Connect the dots

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Botswana (and Zimbabwe) Express

Hurry or you'll be broke...

After our second night in Botswana, we realized that this was not a place for people on a mid-range budget. You either went on the cheap by bringing your own camping gear or eco-lodge luxurious (read: expensive safari tents with beds and outdoor showers – in the freezing winter.) A more or less affordable lodge explained the tourism objective – low impact, high income. In their attempt to preserve their natural attractions, they tried to avoid mass tourism by catering to only those who could afford to stay in exclusive accommodations. Even well equipped campers complained of exorbitant prices. So, we went through the country with the mindset that we weren’t staying long.

My fantasies of paddling through the placid Okavango Delta in a traditional mokoro dried up as soon as we realized that we would have to be dishing out thousands of dollars for a simple ride. The aerial images in my head of the largest inland delta in the world were staying right there for this trip. Instead we started in the more accessible (to the long-term and independent traveler) panhandle area. As was the case in all our attempts in Botswana for accommodation, the lodge we chose first was full of government workers traveling throughout the country for conferences. What a cushy job, civil servants put up in luxury lodges usually reserved for tourists ready to lay out some hard cash! As an alternative, the lodge owner arranged for us to take a boat to a more remote safari tent lodge along the river. We were able to relax for a few days in the deceivingly tranquil banks of the Okavango. Our nights were spent waiting to see hippos grazing on grass outside our tent. Unfortunately, we heard them close-by but didn’t get a sighting. Marc got lucky on a walk at sunset and scared a hippo grazing more inland in the bush.

We skirted around the less accessible (at least financially) parts of the Delta to where the water and greenery from the river disappears and the blindingly white and lifeless salt pans of the Mkgadigadi begin. We followed tire and zebra tracks to make our own imprints.

At Gweta Lodge, near the pans, we were convinced by a few guest as well as our hosts not to skip the Chobe river and a side trip to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. The falls lived up to their hype and the Victoria Falls Hotel lunch (ostrich thai salad and crocodile pesto pasta) and setting were an additional treat. As good (and as clean-looking) as that meal was, I suffered slight food poisoning the following day and missed the sunset boat safari full of animals calling the Chobe home.

Our last stop was through the Tuli Block with impressively thick dolorite wall rocks that formerly ran through a river bank. We barely made it through the sand with our Subaru!

Quick, out of here! (But we still loved you Botswana.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Etosha National Park

Can't-get-enough-safari. More lovely creatures at Etosha National Park.

On every treetop, a lilac-breasted roller

Sneaking up on this rhino at sunset

Waking up at Okaukuejo with thirsty zebras

Plie for a drink

Gathering at the Halali camp waterhole (Marc caught 2 leopards drinking that night)

My next home beside my favorite watering hole

Water filled Etosha pan

Nothing like a Windhoek lager after a long game drive

Friday, June 17, 2011

They Got Game

Oryx or Gemsbok

Southern Africa is not for vegetarians. This is meat country and people here are prepared to braai anything that moves! All the animals we've seen in the parks and reserves are usually available on the menu in most restaurants. Here are my favorites ranging from okay-glad-I-tried-it to I-could-eat-THAT-at-least-once-a-week.

9. Impala: grilled, bit too game-y for me
8. Crocodile: ribs were half-fish, half-chicken consistency, mild tasting
7. Kudu: sometimes game-y, sometimes not, best as a burger
6. Warthog: think roast pork, it's a hog after all.
5. Springbok: mostly smoked, like a charcuterie, often called carpaccio on a menu, good in a salad
4. Eland: just plain grilled over a wood fire
3. Zebra: had it at the famous Joe's Beerhouse, medium rare, melts in your mouth
2. Ostrich: the best in the Karoo and up there with their lamb, even better that it doesn't contain all that artery clogging bad stuff
1. Oryx: as good as a filet mignon, would raise them in the back yard if I could, they look as good as they taste

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


We were having some serious cultural withdrawal after being in the tribally rich West African countries who continue to live as they have for centuries. Here in the Southern part of Africa, you feel much more separated from the people. With tourism geared for Westerners, you will rarely find any local food on the menu and most of your interactions are minimal unless you organize a trip to a township. However, in the northwest region of Namibia, the you'll find the distinctive Himba going about their business in the supermarket and getting into vans to get back to their villages. These semi-nomadic pastoralists use every part of the cow - from the skirts that cover their nether regions to the butter-ochre mixture that covers their entire body. We stocked up to donate some dry goods as our admission into the village and went with a guide that was living in the town of Opuwo to get up close with the Himba. Shake a Himba's hand and you too will look like you're part of the iron rich earth of Namibia.

A little Himba baby brother? So Angelina!

No part of the cow unused

Himba Ergo

Monday, June 13, 2011

Ground Control To Major Tom

Turn here

After vacillating between going and not going, wrecking our Honda Jazz (that's a whole other post), and getting a new all-wheel drive Subaru Forester delivered to our lodge, we finally made the trek through washed out roads, riverbed detours, gravel, more gravel and finally sand.

The aptly named Skeleton Coast was less balmy and beach-y and more like a space odyssey. If you ever wanted to be in Star Wars or walk on the moon, I can only imagine this is as close as you’ll get. Rounded blue-grey boulders sticking out of endless stretches of sand with the ship-wrecking ocean on one side and towering sand dunes on the other. Without the tire tracks, you wouldn't know where the road began or where it ended. This is one of the most inhospitable places in the world. Although there are some surprises on the desolate sandy road – the occasional springbok or oryx and a watering hole surrounded by the reeds, the greenest grass and the lone duck fishing for some lunch.

Boulder jumping

However unfriendly this place is for ships (and even much less swimming or sunbathing), many flock here for the fishing. Kabeljou (kob) and steenbras (pignose grunter) are two of the common fish caught in these waters. After meeting a group of hunters from France (who also were first time anglers), we decided to try our hand at fishing. Our less than enthusiastic guide, the cold, the fog, equipment that took forever to set up, and no catch did not make us new fans of fishing in the least bit.

South of the Skeleton Coast, but still part of the Namib desert are the equally otherworldly, enormous, rusty sand dunes of the Sossusvlei. Although usually depicted as a dry, clay-cracked pan, the copious rainfall has rendered the pan full and the dunes dotted with green.

On Big Mama's back

Climbing Dune 42

Tented camp near Sossusvlei

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wilkommen bei Namibia

A fisherman told us that there are 2-3 people per square kilometer living in Namibia. When you drive through the country, it definitely feels like it. At times, hundreds of kilometers separate what could barely be called hamlets containing at the very least a petrol station. Their two biggest seaside towns ooze of German colonialism. At times, you forget you're in Namibia, hearing more German spoken than English or Afrikaans. We took a boat ride in Luderitz, lunched at the jetty in Swakopmund and visited the old diamond mining post turned ghost town of Kolmanskop.

Luderitz harbor

Abandoned home at Kolmanskop Mining Town

Sand filled rooms

Sea and dunes at Swakopmund

Swakop - more German than Germany