Newsletter Number Eighteen - January, 2007

Special African Travel edition

Like Livingston, Rhodes and Stanley before me, I ventured into the heart of Africa facing the darkness that is one of the most enigmatic continents on earth. The anticipation was palpitating and the excitement inspiring. Like the explorers who forged a path before me (or for me) I wanted to experience what the real Africa could offer. However, unlike those brave souls I had Air France business class deliver me into Johannesburg; my grandmothers home cooking to prepare for my adventure. A lovely apartment in Cape Town to see in the New Year; a chauffeur driven safari truck around Namibia and Botswana; and an amazing lodge to enjoy the Victoria Falls.

Now before I start telling you about my adventure be glad that I am not asking you to sit through a slide night and enjoy the 450 digital photos that I took over my three weeks away. My trip started with a little luxury. I had decided to treat myself and fly business class to South Africa. Unfortunately there were no frequent flyer business class seats between Paris and Johannesburg which meant that I was upgraded to first…very nice if I do say so myself. With only 4 passengers in first the service was a little over the  top, however it is nice to now have a pair of Christian Laquoix pyjamas.

  

Johannesburg and Cape Town
Now contrary to popular belief the main reason for my holiday was the start. I was in Johannesburg to help bring to a close my grandmothers 80th birthday celebrations. These had lasted for well over two weeks with the rest of the family already having been in town for the main event. I came later for the ultra exclusive closing party (plus two packets of tim tams left behind my mum and a packet of jamie biscuits). Now for any of you who make it to Johannesburg in the near future I can highly recommend the National Apartheid Museum. For me it put into perspective the decisions that Mum and  Dad took 30 years ago when we left South Africa.

The next stop on my journey was Cape Town. To say that it is a small world is an understatement. My first night in town I went to one of the local bars near where I was staying and within 10minutes bumped into people that I knew from Amsterdam. One nice surprise of being in South Africa is how cheap drinks are when you earn euros – “barman, make mine a double!”. It turned out that friends of mine from Paris were also in town for New Year’s celebrations. Together we explored some of the outer regions of the wine country visiting Fairview Estate and Boschendal. One of the more obscure monuments that I have ever visited is in located in Paarl – the Afrikaans Monument (go figure).

Of course the highlight was catching up with my Uncle, cousins Michelle and Vanessa and their families. It was just a pity that we had such little time together. How could you not just fall in love with all those lovely girls? New Years Eve was a lovely night. The owner of the guest house that Pierre and Guillaume stayed at put on dinner for his guests and the odd interloper. It was a lovely evening with a 4 course meal, too many bottles of good wine and fire works over the city. 

   
Wonderful to catch up with Michelle, Vanessa, Gary and Andy and the girls. Next time I promise to stay longer


Enjoying the sunshine at V&A docks

Goats at Fairview Estate winery

And of course we knew exactly what we were drinking and able to describe the bouquet with language that set the room aghast.

Driving through vineyards of Paarl

The damage after NYE dinner



Table Mnt really does dominate the skyline. This was the pool where I spent a lazy 1 Jan.

The Afrikaans Monument at Paarl

Table Mountain from the gardens of National Gallery of Sth Africa
The rest of my time in the Mother City was spent either catching up with family, wandering the galleries and museum or sunning myself on the beach. 

Namibia and Botswana  
All too soon it was time to leave Cape Town and head to Windhoek where I would be joining my safari. One of the more amusing points in the city is the location of the Office of the Ombudsman. It is located on the corners of Fidel Castro Street and Robert Mugabe Drive…hmmmm. The safari started in Windhoek and headed directly to Etosha National Park. I was joined on the trip by Andrew and Tinika from Melbourne, Hans (or is it Peter?) from Germany, Jennifer also from Australia and Sandra and Konstanz. We put ourselves in the trusty hands of Martin and Taffy.

Etosha was a great place to start the safari. The National Park has a number of camping grounds with fences to keep either us in or the animals out. We spent two nights in the park and saw quite a range of animals including springboks, heart beast, black faced impala and Oryx. Now one thing about Africa is that maintenance is usually done on the run and with not the best workmanship. We discovered during an African thunderstorm the roof let a trickle of water in; no not just a trickle more like a cascade.

Sunset Waterhole near the camp site Good to see that Shell products are being recycled
Lake Otjikoto Now on all journeys there will be the day when you spend more time driving then visiting new places or game driving. On this trip our day on the road was punctuated by a big lake (Lake Otjikoto) and a rock (Hoba Meteor). Hoba Meteorite


The highlight of day 3 was the night we spent at a bush camp in the Kalahari. We were taken on a walk with local bushman and in the evening entertained with songs sung by the local women. Although man sounded the same we were assured that each was different. The songs covered stories about:

A chicken taking a shower
Two girls who live together and one goes into town
Medicine and the medicine man
A man and his donkey
A man should only have one wife because more would cost too much
Finally a song to goodnight and sleep well

You can see the in the photo the boys behind the band rocking away!
Boarder crossing with Botswana Day 4 started with another illegally early start of 0530. This time our road trip took us across the border to Botswana at Dobe-Qabi. From there we continued to Guma Camp on the Okavango Delta along a road that can only be described as bone shaker and stomach churner. However once their the camp site was lovely. Quite an oasis. After a peaceful night and a more leisurely start to the morning we were transported by speedboat from camp to the small mokoro island. Here we were collected by "polers" and mokoro canoes. It certainly was not Venice (do they have mosquitoes there?) but this is such a peaceful way to travel amongst the lilies

Our campsite was to say the least quite basic – it was more of a throw back to my scouting days however we never had a bush dunny with such an amazing view of the delta. To top it all off we were able to hear the sound of hippos in the distance and that is a good place for them to be! For those who do not know, hippos kill more people than any other animal in Africa – trampled to death, what a way to go! That night Andrew, Peter and I were chatting away as men do around a campfire in the bush when we heard the unmistakable sound of a hippo guarding its territory. After about 10minutes of this we brave souls decided that…..bed was probably the safest place to be and promptly went to hide in our tents. A hippo will not attack a stationary object – so they say…

Day 6 started with another early start and a short game walk before the heat of the day. After exploring more of the delta we made our way back to camp for another lazy day and watching a storm brew on the horizon.

The next day our beloved routine kicked in again with a 5am start, and back to our trusty truck for a drive along the Caprivi strip. Before hitting the bitumen road we needed to re inflate our tyres and were greeted by kids heading off to the Etsha primary school. You will see in the photos that they are carrying wood which they use as fuel to make breakfast. 
Popa Falls Again we faced a border crossing, this time walking the distance between Botswana to Namibia. Once the formalities had been completed we stopped for petrol at the Shell Divundi - the boys at the pump say hello. Further along we paused at the inspiring Popa Falls. This water course starts in Angola and fills the delta.

Our day finished in the Caprivi national park. Fortunately our safari took a turn for the better again as we got close and personal with both elephants and a huge herd of hippos. That night we serenaded by a cacophony of nocturnal noises. A nice way to spend the final night of the adventure.

Zambia, Livingston and Victoria Falls


Our safari ended in Livingston at the Jolly Boys Backpackers lodge. Here was where most of the now well bonded crew tossed there bags and headed for the bar. However I wanted to end my holiday with a little bit of luxury – why not? It was my holiday after all…

So began three days of decadence. I was collected from the backpackers and taken to the Stanley Safari Lodge. After driving through the front gates I was greeted on arrival with a cold drink and cool face cloth. This place is amazing. I had the Zambezi room that looked out over Zambia, across the flowing Zambezi river and out to the lights of Zimbabwe. The room is configured in such a way that I was able to watch the sunset from my bath.

A favourite time of day at the lodge is between 1800 and 1930 when Sundowner cocktails are served by (or in) the pool. The lodge is finished off with an amazing infinity pool and wonderfully friendly staff. It only has ten rooms so feels quite special.

Despite the decadence I ripped myself away and headed to one of the natural wonders of the world. The sheer size, scale and sounds of the falls blew what ever I had expected away. The pictures that I took certainly do not do justice to the falls. A highlight was escaping the heat by taking a dip at the top of the falls with some of the local kids.

     

The best way to really experience the falls is from the air. So, on the day that I was leaving to head back to Europe I took a morning ultralight flight over the falls. For safety reasons I was not allowed to take my camera however they do have a wing mounted digital camera from which pictures are taken. This was certainly a breathtaking way to end my adventure.

Swimming at the top of the falls
Up and away


And then all too soon it was time to head back to a cold and wet Europe. True to form the erratic French lived up to their reputation with Air France leaving my bag behind in Johannesburg ….fortunately it arrived home safely two days later.

And so comes to an end this travel log. You can see many more of the pictures that I took at the following web site.

About Bloody Time Alex...

Congratulations to Dr Alex F.J.E. Vrancken (cause he really needs more initials!!) on finally finishing and submitting his Doctoral thesis, "Diagnostic Efficiency and Treatment Strategy In Chronic Axonal Polyneuropathy". I've read all 175 pages and loved it! On behalf of all your friends it's great to have you back again and feel that you can drag yourself out of the house for a night out. We also all know that Adam appreciates finally having the dining room table back again! Well done...

And finally

For those who read last months newsletter I kept true to my word and sent my cash to Climate Care to abate the emissions from my trip.
And that is your lot for this month folks....till next we meet again take care...
Mark

 


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