The first thing we notice about Cairo is the traffic. Horrendous, through Canadian eyes! The volume of vehicles is mind boggling, the drivers squeeze through holes, make room for others and get to where they are going. Lots of beeping provides a musical accompaniment.
The second thing we notice is the people. 12 million in Cairo proper and 21 million in the greater Cairo area, so there are people everywhere. Our first impression of the people is that they are polite, ready with a smile when we attempt to say thank you in Egyptian (shukran). Our guide tells us Cairo is very safe and I believe her. We walk in the evening to get supper and I do not feel nervous.
Today we visit the Egyptian Museum (I have never seen so many tourists in a museum before) and the Museum of Civilization, with our guide Jasmine. It was quite nice having a guide as she knew which of the thousands of exhibits were important. A couple of points of interest…..
Papyrus is the flower of north Egypt and lotus are the flower of the south. These two flowers are used together in many statues and murals to symbolize the unity, or joining, of the north (lower) and south (upper) Egypt.
The Rosetta Stone has three languages inscribed on it – Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Egyptian Demotic Script and Ancient Greek. It was realized that the same inscription was in all three languages so the researchers were able to decode the hieroglyphics using the Ancient Greek. Cool! Oh, the actual Rosetta Stone is in England, the one here is a copy.
Tutankhamen’s tomb was found intact in 1922 and the Egyptian government managed to keep all the artifacts from the tomb. The collection is astounding. We learned what went into the tomb with the king and how he was mummified.
After spending hours in the Egyptian Museum, we stop at the Museum of Civilization, a new museum that houses the collection of mummies. The building is well designed and airy, and air conditioned!
Off to a restaurant for lunch (and it is 3:00) to have Egypt’s national dish, koshari. It is a mixture of rice, lentils and pasta which is then mixed with tomato sauce, garlic vinegar, chick peas and crispy fried onions. Delicious and very filling.
I am now laying on my bed in the hotel resting my feet and legs. We had an extremely busy and long day, as we also visited the Coptic Area of Cairo and the Khan Al Khalili market.
Waterhole dynamics. It seems there is a pecking order at waterholes. If a hyena is soaking in the shallows, other animals won’t come down to the water. At another waterhole, in the evening, a group of female elephants was at one end and two female lions approached the other end. The giraffes wouldn’t approach with the lions there. The elephants continued to drink and cool themselves down. When the elephants started to leave, a couple of the elephants started to splash in the water and frolic, making tremendous noise. The commotion slowly drove the lions away. It seemed that the elephants were sending a message to the lions of “Don’t mess with us. We are strong and can turn you to dust if we want.” After the lions left, the elephants sauntered off and the giraffes approached for a drink.
We drove approximately 3,000 kms in 15 days. The hours in the truck totalled about 60, for an average of 50 kph. The drives ranged from 210 km to a whopping 540 kms. Some of the gravel roads were pretty rough, so speeds had to be kept down and on the opposite end there were nice sections of pavement where we could fly at 100kph. These numbers do not include the kilometres and hours in a truck being guided.
An addendum to the question “What came first, the tree or the termite mound?” Our guide at the Okonjima Bush Camp, says that the tree came first. The termites build around the tree for support. The mound above ground is what cools the nest, that is below ground. The tree also benefits by getting moisture from the nest area.
Before we set out for Namibia we check the average temperatures to make sure we were packing the correct clothing. 30C in the day and 16C at night. Seem pleasant to us they are well within the range of our home and packing for them will be easy. The reality however was a bit of a surprise. The first few days in Sossusvlei were as expected. Our packed clothing was prefect. The next part of the journey was a bit of a shock. The temp was indeed 16C in the evening but the SE wind off the Atlantic Ocean made it cold. We survived but we could have used an extra layer. Happily, we headed back inland knowing it would be warmer but when we arrive at the Etosha National Park the daytime time reached 41C. A bit warm. Our saving grace was the fact we were not suppose to get out of our air-conditioned vehicle save for two or three locations along the 400km traverse of the park.
Sand and dust everywhere. I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting it but at every one of our stops it is either sandy or dusty. It wasn’t much of a bother except every evening when it was time to settle in, I had to step outside and empty my shoes and bang my socks against the wall.
At the trip orientation our tour contact as well as the truck rental person tried to instill the fear of God in us over the gravel roads. I tried to tell them we often drive gravel roads in Alberta and I could not imagine them being much worse. There were a couple of sections of the 3000 kms. we drove that were truly horrendous but most of the roads were actually better than our gravel roads. I’m sure most of the people that visit Namibia have never driven on gravel and therefore the scare tactics, but if you have driven gravel before, don’t be freaked out just drive attentively.
We were also told not to drink the water, yet everywhere we went the water was from a local well which in reality is no different than the so-called spring water they sell in bottles. At one or two of the resorts the water had a bit of a soda taste so not very appealing but we drank local water the entire trip.
The other warning was the typical, ‘the bad guys prey on tourists” thing. Unfortunately, if one travels enough, this resembles the ‘don’t cry wolf’ parable. I wish this lecture was reserved for when it truly applies and not everywhere outside one’s country. Most people are good people and yes there are bad eggs in the bunch but if one is aware and diligent it would be truly unusual to run into trouble in any country.
I’m not sure how many people actually drive the entire east/west axis of Etosha National Park but we did. The two ends were quite different in nature. The west was mostly treed whereas the east ½ was mostly open savannah. The first day in the park travelling from the west gate to Okaukuejo most of the animals we encounter were at the water holes. There are far more animals on the open plain in the eastern ½. The variety of animals was greater east of centre but that might just have been because they were easier to find. Both sides are amazing.
The food at the resorts is really good but the highlight for me is the homemade bread. Whether it is toast at breakfast or rolls at dinner the bread was baked daily. White bread, brown bread, whole grain bread, and peanut butter. I was in heaven.
Contrary to most developing countries the washrooms in Namibia are very clean, even in the petrol stations. The only odd ones we ran into were the outhouses in Sossusvlei. They were dilapidated, seatless and doorless. All good if you have to go and there are a hundred or so tourists standing around. At least there are 3 partial walls.
One point of Debbie’s and my personal travel is we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn on land. We haven’t done that before. We have straddled the International Dateline, the Prime Meridian, and the Equator. This is the first time to go over the Tropic of Capricorn with our feet on the ground. Oddly enough the next leg of our journey will take us, by land, across the Tropic of Cancer. Again, something we have never done.
Neither of us want to leave this wonderful country!
I am sitting on the covered deck of our “room” at the Okonjima Bush Camp. I see a springbok out in the field in front of me and there is no fence, nothing, between him and me. A weird feeling. We have come here to see the leopards, which are in a different and fenced part of the reserve, and we saw one yesterday evening. His name is Mawenzi, 14 years old, and he had just had supper so was lolling with an overstuffed stomached. A beautiful creature.
This afternoon we are also lolling as tomorrow we drive back to Windhoek, where the next day we fly to Cairo. Here are some random thoughts about our time in Namibia.
We have eaten a variety of game here. Springbok, kudu, red hartebeest and oryx. I don’t think any of them had a strong flavour and they were all tender, more tender than most of the beef we had. We have also eaten salmon (frozen) and sole. The places we stayed were very touristy and served westernized food, which is too bad, as we would have liked to try Namibian cuisine. The spices used on the sole and on chicken we have had are a different flavour than at home though.
The people of Namibia are wonderful. Most of the folks we meet work in the hospitality industry so being friendly is part of the job, but the ones we encountered were happy, chatty and willing to laugh. At the Desert Rhino Camp, the staff also sang. And they sang with joy. They probably have been singing all their lives and it is an important part of their culture. It was enjoyable to get a taste of local music.
Many of the roads in Namibia are gravel. Roads that go for hundreds of kilometres. What impressed us was the maintenance of these roads. Everyday we would encounter a grader at work on the road we were driving on. They roads get very corrugated and the grader smooths them out again.
Tire pressure in the vehicle is a mystery to us. The normal tire pressure is 2.4 bar (34ish psi) but the rental companies want us to keep the pressure at 1.8 bar (26 psi) for the gravel roads. They want us to get the tire pressure checked every time we fuel up. They say that the vehicle will handle better and we won’t get a flat tire as easily. Murray strongly disagrees with this concept. Although giving a softer ride a soft tire is more likely to flatten (maybe from driving over a rock). He is also not sure the softer tire handles any better. (Mur note: I am sure off road rally drivers use low tire pressure and it would be hard to argue the fact the cars handle better but we were not driving at excessive speeds.) We have had few problems with the roads but we drive on gravel roads frequently and some folks from other countries may have never driven on gravel.
We have met other travellers from all over the world. Switzerland, England, Germany and the United States. We met C&N, from the UK, at our first lodge and then met up with them again where we are now. It was like seeing old friends. Half the fun of travelling is meeting new people, comparing travel stories and learning about them and their countries.
I am sure the temp is now over 30 C so I am going to leave the deck and retreat inside to the AC. Will be back out side later this afternoon to watch the sun go down.
Never stick to the agenda outlined by the tour company that booked your accommodation. Debbie had the idea she wanted some fabric from Namibia. We lug home fabric from a lot of the countries we visit. The colours and patterns used by African women to make their clothing is always enticing and another table cloth or a few more place-mats is OK.
The napkins on the table at dinner look like they are made from some traditional fabric. Debbie asked the waitress where she might find a place to buy such fabric. 17km north in a town called Omuthiya was the short answer.
In the morning we head north in search of material. The town is amazing. It is a REAL Namibian town. The market is in full swing on the side of the road. The lunch time barbecues are fired up and the meat is cooking. A few patrons are sitting at tables in the bars behind. The entire street is busy with people walking and doing their daily shopping. We are the only tourists. People seem to like us and many greet us and others smile maybe not so confident in their English.
A total surprise is the Namibian National Museum of Music in Omuthiya. We see the sign on the highway and turn where is says the museum is. The signage is sketchy from there but with a bit of direction from a young fellow on the street we happened upon the right building.
Cool museum with trad instruments, info on the modern music scene, a corner for how music was involved in Namibia’s fight for independence, a section on how dance and music intertwine and an area for dance and music concerts.
The curator was most helpful and a very classy woman. I think she was pleased a couple of folks from far away would stop in to see her labour of love.
Omuthiya is not on our outlined route but it was two hours of visiting a place not altered to meet what the local people think the tourist wants. I find these places more interesting than the tourist trail. Cultural events set up for the tourist, and not because it is the appropriate time and place for the occurrence, are of little interest to me. I would rather walk through everyday life in a country and see what makes it tick. This excursion was not planned for us or by us. It just happened and was as good or better than a lot of the places we have been to date.
But before we start in earnest, we see a clump of vehicles on the road. Drive up and see that two lions, a male and a female, are resting right beside the road. We join the hoard and manage some terrific shots.
Back again on rhino patrol.
Our eyes are keen. We look across the grasslands for a large dark shape that might be a rhino. We look in the shade under trees and shrubs for resting rhinos.
No rhinos yet, but we see a tiny tortoise, a mother hyena and her pups and lots of elephants and giraffes. And lots of tourists and traffic. This side of the park is much busier than the west side.
It’s odd how circumstances work out to help solve things. We stopped for a quick lunch on the side of a small road, then decided to make a pit stop at the Toilet near where we were. As we walked to the washrooms, we say HI to a fellow and he says….which way are you headed? There’s a rhino just down the road further, under a large bush. Looks like he’s there to stay for awhile. We thank him profusely and hop in the truck to find the rhino. There he is hiding from the sun under a tree. It is funny how things work out-stopping for lunch to make the timing work out to meet this fellow who we happen to chat to. Weird how the world works.
So, we found our white rhino today. We also saw animals we didn’t see yesterday so it has been a great couple of days in Etosha National Park.
We enter the western gate of Etosha National Park at 8:00 this morning. Murray, our truck and I are safari-ing the west side of the park today, driving from waterhole to waterhole. Just after we enter the park, we see a herd of zebras. A great start!
The waterholes are man made and supplied with water from underground. They are spaced about every 10 kms along the gravel road. We read that the animals would be more active in the morning and evening, when it is cooler, but we see activity all day long at the waterholes. One waterhole at a rest stop has a blind to watch from and there are seven elephants there when we arrive. We watch them drink and spray water on themselves and listen to the noises they make when they suck water up their trunk and then blow it over their bodies.
There are thousands of termite mounds dotting the landscape. Many of them have a tree sticking up through them. Our question is, did the tree come first or the mound? Looking across the fields, all the mounds remind us of the fields of temples on Bagan, Myanmar.
We spy many, what we call, dust devils. Mini tornados. They appear out of nowhere, swirl and blow dust and dead leaves around in circles, move across the scrub land and then, poof, disappear.
Did I mention it was 41 C outside today? We are only allowed to get out of the truck at designated rest stops, which are surrounded by fences. When we stop at waterholes, I do roll down my window to take photos, so we feel the heat, but mostly we are in the air conditioned truck!
We stop to watch two ostriches do their mating ritual. The female opens her wings and flaps and then the male responds, and then they run around abit playing hard to get. Fascinating.
We see many different animals and birds today. Eland, red hartebeest, kudu, lion, zebra and elephant. Goshawk, kori bustard, hornbills and ostriches. Luckily, not many tourists, which is a surprise.
Tomorrow we are up early again to drive the eastern half of the park where the landscape changes to the Estosha Pan, a great salt flat. Our goal is to find some white rhino. Wish us luck!
As we drive along highway C40, from the Rhino Camp parking lot towards Etosha National Park, we see small villages. Houses spread out, one or two small shops or bars, dusty yards and very few people about in the heat. This is the real Africa to us.
Also along this highway we come across this sign…..
So we start looking hard for elephants. The elephants are elusive, but guess what crosses the road right in front of us? A giraffe! A giraffe!!
We are staying tonight at the Hobatere Lodge, a 16 km drive on a dirt road. The drive is easy co pared to what we were travelling looking for black rhinos. The lodge is a step down from the swanky places we have been staying. Boy, a person can get spoiled really fast! The best part about this lodge is that it has two watering holes easily viewed from the lodge.
After supper, once it had turned dark, we went to the viewing platform to see if there were any animals at either watering hole. A very nervous jackal made his way to the close one and drank deeply. He is very skitterish and keeps looking around between lapping up water.
He takes off and then Murray spots movement at the far watering hole. Holy Cow! It’s lions! There is a male and about six females and one youngster. They also drink deeply and then sit for a rest before padding regally into the bush. This is a great start to our self-drive safari inside Etosha National Park.
Our small group (4 guests, 2 guides and 2 trackers), standing beside a large bush, is staring at Troy, a humongous male black rhino, who is staring back at us from about 100 feet away. Troy’s eyesight isn’t very good so he thinks we are an extension of the bush, but we keep very still anyway. Every time Murray’s camera shutter clicks, Troy’s ears move as he is picking up the sound. Troy is a beautiful beast and we stare at each other for a good 10 minutes before we slowly back away.
Earlier in the morning, we connected with the vehicle with the trackers and another guest vehicle. Our guide, Asker, spotted movement and it was a mother black rhino and babe, Unistein and Uli. The mother, being very protective, went off at a run with baby right behind, when she heard our vehicles. We got a quick look at them running away.
The welwitchia is the national plant of Namibia and only the elephants and black rhinos eat it. The rhinos will chew it, getting the moisture and nutrients from it and then spit the debris out, whereas the elephants eat the whole leaves.
On the drive home, we happened across Unies, a 32 year old female, and mother of Troy. We watch her for some time also and she is a beautiful beast too.
This area is a protected area of about 1,300 sq km and has about 20 free roaming rhinos in it. The trackers patrol the area and check on the rhinos, but the rhinos are free to live their lives. The area is part of the Save the Rhino Trust.
We are on the road by 7am. It seems to be the way here. Road is a rather loose term for where the wheels for the Toyota Landcruiser touch down. This is real 4-wheel drive terrain. Our guide Akser is quite adept at changing from 4 wheel high to 4 wheel low and managing the 5 gears at the same time. Steep slopes that make Debbie yelp, big rocks that need traversing, deep loose gravel or sand, all of which need a change in gear. We don’t get stuck or even close to it.
The first pair of rhinos we see run off so the trackers feel they should find at least one that is willing to stick around and stare at us while we stare at them. This takes us far afield, zone 4, according to Ceasar, one of the trackers. We travelled most of the way there at a relative high speed. They find a willing subject and we spend time with Troy. At that point it is about 2.30pm and we should be heading back. Akser informs us it will be about a 4 hour trip. Holy, we went that far. On the return road another willing victim is found and we stand motionless trying to stare down Unies. After 12 hours of bone shaking African massage we arrive back at camp, 7pm, just in time for dinner.
And the wind howls. We leave our little paradise at the Shipwreck Lodge and head to the main lodge and walk directly into the SW wind. It is strong and cold coming off the Atlantic. The wind in Soussvlei, where the temp is +30C, has a cooling affect. On the coast, where the temp in the morning is 15C, the wind makes it cold. Damn cold. We were not expecting this when we planned our trip to Namibia. Our warm layer suffices but it is still chilly.
It is a long drive to where the car is parked so one must plan to leave early. We are treated to an ‘African Massage’ on the trip out. The term refers to the extremely rough roads and the stiff suspension of the 4-wheel drive vehicle and how we get bounced around as we travel at 60kph on a road suited for 20.
Arriving at the truck on time we head to Damaraland. As with all wild life we come across animals at random. There is movement at the side of the road. I take note and say to Debbie ‘coyote.’ First thing that came into my head. Of course, it is not a coyote. We quickly recognize the canine as a jackal. We pull up beside it and the dog isn’t concerned at all. He heads off doing exactly what it had started out to do, his nose in the air.
When we entered the Skeleton Coast National Park at the south gate the building was appropriately official and the staff although friendly were the same. On the way out at the western gate the buildings were the same however I thought the staff was kind of sketchy. No uniform, rough looking and rough talking. They did not suit the position at all. Kind of odd as it did not match the Nambian way. I thought maybe it was me but after we passed through the gates Debbie said the same thing. First sketchy people we have run into since we arrived.
The highlight of today’s journey, for me at least, is the giraffe walking along parallel to the road munching on leaves at it progressed. We stopped; I got out of the car to take a few pictures. Totally unconcerned about the presence of a human, the tall lanky animal just sauntered along enjoying lunch.
Just off the main highway we park our car in a designated lot and hitch a ride on a shuttle with a guide, Akser, from the Desert Rhino Lodge. About 2 more hours of African massaging and we arrive at a cluster of walled tents with a central large tent that serves as the living and dining area.
We drive inland on the river bed of the Hoarusib River. The river extends about 360 km inland. There is no water in the river right now but when there are heavy rains inland, the river flows. It has been a couple of years since the water flowed in the river due to the drought Namibia is suffering.
Bodo, our guide for the day from the Shipwreck Lodge, tells us when the river is dry, the rocks are dead but the sand is alive. The sand blows with the wind and covers the stationary rocks. But when the river has water in it, the sand is dead and the rocks are alive. The sand just gets carried away by the water, but the rocks are alive and the water causes them to move and fall into the water.
We are lucky to see the resident bush elephant and sit watching him munch grass. Springbok and oryx are in abundance as there is greenery for grazing on. We also see plovers, ducks and a hawk.
The land formations are moonlike, with granite, basalt and limestone interspersed with the desert sand.
Lunch is eaten on the beach looking out to the waters of the Atlantic. I can see now why this stretch of coast is called the Skeleton Coast. The waters are turbulent with strong currents and the waves are large. The wind is relentless.