Wednesday, 22 February 2012


Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the eight-day journey of eight mountaineers
Just everyday folks, not one a hero
But they all shared one dream – climb Kilimanjaro.

Now Garrett and Jess from Syracuse hail
Tried to train in the snow, sleet and hurricane’s gale
It’s a good thing there’s no power on Kili’s route
If there were, with these two, that pow’r soon would be out.

And Kylie’s adventure gene is off the charts
She comes from Down Under and has lived in most parts
She’s brilliant and caring and quite in the know
Except for that weird thing that others call snow.

Australians are known to drink ale, beer and lager
But whoever’d have thought they could hold so much water?
Larissa drank litres and litres each day
Then spent every night peeing it all away.

From West Africa’s desert Namibia
(A word that no poet would dare to rhym-i-bia)
Come our engaged sweethearts, Jules and Ant
Two volunteer workers who’ve never said “can’t”.

From Colorado in the U-S of A
John and I came for our winter get-away
Grandpa and grandma – “Babu” and “Bibi”
Is what Julius called us in his Swahili

Chiropractor, world traveler, endodontist, oh my!
Physiologists, grocery merchant, PhD candidate, and I
Unlikely companions, at least at first glance
But here’s how we formed such a strong alliance:

We bonded right off on that muddy first track
With bottles and backpacks flying off the truck’s rack
Proof once again - it’s never been wrong -
That which does not kill you will just make you strong.

A travelling pharmacy we soon discovered
With Diamox, Advil, and dozens of other
Prescription and over-the-counter drug aids
We cheerfully shared with each other each day

We did everything that the book from the store
Said would help us to acclimate: drink and drink more
Then we found a new way to force air in our lungs
Daily doses of laughter, dispensed by everyone

Still I haven’t a doubt there would be no success
Without our guide Joseph and without Julius
Through high lands and low, sure-footed and strong
We stepped in each footprint that they lead us on

Our meals were joyful and all of that laughter
Helped digest our food, then we lingered long after
To find we are owners of diabetic pets
Of dogs who have shingles and epileptic cats

“Habari!” “Nzuri!” mean, “What’s new?” “All is good!”
The answer to “Mambo” is “Poa” – it’s “cool”
“Acoonamatata”, “Karibu”, and “Ascente”
“All is well”, “welcome”, “thank you” – greeted us every day.

And now it’s day four, time to test our power
Up 600 meters to the Lava Tower
Worldwide the stock markets are all on the rise
Fueled by sudden unexpected ibuprofen highs

Day five no more tower, let’s take on the wall
And do not confuse short with easy, y’all
With Joseph and Julius showing us the ropes
We went up and over like eight mountain goats

The path sure was steep, the mud took its toll
We each gave new meaning to the words “rock ‘n roll”.
One ledge near the top was as thin as a wisp
To cross, it demanded a hug and a kiss

And the porters, oh my! Were our necks meant to hold
40 kilos of honey, coffee, milk and Milo?
Eggs and sausage, toast and porridge, it goes on and on
And that’s just one breakfast for my dear husband John.

All at once it is here, our big summit day
Are we ready, did we train right; is it too late to pray?
In the darkness we set off, with the moon bright and full
And the mountain awaiting aloof, quiet and cool

Finally, yes finally, we all reached the top
Inspired by each other not one of us stopped.
Take our photo, Dear Photo, proof that all of us stood
On the rooftop of Africa, still breathing!  That’s good!

Acclimatization achieved! We brook no defeat
Except when we try to change meters to feet
So it’s back down the mountain, through rocks and through scree
Now we know why God gave everyone a spare knee!

On to Moise-town, gee the time sure went fast
Never thought I’d be saying I wish it could last
Just a day or two more, ‘cause we learned what few know
Time stands still when you’re climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.

So what’s to become of this odd but brave troupe?
What’s the crystal ball say lies ahead for the group?
Well a magical man with a magical brew
Helped me take a look forward a decade or two.

Larissa finished med school at the top of her flight
Now she’s birthin’ those babies all day and all night
World renowned in her field, at the top of her trade
Thought she still can’t convert Fahrenheit to Centigrade.

Kylie’s adventure gene is still going strong
Making film documentaries, it’s where she belongs
With blue shirt and chinos as her attire
David Attenborough has finally given up and retired.

Ant and Jules have done a very great thing
They’ve returned to Namibia, Jules is queen, Ant is king.
Corruption’s been banished and Ant ruled, I have heard
That only the softest of butter may be served.

Garrett and Jess are fabulously rich
Their hiking pole access’ry line launched without a hitch
You could say that they’ve certainly come right along
Check it out for yourself at pole-pole dot com.

But what of their food distribution empire?
Well that was all solved with one brilliant hire
The new CEO, all agree is the best
The sign on the door says, “Just call me Jess”.

Babu and I?  We’re successful, too
You see we’ve discovered the fountain of youth
More than diet and exercise, we must confess
With all due apologies to our dear Jess.

It’s taking the time to make friends young and dear
That sends the clock backwards, year minus year.
So let’s make a pact, in a decade or two
To all meet again, at the top of Meru!

(This poem was written over 6 days during our 8-day climb up Kilimanjaro, January 3-10, 2012.  It is an effort to capture the memories of the wonderful people and place that is Mt. Kilimanjaro.  It is dedicated to each member of our climbing team and our outstanding support team, headed by chief guide Joseph “Photo”)

To the Roof of Africa

After many weeks of planning and looking forward to our Christmas trip we set off in mid December for Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – the roof of Africa. We had decided to take public transport across the width of the continent to give an opportunity to experience more of our neighbouring African countries and their people and to try out the recommended trans Tanzania-Zambia railway (Tazara). The first leg was by bus from Otjiwarongo to Livingstone and was a comfortable overnight journey despite a delayed start due to ‘mechanical issues’. Mark, our travel companion and fellow volunteer, clearly thought the only way of getting through such an arduous trip was to have a few large measures of Scotch as he staggered off the bus to greet us. On entering Zambia the border crossing process was much easier this time without the car. Having visited Victoria Falls before, once in Livingstone we focussed on R&R in preparation for the journey ahead.

The Tazara railway runs from Kapiri Mposhi, a small town a few hours north of Lusaka, to Dar es Salaam on the Tanzanian east coast. The train runs only twice per week, as does the Otjiwarongo-Livingstone bus, therefore some logistical planning and stopovers were required. En route to Kapiri we spent a day in bustling Lusaka – the capital of Zambia and fried chicken capital of the world. Literally every other shop on Cairo Road was a fried chicken fast food joint. The cities street market was interesting and you could pretty much buy anything that you wanted. We stayed at the less than glamorous and inventively named Lusaka Backpackers where we almost immediately required rescuing from our room as the door handle came off in my hand.

There is little to say about the small town of Kapiri Mposhi except that it is home to the communist style Tazara railway station and serves the worst cup of tea we have ever had. 

 After some scrutinizing our tickets were accepted at the ticket office and after a few hours we were allowed to board our first class carriage. First class was a dubious term but all things are relative – as we discovered after a visit along to third class. Our cabin had four bunks and a couple of sheets and pillows which probably hadn’t seen a wash for a few trips between the three of us. The toilet was a hole in the floor and there was no running water in the wash room. Mark’s deflated expression illustrated his expectations were more along the lines of the Orient Express. My issue was the food – or lack of it. The small kitchen seemed only capable of producing one meal at a time and the train was packed with Christmas traffic. The tea was second only to the grey liquid we had faced in Kapiri. The train did stop regularly in villages where people sold things to passengers through the windows but the problem was the same one we have seen with so many African small enterprises – diversity. Why sell mangos if all of your friends and people in the next village are also selling mangos? I should have stocked up on fried chicken in Lusaka. However we did enjoy the journey and it was a great way to see Africa. The scenery was green and lush and at times breathtaking. It was great to see how villagers live so far removed from western ways of life. And the mangos were good. 

 Two full days and nights of slow rumbling along later we arrived in Dar es Salaam where we were met by Mark’s friend Tessa. Tessa was another volunteer based in Dar, knew everything about the city and arranged everything for the next leg of the trip. We caught a ferry to the island of Zanzibar the next day and would have to wait until our return journey to explore Dar.

The Zanzibar culture is a fusion of African, Arabic, Asian and Indian influenced by hundreds of years of trading, particularly of spices and slaves. This is seen in architecture, clothing and best of all food. The Swahili (meaning people of the coast) people are predominantly Muslim but live harmoniously side by side with Christians and other faiths. We had decided to spend a few days including Christmas Day in Stone Town at a beautiful Arabic style guest house. By day we explored the narrow winding streets and alley ways and in the evening the food market at Forandhani Gardens. Vast arrays of seafood were cooked in front of us using spices and coconut milk. We visited a spice farm where we saw how many spices are grown, ate more excellent Zanzibari food and I even climbed a coconut tree. On Christmas Day we enjoyed sundowners in luxury at a very colonial hotel and gate crashed a British families’ game of charades – you need to play a game or two on Christmas Day. We had our Christmas dinner at a local restaurant where roast turkey was replaced by steak and swordfish and wine by fruit juice. 

 We then headed to the idyllic, coconut tree lined beaches on the south east coast of the island. This area of the island is still untouched by the big Italian owned resorts which have transformed the northern beaches. You can see village women cultivating seaweed on the shore, fishermen coming in with their catch of octopus and children digging for bait. You can walk or cycle along the beach for kilometres without being bothered by hardly anyone except the odd Maasai warrior selling some crafts. We met a friendly guy from the nearby village and arranged for his mother to cook us a traditional Swahili meal to share with the family. We gave him some money for food and the next day we were put to work in their kitchen making coconut milk to add to the plantain and cassava dishes. The food was great and was washed down with some excellent spiced tea laced with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. Zanzibar is a beautiful place and the people are great. Apparently there is a VSO volunteer on placement there – now that would be a placement. 

 From Zanzibar we headed back to the mainland and north to the Usambara mountains for some gentle altitude acclimatisation before Kilimanjaro. We stayed in the small town of Leshoto and saw new years eve in at the bar of our guest house with some Peace Corps volunteers, a Czech couple and the quirky Cypriot owner. The next day feeling slightly delicate we decided to start the new year with a short morning hike up to a lookout over the Maasai Steppe. We would have loved to have stayed here for longer but Kili was calling.

We met our Kilimanjaro hiking group and guide at the hotel in Moshi. There would be 8 of us, Julia and I, two Australian girls, a couple from New York state and a couple from Colorado. We bonded well and got on great over the 8 day trek. There is so much I could say about our Kilimanjaro experience but I don’t think I could do it justice. Hiking to the highest peak in Africa, the highest free standing mountain in the world, was a lifetime experience. Our fellow hiker and new friend Joyce did an excellent job of summing it up in a poem she wrote during the trek and which I have posted on our blog. Her husband John also put together a visual diary of short video footage and photos. His camera work while hiking is commendable. Most importantly, we reached Uhuru Peak, the summit and roof of Africa.

 The return journey to Namibia was slightly more tedious than our first journey across the dark continent. This time however I did carry with me a sack of food. The low point was sitting on a stationary bus for 7 hours waiting for it to fill up before it would leave the railway station in Kapiri. The highlight was seeing a family of lions and then a group of elephant on the side of the road as we drove through the Caprivi region in the north of Namibia.

Ant x

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Namibian life

It’s been a long time since I last updated our blog and I realised it’s probably because we’re so used to life over here now that we forget that some of the experiences are so different to those at home, and that it’ll be good to have a written reminder of some of these in years to come.  So this entry is a collection of observations and bits and pieces of Namibian life.

Over the past few months we’ve managed to keep ourselves motivated with work by continuing to deliver Community Based Rehabilitation training to the rural communities in our region.  One such trip was to Tsumkwe, in the remote far north of the region, not far from the border to Botswana.  It takes about 5 hours to get there, 3 of which are on a gravel road…if you’re lucky one or two cars will pass you on this road, but as we found out when we got 2 punctures, the likelihood of someone having the correct shaped locking wheel nut spanner is pretty slim!  Tsumkwe is home to the San community, or ‘Bushmen’ – the hunter gatherers of Namibia and surrounding countries who speak the ‘click’ San language (using not only letters but !, / and // for the sounds of the different clicks).  They are a nomadic population who traditionally will spend hours or even days tracking and hunting their food down on foot using bows and arrows, and are very much in tune with their environment.  Many people in the villages choose to sleep outside under trees rather than in their very basic straw huts.  Community-run conservancies have been set up in areas such as this so that the local people can manage the wildlife numbers and ensure that over-hunting and grazing does not occur.  This is a great concept, but also means that more San now lead a less nomadic lifestyle and are based in one place with access to lots of cheap, home made alcohol.  Overcrowded living conditions and lifestyle choices mean that TB prevalence is very high and also HIV/AIDS, which often goes hand in hand with TB.  

Tsumkwe 'town'

Warming up before a game of netball!
We had a productive week training in Tsumkwe which was focussed on TB rehabilitation, so we had taken along volleyball nets, footballs, netballs and other exercise equipment to include some practical elements to the training.   
At the same time as we were delivering the rehabilitation training to the 10 CBR committee members, a beadwork workshop was underway for people with TB.  The San people love their beads, whether they are made from ostrich shells or from coloured glass and making jewellery is a way of boosting moral and peer support between people with TB as well as offering them a means of generating income.  In the community hall about 40 men and women all gathered to make the most of the trailer-full of boxes and boxes of glass beads that we’d brought with us to make all sorts of different jewellery.  The men sat on the chairs at the tables and seemed to favour the larger, less fiddly beads, whilst the women sat on sarongs on the floor with piles of tiny beads making really intricate designs with babies strapped to their backs or boobs and toddlers crawling around.  It was great seeing such industriousness.  At the end of the workshop the local lodge agreed to sell some of the jewellery to tourists whilst other samples were taken to retailers in Windhoek to hopefully establish some bulk orders.

Whilst the names of most San people are difficult if not impossible to pronounce without spitting the clicks out, the variety of names amongst other Namibians and particularly Zimbabweans are often entertaining.  The Zimbabweans seem to favour names of traits which they wish to instil in their children.  Of the people we work with we have Clever, Trust and Patience.  Both the Namibians and Zimbabweans also like to choose some good old fashioned English names, like Macdonald, Gladys, Geoffrey, Eunice and Ebenezer, and then there’s just some random ones – my neighbour in Okakarara called her 2 year old son Titus!  Clearly some of the names come from the colonial era, and during Apartheid Namibians had to have at least one European name by law.  However, I’m not sure on the origins of Titus.

Kavango cultural group practicing outside our house
Ant with his friends, Lucas and Siene, outside our house
Women at work at the Clay House Project (our home)
Since Ant’s parents visit in October (they have promised to write an entry for our blog so I won’t spoil the story) we have spent pretty much every weekend here in our home town of Otjiwarongo.  There’s not a lot going on, but we’ve established a routine of early morning 4 hour walks to get us in training for Kilimanjaro.  On a Saturday this is followed by hiding inside our clay house to escape the heat but also the hundred or so kids who descend for the day to use the paddling pool, volleyball net and playground area. We have befriended a couple of boys, Lucas (9) and Siene (11) who join Ant for a short distance when he runs past their corrugated iron shack several times a week.  They now come to the Saturday swimming session and we give them lunch and drinks – we’ve had to tell the other kids that Ant’s their uncle to justify their ‘special treatment’.  The other form of entertainment in the Clay House compound is the Kavango cultural group.  They meet a couple of times a week to practice their singing, dancing and drum playing in beaded skirts and won the regional cultural group competition.  They’re off to Opuwo (Himbaland) next week for the national final, and judging by the number of times we’ve heard the same songs over and over they’ve had plenty of practice!

Our training experiences with work have been varied.  Last week I was in a village called Otjituuo where it’s predominantly people from the Herero and Damara tribes.  As a generalisation, people from these tribes are known for needing a rocket up their backsides to do anything!  They’re quite happy to survive on a handout culture and if given the chance would often spend their day sitting outside their house doing nothing except moving to follow the shade.  So, training these groups can be quite a challenge!  The whole VSO concept of letting the people generate their own ideas and trying to be as hands off with facilitation as possible is all well and good, but totally impractical in this setting where handholding seems to be the only way that things get done.  I had been to Otjituuo in June to deliver some training and support the CBR committee to generate an action plan for their activities.  Of the 8 people present in June, only 2 were present this time…with an additional 6 new members.  When I asked what had happened to the previous members it turns out that some can’t be bothered and some have got jobs or moved away.  Had they implemented anything that they had learnt since the last visit? No.  The first question I got asked was where are our T-shirts and bags...I explained that they had to actually DO something first to warrant getting something in return.

Africa time is a whole different concept to European time….if you say 8am people will turn up at 10am or maybe 11ish.  Once everyone has eventually arrived, there needs to be some time for people to have a general chit chat amongst themselves and to get up and wonder off somewhere else for a bit.  Eventually the training can begin at say 12.30pm, to then be followed shortly after by lunch (which always has to be from 1pm until 2pm – I don’t know what would happen if this had to be changed, I imagine something awful!).  During the training people will happily answer their phones and send texts, and sometimes walk off to do something else for a bit.  You can start to get a complex that maybe it has something to do with your training style, except that it doesn’t matter who is delivering the workshop or how interactive it is, people just don’t seem to be able to focus for longer than a few minutes.

Outside of the training sessions I still find it difficult to occupy myself in the rural communities.  Mainly because if I go out to chat to people and wonder around then I get descended on by men who think that because I’m white I must be rich, and of course that I will accept their marriage proposals.  I got a great story this time by a guy who was drunk and told me that there had been a lion on the outskirts of the village which had been a threat to all living here.  He said he had captured the lion and was keeping it in a shed and that now he is known by the community as being a brave man, and why wouldn’t I want to marry such a brave person?!  All credit to his active imagination! 

We have 3 more weeks to go before our Christmas trip and are heading back to Tsumkwe for a follow up evaluation and training visit.  We are also celebrating the International Day of People with Disabilities in Osire, the refugee camp.  We have now delivered all 16 modules of the CBR training to the Osire CBR committee and they are the first committee in the country to have completed the training – quite an achievement.  We are combining an award ceremony and some speeches with the remainder of the programme of dances and poems on the 2nd December.  Along with the certificates we are providing the committee with testimonies so that hopefully they can use these to gain employment in the future when they are no longer refugees.

Amazingly the Ministry of Health’s regional transport budget has not yet been exhausted, but I think by January it definitely will be.  So from January onwards our activities will be limited to Otjiwarongo, but we do have a good project to keep us busy.  We have been donated about 45 second hand wheelchairs and the same number of walking frames from Germany via a company called Ohorongo Cement.  It has taken about 4 months to get them transported from a Pastors house in another town to a storage unit at the hospital in Otjiwarongo (Africa time).  However, now that we have them we can begin the process of assessing for repairs before issuing them to patients, some of whom have been waiting years for a wheelchair.  The likelihood of getting any funding from the Ministry of Health for the repairs is slim to none as we have only had 2 new wheelchair purchases approved for the entire year (and there are about 40 people waiting for them).  As a consequence we are going to start a fundraising campaign to buy things like seat cushions, new footplates and tyres for the chairs….watch this space and Facebook for more information if you would be willing to contribute!

Our Christmas adventure begins on the 16th December.  We’re travelling by bus and train across the continent through Zambia to Tanzania.  We’ll be spending Christmas on Zanzibar where we have a few nights booked in Stone Town (lots of history – slave trade, spice trading) followed by a few days on an idyllic, sandy, palm tree lined beach where we can scuba dive, snorkel and, if we’re feeling crazy, have a go at kite surfing.  After the relaxation we head towards Kilimanjaro where we commence our 8 day hike on 2nd January to the summit, Uhuru Peak.  We’ve had the luxury of plenty of time to do training so now the only concern is altitude sickness, but there’s no predicting who will be most affected...Martina Navratilova apparently had to be taken off the mountain and was hospitalised due to it, so fingers crossed that doesn’t happen to us!  We’re very excited about the whole trip and it’ll be our last excuse to have a long holiday before returning home to the UK.

We have our flights booked now and return home on 3rd April!  Both of us feel ready to come home, particularly as we’ve really missed our social life, but I’m sure it’ll be a real shock to the system when reality hits. 

Monday, 10 October 2011

Mum and Dad (Pollards) visit

At last – having promised to visit Julia and Ant when they left England – we boarded the plane to Johannesburg and on to Windhoek on 3rd August, hardly able to contain our excitement at the thought of seeing them both again.  As soon as we landed, I text Julia to tell her we were actually in Namibia! We stayed at Puccinis in Windhoek the first night as the Intercape bus did not go to Otjiwarongo on Thursdays.  However, the stay meant that we could explore Windhoek – very straight forward as it is a small capital city and easy to find your way around.  We ended up at Joe’s Beer House - a very popular venue where guests sit outside under straw sunshades near a fishpond and later a welcoming log fire is lit in the restaurant centre – yes it does get cold in Africa during their winter ! We sampled our first African meat – Springbok kebabs – and knew we were going to enjoy the local food.

Mike had spotted that there was a Namib Transport Museum ( with a steam train ) so the next morning we made our way to pay it a visit– perhaps wrongly expecting something along the lines of the London one!  Outside there was a little engine and a tank carriage but inside there were just artifacts from various stations when the railway was built by the Germans in about 1902.  There was a very enthusiastic German Namibian in charge who followed us into each room, so we had to keep thinking of questions to ask him to try to demonstrate our keen interest!!   Later in the day, despite having booked on line in advance, we had to produce our bus ticket and show our passports and credit card several times to Intercape staff, but finally we were on our way to Otjiwarongo.  On the bus we were greeted by a friend of Julia and Ant, David, whom Julia had asked to look out for us – it was good to feel part of the Namibian community already!    There are no real bus stops in Namibia so we were dropped off at the BP filling station.  As you can imagine, it was an emotional reunion with lots of hugs and kisses all round!  After checking into C’est Si Bon lodge, we went to Julia and Ant’s for supper – and a cold beer or two!  It was great to actually see where they are living – I feel we can relate much better now to things that they do and places they visit.  When we got back to the lodge about 11 pm it was already locked up and in darkness with only the night porter on duty – this was something we were to experience throughout our stay.  Namibians get up with the sun (about 6 30) and seem to go to bed by about 9 pm!

Saturday we were picked up by Julia and Ant and did a quick shop at the Spa supermarket – very impressive, nothing really anything that they didn’t sell!  It was important to stock up on beer and wine as the shops close at 1pm on Saturdays and don’t re-open till  Monday mornings.  It was interesting to see the ‘special offers’ were on all the food basics – maize flour, sugar (the Hereros put 5 or 6 spoonfuls in a cup of tea or coffee ), macaroni, flour and oil.

We then went to the Waterburg Plateau with Julia driving and constantly on the look out for any warthogs, baboons, kudu, guinea fowl etc. which might suddenly decide to cross the road!  On arrival we climbed the Plateau which involved a strenuous (for us) climb over boulders near the top.  However, the views across the plains and scrubland were wonderful and we re-gained our strength with a picnic when we got down.  Later in the afternoon we went to Okakarara where Julia and Ant were based for their first few months.  We visited the hospital and saw their house and treatment room – it all looked very orderly and tidy.  However, the town itself seemed very poor with only one poorly stocked shop and quite bare looking stalls on the street.   There were a few gambling and alcohol shops.   The ‘location’ area of the town comprised very poor shacks made out of corrugated iron and anything else which could possibly be put together to make some sort of shelter.  A game of football was taking place and a crowd of youngsters from the local school were enthusiastically supporting the teams.  Overall it was easy to see why Julia and Ant wanted to move!

We experienced our first wonderful African sunset on the way back to Otjiwarongo where Julia and Ant prepared a wonderful meal of game steaks.  

On Sunday we had a tour of Otjiwarongo and then a fairly lazy day – just asking questions about our trip over the next week and gaining tips from Julia and Ant.  We later met up with their friend Mike and had a lovely meal at C’est si Bon restaurant – more wonderful meet: oryx steak!  The meal came to an end at 10 pm when the staff were ready to shut up shop and turn out the lights!!

Monday dawned and Mike and I were excited and somewhat apprehensive about ‘going it alone’ on our week long tour.  Although we had been to Africa before we had been with a group or someone with knowledge of the country, but this was the first time that we had planned our own trip and been independent.  However, with  Julia’s car stocked up and prepared for the journey, we hit the open road  - long straight roads disappearing into the distance with hardly any other cars in sight!  We went to Etosha National Park for 3 days and had a wonderful time.  We weren’t lucky enough (or perhaps not observant enough) to see any of the big cats or rhino, but we saw many, many animals including giraffe, zebra, kudu, gemsbok and elephant, as well as lots of different birds.  It was great to have the independence of being able to just move from one water hole to another and sit quietly watching animals come and go.  We had a wonderful couple of hours one afternoon just watching a herd of elephants with various sized young ones, play in the water to cool themselves down.   We stayed in lodges which had different styles but were all nicely furnished and comfortable.  We were able to wake up at dawn at Etosha Safari Lodge and just open the curtains to watch the sun rise over the scrubland – a memorable sight.   

On Thursday we moved on to an area of  Namibia called Damara Land.  Once off the main arterial routes, all the roads are gravel.  Some are quite good and you can easily drive at 50 mph but others are rutted or have frequent potholes and dried up river beds to cross, so progress then is slow.  On occasions, we feared that every screw in the car would be shaken loose!  We stayed the first night at the Damara Mopane Lodge which had just opened last year.  Each chalet had its own little garden in which vegetables were grown for the restaurant, along with sunflowers and marigolds etc.  It was lovely.  It had been a long drive so we had a bit of R & R and a swim in the pool.  The next day we went to the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein – this was a long drive too over very slow roads and it took us about 2 ½ hours.  The engravings had been made by the San Bushmen to communicate where the various animals could be hunted and where the water holes were located.  The Bushmen were nomadic and travelled to the coast so as well as pictures of lions, kudu etc. there were pictures of seals and penguins.  Despite it being very rocky and a desert area, there were a number of pretty flowers grown.  After about an hour we set off back again!  We passed a few isolated farms and saw the corrugated shacks where the labourers lived – poor and rough conditions.  We stayed that night at the lodge near Vingerklip with is a tall pointed outcrop of rock and an area which is flat with sudden vertical cliffs and plateaux – it had once been a sea bed.

On Sunday we set off to Swakopmund a German-style little town on the coast.  The road was desolate through very flat countryside and again with very little traffic using it.  When we arrived there was a heavy mist at Henties Bay but fortunately we found a lovely little fish and chip shop to brighten the day.  At Swakopmund, the roads were covered with sand and on the beach the waves were crashing on the shore.  The buildings were rather Disneyesque and apparently the area is very popular in the summer when South Africans and Namibians flee to the coast to cool down.  We had a couple of days here and drove down to Walvis Bay where we had a look round the salt pans and watched flamingos and pelicans.  Again, found a lovely restaurant, The Tug, and had another super meal.

On Tuesday we headed back to Windhoek to meet up with Julia and Ant to start our camping adventure.  Once we had picked up the 4WD with the 2 double tents on top, we went on a shopping trip to stock up on supplies for the next three days.   This done, we went to a lovely, popular Portuguese restaurant and had fish for a change.

Wednesday we were all up early,  loaded up the vehicle and then headed south down to Rehoboth and then over the Spreeghoote pass which was very high with twisty roads and hairpin bends – no worries though as Ant was calmly in control. (Mike and Ant decided to take it in turns to drive alternate days.)

We stopped at Solitaire for a coffee and a slice of Moose’s apple pie which was delicious – served by Moose himself.    This apparently is famous and no one drives through Solitaire on their way to the Namib Desert without stopping.  There was also a small shop and services and scattered around the place were old rusting American cars and station waggons.

A little further on we came to the Namib Desert Lodge where we were to camp for 2 nights.  We had the plot for 4 units all to ourselves, so felt well and truly in the desert.  In the afternoon we went over to the Lodge and followed a trail into the countryside, but although we saw lots of birds, we didn’t see any animals.  After a beer we went back to the campsite to erect the tents before dark – we need not have worried as this was very straight forward and everything we needed for camping was supplied on the vehicle.  We sat and watched a wonderful sunset and enjoyed the remoteness of the site.  Julia and I collected some kindling for the braai and Ant soon got it going, cooking some wonderful oryx steaks.  As soon as the sun set, the temperature dropped like a stone and we gradually added extra layers of clothing so that we could play some card games and then turn out the lights and watch the stars – it was amazing how much could be seen without any light pollution. 

The next morning – having ensured that we woke up sufficiently to negotiate the ladders down to the ground – we had breakfast then headed off to Sesriem Canyon. We had to pack the tents and everything else away, but this didn’t take long. The Canyon was dry during the winter – the last time Julia and Ant saw it there was a lot of water through which the contestants on the Namib Desert Challenge have to run.  It was a deep, narrow gorge with interesting rock formations and birds nesting on the narrow ledges.  We then drove on to Namib Naukluft National Park, with the rocks and soil becoming more and more red and then red sand dunes starting to appear – these were sculptured into amazing shapes and forms with the wind.  There were lots of springbok and ostriches with the occasional oryx.

We stopped at Dune 45 which is the 2nd highest dune which tourists climb.  We climbed about half way but it was very hard going – forward 3 steps and back 2 in the soft sand walking along the ridge.  Obviously Julia and Ant could easily have done it, but Mike and I decided not to risk a heart attack in such a remote location!!  Coming down there was a sand storm and we ended with sand everywhere – in our ears, eyes and even right down in underwear!   We drove on to Soussusvlei and onto Deadvlei – the latter was only accessible by 4wd as it was 5KM of deep sand.  Mike enjoyed himself putting the vehicle to the test and battling through the deep sand, endeavouring not to get us stuck!  There was quite a wide track with bushes and dips and it was not always easy to see which would be the best route to take.  However, we made it there – and back!  When we got to Deadvlei the scenery of the sand dunes was wonderful and so expansive.  We walked to Deadvlei which was a salt pan with some petrified trees in it.  Even though it desert there were quite a few flowers in bloom – small, low growing succulents which were very pretty.   As we drove back the sun was starting to go down and the colours in the dunes and rocks changed as the shadows lengthened – a wonderful sight.   Back at camp we had another braai – unfortunately the frying pan was not non-stick, so the pumpkin fritters didn’t quite turn out as expected.   However, not to worry, plenty of chicken etc. and of course beers and wine.  It was a very cold night and we were cold even in our sleeping bags!
On Friday we packed up camp and retraced our steps back to Solitaire – so of course had to pick up some portions of apple pie from Moose’s before driving to Aus.  On the way we saw some black Karakul sheep which are bred for the very soft pelts from new born lambs which are used in the Russian and Italian fashion industry.  We eventually arrived at Klein Aus Vista lodge about mid afternoon and pitched the tent – this time amongst other occupied pitches.  We just had time to go for a sundown walk of about 5 KM.  There was a waymarked track over some low hills to the top of the valley – very rocky but with some lovely flowers – surprising in such a dry area.  At sundown we got the braai going and Ant made his famous dough balls which when cooked, are dipped in garlic butter – really good and excellent with the game steaks.  Again it became very cold and by 9 pm everyone on the campsite was in bed.  This time we all (except for Mike who seems to have his own heating system) put on extra layers so that we were nice and warm in bed. 
The other happy campers were awake early – about 6 am – so we too were up bright and early.  We had the apple pie for breakfast and the little weaver birds were queuing up for the crumbs.  We then drove to Luderitz and saw several groups of wild horses en route.

 These probably originated from horses which were let loose by the Germans at the end of the first world war.  They live in the desert and only drink every few days.  We went to Kolmanskop which is now a ghost town partially covered by sand.  It was inhabited by quite a large community between 1908 and 1928 when better diamonds were found further south.  It was really interesting because as a German run mine,  there were all the buildings needed by the community e.g. school, hospital, butcher’s, ice making factory etc. etc.  as well as very well appointed, large houses for the chief jobs.  There were lots of photos showing life and the town in its hay day. However, in addition to the white community there were about 800 Oshiwambo people who were the miners and lived in crowded, poor quality buildings – there was no mention of them nor photos either !!

 Following the tour round Kolmanskop we went into Luderitz which again is a very German style town and seems almost out of place in Namibia.  We met a friend of Julia and Ant’s, Cynthia, who lived there and took us on a guided tour for the afternoon.  We went to the salt pans and down to an old whaling station, then on to Diaz Point.  It was yet another type of landscape – barren almost like a moonscape.  We watched some of the see birds and saw seals at Diaz Point after which we stopped at a little cafĂ© for tea and cake.  We then had to dash back to Aus before it got dark – not normally advisable to drive after dark because of loose animals on the road and/or problems if you break down.  Another good braai with some wonderful Namibian sausages etc.

Up early again and set off for Fish River Canyon area.  We arrived at the Canon Roadhouse Lodge just after lunch – it was a wonderful set up.  The reception desk was a converted lorry and then all round the restaurant were old cars – 2 of which had fires burning in them in the evenings.  We had lunch and a sit by the pool then Ant went for a run and Julia and I went for a walk.  The track was not always easy to follow but we found our way and enjoyed the rocky scenery and the quiet.  We made a curry for dinner that night and after eating went into the Lodge bar for a drink and to play games – bananagrams, cards etc.  We stayed till about 9 pm when everyone else had gone to bed and the staff wanted to close up!
On Monday we drove the short distance to Fish River Canyon which is 84 Km long.  Julia and Ant were going to do the trek over 4 days starting on 12th September so it was their first sight of what was in store.  The Canyon is the 2nd largest in the world and the descent at the start looked very steep!  We had a walk along to various view points and then drove to further along the canyon for lunch.  Then we drove to Ai-Ais which is the end point of the trek.  A group of walkers had just finished so Julia was asking them about various aspects of the trek – and seemed re-assured with the answers!  We had a drink at the newly refurbished lodge then headed back to the campsite with dark clouds closing in on us.  We managed to have supper before it rained and we took refuge in the Lodge bar.  It rained throughout the night which was very unusual, but we were warm and dry in the tents.

On Tuesday we had to pack up for the last time and make our way back to Windhoek.  Ant had the task of driving in the wet sand for over an hour, which made driving rather tricky.  We stopped off at Quiver Tree forest but did not stay long as it was bitterly cold and windy.  We got back to Windhoek mid afternoon and made a few souvenir purchases to take home!  We had a final dinner together – celebrating birthdays past and future and wishing Julia and Ant good luck in their various ventures to come over the next few months.

It seemed unbelievable that three weeks had flashed by and that our holiday to which we had looked forward for so long, was actually over.  However, it was great to see the country where Julia and Ant have been living and to relate, in a small way, to what they have experienced.  They were brilliant hosts and very patiently put up with Mike and I during our holiday with them, when we were living in very close quarters!  Farewells at the airport were of course sad and emotional, but we all look forward to their return to the UK in the spring. 

Monday, 19 September 2011

Hiking 'The Fish'

The Fish River Canyon in southern Namibia is the world’s second largest canyon after Arizona’s Grand Canyon. The canyon started to form about 500 million years ago, with the Fish River beginning to cut its way through the bottom of the valleys a mere 50 million years ago. The Fish River is the only river in Namibia that usually has pools of water in its middle during the dry season and because of this has been home to settlers since the early Stone Age. More recently the Ai-Ais area was used as a base by the Germans in their war against the Nama in the early 1900s. 

View of the canyon from Hiker's Point

The best way to experience the canyon is to undertake the 90km hike from Hobas to Ai-Ais. The hike is unguided and self sufficient. It takes four or five days to complete and once you are in there is no easy way out. As well as the terrain, temperatures can be gruelling and it has been described in the press as ‘the world’s hottest hike’. For this reason the canyon is closed to hikers during the hottest part of the year.

We undertook the hike with a fellow volunteer, Chris, who arrived in Namibia at the same time as us. After a night at Hobas campsite we did a final bag check ensuring we had all we needed: sleeping bag, dry rations, stove, water purifying drops, medical kit and a change of clothes. 

Final bag check

The intrepid hikers at the start of the trail

We set off from Hiker’s Point on the 90 minute decent into the canyon which was very steep in places. Once into the canyon it didn’t become any easier and it was a taxing 16km of loose sand to Sulphur Springs, the stop for our first night. We made it to the springs just before dark. There are no designated camping spots in the canyon and it is just a matter of finding a comfortable area of sand to bed down in your sleeping bag under the stars. Having been warned about snakes and other creepy crawlies we were sure to lay out our beds just before getting into them so that no slithery friends could sneak in without us seeing them. 

The decent into the canyon

Julia and Chris negotiating the sand

The good thing about making it to Sulphur Springs was that we could enjoy a hot bath in the morning (which happened to be my birthday). The springs are thermal and pump out of the ground at 57 degrees Celsius. They contain fluorides, chlorides and sulphates and according to legend have healing properties. They were certainly good for my aching muscles.

Bathing in the thermal springs on my birthday

The second day followed the river closely although the terrain varied considerably from sand to boulders to gravel trails which made for a much more interesting hike than we had anticipated. We were happy to pass the 40km point and achieve our goal for the day of reaching half way. Our camping spot was right by the river and after dinner we spent the evening star gazing. With zero light pollution it was amazing how many stars we could see and we were surprised to see at least a dozen shooting stars. 

Reaching 40km on day two

Our riverside camping spot

The next leg took us over some interesting passes with great views of the canyon. The terrain became gradually easier and the canyon gradually shallower. At about 75km we set up camp, enjoyed a swim in the river and (another) delicious pasta dinner prepared by Julia. This meant we had an easy last day and by lunchtime on the forth day we reached Ai-Ais Springs where a much deserved Windhoek Lager was enjoyed. Just a few hundred metres from the finish a snake slithered across my path just a foot or so in front of me – just to prove that they really are down there! 

Enjoying the view

Hiking ‘The Fish’ was a great experience and we’re now looking forward to our next big hike – Kilimanjaro!