From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to be seen than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
December 3, 2005
Our morning started at 4:30 - we had a 7:30 flight out of Cape Town to Johannesburg, then a 2 hour layover to our onward flight to Windhoek. We were just about 15 minutes late arriving in Namibia and that was the only delay of the day!! We were met at the airport by a representative from Safari Drive and we were off to Windhoek! We were briefed on the vehicle as well as our route and some standard safety procedures. And, then we were on our own.
Our first night was spent at Villa Verdi in Windhoek, so we weren't actually camping the first night. We were given the honeymoon suite, which was really beautiful. We had a lovely dinner in the outdoor restaurant and called it a night. It had been a very long day for us and we were just exhausted.
Wildlife spotted: Gemsbok on the road from the airport
December 4, 2005
We had a nice, light breakfast at the hotel and then hit the road. Our itinerary indicated a 6 hour drive - we left Windhoek on the B1 and picked up the C24 at Rehoboth. And thus began our travels on the gravel roadways of Namibia! We went through the Remhoogte Pass to cross the mountains - saw baboon, ostrich, gemsbok and springbok along the way. We emerged near the town of Solitaire and stopped for fuel and a few supplies. We can not even begin to explain to you how remote this region is - this is the first fuel we have seen for nearly 200 kilometers. We have been advised to get diesel whenever we can because the availability can be very unpredictable. Just because a gas station is marked on the map (yes, you read that correctly - fuel stations are so few and far between that they are actually designated on the map) doesn't mean that it is open and it doesn't mean that fuel is available. So, we stopped for a fill-up and a rest break.
An hour and a half later, we arrived at the camp site at Sesriem in the Namib Naukluft National Park. We were just about set up and I was washing some laundry in a small dish tub, when the wind really started to pick up. It was the closest thing we have ever experienced to a sand storm (remember that we are in the Namib Desert) with wind gusts that simply pelt the sand against you and anything else in the way. We thought we were clear from the winds, when suddenly they changed direction and started coming at us from 180* - we had to huddle in the back door of the Land Rover to wait for the wind squalls to pass.
The winds did eventually subside and we finished getting set up. For cooking, we have a small propane tank and a single "burner" that screws into the top. There is also a grill at the camp site, but we haven't yet purchased firewood or charcoal. So, we cooked pasta and added a jar of sauce and voila, we were enjoying a candlelit dinner, while watching the sun set. After dinner, I got the dishes washed and put away while Markus put up the roof tent. It is incredibly easy!! And, I feel much more secure sleeping way above the ground.
A funny note about some of our camping compadres. Group camping adventures of about 20 people are quite popular in Namibia. The vehicles used to transport the group, their tents and all their equipment and supplies are basically 4x4 buses - they look like monster trucks on steroids! We call these vehicles "Mother Ships", because they are such big mothers and when they land, they disgorge a bunch of little pods (domed tents) as well as aliens (usually Germans).
We got to bed around 10:00 and were barely settled in when the winds started again. They were so strong that we thought we were in the middle of a tropical storm! At about 1:30 AM, Markus was really getting concerned and decided that we should get down from the tent and try to sleep in the truck for a while. The winds kept howling for another 90 minutes or so - then, we were able to go back to the tent.
Wildlife spotted: Springbok, Ostrich, Gemsbok (I will abbreviate this trio as SOG), Baboon, Mongoose, Squirrel
A little background on the area - the Sossusvlei, Namibia's famous highlight in the heart of the Namib Desert, is a huge clay pan, enclosed by giant sand dunes. Some of the spectacular hills of sand are as high as 300 meters, the highest sand dunes in the world.
The gate to the park that allows access to Sossusvlei opened this morning at 5:00 AM and our original plan was to be ready at that time. Because of the wind storm last night, we didn't get much sleep and we didn't make it out of camp until 5:35, so we were a little behind schedule (and behind the Mother Ships, which were queued up at 4:55 waiting for the gate to open). Luckily, our tardiness wasn't much of a problem - we were still at the dunes for sunrise. Words absolutely fail to describe the sight of the sun breaking over the dunes on one side of you and casting amazing light and shadows on the other side. At one point (I think it was around 6:00), I said to Markus that I couldn't believe we were seeing the sunrise over the sand dunes in the Namib Desert. He jokingly asked what I couldn't believe - seeing the sunrise (as most of you know, I am not a morning person!!) or seeing it in Namibia?! But seriously, the park only averages about 100 visitors a day, including the Mother Ships, so there are relatively few people on the earth that have experienced this magnificent spectacle!
The drive from the camp site to Sossusvlei is about 65 kilometers in total with the last 5 km accessible only by 4x4. I am definitely sure that I would not want to do any of this route in my personal sedan - it is a rough road. We stopped several times for pictures and then put the Land Rover in low range to finish the trip. Once at Sossusvlei, we had coffee and a light breakfast - there is an advantage to having your home on wheels!
On the way back to camp, we came across a small herd of springbok right by the road. They are so pretty and were kind enough to stay still for a few pictures. We were back to our camp site by 10:30, got set up once again and had some down time to enjoy. We tried to take a nap, but the temperature during the afternoon just skyrockets and it was too hot to sleep. Late afternoon brought more wind so we just sat on the protected side of the truck and waited it out.
Not a very exciting evening either - laundry, showers, dinner - the second night and we are already getting into a routine.
Wildlife spotted: SOG
December 6, 2005
We slept in until 7:00 this morning! We had breakfast and got the truck packed up to hit the road again. We drove east and north to the Namib section of Namib Naukluft National Park. We stopped once along the way (in Solitaire again) for fuel and food supplies. We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and now the remainder of our safari adventure will take place in the Tropics.
The variety of the landscapes that we drove through was amazing. We came through one region that looked like a moonscape - it was so arid and seemingly devoid of life. Then, within 10 km, we were in a semi-arid ecosystem with ostrich, gemsbok and springbok aplenty. And, you must beware the ostrich - they run into the road right in front of the vehicle (we don't think they are very smart).
Speaking of being aware, the condition of the roads varies greatly from smooth sand-packed surfaces to gravel that is as rough as a washboard, called corrugated gravel, as in corrugated cardboard. Safari Drive repeatedly warned us that driving at high speeds, particularly on the corrugated gravel is very dangerous. I guess the guy driving the truck at the left didn't pay proper attention to the safety briefing.
The entrances to the park aren't exactly what we expected - just a single sign posted that indicates a permit is required for access (which we have). We were expecting something a bit grander. From the time we entered the park until now as I write this (6:00 PM), we have not seen another vehicle or encountered another person. We were told that this region of the park is remote, but even that didn't prepare us.
We stopped for lunch at one of the camp sites recommended to us by Safari Drive. Again, there was no one in sight. The National Park brochure touts this area as wilderness camping at its best. That probably describes it fairly accurately. After lunch, we took one of the 4x4 roads and spotted a great deal of wildlife (large herds of gemsbok, springbok,ostrich and even a small herd of mountain zebra). We also came to another, single camp site at an area called Rock Arch, obviously named for the huge rock here. It was just too good to pass up so here we are in the middle of the Namib Desert setting up camp for the night.
The camp site even has its own basic facility, called a long drop loo (we would call it an outhouse). It's actually not quite as bad as it sounds - it was very clean. Markus thinks long drop loo sounds like the name of an Asian porn star - "Long Drop Lou". But, enough about the toilet and porn stars - time to move on!
The weather this evening is really beautiful - not a cloud in the sky and the temperature is really starting to cool down as the sun sets. Markus thought the stars were incredible at Sesriem - he is so looking forward to star gazing tonight!
Wildlife spotted: SOG, Black-backed Jackal, Squirrel, Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
We slept in again this morning until 7:15 - it felt wonderful! Following a nice, leisurely breakfast, we started the journey back toward civilization. We drove along the 4x4 only roads for about 60 kilometers, passing Bloedkoppe (pictured to the left). We actually saw several other vehicles on the last 20 km stretch! This was because this road led to an access road for Namibia's one and only uranium mine, so all of the vehicles we saw were associated with the mine - we saw no other campers or park rangers.
One cool sight we saw was a springbok "springing" across the road - they hold their legs rigid and bounce/hop forward. It is a really odd behavior and very fun to see.
We arrived in Swakopmund around noon and after a couple of U-turns, we found the Beach Lodge where we are staying for the next 3 nights. We get a break from camping for a couple of days. Also, Swakopmund is a fairly good sized town with a number of supermarkets to choose from so this is a great opportunity to restock the larder as our next camping leg lasts for 9 days!
Our room with kitchenette is quite nice - right on the beach with a gorgeous view of the surf.
To wrap up the journal today, Markus has a piece of trivia that he would like to share - there is one phone book that covers the entire country of Namibia and both white and yellow pages combined are about 1" thick.
Wildlife spotted: SOG, Rock Hyrax (Dassie), Hare (possibly scrub hare)
We went into town today to explore a little bit and to do some shopping. Also, we stopped at the Reservations Office for Namibia Wildlife Resorts - they handle bookings for all of the National Parks. Our original itinerary when leaving the Beach Lodge was to spend one night in Spitzkoppe and one night in Brandberg. But, we think we would rather opt for a longer drive on Saturday and stay 2 nights at Waterberg Plateau National Park. The lady at NWR was very nice and very helpful - she indicated that Waterberg was wide open (there are 40 campsites and 0 bookings as of today) and therefore, we can just book upon arrival. This gives us flexibility in case we change our mind.
After some shopping and a quick stop in the Internet cafe to check email, we had lunch at the Brauhaus, a German restaurant. The food was excellent and incredibly cheap. We wrapped up the afternoon with some additional shopping and by going to the Post Office to buy stamps for postcards. We felt like we stepped into a time warp and were transported back about 50 years - the interior of the post office hasn't changed since it was built! It was a really bizarre experience - the staff had computers, but it took no less than 5 minutes for us to purchase 4 stamps. And another unusual item was that "Mosi Nets" (for mosquito protection) are available for purchase at the post office! Oh, the things you learn.
We had a nice, relaxing evening in our room and were in bed by 10:00. We are trying to maintain the same routine as when camping because when we're in the tent with the sun rising at 6:00, there isn't much chance of sleeping in!
December 9, 2005
Today we had a list of things we needed to complete in town, so after breakfast at the lodge, we were off. Our first stop was the camping store to purchase charcoal. Then, we went to Fed Ex to inquire about shipping a package to the U.S. - the cost was extreme and we decided against this option. Our next stop was the internet cafe where we spent 2 hours receiving and sending email, uploading our journal, taking care of financial matters and a few miscellaneous other items.
The next exciting item on the agenda was laundry. We think there are 2 coin laundries in Swakopmund - basically one on each side of town. We chose the one on the south side simply because it was closer to where we were at the time. The facilities were definitely unique - there was a little shop at the front, a video game room at the back, an internet cafe tucked into one corner, and last, but not least, a fully licensed bar and restaurant upstairs. And, the place was incredibly busy with people coming and going constantly - we were there for about 90 minutes and we were never able to determine what all these people were doing, but it definitely wasn't laundry!
With most of our chores out of the way, we treated ourselves to another lunch at the Brauhaus. Once again, it was excellent. After lunch, we went in search of the Swakopmund Museum. It was quite interesting, if a little disjointed - the exhibits didn't seem to follow a theme or timeline. But, they did manage to widely cover Namibian subjects such as the animals, the geology, the people, the German colonization and there was even an exhibit (really more of a public relations presentation) on the uranium mine (the same one we mentioned above). Definitely worth the N$18 (about $2.70) fee per adult.
We finished off the evening by making one last stop at the supermarket. We came back to the lodge and started to pack everything up for our departure tomorrow morning. We are going to be camping for the next 9 days and we think we are about as prepared as we can be with a fully stocked larder and plenty of drinking water.