Monthly Archives: August 2014

“Do you have Ebola?”

“You cannot enter South-Africa with your dog.”
Even with a formal exit permit from the Namibian state vet, I dreaded the border with South Africa. They don’t allow the importation of pets accross land borders, only at Cape Town or Jo’Burg airport, where they have the appropriate quarantine facilities.
The lady behind the “Agriculture” desk at the border studies my papers, scrutinizes every syllable.
“Did you cross Angola?”, she wants to know.
“Yes, I did.” There’s no sense in denying it, with an Angolan visa in my passport.
“Then you can’t cross the border with your dog. You have to fly in to Cape Town or Johannesburg.”
“But I have an exit permit from the Namibian state vet, allowing me to enter SA.”
“Yes, but he should have told you that you can only import your dog in Cape Town or Jo’Burg airport.”
This is becoming a real Catch-22 situation. It will take me at least a week to drive back to Windhoek, arrange for Thimba’s transport and my own flight to Cape Town. And all that only to have a state vet screen my papers, conclude that they are in order, and provide me with an entry permit for Thimba.
“I would like to speak to your superior officer, plaese.” With a deep sigh she takes the papers into an adjacent office, returns 10 minutes later to start a series of telephone calls with the Namibian state vet. I discuss, negotiate, plead, explain, and try to remain calm and polite. After two hours she finally hands me a stamped and signed entry permit.
“It’s the two months’ stay in Namibia that saved you,” she says. “Had it been shorter, you would certainly have been denied entry with your dog.”
Relieved and exhausted I walk back to Thimba in the car and give her a big hug.
“The eye of the needle, Thimboektoe, the eye of the needle!”

What comes down, must go up.
And you can’t go further down than Cape L’Agulhas, Africa’s southermost point. And Mieke – my sister-in-law and trusted travel companion, who’s crossing South-Africa with me for a couple of weeks – takes a picture of this memorable moment.

A memorable moment!

A memorable moment!

From Lesotho to Swaziland is 40 degrees Celsius.
We are camped with a friendly farmer in a small settlement in Lesotho. Yesterday, the Sani Pass (the only border crossing from Kwazulu Natal into Lesotho) took us to over 2.700 metres and into a breathtaking mountain landscape, with temperatures well below zero and snow. The people we meet greet us with an unfriendly look, children beg by holding up their hands.
This morning there’s a thin layer of frosty ice on the inside of the car’s windows. We go off the beaten track and follow steep and winding gravel pistes all day, sharing many “wow” moments. A couple of days later we enter Swaziland, and the difference couldn’t have been more impressive: good roads, new shopping centres, and 35 degrees.

A cold morning in Lesotho

A cold morning in Lesotho

“Do you have Ebola?”
Hilde is an attractive German woman in her forties, who approaches me when I’m parked at one of Swaziland’s modern shopping centres near Manzini, the capital. She saw the car’s Dutch registration and asks about my travel plans. When I mention some of the countries I crossed, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, she steps back and exclaims in a jocular way:
“Do you have Ebola?”
“Not that I know”, I answer.
She’s worked in Swaziland for several years and calls it “South-Africa light”.
You cannot travel through Africa now without in some way being confronted with the effects of the Ebola outbreak. More and more countries are closing their borders as a safety measure. Cameroon just closed its borders with Nigeria. In South Africa they screen your passport: a recent visit to an “Ebola” country means you will be denied entry.
I crossed West and Central Africa just weeks before the outbreak. It is now practically impossible to overland the western route. Some people have all the luck!

Elephants rule!
After Mieke flies back to Holland I continue my journey. Into Botswana, a long drive from Jo’Burg to Gaborone and Francistown. Not very exciting, either. But from Nata the A33 runs through unfenced wild life country. Elephants cross the road, ostriches throw an arrogant look. I camp at Elephant Sands. From where I’m writing this I can see the elephants walking accross the campsite. Amazing sight! Despite their weight (they can weigh up to 5.000 kg) they have an elegant walk, and I never get tired of watching them.

Elephant Sands, Botswana

Elephant Sands, Botswana

Elephant Sands, Botswana

Elephant Sands, Botswana

Huge bull crossing campsite, Elephant Sands, Botswana

Huge bull crossing campsite, Elephant Sands, Botswana

Angry Bird, Elephant Sands, Botswana

Angry Bird, Elephant Sands, Botswana

Movin’ on!

It’s 6 o’clock in the morning and the first light of a new day hesitantly enters the rooftop tent. I don’t need an alarm clock. Or rather: I don’t need an alarm clock anymore. I can get up when I want, but I like to be outside before the sun rises, see the colours change every minute, from purple to all shades of orange and from orange to yellow. Feel the cold of the night giving way to the warmth of the day, take a deep breath of fresh air. Sunrises in Namibia are different every day.
After travelling the length and width of Namibia for over two months it’s time to move on. I did a northern and a southern loop with Mees, from Epupa at the Angolan border in the north to Fish River Canyon in the south and from Lüderitz to Swakopmund and the Skelleton Coast, covering 5.500 kilometers. For the last four weeks Eljen joined me and in a way it felt like a second honeymoon, not having seen each other for 6 months! We took it easy, stayed south of Spitzkoppe, and had a wonderful and relaxed time together. Today she’s flying back to Holland, and I’m on my way to South Africa, and continuing my journey along the East coast back home.

A giant's playground

A giant’s playground

If you want to experience the real Africa (whatever that may be), don’t go to Namibia. If you want to see the “big five” you may be lucky in the somewhat overrated Etosha Park, but many East African countries are a better bet. If you want to collect “under the Christmas tree” stories of  what it’s like to drive for days on moonscape-like pistes, navigate mandeep waterholes, getting stuck in the mud, camp in a village being watched by 30 children, or the barefaced hassle of military and police with AK-47’s and a phrasebook limited to “Give me some money!”, Namibia is not your choice destination.
On the other hand if you share my love for desolate landscapes, sunsets over the (semi-) desert, and mouthwatering scenic routes, then Namibia offers it all. Not to mention the rock formations that look like a playground for giants with too much spare time and loads of silly putty. Namibia is safe, is politically stable, and has a booming tourist industry. It’s also relatively cheap. And the chances to bump into a fellow (white) countryman or –woman are high (if you fancy that).

These are my last impressions of Namibia, and some food for thought, thoughts that arose and didn’t go away. Just a few.

It’s not all black and white, or is it?
I can’t help but have mixed feelings about the strong German and South African (Afrikaner) influence in Namibia. In 1892 there were only 52 German settlers, in Windhoek. In the beginning of the 20th century, when South West Africa (as it was then called) was under stable German control, the most productive plots of lands were given to, or confiscated by, an increasing number of German settlers. After the Germans surrendered to the South Africans in 1915, they discovered a common interest – the unabashed exploitation of the native population, driving them to the north of the country where the population is still densest. In 2014 over half of the (black) population subsists on 2 dollar a day, whereas the 13% whites consume 80% of the GDP.
I can understand that you want to treasure colonial architecture in Swakopmund,  that the NRW (Namibian Wildlife Resort) restores a German castle near Betta, but why a black  Herero Namibian taxidriver should drive around with a German flag supporting the finalist in the soccer world cup, boggles my mind. When you realize that thousands of Herero were slaughtered by the coloniser in what historians refer to as the first genocide.

The Germans built a railway to get valuable resources out of the country as efficiently as possible. It is now being restored.

The Germans built a railway to get valuable resources out of the country as efficiently as possible. It is now being restored.

Abandoned guard house near the railway

Abandoned guard house near the railway

The beauty of dilapidation
Perhaps the most bizarre remnant of German presence is Kolmanskop, a ghost town near Lüderitz. They started building it in 1908 when the first diamonds were found there. It’s a region sometimes referred to as the Siberia of Africa: inhospitable, sandy, windy, arid. It attracted fortune hunters, businessmen, adventurers and craftsmen. Kolmanskop was in every sense a German little town. All the furniture and even the kitchen tiles were imported from the homeland. The clubhouse was prefabricated in Germany and rebuilt here. During its time of prosperity in the late twenties, the town was home to about 300 adults and 44 children. Some 800 cheap, black workers were imported from the north.

The accountant's house

The accountant’s house

The town had its own bakery, butcher, and even an ice factory which was operated by means of ammonia, and each day half a bar of ice for the fridge was supplied to each household.  After the discovery of a much larger diamond field 250 km. south of Lüderitz, Kolmanskop was abandoned in 1944 and slowly blanketed by the desert sand.

There is beauty in dilapidation. Not just the structures themselves, but especially the interiors: the fading pastel colours, the Jugundstill motifs that adorn the rooms, and I find it difficult to make a selection of the many photographs that I took.

 

Beautiful pastel colors

Beautiful pastel colors

A challenge in perspective with an ultra wide angle lane 16-35mm.

A challenge in perspective with an ultra wide angle lens16-35mm.

IMG_2737_HDR

A room in the accountant’s house

IMG_2749_HDR

Blanketed in sand

The bakery

The bakery

The ice factory

The ice factory

Namibia is dry and empty and fenced
The main impression of Namibia is that of a dry and empty country. It must be one of the most sparsely populated countries in Africa. You can drive for hours and not meet a single soul. Villages are far and few between. It had looked like an ideal place to do a lot of bushcamping, but apart from the parks it is completely fenced.
In this arid environment it’s a small evolutionary wonder (that’s a contradictio in terminis) that plants and animals know how to survive. The Quivertree (Aloe Dichotoma), for example, is sporadically found in southern Namibia and northern Cape. The Bushmen used the quivers for their arrows (hence its name). The fibrous branches, trunk and succulent leaves are used for water storage, and the outside surface seems to be waxed to reduce water lost through transpirattion. They can become up to 200 years old.

Quivertrees in Quivertree Forest, near Keetmanshoop

Quivertrees in Quivertree Forest, near Keetmanshoop

Namibia’s most mysterious plant by far is the Welwitschia. Botanists puzzle how they obtain water and their adaptations are still being studied. They can easily become hundreds of years old and are not exactly what you would call beautiful. They are only found in Namibia, in the Namib desert and the western Kunene region. The oldest one is estimated to be 1.500 years old.

This Welwitschia is 1.500 years old!

This Welwitschia is 1.500 years old!

The desert horse is the Welwitschia of the animals. There are some 200 of them in the Namib Desert. No one knows how they got there and how they adapted to these harsh surroundings. I haven’t seen one, unfortunately, but came across another intelligent species, the Campsite Horse. It roams campsites looking for food and water, and usually finds campsite guests willing to open the water tap. They return at night when everyone is fast asleep. We had left the dishes outside on the table, and found them thoroughly cleaned in the morning.

Campsite horses

Campsite horses

At the campsite in Mariental we saw these birds, in the early morning sun, helping themselves to some water in an acrobatic way. And with this image, colourful and resourceful, I leave Namabia.

Resourceful birds

Resourceful birds