Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Back but busy!

I had a great holiday in Namibia and am still planning to write some things up later on this week but in the meanwhile you can check out some pics on my main web site....

Monday, September 11, 2006


The previous two days had been very laid back and the meals very filling. Worryingly so, in fact.

But thankfully today would turn out to be the first real chance to work off some of that lying around in bed, just getting up for dinner and stuffing your face flab.

It's an early start for all of us bar Colin who doesn't wear a watch and casually strolls up after we've been waiting on the bus for ten minutes. We're all ever so slightly annoyed and collectively worry if this is going to be an ongoing trend.

Anyway, we do finally get going and we head off to our main attraction for the day, the Sossusvlei dunes. We make it to the entrance of the park within which the dunes are just in time to catch a beautiful sunrise over the dunes themselves. It makes for a good photo opportunity and we all snap away but better things are in store for us.

Red dunes galore!

We gorge ourselves on photo opportunity after photo opportunity. Here's a sand dune with a nice shadow across it, here's one with a picturesque dead tree by it. Here's one with a nicely curved top. Just as we are almost all sand duned out we get to the one that we are to climb.

Sand Dune 45.

Imaginatively so called because it's the 45th sand dune out from where they first started counting!

It doesn't look so hard. Starts a bit steep but then levels out before getting slightly steeper again but it looks a doddle. I was a bit wrong though. I try to walk up in the footsteps of people who have walked up in front of me but find my big feet slipping down the sides with every step.

Before I know it, I'm huffing and puffing. Damn!
Each step up is knackering and I manage to do about fifty at a time before having to pause to catch my breath. It's a good excuse to have a look around anyway as the views are spectacular.

Eventually I reach the level bit and things get as bit easier. My feet still slip down but I'm getting used to it and eventually make it to the top to savour the view down the dune
that I have just conquered.

Thankfully going down is a LOT easier and I enjoy running down the last 100 metres at full pelt. Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Getting to the bottom, I empty out the sand from my shoes thus starting sand dunes 46 and 47.

After breakfast we do another (apparently easy) walk but the sandy uphill bits still get the heart and lungs going.

A well-deserved lunch is followed by the annual Onyx dung spitting contest. This is exactly as it sounds. Serena has been collected dried Onyx dung whilst we've been walking around the dunes and now a few intrepid members of the group take it in turns to see how far they can spit the marble sized lumps of vegetation. I politely decline despite them telling me that it doesn't taste of anything. It's enough that I know where its been!
The contest is won by Sven for South Africa. He later on receives a free beer as reward.

We finish off the long but interesting day with a walk down into the Sesriem Canyon where we get to see our first snake; an adder. It's only just come out of some cold water so thankfully just lies there starting at us drowsily waiting for its blood to warm up so that it can jump us!

Then back to the lodge for a welcome hot shower and snooze before dinner and booze!

Sunday, September 10, 2006


After a good sleep, hot shower pummeling (in a nice way) and filling breakfast, we leave and get our first proper glimpse of the Namibian countryside.

Being in the Southern hemisphere, the seasons are the reverse of what we have back in Europe and September here is early Spring. But it's quite unlike any Spring that I've ever seen. The land we see today is dry and arid. There is vegetation but it's of the dry, rugged, can survive anything that you can throw at it variety. That's not to say that there isn't green vegetation to be seen but it's usually either because it's near some farmland irrigation or has roots deep enough to find underground water reserves.

One of my fellow travellers, Ben, excitedly points out her first spotting of some wild animals. Unfortunately she blushes and looks a bit embarrassed when it becomes apparent that it's just a herd of cows!

We so however spot a few baboons preening themselves by the side of the road and do stop a few times along the way whenever a Springbok or Ostrich strays close enough to the road for us to catch sight of them. It's then a race for us to open the side windows, get our cameras in focus and get a good shot before they get camera shy and bound off.

We stop off along the way to have lunch in the shade of a big tree. Sven and Serena take out the large table and chairs that we are hauling around in a little trailer behind the minibus and prepare a delicious buffet meal for us in no time.

A trend we start to notice as the holiday goes on is that Sven has bought way too much food than we are always able to eat.

We attract a bunch of local children and Sven decides to give them the leftovers. But first they have to sing for us. They have no problem with this arrangement and after a bit of bossing around by the one girl in the group who's wearing shoes (and so, obviously, the one in charge for the day) they get in a line and start singing us church school songs. They are really sweet and we applaud them after each song. They really enjoy singing them too and laugh along with us.

They get their just rewards at the end and ravenously devour our leftover curry and bread.
With smiles on our faces we wave goodbye and carry on to our lodgings for the next two nights in what turns out to be a lodge cum Christian Retreat!

It's relatively close to the dunes that we'll be visiting tomorrow and remote enough from civilisation (no mobile or radio coverage) that we get an amazing view of the stars at night. I miss seeing the milky way and the pure multi-dimensional quality of the sky at night. Back in London we just get to see the brightest stars and a few planets and not much else.

My bed has a net to keep mossies out but one cunningly cheats the system by already being inside the net when I go to bed!

Luckily the room is supplied with some mossie spray and he doesn't last long.

I also switch off all the lights bar one on my bedside cabinet and the last sounds I hear before dozing off to sleep are of the few mossies outside my netting frying themselves by flying into the hot bulb.


Saturday, September 09, 2006


So by using my newly discovered buttock juggling skills (see previous post), I actually manage to get some sleep on the flight. The in flight entertainment is the now universal (on most recent flights that I've been on) visual gag show, an episode of Friends and some crap film, so aleep is a welcome relief.

We arrive early at Windhoek (Namibia's capital) and I spot someone else in the immigration queue ahead of me with an Exodus envelope who I guess by process of excellent deduction (since he is male, travelling alone, and travelling with Exodus) to be Colin.

I'd been told before leaving that I would be sharing with someone called Colin for three nights due to overbooking at some of the safari lodges. In return I would get my entire single supplement fee recouped. Which isn't such a bad deal really.

Sod's law, my queue turns out to be the slowest and despite being one of the first off the plane I'm practically the last through to collect my luggage.

We meet Sven our guide, (blonde, blue eyed, surfer looking type dude) originally from Pretoria SA, and the rest of the group too. I only had six people listed on my group notes but it turns out that with a flurry of late bookings, there are now eleven people on the trip.

We get introduced to each other, size each other up and instantly forget each others names.

We stroll out of the airport and get our first glimpse of the minibus that'll be our main mode of transport for the trip. It's not too bad though a bus full of tall or wide people would not be happy. Luckily that doesn't desribe our group, so we are fine.

We get driven into downtown Windhoek and have a chilled morning just wandering around.

Windhoek is okay but it's not really a tourist town. The architecture of some of the older colonial looking buildings painted in pastels looks nice but the part of town that we are dropped off in is by a large shopping mall and the touristic (is that a word?) highlight is a display of meteorites in one of the side streets off the main thoroughfare.

I enjoy a chat with the two girls that I'd spied earlier on the flight, who turn out to be doctors, over a nice green cream soda drink then retreat to the local park where I lie down in the shade, call the other half and watch a live band performing the hits of Bryan Adams with their own version of the lyrics for some type of PTA-style meeting. A bit bizarre but I was chilled out and happy to be here.

We then headed out of town to the chalets where we'll spend a single night before we start our clock-wise loop of the country.

The chalets were okay and my two main priorities of a clean, firm bed and a hot shower are well met. Unfortunately the bar attached to the chalets is closed with just a male hockey team, much to the delight of some of the ladies in the group, being given their pre-match talk in attendance.

We get introduced to Sven's girlfriend Serena, who's also a guide and will be travelling with us.

In the evening we head off to what is called the best beerhouse in Namibia, Joe's. Though no longer owned by Joe (according to our Sven), it is nevertheless still an atmospherically rustic restaurant. I have a really nice mixed game stroganoff and the food makes for a nice hearty meal indeed!

A quick Whisky nightcap courtesy of fellow traveller Jane in the evening and it's all set for the first day proper of out trip tomorrow!

Friday, September 08, 2006

But first to make it out of this country in one piece...

A much delayed post...Apologies!

I finish work early on the Friday, say my goodbyes to the other half (at work with me) and head home to finish off the packing and tidying up of the flat along with a quick dinner before closing all the doors (not sure why you have to do that, something to do with safety but I just know that I have to do it) and heading off.

I'm running ten minutes behind schedule and the District Line has minor delays. So I'm a bit hot and sweaty pulling my bag along the road. At one point I walk down a bit where the pavement narrows and someone barges past me. I couldn't get out of the way as I'm knackered pulling my holdall along so I look up to see what that was all about and he starts on me!

"Come on then!", he says. A woman walks past and gives the bloke a wide berth. He's itching for some trouble! I turn away from him and carry on my trudge towards the station. Thankfully I don't hear him again. *sigh*

It's a bit touch-and-go and I feel pressured enough with only a few minutes to go to catch the Gatwick Express. In the end I make it, hotter and sweatier with just three minutes to spare!

The Gatwick ExpressThe train is mostly empty and, more importantly, air conditioned so, in thirty minutes, I'm cool and relaxed.

Arriving at Gatwick I'm shocked to see a queue the length of the terminal full of African people each with trolleys fully laden down with luggage. I remember a friend of mine telling me how flights to certain destinations are the most profitable simply because of the excess baggage charges and I finally understand what he means! I'm expecting to see a few kitchen sinks strapped onto the back of the huge tea chest size bits of luggage that people are taking with them!

I follow the queue along hoping upon hope that it's not for my flight. A huge wave of relief floods over me as I see that my check in desk is next to the one from where the queue has originated and that there is in fact no queue whatsoever for my check in. I want to jump for joy but am too knackered and don't want to look like a nutter. (Especially in an airport.)

"Would you please fit your hand luggage into that box", says the man at the flight desk. I look behind me. He's pointing at what looks like a box that someone knocked up in woodwork class. I walk over to it and push my rucksack in. It doesn't fit. I measured my bag before heading off and it matched the allowed dimensions perfectly. But stuffed with my laptop, camera, books and assorted other stuff, it barely goes in three inches. Now if I could re-arrange it, I'm sure it'd fit...

I look over to the check in guy. He's talking to someone and not paying attention. So I grab my rucksack and walk back. He looks back at me. "Did it fit?", he asks. "Yeah, sure", I say. He hands over my passport and boarding card. "Have a nice flight", he says. "Thanks", I reply as I walk away trying to make my rucksack look as small as possible by not hoisting it onto my back until I'm around the corner. *Phew!*

But despite this, from the time that I arrived at the airport to the time that I had gone through security with my hand luggage, only 20 minutes had passed. Result! Unfortunately the queues in WHSmith and Boots to buy water (which we can't take through security due to restrictions on liquid goods) are phenomenal and it takes me about 15 mins to sort myself out and pay for a bottle and some snacks for the journey.

A quick stop to the gents, and my flight is called and I'm surprised to find people already boarding by the time that I've reached the gate. So I'm basically physically on the plane less than an hour after arriving at the airport itself which isn't too bad.

The flight leaves on time too with only a fat sweaty guy arriving late just before the doors closed. The two seats next to me are empty. I pray that he isn't heading towards them. He doesn't *phew* and I shift to the seat on my left to give me an empty seat on either side of me.

I spot two girls to my right (Who turn out to be Rachel & Sarah) going through the Exodus itinerary and I introduce myself to them. Can't spot anyone else with Exodus logos anywhere on
them though.

I then proceed to spill water all over myself as the cap of my bottle opens prematurely on me as I try to drink it, spill coke onto my tray table and then cut my finger with the sharp serrated edge of the plastic fork we get given for dinner. Great start to the holiday!

The seat is bloody hard and uncomfortable but I surprise myself by actually getting some shut eye on the flight by alternately sleeping on my sides.

Left bum cheek then right bum cheek....

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Off To Namibia

Well, I'm off to Namibia tomorrow evening.

Mostly packed.

It still amazes me how a few T-shirts, shorts, undies and a toothbrush end up taking up so much space in my holdall. It's kind of like an inverse TARDIS.

I'm obviously really excited about the whole thing but know that I'll miss the other half a lot too.

To help her get through it I've ordered a dozen red roses to be delivered on Monday, one for each day until I get back. Of course that could have the opposite effect and make her miss me more but then I've just told her to concentrate on how good we'll feel when I come back and we'll have the whole weekend together to make up for lost time, rather than on the missing each other then and now.

Yes, you can all put your sick bags away now. I can't help how I feel!!!

It's the first trip that I've been on 'alone' since Central America in 2003 and I'm still filled with some trepidation about the make up of the group. I've not had a bad group on any organised group tours before (just the odd awkward person, or should that be awkward odd person?) but in so far as I know there are only five other people with me on this trip so it'll be important for such a small group to get on with each other to make the trip that little bit more special.

I had paid a little extra to get a single room so that I can have a bit of personal space during the trip though have been told that on three nights out of four in Etosha National Park (where we will be on safari at the end of the holiday) I will need to share with another bloke in the group.

On the plus side (hoping that he doesn't snore that is) I've been reimbursed the entire single supplement cost for the trip in compensation. This in addition to the five percent discount I get for traveling with Exodus more than three times and the discount I got for the middle east trip being cancelled, have meant I've saved quite a bit off the cover price, which is nice as it was
quite an expensive holiday to start with. (Namibia isn't cheap, unfortunately!)

Went along to a slideshow presentation on Tuesday about overland trips in Africa. The guy giving the talk was very passionate about the continent and gave a brilliant talk. He was also a photographer and had some brilliant pictures to show us and some great anecdotes to go with them. It really whetted my appetite for the holiday coming up.

Unfortunately when asked about which camera lens to take on a safari trip, he simply said the best and longest prime lens that you could afford or were able to carry. Didn't seem to think much about taking a zoom telephoto lens like my Sigma 70-300, as he said that it would just be set to the maximum zoom all the time anyway.

Fair enough but it'll have to do!

To top it off, I've already booked my next holiday at the end of January to Vietnam and Cambodia finishing off in Bangkok but this time with my mate. The other half didn't fancy it, as she hates insects!

Oh well, All being well, a romantic week somewhere in Europe next year, perhaps?

Apologies for the lack of pictures for a while (well, a decrease anyway.) Guaranteed that they'll be loads to make up for this when I write up about my travels.

Take care everyone and see you all in two weeks.