A Travellerspoint blog


Days Thirty Two and Thirty Three - Waiting...

24th - 25th October 2011

sunny 28 °C

For two long days we sat reading, planning and waiting. Waiting like we were being paid to diligently wait. Some important papers of mine had had to go back to the snail paced office enshrined South African bureaucracy. To those people who sit behind desks empowered by rubber stamps. Those lazy eyed people who sit deep in their chairs, arms outstretched, claiming ignorance and “it is not posseebal.” My least favourite Zulu word is one that I used to hear at least once per working hour. More often when I was feeling inquisitive. Angazi. I don’t know.

Anyway the nature of these documents will become evident in 50 years when the Official Secrets Act allows their publication. This is not the place to mention them. In addition to these coveted papers we had something far more fun. Our sat-phone. It had been purchased on the cheap from a chap on E-Bay in the UK. My purchase had been timed perfectly to coincide with the world travelling Dr McVeighs’ trip to Great Britains’ shores. He had offered to be the mule that could bring this modern technology to South Africa. Sadly however, the chap I bought it from had decided that all this phone selling had tired him out and a holiday was in order. Dr McVeigh returned sans mobile du satellite.

Now such a gargantuan imposition as this particular phone is, renders international air freight non economically viable. But we had a plan B. The phone was sent two week later, after the holiday, to the hospital in Newmarket. From here Mrs McVeigh, Amanda to you blog fiends, would be able to collect it a month later and smuggle it back to Durban. By this point on the calendar we knew we’d be in Namibia, but only just. To add to this, our imminently arriving phone needed a sim card, which had been purchased separately in the UK and sent to South Africa to avoid that nasty 20% sting that seems to be stealing wages over there. My Royal Mail tracking code reliably informed me that the sim-card had reached Jo’burg and had been awaiting dispatch for three and a half weeks. The army call it AWOL. Tax comes in many forms and another income had been supplemented.

We’d been in Namibia for almost three weeks and despite gargantuan and much appreciated efforts from Amanda, Miriam and Maria,(I apologise for the seventeen e-mails and fifty phone calls that I plagued Maria with,) we were still waiting for our three gifts. Paper, phone and card.

Posted by ibeamish 10:41 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Days Thirty and Thirty One - Birthday Gloating

22nd – 23rd October2011

sunny 41 °C

Day Thirty and Thirty One - Gloating in the Sand Dunes – 22nd – 23rd October2011
The following day was Saturday 22nd October. This was a day of immense importance. It was the day on which, 29 years ago, Mummy Somers started getting a belly ache that would result in a baby Somers appearing before the day was out. This meant I had to be on my best behaviour. Our wholesome start to the day would be a 5am rise to get to the Dead Vlei and climb the huge 300 metre high dune that flanks its’ Southern boundary. On the way we had a little birthday breakfast before a little sand driving to our destination.

Some sort of a miracle happened at this point because we were the first ones there. We’d beaten them all to the sand dunes. The sun was still rising, the dunes were glowing deep red-orange on one side but completely shrouded in shadow on the other. We climbed like Hillary and Norgay up the dune for two hours, walking along the crest between light and shade, every foot step creating an actual step in the sand. (Overnight the wind repairs the scarred dune, blowing sand back into the footsteps from the previous day, the track effectively disappears every night.) As our feet struck the sand they sank in, three steps forward two steps back. Or rather one step forward and three quarters of it back. For neither the first nor last time this trip we were out of breath and sopping with our own perspiration. At times we clambered on all fours between ridges but eventually we made the top. It was about half past eight and the sun was still rising but hadn’t yet managed to breach the ridge of the dune. We had birthday Lindt and lemonade at the top looking out across a panorama of huge dunes as far as the eye could see.

Sat astride our dune the best bit of the entire trip so far was about to come, the descent. Three hundred metres at a forty five degree angle, if it had been a rock face we’d have been crapping our pants. But it was sand and that gave us superhero like abilities to do three metre strides whilst shouting profanities across a 900 year old dead forest. Each foot placement meant losing the bottom half of our leg into the sand before trying to pull it out quickly enough to be ready for the next landing. Needless to say tired legs meant there was a huge wipe out towards the end; insufficient training taking its toll. With the adrenaline still pumping we strolled back to the car to head back for a swim.

Now we’re not ‘petrol heads’ by any means, I’m not sure we can even claim to be modestly mechanically minded even though we have tools, keen minds and two manuals. But over time we’ve bonded with old Redders. There have been a few ups and downs so far and we do seem to find ourselves touching wood an awful lot; but as we rounded the corner there was a sight that made our eyes light up. Redvers had been meandering through the deep sand like a childs’ toy driven across his sand pit. Without fear or hesitation, doing what comes naturally, but there in front of us was a white machine parked at an awkward angle, with its front wheels entrenched deep in the Namib sands. I grinned as my eyes caught the glint of sunshine rising from those three silver ellipses that form an encircled ‘T.’ The word ‘Hilux’ shone like a distress flare on a moonless night in the mid Atlantic as plumes of sand shot up from between the little mans legs as he hurriedly burrowed beneath the front wheel like a small terrier looking for his bone. A wife and kids stood by the side of the car looking on in dismay at their alpha male reduced to this humbling task of averting failure. We pulled alongside him, carefully avoiding using our brakes so as not to dig ourselves in, Redvers knew what to do. I climbed out making sure that our man was aware that we were in a Land Rover and I politely asked could I help pull him out. (The glint of the badge now equalled only by the glint in my eye as I tried desperately to keep a grin, far wider than that of a Cheshire cats’, behind my teeth.) He told me through tensely gritted teeth and a moist brow that he was fine and could get himself out. I felt sorry for the poor guy, he looked quite flustered to be honest but he’d made his choice. We climbed back aboard Redvers and slipped him into low range. I then proceeded to reverse him for a little bit in a blatant display of show boating before trundling off back to camp for a little swim. Toyota drivers are world class.

Posted by ibeamish 14:52 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Days Twenty Seven to Twenty Nine – Desert, Dunes and Germans

19th - 21st October 2011

sunny 42 °C

Namibia is home to around 2 million people. Given that its land surface area is four times the size of the UK this is a sparsely populated land. Temperatures regularly hit 40oC which means that water starts to evaporate almost as soon as it hits the ground. Nowhere is this unrelenting heat and desiccated ground more obvious than in the worlds’ oldest desert, the Namib. The desert is contained within the Namib-Naukluft National park. It is massive. It covers just shy of 50,000 square kilometres of land and here, despite the hyper arid nature of the region, life manages to prevail.

At the ground level, beetles, skinks, lizards and desert rats have evolved to become desert specialists. Surviving by gaining the water they require from the plants and seeds that they eat as well as eating each other. Day to day, or rather from night to night, moisture is obtained from the fog brought in by the Atlantic winds. It is thirstily taken in by the plants on which it condenses. Even the beetles utilise the condensation that forms on their bodies at night to fill up before facing another day. Springbok and Gemsbok swap the hardship of predators, there are no big cats here, for the hardship of survival. Able to go for weeks at a time without water they have to perform return loops from and to the languishing water holes.
The most accessible route into this desert landscape is at Sossusvlei. Here a huge salt pan has created the flat 70km entrance way into the thick of the dune system and this is where we were headed for the next few days of our trip.

Arriving late on Wednesday 19th we again found only fence bound fields with no real access for bush camping. Plan B was quickly assembled, we found a roadside picnic spot on a little-used D road thirty kilometres from Sesriem (the entrance ‘town’ to Sossusvlei.) At our chosen camp we found a large Camel Thorn tree providing relief from the late afternoon sun, a concrete picnic table beneath the canopy and a hundred or so glass bottles dumped at its base. This blatant disregard for our surroundings wasn’t going to work, on a visual level as much as an environmental one, but we weren’t going anywhere. Like gypsies turned eco-warriors we spruced the place up a bit. Half an hour later we had a large hessian sack full of glass and a box of various debris and recyclables that we could take to the recycling bins wherever we saw them next. Good deed completed we cracked a couple more bottles, started a little camp fire and out came the Scrabble.

The next day was spent at Sesriem Canyon. During the rainy season of February and March the area receives an average of 110millimetres of rain, the river that arises from this downpour has worn its way 30 metres down through the sandstone and pebble rock, carving out the canyon that lay before us. It took a few kilometres of canyon-top walking before we found a way down into the canyon itself. We wandering back along the dried out river bed, alone for the first few kilometres, only to find someone had built steps into the canyon from the car park thus allowing hundreds of individually numbered Germaustrians (and the occasional unnumbered Pom) to visit every day to take their pictures before re-alighting their air-conditioned super steeds to ‘adventure’ in search of the next photographic opportunity. If this sounds hypocritic it probably is, but we don’t have air conditioning or camera lenses as big as the Germans. (Some appear to have been designed based on Hubble telescope.) A slow afternoon of playing in the dunes and we headed back to our picnic-side campsite. Alas no Scrabble though as we had an early start to be in the park for sunrise to see the dunes in all their morning glory.

We arrived at the gates ten minutes before opening time and joined the throngs of vehicles already queuing like grannies at a Cliff Richard concert. We got inside, eventually, and drove the sixty kilometres into the park to see what everyone had come to take pictures of. At the end of the tarred road was a five kilometre stretch of sand road which allowed access to the parking area for the ‘Dead Vlei’ and nearby water hole surrounded by some fairly picturesque dunes. (Vlei meaning flat area, marsh or field.) The Dead Vlei is an area now surrounded by dunes. The Camel Thorn trees that once lived within it have long since died as the encroaching dunes cut off the water supply. All that now remains are the dessicated and scorched skeletons of these once green trees. The ground beneath them is parched clay, cracked into paving slabs, engraved at its edges with small tributaries of the water supply that very occasionally makes it to the periphery of this sand walled graveyard. It’s a photographers’ paradise and nemesis at the same time as the bright light and the contrast between white clay, blue sky and orange dune between seek to befuddle those that take pictures in anything but perfect light. It didn’t stop us taking pictures a plenty continually watching everyone else to check they hadn’t seen a better angle...

Posted by ibeamish 14:49 Archived in Namibia Comments (1)

Day Twenty Six – Chilling in Windhoek

18th October 2011

overcast 29 °C

We cleaned out Redvers, wrote postcards and sorted out all those fiddly things that require electronic communications. You don’t want to know.

Posted by ibeamish 11:15 Archived in Namibia Comments (2)

Day Twenty Five – Easy go easy come

17th October 2011

sunny 36 °C

Cities mean sanctuary at the moment. A chance to catch up on writing, cull some photos send postcards, arrange our affairs and restock and recharge. In one morning we successfully planned the next month of our trip with a little help from the Namibian Wildlife Resorts Office.

That done, we had some buying to do. Laura wanted some sunglasses for her birthday so I gave her a couple of hundred rand (twenty quid) to do some food shopping whilst I organised some birthday stuff. I met her in the supermarket half an hour later at which point she realised that her short shorts had shorter pockets and the money had gone. Not really a disaster, but when you spend your time washing your own clothes to save money it was a sizeable chunk. She had a quick retrace of her steps but how long does twenty quid last on the floor of a supermarket..?

This minor hiccup left us subdued, but someone was looking down on us. Ten minutes later, walking along the high street I stooped to scoop a piece of paper from the floor. A two hundred Namibian dollar piece of paper. There was no one nearby. Boom, we were back in the game. When one door closes... The money was burning a hole in our pockets and we had tat shopping to do. Some good bartering left us with a heap of wooden items all at about 70% discount from the start price!

We dined out at Joes’ Beer House, renowned for stocking lots of beer and serving game steaks. I had a mouth-watering Gemsbok fillet that was as big as it was tasty and Somers had an Ostrich salad. I’d been waiting to taste one from the minute I set eyes on them in the Kalahari two weeks ago.

Posted by ibeamish 10:21 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Twenty Four –Lions, lions, lions

16th October 2011

sunny 34 °C

Knowing Emma had to be back in Windhoek for 3.30 we figured that a dash for the dead elephant was on. If we got there early enough we may even see them do something other than sleep.

What a great shout that was. For an hour we watched them chase each other, play fight, attempt a bit of reproduction (he was keen, she wasn’t, we’ve all been there,) and even saw two of them tuck into a bit of dried out, desert-matured, partially roasted elephant. Abso-bloody-brilliant!
Redvers is flying at the moment, like a car ten years his junior he cruised all the way to the airport. Emma left us and we turned tail for the Chameleon backpackers in central Windhoek.

Posted by ibeamish 10:18 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Twenty Three – Salt Pans and Rude People

15th October 2011

sunny 40 °C

We were up and at the gate by 6.30 but it had opened 5 minutes early and Kathryn and Mark had already left. Redvers roared to life and within three km’s we had caught them. They’d been driving slowly.

At the first waterhole a male lion greeted us. He stood up, roared, relieved his bladder on a nearby plant, roared again and found another plant to scent mark. He roared one more time before going back to sleep under a shady tree.

Back on the road a herd of elephant crossed around our car and some baby ostrich lingered near mum and dad at the roads’ edge looking like a group of fluffy chickens.

Further along, we drove on to the Etosha salt pan. 500kms wide and 200kms from top to bottom it was huge and empty. The dry and cracked crust that remained from whatever water had been there provided an interesting backdrop so we jumped out took some ‘jump’ photos posed on Redvers had a wee and got back onto the road.

Further along still at Goas water hole we found lion sleeping near an 8 day old elephant carcass. You can’t imagine what that much rotten flesh smells like.

Once again in the pool, Laura had hold of Mark and Kathryns’ ball and I jumped in for a game of catch. We were merrily skimming the ball across the pool when I threw it a little too hard. It skimmed up and caught Somers square on the forehead. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was my girlfriends’ head that was the target, it’d have been a peach of a shot. I swam over asking was she ok but was beaten to her by an Austrian woman. Somers wasn’t really sore and she looked at the rapidly approaching lady waiting to tell her that all was well. Instead, the Austrian chick snatched the ball from Laura and stated firmly “You’re such rude people. Zat ball izn’t even yourz, it belongs to zose people over zer.” She took the ball over to the pools edge, were Kathryn stood reading enjoying the waters coolness. “Zose people stole your ball, you must have it back,” said the rule enforcer. “No, no, it’s quite alright, they’re my friends,” protested Kathryn. “No you must take it, they’re stealing it,” not grasping the situation she was now in. “Its fine,” Kathryn said as she threw the ball back to Laura. Austrian number 1 walked away, clearly in huff. Is no one from the mainland sane?

By the pool I watched the Liverpool vs. Man Utd game. I can only imagine Sir Alex drivelling about referees.

Later on we went out in Kathryns ‘Pope Mobile.’ A converted land cruiser with a roof that raises up to allow you to stand and do a bit of open air game viewing whilst sipping sundowners. Lions and dead elephant was the destination. Yet still they didn’t want to eat.

Posted by ibeamish 10:15 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Twenty Two – Your Safari

14th October 2011

sunny 44 °C

We made for our second camp at Halali. Another drive, more creatures and more photos.

Back at the pool we met a couple over from the UK. Mark works for a sports company and Kathryn runs a safari company called Your Safari (www.yoursafari.co.uk) and tours around southern Africa but is a Namibia specialist in particular. Kathryn suggested we follow her vehicle the next morning and she could give us a tour. Superb. That night Emma and I went on a night drive, a Spotted Genet, an African wild cat and a few herds of elephant being the best bits.

Posted by ibeamish 10:14 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Twenty One – Water Hole Theatre

13th October 2011

sunny 43 °C

We woke up to the faint sound of a diesel engine. Wiping the sleep from our eyes the rumble grew louder. The vehicle was approaching from the direction of the locked gates. I dressed quickly, ready to have a friendly chat with the land owner. I wasn’t out of the tent as I head the engine slowing, clearly on the track we’d turned off 12 hours previous. As I unzipped the tent the engine gunned and the vehicle continued its journey. Our hearts slowed back to normal.

The reception of the Okakuejo Camp in Etosha National Park was dimly lit with a high ceiling. A chandelier made from wooden sticks hung from the roof and just a few posters adorned the walls. Behind the desk sat two ladies each with their own computer. One of them was dealing with a couple who were checking out, the other talking to a large Dutchman, wearing khaki shorts, shirt and socks pulled up to his knees, about the recent bush fires. As the couple finished, Emma and I approached the desk. It was 9am.

“We like to check in please,” said Emma. “What? No, no. No. This is check out time.” The lady motioned to a small basket of papers in front of her. “If I was to start checking people in now, before I’d checked them out, I’d have a queue from here out of the door.” Dumbfounded, Emma and I slowly turned to see the empty, high ceilinged room in which we stood. The Boer had gone, the second lady was sat quietly tapping at her computer. We turned back to our lady, “Really?” we said, half expecting a smile and laughter at an only half-witted joke. “Yes,” she confirmed, “It might sound silly, but the queue would be very long. After ten, you’ll have to come back.” We left the building, giggling at another episode of African office work. We went for a game drive to kill time!

Check in was straightforward post 10am and we lounged at the pool to beat the midday heat. After an evening game drive, we saw honey badger, “pound for pound the most aggressive animal on earth,” we headed back to enjoy a couple of cold ones by at the water hole. It was like an evening at the theatre. The water hole is floodlit which creates an imaginary curtain around it where the lights do not reach. As if some sort of safari stage production the animals took it in turn to enter the stage in a bizarre game of chess. First came the giraffe, who spent most of their time looking at what was around them unsure as to whether it was safe to drink, they didn’t make it to the water. They spotted two lions, and cantered awkwardly into the shadows. After the lions had drunk and exited stage right, in came the rhino. Slowly and loudly, bashing rocks and large pebbles with their clumsy feet as they went, they paused with every few metres to sniff the air and listen for danger. A short while passed and three elephant wandered in. Their huge feet made virtually no sound as they carefully padded as if the ground were covered with a layer of marshmallow. Somers suddenly gasped as another elephant appeared from the shadow stage left. It was trotting, almost silently, but covering the ground very quickly. The rhino stopped, sniffing the air, the other elephant looked up. As the new arrival began drinking elephant after elephant arrived from the left, babies, teenagers and matriarchs. Twenty seven of them in all; playing, splashing, drinking the cool water. Proper boss!

After an hour the elephant left as the lions came back in. The lion skulked keeping their distance but not losing any ground as the elephant walked away. Mothers stood in front of their babies, staring the lion down. One mother waited for the other elders to arrive as they crossed their path in convoy always watching the lion. The ensemble continued into the darkness as occasional trumpets signalled that the game was still being played.

Posted by ibeamish 10:11 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Twenty – Defacing National Treasures

12th October 2011

sunny 38 °C

In nearby Twyfelfontein sits one of the largest collections of San rock art in Africa. The San are a nomadic ‘tribe’ of Africans who have roamed southern Africa for millennia. Subsistence by nature they lived from the barren land around them hunting for meat and leather and harvesting what they could from the earth. The rock art itself comes in two forms; carved or painted. We’d seen several paintings already in the Drakensberg mountains in Kwa-Zulu Natal but here the medium was predominantly carvings in the sandstone rock that surrounded us.

Some of these carvings are very old, the bone tools used to create them have been carbon dated at 6000 years old. It’s believed that they were largely created by the Sangomas or ‘medicine men.’ These sangomas were able to enter into a trance-like state for hours, they believed that they could call upon the spirits of the animals and their ancestors, asking them to bring the rains and along with them survival. In the Drakensberg we’d been told that these trance like states were achievable because the medicine men were normally smoking Dagga (pronounced Dacha, it’s marijuana.) In Twyfelfontein we were told that the sangomas just concentrated really hard to the same effect. Whether they were high or just ‘focusing really hard,’ they carved images into the rocks that are still visible today.

We arrived at the rock art centre at around 9am which was a little late as now the sun was warming up to full baking ferocity. The white bodies of the Germans in our tour group shimmered with excess sun lotion as we followed our guide like lambs, questions arose and were answered by our expert local. As she described how Twyfelfontein obtained its name, doubtful spring, she repeated its name in, Oshivambo , the local language. At this point Kraut number 4 piped up, “Are you able to zpeak ze local language?” We cringed with embarrassment for the entire German nation as our guide politely explained that she’d been born down the road and was able to speak Oshivambo, Nama and Herrero. She was also fluent in German but English was a universal language that was understood by 90% of visitors to the site and so that was the language she’d chosen.
At this point it is only fair to add that representatives of the good old U, S of A had been observed at the entrance gates pointing a camera at their guides face. The camera had been positioned deep into those boundaries of ‘personal space’ as the Americans told their guide to speak ######## and make as many of the clicking noises as possible.

As we were shown around, the heat was phenomenal. Water leaked from every pore of our bodies like we were no longer waterproof. At a convenient pause whilst we waited for Kraut number 11 to finish photographing a dancing kudu, Emma took a seat and Laura and I had a refreshing slug of 30 degree mineral water. Number 11 duly arrived and disingenuously apologised but still the guide paused. Only now she was looking at Emma. A couple of uncomfortable seconds passed as the group slowly refocused and saw a herd of small antelope galloping from beneath Dr. Alsops’ left buttock. A herd of 6000 year old small antelope. To be precise.

After our morning in Twiffle we had a drive to get to Outjo, the stepping stone to Etosha National Park and home of a superb German bakery. We stuffed ourselves with strudel and hit the road to find a spot to camp.

I’d been getting steadily itchier feet about paying N$70 per person for camp sites given we have months yet to travel and a budget that won’t get any bigger. There was also a certain romance to be had from ‘bush camping’ under the stars. I scoured the map for some likely spots, finally settling on a salt pan 80kms away. We nomads departed Outjo in search of a place to lay our heads.

Thirty kilometres along the road to Etosha there was a flash of colour from the side of the road accompanied by a soft thud as a Lilac Breasted Roller snapped its stunningly beautiful neck on the left upright of Redvers’ windscreen. We stopped, I’ll tell you why shortly, and saw this most beautiful of creatures lying softly, wings spread across the dry grass. I can honestly say I was gutted. Somers had a look on her face like I’d just stabbed an elephant to death. There were limited paths we could take from this point, but the one we were to take had been prearranged several weeks ago with one Spike Milligan. I was bound. I had given my word. Anything we killed in the road we would eat. Children are a grey area.
We were back on the road with a fair sized Lilac Breasted Roller now stuffed into a plastic bag behind the cubby box. Away from the main road we scouted potential Plan B camp sites as we closed in on our pan.

It soon became clear that the pan was on private property. We drove up a long driveway flanked by five metres of bush either side before a fence and then bush as far as we could see. At the end of the driveway we found a set of huge ten feet high gates bounding the property, a chain and padlock signalled no one was home. This driveway would be our home for the evening.

We struck camp behind some tall bush so as not to be seen. I began preparing our feast. Plucked, gutted, beheaded and de-footed, our prize looked like a miniature roast chicken. I duly seasoned the beast with some crushed rock salt and black pepper and stuffed her with a slice of lemon. She was wrapped in tinfoil with a little oil and roasted for 20 minutes before having her skin bronzed on the braai.

The Roller was ready. I took off the legs and carved the breasts into three tiny mouthfuls each. I served the breasts to Em and Laura who looked just like television presenters asked to eat something they already knew they wouldn’t like. They nibbled, I’ve seen mice take bigger mouthfuls. I ate one leg and then the other, finishing the breasts for good measure and washing them down with a stiff gin and tonic. The gin helped. Being a little insect eater our Roller was never going to taste like grain-fed organic chicken. It didn’t matter. Spike would be proud.

Posted by ibeamish 10:05 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day nineteen – Wild Rhino and contentment

11th October 2011

sunny 35 °C

Waking in Ugab Camp was an absolute pleasure. As we opened the roof top tent the sun rising sun set the hills on fire, bright burning orange. Guinea fowl wandered the camp scratching for breakfast whilst, in order to shower, we collected our hot water from oil drums turned on their side with a fire burning beneath them. From there we took our pail of hot water over to a frame from which was strung a steel bucket with a shower head attached through its’ bottom. Fill up your bucket, pull it up, open the tap, and have a ‘nature shower’ with only a fine reed screen to avoid embarrassment.

We spent the day 4x4ing across the mountains from the Ugab rhino camp to our destination at a community camp site near Twyfelfontein. The route took us through old mining camps, along river beds and past craters. The heat soared into the high thirties and Redvers trundled on up precipitous shale tracks always managing to find purchase somewhere. We were driving through the open country, no national park restrictions; this was country without fences. En route we saw genuinely wild giraffe, herds of zebra running across the endless mountain flanked plains and, the absolute tip of the iceberg, a solitary male black rhino, one of around a hundred that live in as the largest wild herd in Africa.

The journey was mostly a comedy because Emma was sat in the back, effectively on a wooden box. She had no seatbelt and was surrounded by a number of loose objects of varying size, shape and sharpness. As we bounced up and down, shunted one way and then another, Emma had to balance on her bottom with arms and legs in four different directions to restrain the cargo as we dealt with the terrain of the Damaraland wilderness. The end of the journey was marked by the Organ Pipes, a less than mind blowing, but none the less ‘nice’ rock formation in one of the valleys: think Giants Causeways’ runty sibling in a desert. (Lonely Planet probably quotes them as being, ‘out of this world must see rock formations that leave the viewer in awe.’)

I’m now sat cross legged on a small rock. A circle of stones in front of me contains the glowing coals whose heat and flames are cooking an entire chicken, a few mushrooms, peppers and some corn and a little clever seasoning. The smell is making my stomach rumble. The post sunset glow casts its hue over our camp whilst the barking geckos are just starting to cackle for a mate (the sound is not so far from a laughing Gordon The Gopher if anyone remembers Going Live...) and a gentle warm breeze is blowing across the camp. It’s about 28 degrees now the sun has gone down, Miss Somers and Miss Alsop are sat reading, we have cold beers in our hands and there are more in the fridge. If you’re not jealous then now is the time...

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Day Eighteen – The Skeleton Coast and ‘Ra’ is a word

10th October 2011

sunny 32 °C

Last nights’ fish was Kabeljou (cod) we eventually discovered as Manuel was relieved from duty by someone who bore no resemblance to Basil Fawlty whatsoever.

Today was Skeleton Coast day. The barren desert stretching from The Swakop River in the South to the Kunene River in the North. The Benguela current rips up the Atlantic Ocean bringing rich pickings for the sea life to feast upon. The sun bears down on everything out with the ocean, as the wind incessantly whips across the dust removing all moisture from the earth. Its barren, occasional patches of lichen survive with tufts of only the hardiest grass and an occasional Welwitschia plant (believed to live up to 1000 years!) The salt pans are the reason anyone lives here and we did our bit by purchasing a large lump of crystalised pure rock salt from an honesty stall at the side of the road. (Imagine the advert: This isn’t just salt, this is finest Namibian Rock Salt hand crafted by the hands of the indigene on the Skeleton Coast in South Western Africa and it tastes like no other salt, oh hang on, yeah it does taste salty...)

This coastline has become the graveyard of many things, but shipwrecks in particular were to be my focus. Somers and Em were still to be convinced but we had time. Over the past three centuries a job lot of ships and their ill fated crews have come to an end on the shallow and rocky shores of the Skeleton Coast, the chances of survival, with no fresh water for hundreds of kilometres and very little to eat were minimal. Many of the wrecks have disintegrated back to the earth, others are buried in the dunes and others are rusting hunks of brittle iron submerged by the tide twice daily.

The first of these wrecks was that of an Angolan fishing boat. It was already scrap metal in 2008 as it was being towed back from Walvis Bay in Namibia to Angola. The tow rope snapped and the boat washed ashore. The Angolans still want it back but the Namibians aren’t soft and are convinced the white man will come to look at wrecks and bring with him the dollar. As I took photos I wondered what kind of tourist comes to look at ship wrecks. The second was a ship called Winston, wrecked in 1970 and there wasn’t too much left, you could make out his shape, some large cogs and docking points and a whole world of rust. The third and sadly final wreck was entitled ‘Unkown wreck to the north of Winston.’ If you can imagine a large rusted iron box with holes in it, stranded on the shores edge with baking hot sun shining down then close your eyes and you could be there too. (I think she’s mostly under the sand so we were only getting the top deck.) Dead seals littered the coast line, their skins preserved in the sun and sand with only bright white teeth left looking healthier than they had been in life.

From here we turned in land. Across the salt pans and finally toward the rocky hills of the Ugab River valley. The grass started to appear after 20kms or so and the road turned into a 4x4 track winding through steep sided rocky hills. The hills themselves appeared like crystalised sedimentary rock turned almost on end. The lines formed by the different layers running uip the hills were extraordinary.
The road continued and our doubts regarding our route increased until we rounded a corner and entered a clearing flanked on all sides by these sedimentary mountains. There were only two vehicles camping at the Ugab Rhino Conservation hut and we were first there. It was a truly remarkable location. I climbed up the hill that our camp spot backed onto for a view of our clearing. Three valleys led into the one area, but there was only one way in and out. Spectacular.

We had our inaugural game of travel scrabble. The rules meant that the word had to be in our travel dictionary, this turned out to be a complete pain in the a?$e as our dictionary only has about fifteen and a half words in it. Emma won by a short head, Laura was second and I came last. Although I’m not at all bitter or annoyed, and definitely not still reeling from defeat, I’m buying a full Oxford Complete English Dictionary the next chance I get, we’ll strap it to the roof.

Posted by ibeamish 09:14 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Seventeen – Sandy pants and what is the Fish of the Day?

9th October 2011

semi-overcast 27 °C

We woke up and started talking to each other using words like ‘dude,’ ‘awesome’ and ‘far out.’ If I could have grown my hair a few inches, tanned overnight, gained a chromosome and taken back a weeks’ worth of showers I could have not just looked the part, I could have been it.

But we are tourists, we are British and we have never sand boarded before. So we got our excitement fix by talking in politely excited but hushed tones as we drove out into the Namib desert toward Dune 7. Not surprising really that, rather than name things after national artists, engineers and philanthropists, the Germans simply numbered everything. ‘Vee av six dunes already, vee shall call zis... Dune 7.’ Emma and Laura hadn’t snowboarded before. Even though I had, the nerves were still there, no one wants to be the nonce on the video that fell over first go!

We climbed Dune 7, boards in hand and I quickly became an out of breath sweaty mess. (The ladies perspired gently but otherwise continued to smell of flowers.) Thank God it was overcast because we’d have probably shrivelled up and died otherwise.

Emma and Laura were getting their first lesson of sorts as I attempted my first run, I think I got away without falling though I definitely lacked style. Somers and Em began their first descents with a grace and deftness only accomplished by an English Lady. Without being able to turn they both headed diagonally for the edge of the dune and off into the Namib Desert somewhere. Attempt two was always going to be the real moment where both had to commit to a turn. (For those who don’t snowboard imagine sliding down a hill with an ironing board strapped to your feet. If you face downward, board across the slope, then as long as you keep those toes up you’ll carry on sliding. The higher you lift your toes the slower you go. But turning means getting onto your heels and that’s where the problem comes.) Somers put in a great turn but those toes dropped slightly at the end. As they dug into the dune, the board stopped dead. Somers’ body jerked from her ankles all the way up through her belly, neck and finally her head as she was thrown face first down the hill. I’m not sure which bit of her hit the sand first but from where I stood it looked like her whole body landed at once. From my position halfway up the ridge at the side of the dune I doubled over in stitches as a flustered Somers sat up with half a grin and started wiping sand from her mouth!

Back at the top, because I’m a boy, I’d seen the jump and thought why not. We were being videoed continuously and no one likes a show off but everyone loves a good crash. True to form I ended up with a very sore bottom from landing on it repeatedly. On the slope Emma was now putting in some sweet turns but had yet to muster any real pace in doing so!

Next was the chance to lie flat on a board and go head first straight down the steepest dune. We lay down and pushed off plummeting downwards. We were hitting 74kmh, as proved by their radar gun, as we flew down the dune. Occasionally and very accidently we let a knee slip off the board to get an idea of what a belt sander feels like on your knee caps. It hurts.

Dinner was had in the faithful tug boat restaurant bar from the previous evening. Here Somers enquired as to the nature of the ‘ocean fresh line fish.’ Our skilled waiter informed her that it was a “fresh fish from the ocean.” “Oh,” replied Somers, “What type of fish is it today?” “It’s a very nice fish madam,” he replied. At this point we were entering Faulty Towers territory, and before Somers could ask whether the fish had a name, a next of kin or any views on the politics of overfishing, we all burst out with a previously well stifled snigger.
Our waiter couldn’t ignore this outburst and asked us not be rude as he was still in his ‘experience’ phase and he still had to learn. Back in our boxes we sat quietly still contemplating what exactly todays’ fish might be.

Posted by ibeamish 09:03 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Fifteen – General Sir Redvers’ Entry into Namibia

7th October 2011

sunny 35 °C

Day Fifteen – General Sir Redvers’ Entry into Namibia 7th October 2011
We awoke in the Cardboard Box Backpackers in Windhoek. Today we had to register Redvers, he was still an alien as far as our Carnet goes.
Our Carnet (Carnet Du Passage En Douanes) is a vehicle customs document issued by the British RAC that needs signing into and out of a country. It is bound by a huge sum of money so that if we leave Redvers behind (not possible, we’ll lose limbs first) or sell him illegally (in exchange for a stuffed Kudu with a beaded blanket and fake Nikes) the po-leece can hunt us down like wild dogs and retrieve their coveted dollars. If, at the end of our adventure we are missing an in or out stamp for any country we’re liable for up to 800% of Redvers’ value. We will buy donkeys and camels and have him dragged home if necessary, that, or bury him at sea with his chassis and VIN numbers filed off.

Anyway so our border crossing had rendered us without an entrance stamp and that made us worry lots. But we were the dream team, only ten minutes of the morning had gone by and we had an address for the customs office in town, our papers were ready and we were eating pancakes at the bar.

Office Number One; we cruised into town like locals and pulled up outside the Nambian Customs Office. After speaking with the car guard we went inside. There we met a lovely lady who explained politely that although we were in a customs office, it wasn’t the customs office that deals with carnets. That office was at the railway station. Ten minutes of directions ensued roughly equating to left out the door, right, second right and it’s on your right, an elaborate map drawing session and an absolute peach of a ‘wig scratching moment’ and we were back on the road. (Most black ladies in offices seem to have wigs. Their heads are shaved and atop their bonce is a perfectly styled, straight haired nylon accoutrement, often requiring a double take to be completely sure of. Only one look is required however, when the lady decides to scratch her head in front of you and the hair-piece suddenly stands up like a cat in front of the fire, moves left, moves right, and then repositions itself in a slightly squiffy position on the side of her head. My open mouth and slight lean forward only lacked an eye rub to make it any more obvious.

Office Number Two; we accidently knocked on a private import and customs clearing agents’ door. After explaining we were in the wrong office, the young lady proceeded to lock up and walk us to the actual office we were looking for on the other side of the railway! The Namibian government must be organising PR lessons in schools as we haven’t met an unhelpful Namibian yet!

Office Number Three; as we explained our story for a third time, the lady clasped her head in both hands and said she had no idea what we were talking about. Why I oughta... I restrained myself and careful coercion led her to reveal that there was another office but she didn’t know where it was. As if it had been pre-rehearsed, we both slumped lazily and explained that if she didn’t know, we had no chance and this was the third customs office today, we’d have to wait at her desk until she found out. Ninety seconds later she had explained where the office was and how to get there. Sweet.

Office Number Four; as a precaution, at the Mata-Mata border coming in to Namibia we ensured the immigration guy stamped our carnet so as to semi-officiate our entry. We arrived at our next office and were directed deeper into the lions’ den to another desk where we met three ladies (all wigged up to the max) and a guy. This was the correct office! Inside we rejoiced, but only briefly. Relieved we handed over our carnet, he opened it up and his face dropped. “Someone has signed my space,” he said. Wholly Jebus Son of Crikey screamed my eyes as my mouth managed, “Can’t you just sign next to it?”
No, apparently, “I’ll have to start another page,” said Captain Useful. “We have 25 pages and potentially that many countries to enter so that’s not gonna be a plan,” said I.
“Just sign it and it’ll be our problem at the border won’t it,” piped up Miss Somers with complete authority and perfect timing. Our man may as well have staggered backwards, he was out with an almighty left hook that he never saw coming, and there was no coming back. “Err ok,” he said as he signed us off. Redvers was in!
We wandered around Windhoek for the afternoon, visited Zoo Park where we were accosted by two dudes looking for ‘sponsorship’ for a display they wanted to put on about the torrid past of South West Africa (now known as Namibia.) We listened intently to their history lesson. Howeverwe knew there would be compensation anticipated for this time they were giving us. We had three options, one was to tell them all about the little guy in Pella who stole our 40p. The second was to get all ‘Dragons Den’ and ask about feasibility, projected costs and potential returns. And the third, which we opted for, was to tell them we were living in a Cardboard Box and there was no money for it. Back to the backpackers...

Posted by ibeamish 08:56 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day Fourteen – Tropical Hypochondriac

6th October 2011

sunny 34 °C

As the day dawned, life was a little better. A distinct tension still hung in the air broken only by monosyllabic interludes between the Beamish and Somers camps. We were however functional, Redvers too, despite the fact that I could still see where a nut used to be and could see up into the gear box. The morning routines completed, we were in Mariental and already the shelves of supermarkets look like heaven after five days without a major town. Meat and booze were the principal orders but crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks also featured. Phone cards, Stanley knives and various viscosities of Redvers fluid completed the morning.

To the garage with Redvers. A long story short, the missing bolt is from the inspection inlet to the gear box. Redvers doesn’t need it and won’t bleed from it. I’m now a Land Rover hypochondriac. Best result really.

The afternoon drive to Windhoek took us across the Tropic of Capricorn, apart from it being a line of latitude somewhere around 23 or 24 degrees south; we’re not entirely sure what it’s for. We posed like Muppets under the sign anyway because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Police Engagement #4 occurred on the Windhoek city limits. What a terribly nice chap! A tall dude of medium build with a big smile and an animated personality, who actually just wanted to say hello. He also taught us, ‘How are you?’ and ‘Thankyou.’ I stopped short of offering him a beer but the thought was there and that is what counts.

Posted by ibeamish 08:53 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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