Spine-tingling (Sossusvlei)

We started at ‘car’ (bottom right) and walked along the spine of the dunes you can see, follow the … more dunes, then turned right (not visible) to reach the summit. It took us 2 hours to summit and 30 mins to get back to the bottom. As we were descending we saw two figures walking where we just had, where it says ‘people’. We took these photos so you can see the scale.

The thing about sand dune deserts, is that there really is no top, as the perspective keeps shifting the higher you get, and new vistas are revealed as you so-called ‘summit’. This exposed the Difference between Ralph (Men?) and Lisa (Women?). I had no particular desire to get to the very pointiest peak of the dunes. Ralph, on the other hand…

…yet we get along famously…

Blogging In Solitaire, Namibia

Film: Blood Koppie in Namibia

After a very long sand road into the Namib National Park, we camped below this great koppie. It took us about half an hour to reach to top for sunset.

Blood Hill, Namibia

Yesterday we drove to a beautiful mountain campsite called Blood Hill (BloedKoppie). This koppie is made of granite which is 10% mica, 30% quartz and 60% Feldspar.

We’re guessing that the reason it’s called Blood Hill is because the rocks are orangey red and at sunset everything has a sort of yellowy glow. We found an amazing cave that looked a bit like an open mouth. As the sun was setting the whole cave looked like it was made of gold because the sun was shining off the mica in the walls.

Our campsite was under the shade of a prickly camel thorn tree. We saw a kind of mountain chat that is only seen in Namibia, and pale winged starlings with bright orange eyes that pecked around at our spaghetti and mango.

We also saw a giant lizard that went inside one of our cooking pots but it didn’t really like mom’s cooking!

Beauty Secrets of the Stars

Ok I have decided to share my beauty secrets of the bush (you can stop writing in now).

Skirt, pants, dress? Every day I have to think: should I wear my one black skirt, my one cropped purple pants, or my one orange dress? The answer will depend upon: will I encounter other humans, will I be sitting or standing most of the day, will I get hot, how many days in a row have I been wearing any one item, is aforementioned trackable (i.e. dated photographic evidence on blog), what did I sleep in?

Laundry + dishes:
Clothes are in one of four states: need to be washed, washed and still slightly damp, dry but still look dirty, or in the process of becoming dirty (ie being worn). In the bush, no-one can hear you clean mwah ha ha ha ha. Ditto dishes. And I use dishwashing liquid for both which actually could explain a lot.

Dishwashing is a celebratory experience. In the bush we make do using limited water, soap and kitchen towel until we get to a snazzy camp with running water. Then we zap the three boxes of pots, cutlery, crockery. Ralph was concerned that the photo below suggests I did the washing up, (smile, improbably) but no, I just looked good in their reflective glory. In the right photo, as an alternative to washing, Bea is burning her shorts. Jeans make great firelighters, even ones which are more hole than jean.

Our wardrobes are black togbags. We love them because they have strong zips and seams and when Mpandangare is stationery they live on his bonnet otherwise in green metal boxes on the roof. It all feels perfectly normal.

I didn’t consciously choose this path. On previous, much shorter, trips I have watched spotless Safari Adventuresses actually buff their heels in the ablution blocks. Meanwhile I felt naked without a covering of African dust. Still, I had thought that this long trip, that buffed woman would be ME but no buffing has (knowingly) occured to date.

Now I know you’re all wondering about my hair. I certainly am. Whenever I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror (not often) I double take and think ‘She’s got nice hair’. Anyone who has heard my ONE anecdote (“Coma? How fascinating, do tell…”) will know this was my exact response when I woke up from a 3 day coma, dreadlocked, with complete amnesia and looked in the mirror. Also: nice tan. Also: Who’s she?

I know this admiration is partly delusional as my hair does not measure up to any 21st century standard of beauty. But it is, marvelously, held up, and together, by desert dust. So Peter the Haircutter, who I missed pre-trip and thought of as my hair grew and grew in all directions, I now look forward to visiting upon return to Cape Town. Because only his magic hands will be able to embrace the African dust and cut around it accordingly.

Cleaning ritual
I got called an adventuress! While I would love to wear this noble label (sewn into my dirty orange dress?) I really and truly am not. I distrust all animals, from mosquitos to lions, I am especially wary of puppies. But…I am just not afraid of dirt and I believe that has been my single greatest asset on this trip. And, ironically I attribute this to my European, not African, heritage. No-one does grubby glamour quite like us Brits.

Here are Ralph and Mila having just fended off the camp’s tame Namibian Springbok. I was putting up the washing when she came to have a chew. I thought I’d work the Adventuress angle by scaring her off. Ralph said it’s all about body language so I spread my legs sumo style, arms in that weird dangling pose, and barked something gruff but she just charged me! Ralph counter-charged like a noble savage and you couldn’t see Bokkie for dust. I am still feeling quite indignant as I write. Why was she not afraid of me? Maybe she has read the blog.

Miscellaneous Marvelousness

Various Photos from the trip that hadn’t made it to the blog till now…

Solitaire General Store, a tiny oasis of Namibian Desert coolness…

African Queen, our Zambezi River Campsite above Vic Falls, Zimbabwe

Working girls, Mtopos Campsite, Zimbabwe. Bea finished her Maths at the this campsite with great happiness.

Road out of Sesriem, Namibia.

Muddy Road out of Zambezi River, Zimbabwe.

Triple-fun – the dunes on Bazaruto Island, Mozambique – 05 Feb 2012

Mpandangare the Great on the road to Vic Falls National Park – 10 Feb 2012

The amazing Zambezi in all her glory – we had this National Park to ourselves, solitude above a great African river, and a carnival of birds and beasts – our best campsite ever – 50kms north of Vic Falls in Zim – 11 Feb 2012

Ellies – Serondella – Chobe – Botswana (3 countries in this photo. Across the river is Namibia. The horizon is Angola) – 16 Feb 2012

There is nothing more silent and painfully beautiful than dusk in the Central Kalahari – 28 Feb 2012.
By the time this photo was taken, we’d spent just over 8 weeks and 12,000kms in Mpanadangare, waded through way too many estuaries and rivers, had the chassis rubbing on the middle-mannetjie for days on end, and passed through over 40 roadblocks. Beyond regular draining of the fuel filter, we experienced not a single mechanical or electrical problem the entire trip. We didn’t even get a bloody puncture.

We passed the Tropic twice (in Mozambique heading north and in Bots heading south) – 04 March 2012

Sossusvlei – Namibia – 09 March 2012
We’ve parked Mpandangare on the pan (middle left) and in this photo we’re 2 hrs up into the the dunes.

Across Africa from Indian to Atlantic Ocean (Swakopmund)

We’ve done it – crossed Africa – but not Cape to Cairo, instead East to West. We left the warm Indian Ocean in Mozambique around 5 weeks ago. Now we’re at a very cold Atlantic after we took a long, forced detour to Swakopmund for diesel.

Swakopmund can best be described as a very, very, weird, windswept, sandswept, harsh, cold coastal town. Although the detour bordered on torturous – the route crossed the line from gorgeous desolate moonscape to utterly boring and stuck there for 3 hours …somehow we loved the stopover. We gorged ourselves on German savouries and apple strudel with ice cream, and felt the cool salt air of the Atlantic on our dusty bodies.

Tourism + hunting + poaching = ?

We had always thought of Botswana, where there is limited high-end tourist development and accountable government, as an inspiring haven of ecological sustainability in a disastrous world.

Because the Botswana governemnt is dependent on tourist ‘safari’ dollars, in a time of dwindling diamond revenues, there is a great motivation to preserve the environment at gvt level. We have seen a big improvement in the roads since we started coming to Botswana 10 and 30 years ago respectively, a reasonable increase in park fees, more up-market lodges, with no noticeable degradation of the landscape. One can reach parts that were previously unreachable in the wet season except by the most intrepid visitor.

But the equation is complicated – those same roads that increase access to the bush for tourists, and us, (not that we want it) allow poachers easier access to animals and make policing the poachers more difficult. Local poaching, for bush meat rather than to export, is a significant and increasing threat to animals.

Now! A wild card – apparently the most effective policing of poaching occurs in huge hunting concessions. Much as we are not fans of the type of guy who will fly across the world to hunt down a beautiful creature, kill it and then triumphantly nail its dead head to the wall, hunting serves a vital purpose in this fragile African ecology. Because, ironically, hunters alone seem to have the vision, motivation and resources to prioritise long term sustainability, if not for reasons we share. And, vitally, because the hunting areas lie between national parks, corridors are created between the parks that wild animals can pass relatively safely through.

It doesn’t take much to threaten the equation. The president, Ian Khama, is very anti-hunting. People say that all hunting concessions will be closed in Botswana within the year to become ‘Photographic Safaris’. A good transition? But…hunting mainly takes place in areas of rough bush that are basically unuseable for photographic safaris…it will take many photographers driving 4x4s through the bush to replace the income to Botswana from one American hunter, who will pay $30,000 to kill an elephant…increasing the number of vehicles in the bush swarming on kills etc, does damage the environment…lodge infrastructures have a detrimental environmental impact…

So now, as we leave this incredible country, the picture feels more complicated, the balance more tenuous. The parks are smaller than we remembered.

Manicured camping (Daan Viljoen)

Manicured lawns sloped down to a murky watering hole at this small national park near Windhoek, with faux Victorian lampposts lighting the paths. Despite this, it was a place of dreams: wifi out at the campsites (Bea and Mila skyping Noonoo below) and a lone tree for the girls to scamper off to with kikois, a huge packet of crisps and walkie talkies.


On the road

We are heading back to Cape Town via Namibia. After our madly intense bush experiences over the last few weeks, we are all feeling like we’ve peaked, and also quite tired: tired of not sleeping, tired of driving along tough roads, tired of schlepping extra water and fuel and food just in case, tired of having to be constantly alert for lions after dark. We passed an airport and Mila said – I want to be on that plane.

We all got the feeling suddenly after Central Kalahari, and it feels amazing to be now traveling through totally new and different terrain in Namibia, heading south. It also feels good to have water available everywhere, fresh milk, roads without holes on them, roads made of tarmac…

After a night camping in the lovely Thakadu (aardvark) Lodge in Ghanzi, (except the girls played with dogs and and are today both covered in rashes, the irony is not lost), we had our first night in Namibia, 40km west of Windhoek in an idyllic campsite (right photo below).

Now we’re in Windhoek. Manic emails and then off to Daan Viljoen game reserve and tomorrow we’re heading due west for Swakopmund – we might even see the Atlantic Ocean. We last saw the sea exactly a month ago – the Indian Ocean off Mozambique.

p.s. First person to spot mistake in photo (left) below wins a lollipop!
Breaking news: Lollipop goes to Noonoo Lazar of Cape Town, South Africa.