Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Thank you!

Thanks Mom and Dad! Mom for funding and encouragement, Dad for all your great ideas.

For advice, friendship, beds, and help along the way, I'd like to thank Jenn Brown, John Bailey, Tom Villalon, Justin and Nathan, Mr. Kurtz, Sulo and Richie, Victoria Baker, Katja, Mr. and Mrs. Ericson, Porter Schutt, Ann Copeland, Sharon and Steve, the Mongan family, and Danny, Gabe, and Ally.

Additional thanks to everyone who has been emailing or posting comments, to Jesse Saunders for help with planning, to Matt Mascitti for being patient, and of course, thanks to Matt Dinneen for putting up with me for six months and for being such a gentleman (even though I'm his sister!).

And, to everyone who has been with us, reading along, thank you for sticking with it!

The Final Tally

168 days
123 blog posts
26 books read
13 different modes of transportation used
11 countries visited
6 baggage carousels ridden
4 animal species frightened off runways
2 people
1 amazing trip


The morning of the 16th, Matt, Nate and I woke up and packed our gear. Matt was feeling pretty crumby, so I rushed to make us something to eat, then the taxi arrived to take us to the airport. After 20 minutes of driving, with 10 minutes more until the airport and about 45 more until our flight, I realized I had left our phone at the hostel. Oh well. As Matt reassured me, "it's the best possible time to lose it!"

So, after a short flight we arrived in Johannesburg (to read the recent societal conflict in Joburg, please read the BBC article here), and after a few obstacles related to transportation, we finally arrived at our new backpackers. I investigated the hostel and nearby shopping center while Matt rested for a few hours. Then Nate arrived and, after some dinner, we decided on our plans for the following day before bed.

The next morning, we stopped by a pharmacy for Matt then headed to the Apartheid Museum. Before we walked through the front door, we were randomly assigned races then split up. We were reunited within minutes, but it underscored how suddenly you can be separated from people you care about. Personally, I think the skin color, family, and nationality any person is born into are a matter of chance. And I think everyone should be treated equally, without regard for those characteristics; but not everyone subscribes to that belief.

In the museum, we learned that the appalling system of segregation didn't end until 1991. We learned about the forced removals of families from their homes and the separate townships built hold different races. We learned about the Pass Laws, which forced people to carry identification so the police could monitor and restrict their movements. And we learned about the Sharpeville Massacre (which happened at a protest against the Pass Laws) and the Soweto Uprising (to oppose the teaching of children in Afrikaans). But we also learned about people like Mandela, Biko, and Sisulu and organizations like the ANC. It was a very emotional and educational few hours.

After we left the museum, it was time for Nate to catch his bus to the airport. We said goodbye and he hitched his ride. He headed home to the US to stay, for the first time in 4 years, and Matt and I were back to the original two travelers again.

That afternoon, Matt had a rest while took care of some last minute trip chores. I spent about an hour in the sun, trying to get the tan I knew people at home would expect and then showered before heading out. I walked quite a distance to a large market where I bought the souvenirs that I had been wanting throughout the trip (having to carry every bracelet and trinket on my back really restricted my souvenir purchases :). I took a taxi back to the hostel that evening and Matt and I had dinner before re-packing our bags (in the dark because of a planned power outage) for the final time and hitting the hay.

The following morning, we were up early for our tour of Soweto, or the south western townships of Johannesburg (to learn more about the famous area, please visit the Wiki article here). These were constructed during Apartheid to house the black population of the city but were not well-known outside of SA until the Soweto Uprising in 1976. As we drove around the area, our guide educated us on the different forms of housing and the evolution of the area into the 21st Century. We stopped at various landmarks like Nelson Mandela's and Desmond Tutu's former homes as well as visiting the Hector Pietersen Memorial Museum and the Regina Mundi Catholic Church. Pietersen was 13 when he was killed during the Soweto Uprising and his name has become synonymous with tragedy.

On June 16th, 1976, a large group of students set out to march in protest of the recent decision to mandate the teaching of children in Afrikaans. The students didn't speak the language and wanted instead to be taught in their native languages. During the protest, unrest mounted and eventually shots broke out. One of the first casualties was young Hector Pietersen who became a martyr to the cause. Afterwards, as his picture circulated throughout the press around the world, it garnered support against the Apartheid government.

After our tour of Soweto, we were taken back to the backpackers where we grabbed our bags and hopped on a bus. In a half hour, we were at the Johannesburg airport. We had to wait several hours there, sending postcards and reading books, before our flight left. It was a 19 hour flight with a long fuel layover in Dakar, Senegal where we weren't allowed to exit the plane. Early the next morning, we were excited to find ourselves in Washington DC, and one puddle jumper later, we were picked up in Philadelphia.

We were finally home.

The pictures in this post are: the South African Bill of Rights, barbed wire with newer and older homes in Soweto, the Madonna and Child at the Regina Mundi Church, and the famed picture of Hector Pietersen.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Nelspruit & Kruger National Park

I don't remember where this event happened, but if you have a few seconds to waste, check out this video.

On April 12th, Matt and I arrived in Nelspruit, realizing that it was one of the last times we'd fly before coming home. Every moment then, being so close to the end of our trip, was full of anticipation about what we had left to see in Africa, about making sure to do everything we had hoped, and about looking forward to hugging our family and friends again.

We arrived at our backpackers in the afternoon and after checking in, headed out into the town to find Nathan who had arrived by bus. We located him without much trouble and poked around the rather empty streets of Nelspruit looking for a bite to eat. Eventually, we relented and stopped for fast food at a gas station. After eating, I inquired if there was an internet café anywhere nearby. The kind lady behind the counter informed me that there weren't any nearby that were open. There was one we could walk to, but it was quite a distance and we were carrying Nate's gear (from 6 months in Zambia) and the city wasn't the safest for walking anyway. The lady even offered us the computer in the gas station office.

I told her she was very kind, but we couldn't intrude on her like that. Anyway, the three of us wanted to each spend about an hour on a computer. I told her that we decided to walk, and without hesitating, she asked her husband to mind the register while she drove the three of us, plus gear, to the internet café at the mall. It was such a nice gesture from a stranger and Nate, Matt and I showered her with thanks and compliments on the short drive.

After our internet time, we grabbed some groceries and hired a taxi to take us to the backpackers where we concocted a lovely pasta dinner then met some American students who were studying abroad. The following day was our day to relax; to get laundry done, to phone Johannesburg and formuate plans there, and to recoup and prepare for the last few days of our trip. Also, we had been bumped up to a fancy room because the students were occupying all the dorm beds, so our room had its own radio, a little kitchen and a bathtub! It was a lovely place to relax, and the hostel had lush, green landscaping and an aviary to check out. That evening, we made another yummy dinner and watched a movie in the main/lobby room over a glass of wine.

The next morning, Matt, Nate and I were up before the sun, piling into a van with our guide, Dave, to go explore Kruger National Park. We had to leave before dawn because the park opened at 6am and it was important to maximize our time there. It has "more species of mammals than any other African Game Reserve" (Wiki) and it's known that if you're only going to Africa briefly for a safari, that's the place to go. So, I'm going to give you a brief rundown of our day. We spent the majority of the time driving around (you're forbidden to exit your vehicle) so the interesting parts of the day are animals. I will refer to them by their collective nouns when there were more than one. And throughout the day, we saw the red and yellow-billed hornbills which might not sound familiar, but if you remember Zazoo from the Lion King, then you know who I'm talking about.

The first animal of consequence we saw was a leopard who just strode across the asphalt in front of our vehicle. We took his/her presence as a good sign since they're rather unusual to see. Shortly afterward, Dave spotted rhinos in the distance and we used the binoculars to find a crash of 9 white rhinos foraging together. After driving a bit more, we spotted a journey of giraffes and made a point of calling our friend, Suzanne, who wanted to come just to see giraffes, but was unable to join us.

Then, while we were driving, we slowly came upon a clan of hyenas. There were about 6 of them, adults and children, napping on both sides of the road. They were fascinating to see and they came very close to the van. After that, we saw a dazzle of zebra moving around in a haphazard fashion. When we slowed down to see what they were reacting to, we noticed a leopard sneaking around and trying to separate one from the group. After the excitement of the hunt, ahem, I mean, watching the hunt from the van, we headed to a rest camp where we stopped for breakfast.

Brekky was a great opportunity to caffeinate and check out the resident bats before hopping back in the van to spot as many animals as possible while the sun was still low in the sky. The first interesting beast we came across was a large martial eagle, in the crook of a branch, shredding the body of a monitor lizard. We watched in awe as it destroyed its prey before we moved on. Next, Dave spotted a Cape buffalo at the edge of the reeds by a junction of two rivers. Then finally, it was time for a light lunch and a break from the hot afternoon, but not before stopping with a group of vehicle to watch crocodiles and hippos near a large watering hole.

A few hours later, after reading a substantial portion of my book and having a shower, I joined Matt and Nate and we headed out with a large group of people and some park staff for a night drive. We didn't see many animals, and after it got dark the spotlights didn't help much. Everything was mediocre until we saw a leopard. We watched it step around the area until it found a nice spot and laid down. We must have stopped for fifteen minutes just watching that leopard relax. It was our miraculous third leopard of the day. Then we headed back to the rest camp where Dave had prepared a braai (barbeque). The four of us made quick work of meat, potatoes, corn and veggies before bed.

The following morning, we were all up before the sun (again). After eating a little breakfast, and waiting for the 6am park-entry gate to open, we were exploring again. And the first animal of consequence that we saw, that walked right across the road in front of us, was a leopard. Another leopard. Our fourth in two days.

A few moments later, and farther down the road, there were several vehicles gathered and when we came upon them we realized what they were looking at a male lion. After he disappeared into the bushes, a female lion appearred. The pair of them were trying to find an impala breakfast. We watched the lions interact with one another and walk on the road between the vehicles. When the female came nearby (video here), we realized she was blind in one eye. After we left the lions, we headed towards the exit from the park. On our way out, we spotted a ground hornbill (huge red & black bird), a couple of steenboks (my favorite), a duiker (another small antelope), and a few crowds of baboons and impalas sunning themselves together.

When we left the park, we drove for a bit and checked out some of the natural sights in the area. We saw a small but gorgeous waterfall, God's Window (a scenic viewpoint which was obscured by fog), and the potholes, which were cylindrical voids carved out of the rocks by the circular scouring motion of the passing river. But the most stunning sight we saw was Blyde River Canyon; the largest "green canyon" in the world. Now, I will admit, our day was a speedy run-through of the sights, but I think all three of us loved the time we spent at Blyde River Canyon, scrambling over the rocks with the lizards. And I can try to explain how incredibly deep the canyon was, or how verdant, or how breathtaking was the view, but it can't convey the beauty. I'll put in the picture to give you a better idea.

After our fun jaunt in the out-of-doors, we had some pancakes for lunch and headed back to the hostel for the evening.

The pictures in this post are: a yellow-billed hornbill (Zazoo), a white rhino, a hyena, the martial eagle with his food in this claw, a Cape buffalo, our lazy leopard, my steenbok, the potholes, and Blyde River Canyon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Durban, Underberg, and Lesotho

On April 3rd, I disembarked from the plane in Durban and I was thrilled. I hadn't seen my friends from Peace Corps, Nate and Justin, for 9 months and over a year, respectively. Justin had been in a village outside of Durban, volunteering with Peace Corps South Africa, and Nate had been working with the Crisis Corps in Zambia.

When we arrived, Matt and I checked in to the backpackers then headed in to the town center. We showed up at a designated place at a designated time, and there was Nathan's smiling self, walking down the sidewalk towards us. The three of us explored the bustling city for a bit, then grabbed some groceries and headed back to the hostel where we concocted a dinner. Later in the evening, Suzanne, a friend of Justin's from AmeriCorps, arrived and we all became quick friends.

The following morning, Matt had some internet time while Suzanne, Nate, and I took a walk down the beach and explored Durban's coast, picking up shells and cooling our toes in the water. With the aid of cellphones, the three of us linked up with Matt at lunchtime and Justin, the VIP, finally arrived. After a long lunch and some catching up time, we explored the town further and stopped at the BAT Centre to soak up some community atmosphere and admire local art.

Afterwards, when we stopped to procure some groceries, we ran into the other girls coming to hang out in Durban. Jaime, Monica, and Kristen headed back to the hostel with us and we all got to know each other while cooking and eating dinner. After dinner and a glass of wine (or two) we all headed out on the town to spend the night chatting, drinking, and dancing.

The following day, we all explored busy, family-oriented uShaka Marine World nearby and hung out at the beach, putting in a few minutes of surfing. After some snacking, we all headed home and prepared another massive group dinner. That evening, we went out again and had another great time.

The next day the crew was a bit lethargic and we weren't able to round up all the troops until late in the day. Finally, we all headed out to the lush Durban Botanical Gardens where we listened to a popular, local band play as we explored the premises. The climate in Durban must be unusually hospitable because we saw flora in the gardens from all over the world. We poked the cacti, smelled the flowers and tasted the herbs in the "garden of the senses" and swung on some hanging roots from a banyan tree before heading out.

After our lovely garden stroll, we had lunch/dinner at an Indian restaurant where Matt and I ordered for everyone. It was a fun chance to try out our new knowledge of Indian cuisine and I think everyone enjoyed our selections. After dinner, we went out to a movie before returning and coordinating plans for the following day.

The next morning, we bid a fond farewell to most of the group while Matt, Nate, Suzanne and I headed out on a shuttle to the Sani Lodge in Underberg. The trip took most of the day and after we arrived, we ate dinner and formulated a schedule for the upcoming days.

The following morning, the four of us woke up and ate a hearty breakfast before heading out on a hike. The 5 hour hike took us up to some great viewpoints, over hills and across dales until we finally scrambled down to a river valley. By the time we arrived, we had been hiking for a couple of hours and the deep pool that we came upon provided too much temptation for us all to ignore.

After repeatedly leaping off of tall rocks into the welcoming but frigid waters, we dried out in the sun while eating our lunch. The rest of the hike followed the river for several miles past waterfalls, and tiny tributaries guarded by grassy hills. Eventually, we reached a gravel road which took us back to the lodge. That evening, we read, ate and packed up our bags for an overnight trip. Matt, Nate and I were up and fed early the next day and the three of us piled into a Land Rover with our fearless guide, Matthew, to head up the Sani Pass.

The Kingdom of Lesotho is formed of a massive plateau which towers above and inside of South Africa and it has the highest low point (got that?) of any country in the world. In the areas we visited, people sustained themselves by farming crops and animals. The land was very rocky and mountainous and many of the shepherds lived a nomadic lifestyle.

After the treacherous drive up Sani Pass, we drove about two more hours into the country, meanwhile learning from our guide about the Drackensberg mountains and the country of Lesotho. We were thrilled when we arrived at the home where we would spend the night. The family we stayed with were very caring and they lived in a beautiful spot beside a stream with a large yard and many fruit trees.

After we arrived, we were taken for a walk up into surrounding the village. First, we stopped at the healer's "office" where we learned about traditional herbal remedies and had our fortunes told. Then we walked by several homes until we reached a rondavel (cylindrical stone house with a straw roof) where we learned from a group of community women all about local crafts and songs for celebrations. Finally, we headed back to the house at dusk for a delicious dinner (no utensils please!) and bed.

The following morning after breakfast, we headed up the hill to visit the grade school where we did a lot of handshaking with eager kids then chatted with the teachers before classes began. We stood at the front of the eldest group of students and they asked us all sorts of questions like where were we from and how old were we, and do we have children. The chance to interact with the kids was great and I think both sides gained from it.

We left the school on horseback. What fun! I haven't ridden in ages and it was a blast to spend a couple of hours in the saddle. And the steep, gravel-covered mountainside paths definitely added to the excitement. After riding, we headed back towards Sani Pass in the truck, stopping first at the highest pub on the continent. When we arrived home we found that Suzanne was still around and had a nice chance to catch up on each others activities over the previous few days. Then it was time for dinner, and finally bed!

The next morning, we packed up all of our gear and headed back to Durban.

The pictures in this blog post are: Durban, the river valley viewed during the hike, the river, angora goats at the shearing building, little friends from the village, rondavels, the night sky including the Southern Cross, Nate at school, me riding and me helping to shear a goat.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cape Town

The morning of the 28th, we had to grab breakfast and take a picture of a road sign before we caught our flight to Cape Town. After landing, we waited for a minibus to come and collect us and drive us to our fantastic backpackers on Long Street in central Cape Town. Upon arrival, we had more errands to deal with as we managed to drop off our dirty laundry, buy a new headlamp, eat dinner and pick up some groceries. While we were completing these necessary tasks, it was nice to see a little bit of the city and to notice the plateau (Table Mountain) towering over the city. When we noticed it, we were surprised to see clouds rolling off the edge of it and down the sides. We found out later that the clouds that constantly hover there are nicknamed the tablecloth, but we weren't lucky enough to see it pouring over again. Eventually, we headed back to the hostel to bed.

The following morning, we arranged some trips and gathered some information about the town before heading to the Robben Island Visitors Center where we hoped to purchase tickets. At the time, we were blissfully unaware that tickets to the island sell out weeks in advance. We ended up waiting in line for several hours in the hopes that someone would be unable to use tickets they had previously purchased. Three or four hours into the wait, a man came up next to myself and the rest of the standby line and asked the lady behind the counter if she could perform any miracles. She groaned and started typing information into her computer while giving us a lecture about how much trouble she might get into. Within 15 minutes, we had our tickets for the next boat ride.

Although Robben Island is a quaint little museum town now, it has an infamous history. It had long been used for imprisonment, but in the 1960's, the government started using it to incarcerate people who protested or spoke out opposing apartheid. Some of the famous people who had been held prisoner there include Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, Jacob Zuma, Govan Mbeki, and Robert Sobukwe.

Our tour guide was a former inmate and he showed us the current town on the island, the prison including Nelson Mandela's cell, the lighthouse, and the penguins and rabbits who call the island home. It was late in the day when we finally arrived back home and we went to bed early because we had a big day in front of us.

The following morning, we were up early with our daypacks ready and armed for a brief but strenuous hike up the Platteklip Gorge route at Table Mountain. It was a gorgeous hike and we were rewarded with breathtaking views at the top. When we reached the table top, we were able to walk around the periphery looking over the city, out at Robben Island and the Atlantic Ocean and over to the Cape of Good Hope. It was stunning.

We headed down via the cable car then hopped a taxi out to Green Point Market. We spent quite a long time at the market admiring all the goods for sale from all over the continent. Every variety of handmade jewelry, dyed and painted cloth, carvings in various mediums, trinkets and art were available. Eventually, my legs were worn out, and as Matt eyed up antler bottle openers, I sat down with a nice couple from Kenya and we talked about Cape Town and traveling. Finally, Matt and I headed back to the backpackers for an early evening.

The following morning, we ate breakfast before heading out on our scheduled vineyard tour in the Stellenbosch region. We spent the day visiting the Villiere, Beyerskloof, Dieu Donné, and Fairview vineyards, learning how red and white wine and champagne are made and exploring the vineyard country. I also learned some neat wine-tasting skills like how to judge the age and why aerating is important before testing the flavor.

The next day brought on our Cape Point tour. We spent the day driving, hiking and biking all over the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, visiting Hout Bay (where people from Cape Town used to procure timber), traveling along Chapman's Peak Drive (a scenic drive along the Atlantic Ocean), and saying hi to the penguins at Boulders Beach (if you want to see them playing, click here).

Our last full day in Cape Town allowed us to see some of the sights within the city limits. First we visited the Castle of Good Hope which was a fort built by the Dutch East India Company in the mid 1600's. Then we headed over to the District 6 Museum where we learned the history of the infamous community. In the Nineteenth Century, the neighborhood was a thriving settlement of people of all races and backgrounds, but by 1966, 60,000 people had been forcibly removed to allow the area to become an all-white neighborhood. It was tragic and a scene that played out repeatedly during the era of apartheid.

Later in the afternoon, we spent some time walking along Government Avenue, looking at the parks and museums before heading back to hide from the drizzle and pack our bags for Durban. Before dusk, we headed out to watch the sun set at Camps Bay before returning for bed.

The pictures in this post are: warthog x-ing, Mandela's cell, me and the view of Cape Town and Table Mountain from Robben Island, Cape Town from Table Mountain, the hills and vines surrounding the Dieu Donné Vineyard, the Cape of Good Hope, the penguins at Boulders, poems carved in a cell door at the fort, a public apology outside the District 6 Museum, and the sunset at Camps Bay.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Maun and Namibia

Matt and I spent 21st of March in the tiny town of Maun, recovering from our safari. Besides going to the grocery store and resting, we also spent several hours on the internet catching up on emails, news, and contacting our loved ones.

The following morning we headed back to the internet cafe to make some phone calls regarding a rental vehicle. We would be arriving in Windhoek, Namibia during Easter weekend while everyone was taking family vacations, so finding a rental car was not easy or cheap. Eventually, between the phone at the internet cafe and the payphone at the airport, we reserved a vehicle then hopped our flight to Namibia. The rental agency picked us up when we arrived and we drove to their office where they introduced us to our truck and how to use all of its amenities.

The ride from the rental agency to the backpackers was a bumpy one since , of the two of us, Matt is the better at driving stick, and the word "proficient" at the time would have been an exaggeration of his skills. Eventually, we arrived at the hostel, set up our new car tent and slept like logs all night.

The following morning, we made a brief stop at the grocery store before heading out towards Sossusvlei. The drive took about 5 hours mostly along empty gravel roads. I had several opportunities to practice my driving during this time. We're lucky it was a rental because the transmission must have been in pain. When we finally arrived at the campsite at the entrance to the park, we found it would cost $80 US for us to stay there for the evening. After a bit of frustration directed at the "new management," we headed back the way we had come and drove 40 miles before finding a campsite.

Just before we arrived at the campsite, I saw something that completely lifted my mood and made me burst out laughing. It was a springbok. When you see how they move, you'll understand why I thought it was so funny. I wasn't able to record one, but the first minute of the video here will give you the idea.

When we arrived we parked the car and went in search of the owners. We discovered that they had gone out for groceries and we should just pick a campsite and come back up to the house when we heard a car. Except that when we returned to the truck, we discovered that we had somehow gotten a flat. At that point, it was dusk, we were exhausted and neither of us had touched food in ages.

It was decided that we'd drive down and pick a site, have a snack, watch the sun set, then in a new mindset, swap out the tire. We met some nice friends who welcomed us up to a good spot for the sunset, and afterwards, helped us change the tire. Then we set up our tent again and went to bed.

The following morning, we were up before the sun, making coffee and showering before heading off to Sossusvei. As we drove, the rising sun was covering the hills with its light and shadows. Even though we were traversing the same path as the previous day, our attitudes were much better and we were anticipating the splendour of the renowned dunes.

When we finally entered the park, the dunes didn't disappoint. I don't know how to describe them except as massive, otherwordly, deep red dunes. We enjoyed the off-road time in the truck before we arrived at Deadvlei and it was time to hike. We followed streams of footprints until we arrived at a large, dry white clay pan surrounded my massive dunes. The sun was large and hot and there was no protection around as Matt and I hauled ourselves up one huge dune to the left. Then I watched in admiration as he trekked far into the distance to the top of the largest dune around. This might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but some of the dunes can be up to 1000 feet tall and you barely gain ground with each step.

Following our walks, we headed back to the car for some much-needed hydration. After driving around the dunes a bit longer, we headed to Swakopmund, and it was another six hours before we arrived. Our backpackers was called Desert Sky and it had all the amenities. First, we set up a sandboarding trip for the following day, then cooked some dinner before bed.

The following day was a blast. I've only tried to snowboard twice, and both times I spent the afternoon on my butt. But sandboarding was much easier to catch on because it's slower than snowboarding and the surface is completely uniform. We spent several hours hiking up dunes and flying down them on the thoroughly-waxed boards. In the process, we met a bunch of cool people and got tons of exercise. Some of the friends we made were three American college students who were studying abroad in Windhoek, and we chatted with them for ages and ended up offering them a drive back to town the following day.

Upon returning from sandboarding, I took a nap until 5 or 6 when Matt and I made up some dinner and headed off to the Swakop Lodge. The photographer from sandboarding was showing our group video from that afternoon and offering pictures for sale. After watching the video and drinking a beer with our new friends, we headed back to our car/tent and went to bed.

The following morning, I was up early for a seal and dolphin trip. The car picked me up and we headed down and got on the boat. It was an interesting trip. Most people were on the boat to see bottlenosed dolphins, but I was there for the seals and the Heavysides Dolphin. We saw the unusual Heavysides dolphin within of few minutes of our trip then we headed out towards the seals, paralleling the duney shoreline as we motored along. Our captain slowed down at points to feed fish to the giant pelicans, seagulls and other birds who recognized us and flew along with our boat. When we reached the island with the seal colony, I was surprised at first by the smell. It was overwhelming. But as we pulled away from shore a bit, it was easier to watch the seals playing around with each other in the waves (if you're interested in the seals you can see video here). After the seals, we searched for bottlenose dolphins for a while before giving up and heading to the harbour for lunch. Halfway through our snacktime, a bottlenose dolphin showed up in the harbour right next to our boat. We followed him around for a bit, much to the amusement of the other passengers, before heading back to the dock. After I was dropped off at the backpackers, Matt and I had to gather our gear and make room to accommodate our new friends in the car before heading towards Windhoek.

It was a surprisingly short 5 hour drive. As we rode, we sang along with the odd selection of CDs which we borrowed from the car rental man and talked about Namibia and home. When we arrived in Windhoek, we dropped off Vaun, Jesse, and Ryan before returning the car to its owner and heading to our backpackers.

The following day was spent exploring the points of interest in Windhoek such as the historic buildings, government center and market. Then, the rain began to fall and made us scurry for shelter in a nearby internet cafe until it was time to meet our friends for dinner.

The chosen location was Joe's Beerhouse, which is well-known for its selection of game meats. We tried everything from crocodile to ostrich to zebra before the meal was finished and despite my initial horror, all of the pretty animals tasted quite delicious. Eventually, we parted ways with our friends and took a taxi back to the backpackers where we spent our last night in Namibia.

The pictures in the post are: our fancy-pants camper truck, pretty sights on the way to Sossusvlei, a massive dune, the view from the top of a dune, the clay pan with its scorched trees, the Tropic of Capricorn which we crossed over on the way from Sossusvlei to Swakopmund, me preparing for sandboarding, a Heavysides dolphin with dunes behind, and Christ Church in Windhoek.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


WARNING: This is a long post.
If you are at work, you might want to wait until lunch to read it. :)

The morning of March 12th, I woke up in splendor at Shackelton's and after a delicious breakfast, Matt, Victor and I were on the road to the Zambia/Botswana border. When we arrived, we met Willy, Anne, Gro, and Erling who were on the safari with us, and Andy, our knowledgeable guide. After taking a brief trip across the river border, we all piled into a big safari truck with our gear. We headed to Chobezi where we took a scenic boatride along the river We spotted a group of impalas and a group of kudus, along with a cluster of hippos in the water and baboons in the trees, then a monitor lizard and a breeding herd of elephants before the boatride was over.

After our splendid and relaxing trip, we headed to a little airport and flew to Linyanti, where our plane sent a family of warthogs scurrying off the gravel runway. Despite the fact that we were in the middle of nowhere, we noted the presence of something incredibly familiar. It was a Cameltones sticker on the propeller barricade parked at the runway (someone please email Rob Grant and crew and indict them for vandalism... kidding). We all piled into another safari truck and had an AMAZING drive to our new camp. In addition to the animals we had already spotted along the river, we saw an ostrich (now that's a ridiculous animal) and several giraffes (even taller in person). By the time we arrived at the camp, we were thoroughly excited for the coming days. We settled our gear into the new tents and had a spectacular dinner (prepared by Gladys) before going to bed exhausted.

The next morning at breakfast, we were informed that the guides had heard lions very nearby during the night. We set out in the truck after eating and spent about an hour finding, following, losing and recovering tracks before we located the "border boys." These three male lions live between Namibia and Botswana, and despite visa regulations for the rest of us, these juveniles can walk freely across the border whenever they feel inclined.

When we came upon them, they were lounging in the shade, observing us halfheartedly. The way they laid on their backs, licked their paws, or nibbled at an itch was remarkably similar to a housepet. They were very cute and furry, and part of me wanted to live my own jungle book story and become a lion. Eventually, we pulled ourselves away from our furry friends and continued to drive. We located a warthog family, a group of kudus, and some storks before we stopped for a tea break. Then we headed back to the camp for relaxation, lunch, and a shower before heading out again in the evening.

Our first mission was to see if we could find the border boys again and we did. Apparently, when you're a lion, you feel free to take naps in the middle of the road. We watched the boys take their siesta for a bit before the sun began to set and we headed off. Just when dusk was staring to gain the upper hand on the sky, we came upon two gorgeous girls and a young boy lion resting on the top of a giant termite mound. They looked noble perched like that, as if they were in charge of all the other animals. When the sun had fully set, we headed back to camp for a yummy dinner and a good night's rest.

The following morning, we were up before the sun, getting ready for a long day. We had to turn on our flashlights (headlamps) before exiting the tent to make sure there weren't any big, hungry, eyes gleaming nearby. When we were sure the way was clear, we headed up for breakfast (with lots of coffee) then hopped in the truck. We drove for a couple of hours to Savuti Marsh in Chobe National Park. We had been smacked by intrusive bushes periodically on all of our drives, so we were a bit surprised when Andy warned us, "this is the part of the road where the branches will come into the car." That statement began a period of about a half hour when all of us had to lean far to the center of the open vehicle to avoid being impaled or losing an eye. It was exciting.

When we arrived at the park office, we were greeted with a collection animal bones (an elephant femur is about 3' long with a cross-sectional area as big as your fist) and we spotted a few sets of sun-bleached bones a few times during the day, contrasting against the green grass. Another new appearance were the lilac-breasted rollers (small birds) flying alongside our truck and swooping down to grab the crickets which our wheels frightened out of the grass. In addition to the usual suspects, we spotted wildebeests (otherwise known as gnus), secretary birds (a large flying bird) and zebras! The zebras seemed humble, strolling along, as if they didn't know that everyone in the world envies their attire.

We stopped for lunch in a picturesque spot near a waterhole where we we joined by wildebeests, impalas, cattle egrets and others, as well as a few giraffes in the distance. After our tasty break, we searched futilely for about an hour for hyenas and wild dogs before heading back to camp. When we arrived, it was time for a shower (heated water in a suspended bucket equipped with a showerhead) then a rest before dinner.

The following morning, our drive was rather unsuccessful until the very end when we saw a breeding herd (mothers, babies, and juveniles) of elephants then a leopard tortoise on our way back to camp. After a siesta and dinner at the camp, we headed out for the evening drive. We saw a herd of waterbucks before the dark clouds that had been slowly encroaching opened up on us. The brief downpour soaked several of us, so we remedied the situation with some sundowners at the side of a hippo pond before heading back to the camp.

The next day, we had a game drive on the way to the runway. We spotted the usuals, plus a tawny eagle and one of my favorites, a chameleon. I know it's a relatively boring animal on a safari, but I loved the chameleon. He is an oddity. His feet open like hinges before he steps down, his eyes can rotate around in his head, he changes color, and he's got an attitude! I tried to pick him up but he inflated his throat and made menacing noises, so I left him alone. Anyway, after my chameleon investigation, we hopped on a little Piper Caravan (a prop plane which seats about 12) and flew to the Vumbura airstrip where we frightened a flock of ostriches off the runway.

After we loaded our gear into the vehicle there, we drove around on a failed search for a leopard then began to head to our new camp before we were halted by engine trouble. After quite some time, we found a mechanic who fixed the truck but not before it was nearly dark. As we finally headed off, another safari truck drove by in the opposite direction and shouted that they knew where a leopard was hunting. We followed them until we sighted a figure slinking through the tall grass. Our leopard was a juvenile male and we watched him for several minutes before the sun set. We all knew, in the dark, as the rain began to fall, that we were still several hours from our intended camp. As we drove away from the leopard, Victor informed us that we'd be staying at a closer camp that night because of all the car trouble we'd had. As we neared the new camp, the truck became lodged in deep mud. We were told to hop out and after walking for a couple of minutes in the dark and drizzle, we entered our chance home for the night. It was Vumbura, one of the nicest lodges that the company owns. We walked in to an impeccably-styled lobby room with a long, wooden bar and deep, luxurious-looking couches. As our eyes roamed around the premises, we took in everything from the endless dining table to the map-room.

After stripping off our soaked, outer layers and rehabilitating with mixed beverages, we were briefed on the layout of the lodge and our altered schedule. Before we knew it, it was time for a magnificent dinner, and after that, we were lead to our rooms. I'm not going to describe ourroom itself, save that it was large, but rather focus on the amenities. There was a massive shower, huge, plush beds under a mosquito net the size of a normal room, a sunken, sumptuous, lounge area, a deck with an outdoor shower, and finally, a small, private pool. Despite the fact that we didn't have time to use most of the luxuries, we still appreciated their presence as we sunk into dreams.

The next morning, we headed off in the direction of our previous night's intended camp. The effect of the night's rain was visible in all of the marshy areas that existed where the roads had been and the truck became thoroughly stuck twice on the way to the camp. The first time, we helped to free a larger truck which then towed us out, and the second time, we were all up to our knees in water, barefoot, hauling sticks for traction, jacking up the truck, and cracking open cans of Hansa. It was hard work and good fun. After we finally got moving, we spotted a steenbock. This is another favorite animal of mine now. It's an antelope the size of a large rabbit or a small dog. It is an absurd animal and it sent me daydreaming of having a small flock of them to roam around my backyard.

In addition to the steenbok, we saw several sable antelope and wildebeests before we arrived at the Lechwe camp. After a brief snack, we headed up the adjacent river in canoes chatting, racing, and avoiding potential hippo hangout spots. We all loved the time on the river and didn't head back to camp until dusk. Then it was time for dinner and bed.

The following morning was Simon's birthday and we all sung to him at breakfast. As we ate, we discovered that our guide, Andy, had told his boss our truck had gotten stuck SIX times on the way to Lechwe camp. The boss, realizing how much of an inconvenience it would be to replay this process on the way out of the camp had decided to send a HELICOPTER to collect us. We all cheered Andy and were thrilled at the new development as went packed our bags. Later, the helicopter setting down in the long grass made me feel a bit like I was in Jurassic Park or Apocalypse Now and it was brief but exciting. After the helicopter pilot shuttled all of us to the runway, we waited for our plane and flew to Xigera where we frightened a group of zebras and impalas off the runway upon landing.
We drove from the runway to an arm of the Okavango Delta where we hopped in mokoros (hollowed-out log canoes) and were punted (the aquatic use of the word) to the Xigera camp island in time for sunset.

The following morning, we went for a nature walk and learned about tracking animals using footprints and droppings. We also learned about various plants and birds and we followed some giraffes who made sure to stay safely ahead of us while we walked. We also witnessed the setting and springing of a bird trap which you can watch here. Upon returning to camp, we ate a big breakfast and paid close attention to a lesson on the history and formation of the delta including the importance of termite mounds (during dry periods, the termites begin building on the newly-accessible land and the baboons come to rest on the mound and leave seeds in their droppings which become trees over time and when the water rises again, you have a new island).

After a little leisure time, we headed out in the mokoros again, admiring the islands and spotting reed frogs. We eventually, we stopped at an island for mokoro-punting lessons, elephant tusk playtime, and sundowners. The sunset was vibrant and polychromatic and it could be seen clearly in the reflection of the smooth, delta water. When we arrived back at the camp, we had a big dinner and a belated birthday cake for Simon (baked in a hole with coals above and on top of the lidded pot) before a long evening of cocktails, toasts, and chatting around the fire. Later, when Erling and Gro headed to bed, they found that an elephant had made himself at home in the campsite and their clothes were strewn about in the reeds and the tent was on its side.

The following day was our last with wilderness and it began with elephants strolling by our tents after a long night of wandering about the camp. Gro and Erling (their tent was under an amarula tree) woke up to an elephant right outside their screen door, and then a trunk inside their tent. After our family of nine reunited at breakfast and we heard about the elephant in the tent, it was time to pack and take a mokoro trip back to the Xigera runway where we flew to Maun and sadly parted ways. Matt and I grabbed a taxi to a backpackers and made ourselves at home before hopping a public minibus (combi) into town and assessing the place. Soon, we were back and exhaustedly fell into bed.

The pictures on this post are: The direction post at Vumbura runway, an ostrich, one of the Border Boys, the lovely ladies and son, a herd of zebras as Chobe, the watering hole with impalas and a wildebeest, cocktail hour by the truck, the last-minute breeding herd bath, Mr. Chameleon, juvenile leopard in the dusk, our normal camp style, another gorgeous sunset, the Okavango Delta, a giraffe, and the whole crew (I'm going to name people clockwise, starting with Matt and the guides who were not with us everyday will be labeled "guide." Matt, guide, Victor, guide, Anne, Gro, Willy, Erling, Simon, guide, Ellie, Andy, guide, guide).