Friday, June 13, 2008

African Adventure: Hey, there are meerkats running around! (Dec 30 - Jan 1)

Current Location: Windhoek, Namibia.
Highlights: Meerkats running around, rocking Millenium celebrations in Namibia, Kokerboom forests, Fish River Canyon & very odd goings on with the Landy.
Upcoming: Incredible red sand dunes of Sossusvlei, a German Castle in the desert, and a cheetah conservation reserve.
Current GPS Coordinates: LAT: 22.565.89 LONG: 17.071.82

If you want to visit a country with lots of open space, hardly any people, and where the only tarred roads are the freeways but all the dirt roads are fantastic, come to Namibia. Although under South African rule for many years with independence only in 1990, Namibia is a real contrast to South Africa. I read a book on Namibia about a year ago and ever since I have been fascinated with the country. With wild desert horses of probable German origin, desert elephants and rhinos, incredible huge red sand dunes, the skeleton coast with its ship wrecks, fur seals, and penguins, vast forbidden diamond mining areas, wild cheetah populations, native people like the bushman and Himba, spectacular botanical oddities like the Welwischia and Kokerboom trees, and some incredible off road driving, Namibia is one of Africa’s lesser talked about treasures. In the next few weeks we’ll explore what we can of Namibia and share as much as we can with you.

We’ve been on the road now for several weeks and I think we are starting to settle into some kind of routine or rhythm as we travel now. This first phase, just as you set off is when you start to set up patterns and rhythms for how you will travel. It’s a somewhat frustrating period, but nevertheless important and probably unavoidable. It’s when you find out how to organize and pack those things you use a lot and those you don’t, how often you need to eat, of which details you should keep records, and what were the good and bad ideas. Here is how our last few of the last millenium went. We left Upington in South Africa after deciding that we would drive the 1000 kms + straight to Windhoek which we thought would be a fun place to welcome in the new Millenium being Namibia’s largest city (population: 160 000). However, just after we crossed the South Africa-Namibian border we decided that we would stop by the Fish River Canyon, one of Namibia’s incredible natural wonders. We drove into the area at night and found a place to camp (Canyon Roadhouse). The desert around our camp was alive with small creatures, mostly insects and spiders. Aaron found a huge spider wondering around the camp with his torch and I quickly joined him. It was about as big as an average sized frog and a pale white in colour. This was the fastest spider I had ever seen and we spend the next few minutes running from the spider yelling when it got too close as we spotlighted it with our torches. Then it disappeared off into the desert. Next morning we headed off to see the Canyon (see pic below). We had hopped to do a microlight flight to see the canyon from the air but were told that the guy doing the flights had to stop. Apparently he did not have a commercial license to take paying passengers over the canyon so the authorities shut him down. However, a commercial microlight license does not exist in Namibia. So he was shut down for not having a license that does not exist! The Canyon is pretty spectacular, similar to the Grand Canyon, but not as deep or as large and certainly less touristy. You can do a 5-day hike along the Canyon bottom, but not in the summer months as it too hot.

After the Fish River Canyon we headed off to Keetmanshoop and the Kokerboom forest (see pic below). Kokerboom is Afrikaans for quiver tree. This plant, which is actually a tree sized aloe plant or Aloe dicotoma, got its name from the Bushman who would cut off a branch, hollow out the fibrous inside, and use the cylindrical tough bark case as a quiver for their poisoned arrows. We had parked the Landy under a tree which was full of a very pretty (see pic below) beetle feeding on the trees flowers. Just as we were about to leave I took the customary look under the Landy and decided that one of the new oil leaks needed some attention. While in the Kalahari Gemsbok park the oil pressure light stopped working, which didn’t bother me too much as we also have an oil pressure gauge. I was pretty sure that it was the oil pressure switch as it was leaking oil at the switch, so picked up a new one in Upington. I pulled off the old one and of course the gave me the wrong switch in Upington, so I sealed up the old switch with a rivet and gasket sealant and put it back which fixed the leak from the oil pressure switch. So off we went again en route for Windhoek. About 20 kms down the road the Landy started acting up as if it was running out of fuel. We were very familiar with how it acts when it runs out of fuel as we often run one tank dry and switch to another while driving. However, we were running on the rear tank which we had just filled up. We switched to one of the front tanks and it was fine. I tried switching back to the rear tank but got the same symptoms of fuel starvation. So we stopped and I blow out the fuel lines (very easy) but this did not help and fuel appeared to be flowing form the rear tank and all breathers were fine. So we just ran on the front tank until we got to Hardap Dam where we stayed the night. The Hardap Dam is quick fascinating as it used to have a very large cheetah population. The authorities then moved the cheetahs to other areas where cheetah had been killed by farmers or poachers but didn’t leave a single cheetah in the Hardap area! We left very early the next morning and the guess what? The Landy ran fine from the rear tank. I can only guess that it was a vapor lock problem as its very hot driving through the desert. We made it into Windhoek later that day and have been staying at the Chameleon Backpackers which is very nice. They have two pet Meerkats that are totally adorable and very cute. I’ll post a pic of them in the next diary entry.

We welcomed in the New Year at another backpackers just round the corner with a few beers and lots of cheering followed by a dunk in the pool (actually we were thrown in to the pool). We will leave Windhoek after fixing the oil leaks (it still leaks from the oil filter and from the selector shaft in the gearbox) and I can’t wait to check out the dunes, skeleton coast, Etosha Park, the Himba people, and the cheetah reserve.

No comments: