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April 22, 2005

Bound for Africa

My hands are shaking and my heart is racing. I did it. I purchased our tickets to South Africa. There is no going back now.

A trip to South Africa has long been a dream. It all started with G’s curiosity for unusual plants. Many people might say strange plants. He started collecting Stapelias also known as carrion flower. They have the coloration and scent of rotting meat. We had a greenhouse filled with Stapelias and many of their related genuses in the early ‘80s. His passion led him to investigate all the curious succulents that grow in South Africa. Our office was covered with maps of Africa so we could look up where the plants grew. As you learn more and more, you discover how wonderful the botanical richness is of South Africa. Apartheid kept us from considering the country as a destination. Later it was the perception of danger.

Just before we went to Chile, a coworker went to South Africa. She visited CapeTown and drove the Garden Route before going on to Kruger and Botswana. They had a great time. I mentioned it to G and that made him feel a lot better especially since they had their two kids along.

And this year is our 30th anniversary. What better way to celebrate.

But I am such a procrastinator. I started researching back in January but just didn’t get motivated. I’ve put it off and put it off. We talked to a couple who visited Namibia. Suddenly, our ideas expanded to Namibia. They mentioned how great it was and how easy it was to drive in both South Africa and Namibia. We ordered a map of South Africa to get an idea of how long it would be to drive. Unfortunately, the map was out of print and never arrived. We got distracted with trips to Death Valley and Tucson. Before we knew, it was April.

A local travel store held a slide show on safaris in Southern Africa. It spurred us to get planning. I also read something on Fodors that mentioned that you need to book several months in advance to find accommodations in Etosha.

We spent two rainy weekends getting dates decided (September 1 – September 29) and planning an itinerary. I thought it would be best to have someone book the Namibia portion so I contacted Cardboard Box, a travel agency in Windhoek. Yes, September is very busy and Etosha was almost full. Rachael, our agent at Cardboard Box, did some creative changes to our itinerary and we finally got it firmed up. I sent off the deposit last week.

But I never feel like I am going on a trip until I purchase the airline tickets. I did that today. We are going to Africa! Look for more details in upcoming posts.

May 17, 2005

Botanical Safari update

The planning is going well. We have our plane tickets and a deposit on the Namibia leg of out trip. We finally got a chance to sit down and do some more planning on Saturday. We tackled the Northern Cape or Namaqualand portion of the trip.

First off, we have our two nights at Bushmans Kloof. This is our luxury blowout of the trip. It just happens that we will be there on the night of our 30th anniversary so this is the major splurge of the trip. (As if the airlines tickets were not a slurge??!!) Next we move up to Namaqualand and we are staying three nights in Springbok. We have a reservation at Mountain View Guest House. Unfortunately, they were booked on Saturday, so I spent some tonight looking for fill in accomodations. We hope to stay 4 nights in this area and also day a long day trip to Richtersveld National Park on the border of Namibia. But first we need to get our accomodations.

After Springbok, we are moving back south towards Capetown. We have booked three nights in Papkuilsfontein Farm. Their self-catering cottages were booked so we will stay in the guesthouse. This area sounds very interesting. This area is a transition area between the fynbos and karoo. It is near Nieuwoudtville which is the indigenous bulb capitol of the world. We are also going to take a tour of Glenlyon Farm by Niel McGregor.

I am getting so excited.

May 18, 2005

Airline tickets

I know this sounds strange but I got such a rush today opening my mailbox and seeing a thick envelope from Elizabeth Holmes Travel. We purchased our tickets several weeks ago but they physically arrived today.

Actually, it is strange to get paper tickets. We haven't had paper tickets since our trip to Chile over a year and half ago. But we purchased our tickets through a consoldator and paid cash to get a good price. Considering how many legs our trip is I'm not surprised that we didn't receive two envelopes.

Seattle - Atlanta
Atlanta - Johannesburg
Johnnesburg - Cape Town
Cape Town - Windhoek Namibia
Windhoek - Johannesburg
Johannesburg - Atlanta
Atlanta - Seattle

Hmmm... I definitely need to look into noise cancelling headsets.

May 26, 2005

3 months to go!

We have our 4th night arranged in Namaqualand. We decided to stay at Naries Guest Farm which is west of Springbok. This will allow us to stay in a different area than Springbok but not move that far. It is full board since it is out of town which will be nice. It is turning out that maybe half of the places we will be staying are full board.

I have also been corresponding with Mariette at Papkuilsfontein. She has been so helpful finalizing our booking and arranging a tour.

I have one last accommodation to find. After Namaqualand and the Western Cape, we are returning to Capetown to stay for 5 days. We want to get a rental or self-catering as they are called in South Africa. I have found many listings and a lot of them look great. There seems to be everything from a summer beach cottage to high end luxury condos. Many of the owners consider September to be low season in Capetown so the places so far have not been too expensive. Almost everything is available by the day so it is easy to get one for 5 days instead of a week.

There are also several portals to help locate the units. So far, I like South Africa Explored. The web site is extremely well organized. I really like the clickable map which will show all the accommodations. You can then sort them be hotel, guest house or self-catering. It definitely is making it easy to quickly review many options. Unfortunately, I just don’t have a good handle on the different suburbs and if they would be a good place to stay. Or if we should stay in Capetown instead.

I also have to get cars for both SA and Namibia. I’ve checked Auto Europe and they have some great deals for SA so I’m going to definitely use them. Unfortunately, they don’t have agents in Namibia so I’ll use the Cardboard box to rent.

I found a great tool to use for planning our trip. I've started using Backpackit which is an on-line organizer. I don't use a Palm or other organizer so this is a good tool for me and a great replacement for notebooks.

July 23, 2005

South Africa Update

It has been a while since I posted anything about our South Africa plans. I am still working on the trip. I'm almost done.

We originally had wanted 4 nights at the Mountain View Guest Lodge. Saturday night was not available so we had booked a single night at Naries. Fortunately, Mountain View had a cancellation so we are now in one location for 4 nights. This is so much better.

For Cape Town, I finally decided on an apartment for our 6 nights. It was so hard. I debated between something along the coast but we decided to go with a self-catering cottage in the suburbs. We are thinking that the suburbs will be easier to do day trips. Our rental is Clarkia Guest Cottage. It should be nice with a convenient location.

I rented a car through Auto Europe. They had the best prices on the cars with 0 excess. It is really thorugh Avis. We will pick it up downtown Cape Town, hopefully close to our hotel, and then return to the airport. I am also going to rent through Auto Europe for Namibia. That is one of the last things to do.

We paid our Namibia accomodations. We used Cardboard Box to make the arrangements and they were excellent. I'll do a separate post with our itinerary for Namibia.

We are also thinking about arranging a day trip to Richtersveld National Park while we are in Springbok. You need a 4-wheel drive to tour Richtersveld so we are thinking about booking a day trip. It is a very long day. They will pick us up at 7am and we will return later in the evening (11pm?). Basically that is the only way we can do it without renting a 4wheel driving and camping. There are many unique succulents in the park and outside that we really want to see.

So far, it has been great working with people in South Africa. They are so responsive by email. Typically, it looks like they are paid through bank transfers. Fortunately, many will also take credit cards. A few will not. I understand since there are fees associated with the credit cards. A couple of places have mentioned that there is an additional cost if you charge (10%!!!!).

Now we need to start to plan what we are going to do day-by-day. And deal with the stress. It is starting. G and I have both mentioned that we have had dreams about the trip. And it is less than 6 weeks away.

I also went out today and splurged. I bought a new digital camera; a Canon 20D. I've been wanting a digital SLR and this camera is very close to my older SLR. I also got a zoom telephoto so I can take pictures of animals. Now I need to get used to using it. Tomorrow, we'll go to Rainier and take some photos.

July 31, 2005

Africa in a month!!

So much for best intentions. I have not been keeping up this blog.

It is just a bit over a month before we depart on our trip to South Africa and Namibia. All our accomodations, flights and cars have been reserved. I am alternating between calm anticipation and nervous panic.

I've bee practicing with my camera. I got the Canon 20D digital SLR. I had the Elan 7 SLR with several lens so I decided to go with the Canon instead of switching to the Nikon. It was tough decision since I think I like what I have seen from Nikon but having lens and familiarity with the camera is a big plus.

I already had a 28mm, 50mm and 90mm macro lens. I originally thought I could just purchase a body but I really didn't understand digital SLRs. I did not understand the crop ratio which is what the sensor sees which changes the size of the lens by 1.6. This means my 28mm wide angle lens was now a 45mm lens.

I tried our my lens on a trip to Mt. Rainier and realized I really missed a wide angle and I was willing to try the zoom. I ended up turning back my body-only kit for a kit with a 17-85 zoom lens with image stablization (IS). I also bought a 75-300 IS lens.

I'm like a kid in a toy store. I shot a bunch of flowers with the macro and I'm in heaven. I struggled so much with the Canon G2 trying to take closeups. I really shake a lot when I'm shooting and a good percentage ended up fuzzy. Also the colors were really bad. Now at least 90% are good.

Now to practice and learn about the camera. A great site for informatino about Canon is Bob Atkin's site.

I also highly recommend Kenmore Camera. The prices are competitive and the service is excellent. They have a two week trial period. I was able to try out my body-only and decide to switch it to a kit with the zoom. I also had a problem with my macro lens. I had all my receipts and took the macro lens in for factory warranty repair. No problems. They packed it up and shipped it back to the factory. Four weeks later it was back in working condition. All this for no charge. I've bought three different camera systems from them and I am a happy return customer.

August 2, 2005

South Africa Itinerary

I realize that I haven't really detailed much on what our plans are for our trip. So here goes.

Depart Seattle - Atlanta - Johannesburg - Capetown
We are leaving on an overnight to Atlanta with a 4 hour layover before catching the flight to South Africa. From there we transfer to Capetown.

Cape Town
We arrive in the afternoon. We will either take a taxi or a shuttle to our hotel, Metropole Hotel. I found it listed in the Time Out guide book for Cape Town and it looked great. I booked three nights and they have taken one night as deposit. Very responsive.

We will probably arrive there after dark. We will relax a bit and eat dinner in the hotel. I don't know if we will be able to go out for a walk or not. We will spend the weekend in Cape Town. We won't have a car so we will are planning on taking an the 'topless' tour which an on-and-off tour bus. This will allow us to see some of the major sites within the bowl area such as Victoria and Albert Waterfront, Camps Bay and Table Mountain. We may also take a taxi one day out to Kirstenbosch garden for a day.

Bushmans Kloof
We will pick up a car from Avis on Monday. We rented through AutoEurope and got a good deal. We will drive to Clanwilliams and on to Bushmans Kloof resort. This is the splurge for the vacation. We will be there on our 30th anniversary. We choose this location because it does have several options for flora tours in addition to wildlife and Sans native rock art. We will spend two nights. The service has been ourstanding. We filled out a form detailing our interests and preferences down to what type of pillow we preferred. I totally expect to be pampered.

Springbok
We will travel on to Namaqualand or Namkawaland for the spring wildflower bloom. Wildflower blooms in the desert are always chancy. So much is dependent upon weather. I found a site that is reporting the wildflower blooms - Die Honnehok Chalets. Earlier in July, it looked like it might be a spectacular bloom. But fickle Mother Nature has changed her mind and there may be little in bloom for us.

We are staying at Mountain View Guest House in Springbok for four days. The owner has been great to work with. Originally there was no room available for the last day we wanted to day. I went ahead and made reservations elsewhere. But they had a cancellation and contacted us to see if we would like to book the additional day that we originally wanted. Of course, it was yes.

We will first check to find out where the flowers are blooming if at all. We will do some drives to see the flowers. Two places on our list are Goegap and Skilpad Nature reserves. We also have booked a full day tour of the Richtersveld National Park with Virosatours. This is to see succulents and the remote desert corner of South Africa. The trip will take a full day leaving at 7am and getting back around 9pm or later. The trip will be via 4x4.

Nieuwoudtville

From Namaqualand we will travel back south to the border of the Karoo to Nieuwoudtville. This area is known for its outstanding bulbs. We are staying at Papkuilsfontein for three nigths. We have arranged a tour with Neil MacGregor at Glenlyon Farms. Here is a bit about the area. The owner has been outstanding to work with. She has giving us very detailed information about the area, what to see and helped us to arrange our tour.

Cape Town

After our tours of the flower lands, we will return to Cape Town for six nights. We are staying at Clarkia Guest Cottage in Newlands. Arranging this rental has been rather informal. It does look like it will be very convenient for accessing the highways and a good location. The owners are near-by which is also a plus.

During our stay, we hope to tour the cape, visit the Harold Porter National Garden at Betty's Bay, visit the Karoo Desert Botanical Garden and the wine regions.

Then it is off for Namibia for eight days.

August 3, 2005

Namibia Itinerary

After three weeks in Western Cape and Northern Provinces of South Africa, we are off for Namibia.

Depart Cape Town - Windhoek - Waterburg
We arrive mid-day in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. We will pick up our Auto Europe rental from Avis and head off for Waterberg Plateau. We will be staying at the rest camp in the park. Here is a link with more pictures.

Etosha
Etosha is Namibia's largest game park. It was highlighted in a Living Eden special on PBS. Etosha is what has led us to Namibia. Etosha is a bowl which has pools of water (pans). This watersource attracts a wide variety of wildlife from lions to giraffs to wildebeests to zebra. We will spend three nights here at the middle camp - Halali.

Erongo
From Etosha, we head to the coast. This is a long drive, much of which is on gravel. We decided to split the drive and stay at the Erongo Wilderness Camp.

Swakopumund
On to the coast and the town of Swakopumund. Here will we have an oppotunity to see welwitschia mirabilis; a strange and unusual plant. We are staying at the Brigadoon.

Sossusvlei
From the coast we head back inland and south to Sossusvlei. Land of the sand dunes. We are staying at the Desert Homestead for two nights. We hope to visit the dunes and the namib desert region.

Windhoek
One last night before leaving in Windhoek. It will give us a chance to organize ourselves and make a leisurely drive back to the major city. The last night will be spent in Hilltop House.

Windhoek - Johannesburg - Atlanta - Seattle
From Namibia to the Northwest of the US and home.

August 13, 2005

Studying the details

We spent the day getting into the day to day details of the trip. It is so surprising how much time you can spending just planning a few days.

First off is always the important arrival. You are jet lagged, tired, needing a shower and you have to negotiate the airport. I googled around for information on the Cape Town airport and struck out. No maps but most of the information said that there were ATMs and exchanges. We are transfering in Jo'Burg so we may end up getting some cash there. Of course, I have to find a blog on someone getting their ATM card snatched in the airport. ATM crime seems to be pretty rampant. I've come across several entries detailing fake ATM fronts that take your card after you enter your pin and other items. The Lonely Planet guidebook has a section on how to prevent ATM crime. Great.

The options to town seem to be a shared shuttle and taxi. The shared shuttle doesn't seem to be that much cheaper. Some of the shuttles have a high fee for the first passenger and cheap for others. The taxi looks to be about 150 rands ($25US). As usual, there is an official taxi company, Touch Down Taxi.

We won't arrive until the afternoon so I doubt that we will do much after arrival. It would be great to go for a walk but I'm not certain about walking after dark. It is spring and will probably be dark early.

We will probably eat in the hotel the first night. Fortunately, it has a good restaurant.

After the 24 hours or more of flight, who knows what we will be like on Saturday. We'll breakfast in the hotel and ask them to make reservations for Mama Zingara. We decided to take the topless bus (on-off). If the weather is good, we'll head for the Table Mountain Cable Car. Otherwise, we'll take in the museums (District Six, Gold, etc). After the cable car, we'll ride the bus on to see the Atlantic coast area of Camps Bay and then get off at Victoria and Albert Waterfront. This is a favorite tourist area with lots of shopping and restaurants. They have a flower show going on so we can't miss that. We will need to check out Baia and other restaurants at V&A since many of the other restaurants are closed on Sunday in CBD.

Sunday, we will probably take a taxi out to Kirstenbosch. If we can get up, we'll do brunch in the garden. Otherwise, just lunch. For dinner, we'll go potentially to Baia.

Monday, we pick up the car. It is about 6 blocks away from the hotel. And we head out to Clanwilliam. The drive is about 150 miles or 3 hours. There is a spring wildflower going on in Clanwilliam so we'll stop and see the show and have lunch. We will also stop at Ramskof Nature Reserve.

Then it is off for Bushman's Kloof. These two nights are full board.

On the 7th, we head for Springbok. Along the way and in Springbok are many items of interest. Skilpad and Knersvlakte. I'm not certain we will have much time since we will probably stay for the late morning brunch at Bushmans. Where to eat in Springbok seems to be a little of a mystery. The Springbok Lodge and Restaurant seems to be the place. Oh well, we will see where (if any) the flowers are blooming. We may take a late lunch in Kamieskroon.

After Springbok, it is on to Nieuwoudtville. We will try to stop in VanRhysdorf at the succulent nursery. After we check in at Papkuilsfontein, we will check to see what are out options but possibilities is the Aloe Forest, Knersvlakte drive back to Van Rhyns Pass. We will also have our tour with MacGregor.

On the way back to Cape Town, we will drive back through the Biedouw valley and over Pakhuis Pass. We will be back tracking some of the way that we came to Bushmans Kloof.

Once in Cape Town, we will have 5 days. First day may be off to Worcester and Paarl. Sunday may be to Harold Porter's Garden. One day to Stellenbosch or Franschhoek. One day to the Cape Point. Of course, one day to Darling Flower show and the flower areas around the cape.

Whoa! I'm tired already.

August 17, 2005

Namaqualand

Tonight G remembered to dig out an old VCR taping of a PBS Nature program on Namaqualand. It was so wild. We had taped a couple of different programs on the VCR tape. It started with this program about Ted Bundy staring Mark Harmon called The Deliberate Stranger. We moved to the Seattle area during those times in the mid-70's. Everyone looked so strange in the program. We hadn't fully realized how old this tape was. The comercials really showed their age. There were shampoo commercials for Halsa shampoo and Caress soap. The women's hair style gave us a clue to when we had recorded the TV program. What was really surprising was the news clip came on for the Chernobyl fall out. There was a map that showed the potential fallout for the explosion. A little googling gave us a timeframe; 1986!

The Nature program had been prodcast on PBS in 1986 but documented by BBC in 1985. There was a record bloom in Namaqaaland in 1983. It was so cool to see the area and the potential wildflowers that we might see in two week.

Twenty years? That is how long our dream has been alive. We have been intrigued by the area and always thought it would be so great to visit. And now, here in 2005, we are visiting.

G knew the botanical names of all the daisies and succulents. I don't know how he does it. I'm sitting there looking at the flower on the TV and he says it is yadda yad. 'How do you know that?'

Two weeks. I am so excited.

August 24, 2005

One week to Africa

Next week, at this time, we will be getting ready to catch the shuttle bus to the airport. Last week was a wild ride of anxiety. Thursday we visited the UW Travel Medical clinic to get a perscription for Malaria tablets. Of course, they have to recommend all the different immunizations that need updating, other interesting items we might be exposed to such as dengue fever and schistosomiasis. Okay, we'll make certain we use mosquito repellent in the day and we won't go wadding in any fresh water pools or river.

Along with all the health warning, came the additional information about travel insurance and other dangers. I'm paranoid enough about ATM robbery to not get caught up in all those other items that might happen.

But we did decide to get a cell phone which I really wanted to do. We're renting one at the airport. We emailed them and we already have a number which is kinda cool. We'll give it to friends and family. We might also just get a bit of travel insurance for medical.

We spent Sunday going over the Namibia section. I am definitely going to get voted out of Slow Travelers. This is more of a road trip than a slow trip. We are in Namibia for 8 days. We stay two nights in Etosha and Sesreim but otherwise we are on the road averaging about 250 miles a day. We have some times planned so we can get in early morning and evening game drives. We're also going to get a 'cold box' (ice chest) for keeping water, drinks and sandwitches cool on the drive.

We've also been doing a bit of websurfing looking for interesting information about the places we are visiting. I've found some pretty interesting write ups about the plant life which has George really excited. I've also been researching the wine area. That is much harder. There are lots of places to visit and I can't seem to narrow the list. We've been tasting the wines that are available locally. Several of the wineries such as Fairview and Ken Forrester sound very interesting. Now we just have to decide.

We've also found a couple more flower shows that we might be able to catch. There is one at the V&A Waterfront on the weekend that we arrive. The Clanwilliams flower show may also be on when we get there but I'm not certain.

I'm finally getting over the anxiety and getting ready to leave. We haven't started packing yet. We'll do that probably on Friday. Otherwise, we're wrapping up most of the preparation. Now we are ready for the experience!

August 29, 2005

Geography Lesson

I phoned the bank and credit card agency to tell them we are going to be out of the country. It was interesting talking to the customer service agents.

"Where are you going on vacation?"
"Namibia"
"Libya?"
"No Namibia"
"Gee... I've never heard of that. Can you spell that?"

It probably also doesn't help to explain that it is north of South Africa. So for the readers who don't know exactly where Namibia is located, here is a map of Africa from World Atlas.
Africa Map

Here is detailed map of Namibia.
Namibia Map

August 30, 2005

Final Countdown to Africa

The airport hhuttle called today to confirm our ride to the airport. 7:40 tomorrow night. G is packed. I still have a bit more to do but I'm almost done. To take two pairs of jeans or not? Hmmmm... We have tomorrow to wrap up everything. And rest for the journey.

There was a great quote in the Seattle Times today. A local reporter interviewed director Peter Weir for the release of a special collector's edition DVDs of his movies. Weir is one of my favorite directors. I loved his early movies like "Picnic at Hanging Rock" and he did a great job with "Master and Commander" They talked about his approach to filming "Witness". The scene between Kelly McGillis and Harrison Ford is one of the sexy scenes on film but no sex is shown. It is all about anticipation.

"And as is often the case in life, the anticipation is the greater experience."

This is also so true about travel. The anticipation period of our trip is almost over. It is time for us to actually experience our trip.

September 3, 2005

Greetings from Cape Town

It feels like San Francisco but different. The sun is in the north, the faces black, white and every color inbetween and I have to remember to look right when crossing the street so I don't get run over because they drive on the left here.

We arrived safely after our 30 hour journey. We actually were able to sleep on several of the legs of our trip and so far minimal jet lag. Our first adventure occured in Jo'Burg. We had less than 2 hours to make the connection to Cape Town. But first we had to wait for our bags before going through customs. Of course, they were the last bags off the plane and the line was huge to get through customs. Needless to say, we were a little concerned that we wouldn't make our flight. We got through customs with 40 minutes to check our bags through, get our boarding passes and get to the domestic terminal on the other side of the airport. We mentioned this to another passenger in line and she said "Get a porter!" We hesitated and she got one for us. Then we ran! He carried our bags and we had a hard time keeping up with him. He took us through the business class line and on to security. We made it! We were on the plane with 15 minutes to spare.

After a quick taxi ride from the airport, we checked into the Metropole Hotel and crashed for a few hours. We went to an early dinner at the Veranda restaurant in the hotel. Early is 7pm! Not as late as Southern Europe but definitely later than the US. Dinner was very tasty and cheap. Restaurants are amazingly inexpensive here. Our three course dinner which would have probably cost at least 100US was half that. The only bad item is the bar. On the weekend, they have a DJ from 10pm until 1am. Fortunately, we mentioned that we had mentioned that we needed sleep when we checked in and they moved us to the quieter third floor. And the earplugs helped. Don't leave home without them.

The hotel is on Long Street in the Central Business District. During the day, it is busy but at night deserted. Especially on the sidewalks. There is a lot of activity in the clubs and restaurnts but few people strolling. Most people walk directly from their cars to the restaurant or club. The crime is notorious and walking around at night is not advisable.

The architecture is wonderful on Long Street; a cross between Art Deco, Cape Dutch and the wrought iron verandas of the New Orleans. The area has lots of ambiance but it is also very edgy and there is lots of new construction and renovation going on. They plan to turn the area into more residential to give life to the city at night.

By the way, the New Orleans disaster is big news here. Every taxi driver has mentioned it. The newspapers call it anarchy.

The weather has been mixed. It was sunny when we arrived but yesterday we couldn't even see the foothills of Table Mountain when we started out in the morning. Soon it was raining but it didn't stop us from touring the Company Gardens planted in the 1600's by the Dutch East Indies Company. Later that afternoon, Table Mountain came out and it was sunny for a bit.

We caught the on-and off Explorer bus to tour around the city. One of the stops on the tour was the cable car on Table Mountain which we had planned to take. The bus slowly climbed the steep road, Kloof Nek, up to the cable car which was not running due to the weather. Damn! But we got our first view of the fynbos. Proteas and heather covered the hillside. G disappeared up the trail immediately but we only had 15 minutes. It was so hard to drag ourselves away. We hope to ride the cable car when we return in a week.

The tour continued around to the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton passing through million dollar homes climbing up the steep hillside from the beach. I can see why it is so popular in the summer. It is beautiful!

We finished the tour at the V&A Wharf, a large tourist center with shops and restaurants. It is one of the most popular places in the country to visit. We took in the wonderful Two Oceans Aquarium. We had a chance to see the local sealife and be amazed at the reef exhibit and shark tank. It was messmerizing.

We had a nice fish dinner at Willoughbys in the mall. We were able to try a local species of fish, the Klipking. It is sort of a cross between a fish and an eel - very tasty. We spent the rest of the evening walking around the waterfront before heading back to the hotel.

Today it is on to Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. Needless to say, G is chomping at the bit to go. Sun is out. Gotta go!

September 8, 2005

Namaqualand - Fields of Gold

I only have time for a quick update. I promise to upload more details when we return. We are doing outstandingly well. Everything is going as planned or better. No close calls except for one that I will describe later.

We are currently in Springbok and we have spent a wonderful day chasing the flowers. Okay, let's catch up - We left off after our arrival in Cape Town. We spent Sunday touring Kirstenbosch, one of the best botanical gardens in the Southern hemisphere. The gardens are on the slope of Table Mountain and the path takes you up through wonderful growths of proteas. There is also a wonderful succulent conservatory.

Monday, we picked up our car and hit the road. It is still hard for me to get used to driving on the left. "Now... where is that rear view mirror anyway?" We drove to Clanwilliam which is about 3 hours north of Cape Town. Here we saw a wonderful flower show staged in their old Dutch Reform church. Flowers (proteas, bulbs, succulents) had been gathered from the surrounding farms for display.

Then we were off for our luxury stay at Bushmans Kloof 35k away. We could definitely get used to this! We spent two nights being pampered and taken on flower/game safari drives. They are in the Cedarburg area which has a wealth of flowers. Also on the property are herds of hoofed animals such as Ostrich, Springbok, Bontebok, Gnu, other antelopes and Cape Zebras. We saw many babies since it is Spring. We also got to see ancient rock art painted by the San people over 2000 years ago. The food and service were wonderful as was our guide, James, who is also a botanical enthusiast.

But we did have our one close encounter here. We took a trail on our own one afternoon to explore some of the area. It was well marked but we were meandering along to check out the plants. Before we knew, it was almost time to be back for our afternoon sundowner drive. We rushed back and came quickly around a corner - face to face with a black spitting cobra! We surprised him and he reared up to strike displaying his hood. I was so shocked I could not get a picture before he backed down and slithered away. He was shiny jet black and over 6 feet long. Damn! I wish I had gotten his picture. What a way to celebrate our anniversay.

Soon it was time to leave the Kloof and we headed north to Springbok. The land became less and less inhabited and the terrain changed dramatically to desert.

Shortly before Springbok, we saw our first field of brillantly orange daisies. Acres and acres of Gazanias in the wild. Yipee! We weren't too late for the flowers.

Springbok is a small town with mining as one of the main industries. It feels very similar to Arizona with large red stacks of rocks called koppies that suround the town. Our B&B is very nice and overlooks the town.

Yesterday we drove to Nababeep. The tourist bureau recommended it and it was great. We came over the hill and gold covered the hillsides and lined the road. We wandered for hours and George even found a wild salvia in bloom. Next we headed to Goegap Nature Preserve. Here we saw fields of magenta succulents accented by large Aloe trees called Quiver Trees amid red rock koppies.

We did find the sun hot and intense. The temperatures are only in the mid- 70's but it is so dry.

We caught a bit of the news today. We don't have CNN here in Springbok but we do get the three South African stations, SABC 1, 2 and 3. The news is broadcast at different times in the different languages; English, Afrikaan and Xhosa. We did catch the morning English broadcast and saw the protests over the rescue efforts in New Orleans. They showed the Mexican humanitarian troops crossing the border in Texas and the Move On protesters. The world is watching.

Today we head for Skilpad and more fields of gold. These are considered the best in Namaqualand. We can't wait. TaTa for now.

September 17, 2005

Wine and Flowers

We have returned to Cape Town (Kaapstad in Afrikaans). We have definitely put our little Dutch knowledge to use. We even had to use it to find a garden (Tuin) yesterday.

I am sitting here in the Internet Cafe in Stellenbosch after a nice fish lunch. I love the calamari! We also saw the Vergelegen wine estate with lovely gardens. Just don't ask me how to pronounce it. We're heading on to Fransehhoek later this afternoon.

We have seen and experienced so much, I don't know where to start. A week ago we were still in Springbok. We spent a day in the Skilpad area of Namaqua National Park. Yes, it does mean tortoise and we actually did see one. We have seen several crossing the road both in Namaqualand and the West Coast National Park. It brings a whole new meaning to speed bump. To get to Skilpad, we traveled about an hour to Kamiskroon and then headed on a red dirt road for about 30km. We came over the hill and it was a carpet of gold. The area consisted of two 6KM trails and a circular 'Tourist road' for driving. We spent hours just meandering amid the flowers. There was a slight breeze and it was dizzying to watch the flowers swaying in the wind. We spent most of the day enjoying the vistas.

The next day we got up at the crack of dawn to met Piet, our guide and driver for a very long day trip to the Richtersveld National Park. We met him at 7am and climbed into his trusty Toyota Land Rover. The Richtersveld is located in the far Northestern board of South Africal along the Orange River bording Namibia. It is a series of Mountains with a unique landscape. A wide variety of plants grow only in this area. It is also a place of mystery and solitude. It took us 3 1/2 hours by tarred and dirt road to reach the park gate. Along the way we passed small villages and nomadic huts while flying along the dirt roads at 60mph.

Once in the park, the roads became rougher and Piet had to shift into 4-wheel drive. I was certain I'd be sore the next day from bumpy road but I wasn't. Soon we came across one of the rarest plants in SA, the halfman or Pachypodium namaquanum. These spiny tree-like succulents are topped with a rosette of leaves and eerily, they bend towards the north. They look like men in the shadows. The road got even rougher and rougher at times the Land Rover slowly crawled over the rocks. Around 2pm we made it to the Orange River and stopped. Piet provided a tasty lunch for us. We relaxed before heading on. Along the way, we saw huge clumps of Hoodia and Euphorbia succulents along the steep cliffs. It was also very hot and dry - in the mid 90's. As the shadows lengthened, the vistas became magical. We exited out over Helsgoot Pass (spelling?) which meand Hell's Gate. It lived up to its name. It was covered with a unique aloe which was burnt red by the intense sun and they looked like flames of fire in the setting sun. At 5:30 we left the park and started the long drive back to Springbok where we stumbled into bed after thanking Piet for a wonderful day.

Next we moved on to our next stop; Nieuwoudtville - the bulb capital of the world. Over 35-40% of the worlds geophytes (bulbs) are found in the area on the Bokkeveld plateau. We spent three nights at a wonderful farm guest house called De Lande. It is part of Papsuilsfontein Farm and it is run by Mariette Van Wyn who is a wonderful hostess. She made us feel so welcome and we quickly became friends. We spent the days searching for wild gladolias, sparaxis and other bulbs. Evenings were spent at dinner with the other guests. We also had a chance to get a tour by Neil MacGregor. He has become an ecological spokesperson and is very astute. Over the years he has been able to farm while respecting and conserving the natural flora. He is a true man of vision.

The weather turned and a hot dry wind blew from the North. It was over 90 degrees and we could see the flowers wilting fast.

Our time had come to an end and we headed back to Cape Town. The weather also changed and it was a rainy drive back. Quite a contrast from the day before. With George's good navigation, we found the Clarkia Guest Cottage; our home for the next 6 days.

Suzanne, the owner, gave us a quick tour. Then it was off to the Woolworth's, the local upscale supoermarket for supplies. We got breakfast makings and a pasta dinner. There were many prepacked meals similar to what can be found in Holland and England. The two different things are the supermarkets are often located in Malls and they don't seel beer or other liquor in the supermarket. You have to go to a liquor store for beer.

Our first day back in Cape Town was rainy. The streets in Cape Town and Newlands area are narrow and very stressful driving. Especially for someone not used to driving on the left. Add on wet streets and no ability to see the white line. But we made it out and drove to the Karoo Botanical Garden in sunny Worchester. We went through a tunnel and on the other side found baboons running across the freeway. Some just sat on the railings and looked at the mountains. We also stopped in Paarl for lunch and a wine tasting at Fairview. They are the makers of "Goats Do Roam" wines. They have several other labels and some very good wines. We also tasted some cheese also made at the winery including goat cheese. :)

Well, it is only a few more days in Cape Town. Tuesday we head for Namibia. We will be pulling out the shorts since the temps have been in the mid 30's (or upper 90 degrees!) in Windhoek. I'll try to check in but I'm not certain if I'll be able to get a chance in the desert. But who knows.

September 22, 2005

Search for Elephants

Greetings from Etosha. We have spent two amazing days in this wonderful paradise for wildlife. Here the people are in cages (cars and restcamps) and the animals are free.

Wednesday we arrived in Namibia. It feels very similar to SA but yet different. We got money at the airport and we were given SA Rands instead of Namibian Dollars. The currancy is interchangeable with namibian. We picked up our car. Boy, what was I thinking when I went with the lower cost class without A/C. and no Radio or CD. Oh well, roll down the windows and prepare for a hot dusty week.

We headed for our first stop in Waterburg National Park. Along the way, we stopped in a grocery store (Spar, same as SA) It was very clean and well stocked. The people are very friendly but there is a protocol. First, you say hello and ask them how they are doing. They will say fine and ask you back. Then you start your transaction. If you don't, they are quiet and reserved. It is actually a very nice and polite way to do business.

The road stretched through dry leafless thorn trees that seemed to go forever in the distance. Very few cars and trucks which isn't surprising since there are about 2 million in population and many do not have cars.

After about 3 hours, we reached the plateau. The bungalows were simple but very clean. We did a few of the trails at sundown and then had a good sit down dinner. It was not at night and we didn't sleep much.

After breakfast, we headed on. The terrain was similar and rather boring. After about 3 hours we reached the Etosha gates. The terrain had changed to stark white ground and car high black thorn trees. The sky was gray-blue from the dust. We signed in and headed out. We hadn't gone 10k when we saw our first springbok and zebra. We headed towards Okandeka, a water hole along the Etosha Pan. The pan is a huge dry salt encrusted lake bed. It shimmers in the heat. Along the shore and inland are several natural and man made water holes which attract animals. Okondeka was spectacular. We started seeing lines of Zebras and Springboks heading towards the shore but the best were the firaffes. In the distance, they looked like creatures from Star Wars in the heat and dust. They lumbered slowly on the horizon. At the water hole, there were hundreds of different animals; giraffe, springbok, zebra, secretary birds, wildebeestsn oryx, vultures and wild dogs. It was meserizing and spectacular.

We headed on to Halali, the middle camp. Unfortunately, it was midday and the animals were not that active although we did see a pair of lions sleeping and a wide variety of different antelope.

We arrived at Halali and checked in. We had a "VIP" bungalow which was great. Two bedrooms, full bath, kitchen and even satelite TV and air conditioning. There are only 2 VIP cottages. The rest of the cottages are more simple and basic. I wish I had known it had a fully equiped kitchen - I would have brought stuff to cook. There is a small store in camp with a lo of tinned goods and frozen meat. There is a braai (BBQ) which we could have used if we both ate meat.

We showered and relaxed before heading to dinner. A buffet which was so-so. We also checked out the water hole in camp but saw nothing.

The next morning we had breakfast and headed towards Namutomi hoping to see elephants. We hadn't seen any the day before. It was several hours before we hit it lucky at Kalkheuwel water hole and found one drinking. We sat and ate lunch. Soon two more arrived. We think they were three male elephants.

But the day was topped off later that evening. After dinner, we walked to the lighted camp water hole. A black rhino family came down to drink. But out of the darkness came a spectular site; a herd of elephants led by the Matriarch and included two baby elephants. Outnumbered, the rhinos backed off and the elephants drank noisily. Just as quickly as they appeared, they left into the darkness. The rhinos had waited and came back for a second drink. We even saw the baby rhino nursing.

We have seen many of the different antelopes; oryx, hartebeest, impalas, bontebok, kudu and eland. The most common animals are sebras, springbok and wildebeest. You actually start to get 'bored' with the zebras although they are great to photograph. They are also always crossing the road. A whole new meaning to 'zebra crossing'.

Time to move on. Next up Erongo and then the coast. After that the sand dunds of Namib desert. Still more to come before our return in less than a week.

September 27, 2005

Dusted Out

Dust, Dust, Dust. Everywhere! After 4 days of travel on gravel roads, it is everywhere. In the car trunk, in your hair, gritting in your mouth. You slam the car door and Poof - another cloud.

But this is the small price you have to pay to see the wonders here in the Namibian desert. We left Etosha and spent a luxury night in the rocky area of Erongo. We went on sundowner hike and had a glass a wine up on the rocks. Then it was off to the cool coastline in Swapkomund. A holiday resort town.

Then it was off to the desert. We wanted to see this prehistoric plant, Welwitchias and went searching in the Namib National Park. We found them and boy are they ugly. Six dusty hours later, we arrived at Sesreim and our home for the next two nights at Desert Homestead. The bungalows were really nice. But our main objective were the dunes of Sousselvlei. The next morning we were up at 5:30 to grab some coffee and drive to queue up for the park to open at 7:00. The light is good only for two hours and it is a made dash into the park to see the shadows on the red sand dunes. Unreal. Like something from the movie "Dune".... hmmmm I wonder what did inspire Herbert?

We stopped at Dune 45 and we had to climb it. The sand was still cool and the view awesome. But the light quickly changed so we returned for a sleepy afternoon.

Today, we have returned to Windhoek. I'm in the 'largest internet cafe in Africa' according to the sign. Seems like it. Tomorrow we leave for home. Do we have to? There is so much more to see and it has been great. We will definitely come back.

March 11, 2006

Photos of our trip to Africa

Five months. It does not feel like five months since we returned from South Africa. It was the most amazing and enjoyable trip.

I finally got around to posting some travel photos. We got our own website and I have finished posting the pictures. You can find them at www.martageorge.com. Working on the website brought back so many good memories of the trip. G did a great job of writing up the comments. He remembered several details that I had started to forget.

So where to next? First off we are heading for a long weekend at Anza Borrego. We rented a casita at Rams Hills in Borrego Springs. We will fly into Ontario and then drive down through Temucula to Anza Borrego. We'll probably get lunch and tour a winery in Temucula.

Other than our little desert getaway, we don't have a specific vacation picked out. Australia is sounding better and better. Especially in November. We could visit gardens, wineries and hike. Everything we love to do on a vacation. We might even be able to get a little bit of desert in with a visit to the outback!

August 2, 2006

Wildflower season in South Africa 2006

I saw a post today in Yahoo news regarding the cold and stormy weather that South Africa is getting this winter. That reminded me that I had heard that there was snowy weather on the Western Cape region from the blog South Africa Logue. It has great information about travel in SA. They posted that Ceres had gotten snow and that the storms had been pretty strong recently.

Storms make me think of rain which makes we think of a good wildflower bloom. So I went out to see if I could find the Dear Daisy site that I found last year. Actually I found a new and much better site from North South Tourism Route. This is a neat site. What is great is it has a wildflower report for 2006 from all the flower hot spots up and down the Western coast.

It looks to be an outstanding year for flowers. I can just imagine what it must be like. We would have missed it arriving in September. I wish I was there now.

August 6, 2006

Connections around the world

Ms Smyers' class (2/3S) in Canberra Australia has been using my Africa pictures to learn about society and the environment as part of SOSE. I think that is so cool. I live in the Northwest area of the United States, traveled to South Africa and posted my photos on the Internet. Students in Australia are now using my photos to learn more about Africa. How small and connected has the Internet made the world today.

One of the students drew a picture for me.

elephant_australia.jpg

Thank you Ms Smyers class for the wonderful drawing. Your drawing reminded me of seeing the elephants in the wild.

This year I will be visiting Australia and I hope to see more wild and wonderful things.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Postcards from the Trail in the Africa category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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