I’m finally flexing my travel wings again.
Some of you will know that I had planned to visit South America in 2020. Thanks to Covid that didn’t happen and tragically my best friend & travelling buddy, William died during lock down in 2020.
So I have not had any appetite to travel since then. Until now.
I’m delighted to report that I am returning to Hokkaido in January 2024.
Another ‘snow’ experience and this one will be focused on snow landscapes.
My final post from the African Continent. This trip seems to have gone very quickly, we have packed a huge amount into our time here and have now run out of battery like worn out wind up toys. William commented today that our images have not been as good this past 2 weeks. Creativity is hard when you are tired.
Umm so can driving be... I have to fess up that I ran a red light today. William was saying red light red light and I thought yes I know and I am stopping at it. But what I didn't see or realise was that this intersection only had traffic lights on the furthest corners. Every other intersection I have ever seen in my life has traffic lights on both the near and far corners; and you stop at the line beside the near one. Driving here is certainly a test of stamina; there is often just too much clamouring for attention; the beggars walking through the traffic, a myriad of signs (often adverts obscuring traffic signs), the pot holes (some easily big enough to break axles), speed signs, traffic signals, other cars (sometimes doing something crazy), huge truck & trailer units & random animals.
One of the roads today was like driving a dodgem car - literally weaving, all over the road to avoid potholes. Not moaning just explaining how it is!
For the most part today was a long boring drive from the Golden Gate Park back to Pretoria. We had to return the rental car by 2pm so it was all about getting here on time. Even so we still managed to stop a couple of times to very quickly shoot something that caught our eye. Landscape photogs would be horrified at how quickly we managed to "snap out" a photo when the need arose.
Our insurance plan of leaving spare drives with our Namibian photos at the hotel to be collected today, paid off. Sod's Law seems to dictate that if you plan for an eventuality then it will not arise.
Throughout this trip it has always created amusement, and sometimes frustration, that the speed limit is reduced as soon as a bend appears in the road. This pic shows why… hundreds of kilometres of dead straight roads. A completely foreign concept to Kiwi drivers!
I will do a postscript when I get home because there is always something I have forgotten to say.
We have had a fantastic African adventure & are still speaking to each other.
I felt quite sad when we left Namibia but now, a further 2 weeks on I'm ready to get home. Next stop good old NZ, where the security people greet you with a smile and a "welcome home".
We managed to sort out a guide for a trip to Cathedral Cave this morning. As it's the low season and very quiet 5 people turned up; 2 senior guides, 1 in training and 2 young women who were sort of tag alongs. It was a great walk, took about 2 hours all up and was much more fun with the addition of the 3 young women. The cave itself was simply beautiful & I was so glad we made the effort to see it. There is a pool at the bottom and you can swim across it and climb a chain ladder to get to a second cave. But the water is absolutely freezing so we didn't. At one bit we had to climb a ladder of approx 10-15 feet which I found difficult as it was vertical. After being on the upper level we had the option of going back the same way or walking around the top for a bit and descending a longer ladder that was at more of an angle. I voted for the latter but it turned out to be 30 metres (William's estimate) and was in 3 sections, the last 2 vertical. And the gap between the sections was much larger than the rungs, so tough if you have short legs. I have to say the whole thing scared the life out of me. I did not dare look down but looking at the posts bolted into the rock was equally scary.
In the afternoon we drove 20km into Clarens for a look around. It's a gorgeous little town, touristy but quaint and quirky at the same time. Full of bars, cafes and art shops and has a lovely vibe. The rest of the afternoon was spent having a further look around the National Park.
We are both finding it a struggle to be creative now - this is our last photo day; tomorrow will be spent travelling back to Pretoria and we fly home the day after.
Got up before 1st light again to photograph the mountains in the dam at the bottom of the hill.
Afterwards we went to the visitors centre which is having it's roof rethatched. It was interesting to see the complexity, a pretty massive job requiring skilled workmen. The old thatch was tossed aside and women from the local village, Amazizi, were allowed to take the thatch for their own houses.
Today's gift & the absolute highlight of the SA leg of our journey was visiting a nearby rock art site. I never thought I would be in a position to view something like that with my own eyes. You have to have a guide because some cretins (using polite words here, when I don't really want to) have defaced the artefacts with graffiti and also ruined the drawings by putting water on the rock to "make the photos better". Some people should be shot, no question.
These drawings are 800 years old and under an overhanging rock which protects them from the weather. The San people were tiny, approx 4ft high so they stacked stones to build a kind of step ladder to be able to draw. Some of the drawings didn’t make much sense, according to Tabani, our Zulu guide, they were drawings done by the Shaman "under the influence". That's me paraphrasing. There are quite a few rock art sites in this region but they are not open to the public. Frankly I'm amazed that ANY are open to the cretinous public! We also saw some fossilised shells, impressive given that we are hundreds of kilometres from the sea. I keep looking at every overhang with fresh eyes - can't help it. Tabani said if we went for a hike and looked properly we'd probably find more.
It was very interesting talking to Tabani, he is not married and told us that the bride dowry price is 11 cows; more if the woman is beautiful and/or educated. If she has a child by another man it's 2 cows less. A cow costs NZD500 so it's a very steep price for a young man to pay especially given that jobs do not seem to pay that well & the village is fortunate to have access to jobs in the tourism industry.
I am very very glad we did not attempt the walk to Tugela Falls because apparently the falls are dry. Despite this area looking reasonably green to us, having come from the completely arid north, there has not been the usual amount of rain during the summer and incredibly, the 2nd highest falls in the world are dry.
After reasonably short drive and we are now at Golden Gate National Park. The drive took us through an area that was fascinating but the light was so hazy it was useless trying to photograph. There are many buttes and escarpments between Thendele and here, you can easily see that a lot were once volcanic plugs and being basalt stayed when everything else eroded away. Once we crossed into the Golden Gate Park the landscape changed again into really big rock landscapes that are quite difficult to make sense of in a photograph. The one spot I did want to try had 2 car loads of people just hanging about. That was enough, we did not even get out of the car. It probably would have been okay but we were well out numbered by big men and it was too much of a risk to take. Especially as we've been warned that people prey on tourists in rest areas & there is no way we look like locals
This afternoon we took the cameras for a walk near the hotel which ended up being an hour trek up to the base of a massif that towers over the hotel, along the bottom edge of it and down again. We also had to negotiate several stick ladders & bridges, up was ok, down is not. While we didn't see any baboons we could hear them and surprised several antelope, a couple of which I think might have been young Eland, given the shape of their horns. A fully grown adult male Eland stands 1.78m at the shoulder and I'm pretty sure these were not that big.
There were also pictures of Baboon, Giraffe & Elephant at one stage, before they were defaced.
Apart from getting up to shoot the sunrise, which, given we only had to stagger to the front door, was pretty easy, we had a relaxed start. There is a museum of rock art of the San (Bushman) people at Didima and it's extremely good. The San have lived in this area for 5,000 years and in southern Drakensburg for 10,000. A local farmer found a San hunting kit in 1926 which is on display and there are rock art sites near both Didima & Thendele. Both require a guide, and as Didima is a 3 hour walk that’s out, so we are hoping we might get to see the Thendele site tomorrow. The museum has photographs of the local San art plus replicated versions.
Our accommodation tonight is at Thendele Camp. It does not have a restaurant & is entirely self catering, so we had to stop again in Bergville to get some supplies. We also, after much hunting about, finally found a restaurant called Bingelela that Estelle, the lady I met in the supermarket yesterday, had told us about. It was lovely and we decided to have a big lunch and snack dinner instead of the other way around. Also got a gourmet pizza to go for dinner.
We have much bigger chalet than last night but the kitchen area smells of pickled onions, yuk. Oh well, pass it on… we'll add pizza to it for the next occupants. I guess its hard to adequately air out buildings when you have self catering and a baboon problem. Baboons mean that you cannot leave the windows open unless someone is there. Even although there are bars on the windows, the baboons are smart enough to send the little ones through - just like crims do with little kids.
Our view from the terrace is fantastic but the amphitheatre is slightly obstructed by a tree on one side, even so, we can go a bit further down the garden (in daylight anyway) and shoot easily from there. We want to shoot first light at the dam at the bottom of the hill but it's extremely windy tonight (the first time its been significantly windy the whole trip) so if that keeps up reflections will be impossible. I would love to see the Tugela Falls, reputed to the second highest in the world after the Angel Falls in Venezuela but it's way too far for me at 12 km AND you have to climb up a cliff via a chain ladder.
Photos taken at the Rock Art Museum
Leaving Harrismith we drove 3 or so hours to Didima Camp at Cathedral Peak. When we stopped at Bergville on the way to buy some water, I met a lady at the check out who was keen to talk. She introduced me to a character I had seen in the car park; sort of a tramp, sort of not. Turns out he is a local tribal chief but has adopted a semi homeless life style. Anyway, Goodman was more than happy to be photographed and I donated a few Rand as a thank you.
Cathedral Peak is an awe inspiring piece of mountainside. Our chalet is facing the mountain and there is no other chalets in front to spoil the view. I was going to have another try at star trails tonight but the lure of a massage & pedicure meant that I missed last light and so do not have the required day light shot to balance the star shots. Ok maybe tomorrow night!
As the mountain faces east sun set was not a viable option so we'll have to make an effort to crawl out of bed tomorrow to make the best of the view.
We went for a walk this afternoon, which is the reason most people come here, but the shortest hike turned out to be too long with a heavy camera pack on my back, hence the massage.
It turns out there is wifi here, but we are sitting in the dark outside the conference room to utilize it & it's too slow for my website provider.
So this was posted from a cafe on the road - expecting the next 3 days to be worse re wifi.
Got up at 5.30 to photograph the sunrise. It was hard crawling out of bed; we are into our 5th week now & the tiredness hit with a bang yesterday.
Today we drove from Bethal down to Harrismith. A special place to us, as a very dear friend of ours grew up here. You are constantly in our thoughts Liz.
We were only 15 minutes or so out of Bethal when we stopped for the first picture… Tutuka Power Station. It seemed quite menacing on the horizon and was the cause of a huge dirty brown stain in the sky that stretched for some kilometres.
I've mentioned the trucks before; we are travelling for the most part on narrow back roads that are usually full of pot holes & this morning they were also up & down roller coaster roads. The mining trucks are wide, high and tend to hog the centre line so seeing past them is difficult. This morning I passed one and caught up another trying to pass a slower goods truck. These are all truck + trailer units so 1 mining truck with it's nose up the tail pipe of another presented a bit of a challenge. The 1st truck caught us up as I was waiting to pass the next 2 and fortunately I managed it before he crimped into the space. So then I had the pleasure of watching 2 mining trucks in the mirror vying for the opportunity to pass the goods truck. Scary business.
We wanted to go for a walk a bit in the Platenburg Park which has a huge escarpment that over looks the town. It was closed as people were hunting eland in there today but the lovely man at the gate let us in for a few photos close to the gate.
When we'd finished he asked something that we interpreted as wanting money for doing us a favour... but no, it turned out that he couldn't leave until tomorrow morning and he gave William R200 (roughly NZD20) & wanted us to go to the Spar store down the road and get him some biscuits & a coke. We were happy to help him out but were somewhat gob smacked that an African man would trust complete strangers with his money. Anyway, we did the deed and also gave him some of our oranges which delighted him. It was really nice to be able to help him out and enjoy that small connection. The traveller's dilemma is that you need to be constantly on your guard here which means you have to brush aside people who approach you, as mostly they do not have good intentions in mind. If you do the polite Kiwi "no thanks" that's it; you are immediately marked by your accent as a target and are hounded for more info, as in; where are you from, how long are you here etc etc. Which, while seemingly polite, is usually just a prelude to gaining your trust or your money or otherwise causing you problems. But of course, the shame of it is, that you might be brushing off a genuine attempt to connect with a visitor - unfortunately there is no way of knowing. So moments when you can have a genuine conversation/connection with a local are special.
Apparently there is a reasonable restaurant here and it's closed for the weekend. Huh? The rest are Nandos, KFC, Steers & the like. Anyway, we are rather tired of protein heavy meals so we got some wine, salads & a couple of meat dishes from the Spar (think New World supermarket) & had a self catered dinner at our guest house. The whole meal, (for 2) including a nice shiraz, came to only NZ$18.
Oh and the air is clear again, no pollution in Harrismith!
We had earlyish start & drove to Bethal which is a reasonable sized town in the middle of a plain, it seems a largely agricultural area. Once we had left the Mpumalanga district is was a long boring drive, requiring the passing of a multitude of huge trucks.
The only excitement of the day was me getting a speeding ticket this morning on the outskirts of a small place called Sabie. A large mining truck/trailer unit waved me past as we hit the only straight patch for ages and it was downhill. Unfortunately as I was passing him the speed limit changed (signs obscured) and sure enough there was a speed trap awaiting at the bottom. Obviously a happy hunting ground for the traffic department. Bugger!
The traffic management systems here take some getting used to. The speed reduction signs usually go 100, 80, 60 all within about 250 metres so if you are travelling at 120 (which is the open road limit) you can be in the 80 or 60 zone before you even realise it. I'm usually a decelerate kind of driver rather than stand on the brakes but you don't get time to do that here. There are no give way signs or roundabouts, instead you will find 4 stop signs. Everyone stops and basically the first to arrive goes first then you all take turns; sounds easy but it can be very confusing, especially when there are vehicles turning across the traffic. To further complicate matters you'll be driving on a major road/main highway and suddenly face stop signs every time a side road joins the main road. SA drivers are like Kiwis; impatient and aggressive. We've seen some close calls.
As we move further south the smog pollution gets worse. You cannot see the horizon clearly, everything is a sort of pale tobacco colour. But there is an upside: the sunset was unbelievable. Usually photogs want clouds which colour up once the sun has dropped but in this case it was the sun itself. Check out the unedited image below. The only change I made was to remove a dot of white light in the foreground.
Tonight we are staying at a wedding/convention venue & wondered what the hell was going on when the GPS directed us down a road that turned into a building site. But sure enough at the end was an impressive gate and then a half mile dirt road and another even more impressive gate & we arrived. The upside is that it is very quiet ...& dark. The downside is that it was a mission to get out and find a restaurant. I'm rather baffled that 3 nights in a row we've been the only patrons at restaurants. Where is everyone?
Seeing as the axe murderer didn't get me in the night we had a relaxed start and went to the café at the Glass Lift for breakfast. There is a swing over the gorge near Graskop where they have built a lift to take you down the escarpment. This is a pic of a man cleaning/oiling the swing mechanism (or something). Harsh conditions for the phone camera to cope with.
We also dropped by the Berlin Falls but it wasn't as nice as Lisbon.
The rest of the day we reshot Burkes's pot holes although, as predicted, Sod's Law meant there was no fires today so we did not get a repeat of that lovely soft orange light and had to negotiate harsh conditions. I've only posted a couple of pix as most have been shot as a stack to cope with the lighting. For the ones below I waited until the shadow arrived to provide more even light. It's a fabulous place, quite hypnotic. We also went back to the canyon, nothing new to post there either. So, photographic results from today don’t really reflect the effort put in but I have plenty to work on when I get home. Funny things that happen when you are tired. Last night on the way back from the canyon we stopped on the side of the road in a big hurry to shoot a scene in fading light. I was bemoaning that I'd left my tripod in the car & William gave me the keys but as we were not supposed to be shooting by the side of the road I didn't go get it & stuffed the keys in my pocket. When we got back to the car William was frantically emptying every pocket and in failing light we were about to try & trace the route we'd taken & start searching through thigh high grass. At the last second I patted my pocket and there they were. Neither of us had any recollection of the key transfer as we were so intent of getting the shots we wanted and hightailing back into the car.
Obviously there are huge numbers of very poor people in this country. For the last 2 nights we've been approached for money as we get to our car after dinner. Tonight I asked the waitress about this man wanting to know whether he was genuinely hungry or looking for drug money. Her verdict was that he was hungry, so we ordered an extra dinner and took it out to him as we left. It was only a burger & chips but he was grateful.
Ok I need to fess up - I have been seriously creeped out by this place. William's room is off the front porch so I'm the only one staying actually inside the house, with 'the ladies'.
I don't know what it is, but this place is unsettling. I actually slept with the light on last night. I know... what a big sissy!
This morning we drove over to Pilgrim's Rest, an old gold mining town nearby. While the light was difficult for photos (too many shadows) I have made a few for the record. We had breakfast at the Royal Hotel & it was fabulous quite possibly the best breakfast we've had on the whole trip. They even had fresh scones with cream & jam - for breakfast. I couldn't waste an opportunity like that & they were delicious! So I had a 3 course brekkie for NZD10. We've been eating very big breakfasts and just having fresh oranges and some chocolate or an ice cream for lunch. The oranges were bought at the roadside about 2.5 kilos and cost NZD1.50.
Then we drove up to Bourke's Pot Holes. William spotted something on the way and we left the car on the roadside and walked down to the river to discover an amazing place full of huge, deep swimming holes and tons of waterfalls. I would have loved to have had a swim but didn't dare & we couldn't leave the car unattended for too long. On the way we saw a burn off; the bush is being cleared for planting pine trees, shame! The size of the fire was pretty large and the smoke cast an orange glow, blurring the sun slightly which helped soften the contrast. You need to shoot approx mid day as the pot holes are so deep they create dark shadows which causes all sort of exposure problems, so it's the first tine I've grateful for the burn off. Up until now we've been moaning about the dirty brown smudge on the horizon.
Finally we moved on to the 3 Rondavels and the Blyde River Canyon which are famous in these parts. By the time we got back to Graskop we'd been out 10.5 hours. So a quiet catch up night and a long long, hot shower is called for.
Tomorrow we have allowed time to reshoot the pot holes (if the light is as good) & also the canyon, a bit earlier to avoid encroaching shadows.
Arrived at our accommodation in Graskop. Ummm it's slightly weird, it feels like we are living in a Victorian time warp. The ladies who run this place are very nice & it's clean with plenty of hot water, but there is just too much lace & Victoriana for me. If there were dolls as well that'd push it well over the edge of creepy & I'd be moving out! We are booked here for 4 nights but have decided our drive to Harrismith on Saturday is too long, so have arranged to spend Friday night at a halfway point instead.
We spent the afternoon checking out the Lisbon Falls (better than expected) and God's window (not as good as expected). Will go exploring further north tomorrow.
We had dinner in a place recommended by "the ladies". OMG while not Victorian the time warp extended a few 100 years & landed in the 70's. The food was mediocre (actually that is being generous) & stodgy, but it was the ambience that cracked us up laughing. The music was a loop track of schmaltzy 70's romantics which rather embarrassingly, we knew quite a few of the words to. All in all it was a relief to escape.
Woke at 3.30am & the car arrived at 4.30 to take us to the airport.
I felt really sad to be leaving Namibia, we have made friends, and particularly enjoyed the company & humour of our guide, Shapaka and driver, Benson. In my experience Kiwis are usually made welcome because we treat people equally and most certainly not as servants. It's a bit of an eye opener watching how other cultures behave.
We managed to negotiate the train without problems, collected our rental car and drove to Lydenburg, arriving here just after 5pm.
It's been another very long day and a hard drive.
The place we are staying is brilliant; set in large grounds beside a river, the rooms are lovely and they have 3 dogs and 1 cat so pet cuddles have been appropriated. Room, dinner & brekkie for NZD80.
Some days we are just amazed at the prices.
Some thoughts on Namibia.
On the surface it looks like the country is steaming ahead with tourism, new roading projects and a new harbour being constructed at Walvis Bay. But probing a little deeper you realise that the investment is 95% or more Chinese and there is always a quid pro quo. All the mines are now controlled by the Chinese who bring in their own workers, and materials (even such things as cement & food) so the employment & supply situation is not benefitting Namibia at all. Nor do the Chinese companies pay tax and the government is now completely beholden to China.
It is very difficult for local people to get jobs; one of the young ATV drivers we met has a double degree, in business admin & psychology but is unable to get a job to fit his training. As in other countries, young people who cannot get work often turn to drugs, alcohol & the crime to fund it. You also have criminal elements arriving from SA to prey on tourists and poach animals, not just the endangered ones but meat in general like springbok or Oryx.
In general the people we have met are beautiful both physically and in personality. They generous & keen to see visitors have a good experience here. But there is a marked difference between our visit in 2011 and now. We are constantly warned about keeping safe, not advertising wealth by displaying phones, jewellery or cameras. People are shocked that we mad Kiwis want to walk to get somewhere; no no take a cab.
Also I cannot help but wonder about the animals that are under threat (thinking mainly elephant & rhino) and China being the direct market for those animal products. How will that conflict of interest pan out in the future?
I couldn't help but laugh when I heard Shapaka say 'hakuna matata'. I thought that just came from the movie the Lion King. But no it's a real phrase and is used.
Spitzkoppe is in the middle of the desert & reminiscent of Uluru & the Olgas area of Australia. We are camping at the base of a huge rock. I thought it was going to be glamping… oops not. Still, we have generator power for a few hours in the morning & evening (so lights in the tents then) and each have our own little bucket shower at the back door of the tent. The bucket hold 20 litres so in camping terms that's pretty good. The staff put hot water into it when you want a hot shower - but given that it's either very hot or incredibly hot I've just opted for cold. The loos are on a mobile trailer & flushed - albeit ink blue water. The catering has been superb & I've been eating far too much. We can walk all over here and are out before sunrise & back for breakfast at 8am. We are not able to do star trails here as we cannot leave our gear out all night as there are lots of other people wandering all over the park. The middle of the day is either dozing, editing images, or scouting out locations for the following night/morning shoot. Then it's back out around 4.45pm shoot sunset and then stars & back for dinner at 8pm. And then we've gone back out and photographed star scapes until 11.30/12. I initially posted some star scapes but they are very dark and need more editing than I have time for at present.
I don't know what the official temperature was but I'm guesstimating 38-40 during the middle of the day. I think I drank more water in one afternoon than I did in 3 days at Walvis bay.
William & I are back in Windhoek now. Power + wifi = happy people. The downside is that it's quite a hike to the shops & restaurants from here or a cab ride, so the on tap catering at the camp was good!
You cannot wander around the city with a camera around your neck like you can out in the desert. Even in Swakopmund a lady warned me to be careful. You really do forget how good we have it in NZ.
We are a bit trepidatious (I think that's a made up word) about travelling on our own in SA; I got our guide Shapaka to teach me some swear words in Afrikaans - it had the staff in fits of laughter. The plan is to speak familiarly like a local Afrikaner so people won't mark us as a soft tourist target. We have a rest day tomorrow to catch our breath and then it's off to the airport at 4.30am Monday. That will be a big day as we catch a train from JB airport to Pretoria and then pick up our rental. Then it's a bit of a dash to get to Lydenburg before dark. I have no idea what the wifi situ will be. Often these smaller B&B places advertise as having it, but it's often sporadic and difficult to actually get a connection (and stay connected).
These images are from Spitzkoppe...
I slipped out quickly after breakfast & found a small number of flamingos without their bums in the air...
And I also found a couple of sharp Oryx pictures that I didn't see before.
Back out this morning looking for flamingos... and returned to the hotel to find them immediately across the road... typical!
Lunch was at a restaurant highly recommended for its calamari. It was so excellent it has ruined calamari for me. Forever. Definitely the best I have ever tasted… so good I also had it for dinner as well. We are overdosing on fresh seafood here.
We drove to Swapkopmund for a look around this afternoon. A German town established around 1902, it still has quite a few of the old buildings... but I didn't feel like photographing them today. We spent a bit of time at the beach, which has a very cool jetty with a restaurant at the end that we had dinner in. It's a lovely beach but the waves were vicious, I imagine there would be quite a few rescues during the summer. I saw one family playing about in the water and just kept watching, waiting for the inevitable. Sure enough - they got wet.
We are heading back inland tomorrow, so it'll be back to eating Oryx and Springbok I imagine. I'll also be off the grid again for a couple or 3 days as we are camping/glamping at Spitzkoppe.
Today we started out trying to creep up on flamingos in the wetlands before light. Failed.
Then we realised that we'd stuffed our dates up and were meant to be on a full day tour… oops. So rushed on over and began the rest of the day sans breakfast. Fortunately I had seasickness pills in my bag. A boat took us out onto the lagoon to see pelicans and seals. Clearly the wildlife understand exactly how these tours work; a seal kept following us and trying to climb in the back of the boat. So the captain just revved up the motors and burned him off. Johannes the deck hand had a big bucket of sardines and started whistling and before I knew it these 2 big pelicans arrived & plonked down onto the roof of the boat. One biffing me with a wing on the way in (I was up top). Johannes fed the pelicans by hand but was also trying to get them to fly alongside so we could photograph them. Partially successful. But it was a long morning, eventually they took us to a part of the land spit that had a big tent set up… we had the most beautiful picnic lunch that started with mimosas (what the Brits call Buck's Fizz) and oysters (passed on that) and there was copious wine. I had to start with a hot coffee though to warm up after the boat, and yes no breakfast & then mimosas. The inevitable happened! It was a great lunch. They also had a toilet tent (well 3 sided canvas shield away from the party tent) complete with a little tripod holding a leather basin hand wash. They'd thought of everything. I must admit when we passed the tent in the boat I thought it was being set up for a wedding.
Then we jumped into ATVs, OMG, it was soooo much fun. William & I climbed up the side of a dune early on - just to prove the old farts could do it. It also mitigated the wine consumed with lunch! We went hooning up and down dunes, brilliant. We rotated seats at one bit so I was in the front and I can tell you going down the drop side of a dune is just like being on top of a roller coaster drop. Not as fast though, coz you have to ease the truck slowly until the point you can safely take the brake off. It seemed impossibly steep but at one bit the 3 trucks lined up and went over the drop side by side so I was able to see that the angle actually isn't that great. Our driver said the maximum angle is 36 degrees (feels way bigger than that though.) The downside was that the wind was blowing by mid afternoon and it was rather difficult taking photos while you are eating sand. We had left the hotel at 6.15am and walked back in just after 6.30pm; there was sand in my pockets, boots, hair, ears, teeth - basically just everywhere. I opted for a long soak in the bath and room service.
I don’t know what it is about travelling but I seem to have jinx problems; the website is having security issues (god knows what or why) and I couldn't get access to the blog for most of yesterday afternoon. A camera is playing up & a lens seems to be temperamental. Even my compass is telling me that I'm looking east when I am watching the setting sun. Utterly fed up with it all today.
I have coined a phrase: Traveller's Dementia (or Traveller's Syndrome) perhaps. It seems to hit you after a couple of weeks. You lose things… frequently, very frequently. You can lose something that you had 5 minutes ago, or yesterday and you spend an inordinate amount of time (that you do not have) looking for said object. Everyone does it and it drives you crazy. My spare hand sanitiser is the case in point: had it when I left home & couldn't find it. Then I found it again 3 days ago & put it somewhere safe… now I cannot find it again. Everything that can go wrong, will go wrong.
The hotel In Walvis Bay is lovely I have a large room facing the sea front, with a huge bath and I can see flamingos from my balcony.
It was 5 hour fairly boring drive from Sossus to Walvis Bay. I suspect the temperature is around 22 degrees here but after 36-38 it feels freezing & certainly cold enough to enjoy a hot bath rather than every shower being cold and still not cold enough.
Hah - be careful what you wish for!
It was a terrible road, even for from someone used to unsealed roads in NZ. The speed limit here is 120 on the open road regardless whether it is tar sealed or not. Although no one polices it so everyone basically does whatever they want. We nearly went air borne a couple of times today. Our driver is a former long distance truckie who thinks the bus is too small and has designs on a Formula 1 career. Great bloke though - he is the one teaching me Herero.
We stopped at Solitare in the middle of the desert, a place supposedly famous for its old wrecked cars and it's apple pie. We never got to sample the apple pie in 2011 so I had some for you Pete, have to say it was pretty average though. These photos are to remind you.
I had an itchy shutter finger after having a break yesterday afternoon & evening so I was trying to capture the colours of Africa shooting out of the window as we shot past. Not recommended but it's enough to capture flavour as you travel through. Big blue sky, often flat to the horizon in all four directions & the colours range from ochre, brown, beige, sand, orange, yellow, red & gold. Amazing country, very beautiful but also very harsh.
Arrived in Deadvlei to retrieve the gear and I was over the moon to discover that yes I got the traverse of the milky way. Finally. I didn’t bother trying to do star trails last night - it’s a bit tricky trying to do starscapes and star trails with only 1 tripod.
We've been having a picnic breakfast at the dunes (under a tree) and usually get back to the camp around 11.30/12. But today we blew a tyre approx 45 min from the lodge. The driver was amazing, no skidding, he wrangled that truck beautifully. But that’s where the drama began. The truck had just come back from being serviced and some of the tools were missing. Long story short, the jack wouldn’t work initially (dust/sand gets into everything) so it needed to be oiled and wrestled with, the truck fell off the jack while someone was underneath and it was all looking quite dire until a former employee of the lodge went past with a truck load of guests & came to help. He had it all sorted out very quickly and we were underway again in an hour (from when he arrived). Typically these things happen right where there is no cell coverage.
I was quite concerned; had it happened last night; there was no vehicle traffic because the park gates were closed, no radio, one of the spare tyres had an ominous looking bulge in it (they used the other one), and no way of summoning help. Hopefully someone at the lodge would have realised we were missing. Welcome to Africa.
I was having a shower and washing my hair - I can look out across my veranda to the view and saw an Oryx wandering past 20 metres away, the things you see!
Decided not to attend this afternoons programme of a walk in the dunes for the sunset. It's considerably hotter than yesterday so I'm picking probably 38 degrees - we had to stand in the heat for 90 minutes while the truck being sorted and I've had enough for today. Each chalet has a solar water heater and my water tank is boiling over. The shower grate allows grey water to be collected - every drop of water is recycled in Namibia. My feet are so fat I cannot get my sneakers on. Although tramping boots are way better in the sand anyway, even if you do bring a bootful home with you.
Some useless info for you:
Namibia has the highest dunes in the world and the biggest is Big Daddy standing at 345metres. Egypt's dunes are around the 200m level. The dunes are growing, some quite rapidly. It was incredible the number of people who were climbing Big Daddy this morning, especially as they will be up there in the heat of the day coz they don't reach the dune & start climbing until approx 8am.
Going to sleep tonight listening to the jackals howling… how cool is that !
Up at 4am again, we leave for Deadvlei at 4.50am (every morning).
So, I don't think I have explained yet that we are staying within the National Park at Sossus. The privilege for doing so, is that we do not have to exit the park gate by sundown like everyone else.
It is 60 kilometres from the gate to the end of the tar sealed road so that takes an hour and then there is a further 20-25 min of bouncy, rough sand road to the beginning of the walk through/over low dunes. Then you walk 1.5k to the vlei. That is why we leave so early to be in place well before first light. There is absolutely no light or light pollution and for the last 2 nights there has been no moon. But that time provides the best walk as it's cool.
For those who don't know, Deadvlei is a pan encircled by dunes & was originally under water. When the water evaporated over millennia, the mud at the bottom turned into a chalky concrete like substance. The trees have long since died and are still standing, completely preserved in the hot, dry air. It's a mecca for photographers and tourists alike. So we have (another) special permit to be allowed into Deadvlei while it's still pitch black & well ahead of the tourist pack. This allows us to leave the gear overnight and either do star trails or milky way landscapes. Of course we couldn’t last night because of the chopper trip so we'll be out late again tonight. Despite my best intentions I never seem to get to bed before 11pm. Now you'll understand why I laugh when people say have a good holiday!
Today we have trekked into Deadvlei in the cool dark; out at again around 9.30 in the heat. In the afternoon we went back around 4.30 when it was very hot, 36 degrees, & set up for evening, twilight & night shots and then trekked out again in the cool.
When we arrived back at the car park around 8.30pm, Hosta (our driver/guide while at Sossus) had set up a beautiful picnic dinner, complete with camp chairs & huge coolers for the food & wine. The picnic table was ringed by lanterns. A very simple but beautiful affect created but putting some sand into paper sacks and standing a candle in it. Cheap, easy & lovely lanterns. Sorry I can't provide a photo because the gear was all set up for night shots in the vlei. While I run 2 cameras I only have 1 tripod!
Hosta had even brought vodka tonics for William & I (I've got him hooked on them now).
So there we were enjoying a drink and chat & this cute little mouse arrived. A little desert mouse with huge eyes, honey coloured coat and long thin webbed feet. He was extremely cheeky running under our chairs and over our feet looking for food, all was well until he decided to climb up the side of someone's wine glass and then up the inside of my trouser leg, I think I jumped about 3 feet in the air. I dropped half a grape for him, he picked it up and took off probably couldn't believe his luck.
There is a warning in our chalets not to feed the baboons. Ok. (Not that I would anyway.) but I'd not seen any… and to keep windows and doors closed at all times. Hmmm. No air con. While this is a top class sort of eco type accommodation, it's also quite rustic. The last time we were here in 2011 there was no problem with baboons, but it's very difficult coping with 36 degree heat when your room feels like a furnace. Fortunately baboons are only a problem in daytime, they are like humans and sleep at night so you can leave the windows open then.
I heard a story from one of the people here that last year some top brass in the Dutch military was here and ignored the warnings to close windows and secure doors... his room was utterly trashed and all the belongings in it; camera gear the whole works.
We are now at Sossus.
William & I had a 2 hour helicopter flight over the dunes to the sea. Utterly fantastic. The doors were taken off to allow freedom to photograph. The wind buffeting was incredible. When William leaned across to take a photo out of my side the wind rushed where he had been sitting & it felt like I was being pushed out of the cabin. It was much much harder to shoot than I had expected. The camera lens was juddering fiercely in the wind and while the pix of the dunes are probably ok (not had time to look at time of writing) we found a couple of groups of Oryx and one was on the top of a dune. Unfortunately all those images are not sharp. They look ok-ish on the screen at 72dpi but I wont be able to do anything else with them. A wise photographer (a woman, of course) said to me some years ago, Anne, some pictures you have to take in your heart.
We were completely exhausted when we finished and my face felt like I had been repeatedly slapped just from the wind. I must admit to being a tad nervous and made sure that nothing, absolutely nothing could come loose and fly into the rotor. Every one in the helicopter business is very aware of that awful accident in NZ.
We had a special permit to be at Kolmanskop before 7am so were able to get a couple of hours in before the tourists arrived. Luderitz, the nearest habitable town, is on the coast & experiences a lot of sea fog so Kolmanskop was well engulfed when we arrived. My initial thought was oh no - but once I had shot the first few frames I realised the light was soft & beautiful. You didn't have to cope with the harsh shadows and hot spots of a bright sunny day. The sun was out by 10am but I was able to reshoot most of yesterdays images. I began at 7am and literally did not stop until after 12 - I was absolutely shattered.
After a really good lunch at the café on site, we drove to Helmeringhausen. The roads here are amazing, 60-70 kilometres before you get a bend, with pink and gold sandy desert on either side. I spotted an abandoned house the other day that remanded me of a Graeme Sydney painting so we stopped on the way out to quickly photograph it.
Hey Pete! do you remember that small village with the straw bale people? We stopped there for coffee and cake (or something) back in 2011. Well, we are staying at that very same place.
We continue tomorrow to Sossus Dune Camp and William & I have a helicopter ride across the dunes to the sea… really looking forward to that.
This morning was a repeat of yesterday - right down to the fact that I woke again at 4.30am. I've not used chemical assistance to sleep the last 2 days so that probably explains it. I found it much easier getting back to my camera in the dark this morning… but when I got there I realised that I had made a mistake with the timings and set the exposure for 40 min instead of 4 min. Oops. So that kind of ruined the morning for me. I'm pretty tired so the brain is functioning poorly. Anyway I shot the pre dawn and sunrise; the milky way was right above my camera this morning but let me tell you; using a wide angle lens to gather in a tree and the angle of the milky way above instead of in front of it means you have to be something of a contortionist to view the results on the back of the camera which is approx 2 feet off the ground. The viewing is a necessity to be able to adjust the settings and do it all again. My back will just not accept much of that so this morning was rather difficult & I was not impressed with my images. We left Keetmanshoop around 10am and drove to Luderitz on the coast stopping to spend the afternoon at Kolmanskop, today's gift. One word...awesome. If you are a photographer you'll know what I mean… if not you'll just have to accept my word for it that photogs love capturing old ruined things. Kolmanskop was a mining town that was abandoned around 1920 something. The sand is slowly but relentlessly reclaiming the town. Stomping around carrying my pack and stooping to photograph the sand filled rooms after this mornings shoot means that I'm totally wrecked tonight.
Our accommodation tonight is a hotel beside the sea… somewhat more salubrious than the farm that’s for sure. And we have Wifi. The water & rocks are immediately below my balcony so I have my sliding door open and I am listening to the seagulls (even though it's dark) and the thundering waves as I type.