Saturday 13 August 2011

Monday 8th August. Up at 3.45am! Travel to Cape Town

Alarm at 3.45am, out of the door by 4.00am.  Speedy taxi and we make it to the airport in 30mins.  We are the first of the group to leave with Nick & Raynee leaving at 5.00am, followed by Olivier, Roz, Mary & Harvey at 7.00am.  There are only 12 of us in the 50-seat Canadair RJ200 so it feels like our own private jet.  Tinge of sadness as we lift into the pre-dawn crimson Namibian sky.  What a great holiday!  The desert scenery beneath us is totally out of this world.  Like some orange lunar landscape.  Touchdown in Cape Town bang on time and we find an almost deserted airport.  Straight through controls and we get the R53 (about £5) MyCiti bus to the city.  Change to the F1 local service and we are at the Waterfront by 10.30am.  Our hotel, the Victoria & Alfred is rather splendid.  Not surprisingly our room is not ready (doh check in 14.00), but we are offered a room in their sister 5-star hotel – The Dock – instead.  Yey- upgrade!  But we turn it down, can you believe.  We like it here.  The rest of the Hampson-Ghani blog in Cape Town can be found here (if you can be bothered).

Nick & Raynee flew to Jo’burg then spent the day there before getting the BA flight to London.

Olivier, Roz, Mary & Harvey followed the H-Gs to Cape Town, whilst the rest of the gang spent the morning lounging at the Cori B&B (nice) and caught the afternoon flight to Jo’burg and the overnighter to London.

Thanks everyone for a great holiday!

Sunday 7th August. Sunrise on Waterberg Plateau. Travel back to Windhoek

Up at 5.00am for the sunrise game drive.  Very jolly driver but the admin was tedious and we finally get going in the jeeps by about 6.00am.  It was pitch black when we got up but it’s getting alarmingly light as we head for the gates.  Roz reminds them we are here for the sunrise so can they please get a move on!  It’s bloody freezing in the early morning half-light, so we are handed fleece ponchos to wrap up in.  Very welcome indeed!  After about 45mins (and I thought we were in the park??) we make the climb up to the plateau.  A table-flat mountain some 1650m above the veld.  It feels a bit like Jurassic Park.  We grind to a halt and get out of the jeep.  There behind us yet another amazing sunrise through the trees.  We survey the scene from the top and it is very surreal.  Down below it is dead flat veld.  Up here it is dead flat veld, but very different.  Well, we drive around and around and it all looks very promising.  Fresh foot prints here, even fresher rhino poo there (“why not you not want to hold it ma…?” – err, it’s poo that’s why and I haven’t brushed my teeth yet), but alas no animals at all.  The sun is rising higher and we start to unfreeze.  A cul-de-sac reveals an enclosed walkway that leads down to the hide and one of the water holes.  There’s bound to be something there (“everybody can sleep, but everybody gotta drink”).  Well no. Nothing.  And where are the birds too?  We console ourselves by reminding each other this is the wild not a zoo, as we tuck into our generous packed breakfast (boiled egg, biltong, cold ham & cheese toastie, juice, yogurt, apple, cheese – it’s OK by me but some people aren’t so keen).  We set off in another direction and Martin  our driver/guide is certain we’ll see something this time.  We drive for miles and miles on the plateau.  We turn off on to a very small track, 4x4 only.  He points out some bluffs up ahead – sure fire lounging spot for cats.  Nope, not today.  GIRAFFE!!!  Mary of course does spot some.  A couple of big’uns about 50m away, but we’ve see giraffe and so are not interested.  Up ahead first one, then two then a whole heard of Sable.  Now that is something.  We linger as that’s all we are going to get.  By 10.30 we’ve been up almost a working day and we finally head of the plateau.  Fantastic views, but sadly we left virtually empty handed.  It’s a game park not a zoo remember.  Back at the chalets we have a final team pose – everyone even Kevin under orders to wear the team shirt.  1-2-3 click Godfried and Olivier (eh?) take the official tour photos, then it’s on the truck (last puncture now fixed) and we head south to Windhoek, not before a last chance shop at the craft market and lunch at xxxx (fill this in later).  Despite our best efforts we buy loads of stuff.  Nick of course is the real pro and has the traders scurrying in fear and letting him get away with outrageous discounts, while the rest of us only scavenge a few bucks here and there.  The final stretch into Windhoek is a bit sad as it is the last time we will be together, although on the bright side we will be saying goodbye to the old truck.  Ironically as he speed pas a private game reserve we see loads of animals again.

 Check in at Cori and our final final farewells to Chico.  What a great guy!  We are all very sad.  Kevin mans it out and carries his bag to his room whilst the ladies all reach for the Kleenex.  Quick SSS then we are off the NICE (Namibian Instuitute of Culinary Education for our last meal together).

Saturday 6th August: Eveving at Waterberg Plateau Resort

(Hi folks - this post was sent on Satrday evening 13th August - it's the first chance I've had to get this updated)

The evening meal was taken in what was the old German Police Station building which now serves as the Lodge Restaurant.  There most of us walked down from the chalets as we’d spent all day in the truck.  A pleasant moonlit walk it was too.  The restaurant seem to have many more tourists than we’d seen all Day.  As usual the staff were exceedingly helpful, but the service was terribly slow.  This meant that yet again we drunk the house dry!  Another lively meal and as it was our last with Chico there had to be some ceremony.  He was presented with the Liverpool FC cap signed by all of us, and we topped it off with a rousing rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone – which managed to clear the restaurant of the final few guests.

Monday 8 August 2011

Saturday - long haul - part 2 - to Waterberg Plateau

We stop at the same Otavi petrol station hub (these places are like mini communities in themselves.  Market stalls, breakdown services, bus stations & taxi ranks combined, ATMs, labour exchange, meeting places, the lot.  There is a restaurant here called the Camel Inn, and yes there is a naff mini zoo with 4 camels, a Kudu, Turkeys, and other assorted mammals.  They even come into the bar!  This is lunch but none of is really in the mood but as it is paid for we oblige.  Menu looks good – Tinkey goes for spare ribs, Kevin the double pork chop.  As usual it takes ages so we “waste” another hour not getting the Waterberg Plateau.  Outside here are some massive double trailer road trains.  We’ve seen loads of truck today, many of them bizarrely UK registered.  Chico says they will be going to Botswanna or Zimbabwe.
Another hour down the road and we get stopped by a speed trap!  But Chico is let off as they thought he was a proper truck.  Soon we pull into Otjiwarongo.  Its 4.0pm on a Saturday afternoon and everything is shut up.  Looks like a ghost town.  We stop for fuel at a large shell garage.  As we attempt to fill up the second fuel tank we are stopped by the attendants.  We have another puncture!  That’s the third today.  Now we are all now thoroughly depressed as Kevin (I-told-you-so) Mr. Meerkat reminds we definitely won’t get there before dark.  We swap our last good tyre and we’re off. Too late to get a repair now, we’ll get it fixed at the camp.

We turn off the B1 onto the C22 and immediately we see our destination ahead.  Some 85km away the dead-flat, table-topped mountain that is Waterberg.  The western cliffs turn pink in the setting sun and we get in the gates just before dusk fully descends.  Chico, brilliantly sensing the mood yet again, gets us a sun rise game drive for tomorrow, with a late 11.00am departure.  Bad news is that we have to get up at 5.00am!  Sorted.

Saturday 6 August 2011

Saturday 6th August. Leave Rundu for Waterberg Plateau

An early start again this morning as we have a drive of some 450km ahead of us.  Breakfast isn’t laid out by 7.00am so it appears we got up too early.  And we find out to boot that we have another puncture on the nearside front.  Godfried and DHG help Chico change it in record time.  By then breakfast has appeared.  Load up and we’re off by 8.15am, and we’re heading south west on the long straight B83.  Stop at the buffer zone boarder post and it is very much more friendly than the last time.  There is a Toyota pick up truck stopped coming the other way packed with at least 30 people in the back. All singing.  It is wonderful!  We all give them a cheer and a round of applause.

10.30am.  WHOOAA!  Shit!  Woken with a start as we get a blow out on the offside front!  Chico handles it well and we stop dead straight.  We are of course in the middle of nowhere.  Massive hole in the sidewall.  That’s now six in two weeks, but at least we are now well drilled.  Stop off in Grootfontein 40km up the road for an unscheduled pitstop.

Friday 5th August. Relaxing by the pool at Kavango River Lodge.

Sorry, this post is out of sequence...  This was Friday morning and early afternoon.

We get back to the Lodge by about 10.30.  Every one makes full use of the showers!  And somehow a laundry springs up as all the balconies & chairs fill with washing!  A really baking hot day, we chill out by the pool.  Some of us get books out (sorry darling, Kindle), others oil up for an early flesh barbecue.  Luckily the bar isn’t open or it would have been a very early G&T.  Olivier brings out Chico’s guest comment book and he’s drawn some fantastic caricatures of each of us so we can fill our own comments in.  There’s Miss Kitty (soon to be re-named Safari Barbie), The Ketchup Pilot, Meerkat Kev, Giraffe Lady, The Minister of Finance, and the rest of the gang.

Quotes of the day;
Kev: “It was seven, SEVEN, fish, not six"
Friday 5th August.  River trip with Peet & Renate
At 1.30pm we load up and roll out of town to head 20km west to Samsitu, where Hildie’s mum & dad live.  We’re going on a river cruise with them.  They welcome us with such genuine warmth and affection we are all taken aback.  They show us around their lovely home and gardens on the banks of the Okavango.  Ros has been here before and she knows them well – in fact she’s even brought some boat spares for Peet!  We have beers, wine, champagne, gins & tonic as they catch up with news and wander around.  There’s a small holding market garden, chickens and chicks roaming free, a couple of Peacock, banana trees and general lushness.  And its still winter here.  Peet proudly shows us his workshop.  He has at least 30 furniture clamps hanging up neatly (Olly is very impressed) as well as two lathes, bench circular saws and other joinery paraphernalia.  And the wood!  Lovely planks of Osivi, Dolfhout from which he makes his furniture.  At the back of the workshop there are two old bomb shelters (yes – from the Swapo conflict) used to store more wood.  Round the back we are shown his compost corner.  What a magnificent production line going on here.  There doesn’t appear to be any particular timetable we are working to, but soon we are told to make our way to their next door neighbours (a 200m walk...) as we are going to be using their boat.  The wine & beer merchants load up our liquid rations onto Peet’s smaller boat and we head off.  We pass a small shady clearing where Godfried tells us that’s where he and Hildie got married.  Pause for thought….

Soon we are on the four-pontoon raft/boat heading downstream.  The water is dead flat smooth giving perfect mirror-like reflections.  On the Namibian side there are a few large houses and camping lodges.  On the Angolan side families are doing their washing and bathing in the river.  Barely 50m apart, the contrast could not be more stark.  Peet tells us that in fact it is an open border, with a 20km buffer zone either side.  Within that zone people can come and go as they please.

We spot some crocodiles basking in the hot afternoon sunshine at the foot of some cliffs – Peet calls them his own White Cliffs of Rundu!  We can see the town approaching in the distance as we turn around and head back tracking along the Angolan shoreline.  It is about 4.30pm by now and the sun is just going off the boil.  We see Fish Eagles, Egrets, Kingfisher, and loads of Swift skimming the surface feeding on the bugs that are just getting active.  Talking of which, Tinkey’s (as he is now known) stomach starts grumbling to remind us we’ve not eaten since 6.30am.  We tuck into the buffet lunch.  Godfried breaks open more rose champagne.  The paparazzi get clicking again in earnest as we pause not 5m from the two crocodiles we saw earlier.  Renate says they are only little but at 2-3m long they’re big enough by our standards thank you very much!  Pushing on we pass by more villagers washing & bathing.  Then the sun starts its daily ritual for the tourists and begins its slow descent to the horizon.  We are treated to a really spectacular one this time as we get that marvellous effect of the rippled reflection in the river.  And, because of veld fires further north the show continues after sunset with purple and crimson layers in the sky lasting much longer than normal.

Peet suddenly calls us to attention:  do we all have our passports?  Er yes and no – why?  Well we’re going to head down a narrow channel behind Hippo Island that is fully in Angola.  Is he kidding or what?  That channel is only about 3m wide.  Oh well what the hell, we go for it. (actually I do have my passport with me if anyone asks).  Sadly no hippos this time, but we pass by some fishermen in a dugout canoe fishing with throw nets.  We get to the end of the channel and the engines make a funny noise.  Progress becomes laboured then we grind to a halt – beached.  And it’s pitch black.  It suddenly goes quiet (at last!),  Now what?  Well Peet simply jumps off the front (er, hello, crocodiles and hippos?) and pushes us clear.  Sorted.

We head back to Samsitu in the darkness and unload at the dock.  Another “moment” when we drift off as the bow rope slips free.  Richard refuses to save us as he doesn’t want to get his new Timberlands wet.  Peet (luckily still on board) saves the day again as he fires up the outboards to drive us back alongside.  Much shouting and calling and we tie up properly this time.  Off to the bar for more drinks and laughter as we breakout singing again.  Peet absolutely loves it and demands more and more songs, but sadly our repertoire fails us (I blame the lack of drink..).  We think of our friends back in Chillenden as it is Friday evening after all.  Here though no one looks at the watch and asks “what bloody time do you call this?”