Saturday, May 21, 2016

Kgalagadi and the Kalahari

After our Orange River trip in April, we were heading to the Northernmost part of the Northern Cape via Namibia. The road was long and straight, with towns marked on the map being little more than 10 houses and a few goats in reality. Namibia is not known for its many people.

We reached Askham and to our relief, there was a gas station. I took a picture because we are probably never going there again. 

We stayed at Kgalagadi Lodge that night and drove through a tiny part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park the next day, a massive nature reserve in the Kalahari Desert region of Botswana, South Africa and Namibia. The Kalahari is a dry, sandy savanna area of southern Africa, semi-desert famous for its beautiful red dunes and 'wit grassies' (white grass), and it covers about 70% of Botswana, as well as parts of Namibia and South Africa. It was the first time we've been to the Kalahari, and our timing was perfect - recent rains had transformed the dry area into its most stunning state. 

 Maarten bought a Bushman bow-and-arrow (two arrows, to be exact), and thus he was running around hunting imaginary lions that evening. 

Drifting Shongololo (the word shongololo is Xhosa for millipede). There are a lot of these creatures in the Kalahari - their tracks cover the dunes in the morning. 

The said tracks. It looks like a miniature 4x4 car dared the dunes. 

We arrived late evening and dad, me and the boys went for a swim while mom stayed behind at the campsite. As pitching our tents would have been tricky (it's hard to get tent pens into pavement), mom suggested we sleep open, but upon our return she had definitely changed her mind. It seemed there was a tame emu stalking the campsite, and when mom had tried to take a nap, this guy walked right up to her and stared. After much laughter, we pitched the tents (though flimsily), and I figured The Emu has earned himself a portrait.

Guess who's coming to dinner...

Upon entering Kgalagadi Park, there were plenty of lazy Gemsbok and Springbok but less of everything else. We were hoping to see lions, but got lucky and saw a sleeping leopard instead. Unfortunately I couldn't take a picture - she was beautiful though. 

 Red hartebeest and Gemsbok. 

Springbok lambs - adorable. 

We also saw baby Gemsbok - his horns look like thorns. 

All the animals were lazy and fat, presumably because of the abundant grazing. 

Birds there were many, including the 'Gompou' (bustard), the heaviest flying bird on earth. 

I love the ostrich on the right, staring at her reflection: "I'm so gorgeous!" 

We saw a few falcons and eagles too. 

The sighting of the day, however, was two beautiful 'bakoorjakkalsies' (Bat-eared foxes). These giant-eared, tiny foxes are nocturnal and rarely come out in daylight. 

We also met clients of my mom who had invited us to visit if we ever came to this area, and stayed on with 2 families for 2 nights each where we experienced the famed 'boere' generosity of the Northern Cape. On the first farm, we had a fantastic time with 'oom' Jacques and 'tannie' Rika in the Kalahari. On arrival we were almost immediately taken 'springhaas' hunting/chasing at night by oom Jacques. This crazy activity involves chasing 'springhase' (nocturnal, weird, miniature kangaroo-like rodents) with a 'bakkie' (pickup) at night, and needs someone to hold a spotlight on the victim until it tires, half blinded by the light. Then someone else who can (preferably) run very fast over bushes and sand dunes chase after the springhaas and tries to catch it to the great amusement of the driver and other people on the back of the bakkie. 

Only dad managed to catch one, after a terrific dive into the sand. The boys were very impressed. 

The next day we were shown around the salt factory. In the Kalahari, there are natural, big salt pans (soutpanne) where extremely salty underground lakes prevent anything from growing on top. 

To reach the lakes, big canals are dug. The water in these canals are more than 90% salt (the Dead Sea is 48%). Apparently you can sit upright in the water and it only comes up to your waist. You can't stay in for very long though...

In order to then harvest the salt, the water must be pumped into shallow areas and allowed to evaporate.This is done in acres, where saltwater is pumped and evaporated layer after layer for 2 years. On top of this layer of salt more water is pumped, and only then salt can be scraped off and harvested. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

An Unforgettable Five Days on the Orange River

We've booked weeks ago, worked hard in anticipation and looked forward to it since the tour began, and now I'm glad to say that our 5-day rowing of the Orange River has met and exceeded our expectations! The Orange River (also called the Gariep River, Groote River or Senqu River) is the longest river in South Africa, as well as separating South Africa and Namibia. It starts in the Drakensberg Mountains of Lesotho, provides water to many cities, towns and farmers, and flows through the Richtersveld and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

We rowed with Bundi (there are quite a number of tour operators running river rafting trips available), camping the day of arrival and departure at their Base Camp near Noordoewer on the Namibian side. Arriving late evening, we pitched in our 2 small hiking tents and had a delicious dinner prepared by our guides. 

 Preparation. We were given one waterproof barrel and cooler per boat (inflatable rubber ducks called "Crocs"). Thus dad rowed on his own, and mom and us 3 switched between 2 Crocs. 

The next day after breakfast and a prep talk, we were off with our 2 guides, Ronny and Michael, both whom are Nama. There are quite a few ethnic groups of people in Namibia, with names such as the Herero, the Damara, the Nama, the San (Bushmen), the Rehoboth Basters, the Caprivian, the Kavango, the Himba and the Owambo. The Nama, Damara and San (Bushmen) tribes are considered to be the original inhabitants of Namibia, and speak a similar Khoi 'click' language. In other words, they are the closest thing you'll get to the real Bushmen of old, the nomadic hunters and herdsmen of Africa. Both speak really good Afrikaans however, and are excellent guides who know the river and area very well. 

Day 1, with no sore arms yet!

Paddling was not hard - the trips are not just for extreme sport fans. 

It was not uncomfortably hot during the days (autumn weather), but we had a good amount of swimming breaks anyway. Diver 1 ready.....diver 2 launching (nice one dad)...

Who needs to tire when you've got life jackets?

Now, how to get back on the Croc....

Rock jumping! 

One of the guides were usually in front (especially during the rapids - most of the rapids aren't very big, but shallow water means rocks, and rocks mean Crocs getting stuck on them). Here Michael is waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Ronny, our anti-sunburn, paddle-wielding ninja guide. He looked like this most of the time. 

The famous Thumbprint, a pretty cool rock formation sighting along the way. 

We saw a lot of these cormorants drying themselves in the sun. So we followed suite!

We slept in our 2 little tents when the wind was cold, but the rest of the time it was like this.

One has a surprising amount of free time on such a trip, so cards were played, tennis balls tossed, naps taken and photos snapped. Spot the ball. 

Endless fascination.

All meals were made Ultimate Braai Master style - on the fire by the guides (mom really enjoyed this). We sat around the campfire late evenings, listening to Ronny's stories and watching sunsets. Ronny can tell stories for hours (storytelling is in their genes, as it used to be a way they preserved their legacy. It's a difficult form of art, really), and we learned a lot about the kind of lives these people have. 

Sunsets, sunrises - we got them all (unusual for us late-sleepers..). 

Day 2, our guides introduced us to a most delightful activity - the nappy run. Putting our life jackets on upside-down, we followed Michael and drifted down a very fast rapid with waves splashing our faces and toes in the air. Once you're through the fastest though, you have to quickly swim to shore while the current takes you downstream. It was great fun and we did it 3 or 4 times.

Nappies on...