Approximate Distance: 380 km
Estimated Travel Time: 4 hrs (excluding game drive out of Etosha)
We lose the first member of the party today when we drop Alex off at Otjiwarongo where she's meeting up with some friends. In all, four people will be leaving the truck by the time we get to Windhoek and will be replaced by four new people who will be travelling with us up to Zambia. We're only halfway through our trip, but we've already spent a lot of time with these guys and it feels strange and a bit sad to be losing them. Mind you, the nicknaming committee is already meeting to decide -- in advance of actually meeting them -- what the new guys are going to be called. The lucky people. Gums and I also spend the journey listening to the Mighty Boosh radio show, and picking up a whole new language of phrases that no one will understand but will find themselves starting to use freely over the coming days. Forest Casual. The time for whistling is over. Hello lovely ladies. That kind of thing. It's great. We're now so frighteningly on the same wavelength that we're starting to finish each other's sentences. I think we're scaring people.....certainly the German speakers, who although they speak excellent English, can't follow us closely enough to decide if we're taking the mickey out of them. We're not, by the way. They're lovely.
A little way on from Otjiwarongo is the Waterberg Plateau that rises high above the Kalahari. It's another National Park, and a place where endangered species like the black rhino are being relocated to try to give them a greater chance of survival in a more protected environment free from poachers and predators. It really does tower above the plains of the Kalahari, and we see it quite a long time before we actually arrive. Namibia really is an ancient landscape, and apparently some of the rock strata here are a mere 850 million years old..... We're all hot and tired from the journey and from the rigours of the trip so far, and lots of people simply decide that they're going to spend their afternoon relaxing around the pool. A few brave souls, however, decide that it's worth hiking up to the top of the plateau to have a look around.
It's not an especially strenuous climb, with only a bit of clambering up rocks, but we are amply rewarded by an unimpeded view out across Namibia as the sun sets in the western sky. Naturally, we take the opportunity to arse around.
The way I see it, when confronted with a plinth-like rock, you have two choices:
...Or you can adopt your best catalogue model pose.
It was clearly a very entertaining way to spend a couple of hours.
[photo courtesy of grooves]
I got accused here of not being able to jump high enough off the ground. I think the photographic evidence proves otherwise, thanks very much Sina.....
We clambered down in plenty of time to watch a troop of baboons marching across the path and to spend another happy evening listening to tunes around the campfire. It turns out that Barry has the most ridiculously large collection of songs on his laptop, and we spend a good deal of time finding such classics as "Hot in Here" by Nelly and "The Thong Song" by Sisqo. Given that he spent a good deal of time in the club in Swakopmund trying to persuade the DJ to play some Led Zeppelin (which was never going to happen), this is something of a turnup for the books to say the least.... but as Elbie has spent the remainder of the first leg of the tour's budget on a couple of goonbags of wine and has made a splendid springbok stew, we don't ask too many questions and just get on down and boogie. Kind of. Well, not at all. Actually we just sit around chatting, but that's fine too.
Day 12 Windhoek
Approximate Distance: 280 km
Estimated Travel Time: 5 hrs
Windhoek is the capital of Namibia, and part of me is looking forward to getting into a proper city after so long out in the bush..... and then we get there and I realise that I'd much rather be back out in the bush. Like many cities in Southern Africa, Windhoek appears to be filled with armed security guards and houses surrounded by electric fences and dire warnings of the consequences facing would-be trespassers. I don't know if it really is a dangerous town, but I do know that our truck is broken into whilst we're in a shopping mall killing time as Elbie picks up some groceries. Luckily for us, they only have time to get into the front cab before a security guard gets there, but they still have enough time to steal Elbie's camera, if nothing else, as well as smashing the passenger side window. It's a Namibian national holiday too, so there's not much prospect of getting it fixed before we get back out to the bush too, so I spend some time truck sitting as Barry makes his report to the police. Not an auspicious start to our visit. The holiday also means that we can't really get any laundry done either, and are forced to spend the afternoon handwashing a few t-shirts at the hotel before we go out for the evening.
Tonight is the farewell dinner for three of our companions, and also a welcome dinner for the four new arrivals. Waffles, Spike and Danger are leaving us and we raise a toast to them over dinner and say hello to Cupcake (predetermined nickname, but absolutely perfect for a strapping big English guy), Doctor Zhivago (a name that arrived over a game of charades in the delta), Robin Hood (it's to do with the green tights she was forced to wear when her only pair of trousers got wet, but in my opinion she should have been called Elf) and Buck (self-appointed, but we were hoping for a Duke and this seemed like a pretty good substitute). I don't stay out too long, but the party goes on well into the night.....in fact, I think Baby Max gets less than an hour's sleep before he is dragged, half-dead onto the truck at 05:30 the next morning for another long day on the road.....
Day 13 Kalahari
Approximate Distance: 580 km
Estimated Travel Time: 8 hrs
The day starts with a video of Baby Max dancing with three young lovelies who he thought were competing for his attention.... but who turned out to be hookers. Max spends much of the next 8 hours in the truck wishing he was dead as it's no place to be with a raging hangover and no sleep. DJ Tash, who has been sitting next to the now departed Alex, could probably have hoped for a better introduction to her new truck buddy. I've also made a serious tactical error by choosing today to sit on the back row, where every bump in the unsealed road seems to be magnified.... and today's drive is the longest and bumpiest of the whole trip.
Today we continue through the eastern part of Namibia, and cross into Botswana, travelling into the heart of the Kalahari. We camp at Ghanzi, on a nice little campsite out in the bush. Here we get the chance to meet some Bushmen.
The bushmen are the indigenous people of southern Africa, whose territory spans most areas of South Africa, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia, and Angola. These people were traditionally hunter-gatherers, part of the Khoisan group and are related to the traditionally pastoral Khoikhoi. As you might imagine, their traditional lifestyle has been under threat for some time, and starting in the 1950s, and lasting through the 1990s, they switched to farming as a result of government-mandated modernization programs as well as the increased risks of a hunting and gathering lifestyle in the face of technological development. You can hardly expect people to choose to eke out a living as a traditional subsistence gatherer when they have so many other options, and apparently there aren't many left, but we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to meet some and we spend an interesting hour or so on a bushwalk with them, learning about how they gathered food, how they carry water in ostrich eggs, to see (and try) some of the the traditional remedies they used and how they start fire.
Actually, the fire part proves to be a long process, with everyone having a go at creating an ember through the friction produced by rubbing a stick into a hole in a flat piece of wood... in the end, they have to borrow my swiss army knife to make a new hole. Not quite as traditional as I expected, but it's still quite cool to watch them create fire like this (and in the end, in spite of all the guys having a go, it was of course one of the ladies who made it work!).
We spent a little time at the Namibia / Botswana border today being stamped out of one country and into another. The nomadic lifestyle of the bushmen sees them wander freely across several national frontiers as they roam around the lands they have roamed for thousands of years. They do not need passports (which is probably just as well, as looking at their clothes, I'm not sure they'd have anywhere to keep them). Until frighteningly recently, the bushmen were considered to be more like monkeys than people, and it was legal (as long as you purchased a license) to shoot one. The breasts of the women were considered to be perfect for making a tobacco pouch. Those days are (thankfully) gone, but their lifestyle is very much still under threat, and as recently as 2005 the government of Botswana was trying to forcibly resettle them when diamonds were discovered in the reserves where the live..... so the chance to see bushmen and to learn about their society and culture is very much something to be appreciated as it seems sadly likely that we will not have the same chance in the all-too-near future.
A little later on in the evening, we get to watch them dancing... they don't dance for us, but we are allowed to watch them as they perform some traditional dances around the campfire. It's all pretty cool, but by now I'm exhausted after our long day and fall asleep where I'm sitting. Tomorrow we head off towards the Okavango Delta, a place where 11,000,000,000,000 litres of water arrive every year and not a single drop makes it to the sea.... the world's largest inland delta.
Another day, another unique ecological environment......