From the Horn to the Cape
April 24, 2007 Thursday Agoura, California Preplanning
It has been months leading to this day. False starts, missed appointments, plan changes, altered commitments, all coaxed me, haltingly, along to reach this very moment. I’ll try to accurately tell the events pulled from a faulty recollection. Before the seeds of this adventure to southern regions of Africa had been planted, I was irritated by the failed launch of my first intended journey to Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan with my brother, Steve. That trip would be too difficult for my wonderful wife, Marcy, whose injury of years past prevents her from long walks. Steve had never gone on a very exotic trip so these three eastern countries would have been a formidable accomplishment for him and me.
My business demanded my immediate attention. It always calls loudest, especially when I purchase non-refundable tickets, or lay out big bucks for special, hard-to-get visas. There would always be something to inhibit the fulfillment of a new adventure. Why or how is a deep mystery to me, but it happens with such alarming accuracy that I proceed anyway, I expect it.
My goal is clear so I buy the tickets. Steve couldn’t go because other issues arose in his life that required him to stay.
Malaria Weekly Pills
Measles, Mumps, Rubella
My business demanded my immediate attention. It always calls loudest, especially when I purchase non-refundable tickets, or lay out big bucks for special, hard-to-get visas. There would always be something to inhibit the fulfillment of a new adventure. Why or how is a deep mystery to me, but it happens with such alarming accuracy that I proceed anyway, I expect it.
My goal is clear so I buy the tickets. Steve couldn’t go because other issues arose in his life that required him to stay.
I started to find problems of getting visas from each of these near eastern countries.
While this is another difficult but surmountable task I chose to end this adventure before it began. I must consider, among other factors, the changes of weather, I chose to travel to southern Africa. This region is in the southern hemisphere so the climate is roughly opposite of that here in the northern hemisphere. It is approximately equidistant from the equator like my base of Los Angeles. When these three issues converged at a senile moment in time my knees buckled and I closed my plans for my Tibetan journey till another time.
I had to make new plans. Some countries were excluded from consideration because of horrendous civil wars with fractional chiefs fighting for dominance of small areas, not too different from the gang violence in major U.S. cities. Whatever the cause, I would eliminate countries as possible travel destinations if they were in the throes of unpredictable turmoil. My vivid recollection of children with machetes and rifles like I saw in Sudan would do nothing to abrogate my fear of such scenarios. A friend of mine who moved to Brazil, Shawn Wilk, was interested in joining me for this adventure; the first part, before my wife Marcy arrives. Shawn should already be in Cape Town.
We started with a small misunderstanding which was totally my fault leaving at 9:00 p.m. I projected my arrival for the following day (that would be April 25.) I was in error about my arrival date. It will be on April 26 at 7:00 a.m. This further complicated our departure because after going through the Customs and Immigration booth, I would be late for the 8:00 a.m. flight leaving Cape Town to Windhoek a journey of more than 800 miles. It is where we need to begin the travels according to my guidebooks.
Our friends, Paul and Karen, had just spent two weeks in South Africa and brought back glowing reports of great travels there. I had heard other good things about this region of the world. As I began researching countries around the world, I saw that this held the potential to be another spectacular adventure. The general target was established and plans began to gel. Marcy had some initial interest ignited by Karen who raved about the wonderful time they had. Karen chose to have the trip partially planned by a travel agent. The way I enjoy traveling is without plans or fixed places where I must arrive at a specific time. I shun reservations.Slowly, almost laboriously I judiciously tried to select a region where I would be able to see as much important (to me) sights and collect data for the website.
LAX Security required that I get to the airport at 6:00 p.m. My brother Steve drove me the forty-mile trip to Los Angeles International Airport. Of course we stopped at Tito’s Tacos, our childhood favorite fast food joint, which we frequent when we can. The hot beef, bean and cheese burritos were safely wrapped in tin foil then tucked into my carry-on luggage. I was required to go through a metal detector like all other travelers. This security measure took an hour because there were few travelers on international flights now. Usually this step is the most tedious and time-consuming. Checking in and checking my luggage took just a few minutes. Unfortunately the security of LAX seems to be run by poorly trained people who have impressed me as borderline-employable. The flight itself, was long and uneventful. It was my first time to take British Airways and I was left unimpressed with their service, especially when those of us in “economy-class.” We were asked at the end of the Los Angeles to London flight, to “clean up around your area because that would really help us (meaning the steward and stewardesses.”) Most other passengers felt, like me, that this is part of their job. The result was contrary to the desired response elicited of the tired and worn passengers for the benefit of the stewardesses; just little things smeared on the floor or used tissues left, wadded, on the seats. The change of time announced mid-flight caused me to lose accurate measure time of this leg of the flight because I sleepily changed my watch and forgot the time difference. In London Heathrow, the airport covered a huge area and had a wonderfully interesting mall. Walking around and through the shops helped pass my three-hour layover much more quickly.
April 25, 2007 Friday London Heathrow Airport. Mid-Trip
|Note on Heathrow Airport London
Using the internet costs
One pound per 10 minutes
that’s like $13.00
for an hour use
|So the flight took more than ten hours to get to London. Flight to Cape Town traveled at 600 mph at 35,000 feet elevation. It took thirty-one hours from beginning at LAX to CPT with the layover of three hours in Heathrow.
After the touchdown at Heathrow in London and the normal confusion that occurs with plane transfers I found the gate, boarded the next plane, then sat in my seat. The worst of it is a three-hour wait amidst a colorful aggregation of every nationality on Earth. Many different costumes worn, colors, and designs brush by me. I sit in the midst of the hall with the swish of colors mixing with heavy swirls of acrid and sweet odors combine in an odd psychedelic way. Some passengers had no predisposition for bathing. The air was ripe with their odors. Curry, kasha, and wet cat stung my nostrils.
Sights to See - Namibia & Botswana
This leg of the flight will take about eleven hours and arrive 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning and I will have skipped an entire day!
April 26, 2007 Thursday Cape Town, South Africa
With wrinkled clothing twisted askew, I wearily arrived at the Cape Town Airport. It is large, efficient and, at this early hour, quiet. Long swerve rows of chromed luggage carts snaked around the far end of the cavernous luggage retrieval area. My black canvas backpack was easy to spot because it was hidden in an army green duffle bag. I squeezed through a small crowd to jerk the bag off the circular conveyor belt. In the large hall outside the luggage room, a driver waited, holding a placard with my name handwritten as “Mike Richard.” I answered to that. The weather was gray and gloomy. It was the beginning of the rainy season according to weather charts so I was prepared for some rain. This weather continued, as I would discover, throughout the day with few pauses.
British Money - Earlier this year when I was in northern Ireland which is loyal to Great Britain, I used the pound for money, but the independent Ireland in the south was using Euros. I was told that the current exchange rate of US dollars for a pound is 2.17. I bought 500ml of water to cost one Pound, seventy pence, roughly equivalent to $3.70.
The black driver identified himself as James but as we crawled slowly into and with heavy morning commute traffic on the modern freeway, he went deeper into his dreary existence. He, almost enthusiastically, revealed intimately painful details about his thirty-one years in Cape Town. James was a name assigned to him by a parish priest. He had a different name, a Zulu name, at birth, which, after three attempts, I couldn’t pronounce even approximately correct. The minivan he drove was mired in traffic as this is midweek and we were heading into a metropolitan area. Not further than five kilometers outside of the airport I could see a huge shanty town, which almost abutted the freeway. The perimeter of this is pointed out to me by James, who told me that “It is a black township” that he lives in. The edges of that area, although seen from a distance of a thousand yards through a misty rain, looked to me like a slum really and it appeared little better than the outskirts of Tijuana, Mexico. Ramshackle living boxes built tightly together, several pyres of brown and black smoke twisted oddly toward the heavens. Hundreds of blue plastic tarpaulins, each held down with large stones or bricks, served as the most common way the roofs of each dwelling were made waterproof. Children could be seen from my highway vantage point, dancing in and through the shit brown ponds of water. I gulped, imagining that this was what I would see. Before me, the distant horizon was broadly painted with the huge city. It was not far away but one could quickly assess that this was no “little town.”
Reasons to not rent a car
Rainy weather that I am not used to
Brand new unfamiliar city roads.
Big complex city layout with one-way streets
Narrow lanes designed for smaller cars
THEY DRIVE ON THE WRONG
SIDE OF THE ROAD!!
I was delivered to the Blue Hostel where Shawn was waiting for me. The hostel pays the driver to take me here. Going back to the airport is my responsibility.
After a quick shower I was ready to go, I was very tired from the long flight but loss of time will catch up to me tomorrow. Shawn had rented a small car. It seemed to me to be a dangerous situation, but Shawn took it upon himself to do that. We started out on our journey to the Cape Point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans collide. But I would find out soon enough that at this point there are other things that also collide.
Almost from the very start it was apparent that having Shawn driving a rental car was a risk to which I was uncomfortably committed. Naturally, the steering wheel is on the right side of the car, not the left as it is in the U.S. This only presenteda small reoccurring problem to us where driver and passenger kept getting in on the wrong sides of the mini car.
I could hear small whooshes of air as we came dangerously to parked vehicles on my side of the road. Not without comment did my fears pass. We struck no cars; instead our car sliced the cut-stone curbs twice, each time making contact with the silver-colored plastic hubcaps. The first time it happened the wheel cover shattered, leaving a tangled mass of silver colored shards tenaciously clinging to the wheel. The second moment of contact happened after the fortieth time I yelled “HEY!” Sitting stoically in the car, I was resigned to the fact that we’ll strike the curb again. Ckrrack!! There went the second hubcap, which had been deeply scarred from contact with the curb earlier, now was dislodged and careening along the road on its own journey. Striking the rear of a parked car, it bounced high in the air then disappeared from sight. My stoicism melted into a steady level of fear, heavily laced with an acidic premonition sitting deep in my stomach; I had clear visions of a crash. We continued toward the Cape of Good Hope sometimes called the Cape Point. We were now more than eighty miles from downtown of Cape Town. I was comforted to see so few cars travel this area. With seldom seen autos, I reasoned, the likelihood of an accident is diminished. Momentarily I relaxed. In the light rain Shawn reached over to change the radio station. Then...just at that moment........ KKKRRRAASSH!!! I looked out the front windshield just in time to see a maroon-colored Japanese pick-up veer to the left as we did to the right. I cannot commit to paper the look of fear and consternation I saw on the other driver’s face. Shawn reacted as he would in the U.S. by pulling further to the right and the other driver, a young South African white man reacted as he has been taught and pulled to the left but since he was coming from the opposite direction it was a head-on collision! Immediately after the accident we looked for any bodily injury. We were all surprised that with the massive force nonetheless nobody was hurt, not even a scratch. Both vehicles had the front fender ripped off as a result of this mishap and, even worse, neither vehicle was drivable. Other than the damage to the cars we were no worse off. However, we were stopped short of reaching our objective, the Cape Point, by six kilometers. The distance remaining was almost walkable, less than three miles, along the flat landscape approaching the Point. To reach our desired destination we tried to cajole the tow truck driver with an offer of fifty dollars just so we could see it. It just wasn’t something he felt allowed to do and refused the cash. That surprised me.
The other driver called his friend, who showed up quickly. They tied a rope from the crumpled undercarriage of the front of his car to the rear bumper of his friend’s old white pick-up truck. The idea was to pull the vehicle out of that desolate area, but two miles up the road we saw the old white pick-up parked on the side of the road but now its rear fender was laying at the edge of the road still tethered to the rope.
The stocky, tattooed tow truck driver hoisted our rental car with a mechanical winch onto the back of his flatbed tow truck. He listened intently. I noticed a very faint hint of glee visible along the corners of his small mouth that drew out boldly as Shawn retold the unlucky event, excitedly, in intricate detail. The tow-truck driver locked the vehicle in place then offered to drive us to the local police station. It was necessary that we go there. Shawn was required to write out the details of the accident because it happened on government property. On the walls of this tiny, whitewashed station house there were several signs, all written in three languages; English, Afrikaans (a Dutch dialect spoken by the Boers), and a third language was an indigenous native script used mainly by the prodigious Zulu who relocated in this area. The white policeman finished reading the report form that Shawn had answered. Quietly, he spoke with the black officer putting their backs to us. The black cop spun around and kindly offered to drive us, in the back of a squad car, to the train station two miles away. Once we were back in Cape Town, we’d be able to walk the two miles to the hostel. The train ticket to Cape Town, bought at the train station, cost two dollars each for 1st class passage. Even when we walked through the train, we couldn’t tell which car was 1st class. or 2nd. All cars of the train looked the same. Immediately I noted that we were the only whites on the train. I began to reflect on the places we’d stopped at or seen. There seemed to be little melding of the races. Some areas of the city were almost all white. The few blacks or coloreds were there as service personnel. In other places the people were black and colored with few white people. The whites were usually in law enforcement or other positions of authority.
Fried balls of a brown oily fish called hake. I didn’t like them nor did Shawn .
Fried calamari was better but not crispy - the same for the “chips”(french fries). That was all we ate until our late
return when we stopped at an upscale gourmet shop to buy some cake, cheese, bread, water candy nougat and a sandwich.
The rain continued, moderately, till we arrive in Cape Town. Then it really began to pour heavily, coming down harder than ever. The sixth and final stop of this short train trip was at Cape Town.
Shawn had called the rental car company while we were on the train. He arranged to have us delivered to the airport at six a.m. tomorrow. He tried to get a replacement car brought to where we were but that the company wouldn’t do that. This was an acceptable alternative. We departed from the train station, battered by heavy rain. We decided to hire a cab for the short distance. Although the station had many people walking this way and that, few seemed to have plans to leave the station. It was like this was a place for blacks and coloreds to have social gatherings. We quickly caught a taxi to bring us the three kilometers to the Big Blue Hostel. Ten minutes passed before I fell sleep after an exhausting day and the time change adjustment. We had lots to do tomorrow.
April 27, 2007 Cape Town South Africa to Windhoek, Namibia
The morning came slowly. I had been waking frequently because I didn’t want to miss our early flight to Windhoek in Namibia at 7:45 a.m. The airline clerks asked that we arrive at least two hours earlier so I kept checking my watch throughout the night. Shawn seemed reliant on a clock alarm built into a small camera he had recently purchased. The alarm proved to work well but I was already up. The biggest drawback of hostels is that the bathrooms are communal and “down the hall.”
I miss Marcy a lot. I am certain my phone bill will be huge when I get home to look at it. I was told it was $6 per minute when I make a call in Namibia to the USA. I brought my other cell phone, the one that I bought in Malaysia; buy a local cell chip for it so local calls will be cheaper to make and there is no charge to me for incoming calls.
At the Cape Town Airport we were told that Namibia will not allow a visitor to enter if their passport does not contain two blank pages or you will not be permitted to enter without proof of a return ticket. He was denied boarding and lost $250 of a non-refundable ticket. What was worse was that now he has to go the U.S. Embassy to get pages added. Still what was worse than that is today is National South African Day. After calling the U.S. Embassy, Shawn found they are closed on all U.S. and South African holidays. That meant he’d have to wait till Monday to accomplish his mission. I promised to wait in Namibia for him.
||One South African Rand equals one Namibian dollar
||6.8 Namibian Dollars equal One U.S. Dollar
||(less a 15% commission or 23 Namibian $.)
I checked in, said good-bye to Shawn and took the flight. As I passed through Customs, several facts revealed themselves. First, the customs immigration officers never asked from proof of a return ticket but did ask how long I might stay. Second, she stamped my passport twice on the same page with another entry stamp for Venezuela, so that debunking the “two pages left blank” in the passport theory as a requirement. It looks like we just got a “ball buster” ticket agent.
I took a minibus with several other passengers, and each paying 120 Namibia dollars to the driver, and each of us will get delivered to the address of their choosing in the small city of Windhoek. I walked back into the downtown area of the city after arranging to have a bunk at the Cardboard Box Hostel. It was a simple fifteen-minute walk down one main street, Robert Muggabe Blvd. to Independence Street. Independence Street runs two miles from the modest black area into a region of fancy high-rise hotels for tourists. I stopped at a market to buy bottled water and some local fruit. Surprisingly, the prices were not very cheap, even for the basic staples.
Before starting this trip I read that an average Namibian with a clerical job makes about $75 U.S. Dollars per month. The prospect of them being able to afford prices that compared to those in L.A. was amazing to me since there seemed to be no shortage of buyers. Carrying a small bag of groceries I began the short walk home. I was wearing a light shirt and durable but very light nylon pants. It was very hot and these clothes are great for such weather. Suddenly I clearly felt a man’s hand slide into my pocket. I dropped the bag of water and fruit as I grappled with the man who had been holding a rolled newspaper to conceal his failed attempt to pick my pocket. My reaction was swift; I grabbed the middle-aged man around the neck and was prepared to toss him either to the ground or into the street. He pulled back to get his head free but feebly. Two black men wearing blue “official-looking” uniforms hurriedly approached us. The taller policeman pulled the heavy man by his belt until he was facing the policeman, away from his face by a mere inch. Both policemen beat him as they roughly marched him down Independence Street to the police station two hundred yards down the street. I stood at the edge of the street and watched them beat him as he argued his innocence. There were twenty or more people watching this scene play out. I stood still, surprised by the whole thing and saw several fresh spots of blood on the sidewalk. I examined myself, looking to see if I had any extra holes or blood but nothing more than a red bruise on my forearm. It is common for regions that heavily depend on the tourist trade to treat a petty criminal with brutality. A passerby must have picked up the fruit and liter of water then carefully placed it upright on the curb where it sat waiting for me. Back at the hostel I laid down for what I thought would be a ten-minute rest but I didn’t open my eyes until 4:00 a.m.
April 28, 2007 Saturday Windhoek, Namibia
Namibia is largely Lutheran from an earlier time in the twentieth century when Germans maintained a presence here. There is a strong Catholic presence too. This is the earliest religion of this area is a mystical knowledge of animals and strong faith in the wisdom of their ancestors. The dangers of big cities exist here in spite of strong religious beliefs. Although this is a small city, it is the largest city for hundreds of miles and it is built largely on tourism and that attracts criminals.
After a light breakfast, I walked into town then back. I spoke with the owner of this hostel to ask about a private tour around Namibia since the structured tours being offered are not for me. I don’t want the focus of my adventure to be geographic wonders or animals. I want to see African cultures and how the primitive tribes people live. Separate and distinctive different tribes still exist and carry on traditions, their lives are touched and being bastardized by Western influence. From my reading, prior to the start of the journey, I think that there is a great amount of emphasis for the tourist on unusual terrain, natural wonders, and wild animals. Certainly that is interesting to me, but I feel that the members of primitive tribes are dwindling and may disappear soon. Certainly it will never be the same for the children of my grandchildren to see. This is what I think now; what will I think after this leg of the journey?
Coordination of this trip with Shawn will be difficult. I stopped a taxi driver to ask for a tour of this city. My travel book mentions a few recent structures built in the last five years. Only two buildings, constructed by the Germans, shortly preceded the twentieth century. The new buildings look well designed especially for this environment. The driver said he spoke English, but I’d soon find out how very little he really spoke. He and I agreed on an hour-long tour for a hundred Namib. He brought me to the edge of town, then wanted to pick up two friends and drive them to another point. Instead I got out of the taxi and arranged the same deal with another driver who spoke even less English but who claimed to know the town well. After sixteen minutes he said that we have seen everything! I paid fifty Namib for this shortened time, even that was too much.
April 29, 2007 Sunday Windhoek, Namibia
The businesses of this city closed at 5:00 p.m. Places of interest, like libraries, museums and internet cafes are closed too. I laid around, read and relaxed - really bored!!!! I went to sleep early. During the day I was organizing my equipment and reading my books to establish plans based on my goals. I caught up on the lost travel sleep; it had finally caught up with me. I called Marcy, then Shawn.
April 30, 2007 Monday Windhoek, Namibia
I met Leslie, a tall, pleasant looking, mature black man from AABAD Adventure Company. We had talked over the phone, then he was to meet me at 9:00 a.m. for coffee and we’d discuss a plan to tour Namibia. I had arranged for a tour of the area around Namibia’s only big city, Windhoek. Leslie says there are only eighty-five thousand people within the city limits, but more than three million in the country. Windhoek has two exclusive areas for whites. Homes in the exclusively white-only areas can cost up to four hundred thousand US dollars. Until four years ago, nonwhites caught in the area after curfew would be picked up by the police, especially if they were carrying anything larger than a loaf of bread. As I expected, disparity between black and white was still vast although Leslie feels the gap is closing. Leslie has had a good deal of financial success so I imagine he sees progress as it pertains to him and his existence. He drove me into an area called Kutatura, the translation in
Surprises of the Kutatura
- I didn’t see any signs of rodents.
- I didn’t see an unusual number of flying insects.
- A “typical” home,while in a poor repair,
was free from visible insects that thrive in this hot, moist climate
The showcase of this home was a
small television connected to a satellite dish.
- Size: 500 square feet, stucco and wood three-room box.
- Plumbing and toilet were in a detached room 50 feet away.
- Five adults and a baby lived here.
the local language is “the place we do not want to go.” Not mandated by written law, this is where the lowest on the social ladder (who endeavor to not be transient or revert to tribal life in the brush) find themselves, usually blacks or coloreds. Alcohol, physical or mental disabilities have crowded these unfortunates together in even worse conditions than was set when Katura was forcefully established during years of apartheid rule. . Drugs have not been a problem because the cost has put them out of reach for most people. The tin roofs are held down by a random pattern of head-sized stones over thin black plastic tarp.
Surprises of the Kutatura
- I didn’t see any signs of rodents.
- I didn’t see an unusual number of flying insects.
- A “typical” home,while in a poor repair,
was free from visible insects that thrive in this hot, moist climate
The showcase of this home was a
small television connected to a satellite dish.
- Size: 500 square feet, stucco and wood three-room box.
- Plumbing and toilet were in a detached room 50 feet away.
- Five adults and a baby lived here.
Leslie brought me into his sister’s house in Kutatura. He introduced her to me and her family. Immediately I took notice that there were four children and no father lives here.
I began to examine her home after Leslie described it as not the worst nor the best of this unsettled settlement.
The tiny shack was large enough for the mother and her five daughters to take refuge at night, but not to stay in during the day. They had a front yard enclosed by a wire mesh fence where they would spend part of the day, especially in the roasting heat of midday. Along the perimeter stood a small room containing a toilet and washbasin. A wooden and wire mesh pen stood in the shade of the house. It might hold a chicken or rabbit until it met it’s fate in the family kitchen. Outside this fragile barrier stood the social ills that the children especially would be forced to confront and endure. Thousands of homes better or worse than this one dotted the rolling landscape for miles in every direction.
|“Colored” is a commonly accepted and often used term in southern Africa. It is used by all races to describe a person whose racial roots are either Indian, Asian, or mixed races. It is preferred to be “colored “ over “black” and it is usually applied based on skin color alone.
Facts of history should best be read in history books, not here. The very essence of what he said is that the tribes had been moved out of other areas that they may have lived on for centuries but forced to move to this large hilly area outside of the city by several miles. To prevent organized unrest and discontentment by the blacks, they kept each of the tribes geographically separated and at odds with each other. Although the dejure separation of blacks and coloreds from the whites was banned by law ever since Nelson Mandela, the defacto system still continues.
May 1, 2007 Tuesday Windhoek, Namibia
We met Leslie who introduced us to Charles and Freddy we went over the details of the trip plus costs. 15,000 Namibian dollars translated to about 102 USD daily. If add the extras like special foods or day trips Leslie said that may add another 200 Namibian per day.
After getting groceries to last a few days local Windhoek grocery we loaded the mini van and off we were. While in the market we met Charles’ wife and their wide-eyed, ebony-skinned three-year-old daughter. The little shy girl was intimidated by our white skin. Some of the food we purchased required refrigeration in our cooler. Others would be fine even with the warm dry weather of Namibia’s high deserts at 3700 ft elevations. We traveled for six hours, largely on gravel roads until we entered the campsite and found a campsite but with little shelter from the late afternoon heat.
After the camp was set up Shawn and I took all our gear into the tent and sat around a small fire. Charles and Freddie had cooked a chicken dinner. I didn’t` care that it wasn’t a gourmet meal, but I loved every bite. There was just something about cooking outside and having our guides, Charles and Freddie prepare dinner for us while we took a refreshing dip in the chilly water of the clubhouse pool.
The night sky was lit by a very bright full moon. Shadows of trees could be seen clearly on the flat sandy soil while inside our tent there was almost total darkness; that allowed me to go to sleep quickly.
Deal maker: Leslie
Camp Park: Seriem Camp(where we camped)
Park: Naib Naukluf Park
Distance from Windhoek: 364 KM
% of Gravel roads not paved: 40% est.
Grocery Items Sampling:
2 loaves of bread
6 gallons of water
1 small tin of tuna
1 quart of strawberry yogurt
1 head iceberg lettuce
6 medium tomatoes
1 bag of frozen mixed vegetables
We were expected to get up early because the sunrise from Dune in Nauctluff is a sight visitor should experience, we were told. We drove many miles to get here. I don’t want to miss it. We met Leslie who introduced us to Charles and Freddy we went over the details of the trip plus costs. 15,000 Namibian dollars translated to about 102 USD daily. If add the extras like special foods or day trips Leslie said that may add another 200 Namibian per day.
Contract with Leslie $15,000 Namib Dollars
Driver Freddie $3,500 NAM in Swakopmund
Leslie $2,000 now
Charles(guide) $1,000 for Charles PAID
Charles(guide) $5,000 for expenses
Mike gave Leslie 300 USD =2,100 Namib
Shawn gave Charles 400 Namib(rand)
Mike gave Charles 600 Namib
Mike paid by CC for water/towels 501 Namib
Mike paid CC for groceries 542 NAM
Freddy paid for gas 543 NAM
Shawn paid for ice and gas 26 NAM
Entrance to Dunes Park 270 Namib
Firewood for camp 40 Namib
Entrance to So. Dune 160 Namib
Gas 385 Namib after Nachluft
($100 exchanged for Namib)
Ice(Shawn paid) 60 Namib
Groceries Mike paid 263 Namib
2 rooms at Walvis 800 Namib
who shall pay for camp gear?
We cashed 800x2= $1600 USD in Namibian Dollars
We paid $3,500 ND +53ND to Freddie
We paid $3,000 ND to Charles then he paid $2000 ND back to us
After buying groceries to last a few days at a local Windhoek grocery we loaded the mini van and off we were. While in the market we met Charles’ wife and big-eyed three year old daughter, The daughter was bit intimidated by our white skin. Some of the items we purchased required refrigeration in our cooler. Others would be fine even with the warm dry weather of Namibia’s high deserts at 3700 ft elevations. We sped over long stretches of gravel roads for six hours, stopping for a few moments along the desolate road. We entered the small park after a few dollars were collected at the entrance gate. All the good campsites were occupied. All we could find was a site with no shade and little shelter from the late afternoon heat.
May 3, 2007 Wednesday 300 miles north of Windhoek, Namibia
Shawn and I woke up about the same time and smelled breakfast cooking. We ate and put all the gear together quickly at a very early hour, not even 4:00 a.m. yet. We out everything together and left camp.
About one kilometer away was a line of seven 4x4 Toyota style trucks and a very unusual all-terrain bus. Like us, each of the other vehicles sat in the darkness while a guard walked from vehicle to vehicle to confirm that the park fee was paid. A line of ten trucks and cars quickly formed behind us. The gate for our wagon to pass was opened and we drove three kilometers to the base of a sand dune. From here Shawn and I began an arduous walk to the crest. It was difficult because there was little cohesiveness of the sand so with each step my foot would slide until it was buried two inches in the sand. Quickly I learned to step on the footprint left by the walker before me because his step compacts the sand momentarily.
The Sun peeked over the distant dune with just one dim ray, then, quickly, I was bathed by thousands. Going down the dune was considerably less effort. I didn’t need to take short breaks. Shawn just ran, slipped, and slid down the hill.
Long drive out to (twenty miles) to Topnar Tribe developed by Spanish help. Ramshackle homes but community center where we stayed Spartan but adequate
Shadows and light seemed to change the colors of each dune. Remnants of desert rivers, waiting to spring alive with the first rains threaded across the valley floor. Oceans of sand so fine and so dry I wondered how life could gain an adequate foothold to survive this unforgiving environment. Somehow it did because surrounding the dune was vegetation primarily scrubby green, white, or tan bush. In the desert, streams of water often run underground. The bushes survive only when they are successful in finding a source of moisture. The trees are strangely similar to California’s redwood trees in several ways, the root system is complex and goes down deep. The bark is the most notable in that it is soft and thick which insulates the tree from searing heat. The core wood is termite resistant. Dry lake beds often hold trees that wait patiently for the next rain, sometimes longer than a year. Charlie says these trees are called “Camelsaw.”
We had to pay a separate fee to ride a specially outfitted 4x4 jeep to cross the loose sand that twisted along the valley floor to more dunes. The drive onward was a skyline that was all drifting desert sand latticed with rocky outcropping of small bushes and, very rarely, trees.
This was very similar to the Mojave desert except for an eclectic assemblage of indigenous animals like the tan, black and white oryx which looks like a small antelope and it has a pair of long straight ribbed horns that could spear or cut another animal viciously. There was a line of four ostriches trotting, evenly spaced, along the horizon of the warm desert plain. All the animals looked very healthy. Sick or injured quickly became prey to the next species one rung higher on the food chain.
Our truck stopped alongside a dusty, dry riverbed. Charles and Freddie set up portable folding tables and chairs, then cut some fresh vegetables and put it on plates for a simple lunch of cheese and vegetables on bread. Amazingly, the dry, intense heat was bearable, but just for long moments before I retreated into the sharply defined shadows of a cliff that overhung our table. I walked around while I ate since we dispensed with most social amenities such as table manners. Bits of food escaped my mouth and fell to the sandy soil. Within moments large ants had discovered these remnants and began to make off with whatever they could carry.
Another vehicle had stopped nearby because it had some mechanical problem. The German tourists had rented the jeep but had used their cell phone to get someone out here to fix the Jeep. Shawn looked at it, saw a wire was loose, then tightened it. They were happily back on the road again with great appreciation to Shawn.
Walvis Bay / Swakopland
After many hours of driving we entered the town of Walvis Bay. According to Charles we are supposed to stay here today. Flamingos dotted the wide muddy banks of the bay eating the algae. They sifted the murky water through their fluted bills, The cement walkway that traversed the shore was pleasant except for the sulfuric smell emitting from the bay. The flamingos enjoyed the cool morning air and the fresh strained spinach-like vegetation that drifted in the shallow. Numerous tide pools that stretched for more than one hundred feet from the lapping waters edge at low tide.
We drove around the simple, untouristy town of Walvis Bay for a couple of hours before meeting Rudolf Dausab. He is the self-proclaimed leader of Leslie’s tribal family, the Topnar into the 21st century. The tribal grounds were twenty graveled miles outside town and since we traveled after dusk we had only the light of the full moon to shine on the road for headlights alone would have not been adequate to distinguish the road from the sandy embankments. Rudolf said since there was no night watchman here, he had to track down the possessor of the keys to unlock the grounds gate. We waited for thirty minutes in the dark, wondering what will happen next while he was gone?
Cape to Cairo Restaurant in Swakopmund Namibia, Andre@Dunes.com.na
Leslie’s cell phone:0812120290
Rudolf talked to us about the plight of the Topnar tribe; its decimation by the AIDS/HIV epidemic which has claimed the lives of the otherwise able-bodied young women and men. The consequence has left the grandmothers to care for the children. The fees required for each student to stay in school exceeds the stingy stipend supplied by the government. The children are often used to collect wild melons that grow in an area about six miles away. Although the area is flat, because of the loose, sandy soil few vehicles can get there. The children must walk there or, if fortunate, ride a donkey. Although the melons are easy to grow, no family has made the effort to cultivate a plot of land even though they have occupied these otherwise barren regions for thirty years. So, without organization, each family constantly struggles to retrieve the maximum number of melons they can find. It is a race against their equally distressed neighbor because the melons are cultivated commercially elsewhere and sold for pennies at markets in Swakopmund or Walvis Bay. They’ll often pick the melons long before the optimum time on the vine. The consequence of this is that each melon is slightly larger than a baseball rather than like a head of cabbage. Once collected, the flesh of the melon is dried and often powdered to be used as a main ingredient for “pap.” Pap is the main staple of their diet and eaten by every member of this tribe, infants to the oldest senior. It is similar to oatmeal except it is somewhat smoother and whiter. I touched a small dollop to my tongue and discerned a very slight bitter taste. He opened the gates and showed us around the barren village. Each family lived in a hutch no larger than a stable might be for two horses. Like other blacks in South Africa and here in Namibia, the homes were assemblages of excelsior that had been discarded or lost by others. Rudolf continued to tell more of the woes of this tribe. He is certain that the Topnar tribe is unseen by Namibian government, at best, ignored by them. Most noticeably, Spain has helped them most significantly, followed by a few other European nations.
Once the gate was unlocked, it was revealed that this motel was very plain to put it kindly. It did have a hot water shower. Shawn was invited into the interior of one of the shacks and compared it, quite unfavorably, to the favelas of Rio.
As night fell Charles and Freddy made dinner using fresh vegetables and a one-pound chunk of beef we had bought at a market in Walvis Bay. Shredded and seared meat mixed with broccoli and other fresh vegetables thrown into a bowl and eaten in the dark of the night air was exotic. It tasted like Chinese stir fry when mixed with rice.
May 4, 2007 Thursday Outside Walvis Bay, Namibia
Before the Sun could be seen as a full disk, we packed and left early in the morning without talking to anyone. We headed into Swakopmund a short distance away, maybe twenty miles, but it was mainly on a narrow paved road. The town was heavily influenced by Bavarian style architecture. I could see strong German influence of the people. The town was small but well developed.
The grocery store carried products of Western European origin but the fresh produce mainly came from South Africa. The cuts of meat were unique to Africa because they were prepared by German-taught butchers, especially for the locals. I’ve selected some groceries, but many others were favorites of our guide and driver. Interestingly, one of the beverages they chose for children were milk and orange juice mixed together. Of course, beer and South African wines were the choice of the adults. Windhoek makes a brew that is found throughout southern Africa.
Our night was spent at a small seaside cottage. That night we went to a restaurant called the “Cape to Cairo.” I had crocodile (tastes like chicken), ostrich kebabs and tabouli. The restaurant had no flat bread, like pita bread, that would have gone well with the exotic middle eastern food. The meal was the best of this trip (so far) and helped end the day on a high note. We had some early problems when we tried to sort out what this adventure should cost. Shawn and I both can see the expenses exceed what was planned. I expected some excesses but not an extra thousand dollars.
Before we arrived at the rocks, we stopped along the way to buy from roadside vendors. While in Swakopmund, I visited a shop to buy some clean tee shirts. I usually can find new ones for two or three dollars and use the old dirty ones to pack fragile items I bought. The stops included a few visits to roadside artists. Shawn and I bought a couple if stone carvings and miscellaneous items made by the local tribes people.
Today is Kassanga Day which commemorates a 1978 massacre at the border of Angola. This morning, we discovered that the place we had hoped to visit to ride camels won’t happen because of this holiday closure. Instead we headed north to Cape Cross which is inhabited by many seals. The rocky coastline stretched for miles as we drove North. We decided, at last moment, to forego visiting the huge seal population further north along the coast. Instead we chose to see the petroglyphs carved into sandstone two thousand years ago by nomadic tribes that frequented the valley. Twyfelfontein is pronounced ‘tway-fill-fon-tain’. It means the ‘doubtful fountain’, or The Fountain of Doubt. There are more than three thousand rock etchings scratched everywhere including cave ceilings. While they didn’t record the existence of the tribe by showing tribe strength or number, they did record animals they hunted and killed.
Understanding that, evolutionarily-speaking, that wasn’t so far in the distant past, just two thousand years ago the aborigines were jumping around these rocks scratching odd drawings into the sandstone walls. About primitive cultures that existed here but because they had no obstacles or challenges present there was no reason to invent or create. Adequate food meant little reason to domesticate or cultivate to disturb the semi-tranquil life of semi-nomadic tribe’s people.
Other than seasonal changes this may be one reason that the black continent didn’t progress intellectually and remained in a primal state. Earlier, before setting up camp, and eating we visited the national heritage site of engravings in the rocks. I saw carvings of oryxes, antelope-type animals, giraffes, lions, seals (which came from the sea sixty miles west of here). The sandstone formations resemble the eerie rocks along the Namibian Skeleton Coast
Races as defined by the Inhabitants
of southern African countries
white = Caucasian
colored = mulatto, quadroon, Asian or Indian
black = Indigenous tribes people
1 Namibian dollar= 1 South African rand=$ .16 cents or 6.82 Namibian =$1 US
Stuff I bought on May 4&5
stone torso= 20 namib
purse= 20 namib
walking stick=10 namib
gems(50)= 70 namib
Carved nuts(80)=220 namib
A number of lodges have sprung up in the area, but the community run campsite on the banks of the Aba-Huab is very pleasant. Communal showers, toilets and water faucets make the campsite much more habitable.
Wood is gathered locally and burned at the campsite to cook dinner. Our camp was set up expertly by Charles and Freddy. We had a simple dinner of spaghetti made with sauce of ground meat, onions, pepper and smashed tomatoes. The sky was dotted with two thousand twinkling stars pasted on a velvet sky.
Name of the tribe we are headed: Himba
Name of the poisonous plant :
Name of the town we repaired tire: Kamajab
At camp, once we were told there is now hot water. I was the first to shower. There was one room for everyone, man or woman, containing four toilets and four shower stalls. The toilets had no doors for privacy, but each shower stall was graced with a flimsy transparent plastic curtain that could partially cover the stall. The curtain was there to keep the precious water channeled properly not to foster the slightest degree of modesty. The communal sharing might have dampened Marcy’s ardor for this trek. On the plus side, there was warm water to use and the warm breeze of the evening brought a myriad of bizarre insects. Numerous times the little invaders made eye contact with me. We telepathically agreed that the lilliputian monsters would not attack and I would not swat. The armistice was tense but held until I was out of the shower. Without more than ten seconds of towel use I decided that this was good opportunity to simply air-dry as I hurriedly made the fifty steps back to our lantern-lit campsite. We considered sleeping outside the tent but huge one-inch long black ants have a reputation for being irritated easily. The consequence would be tiny welts as they would bite into tender skin.
Shawn has the misfortune of a bug crawling under his tee shirt and in the bug’s frustration to escape to freedom, bit Shawn’s back in a central zone that was unreachable by Shawn. His attempt of relief looked more like a cocaine-induced epileptic seizure. I watched in amazement because I didn’t understand, until it was all over, except for the nursing of his wound. I did nothing not because I was unwilling, but because he didn’t relate any part of this incident during it’s occurrence.
May 5, 2007 Friday Northernmost Namibia (at the Angolan border)
In the morning I woke early and spent a few moments thinking about how much I miss Marcy. It is almost two weeks since I started but more than two weeks till Marcy joins me. Shawn and I are doing well together but I feel burdened with the responsibility to make certain our guides follow the original plan made with Leslie and don’t try, once again, to ‘trim’ some items off the “to do” list.
After a simple and quick breakfast of cereal mixed with yogurt, we broke camp. We’d drive a quick forty miles to the petrified forest. The “visit for a fee” park is located inland on the broad desert floor. A number of trees had washed down twenty thousand years ago as a consequence of a huge flood in Angola. Angola is the country at the nothern border of Namibia. Goaded by Charles, I reluctantly paid the fee then Shawn and I walked around. I would have been happy to have never come. Before we paid the equivalent of three US dollars each as an entrance fee it was incredibly simple to look out over the fairly flat two-acre park and see that there is little to astound or amaze. The best part was the “gift shop” which consisted of several unidentified stones and minuscule bits of petrified wood that was of a perfect size if one wanted to make earrings. The semiprecious gems sat on three rickety planks supported by a few bricks under an open sky. We left after a wasted hour.
The van smoothly sped along for endless hours on the desolate super-hot gravel road then, BLAM! A blow out! The smell of burning rubber enveloped our car. The interior was already sweltering and the thick smoke made the air unbearably noxious. Even before any one of us got out of the vehicle, we all knew that the tire was destroyed. Freddy angrily put on the spare, a ragged thread-worn tire. The way he looked at us made me feel guilt for the road hazard. Once the tire was replaced, Freddy drove the car to the tiny town of Kamajab. It was the closest town nearby. This was Freddy’s car and he was paid to assume such risks, so it was his job to find, bargain for, and pay for a replacement tire. Namibians are content to purchase a used tire, often willing to pay twenty US dollars for a passenger vehicle tire.
The town of Kamajab had only one garage and two gas stations. Used tires were not available in the right size at either of the black-owned gas stations where used tires were a commonplace commodity. A new tire was, however, being sold at the garage, but at an unreasonably high price (according to Freddy.) The garage keeper, a white man, wanted a thousand NAB dollars for one tire but Freddy argued he could get four tires for $3,800 NAB, so no sale! (Freddy’s math skills were not sharp.) Freddy drove to the next town and saw another station. This store sells a little bit of everything, including new tires, according to a large sign painted on an exterior wall that listed many items that might be found in this store. Twenty blacks were loitering in front of the shop. They sought some shade from the searing heat, but most had a bottle or can of beer in their hand. The Africans were dressed in clothes that must have come as part of a relief package from elsewhere in the world because several of the men were clothed in worn dress slacks and polyester shirts. There were remnants of a broken bottle on the cracked cement pavement. The Africans that hung around this bottle store were clearly interested in getting another drink, or worse, but definitely nothing good.
Charles said that this racially oppressive town was run by Boers who have tried to control the town like a separate nation. They sought support from the government of Namibia to retain a white-dominated town. Namibia used to be part of South Africa. When that bid for autonomy was unsuccessful, they approached the government with a new plan. Namibia’s black-dominated government was unwilling to finance the Boers’ attempt to move to South Africa. Many whites moved to South Africa and elsewhere, but those that stayed imposed their own defacto apartheid community.
Four hours of driving on a narrow rocky highway road that hugged the baseline of a mountain chain spelled danger for any moment. The four of us were constantly on alert for any danger around us. Although rocks would break free and tumble onto the road, the shade that the cliffs of these hills provided was welcomed. We turned away from the hills and headed northeast over the baking flat sands of the desert. We were often eating huge clouds of dust stirred by oncoming traffic, but those cars were equally punished as they devoured our dust.
After a long, long drive we reached a reclusive village. I was surprised to see some paved streets. I soon learned that this town was governed by two chiefs and their iron rule was enforced by tribesmen who desire to maintain their old ways and have endeavored to stay apart from the rest of the world. The women have coal-black skin and their hair was shaped with a thick reddish ochre paste.
The girls and young women were usually slender and well-portioned with uncovered smallish breasts. Most older women either carried a child blanketed to their back or looked as though they were well past their childbearing years with wrinkled skin, and breasts that point to their toes. While the tribespeople were very suspicious of outsiders, there was always an extra layer of caution when the stranger had a white face. Leslie said few travelers complete the journey to these more remote corners of Namibia. The preponderance of those that come from “outside” are usually from Windhoek or nearby African towns. Several tribes converge to meld into one large tribal family here. Each tribe is akin to an extended bloodline family. Marriage introduces other women into the bloodline because men can have four or five wives. The men must provide each wife with a house and other basic necessities. The men and boys dress in more western gear. Few girls or women wore western clothes. Clothing for the women was a parochial dress of ochre panels that draped from the waist to the knees. Those that walked shoeless were greatly in the minority. Most wore short boots that rose high on their ankle. Shoes were made of durable and utilitarian leather. Canvas shoes were very popular too, but only the affluent could afford the luxury of possessing them.
On the outskirt of this town we suffered another flat tire. Our first experience came with a lesson taught to me by Freddy who, ever so reluctantly, purchased a good used tire because getting stuck without a spare would put us at the mercy of so many desert risks. We could break down in the middle of an unlit gravel road thirty miles from any town on a Saturday night. Sunday, in many places, finds almost every business closed. Lutheranism had permeated African life but no western religion was potent enough to dispel every thought of animism. Religion becomes a complex toxic blend of new and old mysticism. The local custom is to shutter every business on Sunday.
The evening was spent at a luxury lodge called Opuwo Country Hotel. Every night but Saturday they have a buffet and an ala Carte menu. Tonight, Saturday, there is only a buffet. At 135 Nam dollars (about $21 USD) per person it was no bargain. I looked at the foods and while the hotel seemed wonderful the food was plain, simple and boring. Since this was largely a German area other than the indigenous natives, the hotel was populated by Germanic speaking guests who enjoyed plain faire. Pork, chicken, beef was available with a strange, but very small fried fish. Dessert was an orange-colored sherbet with a smooth texture but it had only a hint of flavor. I was not impressed by the food, just the price.We went back to the little cabanas where we were spending the night. I tried to write in the journal as much as I could but it was late and I was tired; hardly a word was
penned before I fell asleep. Throughout the night I could feel the heat of two or three small welts built where some mosquitoes have found their mark. The most troubling to me was as constant stinging burning sensation in my groin. I found no relief throughout the night except when I’d sleep in one unique fetal position. In the morning when I got out of bed I realized I had the large ring of room keys tucked in my front pocket.
Notes & Observations
Tribes around here
- Himba (Northern Namibia)
- Tzenba (Angola)
- Hererro (Northern Namibia)
What tribes wanted (of the items I brought)
I brought simple medicines for infections, cold remedies, diarrhea etc.
The people took medicines saying they wanted it for later and jockeyed into position to get some. Pens are always popular
Tribeswomen demanded exorbitant sums for their decorations which they made.
I didn’t get the impression they really understand the real value of the money.
May 6, 2007 Sunday Northernmost Namibia (at the Angolan border)
I was anxious to start today. This promised to be one to the best days of our journey. We ate a light breakfast followed by a long drive from the cabanas to the humble tribal grounds. The Sun was already burning the ground at 8:30 a.m. when we arrived at the grocery store with our guide, Queen Elizabeth, a stocky woman with shiny black skin. She was forty years, missing the bottom four front teeth, with a hearty, infectious laugh. She guided us through the market, selecting items that the tribes want for their
diet. A few bags of groceries were the price that we agreed to pay to intrude on the tribe’s very private daily lives. We were not here for any performance.
Large forty-pound sacks of maize topped our list, but there were other things a chief desired for his tribal group. We tossed two twenty-five-pound sacks of brown sugar and three huge tubs of Vaseline into the wire shopping cart. Queen Elizabeth sat in the hot van, fanning herself while leaving the car door open and dangling her thick legs over the edge of the seat. Freddy turned on the engine and ran the air-conditioning while we loaded the supplies. The tribal grounds were remote and would have been impossible for us to have found without the aid of a knowledgeable guide . . .
It was truly an amazing sight to see. They are semi-nomadic, but outwardly gave us the impression they were very social. They maintained an austere social distance from tribal members who had moved to town and changed their ways, like Queen Elizabeth had done. The difference was that somehow she had ingratiated her way with the chief and the tribe.
Those that live in town have congregated into specific area and have an area that is used for intertribal commerce. There are only a few simple items sold on each rickety table. Each table is covered by a cloth and protected from the equatorial Sun by a roof of palm fronds tied loosely to a frame assembled from thick, straight branches. Typical items sold included used clothing and shoes, bars of soap, Vaseline, Colgate toothpaste, toothbrushes, Afrocombs, and double-edged razor blades. Almost all merchants were selling these same items which could also be found at the grocery store where we had just visited. Generally the tribespeople tries to stay away from town but come in periodically for groceries or supplies. They want to maintain a separation of societies. They prefer their lives to continue without pressures from so-called “civilization.” Other than during periods of drought they lead a tranquil existence. Medical problems are handled in quite a convoluted fashion as I saw it. They would first visit the medicine man of the village. If the situation worsened, even
though there is a government-supported free medical clinic less than eight miles away, they would do nothing until aid was delivered to their village.
Later that day we joined a group of six German travelers on a large bus, specially-constructed for this rough terrain. Although the bus LOOKED more comfortable than our much smaller van. Instead, as we traveled across some rugged terrain, the bus jolted and jerked. I compared this rocky travel to the bus ride I took from Bombay to Goa, India on a bus that should have been in a salvage yard instead of being driven on the road. Both Shawn and I were tossed about the cabin of the bus along with the others. Seatbelts might have added to the comfort of the passengers.
Queen Elizabeth served as the guide for this small group of travelers. She directed the bus driver off the short stretch of asphalt road to a wide gravel path that rode the high bank of a dry riverbed. We turned onto a smaller unmarked dirt footpath that cut through a low grassy savanna. Herds of goats and smaller herds of cud-chewing cattle were our view for another six miles until the bus slowed to a squeaky, metal-to-metal, stop. The passengers were relived to disembark and stretch muscles misshapen and bodies oddly contoured and buffeted about by the difficult and rocky journey.
Note about the Himbas
- Women have the bottom four front teeth removed when they are ten years old.
- Women wear their hair in a special style to indicate whether they are having menses and can bear children. There are specific haircuts to show ranking and status among the adult men.
- Women use ochre, a thick, reddish-brown paste mixed with Vaseline, to shape their hair
- Men can have several wives but he is obligated to provide a separate hut or house for each wife and must support the family he creates.
- Men usually wear jeans or casual western-style clothing. Women wear an ochre colored loincloth accompanied with much jewelry.
- Women smear ochre on their bodies to protect their jet black skin from the intense sunlight. Seldom would someone seek the protection of shade.
- Women never bathe. Instead they would ignite dampened wood chips, like incense, in the interior of hut when they anticipated the company of a man. She might wear a heavy studded belt around her waist to arouse the man.
The Herrero camp was small and very sparse. A dorf of eight single-room homes is in one area with a wide expanse of a hundred yards from another small enclave of similar size. The eight we were shown included permission to open any tin from door and peer inside. The chief was a gaunt man of sixty. He stood almost six feet tall and was casually dressed as though he expected us.
Queen Elizabeth has excused herself from the group to talk to the chief privately. As with the other tribes, we brought gifts of food to the chief as the price to enter as welcomed visitors. Diets are very much the same for each of these tribes. I was told by Charles that this pap is similar throughout all of Namibia and remains the same evening for those that move into cities, except Windhoek (unless they move to the rickety slums of Kutatura). Pap is excruciatingly omni present except in the heart of Windhoek where fried foods and highly processed cereals are favored over fresh fruits, vegetables. The ingredients for pap are always easily found in the supermarkets.
The homes looked western-style when compared to the easily moved thatched roof assembled for the Himba. Each married woman maintains a separate home and is responsible for the maintenance of that dwelling. These homes have a roof of tin sheets for protection from heavy rain but, (compared to thatching) they allow for absolutely no sunlight to penetrate to the interior, so it is eternally dark. This probably helps maintain a cooler home.
The squared walls are built using cement-like material that is a mix of sand, clay or mud, then for a cohesiveness and availability it is hard to beat cow dung. This composite is folded together and applied to the exterior and interior of the boxlike home. Only half of the homes have strung dangerously unprotected electric wire for television and lights.
Notes about the Tzemba
- Women thread many colorful beads in their hair to show availability.
- Women slather Vaseline to slick their hair into stiff shapes.
- Single men obey the king but they often live or spend their days in huts outside the main community, without female companionship until marriage.
- Their economy depends heavily on cattle and other livestock. This tribe cultivated plants like corn and other easily vegetation.
- The basic ingredient of their diet was “pap” a gruel-like porridge that smelled like white glue but has a slightly sweet taste. Youngsters will eat this frequently, but babies are given a non-stop diet of it.
- The oppressive heat and unsanitary conditions, the lives of every member of the tribe is seriously affected. Beyond a serious AIDS/HIV epidemic, medicines and modern treatment. In times of drought, wells are quickly dug .and water is pulled up.
Headgear: Damaraland was a tribe which had widespread presence throughout Namibia. The women dress similar to Harare. Except they wore a triangular cloth folded hat which traces it’s history back to the beginning of the twentieth century copied European style unfalteringly a hundred years later into the twenty-first century.
Language: Harare was the most widespread language but with a variety of dialects. English, German, and a South African dialect of Dutch, called “Afrikaans” are common.
We interacted with the members who appeared before us with all dialogue channeled through Queen Elizabeth. After an hour the chief disappeared to his hut taking his snuff box with him. The drive back was equally difficult, measured in painful minutes.
Charles and Freddy had made a delicious noodle concoction. I never questioned them about the ingredients. I was just happy to have a pleasant meal.
Everything tastes good in this environment. I prepared for sleep early, for tomorrow we head to Etosha National Park. As with every night, my last thoughts are of Marcy.
While writing a few words in my journal, a dispute arose between Freddy and a local African to whom he had given a hundred Namibian dollars to gather wood for a fire. There was no change, no wood and no guy. The local didn’t appear until late in the evening when our guide Charley jumped on the guy and brought him to the police station. The man acknowledged getting the money, but said he was robbed.
May 7, 2007 Monday Etosha National Park, Namibia
Freddy filled the tank with gas while we shopped for food to eat later today. Shawn and I tried to arrange the rear seats to get comfortable and has an early morning snooze in the van as we sped across two hundred fifty kilometers of loose gravel roads. The road suddenly changed as we approached this internationally known park. It was newly paved with asphalt. Other improvements, not visible anywhere else in Namibia, were all around this area. Namibia has spent a large part of its tourism budget to promote Etosha. The roads were usually paved inside the park. Here, all seemed to meet western standards, from the roads to public toilets.
We were not able to confirm campground for two nights because we had made no advanced reservations however we were able to get a spot on the campground for one night. The clerk, a cousin of Charlie, said there was a very good chance we’d get a cabin for the second night. After setting up our tent, we drove out of camp and traveled about thirty kilometers to view some animals before the sunset.
I carried two phones with me. The mobile phone I bought a year ago in Malaysia would let me put a chip, purchased in whatever country I was in at the moment, to make and receive local calls at a low cost. The second phone was the only phone available to have quad-band, a technology that supports use of foreign telephone signals. To the best of my knowledge, at the time I made this trip it was still the newest technology out there except for Blackberries which allow for texting messages. By contacting my provider, T-Mobile in the USA, they’d open it so I could get and send calls from most cities worldwide that have cell towers and there are very few that do not. Even on travels to remote areas I like to have some contact with home. My cell phone rang, but we had to search for where it was hiding in my bag of stuff. After a few minutes, success! Shawn panicked because he was expecting a call. Recovering the phone, the signal was so weak so we had to travel back into the village where he was able to get a signal again. It was the airline calling about his return trip to Brazil. Because of earlier delays the trip extended into extra days not originally planned, so Shawn was trying to connect with the airline to find out what they could do to reschedule his return flight.
The watering hole by the main campground was, by far, the biggest attraction of the entire park. Even if you overlooked its proximity to the campgrounds and cabins, you couldn’t overlook the huge number of animals who frequented this man-made watering hole. The large park had several, however this is a desert so each of the water sources were man-made. This spot was much larger than the others being about a hundred feet across. Rows of benches are set above a steep berm and intense lights shine over the area during
Large Bus Transportation companies I’ve Seen:
www.crazykudu.com (found in Botswana too)
darkness. On first looks, the pond was populated with thirty skittish zebras. Okandeka was the name applied to a water spring. Zebras drank and played, all the while lions lurked casually in a sprig of taller grass only sixty meters away.
Animals I’ve Seen in Etosha
Lion(male adult) 1
Lion (female adult) 5
Black faced Impala 6
Field mouse 1
Large rhino shaped black beetle with pinchers
tennis ball sized birds that fly in large precision formations squawking loudly
Black breasted Eagle 1
Weaver birds maybe 100
moths, butterflies, mosquitoes and gnats
zebras and other animals will come back, and there will be meat tonight.
Trying to count all the lions was impossible because each would casually saunter within the pride, then sink down, hiding in high grass to disappear in the savannah. I counted six adult lionesses and two babies. They may have considered a hunt but the zebra escaped without any loss. The lions are patient and are not too hungry. If they were hungry, game is bountiful in many places, always by sources of water. Waiting by the watering hole, they know that the zebras and other animals will come back, and there will be meat tonight.
May 8, 2007 Tuesday Etosha National Park, Namibia
Shawn’s Special Challenge of Adventure
As I see it an adventure is a challenge of some adversity resolving itself somehow but a resolution must be reached. So it was with Shawn in the begining days of our journey. I’ll try to tell the true tale here without embellishment. His travel was tarnished many numerous missteps. Many, but by no means all, were accountable to actions he either took or neglected to take directly. And it also must be said that Shawn extricates himself, like Houdini, from the most inexplicable predicaments and bizarre situations. He, amazingly, always lands on his feet. This is why I find Shawn such a spectacular creature, a funny guy, a great traveler, and a good friend.
1. The trip was planned so we’d meet at the airport on April 25th but I didn’t realize that although I’m leaving on the 24th I will lose hours and actually land on the 26th. Shawn’s flight left on the 24th and landed on the 25th so he was stuck here for a day in Cape Town . This, I admit, was my miscalculation, not his.
2. He rented a car a day before I arrived and had already struck the curb and lost a hubcap.
3. He drove out to Cape Point about sixty miles outside Cape Town. Another hubcap was lost after impact and it flew away at high speed, after contact with another curb.
4. A little later (maybe another hour) he smashed head-on into another car. Both cars were totally destroyed.
5. At the airport we were prepared to fly to Windhoek, Namibia. When we arrived to deal with the tickets the South African Airline clerk said they could not release tickets to Shawn because he didn’t have two blank pages in his passport. I went ahead and would wait for him in Windhoek. I would make arrangements for the safari for us.
6. The two tickets were at different prices. His was the last “discounted” faire available. Had his ticket been issued at “regular” price he could have changed the time without penalty. Discounted faire cannot. My ticket was purchased at regular price. When he couldn’t depart he lost the cost of his ticket and had to buy a regular one.
7. He wasn’t able to go to the U.S. Embassy to do this now because the Embassy is closed on South African holidays. This day, Friday, was Independence Day. They were closed and would stay closed in South Africa until Monday.
8. Shawn said his worst fear was realized when, while waiting till Monday he couldn’t find his passport. This he found it but not before a great deal of angst and worry until he poked into his bag of dirty laundry and discovered the passport had been shoved into a pocket of his pants.
9. Our tour was for ten days, any shorter and Shawn would have to make different plans. It was shortened from fourteen to ten days for Shawn. His plan was to negotiate a different flight and pay the difference, if necessary. In the most remote place we visited (by the Himba tribal grounds) was where Shawn asked that we wait a half hour so he could make the flight change. He hoped that they wouldn’t try to gouge him for an additional hundred US dollars for the flight. I waited (not too patiently) because we’d gotten up early and I had no time to shower or shave. It seemed amazing that in fact, he had successfully finished his mission to change the flight date. But he had the receipt that it was done but he still needed a confirmation sent to him. In the future there would be numerous calls and endless times our safari would get stalled. The phone calls required him to stay in a confined zone near the base camp of Etosha, but his waiting bore no fruit. He did get calls from South African Air saying that he has to fax proof and that when he finally was able to do so they said it was too late. Now there was no flight space at that price available . Shawn couldn’t believe his bad luck and talked to several people but he kept getting “no way to do it” as an answer.
10. At Twyfelfontein Rock Etchings Shawn casually complained that a bee crawled under the back of his tee shirt and stung him. A large, circular, red welt was in the middle of his back .
Today in the very first minutes of the day, just after midnight, the man-made watering hole was encouraging the animals to visit, because here was life-giving water. The floodlights were lit so there was never a problem seeing the animals visit here and interact. Rhinos were especially interesting bathing in the spring in very early hours the rhinos showed their quick temper when the two rhinos deterred a herd of twenty zebra from getting a drink just by staring them down with unblinking eye contact. Zebra are wide-eyed, always nervous, but very social within the strict hierarchy rules. Any breach of herd etiquette is punished immediately.
Back in the truck we head out to view morning wild life. Even this late in the season (a high season is August to February.) There are animals scattered everywhere.
Etosha National Park, Namibia
Air temperature is heating up quickly, by 8:30 a.m. is 85F, rocketing up from 40F just three hours earlier. Namibia and Etosha National Park is largely desert. The reflective qualities of the sand reverberate the satanic heat of the day. There is only slight relief for us with a cooling breeze blowing from the West. Without the wind there would be no refuge from the incessant waves of flying insects. The abundance of these flying pests that congregate by beast and fowl would be with us now if we were not saved by the breeze.
Dinner was spaghetti noodles, fresh boiled greens and long carrot slices topped with a thick slice of cheddar cheese. This was served with what they call “bockvers” (we call it knockwurst.) The ground meat was pan grilled with onions and peppers creating an enticing aroma that let me know it was time to eat. Our plates were put on a wooden table outside where we could enjoy the temperate night air. The comfortable yet exotic setting was enhanced by the animal roars coming from the watering hole area, not more than a hundred yards from our front door. The cottage has a kitchen and shower besides two bedrooms. There was enough hot water to go around. After the shower I scratched more notes in my journal, then drifted off to sleep under a mosquito net thinking of Marcy, Carol and Mark and all of my wonderful grandchildren and Maestro. I’m happy that while I’m not at the office, Gio is in charge, doing a great job which I can see because he is sending reports to me often.
May 9, 2007 Wednesday Etosha National Park, Namibia
First at 5:00 a.m., then 7:00 a.m. I visit the nearby watering hole. For my earlier visit there was no wildlife activity, but at 7:00 a.m. everyone in the wild kingdom is awake. Zebras and wildebeest enjoy the morning water by the dozens. Behind me I heard what sounds like a thousand birds in a cacophony. I interpret the noise as an angry wake up call to the plentiful residents of the giant bird nest. Startlingly, as I stood underneath the huge tree mounted communal nest, squeaking and tweeting of the weaver birds quickly built into a loud crescendo, then they burst out! In fifteen seconds, more than two hundred of the tiny birds quickly exited the bottom of the nest in a gigantic swarm. Each bird seemed to know his mission whether it was to gather food or add straw and twigs to strengthen this huge birdland city. Although most of the birds stayed in the growing flock, scores of them shot out and away on other missions.
The nest of the Weaver birds resembles an upside down ice cream cone with two score holes, all at the bottom, the widest part of the cone-shaped nest. For each bird family had its own entrance and knew not to enter the wrong one or face a miserable pecking as punishment for the error. I filmed these creatures nosily busy themselves for an hour before I turned away.
Shawn and I walked back to the little cabin. Charles and Freddy had already packed the gear and set out some breakfast items. I ate some granola mixed with strawberry yogurt and a cup of coffee. Charley returned the key of the cabin as we left the park. We had only traveled two mile when Shawn realized that he left some rented gear, our pillows, back in the cabin. Finding help to open the door to recover our stuff turned out to be much more complex than we’d imagined, costing more than an hour till we could resume our travels.
We are back on the road again traveling south toward the bushmen. This primitive tribe exists with daily struggles against all big city difficulties. Alcoholism, HIV/AIDS seem to affect the tribe of this wiry people even more than the other tribes we visited. Their costume is sparse with two small, strategically placed squares of cloth, hung with one in front and a square in back, held in place by a leather thong around the belt-line.
We met this tribe at Leslie’s camp “Aabani” (if properly pronounced, there is clicking sound that precedes the name, that is if you want to say it as the San people say it). Our van pulled in around 3:30 p.m. after many hot miles on gravel paved roads. We were greeted at the main building. A large stone-paved patio, covered fully with a huge pitched roof, thatched with massive palm fronds, but lacking walls.
The open air pavilion was filled with artifacts of the bushmen and the local environment. It was, without a doubt, the bushmen (now called “San”) that we were here to see. What follows was no disappointment. I was shown my room, and similar to the hut Shawn was assigned. No electricity, no runs water, no other guests. Each straw hut was built atop a cement slab. The cement was the only item not gathered from the large desert property to be used in the structures. Plumbing fixtures, shower and toilet included, were very similar to that commonly found in America. The comfortable bed was a thin mattress placed atop a rough-hewn wooden bed frame. Wide slits were cut in the sides of the straw huts for ventilation. The straw above the slit was pushed out like a window sill to protect the opening from sun or rain. To the rear of the single-room hut was a door opening into a small courtyard fenced with thatching. The western-style toilet stood in the unabashed open air of the courtyard, as did the sink and shower all of which were not operating at the time of my visit.
“Bushmen” do not like that name applied to them.
Instead they have given themselves the ancient
name of “San” and find the former to be offensive.
I put a few things on my bed and met the employees of the lodge. They introduced me to the Bushmen (and ladies). These people were distinctly shorter in stature but with more angular cheek and jaw than members of the other primitive tribes that I’ve visited. They seemed well adapted for this harsh environment. I was reminded that they do not like to be called Bushmen, but prefer, instead, the tribal label of San.
The San walked ahead with Charles. Shawn and I followed them through the bush to learn how they catch food by hunting and trapping. The poisonous caterpillar which is the most lethal when in the process of metamorphosis as a cocoon is harvested from certain bushes and strained of its life liquids. When congealed into a poisonous brown purple paste it is applied to the tips of their spears and arrows. If an animal is wounded the poison cause a numbness in the limb until the hunter can catch the animal and spear it.
The Bushmen lay spring-loaded traps to catch small game. Attaching a length of a light cord to a flexible but strong branch, then a loop knot is tied at the end of the supple limb to leave a portion of the looped string laying flat on the ground. A berry or other bait to attract small animals is placed on the loop. A twig is strategically placed across the loop so if disturbed it will release the tension on the branch causing it to spring back, thus strangling or trapping the animal in the slip knot loop. The tribe now resides in semi- permanent homes of modern construction but they are not industrious nor given to hard work often preferring the old ways, at least this is so for those that have not gravitated toward city life. Straw huts, large enough for two people to lie down in without windows, ceiling ventilation for a small warming fire, or a panel for use a door, this was the domicile of the San.
As early practitioners of birth control, the San found if a woman drank a tea made of a certain berry immediately after the birth of a child she would no longer give birth to more children. They recognized that the harsh environment could only support a small tribe if they were to live together. The alternative choice would be for a man and his wives (he could have several) to move more than four miles away and start a new community. Birth control was the favored alternative usually with herbs grown locally. The San practiced animism as a religion. The night would be lit by a communal fire to relieve the night chill in the sparse clothing worn.
Leslie’s Camp Aabootou
“Windows” was the name of the camp cook
Dinner was mealy pap with bits of vegetables and spices, salad of local plants
Breakfast was sweet yellow corn o n the cob, darkly baked circular bread cut into wedges, coffee, fresh cucumber and tomato slices
The Shaman would shake and dance touching ashes to the throat of a tribal member and, in my case, holding a small blackened can to his ear, like one holds a seashell, to communicate with their ancestors for predictions of the near future. Mealy pap was a staple of their meat-based diet. There was no cultivation of vegetation or cattle that I saw of was told of. Simple hunter-gatherer peoples who chose to continue with that life. Mealy pap or “pap” for short, is used like Italian polenta. It is usual to find small infants taking pap from a small bowl as they tottered around.
After some discussion with the shaman I had asked to trade for his spear but he wanted nothing I had brought. He asked for money and we negotiated a price for about twenty-five U.S. dollars. This, to him, is a lot of disposable income which some of the camp employees admonished the shaman to not use the money for alcohol.
Shawn’s Almost Last African Dilemma
He was in such a panic, constantly calling the airline to change the return date and it was a dark comedy of errors to listen to the changed plans and misunderstandings between the clerks and Shawn. When we returned to Windhoek he went to the ticket office immediately to resolve it. He had to be at the airport at 3 p.m. Freddy said he’d meet Shawn at a specific place, but Shawn misunderstood and thought he meant elsewhere. Like a mad man, Shawn ran through the streets of this small town. Twenty minutes later, Charles, looking perplexed, saw me walking and asked if I knew where Shawn was. Trying to help, I stood on a bridge and looked out to where Shawn could see me.. Totally exhausted and stressed out, he did see me and ran, hollering, using his last ounce of strength, but he caught his flight. He slept on the plane.
May 10, 2007 Thursday Central Namibia
The night was a very chilly but I had the forethought to retrieve my sleeping bag from the van and opened it out like an extra blanket. I was thankful to have done so. It was a very quiet night like many of the evenings recently spent. I woke long before dawn so I would have an opportunity to bring my journal current. Soon the other three guys were awake so we prepared to depart this camp after breakfast. Less than a hundred miles away we stopped at a communal art center situated a few miles outside the northern edge of Windhoek.
Here I traded a few small items, but it was money they wanted, only willing to trade as a desperate measure to acquire goods that they want and need.
Best Hotel in the city:: Kalahari Sands Hotel
Most tour groups and foreigners stay here.
It is in the center o f the”good”part of Windhoek.
I spent about fifty U.S. dollars on a mask and other trinkets. Here, the craftspeople had an opportunity to sell directly to buyers. The hawkers have honed their craft precisely. Often they would strategically stand in my path to force me to detour and enter their shop. Being aware of this tactic, it seldom worked on me. Sometimes it did, just seldom.
Perplexing to me, each vendor had many items similar to those of their neighbor. The mystery existed because I saw several craftsmen at work diligently carving original items, but following a general design laid out by others. Several middle-aged women sat in a semicircle, on the dusty dirt floor of a hut. Uniformly, they threaded tiny beads together, making intricately designed jewelry. Each tended to their babies in a very casual fashion, it looked to me that they ignored the first demands of the infants, responding with some level of fulfillment to the most insistent pleas. The smallest of the children groveled through the earthen floor. The older children were walking in underpants occasionally. But I guess that’s not a far cry from diapers which I have never seen on a black Namibian baby.
Within an hour we had purchased many things. Shawn traded items he didn’t expect to take home, like articles of clothes, unused cosmetics like toothpaste, shaving cream and a toothbrush. After an exciting hour we drove the remaining thirty miles into Windhoek. All four of us tried to get Shawn set for his flight which he has worked so hard to arrange. Copies of the pictures were made on a disk and he had to change money into US dollars because it is difficult to convert Namibian dollars in Brazil. Shawn was mistaken about where to meet so he was running from one corner to the next.
Charles found me casually walking and asked “Where’s Shawn?” I said “He was at the other corner looking for you.” I stood out on a street overhang where I thought Shawn might see and sure enough, he hollers, “Mike!!” from two busy blocks away. He starts to run because his flight is leaving soon and, especially after all that work, he doesn’t want to miss it! He runs as fast as he can, out of breath, up the top of the long stairway. Now, meeting Charles, he had to resume running to the car where Freddy sat, waiting impatiently, for Shawn.
I walked to Air Namibia to arrange the flight to Botswana and specifically the city of Maun which is the center from which most tours originate. It is not Gaborone which is the capital and main city of Botswana, but especially for industry. The flight was expensive, but necessary if I wanted to see the Okavango Delta.
I got a flight reservation to leave on Sunday the 13th. I didn’t have to pay the $6,600 NAM dollars yet. If I arrange a tour, I will have the flight arranged as part of a package. Botswana was exceptionally difficult to arrange stuff through at a cheap rate. Everything seems expensive there. . I walked through the small downtown and took some photo and videos for the website. Then I went to an internet café just off the main street and I checked my mail or replied. I spent the rest of the evening reading about Botswana and Namibia. There seems to be tension between those two neighboring countries. I’ll explore that later when in Botswana because Namibians say “There is no problem.”
I took a taxi back to the hostel and changed into shorts before I caught another taxi to the animal park twenty miles away. Although this park allows total freedom to come into this protected zone, it is fenced to discourage carnivores therefore safe for children to roam. There were tribespeople, mainly women, selling carvings, masks and typical wares sold everywhere. Later I sat on my bed at 7:00 p.m. I shut my eyes to have a short nap. When the nap ended it was 3:00 a.m. I got up to shower and shave. Windhoek, like Los Angeles, is a city built in the desert so water is always conserved.
Chapter Two - Solo Traveler
May 11, 2007 Friday Windhoek, Namibia
I walked the three miles to Air Namibia to purchase my tickets to Maun. Botswana has tried to inhibit excessive tourism by making certain tourist services expensive. I will endeavor to look in tourist lodging and a ride through the Delta. This is supposedly the big tourist draw to Botswana. I purchased a few items to make the three-hour flight go quicker. I can’t figure out why what appears to be only three hundred miles should take so long. I bought some supplies, like a very light sleeping bag and hard candy. I checked to make sure I have all the bug protection spray because I can recall being in Florida’s Everglades involuntarily sharing my blood with gnats and “no-see-ums” (mosquitoes.) I don’t ever want to repeat that again.
Shawn’s Final & Last African Dilemma
I read Shawn’s email from Brazil. He got home safely and all his bags made it through with any theft. What did happen was that several items he purchased had broken before he got home. He had bought a beautiful etched ostrich egg and stand. It was now in a million pieces. He bought a very nice stone statue. It was both large and heavy. Unfortunate circumstances rendered that item down to twenty pieces. The statue was discarded because he found an inadequate number of pieces to attempt repair. The gifts for his wonderful wife and their two kids were intact.
I’ve acquired so many mementos and art objects that I’ve put all the stuff going home in the duffle bag with dirty clothes used as a cushioned protection against damage. I selected some things that I’d like to take to Maun I’d like to leave the rest of my things at the airport. I showered and shaved, and found clean clothes to wear, so now I am totally ready to board the small plane with a single seat per row. I should prepare for an uncomfortable flight.
May 12, 2007 Saturday Maun, Botswana
Leaving for Botswana on this international flight and the flight lasts for three hours. My plan was to wake up at 6:30 a.m. and just go since I have finished all preparatory stuff last night. I woke at 5:00 a.m. If I sleep more I could oversleep and be in a panic to get to the airport with enough time. So I got up and finished the final packing. The spear was the most difficult to store or, if things cannot be left at the airport, transported with me to my new destination. Last night I arranged with a cab to take me to the airport at 6:00 a.m. He wanted $180 NAM that’s about thirty US Dollars for the sixty-kilometer drive. He was not willing to negotiate because it was the weekend and that’s when most people fly. Instead I went outside at 6:10 a.m. to wave down any passing cabby. I asked him for the cost. We agreed on a hundred Namibian Dollars. He interrupted the long drive by a quick U-turn into a gas station. He asked for money to buy gas otherwise, he surmised, we wouldn’t have enough to get to the airport. I gave him twenty of the hundred to pay for the petrol.
At the airport I was directed to the Lost and Found where they offered to hold my spear, canes and other South African and Namibian mementos packed, securely, in my green duffle bag.
This airport has only commercial South African Air and Namibian passenger service. The process to check in, especially because I was so early, only took moments with no lines like when I was going through ‘customs’ coming in. Yesterday I had contacted four tour operators in Maun because according to Lonely Planet that’s the easiest way to get around. To go up the Okavango Delta I needed a guide and navigator. In Botswana they are usually referred to as polers because they use a long pole to navigate the often shallow streams and push upstream along the inlets. I could contact ‘polers’ as they are called, to make a deal. ‘Polers’ are the guys on the bottom of the tourist food chain, so they get only an unfairly small percentage of the fees charged to tourists. One of the lodges, Back to Bridges, offered to pick me up at the airport. If they do then I’ll go there, if not I can already see that waiting until I am in Maun am the way to get a tour/safari at the best price once again. Buy it local is a good creed to use.
The flight was very cramped. The turbo prop held a crew of two and twenty-five passenger and nobody had room to move around . . . I climbed the twenty steps to enter the plane. As I boarded, I was handed a cellophane-covered tray containing our lunch bread and a small pat of yellow butter, three chicken nuggets, a cardboard box of orange juice with a tiny straw designed to pierce the aluminum-covered hole on top and a small bottle of water, just about a coffee cup full.
In Maun, Botswana I walked in the terminal and identified my luggage. The process of going through their customs and immigration was all in English but the officials were slow and had antiquated equipment. Almost everything was manually recorded.
Back to the Bridge Backpackers Lodge had a small booth at the airport. There were a few travel services available at the Maun airport and right across the street maybe two hundred yards there were more tourist services to be found. I was offered some assistance by a young black girl who, after she kindly helped me to get a taxi. She explained that her job, at the tiny airport, was to assist travelers so she refused my offer of a tip.
Citizens of most countries have the idea that their currency is convertible anywhere. Sadly, this is seldom true. In fact the opposite is usually the case. A good rule to remember is to never convert currencies other than US dollars or Euros outside of that country. Either convert the currency you will no longer need into Euros or US Dollars or the currency of the next country
The exchange rate was 6.5 Botswana Pula to the US Dollar. It has, like most other world currency increased in value compared to the dollar. I am surprised to look around everywhere and see that all of Maun seems more primitive here than Namibia’s Windhoek, but then again that’s what I am seeking in the Okavango Delta. At the encampment I meet a few of the staff then they ask me to pay $26 US for a nice large tent with a bed. The weather is agreeably warm and daylight lasts long. The oceans of waterways are at a low right now because the heavy rains in Angola haven’t washed down here yet. The locals expect that to happen in ten days. They watch weather in Angola to track the incoming flood. Game animals must always be near enough to a source of water. It is essential for all living creatures.
Martin, the manager and repairman for anything broken around here, says that the owners of this site are normally here but there is Southern African tourism promotion in Durban and that’s where they are now.
Smoking is quite popular with all the men regardless of race or age. Martin, a third generation Botswani, originally of Irish descent, has an interest in many things like running fishing safaris, developing properties and just fixing anything but we’re talking ‘fixing’ not just replacing. Botswana like Namibia has stuff but they find it so more economical to make a replacement that just buying a new piece. Martin typifies the Boer feelings about indigenous races. I suspect those thoughts are really accurate. The blacks, generally, are less industrious than their white counterparts. Fortunately Botswana made a large discovery of diamonds twenty years ago and as a consequence they have been able to fund social programs to encourage tribal life, assist the tribe people who gravitated to Gaborone, the drab capital of politics and industry, such as it is, for this country.
The waterways travel fairly close to this town. The main part of town consists of fifty single-occupant buildings, mostly focused on transient tourist services. This place, Back to Bridges, is about twenty miles outside of town.
The bed in tent #1 was 170 Pula. Pula is the monetary unit here that about 6.5 to the USD so my tent on the river bank of the hippo pool set me back US $25 app per night. There is very limited internet access here but I was able to call my wife, Marcy in Agoura, California while sitting at a small wooden table lit by dim candlelight and the cacophony of jungle sounds echoing in the distant night, it was morning back home on Mother’s Day. Outside my tent several people had gathered. Local whites had come together for a few drinks and to tell stories of their outings. Photos showed the whole story of leopards, elephants, lions, and the other creatures that live in this environment. Insects, snakes and vegetation are yet to be examined closely. Survival techniques are often astounding how plants and animals can adapt to changes and difficult environments.
One popular bush which is a favorite of herbivores protects itself from over grazing by producing a more distasteful and toxic taste as it is more heavily grazed. On the expedition I intend to take tomorrow Martine suggested a trip to the market and possibly yo the bank for what needs I have. Since Back to the Bridge Backpackers Lodge wants payment in Pula I must go to the bank. While Pula is roughly equivalent to the Namibian Dollar/South African Rand, it is strange that Namibia and Botswana, neighbors, refuse to exchange the currency of the other.
The ordeal at the lodge, setting up for tomorrow was an issue to entirely re-pack, just now, I must use a much smaller bag.
May 14, 2007 Monday Okavango Delta/Maun, Botswana
THINGS I’M GLAD I BROUGHT
- first aid kit
- lots of pens
- cash (not credit cards or traveler’s checks)
- several flashlights
- duffle bag (to go over my backpack while being shipped)
- video camera and digital camera plus hard drive storage
- good waterproof warm jacket
- slip off shoes
- lots of socks
- nylon pants that zip off at the knee
- liquid plastic for small cuts
- several pairs of reading glasses (always losing them)
- CD player(to listen to stories in English)
- GPS navigation (handheld, pocket sized)
THINGS I DIDN’T NEED THAT I BROUGHT
- Too many long sleeved shirts take a sweatshirt
- Too many band aids
- Too many heavy snacks and a portable water purification device not
- enough aspirin or Tums in these poor countries
I woke early as is my custom, quickly dressed having showered and shaved late last night. I only would have to brush my teeth in the cold early morning. The evenings stay warm until very late. This is the cusp of their winter with shorter days of light time I broke camp and was ready to leave with Martine so we could drive to Maun where all local commerce is entered. The bank opens at 9:15 a.m. Before I was able to draw out $300 USD in Pula I had spent two hours in the bank. Typical inefficiencies as one would expect were in full bloom here. Not that. It was totally unpleasant experience I believe they just have a different concept of time. I have heard, around here, the phrase, “African Time” and my bank experience paints a clear picture of that. I left the bank with what I had thought would be adequate pula to pay my expense while here. In broad unspecific terms the trip here had cost about $1200 for five days, including the leg of my flight to/from Windhoek.
Maun Botswana-Okavango Delta
Gideon Pitlagano( I promised him a copy of his video interview)
P.O.. Box 21875
Gerard Coderre and wife, Jeanette from Ottowa -travel writer (look him up on Google)
Sam and Sarah -older couple from Israel He is an 86 year old surgeon
63 pula Lunch
At the local well-stocked grocery I purchased a few packets of instant soup, some cheese and bread, not much, but it was light and easy to pack in. I met my poler and guide selected by the tribal control group. They pick the next guy on the list who is qualified as a guide. The scene, floating upstream, rolled slowly before me, so verdantly that at times, it appeared fluorescent, especially in the afternoon when the Sun was at its apex. Hippos would dig out side inlets into the shallow bands of water, then back into the muddy bay they just dug. They sought the coolness of the mud yet they could watch the flowing activity along the stream. The air, although slightly damp, is heavy with the pungent fragrance of wild sage. Patches of flowers with tiny petals of yellow or purple segregate themselves from each other but grow in abundance abutting similar flowers of a different color.
PLANTS AND ANIMALS SEEN IN THE DELTA
- Baboons 20
- Elephants 12
- Hippo 2
- Giraffe 6
- Anteater 1
- Impala 8
- Ostrich 2
Hundreds of very colorful and beautiful birds.
The millions of aqua fingers of this delta are revived fully by annual flood water pouring from the mountains of Angola north of Botswana. The waterways are slender and shallow. That is why the boats carved from the sausage tree are particularly well suited for these passageways. The boats, called macer, are dug out canoes that last four to five years. The trees must grow for fifty years to be big enough to harvest and then, from the felled tree, carve one twenty-foot canoe. Preservationists have urged the Bahewa tribespeople to use fiberglass boats instead but the natives are slow to change their ways. Gideon, my guide and poler, thinks they will accept the fiberglass because it is lighter and less likely to get water logged as the mokoru does. Gideon, agrees with other polers, and lays a thick mat of light straw and thatching on the inside of the bottom of the canoe to absorb water that he is unable to scoop out with his hands or some rudimentary wooden scoop that he carved.
The Angolan waters usually arrive at this time of year. The inhabitants that record the seasonal advancing waters predict that the delta will be full in ten more days. I cannot wait because I am supposed to meet Marcy in Cape Town, South Africa in a few days. Further up the Delta, we start seeing splotches of reeds clogging the waterway. Gideon pushes on, moving us further upstream about seven more miles into the lower regions of the Delta, but these marshlands are alive and teaming with all sorts of life.
The animals that live here were not the reason I wanted to visit this part of the world. Tranquility and solitude that one finds in such places amidst the soft-spoken flora is reason to be here.
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE AN
(according to Gideon)
- Must have finished the sixth grade
- Must be able to speak English fluently
- Must be able to recognize 75% of flora and fauna found in the Delta.
- Must have two years experience as a poler.
We set up camp at the end of a very long finger of the stream. The small campground clearing was suitable for only one or two people. The perimeter of this clearing was marked by the bleached bones of an elephant, which Gideon remarked, was brought down over a year ago by hungry lions. I used the skull as a throne to comfortably sit and observe a family of baboons that occupied the palm trees that encircled the campsite. This family of thirty would chatter and screech for hours on end. The babies playfully jumped on and off their mothers, interacting with other young baboons. Their facial features are so human that I feel that I am the one that is being observed and studied.
It takes travels in Asia or Africa to understand that monkeys and, especially baboons are really mean and evil. If the reader of this has not made such a journey then I don’t expect any understanding. The fact is they are overt thieves looking for the slightest of opportunity to steal almost anything you have. I had to make certain my tent was securely zipped and locked.
Raucous adult males unendingly challenged each other to establish a clear social hierarchy. Females interact more with other adult females to establish the order of dominance in a much more subtle way, but aggressive behavior occasionally happened too.
Several elephants lumber into the water to drink and eat the vegetation growing in and alongside the stream. Other animals leave when a more dominant species comes to the water. We were blocked form moving through the slender channel while they did whatever they do at the water. During low water times like now, elephants dig pits about three feet deep to reach the water table and enlarge it so that they can cover themselves with mud which served as a sun screen.
May 15, 2007 Tuesday Okavango Delta, Botswana
During daylight of the morning Gideon led the way in search of interesting subjects of the Delta plains. Being a jaded traveler, I enjoyed the wildlife but kept looking for the peaceful travels we’d make in the dugout canoe. We made no sound for many minutes while he poled this vessel into estuaries and tributaries with the wizen knowledge of an old sea captain.
Sleeping was less of a pleasure. The weather followed the same pattern each day. From 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. the temperature loomed around a hundred. Later each night it would quickly drop into the fifties, remaining very cold until the early morning hours passed. It was not the cool night air I found troublesome; it was the terra firma which was hard to sleep on because, well, it was hard . . . really hard. Sandy soil can compact to a density that feels like sleeping on stone so this provided no comfort to me during my hope for rest. Since darkness is felt early in the brush, I was able to compensate for an uneasy sleep with a longer period of rest. Once there was not enough light to read, the night sounds would begin. Quiet baboon conversations and the sweet tattoos of birds echoed off the black canopy of night. Three nights passed while we were encamped. We maintained the same campsite during that time.
May 16, 2007 Wednesday Okavango Delta, Botswana
Our journey back into civilization on the fourth day led me to the tribal grounds where Gideon lived. From there we were to meet the car from the “Bridges” camp. The jeep coming from Bridges would have thirty-five miles over tortuous sandy rutted roads to reach his village. I asked Gideon to walk slowly. He could have easily have completed this leg of the adventure in three hours or less because he was moving with, not against, the water’s currents.
We started about 10 a.m. and pulled into the bank close to his village at one in the afternoon. It was at least a hundred degrees Fahrenheit and there was no shelter from the Sun. The incessant annoyance of Kalahari flies which are very tiny but are extremely difficult to crush even when holding one between your fingers. The flies forced me to seek relief under my grey mesh head net. I used this net often. Africans have adapted to this annoyance. Westerners may have much less tolerance of the flies.
We walked for an hour in the heat reaching his village to rest while I must wait another three hours for Martin to retrieve me and move Gideon’s river gear from the water’s edge to his hut, a small round hut in the village. There were no phone or supplies to be had in the village except for one small stand that sold cold beer, soda and some small snack foods. I bought beer for me and Gideon. Gideon’s friend was there so I bought for him, too. Even though I don’t know his name, I had shaken his hand the traditional way they do in Namibia and Botswana. That is a traditional shake, then grab other’s thumb for a shake, then a regular handshake again.
The village was dotted with huts made of a plaster of elephant dung, termite wood dust and sand. The roof is thatching. Often discarded cans or for the very fortunate ones, bottles were laid into the walls to help with ventilation and temperature control. Any warming fires were made outside the huts. Families were congregated in the shade, wherever that was. Two stray dogs romped, oblivious to the heat.
I sat in the shade of a large Acacia tree to avoid the searing afternoon heat while waiting for a ride. Not just any vehicle can travel out here. One must ride in a well-equipped 4X4 designed to maneuver through the loose sand and mud that made the ride difficult if they hope to do the journey in comfort. Bumpy and gnarled, the road, if you can call it that, was unpaved and an impossible challenge to inexperienced drivers. A vehicle passed, the driver was oblivious to anyone else. It was an old beat-up jeep being driven by the pipe-smoking chief who looked and drove like Jeeter in Tobacco Road.
Another hour passed. The second vehicle seen was a large truck built to carry passengers on these roads. I was getting desperate. I jumped up from my shady spot and flagged down the truck. In this way-out-of-the-way village, where I am the only white person, the driver stopped for me. It was driven by an employee of a
BACK TO THE BRIDGE BACKPACKERS LODGE
about 10 miles from Maun Airport, camp $4 per night, tent & bed $30 per night
neighboring lodge Sedia, and had Sam and Sarah, a married couple in their late seventies. They were tourists from Israel. Since I was not willing to sit for three hours I asked if he could drive me to my lodge. I sat in the back of the big open vehicle after a warm and welcoming invitation to make the ride with them. The driver let me off on the main road by the lodge. I walked two miles of flat, slightly declined asphalt road that led to the compound. As soon as I arrived at the Backpacker’s Lodge I anxiously showered, shaved and ate some hot food. I waited to apologize to Martin for making him drive that distance, but the heat was just too much to bear. I had a moment of dehydration while out in camp and didn’t want to repeat the dizziness that comes with that. I bought a drink for Martin and all was forgiven. Gideon walked into camp. In my state of hyperthermia I had not tipped him and I think he anticipated that for which I had forgotten. Forty pula came out of my pocket for him and he was happy.
May 17, 2007 Thursday Maun, Botswana
Today I am 61 years old. Although I couldn’t reach Marcy by phone I did get to write her by internet. I wrote email to all of my children and grandchildren. I spent 45 pula for one ½ hour on the internet. I was trying to figure out how to arrange a scenic hour-long flight over the Okavango delta. The three local companies provided flights, but by myself, it would be $200USD.
While at the internet café I met Sarah and Sam from Israel (on the truck yesterday). We quickly became friends. They told me about their love of travel. They were taking the flight and since it easily holds three, we went together. Now, because there are three of us, it only cost $95 USD and I had the front seat to share with the pilot. They sat in the back of the small propeller driven aircraft with fixed landing gear.
For sixty minutes the pilot flew over the wide expanse of the flat Delta. It extended beyond seventy miles. We traveled beyond the horizon. From this perspective of height only the largest animals were visible, generally when several of them were together they were easier to spot. Herds of pernicious water buffalo grazed in the swampy regions. Elephants were more often in a small group but occasionally a single one would be seen roaming the plain. Seldom did I ever see a flock of birds in flight; actually now that I try to recall it, not once.
After the flight I parted company with Sam and Sarah. Although they had offered a ride to my lodge, I chose to stay in ”town” to see whatever it is and just walk around to see it
Today is a holiday in Botswana; Ascension Day which may be religious even thought most indigenous tribespeople believe in Animism around here, I am told that they are quick to profess allegiance to Christianity to garner some small favor or gift from the local proselytizer. Gideon had told me this was not true, but that is my observation. In private the natives prefer the “old ways” as they are called.
I walked toward the lodge knowing at some point I’d hail one of the many taxis.
There are two common types of taxis. Private which acquire several passengers during a single run and then there are min buses that do get a number of passengers for each run. As one would expect, the minibus will cost much less to use. Using my GPS device, I could approximate how far I traveled and the distance to get back to the lodge
I walked along the road looking at roadside vendors ware. Mainly baskets were for sale and they are made by Maun villagers. That’s pretty much the main industry here for the indigenous tribespeople. They have coordinated a price code and they will not waiver on their prices which seem fixed among those few people that sell the woven baskets, I pondered why these natives seemed all to refer to a chart which says the price based, not on complexity of design but merely size. They wanted about $15 USD for a woven bowl eight-inch diameter and used only “natural dyes.” I was unimpressed with the quality and so I was bowlless. As always, in the last minutes of the day I thought of Marcy. I miss her greatly.
May 18, 2007 Friday Maun, Botswana to Windhoek, Namibia
Today I return to Windhoek and then on to Cape Town. Since my flight leaves late in the afternoon I have a rare moment to reflect on this journey. I filled my sleepy morning with coffee drinking and writing. Warm sunlight dried me after I showered. I tried to use a space-age chamois-like camping towel to dry. It is small, efficient, and easy to use. It just doesn’t dry a body as well as a real bath towel, but it dries quickly so I can pack it away.
I packed my bags, enjoying the casualness of it all. After an hour of just chatting with the employees of this lodge I was given a lift to the airport where Jennifer they said not to check in luggage till just before the flight. I have three hours to kill and I’ll try to change money when I land in Windhoek like I exchanged Botswana Pula in Maun for South African Rand. Every time there is an exchange of money I lose a bit. I could have used my credit card more often and spent more US dollars which I brought with me to use. Tipping and other small amounts are easier to measure when I use US dollars.
I called Marcy while waiting in Maun she sounded sad and angry which, honestly, didn’t bring me close to her as I had hoped and expensive call would do. I love and miss her I think her resentment very much, I’m certain, was a momentary quirk and she’ll be happy to be here with me. It cost $6 USD per minute to use the cell phone. To put it all in perspective for the future readings; for the cost of one minute on the phone I could buy a substantial meal, not fancy but definitely adequate.
The flight from Maun to Windhoek was much better than when I flew there. The small plane had twenty seats, one on each side. It should hold half that, making it cramped for everyone. We were handed a light lunch as we walked up the steps into the plane. I sat in the very front of the passenger area so there were no seats in front of me. That was probably the only comfortable seat on the entire airplane.
May 19, 2007 Saturday Cape Town, South Africa
I am back at the international airport in Cape Town, South Africa. Rain is pouring down right now and is expected to continue, heavily, for a few more days. I take a long taxi ride from the airport to the waterfront sector of this city. “Backpacker’s Lodge” was suggested by Lonely Planet, a publisher of travel guides, so that was good enough for me. The tall, slender, white taxi driver, Louis, began to tell his life story to me. My interest built as his sad story unfolded. I was his captive listener, obligated to periodically empathetically nod or say ”hmmm” whether I was interested or not. He was a failed life insurance agent at 25 years of age. His marriage had soured in its second year. His parents were estranged from him with no reason given for that estrangement. I listened to his unending apologies as he lamented his absence of knowledge of the topography of the city he was born in. I began to understand the desertion by wife and parents. His whining became insufferable. He then stopped to ask pedestrians for directions. I suggested he stop the meter from ticking while he is learning the streets. Compliantly he did so. I turned on my GPS device just to see what tracks he’ll be making and we start traveling the same route repeatedly. If he ever wants to find the address I had given him he should call the hostel on his cell phone. That helped. Soon he dropped me off just as the hostel was closing for the evening.
Fortunately the clerk was kind enough to let me register which meant she had to reopen. A room cost 280 South African Rand which translates to $45 USD. I had acquired a number of artifacts during my most recent travels so I had a lot of luggage to drag. I slept well but I had lost an hour, now in a different time zone. Living without a watch helps make the adjustments forward or back. I just sleep when I’m tired.
May 20, 2007 Sunday Cape Town South Africa
Dark morning clouds kept the Sun at bay for hours longer than it should have. Local time was 9 a.m. and I’m a bit dizzy and still tired but I showered to wake me up all the way. My little toe on my right foot earned a giant watery blister while I was on the Okavango during a long hike.
It grew from a small pimple to its present size while confined in my shoe. I tried to remedy the ache of the pressure by opening the blister at its edge using a pin whose point I held over a flame. Four large drops of clear ooze seeped out into tissues I collected for the occasion. I covered the puncture with antiseptic and a bandage. Now several days later, the toe still hurts and will slow me down from pursuing any aggressive hiking.
Marcy Needs a Plan
(This is a typical plan I would like to implement.)
Tues.May 22 Marcy arrives
Wed. May 23 Cape Town
Thur.May 24 Wine Tour
Fri.May 25 Fly to Victoria Falls Hotel
Sat.May 26 Vic.Falls Hotel
Sun..May 27 Vic.Falls Hotel to Zambezi Sun Hotels in Livingston, Zambia
Mon.May 28 Kruger Lodge
Tues.May 29 Kruger Lodge
Wed.May 30 Kruger Lodge
Thur.May 31 Kruger Lodge
Fri.June 1 Blue Train Pretoria to Cape Town
Sat.June 2 Blue Train Pretoria to Cape Town
The pelting rain began to come down so uncomfortably hard because it was being driven with wind. This was a day to stay inside -a sad day to just reflect and plan. I hope to have a great trip planned for Marcy. I spent several hours reading my travel book then getting a clear outline of what I think will make a very special adventure for her. To date I have spent about four thousand for one month of travel but the remaining time after Marcy gets here I think I will cost about twelve thousand more. I think the trip will go like this:
The day is filled with only rain., Too much rain to do anything as museums and all public buildings are close at noon on Saturday and don’t re-open until Monday morning at 8 a.m. I waked around following the charming and ebullient long street into the city center. Small African markets braved the rains and periodic winds to hawk their crafts in the sequester parking lots. Often the tourists pose the question.,”Do you feel safe in that city?” and without any exceptions that come to min, the answer is consistently “yes”.
May 21, 2007 Monday Cape Town, South Africa
The morning is showing signs of letting up on the rain. A sliver of sunlight shot through a low cloud cover. I’ve set the wheels in motion to assemble the travel with Marcy by having three travel companies compete. I provided each with sufficient detail so they might organize the order of places with ease. I have seen a large part of this metropolis and have affection for it.
The city is burdened with some historical ‘luggage” like the poverty and alcoholism of the coloreds and, especially, the blacks. Racial tensions often flare between blacks and the lighter skinned coloreds. Townships are called other names in other countries. South America they are called favelas in North America they are called slums. Here, as in other such districts worldwide, the worst, most miserable parts are reserved for the blacks. Since Nelson Mandela’s reforms to eliminate “dejure” apartheid living, it is now “defacto” and condoned by those who reside here. There are several very large “villages” with clearly defined neighborhoods occupied by the more fortunate, industrious, and enterprising members. Nonetheless it is seldom that they choose to move out of their township.
Forty years ago the non-whites were forced to leave the central region of Cape Town by edict. The oppressive measures of those times have left lasting scars but non-whites still, strangely, feel comfortable to live with their “rules” and govern their “turf” without often calling police, preferring to use a vigilante-style system of justice, usually more severe than if the distrusted police were invited to bring reliving resolution to the issue. A “block chief” usually calls the measure of justice to take.
My visit to the District 6" museum had a collection of reminders from those days. Signs, reminiscent of the fifties in the U.S. Southern states, were here en masse. District six is the formal name assigned to the metropolitan area of Cape Town that non-whites were required to vacate before dark or risk of imprisonment. The taxi floated through several townships so I could see them from inside. Shacks and shanties were seldom more than one room with all appliances and furniture except the toilet. Miserly few public toilets were provided by the government so it was not uncommon to see men and women relieve themselves streetside, hardly out of common view. Clean water and organized sanitation saved thousands from plague or other epidemics, little more. Alcoholism, and to a much lesser degree, drugs were endemic. Sexual diseases like HIV and AIDS ravaged the adults and destroyed the family fabric so deeply that one wonders if there is any chance that the social structure can be repaired. Sexual promiscuity, especially alarming among the married men was accepted and, with a wink, condoned. The women have started to feel more liberated now in the twenty-first century. This further contributed to and exacerbated the spread of incurable and easily transmitted sexual diseases like HIV and AIDS. The idea of wearing any kind of protection like a condom is not favored by those living in townships. Amulets and other magical charms are often employed for some protection. The tokens are found at the township witch doctor. Most townships have at least one because you can still find a basis of belief in animism that permeates daily life.
Several of these residents had modified their one room house into some enterprise among the most popular was hair weaving and minor car repair. Pre-paid phone cards was another popular enterprise. Land line phones, useful fo “dial-up” internet connection, were almost non-existent. Most had pre-paid mobile phones and used, occasionally, public telephones when satellite cell service was interrupted, as it often was.
Weather had lightened up some but short intermittent showers did happen. Tiny pools of white-frothed muddy sludge congregated in the alleyways in the townships. Puddles were everywhere, with the filthy liquid spilling in to footsteps left moments earlier. One had to carefully dance along the edge of the roadway for there were no sidewalks at all. Streets were paved as monuments to the permanence of the slums. The black asphalt stood as an immortal testament to the perimeters and barriers erected so that everyone knew, exactly, which side of the line they belonged. Streets often lead back to themselves in a square and you’ll know, truly, when you’ve left one neighborhood (read that as “township”) and have entered another. Railroad tracks and freeways helped keep separate black from colored and both of them from white.
Without a downpour preventing me from doing so, I continued to the waterfront where I took a ferry to Robbens Island. A short voyage of less than an hour delivered me to an Alcatraz type prison. This island was reserved for black prisoners only and only the most pernicious. Those were the political leaders other such leaders of the non-white communities. Nelson Mandela was the most famous prisoner held here. The most feared were those that could lead a civil uprising.
The island was in use until the mid-eighties when the president, Mr. deClerke had acceded to the pounding relentless surge of the masses of coloreds and blacks to retake the country of South Africa from the proportionately small number of whites. This they did succeed in doing and left this prison island as a museum so that others that follow will remember the lessons of it.
Once the ferry arrived as the dock of this prison island people were herded to a waiting bus then driven around the island. Some animals were introduced to the island for the pleasure of the guards and their families that resided here like ostrich and rabbits. Penguins were indigenous to this very southerly region and lived here in some abundance. Our guide led us through interior of the buildings and explained how he, as a former prisoner, lived here. The boat ride back tot the mainland port in Cape Town was very rocky and perilous. A few people were thrown from their seats and the captain ordered everyone to go below the deck. Rain pelted the boat and added to the frightened anticipation of the passengers. Relief came only when we docked.
I took out my GPS device to see if I could walk back to the hotel because it didn’t seem more than two miles. It was now dark and could be risky to walk along the street alone. Instead, I wandered through the interior of a modern city mall built adjacent to the port. I enjoyed a pleasant evening walk, pausing to locate the Commodore Hotel on a backlit map of this neighborhood. The mall, however, was one that any American teenager would love. Although there were few fashion names familiar to me, I will readily admit not keeping up with clothing fashions. It had all the latest fashions and latest computer technology for sale here.
I couldn’t lock in exactly where the hotel was so I met a cab driver “Mousky” who brought me to the hotel and waited while I visited and chatted with the manager of the hotel. Mousky drove me to Backpackers’ Lodge in the city center and we agreed to meet at 6:30 a.m. to make the move in the morning so my stuff was at the new hotel and we’d meet Marcy on time at 7:50 a.m. He seemed like a nice enough guy and he charged me about ten dollars US per hour. For a cab and driver that is a good price.
Chapter Three Marcy Arrives Five Star to the End.
May 22, 2007 Tuesday Cape Town, South Africa
After almost a month without Marcy I would rather be two hours early than one minute late for her arrival. She depends on seeing one familar face after a long journey from L.A. That would be me. Mousky was a good driver and as we drove, he told me his life story. I don’t know what it is with cab drivers and them telling me their stories. It seems that their stories are basically similar in that they have a downward spiral to this point. There were few happy moments leading to the present. No father that he ever knew, no mother that he can clearly recall since was an alcoholic who, he believes, died many years ago. Too much light was shined on his dark side. It was ugly but not demented. Others, many others, have such stories so it was difficult for me to find any interest. I could only smile benignly when he glanced at me and nod my head at what I think are appropriate moments. His dramatic monologue reached a crescendo when he tells of his first wife leaving him and stealing his children. He spoke in lighter tones while talking about his second wife of fifteen years of marriage and three children with her. Mousky would prove to be reliable and conscientious in the performance of his job. He parked the car and we walked in to the terminal. He guided me to the international arrival gate where we sat to have a cup of coffee. Marcy limped through the gate exhausted after over a full day of travel and a time change of approximately ten hours lost. Happily, we kissed and hugged, being apart for a month was just too long. Mousky took control of the luggage trolley and we proceeded to the taxi cab. It is a long ride to the city about twenty five miles and generally costs about 200 Rand that’s about thirty-four USD.
Mousky brought us to the five-star Commodore Hotel at the waterfront. It was not superb because of rooms and features. (I’d think it was quite ordinary in this respect.) The service was outstanding and compensated for the other features. I walked five hundred meters away. Construction of an additional building adding a hundred spaces was going on in full force with teams of men and equipment moving here and there amidst a raucous metal-on-metal tattoo, like rivets being put in place and fastened.
We dropped off all the luggage as the hotel but since the hotel would have space available after two p.m. I engaged Mousky to take us on a city tour. Marcy was not yet affected from the time change crash which usually happens two or three days later.
We drove along the eclectic Long Street into the business center of the city. African craft makers spring up wherever they can find a vacant parking lot and no police. We drive outside the heart of the city to the cable car which ascends to the top of Table Mountain. This picturesque mountain serves as a backdrop behind the seaside city. The cable car ride cost about $10 USD per person but it provided some beautiful moments of photography.
Mousky drove us around some other areas of the city, only allowing Marcy the briefest glimpses into life in the squalid townships. She learned the word “townships” and how it refers to strongly ethnic neighborhoods of either black or colored but never both intermixed. Some intermarriages and interracial dating occurs, but rarely.
This is the time that South Africa begins it’s winter as those in North America begin summer. Cape Town is close to the furthest point south on the African continent (the actual furthest south one could travel on land is about a hundred fifty miles southeast.)
The long journey and the loss of nine hours is starting to show on Marcy.
May 23, 2007 Wednesday Cape Town, South Africa
Today we woke early to visit Stellenbosch and Franshoek two neighboring wine districts that were outside of Cape Town over forty miles. We visit four wineries and found all South African wines appealing to our palate. The white wines were clean but because there is no tannin leeched from the barrels the use, they add sulfites to preserve the wine. Even with the preservatives, South African wines have a short shelf life and don’t age well. The wines peak in usually three to seven years.
Olive oils, often found to compliment grape vineyards, were rarely seen and two oils that I tasted had an distinctly arboreal flavor; a strange undertone of green tree. It is quite difficult to explain in clearer terms but it’s sufficient to say that I preferred the olive pressings of Croatia, Greece, Italy, and Napa area of California. I’ve put my notes about each winery elsewhere. It was quite a long day.
May 24, 2007 Thursday Cape Town, South Africa
Today we left our hotel to visit a food and wine convention held at the civic center a mile from our hotel. This would be a good opportunity to get a clear overview of the flavors of South Africa. Up til now the only culinary claim of South Africa, besides great wines, is Malay cooking. It is the only original tastes were derived from Malaysian slaves who developed a cooking style similar to the flavors of Malaysian but with less kick, less meat, fish, or poultry and more rice and curry. South African lacks unique tastes developed by many countries and regions which are newer along on the time line just to develop those flavors that have endured some measure of culinary in-breeding.
Visiting the show we saw the successfully to establish a beachhead in this new territory. Asian influences strongly predominated the food and wine show. Historically the black tribes people trace their ancestry back(often) to the Masai tribe of East Africa. With roots came a diet that is predominantly meat based. Carnivorous dishes are clearly dominated by beef although other domestic creatures fill a culinary role too. Fish is rare and sea creatures are virtually non-existent in the staple diet of natives.
I met numerous restauranteurs and vintners so it was an interesting visit. Immediately after, we concentrated all of our efforts to resolving our further adventures in South Africa. Struggles to set a firm price and schedule, mainly to please Marcy, continued to elude us until late, only hours before we were to begin this five-star adventure. I intended just to flip through it all without confining “plans.” As a concession to her, I let her firm future plans here.
Packing all our gear to begin in the morning was the formidable task at hand. We need to get up and leave at 4 a.m. Our next destination Victoria Falls and the historical Victoria Falls Hotel are goals I approach wide-eyed and expecting a very posh British “high tea”adventure that we’ll find uniquely spectacular. Any less would disappoint.
May 25, 2007 Friday Cape Town, South Africa
Throughout the night, Marcy and I awoke to verify the time, never trusting the staff to wake us on time. While they did call very close to 3:30 a.m. as asked, we had already been up for twenty minutes. Still not totally comfortable that each part of our assembled adventure would fit together smoothly. We were expecting the pre-arranged taxi to not be on time, but Manny’s son, Alex (the substitute for Manny), our early morning driver, was there as promised, so off to the airport. The airport is still under construction so Alex attempted to negotiate passage curbside because Marcy’s foot made her only capable of limited walking without pain. The construction and security issues were an obstacle Alex overcame. There was some flurry of airport activity trying to pick-up our tickets to board but it happened. The 1½ hour flight to Johannesburg to connect to the Victoria Falls flight as an international flight happened. Connecting in Jo’burg was difficult to maneuver and quite some distance to walk because this is a large, spread out airport. Since our luggage was checked through we just had to move our bodies there. I asked an African porter to get a wheelchair but he “didn’t see one”, so he just walked with us, hoping for a tip anyways, rather than going to try to find one...and they were all over the airport. No wheelchair and no tip for the porter.
The flight to Vic Falls looked longer on the map but it was scheduled to take two hours. We were riding on a half empty plane. The Zimbabwean airport was very small. We found our luggage among the last on the carousel. A pre-arranged driver was waiting, holding a sign for “Mr. Michaels.” This was a clear reference to the mistaken records when we arranged the tour at Backpacker’s Lodge where they had my first and last name reversed on all the tickets. We were driven to the hotel in a van with several other travelers. My backpack had been open and “explored” by someone in the airport, then poorly repacked, leaving obvious signs like some electronics were removed from its protective envelope and tossed back in the bag when they couldn’t figure out what it was (a portable hard drive.) I neglected to lock the bag so I partially blame myself for placing temptation before the poorly paid luggage handlers. The precaution I did take was not to pack anything of value in the backpack so the best he’d get is a shirt or pants.
The thirty mile drive to the hotel was all on asphalt roads. The last mile went through the tiny town of Victoria Falls. The paved road we’re on was obviously well-traveled by tourists. With the passage of any vehicle, side roads kicked up billows of brown dust swirling forward and back. Dilapidated trucks and autos, resurrected from salvaged parts, swished through the shimmering clouds as they passed each other on the hot dusty roads. Pedestrians wrapped scarves, if they had them, over their nose and mouth to save themselves from inhaling the dry brown dust.
The town had a couple of banks , one gas station , five or six tourist service offices (all trying to promote one travel service company called “Wild Horizons”.) There were two neighboring shops to have your hair braided, if that interests you. Three tiny markets where someone could buy Chinese toothpaste or soap. The entrance to either was through a gated front door over each hung a large hand-printed sign promoting the store.
Behind the small post office was a craft market but when I walked through it there didn’t seem to be any unique crafts that were locally made except for hand painted cloths with African scenes painted. Each of the merchants in this craft market had many of the exact same things as the other thirty vendors. As poor as they were, it was simply down to price. I had no other way to choose one over the next and they desperately fought each other for my money, yet obeying the one rule of not interfering while I was talking with a vendor. Once the conversation ceased I was “fair game” to all.
I hired a driver, Wes, a short rotund taxi driver to take us abound town. He didn’t come with any recommendation, I just picked him because he was nearby and spoke adequate English. As it turned out, Wes was an opportunist and exchanged near worthless Zimbabwean currency, which was already incredibly bloated, to get as much from me as possible. The profit he made from the exchange of $20 US couldn’t have covered the profit he could have made if we felt that he was helping us and used his services during our stay here. The racing inflation of Zimbabwe is terrible. One U.S. Dollar equals 45,000 Zimbabwean dollars on the black market during August but the uninitiated are often scammed. Officially the rate is 25,000 to the USD yet, easily, in many shops, one could get 35,000 without any effort at all.. Count me as one of the uninitiated for as soon as I could I arranged for a taxi driver to take us the half mile into town because Marcy couldn’t walk. I asked Wes, our dishonest taxi driver, what was the exchange rate, expecting an honest answer. He said he’d give me 10,000 to the dollar, and added that he thought the official rate was half that. That was a clear lie. My suspicion that were being cheated was why I only changed twenty USD. It is always a good idea to have some local currency in your pocket.
As a tool of negotiation (but totally lacking actual knowledge of the true rate of exchange) I bluffed that I could get twice as much in the town. He quickly matched that. There had been no currency exchange office at the tiny airport. (We had to pay thirty USD each for visas to enter and only US dollars). Wes accepted the twenty USD for 40,000. There were signs posted around the tiny town stating that everyone must obey the official exchange rate, but nowhere was the “official rate” posted or revealed. “There are stiff penalties for black marketing.” the sign read in English. For the taxi ride and accompanying Marcy while she walked through a few shops, Wes asked for thirty USD I gave him fifteen, which was still way too much. He spent less than an hour with us and drove less than two miles.
The Victoria Falls Hotel was just beyond a newly constructed hotel compound called The Kingdom. Before I described our hotel I want to commit to paper my impression of The Kingdom. Garish without opulence. The interior of this huge area was built around a casino. Hauntingly vacant of visitors, it looked like a doomed enterprise with employees outnumbering visitors four to one. Shops around the casino were intended to appeal to western tastes and wallets. Except for one sleepy African attendee each of the boutique shops built along the corridor were hauntingly without people. Pizza, hamburgers, lemonade, and wrinkled, old hot dogs rolling endlessly on black-pocked heated stainless steel rods were all available in the food court. A hundred brand new slot machines stood, glistening, in the center of the room with colorful flashing lights that mocked the lack of visitors.
Our hotel, the Victoria Falls Hotel, was a few minutes further down the dirt and gravel road. Immediately you can see that the historical stuff about this place didn’t exaggerate .I could taste the “colonial period” in the air. This hotel represented all that was of Rhodesia., the name Zimbabwe was known as before 1979. The room was not luxurious but the view was so spectacular and the colonial style dining service at the tables was so handsomely executed there was no question in our minds that we were in a five-star hotel. The black waiters sported crisp white shirts and an attentive, but not obtrusive demeanor. The glass doors of our room opened out onto a small balcony and behind that was a picture-perfect view of the majestic Victorian Falls. Stunning. The short comings of the room were easily overlooked. The multiple repainting of the room layer over layer, each layer adding new lumpiness to the layer below; antiquated electrical outlets that required a special plug unique to Zimbabwe and other modest appointments, none of this could detract from the spectacular view and the top-notch service.
May 26, 2007 Saturday Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
This morning we ate breakfast outside, overlooking the falls beyond the expansive rear garden of this hotel. It is quite elegant and certainly we have a wonderful view from our small balcony or even from the bed to the falls. Breakfast wasn’t special’; all the regular stuff but nothing with outstanding flavors or presentation; just simple buffet. Oh yeah, the coffee was rich and flavorful, but that was it.
The people here are poor, but in their desperation for survival have watched their corrupt political leaders resort to dishonesty and they have followed that example. The consequence of this is that Zimbabweans are not trusted outside of the hotel. In the hotel the employees are trusted, but must be tipped for every deed or action performed. Having single US dollars has proved useful here because it is the currency they want, not Euros, or Rand. The government of Robert Mugabe is rife with graft and corruption. Still the people I talked to remarked
that the incumbent president is doing a good job. Unrest was at a slow boil now.
5/26 Taxi for $10 to Vic Falls
Walk to the falls $20 each
Zambezi River Cruise
Beef Curry & Tomato Soup
Barry Cook & Terese
(nice couple from South Africa)
You could see that. If it became known that someone spoke against those in power they could be severely punished. The paradox is that I found no clear answer, only clues that belie the hidden truth below the facade. The situation is easier to see from a distance, say, back in the US or even South Africa, not in the midst of the country.
I should have brought a camel pak water carrier(goes on my back) Water is sold for $2 for a half liter bottle.
Marcy bought cheaply made sunglasses yet they sold for thirty American dollars., I bought some small item of African handicraft. According to Marcy everything I bought is junk.
About 1 p.m. we tried to visit the Victoria Falls Park but at the entrance the guard demands that foreign tourists to pay $20 USD. Zimbabweans must pay $1. The walk was drenching wet when you approach the falls. Huge clouds of spray bounce back up to drench onlookers. We did take the walk up and back to the hotel.
The weather has been consistently good in Zimbabwe with the only rain happening while we were in Cape Town. This is close to the equator, only a thousand miles away, so we’ve had warm weather consistently. The evening was pleasantly cool as we sat outside the rear garden of Victoria Falls Hotel for a quiet candle-lit dinner of tomato soup for Marcy and I had lamb curry. High marks for the meal.
There were only four active channels on television, but one of them was CNN, so we could get an overview of the world news and stocks. The other channels were local sports and human interest stories. News had been sterilized for viewing. Newspapers gleefully discussed sporting events and social interests. These are earmarks of repressive government and they are the easiest to spot if you know what to look for.
Marcy’s foot has been bad and her knee now has made walking more difficult for her, fortunately the journey doesn’t require excessive waking. She put a cold compress on her foot to help the swelling subside. We had been on a river cruise for a couple hours and just drifted around. We saw a crocodile, giraffe and very few mosquitos but those we saw (and didn’t see) were thirsty and bit us even though we had deet (20%) to protect our skin.
We met an American couple who have been to Africa thirty times for hunting expeditions. They are an older couple in their late seventies. When I causually mentioned in a conversation that we’re Jewish he casually, almost disarmingly, said,”I don’t have a problem with that!” Strange!
We were driven back to Victoria Falls Hotel where we ate a fine dinner, sharing a plate of beef curry! Delicious! Zimbabwe has changed dramatically, both good and bad, from when it lived under its previous name, Rhodesia named for Cecil Rhodes, an influential Boer. Robert Mugabe, the incumbent leader is feared and despised; anyone can sense the air of suspicion and corruptness that permeates all strata of human life in the microcosm of this tiny town of Victoria Falls. The people are frightened to say anything for fear of a visit from his personal police force who have a well deserved bad reputation.
May 27, 2007 Sunday Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe
We were booked for an elephant safari in the morning. This cost $100 USD each for a forty-minute elephant back ride. It was a surprise to Marcy that it was not excessively difficult to walk up the eight-step ramp.
She just had to bring her left foot to the other side of the elephant to straddle the huge animal. Marcy sat comfortably into the saddle, which is strapped with long leather thongs to the back of the placid beast. There were nine pachyderms and a suckling baby who followed the animal that Marcy rode. The herd was controlled by a driver who held a thick, two-foot long wooden baton fastened to a sharp silver metal gaff. This tool was used to prod the elephant if he becomes unruly. The gait was similar to a horse but at a slower tempo.
Each elephant would often attempt to graze on vegetation at the edges of the cleared path we followed. Usually the driver, mounted in front of each passenger, would allow a momentary dalliance. These animals are not truly domesticated creatures, and they could come and go as they pleased, unrestricted by workers on this “ranch” when they have not been saddled for a walk like this. The mare elephants interbred with wild bulls on occasion. During the walk we saw a few giraffes, but still no rhinos, leopards, or cheetahs. Oryx and kudu roamed around in large number. Brazen, ill-tempered baboons would limber by, flaunting cherry-red buttocks and coarse grey hirsute hindquarters. Steel black eyes stare, unflinchingly, at the slightest threat to their tranquility.
The company, “Wild Horizons,” seemed to control much of the activities sought by tourists. The preponderance of white tourists here came from North America or Western Europe but visitors worldwide looked for a kind of plush adventure. I mention this company because they were the company that brought each of the parts of our journey together. The record established with us was one being on time and at the right place when they say they will. The company ran numerous activities besides providing transportation to and back. They had helicopter rides over the falls, bungee jumping from bridges, lighter than air flights and micro light craft that looked like motorized hang gliders but do a running take-off to become airborne.
The typical tourist, in their sixties who donned fashionably expensive sunglasses, only the finest Italian jungle shirts, an Australian brand of “outback” wilderness hats, pants and other, only the best name brand gear. They have bags filled with ointments, sun-screens, bug repellants, lotions, and perfumes. These tourists have seen most of their safaris from the interior of a plush, air-conditioned tour bus. Always found in groups, huddled together, they seldom dare, even for a moment, to seek adventure alone.
We spent a hundred dollars per person for the helicopter ride over the falls for fifteen minutes aloft above and over the rim of the massive falls. We rode with four other passengers and the pilot, yet everybody had a window view. The panorama was incomparably magnificent.
We were picked up from the lodge in the evening to go to the Boma. (Boma literally means “the place to eat.”) There was an incredible show of tribal dancing and singing. The colorful clothing was usually only worn for festivals and celebrations. Besides offering a beautiful dining experience with many types of roasted meat like kudu, oryx, buffalo, warthog, my personal favorite, impala, springbok, and, of course, there was chicken, fish, and beef. Crocodile and ostrich were grilled on skewers to serve as kebabs. The music and dance was spectacle and everyone enjoyed the pounding excitement of the rhythmic music.
As we entered we were, each, draped in a long African sash of different colors and patterns. The sash is used to honor visitors. As a culinary adventure I tasted the Moremi worm paste which is popular among the Zimbabweans. Few other westerners dared tasted the worms. I touched the quarter of a teaspoon of the mealy paste to my tongue and although mild in flavor I was put off by the name and actually swallowed less than penny-sized dollop of it. It raspingly slid down my throat It may have meant my doom. Africans dancing in costumes; attentive but busy waiters; a wide and colorful selection of foods, desserts, vegetables and salads with at least fifty to choose from, few that would customarily appear on my plate back home; all of this added up to a wonderful evening. Late into the evening the whole affair continued. When we were driven back to the Vic Falls Hotel we packed for a move to Zambia and the town of Livingston.
May 28, 2007 Monday Livingston, Zambia
The driver from Wild Horizon met us at the hotel for a short ten-mile drive to the Zambezi Sun, a hotel complex on the other side of the Zambezi river above the falls. It was divided into two parts rebuilt in 2001, almost from the ground up, in an American southwest architectural style. The complex spreads out around a large swimming pool including other typical buildings one might expect (like a cafeteria.) A conference room and a “business center” with a fax machine and two fifteen-year old computers that can barely accommodate an intermittently working dial-up internet. The service that is so extremely slow that I just didn’t have the patience to wait fifteen minutes to read one email letter. The other half of the hotel complex called The Royal Livingston had rooms costing much more than the Zambezi Sun
The rooms at either hotel group were comparable except that the rooms of the Royal Livingston faced the upper river banks above the falls and has a restaurant that served 5-Star dinners made in a kitchen run by a European trained chef.
I felt that this entire complex was extremely overpriced and there was little to find unique here. The highlight of the entire complex was the bar on the bank of the Zambezi River and it only offered mundane view of the river above the falls so you couldn’t even see the falling water, just the placid waters drifting to the edge. The town of Livingston is about six miles from the hotel complex. Visitors are compelled to buy everything at amazingly inflated prices from the hotel because it is difficult to leave to compound. A taxi to town would cost $10 US if arranged by the bellman. Walking a hundred meters outside of the hotel grounds then flagging down a taxi myself costs $5US and that’s only because I have a white face. Blacks pay much less, however blacks are more tolerant of sharing a taxi.
Rates Charged at Zimbabwe Airport
It costs $10 USD per hour for very slow internet useage by modem/dial-up
A can of Coke cost $3 U.S. (Only “Regular” was available but it was usually chilled.)
A hamburger from the cafeteria menu was $10 U.S. (Yet it wasn’t worth two dollars)
The simple town of Livingston was largely undeveloped, there was numerous businesses of all sorts necessary to make it a “town.” There were few tourist services developed well enough to visibly attract tourism. A couple of hostels looked abandoned or neglected. People walked along the dirt streets. The women were usually bare-footed and carrying a baby wrapped in sash slung over their back and around their neck. Other than the town’s three short main streets, the rest were merely swirling dirt roads. I wandered through a craft market where all the goods looked like all the stuff sold at any other craft market. What could explain that? Do they buy from the same wholesaler? Are their skills at craft manufacture so uninventive and mundane to lose any creativity? I just don’t know, but true enough that there was little here that was not sold elsewhere. I bought a carved bit of a horn, a wooden mask, salt and pepper shakers of bone etched with animal figures.
Marcy and I enjoyed our own company amidst a boisterous group of American men who had begun a drinking contest. Marcy ordered spaghetti bolognase but what appeared on the plate before her was a ketchup based sauce with long thin flat noodles and a small bowl of shredded cheddar cheese, not Parmesan. I had fish and chips (french fries.) My dinner wasn’t as bad as hers.
May 29, 2007 Tuesday Cape Town, South Africa
There would be a lot of travel today. First, we were promptly picked up by Wild Horizons but we struggled to cross the border when they charged us extra fees to get back into Zimbabwe.. Often sleight-of-hand was employed to cheat other tourists or those less suspecting. They’d double over bills in a stack so it might be counted twice in an exchange. They would do whatever they could to barter or sell whatever was asked for. Someone wanted to have my worn tennis shoes in exchange for a wooden statue.
After crossing the border into Zimbabwean territory we had to get into another vehicle on the other side of the border if we wanted to get to the airport. Charging tourists exorbitant sums for the slightest item or service ultimately will turn future visitors away not attract them
I was able to but tiny half-liter bottles of water for $5.00 for two, even though the vendors sole property and stock was a refrigerated rack filled with bottles of Coke, water, and beer.
This was a two-hour flight to Johannesburg, then a long wait on the ground before a second connecting flight for two more hours in flight into a rainy Cape Town.
Manny, the taxi driver, met us at the airport. We got in early because Marcy cleverly asked for an earlier flight. Manny dropped Marcy at the hotel then I went to the Backpackers Hotel to finalize confusing travel plans. After two hours I finished confirmation of the rest of our plans. I wasn’t totally certain all arrangements had been locked in correctly even though they assured me that it was. Manny brought us to a popular and expensive restaurant called ”Ginger” but the host said he was not able to accommodate us for over an hour. I had Manny drive us to the waterfront where we sat outside and had a pleasant, but unspectacular fried fish and calamari dinner.
We drank a nice bottle of South Africa red wine while the gulls watched us from their landing atop the tarred wooden pierings that were thrust into the bay just beyond the dock. The sky over the ocean was dark but the wharf and the shops built alongside this restaurant were brightly lit with huge phosphorescent mercury vapor floodlights. The hotel was across the street so we walked to it.
Currency Exchange Rates
$1 = 3,500 Zimbabwean dollars
$1 = 1,100 Zambian Kwatchas
$1 = 6.5 South African Rand
$1 = 6.5 Nambian dollars
May 30, 2007 Wednesday Cape Town, South Africa
Our first task is to pack this morning, after waking at four am, this we had to do because we were too tired to pack last night for our journey on. I have some bulky items to leave in storage at the hotel until we return the day before our trip home to America. There were many things to store at the Commodore Hotel, much more than I had imagined.
Downstairs, a very nice buffet breakfast was casually enjoyed while we waited for Manny who, as always, showed up promptly. I changed some money into Rand getting 1343 Rand. The official rate was 7.11 per dollar so I should have gotten 1422, but they charged hidden, unposted fees and commissions against me. The line to exchange money was long and I had no time to argue or find another bank.
Sylvia, from the Backpacker’s Lodge, was at the train station to meet us. Marcy didn’t like her. Sylvia tried to be nice but what we saw was smarminess. She came out of retirement to help with travelers at the lodge. Our feeling was amplified by her actions yesterday when she tried to slide an increase in air faire past me. I just couldn’t trust her to bring my interests to the table first. The young black man, Luanda, was a novice at this and depended on her sage advice. Admittedly the plans were complex but the money was there for them to make so I expected professional and efficient service. Sylvia tried to satisfy both sides of the fence. A tough job to do. If I were to revisit this place I would trust Luanda to do what he promises.
We boarded the Blue Train going from Cape Town to Pretoria. The Blue Train is blue and very luxurious. We had a suite with a bathtub and two beds. A large picture window let us watch the African veldt roll by. It also let us watch panoramas of excelsior, the litter of city perimeters. Dinner was served at 7 p.m. and was a formal affair. Jackets and ties were required of the men. Springbok, ostrich, and lobster tail were the main dishes served at dinner. Lunch was very nice but less formal. I had some fish broiled “king klipsch” a firm whitefish with a very pleasant lobster-like flavor and texture. Each meal was five star and served spendidly.
Each car had two suites, we occupied one of those. Each car had a butler to provide the necessary services to make the luxury journey complete. Our butler was named “Johan” pronounced “Yon” but Marcy tried to figure out an easy way to remember his name. “Prawn” came to her mind and stuck for that’s what we called him when talking to each other. He was very pleasant and always accommodating for anything we asked. To reach him we’d dial in #255 on the in room phone.
May 31, 2007 Thursday Johannesberg, South Africa
In the morning we both discussed our sleeplessness. Not an uncomfortable or unpleasant experience, just unusual. The train’s motion was pleasant so when we woke frequently we quickly fell back asleep.
Breakfast was a fancy affair and if one could forgive the mundane sights outside the windows, the meal was excellent and service was wonderful. We arrived at the train station outside Pretoria in an area called Prudhoek before lunchtime on schedule. Those that provided services stood outside in anticipation of a word of thanks but, moreover, a generous tip. One employee mentioned that jobs on the train are coveted among the blacks and coloreds for the tips not the paltry salary.
We passed through the tip lineup where all of the service staff shook hands, expecting and hoping for the extra money that makes working on the Blue Train an extraordinary job and very desirable for blacks. The waiter at our mealtime was absent and this was extraordinarily sad because he was the one who gave extra efforts to satisfy Marcy’s culinary whims and brought me an extra lobster tail after I had already finished one dinner. He was most deserving of all. All the food was delicious and counted as the best eating experience of Africa in this visit. The regional flavors came form Malay cooking. This particular style evolved from the railroad and roadway laborers imported as cheap labor from Malaysia. They brought with them curry and other unique flavors and spices from their homeland of Malaysia.
Albert, a well-proportioned man with shiny, jet black skin met us at the station. Albert “came with the Mercedes.” The car was a new and very large sedan. He acted very professional as he brought us and our luggage to a new Mercedes then drove straight through from 2 p.m until 8 p.m. .He was a splendid driver, but not keen on talking. I asked him whether he was married, and some courteous questions about his wife and children and all that. He answered the questions, but stilted and reluctantly. After the small talk there were long periods of silence from Albert who was satisfied that we had granted him permission to listen to a talk radio show in a local dialect, we did not understand one word. The fact that he didn’t want to chat meant that almost all conversation was exclusively between Marcy and me. The trip was on a toll highway that stretched for the first hundred and fifty miles to the camp. We elected to hire car and driver rather than staying over one night for other cheaper transportation, a flight, but the flight only left once a day before noon.
The trip from Pretoria to Tanda Tula in the Timbayati region just outside Kruger National Park took a full six hours without any stops or breaks from driving. Marcy was able to get a little bit of rest in the backseat which she had to herself. After we left the highway, we traveled along one of the streets that connect these resort towns together. We saw a six-car accident which badly damaged several of the vehicle. Worst of all was a small Toyota pickup which must have held six or eight people in the open rear bed. Africans often choose to travel in this very unsafe fashion for the sheer economy of it. Personal items of clothing and bags of groceries exploded on impact and were strewn all across the roadway. Two African were still lying in the street, both were badly hurt and bleeding. Two middle-aged women were standing at the side of the road sobbing. Other Africans, probably passengers in the same pickup were crying and moaning in the tall blonde patch of weeds that grew along the road. All the other drivers and passengers were scattered about the mangled cars exchanging information. This area seemed to be predominantly black Africans. This was the only delay in Albert’s drive to get us there quickly. To enter a private road into Kruger National Park we had to pay eighty Rand to pass beyond the guarded and gated entrance. I gave Albert a hundred Rand and let him keep the change plus when he got back to recover the eighty Rand to pass the gate. The road paving ended inches from where we had just paid a fee. Now the new Mercedes must travel on a road of dirt which roughened after a couple of miles.
We traveled on a path designed for 4-wheel drive vehicles only. He finished the last five miles and was glad to be done with this journey to begin his long drive home. I could see the distress in his dark eyes, worried about damage to the undercarriage of the car.
Southern Africa words we have now
added to our Vocabulary.
BILTONG like beef jerky but less salty and less processed
RUSK light crisp blocks of a flavorless biscuit
NAPPIES baby diapers
KQUACHE unti of Zambian money
BOBOTI So. African ground meat with cheese
BOCKVERS local fine sausages
We received a warm welcome at Tanda Tula Safari Camp. We had hoped they saved some food for our dinner but to our amazement, they brought us right to the dining table. Everyone was sitting at the dinner table which was arranged like a semi-circle in the open-air around a blazing fire. It almost seemed as if they were waiting for us to start eating.
After dinner a guide, Richard, armed with a large-bore rifle brought us to our tent. There were four other couples in the camp and no children . The moon lit the area leading to our tent. Tired after a long day, we fell asleep quickly. Marcy waited till morning to survey our new environment.
June 1, 2007 Friday Kruger National Park, South Africa
At 5:30 a.m. we were woken by a guide who brought us freshly baked berry muffins and hot coffee in a thermos. He left them on the veranda at the front of the tent. He chided me to get the food before the monkeys do. He left after announcing that the morning game safari drive will begin at 6 a.m. The open-air Land-Rovers were outfitted with comfortable seats for eight. Since there were two such vehicles there was space for me to stretch out during the two-hour drive. We spent a few minutes to have another cup of coffee. The air was crisp and moist with a bit of a nip to it yet. Marcy enjoyed a rusk with the hot drink on a chilly morning. Rusk is the South African answer to biscotti. Rusks are larger, lighter, nutless, flavorless biscuits.
What Our Tent Looked Like
Built on a wooden foundation ten feet above the veldt floor. The stairs we had to climb brought us to the front of the tent. In front there was a balcony on which there was a large wooden table and four comfortable canvas chairs. The tent was about twenty-five feet by twenty-five feet, square. Heavy duty green canvas walls had a screened zipped entrance. The bedroom/livingroom was naturally well ventilated, but there was no air conditioning. The highest point of the ceiling was more than ten feet above my head when standing. The floors were carpeted with various sizes of the carpets that looked if they were all woven locally. The bathroom had gold colored fixtures and a gilt-framed mirror. A sliding glass door opened to a patio made very private by a tall reed fence. In the center stood a large circular golden showerhead. The water flowed from it like a heavy rain. The bathtub was new too, and very large. All the very thick towels smelled wonderfully clean. There were things that we didn’t have in the tent too, like there was no phone, television, internet access newspapers to read.
In the very first hour, driving through this area on the perimeter of Kruger National Park, rhino, zebra, impalas by the hundreds, and giraffes were seen.
Lunch was an attractive spread. We ate well then got back in the trucks for the afternoon drive at 3 p.m. This was a relaxing schedule and some chose to rest in their tents until the evening drive. Often, in the heat of the mid-day, many animals elect to have a siesta. There are lots of animals to see as night crept toward us, enveloping the sky like a huge gray blanket being pulled over us. Most of us on the evening drive had flashlights. The greatest moment was when our driver and guide, “Scotch” spied a sole hyena sitting on his haunches, intently and unflinchingly looking up a tree. Two leopards had dragged the carcass of an impala up in the tree and were eating it. They did that because the hyenas are more powerful and could take the food away from them. In the tree they are safer.
We returned to camp about 8 p.m. for dinner. Another great meal was served outside under the stars. We were walked to our tent by an armed guard, We have seen bush babies, tiny marsupials who live in the trees and look like little tiny teddy bears, shorter than seven inches tall, small deer-like eyes with fragile features. A few other local animal residents like a fleet of mongooses, and monkeys. Buffalo were scattered about, constantly chewing grass, black eyes glazed, staring out under a crown of horns that flattened across the scalp looking like a haircut that men in the 1890's might wear with the part in the middle.
Several species of colorful birds populated trees of this region two that were often seen was a yellow horn-billed bird and another bird that, unlike most other birds, would tend to flock together. Their black and white geometric patterns were useful to avoid one bird getting “singled out” when attacked by other flying predators. When flying as a flock if direction was reversed the entire color of the flock changed.
There was lunch waiting for us when we returned from the safari. Then another drive for two and a half hours where we saw more animals (and many of the same ones.)
One of the nice things about this luxury camp was the camaraderie that built with other visitors like us (of which there were six today.). The staff and crew knew the level of service required of them and, although paid by the camp, were really seeking great tips from the people they provided the services. Like a cruise ship that charges hefty rates, then provide visitors with a chart for “suggested tips.” to their employees. I feel this is a great way to underpay your working staff and squeeze more from your guests. The “tip” becomes much less voluntary in these conditions. Naturally, the staff fell all over themselves when trying to please each guest. Scotch, our guide and driver. Patrick, his helper, Richard, the white guy who was may have been twenty years old and the newest member of the staff. Smiley, the black tracker, and Maggie, the short, stocky, very black cook who was proud of every meal she oversaw and smiled broadly as receipt for the smallest compliment paid to her. Each of them struggled to find something to do in the way of service for us. Alle was the camp manager. In her mid-twenties, she was on hiatus from law school, struggling to determine where her vocational future lie. But for now and the last two years, she has spent it here. She served as master-of-ceremonies at dinnertime or whenever special announcements were to be made.
June 2, 2007 Saturday Kruger National Park, South Africa
Rain ruined any hope for a successful safari drive today. It was torrential downpours, but it was enough to keep the animals indoors, if they think about such stuff. Certainly we didn’t see animals abound as they have in warmer drier days. Cold and wet, all the passengers in the open cab Land Rovers were all happy when the drive was cut short and we returned to the warmth of the permenant encampment. I’m certain that the animals were fairly consistent in their lack of activity when the weather became inclement like this.
Breakfast was served in the light of the dawn. The rain created a more relaxed atmosphere. We had nothing to do or a place to be so the breakfast became the event rather than just a moment for refreshment before moving on. We enjoyed the pleasures of the big spread including pink guava juice, tangerine-colored granadilla (a soft and sour fruit with crunchy crimson seeds) about the size and other appearance of a kiwi and usually called passion fruit in the US, rusk (a light crunchy biscuit), bacon cut much shorter, wider, and only made crisp for Americans with much difficulty and bewilderment by the African cooks. Boervers (sausages), several different kinds of dry cereal were out on the table. Pineapples, one third the size that are sold in California were cut into niblets. Coffee is a regular affair; some times good, often bad, but never great. Eggs are eggs and usually scrambled or poached. Ostrich eggs are usually broken into pieces for jewelry or, if they stay in tact, etched and sold whole(except for a small hole drilled into the base to empty the contents. I’ve wondered what becomes of that ooze when an omelet is to be cooked. None of the African chefs gave me a clear answer whether ostrich eggs were ever used in an omelet.
The day was pleasant and relaxing without pressures. Eat, sleep, go on a drive that’s it. Doesn’t sound like much, but it was plenty for us. South African English sound very much like Australian, at least to American ears. We drove till midday. It was cloudy so the searing heat of the noonday was pleasantly muted. After the sun set we’d try again to find animals in their habitat.
Because of the rain in the morning Marcy slept in but had her own confrontation with denizens of this savanna. We met several Americans from two families who live in Northridge. So few guests as one time yet now it was almost all the eleven guests were from the L.A. area.
This morning we took one, not two Land Rovers, Not many people, just Simon from Switzerland, his dark-haired wife and mother and Andrea without big, burly Greg, the Cape Towners who live on a horse ranch. I was there, and “Scotch,” as he calls himself because of his like of the drink. The rains started slowly. Aggravated by the cold temperature the ride was chilly from start to finish.
A few hours later there was another game drive with much more success. We saw many animals including a few not seen for several days, like the wild dog and hyena. Ultimately we added all the animals seen while at Tanda Tula and we think we’ve seen more than twenty different species of animals today.
Long after the lunchtime meal we had another drive in the Land Rover with Scotch as our guide. We watched the sun retreat behind a bevy of thick dark clouds that spread like a thick rope far across the distant sky. There were few stars to see tonight, but a full pallette of colors painted the twilight sky. We were informed that there was a forecast of rain and cold for tomorrow.
Everybody was happy that the evening drive was over so we could sit around the large campfire, chatting until the late evening. It was an especially chilly night punctuated by loud bursts of embers from the ignited branches sacrificed for our warmth. While we didn’t see many animals tonight we could hear the distant roar of a lion from the imagined safety of interior our canvas tent..
June 3, 2007 Sunday Kruger National Park to Cape Town
Today started, for us, on a sad note because we were not yet resigned to leaving this place, yet we knew that we must move on. This is where we were well taken care of. Slowly we continued packing. I went on a cold and unsuccessful morning drive. There simply were too few animals stirring to draw my interest. The animals chose not to walk around instead they found a warm place to rest until the Sun reappeared at the ninth hour of the day. I awoke at 3 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. I showered in the fancy outdoor shower located just beyound, but attached to our tent then dressed and caught up on the writing in this journal. The waiter brought coffee and fresh muffins at our 5:30 am wake up call.
For the morning drive the Land Rovers pulled out of camp at 6:30 a.m. There was enough time to do whatever one was inclined to do with an hour of time. I had used this hour to pack all gear together, much tighter, for our trip home.
The van was waiting for us at ten a.m. and we sadly said goodbye to friends and generously tipped the help They deserved it because they did enhance the few days we spent here. We climbed into the van and were driven to the Hoedspruit Airport across several muddy miles of dirt roads. The tiny airport handles four or five flights each day. Smaller planes can land here when they hold twenty or less passengers, if they are propeller driven vessels. The flight took two hours to get to Johannesburg but once at Johannesburg, although we tried, we were unable to get an earlier flight and even the one we were booked on was full. Our seats were in the very back of the plane. Like flights to L.A. from San Francisco, running every hour or more often, so were the flights between Jo’burg and Cape Town. We got on the plane, opting to ask for early boarding because Marcy’s ankle was causing her much pain. Everyone struggled with the overhead space while our stuff got shuffled around over my protests. When we arrived at Cape Town everyone jockeyed for space by the luggage trolleys. When there are so many people there are struggles to be first. Our bags were among the last, but so far, we’ve had no lost luggage.
Manny the taxi driver was there to greet us. He got all the luggage into the cab. We tried hard to stay dry but the rain in Cape Town was coming down hard. It was a long drive but one we’ve taken numerous times already. We went to the Portsmouth Hotel rather than the Commodore. It was right next door and just about as good. The hotel room was three hundred a night but the room was spacious, outfitted with a good bed, and a nice bathroom. We fell asleep quickly since tomorrow we leave and must put everything together so we don’t wind up with a lot of excess baggage charges when we try to get it home.
June 4, 2007 Monday Cape Town, South Africa
In Cape Town we wanted to do a little shopping then at the waterfront. Marcy went first then we met a little later after I put all of the stuff together to ship it. The mall is quite large and very new. It had name brand stores. We walked around for a short while, stopping at a tony Portugese seafood restaurant for lunch, then walked back to the hotel to meet Manny our driver.
At the airport I was sent to the “firearms” department because I had the San spear. They just checked everything without actually unwrapping it. There was no charge for our luggage and no charge for the spear. I was just as amazed as Marcy that, with all of the pieces I’d collected, that we never exceeded any baggage limits. Marcy made arrangements with Karen to send a limo to pick us up from LAX. We have too much luggage to use a shuttle bus and a taxi costs as much as a limo.
WHAT I LEARNED - REFLECTIONS
Personal Recollections and New Perspectives
Cape Town - A great city which reminds me of San Francisco-even the proximity and beauty of its neighboring wine country. It is still plagued with racial issues that seem to be common throughout all of South Africa. Coloreds and blacks are demeaned and mistreated but not in any legal sense, but they just are. Tourist cost of living $160, but this is not with much basis, just my guess. English (British) is common and a primary language after Afrikaan which is a Dutch dialect.
South Africa - Townships of blacks and coloreds put a weird slant on my perception of South Africa. Once this was a white-dominated country now has a black face in politics but but my guess is that the defacto heads of commerce are still the whites and whites run businesses. There is a small proportion of blacks in the business districts of Jo’berg or Cape Town. Seeing how the races seemingly CHOSE to live together even after they’ve achieved some measure of financial success is bewildering to me, just a tourist, nothing more. Certainly this adventure would have been totally different if I was black. Yet I find it difficult to imagine the vast differences a black or colored person would experience if they were to follow in my footsteps.
Namibia - A real adventure largely unvisited by tourists. Prices were reasonable; people were friendly and helpful. Primitive tribes, Etosha National Park , natural wonders are here. This is a place to explore . Windhoek is a town with little to offer tourists except as a good place to begin a journey from because guides and tourist services are headquartered are here. I sensed unresolved racial tension most places were either all white of all black and colored. It is a good place to start a tour of Namibia, getting well-supplied , finding guides, etc. Although in the very German-influenced cities of Swakopmund and Walvis Bay there were many guides too. English is commonly spoken after. My estimation of the tourist cost of living is $120 per day, per person.
Botswana - More expensive to travel within its borders, but not by much if some preplanning is done. There are many lodges that require you to get there by private plane. Most of those get very expensive. Gaborne is the business and political capitol. It is costly to reach and there are few reasons to visit except the aforementioned. There are fewer paved roads than in Namibia. Before visiting the Okavango Delta, which is the most important site for the tourist in Botswana, you should check to make sure the rains have come to fill the Delta before going. It is the rains from Angola that rejuvenate this region annually. That event happens some time around early June. I called it right when I chose this small town rather than Gaborne which is the capital, eight hundred kilometers southeast of Maun. This is the tourist capital, especially the Okavango Delta. Although there are many expensive ways to see Botswana, there are many inexpensive ways too. Cost of living for the tourist during high season (which is when flood waters come at the end of May) is $200 USD day by my guess.
ZIMBABWE- Corruptness trickles from the head of state down to the people. This means that the tourist must be cautious at every turn. Never expect honesty, be surprised by it in this country. Corruption permeates every level of activities. The Victoria Falls Hotel was the exception to that rule. Such issues tainted everything we did outside of the hotel. English is spoken by many people and is seldom a problem.
Different Currencies from each country prefers their own stable monetary unit. Botswana has the pula, Namibia has the dollar and South Africa has the Rand. After using local currency the Rand is the next widely acceptable but the Euro and the U.S. Dollar are generally acceptable too. Other currencies should be spent or exchanged before leaving that country. Many people thought that the currency of their country would be widely accepted but that was not the reality we saw. The Rand can travel from one country to the next but no other African currency.