Thursday, May 30, 2013

Namibia - Sand!

I have been to Namibia and it's desert, Fish River Canyon, ghost town, highest dune in the world, and persistent summer several times.  In fact, not only have I been there several times, but I happen to have started my existence there.  The technicality of a naval border, at the time, separating the small town of Waalvisbay from it's surrounding country side makes me a South African citizen, but I was born in the dust of the Namib desert.

I have loved every trip to Namibia, and highly recommend the several hour drive along the Western coast for any Cape Tonian citizens looking for a holiday destination.  The drive is beautiful, constantly changing scenery all the way to the inviting Orange River.  A little white water rafting and swimming (where it's safe) is the introduction to possibly one of the most entertaining African road trips you could take.

On some of my trips we (my family or church group) crossed the border after a night or two's stay at Augrabies Falls - just breathtaking!   Once across the border, the country offers you just one adventurous experience after another.  I have wound my way through Namibia taking a dip in the Gross Barmen hot baths, strolling around the eerie Kolmanskop ghost town, taking pictures looking over the Fish River Canyon (which I still intend to hike through), riding camels through the Namib Desert, collecting salt crystals at the Sossusvlei salt pans, and climbing Dune 7 - the tallest dune in the world.  There is so much more along the way that entices a visit to Namibia.  Just a word of advice, take two spare tires and a great road trip sound track.  I have not yet been to Namibia without at least two punctures and a few hours spent on the road dancing to Creedence blaring from the car speakers. Still, fun times.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Swaziland - Rocks, Lambs and Kings

Perhaps the most 'African' experience I have had so far was my trip through Swaziland. Although I was only 8 years old, there are things I remember vividly about the country and my experiences there.

My parents turned the back seat of their Toyota Carola, that so faithfully took us through Zim the year before, into a flat bed and prepared with coloring books, crayons, note books, and hand held digital games my little sister and I hopped aboard for the long road trip.

Growing up with so much traveling, I learnt to appreciate scenic routes and became a skilled day dreamer. I remember clearly the rolling green hills and giant boulders. My Dad had been reading fantasy fiction to us at bedtimes, and I remember almost expecting to see Bilbo and Gandalf sitting on one of these boulders smoking their pipes.

On this trip, we got to experience authentic tribal African livelihood, being hosted by a friendly local rural family. We took a long walk from our hosting village to neighboring huts and villages, meeting wonderful people in their authentic african lifestyles.

I can't remember where or how we slept, but I do remember the huts where the ladies cooked in pots on fires for us, and the wash-up hut where we rinsed down over a bucket. Of course there were the long drops too, and I pity my mom teaching an 8 year old and a 5 year old the art of squatting. Once mastered, one night I felt brave enough to head out to the long drop with a torch on my own. While busy hoping nothing would crawl up from inside the pit, I focused my attention on a bleating lamb I could hear near by. I decided once I was done that I'd look for it. I walked around and around the long drop hut, but the bleating would get louder without a lamb in sight. I soon realized it was coming from down below some how and then noticed the cover of the old unused drop, that's where the noise was coming from. Rushing back to convince an adult to "come quick, there's a lamb in the long drop" seemed to work eventually, and a group gathered around to uncover that there was in fact a lamb stuck inside the old drop. Grabbing a young boy by his ankles, they lowered him down and he rescued out the lamb. I remember that boy and I grinning at each other shyly, probably both relishing the feeling of heroism.

Along the road, my Dad's radio signal between him and the rest of the convoy got interrupted by official's enquiring what they we were all doing in their country in such a long convoy. When it was explained to them that we were on a mission trip to help out a rural church that was busy being built and visit a rural school, they seemed not only satisfied but grateful. Turned out it was the King's convoy of police cars, limo's and all that had fallen behind us all on the road. They offered to escort our convoy to the next city and dispersed their vehicles between ours. My sister and I suddenly had a thousand questions of history, royalty and geography for my poor parents - was all terribly exciting for an 8 year old.

Swaziland is an African fairytale land. It's rural and dreamy without the intimidation that comes with traveling through some other African countries. The culture is bright and colorful and the people's friendly natures reflect their dress and decor. A beautiful trip to consider.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Zimbabwe - Early Memories of Big Trees

I was 7 years old when my parents first loaded my little sister, myself and what seemed at the time like loads of supplies and all our bedding into their sky blue Toyota Carola attached to a tiny hand made trailer.  Off we went with a Church group of I would guess between 80 and 100 people on a convoy road trip of Zimbabwe.

It was my first time out of South African soil, and the travel bug gave me a good solid biting.

I've been to Zimbabwe twice since then, but my favorite memories of the country, however fuzzy and haphazard they are, are from my very first trip.  

The trip as a whole was a phenomenal experience of wild life, especially for a 7 year old.  I remember vividly a supposedly 'tame' giraffe giving one of the other girls my age a good kick.  The girl must've been bruised but luckily didn't suffer any major injury.  Not any less 'scary' was a buffalo stampede I woke up to running through our campsite.  I did not climb out the tent like I remember my Dad doing (doubt he'd have allowed me to) but I remember the rumbling noise and vibrations from inside my sleeping bag.  On that trip we saw up close, and in the wild, lion, hippo, crocodile, giraffe, zebra, dozens of buck (that as a 7 year old did not impress me enough) to list the ones that I remember.  I keep elephants for last because the experience was too great to drop into a list.  Our convoy stopped for what seemed like forever, and we were informed over the radio system that they were waiting for a herd of elephants to pass.  I will never, ever forget the sight of hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of elephants and their calves crossing the road on their way back into the bush.  I always feared my memory of the volumes of elephants was a childish exaggeration, but my mother assures me it was as astounding as I remember.

If you ever make your way to Zimbabwe now, understandably and sadly not exactly a major tourist destination, you will still find the Zambezi falls as breathtakingly majestic as I did over 17 years ago.  You can still lose your way in the maze of the Great Zimbabwe Ruins like I did as both a child and a young adult (having enjoyed the experience as much each time).  You can pose for photos in, on, around and under the giant Baobab trees like we did as a group of kids who couldn't believe we could fit inside the trunk of a tree and climb up the middle and outside the top to sit on the branches.  Sadly you won't find the Harare markets where they used to barter curios for clothes and linen, and if you have anything other than a South African passport you may very well not even be allowed into the country at all. 
Politics aside though, this country is majestic and beautiful and I encountered friendly faces and welcoming atmospheres by the locals on each one of my trips throughout the years.  I hope in the future the country will be healed of it's political issues so that more people in the world can experience the beauty of Zimbabwe.