There is something about stars that just makes you feel content. It is as if looking at them makes the world a perfect place. We don’t often take the time to stare at those little diamonds but in Sutherland it is one of the main attractions. Sutherland is a little town in the middle of nowhere that is known for SALT, the South African Large Telescope. In the coldest place of South Africa (this is not a joke unfortunately LOL) and you can do a bit of star gazing in the evening with a telescope. The sky is clear 80% of the time and due to zero light pollution you can truly enjoy the diamonds of the southern hemisphere.
During the day we visit SALT. It is almost a private tour as we are only four people. In total there are about 12 telescopes here but we only get to have a peak into the biggest one. We get to enter and see the gigantic telescope from close by. Apparently there is more to see in the southern hemisphere than in the northern one, so all year round astronomists from different countries spend their days in bed here and their nights studying the sky. Hence why we don’t see anybody else than a couple of technicians.
The German telescope aka The Barn
When temperatures have well dropped below 5 degrees, we prepare ourselves to do a bit of stargazing ourselves. My outfit consists of 2 pair of socks, one of them being my Monika socks (knitted by Monika and ultra warm), a top, a t-shirt, my black jacket, my red jacket and Kosta’s hoody. Of course I am wearing my scarf and an extra neck warmer thing. Kosta just walks around with a blanket. : ) Spending an evening looking through a telescope is great. What appears to be a star in the sky when you look at it with the naked eye, is in fact the planet Saturn surrounded by its rings. We are able to see the different colours of the stars, we see clouds of stars and Mars. Although it is cold we are really enjoying our evening. When temperature feels like it is heading towards zero we climb into our bed. Me, I don’t even bother in changing into my pyjamas. When we wake up the next morning we have, for the second time on our trip through Africa, frost on the car. Told you this was the coldest place of South Africa!
Romantic star gazing LOL
As my friends might know, and I am sure people that worked with me know, patience is a virtue that is not part of my personality. When something needs to be done, it should be done quickly. And when I want to see something I want to see it now… like cheetahs that live in the South African Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. This is the last park of our trip and so our last chance to see these amazing animals in the wild. You probably think the name sounds familiar, makes you think of Kalahari. Well this park is the result of a merger between the Kalahari-Gemsbok NP in South Africa and the Mabuasehube-Gemsbok NP in Botswana.
Gemsbok, every time we look at them now we imagine
them on our plates. LOL
Obviously you can enter the park in SA and Botswana but you can also make your way in through the Mata Mata gates situated at the Namibian border. The only ‘catch’ is that you have to stay 2 night in the park if you are leaving the nature reserve via another gate and so via another country. This was not part of our plan but as the detour to avoid spending two nights here costs us the same in fuel, we decide to take it as it comes and book ourselves a campground for 2 nights. And thank goodness they did not let us make a daytrip only! Thank goodness for rip-off rules and regulations ‘cos on the first day we don’t see any predators but after a good night sleep we not only see black-maned lions but also 8 cheetahs not far from the car. Patience has made this wish come true!
Don’t forget to bring your camera!
As we set off at 7 am not many tourists are on their way to spot animals yet. But that is the time to be out and about as the cheetahs look for preys in the cool morning hours. Thanks to a photographer we see 4 cheetahs about 200 meters from the car. At least our binoculars (or do I have to say monoculars as one part always falls of LOL) makes them seem a bit closer to us. The photographer moves on but we decide to sit patiently and hope they come our way. As the big cats start walking, we start the car again and reposition ourselves strategically. It might sound boring to watch the cheetahs just walk and linger a bit but it is truly a fantastic experience to see them in the wild. Our patience is rewarded: after about 45 minutes they cross the street not even 20 meters away from us.
Cheetahs far away
The reward for being patient : )
To end our great day, we see four cheetahs in the evening, only 5 meters away from us, but with a fence in between. You see, you have to be in the fenced camping area before 6 pm. As we set of to go and give notice that we’ve returned from our day trip Kosta says we should try and check something first. The evening before other people saw some cheetahs near the cottages on the other side of the fence, maybe they are there again. And we are lucky because 4 gorgeous cats come walking out of the high grass. The fastest pussy cats in the world are walking at a slow pace, not caring about the car that drives next to them. What a sight, what a highlight, this is truly fantastic!
Sometimes you go see something of which deep in your heart you already know you are not going to be impressed by. Rock paintings is for us one of those things. As we are passing near it, we decide to walk and see the White Lady of the Brandberg, a 40 cm figure that is part of a painting that depicts a hunting procession. We thought we would just arrive there, park the car, walk 5 minutes and quickly have a look before driving on. But oh no, it takes us a 40 minute walk under the blistering sun to see it. In total we are gone for two hours without enough water but thank goodness enough sun cream. But like I said, it is really not interesting, the walk is nicer than the actual goals we were walking to (well, except for the fact that we did not carry enough water LOL) That same day we make our way down to the Burnt Mountain, a volcanic clinker that appears to have been exposed to fire. Again, not impressive. We do however enjoy the Organ Pipes very much. It is a stretch of a 100 metre with dolerite columns that are about 4 meter high.
‘White Lady of the Brandberg’…. you see what I mean
On ‘Burnt Mountain’
At the Organ Pipes
And then we arrive at the entrance to our most northern destination: the Kaokoveld. How is this part of the world described in a guide book? Well, it goes like this: ‘… It is one of the least-developed regions of the country, and is often described as one of the last true wildernesses in Southern Africa’. More than enough reason for us to go there! It is also part of the region where the Himba people live and that would be great to see. The Himba women are known for smearing themselves with a mixture of ochre, butter and bush herbs. This dyes their skin an orange/red-like colour. It serves as a natural sun block and insect repellent. They also style their hair with ochre and oil so it looks like they have dreadlocks. These ladies never shower, no really, never. And an important detail for women-lovers amongst us : the Himbas barely wear any clothes and walk around bare-breasted, but trust us, that is not necessarily a treat to the eye. ; )
In the Kaokoveld
Living in the middle of nowhere
Abandoned Himba house
For two days we drive in the blistering heat, in the middle of nowhere. The scenery is amazingly beautiful. We could take pictures all day but none of them would show the true beauty of this part of Namibia. Unfortunately we barely see any Himbas. We do meet them however in Opuwo, the city known as the capital of the Himba culture. Loads of them are walking the streets. We don’t have any picture to show of them though and that for two reasons. First of all I don’t want to push my camera in their face. Second of all we are not interested in doing a ‘tour’ of a Himba village. For us, it would feel like being in a zoo. We prefer just to look at them while they smile at us on the street. Ok, we admit, we were hoping for a Himba that would be hitch-hiking but in spite of the car being ‘Himba-ready’ we had no lift to give.
In the ice cold infinity edge pool
Infinity edge pool
After the search for the Himba we start our search for the animals in Etosha National Park. Etosha means ‘great white place of dry water’ and I can understand where that comes from. It is sooooo hot here! For once we actually also spend the night at the campground of a park. The only reason we’re doing this is to go to the waterhole near the campground in the evening. The waterhole is lit up at night so you have the opportunity to watch the animals drink. We’re lucky to see not only giraffes and zebras drink, but also to watch 3 thirsty rhinos and an elephant. What we see during the day disappoints me however. We spot a couple of elephants (3 out of the 2.500!) and lions but unfortunately no cheetahs, the only animal still on my wish list. We do see a thousand springboks and zebras. My goodness, they really are everywhere! It seems to me they are an excellent pray for the cheetahs but nope, no hunting cheetah to be seen…. Damn! (Is this cruel of me? LOL)
At the waterhole
The King just walking by, 5 meters from the car
and totally not interested in us
A long drive brings us from Etosha to the capital, Windhoek, where we stay for a couple of days. We visit the city, we catch up with friends via the internet and more important, we have a nice evening out eating game at a restaurant. After seeing so many of them we want to try gemsbok and kudu. And we have to say, that my friends is good meat! We are completely stuffed when we walk back to the guesthouse. And yes, we actually walk back. People in Africa are a bit paranoid about this. In the evening, once it gets dark, barely anybody walks on the street. They all think it is dangerous. That kind of makes it safe for us as there is barely anybody else walking around. ; )
After Windhoek we want to relax am afternoon in some hot springs. As they are closed, we end up spending a couple of hours at the Hardap dam where they also have a game park. It is a beautiful area with no other tourist. When we drive out of the park we find ourselves a fantastic place to sleep. We spend the night on a hill from where we can see the dam, and where baboons are looking down on us. Fortunately they can’t climb down to steal our food as it is too steep. : )
And then, after three weeks in this beautiful country, we start cruising to South Africa again….
It takes us one and a bit day of driving to get to the border of Namibia. Nice and boring driving: the scenery is nice but not the most exciting, the roads are straight, the tarmac is good and most of all the car is running so smoothly that we have nothing to say about making it the 850 km to Namibia. Don’t you just love it when all goes well and you have nothing to tell?!!! The only thing we should mention for Ruth ‘s conscious is that we did a little stop for her. The first time we were driving up was with her. After the car showed signs of serious problems we ended up spending the night at a place were they had rooms and the possibility to camp. Ruth eventually ended up sleeping in the car and Kosta and I in her room. I am sure up till now Ruth is still grateful for the mosquito net we have in the car, and for us sleeping in a room without. LOL Anyway, in the morning we get everything ready to leave. As this is the first night we actually camp with Ruth she has no idea what is ours. So Ruth puts away our cutlery, our plates and two coffee mugs that were in the room. When we later discover her kleptomania we promise to return the mugs if we ever make it back on that road to Namibia. And so we did. : )
For Ruth: returning ‘the stolen’ goods
Six weeks later than we thought we are finally welcomed to Namibia! Our first stop is a campground not far from the Ai-Ais/Richersveld Transfrontier park. It is still early afternoon and we decide to rest our heads here for the afternoon as the lodge with facilities for campers also has a swimming pool. And not just a pool, no, a pool to my liking: a hot one! The water comes from the hot springs and has the feel of a bathtub that never turns cold. I never understood how some people can just soak for an hour in their tub while it gets cold. Ok, they add hot water after a while but its not the same, really. How relaxing is that when the hot water turns lukewarm all the time? But this is just great! The water is warm but not too warm, a little breeze cools you down but not too much. Yes, we have arrived in pool paradise! We stay in the water until we are as wrinkled as we won’t even be when we’re old. This is what they call an afternoon of relaxation.
But Kosta and I are eager to travel on with The Cruiser so next day we leave the pool for what it was and drive up to the park, only 20 km from the campground. We don’t go into the Ai-Ais hot springs (Ai-Ais meaning scalding hot in Nama) but we come to see the impressive Fish River Canyon, a canyon measuring 160 km in length and up to 27 km in width. The inner canyon has a depth of 550 m. There is a famous and very popular five day hike you can do here in the canyon. Because it is a very strenuous hike this excursion of 85 km requires you to have a doctor’s certificate of fitness issued less than 40 days before the walk. As the route is only open from May till end of September we can unfortunately (ooolé, olé, olé, olé) not do the hike. So we enjoy the canyon the healthy way: by going from viewpoint to viewpoint in the car! LOL
Fish River Canyon
Now one thing you should know about Namibia before you pack your bags is learning how to read a map. I’m not talking about knowing where you are driving to, no I talking about realizing that that little town mentioned on your route map might not be identified as what we actually define as a town. As we drive out of the park we make our way down to Sossusvlei. That still being a bit of a drive we first have to stop somewhere to get money out, buy a bit of stuff and get fuel. Next town on the map: Bethany. Not only is this ‘town’ on the map, it is also signposted along the road. When we get there, however, all we see is a hotel and two other houses. Yes people, that is Bethany for you! Our hopes are on the next possible stop indicated on the map but well, it might be ‘bigger’ but everything is closed as it is Saturday afternoon. With almost no money left nor food, we decide to bush camp a bit further and come to the little supermarket that is open on Sunday morning. It will take us a bit of a detour towards a proper town that has a tiny bit bigger dot on the map to find cash the next day. Along the way we pass many ‘towns’, signposted on the streets, sometimes on the map, sometimes not. Nothing more to be found there than a couple of houses representing ‘the city’. Consider yourself warned. : )
The hotel of the big town Seeheim