A Travellerspoint blog

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)

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)

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