4wd

Damaraland – A Red Rocky Realm

Damaraland - A Red Rocky Realm

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It’s been a while since our last blog, but that doesn’t mean nothing interesting has happened. Quite the opposite! We had no time to write blogs, we were busy living and experiencing life at its fullest (plus it’s holiday season, time for family and friends)!

Now, where did we leave our last blog? I think we just left the Kaokoveld region in Namibia and we were heading to the next destination: Palmwag. By then we had been in the wilderness for about five days and there is only so much fresh food that fits in our little car fridge. Our next stop looked like a pretty big town on the map (based on the fact that the letters were a larger font than the other towns), so we figured we could find a store and stock up. Heading towards Palmwag, we found ourselves in a different landscape again. This time it was quite hilly, and all over the hills were loose red rocks. You can imagine it looked beautiful, and also, we could see far ahead. We rounded a corner and according to the map, we were supposed see Palmwag in the near distance…  But, all we saw was something that looked like a lodge? So, I grabbed the Lonely planet to figure out what was going on, and where we could stay in Palmwag. It said Palmwag Lodge was the main accommodation and not much more about the town. The lodge we saw in the distance turned out to be Palmwag Lodge, it also turned out to be Palmwag... That was it! There was no town, just the lodge and campsite with it! Okay, a few kilometres down the road there were a few houses clustered together, but the inhabitants all worked at this Lodge (and campsite), so that was it basically! One of the best examples we have seen so far, of a community benefiting from tourism! Oh and plus, definitely no shopping for us.

Red rocky landscape!

The employees, especially the people from the reception, were brilliant; very nice and funny! After a good welcome we found ourselves on a campsite in the heat and thus we went off to the swimming pool. Here we were greeted by a blond woman in a pink bikini who was getting in the pool meanwhile complaining loudly about the freezing temperatures of the water. I totally agreed with here, so we bounded immediately. Tamarra (her name) and her friend Denise are from Canada, which Lars and I agree is a country that is definitely in the top 3 of producing the nicest, most fun people in the world. And Denise and Tamarra only reinforced this feeling! We decided to visit the Palmwag reserve the next morning together in one car; money saving and much more fun!

All involved agreed waking up early would be best (as usual…) and so Lars and I cleared out the car to make room for Tamarra and Denise, and we left the following morning around 6 am. We had heard that a pride of lions had been spotted the day before, and after a lot of digging we did NOT get the information of their whereabouts. Our last chance was to ask the guy at the gate, so after greeting the guy good morning (no response), Lars asked the question: “Do you know where the lions are?” This was his response: he pointed through the gate… Okay… “Sooo, they are inside the park?” A nod… nothing else. You know what, we kind of figured that out by ourselves! We tried one more time to get a little more detail, chatting him up with all our combined charms, trying to keep our faces straight. Alas, no response. Then we wished him a good day and finally (!) he mumbled something that sounded like goodbye back! He just wanted us to leave him alone?!! After this last response, we couldn’t stop laughing for quite a while.

We still set out to find those lions. However, after a very long drive (way past lunch time), we hadn’t found them. We did come across three of those infamous desert elephants. This is where we learned that desert elephants (logically) are smaller than normal elephants and they have spindlier legs to support their long distance traveling for water. In short, they are cute!! At the same time, we also saw several giraffes on top of a hill. The rest of the drive we enjoyed the landscape, the company and the challenging roads.

We figured that we would try another short drive that afternoon and find them lions then! This time we entered through the other gate, and boy, we should’ve done that this morning!! This guy knew all the things that were spotted in the park and actually stopped us to point it out on the map. However, the lions had left their last spotted place and were now roaming freely. But, as I mentioned to Lars only a few days before, we still hadn’t found meerkats. You know, Timo!! And I really, really wanted to see those cute little guys. Much more than lions. And as usual, my wish was fulfilled by Lars. All of the sudden he stopped and asked for the binoculars. And all of us had no idea how he had spotted them, because they were so small and pretty far away, but there they were! A group of meerkats coming out of their hiding, and there were even young ones. Omg, it was so cute, I had a Despicable Me moment “their soo cute I’m gonna die!!”

Anyway, the visit to this area wasn’t just for fun. In this area 70% of the remaining free roaming black rhinos are found and this is mainly due to the efforts of one organization; Save the Rhino Trust. We were able to get in touch with them and visit their basecamp and it is amazing what they have done. Please read more about our visit to them here (under construction) or visit their website to help them even further!

Now we are a few more days since leaving the wilderness, and still we haven’t done any shopping. We asked where the nearest supermarket was and you won’t believe it, but turns out we had to drive for two and a halve hours to get there. Not just that, it was the same place where we had our shocks fixed. This country is at the same time very big (read distance-wise) and very small (read limited amount of shops-wise). After our visit to the shop (the size of a small shed), we headed towards the Skeleton Coast. We had planned to spend a night along the coast, inside the National Park but when we arrived at the gate, we heard that this campsite only opened the next day… So the only way was through (transit). Lucky for us, this turned out for the best, because after driving for a few hours, it was pretty much all the same. Very cool, but still the same, the landscape felt like we were driving on the moon surface. The shipwrecks you can find along this coast (where its name comes from), are pretty much all perished except for a few stumps. Plus something of which we’re not entirely sure what it was, some machinery, but all rusted and therefore pretty cool looking.

We camped at a small fisherman campsite called Mile 108, very busy with white South Africans coming down the coast for the holidays for fishing, all in very big 4WD trucks to drive down the beach. The owner was very nice; he glued my Birkenstocks back together, so I wouldn’t trip anymore every time I walked, plus he showed us a beautiful off-road track through a river bedding on our way to Brandenberg, the highest mountain of Namibia. On our way we went and again we had to make a detour, this time for fuel. The two fuel stations we thought we would come across on our way, well, they didn’t have any fuel… Fortunately it wasn’t a big detour and after a beautiful drive through a crater landscape (literally through a crater called the Messum crater) we arrived at the campsite. During this drive we had seen Dragon heads and Welwitschia’s, one of the ugliest, but coolest flower species I have ever seen, an individual can live up to thousands of years (in Afrikaans it is called Tweeblaarkanniedood)!

The following morning, we visited a rock art painting known as “The White Lady”. This painting is famous because it is one of the most detailed rock paintings you can find in the world, plus it is beautiful! It is, however, not a lady, but a shaman fully decorated to perform a ritual and the painting has been severely damaged by early tourism where people poured water over it etc. A painting that is 2000 years old! And on the same panel there were simpler, but even older paintings of 5000 years old.

But that wasn’t even the best part of our visit. This was our local guide, as soon as we had him talking. Lars and I sometimes play this game where we try to guess which country people come from. So, I asked this guide if they do the same when people come walking up. And he said yes! Well of course I wanted to know what they look at. Here’s his (I think very accurate, especially considering it is only based on experience and not prejudices) description:

  • German: they are all overly prepared; big boots, sunglasses and hats, even long trousers against the sun!
  • Dutch: very tall, not just the men but the women are as tall as the men! They always hike wearing slippers.
  • French: like the Dutch but much smaller, and the guy always wears the stuff for both of them.
  • Italian: they talk a lot and they don’t listen to each other!
  • South African (white): the men are always fat, a big belly and the women mostly skinny.
  • American: same as South Africans, but the women are also fat. Plus, they mostly arrive in big groups with a tour bus.

I’m not entirely sure if he was afraid to say anything else about the Dutch because he seemed a little bit reluctant when I asked, maybe he wanted to add something like that we ask too many questions! But anyway, it was a very interesting cultural (past and presence) walk and as it can become 40 degrees between those mountains, we were happy we went early in the morning. But now we didn’t have much to do the rest of the day, and thus we hang out at the pool, did yahtzee and drank ciders, finishing the night with a nice braai (with all those fresh veggies we just drove 500 km’s for).

From Eddie and Vera we had heard that the riverbeds around this region were especially pretty and after advice from the locals, we set out to follow the (mostly dry) river the next morning. And wow, it was amazing! You can’t imagine just sitting in a car and having such a beautiful day, it’s insane! At one point we had to leave the riverbed, because we were being submerged by reeds and we weren’t sure if we would be able to get back out if we went any further. Plus, there might have been some elephants in those reeds. But then the rest of the drive was along the Brandenberg and the view was amazing. We ended at the local SRT base camp (as they are also attending this area).

The next day we decided to go back to civilization, but not after one last drive through the riverbed. The thing is, if you want to get out of the riverbed you basically need to go straight up the rocky and steep slope surrounding the riverbed valley. With the help of Tracks4Africa we found the trail that would lead us out and it was insane. And a lot of fun!!! And a little bit scary. You can’t imagine what people call roads, but slowly we made it out!

After this adventure we drove back to the coast to visit the Cape Cross Seal Colony. That was another experience. I wouldn’t say it was fun, but it was definitely something. There were hundreds of thousands of fur seals at this cape and it was the most horrific stench I have ever, and I mean EVER, smelled. This was not just because there were so many seals, or so I assume, it was also because all of them just had young’s (about two weeks old) and a lot of young don’t survive the first few weeks. I won’t dwell on all the different reasons, but what it comes down to is that besides the many cute alive ones, there were also a lot of dead pups thereby increasing the smell of death. But hé, that’s live! At least all the brown hyena’s and jackals do not have to worry about food. We found a lot of tracks and even saw several jackals along the coastline.

Our final destination that day was Swakopmund, a pretty big tourist town along the coast. The first thing we did that night was visit the cinema! Never thought I would say this, but it was good to be back in civilization! And so, to make up for this feeling, we spent five nights in this town. Read about the friendships we made here and our visit to the surreal Sossusvlei iin our next blog!  

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Zambia, a double-edged welcome

Zambia, a double-edged welcome

Zambia, a double-edged welcome

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Lars

Our next stop was the Botswana-Zambian border, Kazungula, where you take the ferry to Zambia. At arrival, we were immediately bombarded with local guys that wanted to help us with the crossing. We accepted one of them, but got the whole group. They were all waiting for us after we were cleared by Botswana immigration, waiving at us that we needed to hurry. Then they went ahead and ran in front of the car like a herd of pouncing antelope. The ferry however, was on the other side of the Zambezi, so we couldn’t really determine why we had to hurry! I guess it will remain one of the many mysteries in Africa. It is never boring here, I can assure you.

The ferry crossing went smoothly with the help of our troop, but we knew the hardest part was still to come: the Zambian side of the border. Normally when crossing a border you have to enter just one building, show your passport, maybe write down some info and voila, but in Zambia they do it different. Radically different.

Kellie

If you ever cross the Botswana border into Zambia with a car, this is the information you will need to make it a little easier. The first few things you will absolutely need to get your car and yourselves across the border into Zambia: Kwacha (Zambian money), US dollars and all the right paperwork for your car (see www.zambiatourism.com). If you have the currencies before crossing, it will save you a whole lot of money, because you can’t get them from an ATM or office within the border area. But there is always a way, as the troops are there with spare dollars and kwacha’s. First up, the visa can only be paid in USD (weird as fuck, I know), and for a single-entry costs 50 USD and double-entry 80 USD. If you want to visit Victoria falls on the Zimbabwe side when you are in Zambia, you should definitely get the double-entry, or lose money and time on it. Then we went to the next counter which was for… well I’m not entirely sure.. We showed our papers of the car; got another paper; had to go around the building; enter on the other side (we could see the counter we were before through the panel of this counter, it was in the same room) and got another stamp on our papers from a guy who was taking an, apparently very funny, phone call at the same time. After this we had to go back around to the first counter, the woman there wanted to check our car. Apparently, the engine number on our blue book, didn’t match the engine number it the car, or at least the one we could find. But everything else was fine, so we could pass through anyway. If you drive in Zambia, you need to have reflecting bumper stickers, red at the back white in the front. They try to sell those to you at the border for a huge price (200 pula). In our experience, she didn’t even check this and you should just stop at the first shop when you are in Zambia and find them there, saves you money!

(Btw, don’t stop reading here, we’ll eventually get to the fun part of Zambia!)

Then we took all of the papers we had collected with us to an adjoining building to get a CIP number, which is a Customs Importation Permit. First, we showed our papers at one desk after waiting a while, this guy looked at it and didn’t do anything else, but told us to go to the woman at the desk next to him. She filled in all of our information and gave us the CIP number. My efficient Dutch brain was already in overdrive, but this double-desk thing seemed even more useless than what we’d been through so far. The next thing she tells us, go to that counter outside to pay for what she just gave us… My brain decided to stop working.

So here we paid for carbon taxes, 275 Kwacha, with our environmental background we could appreciate this. Next up was paying the toll fees, which again, can only be paid in USD and was 48 USD for our car. Oh btw, even the ferry crossing could not be paid in Pula (Botswana money) and was 150 Kwacha. Anyway, after that we went to a cute, and compared to everything else, deserted building where we had to pay for some kind of Council fee, whatever that is, no one could explain! This was 30 Kwacha per person. Finally, we could pass the gate into Zambia. But we weren’t finished yet. Even though we had insurance that covered Zambia, by law you need to buy a Third-Party insurance in Zambia. And thus 162 Kwacha for a month was our final money leacher. Or so we thought, because we still had to pay back the guys that helped us. The only money we had was Pula, where would we have gotten Kwacha or USD? We didn’t try, but I suggest trying some banks in Kasane or Kazungula on the Botswana side and see if you’re lucky they have either one of that. For us, our helping man had paid for everything. We had to pay him back with Pula. But how would they make money from us if they didn’t get it back with a huge interest. So we advise you to find the exact buying rates for USD and Kwacha to Pula, because they will tell you whatever. And then discuss everything in advance, so the won’t take advantage of you. We wanted to pay the guy who helped us separately, but they wanted about a 1000 pula more than we had calculated, so we didn’t pay more. It did not feel like a very good welcome I can tell you, we were happy to get out of there… 2,5 hours later and 330 euro poorer… Which was 80 euro more than we had calculated. I really hope he will spread this money amongst the whole group that ran with us.

Livingstone

For that day we had taken into account the option that it could take a whole day, but it was only 2,5 hours! Now we arrived in Livingstone around noon. And after we treated ourselves on a beautiful and lekker lunch, we checked-in at Jollyboy’s Backpackers and relaxed at the pool the rest of the day! We loved Jollyboys, it is a backpackers right up our alley as they do recycling and use solar panels etc.

Lars chilling at the Zambezi River after our visit to the Zambian side of the falls.

The next day we went to see Victoria falls. Lonely planet had told us that this month would still be a very good month to go. However, as soon as we drove up to the border, we were told the Zambian side was all but dried up. It was not worth to pay the 20 USD per person to get in. So we didn’t and instead were taken by a very drunk, but very funny Zambian to cross the Zimbabwe border onto the bridge. Simon (his name) told us everything he knew about the falls and some other, more irrelevant stuff, like how to take care of your wife (as he assumed we were married). He tried to convince us the money we gave him would go to his education… sure..!

Our cute an drunk "guide" Simon, telling us about the falls, wanting to take pictures of us. But we don't trust him with the camera on a bridge!

The next day however, we went to the Zimbabwe side. Along with us, three other people from Jollyboys went; Marcela from The Netherlands (cousin of Marc, the Dutch fish farmer in Zambia from Boer zoekt Vrouw, sorry Marcela, had to mention it!), Morgan from California and Dave from Virginia (he was my dad’s age!). As soon as we entered the park, we felt the cool wind from the falls. Then we went around a corner and were undeniably overwhelmed by what we saw! It is amazing what nature can create, all that water crashing down!! It looked absolutely stunning and every lookout was a little different and as pretty or prettier than the one before! After a few hours we got hungry, so we went inside Victoria Falls town and had a local lunch, eaten the way it is supposed to be eaten, with our hands! Then we went back to Jollyboys, and after a good cooling down dive in the swimming pool, we had a few beers to toast the day. But the day wasn’t over yet, it was Friday night! We met two German volunteers, a Zambian and a Welsh guy who were working at a school in Livingstone. The Welsh guy convinced us, and a group of about twelve Canadians, to go to a local club. This club had a great mix of tourists and locals. And damn, those Africans can dance! You know those dance battles in movies where people form a circle around a dance off, well that’s what happened in this club. It was great entertainment!

Livingstone had taken the hard edge of our welcome in Zambia. And this day was the perfect ending to our stay in Livingstone. The next morning we were up early (considered) and on our way to Lusaka where we met with Sue and Jeff from VisionZambia. You can read about the amazing work they do in this blog,

Did you like reading this blog? Or do you have any questions or comments, please don’t be shy to give a comment in the section below.

Marcela, Morgan and Me! With a beautiful rainbow in the background.

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