Cape Town South Africa
This morning we set out on day 1 of our overland trip. the itinerary was a short 250 km drive north of Cape Town to stop at Highlander's camping and winery. As adventures and misfortune would have it our truck only made it 225 km of the way before blowing the head gasket. To make use of time we had lunch on the side of the road amidst huge ant mounds and waiting for the staff of the camping ground to pick us up and give us a lift to the camp site. We unloaded the truck of necessities (tents, packs, etc..) and headed to the camp site in a truck, a land rover and a mini-van. Eventually a tow truck was able to take our over land truck to the camp site. We carried on with the killing of time by having a wine tasting in the late afternoon. As one could expect this led to more drinking but ended up being a good way for everyone to get to know each other.
This morning started with us breaking camp under the assumption the part we needed for the truck would arrive and we would be able to head out that afternoon. After lunch our tour leader broke the news to us that we wouldn't able to get the truck working in time to leave and we were stuck for another night, reluctantly we accepted the prognosis and pitched camp again. The owner of the camp site (Sparky) took us for a tour of the region with his land rover and the back of an old pick up truck as a trailer. The first stop was the local canal for some very cold swimming. Afterwards it was a tour all the way up a nearby mountain to a nice overview of the wine country. After dinner that night we were informed that the truck would not be able to be fixed and that a new truck was being brought to us from Cape Town
The Europa with Tristan in the background
The morning started early as we expected the new truck to have arrived and we'd be leaving by 0500 - but there was no truck in the morning so we all went back to bed. Later that morning we found out that the replacement truck also broke down on the way to pick us up. Fortunately it was able to be fixed on the road side and arrived later that day. The majority of the day was spent lounging around killing time and the night gave way to heavy drinking... again. Since the truck did arrive this day we knew we'd be leaving in the morning so everyone was in better spirits.
The morning started by breaking camp at Highlander's and hitting the road for the border town of Orange River between South Africa and Namibia.
sign tells it all
We spent the majority of the day on the road but had a few hours of day light to enjoy the river. After arriving we pitched camp and then went to the river to take a swim. For me my night ended fairly early after dinner since we had canoing first thing in the morning.
By 0830 we were all paired up and on the Orange river in our two person inflatable canoes. The river was high so the water moved fairly slowly and uneventfully so the trip was mainly scenic and enjoying each other's company. The landscape of Namibia was striking and in contrast to South Africa. The only wildlife spotted was birds. The canoing ended around 1130 and after a quick lunch we hit the road in an unsuccessful race against the sun to get to Fish River Canyon before the sun set.
Fish River Canyon
This morning we went to the look out point of Fish River Canyon in Namibia.
It is about 3 hours north of the Orange river that separates South Africa from Namibia. The Canyon is the second largest in the world up to 550m deep, 161km long and up to 37km wide. After we finished we headed back to break camp and set out for the Namib desert. Since we left later than expected we would get there after dark. Since we had nothing else to do today except drive, we started playing drinking games on the truck. Towards the end of the drive we were able to see plenty of wildlife outside the truck - some of which caused a traffic jam. 3 types of antelope and ostrich were all visible from the road.
We got up early (0530) to be sure to be at Dune 45 in time to be at the top for sunrise. We broke camp and packed the truck prior to leaving.
When we finally arrived at the sand dunes we had the daunting task of climbing a massive sand dune as you climb your feet sink into the fine sand like in loose powder but you also fall backwards as you sink; when you lift your foot out of the sand you realize that its much heavier than you expected. Once finally on the top we enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and watched the sun play tricks on the deep red color of the sand. The namib desert is made up mostly of sea sand blown in from the Kalahari desert in Botswana. Of course we took the opportunity to be jackasses and three of us ran as fast as we could down the side of the dune which was suprising easy to do - the down side was we found ourselves a long walk away from the trucks in the parking lot and the breakfast that awaitied us.
After returning and getting a quick bite we headed deeper into the desert to meet our local bushman guide who took us to Sossusovlei and dead vlei and told us all about the wild life of the desert.
I was shocked to find out how many plants and animals could live here and how highly adapted they were for a desert that receives rain once every ten years. Afte finishing our tour we returned to camp for lunch and then hit the road for Swakopmund
. The drive was fantastic as I could watch the scenery change from a sandy abyss to rocky mountainous terrain with hairpin turns and hills (all on dirt roads for that matter) and then it changed to beautiful beach side highway as we drove the last hour with sand dunes on one side and the Atlantic on the other. When we arrived in Swakopmund
we checked into our hostel (yes - a real bed for the first time since the beginning) and then met for dinner as a group in the hostel restaurant.
The morning started with breakfast and then a briefing of the available activities in Swakopmund.
I signed up for desert quad biking and sand boarding. Most of the activities were all weather dependent so we had to loosely base our plans on the winds. For the first 2 days the wind blew in from the east (the desert) causing massive sand storms throughout the town, the winds were so hot that it felt like you were walking around in a convection oven. Around noon each day the winds shifted from east to west (from the Atlantic) which cleared the skies of all the sand and dropped the temperature 15 degrees to make for a beautiful day. I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon doing laundry at the only local Laundromat with equipment that had been purchased in the sixties. The attendant pointed out the working machines from the broken ones by slapping them with the fly swatter he apparently always carried.
The Rappel down
I spent the early afternoon walking through town and browsing the local street market and finally eating at the only restaurant in town serving lunch past 1300.
After returning to the hostel I went out again to catch the sunset and a beer on the beach at a restaurant made from a grounded tug boat (appropriately named "The Tug"). The view from the deck was great in spite of arrived just after the sun had sunk below the horizon. We ended up staying there for dinner and the returned to the hostel for an early night.
The morning started as usual with Breakfast and then the sand storm. we went in search of a proper cup of coffee and to take care of a few shopping errands in town. At 1200 four of us left for the dune quad biking. I wasn't sure what to expect from this but it ended up being an absolute blast.
we were on 250cc Yamaha quad bikes that we ran full throttle almost the entire time. We were introduced to "roller coasters" which is basically going full speed into a huge sand dune and the turning the bike down hill just before it tips over. Only a few times did we hit small bumps fast enough to get the front wheels in the air. The view of the dunes against the ocean was fantastic. All and all it was a 60km ride. As if that wasn't enough adrenaline for a day we went back to the hostel to pick up almost everyone else for sand boarding. The company drove us out to the other side of the dunes and gave us a 2 x 4 sheet of hard board as a sled and we trekked up the dune. The sand boarding basically meant you lie down face first and lift the front of the board up so that sand doesn't fly into your face as you go down .
We ended up doing 7 runs altogether. I managed to hit 70 km/hr down the steepest dune side. After the dunes we had snacks and beers and pondered how we were going to get all the sand out of various places. In the middle of the sand boarding day another sand storm blew in and pelted us with sand so hard you could barely open your eyes on top of the dunes. There was so much sand in the air that the foot prints we made climbing the dune 5 minutes earlier were already covered up and smoothed over by the sand. Upon return to the hostel and much needed showers we went for a quick dinner and to bed early.
An interesting note about Swakopmund - Doing laundry here was the only "African" experience I had here since this is a popular vacation and retirement spot for Germans.
The wine vineyards
The name, the food, the architecture was all heavily German.
Next entry is from Spitzkoppe....
Well I'm back and have decided to do a backtrack entry starting from the beginning of my African exploration..........so we step back many months in the past on board the sailing vessel Europa.........so sit back relax and hopefully you'll enjoy this!!
"We managed again, a landing on the most remote inhabited Island of the world. A place without a harbour or airport but with 300 people that have about 5 different family names. Everybody owns some sheep, one cow, a potato patch, and 1 car per family. But the times are changing, there is television on the Island since 2001 and they upgraded it last year to two channels. Also last year a internet café was opened and they hope to have internet access in every house before Christmas. The landing was a close call this year.
The Europa was already for two days on anchor but the swell was too high to enter the tiny harbour with our rubber boat. But from our anchorage we had a great look on the 2000m high volcano and the special yellow nose Albatrosses were all around us. We did some fishing and I caught a huge 45 kg sea bass. That gave us some excellent sushi, fish soup, and a great meal for everybody. When the landing on Monday was possible, at last everybody could stretch their legs for a walk to the potato patches (4 km) from the village. For the really sportive crew, a golf course of 4 holes was raised around the grave yard. The original golf course was in use by the cattle. Our golfers tried hard, but I think this was more for the pictures then for the muscle activity.
broken down truck
Then everybody had to write some postcards with the unique stamps and visit the cute museum/craft shop. And of course, last but not least, drink a beer and a talk with the locals in the cafeteria. But then the clock is ticking and we have to leave this really special place, because it is still a long sail to Cape Town
(1580 Miles). We traded some local Lobster, which is the trade mark and main industry of the Island. Most of it is exported to the US and Japan and they make a good price for it. Through their strict fishing policy and quota for the fish and lobster around the Island they manage their fishing industry well. We also received a huge Octopus that will be cooked today by Sharon from Australia, her specialty she told us.
Well - after 53 days of sailing across the South Atlantic I've finally made it to dry land... permanently. I have no idea how to summarize or reflect accurately how incredible this experience was. Even the simplest of sights were amazing at sea whether it was a violent storm, the southern sky during the new moon, a sunrise or sunset with nothing but the ocean for a horizon in every direction. The most powerful aspect of this trip has been how it was completely different from any version of life I've experienced thus far. The isolation and self reliance was intense. The bonding experience between me and the other 48 people on the ship was surprisingly strong. I think and hope that I've made some friends for the rest of my life.
In the end, as expected, the lows of the trip are completely overshadowed by the highs. The 11 day stretch without a shower, the constant bombardment of potatoes and ham and cheese or the graveyard watches - it was all worth it for the experience. While I don't believe I will become a professional sailor I would certainly go sailing again... just maybe not tomorrow - I need a few days on land.
The last day of sailing started with land in sight at daybreak. We sailed up the western coast of the peninsula slowly approaching the harbor. We finally got in around 1400 under the stares of thousands of eyes as if a ghost ship from a past time had arrived. The mean time was spent starring at the coast line, a visit from a few whales and a few curious fur seals.
Fish River canyon
As we got closer to the harbor the wildlife was replaced by curious charter and personal motor boats that would run circles around us to take pictures - all of a sudden we were the tourist attraction. The harbor entry was capped off by a final rush make the ship anchor ready since we came in fully dressed. Alan and I went up to the Upper and Lower top sail to furl for the last time - also the view is better from up there. In the process I managed to slice my palm open on a metal cable connected to a yard that bleed enough for me to leave my mark on the yard and the sail. I final souvenir I left the Europa.
After a long wait for customs clearance we all departed for dinner in smaller groups. My first meal on land was a steak with a side of salad for the entree and 4 beers.
After returning to the ship the group became much larger to go to the closest pub for what turned out to be a very long night of drinking that involved dancing... which is never a good sign. In the end the ensuing hangover was well worth it since the celebration absolutely needed - this was our last day at sea and our first night on land.
Today started entirely too early given the previous night's drinking. We were woken up for breakfast and a quick update on immigration status. Then the last minute packing started where I found out my stuff had clearly grown because it was not fitting in my bag like it did on the way down. The two hours were spent saying good-byes and making loose plans for the upcoming week. A small group of us (Sharon, Alan, Steph and Keith) were all heading to the same hostel so we were waiting around until everyone was ready.
After finally getting settled into the hostel we grabbed lunch and headed out to explore the city. I was in search of a place with a camera selection to replace the one I broke and Sharon and Keith were along just to see what they could see. We ended up walking from the water front all the way to the city center. With no real destination we wandered around a bit eventually making our way back down to the docks and over to the waterfront. We stopped by the dry dock to see the Europa (it was already out of the water and being cleaned) to get the rest of Sharon's bags and then it was back to the hostel. Upon my return I checked my e-mail. We went to bar on the waterfront to meet up with some people from the ship for drinks. Things evolved from there, as they sometimes do, and more beers and shots happened.
Orange river sunset
by the end of it we went to a few more bars in the city center. I'm not sure what time the night ended but everybody made it home safely - minus a few brain cells of course.
Obvioulsy today started a little rough. the morning was dedicated to showers, getting water and eventually food. I met back up with Nicole at 1300 and we went back to the waterfront to find food and walk around. We spent the majority of the afternoon planning the next few days in Cape town and making the necessary arrangements. We ended the day with a 2 1/2 hour dinner on the waterfront that was probably the best (and most expensive) meal I've had in ages.
Today started a little earlier than usual. Nicole verified the whether was OK for a table mountain climb today and we we set to start at 0930.
View from quad bike
While I was on my way out the door of my hostel I received a phone call from Lisa and Kingsley (two of my fellow sailors) wondering if I wanted to do table mountain today as well. Obviously this worked out well so we pushed our start time to 1000 and planned to meet at the tour company office. The plan was to hike up table mountain (3563 ft) and abseil down (repel). We were dropped off at the base and started up the Platteklip Gorge route. I think we were all surprised that this was a harder hike than we anticipated and it was hot. We picked up a solo french hiker as well so she would not be alone. The vistas from the climb were impeccable - you were over looking the heart of Cape Town
, lion's head, devils peak, Robben Island and the Atlantic ocean.
House and bar
The only drawback was the smog of Cape Town was in full view as well. The trail was littered with small black lizards that looked like miniature alligators that would dart out in front of you as you hiked. By 1300 we reached the summit, joyously, took some pictures and headed straight to buy more water. The view from the top was even better - you could see Cape Town
as well as the entire peninsula all the way down to cape point. We jumped over the wall and headed down to the spot we would go down from. Then we got on the lines and started down. We went in two pairs - Nicole and I first and then Lisa and Kingsley second. Lisa and Kingsley had never been before so they were starting on a 340 foot abseil for their first time. Just as we transitioned from vertical to horizontal (i.
e. point of no return) the guides on top told us to be ready for a special surprise halfway down the cliff. When we got there we found the cliff face disappeared. we started on the over hang and the bottom half receded in so the last 125ft was just you and the rope. I especially enjoyed this because you spun around a bit and could really enjoy the scenery.
Today started with a 2 hour drive through the mountains, coastline and vineyards to get to a little coastal town called Kleinbaai. We arrived in time for lunch and quick briefing and then departed for the boat by 1300. There were about 15 passengers and 3 crew on board for the 20 minute cruise (I use the term "cruise" lightly because the heavy winds made it a very rough and wet ride) to Dryer Island where we dropped anchor and chum and waited for the sharks to come.
It didn't take more than 10 minutes for them to come. Being eager as I am we were in the first group to get into the cage as the sharks approached in spite of the effort it took to put on a full 7mm wet suit with hood for the cold water. During the 20 or so minutes we were in the cage two separate sharks approached. One in particular was very curious and would circle the cage. I would follow him all the way around since we could see under the boat. The sharks passed close enough to the cage that I could stare them in the eye as the passed. Unfortunately the theme from Jaws was not playing but the moment was plenty dramatic without it. After our time was up we got out only to realize that the cold water and the heavy winds would make use regret not bringing heavier clothes.
After a while it was eager to ignore because more sharks kept coming. All and all we had 7 different sharks with the big one of the day being around 4m long. I have to say this whole experience was alot like a reverse aquarium where the sharks were coming to see the strange things with legs in the water.
Today we (Nicole and I) went on a wine tour of the Stellenbosch area. I'd never been on one before but I learned a lot about wine and how to taste it. Then I put my new knowledge to use... over and over again. we visited four wineries, had 5 half glasses at each and split a bottle over lunch. Not suprisngly we slept on the way back to Cape Town. The wineries were beautiful with rolling hills for vineyards with a back drop of the mountains.
At one place they had a rescued cheetah santuary where we got to pet some adult cheetahs (~48 kg). We got back to the hostel around 1700 and slept until dinner time at 2000. We went to place called Mama Africa where I had a wild game sampler (ostrich, crocodile, kudu and springbok) which was fantastic.
Cape Town Part 2
Today was basically taking care of basic things like doing laundry, buying more soap and toothpaste. Also, I had three consecutive nights of visiting and drinking with people from the ship, crew included. We found the most random second floor cuban bar 6 blocks from our hostel that became our usual drinking spot. I sorted out my passport issues and legally landed in South Africa (a week after arriving). Saturday I moved to a different hostel because it was the departure point for the overland trip.
Tropic Of Capricorn
I attended the pre-departure meeting and then had one last round of good bye's.
Next entry will be a continuation of the backtrack starting with the overland trip to ClanWilliam South Africa!!!