Namibia

Big Daddy Dune

Big Daddy Dune

The past week in Namibia has been fascinating, fast-paced, and challenging on many levels – scorching hot temperatures, sand dunes, strong wind, and amazing desert people, plants, insects, and animals!

Jokingly Namibian locals call the undulating movement of the safari truck over the rough terrain and sand dunes an “African Massage”. There is so much territory to cover, we are moving, moving, moving every day with constant change and so many new places and things to see and learn. Some days I wake up and cannot remember where we are….

Sossusvlei Pan

Sossusvlei Pan

Unlike solo travel where you set your own pace, being part of a safari group is an altogether different experience. We added two more safari members yesterday – Carlos and Teresa from Lisbon Portugal. They are big fun. The group had dinner together last night in Swakopmund at popular Tug Restaurant and laughed so loud some of the other dinner guests were staring at us. The group is off early tomorrow morning headed inland for Khorixas.

Orange River

Orange River

History
Namibia has extremely interesting history – too much to write about in a blog. However, one historical fact is that the Germans have a major involvement in the country and still make up a large part of the population today. In the late 1800s, Namibia was a German colony called German South-West Africa.

Sue in the Desert

Sue in the Desert

After World War I, the League of Nations mandated South Africa as Namibia’s administrator. Following World War II, the United Nations General Assembly started a Trusteeship system bringing former German colonies back to Namibia under UN control. Legal arguments about control of Namibia officially ended in October 1966 when South-West Africa (Namibia) came under the direct responsibility of the UN.

Orange River

Orange River

Today there is still strong German influence and history in Namibia. There are German businesses everywhere and throughout the desert you see old rusty German trucks and cars deserted after the war.

Fish River Canyon

The Namibia War of Independence lasted from 1966 to 1990. It was a guerrilla war where Namibian nationalists and others fought against the apartheid government of South Africa. Namibia won its independence in 1990.

The Orange River
Early on our third day of safari we traveled from South Africa’s Cederberg Mountains through the Northern Cape and Namaqualand. Big blue skies and incredible scenery accompanied us throughout the very hot day. Temperatures were in the 100s but it was pleasant inside the safari vehicle with the wide windows allowing ample circulation.

Climbing Dune 45

Climbing Dune 45

We stopped in Springbok to gather last-minute supplies and continued on to the border where we left South Africa behind and entered Namibia. I dread border crossings but the Namibian crossing was uneventful and we arrived at our safari cabanas overlooking the Orange River and had time for a swim before dinner.

Sossusvlei Pan

Sossusvlei Pan

The Orange River creates a natural divide between South Africa and Namibia. It’s the longest river in South Africa and was called the Nu Gariep (Great River) by the native Nama people. Later Dutch explorer, Colonel Robert Gordon, named it the Orange River in honor of William of Orange. A popular local belief is that the river was simply named because of its muddy orange color.

Quiver Tree

Quiver Tree

Before merging with the Atlantic Ocean, the Orange River flows from the Drakensberg Mountains in Lesotho west through South Africa to Alexander Bay. The landscapes along the river are dramatic and beautiful, including rough mountainous terrain and never-ending dune fields. The river doesn’t run through major cities but it plays a crucial role in South Africa’s economy by providing water for irrigation and hydroelectric power.

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei

The Orange River is responsible for diamond deposits along the coast of Namibia. “For millions of years this river acted as a transportation system that took diamonds from volcanic pipes within Kimberley, South Africa out into the ocean. From there, currents carried the diamonds north where the surf caught them and placed them into the Namib dune fields.”

The scenery we passed reminded me of the Chilean Atacama.

Fish River Canyon
We left our cabanas early again and passed on a canoe trip down the Orange River. The area is experiencing severe drought and the water levels are low. Instead, we headed north for an early hike along the rim of Fish River Canyon.

Orange River Cabana

Orange River Cabana

Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in the southern hemisphere, only second to Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Temperatures climb into the 100s almost every day, so an early start is essential.

We enjoyed incredible canyon vistas throughout the hike while our guide, Boyd, provided insight into history of the native people and area. Namibia is an excellent area for solar energy generation. Its climate and terrain lend themselves to the up-and-coming industry and could give Namibia’s economy a needed boost.

Dunes from Airplane

Dunes from Airplane

“The canyon was not carved out by water erosion of the Fish River. The beginnings of the canyon started about 500 million years ago when a fracture of the earth’s crust resulted in the collapse of the valley bottom forming a broad valley running north-south. Southward moving glaciers deepened the canyon with more faults and erosion adding to the effect. It was about 50 million years ago when the Fish River started to cut its way along the valley floor. The fault accounts for the gorge-like channel and hot sulfurous springs in the area.”

The area is home to a variety of large animals, including herds of Hartmann’s mountain zebra, small groups of kudu, oryx, and smaller antelope like springbok, impala, and klipspringer. Since baboons live in the hills surrounding our lodge, guests must keep their windows and doors closed to prevent unexpected visits.

Climbers Dune 45

Climbers Dune 45

Some species of birds in the area include black eagles, rock kestrel, rock pigeon, and yellow-rumped eremomela. In the canyon herons, cormorants, and kingfishers fish in the river. Another interesting bird is the kori bustard, the largest flying bird native to Africa.

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard

We also saw ostrich in the open plains above the canyon. It’s possible to hike down into the canyon – considered one of Africa’s toughest hikes. The five-day, self-guided hike occurs only when it’s cool (May – September).

After Dune Flight

After Dune Flight

After the hike around the Fish River Canyon rim we enjoyed lunch overlooking the canyon and then made our way back to the lodge – Ai-Ais pronounced ‘eye-ice’ – for the night and a soak in the hot springs at the resort. The outdoor pool was too hot for swimming but the two indoor pools were fantastic.

Ai-Ais Spa

Ai-Ais Spa

The oasis area surrounding the lodge was exquisite with a variety of desert-like trees and vegetation. I spent some time siting by the outdoor pool enjoying the vistas and birds. The area is a great spa for rejuvenating the body and soul. It has mellow vibes.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon

Ai-Ais means ‘burning water’ in Nama, referring to the sulfurous thermal hot water springs at the bottom of the mountains at Fish River Canyon’s southern end. It’s been some time since I experienced such a dry climate. The heat is extreme but it’s a comforting environment. The hot springs were used by German military troops as a base camp during the Nama uprising.

Namib-Naukluft Park
The next day we headed to Namib-Naukluft National Park, one of Namibia’s greatest geographic wonders. At 19,300 sq. miles is one of the largest parks in Africa. The Sossusvlei desert region has enormous sand dunes and surreal scenery.

Sesriem Canyon

Sesriem Canyon

Animals that live in the park include snakes, geckos, strange insects, hyenas, gemsbok, and jackals. The cool ocean mists that come from the Atlantic Ocean and occasional rainfall sustain most of the Park’s life. Fog is brought in by the winds that also aid in constructing the Park’s gigantic sand dunes. The orange hue indicates the age and the amount of iron deposits in the sand. The color changes over time when the iron becomes oxidized.

Oryx

Oryx

The Namib-Naukluft’s Dunes are the highest in the world. Famous Dune 45 peaks at over 170 meters. The Park includes Sossusvlei, an enormous clay pan in the center of the Namib Desert renowned for its tall, red dunes that create a massive sea of sand.

Yellow-Rumped Eremomela

Yellow-Rumped Eremomela

The Park assigns each dune a number creating an easier navigation system for travelers. “Big Daddy” is the name of the tallest dune.  This magnificent dune is between Sossusvlei and Deadvlei and at 325 meters it dwarfs the other dunes.

By coincidence, Dune 45 is 45 kilometers from Sesriem Canyon. Sesriem means ‘open space’ in Nama. The ‘Namib’ name progressed, eventually forming ‘Namibia’ meaning the ‘land of open spaces’. Sesriem Canyon was created by the forces of the Tsauchab River which chiseled the canyon out of grainy rock throughout the past 2 million years.

Desert Vista

Desert Vista

During the uncommon rainfalls in the Naukluft Mountains, the Tsauchab River evolved into a rapidly strong current of water. Over the years the canyon became what it is today – one kilometer long and about 300 meters wide.

Desert Vista

Desert Vista

“The water that pools in certain areas of the canyon quenches the thirst of a wide choice of wildlife who have adapted to living in extraordinarily dry settings. Sesriem is an Afrikaans word meaning ‘six belts’ and was named after the early explorers and settlers who fastened six belts together to lower buckets down into the canyon to retrieve fresh water.”

We began our day with a hike up Dune 45. It’s necessary to start early as hiking the dunes after 12:00 pm is very difficult because of the heat. I made the climb but found hiking in the red sand a challenge. Later we hiked in Sesriem Canyon.

Sossusvlei Pan

Sossusvlei Pan

One of the most ancient deserts in the world, the ancient Namib stretches over an area of about 35,000 miles along Namibia’s Atlantic Ocean west coast. The Desert is known as the second oldest desert in the world (beaten only by Chile’s Atacama Desert).

Hartmann's Mountain Zebra

Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra

The desolate Namib receives less than ten millimeters of rain per year and is almost completely barren. The Namib’s vivid scarlet dunes are some of the tallest in the world reaching heights of over 3000 meters. Unbelievably a wide choice of fauna and flora including extraordinarily unusual species of plants and animals survive only in the Namib.

That evening I joined four Dutch tourists from another lodge for a sunset flight over the dunes in a small airplane – five-seater plus pilot. The vistas were unbelievable but it was difficult to get good photos and not sure I identified many dunes. Nevertheless it was a great experience. The young pilot provided some narrative on the landscapes below but the cockpit noise made it difficult to hear him.

More as time and Internet access permit….

Cederberg Mountains South Africa

Cederberg Mountains

Cederberg Mountains

This morning we departed Cape Town on our adventure safari. The group is not what I expected. For the first leg of the safari there are only 4 of us and 3 guides! The tour company decided to divide our group out from a larger one. We may meet up with the others later at another point along the trip.

The other members of the group – Stewart, Linda, and Maria – are fun and good company and we’re enjoying time together and getting to know each other. Stewart and Linda are Canadian now living in Toronto. Maria is from Bulgaria and is now in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Widdringtonia Cedarbergensis

Widdringtonia Cedarbergensis

We will pick up new safari members at different legs of the journey. Stewart and Linda stop in Victoria Falls. Maria continues to Nairobi, and so far I am the only one going through to visit the mountain gorillas in Uganda. For the first several weeks, it’s just the four of us until we reach Zimbabwe where the safari vehicle and crew change.

Wolfberg Arch

Wolfberg Arch

Our excellent crew consists of three fantastic Africans – Boyd (our leader), Norman, and Nsoni (pronounced Ghani). Boyd and Norman told us their African names – hard to remember and pronounce but I’m working on it.

All three of our guides are from Zimbabwe and each one provided political history on Zimbabwe and the long reign of President Robert Mugabe. None of them think the same about the situation. Boyd reminded us it is forbidden to speak badly of Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Those who do are subject to imprisonment.

Olifants River Valley

Olifants River Valley

As we made our way through Cape Town we stopped in Table View to purchase supplies and say farewell to Table Mountain and Robben Island – both shrouded in early morning fog. After about four hours we arrived at our lodging in Cederberg and had late lunch.

The spectacular Cederberg Mountains are known for their rugged terrain, dramatic rock formations, and San Rock Art. The mountains are named after the endangered Clanwilliam Cedar – Widdringtonia Cedarbergensis.

Maltese Cross

Maltese Cross

Cederberg Nature Reserve is near the town of Clanwilliam. It’s a beautiful hiking area but today it was too hot for a long trek. One popular moderate hike is to Wolfberg Arch. Maltese Cross, Tafelberg, Sneeuberg, Sneeukop, and Krakadouw peak are tough eight plus hour hikes enjoyed by expert hikers and local mountaineers – surely in cooler weather.

There are less strenuous hikes to Maalgat Pool and Stadsaal Caves. Cederberg has fascinating history. It’s a shame we didn’t have more time to spend exploring the area. It’s a long trip and we must pace ourselves. It would be difficult to see everything.

In the evening we enjoyed wine tasting at Orange River Cellars, a local vineyard. Later we had dinner followed by a briefing of our itinerary for tomorrow – a long day on the road to reach Namibia. So far the safari is as beautiful as imagined. With fewer people we get quality time with the guides who have so much information to share.

Uganda’s 2016 Presidential Elections

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Elections in Uganda are coming up in February and March. Since I joined the US State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) I’ve received several election-related security messages. The safari doesn’t reach Uganda until March, so we will miss most of the election hubbub.

Dr. Kizza Besigye

Dr. Kizza Besigye

Ugandan general elections are held on February 18 and local elections between February 24 and March 10. During Uganda’s electoral period the State Department is urging US citizens to exercise “caution”. As usual they recommend avoiding political rallies, polling centers, demonstrations, and crowds.

Nine candidates are running for president, but there are three main contenders:

  1. Dr. Kizza Besigye
  2. John Patrick Amama Mbabazi
  3. Incumbent President Yoweri Museveni

John Patrick Amama Mbabazi

John Patrick Amama Mbabazi

For the last 15 years Kizza Besigye challenged Uganda’s incumbent president but in the end he declared defeat. This year the physician and retired colonel is running on the ticket of the largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Besigye spent time in jail after he was arrested and charged with multiple criminal offenses committed during previous presidential campaigns. In the run-up to February 2016 elections, Besigye has been prevented from addressing political rallies. In 2006 he rejected the outcome of Uganda’s presidential election. The Supreme Court upheld Museveni’s re-election, despite finding electoral irregularities including bribing, threats, violence, and preventing citizens from voting.

Former Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is another political rival of President Museveni.  Mbabazi calls his movement for the presidency “Go Forward” and asks the Ugandan people “Do you want a change, or do you want more of the same?” A familiar political tactic….

After announcing he would run against President Museveni, Mbabazi was fired from his prime ministerial role. Like Besigye, he is not allowed to speak at public rallies and was arrested at least once in the run-up to the election polls.

“Electoral change is the message of Amama Mbabazi’s campaign, which has attracted much interest, locally and internationally. For years, Mbabazi was at the heart of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) that has ruled Uganda since 1986. He’s served in the government for more than 20 years and was prime minister between 2011 and 2014. In 2015, Mbabazi made a dramatic break with President Museveni by announcing his intention to run against him in the February 2016 election.”

During the last two months, President Museveni has spent $7 million on his re-election campaign. President of Uganda since January 29, 1986, if he wins the 2016 election it will be his fifth term in a row giving him over 30 years as Uganda’s president. Museveni is no stranger to political turmoil, He was involved in rebellions that toppled Ugandan leaders Idi Amin and Milton Obote.

Six key issues identified for Uganda’s next government include:

  1. Job Creation
  2. Improved Services
  3. Debt Reduction
  4. Trust Building
  5. Disbanding Militias
  6. Managing Federalist Demands

Men’s African Shoes

African Shoe5Many men in Africa wear shoes that are quite unusual, at least they are to me. I’ve rarely seen these shoes in the US and assume they are unique to Africa or maybe Asia.

They are long narrow shoes often with pointed toes. I wonder if they are comfortable and remember pointed-toe shoe trends in women’s fashion that sometimes were painful to the toes.African Shoe
Need to ask someone about the history of these shoes and if they are unique to a particular country or region.

Reflections

Cape Town City Hall

Cape Town City Hall

During the last visit to Cape Town I don’t remember such strong southeasters – but then it wasn’t summer. Last evening the wind almost blew my earrings out! Restaurants and shops had to move anything outside indoors.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Taking time to re-acclimate and am so in awe of this place which for me has very special vibes. Slowly re-connecting with friends and acquaintances and looking forward to the new faces and adventures of the safari….

llandudno Beach

llandudno Beach

Will begin Shine Centre volunteer work again in April. The Zonnebloem location is familiar. Certainly a refresher course is in order as they are constantly improving their very effective curriculum.

“Rainbow Nation” is a perfect name for South Africa, a rich and diverse country with so much promise. The phrase was elaborated upon by President Nelson Mandela. He said, “Each of us is as intimately attached to the soil of this beautiful country as are the famous jacaranda trees of Pretoria and the mimosa trees of the bushveld – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”

Sea Point Pavilion

Sea Point Pools

Sea Point Pavilion

Rediscovered the Sea Point Pavilion pools yesterday! The seawater pools include an Olympic-sized filtered pool and two smaller pools, one for children and one for expert swimmers.

Remember the Pavilion from years ago when I first lived in Cape Town. It’s still fantastic! Located on the beachfront overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the pools are not heated but open to swimmers year round. The crowd is diverse and includes professional and recreational swimmers of all ages.

It’s a bit hot for strenuous hiking, so swimming is a great way to cool down and exercise.

Malaria in Africa

 

malaria mosquito

Malaria Mosquito

With only eight days left until safari departure, I decided to tackle the dreaded malaria medicine issue! Past experiences with malaria medications were unpleasant. Getting the disease would be even worse!

I visited a travel clinic on Strand Street and decided to go with a generic form of Malarone  developed here in South Africa – Mozitec. Malarone is very expensive in the US. Other less expensive anti-malarial medicines, like doxycycline, have brutal side effects and are really hard on the body.

Begin taking one Mozitec tablet / day when we leave Namibia and continue taking it for 7 days after returning to Cape Town in late March. My body will be full of the stuff for some time…. Sadly, the truth of the matter is no malaria medication can boast 100% protection from getting the disease. You must take multiple precautions or be ready to face the consequences.

There are more fun and interesting blog subjects but malaria really is a very big deal in parts of Africa. I pondered forgetting the tablets, taking plenty of deet and permethrin, and being careful from dusk to dawn – long pants and sleeves. After talking to doctors and nurses at the clinic who said it would be insane to go on the safari without a malaria prescription, I acquiesced :(.

Malaria can be fatal. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 90 percent of malaria deaths occur in Africa, mostly in young children under the age of 5. Malaria deaths are usually related to one or more serious complications, including cerebral malaria when parasite-filled blood cells block small blood vessels to the brain resulting in swelling or brain damage

Deaths also occur from other side effects, including pulmonary edema, breathing problems, kidney, liver, or spleen failure, and severe anemia. Some forms of malaria even cause low blood sugar – it’s a nasty disease!

malaria map

Malaria Regions in Africa

You get malaria from being bitten by an infected female mosquito carrying a parasite called Plasmodium. The parasites carry the disease to your liver and eventually infect your red blood cells. Most mosquito bites occur between dusk and dawn. Malaria is curable if diagnosed and treated promptly. Symptoms appear a few weeks after a bite and include high fever, sweating, headache, vomiting, and diarrhea – not a fun scenario.

malaria mosquito1The biggest risk factor for developing malaria is living in or visiting tropical areas where the disease is common. Many sub types of malaria parasites exist and the disease can reoccur. The variety that causes the most lethal complications is most commonly found south of the Sahara Desert where I will be for almost two months.

Last year I picked up an amoeba while traveling in Peru. It happened from eating contaminated fruit and vegetables. The Peruvian doctor who treated me advised sticking to boiled or packaged food (yuck)…. The amoeba wasn’t fun but I imagine it’s nothing compared to contracting malaria! Have just about every vaccine known to man – shame they can’t develop a malaria vaccine….