Chapter Thirty: African Tour Pt. 1- South Africa & Namibia

Below is part one of three describing our 26 day tour through southern Africa, covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana & Zimbabwe.

Day 1

And we’re off! We got to the tour office at 6:30 a.m. to fill out some paperwork and then took off with our group. There are twenty of us and two guides, both from Zimbabwe. There are a mix of ages, from around twenty to mid-sixties. People seem pretty nice so far. The day started with a supermarket stop for snacks and water and then we started the drive north, toward Zimbabwe. We stopped at a beautiful vineyard called Spice Route for a wine tasting, and then stopped roadside for a simple lunch of sandwiches. We then drove on a few hours more and stopped at a citrus and roibus tea farm where we would spend the evening and set up for overnight. It was definitely far more luxurious than we were expecting (our experience camping on the amazon ruined us), with a king sized, brand new tent and mattress, swimming pool, warm showers and sit down BBQ  dinner (BBQing is also a cultural activity here, called braii). It was a good first day, though I am not expecting most days to be quite so comfortable.

 

Day 2

We had an early start and a lot of driving on this day. We stopped roadside again for a lunch and then drove on to cross into Namibia. We are entering the desert region and it is getting HOT. We arrived at our destination around four p.m., which was a beautiful riverside settlement with a pool, large green lawns for camping, showers and a bar. It was almost like a small resort, with straw huts for eating and relaxing. We went for a swim in the river and then in the pool. We had a nice grilled fish dinner and then had some drinks at the bar with a few of the people on the tour, from Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, Holland and Italy.

 

Day 3

The day started out leisurely. There was an option to book a river canoe trip for the morning, and those of us who stayed behind lounged around the pool, reading and napping. The pool is on a balcony that looks over the river with a thick brush on both sides, so it was an idyllic place to spend a couple of hours. I did some yoga in the grass and then we had lunch before getting in the truck and heading on. We drove a few hours and entered the Namib desert, though it was still rocky and not yet dunes. We set up camp in a remote site that was slightly more bare bones than the previous two days, but still had a small pool. In the evening, we drove out to the nearby fish river canyon, which is the second biggest canyon in the world (after the grand canyon), where we had a small hike and then cracked a couple of beers and watched the sun set over the land. There was a very rich beauty to it and I want to absorb it all. We returned to the camp for a beef stew dinner and then walked down the remote road past the lights and watched the stars, which were amazing and everywhere. We also saw a moonrise. It was a spectacular end to the day.

 

Day 4

I woke up at 1:00 a.m. because someone in a neighbouring tent was snoring and I wasn’t able to get back to sleep. We had breakfast and left at seven and had a long day of driving, stopping for lunch and to stretch our legs. The highlight of the drive was seeing four giraffes on the side of the road. They were so large and majestic. When they run, you can see how the vertebrae in the neck move; it’s really fascinating. Around four or five, we got to our destination and did a short hike through a small canyon. The views inside were great, though it was quite hot! We had entered the Namib desert, but were not yet at the dunes. We set up our tents, had a swim in the pool, ate dinner and called it a night. Not my favourite day so far, but the giraffes were really fantastic.

 

Day 5

This was the best day so far! We began with driving to the sand dunes, hiking up dune 45 and watching the sun rise over the desert. We then had a hot breakfast at the base of the dunes, followed by a tour to deadvlei, which is a spot in the desert where, due to wind currents, there is no sand on the ground, only white clay, and trees that have died and been preserved in this dry and arid location for over six hundred years. Set to the backdrop of the fiery orange sand, the trees and the white ground look other-worldly. We went back to our campsite to pack up and have lunch and drove on to the next camp, set in a very barren-looking part of the desert, with Seuss-like trees sparsely populating the area. There was a pool that we not so much swam in as sat in, given that it was a foot deep, but it did the trick and cooled us off. For sunset, we had a drive through the desert ‘farm’ by the camp owners, who shared with us survival tactics, stories about the bushmen who uses to inhabit the land, and drove us around, following herds of zebra and oryx. He told us we could sleep safely outside at night, out of our tent, and there was a watering hole at the camp where the animals would drink from. A bunch of us brought down our sleeping bags and spent the night about twenty meters away, under a blanket of stars, and fell asleep watching the zebras come and go. (I tried to narrow down the photos as much as possible!)

 

Day 6

The first half of the day was spent packing up and driving to the coastal town of Swakopmund, where we would have actual accommodations for two nights and be on our own to book any tours we were interested in, in the area. We stopped on route to stretch our legs and take photos at Moon Valley, where there were nice rock formations, and in the town of walvis bay, to see the flamingos at the shore. I’ve always wanted to see the skeleton coast of Namibia, in particular the shipwrecks on the foggy ocean shores, where they meet the desert but I didn’t think we would get a chance to on this trip, as it wasn’t a tour stop. To see the best of it, you need a chartered plane to fly you into the national park and stay for a few days, but I was still lucky enough to find a tour that would drive along some of the coast and visit a shipwreck. A bunch of us wanted to do the tour so we split into two groups to go over the next two days; Jasper and I on the latter day. Then we had some time to just relax, shower and hang out at the bar before we all went out to dinner. We split a calzone with springbok meat (the national animal of SA, a lot like a deer or antelope) and pasta with fresh shrimp. Both were amazing. Then we all went to the bar next door for drinks and dancing the night away. It was nice to relax and blow off some steam after such a packed schedule.

 

Day 7

Today we did almost nothing. We slept in, had breakfast (bacon and eggs!), got a picnic and went down to the beach then came back to our room and had dinner. With naps interspersed. It was much needed.

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Day 8

Today was our skeleton coast tour. Seeing the shipwreck was so spooky and cool. The coast is heavy with fog and wind, which is the reason so many ships have gotten disoriented and ended up on the shores. To land in the desert with no food or water for days pretty much sealed the deal for them. At the national park, they actually exhibit the bones of the unlucky crews to wash ashore. Our tour went beyond the shipwreck and showed us around some of the local townships. Our guide also brought us to the largest sea lion colony on the coast, and possibly in the world. There were tens of thousands of them, mostly newborn pups. The smell was almost unbearable but the sea lions were amazing. The little ones were learning to swim and had big doey brown eyes. They sounded like little lambs when they spoke. We finished the day tour at a nice beach where people were paragliding and had some lunch and  cold beers.

The eight of us in the sub-tour met the group from the main tour and got back on the road, driving the 2.5 hours to Spitzkopen, a desert town and camp with rock mountains, where we saw rock wall paintings made by bushmen that dated back 2-4000 years. We climbed up a table mountain to see the sunrise and then returned to camp for dinner. Again, we opted to forgo the tents and sleep under the stars. It rained lightly a couple of times in the night, but we just waited it out and stayed mostly dry.

 

Day 9

We had a lot of distance to cover today so the morning and afternoon were spent driving towards etosha park. We stopped at a small himba village on the way. The himba are a tribe that covers themselves in crushed red stone mixed with fat as a sun protective layer. They have the clay in their hair as well, which are done up resembling large dreadlocks and they often wear only a loincloth and jewels for adornments. They subsist on very little water and “bath” with herbed smoke. We were excited to visit but a bit disappointed when we arrived that it felt incredibly voyeuristic. There are many himba people but we visited a small tribe of about twenty. Two tour groups were joined so we had more white tourists than natives. We were also heavily encouraged to take lots of photos of them and buy small handicrafts that they were selling. I bought a bracelet as a souvenir but doubt that it was made by them personally. Overall, it felt invasive, though it was still something that I am happy to have seen. In the evening, we just relaxed and played cards and had a swim in the pool.

 

Day 10

We entered Etosha park and spent most of the day doing game drives (riding around the park looking for animals). No lions or elephants so far but we did see lots of zebras, giraffes, springbok, impalas, oryx, cudos, ostriches and plenty of wild birds. In the afternoon, we saw a rhino (though quite far away). In the evening, we swam in the pool and had BBQ beef ribs and springbok sausage for dinner and then, after dark, went to the watering hole in the camp and saw four hyenas coming to drink. We also spotted a honey badger on the walk back to the tent, though it was too fast to get a good look for me. I am starting to get used to vast, beautiful lands and wild, exotic animals. It will be hard to leave this place.

 

Day 11

Today was another almost full day of game drives. We had a lot of success: We saw hyenas and a rhino up close, jackals and lions. We saw a freshly killed zebra and a lioness beside it with blood on her face. We also saw two lions at a watering hole with carcasses and bones lying all around. It was gory but really fascinating. We saw lots more of the animals from the previous day as well. And, again, our campsite had a pool and bar so we spent a relaxing evening there.

 

Day 12

We spent the morning and early afternoon driving to Windhoek. It felt a bit long and was a hot day. When we arrived, we were told we would have a city tour in a bus but it turned out to be a walk around the corner in a not-so-exciting part of town. It was a disappointment as it was all we would see of the city. We had about twenty minutes to pop into a historical museum but could only see a small part. We stayed in a lodge out of the city, which was beautifully situated on a small pond with geese and turkeys wandering around and rolling fields in behind. Dinner was not included so we all ate at the lodge restaurant which was quite good and generous. I had springbok carpaccio to start and an oryx steak as a main. Both were really nice! It was the last night for two guys in the group so we had some drinks all together and celebrated, but I was more than ready for bed by the time we said goodnight at 10:00 p.m. These early mornings are still taking some getting used to; the standard wake up time is 5-5:30 a.m.

 

Stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 of the tour, coming shortly! ❤

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