Sossusvlei and Luderitz

Last weekend we rented a car and set the course for Sossusvlei. We took the route by C26 and then over the Spreetshoogte pass. The view was fantastic when we came over the mountains, and I would recommend the route for others. The gravel roads where nice and in good conditions, with the exception of the Tsondab river blocking the road just south of Solitaire. However A short detour about 30km along C14 was fine. We spent the night at a lodge 60km from Sossusvlei, and left there before sunrise early in the morning. We reached the gate to Sossusvlei just a few minutes before sunrise.

Sossusvlei sunrise

The last few months Sossusvlei has actually gotte som rain. It’s still a dessert, but on the gravel planes there was some water making some fantastic scenery.

Dunes in Sossusvlei

The dunes had beautiful scenery to offer, but there where also quite a lot of basking beetles and small lizards. One on the most common we saw was the Wedge Snouted Lizard. This little endemic lizard resembles the Shovel snouted lizard I saw in the dunes outside Swakopmund.

Wedge Snouted LizardDead vleiDune 45

After half a day in Sossusvlei we continued our trip down to Lüderitz. It’s a long drive, but we just made it and was there about 30 minutes after sunset. We checked in at Kratzplatz, a lovely littl bed and breakfast that i can recomend to anyone going to Lüderitz. They make some awesome good pizzas. The next day we visited Kolmanskop, the ghost town. This is where the first diamonds where found in Namibia in 1908, but it was abandoned in 1956 when the operations moved to Oranjemund. It’s amazing that all of the diamonds where found on the surface, and no diamonds are found deeper than two meters down. Now it serves as a tourist attraction, but the area around is still forbidden area, and there is probably still possible to find diamonds there. However all the diamond there belong to Namdeb, and stealing a diamond will land you eight years in prison. Needless to say it is a good idea to stay out of the restricted areas.

At Kolmanskop it’s also possible to buy diamonds, but unfortunatly not on saturdays, so we had to leave without being in possession of a precious carbon piece.

KolmanskopIce factory

After a guided tour around the ghost town we went exploring on our own. We where warned about that scorpions and snakes could be inside the houses, so we should watch our step. Unfortunately I didn’t come across any of those, but only a rabbit and an agama.

Next we took a drive out to the coast. Signs again warned us about entering the restricted area. The Atlantic Ocean was cold and it was very windy on the coast. Some kitesurfers enjoyed the strong wind in the bay, but out on the ocean the waves where high. We went all the way to Dias Point Cross, but had to hold on tight not to get blown of the stairs. i almost lost my sunglasses as they blew of my head.

The cafe at Dias Point had excellent oysters and good coffee and chocolate  cake.

Dias Cross

On Our way back to Windhoek we took the route through Keetmanshoop. Not as much to see as over the mountains, but some interesting points along the way. Just west of Aus there is viewing point for the Namibian wild horses. As a bonus to the horses we also saw a gekko (yet to be identified) and a sandsnake!!! As I’ve already had held this snake earlier I recognized it immediately. Didn’t pick it up, but rather followed it. It didn’t take much notice of me, but was on the hunt for prey. It slided silently from shrub to shrub, stopping occasionally looking out for small geckos it could eat. For as long as I followed it, it didn’t find any…

Gecko west of AusSandsnake

We stayed overnight in Keetmanshop, and saw Quivertree forest and Garas Park. There I also found a scorpion, but didn’t get to take a picture of it. If I had had the nerves I could have picked it up by the tail, but I’ve never tried that before and didn’t want to try this. Especially since it was one of the deadlier species with big tail and small pincers.

Thanks

Windhoek

Thanks to everybody for email, gifts, sms and blog comments on my birthday. It’s very much appreciated, especially now that I’m so far away from home.

Yesterday we had a fantastic sunset here in Windhoek. Just now we are leaving to Sossusvlei and Luderitz, so updates will come next week.

Swakopmund

This weekend we went to Swakopmund, a town on the west coast by the Atlantic ocean. This is the driest area of Namibia, and here is the desert and the dunes. The city has a lot of activities to offer, and this time of year it’s also very quiet.

To get there we took the Intercape bus from Windhoek. A comfortable way of travelling, and also cheap. We had booked rooms at Dunes backpackers. I haven’t seen the other backpacker places in Swakopmund, but we werent impressed with the standard at Dunes, but it was ok. We went for a walk around town and found the tourist office. The lady there was very helpful and booked for us all the different activities we wanted. Then we visited the snakepark. The park is really quite small, but has some interesting snakes. Mostly nice ones, but the black mamba is kind of creepy when since you know a bite from it only leaves you 20 minutes to live. You can also hold a python for a little fee. Well worth a visit if you are in Swakopmund. The house snake and egg eater was also fun to see.

Python

We ate at a restaurant called Napolitana. Excellent food there. The next day the others went sandboarding, and Wulan and me went for the “Living Desert Tour” to see the little five. That is the Shovel-Snouted Lizzard, Peringues’s Adder, Web-footed Palmato Gecko, Namaqua Desert Chameleon and the Dancing White Lady Spider. I we saw all of them and I got pictures of everyone but the White Lady.

Shovel-snouted LizzardPeringues’s adderPalmato GeckoNamaqua Chameleon

Our guide Chris had a fantastic knowledge of the desert. He told all about the ecosystem from the ‘musli’ dry plant residue that gets eaten by the silverfish and insects to the top predator the snakes. From a distant, it doesn’t look like the desert is a place where there is life, but on closer inspection you can see thousands of tracks of little animals and insects. Chris found the animals right under the sand, and took great care not to harm them. In addition to the “little five” we also got a bonus. We found the track and Chris caught a Sand snake. This is the worlds fastest snake, but after a short while it calmed down and I got to hold it too!

Sandsnake

The tour ended with a scenic drive through the dunes. It’s really a shame that much of the life in the desert are in danger because of all the illegal 4wd ATW driving. Let’s hope the work in progress to save the Namib will be successful.

Sunday we went for a boat trip out to Pelican Point outside Walvis Bay. The Atlantic ocean had some waves and the sun was shining from a perfect blue sky. On the trip we saw dolphins, the seal colon, pelicans and a lot of other birds. A very nice daytrip.

Pelican

On Monday Ola, Brita and me went for a paragliding introduction course in the sand dunes before our bus left in the afternoon. It was a nice end to the weekend, but very hot to walk up the dunes!

Paragliding

Atlantic sunset

Amani lodge

This Sunday we didn’t really have any plans, but had talked about going to Amani lodge. I had just read a little bit about it on the internet, but the pages weren’t updated the last four years. From the phone book I got the number, and made the call. Yes, they could take six people for the “Big cat experience”. A driver was booked, and twenty minutes past 1600h we were on the farm. The first thing that met us was a mount old suricat kitten. The lady asked us to not pick it up, as it was very tame. Animals don’t get much cuter than this.

Suricat

The Amani lodge does rehabilitation of big cats. To finance the rehabilitation the lodge has bungalows for accommodation (about N$ 800 p. p.) and the “Big cat experience” (N$ 350 p.p.). We entered the two vehicles, four wheels drive with no roof. It was slow, but the terrain was really bumpy and steep.

.4wd vehicel

The first stop was the cheetah feeding. The guide placed out some kudu liver, heart and some meat. Then we waited. Nobody talked and the only sounds we heard where insects, birds and the wind. Then we suddenly saw five cheetahs running down the mountainside, speeding towards us. They were much larger than I had expected. Weighing from 40-65 kg and rise 90 cm in height. Running towards the car they suddenly stopped just a couple of meters from the car. They caught the scent of the meat, walking so close to the car I could have touched it if i had put my hand out. Then they found the first meat and they started eating and fighting over it.

These five cheetahs were only 8 months old when they came to the Amani lodge after being caught by a farmer. In nature they stay with their mothers for 18 mounts learning how to hunt and survive, so they could not be released into nature without rehabilitation. Now they are ready to be introduced to a national park where they can live and breed safe from hunters and farmers. They hunt some animals on their own, and it was clear that they already had had something to eat earlier in the day. There is only paperwork that’s remaining before they can be released. After gazing at these magnificent animals feeding for nearly 40 minutes the tour went on to the lions.

Cheata

When watching the lion feeding it’s not safe to be in the car. Instead we stood on a platform, but was told not to look the lions in their eyes. They see it as a challenge. From the platform we got close enough to feel the fear of these big cats.

The male and the female had been held by humans as pets, until one day they got to big and dangerous. As kittens they are cute, but they get big soon and such ignorance can often lead in tragedy for both lions and humans. They have a whole mountain to roam free in, but it is uncertain if the can ever be reintroduced anywhere, as they always has been fed by humans.

Male lion

The last stop on the tour was the leopard. Leopards are shy, and it’s rare to see them in the wild. They sleep in trees waiting patiently for a prey to come close enough for them to hunt down and kill. Then they drag the dead animal up in the tree to keep it from scavengers like hyenas. The leopard at Amani was found with a broken leg, and could not catch prey or climb trees. The leg has healed, but not completely, so it still need to be fed to survive. The hope is that it will recover completely and yet again can roam wild in the countryside. The leopard was one animal we weren’t sure we would see, but we were lucky. This was also the first time since arrival that it climbed up in a tree and sat there for a while. It gives hope for full recovery.

Leopard

After the leopard feeding we went back to the lodge and enjoyed the sunset with a glass of champagne before we left. As the last group to leave we got invited to a special experience. In the back yard of the lodge they have two tame cheetahs rescued from a small zoo. We got to go inside with them and they came up to us and wanted to be petted. When petted they purred just like a house cat. It was truly an amazing experience to actually pet such a large cat. After a little while they got tired and went to bed. We didn’t take any picture of this, as it was past sunset and flash is harmful to their eyes. But the memory will be with me forever.

Next weekend we will go on a trip to Swakopmund.

Taxi’s in Windhoek

Windhoek Taxi

To get around in the city of Windhoek the best way is to take a taxi. However, taking a taxi in Windhoek is a bit different from what we are used to in Europe. There is a lot of taxis. In fact the majority of cars driving in the streets of Windhoek are taxis. When you are walking or standing along the road they will honk the horn at you to ask if you want a ride. Just put up a hand and it stops to pick you up. Now it’s quite possible that there are other passengers in the car. If there is a free seat it will stop. Just tell the driver where you are going and he will drop you off nearby. Don’t expect them to know any street address, they don’t. Instead give the location of something nearby, like “close to polytechnic” or “BP station on Hosea Kutako”.

The best thing about this system is that it keeps the prices down. People getting in and out of the taxi all the time, and everybody pays a fixed rate of N$ 6.50. If you guide the taxi to drive you all the way to the front of the address you’re going, it’s customary to give a little tip and pay N$ 10 for the extra time and effort to navigate through small streets.

The cars is mostly old cars with tiny motors. Don’t expect any air condition, but rather an old mazda from the 1980s that sounds like it’s about to break down any minute.

Etosha

700 km north of Windhoek is the Famous Etosha national park. When going to Namibia this is one of the places one must see. It covers an area of 22 912 km² after several reduction from the approximately 80 000 km² it was when first declared in 1907. The word “etosha” means “The great white place” from the Etosha Pan; a great dried clay lake which covers 4731 km².

The park is home to a great variety of wildlife, including lions, elephants, rhinos, leopard, osterich, zebras, blue wildebeest (gnu), giraffes and antelopes to mention a few. There is also a lot of birds here. Most of these animals I have only seen on nature shows on animal planet, and it’s fantastic to see them in their home environment.

Etosha is known as a watherhole park. There are resorts around the waterholes where all the animals has to come and drink when it gets dry. Unfortunately the rainy season started just a day before we arrived at the park, and we didn’t see any animals at the waterholes. However we saw some animals when driving around in the park.

To get to the Etosha we hired a guide with a minibus that had room for all nine of us. The added cost of the guides wasn’t to much divided between all of us, and Chris “the sandman” could tell us a lot about the different animals we saw. He also was quite a human lexicon when it came to identify birds. Even though a guide can be a good resource, it’s is very easy to drive around the park on your own. When coming to the park there is maps and charts of all the animals for sale at the shop.

The highway to Etosh

When staying in the park it’s possible to either renting a lodge or camp in your own tents. We went camping, and I can recomnd that to everyone who goes to Etosha on a budget. There are nice toilet and showers and simple kitchens to wash up and prepare food. to heat food one can buy wood in the shop and use one of the many barbecues. The swimming pool and restaurants are open to all guests.

Blue wilderbeestLionOsterichSocialble weaverSouthern yellow-billed hornbillA very young SpringbokZebra

Katutura

Katutura

Namibia is a country with great contrast, and the difference between the poor and the rich is one of the biggest in the world. We went to visit Katutura, the poorest part of Windhoek.

 

This is where many of the beneficiaries to the Mount Sinai Centre is living. We went together with Panduleni and Christa, because this part of the town can be unsafe to just wander around in. We got a lot of attention when we came in the pickup with a bunch of white people on the back.

 

The houses in most part of Katatura is sheds built of metal roofplates and whatever other materials people get their hands on. There is no power, sanitary sewage or electricity or water supply network here. Water is only available from community water points. To get water from these stations people need to buy a chip with credits. Whenever this chip has no more credit they need to refill it, but for the people living here this can be to expensive.

Water filling stationKatutura houseHouse

There lives about 20 000 people like this in Katutura. Most are unemployed, while some have different jobs in the city. Much of the crime in Windhoek can be explained by the temptation those who has nothing face when they come in to other parts of town. To protect many of their belongings they store them on the roof. It’s pretty hard to steal something from the top of a tin roof without waking up the people who lives inside.

Visiting Katutura

The people in Katutura were friendly. White people are rare to see in this part of town, and most of them want us to see. The only way things can get better is by letting people know about the poverty here. Although they have very little, the people seems very happy. This should remind us about how happiness does not come from material things.

 

 

Ride home

The visit has made a lasting impression on everyone of us. It is very different experience to see, feel, smell and talk to the people in real life, than to watch it on TV.

The Okapuka Lodge

Okapuka

Today we have been to the Okapuka lodge located about 30km north of Windhoek. We hired a minibus with driver to take us there. It’s popular place for both tourists and Namibians to go. We hadn’t made reservations but got lucky and there was room for us on a game drive.

On the ranch there is more than 20 different animals one can see. After just a short drive we saw both warthogs and springbok.

Warthog

Sprinbok is one of the most common antelopes in the park. For lunch after the drive we had springbok-salad, and the meat was very good.

Springbok

We also came close to some giraffes. The tallest animal on the planet. It’s heart is a massive 12 kilos so that it can pump the blood all the way up to the head. It cannot lie down, and sometimes they will rest their heads on a tree to sleep.

Giraffe

There is a lot of different antelopes in Namibia. We came across the Eland, that is the biggest of the antelopes. We also saw sable antelopes and another, which I don’t remember it’s name.

ElandRoan antelopeAntelope

The peak of the game drive was the white rhino. The vehicle stopped just 3 meters away from these big creatures!

White rhino

When traveling to Windhoek, the Okapuka lodge is a magnificent place to visit, and I think we might be going again if we find the time. Tomorrow a new week of internship at the hospital starts.

Visiting Mount Sinai Center

Panduleni invited us to come and see the work they do at the Mount Sinai Centre. Mount Sinai is a welfare organization that support HIV positive mothers by among other things giving out milk formula and food. This is important because many of the mothers and caretakers can’t afford the milk formula, and breastfeeding puts the baby at great risk of contracting the disease from the mother.

Me and a child

The Mount Sinai Centre was registred in 2005, and gives aid to about 100 babies under the prevention from mother to child transmission of HIV. They have the registration number WO 258, and the volunteers are working hard to raise the money to pay for the milk formula and the food hampers for the children. Also they give counseling to the young mothers on how to care for their babies.

Anne, Wulan, Mrs C. Vega-Biart and me

But counseling is not always enough. Many mothers don’t have access to clean water. Without clean water the babies will suffer from diarrhea. To help this the organization is also giving out water ballots to some of the mothers and caretaker.

Child

During labor the mothers are given anti-retroviral drugs and the babies are given a single dose of the drug shortly after delivery. This reduces the transmission of HIV by 50%. The HIV rate with ARV treatment are 15-25% in breastfed babies and 5-15% in nonbreastfed babies.

Just too cute…

During our visit we got to meet with the children and their mothers. As always there is a language barrier since not all of the mothers are speaking English, but with the babies the language is universal. I am impressed with how far the organization has come during their 3 first years of operations.

Walking the Aloe trail

Just outside the city center of Windohoek there is a hiking area with a path called “The Aloe trail”. Me an Wulan went up there to for a walk on thursday. On the way up there we also passed and visited the botanical garden. The garden was very nice, but I would have liked to see more flowers there.

A little further up the hill we came to the Aloe trail. It’s a path around in the forest, and you get the feeling of going “out in the woods”.  We saw some large African birds. It’s quite hard to get close enough to get good pictures, but I managed to get a couple of snapshots.

One i think might be the redbilled hornbill.

Redbilled hornbilled

We also scared up some big birds that might have been Helmeted Guineafowl. Just as they flew up I managed to take a picture of them in flight.

Helmeted Guineafowl

The walk took a couple of hours, and brought us all the way up to the big cone one can see above Windhoek.