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Stardate 050412

May The Fourth Be With You. Always.

I sit in a pod near the front of Air Canada flight 888 heading east. Heather sits in a pod to my left, barely out of earshot as we individually occupy ourselves in the lap of aero-luxury. It's difficult to type; when I'm not being offered drinks or a gourmet menu I'm busy clining and reclining and occasionally being interrupted for such things as a tablecloth. First Class problems.

Though the trip has been booked for months of course packing didn't start until last night, and the usual hectic rounds were made today finalising everything for departure. The cat was shuffled off to Chilly Camp with promises to write (he won't) and clothes were squished, zippers pulled, and off to the airport we went with bags packed and fingers crossed that everything we need is here with us somewhere.

When we booked our flights we were presented with a surprise promotion that upgraded us to first class for our entire journey. A deal that would have cost us $7,000 extra, it's the part of the trip I've been looking forward to the most – especially given the thirty-six hours of travel time we are up against. As it stands we feel like rock stars and are eating it up – well, presently we're drinking it up, a process that began in the Executive Lounge back at the Ottawa airport.

Here she comes again. I'm gonna show my true rebelous colours by ordering red wine with my chicken entree. Bet she won't see that coming.

In a few hours we land at Heathrow. I'll be spending the time between then and now deciding between films and sleep.

The lighting keeps changing in here. One minute it's a normal white light, the next we are awash in a cool blueish hue.

First class makes me wish I was rich. For those that have never traveled up here, well, let's just say it's immeasurably better. I'm surprised there's no hot tub.

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Stardate 050512

Though I've flown first class several times before, this was my first 'pod', and after settling on the excellent Rum Diaries with Johnny Depp on my flip-out screen I set the seat to full recline. It was everything I could do to keep from giggling out loud; my six-foot frame stretched right out and comfortably scrolled through some of my favourite sleeping positions. It was truly glorious.

Of course with all the drinking I ended up getting only the barest minimum of sleep before the cabin glowed in soft red mood lighting and we were awoken for coffee in preparation of landing. Why flight crews wake up the cabin a solid hour before touch-down is beyond me but it's the same at the front of the plane.

Our departure from Ottawa had been delayed for an hour so we arrived in London later than we had anticipated, close to 8pm. First class passengers were given a fast-track pass for customs that led us down a much shortened line, a perk I hadn't seen before. We got through and headed to the baggage area, as we had been told over the phone in Ottawa that we would have to pick up our bags and recheck them on Turkish Air.

After a good hour (okay, not such a good hour) waiting at the conveyer we did some asking and found that we had been misinformed; our bags were indeed checked all the way through. This was to prove problematic as we had acquired a couple of bottles at duty free that we had intended to add to our luggage upon pickup. Now well past nine we decided to hit up the Executive Lounge and regroup.

We visited the Turkish Airlines gate and asked about checking our alcohol, got a box and tape from Air Canada to pack it up and ultimately found that we couldn't check it until closer to our flight time. A slight inconvenience, but no big deal.

Our connection wasn't slated for departure until 4:30 in the afternoon so we had some time to kill. Heather had been to London before whereas I hadn't, so she left it in my hands. After some light breakfast and internetting in the lounge I did a bunch of humming and hawing before finally deciding we should hit the London Underground. I grabbed our box 'o booze and off we went.

Much of the Piccadilly line is actually above ground, offering views of the city as we sped past stops with names that have been forever etched in my mind. Gloucester, Baker Street, King's Cross, Hyde Park, names you'll find all over the world and here were the originals. Out the windows I saw lorries and flats and people standing in queues to visit the chemist. Right-hand steering cars with their boots and bonnets puttered along the wrong side of the road, buskers strummed their guitars with plectrums with hardly a bobby in sight.

All the building were made of brick, in a sort of haphazard conformity that betrays the centuries and centuries of history. We switched trains and soon enough found ourselves at St. John's Wood, with a classic English drizzle in the air. Down the street a bit and hang a right and there it was.

Abbey Road.

I walked right by the dozen or so tourists who were walking back and forth across the world's most famous crosswalk...er, zebra crossing and went straight to the gate of the studio where four young nervous lads met the great George Martin and together changed the course of pop music. There are no tours as Abbey Road is still very much a working studio, but just standing at the gate with my jaw agape gave me the shivers.

I made a point of standing a bit down the street on the right and stood with my hands on my hips looking back at the picture-taking tourists,just like Paul Cole did on that August morning over four decades ago. Hopefully some people will get home and notice me back there and get a kick out of it.

Of course I had to do my own crossing so I directed Heather to a good spot for a pick and did a couple of strolls. The rain and the crowds mingled with my lack of sleep to take a bit of the shine off it, but it was something I had to do and I'm glad I did. Heather took a turn and I shot some fuzzy pics of her and we strolled back to the tube for the hour-long ride back to Heathrow.

We checked in with an hour left to spend in the Executive Lounge where we had some chili and pulled a few beers (beer wine and spirits all self-serve). Exhausted we boarded the second leg of our journey that would take us from London to Istanbul and found a loud argument going on in Turkish between some of the other First Class passengers (or were they?) and several flight attendants. Ultimately two of the arguers left leaving a lady and her very loud and whiny child.

That combined with a less-than-stellar Elite service made it a less enjoyable flight, but still leaps and bounds above being in regular seats. The seats weren't pods but they pretty much fully reclined and we both spent most of the flight sleeping.

We arrived in Istanbul with little time to change planes. We did manage to hit up the Turkish Air (THY) Lounge for a half-hour or so and it was stunning. The food and pastries were great, tons of drinks, marble and glass everywhere. Warm oak furniture and one of the nicest bathrooms I've ever seen. I almost hit up the shower for a little refresher but was worried about making our connection so I gave it a pass.

Now we are en route to Cape Town via Jo-berg and we are back in the lap of luxury. Again, not pods up here, but the food and service is incredible. For dinner I ordered the following:

Potpourri of Mediterranean meze (white eggplant salad, grilled chicken breast, cherry tomato and frisse), potato leek soup with olive croutons, and mushroom ravioli. It comes with a fruit and cheese tray and a series of desserts, including tiramisu, coconut ice cream and chocolate souffle. We've pre-ordered breakfast from our in-flight gourmet chef for the morning and Heather is stretched out sleeping.

It's now 2am local time, and with a stuffed belly and a Johnny Walker at my side I think I'll nuzzle in for a movie and follow Heather's lead.

To think – our vacation hasn't even really begun yet.

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Stardate 050612

Considering we had just spent thirty-six hours travelling halfway around the world we disembarked feeling remarkably refreshed. Gotta say, first class is worth it. Of course we were among the first off the plane so there was absolutely no lineup when we met the long row of immigration officers that were waiting for our plane to arrive. Also, our bags were marked with 'priority' tags so they were first out of the conveyer. I was shocked at the condition of the cardboard box that contained the guitar I had brought – it looked exactly as it did when I checked it in. Three flights, three baggage crews, three international airports and not a dent.

We loaded up a luggage cart and headed for the “Nothing To Declare†door, and for the first time in my life there were customs officials waiting there. Our guy was only interested in what was in the two cardboard boxes. He checked our two bottles of duty free – no problem, then asked what was in the other box.

I explained that it was a used guitar that my boss had given me to use for the trip and leave with someone before we returned. I should have held my tongue. As I was intending to leave the instrument in Namibia I'd have to pay the VAT on it here in South Africa (though Namibia has been independent of South Africa since 1990 they are considered the same place as far as customs is concerned). So a bit of a rigamorole and I paid about 120 Rand*, which makes me legit as long as I manage to hold on to the receipt.

I suppose the upside is he didn't ask to look through the other three bags we had, one of which is packed to the teeth with medical supplies we also intend to leave in Africa. Nothing illegal, but a potential headache was averted.

As is my habit, I have all of my money for the trip on my person – I tend to shun using credit cards and ATM's when abroad. So with over $2500 on me in six different currencies we though it prudent to pre-book a shuttle through our hotel. When we finally emerged from the bowels of the arrivals section we immediately found our taxi driver holding a sign with our names on.

The Cape Town airport is clearly very modern and western (for the lack of a better term), and as we loaded our luggage and pulled out of the parking area I remarked to Heather how completely different of an experience this was as compared to our last African arrival. The Mali airport was akin to a bus depot in Albany, the streets were hardly streets and foreign sights and smells permeated everything. The oddest thing about pulling out of the Cape Town airport was getting used to the cars driving on the left side of the road.

Just outside of the airport we passed our first township, a fenced in collection of tin shacks that housed the very poor blacks, and soon we passed another. Just a few short minutes later we were close enough to Cape Town to see how gorgeous of a city it is, and a few more minutes later we were passing nothing but million dollar homes. Clearly the divergence between rich and poor here is stark and extreme.

As Cape Town was to serve as our 'treat' destination we had booked into a four star boutique hotel, the Primi Royal just off the beach in the very upscale Camp's Bay area of town. Though cheap by Canadian standards at about $60 a night, the place is great – the eight rooms have fantastic views of either the ocean or the looming Table Mountain, the well-appointed patio has an attractive small pool, and our luxury room was indeed luxurious.

I trounced around the corner to a grocery store for mix and in no time at all we tore into our hard-travelled duty free bottles, showered and donned our in-room robes and enjoyed the view on a beautiful sunny day.

A couple of drinks later and the time change started to catch up with us, we lolled in and out of sleep for perhaps ninety minutes before deciding to take advantage of the late afternoon. We rubbed the sleep from our eyes and sauntered to the beach in time to watch the sun dip into the sea, then cruised up and down the strip, which reminds me very much of Waikiki Beach in Hawaii.

The water was very rough but that won't keep us from swimming. The fact that this is the world capital in Great White sharks will be what keeps us from swimming.

We selected one of the many restaurants that were fighting for the thinning early winter crowds and enjoyed a nice meal and a couple of drinks. I had the local draft (Jack Black) while Heather opted for a glass of champagne. I teetered between the beef burger and the ostrich, settling on the former, while Heather had pasta with sausage. It all came to less than 150R.

It got dark fast, and on our way back to the hotel we noticed almost every establishment was dead, even the places that seemed like obvious party spots and were packed just an hour before. Seems like this area goes to sleep well before 9pm. Though it is a Sunday, so who knows?

The jet lag and time change got the best of us, so we went back to the hotel, filled the sink, pulled the plug and watched the water drain in the wrong direction. We have a lot to pack into a short stopover so we opted to make it an early night.

We lay between the crisp sheets in our huge bed and listened to the waves crash before falling into a deep, deep sleep.

There's nothing like the first day of a long-awaited journey.

*$1 Canadian = 8 Rand

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Stardate 050712

After a glorious sleep in a bed big enough to have a horizon, we made our way down to the restaurant area to start our day. I could have slept for several more hours but we have to make the most of our time here in Cape Town.

We perused the continental spread (brekky is included at the hotel) while the staff brewed us some quality coffee. As we munched croissants and jam they came to take our order; turns out the continental breakfast is supplemented with a made-to-order full English breakfast, so we had our fill while the Atlantic Ocean crashed below a cloudless blue sky just outside.

We enquired about transportation for our day's plans and balked at the R1,000+ tourist minibus that would take us to Simon's Town. We asked about taking the regular train and the lady at the counter seemed taken aback. “I've never had a guest travel that way before,†she said.

We did decide to grab the tourist hop-on hop-off bus, though we were using more for transportation than for sight-seeing. We got a nice view of the beautiful city and soon found ourselves at the train station. We grabbed our train tickets (R53 for both of us, return, first class) and with fifteen minutes to spare I grabbed a curried chicken sandwich at a stall that completely filled me for R10. I didn't expect Cape Town to be this cheap, but things seem to be running about a third of what it would cost back home.

On the nearly empty train we grabbed one of the booths and settled in for a seventy minute journey along the Indian Ocean. Security came through several times to check our tickets – we saw one couple get booted off for not having tickets. No fine or anything, security just made them go to the other, non first-class car. Seems little incentive.

We weren't going all the way down to the Cape where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, we had a much more adorable mission afoot. We got off at the end of the line and grabbed a mini-bus up the road to Boulder Beach, breeding grounds for a flock of African Jackass penguins.

Before we hit the beach we did a walk along the penguin trail and in no time at all we came face-to-face with the cutest little dudes beside the path. We met dozens of critters dressed in their finest tuxedos just feet away from us. We were both over the moon.

About 10,000 pictures later we crossed over to the beach side.

Back home we have a cat that we both love dearly. He's one of those black and white Sylvester cats, and with his tuxedo-like markings we named him Chilly Willy, after the ice cube crying, scarfed and toqued cartoon character. So it was great amazement that the first critter we encountered along the beach pathway was a carbon copy of our feline friend back home. Belly scratches and manic purring ensued and we carried on.

Penguins were absolutely everywhere alongside the path. One fellah and I had a head-turning competition. With my nose a foot from his beak I turned my head one way and he followed suit. Then I'd turn the other way and he did too. Back and forth, back and forth, I thought we were making fast friends.

We later discovered that head turning is their way of showing aggression. Turns out I was unwittingly picking a fight. Luckily we both escaped unharmed.

Down on the beach we found dozens and dozens of penguins tending their nests on the beach. Sitting on their fluffy grey young'uns, couple would often stand with their wings around each other in loving embraces. Occasionally one or two would bray, sounding exactly like their namesakes. Members of the clan would waddle off to the water's edge and plop down on their bellies, instantly becoming dramatically more mobile. These guys are cute when they waddle on dry land, but they're like stealth bombers once they hit the water. Heather took a thousand pictures and after well over two hours it was all we could do to pull ourselves away. On our way out of the beach area we overheard a panicked lady complaining to an attendant that she had been pick-pocketed. It will pay well to be very careful.

We had been experiencing magical timing all day with regards to buses and our luck held up. A minute after we got back up to the road the local bus came by and dropped us back at the train. The minute we boarded the train (unknowingly in 2nd class the train pulled out. This car looked more like a standard subway car with seats along the walls and plenty of room for standers. Everyone had a seat when we pulled out but a few stops along the way the car was packed. Vendors worked their way through the throng selling their wares and a couple of times a teenager would come through leading an elderly blind person who was singing and randomly extending a steel cup.

We kept an eye out for the time as we made our way back to Cape Town and calculated that we would arrive just in time to miss the last hop-on hop-off bus, which stopped around 6pm. Our math was on the money as our magical bus karma came to an end. As we wandered checking local buses and the like we were occasionally accosted by beggars and thieves, but just the merest threatening tone from me was enough to move them along.

We were hungry so we hit Long Street for dinner. This is the main backpacker area and it had several options. Again we were accosted and this time I really had to get in the guy's face to get him away. It didn't almost come to blows but it almost almost came to blows.

After several beers and a nice dinner we haggled a cab down to half his asking price and we got back to our hotel. We brought our bottles and the guitar down to the deck hoping for some social interaction but finding none we got utterly smashed alone together.

We had a hot-tub before bed and I slept like the dead, though I made sure to set that pesky little alarm clock of mine.

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Stardate 050812

Once again I was jarred awake too early for my liking, but once again we had a busy day ahead of us.

We enjoyed another fine breakfast and afterward I went to speak to the receptionist about our day's plans. While she was finishing up a phone call I scanned the front page of the paper which reminded me of a question.

“Can I help you?â€

“I've been wondering,†I asked with a smile. “What does ANC stand for?â€

“African National Congress,†she said after some thought, “But really it's the Communist Party,†she added.

Interesting.

I told her that we really enjoyed the train down to Simon's Town the day before, hoping she might recommend it to other tourists in the future. I mentioned how cheap it was and was surprised that she knew the price.

“Frankly I was shitting bricks when you left here for the train yesterday. Lots of people get uncomfortable getting crowded in with all the blacks.†It was certainly clear she would be uncomfortable with it, but we sure as hell weren't.

It's obvious that the end of apartheid is still very much unsettled, as the cardboard and tin townships and the colour of the hardest working people shows. We've been hearing anecdotes here and there about what things used to be like here and it's just unfathomable.

It used to be that when the trains were boarded whites went first, then the blacks. As the train pulled out of town it would stop and the cars would be rearranged so the black cars would be first. The reasoning was that in the event of an accident the first cars would be the worst effected. When the train neared its destination the cars would be switched back so the whites could disembark first.

We're talking a mere eighteen years ago.

White-only beaches and restaurants were the norm. Blacks lived and died without seeing the inside of a proper movie theatre. Black schools, coloured schools, Indian schools and white schools. Black men walking with white women were putting their lives on the line. Eighteen years ago. It's embarrassing how little I knew of this when it was going on.

With this in mind we knew a tour of Robben Island was necessary.

We shunned the tourist bus and grabbed a taxi to the waterfront, arriving just in the nick of time. The ferry was packed, maybe 400 people were aboard for the second of four daily crossings to Africa's Alcatraz.

I braced myself for an emotional day and almost welled up as we watched the video during our 40 minute ride, though that would be the closest I would get to tears.

We arrived and were hustled into one of four large buses. When it was fully packed we started moving, while our guide introduced himself. Yasien Muhamed proved to be remarkably well-informed, funny and intelligent, and very well traveled. As the other buses ambled past us to stagger the crowds he explained how every country in the world contributed to the plight and rescue of the disenfranchised South Africans. He proved it by asking what nationalities were on the bus, and for every country mentioned he gave a detailed account of how that country contributed to Robben Island and the freedom of it's clientele.

As Yasien explained how the first political prisoners arrived here in 1652 and how the island evolved into a leper colony and eventually back to a super-prison, he peppered his monologue with anecdotes of meeting such notables as Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela and stories of his travels as a speaker and the first Secretary General of the Pan African Congress. He was truly a joy to listen to, with his booming voice and emphatic gestures. We were lucky to have selected his bus.

After an hour with him we were dropped at the prison doors where we were guided by a former inmate named Sparks. All the prison guides are either former inmates or former guards, and our guide was clear on the fact that the two sides are now friends.

We began in a long, inhospitable room that was Sparks' cell for seven years. His crime was terrorism; he was caught trying to recruit members to the ANC and was found with weapons and explosives. Of course, he seemed very unapologetic about his transgressions.

Sparks explained that upon arrival at Robben Island he was given a new name which consisted of a five digit number. The sixty or so prisoners kept in the cell slept on the floor with three blankets and no pillows, and the barred windows had no glass, the wind and the rain was free to blow in at will. Many got pneumonia and died while imprisoned due to the meager diet and shelter. Racism extended even during incarceration, as blacks endured a much reduced diet as compared to coloureds and Indians*.

The prisoners worked all day in the limestone mine which caused eye defects in every one. To this day no one is allowed to use a flash when photographing Nelson Mandela due to the eye damage he sustained in the mines.

Incidentally, the mines were considered the prison university. It was here that the educated prisoners passed on their knowledge to those less learned. Even the guards came to the mines for education, and they were welcomed as Nelson Mandela insisted that co-operation and forgiveness was the route to freedom. Yasien says most entered Robben Island unable to read and write but everyone left with the equivalent to two or three university degrees.

Sparks led us to the courtyard where prisoners would have their lunch and clean their toilet buckets, and where Mr. Mandela hid his book The Path To Freedom behind a tree. The book was discovered and destroyed, but not before a copy was smuggled out of Robben Island and distributed.

Next we were led down a row of individual cells, tiny broom closets that measure 3 x 2 metres and are outfitted with a microphone to enforce the no talking rule and nothing else. The third cell housed prisoner number 46664 for 18 of his 27 years of incarceration, the man now revered worldwide and a name that was repeated to us about a hundred times today, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

That was the end of the tour and we were left to make our way back to the ferry. Heather and I rebelled and followed a sign marked “Penguin viewing path†as Robben Island is home to the world's third largest penguin colony. Most of the little fellahs were out hunting, we saw perhaps two dozen, and soon we were at the wharf. It was a bit disappointing that a cruise to the ostriches and other wildlife wasn't part of the tour but I'm not complaining. As we got hustled onto the ferry it occurred to me how lacking in emotion the tour was; I had braced myself to leave a bawling mess.

Back on solid ground we had lunch at a brewery and took a cab to Table Mountain. Towering over the city, Table Mountain rises a kilometre above sea level and the summit is reached by cablecar. My ears were popping before the cab dropped us at the gate, and then we piled into one of two large, round cablecars (capacity 65) and up we went, with a rotating floor offering everyone a fair chance at all possible views. We did a walkabout on top for about an hour and the views were really quite stunning. We watched as fog came in from the ocean and blanketed the city below, a beautiful sight.

Of course as we descended the mountain and then continued down down down to Camps Bay via taxi the lovely sunny day gave way to the fog that we had watched envelop the city. We decided that was enough for the day and spent the evening enjoying our last night at Primi Royal. We were too relaxed to go have dinner so we filled our tummies with duty free and sat in the hotel bar.

I struck up a conversation with the night man who was from Zimbabwe and got an education on Mugabe that could fill a log or two on it's own. We live in a beautiful, messed up world.

*For good or ill, terms like “black†and “coloured†are in common usage here, in conversation, in the press, etcetera, so these are the terms I'll be using as well.

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One fellah and I had a head-turning competition. With my nose a foot from his beak I turned my head one way and he followed suit. Then I'd turn the other way and he did too. Back and forth, back and forth, I thought we were making fast friends.

We later discovered that head turning is their way of showing aggression. Turns out I was unwittingly picking a fight.

This will make a great scene in the movie version. Incredible.

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Stardate 050912

On our final day in crisp sheets and spotless luxury I finally seem to have caught up on my sleep. We had only one thing planned for the day before our afternoon flight so we enjoyed another English breakfast and lingered over our delicious coffees before packing up.

We did a final walk along the beach and when we got back to the hotel at noon our prearranged taxi was waiting for us.

We had been asking around among the cabbies we'd met in the last day or two about a ride to the airport with a stop along the way and the lowest price we had been quoted was R250, a fair site cheaper than the R350 we had paid to get from the airport when we arrived. With that in mind we got the hotel staff to call the taxi company and offer R250 with a stop in Guguleta. They said 'sure' and now here we were.

Our waiting cabbie was surprised to hear we intended a stop along the way; he ran inside to inquire with the hotel staff about it. He returned with a shrug and off we went. We later found out that the taxi driver that was supposed to give us a ride bailed and passed us off on this guy.

Heather volunteers with a charity based in Ottawa called Not Just Tourists that collects medical supplies from doctors and hospitals and used suitcases from everybody else. The idea is that tourists traveling to disadvantaged countries can max out their baggage allowance with these donated materials. On the ground they drop off the supplies at a clinic or hospital in need. The bulk of their traffic is to Cuba, but they are happy to send along medical supplies wherever they may be needed.

Our first class status allowed room for one extra bag so we were in possession of about 25kg of medical supplies that we wanted to donate. Our baggage allowance from Cape Town to Namibia didn't allow for the extra suitcase and the fees to bring it along would have been through the roof, so we looked into dropping the bag at a clinic in one of the poverty-stricken townships.

We had been told to go to the police station first and they would direct us to a medical clinic. The cabbie pulled off the highway just before the airport where we could plainly see the police station from the road. The station was pretty busy, but some people allowed us to take their place in line and a cop gave our taxi driver directions.

Soon we were in a township called Manenberg, an neighborhood that was a world away from the upscale city it borders. There was no mistaking the plight of the people ambling along the streets. This is where the Afrikans eke out their survival in a country that suffers a 43% unemployment rate. Our Zimbabwe friend from last night was telling us what it was like to live in the townships; no one is safe, theft and robbery were ubiquitous. The newspaper this morning held a story of a pastor who had been stabbed and robbed at his church the previous night, the sixth time it's happened in less than three years.

Apartheid has not ended. Certain people are unquestionably “apart†from other people, and yes, the entire area houses blacks exclusively.

We slowly wound through the streets, stopping to ask directions of a couple of young men who pointed us around the bend. The clinic was surrounded by a high steel-barred fence topped with rings of barbed wire. The gate was eventually opened for us electronically and Heather and I grabbed the suitcase and went inside.

The clinic was packed, much busier than the police station, and we were quickly met by a nurse. We explained why we had come and opened the bag for her to see. She haltered and told us she couldn't take it – rules state that any donations must be accompanied by a letter from the South African government. “I know it sounds stupid, but that's the rule,†she explained, as we stammered in shock.

She asked us to wait and returned with her supervisor. Again we explained the situation. “You mean you bring all of this and ask nothing in return?†she asked. “Yes, of course we'll take it, thank-you.â€

She further explained that they were a clinic for children and they could use some of the supplies and would take the rest to another clinic. We thanked her and returned to our cabbie who was waiting outside.

Eventually the gate swung back and we pulled back onto the streets of Manenberg, past shacks and starving dogs, eventually pulling back onto the highway to the airport.

It was only then that the taxi driver told us that Manenberg is the most dangerous part of Cape Town, an area notorious for gang activity, crime, and gunfire. He said he had never been there, had never dreamed of ever going there, but he also said that it didn't seem nearly as bad as people make it out to be. He told us that the prevailing attitude is that people simply couldn't enter the area without risking their neck, but he noted how friendly people had been when they directed us to the clinic, and how everyone at the clinic were all smiles. It turned out that his sister was involved with Doctors Without Borders, and he would be sure to mention the experience to her.

“I'm glad we could show you such a good time.†I said.

At the airport it was handshakes all around. The driver gave me his card. His name was Vaughan Rolls. “Good name,†I told him, and we were off.

Of course our time in South Africa was much, much too short and Heather and I are in agreement that a month here would make far a great vacation. I'm sure we'll be back.

There were only twenty people aboard our flight to Namibia, about half were Mormon missionaries. The aircraft was too small to have a first class section but we still had a nice little lunch and free bar service. I didn't notice if the Mormons took advantage.

As we descended into Windhoek we could see no city out the window, just rolling hills and shrubbed savannah. The was no sign of a city, but Heather saw some ostriches from the plane.

We landed, cruised customs and hopped a cab to the city, 45 kilometres away. I asked why the airport was so far from the city, while there seemed to be absolutely nothing in between. “It's the nearest flat place.†And so it was. All around were slight rolling hills pocked with mountainous lumps.

We decided to stay at a backpacker place in order to save some money and maybe glean some advice on traveling Namibia, so the cab dropped us at a compound called Cardboard Box. They had a camping option so we took it, N$140 a night.*

Dusk was upon us so we immediately went out back to pitch my tent. As it started to go up it was clear that we (I) had forgotten how small the tent was. It was going to be a real challenge to fit our gear and our selves in the thing. And then, oh my, did I really forget that I broke one of the three poles the last time I used it? We (I) only had two poles for my three-pole tent. I'd like to say I was in the doghouse with Heather, but given the circumstances a doghouse would've been a vast improvement.

I asked inside about a camping supply store and found out that almost everything in the country closes at 4:30pm. The good news was the hostel had a tent pitched and empty that we were welcome to use. It was large and heavy duty, thick olde schoole canvas walls; a dramatically improved turn of events.

We made ourselves at home and hit the bar. The local beer was good and cheap and we polished off the last bit of my duty-free Canadian Club straight from the bottle. At least half of us got rip-roaring drunk, perhaps both of us, I don't know. On one of my many forays to the bathroom a staggered when I should have lurched and twisted my ankle badly as I face-planted into the gravel.

Why do my vacations always start this way? Oh right, duty-free.

Back at the bar I waited until the blood from my knee seeped through my pants before going to the tent and fishing out the first aid kit. We carried on where we left off until we decided we were just drinking for drinking sake and we went to bed without any dinner. I'm getting olde.

It was a surprisingly cold night, especially for Heather with her (my) less-than-adequate sheer sleeping bag. Our first class holiday was unquestionably over, now we were roughing it. Extra roughing it. And that's as it will be for pretty much the rest of our vacation.

*The Namibian dollar is locked to the Rand, the exchange is about N$8 = $1CDN. The money is interchangeable so both currencies are accepted everywhere.

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Stardate 051012

Certainly a less than stellar sleep last night with the cold, and especially the sweet memory of our king size comfort from South Africa very fresh in our minds. My ankle was so sore during the night that I toyed with the idea that something in there might actually be broken.

Instant coffee and a couple of crepes came with our stay at Cardboard Box, so we hit the bar for breakfast. Afterward I met Chad the owner, who assured us he could give us some travel advice the next morning.

We spent much of the day running errands. We were unsuccessful in finding a replacement tent pole but we did find some camp fuel, a small padlock for the tent, an AC converter for plugging in the computer, and a grocery store where we bought bread and cold cuts, a pre-made Greek salad and some potato chips for lunch.

Back to the hostel for some afternoon beers and later we walked back to the city centre to the tourist info booth. I managed to convince myself that I was free of broken bones; my ankle seems to be healing itself quite well.

The info booth was manned by a very helpful guy named Fisher who spent the better part of an hour calling around trying to find us a rental car. Many places were out of cars or were charging more than we expected. As 4:30 had come and gone Fisher suggested we resume our search in the morning so we bade him good day and wound our way back to the hostel.

We had forgotten that the blackboard in the bar advertised Namibian BBQ (braai) on Thursdays. Delighted, we shelled out N$55 each for a couple of plates of raw meat and were directed to a charcoal pit on the patio. We grilled up oryx steak, springbok boerewors (sausage), Namibian sheep chops and oryx kebabs and dug in. The meat was tough but quite flavourful. I didn't get through all of mine but Heather pretty much cleaned her plate.

There was a young Scottish girl at the bar who was busy meeting everybody – it was clear she was trouble without really intending to be; the more she drank the more people she kissed, hugged and accosted. I also met a couple of Brits who were off to Victoria Falls the next day. They were planning a quiet night but the Scot changed that up. Last we saw of them they were off to a local bar for late-night dancing. Of course the Scottish girl treid to get the whole bar to go along en masse. That's not our scene so we had a few more drinks and went back to our big sturdy rent-a-tent.

We set the alarm for 7am so we could catch Chad's ear early, hopefully find a rental car and get out of town tomorrow. In short, today was one of those 'nothing' days that are so very common when traveling.

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Stardate 051112

We actually woke up before the 7am alarm this morning. I had slept much better than the previous night – Heather not so much.

On my way back from the shower I was surprised to see one of the Brits up and about. I was also surprised to see he was sporting a huge gash on his freshly broken nose. Yep, that Scottish girl brings trouble alright. Called it.

We caught Chad's attention over breakfast and though he was clearly very knowledgeable on all things Namibia, he was in a bit of a rush so he couldn't give us all the info we were looking for. He did give us some insight into why we were having a hard time finding a rental car, it seems they are filming the newest Mad Max movie a few hours from here in Swakupmond and the crew has rented a pile of cars for the duration of filming.

We went back to the info booth and again Fisher got on the phone and soon enough he managed to find us a pretty cheap car. Heather had been pushing for a big 4x4 bush car with the tent on the roof but those run about four times the price of a normal small car, and we had been told that for our itinerary a small car would be sufficient so a small car it was.

We stopped at the Namibia Wildlife Resort (NWR) office which is the only place to book the national parks and did some scheduling with the lady there. She looked like a doll, clearly not safari material. She told us our drive to Sesriem would be less than four hours. It turns out she was very, very wrong.

We picked up our car, a small white Nissan Tiida (most of the cars here are white) which we've booked for the next thirteen days. It's right-hand steering of course, with a standard transmission. We opted for the maximum amount of insurance, including and extra premium for tire and windshield (I mean “tyre†and “windscreenâ€).

It has been twenty years since I drove stick wrong way, and that was for about ten minutes and I was drunk at the time (don't judge – it was in Thailand). I've gotten used to pedestrianing in left-side-land (look right – always look right), but driving is a whole other matter. So many snap decisions are made while driving, and decades of conditioning cannot be erased by mere reason.

So I was a bit apprehensive, but game.

We drove back to the hostel, packed and got out of there. On our way out of town we tried another camping store in search of a tent pole and struck out again.

The main roads in Namibia are great, well paved, well marked, and most people keep a bit under the 120km/hr speed limit. The sparse population extends to the roads (Namibia is the most sparsely populated country in the world, with only two million residents), there wasn't much traffic to speak of and we made good time. Shortly after we got out of Windhoek Heather a large monkey, possibly a baboon, crossing the road in front of us. We got a good look at him as he stopped and looked back at us zipping past. Crazy. After about three and-a-half hours we left the asphalt and found ourselves on a gravel road.

And then came the most intense driving experience of my life.

It was clear the NWR lady was out to lunch on our travel time, we slowed considerably on the dirt road. As I had been using her estimate as a guide and left the navigation to Heather I was surprised to find out we still had another 150kms to go.

The scenery was great, and we soon started catching more glimpses of wildlife. Some strange long-tailed creature crossed in front of us. Several kilometres on something else crossed the road in the distance; we were pretty sure it was a cat, and of course around here 'cat' does not mean 'house cat'.

And that is exactly when we got our first blowout.

We both jumped out of the car and emptied the trunk. Of course we just had a little temporary donut tire to put on the car, I raced to change it as fast as I could while Heather wielded that tire iron keeping watch for predators. When I needed the tire iron to loosen the lug nuts Heather grab whatever was lift in the little vinyl tool sac, I think a pair of pliers or something, ever vigilant for lions. It was a bit hairy and very fast, the spare was on but we were now out of luck should we blow another, and we still had over a hundred kilometres of very bad road to go, venturing deeper and deeper into wild, empty country.

The next thing that happened is I accidentally ran over a really big snake, perhaps seven or eight feet long. We were on top of him in a heartbeat and I misjudged what direction he was facing and that was the end of him. Things were starting to get very real, very fast.

There was very little in the way of traffic and soon darkness was upon us. The scenery was stunning in the waning red light, our speed dropped to between 40-60kms/hr, which was probably still too fast, and we saw an almost constant stream of critters crossing our path. Most animals will remain a mystery, but the many large owls were unmistakeable.

Keep in mind, another tire mishap and we were screwed. No cell phone, no houses or buildings of any kind, and an entire panorama of potentially lethal animals.

We were nearly four hours traveling the last hundred or so kilometres. Heather couldn't hold it any longer so we stopped for a bathroom break. She stepped out of the car with a “Wow!†I got out and saw immediately what she was on about – the stars were quite simply incredible. It's easy to forget why it's called the Milky Way when you live in or near a city, but out here in the bush in the Tropic Of Capricorn, well, the display was nothing short of stunning. I stared up at the sky completely oblivious of the fact thatg I was a sitting duck for anything large and hungry.

Finally, after hours of gut-wrenching wheel gripping we arrived at the National Park, which is ringed with fencing. It was 7:30 so we went straight to the restaurant. Heather had the onyx, I had the T-bone. Our campsite is amazing and we have yet to see it in the light. We pitched our sorry excuse for a tent and I whiled away the night typing up logs while Heather snored away, quite unaware that she was even sleeping.

The sense of relief that came with arriving without another flat tire equals the excitement of being in such an amazing place.

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Stardate 051212

We heard other campers pulling out of the park early this morning; sunrise is a major tourist event here in the dunes but for us that will wait for another day.

Instead we rolled out of the tent at a leisurely hour and started our day. Our campsite is beautiful; a short stone circular wall that surrounds us centred with a large shade tree that drops the most curious, shrimp-like seeds. I had a shower that felt like a million bucks and we drove up to the registration office to book another night at the park. Our next mission was to call the car rental company to see about getting a new tire for Snakey (as our little rental car has come to be known).

There was no phone at the park and none at the adjacent gas station (damn you cell phoners!) so we were directed to the lodge just outside of the park.

The lodge was really nice, as it should be for $400CDN a night, and they did have a phone we could use. As I discussed the issue with the Budget people (“get the tire fixed and we'll reimburse you from the receiptâ€) Heather noticed the lodge offered a buffet breakfast. It cost N$95 while standard breakfast at the park we were staying at was N$75, so we grabbed some plates and pulled up a chair. The cook came out and made us a pair of fantastic omelets while I toasted some fresh bread and lathered it up with Black Cat brand peanut butter. The waitress brought us an entire pot of freshly brewed coffee and we enjoyed a memorable meal.

While we were eating the concierge called around looking for a tire for us – the nearest replacement was at our next destination, 350 kilometres of dirt road away from here. That wouldn't do so we took the tire to the local gas station (everyone around here fixes tires, and with good reason). They patched it, found another hole, and said they couldn't fix it. I assured them that they could indeed fix it so they put their heads together and got 'er done. After an hour or so of strumming my guitar we were on our way, four real tires on the car and the dummy tire back in the trunk.

We are is Sesreim, which is famous for their Totooine-esque sand dunes. Picturesque and majestic, the massive dunes shone red in the distance as we pulled out of our campsite. We drove forty-five kilometres away from the campground passing lots of wildlife along the way and got to Dune 45. We parked and climbed most of the way up the 250 metre slice of sand, careening down again after taking about a thousand pictures. We continued on another twenty kilometres which brought us as far as a two-wheel drive would take us and parked next to a car with an ominous sign on the door: African Snake Researchers. Great.

We decided to take it a bit easy so instead of taking the 4x4 shuttle deeper into the dunes we did a nature walk following vague markers for four kilometres in and out of the desert to the Hidden Valley. Our feet alternated between tromping on sand and hard sun-baked clay. Lizards and beetles were everywhere as we soaked up the awesome scenery and the blistering sun, easily going through our two litres of drinking water before making it back to the car burnt red and pleasantly weary.

Near the parking area were toilets, the men's room consisted of a wall ringed around six PVC tubes stuck in the ground. I hesitate to imagine what the ladies room looked like.

We booted it back to the park just in time for sunset, cooked up some boil-in-the-bag camp food for dinner and shared some beers and wine. It would be an early night as we intend to climb one of the bigger dunes for sunrise in the morning. Our alarm is set for 5am.

Heather and I are at odds as to tomorrow's driving strategy. With 350kms of dirt road ahead of us we are debating whether to take it slow and risk driving at night or driving faster and risking more flat tires. I'm of the opinion that speed is irrelevant to getting a flat tire, she isn't. With that in mind we aren't really sure where we'll spend tomorrow night.

Stay tuned.

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Stardate 051312

The alarm didn't go off this morning, an intermittent non-feature with my little travel clock. Luckily Heather awoke early and we raced out of the tent and out of the park.

The only route to the dunes involves driving through the camping area of the park, a fenced and well guarded barrier. The dunes are off limits at night, but those staying in the park are allowed past the gate starting at 5:15am, others have to wait until later. We made it through the gate at 5:35am and I put the petal to the metal. The speed limit is 60kms/hr but I pushed it to over 90, stopping only when ostriches blocked the road. Stupid birds.

The system is set up so that you can't really get anywhere in time to see the sky change from black to blue, but with sunrise at 6:15 we made it to Dune 45 with a bit of time and started climbing. We got most of the way to the top and sat to watch the sun peek up above the horizon. The sky had already done it's colour-dance, but the best was yet to come.

I've done some sunrise treks in my day, the southern tip of Taiwan and Macchu Picchu come to mind, and each one has been a disappointment. This one was not. There were just enough clouds to absorb the light, white puffs took on a neon hue and suddenly the first sliver of fire peeked above the horizon. As the sun grew and grew it gave off rays that spread back as far as the eye could perceive, it was almost cartoon-like in it's perfection.

Of course the infinite sand began to glow in the morning sun and the play of light and shadow on the crisp, curved lines of the dunes was stunning. Infinitesimally small from our perspective, a tiny hot-air balloon dangled beneath our planet's heating system, the view from there must have been remarkable.

As the show came to a close Heather and I tromped down the face of the dune, our feet disappearing into the sand with every lurch, the two of us giggling and holding hands as each step created another sandvalanche before us. We were at the bottom in no time, a few more pics and we were off.

We parked in the 2x4 lot and hopped into a 4x4 made for ten for a shuttle through the sand deeper into the park. Five kilometres in we were dropped off and after a quick hike we came to a petrified forest. It was like stepping into a Salvador Dali painting, he had just to drape some melted clocks over the branches and he'd be done.

The valley floor was almost white, all around were the tan dunes and inside were a dozen or more black, scraggly trees. We descended into the valley and walked among the sparse, stark forest as motorized parachutists buzzed overhead. Making our way back to the shuttle area we hopped another jeep a half-kilometre on to a small, shallow lake, pretty much the first water we've seen. A few more pics and we hopped another jeep and bounced back to Snakey.

Back at the campsite we had breakfast and packed up in a hurry. Despite our best efforts we didn't get on the road until about 11:30am, with an unknown 350kms of dirt road ahead.

We were pleased to find the road much, much smoother than the one we rode in on, and we made good time, even hitting up to 100kms/hr passing herds of springbok, ostriches and even a few jackals along the way. The trees (and even the hydro poles) held massive nests, we think they are for baboons, but we're not sure – we've still only seen the one simian so far, just outside of Windhoek (pronounced Vin-duck).

The road was indeed too good to be true and soon we were slowed to about 15kms/hr, with the whole car shaking in protest over bumps more suited to a Hummer. We kept an eye on the mileage, our slowest half-hour took us less than twenty kilometres.

We had met a quartet of American girls in Sesriem who were in a similar small car and it turned out we had planned a very similar itinerary. We kept passing each other on the bumpy ride, they were braver on the bumps while we would catch up when the road would improve.

About 200kms into our day the back right tire exploded. I saw the rubber flying and stopped immediately. The rubber had basically disintegrated, the same tire we had gotten fixed yesterday. We're certainly making a killing on that extra tire insurance we opted for at the car rental.

The girls came up as I was putting the dummy tire on and they drove back to retrieve our hubcap for us. Soon we were back on the road at a crawl, which gave us that much more time to enjoy the near constant ostrich sightings. At one point we had to stop as a whole family of the critters crossed the road, mom, dad, and about seven little ones. What freaky looking animals they are.

Finally we found ourselves on asphalt again, after nearly six hours of shuddering automobile abuse. Twenty more kilometres and we were in Walvis Bay, a strikingly beautiful port city of 65,000 on the west coast of Namibia.

While Namibia was a German colony, it belonged to South Africa when it gained independence in 1990. Walvis Bay however stayed part of South Africa until 1994. There is a lagoon that is home flamingos and pelicans, and the streets are lined with just the most stunning homes you could imagine. We stopped at the waterfront and sat on a park bench to watch the sunset as joggers and hand-holding couples strolled by. I swear you would never know you were in Africa. I guessed it looked more like southern California, Heather said it reminded her of the south of France.

At the grocery store the clientele was about 90% white, the employees 100% black. We found the most curious campground in the city centre, each site is secluded with bamboo walls. The bathrooms are the cleanest I've seen at a campground (the girl's room even has a bathtub) and the owner is very happy and helpful. We pitched our Sad Sack of a tent, still short one pole, cooked some pasta and did laundry. The bamboo does well to block the ocean wind though the smell of anchovy and cob is unmistakeable as the fishing industry runs this town.

Tomorrow we will have to get a new tire and possibly a new rim. There's a Budget office here so we'll start there, plus we'll scour all three camping store for a replacement pole. The tent will feel like the Taj Mahal if we ever get it fixed.

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Stardate 051412

A dense fog settled over Walvis Bay during the night, this was the first time on this journey we didn't wake up to sunshine, though at least it wasn't rain. Being on the coast the fog is a regular occurrence around here, but otherwise it seemed to be a good day brewing.

As we were packing up the neighboring campers asked us over for coffee. It was an older couple from South Africa, and I was very interested in getting a tour of their camping gear. They were hauling a small utility trailer, maybe 4.5 feet tall, three feet wide and about five feet long. Everyone around here seems to have one and no wonder.

The thing flips out to a large, two storey tent, with that thick canvas you find on gear from the war surplus store. The bed is on top of the trailer itself, accessible by a ladder that stores handily inside the contraption. As a matter of fact, everything else you could imagine is in the thing somewhere. There's a sink, a fridge, lights, a million drawers and cubby holes to store all one might need for a comfy camping experience. I am totally enamored with the thing – I can't believe they aren't standard equipment at every Canadian camping supply depot.

We swapped travel stories and ate some homemade biscuits and some very salty jerky. After about a half-hour we bid them farewell. We pulled out of the excellent inner-city campground and bee-lined it to Budget Rentals where the very helpful lady called around and found us a new tire in Swakupmund, 30kms down the road, and our intended target for the day.

We hit a couple more camping stores before leaving town and continued being unsuccessful in our search for a third tent pole to make our collapsible home complete. In one place I took a good look at a new camping utility trailer like our coffee sharing friends had. I want one badly.

We drove on glorious pavement to Swakup (as Swakupmund is commonly called) and I was disappointed to find thick fog remained the whole way. The road gripped the coast on one side, the other was a barren wasteland of sand. No wonder they scouted this place to shoot the new Mad Max film. We were looking forward to a more scenic drive than we got, but the pavement made up for any shortcomings in the day's drive.

Swakup was even more modern and inviting than Walvis Bay, it reminds me of a smaller Daytona Beach. Again to the Budget dealer and in no time at all we had a brand new tire on the car. Snakey was whole again.

We found a backpacker spot with a beautiful grass lawn and opted to camp. We were tempted to get a room but the opportunity to camp on actual grass for the first time swayed us. Pitched the tent and used our new found piece of rope (from the Walvis Bay campground) to support the tent roof. It's no tent pole but it's a big improvement.

We decided on a walkabout for some lunch and found most of the restaurants closed until supper, but there was a small garden cafe tucked down an alley that held us for the next ninety minutes. Heather and I bounced between coffees and beers and enjoyed some great sandwiches. I was on top of the world.

We continued our walkabout past the impressive German architecture and I said for the thousandth time, “I keep forgetting we're in Africa.†We strolled along the beach and back up the main strip, poking our heads into a few shops before changing more money at the bank and buying some beer and chips at the grocery store. As this area is quite tourist-y it comes as no surprise that we encountered our first touts of the trip, though it wasn't too bad. One crazy dude came up and asked my name. He asked me to spell it for him and he immediately got an an exacto knife and started cutting my name into his arm. “Please don't do that,†and we were off.

Back at the hostel we pounded some drinks and met some people. As the night wore on five of us ended up at a pub for dinner. Heather and I each ordered the burger. I was concerned it wouldn't be enough food for me for two reasons: it was only N$55 (the cheapest burger so far) and it was listed under “Light Meals†on the menu.

Turns out the thing was the size of a baby's head and twice as delicious. The patty must have been a pound and there was a slab of cheese on top almost a half-inch thick. Best of all the burger was drowning in a wonderful Hollandaise-type of cheesy sauce which spilled liberally into the golden fries. As a token gesture I picked it up for my first bite but this was clearly a utensil burger. It was the cheeseburger that kept giving; I was two-thirds done before I discovered the slice of pineapple.

I really can't believe I ate the whole thing (Heather didn't get halfway through hers) but the Kucki Burger is a serious contender in my worldwide non-competitive search for the world's best burger.

Back at the hostel the beers kept flowing and a bunch of us chatted away a pleasant evening. It can be really fun to swap stories with seasoned travelers, tossing out names of far flung places like they are just down the street, each one of us familiar with the backpack vernacular, and most importantly Heather and I got some good advice on a few potential Namibia destinations and the real lowdown on some of the road conditions.

Pretty much everyone had an early morning coming so one by one the posse dwindled until there were just three of us left. Another hour and better judgment broke up the evening's conversation though we could have stayed at it all night.

Heather and I hadn't even gotten our sleeping gear together yet so quiet as we could we outfitted the tent with sleeping pads, pillows and bags and settled in for a good night's sleep on solid grass.

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Stardate 051512

We woke with smiles after a good sleep and eventually decided to emerge from our tent. Good Morning's all around as we re-met all of our buddies from last night.

We made a fairly quick departure and stopped in at the NWR office to back up our safari bookings yet again. There was a cafe across the street where we had our first somewhat disappointing meal in Swakup, did some internetting and hit the road shortly after 10am.

We had about 300kms to travel today, all of it marked as yellow lines on the map. Yellow means unpaved, though the level of unpavement is quite a variable. We had been assured that the roads today would be fairly good and they were, especially in comparison to the last few yellow-line drives.

We made really good time for the first 75kms on the salt road, which was basically pavement, and when it gave way to dirt we were happy to see the road was well graded and relatively fast.

Unfortunately every time we switched roads on the day's journey the conditions got worse and worse, and our speed got slower and slower. After four hours of pretty good sledding we hit a yellow that brought us down to about 60kms/hr. About 40kms into that one we pulled off for a quick tour of a petrified forest.

Forget the petrified forest from a few days ago in Susriem, this was the real deal. Our requisite guide took us around a quick loop pointing out the curious flora, including a common Namibian plant called welwitschia that lives up to 2,000 years. Each plant has only two leaves but you would never know it. The leaves split and tangle taking on the appearance of dozens of leaves. The smaller plants we saw were about 200 years old; it takes 25 years for a speck of green to break the earth's surface. We also discovered plants with seeds that smelled like perfume and another that had poison milk – hunters would use the milk for their arrows.

The petrified trees were enormous. They date back 260 million years and are solid rock. You can see the bark and count the rings and see where the branches used to jut out of the trunks. They are all still partially buried and no one knows how many there might be here just underground. It was an interesting half hour, but time was certainly moving on.

About 40kms down the road we turned off of the yellow line and onto a little sliver on the map. The road deteriorated sharply. Speeds went down to the 15-30km/hr range. The little car shook and moaned and kept on. After a full day of dirt roads that just kept getting worse my patience was wearing thin. I even had to stop for a moment in the middle of the divots. I closed my eyes and rested my head on the steering wheel. “I just need a minute,†I said.

At it's worst the road was rippled with valleys about four inches deep spaced about ten inches apart, and this would go on for kilometres and kilometres. It almost looks like they did it on purpose, but regardless, driving sure beats walking. After close to an hour we made it the twenty or so kilometres to Twifelfonteine, though our snail's pace left us little time to do anything but pull into the campground for the night.

We booked a site and pitched the tent on powdery sand. We could see the sun was about to set so we scrambled up a small hill just in the nick of time. I sat on a pile of stones and watched the sky change abruptly. As the sun melted into the vista my driving stress melted into a placid peace. With a view that was just so very African, layers and layers of mountains turned every shade of pale blue and purple as the expansive sky pinked itself into oblivion.

Sigh.

Drinks were certainly in order so Heather and I parked ourselves at the bar next to the owner and silently polished off several beers each. I went to the car and retrieved our maps, and with the owners help we pored over them and planned the next day's drive. The owner grunted to his daughter and she poured the three of us each a shot of Honey Jager. We whiled away the rest of the short evening watching a bat fly through the bar picking off moths buzzing around a bare bulb that dangled from the thatched roof.

There was a beat up pool table there so Heather and I shot a game or two before she called it a night. I grabbed the computer and did some writing with one or two more beers by my side until three sisters stared me out of the bar.

The nights are getting hotter the farther north we travel and we both had a good sleep without once crawling into our sleeping bags. It's a far cry from our first few chilly nights in Windhoek.

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