Tuesday, 8 January 2013

4-7th June: Serengeti Park, Tanzania

Ancient Maasai meeting place

Playing the 'gong' rock (sounds like a bell)

Fat lionesses like to escape the heat and tsetse flies in the trees

The Wilderbeest migration

Last day in Stonetown, Zanzibar

Our cute little hotel in Stonetown

2-3rd June: Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

1 June - Maasai village, Tarangire National Park

First day of safari! Left Arusha and headed off towards Tarangire National Park first, via a Maasai village in the Monduli region. We had a Maasai guide for that part.  It was a beautiful hour or so's drive - from the flat sparse land we'd been driving through, we turned off and in no time were in a jungley mountainous setting.  Lush greenery everywhere.  Half expected a leopard to jump out from the trees!

Passed through the mountains and saw the village in a large circular valley that looked somewhat like a big crater.  Was really interesting: traditional thatched huts made of mud and cow dung, women in robes wearing beads and other jewellery, including the big earrings that stretch the earlobes, cows all around with cowbells and a cow pen secured with only brush and acacia thistles. Cute kids were very interested in us, stroking our hair and skin!

They also loved the camera and looking at photos of themselves!

Some was a bit set up – they'd organised a maasai dance (a lot of jumping!) and cow branding (horrible and prolonged – the cow was very distressed). We were pretty much told to buy some beaded bracelets that the women had made, most of which we didn't really like but we dutifully bought some. Also guilted into 'tipping' the dancers. Oh well, tourist territory. Still enjoyed it though we stressed over appropriate amounts to tip.

On the drive to Tarangire, saw some Maasai boys along the road wearing black (rather than traditional red and other colours) with their faces painted white... heard an interesting story from our guide about a circumcision ceremony to initiate teenage boys into manhood. It's held only once every 6 years for boys from all surrounding villages between the ages of 14-19, and they dress this way for around 3 months (from memory) following the ceremony, so we were lucky to catch them.

Maasai men marry more than one woman, but apparently there are more women than men so no men miss out on wives??! Not sure how this works out; must admit we expressed a little doubt over our guide's explanation of that one. We passed the village of one rich Maasai doctor who apparently has 33 wives! More money means more cows means more wives to buy. Lovely.

Afternoon and morning game drives in Tarangire National Park - didn't see too many animals but the park itself was beautiful. Baobab trees are amazing - huge and prehistoric and fairytale looking, like the magic faraway tree. Elephants have peeled the bark off most, and some even have huge holes all the way though, but are still living. They can live for thousands of years so have probably been dealing with these enormous pachyderms for a while.
View over a Tarangire river and valley
Holes through the Baobab.  Not dead just no leaves for winter.

2nd, and off to the Ngorongoro Crater for the night.

27th – 30th Victoria Falls

Took the chance to sleep in, and arranged a transfer to Victoria Falls at 2pm. Kasane is close to the borders of Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the town of Vic Falls is only 1.5 hrs away by car, so nice and easy.

Got dropped at shoestrings backpackers, a total hippy-rastaville. A little bar and restaurant outside facing lawns filled with little arts and crafts and painted signs, a menagerie of dogs and cats (even a pug!), Bob Marley pumping out and lots of guys with dreads! Had a couple of beers, played some cards, and headed out to dinner. Decided to try some local fare rather than the western food we'd been getting everywhere else. Had a huge plate of 'pap' – bland corn mealy stuff that accompanies everything and anything, with some tasty beef stew, all for ~$2! It was delicious, but I unfortunately don't like to think about it, as I got horribly sick that night and have blamed it on this! (It doesn't make much sense as we all ate the same thing, but anyway...)

Wilder and Jane hung around the next day while I lay in bed in misery, and I made Jane go and buy me several bottles of soda water as it was all I could stomach! I felt bad missing the day, but couldn't do a thing. Falls must wait!

Next day thankfully managed to pull myself out of bed. We all said bye to Wilder who was heading back to work, and Jane and I went for a walk to the Falls. It was very beautiful, although not nearly as many viewpoints as in Iguazu, and so much mist around it was hard to see much! Got sopping wet walking around, but it was quite pleasant in the hot weather, and all in all a really nice day, though we both agreed in terms of falls, Iguazu is much more spectacular!

Drenched from the smoke that thunders!

Bailey the pug. this one's for Josh

25th - Chobe National Park

One of my favourite animals! The warthogs graze in the hotel yard each afternoon
On to Chobe!
Wilder still hadn't organised anything so decided to accompany us to Kasane, the entry point for the national park. Again faced with free time after our flight that morning, and following our early nights and mornings in the Delta, we decided to relax and have a few drinks at the cute little bar, right on the Chobe river.  ok so a 'few' drinks turned into more than a few, and a very late night, and we felt a little the worse for wear after waking at 5:30am for our first game drive in the park! Definitely worth it though; after our guide told us that early mornings are the best time to see cats, we turned the corner and there was a leopard! ( It walked right by us, but I was too slow to get a good pic and it was still pretty dark for photos). We saw tonnes of other animals too – elephants, giraffes, buffalo, kudu, impala, baboons, hippos and crocodiles, all well used to cars to very easy to spot. Also first time sighting lions up close - REALLY close, so beautiful!
Enjoying the sun, like all cats!

Only slight downer was that the huge number of cars and the animals' lack of concern with all the cars took away from the 'wild' feel of the park somewhat!

Back to our hotel to catch up on some sleep, and then went for a lovely cruise on the river to see more wildlife, and watch the sun set. Loads more ellies and hippos; first time we could see the hippos fairly close as they were all quite hidden in the delta (though we could always hear them close by!).  At one point we saw a huge fish eagle struggling in the water and we thought it must be caught in something. As we got closer we could see it had a fish in its claws that must have weighed as much as the eagle itself, so it was flapping its wings 'swimming' to the shore laboriously with its catch! It battled on and made it to the shore finally, only to have an opportunistic croc dart out of the water and snatch the fish away. Poor eagle, we were so sad for it! Our guide was quite excited and said he's never seen them drag a fish along like that.

Tomorrow on to Vic Falls!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

22nd – To Botswana

Off to Maun in Botswana, the gateway to the Okavango Delta. Our flight strangely went via Victoria Falls in neighbouring Zimbabwe before backtracking to Maun ??!! (no information on our Air Namibia flight about this).
Stayed at a really cute hostel called Old Bridge right on the river outside of Maun. Our little furnished permanent tent was overlooking the river.
Pumping bar where all the locals go (we can't say that wasn't part of our decision to stay there).
That night met a whole lot of people living in Maun, but as it happens not Maun locals – mostly south africans working there as pilots as so many parts of the delta are only accessible by air and there is also a huge business in scenic flights. The pilots were all in their early 20s, getting progressively drunker with the same favourite subject – themselves. Comforting thought that we were heading off on a flight the next morning and they were all working the next day...

Did meet one cool guy, an American called Wilder (yes real name) who decided on a whim to come with us to Oddballs the next day. He was on a short break from working in South Africa and hadn't really organised anything. As it turned out he became our little travel buddy for the next week through Okavango, Chobe and Vic Falls.

Next day – off to Oddballs in the Okavango!

Our pilot, you'll be pleased to know, was luckily not one from the night before and looked quite fresh (josh – he reminded us of Toofer from 30 Rock both in looks and the way he spoke!).
Flight over Okavango to Oddballs. Flew quite low – pretty, but didn't see many animals, though it was the middle of the day when fewer animals are out and about because of the heat.
Arrived at our private airstrip – shortest one in the Okavango apparently, but our pilot dealt with it perfectly. Greeted by a bunch of friendly African faces at the airstrip. Our host, KG (I keep going to call him HG) and our guides. 

A short walk and we were at the lodge – first to the lounge areas rather than our rooms, and OH MY GOD, so beautiful! A set of shacks built from wood and reeds and built around trees to blend perfectly in with the surroundings. They're fully open and set right upon the river, with mokoros (hand-made dugout canoes) floating serenely in the water just ahead. There's a deck above for better viewing of the river and maybe hippos!
Old Bridge backpackers, in Maun

Staff nice and happy to share their knowledge about this beautiful place. KG is quite a joker always telling us there's a lion around the corner or some other tale to try to scare us.
Afternoon mokoro ride - just anna and me and the guide who punts us around like a gondola ride really. Through the beautiful lilypads and reeds, and hippo infested waters – totally scary as we could hear them grunting around us! 

Then a walk, yes a walk, around Chief's Island where there are potentially all sorts of scary animals. Just a guide with no gun or phone and us. We felt no less concerned after hearing the brief talk from our guide about which way and how to run from various sorts of animals (zig zag downwind [now how to tell that when there is no breeze], up a tree etc - but apparently you don't run from a lion even if it's right in front of you! Quite an adrenalin filled walk although we didn't see anything too scary, just some impala and a couple of monkeys shimmying up a tree.

Back before sunset when the crazy hippos fully wake up and start to rule the waterways!!
After a yummy dinner KG told us there were elephants in the camp. After his crying wolf occasions before, we though he was joking, but off we went and a huge ellie was just by the kitchen! We heard another one splashing around the water nearby. At bedtime, the water ellie was very nearby and it stayed there for hours munching on the reeds and making lots of noise, while there was another one just outside our bathroom, stomping and crashing through the brush which was a little disconcerting given our 'bathroom' was essentially just an open shack built of bamboo set on wooden deck over the [elephant and hippo-filled] water, and our accommodation was a tent on the same deck. They never seemed scary before but they are so huge close up, and our mind was fresh with tales of young bull elephants (which these were) cluelessly crashing through brush and knocking trees. We did get to sleep though and the sounds of the splashing elephant, and later the grunting shuffling hippos out around our tent for a feed, were interesting accompaniments.

Next day, more beautiful mokoro rides paired with island walks. Walks much less scary now - amazing what becomes normal after you've tried it once. Mokoro rides always serene but with an undercurent of potential angry hippo action. Didn't see much in the way of wildlife but it was such a gorgeous place.

19th , 20th May: The great Namib desert

On the road again! Quite a long stretch from Swakop to the sand dunes at Sesriem - we'd been warned it might take 4-5 hrs but in fact it took us quite a lot longer on the awful grooved, pot-holed gravel roads in our little hatchback! Through some white desert nothngness, and then into the mountains through some beautiful (but slightly scary) mountain passes.

Arrived at sesriem campsite finally, set up our tent and went straight to the bar! First time we didn't feel we had to rush off animal spotting – nothing else to do but have a beer. Met a couple of people at the bar; an English guy called Peter who was riding a bike from England to Cape Town to raise money for malaria research (that's push bike not motor!). Blog at www.thebigafricacycle.com (we haven't checked it out yet) Our plan was to go to the big red dunes and sussusvlei the next day, so we organised to give him a lift to save him another 70 or so kms ride through sand.
We also met a former south african safari operator called Murray (being good aussies we instantly dubbed him Muzza) who had been living in Botswana and was on his way back overland to Cape Town. He offered to share his Braai with us (in aussie: a barby), and we were keen to try one since we'd been hearing about them since arriving. Delicious!! amazing marinated chicken, meat and corn on the cob done over a proper wood fire. Beat the baked beans we were going to have.
Next day Muzza drove Peter and us to the dunes as he had an AWD so it made more sense than our little hatchback. It made even more sense when we found out his car's name was bruce. Two aussie chicks in a station wagon called bruce, oh yeah.
Got to Dune 45 at around 6:30am to catch the sunrise and beat the daytime heat. Now for the climb. Hard going at first but then it got easier and it was definitely worth It when we saw the beautiful sunrise over the desert on the way up.

On to Deadvlei and Sossusvlei – the most famous parts of the park. We'd planned to walk the last few kms, but after starting off traipsing through soft sand in the hot sun we realised that wasn't going to happen, so managed to scam a cheap lift from one of the park staff. Deadlvlei is a pan vlei) where part of the waterway has been cut off by drifting dunes, so the trees there have been dead for 100s of years. It was an eery and interesting place.

Sunrise from the top of Dune 45

The sun was getting hotter and hotter so we headed back for an afternoon swim and relax by the pool, then dinner (back to the tinned food).

21st – back to Windhoek
Woke the next morning at about 1am, as our tent seemed about to blow away in a sand storm! Everything in the tent was getting covered in sand as our covers were open, and the corners of the tent were lifting right off the ground. We were thankful after all that our tent weighed the same as a small car, and wasn't one of the light-weight modern ones! Survived the night, and somehow managed to pack up in the morning with the sand still trying to carry off all our possessions, and jumped back into the car bleary eyed for the drive back to Windhoek.

Stayed our final night with Val and Ian again, and had a lovely dinner with two of their sons and their partners. Wonderful end to a great Namibian adventure.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Drive through moonland to Swakopmund, a German seaside town

Another old one. Internet is infrequently available and slow.
Leaving Halali and Etosha (sadly), we took a slow 2 ½ hour morning drive back through Etosha to the main gates, stopping again at waterholes and trying to find the pride of lions we'd heard people had seen along this stretch the day before. No luck there, but saw some more mongooses (ok i've looked that one up) and the usual zebras and antelope. Every time we see a zebra we think it's something else ranging from an unidentified brown horsey thing (!), lion, rhino, wildebeest - so we've learnt to now just assume it's zebra until proven otherwise.  Turns out zebras are amazingly well camouflaged and can blend really well with the colour of their surroundings - who would have thought hey knew what they were doing with all those crazy stripes?!

Beautiful clouds on the way back through Etosha.

Longish drive to Swakop, but great tarred roads once out of Etosha. The last stretch was a crazy moonish landscape with a whole lot of yellow/brown deserty nothing. Was funny to think this was leading us to the sea. 

Arrived in good time at our lovely guest house and had a view of the sea not far off. While checking in we asked about the weather tomorrow, and the owner commented that one can never tell in Swakop as it is entirely unpredictable. About 5 minutes later and a huge fog rolled in - no more sea to be seen! The choice of activities was either sea-based or desert-based (eg sandboarding, quad biking). We decided to book a sea trip the next day regardless of the fog, since we were on the sea and we'd see more desert at Sesriem.  Sandboarding was a close runner up but I decided I could do without a twisted knee at the start of our trip.

Fog was still heavily over the town the next day and it was really cold on our boat trip, which left from 20 minutes down the road at Walvis Bay (means something to do with Whales). Still a fun trip – they had a seal that jumped on board, plus we saw a seal colony and dolphins playing near the boat. They cleverly served bottomless glasses of sherry and champers which made everyone forget about the cold.

That afternoon , as the sun tried to peek through the fog, we visited Wlotskaspaken, a funny little .. hamlet I guess you might call it... (but that might rely on a church...vague memory of trivia questions!).. about 20 kms north of swakop. It's a very unusual place, again moonlike type landscape but just by the sea where the sand has purple swirls through it.

There's no power and the beach shacks are dotted around and painted in bright colours with water tanks on top. Some of the people we met in Windhoek that Dad was on the Cape to Cairo trip with, Dave and his daughter Sarah, were having a weekend in their house there and invited us to come visit. The town is as big as it's going to get as they aren't selling any more land or houses - houses are generally passed down through generations and there are rarely any up for sale. Consequently it is fairly highly sought after and little run down beach shacks go for way too much on the odd occasion they do come up for sale.
Good day, albeit little of it actually spent in Swakop! Next day, Sesreim.