Monday, 30 December 2013

Windhoek and a week with Maddy

Windhoek, I hate to say, is a pretty boring place when it comes to capital cities. Though to be fair if you hadn’t done everything else in Namibia like I have, you would have lots of different tours to go on. 

My couple days in Windhoek were pretty low key. I was mainly trying to get the blog caught up on - which failed miserably ! Hehe And also trying to sort out phone and bus tickets to my Namibian friend Maddy. 

One thing I have figured out or attempted to at least is the mail system. I was sending a bunch of things back to Canada for Alana since I would have time in Windhoek to do it. Mail system here is a bit different than Australia or Canada. I will also note that this was at a downtown capital city maybe even main post office. First off you can’t buy a box at the post office. Luckily nice post office lady managed to find me one that I could use. But then I had to go buy my own packing tape at stationary store across the road. By this point I am dodging thunderstorms and going on 30 mins to get this done. Got back from that only to find out that they only take cash , so off to find an ATM. Didn’t even have to fill out any sort of paperwork per say either. :S  Needless to say an hour later, I was done. Alana owes me a Savannah Dry cider for this! 

But the rest of the week was great fun! 

One big deciding factor in the entire Africa Adventure is that I would be able to catch up with a friend, Maddy, from my trail ride guiding days in Lake Louise who I haven’t seen since 2007ish. Also very handy having a contact person on the continent. Maddy lives up close to Etosha and we actually had a break stop in her town. 

It was great to catch up with her and meet her family. Also got to see some off the beaten path attractions like the crocodile farm. Crocodile tastes yummy - sorta like chicken just more rubbery. We took a day to drive out to Rock Finger which was a really pretty rock formation. 

Really interesting just to see how the locals live overall. 

We did drive up to her parents cattle farm up close to Harnas Wildlife Foundation. Maddy grew up on a 15 000 hectar farm. It really reminded me of an Australian station complete with red dirt. Had a blast getting a tour from the back of an ancient landcruiser.   But they are definitely in a drought - they have only 2 bores (waterholes) working out of close to 90! The farm dogs weren’t what I would call typical farm dogs: 2 grehounds and a pug :D Greyhounds are actually used to chase cheetahs. And the pug was just super cute, reminded me of Mr Jackson. 

Her family were so welcoming and did invite me for Christmas depending what is happening at Harnas. Had a super time getting to know them. 

Thanks for having me Maddy!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Day 14 & 15: End of the trip :( *cries*

One last night with this awesome crew of world travellers. It was spent at Joe’s Steak House in Windhoek. It is a popular restaurant that specializes in the game meats. I had a kudu steak which was very yummy. I did get to meet the 4 new people who are joining the trip who seem pretty cool. And Mike is still forgetting that I am leaving when he did his good bye speech at the table. Hehe Must be a sign that I should stay on. Oh well to late now. 

They even let us out in civilization and we are staying at a pretty fancy hotel ( Hotel Safari)! With free wifi! Woot! Lol 

Amazing trip and very sad that I stop here and everyone else continues on all the way to Jo-burg or Kenya. 

Drove 3900 kms over 2 weeks. Fuel tanks can go 2000km. We seriously thought the tanks were never ending since we only ever saw Herms stop to fill up once.

I saw them off after breakfast. That was tough watching the truck leave with out me :( 

I’m determined to finish off this tour and hopefully be able to catch up with Herms and Belinda after christmas sometime. 

Day 13: Waterberg Plateau

It is the last stop of my trip :( Really don’t want it to be. Having way to much fun with this awesome group of people. Really should have booked the full length trip but I know Harnas will be good fun and interesting as well. Breaking the trip up will mean that I have more time to explore Namibia. 

But the Waterberg Plateau is close to where the Cheetah Conservation fund is situated which is kinda cool even though we aren’t stopping there at all. Hopefully I will be able to get back to the area and see it at some point. The plateau is just that a big one in an area that the parks services have re-introduced lions and leopards though you rarely see them. We could hear baboons but haven’t seen any yet. Most of us went on  hike with Herms to the top of the plateau which was fun. Fairly easy hike except for a couple 

steep rocky stretches towards the top. Lovely view from the top and it probably would be a really good spot to watch the sunset but I wouldn’t want to have to go down those rocks in the dark. 

Everyone keeps forgetting that I am indeed getting off the trip at Windhoek. Mike really can’t get over that. I must be just the type that would do a 40 day trip. Herms is even trying to convince me to stay on since there is an extra seat! Oh so very tempting! Gah! If I didn’t have Harnas lined up and paid for already I would in a heart beat. Oh well will make to sure to keep in touch with everyone and hopefully see a few of them somewhere around the world. 

** See facebook album for photos- takes to long to load photos if they even load here**

Day 11 & 12: Etosha National Park

Etosha National Park is one of the worlds first national parks. Back in the beginning it was close to 100 000 Km square but unfortunately it is now only 24 000 km square. To give you a scale of how big Etosha is, Banff National Park is only 7000 square Km. Included in Etosha is a 130km long salt pan which rarely fills up. 

It was an early start on little Emily’s 19th birthday. She is going to have to work hard to top this birthday next year. Getting to see lions, giraffes, black and white rhinos on multiple game drives through one of the oldest National parks in the world will be tough to beat. We made it to Etosha by lunch time which ended up being perfect timiming to see our first 3 elephants at the waterhole right at the campsite. On the way through the park to the campsite, we did do some scenic tours to try and find some wildlife. We did spot some giraffes close to the road including a baby. And we saw lots of “potential” animals aka us thinking we saw a giraffe in the trees but it turns out to be just that -a tree! And Sven some how spotted a black rhino that was standing deep under a bush. Black rhinos are endangered and you rarely see them during the day, so that was very cool. 

The rest of the day was spent either down at the water hole, which was only a 3 minute walk from the campsite and lots of room to get different views of the animals. Most of the waterholes in the Park are man made so that the park staff can control where the animals are and force them to move to different areas to graze. At this main waterhole, we ended up seeing 3-5 elephants, lots of springboks, large herd of zebras,12 giraffes, 4 rhinos and best yet 5 lioness. 

The 5 lionesses appeared right at dusk for a drink and better yet they stuck around all night. More on them later.

One of the optional activities was a night game drive through Etosha which I chose to do. And so glad I did! It started out a bit slow and really was begining to doubt that we were going to see anything. The driver had a bit of a odd sense of humour and basically told us that we probably won’t see anything and that we would only be driving around on the roads and not stopping at any waterholes. Thankfully that wasn’t the case! As we pulled up to the waterhole, a big male lion was walking down the road. Then yet another black rhino was at the waterhole. Over the course of the evening, we ended up seeing 6 black rhinos ( they have hooked noses for eating bushes) including a baby. 

And when you are sitting out in the middle of lion territory at night always trust your gut! We hadn’t checked the left side of the car in 20 minutes or so with the spotlight. Finally one of the guys in the back asked if we could , good thing since there was a mamma black rhino with the baby coming up to check out the vehicle and were about 10 m away! 

And it is amazing how quiet a herd of elephants can be. As we turned around the vehicle to leave, there comes 4 elephants out of the trees looking like ghosts. Even has they walked past, you could barely hear them. 

It is interesting to watch the hireacry within the animal kingdom. Pretty sure elephants are at towards the top since they seem to chase rhinos away from the water. But yet we also saw a rhino somewhat chase a lioness away from a giraffe as well. Or maybe the lioness just couldn’t be bothered to take on a rhino.

When we arrived back at camp, we headed down to the waterhole to see if there was any action down there. Lots of action there! Remember those 5 lioness? Yup they were still hanging around. The herd or I should say a tower of 12 giraffes slowly made their way up to the water. Lionesses started stalking them and giraffes are so spooky. Ten out of 12 of them did end up getting a drink about 2 hours later to cover 100 m to the waterhole. Lionesses were making it difficult. And kicking myself for going to bed at 1-2ish am. Since about 30 minutes later, the lionesses made their move and in the chaos they took down a springbok. So Emily, Steph and Jessie all saw them make the kill. A few others were lying there sleeping and missed the whole thing! 

I hate to say this but ended up seeing so many lions that we nearly didn’t continue to stop to look at them! I think the total was around 17 in 2 days. Between the ones at the main campsite waterhole and then seeing another pride of lionesses stalking a lone giraffe within 20 minutes of leaving the second campsite. Really neat to see how the lionesses organize themselves when hunting. Unfortunately they weren’t successful. And it is very true that the males don’t do any of the hunting! There were 2 with that pride and they just laid down and watched and waited for breakfast to be served! Though very nicely only 7 feet from the truck! Some of my best pictures were taken of a lioness half heartedly stalking a herd of zebras which we came across on our way to the second campsite in Etosha. This lioness was one we saw after just coming across 2 pregnant ones. But the lightining was beautiful. With the golden yellow grass, black blue sky of the impending storm with a couple trees and a salt pan in the back ground. 

That night’s sunset was darn impressive as well complete with elephant at water hole. 

Other animals seen through out Etosha are: hyenas, white rhinos, warthogs, eland, orynx, Twany Eagles.

Also got to ride in the front of the truck with Herms which was good fun and found out that he knows his birds. So that will be handy to help me identify a few that I haven’t been able too.  Still didn’t see any cheetahs or leopards :( 

** not posting pics on here for the time being , please see facebook album . Takes way to long to upload pics if they even upload. **

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Day 10: Damaraland & rock carvings

To go with the every changing landscapes in Namibia, we drove through the Damaraland which is close to Swakopmund and the Skelton Coast. And there is nothing  here. It is flat bare greyish white sand for miles. The Skelton Coast refers to most of the coast line in Namibia due to all of the ship wrecks that have occured over the years due to the bank of fog that forms right along the coast line. We stopped at a very recent (2011) ship wreak. If anyone does survive the ship wreak, it is not a great survival rate since there are only 5 decent size towns along the coast with roughly 500-1000Km between each. And had a quick search for rubies and diamonds. 

We continued on our way to Twyfelfontain ( Doubtful Fountain) where there are 5000 year old rock carvings done by the bushmen. These were so clear and well done and surprisingly not protected in anyway from the elements. Though you do now need a guide to get in to see them. All of the carvings were of animals with most being giraffes, lions and zebras though there were few seals and elephants. Lions were the symbols for the medicine man and the giraffe was important since they can talk to God because they are so tall. 

(craving pic)
The camp site wasn’t my favourite due to lack of running water but we did have friendly cows wandering through camp. And on to Etosha National Park tomorrow!

Day 8 & 9: Swakopmund

Day 8 & 9 : Swakopmund 

Civilization! Not sure if we should be allowed out in civilization :S lol It is a very touristy town mainly known for all of the different adventures you can do. Everything from quading through the sand dunes, sand boarding, skydiving. I did a more relaxed but just as much fun harbour dolphin tour.

Township tour was done with a local tour group with local guides, some of which who live in the townships. It was really interesting to meet a few different members from different Namibian tribes. We met a local traditional medicine woman and learned about the different herbs she uses. A local Herrero woman.... We drove through the poorest part of the township which is where people who immigrate to the area looking for work live. They have no running water or electricity and generally live in small metal one room shacks. But what has surprised me is that everyone is dressed well. I really haven’t seen anyone dressed in dirty worn out clothing. Everyone is dressed in nice clean clothes and look put together. They may not have much but still want to look nice. 

(couple tour pics)

Probably the funnest part of the tour was going to a little craft center. Bought a nice locally made necklace  and then over to a local pub. And then tasting a some local food aka fried catapillars! The catipillars actually weren’t half bad. Bit salty and did get a few legs stuck in teeth but taste wise not bad. 

(fried catapillar pic)

I was a little concerned about the weather on the dolphin tour since it started out pretty chilly and looked like it was going to storm and I had sent my rain coat in with my laundry. But luckily it was just a morning mist that burned off half way through the tour. The tour guides said they perfer misty morning since that means that they won’t have strong hot winds first thing in the morning. 

There are close to 2.5 million seals in Namibia and there is a colony of 40 000 in Walvis Bay ( close to Swakapmund). The guides over the years have made friends with a few and allow a few of the nice ones to come on board for fish and picture time. I do like this ( makes good pictures!) but the one that came aboard was Diggy a year old male. Yes he’s very cute right now but I can only imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s full grown at 400Kilos! They let him walk all over the deck including up the front window to the top deck as well. They also encouraged some of the pelicans to land, so we had Pinky the Pelican. Loved the views of the pelicans as they flew in next to the boat. Got some really cool pics of them as they landed in the water. So fun to watch. 

(seal, pelican pic)

And the dolphins. They are Benguela dolphins which are black, grey and white and are named after the Benguela current which runs along that coast. Since it was a pretty calm day the dolphins didn’t feel like playing in the waves from the boat but since the boat is a catermeran we had an awesome view from over top of them. 

(dolphin pic)

Day 7: Sand Dunes!

Day : Sand Dunes
** Warning picture over load**

I can’t get over how spectacular these sand dunes are! So worth the getting up at 4am to see the sunrise over them while we sitting on top of Dune 45. Dune 45 is 150m tall and called Dune 45 because it is 45 km from Sesriem. We started to climb the dune in pitch black and it was tougher then it looks between the sand and the dune seeming to never end. But we got there in the end. I nearly didn’t wait for the sun to actually rise above the dunes since it was already light out by that point. So glad I didn’t head back down before the sun rose. And we spent way longer then we were suppose to up there but couldn’t get enough of the views and the stunning photos we were getting. I was having lots of fun playing photographer and using a few very nice cameras. (Still waiting for a few pics that I took of other people and their cameras!)

The climb.

Amazing view in the early light.

When we finally tore ourselves away from Dune 45 , we continued down to Sossusvlei Flats. To get to Sosusvlei Flats it’s a 4 wheel drive only track and then walking once you are there. It’s an ancient lake or clay pan which dried up thousands of years ago but the fossil trees are still standing. There is something about dead or fossil trees that I love. Not really sure why but they do always seem picteresque to me. And these ones were no different. Between the sand dunes in the background, clear blue sky it made for some amazing pictures. 

There is a newer clay flat which happened in 2006. It happened in a flash flood in about 2 hours. Herms was taking a tour through the area when it happened. Washed some tents away and everything.  

Some of the girls had fun rolling down one of the dune (Emily & Myrta) or running (Katie & Alanna).

All of this before 10 am! 

We stopped at tiny little Solitaire : population less then 100 but known for it’s apple pie. Belinda had been raving about it all day so had to try it. And it was very good! Odd place to have a dutch bakery in the middle of no where but everyone seems to know about it. The cinnamon buns were super yummy. 

We had our 3rd mechanical issue when we stopped somewhere for a break and the top stair broke/caved in. So back to using the ladder. We blamed B for breaking it :D hehe 

The roads have been bumpy up till now. I can deal with bumpy roads from living at the farm for 5 years. But these roads were a totally different level. Couldn’t even hear myself think! It did make charging things interesting - had batteries go flying a few times. 

The campsite is very isolated which is a plus since they have their own animal waterhole with a light on it. We ended up seeing a small herd of zebras there drinking. And we went for a night walk with Belinda. And having a spitting contest with springbok poop! Yup you read that correctly. LOL Pretty entertaining and apparently it’s a school kids game here in Africa. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Day 4-6: birthdays and big cats

Day 4 to 6: Jess’s b-day & big cats

Loooong drive which meant an early start (in truck by 6am) which we were rewarded with our first day of lots of animal spotting. I don’t think the other campers were to thrilled with us since we sang happy birthday to Jessie at 4:30am and then again before we got on the truck at 6am. 

Animals seen: 

I’m partly glad we didn’t see the baboons until we were leaving the campsite since they are known for being pest at this one. It had Jessie freaked out enough to actually lock her tent shut! But considering what stories Mike ( Table Mt guide) had been telling me about them breaking into his house I can understand being a bit freaked out. 

On the truck, I ended up sitting at the table facing backwards which has it’s benefits since that is how I spotted the little herd of Zebras. And when sitting at the table, it also means you are responsible for charging everyones things (cameras, ipods,computers) and organizing all the different types of adapters from around the world. Sometimes a lot more tricky then you would think. Roy and I were pretty good at it and did resort to using tape and a cookie box at one point to hold everything up. Also not aided by the very bouncy road. 

We had our 2nd mechanical issue with a leaking disel fuel line. So more waiting around but Herms can fix everything :D 

For Jessie’s birthday Belinda and Herms made a slight detour around to show us some big cats: a leopard (Lisa), 2 cheetahs (Oscar & Wild) and 2 caracals (Romeo & Juilliet) . It’s not a zoo or touristy attraction per say but it is at a hotel. The owner of hotel acquired a baby leopard (Lisa) a few years ago when the mother leopard was a problem one. He took on Lisa to safe her from being killed. Leopards in general are very shy and solitary animals. Lisa only trusts the owner. 

The cheetahs were bottle raised so we could go into the enclosure with them which was pretty cool. They were pretty lazy in the hot afternoon sun. The caracals ( looks similar to a lynx) were hiding. The only issue I had was that with the caracals hiding, we ended up playing hide and seek while we looked for them. Not exactly the safest thing to do but I know Herms wouldn’t put us in harms way. 

A cool picture of a communal weaver nest. Herms had us thinking it was giraffes actually putting grass up high in the trees to save it for later! 
(nest pic)

Just before arriving at the campsite for the night, we stopped at Sesriem Canyon. Not sure if it would be considered a slot canyon or not. From the top you can barely tell there is a canyon there. Some cool caves to climb into and canyons to walk down. Nothing growing in it except one tree. 

One of Herms many talents also include baking cakes- in a pot over the campfire at that. Super yummy chocolate cake to top off the day. And doing some star gazing- Venus is really bright.