Friday, May 28, 2010

Rock Carvings & the White Lady

Today was going to be another long and strenuous day as we stopped heading north and finally started to head west, with plans to visit a couple of interesting rock carving sites. We drove for about 3 hours to get to Twyfelfontein, (which means ‘Doubtful Spring), to see the ‘Lion Man’ carving, created between 2-5 thousand years ago. This involved a 45 minute guided tour up and over this World Heritage site in the midday heat, (over 30 degrees), but it was worth it to see carvings of many animals, including Giraffe, Rhino, and even Seal and Penguin, even if we were over 150kms from the sea.

Next we headed to a local camping area for lunch, before another 2 hour drive to the site of the ‘White Lady’ paintings in the Brandenburg Mountains. This was an even longer hike into the rugged terrain that was going to take over 2 hours to complete, and it was still bloody hot to boot. Fortunately, as we entered the deep canyons we were soon in the shadow of the 2000m peaks around us which did help with the heat.
After an hour for steady climbing we reached the overhang under which the painting of the White Lady, (which is in fact actually a male shaman), could be found. It seemed a long walk for so few paintings, but they were very interesting and well worth a look.

Etosha National Park – Lions & Rhino, plus the Waterhole at night.

Day 2 in Etosha started early. The plan was to move from the Namtomi area, via the Hanali Waterhole for lunch, and arriving at the Okaukuejo camp by sunset, where they had a waterhole set up for night-viewing.

This was a long & hot day in our trusty truck, but we saw another array of animals living on the edge of the great salt pan, including Springbok, Dik-Dik, Wilderbeast, Hyenas, more Giraffes, and too many Zebra’s to count. We also managed to get a puncture just before the lunch stop and limped slowly into the Hanali rest area to repair it and have lunch.

All day long our guide Elias had said that there was a good chance of seeing Lions in Etosha, but we seemed to miss them at every turn. It was shortly before sunset when we made a last-chance dash for a distant waterhole in the hope of getting a final possibility to finally see them. We were not disappointed... As we approached we could see couple of lionesses appear on the right hand side, move slowly and languidly towards the road and on toward the waterhole. Then there was another lion, and then another, and then another, and finally in total there was a pride of 13 lions making their way across the road. It was yet another spectacular sight... But the best was yet to come...

After setting up camp and dinner, we walked through the site to the viewing area for the main waterhole. A wide swath of the area surrounding the waterhole was bathed in a soft yellow light, and standing statue still in the distance was a bull elephant. I even had to ask Fiona if it was real, it was standing so still. Then it moved a little and let out a long deep rumbling sound..., then another. Suddenly from out of the dark emerged a troop of another 10 elephants that carefully and quietly made their way down to the waterhole to drink, while the bull elephant kept a watchful eye from a distance. It was amazing, you could have heard a pin drop, there was so much drama and tension we were riveted to our seats for over an hour. More rumblings from the bull elephant, and they moved away a little, allowing time for the bull to come down to the waterhole to get his well deserved drink. Slowly they left the waterhole, only to be replaced by a few skittish Zebra and then a small family of Black Rhino. Wow, we have seen it all today, all-in-all it was one of the most awe-inspiring things I think I have ever seen.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Etosha National Park – Giraffes, Zebra’s, Elephants, and many more....

Next day we arose very early, (before dawn), and set off towards the first of 2 days in the world renowned Etosha Game Park. We arrived in the early afternoon, set up camp, had lunch and went out for an afternoon of game viewing. At the first waterhole we saw a group of Giraffes and Zebra’s drinking, and I even spotted a tortoise...! We spent the afternoon going between waterholes where we saw a bewildering number of smaller animals, too numerous to mention...

We were hoping to see some Elephants but they were being somewhat elusive, (as elusive as a 5 tonnes, 12 foot high animal can be), but as we headed back towards our campsite near sunset, we spotted a group of 3 Elephants in the low trees alongside the road. It was a magical moment to see these magnificent beasts up close, literally within feet of us, as they moved through the bushed and out across the road behind us.

Back to camp for another fine feast prepared by our guides and an early night was in order after a busy day.

The Namibian Safari – Heading North

The next day we packed all our stuff up early, and waited to be picked up for the first part of our 14 day Namibian Safari. At this point we were not sure whether we would be heading North or South first, but we soon found that we would be going north with 11 fellow travellers.

At first the Safari truck that would be our mobile home for the next week seemed cramped and uncomfortable, but our excitement helped us forget these things while we got to know our fellow travellers. The composition of our group was 2 French, 2 Aussies, 2 Americans, 2 Germans, a Swiss, a Brit and a Scotsman. Overall they are a good bunch of people, you know there will always be someone that is not quite in synch with everyone else, (*cough* The French).

Fiona had booked the Namibian portion of our travels and I had deliberately not looked at the itinerary, therefore everything that was coming up was a complete surprise, especially as I had absolutely no idea what to expect. We headed north out of Windhoek, past a few towns with names that were frankly unpronounceable, (eg. Okahandja), on the way to the first campsite of the journey at a place called Obokojima. The setting was spectacular, high on a ridge with views over a vast area of semi arid valley, covered in low bush with patches of the deep red African soil showing through. The toilet and showers at this site were open-sided which gave you an awesome uninterrupted view out across the valley when you used them. This would be even more fun when using the facilities after dark, but luckily there was going to be a quarter moon, which was plenty bright enough to see by. Our guides (Elias & Erastus) showed us how to erect the tents, made us lunch, and prepared us for our first game drive.

The campsite is on a piece of land that also houses an organisation called ‘AfriCat’, and we were going off to some of their saved animals. Firstly we had a very up close and personal meeting with Leopard called Wally as he was fed large pieces of Donkey meat, (apparently the cheapest meat in Namibia..!). It was stunning to be sitting no more than 10 feet from this amazing creature, while it prowled around the feeding enclosure and devoured it’s food. I have never been much into wildlife viewing, but this was something else. After 20 minutes with ‘Wally’ we then drove over to another enclosure to see 3 Cheetahs basking in the late afternoon sun. We were literally parked a couple of feet away from them as they lay in the grass, and even then they were difficult to see.

We got back to camp at sunset and sat and drank a few beers while the guide made our dinner, which was very tasty and plentiful. If today was a taste of what was to come then we in for a great trip.

Windhoek – Welcome to Namibia

We safely arrived in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, situated in the central plateau, neatly squeezed in between the Kalahari & Namib Deserts. Door-to-Door it took us nearly 43 hours to get here, (including 24 hours in flight), and the first thing we did was sleep for a few hours before dragging ourselves out of bed to eat, after which we went straight back to bed. The down side of travelling to the other side of the world is the jet-lag, and consequently I was awake again at 3:00am.

For our first night in Windhoek we stayed in a nice family run Guest House near the town centre, which apart from the obvious African furnishings, reminds me a lot of a typical Austrian ski chalet... After a very continental breakfast, we took a wander into town to see what was happening.

From the guidebooks I was expecting to find a sleepy little town, designed in a German architectural style, with churches and quaint coffee houses... What we found was a busy modern city, complete with high-rise hotels and office building, and the ubiquitous shopping centres. Imagine our surprise in finding Woolworths, KFC and even a Cash Convertors. Don’t get me wrong, there were still a few quaint old buildings with a heavy German influence, but Windhoek is a bustling little place, indicative of the progressive direction of Namibia as a whole.

We spent the day taking in a few of the more touristy sites, including the “Christchurch” church, (sounds familiar...?), Post Street Mall, and the Parliament buildings and gardens. We got back to the guesthouse in time to sit on the terrace, drink a few beers and watch the sun drop over the distant mountains.

For dinner, Fiona wanted to check out a place called “Joe’s Beerhouse”, which is pretty famous for its ‘Game’ menu. Now when I think of ‘Game’ I think of venison, duck, and pheasant, but here in Africa, ‘Game’ means the sort of animals I have only ever seen in the Zoo. So Fiona had a Gemsbok steak, (a type of antelope), and I had the Bushmans Kebab, which consisted of Crocodile, Ostrich, Gemsbok, Eland and one other exotic animal I can’t remember the name of. What a way to get a taste of Africa.

Still Alive...

Just to let you know that Fiona & I are still alive and having a great time, and we have almost finished the first part of our Namibian Safari. This is the first place I have found with a Wi-Fi connection, so I am quickly dpownloading my mail and posting this quick update. I expect to update the blog with details of our travels so far in the next few days.

All I will say for now is that Namibia is FANASTIC....

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 1 & Day 1.5 - Lounging Around

We are currently sitting in the South African Airways Business Class lounge waiting for our final connection to Windheok in Namibia. So far we have been travelling for 33 hours in total, and we are both felling pretty jaded and are looking forward to a soft bed tonight. Even though we have been travelling for so long, it's still only mid-morning the day after we left here in Johannesburg, so it feels like we have had an extra half a day given to us.

The journey on the whole has been quite comfortable. We had a spare seat on the flight out of Christchurch, and we have been making the most of our lounge access privileges, (I have just had a super hot shower..!) But it has not all been plain sailing. as I cocked up with the credit card I used to buy the tickets with being different to my newly re-issued card. We had some frantic calls back to the NZ Amex help line and some torturous conversations with the ticket desk staff, but finally we got it resolved. Thank God...

I will post something when we get settled in in Namibia.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Almost, but not quite.....

With work finished up and less than a week to go, we are almost ready to start the next World Cup Adventure.

Even though I'm gonna miss the team at AsureQuality, I was glad to finish up there with a few weeks to spare. I've needed a break from work for quite a while now, and you know what, I think that 66 days of travel, football, adventure and the more than occasional beer is just what I need...

So this is the point where I need to ask myself the age-old question I always ask at this point in proceedings.... Who do I think will win the World Cup...??

This time around, the chances for the host nation, South Africa, are pretty slim, in fact, I don't really give them much of a hope of getting past the Group stages. Having said that, you can never under-estimate the power of the home crowd advantage, so who knows how they will fair.

There are effectively only a few teams that have a realistic chance of making it all the way through to the Final stages, and if I was a betting man, (which I am), then my money would be on either Spain or Brazil taking the cup in 2010.

On current form you would have to fancy Spain's chances, with their recent European Championship, their strong club sides and their wealth of talented and skillful players playing around the world. But Spain don't have the greatest record in the World Cup, having imploded on more than one occasion, and rarely making the final stages. With this be their year...?

Anyone who counts out Brazil would be a fool.... Brazil are the archetypal tournament team, and regardless of their form leading up to the World Cup or recent performances, they always 'bring it' when it matters. I would expect them to sail through the group stages and secure at least a semi-final spot.

My bet for an outside chance would be Holland, it's about time they pulled something out of the bag, and lived up to their reputation.

As ever, I will continue my long suffering devotion to supporting England. Before every tournament they promise so much, and nearlyalways they deliver so little. Is 2010 going to be any different...? Fabio Capello has pulled together a strong squad that is more focused and prepared than for previous World Cups. I dunno,... I just can't quite see them pulling it off this year, but I can quite easily see them losing on penalties once again ain the later stages. I hope I am wrong...

But there is something to be positive about... This time around I will have the All Whites to root for, and even though they have only a fraction of the chance that Spain, Brazil or England have of getting through to the next round, it's gonna be fun regardless of what they achieve. If they can get a couple of wins in the group stages, and qualify for the next round, that will make me almost as happy as England winning the whole damm thing.

So Fiona & I will be heading off to Namibia next Tuesday for the start of this years adventure. With minimal wi-fi coverage in the desert, I suspect that posting to my blog may be sporadic for the first couple of weeks, but I will try and write something every couple of days even if I don't get to download it straight away...

I hope you will join us on the trip....

Steve & Fiona