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Apple crumble in the desert

Hoodia Desert Lodge - Swakopmund

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We are quite slow leaving Hoodia Desert Lodge. We just don’t want to say goodbye. ‘Maman’ and her daughter are having breakfast in complete silence. Birgit and Micheal also hit the road today, they have another car, and we wish them a wonderful trip without car trouble. We joke about meeting eachother again on the way. Who knows?

The owners of Hoodia Lodge are away, but the lodge is in perfect hands with the staff. Carina does the check-out and we have a little chat. I tell her we’ll come back even when we are old grannies and need a walking stick. She laughs.

And then it’s really time to turn on the engine of our car and drive away on the long road towards the gate. We stop after a short distance to take a last picture. We will never forget this special place and the friendly people. Our next destination is Swakopmund, a town by the cold Atlantic ocean. The contrast couldn’t be bigger with the heat of the desert. We take our time for the journey today and have a first stop in Solitaire. Not even a town. It’s more like a petrol station surrounded by a bakery, a café and a bunch of car wrecks in the sand. “Welcome to Solitaire” a sign states. It’s a good place to get some petrol, so we take a refill of diesel for our ‘bus’ and they check the tires. Solitaire is also famous for it’s apple pie. Yes, here in this solitary place in the desert there actually is a German bakery and plenty of people are enjoying coffee or tea with pie. We buy some apple pie for the road. We ask for one piece and actually it’s a huge chunck.

Leaving Solitaire we are on the gravel roads for a long long time. We pass the Tropic of Capricorn, marked by a large sign with tourist graffiti. We just have to stop for a photo. Another car pulls over so we conveniently photograph eachother. Yes, it’s a touristy thing to do, but honestly, it’s just one of those things you have to do. No pick nick place around here on these roads, so we have an apple crumble lunch in our car. We eat the chunck with our fingers and it’s delicious!!

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The side of the road is no place to stand still for a long time, so soon we hit the road again and drive through beautiful landscapes like the Kuiseb Canyon. We spot a few ostrich and an orynx who runs beside our car.

Coming closer to Walvisbaai we are on tarred road and we discover we don’t like tarred roads anymore. At first sight Walvisbaai looks like a somewhat industrialised area, with large oil platforms along the coast. It’s another 30 km to Swakopmund, our new home for two nights. It’s an old German town and indeed it doesn’t feel African at all as we drive into the center with the clean streets and more Western buildings. Intermezzo guesthouse is just outside the center and we are welcomed by the lady of the house who is wearing a thick fleece. “Oh, aren’t you cold?!” she asks, seeing my t-shirt as I step out of the car. It definitly is a different climate in Swakopmund, but it’s a sunny day so it’s not too bad. We get a very spacious room, but we miss the desert and the lodge. It’s late afternoon, so we sit out on the terrace for a while untill the sun goes down. Again, we are not advised to walk into town but to take the car and drive to a parking right in front of the restaurant. It’s Italian dinner this evening on a special location: resto 22 South is set in an old light house. As we drive through the dark streets on this Saturday evening, Swakopmund feels like a ghost town. There’s no one!! We easily spot the light house and park nearby. There’s a guy eagerly waiting to watch the car (there’s just no way to say no, they wear a fluo jacket and you give them a few Namibian dollars in return). We enjoy our dinner and yes, there are some other dinner guests. The town isn’t completely deserted. The car is still there after dinner and we aren’t attacked in the dark. Bad things can always happen, but I can’t help but wonder if it’s not just a case of white people creating an atmosphere of anxiety. Our guesthouse lady states she’d never go to Windhoek. Peculiar ...

Posted by Petravs 11:16 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

"This is Disneyland in Namibia!" Jihaaa

Walvisbaai - Sandwich Harbour

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Early start (well, I call getting up at 6.15 a.m. early on holiday) to drive to Walvisbaai this morning for a very special excursion to Sandwich Harbour, an area about 45 km south of Walvisbaai, where high dunes meet the ocean. You can only get there with an experienced driver – no roads here, only dunes. The tour starts from Walvisbaai, so we follow the directions and park right at the small harbour to go to the office of our adventure organisation. “Oh, you’re early!” the lady says. Indeed, we are early, turns out we are booked on the afternoon tour. Small miscommunication from our travel agency. As it’s Mother’s day we do receive chocolates and a small bottle of Namibian liquor, it doesn’t matter that neither of us has kids. It’s my first Mother’s day present ever ☺ And as we are not planning to drive back to Swakopmund, we decide to jump on the catamaran and discover maritime life. There is some time left before the catamaran leaves and around the parking some locals desperately try to sell their souvenirs. It works though, we buy a key hanger and Lesley enters some serious negotiating for two wooden faces, a man and a woman. It is really hard to determine what would be a fair price but she settles a deal and makes the guy’s day.

Unbelievable, but we also spot familiar faces: Birgit and Micheal. Well, we knew they were heading for Swakopmund, but what are the odds ... They hug us like we are old friends and they are also doing a catamaran tour, only on a different boat, so soon we say goodbye again. We board our catamaran and get the surprise of a lifetime when we hear a big bump behind us. A seal just jumps on board, lured by the fish the crew feeds him. I’m not sure I like this whole feeding thing. The seal doesn’t belong here between the tourists, and neither do the big pelican birds. “can I touch him, can I thouch him!” a little boy exclamates. No, you do not touch the animals. The guide explains the animals do bite, and I can’t blame them.

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The catamaran follows an easy pace. We see a lot of birds, seals, and even some dolphins. In the distance, on dry land, we spot a lonely jackall looking out for a yummy seal. The guide also explains about the coastline: the big oil platforms are all the work of foreign countries, China for a big part. It seems Namibia is handing out the exploitation of its natural resources to big international players (with disastrous consequences for the environment). Just off the coastline there are also oyster farms. Apparantly Namibia is getting really renowned for its oysters but Europe is keeping the market closed for these African oysters. Later on we are offered a lunch and Lesley tastes some oysters (I think it’s just a slimey product and am not tempted to try). We had no idea this was included in the trip, they serve quite some fingerfood, sparkling wine, ... They like the good life here! A group of Brazilians is attacking the food like it’s their last meal. Really rude.

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By the time we reach Walvisbaai Harbour again it’s midday and they’re waiting for us to start the drive to Sandwich Harbour. Our fellow adventurers are a German and a French couple. Our driver is Nicolas – Nico in short – a blonde Namibian guy who gets behind the wheel barefoot. Before we head into the high dunes we stop at Pelican Bay. The coastline is dotted with hundreds of pelicans, what a sight! And then the real adventure starts. Soon we enter a restricted area, no tourist drivers here. The Kuiseb delta consists of a labyrinth of bumpy tracks (African massage according to Nico) and it’s easy to get lost here. Driving in the sand is not for amateurs. Nico knows this environment like the back of his hand. A little bit of a cowboy, but somehow we trust him. The Kuiseb delta is nothing compared to the next part: a drive on the shoreline, in between the high dunes and the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The tide is coming in and we hear Nico asking other guides for advise over the radio. “Rudi, Rudi, Rudi?” Can he drive the shoreline or is it too late? He speaks Afrikaans, so Lesley and me understand the conversation. If the tide is too high and catches the car, we are in trouble. Vehicles have been lost to the sea. And it turns out our drive isn’t completely dry either. Nico has to stop several times for incoming tide and one wave catches up on us. We scream, Nico laughs. “Guess what I will be doing tonight? Washing the salt of the car.” After our shoreline drive we reach a lagoon. Time to stretch our legs, climb a dune, admire the views and enjoy another lunch. Again they offer sparkling wine, but I stick to water. I have a feeling there’s a bumpy ride to come ☺

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The best place to fully appreciate the geography of the high dunes meeting the Atlantic Ocean is on top of the dunes. So that’s where Nico takes us after lunch. The first part of the drive was just rehearsal, here comes the serious dune driving. “This is Disneyland in Namibia!!” he laughs while he navigates the car through the sea of sand. We feel like we are in a rollercoaster and the French girl screams. We drive to the top of a very high dune and then he puts the car in the position to go down. It’s like you’re about to drive off a cliff or something. “What? Noooooo!” we shout. He laughs again and starts to drive down slowly. It seems the dunes make a deep roaring sound under our wheels. “Do you always do this after lunch?” Lesley asks. He confirms. The crazy ride brings us to an amazing viewpoint. Sand and ocean. And then it’s rollercoaster time again. Nico decides to go for a big finale. He drives onto a high dune, makes a U turn saying “oh, no, this one is too high”, only to drive down backwards! We scream again. And by the comments on the radio we understand the two other cars are now looking at us in absolute horror. But it seems he knows what he’s doing.

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“Do you ever have people saying STOP I WANT TO GET OUT?” I ask him. “Yes, that happens. Then they say they want to walk down the dune.” It’s clear, this guy likes to live on the wild side, he ‘reads the dunes’, this is his office every day. “Waw, you’re all so quiet,” he remarks as we reach the flatter area of Kuiseb Canyon again. I think we all had enough adventure for the day, but what an experience. It’s 4.30 p.m. when we reach Walvisbaai harbour again. We thank Nico for the adrenaline filled afternoon and head back to Swakopmund. I do wear shoes to drive ☺ We end the day with dinner at Kücki’s and pack our bags for our next destination: Twyfelfontein.

Posted by Petravs 11:14 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Messages from the ancient people

Twyfelfontein

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Our hearts don’t break leaving Swakopmund. A mist covers the town and sticks with us along the coastal drive before we make a turn landinwards. We can’t wait to be back on the gravel in the Namibian inland ☺ This time we are entering Damaraland. Along the road we see many ‘souvenir’ stalls, put together with tree branches. Many of them are deserted. It’s very hot around here and quite remote. At some stalls Herero women and girls dance in their Victorian dresses (a heritage from the missionaries in the 1800s who were appalled by the semi-nakedness of the Herero. Despite the high temperatures, the women continue to wear these heavy but very colourful dresses) to attract attention of travellers driving by. They sell jewellery, gemstones, ... At some points children stand by the road and hold up water bottles. People live in primitive huts, often trying to live of some cattle farming. Herds of cows walk along the road. Somehow they seem to know where they have to go to. We just hope they don’t unexpectedly cross.

After about 5 hours of driving we reach Twyfelfontein Country lodge, set in a rock-strewn valley near the Aba-Huab River (the river is ofcourse once again dry as can be). The Lodge almost seems to be integrated in the rocks. The heat overwhelms us as we get out of the car and walk to reception. Once again, very friendly welcome, little tour of the main lodge building where we first acclimatise with a light lunch. Then we settle into our room, a woman is just bringing us some towels. It’s so easy to start a chat here! She tells us most of the staff live in a village 9 km from the lodge and every morning and evening a little bus drives them to work and home. It’s hot for them too and at this time of day it seems everything goes a bit slower. Lesley is knocked out by the change of temperature and we take a little siesta before heading to the world heritage site of Twyfelfontein a few kilometers from the lodge. Again, the name of the place, describes a little story about a farmer who wasn’t sure he would find water in the underground. Twyfel is ‘to doubt’ and ‘fontein’ refers to the well. The slopes of Twyfelfontein, amid flat-topped mountains so typical for Damaraland, conceal one of Africa’s greatest concentrations of rock art. There are thousands of ancient engravings, made by Bushmen people who were here up to 6000 years ago. Only a fraction has been studied in detail and undoubtly there’s still rock art to be discovered. In 2007 Twyfelfontein became recognised as a World Heritage Site. There’s a small visitor centre, which is completely deserted when we arrive. It’s just too hot this time of day.

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Guide Reinhard will take us along the rocky trail. First we come across the remains of a small farmbuilding. It belonged to a German family who emigrated to Namibia after the second world war. I don’t know what they were thinking, surviving in such a remote and hot area. It lasted for about 20 years. Then they received a government notice telling them to leave as they had no rights to the land. Today there are only the flat mountains, the red rocks and as we get closer the ancient engravings showing giraffes, elephants, lions, ostrich, birds, and even animals of the sea. The Bushmen were nomads and hunters, so they also made it to the ocean side (about 100 km to the west). And that’s how even today, after these thousands of years, we see seals and pinguins carved in the rocks. Reinhard tells us it was a way to communicate among the travelling families and to educate the younger. Smaller and bigger circles represent water wells and distances to reach them. Despite the heat and the annoying flies circling around our heads, I am fascinated and I ask many questions. Maybe I did miss a career in archeology ☺ I just get all excited thinking we are standing where people thousands of years before us, sat by the rocks, slept under the stars, hunted, ... By the time we see the last engravings and return to the visitor centre, a wind blows in the valley and brings some much needed refreshment. This is the time for some other travellers to arrive and start their tour. We just sit there for a while with a cold drink and then make our way back to the lodge.

Sun sets early again and by now we are ‘trained’ to go to dinner around 18.30 h, all the lodges serve dinner at that time ☺ This time it’s a buffet. The lodge manager has a short talk at every table, asking where we are travelling to next, what we think about Namibia ... Again, we find the Namibians are excellent and authentic ambassadors for their country. After dinner it seems the main building is soon deserted. Where is everybody? The bar is virtually empty except for us and the large grasshoppers who tend to suddenly dive down – with risc of landing in your hair. Outside a small group of people is star gazing. Wish I could take this night sky home with me.

Posted by Petravs 11:12 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

"No, there is no food."

Twyfelfontein - Palmwag

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At breakfast in Twyfelfontein Lodge we have a chat with 2 Australian couples who are travelling together. They’ve already had 4 flat tires! It seems a flat tire is part of the package on a Namibian roadtrip, but as we cannot change a tire we hope to skip our turn. And if bad luck strikes us, we rely on the kindness of another passing driver or our satellite phone. The Australians are more experienced being on the road in desolate areas coming from a great outback country, and one couple actually lives in Malawi. Still, like us, they are very enthousiastic about Namibia and what they’ve experienced so far. We wish eachother a pleasant continuation of the roadtrip. But we can’t leave without having a closer look at the rock engravings just outside the main building of the lodge. There are just a few, but yes the ancient bushmen unmistakeably marked their presence here as well.

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Before we really hit the road we have to get diesel for our ‘bus’ and conveniently the lodge has a petrol station next to the Twyfelfontein airstrip. On the road in Namibia you can drive for a long time without passing any village or town and not every place has a petrol station. So good advice is to always check on the map where the next station is. In the case of Twyfelfontein ‘petrol station’ is an overrated term. We drive for about 3km next to the airstrip and then see one lonely diesel pump. No one around. A bit futher there are some houses and we stop to ask a man. He directs us to the workshop/garage next to the houses. This is where people get their tires fixed (in fact, the Aussies are customers here, picking up a repaired spare tire before hitting the road) or get petrol. The man at the workshop tells us someone will walk to the diesel pump. So slowly I drive back to the pump and two men come walking towards us. One of them eventually sits down and watches while the other man fills the car. This takes a little while. A safari truck stops and the guide steps out. He greets us. “Hi, how are you?” “Fine, how are you?” This is the way we’ve greeted so many people by now. In Europe we are so used to immediately asking our question (or not saying hi at all for that matter!), get to the point, but in Namibia saying hi is always a two-way thing and you always do a little chat. The guide tracks desert elephants, but he says they are far away and they need to track long distances in the hope to see them. Rainy season hasn’t been that wet, so the animals have to travel longer distances to reach water. We tell him we’re travelling to Palmwag today and hope to see elephants there. “Oh yes, you will see them!” We hope he is right. From the lonely diestel pump we then drive to the nearby Burnt Mountain and Organ Pipes. Burnt Mountain looks entirely black, so we get the name, but apparantly in the late afternoon light this mountain shows all colours of the rainbow. Not so much in the 10 a.m. light. It’s just black really. The Organ Pipes are more impressive. We walk into a small gorge where we see hundreds of tall, angular columns of dolorite. Indeed, with some imagination they look like organ pipes. Again there’s no one here, just two other people arrive when we leave.

And then we really start the next part of our roadtrip, destination Palmwag further up into Damaraland. We hit quite a bad stretch of gravel road. The road is all bumpy and I have to drive some parts at no more than 4O km/h, holding my hands tight to the wheel. It’s a long drive this way. I’m glad when we reach Palmwag in the afternoon. Palmwag is actually a concession: it’s an area of 45OO km accesible through a veterinary fence with police control. But the police officer lets us pass and soon we reach the gate of Palmwag Lodge, our home for the next two nights. The lodge consists again of a main building and a few rooms/houses spread out around it. And yes, there actually are palm trees! Strange in this arid area. THere must be some underground water around here.

A young guy greets us as soon as we get out of the car. We are welcomed with a cold drink and the guy show us around the place very enthousiastically. He carries our two bags to the room. “It’s heavy!” we warn him. “I am strong!” he says smiling. He could even carry us on top of the two bags ☺ We don’t challenge him to try and just follow him. It’s a simple room, but it answers all our needs. We decide to have a chill afternoon, have something for lunch, find a place in the garden, as we are doing a gamedrive the next day. When I ask at the bar if they offer lunch, the lady says “No, there is no food.” And then she hands us the menu. Special kind of humor here ☺ There’s also a warning sign for elephants and lions, just around the lodge, another joke – at least we think so.

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The rest of our afternoon isn’t such interesting blog material. The most exciting thing that happens is a little bird diving into my hair while I’m listening to my music. We do get a sunset with a big WOW factor. The palmtrees, a few mountains in the background, ... it’s an amazing sight! The rest of the evening we’re not in such good shape, so we have a really early night and set the alarm clock at 6 a.m. for our gamedrive.

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Posted by Petravs 11:11 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

"Is the donkey dead?"

Palmwag

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When my alarm clock at home buzzes at 6 a.m. I’m never so eager to get out of bed. But when the plan is to go on a gamedrive and spot wildlife, 6 a.m. is pretty ok. Our guide today is Melvin, one of the rangers of the lodge. Turns out it’s a private tour. A whole open safari truck, just for us. We climb on the truck and Melvin tells us to just knock on the roof of the driver’s cabin when we want to stop or ask something.

It’s a bit chilly in the early morning air, but we know that soon the temperatures will rise. After a few miles we leave the main road and enter the ‘permit only’ zone. You need an experienced driver here, not only because it’s rough terrain but also because you don’t want to get lost out here in this vast landscape. Melvin is very careful in creating expectations for today’s wildlife spotting. Again we hear it’s very dry and as we look out over the landscape we first see nothing. But we know the animals are there somewhere. Melvin gives us a quickstart course in recognising the droppings of different animals, and it proves elephants walk here, as well as giraffes, springbok, orynx, ... We learn that the Damara people smoke out the elephant droppings as a remedy for headache. All you need to do is hang your head into the smoke. Who needs Dafalgan? Driving along the rocky paths we also learn a bit more about the plants and bushes. Very typical here is the Damara milk-bush, named so because a white fluid leaks out of the bush when you cut it. By the time you see this you are close to being dead because this stuff is poisenous. People have died using branches of the milk-bush to start a campfire. The animals just know somehow this is not for them. Except for orynx and rhino who can eat the fruits growing on this bush. Wonders and dangers of nature ...

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Despite the interesting explanations of Melvin we still hope to spot some actual wildlife. We stop at a higher viewpoint and in the distance we see zebras and giraffes. He doesn’t even need his binoculars to see them, while my eyes really need to adjust to the colours and structures to finally distinguish the animals in the far distance. At least now we know where to go to. Soon we spot zebras nearby. Water pools are the way to go! A couple of giraffes are eating from the bushes. They don’t seem too bothered by our presence. The special thing is that no one else is around, we are all alone here. Unfortunately the elephants don’t seem to be around, but there’s no point in driving around with a checklist here. Nature presents itself as it comes and we enjoy the experience fully. This isn’t something we control als humans, it’s the area of the animals and so I think we should be humble coming into their territory.

We drive around for hours in a very slow pace, sometimes creeping over rocks on the road with the truck, but we don’t really have a sense of time. This is living in the moment. Here and now. Wind in our hair and enjoying the views. It’s heating up and Melvin stops under a big tree for lunch. We set up a table and enjoy the cold drinks and salads. We learn our guide lives in Opuwo, our next destination on the roadtrip. He works for 6 weeks in Palmwag and then gets to go home for 2 weeks. A lot of the staff in lodges seem to live and work according to his system.

Melvin is determined to find more wildlife for us to see, so after lunch we continue our drive towards Aub Canyon. In rainy season water can rage through this canyon, but today it’s dry as can be. Just a few pools down there. It’s clear we won’t see the elephants today, but we are happy with the zebra’s and giraffes.

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We leave the rocky paths and return to the main road. Two men are on their way in a small cart with 5 donkeys in front of it. Melvin slows down so we don’t cover them in a cloud of dust. He must know them because he gives them some water. Only then we notice there’s a donkey lying down on the cart. He (or she) doesn’t look well. Dead actually. I feel so sorry for the poor animal. “Is the donkey dead?” we ask rather shocked. The men smile and hold up the poor donkey’s head. “No no!” The story is that it’s a young donkey and he can’t walk next to the adult donkeys yet ... I don’t know. They continue their journey and so do we. Again we admire the vast landscapes seated on our high safari truck. Palmwag lodge comes back in sight and we thank Melvin for the great day. It’s late afternoon and we take some time to chill and watch another wonderful sunset. Little birds fly in and out in the last sun rays of the day. Pure zen.

On the menu tonight: ‘wildebeest’ with pepper sauce ☺

Posted by Petravs 11:09 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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