Deprecated: Methods with the same name as their class will not be constructors in a future version of PHP; plgContentembed_google_map has a deprecated constructor in /var/sites/a/aaltenvoogd.com/public_html/plugins/content/embed_google_map/embed_google_map.php on line 21
20060325_P_0004
Spectacular sunrise over the Indian Ocean

Oh what a long day we have had, both in terms of the number of hours crammed into it and the journey we have actually done. We left Hong Kong a little before midnight on yet another Cathay Pacific flight. Our plane to Hong Kong had been a 2-4-2 seat formation so we had a row of two seats to our ourselves. This one was a 3-4-3 and someone was in the aisle seat next to us. Fortunately the flight wasn’t full and before take off they have moved to site somewhere else.

On this flight Stef seemed more comfy than me. After our second airline dinner of the night, and aided by a little red wine he was soon snoozing. I, on the other hand, just couldn’t get comfy. The leg room wasn’t great but that wasn’t really the problem. Everywhere I tried to put my feet they banged up against something, which I think is the problem Stef had on the last flight. In the end I worked out what the problem was. “Your life jacket is under your seat” doesn’t mean it is attached to the bottom of your seat but that it’s in a box on the floor just where the person behind you wants to put their feet. That’s what I kept kicking. The insides of planes are obviously designed by short people. What made it even more ludicrous was the in-flight video showing you the exercises you should do to prevent DVT. One was to sit in your seat and pull your knees up in front of you. There was absolutely no chance of being able to do this because there simply isn’t enough leg room unless you are very short.

With sleep not really being much of an option I while away the hours walking the aisles and watching films. I saw most of Harry Potter before sleep finally came but then woke a few hours later and couldn’t get back to sleep. This time I watched The North Country which had me captivated. It’s hard to believe that men could be so nasty to women they knew and sad that so many women simply had to put up with those conditions because they needed their job.

On this flight we follow the sun on its way round the world, playing catch up, so even thought the flight left at midnight and was over twelve hours long, we arrived at Johannesburg at 6:30am. It was odd seeing the crew spring to life at 4:30am local time and doing their rounds of opening windows and waking everyone up knowing that all people wanted was to stay asleep for a while longer.

At Johannesburg we had a stopover of just under six hours before our connecting flight to Windhoek in Namibia. We arrived so early that the check in desk at the transfer section was not yet open although, when I went back two hours later to check in, it was the same guy sitting behind the desk. No doubt he could have checked us in first time around if he could have been bothered to.

With such a long stopover we had both had the same idea to try and get into an airline lounge where as a minimum it would be quiet. First off we tried the transit hotel but at US$120 each we thought it was a very over priced option really ripping off and cashing in on tired travellers. The British Airways lounge turned us down because we don’t have silver Executive Club membership and unlike other of their lounges at this one you can’t pay to get in. But the very friendly lady there pointed us in the direction of the Premier Lounge which did the trick.

This and a quick stop at the Bureau de Change to get some local currency introduced us to the very high cost of changing money here. At the BDC, they told us that unless we absolutely needed local cash their charges were so high that we were better off waiting until we got to a cash point in Namibia. At the lounge, we ended up paying in Euros (thanks to the Dutch couple we’d helped out on the coast in Ecuador) which was a better exchange rate than either US dollars or pounds sterling.

20060325_P_0017
First glimpse of big empty Namibia

The lounge lived up to expectations with great showers, a quiet environment and a relaxing way to wait out the time until our next flight. Stef looked OK, apart from having slightly blood shot eyes, and felt rejuvenated after his shower. For me though the lack of sleep the night before was taking its toll and tiredness was starting to wash over me.

Time dragged until our next flight and seemed to pass really slowly with me just sitting like a zombie while Stef was busily doing I don’t know what. Our flight to Windhoek was with BA and I had a few pangs of homesickness as we got on board and saw the familiar uniforms of the crew and livery of the plane. The flight was probably only about two thirds full and having booked our tickets a long time ago we had the comfy seats and loads of leg room. Two hours after taking off we were landing at Windhoek’s International Airport. It is about 40km or so out away from the capital and on the way in we saw nothing from the air but wide open space with patches of scrub like vegetation and the shadows of clouds. In many ways it reminded us both of the wide open spaces of Patagonia, vast tracts of empty space.

Arriving at Windhoek made me wonder if there is a relation between the size of the airport and the size of the national population. Even though in terms of land mass Namibia is a large country its population is less than two million and its International Airport is correspondingly small. Again it reminded me of South America and some of the small airports we have travelled through there. Stepping off the plane into the open air we both breathed in heavily, looked at each other, laughed and said “how lovely”. It was warm, with a warm wind blowing but none of the high humidity we had endured in Asia.

As we were waiting for our bags the electricity cut out, not once but twice, potentially a sign of things to come. With nowhere yet booked to stay we were hoping that the tourist information desk at the airport would have lots of up to date recommendations. Not so. It was open but was really nothing more than a stand where you could collect brochures. A woman scuttled across to “help” when she saw us go in but she was of little help. In the end we took an up to date accommodation guide and went and sat in the coffee shop next door to look at options. The first few we tried were ridiculously expensive and we settled on the Hotel Moni, still pricey compared to what we have paid in Asia.

A taxi whisked us off to our hotel where we were given a very friendly welcome by the owner Marita. We had a choice of rooms and settled for number 10 which has a large patio outside. The room itself was spacious and within minutes I was tucked up in bed for some much needed sleep. I had only expected to snooze for about an hour or so but woke up four hours later to find that it had already gone dark outside. The thirty one hours it had taken to get from Melaka to Windhoek had taken its toll and although I felt better for having had a nap I knew that I would sleep well tonight too.

We abandoned plans to start to explore Windhoek and instead phone a recommended (by Marita) pizza place who soon delivered a tasty meal which we ate tucked up in bed.

20060326_P_0045
Windhoek's Christuskirche, the (only) landmark

We had both had a good night’s sleep and apart from, my eyes which still felt tired, I felt pretty much back to normal. Breakfast was a tasty spread with no noodles, rice of roti in sight. Rather than missing those flavours that had become so normal to us we both relished ham, cheese and tasty (i.e. solid for Stef) bread. It was a very Dutch/German breakfast and it made a welcome change.

What had surprised us when we arrived yesterday was Marita saying that as it was the weekend everything would be closed. We are so used to a 24x7 lifestyle at home, and it is one we have experienced pretty much everywhere we have travelled to on this trip that it still takes us by surprise to find places closed at the weekend. In a way though it is nice to have an enforced down day. We used the morning to just firm up our ideas for what we want to see in Namibia and how we want to travel around. There is little in the way of public transport so you either need to hire a car or join a tour group. The latter doesn’t really appeal to either of us so, depending on cost, we look set to hire a 4x4 camper truck.

At around noon we decided to go and amble around the centre of Windhoek to get our bearings a little and to se what was there. Marita had laughingly told us yesterday that about three hours was more than enough time to see the sigh and she was right! The hotel is a little way out of town, about a twenty minute walk to the centre. Most of the places we had looked at to stay in Windhoek were a similar distance out and there seem to be only one hotel, The Kalahari Sands, in the centre of town.

Marita had told us yesterday that if we were in the centre of town at night we should get a taxi back rather than walking. It made me feel slightly uneasy because it creates an impression of insecurity. In daylight the walk in seemed fine although I suspect our route didn’t take us through the nicest parts of town. We headed down Independence Avenue and past a large church with a very active community. There was a steady flow of people coming in and out an they just seemed to come and go as they pleased which made me think there was no structured “service” like there is in Catholic churches. Sure enough as we passed by again on our way back to the hotel the congregation was still in full swing.

As Marita had predicated the centre of town was all shut up except for a couple of shops geared to tourists. We saw a few foreign tourists wandering about but not many. One thing most had in common was their age, they were definitely all retired people on holiday. The centre of Windhoek is very small with the usual collection of shops and banks, although it was difficult to really get a sense of them as they were shut.

We stopped for lunch at a place with a balcony looking down and over the street and whiled away some time as we people watched. It was a strange mix and contrast of people walking by. Even though we have only been here a few hours we were both have a feeling that a dual society still exists here with a large cultural divide between the indigenous black people and the descendents of the white European settlers. The settlers seem to own everything and the indigenous people provide the workforce. Here the clientele were also predominantly white and the common courtesies of “please” and “thank you” and making eye contact with the staff did not seem to form part of daily life. Their kids were running amok while the parents just sat munching on chunks of steak and swigging beer. The white people we saw out on the street also had an almost arrogant swagger about them. It was as if they felt entitled to all the world had to offer and were quietly letting everyone know they were going to enjoy it.

We strolled along by the state house, current home of the President, getting shooed to the other side of the street by the security guards inside. At the top of the road the view is dominated by the Christus Kirche, a small church with an odd mix of styles in its construction and décor. Perched on top of a hill it offers fine views down and across Windhoek which really reveal how small this capital city is. Nestled in a valley you can see the outer extremes of the city to your left, right and in front of you. It is really no more than a smallish UK town.

20060326_P_0055
German architecture in Windhoek

We wandered back to our hotel and as we sat cooling on our balcony a few drops of rain started to fall, followed within minutes by a torrential downpour. Had we been ten minutes later getting back we would have been totally drenched. Apparently they have had a lot more rain this year than normal in fact more than they have had for the last 30 years. We’ve been told that the landscape is unusually green and lush and that we will see Namibia in a very different light to how most people get to see it.

In the evening we made our way to the Maerua Mall about ten minutes walk the other way from the town centre. It looks pretty new ad work is still going on to fit out many of the shops. It had an eerie feeling to it being so quiet. We had gone there to see what was on at the local cinema and, even though we have already seen the film, we bought tickets for the Constant Gardener. The cinema had just four screens and the one we were in was tiny, probably seating only about 100 people.

After the film we stopped off at Mike’s Kitchen for a beer before heading back to the hotel. This was a big diner style eatery that would have been equally at home in Canada. Large lumps of meat seemed to be the highlight of the menu as with the place we had stopped at at lunchtime. It was strange to see a group of Chinese people inside tucking into big steaks with a knife and fork rather than slurping away at their noodles with chopsticks.

Our walk back to the hotel was a bit of a quick march. Even though Marita had said this stretch was safe to walk at night we didn’t hand around. Signs on the roadside declared how Windhoek wanted its residents and guests to feel safe and it gave contact numbers for you to call if that wasn’t the case. The very fact that the sign was there made me feel uneasy. AS we reached a junction two men outside the Nampharm building started to talk to us. I think they were security guards but I wasn’t sure and couldn’t work out whether they were friend or foe. I also couldn’t understand what they were saying although Stef exchanged a few words with them as we carried on walking by. Within minutes we were back behind the security gates of the hotel and were soon tucked up in bed.

20060327_P_0071
German street names

We spent some time this morning phoning around to look at different options for tours versus car hire. Tours we know would be possibly the more cost effective option but in a group like that you lose the flexibility to set your own agenda and vary it as you go along. The prospect of also ending up in a Lonely Planet back packer style group was also not a welcome one, perhaps twenty years ago but not now that we are that bit older. However we were prepared to accept this solution if needed as Lonely Planet also says that there are not many cars to hire in Namibia and that you need to book in advance.

A couple of calls in and we found that 7 day tours started on a Sunday so we had missed them and that shorter tours usually left mid week. With Windhoek being such a small place neither of us wanted to wait around for a few more days, let alone a week, so we quickly discounted that option. It was also helped by a couple of companies who had immediate availability for hiring transport. The way to go in Namibia seems to be to have a 4x4 truck with a tent on top of the roof.

We opted to go with Camping Car Hire because we got the best feeling from them on the phone. Before committing though we asked if we could come and have a look at what we would be getting and they sent a car round to pick us up. In some ways it was a bit of a wasted trip because all they did was show us and empty truck and say that it would be packed with this, that and the other. Even so it was good to meet the company face to face and the positive impression they had created on the phone was carried through in person, with the exception of the guy who picked us up and dropped us into town. He obviously is not the happiest if chaps at work and came close to telling us to go with a different company. Not very professional.

With the car hire sorted we then went in search of binoculars so that we could actually see the wildlife we hoped to pass along the way. The car hire place referred us to Rosenthal’s gun shop and dropped us off there. A metal gate guards the door so that customers have to be buzzed in and out. Like the gun shops we went into in Canada here they had all sorts of different rifles ranged up against the walls as well as the accessories you would need as a modern day hunter. A friendly chap helped us with some binoculars and we were soon heading back down into the centre of Windhoek again.

Whereas yesterday had been quiet, today there were people around town but it was still not a buzzing metropolis. We found an internet café and checked our mail and then wandered into a local bookshop to get some reference guides to birds and mammals in South Africa. Much as we’re not great wildlife spotters it’s useful to be able to look up what you’ve seen rather than just saying “it’s another bird but a different one to the one we saw earlier”. The shop also provided us with a more up to date map of Namibia than the one we bought in Canada and a guide to the Etosha National Park which is one of our early destinations.

With little local cash we went in search of a bank and were shocked by the cost of making a credit card withdrawal. All of the banking infrastructure seems to be in South Africa and the costs are incredible. At the Amex office they were going to charge us the equivalent of £72 for a cash advance and at the bank it would be £10 for a clearance phone call to South Africa before any commission charges etc were added on top. We’ve ended up using cash points but no doubt we’ll still get clobbered with high charges.

We stopped off at tourist information who gave a booklet of all the campsites in Namibia. At first sight it looked helpful but it’s only a list of names and contact numbers and with no map or address for the majority of the campsites it’s really of limited use unless you already know which one you are heading to. The Namibia Wildlife Resorts office told us about availability of site in the Etosha Park but here, as with Tourist Information, we found that we were only given information that directly responded to the question you asked. If you didn’t ask the right question you left none the wiser.

In the afternoon we went back to Camping Car Hire in the afternoon to sort out the paperwork and then headed for the Maerua Mall in search of a haircut for Stef. We found the hairdressers but frustratingly they are closed on Monday afternoons. Walking back out to the hotel though we passed a travel agent and decided to go in to ask about options for our onward travel to South Africa. AS a BA agent we knew we should be able to make changes to our round the world ticket rather than having to buy additional flights.

20060327_P_0078
Sundowner time!

We were directed to Eugene, a man in his fifties tucked away at the back of the shop and spent a frustrating half an hour or so in there. He fits the mould of the RV dealers we came across in Canada. Very slow and methodical but really in the wrong job as paperwork is not his thing. We told him we had round the world tickets but for some reason he kept looking up flights for Ulula airlines, a BA franchise in Africa. AS it was already past closing we said we’d come back tomorrow which would also then give him time to look into options for us and to check the rules for changing our tickets.

Back at the hotel we asked Marita for some recommendations of where we could go for dinner. She told us about the Wine Bar on Garten Street, a good place for a sundowner and also Joe’s Beer house. As we’re not yet sure what other time we will have in Windhoek before we leave we decided to do both. We quickly dumped bits we’d acquired today in our room before heading out to the wine bar, me desperately trying to keep up with Stef who was on a quest to get there with as much of the sunset left to go as possible.

It’s a small bar on a hill overlooking Windhoek with an outside terrace giving good open views. There is no wine list as such, you just decide if you want red or white, taste the three that they are serving that day and decide which one you want to go for. It’s a clever idea but it was a very difficult choice to make. Common sense went out the window and I ordered a bottle instead of a glass forgetting that the sun would set quickly. We got chatting to a couple of young men at the table next to us, the first time we had seen a black person and a white person out together.

The black guy was Namibian and proud of it. He had been to London but definitely preferred the tranquility of life here. The white guy was from Johannesburg, here to open up a new branch of the family firm, and found the pace of life here frustratingly slow. As with Marita at the hotel, they both talked at the same time, one quietly, one loudly and it made it almost impossible to follow the conversation. Hopefully I nodded and ummed at the right times!

From the wine bar we took a taxi to Joe’s, somewhere I would like to go back to when I hadn’t had the better part of a bottle of wine in advance. It’s a large place with tables outside under thatch roofed shelters. The whole place seemed to be full of men swilling beer and eating big slabs of meat. Rather than going for beef we went for a mixed plate which had kudu, zebra, crocodile as well as more “normal” bits of meat. It was pretty tasty, not as unusual as I had expected it to be, but sat like a large lump in the bottom of my stomach.

20060328_P_0099
African skies, wide open roads and not a soul in sight, fantastic

We were picked up this morning from our hotel by Camping Car Hire who took us back out to their depot so we could pick up our truck. What had yesterday been a totally empty 4x4 was now kitted out and ready to go. In the back is a small fridge, a box with kitchen bits, a gas stove, camping tables and chairs, spare wheels and tyre pressure gauges and the all important jerry cans for spare fuel and a large water container. Namibia is a county where even if your map shows you a petrol station it may not have fuel and, in some cases, the distances you want to travel are longer than the distance between the petrol stations.

On top of the truck was our tent. It looks spacious enough and seems pretty easy to fold down and stow away. I think that for both of us it brought back memories of the months we had spent travelling around Canada in our motor home but there we didn’t have to climb a narrow metal ladder to get into bed. It’s certainly going to be a different way of travelling and sleeping. Stef went out with one of the engineers for a (very) quick lesson on using the 4x4 and before long we were off out into the wilds of Namibia.

Well not quite. First off we needed to stock up with supplies and revisit Eugene at the travel agent about our tickets. Knowing how slow he was we went to Eugene first and sure enough he was as bad as yesterday. For some reason he was still persisting with trying to book us onto an Ulula flight and it took about twenty minutes to switch him back to our round the world tickets. I’d hoped he had spent the night reading up on the conditions for changing the tickets but not so. After an hour, we left with reservations to Johannesburg and on to Maputo but with Eugene still to confirm with his contact at BA that we could do it on our tickets. It was a very slow and frustrating process which Stef escaped for a while to get a hair cut and do some other shopping. The worst part is that when we get back to Windhoek we still need to go back into the travel agency to pick up the tickets. No doubt that will be another hour!

At the other end of the mall we found the Checkers supermarket and went to stock up on basic food supplies. It was again strange shopping in a new country and seeing familiar items which were still strange. Its silly things, like at home cling film comes with a metal serrated edge to cut it where as here it's plastic, that make the differences while everything is the same. Same same but different as they say in Asia. We found a shop selling mossie candles and stocked up on our insect spray. Malaria can be a problem in Northern Namibia and we don’t have enough time for our tablets to kick in and give us protection so we need to do all we can to avoid being bitten.

By the time we’d done all of this it was already lunch time and we stopped at a small café in the mall for a quick bite before heading out. The people at Camping Car Hire had told us that we needed to get permits to visit the Skeleton Coast in Windhoek. Before leaving town we went back to Namibia Wildlife Resorts in the centre only to be told that we don’t need permits in advance we can get them on arrival. This suits us much better as it means we keep flexibility in our plans.

Finally we were off and driving out of Windhoek, seeing again how small the capital city was. Within about five minutes we were in the outskirts of town and a further five minutes on we were already out in the expanse of open countryside which makes up most of this country. Each small hill we crested reinforced the vast emptiness all around us. Flat expanses of land stretch as far as you can see dotted here and there with low shrub like bushes. Even the clouds were dramatic with bright white large puffs of cloud also rolling away into the distance. We now know what people mean when they talk about African skies.

I’d found a leaflet for a campsite not far away from Windhoek which promoted themselves as a good place to stay for your first night to help you get accustomed to your new way of life and to get a bit of 4x4 experience. It was only about 70km away from Windhoek and, with time marching on, we decided to make that our first stop expecting to find helpful people and a reasonably busy campsite.

The drive up the B1 was uneventful. It is Namibia’s equivalent to the M1 and is a good road but has virtually no traffic on it. Soon we reached the town of Okahandja, a small place with a population of less than 10,000, but one which rates as a large settlement here. As we drove in a few buses full of Western tourists had stopped at the town’s place of interest, a row of vendors selling wooden carvings and basket work from small stalls along the street. The town centre reminded me of Fernheim in Paraguay and some of the places we had passed through in the mid-west of Canada. It was like a frontier town. Basic essential shops lined the roads with a bank and a post office and that was about it. Everywhere people seemed to be just sitting around watching the world go by.

We found our way out through to the other side of town where a few kilometres further on we reached the Okahandja Lodge. A gate post was the only visible evidence from the road and tarmac immediately gave was to a dirt track. We followed the signs to the campsite which was around the back of the lodge and through a metal fence. The path led onto a smallish campsite with clearly defined plots with electricity and water points and a showers block but no other campers in sight. We made our way back to the lodge to check in and register for the night.

20060328_P_0105
Getting a camp fire going

That must rate as one of the most difficult camp site check in’s we have done. The campsite was fine but basic, isolated and empty. By contrast the lodge looked very clean and comfortable, although still with few people around. The temptation to stay in a comfortable room with a cosy bed and take advantage of their pool was very hard to resist but we did. We did a quick hop back into Okahandja to get some fire wood and then headed for our camp.

We had got there in the middle of the afternoon so we had a good few hours of daylight to sort ourselves out. On the road we had started to reminisce about travelling through Canada and finally arriving at the campsite brought more familiar situations. With our motor home it took us a few days before we had really worked out where to stash different bits and pieces and to get into a routine. Our first night in our 4x4 truck/tent reinforced that we would again go through a similar learning curve.

Very soon we were identifying things that we would do to make the living experience easier. Top of the list has to be access to all the stuff in the truck. With access only from the rear it seems to be a never ending process of climbing into and through the truck to get at what you want. It wasn’t long before I was feeling very out of sorts not really knowing what to do or how to do it and I was getting irritable and frustrated. Stef by contrast was as happy as Larry and soon had a campfire going.

Having eaten at lunchtime we skipped dinner and spent a couple of hours adjusting to a new way of living, enjoying a cold beer and playing cards. A little after 7:00pm it was already getting dark and by 8:00pm we were already tucked up in bed, not so much because we were tired but more because we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. It was a strange mix of feelings. On the one hand it was again getting used to a fairly basic way of living, hard after the ease of hotels, and on the other the knowledge that it would be a fun way to travel around and explore a new country.

20060329_P_0133
Namibian road sign, warning of warthogs (they have very poor eyesight) We didn't see any splatted so the signs must work!

Having gone to bed so early we were, not surprisingly, up very early too. The campsite was totally quiet as no other campers had arrived last night. It was a strange feeling to be out in the middle of nowhere, not really knowing what sort of animals may be browsing around looking for their next meal. All we saw though was a few birds. One side of the campsite backed on to the land from the lodge. Along the other side was a wide river bed, now totally dried out but with clear patterns in the sandy bottom to show which way the water coursed down and through.

We had our first breakfast out in the open air, a simple affair of cereals, juice and tea/coffee while we pondered our moves for the day. With slight trepidation I went off to explore the showers, glad that more people were not around. The washrooms were open to the elements and when we arrived yesterday had no water. About fifteen minutes after we had set up camp a chap arrived to turn on the water and electricity, lighting a fire to give us hot water. I don’t think I have ever before been to the loo or taken a shower in a bathroom made of bamboo canes where the “door” is simply a rope that you sling across the entrance to show it is occupied.

Considering that one of Namibia’s big issues seems to be a lack of water I was surprised to see a bath at the campsite. I opted not to use it, partly because it was pretty rusty but mainly due to the collection of bugs and insects that were still snoozing away in it. A quick scan of the showers showed which was the least bug infested and I was pleasantly surprised to get a good strong shower with lovely warm water. It was better than many of the showers we have had in the various hotels we’ve stayed at around the world and I felt very refreshed after it.

As we were packing our stuff up and getting ready to go a chap from the lodge was already out and about ready and waiting to clear up the campsite behind us. They seem to sweep the tracks every day as well as doing the obvious stuff like emptying the bins. We seemed to just click back into our Canada routine, diving tasks between us without even really discussing it. We’re still not in our new routine for this truck though but no doubt within a few days we will be.

Before heading further north we did another quick stop in Okahandja. With warnings that the shops would be likely to have little choice of food and to ensure that we had emergency fuel and water supplies with us still ringing in my ears I had finally persuaded Stef that we should also stock up with some emergency food rations. Whilst neither of us is a great fan of tinned and pre-packaged food it would see us through if we did get caught out somewhere and would also make for a quick dinner if we were too tired to have a braai. After an unsuccessful foray into the first shop we came to we headed further into town and found the Spar, which seemed to do quite a trade in stocking up people going off on camping trips. There were quite a few camping trucks outside and lots of people in waling gear and boots inside, all buying the same type of stuff. I wonder what the local population makes of it all!

From Okahandja we continued north on the B1 passing through more of the same countryside we had seen yesterday. Miles and miles of open land stretched away with little variation, except that we passed a few ostriches in a field along the way. Warnings about cows crossing the road were well and truly expected but we both chuckled when we saw a similar sign warning of warthogs crossing the road! Quite often we would see large black bugs on the road. We couldn’t really work out what they were but they looked like either a sort of cicada or a big beetle.

We had been told that we could do about 400km on a tank of petrol so I was keeping a close eye on our fuel gauge working out as we went how much further it was to the next petrol station. With our jerry cans currently empty I didn’t want us to get caught out. Our map showed that we should have passed a petrol station but none were evident. On closer inspection I realised that a black petrol pump symbol means there is a service station, a grey one means there might be!

Our planned destination for tonight was the Waterberg Plateau Park, again not a massive drive in terms of distance. It was a stop recommended to us by the engineer at Camping Car Hire as somewhere quite unusual to go. We turned off the main B1 onto the C22 which was still a good road with tarmac. About 40km further on though we turned off onto our first dirt road. Everyone you talk to warns you about how dangerous it can be on the gravel roads, to keep your speed low and to be wary for differing road conditions. I think if you listened to them all too carefully you would never go anywhere much in Namibia because most of the roads have no tarmac.

This dirt road was in pretty good condition although we soon found ourselves crossing water and going through muddy bits. Heeding the warnings we were ultra cautious and switched to 4x4 mode, probably not necessary but we did it anyway. Before long the plateau came into view. It is an enormous raised up section of land with steep rock sides leading up to the flat plateau. We have both recently read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s book The Lost World and we were soon drawing comparisons between Waterberg and the plateau that the characters in the book had conquered. It looked like a very inhospitable place and from where we were it was difficult to see how there could be any route up to the top.

Unlike yesterday when we had driven with clear blue skies dotted with bright white clouds, today was overcast and dark clouds were building all around us. The plateau itself was almost shrouded in low hanging clouds and in the distance we could see what looked like heavy rain moving in our direction. We turned off onto a small muddy track to get to the park office and booked into the campsite for the night. It was still early afternoon and there was time to fit in a 4x4 jeep tour to the top of the plateau to see the wildlife. We booked up, aware that cancellation was likely if the rain came down.

The park campsite was large and although there were not many there were actually people here today. With the threat of rain very present we had again resisted the temptation of staying in a chalet and toured the campground to find what looked like a good site. We had time to set ourselves up before heading back to the park office to pick up our tour. It was a small group, just six of us, in a high sided jeep which gave everyone good views. The rain clouds were still threatening and whilst the woman at reception seemed doubtful that we would go the driver soon turned up and off we went.

Before we left we have grabbed our waterproofs and we were soon glad we had them, not so much because of rain but because the speed of the jeep created a cool wind blowing all around us. Fro the most part we managed to skirt the rain but did get the odd brief shower or two. As we drove along the plateau it looked more and more imposing creating a feeling that we were about to cross into some hidden landscape full of secrets and treasures.

A track led off and up the side of the hill and soon we were through the second control gate and into the park. A quick stop showed the extent of the valley below us. From the photo you almost can’t sense the height we are at, all you can see is green trees and a far distant horizon. While we had stopped Stef asked the guide how the plateau was formed, expecting to get some sort of explanation. All he said was “that is a very long story” in such a way that we thought we would get it later but we left the plateau still with no knowledge of its formation.

20060329_P_0154
On Waterberg plateau, with a ginormous Namibian landscape behind us (you simply can't get it on a picture)

We spent about two hours up on the plateau following different tracks around in search of animals. A short way after the entrance a group of baboons were spread out across the road but they disappeared off into the rocks on either side before we could get a close look. With all the rain they have had recently the bush is very dense and water is in plentiful supply so there are few animals coming to the watering holes to drink. We stopped at several water holes, a couple of which were natural but most seemed to have been made by the park management. Two of these also had large hides so that you could watch protected from the heat of the sun (when it shined). Unfortunately though we were not lucky and our animal sightings were low.

We did get a fleeting glimpse of an Oryx, a roan deer and a few springbok. There were fresh rhino and elephant tracks skirting the road in a few places but the animals themselves were nowhere to be seen. The highlight was coming across a herd of buffalo. These are fierce looking animals, broad and strong with curly horns that look like they could probably do a fair amount of damage. Some of them stood in the road face on to us as if they were saying “come on then give it a go” but it was always the buffalo that backed down. We came across the herd a couple of times and had a relatively close shave when some of them decided to run across the road in front of us. All in all though it was a bit of a disappointing safari.

Although we had missed the rain the rain had not missed the road back to the campsite. What had been a dusty track on the way out was now a muddy road, a foretaste of what we could encounter for the next few weeks in Namibia. The sun had started to set and by the time we got back to camp it was already dark. What we had thought was a good site for the night turned out not to be such a good choice. We had no water and the electric hook up didn’t work either so we had little light to see what we were doing. Both of us were feeling tired and we soon also seemed cross and irritable with each other. We gave up on the idea of a braai and opted to fry our sausages in a pan and have them in sandwiches for tea. Amazing how a bottle of beer and a glass of wine can help things to not seem quite so bad.

20060330_P_0229
Home, sweet home. How do you like the zebra tablecloth and yellow (!) paraffin lamp?

It rained a little overnight but by the morning the ground had started to dry out and what had last night been a very slippery short walk to the washrooms today was not quite so much of an ice rink. It was still cloudy overhead and we got ourselves up and out early so that we had maximum time to navigate the muddy stretch of road before we again hit tarmac. A German chap was cruising round the campsite in his truck looking for someone with diesel. He didn’t have enough to get him to the next petrol station and the pumps at the Parks Office were dry, another reminder to fill our jerry cans.

As expected the dirt road was pretty hairy in places and we took it slowly and cautiously to get through. Although we stitched to 4x4 mode a couple of times I sensed that the other people who passed us had just stuck in normal two wheel drive mode. It’s a difficult call to make as you don’t know how much experience they have of driving in these conditions but we were both definitely of the “take it easy” mindset. As we hummed the Simon and Garfunkel song Slip Sliding Away to ourselves our thoughts turned to the girls at the campsite who had borrowed our kettle this morning. They were only here in a normal small car so I suspect they had a very interesting trip back along that road. It took us an hour to do the 24km back to tarmac.

Back on the main road we headed north up to Otjiwarongo where we fill up with fuel, both the tank and the jerry cans. Signs at the petrol station implied we could pay by credit card but when Stef tried to it all got a bit confusing. If you pay by plastic you have to pay at the tyres company next door, and no doubt they then have some sort of arrangement with the petrol station to pass the cash back. Most odd. Stef also went in search of a lamp so that we had more light at our campsite. I’d assumed that he would buy a battery operated one so that we could also use it inside the tent at night but no. He came back with an old fashioned paraffin lamp which has much more character.

We carried on up to Otavi where we made a short stop at the Spar for a coffee and some lunch. Otjiwarongo had been a small frontier type town but compared to Otavi it was large. We got a friendly welcome and had the feeling that not many foreigners make a stop here. I took over the driving and before long we were at Tsumeb where we topped up with fuel and took on fresh food supplies. Here too it was a small town but time, money and care had been taken to make the entrance to town impressive with a long palm tree lined avenue leading down to the outskirts of town.

20060330_P_0236
Black-backed jackal - arriving early for dinner!
20060330_P_0241
All we could think of was "ooh, aah" and give each other another hug.

Again heading northwards we carried on up the B1 until we turned off west to make our way to Namutoni on the eastern edge of the Etosha National Park. We made it to Namutoni by about 4:30, checked in and set up camp. This parks office is located at an old German fort, which still stands to attention and makes an impressive back drop as you enter. The campsite was quite large and open with more people on it that at the place last night. We’d stopped at the shop to top up our firewood and Stef came out with a big grin on his face. The chap in front of him had bought gin and tonic for his sundowners and Stef followed suit. My excuse for drinking it is that the tonic has quinine in it so it’s really only for medicinal purposes!

As we sat enjoying the sunset a large truck rolled in behind us. It was like a bus set on top of a large 4x4 style chassis. Where the luggage compartments would be on a normal bus hatches opened up to reveal a field kitchen. The doors of the bus/truck opened and out poured a group of Lonely Planet style backpackers all with swimming gear in hand and heading off to the pool. As they passed us by we heard them recounting their travelling tales which were in the vein of “when I did this I was absolutely slaughtered”. We both looked at each other and didn’t really need to say how glad we were that we had not gone for the tour option after all.

Our next visitors for the night were a few locals about which signs are posted in the camp office. Black backed jackals prowl the campsite at dusk and for an hour or so afterwards when everyone is cooking. They are sly creatures who just sidle up to your site without you really noticing them. They are bold too coming very close to the fire, on the scavenge for whatever they can get. We shooed them away from our site but you could sense that other people feed them which is why they come on the prowl.

Stef got another fire going, something he has now become a dab hand at although I’ve decided not to ask how many firelighters he uses in the process. We had our first braai of our trip so far, no doubt one of several barbecues that we will have in South Africa, before climbing the ladder and heading off to another night’s sleep in our tent.

We woke up at 8:00am to find the campsite deserted. We hadn’t heard anyone moving around but they were all packed up and gone. It was a bad start to the day. At Waterberg the tours onto the plateau to see the animals either left at 7:00am or 3:00pm to coincide with sunrise and sunset. From the little we know of animal watching these are the best times to be out and about so we both knew that we had probably missed the boat.

Still not really with a pattern for getting going in the morning we were both trying to get ready as quickly as we could but it seemed to me that everything I touched was a trial to overcome. To get to anything in the truck I first had to move at least two other things out of the way and I could feel myself getting more and more wound up. Stef seemed to be having the same problem too and seeing each other dithering I think just compounded the frustration we both felt at having slept late.

With neither of us really making any headway we soon decided to just wipe out animal spotting for the day, take it easy and use the time to catch up on some laundry and other bits and pieces. We had a proper breakfast and I think at my fourth attempt I finally made it to the shower. The cleaners seemed to take hours to clean the washrooms but despite this they were still not the cleanest ones I have been to. Irritatingly none of the doors would shut but fortunately there were few people around to disturb me.

The day slowly got better and we both felt less irritated and eventually we could laugh at ourselves. We laughed at our panic this morning that we were late, our inability to get ourselves up and out quickly and at the bugs and insects that plagued us off and on during the day. In the early morning we were woken by the dawn chorus of the birds and birds kept us company for a couple of hours. As the day wore on though the birds seemed to disappear with their place being taken up by a myriad range of insects. Some were just simply flies, others were big grasshoppers and cicadas and we even saw one of the big beetley things that had been all over the roads in the last few days.

20060331_P_0242
Finally, a use for that piece of string we've carried more than halfway around the world!

Although we regretted the loss of a day on the one hand we also used the time to reconsider and replan what we would do in Namibia. A warm wind was blowing through the site and last nights clear starry skies had been followed by a clear blue sky this morning. During the day we chatted to one of the park wardens who told us that lions had been spotted near the camp and a South African couple later confirmed they had seen them about 4km away from the entrance.

The campsite gradually filled up as the afternoon wore on. Another Lonely Planet style tour bus arrived and then a car turned up and four people with what sounded like British accents rolled out. The car was absolutely jam packed and hung very low against the ground. They seemed to have picked up a puncture along the way and while the chaps went off to sort the car out the girlies were left behind to sort out the camp and do some washing. They were quite a comical group to watch off an on. What I had thought were two couple turned out to be people who had met up along the way and decided to share hiring a car. They seemed pretty disorganised and scatty and Stef in particular took great delight in seeing their less than successful attempts at lighting a campfire.

A re-stock of tonic and wood set us up for another comfortable night with a medicinal sundowner keeping us going as the campfire was set. Stef is now taking great pride in his fires, wanting to ensure that his is among the best on the site and quietly laughing at those who can only produce a trickle of smoke. Another braai, more wine and beer, a few more games of gin rummy and we were soon ready for bed, planning to be up and out early tomorrow.

20060401_P_0003
Springbok, first of many, many

Today we were up and out early as we had planned to be. It was as if a switch had been flicked overnight and we had suddenly found our routine for getting up and out quickly. We showered, had breakfast, packed up our stuff and did a quick stop at the parks office to find out where the latest local sightings had been. Parked outside was a 4x4 that was in a pretty bad shape. I thought it was the impact of someone careening off the road in a muddy or watery section but Stef asked the rangers at that was not the case. Someone had had a collision with an Oryx the day before and the rangers were not impressed. The person driving had been going too fast and had not been able to stop. It sounded like the Oryx was still alive but was not expected to last much longer.

We were glad we had asked about local sightings because our initial plan was just to work our way west to Okaukuejo. Instead we headed north driving past the turnings to Fisher’s Pan and working up towards Tsumcor and Stinkwater. Within minutes of leaving the camp we saw our first springbok, one of so many that we saw today that there was simply no point in counting them all. As we skirted Fisher’s Pan we saw a group of giraffe way off into the distance and were glad that we had invested in a pair of binoculars. They are incredible animals, so graceful in so many ways but also awkward looking at the same time.

We drove up and past Stinkwater, spotting a lone female lion along the way, before doubling back to follow the road round Fisher’s Pan. As with the landscape we have driven to to get to the park it is full of wide open spaces and low scrubby bushes. Fisher’s Pan was quite different. It is a large expanse of water off to the east of the main Etosha pan but small in comparison to the main pan. The giraffes were still here munching away and we also saw quite a few different types of birds. Springbok and zebra were in plentiful supply everywhere you looked.

The road round the pan is mainly on dry land but one section cuts across the pan itself. At this time of year the water was low enough to make it across but in the wet season I suspect it is impassable. The middle section was pretty muddy and wet though and we figured that 4x4 would be a safe bet. All around the park there are warning signs not to get out of your car. With lions around and about you would make a quick and easy meal if one happened to be hungry and prowling by. To switch to 4x4 though we have to change a setting on the wheels themselves so getting out was the only option. Here it seemed pretty safe to do so with water all around us and we did survive lion free to tell the tale!

We headed back to Namutoni for a spot of lunch having seen so much wildlife this morning that the surprise and sensation of seeing an animal was wearing off. New ones were different but some were in plentiful supply so we were now looking for variations on a theme. We had quickly become adept at scanning the spotting as we drove and got some great photos along the way, both wishing that our camera lens had the same magnification as our binoculars.

20060401_P_0015
Oryx, highly adapted to living in deserts
20060401_P_0074
Two strutting saddle-billed storks

In the afternoon we headed west to the Halali camp in the middle of the park, seeing a small group of lions along the road just a few kilometres outside of the camp. We had expected to leave Namutoni much earlier than we did so realistically felt that Halali was as far as we would get. We followed the road along the pan stopping at Okerfontein and the Etosha Lookout along the way. The lookout in particular brought home how far and fast the water is receding even in this year of record rains. Ahead of us we could simply see the floor of the pan, broken up here and there buy clusters and clumps of reeds. There was no water in sight and no animals either.

We made it to Halali by about 4:00pm and checked in to the campsite. Before setting up camp we drove down to have a look at their waterhole, a small man made affairs at the bottom of a small hill. The waterhole is floodlit and there are benches ranged across the hill so that you can relax and get comfy while watching the animals come to drink. As we’d sort of expected there were no animals in sight so after waiting a short while we headed down to the campsite. The Halali campsite has to be one of the most desolate, barren and unwelcoming campsites in the world. Stef described it as forlorn and unloved but in summary it was horrid. Large pools of stagnant rainwater stood in the middle of the site and it looked as if no-one had stayed there for a long time. When we checked availability at the NWR office in Windhoek they told us that this site was fully booked over Easter but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stay here.

With enough time to make it down to Okaukuejo we decided to push on. Stef was tired of driving for the day so I took over, conscious that we didn’t really have much time before the light started to fade. While we can easily set up camp in the dark I didn’t relish the prospect of driving along these roads with little light. We made it through though with loads of time to spare and were really glad we had. The entrance to Okaukuejo is dominated by a tall tower which could have come from an English village. Smart looking chalets are laid out in the grounds, again tempting us not to camp, but we carried on to the campsite.

Compared to the chalets the campsite is a bit disappointing but there are several good sites. The only problem though was that none of the ones we tried seemed to have an electrical hook up and we really wanted to plug in our fridge. We finally picked a site and set up camp as the sun was setting. Behind the chalets there is another floodlit waterhole and we took a couple of beers with us as a late sundowner and went to see if there was anything there.

Unfortunately there were lots of people there but they were people who don’t realise that if you make lots of noise the animals won’t come to graze. A couple of zebras did put in a brief appearance but the most remarkable animal sight was the midges all buzzing around the floodlights. We decided to opt out of cooking and went for the buffet in the park restaurant. It was OK but suffered from the soggy vegetables and not quit hot food syndrome that most buffets suffer from.

We were both glad that we had bought the Etosha leaflet in Windhoek. It has a detailed map of the roads in the park (useful because the park offices don’t seem to have one to give you) but in the back it also has a quick reference guide to the different birds and animals you can expect to see here. At the end of the day we sat down and totted up what we had been lucky enough to see. Rhinos and elephants have so far eluded us but we can’t really complain because we have spotted loads of different wildlife.

On the four legged front we have seen lions, giraffe, springbok, zebra, gemsbok, damara di-dik, steenbok, roan, kudu and blue wildebeest, ground squirrels, tortoise, warthog (fleeting glimpse as it crossed the road). We also saw a wide selection of birds, more difficult to spot and name but they included ostrich, secretary bird, southern pale chanting goshawk, gabar goshawk,, double banded courser, marabou stork, helmeted guinea fowl, red knobbed coot, red billed francolin, kori bustard, northern black korhaan, southern yellow billed hornbill, red billed hornbill, fork tailed drongo, common scimitarbill and lilac breasted roller. We also saw very big fat millipedes slowly making their way across the road.

20060402_P_0229
Zebra hugs
20060402_P_0235
Yellow-billed hornbill

The clocks went back last night so we were treated to an extra hour in bed. Even so we were still up and awake at 6:00am in time to see a fantastic sunset through the mossie net of our tent. Both wide awake we decided to get up and out quickly to try and see if the early morning would enable us to see some different animals. By 6:30 we were on the road with a full flask of coffee serving as breakfast on the go.

We headed down to the waterhole at Olifantsbad, passing yet another family of giraffe on the way, hoping to see some of its namesake but there was nothing there. We carried on to the waterhole at Aus but again were out of luck again. We saw so many animals yesterday, both in terms of different types and quantity that we are really hoping today to see rhinos or elephants, knowing that it is very unlikely. Everything else now slots into normal and expected sightings and the thrill and excitement of those spottings is diminishing.

On our way back to Okaukuejo we passed a fresh kill site with black backed jackals prowling around a dead springbok. I am sure it was not there when we had come this way an hour or so earlier and from the look of the dead animal I think it may have been struck by a car. About eight jackals were prowling around but only one was brave, or hungry, enough to be actually eating.

At some stage we did see a new animal, a black faced impala, but that was the only main addition to our list. We asked at the parks office about new sightings and were told that someone yesterday had seen a rhino just off the main tarmac road into the park. We quickly hopped back into our truck and set off again driving slowly and scanning the road as we went but with no luck.

We were both glad we had made it up and out early because there were few people out and about but even so it was disappointing not to have spotted more “new” animals. When we got back to the campsite we changed site to a nicer spot that had already been occupied when we arrived yesterday. We had breakfast, long showers, aired our bedding and relaxed for a couple of hours before heading for the park’s internet café. We were glad we did not have to rely on their expertise to get a connection because the lady running it really seemed to have no clue at all.

In the afternoon we headed out to the western part of the park, again on the hunt for elephant and rhino. Leeubron and Spokieswoud came and went but apart from birds and the usual animals we have seen over the last day or so we again had no new sightings. Back at camp a British family had set up next to us. The husband had spent a week on safari in Namibia last year and they are now here for a two week family holiday touring around and camping. Their two daughters still seemed irritable and tired from the long haul flight and I got the feeling that the wife wasn’t particularly impressed with this type of holiday either. It was very definitely Dad’s idea of a place to go!

Stef supplied yet another great campfire and we had another barbecued dinner before heading off to the waterhole to see if there were any signs of life. The British family were coming back from there as we headed out and they told us there were still lots of people there sitting around chatting and making lots of noise. Predictably we saw nothing and it wasn’t long before we were back at out site and tucked up in bed.

20060403_P_0275
Massive lion, we followed him for a long time, an incredible sight

We woke again with the sunrise at about 6:00am and were again treated to a fabulous sky full of the oranges and reds of fire. Deep low rumbling sounds acted as our alarm clock which could have been rhino or elephant nearby but we were both too comfortable to throw clothes on and run and have a look, fully expecting that whatever it was would be long gone by the time we got to the waterhole.

We were on the road by 8:30 having checked again whether there had been any new sightings. A guide from one of the many tour groups said that he had seen rhino yesterday on the main road out of the park so we were again hopeful. As we drove along scanning the surroundings I spotted something moving. Not a rhino or an elephant but a male lion walking through the bush about twenty metres away from the main road. It was an incredible sight to see and we followed him slowly for about five minutes before he turned in land and out of sight.

We had our papers checked at the park gate, glad that we had remembered to pay our extra night's park fees before we left. The people behind us obviously hadn’t and they were sent the 14km back to the park office to pay before they were able to leave. From Etosha we headed south on the C38 to Outjo the first main town you reach and a stopping off place for fuel and food. We were soon glad we had stopped here rather than carrying on to Kamajab, a smaller place further north.

Outjo really is a just a filling station. There is nothing that we saw here that would make us want to stay. The supermarket was surprisingly good although it had little choice and was plunged into darkness a few times as the power supply cut out. The bottle store next door topped up our supplies of wine and gin and before long we were heading out of town. Here there really was a sense of people sitting around with nothing to do, the majority of whom seemed to be male. Here too we had our first taste of women in traditional local dress although I have to say that at first sight it was as if someone was walking the streets wrapped in their duvet.

From Outjo we headed northwest on the C40 up to Kamanjab, an even tinier place. We stopped for petrol and opted to push on rather than spending the night here which is what we had planned to do. The C35 leading north out of Kamanjab reinforced that we are now heading into the less inhabited parts of the country. It is wide and in pretty good condition but it is a dirt/gravel road all the way. Driving along through a landscape that rarely changes you lose all sense of distance and time.

We passed along the very western edge of Etosha, again both keeping alert for a final chance to spot the elusive elephant and rhino but again with no luck. It leaves us something new to see if we go to a game reserve in South Africa but even so I think we are both disappointed. We saw little along the way other than cows, goats and donkeys which roam freely around. We sometimes passed a few locals on the donkey pulled carts but cars and trucks were very few and far between. There were a couple of small villages along the way, really no more than a few mud huts with either straw or corrugated iron roofs. The people here have a very simple and poor existence.

The road seemed to go on much longer than we had expected and even though you have passed no junctions it makes you start to wonder whether you have missed a turning. A few kilometres further on the C41 heading west to Opuwo finally appeared and unexpectedly was a tarmac road. Works are ongoing on the C35 to level out the hills and troughs but it looks like the C41 was completed first. It was quite a relief to be able to do the final stretch of the day on a good road, particularly as the light was starting to fade. Along the road a few people seemed to be making charcoal and they were the only signs of life we had until we reached Opuwo.

20060403_P_0300
Boys in Kaokoland

Opuwo itself is another small village and we had opted to stay at the Opuwo Lodge which has a campsite. The road to the lodge leads out of the back of town and up the hill where a very friendly lady meets you at the gate. The lodge is new, having only opened in August 2005 and as yet visitor numbers seemed to be low. When we arrived we were the only people there and as we walked into the reception area we both knew that we would probably not be camping. It was a beautiful large thatched building, tastefully decorated and with a real home away from home feel. We asked about the campsite and the room rates and although it was yet another pricey accommodation spot they gave us a discount and Stef got us a free upgrade so we stayed in one of the rooms.

The standard rooms are small and pokey but the more expensive rooms are a nice size. A large boxed mossie net hangs down over the beds creating a very romantic atmosphere and there is a small balcony to sit out and enjoy the view. We were just too late to see the sunset but we reckoned we had just enough time for a quick dip in the pool. Reception provided us with towels and one of the ladies from the restaurant pointed out of the doors onto the patio and said “there’s the pool”. It took a while for my eyes to adjust to the changing light and at first I thought she was nuts as there was no pool. A flat shiny semi circular space which could have been a dance floor was a pool with water cascading down and over the edge.

It was cool in the water but very relaxing after a long day’s driving. I think they must have thought we were made as it was dark when we hit the water but neither of us cared. It was just great to sit and soak. Being the cheapskate that I can be I had brought our own little supply of G&T with us from the truck so we could have a late sundowner as we “dressed for dinner”. We ate outside on the patio and if there is one recommendation I would make to the hotel it would be to change their menu. It’s not particularly extensive and is all fairly standard western fare. I think we have both hoped to see something a little more traditional. That said it was very tasty food and we both enjoyed our meal.

Before long we were back in our room and tucked up underneath our mossie net looking forward to a good night’s sleep on very comfy beds.