Tag Archives: History

The Smoke That Thunders

First, A Word About Zim

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We were only in Zimbabwe for a night, but the situation there is volatile (not where we were).  The border crossing was comical.  The official kept me standing there for 15 minutes while he fiddled with a stuck stapler, frequently banging it on the counter, which of course accomplished nothing, until I just wanted to snatch it from his hands and fix it myself, but restraint was the order of the day.

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After 30 years of corruption and dictatorship of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe may be in even worse straits than South Africa and Namibia.   

6ED2725F-D7FD-4D2E-9F99-20FA7C84012EThe current president, Emmerson Mnangagwa has struggled to fulfil promises of economic prosperity and greater political freedom. The health system has largely collapsed amid the worst economic crisis in more than a decade.  Frustrations are running high as the economy crumbles. Inflation was last calculated at 300% by the International Monetary Fund in August, the world’s second highest after Venezuela.   Electricity is only on for a few hours per day in the middle of the night, so that is when people have to work, and fresh water taps work for only a few hours on day a week.

In November in the capital of Harare, protesters were met with police who fired tear gas and water cannons and struck baton blows.  Some Zimbabweans allege that repression is worse than under the late Robert Mugabe, who oversaw widespread rights abuses that led to international sanctions.

There may be some hope.  The government is taking steps to turn the economy around, having just announced that the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe plans to incrementally inject $1 billion into the economy over the next six months, stimulating demand and production in a measured manner while keeping money supply in check.  We saw long lineups of people waiting at the banks.

The Geopolitical Monitor states that “implementing reforms – especially after decades of mismanagement – is a painful process and Zimbabweans are tired. But with political will tangible results are gradually being achieved. The country may be on the cusp of a better future, finally putting the years of isolation behind it. Perseverance and collaboration will help to ease the way.”

The Smoke that Thunders

Early this morning we left Botswana and crossed into Zimbabwe to witness the dreamy, amazing Victoria Falls.  At the Falls, four countries merge:  Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana.  Victoria Falls are on the Zambezi River.  My research suggests the best viewing point for the falls is in Zimbabwe.

I heard recently from two independent sources that Victoria Falls was nothing but a dribble.  I had the impression that was on the Zambia side, not the Zimbabwe side, and it appears that is correct.  The Zambia visa is less expensive than the Zim visa, so people make the mistake of choosing to see them from Zambia.

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That said, the water was at a three-year low and we were visiting at the driest time of year.  The best time to see the falls begins in March.  There were still falls, but half of the length of the sheet, which is what makes these falls so unique, was dry.  This was more evident in the air.  We took a helicopter spin to get the bigger picture.

On the ground, walking the 18 points from which to view the falls from Zimbabwe, they were more impressive.

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We could hear the roar of the falls and see the spray before we saw the actual falls themselves. This is one of the reasons why the local Makalolo tribe’s name for the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, “The Smoke That Thunders,” is so appropriate.

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Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone (“Livingstone, I presume”) renamed them Victoria Falls when he became the first white man to see them, on November 16th 1855.   Having heard stories of a spectacular waterfall, Livingstone paddled down the Zambezi in a dugout canoe and landed on a small island at the lip of the falls.  In his diary, Livingstone wrote of the falls: “scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

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Livingstone Island in the background.

 

We saw the Devil’s Cataract, a separate particularly heavy and dangerous flow.

The falls are twice the height of Niagara Falls and twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. 

The spray thrown up by the falls creates a special rainforest microclimate along the rims of the falls where there is 24/7, 365 days of annual rainfall, in what is otherwise a very dry area.  We witnessed the spray and the full-on rain in the forest.

No, thank you.  During the months of September to December, tourists enjoy ‘toying with danger’ on the edge of the waterfalls at the naturally formed Devil’s Swimming Pool.  Several have died falling over the natural stone barrier and plunging down the falls.

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The Falls were beautiful, but I’d still like to see them like this, at full force.

 

 

I guess I’ll just have to come back.

Best,

Jan

Tswana!

65BE119E-EBD9-4E72-99A1-CC5E68BB73D3F5013608-2A78-4548-8D26-0B77E7E73DDDYesterday, we crossed the border into Botswana, saying goodbye to beautiful Namibia and our amazing guide, Tuhefani (he was making the long drive all the way back to Windhoek in 2 days in order to vote in the upcoming election).  

We made the short drive to the magnificent Chobe National Park. With one of the highest percentages of land set aside for wildlife preservation in the world, Botswana is one of the top wildlife destinations in Africa. Fortunately, the government of Botswana has also recognized that low volume tourism is the best way to balance the needs of tourists and the wildlife they come to see.   Today, we will be among the lucky tourists to visit.

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In the 1930s, British colonial commissioner, Sir Charles Rey, visited the Chobe River and subsequently proposed that the whole region become a wildlife reserve, following the trend set by the newly-proclaimed Kruger National Park in South Africa to move away from hunting and towards conservation.

In 1932, 24,000 sq km of land was declared a non-hunting area.  Creation of the national park was delayed by heavy tsetse fly infestations in 1943, but by 1953 the project was back on the table again. The Chobe Game Reserve was officially created in 1960, before becoming a national park in 1967.

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What I know of Botswana I learned mostly from Mma Ramtoswe and the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books by Alexander McCall Smith and the HBO series.

Roots

In the 14th century, Botsana’s history had all the drama of an opera.  One of the most significant developments in Botswana’s human history was the evolution of the three main branches of the Tswana ethnic group during the 14th century.   Three brothers – Kwena, Ngwaketse and Ngwato – broke away from their father, Chief Malope, to establish their own tribes.  In the 18th century, following a quarrel between Chief Khama I and his brother, Tawana, the Ngwato clan split further.  Tawana left Serowe and established his chiefdom in the area around Maun. The four major present-day Batswana groups – the Batawana, Bakwena, Bangwaketse and Bangwato – trace their ancestry to these splits and Botswana’s demographic make-up owes much to the dispersal of the various groups.

Colonization

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In 1836 around 20,000 Boers set out on the Great Trek across the Vaal River into Batswana, setting up their own state ruling the Transvaal – a move ratified by the British in the Sand River Convention of 1852. Effectively, this placed the Batswana under the rule of the so-called new South African Republic, and a period of rebellion and heavy-handed oppression ensued. Following heavy human and territorial losses, the Batswana chiefs petitioned the British government for protection from the Boers.  Eventually the British conceded, triggering the first Boer War.  The war continued until the Pretoria Convention of 1881, when the British withdrew from the Transvaal in exchange for Boer allegiance to the British Crown.

AC1C6241-8207-4DFA-A050-D66E8A0F2D0DThe extent to which the British subordinated Botswanan interests to those of South Africa during this period became clear in 1950. In a case that caused political controversy in Britain and across the Empire, the British government banned Seretse Khama from the chieftainship of the Ngwato and exiled him for six years. This was done in favour of South Africa, who objected to Khama’s marriage to a British woman at a time when racial segregation was enforced in South Africa.

Independence

A2042406-1557-49B3-8898-3569BB7C75FDIn the 1950’s, the idea of an independent Botswana germinated.  In 1962, the moderate Bechuanaland Democratic Party formed and set a timetable for independence and a new nonracial constitution, drawing on support of the local chiefs.  The British gratefully accepted the BDP’s peaceful plan for a transfer of power, and Khama was elected president when general elections were held in 1965. On 30 September 1966, the country – now called the Republic of Botswana – was granted full independence.  The BDP has been in power ever since, winning 38 of 57 seats in last month’s election.  On November 26, 2019, joint opposition parties challenged the results of voting in 19 constituencies, a move that could result in the country’s electoral commission calling fresh elections in those districts, so the long hold of the BDC may be starting to fracture.

Sundowner Cruise on the Chobe River

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After checking into the lovely Chobe Safari Lodge, we took a late afternoon boat ride.  The Chobe River runs through the park, and there are islands and tributaries making an excellent home for many creatures, including the incredible hippopotamus.

The River Horse
Status:  Vulnerable

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The hippopotamus must be one of the most unusual animals on the planet.   Despite their physical resemblance to pigs and other terrestrial even-toed ungulates, the closest living relatives of the Hippopotamidae are cetaceans (like whales, dolphins, porpoises) from which they diverged about 55 million years ago.

Hippopotamuses love water, which is why the Greeks named them the “river horse.” Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in rivers and lakes to keep their massive bodies cool under the hot African sun. Graceful in water and good swimmers, they can hold their breath underwater for up to five minutes. However, they are often large enough to simply walk or stand on the lake floor, or lie in the shallows. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their heads, which allows them to see and breathe while mostly submerged.   Both reproduction and childbirth occur in water.

925EB28B-F926-4338-906F-9D8CC8ABC198Although hippos lie close to each other in the water, they are actually solitary and do not seem to form social bonds except between mothers and daughters. Occasionally, they will bask alone on the shore, and if their skin cracks, they secrete an oily red moisturizer which gave rise to the myth that they sweat blood.  They rise gracefully from the banks of the water at night to graze alone on about 40 kilo of grasses.  After a night of feeding, they return to the water in the exact same place, so you do not want to get between her and the water.

Their powerful jaws are capable of opening up to 150 degrees revealing their enormous incisors.  Male hippos appear to continue growing throughout their lives as do their ivory canine teeth which can reach 50 cms long.  On land, they are capable of running 30 km/h over short distances.  The hippo is highly aggressive and unpredictable and all these factors make the hippo one of the most dangerous animals in the world.

Hippos have long been popular zoo animals. The first zoo hippo in modern history was Obaysch, who arrived at the London Zoo on 25 May 1850, where he attracted up to 10,000 visitors a day and inspired a popular song, the “Hippopotamus Polka.”

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We saw loads of these unique creatures today.

We also saw the Waterbuck, whose unusual backside markings are explained by the joke that the waterbuck was the first antelope to use the freshly painted toilets on Noah’s Ark.

Some of the critters we have seen before were here, too.

Chobe being what it is, we didn’t have to leave our hotel before we saw wildlife.
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We got up at the break of dawn for a game drive in the park.  No sooner had we registered with the park ranger and pulled into the park, than we saw these beauties:

We saw some more beautiful animals I have already described, as well as the hideous monitor lizard and a pair of alligators fighting, but the fellow in behind gave up quickly.

Spring is an absolutely lovely season to visit, we saw so many adorable babies!

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The warthog mama and her babies were an adventure, because they were living under the porch of my cabin and I had to be escorted to my room by security.  You don’t want to come between this mama and her little ones, she has nasty, razor-sharp  tusks and is perfectly willing to use them in their defence.   I felt quite sorry for her – how hard it must be to raise little ones when you can’t talk, have no thumbs, are surrounded by predators and find yourself trying to raise them among the bedlam of a sprawling hotel.  All three of them had to back into the hole she made one at a time to access the safe space under my porch.

Tis group of elephants strolled past us so closely that we held our breath when these two turned toward us and shot us a meaningful glance – but one look at us oldsters and they shrugged, turned and carried on.

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Best,

Jan

The Caprivi Strip

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As we learned in Gibralter earlier this year, sometimes a weird bit of geography – the long, thin extension of Namibia that stretches out between Angola and Botswana through to Zambia and Zimbabwe – is formed when competing governments are horse-trading land.  This happened here in Namibia, too – over what became known as the “Caprivi Strip” (recently renamed the Zambezi region).  However, history makes some sense of it.

 

 

Leo von Caprivi (pictured right) was the German politician who succeeded Bismarck as chancellor in 1890.   He struck a deal with Britain, trading the islands of Zanzibar for Heligoland, a group of islands just northwest of Hamburg.  The Germans stipulated that they wanted this little strip of land all the way down in southern Africa because it leads to the Zambezi River which they thought would give them access to the Indian Ocean.  Were they fooled!  Either they didn’t look at a map or visit the area or even consult with anyone local, because a little thing now called Victoria Falls make the Zambezi River completely unnavigable.   Bismarck huffed that the Heligoland trade had been a bust, and that Germany had traded away its entire “trousers for a button.”

Whether a strip, or a button, the Caprizi strip makes a nice path for tourists to the Falls.

Chobe River landscape, view from Caprivi Strip on Namibia Botswana border, Africa. Chobe National Park, famous wildlilfe reserve and upscale travel destination.

Looking at this pastoral, lovely countryside, it is hard to imagine that civil war raged here in the 1990’s as a local rebel group, the Caprivi Liberation Army, tried to secede from Namibia.  Life in Africa is complicated, and it is unclear whether this war was the result of side-taking during the war in nearby Congo or a carryover from the Angolan war and the seeds of socialism left by the likes of Che Guevera.

Brendan van Son is a travel blogger more intrepid than I.  Riding his motorbike across Africa, he describes his afternoon on the Caprivi Strip this way:

While driving through Bwabwata National Park, I see a herd
of elephants browsing through the shrubs in the distance.  I
stop, pull out my camera gear and photograph the scene in
awe.  As I pack up my equipment, I hear shuffling behind me.
I twist my head to see a large male elephant walking briskly
towards me.  I race to my scooter and jump on. I’ve left her
running just in case something were to come up; elephants,
zebra, antelope and even lions that can be found along the
strip.  I twist the throttle and toss my head over my shoulder
to see the big elephant is now chasing me down the highway
at full speed.  I’ve learned a couple things today.  My scooter
can outrun a male elephant – though just barely.  I drive off
again laughing hysterically.  Oh, the adventures I have!

I’d say he was lucky that elephant wasn’t an ostrich or a leopard, or he might have been in real trouble!

 The abundant rivers and water make this a green, lovely and productive agricultural area and we we saw small, traditional villages.

Mahango

We drove here on paved Hwy B8 then turned south on asphalt.  Eventually we  veered east again and drove along a sand path.  Every lodge we have come to has involved a road so rough you were sure you were going to sketchy accommdoations, and then you marvel at the beautiful lodge and wonder how it can possibly be provisioned.  This time,  we arrived at a beautiful jungly lodge on the Okahongo River.  We sat on the deck over the River and almost immediately spotted the eyes of hippos in the river and the lodge posts this sign because sometimes the hippos come up at night and eat all of the vegetation on the property.

We went on a stunning game drive this afternoon in the beautiful riverside Mahango Park.  Skulls of the animals in the park were on display at the entrance and we were to see many of the living versions.

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Puffs of clouds hung on the sky and there were beautiful vistas at every turn and we saw a magnificent Baobob tree (for context one of our group stood in front of it).

Mammals and a Reptile

We saw lots of animals, many of them new to us, some of them the most spectular in Africa:

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– The Nam Buffalo (known as “Cape Buffalo” to South Africans).  

 

– Hippos, including a mother and child:

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– the Crocodile

 

We saw many of the ugly cute Warthogs along the water.

We saw new ungulates, in order, the Common Antelope, Roan, Tsetseba and Sable:

We saw Baboons and the Mervet Monkey.  The baby had a little nursing then went into the shrubs to play.

Giraffes, Zebras and Elephants also appeared.  We are in Elephant territory now.

Birds

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– Violet-Breasted Roller

 

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– Little Bee Eater

 

 

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– Swainson’s Spurfowl

 

 

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– The enormous Spare-winged Goose

 

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– Goliath Heron (the largest heron in Africa (see how it dwarfs the ordinary heron next photo)

 

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– Grey Heron

 

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– Egret

 

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– Cape Vulture

 

 

 

 

This morning we had seen the Hammer Cock Bird, here we saw its enormous nest which is the nest for life of a pair of Hammer Cock Birds, and we saw the Jesus Bird.

African Sky

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A lightning storm hung over the sky – it was raining somewhere!

 

 

Our drive ended with a spectacular sunset.

Best,

Jan
PS. No hippos at the lodge overnight!

ǀUi-ǁAis to Twyfelfontein

Twyfelfontein Lodge

After driving half a day yesterday on unpaved roads with the final 40 or so  kilometres along the bumpiest road I have ever been on (my puffy-coat-in-a-bag made the perfect lumbar pillow), we were stunned to arrive at the gorgeous lodge.  After seeing almost no-one on the roads, here was a full parking lot.  The entrance was a beautiful winding walkway to the lodge in a gorgeous setting.

Today we had the full day to explore this area and we set out for the ancient San rock paintings.  The big sky has its own beauty and we passed this farmstead typical in the local countryside.

The San people inhabited this place because of the spring and the need for water, and named the place, “ǀUi-ǁAis,” meaning “waterhole.”

This place was uninhabited by Europeans until a severe drought after the end of WWII.  David Levin studied the feasibility of farming in 1947. He rediscovered the spring but struggled to extract enough water to sustain his family and his herd. Slowly becoming obsessed with doubts about the capacity of the spring an Afrikaans-speaking friend began calling him David Twyfelfontein (David Doubts-the-spring) in jest. When Levin bought the land and registered his farm in 1948 he gave it the name Twyfelfontein.  While commonly being translated as doubtful spring, a more accurate translation for the word twyfelis therefore “questionable” or “uncertain”.  History suggests that the San people knew very well the value of the spring and how to extract the water.

There are more than 2,000 rock engravings and paintings of animals and people here at this amazing UNESCO world heritage site.  The paintings are made with red ochre which has been used as a painting substance around the world and suggests the San bush people who created them were involved in trade with the outside world.

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Genetic evidence suggests the San people are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, peoples in the world, going back perhaps 70,000 years. They have genetic traces that no one else in the world has, that put them at the root of the human tree – we are related to them, but they are not as closely related to us. They have unique markers that we don’t have.  The petroglyphs have been dated back to this age as well.

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As part of the UNESCO world heritage site designation, UNESCO has authenticated the engravings and paintings.  They state that:  “all the rock engravings and rock paintings within the core area are without doubt the authentic work of San hunter-gatherers who lived in the region long before the influx of Damara herders and European colonists. The setting of the Twyfelfontein rock art is also authentic and complete other than one small engraved panel which was removed to the National Museum in Windhoek in the early part of the 20th century, no panels have been moved or re-arranged.”

I’ve seen quite a few engravings in BC and I recently attended a seminar about ancient BC rock paintings by Canadian Indigenous people using red ochre.  My sister and I also got up before sunrise to see rock paintings at Zion Canyon in Utah.  But I’d never seen a site like this before.

We took a 45-minute guided clamber over the rocks to see some of the engravings.  They appear to have a range of purposes.  This one is thought to be a map of active water sources in the area.

Another was likely used to train young hunters of the various animal footprints, including those of humans.

Others depict animals not from this area at all, suggesting either very wide nomadic range or contact with other peoples, such as the image of a crocodile and one of a penguin.

And many clearly depicting the various animals in the region:

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Possibly the most famous engraving is that of “White Lady,” which we did not see due to a lion roaming in that area.  Her lower half appears white with masculine features and clothing while her top half is black and is clearly a woman.  There are several interpretations of her, but I couldn’t help wondering if, like Pharaoh Hatshepsut of ancient Egypt, she was a tribe leader who had to disguise her female gender to gain respect.   She certainly looks like a powerful huntress.

Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest is a group of at least 50 fossilized Cordaites trees between 240 and 300 million years old, making our ancient rainforest on the Canadian west coast of 1,500 year old trees, seem young.  Scientists have determined  these trunks haven’t grown in today’s Namibia but were washed down a river in ancient times when one of the many Ice Ages ended on the Gondwana continent.  Due to enormous pressure and over a period of millions of years, even the finest structures of the wood have been dissolved by silicic acid and replaced by quartz, resulting in perfectly conserved and completely petrified trunks.

These were pine trees – and you can clearly see the knots.  The petrified wood looks just like a normal tree but feels, weighs and sounds like rock.

Twee-blaar-kanniedood – “two-leave-can’t-die”

We finally saw the Welwitschia mirabilis, the plant unbelievably comprised of just two leaves, arranged so they can store water.  Like many of the desert plants of this arid region, the Welwitschia is thought to obtain most of its moisture from very fine mist blowing off the cold Atlantic Ocean. This allows the plants to survive but they grow very slowly.   Considered a living fossil, the plant is actually a tree that has been dwarfed and lives up to 1,500 years.  We saw some considerably younger, but older plants do exist.  Like the holly tree, the Welwitschia requires the cross-pollination of a female plant with a male.

This was not where our day ended, oh, no.  It was only warming up!

Desert Elephant Safari

Status:  Protected

We had the rest of the afternoon free and some of us took advantage of the time to take one of the tours offered by the Lodge.  We mounted our 12-seater 4×4 and headed off into the sand in the hopes of seeing some of the uniquely adapted elephants.  They are rare – there are only two groups of elephants, here and in Mali, North Africa.  They can survive several days without water and are capable of walking up to 70 km per day for water.  I’ve always associated elephants with water so I was curious to see these amazing animals that can live in a desert.

DDBFA240-5223-4CE8-A3C6-A059EFB3C8D1We would not have another chance to see them, so we climbed aboard our vehicle with our guide and drove for about an hour and a half crossing dry river beds and passing from the red desert we’ve become used to seeing, into the almost black, surreal landscape of Damalaland.

This is the land where the Damala speak the most beautiful language I had ever heard, with clicks and three other sounds depending upon where the tongue clicks in the mouth.  The sounds represent our x, q, etc.  We heard a number of the staff speaking to each other in the musical language.

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We arrived at a small village with a water hole where we hoped to see the elephants.There was no sign of an animal but there were tracks and some fresh-looking scat. 

We carried on through a Baobob grove with their roots poking out haphazardly.

It wasn’t long before we saw in the distance a large grey shadow.  Success!  We found 3 elephants and were given lots of time to take photos and observe their behaviour.   

The desert elephant has longer legs than other elephants and a broader foot.

They feed off off of the fruits of the acacia tree, stretching their trunks up to smell for fresh fruit before violently shaking the fruit loose from the tree.   It was an awesome sight.

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We drove on parallel to a dry river bed.  Suddenly, a head popped up in the bushes and I was instantly swept back to my favourite childhood program, The Friendliest Giant.  A giraffe, not a puppet!  Here!

 

 

 

Our driver left his tracks and we moved into the trees to get a better look.  As we watched, more and more of these striking creatures appeared.  These would have been passing through – they are nomadic.  We watched them for awhile before they moved on.     

It was time to head back to the Lodge for dinner, but on our way back we spotted a large herd of ostriches and some baboons.

We stopped for refreshments watching the sun go down behind the hills and the incredible African light seemed to follow us home.

Best,

Jan

 

 

 

Swako and the Skeleton Coast

Swakopmund

Reminiscent of a charming German town in the 1800s, Swakomund hasn’t changed much from its former German settlement self and the architecture reflects this in the form of domes, towers, turrets, oriel windows, embellished gables and ornate bay windows.

We took a short ride around town to get us oriented, ending at the museum entrance.  The museum had something for everyone, a lot of information about the local geology with fabulous specimens of various semi-precious stones, petrified wood, archeological finds, and a very interesting room dedicated mainly to the indigenous peoples of Swakopmund.  It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that it also has a lot of taxidermy and a German perspective on the history of the German people who invaded this land.

The museum is on the water, with a scenic shoreline, a boardwalk out over the rocks and a few shops and cafes.  We wandered through the colourful craft market with lots of beautiful wares and fairly aggressive salesfolk who were not unwilling to barter.  Just beyond the market were some feathery Swakopians, guinea fowl and a spotted pigeon:

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There’s also a waterfront aquarium, the Krystall Gallery of local crystals and gemstones a couple of seafood restaurants on a pier over the Atlantic, The Jetty and The Tug, and other restaurants and craft shops.  It was a relaxing day and a nice break from being on the road before we headed up the coast.

The Skeleton Coast

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Leaving Swakopmund,we head north on C34 along the Skeleton Coast with civilization fading away over our shoulders.  The sea takes on a grey appearance and the sand dunes now seem to threaten.  We are halfway between the forbidden diamond territory to the south and the vacant coastline until Angola to the north.

Under the sea lies half a thousand shipwrecks beneath dangerous currents and a hostile shore.  Some of the ships’ skeletons were found far inland over the dunes.   Says a local ranger, “even if you survived the wreck you were probably doomed. You struggle ashore, overjoyed that you’ve been saved, and then realize that you landed in a desert and probably should have gone down with the ship.”

We stopped at a recent shipwreck – when the Namibians won independence, the South Africans literally abandoned ship and this one broke free in a high wind and drifted to this spot along the coast.  The cormorants now call it home.

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Our destination is Cape Cross, where in the 15th century the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao landed and, as was his practice, planted a cross at this site for navigational purposes.  The cross that remains is a replica – the original stone cross was taken by the Germans and is housed today in the German Historical Museum in Berlin.   However, Germany has agreed to repatriate the monument to Namibia in n effort to make amends for its colonial past.  The plan was for the German museum’s curator to personally escort the cross in August 2019, but so far it appears that has yet to take place.

Suddenly, after all the desolation, life!

Fur Seal
Status:  Least Concern (but trade in pelts and oil)

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There are 24 fur seal breeding colonies along this coast and we stopped at Cape Cross where there are 80,000 to 100,000 seals.  The fur seal,  actually a species of sea lion, is not named “fur” for nothing.  The seal pups’ thick, soft, jet black fur are prized around the world, and the hunt is as contraversial here as the baby seal hunt in Labrador.  Adult pelts are too coarse but there is also a huge market for seal oil.

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The export of seal pelts dwarfs Namibia’s seal oil business—400,000 of them during the past decade—representing one of the largest trades of any mammal out of Africa. Most go to Turkey, where fashion mogul Hatem Yavuz has them made into “wild fur” coats. According to Seven Network, one of Australia’s main television networks, Yavuz controls 60 percent of the global market in seal products.

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We humans kill the seals for fashion, when their natural impulse is to save human life.  In September, 2011, a great white shark bit a man swimming nearby and his mates made a makeshift tourniquet using a wetsuit and two belts to stop him from bleeding to death.   The shark remained and patrolled dangerously close.  Eye-witnesses confirmed that a fur seal circled the men the whole time as they gradually waded ashore with the victim.  The seal kept the shark at bay and the man’s life was spared.

The fur seals in this colony are so populous –

– that the government culls the colony annually; this year’s cull was last week so the animals were more active and aggressive than usual.

Many had also just had their young so we were able to see the adorable babies.

They’re awfully cute, but they do not smell pretty.

They have many predators on land and in the ocean.  We saw a jackal roaming the outskirts of the colony, and saw lots of jackal tracks in the sand.

We stopped to look at the fields of lichen and watched the reaction when a small amount of water is poured on them.  Initially they looked completely brown and dead; add water, and they jumped to life.  I had read at the Swako museum that there are over 100 varieties of lichens in these fields.  The government has taken some steps to protect them, since most people don’t realize how delicate and alive these plants are.

We stopped to look at the fields of lichen and watched the reaction when a small amount of water is poured on them.  Initially they looked completely brown and dead; add water, and they jumped to life.  I had read at the Swako museum that there are over 100 varieties of lichens in these fields.  The government has taken some steps to protect them, since most people don’t realize how delicate and alive these plants are.

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Some industrious locals were selling salt crystals they had harvested on the beach.  One looked like a beautiful ballet-shoe- pink rose.

 

We had to backtrack a bit along C34 to reach C35, the road that will take us inland to the northeast toward the Twyfelfontein area, where we are staying tonite.  The sun came out and the temperature is heating up again.  The pavement also ran out and we are back to the bumpy, noisy, dusty ride we had in the south.  Tomorrow, though, we will journey back 70,000 years.

Best,

Jan

 

The Scramble for Africa

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The “Scramble for Africa” was the colonization of African territory by European powers during the “New Imperialism” period from 1881 to 1914. In 1870, only 10 percent of Africa was under formal European control; by 1914 it had increased to almost 90 percent of the continent.   There were different motivations for European colonizers, including desire for valuable resources, the quest for national prestige, tensions between pairs of European powers and religious missionary zeal.

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Bismarck had his sights on Namibia and his dream of establishing an empire to rival that of Britain and France led to German colonization of Namibia in 1884.   At the Berlin Conference in 1883, Africa had been divided between various European nations – largely to the surprise of Africans. As a result, Germany ended up with this arid desert land that most Europeans saw little use in claiming.

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In 1889, 25 German troops landed at Walvis Bay disguised, ironically, as ‘tourists’.   (I wish there was a picture.)  Walvis Bay at the time was under British control, and the German troops could not simply march onto British territory in full battle gear.   

The German Colonial Administration was never fully in control of Namibia because of rebellions by the pre-colonial Namibian population.   What resulted was a genocide by the Germans of the Herero, Damara and Nama.   About 60,000 Herero were killed out of a total population of about 80,000 and thousands more Damara and Nama people were killed.  Those that survived were moved to concentration camps.    There are many images online of Namibians in chains.  It is thought to be the first instance of cultural genocide by a European nation.

Germany lost all its colonial territories after WWI, but Namibia didn’t gain independence; the next to conquer Namibia were the Afrikaaners, and eventually Namibia’s Indigenous people were subjected to Apartheid.  In May 1967, because of Apartheid in the country, the UN took over with the goal of independence.  In May 1968, the country was given the name Namibia.  It would take more than 20 years for free elections to take place.

16A25091-7C9B-4265-8122-B324ED194E35In 1990, having been instructed by the UN Security Council to end its long-standing involvement in Namibia and in the face of military stalemate in Southern Angola, South Africa negotiated a change of control and Namibia finally became independent on 21 March 1990.

Independence Day on 21 March 1990 was celebrated in Windhoek’s sports stadium which was attended by numerous international representatives, including the main players, the UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar and President of South Africa F W de Klerk, who jointly conferred formal independence on Namibia. Sam Nujoma was sworn in as the first President of Namibia watched by Nelson Mandela (just released from prison) and representatives from 147 countries, including 20 heads of state.

It took until September 2019 for the German government to acknowledge there was a genocide:  “It is in the meantime clear that the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1908 were what we today describe as genocide,” Development Minister Gerd Mueller said after meeting tribespeople on Friday, according to a ministry spokesman.

 

 

Today, the clothes that Herero women choose to wear is a permanent reminder of the tribe’s unsettling past and history.   The style of dress was introduced by the German wives of missionaries and colonialists who first came to the country in the early 1900s.  Their cultural dress, the “Ohorokova,” is a continued protest against the Germans who butchered them, making it a subversion of their former rulers’ fashion.    The attire is topped off by a cow horn-shaped hat, paying homage to their traditional identity as cattle breeders.  Before their arrival, most Herero were bare-breasted and wore front and back leather aprons, made from sheep, goat or game skins.

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Negotiations with Germany are ongoing.  The tribes brought a lawsuit in the U.S. seeking compensation from plunder by Germany of human remains and other property of the tribes that ended up in New York institutions Like the American Museum of Natural History.  That suit was dismissed in early 2019 based on jurisdictional problems, but, with the over $70 billion in reparation to survivors of the Holocaust during WWII, the Herero are not giving up.

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And then, there is the matter of De Beers.  I’ll be looking at that soon.

Best,

Jan

 

 

 

 

Cape of Good Hope

Chappies

 

 

Chapman’s Peak Drive is considered one of the most spectacular coastal drives in the world, and you can see why in the gorgeous shots I downloaded from online above, and my shots below.  Above the road, vertical sandstone cliffs rise 700 metres to the summit of Chapman’s Peak while the cliff below drops away equally vertically. At the northern end of this 7 km series of twists and turns is the picturesque lobster fishing town of Hout Bay.

 

 

In 1607, the skipper of the ship, “The Consent,” found his vessel becalmed in Hout Bay and sent his pilot, John Chapman, to row ashore in the hope of finding provisions. The pilot later recorded the bay as – guess what? – Chapman’s Chaunce (chance) and the name stuck, becoming official on all East India charts.

In 1914, preliminary surveys on the road got under way. Surveying the route was a scary business – at times the surveying party was on all fours as they investigated the perpendicular terrain. The project appeared to be a ‘mission impossible’ but the Governor would not take no for an answer and eventually he ordered the ‘go ahead’ for the highway along the cliffs.  The spectacular roadway took seven years to complete, at a cost of ₤20 000, hewn out of the stone face of Sheer Mountain.  It opened to traffic on Saturday 6 May 1922 by the Governor of the Union of South Africa, His Royal Highness Prince Arthur of Connaught.

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The road seemed doomed again for reasons familiar to us in B.C. – there were many dangerous, some fatal, rockfall accidents and landslides and through several lawsuits, the law evolved and the government was forced to take responsibility for the safety of the travelling public.  As a result of these incidents and the resulting liability, Chapman’s Peak Drive was officially closed to traffic indefinitely in January 2000 and was open and closed for the next few years.  The problems continued until 2009 when it re-opened after a year of major upgrades and repairs.  Chappies has remained open since then and is beloved by locals and tourists like us.

 

Along the way to the Cape, we came across these guys – the males are black, the females buff, and it is spring, after all, there are some very fresh chicks if you can spot them:

 

 

The Cape

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The Cape of Good Hope has been engrained in my mind since public school.   Originally claimed in 1488 by Portugese navigator, Bartolomeu Dias, and declared by King John II as the southern tip of the African continent, the Cape was so-named because its discovery was a good omen that India could be reached by sea from Europe.  While that part was true, the southern tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet is about 150 km southeast of here. Nonetheless, the Dutch certainly prospered from the discovery of this trade route to Indonesia and India.

The Flying Dutchman

298324C0-42FD-4B80-A980-13DF5EBA54D1                                         The Flying Dutchman by Albert Pinkham Ryderc, 1887

Legend and many literary references have it that the ghosts of the crew of  the ship, “The Flying Dutchman,” haunt the headland and its waters. It is said that the ghost ship can never make port, doomed to sail the oceans forever and that the crew will try to send messages to land or to people long dead.  In ocean lore, the sight of this phantom ship is a portent of doom.

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There have been many reported sightings of the ship, or of a ship glowing with ghostly light.   On a three year educational voyage with his tutor and older brother, the future King George V,  recorded this in his journal:

July 11th. At 4 a.m. the Flying Dutchmancrossed our bows.
A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the
midst of which light the masts, spars and sails of a brig
200 yards distant stood out in strong relief as she came up
on the port bow, where also the officer of the watch from
the bridge clearly saw her, as did the quarterdeck midshipman, who was sent forward at once to the forecastle; but on arriving there was no vestige nor any sign whatever of any material ship was to be seen either near or right away to the horizon, the night being clear and the sea calm. Thirteen persons altogether saw her… At 10.45 a.m. the ordinary seaman who had this morning reported the
Flying Dutchman fell from the foretopmast crosstrees on to the topgallant forecastle and was smashed to atoms.”

Whether good hope or bad omen, we were visiting the beautiful peninsula today.   It was atmospherically grab-onto-something-or-be-knocked-over windy.  The Cape Peninsula is a 100 km (60 mile) long spit of land at whose tip stands the most powerful lighthouse in the world.   

 

 

Look who dropped by while we were there [baboons]:

 

 

Yesterday we saw some beautiful scenery and some wildlife on Robbens Island, too – a tortoise, some oyster catchers and some Steenbok, a small species of antelope:

 

 

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We have been hearing lots of African music at the V & A, and today being Saturday, we heard and watched some enthusiastic school-aged kids at Boulders Beach.

 

Penguins
Status:  Endangered (but recovering)

Two feet tall, brimming with head-cocking curiosity and hair-trigger irritability, the Jackass Penguins are among the most endearing sights on the Cape, and being thoroughly socialized, they grudgingly tolerate human presence.  Boulders Beach, with its gigantic beachball-round boulders, has one of only two land-based African penguin colonies.

Maybe you’ll fall in love with them as I did, watching this lovely video, and you’ll hear how they got their name, too:


Sure enough, we heard them heehawing when saw them today.

 

 

Living proof as to just how windy it was along the coast today:

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Home to about 2,600 species of flowering plants, the Cape Peninsula Nature Reserve is part of one of the six floral kingdoms in the world, the Cape Floral Kingdom.

The Boomslang

Beautifully situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, our last stop today was at the breathtaking Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens dedicated to the preservation of plants indigenous to southern Africa.  Kirstenbosch includes a fragrance garden, a medicinal garden, 2,500 species of plants found on the Cape Peninsula, a Protea garden (the beautiful National flower), a braille trail, a cycad amphitheatre and a conservatory.  The indigenous fynbos, of which the protea is a type, are said to be at their best this time of year.

 

 

 

A special feature is the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway – affectionately known as the Boomslang (a highly venomous bright green snake), and you can see why. This 130-metre steel-and-timber bridge snakes its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum, providing stunning views of the Garden and the Cape Flats.

 

 

Of course, where there are flowers, there are birds, and the Garden’s home to some beauties:

 

 

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All the senses were treated today!

Best,

Jan