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Saturday, September 11, 2010

And then there were two…

Day 53 - Day 62

The following morning, Antonia and I were off. Jolanda was sweet enough to wake up early and have breakfast with us at 7:00AM even though it was one of the few days that she'd be able to sleep in. We had a nice breakfast at the place we were staying at and Spencer even woke up to say good-bye; by 7:20AM we were on our way.

Two nights earlier, Antonia and I went around town trying to get rental car prices. Apparently because it was peak season (or maybe it had to do with the World Cup just ending) there were no cars available! We decided to stop in the visitor's center and the lady suggested a local company stating that she always preferred to help the local companies. Later, I would find out that these local companies paid them a commission.

Anyway, we got in touch with Silvester who was willing to rent us a car for N$380/day, $50 a day. I didn't really want to pay $25 a day but what were my options? I had come all the way to Namibia and I wasn't going to see the sights? My option was that I could join a tour but that would be significantly more. So Antonia and I agreed we would rent the car for a minimum of three days (this was the minimum amount of days to qualify for unlimited km otherwise, they only allow you 200km per day at ND0.20 for any additional km driven). Antonia was planning to book a flight out from Windhoek back to Johannesburg in time to catch her flight back to Paris so we would need to drop the car back in Windhoek. This would cost us an additional N$600. It was adding up but again, this was still going to be the cheapest alternative for me. So we agreed, and Silvester said he would come by at 2:00PM the following day to drop the car.

Instead of Silvester, someone else came and dropped the paperwork off and had us sign some papers. Being a small company, it was a bit nerve-racking signing these papers. Instead of the standard insurance, we were asked to give our credit card number and in case of any damage, we would be charged a maximum of N$9,800 ($1350) which wasn't too bad but it still didn't rest well with us that they had our credit card number. Then after discussing with Sizzy, our tour guide, and the guy who brought the car, they discouraged us from going that night and that our plan to go to Cape Cross was a bit unrealistic since the seal colony at Cape Cross was part of a National Park so opening and closing times were directly related to the sun. So since it was almost 3:00PM, and over 150km away, we would probably not make it by sunset and after we got there, we would have nowhere to stay. So we were able to ask the guy if we could start our rental from the following morning. He agreed and also left the car for us so we could have an early start. So we scored with an extra day although we didn't take advantage!
Our rental for $50/day!
The other thing that we didn't have that Antonia wanted to get was a tent…up until then we had all of the equipment provided to us by Nomad. But did we really need one for 5 days? If it's going to cost a lot of money, would it really be worth it? We were recommended to go to the local sporting goods store. When we had gone after booking our car, they were already closed for the day but we had caught one of the employees coming out and he told us that it would probably cost us close to $100. We had almost given up on the idea but then the following night, I had gone to the local museum and afterwards had about an hour and a half before I needed to go pick up my sandboarding video so stopped at a supermarket to pick up some food and see if they had any tents. I was thrilled to see that they had a couple different ones. At first I found one for almost $60 which looked pretty nice but would it be worth it? Then I found one, a small tent, for just $40! It would work out to only $20 each! I wasn't sure if Antonia would approve, it was the first time that I'd be purchasing a tent so I checked that I'd be able to return it and that they were open early the next day since we were planning to leave shortly after 7AM. After I got back to the backpackers, Antonia was equally excited about the tent so we were set and ready for the adventure ahead of us!

On the day of departure we started out towards Cape Cross. We were going there to see the seal colony. I had expected to see something like what you see at the pier in San Francisco but it was NOWHERE close to that! Oh my goodness there must have been 10,000 seals! Seriously! There was a terrible stench that lingered but after being there for 15 minutes or so, I got used to the smell though Antonia didn't. After admiring and learning about the Cape Cross Seal, we ventured around and walked off the beaten path. I'm not sure if we were allowed to be there but there were no signs that said we couldn't and we could see footprints in the sand so we figured it was okay. We didn't see much with our venturing except for a few bones, mostly baby seal carcasses.

Originally we had wanted to go down Skeleton Coast because we had heard that we could see skeletons and some shipwrecks but were advised that we shouldn't take our car out there especially because our car was older (1993ish?). But when we were speaking with the lady at Cape Cross, she said that we could and should go; that it was no problem! So, since that's what we wanted to hear, we decided to go for it! Talk about owning the road! I think we only saw about 4 other cars driving that day! It was a good thing that Antonia was fun because most times we also didn't catch any radio. So we had lots to talk about!
On our way to the Skeleton Coast, we also decided to do a short stop and look out at the ocean to see if we could see anything. Instead, we stumbled upon a salt pool? Since there wasn't anyone to ask, I'm really not sure exactly what we saw…but we guessed that it was salt and I tasted one and sure enough it was salt! It was cool because it looked like one of those hot springs that you see in Japan; those with high levels of salt that poke at your skin when you go in. I was very tempted to try but not knowing what the heck it was (Namibia is one of the largest producers of Uranium), I didn't really want to take my chances…it could have been anything! Toxic waste?

salt pools?
We finally got to the entrance to the Skeleton Coast about 4 hours later and the drive down was long! At least here we got to see a shipwreck though we don't know how old it was….we also some bones as well…no whale skeletons though as we were hoping to see! We also drove past a big rusty object and had seen a sign that said 'oil rig' but later we found out that this was probably left behind by a diamond mining company and dates back to the 60s. You'd think they'd be forced to clean it up but after almost 50 years it still sits there. After driving for what seemed like hours (5 hours?) we

Shipwreck on Skeleton Coast

Old Diamond Mine?
finally made it to the end of the  Skeleton Coast. Yes, as the lady said, the roads weren't that bad but they were still pretty bad… Up until then, I never appreciated good roads but after that drive, we gained a great appreciation for well-paved roads! For our first day we were ambitious and wanted to drive to the town located outside of the Skeleton Coast but instead when we checked out of the gate, we were told that there was a FREE campsite right outside the gate and the other town that we wanted to go to was still about 80km away. But wait, FREE? Our favorite word! But it gets better…they tell us that if we stay, we must be careful because there have been sightings of a male lion! WHAT?! A male lion! Both Antonia and my face lit up as if we just walked into a pot of gold. We told the man at the gate that we would need to discuss. It took Antonia and me about a minute to decide that we both wanted to spend the night there and hope to see a lion in its natural habitat!

So we had the tent, the sleeping bags, but we didn't really have food…we had some but we hadn't really expect it to be like this…NOTHING around! So Antonia had a great idea that we would try to see if we could pay someone there to cook us food and we would join them. We introduced ourselves to the people that were staying there (there were about 2-3 government employees and their families that lived near the gate of the Skeleton Coast). One of the guys there said that he would see what he had and then would tell us later how much it was. We had no choice but to wait so in the meantime, one of the other relatives took us up the hill and we enjoyed the sunset view. Afterwards we decided to shower while we waited. We were told there was hot water but there wasn't! We were in and out of the shower within 5 minutes! Later, we walked over to the house to see if they were done and to see how much it would cost. Antonia and I thought we would ask them for something like N$20 ($2.75) and were willing to go up to N$30 ($4.15) but he said that he wanted us to pay N$80! It was a bit awkward but I told him that I could not afford it. C'mon we all know that I am about value so I really couldn't bring myself to pay $11 when I don't even pay that at a restaurant! So I said that I wouldn't be joining them. Antonia who is too kind felt bad and felt that they had already went through the trouble of preparing it so she joined them as I sat on the side and took photos of them. I didn't feel bad because that's why we had asked them beforehand! I also felt that they were trying to take advantage of us. Obviously if they were genuine people, they would have felt bad that I wasn't eating and/or wouldn't have charged us but no one offered me anything. At least I thought I would really start to lose weight now! That night, I went to the car and ate some nutella (hazelnut spread) and bread. The cool thing about this experience though was that we were able to go into a local African family's home. They had TV and satellite so I think they were doing pretty well for themselves.

Pasta + Sardines in Tomato Sauce + Fried Fish

We slept well that night although no lion came to visit us! We woke up at about 6:00AM the following morning. We joked about how well we had been trained with Nomad: up before sunrise, get our tents down, have breakfast and then on the road! We had the guys boil us hot water but because the place ran on a generator, they had to make a fire and boil us water outside. We drank tea and coffee and had some toast and were on our way.

The following day, we drove through Twyfelfontein (tway-fill-fon-tain) which means doubtful fountain. I think the story goes something like there was a fountain that wasn't always reliable so it was named Twyfelfontein. Recently this was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site so we thought it was worth a stop. It was a little more than I expected to pay; I think it was $10? And we had to pay for parking too! It was okay but I expected to be a bit more mesmerized by the rock art…much of it was the same. Drawings of wildlife: elephants, giraffes, rhinos…The heat didn't make it any more enjoyable either. There were some other worthy sites nearby but we were out of gas and I got lost so we ended up going the long way out to the next town, Khorixas. Along the way while we were driving, we noticed that there was a growing crack in the front glass! Oh no, they were going to charge us now! So we were also going to try and get it fixed…As we continued to drive, I seemed to put in another ding in as a car raced passed us and I neglected to slow down…all that lifted gravel was not good for our car! We stopped to fill up and got information on places we could stop to get our car fixed. We also stopped to buy some groceries since we finally saw a store!

Along the way, we pulled over and had our lunch alongside the road. So random. The only reason why I mention this is because this was one of our better lunches and I need to share my greatest discovery! Lunch that day was tuna sandwich with cheese. We also had tomatoes and onions but it was a bit difficult to cut; all we had was a fork. We could have peeled the onion and eat the layers but as you know, it just isn't the same! I tried to cut the tomato with a fork but there was very little of it left by the time the fork got to it. Then light bulb switched on and I realized that I could use the lid of the tuna can to cut the onions and tomatoes! BINGO! It was genius! It cut so well too! Better than all the other dull knives I had to use in Africa. I was so excited about my new discovery! Ain't I genius?

Our destination for Day 2 was to make it out to Kamanjab to find the Himba people. Antonia had read about these nomadic peoples, one of the few remaining tribes that still live in the traditional way, i.e. no tops for women, so we wanted to see if we could find them and possibly meet them. Antonia had gotten a tip from Sizzy that there was a guesthouse where we could stop and get information about the Himbas. We eventually found this place where the guy was awed by Antonia's beauty and gave us directions on how to get the village even though they usually charge $30 to do a tour, he also fed us some ridiculous story (that we temporarily bought) where he told us that he was adopted into the tribe. There were campsites near the village and he said that if it was full, he encouraged us to come back and he would take care of us. Scary! We took photos, thanked him and were quickly on our way to find the Himba. We arrive and who do we see but Nomad?! They ended up camping at the campsite here! It was a bit weird as no one really seemed excited to see us? So we kept our distance a bit. It felt like we hadn't seen them for a week but actually, we only left them the morning before. We did the Himba tour and were able to get them to give us the Nomad discount which was N$100 vs. N$300 or so.

You can quickly spot the Himba not only because they walk around topless but also because the women paint themselves with a reddish paint which they consider beautiful. I also learned that they don't shower and instead mix some herbs and fan the smoke on themselves. Considering that they don't shower, they don't smell bad, their homemade smoke works! They also make their homes out of cow dung and dirt and they have no electricity. Strangely, I didn't meet any men in traditional attire; all the men that we did meet were all fully clothed.


We were also able to arrange sleeping inside the Himba village that night! So we put up our tent right there alongside their cow dung homes. Then since it was getting late, we asked them if it was okay if we went over to the campsite for an hour or so to eat dinner. We had NO cooking equipment so we thought we would get some hot water from the group. We also wanted to see Jolanda. So our guide walked us over and said he would come back in an hour and a half to get us and take us back to the village. It was really dark without any electricity so we would have surely gotten lost on our own. Antonia and I ended up having instant noodles that night for dinner and we spoiled ourselves to a bottle of beer; we decided to drink it at the campsite while it was still cold and so that we wouldn't offend the Himbas, we were told that they don't normally drink.

Later that night when we got back to the village, we sat around a camp fire and then a group of women behind us started to dance. We really didn't understand what was going on but we tried to participate. They seemed to think that we did a good job because they cheered and clapped and smiled for us. What carefree lives these people have without all the distractions that we get through the internet, media, TV, cell phones, etc. They lead simple lives and find pleasure in it. Although we did see one lady with a cell phone?! (She charges through the car charger, in case you were wondering). It was a peaceful night out there in the dark, sitting under the stars with just the light from the fireplace. We slept fairly well that night and the following morning, we went back to the campsite to get hot water and take a shower. There was so much dust in Namibia that just walking around made you feel so dirty! We also called Silvester to extend our rental another 2 days.

The following day, we left about 8:00AM and drove up to Etosha National Park. This is where we would be able to see wild animals! Again, we found the group, and we camped very close to them. We were warned by Sizzy that sleeping at the park would be quite expensive but we didn't expect to pay N$285 ($40) per person to camp out! We had to pay the park entrance fee N$85 + campsite fee N$200 + N$100 per person. 

Nonetheless, Etosha was great! Unlike my time in India when we went searching for Bengali Tigers, you can actually drive yourself around the park! So since we had our car, we got to go to where we wanted. The only downside is that they close the gates to the campsites at sunset and reopen at sunrise. They have it locked so that the wild animals can't get in while we're sleeping and because it's dark and not safe for us to be driving around with wild animals. So it was about an hour to sunset and I was ready to head back because we were about 30km away and I didn't want to get locked out. They also have speed limits so you don't hit any animals while you're driving! But Antonia wanted to drive a little more and somehow we turned into a place where there was a jeep in front of us. They motioned us to look. We looked and saw a wildcat! But we didn't know if it was a leopard or a cheetah but we knew it was important so we took a lot of photos! When we got back to our campsite, we showed Norman, our other guide, the photos and he was in shock. The leopard is one of the hardest animals to find and you're considered lucky if you actually spot one! So we were very excited that with very little effort we found one!

In front of the Watering Hole
The other great thing about Etosha is that there are watering holes where they really make it a spectacle with lights shining and seats to observe the wildlife that come in to drink water. Because it was winter, there was a lot of water and less bushes to hide them. The first night we saw about 3 elephants, a rhino, and giraffes. We just sat out by the watering hole, drinking wine, whispering. We played 'Waka Waka' the Official FIFA World Cup song from Spencer's phone and I swear the animals responded because we soon saw more animals coming to the water. That night we also saw some really creepy guy talking to himself; very unkempt with long straggly hair, a hat, loose jeans and a sweater. Spencer thought it was funny that he was mumbling to himself that 'Africa had giraffes, elephants, lions…' and naming animals. I was a bit freaked out! That night I had one of the best sleeps because as I was getting ready for bed, I found a cushion right by the bathroom. Since it was dark and no one could really see, I snuck it over to my tent and it fit! It was a perfect mattress! It was the first time in a while that I wouldn't have to sleep directly over the dirt! Early the next morning, I brought the mattress back to where I found it…

The following night, we were trying to figure out if we could share the camp site with Nomad and just pay the entrance fee and the sleeping cost. I had this conversation with Sizzy and it seemed that he was in agreement with my plan. Although later, I realized that he misunderstood what I was asking and I misunderstood what he was agreeing to. So the following day when we got to the next camp site, Etosha is so huge (22,912km²) that they have several campsites, I asked Sizzy where we could pitch our tent. He suggested the lot across the way from them. Later, we realized that we weren't on the same page and he mentioned to us that we could take our chances and not pay but if they catch us when we exited, we'd have to drive back 18km to pay. We understood.
Herd of Elephants at Halali Watering Hole (#2)

During our afternoon drive, our highlight was that we saw about 4 lionesses! It was really awesome to watch them but I wanted to see the male lions! Up until then, the male lion was the only thing that I had not yet seen! We watched the lionesses, again only minutes before sunset. Later that night we also went to the watering hole and this time we saw about 30 elephants, supposedly a leopard (it was too far away), and some giraffes. We still hadn't seen the male lion that I wanted to see. We were trying to make it back to Windhoek to return the car by 2:00PM so we had to get an early start so we called it an early night. That night, Antonia loved my idea about the mattress that we went to see if we could get some mattresses from the poolside, apparently that's where they came from. We decided to ask the guys there and they agreed to let us borrow it. I think they were very trusting to let us walk off with it. But of course, after our great night's rest, we brought it back the following morning.

And as luck would have it, as we were exiting the park the following morning, we saw a male lion! It was a very quick glimpse that even my photos would cast some doubt but we got to see it for a fleeting moment! We also got to see a beautiful bird that we really liked. All in all, our time in Etosha was worthwhile!
Then it was time to leave…we decided to chance it and get to the gates without paying for our camp site although we did pay for our entrance fees. We got to the gate and strategically had the cute French girl with her cute French accent drive. Well, it must have worked because he examined our papers and cleared us out! PHEW! We were in the clear and just saved ourselves $80! Yes, we feel a little bad but we really only had a very small tent…

That day we drove out to Otjiwarongo to see if we could get our glass fixed but as we were driving into the town, we realized that it was Sunday! And everything in Africa is closed on Sunday! Luckily, I had already mentioned it to Silvester and he acknowledged that it wasn't our fault and that he was aware of the glass. We were just hoping to fix my ding! But oh well, there was nothing we could do and he was coming to meet us in Windhoek. So we drove down and since we were making good time, decided to check out the Hot Springs in Gross Barmen. I've been spoiled living in Oita, one of the most famous places for hot springs in Japan, so I really shouldn't go to places like this but Antonia wanted to go and for some reason I always think that it will be better than Japan. For $10, we got to go to both the hot pool and the cold pool. The hot pool was surprisingly a nice hot temperature (I went to a hot spring in New Zealand and it was so NOT hot!) and the outdoor pool was warm and comfortable. We stayed for about an hour relaxing. We were also lucky because Silvester said that he would come at 3:00PM instead so we had an extra hour.

Finally drove back to Windhoek and had some trouble finding our backpackers but Silvester gave us verbal directions to get to our place since the staff at the backpackers wasn't willing to assist us. Can you believe that?! We met Silvester for the first time in Windhoek and he turned out to be a really nice guy. He collected the car and showed us a bit around the town. Everything was okay with the car…even with the cracks.
The following nights we stayed in Windhoek which was not that exciting. I did get to meet up with Stephanie's old friends though, Elike and Gogz, along with the latter's fiancé, soon to be wife, Aiesha. They were all so extremely kind and generous to me it was really great to meet them! Elike was also kind enough to pick up one of my tops that I had sent out to the laundry back in Swakopmund. It was actually put in another person's laundry (someone on the tour), but not knowing whose it was, he returned it. Since Elike was going to Swakopmund for the weekend, I asked him to pick it up and he brought it back to me! I lose many things but many things come back to me!

Other than that Windhoek was a quiet town with not much going on. The only thing fun about it was hanging out with Stephanie's friends. After 2 nights, Antonia left me and flew back to Paris. That night when I returned I from walking her to the gate at 4:00AM, I come back to find none other than that creepy guy from Etosha sitting in the dark wearing the same clothes! I quickly went into my tent and prayed that he wouldn't try to hurt me.

I wanted to leave Windhoek on Tuesday and go to Botswana (same route as Nomad) but it seems that there isn't any transportation to Botswana?!  So I  need to figure out what to do and when I can leave...I only have about 2 weeks before my flight out from Johannesburg to London.  It's Stephanie's son, James, 1st birthday so I can't change my flights anymore!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! Regina thanks for sharing your pics. Their amazing! Miss you at the Wednesday outings, but I know you're having a blast traveling. Thank god you didn't take Highway Inn with you LOL. We still get to enjoy the food.