Friday, March 12, 2010

Overland Trip Report - Namibia

I survived my first week on Christie - she's our 23-year-old truck that took us through South Africa in Namibia, and then will onto Botswana and Zambia.  I'm on an overland trip, which means I'm traveling a far distance in a bumpy, luxury-free truck that can take us places a normal car or bus allow us to go. Like through the middle of a desert. I'm traveling with 13 others plus three guides. The group is heavily weighted female and I really really like some of the girls and am excited to have new friends spread around the world to visit. I'm the only American - no surprise there. (come on Americans, we've got to get traveling more!). I'm called Lone Star, and with being the only American comes the added bonus of being the butt of many jokes! Two of our guides are English and the third is Dougie, our Zimbabwean cook who whips up very delicious dinners each night. 

Trip Route:

It's amazing how adaptive we are as humans. The first few days were miserable: it was 113 degrees out and we were averaging about 8 hours a day in the truck. But somehow you adjust to being hot and bouncing around and between my ipod, cold water and a lot of bumpy Uno games the hours pass in good fun. I now know how to pitch a tent and am used to ridiculously large bugs. Have you ever gotten that email forward that says how people eat like 12 spiders each year? I've decided that most people don't eat any spiders in normal life, and us overlanders are bringing up the average because I can't even begin to tell you how many bugs I've fished out of my tea or off my plate. Your cleanliness standards dip quite low on a trip like this. And getting out of my tent at night and taking two steps for a wee (as most call it) actually becomes pretty darn convenient! Except on windy nights, and then you end up with what Claire calls in her Irish accent "pissy ankles." And those are no fun. 
We camped in a citrus orchard the first night and since then have mainly been in the Namib desert. We watched the sunset over the beautiful Fish River Canyon (think Grand), climbed a huge sand dune to watch the sunrise and went on a desert bush walk where we saw "the little 5." It was fascinating to see how life survives in the desert, and equally fascinating watching my own ankles swell up because unlike the dung beetle, they are not suited for desert life. 

sand dunes as far as the eye can see

A group of us spent today in the local township learning about their culture and eating a traditional meal. Which means we handled dried hyena anus used for a healing tea and were served caterpillar. The townships were set up as part of Apartheid in the 1960s when the black and coloureds (not a derogatory term in Africa and means something different from 'black') were moved out of the neighborhoods from the whites and given separate housing outside of town. My pockets were stuffed with balloons and candy and the kids just go crazy for it; watching their faces light up is one of the most fun activities of all.  

Most of the time our itinerary says the name of a place we are staying, like right now we are in Swakopmand Namibia. A couple of nights ago, however, it just said "middle of nowhere" for where we'd be camping. I thought we had been in the middle of nowhere for days already, but no, it turns out that we literally did stay in the middle of nowhere. Any time someone has to "dig the dunny" it's a bit disturbing. It ended up being one of our most fun nights as we all sat around the campfire roasting marshmallows and playing games. Humor transcends our international crowd. 

The most dangerous thing about this trip isn't the rabid wildlife or the threat of cholera. Instead, it's the ideas put in my head by listening to my fellow travelers. I now think it would be a real shame to resettle in the US without first bumming around southeast Asia on a shoestring for a couple months this fall. 
From here we do more bush camping and then two days in Etosha National Park where we'll be enjoying game drives. We have a few more adventures before ending with 3 days in Victoria Falls where I will then fly out of Zimbabwe to Italy. I started off worried that I wouldn't survive three weeks overlanding, but now can tell that these weeks will be a blast, make me a bit tougher and create memories that will last a lifetime. 

Cape Town Capers

Cape Town is a great city, although it felt more like a big European city than an African one. It's a beautiful city built in a bowl surrounded by Table Mountain. The waterfront area reminded me of being at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. There is a lot of activity in preparation for the World Cup which starts in less than 100 days. It's like in those Flip This House episodes where the open house is in 5 hours and you think there's no way the house will be ready - same for the stadium, streets, parking and transportation. I cannot see how it possible that it's all ready come June, but hopefully it will be ready.

I was very ignorant of Apartheid prior to going to CT, and what I learned was just appalling. I went to Robbin Island where Nelson Mandela was held in prison and his life there was shocking. I also went to some of the large Townships and I was very impressed with what the government is doing to move people from very sub-standard living to permanent homes. By 2014, there should be no shacks or shanties left in Cape Town. But even then, the scars from Apartheid won't be healed. 

I spent a day visiting the South African winelands which were absolutely beautiful! The wine was smooth and incredibly inexpensive. A NICE bottle of wine could easily be bought for $3. It's too bad I couldn't mail any home. 

I had some worries about my safety being in CT alone, although it turns out I was worried about the wrong kind of carjacker. I was driving down to Cape of Good Hope when the car in front of me paused to snap a pic of a baboon walking along a cliff. Seeing a good photo opp I put my foot on the brake too, only to have the baboon open my back passenger car door and let himself in. He promptly climbed into my front seat and began ransacking my backpack. I was terrified; in trying to get out of the car i forgot I still had my seatbelt on and car in drive and nearly rear-ended the SUV in front of me. There were signs everywhere indicating how dangerous the baboons are, and now here I was outside my car surrounded by baboons, and had a giant one inside my car destroying my things and eating my powerbars. I finally got him outside my car, only he took my backpack with him. It took about 20 minutes to recover my backpack and most of my things, and hours before my frayed nerves were calmed. It was a horrible experience and the signs should be changed to warn that baboons open car doors. 

Here's the baboon contemplating a joyride in my rental car!

I definitely plan to return to Cape Town on a future trip to Africa! 

Cape of Good Hope

I visited one of two natural mainland penguin colonies in the world and the penguins were so much fun to watch!