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Stardate 051612

I woke an hour before our 7am alarm and looked up to see the sun reappearing over the horizon. I laid there staring the sun awake, Heather stirred and we watched the sunrise together. It was a beautiful start to the day.

We jumped out of the tent and were in the car almost immediately. As we bounced down the dirty dirt road we were pleased to notice that the worst of it was behind us, though we knew we had some backtracking to do.

We parked at Twyfelfontein shortly after 7am as the employees were starting to show up. We entered the visitors centre, signed in and met our guide.

This area has the highest concentration of ancient art in Africa, so far over 2,500 ancient etchings have been discovered on this one mountain alone. The three of us set out along the path and quickly stopped at our first etching, several elephants and giraffes that were carved into the stone approximately 6,000 years ago.

Our next stop was the remains of the house that belonged to the first white man to settle here, a South African who 'discovered' a well here and gave the mountain it's name. Of course the reason there is so much art here is the nomadic people knew about the fountain going back for millennia so they used it as a base of operations.

The white man lived here about 15 years. I found it a bit distasteful that he should be so well remembered for what amounts to me to be nothing. I asked what the mountain was called before he renamed it and the answer contained a couple of those clicks and pops that are immersed in the local language. With a bit of practice I got it, though I suspect my take on the name is thickly accented: /We//Ice. / represents the clicking sound you get with tongue behind front teeth, almost a tsk sort of sound, while // is the sound one might use to call a horse. The clicks are part of the syllables themselves, it's not like you click then say the word. Of course the locals click and pop away with the greatest of ease. Talk radio is a hoot.

We moved on to more and more etchings – they were almost everywhere you looked. Rhinos, hippos, jackals, and occasionally a human footprint were etched into the stones, some overlapping others, while the starkness of the art hinted at it's age. There were images of far flung animals like penguins and seals, proving that the nomadic hunters traveled widely, at least 120kms to the coast.

There were examples where an expert was clearly teaching a younger artist, where a detailed giraffe would be next to a crude copy. Some stones contained dozens of images while others stood alone. Our guide showed us the only remaining paintings on the mountain, the only human figures we saw. They survived by being drawn under a rocky outcrop, safe from the elements. The paint was a mixture of ochre, blood and ostrich egg yolk.

It's assumed that the purpose of the etchings was to tell others what game they could find, but that leads to the question of why so many? The answer was to teach the skill of art, and more likely that age old answer – art for art's sake.

During our hour-long tour we saw small furry critters called dassies all over. They look like small groundhogs but oddly they are most closely related to elephants. Our guide pointed out a bird in the sky. “That's a snake eagle,†she said, “it is hunting snakes.â€

So what kind of snakes are regularly found here underfoot you may wonder? I wondered too.

“Pythons, spitting cobras, puff adders and others, though if you see a zebra snake you should be frightened, they are very, very venomous.â€

Amazed that she seemed to all but disregard such heavy hitters as the spitting cobra, I asked if she had ever actually seen a zebra snake.

“Oh yes, they are the most common. They often come to the visitors centre.â€


Our tour finished and we decided not to linger at the visitors centre very long at all. We drove a few kilometres on to a couple of geographical anomalies, the Organ Pipes which is a row of rock that has curiously splintered to resemble, you guessed it, organ pipes, and the Burnt Mountain, which is a hill that seems scorched black as the result of a mineral deposit. These stops dramatically paled in comparison to the rock etchings, which were fascinating. I feel truly privileged to have seen that ancient art with my own eyes.

We made our first wrong turn of the trip which led to an extra 40kms of horrible road, we were nearly two hours getting back out to the regular dirt road. About two hundred more kilometres and we hit sweet, sweet asphalt and sped up the national speed limit of l20kms/hr. The road was a narrow two lanes with bush on either side so we had to keep our eyes peeled for crossing critters.

Signs warned of everything from warthogs to elephants, but aside from a pair of ostrich we only saw cows and goats, though we saw lots of them, many in the middle of the long, straight road.

The farther we traveled the less European things became. We stopped for gas in Kamamjab and Heather ran into the store for some snacks. Right behind her a bare-breasted woman wearing nothing but animal skins entered the store looking like an African warrior princess. Across the street was a stand of cinder block buildings with hand painted signs advertising their wares: barber shop, tyres fixed. This was a lot more like the Africa I was expecting. As Heather got in the car the warrior princess emerged swinging her plastic bag of purchases.

After another long day of driving north we arrived in Opuwo, about a hundred kilometres short of the Angola border. It's a one street town, and what a street. People in western clothes were outnumbered by those in animal skins and loin cloths. Though it was just late afternoon several saloons seemed to be doing good business with a clientele that wouldn't be out of place in Mos Isley. It was a feast for the eyes and a world away from the manicured Germanic streets of Walvis Bay.

On a tip we found the drive for the Opuwo Country Lodge and our little car climbed the worst of the day's roads for a kilometre and-a-half up a mountain. At the top we found the luxury lodge that would be our home for the evening. While rooms range from N$1,330 to N$1,850, they have a camping option that is N$178 for two. Campers get complete access to the resort facilities so we booted it to the campground, set up camp (on grass, not dirt), watched another sunset that couldn't be beat and strolled back to the lodge, which incidentally is the largest thatched roof building in Namibia.

Inside we met our friends from Swakop that had told us about the place and the four of us made our way to the deck to watch the rest of the sunset. The sky changed hues above a gorgeous infinity pool while starched-shirt personnel kept busy running back and forth to the bar for our steady stream of drink orders.

Somewhere in there we stopped by the reception desk and booked another night.

Heather and I splurged on the set-course dinner and stuffed ourselves silly on great food. Another hour or so in the resort and we went to the campground for a nightcap with our friends Jenny and Steph. We found a couple of cats to play with and whiled away the evening under another stunning panorama of milky stars. Our bodies are on a rhythm that has us getting to bed pretty early so before too long we bid our friends goodnight and settled in for another night in the tent.

Heather found some pretty big spiders in the bathroom but no zebra snakes yet.

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Stardate 051712

Again I woke before the alarm this morning. We had arranged to meet a guide at 7am and after a shower and a bit of a layabout we bid our Aussie friends farewell and pulled up to the meeting spot at 7:00 on the dot.

Jimmy spoke good English and really knew his way around. He is a well traveled young man, having been to South Africa, Angola, Helsinki, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. I asked what took him to Europe and he explained that he was hired to help out with a reality show called I Work (?), which involved following a pair of little people who had starred in Willow to a traditional Namibian village and then brought some Namibian locals to several European locations.

What an interesting premise.

We had hired Jimmy to take us to a Himba village. He hopped in our car and we first stopped at his father's house where he picked up gifts to give to the tribe in exchange for our visit. The gifts were of a very practical nature: several bags of sugar, three loaves of bread, tea, and a large sack of corn meal.

We drove about twenty kilometres out of town and he selected one of many villages for us to stop at. We pulled off the road to a compound surrounded by branches jammed into the ground forming a very crude fence. Inside were perhaps twenty women, maybe a dozen children, and a fair amount of livestock.

This was a single family of several generations, and with the exception of two young girls in western clothing (both on winter vacation from a local school), all of the inhabitants were decked out in their traditional clothing. The young children wore only loincloths, while the women supplemented their waistcovers with crude jewelry and covered their entire bodies with a red paint made of ochre and bark.

The little boys had short Mohawk haircuts while the girls had a sort of front-facing double Mohawk, and the women all had their hair absolutely caked in mud, giving them an earthy dreadlock look. The women never bathe as long as they live. We greeted them all in the traditional way, with a handshake and the word, “morrow.â€

The compound had another compound within it where the cows would be separated from their young so they could be milked. When milking was to be done the women would allow a calf to suck on a teat to soften it up then they would shoo the young animal from it's mother and fill buckets with milk by hand. When the teat would dry and harden they would again allow the calf to have at it, and again shoo it away (generally via stick) and continue the process. The men were away tending to the larger herds.

The children were dirty and smiling, obviously happy to have strangers visit. Everyone was very excited to have their pictures taken and we were more than happy to oblige.

There was a single gravestone in the centre of the compound that marked the final resting place of the family patriarch. Jimmy told us his curious tale. Seems the head of the family was very wealthy, Jimmy thinks he may have been the among richest men in all of Namibia, but he went crazy, spending his final years wandering through the bush asking all he came across for candy. He grew paranoid and was afraid someone would kill him, so he came home, left instructions for his burial and killed himself. They say that when they found his body he was surrounded by boxes and boxes of money, the man having a strong distrust of banks.

He was buried with a headstone as most Namibians are now. Jimmy told me of the traditional burial procedure which ended about 70 years ago. People used to be buried in an upright sitting position, with their shoulders and head above ground. He said you can still come across graveyards of single and small groups of skeletons sticking out of the earth. Now that sounds creepy.

I asked if the family was now rich through inheritance and Jimmy said no, explaining that one cannot choose who inherits what in Namibia; all inheritance goes to the next younger brother, so the brother's family is now rich, not this one.

After playing with the kids and snapping a bunch of pictures I went to the car and got out my guitar. I joined the group sitting in the shade of one of the huts and started to play a little. After a while Jimmy translated that some of the women wanted me to stop, because they felt spirits rising in them that made them feel crazy. I took that as my cue and played a fast blues. “Yeah, yeah yeah yeah, yeah!†and without being told they all sang it back, “Yeah, yeah yeah yeah, yeah!†and sure enough a bunch of them started jiving.

I launched into Blue Suede Shoes and that really got things bouncing, so to speak. While several of the women got moving, one in particular shook herself up such that her breast were spinning. It was a truly wacky experience.

I tuned the guitar to an open tuning and passed it around for some ladies to try. I even borrowed a hairbrush and showed them how to play lap-slide with it. The swinger took a shine to the instrument and kept at it for ten minutes or so, her fingers turning black from the strings.

When I finally put the guitar away the ladies all lined up and pulled out necklaces and little statues for us to buy. “Hello, hello, hello†was all we heard for the next twenty minutes as each one tried to attract us to their collection of knick-knacks. They were hard bargainers; I bought a couple of small statues while Heather invested in eight or nine bracelets.

The sun was really starting to beat down so I retreated to the car for a moment to get my hat. “Hello?†I heard. I looked around and saw no one. “Hello?†Again I saw no one, but walking around the car I found a woman sitting by a tree holding her baby. She was the only one not trying to hawk baubles on us.

She was coddling her child and when she saw me coming close she held her baby up to me and showed me his arm. “My gawd, what happened,†I cried. The infant had a two serious wounds on his arm, the skin was completely gone from his forearm and his tiny bicep. It looked like it might have been a nesty burn. “Flies,†was all she said, and the flies were indeed having a heyday on the wound. I rushed to the trunk and got out the first aid kit. Plastering polysporin to a pair of gauze pads, I cut strips of medical tape and patched up the arm as well as I could. I gave her more bandages for later.

I was pretty shook up when I rejoined Heather at the circle of sales pitches. She finished up and soon we were back at the car getting ready to go. A couple of girls complained of headaches so I passed out a couple of Advil and applied some polysporin and band-aids to a couple of smaller foot wounds. It was a shocking end to an eye-opening morning.

Just before we left Jimmy handed some women the bags of goods he had brought.

On the way back to Opuwo we saw a man driving a herd of older bulls. “He is going to buy a car with those animals,†Jimmy told us. “Whenever you see that kind of herd heading towards town, it is only for a large purchase.†Again, here was the real Africa.

We dropped Jimmy back at his father's house and paid him N$400 for the experience. It was about 10:30am so we hit the grocery store, found little to interest us and went back to the lodge for a day of luxurious relaxation. We started with beers and Jack Daniels, had a lunch that was almost unfinishable in it's size and scope (they really, really know how to do burgers around here), read and did some internet stuff. We had a dip in the infinity pool that overlooks the mountains and ultimately the village we had visited in the morning and spent the rest of daylight waiting for what proved to be another glorious sunset.

We skipped dinner and whiled away the evening bouncing between the comfy deck chairs and the comfier leather couches in the lodge itself. Spoiled after such an easy, amazing day (and only 40kms of driving), we look forward to another big drive tomorrow.

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Stardate 051812

The early nights beget early mornings and today we were up before 7am. We packed everything up and went to the fancypants lodge for a great breakfast. Omelets made to order with mini meat pies, bacon, an endless supply of coffee and orange juice, and one last long gape at the spectacular view.

I threw together a sandwich for the road and we hit it shortly after 8am. After weaving down the rocky driveway to the main road in Opuwo it was all pavement baby, and all at 120kms/hr. After several hours of driving we stopped in Outjo and found a bank for some currency exchange.

The first bank we went to had a big line so we went to another. One thing's sure 'round here: they have a lot of banks. And every one has some pretty extreme security. There is a double door to enter and to leave. One goes through the first door and shuts it completely behind, locking it. When the first door is sealed a green light blinks indicating the second door can be opened, and only one adult can enter at a time. Same thing on the way out.

The ATM's have a limit of N$1,000 so Heather withdrew money on her credit card inside, a process that took about a half hour as phone calls were made and documents photocopied. I changed a few hundred US dollars as well and with purses bursting we buzzed out, did a bit of shopping at the grocer's and hit the road for another hundred or so kilometres.

As we neared Etosha National Park we started to see a variety of critters at the roadside. Of course there were the obligatory ostrich and goats, but we also saw some oryx and a trio of warthogs. Shortly after entering the park we veered off the main road and immediately saw several giraffes in the distance. Around a corner we stopped and watched as a half dozen lions lazed under a tree about a hundred feet away. They stared back at us and one of the females rolled onto her back, furry tummy in the air.


We moved on and found our way to Okaukuejo camp, one of the few camps in this, the oldest national park in Namibia. We pulled into the gated compound that includes a post office, gas station, restaurant, pool, and store, and we checked in for two nights. The park offers lodging, both motel-style and luxury lodges, though we again opted to camp in our still incomplete mini-tent, while all around us we are surrounded by the crème de la crème of campers, four-wheel drives with ladders leading to rooftop accommodations and thick tents that looks like cottages.

We bought some cold beers to wind down from the drive and made the short walk to the camp's watering hole. We sat on a bench a few feet from a waist-high stone wall and along came four elephants to cool off. In the distance appeared a half dozen giraffes who kept well back from the water, tiptoeing around waiting for the elephants to finish up. Which took a while.

As a crowd of humans gathered around us the elephants took no notice and went about their business, which consisted primarily of drinking and washing up. Two of the elephants got into an argument which was to last about an hour, head butting and grinding tusks into each others face. It sounded like two leather couches fighting over a bag of bones, and both of them growing impressive fifth legs. With the distraction the giraffes stepped up and leaned down, spreading their front legs wide and lapping up the life blood, while a few jackals and springbok ran about trying to stay clear of any trouble. This all happened about fifty feet away, and with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop.

Quite simply, it was one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen.

Once darkness had settled and the big game had meandered off into the void we heard an elephant trumpeting in the distance. We took that as our cue and went to set up camp. We made a camp dinner (pasta again, and again it was delicious) and poured a few drinks (I'm becoming a big fan of vodka and Fanta) as jackals ran wild in the camping area. Fed and happy under the usual blanket of stars, we headed back to the watering hole shortly after 8pm to see if anything was about.

We made it just in time to catch a showdown between three black rhinos and a single elephant under the camp's floodlights, a showdown that was won trunks down by the pachyderm. Another hour of amazing animal displays that left us shaking our heads in wonder and we called it a night, as we had arranged for our earliest wakeup of the trip so far in the morning.

It was an amazing first night in the park, we're definitely looking forward to the next three days.

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Stardate 051912

Last night was like my high school gym teacher: short and ugly. We had splurged on a morning excursion and shelled out N$1,000 that was non-refundable if we slept in, and as my travel alarm clock has recently grown inconsistent we both woke up a thousand times in the night to check the time. I helped Heather with the wakeups by snoring uncontrollably while the random roaring and wailing from outside the fence helped keep us on our toes as well. The multitudes of bugs on the tent sounded like rain; it was just an all around rough sleep.

5am came early as it does by definition, and we quickly washed up and walked up to the registration building to meet our driver.

The camp offers three-hour nature drives, either morning, afternoon or evenings. We thought the best strategy was to go out with an experienced game-seeker as soon as possible in case there were any tricks to learn about spotting game. We found the large jeep waiting for us at 5:25am and set off, us, the driver, and a couple of Americans shivering in the morning cold.

As it was still very dark the driver went slow and scanned the terrain with a red spotlight. We saw jackals and springbok, but around here that's like spotting squirrels and sidewalks. Soon we saw our first group of zebras, nature's referees. The driver pulled over as pictures were snapped and soon we set off again. We quickly came across more and more zebras, the striped horses were everywhere.

As the sun started to rise in a beautiful display the light showed us animals everywhere. We happened upon a foursome of oryx and just as we were about to pull away in search of more game we saw a pair of lions emerge from the bush, obviously with eyes on the oryx. The oryx had their eyes open too and quickly headed off. The lions then turned their attention to us.

As we sat amazed in our open vehicle, the male approached and stopped twenty feet away. He lifted up his great head and roared. He ambled ever closer, eventually stopping about eight feet out, staring at us with only the smallest hint of interest. I have no idea why I wasn't scared to death, but I wasn't. As he moved on his female counterpart came and circled the vehicle. She stopped on my side, not five feet away and stared into my eyes, motionless. I found out later that Heather was afraid she'd attack; the only emotion I felt was amazement.

I later asked if the animals ever attacked humans and our driver told us that it would only happen if we got out of the vehicle. The animals are creatures of habit and only get alarmed if something unusual happens. If we get out of our car, he told us, a lion will either attack or run away.

We drove on through the savannah and spotted ostrich, wildebeest, elephants, kudu, black faced impalas (endemic to Namibia) and at least a thousand zebras. This park was founded in 1907 and it's big, stretching over 22,000 square kilometres, though it used to be much bigger, at one time spanning 90,000 square kilometres across northern Namibia. The many watering holes are made permanent through solar-powered pump systems and the web of dirt roads are well maintained.

About two hours into our safari we pulled into an enclosed rest area. The driver pulled out a cooler full of juice and water and we stretched our legs. Back on the road we spotted a black rhino and pulled over. Notorious for their poor eyesight and their heightened sense of smell and hearing, the beast turned in our direction and slowly bee-lined through the brush towards us, stopping about fifteen feet away. “He needs to be that close to be able to see us,†said the driver, and as cameras clicked the giant creature turned and headed back into the bush.

Though the sun was shining brightly I was still chilled to the bone when we pulled back into our camp area after three hours of animal viewing. Breakfast was included with our trek so we followed our driver into the restaurant and pounded coffee and filled up on the buffet.

After breakfast I took a shower and Heather and I checked out the watering hole where huge herds of zebras and springbok frolicked in absence of any predator save the bullying wildebeest. After an hour or so we decided the watering hole looked pretty refreshing, so Heather and I bought some beers and relaxed poolside for the afternoon.

We read and drifted in and out of sleep all afternoon in the semi-shade of a bamboo canopy. As sunset approached we drifted back to the watering hole and watched as several elephants appeared in the distance and slowly made their way our way. Elephants appear as if they are steeped in Buddhism – every step is an exercise in walking meditation, every move seems deeply thought out. The small birds flitting here and there following momentarily appointed leaders are leaning towards Christianity, while the giraffes, well versed and accepting of their place in the world seem to flow with the Tao. I guess the springbok at Catholic – there's so damn many of them.

Of course the lions are the stoner athiests – laying around all day and coming out only at night, ready to gorge their hairy faces on whatever snack is unfortunate enough to fall within their grasp.

The comparisons might be silly but one thing's sure, all the humans approach the watering hole with an unspoken hush* – we all sit silently reverent, every word is a whisper, like we're all in the pews of The Church Of Nature.

Finally, barely able to keep our eyes open despite the glory that stands before them, our 5am wakeup forces upon us yet another early night. Back to our tent of shame amid a sea of canvas fortresses, we fall asleep well before 10pm, another astounding day behind us.

*Excepting of course the occasional six year-old who whines and cries because his dad forces him to turn the sound off on his cellphone Gameboy device while the most astounding of animal shows prances unnoticed in front of his ungrateful down-turned uncuffed head.

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Stardate 052012

I woke before sunrise and quietly made my way to the water hole. I was surprised to find nothing there save a handful of other sleepy-eyed tourists and one jackal. I gave it some time and with no creatures forthcoming I went back to the tent for a little more sleep.

When I woke up again Heather and I packed up camp and made one last trip to the water hole, finding it buzzing with activity. Troops of zebra took turns gassing up for the day while countless springbok and a couple of gnus meandered about. All it would take is for one gnu to stick it's tongue in the water and a hundred zebras would get the hint and vacate. It's amazing how a couple of horns can escalate one up the hierarchy of nature's ladder.

We finally tore ourselves away and went back to the car. At 10am we pulled out of Kokaukuejo for a day of self-drive safari. There's a main road that cuts through Etosha National Park and a myriad of smaller routes shooting off of it. All the roads are dirt and of varying quality, though all are passable with a two-wheel drive, given enough patience and maybe a bit of luck. There are dozens of watering holes, some natural and thus potentially dry, some made permanent via solar-powered pumps.

As we tooled around we saw thousands of zebra – they were everywhere. Same with sprinbok and jackals. As we approached one watering hole in the west end of the park we saw several giraffes looming above the horizon. When we arrived at the water we were treated to an enormous mass of wildlife. The giraffes were there along with tons of zebra, oryx, sprinbok, wildebeest, ostriches, just hundreds and hundreds of animals quenching their thirst as one on the rim of the huge Etosha Pan, a large salt flat that becomes a massive shallow lake for just a few days a year.

After sitting taking it all in for some time we moved on. Back down to the main road we explored several offshoots. Nature being what it is you could never tell when and where you'd see something – well, okay, you'd pretty much always see springbok and zebra, but some watering holes would be rife with life while others would stand quiet and dormant. We stopped for awhile and watched seven lions laze in the sun, lolling on their backs with their adorable tummies facing the sun. At one point we passed the skull and neck of a zebra bleached white in the sun, with the ribcage protruding from the grass a few metres away, a sombre reminder that those placid looking cats are actually merciless land sharks.

And oh, the birds! I'm afraid to ever get into birdwatching for fear that I'll kick myself for not appreciating the fowl I've overlooked in my travels. There's a pheasant-like bird that is utterly ubiquitous here – I think they're called helmeted guinea fowl. They dance around on the rocks like waterbugs, chasing each other back and forth menacinglyly opening their wings – Heather and I get a real kick out of them. There are some toucan-like birds with hooked beaks called southern hornbills and a big turkey called a secretary bird. My favourite is a large grey bird with a head like a pterodactyl, which we've seen several times. We've seen a few of them take flight, they have a huge wingspan that must approach six or seven feet.

The middle of the day was rather quiet, but as sunset came near we were luckier. At one point we were absolutely surrounded by giraffes. They wandered passed our parked Nissan idly plucking leaves from the treetops, towering above us. We saw a couple of critters we hadn't seen yet, a family of large skittish deer-like animals and a short, thick diamond-backed snake on the road (we didn't run over this one).

As we neared our camp for the night we came upon three lions on the road. Such a wild experience sitting eye to eye with the king of the jungle, your tasty arm resting outside of your open window. You can almost read their minds: “I'm sure I could eat that, but...nah, something easier will come along.†All in all we spent seven hours cruising around the park and traveled less than 150 kilometres.

We made it to Hilale Camp just before sunset; you have to be in by sunset. Checked in, pitched the tent and walked to their watering hole.

It was very different than the watering hole at the last camp. This one was much smaller and surrounded by brush such that you couldn't see if any animals were heading towards it, and the seating area was carved out of a small rocky hill. And moreover it was devoid of any animals. We gave it a while, and with nothing forthcoming we went back to camp and made some dinner. We grabbed some drinks and went back to the water hole and again, nothing. Eventually a small cat-like creature called a genet came by. The way the tourists reacted to this long-awaited animal life you'd think a pair of leprechauns, a wookie and Santa Claus had just stopped by. We had heard that Kokaukuejo had the best watering hole in the park, perhaps in all of Africa, and we were starting to believe it.

Eventually a single black rhino came by but we have been so spoiled with wildlife even this amazing creature could barely hold our interest. We made it until shortly after 10pm and walked the short hike back to our tent. Another day in paradise at it's end, with many more still to come.

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Stardate 052112

We woke shortly after dawn this morning and decided to go far a nature drive to see if anything hungry was about. We spent a couple of hours careening up and down the dirt roads but found little of any particular interest. Back at camp we caught the end of the breakfast buffet and I stuffed myself silly. We even nicked some bread, butter and cheese with plans for a campstove grilled cheese feast later in the day.

We meandered up to the watering hole after breakfast and watched as a family of black-faced impalas did their thang. A bit disappointed with the sparse wildlife on display in our temporary backyard we sat poolside with books and beers eating up the early afternoon.

After a bit of sobering we went for a late afternoon cruise. We decided to try yesterday's hotspots again and we were pretty much struck out. Where yesterday we had been inundated with giraffes and had a close encounter with lions, today in the same place we found a single giraffe off in the distance and not much else. Just goes to show you'll never know what you'll get.

We got back to our campground and ordered a pair of delicious cheeseburgers and some beers. After dinner we went to the watering hole for sunset. We were shut out at the watering hole last night, we certainly weren't tonight.

When we arrived we found only two critters at the watering hole, both rhinos. One on top of the other. They were just starting to, ahem, with the guy on top (let's call him Archie) protruding, but not piercing the lady underneath (Veronica).

We felt awkward, but we sat down to watch anyway.

Before long Archie accidentally fell off of Veronica and proceeded to stick his horn up her butt. She didn't like that too much at all, scurrying a few feet away. Archie kind of gave a shrug and went for a drink of water. Veronica made quite a display, bending over beside him, lifting her tail and loudly farting in his direction.

And all of this under the most romantic sunset.

Archie just wasn't getting it, which meant that Veronica wasn't getting it either, and she clearly wanted it. She nuzzled up and got his attention and the two of them rubbed horns together for quite some time. Eventually she went behind him and started shoving her horn up his butt. There was some running about and she kept it up, until finally Archie laid down on the ground. To our surprise Veronica mounted him, climbed up and gave a little pump. Archie seemed a bit offended and shook her off. A few more butt pokes and she mounted him twice more, this time while he was standing. That's a lot of weight to take, and perhaps a bit embarrassing with dozens of tourist cameras clicking. There was much farting.

As an aside, why digital cameras have to click is beyond me, not to mention all the beeping, but it paled in comparison to the seemingly nonstop zippers and Velcro (oh Switters, why are you a fiction?) coming from the small audience. It was the loudest hushed crowd you could imagine, and it was driving me crazy.

Meanwhile, back at the watering hole there was a lot of coy going on between Archie and Veronica when all of a sudden out of the bush came...Reggie.

Leaning down for a drink, Reggie seemed wholly uninterested in the other two. That is until Veronica gave him a little snort, walked over, farted in his general direction and rubbed her horn against his. Reggie looked over towards Archie, paused and walked over to him. The two of them immediately locked horns, in a clearly different sort of embrace than we had seen previously. A shoving match ensued, with Veronica watching from behind a bush. And then.

And then, more majestic than you could imagine, a giant head grew out of the trees. An enormous elephant emerged and made for the water. A few days ago at a different watering hole we had seen an elephant absolutely take command, ejecting three rhinos. Archie, Reggie, and Veronica all basically froze, as if someone's mom just came down the basement stairs. The elephant swung his trunk from one side to another, sized up the drama he had stumbled upon, drew a single noseful of water and exited, stage right.

The rhinos seemed to go “whew†as one and picked up where they left off. Soon Reggie proved the clear winner and went to claim his prize. While Archie drowned his sorrows Reggie and Veronica started playing the same games he had been playing earlier, she horning his butt and mounting him and the two of them rubbing horns. With a ton of hulking modesty Reggie chased Veronica off into the bushes, snorting away, leaving Archie still as a statue with his face stuck in the water.

It was a truly amazing sight.

Soon Archie lumbered off, surely sizing up his missed opportunity and the watering hole went quiet. We waited an hour or so and went back to our campsite, shaking our heads at yet another amazing sight on this trip.

I went to buy a bottle of wine at the store and was sad to find it closed. I guess serendipity decided we had had enough romance for one day.

Random Namibia fast facts:

-Traffic lights are called robots, as they are in South Africa. “Drive to the next robot and turn left.â€

-Toilets flush right-handed. In North America you'll notice toilet handles are always on the left. Not here.

-The money all has the same person on it, though the denominations are different sizes and colours. New bills just came out a few days ago, with a different same person on them, except the fifty, which still has the last guy's face on it. Also the digits of the serial numbers get increasingly larger, the last number more than twice the size as the first.

-Some of the toilets are square, with square toilet seats, which is a surprising improvement over the oval ones we use.

-The FM radio dial stops on all the even decimals whereas in North America they stop on the odd decimals. So there is no 106.1 here, but there is 106.2.

-The only western food chain we've seen is KFC, and we've seen quite a few of them (from the outside only – I don't eat that stuff).

-Being a former German colony, sausages and hot dogs are very common, as is the German language. And Germans. Tons of Germans vacation here.

-Namibia is said to be the most sparsely populated country in the world. You can drive hours and hours without seeing a single building.

-The highest bill denomination is N$200 (about $26CDN).

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Stardate 052212

We woke up to another beautiful day today. The weather is basically always the same; warm and sunny, though the nights get surprisingly cold. We went straight to the watering hole and found only birds, but lots of them. They were actually quite a joy to watch, lots of different kinds and lots of activity. The black birds were chasing each other like they were trying out for Top Gun.

Back at camp we fried up our nicked grilled cheesers and hit the road for our last roam through Etosha. We stuck primarily to the main road and saw some of the usual zebra, oryx and springbok. We came across ten ostrich beside the road. Those dudes are so silly looking, I could never get sick of them.

We turned off for a sign marked “Lookout†and found ourselves driving straight into the immense Etosha Pan. The salt flat is so large you can't see the other side; it's like a dry ocean. We got out of the car for the first time outside of the fenced in camping areas. We figured it was safe as we could see so far in every direction.

As we neared the eastern edge of the park we pulled into Namutoni Camp, the third of four (or is it five?) campgrounds in the park. We were just there for a lookaround and I'm glad we dropped in. It's a really nice spot, very well maintained, and certainly a far sight better than where we spent our last two nights. There is an old German fort there, gleaming white in the sun. Inside is a courtyard with a few shops and restaurants. We had lunch, checked out their watering hole (full of gnus) and stopped at the small gas station to fill our tires.

Beyond Namutoni Camp was one last watering hole so we decided to pull in. It would prove to be a very interesting cap to our four days of safari.

Pulling up we saw a bunch of giraffes, another animal I doubt I could tire of. In addition to the ten towering beasts we could see a couple of rhinos and a family of warthogs, as well as a buzzard, the only animal we were specifically told was a rare find in the park.

We stopped the car and soon it became apparent that the sole male giraffe was looking to mate. He approached a couple of females and almost mounted once or twice. Off in the distance we saw another giraffe appear out of the woods. A short time later the amorous male broke away from the group and went to meet the new arrival. With the binoculars I could see that this was a meeting of two males. They put their heads together for a while and suddenly they broke into a frenzied fight.

Ever wonder what those two little horns on a giraffes head are good for? Fighting is the answer. The two foes stood side by side in opposite directions and flung their necks around, slamming their horns down on the others back and neck with incredible force. Whap whap whap. Again and again they pummeled into one another. We couldn't believe what we were seeing. Through the binocs I could see the newcomer was getting the worst of it. I saw a chunk of flesh fly away from his back and another from his neck, scars that will last a lifetime I'm sure. They kept at it for a long time, at least five minutes, until finally it was over. They stood toe to toe and when all was understood the first guy turned and returned to the ladies, of which only three remained.

Two approached him and he brushed them off. Finally there were only two giraffes by the watering hole, the victor and his choice lady. We waited a bit but they seemed to be waiting for us to leave, so we did.

An incredible end to the safari part of our trip. Ooga Booga, which in this case means, if you can get to Etosha, get to Etosha.

Back on solid asphalt we cranked our little Nissan up to 120kms/hr and headed south. Just before Grootfontin we pulled off the main road and drove eighteen kilometres down a dirt road. Just before sunset we found ourselves standing atop the world's largest known meteorite, nearly 60,000 kilos of iron, nickel, and cobalt. The Hoba meteorite, as it is called, fell to earth an estimated 80,000 years ago. There is no crater left to show it's impact, and it's quite small for it's weight, less than 3x3x.5 metres. I found if you stand in the middle of it your voice resonated like you're in a reverb chamber.

We booked it to Grootfontin for a quick grocery stop and backtracked a few kilometres to a camping spot we had read about called Bush Babies, which turned out to be nothing like we expected.

What we found was a family run plot of land, up a long, fenced in path, where we almost ran over (under?) a giraffe along the way. The friendly folks checked us in and showed us where we could pitch our tent, then left us alone. We seem to be the only people in here, but there's lots of critters, and this time we're in the fence with them. We built a fire and roasted some wieners, and now here we sit, listening to an unbelievable variety of large, un-named animals tromping through the trees all around us. When you shine your flashlight out there you see eyes. Lots and lots of eyes. The brochure mentions bush babies, which I believe are monkey-like rodents, rhinos and...well and then I stopped reading.

It's going to be a long night.

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It sounded like two leather couches fighting over a bag of bones

:D Velvet, I love this! Thank you so much for sharing. Getting to read about you traveling is almost as much fun as travelling myself. :P And it's crazy, you're so good at describing everything that it doesn't even seem like anything's missing without pictures. Great imagery, looking forward to reading more!

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Stardate 052312

We awoke late and utterly untrampled. We showered and packed up, stopped at the registration office (house) and borrowed the phone to extend our rental car by one more day and hit the road by 10am.

We had little on the agenda for the day, except to make it close to Windhoek before dark. A few hours down the road we stopped for an hour to get the car washed (inside and out for N$85) and have lunch. We barely recognised Snakey when we picked him up. The car went from being absolutely caked in dirt and displaying an admirable collection of Namibian insect life (death) to gleaming white.

A few more hours down the highway and we turned off onto a D road, the type of road marked on the map with a mere sliver of ink, which in our experience means a big question mark as to how fast, or more accurately slow we would have to travel. The road was pretty good and we made it 29 kilometres in pretty good time. Our last sightseeing stop of our 13 day car rental was at hand...er...foot.

As an afterthought we decided to check out something on our map called the dinosaur footprints. We followed signs and ended up at a farmers gate. We tooted the horn and soon a man emerged, charged us N$20 each and gave us vague directions with a wave of his hand and some heavily accented ramblings.

We went through a gate and followed arrows painted on the rocks. A few hundred metres along we noticed a family of baboons hanging out by the white-painted rock that marked our destination. Fortunately the simians cleared out as we got close; those dudes can be so unpredictable. We scrambled along the rocks and found them; a series of three-toed footprints embedded in the slate. Some large carnivorous critter had trotted along here over 200 million years ago. Clearly bipedal, the dinosaur's prints were larger than my foot, with steps maybe three feet apart and stretching about 25 metres down the rocky slope.

We looked around and found there was another set of similar prints going in a different direction. One couldn't help but the stand and look out at the terrain, imagining what the creature had been doing and seeing. Of course and relationship to today's landscape is mere fantasy; to think the meteorite we saw yesterday hit the Earth a mind-boggling 80,000 years ago, and this dinosaur left his (or her) prints about 3,000 times longer back than that. It's really astounding that we can see and touch these markings, a direct relationship between us and a planet so far removed from the one we currently inhabit. While Heather and I both expected to see huge prints a few feet across we were still very impressed.

We hiked back to the car and had some decisions to make. If we were to backtrack we would have 29 kilometres of D road to traverse, and more specifically it was 29 kilometres of D road that we knew was fairly smooth sailing. Then we would have about 200 kilometres of asphalt to reach our desired campsite for the night. Unfortunately it was already almost 4pm and we knew we had only about ninety minutes of daylight left.

The alternative was to continue another fifteen kilometres or so along our D road and turn onto a different D road for an additional 47 kilometres, leaving just 85 or so kilometres to travel back on nice fast highway. Of course this would entail traversing over sixty kilometres of unknown D roads, and more particularly a D road off of a D road, which in the past has usually meant trouble.

Time not being on our side we opted for the unknown. It was a good call.

After the fifteen K we turned left onto the smallest road we've seen, basically two tire tracks cutting through the bush. Remember, we're in a small Nissan Tiida. The road proved to be pretty flat and pretty fast, and I drove it like a rally racer, skimming around corners and evading the hundreds of warthogs and guinea fowl that we encountered along the way. Oryx were bounding across the road in front of us while kudu looked on, as we whizzed past thick brush and termite mounds never knowing when and if the road would deteriorate and leave us (and potentially our tires) flat. I kept the pace between seventy and ninety kilometres an hour the whole way, barely using the brakes on the slick sand. It was both frightening and exhilarating, one of the great drives of my life.

As we sped along we startled a springbok. He high-tailed it down the road in front of us, absolutely unwilling to veer off of the road. He kept a pace of just over 60kms/hr, and kept it up for kilometres. I tried slowing down several times and the little bugger would just slow down with us, he just wouldn't get off the road.

Eventually the road widened a bit and I realised I had little choice but to try and pass him. The trouble was the sprinbok would abruptly and unpredictably cut from one side of the road to the other. Eventually I saw what looked like a good opportunity and stepped on it. I forget whether or not I signaled. We hit 70 with the little fellah booting along beside us, and we had been at it for a long time. I pushed the pedal down and made it by him, and amazingly the animal kept running behind us. That springbok had amazing stamina.

I pushed back up to ninety and lost him. For all I know he's still running, like a little furry Forrest Gump.

When we finally made it to the highway it was 5pm, leaving us one more decision to make. If we turned right we wouldn't make it to our campsite until after dark, if we turned left we were only about 30kms from a different place to camp. Turning left would put us farther from Windhoek in the morning, though that was no big deal, but we had seen the brochure for the place on the right and we had our hearts set on it.

We turned right. Another good call.

We watched another beautiful sunset from the road, and shortly after dark we found the Okahandja Country Hotel. We inquired at the desk about camping, N$200 for the two of us. Heather has been looking for a splurge so we asked about a room: N$880. Ever the trooper, Heather relented and we took the camping (I'm a cheap bastard, especially when traveling). As she checked us in I took a stroll around, the place looked pretty good.

We drove around to the campground and it looked pretty good too. We found a really nice spot, lush well groomed grass lined with a bamboo wall, with a bamboo WC centre as part of the site. I quickly set up the tent simply overjoyed with our spot for the night. A security guard immediately showed up and handed me a neatly bundled cache of firewood. Two minutes later another security man showed up and handed me another. I protested, pointing to the first bundle. He said, “No charge!†and so we had two bundles. A cute little cat even came by and joined us.

Ten minutes later a truck pulled up and a man came over, asking if we found the site okay. I said “We've been camping across Namibia for thirteen nights straight now...â€

“Fifteen,†Heather interjected without missing a beat.

“...Uh, yeah, fifteen nights, and sir, this is the nicest spot we've seen.â€

“Why thank-you, that's good to hear.â€

Turns out he was the owner. He bid us good night, we finished setting up and sat down for a few glasses of wine. By the time we decided to walk to the restaurant for dinner I was half in the bag.

The resort grounds were really nice and the restaurant looked great. Our waiter was sharp, with his heels clicking along the decorative tiled floor every time he approached our table. We ordered a couple of beers and full plates of delicious food. I couldn't stop raving – it was the best meal I've had in quite a long time, and the prices were really good. Heather followed up dinner with a brandy (for just over $1CDN) and bananas Foster for dessert. The total bill came to about $25CDN.

By the time I staggered back to the campsite I was dead on my feet. I don't remember going to sleep, but I know I went to sleep happy.

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Stardate 052412

I woke up really early, maybe 4am or so and couldn't get back to sleep. Heather stirred in time for the sunrise and we watched the sky turn pink from our sleeping bags. This was the last day with the car so we started the day with packing. We (especially me) had really let things go, the contents of my backpack were strewn haphazardly throughout the trunk and backseat.

Again the owner came by to bid us good morning and left us to pack up. Our bathroom facilities were open-air, bamboo walls surrounding the toilet and more surrounding the shower. It was glorious bathing with the blue, blue sky overhead, I yelled to Heather with glee, “I never want this shower to end!â€

We did have a car to return so I dried off and got dressed under a rising sun. We went for breakfast in the restaurant and were surprised to find it mediocre. I pigged out regardless and we were on the road just after 9am, making it to Windhoek in an hour.

We had an hour before the car was due so we did some Amazing Race-style searching for a travel agent that could sell us bus tickets. Heather went to one place and was told the bus only went tomorrow. We knew one went today so she insisted, and was eventually told another agency could sell her those tickets. We finally found said agency and Heather asked about the Thursday bus departure. “Is that bus even still alive?†was the response.

By this time I had headed to Budget Car Rentals to return Snakey, and we brought the car back without a scratch, 3,825 kilometres in thirteen days and only two flat tires. I tell ya, that Nissan should have been destroyed after what we put it through, I drove that little compact like it was a four-wheel drive and it took every bit of punishment without a whimper. I had barely unpacked it and dealt with the friendly dealer when Heather showed up with a phone number for the bus.

It was a bit of a trick getting things understood on the phone, even with the help of the Budget staff, but things got worked out, the Budget guy gave us a drive to where we needed to go and we booked our bus ticket and threw our luggage onboard, with three hours to kill before departure.

We went to a cafe and I walked back to the Budget office to get a printed receipt which he had failed to give me earlier. The rental came to about $900CDN and seemed like a fairly good deal.

I'm going to miss driving around Namibia. I had finally gotten used to traversing the roads on the wrong side and I was especially impressed with the gas station attendants. There is no self-serve in Namibia, the gas jockeys fill the tank, check the oil and the tire pressure and wash the windshield and sometimes all the windows. Often a whole crew would attack the car like that scene in Back To The Future.

We headed back to the bus an hour before it was scheduled to leave and sat around in the hot sun. At about 2:30 I realised I should have picked up a couple of cold beers for the trip and went on a lookaround, leaving Heather in the shade. I asked a guy at the bus if he knew where I could buy some beers. “Come with me, I'll show you.†I was worried about being late for the bus. “Never mind, I'm the driver,†he laughed.

We went way farther than I thought we would, all the way back to the grocery store. He kept checking his watch and I knew Heather would be concerned. I knew I wouldn't miss the bus, being with the driver and all, but Heather didn't know that. I grabbed four frosties and a bottle of water for the driver and we booted it back to the depot, where I saw Heather standing by the bus, tapping her foot Wilma-style.

I explained, she chilled, we got on the bus and cracked some beers.

We were on our way to Victoria Falls in Zambia, fittingly leaving on Victoria Day. We are currently five hours in to a nineteen hour trip ($65CDN each), comfortable on a Greyhound-style bus with a broken bathroom*. The sign keeps flashing “WC Occupied WC Occupied.†We stop at every major town to take on more passengers, and it looks like were the only non-nationals onboard.

There are tv monitors onboard and our journey began with about two hours of cheesy local pop music videos, though we are now being treated to a B-movie called Prey. It's about a family that gets lost on a safari and has to battle bloodthirsty lions with horrible death scenes. The other passengers seem to think it's a comedy. Good thing we didn't see this before our four days in Etosha Park.

*While we were told the bathroom was broken and had to cross our legs until the next appointed stop, we noticed the guy unlocked it and let a girl in along the way.

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Stardate 052512

The entertainment on last night's bus journey just kept coming. After the Jaws-With-Fur fest that was Prey we were treated to a four hour epic Zambian film called Guardian Angel, an unbelievably low budget Chuck Norris ripoff involving a Lionel Ritchie alcoholic karaoke singer who finds and keeps a deaf-mute child who has witnessed the murder of his father at the hands of an overtly evil (and badly overacted) fat man named Chief. In a reversal of Prey, which the other passengers found hilarious and we found disturbing, Heather and I were barely suppressing our laughter while all around us the crowd oohed and aahed at every absurd plot turn.

With the bus less than half full I took over a pair of seats and tossed and turned the night away trying my best to block out the very imbalanced now-it's-barely-audible-nows-it's-in-the-red-and-horribly-distorted soundtrack coming from the speakers. Every once in a while I'd toss or turn and catch Heather riveted to the screen. I can't believe she watched the whole thing.

Just before 6am we pulled up to the Namibian/Zambian border and waited for the post to open. We filed in and handed in our departure forms (a border-crossing first for me) and crossed to the other side.

The Zambian border looked nothing like a border, there was a few shacks around and several people milling about. The bus pulled around and we all went into a small cement box where three officials were busy taking down people's information and filing away their money. With posters tacked to the dirty walls reminding salt truck drivers to makes sure their load was iodized and reminders to “Pay Taxes, Not Bribesâ€, the extremely low-tech operation consisted of people writing their names and nationalities in a register and handing over visa fees ($50US each for us) to the clerk, who in turn would write the information in another book. Not a computer in sight; you even had to bring your own pen. I think the only electricity in the place powered a pair of bare light bulbs. It was the oddest border crossing I've seen.

Back on the bus we immediately crossed a bridge that went over a huge, wide river. In Namibia the closest we saw to a river was the three times our Nissan had to power through a small trickle crossing the road. I had heard that the climate was significantly different here, in a country that was basically a watershed between two major water sources.

The roads were instantly and unmistakeably worse than the smooth and maintained highways of Namibia, huge potholes forced our bus to creep off the road at times and take it's chances in the dirt. It was also very clear that the standard of living took a huge dive as we crossed the border, we passed nothing but mud shacks and rough wood structures, kids pounding millet and shops that were only identifiable by crude signs tacked to tin and tar-paper sheds. Three hours later we pulled into the relatively bustling city of Livingstone.

I presume.

Named for the first European to lay eyes upon the nearby Victoria Falls, Livingstone looked at first glance to be dusty and busy, a confusing web of dirt roads and street vendors, though we were soon to find that as a growing tourist destination the town has it's fair share of modern facilities and comfortable amenities. The bus stopped and we disembarked into a crowd of barking cabbies next to a yellow painted shack with the name C.R. Travel scrawled on one wall.

Happy Africa Day!

May 25th marks the anniversary of the signing of a document by 30 of the then 32 independent African countries into a pan-African collective, though only three countries still observe the holiday, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. What it meant for us was the banks were closed and no money was to be exchanged except through the black market, which is best to avoid here in Zambia. Fortunately most of the country accepts US dollars at a rough exchange rate, so we were good for today.

We sat by the bust depot, if one could give the shack that much credit, and checking our guide book found that Livingstone Backpackers was nearby. A friendly cabbie was happy to give us directions so we grabbed our stuff and walked the half-kilometre or so.

We checked in, and finding there were no private rooms at the facility we opted to book two beds in one of the four-bed dorms, shunning the camping option for the first time this trip. The room cost $20 versus $10 to camp, but with the hot sun and plans for an afternoon nap I relented which made Heather a pretty happy (non)camper. As it turned out, nobody else was booked into that room, so we had it to ourselves.

We had a small lunch and found a grocery store for beers. Heather napped and I spent the afternoon getting drunk with a pompous South African who was in town working on a renovation at the prestigious Royal Livingstone Hotel. For all his talk he was an informative and pretty fun guy, he bought me a few brandys and told me where I could find some live music in town.

At around 7pm Heather got up, we had a few more drinks with Francois and walked to the Pub & Grill.

Inside the lively bar a five-piece band was set up on the floor, basically amid the crowd. One guitarist sat there strumming chords in a never-ending thump while the drummer kept time on his hi-hat and tom, almost never touching his snare drum. The bass player was absolutely grooving, a nearly impossible feat with his strings about an inch off the neck and the tenor sax player did a great job of filling in where the vocals might have been. The lead guitarist was fantastic, using pick and middle finger in a ceaseless run of thirds and sixths, taking care of harmonized melodies and solos with absolutely no effort whatsoever. As we walked in he caught my eye and directed Heather and I wordlessly to two seats in the front, inches from the action.

A south African next to me was absolutely digging it, he introduced himself and shook my hand like we were old friends. Heather and I bought some beers and ordered a large pizza to the table. The food was great and the music was delicious, all instrumental and all totally in the pocket. There was the occasional recognizable tune, but most was completely foreign and instantly accessible, it was just a great place to be, and our first live music of this trip.

As midnight approached the guy beside me (Roland) was making friends. He and his new buddies dirty danced together in a way that was at once masculine and gaily sexual. The band went on break and I found out they were here all weekend, and as we had been told that even the short distance back to the hostel should be cabbed we left a bit earlier than we might have and walked.

As we turned down an alley we were obviously being followed by a man. I took Heather's Maglite and held it pointing out of my fist and we slightly increased our pace. “Hey!†he yelled. “Hey, you two,†again, after we ignored him. “Hi,†we said, still moving. “You know today is special.†“Yes,†we answered over our shoulders. He was getting closer, I was picturing a potentially hazardous situation. “Special for Africa!†he almost spat at us. “Yes, Happy Africa Day,†we both said in response.

“That's all I wanted to hear,†he said, and turned to stumble into the nearest bar.

Near our room there was clearly a live band playing to a large crowd. It was late but we rounded the corner to check it out. They were charging $4 to get into the courtyard so we gave it a pass, returning to our compound where we drank the last of our refrigerated beers by the pool, listening to the great music wafting across the road loud and clear as large bats made the rounds continuously swooping down to the pool and scooping up water and insects.

It was a great first day in town.

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Stardate 052612

It finally happened. Heather and I are millionaires! To celebrate we spent 75,000 on beers.

Before you start sending letters asking us to fund your next kidney operation I should explain. The exchange rate of the Zambian Kwacha is about 5,200K to the dollar. Changing $200 gives you over a million in the local currency, though next month they will be recalling all the money and dropping three zeroes from everything. I have a few 50 Kwacha bills, if you used one to blow your nose it would be a good value; you can't even buy a sweet with one.

After we exchanged money today we decided to change residences. Though we awoke this morning remarkably refreshed and all a-giddy with our first non-tent experience since Cape Town we found that Livingstone Backpackers has a sister property right around the corner called Fawlty Towers that was nicer and more social. Plus they had an online sale happening, a double room with private bathroom was only $25, down from the regular price of $60 a night. That's a much better deal than Livingstone Backpackers dorm beds at $10 each with the WC down the hall. It's strange that we have to sit in the lobby and get online to book the deal, but such it is and here we are.

The pool and staff are nice and there's some nice social travelers about, so we had a relaxation day. We went for a nice bacon/eggs/sausage breakfast and spent much of the day chilling by the pool with plenty of cold beers and good company. The Namibian beer we favour is available here, but the local brand is just as good and cheaper. It's called Mosi, as is everything else in Livingstone. Mosi is Zambian for either smoke or thunder, we're not sure which, and the local name for the nearby Victoria Falls is The Smoke That Thunders.

We met some nice people and spent a lot of time hanging with Richard and Mia, he's British, she's Isreali and they met in Panama. Traveling is neat. They have been traveling through Zambia with a Swedish dready guy named Anders and his girlfriend, who is Zambian, though she recently contracted malaria and is sadly bedridden. As the evening wore on we also met a couple of music teachers based out of Dallas, Chris and Fiona.

On our recommendation we all wound up at the Pub & Grill, where the same band we saw last night was playing. The bar was a little more subdued when we arrived as compared to last night and the band's playing matched the vibe. I still couldn't get enough of the guitar player, so as Heather sat with our table of new friends I stood in front of the band trying to catch on to some of the guy's tricks.

Things starting picking up around midnight and so did the band, but as most of our company had left or was leaving Heather and I joined them, making it a fairly early night.

This side trip to Zambia is proving to be quite relaxing so far, which is fine by us. Maybe for once we won't feel like we need a vacation when we get home from our vacation.

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Stardate 052712

It was so very nice to have a room with en suite bathroom last night. So nice in fact that the first thing I did today was book the room for the rest of our Livingstone stay. Fawlty Towers offers free coffee so I pounded several cups and started the day around the pool with Mia and Richard.

Heather and I went for another lovely breakfast and eventually set out for a day of activity. Shunning the multitudes of taxis we walked ten minutes to the very busy market area and found a mini-bus, which is actually a Toyota minivan full of seats. The minibus is about a tenth the price of a taxi, 3,000K each, though it only leaves when it's full.

In this case full meant nineteen people, a mark that only took a few minutes to reach. The ride was fairly comfortable and Heather and I had bought drinks for the short trip. I was sipping from my can when we hit a good bump, spilling a fair amount of purple Fanta Grape onto my shirt and shirts, but I knew that didn't matter today.

Ten kilometres out of town we pulled off the road and stopped in a dusty parking lot. A short walk over a set of train tracks and we were at the entrance to Victoria Falls National Park. We paid our fee ($20US each for foreigners, 7,000K for nationals) and entered.

We chose the path leading down to the Boiling Pot for our first mini-trek. The clerk in the reception booth had warned of aggressive baboons on this route, suggesting we carry sticks to fend them off, so I found a suitable weapon and got a feel for it. We descended down the stone path for over 600 metres and did indeed encounter quite a few simians partway down, though a few stick swipes in their general direction kept them at bay. The jungle grew thicker the farther we went as the mist from the falls provides a constant water supply.

At the bottom of the gorge were the swirling waters that had just crashed to the bottom of the world's biggest waterfall, and though the falls themselves were just out of view around a corner the cloud of droplets was constant.

The water roiled and heaved, with a consistent whirlpool as a centrepiece. Over a million litres of water gushes over Victoria Falls every second, and it all meets a rock face here at the bottom of the gorge before being forced to bend towards Zimbabwe. The force of the current makes the water rise and pitch in curious ways, to the left the water often several feet higher than to the right. I watched as a small log coursed around and around in the water, catching a current this way and that, circling the whirlpool just out of reach of the pressure than will send it along down the river.

As we made the slow and strenuous climb back up to the rest of the park we found many, many more baboons. We stopped as dozens of them carried on around us, the little ones playing up and down the trees, the older ones grooming one another and moving along with the smallest of them gripped to their undersides. In keeping with our sex-in-nature sights that we've stumbled upon lately we even saw one big fellah walk up to a lady and give her the business, an act that lasted a few seconds before he turned and awaited grooming. The baboons basically ignored us and we found my stick unnecessary.

Back up at the top of the gorge we moved along the path and found a nice copper statue of Dr. David Livingstone. While the 'discovery' of African areas by Europeans is often distasteful to me, I do find Dr. Livingstone an admirable figure. Brought to these falls over 150 years ago, Livingstone wrote that there was no sight in Europe that could match it. Even back then he struggled for equal rights and rallied against slavery, and his love of Africa even in the face of much danger and disease kept him coming back, finally dying of malaria on the continent while searching in vain for the source of the Nile River.

The statue pointed us to a trail called the Knife's Edge where we caught our first view of the falls themselves. Through the mist we could see the edge of the falls, an unimaginable amount of water endlessly pouring down. While the falls are on one side of a narrow gorge, our path was on the other, with the falls maybe fifty metres across the misty void.

As we walked to different viewing points along the Knife's Edge we moved in and out of range of the neverending mist which felt and acted just like rain. The stone path was slick and just a few feet from the edge of the gorge, at some points there was a short rudimentary fence, at most points there was nothing. One bad slip and it would be all over.

We were quite wet as we approached the footbridge that spanned across another gorge very close to the falls. I could not stop laughing as we crossed, the mist hitting us in all directions like a very powerful shower. Glancing over the edge the bottom was invisible, just Smoke and Thunder down there. We got to the other side soaked to the bone, our wallets and camera safely tucked away in several layers of ziplock baggies. We continued on the path where we could alternatively see the majestic width of the falls and clouds of mist.

Back across the footbridge settled it, we were so wet you'd think had gone swimming fully clothed. It was glorious.

I found a toilet and dried my glasses with toilet paper, wrung out my shirt and socks and carried my soggy sneakers as we walked another trail that went along the river at the top of the falls. There were points where you could stand in the water surprisingly close to the edge, a feat that probably looks braver than it is, though you wouldn't want to slip. We sat on a bench and let the sun soak the river off of us, and finally set off on one last path that offered some great photo ops from a bit of a distance.

Victoria Falls is really quite something to see, and even something better to experience. It is leaps and bounds better than Niagara Falls, particularly for how interactive it is. You don't just see Victoria Falls, you experience them. When you go home you still have Victoria Falls in your underwear.

We decided to check out the bridge to Zimbabwe, just a short walk from the park entrance. The trek doesn't require a passport, nor does it require a multiple-entry visa, which is more expensive and something we don't have. To walk the bridge one must stop at the immigration office and go through a silly ritual. You tell them you want to walk the bridge, they stamp a blank piece of paper and you walk out of the office and hand the paper to someone, and off you go. On your return you re-enter the office, tell them you've just been on the bridge (though how they know you haven't actually come from Zimbabwe is beyond comprehension) get another bit of stamped paper and again hand it to someone outside the office. Clearly one could cross over from Zimbabwe and say they've just been on the bridge and enter Zambia without a visa, which would save $50.

We walked halfway across the bridge where they make good business with bungee jumping. While we stood and watched a girl was strapped in, poised on the edge and five-four-three-two-one over she went. Crazy. People are literally lined up to make the jump at $120 each for five seconds of adrenalin. This is where the Canadian girl recently plunged to the bottom and came unstrapped, but as I was told with a shrug, “She survived.â€

The middle of the bridge is the Zambia/Zimbabwe border and there sits a guard who laughingly calls herself the Queen Of The Border. The Queen allowed us to jump from one side to the other, straddling the world's two 'Z' countries, and back we walked. We had considered visiting Zimbabwe on this journey but decided it was best not to support Mugabe through visa and park fees, so jumping the border line mid-bridge would have to do.

With all but the deepest regions my sneakers dry, we decided to cap our Victoria Falls experience with a drink at the very famous Royal Livingstone Hotel. Tired after a long day of strolling about we almost balked, but we got pointed in the right direction and started walking. I'm glad we did.

The walk was much longer than we anticipated, and exhausted and blistered we found the entrance to the grounds. As we approached the hotel we stopped to get pics with some passing wild zebra. As we walked up the steps to the foyer it was obvious this place was swank, as well it should be with the cheapest rooms starting at over $800US a night.

We were directed to the dockside bar and made ourselves comfortable in the cozy seats overlooking the Zambezi River. To our left was the constant mist of the falls, with the river plunging into the gorge just a few hundred metres away, while directly in front of us the sun was about to set. The waiter brought us a fancy drink menu that was not as overpriced as I thought, only about double what we would pay anywhere else. Heather ordered a Jack & Coke and I had a beer.

As the sun set countless birds flew by forming beautiful morphing clouds in the distance. The sky turned a burning gold and the waiters lit candles and brought a crystal tray of complimentary finger foods and pate. All the while a flautist quietly meandered through an endless melody behind us. We ordered a second round.

It was so unbelievably romantic, I'm sure Heather and I will never forget it.

It had grown dark and we decided to get a taxi back to town. A fancy new van immediately arrived and the driver got out and opened the door for us. The van was about the same size as the one we had taken earlier in the day, except this time there were sixteen fewer occupants. Our driver was very informative (Zambia became independent October 24, 1964, and was formerly Eastern Rhodesia. The name “Zambia†means “Amenâ€) and arriving at Fawlty Towers he again jumped out, ran around the van and opened our door for us.

We booked it across the street and bought a bottle of whiskey and champagne to celebrate our wonderful day and fell into our beds asleep at 10pm without cracking a bottle.

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Stardate 052812

How sweet it is to be regularly waking up in a bed and casually getting dressed for the day rather than crawling out of a sleeping bag and squirming past Heather in a feeble attempt to quietly squeeze through the tiny tent door. Plus it's nice that taking advantage of the hostel's online sale we are paying nearly the same price for the privilege.

As has become our morning custom, I crossed the street to the Shoprite grocery store and bought breakfast from their bakery section. Fresh, hot sausage rolls and chicken/mushroom pies for about a dollar apiece, and then back to the hostel where instant coffee is free and as strong as you want it. Heather joined me by the pool and we enjoyed our morning meal in the warming sun.

You gotta love the weather here in Livingstone. The nights are never cold enough for a sweater, the mornings are brisk but comfortable, and the days are just slightly on the warmer side of comfortable. I would say there's not a cloud in the sky but today there were a few whispers up there that provided the occasional pleasant reprieve from the noonday sun.

Today was a day for errands, which can be a lot of fun when traveling. What can be mundane routine at home can take on the sense of discovery when in a foreign country. I did a lot of walking along both the busy main street and dusty side roads and enjoyed every moment. At the busy post office I eventually found the short line that was for stamp purchases, it seems most people are there for money transfers. Though there was only one person in front of me the queue took forever as there was nobody there to sell stamps. I asked and was assured this was the right place and after ten or fifteen minutes a clerk returned to his desk and slowly and meticulously sold us postage.

Efficiency takes a back seat to accuracy 'round these parts, as people check and recheck cash register receipts and any money changing hands is counted and recounted. At the grocery store it's not unusual to watch the cashier count your change five or six times, no small chore when you pay for a 19,000K purchase with a 50,000K bill (the highest denomination available) and the change comes mainly in 500's and 1,000's.

I discovered that nowhere in town will cash a travelers cheque (I'm so olde school), despite being told this place or that would do it. This place would direct me to that place, that place would direct me to this place, and like a dog chasing it's tail I get some enjoyment in the process but little satisfaction. No worries, I changed one of my last crispy $100US bills instead.

Deeper into the sandy side streets I pass concrete dwellings and corner kiosks made of discarded tin chunks and dirty burlap sacks. I see two kids in the road playing kick the can, along comes one of the ubiquitous blue taxis and with a yelp that can only be translated as “Car!†they shuffle to the side of the road protecting their meagre toy, resuming their game in the settling dust.

Back at Fawlty Towers we did some more poolside nothing and as evening set we went back to the Shoprite for dinner evening drinks. Frustrated with pasta and the subtle buzz offered by the 4% local beer we opted to open last night's bottles instead. Heather grabbed us a couple of chicken burgers from the Hungry Lion fast food outlet (they were out of beef) and we sat drinking with Mia and Rich all night. I got drunk, Richard got drunker, and it was all we could do to hold him back from dragging us out to a casino for some blackjack. Despite his protests to the contrary, I'm sure we're all much richer for it.

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It was all we could do to hold him back from dragging us out to a casino for some blackjack.

I bet (so to speak) that the casino would have cashed your travelers cheque.



Edited by Guest

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Stardate 052912

I woke up before the alarm this morning and got dressed in my best clothes; button shirt, long pants and the cleanest socks I could find. I grabbed a coffee and went across the street for some meat pies and a small notebook. Over a quick breakfast I busied myself writing notes, guitar chord diagrams and chord progressions.

When I left home nearly a month ago the good folks at the Ottawa Folklore Centre were kind enough to give me a Canadian-made Arts & Lutherie guitar and case to play on my travels, with the idea that I would find a worthy recipient to leave it with here in Africa. Several days ago I met an American couple that had done some volunteering teaching music at a local high school, so I figured I had found my quarry. Yesterday I had met with the Headmaster and made arrangements to meet with the music department heads and students today.

I walked about twenty minutes to the Linda High School campus, a sprawling collection of barrack-style buildings that educates 1,000 students. I was met by one of the music teachers who had rearranged some classes so that all of the school's music students could be collected together. He walked me to an open-air auditorium where about 200 grade 10-12 students were quietly waiting for today's surprise presentation. I walked to the front, took out the guitar and introduced myself.

I told the kids where I was from and what I did for a living and told them my school had sent along a guitar to leave with their school, which sent an immediate buzz of excitement through the crowd. I explained that I had included a handwritten notebook that could get them started and hoped that as many of them as possible would take advantage of the instrument. Then, prompted by their teacher, I played them some examples.

I explained that in Canada I teach young children about blues music through the Blues In The Schools program. I asked if they were familiar with the blues and the response was enthusiastic. I asked if they knew that the blues was a mix of African music and American hymns and again they collectively answered in the affirmative. I started through a 12-bar shuffle and they clapped along in perfect time, and when I started a solo they all yelled so loud they completely drowned me out.

I told them jazz also had a strong African connection and played a bit of Autumn Leaves. Crickets. Finally I asked if they were familiar with reggae and they excitedly screamed as one: Yes! So I started Three Little Birds by Bob Marley and again they all instantly started clapping along, keeping the downbeat perfectly solid against my syncopation. Starting with the chorus, I sang, “Don't worry...†and all 200 of them joined in loud and proud singing along. It was really something to hear. When we finished I had goosebumps so I grabbed my little recorder and we sang it again.

With that I wrapped up my little lecture and took a couple of pictures with some of the kids holding the guitar. It was really quite an amazing experience. Afterwards the teacher gave me a tour of their music department, which consisted of a small office with a rudimentary portable cd player and a Casio keyboard. “This is our sound system we use to play musical examples to the students,†he explained, “And this keyboard is our only instrument, but the adapter is no longer working.â€

The department head told me that they had recently lobbied the school district officials to try and acquire a guitar for the school, and though they had secured funding they had as yet been unable to get their hands on an instrument. “You may find it difficult to understand, but in Zambia one cannot just walk into a store and purchase a guitar, someone must travel afield or find someone on the internet that is willing to ship to this country. It is very difficult so it really is a blessing that you came here today with this wonderful gift. It is the first guitar we have ever had here at Linda High School.â€

Thank-you Arthur McGregor and the Ottawa Folklore Centre.

On my way back to Fawlty Towers I encountered a small parade, it was the Zambian Military Marching Band playing in the streets to celebrate today's special event. Zambia and Zimbabwe were hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, with the two presidents signing a tourism pledge at the midway point of the bridge separating the two countries at Victoria Falls. The falls were closed to the public for the day.

Back at the hostel Heather and I braced ourselves for a day at the market. We had done some recognizance at the craft market yesterday and were to spend the afternoon bargaining for our vacation-ending souvenir shopping.

Along one section of Livingstone's main street is a series of sixty booths selling basically the same hand-made crafts; stone statues, wooden bowls and masks, carved rhinos and giraffes, jewelry, and on and on. They start with very ambitious prices and are hard bargainers. Heather and I spent over three hours at it, spending all of our remaining Kwacha and eventually hauling our booty back to the hotel.

On our way back we were stopped by a sparse motorcade speeding around the corner. Soon enough a black car sped by bearing Zambia's flag and inside Zambian president Michael Sata greeted the crowds by holding up a triumphant fist. It was unclear if Robert Mugabe was also in the car with him, but the motorcade ended with cars loaded with political ministers along for the occasion. It was a nice surprise for us, and the crowd around us seemed very pleased with the opportunity to see their president.

And then was time for our one and only real splurge of this vacation.

At 4:30 a van picked us up and took us a few kilometres away to a small airfield where they make good business taking tourists over Victoria Falls in helicopters. We had been told that the view was wonderful but with six passengers on every trip you saw one side or the other or even worse got stuck in the middle seat, so we decided on more of an open air experience. We had booked microlight tours.

Buzzing into view we saw our flying machines; basically hang gliders outfitted with a small engine and a pair of seats slung into a small triangular aluminum frame. We walked up, were introduced to our pilots and given helmets. The pilot sits up front while the passenger sits in a small seat behind him, held in by nothing more than a thin seatbelt. With a headset built in to the helmet I could communicate with my pilot. “Put your feet on these bars and hold on to the bar near your seat. Here we go!†And with that we started down the dirt runway.

I was a bit nervous before we went, but only a bit. As soon as we started down the airstrip my fear grew in bounds. When we lifted quickly and rose sharply in the air I was immediately terrified.

In mere seconds we were hundreds and hundreds of feet in the air and the mist rising from the distant falls was obvious. I was scared to death that my feet would slip off of the bars and I would pitch sideways and ultimately down from our impossible perch. Just ahead and below us I could see Heather and her pilot cruising towards the falls. I thought I was going to have a heart attack.

As we cruised along my pilot was talking gibberish about the Zambezi River and the size and scope of the falls we were approaching while I just kept thinking stuff like, “Hold on, everything will be okay!†Just as I would start getting used to the experience he would turn, pitching the craft on it's side without warning.

Soon we were over the world's largest waterfall, gushing over a million litres of water per second over it's 1.7 kilometre length into the gorge over 100 metres below. The sight was so ungodly beautiful I started to forget my irrational fear. Just off of our wing was Heather in her craft, I loosened my grip long enough to return her wave.

Together we swooped and swerved back and forth over the falls as the sun began to set in the distance. From this vantage point you could see just how narrow and jagged the gorge was, it looked like a giant geolithic letter 'W' carved into the earth the water falling over one end and meandering it's way back and forth into Zimbabwe.

After a few more passes we turned back towards our starting point. As Heather and her pilot were buzzing the treetops below us in search of hippos and elephants my pilot was more interested in the setting sun. “Beautiful, isn't it?†he squawked in my headphones, “Let's see if we can keep up with it!†So as the sun ducked behind the horizon my pilot took us up higher and higher trying to keep a sliver of sunlight in view as long as possible. “There it goes,†he said as the last light sunk away. With that he basically cut the engine and plunged us into a nosedive straight down that was absolutely horrifyingly and indescribably exhilarating. “Holy Lord Jesus Mother Of Christ!†I yelled, at once a swear and a prayer for mercy.

My pilot was having a blast, turning around for more and extending the fifteen minute ride by an extra five minutes. “It just doesn't get any better than this, does it?†I took it as a rhetorical question, my slowly flapping mouth utterly unable to form words.

On the ground we made a soft landing and cruised down the dirt path straight to the hanger. “First and last runs of the day are always the best ones,†he said, and safe on the ground I found Heather waiting with open arms. “That was terrifying,†she said, taking the words from my mute mouth.

On the bus back to the hostel we couldn't stop talking about it. We both agree that it was one of the scariest and greatest experiences of our lives. It was worth every cent of the $140 price tag per customer, and something we will always remember.

We sure needed a drink so back at the room I poured myself a tall shot of scotch and Heather cracked the first of several beers. We were both on an absolute high of energy and adrenalin.

We had pre-booked the in-house set dinner and sat down to decompress over delicious roasted chicken and potatoes and vegetables. After dinner we finished our drinks and busied ourselves reorganising our packs to hold our souvenirs in preparation for the next day's travel.

What. A. Day.

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