Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tuesday, July 29th, Hotel Zum Kaiser, Swakopmund, Namibia


First, let me apologize for not providing some commentary on an important wildlife sighting on Friday.  You might have noticed a few shots of two cheetahs walking near some trees in the distance.  We saw some trucks parked ahead of us, and as we approached were told that they had seen some cheetahs on the ridge line across the valley to our right.  Backing up quickly, and looking out the windows to our far right, we saw three oryx running full speed with a large trail of dust behind them.  Not far behind in the dust, we saw the cheetah chasing them.  Grabbing our cameras, and readying them for shots, we saw the second cheetah, and a small jackal trailing behind.

Soon, as usual, the cheetahs slowed, and the oryx opened up a big distance between them and the cheetahs.  By then, we had stopped the truck, and were aiming our cameras in the right place.  Thus, the shots you see are of them sauntering over to some trees (to mark them) on the far side of the grassland.  The whole thing took probably two minutes, but was very exciting.

Today, we made a long drive up the west coast of Namibia to the coastal town of Swakopmund.  On the way, we saw some of the most exotic and amazing geology there exists.  The Nambian desert, and the geology around it, illustrates the last half billion years very well.  And tells the story of the last 20 million years in exact detail in full color.

To see the photos we took today, just in case I can't get to it, click on: Tuesday, July 29th, Hotel Zum Kaiser, Swakopmund, Namibia.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday, July 28th, Desert Camp, Sossusvlei, Namibia


Many million years ago, the earth in the middle of Namibia lifted up about a thousand meters.  It's called the great escarpment.  What storms traveled east from the Atlantic crashed into that wall, eroded it and caused both a slope of eroded rock, and a river flowing back to the Atlantic.

The winds in this area flow like the water and the storms - east to west, and west to east.  Paralleling the beach, these dunes built to huge proportions, and created a virtual sand dam on the river a few miles from the beach.   A reservoir of water existed and life blossomed.
That lasted a while, until a line of dunes east of the dam created another one upriver.  That dried up the first, and it became the "dead pan" we hiked to this morning.

Local trees, dated at 800 years old still stand in the pan, and provide some nice seats in the amphitheater of majestic views.

Tomorrow, we have another long drive north and west to the coast of Namibia.  I may get to actually dip my toes in the Atlantic.

To see the rest of the photos we took today, click on Monday, Desert Camp, Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Sunday, July 27th, Desert Camp, Sossusvlei, Namibia


Another traveling day, deeper into the desert.  We're driving on an ancient seabed, bordered by an escarpment left over from the splitting of the continents, and the Atlantic ocean.  It's been scraped once or twice by glaciers, and split a few times after the big one.  A truly fantastic paintbrush of geological shapes and colors.

The tour guides have the routes planned so that we get toilet breaks mostly every two hours, and we stop somewhere for lunch around noon.  Today's lunch stop was in a town recommended to Kiboko recently, and the cafe also contained a classic old car, and a menagerie of garden ducks, geese, and a cat.

The mountains in Namibia all seem to be floating on a sea of yellow grass which appears to be rising upward and sometimes contains lake mirages.  It's broken up by plumes of dust as another car approaches in the distance.

The Desert Camp where we will be staying for the next two nights is on the edge of a huge mass of sand dunes in western Namibia.  Tomorrow, we'll be doing another all day drive and hike to a popular old dried up reservoir (called a "pan").  Surrounded by immense sand dunes, it is often featured in science fiction movies.

To see the rest of the photo taken on our transit today, click on Sunday, Desert Camp, Sossusvlei, Namibia.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Saturday, July 26th, Canyon Lodge, Fish River Canyon, Namibia


The day started out right, our covering 300 kilometers and arriving at the South Africa – Botswana border at about 2pm.  Well, not exactly the border, m This 38,000 hectare joint park has an entrance where your visa is stamped out of South Africa, but you don’t enter Botswana or Namibia until you exit the park on the other side.  Each country shares the money you spend inside, and park staff work for a third-party contractor.
ore like a mutually- controlled, free trade zone known as the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.

But the park actually belongs jointly to the local successors to the Bush tribesman and the colored peoples of South Africa.  We’re staying at the House Lodge, an elegant elevated series of wooden cabins and walkways above the ground in the midst of a huge sand-duned grassland.

But back to entering the park.  About twenty miles up the road, while photographing some antelope, our front left tire went flat.  Now, this is in an area where little to no cell phone coverage exists, and not many people travel.  And if you remember our fat tire on the first tour, the problem was that the lug nuts were tightened so much that they could not be loosened to change the tire.   Ditto. 

Two hours later, with the help of a park visitor who gave Kembo a ride back to the entrance gate, and two park staff who brought him back and helped provide extra weight on the pipe which was used to crack the lug nuts, we were on our way very late to our next stop. 

But what a stop it was.  The plan was to meet up with staff from the lodge 50 miles into the park, and transfer to a large four-wheel drive truck.  That’s the only way to get to the lodge, as its 50 miles farther across 90 sand huge dunes.  Just before we got to the trnsfer point, we spotted a leopard which had just killed an Africa squirrel, on the side of a hill about 150 feet from us.   Playing with it, like any cat does with its food, we took dozens and dozens of photos.  Unfortunately, we had to leave long before we wanted to, in order to make our connection.

The location and environment is almost beyond description.  Reached by driving many miles of sand dunes, the cabins overlook a huge dry red-sand waterhole resting under the biggest, brightest sky you can imagine.

In our two days at !Xaus Lodge, we did morning, afternoon, sunset, and night game walks and drives.  They were all mesmorizing.  Combined with great meals and the serenity of your dreams, we felt like we were in quite another world.

To see the photos we took on Wednesday and Thursday, click on: Wednesday and Thursday.
To see the photos we took on Friday, click on: Friday
To see the photos we took on Saturday, click on: Saturday.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tuesday, July 22nd, Vergelegen Guest House, Augrabies Falls National Park, South Africa

Each day, we rotate seat placements to partly get to know each other better, assure some equity of window photo opportunity (though most times lately we get out), and because most of us want to have a full two-seat position – possible for all but one of us with the current load.  It’ll get near impossible on the weekend when we have 14 people and 16 seats.

Five hundred kilometers went by quickly today (fewer road blocks), and we transitioned from deep agricultural lands to marginally possible to raise sheep.  The McCooks have been fun to be around during this time especially because they raise sheep in Australia, and he (Cookie) is the guy who sizes up the quality and weights of sheep back home when they are being sold to buyers (bound for China these days).  They are great to talk with, and we hope to visit them when we take our great Australian travel about.
Those strange looking grass balls perched in the top of telephone poles are the colonies of nests of social weavers.  They even invite small potential prey (kestrel falcons) to the colony because the falcons protect them from snakes.

After lunch, we arrived at Augrabies Falls National Park, where if we'd been here a couple of years ago, we'd have been drenched in the parking lot from the flood of water coming over the falls.  As it was today, we watched much less water spill down the Orange River over a really gorgeous canyon.  
And we were joined by a beautiful gecko named after the park,
and a baboon who kept a very close eye on us.  These locals have learned to open car doors, slip inside narrow windows, and appear to be well on their way to hijacking ATM machines.

For the next few days, we head into Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park on the border between South Africa, Namibia, and Botswana.  We'll be game hunting again, and operating off generators and salt-water desalination.  Back again posting by the weekend.

To see the photos we took today, click on Tuesday, July 22nd, Vergelegen Guest House, Augrabies National Park, South Africa.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday, July 21st, Calvinia, South Africa


Calvinia is like Craddock, only a smaller town (four main streets).  The museum was also the town’s synagogue.  We’re lodged in connected stucco structures on a main street which contain quaint little living rooms, bedrooms, and bathrooms with furniture dating from the early 1900’s.   
Today was a driving day, and our first day with this tour group and larger tour vehicle.  There are currently nine travelers, and we’ll pick up five more in a few days.  The seats sit higher off the ground, but the first step up to the bus is lower, to Pat’s delight.  
Kembo had ambitions of getting us here earlier in the day (2pm), but the road work delayed us again until 4pm.  It matters when planning rest and toilet stops, and we did have one side of the road ablution.  Once we checked in, we walked a few blocks to the museum and back.  We’re all having dinner at the hotel’s main facility at 7pm, and I’ll upload this from their wifi while there.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, July 21st, Calvinia, South Africa.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday, July 20th, Breakwater Lodge, Cape Town, South Africa

In our last day in Cape Town, we chose to go to the Kirstenbosch Gradens. Kirstenbosch was established in 1913 to promote, conserve and display the extraordinarily rich and diverse flora of southern Africa, and was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country's indigenous flora.
Kirstenbosch displays a wide variety of the unique plant life of the Cape Flora, also known as fynbos, including sugarbushes , pincushions and heaths . Plants from all the diverse regions and biomes of southern Africa are also grown at Kirstenbosch, including a near-complete collection of cycads . The Botanical Society Conservatory is a custom-built glasshouse to grow and display plants from the arid regions that cannot survive outdoors.
There are over 7 000 species in cultivation at Kirstenbosch, including many rare and threatened species.  Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden lives up to its reputation as the most beautiful garden in Africa and one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Few gardens can match the sheer grandeur of the setting of Kirstenbosch, against the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

Tomorrow, we leave for our second tour.  We'll be traveling for four days up the west coast of South Africa, eleven days in Namibia, four days in Botswana, and the last two in Zimbabwe at Victoria Falls.  Stay tuned for lots of photos and commentary.

To see the photos we took there, click on Kirstenbosch Gardens.