May 132015
 
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Well, friends, in some ways it’s over—the trip to Africa, the Daily Dozen posts—and yet there’s tons more—I haven’t shared anything about Victoria Falls, the boat ride up the Thamalakane River, or the Crafty Grannies. Important things, all of those. I haven’t even begun sorting through videos. Mike threatens to assemble a bunch of pictures that didn’t make my cuts for Daily Dozen posts, and there’s a funny and somewhat amazing story about my sunglasses . . . .

Back of giraffe's head, Africa

Because the back of a giraffe’s head illustrates perfectly the notion of being back. Or something.

But we’re back in beautiful Alaska. The garden calls, work awaits, and the shrimp won’t catch themselves. I have no more posts pre-written and scheduled; the blog ahead is a blank slate.

I’m over the moon about our Africa trip—a Big deal in my Little life—and also that we met the goal I set here to record the driving tour with a dozen photos of each day, more or less. It’s a record of the trip that I will revisit and cherish, much like the Italy journal. I’m grateful to all of you who came along for the ride, shared our wonder and enthusiasm, flattered us with your attention and compliments, and, by doing so, helped us reach this goal. Processing the trip in this way, thinking about it and sharing it, makes it more meaningful and satisfying.

And yet it’s not completely over. Africa made a lasting impression and will no doubt crop up in future ideas and conversations. I will also continue to share photos, thoughts, and stories about Africa as time and interest permit. Amy asked a question about self-sufficient, remote camping that I plan to answer with a post. Several people have asked about the food we ate in Africa, and Kathy is curious how we manage to live abroad for four months and do all the crazy-fun stuff we do. I’m a little leery of revealing answers to those inquiries, but I may give them a go eventually. However, the frequency of posts here will decline, and the focus will shift. It’s back to life as we know it, our not-especially-normal normal life.

I’m going to kick off the new normal with this:

I am no fan of Coca-Cola or soda pop in general. It’s unhealthy stuff, and I don’t love fizz. But I loved this:

Share-a-Coke campaign in Africa.

Share-a-Coke campaign in Africa.

I was familiar with this marketing campaign here in the US, but was surprised to see it in Africa, too. Call me naive and short sighted—I am. Coke’s idea was to bring individuals together by having them share a sugary beverage, but what this world-wide campaign did for me was to make me feel comfortable and at home in a strange place on the other side of the globe. It’s a small world, and all that tooth rot. There’s comfort in the familiar—I just said this a couple of posts ago—and that red can and white ribbon are familiar, even if the names on the cans are not.

I think Mike drank the contents of one of these cans, but the others were trash that I picked up on walks. While I didn’t like the abundance of litter we found in Africa, I did like the idea of recycling cans as building materials.

Cans as building materials in Africa.

A hut built with cans and concrete.

Cans as building materials in Africa.

Cans as building materials in Africa.

For better or worse, Coke is everywhere.

Dogs sleep under Coca-Cola sign in Africa

Coca-Cola dog hotel?

May 122015
 

Yesterday, I shared the story of finding a leopard in Etosha National Park. A big part of that story involves finding, recognizing, and piecing together animal signs, i.e., clues about the animal and what it was doing. Clues led us to the animal. Without them, we probably wouldn’t have seen the leopard at all.

Throughout this whole Africa journey, we’ve been searching for and observing animal signs. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to get out of the car to look farther afield or more closely at something, but, then, there are insanely-hard-to-spot lions and leopards and elephants all over Africa, so sometimes it’s better to stay in the vehicle.

Wildebeest horns, Mangetti National Park

I am a wildebeest.

Cat Tracks, Mangetti National Park

Cat tracks, I think.

Broken trees in the road.

The elephant effect.

Even when we don’t see an animal, signs it leaves behind let us know it was there, and that itself can be wildly interesting.

So interesting, in fact, that I wrote a picture book about it. That book is being published by Arbordale Publishing and will be released next year, in Spring 2016.

Mind you, the book is not set in Africa; it’s set up here in the northwest corner of North America. Searching for animals signs is something we do wherever we are.

Been There, Done That cover art by A. M. Gabriel.

Been There, Done That cover art by A. M. Gabriel.

I recently received cover art for the book. The cover is still a work in progress—the text font and other design elements have not been selected, but I believe this is the final artwork by the book’s illustrator, Andrea Gabriel. Do click over to Andrea’s website and check out her work; it’s fabulous! I feel fortunate that Arbordale selected her and that she liked the story enough to want to illustrate it. I don’t know Andrea, and I’m not in touch with her while she works on the book, but I hope she’ll let me interview her when she’s finished.

While we were in Africa, I received sketches of the interior artwork, and Katie says I’m allowed to give you a peek.

Been There Done That sketch, A.M. Gabriel, with Jen Funk Weber and Arbordale Publishing

Sketch of how a moose sign came to be for Been There, Done That, by A.M. Gabriel.

We were in northern Namibia on the Kunene River, and the large pdf containing the whole book was too much for the satellite system to download. I even walked to the lodge in the dark at 5 a.m. to try downloading when no one else was competing for bandwidth. On the plus side, I got to hang with some bats (well, not literally hang as they were doing) in the outdoor Internet-access area. On the minus side, it still didn’t work: the download timed out, and I got nothing.

So our editor, Katie, at Arbordale sent each spread as an individual jpg instead. Eureka! That worked. I needed to look over the images so Andrea could get started on final art. Sometimes, this traveling-to-remote-areas lifestyle of mine is tough to work with. I appreciate and am grateful for Katie’s extra effort and Andrea’s patience.

Been There Done That river mystery illustration by A.M. Gabriel, with Jen Funk Weber and Arbordale Publishing

Animals signs along the river.

Many of you have suggested that I write a book about Africa with Mike’s photos as illustrations. I would love to! But publishing a book takes heaps more than taking, sorting, and editing photos and writing and rewriting text. Rest assured I will continue to write about the trip and the mountain of ideas it inspired. I’ll continue to share some of it here, and I will submit some to publishers. Thanks for the encouragement and support. I’ll let you know what happens.

In the meantime, we’ve got Been There, Done That to look forward to!

May 112015
 

Every trip has one: a favorite moment, event, or experience. This is my favorite experience from four+ months in Africa. Because this was our Big Experience, I’m making all the images Big; that is, if you click on them, you’ll see them at a larger size. You’ll need to use your back button to return to the blog and continue reading.

Day 1

We had arrived at the Halali Resort in Etosha National Park. That’s the middle of three resorts, spread east to west across the park. We spent two nights at each.

After registering, setting up camp, eating lunch, and cooling off with showers to soak our clothes (evaporation cools), we headed out around 3:00 p.m. for our afternoon/evening game drive. Because the resort gate closes at sunset—roughly 7:30 p.m.—evening game drives started in the afternoon.

We weren’t seeing as much game as we did around the Namutoni Resort farther east. The terrain was drier, and animals were more concentrated around the waterholes.

In a woodsy section on a horrible road, a spot of color caught Mike’s eye as we slowly cruised along. “Stop. Back up,” he said.

A wooded area in Etosha National Park.

The scene of our adventure in Etosha National Park. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

This is what we were looking at, except, of course, the scenery extended on and on all around.

Does anything catch your eye? Not so much, I imagine.

Now look more closely.

The color was red. It was on the ground, just a few feet off the road, but tucked between tree trunks and obscured by grass, branches, and rocks.

Zebra Carcass, Etosha National Park

Baby zebra carcass.

We crept up and back and up and back, sussing out the best view and angle for pictures. It wasn’t easy. Something was always in the way.

It was the carcass of a baby zebra. Eviscerated, but clean and fresh. All the quarters were still intact. Why wasn’t it eaten up more, I wondered.

Really. I wondered that. Hey, it’s all part of the thought process.

Well, du-uh. It wasn’t eaten up more because this was a fresh kill.

A fresh kill!

That meant the predator was probably still around, not far away. In fact, it probably had a wary eye on us right then.

We searched. Six eyes peering through three pairs of binoculars scanned the trees and brush all around, focusing close and then farther away. We pulled the truck up a few feet and searched some more.

“There’s a lion under that tree,” Mike said, pointing.

We all zooomed in.

No. It was a cat but not a lion. It was a leopard under a bushy tree, a big, beautiful, well-fed, male leopard, significantly bigger than the leopard we saw at Mahango, which was probably female or young.

Leopard Under Tree, Etosha National Park

The leopard.

We oohed and ahhed. We inched back and forth with the truck for the best possible view. We took the best pictures we could get.

Meanwhile, the leopard panted heavily, shifted and turned, stepped out from under the tree to poop, and laid down again in the not-nearly-cool-enough shade.

The scene, labeled.

The scene, labeled.

Mike was bearing the brunt of the sun in the truck and was desperate to get some cold water out of the fridge in the back. Survival in the heat is all about cold water for Mike. A pool of warm water simply won’t satisfy.

Of course, you’re not supposed to get out of your car at all, except in designated areas, and even Mike wasn’t keen to get out of the truck next to a leopard kill with the leopard in sight. So we backed away from the scene to a shady spot, and Mike snuck out and got some cold water.

When we returned, the leopard was gone. Sneaky devil.

But the zebra carcass was still there, so we were pretty sure the leopard would be back. We decided to continue with the game drive and return for the last part of the evening, before heading back to the resort at sunset.

When we returned in the evening, the leopard was back in his spot under his chosen tree.

Because we had to be inside the resort gate at an early-ish hour, Mike was convinced we wouldn’t see any activity. “We might,” I said, countering pessimism with optimism as I am wont to do. “It’s been a while since he’s eaten, and I think he looks hungry.”

Africa delivered. Again. Oh, Africa, I adore you!

Leopard returning to its kill.

Leopard returning to its kill.

About twenty minutes before we needed to leave (according to the GPS, which knew how far we had to go and how fast we were likely to travel), the leopard got up and cautiously stalked toward its kill, which happened to be toward us as well.

Clearly, the leopard was habituated to cars, but it watched us intently nonetheless.

If I had to pick a single best moment from the trip, it’s this: The leopard walking toward the kill and us. It was magnificent! I can see it clearly in my mind, in slow motion. The smooth, slinky gait. The watching eyes. The silent stealth. The gorgeous spots. The thin, hammock-like body, slung low between the shoulders and hips. The disproportionately thick legs and large feet. The open mouth, tongue, and yellow teeth. The panting.

Leopard licking the hide of its kill.

Licking.

He licked the zebra hide.

Leopard pulling fur from kill.

Pulling.

He pulled fur from the hindquarter.

Leopard licking empty gut cavity.

Revisiting.

He revisited the empty gut cavity.

Leopard pulling the dead zebra's tail.

Yanking.

He yanked on the zebra’s tail.

It’s not easy skinning and butchering an animal. Knife-like teeth are handy, but so are hands and thumbs.

Leopard tearing into front quarter of kill.

Tearing.

Eventually, the leopard tore through skin on a front quarter and settled in to rip, shred, and devour hard-earned zebra flesh.

And we had to leave or risk missing curfew and being ejected from the park. GAH! Don’t get me started on how annoying the no-driving-after-sunset rule is.

The leopard didn’t flinch or bat an eye when we started the truck and pulled away.

Day 2

We were the first car out the gate in the morning. Surprise, surprise. We swung by a waterhole first, then revisited our leopard to see what kind of progress he’d made overnight.

In addition to setting the location on our GPS, we had rolled a rock into the road at the site and noted an old pile of elephant poo nearby. We didn’t want to lose our leopard.

The GPS said we’d arrived. The rock and ellie poo were there. The zebra carcass was not.

Sigh. My optimistic heart sank. Imagine what Mike felt.

But then my optimistic heart embraced the mystery: What had happened? What clues could we find to tell us what had happened? Had the zebra carcass been consumed or merely moved? Had hyenas ganged up on the leopard and stolen the kill? Had jackals snuck in while the leopard wasn’t watching?

Again, six eyes peered through three pairs of binoculars, scouring the surrounding area for a zebra carcass, leopard, hyena, scraps, evidence of dragging, any clues at all. We inched forward and back. We turned the truck around to orient ourselves differently and inched forward and back.

We began to think our leopard experience was over. That would be okay, really. It was an awesome sighting.

We decided to move on to whatever was next and maybe return once more later in the day. As we pulled ahead, something caught my eye. Something red, I thought. But we’d been back and forth countless times already; I was sure it was nothing.

“Stop,” I said, sheepishly. “Go back.”

I didn’t find it on the backward drift. “Try pulling forward very slowly; that’s how I saw it originally.” I explained that I thought I saw something red up in a tree.

Leopards climb. We know that. We also know they are capable of hauling heavy, cumbersome kills up into trees where lions, hyenas, jackals and other would-be thieves can’t get to them.

Six eyes searched.

Leopard's zebra kill cached in a tree.

Zebra kill cached in a tree.

There it was: the zebra carcass stashed in a tree, about ten feet off the ground, a bit farther back from the road than where we found the leopard yesterday.

Honest to dog, if we hadn’t already known about the carcass in the area, we would never have noticed this.

If the zebra carcass was still here. Was the leopard?

Leopard resting in the shade under a tree.

Resting in the shade.

As a matter of fact, it was.

It was just lying there as big cats do, so we mucked about, trying to figure out how to get a halfway decent picture of the leopard and stashed zebra, zooming in through sticks, leaves, and grass, and getting our subjects in focus. We were so focused on getting the cameras to focus that we failed to notice the stealthy approach of another predator.

“Look!” Mike whispered. He pointed toward the front of the truck. Two feet in front of us was another leopard: a female, quite a bit smaller than the male.

Female leopard sitting

The female watches the male.

Lady leopard had to have walked up along one side of the truck, but which one? We had no idea. So much for our keen observation skills!

This leopard paid us no attention whatsoever. I don’t know what she saw or smelled, but her attention was riveted on the area around the zebra and male leopard. I suspect she knew what was up, that the male was here and he had fresh meat.

Leopards are solitary and territorial, but territories overlap, especially those of males and females. However, neighbors generally avoid being in the same area at the same time, except during mating times.

Lady leopard sat down beside the truck and watched the big guy with us for a few minutes. Soon, he got up and took a few purposeful steps toward us, and the female hastened away. This was not breeding season, and he wasn’t sharing.

We, too, decided to be on our way. We checked back at the end of the day and found our fellow about a kilometer away, strolling through the woods alongside the road. Perhaps he had gone out for a drink.

Day 3

We broke camp at the Halali Resort. We’d spend the next two nights at the westernmost campground: Okaukuejo.

Our first stop on the morning game drive was the leopard site. Would the zebra still be there in the tree? Would we see the leopard?

I boldly made an optimistic prediction: “We’ll find the leopard in the tree, eating a zebra breakfast.”

“Uh-huh.” Mike rolled his eyes.

Mike recognized the area well before I did and focused in before I even had my bearings. He shook his head in disbelief, and I think he sounded exasperated when he said, “He’s in the tree, eating the zebra.”

Leopard eating a zebra in a tree.

Eating the zebra in a tree.

See? Told you. When will Mike learn? Africa delivers!

As we watched and marveled at our luck, a hyena arrived on the scene. The leopard wanted nothing to do with that: He hopped down from the tree and walked away.

Leopard walking.

He wants nothing to do with a hyena.

The hyena scavenged around below the cached zebra.

Hyena sucking something off the ground.

Hyena sucking something off the ground.

It seemed to find a few scraps—and maybe some blood. I can’t figure out what’s happening in this photo. Where did the hyena get those jowls? They don’t seem to be there when the hyena picks up its head. The animal appears to be sucking something off the ground, and the ground appears to be red. Is that a pool of blood?

Hyena below a zebra cached in a tree.

The zebra is too high for the hyena to reach. Bummer.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t satisfying. The hyena saw the zebra, desperately wanted the zebra, but had no way of getting the zebra. It performed a pathetic jump in an effort to reach the feast, but it was hopeless. The hyena would have to wait and see what else might fall during the leopard’s next meal. Such is life for a scavenger.

Leopard

The hero of our story.

And that’s the last we saw of the leopard.

During the three days that we watched this leopard, we saw just one other car on the road, and it didn’t stick around.

Watching a leopard on a kill will always be a thrill, but finding this leopard on our own added another layer of fun to the experience. We pieced together clues and worked hard to locate the animals. That effort makes the event even more satisfying. We earned it.

Our parents always said we’d appreciate things more if we had to work for them. They were right.

May 082015
 

DO NOT DRIVE AT NIGHT!

Parks don’t allow night driving. Many locals avoid it. Guidebooks discourage it.

The no-night-driving advice is so prevalent in Africa that it feels like a law.

But Africa has nocturnal animals that we wanted to see, and what better way to see them than by driving at night?

We understand the concern: It would be a bummer to hit an elephant going 120 km per hour. Elephants, kudu, cows, goats, and other animlas meander along and hang out on roads as if they lived there. (Stupid animals.) Some might even lie down on a warm road during a cool evening.

But what if you drive 20 or 30 km per hour instead? What if you eliminated the animal-slamming risk?

As Mike read about the area north of Windhoek through which we’d travel en route to the border crossing at Buitepost, he noted this in our Tracks 4 Africa book:

“There are many hunting and cattle farms in this area, and you have to be very aware of wild animals along the road. Never travel at night.”

And then this:

“There are many wild animals on the C30 between Gobabis and Otjiwarongo, especially around Hochfeld.”

Naturally, Mike thought, “Let’s drive through there at night.”

And thus we planned to end our tour of Namibia with a night drive.

In the Morning

Hobas Sunrise, Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Hobas sunrise. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

At the Hobas campground at Fish River Canyon, we broke camp before dawn in order to watch the sun creep in and wake up the canyon. Sunrise was better than sunset, as we knew it would be because the sun shone on the canyon, not behind it and in our eyes.

Fish River Canyon Sunrise, Namibia

Fish River Canyon sunrise.

I hate that sunsets get so much more attention and admiration than sunrises; they don’t deserve it. I think the biggest reason they are favored is because few people are inclined to get up in time to see a sunrise, and that’s a lame reason. Sunsets are awesome because . . . people are lazy? Yeah, that makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, I can enjoy a sunset as much as anyone; I just find the birth of a day more inviting than the death of one.

Fish River Canyon Sunrise, Namibia

Fish River Canyon sunrise. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Fish River Canyon Sunrise, Namibia

Sunrise on Fish River Canyon puddles.

Anyhoo, Fish River Canyon is no Grand Canyon, but the sunrise was nice.

In the Afternoon

From there, we headed north to Windhoek. Mike had a surprise stop in mind for lunch time: another Namibia Wildlife Resorts park area currently undergoing extensive renovations. As such, it was mostly closed, but not all the way closed. That is, for a reduced fee, we could drive around, but no services were available.

The lake at Hardap Dam, Namibia

The lake at Hardap Dam. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

And so we had lunch overlooking Hardap Dam, which creates Namibia’s largest man-made lake. The lake provides water for the town of Mariental and a number of irrigation projects.

The dam is on the Fish River. People come here to fish in the lake. Rumor has it there’s a hiking trail, too, and there’s a fenced game park. Either there are no predators in the game park, or officials are confident predators cannot escape and wander the hiking trail.

The game park was to be the highlight—it had been a while since we visited one, and we are always game to see wildlife. We were disappointed to be told by the gatekeeper that the fence would close at 4:00 p.m. instead of the advertised 6:00 p.m. Sigh.

Warthogs at Hardap Game Reserve, Namibia

Warthogs at Hardap Game Reserve.

Black rhinoceros, Hardap Game Reserve, Namibia

A brown black rhino. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

So we did what we could with just ninety minutes. We saw springbok, gemsbok, warthogs, and two brown-colored rhinos, the darkest rhinos we’ve seen. The wildlife was skittish, not habituated to cars the way it is in other parks. Maybe they hadn’t seen cars much since the resort closed, or maybe hunting occurs to thin populations in the tiny area. Who knows?

In the Evening

On we went to Windhoek. It was getting dark as we skirted the city. At a police block, we were asked where we were going, and, thankfully, Mike was able to rattle off the strange name of a nearby town. Honest to dog, I felt as though we were doing something wrong by driving in the near dark! Police blocks are not something I’m accustomed to.

Shortly after dark, we got off the main, busy roads and left all the rushing traffic behind. Phew! Early on, we saw two big trucks on our chosen C road (as opposed to paved A and B roads), but after that, nothing. Once again, we were the only people/car around. There’s comfort in the familiar.

We crept along at our normal looking-for-wildlife speed: maybe 30 km per hour, at most. We looked for the usual clues—something that doesn’t belong, movement—but now we had another sign at our disposal: eye shine. If an animal looked toward our headlights, chances were good we’d see the eyes reflecting light back at us.

The trick is recognizing an eye shine for what it is. At one point, we passed a tree that had a reflector on it, like something you might put by your driveway.

Wait.

What?

We weren’t all that far from Windhoek, but we were far enough away to make a reflector on a tree unlikely. We looked more closely. The reflector moved from the trunk into the branches. Yeah. Probably not a reflector.

It was a genet. I can’t tell you if it was small-spotted or large-spotted—I did not see a white tip on the tail, and I looked specifically for that—but it was a genet.

We saw a genet early in our stay in Maun, and it was great to see another. We saw two more before the night was over. Three genets in one evening! Why-oh-why hadn’t we done a night drive earlier?!

I’ll tell you why: Our days have been jam-packed, and staying up all night would have required giving up something else we did. I love what we’ve done, and the fact is we can’t do it all, so the night drive got put off. But we were finally doing it, so hooray!

Jackal in Headlights, Namibia

A jackal in the headlights. See the eye shine?

Mike has never bothered to learn flash photography, so except for a lousy photo of a jackal in the headlights, we didn’t even try to take pictures. We just drove and watched. We had two first-time animal sightings.

First, was a bat-eared fox. We saw a single one and then three more all together. The threesome may have been a family. All were hunting in the roadside brush. The body shape and bushy tail were familiar and unmistakeable. The tail had a black tip rather than a white tip (as our red foxes have), and these guys wore a mask like raccoons and bandits. The ears, however, were bizarre and (don’t tell them I said this) comical.

Our second first-time animal sighting was the highlight of the outstanding evening for me. We saw a springhare. It looks like a cross between a kangaroo, a rabbit, and a rat. It is, in fact, a rodent, and it hops around on kangaroo-like feet and legs. It hopped around in our headlights for some time.

Furry female waterbuck in the light of day.

Furry female waterbuck in the light of day.

One night: three genets, four bat-eared foxes, and a springhare. I call that worth the effort, but there was more, too: springbok, gemsbok, kudu, wildebeest, and even a waterbuck. Another highlight of the evening was seeing how gemsbok and kudu deal with fences.

Gemsbok in light of day.

Gemsbok in light of day. The rugby players.

I’ve been referring to gemsbok as rugby players based on their stocky, muscular build and the way they run. I still think it’s a good comparison. To get past a fence, the gemsbok we saw put their heads down and pushed, bending the fence as they forced their way underneath.

Kudu, Namibia

Kudu in daylight. Lumpy? Gangly? I think so.

On the other hand, I’ve been calling kudu lumpy and gangly. Other than the gorgeous spiraling horns on the males, kudu didn’t have much to raise them on the Awesome Antelope list, but that changed on this night drive. We saw them leap. It was impressive.

Over and over again, we saw kudu stop in front of a fence and then effortlessly leap over it. No running start required. Apparently, those lumpy, gangly bodies are built to jump, and they look smooth and graceful doing it.

Twice during the night we pulled over and shut our eyes for an hour, but it was an exciting drive, and that kept us awake and alert.

The Next Morning

The road to Maun, Botswana, through a rain storm.

The road to Maun, Botswana, through a rain storm.

The following day we crossed the border into Botswana without any drama, and made our way to Maun, through sun and the hardest rain we’ve had in six weeks. The final day of our six-week road trip covered 1,000 miles and lasted about 36 hours. It was fan-flipping-tastic!

May 072015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

Today we drove from the bottom of Fish River Canyon at Ai-Ais to the top at Hobas.

Kudu female, Namibia

Mama kudu.

Shortly after we left the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort, we happened upon a female kudu. Normally, kudu dash away, but this one lingered, albeit anxiously.

Kudu baby behind fence, Namibia

Kudu baby stranded behind a fence.

She was on one side of the road having cleared or gotten through two fences, while her young’un was stranded and trapped on the other side of the road. It paced along the fence, calling to Mom.

I wondered how Mom had gotten past the fences and if/how the baby would, but I hate stressing out wildlife. We didn’t stick around to satisfy my curiosity.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

It didn’t take long to get to the northern park entrance and the campground at Hobas. We spent most of the day driving to viewpoints along the canyon rim. The first few are accessed by a decent 2WD gravel road, but then there’s just a 4WD track over the natural, rocky terrain.

Fish River Canyon, dry riverbed, Namibia

Dry riverbed in Fish River Canyon. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Fish River Canyon vies for the title of the World’s Second-Largest Canyon after the Grand Canyon. A canyon on the Nile is the competition, and the winner depends on how one measures, whether by length, width, height, or volume.

It makes no difference to me whether Fish River Canyon is second- or third-largest. That it is up there with the largest is impressive.

Fish River Canyon, waterholes, Namibia

Puddles in Fish River Canyon. Clickable pic.

Does it matter to anyone that Fish River Canyon got to this size with intermittently running water rather than constantly flowing water like the Nile has? Hmmm . . . does anyone consider that?

Although, for all I know, water might have run constantly here for thousands or millions of years. Now, however, it does not. Currently, there are a few puddles in the canyon.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon. Clickable pic.

It is a 4-day hike through the canyon, starting here and ending in Ai-Ais. However, the canyon is closed to all hiking during the summer—which is right now—because officials have deemed it’s too hot. Signs along the rim indicate it’s against the rules to wander down into the canyon even for a short day hike.

I don’t understand that. There are several places where it’s possible to walk safely down into the canyon, and it’s not terribly hot before noon. I imagine the rule simply means “If you want to do it, you’re on your own.” However, the park has built overlooks, and I think it would be nice if they’d build a couple of short trails—or at least not forbid use of existing ones.

Fish River Canyon Rim, Namibia

Driving along the rim. Okay, the track wasn’t actually this close to the rim; we just parked here to freak Mom out. Clickable pic.

The map didn’t indicate the 4WD track went all that far, but it took us all day nonetheless. I’m not sure if the track now goes farther than it once did or if it was just super slow going. Or, perhaps, we dawdled. We had nothing else on our agenda.

Quiver Tree at Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Quiver tree, an aloe.

We finally got up close to a quiver tree, close enough to touch and inspect it. It looks rather Seussian to me. It’s an aloe, indigenous to southern Africa, and all three subspecies are on the red list of threatened species.

Euphorbia, Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Euphorbia at Fish River Canyon.

I also inspected bushes that look like catci but I now believe are another Euphorbia, like the slate-pencil bushes we noted in Palmwag. As these plants die, the ribs with spines outlast everything else. I got several in my flip-flop. Clearly, the plant doesn’t like being scrutinized or admired; I was punished for getting too close. I can respect that.

Ostriches and Springbok at Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Ostriches and at least five springbok. See them? Clickable pic.

We saw some wildlife here: zebras, springbok, and ostriches. See the ostriches? How about the springbok? There are no zebras that I can find, but I do see at least five springbok in this photo. Click it for a larger version and see how many you can find.

Sunset at Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Sunset at Fish River Canyon. Clickable pic.

Sunset at the canyon overlook is a big daily event, the hyped thing to do. Tour buses offer a sunset dinner at the overlook. Ooooooo.

Sunsets in general are over-rated and anticlimactic, if you ask me. Here, the sun goes down across the canyon, so there’s little interesting light play on the canyon walls that we can see from this side. Sunset is just the sun going down below the horizon as it does everywhere else, too.

The sun rising behind us should be more interesting, but then visitors would have to get out of bed early, and that’s something many people cannot bear. Silly people.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Fish River Canyon. Clickable pic.

The canyon is much prettier at any other time of day. But that’s just my (often contrary) opinion.

May 062015
 

Twelve photos from each day of our Africa adventure.

It was a fairly long day of driving, back through the wide-open desert, snaking between crumbly gray hills, along the Orange River, and to the end of Fish River Canyon.

 Desert roadside rest area, Namibia

Roadside rest area. We use the pullouts, but we never eat at these tables.

It’s the last we’ll see of the extensive and wildly interesting Namib Desert, said to be the oldest desert in the world. We feel the end of the trip upon us. Fish River Canyon is our last destination before returning to Maun, where we’ll have some quiet time with (domestic) cats before the trip home.

Near Rosh Pinah, Namibia

Suburbs of Rosh Pinah. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

We passed through Rosh Pinah, a mining town, around lunchtime, as hundreds of school kids were walking to or from school. The quantity of kids suggested the town was substantial, but the roads and buildings indicated otherwise.

We were unsure if we needed to purchase park and camping permits here in the town or if we could get them on site, so when I saw a sign for the Minestry of Environment and Tourism, we decided to visit the office.

Except we couldn’t find the office.

The sign with an arrow pointing to the right was posted after a roundabout rather than before it, but there is no right turn immediately or even soon after the sign. The right turn is before the sign.

We took the right turn and never saw another sign, not a road sign, not a building sign. We drove all the roads in the vicinity and saw nothing but houses, small buildings, and school children in uniforms.

We gave up and decided we’d get gas and trust we could buy the necessary permits on site.

Every time we’ve gotten gas in Namibia, workers have rushed to serve us. Sometimes four or five workers will pump gas and wash windows. Here, in this strange town, no one approached the car. Another car beside us at the pump had finished filling up, and a couple of workers seemed to be standing around chatting, but no one moved toward us. No one spoke to us. We sat there.

Was this a self-serve station—the only one in Namibia? Was there something we were to do? Had Mike inadvertently pushed the Invisibility Cloak button?

We waited for a couple of minutes and then left. We would be passing through other towns before our tank was empty. If this unhelpful town didn’t want our business, so be it.

Weird. A little unfriendly and standoffish.

That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the day, at least until we arrived at Ai-Ais.

Our road snaked through a rocky, gray, mountainous area. It was a rough road, but not 4WD. Mines in the area have left behind tailings piles, dead (or at least unused-for-some-time) equipment, and oodles of retired tires. The landscape looked dumpy and gray. It appears mostly abandoned, though there was heavy machinery working at one place, which I guess was a mine.

Truth be told, the place was kind of scary. Dismal. Ugly. It would be easy to hide not only bodies out here but cars, too. It was the human element that made the place scary: the ugly tailings piles that hide who-knows-what, the abandoned machinery corpses, the twisty-turning roads that lead who-knows-where, all set against stories of violence and crime in some mining industries. The place shows signs of humans who don’t seem to care, and that’s not pleasant.

It wasn’t just me and my wild imagination, either. Mike felt it, too.

And then, around a corner, we came to this:

Orange River, Namibia

Surprise! Orange River.

The Orange River. We haven’t seen an actual flowing river since the Kunene on the northern edge of Namibia. Here, we’re on the southern edge of the country. In fact, across the river, you’re looking at South Africa.

Orange River, Namibia

Orange River.

Through the crumbly, gray mountains winds this lovely green river. An oasis in a dreary place. The greenery doesn’t extend beyond the banks of the river, and if we turn around the terrain quicky gets ugly again.

Klipspringers, Namibia

Klipspringers. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

Klipspringers spruce up the place, though. These guys are little—a bit taller than steenbok—but they are bulkier and shaggier.

Orange River, Namibia

Orange River. Click for a larger image. Use your back button to return here.

I think of the Himba up around dry Puros and the town we just came through today, and I wonder why people don’t come live here instead. What a difference water makes. I never want to live without water.

Orange River, Namibia

Orange River. Clickable pic.

A little bit of green in an expansive gray landscape makes a big difference.

Chacma Baboon, Namibia

Chacma baboon.

Baboons and klipspringers bound up the rocky mountainsides, making good use of both the rocks and the river.

Farms irrigated by Orange River, Namibia

Farms irrigated by the Orange River. Clickable pic.

Just as we were turning away from the beautiful, green Orange River, we could see upriver to where farms were making use of the river to irrigate.

Toward Ai-Ais, Namibia

Turning away from the Orange River to Ai-Ais. Clickable pic.

And then we turned north, away from the river. Gah! Were all our water containers full? Can we stop and get a drink? I feel parched.

Have I ever told you how much I like water?

Camping at Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort, Namibia

Ai-Ais campsite.

We camped at the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort. “Ai-Ais” means “burning water” in one of the local languages. We were not the only campers here. There was one other party in the 50+-site area.

Apparently, the hot springs were discovered in 1850 by a Nama herder searching for his lost sheep. Given how long people have been on this continent, I have a hard time believing the hot springs weren’t discovered until 1850.

Pool at Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort, Namibia

A dip in the Ai-Ais Hot Springs pool.

In the morning, we started the day with a dip in the hot springs pool. I confess it didn’t sound appealing, and we didn’t intend to do it. Who wants to start what will undoubtedly be a too-hot day with a dip in too-hot water? But we stuck our toes in and then sat down with our feet in the pool because, you know, we were here, and the water quickly went from really hot to really comfortable. So we got the whole way in, and it was refreshing and delightful.