Monthly Archives: July 2014

HITCH HIKING IN NAMIBIA – PART IV

“Two for you, and two for me,” Mike said, handing over four cold cans of Windhoek larger.

“Sweet,” I grinned, taking the cans and placing them in the ice cooler between the driver and the passenger-side in the cab of his 22-wheeled semi-trailer.

It was only four hours before that I was on the outskirts of Rundu where I had driven up on the Saturday with Jens, my couch surfing host from Tsumeb, and Anne, a German volunteer teaching in Otabi.

P1120286Rundu, a border town on the Kavango River which separates Namibia from Angola, was some 600 K’s north-east of Tsumeb. We had made a quick stop at the landing site of a meteorite mostly made up of nickel and copper still intact and preserved that had landed on the outskirts of Grootfontein some 80,000 years ago.

A few hours later we arrived in Rundu where we joined a Peace Corps volunteers party and jammed most of the night with a braai, some poi and a game of dominoes by the pool. The next morning, after Hope (one of the volunteers) immaculately sewed up my ripped guitar bag, I hit the road at 12:00 on the dot.

I was hoping to reach Katima Mulilo (which, in SiLozi, means: Quenches the Fire due to the nearby rapids on the Zambezi River), some 530 K’s east at the far end of the Caprivi Strip.

After half an hour of collecting dust and listening to Tupac being blasted at a volume that should have caused the Earth’s tectonic plates to create some havoc, I spied a huge truck rumbling to a stop at the Engen service station.

For reasons unbeknownst, I just knew that that truck was going to be my ride. I also knew (for reasons unbeknownst) that if it didn’t stop for me, I’d be stuck in Rundu for the next four hours, succumbing to Tupac’s explanation for a girl that was wondering why everyone was calling her bitch.

At 13:10, after politely declining numerous offers from taxi drivers and people wanting money for a ride, I saw the truck pull out of the service station, heading towards me on the B8 highway. I stretched out my thumb, smiling ear-to-ear.

The driver made eye-contact and pulled over. I grabbed my packs and guitar and lumbered over at the local pace of African Time (I had previously run with my packs and guitar after a truck took 300 meters to stop in Omaruru).

The driver hopped out and was kicking one of his 22 wheels on the passenger side as I approached him with a, “How you doin’?” greeting.

“How are you?” he said, giving the tire a kick worthy of a Kung Fu Hustle.

“Where are you headed?” I eyed the wheel, almost feeling sorry for the punishment it was receiving.

“Katima,” he returned to the kicking.

“Awesome,” I said. “Would it be alright to ride with you?” And before he could ask the universal question, I added, “I don’t have any money. I travel without money.”

He eyed me with confusion (and perhaps suspicion) as I explained that, “I play guitar in exchange for food and bed.” And, remembering my jam sessions in previous hitches, threw in, “And rides.”

He kicked the rubber a few more times while I waited in suspense, an inner mantra of ‘Take me with you’ repeating itself in my head. He straightened up, satisfied that the tire had taken enough of a beating. As he headed towards the cab he turned to me and said, “Let’s go,” and opened the door to the passenger-side.

Mike had introduced himself after I stuck my hand out to shake his. “I’m a Zulu,” he said proudly and I impressed him with the few sayings that I had learned in South Africa.

“What are you carrying?” I asked.

“28 tonnes of frozen fish from Walvis Bay”. He offered me a can of coke from his ice cooler. “Taking it to Congo.”

Four hours later (in which I dozed for threeIMG_4887) we entered the Zambezi Region (until 2013 it was known as the Caprivi Strip). In the almost two months of hitching around Namibia, the landscape had dramatically changed from the dry, sandy deserts of the south, to the barren rocks and bushlands of the mid-region to what had now become a green, lush wetland (although it was the dry season) in the north-east.

The Caprivi is about 450 K’s in length. Katima Mulilo is the capital in the far east, about a rock’s throw from Zambia which lies on the northern banks of the Zambezi River. This is where Namibia meets Zambia to the north, Botswana to the south and Zimbabwe to the IMG_4901south-east. The strip is a huge nature reserve, forming the Bwabwata National Park. The local bushmen (and women) still live traditionally in straw huts un-phased by the warnings of wild animals that were posted all along the B8 highway.

We picked up a third passenger at the Animal Disease border control who only needed to go 100 K’s to Chetto. And it was here that Mike had purchased the beers.

Mike pointed out the two, “Elephants,” about 150 meters to my left as we drove deeper into the strip. I stared at the huge beasts, jaw-dropping in awe.

The new guy hopped off at Chetto and Mike and I continued on. The sun was setting, a huge ball of orange slowly sinking somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean’s horizon behind us in the west.

 

After two pint-sized cans of lager, nature was calling me from the wild. We were approaching another Animal Disease control post in the darkness and I figured this would be a good a time as any for a toilet break.

“This area is very dangerous,” Mike said.

Huh? said my bladder as I interpreted it to “Why?”

“Lions are very frequent here,” he explained.” They want to get to the cattle across the Kwando River but they cannot because of the crocodiles. So they approach the gates here and the officers have to shoot at them.”IMG_4898

Looks like I’ll be building some pelvic floor muscles for the next 20 K’s until we reach safer grounds. We stopped by a roadside take-away eatery where I flooded the surroundings as Mike bought us macaroni pasta with sausages and potatoes for dinner.

He forgot to mention the added spice.

“Ooh, that’s hot,” I said as flames from my mouth lit up the dark cab of the truck.

Mike laughed, producing four more beers. “Two for you and two for me.”

We continued down the dark road sharing travel stories and Mike’s dislike of Congo – “Lots of crime” – for the next four hours. It was just after 21:00 when we reached the outskirts of Katima, pulling into the truck stop. And due to the time difference, I had to add on another hour making it nine hours of morphing myself into a truck seat.

“Mike,” I turned to my driver\host, “this has been an epic ride. Do you have a cap?”

“No,” he said.

“Well, now you do.” I handed over my Hansa cap which I had won at Joe’s Beerhouse during my stay in Windhoek.

He grinned appreciatively.

“Mike,” I began again, “I can’t thank you enough but I must ask of you one more huge favour.”

“Sure,” he said, investigating the details of the cap.

“Would it be possible to sleep in the truck as it’s really dark and I have no accommodation organised for tonight?”

“I was going to tell you that we can share the bed,” he grinned.

I looked over at the single bunk bed.

“It’s OK, bro,” I chuckled nervously. “I can sleep in the chair.” I took out my travel pillow and blew it up with two puffs of air as Mike made himself comfortable in the bunk, his head behind my seat.

I’ve shared rooms with people who make tractor noises at jet engine volumes but Mike took things to a whole new level: he preferred to block up his sinuses, as though he were about to hawk a loge the size of Botswana – except he never followed through. That repeated itself every half-hour along with one-sided conversations in Zulu. To add to the ear-bleeding pleasure, my legs were falling asleep (at least one part of me was) as I attempted to pull off a yoga position to get comfortable.

And, of course, it wasn’t the warmest of nights.

At 06:45 the sun crept up, a beautiful African rising of an orange ball of fire that quickly shooed away the night’s freezing temperatures. Mike awoke and I straightened up my seat.

“Morning, mate,” I yawned. “How’d ya sleep?”

“Great,” he rubbed his eyes. “You?”

“Never better.”

He drove to the weigh station and dropped me off in town. Thanking him with a sturdy handshake, I walked a kilometre and spied the Baobab Bistro.

“Hi there,” I greeted the woman behind the counter. “How far to the Caprivi Houseboat Safari Lodge?”

“It’s about 6 K’s out of town,” she said.

I ordered a tomato and cheese toastie to have some fuel for the hike when a local sipping on his morning coffee turned to me.

“I’m heading that way if you need a lift.”

“Lekker, bru,” I thanked him.

Finishing up my food, he drove me out to the lodge and was kind enough to wait to see if I’d get a barter. “If it doesn’t work out then I’ll take you back into town.”

Curt, the owner and operator of the lodge came out and I introduced myself. He and his wife, Silka were more than happy to accommodate me for three weeks on the banks of the Zambezi River.

“One of our guys just resigned and is leaving this morning,” Curt said. “You can have his room.”P1120530

The view from the balcony bar was over the Zambezi. “Can you swim in the river?” I asked, looking longingly at the vast body of water (its been two months since I last swam in water).

“With crocs and hippos it’s not really recommended,” Curt recommended.

I spent the morning helping him fix a bulge pump and by sunset a wild hippo was rising and diving like a submarine in the middle of the river, between Namibia and Zambia.

P1120515I could get used to this place, I grinned, sipping on some wine.

I could really get used to this place.

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Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Namibia | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

THE ETOSHA PAN

P1120053“We have our first round buyer!” Jens yelled out with excitement as Frida calmly pointed out the huge elephant on the horizon.

The deal was, the first to spot any of the Big 5 bought the first round.

“So I just won’t say anything,” I said.

“You won’t be able to contain yourself,” said Jens. “When you see an animal you always yell and point.”

Which is what Frida did with Jens calling out wildly. It’s a funny thing we humans do when we see animals. I always wonder if members of the animal world ever get excited when seeing humans around. It was incredible to think that something as big as an African elephant, the largest land mammal on our planet, could be so hard to find.

“There are about six more drinking from the waterhole up the road,” the driver of the car we had signaled to stop tipped us off.

The elephants were huge. Their skin covered with dust to protect it from ticks and the harsh rays of the African sun. And boy, was it hot. It was also extremely dry making it almost uncomfortable to breath.

But what really blew my mind from the day in Etosha National Park, one of the oldest national parks in Namibia, with an area of just over 22,000 square km, was that it was so hard to find any of the Big 5.

I remember growing up and watching nature documentaries always thinking how all these animals, with their magnificent colours, would surely stand-out in the dry grasslands and wooded forests. But now, here in the real deal of it, it was near impossible to see them. Especially when they were laying down.

We were two cars, Jens driving his Nissan X-Trail with Frida in the passenger seat and me jumping in the backseat from side-to-side to try and spot any predators. Behind us, in the bukky that belonged to the church that Frida was the pastor, were Inga (Frida’s wife) and their visiting grand daughter, Anna with her husband, Folker and their baby, Tia, making Frida and Inga great-grandparents..

Jens lives in the flat behind the pastor’s house in Tsumeb. Frida and Inga, both 75 years of German origin, spoke less English than my German (which amounted to ‘Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes’).  Luckily, the grand kids spoke English. And it was Frida’s invitation that I had said, “Yes,” to joining the family on a day in Etosha, not only a national park but a huge game-player in the conservation world.

We left Tsumeb at 07:00 on a beautiful sunny, blue-skied day and drove the hour to Etosha. The park opened its gates at 06:30 and visitors had to be within their campsites or out of the park by 17:30. We stopped for breakfast at the Namutoni Lodge, 12 K’s from the Anderson Gate on the C38, coming off the B1 highway where Frida paid the entrance fee of N$80 ($8.00 AUD) per person (N$30 for locals).

“Danke,” I Germaned with a big smile.

P1110917We snacked on home-made sandwiches and dried fruit in the Namutoni Lodge, which is built into an old German fort from the turn of the 19th Century (it was attacked by about 4,000 Heraro warriors who were defeated by seven German soldiers defending the fort in the 1904-1907 war). As we munched away, we were visited by Banded mongoose, who resembled tiny Tasmanian Tigers (extinct since 1936).P1110925

We bought maps of the park and began our expedition. The park recommends that you stay in your vehicle at all times, not just because of the dangers of becoming prey to the predators or being crushed by an agitated elephant, but also because animals can carry disease (such as Anthrax).

Our first sightings were of Oryx (also known as Gemsboks) and Springbok (also known as Springbok). Followed by an abundance of impala’s and Black-faced Impala, endemic to Namibia.

P1110969We stopped by a waterhole (the best spots to see animals are by the waterholes) where a giraffe had emerged from the trees and we watched as it comically did the splits with its forelegs to be able to bend down and drink up the water.

Etosha is a vast dry land. The Ondonga name for it was ‘Etotha’ which means, ‘A place where no plant grows’ but the early European traders struggled to pronounce it so they called it Etosha. According to Hai||lom traditional storytelling, the Pan was created after the men from a local settlement were killed in a raid. On hearing the news, a bereaved woman from the settlement became so upset that she cried until her tears formed a gigantic lake. When the lake dried, a giant salt pan remained.P1120071

The Pan absorbs the little water that rains here during the summer season (November-April, 300-500 ml). It becomes muddy and makes it difficult for travel even in a 4×4, which we saw plenty of (I believe there are more tourists in all-terrain vehicles in Etosha than there are in the whole of Namibia). Etosha is also where the most rental vehicle accidents occur.

Our main objectives for the day were to see the Big 5 – Elephants, Water Buffalo, Rhino, Lion and Leopard so we all kept our eyes peeled as we drove past huge Secretary birds. “They need quite a lot of space to take off,” explained Jens.

“Like a runway?” I asked.

“Yes.”

P1120002We kept driving, kicking up clouds of dust as we headed towards the Halili campsite (75 K’s from the Namutoni Lodge) where we stopped  for lunch (‘Halali’ is the German word for, ‘The hunt is over’).

Lunch was fairly cheap, anything from N$50-60 ($5-6 AUD) for a burger with chips and salad or, my preferred choice, chicken schnitzel with veggies and a salad. And since Frida spotted the first of the Big 5, it was his shout so I washed it all down with a cold draught of Windhoek lager.

The waterhole at the campsite showed no indications that a bird – let alone a predator – might approach the relief point.

With our heads held as high as our hopes, we continued on the dirt track, passing Hartmann’s Zebra.

We continued driving around after lunch with me standing up through the sunroof trying to find predators. Lions would be near impossible to spot as would the rest of the big cats. We drove to the Etosha viewpoint, a few hundred meters into the pan.

“This road is closed in the wet season,” Jens explained. “Because the pan gets muddy and all the cars become stuck.”

It was so arid that the trees on the horizon shimmered in the heat evaporating off the ground.

With the sun beginning its drop in the west we made our way back to Anderson’s gate. We passed giraffes and more oryx, springbok, wilderbeest (gnu) and impala’s before we stopped by another waterhole where a herd of elephants had just finished bathing and were trying to cross the road, going around the cars that had stopped in their paths.

“I don’t want to get to close to the elephants,” said Jen.P1120110

And he was right. They can get annoyed and aggressive pretty quickly, especially when calves are around as were in this herd. They trumpeted as they entered the bushy area across the road without hassling the hassling drivers.

We motioned for a car to pullover next to us. “Have you seen any cats?” Jens asked.

“I saw a male lion before in the bushes here,” the driver said. “I don’t think he’s left the area as I can’t see any tracks. He was hassled by some females so he went deeper into the bush to sleep. Good luck,” he bid before heading off.

“If you spot the lion,” Jens said as he drove slowly around the waterhole, “I’ll buy you a round.”

I was up through the sunroof watching every blade of dry grass. “Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” I called out as Frida and Jens laughed.

There was no way of spotting a lion in there. I looked in the trees hoping to catch a glimpse of a leopard, a cheetah, a civet. Hell, I’d be pleased to see a caracal but nothing. It was as though the cats of Etosha had decided to stay out of sight.

Bunch of pussies, if you ask me.

We drove to another waterhole and it was here, a little off to the distance that I spotted two White Rhinos, covered in dust. White Rhinos aren’t really white. The only differences between them and their black cousins are the way their horns grow and the shape of their snouts. The black rhino has a beak-like pointy end on its upper lip whereas the White rhino has a wide lip, hence its original name, Wide Rhino (which, again, early Europeans struggled to pronounce hence they called it ‘White’. Yet names like Schweinsteiger just roll off their tongues).

We headed over to the last waterhole just before the main road to Namutoni where a bull elephant was approaching. A giraffe sulked behind it, waiting for it to finish its watery business while a flock of Guinea Fowls ran between the cars to the water where someone pointed out the hyena.

“Finally,” I said, “a predator.”

The hyena was cooling itself off in the water. When it got out, it carried the leg of something that could have used it better for escaping the jaws of this powerful beast. As we drove back to the road we stopped by a tourist bus.

“Hyena den,” called out the driver. “You can see the cub.”

We looked over and right there by the road, a small doggish head was peeping from between the bushes, looking slightly scared from all the attention it was receiving.

We drove back to the main road and out of the park in the setting sun, a bit disappointed at not seeing a big cat (a leopard would have made me have to change my pants) but nevertheless, it was an epic day in the real Africa wilderness.

And 2 out of 5 ain’t all that bad.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Namibia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN NAMIBIA – PART III

featured-on-hitchhikershandbook-300x180-px‘I’m planning to go to the Otjiwarongo Karneval on Friday night. It’s a German Festival. On Saturday I’m participating in the Ugab Terrace MTB race near Otju. I’ll take you along,’ read the What’s App message from my couch surfer host, Jens, who I was hitching to from Swakopmund. He’s based some 600 K’s north-east in Tsumeb, just an hour’s drive south-east of the Etosha National Park.IMG_4863 copy

It sounded different and another experience to experience so we agreed that I’d hitch up to Otjiwarongo (which was between Swakopmund and Tsumeb) and he’ll meet me there in the evening.

So at 08:00 on a foggy Friday morning I approached a woman walking her Jack Russell terrier. “Excuse me,” I said, “how do I get to the Sam Nujoma Road?”

“It’s one street over,” she replied, eyeing my backpack and guitar. “The best place for you to hitch hike from will be the service station over the bridge.”

Thanking her I hiked through the thick fog that had blanketed Swakopmund, the town that gave me an incredible two weeks where I had accomplished more things than I could ever have expected. Of course, my philosophy is ‘Expect nothing,  always get something’ but Swako’ was good to me in ways that are hard to define in words.

From my hosts and new friends that accommodated me, the hotels that supported my way of life, sandboarding, exploring the creatures that live in the dunes, horse-riding in the Moon Landscape. And the big step for me in my writing ways, getting published in the Travel News Namibia magazine and becoming a regular contributor while I’m traveling through Namibia.

It was with these happy thoughts that I trekked along the palm-tree studded Sam Nujoma Road that would later connect to the B2 highway. I stopped by the bridge that crossed over the train tracks. The fog was too thick to walk the bridge safely as the shoulder lane was none-existent. I stuck my thumb out when I heard a loud rumble. Through the fog on my right a train, barely visible, cut through the low-lying cloud.

I waved off taxis as I patiently waited for a ride when a white bukky pulled up.

“G’day,” I grinned at the driver.

“Hello,” he said. “I noticed your sign. Are you going to Otjiwarongo?”

“Yes. Are you?” I asked with hope.

“No – ” damn it – “but I’ve just phoned a friend to see if she knows of anyone heading up there.”

The kindness of strangers still blows my mind. This guy could easily have just kept driving and gone to work. Instead, he not only pulled over to talk with me but he’s phoned a friend to see if he can help me out.

Meanwhile, a taxi pulled over. The driver stepped out, “Where are you going?” he asked.

“It’s OK,” I smiled. “I don’t have money.” I turned back to the bukky driver who had received a phone call.

“But where are you going?” persisted the cabbie. “Maybe I can help you.”

I held up my sign with the shortened name of Otjiwarongo – Otji.

“It is better for you to hitch from the petrol station across the bridge,” he said. “Come, I will take you.”

“Thanks,” I said, brushing him off. “But I don’t have money.” I returned my attention to the bukky driver who was still on the phone.

“It’s OK,” said the taxi driver. “I am happy to help you.”

I frowned. Taxi drivers are rare when it comes to helping for no monetary gain. I waited until the bukky driver finished his phone call. “Sorry, no rides at the moment.”

“That’s OK,” I said and explained to him the cab driver’s offer of assistance. He called the driver over and spoke to him harshly in Afrikaans.

I gathered from the tone of voice and the immediate look of fear that covered the cabbie’s face that the bukky driver said something along the lines of, ‘If you fuck him over and try to demand money from him I will find you and I will kill you.’

I thanked the bukky driver and the cabbie helped load my gear into his trunk before we drove off. “What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Moses,” he said, shaking my hand.

It was a short two-minute ride as we crossed the bridge and pulled into the service station. The car had barely pulled to a stop when we were swarmed by other taxi drivers. Two immediately opened the boot and began to take my bags out. I stepped out and one trapped me against the car.

“Are you going to Windhoek?” he said. “You come with me. Windhoek, yes? Let’s go. This way.” He reached to grab my arm.

Too many things were happening at once and I felt cornered and like any animal that gets cornered and feels threatened, I had to lash out.

“STOP!” I yelled.

They immediately stopped, dropping my bags, looking at me with confusion.

“Back away from my gear,” I said slowly, reaching for my bags. “Back away from the car, back away from me.” I turned to Moses and shook his hand. “Thank you, Moses. You are good people and kind. I appreciate your help.” I turned to the driver wanting to kidnap me to Windhoek. “I’m not going to Windhoek.” I turned to the other drivers, slightly calmer. “I’m not going to where any of you are going. I’m going over there – ” I pointed to the main road – “to hitch hike so just back away and have a good day. Thank you.”

With shoulders slumped in defeat, they made room for me as I threw my 65L Nomad North Ridge pack on my back, my day pack on my chest and grabbed my guitar case which had ripped at the bottom.

Great, I thought. Now I’ll have to find a seamstress.

IMG_4804I hiked over to the highway and chuckled at the sign that signaled, ‘No hitch hiking’, a right thumbs up painted on it. I put my gear under it and stood by the road, sticking out my left thumb (which would be my defence if a cop even bothered to try to book me).

A few cars stopped and, as was the norm, demanded money, laughing in my face when I explained that I was travelling without before they drove off. A truck bellowed by. I made eye-contact with the driver who had a dark goatee. He raised his arms up as though to say, ‘I wish I could but I can’t.’ I gave them the, ‘I understand and appreciate the thought’ nod when a car behind him pulled up.

“We are only going 60 K’s up the road,” explained the driver.

“That’s cool,” I said. “If I can come with you that’d really help but I don’t have money.”

The driver seemed to consult this alien information with his wife after I explained my travel methods. “OK, we still take you.”

I beamed. “Thank you so much. I’ll grab my gear.” I jogged down to the where my packs were when a white SUV pulled over.

“Excuse me,” said the young man in the passenger-side, “can you please tell us how to get to the B2?”

“You’re on the B2,” I grinned. “Where are you guys going?”

“Omaruru. Where are you going?” I detected a German accent on him.

Omaruru was a 3-hour drive and would put me much closer to, “Otjiwarongo. Would you be able to take me as far as Omaruru?”

“Sure,” he said after getting the approval from his mother behind the wheel and his younger brother in the backseat.

I signalled to the first car that I was going to ride with these guys and waved them a ‘Thank you’ before we somehow managed to squeeze my gear in with theirs.

The family were German tourists travelling around Namibia on a family holiday. I told them my stories and we discussed the philosophy of life, the need to pursue happiness which money can’t give you and some political points of views.IMG_4809

They offered me a sandwich and some water. I offered them carrots that I had but they declined. Three hours later I was dropped off in the center of Omaruru even though they were staying a few K’s outside of the town. We hugged ‘goodbye’ and the mother gave me another sandwich.

“For your lunch,” she smiled as I grinned and thanked her.

I gathered my things and hiked down to the service station. I set up a hitching corner and stuck my thumb out when I noticed a local approaching me.

Here we go, I thought, knowing exactly what he was going to say. He’ll probably begin with, “Where are you going?” he asked.

I knew it.

“Otjiwarongo,” I answered and before he could offer I added, “I don’t have money that’s why I’m hitching.”

“No money?” he looked at me disappointingly. It was obvious he was going to add, “You see, I have problem with fuel.”

I should offer mind-reading services. “I understand,” I said. “I don’t like money that’s why I don’t’ use it. But I appreciate your offer to help.”

He looked me up and down. “If I get enough people, I will help you,” he finally said before walking back to the service station.

Within 10 minutes two cars had pulled over asking money for a ride. I declined politely and that’s when the truck came by. I waved with a grin at the driver who I recognised by his goatee. He stared at me in disbelief and waved at me to, ‘Come on’. I grabbed my packs and ran to where he had pulled over, some 300 meters down the road. Huffing and puffing like the unfit cat that I was, I stood, heaving for air under his passenger-side door.

“Where too?” asked the young face peering out of the window.

“Otjiwarongo,” I puffed, embarrassed that I had let myself reach this level of physical incompetence. The head disappeared, seeming to consult with the goatee driver before re-appearing. “Come on up,” he said.

Two minutes later we were on the road. “I’m Joshua,” the goatee driver introduced himself. “This is my nephew, Jason,” he referred to the young kid that now had to share the bunk with my gear. “He’s visiting from J’burg.”

We talked about the ways of the world, I shared some travel stories, my love for Namibia and we laughed as Joshua blasted the truck’s horn to scatter the warthogs off the road. As in every truck ride, I quickly fell into a deep slumber (I only do this once I feel comfortable enough with the driver, a gut instinct telling me he won’t be cutting me up and selling my organs).

I startled to awake when Josh blasted some Afrikaans music. It must have been comedy songs as he laughed every now and again, repeating the punchline. He dropped me off in Otjiwarango a few hours later.

“Just be careful,” he warned me. “This place is well-known for the grab-and-run. They’ll grab your bag and run.”

I grinned at him. “My packs are too heavy. Besides, they can take the bags but if they touch my guitar, I will find them and I will kill them.”

We shook hands and I thanked them for the ride as I made my way over to Kari’s Restaurant to wait for Jens (pronounced, ‘Yens’), the couch surfer host who was hosting me and invited me to the festival and bike ride.

But I was really looking forward to joining him on Sunday’s trip to the Etosha National park to see the real Africa, in all its glory.

Hopefully, I’d be a little fitter by the then.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Namibia | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

OKAKAMBE TRAILS

okakambe“You see this plant?” Eddie called back from ahead, turning in the saddle to face Neil and myself.

“Yeah,” we both said as our horses obediently pulled up to a halt.

“This is Wild Tobacco. If it gets on your skin, it will give you bad rash and you can die from it.”

Die from it? I thought, staring at the yellow, trumpet-like flowers.

“Some people who use the wood to make fire die from breathing the smoke,” Eddie added and then Neil realised what he was talking about.

“It’s Deadly Nightshade,” he exclaimed and that brought me to attention.

Eddie grinned, nodding. Deadly Nightshade is one of the deadliest plants known to humans and has been used in many medieval assassinations (but also as a medicinal plant and in cosmetics). I pulled Ronja’s reins to the right to make sure that no contact would come between us and the plant.

Neil and I were horse-riding into the famous Moon Landscape, just 11 K’s outside of Swkaopmund. The horse I was saddled to was a Warm-blood Farm breed from Kathrin’s livery called, Okakambe Trails. Okakambe literally translates to ‘The horse’ in Heraro and Oshivambo (‘O’ meaning ‘the’).

P1110835There are about 30 horses of different mixed breeds and from other stables that use the livery that also has a rabbit and guinea pig corner, seven dogs varying from a one-eyed practically blind Jack Russell to a Great Dane, a Rottweiler and a couple of South African Ridgebacks. The horses here are well looked after and extremely friendly. The first one I approached instantly made friends with me and Animal, asking him to see if there was anything lodged between his teeth.

“You’ll be riding this one,” Kathrin motioned to the black-maned, chestnut horse with the stars ‘n’ stripes blanket under her saddle. “Her name is Ronja.”

She led her over to the mount as the horses at Okakambe were full-sized beasts compared to the smaller horses I rode in Botlierskop, South Africa a few months prior. I climbed the mount then the horse. We kicked off immediately – Ronja kicking and me flying off. Just kidding. The horses at Okakambe are almost too P1110839friendly if that is even possible.

Neil, a 61-year-old American English teacher who’s been spreading the universal language around the world since leaving the US some seven years ago, mounted Costa, a slightly feistier horse than my laid-back Ronja.

Eddie, our Herero guide, lead ahead on his chestnut ride and we clippty-clopped outta the stable, passed the rabbit pen and the paddocks where other horses were grazing by the olive groves. The blind, one-eyed Jack Russell, sporting a leather jacket, followed between the horse’s legs along with two other mixed dogs.

I always wonder how horses don’t crush animals that run around them. It’s as though they have a heightened awareness. We followed the previous-made tracks through the Swakopmund River bed, dry, sandy and full of bushes and the Deadly Nightshade.

“The water that runs here is underground,” Eddie explained.

Kathrin, closing the rear, adding, “It’s salt water so it’s brackish.”

The river bed was quite wide and took almost 10 minutes to cross with Ronja’s head practically in Costa’s arse who didn’t seem to mind as he attempted to munch on some bushes. Ronja responded quite well to my reining actions as we plodded along. Then the scenery drastically changed as soon as we emerged from the river bed.

“Is this the moon scape?” I asked as a flat, barren, devoid-of-anything land spread out before us.P1110853

“Yes,” said Eddie.

I looked around, twisting in the saddle. The river bed was the only point of life, it seemed. Everywhere else was just a dusty plain. Apparently, this is what the moon might look like (minus the craters). We plodded on, Eddie pointing out animal burrows like, “This is a Black scorpion hole,” he pointed to a fist-sized hole in the ground.

We reached the viewpoint atop an inclining rock. “Lean forward in the saddle to make it easier for the horse,” instructed Eddie as we followed his steed uphill where we paused, taking in the unearthly surroundings.

How could anything live out here? I wondered, recalling that someone had mentioned that a cheetah had been spotted in the area. Turning back to return to the stable, we passed a pile of bones.

“Ostrich,” Eddie said as one of the dogs gnawed on a long leg bone (I assume it was a leg bone).

Plodding back through the river bed Eddie paused by a bush, hopped off his horse and presented Neil and myself with some of the bush he had picked.

“Stinkbush,” he said. “Smell it.”

I smelt it. “It’s like sage,” I concluded. “Is it medicinal? Do you make tea with this?”

“No,” Eddie laughed. “If you burn it, it will keep mosquitoes away. Farm animals love to eat it but if they do, you can’t eat that animal for at least 5 months because the meat will taste like Stinkbush which is not good for human consumption. So farmers always burn this bush when they find it on their farm. It grows all year.”

It did smell quite sagey and demanded to be brewed in hot water. We passed around the Nightshade plants, avoiding them like a plague before returning to the stables where we dismounted and I thanked Ronja for being an attentive horse. I shook hands with Eddie, thanking him and then Kathrin drove Neil and I back to Swakopmund.

Okakambe Trails offer horse riding lessons, 2-3 day rides (for experienced riders) , sunset and moon rides and they sponsor disadvantaged and disabled kids from the townships, teaching them to ride.

For more information, visit their website: kttp:// www.natron.net/okakambe

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LOCALLY FAMOUS

villagecafe-ppc“What’s the Terminator?” I asked Ananda.

“It’s huge. Between two huge pieces of Ma se Brood homemade bread lie two beef patties, two eggs, steak, bacon, tomatoes, cheese, lettuce and fried onions.” She pauses, her blue eyes twinkling. “No one’s ever finished it.”

Being a big eater it was all the push I needed. “Challenge accepted,” I declared. “Which one’s the biggest?”

“Terminator 4, of course.”IMG_4755

It was around lunchtime on a Monday that my stomach suggested we go find somewhere to fill it up when I happened across Village Café in the downtown area of Swakopmund. I didn’t think much of the place at first. The outside of the building, flanked by a real estate agency on its left and a Spurs restaurant (a steak chain) on its right, is a concrete grey. On the window is a humble sign – Village Café (‘VC’ as the locals call it). Nothing flash, no strobing lights, no A-sign parked on the sidewalk to block your way so you can see what specials are available, or fancy slogans to entice you in. The window itself was, well, it was just a window. You’d think it to be a furniture store at first glance.

But then you see the people inside. I took a closer look and suddenly noticed waiters, practically dancing between the tables, beaming smiles on their faces. I’m no cat but curiosity got the best of me and I pushed open the door.

The first thing that’ll grab you will be the smell of the coffee. It could wake a dead elephant. Next you’ll be greeted by cousins Lali and Ananda, projecting genuine warmth, as though they’ve known you your whole life. Then the other waiters pause mid-service to make you feel welcome with ear-to-ear smiles. And they don’t give you one of those fake ones you get in most places. Real, legit smiles that warm you up like a good cup o’Joe. Even the décor seems to grin at you with art by local artists hanging from Namibian desert-red walls.

Village Café is a family operation with the musician of the family, Andra, performing there during the high-season (December. Check out her talents here.CDs can be purchased at the counter).

I’ve had over 10 years of hospitality experience – anything from working as a dishwasher all the way up to a restaurant manager. If you’ve ever worked in hospitality, the minute you step into an eatery as a customer you start noticing and judging everything. It’s built into you, automatically activated. You time the service without noticing. You look to see if the waiters are attentive to other customers while you hold your date’s hand. You’ll notice everything that makes your place of business successful and seek it out in other places. And before you take a bite you’ll turn the plate 360°, scrutinizing every little thing on the ceramic placed before you.

And it’s with this decade-old experience that I’ve concluded that the best eateries are the family-run ones and not just because the family comes together and everyone’s in it for the family. Not just because the menus are simple but because you know the food, like all good home-cooked meals, will be topped with the most important ingredient that most commercial restaurants lack – love. And lots of it.

IMG_4791“Would you like to sit inside or out in the courtyard?” I was asked by Sida, my first waitress, her smile brightening up the room.

“There’s an outside?”

I walked down the hallway, passing another few tables hidden away to my left before stepping into an open-air courtyard, the walls a sunset orange with a colourful rose compass painted on the brick floor, tables strategically placed to utilise the space and behind it another indoor section with more seating. There’s even a VW combie van to choose from as a seating option.IMG_4788

 

 

The waiters wait aroundת attentive like sprinters waiting for the start gun to go off, ever watching the customers should one suddenly require service (if you’re lucky, you might catch some of them dancing to the music).

Village Café specialise in all-day breakfast and lunch specials that range between N$48-N$65 ($4.80-$6.50 AUD). But no visit is complete without trying their specialty dish, ‘Ma se Brood’ which means Mother Bread, an oversized home-made bread.

IMG_4789And it’s not just the Ma se Brood that’s homemade. Everything on the menu is homemade and made–to-order. The produce is sourced from local markets and an organic farm in Omaruru. Nothing is pre-mixed. There are no substitutes for bacon or butter or the cream. Only the coffee crosses the border, a secret blend sourced from South Africa.

This just might be heavenץ

Which is why, when it gets busy, your order might take a little longer but trust me, it’ll be worth the wait. You can even bring your dog or your cat (but they have to be on a leash) and order sausages, steak or even tuna for them off the doggy menu.

Yeah, the doggy menu.

 

Village Café has such a warm and inviting family-feel that I couldn’t bring myself to eat anywhere else in town. For the next 5 days I found myself returning to my adopted family, excited to walk downtown for my late breakfast lunches, to see the smiling-dancing waiters.

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Terminated

“We want famous people to feel local and local people to feel famous,” Ananada says.

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The Terminator 4

I’m not famous and I’m not local but I can guarantee that once you’ve been to Village Café, you’ll feel like a famous local.

You can find Village Café at 23 Sam Nujoma Drive, opposite the Brauhaus Arcade with plenty of parking all around the block.

Open every day except Sundays from 07:00-18:00 including public holidays. December is when they’re at their busiest and sometimes they’ll have live music in the courtyard.

Check out their website, Village Cafe and Facebook page for more details.

 

 

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ALTER ACTION SANDBOARDING

AAS
(Check out the video here)

‘What shoe size are you?’ read the email I received from Beth, owner and operator of Alter Action Sandboarding, a 20-year-old independent company that takes the adventure seeker out to sandboard down a 34° dune – complete with a launch pad.

I emailed her back and we agreed on a 09:30 pick up from the Hotel Europa Hof

At the allotted time I was received by Beth in a late 70’s VW Combie with Zak, Beth’s 2-year-old (and very friendly) Irish Setter hound. The drive out to the dune was about 7 K’s south of Swakopmund, on the C34 highway. The road quickly turned from asphalt to gravel once we made the turn-off for the big, red (and surprisingly inviting) dune.P1110648

“Does it have a name?” I asked Beth, thinking of ‘Dragon Dune in South Africa.

“It’s known as either the Big Dune or Beth’s Dune,” said Beth.

As we waited for other guests to arrive I marveled at the beauty of the Namib Desert, sand dunes piled up all around, reclaiming the dry land. Black stains from oxidizing metal minerals covered the faces of the slopes.

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I’ve sandboarded before, in South Africa, but this was different for a few reasons:

– This dune belonged to the Namib Desert (the one in South Africa is privately owned being on a farm)
– Alter Action has sandboards galore (formally snowboards) with boots (the one in South Africa needed you to come with closed shoes)
– The boards for the lying-down slide are plywood (the ones in South Africa are acrylic, nose turned up with a fixed handle. Plywood, I          would soon discover, is much faster)
– The walk up Beth’s Dune is much easier (the one in South Africa has you regretting ever being born.
– Beth’s Dune has a built-in ramp for take-offs and has, I would later discover, softer and more inviting sand to face-plant into.
– Alter Action employees 3-4 instructors on site, plus a videographer from Kick Sands Video to give you a lifetime memory.
– They also have a speed gun to clock your speed as you fly down the slope
– A light lunch and cold drinks (beer or soft drinks) are included for the N$300 ($30 AUD). In South Africa you’ll be forking out N$380 ($38 AUD) without any of the above mentioned perks.

P1110660The briefing, led by Beth, patiently answers all the questions you can think of when it comes to sandboarding and after figuring out how many goofy (left foot back) riders there were, we were asked to pick out the shoes, laid out in size-order.

I tried on a size 40 which attempted to back-bend my toes so I moved up a size to 41. That had me wishing I had trimmed my toe-nails until I settled for a pair of size 42 which fitted perfectly.

“Test the bindings on the board,” called out Jay, one of the instructors, “because the last thing you want to do is come back down to change a board after climbing the dune.”(2)

After making sure everything that needed to be attached was indeed attached, the entire group of 22 people – a mix of parents, kids, teenagers and holiday adventurers, began the long climb up the dune on the ridge.

“If you step into the footstep of the person in front,” directed Jay, “the sand won’t sink as much.”

I climbed up barefoot, slipping my feet into the boots at the top while taking in the view of the Namib Desert spread out before us to an endless horizon. Behind us it met the Atlantic Ocean where we could see cargo ships further out. To our north lay the small town of Swakopmund, green palms a relieving site after the never-ending yellow-red of the desert.

Jay explained and showed us how to wax the boards. “You’ll need to re-wax them before every run,” he said, spreading the petrol-scented wax on the bottom of the board and then using the sand on the dune to polish it.

“Wax on, wax off,” he grinned as we copied his instructions.

After splitting into those that snowboard and those that have never (I was in the latter), Beth took the beginner group to the middle of the dune where she explained the basic principles of sand boarding.

(3)“Since I only remember your name,” she looked at me, “you’re going to be first.”

Sweet, I grinned. That means I get the fresh face of the dune, like fresh powder on the mountains (I’m guessing here).

 

 

Beth explained how to rollover in what’s known as, “The Polar Bear roll,” and she demonstrated so that I could follow, showing the other students how it’s done (although, I’ve yet to see a polar bear strapped into a sand\snowboard rolling over). I completed the roll and, “Now he’ll stand to his feet, digging in his toes so that he won’t slide,” Beth continued the tutorial. “Just like the emergency brake in a car.”

Indeed, with my toes dug in, I wasn’t going anywhere.

“When he leans back on his heels, he’ll start to slide.”

Lo and behold I began to move. Immediate panic rained on me and I quickly dug my toes back in.

“And, since he’s a goofy rider, he’ll need to look over his right shoulder.”

I looked over my right shoulder. My stomach completed a somersault the likes of which China’s national gymnast coach would have been proud as I stared down the incline. 34° doesn’t seem much on paper or when it’s thrown in a sandboarding tutorial but when you’re at the top of said number, well, if you have balls they start to shake (not sure what happens to ovaries).

“So just lean back on your heels,” Beth repeated, “and cut across the dune and head on down.”(4)

Seeing as I didn’t have a choice in backing out and I was setting the example, I calmed my nerves, congratulated my stomach on the 10-point somersault and proceeded to cut across the dune, smiling bravely at the videographer that came with the package.

As a surfer, snow and sandboarding work on the same principles of balance. But in surfing, your feet aren’t strapped in (unless you’re at the 60-foot wave level), making it impossible to adjust your balance by moving your feet, depending on where you are on a wave.

It’s a weird feeling to be strapped in, locked down if you will, and then sent over the edge of a huge dune like some sort of medieval punishment. I dug my toes in and then leaned back on my heels, repeating the odd dance until I finally obtained that feeling of, ‘I’ve got this.’ I reached the bottom, unhinged myself from the board and stared up to the top of the dune where my fellow boarders seemed to be the size of ants.

The climb back up was surprisingly easy and not as disheartening as the one in South Africa (which will have your calf muscles giving you the silent treatment pretty loudly for a week). My second run was with a lot more confidence and just as I was about to prepare for my third run I saw that the ramp had been prepared for take-offs by being covered with sand.

I watched as an experienced boarder took off and landed nicely, slipping a bit before continuing down the dune.

Looks easy enough, I thought. Then again, you watch anyone who has experience in anything you’ve never tried and they make it look easy.

“Can I attempt a jump?” I looked around to see who was the brave soul that was courageously stepping up to the plate and then realised, too late, that it was me.

“Sure,” said Jay. “Do you need help with the turn?”

“I’ll try on my own first,” I said before missing the ramp completely and somehow shuffling my way back to the top. “On second thought,” I grinned sheepishly, “a little assistance may be required.”

“You wanna stay straight and land, bending your knees,” Jay explained patiently. “It’s like when you have a late take-off on a wave” – I’ve had many of those – “so just keep your balance and don’t swivel to the left or right. Just stay straight.”

(9)Easier said than done, I thought as Jay turned me into the line-up and I passed the point of no return. I launched off and my immediate reaction was to lean back which had my board face the sky and my ass hit the sand.

“Haha!” I laughed out loud, grinning. I polar-beared over and headed down the dune.

Upon returning to the top, I decided it was time to try the tummy-slide. Alter Action are no amateurs – these guys come prepared. And when I mean prepared I mean they have their own speed gun, waiting to clock the sliders.

“You can reach speeds anywhere between 60 to 70 K’s an hour,” Jay had said at the briefing. “One guy did 88.”

Woah, and I immediately made it my mission to crack 80. I grabbed a plywood, took off my boots and socks and listened to Eldon, another instructor, on how to ride the slide.

“Lift the plywood up to your chin,” he began, “and stick your elbows out to the side like bird wings. If you find yourself sliding sideways, dig your toes into the sand.”

“Gotchaya,” I said, lying down beside him as he launched me down.(13)

I have never gone so fast without the help of something mechanical (although a mountain bike ride in the Colorado Rockies a few years back saw me overtaking cars on a downhill road where the speed limit on the sign was 70 miles – about 110 km).

“61 km\h,” informed the speed gunner. “Top speed so far.”

“Sweet,” I grinned. Adrenalin was racing through my body like an F1 car as I found myself practically running up the dune to go again.

“74,” on the second run.P1110727

“Haha!” I yelped, dancing like a monkey and ran back up the dune. “Hey Eldon,” I turned to the slide launcher, “what’s the best way to get aerodynamic on this thing? I gotta crack 80.”

“OK, so you even out your weight,” he began, instructing me where to lie on the plywood, “and as you go down, suck in the air and fart at the same time, like a jet engine.”

I blinked. “Really? That… Oh! I get it!” and we burst out laughing. “Almost had me,” I grinned and lay down on the plywood. “This is the one, man. I’m gonna fly now.”

He launched me off and I could feel the incredible speed I was gaining only to be disappointed by the, “76,” called out.

On my last run a slight side-sliding slowed me down and I only managed a, “75,” but proudly maintained the day’s top speed.

I ran back up the dune where we all put our boots and boards back on. It was the last run of the day and I was gonna make this one count – like a boss. I figured I should go out in style and attempted my second jump off the ramp. This time I managed to hit the ramp without Jay’s assistant (although I almost missed and flew off the side).

I landed the jump and fell to my ass but it was better than my first attempt. I then polar-beared over and headed down.

A little too fast.

A little outta control.

A little face-plant at the bottom had my face exfoliated and an imprint of my shnoze left in the Namib Desert for eternity (or until the next winds cover it up).

“There’s cold beer or soft drinks and a light lunch for you guys,” said Jay.

“Ah, the magic words,” I grinned. Cold and beer.

Lunch was a spread of bread rolls, a mystery German meat, cheese, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with an option of butter, mayo or mustard (or all of the above) accompanied by a salt shaker and black pepper grinder.

“Help yourselves to as many drinks as you like,” Jay said.

I didn’t have to be told twice. I had just eaten, along with the bread roll, half of the sand from the dune. It took 3 cans of Tafel beer to wash it down.

I thanked the awesome crew of Alter Action and Beth dropped me off at the Hotel Europa Hof where the staff raised some eyebrows as I walked in, sand cascading off my face.

“Just sandboarded,” I grinned.

“We can see that,” they said, probably wondering how much of a mess I would leave in the room.

P1110799I got undressed in the bathtub, shaking out my clothes and emptying my pockets, the tub quickly filling up with a mini-dune as I washed off the Namib Desert.

So what do you get for N$300 ($30 AUD) per person for 4 hours on the dune with Alter Action Sandboarding (50% for repeat boarders)?

–          Pick-up and drop-off from your accommodation in Swakopmund

–          Professional gear with professional guidance by the professionals

 

–          A choice of stand-up sandboarding, lying down tummy slide or both

–          A light lunch with a choice of cold, refreshing beer or soft drinks

–          A DVD of your day on the dunes with option to buy still photos for N$20 per photo ($2 AUD) filmed and photographed by a professional videographer for Kick Sand Videos (under http://www.fantomfilm.com/)

–          A world premier screening of the day’s DVD with the group you were with in the evening (BYO drinks)

–          And the most amazing memory of an unforgettable adventure for the rest of your life

Visit alter-action.info\web for more information

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AMANPURI LODGE

IMG_4708The Amanpuri Lodge sits under the offices of Ground Rush, adrenaline experts in the field of skydiving. Located about a five minute walk from the sand dunes of the Namib Desert, it’s the perfect place for the budget traveller.

Upon entering the facility you’ll be greeted warmly with toothy smiles from whoever attends the reception desk. Once booked in, you’ll be led to your room (be it a dorm or private) through the courtyard that has a fountain (currently out-service) right in front of the outdoor fireplace, past the bar and breakfast hall (that has a TV for viewing) and, depending on the location of your room, through the secured car park.

Each room comes with its own shower and toilet, a cupboard for storing your stuff and plenty of privacy should you need it. At reception you can ask for a map of the town and walk around (everything is within walking distance in Swakopmund).

Sounds are blocked out and if you’re out and about town until late, a friendly security guard will unlock the front gate for you upon your return (it helps to ring the bell).

Right next door a convenience store is conveniently located.

Breakfast is served in the breakfast hall consisting of your standard 2 eggs and bacon with a help-yourself bread and juice corner. It’s a great place to meet fellow lodgers and exchange travel stories and tips.

It can get busy over the weekend with overland tours (those big 4×4 trucks packed with tourists) using the lodge as a pit-stop on their safari tours of the southern areas of Africa so its best to book ahead.

For more information, check out their website: http://www.amanpurinamibia.com/

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AFRICA’S LITTLE 5

New CDT logo“Are they venomous?” I asked John, our desert guide for the next 4 hours.

I was invited to join what’s known as a ‘Living Desert Experience’ with Charly’s Desert Tours, a Swakopmund-based tour company that specialise in said adventures (and can also make bookings for quad bikes and other adventures).

IMG_4582My query related to the Dancing White Lady Spider, the first creature on our Little 5 list. You see, Africa might be world-renowned for its famous Big 5 (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and rhinos) but on the opposite side of the scale there are the lesser known Little 5.

“Very venomous,” said John, guiding the 4×4 vehicle over the dunes. “If it bites you, you have three hours to reach a hospital.” He turned to me and dramatically added, “Or you’ll die.”

The Little 5 we were after were the Dancing White Lady Spider (Carparachne aureoflava), the Palmato gecko (pachydactylus-rangei, also known as the web-footed gecko), the Sandfish skink (Scincus scincus, known locally as the sand-diving lizard), the Namaqua chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis) and the cream of the crop – the Sidewinder snake (Bitis peringueyi), a member of the viper family.

“And the Sidewinder?” I asked.

“Very venomous,” John said.

I’m no stranger to venomous creatures. Afterall, I come from Australia, home to some of the planet’s most toxic animals (I tell visitors not to touch anything that moves) including the most venomous of spiders, the Sydney Funnel Web (you’ll have about 20 minutes to reach the ER before you expire) and the Taipan, the most toxic land snake (the banded sea snake has the most toxic venom of all snakes).IMG_4550

Along with the South African family that had booked the tour, we left Swakopmund and entered the dunes of the Namib Desert, the oldest and driest desert on our blue planet. First stop: the Dollar plants.

“They are called Dollar plants,” John explained, “because the leaves are shaped like coins. The bushmen, when thirsty, will grab some seeds, and squeeze them together to extract water that they will drink.”

IMG_4545

He demonstrated by grabbing some leaves together and squeezing them. Green water squirted out in a rush. “If you’re a bushman, you can drink it. If you’re not a bushman,  you’ll probably get the runs.”

We continued on, John guiding the vehicle off the road and onto the dunes where we stopped and hopped off. I couldn’t resist being barefoot and the other folks soon followed suit.

“You see these tracks?” he pointed at the odd-shaped imprints on the sand. “Baby chameleon.” We followed the tracks down, up and across the dune. They disappeared where the chameleon met gravel.

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As we searched all around, John followed some invisible track that I couldn’t see and returned with a legless lizard. “We call it a skink,” he said, showing us the blue-tailed reptile lying motionless on his hand.

“We have them in Australia,” I said. “But we also have skinks with legs.”

He placed it on the sand and it immediately burrowed itself and disappeared under. A burrowing track could be seen, kind of like Bugs Bunny in one of the Looney Tunes cartoons. John dug in and lifted it out, placing it on my hand. It didn’t move with human touch but as soon as it was on sand it dug.

We split up, walking around the desert, following chameleon tracks, beetle tracks, jackal tracks and bird tracks until John called us over to where he was. He pointed to the ground.

“You see this?” He bent down. “Dancing White Lady Spider burrow.” He began to dig next to the burrow. We watched as the sand collapsed, exposing honeycomb-like sand.

“The spider carries water with it and wets the sand. This allows oxygen to reach it as it digs very deep. It can go for 14 hours without oxygen.”

That’s some set of lungs.

“It’s mainly nocturnal – ” most desert animals are as its cooler at night – “and eats fish moths” (the same moths that eat your winter sweaters).

The Dancing White Lady Spider can shift 10 litres of sand (80,000 times its body weight) in the hour and a half it takes to dig its silk-lined burrow (it is not a web-building spider).

John dug by cupping up a handful of sand and throwing it to the side. His preferred side happened to be by my bare feet, which is exactly where the Dancing White Lady Spider landed.

Having overcome my severe arachnophobia back in 2009 I didn’t freak out as I normally would have. But I did jump high and back. Recomposing myself, we all gathered around the spider of the Huntsmen species. It had a pinkish-white colour and black tips on its legs. It was lying flat against the sand and when John gently sprinkled some grains over it, she showed us her dance moves, rising up on six legs, her two front ones waving about.

IMG_4584We oohed and ahhed. “It has very large fangs,” John said, bringing out the snake stick and getting the spider to hop on it, biting into the stick.

Into the stick.

“The male is black and much smaller. After mating, she will eat the male,” John concluded.

The Dancing White Lady Spider is also known as the Wheel Spider due to its evasive escape method from pompilid wasps who will sting the spider, paralysing it and then lay eggs in it (once hatched, the larvae eat the spider – alive). To escape these parasitic nasties, the spider will cartwheel itself down the dunes at up to 44 turns a second at a speed of a meter per second.

We returned it to its burrow and continued walking around the endless desert.IMG_4594

“You see these prints?” John pointed down. “Gecko prints.”

Shortly after we came across a gecko’s burrow. John dug it up and placed it in my hand. Gecko’s don’t have eyelids so in order to keep their eyes moist they must lick them with their tongues. They create a variety of sounds to frighten off predators such as birds. If it’s left for too long in the harsh sun of the Namib Desert, it can burn to death.

We returned it to its burrow, watching it dig in and disappear into the sand before we continued on, weaving past dunes, keeping to the base of them, following the tracks the quad bikers were creating as they passed us . We stopped by a large dune, seeking out Sidewinder tracks when one of the folks pointed up to the dune and called out, “Lizard!”

John looked up. “Sand-diving lizard,” he said. “Very fast. They can reach speeds of 55 kilometres an hour.”

Undeterred by the Usain Bolt speed, I zipped up the dune along with the guy who identified it and we chased it around. Running up and then sideways on a dune where the sand sinks isn’t easy. We managed to chase it to the bottom where it dove into the sand and the other guy dug it out.

IMG_4612The harmless skink is yellow in colour, small, fitting neatly into your palm. Its actual name, Sandfish, comes from its ability to ‘swim’ through the sand once it dives in. John came around and picked it up. “Some tribes use it as an ornament,” he explained and took hold of the skink, putting its mouth to his ear lobe.

It latched on and hung from John’s ear. I attempted to make it hang from mine but I guess, “It doesn’t like white meat,” joked the mother of the family, crackin’ us up.

 

We released the lizard and watched it almost fly across the sand before diving into the dune.IMG_4607

We continued further into the Namib Desert, passing Beth’s Dune where I had attempted to crack 80 km\h sandboarding the day before. A new group of adventurers could be seen at the top preparing for the sand-filled day.

There were plenty of chameleon tracks but we couldn’t spot the ground-dwelling reptile. I carefully scrutinised every bush we came across but just couldn’t pick it out, figuring it was camouflaged well beyond what my human eyes could grasp.

We drove on through, over and around the majestic dunes. The sky was a harsh blue, emphasised by the yellow and red sand with iron deposits on the surface of some dunes, staining them black and purple.

IMG_4630 John took a magnet, placed it in a plastic bag and made circles on a low-lying iron-covered dune. He lifted the bag, iron deposits clinging to it like the sandfish skink did to his ear.

We stopped by another dune where some bushes were growing at its base.

And Sidewinder tracks.

John brought out the snake stick and began to clear the sand around the tracks.

Sidewinder snakes, (also known as Peringuey’s Desert Adder, named after Louis Péringuey, the South African entomologist and museum director) move as their namesake – on their sides. It’s a pretty small snake, reaching about 25 cm max (the longest recorded was 32 cm). It will usually bury itself completely, leaving only its eyes and the tip of its tail exposed.IMG_4634

As John shifted the sand around the bush where the tracks had ended, we were all in suspense. After creating a new, mini-dune we still couldn’t find the reptile. Giving up we continued on in the vehicle when the guy behind me called out, “Chameleon!”

John hit the brakes and we hopped out and there, in the bush, was the Namaqua Chameleon.

“Awesome,” I grinned.

It fit comfortably in the palm of my hand as its colours changed (the colours don’t automatically change due to the surface it’s on. It varies on its mood, mating season, hunger and whether there are predators around).

I watched it, fascinated by its eyes, each able to look in any direction independently. We returned him to his bush and drove around the large dune to find Stevie. “He’s a local chameleon, always in the same spot,” said John.

IMG_4654And sure enough, as though waiting for us, Stevie was sitting on his bush. He was bigger and fatter than the one we had just handled. John had collected some beetles and we watched as he fed Stevie, who shot out its tongue and grabbed the insect, crunching it with its jaws before swallowing it – all in the blink of an eye.IMG_4672

“Four out of five ain’t bad,” I said as we headed back to Swakopmund.

 

“Not bad at all,” John grinned as he dropped us at our place of accommodation and bid us farewell.

Charly’s Desert Tours operates from a small office in the Brauhaus Arcade. They provide pick-up and drop-off services from any place of accommodation in Swakopmund. For more details visit their website: http://www.charlysdeserttours.com or email: info@charlysdeserttours.com

And remember, conserve the environment. Any rubbish you create or see, take it back with you.

New CDT logo

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Conservation, Namibia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HOTEL EUROPA HOF

Hotel Europa HofWhat is that sound, I thought, blinking slowly, as I opened my eyes. I was staying 2 nights in the Hotel Europa Hof in Swakopmund and had been sleeping like a dead camel when just before sunrise I was stirred by a familiar yet unfamiliar sound.

And then I realised what it was and I sat up, grinning.

It was the soothing sounds of breaking waves, rolling slowly onto the sandy beaches only two streets away from the hotel. It had been awhile since oceanic sounds had lifted my soul to rise awake. I lay back down and closed my eyes, listening.IMG_4540

The Hotel Europa Hof is a leading wonder in the small, coastal town of Swakopmund. It stands on the corner of Bismarck and Lazerette St, just opposite the hospital-converted-to-a-hotel and a government-owned youth hostel in the shape of a medieval fort.

But it’s the Europa that will catch your eye because in this vast emptiness of the Namib Desert landscape, the oldest and driest desert in the world, German architecture sticks out like the red dunes on the horizon.

It’s been part of the Swakopmund landscape since the beginning of the 20th century, providing weary travellers and business people a unique blend of German and Namibian qualities. It’s well-known for its friendly, smiling staff and warm hospitality. There’s a conference center as well as a first-rate restaurant with an abundance of food, German and local. A salad buffet in the evenings and a breakfast buffet in the mornings including fresh fruit like pineapples and kiwis and even a fruit salad that tastes as though the fruits were grown right there.

In the adjourning bar Mani, the bar manager, will easily and delightfully engage you in conversation while pouring cold draught beer into frosty pints, straight from the freezer. You can even order dinner at the bar and the waiters will bring it to you, so you don’t miss any sports action on the two viewing screens available.

From left to right: 1 shot, 1 shot, 30 shots

From left to right:
1 shot, 1 shot, 30 shots

The friendly locals that call the Hotel Europa Hof bar a second home will be glad to shake your hand and ask where you’re from and how are you finding this wonderful land they call Namibia. For those of you driving around the arid landscape of this south-western African country, ample secure parking both inside and on the street is available.

 

The rooms are pristine and each has its own bathroom (including a bath tub to soak off those hard-earned adventures in the desert) and TV.

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Its location makes it easy to walk anywhere, including the beach just 3 minutes away and the center of town just around the corner.

Since Swakopmund is not a place to be missed on your visit through Namibia, make sure you stay at the Hotel Europa Hof. And even if they are fully booked, you can still visit the restaurant and bar to complete your adventures in Namibia.

For more information, visit their website: http://www.europahof.com/

 

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Namibia, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

HITCH HIKING IN NAMIBIA – PART II

featured-on-hitchhikershandbook-300x180-px‘No,’ I repeatedly shook my head at the onslaught of taxis that were speeding on the B1 highway. It was a Saturday morning, 07:30, a slight chill in the air as blue skies became bluer with the rising heat of the sun. This 3-laned highway was occupied by cabs of all shapes and sizes.

400 K’s to Swakopmund on the west coast. It’s gonna be a long day.IMG_4500

I had walked with my North Ridge 65L backpack, my smaller day pack and guitar for about 3 K’s in search of an appropriate place to hitch. I was beginning to get whiplash from the amount of ‘no’s I had to convey with my head. And why can’t the cabs behind the ones I decline not figure out that I’m not in want of a taxi? A few pulled up but I brushed them away with my hand. One was nice enough to suggest I walk a little further up the road to the service station. It was here that a local finally pulled up.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Swakopmund,” I smiled.

“You must go to the highway,” he said.

No shit.

“Come, I’ll take you.”

I threw my gear in and Edward drove me about 5 K’s down the road to the turnoff. I thanked him and before I could open the door another local had crammed his face in the window.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Swakopmund,” I said, knowing what was coming next.

“OK, come with me,” he attempted to reach for my bag.

“Stop,” I said assertively. “I don’t have money.”

He stopped and stared at me. “OK,” he said, backing away with a befuddled look on his face.

I grabbed my gear, suited up and trekked down the turn-off, ignoring the taxis beeping and flashing their lights. I smiled and “Good morning-ed,” fellow hitchers who were willing to pay as I set up on the side of the B1 highway. Checking the map on my phone, I saw that if I could get a ride to Okahundja, that would be my best bet to secure a ride to Swakopmund.

I had barely put my bags and guitar down when a car pulled over. Being in Africa, I knew that a lot of drivers will be asking for money.

“Where are you going?” asked the driver.

“Swakopmund,” I smiled.

“OK, come with me.”

“I don’t have money, though,” I said, not even attempting to reach for my gear.

“No money?” the driver looked baffled.

I explained my ways of travel.

“Are you Christian?” he asked.

I suppressed a laugh. “Religion has nothing to do with it.”

He shook his head in disbelief and drove off.

Another car pulled over.

“Where are you going?” asked the driver.

“Swakopmund,” I smiled.

“OK, come with me.”

“I don’t have money, though,” I said, not even attempting to reach for my gear.

“No money?” the driver laughed and drove off.

The theme repeated itself for the next three hours until a bukky pulled over.

“Where are you going?” asked the driver.

“Swakopmund,” I smiled.

“We can drop you at Okahundja,” said the driver, his passenger nodding in agreement.

“I don’t have money, though,” I said, not even attempting to reach for my gear.

“That’s fine,” the driver said. “Get in.”

Sweet. I rushed over to my packs and threw them in the back, making sure to avoid the greasy parts of the tray and squeezed in beside the passenger who now had the middle seat. The two gentlemen were very chatty construction workers who I entertained with my travel stories.

They dropped me outside of the shopping centre in the small town of Okahundja on the B2 highway. I stood on the corner and stretched out my thumb. Within 10 minutes another bukky pulled over.

“Where are you going?” asked the driver.

“Swakopmund,” I smiled.

“We can take you about 40 K’s before Swako,” said Deva, the passenger.

“That’s fine,” I said, adding, “I don’t have money, though,” not even attempting to reach for my gear.

“No money?” the driver looked baffled.

I again repeated my philosophy.

“Get in,” Deva said.

I packed my gear into the back and hopped in the back seat. As we hit the road I introduced myself to Deva and the driver, Fortune.

“We are technicians for MTC,” he explained. They were on their way to fix a mobile antenna tower placed on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. As we flew along the B2 Fortune stared at me in the mirror.

“You play guitar?” he asked.

“Yup,” I answered, knowing that he would then say,

“OK, play for me. You are bartering, no? So play for your lift,” he laughed, pulling over to the side of the road so I could bring in my guitar.

So glad I didn’t give it away in Indonesia, I thought to myself. Ol’ Red was paying itself off. I jammed some Bob Marley tunes and a reggae version I had come up with for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

As the dry grasslands extended over the Namib Desert I noticed numerous warthogs grazing by the road and train tracks that followed through. Real life Pumba’s. Then I saw their tusks.

Glad I wasn’t out here hitching.

We pulled into a shop by the entrance to the Rossing Mine, a uranium mine owned by the Australian mining giant, Rio Tinto. Namibia is the world’s second largest exporter of uranium following the land down under. Deva and Fortune fed me a slab of steak and a roll of bread, dessert was a bag of mini enerjelly sweets and I politely declined offers of soft drinks.

“I don’t drink that crap,” I said.

IMG_4508 As discussed, 40 K’s out of Swakopmund I was dropped off. Thanking the boys for the 350 km ride, I gave Deva my email address upon his request and looking around, realised I was in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Nothing but blue skies, a black road and yellow desert. It was 12:45 in the afternoon and luckily, there was  a bit of traffic coming through.

My final ride was with Adam, a journalist for the national paper, The Namibian. Telling him my story he offered to interview me for the paper and gave me his brother-in-law’s details.

“He loves surfing and has a tour company that explores the dunes,” he said. “Africa’s little 5.”

“Little 5?” I questioned him.

“Spiders, bugs, lizards, snakes, plants.”

“Awesome,” I grinned as he dropped me off outside of the best guesthouse in town.

“Good luck,” he waved as he drove off.

I headed into the guesthouse and asked to speak with the manager\owners.

“Why?” asked the local at the reception desk.

I explained my bartering ways.

“They will be here on Monday,” he said.

“You can’t call anyone?” I asked, hopefully.

“No, not on the weekend.”

I had one contact in Swako via a South African friend I had met in Thailand. “Can I please use your phone to quickly call someone in town?”

He nodded and I rang up Stephen. Turns out he lives two minutes down the road and his wife is the niece of the owners of the guesthouse.

“You can stay with us for a few days if you need,” Stephen saved the day.

“Thank you so much,” I said, grinning. I looked at the time.

13:30.

6.5 hours and 4 rides later and here I was, at the beginning of the infamous Skeleton Coast.

And a sandstorm.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Africa, Hitch Hiking, Namibia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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