Thursday, 28 July 2011

Amasya is amazing!

Thursday 28th July: Amasya
With the forecast predicting temperatures in the mid-30's, we headed off early to do the essential attractions in Amasya. ( OK - I have to admit that I'm only mentioning the weather because I hear it's foul in Melbourne!).
One of the tombs in the rock above a mosque
First stop was the Tombs of the Pontic Kings; apparently carved into the sheer limestone cliffs as early as 4BC! Why the kings thought it was a good idea is beyond me, but they have been places of cult worship and eventually used as prisons. Not a lot are accessible but it was worth it for the view.

Then we headed for the Citadel or Kale: everywhere we go there seems to be Citadels so that any approaching enemies can be dissuaded from invading before they get too close. The one here is truly stupendous and the views were just spectacular (after I'd stopped puffing and panting after climbing a million stairs!) We managed to persuade Ewan that we didn't need to walk from the river to the top, and that is was acceptable to drive up most of the way- thank heavens.
The old part of the city is gradually being overwhelmed by large apartment blocks which seem to be the latest architectural fad across all of Turkey: they seem to have all been designed by the same person with slight colour varaitions. In Amasya they are in alarming locations clinging to steep hillsides. After I took plenty of photos, Ewan went off exploring and Erin and I practiced our appalling turkish on various families heading for the top.
We decided to have roasted corn and yet another icecream for lunch, whilst enjoying the cool of the riverbank. The corn was tougher than ours but the ice cream was great. Our new best friends at the ice cream shop were happy to see us again! Two scoops in a fresh waffle cone costs the princely sum of 1T Lira - about 60 cents Australian. Lots more flavours to try yet!

Next we headed for a Hammam or Turkish Baths, which was quite an adventure I can tell you!
We went to the oldest one in town - built in the 13th century, and restored in the 16th. Some are only for women or men at different times of the day, so we rather hesitantly stuck our heads in the door, but were encouraged to come in.
We were given a cubicle with 3 beds and no door to undress in, and a piece of cotton material the size of a sarong, to cover whatever we wanted to cover. Then we were escorted into a large room constructed entirely of marble with water troughs and pannikins for throwing water over ourselves. This was the steam room and it was hot! Within a few minutes we were all bright pink and sweating profusely: it's designed to get rid of all those impurities lurking under your skin apparently. Then a small muscly turkish guy came and took me into a small room with a marble bed and a seat next to an old stone water trough. He sat me down and I had to decide whether I would remove my cloth. I thought he had probably washed and massaged lots of fat turkish ladies before so what the heck! He took out a glove which was like a scourer and proceeded to scrub my entire body with lots of soap and using the scourer to get rid of all of the dead skin. We were all horrified about the amount he managed to scour from our supposedly clean skins! Then he lay me on the marble slab and massaged me for about 30 minutes with lots of soapy water. He was a great masseur and worked at trying to get all of our muscles pliant and relaxed. When we compared notes later he had adapted the massage to suit our various aches and pains.
Meanwhile Ewan and Erin were still sweltering away in the steam room. I emerged and Erin was next, then Ewan. I was met by a man with a dry sarong and then he escorted me back to the room we had changed in, and wrapped me in lots of towels and propped me up on one of the beds with a cup of Chai (tea) to await the others. I felt sparkling clean and very relaxed! We seemed to be there for hours and it cost the princely sum of 20 Turkish Lira per person: about $12 AUS each. Ewan gave the masseur a big tip as the charge for that was only $3.00 each!
There are lost of touristy Hammams around but this one seemed to be very authentic as various locals wandered in. We decided we'd need to try a few just for the sake of comparison!
After a siesta we strolled into town and used our latest acquisition - a Turkish-English dictionary - to try and order some food. We did surprisingly well and had a great meal. Noone here speaks english at all so it's a bit challenging having a conversation and ordering food.The rest of the time we mime and point a lot, which is how we managed to buy 3 varieties of baklava: delicious!

Amasya here we come!

Wednesday 27th July: Bogazkale to Amasya

Frankie the Ford Focus and Erin outside the Hotel
 After the water came on during the night we showered (more successfully this time) and did a short tour of the Bogazgale Museum before heading for the town of Amasya, about 150kms away.
Ewan managed to drive without incident through fields of grain being harvested, green valleys, market gardens and endless hills which slowly increased to daunting rocky mountain ranges. Amasya is in a river valley so the town is wedged between sheer rock faces and steep mountains, and a wide river. It is a town which is the summer holiday spot for Turks, but few other tourists.
We located our tiny hotel ( with 6 rooms ) in the old part of town, but it's actually brand new, although built in the old style. The temperature was increasing into the high 30's so we decided to wander along the river, have some lunch and stay as cool as possible. We did find a cute museum about the various Ottoman sultans from the area, so that kept us cool for a while (although we decided that 2 Museums per day was our limit! ).
On our way back to the hotel we noticed a group of women working hard despite the heat, under the shade of a tree opposite our Hotel. One of them saw me watching them and beckoned me over . They were kneading, rolling and cooking dough to make crisp pita bread on an open fire. I said hello in my best turkish and was given some of the bread to try, from a huge pile thay had produced. I'm not sure how they tolerated the heat of the fire as I couldn't stand near it. I took some photos of them and then showed them and there were lots of giggles. They all wore headscarves and long dresses with their arms completely covered as befits thier Muslim religion, as do most of the older women here. The younger ones are also covered but in light colours and brighter headscarves. On eof the younger ones gave me an email address so we'll send the photos. I'm hoping to see them again so I can take some closeups to send them too.
We did the holiday thing and wandered along the promenadeand ate Doner kebab at an open air restaurant for dinner. Ewan and Erin had another icecream form their favourite ice cream shop, where a young boy had been employed to make waffle cones endlessly - what a job!We were hoping to have a look at the main Mosque but we weren't in acceptable dress as we didn't have long skirts: T-shirts and shorts don't make the grade for Mosque visits.
It is really a lovely city with trees and grass along the public areas, lots of footbridges all lit up at night and lots of people just wandering around enjoying the cool of the evening.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Village Life in Bogazkale

 Monday 25th July: Ankara to Bogazkale( Bo-haz-car-lay)
After farewelling the people at the hotel we went to collect the hire car, with some trepidation on everyone's part, as they drive on the RIGHT here, and the first part of the journey was through the busiest part of town. Armed with the combined knowledge from 6 of the drivers at Avis - and after Ewan and Erin pored over the map whilst I went off to check out Marks and Spencers! - we were brave enough to set off. Erin sat in the front ( to her dismay) and navigated, whilst I was on lookout duty in the back and we were both on KEEP RIGHT! duty. Despite the exemplary preparation, we did get a bit lost briefly but the greater achievement was to to negotiate around the crazy drivers - we finally breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the highway.
Turkish drivers are in a league of their own - they pull out into traffic, overtake on blind curves and don't stick to any lanes ( although admittedly many of the roads had none marked). I can see why the road toll here is so high! And that's the drivers! The pedestrians seem to care little for their lives and just step into the road without a thought. We had a small scrape with a truck which resulted in some blue paint on our new Ford Focus hire car, but it's a miracle that's all that happened.
Ewan did a great job ( too right ), although we think his spatial perception has gone a bit strange and he keeps going off the right of the right lane, over the edge of the road which is rather scary when you're the passenger. Erin decided she preferred the back seat for some reason!

The scenery was very different to flat Botswana: endless kilometres of hills and mountains with little vegetation - only pines and cypresses - and completely devoid of animals. Crops and market gardens were evident in the valleys but the hillsides were bare.
After a couple of hundred kms we arrived at Bogazkale, which is a tiny country town with geese, cows etc and lots of fields of wheat, sunflowers and unidentified crops.
It's claim to fame is it's proximity to Hattusas where there are very ancient ruins: so they're on the agenda for tomorrow. We warmed up by going to Yazilikaya to see some 13th century BC rock caves with carvings that were only discovered last century. It's amazing to look at work that was done so long ago!
Tuesday 26th July: Bogazkale
It's always the sign of a good holiday when you have no idea what the date or day is, and we certainly don't. After a good night's sleep only disturbed by tractors coming and going to the local Bar, and the call to prayer form the local mosque very early, we set off to Hattusas which is within walking distance.

Reconstruction of the city wall at Hattusas
There's a 6 km circuit and we walked the downhill section as it is very steep and dotted with many ruins. As we were wandering around the first set of Temples trying to make some sense of what we were seeing from the information boards ( not very helpful on detail ), and various brochures, books etc, we came across a Belgian couple who are the only other guests at the Hotel. They had a local with them who was very knowledgeable about the sites, whose father had lived in Belgium, so he'd offered to show them around. We tagged along and spent 3 hours with them. It was hot but nowhere near the 38 degrees that had been predicted - fortunately.
Hattusas was the capital of the Hittite empire which stretched form Syria to Europe from 1300-1600 BC. It was surrounded by 6 metre thick walls set in mountains so they could see who was coming - the views were stupendous! Part of the wall has been reconstructed to show what it would have been then. The guide made the whole thing come alive by turning rows of rocks, tunnels, mounds into rooms and a living city.  Given the age there was still a lot of detail left: for example he showed us where wooden doors had been suspended in stone lintels and the scrape marks on the stone floors where the doors had dragged. There were 7 ponds/reservoirs to store water for the 15000 inhabitants, and some of the huge clay pots to store food and water remain. Lots of the decorative stone carvings had been removed and we had seen some in the Museum in Ankara, but some remained - mostly gods and kings and lions. It was really fascinating but exhausting.

70 metre tunnel under the Sphinx Gate

By the time we finished we were all in need of sustenance so he took us to the tea house where we sat in the shade whilst the men of the village watched us drink our tea and gallons of water!
We had saved a couple of boiled eggs from breakfast and decided it was time to buy some bread and tomatoes and make lunch.

There is one bakery in this village and it has huge clouds of woodsmoke belching from the chimney. You pay 70 turkish cents for a loaf of white bread with a crisp crust and chewy centre freshly baked.( about 50 cents Australian ) and that is the only thing the baker sells. Everywhere you go you see people carrying bags with lots of loaves of bread as it is the staple diet across Turkey.
The tomatoes are heaven: big, juicy and lots of flavour not like the ones at home at all. We have them for every meal, and at breakfast they come with sliced cucumber.
We went to one of the many tiny shops in the village and bought a couple of tomatoes, a cucumber, a sweet pepper ( which was not a chilli as they are easily confused) and some grapes, all of which the 12 (?) year old shop keeper put into one plastic bag. Much to Ewan's amusement he weighed them all together on an old scale without any accurate weights and pronounced "4 Lira!" (about $2.40) which we were happy to pay. After some creative miming and pointing we managed to buy some tissues and water as well. One of the boy's mates could count in English which helped us sort out the cost.
We've also become addicted to sour cherry juice or soda as it is delightfully tangy and refreshing. Cherries are prolific here: we were standing under a cherry tree which was laden with cherries, which no-one seemed fussed about picking yet in Ankara the other day.
However the jam here is rather weird: they clearly don't like having the fruit in the jam so it appears like jelly. And today we had a new taste sensation: rose jam. It was like jelly turkish delight: fabulous!
Anyway, after lunch Erin and I collapsed and fell asleep. Ewan was keen to go to Alacahoyuk to see where a lot of the items we'd seen in the Museum in Ankara had come from. It didn't seem like a great offer to us so he went off with the local guy from this morning in the car as it is 36 kms away. It's just occurred to me that he may have needed us to navigate and yell " Stay right! ". We shall see when he returns!

Ewan enjoyed his visit although there were lots of reconstructions to compensate for the treasures that had been taken form the sight. On the way the guide received a message that several of his family members had been injured in an accident nearby so they went to see what they could do. It was a nasty collision between a tractor and a car, but the injured had been taken to hospital so they continued on their way. We will be looking out for tractors on the roads now, and there are plenty of them around here as they seem to be used to transport everything and everybody in this village.

I'm not sure whether it's us, but we seem destined to experience problems with various utilities: water and power in Botswana, and the same here.
Last night the power to the entire town went off for a few hours, fortunately before it got dark. This afternoon, just as I'd soaped myself in the shower the water went off and although it's now late at night, it hasn't returned. Erin had to rinse me off by throwing a large container of drinking water over me! The locals are sure it will be back on tomorrow but who knows!

From your half-clean and slightly soapy correspondent,

Don't worry: this was not us!!!

Ataturk ..........

Ataturk's tomb

Sunday 24th July: Ankara
After another sumptuous breakfast we set off for yet more culture down the hill to the Ethnographic Museum, with - what a surprise! - yet another huge statue of Ataturk outside the front door. It turned out that this lovely ottoman building was a temporary mauseleom for his body so I guess that explained the statue, but more of Ataturk later as you will see!
The Ethnographic Museum was small but interesting. It had lots of the clothes worn through the ages, and examples of all of the handicrafts, etc. The most interesting exhibit, which unlike the other exhibits had no explanation at all, was the Circumcision Room. It had a mannequin of a young girl lying on a bed fully clothed with some other older females hanging around and that was that!
Then we caught a taxi to the Ataturk Mausoleum - Anit Kabir - where most of Ankara had decided to spend Sunday afternoon, some arriving with flowers.
Clearly the reverence shown for this guy, who was the first President of the Republic of Turkey when it was formed in 1921, is enormous (judging by the size and expense of this site!) Set amongst lovely gardens it had a huge amount of stone walkways and buildings housing not only his body somewhere under a 40 ton sarcophagus, but also his boat, cars, clothes, and personal effects, right down to his hairbrush! AND lots of information about everything he had ever done, including his leadership of the Turks at Gallipoli when he was just Colonel Mustafa. His track record is impressive in some areas as he was determined that Turkey would be a secular state and he was responsible for equal rights for women and some other important social issues. First and foremost he was a soldier and, given Turkey's long history of being plundered by everyone, he was clear that Turkey would fight any future contenders and be well-armed.
There was a huge (rather kitsch) panorama painted across a long wall, which had depictions of all of the major wars in the last century. Fake trenches and war debris placed strategically in front of the panorama were an added attraction. Of course there was a description of the brilliance of the Turks at Gallipoli, with details about the Allied losses but nothing about the Turkish losses. the end of the panel was a donkey with a turkish and Australian soldier giving water to the injured soldiers: hmmmm interesting!
Erin and I reached Ataturk overload somewhat earlier than Ewan. So we whizzed past the exhibitions on every person he'd ever spoken to and headed for the video about his life. Unfortunately we missed the history bit and arrived in time for the fabulousness of Turkey!
I might have enjoyed it a bit more if the security guards hadn't confiscated my bacpack, including my hat and water bottle ( because I clearly look like a terrorist!) and it was hot work! Ewan forgot that he had his pocketknife with him - he likes to be prepared - so that was confiscated too.
It was certainly impressive, with lots of locals and few tourists.
Ewan wasn't feeling great so we went back to the Hotel room and Erin and I went to check out the local craft shops: there's some nice stuff, but we just window shopped.
We had dinner at the same courtyard restaurant as the first night and finally had 'manti' which is described as turkish ravioli: handmade noodles with a meat filling mixed with tomato sauce and yoghurt. Erin and I loved it and Ewan enjoyed his grilled sea bass. After only a few days we were happy to have some varaition from the usual kebabs, kofte (meatballs) etc.

The young waiter showed us around rest of the old house, which was filled with historical bits and pieces.
When we returned to the hotel one of the young guys, who has been helping us learn Turkish, was watching football so Ewan joined him for a while. This was a blessing as then Erin and I could find a station from the 100's available via satellite ( which every dwelling seems to have) which was in english. We did see an episode of Scrubs that had been dubbed into turkish: very odd!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Ankara- a Museum at last!

Friday 22nd July: Ankara
We have resolved to learn at least one turkish word a day, but unfortunately 'thank you' ( which seemed the obvious first choice) has about six syllables so we have grappled with it all day - fortunately with assistance from some kind locals along the way. Despite the fact that this is a big city there are very few english speakers at all so my fabulous mime skills will be needed here I'm sure ( much to Ewan and Erin's horror!).
Breakfast in the courtyard consisted of fresh white bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives meat, white cheese, scrambled eggs, and chocolate cake! It was hard to know where to start!
My favourite piece: a stag from the Early Bronze Age
Ewan has been talking about visiting the Museum of Anatolian Civilisation here for months, so Erin and Ii were worrying about 2 days spent in an archaic Museum. But it was just fabulous (and only took a few hours!). As the name suggests it didn't get to the ADs, just the BCs ( but don't worry we'll get to them in other Museums I'm sure!). Using treasures from sites all over Turkey there were some truly fascinating displays of civilisation in Turkey from the Paleolithic era to the Urartian era ( 8th to 6th century BC). Once metals were discovered there was superb jewellery and kitchenware that I would be happy to have now.

The view from the top
Then we headed for the Citadel, going straight past our front door and continuing uphill ( puffing and panting!) until we reached a huge stone fort, which provided a 360 degree panorama for hundreds of kilometres. It consisted of huge walls, about a metre and a half wide, at ever-increasing heights getting closer to the top of the Citadel walls - none of which had any rails to prevent anyone plunging to their death. I didn't quite make it to the very top, but the other two did and I was very relieved when they came down. Given that the Turks have been invaded by everyone at some point in history this is a gret citadel: you could see an invading enemy coming days before they arrived!

We spent the rest of the day wandering around, checking out the local market with lots of spices I couldn't identify and mouth-watering baklava, turkish delight and pastries, none of which we purchased (yet!). We did buy lots of nuts and dried fruit ( including turkish apricots!!) so we are well-stocked for snacks. We managed tp practice our one word and somehow communicated what we wanted. Ewan even bought some reading glasses for a mere $3 so he was impressed.

Dinner at a local restaurant with turkish music and great food. We are very close to the Washington Restaurant whose claim to fame is that Hilary Clinton has eaten there. We've come to the conclusion that some other celebrity was eating there tonight as there were armed police everywhere: very off-putting!

Ewan is thrilled that Cadell won the Tour de France, so I'm not sure whether finally getting to the Museum or Cadell winning was the highlight of his day!

Enroute to Turkey

Thursday 21st July: Jo'Burg to Ankara
We spent a quiet day organising the luggage, doing some shopping and watching the Tour de France ( Ewan was in seventh heaven as it was a live broadcast - every turn of the wheel, every drop of perspiration.............for hours!!!!!!!).
We did visit a place called African Romance which is a diamond mining company using South African and Botswana diamonds. It was interesting seeing the entire process resulting in a rough diamond being cut, polished etc., but it didn't result in us acquiring any unfortunately! We did see some tanzanites that are rare as they are only found in Tanzania. They were a stunning blue-purple: very beautiful.
Off we went to the airport to catch the flight to Doha and then to Ankara at 10 pm. Not a lot of sleep on the plane and rather unusual combinations of food: it was Qatar Airlines: hummus with a mushroom crepe for breakfast??. It was a mere 37 degrees at 6.30am when we arrived at Doha Airport, which is being re-built. We had to stand in a queue for an hour with hundreds of others just to get through security so we could transfer to the next plane. Ridiculous! Ah, the joys of travel!
Our hotel was just up this cobblestoned lane
Finally we arrived in Ankara, one of the largest cities in Turkey. We caught a taxi and travelled through a huge modern city surrounded by bare hills, until we entered the oldest bit of town up a huge hill, only to discover that Ewan had booked us into a hotel in the historic Citadel area. It consists of winding cobblestone lanes, old wooden buidlings in various stages of decay, and lots of tiny shops and stalls, some with dusty faded wares.
The hotel has only 6 rooms with lots of dark wood and gold curtains, bedspreads and turkish rugs and kilims ( what a surprise!). We were very pleased that it has an air conditioner as it is mid-summer here, and the temperature is in the 30's every day, but quite bearable. Erin and I collapsed in bed and Ewan went off to explore.
For dinner we went to a small courtyard restaurant just up our lane, and we had what will be the first of many meals consisting of dips, pide, salad, and grilled lamb/meatballs /chicken. Very tasty.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Farewell Africa!

Well we're off to Turkey tonight at 10pm so it is farewell to Africa for us (this time!).

What do I take from this experience?

1.  The concept of 'Africa Time':  The pace of life in Botswana and Namibia was a very different experience from our usual hurried, harassed, never-enough-time lifestyle. People move in a languid relaxed slow way and never seem to worry about the time it takes to do anything. Queues move slowly but with no watch-watching, tapping of feet or any sign of frustration at all. What was interesting to me was how quickly we seemed to merge into this pace. I can understand the frustrations associated with getting anything completed, but actually I wonder if we wouldn't benefit from a slower pace and less stress. I'm sure this lack of drive and achievement is labelled laziness or stupidity at times, but it's not either of those, as it seems to permeate everybody and every aspect of the culture.

Note the electric fence  on top of the high brick wall,
 and the guard dogs
2. Security: We really do have it easy in Aus. I understand why South Africans would enjoy living in our fair country. We've spent 4 days living in the posh suburb of Sandton: huge houses with personal security services, boom gates to enter the suburb, guard dogs whih aren't pets, electric fences on huge high walls, barbed wire, spikes  everywhere and so on.  As Erin experienced livivng in the Cape Flats, precautions are necessary and risk-taking very stupid. She said she heard gunshots most nights when she was in Athlone. Once the locals recognised them as Eros School volunteers they did feel safer but never wandered around at night. When you think of the freedom our children have we do take our freedom for granted.

3. Generosity : We have been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of strangers here.
The families we travelled with could not have been more welcoming and kind to us ( and yes-they weren't axe murderers!). They had very advanced caravans and camping equipment: the kitchens were compact but would have been fine for Masterchef (which is very popular here!). Everyone shared their gourmet delights, photos, and animal adventures with us, for which we will be extremely grateful as it was the experience of a lifetime.
Sonja who drove us over 600kms just because we gave her a couple of litres of diesel was another example. But even when we thought we were stranded in the middle of Botswana we were told: Don't worry: "just stand on the highway and someone will pick you up", And crazy though it seems I think we would have been, bags and all!

4. Apartheid and its legacy: Today we went to a local Shopping Centre and the diversity of people was mind-boggling. In Aus. we consider ourselves to be a multi-racial community but boy, here you have people from all over the African continent, and from every religion.

It seemed to us in Cape Town that all of the lowly jobs were done by black people, but the affirmative action policies here also seem to mean that whites also have difficulty finding employment if they compete for a job. It's very complex and too difficult to comprehend completely. Compared to the last time I was here, when apartheid was in full force, it is so much better for everyone but I guess it will take decades to sort out the legacy of those 40 years.

Anyway I'd better pack my bag and then we're off to the Airport!

your on-the-move correspondent


Cradle of Humankind: who's your daddy?

Maropengo at The Cradle of Humankind
Wednesday 20th July: Johannesburg

Another balmy blue-skyed day in downtown Jo'Burg.

We had organised with our favourite taxi driver, Mish, to be picked up at 10am and make the hour trip to the Cradle of Humankind, which is a world heritage site.

He has taken us anywhere we have needed to go over the last few days as walking isn't acceptable.

I'm not sure how people who live here manage to get any exercise as you can't, especially if you're white, just wander around the streets. You don't see anybody power walking or jogging or taking dogs for a walk at all in the suburbs. We have all become very unfit: in Botswana the possibility of attack by a wild animal prevented us going for long walks, and here threat of a different sort of attack prevents the same.When we suggest we might walk somewhere the locals look a bit confused and just shake their heads in horror. It does make you appreciate the relative safety of our streets!

The Cradle of Humankind is an area in the hills outside Jo'Burg where significant archaelogical finds have been made, the most significant being the skulls and skeletons of 'Little Foot' and 'Mrs Plies', predecessors of humans, whose bones have been aged at 2 million years old. Not bad eh? It seems the aborigines of Australia are considered relative newcomers at only 40.000 years old!

We started with a tour of Maropengo, which is a museum hidden under a grass-covered mound. It included a 'boat' ride through a tunnel showing the elements required for life: water, fire etc. Sort of corny but fun :less scary than the river caves at Luna Park!

There were lots of displays about the formation of earth and the evolution of the human species, which they attribute to one female in Africa, so very interesting.

Then we had some lunch and drove to the Sterkfontein caves. We paid for Mish, the driver, to come with us as he had never been, but he was a bit concerned about the caves! We climbed down over a hundred steps and walked for 500 metres underground, some of it through narrow low tunnels in the rock. We saw the places where the skeleton of Little Foot is still encased in rock, and where Mrs Plies was found. The guide rolled her eyeys when asked when the Little Foot skeleton would finally be extracted from the cave: apparently the Professor has said every year that it was imminenet, but it hasn't happened yet.

There have been archaeological sites there since early last century and the Sterkfontein Caves site is owned by one of the Universities whose students work on it too. There are lots of caves but one was enough for us. I bought a fridge magnet which has a picture of a hominod ( early human) and the caption 'Who's my daddy?' ( Another point towards winning the Tourist of the Year prize!).

Stopped to buy something for dinner at the Woolies food store: they make fantastic ready-made microwaveable dinners, so we bought some and headed for the guest house so Erin could watch a replay of the World Netball Championships and Ewan could watch the Tour de France. How did I end up travelling with 2 sports-lovers I have to ask??

As a special treat Erin made me buy a Malva pudding which we will have with custard: it's like a caramel golden syrup pudding and definitely not a Weight Watchers delight!

With no exercise and the local delicacies to consume we will be rolling our way home I can tell you!!!!

Your too well-fed and extremely unfit correspondent


Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The joys of Johannesburg

Monday 18th July : Johannesburg
All I can say was that yesterday went from the ridiculous to the sublime!
There we were dragging ourselves dressed in dusty creased camping clothes and our even dustier baggage in the door of the Crystal Duvet Guesthouse.
I booked it from Australia and it had rave reviews and wasn't expensive but the name was a worry: what is a crystal duvet anyway?
But the decor is something else: there are chandeliers, crystal beads, silver cushions, gleaming white tiles and mirrors everywhere. But the most important thing was the huge beds, crisp white linen and fluffy pillows. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. We tried not to distribute the dust everywhere as we settled in! I had to have a shower before I slid into the sheets!

We decided to have a quiet day after the previous two days. The Guesthouse is in one of the poshest ( but safest) Jo'Burg suburbs. All of the huge houses in this estate have huge brick fences topped by electric fences or barbed wire. To get into the Sandown Estate, where the guest house is located, you have to stop at a boomgate and pass inspection by the 24 hour black security guard. When we arrived on the first night there was a second guard and he showed us the way in a car marked 'Tactical Response Unit - Security Guards'. All very intimidating which I guess is the point! The crime rate here is very high and you aren't supposed to wander the streets in a lot of areas - I think we would be considered to be easy targets.
We headed for the Nelson Mandela Square and the Sandton City Shopping Centre via a taxi. So we wouldn't have to carry all of the bits and pieces we've acquired we decided to post a box of stuff home: a task which took three visits to two post offices before completed. Found a bank and Ewan bought a new shirt and shoes: now that he had some space in his bag !
There was a huge statue of NM - known here as Mandiba - and an amazing picture of his face constructed out of cups of coffee of different strengths: very clever. It turned out to be his 93rd birthday so there had been a huge concert and celebrations the day before. He seems to be much loved by everyone here.
For dinner we went to the African Dining room, which was just great. The decor was very african : lots of wood, woven reeds and natural fibres. The food was from all parts of Africa but we had Moroccan lamb, and bypassed he crocodile!

Tuesday 19th July: Johannesburg
Having missed out on Table Mountain and Robben Island in CapeTown, I was determined to not miss seeing the new Apartheid Museum here. I was very interested because the last time I was in South Africa was in 1978 and apartheid was in full force. It was a very nasty shock for Annette and I at the time and we were always getting on the wrong buses or going into the wrong shops. We were horrified to see the beach in Durban divided into four areas for asians, coloureds, blacks ( bantu) and whites.
I never fully understood the historyof apartheid and I wanted to see how it had finally been ceased, so we ended up spending more than five hours wandering through all of the displays and a special exhibition on the life of Nelson Mandela. It was very confronting and reflects very badly on the hatred humans can feel for those they consider different. Mandela's commitment to ensuring democracy for all was an important part of the process for resolving and ceasing apartheid, but it was a very complex and divisive issue for the years it was in place (1948-1990).
I'm a bit concerned how we will survive the museums that Ewan has lined up for us in Turkey as he insists on reading every piece of information in every display! (And he is a rather slow reader, even he would admit!) But it did give Erin and I a chance to buy a Tshirt and a fridge magnet ( 10 out of 10 for being the perfect tourists! ).
your relaxed, and much cleaner, correspondent

Monday, 18 July 2011

Leaving Botswana, but not without some challenges!

Saturday 16th July: Maun to Serowe

After no luck with the power being restored in Maun, we spent the night at Drifter's again.

With Gobi ( the Land Rover ) seeming to be in a happy state of mind again, we set off for the first leg of the journey towards Johannesburg: 485 kms to Serowe and the Khama Rhino Sanctuary.

The good news is that for the first 80 kms we sped along  the tar highway until.......... the clutch went and we had no way to change gear. Ewan managed to get it into 4th gear and decided we would head for the next big town, Orapa, which is a diamond mining town a mere 350kms away. Of course the key issue was to NOT STOP at all, as we couldn't change gear.

This would be very straightforward on most deserted highways but in Botswana there are 2 impediments to that plan:

1. The unpredictable behaviour of the goats, cattle and donkeys wandering untethered on the side of the road. Without a doubt, the donkeys are the most stupid: some simply stand in the middle of the road and don't move as you approach - we simply had to drive around them and hope that the one neurone in their brain didn't suddenly fire, urging them to move,just as we arrived! The goats just straggle around, but if a baby kid suddenly decides it needs its mother on the other side of the road off it goes, so it was a case of trying to anticpate the pace it will move at , and thus avoid it.
The prize for the best road safety awareness goes to the cattle. We passed through a couple of cattle centres so there were large herds being moved across the road. It was very stressful when we would see a string of cattle heading across the road in single file with no gaps between them for us to squeeze through. However, often one of the cows would stop and watch us approach , thus stopping those behind from going across the road. Phew!!

2. The foot and mouth inspection points: it is a mystery to us how they can be all over the country on every highway, so where exactly is the disease?? The approach varies from a closed boomgate and an inquisition about redmeat, plus an inspection of our fridge to a wave of the hand or often a thumbs up sign and a permanently open bom gate. We were praying for the latter I can tell you. I wrote some signs to give the inspectors as we sailed past and didn't stop along the lines of : WE CANNOT STOP - THE CAR IS BROKEN - WE HAVE NO RED MEAT!!! We gave one to one person and she looked very confused, but no-one followed us so that was good!. The rest we just sailed through and waved back when they didn't seem interested in stopping us. We did almost have to stop at one to avoid a car coming in the opposite direction but Ewan managed to get it back into 4th gear with a lot of grating of non-existent gears.

We were basically doing the Botswanian version of the movie Speed, except we were a Land Rover, not a bus and we didn't have a bomb, just a bomb of a car!

When we approached Orapa, it didn't look too hopeful so Ewan decided we could probably make it to Serowe, as it is bigger. So we just bypassed the turn-offs for any of the towns and kept right on going!

The scenery was desolate as we were driving through the Kalahari desert: very arid, low bushes and no trees, not unlike central Australia. We were close to the edge of the Malagidiki salt pans too so even less vegetation then.

The problem was not so much intake as we had plenty of food on board, the problem was the output. I promised Erin I wouldn't describe how she had to use a bowl when she got really desperate, and then when she threw the contents out of the window half of it splashed back onto the car, so I won't mention it. So after six hours non-stop we made it to the Rhino Sanctuary, where we were booked in for 2 nights, and at the reception area the car died when we had to stop.

We managed to crawl the 2.5 kms to our campsite in first gear in low range - I walked faster than the car moved! So that was the end of Gobi for us.

We set up camp and tried to work out what to do. We contacted the car hire company - Just Done It  - to let them know, but they weren't sure what to do either.

After a freezing night when the silence was so complete we resorted to Ewan's music to break it, the next morning Ewan asked the campers in the next site for a ride to the Reception, as we were in the middle of a game park and walking around is not a great idea (totally forgot that the day before!).

The guy who took him was surprising on 2 counts. Firstly: he is the nephew of the current President of Botswana and a grandson of the famous Botswana first President Seretse Khama. The second was that he ahd a gun which he was cleaning: scary!

Our last morning camping
Our last photo with Gobi
To cut a long story short we decided we had better pack up,  leave Gobi there and head for Jo'Burg  ( over 600kms away) using bus, plane or hitch hiking. We had to be there by Thursday for our flight to Turkey, and Monday and Tuesday were both public holidays because of Presidents Day ( very inconvenient for getting a car fixed, as Ewan pointed out to the President's nephew! ).

We managed to get Gobi back to the Reception area after we packed our bags and then a miracle occurred! A woman driving a 4WD with a trailer approached us and asked if we had any diesel to spare as she was about to run out. She was enroute to Jo' Burg after dropping her son Waldo at school in Thadazimbi  in northern South Africa, and invited us to travel with her!! Unbelievable generosity! Talk about a good samaritan!
Sonja, the good samaritan

Ewan managed to extract some diesel from good old Gobi after several tasty mouths full and we piled into her car. Sonja turned out to be an afrikaans woman who over the last 20 years has lived in Namibia and now Maun in Botswana. Her husband is in wildlife conservation and she is a potter. It was a very comfortable car and  she was happy to answer all of our questions whilst she drove for over ten hours to get us to the guest house. We arrived after 9pm exhausted but very relieved that we had made it to Jo'Burg and had a few days to see the sights. We missed out on the rhinos but what the hell!!

We fell into bed and slept very soundly.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Chobe and Savuti

A spectacular day at Chobe: Monday 11th July

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better we had an absolutely amazing day.

The highlights included:

- Setting off for a drive around the river flats of the Chobe River and spying what I thought was a pile of slippery grey rocks, only to discover that they were in fact a pile of hippopotami, large and small, sleeping peacefully in the mud near the shore. We saw a number of these 'stacks on hippo', as Erin called them, with only an occaisional yawn to indicate they were alive. Up until this point we had been counting them in single figures but we probably saw 40-50 of them in the one day.

What cute backsides!
- Through the binoculars ( that's an important detail as we didn't want to be too close to these!) we saw three ENORMOUS crocodiles warming up in the sun, with their mouths open to cool off (and terrify the tourists!)

A young giraffe having a rest in the shade
- Giraffes everywhere: crossing the road at a leisurely pace, checking us out briefly and then stopping to feed at the edge of the road. Lots of babies, although even they are still tall! We even saw 4 'teenagers' (I would guess) racing along the plain with enormous strides and covering a lot of ground very quickly. What a sight!

- Following a tip-off (and some GPS coordinates) from Paul we joined them to watch some lions - lionesses and 4 cubs- eating a water buffalo they had just killed. They had pushed it behind a bush and by the time we got there had eaten well and were looking contented ( which we were pleased to see!) They were only a few metres from the road and wandered in and out of the cars parked there without a care in the world. One of the cubs carried the buffalo tail around and played with the others as if it was a toy. We felt very safe despite their close proximity which was surprising to me as I expected them to be aggressive if we were too close.

The lion cubs playing -
totally unconcerned by onlookers
- In the afternoon we went on a Sunset Cruise for 3 hours, so not surprisingly we have heaps of photos of a spectacular sunset! The boat slowly moved among the reeds and water so we were even closer to the hippos (hurray!!!) and the crocodiles (AAAAH!).

We were very privileged to see a rare sight up close, according to our fellow travellers.

A small herd of elephants were standing on the shore,including a couple of babies, whilst we went sailing past. They were headed towards a huge island grassland in the middle of the river, where lots of elephants were already grazing. The only way they could get there was to swim across the water that we were on, right in front of us. They sort of swim, bounce and float to get there using their trunks to breathe when it gets deep. We were all concerned about the babies but when one started to separate from the others a huge trunk swept them in so close they were touching the others. The larger elephants sort of bobbed into them so the baby would bounce up every now again, and we could spot tiny trunks waving in the air. It was like a mass of elephants with a range of tiny to enormous trunks reaching up in the air. It took them about 20-30 minutes to get across and we all watched with bated breath to see if the tiny baby would get there, but of course they made it and happily strolled off to feed. Truly a remarkable sight.

A bundle of elephnats swimming across the river
Success at last!
It was quite a cruise, and of course the gin and tonics were compulsory!!!

Dinner at the safari Lodge was our choice as we were all pining for asian food and they had a stir-fry bar, although this time the meat was impala ( I did feel mean as they are very beautiful animals). Then I ate some kudu marsala curry (they are enormous buck with huge curly antlers) At least I can't be accused of not trying the local delicacies!

Off to our final campsite together..... Savuti Camp - Tuesday 12th July

We woke this morning to the noise of monkeys sitting on our verandah demanding attention. There was a notice on the sliding doors suggesting we don't leave them open and now I know why.

We headed off for Savuti which is in the Chobe national Park: the roads have quite a reputation for being almost impassable so we were very pleased to travel along a brand spanking new highway for some of it at least. Then the dense sand and corrugations started for the next 60 kms or so. The radio in the Land Rover bounces out when it gets too rough so Ewan had one hand on it and one hand on the steering wheel, as the car wheels basically followed the tracks in the deep sand. I was in charge of holding the iphone and itrip so we could get some music.

We saw a couple of ostriches which we hadn't seen before and some more zebras. It's never dull driving along as some animal or bird happens along that you haven't seen before. I thought I'd be tired of animal-spotting by now but not at all.

However there is a scary side to being quite so close.......

Twice in the last 2 days we have upset a herd of elephants crossing a road and a bull elephant has made it very clear that he is not happy. The problem occurs when a large number of elephants are crossing the road including babies and mothers. If we drive through when the herd is split across both sides of the road the bull elephants get very protective and flap their huge ears, trumpet and look generally pissed off.

Yesterday we reversed very smartly hoping one irate bull elephant wouldn't follow us, which it didn't. Then we weren't sure what to do. Just as we were trying to decide, a troop carrier (a sort of open air tourist bus) went straight through without a problem so we followed without any incident: the elephants had resumed eating.

The elephant checking out our campsite
However this morning we went past and then the bull elephant got very annoyed and chased us up the road. They can move very quickly and are very frightening when they are in pursuit. Erin was hysterical in the back seat, but then it was closer to her than us as it ran along the road at high speed toward us. When it decided that we were frightened enough it stopped and rejoined the herd. Phew!!! (  driver's note: they were at least 100m away! ) Excuse me Ewan but since when does the driver get to edit my blog!!!!!!!!!!

We arrived at the Savuti campsite which is fairly isolated and basic. Whilst we waited for the others we decided to have lunch and as soon as the food was unpacked lots of hornbills, which are EVERYWHERE in Africa, appeared. They are speckled black and white birds the size of a magpie, but with huge yellow to red hooked beaks twice the size of their heads ( You'd be very impressed Lauren-NOT!). Up close when you are trying to eat your lunch and they increase in numbers and get closer and closer, they seem very threatening. Consequently Erin had her lunch sitting in the car! ( takes after her sister in some things! ) Ewan was no help as he decided to feed them! We awaited the arrival of the others so that the attention could be divided amongst a few more people.

I was just sitting here typing when a small elephant wandered past in the campsite: not quite what we expected, but luckily it decided that the next campsite looked a bit nicer so it went over!! Lucky as who knows what damage it could have done!!

The Ablutions block here has a concrete wall protected by a huge mound supporting the wall, encircling it to prevent the elephants getting in.

The tap on our campsite has been carefully encased in a huge brick block with only a few inches of pipe sticking out of the side. To turn it on you have to reach into a plastic pipe in the side and that's where the tap is. Apparently the elephants decided that they liked fresh water and worked out how to turn the usual type of taps on!

Chobe is the Park where there are thousands of elephants (20-30,000 estimated) so we're expecting to see a lot of them! perhaps not quite so close...

PS: OH MY GOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They were famous last words I can tell you. After I finished updating the blog I went to do a bit of tidying up and started to wash the dishes at our table. I looked up to see a huge bull elephant looking at me about 40 metres away. Then the fun began.....

The elephant exploring one of the caravans
I yelled ( so much for the stay cool and calm advice!) everyone came to look and the elephant slowly lumbered forward to get a closer look at our camp. We had been told that we should not have any citrus fruit as the elephants love it, so those of us who had some had eaten it and tossed the peels into the bush behind the campsite: the birds had eaten most  of the peel.

Anyway the elephant made a beeline for the back of the site and rummaged around for a while, whilst we all fled in various directions. Erin and some of the kids headed for the protection of the Ablutions block wall. I managed to grab the camera from our car. The elephant came into middle of our campsite where we had all of the vehicles in a circle. It picked up and ate some bananas from a chair (carefully spitting out the plastic bag they were stored in and the cake mix being saved for Lou-lou's birthday ( for the chefs among you the cake worked fine!), It moved in front of Moira and Colin's off-road caravan, knocked over one of our chairs and came in the direction of our car which had the tents erected ready for us to spend the night. I had put all of our fruit in the metal fridge inside the car so the scent wouldn't be obvious and Ewan had hastily put the vegetables that I'd cut up for dinner in the car too. So it decided that we had nothing worth having. It turned and went to the other's caravans and tents having a good look for food and sniffing around with its trunk. Paul's family jumped into their car and Saskia described how she could look up its trunk as it sniffed at the car window.

By this stage I had retreated to the safety of the Ablutions block with all of the children ie. I thought someone should look after them and I was happy to do the job under the circumstances!!! The great thing was that the view from the top of the wall was teffific! Like being in the dress circle!

Eventually it ambled off to scrounge for food in the bushes and to demolish a few trees, so we all heaved a sigh of relief! Just to be clear, this was a large elephant with enormous tusks which towered above all of the tents and trees. It was not agitated and calmly wandered around looking for food, not interested in us at all.( says she who headed for the safest place at a rapid rate!!!)

Apart from three hyena who visited in the night the rest of it passed uneventfully!

Wednesday 13th July

Today our family officially failed the lion-spotting contest!

Camped in Savuti by the Savuti Channel and flats which had quite a lot of water means that there should be lots of game. We headed off through very sandy roads and tracks and saw animals we hadn't seen elsewhere: Blue Wildebeest ( very large and dark, definitely not to be tangled with) tsessebe ( yet another type of deer) a jackal and lots of kudus, zebras, giraffes, elephants and of course more impala.

We headed off up a track and Paul followed us a few minutes later. Erin and I were spotting, she to the left me to the right, whilst Ewan drove. Then we got a message from Paul via the radio: we had driven straight past 2 male lions!!! So back we went to see two lions lying in the sun at least 100 metres from the road. To make our excuses for missing them, the track went through low grassland with a few bushes and trees - in amongst the grass there are tufts of grass that are slightly taller and darker than the pale grass. One of these 'tufts' turned out to be one of the lions. The only hope you have of picking them out is that they move just as you are looking in that direction: very challenging to spot. They were very sleepy and not moving much at all but Paul saw a movement just as he looked which was lucky. The result is that our reputations have gone to hell and noone believes us when we report that there's nothing to see on any particular track!

Not a great photo but they were running!
There was a beautiful moment when we were travelling through a difficult-to-find grasslands track (thanks to Gloria the GPS yet again!) and across the grasslands there was a herd of giraffe travelling through the grass in the background with lots of the other animals in the foreground. We circled around and saw the giraffe up close, which is always exciting. These were much darker markings than we'd seen previously, and all sizes.

The focus of the afternoon was the making of three enormous oxtail potjies for dinner. This involves slow simmering in enormous camp ovens for most of the afternoon so fires had to be carefully maintained and there was much stirring of pots.

Before we had dinner , Cobie had assigned everyone a role to play in a drama which she narrated and we acted out. I was the sun, ( props supplied by neon bracelets distributed to celebrate Lou's birthday), Ewan was a very enthusiastic hippo which resulted in him being covered in black sand, and Erin was a tree which involved supporting a fish eagle (Hadrian), being blown away by the east and west winds (the 2 Pauls). It was a lot of fun for both adults and chilkdren alike.

Then we settled down for a delicious dinner until........


As we were sitting eating we suddenly heard a lot of yelling and banging coming from one of the other campsites nearby.

The brave and fearless Moira went to investigate and came back rather agitated; an elephant had just ripped the rooftop tents from a vehicle very similar to ours, and was looking very angry. Fortunately there was noone inside the tent at the time, but the family members who were in other rooftop teants were petrified of course. there was an absolute hubbub with lots of noise being generated to try and frighten the elephant and our camp being packed up in record time!! The potjies were quickly taken to the Ablution block as they smelt atractive to elephants we all assumed. The children, some with their half-eaten dinners, were dispatched there too. The teenagers from the family whose tents had been destroyed were also there very tearful and upset.

And of course we are the only people sleeping in the same sort of tents in our camp so we were rather worried.

In the end the rangers came, and all of the noise did eventually scare the elephant away. The rangers followed it and fired a few warning shots to make sure it didn't return.

The story goes that the elephant went into the campsite looking for food because other stupid tourists had delibarately fed elephants whist staying there. It starled the family who decided the best tactic was to scare the living daylights out of it. The elephant became agitated and grabbed the tent from the car. The accumulated knowledge from our travelling colleagues was that you should stay calm as we had done the night before (!!!) and not try to antagonise the elephant, but who knows??!!

My only other advice is to avoid campsite No. 9 if you ever camp at Savuti! Apparently the rangers had 'poisoned' another bull elephant who did the same thing at the same campsite and they thought this elephant was a companion of that one. They said they would follow the elephant the next day and decide what to do about it, but it seemed that it might meet the same fate as it's mate. Very sad - all because of the stupidity of humans feeding wild animals!

It turned out that the families effected were 2 families of New Zealanders, the mothers were sisters and originally Afrikaaner before migrating to NZ 25 years ago. They moved all of their vehicles on to our site, and slept together in a spare tent and not in their rooftop tents ( not surpisingly!).

Meanwhile we all had a stiff shot of Amarula ( Thanks Colin!) to settle our jangled nerves. We all felt reassured that the number of people and vehicles had increased and eventually collapsed into bed. Although Erin was not entirely convinced that we weren't next!!!!

At some point there was a conversation with the new zealanders about the worst that we would expect at home was a grumpy wombat or a cranky kangaroo! Very small fry compared to this!

Thursday 14th July: Savuti

The visitors packed up and left very early heading for the safety of Kasane.

We farewelled Cobie, Gerritt, Hadrian and C.G., as they headed back to Pretoria : Gerritt was determined to be in his own bed that night so they had a lot of driving to do.

The others all set off, with Erin esconsed with all of the kids, to see Linyanti. Ewan and I weren't keen as the roads are hard work here, especially in the stiff suspension of the Land Rover, and there didn't seem to be much to see as a lot of it was privately owned.

We spent a couple of hours exploring some more local tracks and did visit some rock art in one of the very few hills near here.

The tents the elephant ripped off the top of the car
Then in the late afternoon, another visit by the same elephant who visited the site on the first night (we think!). It was foraging for food. He spent some time eyeing our campsite for food from only a couple of metres away, but he had to content himself with the juicy bushes behind our campsite. Mind you, we still had to do the quick pack-up so there was no food on offer. (Paul commented that it seemed to take a very short time to completely clear the site compared to the amount of time it usually takes us to pack up to get on the road!). Colin produced a serious catapult and Loisnita a stun gun, just in case, but a bit of drumming on an old metal drum barbecue seemed to do the trick. He was very calm and this time so were we - I didn't even go to the Ablution block for safety! He wandered through a few of the other sites and eventually the rangers came and frightened him away with a couple of warning shots.
Colin and Loisnita: well-prepared !

Off we all went for our last game drive together but we had some trouble with the car and had to return to base.

Fortunately Colin is a diesel mechanic and he pronounced it OK after Ewan had plugged some hole with the cork from a bottle of red wine!! Ewan tells me it's leaking hydraulic fluid from the clutch : great! Not exactly hundreds of garages out here to help if needed!

Friday 25th July: Back to Maun

We all got up at sunrise and packed the camp up and set off down a truly horrible road. It took about 3 hours to do 61 kms I think. It was very sandy, huge potholes and lots of corrugations. We finally reached Maun and the power to the whole town had gone off, apparently a frequent occurrence. The last time we were here there was no water to flush the toilets,  so, despite Maun being the big smoke it would be challenging living here! The only place we could find to eat was a Nando's - just like home- as it has its own generator. I'm sitting here in anticipation of the power suddenly starting and then I can post this blog!!!!!! ( no such luck! )

It was very sad to farewell everyone as we have become good friends whilst living together for the past 3 weeks.Our afrikaans hasn't improved much as their english is so good

The kids enjoying Lou Lou's birthday treats

Some of the group enjoying the Sunset cruise
The good news is they weren't axe murderers at all!!!

Monday, 11 July 2011

More Namibia, back to Botswana and into Zimbabwe

Namibia still.....

Tuesday 5th July and Wednesday 6th July

After a couple of nights at Ngepi we have headed across the Caprivi strip in Namibia along the super Highway for several hundred kilometres. We voted it even more boring than the Geelong Road (is that possible I hear you ask?!). Although there are some subtle differences: here they have burned a strip of the bush on either side of the road to deter elephants crossing or deciding to use it as an easy trail. Every few kilometres there are HUGE signs saying : ELEPHANTS - 80 kms /hour. I haven't quite worked out if that means us or the speed at which the elephants travel!

They have some very nice reststops under the shade so we stopped and made a cup of tea, which I drank standing in the middle of the highway, just for the hell of it. No other traffic at all!

If you can be bothered have a look at the map of Africa and you will see a strip of land to the north of Botswana that actually belongs to Namibia. That's where we are. The story goes that Germany and the Brits, who 'owned' Botswana then (Bechuanaland province in those days) did a deal The Germans wanted access to Zimbabwe and Mozambique and the west, so they swapped Zanzibar, a port town in Tanzania which they 'owned', for this narrow strip of land. (I think that's the right way around but I"m not sure!) Don't you love foreigners just bargaining with significant portions of the continents they colonise as if they were chess pieces?

One of the craft shops
We stopped at a Craft Centre much to Erin and my delight, and even Ewan enjoyed it. The conversation went like this: "Ooh, I love this ...... (insert necklace/statue/bag/carving/ etc). Do you think we would get it through Customs?" Almost invariably the answer is no as everything is made from seeds, reeds, wood or plants. The baskets are truly superb workmanship - the OT in me was very impressed. We did buy a few bits and pieces and we'll see what Australian Customs thinks! ( We'll just hope Border Security isn't filming at the time!)

After another few kilometres on yet another dirt road we arrived at Camp Kwando where we stayed for 2 nights. We passed lots of villages with round and square mud huts with thatched rooves. And lots of children on their way home from school clutching empty plastic bowls : I think that's because the schools have food programs. Life is extremely hard here so I can imagine that food would be scarce. The children are always smiling and happy to see us: probably because they expect 'sweeties'. It's very hard to not give them anything but tourists are requested not to give them money or lollies as it teaches them to beg. We saw a couple of schools out in the open air today: one teacher , one book and a crowd of children in dusty shabby clothes, happy to be distracted by weird foreigners. After we drove away I rememebered that I had a copy of Animalia whcih they woulld have liked I'm sure. There are some charities which we will donate to, to help out.

The deck at Camp Kwando
The Kwando Camp had fabulous riverside campsites, lots of grass ( to counter the effects of the endless African dust) and a beautiful bar, sun deck, restaurant area: the total opposite to the local villages. Even just camping we are living in a different world.

It was good to upload the blog so far and to see that someone is actually reading it. Sorry for the crappy spelling and the poor grammar, but I don't always have time to edit it! Too busy doing nothing really!

Thursday 7th July: Camp Kwando, Namibia.

We headed off to search for yet more animals at Horseshoe Lagoon , and later in the day at Mudumu National Park.

Before you go you have to buy a park permit from the Rangers office, but the paperwork was a bit challenging. Obviously Australian tourists aren't common as both times they asked us if Australia was in Europe, and in the end classified us as 'Others' on the form!
Chilling out in the bar

We saw 3 hippos out of the water which was exciting, especially as they allowed us to get very close. They sleep with their chins on the ground and barely raised an eyebrow when we appeared. They seem to be in every estuary/lagoon/pond/lake and they really are HUGE. As they are short-sighted they don't see us very well I think! We saw lots of amazing birds, even a vulture too. And warthogs, elephants, impalas and a new sort of buck, a PUKU, which has ears like a kangaroo.

The best times to search for game are early in the morning and late in the afternoon. But it is always a rush to get out of the park before nightfall as the sunsets are stunning but seem to occur very quickly.

The BIG NEWS was that some of the others went back to Horseshoe Lagoon that evening (too far and bone-shaking for us to go twice in one day) and they saw two leopards. They were all very excited as leopards are difficult to find and two of them just walked across the road in front of their cars! Apparently lions and leopards are the big ones to see, but we just think every animal is fabulous!

Friday 8th July: Katima Mulilo (Moo-lee-loo), Namibia

Carving a traditional canoe: mokoro
After seeing hundreds of traditional villages along the roads we visited the Lizauli village which is designed for tourista like us to explain the traditional way of life. It was great to see the mud huts and brush fences up close, and to be able to ask lots of questions about their way of life. It was fascinating really: much as I am keen to see the animals I am much more interested to see how people live and spend their time. The poverty by our standards and the subsistence level of survival is overwhelming. Wealth is dependent on the ownership of cattle ( good thing we haven't hit any on the road!) and perhaps a job. As in lots of other third world countries employment seems to overtake efficiency: if there's a job that a couple of people could do there seems to be 10 people around, most of them watching. Better than depending on social security though.
Weaving a basket:
Botswana is famous for it's finely woven baskets

The locals survive on a diet of mealie ( white maize) which is used for porridge, flour etc and has minimal nutritional value. They eat it as white stodge with any available meat and little or no vegetables. In times gone past the meat would have been the game that we tourists want to see, but now there are various schemes to preserve the wildlife, such as the  villagers being paid to not kill the wildlife and to breed other domestic animals, thus the goats and cattle we have been dodging on the roads!

Apparently an American woman recently paid the Namibian government 150,00 namibian dollars ( more than AUS$20,000) to kill a hippopotamus to take the head home for a trophy. The rangers distributed the meat to the local villagers.

Can't say we've seen any american tourists at all: that's no loss!!

But last night when we arrived at Katimo Mulilo and set up camp on the banks of the Zambesi River, there were a couple of people riding pushbikes with helmets on ( very rare occurrence here - both the bike-riding and the helmet-wearing)! They were camped in the same camp at the zambesi River Lodge at the Protea Hotel. Turned out they live in North Fitzroy! He's a New Zealander and she was originally an american and they met in Mexico. He is about to turn 30 and will be fulfilling his dream to work on every continent before he turns 30. They are in Katimo Mulilo for 2 months to work on bikes donated from Australia to be repaired for use by the locals. They are awaiting a container of 400 old pushbikes, then they will train the locals to repair them, set up a small business and then sell them cheaply. It's a great idea: if any of you have any old bikes that you'de like to donate we have number! We were wondering where some of the bikes came from and apparently a container load arrived at a town near our last campsite so that must be the source. They clearly don't come with helmets though. Today we saw somene with a construction helmet balanced precariously on his head with no strap to hold it on, pedalling furiously along the super highway!

Katima Mulilo is quite a large town and very busy and dusty. Erin and I were on a mission to buy thongs - oooops! flip-flops here - so we had a great time perusing the shops and enjoying the sights and the people. We had to bypass the opportunity to buy fake Quiksilver flip-flops as they didn't have our size and eventually tracked down some truly ghastly patterned ones that did fit. There are queues in every shop which makes for interesting observations as long as you have a lot of time. People are a bit wary but very friendly when you say hello. The children are ususally interested as apparently there are only 150 whites in the town.

I tracked down the Post office to try again to send postcards, and this time there was a whole queuing etiquette which I seemed to have missed entirely. The PO had barbed wire around it and security guards on the doors. Lots of people do their banking and bill-paying there, which meant the queue moved very slowly. Still I was pleasantly surprised to see only 12 people in the queue with a few more sitting on seats at the edge of the queue. I shouldn't have been so confident as the security guard  came in and announced something loudly, at which point all of the people resting their weary bones on the seats jumped up and joined the queue ahead of me: I gather that every person in the queue was minding a spot for at least 2 or 3 others!! Just when I was about to give up all hope the security guard went to the front of the queue and said "STAMP!!!". I hurried forward and managed to purchase the required stamps quickly ( tree frogs of Namibia for those interested) and headed for the door. Which was locked of course, as the security guard was organising the queues! Finally he came to let me out and I, and the postcards, were on our way!

The campsite looked out over the Zambesi River and into Zambia on the other side. We spent a pleasant night eating out at the restaurant at the Hotel: food good, but service based on Africa time!

Saturday 9th July: Chobe Safari Lodge, Kasane, Botswana

With great anticipation we headed off for the delights of the Chobe Safari Lodge for 3 nights: the anticipation is due to the fact that we are booked into the lodge for a bit of luxury: hurray!! It's not that I don't like camping but it will be heaven to be able to get into bed without climbing a ladder. It's worth a look at their website as this place is so stunning it's impossible to describe. If you check out the vidoe on their website you'll see a few shots of a warthog in front of a 2 storey building: we're staying in the Lechwe ( type of buck) Suite in that building. We seem to have two rooms with 2 double beds and two single beds for the 3 of us. Erin was THRILLED that she had her own room and could finally escape my snoring!  What snoring I ask??!!

I was particularly delighted with the idea of someone else doing the washing as I had just realised that an egg ( which I had carefully stored in a plastic container whose lid must have been dislodged by one of the many potholes!) had broken in my clothese bag and most of my supposedly clean clothes had egg on them. Straight to the laundry with that lot and hang the expense!

We all trooped off to savour the delights of the buffet for dinner. I was brave and tried roast warthog with mustard sauce ( tasted like soft lamb) AND crocodile in peppercorn sauce ( tastes like chicken: how does such a nasty looking animal become such nice meat?). We all appreciated the ease with which we could obtain a meal instead of the usual braii: find /buy wood, find kindling, light fire, negotiate with the others about the heat of the fire you need to cook, etc etc. We all went a bit wild and the desserts were a real treat.

In the middle of the meal a dance troupe arrived and performed local native dances: contagious rhythms and enthusiastic singing and dancing. I was mesmerised, whilst the others seemed rather bored - but I guess they have seen it all before. Some of the men had hides wrapped around their lower legs and created a drum beat by jumping and hitting the hides together: very skilful and impressive.

The decor and design is very african and very tasteful: superb statues, lots of local wood etc. Four year old Meike took me by the hand to show me the wash basins in the loos which have a different african bird glazed into the porcelain. She was impressed!

Sunday 10th July: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

With only 75kms to Victoria Falls the convoy set off early this morning, just for a day trip. As it meant negotiating the border posts for departure from Botswana and then entry into Zimbabwe, and then the reverse to return, we decided that the fewer cars that went, the cheaper it would be (as it is quite dear to move cars across different countries here). As foreigners we had to pay $US30 each to get a visa for Zimbabwe, which none of the South Africans had to pay. Funnily enough noone wanted to come in the Land Rover with us so we went in the Prada with Colin and Moira, her sister Louisa and her 2 children Lou-lou and Hugo. The kids sat in the back of the car and noone puts on their seat belts, all of which seems strange to us. It certainly was a smoother quieter ride than Gobi, the Land Rover.

The border post process to get into Zimbabwe was like a John Cleese movie. It was as if someone tried to concoct the most confusing and long-winded method to get people through. There were lots of different queues in a very small office, so after we had sorted out who went where and how much to pay, we found ourselves instructing all the new arrivals in the process. It was very comical really, but we did emerge triumphant eventually. When we were discussing the need for some electronic rather than manual processes the guy ahead of us in the queue said he'd been at a border post where the computer screen had solitaire on it whilst the staff filled out all of the paperwork by hand! It's progress of sorts I guess!

When we arrived at the Falls we thought that we could walk over the bridge into Zambia without too much trouble. In the end it would have cost us foreigners $US50 each so we decided to just do the river walk on the Zimbabwean side of the Falls instead and the others went into Zambia. There was a horrific bungy jump in the middle of the bridge which just confirmed my belief that I will never do it - and it was only half as high as the one Erin did!
Looking down into Rainbow Gorge

Before we got too close and soaking wet!
Erin and I donned our rain jackets and Ewan hired a long raincoat before we set off to get up close to the Falls - and boy! we needed the rain wear. There are no words to describe these Falls: they are every bit as amazing as the photos you see of them. The Zambesi is a wide and shallow river until it hits the enormous gorges that are the reason for the Falls - then the water tumbles down with great force for hundreds of metres, creating a mist that turns into the equivalent of pouring rain along the paths.

We ended up soaked through : pants and shoes dripping wet. And backpacks wet through too, so soggy tissues and damp everything!  We spent some time sitting in the sun and out of the mist to try and do some drying. A monkey stole a mandarin whilst everything was spread out on the grass!

The one thing I really wanted to do was go to the Victoria Falls Hotel and see if it had changed in the 30 years since my last visit in 1978. We took the short cut along the river to get there and a police woman escorted us to ensure that we weren't set upon by the local louts and craft sellers.

In front of the Terrace prior to High Tea
The Hotel has been fully renovated and is superb. Despite our bedraggled appearance we decided to indulge in high tea on the terrace overlooking the Bridge, with the Falls in the background. Very nice it was too.

Tired and weary after our big day we returned to the creature comforts of Chobe Safari Lodge to find the washing done and ironed. What a great day all round!

Your correspondent in luxury