Saturday, November 6, 2010

Africa - Acacia Overland Tour

In this part of our blog I am going to combine most of the rest of my journeys through Africa in only one post so it might be a tad bit long. It is only fitting to do so because we would be crossing all of Southern Africa on a safari truck with 19 other people traveling through some of the outer most inaccessible wildlife areas all the way down to Cape Town, South Africa where the tour would finally end. Our three-week whirlwind tour of the southern part of Africa started in Livingston, Zambia. Our plane from Zanzibar landed in Lusaka, Zambia. From there we had to jump on a bus to get to Livingston, as there are no direct flights to Livingston. The only way to get to Livingston via plane is to take a twin engine prop plane from Lusaka. That proved to be way too expensive for our poor pockets so we opted for the bus ride instead. We ended up staying the night in Lusaka because we did not feel like hopping on a 6-hour bus ride in the middle of the night after a 6-hour plane ride from Zanzibar. Quite frankly, I was starting to tire a bit with the long transition phases we had been going through over the course of our journeys. So instead we would stay in Lusaka and get a decent dinner, have a good night's sleep, eat a hearty breakfast early the next morning and then hop on a bus to Livingston. We had decided to just shop around for a hostel when we got to Livingston instead of booking ahead this time around mainly because we were just too tired to book it ahead of time and we just figured that we would only be there for a couple of nights so it didn't really matter where we slept, just so long as there was a decent bed and a hot shower waiting for us. This proved to be slightly bad planning on our part. To our surprise, all of the most well known hostels (i.e. the ones without rats and bed bugs) in town were all booked up for the night we wanted to stay there. Apparently, Livingston is a huge transportation hub (Union Square if you will) for all sorts of travelers going north, south, east or west. All for one very big reason: Everyone is looking to get a glimpse of one of the seven natural wonders of the world "Victoria Falls". Lucky for us one of the hostels "The Jolly Boys" had just built another one right on the edge of town and they had a room for us. So we would shack up there for the night. After situating ourselves and getting acquainted with our new temporary home we headed off into town to grab a bite to eat and explore a bit. Livingston is a small town by any comparison so it was easy to navigate it by foot. Even though we were on the edge of town it was only about a 15 to 20 minute walk to the center. We went to a local favorite coffee shop and had a couple of capuchin’s and a pastry. While meandering the streets we saw what appeared to be an Acacia truck. The one that would be taking us all across Africa with nineteen other people on board. They were washing it and doing routine maintenance on it as if to be prepping it for a long journey. We thought to ourselves that surely this must be our truck. But it could have been anyone's truck as there are anywhere between 10 to 20 groups that are loading up in Livingston on any given day going who the hell knows where. But it was nice to actually see the very large mobile home we would be traveling in for the next 21 days or so.

Since we were not totally prepared for the upcoming trip we decided walk around to check some stores for some necessary camping equipment we would need for our journey. We would need a proper sleeping bag, a headlamp and some warm thermal undergarments for the often very cold nights that we would be spending out on the African savannah. The sleeping bag we knew we would have to buy because we were not about to carry that thing all across India and Southeast Asia. But the headlamp and warm thermals were items that I had forgotten to bring with me. Well, sort of. Somewhere between preparing for the trip and packing my bag before even leaving LA, I somehow managed to misplace one stack of travel clothes in the pile to be stored away in our long-term storage unit. I had a few travel shirts, shorts and socks in there and most importantly, my thermal underwear!! As they say, "haste makes waste". So we roamed a few blocks looking for a store that might have sleeping bags for sale but came up empty every time. I thought to myself, surely there is at least one store in town that sells sleeping bags? I mean, for crying out loud this is Livingston, Zambia. The launching point for people looking to do super long excursions out into the wilds of Africa. After a mild tad of frustration I began to ask some of the local shop owners if they could point us to a store that sold camping equipment. After a couple of dead end suggestions and wild goose chases we decided to throw in the towel and just ask our hostel and our tour guide that we would be meeting the next morning for a proper suggestion. So we headed back to the hostel for some much needed rest and hopefully an answer to our questions. Back at the hostel, I noticed in their lobby (basically a quick mini shop) that they sold camping equipment themselves. They had tents for sale, batteries, rain jackets, towels, soap, etc. Goodie! For a brief moment a smile came to my face. Surely they had sleeping bags for sale as well. So I asked them. Of course, they did not. What? Seriously? @#$%^%%^!! $%. As if that wasn't bad enough, to my amazement they also told us that they did not know of any place in town that sold sleeping bags. At this stage I had all but given up on the idea of acquiring a sleeping bag before we would head off the next day. Our last hope would be our tour guide. Maybe she had some extras in the truck for people stuck in our situation. Surely she had encountered other travelers before who had the very same issues and had packed away a few extras for just such a situation? So after calming down a bit I decided to just let it go and hopefully somehow by some stroke of good luck we would come across a sleeping bag tomorrow before we left. So I had a couple beers to calm me down and watched a little bit of the world cup game that happened to be going on that day.

That night we went out for a nice quite dinner and went to bed early to prepare for our big day tomorrow. After breakfast we headed to the hotel that we would be briefed and meet our fellow travelers before we embarked on our journey in two days time. After introductions our brand new travel guide briefed us on what to expect for the next 21 days. We would be randomly assigned to groups. Group A, B, C, D and E. This served two purposes: 1) It would prevent people traveling in large numbers from trying to build their own little subgroups or legions (kind of like on survivor) and 2) maybe allow some people that might be traveling alone to more easily be accepted by their new friends. After all, we would all be spending every waking moment together roaming the most remote regions of the southern African savannah in this very cramped truck for three long weeks! We would soon learn that this would do little to keep alliances from being built. This is of course inevitable in these kinds of circumstances. In any situation that you cram people together for long periods of time in which they are going to be in each other’s personal space all day long it becomes a little bit of a Big Brother episode or as I said earlier a mini version of Survivor. That's the best way I can describe it. So I was assigned to Group A and Katie was of course assigned to another group. Can't remember which one. In my group were two people from the UK, one person from Canada, and one person from Mexico, and one person from the US, me. One big happy group well diversified, well represented globally and ethnically or so we thought. After getting acquainted a bit we were told that each group would be assigned a chore to do every day whilst on the trip and that we should just work it out amongst us who would do what part. Yea, right. Katie and I knew before we even got to Livingston that there would be some drama that would occur on this trip. I had read some reviews on Tripadvisor of other people that had done this exact trip. After reading a few entries from different travelers and getting their opinions it soon became apparent that the worst thing, if there was any bad thing to the upcoming journey, would be some small bickering about who was not doing their part of the chores and that this would be the biggest ongoing issue on the trip. Oh well, who doesn't like a little bit of drama? Otherwise, it would be just plain boring, right? So we signed our life away and gave them our money without any hesitation. Chores would be broken out into the following categories: the cooking team, the washing dishes team, the cleaning the truck team, and last but no least the loading and unloading the truck team. Each team would have a day off each week by default of limited chore duties. As for the setting up and breaking down of the two man tents every single night, each couple or twosome was expected to perform that duty all on their own. If you slept out in the cold and were found the next morning with your ass frozen in mid air then it was your own fault for not preparing properly. So after being briefed I relayed our sleeping bag situation to our tour guide. She expressed her condolences and courteously said "I have no extras for you but we will have about an hour and a half of free time the day after tomorrow in town before we leave so you can just buy one there if you want". Great, here we go again! So after advising her of our failed outing to acquire a sleeping bag the prior day she said she would see what she could do and get back to us tomorrow when we would see her the following night. So after the briefing we were basically given the rest of the day and the following day to doodle around town and do some activities on our own if we wanted to before we would embark on our trip. She gave us a list of the most common activities to do to pass the time in Livingston. Just to name a few: Fly in an ultralight or helicopter or air balloon over Victoria Falls, rafting or fishing on the Zambezi river, bunji jump or do a canyon swing over the falls, ziplining, hiking, or visit some of the local villages. The choice for me was obvious. I would go bunji jumping tomorrow. Katie was all in as well. I have always wanted to go bunji jumping I just never found the right opportunity to do it. Plus, truth be told, I was always a bit too chicken to do so in the past. Well here was the perfect opportunity to face my fear of heights and I wasn't about to pass it up this time. After consorting with a couple other of our new friends that would be traveling with us we all decided that we were going to do it. No backing out no matter what. So there would be four of us that would brave the mighty Victoria Falls with nothing but a rubber string tied to our feet and would be diving head first 140+ meters down into the roaring falls. This was enough to put my stomach in knots and feel queasy for the rest of the day. I tried not to think about it but all efforts would be futile. I would not sleep much that night because I was so wound up. It's like your life flashes before you for a brief minute. What if I don't survive the jump? What if the rope breaks and I fall 200 meters to a watery grave? All these crazy thoughts go racing through your head. That night was one of the longest nights of the entire trip for me.

Finally, after a wait that felt like a millennium it was time to wake up and face my fears. After picking up our friends at their hostel we headed for the jump spot. We thought about getting some breakfast first but we decided against it just for insurance purposes. Besides, I was way too wired to be thinking of food. On arrival to the jump site we were sat down and briefed on what our options were. There were three options: You could do a bunji jump, a canyon swing or a zipline across the waterfalls or if you wanted to you could buy the package deal and do all three. Now here is the interesting thing. The bunji jump or the swing would cost around $135 to do by itself. But if you wanted to do all three it would only cost $5 more. What? Only five dollars more? How the hell does that make any sense? Obviously there is a catch, but what is it? So we all huddled up and decided that we would take the blue light special and do all three and ask questions later. What the hell, you only live once. After being briefed we were given a slew of paperwork to sign, which basically stated that they were in no way, shape or form responsible for anything that might happen to us. So we all signed our life away with no hesitation whatsoever. Then we were all led to the jump site. Upon arrival my heart starting racing. It was an ominous site. Here I was standing directly above the most powerful awe-inspiring waterfall in the entire world. Naturally, that is why it is called one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The view was magnificent. It felt like you could see all the way across Africa. The water fell with so much power that there was a mist that rose from the bottom all the way back to the top of the falls. You can actually see the mist from about a mile away on a clear day. Crazy! This of course did nothing but create more knots in my stomach. As if I didn't have enough knots already. Now it was just a matter of hurry up and wait your turn. We were some of the first jumpers to arrive that day. Lucky for me I was able to see a few people go first and get an idea of what it would be like or so I thought. After seeing their faces go pale before their jump it just made me even more nervous. Great, can we just get it over with please!! Finally, it was our turn. We would do the bunji jump first and then the canyon swing and then the zipline. I had decided that we would play rock, paper, and scissors to see who would have to brave the jump first. To my shock one of our other team members (Thank you Caitlan) decided she would go first and get it over with. I would go second. So as Caitlan dove to an unknown destination, I would be suited up. I would never see Caitlan again until I myself made the jump. It takes much longer to climb back up to the top of the bridge than the 30-second dive. Before actually executing the dive you are given the opportunity to do a brief shoot on a video camcorder that one of the dive crew members just so happened to have handy. As he put it: "Any last words for your friends and family?" Did he have to actually put it that way? So after giving my last will and testament, I jumped with eyes wide open. It's like being led to the guillotine only you get to live to tell about it in the end. It was the most exhilarating feat I have ever done. Such a mad rush! Nothing has come close to comparing to it. At least not yet, anyway. So after hanging upside down for about 5 minutes or so one of the dive crew guys came down to rescue me. He latched on to me and took me back up to the bottom of the bridge. I would have to climb up the stairs to get back to the top of the bridge. After reaching the top of the bridge we would all tell our stories of what it felt like. After calming down a bit I soon realized that I would have to do it all over again: The canyon swing. What? Not again? But it took me forever just to get the nerve to do it the first time. So we regrouped took a deep breath and lined up for our next jump. This time, only three of us would be doing the jump. Caitlan decided after the first jump that she would have no more. She was done for the day. Then it finally hit me. This is why they offer the package deal for only $5 more. If you feel like you have had enough, you can just opt out of the other jump it you so choose and you only loose a few bucks. Brilliant! Apparently, lots of people do this so they end up making a tiny profit anyway. So it is a win win situation for everybody. So I suited up again and took a couple deep breaths and for a second time dove to the depths of Victoria Falls screaming all the way down. It is still hard for me to believe to this day that I actually jumped off that bridge, not once but twice! After resting a bit longer after the second jump we headed off to the zipline. This would be a walk in the park after freefalling for over 140 meters. The zipline turned out to be a nice little ride across the gorge and right over the falls with a bird’s eye view of the falls right below. A perfect ending to a great day of adventure. Don't know if I will ever bunji jump again, but never say never.

With our blood racing through our veins and slightly lightheaded we headed back to base camp to wind down a bit and tell each other more stories about what we just did and finally get some food in our bellies. That night we had an option of going on a riverboat "booze cruise " with other groups heading out on their trips the next morning that were staying at this same hotel or go to a reputable restaurant for dinner with other team members. We chose the booze cruise, of course. duh! I mean, what better way to celebrate surviving a jump into Victoria Falls than to take a cruise down the river, have a few drinks and see some African wild animals? Nothing comes to mind. So we got liquored up and had fun getting to know our new travel mates a bit more. After returning to the hotel we found out through the grape vine that there was a party barn on campus that would be playing music that we could dance to till the wee hours of the morning if we wanted to join. So we did. It was a lot of fun.

The next day we all had breakfast together and then hopped into the truck and headed into town. Our tour guide, Mariki, would spend the time buying some food and other odd supplies for the first leg of our journey while we were to just occupy ourselves until she returned. Mariki told us that she was unable to secure a sleeping bag for us and that we would just have to manage somehow to find one on our own. So Katie and I would use this time as wisely as possible. The grocery store we had pulled up to was in a main plaza we had not gone to before. So we set out to hopefully find a store that would save us from an eventual horrible nightmare come true. As luck would have it, there were no camping equipment stores to be found. But, we did find a store that might have an alternative solution for us, "Mr. Price". It was Livingston, Zambia's version of Bed, Bath and Beyond. In that store we found our saving grace. Thank you Mr. Price. It was a very large comforter that when folded over and tightly secured would serve the same purpose of a sleeping bag. So we ordered two to go albeit it set us back a fair amount of greenbacks. But what can you do? After all, TIA right? We also managed somehow to find a couple of headlamps for our trip, but I would not find a store that would have any thermal underwear. TIA! So now that we were as ready for our trip as we could be we took a load off and had another cappuccino to make us happy.

After indulging ourselves in some delish pastries, off we went. Destination: Victoria Falls, again. This time we would all walk the top of the falls as a group. This is one of the activities we had paid for when we signed up for the trip. The bunji jumping, etc. were all additional activities we were allowed to do on our own if you were brave enough or dumb enough that weren't included as part of the original sign up fees. There would be many more of these types of extracurricular activities over the next three weeks that we would be able to chose from. Walking above the mist right along the falls was also fun. We were issued standard raincoats at the gate because of the sheer power of the waterfalls. It was like walking in the rain. I remember standing on one of the main lookouts just letting the water come down on me. I could hear the roar of the falls beating down on the riverbed below. It sounded like a rocket ship taking off. So much power and naturally beauty just flowing ever so smoothly into the abyss. I stood there for a good fifteen minutes or so just to take a mental picture and make the most of the rare moment I would have. One that I will never forget. We walked along the seemingly endless waterfalls for about two hours or so and then headed to our next destination: The country of Botswana and the Okavango Delta. As the Lonely Planet put it: A taste of what is considered to be the real part of Africa. I had heard so much and seen so much about this place on the discovery channel. Here I was about to embark on one of the most unspoiled natural settings in the world. As if I had not seen enough of these places already. I know, it's sick isn't it! But I am here to tell you that Africa is exactly that. A magical place with so many natural wonders spread out all over the continent, one after the other. It is a place that captivates the soul like no other place on earth can. Truly unique and mesmerizing in more ways than one.

After spending as much time as possible soaking in Victoria Falls we piled up in the truck and headed south. It would be a very long ride and would take most of the day to get there. We ended up in a campsite that was specifically set up for safari vehicles. Like most of the places we would stay at along the way in the African safari outback there would be ten or twelve designated camping areas all clustered together each with there own set of bathrooms and an occasional fire pit for gathering around after a long day of traveling. On arrival we would pitch our tents then depending on what team we were on we would unload the truck, clean the truck, help Mariki cook dinner, eat, and finally wash the dishes. This would become a daily routine for the remainder of the trip. Afterwards, we would sit by a roaring fire and tell each other stories (one of my absolute favorite parts of every day) while sipping on a beer, wine, hot cocoa or maybe some tasty African Amarula with hot cocoa, if we were lucky to have some in stock, before turning in very tired to an early bedtime to greet whatever adventure awaited us the following day. In Botswana there were two main national park areas we would be visiting: The Chobe National Park and the Okavango Delta. We rose in the morning to a very tasty breakfast. Mariki just so happened to be a 5 star cook. We were so lucky to be traveling with her. She made it all the more enjoyable by serving us countless meals that were delicious. After breakfast we headed to the Chobe National Park for a safari ride in the jeep. We happen to arrive in Botswana during the end of the dry season, which meant much of the land was barren and/or brown. Africa is a very diverse place. The north, south and central areas all experience wet and dry seasons at different times of the year, especially the northern part in the country of Kenya vs. the southern part in the country of South Africa. We saw a few zebras, kudu, and elephants but no lions or leopards would be seen on this safari run. After getting our fill of being out there with nature and taking a ton of pictures we headed back to base camp for some lunch. After lunch we would head out one more time to see some more animals before sunset. This time it would be on a boat along the Chobe River. The boat ride turned out to be one of the most memorable safari runs we did. There were tons of elephants and hippos (at least a hundred or more) crossing the river right before sunset to get to the pastures they would be grazing at during the night. It was such a memorable sight. The boat captain parked up right next to the elephants as they finished the crossing. It was so neat to watch the elephant’s swim, yes swim, across the channels with their trunks held high in the air. A few of them would frolic at the end of the crossing in the water like little kids as if to celebrate the fact that they made it across.

As the sunset we headed back to base camp for some din din and more warm campfire stories. The next morning we would be making another long six or seven hour ride to our next destination: The Okavango Delta. The Okavango Delta is a massive water tributary that is the single most important source of survival for all of the animals in Botswana. It is so massive that during the rainy monsoon season you can see the tributaries (from Google Earth) swell from nothing to a system of rivers that feed the dry riverbed of the Kalahari Desert that is right smack in the middle of Botswana. All of the animals in the Kalahari depend solely on the Delta to bring them water and give them life every year. During years of drought, many of the animals in the Kalahari die of starvation and thirst due to lack of food and water. It is a vicious cycle that plays out in the African wild on a daily, monthly, yearly basis. We would not actually be able to go to the Kalahari because it is so remote that it is inaccessible by land vehicles. Only the rich and famous are allowed to venture that far into the wild savannahs and "real Africa" that is Botswana. The Kalahari is only accessible by plane where five star lodges await those who are lucky enough to see this wonderful untouched wilderness. But even though I would not get to see the Kalahari Desert I could not complain. We would be taking a trip through the Okavango Delta itself on a mokoro (a dug out wooden canoe). After setting up our tents at one of the base camps near the place we would be launching our mokoro's we took a much needed shower and settled in for the day.

Early the next morning we set out to greet the local villagers who would be taking us to the heart of the Okavango Delta in our little wooden canoes. There would be two people to each mokoro/canoe and one poler (a local villager with a very long pole who would take us through the Delta to a small island in the middle). The Delta is a kind of swampland so the only way to navigate through the waters is on a canoe of some sort. So after greeting our poler we headed off into the wild blue Delta. The Delta was a very different place than all the other places we had already visited in Africa. For one, it was very wet. Secondly, it was full of reeds with the occasional hippo raising his oversized head to get a glimpse of you and snort at you if you came to close. We rode in the canoes for about 2 hours just basking in the sun, letting our minds wander while traversing this vast expanse of water, taking pictures along the way before reaching the small island. After reaching the island we pitched our tents (some of the polers were assigned to bringing our tents for us) and had lunch. After lunch we got back in the mokoros and headed toward another island in the area where there were animals to be seen. We spent at least 2 hours walking around the island just taking it all in. We saw some elephants, wildebeests and a few very large termite mounds. These particular elephants were rather moody and didn't like us being around them too much. They would growl at us if we got what they would consider too close which was not that close at all. I think they may have been a little less accepting of humans due to their remote location and therefore more wild nature. At any rate, we steered clear of them. The wildebeest were fun to watch. Not sure why but they were all running single file around the island as if with no purpose other than to have a little bit of fun. After taking lots of pictures we headed back to the mokoros and base camp. On the way back we took some pictures of some of the most magnificent sunsets we had seen on the entire trip. As you already know, we had already seen a thousand or so contenders for the best sunset on our journey. This one would be in the running as well. So different to see the red colors of the sun bounce off of the waters in the delta and reflect off of the reeds. Ahh, Africa. Such a wonderful place. How I miss you so!

The next morning we made the +2hour journey across the waters of the Delta back to the mainland. Once on the mainland we tipped our polers and thanked them for taking such good care of us. We headed back to base camp to load up the truck and head to our next destination: Namibia. Our first point of interest in Namibia would be the Etoshia National Park. After another very long rode trip to get there we finally found ourselves at the gate. It was a very welcome site, as we were becoming very road weary at this stage of the trip. In addition, living out of a safari truck day in, day out was starting to take its toll on us. We had almost been on the truck for two weeks at this stage. What I have not told you in detail because it would be pointless is how many times we had to unload and load the truck at various small base camps just to reach our next destination. Some destinations would take two maybe three days to reach. In addition to all this madness, we would have to stop many times to restock food supplies, firewood, etc. as well as border crossings to get our passports stamped. All of these things together would make us very travel worn as you might imagine. Once inside the Etoshia National Park we set up our tents and again took a much needed shower. The showers along the entire road trip were hit or miss. You might get a hot one; you might get a cold one. Part of it depended on whether the campsite had hot water or not and part of it depended whose turn it was to take a shower. You have to remember there were 21 of us. The hot water can only last for so long. Either way, you were going to have to take a shower or risk having to possibly sit alone at the dinner table. Etoshia would prove to be one of the best parks for animal viewing. This park has is one of the most highly photographed spots in all of Africa. Why? One very simple answer. The base camp is situated so that the animals come to you. How's that you say? Very easy. It is set up such that on one side it surrounds the biggest and most important watering hole in all of Etoshia National Park. All you have to do is bring your blanket and your camera with you just before sunset, pick your favorite bench or bleacher to sit on and wait for all kinds of animals to come and quench their thirst. Such a clever set up. The base camp is fenced in and has super large retaining walls at the edge of the lake so that none of the dangerous predator type animals or elephants can pounce on you. It's like watch an animal show in 3D only in this case it's the real deal. And what's better, everyone has a front row seat. We sat there for hours upon hours and watched so many herds of elephants, giraffes,rhinos,kudu, gazelles,warthogs, lions, leapards.... You name the animal, we saw it come to the watering hole for a quick drink. To top it off it was one of the most panoramic settings in all of Africa. Again, I know I may sound like a broken record again but Africa has so many places that are so special and awe-inspiring. It's sick! To make it even more interesting the watering hole was surrounded be huge stadium lights. The same kind you see at a professional football or baseball game. This meant that the viewing of animals was open 24 hours around the clock. Some of our fellow travelers stayed out there the entire night sleeping on the bench if necessary in hopes of getting a close up glimpse of a pride of lions or the very elusive leopard since they were usually known to come for a drink in the wee hours of the morning. I tried but ended up throwing in the towel around 1:00am every night cause I was just too sleepy and cold. It was a magnificent setting. Very few other places in Africa could capture the feeling of what it was like to be in the midst of these wild animals like this place did. One in a million for sure.

We camped at Etoshia for 2 or 3 nights. Can't remember exactly. We indulged ourselves thoroughly each day just soaking in and savoring every moment that we had to spend here with the animals. With sad faces we packed up our tents and loaded the truck and headed south again. This time we would be heading Damaraland where we would do some stargazing with a backdrop of giant red rock mountains that had been carved by years of wind erosion. This place was like being in Red Rocks, Arizona only better. It was an arid desolate kind of place that was ideally set for the clearest of celestial viewing. We set up camp at the base of Spitskoppe, which is known as the Matterhorn of Africa where we would get the opportunity to see ancient bushman paintings. After settling in we all decided to explore our new surroundings, take a ton of pictures and get a little acquainted. A few people decided after climbing to the top of Spitskoppe that they would be sleeping at the top of the mountain that evening. I was asked to go with but I decided that it would be too cold for me and that the tent was a better option. The compromise was that I would miss seeing the sunrise over the red rock panorama in the morning. It was a hard decision to make. That night we made a warm campfire, had some delicious food, shared more stories with each other, sipped some wine and Amarula and just enjoyed each other’s company under a canopy of the brightest stars in Africa.

The next morning we had a hearty breakfast, packed up the truck and headed to our next destination: Windhoek. Windhoek is the capital of Namibia. It is a fairly large city that has all the amenities that you would find in any place in the US. This was a welcome site as many of us were a little tired of roughing it (setting up our tents every single night, ughh!) for so long and needed a little break. After settling in our rooms in the hostel we set out to scour the town for a couple of hours before dinner. It was wonderful. The feeling was like being allowed back to civilization after being exiled on a remote island for almost three weeks. There were all these goodies there. Beer, wine, pastries, coffee shops, burger joints, clothing stores, cigar shops and much more. I wanted to sample them all but there was just not enough time. So a few of us decided that we would buy some stogies and smoke them as an after dinner treat. Dinner would end up being a treat as well. Mariki was kind enough to take us to a carnivore restaurant so that we could sample the local wild animal flavors. Africa is a very funny place. Some countries will not allow you to eat wild animals while others will let you have a buffet of anything you want if you are willing to shell out the dough. Very strange. Namibia would be a place where you could eat anything that walked on four legs in Africa, well almost. I love Namibia. So at dinner we all ordered Zebra, Kudu, Impala, Wort Hog, Crocodile, and Springbok. Needless to say they were all delicious, delightful and delovely. After gorging ourselves and watching a bit of the world cup semi final game between the Netherlands and whomever the loser was we went back to the hostel to have a few drinks at the bar, smoke a stogie and play some ping-pong. It was later revealed that night that we had a ringer in our midst after various matches against the same guy. David, you sandbagger you!

In the morning after breakfast we all piled in the truck and headed toward the Atlantic Ocean. Destination: Cape Cross, Swakopmund and Namib Nakluft National Park. Cape Cross would be the site of a gigantic seal colony. Over 80,000 seals live at this colony most of them year round. And believe me you could tell. The smell at the beach was so pungent that my eyes started to water the closer we got to the seals. P. U.! I'm sure to the roaming sharks that it smelt like a bbq grill on July 4th but to us it was hard to linger for very long. Lucky for us it was only a quick stop on the way to Swakopmund. Swakopmund is Namibia's premier coastal getaway. It is an action-packed town with loads of activities designed to make your adrenaline level rise. Just to name a few: Quad biking, Skydiving and Sand boarding all to be done in a sand dune setting with a birds eye view of the Atlantic Ocean. After careful consideration I decided to go with the Quad biking. This turned out to be the right choice as almost everyone else signed up as well. We had a blast chasing each other all over the sand dunes all day long. Total rush! Katie and a bunch of others decided to also go sand boarding. I am a skier, not a snowboarder so I opted out of this one. A couple of people went skydiving. I wanted to do this one really bad as well but it was too expensive for my pocketbook. Oh well, I guess I will have to keep one item on the bucket list. That night before dinner we all gathered at the hostel and watched videos of everyone that went sand boarding. I must say that I wasn't that impressed with the talent in the group. he he.

After dinner we all went to a local bar and hung out and shared our version of the day's extreme events. It was lots of fun! We ended up spending two nights in Swakopmund. The next day we packed it up and headed to the Namib Nakluft National Park. This would be a day trip for only one reason: to reach the world's oldest desert to climb the world's highest sand dune. I will just let the pictures speak for themselves rather than try to explain. After slipping and sliding all over the sand dunes we all piled in the truck again and headed to our next destination: Fish River Canyon. This canyon just so happens to be the second largest canyon in the world. It looks a lot like the Grand Canyon. We all decided to walk from the drop off point a few miles away to get to the canyon instead of hopping on the truck and hitching a ride. Of course when the truck came up the road about 30 minutes later, we all got on. Anticipation got the best of us all. We all sipped on some Champaign while watching the sunset over the canyon. It was a celebratory time as our journey across Southern Africa with all of our new friends was fast coming to a close. After exchanging a few words and hugging it out we all piled back into the truck and headed across the border in the country of South Africa toward our final destination, Cape Town. But we would make one more stop before getting there. We would have one more night of relaxed camping on the banks of the Orange River. And this time we would not have to make our tents up in the morning. Mariki and her helpers would do it for us because we were such great students of hers. Since this would be our last night together in tents we would all party it up that night really hard. To start off there was a wine tasting that I did not attend. I decided to drink the bottle of wine I had bought earlier and still had stashed while just chilling out in the sun by my tent listening to music. Katie decided to go to the wine tasting with the girls. This particular campsite was gorgeous. It was set on a hillside overlooking the valley and river below. It had a restaurant, full bar and dance floor. I think you know where this is going. We took advantage of all three. This would end up being one of the most memorable nights of the entire trip. There was some ugly dancing, pretty dancing, romantic dancing, and even some country western dancing and lots, and lots of drinking. Oh my god, was there drinking! It got pretty ugly after that. At one stage in the night there was actually a person who got behind the bar and started to bartend. At another later stage of the night there was even a person who shoplifted some bread from the kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. I will not give names so that anonymity will be maintained - CB! Hey that's funny. It's CB on both counts. The next morning was pretty much a blur to me as I was still slightly inebriated from the previous nights antics and don't even remember boarding the truck. Perhaps Katie remembers a little bit more than I do and can elaborate a bit for us. After piling into the truck for one last time we headed for a short ride to Cape Town. We arrived with both sadness and happiness in our eyes. On the one hand, we were sad because we would soon be leaving our new friends and going our separate ways again. On the other hand, NO MORE TENTS TO SLEEP IN AND NO MORE CHORES. YAHOO! After settling in to the hostel in Capetown we all went to dinner together for one last time. We had some great food, lots of laughs and said our goodbyes. It was a trip of a lifetime. For me, it was the best part of the entire round the world trip. La crème de la crème. Nothing would top it from here on out.

Some pics for your enjoyment:


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2 comments:

Anonymous,  November 10, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

Lots of great pictures!
-Corbet

Anonymous,  November 13, 2010 at 6:39 PM  

Bungee jumping??...leaping off twice??...are you crazy Chris?

Pat

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