A Travellerspoint blog

July 2011

Safari and Schnitzel?

Exploring Namibia


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After leaving South Africa behind, we made our way to Namibia via overnight bus to its capital, Windhoek. Our main goal in getting to Windhoek was to figure out how to travel around Namibia, either by “car hire” (what we call renting a car) or a tour. Southern Africa’s public transportation system has been one of the biggest departures from South America. Most towns in South America are connected to one another via a surprisingly efficient bus system. In contrast, in Africa, most travel is done by private car, tours, or “combis”, small vans that infrequently and irregularly connect some towns.
Windhoek is in the center of Namibia and is home to 250,000 people. Here’s the real shocker though…Namibia’s population is only 2.1 million- in the whole country! As a result, it one of the least densely populated countries in the world.
We arrived in Windhoek on a Saturday morning and virtually every store was closed and the downtown deserted. We saw the few notable sights in relative silence. It was interesting to discover that Namibia has a palpable German heritage even though Germany only occupied the area for about 25 years. German is actually an official language and there are dozens of German restaurants throughout the country. Sauerkraut, schnitzel, and good old fashioned German chocolate cake were always in reach. German food in Africa- go figure!
IMG_3180.jpg The "Gingerbread" German Church in Windhoek
Based on time and budget we decided to rent a car again to travel around Namibia (tours are shockingly expensive). We set off from Windhoek for Etosha National Park in the north. On our way, we stopped by a field outside of Grootfontein which is home to the “world’s largest meteorite’. Weighing almost 25,000 pounds, it must have made a heck of a thud when it landed 80,000 years ago. We stayed overnight just outside of Etohsa in a small town called Tsumeb.
IMG_3199.jpg The Meteorite
Etosha is known for its density of wildlife and it has the most impressive herds we’ve seen so far. Over two days, we saw giraffes, elephants, kudus, springboks, impalas, monkeys, zebras, warthogs, lions, baboons, rhinos, muskeets, wild dogs, ostriches, wildebeests, rabbits, cheetahs, hyenas, and more. The stars of the show were certainly the elephant herds. As if watching Planet Earth live, we saw elephants migrating northeast in herds of 25 to 35 from three watering holes. Watering holes are the place to be seen in the animal kingdom, but are also potentially dangerous for some animals. Watching wildlife is a lot like fishing; you can go a long time without seeing anything, but when you do it’s usually pretty amazing.
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Our camp inside the park had a lit watering hole from which we watched dozens of elephants fighting, drinking, and playing. One pretty cool moment was when a lone rhino came trotting up with a cheetah following closely behind. The cheetah laid in the grass while the rhino drank. A few seconds later, three impalas (big cat food) came to the watering hole and walked right in front of the cheetah. The impalas and the cheetah engaged in an intense staring contest. We thought we just might see a kill (it is very rare to actually see one), but then an elephant came over and broke up the intensity. The elephant basically shooed the impalas off as if saying: “Are you insane? Run away!”. In case you don’t believe us, we caught a portion of the encounter on video (see the link below). It was pretty cool!
Elephant and Cheetah
Elephants Giving Themselves a Bath
We left behind the amazing scenery and wildlife in Etosha to head southwest to the town of Swakopmund. In route, we took a detour to see some “Rock Art” in Philip’s Cave. Rock Art generally consists of paintings made by native Africans and is often found in caves. Some of the Rock Art is thousands of years old. To get to Philip’s Cave we had to drive 20 kilometers along a dirt/sand road and then hike/climb for 30 minutes. It is amazing that people hundreds or thousands of years ago made these images and that they’ve weathered as well as they have and was a pretty cool sight to see.
IMG_3724.jpg Photos of the Rock Art
IMG_3727.jpg The Famous "White Elephant"
IMG_3756.jpg Taking a Break in Philip's Cave
IMG_3774.jpg The View from the Cave
Swakopmund is located on the coast of Namibia and is where the famous Namibian sand dunes begin. Swakopmund is also the adventure sports capital of Namibia and has activities such as sandboarding, skydiving, and quad biking. We decided to try sandboarding as a way to also see the dunes. This basically consists of greasing up a snowboard with floor wax and then sliding down the dunes as if you were actually snowboarding. Probably my favorite part of the activity was the sand-sledding however. When you are at the top of the sand mountain and you can’t see the bottom, you start to rethink the idea. The way down is a blast though and we reached speeds of up to 40 mph! To see video of me screaming my head off and getting sand everywhere click here. PS… There is no ski lift so we had to walk up the dune every time we went down. We were exhausted by the time we were done.
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IMG_3826.jpg Jeff sandboarding
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Sand Sledding!
Our last stop on our self-driving tour of Namibia was Sossusvlei (pronounced su-se-vlay). Sossusvlei is a park known for its striking red sand dunes. The best time to see the dunes is supposedly at sunrise when the colors hit the peak of their brilliance. In order to make it for sunrise, we “camped” inside the park. When I say “camped”, I mean we slept in our rental car. Hotels in the park charge over $800 USD per night, per room (just in case you were wondering what would possess us to camp in our rental car). Thankfully, Jeff is pretty handy at fire making and the camp had hot showers so it wasn’t a total wash :) We made it to the dunes in time for sunrise, but the sky was overcast, so we settled for the lovely red color they are naturally and hiked to the “dead trees”. The dead trees are located on a dried up lake that is now a salt pan and has a sad/eerie appearance.
IMG_3946.jpg On top of Dune 45 for Sunset
IMG_3998.jpg Sossusvlei Dunes
IMG_4046.jpg The Dead Trees
Having completed our driving tour of Namibia (almost 1,600 miles in 7 days), we headed back to Windhoek. Our drive back was delayed by multiple small creek crossings and one flat tire, but we made it safely. For dinner on our last night in Namibia, we went to Eat at Joe’s…an obligatory stop for tourists, so they say. Joe’s reminded us a lot of The Garlic in New Smyrna Beach (that will only make sense to the Orlando folks), but they specialize in game meats. We partook in some Kudu kabobs which were delicious!
We had a great tour of Namibia and are now heading to Victoria Falls on (you guessed it) an overnight bus! We will write again soon!

Posted by geldere 12:19 Archived in Namibia Tagged art elephants cave sand rock lions sledding sandboarding philip's Comments (0)

Cape Town and Great White Sharks...


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After viewing the Big Five and seeing some sights in Jo’burg, we set out for Cape Town. We had our hearts set on taking what we heard was supposedly a beautiful train ride from Jo'burg to Cape Town, but it was sold out for weeks- so we decided to fly instead. Our first view of Cape Town from the plane was pretty awesome - Cape Town is squeezed between the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, it makes for a unique and impressive setting. We landed in Cape Town and made our way to our hostel, Atlantic Backpackers. We needed a day to just relax, so we decided to head out to the V&A Waterfront. After a short walk from our hostel, we found ourselves in a huge mall- I was in heaven! Jeff got himself a haircut (much needed after several months), we saw Transformers 3 in 3D at the movies, and ate some Thai food :). It was a splendid day!
IMG_2643.jpg Jeff getting a proper haircut
IMG_3155.jpg V&A Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background
The next day we got ourselves passes for the City Sightseeing Tour of Cape Town. We’d taken similar tours in Europe and always found them to be a great way to get around see the sights. The big red bus took us to the Castle of Good Hope, the District 6 museum, and to Table Mountain. Again, I found myself uncomfortably being transported up a mountain by cable car, but the views were totally worth it. From the top of Table Mountain, we had spectacular views of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains. Table Mountain is so impressive in fact, it is under consideration to be one of the new seven wonders of the natural world. We were fortunate that the “tablecloth” was nowhere in sight - it’s a local expression for the cloud layer that frequently covers the top of Table Mountain. Lastly, we ended our day on the big red bus with a sundowner, which is their expression for sunset, at Camps Bay. South Africa has wonderful sunsets!IMG_2745.jpg Jeff from the top of Table Mountain
IMG_2764.jpg Another view from the top
IMG_2779.jpg Sunset at Camp's Bay
The next day we hopped aboard the big red bus again, but this time we followed a different route. First, we visited the Slave Lodge museum. The building in which the museum is now located use to house slaves, but they’ve turned it into a very well done and informative museum. We also stopped at the Groot Constantia Winery, the oldest vineyard in South Africa. During our wine tasting, the staff was very generous with their pours, so I left in a good mood :) Finally, we finished off the day at Hout Bay (a marina) and checked out the resident sea lions. I have to say, I love Cape Town! Of all the places we’ve been so far, it’s the one place I could live.
IMG_2848.jpg Groot Constantia Vineyard and Winery
IMG_2856.jpg Tasting the local flavors
After our love fest with Cape Town, we rented a car and headed out to the famous Garden Route for some scenery and whale watching. We started in Hermanus, the “whale capital of the world”. During June and July, Right Whales come into the bay to mate and calf. Apparently, if you are there at the right moment, you can see dozens of whales close to shore. Despite our pretty good timing, we only saw two or three whales from afar, cool nonetheless.
The next morning we set out for Gansbaii where we signed up for a Great White Shark dive. It’s been high on Jeff’s list to see one of the world’s biggest predators up close, so it was a must do for us. We set out with White Shark Projects for the afternoon in hopes of seeing some sharks. It was an awesome experience! The tour operator chummed the water to attract the sharks to the boat and then led the sharks over to the viewing cage with a huge fish head. Sometimes, the sharks would hit the cage chasing the fish head (an adrenaline rush for the divers in the cage}. I almost peed my pants, not from fear, but rather the ice cold water temperatures! Even with a 7-mm wet suit on, it was freezing. To check out the sharks in action click here and here.
Having all our fingers and toes intact, we drove to Cape Aghulus, the most southern point of Africa and the place where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Next, we stop in Wilderness for two nights, a quaint beach town set right between the mountains and ocean. Our hostel was located just one block from the beach, so it was so nice waking up to the sound of the waves. The owner of the hostel told us about a walk along an abandoned, elevated train track. She also told us about a “hippie” who lives along the track in a small cave and takes immense pride in his seashell creations: “He’s got some problems, but he’s harmless.” So, we of course walked along the track to take in the view and see the hippie’s “house” - he did a nice job decorating by the way. We also stopped at the “Map of Africa”, a small island/land mass near Wilderness that looks like the continent of Africa.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, so we drove back to Cape Town via Route 62, a scenic road that passes through the mountains and semi-arid desert. We stopped along the road for a night in Montagu, a town known for its hot springs. This was our third hot spring in less than two months, you might see a pattern emerging. Our hostel in Montagu was a working farm with a converted barn for backpackers - we slept in “horse stall 4”. I am still amused by this and like to remind Jeff that we slept in a barn.
IMG_2908.jpg Coastal Town of Hermanus
IMG_2947.jpg She was the biggest one we saw that day
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IMG_2963.jpg Bait
IMG_2996.jpg The Southern most point of Africa in Cape Agulhus- where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans Meet
IMG_3022.jpg The view from our balcony in Wilderness...not a bad way to start the morning
IMG_3070.jpg The Hippie Man's shell house in Wilderness
We returned to Cape Town for one last night. This time, we stayed in a different part of town, closer to the downtown. Near our hostel was the restaurant “Mama Africa”, a Cape Town institution and we were told it was a “must do”. The restaurant specializes in game meats, so we snacked on ostrich kabobs, Kudu steak, crocodile bites, and more. The restaurant also had a traditional African band that played throughout dinner and really set the atmosphere.
It was great to see several different parts of South Africa over the last two weeks. We had an amazing experience here. We are now headed to Namibia for giant sand dunes and our second safari. We’ll keep you posted!!!

Posted by geldere 07:55 Archived in South Africa Tagged mountain whales vineyard wine sharks waterfront table Comments (0)

South Africa!

Jo'burg and the Big 5


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This blog posting got a bit delayed as we haven't had the best internet connections here...
We departed South America excited to see a new continent and one that we’ve been dreaming about for some time – Africa! We flew South African Airways for a surprisingly short eight hours from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Johannesburg, South Africa (or Jo’burg, as the locals call it). We landed early in the morning and after transferring to our hostel, slept most of the day trying to nurse our jet lag.
On day two, we headed out to explore Jo’burg via a city tour. There isn’t really a good public transportation system in the city and being there are several bad areas of town travelling without a local guide is discouraged. As a result, we opted for a city tour run by our hostel. The tour included a trip to the “Top of Africa”, the highest man-made point in Africa (the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper). We also stopped by the football stadium, recently renovated for the 2010 World Cup, and Soweto, a township in Jo’burg where Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela lived for a time; both Nobel Peace Prize winners. Lastly, we visited the Apartheid Museum, which was fantastic, probably the best museum we have been to on our trip. It was very well done and provided tremendous insight into a recent and dark era in South African history.
IMG_2314.jpg A township in Jo'burg
IMG_0213.jpg Picture at the Apartheid Museum
IMG_2316.jpg At what was Mandela's house in Soweto
South Africans, like Americans, share a history of racial discrimination and segregation, commonly known here as the Apartheid. While I generally knew of the Apartheid and Nelson Mandela prior to arriving in South Africa, travelling here has given me a much better understanding of what happened here in the last sixty-years and Nelson Mandela’s role. I found the Nelson Mandela exhibits particularly moving…incarcerated for 27 years as a political prisoner, released in 1990, and then elected president in 1994 on a platform of peace and forgiveness- his life story I felt was inspiring.

After visiting the sights of Jo’burg, we headed northeast to Kruger National Park for some wildlife viewing. Due to the highly inflated prices of Kruger safaris, we decided to see the park on our own. Fortunately, we met up with a medical student from UCLA (Zach) who had the same sentiment and the three of us set out on the wrong side of the road…and the wrong side of the car to Kruger.
We spent two full days driving around Kruger National Park (it is huge, supposedly the same size as Wales, however big that is) viewing the Big Five and so much more . . . impalas, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, baboons, wildebeests, kudus, monkeys, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, lions…you name it. It was National Geographic up close and personal. It is amazing how big the animals are and how many of them there are in one place. We came upon two pairs of lions, both oddly close to the road, and they were huge! Like could-have-had-you-for- a-snack-in-a-second huge. I was most impressed by the giraffes, though I don’t think the boys shared my opinion. They look pre-historic with their enormous frames, almost like an awkward teenager, but they move around so gracefully. We managed to see four of the Big 5 (buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant), but we missed a rhino somehow, even though they are supposedly much more common than lions and leopards. We even slept in the park one night and went on a night drive with a ranger where we watched for “eyes” with a spotlight and stopped periodically to view hyenas, leopards and other nocturnal animals. Pretty awesome! On our last morning in the park, we went on a ranger guided walking tour. Getting out of the car in Kruger is generally not allowed as the wildlife may think you are either a threat or food, so either you go with a guide or in the “designated walking areas”. The walking tour was a nice stroll out in the bush with three rangers each carrying a semi automatic rifle. I never thought you could learn so much about the behavior and habits of animals by analyzing their poop (which is everywhere in the bush). Learned a lot that day.
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IMG_2507.jpg Our morning Bush Walk
IMG_2562.jpg The Impala stare down
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We made our way back from Kruger to Jo’burg via the Drakensberg Escarpment which is supposed to have some of the most spectacular scenery in South Africa. We snaked our way up the mountain for a view from God’s Window, but apparently God was not in the mood to show off the scenery, as the fog was so think we could hardly see the road in front of us. So, unfortunately, we missed out on that experience.
The drive back from Kruger was long and we were getting very tired, but the radio kept us entertained. In honor of the 4th of July, a local radio station was having an American accent contest where callers had to do their best impression of an American accent. The impressions had us in hysterics as most of them were pretty bad. The girl who won the contest was actually an American tourist…I think that was cheating).
The next morning we parted ways with Zach and hopped on a flight to Cape Town! We’ll write again soon :)

Posted by geldere 05:28 Archived in South Africa Tagged animals scenery kruger apartheid Comments (0)

La Paz and Parting Thoughts...


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After our four day tour of the salt flats, we were beat. The combination of sun, wind, altitude and cold really started to wear on us. To make matters worse, at the conclusion of the tour, we immediately caught an overnight bus to La Paz (i.e., tried to sleep sitting up on a bouncy road in the freezing cold). So even though La Paz was our last stop in South America, we took it pretty easy.
La Paz is one of the highest cities in the world at an altitude of over 10,000 feet. Even more impressive is the fact that the city itself sits in a canyon. Of all the places we’ve been in South America, it seemed to have the least Western influence. There are definitely people wearing jeans and other western clothes, but there are also lots of women in traditional clothing selling anything and everything. For example, in the Witches Market, these traditionally dressed women sold dried llama fetuses. No joke. Apparently, it is considered good luck for Bolivians to bury a dried llama fetus under a new home.
On our first day in La Paz we visited the oldest church in town, even hanging out for Mass (we had no idea what was going on, but it seemed pretty standard). We also stopped by the main square for some people watching and saw the bullet-ridden presidential palace. In the afternoon, we checked out the Coca Museum which was very interesting. The Coca Leaf is a very big deal in Bolivia and is considered a part of their national heritage. Coca leaves are “macerated, not chewed” by most of the population. The chemicals in the leaf act as a stimulant and historically, the Spanish forced the indigenous population to consume coca leaves in order to increase stamina and production. The Bolivian government actually expelled the American Ambassador around 2008 after the US and Bolivia got in a dispute over the growing of coca leaves and US drug enforcement efforts.
3IMG_2207.jpg Alleyway in La Paz
IMG_2216.jpg Classic Bolivian woman in front of the Presidential Palace
IMG_2238.jpg The Witches Market (the small items on the rights are llama fetuses)
On day two, we took a taxi to a lookout point where we got some nice views of the city and the surrounding mountains. We then walked to a small square in a less touristy/business part of town and got some Mexican food for lunch (Jeff was ecstatic!). We also stopped by the Black Market, which wasn’t as shady as it sounds - pretty much a big market selling every kind of good imaginable. We called it an early day and headed back to our hostel to pack up and get some sleep.
We parted Bolivia via Aerosur, Bolivia’s national airline. I have to say, I was a bit skeptical about flying a non-US carrier (I know it sounds a bit snobby, but flying is not my favorite thing to begin with). Moreover, taking off from La Paz, one of the highest airports in the world is pretty crazy in and of itself. However, after two flights on Aerosur, I was pleasantly surprised. When we took off from La Paz, we just barely cleared a mountain range (see picture). Almost as shocking as the take off was the fact that Aerosur served us meals, drinks and fudge for dessert on both our flights (the first flight was only 50-minutes). After two Aerosur flights, we ended back where our South American journey started, Sao Paolo, Brazil.
IMG_2251.jpg Taking in a view of the city
IMG_2265.jpg The Black Market
IMG_2279.jpg Just after take off...the mountain range we just cleared
Now that the first leg of our trip is over, we have been very reflective about our time in South America and journey so far. South America definitely has a lot to offer. It could keep a traveler occupied for far longer than our 40-days. The terrain, climate, cultural and activities change with each country, and even several times within some counties. Having never been to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina or Bolivia before, we can safely say that they are all very captivating in their own ways. We found it pretty easy to navigate South America thanks to good public transportation. The South American infrastructure, while better in some countries than others, was reasonable, even on a tight budget. We exceeded our budget in Brazil and saved a lot of money in Bolivia, but for the most part, travelling was affordable in all of the countries we visited. Despite our lack of Spanish and Portuguese, we managed to get around just fine by using short phrases and talking with our hands - most people were sympathetic. Highlights for us include seeing Rio de Janeiro and the Iguassu Falls, spending time with Jeff’s family in Buenos Aires, and exploring the Bolivian Salt Flats. In the end, it was an unforgettably experience!
We are off to Johannesburg, South Africa and a whole new chapter in our travels! We will write more soon…

Posted by geldere 03:54 Archived in Bolivia Tagged mountains market high cold altitude witches Comments (0)

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