Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's Eve


We had another early morning for a game drive viewing. Inger and Anders chose not to go; I think they were smart to stay back and relax longer. The drive was relaxing this time we scored a big male lion. Again, there were dozens of zebras, giraffes, and many different birds. It is funny for all of the zebras and giraffes we have seen, I never get over their beauty. Bruce told us that zebras carry up to 200 liters of water in their stomachs causing their stomachs to look extended. Due to this weight, they have weak backs; therefore, if one were to try to ride one, it would cause immediate damage.

Bruce was in the back with us. The driver lasted for an hour and a half, thirty minutes longer than it should have since John lost track of time. This put Bruce off schedule and he was upset for ten minutes. When we got back to camp, we had breakfast then off we went. Destination today is Windhoek.

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia. From tour info, I discovered that Windhoek is the biggest city in the country with 15,000 inhabitants. The city lies at an altitude of 1650 meters in a beautiful valley bordered by the Eros Mountains in the north and the Auas mountains in the south. Towards the west, stretches the Khomas Highland to the Namib and the coast.

Windhoek combines the modern city architectural style with that of the German colonial era. The city is, for an African town, still very clean and a bit provincial, although the atmosphere does have cosmopolitan flare as well.

The influence of the German language and culture is, in many ways, still present. There are German restaurants where one can have traditional German dishes, bread and beer, and even celebrate the German carnival. Although English is the official language, one can use German just about anywhere.

We have a long drive ahead, though it seems like we have already driven for a hundred hours today already, before we stopped for a stretch and bathroom break. We drove again until we reached an area with dozens of outdoor stalls selling various crafts. There was another very lovely tree to provide glorious shade for our lunch stop. The vendors from the stalls descended on us like a plague, but most of what they were peddling was too large to cart around, so they did not make many sales.

Besides, everyone was tired and on edge from the long drive. There has not been any extensive interaction since the Rasmussons left us in Swapokmund. We all mention missing them.

After getting packed up from lunch, we headed on to Windhoek, a surprisingly lovely and modern city. Perhaps, we can thank the Germans for this. Our first stop here was to drop off Dirk and Harm, more good-byes. They leave us here, but they will be joining us for dinner tonight in town.

The plan was to stay at Pension Cori (, a motel type pension with lovely rooms. Ours had four beds divided two by two with a partial wall between them. I thought we would have to share, but we had it all to ourselves. The area with the two beds closest to the bathroom were darker, so we used those to keep the morning sun from waking us. We had some relaxation time, but there was nowhere to walk to from where the pension was located, plus it was New Year’s Eve and everything had closed. There is a lovely covered patio in the gardens area of the pension grounds, but the bugs were vicious, so we did not last long.

Here we had two more new people join us. Markus and Bettina, a young couple from Germany were waiting for us at the pension. They will join us until the end of the trip.

The plan was to go to Joe’s Beer House for dinner, a restaurant well suited with its jungle/African theme décor. We had one long table to sit all together, including Dirk and Harm who joined up with us again for dinner.

The menu had many game animals to choose from: oryx, kudo, ostrich, zebra, springbok, and crocodile. For me, I could not eat anything that I had seen prancing around on a game drive, so my choice was the pork knuckle, crispy and huge. Ron had a steak, from a cow. Wilfred and Ineke were sitting across from us and we had an enjoyable evening chatting, eating good food, and feeling the holiday merriment.

Dinner gave us ample opportunity to refresh our mental energies and rebuild the camaraderie we had. Bruce had made a speech about how he has had good and bad groups of tours. He appreciated the variety in our nationalities and the way we all came together, blending so well.

As a group, we left the restaurant in taxis at 10:30 to return to the pension. We were going to have a glass of champagne together and then the party people were going to a nightclub for New Year’s celebrations. By the time we all were able to get back with the string of taxis, it was after 11:00. Those who were going to continue to celebrate out, took taxis to the club, while the rest of us stayed put. Inger, Anders, Hans, Suzy, John, Ron, and I stayed behind. We cracked open another bottle of champagne, waited for midnight, toasted, and went to bed.

There was a television in our room, so we watched a show with Barry Manilow. That was a blast from the past. He never stopped singing, so we were not sure if it was a New Year’s Special or just a concert being broadcast. The room was blissfully comfortable, so it was a great night’s rest.

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Saturday, December 30, 2006

Etosha National Park Game Drive


We had to wake at 5:00 this morning to be at the truck by 5:45. We are going on a safari drive and I guess the animals are early risers, so we have to catch them before the sun and heat make them as lethargic as it does us. We are only having coffee and tea and then breakfast will be after our drive. Bruce wants to be at the gate of the park when it opens at 6:30.

The drive was good, but this truck is not suitable for safari drives. Last year, we drove in an open vehicle and it was so much better for viewing. When you have 20 people in a closed truck, it is impossible for everyone to get the photos they want and the animals are not going to stand around and pose waiting for us to finish taking pictures.

We were in awe at the number of zebras, giraffes, and impalas we saw, but no lions, leopards or elephants. After returning to the camp, we checked out of our rooms. We are spending another night in the park, but on the other side. We drove around the park for three hours then went to a rest stop for lunch. We had three hours break here and a swimming pool for those that wanted to cool off. We no longer had a towel, so there was no sense in dragging out our suitcases for the suits, though Ron did and air dried. I sat under a tree and read, but it was SO hot, it knocked me out and I fell asleep on the bench by the pool. I hate that feeling of waking up more groggy than if you had not slept at all, but that is how I was feeling. I cannot keep my eyes open today and it is so hot and humid, making it even worse. I feel like I have been drugged. Hmmm….have I said anything to upset Bruce enough to have drugged my food? No, I don’t think so.

There seems to be a definite energy difference on the truck. Ron heard others comment about it too, so it is not just me. I am not certain if it is the time on the truck or the absence of the kids that is doing it. Perhaps it is just the heat. Everyone seems to be sleeping more. I keep taking naps, though I really want to see the animals. Each time I sensed the truck stop, I woke with a fright, feeling excitement building. After last year, in Krueger, I really hate this truck for the safari drives. There are not enough open windows for everyone to get shots. I am also getting cramped in these seats. It seems the legroom is shrinking each day. Ron moved back with Thomas one row back so I could stretch my leg. Poor Thomas has to give up his space, but he seems to like Ron.

Tomorrow when we reach Windhoek, we will say good-bye to Dirk and Harm. I am going to miss their quiet energy and soft humor.

When we returned to the camp du jour, we went to reception for keys, then a shop stop. Another forty-five minute drive followed adding to the list of hundreds of zebras, giraffes, and springboks, we have seen. Perhaps they are all the same ones over and over again and they are really placed on a giant rotating plate to pass by us every forty-five minutes. My anger over this truck for animal viewing is building each hour.

Finally, I scored us a chalet closer to where the truck is parked with only a short distance to walk. Up until now, we have had the places the farthest from the truck and had to lug our luggage, while the young strong bucks are close by.

Again, we are sharing a chalet with Omo and Jean who we get along with stupendously. Dinner is at 8:00 pm around the campfire with nice camaraderie. Those who went to the watering hole on this side of the park said it was not as good as the other side, so we did not bother. No one has seen any animals there, only birds.

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Himba People and Etosha National Park


Bruce, the slave driver, had us up incredibly early this morning, claiming it was practice for the days to come. If we did not like him so much, there would have been a mutiny. We were on the road by 7:30, so you can imagine the early rising, breakfast, and all that before leaving. After 45 minutes, we arrived at the village of the Himba people, a very distinctive group of people who choose to allow visitors to see how they live.

The guide who met us and was to introduce us and interpret is Himba on his mother’s side, but his father was from another tribe. At the time of day, only women and children were in the village, an area smaller than one square city block in New York City. All of the men were off with the herds of animals that they tend. We presented our gifts to the women where it went into a collective pile. The women would split the goods evening amongst everyone in the community.

What makes the Himba people unique in one way is that they cover their entire bodies with a red ochre paste. The women take certain rocks and grind it down into a powder form make the dust for the paste. In the morning, they scrape off the old coloring from their bodies to purify themselves by burning special plants. For one hour, they squat over these smoking plants to purify their genital area. They never use water to bath. The women get up at 4:00 am to start their purification treatments, which last for three hours. The same ochre is applied to their hair as well. The children were beautiful and curious. They wanted us to play with them and have us take their picture so they could see it on the digital camera.

Many of us had mixed feelings about visiting these people. My initial reaction was this was a human zoo, but I cannot deny that I was fascinated by their way of life. What made me come to terms with it was how the people were treated.
We were there to learn about their way of life and as long as everyone was respectful of that, it was justifiable. I thought back to a woman in The Netherlands who lived in a small religious community. She opened the doors to her home for tourists, explained their way of life, and dressed in the traditional costume of that region. She did this for money. When she passed away, it was in the newspapers, since she had become legendary. It seems the only way to learn about differences is to experience them. Some suggested we could have read about them in a book, but then again, we could have read about all we experienced from a book, but not have had the fulfillment of the experience. I hope we left these people with dignity and they were unscathed by our visit.

After another two-hour drive, we stopped at a supermarket for stocking up for the next couple of days. This was our stretch reprieve since we still had two more hours to go to get to Etosha National Park.

Etosha Game park was declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22 270 square km, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish.

Etosha, meaning "Great White Place", is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.

A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

After we dropped our things in the rooms, again four to a cottage, we went for a game drive. We saw herds of zebras, springbok, and oryx to the point that it was more routine after a time rather than exciting as it first was. After some time, we found some lions under a bush resting. There were a few giraffes along the way. One giraffe was sitting on the ground. Bruce explained this was very unusual and the giraffe must be ready to die and unable to stand any longer. It is easy prey for the cats and giraffes cannot get up quickly. In many ways, I felt like this giraffe with my bad hip and leg. I was having so much pain walking, sitting, and getting up. Every suspicious looking person, which they were to my exaggerated imagination, was the hunter and I was the lame prey ready to be an easy victim. This imagery lasted throughout.

Not far from our cottages was a watering hole where people could go and look at the animals that came for a drink. As I approached, I heard people talking about the rhino that had just left. I had great hopes to see a rhino this trip, so I followed the wall until I caught up with it. I was so satisfied. My goals for this part of the trip were to see rhinos and hippos.

Dinner was at 8:00 and Bruce made chicken burgers. They were especially tasty since we had not had them for some time. Ron and I went back to the watering hole after dinner, but it was dark by this time. We could see a lump in the water, but we were not certain if there was a rock in the water, we had not noticed earlier. We stared at it until it finally moved, then tried guessing what it was. First we thought it was an elephant, then a hippo, but it was a rhino. Score two! As we acclimated our eyes to the dark and the distance, there were a total of five rhinos: four adults and one baby.

Two giraffes hesitantly made their way down to the water, plodding slowly across the plains with great caution. Neither of us could get good night shots; it was too dark and a flash was useless from such a distance. The watering hole was a great source of entertainment and discussion.

Again we shared the cottage with Omo and Jean.
We put 300 km on the truck today. 3240 km total to date. We were there to learn about their way of life and as long as everyone was respectful of that, it was justifiable. I thought back to a woman in The Netherlands who lived in a small religious community. She opened the doors to her home for tourists, explained their way of life, and dressed in the traditional costume of that region. She did this for money. When she

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Thursday, December 28, 2006

Leaving Swakopmund


We leave Swakopmund today. Bruce told us we would pack the truck at 8:00, but have until 11;00 to meet them at Pick ‘n Pay. He suggested we buy some things for the Bushmen we will visit as a sign of hospitality. His suggestions were rice, sugar, fresh fruits, tobacco, crayons, and coloring books for the children.

This was the final good-bye to the Rasmussons and Ron and I were feeling the loss already. Lena had said that Anna was a bit tearful; she was not the only one. On the bright side, we gained a new member Germine, from
The Netherlands. She is a bright, attractive young woman who we believe will be a great attention to the group.

Ron and I rode to the Pick ‘n Pay with the truck. My hip was really bothering me this morning. We did our shopping and then helped Bruce and John load up the supplies onto the truck. We took off for our last 1 ½ hours of walking around the town, going to a coffee shop, and having a meat cheese pie. The café was like a little piece of Germany inside, making it difficult to remember we were in Africa.

As we were leaving, we ran into others of the group also doing their farewell walk around the area. We headed for the ocean for one last look, and then returned to the bus for a two hour stint before the next break for a stretch. After another hour of driving, we stopped for lunch under an accommodating tree that was large enough to shade all of us. We set up our chairs and enjoyed Bruce’s lunch fixings.

Two hours more of driving brought us to our next accommodations going to Kamanjab where we are staying at the Oase Guest House ( After dropping our things in the rooms, we headed to the little grocery and liquor stores around the corner to stock up on our snacks and beer. There is nothing else around here, so we are basically held captive here, having to entertain ourselves. We are also the only guests at this place.

Bruce, John, and Thomas were staying at another property 20 km away, due to space. We had our own rooms here once again.
While we were sitting around the patio talking, Ron and I found out that Inger and Anders are avid Geocaching enthusiasts. They explained this hobby to us in great detail and we were enthralled in their adventures pursuing it. They also confessed that when we were in the Kookerboom forest, they had quietly wandered off to find a cache that they knew was there. They had downloaded all of the locations onto a Palm and Anders had his GPS device with him at all times. They assured us that they have seen many places, towns, and villages that they would never have known about if it had not been for Geocaching.

In the evening, we all gathered at the property where Bruce was staying. There was a vast rock circle with a fire pit in the center. Bruce cooked on the truck and we ate sitting around a fire. The night was cool enough to warrant it. The sky was lit with stars, but without a moon, it was quite dark.
When our little group, Jean, Omo, Ron, and I wanted to return to our rooms, we realized we did not remember a flashlight amongst us. John was good enough to walk us part way to where there were some lights to shed light on the street, but as we walked, he teased the women with stories of things that were going to crawl or leap out of the brush along the path. By the time we were on our own to make it the rest of the way, both Omo and Jean were ready to pummel John.

It was a great evening of sharing an laughing around the fire.

We covered 650 km today and we are now at 2940 km for the trip.

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Day of Relaxation in Swapokmund


We arrived in Swapokmund yesterday and are staying at a really nice accommodation with eclectic colors. Our bathroom is purple and the room is dark blue. As strange as it may sound, it works. The bar is on the second floor of a lodge type building and the downstairs is reception and the dining room. It is rustic looking, but very well built, cheery and comfortable.

We were meeting Omo and Jean for breakfast at 9:00 and as is usual, I was up early to read and write. The four of us had breakfast at the lodge and then went walking
through the town looking in stores. This is the first time on the trip that we have had time to get off on our own. Most other times and places, we have been in a group only.
Omo and Jean wanted to check e-mail, Ron and I wanted coffee. We met at the café and then continued shopping until lunch at 1:00. We found a restaurant called The Blue Onion and had a great lunch. The ladies took off so Jean could go quad biking and Ron and I walked to the ocean. The city is so European, the German influence is inescapable. After a short nap later in the afternoon, we then met up with everyone else in the bar at the accommodation. Our group took over the bar, leaving little room for the other guests, but we were having a jolly time. They had a huge wide screen television, but they did not have any service for those of us that were desperate for some news. Adrian, Doris, Inike, and Wilfred had gone skydiving that morning and Inike and Wilfred had wanted to show us their DVD of their experience. We could not get the equipment to work on the TV, so we finally crowded around a laptop and watched it there. As exciting as it was to see, the rest of us could not imagine doing it ourselves. The four of them were held in high esteem for having the guts to do it.
We had dinner as a group in the accommodation’s dining room; Bruce fixed a chicken pasta dish in their kitchen. The Rasmusson family is staying behind tomorrow and going off on their own. We were all going to be feeling the loss of their spirit and energy when they are gone. Anna and Omo had done a little presentation of hand slapping a few nights ago and Anna found the theater bug from the applause. She wanted to do some other presentation for their last night with us. Ron and Rikard got involved too, so Ron rewrote the words to a children’s tune to fit our group experience. After dinner, Anna, Rikard, Alma, and Ron did their little presentation It was so heartwarming.
The words to the song are:
The wheels on the truck go round and round (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
The tires on the truck go flat, flat, flat (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
The tires on the truck get fixed, fixed, fixed (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
Bruce on the truck says “All on board” (Repeat 3 times)
Driver John on the truck says “Time for a smoke” (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
Thomas on the truck says “Alles gutt” (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
The people on the truck say “Are we there yet” (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
The people on the truck say “Nomad rocks!” (Repeat 3 times)
All over Africa!!!
Everyone was duly impressed. Anna and Rikard, being so young, are warm, polite, and intelligent children who gave a great deal of enjoyment to the rest of us.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Boxing Day


Today is Boxing Day, a holiday that is lost on Americans, since we do not have such a holiday. This is retrospective, since this is being written after the fact; it was a day of pleasure, ambiance, and the making new friendships suddenly shattered by tragedy. I am usually an early riser so I was sitting on the bench outside our room. Sissy the cheetah, found me as source of her entertainment. She acted like a house cat, wanting to be petted and extremely affectionate. However, an hour later, when I went to return the keys to the reception, she was in the way as I was walking there. She snarled and growled, so I walked around the other way, avoiding her path. The fickleness of it all, first loving affection and then she treats me like a used toy that has lost all of its flavoring. Well turn your back on me Miss Sissy!

We were on the road by 8:00 am. We are getting spoiled with these late starts. Leaving this lovely place is difficult for all of us. It has been so pleasant. Today, we had a number of stops planned, but one not planned or wished for.

Our first rest stop was a village called Solitaire with a population of 21 people and a little general store. Bruce had told us they had the best apple strudel in the southern hemisphere, so we were all ready to sample it. The portions were overly generous, delectable, but more than one person could eat alone. We shared our portions. It was a cultural incongruity to be eating apple strudel in the middle of the Namibian desert.

The Tropic of Capricorn on the Guab Pass was the next stop, where we had to get out and get our photos taken with the sign marking the spot. Capricorn is my zodiac sign too, so it was especially appropriate. Bruce had giving us an explanation of the significance of the Tropic of Capricorn and Cancer. It was a playful stop and our spirits were soaring.

We then stopped at yet another gorge, but being done with gorges, it did not grab my attention. I am not sure of its significance. I called it gorge 1 as there were more to come. This area is known as the moon landscapes. Three quarters of an hour later, we stopped at gorge 2 or Kuiseb Pass, which goes through Namibia. It was interesting to see what looked like a perfect line of trees growing along the pass in the distance.

Traveling down a two lane ‘highway’ of gravel, we spotted a problem ahead, but those of us in the truck were not able to really see exactly what had happened. We were between nothing and nowhere and we came upon an accident on the road. At first, Bruce had not opened the door and dropped the ladder on the truck for us to get out. Then he came back to see if any of us were up on our first aid. Inike is an X-Ray technician, so is current and she went to help as did Lena followed by her husband Klas. They came back to the truck saying they needed towels, lots of towels. We got into our luggage and found ours as did all of the others.

There on the side of the road was a one car accident. The car had a trailer behind it and must have flipped the car going around the bend. The car was totaled. Initially, the only person we saw was a young woman walking the pavement crying hysterically. They got her into the truck and stopped her bleeding. Then a second girl followed and was also put into the truck. It was then that many of us became aware that there was a young man’s body on the side of the road and another man hanging out of the driver’s side of the car. From the condition the car was in, it would have taken experts to remove the driver, but it seemed to be too late to try to save him by the time we arrived. We had no idea how long they had been there before we arrived.

Both sides of the road were strewn with their belongings, some things far flung into the desert. Dirk and Harm started collecting everything scattered and then a group of us joined in. We collected anything that was worth anything at all and piled it along side the road. It kept us busy for about forty-five minutes reassembling people’s lives; various shoes spread within a hundred feet of each other, fishing rods mangled, coolers with cans of tuna, packages of gravy mix, and liters of soda, littering the desert landscape when they were meant for a celebration of life. There were cards from a game called “30 Seconds” blowing in the breeze. In my mind, I saw this group of five, playing this game as they were driving to their holiday destination, laughing and enjoying each other’s company only to have it end in tragedy so suddenly. As we collected their things, I tried to imagine all of the losses they had experienced in a matter of moments and was devastated by the thoughts. We were all in shock.

There were papers flying down the road and Ron retrieved them. They had the names of the people and were their reservations at a fancy resort for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. The mother appeared from somewhere I had not witnessed. The young man on the ground was presumably her son and the young women, her daughters with the father driving. The mother was unscathed physically, but obviously in shock. Bruce had tried giving the boy air, but his chest was not able to sustain compressions. Some of the guys from our group stopped the few cars that were traveling this road. The next person to stop was a medical doctor, but he agreed the boy was beyond medical treatment and the father was gone already. He did clean and bandage the two daughters.

With the next cars that stopped, Bruce checked to see who had cell phones with them. There was no cell signal where we were so calling for an ambulance was impossible. He asked more than one driver to keep their cell phone on and to call the emergency number as soon as they received a signal.

We stayed until the ambulance came to take the three women to the hospital. After packing their suitcases into our truck, we were to meet them at the hospital. The doctor and his family agreed to stay behind until the police came with another ambulance for the father and son. It was unconceivable to think what could have happened if no cars had gone by on this desolate road.

With great sobriety in the truck, we drove to the hospital to leave the luggage. Sadly, we made it there before the ambulance did.

Scheduled was a stop at Walvis Bay to see the flamingos if they were there. All of us were silent on the way, absorbed in our own thoughts and emotions.

Bruce explained that there are two types of flamingoes here, the greater and lesser flamingoes. The greater are taller and swing their heads along the bottom of the water dredging for food. The lesser flamingoes are shorter, so they feed 20 centimeters from the waters bottom by filling their mouths with water and sieving it out again, collecting the remaining food. Due to the differences in their feeding patterns, they are perfectly able to co-habitat without interfering with each others feeding patterns.

Arriving in Swakopmund, the activity center was the next stop, where we were given a presentation on the adrenalin rush sports we could partake from. Four of our group signed up for skydiving, others for quad biking on the dunes. The rest of us passed up the options.

We checked into our rooms, which were funky colors of dark blue with lavender. It was not unattractive, but different. Our room was in this color scheme, but it was comfortable with four twin beds separated by a partial wall. The bathroom was large with a comfortable shower, and the room had teas and coffee self-serve.

Here we are saying good-bye to the Rasmusson family. They are going on their own from this town forward tomorrow. They have been such a rich part of our experiences, everyone is going to miss them dearly. Anna and Rikard have been delightful diversions on the long truck rides and pleasant company and conversationalists at other times. None of us are looking forward to their leaving the group. We do pick up an new member here, Germine from The Netherlands joins us. This now ends our Swedish majority and for a short time, makes it a Dutch majority.

Swakopmund is a German settlement and has all of the appearances as such. If you did not know better, you would think you were somewhere in Germany.

We gathered at 7:30 pm to go to dinner in the city center at a jumping Italian restaurant. They did not seem to be prepared to receive us with our being spread out at three different tables in various parts of the restaurant. The last group had to wait twenty minutes to be seated. When we were finally seated, Inger announced that she just heard from her daughter and she was now the proud grandmother of a baby boy. She said it is customary for a new grandparent to buy champagne, so she did and we toasted her new addition. As she said, we experienced death and now new life; the circle of life continues.

Making menu selections was difficult, but I finally chose a feta, spinach, and olive pizza, while Ron had fish. Some at our table ordered the meat lovers special, which when served looked like a whole animal had been put on the plate. Our portions were equally generous, but it was too delicious not to finish it then.

Some of the group decided to continue the evening by going to a nightclub, but a smaller group of us walked back to the accommodation to hit the bed.

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Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas


It was Christmas morning and we had to leave at 5:00 am. What a horrid time to have to be up and moving about. We drove to the Namib-Haukluft National Park to Dune 45. The Namib dune fields stretch from the Gariep (Orange) River to the Kuiseb River known as Dune Sea. Dunes are composed of quartz sand with hues from cream to orange to red to violet. Unlike the Kalahari dunes, these are dynamic, shifted by the winds into distinctive shapes. Dune 45 is the most accessible of the red dunes rising to 150 meters. The whole sand sea is 300 kilometers long and 150 kilometers wide.

Bruce warned us to remove our shoes before climbing to keep sand from filling them and dragging us down. However, we were warned to keep our socks on as the sand can get so hot, it will burn your feet. We were told to climb up the ridge to the top if we chose to. Walking in sand is difficult at best, but at a 90 degree angle, it is arduous to say the least.

Notwithstanding, Ron worked his way to the top. This was my intention too, but multiple factors kept me at half mast. My leg was still bothering me and getting progressively worse day by day, smoker’s lungs are not conditioned for heavy exertion, but what really dissolved my determination to succeed was my fear of heights. As you climb the ridge, it is like walking a tightrope with nothing but space and air between you and way down. My vertigo was the killer of ambitions and I had to let go ¾ of the way up to the top and return to the truck. There were others who only made it as far as I, so we commiserated.

It may seem unusual to think of sand as incredibly beautiful, but these dunes had such grace and purity that they deserved all of the attention they received. The pristine nature was and sleek lines were breathtakingly attractive.

We broke our fast at the truck, a boxed up style supplied by the accommodation we had left. It felt like late afternoon, but it was barely half past morning. We drove for a long time, time becoming blurred with so much of it on the truck.

We met our local guide Boseman, a white Namibian, who for 120 Rand each did a desert walk with us. This was an optional adventure, but all joined in. Boseman, not all that tall, walks as fast as a cheetah runs and it was difficult keeping up with him. Boseman was an academic professional who studied the desert life as a hobby, later turning it into a full time profession. His knowledge was extensive. He explained how the dunes formed and how you could tell the seasons and directions from the shifts in the dune. The dunes either shift to one side or the other depending on whether the winds are coming from the mountains or the ocean.

He showed us scorpion tracks, mice, and beetle larvae as well as beetles themselves. He explained how the animals live under the sand only coming out at night when it is cooler. He showed us how to catch a lizard by scooping it out of the sand and plants that can die completely, but retain their seeds for the first rain. They then burst open and release their seeds to the ground. Within three days, new plants are growing. Africans used to believe that the sky rained seeds. He explained the life of the Bushman who were continuously nomadic. They left the elderly and even children behind who could not keep up in order to keep the community alive. Bushmen used poisonous darts with a ten meter range. They killed many whites from fear. It was legal to hunt and kill Bushmen until 1919 and then until 1929 with a hunting license. There are no longer any Bushmen due to this heinous act.

Boseman explained that one should never climb a dune on the ridge. Where was he earlier when we needed this information on Dune 45? He said if you watch an animal, they never climb the ridge, but zigzag along the side.

After having us climb yet another dune, he took us to the edge. Again, being so far up, made me dizzy. Boseman explained how soft the sand was and how safe it was to fall down, regardless of how high up one was. He shared that we could slide, roll, or walk down without any danger at all. The only problem was the sand may discolor our clothes and it may not come out in the wash. With this knowledge, I felt powerful enough to leap down the side of the dune at a 90 degree angle with giant steps, feeling the fear, but pleasuring in the sensation. I really wanted to regress to boyhood and roll down, but my mother’s voice whispered in my ear about staining my clothes, so I refrained. This was a highlight for me and if I had know earlier, I would have felt more confident with Dune 45.

On the way back to our truck, Anna, Rikard, and Klas sat on the front of Boseman’s 4x4 while the rest of us were herded like cattle in the back. It takes a special type of vehicle to drive in this sand. The ride was like a tumultuous roller coaster and we were jarred around praying the truck would not flip over.

When we returned to the Six Pack, we drove to another part of the park for lunch. There was supposed to be a swimming pool there, but when we arrived, they were draining the pool. Bruce created a delicious pasta salad, then after we ate it was back on the truck for our lodge once again.

Ron gave out Hungarian Christmas candy we brought with us and and explained the significance in Hungary. They seem to have been enjoyed and appreciated by all.

Before returning to the lodge, we went to another gorge at Sesriem Canyon. The sunblock was bleeding into my eyes and I asked Ron for a tissue. He went back to the truck to get it from his bag, but in the meanwhile, we were separated from the group, who were descending into the gorge. I had tried to follow to keep track of the direction they were going, but Ron did not immediately follow. At one point, the way forked and I waited for Ron to catch up so he would not take the wrong turn. When he did not show, I went back to find him still at the top at the truck taking pictures. By this time, it was too late to try to find the group’s direction and I too stayed at the top and watched them from above.

Back at the lodge, I was ready for a swim, a shower, and a nap in that order. Later, we congregated outside on the lawn for a drink and socialization until dinner. Bruce prepared pork chops with sausage, potatoes, and mixed vegetables. It is astonishing what he can create on a couple of propane burners. He also made a special dessert with chocolate and bananas. All in all, it was a great Christmas, though with 30 degrees Celsius temperatures, it did not feel like Christmas.

At the lodge, I bought a Hammerstein Namibia t-shirt to remind myself of this beautiful lodge and lovely Christmas with great people. Within an hour of wearing it the embroidery started to unravel. Santa, help me!

Tomorrow, we leave at 8:00 am for Walvis Bay via the arid Namib-Naukbift route on our way to the seaside town of Swakopmund.

Today was only 200 km bringing us to 1990 km.

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Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve


I woke this morning earlier than the rest. Jean and Omo are sharing our cottage. There are two bedrooms and a small kitchen/living room combo. When I stared out the window to see if anyone else in the group was stirring, I spotted little creatures on the grass. There were two dark rock hyraxes on the grass and four brown ones sunning themselves on the wall ledge. I snapped pictures through the window; each time I tried going out to take their picture, they disappeared. The hyrax, or dassie, is an odd mammal that superficially resembles a guinea pig and is about the size of a rabbit. It is neither, however, but is more closely related to elephants, manatees, and the aardvark. They can be traced through fossils to the Eocene epoch about 50,000,000 years ago.

We packed up and took our things to breakfast at Bruce’s cottage. Bruce had made a special scrambled eggs and ham dish for Christmas Eve breakfast. Then it was time to hit the road again. Bruce has naysayed the Bushman walk, so none of us signed on for it. We came across this bird's nest or rather a whole community . This breed builds a nest as a community and continues to add to it until either it falls off from the weight or it breaks the limb of the tree.

Our first stop was at the dam for a vista view and photos. Then we headed west to the Sossusvlei-Namib region. We had driven forever it seems when we finally had a stop at a Wimpy’s service station, the same on we came to when the truck needed servicing. Snack stock-up time once again.

We drove through a wildlife park on our way and saw ostrich, springbok, and oryx.

The original plan was to stay in tents tonight, but the lodge did not have enough to accommodate all of us, so we were afforded lovely rooms instead. The resort Hammerstein’s is beautiful. The lobby of the main building is richly decorated with leather chairs amongst African art décor. Our room is yet the best we have had thus far.

We had the option of going for a catwalk on the premises. They have two cheetahs, one leopard, and on lynx. We were able to walk in and up close to the cheetahs who are names Caesar and Cleopatra. There is a baby cheetah named Sissy who has the run of the grounds. She is about three months away from being sent back to the wild.

Sissy grabbed Inger’s sandal, while Inger was swimming in the pool. Sissy thought it was a chew toy and a group of us tried getting it away

from here, but finally we called for the staff for assistance. Later, I was sitting on the bench on our porch and called Sissy over. She headed right toward me and then bee lined into the Rasmusson family’s bedroom. Their door had been left open after returning from a swim, and Klas was dressing in the bathroom, I yelled into Klaus and Lena to warn. Lena came flying out of the room. Sissy jumped onto one of the beds and made herself comfortable. No coaxing could get Sissy to move, so again we had to get staff to aid us.

Most of the group celebrates Christmas Eve as the main event day with Christmas being more of a day to relax. Dinner was a festive affair in the main dining room of the lodge. It was decorated for Christmas and candles on the tables. We had four tables reserved fro one group. The starter was cold pumpkin soup that was exquisite. The salad bar had a number of choices, while the entrees included Oryx, beef or chicken. We had a choice of three desserts. We shared the table with the Rasmusson family of four adding to our holiday spirit to share with such a wonderfully family.

The chandeliers were carved ostrich eggs. Later we congregated outside on the grounds for beer, chats, and then to bed for another early morning.

Today's mileage was 350 km. 1790 km as a running total.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Kookerboom Forest


Today was an early wakeup day for everyone at 6:00 am. We have communal showers here, men on one side and women on the other. I showered last night, though the only people I would have had to share with would be Ron and Hans, but I avoided the rush. I appreciate my private time with a hot shower. We need to be on the road by 7:00.

After traveling through the Kalahari, our first stop is the Kokerboom forest of strange trees, called the quiver trees ( The bushmen would cut through their hard bark and use the spongy inside for quivers for their arrows. For the trees to survive, they have to grow tall enough that animals cannot eat their leaves. If their leaves are eaten, the tree dies. Contradictorily, the tree is very slow growing, so it is almost impossible for the trees to survive, but some do. The trees we are walking amongst are 150 to 200 years old. It took us four hours to reach this forest, but it was pretty amazing.

Within this forest, there was one bush that was delectable to butterflies. It was loaded with them, making the bush look like a Christmas tree with twinkle lights on it as the butterflies flapped their wings open and closed. They were white with a black streak on each wing. Interspersed were a couple of orange ones, but different from Monarch butterflies.

John and Bruce found a slow leak on yet another tire and they tried getting the other spare off to replace it. We all stood by the bathrooms in the Quiver tree forest in the shade while they slaved away, but to no avail. The spare was rusted on and would not budge with all of their yanking, pulling, and banging. They even tried pouring a can of Coca-Cola on it since rumors have always said it will remove rust. It did not in our allotted time period, so either we are too impatient or it is indeed a myth.

When the consensus was that the tire was not going to get fixed at this afternoon stop, we drove the next three hours at a slower speed, finally causing the tire to actually go flat. We pulled up to the side of the road and Bruce put up an overhang on the side of the truck giving some shade and he fixed lunch. When life gives you lemons, make lunch with them. We ate, the crew worked on the truck’s tire yet again. Regardless of their stamina, patience and ideas, the tire was not about to be removed after their constant struggles for an hour’s time.

While this was happening, Doris started to develop some reactions to the Malaria medications and needed some medical attention. Bruce told us we would have to make a diversion to get her medical care, but none of us care about that, we were more concerned about Doris. We were forced to drive with one bad tire, but it sounded like John was having a difficult time getting the truck into first gear. We thought it would be about an hour to get to a clinic, but it was more like two with our impeded mobility due to the tire. We finally pulled up to a Wimpy’s service center, where we were dropped off. Bruce called the hospital and arranged a ride for Doris. While we were snacking and relaxing in air conditioning, the garage was able to fix the tire and Doris was driven back to meet us. It is now close to 5:00 and the overcast sky that we have had all day is getting darker, threatening an impending storm is nearby. There was a photo on the wall of Wimpy’s that showed the flood they had one year ago. Half of Wimpy’s was under water. We are supposedly only 20 km from our resting place for this evening.

An hour and a half later, we were on the road again; we stopped in a small Namibian town with a Spar supermarket. This really surprised me that here in Africa, in this small village of 2,000 people, they would have a Spar with scanners at the check outs like in Budapest and other European cities. What was even more shocking was to see a restaurant with “Belaton Hungarian Take Away Food”.

Our schedule has gone askew from the itinerary a bit due to the different circumstances that had not been planned for. We are at our accommodation near the dam, where we are again four to a cottage and we are sharing with Jean and Omo. We work well together and this is a good arrangement, hopefully for all of us, if we have to share at all. This cottage is really basic, though it has two bedrooms and each has two beds, the kitchen has no supplies at all. The bathroom is without toilet paper and none of us have any, so we had to yell for Bruce to come to our rescue. We seemed to be the unlucky ones; all the other cabins are supplied with it.

Dinner was at Bruce’s cabin, where we sat around and talked for some time after dinner. When we walked back to our cabin, it was black out. It was difficult to see each other walking side by side. We had forgotten our flashlights in the suitcases, like forgetting an umbrella when rain is predicted. We minced our way back, taking small steps, not to trip and fall. As we were approaching our cabin, we heard rustling sounds followed by clomping. Our hearts beat faster, and Ron yelled “Hello”, but nothing responded back. The sounds continued and we forced our steps faster and faster to our door. As we put the key in the lock and were about to turn it, we heard “Have a good night” from the security guard who was walking by.

Today’s mileage was 450 km totaling 1440 km thus far.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Namibia - Fish River Canyon


We were surprised last night being the longest day of the year that it was dark by 8:30 pm. The morning sun made up for it shining through at 5:00 am and heating the air significantly.

I literally rolled out of bed at 6:00 am since my hip was hurting and rolling was the only way to get up. My back had started to bother me before we left Hungary, but with all of the last minute university duties, I never had time to do anything about it. I held tightly to the belief that it was stress related and once vacationing, this would resolve on its own. I was mistaken in this assumption as it is getting worse rather than better.

Outside, it sounded like a bird convention on the river with every one of them vying for the right to be the leader of the group. There is apparently no Robert’s Rules of Order for sure amongst this bird group. It did sound more like the British Parliamentary proceedings in a heavily debated session.

With the sun shimmering on the river’s currents, the joyful noise of the feathered occupants was ultimately relaxing. Breakfast was not until 8:00, so we slowly meandered to the lodge, the same as where we had dinner last night. Our offerings included three different cold cereals, three choices of breads, and a wide variety of toppings: margarine, jellies, marmalades, honey, cheese spread, peanut butter, and Marmite. Bread is toasted in a hot cast iron skillet, a clever idea. Today, breakfast will be available until 10:00, later than what will be the custom for the duration of the trip, we were told. There is an optional river trip for 120 Rand for those who wish to go, so those who are will need to eat earlier than the rest of us.

Ron decided he would like to do this trip. Bruce said it was not too energetic, a low energy relaxing trip, as the currents were mild. They would be gone for about three hours. Having concerns about my hip and the ability to sit in a canoe for this length of time, I begged off. Since there are two to a canoe, Ron was teamed up with Thomas, the student intern.

My alternative choice was to sit on our patio outside the cottage and write, watch the birds, and just relax with the voices of the river’s currents. After a short time, I felt as if someone showered me with relaxation dust. I had not been this mellow in ages. I believe this was the best choice for me and hoped Ron was having as enjoyable a time.

At the start of the river’s edge, there is a patch of vegetation directly in front of my view. Every once in a while, a bright red winged black bird flew into it. Each attempt to get a picture of it was fruitless, as the bird hid amongst the plants as soon as the camera is focused. Many of the other birds look similar to sparrows or starlings. A heron was sitting on a tree branch stuck into the bottom of the river and poking up to the sky. The heron was there for so long, I thought perhaps it was part of the tree, until it decided to fly off, leaving no doubts.

By half past noon, the canoes still were not appearing in the water for their return to the dock. It was a little concerning, but they finally did start to show close to 1:00. Ron and Thomas were the last ones, which I had expected. I knew Ron would stop the canoe to take pictures along the way. When they did return, their canoe became stuck in some reeds and the guide had to go back to push them out. Everyone had complaints that the guide was not effectively guiding, but trying to rush them along and was way ahead of the group. The Swedish family of four, in the next cottage, were all back, showered, and dressed before Ron and Thomas returned.

Again, we had lunch in the lodge and then packed up for our next long drive of four hours before reaching our next nights accommodations. On the way, we had our first flat tire just as we passed the Ai Ais sign to tell us where we were at. It took about 30 minutes for Bruce and John, just the driver, to fix. The tires are huge and it is a multi-person task. All of us stood around and watched for some minutes, then decided we should be huddling in the shade of the truck. It was getting toasty in the sun. Once were on our way again, within minutes, we passed a car with a flat tire also. None of the ‘highways’ are paved, but only gravel or dirt covered.

We arrived at the Fish River Canyon National Park camp grounds run by the Namibia National Park system ( The cottages were certainly not as luxurious as last nights, but clean and sufficient. Each cottage sleeps four people in two bedrooms with a small kitchen area in between and a bathroom with shower to one side. We shared the cottage with Omo and Jean.

We stayed at the vista until 9:00 pm, then headed back to the camp. A group of the crowd went to the pool for a dip, Ron included. I was tempted, but it is so difficult getting pants on and off with my hip, I decided not to bother for such a short time. My other concern was losing my contacts at the start of the trip and it took too much hip locomotion to go back to the cottage to take them out and then back to the pool.

The cottage was basic and the bedrooms had twin beds attached to each of two walls. The sheets were clean and they were comfortable, all that we could wish for.

We have traveled 260 km today for a total of 990 so far.

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