My main purpose of doing this tour was that I really wanted to see the towns in the southern part of Namibia. If I didn't do this tour, my options were to take a 20 hour bus to Windhoek, the capital, then find day tours to go out to some of the places. Due to an almost non-existent public transportation system, I wouldn't be able to stop through some of these smaller towns. Additionally, Soussisvlei, one of the main highlights boasting commanding sand dunes, would also cost me at least $150-$300 to do for either a day trip or a weekend tour. So for almost $700, I pulled the trigger and decided that it was better if I joined the 6 night, 7 day tour that would take me and 22 others from the cities of Cape Town and Citrusdal in South Africa onwards to Fish River Canyon, Sossusvlei, Solitaire and Swakopmund. The tour would include tenting equipment, 3 meals a day, guides and some activities.
The place that I booked my tour out of, DeTour Africa, http://www.detourafrica.co.za/ was of great help. Located at the 'beginning' of Long Street - one of the main centers of night life in Cape Town, they are your one stop resource center for getting you around to see all the beauties that Africa, not just South Africa, has to offer. Rob, was really helpful and helped me sort myself out for this trip. Since I had time, I actually wanted to go all the way through Namibia and up through Zimbabwe via Botswana since I had already changed my departure date once and extended my stay for an additional month. So Rob had found me a seat on a trip led by Nomad Tours (http://www.http//www.nomadtours.co.za), that was actually going up to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, departing from Cape Town on Wednesday, July 21. This was perfect for me because I was picking up my passport from the Russian consulate on the 20th. Fortunately (it was close to $2,000!) or unfortunately though, the 21 day tour was already booked BUT there was an available seat to participate in the first 7 days of the tour which would take me from Cape Town to Swakopmund. With the Word Cup and the influx of tourists that South Africa had seen at this time, I was to consider myself lucky that I could actually get a spot (5 days) before departure. So I booked the tour and was hoping that it would be a good decision. The only thing that I had to do was buy a sleeping bag which I wasn't happy about because I have a beautiful $200 sleeping back sitting in storage back home. Thankfully, the sleeping bag only cost me about $20 and probably saved me more money than I had anticipated!
Besides the fact that I had no internet connection (teasing, I'm not that bad…or am I?), it was actually a great trip. We were led by a great crew: Sizibo and Norman, both from Zimbabwe. We also had a volunteer German translator, Britta who was Ghanaian but born and bred in Germany....
We traveled north to Namaqualand and it was a long day on the bus. Much of the day was spent on the road until we finally settled in a town just off the Orange River. This river is what divides the countries of Namibia and South Africa and is the natural boundary line between the two countries. The following morning we had the option of going out kayaking on the Orange River. It sounded tempting…NOT for $40. I could go kayaking and have gone kayaking in other more exciting places. There were 3 others though that did opt to do the kayak and so they were waking up early the next morning while the rest of us got a treat and were able to sleep in for a few hours. I had to wake up early the last few days, my weekend road trip, Cape Peninsula, picking up my passport, tour, 7AM departure the earlier day so this late departure was warmly welcomed!
Much of our routine was to pull up into a town an hour or so prior to sunset, set up our tent, dinner then midway through dinner, our 'family meeting' to discuss the two most impending issues: what time is breakfast and what time are we leaving? Whatever breakfast time was, we needed to allot enough time to wake up, get ready, take down our tents, store them away, load our bags into the van, get ready for breakfast, have breakfast, and then head out. Most of the places that we stopped at also typically had some type of bar since we didn't have an early start on Day 3, a bunch of us ventured out to the bar for drinks. Not much to do though when the bar closes early (11PM) but we managed to make the most of it. Most of my nights camping out, I was in bed well before midnight. Can you believe it? This is what happens when you don't have the internet to keep you up!
The following morning, we leisurely rolled out of our tents and then through the town of Springbok. We stopped in Springbok for an hour or so while our cook went to buy groceries and before we crossed over into Namibia. While in the town, I went with my new (Canadian) friend to a doctor. Spencer wasn't feeling well having just barely recovered from tonsillitis the week before. It was the first time to have gone to a doctor's office in a foreign country (outside of the time I lived in Japan). Springbok was a small town and the doctor's office was the type of office you'd imagine finding in a small town...small residential home with a small "Dr." sign out front. Luckily, we were able to find a doctor (after going door to door for a couple of houses) that was able to see him. The doctor gave him a prescription, which is what he wanted, and we were back in town 15 minutes later getting some drugs for the boy. It was actually quite interesting, I thought, that when he went to collect his prescription, they handed him his medicine in a caged box. I don't really take medicine, grew up not taking it but I have had to pick up some travel prescription in the last couple of years (Malarone = malaria drug), but this was something that I had never seen before. I thought it was funny and had to snap a photo. I suppose they do it so people won't steal it before paying (that was my assumption) but couldn't someone easily not pay and just walk out with the hand-carry cage of pills?
Left the town and made it to border control. It was a bit of a non-event without much people at the border nor was there any hoopla. I was reprimanded for taking photos at the border. Well, what got me was that there was a guy outside wearing a shirt from Hawaii! I had to take the photo!
Before sunset, we headed out to Fish River Canyon and got to see one of the most beautiful sites that we had seen up until that point. Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa. I was told that it was second in the world to none other than our very own, the Grand Canyon, but just as I went online to validate my points, I found that the Yarlung Zangbo Grand Canyon in Tibet was discovered to be the largest canyon in the world as recent as 1994; now I know where I need to go when I'm in Tibet! Anyway, regardless of how Fish River Canyon ranks to its counterparts across the world, it was still an amazing sight nonetheless. We got to walk around along the edges of the canyon and enjoy the breathtaking sunset.
Sossusvlei is a mud pan created by a river that flows through the Namib every 5 to 10 years. Even in very wet years it does not reach the Atlantic Ocean but drains away between the dunes of Sossusvlei. Sossus means "place of no return" (note: there are other explanations, this is the one given by local guides).Dead Vlei
The mud from the river stacks up at Sossusvlei and after some 1000 years the river searches its way through the next row of dunes. This is how the place called Dead Vlei was created, here the river used to drain away many years ago. Because of the lack of water all the trees in this valley have died, so the meaning of "Dead Vlei" becomes clear.
What makes the sight of the Dead Vlei so remarkable is that there is not even moisture enough for normal decomposition to occur. So all the trees here, though dead, have been nearly perfectly preserved for centuries.
There was nothing in Solitaire (the name says it all) except for these sinfully delicious apple pies freshly made here daily! Supposedly there was a Dutchman who decided to create a town here. When we were talking to the manager here, we were told that it was owned by a young man in his 30s but upon further research, it appears that the original development of this town happened in 1948 and that the town was eventually sold to someone else. What I didn't know was how this town was named and again thanks to Wikipedia.org I can offer an explanation:
The area was named Solitaire by Elsie Sophia van Coller (wife of Willem Christoffel van Coller). The name was chosen because of two meanings. Solitaire can mean a single set diamond and Solitaire can also mean solitude or loneliness. Combined these two meanings create the definition of being unique or one-of-a-kind and a precious but solitary place.This area was also one of the only places with a gas station between Sossusvlei and Swakopmund and Sossusvlei and the capital city of Windhoek. The town was quiet and of course I went to bed again early while some of the younger ones, and my tent mate, partied until the wee hours of the morning.
The following morning we drove out to Swakopmund which meant that my part of the tour would be nearing its end. Before stopping in Swakopmund though, we did a short stop at Walvis Bay for lunch. It was a nice lunch as we got to see flamingos! I had never imagined seeing flamingos in the wild! For some reason, I always associate these birds with the zoo and never considered their natural habitat. It was amazing to see flocks of them standing in the water with their stick legs.
Swakopmund which is located on the western coast of Namibia is a favorite city for many. One thing that I noticed about this town was how so much German architecture was still present. Namibia was formerly a German colony which I was led to believe happened over a long period of time. What I later learned however was that Namibia was only colonized by the Germans from 1894-1918. Considering that it was only 24 years under German rule, there is still a big chunk of a German presence left here. I also learned that during their time in Namibia (1904-1907), the local population (Herero and Namaqua peoples) had both tried to fight off their colonial oppressors and were fought off in what is known as the Herero and Namaqua Genocide where most of the population were killed, to the close point of extermination, a majority through starvation and the people drinking the water that was intentionally contaminated by the German military. Some have even noted that the procedure in which these mass killings were carried out were used as a model for the Holocaust that was to come later in World War II. It's sad how these grave acts against people are not more widely known and had it not been for my travels there, I would not have known about it. Supposedly a formal apology was issued by the German government as recently as in 2004.
The following day I would be separating the rest of the tour. How quickly the time went and I was so grateful for all that I was able to see! It's funny that for such a short time, 7 days (technically), I grew so close with my fellow tour mates. There's something about sharing an experience that is very meaningful to you. Even if the experience was very brief, all those involved form a very close connection. Same can be said of my 10 months studying abroad in Japan. Some of my closest friends today are the ones that I met on those 10 months abroad. One is actually going to come see me in Russia…but that's another story for another time…
So, I know all of you are wondering what happened to my 38 year old friend who became friendly with the 20 year old…well, as the days had gone by, especially after Solitaire, they started to get a bit more friendly and you'd often see them together but not doing anything that would label them as a couple. By the time my part of the tour was ending though, they were getting quite chummy…
And what would I do now that the tour was ending for me? Luckily, there was another girl, Antonia, who was also ending her tour with me. It turned out that she had about 5 days left before she needed to make it back to Johannesburg to catch her flight back to Paris. She had thought about renting a car and I was keen on going along with her. We weren't sure how much it was going to cost us but we were both set on trying to get around in the cheapest possible way…my kind of girl! So even though my travels with Nomad was ending, a new adventure was going to start (at least for the next 5 days) with my new partner-in-crime!