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Monday, December 16, 2019

BEING TOURISTS IN NAMIBIA


We head to the border bright & early, squeezing in as much cheap diesel as we can before we leave. The border would rate as one of the nicest & easiest on this trip. We are done & dusted in 1 hour. Then we are in a state of culture shock – Here in Namibia we are back in civilisation as we know it. There are people, cars & shops everywhere, signs are in English & we have to drive on the left-hand side. First time GR2 has been on this side of the road since GR2 left Australia nearly 10 years ago. After getting a sim, filling with water and finally getting delicious bread we hit the road. Our destination is the famous Etosha National Park.

Well how do I describe this place. It is a vast flat dry desert plain containing an enormous salt pan. At the moment it is surprisingly green because of recent rain. There are countless waterholes to visit to watch the animals. At many there isn’t an animal in sight, but at others there are heaps. By dusk we head in to a campground A$66 and in the morning, we are off bright and early animal spotting. It is awesome to see so many animals – hmmmmm… lions with their cubs, gemsbok, impala, giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, rhino, elephants, wart hogs, jackals, wild dogs, ostriches. By the end of the day we head out of the park to camp just outside the gate at a small campground – inside the camps are pretty pricey.

It is such a pretty spot we stay and do chores. Washing dry we move on north along a great sealed road to Opuwo (which in Himba means “end of the road”.) And it pretty well is, as it is dirt from here to the border with Angola. As soon as we alight from GR2 we are surrounded by Himba women & children. The women to sell bracelets & the boys to just be a pain. We get food in the Supermarket but no beer – it cannot be sold on Sunday, but we can get it from a bar down the road. And these bars are very busy. The whole place feels like Alice Springs at home. By the time we are full of diesel we are more than glad to head up the hill to the very lovely Opuwo Lodge camping area. With an infinity pool overlooking the mountains we are worlds away from the town. And the bonus is to meet other travellers and enjoy a great meal.

Well the reason we came out here was to see the Himba people. We couldn’t do a tour yesterday as it was Sunday, but that works out for the best, as we simply stop at a village and John organises our own tour! For some money & food we are shown around and can take photos. There is a girl who can interpret for us….it proves an incredibly fun tour. We look inside their huts & see their clothes hung on pegs and sleeping mats on the floor. Cooking is done outside. In another hut a lady shows us how they use smoking wood to perfume their bodies – She puts it under her armpit and then squats over it! According to John she is now “hot stuff” I get smeared with dye they use on their skin a mix of ochre, butter & herbs. The result is orange coloured skin & hair. After inspecting their craft items, we get a photo by GR2 and a few ladies climb inside. They are more interested in photos on the wall of our grandchildren especially Toby sucking his thumb. One laughs at herself in my mirror!

We head south following and incredibly scenic valley. The gravel road is great & the bonus is the odd giraffe or two or three. We do a quick detour out to Sesfontein – not a lot there. By the end of the day we pull in to Palmwag Lodge & Camp – we are getting addicted to these upmarket places. People to chat to, a nice pool, dinner with great sunset views (but we miss the elephant strolling through)

Forty km further south we turn & head west to the Skeleton Coast National Park through dryer & dryer scenery. It is a lonely stretch of road – we cannot stop at the old Diamond Mines as no entry signs are up everywhere, but we can stop at a tumbledown oil rig and some shipwrecks. Miles later we exit the park, only to then enter Dorob National Park. Late afternoon we reach Cape Cross and head out to the seal viewing area. We are here in calving season and are simply stunned at the number of seals & pups. We are also stunned by the putrid smell. Totally disgusting. A combination of seal poop and decomposing baby seals. The walkway is closed off, but seals & pups have squeezed through making it an interesting walk. Phew, I am glad to get out…..the stench is too much for me.  We head to the campground at Cape Cross Resort & I head straight to the shower. The smell lingers on my skin.

We are heading south, but occasionally plans have to change. John has discovered a cracked front spring, so we will head to Windhoek instead. That way we can check out storage for GR2 as well. So today is mostly driving, first down the coast to Henties Bay, and then east along a back road to Usakos & Karbib, passing beneath the shadow of Gross Spitzkoppe (apparently the Namibian equivalent of the Matterhorn!). As usual we are loving the desert scenery. By late afternoon we reach Windhoek & the Trans Kalahari Inn. Storage all sorted we organise the spring to be fixed tomorrow. It is just down the road from the Lodge so we head back to their camp area for the night.

It starts raining that night and continues the next day. Perfect for sitting in a workshop. By midday it is fixed and head to the city to the Craft Markets – A bit of Christmas shopping is required. Then groceries and we are back on the road. We are taking a back route through the mountains towards the famous Namibian dunes. By dusk we find a great spot not far off the road with views over the mountain pass. We hear no traffic in the night. By morning the rain has cleared, and we can see mountains for miles. Unfortunately, the road is very corrugated, making it slow going. Eventually we are out on the main road, but it too is corrugated gravel.  A quick lunch stop at the very cute Solitaire – consisting of a petrol station, hotel & cafĂ© plus some old cars out front, before we head in to Sesriem. Here we decide to bite the bullet & pay the exorbitant National Park camp fees A$50 each so we have easy access to the sights. We decide to get a few checked out this afternoon, but while we are climbing Elim Dune it starts to rain – that’s not supposed to happen in the desert!!! Well that is all we achieve this afternoon. Early in the morning we follow the other tourists to Dune 45 for the climb. It is rather like the tortoise & the hare (I am sure you can guess which one I am). After breakfast we head to the end of the road. Actually, it goes a further 5km, but only for 4x4 – and apparently not for large vehicles like us. We have to catch the shuttle (GR2 would have been fine!).  Then it is the hike to Deadviei – an awesome white plain with a forest of dead twisted trees all totally surrounded by huge red dunes. One of the dunes is Big Daddy at 325m popular with climbers – not this time!) Back at the 2wd carpark we tackle another hike – much longer and harder (cos it’s pretty hot by now) to Hidden Viei. No one else is doing this one – and it is definitely worth it, the views are awesome.  Our final side trip is to visit the Canyon, but no hiking today as the river is flowing after the rain. About 9km today hiking through thick sand: poor legs.

Finally, time to leave the National Park and head to Walvis Bay. It is a long slow drive with more of those lovely corrugations. As it gets nearer sunset, we pull over in a Nat Park camp area. We don’t have a permit so hope we don’t get sprung. We would have had to get a permit way back at Sesriem, and of course, we aren’t that organised. Well we didn’t get sprung, and it was a very quiet night. Back on the road we head through more desert to Walvis Bay. Two short stops, first to look at some incredible quiver trees and secondly to explore a huge granite outcrop. Then before we know it the road has improved and we are in Walvis Bay. First stop is a fancy brand-new shopping mall. We are back in town – actually a rather nice town with a lovely waterfront lined with expensive looking real estate. We head out to Pelican Point to look at thousands of flamingos, pelicans of course, salt pans and miles of ocean. There is a sand track that heads a further 50km to Sandwich Harbour – but hey it looks too soft for us, so we head back to town.

We decide to follow the coastal road to Swakopmund and find a spot for the night on the way. There are lovely beaches with heaps of access, but it is all Nat Park, and no camping is allowed. Before we know it, we are in Swakopmund, so we head to the dry river bed to find a quiet spot for the night. In the morning we explore town, stopping to purchase our Nat park entry fees & a nights camping permit. Feeling pleased with ourselves about legally camping this time, we head out of town to follow the Welwitschia Route. This is a peculiar plant that only lives in the desert here & Angola and there is even one that is 1,500 years old. The bonus is: the gorgeous moonscape/Badlands we pass through, and the drawback is: more corrugations. Camping in the bush is peaceful – and this time the Nat Pk guy does stop us and check our paperwork (The fine is $240Aus!! if we don’t have a permit)

Decide to give corrugations a miss and use the main road as much as possible on our way back to Windhoek. But we do have time for a detour out to the amazing Spitzkoppe that we passed earlier. We head to the camping area – and it is a magic place at sunset with all the red rocks glowing. Time for an explore in the morning before heading to Karibib where we are getting a personalised mine tour (we still call it Tim’s mine even though it has been sold). We now know what Lithium looks like in its raw form and had a great look around. Thank you, Nam (the Exploration Geologist) & Tim. (Please no rock questions Brad!)

Our last night at a campground before heading to Windhoek where GR2 is tucked away and we fly home.  It has been quite a trip with nearly 19,000 kms clocked up. We have travelled through (as opposed to explored) 16 countries, tackled 19 land borders, collected 14 visas (3 at home, 4 at borders & 7 at Embassies along the way.) It has been a long hard haul, not without numerous meltdowns from me. But hey we made it!!!!




NAMIBIA - PHOTOS 1

Etosha National Park - wow - now I really miss my good camera

Our first pride of lions - Mum, Dad & 3 little ones








Our first group of elephants


Ahhhh a baby zebra


Our sales ladies - we bought one bracelet from each one

What a great camp spot - the Lodge at Opuwa

Our own Himba tour







Bye ladies

Buying rocks

Heading to Windhoek - passing Spitzkoppe


NAMBIA - PHOTOS 2

Camp Cross seal colony - so many seals!!! And very noisy

Crossing the Line of Capricorn

The town of Solitude

Climbing dune 45! Me staggering behind

Running down is much easier


Deadvei


A Quiver tree

So much salt is harvested at Walvis Bay


The amazing moonscape

A crazy Welwitschia plant (the biggest we saw was 1500 years old)

Camping at Spitzkoppe



The long drive - nearly back at Windhoek

Not sure why these dropped to the bottom of the page- GR2 & the seals at Cape Cross

The Skeleton Coast


The old collapsed oil rig

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

EXPLORING ANGOLA


Now that we are in Angola, I am not going to bore you with border crossings or road conditions. But I will mention that diesel is the cheapest on this trip at 42 cents Aus per litre. We head across the country after checking the best route to Luanda with the locals. It takes us down to the coast, and it is lovely to camp right beside a gorgeous, nearly deserted beach. It is nearly even litter free.

In the morning we wander the beach and finally head off when locals start arriving. The main road continues south through lush forests with heaps of boab trees & what we call Dr Seuss trees. Occasionally we get close enough to the coast to see fishing villages. By lunchtime we head out to Shipwreck beach near Panguila, to look at all the wrecks that have been scuttled there. Quite an amazing site – there are dozens of them. Lunch break over we head to the city of Luanda. It is Friday afternoon so we are prepared for crazy traffic, but get side tracked when we spy a large supermarket. We really need to stock up. Then continue on the main road (and yes, it is an awesome road) with not much traffic, all the way in to the centre of the city and to the Yacht Club where we can camp for free! Awesome. Extra bonus: the views are amazing across yachts to the high rise of the city.

We are delighted that there is a German Overland vehicle there and we spend the evening & the next morning chatting to Christine & Thierry. Then we head our separate ways. We drive past the sights – the fortress (which looks pretty modernised), the Obelisk and the Presidents Palace. We are heading to the money changers street near the airport. The black market gives a much better rate than the bank – and as you know John can’t resist a good deal. Then we head out of this massive city (of over 8 million people- fortunately they don’t all have cars!)

We are heading to Angola’s famous waterfall, but with so much talking we really won’t make it today. We check on I-Overlander and find a spot off the main road. Perfect. We discover that our side road goes out to Pedras Negra (Black Rock) that Christine recommended, so we alter our plans and head out there first. Despite the drizzle they are pretty amazing rock formations. Here we meet a Lebanese guy who stops to chat. Always interesting to get a different perspective on a country as he has worked here for 7 years. Then we head up to the lookout for awesome views. As we leave, we stop to see the owners of another Overland truck we have spied camping in a scenic spot. We spend a while chatting to the four South African guys who are doing their dream trip combined with some serious rock climbing & drinking.

Then we head off to the waterfalls – Quedas de Calandula. We are heading to the Pousada that is on the eastern side of the falls where we can camp. We overnight in the carpark, walk to the bottom of the falls and have dinner in their rather expensive restaurant. The food is good, but no one else is there. In the morning we can’t resist taking GR2 down the track to the bottom of the falls for some photos. It would be a great camp spot, but it is a bit muddy at the moment.

When we head out in the morning we decide to go to the other side of the falls _ and this proves to be another magical perspective of the falls. Finally, time to retrace our way back towards N’dalatando and then start heading south. Such a variety of scenery as we pass through jungle, undulating farmland dotted with trees, countless thatched villages and of course people everywhere. The street is their zone to meet and chat, to sell their produce and for the kids to play. After many hours driving we pull over in a huge flat quarry for the night just north of Quibala. It is very peaceful. Foot traffic stops soon before dusk as the workers head home, shovels over their shoulders.

Today is a driving day with great road & magic scenery. There are huge smooth granite boulders and rows of mountain peaks. Awesome high alpine countryside. Occasionally black storm clouds roll over bringing bursts of rain. We reach the town of Huamba with its devasting history of many years of Civil War. Many of the buildings are still in ruins. It is also the food bowel of the country and there are crops everywhere, plus men, women (often with babies on their backs) & children working in the fields. Here too they are using their cattle to help with the ploughing. And it is here at Huamba that we have to decide which route to go. Both a policeman and the road signs point the inland road and all looks great for a while with brand new road, but then we get diverted off the new road and do not get back on it. For over 50km we trudge along a nasty rutted muddy track. Suddenly the seal starts again – much to our relief, but it is getting late and we need to find a campspot. The landscape is flat & there are villages & people everywhere. Not a quarry in sight! Finally, at the edge of the town of Caluquembe we see a petrol station. Perfect – we just need to give the guard a bit of cash and all is good. As it then proceeds to pour with rain, we are glad not to be in a quarry.

This morning when we stop for coffee, we meet some more Overlanders. A German couple in their huge MAN truck coming from Namibia. They stop and we swap travel info, before we head on to Lubango. We head right through the city and towards Namibe. We want to drive the iconic Leba Mountain Pass. First, we stop at the lookout for photos, then we tackle the drive. As we are not planning to go to Namibe we turn and head back up the pass. The sun is still high so we head to Tundavala Gorge with its great rocky escarpments to explore and we can camp here for the night at 2300 metres.  It is nice to have a cold night for a change

As we head further east the landscape gets dryer & the villages poorer. We see a lot of ladies in traditional garb, but find it very hard to snap a sneaky photo of them. In the end John asks for a photo!  We have a little detour out to see a giant Boab tree (32m in diameter) and rows of Russian tanks left over from the war. We could camp here but it is a bit early to stop so we carry on to a Catholic Mission not too far from the border (our very last this trip). The singing of the boys from the Seminary is lovely. Tomorrow we will head to the border.


ANGOLA - PHOTOS

Camping on the beach

Sunset

Catch of the day

John gave this lady a koala for her baby and she popped it here

Shanty town

Shipwreck Beach

Those Dr Suess trees

Our view from the Yacht Club in Luanda

Thierry & Christine with their rig

More housing

Pedras Negras/Black Rocks


More new friends

More villages

At the bottom of the falls

What a magic spot

From the other side

Drying ground up yams



Village meeting


Collecting water & gossip

Ploughing


Himba ladies in Lubango

The Leba Mountain Pass

Our sneaky photo

Making baskets - they use coloured plastic bags to add colour

Russian army tanks left here from the war

And that Boab tree