Sunday Morning ~ Ai-Ais

Sunday Morning ~ Ai-Ais, Namibia

July 29, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Well, I know for sure this will not get posted today. We are at the base of the Fish River Canyon–– the second biggest canyon in the world next to the Grand Canyon–– and there is no wifi. We’ll be leaving here for the northern rim tomorrow so maybe it will be another Monday success but I’m not counting on that either. It’s funny, for a country that runs so much better than Malawi, the internet is so much worse. Even when we are in an area that supposedly has good wifi, it’s really slow and often cuts out unexpectedly. Oh well. The navigable roads certainly make up for it. The distances we are traveling would be impossible otherwise.

The camping is going well. We roughly plan to do six nights in the tent then one in a lodge or hotel. That gives us a chance to get the kinks out of our joints and save a little time on the set up and take down. But for various reasons, we ended up nine consecutive nights in the tent and we were ready for a break from sleeping on the ground. Last night we got to Ai-Ais and got a chalet at the camp here. The drive here through the mountains was spectacular along the Orange River bordering Namibia and South Africa. The road was gravel but smooth with continuous hairpin turns, a bit exhausting to drive for three hours, but we only passed one other car so didn’t have to worry about oncoming traffic. We were tired by the time we arrived at six p.m. and though there are seventy campsites here and many were available, we splurged on the chalet, which, I swear, is the size of my elementary school. It’s a two bedroom chalet, (all they had available) and it is probably 3,000 square feet of living space. The bathroom is bigger than some of the ablution blocks at the campgrounds where they have six toilets and six showers. George is still asleep and I’m in the living room and it feels like I’m in a different neighborhood. Really, it’s a walk here from the bedroom. There are walls of windows, a courtyard, a huge veranda with a big built-in barbecue, a carport, and the dining area could comfortably seat thirty people. If this veranda were part of a restaurant there would be ten tables for four out there. I have no idea why they built these so huge. The bedding is absolutely dreamy with cotton sheets and a silky cotton duvet with feather pillows. We were warned when checking in, though, that we must keep the windows closed during the day to keep the baboons out. We’d opened them when we checked in and it took us about ten minutes to shut them all when we went to dinner last night. There are about thirty windows in the place.

It’s almost seven a.m. and it is still pitch dark. The sun doesn’t come up until almost eight. It’s so strange to be in this climate and have it be so dark in the morning. When we are camping it’s hard to get going before nine and I feel like a big part of the day is wasted. The only two days we’ve moved before sunrise were the two mornings we spent at Sesriem, the gateway to Sossulvei, where the famous Namib dunes are. 

We left Swakopmund as it got light on Monday, hoping to catch some good light on the dunes as we drove along the coast toward Walvis Bay. We stopped at a German bakery to buy breakfast and got waylaid there with waiting in line and trying to communicate, so by the time we left the town, the sun was already up. It was still pretty, but we hadn’t counted on actual traffic. It’s the first place we’d seen other cars on the road heading in to town. It isn’t uncommon to pass maybe one car per hour and sometimes it’s much longer than that, so having to share the road took a little time as well. It took us an hour to go the thirty kilometers to Walvis Bay where the road turned east away from the coast. (I still can’t get used to east being away from the ocean.)

Sesriem is as big a tourist attraction here as Etosha. The park has a big campsite inside the entrance, then there is another entrance a few hundred meters away with a gate keeper controlling how many cars can enter the dunes. The first gate (to get into the campground) doesn’t open until sunrise, but the second gate (to drive the 70 kilometers down to  Sossulvei) opens one hour before sunrise, in this case at 6:45. Therefore, in order to see the sunrise on the dunes, you must be inside the campground, which we had no reservation for. There are plenty of places to camp outside the gate, but we wanted to be inside. We got there around three on Monday afternoon, about two hours later than we’d planned, and all the campsites were taken. They have an overflow area, which, is basically a parking lot, but it’s all sand anyway, so it doesn’t really matter, and we found a spot under a camel thorn tree and pitched our tent. With our little gas burner and our cooler (which wasn’t quite cool anymore) we were plenty self-sufficient. It was a tad noisy at night with people walking by us, but really, it wasn’t much different from the proper campsites except we had a longer walk to the showers. And we were inside the gate.

Tuesday morning we were up at six along with everyone else camping there and took our thermos of tea and got in line to be through the gate as soon as it opened. We were fifth in line and after the miles and miles of gravel roads to reach this place, the 70 kilometers along the  dunes was paved! A sweet smooth road with snaking head and tail lights making their way down as the sky started getting lighter. Five kilometers before the biggest dune (called “Big Daddy”) the pavement ends and it’s all sand. 4x4s can get through it, or there is a land rover that the park uses to shuttle people, but we decided to walk it as the sun rose and it was spectacular. These enormous, sensual, apricot dunes of hour-glass sand with the sun coming up was worth getting there. The sun was well up before we started the ascent up Big Daddy, along with about a hundred other people. It was slow but not hard. I took my shoes off and went barefoot as I didn’t like my shoes filled with sand. We just plodded along and got to the summit about an hour later. It’s 300 meters high and you climb it along the spine. The wind was covering the footprints almost as quickly as they were made. It was great fun moving up and chatting with people from all over the world. And it was mind-bogglingly beautiful. Another tick off the bucket list. Coming down was even more fun! You practically glide down, a bit like skiing. It seems like it would destroy the dunes with people doing this every day, but the wind is so strong that they look like no one has been on it within seconds, and the number of people per day is controlled. I’m not sure how fragile these dunes are. They seem indestructible, all part of the sand sea of the Namib desert. By the time we’d walked up and down, then across the great salt pan, then the five kilometers back to the car it was hot and our water bottles were empty. We got to the car and each guzzled a liter of water, ate our little picnic, and went back to the campsite. We hung the hammock from the tree and sat in the shade until five when we went back into the park to hike another dune to watch the sunset. This one was not high and it was only a few kilometers from the gate and we could drive to it, so not a huge effort, but still steep getting up, and still worth it. It is such a serene place. In the three years I’ve known George, I’ve never seen him so calm and happy.

The next morning we did the same routine, up at six, in line to be through the gate at 6:45, and this time we stopped at Dune 45, which is 45 kilometers from the gate. It’s easy to climb as it is near the road so it’s possible to be up on top before the sun comes over the horizon. Clearly a popular thing to do as there were at least a hundred other people there, most of them from safari busses. We made it to the top to see the sunrise, hung out there for a bit, then drove to the end of the road again to walk to a place called Hidden Vlai, two kilometers from the parking area. I asked the park official there if it was ok to walk anywhere and climb any of the dunes? His response was only, “Don’t get lost.” I suppose they don’t come looking for you.  We wandered around there for awhile, getting to the salt pan then climbing a few of the surrounding dunes before heading back to camp to take down the tent and head south. We weren’t quite sure where we were going. We knew we wanted to go to Luderitz, another coastal town, but we thought it would take two days to get there. We were trying to decide where to stop along the way and George was reading the guidebook aloud while I drove with dunes on one side and rugged mountains on the other. It was so beautiful. We passed a few farms that had camping but in the guidebook there was a place sounded really cool and we decided to keep going and stay there. It was described as a working farm, nestled in a valley between the mountains and desert where it was possible to horseback ride and go on desert walks with a guide. We agreed, that was the place. So we drove and drove and drove, the scenery so spectacular that we kept stopping to take photos, but then I was getting a little worried it was getting late so we continued on until we reached the 12 kilometer driveway to find a sign that said, “Dear traveler, we are sorry we don’t accept any campers without pre-booking.” The drive into the valley looked amazing and beautiful and I was kicking myself. George had suggested he call ahead, but the signal wasn’t good and I said we hadn’t seen one single other car so they couldn’t possibly be full. My fault. Well, they probably weren’t full, but we didn’t want to take a chance of driving 12km down a sandy path only to be turned back when it was getting to be six o’clock. So we pushed on. 

We passed another farm about 20 kilometers away and we tried there but the gate was locked. This was the first time I was a little worried about finding a place. We went another 40 kilometers to the main road, which is also gravel, and turned north where we saw a sign for another guest farm. Another 8km and we found the tiny little oasis in the desert, in a small valley covered in orange trees. It looked too good to be true. It was immaculate. We drove down the driveway and found a sign that said “Reception” in a pretty scroll. A woman came out of an inner room saying, “Ah! you finally made it! I was wondering about you!” I said, “It’s probably not us you were expecting. We don’t have a reservation, but were hoping to camp here.” (Actually we were hoping to get a room at that point, but if camping was the only thing available we were going to take it.) She said it was all full (we did not see one other person or car anywhere) but told us we could squeeze into the campsite as long as we negotiated with the other campers about using the sink, shower, and barbecue. We eagerly agreed and she gave us the directions to the site. We had to go back out the driveway (about a mile long) to the main road, cross it, and go into the farmland (and by farmland I mean grazing for something hardy, not cornfields) up a hill so steep there were two cement wheel tracks that made ascent possible, and park there. That was the campsite perched on the side of this rocky hill. She’d given us keys to the toilet and shower, which were so clean I could have done surgery in there. We found ourselves alone, no other campers, in the most gorgeous campsite I have ever been at, overlooking a plain with mountains all around us. There was a French couple staying at a little nearby cabin but the four campsites remained empty all night. We were the only ones there. I was in heaven. I made supper, a risotto with some feta cheese and a can of peas given us by the German family we’d met, while George set up the tent. There was enough gin and tonic for one drink, and one beer. We split those as we watched the sunset, ate our meal, which was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself, cleaned up and crawled into our tent happy as can be. The next morning we didn’t want to leave! I found enough oats to make breakfast then George went off for a walk while I painted. I went for a run then showered and we packed up and left around noon. We’d driven way further than we’d planned the day before so only had a few hours to get to Luderitz where we were determined to stay in a lodge. We were also out of food.

Luderitz is the diamond mining area and also a fishing village on a small harbor. There were plenty of B&Bs and we stopped at two right on the water, but they were full. We continued up the peninsula where there was a campground that the book said had three chalets. We decided to try our luck with getting a chalet. The campground was amazing. The sites were all situated among the rocks hanging out into the ocean. It was windy, but the setting was unbeatable. We found a caretaker and were in the process of finding out about the chalets which he said were available, when our friends Peter and Caroline pulled up next to us. We were standing in front of their tent. We really thought we would not see them again. We didn’t even know they were going to Luderitz. So we decided to camp and hang out with them a bit. We found a spot tucked into the rocks with a fairly level surface for the tent and a cooking area between two huge boulders. I felt like we were cave dwellers. We had a water faucet and an unobstructed view of the harbor. We pitched the tent, put on warmer clothes and went to our friends’ campsite for cocktails before going into town for dinner. It was great. They were leaving the next day heading for Fish River Canyon, so we might bump into them there, but we said goodbye (again!) Friday morning, then went to explore the town. We drove out to another windy point, toured an old house of a diamond mogul, still with it’s original furnishings, read everything in the museum, then went grocery shopping. It was the night of the full moon and our campsite was positioned perfectly to watch the sunset and moonrise from one spot. I had a romantic notion of lighting a campfire and cooking some fresh fish while we sipped wine on the rocks. Well, that was a bit of a bust. We couldn’t get the fire going, it was blowing stink and was cold. While we were struggling with the fire the sun set and the moon was up and I wished I’d stopped at the wine idea and bagged the food. The fish store was closed by the time we got to shopping and they don’t sell any at the supermarket, so we bought chicken and struggled to cook it in our cave with the howling wind. It was stupid. We should have gone out for oysters after the moon came up. Bless George’s heart, he worked hard to cook that chicken in that wind. We ate standing up in the cave to be out of the wind. All our clothes and hair and everything smelled like smoke, we cleaned up and went to bed, a bit sour (and drunk) and missed the lunar eclipse. 

Yesterday we got up and broke camp to head to the Fish River Canyon. There was a family from Austria next to us, sharing the cooking cave and they told us they were giving up their reservation here at Ai-Ais because their kids were loving being on the ocean so much, so we knew there would be an available chalet. We left Luderitzaround 9:30 and stopped at Klemanskop about 10km away, a ghost town where the diamonds were mined until 1959, and now an incredible tourist attraction. The houses and buildings are amazingly intact though being reclaimed by the desert. Many of the rooms are filled with sand. It was an interesting site to learn about how diamonds were discovered there, and of course, how Europeans profited. The Namibian government now profits, however, from the diamonds mined here so I guess that’s progress.

From there it was four hours to where we are now, but a beautiful ride. We had originally considered hiking the length of the canyon but it is such a big deal to arrange we realized that was unrealistic. You have to have medical clearance secured within 40 days of doing the hike, have to have a minimum of three people, be able to carry water for five days, on and on, and we’ll enjoy it from another angle. The start of the hike is at the northern rim a steep decent down to the river and then it is five days of walking along the river as you walk out of the canyon at Ai-Ais, where we are now. There is no other way out of the canyon and no way to rescue you if there is trouble, so I see why they are so strict. From here we are allowed to walk six kilometers into the canyon (there’s no descent from here, it’s like Yosemite, you drive into tis end) and back out and we’ll do that today. There are hot springs here and a heated pool which we’ll also use today so it’s time to get going. Tomorrow we have to drive way north, then west, then south again to get to the lodge we’ll be staying at perched on the rim. Looking forward to that.

Okay! Not sure when I’ll be able to send this…

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Swakopmund

Sunday Morning ~ Swakopmund

July 22, 2018

Hi Everyone,

Namibia is the only country in the world that has written into it’s constitution that animals have the freedom to roam unimpeded by fences. They don’t, however, have efficient wifi that we’ve found so I can’t fact check that, but that’s what Dion, our guide, told us at Twylfelfontein as we looked out over a vast expanse looking for desert elephants.

Driving to Twylfelfontein involved 200 kilometers early last Sunday morning on deserted stretches of straight smooth tarmac road to the town of Outjo. Huge termite hills along the roadside replaced the trees of the Caprivi Strip and we made it easily in two hours and found a sweet farmhouse restaurant open and serving breakfast. A sign on the window said “Free Wifi” and we thought it’d be perfect as we could post our blogs while we waited for the food to be served, but the “server could not connect”. We did, however, have a fabulous breakfast which filled us up for the rest of the day. Steak, sausage, eggs, hearty toast, and good coffee were definitely worth the stop. We filled the tank with gas, got a few groceries and a better road map and set off for Twyfelfontien, another 80 kilometers away on dirt washboard roads feeling like the car would come apart. Forty-four kilometers into it we came to  a petrified forest, one of only three in the world (the others are in Arizona and Argentina). We stopped to walk around. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is beautifully managed. Namibia is promoting their natural environment (and ecotourism) as their greatest asset and I love it. I’ve maintained for years that the best way to help underdeveloped countries is to go on vacation there. If the economy relies on tourism there is incentive to keep it peaceful and clean. Namibia has embraced that and it is so heartening. They do also have a very vibrant mining industry and very low population so it’s not exactly fair to compare it to Malawi, but it is a great place to travel.

We paid the fee to get into the Petrified Forest Park, which is similar to the National Park in Arizona with fewer resources for tourists but there were working toilets. It’s a similar semi-arid desert landscape and our guide was incredibly knowledgable about the plant life and the history of the area. George asked him how he learned it all and he explained there is a program (US funded) that trains young people in tourism and hospitality. He said they go to the capital, Windhoek, and learn geography, history, and economics, as well as tourism skills. It is fantastic. He described how the glaciers moved these pine trees down from Central Africa to where they are now, petrified into stone. We walked the loop with him, spent some time looking at the crafts for sale in the dusty stalls, bought a Fanta to share in the “kiosk” which was a stall with hanging oil drum lids for walls. It was windblown and desolate but had charm. And there were quite a few tourists there, mostly from European countries; it was busier that I expected. Another forty eight kilometers on washboard roads with the dust from the few oncoming cars creating an absolute white out, and we were at Twylfelfontein. We found the community campsite where we wanted to stay with plenty of empty sites. It is on the bank of the Aba-Huab River, which is an ephemeral river––dry most of the year. There was not a drop of water anywhere near there. It was gorgeous desert landscape, though, and simple but sweet campsites under shade trees along the dry riverbed. Each site had it’s own power and a small light, a water tap, and barbecue (which they call braai here). The shower was shared with other campers, fabulously built under a huge tree with the taps coming out of a curved branch. It was a huge enclosure and showering in there I felt like Snow White. Birds were flitting all around singing and chirping. It was a kick. We camped there two nights and were hopeful about having wifi since there was a huge satellite disk at the reception area, but the manager told us it would be another month before it was installed. He said we could get wifi at the expensive lodge about 15 kilometers away. Having given up on the wifi we didn’t do much Sunday afternoon except settle into the campsite. Once that was accomplished, George joined other campers and the campground staff at the managers house to watch the final game of the World Cup. Not caring so much about that, I sat in the hammock and painted while watching a beautiful sunset. When the game ended I cooked supper and we went to bed rather late for us! The French campers were celebrating.

The word Twylfelfontein means Doubtful Spring. I thought it was a German word, but it is Afrikaans. It was named by the German who settled there in 1945 to farm sheep. The spring is in the middle of a desert that gets 4mm of rain a year. I can see why it might be doubtful but it is an incredible oasis in the desert. When the water was more plentiful it attracted loads of animals and was a hunting site for the San people. It has the largest collection of rock engravings in Africa and is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Again, the guide was knowledgeable and professional and it was a great tour. This rock art is younger by a few thousand years than the rock paintings we saw in South Africa and in Malawi. These are engravings into the soft sandstone so they aren’t protected by caves. They are all over the place and the guide told us they are finding hundreds more each year.  From there we went to a “Living Museum” where villagers take tourists on a sample of daily village life. It was staged to the max but also interesting, especially the desert walk to see plants used in herbal remedies and a demonstration of spear hunting. It ended with a traditional dance and a walk through a gift stall. It was a little hokey, but still, I thought it was worth it. We found the luxury lodge built into the rocks three kilometers down another washboard road, got a coffee, posted our blogs, then went to see the Organ Pipes, rock formations formed 120 million years ago into columns that look just like organ pipes. It was pretty cool. Near there was a place called Burnt Mountain, which the guidebook says is a fascinating sight at sunset when it looks like the mountain is on fire. It’s basically a heap of black shale and sandstone and we sat there waiting for the color to change but it never did. It went from black to blacker and then it was dark. That was the first bust of the trip but we didn’t have to spend anything on it except a few hot hours reading, waiting for the sunset.

Tuesday we had to decide if we were going to do the Skeleton Coast or not. From everything I read it sounded mysterious and deserted, but also fascinating and I really wanted to go. We’d also heard that it’s easy to get stuck in the sand and you shouldn’t go without two vehicles. But the more we talked to people from the area, the more we thought we could pull it off, and we decided to head there Tuesday morning. George called the one and only place to stay at Terrace Bay, as far north as you can drive on the coast, to make sure we had a room for the night. It’s a long way to go on a questionable road to be turned away, so that was the one place we booked ahead. They had a room so we decided to go for it. It involved driving 120 kilometers on the familiar washboard road to the gate of the Skeleton Coast National Park, then another hundred to Terrace Bay on a road that goes right along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s called Skeleton Coast because of all the shipwrecks there. It’s where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic and it was so cool! The drive wasn’t bad at all, except for the gale winds blowing the car around. When we got out at the park gate to register and pay the entrance fee, I couldn’t close the car door the wind was so bad. Sand was blowing sideways across the road, just like a snowstorm. Fortunately it was flat enough the sand just kept going and didn’t pile up. When we got to the coast it was an incredible site to see the waves through the fog crashing onto desert sand dunes. Really incredible. The guidebook said Terrace Bay was eery and I’d agree with that description. It’s what I envision the Aleutian Islands to be like. There is nothing there except moonscape and sand on a cold and rough ocean. The lodge there,run by the National Park,  looks like old military housing. Aluminum sheeting for the roofs and the very basic construction looked quite utilitarian. But they’d planted a few palm trees and had a few odd street lights and the chalets, all facing the water, had cotton sheets and warm duvets. It was cold, like summer-in-Maine cold, but not terrible. Windy and desolate, but funky and cool. As we were driving there George read in the guidebook that they had a fish cleaning station and he said, “So there must be some industry!” When we walked along the beach there was a stone sink with a cut off hose where fisherman could clean the fish they caught from the shore, and that was the fish cleaning station. Not quite an industry. The restaurant served dinner and breakfast and was the best food we’ve had yet! Fabulous fresh fish and good wine served by friendly staff dressed in fleece jackets and knitted caps. The dining room looked like a cafeteria but the service was like a five star place. We loved it. That said, one night was enough there and we headed south along the long deserted road to Cape Cross where the biggest colony of cape fur seals lives. Thank God there was a gas pump at Terrace Bay because we never would have made it back down the coast. It was housed in a little shed and you have to find the guy to open it to pump you some gas, but good thing. 

Wednesday (God, I’m only on Wednesday?) we were comfy in a nice lodge on the water at Cape Cross and Thursday morning after a run on the beach and a nice breakfast in the lovely dining room we walked the three kilometers over to see the seal colony. That was something. 250,000 seals all barking, rolling, pooping, breastfeeding, sunbathing, and romping in the water. It was an incredible sight. I’ve seen a few seal colonies in New Zealand and South Africa, but nothing like this. It was amazing and with the desert dunes behind us and the Atlantic ocean in front of us, I’m glad we didn’t miss it. The smell was memorable as well. We walked back to the lodge along the beach and saw skull after skull of baby seal. There were dead seals all over the place. They get killed by hyena and jackel, but also by getting crushed by the huge males when they come for mating season in December. That must be a sight to see. At the places we stopped to see shipwrecks we also saw huge whale skeletons and see why the national park is named skeleton coast. The name really fits. They do cull the seal population now but I’m not sure what they do with the hides and flesh. They were selling seal oil at the entrance to the park, and some small sealskin wallets, but in my opinion, boots would be a better use of the hide. There was no one to ask why they don’t go collect all the baby seal carcasses. Really, there were hundreds of them rotted into the sand. It took us a little while to realize that’s what we were walking on.

We left there after a tour of the small museum and drove another two hours to Swakopmund where we are still. Swakop is the name of the river, which is dry most of the year, and “mund” means “mouth” so we’re camping at the mouth of the river. This is a resort town on the coast and it is sweet as can be. We found a campground on the water and decided to use this as a base for exploring this area. Plus, we needed to get a tire patched. We’d driven thousands of kilometers with a slow leak from a screw puncture and didn’t want our luck to run out. George took care of that on Friday morning and we were free to explore.

A word about the campgrounds in this country. They are fantastic. They all have their own personality, but are all incredibly comfortable. Most of them have power at each site so we’re able to charge phones and laptops, they have really clean toilets and huge showers, hot water, and some have restaurants and camp stores. It is so easy to camp in this country! Swakopmund is a small city and we had several campgrounds and a million hotels to choose from. The one we are at is right on the water but has a grass fence protecting the campsites from the wind. There are twenty four sites all around a center grassy area like a village green. Each site has a thatched roof over the sandy platform where you pitch your tent, a picnic table, a parking spot for the car, a little brick walkway around to the ablution block and two wooden chairs by the little garden planted in front of each site. It’s adorable! It’s like a suburban pow wow. There is also a barbecue at each site and free wifi which actually works, so I’m hopeful about posting this in an hour. There is a great museum we spent half a day in on Friday, a fascinating gem museum which houses the largest crystal cluster in the world and where it’s possible to buy any amount of fantastic jewelry. Gorgeous stuff. And you can watch it being made. Well done. Yesterday we drove the thirty kilometers to Walvis Bay to see huge flocks of flamingoes and had a fabulous lunch of mussels, oysters, and yellow tail fish at a sweet place on the waterfront. They also had good microbrews. We considered leaving today, but wanted a day just to catch up on laundry, and writing, and we still need to visit the aquarium which we’ll do this afternoon. I went to mass this morning then George met me for breakfast at an outdoor cafe. When we walked back to the campsite we went by the aquarium to see the hours and saw, ironically, that’s where to buy fishing licenses. 

Tomorrow we’ll leave early to drive to Namib Naukluft Park to see the huge dunes and then see where to go from there. We’re still enjoying taking it a day at a time and like the flexibility. We’re learning about the country as we go so it’s changing what we want to see and for how long. I, for instance, didn’t think I’d like staying in Swakopmund so long, but I love it here. It’s very European and comfortable. Sidewalk cafes serving cappuccino appeal to me for a few days. And camping, it’s cheap! 

Ok, now to post this and try to get some photos on Facebook and off to walk around. Loving life.

Love to all,


ps. Now it’s Monday. Internet was down on Sunday….

Sunday Morning~ Waterberg Plateau, Namibia

Sunday Morning~ Waterberg Plateau, Namibia

July 15, 2018

Hi Everyone,

We will be driving very shortly from Waterberg to a place called Twyfelfontein, a name I cannot pronounce, to see the ancient rock art. We have not had any access to internet in a week, and the campsite we are heading for will not have any either, so we’ll try to find a coffee shop on the way that has internet to post this and download whatever emails have arrived this week. I like being disconnected, but once a week it feels good to check in on the rest of the world. To say we are in a bubble here is an understatement. It’s like the rest of the world does not exist. I’m nervous about what I may learn.

It’s very interesting traveling in this country. I can see why people who have traveled all over Africa say it is their favorite country. It’s the least populated country in Africa, only a little over two million people here and it’s a huge country. Granted, most of it is desert, but still… The roads are fantastic. Everyone talks about the roads when they travel on this continent, mostly because many of them are so bad. But here they are maintained and glorious. Long stretches of wide tarmac (and by wide I mean able to pass an oncoming vehicle without having a heart attack.) It’s rare to have to pass another car and when doing so, it’s incredibly easy. You can see for miles into the distance and there are no people on the shoulders carrying huge wide loads of wood or grass or aluminum. In Malawi people ride bikes with full sized wooden beds sideways on the back of the bike sticking halfway into the road. We’ve seen bikes with full sized oil drums on the back. There’s usually a huge lorry coming at us just as we are passing the overloaded bike. It’s a continual high speed obstacle course. We’ve been in Namibia over a week now and I’ve not yet seen a person on the side of the road. 

We’ve covered a lot of ground in the past week. Sunday we left Popa Falls and drove to Rundu right on the Angolan border and camped on the Okavango River. The campsite was fabulous and we were the only ones there. The guy who started it was a pharmacist and loved to camp. He is German but was brought up in Namibia and said he hated that campers were always given the worst sites at lodges offering camping. He wanted to have a campground with the best views. So there we were, right on the river with a simple cement wall about knee high supposedly keeping crocs out. The guard, who also acted as manager, took us on a sunset boat ride which was peaceful and scenic. We thought we’d see lots of birds, and did see a few, but that definitely wasn’t the highlight of the cruise. It was nice to be floating out there watching the sun go down, as close to Angola as we’re likely to get. The border is in the middle of the river.

Monday morning I went for a run as the sun came up and the campsite was so pleasant we lingered there and got a late start. We left at eleven and made it to Etosha National Park in about four hours. We’d been warned that we’d never get a place to stay in the park, people make reservations six months to a year in advance, but we knew there were plenty of places to camp outside the park so weren’t too worried about being without shelter. George really wanted to stay inside the park though, so we drove directly there and took our chances. It would have been about 30 kilometers to backtrack if they were full, so not the end of the world. Turns out the campsite was full but they had a chalet available for two nights so we took it. Luxury. I can really see how electricity changed the way people live. When we are in the tent we’re in bed right after supper reading by solar light, but in the chalet with electric lights it felt like we could do our laundry, write, repack, all sorts of activity. We settled in, cooked a meal on our gas burner, and went to the waterhole to watch the sunset and see what animals were coming for sundowners. None came and we got bored and cold sitting there, so we left. I was actually having a good time watching the sizes of the lenses on the cameras people were carrying. Some of them looked like they should have wheels they were so huge.

Etosha is a famous game park and designed so it’s easy to drive your own car around. It’s an immense salt pan, flat for miles and miles so the game is easy to spot and though the roads are gravel, they are pretty smooth. So we got up early, planning to watch the sunrise and see some nocturnal creatures, only to discover we were locked inside the camp until 7:30. It’s dark until almost seven which is strange for us. I don’t know why this is the same time zone as east Africa, but it is. So we had breakfast and at 7:34 we drove out into the wilds and didn’t return until 3:30 in the afternoon. It really is amazing there. We saw a rhinoceros about twenty minutes into the day and though almost everything else we saw are animals we’d seen before, it’s the size of the herds that are really stunning. Hundreds of zebra and gemsbok are impressive when they are all milling around together. It’s so wide open and wild, we were excited to be there. I was a little jaded to start and thought if we had to eliminate one thing off the trip it would have been Etosha just because we’d been to several other game reserves, but I was wrong. This was really different and well worth the effort to get there.  We saw a gorgeous pride of lions walking through the waving grass, the females in the lead and the two regal males sauntering behind. It’s a fabulous sight to see them in the open like that, and the middle of the day! The elephants were not plentiful, but I’m amazed they are there at all since there aren’t a lot of trees. We saw five or six but all solitary and looking like huge boulders as we approached.  I think my favorite (well, the lions were pretty cool) were the giraffes. They were in herds of seven or eight and I just love to watch them walk and run. Such incredible animals. We stopped and watched them drink at a waterhole for awhile, fascinated by the effort it takes for them to get low enough to get their big tongues into it.

We ended up seeing our friends Peter and Caroline again. They had made reservations months ago and told us we’d never get into the park during school holiday, but as we returned from the game drive we saw them pulling out of their campsite. Caroline’s sister, her husband, and two friends live in South Africa and were meeting them there for a few days so we arranged to have dinner together in the restaurant. The meal was significant to me for a few reasons. First of all, they are great friends and we love being with them, but the other people we met from South Africa were great story tellers and one of them had traveled in the states for four months in 1977. Another had lived in Ohio for a couple of years. They all were talking about how much they loved our country. We told them how mortified we were about what is happening there now and their reaction was not what I expected. I think I expected ridicule but what we got was empathy and encouragement. Moira, the woman who’d traveled there in 1977 told us about her time there and said she just couldn’t believe how friendly and welcoming “everyone in America is”. She’s South African and was traveling with a friend from UK. They arrived in New York with hardly any money. They bought an unlimited Greyhound bus ticket and went on overnights to different cities so they wouldn’t have to pay for lodging. She went on and on about the people who took them in and set them up with friends and relatives in different states. She was gushing about the  hospitality and fantastic experiences she had. She said she’s traveled all over the world and never experienced anything like it. I said I was so happy to hear this story as I’m so distraught about what our country is turning into and how I imagined the rest of the world must think we are complete idiots to have such a man in the white house.  The four from South Africa said, “Look, we have our own history. You will survive this. You have a great country.” I felt like I did when my marriage was ending and people would say to me, “You’ll get through this. You’ll be fine.” and I’d think, “How do they know that? I’m falling apart! I’ll never get through this!” But they would say it like they knew for sure I was strong enough and I chose to believe they were right. It felt very similar to me. These wonderful people were saying the same about our country and in the same strange way I felt like they were right. It was immensely comforting to hear that people in the world have sympathy instead of disdain. It gives me hope.  Caroline described the protests planned in UK, which may or may not have happened by now. We have not had a shred of news. I hope this posting is not coming after some apocalyptic event and that their words are prophetic.

On Wednesday we drove from one side of Etosha to the the other, a distance of about 136 kilometers. Going at a slow pace and stopping to watch the game, it took us about eight hours. We had a thought of trying to stay a third night, but we’d both had enough by then and headed south to a private campsite halfway to the Waterberg Plateau. The campsite had been a farm in the past but was refurbished into guest accommodation with safari tents on platforms and grassy sites to pitch our own tent. We had hot water for showers and a little barbecue area and we were happy campers. Thursday morning we drove another three hours to this National Park which is a plateau with several hiking trails. We were ready to be out of the car for a couple of days and move a bit. We got a sandy campsite, pitched the tent and went walking up the plateau with impressive stone facades. It was not a difficult hike but pretty and it felt good to move. We met a family from Germany while picnicking at the top. They are traveling wth two young kids and yelled to us that a snake was drawing up the rock we were sitting on. We both jumped up and turned to see a little brown snake slithering up the rock toward us. George tapped his stick on the rock and it turned around and went down into a crack. See? They have no desire to harm anything. The kids looked it up in their snake book and decided it was a baby black mamba, very poisonous, but certainly not menacing. They came over to our rock overlooking the huge savannah and we chatted with them for awhile. They’ve done a loop of the country in the opposite direction of us, so it was good to get some tips from them about the next place we plan to go.  It’s not possible to walk across the top of the plateau; it’s fenced off to protect the wildlife. The only way to see it is to go with a guided tour on a safari vehicle. We did that last evening and it was great to see the different landscape, but we saw few animals. There were two giraffe drinking at two waterholes we stopped at, but we saw none of the leopard and cheetah which the guidebook says are so abundant. We returned after 7 p.m. and splurged on dinner in the restaurant housed in an old German police station, with beautiful wooden interior with high ceilings. It did not look like any other structure I’ve seen in Africa. It’s a new flavor of a different colonial power. We’re getting a sense of the organized structure of the colonial influence as well. Things run rather well here. Our safari last evening left exactly on time.

We’ve reorganized the car several times now trying to arrange it for better efficiency. Yesterday morning we decided to take everything out and repack, knowing now what we use most and what we don’t use at all. I thought I’d make our lunches right after breakfast so we could get the cooler and food bags all packed. I made two sandwiches with the last of the french bread we’d bought, some sliced beets we’d roasted on the fire, the last four slices of salami, and topped them with the last of the lettuce. I spread a little of the ginger hot sauce on the top piece of bread and was pleased with my masterpiece. They were beautiful. I was looking forward to savoring them on the hike we planned. I wrapped them in the cellophane I’d taken off the lettuce and wrapped tin foil around them, ready to put into a knapsack for a romantic picnic. They were sitting on the top of the brick barbecue which is a lovely feature of every campsite. George was holding up his compass, fooling around with something directional, and I turned to put a few things in the back of the car. I turned back to the barbecue to get the sandwiches and saw a huge baboon scurrying toward us. I screamed as he climbed the four foot side of the barbecue in one motion, reached up, grabbed the sandwiches and took off into the grass. George started chasing him, but realized very quickly that was a futile gesture.  He turned to me and said, “No wonder I’ve seen so much tin foil in the grass!” I wondered if he was watching me make those sandwiches, waiting until I wrapped them to go.

Ok, now to hit the road!  Hope we find an internet cafe in Outjo where we plan to stop for breakfast in a couple of hours. We heard there is a good German bakery there. 

…here we are at the Farmhouse cafe with free wifi. Hoping this can send….

Love to all,



ps. Sundays seem to be a hard time to find internet around here! Monday now…

Sunday Morning~ Divundu, Namibia

Sunday Morning ~ Divundu, Namibia

July 8, 2018

Hi Everyone!

Again, not sure when I can send this, but I’ll write it on Sunday just the same. We’ve made it to Namibia!  We’ve put just over 1,300 miles on the car and made it across a continent! Not bad! It’s 6 a.m. and the sun isn’t up yet. We’re just at the end of the Caprivi Strip, a long narrow part of Namibia created when the British and Germans divided up the region allowing access to the ocean from the British colonies of Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) and Zambia. (No Africans were part of that discussion by the way.) We are a lot further west from Malawi but still the same time zone, so the sunrise is a lot later. It’s a little disorienting since it feels like the middle of the night and we should be up and moving, but we sit in the dark in our tent, drinking tea from the thermos that George prepared the night before, talking, and writing. We went through a town called Kazungula where the four countries, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana meet, just like the four corners in the states. I was expecting some kind of landmark, but there was nothing but a few goats and a bottle store. We passed right through.

We left Lusaka early Monday morning, four of us cozy (cramped) in the car, with great anticipation of getting to Victoria Falls. There was a lot of traffic getting through the city but we finally filled the tank with petrol and got on the road south. Victoria Falls is probably the biggest tourist attraction south of the pyramids so we were expecting a pretty good road, especially since the road to Lusaka was beautiful. We’ll I was wrong. We went over almost 100 kilometers of terrible road with cars swerving all over the place trying to avoid the swimming pool-sized potholes. We averaged about 20 kilometers an hour and I was sure we would not get over the border into Zimbabwe in time. The borders usually close at sundown. There are two options to see Victoria Falls: the Zambian side (the side we were on) or the Zimbabwean side. We decided to cross to the Zimbabwean side since it’s possible to see more of the falls from there and Chris and Sarah were flying out of there to Harare anyway. It meant we had to get 30 day visas for just a three day stay since we were coming back into Zambia to cross over into Namibia, but hey, how often do you get to Vic Falls? This way we could see them from both sides.  I’d made a reservation in the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, a decision I was starting to regret as the road continued to deteriorate. I kept saying, “Ok, there’s nothing we can do but keep going. Most people must fly and not take this road (the only road)!” I tried not to stress about it, tried to relax and not think about the nights lodging we’d be wasting if we didn’t make it across the border in time, and felt responsible for having made these arrangements. When we got about 300 kilometers from Livingstone (on the Zambian side of the falls) the road suddenly healed itself and we easily cruised the next three hours at a reasonable speed. We got to the border around 3:30 anticipating an hour at least to cross, more with a car. There are forms to fill out, lines to wait in, stamps to be gotten, and then documents for the car which involve several different windows and queues. I stupidly parked the car in an official spot knowing we’d be some time in customs, but it didn’t take as long as we expected on the Zambian side and when we came out there were two huge flatbed lorries blocking me in. No friggin’ way I could get out and their drivers were inside getting clearance. They take even longer in customs, like days, so again, I started panicking about getting across. About 45 minutes later, having inched my way back and forth to squeeze alongside the truck nearest me, the first driver came out and moved forward a little. The driver of the truck behind came out and moved back a little and I wedged my way between them in reverse with inches on each side to spare with about ten people guiding me. I almost thought I could drive right under it, and in my mini I probably could have, but this was a triumph. I was rather proud of myself for that maneuver. We’d still be sitting there otherwise. Then it was on to the Zimbabwean customs, another bunch of forms and lines to wait in. Chris said, “This is all our fault. The British taught them all this bureaucracy.” It was after five when we finally got into the town of Victoria Falls, catching a glimpse of the falls as we crossed over the Zambezi River. Even just a glimpse is magnificent. We couldn’t wait to walk along them on Tuesday. 

I’d been to the falls in 1980 just after the war ended in Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe had been elected. The country was full of hope back then and tourism was just starting after years of conflict. There was no National Park; you could just walk to the falls, which, despite the fact they are monstrous (1.8 Kilometers long!) you can’t see them until you are right up at the gorge. You can see the spray above the trees for miles but the actual falls you need to be up close. Now you have to pay to see them, thirty bucks each and it’s only good for one entry. Kind of a bummer, but I understand that upkeep requires resources. Tourism has exploded here. The town is full of lodges and restaurants, none of which have a view of the falls which is completely enclosed in the park and closes at sunset. It opens for a few hours for the three nights around the full moon which, I hear, is spectacular. I am sorry our timing didn’t work for that. 

We checked in to our extremely simple and a bit run down accommodation. I was disappointed in the lodge. Ok, the name (Pennywise Cottages) should have been a tip off, but the reviews were good and it was cheap! But I always feel so responsible when booking for other people and was worried they’d be unhappy with the quality of our nights. The prices are quite high around there and I figured we wouldn’t be in the room much anyway. BUT, they did have great wifi and the shower was exceptional. Excellent water pressure, plenty of hot water, and cotton towels! We were fine. And we could walk into town and to the falls. Even better. We immediately went to find an ATM to get some local currency and find a place to eat. We were famished having had little in the car to nibble on for twelve hours. In the town, were several ATMs but at each one the guard said, “No cash.” Some even laughed at us to think we would get Zimbabwean currency. I knew their economy had collapsed and their dollar was worth nothing, but I didn’t know they don’t even use their currency anymore! They use American dollars. Some guys on the street tried to sell us five billion dollar notes of Zim dollars. I hear their biggest note is six trillion dollars. It would have been very funny if I weren’t worried about being in the same situation in a few years. Inept leaders can really fuck up an economy. But for now, the US dollars we had were just fine. We found a place that served local wild game and I ordered the wart hog. It was superb. George was a little disappointed in his crocodile, but Chris enjoyed his ox stew. Sarah had sausage of questionable origin, but she said it was good. My meal was so delicious, a melding of pork and wild game. I don’t know if it was farm raised or what, but there are wild animals roaming everywhere around there, so maybe if they wander into your yard you can kill them, I’m not sure. We didn’t ask. The restaurant was busy.

Tuesday morning we had breakfast and walked to the falls. It’s hard to describe the sight. Depending on the time of year it’s a totally different experience. If you come at the end of the rainy season you often can’t see the falls at all because of the spray. Ours was excellent timing because the rains ended in May and there was plenty of water but the spray not too forceful to prohibit us from getting close in most places. We got drenched as we got closer to the Zambian side but dried out in the sun a little later. The Zambezi River is enormous, and the falls are created when it drops off into this 100 meter deep narrow gorge that makes for the most amazing sight. One million liters of water fall per second over the falls and the only thing separating the walkway from the abyss are some thorn bushes. It’s beautifully done, natural, but still feels safe, thought heights don’t bother me that much. It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world and we stood there and wondered what it must have been like for Livingstone to stumble upon it from his boat as it approached the abyss. One of the islands at the top is named for him (along with a million other things on this continent) and later in the season it’s possible to take a boat ride out there when the water is lower. THAT is not on my list of things to do, but seeing this magnificent sight is really something to behold. It is known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya – ‘the smoke that thunders’, and though the only way you can see the whole falls at one time is from the air, walking along the gorge, getting wet from the spray, and just feeling the energy is a humbling experience. It is spectacular, with rainbows from the spray moving along the gorge as the sun moves. No words to describe it. Magnificent doesn’t even begin.

We ended that day with a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River with an open bar and people from all over the world. It all felt decadent and luxurious. I remember traveling in Europe when I was young trying to live on $10 a day. I’d look at older people in restaurants and think, “Wow, I wonder what it’s like to be able to order a whole meal.” Before we left the Peace Corps office some young volunteers told us they had wanted to take a trip like this but couldn’t afford it. I said, “I know. It’s one of the advantages of being old.” I do not take any of it for granted and feel so lucky. Traveling with good friends who enjoy similar adventure is just so much fun. 

The next day, Wednesday, Chris and Sarah did a helicopter ride over the falls and then we had breakfast and said goodby as we dropped them at the airport. It was sad to see them go, but this did give us a whole lot more room in the car. We spent a second day walking around the falls, staying there to watch the sunset before going to a local brewery for ribs and beer. We walked about ten miles each day, so felt like we earned it. We had originally thought we’d spend a night in Livingstone and see the falls from the Zambian side as well, but on Wednesday the spray was so intense we couldn’t see as much as the day before so since we have to come back through Zambia to get back to Malawi, we decided to move on revisit in late August when the water level is a little lower. The Zambian side has little footbridges overlooking the gorge where you can see nothing if the spray is too much. So we’ll wait until the dry season lessens the flow and enjoy seeing some water after six weeks in the desert. 

So, Thursday morning we packed up and set out to cross the border again (another hour and a half), got through Livingstone and headed west to the Caprivi Strip and into Namibia. We went through a town called Kazungula where the four countries (Botswana is the fourth) meet, just like the four corners in the states. I was expecting some kind of landmark, but there was nothing but a few goats and a bottle store. I’m glad we haven’t made any more reservations anywhere. I like the flexibility. We’d heard the road was good, and it started  out lovely, but after we passed Kazungula it all. We were 20 kilometers into terrible road and George, playing with his new gamin device, told me I had somehow gotten off the main highway. I said, “How could I have done that?! There is only one road!” But the device said that the M10 was about 2 kilometers south of us. After 20 kilometers on this terrible road I was not about to turn around, plus, there was no other road! I never passed a place where there was even a question of a turn. (He hadn’t noticed since he was looking at the device, so didn’t believe me.) He assured me the device says there is another road that connects to the one we’re supposed to be on 12 miles further, so we can reconnect to the correct road there. Twelve miles later and on the exact same road, the gamin was now telling us we were magically back on the M10. I don’t trust those things. We were passing busses coming toward us and I knew they would not be on this road if there were an alternative. Finally, about fifty miles from the Namibian border the road was suddenly perfect. Not a single pothole. Go figure. I have no idea why, there was no landmark or anything, the road just turned perfect. From there it was a lovely straight road, bordered by waving grass dancing in the sun and an occasional cow or donkey. We saw no people. Acacia trees dotted the savannah along with the odd baobab. Gorgeous.

We planned to stay just over the border in Namibia. We really don’t want to push it and want to have time to set up camp and relax each night. We’ve got the luxury of time and it feels better this way. So crossing into Namibia was another hour of paper filling, ebola screening, and car payments, and then we were into the country I’ve been dreaming of!  We got into Katima Mulilo, the border town, which has a western frontier feel to it, and found a place to camp, right on the Zambezi River at a swank hotel that offered camping! Sweet! We set up our tent, went into town, got some cash and groceries, had a meal, and were back to watch the sunset from our campsite. The night guards warned us not to leave any of our belongings outside the tent or car as “Zambians come across the river to steal things.” I was a little more concerned about the enormous hippo footprints we saw alarmingly close to the tent, but the guard didn’t seem concerned about those.

Friday morning I went for a run while George took down the tent as the sun came up on the river. Gorgeous start to the day. We ate breakfast there then went back into town to fill the tank with petrol and head across 320 kilometers of the Caprivi Strip to a town called Divundu near the border of Botswana where the Okavango River starts to spread into the delta. (I use the word “town” loosely. There is a gas station and a grocery store with mostly empty shelves.) There are several lodges, however, on the river and we got a luxury campsite at one of them. I love how these nice places allow camping and use of the bar and restaurant. I have never seen a campsite this luxurious, with it’s own enclosure, it’s own ablution block with reed walls, flush toilet, sink, and hot shower. The guards light the fire in the late afternoon so the water is hot in the evening. There is a private cooking area under a thatched roof with a sink and electricity! We could have brought an electric kettle for goodness sake. We spent the Friday afternoon sitting on a deck overlooking the river; I painted while George read. 

The Mahango National Park is just 20 kilometers south of here and it’s easily accessible by private vehicle, so we spent yesterday driving around there. We didn’t see any big game, but lots of zebra, impala, kudu, and sable. The bird life was incredible and I’m getting more and more interested in seeing and identifying them. It’s fun. Like a little game we play. Last evening we met up with our friends from Blantyre who are doing a similar trip but started a week after us. They came directly here and are staying at a place just a kilometer away. We had dinner with them last night, shared a bottle of good South African wine, and traded horrible-road stories. They are staying on here another night and going in a different direction, so we may not meet up with them again, but it was a fun night. It feels good to have such friends. 

Today we leave for a short 200 kilometer drive to Rundu on the Angolan border. Tonight we’ll be on the Okavango river further upstream. We’ll be ending the trip in August at the Okavango Delta in Botswana so it’s cool to see the river further upstream before it gets to the Kalahari. 

Ok, up to make breakfast on the gas cylinder stove, pack up, and hit the road.  Hopefully will find wifi later…. 

Love to all,


Sunday Morning ~ Croc Valley Camp, South Luangwa, Zambia

Sunday Morning~ Croc Valley Camp, South Luangwa, Zambia 

July 1, 2018

Hi everyone,

I really don’t know if this is going to go today or not. The “free wifi” at this camp is free but doesn’t work. I was planning on posting some cool photos on Facebook of our first day on the road, the views at our camp, and the incredible wildlife we saw, but that little plan didn’t materialize.

We are now six days away from Blantyre, three into the trip and so far so good. Let me run down the week:

Monday was our last night in our sweet house. Catherine showed up early and fell into my arms sobbing, saying “I will miss you maamie, I will miss you.” She was wracked with sobs and it was incredibly awkward. I told her we were giving her an extra month’s pay and there would be someone coming to live in the house in September so she’d still have a job. She pulled it together enough to ask if I’d give her enough money to start a business. Said she’d rather work as a business woman. She needed two hundred thousand kwacha to set it up. (Mind you a few months ago she asked George if he’d buy her a house. He asked how much they cost and that led her to believe the answer was in the affirmative.) The business idea isn’t a bad one. She wants to sell used clothes at the market and I think she’d probably be pretty good at it, but I was miffed she waited until the night before we were leaving to bring it up. I told her that. I said I couldn’t discuss it at this late date. I was packing and trying to remember a million details we had to do before we left. It wasn’t happening. I’d spent two weeks going to the bank every day to withdraw the daily cash maximum to have enough to pay everyone what I needed to. I didn’t have an additional two hundred thousand even if I thought it was a good idea. I didn’t even feel bad about saying no. She stopped crying and went to the guard’s shelter to wait for George to get home. I thought she might try her luck with him but she didn’t, only thanked us when we gave her her pay, and an extra months pay and we said goodby when we went to bed. 

I woke during the night to send an email I was obsessing about to discover the electricity was out. So no wifi. We rarely lose electricity in that house, so I was surprised, then looked outside and saw all the neighbors had their outside lights on. We have prepaid electricity and George thought he’d put enough money on it to get us through our last month but we were a few hours short. Not a big deal, but that meant I couldn’t get the administrative stuff done I’d planned. Turns out I needed all that time to pack anyway. I got out of bed when I heard a noise out back against the house and thought someone might be trying to break in. I looked outside and didn’t see anything. It was 4:30 and I was wide awake so decided to stay up and organize stuff I still had to pack. When George got up he said he wanted to go put a little more money on the meter and not leave the landlady without any power in the house. He came back an hour later and said he couldn’t get any because ESCOM (the power company) didn’t have any power so couldn’t issue any vouchers. Oh, the irony. Then he washed out a couple of towels and went to hang them on the line, thinking they’d dry before we left. He came in and said the clothesline was gone. Probably what I’d heard at 4:30; Catherine removing the clothesline. 

Getting out of the house was as painless as it could be, given we were packing for a two month camping trip and a pile of stuff we wanted to ship home. We were heading to Lilongwe for three days to finish up Peace Corps chores: medical clearance, end of service reports, safety clearance etc. and set off from our sweet house only two hours later than we’d planned. I was ready to go. I am hoping to come back in 2019 for three months so didn’t have the intense sadness of maybe never seeing the place again. I was excited about our adventure and felt like I’d tied up all my loose ends pretty well, so aside from the sad scene with Catherine the night before, I was ready. 

The five hour ride to Lilongwe was uneventful aside from the runaway oxcart heading toward us on the M1. At first we couldn’t tell what it was but as we got closer we could see two oxen yoked to a cart barreling along, about to cross the highway, with a guy running behind as fast as he could, trying to stop them. That could have been very exciting if we’d been a few minutes later. But we left that scene behind and carried on to our lodge, only driving about an hour in the dark (something we try not to do).

The days in Lilongwe were non-stop run around: medical exams, close the bank account, file reports, exit interviews, it took all of two full days. I was done with all my obligations (except for one report I was going to send yesterday but couldn’t with the non-existent free wifi) by four, so repacked the car to fit Chris and Sarah and their bags and went for a run. Sweet. I was feeling great. Chris and Sarah arrived from Kasungu where they’d been working on a school project, we had drinks and dinner and Friday morning just after breakfast we had the official launch to our adventure. This consisted of photos in the parking lot with the red X-Trail we’ll be living out of, and a selfie inside, and off we went, a little cramped, but not too bad and no complaints. Fortunately, Chris and Sarah had been living in uncomfortable quarters for two weeks with a questionable menu so in comparison, this was luxury.

The first stop on our trip was South Luangwa National Park in Zambia. An hour and a half from Lilongwe is the Zambian border. The border crossing took an hour and a half, mostly because of all the paperwork involved in bringing a car into another country here. Buying insurance for that country is mandatory and took some time. Other fees were involved as well and George attracted a little sidekick who walked him through it for a fee of his own. He probably cut an hour off the time there, so, worth it. In the meantime I changed Malawian kwacha on the black market for Zambian ones since Malawian kwacha are useless anywhere besides Malawi and you can’t change them at a bank. That done, back in the car and off to South Luangwa, reportedly the most amazing game park in all of southern Africa. We’d heard great stories about cat viewing there and, man oh man, we were not disappointed. 

We arrived at Croc Valley Camp where I’d reserved two eco tents. We have our own camping equipment with us but Chris and Sarah don’t, so we decided the $10 per night fee was worth it for one of their tents with beds and bedding. Very simple but the best night’s sleep I’ve had in ages, despite the howling wild dogs, baboons, hippos and elephants walking through camp. Crazy awesome. There was discussion about how to get to the toilets at night, which, after my DRC stint I rarely have to do, having trained my bladder to wait till morning, but George was a little concerned. Not that the toilets were a huge distance from the tent, but being eaten by a hyena the first night out wouldn’t be good. He had a makeshift plan involving empty water bottles and that worked fine. I see they are adding ensuite toilets to these tents but that construction is still in progress; I read on trip advisor the only complaint is getting to the toilets at night.

The place is set up on a bank over the Luangwa River, a wide expanse that’s only got water flowing on half of it. It’s the dry season now and I’m wondering how full it gets. We can see crocodiles sunning themselves on the sandy portion and, I swear, hundreds of hippos in pods around the water. It’s impressive. Hilariously, there is a sign that says no swimming. 

Friday at 4 p.m. (our first night there) we went on the evening game drive. As we crossed the bridge over the Luangwa river we saw a herd of elephants crossing, as the guide said, “to eat mangoes in the village”. He said elephants kill more people than crocodiles around there. Another hundred meters we saw our first leopard crouching in the grass. We weren’t even in the park yet! A hundred meters behind that was a giraffe sauntering into trees. She didn’t seem too concerned about the leopard so maybe he’d already eaten. Once we got into the park which is not fenced at all, hence the free ranging of animals, it was incredibly abundant. We stopped counting all the elephants, baboons, and impala. We also saw bushbuck and puku which we’d never seen before. Of course, the cats are more exciting for us. They are quite elusive in Malawi. The only lioness we’d seen was that one in the Karoo in south Africa, but it didn’t take long Friday to find two females sleeping, having eaten a buffalo that morning. (The guide had sen them eating the kill in the morning.) Our guide, Simon, got within fifty feet of them, and impressive as they were, I thought the tree full of vultures next to them was equally spectacular. Maybe twenty of them sitting on the branches of a dead tree looking down at their meal. So cool. We saw two  more leopards that evening, one not too far from where we stopped for our evening cocktail (Sobo, a horrible sweet fake juice drink, no beer!). I was a little worried that we were to close to that cat’s territory but Simon didn’t seem to have any concern. Just jumped right out of the jeep and set up the drinks. Maybe they don’t serve alcohol because of the cats. When we see one, no one can move in the vehicle. If we all stay still, the cat thinks it’s one huge animal and too big to hunt. Any inside movement signals we’re food. It’s thrilling.

George and I decided not to do the morning game drive on Saturday. We need to pace ourselves as we’ll be visiting several more parks on the trip. I spent that time writing my final report (which I couldn’t send) and running on the treadmill at the camp! There was a treadmill! Running on the road is out of the question with all the animals rummaging about, so this was perfect as I need to up my game for the marathon in November. (In a moment of insanity I put my name in the lottery for the NYC marathon and got in.) Later we drove into the village to look at some of the local businesses, one of which makes jewelry from animal snares. It’s called “Beauty from Brutality” and some of the proceeds from each sale go to anti-poaching organizations. It’s gorgeous stuff, all made by women. They pound the metal into spectacular pendants and adorn some of them with semi precious stones. The women also learned to carve wooden beads and the result is really gorgeous. This stuff was many notches up from the jewelry my women’s group was making, but it got my wheels turning.

On the game drive last night we were well into the park before we saw anything and I thought maybe our luck had run out the night before (three leopards!) when Simon abruptly stopped the vehicle, turned off the engine and said, “Don’t move!” as a leopard came walking directly toward us. I mean, right at us. Sauntering along, looking menacing and eying the vehicle. I was holding my breath trying to take a photo without moving, grateful there were no children in the car (I immediately added five years to the date I thought I’d take my grandchildren on one of these), as he walked about three feet along the side of the vehicle. Oh my God. We were all frozen with our iPhones on video mode. As he passed behind the jeep, Simon started the engine and turned around to follow him but he went off into the bush.  That was just the beginning of the most exciting game drive ever. We saw a pride of lions sleeping in piles, apparently still full from their kill, the two males sleeping together in one heap and the females and cubs in two other piles. We watched them sleep for awhile then explored other areas of the park. Later as we headed back, Simon pulled over again as the entire pride of lions walked toward us, females in front (the hunters), cubs and one lame female behind, and the two males bringing up the rear. It was spectacular. I cant imagine beating that scene, the recently set sun making the horizon pink, the dusty landscape stretching out for miles and this pride of magnificent animals slowly walking off into the sunset in all their glory. Wow.

Today is the longest drive of the trip, nine hours to get to Lusaka. Then tomorrow another seven to Victoria falls! Woohoo!

I’ll hopefully be able to post this from the lodge in Lusaka, though I find not having internet has brought my anxiety level down. I’m so full of gratitude to be able to do this.

Love to all,