Wandering and Wondering

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Hellos and Goodbyes

Livingstone marks the end of the first leg of my trip from Cape Town to Nairobi. On the Cape to Livingstone leg we had 16 people in the group, but we say goodbye to 12 and hello to 1 for the next leg from Livingstone to Nairobi. We had a farewell sunset cruise on the Zambezi river to say our goodbyes.

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Some memories:

The "bags not" rule. As soon as someone says "bags not" (eg "bags not doing the washing up"), everyone must put their thumb on their forehead. The last to do this gets the job:

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The "door knob" rule. If you burp or pass wind, you must say "safety" before someone else says "door knob". Otherwise everyone has the right to punch you until you can touch a door knob.

The dangerous stool that was sometimes used to step on when getting in and out of the bag locker. More often than not you fell off. In Livingstone we decided to say goodbye to the stool:

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Putting food colouring in the water tanks of some of the other overland trucks so that they would think their water was tainted.

Fighting over power sockets to charge up cameras, laptops, MP3 players and other electrical devices (sorry everyone if I tended to hog these - but I need a lot of juice for the stuff I carry).

There are so many other great memories, too many to mention know as I'm getting kicked off the Internet since it is closing. For those who are leaving us at Livingstone, farewell and keep in touch. For those joining, welcome to the party.

Dr Livingstone, I presume?

As I write this I am in the town of Livingstone in Zambia, named after the famous explorer. For the last couple of days I’ve been risking death in the name of thrill seeking. The day before yesterday I did a gorge swing. Similar to bungee jumping, this involves being attached to a cord that is suspended over a rather deep gorge. I then stepped off the edge of the cliff and free-fell for a few seconds before being saved by the cord and swinging out over the gorge:

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Not content with the possibility of falling to my death from a great height, my next challenge was white water rafting on the Zambezi river, one of the most challenging rafting locations in the world – if the grade 5 rapids don’t kill you, maybe the crocodiles will. The day started off pretty well, and I managed to stay on the raft for the whole morning as we traversed the first 10 rapids. In the afternoon, however, the raft flipped on a rapid named the “Terminator” and I found myself in the middle of a raging torrent with nothing but my life-jacket (and thank God I had that) to keep me afloat. Needless to say that I survived. A couple of rapids later I was thrown out of the raft again, but this time I managed to keep hold of the raft and was hauled back in. At the end of the day I was extremely glad to reach the end of rapid number 23.

Today I visited one of the 7 wonders of the world: the Victoria Falls.

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The walk along the main trail along the top of the gorge opposite the falls was ok, but it was much more fun wading thru the river up-stream from the falls, where I was led to a sheltered pool at the top of the falls. The guide climbed to a point roughly 10 metres above the pool and jumped in. Normally I would think twice about following him in, but after jumping off a cliff a couple of days before and rafting the Zambezi yesterday it didn’t seem all that scary, so I followed him in without a second thought.

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Tomorrow we leave Livingstone and travel through Zambia towards Malawi.

Boats and border crossings

After almost 3 weeks in Namibia, we crossed the border into Botswana to visit the Okavango delta. Getting to our campsite was an interesting journey. After parking the truck, we hopped into a speed boat for an hour and a half. We then piled into another truck which stalled mid-way through the journey and had to be push started (by this time, we were quite expert at pushing trucks, given that our truck had been bogged in sand several times before). The truck finally dropped us off at a place where we boarded some canoes for the short journey across to the island where we would be staying.

The next day we got a chance to relax as we were given a 90 minute canoe ride across the delta. It was one of the most tranquil moments of the trip, with nothing to do but sit back and watch the reeds brush past the canoe. We eventually reached another island where we did a bush walk for a couple of hours in hope of seeing some animals. Given that it was the middle of the day, however, most of the animals were smart enough to be lying asleep somewhere under a bush, so we didn’t see all that much except a few baboons before reboarding our canoes for the ride back to camp.

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In the evening we were cooked a traditional meal and were entertained by some traditional dancing. We even got the chance to join in with the dancing:

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The next couple of days we had a lot of travelling. After getting the speed boat back to our truck, we crossed the border back into Namibia, before crossing back into Botswana the following day and then into Zambia via a ferry.

The gods must be crazy

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In the classic film “The gods must be crazy”, a westerner drops a coke bottle from an airplane while flying over Africa, and a bushman picks it up and looks at it in wonder, having never seen one before in his life. The bushmen we have visited so far on the trip haven’t been quite so isolated from the modern world as this (is there anywhere in the world where you can't buy coke these days?), but they still manage to live a fairly traditional way of life.

The first tribe we visited was the Himba tribe in Namibia. The village in which they live is situated on privately owned land. The owner lived with the tribe for several years and now allows tourists to come and visit. She does the best she can to try and ensure that their traditional lifestyle is maintained. There were about 10 women living in the village, all married to a single man (who wasn’t present when we visited). Along with the women, there were about 15-20 children, and they definitely were not camera shy, putting their face right up to the camera to allow me to get some great photos:

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We even joined them in playing a few games. In the game in the following photo, everyone sits in a circle and one person runs around the outside and drops a rag behind another person, who picks it up and takes over. A simple game, but the kids obviously enjoyed it, and so did we.

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The next bushmen we visited were the Ju-Hoansi at Grashoek. We first met the kids from the village as they ran behind the truck while we were driving in:

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When we pulled to a stop, a large group had gathered:

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Some of the kids had made toy cars from old cans and bits of wire, and they would race them with their friends:

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We got out the sporting equipment from the truck and played some football, rugby and cricket with them:

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As with the Himba tribe, they were not camera shy, and fought over getting a photo taken:

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In the afternoon, we were taken on a bush walk, and shown how to light fire, dig for roots and hunt animals.

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In the evening the children gathered around the campfire and we shared some food and drinks, sang a few songs, and let them play with our hair (they were fascinated at how soft it was compared to theirs).

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As much as they try to live a traditional lifestyle, they still need a bit of money for various things, and they make this by selling jewellery and conducting tours such as ours. I really hope that they manage to maintain their culture and traditions as much as possible, because they are truly wonderful people.

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As well as meeting a couple of bushman tribes, I also had the opportunity to do a tour of a village near our Ngepi campsite. Our guide actually lived in the village, so was well suited to answering all of our questions. He showed us how they make their huts, using tree branches for the frames, thatching for the roof, and a kind of cement made from termite mounds for the walls:

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Even beer cans and bottles are sometimes used as building materials:

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Their diet consists mainly of fish and a porridge made from millet grain. The grain is skillfully separated from the husks using a basket and then crushed to make flour:

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As well as porridge, they also make beer from the millet. Women carry water from the river on their heads:

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One of the more interesting facts we learned from the villagers is that elephant dung mixed with water and fed to chickens helps to prevent the chickens from getting sick. Another use for elephant dung that we later learned while in the Okavango delta is that it can be burned to repel mosquitos. Useful stuff considering that we have now entered a malaria risk area.

Animals at last

One of the main reasons I wanted to come to Africa is to see and photograph the animals. For the first couple of weeks, however, the only animals we saw were the odd Springbok along the side of the road, and lots of jackals around the campsites (one of which stole one of Adam’s shoes from the front of his tent):

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We discovered a nature reserve by chance when Blair (our tour leader) decided to try a new road. According to the guy at the gate, there was supposed to be some rhinos in the reserve so we decided to take the top off the truck to try and spot them. Other tour companies may have fancier trucks in many other aspects, but I think this is one of the best aspects about our truck. With the top off, we could sit up top and have the sun on our face and the wind in our hair:

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In terms of animals, however, we didn’t really see much. The only rhino we saw was the statue at the exit gate. The next day we came across a big herd of goats and a few baboons, but still none of the “Big 5”:

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We did manage to see some pictures of animals when we visited the Twyfelfontein to view the ancient rock carvings, but still none of the real thing:

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The next day we arrived at a Cheetah Park with a guarantee of getting pretty close to some real live cheetahs, so everyone was pretty excited. We first visited some tame cheetahs that were reared by the owners of the park, and I got closer than I ever thought I would to a live cheetah:

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We then did a drive through the cheetah park where we got to see some wild cheetahs fight over donkey meat thrown to them by the guides:

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The next day we came to Etosha - the first major nature reserve on our itinerary. After driving through the gate and travelling a few hundred meters to the first watering hole, we were greeted with an amazing sight, as hundreds of animals all tried to get a drink:

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After a couple of days driving through the reserve, we had sighted most of the major types of animals:

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Zebras, elephants and giraffe were quite a common sight. Lions were much more elusive. On the first day we saw one at a water hole, but it was much too far away to get a decent photo. This man ignored the warning sign to try and get a bit closer:

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On the next day we saw another lion and a cub and watched them for a while as they stalked a herd of wilderbeast. The lion didn’t have any luck catching any wilderbeast, and neither did I have any luck getting a decent photo (still too far away).

When we entered Etosha, we jumped at the sight of any type of animal, but by the time we left we had become rather blaze. We would drive by a herd of zebras without really bothering to look. A few days after Etosha we entered the Chobe nature reserve in Botswana. We were driving slowly along the main road through the middle of the park for about half an hour without spotting a single animal before we started getting a little bored in the back of the truck and asked Blair to speed up a bit. No sooner did we speed up than we saw a big herd of elephants about to cross the road. Blair slammed on the brakes and did a 180 degree turn, allowing me to get the following snap:

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Apart from the lion, the other animal that has been a bit elusive is the hippo. We have heard lots of them at night in some of our campsites and while in the Okavango delta, but haven’t yet got a really good view of any. The best sighting we had was while we were on a sunset cruise along the Zambezi river, when one hippo gave a nice yawn to show us its jaws. Again, it was too far away for a decent photo.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the animals I’ve had the chance to see so far in Africa. Out of the so called “Big 5” (leopard, lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo), the only animal I haven’t yet seen is the leopard. Hopefully one will show itself on the next leg of the journey.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Adventures in the sand

On my last blog post I left you at Luderitz. We had just visited the abandoned diamond mining town of Kolmannskuppe. When diamonds were first discovered here, you could literally pick them up of the ground. Since then, however, bigger deposits have been discovered elsewhere, so the town has been abandoned and claimed by the desert sand:

Claimed by the desert


After leaving Luderitz, we were due to spend a night at a campsite in the small town of Aus, but the weather was rather misty so we decided to continue on in the truck and try and find a place to do a bush camp. After about an hour or so of driving, we came across a campsite in the middle of nowhere run by a farming family. The temperature was freezing, and the misty rain got everything a little damp, so we all huddled around the campfire until bed time:

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The next day we had a lot of driving ahead of us to get to Sesriem, which is on the edge of the Namib/Naukluft National Park. To keep ourselves occupied in the back of the truck, we played a game called Mafia. Everyone was assigned a role by drawing a card from a normal deck of playing cards: two people who drew the Kings played the role of the Mafia, one person who drew the Ace was the angel, one who drew the Jack was the sheriff, one person who drew the Joker was the narrator and the rest of us were all just villagers. Except for the narrator, all the roles were kept secret.

To start the game, everyone closes their eyes and "goes to sleep" (not literally). The narrator then asks the two people who are playing the Mafia to wake up, and they secretly select a person to kill. The Mafia then go back to sleep and the narrator asks the sheriff to silently acuse a person who they think is the Mafia. The narrator will confirm to the sheriff whether or not that person actually is the Mafia, and the sheriff can use this information later on in the game if they wish to make a public accusation (at the risk of then exposing themselves to the Mafia). Finally, the narrator asks the angel to nominate a person who they would like to protect (ie save from being killed by the Mafia).

Everyone then wakes up, and the narrator describes who was killed by the Mafia (unless they were protected by the angel) and that person is then out of the game. Everyone then has the opportunity to accuse someone of being the Mafia. If the majority of people back the accusation, then the accused has a chance to defend themselves (ie try and convince everyone that they are not the Mafia). If they can sway enough people so that there is no longer a majority, then they are saved. Otherwise they are killed and no longer take part in the game.

The game then continues for another round: everyone goes to sleep, the Mafia nominate someone to kill, the shefiff makes an accusation, the angel nominates someone to save, and then everyone wakes up and makes accusations of who is the Mafia. The object of the game for the people playing the Mafia is to kill everyone else in the village. The object of the game for the rest of the people is to discover and kill the Mafia. It is an interesting game of deceit and trying to determine if someone is lying or telling the truth, and we whiled away several hours playing it.

When we eventually stopped for lunch, we were mobbed by a swarm of bees. The bees were in search of water, so within 10 minutes of stopping they were in all of our washing up water, on our sponges, or anything that contained a little bit of moisture:

Bees on a sponge


After a few more hours driving we arrived at our campsite in Sesriem where it was time for a shower to wash off all the dust and sand. The next morning we were up before dawn in order to arrive at Dune 45 at sunrise. This particular sand dune is over 170 metres high. It was hard work hiking to the top, but well worth it for the amazing views:

Desert landscape


Getting down was a lot more fun than climbing up:

Running down Dune 45


We then headed further into the national park to a place called Sossusvlei, which is a clay pan enclosed by the highest sand dunes in the world. The clay pan is white in colour which makes a nice contrast against the red dunes. Together with the dead trees in the middle it makes it an amazing area for photography:

Sossusvlei


In the afternoon we headed back to Sesriem and made a short visit to the nearby canyon. It is nowhere near the size of the Fish River Canyon which we visited a few days before, but is very narrow and we were able to go for a walk along the bottom:

Sesriem Canyon


The next morning we had another long day of driving ahead of us in order to reach Swakopmund. For morning tea we stopped at the Solitaire roadhouse, which is famous for their apple pie. According to the owner, they make 30-40 trays, or around 300-400 pieces per day, which is a lot of pie. Just while I was waiting in the queue there was a whole tray polished off:

Apple pie


Shortly after leaving Solitaire we crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn:

Tropic of Capricorn


It was only about 20 minutes after this that we met Ewan McGregor (see my other blog post below for the full details):

Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman


We finally arrived in Swakopmund, the adventure capital of Namibia, and were happy to move into some dorm rooms for a change rather than camping out in tents. After a night out on the town, many people were feeling rather hung-over the next day when we were booked to do some sand-boarding. We drove about 20 minutes out of town to the dunes, and although they weren't as high as those near Sossusvlei, it was still quite tiring climbing to the top, only to sand-board down and have to climb up again:

Air time


I have a video of the sand-boarding, but the Internet here in Swakopmund is so slow that I won't even try to upload it at this time (they are still on dial-up-modems here - according to the guy at the Internet cafe they will be upgrading to broadband "in the next few days" - just after we've left probably). I also apologise if I am a bit slow responding to emails or facebook messages. The facebook website doesn't really work.

The adjective that best describes my last week or so is "sandy". The sand gets in everything. After each day of travel the back of the truck is covered in sand and dust. Already two people have had their cameras stop functioning, so I have to be very careful with mine.

This afternoon we are going quad-biking over the sand dunes, so I'll no doubt be covered in more sand again by the end of the day. Ciao.