Driving through Damaraland

Not only our day starts with breakfast, apparently the day starts the same for Rock Dassies! An entire family was feasting in the green gras and the greenish trees surrounding the lodge in the early morning sun. If only they could enjoy the scenery like we do!

It is moving day for us, and we are destined to drive only a small distance through Damaraland to Palmwag, starting at Twyfelfontein. As we didn’t have time to do the things to do around here, we have them scheduled for today. Palmwag is a really deserted place, with only the lodge in the wide vicinity. So, off we were to the Burnt Mountain, the Organ Pipes, the Twyfelfontein Rock Engravings and finally the Petrified Forest.

Not all destinations are as envigorating as their names would make you believe, the Burnt Mountain is a really dark oversized hill and the Organ Pipes are an odd geological phenomenon where long vertical rocks were formed and are now exposed as a rives ate through them. The other two destinations can only be visited with a guide, and we started at the Twyfelfontein Rock Engravings. The region has been inhabited by the San people for thousands of years, and the engravings found at the site are estimated to be between 2000 and 6000 years old. Yes, really, really old. They are chiselled out of the soft sandstone rock, and do not fade like the paintings in Australia. As such, the are really well preserved and look very accurate. They depict the animals the bush people hunted, and include oddities such as a Seal, a Penguin and a Flamingo. Mind you, we are in the middle of a desert here, the sea is 150km in a straight line away. The San have seen those animals during the hunting and salt gathering trips, and created the pictures to show others what they’ve seen. This site is a World Heritage site, and has been since 2007, so it’s only a young addition to that list.

The official Petrified Forest has logs washed down in a giant flood 280 million years ago, which started somewhere north of Angola. They are Pine logs, which didn’t grow in Namibia back then, but were only found a few thousand kilometres north. That must’ve been a gargantuan flood! Several unofficial Petrified Forests can be found along the road the the official one, but we were advised to visit the state supported one as the others are usually villagers trying to gain money off of naive tourists. Our guide did not speak highly of them, and applauded us for choosing the official one. Yeah, right. πŸ˜‰

We also had a setback today, as the left front tire blew out and had to be switched. This was done quickly, but it left us without a spare tire in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Also, cell phone reception is spotty, so getting hold of someone at the rental company proved to be difficult. We finally managed, and had to call back on Monday to get accurate directions on where to go to get a new tire. So, more tomorrow!

Taking the long way round to Twyfelfontein

We needed to travel a lot today, and as we didn’t quite get to do what we intended to do yesterday, that even became more. πŸ˜‰

On the menu today was the trip from foggy and cold Swakopmund to the remote, dry and warm Twyfelfontein, clocking in at about 280km. As we wanted to start our day back in Walvisbaai to go see the resident Flamingos, we had to add about 60km to that. To make matters worse, we also couldn’t resist adding a huge colony of Cape Fur Seals to the trip, adding another 100km to our route, which is now totalling 440km. Of which a large part indeed is on untarred roads.

The road along the coast (Walvisbaai <-> Swakopmund <-> Cape Cross) is tarred but referred to as salt road, as it is really close to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. The wind blows predominantly from the sea to the land, bringing with it a lot of moisture and salt, as the current is flowing from the South Pole to the Equator, and still is really cold when it gets to Namibia. This also means that the majority of coastal towns get a lot of fog, and fog less days are the exception! The road is because of the moisture and the salt very slippery, and accident prone, but by driving carefully we survived without any issues.

The scenery when driving on this salt road is the weirdest we’ve come across so far: the scorching hot and dry desert is actually next to the humid, damp and cold Atlantic Ocean, they are only separated by a small beach. The fog is thought to sustain a very rare and endemic plant to Namibia: the Welwitschia. We have not seen one today, but may have another chance in the future. The desert is exactly what you would suspect of a desert: reddish in color and really empty. No trees, virtually no shrubs and definitely no grasses. It also is very flat, quite uncommon to this land.

At Cape Cross (Kaap Kruis) a large colony of Cape Fur Seals live, which we just had to visit. We instantly regretted our decision as we jumped out of the car though: Seals do not smell nice. At all. One might say they reek. Badly as well. However, gazing upon several tens of thousands of Seals is quite the experience, and it also meant the large lenses we have been lugging around could be put to good use. πŸ™‚

We are staying in the Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, which is as remote as it is lovely. Built onto the sides of a hill, it overlooks the majestic plains of the Twyfelfontein Conservancy, and where you can have a cold drink at a reasonable price whilst looking at the busy lives of the Rock Dassies (Klipdassen) I might actually get used to being here though, so it is a good thing we only stay one night. πŸ˜‰

Fog ahoy!

After day 4, day 5 comes along. It also brings a big distance to travel, as we need to be in Swakopmund tonight. This is roughly 330kms, and if all roads are like the ones around Sossusvlei it’ll be a long day.

As Desert Camp does not serve breakfast, we need to go to the sister camp called Sossusvlei Lodge, which is far more upscale than our tented camp. This is about 4kms away, and a good short morning drive. We arrive there around 7, which is well after the people wanting to head into the Vlei this morning, and it is therefore not busy. This means all food is available, and there is plenty of room to sit. We chose a place in the morning sun, and soaked it up for a good while as we got accustomed with the knowledge that we would leave this place real soon.

The road from Sesriem to Swakopmund is long, windy, for the most part untarred and at certain points insanely scenic. It also is quite rough in a few places, and all 330kms are a blast to drive on. The tarred roads begin around 100km from Swakopmund, and about 60 from Walvisbaai. They are a welcome change, but also make for a far less interesting drive. Oh well, you cannot have everything at once!

Short after us arriving in Swakopmund, the fog starts rolling in. And when I say fog, I mean the thick stuff. In about 15 minutes, the fog from the sea is so thick visibility is limited to less than 100 metres, and temperatures have dropped quite significantly. They are down to about 14 degrees, and in your shirt an shorts, that is quite cold!

As we don’t have anything planned for today, we have visited the tiny National Marine Aquarium (where locals pay a third of the price for entry as foreigners!), and have gone out to KΓΌcki’s Pub for dinner. Great ambiance, bad prawns. Overcooked, and way too garlicky, they are just not right. The Malva Pudding is really good by the way, so there’s that.

The weather really throws our schedule for today off course, so we’ll have to skip whatever we intended to do over here, and are leaving already tomorrow. This time to Damaraland, and a place called Twyfelfontein. Again a long drive, so we fuelled up this afternoon (<10 dollars or €0,58 for a liter of diesel) and are ready for the roads tomorrow. And for everything we might encounter en route!

A day in the vlei

Today is a special day for me, as it not only is my birthday, but also the day we are spending as much time as possible in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, and more specifically in the Sossusvlei.

As the Vlei is at its prettiest right after sunset, we have to get up really early to eat breakfast before we head into the park. And breakfast starts at 05:30 around here, so no sleeping in for me today! The gate to the National Park opens at sunset (06:15) which was delayed for unknown reasons to 06:30, but after that we were off! The nicest Vlei is situated 65kms from the gate, and is called Deadvlei, where a Vlei is decorated with dead trees. This is very scenic, and quite possibly the nicest looking place around here.

To get to this place, you need to travel the 65km on a tarred road (with the single road loading to the NP being untarred!) to a regular parking lot where you can embark on the epic 5 km of 4×4 track, or pay a small fee to be transported to the first of two parking lots. This is also the starting point for a short but strenuous hike over loose sand to Deadvlei. Today was a lucky day for me, as temperatures around here regularly hit 40 degrees Celsius, but they never rose over 25 making it really comfortable to walk without being scorched to a crumble in the valleys.

Visiting the different Vleis in the park takes quite some time, and combined with the small number of vehicles transporting tourists over the 4×4 track and the 2 hours wasted by waiting for a ride back, the day was advancing rapidly and before we knew it, it already was time to head back to our tent at Desert Camp and get ready for diner. As night falls really quickly around here, that is about the only thing to do besides having drinks at the bar. πŸ™‚

Tomorrow, we already have to leave this place, and head up north, to Swakopmund. Another 330kms of untarred roads await our Duster, and I’m really looking forward to it!

First time off road in Namibia

Namibia is a large country, despite what some of its inhabitants think of it, and that means travelling tourists. Both a large number of tourists, and a lot of distance to cover.

Today, we have to travel about 350kms from Windhoek to Sesriem, which is the gateway to Sossusvlei. Of that 330kms, only a small portion is tarred, and the rest would qualify as off road. It’s the first big test for our Renault (Dacia) Duster, whose name seems a lot more appropriate over here than it does back home. πŸ™‚

With an estimated average speed of about 50km/h, it would take us about 7 hours to go there, so we had an early breakfast. As Sesriem is pretty far from everything, it also does not have a supermarket, so we went shopping in Windhoek for water, soda, fruit and lunch. Packing 15 litres of water, some lovely bread and apples, we embarked on our maiden voyage in daylight in Namibia. And it was great!

Scenic views around every single bend of the windy road, 75km of tarred road and the rest untarred, it lead us through vast ranges of emptiness, with only very scarcely dotted houses and villages. And only 3 gas stations. Luckily, we drive a diesel, so we’re good for about 850kms. πŸ˜‰ 

Tomorrow, another very early start as we will go to Sossusvlei National Park. They say it’s at its best right after sunset, so we’ll try to get there by that time.

Flying 2016 – part 2

After a short night, where our neighbours had to leave their room for the airport around 5 AM all the while making a racket, we found ourselves enjoying a breakfast fit for kings at the Lodge. Bacon, Boerewors, baked beans in tomato sauce, omelet with mushrooms, I was thoroughly enjoying it.

As we were to fly out at 12, we decided to not take a gamble and leave the Lodge with the the shuttle to OR Tambo at 9, just to be on the safe side of things. And apparently, this was a good thing, as British Airways decided to upgrade their backend system today. They apologised in advance, and made a big mess out of it anyway. All flights were grounded that morning for some hours, after which the delays were numerous and long.

We were met with a huge line at gate 22, which turned out to be the for previous BA flight and not ours. The initial estimate was a 2,5 hour delay to Windhoek, and was now scheduled to leave at 14:20 instead of 12:00. After lunch, we saw that it was delayed another 15 mintes, with an estimated takeoff time of 14:35. Boarding commenced on time, but it took a long time, after which it took another hour to inform us about the plane having some minor technical difficulties. These were quickly fixed, but it lead to more delays…

So, after a delay of 4 hours, we finally embarked on our flight to Windhoek, which only took slightly under two hours as the all female pilot team hit the throttle hard to make up some of the lost time. It shaved 15 minutes off, but it’s a start!

The car was quickly picked up, as was our luggage, and we were off to the first lodge in Namibia, Terra Africa. Diner reservations were made and we found ourselves in the quirkiest nod coolest ever place we’ve ever been to: a German Style Beergarten, but in a true Namibian Style. You’d have to have been there to fully grasp the complexity of the thing, but for now I can assure you that the food is good and the atmosphere is great!

Tomorrow, we’ll have a full day of travelling by car, down to Sesriem. That’s about 350km, and a first taste of what driving in our Renault Duster truly is like. πŸ™‚

Flying 2016 – part 1

As there are no direct flights from Amsterdam to Windhoek, we are boarding the flight KL591 to Johannesburg, where we will spend the night in the now customary Airport Game Lodge.

Tomorrow, we’ll fly from Johannesburg to Windhoek, and after that the real trip will commence.

The flight was a little bumpy, but without any unexpected events. And at 11 hours it was a doozy!

Packing – 2016 edition

As it’s only a few more days to go until we board the plane to travel to southern Africa, we are really excited to go. With some major changes in both our lives (independently of each other & not the same thing πŸ™‚ ) this holiday is just what we like. It seems to be a little more adventurous as usual, but we think we are ready!

 

Gearing up for a new trip

To keep up with the tradition, we decided to go on a long trip abroad again this year! This time, we’re heading down the globe nearly vertically to find ourselves in the southern part of Africa once more.

We generally need a lot of millimetres when we’re over there, and this time we’reΒ  tied to weight limits a little more than usual. That’s where this apparatus comes in handy: it’ll sacrifice some light to gain twice the focal length. The trusty 70-200 f2.8 will double to a 140-400 f5.6, which will suffice in replacing the humongous 150-500 f5.6-f6.3 weighing in at around 2kgs. At 330 grams, that’s a nice trade-off. πŸ™‚

Initial testing is nothing less than satisfactory, with the occasional excellent, making me confident that we won’t regret this decision.
I know for sure the destination will not let us down!