Location: Lafenis Game Lodge, Keetmanshoop
Miles travelled: 475 miles over three days (149 - Solitaire to Sesriem, 326 - Sesriem to Keetmanshoop)
Weather: 41ºC, unbelievably hot
Today we mostly listened to: CD Magic
After leaving Solitaire we headed for Namibia's number one tourist attraction - Sossusvlei. When one pictures a desert, sand, sand and more sand is probably what springs to mind and having been through quite a few now we've come to realised that none have really been like a sterotypical desert - with the exception of the Namib at Sossusvlei. It consists of huge, rolling sand dunes, baking 40 degree heat, water mirages and dead trees.
In all we spent two unbearably hot days at Sesriem (the nearerst town to the national park). With it being almost impossible to visit Sossusvlei in the middle of the day, we opted for visiting at the relatively cool times of sunset and sunrise. The latter was better, mainly because I forgot to bring the wine at the sunset visit - much to the annoyance of Ric, Git and Pim! For the sunrise visit we decided to walk up Dune 45 - one of the larger dunes in the park, which has a great view of the sun coming up over the rest of the desert.
We had to get up at 5am in order to make it up to the top of the dune in time. It was totally worth the early start! It was a half hour drive from Sesriem, followed by a 20 minute, tough hike to the very top. It was impossible to climb in flip flops or trainers so, despite seeing the biggest scorpion ever the night before, I opted to go up barefoot. We made it to the top just in time to see the sun peeking over the horizon and sat for an hour on the top of the dune. At about 8am it was getting too hot so we began the descent - which was much much quicker than the climb up. After visiting Dune 45 we headed for Sossusvlei itself - a barren landscape of cracked earth and dead trees, which occasionally floods. The last time there was water there was in 2001!!! Unable to stand the heat after 10am we headed back to camp and spent the day trying to stay cool - without much success!
Two days was definately enough time in Sesriem! The environment is so harsh that it really starts to effect a person. Both Ric and I found that it was almost impossible to drink enough water to stay rehydrated, we permanently had a fine layer of sand all over us and our skin was itching from the blistering heat. So this morning we packed up early and decided to head off in search of a cooler climate.
It is also Dickie's 29th birthday today, so for the next three months it is that glorious time where he is the same age as me and cannot annoy me by saying....'I'm 28, she is 29!'. Before leaving we managed to have a slap up omelette for breakfast and Dickie opened some presents - including a giant giraffe from Pim and Git. We've been joking all the way through Africa just how easy it is to purchase these wooden giraffes and now we have one! The rest of the day consisted of driving....a lot. We were keen to find a camp that had a restuarant and bar where we could celebrate, but we didn't find one until Keetmanshoop, much further than we planned to go.
So this evening we have eaten and drunken a lot! I ordered steak, but I'm not sure which animal it came from. It certainly wasn't cow on account of the gamey taste. Given that we are staying on a game farm it could have been anything from Kudo to Zebra and I wouldn't know the difference!
Location: Solitaire Camp, Solitaire
Miles travelled: 156 miles Swakopmund to Solitaire
Weather: 41ºC, unbelievably hot
Today we mostly listened to: Elbow
We've been a little bit slack with the blog recently, mainly due to the fact that we've spent the last few days celebrating, both our engagement and also getting down the Van Zyls in one piece, in Swakopmund. Unfortunately though Monty didn't come off as unscathed as us and now has damage to both the anti-roll bar, the fuel tank and the steering. So he spent most of the time that we were in Swakopmund getting a little loving care from some mechanics.
Swakopmund is a very strange place. It sits in the middle of the skeleton coast desert, on the coast line and is usually covered in fog or cloud. 5km inland from it though and it is completely clear and 40 degree heat. It is also like a mini-Germany in the middle of Africa. It was very strange to be walking around a town with proper pavements, bakeries, cafes and expensive shops. Parts of it are very twee and even disney-like in places and the most over-riding thing you notice is how un-African it is!
When reaching the town we hooked up with Pim and Git once again at the Desert Sky Lodge. Luckily for us the camp was also busy with lots of other overlanders including yet more lovely Dutchies - Ben and Hank - who are travelling North. The last few days have consisted mostly of.... 1) Eating nice bread from the bakeries, 2) buying parts for Monty, 3) drinking an awful lot with the Dutchies, 4) visiting the aquarium and 5) jumping out of a plane.
All were fun, but in particular the skydive we both did was amazing. From 10,000ft above the desert, looking out over the skeleton coast and Atlantic ocean we jumped - whilst strapped to an instructor - freefalling for 30 seconds and enjoying a parachute ride for 5mins. Pim also joined us on the jump whilst Git stayed safely on the ground to get pictures of us all. Ric was the first to jump out, followed by me and then Pim. My most memorable moment was watching Dickie sitting on the edge of the plane with his legs hanging out and the next he had completely vanished under the plane. Within seconds it was then my turn to fall to certain doom. With my instructor controlling everything, it all happened in a flash and suddenly I was out of the plane and surprisingly can remember very little of the freefall. The next thing the shoot opened and to my relief I could see Dickie below me safely floating down with his shoot open. Randomly I could also see Pim below me, even though he jumped out last. His instructor was particularly keen on spinning lots which takes you down a lot faster. All in all it was an amazing experience and something I highly recommend on a trip to Namibia.
To celebrate getting back to earth in one piece we bought some crayfish for supper and after a slap up bbq we proceeded to get very drunk and hit the Swakopmund nightlife. A random night followed with all the Dutchies and a strange Afrikkans stag party we bumped in to. We somehow ended up in a Casino at 4am listening to an Afrikkans chap with a blue painted face ranting about the demise of the white farmer in Africa, how he hates elephants and if he manages to shoot one he blows it up with TNT to get rid of the evidence. It was all a bit surreal really.
After 4 days in Swak we were feeling a little clostrophobic this morning, so despite the raging hangovers we packed up, cranked up 'we gotta get out of this place' by The Animals on the wireless and in a cloud of dust sped South. The day was long and very very hot. The only compensation was that the landscape was very beautiful and there was hardly another car in sight.
We reached Solitaire around 3pm and found yet another random place in Namibia. The town consists of a bakery (which serves the best apple cake I've ever tasted) a petrol station and a campsite. After several slices of cake and a conversation with the baker - where I tried to find out his secret recipe - we had a quick dip in the campsite pool and an afternoon snooze.
Just had burgers and chips for dinner and now off for a very early night, it's 2100!
Location: Desert Sky Lodge, Swakopmund
Miles travelled: 549 miles over three days (Van Zyls Pass to Marble Camp Site - 53 miles, Marble Camp to Sesfontein - 177 miles, Sesfontein to Swakopmund - 319 miles)
Weather: 32ºC, hot again but tres cold at night
Today we mostly listened to: Radiohead, Lemon Jelly and Norah Jones
We have made it back to civiliation after five great days in the wilderness. And it has been an eventful few days so we have lots to report. In a change to form I (Dickie) am writing the blog on account of most of this being about off-road driving - you will have to indulge me here I'm afraid! So I'll start with the Van Zyl's Pass.
We ignored the first two pieces of advice about the pass - "Don't do it alone" and "Don't do it in the rain". We'd met a family from Joburg in two pimped up Toyotas that were planning to attempt it but we lost them in a riverbed and never saw them again (hope they're ok). It happened to be raining on the morning we set off too, and we didn't have time to wait for a dry day so off we went alone in the wet.
Van Zyls actually only refers to the last 1km of bum-clenching cliff-like nastyness at the end. The other 19km - as we were to learn - is just a warm up. It's purported to take about 2 hours to do the whole thing. There's a lot of stopping before the hard bits. We'd jump out of the car to take a look, shake our heads in disbelief then I'd jump back in while Charlie would try and direct me with varying degrees of success (see the videos for examples).
We got down in one pieace though.The trick is to let the car do the work. I put it in low range first with the diff lock on and pointed it down the hill. Charlie likened it to the Thunder Cat car crawling over rocks.
Once through the pass we left a rock with our names painted on it with the pile of other rocks with other peoples names on, had a cup of tea and headed for Marienne Fleuss. This is a large expance of flat sandy plain surrounded by stunning mountains. It's home to Zebra, Giraffe, Desert Elephant, Cheetah, Leopard, lots of dear like animals that I can never tell the difference between, probably Gazelle though, and Himba tribes people. It's a pretty magic place due in no small part to how remote it is. We didn't see another car for two days of driving and aside from a couple of Himba on donkeys didn't see people either.
We'd naively thought that once through the Van Zyls our tricky driving would be over, it wasn't. The nice sandy plains of Marinne Fleuss soon turn into rocky roads of sharp slate and marble and it was pretty slow going as we headed south to Marble camp site. We set about the camp ritual of making bread and drinking wine.
After a leisurely breakfast of the bread we'd made the night before we headed out for our third day sans tarmac. About 100Km south of the Marble camp site we turned right on a detour that would run us closer to the skeleton coast. It was a great road and for hours we drove through beautiful desert-scape occasionly seeing gazelle and bigger gazelle with horns. Unfortunately you can't get into the Skeleton coast National Park here, we could have saved a days drive to Sesfontain if we'd cut onto the coast there.
Camp outside of Sesfontein - more drink and fixing of Monty.
The next day we set off from Sesfontein for the long drive to Swakopmund. By this point we'd given up on there being any tar in Namibia and settled into driving on gravel. Monty was a little injured after our jaunt into the wilderness. The anti roll bar broke yet again, there's a rip in the side wall of one of the tires, there's fuel leaking out of the fuel tank where I think the anti-roll bar has knocked a whole in it, the shocks have become extremely bouncy and need changing and you can turn the steering wheel at least 20 degrees in either direction before the front wheels respond! All this made for a bit of a hairy trip down the skeleton coast but we arrived safely in Swakop. About 100 miles north of Swakopmund on the desert road 20 meters from the surf we stopped for a break and I asked Charlie to marry me and to my amazement she said yes!
Location: Top of the Van Zyls Pass, Northern Namibia
Miles travelled: 225 miles over two days (Opowo to Epupa Falls - 135 miles, Epupa Falls to Van Zyls Pass - 90 miles)
Weather: 26ºC, much cooler
Today we mostly listened to: Queen (but only the bass, stereo still broken)
Before leaving Opown we were forunate enough to meet a lovely chap named Chris Wildblood. He's a wildlife photographer that has spent the last year up in Northern Namibia photographing desert elephants, lions, leopards, crocs and a lot of other interesting things. We managed to get some advice from him about the area we are heading in to and about the infamous Van Zyls Pass. His words of advice included, 'the road before is so tough, you'll think you have done it before you reach it'. Sounded like a challenge to us (well Ric more than me actually).
After a good chat with Chris we headed North up to Epupa along a track which was actually pretty easy going. There hasn't been much rain up here so the roads are still in good shape - good news for us but probably less good news for the people that live here. Along the way we were flagged down by a number of people wanting a lift - I'm not sure what most of them would have done had we not stopped, probably walked the 50km to the next village! One particularly smart man stopped us and somehow managed to squeeze his 7ft body in to the back seat - quite the contorsionist! Another local Himba chap insisted on sitting on the roof, one can only imagine, clinging on for dear life as we sped along.
We reached Epupa just after lunch and decided to head to a local Himba village to 'meet the natives'. Given that neither Ric or I speak Himba or know a single thing about the culture we thought it prudent to take an intrepreter. 'Radar', a half Herero / half Himba chap that lives in Epupa agreed to take us. He advised us that we would need to take some gifts to give to the chief in order to be invited in to the village. So laiden with maize, an axe we have been carrying (and never used) since Egypt and a Ukulele (also never used and a gift from our lovely friend Tim - sorry, we did intend to learn!) we set off.
Unfortunately when we arrived the chief was out 'on business' in Epupa and all the other men were away tending to the cattle. It was no great loss though as we spent a couple of fine hours hanging out with the chiefs wives and his numerous children. The Himba are probably one of the few remaining tribes in the world still living how they did hundreds of years ago. They aren't as remote as they used to be anymore, with many villages situated next to encrouching towns, but fortunately for us this didn't seem to be the case with the particular village we visited.
I must say, they seemed very pleased - but a little baffled - with Tim's ukulele. If you ever happen to visit this part of Northern Namibia and find a group of Himba singing around the campfire along to the 'twang twang' sounds of a small little guitar, that will be our legacy. Hopefully they dont just use it for firewood!
We also met some lovely people at the campsite in Epupa, including a French couple who live in Bordeaux and shape surf boards - living what appears to be mine and Dickies ideal life - along with a South African family, also planning to do the Van Zyls pass. After imposing ourselves on everyone else around the camp we got to bed at the reasonably early time of 10 in preparation for the big drive up to the pass.
So this morning we set off with much anticipation. We know the road is bad. We've been told the road is bad. But you never quite know how bad until you're on it. Turns out it was fine for around 100km, then bloody awful. We bumped along for 6 hrs not getting very far and meeting some pretty steep and rocky roads. I had to get out of the car at points to guide Dickie along - and also because I felt safer there! We managed it okay though and made camp at the top of the Van Zyls Pass. Tomorrow we do the worst bit - 20km down a very very steep and rockie pass. Hope Monty holds out okay!
Location: Bush Baby Camp, Grootfontein
Miles travelled: 388 miles Over Two days (Tsodilo to Ngepi - 85 miles, Ngepi to Grootfontein - 303 miles )
Weather: 30ºC, but a little rainy
Today we mostly listened to: Ric singing the Lion King - the stereo is still broken!!!!
Before leaving the Tsolido hills (and the pesky cows which kept me awake all night) we decided to take a walk to see some of the 3000 year old cave paintings. They're all over the place and mostly depict the wildlife that used to live in the region - rhions, lions, elephants, giraffes etc etc. Sadly not as much exists here today, although they do still have leopards apparently. One of the paintings even showed what appeared to be a whale - as Botswana is landlocked, one can only assume that the !Kung must have gone on little jaunts to the Atlantic Coast at some point, maybe to a prehistoric Butlins?
The otherwise lovely walk was only slightly tarnished by a particularly nasty hive of wasps attacking and stinging Dickie. We stumbled upon their nest whilst exploring a cave. Shortly afterwards Ric also managed to scratch his forehead on a branch and walk in to a rather large tree. After the experience with the chimps we're starting to think that he doesn't get on with nature.
After our early morning stroll through prime snake country we packed up Monty and headed for the border. We've really enjoyed Botwana and would have liked to stay longer - however time (and money) is against us and Bots is an expensive place to stay. The border at Mohembo looked brand new and we soon realised that we're definately now in a more civilised part of Africa! The officials were extremely courtesous and efficient and there wasn't a dodgy black-market money-changer in sight - I think we've seen the last of haphazard African borders for this trip.
Having heard about a great camp close to the border we decided to stop driving around lunchtime. We made our way to Ngepi Camp which sits neatly on a river bank. And what a place it is! We had a perfect spot by the water and the best toilet and bathroom I have seen in the whole of our trip. The bathtub sits on a platform over the river with a view over the African landscape (and also a view in for passing boat trips!), whilst the al-fresco toilet was built in to a throne. Other bathrooms around the camp included the 'Holiday Inn' shower which was bright white and included a pair of sun-glasses to protect bathers from the immense glare and also a 'Wild Africa' one which consisted of a bucket of cold water hanging from a tree. The owners of this place have put in a lot of love and it pays off - we highly recommend a stay here.
Sadly we had to leave Ngepi this morning as there is lots we want to do in Namibia and a relatively short amount of time to do it. We packed up and headed on the long drive down from the Pan Handle to Grootfontein. The road was long, straight and immensely boring - made even more so by the lack of music. We know the problem though - we just need to buy a new cable for the iPod. Problem is we're about to head in to the middle of nowhere for at least a week and I very much doubt there's a Dixons in Etosha.
Tonight we're staying at the Bush Baby Camp near Grootfontein and are surrounded by zebras, kudos and a number of other animals. The place even has two rhions which we plan to go in search of tomorrow morning before heading North again to Etosha National Park.
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