Monday, December 15, 2014

Namibia - right from the pages of National Geographic

     I think that the first exposure most Americans have had of Namibia is from the pages of National Geographic. I know it was mine. I remember reading about the drought tolerant lions and elephants, seeing pictures of wrecked ships being pounded by the surf, and the incredible orange dunes of the Namib Dune Sea around Sossosvlei. I would look at the pictures and read the stories thinking “That would be neat to go there", but the chance never materialized. It is a long way from the United States. Then we heard from our Canadian friends Kristin and Ryne that they would be in southern Africa at the same time we would be. Schedules matched up that the Namibia section of their trip would be the time to meet them. Without them we probably would not have made the side trip there. Thanks KOP and Ryne!!!!

      Home base Africa is in Pretoria, South Africa where Kathleen's grad school friend Dawn, husband Paul, and daughter Piper live. We were able to spend Thanksgiving with them. We were able to have a delicious potluck feast with members of the USAID, CDC, and State Department community which even included an informal 5km Turkey Trot. It was nice having a little dose of Americana after being on the road for so long. There are several discount airlines in South Africa so we were able to get a cheap flight to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. This was where we first really felt like we had burst out of our protective bubble with Dawn and had truly entered Africa. Almost immediately we noticed that the cost of things, especially food in the grocery stores was not that cheap (close to US prices) for a nation where the per capita income is $5461 per year. Like in South Africa (and the US), the income distribution is among the most unequal in the world so there are many people that make much less then this. How people afford food was one of the big questions we had.

      We all rented a car and drove about 6 hours to Sossusvlei in the Namib Dune Sea. Namibia has one of the lowest population densities of any nation in the world. Miles and miles of savanna with rocky mountains jutting up out of the plains were stunning. 
Big sky country

Once there, huge bright orange dunes stretched for as far as the eye could see with bright white salt pans reflecting the sun in between them. We often felt like we were on Mars traveling through this landscape. We spent 2 days climbing 1000 foot steep sand piles, exploring a slot canyon, and eating too much food at the extensive buffet. 
View from Dune 45
Summit of Dune 45
Deadvlei (Dead marsh)
Climbing Big Daddy Dune
View of Deadvlei from Big Daddy
Deadvlei playa
Slot canyoneering in Sesreim Canyon

We had a great time hanging out with Ryne and Kristin but it was unfortunately too short as they had to move on to Cape Town while Kathleen and I spent another week and a half exploring Namibia. 

      For the next section of road trip we rented a 4x4 truck that we kept describing as “Snorkel in the front, Fridge in the back”. The front had a sand snorkel due to the dusty conditions. The bed of the truck had a canopy that was a solid metal box that could be locked very securely. There was a fridge in it that ran off a separate battery and worked very well. The back had drawers to hold supplies and a folding table. There was a large water tank and two spare tires. We want a truck like this for home.
"Snorkel in the front, fridge in the back"

Our next destination was The Skeleton Coast. Even though we were warned that the coast would be “overrun” due to the holidays we found only isolated beaches with huge cold pounding surf and large flat beaches that reminded us of the Washington coast. 
Fog back drifting up coast        
Sunset over the Atlantic Ocean

For centuries ships have been crashing into this shore so we would occasionally pass the remnants of hulls sticking up out of the surf or half buried in the sand. 
Wreck of "South West Sea"
Rusting oil derrick in desert

We also stopped at the Cape Cross Seal Reserve where it is reported that up to 100,000 fur seals live. I am not sure if it was that many but tens of thousands of seals stretched for a couple of miles along the shore and in the water. Every sound known to animals could be heard from the seals – sheep baaing, goats bleating, cows mooing, horses neighing, dogs barking, squeaks, moans, groans, and screams could be heard. A boardwalk allowed us to walk right amongst them. The seals are constantly trampling over each other and fighting as a result. It was not a place for the faint of heart. Some of the visitors we saw at the same time left in tears. The smell could bring you to tears also. While we watched we saw one baby seal get trampled and killed and dead baby seals littered the sand. At the same time we witnessed two baby seals be born. We had only ever seen something like that on TV before. It was so fascinating to watch that I didn't want to leave. 
Cape Cross Seal Reserve          
Seal pup being born                  
Bad place to be a fish               
Adding her voice to the bedlam

     Once we left the coast we entered Damaraland where there is ancient rock art from 3000-6000 years ago.
 Twyfelfontein World Heritage Site

This is in an area where they speak one of the click languages. You know you are not in Kansas anymore when you are in a bar and everyone is speaking click around you with the ticks, tsks, and tocks. It is really fun to listen to and makes me smile every time I hear it.

      Our last stop was Etosha National Park where you are allowed to do a self drive safari. We spent two days driving the park along the edge of a salt pan that is big enough to be seen from outer space. We saw all sorts of animals – impala, springbok, reedbok, foot long centipedes, zebra, giraffes, wildebeest, numerous lions, cheetahs, and 2 white rhinos. 
Giant millipede
Lazy Lions      
Etosha salt pan

We even got to see lions protecting their zebra kill from the jackals and 3 cheetahs fail to try to take down a springbok. The only disappointment was we were never able to find elephants though this time of year they have migrated to the mountains. On the second day we had a flat tire while driving in the park. It was the first time I have changed a tire while needing a lookout due to the risk from being attacked by a lion. I had that tire changed in 5 minutes. Nothing like some motivation to work fast.

      If you want to drive around with your mouth hanging open due to the scenery and beauty around you then visit Namibia. Most of the roads are dirt but are in excellent shape compared to what I had seen before in other parts of Africa. You have to stay vigilant since it is Africa after all but we felt safe where we camped. We did find jackal tracks right outside our tent one morning. We both felt that 2 weeks was not long enough. Some day we would like to go back to explore Fish River Canyon and to see the ghost town of Kolmanskop. Namibia was a great introduction to Africa and ranks up there with Laos as one of my favorite countries visited so far on this trip.