Woke up. Oh yeah, we’re leaving for Namibia today. Breakfast. Check our devices — Donald Trump is still winning (New Hampshire primary) and Bernie Sanders beat Hillary. We watched a bit of ‘news’ (Colbert Report?) on our AppleTV. Sue did one last load of laundry and was putzkying around, tidying up and packing. We’ll leave most of our stuff in the apartment and only take a small suitcase with us for our 4-day excursion to Namibia. I went to the ATM to get some more cash. Robert and Arlene came by with their luggage — they’ll leave half their stuff here too — we’ll come back on Sunday and re-pack for our week in Hermanus.
Robert and I went around the corner to Giovanni’s to get a bit more lunch supplies (our fridge is nearly empty, as it should be) and we had one last ‘home-made’ lunch around our table. After lunch we finished packing and closing up our place until it was time to call Uber and take the taxi to the airport.
The flight to Windhoek took 2 hours — a nice ride in a big Airbus jet. A big beautiful airport but hardly anybody there. We had a little wait to get through customs and then to the car rental desk where they were waiting for us.
We got the big white four-door four-wheel-drive Ford truck for our trip. Arlene bought a Namibian Sim card for my phone so we’ll have data for the next week for the GPS. Then a 45-minute ride to the House of Olof Palme hotel in Windhoek. The sun was setting ahead of us and the pink and orange sky with the silhouette of the occasional African tree was beautiful.
We finally found our way to our hotel and the lady at the desk let us into the gated parking compound. We checked in, then gathered at a table beside the small swimming pool and had a nightcap.
Tomorrow is an early start — breakfast at 7:30 and on the road by 8:30. We have a five-hour (or longer) drive to the sand dunes.
I’m writing this while lying in bed in my tent in the middle of the Namibian desert. Mosquito netting around the bed, fan whirling overhead.
We had a lovely omelet (cheese, mushroom, tomato, bacon) for breakfast at the House on Olof Palme hotel in Windhoek. I managed to connect my iPhone to the USB port in our Ford Ranger truck before we headed out for our long journey out to the Kulala Lodge in the desert at Sossusvlei. That seemed to work very well, even providing us with music from my iTunes music library along the way. We missed a turnoff as we exited the city, but google maps led us back to the correct road in no time. We were expecting pretty good roads for most of our trip, but had been warned that the last few kilometers would require our “four-wheel-drive” option. So we were a little surprised when we found ourselves on gravel roads almost the minute we left the city. But that’s how it was today — gravel roads all the way. Five and a half, or maybe even closer to six hours of bouncing and jouncing our way on desolate gravel roads across what turns out to be a VERY large country!
I drove for the first section. The drive was actually not at all bad because the terrain and the scenery was so very interesting. We saw lots of baboons and kudos and other wild animals along the way. We went over a couple of winding mountain passes too. And we saw only a very few other vehicles on our road — and while that made cruising along at 100kms/hr okay, it also made you wonder what we would do in case of a breakdown.
We finally got to a service center and lunch break at around 1:30. At a corner named “Solitaire” there were gas pumps (we’ll wait to fill up our diesel truck on the return trip) and a small bakery. Freshly-baked desserts and drinks and we were refreshed enough to continue our cross-country bouncing.
We were getting close — our GPS was telling us that we were only 200 meters from our destination– but when we drove through the gates of what we thought was “our place” the security guard informed us that it was another 30kms to the Kalala resort. The final 20kms were indeed a bit rougher as we followed a single lane, lined on either side of the road by sharp rocks that had been painstakingly laid to act as a curb.
And then we arrived. Two people came out to meet us in our truck, offering wet towels and a glass of ginger beer as a welcome. We parked our truck and took our very dusty suitcases out of the truck box. We were led into the reception area and “Stella” introduced herself and gave us a little introductory talk. Then we were shown to our lodges. Very cool. Well actually, it was still very hot outside. But the lodges were ridiculously well-appointed for where we were in such a remote part of the world.
Soon we were back in the main building, enjoying a cool draft beer and looking out at the red dunes in the distance. After a short afternoon nap and a refreshing shower we were back in the lounge for a sundowner gin and tonic and a visit with one of the managers. Our guide for tomorrow morning’s early excursion to the sand dunes also came by to introduce himself to us.
Dinner was excellent. Although a chicken dish was also an option, all four of us opted for the “game steak” (kudu) dish. Starter, main course, wine, dessert and coffee. All very good–as was the conversation around the dinner table.
By ten o’clock we were all back in our cabins, getting ready for an early wake up tomorrow morning. I took half an hour to write my journal even though I’d have to wait for a better internet connection to post it. And then, lights out.
The knock at our door came at 5:15am. “Good Morning! Here’s your hot water.” We got up and got dressed. Sue made some instant coffee. We went to the dining tent for breakfast. Our driver and guide, Mike, introduced us to Boo and Oliver, from Wales. They would be joining us on this adventure. At 6:15 we were in our 9-passenger Land Rover “paddy-wagon” and bouncing our way on the trail to the world’s third largest national park.
After passing through the park gates we were on a ‘tar’ road for the next 45 minutes. Mike pulled over every once in a while and gave us a little educational talk about rocks and animals and wind and rivers. Rivers? Not here! Not anymore. In the meantime quite a few paddy-wagons full of dune walkers were zipping by us. Oliver finally asked if it wouldn’t make more sense for us to go to the dune NOW while it was still not so hot (that IS why we got up so early,after all). Yes, okay.
This “dune” thing has become such a phenomenon, such a tourist attraction, that the dunes actually have names. Dune 45, Dune 47, Big Momma, Big Daddy, etc. We passed Dune 45 where there was already a long line of trekkers filing up the spine. No, we’re not going there; that is too easy, too gradual and not high enough. Our big ‘bus’ smooshed its way through some deep soft sand and finally parked under the shade of some dusty old trees near Big Daddy. At 359 meters it was positively monstrous compared to Dune 45’s 60 meters. We’ll hike up that one. Yeah, we’re tough.
And so we begin. It’s like walking on a very soft beach with deep sand where your feet sink in with every step–only uphill and along the crest of that hill. Your left foot takes a step, sinks a bit, right foot steps, it slides deeper — so you try to stay right up on the crest as best you can. And the first 100 yards are the steepest. But after that it’s not so bad. And the temperature is fine, maybe even a bit cool at the start.
We go along, single file. Soon Boo, Sue, and I have gone ahead of the rest of our group, although we can hear Robert and Oliver talking as they climb along behind us. We pass a few groups until we are making fresh tracks, ‘breaking trail’, onward and upward. Occasionally we stop and then Sue gets a sense of vertigo and it’s a bit tricky to get going again. But the view is grand, and it’s actually fun, not as difficult as I had mentally prepared myself for.
We get up to a height of about 120 meters and it’s time to decide if we continue on (it looks like the rest of the hike will be steep all the way to the top), or we stop here and “walk” our way down the smooth side of the dune. It’s around 10:00 and the morning sun is now switching to “bake” mode. We’re not stupid. We’ll go down here.
When we get to the bottom we are on the dry bed of a former lake. Now the ground is a pattern of gray shiny crinkly tiles. There are tree-sticks, old dried-out black acacia trees, slowly dying where they once used their 35-meter-deep roots to survive in this harsh environment. We take photos of the gray layer of sand, in front of another big orange dune, and a blazing blue sky with a few wispy clouds overhead. THIS is the Namibian poster shot. Ever since Paul Martens gave Sue one of his fine “dune” photographs around 25 years ago, we’ve wanted to visit this place and see it for ourselves. THIS is what we came here for.
We get back to the bus and have a cold drink. One or two more stops at other dune sites, and then we’re on the way back to the lodge.
Sue had a refreshing swim in the very cold water of the pool. We showered and headed to the mess hall for lunch. Vegetarian lasagna or pork schnitzel? Not bad.
Siesta after lunch. It’s about 40 degrees and WAY too hot to do anything. I didn’t think we’d be able to sleep but we did.
We went back to the main lodge for “afternoon tea” at 4:30. It’ll cool off soon.
Supper was at 7:30. The sun was just setting behind the hills in the distance. Tonight there was a buffet dinner. Tomato soup, potatoes, cauliflower in sauce, and a choice of lamb and beef steak. Not our best meal–the meat was too rare and too tough, but we’ve eaten far too much anyway. We’re not going to bed hungry.
The tents at Kulala Lodge
Our bed, complete with mosquito netting.
We sat around the table and visited until we were the last ones in the dining hall. Another glass of wine? We went to our rooms at 10:00. Sue washed a couple of my shirts — hopefully they’ll dry by morning.
A leisurely start to the morning. We both had slept at least nine hours by the time we got out of bed at 7:00. Eggs, bacon, toast and coffee for breakfast. Then we threw our luggage back into our very dusty truck box and began our five-and-a-half hour ride on bumpy gravel roads back to Windhoek.
Robert drove the first half of the trip. We again stopped at the service centre in Solitaire, although this time we filled up the truck with diesel and bought a few snacks for on the road. Arlene still hadn’t quite come to terms with the vegetable wrap from our visit here a couple of days ago.
At times the road seemed less bumpy now that it had on our trip down. But not always. We again saw quite a few wild animals along the way: ostriches, baboons, kudus, zebras, oryxes, Impala, and lots of big “sociable weaver” nests. There were a few more vehicles on the road, but for most of the trip it felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere all by ourselves.
We pulled into Windhoek at around 2. Back to our “House on Olof Palme” B&B. Parked the truck and checked in. Had a refreshing “Windhoek” beer and a little nap.
We ordered in pizza and ate it in the dining hall. We needed to check out early to catch our flight back to Cape Town tomorrow so we paid our tab and arranged for a morning coffee.
Back in our room we tried to watch a bit of CNN (yeah, they get that here!), but we soon tired of that same-old, same-old news cycle. How about some cricket? Meh! The wireless had more or less petered out in our room, so Sue read and I one-finger-typed my journal entry. Early to rise? Early to bed.
Just after midnight the power went off at our hotel, the House on Olof Palme, in Windhoek. In fact, the power went off in the entire surrounding neighbourhood. We woke up a couple of times during the night and the power was off all night. That meant no air-conditioning. That meant that when our 5:00am alarms went off, we were completely in the dark. Luckily Sue had packed our suitcase the evening before.
The woman of the hotel was up — and boiling water on her gas stove in order for us to have a cup of coffee before we left. I felt a bit sorry for her — this was beyond her control, happened relatively infrequently (according to her), and made her a little worried for her own security. Her husband was out of town on one of his regular ‘game-hunting’ trips; the rows of electric fencing around the top of the 7-foot wall surrounding her place was now dead — and although she had TOLD us there was not a lot of crime in Windhoek, you could sense that she was worried also for her safety.
We backed the truck out of its parking stall in the dark and headed toward the airport. By the time we got to the filling station next to the airport and topped up the diesel in our tank, the morning sun was already warming up the day. We checked in. Customs again. We had plenty of time to sit in the big airport and have a coffee. While I was in the washroom the power went out. Total darkness. Lots of comments about this being the ‘worst airport in the world’. Finally the backup generator kicked in.
The flight back was good — hot breakfast, some black dude causing a big disturbance a few rows back, a bit of turbulence just before we landed in Cape Town. We disembark. Queue up for the passport control again. Pick up our luggage and walk out. I used my phone app to get an Uber taxi. “Head for Meeting Point #3.” I could see the little car icon on my phone driving around the loops, right near where the arrow showed we were. No car. Could not connect. Cancel taxi. Try again. Same, same. Other passengers around us walking around staring at the Uber app on their phones, then up at the signage, then around at the cars, then back to their phones. This is not working. Cancel again. This is pissing me off. I’m sure I’m getting charged for each of these cancellations. We walked back to main lobby and the first guy we see we order a taxi. He contacts James, a cab driver, and soon our stuff is in the trunk of the car and we are heading back into Cape Town to our apartment. The meter ticks along as James wants to make friendly. Don’t we want to hire him to drive us all the way to Hermanus (an hour and a half ride)? Much cheaper and better than having our own car. Bla, bla, bla… and the meter is ticking along at nearly DOUBLE what it should be! When we get to our apartment we scold him properly, and pay him 50% more than what it should have been.
Now we get a couple of sandwiches from Giovanni’s and have lunch in our apartment. Re-pack a bit and load up the small trunk of our Volvo. Robert and Arlene squeeze into the back seat of our 2-door, holding packs on their laps, and we’re off.
The drive to Hermanus is amazing! WAY nicer than Sue or I recall. After we’ve passed all the shanty-towns that line the road from the suburbs of Cape Town to the airport, we pass through green fields, orchards and vineyards, over a mountain pass, past a golf course, through some beach towns, and finally end up in Hermanus. Our B&B is just a few blocks DOWN (closer to the beach) from Paul and Shirley’s house. We park the car, empty the trunk, register, get our rooms. Reconvene upstairs at the bar on a large balcony that gives us a clear view of the miles of white sand beaches just below us, and the green fynbos growing on the mountainside behind our place. Spectacular! Beer and wine is available on the ‘honour’ system here — take what you want, mark it down, pay for it later.
Back in our room Sue has a little nap. I finagle with my devices, trying to get everything plugged in with my various adapters and then fighting with a weak wifi signal. We Skype with our kids — doing our best to catch bits of what they are saying and looking at pixelated jerky images of them on our screen. Oh well, maybe tomorrow when we switch to an upstairs room we’ll have a stronger signal.
At quarter to seven we are all dressed up and heading up the street to Paul and Shirley’s for dinner. They greet us outside when they see us coming. For Robert and Arlene this is a visit to a former ‘home’ — they’ve stayed at this house for a couple of weeks twice before, about 8 years ago. We get a quick tour of the house and the yard — it is LOVELY. Paul has a wood fire going on his large braai outside, Shirley is making a salad in the big kitchen. We drink wines Paul has selected from his large wine cellar. After a short while we are joined by Meghan and Casper, friends of the Martens’s whom Robert and Arlene met and got to know on their previous visits here.
After an hour of barbecued ‘wurst‘ and drinks we go inside and are seated at the large wooden dining table. Potatoes, salad, chicken, steak — all done just right and so delicious. And we talk. Later we have dishes of assorted ice creams, followed by plates of cheese and crackers. It is a lovely evening and a lovely visit.
It’s after eleven when we say goodbye. We’ve sort of arranged to meet again, maybe do a wine tour with Paul and Shirley. The four of us walk down the street in the quiet darkness, back to our Lavender Manor Lodge. Tired. Windhoek to Cape Town to Hermanus. It’s been a LONG (we’ve been up since five!) but very enjoyable day.