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Archive for March, 2013

Our Journey from Livingstone to Lusaka is relatively brief and scheduled to take six hours. The Muhwanza Family Bus service leaves surprisingly on time and soon we are hurtling down the road overtaking trucks on blind bends. It’s only six weeks ago that Zambia experienced a terrible bus crash where over 50 people were killed and I wonder if our driver missed the news of this event.

The inter-city bus terminal in Lusaka is soggy but this has not stopped the local unlicensed taxi drivers from gathering around as each bus arrives. This is madness. I feel like a discarded chip at the beach being fought over by angry gulls. We look for the licensed drivers but there are none. They are all parked outside the intercontinental hotel some 5km away!

Lusaka Bus Terminal

Lusaka Bus Terminal

We remain calm and endure the barrage of questions, collecting our thoughts and letting the gulls know we are in no hurry, especially when they are asking triple the going rate for a short journey. Eventually as they disperse we get a reasonable offer and head to an area 3km north where there is a small collection of cheap hostels. The first is full and does not allow camping. The second camp site is a construction and is currently under two inches of water. For this privilege they want $10 USD. Eventually after a bit of a walk around I find the Broads Hostel, no camping but the small chalet with shared bathroom is only $20USD and seems the best on offer. I wonder what the catch is and wait to find out. It’s Sunday afternoon and nothing is open so we go through our packs looking for new and improved ways to make everything fit.

The Broads Hostel also doubles as a popular BBQ restaurant and soon pulls in a large crowd of entertaining locals who gather to slap backs and solve Africa’s problems over a beer. They stay onto 2am. Catch is now clear.

The next morning we rise early as there is much to do and we want to get out of Lusaka as fast as we can. We need to arrange visas for Tanzania, so we head to the consulate first so we can submit our passports and pick them up in the afternoon. While the visas are being processed, we set about trying to get information on how to book the Tazara train which leaves tomorrow afternoon, or the mythical MV Liemba which sails from Mpulungu on Friday.

Several travel agencies are unable to help us with either option. Voyages travel who market themselves as Lusaka’s finest proves about as useful as a mammary gland on a bull. It seems flights are easy enough but ageing charismatic battleships on Lake Tanganyika are out of the question.

Frustrated we hike across town (refusing to take a taxi) to the Tazara office and try to get berths for tomorrows train to Dar es Salaam. It’s a no… the allocation in Lusaka is sold out and we are told we might be able to get seats in Kapiri Mposhi itself. We are now faced with a choice, both of which carry no certainty.

We either travel 13 hours by bus, once a week to Mpulungu arriving at 1am and see if we can get a cabin on the Liemba by asking around. If we can, we still have no way of knowing if the connecting train from Kigoma that runs twice a week and is 40 hours to Dar has any compartments? We could always just sleep on the deck for three nights with 800 Zambians and Tanzanians, but I am not sure Emma would agree. Actually she probably would maybe it’s me.

The second option is to travel 3 hours to Kapiri Mposhi tomorrow morning and see if we can get a compartment on the train (50 hour service) to Dar es Salaam by way of Mbeya at the station. We decide as its closer and leaving first, we will try our luck there. If this fails we will be able to get the bus on Wednesday to Mpulungu and get the ferry no matter what class they have.

Kapiri Mposhi is a small little town with no charm or reason to exist other than the Tazara railway connecting Zambia with Tanzania. It’s as though they ran out of money and could not continue the service all the way to Lusaka. In fact that is probably what did happen.

Mr Mosi wears a clean navy jacket and is the station officer. We squeeze into his tiny office and enquire about available compartments. There is no 1st class but 2nd class berths are available. We are not allowed to travel together unless we buy all six places. The price is steep about $250 USD in total. The train is scheduled to take 50 hours and suspecting it will be longer, the decision is made to take the entire compartment. We feel a bit sad as the Liemba promised much but its myth will remain just that for now.

Emma glancing around “New Kapiri Mposhi” station struggles to spot anything new. The toilets are kept immaculately filthy but we use them anyway. The smell of urine and God knows what else is so strong it stings your throat and makes your eyes water. The station swells with passengers throughout the day and even a few other Muzungu’s arrive. It’s fun to watch their faces as they exit the ablution block.

New Kapiri Mposhi Station

New Kapiri Mposhi Station

The train is due to depart at 4pm but this is surely too much to expect. We prepare ourselves for tomorrow morning just to be sure. Word spreads through the station that a derailment will delay our start for several hours. I confirm this with Mr Mosi who looks worried but assures me it will only be a couple of hours. I apply the rule of double and this proves accurate, The Mukuba Express creaks and groans away from Kapiri just after 8pm.

Joining us on the journey is Flynn and Imogen from the UK and three Canadians who are in 1st class. Already there are guesses as to when we will arrive and I allow 24 hours extra and take a stab at Friday lunch time. Our compartment is drab and bares the scares of neglect. The door will not lock which dictates that one of us must always be in the compartment at all times.

The scenery for the first 24 hours is fairly unremarkable. It’s an endless sea of low green scrub. It may be unfair but it feels aside from Victoria Falls that most of Zambia has been this way. We arrive at the border with Tanzania around 6pm after 22 hours since leaving Kapiri. The formalities are simple enough and we are spared the usual silly questions that all customs officers are taught around the world. On the heels of customs come the money changers. I have about 80 kwacha left and manage to get a rate of 285 shillings about 15 short of what it should be. I have no other option as there will be no banks in Dar that will change it later and the dining car will oddly no longer except them once we have crossed into Tanzania.

looking back

 

We arrive at Mbeya around 10pm after a fine meal of rice, chicken and chutney. The train sits along a gloomy platform lit but just a couple of fluorescent tubes. Martin, who is in charge of the train, assures me we will only be here for a few hours! I smile and ponder his use of the word only. Morning comes and we are stranded at a new station only 120km up the rails from Mbeya. The Zambians who have been waking us up each morning at 5.30 are at it again but they are now packing and the rumour is the train will be stuck here for a day. They have business in Dar and have decided to abandon the train in search of a bus. Most of the train empties but we are determined to see it through and surprisingly the train pulls away about an hour later. Martin confirms there is another derailment about 300km ahead and they are fixing the tracks. We will proceed slowly hoping the tracks are repaired by the time we arrive.

Rolling through southern Tanzania

Rolling through southern Tanzania

The scenery has gone from boring to spectacular. We carve a path through rolling hills, dense jungle and dark tunnels. The train picks up speed as we descend a pass and the temperature and humidity rise alarmingly. We pull into Mlimba around 4pm on Thursday. We are already 4 hours behind the scheduled arrival time into Dar with a long way to go. The tracks are not ready and we are stuck here in the middle of nowhere hot and sticky with not even a breeze for relief.

Martin delivers bad news; it’s going to be at least 12 hours. The rule of double bares no thought.

Where there is a station there is a town and we all go in search of some cold drinks. The town of Mlimba is not on any tourist map; in fact I am not sure it’s on any map. It proves to be an oasis though. It’s rough and shabby but somehow beautiful.  A stroll through the main street is causing a small commotion as people come to their doors and children call out Muzungu (white person). I feel lucky to be here and on the train. This is real Africa. The delays, the charming people, the rough little town, it’s all an adventure that I would not swap with the passengers of the five star train; Pride of Africa that now sits next to us. I envy the bathrooms but not the experience.

Mlimba Town Tanzania

Mlimba Town Tanzania

Webster who is built like the middle weight champion of Zambia calls us over to a plastic table set up in a small garden. He is also on the train travelling to Dar with business colleagues, so Flynn, myself, Imogen, and the Canadians all join them for a beer or two. I don’t stay too long as Emma is guarding our compartment. Walking around the pride of Africa, I can see the AC’s condensation running down the windows. The men are wearing bow ties for dinner. Now I am jealous but still, the drinks and conversation with Webster and his friends in the garden are more rewarding.

Night consumes Mlimba and both trains sit together in stark contrast. “The pride” is lit up like a Christmas tree; ours hides its ugliness in total darkness. Emma sits on the platform reading her kindle. We are both enjoying the experience for this is what overland travel is all about. Meeting the unexpected and making friends with people you are unlikely to ever see again.

Flynn, Imogen and Webster join us in our compartment for drinks. Flynn has a small speaker and plugs in his iPod. The Canadians, Brian, Mina and Katrina squeeze in as well and we pass the time away. We all vow to meet again in twenty years’ time on “The pride of Africa.”

Train stopped in Mlimba time for a few drinks Right to Left Brian, Mina, Flynn, Greg, Imogen, Webster

Train stopped in Mlimba time for a few drinks Right to Left Brian, Mina, Flynn, Greg, Imogen, Emma, Webster

Friday morning and still we are parked at Mlimba station. Webster informs us that the Doctor on the Pride has been assured that we will be leaving in about three hours. We take this as reliable information as most of the passengers are on holiday and have flights to catch or reservations confirmed in Zanzibar. The toilets on the train have been locked and Emma is forced to locate a suitable place in the jungle. The spirit of adventure is waning this morning as perspiration and dehydration take over. The skin starts to crawl and your clothes begin to stiffen. We have been in our compartment so long that even the cockroaches have become familiar and are no longer hiding in the cracks. Even the locals are feeling the pressure and demands are made to Martin this is not acceptable. Tazara railway compensates everyone with 3000 Tanzanian shillings about $2 USD. I realise we have purchased 6 tickets and make sure I receive compensation for 6 passengers.

The Doctor on the Pride is right and we leave Mlimba around noon. The familiar platform pulls away. I wonder if we shall ever see it again. Wind blowing through the carriage is a welcome relief. The scenery is wonderful. More high mountains draped in green jungle. Small Children run and wave as the train passes each village. We make good progress and Martin informs us we will arrive in Dar about 2am tomorrow morning.

Local Boys heading to Dar es Sakaam

Local Boys heading to Dar es Sakaam

The fourth night settles over the Tazara and the best is saved for last. We sit in our compartment with the lights off. The jungle must be singing loudly as we can hear it over the sound of the train which is considerable. Hundreds of fire flies blink in the darkness and a crescent moon hangs low in the sky. Everything has gone wrong but everything is just as it should be.

Arriving into Dar at 2am is not ideal. We have heard recently about tourists being kidnapped in taxis from Dar station late at night and being forced with violence to withdraw money from ATM’s. It’s probably unlikely but we are in the grips of paranoia and the darkness and shadows of Dar station is not helping much. The travellers all group together for safety. The security of 7 is promising but Martin advises us to sleep in the 1st class lounge until morning. I take a walk around the station to break the boredom but a man who can’t speak and works for Tazara urges me back into the building. He places his own hands around his neck simulating choking and points outside. The message is clear and understood and I go back inside and wait with the others. Maybe I wasn’t being paranoid after all.

The first ferry to Zanzibar leaves at 7am, so we leave the station at 5.45 as we all need to get some money out before we buy our tickets. The usual dodgy tout spots us and starts to hustle us for an inflated ride. We get him down to 20,000 shillings still about double. The rank outside is dark and they put our bags into plain cars. I can see there are licensed taxis waiting and insist we go with them. The tout speaks with them and some deal is made. We all ensure the two taxis will follow each other the whole way and are relieved when our driver waits for the three Canadians. We all a little nervously withdraw money, all the time peering over our shoulders into the darkness.

Safely back in the taxis we arrive at the ferry terminal. The sun is up we can relax. At last Zanzibar is in reach. It feels a long way back to Livingstone when we started our journey but it has been the most adventurous part of the trip so far. We feel we are now well prepared for what Africa will throw at us next but before we do its time to soak up some sun and relax on Zanzibar’s world famous beaches.

Sunrise over Dar es Salaam harbour

Sunrise over Dar es Salaam harbour

Love and Hugs Greg and Emma

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Dr Livingstone I presume

Our Bus speeds through the Namibian night smashing into insects, bound for the Zambian border still some 8 hours away. The driver seems to have figured out that there is a happy medium between freezing and sweating to death, but I have my fleece with me just in case! Unlike the trip up from Cape Town, I get little sleep and mostly listen to songs on my iPod. The bus breaks suddenly as animals, mostly livestock, stray onto the road. One donkey refuses to move and stares right into the busses headlights bringing us to a complete stop. Even when the driver sounds the horn and very gently nudges this 4 legged road block, it refuses to move. It is either stunned by the lights or simply the most stubborn animal, I can’t decide which? The conductor gets off and has to pull it from the road before we can continue.

We arrive bleary eyed at the Zambian border around 8am and go through the formalities of entering a new country. Despite my tiredness I find it all very exciting. The sign across no man’s land welcoming us to Zambia is faded and slightly tilted. There is an immediate difference felt between the two countries. The Namibian customs building is rough and rundown; the Zambian building is much worse. The officer stamping us in seems a little too suspicious as to why we are coming here. I wonder what it is she thinks we might be doing aside from travelling. After a few more silly questions we are stamped in and get back on the bus. From here it’s about 3 more ‘pot holed dodging hours’ to Livingstone, a small city or perhaps town about 10km from Victoria Falls.

Clive is sitting across from us and has been chatting to me during our journey. He runs and owns a brewery in Livingstone and offers us a lift to our hotel. This spares us from the hungry hordes as we get off the bus. As soon as they see you in the doorway they are shouting and almost marking you as their passenger before the light of day even hits your face. Clive seems to command some authority here as we are left alone thus avoiding the chaos of the local taxi drivers. We take our bags to his car and squeeze them in the back.

The Jollyboys backpackers, (not sure how this name came to being) is only very close and we thank Clive for his kind gesture. I am always amazed how when you travel people from all over the world will help you out in little ways every day. The hostel is a pleasant little place with tidy common areas, a small camp site and some little Chalets with thatch roofs. We decide to take a chalet for $30.00 USD as we are both very tired from having a bad night’s sleep on the bus. My head hits the pillow and I think I manage to beat Emma to sleep, a rare feat.

Livingstone is fortunately cool and not as humid as I had expected, we get a good couple of hours sleep and then go out to explore the town. Our first priority whenever entering a new country is to test out the ATM’s. The first one is not co-operating. I begin to wonder if we might have an issue. The second one also tells us to “go away” now I am a little concerned. Then we spot a Barclays Bank ATM, success relief, we can now buy some much needed food. Livingstone has two pretty big super-markets so we stock up on some cheap supplies. Bread rolls, some cheese and tomatoes and a large carton of fruit yoghurt which we later mix with some bananas.

As we exit the Spar Super Market we are set upon by the local taxi drivers. It seems like every second car in Livingstone is a bright blue taxi. Here they swarm in concentrated numbers like great blue insects buzzing and annoying every customer who exits. This is not restricted to tourists but we seem to get an extra persistent buzzing. We run the gauntlet, politely explaining we are just walking with a fair dose of No Thank You’s sprinkled on top! This seems to have abated the blue swarm but only temporarily. They will reform and no doubt return in greater numbers soon enough.

The next morning we decide to move from Jollyboys to the equally oddly named Fawlty Towers. The camp site is much larger and half the price at $5.00 USD per person. We pack up our bags, which are proving to be quiet a chore and get ready to move. I can feel the anticipation of the blue swarm outside. Stuck with two 20kg bags they will have me on the back foot. Sure enough they snap to attention as I walk outside the gate. They spot my predicament and close in for the kill. Quotes for a 1km journey range from 30 to 20 Kwacha about $6-4 USD. This is still double what the fare should be and I dig in my heels and tell them 10 kwacha. Glancing at my large bags they smile and say no 20 Kwacha is best price. Okay then… I will walk. I pick up the first bag and start to carry it down to Fawlty Towers, returning to collect the second, they stare in disbelief. I have now entered the world of travel stinginess, about 30 mins of lugging bags just to save $2 USD. Stubbornly I feel proud of my work and besides I needed a bit of exercise.

Later that day as we leave the Spar with groceries, some poor ignorant member of the swarm asks if I want a taxi. As I walk past, I hear his more learned colleague say “He Walks”. I smile, excellent! I now have a reputation among the swarm never to be annoyed again.

DSC01489

I spy a barber shop in the middle of a field and safely assume he must be cheap. I approach and the owner seems surprised I am coming to see him. I badly need a cut and negotiate a price of 15 kwacha about $3.00 USD. I sit down on a plastic chair, a small broken mirror stands in front of me along with a pair of clippers and a medium sized paint brush, where are his scissors? He starts to use the clippers and brushes away the discarded hair with the paint brush. No scissors are ever used. My barber starts to sweat profusely, his face a picture of concentration. I know it is my straight hair that is causing him difficulties and he is labouring under the pressure of not making a mistake. Mzungu hair is hard to cut he tells me. Mzungu being a nick name for someone who is white. We are going to get used to hearing this lot, remember this now.

If you want to get classic photos of Victoria Falls, or swim in the small pools resting on the lip, then don’t visit in March. If you want to experience power, spray and a roar that will soak you in three seconds flat and take your breath away, then this is the time to come. The Zambezi pours angry and brown unrelenting over the falls. It feels like all the fresh water in Africa is being tipped into this gorge at once. The wind shifts direction and we are able to see the full force of the flow behind the curtain of mist. Superlatives are in order but they all seem so cliché. Incredible, magnificent the list goes on. We step out onto a small narrow bridge and onto the knife edge. A section of land that pulls closer to the falls, allowing tiny spectators a glimpse into the mouth of the beast. Everyone is amazed and in fits of laughter as people disappear, only to remerge from this aquatic display, completely soaked. I am prepared for the wind and spray as I step onto the bridge, but it is the water falling back down to earth that is a torrential surprise. Victoria Falls is so powerful it creates its own weather system. Photography from this point would be camera suicide, unless you had a proper underwater housing.

DSC01157

The Sun dries us quickly and we walk down a steep trail to a feature ominously called the boiling pot. The sign warns of the baboons who sit below waiting for unsuspecting tourists. The rules are simple no food or plastic bags and keep a tight grip of your backpack. The path leading down drops into a stunning little jungle wedged between steep cliffs. Hundreds of little rivulets of water cascade down the rock walls, this is an unexpected surprise and my camera is soon out. Emma walks ahead a little and comes across a small troop of fairly big baboons; one in particular looks to be in charge and occupies a bench near the path, clearly his throne.  Emma is unsure and a bit scared to move forward. Just walk past them, don’t flinch just walk past you will be fine, because I have such vast experience of monkey behaviour? I don’t like this she says. It will be fine I say. I take a few more photos and then hear a scream. Oh crap this could be a problem. Then I hear and I quote “ I have a stick you f88kers and I know how to use it….sh1t Greg get down here, this one is baring it’s teeth”. I run down but Emma has already made it past. The king remains seated on his throne and gives me a flash of his dental work as well. He curls his upper lip back exposing 2 long canines each about 2 inches long, okay just keep walking, hand is tightening around the rock I have, just in case.

Emma spots this sign and non pleased

Emma spots this sign and non pleased

Baboons negotiated we follow the trail until we arrive at the boiling pot. All the water from the falls is forced into a narrow gorge which in turn empties into this huge circular bay, hemmed in by straight vertical rock walls. The water spins in gigantic whirl pools, brown, frothy and hissing in protest, after being thrown over a cliff and smashed against the rocks. It is scary to behold and the thought of falling in gives me a feeling of dread. We perch ourselves on a rock and watch the vortex mesmerised by its spinning action. With us are a couple from The UK, Caroline and Jeff. We take some photos and walk back together to provide an extra show of strength against the simian gang waiting up ahead. Thankfully they have gone but we later hear that they have taken some poor ladies backpack and removed its contents one by one from up a tree in search of a snack.

Jeff and Caroline are staying at the exclusive Royal Livingstone which sits proudly about 150 meters upstream from the falls. They have been holidaying in Africa for three weeks and are leaving the next day. They invite us for a drink, which is lovely, but then realise we are not staying at the hotel and the guard at the gate checks room numbers. There is another trail we want to look at so we tell them we will try to get in as a visit to this lovely hotel is a must. Our time at the falls has met and exceeded expectations and we start to plan on how to get into the Royal Livingstone.

I walk out the gate of the park but suddenly I am confused, this is not how we came in. I start to say to Emma “this is not….” when she looks at me like shut up just keep walking. We have by accident strolled through the private gate for the Hotel. I quickly stop mid-sentence and just keep walking. This is fantastic, we are in. We walk along the river past the hotel Zebras who munch on grass without a care or lion in the world to worry about, up to the main deck that protrudes into the Zambezi. From here we can hear the roar but we are far enough away so that it is now just pleasant background music. Despite our protests Jeff and Caroline buy us some drinks, I feel guilty but accept their gracious offer. It’s a wonderful afternoon with good company and a beautiful back drop. We insist on buying the last round as a thank you and watch the sun slip below the far side of the river. It is time to head back to our tent. It’s such a contrast to this world of waiters and wine but the two oddly mix well together. I don’t realise it yet but I have lost my Visa Card and will be back tomorrow searching to no avail.

After spending a frustrating morning searching for my card, I concede it is gone and call Visa to put a stop on it. This is annoying, as now I am only left with Master and Cirrus cards. I wonder if this will hurt us at some point in the future where only the Visa network is available.

We need to start thinking about our onward plans and how we are going to get to Tanzania. The next step, a bus to the Zambian capital Lusaka is fairly obvious and easy to arrange but beyond this arrangements become harder to make. We know that a train runs from Kapriri Mposhi (a small town about 3 hours north of Lusaka) to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, but it only goes twice a week and we can’t secure any advance seats on it over the phone for at least 10 days!

One of the guests at the hostel is an old Swedish man who tells me about the MV Liemba. A World War 1 battle ship that was sunk during the war brought back to life by the British and has been used as a passenger ferry along Lake Tanganyika for the last 90 years. It is an icon of Africa adventure travel and soon the idea of spending three days on this raw and decrepit relic ferments in my mind.

We both start researching madly but can find nothing? Internet threads are filled with useless information and people who don’t know what they are talking about providing miss- information. Frustrated we make arrangements to go to Lusaka, where we hope to find answers on both the train and the boat. The next bus has seats available the day after tomorrow. It’s a little longer than we had planned to stay in Livingstone but we have time to spare before the next train is due to depart and at least 8 days before the Liemba is due to sail.

We notice a poster on the wall “Walk with the Kings” advertising small group lion encounters. We have always wanted to pat a lion and now it seems is the perfect time. The hotel quotes us 750 kwacha per person but we get it down to 600 by going direct. Love it, always arrange things yourself, it saves a lot of money, we feel like it’s almost free. We are picked up in the afternoon but it is raining, so after a bit of a protest we cancel FOC and arrange it again for tomorrow morning.

The next day the sun’s rays are back out and we sit down and have our briefing. An extra bonus is we are now the only two people going to see the lions that morning. Fantastic we have the huge felines all to ourselves. David our guide walks us about a kilometre into the bush. We reach a small clearing where we come upon two lionesses sitting. One is white the other dressed in traditional tan. They are magnificent, insert more superlatives. They are much larger than I expected. The poster showed half grown cubs but these young ladies are almost now fully grown. We are introduced and instructed to sit behind them and pat them firmly, they don’t like being tickled. If they turn around just stand up distract them with the stick, which they will assume is part of you.

Lulu and Kwecha

Lulu and Kwecha

Emma bravely goes first and the handlers take my camera so I too can join in. After about 20 minutes of heavy patting and the occasional stick distracting, we all get up and go for a walk. The lions lead and we follow. This is amazing, I feel we are part of the pride just going for a walk in the bush. Their hips rise and fall with each stride. They stop to sniff the grass and smell some flowers. We reach a large tree and one of the girls decides to grip the trunk between her front legs and in three quick and powerful movements, she is about 12 feet up the tree and into the branches. Apparently when they are still teenagers they can climb, but as they reach full weight this will become difficult. The descent down the tree is not as professional as going up. She contemplates how to get down and then crashes into the ground, gets up and shakes her head. The ladies are put to bed (10am is lion bed time apparently) and they bring out Simba, a 2 year old male who sports a bit of a beard. He is despite his age huge and has paws the size of dinner plates. We give him a good solid pat, but he is busy watching one of the guides, who is dancing to keep him distracted while we pat him. His face is almost saying…. what is this idiot doing? Our time is up and we have had a fantastic encounter with these beautiful animals. I would strongly urge anyone staying in Livingstone to do this.  It was very professionally conducted and not the Zoo show you get in Thailand when seeing the Tigers.

It is now our last night in Livingstone, tomorrow we get the bus to Lusaka where we hope we can find out more about the train and the MV Liemba. What will happen next we don’t know but there are no answers here in Livingstone, it’s time to move on.

We liked this sign in Livingstone it seemed very appropriate

We liked this sign in Livingstone it seemed very appropriate

Love and Hugs Greg and Emma

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Chasing Waterfalls

When travelling in northern Namibia there is a fair chance that you’re heading to somewhere that starts with the letter O. We leave Opuwo behind and head for Omarunga along the C43. Locals have told us about the beautiful Epupa Falls on the border with Angola and we decide to put the Hilux to the test and take a look. The road is in fairly good condition, but you have to keep your speed down as there are sudden dips crossing small river beds and they are not always marked.

We pass many Himba villages along the way. Children run from their huts and wave as we go past. Goats and cattle block the road in sections and we really feel we are now deep in Himba territory. Ahead of us a big storm is brewing. We are climbing over a pass where we pull up and watch the storm directly above us. A few bolts of lightning send us quickly back to the jeep. Just a little too close for our liking.
We arrive at the small village next to the falls a few hours later. Choices to camp are between two very shady and well placed sites. Tall palm trees grow next to the banks of the Kunene River but once you venture away from the river the land is very dry. The first camp is not able to provide diner that night, so we go next door to the Epupa Falls Camp. They have a very nice deck that affords great views of the falls and the surrounding mountains. We are warned not to go into the river as they are crocodile infested. With that in mind we pitch our tent on a site about 20 metres back from the bank. Not entirely sure why the crocs just don’t come into the camp but apparently they don’t?

The River, the falls, the mountains, it’s all prefect and we decide to stay here for a couple of nights. They even have a swimming pool, and trust me it is damn hot here and during the middle of the day that pool becomes a God send. We drive up a small mountain later on. It is prefect for viewing the falls at sunset. Apparently a local man is also aware of this and we pass a couple of signs saying entrance N$20.00 per person. No one is there to collect so we proceed. Indeed it is a beautiful position to view the falls. The light fades to a bright yellow and the true scope and grandeur of the falls is revealed. Epupa is made up of dozens of falls, cascading over the rocks and flowing either side of giant baobab trees. They are magnificent and their roots are left exposed by the crumbling cliffs on which they cling. The river is broad and dotted with small islands that are covered in Palm trees. It is a sight hard to leave to walk away from.

We never really expected to get away without someone seeing us and sure enough a lonely figure is waiting near the Hilux when we return. He has a broad smile and I really don’t want to argue tonight about money. I pay him the N40.00 and he gives me a very neat hand written receipt. I ask him does it entitle me to come back again tomorrow and I think he says okay, not sure tomorrow will tell. He even writes his name on it, Thomas.
Our battle with the Namibian heat continues and sleeping in the tent at night is near impossible. We continue to “plot” against it and decide to take a swim in the pool. The sky is inky black and the Milky Way is in full bloom. We wet our towels and go back to the tent, where we lay them over us. At last we have found a way to combat the heat!

The next morning a large truck pulls up next to us in the camp with a Belgian flag on the front. I walk next door and introduce myself. Gaston is immediately a friendly chap, he looks a little like Santa Clause and we quickly start to discuss his truck which he himself has converted into a mobile home with tank like power. He tells me “I put the toilet in, I put the Kitchen in, I even put the wife in” boom boom.
Hilda his wife emerges from the truck and she is even more animated than Gaston. They are both so lovely and I immediately feel at ease and go in to look at Gaston’s handy work. It is very impressive a complete mobile home away from home, that can cross deep rivers and carry troops! They will be travelling throughout Africa for the next few months.

We leave the next morning and are sad to do so. We have really enjoyed this little “piece of paradise” and out chats with Gaston and Hilda. We have two days to get back to Windhoek and we plan to get the bus to Livingstone on the 5th March. That night in Outjo (yes another town starting with O) we realise that we have made a mistake the bus leaves on the 4th at 3pm. If we miss it we will be stuck in Windhoek for another 4 days! We get up early the next morning and decide to try and drive to Windhoek. By my reckoning we should arrive around 1pm. I keep our speed at about 130km the speed limit is 120km but no one seems to obey this. In fact we see many cars with smashed windscreens and sometimes 10 people riding in the back of pickups, no one wearing seatbelts.

We are making good progress and are about 2 hours away from Windhoek; we have even picked up a little time, when I see a figure waving at me. At first I ignore it (as there are so many hitch hikers) but then I realise it’s the police. You are kidding me! I have been busted by one of the 5 functioning speed cameras in Namibia.
I walk across the road and sit under a tree while he writes up the ticket. I look at a page that shows the fine applicable based on your speed. There are two charts one for speeding in a 120 zone and one for speeding in a 60 zone. I was doing 136 according to the gun so my fine is N$ 1750 about A$ 190 wow that is steep as I was only doing 16km over the limit, but what I see next astounds me. The fine for doing 136km in a 60 zone is N$2000 only 250 more! What the… how does that work? I ask the officer if that is correct and he nods yes. I resist the urge to get into a debate as to why doing 40 over the limit in a 60 zone is half the fine as me doing 16 over the limit in a 120 zone.

We arrive in Windhoek just in time to unpack, return the Hilux and rebook our bus tickets and skip town without paying the fine! Amazingly we are greeted by the same conductor we had coming up from Cape Town. The bus pulls out and we reflect on the great times we have had in Namibia, but are looking forward to arriving in Zambia tomorrow morning. More blessings are made for the 22 hour journey ahead.

To be continued…

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Meet The Himbas

We arrive back in Windhoek from Sossusvlei feeling confidant to take on the north of Namibia. It’s time to abandon the VW Polo as travel north of Opuwo is only accessible by 4WD. Shopping around we score a great deal on a Toyota Hilux at $N 700.00 a day including insurance. Greg is feeling a little apprehensive, never having driven off road before and gets our man to show him how to use the gears and diff lock (guy talk).

We set off for our first stop Etosha National Park about 7 hours north west of Windhoek. The roads up to Etosha are all sealed and well sign posted. We splash out and decide to stay at the Dolomite Camp, $N 900 per person. This gives us access to the western Galton gate an added bonus as no back tracking is required to get to Opuwo. The large sign at the entrance is very clear. Do not get out of your vehicle upon entering the park. No problem, except the ranger shows no inclination to approach the car. After a few minutes we get out and show him our reservation. Perhaps the sign needs to say No getting out of your car once you have seen the lazy guard.

The drive to our lodge is another 40km over bumpy gravel roads. The bush closes in and I find myself scanning for wild animals. We arrive at the lodge and are escorted to our room, a traditional style chalet with thatched high roof and veranda overlooking the Etosha plain. The rules are very simple.

1/ Do not walk around the camp by yourself after Sunset, call reception… the top tier deadliest creatures are likely to roam around after dark and you will encounter them at your own risk!

2/ Do not sleep with the balcony door open ( I was going to… eek ) unless you want a snake to cosy up with you late at night or even better yet a scorpion

Points noted and embedded in to my brain I sit with a cup of tea on the veranda whilst Greg takes a nap. Observing the endless plains before me I wonder, what could be lurking out there? As I ponder this thought, I see an object moving in the distance. I focus my eyes and recognise its distinctive patch work print and long neck, it’s a giraffe. I have seen many animals in a zoo before but nothing can compare to seeing them in their natural habitat. It’s just breath taking, the expanse of land fools you into believing there is nothing there, yet here is this magnificent creature strolling, oblivious to the fact that he is being observed, it’s a really exciting moment for me, I quickly wake Greg to share this moment with him. We sit there quietly observing.

We eat well that night without guilt, knowing all meals are included in the price of our accommodation. As we head back to our room under the protection from the camp guard I notice some flashes of light. I sit on the veranda, before me are the dark plains of Etosha. The moon is obscured by thick clouds and I can just make out the horizon. We can see regular flashes of lightning in the distance, but it must be a long way off as no thunder can be heard. The wind is warm and carries the scent of the storm. It starts to gust and the curtains are flapping. The clouds are swirling in the moonlight, creating a giant canopy of grey and silver. We turn off the lights in anticipation of the approaching storm, it’s a magical feeling.
Crawling into bed, we shroud ourselves with the protection of the mosquito net excited about our game drive tomorrow morning.
We wake very early, in fact it’s still dark with just a hint of orange on the horizon. Quickly we eat a hearty breakfast (no guilt again) and head down to meet our guide Gabriel. He tells us we’re really lucky as we’re the only guests on this morning’s drive. We head off in his jeep and almost immediately come across a large male giraffe grazing on a tree. He looks up and catches us observing him. Cautiously he keeps chewing the leaves in his mouth, whilst keeping a fixed gaze on us just to be sure. As the jeep pulls away he relaxes and continues his feeding. Exhilarated from such a quick sighting, we continue on excited about what we might encounter next. Crossing the road we spot some Zebra. Again they stop and lift their heads. It appears that one Zebra will always keep a careful watch whilst the others take limited opportunity to graze, ever vigilant and ready to escape if they hear even a slight sound that frightens them. We sit tentatively watching and admire their amazing stripes, transfixed by what to them is a routine morning. We are enthralled as the morning proceeds. We see wart hogs which are incredibly sweet. Their heads are almost as big as their bodies and when they run their tail sticks up like a little flag pole.

There is a great deal of luck and timing when it comes to spotting animals. I must confess I never really understood the idea of safari and thought that maybe it would be a little dull, but I will admit I am wrong to have thought this. It’s really fascinating and our guide explains the importance of the animals, as well as interesting facts. As we drive out of the park I spot a herd of elephants about 80 metres from the road. We stop abruptly. We can see four adults and three babies. One in particular is very small. The mother watches us and then spreads her huge ears, a warning not to approach! Our stay on Etosha is short as our main focus for coming up to north is to see the famed Himba tribe’s people.

Opuwo is the official capital of Himbaland and a good place to stay for a night and organise a guide and supplies for a visit to the surrounding villages. It looks and feels very much like a frontier trading town. We see Himba mixing with Herero and regular western dressed Namibians. This is a place where tribe’s people will walk 50 km’s barefoot in the searing heat just to come to town and buy a single item. Wonderful assortments of people walk the streets and gazing through the window I note that there is not one white person to be seen except for me and Greg. It’s a real melting pot.

Greg tries to get money from the ATM, as we will be going into remote areas over the next few days. He comes back smiling and clutching crisp new dollars. Just as well, as the petrol station does not take any cards.
We drive up a very steep and rocky hill and find The Opuwo Country Hotel. It’s an impressive building built in the traditional style. They allow you to camp for a fraction of the room price but you still get to use the lodge facilities a bargain at $N 100. The view from our campsite is impressive. The Angolan foothills reveal themselves to us, lush, green and tantalisingly close.

In order to visit the Himba you need a translator, you need some supplies and you need the permission of the chief. We find a local man who has left his Himba life behind (much to the horror of his grandfather) and is now living the sins of a western life. Speaking the language fluently and knowing all the customs, we negotiate a price for his services and pick up suitable gifts for the Himba, maize, water, powdered milk and many other basic food products. He explains to us a few words that will show the tribe’s people respect.

Morrow – Hello, Nowa – Fine, Oko Hempa – Thank you

We drive about 15km out of town on a dirt track and then take a turn off the road and into the bush. We are now on the ‘Himba Highway”. The going is slow and we have to negotiate around the scrub trees. Fifteen minutes later we come to a clearing. Its perimeter is marked by a fence made up of tangled branches. Contained within are several mud huts with thatch roofs. Rayon leaves us for a little while, whilst he seeks permission from the chief to enter the village. Returning he tells us that the chief is happy for us to enter and accepts the gifts we have brought. Rayon gives us a briefing on Himba culture. For example Himba women will often ask a western female how many children she has. To Himba woman the amount of children you have, demonstrates how much of a woman you are, for them it is not uncommon to bear 9 or more children. They are also very interested in how many wives a man has. Western men will be asked how many wives they have, as again the amount of wives indicates how much of a man you are. The Himba laugh and look uncomfortable when we admit we have no children and Greg has only one wife. This they hope will change in the future.

The women are most striking, smeared with an aromatic mixture of ochre, butter & bush herbs which turns their entire body a burnt orange colour, similar to the colour of the ground upon which we sit. Their dreadlocked hair is adorned with incredible head pieces and they wear small skirts made of animal skins and dyed in the same colour as their bodies. The overall effect is captivating they are incredibly beautiful and quite like nothing else I have ever seen. The desert like body paint serves a few purposes for the women. Firstly due to their nomadic existence, the women never wash themselves so the scent of the herbs and ochre act as a natural deodorant. The paste is also a natural sunblock and protects them from insects.

Finally I have met a group of women that truly appreciate the need for extreme sunblock!
They are all decorated with various different bracelets, anklets and neck pieces. I ask the ladies if they could explain if they represent anything. I am told that all jewellery has a meaning for example ankle bracelets show how many children a woman has. One stripe means none if you are also wearing a heavy leather necklace otherwise one child, two stripes two children etc. I am welcomed into one of the mud hut homes which Greg and I must crawl on our hands and knees to access. I lie on the floor to get a sense of what it is like to sleep, especially given that you’ll be with maybe 5 or 6 other bodies lying there with you. We converse via the Rayon (who is now wearing ridiculously large sunglasses looking like an African Bono) asking questions about each other’s culture. Sitting with this lady she smears some of the red mud on my arm and smiles. I feel a connection with her and feel very privileged to be here.

We bid farewell to the Himba and continue our journey north.

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Into The Desert

We leave Cape Town courtesy of Intercape Coaches on a rainy drab morning. It’s 21 hours to Windhoek Namibia – pronounced Vind Hook, finally we have managed to get this right after much correction from Namibians and South Africans alike. The passengers are frequently blessed by the resident conductor. “Intercape and the lord Jesus Christ thanks you for travelling with us, we pray to the lord for a safe journey.” I am hoping divine intervention will not be required but being a novice to this part of the world I can’t be entirely sure. I have a feeling that blessings and prayers may come in handy on this journey across the world.

Sometime during the night we cross the border and go through the usual customs formalities. The South African Customs agents search all the bags thoroughly, the Namibian counterparts do not, is this a sign? We continue on through the night but sleep is difficult because the driver has decided to test out the busses air conditioning to full effect! We are now trapped in a mobile fridge and hypothermia is setting in. The conductor blesses our journey yet again over the PA system and all I can think about is praying that they turn the AC down. Finally I can take no more; I walk down to the front of the bus and ask them to turn down the AC. “You are cold” he asks me. Yes I shiver back. Well you know what happens next within 40 minutes the bus has been transformed into a greenhouse, the other passengers rightfully start complaining and its back to Siberia again! Lesson learned pack clothes for all weather when travelling with Intercape.

We arrive into Windhoek knackered and get a taxi to the Chameleon Inn, N$300 per night for a room with shared facilities. This oasis hidden behind compound walls is a lovely find, although sadly it has also been discovered by the “Banana Pancake Group” of back packers. They hang out by the pool, playing pool, drinking beer, ordering banana pancakes, playing loud music, never leave the hostel and then claim to have visited that country! They tend to be found in destinations such as India, Bali and now it appears Namibia… we don’t let this bother us too much as we’re pretty happy with the place and the staff are very friendly and professional.

Windhoek is very developed much to our surprise, don’t get me wrong that’s great for the locals, but for me I am still waiting to get that true authentic African experience and Windhoek is not delivering. Must note here that when we finally do get that real Africa experience we may be wishing for development, but time will tell.

The next morning we set about and organise our visas at the Zambian consulate. The lady working there tells us that Lusaka will definitely be a culture shock, excellent I think? The visa process is painless and an hour later we walk out with Zambian visas. We could get them at the border but I think it’s always better to get them ahead if you can. That afternoon we go shopping in the “Pick n Pay” for groceries. I have to say that it feels a little weird to be the only white people in the super market but we like it as we are starting to feel we really are in Africa and not just doing touristy things.

We turn our attention to arranging car hire so we can drive to Sossusvlei which is featured in every travel guide and the highlight of any visit to Namibia.  We decide to hire a VW polo sedan which is cheaper than a 4wd and should do the job in getting us down there in spite of the many gravel roads. Greg does a great job of keeping the polo on the road, always a good thing and the journey down takes about six hours. We were at first a little apprehensive about driving ourselves, but after reading many guide books, we decided that Namibia is a great country to explore by car, and we love the idea of being independent. Tours are just not our thing.

We book ourselves in at the Sesriem Campsite at N$450 including park entrance fees for two nights. The campsite is basic but adequate. We arrive late afternoon where the temperature still reads a welcoming 47c. It is draining; you instantly want to lie down and try to recover. Heat is a strange thing, I know there are times when I pray to be warm, but there is a fine line! This heat is unbearable. There is no escape, no place to hide. You lie there plotting, thinking and trying to outsmart the encompassing inferno. Then it dawns on me that we’re sleeping in our tent tonight. I’ve only ever slept in a tent when it’s been either pleasant or cold (ironically praying for warmth.) So this is a new experience and something I had not factored into the equation. Now I comprehend why this is the low season. I had only thought about saving money which is critical our trip being successful.

Plotting against the heat

Plotting against the heat

The sun is thankfully retreating towards the horizon and I find myself watching it, praying it will descend just a little quicker. Please Earth spin faster! In the fading light we decide to head to the famous Dune 45, a red 150 m high sand dune, easy for us to access as it’s on the main road and a 35 minute drive from camp. As we reach the dune it is really quite striking, terracotta red framed by withered trees that look mangled and aged, they complement each other beautifully. I can’t help but wonder how it is that nature provides such striking scenes. I sit and take it all in as Greg takes numerous shots. The sun makes its final appearance and darkness covers the desert. We rush back to our camp, noting that the gates close at 8.30pm sharp.

Dune 45

Dune 45

We dine that night on the Sossusvlei burger N$40 and spoil ourselves with two cold cokes. The sun has gone but the heat has stayed on. All I can think about is that deserts are supposed to get cold at night… well? Sleep for the first few hours is impossible and I keep going the shower block every 30 mins to douse myself in cold water, no towel is required. Finally the night starts to cool and we both fall asleep.

If you want to see the desert at its best you have to get up early, so with this in mind we get in the car at 5.30am. Staying at Sesriem camp allows you to get into the park an hour before everyone else.  We leave the car behind and start climbing up and down numerous sand dunes. I begin to wonder if we are going in the right direction when we crest a non-descript dune a natural beauty appears before us. Looking like some scary forest,  the trees are twisted like blackened hands reaching out of the dry white salt lake, waiting to grab you as you walk past. I can imagine the likes of Peter Jackson or JK Rowling being inspired by this fairy-tale like place. It is so eerie.

Dead Vlei

Dead Vlei

The sun creeps higher turning the surrounding dunes mauve, pink and rose. A light mist hangs in the depressions. The shadows shorten and the soft pastels finally relent to deep red and eventually reveal the desert that is truly there, stark and blistering white. By eight the soft magic is gone and the full fury of the Namib Desert is playing. It’s time to retreat back to the camp site before we are engulfed by this natural oven. Beauty is replaced by harshness!

The effort to get up early has paid off as we past numerous tourists now clambering in the heat to make the same walk. If you come to Sossusvlei make sure you stay at the Sesriem Camp its well worth it. We have the whole beautifully desolate place to ourselves, and we make a promise to get up the same time tomorrow. This proves not to be difficult as I manage to have yet another night of hot broken sleep and cold showers.  The next morning we eagerly head in darkness to Sossusvlei, a large ephemeral pan set amongst towering Sand Dunes. Usually an emerald coloured lake is present but the rains have not come to Namibia this year. The lake is instead a dried baked bed of mud crunching under our shoes. We climb the aptly named “Big Mama” dune which takes a big effort… but once walking across the ridge line of the dune we sit and catch our breath, soaking up the full panoramic view of this magnificent natural wonder. Dunes ripple as far as the eye can see with soft warm hues. The sun still creeping up, this is an amazing experience. To be so isolated from the rest of the world with not a sound to hear at all, we sit together and watch the sun rise, marvelling at the beauty before us.

Sossusvlei

Sossusvleik

 

Climbing Big Mamma

Climbing Big Mamma

To be continued…

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