Thursday, March 25, 2010


The unique landscape of Spitzkoppe was behind us as we drove to the coast and the Cape Cross Seal Colony. The morning was freezing and we were all rugged up in sleeping bags in the truck. The landscape was pretty boring for this bit and coupled with quite heavy fog, most of us grabbed an extra nap.

At the seal colony the first thing we noticed was the smell - BAD. When there are over 10 000 seals all living in the same place it is really smelly and noisy. We spent around an hour wandering the boardwalks and watching the interactions between the adult and infant seals as well as males fighting each other.
A carpet of seals
At one point there were 5 pairs of bulls fighting on this bit of rock
Leaving Cape Cross we continued down the coast into Swakopmund which was promoted as the Namibian adventure town. There were many activities on offer and between us we chose to do Quadbiking, Sandboarding and Skydiving.

For the 2 nights we were here we were again in a hostel staying in 4bed dorms. Apart from the scheduled adventures that we planned for, one person had a memorable stay. The incident occurred after we'd all headed out for a group dinner in town and then onto a bar for a bit of dancing. In short Claire was feeling a bit crook so we left early taking our room key with us. One of the other people in our room then got separated from the group and made his way back to the hostel on his own. After realising he didn't have a key and the bell not working on the gate he decided to jump the electric fence. Unfortunately he landed badly and broke his ankle.
The rest of the group returned about an hour later and flagged a police car down, only to be told the ambulance was 'in the garage'. Eventually he was taken to a private hospital, only to have the break confirmed, given some painkillers and sent back to the hostel to await a specialist appointment for surgery the next day.

Sadly he wasn't able to continue the tour with us and we had to leave him in the hostel until the doctors gave him clearance to fly back to England. We don't think the hospital often sees an overlanding truck turn up with 20 people outside visiting hours as we said goodbye and dropped off a care package before we kept going. We think it was about another week before he could return home.

Claire has been keeping a secret desire to throw herself out of a plane and after being assured by our tour guides that this company (Groundrush Adventures Swakopmund) was reputable and safe she signed up with 6 other people from the truck. Why chose Africa to jump out of a plane? Well, in Swakopmund you can see the South Atlantic Ocean meet the Nambiban Desert. The jump was scheduled for the afternoon we arrived so they headed out to the airstrip in the desert only to be told when they got there that the winds at jumping altitude were too strong and they would need to return the next day.

That night it rained and I was concerned that the weather was going to prevent my chances of leaping out of the perfectly good plane. Luckily the rain stopped and the clouds cleared enough for us to try again. The only hitch was that one of the camera guys had pulled a neck muscle the day before and was taking a week off for it to heal. Having seen what these guys have on their heads it is no wonder that he got hurt! There was a game of 'rock, paper, scissors' to decide who would get the other camera guy. As we were climbing into the van to drive out, news came through that the owner of the company had just flown back into town from his family holiday and he would step in and be the second camera guy. We picked him up in the main street and drove him home to pick up his kit and then out to the airfield. Happy faces all round!

The airstrip was marked out with a few rocks and a small shed at one end containing the gear. The plane could only hold 6 people in addition to the pilot and was the same size as the van! I was in the second group to jump and literally saw the tandem instructor land, remove the shute, get handed a new one and board the plane. I don't think the plane was even grounded for more then five minutes between jumps.
Yep, the van can hold more people!
About to fly, oh and those rocks are the edge of the run way
It takes 25 minutes for the plane to reach 10 000 feet and I was feeling more then a little nervous. I was the second person to jump and watching Elena jump first was actually calming.
Very cosy in the teeny plane
The camera man crawled out onto the wheels of the plane and then I was told to 'walk' to the door. This is not an easy task when attached to someone else! It is a pretty strange feeling to realise that there is a man on the wheel of a tiny plane, you are strapped to another man who is crouched at the open door of the plane and you are literally hanging in mid air with your legs being pulled sideways as the plane continues to fly. Our exit from the plane wasn't strictly textbook, but we did pull off a pretty good cartwheel/somersault. Rave reviews from the other guides when they saw it.
Elena's camera man climbing onto the wheel
For some reason this photo wouldn't load up the correct way. Cartwheeling out!
The free fall wasn't scary at all. Apart from feeling like you are standing in front of a very large fan and moving your arms becomes difficult you didn't feel like you were falling. I even had time to look around a bit and try and spot the sand dunes where Steve was Quadbiking.
Dreiss is giving the camera man the count down for the shute while I check out the view
I was completely unprepared for the shute to open. When the shute is open you feel like you are floating. It wasn't until this point that the difference in speed is noticed from the free fall. Dreiss gave me control of the shute but my arms were too shaky with adrenaline to be able to do any manuovers. The free fall was apparently about 30secs and 3min or so once the shute was open. Our landing wasn't so graceful as I didn't process the 'straigten your legs' command until after I hit the ground
Coming in to land
Dreiss - my tandem guide.
There aren't enough positive adjectives to describe this experience. All of us wished we could do it again, this time know what to expect and being a bit more relaxed about it. The funniest incident of the day happened to one of the other guys from the truck. Just as he went to jump his shoe fell off and to the surprise of the ground assistants, landed in the middle of the airstrip a few minutes ahead of the owner. He was very relieved as he was due at quadbiking straight after his jump and didn't have time to return to the hostel for new shoes.
The other 3 girls I jumped with
There is a video but it was too big to put here so you will have to visit us to see it.

Now you might think that Claire having jumped out of a plane would relish the opportunity for a bit of sand dune activity but not so. Most of the truck signed up for these two options but when it rained during the night many of them backed out thinking that the boarding wouldn't be possible on wet sand. They missed out!

For those that have never been sandboarding, it is similar to snow boarding, but on the 120 metre high sanddunes. Mark & Dan joined Steve along with the Dutch couple, and were very excited when we arrived at the base of the dune just in time for the weather to clear.

This photo is from Claire's skydive DVD and is the location for the boarding.

There were two options at the sandboarding, stand-up or lay down. I chose the stand-up version. After three runs down the dune (and the long walk back up the 80 metre dune) I started to slowly get the idea. At this point we were given the opportunity to give the lay down style a go. Apparently we didn't need the gloves or knee guards that the others had, or the 4 warm up runs down the easy part of the dune. Instead those of us that had chosen the stand up option went straight into the fastest lay down run of the day. This time the 80 metres was almost vertical, reaching speeds of 72 kph!! The only advice that I remembered was hold the board up, and that you could use your toes as brakes. Thankfully there were no major incidents.

All in all, a fantastic experience. Unfortunately we're still waiting for the DVD footage of our boarding to come.......... so these photos are courtesy of Dan.


The afternoon activity was Quad Biking on the dunes. Again the scenery was incredible. There were a couple varieties of bikes, from Automatic (but less powerful), Semi-Automatic (you had to change gears, but you didn't have to worry about a clutch), and Manual (which were apparently the fastest). Most of us went for the semi-automatic, which was a good choice.

As the dunes are a protected area, there are only certain parts that we were able to drive on. Basically we were split off into groups of about 6, and it was follow the leader. The only exception to this was Johannes, who can only be described as a crazy man behind the wheel!

We weaved our way up & down & around the dunes, and eventually made it to "the lookout" which was a point high on the dunes but close to the coast. To see the sand dunes plunge straight into the ocean was a fantastic memory.

The final memory I had to take away from the quadbiking experience was my melted trekking pants! It seemed that my right leg was resting against a hot part of the engine, which i hadn't noticed during the noisy & bumpy ride. I was glad that they had lasted the majority of our African adventure, as we were on the home stretch now.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


We left Etosha on a definite high but our guides just said 'Namibia isn't finished yet!' With a warning that most of the next drive would be on gravel we braced ourselves for the familar lumps, bumps and lurches. Happily the roads were in fantastic condition and we didn't really notice too much difference to tarmac. We passed a few small herds of Springbok and Oryx grazing beside the road and a Guinea Fowl tried very hard to fly straight into the windscreen, waking quite a few of us up with the thud.

Eventually we started to notice some massive orange rock formations starting to appear on the horizon and realised that this was where we were heading. As we drove towards the entry we started to see cars coming towards us with some pretty fancy looking pushbikes strapped to the roof. This kind of site is common in cities around the world but not one we thought we would see surrounded by desert sands. It turns out that there had been a half marathon and mountain bike fundraiser on. The temperatures were again in the high 30's and we were in awe of the competitors.

The only downside of this competition was that the camp was very crowded and we ended up bushcamping in an area not normally used. The rock formations are granite and all of us couldn't wait to be off the truck and able to explore. The surface of the rocks were surprisingly smooth and that meant a few people who didn't have hiking shoes were reduced to staying on the lower levels.
After the worst of the heat had passed a few of us were taken on a guided walk to see some rock paintings. The guide from the local village showed us some of the local plants and explained how they would have been used in the past. The site of the paintings is quite easy to get to and although faded we could see the depiction of Zebras, Giraffe and other animals. There is no real protection of these paintings so hopefully they are still around for many years to come and not vandalised. Sunset in this location was spectacular. The granite boulders changed colour along with the sky and it was great to just sit back and watch nature at work.
Like the previous camp in the Kalahari we were told to keep and eye out for Scorpions and the like but it was a spider that gave us the biggest scare and entertainment all in one. A couple of our fellow travellers were quite scared of bugs and during dinner a huge furry pale grey spider was spotted. Many screams and laughs later we bravely threw a container over it and got Jacques to inspect it. He proceeded to say it was nothing and released it back into the bushes (much to the horror of some). All visits to the bush bathroom were then carefully deliberated and extra precautions taken in case of 'the spider'.
Special mention to Jacques for the fabulous meal that night. Homemade bread and pumpkin soup!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Etosha National Park

After leaving the Kalahari we went across the border into Nambia and the first thing we all noticed were mountains. The wide open plains of Botswana were behind us.
First stop was Windhoek which had a strong German feel to it. The streets signs are German and we heard more German than English in the short time we were there. It was also the most western city that we had been in over the last few weeks. Steve took the opportunity of reasonable internet speed to print his new employment contract after being offered a job back in Tanzania. We had a brief break from camping as we stayed in a hostel. It was strange sharing a room with 4 or more people and I think most people were pretty happy to reclaim the tents the next night. Another 2 people joined the truck here for the final 11 days down the Cape Town.

The drive from Windhoek to Etosha was fairly long but a quick stop at a German bakery in the tiny town of Outjo was welcomed. Nearly everyone sampled the cookies and other delights on offer.

Unlike the other game parks that we had been too, this one has proper roads that although are gravel are maintained. As a result you don't need special vehicles to experience the park. Etosha is a fenced park and is sometimes referred to as 'the Great White place of Dry Water'. This means that during the dry season (winter) many of the waterholes dry up and because of the fence the animals can't migrate to find water. As a result, the park has had to create a number of waterholes. For us it was great for viewing as the animals all congregate at the waterholes.
The campsite we were staying at (Okaukuejo) had a waterhole on the boundary that was even lit at night. All of us spent many hours sitting at the fence waiting and watching as a variety of animals came. At one point there were Lions, Rhino, Giraffe, Zebra, Elephants and Jackal all within a few minutes of each other. Surprisingly, all of the Rhino that we saw were the rare black variety and not the more numerous white. The names are also unrelated to their colour, as the only difference is in the shape and position of the horns. There was one very annoying photographer that came equipped with the biggest lens we have seen and a flood light. Jacques ended up going over to him and strongly suggesting that he stop shining the light in the Lion's eyes.Black Rhino
This giraffe stood at the edge of the clearing for over 4 hours because there were Lions growling in the distance. Apparently a herd of 18 Elephants made it feel safe enough to venture to the water's edge
We did 3 game drives in the park and it was nice to be in Kwando for them. Jacques joined us in the truck and set about imparting all his 'game ranger' knowledge. This was when we realised just how lucky we were with our tour leaders. Although it was a little information overload it was great to hear someone so excited about the wildlife. This was what we had wanted in the Kenya and Tanzania. As well as describing the the basic differences between male and female, Jacques also explained the methods in which the animals hunted (or evaded) and looked for water.
The Zebra here have brown stripes as well
Managed to see a Black Rhino during daylight as well.
Kudu (we also had this for dinner a few times!)
This couple were having a nap next to the road...
and these Springbok were on the other side
A Jackal managed to isolate this Springbok from the group but it was too quick to be caught
At one of the larger water holes Kwando's engine suddenly decided not to work. Jacques and JP very nervously got out and made a quick fix to the water line before driving us directly to the nearest campsite for some more permanent repairs. The rest of us kept a very close eye on the hundreds of animals that were drinking at the waterhole, including Zebra, Lion, Kudu, Springbok, Giraffe and Elephant and Ostrich.
When we reached the Etosha Pan (120km long dry lakebed) we all disregarded the sign and jumped out for some artistic photos. We aren't sure how often it sees water but when it does the lake is only about 10cm deep and supports fish and frogs that have been dormant beneath the salt crust.
Etosha was definitely a highlight of the trip so far. Not just for the amount of wildlife that we were able to see at each of the waterholes, but for the commentary that Jacques and JP provided along the way.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Kalahari Desert

One more night in Botswana and it was unique! The drive to the next camp was pretty short which was appreciated after the party the night before. When we turned off the tarmac road it was a couple of kilometres of sandy and bumpy road to the campsite itself. Even though it is winter the temperatures are hot! We estimated that it is at least high 30's which was starting to get up there.

As we entered the site we saw some rather cute little huts and a few shade shelters. Unfortunately all the shady spots had been taken by another truck and the huts had no windows. Most people decided to stay in the tents and we all crammed into the shade provided by one tree.

Jacques then gave us the local wildlife warnings. So far we have been used to looking out for Zebra, Lions, Elephants and even Pigs. Now we were told to keep an eyeout for Scorpions, Spiders and bugs. There was a really annoying fly which we were warned about. It is quite large and will try and crawl into ears and noses. Jacques told us that they were difficult to kill and to give anyone that had one of them a 'hearty slap'. I don't think we have ever been more paranoid!
We had been told that there was a swimming hole nearby and all of us decided to beat the heat with a swim. Surprisingly we didn't take Kwando (our truck) but all 19 of us piled into the back of a ute and the lady who owned the camp drove us to the swimming hole. It was an exciting trip with a few people having a rather unstable ride over the sandy tracks. About halfway along we got a flat tyre and the lady told Jacques and JP that they had to change it. A piece of cake for our experienced guides and we were back in the ute, hanging on tightly as we lurched along.

The swimming hole was not what we expected. It was a very deep square cut hole in the middle of the desert. There was a small shaded area and even a bush bathroom. Originally it had been a quarry and then the water started to seep in and filled it. The 3 metre leap in was off the cut rock on the side and the biggest surprise of all was how cold it was! The temperature turned a few people blue. The flies mentioned above followed us out there and in the end the only way to get rid of them is the catch them (not that difficult) and remove the heads. They didn't even drown, and some how managed to survive even if you trod on them!

After a couple of hours swimming we headed back to the campsite where we met some of the local Kalahari Bushmen and went through the bush with them. They took turns showing us what plants they used for food and medicine. Later that night we saw them perform some dancing for the other truck.
We feel that it is important to mention that Botswana has a strict 'foot and mouth' prevention program. Part of this is a Buffalo Fence that runs through the Delta and we could see it from the air during our flight. The other defences are random inspection points where at the least every person has to walk through disinfectant and do the same with our spare shoes. This happened at least 5 times. Only once did the officers insist on seeing our luggage and inspecting for other shoes and meat. Easier said then done for most people as our packs had been emptied into the lockers. A few of the packs were repeatedly shown to the officers. Luckily the guards weren't all that dedicated to the task, as if they had inspected the lockers themselves they would have found quite a few of them full and the odd bit of frozen meat as well.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Okavango Delta

The delta is probably the main highlight of Botswana for most people. The Okavango river begins in Angola and flows into Botswana where around 18.5 billion cubic metres of water spread out to form islands, lagoons and channels for 16,000 sqare kilometres. It is also promoted as the place to see hippos, in fact our Lonely Planet guidebook has a picture of 2 hippos from the delta on it cover. Needless to say, we were quite excited at the prospect of bushcamping on one of these everchanging islands.

Our transport from camp was by open sided truck. This time with 2 long bench seats the length of the tray. All our tents, food, water and daypacks were then stuffed under seats or on laps. The drive out to our launch point was around 45 min of very bumpy sandy road, and included a stop to drop the drivers wife at work!

When we arrived at the launch it was organised chaos. There were other groups there as well, although we're not sure if they were staying the night or just doing a day trip. Once we had divided into pairs we had to find a 'poler' and get our gear into the Mokoro (think canoe). A mokoro is the tradional way of navigating the delta. Usually the mokoro is made from the sausage tree, but the tree has to grow for 80 years before it is usable and then the boat only lasts 5years. Most of the mokoros we used were more modern fibreglass versions.
A quick stop for 2 people to change out of a leaky canoe.
Off we go...
In the canoe, we had our daypacks as backrests and sleeping mats to sit on. The 'poler' stood in the rear and poled (or punted) us to our camp. The water appeared to be about 1m deep although we were advised not to leave the canoe unless told it was safe be the poler. Hippos and crocodiles seemed to be the animals to look out for. We were lucky enough to see some elephants on the way out as well. It took about 3hr to travel around 1km but it was very relaxing to sit or lie back and watch the reed and lilies go past. The only annoyance was the baking sun and the tiny bugs that jumped off the reeds. Claire even managed to grab a quick nap along the way.
This was the lady that had all the tents and chairs
The halfway stop and yes Claire is asleep
The tent lady just kept on going!
On the island it was all hands on deck to unload the tents, all of which were on one canoe poled by a single lady! Once everything was on shore the males in the group were instructed to 'mark the territory'. Even though they weren't sure if the guides were joking or not, each male dutifully went and 'marked' a perimeter around the camp. The guides then told us that elephants had been in this exact clearing a few days ago. Somehow this didn't make us feel safe! An upturned mokoro became our bench for food prep and the next 24 hours were spent swimming, learning to pole, reading and going on safari.

Safari out here either happens on foot or in canoe. Since we had already spent 3 hours in the canoe we all voted for foot safari on the same island that we were camping on. I don't think anyone expected to see as much as we did. We were split into 3 groups and instructed to follow the leader at all times. There was a guide in front and at the rear. Within a few meters of the 'perimeter' we were shown different animal tracks and dung and we hadn't been walking for more then 20min when we saw Zebra and Wildebeest herds grazing, further along we saw Giraffe and could hear elephants. The island is one of the bigger ones in the area and we saw a couple of other groups walking as well.
The highlight of this safari was definitely sunset. Not only was it an amazing colour or red and orange, but a herd of buffalo were kind enough to put on a stampede for us. The sunrise safari didn't yield as many animals but we could see some elephants shaking trees, possibly a little closer then we would have liked.
Our guides sang for us around the fire
This elephant was in sight of our camp
Our time in the delta wasn't just restricted to floating on the water. We had opted for a scenic flight over the delta as well. There were 4 of us in each tiny plane and for about an hour we were shown the delta. The view was stunning and for as for as you could see there was water and islands. Whenever the pilot spotted animals he would bank quite sharply to give us a look, the only problem was trying to figure out what he had seen. Steve managed to get front seat so had the best view.

To finish our time at the delta we joined with the people from the small group tour and had a 'bin-bag' costume party. Neither of us were in the running for best dressed but we tried our best, Claire went as the southern cross and Steve was a blackboard.
A herd of elephants on the move between islands
One lone animal