Namibia – Pt. 2

After leaving Swakopmund, Meghan and I trekked East and then South into the Namib desert.  This is the big sand-colored swath that you see across Southwestern Africa.  The drive was beautiful and it took us many many hours as we kept stopping to admire the views and take photos.

(I know many of you are asking to see photos but neither of us is traveling with a laptop and these internet cafes are not particurlarly good at handling the large files that come out of our cameras.. looks like it’ll have to wait until we return… but in the meantime, there are plenty of other photos from Thailand, Belize, etc., over at PicsFromTrips 🙂 )

Our destination for the day was the Little Sossus lodge, located just outside the ‘town’ of sesriem.  We managed to get there just as the sun was setting – as I said, we took our time on the drive because we kept stopping.  One of the reasons for this was the scenery – which changed dramatically from drier-than dry desert (sand, basically) to a semi-arid desert landscape lush with geologic sights as well as animals.  We saw springbok, gemsbok, ostritches and countless other bird species.  It was really cool and got us even more excited for our upcoming safari.

One thing to note.. the entire drive from Swakopmund to the lodge – several hundred kilometers – was on dirt roads.. and we had the Camry.   I had thought about renting a 4×4 vehicle but decided it wasn’t worth the extra cost…

The lodge at which we stayed was really awesome.  The food was amazing, the setting was incredible and we really felt – for the first time – that we were truly in Africa.  We were able to walk out from dinner, over to our little rock hut and look at all of the Southern Hemisphere stars, including the Southern Cross.  And, the stay coincided with the full moon so the land around us was really well lit so we could see the grasses, the trees and the mountains in the distance.

Fom the lodge we were able to visit the Namib Naukluft park – one of the largest national parks in the world.  Specifically we were visiting the Sossusvlei dunes area (yeah, more sand).  This is the imagery most associated with Namibia – red dunes, open vistas, etc.,

We hiked around the dunes, took lots of photos, and saw more of the animals mentioned above.

After our stay out in the Namib today we returned to Windhoek.  Here we’re just regrouping, returning the rental car (which did really well on all of the hundreds of kilometers of dirt roads that we drove on), and getting ready for Botswana!

Namibia – part 1

Meghan and I are sitting in an Internet Cafe here in Windhoek checking in on the world before we depart for Botswana.

We’ve been spending the last few days exploring Namibia – and it has been quite an adventure.

We arrived in Windhoek a mere 5 days ago but it feels like we’ve been here for longer than that.  After landing and clearing passport control we again hopped in our rental car – this time a Toyota Camry.  Driving out from the airport – no – even before we landed you could see that the terrain had changed dramatically from Cape Town.  We were clearly in the desert.

The drive in from the airport to Windhoek was bizarre.  The road was completely empty – not only of cars but of roadside activity like houses, shops.. anything.  We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere and that was reinforced by the baboons that we saw climbing a wire fence on the side of the road – baboons!

We didn’t stay in Windhoek but instead continued straight through to the coast out to the town of Swakopmund.  This seaside town is “more German than Germany” they say, and there’s something to that.  The town is quaint but in the off season it is strangely empty of foot or vehicular traffic.

Swakopmund is the new ‘adventure capitol’ of this part of Africa and as evidence you can do just about any kind of crazy activity especially if it involves sand.  This part of Namibia is really dry with the dunes running right into the ocean, except at Swakopmund where they’ve piped and pumped in enough water to maintain the town.

Unfortunately, Meghan and I were both feeling a little under the weather (its this cough that we can’t lose) so we weren’t up for any adventure too large but we did both start taking antibiotics to fight off what we have.  We did however check out a large flamingo population in Walvis Bay and we also rode ATVs around in the dunes for a little while and we capped off our stay with a hike up the dunes for a sunset chug from a bottle of S. African wine.

The Namib desert and the Trans-Kalahari drive out to Swakopmund were awesome, but there was something about Swakopmund that didn’t really excite either one of us – it’s hard to put our fingers on it just yet but I think in time we’ll be able to develop our thoughts a little more.

I’ll break the Namib adventures into two posts to keep these things a little reasonable.. Stay tuned for the continuation of our Namibian travels.

Agulhas, Hermanus & Franschhoek.. Oh My.

After visiting the Cape of Good Hope, and the Penguins, it was time to head out of Cape Town.

We drove down along the coast, through improving weather, to Cape Agulhas – the Southern-most point in Africa. We were surprised by all of the houses along the way – there are all sorts of smaller towns and such along the way which we later found out were summer homes and communities. Some of these houses are quite large. At the same time, we saw a lot of ramshackle buildings that – on the outskirts of Cape Town for intance – go on for miles and miles.

We spent the night in the town of Hermanus, along the coast in a backpackers place – it was really nice for a backpackers place. They had lounging areas, a BBQ area, a firepit, lots of picnic tables, a bar, etc.,

Hermanus is a tourist destination as its bay is visited in winter by whales (though we are about 1 or 2 months to early for that). They are also close to Gansbaai – which is the launching off point to visit “Shark Alley.”

Shark Alley was our destination for the next day. We boarded a fairly large speedboat/small fishing boat and head out in rough seas (10 foot swells) for about 30 minutes until we reached a pair of islands just off shore. Similar to the Faralon Islands off the coast of San Francisco, they attract lots of seals and sea lions, and similar to SF, they in turn attract sharks.

The plan was to get in some wetsuits and get into a cage attached to the boat and watch the sharks from under water, but unfortunately the rough seas in combination with the 30 minute wait, anchored, before the sharks arrived, proved to be too much for our stomachs. One hour in those rough swells, with 25 people crowded onto a boat, just sitting anchored rocking back and forth – in quite large swells.. well… Neither of us was able to make it under water, and we instead spent the time on board in the “VIP lounge” (read: the front of the boat, leaning over the rail).

We were disapointed not to see any of the sharks up close but hopefully our future wild animal encounters will go a little better. Back on land we had some tea and eventually started to feel better.

Yesterday we drove from Hermanus up to Franshoek, taking dirt back roads most of the way there. Along the way we passed a great little winery – Beaumont Winery – this being the S. African wine region. We had some tastes and bought a couple of bottles before heading on.

In Franshoek we stayed in a really nice B&B and spent the afternoon chilling out. In the evening we went to a super fancy winery for dinner and had a great meal accompanyied with good wine.

Last night the rains returned in strenght, ensuring that we would leave Cape Town without seeing Table Mountain. Sure enough the whole drive back to Cape Town was cloudy or raining and while it hasn’t rained since we’ve been here in Cape Town, the cloud cover remains. We returned our rental car, checked in to our next fancy hotel (the Dunkley House) and aer contemplating what to do with our remaining time in S. Africa.

Tomorrow it’s off to Namibia – we fly to Windhoek and then rent another car for the drive out to Swakopmund along the Skeleton Coast.

Cape Town & the Cape of Good Hope

We’ve had a few more days here in S. Africa and things are great.

After writing the other day we went out for dinner and chose an Indian restaurant that was amazing.  Unquestionably the best Indian food I’ve ever had.  We both joked that that meal was reason enough to justify the long flights to get here.  Something tells me we’ll eat there again before the trip is up..

Yesterday we spent the day wandering around (more) in Cape Town, including a visit to the District 6 museum which tells the story of displaced blacks during the time of apartheid.  There was a whole community that was relocated during the 50s and 60s to make room for urban improvement – not unbelievable given the political system here, but remarkably similar to the same kind of efforts going on around the states as well.   The museum was well done – its displays were a bit haphazard which encouraged random wandering around the exhibits and created the feeling of discovery as you checked out the different areas.
We also followed a Lonely Planet walking tour of the downtown area, but it was surprisingly quiet for a Saturday.. The architecture was interesting though, as was the realization that this town is really not all that large.

Today we rented a car and drove down to the Cape of Good Hope (and the Cape Peninsula – or Cape Point as its known regionally).  It was quite the experience driving a stick shift car on the Left side of the road.. took a little getting used to and definitely taxed the nerves.

But the drive was great and we saw some awesome scenery and also drove through Simonstown where there lives a colony of African Penguins.  We spent some time with the penguins which was really cool, and then we continued down to the Cape of Good Hope.  Despite what I remember from my grammar school education, this is not actually the tip of Africa – that we will hopefully see tomorrow – but is instead the tip of the Cape Peninsula (and geographically not far from the most Southern tip of Africa).

One thing to note about the trip so far is the rain!  We’ve had really bad weather here, which is a little unfortunate.  We were expecting to be just ahead of the rainy season, but it appears to have come early this year.  Oh well.  It hasn’t terribly hampered our activities yet, but it certainly threatens to, and it’s prevented us from any sweeping vistas as the low clouds keep visibility to a minimum.  we’ve yet to see Table Mountain which towers above Cape Town..

I think we’re both also a little surprised by the feel of Cape Town.  I booked this early in the trip figuring it would be a good entry point into Africa and help ease the culture shock, but this is ridiculous.  It really feels just like a European city.  I think the next few days in S. Africa will bring more of the same – and probably Namibia as well.  It won’t be until the later part of the trip that I think we’ll start to get a feel for the ‘real’ Africa.

But… that having been said, Cape Town is an excellent city – one definitely worth visiting, for the Indian food alone 🙂 – but really, the surrounds are really beautiful, and a few days along the Cape Peninsula would be as great as a few days in Marin County.

Tomorrow we’re off along the Southern Coast of S. Africa, making our way back to Cape Town in a few days and then on to Namibia.

Frankfurt & Capetown

After an overnight flight from Detroit,  I arrived in Frankfurt where I had about an 8 hour layover.  The flight was great – an Airbus A300 provided a smooth, comfortable flight and 1/2 an Ambien provided several hours of sleep so I arrived in Frankfurt ready to go.

I spent the morning and early afternoon walking around town which I really enjoyed.  My expectation was that Frankfurt was all business – a rather dull financial city.  I was surprised by how different the city was.  There is a great waterfront along the Main river and pedestrian zones filled with shoppers and tourists.

The weather was perfect – about 75 degrees and sunny, so I enjoyed both a breakfast and lunch sitting outside people watching.  For lunch I had a Thuringerwurst with potato salad and a beer.  Excellent.

After walking along the river, I made my way back to the train station for the 15 minute ride back to the airport.  There I met up with Meghan who had taken a later flight.  The two of us eventually boarded our flight to Cape Town.

The flight to Cape Town was about 11 hours long, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take up the 4 adjacent seats that I was able to on the flight to Frankfurt, so lying down wasn’t an option.  I managed to get somewhere between 3 and 5 hours of fitful sleep, which just wasn’t enough.

Arriving in Cape Town at 5 AM, we grabbed a taxi to our hotel where we were lucky to be able to crash in our room for a few hours.  We showered and were out by 11 AM.  We’ve since spent the day walking around town, down to the “waterfront” area (touristy but nowhere near as bad as Fisherman’s Wharf) where we grabbed a beer and watched several military ships coming in to port.

Now we’re just letting folks know we’ve arrived thanks to the use of an internet cafe and then we’ll head back to the hotel before heading out for dinner.

We’ve got a couple more days in Cape Town and the surrounds before heading elsewhere around the Cape Peninsula and greater Cape Town area.   Tomorrow it may rain but hopefully it won’t be as cool as it was today!

Digital baggage

Verizon wireless has this really awful data policy, whereby I can only keep so many text messages on my phone – why, I just can’t imagine.  I have storage capabilities on my phone – but it doesn’t allow me to transfer the text messages to this storage.  Additionally, they retire voicemails after only so long – the only way to keep them is to wait for the messages to expire, at which point you can opt to save them for an additional 45 days.

This may beg the question why am I holding onto these messages?  Well there are a few reasons.  The most obvious is that I need to reference the message in the future – it’s a convenient way to carry around information – as I almost always have my cell phone with me.  But there are other, more sentimental reasons as well.  And Verizon should know this.  So why then can’t I opt to store this data off of their servers, on a data store that allows me to eventually transfer it onto my PC?

Without this capability, I’m eventually going to lose this data – either intentionally by deleting it myself (to make room for new text messages) or inadvertently (by not re-saving the voicemail messages).  And while this makes me angry –  because I’m driven to do it by a weakness in their systems – there’s a part of me that looks forward to clearing these things out.

As I’ve spent the last few days helping Meghan pack up and move out of her house, I’m amazed at the amount of stuff that she has, which makes me thing immediately of all of the stuff that I have.  And moving is the perfect time to clean house, and get rid of all of the excess baggage – and there’s something very cathartic about that process.  Perhaps the same is true of digital information.  As I look across my digital domain – at all of the stuff that I’ve accumulated.. perhaps it’s not bad for a little digital house cleaning from time to time..  I wonder if all of the digital stuff weighs one down as much as the physical stuff though?