I hope you've some time to spare.....
Before I start on what can only be described as an Odyssey (and a posting about as long), I have a request. Does anyone know how I can get an Indiana Jones style map on here-the one with the red line covering the globe, so I can track progress (and hum the theme tune). Any comments welcome. Ta.
So after my last post, I wandered back to the hotel where there was no one about-I’d had visions of some sort of mass meet-up, but the hotel didn’t really have the right sort of communal area. Plenty of time to get know everyone once we get on the truck, so wasn’t bothered. Had a long chat with Roger, who’s a nice bloke. He’s retired and basically traveling when the Canadian winter comes. Can’t argue with that-he did a similar sort of tour in Oz. He also seems to have a much better idea of the itinerary and what’s going on than me. A couple of times I am forced to go ‘Oh, yeah’, when he gives me some new information. Can’t help but notice his bag is half the size of mine.
Take my first malaria pill, have mad dreams, listen to Roger’s snoring and get little sleep. So it is that I will start the Cape Town to Nairobi leg having totally failed to get a decent amount of rest. This had been my plan for 2 months. Not much of a project manager in my own life!
For the most part what follows was either written as I went along, or worked up from notes taken on the day or day after. Therefore my impressions of individuals are likely to change, but the idea is to reflect how things were at the time.
The big exception follows: I wrote this one week in. I could never have picked up this many names in a day or two.
Dramatis personae (with apologies for spelling errors)
Roger You’ve already met. Going through to Nairobi.
Oliver Swiss guy a couple of years older than me. Initially a little quiet, but warmed up substantially. Explained his early taciturnity by saying that I was talking so much he had no chance. Top guy.
Milly Scouse bird (hi Milly). Good value. Only other Brit. Only other drinker of any substance. A combination that has reinforced the English stereotype to the others. At least we haven’t started any fights or football chants yet. Going through to Nairobi.
Alex and Jessica German girls, mid twenties. Alex’s English is much better than she thinks, but is a little quiet. Jessica seems formidable. Warming to both of them.
Zachi and Corinne Swiss/Israeli married couple. She’s just qualified as a doctor, which has come in useful. He’s very funny. Very nice.
Hennie and Heirwig Austrian couple: she’s a laugh, his English is a bit limited. Seem nice, probably the people I know least well.
Mya Slovenian girl. Pretty good laugh. Psychologist, which scares me a bit. Am I paranoid Mya?
Didi Danish girl, traveling at the moment, supposed to be going back to a bit of school then uni. Clearly wants to keep traveling. Going through to Nairobi.
Geede Danish lady, English teacher. Done a lot of traveling.
Reine Belgian. Sounds like he runs a Londis. Class.
Frank and Sabina German couple, don’t know her so well. He makes me laugh.
Calisto Our guide. Nice guy. Works very hard.
Eddie (renamed from Edmo). He drives the fastest truck of safari guys in Africa. Top, top bloke.
As you can see, we’re quite lucky to be mainly conversing in English-this could have been a German language trip.
Another time, I may try and find movie characters to fit each one, but I’m on the clock here. Time is money and all. Basically, a good group. If the second leg is as good, will be very lucky.
Truck travelling distance 300 km
At breakfast I decide to be sociable and head for German girls table (taking Roger with me); conversation is a bit stilted and for the second time I begin wondering if I am doing the right thing. For the second time, I realise in no time, this was a dumb response. Meet some more folk at the welcome meeting, few laughs and we’re on the truck. I’m up for this.
Half way up the stairs onto the bus, the prettiest girl asks me sit with her at the front (Mya). Great seat, great companion-we spend a lot of the journey chatting. This also gives a massive Billy Bragg earworm with the ‘prettiest girl in school’ line from ‘Mother of the Bride’. It hard to see how it gets much better than this.
Slight bit of tent share politics ensues as we get off at the waterfront in Cape Town to get supplies. Oliver very earnestly asks me to share a tent with him-he hasn’t liked the look of the other 2 single guys as roomies. This makes me very uncomfortable as Roger is assuming that I will share with him, so I prevaricate. Later I end up sharing with Oliver-the irony being was the prize for Roger is a single tent-Reine has paid a single supplement. Gedde has done the same, so Milly also has a tent to herself. The 3 of us become tent buddies, putting the tents up and down in a tag team stylee. [1 week in and Oliver and I have managed 5 tents as our record for being dragged in to help. We must be very nice guys.]
I get very overexcited by the truck-it has hidey holes all over the place including one for firewood. It would make a great kid’s toy, if scaled down and made of plastic. Lunch amazing-lots of salad and fruit.
Tents are good: we get a demo on how to put them up. Although they are not too modern, the mechanics are and 5-10 mins is enough to put them up. Roomy inside. I can even get my bag in.
Essentially this is a short day and there’s not much in Lambert’s bay. Saw goats cows sheep and the still exciting ostrich on the drive. It’s been a warm up to learn lunch drills, tent erection, meet everyone and give out the safe keys.
There are two keys for ‘our’ safe; Calisto does not keep one. Somehow I end up with both (I’m not sure who thinks I am the man for the job). I have hell’s own job getting rid of the other key-everyone claims ineptitude-I’m told how ditzy people are, how many keys they’ve lost and so on. Eventually, Frank steps up: good work from the big man.
I'm also somehow in charge of the cooler (I’m sitting near it): having been self-christened the cooler king, I wait for someone else to see fit to call me Hilts. No one does, but I’m Steve McQueen in my head and that’s good enough for me.
By the end of the day I already seem to have the class clown role. Milly is treating me with similar contempt to Zoe
We have dinner out, I’m pleased there are 5 veggies-tho the others eat fish. At dinner, I forget to take my malaria pill until the table is clear, so I take it with no water in a suicide attempt. Heimlich manoeuvre was narrowly avoided!
There may not have been much in Lambert’s bay, but I’ve had a great day. I'm going to enjoy this
We head to Orange river-the border between Namibia and SA. I get a hot shower at 6 am and then have the ‘I’ve lost the safe key’ panic-it was in a safe place. Resolve for the thousandth time in my life never to put things in ‘safe places’ as you can never find them again.
I am getting so cheerful, grinning so much and am so overexcited about everything I am becoming Parker from Friends. May be bugging myself soon. Not yet though. After last night’s fiasco, I am pleased to find a malaria buddy to help me remember to take the pills.
We reach an amazing camp site, which just a left turn before the border bridge. The volleyball court is overlooked by showers, the wc has an open roof and this is the view from the bar.
We have a camp fire, no singing and a great stir fry. Tomorrow is an early rise and we have the first disquiet in the ranks-Jessica has a ‘I'm sorry I'm on holiday’ moment. As everyone expects she is up at the mentioned time, as it gets too hot to stay in the tent. I think it sounds worse than it is, lost in translation a little. I cringe anyway.
After dinner we have star gazing (the sky is amazing here and part moons look like smiley faces; the moon seems rotated 90 degrees or so). The other main activity involves making me the butt of jokes-I get accused of being pissed on 2 beers and from London, aside from that it’s all very good natured!
Last to bed.
I get up 5.45 to watch sunrise over the mountains, which arrives 6.10 and is spectacular. Across the river in Namibia it was even more striking. There is so much life about-especially this early. There are little birds in camp, large flocks over river, some skimming, fish jumping, all accompanied by a bird and insect chorus. I reflect on how this contrasts with traditional media views of Africa.
Bit of breakfast before we go canoeing. Nimrod the dog comes to join us, but Eddie chases him off with a brush.
I’m told we can take cameras on the canoe trip, but decide not to after Hermanus. Nice, gentle paddle through the mountains. At one stage we watch an iguana swimming across from Namibia to SA-I didn’t even know they swam (I’m canoeing with Milly and we initially the iguana is a stick). We also see an impressive bright red bird-no one knows anything about birds it transpires. Milly say we need to get a book on African birds, good call I reckon. I think I recognise a crane. Really good way to spend a morning.
I even manage to get rid of the safe key for the duration of the trip.
I have already got zebra feet (stripes of tan and white on feet, which match the straps on my action sandals). This freaked me out in Benicassim in July; now I don’t care.
Today is a border day, and after canoeing the guys went for a fax while we chilled (and I treated the sunburn on the old legs). We get delayed to 4, then get a new fax with the correct vehicle reg on it (the initial reason for the delay). We need 2 more faxes at border-there’s a funny line on one copy and a fuzzy number on another. Guards are clearly being difficult and pedantic, couple of folk get a little uptight. Most people and shrug and utter the ‘this is Africa’ mantra.
The delays mean we miss fish river canyon at sunset, but we see kudu, ostrich, springbok and maybe a zebra on the way (pretty dark at that point). For the first time tent erection is in the dark (the van’s lights try to floodlight our site). I’m getting on well with Oliver, who's having a good laugh at the Germans (he’s a Swiss German speaker, not a German speaker he tells me). There’s mention that we should look out for scorpions (cue wind of change earworm) and we head for dinner, where I get informed that we’ll be getting up for sunrise the next two days. So that’ll be a hat trick for me; only slightly regretful at this morning’s early start.
For dinner I have the greatest couscous ever cooked (only veggie option, which I order with a heavy heart): it bears no resemblance to sawdust. I didn’t know it was possible to do that with couscous. Perhaps the tree blossom falling in my food is causing it. I lose it totally after a couple of beers, as I’m a touch tired. This is not good as when we return the camp 4 or 5 tents have blown over or made their way out of camp. We resecure the tent and put the lid on to keep out the pony amount of rain that arrives. We are treated to thunder and lightning in the distance later
When I clean my teeth, I fail to take the wind into account when spitting out the toothpaste and it goes all over Alex. It had been a long day.
NEED TO SPEED UP THE WRITING HERE, WILL LEAVE MORE NOTES AND EXPAND LATER. THIS IS GETTING PRETTY MAMMOTH.
I’m still awake at 2-the wind and the rebuilding excitement keep me up.
The alarm rings at 5 to go to fish river canyon, which is now 25km in wrong direction. There must be something in the malaria pills-I’m cheery and energetic packing up camp.
See mountain zebra on the way, which confirms that I had seen one last night. Lot of ostrich activity too.
Early start is so worth it-we are stood to the canyon's east as the sun rose and I am sure this view is better than the sunset would have been.
Me, Jimmy White, Milly, Geede and Mya. It's a bit windy.
We walk a couple of km in the cool to the breakfast Calisto has prepared. Helpers group 3 (Didi, Mya, Oliver and myself) swing into action: each day a group helps with a small amount of the communal chores. We deviously created our group the previous night-not sure why really.
On the drive we see 1 waterhole with water, likewise 1 river, but most rivers are dry-no mud, just rocks, sand and dust.
We have a shopping stop and I buy more sunscreen-my legs still under wraps after kayaking.
Tomorrow is another dawn start-this time for sunrise on the dunes. Then there’s an optional walking tour. Stamina may be in question by day 40.
Physical conditioning is made worse by staying in the bar with Milly till past closing time. Last to bed again.
Day 6-Near death experience
Up 4.45, leave at 5.10 for sunrise at the sand dunes.
If anyone ever suggests a pleasant stroll up a sand dune to you, then prepare. Get oxygen and a paramedic helicopter on stand by. Have an early night. Stay off the booze.
I have done none of these things. I find this very hard work-I’m not alone, but watching Geede bound up the damn when she’s 48 next week isn’t great for my mental shape.
Dune 45 is a 120m high dune-I am later told that walking along the apex of the dune is not the way to climb. In fact it was bloody murder and apparently equivalent to climbing 3 times the height on a hill (which isn’t that much). Resolve again to get in shape and review my decision to follow the training programme of the Ultimate Olympian.
Sunrise is special tho (not least as I can drink water and get my breath back). I end up coughing every time I laugh for the rest of the day. Find a great technique for running back down the dune, which is lots of fun and brings me to my scrambled egg breakfast.
The walking tour is taken by Bushman Boesman, who is barefoot and Namibia’s answer to Steve Irwin. Some highlights include him finding and showing us a trapdoor spider’s home, catching a lizard (partly with his hat), showing us how much life there is in the desert, explaining that the current green areas are rare due to high rains, which seeds can last years without. He shows us trees that have been dead for 800 years (I later discover we are camping under 800 year old trees), plans with roots 50-80 metres DEEP, the fruit that gemsbok (oryx) eat: he refuses to open it at as it would be a waste and take it away from the gemsbok. He tells us human’s walking won’t harm the animals, but 4x4 are very damaging. He leaves everything as he finds it, is most impressive, walks amazingly fast and should have his own TV show.
He also told us that we can sand dive down the last dune. This may have been mistake for me, after I bellyflop and slide down 100m there’s not a lot of skin left on those sunburnt legs. When I the photo of yours truly covered in sand off Milly, then I will post it here.
My legs are such a mess that I ask Corinne to look at, she assures me that they are not going to go septic and she won’t need to amputate. She gave me some stuff and cleaned me up. Am really grateful.
We do a sunset canyon visit, which is a bit lame (partly as I am now a zombie). Saw a snake, Milly pokes at with a stick. I left. We found out later it was harmless.
For dinner we millie bob, which is a maize porridge and African staple. You eat it with your hands and it’s good.
Stay up chatting with Milly. Last to bed again, despite feeling near collapse in the canyon. Maybe I’ll sleep on the bus tomorrow, yeah right.
Think we saw an antelope on the way back-there had been one about the bar earlier.
I watch some squirrels after breakfast, before getting on the truck. It’s been nice to spend 2 nights on the same sight and now we head to Swakopmund for two nights in a lodge, rather than under canvass.
My leg is much better and no longer looks like it’s going septic. May be able to wear shorts before the week is out.
I move to back of truck, which keeps everyone happy until Oliver points out the increase in noise level. Despite recent tiredness have a determination to sort out a night out for tonight. There’s not in Swako in my opinion (it’s an adrenalin, adventure activity kind of place and as I’ve decided to bail on sand boarding, I’m not now sure what to do). I’ll get my washing done, maybe blog, and charge up the electrics. Realsie with some disappointment that I’ve had no more malaria dreams-Milly dreamt Roger was dioing brain surgery on her. Need Mya to look at that.
Ain't i-pod swappin great. Tip of the day-go to I-tunes and download Weird Al Yankovic's ‘I bought it on e-bay’, a song of our times-hilarious and on the money. It will be my first download when I get back-and I just discovered I don't have ring of fire by Johnny Cash. I also want a t-shirt with the ‘I bid on Shatner’s toupee’ line.
As we approach Swapokmund, I was musing on overrlanding. A quick bit of sums says we've covered about 2000 km in a week, some roads have rocked us in an Alton Towers style and you do sometimes see a car's dust cloud before the car itself-not a movie fabrication. That's a lot of time on the bus, but I think it's given me some important perspectives. Most obviously the vastness of the area and the small number of people and human settlements. I won't pretend to understand the geography, but it's been fascinating to watch it evolve over the miles on the road, rather than fly between destinations and be merely struck by the contrasts. A great way to see a place and get a sense of it, if you have the time.
On the other hand, we only had an hour or so at fish river canyon, which can be a drawback. 4 of us go to Nairobi-we have time, the other 12 return to their jobs-I wonder how equivalent their experience is? When travelling while I was employed, delays and missed opportunities frustrated me greatly-I felt somehow up against the clock, even away from work. This could just be me, but my Jedi powers have sensed similar disturbances in the force around the others. I feel my whole perspective has changed-although I’m not getting much sleep, my attitude is chilled. I’m more interested in other people, more reflective on my experiences, have made more effort to involve myself in the group, have looked to involve others more rather than being obsessed with self-reliance and I’m enjoying my role as class clown. Perhaps most importantly, I’m living in the now, which I’ve not been very good at in the past.
I think this is all good.
Oh, and we've crossed the tropic of Capricorn-group photos are a problem as I haven't used the self timer on my camera and none are on my camera. Hopefully I can get one off Oliver.
We watch some Flamingo friends at lunch and it is the best lunch so far, it marked the first appearance of avocado.
We go to the adventure activities and are shown a 10 minute DVD of what’s available. Looks a bit touristy and the saleswoman is awful, but a couple of lunatics are going sky diving. I’ll be quad biking tomorrow after much group hand wringing. Looks a little lame, but most of us are going. Bit sanitised and touristy for me, but may be able to spice it up as I did snowmobiling a few years back.
Zachi wanted to paintball.
Zachi used to be in the Israeli army.
For 6 years.
Zachi commanded 250 men.
He spent time in Lebanon.
He’s paint balled before.
He said it was fun.
He shot his wife in the arse.
From 2 metres.
No one else wanted to go paintballing.
My safe job ends in tears after our visit to the adventure activity centre-we had to clear the truck out, so it can be cleaned tomorrow. In handing back everyone's stuff, I was viciously assaulted by Milly after she thought I had pretended to be unable to find her stuff in the safe. Her document wallet was the same size as the safe and it looked like the safe wall to me. Further safe woes ensued when I locked all of Oliver and my stuff in our hotel safe, before I changed the combination. So, we’re locked out of it. I’m told this can be fixed tomorrow.
That really is enough for now!