18.11.2008 - 22.11.2008 40 °C
Where did I leave it last time..? Oh yeah, Stampriet.
We had a nice stay in the lodge there, and for once, a Braai (BBQ)!
During the day we drove to Naukluft National Park in the Namib Kalahari desert. There was an optional activity of seeing the !kung tribe (the ! is a click – you know, with your tongue) perform a re-enactment of their hunting process. We enquired about the authenticity and as suspected we found that it is guys from the local town who after doing the show, put back on their Western clothes and drive their Toyotas back into town. At £40 each we decided to give it a miss, and I used the time to update the last blog entry. Rather amusingly, I said to K, “I bet they come back and tell us what fools we’ve been for missing something excellent”. Sure enough, when they got back we were greeted with , “Look what you missed!” and had cameras shoved under our noses. They saw a Giraffe. We are off to a game reserve in three days…. And the local town is full of people who still talk in the “clicking” language – you hear it on the streets and in the shops.
(As far as we went)
After another arduous journey we arrived at our lodge – where we would be staying for two nights. Our first chance to actually unpack proper! – except without being told, we were not at the place we had booked – a nice lodge. We were in a crappy farm. A dump – with a “driveway” that took one and a half hours to traverse in the truck (Something we later found out our guides had not noted – the extra time/distance).
(That’s the back of our room – and the red thing is a wood burner – our hot water heater)
Everyone was peeved, but of course, no one said anything :- ) . Totally dusted out (I cannot begin to tell you how much dust gets in the truck) and knackered, we tucked into another unremarkable dinner – more than unremarkable – they potatoes and rice were undercooked so they took them off to finish them – so we waited. Whilst we waited, the rest of the group ate all the meat, and helped themselves to seconds, so when the rest of the meal came back that was all that remained. You have to laugh.
Oh well, we tucked into the wine and decided to make a night of it, having a good chat with some of the group. It was at this stage we found out that we’d have to get up at 4.30 am the next morning as it was a long drive to the Sossusvlei Sand dunes and our jeep and guide would be waiting for us at 8am. 3.5 hours to get there, 3 hour tour, then 3.5 hours back to the same “lodge” (farm). Off to bed then!
The next morning (very early!) – we departed, albeit delayed as the guy who thought his camera was stolen messed around for 15 minutes. We arrived at the Sossusvlei Dunes entrance at 9.00. Remember our guide was supposed to be waiting for us at 8am, and he’s a further half an hour inside the park. 9.30 we arrived, and he was not there. “Don’t’ worry”, our guides told us, “he’ll be back soon for us”. We knew full well that he’d taken another 3 hour tour and we’d be waiting until 11am. No one admitted this.
To kill time our guides took us for a 500 metre walk and explained the ecosystem of the desert and we wandered up the smallest dune in the world.
By this stage is was getting VERY hot. You could feel your neck burning through factor 30 almost immediately and it occurred to a lot of us that our journey into the “Dead Flay” would end up being through the midday. We could smell disaster!
Sure enough the jeep guy showed up at 11.30, had a brief chat with our guide, then when our guide turned his back, drove off! He didn’t want to take us for our scheduled 3 hour drive and walk through the dunes as he was understandably concerned that people might die in the midday heat!
In the end another guy was persuaded to drive us 5km into the dunes for a brief lesson on the ecosystem, but we would not be able to do our tour into the dunes proper.
(That is the real colour you are seeing – the sand is laced with iron ore which oxidises red/orange)
All kind of interesting but we’d missed our tour, after a 5 hour drive, waited around in the desert for 2 hours, had a less than inspirational “lesson” on sand for 1 hour , by a guy that clearly didn’t want to be there, and then a 5 hour drive back. I say a 5 hour drive back, but it was actually 3 and a half. Somehow our driver ,managed to shave off 1 and a half hours on the way back - on the same route. A theme that will reoccur as we go on….
I asked our guide how they managed to get their timings so horrendously wrong and he came up with , “well, we have never stayed at the farm before so it was longer than we thought, and we waited for the camera guy, and people made toilet stops…”. Hmm. So we were 1 and a half hours late, and the “driveway” to the farm is 1 and a half hours long… Even I can work that out. They never bothered to time how long the driveway took when we arrived the night before. Pretty lame to be honest. A very long day and we missed the main event. (And they are starting to give the excuse, “That’s Africa” pretty frequently now).
On a more upbeat note, I’ve noticed an amazing species of bird in North Namibia. They are called the Sociable Weavers.
They make amazing huge nests out of whatever twigs they can find, and all live together. Hence the name.
They can get so big, like the one above, that they break the tree branches and fall to the floor. They then start again. The nests can weigh up to a tonne!
Inside they make lots of holes which they fly up into….
They even make some “dummy” holes to fool snakes.
We’ve seen nests that have completely engulfed water pump windmills, and one that was made entirely of thatch, as a hut had been re-thatched nearby and they scavenged all they needed from a bountiful supply :- ) I love them – they are so cool.
Next stop was a laughably small “town” called Solitaire where we stocked up on water and snacks.
(Shame we missed that one)
We also passed over the Tropic of Capricorn – I have no idea what it is but K is a Capricorn …
We were heading for Swakopmund, one of the largest cities in Namibia – bearing in mind there is a total population in Namibia of about 1.5 million.
The tour “fun” was continuing… Swakopmund is the “adventure capital” of Namibia and I have been looking forward to doing a few activities there from the start. I checked the night before we set off to see what time we’d be arriving in the town/city, “1pm at the latest”, I was assured, “are you sure?”, I asked, “yep, no problem, it’s an easy drive”. Cool, so plenty of time to do activities that afternoon, and then all the next day….. but things were afoot….
At the daily “meeting” after dinner some people asked if , instead of the usual cheese and spam sandwich lunch, they could go to a nice restaurant en-route to Swakopmund at Walvis Bay. At this point both myself and K interjected with something like, “A nice lunch sounds grand, but only if it does not delay our arrival at Swakopmund as we have lots planned to do there, and we are only in Namibia once….”. Our guides seemed to think it was no problem as it would take the same time as our normal sandwich lunch. “Are you sure?”, I asked, “I can’t imagine anyone wants to go to a nice restaurant for 1 hour max – it takes half an hour to get your drinks and choose food etc”. At this point the guides kind of skirted round the issue, so K intervened and asked for assurance that we’d get there on time and perhaps they could take bookings right now, for tomorrow’s activities on Swakopmund. They dodged that one…. I suggested that perhaps we should leave an hour earlier for a safety margin. They ignored me. You can guess what happens next…
Yep, we left late. Then we stopped to view some unremarkable “moonscape” rocks, and build a “friendship tower of stones”
(It’s a big world)
(With long dusty roads)
Clearly running very late, we also stopped to look at a small bird about 50 metres away, we drove as slow as possible. We stopped and stopped again. We were starting to get the impression they did not want us doing independent activities.
We arrived at Walvis bay at 1.30pm (we were supposed to be there at 12pm). Then it got hilarious. We drove round and round looking for “the” restaurant, and when we found it, half the people on the bus assumed we were going the NEXT day. I approached the guides and asked why we were running so late once again, given that they knew we had an agenda. I got a load of bollocks about the stops taking up time, and that they normally take camping groups who leave earlier… etc etc. Pure bull. I just sighed and said “whatever” and walked off.
At this stage One of the guides came out, apologised, and then told me we are in Africa and I must “chill out” – sure – I’m here ONCE and we are missing things because of lunch in a restaurant. I can eat in restaurants anywhere in the bloody world! Then it got better. He confirmed I could get to Swakopmund by 3pm to catch the Quad biking in time, but everyone else had 15 minutes to have lunch!!! – Great so they put the whole thing on ME – what a situation to be in. I gave in and said, “let’s just eat, forget the activities – you can’t make people have lunch in 15 minutes, in a restaurant”. Bloody ridiculous. So that was our afternoon shagged. Incidentally, the guide also told me that his “activity company” was safe, and they preferred us to use that and not arrange our own activities… now the truth was coming out. They’d delayed us on purpose. I was spitting teeth. I ended up telling him I’d arrange my own activities, like it or not.
As you can imagine, by this stage we are well established as the black sheep of the group :- )
We had a lovely lunch after all that, lol
(Not in there, it was closed, but it looked cool)
We arrived in Swakopmund and headed straight to the activity centre where we watched a presentation and then chose our things for the next day. Of course I wanted to do Quad biking that day so we could sky dive the next day, but that was not to be. I even watched the last group ride off into the dunes. Sigh.
All checked into our new hotel we had a good wander and all went out for a great dinner at a coast side restaurant. K had Oryx steak and I had a huge T-Bone. We had a good laugh, and it was great to eat at a table with a table cloth. I even found Internet so I got to watch my poker show at last.
All the commotion about quad biking had actually created quite a lot of interest lol, so the next day we had a group of 7 of us. There are sand dunes that run 30 km along the coast, and we got to choose our machine for the day. Most of the girls plumped for the 125cc automatics, and myself and Marcus grabbed 250cc manual geared machines. The beauty of having a large group was that we got two guides. One for the slow group and one for the fast group (Me and Markus). Off we zoomed!
Our guide was a certified nutter and we were full throttle all the time to keep up. Riding up near vertical sand dunes maybe 50 foot up or more, then turn, and straight back down – absolutely brilliant!! – They call them “rollercoasters” as you go up and down so much. Lots of wheelying, jumping, sliding. It was fantastic!
(My trusty steed)
After about half an hour We rejoined the “slow” group, and it immediately became clear it was far too slow for some. K was looking pissed off. She’d asked to join our fast group, and with that, one of the horrendously slow riders that she was trying to shake off followed too! K was thinking about reversing her decision so she didn’t mess it up for me and Markus by bringing the slow coach with her. As it turned out, I think the pressure made her “ up” her game and we didn’t have to do much waiting around –she knew she had to gun it or get “demoted again”. K LOVED it – she was flat out all the time wearing a huge grin. Mind you – she got properly stuck :- )
It was a superb day – you really don’t get the chance to quad on sand dunes in many countries. We covered about 60Km, and I managed a few good wheelies. Markus loved it too. I did a “doughnut” – where you spin in circles. Markus then followed suit, and immediately flipped his machine over. I haven’t laughed so much in years. Top fun and everyone had a great time.
Shame that was all we had time for… Still – it was great.
We spend the rest of our time in the town having drinks and eating. Then we found out we’d lost a group member. You know I mentioned there was one person (not named) in my last post that was not very “likeable”. She was demanding, rude at times, and very loud. More eccentric than anything, but we treated her with respect – she was a nice lady, just used to having her own way. Well it seems that she’d overheard other group members moaning about her, and she flew home. A real shame.
On a change of subject – Swakopmund roads are odd. Tarmac, but covered in mud….
(why cover a road in mud? Who knows?)
All amped up from the quad biking, the next morning we headed off for Kamanjab, to see the “Himba Tribe” people. On very dusty roads…
(See that dust behind? Where do you think the dust from the FRONT wheels goes? – yep – inside)
We passed some local vendors on the way…
And stopped at one, where we saw…
(That’s a 3-donkey power vehicle)
Eventually we arrived at our accommodation…..
Which we then found out, yep, they’d buggered it up again. It was closed for renovations. We moved on to another site… where, again, with no explanation, or apology, we were shown to our…..
Our tent was a 2 man tent with 2 wooden beds. So small we left our back packs on the truck. We’ve paid nearly 2 times the cost of a camping tour for accommodation, and we get tents. And guess what? They staff had a room each in proper buildings. You can imagine we are getting more pissed off by the day.
Chin up! We are British!
The morning’s activity was to go and see the Himba Tribe. They are a nomadic tribe who wash with Ocre and butter fat – so they are always red in colour. We were forewarned to wear only clothes that we were not fond of :- )
The situation with the tour is this: The tribe kept getting moved on from peoples’ land, until one farmer let them stay. No one knows the agreement – some say it’s for the money, some say the farmer has a Himba wife. The men have all gone “Western” and don’t’ spend much time in the camp, but the women want to maintain their traditions – so the story goes. And upon inspection it seems to be true. We’ve also seen plenty of Himba women walking around many towns, naked, so it’s clearly for real.
(Where the cows live)
(This is the “Queen” – we all gave her gifts, like bags of rice etc)
(This lady made us laugh, she has a cell phone! – we were told she’s from another tribe, hence no ocre colour)
(She’d been waiting for this opportunity for a long time)
(We sat inside her hut whilst a translator let us ask questions, and vice versa – she was curious why we didn’t have babies at our age – she is 18 and knows nothing about birth control)
(Westernised clothes, African game)
A really interesting visit, although it felt very odd taking photos of people and not being able to speak to them. They seemed happy enough, although they all have their front four lower teeth knocked out with stones when they are 4 years old – ouch! – Apparently it’s for beauty and to make them sound unique compared to other tribes. There are about 10,000 of them left in North Namibia so we are told. Their lucky men get to have as many wives as they can afford. 5 cows each for a dowry. Aids is rife with about a 20% occurrence throughout Namibia, tribes people or not. Mind you, when we get to Botswana, the Aids rate is over 40%! We are VERY careful when making contact with anyone local.
All done and dusted (well, Ocre’d) we set off for Etosha national park (The next morning)
(The local kids are no less cute!)
We drove through the park, from watering hole to watering hole, with various diversions when word got round that there was activity in certain places. Here come the animal shots….
(Springbok – seen a load of them)
(The white in the distance is the beginning of the salt pan, about 17,000Km sq of salt)
(Ahh – giraffes with their kids following)
(I know, it’s a tree, but I liked it)
(Some Emu’s :- ) )
(they are so odd!)
(yep – lions on our 1st day – though my zoom is not really up to the job so this is unzoomed)
(A nice shot, and there are actually lions, male x 2 to the left, but they are too far away)
.. so a good spotting day. Slightly ruined again by our dozy guides. We’d been in the truck for 9 hours – and it’s deafening on the rutted safari tracks and we wanted to get to the lodge by 6pm so we could catch the sunset over their private watering hole, that and our guide had told me we needed to make 6pm to get the room keys (and as you can imagine after all the other accommodation and tour cockups, we have lost trust in them). 6pm was approaching and we were stopping to look at a tiny bird, 30 metres away, in a tree , that no one could see – this was the guides decision. Again, we stopped to see one Ostrich. We’d seen 100’s of them all day, running across the road in front of our truck, this carried on and we got very frustrated. That and the fact that some of our group take photos, and then demand the truck stays put while they put their cameras away and then start videoing .
At one stage, they stopped again, for no apparent reason (no communication) and Kirstin shouted, “move on, come on, let’s go! I need the toilet!”. Amazingly after being told that under no circumstances are we ever allowed out of the vehicle in the park, they immediately stopped, threw her a dirty look, and told her to get out and pee behind the truck. They then took another hour of dawdling to get us to the lodge at 6.30pm. Sunset was at 6.45pm. So we had so literally sprint to the view point and just caught it. It’s the same every day. We always arrive late for everything and it’s getting feking tiring. All they need to do is leave earlier, or prioritise, but no, they dick about.
I’m typing today, at our lodge. We decided we could simply not bear another day of dicking about – a whole day in the rattle-truck pandering to every request to stop and view invisible birds and the 1000 th Springbok. So we are having a super nice day. Last night we shunned yet another crap dinner and ate in the restaurant – fillet steak, chicken, and Oryx streak. Our guide came over to see us, and instead of asking what was wrong just informed us of the next day’s departure time, to which I told him we were not coming. He wasn’t interested why.
So today we are drinking cold beers, swimming, and generally relaxing. We are not panicking about the animals, we have both decided to visit Kruger Park when we join Kirstin’s Sis and Bro in law in December. Relaxing is AWESOME. (small update – everyone just did a half day game drive instead of a whole day as they were all shagged – funny that! :- ) )
It’s a crying shame. We think the guides had not cottoned on to the fact that people who do the accommodated tours have money to spend. We are essentially doing the same tour as campers, but in rooms. By that, I mean that they are treating the lodges like camps – i.e. staying there for as little time as possible. We’ve stayed at so many lovely places, but got there so late we sleep immediately, then depart at 7am, ignoring the lovely bars, and restaurants. The food is also dire. Every lunch is sandwiches with cheddar cheese and spam. Dinners are no better. We’ve had meat three times. Chicken on the first night, an awful beef stroganoff, and one “braai”. Every lodge has a Braai – we never use them. All the other groups do.
We are going to start buying meat at each daily market stop and cook ourselves.
Ahh well – it all sounds negative but it’s all wonderful from an experience point of view.
Little extra update. We had a meeting last night where they asked for our feedback. Kirstin explained that whilst most things are fine, they need to manage “time wasting” as we are arriving at our lodges late every day, and we are missing the opportunity to relax and reflect on each day, and socialise. All the people who previously agreed with us looked at the floor, and said nothing. One chap suggested we should re-read the itinerary! – lol – still – we have made good friends with a few people – Markus and Katia form Germany, Geraldine from Belgium, Paolo from Portugal. Plus, everyone was made to get back on the truck in a timely manner today and so we made it to our destination in daylight! Progress!!!
Currently in Windhoek getting very excited about our trip into Botswana tomorrow! – Update again!- Went out for dinner tonight at a big place with the meatiest menu I’ve ever seen. I had a rib eye and fillet combo and K had something called a “bush fire grill” – Oryx, Crocodile, Ostrich, Kudu, Zebra, and maybe something else- pretty much a menu of half the animals we have seen! – Which reminds me – one of our guides, Pilili, has a great habit of describing animals by their name first, followed by the best cut of meat from them – i.e. there you see some cows / T-Bone steaks, over there are Kudu – steaks again, over there are some lamb chops, to the right are some Oryx – great fillets.. etc. I like it a lot! ;- )