Sunday Morning~ Waterberg Plateau, Namibia
July 15, 2018
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…