A Travellerspoint blog

Zanzibar and East African wildlife: Tanzania

sunny 30 °C

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We had two long drive days to get up to Dar es Salaam, on the Indian Ocean. On the night of one bush camp, there was a total lunar eclipse.

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From Dar, we all went our separate ways for a few days. The truck stayed in Dar and we had five days to do whatever we wanted. A 'holiday from a holiday,' most of us caught the ferry over to Zanzibar. The Zanzibar archipelago is trying to gain independence from mainland Tanzania so you need to get your passport stamped in and out. Culturally, the islands are very different from the mainland. Predominantly Muslim, they have been greatly influenced by the Arab merchants who settled here.

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Stonetown, the capital of Zanzibar island, has a fantastic seafood market in the evenings down by the harbour. Octopus, calamari, shellfish, lobster and many different types of fish, as well as naan breads and falafel, are cooked to order and you sit around enjoying the atmosphere and feasting.

Kat, a German girl on the truck, and I wanted to do similar things on the island so decided to join forces. We caught a bus up to Kendwa, on the far north shore, which is reputed to have some of the best beaches in the world.

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Brilliantly white sand, crystal clear, turquoise water and largely unspoilt, it was a real tropical paradise. Just what we needed after many weeks spent on bumpy, dusty roads. (Well, Malawi was also pretty chilled, but a few days on a beautiful, empty beach always goes down well.)

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We had a lovely room; thatched roof, Afro-Arabic décor, overlooking the ocean.

The night we arrived, there was a full-moon party a little way down the beach. Pretty wild. I missed a snorkelling trip I'd booked for the next day as a result. Still, it was worth it, plus the snorkelling was easily re-scheduled for the day after.

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The snorkelling trip involved a few hours sailing on a traditional wooden dhow to Mnemba atoll, a marine reserve. The snorkelling here was incredible - thousands of fish; colourful, live corals; a morey eel. The water was so warm and clean, it really was like swimming inside an aquarium.

Since I don't have an underwater camera, the following photos are Jono's:

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After the snorkelling, we stopped off at a secluded beach and had a delicious lunch of barbequed kingfish and tropical fruit.

Kat and I went on a dolphin cruise off the southern tip of the island. If we'd seen bottlenose dolphins, we could've swam with them, however we only came across a pod of humpback dolphins. These are very shy and not suitable for swimming with, but we did jump off the boat and swim around among shoals of tiny fish. We both got stung quite a bit by jellyfish however; they really itched.

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On the way back, we visited a forest home to the extremely rare Zanzibar red colobus monkeys. Inquisitive little things, they sprang from branch to branch and darted around our feet.

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Giant millipede in the jungle.

Back in Stonetown, we met up with a few people from the truck and did a 'spice tour' of the old town and surrounding spice plantations.

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There is a church built on the site of the old slave market. Stonetown was where Arab slave merchants came to buy and sell slaves taken from their villages on mainland Africa. Part of the tour took us to a museum showing the holding areas in which they were kept; cramped basements with appalling living conditions. It was truly horrific what these slaves had to put up with; many died of diseases or suffocation while in transit or in these fetid cells.

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Fish market and a spice seller's shopfront.

In the spice plantations, our guide showed us the many uses spices and plants grown on the islands have.

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Natural lipstick.

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Red bananas. Like regular ones but richer and slightly creamy.

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Vanilla.

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Fresh nutmeg.

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Cloves.

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Giant snail, back on the mainland at a campsite in Dar.

Once everyone had returned to the truck, we set off all together again.

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Ferry between the two peninsulas in the city.

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The consequences of some very bad driving. You see quite a few overturned trucks on the roads.

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Scary looking spider at a pee stop.

After driving through Moshi (where you can normally see Kilimanjaro - when there's not thick, low hanging cloud), we reached Arusha. Here we stayed at a camp site owned by a South African couple who farm snakes for their venom, used to treat snake bite victims in their on site clinic. Hundreds of local Masai villagers are treated every year for free in the clinic, funded largely by profits from the campsite and bar.

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They also had some Nile crocodiles, babies and big bruisers.

The guys who almost trod on deadly snakes in Namibia were able to see them behind glass here and read about how horrific their bites can be.

Included in the cost of our overland trip, we did a two day safari in Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro National Parks.

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Wall of the Great Rift Valley.

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There are so many kites in East Africa.

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Rim of Ngorongoro Crater at dawn.

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These lions were the first animals we saw in Ngorongoro NP (aside from the always-present bands of baboons.)

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Count the lions.

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Hippos in the lake.

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Dust devil.

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Birds back at the snake park in Arusha.
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Posted by AlTiffany2 04:58 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

A restful few days in Malawi

sunny 28 °C

Our time in Malawi was largely an exercise in relaxation. We drove up to Lilongwe, the capital, and spent the night there. The city is fairly small, with a laid back vibe, and it was nice just wandering around, chatting to the locals and visiting the markets.

Following a very scenic drive through the mountains, we crossed a pass and had our first view of Lake Malawi. This huge lake separates Malawi and Mozambique. From the shores, it looks like the sea. The truck slowly descended the long, windy road down to the lake and we arrived at Kande Beach. This place was very pleasant; there were hammocks by the beach, a relaxed bar and a couple of other overland trucks there to provide some company. I didn’t do much here, just read, swam in the (pleasantly warm and beautifully clear) lake and chilled out.

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This campsite is a popular place with overlanders as a rest-and-recovery stopover. Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman stayed here during the ‘Long Way Down’ expedition. The tranquillity of the place was quite addictive – I could have spent a long time there, just chilling and listening to the sound of the small waves breaking on the beach. Being freshwater, the lake was great to swim in and the air temperature stayed around the late twenties – very pleasant.

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Grant, our driver, decided to buy some chickens and marinate them. He then built a spit roast from the truck's desert sand mats and a few other pieces of kit and spent the whole day slow cooking them. Super tender, they tasted great.

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Sunrise over the lake.

From Kande, we drove north to Chitimba, a similar beach campsite not far from the Tanzanian border. Following another couple of days of relaxing, and an enormous infestation of ants in Jono's and my tent, we headed up to the border.

Posted by AlTiffany2 01:13 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

Zimbabwe

sunny 28 °C

Our first stop in Zimbabwe was Victoria Falls. The Vic Falls township, on the Zim side, was clearly once a thriving tourist destination but these days, since the economy plummeted, is a bit of a ghost town. The people here are pretty desperate, as they are in much of the country. There are lots of beggars wearing rags on the street, people trying to swap your shoes or the shirt off your back for handmade crafts or the famous Zimbabwean dollars. At their economy’s lowest point, the money was literally worthless – the famous 100 trillion dollar notes can be bought for one US dollar on the street.

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The Zambezi River, with the bridge between Zim and Zambia. This is where they do bungee jumping and gorge swinging.

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Warthog running through the town.

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Not sure I should’ve taken this photo…

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Known by the locals as ‘The Smoke that Thunders,’ the volume of water flowing over the edge every second is staggering. You hear it before you see it. We were there at the time of year when the river is at its highest. The mist blasts you as you walk along the path on the cliff edge. At one point, it was like being in a powerful shower – no exaggeration. Absolutely drenched, I couldn’t see anything walking up to ‘Danger Point’ (no railings, just slippery rocks and a big drop) with all the spray blasting my eyes. Not many photos; I feared for my camera.

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Zoe and I, soaked.

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The bungee point.

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I walked over the bridge to the Zambian side, but didn’t get a visa so couldn’t go very far. Some of the guys went over to Livingstone, however the cost of a double entry Zim visa and a Zambian one made it not worth it for me.

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A few of us did a drumming lesson and jammed with these guys – it was awesome.

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Mandy and Lee. Elephants quite regularly wander through the town.

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And damage stuff.

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We camped in the garden of a nice backpackers.

From Vic Falls we drove south to Bulawayo. Here, some of us did a walk to see some rock paintings.
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After this, we tracked white rhinos on foot
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African Fish eagle.

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Mopane worms (actually caterpillars). We bought Mike some for his birthday and he was good enough to share them with the rest of the truck. Not nice.

A few of us saw a violin in a shop in Bulawayo and decided to buy it. I now give lessons for beer. Six of us have shares, and whoever wants to continue playing at the end of the trip can buy the rest of us out and take it home.

We had a bit of a visa crisis whilst in Zimbabwe. We were intending to get our Ethiopian visas in Harare, but the Ethiopians recently changed the rules and now require tourists to get visas in their country of origin. To cut a long story short, we all had to post our passports and visa applications home to our respective countries (UK, Oz, USA etc.) and hope that there were no issues. Thankfully, all was well. However, it did mean we spent an extra week in Zim while we waited for the return of our passports, which was great; I loved the country. We could afford to take our time a little, staying a bit longer in each place.

Antelope Park, near Gweru, is a park set up, mainly, to breed lions in order to boost populations in the wild. They have a four stage breeding programme, whereby each stage is more similar to the wild than the previous. So, a generation is born in each stage and each generation is ‘wilder’ than the first. So, the ultimate aim of the programme is for more wild lions to be born in the wild than would otherwise happen without the programme.

The park had four elephants, found as orphans and raised in the centre.
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Feeding the adult male lions. You gather on one side of a fence, with a pile of meat on the other side. Then, the lions are allowed into the far end of the enclosure and charge towards you, and the meat, only a couple of feet away. It’s exhilarating; most people flinch, some practically fall backwards!

As some of the cubs are hand raised, they need gradual rehabilitation in order to become used to being in the wild. They are taken on walks, where they are allowed to roam and explore their surroundings, until the age of 18 months. I did two of these walks with Meeka and Kali, two 18 month old female lions.
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Cubs. This one bit me (gently).

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Elephant back safari. The park had lots of game, partly for tourists to see, but also to provide the cubs with prey to hunt. I did a horseback safari too. When you’re on the back of another animal, the animals in the game park aren’t afraid at all and you can get really close.

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Elephants in the camp.

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The grounds were beautiful. This green area down by the river was often visited by elephants, horses and donkeys and was a lovely place to chill out and relax. Michael did another spot of fishing. And failed, again.

Due to the extra time we had in Zim, we were able to go to Chimanimani, a beautiful little village in the mountains in the east of the country, near the border with Mozambique. Our driver and tour leader had never been here before, so everybody was discovering somewhere new. It was one of my favourite places I’ve visited on my whole trip so far. Again, good job we had the Ethiopian visa problems really!

Due to the altitude, daytime temperatures in the valley were very pleasant, but at night the temperature dropped to around five degrees.

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Outside the bar in the village. (Left to right: Kim, Zoe, Dan, me, Lindi, Neil.) This was a really atmospheric little place – low ceiling, candlelit, I loved talking (and singing) with the locals in here, some of whom hadn’t seen white tourists around for years. I met a girl here called Brenda who showed me the school where she taught; it was great to get a genuine inside feel of the local people and how they live their lives. It’s a simple way of life, but, in some ways, an enviable one. We’re going to stay in touch. A pen pal in rural Zimbabwe – pretty cool.

One night I got talking to a guy who I quickly gathered was a Mugabe henchman – not the most comfortable of conversations. Have to be very careful what you say. Chimanimani was, and still is, one of the worst places for land reclamation – whereby Mugabe’s war veterans march onto white farmers’ land and forcibly evict them. Those who resist are murdered. That’s one of the reasons Zimbabwe is in such a bad way now: the farms are now owned by incompetent idiots who produce food for themselves and totally neglect the need to provide the country’s population with food to eat. Once the wealthiest country in Africa, and the continent’s ‘Bread Basket,’ the place is now utterly ruined and the few people who would be able to turn the country around are either in exile or dead. It’s really tragic, and all because the dictator is a paranoid, irrational racist who’s determined to stay in power, and has ruined his country in doing so.

Most people, however, are delighted to see white foreigners and many told me, when they knew they wouldn’t be overheard, that they hate the president and his policies. Zim is in a better state now than it was three years ago, but really needs Uncle Bob Mugabe to die before it can ever begin to recover properly. Hopefully that won’t be too long.

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A day hike into the mountains of Chimanimani National Park. The scenery here was incredible – I had no idea Zimbabwe was so scenically diverse. Parts of this walk looked like Scotland.

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We swam in this waterfall pool and ended up numb with cold.

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These mountains (over 2000m high) mark the border with Mozambique. During the civil war, this area was used to smuggle guns into Zim. Now, there is lots of illegal gold mining and smuggling. We met a band of guys in one valley on the way to do just this. That morning, we’d also met a couple of rangers; women with AK-47s on the lookout for such smugglers.

Our last stop in Zimbabwe was Harare, the capital.

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To celebrate the successful return of our passports, we had a braai (BBQ).

Zimbabwe was playing Mali at football in Harare when we were there, so most of us went to watch. This was a qualifying match for the African Cup of Nations and the atmosphere was terrific. We were in the cheapest seats, $3, and were the only whiteys in the stadium.
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Laura, Falcon and Lee – probably making more noise than anyone else in the ground.

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Zim won 2-1 (contrary to expectations), but not after high drama: a disallowed goal, a penalty (taken twice), a big brawl – exciting stuff. After the match a few of us (the brave ones) fought our way into a shabeen, an unlicensed bar, near the ground. It was noisy, smelly, super sketchy and packed full of very drunk locals. Full on, a great experience, but so intense I was ready to leave after a few beers.

Harare was clearly once a very attractive city – boulevards lined with jacaranda trees, lots of green areas and large properties – but today is largely neglected and run down. I utilised most of the time we had there to get this blog more up to date; that’s how I made it from Australia to Cambodia so quickly.

On leaving the capital, we drove past Uncle Bob’s mansion and, after giving him the finger, drove northeast towards the Mozambique border.

We only spent 24 hours in Mozambique, transiting through the Tete Corridor on the way to Malawi. $30 for the visa though, unfortunately. Not much to see really, the town of Tete was polluted; rubbish everywhere and thick smog. Some of the villages we drove past looked lovely though; traditional mud huts arranged around a central communal area with a few animals. Everyone waved at us with huge grins on their faces as we whizzed by. One of the only things about this sort of trip that I don’t like is not being able to stop whenever you want in places like this. A small price to pay for all of the amazing experiences we’ve had, however, if I was overlanding with my own vehicle, I’d do it at a fraction of the pace and spend lots of time in little communities, really getting to know the way of life.

Posted by AlTiffany2 09:23 Archived in Zimbabwe Comments (1)

Botswana

sunny 30 °C

Following another easy border crossing, with the most cheerful, friendly immigration officials I’ve ever seen, we were into Botswana and drove to Maun, a town on the edge of the Okavango Delta. From here we did a three day expedition into the delta in traditional ‘Mokoro’ canoes, poled along by local guides from the surrounding villages. We camped on an island in the delta – home to one of the largest concentrations of animals in the whole of Southern Africa.
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Mike tried to make a raft boat from reeds and a tarp. It failed. His attempt at fishing did also. The net he laid in one of the channels was mysteriously trashed in the night. The guides thought it could have been a hippo…

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One of the local girls who came with us was most amused with Dan’s beard and decided to braid it. He kept this for several days, looking like a pirate (“Cap’n Cheesebeard”).

We did several bush walks and saw lots of wildlife, pretty close.

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We heard a lion roaring at one point, but didn’t see it. It was really exciting though, if a little unnerving, knowing that there was nothing between us and them, in their natural environment.

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This is the moon, rising as soon as the sun had set.

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Neil, looking a little evil.

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During one of our walks, we came across some elephant bones. A pretty large jawbone.

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Zoe and Andy.

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Ryan.

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Hippo, seen from my mokoro. These kill more humans than any other animal in Africa. We did some swimming (and fair amount of wrestling) in similar pools.

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Termite mound. These were scattered all over Namibia and Botswana, some of them over two metres tall.

I loved the time we spent in the Delta. It was a welcome break from truck routine, and being out in the delta was so peaceful. The animals we saw made it even better: elephants, zebras, hippos, warthogs, African fish eagles and quite a few antelope.

Upon returning to Maun, we did a scenic flight over the area of the delta in which we had been for the past few days.

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The size of it is phenomenal. From the air we saw so many animals, but unfortunately none of these photos came out well, due to the vibrations of the Cessna.

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Stuffed lion in Maun.

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Ardvark on the side of the road. Dan and I threw Falcon’s shoes on top.

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Falcon was not happy.

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Playing around with the shutter speed on my camera. The moon.

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The Southern Cross, with the pointer stars to the left.

We saw so many animals on the side of the road whilst driving through Botswana; elephants, monkeys, giraffes and antelopes.

We did a boat cruise on the Chobe River and saw an unbelievable number of elephants, along with many other animals.
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African Fish Eagles.

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Laura looking happy (“This is not a booze cruise…”)

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Colourful bee eaters by their nest holes in the river bank.

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Male kudu.

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Daddy, mummy and baby elephants.

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Buffalo.

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Posted by AlTiffany2 08:04 Archived in Botswana Comments (1)

Namibia

all seasons in one day 30 °C

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The truck and Namibian roads. Namibia is usually a very dry country, but when we were there it rained almost every day – the most they’d had for many years. The country is being discovered by more and more travellers. The different landscapes are stunning; mountains, deserts, canyons and a wild coastline.

On our second day in the country, we visited Fish River Canyon. On our arrival, the whole place was blanketed in clouds and fog so thick nothing could be seen over the rim. Then, after lunch, it lifted and the whole canyon opened up before our eyes. Truly spectacular, it looked much like the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

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We had the place entirely to ourselves, except for this guy (above, middle) who happened to be the master brewer at Windhoek brewery, our favourite Namibian beer. (I think our truck had about 50 crates of the stuff on it!)

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Loo with a view!

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Namibia is a huge country with a tiny population. It has the second lowest population density of any country on earth, after Mongolia. As a result, most of it is truly wild and totally unspoilt. We did a lot of bush camping in the absolute middle of nowhere, which I really enjoyed.

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Some awesome lightning storms.
This was my favourite bush camp. The sunset was incredible and, later on, there were more stars in the sky than I’ve ever seen before. One of the guys, Lee, knows a thing or two about astronomy and was pointing out the various constellations. Being south of the equator, the Southern Cross was very prominent, and you can also see the Plough (Big Dipper), except it’s upside down – but with no North Star of course; that’s below the horizon.
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The truck tents are very good – extremely durable and easy to put up. I decided to sleep under a mosquito net that night however, so I could see the stars.

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Ostrich and springboks.

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The front of the truck has a raised section with an open roof where you can kneel and stick your head out the top (known as ‘the beach,’ because of all the sand that can collect). This gives awesome views and a face full of wind.

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We visited Sossusvlei, a national park containing the tallest sand dunes in the world.

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Climbing one of the sand dunes. It’s pretty tough going, but brilliant fun running down.

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A few of us had a race, running down an extremely steep dune as fast as we could – you can see the footprints above.

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Dune 45. There was a huge lightning storm when we were up there – arcs of red and blue lightning flashing across the sky. I didn’t stay up there for long, but some of those who did said they could feel the static in the air tingling and a buzzing in their ears.

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That night we had some unwelcome visitors in our camp. Jackals were prowling around after dark; their eyes reflecting the beams of our head torches. Leaving any food out at night is a bad idea. The camel spiders were horrible – they scurried along the ground so fast and had a horrible way of creeping up behind you when you weren’t looking. Not nice in the dark. Scorpions were cool though. I pulled the ladder – a big, heavy thing – down at the back of the truck to get in, and it fell and smashed me on the head. In the seconds afterwards, the only thought that was going through my mind was that, if I fainted, the camel spiders might crawl on me – not the fact that blood was streaming down my face. Scary stuff. All was well in the end though; just a sore neck and back for the next week.

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A pleasant place for lunch.

We spent a few days in the town of Swakopmund, where there was the opportunity to do sand boarding, quad biking and various other activities. Wanting to save some money, I didn’t do any of these and enjoyed spending the time chilling out.

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The Skeleton Coast, so called because of all of the shipwrecks which occur here.

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A bottlenose dolphin skeleton.

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Cape Cross seal colony – home to over 200 thousand cape fur seals. This is their breeding ground; one of the largest in the world.

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At one point, the road deteriorated so much we had to get off the truck to reduce the weight and enable it to get through.

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This little critter shared our bush camp in Spitzkoppe – a place of impressive rock formations.

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Armoured ground cricket

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A small puff adder on the path. Andy, an Aussie guy, was one step away from treading on it and would have done if he hadn’t spotted it at the last moment. That same evening, Lee, the star guy, had a similar experience with a large black spitting cobra in the bushes. Given how far away from civilisation we were in that place, if either of them had been bitten, it could have been extremely serious, possibly fatal. Pretty nerve-racking, going for a pee in the night.

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Lizard near Brandberg mountain. We did a walk in a canyon here to see some rock paintings.

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The paintings were very clear. The locals don’t know how old they are exactly; somewhere between 2000 and 5000 years.

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Riding on the beach, the top part of the truck.

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Bug racing in one of the bush camps. Mastering the art of “making one’s own entertainment with the resources on offer.” I thought my praying mantis would have the edge (by eating its opponents), but it didn’t really want to play ball. Lee’s beetle did, however, and won almost every time.

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Dead puff adder.

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Camp kitchen. That night we ate oryx steak, flame grilled. Possibly the best steak I’ve ever eaten. (I said that about the beef in Buenos Aires didn’t I…) It was beautiful eaten raw too; a lovely flavour and so tender.

There are 24 passengers on the truck, the tour leader (Andi, an Aussie) and driver (Grant/Hastie, a Kiwi). We have eight cook groups and everyone takes it in turns to buy food at local markets and make breakfast, lunch and dinner for the day. So, it’s one day on and seven days off. We’ve had so many excellent meals: game meat, curries, salads, pasta dishes, stir fries, homemade bread, pizzas, stews – it’s amazing what you can make over a fire. Mostly, it depends on where we are and what there is to buy locally. Haven’t had to kill and butcher any of our own meat yet… the guys who came down the west coast, before I got on, said they did this a few times. Not sure I’d be too keen to participate in that one.

We visited a private cheetah park. If cheetahs encroach onto farmers’ land, they usually shoot them, to protect their cattle. These cats are getting very rare in many parts of Africa, so the guys who own this park encourage farmers to allow them to remove the cheetahs and put them in the park, where they are protected. They also had three tame(ish) cheetahs, hand raised from birth living on their farm.

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Falcon, the American.

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Play fight.

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Better than a guard dog!

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On the wall of a bar. Notice the elephant’s “second trunk” on top.

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Why would you not want to pour your drink from a warthog’s arse?!

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Dan – man of many nicknames: cheesebeard/pubeface/garden gnome etc.

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Semi-wild cheetahs in the main part of the park.

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We did a game drive in our truck in Etosha National Park.

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Oryx (also called Gemsbok) – tastes so good!

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Wildebeest.

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Thompson’s gazelle.

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We camped inside the national park, near a waterhole. We sat there for ages in the evening watching a group of black rhinos (the rare ones). It was breathtaking.
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The one lion we saw in the park, the following morning.

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Hornbill.

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Mongooses (mongeese?) at the lodge on the way out of the park.

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Listening to the footie on Lee’s shortwave radio.

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The largest baobab tree in Namibia. We camped near this and, in the night, some people decided to go out for a walk. Unfortunately I didn’t, for they stumbled upon a herd of giraffes and were surrounded by them. Bush camping in the wilds; there’s nothing at all between you and the animals.

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The back of the truck, from the beach. Inward facing seats make it sociable, and the open sides give fantastic views. Plastic sheets can be rolled down over the sides if it gets too dusty or too cold. The truck is so well equipped – everything you need to cook virtually anything over a fire, space for loads of food and water, axes and a chainsaw for collecting firewood, tents – a fully self-contained home away from home.

Posted by AlTiffany2 10:00 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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