Tag Archives: Scenery

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

Camp Kwondo

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We had a short drive today, further into the Caprivi Strip.   We stopped early at Camp Kwondo, our accommodation on the Kwondo River.  Our rooms were tents – sort of – thatched roof, wooden floor and canvas walls.  Good thing for the mosquito netting – I didn’t hear any mosquitoes but the only thing between me and a scorpion at the foot of my bed in the morning was the net.

 

There were lovely seating arrangements on decks at the edge of the water and we had time to relax and watch and listen to the abundant bird life.

 

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Hadada Ibis

 

 

 

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Paradise Flycatcher

 

 

 

 

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Red-eyed Bulbul

 

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A pair of Ruppell’s Robins

 

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A Golden-tailed Woodpecker

 

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This afternoon we visited a “living museum” so common in Namibia.   The visit answered a lot of my questions about the way of life here.  First we went into a compound and learned how the Bantu people used to live in pre-colonial times.  Their food staple was millet and it was ground to a fine flour.

 

 

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Clay formed by the termites in their hills was used to line the storage container for the millet.

 

 

 

An ingenious device was used to mimic the hippo’s sounds.  The hippo would be eaten at ceremonies such as weddings:

Traditional music and dances with a shaman were performed:

The second part of the visit was to the modern village.  This village has about 300 inhabitants and each compound has a fenced courtyard with the huts of a single clan – children, their parents, aunts and uncles and grandparents, with each family or couple having their own sleeping quarters.   There are segregated bathroom areas with shower hookups.  Kitchens are partially open air for ventilation and food is cooked over a fire in a communal kitchen.   The government provides a water hand pump for each compound.  School is mandatory and there is a school in each village. In this village, the children walk 2.5 kilometres each way to go to school.  There was one vehicle in the compound.

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Income is earned in a variety of ways – many chop trees on their land and sell firewood for about $1 a bundle.

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We were slated for a boat ride here but as we walked back to the lodge after our tour, lightning streaked the sky and the clap of nearby thunder accompanied us so the ride was cancelled.  Instead we had a rare chance to relax and enjoy the surroundings. We watched flocks of egrets fly up the river at the end of their day.  

 

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The cancelled boat ride had a silver lining.  We were so happy to learn that both Chobe to the east and Mahongo to the west received rain.  It is hoped that eventually the building cumulus clouds will reach Etosha.

 

Best,

Jan

 

 

Great White Place – Etosha

The Etosha Pan

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One day a village was raided and everyone but the
women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about
the death of her family she cried until her tears
formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up
nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

                                                         – San origin legend about the Pan

Part of the Kalahari Basin, the massive salt-clay floor was formed around 1000 million years ago of a lake fed by the Kunene River. Thousands of years ago, the course of the river changed and the lake dried up leaving a large dusty depression of salt clay with water springs along its edges.  With so little fresh water available, these springs and watering holes attract large concentrations of wildlife and birds, including 114 mammal species and 340 bird species that have been recorded in the vast park of 22,270 square kilometres.

There is much more to the park than the pan, and nothing can survive on it, although if it fills with water, the flamingos and pelicans will flock to it by the thousands.  This happened in 2013, and the last one prior to 2013 was in 1930.  And this year there’s the drought.  The vast pan has its own stark beauty, though.

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We drove to the Anderson gate of Etosha National Park and entered one of the most important reserves and game sanctuaries in all of Africa. Etosha is particularly famous for its black rhinos and we looked for them to the east just after the Anderson Gate.  

A Crash of Black Rhinos
Status:  Critically Endangered (but numbers increasing)

Their name comes from the Greek, rhino meaning nose and ceros meaning horn.   The name group name, a “Crash” of Rhinos, only enhances their coolness.  Everything about them says, I am ugly.  I am nasty.  Deal with it.

In 1961, the World Wildlife Fund was the first organization to launch an international effort to save black rhinos from extinction.  Large scale poaching and land clearance comprised for the almost disappearance of the species.  They were too late for the Central-West Black Rhino subspecies, which has been completely wiped off the planet.

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The Black Rhino species as a whole has seen its population decline by approximately 97.6% since 1960.  Its original distribution comprised the entire African continent south of the Sahara except for the Congo Basin. Currently the Black Rhino’s distribution is very fragmented, with about 96% of the wild Black Rhinos in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Kenya.  As of December 2010, there are about 1,920 Southwestern Black Rhinos.

It is interesting that an animal that looks so dangerous, and can be, of course, with two formidable horns which grow as much as 3 inches (8 centimeters) a year, are herbivores. Black Rhinos are browsers and get their nutrition from eating trees, bushes, branches and fruits, they show a preference for acacia. They eat an average of 52 lb (23.6 kg) of food a day.  They only use their horns for defence.

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I don’t suppose the term “crash” comes up all that often, because the Rhinoceros are mostly solitary.  The only social unit is the mother and her calf, and this fact, along with this image, makes them endearing, even adorable. Males are solitary until it’s time to mate. Temporary associations are sometimes formed but they do not last long.  Huh.

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Here is an animal whose “camouflage” is black; who came here for water, and the lake dried up thousands of years ago leaving a white salt plain.  I thought this would be a better place for the white rhino, but it isn’t white, either (just a mixup in translation way back when).  But the black rhino here is coated in a layer of white salt dust, and while evolution may not have left it with white skin, it seems the black rhino and the Etosha pan today are sympatico.

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We saw two black rhinos from afar and this is the best possible shot, but it does show the paradox of the name, Black Rhino.

 

 

 

We spent a day and a half in the park with one of those days from 7:00 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Our excellent guide, Tuhafeni from Wild Dog Safari, popped up the roof and opened the windows and away we went.  The evidence of the drought was distressing and there weren’t the masses of thousands of animals at any given waterhole, but it was still absolutely amazing and we saw more than we could have dreamed for.  

Queen of the Savannah, King of the Beasts, Pride of Africa
Status:  Vulnerable (habitat loss)

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55163A60-31D1-4813-B1AA-EF692BAD388AThere are so many misassumptions and fun facts about the beautiful, elegant lion.   It is the female who is head of a pride of usually about 15 lions.  The females do the hunting, the male defends the territory.  Although the male eats first, the queen will have female “favourites” who get the most and best meat after the male, so the cubs of the pride may cosy up with the favourites over their own mother.

8AA0E76A-867F-4A4B-8365-2C78D9FCE815Lions do not live in the jungle, they live on savannahs, like the land surrounding the Etosha pan..

The lion was once found throughout Africa, Asia and Europe But is now only in Africa save for one park in India.

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A lion’s roar can be heard from as far as 5 miles away.

 

 

 

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The mating process is quick, we barely noticed!

 

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A lion can run for short distances at 80 kph.

 

 

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A lion may sleep up to 20 hours a day, which is how we found them, although we were lucky, we waited – they woke up!

 

This was only Day 1 in the park!

Best,

Jan

 

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

 

Think Pink!

Solitaire

Solitaire, as its name suggests, is one of those out of the way places that never wanted to be popular.  Nothing more than four corners in the middle of the desert at the junction of C14 and C19, the major roads in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, it has a gas station, a general store and, perhaps most importantly, the only tire repair shop between Windhoek and Walvis Bay.  That Percy Cross, a burly Scot looking for tranquility, decided to stop here, bake apple pie and rename himself “Moose McGregor” seems highly improbable, but that’s exactly what he did.

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And he made the best apple pie you’ve ever tasted, still served straight out of the oven.

Moose’s tranquility went out the window, but as one of the beloved characters of this land, we think he wasn’t disappointed.  Solitaire, too, belies its true identity – nothing like the reclusive, disinterested place one might assume from its name, it has become the best kind of neighbour.   The two farms that make up Solitaire, the businesses, and other area land holdings, are now part of the 45,000-acre Solitaire Land Trust, focussing on habitat preservation and conservation for the area’s wildlife.  Solitaire’s own fame has grown since it became the focus of the eponymous Dutch novel about author Ton van der Lee’s stay here.  Sadly, Percy Cross died in 2014 at the age of 58.  Solitaire is a diamond in the rough, and we think Percy was too.

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Revivified after our pie and fuel tank refilled, we crossed the canyon of the Kuiseb River right on the Tropic of Capricorn to make our way to Moon Valley.

Since I am a Capricorn, I was interested.

Tropic of Capricorn

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The Tropic of Capricorn is the dividing line between the Southern Temperate Zone to the south and the tropics to the north. It is the southernmost latitude where the sun can be seen directly overhead.  (The Northern Hemisphere equivalent of the Tropic of Capricorn is the Tropic of Cancer).   When this line of latitude was named in the last centuries BCE, the Sun was in the constellation Capricornus (Latin for goat horn) at the December solstice, the time each year that the Sun reaches its zenith at this latitude. The word “tropic” itself comes from the Greek “trope (τροπή)”, meaning to turn or change direction, referring to the fact that the Sun appears to “turn back” at the solstices.   

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The line’s position is not fixed, but constantly changes because of a slight wobble in the Earth’s longitudinal alignment relative to its orbit around the Sun.  The line also crosses the Andes in Argentina and Chile.

Moon Valley

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We drove through what was once a mountain range.  Erosion has reduced the Moon Valley to rolling, low-lying hills, and a lunar-like landscape of a thousand colours.  For the past two million years, the Swakop River and its many tributaries flowed through this valley, giving it life and shape.

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The landscape had become so harsh it seemed it could no longer sustain life.  There was the beauty of the vast, open sky, but after passing through Moon Valley, the harsh environment seemed to carry on forever.

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But as we neared the coast, a line of mist appeared on the horizon and a covering of mossy green lichens coated the sand.  Unique in the world, there are over 100 types of lichen in this desert.  This area is also the source for those tiny air plants that are sold everywhere – plants that don’t attach themselves to anything and require only a misting of moisture for water.

We finally arrived at the coast and pulled into the former British colonial naval port town of Walvis Bay.  We drove toward the lagoon, where I began watching hopefully for pink.

Flamingo
Status:  Vulnerable

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We passed by a massive sea salt production facility and began to understand that this was why flamingos were here, and we got answers to a few other questions, too.   The algae and crustaceans they eat thrive in high saline or alkaline conditions.  According to Curiosity.com, flamingos make themselves at home on some of the most toxic, caustic bodies of water in the world. The water they prefer is often flesh-strippingly alkaline, and the ground that surrounds the shores absorbs those harmful properties. The scaly skin on their legs is tough enough to handle it, but their softer flesh is a little more at risk.  That’s why they sleep standing up.

Speaking of standing up, two scientists actually did an experiment with (already) dead flamingos and found that the joints in flamingos’ legs lock, allowing them to stand securely on one leg without losing their balance or using their muscles to stand.  Even dead, they remain standing when one leg is in the locked position.

Lesser and greater flamingos flock in large numbers to pools along the Namib Desert coast, particularly around Walvis Bay. They’re excellent fliers, and have been known to migrate up to 500 km overnight in search of proliferations of algae and crustaceans.  We must have seen over a thousand of them, along with a handful of pelicans and some plovers.  There were lots of colourful jellyfish here, too.

The greater and lesser flamingos are best distinguished by their colouration. Greater flamingos are white to light pink, and their beaks are whitish with a black tip. Lesser flamingos are a deeper pink – often reddish – colour, with dark-red beaks. Flamingo feeding is endearing, if not somewhat comical, worthy of two very short YT videos.

After a walk on the promenade along the mansion-lined lagoon, we continued on for a short drive on paved road to the former German colonial town of Swakopmund for two nights.

Best,

Jan

 

The Dead End Marsh

Tuesday we left civilization and drove southwest through the Remshoogte Pass in the mountainous Khomas Hochland (Highlands) to Namib-Naukluft National Park, the 3rd largest national park in Africa. The Namib Desert is a vast wilderness, harsh, primeval, almost uninhabitable – and the oldest desert on earth.   When we get close to the Atlantic coast, we will see some of the tallest sand dunes in the world.   We are spending two nights in this area.

We passed through an ever-changing landscape —

— until we went over a rise and saw below us the dreamy scene of the Namib Desert spread like a banquet of colours below us.

I wasn’t sure if we would see any animals today, but we were rewarded at every turn.   The most interesting architecture we encountered were the nests of the Social Weaver Birds.  They build their nests together with each bird having a private entrance.  When the nest becomes so heavy it is at risk of collapsing, they divide it.  Another interesting behaviour is that they will drag a wasps’ nest onto their tree.  The wasps don’t bother them, but if their main predator snake arrives to eat the eggs or the young, the wasps attack and kill it.  How did they work this out?  Ingenious!

Here is a complete list of what we saw on our first day into the Namibian countryside:  ostriches, wart hogs, baboons, oryx, a lappett-faced vulture, kudus, 2 springbok herds, termite mounds, steenbok, cardinal woodpeckers, and most exciting were a herd of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, including a young colt.  Apologies for the poor quality of some of these but I’m including them for posterity.  Pictured (in order) are:  Springbok, kudus, steenbok, woodpeckers, Oryx and zebras.

Sossusvlei

Today, Wednesday, we got an early start – 5:15 a.m.  – and we were so glad we did – the sun and the moon were both out at the same time.

We started at Sossusvlei, the “Dead-End Marsh,”  a salt-clay pan depression with dunes that come together preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further some 60 kms east of the Atlantic Ocean.  We transferred from our cool bus/truck –

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– to a 4×4:

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and drove about 4 kms and then walked 1.2 km to the basin.  A photographer’s dream,  the contrast in colours and the graphic dead trees seem a metaphor for the near-lifelessness of the desert and the transience of life itself.

We saw lots of Oryx this morning, and we stopped to see the plant that keeps Oryx alive.  They don’t drink water at all, but are able to extract moisture from the plants they graze.  Their primary source, however, are from the melons which incredibly grow in this hostile environment on the N//ala plant (that is Nala with a click in there).  Tuhafeni picked a used-up dried sample – for the sake of the Oryx, he of course wouldn’t pick a living version.

The sand dunes here are the largest in the world and looked as if they had been painted by brush rather than by wind.

 

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The ever-shifting sands can overwhelm human attempts at order.

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Two of our adventurers made it to the top of the renowned dune, “No. 45.”

We saw a number of pretty birds, including a Pied Crow and a Kestrel, and the tracks of a jackal:

Six Rawhide Thongs

This afternoon we visited the stunning Sesriem Canyon, carved by the Tsauchab River in the local sedimentary rock, about a kilometre long and up to 30 meters deep. The name Sesriem in Afrikaans means “six rawhide thongs,” given by settlers who had to join six such thongs in order for a bucket to reach the water. Sesriem Canyon is only two metres wide in some places, and usually has a portion that contains water, but we didn’t see any.

We saw lots of animals today but the most thrilling ones I saw were the ones seen right from my room of our delightful lodge, the Desert Homestead. including a juvenile Oryx, a half-hidden baby in the crowd and an ostrich cooling itself down.  It doesn’t sweat, but it opens its mouth wide like the panting of a dog, and opens its wings to the breeze.

The setting of this lodge is spectacular and it will be hard to leave it behind.

After a delicious steak dinner, we got the last minute details of our road trip tomorrow.  We will head through Moon Valley, stop at Walvis Bay and reach our final destination, Swakopmund, a former German settlement town on the Atlantic shore.

Best,

Jan