african wilderness

Swakopmund – The quirky remnants of a colonial past

Swakopmund - The quirky remnants of a colonial past

Our visit to an "African" town.

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Normally, we can stay in African cities/towns for a day or two, after which we are glad that we are on the road again to a wilder destination. Some of the African cities are just too big, with cars everywhere and so many people! Others are too small and simply boring, even mind numbing (both in activities and appearance). In Swakopmund, however, we felt at peace. It is a quirky town, in more than one way; not too big, but it still populates enough people to facilitate a cinema, restaurants, shops, etcetera. Perhaps the weirdest thing about Swakopmund is that it is riddled with “old” German style colonial buildings; think of apres-ski in the desert and you’ll get the picture. The thing is, however, that it kinda fits; like when a thing is so ugly or misplaced that it becomes something you can actually appreciate. This might be because the Swakopmundian (?) climate is probably more similar to a German summer than any Namibian season (doesn’t matter which one, all the same). What makes it so German is the thick layer of fog and “cold” winds that are blown towards Swakopmund by the Antarctic current every day. The fog and the wind can only travel inland for maximum 60 km’s, after which they lose the battle from the heat and drought. Most of the time, only a few kilometres inland from Swakopmund, it will become scorching hot with a bright blue sky and blazing sun, while in Swakopmund you have to wear long pants and sweaters… Really strange huh?!   

Wearing sweaters in the desert!

On the day of our arrival we were really looking forward to do something you can only do in a city. Can you guess what? Going to a cinema! We parked the car on a camping at the edge of town and after a warm shower we started walking towards the cinema, while playing Pokemon on our phones of course. We decided to go to the new DC movie, Justice League. We payed for the movie and popcorn, when we were confronted with a dazzling array of flavours to put on our popcorn. Apparently, Africans need more than just sweet and salt (in the Netherlands you’re considered a rebel when you even mix sweet and salt). But here you can choose chutney, salt and vinegar, pepper and cheese and onion (probably forgot a few). And as if picking one isn’t hard enough, you also have to decide how much you put on your popcorn. For us it was just too much choice, so we let the guy behind the counter decide. Big mistake! The amount of cheese and onion that he put on the popcorn was just too much for our taste buds!

Except for the popcorn we didn’t have anything to eat that evening and we were craving for “not our own cooked food”. So, we went to a Chinese restaurant… Not the best idea, as it was probably the least tasty fish I ever ate! In our defence, it was positioned next to the cinema. The next day, however, we decided to make up for the Chinese experience by going to a proper fish restaurant. We changed accommodation that day from the camping to a really cool backpackers, called Desert Sky Backpackers. The lady at reception advised us to go to the Tug. I didn’t really understood why you would call your fish restaurant the Tug, until we arrived there. Apparently, the restaurant is made out of an old towing ship, called the Tug. We had such a good evening there! Our table was positioned next to the captain’s steering wheel, so it really felt like we were inside a ship (Kellie: We were! It just wasn’t floating) . In addition, the service was good, the location of the restaurant great (at the start of the pier) and the food was awesome. We had the seafood extravaganza (the actual name of the dish), which we shared. After eating veggies and a little bit of meat for about three months, it was exactly what we needed! There were two types of fish on it, calamari, big ass prawns and something called John Dory Goujons. So good! To finish it off, Kellie had probably the best dessert ever; thé chocolate fondant (you know, with the molten chocolate core). Overall, it cost us only €50, which made the experience only better! While rolling back to the backpackers, I can say that we were completely satisfied.

The next 5 nights we stayed at this same Backpackers. This is definitely a personal record for us; staying at one accommodation willingly in one city for a period of time while travelling! You may applaud. This feat was made possible by our full agenda; we had lots to do on the computer, made some really good friends at the backpackers, visited two head offices of awesome projects, cleaned the car, serviced the car, did some shopping and decided to spent some serious cash on local activities. I am not going to bore you with the car/shopping/laptop stuff, so just lets fastforward to the first activity we participated in: Tommy’s Living Desert Tour.

The main purpose of this tour is to get a deeper understanding and respect for the desert and its inhabitants by going to the Namib desert in a big 4x4 from the 70’s (they only drive on the same paths to minimize the damage to the environment). Tommy, our tour guide, turned out to be a real comedian and at the same time a passionate talker about the desert and all its mysteries. He taught us that the desert is an extremely vulnerable ecosystem with animals that are very well adapted to these harsh conditions. With his tracker, they found sidewinding snakes that move with a sideways motion limiting contact between its body and the hot sand, a horned viper which can belly dance itself just below the sandy surface, a web-footed gecko that is translucent (can actually see some of its organs!) and can dig like crazy, a namibian sand spider which is the most lethal spider in the world (well according to Africans, not Ozzies would tell you else), and a namaqua chameleon which is just the best creature ever! How cool to be able to see these animals in their natural surroundings! It got even cooler when, on the way back, we drove over some big sand dunes which stretched all the way to the ocean. After this beautiful drive across the dunes, we entered the highway again to take us back to Swakop. Amazing experience!

The other activity we did was ocean kayaking! The main attraction here was another big fur seal colony at Walvisbaai. The beauty of kayaking with fur seals is that they don’t see you as a threat when you’re in the water (they apparently do not have natural enemies in the water), unlike the mainland, where jackals and brown hyena’s try to eat their pups. This makes them really playful, enthusiastic and inquisitive which resulted in witnessing them throwing a dead fish over and over and fur seals basically jumping in our kayak! So much fun! On the route to the colony we also saw flamingo’s and jackals. We didn’t have the luck to see dolphins or whales, but who cares. Told you Swakop area is cool! Other activities you can do are skydiving, sand boarding on the dunes, racing on quads, riding on camels (yes, camels), fishing trips and probably a lot more, but we didn’t want to spent that much more money.

In between all the nice activities we also visited the HQ’s of Save the Rhino Trust (which we met in Palmwag) and Elephant Human Relation Aid (EHRA). Read about those experiences here and here respectively. The funny thing was that a day after we visited the HQ of EHRA a volunteering group of theirs stayed at our backpackers. From that group we especially bonded with Josh, ein German who was fortunate enough to be able to volunteer at various NGO’s (as you might know volunteering is not for free). Josh already knew Tim (a Dutchy, like us) from a previous visit to the backpackers. Tim practically lives at the Desert Sky Backpackers while “finishing” his Master thesis (he is in no hurry) on a German genocide that took place at the beginning of the 20ste century. Let’s just say the Germans practised their former traits in Namibia first. As a true historian he was genuinely a joy to listen to though! Tim had something on his bucketlist since arriving in Swakop, he just needed some victims to join him. He had the splendid idea of visiting the most posh and expensive hotels in Swakop for an alcoholic beverage. Next to his interest in their beers, he also wanted to visit these buildings because of their colonial past (one hotel was even used as the HQ by the Germans during the genocide). Of course, any person could see that we did not belong in these fancy hotels, so it was our strategy to act as sophisticated as possible. It was our believe that this was the only way that we could get our hands on them German beers. Before every hotel we entered, we straightened our faces and backs and walked in like undercover agents. It made sure that every beer tasted like victory.

After a few hotels (we managed to successfully infiltrate them all) we ended up at the farewell dinner of the EHRA volunteer group. After twelve days in the field with EHRA, most  of the volunteers go back home (except for Josh). We were not really invited to the dinner, but we were experienced in going undercover so no one would notice it anyway (plus we already befriended the boss of EHRA). Luckily, everyone accepted us and we had a blast with all the volunteers (also had some fish and beer). After dinner we went to a bar/club of which I forgot the name. It was one of those places where no one dances, but the music is really loud (strange concept). Talked a lot though, which I regretted the next day, and had some shots, which I regretted a second after that, but overall it was a good night =). Ooww yes, and we ended up at a KFC were I had a cold chicken burger (couldn’t find the strength to complain about it, so I ate it in silence → Kellie: not really silence, just complaining big time to us, and not to the KFC staff).

The next morning we were a few friends richer. In the afternoon, we learned there was some sort of festival thingy going on near our previous campsite. We decided to go with Tim and Josh, but we never really found out what it was all about. Something with bikes and white people. The clue is however, that on our way back to the backpackers we stumbled on fishermen who were cleaning their fish before selling it to shops. I remember that a lightbulb lit up in my head and I approached a person that seemed to be in charge (only white dude, don’t mean to be racist, but that’s just how it is there). He offered me a snoek of at least a meter long (beheaded, gutted and cleaned) for 100 Namibian Dollar (about €6!) I was like “what”? Hell yeah! We even got a braaiing recipe for free. With pride probably written all over my face (Kellie: yup, and a lot of disbelieve), we walked back to the backpackers where we started prepping for the evening braai. We first marinated the fish in a lemon and parsley mayonnaise and started on building a fire. The fish was complemented with two tasty and colourful salads. That moment when we put the fish on the braai was magic and tasting it for the first time even better!

At the same time five South Koreans were also “grilling” something next to use. Instead of waiting for the fire wood to turn into searing hot coals (so that you can just put your meat on the grill), they put aluminium foil over the open fire, covered it with oil and started cooking their meat. This probably didn’t really work out the way they envisioned it because (with all the additional fat from the meat) the oil on the foil caught flame several times. I can tell you that it is quite funny to see five South Koreans frantically trying to put down a fire to protect their meal! They had enough meat though (I seriously think they ate, or burned, half a pig), so it didn’t really matter for them.

At the end of our meal we got joined by a strange, and already drunk, Namibian guy (probably in his forties and a bit shabby). He had an even stranger request; he asked if one of us could bring him to the local shebeen (liquor shop) for some booze, because he was too drunk to drive. First we were like, mmwwaahh… Not really. But when we finished eating I took him there, with his car. He had a manual Toyota, which normally wouldn’t be a problem, but we were in a former British colony so the steering wheel was on the wrong side. This meant that I also had to shift gears with my left hand, which was some getting used to. While driving he told me too much about his job (selling and maintaining air conditioners, mainly in mining), car, wife, children, drugs, etc. Even offered me a tour through Swakopmund. I had to drive though. Kindly rejected. Arriving at the shebeen, he told me to talk with and touch no one, okay… Most of the people there looked friendly so I didn’t know what the fuzz was about. But still, I kept a low profile. This was mostly because the shebeen didn’t look really welcoming, liqour shops in Africa are quite similar to banks in Europe; the liquor, money and employees are separated from the drunk people by a thick metal bar. Luckily we we’e in and out, and back at the backpackers in a jiffy (still not sure how he could tell me so much about himself in such a short amount of time).

The rest of the evening we talked around the campfire. The Namibian guy obviously talked the most, cracking one after the other offensive joke. Kellie, Tim and Josh soon left the campfire because of him after which he started showing me some of the worst photos and movies I have ever seen. Won’t go in detail, it was just too much. Fortunately, he noticed that I didn’t like it and he decided to go to bed. Kellie and I followed his example soon after, we had to leave Swakopmund the next morning for Sossusvlei. Tim and Josh though, went out for a drink with some Americans which apparently (they told us everything about it in the morning) escalated really bad. One of the American girls had something of a mental breakdown (might have been a psychosis). According to Josh and Tim, the girl “escaped” from the backpackers without a key (3 PM or so = not safe), so they decided to run after her, bring her back and calm her down. It took them all night! Allegedly, she shouted things about being possessed and wanting to walk into the ocean. We slept through all of it 😉. After that story and our morning tea, we thanked the guys for the wonderful time in Swakop and drove off in the direction of the desert. Back to the warmth and more adventures! Read about the surrealistic Sossusvlei in our next blog!

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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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Kaokoveld – a pathway into another world

Kaokoveld - A pathway into another world

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Lars

Silence… No cars moving in the distance, no chirping sounds of birds, not even a touch of wind. Complete silence… It truly can be deafening, as they say. We were parked on top of a mountain pass, lying in our rooftop tent with all the blinds open. We had crawled into our sleeping bags, looking like big cocoons with only our heads sticking out, the only parts exposed to the chilly night air. Above us was the night sky in its full glory, the Milky Way stretching from one side of the horizon to the other. What a night, what a place!  

Our beautiful view on the mountain top!

Three days earlier we entered the region called Kaokoveld, which lies in the north-west of Namibia. It is believed to be one of the true remaining wildernesses of southern Africa and we were there to test this statement. It is known for its rough terrain and roads, the beautiful landscapes and the local tribe called the Himba. You have probably seen them on the telly or a magazine. The Himba, especially the women, still hold on to their traditions by “dressing” as they have done for who knows how long. As the quotation mark implies the Himba women live in a fairly naked state; their boobs can freely enjoy the wild outdoors (no cloth to hold them back from encroaching on lower regions), as is most of the rest of their body except (luckily) their mid-level private parts. To accent their features, and protect them from the sun, they cover themselves with oker, which gives their skin a beautiful dark red colour.    

 

Two Himba woman and Kellie

The unofficial capital of the Himba is Opuwo. Driving into this city felt other-worldly, almost like entering a Star Wars movie. In addition to the Himba, the Herero people also call the Koakoveld region their home. Almost to compensate for the cloths that the Himba lack, the Herero women wear long dresses in any colour imaginable as bright as they get (imagine bright pink or fluorescent green) and they finish their style with a hat that would even make our former queen, princes Beatrix, very jealous. The hats have two cool features: firstly, they always seem to match the dress and secondly, they protect the wearer from the scorching sun with a very interesting cap that has the shape of a triangle. Can you imagine that? Now imagine these beautiful people living side-by-side in a small city in the middle of a desert world, kinda begins to feel like Star Wars, huh? Very cool!!

The funny thing is that when arriving in Opuwo, you don’t really have time to adjust to this very different culture. The reason for our visit to this city was partly to prepare for the upcoming trip to the wilderness of Kaokoveld; we had to fuel up the car and get enough provisions to last us at least five days. The first thing we did was a visit to the fuel station where we were immediately bombarded by Himba ladies. Now, you have to know that I am very loyal to Kellie and I think it is very disrespectful to look at a woman’s “Tha-Thas!”, but… When they stand right in front of you to offer you their goodies (here, I mean other type of merchandize 😉) it is very hard not to have a peek. Luckily for me, Kellie agreed.  

Even though we had to get used to it and might make it sound like we're making fun of it, it was pretty obvious how proud these woman are of their heritage, and you can't do anything else than respect that. It is amazing how much royalty they radiate and I felt a vicarious pride for them!

A real African sunset!

The other reason why we were in Opuwo is because we wanted to visit an organization that supports local communities in setting up a conservancy. This organization is called Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (thankfully in short, IRDNC). Read more about IRDNC and our visit on the Projects Page, here (not yet published).

After we finished with the pre-trip prep we stayed the night at IRDNC’s camp and left for Kaokoveld the next morning. Now, the previous blog ended with us breaking our rear shocks in Etosha NP (read about it here). Although we fixed some new shocks we didn’t have the chance to thoroughly test them out. With the reputation of Kaokoveld, the knowledge that we need to cross and drive in some riverbeds and the information that it rained a few weeks ago in mind, we were slightly nervous whether we would be able to make it (even besides considering the new shocks). What did not help was that we came across a guy that got stuck in the mud (took him 5 hours to recover the motorhome!) and I saw a 4x4 car like ours getting towed back to civilisation (didn’t tell Kellie this at the time). (Red. aka Kellie: This is the first time I heard/read about it!) Nevertheless, we decided to go anyway! Only one way of finding out if you got what it takes right?

Our goals were to make it to the dots on the map called Orumpembe and Puros. These were two of the handful of named places where people live in Kaokoveld. Our interest in these places was that they were both the “capitals” of Orumpembe and Puros Conservancy. We wanted to know if the local people benefit from setting up a Conservancy, how they do it, what resources they use and if they use those resources sustainably. We already visited a Conservancy (called Mayuni, read about it here) in the Zambezi (former Caprivi) region, which worked surprisingly well. It would be interesting to see if their performance is shared with more Conservancies in Namibia or that it was special.

The first night we wanted to sleep at a campsite about 15 kilometers north of Orumpembe, it was called The House on the Hill. We had to drive about 150 kilometers that day to reach it. Doesn’t sound like that great of a distance, right? Well, it took us close to the whole day to reach it. The first section of road from Opuwo was still okay, relatively speaking. We could drive about 40 kilometers in the first hour/hour-and-a-half. From there on the road got narrower, rockier and hillier (including river bed crossings, which luckily were dry). Can’t imagine we drove faster than 20 kilometers per hour on average. We weren’t bored or frustrated for a second though, because the scenery was nothing less than spectacular (like New-Zealand spectacular, but then dry)! Slowly, as we proceeded, the landscape began to change; the trees and shrubs started to disappear, the mountains became higher and valleys in between flatter. It became more arid. For us this meant that the closer we got to our campsite the more we had to stop to enjoy the landscape and take some photographs. This probably contributed a lot to why it took us the whole day to reach the campsite .

With about 10 kilometres to go we noticed something strange in the distance. It looked like the dust trail of a car, but than huge. At a certain moment Kellie shouted: “it is a sand storm!” Now this is of course really cool, but according to our GPS the sand storm seemed to be in the exact location of our campsite! We drove on, we could always camp somewhere in the wild if necessary. The sand storm had a Namibian desert style orange colour, and as we got closer we could begin to see how the strong westerly ocean winds picked up the sand that was lying on a big plain. Luckily for us, we noticed now that our campsite was positioned just behind the sand storm, on the other side of a hill. We had to go through it though to get there. Just before we entered the storm we closed the windows and drove through. From a far it looked a lot more impressive and we past the sandy plain unharmed.

The small sandstorm!

The campsite was set against a hill (yes, with a house on it) and next to a dry riverbed. We had a lovely braai that night including portobello’s with goat cheese, puffed sweet potatoes and roasted corn. A local dog must have smelled our feast as he paid us a visit to search for scraps. He looked starved and Kellie gave him some bread, a can of salmon and lots of water. I think she made friends for life! (Red. one of the sweetest dogs we’ve come across!)

View on the sunset from the campsite!

The next morning, we talked with a guy called Exit (awesome nickname!) from the Conservancy (read about it here) and afterwards we left for the next destination, Puros. We noticed that in Kaokoveld you have always two options in going somewhere: through the riverbed or next to it. These roads are often connected every few kilometers, which meant that we could get out of the riverbed at any time if the riverbed was getting muddy or worse. Again, we felt empowered by the Tracks4Africa app which showed every little road there was with such accuracy! So, we decided to just give it a try! We deflated the tyres and drove right in. What a great decision that was! For a whole day we drove through a dry but green riverbed with on both sides stunning mountains. We found oryx, ostriches, giraffe and… a donkey?! From a distance it looked like the donkey was hopping strangely, but when we got closer we noticed that its front legs were tight by a rope. Who does such a thing?! We stopped and had a closer look. The rope was burning through its skin and the donkey clearly was struggling to move around. We decided to do something about it. We first tried to gain the donkeys trust by giving it some bread, but it didn’t want any of it. Maybe some water than? Nope, no interest. It was still hopping away from us. The donkey left us without options, we needed to corner him. On a ridge next to riverbed we sparred with the donkey; we tried to get close, the donkey turned its bottom to us as if to kick us and we had to retreat. This went on for about 10 minutes until the donkey finally surrendered and stood still. I talked to him with my soothing voice to keep him calm (red. Yeah right), while Kellie cut the rope. And we succeeded! The rope gave way and the donkey walked away as if nothing has happened. Good for you donkey!

Not long after that we left the riverbed and went up a mountain pass. The plan was to go down the mountain on the other side to another riverbed. When we made it to the top of the pass though, we decided to stop there and set up camp on the highest point, the view was simply too good to drive on. The wind was relentless up there and for about three hours we just sat in the wind (and sun) shade behind the car. With the sun almost setting we positioned ourselves for the show and waited…

With the sun dropping behind the mountains, the wind steadily ceased until it was completely quiet. In the beginning it is kind of unnerving (especially in the darkness), as if something can jump at you in any second. But you quickly get used to it and it is quite special! That night we set the alarm at 2.30 AM (we were sure that the moon would be gone by then) to learn how to make photographs of the night sky. When we woke up, the stars were magnificent!

To get a sense of how desolate this place is. The Kaokoveld is about 45 thousand square kilometres (the Netherlands is about 41 thousand square kilometres) and only a couple of thousand people live in it (excluding Opuwo). We didn’t come across another car while driving for two days straight. I think it is something very special that such places still exist, and we should cherish it as much as we can. And some of you might think that this is dangerous; what if the car breaks down!? If calamity strikes, and we get bogged or have a break down, we could always live with the Himba for a week or so until someone rescued us!

Nothing of the kind happened though! Sisi could take anything that Kaokoveld had to offer. With our confidence boosting we drove off down the other side of the mountain a couple hours after sunrise. Closing up on the next valley we drove around a part of the mountain and saw the next riverbed in the distance. Absolutely stunning! It looked like a piece of the Sahara with a riverbed oasis (including palm trees), but then with orange sand and placed between two mountain ridges. The vegetation was surprisingly lush, and we had the whole valley to ourselves. Well, besides the few giraffes and oryx of course! 

Just after lunch we arrived in Puros and set up camp, and cleaned out the car (dust was accumulating) after which we had a very short talk with a guy from the Puros Conservancy. We did some relaxing in the hammock and had a nice braai and the following morning we moved on to the next place, through, again, a different landscape. The Ongongo hotspring, this is a natural spring and the waterfall coming down was warm water! Here we camped and relaxed some more (Lars by playing around with the camera). This was our last stop in Kaokoveld and unfortunately we only found a lot of dung and no desert elephants. But! They also hang out in the next area we’re going; Damaraland. You can read more about this in our next blog!

Lars playing around with the camera, making pictures of the weavers above the pool!

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, 1 comment

Etosha National Park – The Arid Eden

Voor de Nederlandse versie – Klik Hier

Two days, 2200 Namibian dollar (±€130), two new shocks and 650 km’s in total, and we’re back at Etosha National Park western gate. Because this is where we took off with a dancing car, and when your car is dancing over every tiny bump, you know that something is not right! This is what happened: we had to drive down the worst road in the entire history of the world. Okay, maybe that’s not true, but it was the worst road we have ever been on!! Imagine those little “slow-down” bumps they put on roads sometimes for which you don’t actually have to slow down that much (80 k/h is perfect!). Now imagine about a thousand of those right after each other for about 40 km’s on stretch. HORRIBLE!! Depending on how fast you drive, you either stay sort of on top of them, meaning you won’t have any control of where you’re steering, because there is no friction with the road. Or the other option, drive real slow and feel e-v-e-r-y bump. We tried the first option first, driving about 40 km/h, and a madly focus on the road to be sure not to oversteer. And then faith hit and there was one bigger bump, we heard a big PANG, the back of the car drifted, and we were almost sideways on the road. Now luckily, 40 km/h is still quite slow, and nothing bad happened. But we had heard that noise, so we stopped the car, looked around if there were any lions, and then got out to check the car. Oh, we had to look around for lions, because this road happened to be inside Etosha National Park, a NP that is known for its good roads!!! WHAT?! Well, not the one going to the west, that’s for sure. Anyway, looking under the car, we saw oil dripping all over the back bottom and the tires, and a little smoke as well. We still don’t know anything about cars, so we had no idea what could’ve happened. Then a big truck came driving up and the guys were sweet enough to step out and have a look. I must say, they were a lot more worried about the possible lions in the vicinity, but that aside. They had a look at the oil, but also weren’t sure what happened. The engine seemed to be doing well. We checked all the oils and the brake fluid, double checked if it was the gasoline leaking. It seemed to be nothing like that, so we decided to drive on very slowly, hoping very much that we would make it to the next camp. Our initial plan was to leave the park, but we had chucked that one in the bin as soon as we heard that the next 40 km would be the same as this. And to not break our car further, we drove between 15 and 20 km/h! Now you think, that isn’t so bad when you’re in a game reserve, right? Find some animals? But this game reserve is very, very dry, and thus collects its animals around water holes. And we didn’t come across any waterholes, so there were no animals, just that endless number of bumps without relieve. And then a light turned on… the ABS.. Now what the hell does that mean?! (I told you we don’t know anything about cars). But, we are a bit prepared, or Lars was anyway, and he had bought an overlanding book. This mentioned something about an ABS, couldn’t find what it was exactly, something with the brakes. But I did find that we would be able to keep driving. That’s all we needed to know! Later Lars his brains worked again, and he remembered it stands for Automatic Brake System, whatever that is!

Anyway, we finally made it to the camp, called Olifantrus (I’ll spare you the dirty details of why it was named like this), and here we met a wonderful Dutch couple that got us easily out of our bad mood. When we entered the camp, there was a single bump and here we realized that the thing that had broken might have been our shocks, because our car danced after hitting the bump. Lars went to ask our neighbours, the ones with a beautiful, camperlike overlanding vehicle, to see if they might know a bit more. Marco (as tall as a Dutchman can be) came to have a look and confirmed our suspicion that one of the shocks had broken. This shock wasn’t even two months old! As always, we look at the bright sight of a bad thing and this time it was the fact that we had to stop at this camp. First of all, there was a beautiful waterhole with a hide next to it, so we saw a lot of owls and drinking black rhinos that night. Secondly, we got to know Yvonne and Marco. They had been traveling for six years!! What an amazing way to live. They are absolutely diehard travellers, and we could learn a lot from them. Not just for traveling, but also when we want to start our project, with their vast amount of experience. We heard a lot of stories, and if you would like to check out what they’re doing, you can find their facebook. They’ve been to Kafue NP and Yvonne told us that when we’re at our starting point, they would come visit and help us!

If you’ve read our blogs so far, you might have noticed that normally something good happens after something bad. Besides our meeting with Yvonne and Marco (which was very good), this time it was the other way around. A lot of amazing things had happened at Etosha National Park (and before the NP) before the car incident. This incident was to balance it out. But wait, let me start at the beginning.

And this time, the beginning is not exactly in a game reserve. Instead (before Etosha), we went to an area where we could hike, called the Waterberg Plateau. It was time to use our legs again, just like in Tsodilo hills (read about it here). We decided to stay there for two nights and the first morning we slept in (7.30 am) and took it slow before we finally made it up the mountain. It was a short, but beautiful hike, but because we were a bit late, we decided to head back to the pool and cool down! In the afternoon we had planned to go on a game drive. Apparently, the top of the plateau is a game reserve. Oh sorry, so we did go to a game reserve again. Anyway, after chilling at the pool, we went on the game drive with a local ranger. We wanted to do this drive mainly because we wanted to go on top of the plateau!! He told us that, besides being a NP, the plateau was also used as a breeding area; there are no predators (accept the occasional leopard) and the edges of the plateau are natural boundaries for everything (including poachers!). We had our beautiful view and we saw a lot of buffalo’s and we made some friends (Belgian/Dutch, right on the border?! Still not entirely sure). They were going home the next day, but hadn’t seen a rhino yet. So, your wish will be fulfilled and just before we got back to camp, when all hope seemed lost, there was the rhino! A white rhino, right next to the road! He was curious and came pretty close to the car before taking off grazing again. Satisfied with our drive we went to bed.

The next morning we woke before the crack of dawn (5.30 am), because we wanted to see the sun rise from the top of the plateau. We were a bit late (couldn’t get out of bed, go figure), so I think we set down a record time sprinting up the plateau. They normally suggest it takes 40 minutes, now took us 20, WITH some pictures in between. We weren’t exactly on top when the sun touched the horizon, but it was close enough! And it was beautiful! We had an amazing view on a misty country and the colour of the rocks couldn’t have been more mesmerizing. Now that’s what you call, a good morning wake-up hike, plus we had some fun making pictures and using the tripod! By the time we got back to the car it wasn’t even eight ‘o clock! In the Netherlands, that’s when I get up! We had enough time to get to a nice guesthouse with proper WiFi and a swimming pool and sort pictures, and post some blogs on the website.

Our jumping jacks that morning!

After some shopping the next morning, we set out for the next NP, Etosha! This is supposed to be the Kruger of Namibia, where even sedans can get everywhere (remember the first paragraph of this blog……). We entered Etosha NP, and the drive to the camp was about 90 km and indeed this road was very good. As we had an early morning we went straight to the camp, no detours to waterholes. The next day we got up early (again) and did a drive to some waterholes before coming back to the campsite for lunch. This morning drive we didn’t have a lot of luck, but another chance that afternoon! I was kind of tired of driving the whole time, so I tried to convince Lars to take it easy just one afternoon. He thought it was a waste (which of course it was), so we compromised: we chilled at the pool for half an hour and left around 4 pm so we could catch the best hours of the day. We went straight to an area that had three waterholes close to each other. Lars and I had discussed that morning what we still wanted to see. I mentioned that I had never seen a cheetah drink… And Lars just wanted to see a cheetah, because that was the only cat we hadn’t seen yet. So we set out to find it, and find it we did! Or Lars did, he saw something stalking through the high grass and seeing a group of Hartebeest all looking in the same direction, we knew it must be a cat. We followed it, and there he was, an old male cheetah!! And a cheetah with a purpose, although a little distracted by some springbokkies that were running away, the cheetah went straight to the waterhole to drink! There you go Kellie, handed over on a platter, your drinking cheetah. As the good people we are, we stopped two other cars, so they could enjoy the view with us. The cheetah even walked by on the road, and we were a very, very happy couple on our drive back to camp. We stopped at one more waterhole and there we saw a white ánd a black rhino drinking! Wauw, could this day get any better. We had to rush back to make it in time before the camping gate closed.

That afternoon we had met our German neighbour, Dominik, a guy traveling on his own. He liked the company and so did we and after our dinner (very sophisticated according to Dominik with his peanut butter sandwich), we all went together to the waterhole next to the camp. This waterhole had a tribune for the crowd and a light so that we could see the animals that visit at night. What an amazing concept, a lot of animals you just won’t see during the day. The night before, Lars had seen hyena’s and two black rhinos fighting and expectations were high! It didn’t let us down, again we saw hyena’s, five of them. And we saw a black rhino with a young, and four other ones. As we heard a leopard in the vicinity, we couldn’t help ourselves and stayed a lot longer than intended in the hope it would come visit. It didn’t. No fuss, more chances the next day!

And so we rose with the sun again! We went to the same waterholes where we had found the cheetah, see if it was still around. And we were not disappointed! Although, now we found four cats. And it wasn’t cheetah, but lions! How about that! Now we only needed to find a leopard and we would’ve seen all cats in Etosha!

I should tell you that I had absolutely no image of Etosha before we arrived, not about the landscape, not about what to expect of the animals, just that it would be busier with cars than any place we’ve been so far. That’s what Eddie and Vera had told us. It turns out Etosha mainly consists of a huge saltpan which ones used to be a lake, surrounded by marsh land. Now everything is dry, but it is beautiful! There are huge stretches of edible grass and they are filled with so many different animal species; zebra’s (both mountain and Burchell’s zebra), kudu, springbok, black-faced impala (endemic and endangered), wildebeest, Red hartebeest, ostriches, giraffes, steenbok, elephants and eland. And then there are the waterholes, especially during the dry season, these waterholes attract animals. We had one particularly amazing sighting after we left the lions to their daytime-naps. We went to a waterhole and had seen a lot of zebra following the same road as us. We knew they must be heading for the water. We had parked the car at this waterhole, an especially beautiful waterhole I may say, and waited. After about five minutes the zebras came pouring out of the bushes all heading towards the water! I tried counting and there were at least 150 zebras! And as soon as the zebra’s thought it was safe enough to drink, the wildebeest finally found the courage to approach the waterhole as well. A group of about 50 wildebeest joined the zebras at the waterhole. I have never seen such big herds, and it is impressive!!

The beautiful sighting at the waterhole, with the biggest herd of zebra we have seen!

Now, I mentioned before that there were supposed to be a lot more cars in this park, Eddie and Vera even felt like they were in the zoo at times. At this waterhole we were the first to park, and thus had the best spot in tha house, but overall about six cars had appeared. I never actually realized they were there, because I was so taken by this beautiful sight. And the rest of this day and the day before we were baffled by Eddie and Vera’s judgement, it wasn’t busy at all! Turns out, this might had to do something with good timing, aka, the waking up early part! And then during the afternoon, we are not on the road as animals are not on the road; it is too HOT! That’s when you should chill at the pool. And so we did 😊, this time at Okaukuejo, the main camp in this NP. After some tanning, we headed back out and had some more wonderful sightings at the waterholes.

A few pictures to get a feeling of the amazing characteristics of this park. Both the animals and the landscape!

We ran into Dominik, he was so kind to have taken two dutchies with him on the game drive! We tried to find the lions again, but they had moved on. And so did we, however, at a much slower pace than Dominik. And lucky for us, because of this pace we happened to spot something with the shape of a cat sitting in a field. When we spot a cat in the field, we generally assume it is a cheetah. But looking through the binoculars, we realized it is a leopard! Damn! Etosha made sure we saw everything, didn’t it!! And to have a really good sighting, most of the time you need to be patient. We waited for the leopard to start moving. And finally, she did. In the meantime, (only) two other cars had joined us. And one ranger stopped for a little bit before moving on, he told us he drove this road every day twice and it been months since he saw a leopard! I can’t believe we were that lucky. Anyway, the leopard started moving and we slowly followed. There is an unwritten rule that the one who starts the sighting, owns the sighting, so can claim the best spot. As we were the first car, that was our place and we claimed it! We followed the leopard and finally we could make a turn and if she kept that pace up, she would cross the road in front of us. We saw her through the bush moving closer and stopped the car. I was sitting on the edge to try and make pictures of her through the bush. And then she decided that where we were standing, was where she would cross the road!! She stalked out of the bush, looking right at us! It was amazing, I had adrenalin rushing through me! I could see her so clearly, also through the lens of the camera. Then I heard some whispers behind me from the other car, and I realized that maybe I should get back in the car! Actually, by then it was a little late, and the adrenalin rushing through me had nothing to do with the idea that I might have been doing something dangerous. It had to do with this beautiful, beautiful animal that allowed me to look at her from so close by!

After this, she disappeared into the bushes and we went back to camp (again making it only just before the gate closed, which is at sunset). We had another campfire meal and a good night at the waterhole (though a bit shorter) and the next day we decided to sleep in a little bit, get all our stuff, including the laundry we had done the day before, and leave at a decent hour. Which, in this case, meant we left around ten. And now did we finally experience what Eddie and Vera probably had experienced; a huge number of cars on the road. At the place we had found the leopard the night before, we saw about four cars parked. We stopped and asked what they saw, it was the same leopard hiding in a tree!! But you couldn’t really see her, plus we had to share the experience with a dozen other cars that arrived after us. So naturally, we moved on, we wanted to get to the western gate that afternoon. Now you might think, wait, the western gate… isn’t that the one she mentioned in the first paragraph. Oh yes it is. This is where we get back to where I began, that HORRIBLE road!

I want to end with a positive note though, when we left the park the last morning with our dancing car, we had stopped at one last waterhole. We saw a herd of elephants here, with one enormous female. And we are not entirely sure if it’s true, but we think this might have been a famous Desert Elephant. Hopefully, we will find out more about this animal in our next adventure, our drive to the beautiful but inhospitable Kaokoveld to visit a several conservancies (after we fix the car).

And of course if there is a salt pan, we’ll take the opportunity to have some camera fun!!

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog

The Okavango Delta – Another check off the bucketlist!

The Okavango Delta - Another check off the bucketlist!

Part II of the elephant paradise, and much, much more!

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

Where did we left off in the last blog… Oh right, Savuti in Chobe NP, and Sisi’s not so slowly and very steadily draining fuel tank due to the deep sand (if you missed it, read it here). Depending on how you look at it, Lars would say her bottom is too big (like a real African woman). I would say it is too small (like a Japanese woman, which, as you know, she is). Her bottom, also known as the fuel tank, is the lowest part of Sisi. Thus it is the part that drags on deep-sand roads. It slows us down, causing more fuel use. However, compared to other 4x4 cars her tank is much smaller, only 70 litres, which is what limits the amount of kilometres!

Anyway, one unsolved discussion later, we are still in Savuti and we know that we are not even half way. We are not sure what the road conditions will be in the Okavango, so we’re a bit nervous. Would we be able to drive another 2,5 days in Okavango? Would we even be able to make it in one go to Maun, in case we need extra fuel? We simply didn’t have a clue and decided to gamble a bit. YOLO!

The little hornbill (aka Zazoo) that frowned upon our YOLO attitude!

We set off and by the time we finally reached the gate, we still weren’t sure. So we made use of our "amazing" math skills, after which we could make the educated guess that we would definitely not be able to make it back to Maun if we went into the Okavango straight away. That was decided, we had to go back to Maun, and we had to be fast because we needed to call the booking office to cancel our campsite. We made it in time, or actually Lars did, with insane driving skills and a lot of major ass bumping that might have popped anyone else’s tyre but Sisi’s. We called, but.. the booking office did not pick up. Unfortunate, but not unsolvable, we stayed at Maun for the night at a campsite, picking one with WiFi so we could turn this bad luck in some good use; we downloaded an app called Tracks4Africa. It is a navigation app which can be used offline with aaaallll the roads on it (well almost all), including the small 4x4 tracks you can’t even call roads in, for example, the National Parks. Vera and Eddie had used it their whole trip and told us it was definitely worth the price. We agreed after only one day, and are even more convinced by now. It really gives us a sense of freedom as now we  always know where are and how long it will take us to arrive at our destination.

The next morning we drove back those 130 km’s, thereby passing through the south gate of Moremi NP, so we could watch some wildlife around the so-called Black Pools. But we had to be in Khwai village before 16.30, because that’s when the booking office would close. So we arrived there around 16.00… And only then did we find out it was Sunday…. Somehow, it seems to be Sunday everyday here, or at least, always when we need something! And of course, on Sunday they are closed. What to do! Okay, we just went to the campsite. Thank God, we downloaded that app so now we were able to find it! And we took a detour along the river, because it looked interesting. And interesting it was, it made us find out that the whole Khwai area, even though not officially a National Park, is as much a wildlife area as Moremi or Chobe. In fact, it is the connection between the two parks. So it was beautiful! We drove along the river, and every 50 meters we saw an elephant drinking or grazing. By the time we finally got to our campsite, we were so happy! And then it turned out we had the best campsite, again!! We were on the edge with on one side a plain and on the other side the river. Wauw, it was the best place we’ve stayed so far. Because we had some time before sundown, we did a little tour, where I sat on top of the car (ssshh don’t tell anyone), and it was soooo much fun! And then we watched the sun set from our rooftoptent. It was just perfect, not even changed by the fact that a mouse bit my toe when I was hugging Lars.

A beautiful view on the river and the setting sun as an elephant passes by to elevate the beauty to a whole new level!

When we sleep in a wildlife area, our ears always seem to attune to the sounds of the animals. That night we heard many; hippos, elephants, baboons and even lions and a leopard. We heard them in the morning, both not too far away. Excited as we were, we left without breakfast to find these animals. Even though we were unsuccessful, it was a good drive through a beautiful water rich area. In the afternoon, we finally made it to the booking office and were told we could stay the night we missed, without paying extra! So nice! We also made a booking to go with a mokoro that afternoon. This is a small, traditional boat used for hundreds of years by the locals. Imagine the boats in Venice, but then one size smaller, they do include a gondolier as well! Because we had some time before the Mokoro would leave, we thought we should try and find the place. So, we arrived there early and were greeted by the manager of a camp and also, supposedly, a trained guide… We thought to just put our chairs under a tree and relax a bit, make our lunch whatever. That was all good, but this guy joined us… As well as the elephants we mentioned in the previous blog (read it here). And so, as well-raised as we are, we talked with the guy even though it was quite awkward. He talked a lot about himself, and maybe he thought we were some naive, credulous tourists, but he tried to convince us that elephants live about 15 years. 15? We double-checked, making sure we heard right, that he hadn’t said 50... No, 15 years, sometimes a little bit older…. Which is simply not true. Elephants, and hippos as well, they can become as old as 50, and elephants even 60 years old. I don’t know if he realized his lie, or if he simply didn’t know any better. But it was clear he was definitely not a trained guide... And he would be the one taking us on the mokoro?? But just as we were about to leave, a game vehicle with a lot of people arrived. Lucky for us, because it included the official mokoro guide. Even though he smelled a bit like alcohol (and the rest of the group acted like insane drunks), he didn’t act like it and he showed a lot of knowledge and breathed an air of peace. Which is perfect if you go on a mokoro ride, I assure you.

The ride itself was beautiful, we slowly floated forward, surrounded by gorgeous waterlilies, meanwhile enjoying the peace and quiet and the sounds of the birds. We also stopped to stretch our legs. The guide showed us a Hamerkop nest (full-on villa!), and he also explained that they use the clay from termite mounds to pave their houses. This is a very old tradition done by many, many generations before this guide. The people from Khwai village are part of the San people (bushman) and used to live in Moremi Game Reserve, way further into the Okavango delta, for hundreds of years. They were relocated to the Khwai area, on the edge of the Okavango, were they actively participate in the conservation of the environment. And what a beautiful area it is, full with wildlife!

After our relaxing mokoro tour we went back to the campsite. It was a bit after sunset, so we started cooking in the dark. We hadn’t seen a shop for a while, so it was time to break open one of the cans with salmon in it. Now, you think, what has our dinner to do with the story?! Let me tell you! Lars had emptied the extra fluids from the can about five meters from where we were sitting. He had just finished his dinner and I was still eating, when he heard something behind him. He turned around… then turned back to me and said: “Kellie, hyena!” WTF! The hyena was just within our light circle at about five meters, and we saw him sniffing around, not even seeming to notice us. He was definitely trying to find that salmon! And when he couldn’t, he just walked away into the dark… We got our big torch out and tried to find him, but he had disappeared. It should have been scary, because I know hyena’s are dangerous. But at that moment it was more exciting than scary, mainly because its absolute lack of interest in us! I think Lars felt the same way, although… after the hyena left he did keep walking around with the torch, shining into every bush. And then of course another important part of this story… Both me and Lars had to go to the toilet for a number two, so to say… And this was after we had seen the hyena in our camp. At this campsite, this would be your toilet: dig a hole in the ground, do your business, cover it up. Now normally, I would do that a little bit away from the camp.. but this time though, I couldn’t give a shit about privacy, Lars had to be near! But the circumstances made it absolutely the hardest shit (not literally, luckily) I have taken in my life.

Let’s get back to some civil conversation. The following morning we had to say goodbye to the area, but not after another morning drive. This was our last chance to find that leopard in a tree, you know, the one that had been on our bucketlist since we set foot in Africa three years ago, and which we had hoped to find in this area! The highest chance of finding carnivores is during the early morning hours, and as these hours were fading, our hope faded as well. Even though we had a beautiful game drive, we couldn't escape that touch of disappointment.

Just when we were about to move on, we saw the game drive vehicle with the people we had met the day before. Out of good manners we didn’t just drive by, but stopped to say goodbye. And I’m soooooo happy we did, because believe it or not, they had seen a leopard in a tree not even fifteen minutes ago. They were sure she would still be there and so the game driver was so kind to take us there. It was so close, but the drive there felt like hours to us (five minutes tops). When we rounded a corner, and saw another game vehicle, we knew she was still there! We looked up in the tree, and there she was, a very young female looking at everything going on below her. Beautiful! We couldn’t believe our luck. What an amazing goodbye. Or so we thought…

Finally, there she was, waiting for us to find her! What a beautiful animal, so elegant!

The leopard wasn’t our only goodbye! We had decided to take the scenic route back, so we followed the river area a little further. When we rounded a corner we were overwhelmed by a valley full of elephants! There must have been at least 500 within our sight, and probably a lot more in the surrounding bushes. And as this was obviously a road not well driven, we were the only ones there. It was amazing. We parked the car under a tree, climbed on the roof and just enjoyed. There were males and females of all ages, some grazing, some bathing, some fighting and we even saw two little ones playing with each other. There was so much to watch, and so much interaction. Luckily, we had gotten to know how to move around elephants by now, because we had to manoeuvre through this valley filled with elephants to get to the other side! There was only one point where it got a little bit excited, because on the track we had to take, were three elephants with a younger one.. and they didn’t seem inclined at all to move for us. We tried to push them very slowly, but then two big bulls decided to put their trunks in someone else’s business; they came at us with their ears wide, trumpeting! Even though we knew it was a mock charge, it is still scary, because these animals are huge!! And because we were surrounded by them, so we did not want them to infect the rest with their excitement. So instead of following the track, I decided it was okay to just move a bit around it for this time. I’m pretty sure people will understand.

Botswana had shown us one last time that they are the perfect elephant paradise. And this whole morning had been the perfect ending to the most amazing wildlife experiences in our lives. Now we can move on to the next stop, a cultural one this time; Tsodilo Hills (read it here).

-Kellie-

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Chobe National Park – An Elephant Paradise

Chobe National Park – An Elephant Paradise

Chobe National Park - An Elephant Paradise

Part one of our beautiful wildlife adventure in the North of Botswana

Voor de Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

While writing this story, outside on a chair, we are looking at an elephant heading our way... wondering if he will come closer (also wondering if we would like it if he would). He is relaxed, casually browsing with his 5th leg slapping against his underbelly. Show-off! No match to be found here, even our local ‘guide’ (more on him later) looks impressed. Anyway, while the elephant walks slowly around us we are astounded by the huge number of elephants here in Botswana. Five days ago, we entered Chobe National Park and travelled all the way down through Savuti and on to Khwai/Moremi NP where we are now. Our adventure started in Kasane for what we hoped was going to be the best wildlife experience of the trip! Expectations were high and we were excited to start our journey through the African wilderness. Before we entered Chobe with our car, we decided to book a boat tour over the Chobe river. Around 15.30 we boarded the boat which could just as well have been a German retirement home on the water; except for us and a young German couple, the remaining 40 persons were probably using up their pension. Luckily, they did not spoil the experience, which was a refreshing experience after driving so many kilometres. For about three hours they navigated and parked us close to hippos, elephants, crocs, antelopes and birds that lived in and along the river. While having the pleasure of sipping a cold cider, we had some wonderful sightings.

The following morning, we arrived at the entrance gate of Chobe National Park at 7am precisely (opening time for self-drivers) to be ahead of the others. The plan for the day was to drive along the Chobe Riverfront (a route of about 50 kilometres). The best sightings were a lion and lioness (a bit hidden in the bushes), a baby baboon riding on the back of her mother (Jiihaa!), a lot of fish eagles and a huge herd of about 200 elephants. The last one took our breath away. We entered a viewpoint that provided us an overview of a cleared area next to the water that was filled with elephants. Later, we found out that many small herds of elephants come together at places where water or/and food is plentiful. Here they’ll form mega herds of hundreds to even a thousand elephants. However, they are only able to do this in this region, because Botswana houses about 250.000 elephants. This is about 25% of the world’s population! An absolute elephant paradise!

Later that afternoon we arrived at Muchenje where we filled the petrol tank for the last time and stayed at Muchenje campsite for the night. While sitting on the deck with our dinner, we had a beautiful view of the sunset. One of the owners joined us, a former British man (he left the UK about 40 years ago), and we talked about the area, Botswana and it’s presidents. The next morning we relaxed a bit at the pool and then left for the remaining part of Chobe (Linyanti and Savuti).

Before entering the park there was a sign “engage 4x4, deep sand ahead”. We have been told to do this before where we didn't listen and everything was fine, so we ignored this sign as well, Sisi would be able to handle anything. But the sand got deeper and deeper and after a few kilometers we did decide to stop and deflate the tires for more traction. That did the trick and we drove on until we stumbled onto a vehicle that was stuck in the deep sand. The main problem with the sand is that in between the tracks of tires the sand is elevated. Vehicles with relatively low clearance level will drag there bottoms on the sand, creating more friction, until… they come… to a stop. This happened with the Australian (Eddie) and Norwegian (Vera) couple we run into. As good citizens we got out of the car and walked towards them, equipped with our spade, and a big smile on our faces. They responded in kind. You know those people that take everything as it is and try to make the best out of it? Meet Eddie and Vera. What happened was that they had stopped without thinking about the sand, because there were elephants next to the road! As soon as the elephants left, they hit the gas, but nothing happened… They were stuck. And that’s when we came in. We started to recover the car together and while reaching under their car we learned that it is actually really fun to dig someone else’s car out of the sand. Eddie told us about reading that “this road swallows cars for breakfast”. An exciting prospect, considering we are lying under a car right at the beginning of this road. After a few tries and pushes the car was out. Now it was our turn… Kellie took a sprint and went through this bit in one go! On the other side we met up with Eddie and Vera who thanked us with a cold beer. We learned that they were heading the same way as us and left in convoy together.

Our sunset view dinner from the deck at Muchenje campsite.

Only a few kilometres further we had to stop again. Not for Eddie and Vera, but for a car filled with four Dutchies. This makes it sound like there are loads of cars on this road, but actually these were the only cars we came across. And all of them got stuck in the sand. The Dutchies told us that this was the third time (!) that day that they got stuck. And in the following 5 km, we helped them recover their car three more times… Welcome to the African bush! We finally told them to keep the car in low gear, try to drive on the side of the road instead of in the tracks to remain a high clearance, and just keep hitting the gas no matter how much noise your car makes. Plus, we drove ahead to find the best parts of the road and clear some of the deepest sand. And that’s when they finally managed to get through the last 8 km.

Our car was fine and we made it to Linyanti with our confidence skyrocketing. Noticing that our 98’, self-bought and fitted, Landcruiser could take on all that Africa has to offer better than many of the far newer, and much more expensive, rental cars made us feel really good. In addition, we got the best campsite of the camp, with a great overview of a small river. At arrival we saw elephants grazing and enjoying the water down in the river in the light of the setting sun. It doesn’t get any better than this! Because of the amazing view we invited Eddie and Vera to stay at our campsite. They willingly accepted and we had the most wonderful braai. A true African feast; with beetroot salad, potato salad, capsicum, corncobs with butter, chicken and boereworst. The rest of the night we spent talking and laughing around the campfire; the perfect ending of an exciting day!

Our camping spot at Linyanti. If you look closely, you can find the elephants on this picture!

The next morning we decided to wake early to search for wildlife with Eddie and Vera. We took some of the loops in search of the lions we had heard that night, and the tracks we found that almost moved into our camp. All the campsites we booked in game areas, are not fenced, so any animal can walk through, which makes camping a lot more exciting! We didn’t find the lions, but we found some elephants and a roan antelope. From there on we took the road that, we thought, lead us to Savuti (in the middle of Chobe). After a few kilometres we found a huge dead elephant skull along the road. We stepped out of the car to stretch our legs and make some pictures of it. At the same moment a helicopter flew over us and started to circle the area around us. We waved like well-behaved tourists, to show that we are not poachers. What poacher would wave at a helicopter, right? But we were pretty nervous. Even more so when the helicopter started to land on the same road we were parked! At that moment I thought we were in a whole lot of trouble. Pretending confidence though, we walked towards the helicopter from which three game guards, one with a big rifle, exited. Even more nervous. Once cleared from the helicopter they asked us what we were doing here. We answered that we were interested in the elephant skull . Then they asked us if we weren’t scared of lions. We answered that we weren’t. Luckily, this broke the ice and they followed us to the skull. They began to explain how you can see if an elephant died of natural causes or poaching, as this was the reason they landed in the first place. We just happened to be there... Afterwards, they stressed that we shouldn’t leave the safety of the car while in the park and they pointed us in the right direction. We, of course, waited for the helicopter to ascend before turning around and driving off. Another experience added to the list!

Along the road we stopped next to a big elephant bull. We think he was curious as he kept coming closer to the car. He didn’t send any warning signals to us so we stayed put and waited for him to pass… but he didn’t. He came even closer and at a certain moment I could have touched his trunk if I wanted to. At that moment though he got too close for comfort, and I decided to move the car slowly forward. My heart was pounding like crazy while I watched how he would respond to revving of the engine. He stayed relaxed though and just crossed the road behind us. With big eyes Eddie and Vera looked at us (they were in front), and we exchanged how exciting that was. After this experience the road got worse; deep sand for kilometres in one stretch. At this moment we started to notice that our fuel was going a lot faster than normal, which worried us a lot because we had a long way to go! We calculated that the car was consuming 1 litre for every 4 kilometres, which is ridiculously inefficient; normally it is about 1 litre for every 8 kilometres (also not great). We did not even think of driving back to Muchenje though; we had an expensive reservation at Savuti that evening. This created some uncertainty as we were not sure if would be able to make it to the other side (about 250 kilometres further). For us though, the only option was forward, deeper into the wilderness…

Arriving at the entrance gate in Savuti we heard that a lion pride had killed an elephant. We drove around but couldn’t find any signs of the kill, which should have been only 300 meters from the gate... Hunger won from curiosity, and we first made a quick lunch. With our bellies filled we continued the search. Kellie and I eventually found the lions by tracking the tracks of other cars into the bush. They were lying under a bush, their bellies even thicker than ours. We never found the elephant. From there we had an afternoon game drive through the Savuti Marsh, a supposedly wet area but at this time of year no water drop to be found. Nevertheless, the plains were stunning with cumulus clouds in the background. And to stretch our legs we even climbed a small hill to visit some rock art.

Overall, the wildlife on this drive was a bit scarce, which we hadn’t expected after reading the Lonely Planet (expectations are always bad). So we were kind of disappointed when we drove back towards camp. Suddenly, we saw a big dust cloud ahead of us; the sign of a big herd (buffalo or elephant) on the move. It were about a hundred buffalo’s and they were heading for the waterhole that was very close to the lions we had found earlier! All the buffalo’s gathered around the waterhole, a hole way too small to accommodate them all. Then an elephant tried to push through the herd of buffalo’s to get to the water, which was already occupied by two hippo’s as well. Just before it reached the water, it got scared of something and ran away, trumpeting. Then, out of nowhere, the lions suddenly appeared! They were after the buffalo’s and the herd started to move. Not chaotically, as one might expect, but very organized. We could feel and hear the enormous amount of hoofs smashing against the ground as a big cloud of dust covered the area. After a few moments the dust settled and a battleground between prey and predator emerged; the leaders of the buffalo’s and lions were facing each other. In turn they charged one another, measuring the strength and confidence of their opponent. One bull buffalo charged! The lions retreated, afraid of the massive horns of the buffalo. They only stayed put for a bit, and then the lions set in the chase again. The lions made several attempts to brake the formation of the buffalo herd to seclude one from the rest. And this went on and on right in front of us. It felt like we were in a National Geographic documentary! The only thing we missed was the voice of David Attenborough. The hunting lions were with five lionesses and a one young male, the adult males were being typical lions. We found them lying about 50 metres away; watching the spectacle just like us. The kings of the savanna do not hunt, they get fed. Unfortunately, it was getting really dark as the lions continued the hunt. We knew we had to go back to camp, even though we did not see the conclusion of the battle. Without a choice, we decided to look for any signs of who won in the early morning the next day. At the campfire, we talked the day and especially the evening over with Eddie and Vera while preparing another feast. What a sighting!! We slept like babies (didn’t even wake when a small herd of elephants walked through our camp).

The next morning we said goodbye to Eddie and Vera (we had an amazing time with you guys!!), and headed to where the battle had taken place the previous night. And we couldn’t believe our eyes! We found a carcass surrounded by lions, however, it was not a buffalo! Apparently, the buffalo’s had won the battle and instead the lions had killed a medium-sized elephant! Because of the huge population of elephants in the region, the local lions had become elephant hunting experts, very cool! We stayed at the kill for a couple of hours, watching them feed in turns and walk to the waterhole to drink. After a while though it got too hot for them to stay in the open and one by one they found a place in the shade. For us this was a sign that we could move on, on towards the largest inland delta in the world: the Okavango Delta. Read about this exciting adventure in our next blog.  

- Lars -

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Our first stop in the true African wilderness

Our first stop in the true African wilderness

Our first stop in the true African wilderness

Koro River Camp - Tuli Block

Nederlandse versie - Klik Hier

Warming up in the sun, a little breeze and listening to the many many different bird songs around me. My view is on an almost dried up Limpopo river with some impalas grazing in the background. We woke up this morning by the sounds of baboons jumping and playing around on the roof of our tent. Yes, we are finally in the wilderness of Africa.

After the few weeks of semi-stress to get our 4x4 car bought and fixed (for more detail, see this blog), we could finally take her for a real drive. We left Gaborone early, the morning of the 51st Independence Day of Botswana. As Independence Day is a national holiday, we realized we did not have the best timing with doing our bulk shopping the day before. Especially the liquor store was filled up and we couldn’t move our ass or bump into someone! But patience is the key here in Africa, and after a few more queues, we were all set and ready to go. Our first stop, this beautiful place I am writing you from, is the Koro River Camp in Tuli Block just at the border with South Africa. This is where Sander Vissia (friend and co-car-owner) works and does his research. And it is amazing here! If you're interested, visit their website: www.the-african-experience.com.

koro river camp, by life connected, limpopo

One of the tents at Koro River Camp. A beautiful and wild location situated along the Limpopo river.

He sent us the route description when we were in the last village with reception, in other words, just in time. Here’s what we got: drive to the end of the tar road, then turn right onto the gravel road. Follow this road until a dip where you can turn left, turn left. You’ll pass by a Lookout Point and a small waterhole. And here, we are as surprised a you are when we actually spotted the Lookout Point! We did not see a small waterhole though, so we weren’t entirely sure we were on the right track. Anyway: ‘after this just take a right at every cross-section you’ll see and then you’re there’. Okay, so there was a final part to these instructions, but here he missed to mention one cross-section where we had to go left. Fortunately, this cross-section was next to the tents of Koro River Camp, so we thought we’d arrived. We got out, and as soon as we left the car, Lars was sick! Two very nice guys from the staff got us where we actually had to go, which was at Koro Island Camp some 10 minutes away. And as soon as Lars was shown the bed, him and his fever went to sleep.

by life connected, koro river camp, limpopo, river

Exploring the banks of the Limpopo river.

This camp wasn’t named Island camp for nothing, to get here you cross a hanging bridge. The tents have decks that are directly to the river (beautiful!), and there is a building with a communal kitchen and dinner room. After I brought all our food and bags over to the island, the kitchen is where I made my ‘lonely’ dinner. I did not feel lonely at all, in fact, I probably would have preferred to feel a bit more lonely… Let me explain; it gets dark here around 6 pm and there was no electricity at this camp (coincidentally). So I had my dinner in an open building, on my own, in the dark, with a very noisy wind that confused all my senses, and possible wild animals around me. That makes you’re fantasy run wild! And that while I know the chance of something happening is close to zero compared to being in town!

The next day we had a slow, relax start, waking up on our deck while watching all the animals. Lars was feeling a bit better and his fever had gone down. I organized all the camping equipment we had chucked in the car the days before (we had been in a hurry). In the afternoon we went down to the River Camp and had some fun with our camera. We finished the day with a classical braai (African bbq), together with Sander, Jurgen and one of the local in habitants of the island, Janice the genet! This very cute but sneaky racoonlike animal showed up to finish our leftovers! In fact, it grabbed the meat right from Sander his hands.

giant kingfisher, by life connected, koro river camp

A Giant Kingfisher in action, picture from our deck at Koro Island Camp.

That night we woke up several times, and every time we opened our eyes there were kudu and impala browsing within 2 meters from us! We woke up early in the morning (they were still there), because we would go search for a hyena den, information necessary for Sander’s research. We parked the car near a Koppie (small hill of stones) and went walking. I spotted two hyena’s running past us in the general direction where we headed. However, the two dens we came across had a large amount of bones, but no fresh tracks; they were abandoned. We climbed one of the largest Koppies in the area hopeful of spotting a hyena, but mostly just for the beautiful view of the area. From here we could see elephants, zebra’s and wildebeest, but no hyena’s.

koppie, by life connected, koro river camp, bushwalk

The view from the highest Koppie in the area. Beautiful!

Walking back we got pretty hungry, so we went back for breakfast. Then we visited one of the neighbouring farms, which was about 1,5 hours drive because you can only drive about 35 km/h on these roads, so it was pretty much a middle of the day game drive. We planned on going for a drive in ‘the Golden Hours’, which is between 5 and 7 pm, but the car had other plans. While driving back to get some food we got a flat tire! After some tries, we had to walk back to camp because the jack in the game vehicle was shit. Than Sander (hero!) finally managed to change the tire and we were off again. TSSJJJJJZZZ…. Nope we weren’t. The car did not start! It was actually pretty funny, we got the ‘car in the bush’ experience all at once. So we jumpstarted the car by pushing it (after several tries and a lot of hard work), and then we were off! By now it was pretty much passed those golden hours. So we just went back and cooked a delicious Mexican wrap meal.

tire change, game vehicle, by life connected

Sander and Lars trying to change the tire of the game vehicle.

And that brings us to today! This afternoon we will try and get the car seats out (while I’m typing I’m looking at two baboons playing with each other), and sort out all the paperwork of the car, for which we need to go to town with Sander. We will try our jack and the air compressor, see if it all works. And then maybe, just maybe, we will be able to do a “Golden Hour” game drive today! But I have learned one thing so far, it is better not to expect anything here in Africa and instead just accept how things work out!

tree climbing, limpopo, by life connected, koro river camp

Lars doesn't like heights, but could not resist climbing this tree. The way down was a bit less fun!

UPDATE!

We couldn’t do the game drive yesterday (what a surprise), but we did one today! We had company of Andrew Kruger, a very experienced game driver, and his wife Amy. This morning they had found wild dogs with 10 (!) pups. So we went back to the same place. Now, I have never seen wild dogs before so I was very excited! And Andrew has a way of calling carnivores, which of course we have been practicing ever since, he can make the sound of a wildebeest in distress. It took a little while, but all of the sudden we saw four wild dogs coming our way! There was one beautiful female with a lot of white on her coat. It was amazing! They didn’t come real close until it was darker, but fortunately it was a full moon and we have very very good binoculars through which we could see them perfectly. So that was a beautiful ending to our well-deserved relax stay at Koro River Camp. And tomorrow we will drive towards the Kalahari Desert. So keep posted !

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Baobab silhouette at sunset. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful tree species there are in this world.

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