Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dear Family & Friends,
Hello from Swapokmund, Namibia. The internet here is slow and funny and I don't have a lot of time so this might be an inferior attempt. Actually, this is only the second internet place we have had available in a week and when we went to the first one, in Springbok, South Africa, we couldn't get on there because of the rolling blackouts from the electrical company!
We are now on the second tour, which started from Capetown last Wednesday. There are 16 people in this group: 7 Canadians, 4 Americans, 1 Italian, and 4 English. All are pleasant and we have been having fun with them. Our new tour leader, Johan, is South African and kind of rigid but a good leader and we have been learning a lot from him. We spent one day and night in northern South Africa, at Lambert's Bay, where there is a huge breeding colony of gannets - large sea birds with very blue eyes. The guesthouse we stayed in there was really nice, and we had a good seafood dinner in town too. The next morning we had to get packed and dressed in the dark because the electricity was off for 2 hours, but our hostess still managed to prepare a very good breakfast.
The next day we proceeded across the border into Namibia, and the border crossing was not difficult. This is a very dry and arid country so when we pulled into our lodgings for the second night, we were pleasantly surprised by the greenery, as we stayed in thatched huts along the Orange River. They had every amenity and were very comfy. We saw a GAP tours overland camping vehicle there so we went over to look at it. These vehicles are built very high and although they look comfortable, they aren't air conditioned, which is a major deal here in a desert country where even now in autumn, it is very hot. Parts of Namibia are very desolate and parts are covered with drying grass after all the rain of the past few months. The rainy season has just ended. As we drive along, we sometimes see game animals, especially springbok, oryx, and ostrich. Driving here reminds me of the outback in Australia, because there are great huge areas with nothing and then we stop at a roadhouse. Here there are gas pumps, usually a small shop, bar, hotel, restaurant and toilets. Then we proceed on and there are more long, desolate roads. So far about 80% of the roads have been gravel. At one roadhouse the lady there showed us her pets: 2 rock dassies, which we had already seen in South Africa. Elaine thinks they are just big rodents, but actually their closest relatives are elephants.
Our second day in Namibia we went to the Fish River Canyon, which they claim is the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon. It is very dry, even down at the river area, because it is dammed further upstream. Our guide kept warning us about snakes and on the road we passed a spitting cobra. We also stopped to look at huge nests in some of the trees made by birds called social weavers. The biggest nests might have up to 800 birds in them. That night we had our worst accommodation so far - a lodge outside the town of Aus, where we had 2 dormitories. It was located in a canyon 7 km from the hotel, but some of our group decided to stay at the hotel for an extra charge. The rest of us went to the lodge and basically had a giant slumber party. We spent the evening around the lodge table, drinking wine and getting to know each other better and it turned out to be really fun.
The next evening we stayed at the Nubia Game Ranch which was run by a very nice family. We each had our own thatched huts with nice bathrooms and wonderful views across savanna grasslands to the nearby colorful mountains. The owner took us on a free game drive in his open air truck on his property, ending with what they call Sundowners - cocktails while watching the sunset. We saw springboks and zebras and some birds. The food there was wonderful and they sent a really good packed breakfast with us the next day because we had to leave so early. We learned a lot about the area and the difficulties of living in such a remote place as we chatted with this man and his son. As we were driving out, our bus got stuck in the sandy riverbed we had to cross and the guy used his unimog truck to pull us out.
From there we drove to an area called Sossuvlei where there are many miles of big red sand dunes. Luckily they only allow people to climb one of them, and most of our group did it. We only went part way because I didn't want to stress my knee again. After the others got back, we drove to another area where we had to take 4 wheel drive vehicles through a really pretty part of the desert where there were even lots of trees and wildflowers, ending at a place where we hiked to a salt pan. This had been an inland sea and now is dry and there are lots of skeletons of old trees. Our last hike was supposed to be in an area where there was a canyon leading to a waterfall, but there was too much water in the canyon for our hike. While we were driving around this area, we stopped to see three oryx who were fairly near the road. Then we noticed a small cat that was trying to creep up on them. Our guide thought it was a juvenile leopard and he hustled us back on the bus because he was afraid the mother was nearby. Turns out that it was an African wildcat and not a small leopard at all. The ranger said that this cat is usually sighted very rarely - maybe once in 20 years or so!
After all the heat of the desert and the hiking, we were very happy to arrive at the Namib Desert Lodge where there were 2 swimming pools and we had really nice rooms and a delicious buffet dinner that night. Elaine and I sat on our veranda, having a before dinner drink, and looking across the savanna right in front of us it reminded us of the camping scene in "Out of Africa". All we needed was the fabulous music.
The next day we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on our way here to Swakopmund. This is a very German town and we are enjoying the infrastructure. Also, it is on the coast, so the temperature is much cooler. In fact today the fog never dissipated so it was overcast all day. Lots of our group went sand boarding and quad riding on the nearby dunes and they said it was sunny out there. Four of the guys went fishing and some others were supposed to take a scenic flight. We just walked the town, did our laundry, got a haircut, and enjoyed the down time. There is a lot of mining in this area. The Kristall Gallery in town is loaded with wonderful gems and crystals and we spent some time drooling over them. Tomorrow we head further north towards Etosha National Park where we hope to see lots more animals.
No doubt there will be no internet places until we arrive in Windhoek in 5 days. Until then, sending big hugs to you all.
Love, Mary & Elaine


Laura said...

I miss you two so much....
Take care, Love, Laura

Jerry and Nancy said...

Your stories are fantastic. The animal sitings must be exciting, and the food evens sounds fabulous. Enjoy....
Nancy and Jerry

CaliforniaGrammy said...

Oh my, I can see the smiles on your faces as you sip your wine and watch the sun set. And the animals you've seen - you really must be stoked!

TravelingGrammy said...

So, will you have a"show & tell" like you did after the Panama Canal trip? I really enjoyed that! Can't wait for the pix...Hugs, Pat AKA travelinggrammy