So ……decided a bit of an adventure was in order and set off with Sean the Sheep on a 24 hour five flight bonanza down to Namibia. Tanzanian crew at the airport were unable to hold back the laughter as we all said a little prayer that my rucksack would arrive at the same time as me. Arrived in Swakopmund, tired and irritable to a land of incredible huge red sand dunes …..and with no luggage!
So Day 1 – Swakopmund, Namibia. Parochial little town with beach on one side and dunes and desert on the other. Spent the afternoon scouring the shops for cheap tourist T -shirts and toiletries in case the luggage never actually made it to me as I was joining an overland truck the next morning and heading in to the Namib desert! Relaxed with an awesome spinach and bacon quiche and a coffee and amaretto ice in a quirky little cafe then slept a plenty at Stay@Swakop
Day 2 – Joined the truck full of cheery folk coming from Johannesburg and headed for Spitzkoppe. We were a mixed crowd of nationalities – Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Australian . The SPitzkoppe is a massive granite formation toweriing 700 metres above the desert plains below and contains rock art dating back 2 million years when the San people used it to leave indicators to the next tribe as to which animals were in the area .
Day 3 – My luggage joined me in time to take Sean on a trip to the petrified forest. The ground is littered with these beautiful pieces of petrified wood from thousands of years ago and, in places, whole trees have been preserved when flooding knocked them downstream .
We then visited a village of the semi-nomadic Himba tribe. The Himba have been extremely susceptible to Western influence and have lost a large portion of their land to farmers, engineers, miners and many were displaced during the wars that raged between Namibia and Angola. The dwindling number of pastoralists that still exist in their natural environment are protected as far as possible by creating a “buffer zone”, or an “educational tribe” where tourists who would like to get a better understanding of the way of the Himba, their lifestyle and their traditions, can do so without interfering with those still living in their natural environment. The income that this specific tribe generates from the visits goes towards the education of orphaned Himba children and assists the tribe in giving them a chance to learn about their own culture and heritage; but I still found it quite uncomfortable and ‘zoo-like ‘ as it is only women and children and they have constant streams of visitors so spend their day sitting trying to sell goods they have made while their children ask for money.
Day 4 – The first of many very early morning starts, we made the short drive to the Etosha National Park. Etosha is the venue for some of the most unique game viewing experiences in Africa. Different from the Serengeti with its large rivers, Etosha has many waterholes , natural and manmade, so you get an incredible selection of animals in one place . The first one we stopped at had zebra, impala, ostrich, giraffes, kudus and Hartebeest all together.
Spent the evening after dinner just sitting at a water hole watching 7 rhino coming down for a drink and gently sparring for top position.
Day 5 – Our second day in Etosha was another full day to exploring the park.
We went on to the Pan itself – a massive salt pan of a dried up lake . Cue novelty group in a frying pan picture!
Stunning floodlit water hole viewing tonight with a herd of about 30 elephants coming down and then 2 lionesses with cubs.
Day 6Woken in the early hours by torrential rain which continued all the way through packing up and breakfast time. yee ha !
A last early morning and short game drive to the gate and then we set of for Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. After a brief stop at the craft markets of Okahandja we arrived in Windhoek in the afternoon. We took a 2 hour guided walk through the city centre and to look at to view some its better known landmark buildings from colonial times and statues from the independence, including only part of their history museums which I’d have liked to look at for longer.
Day 7 – Today we traveled east and made our way to neighbouring Botswana and the Kalahari Desert. Starkly different to the Namib Desert after which Namibia is named, the Kalahari is much greener and is no less dramatic. It covers over 900, 000 square kilometres. When we arrived, we set off on a Bushman walk with a group of San people. This felt much better to me than the Himba women as they were a family group , seemed to be having a great time themselves joking with thier visitors and took a real pride in sharing their heritage with us as they showed us how to find water, start fires and identify medicinal plants. They said they liked tourists to come and take pictures to help keep their culture alive for others. We met up with them later for a series of healing and celebratory dances – and a chance to join in.
The accommodation at Ghanzi Trail Blazers was basic huts but we did all have an ensuite bathroom – albeit outside!
Day 8 – Today we journeyed to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta, and our launching pad for the Okavango Delta excursion. It was a long old day on the truck with only a cheery song to keep us going for part of the way.
But it ended at Kamanga Motel with its lovely tiny pool and a tub of icecream so that was good.
Day 9 – Carrying everything in a small back pack this morning we boarded our flight. They were not kidding when they said it was a small plane!
This unique and unusual ecosystem sees the annual flood waters of the Okavango River fan out into the sands of the Kalahari Basin. The seasonality of the flood waters lends the Delta its ever changing character. We were coming in at the end of dry season and while water levels were quite low the tranquillity of this area was evident as soon as we arrived. Having splashed out on the flight and tented accommodation, muttering slightly at the vast expense, was so not expecting the level of luxury in the Mapiro tented camp.
I kid you not, This was our bathroom in the tent….
Took a sunset boat trip for a few hours, bird spotting , with a Ronnie Snapper ( dark rum and ginger beer) Sean not paying attention properly.
Day 10 – Spent a day in the Delta starting with a boat ride for a few hours through the papyrus canals spotting baby crocs (the big ones hide too well) and hippo . We then set off in mokoros (small dugout canoes) with local polers to another part of the delta for a nature walk which seemed to include quite a lot of identifying diffferent types of poo!
Day 11 – The departure lounge was a bit bijou but the plane was a bit bigger than the one coming in. It looked quite straight forward so I thought I’d fly for a bit.
Leaving the Delta behind we touched down in Maun and reunitede with our truck. Spotted Richard Branson at Maun airport – showing just how fancy this part of the trip was! We travelled today across the northern section of the Makgadigadi Pans, the road to Nata was lined with iconic Baobab trees. As a portion of our route bisected the Nxai Pan and Makgadigadi National Parks, our bushy-bushy stops for a wee came with warnings not to go too far as there was wildlife wandering around.
Day 12 – We got up early this morning and we continued north to our camp on the banks of the Chobe River. IN the afternoon, we set off in an open truck , to view some of the 60,000 elephant in the Chobe National Park and then a leisurely boat cruise amongst the hippo, elephants and crocodiles as the sun went down followed by a lovely meal around the campfire.
Day 13 – Crossed the border in to Zimbabwe and travelled the short distance to Victoria Falls, also known by the local name of “Mosi-oa Tunya” (the smoke that thunders). As we were in dry season, only half the falls were flowing but it did mean we could actually see them as when they are flowing fully the spray is so thick you can’t actually see the falls. Absolutely stunning and so peaceful – it must have been such an incredible sight for Livingstone to come across as he chomped through the jungle.
Had a lovely last dinner altoghether as some of our group were going on to other trips and enjoyed some lovely lovely local singers and dancers, including a wonderful rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight” ( possibly not a traditional Zimbabwean song!)
Day 14 – Seemed a perfect day to go and try a bit of white water rafting down the Zambezi River at the foot of Victoria Falls . Apparently its the longest, fastest, steepest drop and most terrifying rafting you can do ! (Read that after I’d signed up. )
4 hours and 19, mostly Grade 5 rapids with a few smaller ones thrown in for free. Steered by Frank and NQ, we survived the Washing Machine, the Gnashing Jaws of Death, the Devil’s Toilet Bowl , Terminator 1 and 2 – but Gulliver’s Travels was the one that nearly did for me. A 700m long grade 5 rapid that we were warned before entering that if we fell in we’d have to ride the rapid because they would not be able to get us back in the boat during it. We got the angel wrong and you side of the boat got hit full on and we all ended up in the water, being churned at speed. I hit the side of the boat, and then got knocked off by the next swell which was also strong enough to rip my trousers off! Not having been able to get a breath since I’d gone in and staring in to the depths of brown water it did cross my mind that I might die and what a stupid way to go it would be. Moments later I was hauled on board by NQ and Joern and, as I coughed and spluttered in the bottom of the boat, mostly heard the gales of laughter as they realised I had no trousers on (fortunately I was wearing a swimming costume not pants or that could have been a whole other horror story).
4 hours later I realised I had also made a tactical error. Climbing the 700 feet down in to the gorge for the rafting, I had not fully factored in the 700 foot vertical climb out of it! Knackered and dehydrated, we set off on this Death March up the ravine. I was plodding slowly but thought I might just make it until I heard the guide behind me on his radio saying we were only halfway. Shortly afterwards my legs buckled and wouldn’t work very well. I held NQ’s hand as they coaxed me up a bit further and then we hit an almost sheer climb. “Tell us if you surrender”said Frank “and then we will do Plan B!” Oh the humiliation – Plan B turned out to be getting a piggy back up the sheer bits by the very strong, but way smaller than me, NQ! Made mental note to ensure his tip reflected the feat of strength required to haul me out of the gorge. Finally made it to the top , got doused in cold water and filled with lemonade. Back on the bus, knowing that I would be unable to walk well for at least a few days.
Frank talked to us on the drive back about his home and what was happening in the country. Their unemployment runs at 90% now with most people scraping a living selling what they can and living in poverty. President Robert Mugabe, now 93, is stockpiling cash so people are not allowed to withdraw money from their own accounts if they have it and he has just sacked his vice-president to put his own wife in that position and also sacked the chiefs of the Army who he feared were opposing his regime. Many Zimbabweans are unhappy and the atmosphere is building up to a change soon.
With long queues outside the banks and groups of people on corners discussing when they thought the army would make its move against Mugable, it felt like a good time to leave! But very aware of all the ordinary people trying to make a living caught up in the fall out of a regime that is focusing on personal attainment not its people.
My cheap four flight option home involved travelling down to South Africa and then back up to Nairobi. Settled in to my second flight with an awful comedy film, I felt my ears pop and noticed on the flight tracker on the screen next to me that we had dropped from 37000 feet to 20,000 feet and then that the flight crew were hastily collecting everyone’s food trays , in to large bin bags. An announcement came on that due to a technical problem we were going to make an emergency landing and to listen carefully to the crew! Ah an excellent end to a lovely holiday where I’d almost died once already – ditching in to the sea! Fortunately, a) I grew up with an airplane safety engineer so had already checked i actually had a life jacket and had done a kinetic walk to the EXIT to ensure I could get there in the dark and b) the captain came on to explain they had had to shut down one of the engines as it was leaking oil so we would be making a landing at Harare, rather than just dropping where we were, but just might be coming in fast! At least it was a landing at an airport – although frankly the way we left Zimbabwe, Harare ,its capital, was quite likely to be in the middle of a coup by the time we landed.
Come in fast we did indeed, with fire engines coming to meet us, but we landed safely and set off again a few hours later. News came the next day of President Mugabe being put under house arrest by the Army Chief although it all seems at present to be going quite smoothly. My thoughts are with the people we met there and hoping they and their families remain safe in the next few months.
Enough adventure – welcomed back for a quiet life!