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05.01.2006

S. Africa to Namibia

It was a long travel day for us today. I woke up early (actually couldn't sleep last night), and we left at 7:00 am expecting a 6 1/2 to 7 hour trip to the airport, and we needed to get there around 2:00 pm for our 4:00 pm flight. We actually arrived at the airport around 12:00, too early to check-in, so we spent a couple of hours "killing time" with the kids driving us crazy.

We arrived in Namibia around 5:30 pm (6:30 pm South African time) to see the sun setting behind a mountain range as we were getting off the plane. Very pretty. The people were not as friendly as I expected, which was a big surprise. We got the rental car with no problem—it's a lot more beaten up than the ones we had in South Africa because of the roads... it only had 33,000 kilometers on it.

It was dark when we started to drive to the guest house. We were told that it's not safe to drive at night, not because of crime, but because of the animals. The main West-East highway was only a small two-lane road, so we soon turned off that road on to a gravel road, which we drove on for an hour. There were no street lights and very few travel signs (no speed limit signs) on the bumpy roads. They're actually in very good condition with few ruts and potholes, but they do dip every once in a while, so you can't go much more than 80 kilometers per hour. The only things we saw during the drive were two cars and several owls, catching prey on the road. Very cool. We arrived at the gate of the guest house (which was closed) and saw a sign that it was another five kilometers down the driveway. It was as we were driving along this driveway in pitch-black (no street lights or civilization in site to provide some light pollution), with no cell phone that I started having visions of Jurassic Park... where the car breaks down and you're not sure if it's safer to stay in the car for the night or to risk the wild animals on the walk. Luckily we didn't have to face that decision. The guest house was a really cute Adobe-style house with separate cottages of hand-made clay bricks, right on the edge of the Kalahari. The dinner was very good but it was really late (around 8:00 pm but that's 9:00 pm per the kids' body clocks), so the kids were pretty wild-touching everything and playing under the table. Dominique luckily spotted a 24 inch long snake under Darren's chair by his feet. The staff killed it because they said that it was a very poisonous Zebra snake from the Cobra family-thank goodness it didn't bite anyone. I'm not sure that it really was because it didn't match the picture in the book very well, but it's still a great reminder that we're really in the wild.

05.02.2006

Eningu House to Sossusvlei

We had a chance to walk around Eningu House today. Very cool place. Too bad we're leaving so soon and that we didn't get to meet the owners who built the place. I bet they would have been interesting.

We started out early to arrive before dark at Sossusvlei, which have the highest sand dunes in all of Africa. It's about a 5 1/2 hour drive, almost all on desolate gravel roads, plus stops. The drive was fun. It really was as desolate as our first drive. We stopped in Windhoek to get a couple of groceries, water and a sim card for the cell phone, then after about 15 minutes, turned on to the gravel road, which we were on for the rest of the trip. The gravel road was in as good a condition at the one we saw last night but we didn't go much faster than 80 kilometers per hour to avoid getting a flat tire. The roads are so desolate. We passed five cars during the five hours on the gravel road, and only about five houses. There were a few cattle, a baboon, a snake and a huge lizard, and that's about it. The road turned into a really bumpy mountain pass at one point, crossing many dried river beds. It must be a challenge to drive after a rainfall, but they only get something like thirty centimeters of rain per year in the desert region. Thoughts of Indians and the Wild West came to mind during the trip. Very desolate.

We arrived at Sossusvlei Lodge around 4:30 pm in time to see the sun setting behind the mountains. We got a permanent tent, which was very cool, I wasn't expecting that. The lodge itself is more high-class (rich older German couples), but out tent is cool... at the far end so we don't bother anyone.

05.03.2006

Sossusvlei: Day 1

A pretty good nights sleep in the tent, even though it was very cold (low 50s but that's cool with no heat). I had to sleep with the girls the night before since the Eningu House only had one queen bed and one twin bed in the room. The kids always have such a good time exploring the new accommodations.

We went to Sossusvlei to see the sand dunes after breakfast. They were really amazing. Dominique even said "Wow" when she looked us from the TV as we were driving there. The dunes were orange against a bright blue sky. Very pretty. We hiked up one of the dunes-the girls really did well. We've lined up a 4x4 to take us the final five kilometers tomorrow, and Darren has also lined up an ATV drive for the final morning here with Dominique. The dunes look so different with the light during each time of the day and at each angle. We had a relaxing afternoon and the girls caught up on some sleep with good naps and an early night.

dom-sand dune
annette-sand dune

05.04.2006

Sossusvlei: Day 2

It's funny. It's Compensation Committee meeting day at work and I thought about it. It's the first meeting I've missed since I started 11 1/2 years ago (except for maternity leave). It's funny how the date triggered as important to me.

We got a 4x4 ride into the far parking lot today. The views weren't very impressive. There was a dip with some dead trees, which would be great for a professional photographer, and the lake which was formed when the river was ended by the dunes. We also went to the very dry lake, and Annette managed to fall in to the only traces of water in the desert. I'm glad we went to see it, but the park was just as impressive before the 4x4 section.

We took it easy around the lodge and pool in the afternoon. I tried to get some pictures of the dunes as the sun set but the shadows were much more impressive in the morning.

saltpan
dead tree
mud puddle
mud puddle

05.05.2006

Sossusvlei to Swakamond

Another travel day for us today. Darren and Dominique got up early for a 6:00am 4x4 ride in the desert. Annette and I had a relaxing morning then we left at 10:00 am for our 5 1/2 hour drive to Swakamond. The drive was actually pretty interesting, through the dessert flats and then to the sand dunes along the coast. We arrived in town early enough to grab dinner, find an internet site and drop off our laundry for pick-up tomorrow. We plan to go and see the seals tomorrow morning and use the afternoon to finish our errands since we'll be in the wild for the next three days. It's so fun to pop in and out of civilization. The place we're staying in is a little goofy (shaped like a ship), but it's right on the beach, so that's nice.

dom-4x4

05.06.2006

Swakamond: Day 2

We decided to go to the seal colony today. I didn't look at the scale on the map so to our surprise, it took and hour and a half along a desolate desert road to get there. The seal colony was really cool. There were so many and it was totally natural. We the mother seals call the baby seals, the baby seals suckling the mother seals, and the carcasses of many baby seals that didn't make it. There was even a jackal scavenging for food. Very cool but very smelly.

On the way back, we stopped at some salt flats along the side of the road and felt the raw salt. I had no idea where our table salt came from, so that was really cool.

roadside salt

The girls and I spent the afternoon at the hotel playing racing games around the yard while Darren went into town to do some internet work and some errands (laundry, get cash, gas etc.) since we're back in the wild tomorrow.

05.07.2006

Swakamond to Etosha

The girls woke up at 6:00 am so we got an early start on the five-hour drive to Etosha. It was actually a pretty interesting drive. We left the coast in the mist (caused by the cold Atlantic ocean hitting the hot Namibian dessert), and drove first through desert, and gradually to more grassland, shrubs and trees. There really isn't anything in between. We probably passed five cars in five hours, so thank goodness we didn't any car issues. We did have a cell phone, give gallons of water and some food, but it could have been a long wait if we broke down.

We got to the Rustig Toko Lodge around 1:00 pm and Marike, the owner's sister, was at the car to greet us. She showed us to our two large rooms, which were very comfy. I was pretty disappointed in the location because the lodge is on the far western side of Etosha, and the main game viewing is in the center, which is about a three-hour drive, so it's not a game reserve as I'd thought. Dinner was really Germanic; it was nice that Marike ate with us. Even though it's not a game reserve or close to safaris as I expected, at least the hospitality is nice.

The girls and I slept in one room. They were all excited about sleeping in a room by themselves but got scared when I put them to bed, so I slept with them (with a blanket stuffing the cracks between the two twin beds), and Darren slept by himself... so he could snore, according to Annette. She's so thoughtful.

We set up a drive around the farm tomorrow and a drive to see the Himba people the next day. We won't be going into Etosha but since we've been to Kruger, that's OK with us. There really is a big difference between going to the top game reserves and the "also rans".

05.08.2006

Etosha:Day 2

We took out low-key tour around the farm today. We did see antelope, zebra and giraffes, but since we'd been on real safaris, it was pretty lame. The girls were even pretty bored on the ride. Our breakfast and lunch were very Germanic and Marike ate with us, but the girls didn't even very well. Darren decided to take the thirty minute drive to the closest convenience store to make sure we had plenty of snacks to cover us between meals. We spent the afternoon around the lodge and both girls took a two-hour nap—it's so great that they're having a chance to catch up on their sleep. No matter how late they go to bed, they wake up around 6:30, so they definitely have some sleep to catch up on.

05.09.2006

Etosha:Day 3

This was a really cool day. We went to see the Himba people. What made it cool is that we got to see them and how they live in a very natural environment-not at all touristy. I'm sure that it's not going to be so pure if we come back in three to five years. The Himba people are so amazing. No running water or electricity. Each day they put plants, butterfat and ground red ochre on them for beauty, and to keep the bugs away. The women put mud in their hair and change it every three months. The women sit on a smoke pot for an hour each day to clean themselves since they don't have running water. They shave the heads of the kids to tell various stories (e.g. one braid in the center means that it's a child of a single parent in a society of arranged marriages). Cattle are really important to the Himba people and it's a reflection of their wealth. We met mostly the women and children since the older girls and boys go off to tend the cattle with the men. Even the young kids around the camp were very competent at herding the goats into the pens—it's a skill they teach them from an early age. Our girls were pretty freaked out initially and didn't want to be touched (because they were so "dirty" with the red ochre all over them), but a Himba baby (about one-year old) came up to them and broke the ice. We got to go into the chief's hut and see how they live. The chief wasn't there because he went with approximately twenty people to a funeral in the north a couple of weeks ago and apparently several of the kids caught malaria, so they're too sick to come back. The kids finally loosened up at the end of the visit when one of the kids wanted them to play "ball" with them with a round fruit. Dominique played with them and Annette watched. The Himba kids then took our kids by the hand to explore the camp. It was so cool to see our kids having fun and playing with kids in loin clothes. What an amazing experience. All the kids of the village walked us out to the car, holding the kid's hands, and they learned out to say "Goodbye" in English. We spent the afternoon by the lodge. I bought a Himba bracelet to remember the butterfat smell.

Here are a few interesting facts about the Himbas:

  • They are semi-nomadic-they have different summer and winter villages.
  • They exist with very little water.
  • Men can have several wives. Marriages are arranged at birth and occur around 16-17.
  • Kids going to school are rapidly becoming westernized.
himba-mother
himba-lady
himba-smokepot
himba-horn
himba-catch

05.10.2006

Etosha to Windhoek

This was a long day. We left early because we had a five and a half hour trip to Windhoek. The drive itself was fine but we got to town around 2:00 pm and had a long afternoon. The pool was cold and pretty dirty (true for almost every pool that we've seen in South Africa and Namibia—what's that all about?), so we couldn't go in. We tried to play outside but the mosquitoes found us... I'm looking forward to fewer mosquitos in Australia (hopefully). We played inside for the rest of the afternoon, but that was really engaged playing.. I couldn't let them watch anymore TV since they'd watched it on the whole drive. We went to a beer garden for dinner. It was actually very good food but I'm happy to leaving German food. Darren and I never like staying in cities and Windhoek was not different-everything was behind bars, gates and fences. I don't understand why people want to live like this. I'm looking forward to moving on to Mauritius and seeing some familiar faces tomorrow.


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