding both internally and externally.’ Ah well. All’s well that ends well.

Posted by ibeamish 07:28 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Thirty Four - Song Night

October 26th 2011

sunny 30 °C

After 48 hours of a lull in excitation levels we became ever more anxious to find some fun. We scoured ‘What’s On... Windhoek’ and there it was. Song Night.

With equal measures of culture and entertainment it fitted the bill nicely. It started at seven at the Namibian Crafts and Arts Centre which gave us ample time for more tat shopping and a bit of grub. Two wooden hippos and a reasonably gay scarf later we were having coffee and hot chocolate on a balcony overlooking Redvers in the car park below. The scarf is a beauty. I’ve been in desperate need of an explorers’ scarf for a while and whilst this is not necessarily the end point it’s a good, and as previously mentioned slightly gay, start. It’s mostly purple with a little pink, yellow and turquoise. Naturally it will be extremely versatile in various roles including head dress, sarong, towel, beach towel and of course scarf.

I bottled out of wearing my new accoutrement to the evening show which as it turned out was a blessing. We got in early to have a few sharpeners and the first thing we noticed was a large, extremely effeminate, chap with mascara and a white wine spritzer. He wore a pork pie hat, fashionable thick framed glasses and a waist coat beneath which his long sleeved shirt, with sleeves rolled up, was barely able to reach under his turgid abdomen to his waistline and the security of his belt. His smaller more runty friend, also mascara and make-up adorned, sat giggling at his every word as the big guy turned out to be the most popular person in the place.

The first round didn’t touch the sides and we kept them coming. A while later I was washing my hands in the bathroom when the cubicle door behind me opened in a grandiose sweeping movement to reveal Big Gay. He paused as if the curtains had just been drawn back, like every opening door was his big moment. The big moment over, he introduced himself as Peter and extended his hand. I begrudgingly shook it not knowing quite where it had just been. He was a regular feature at song night and though normally a soloist, tonight had an African theme and he had no such songs in his current repertoire. He would still however be supporting the final act of the evening. The thought of a parallel universe in which I was wearing my new scarf emerged, I panicked and explained I must introduce him to my girlfriend.

Sat in the auditorium we were giddy with alcohol and excitement. The compere arrived, she turned out to be a famous Windhoek radio DJ, a fact that was obviously somewhat lost on us, and she introduced the first act. A youth project of Namibian xylophonists. They were fantastic, but apparently they were something akin to the evenings’ house band, ever present, ever skilled and so consistently good they almost became overlooked. The second act arrived on stage. Their heads hung shyly, toes turned in and dragging their feet as the foursome got into position. They were a brother and two sisters accompanied by the brothers’ girlfriend. One of the sisters was about ten years old with the voice of a full blown show diva, the others sang like cats in a mince grinder. It was all we could do to stifle our laughter. We’d come looking for Namibian culture and got Windhoek’s Got Talent. The evening progressed with middle-aged women murdering Miriam Makeba classics, a rhythm and blues ‘specialist’ who had written a song called ‘I’m So Sorry,’ and after four and a half minutes he wasn’t the only one; and a rapper who was actually quite good. Though it has to said, we wouldn’t have laughed nearly as hard if he hadn’t been five foot four, wearing his best Sunday shirt and ironed jeans, squinting through thick lensed glasses shouting “This goes out to my special girl” whilst pointing and smiling at his missus at the back.

Naturally we can hear you all saying how difficult is to get on the stage in the first place, it’s the taking part that counts; and whilst their efforts are highly commendable for exploring the arts and getting up there, these guys had been through auditions, we’d paid two pounds fifty each and stifling the laughter whilst in polite company was starting to hurt.

Posted by ibeamish 07:26 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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