Beware crocs and hippos in the river.

It was another early start this morning, up at 5:45 again to pack up the site and be ready to leave at 6:30. It seems practise has made perfect as we were pretty much all done and on the truck by 6:15, eager and ready to get going on another African adventure day. Today we are leaving Etosha National park and heading to Ngepi Camp on the Kovango River – and the Botswanan border. It is our final night in Namibia – a country I have really enjoyed, albeit from the comfort of a tour truck.

Our final game drive through the park was short and we did not see anything exciting enough to hit the stop button in the truck and we were out of the park just after 7:00 and hitting some nice black top for the five hundred kilometre drive to the border. It was going to be a long driving day.

Having some fairly smooth driving and with the town of Grootfontein ahead – and its potential for internet access, I spent a good chunk of time writing emails on my phone hoping to tap into some wifi and send them once we got to town.

P1010761

However, as is normal with travelling, expectation and reality are often miles apart and there was no wifi and the internet access we did pay for was hopeless. I initially tried to upload one of the blog posts I have queued up ready to go, but that failed so many times I gave up, I did manage to get a message away to one of my boys on FaceBook, but that seemed to be the end of any access so I quit trying and wandered off in search of the next most important thing – coffee.

We got coffee at the local supermarket and it wasn’t too bad either. Tomorrow we are heading off into the Okovango Delta so we have stock up on important provisions at the supermarket – beer, wine, snacks – and of course water! Compared to SE Asia travelling in southern Africa is not too bad when it comes to water availability, most of the places we have been staying have potable water, it doesn’t always taste the best, but it is safe to drink. The Okovango is the exception so we have to stock up with a couple of days worth of bottled water and I have also taken a liking to fruit flavoured sparkling water as well.

I am feeling pretty good today, after a good sleep, plenty of water and no alcohol last night my hydration levels are up and am back to normal again. I must get back in the habit of drinking more water and stick to one type of drink of an evening.

As we moved into Kovango province there was an almost noticeable change in the countryside, there are a lot more trees and grass and subsequently there are a lot more people, a lot of small dusty hamlets on the road side as we moved north. With the villages and homesteads come a lot more people and animals, there are massive verges on the sides of the road, often grazing grounds for goats and cows – but there to allow drivers good visibility over the animals that decide to dart across the road. We were constantly braking and tooting at live stock on the way. We have been advised against taking photos of people from the truck, some get deeply offended and the throwing of rocks and sticks at the truck is apparently not uncommon if slight has been given – so there wont be too many photos of people.

The area is quite poor with a lot of the villagers being herders, there are few permanent structures and not a lot of power or water. Most of the trees have been chopped down for firewood but most of the family hamlets had a big tree were people sat during the heat of the day.

IMG 3733

IMG 3734

IMG 3738

IMG 3751

IMG 3754

We passed a small bush fire as we approached the end of the journey, it is the start of fire season and there are signs of last years fire damage everywhere. I imagine a few sneaky land clearing fires were lit as well as the normal damage from lightening.

IMG 3762

We arrived in Ngepi camp at 5:00 pm, it was not overly hot, but it is quite humid – the most humid of the journey so far, and of course it will get a lot worse as we go north.

IMG 3768

As we are by the river and surrounded by trees we have moved into mosquito territory so it is now time for long trousers and shoes in the evening, as well as mossie repellent. I had read a book on malaria on the truck today and there is one strain of the bacteria that is particularly unpleasant, so double up on the precautions as well as the anti-malaria tabs.

Ngepi camp is quite amazing, it was set up a few years ago by some South Africans and is uniquely fitted out, it is quite basic but has the key amenities – a bar and a swimming cage in the Okavango river. As soon as we arrived and had pitched tents I was in my togs and down to check out the swimming cage. It is small square metal grilled cage – about 4 * 4 metres on the edge of the river. On the distant shore – in Botswana, I could see a couple of hippos bathing, and there are crocodiles all over – apparently, I didn’t see any though. The river was warm and fresh and it was so nice to be able to wash the dust off.

P1010766

After a couple of drinks in the bar and dinner I watched a bit of England v San Marino on the TV with some of the bar staff and then went to bed early and listened to music while the others carried on socialising.

It was a long day in the truck and I needed some space to chill and contemplate, very hard to do in this situation, music in the tent in the dark is pretty good.

The elephant and the moron

Day 281, Thursday 11 October 2012 – Namutoni camp, Etosha, Namibia

I woke feeling hung over, dehydrated and tired even though I had pretty good sleep and not too many drinks last night. I really did not like getting out of bed at 5:30 and packing up the tent to be on the truck for 6:30. I am looking forward to a decent lie in again! However, getting up before dawn is the only way to see the best wildlife in action.

The sunrise over Etosha was quite spectacular though I was not particularly excited about moving and didn’t kill myself to get a great shot.

IMG 3567

I did magically perk up once a cup of coffee was on board after a roadside breakfast – and not in one of the human cages either!

P1010734

P1010735

The first things we saw were jackals and some wart hogs, I love wart hogs and have really been looking forward to seeing them, they were a bit far away for great shots so I am hoping to be able to get up close and personal later on the trip, still at least I have seen them.

IMG 3570

We found a couple of very lethargic lions by the side of a watering hole, there were a couple of males hiding in some nearby bushes but after a long wait we gave up and moved on. The park is big and we have lot of driving to do before we get to our camp site on the far side before the gate closes at 6:30pm.

IMG 3580

Wise advice when you are one hundred metres from a small pride of lions!

IMG 3592

Strangely this is one of my favourite photos from the day, I mean I loved the elephants and I like my elephant photos, but visually this really appeals – a turnaround area near the salt flats.

IMG 3586

IMG 3589

There was a lot of excitement on the truck when this secretary bird was spotted, it didn’t mean much to me as birds are not my thing, but I believe we were privileged to have seen one.

IMG 3595

Our real find for the day was a small family group of 10 elephants at a water hole, we spent quite a bit of time watching them interact, especially the young ones, it was pretty damn cool.

IMG 3626

IMG 3628

There was a bit of push and shove to access a small water hole.

IMG 3641

but it all ended with smiles all round,

IMG 3666

and some love.

IMG 3652

IMG 3654

We stopped for a lunch break at a camp in the park close to the centre and we all got too ooh and ah at a skops owl that lives in a tree there.

IMG 3668

After lunch we drove out into the Etosha salt plan, a massive salt pan in the middle of the park, it was like being on the surface of the moon.

IMG 3679

IMG 3690

On the final drive into the camp we came across a small herd of elephants with one of them in the road feeding on a tree.

IMG 3691

We stopped to photograph it and this car passed by us and tried to go round the elephant, scaring it into action. There was a bit of a stand off between car and elephant and we were all hoping the elephant would charge the car as the driver showed no concern for the animal at all, almost appearing to be trying to shoo it off the road.

IMG 3694

Later we spotted this lone male elephant, definitely the largest I have seen so far.

IMG 3708

We stopped for a “comfort break” and I took a photo or ten of trees – so much more interesting than birds:)

IMG 3704

We arrived in Namutomi a little later than planned, the campsite was quite crowded and by the time I had put the tent up and cleaned up it was time for dinner, a quiet sparkling water and off to bed.

IMG 3724

LIONS !!!!

Day 280, Wednesday 10 October 2012 – Okaukuejo Camp, Etosha, Namibia

I had a lousy sleep last night; the herbal sleeping pills didn’t work so I popped half a proper one at midnight in the hope of a decent sleep. I still failed. It was the first warm night and the first night I did not need to use my sleeping bag.

Up at 6:00 and on to the truck with no breakfast as we were off for an early morning game drive.

We did not see much for quite a long time into the ride, the scenery was spectacular though and I enjoyed looking out the window trying to spot game. We were granted an interesting but unspectacular sunrise. As I have said a few times I love the landscapes here, so varied, so harsh in some cases but there is a photographic opportunity everywhere.

P1010723

P1010727

IMG 3330

I really like the patterns the animal trails make in the grass, it would be great to see this from a hot air balloon and look straight down on the trails.

P1010711

The animals are so well designed to fit into their environment, this does of course make taking clear photos from a distance quite tricky as these tussling male oryx show.

IMG 3306

We did see zebra, springbok and finally some decent shots of ostriches.

IMG 3345

After a bit more hunting around we saw a group of vehicles parked up so went over to have a look see and found a male lion (Hell yeah!) lying down sunning himself. I love this pose 🙂

IMG 3360

Apparently in the nearby bushes were a number of cubs but we were unable to see them clearly due to the other vehicles blocking the view.

IMG 3356

We waited and waited and finally gave up, I gave them a brief verbal server out the window as they were being incredibly rude. This actually turned out to be an awesome move as 500 metres up the road we spotted mum on her way home.

IMG 3389

We stopped to take photos and after a while everyone left the cubs and came to see what we were doing – so we nipped back to the cubs and had prime position for the reunion, first of mum and cubs and then of the whole family. Just fabbo stuff, my first wild big cats, not too far away and so beautiful to see.

Dad finally showing some interest in his baby sitting.

IMG 3394

The kids hear mum approaching.

IMG 3406

The reunions.

IMG 3413

IMG 3418

Dad giving a mighty roar yawn.

IMG 3435

IMG 3438

and they finally left, probably to go find a kill that mum made.

IMG 3456

What a fantastic expereince, certianly not something that is seen every day.

Brunch was at 11:30 and another great meal of salads and meats and potato cakes, I certainly loving the food here and it is not doing my waist line any favours at all, I am going to have to get out for a run sooner rather than later. After lunch we had three hours of down time before the evening game drive left, so I was back into the shade and on the computer again. I am enjoying having access to electricity for a change.

On the second game drive we didn’t see any more of the big five but I got some great shots of the other game, zebra, oryx, springbok etc.

IMG 3472

IMG 3510

My first wilderbeast

IMG 3480

which often travel with zebra

IMG 3490

sand squirrels 🙂

IMG 3535

IMG 3507

We stopped for a break in one of the human cages in the middle of the park, there are a number of these sanctuaries scattered around.

IMG 3522

Some sort of basted

IMG 3530

After dinner I went back down to the waterhole and a different rhino was there with some reasonable light so I managed to get a couple of shots before the sun was too low, and this was a better rhino shot than last nights, but only just.

IMG 3558

Another African sunset!

IMG 3560

I would like to a rhino in a more natural environment, the park is huge – at 22,000 sq km it is the second biggest in Africa, so it is pretty natural, but the waterhole is purely man made and totally geared up for tourists to look at the animals over a chilled chardonnay (or cardboard red in my case).

We had a couple of drinks after dinner and I think I managed to drink, beer, white and red wine, whisky, a G and T and an amurula. Only one of each, but a ridiculous combination…

It was the best in a series of best days!

The road to Etosha National Park

Day 279, Tuesday 09 October 2012 – Okaukuejo, Etosha, Namibia

We had moved the worst offending snorers to one side of the camp site last night so with a little less noise and the help of half a pill I had a great seep, complemented by a wee lie as we were not on the road until 9:00. The campsite was typical of most of the campsites so far – dusty and dry, but there were some quite cool trees to photograph, I love the shapes of the dead, dying and otherwise leafless trees I have seen.

The road to Etosha National park, was not too bad, relatively smooth going considering some of the roads we have been on lately and the countryside here is positively lush, well less dry, dusty and arid then the previous days.

We stopped for coffee and a brief and largely unsuccessful internet session in Outjo and then hit the road again and stopped for a roadside lunch at mid day.

We were all dozing in the truck as we approached the park and I just happened to open my eyes as we passed our first giraffe just outside the gates. I will soon be bored with giraffes but it was very exciting at the time. OK, not really bored – no one can get bored with giraffes, but we don’t stop for them anymore !

IMG 3179

The camp ground is a couple of hours drive inside the park, so for the first time on the trip we popped open the roof hatches and went game driving. It must look a wee bit odd.

P1010705

P1010729

This end of the park has seen some severe fire damage and is quite badly burnt.

IMG 3204

This did not seem to stop some of the wildlife and we saw a good collection of zebra, springbok and a couple of giraffes and a black back jackal. Some of which were photographable with the long lens.

IMG 3189

IMG 3202

IMG 3208

Once at the campsite and set up for the night we set off for the nearby waterhole for the late afternoon drinking session – not us this time, but the local wildlife. I got there just in time for a small group of zebra, a couple of springbok and the some giraffe followed by three elephants that hogged the waterhole for quite a long time, loved it !

IMG 3211

IMG 3214

IMG 3225

IMG 3266

IMG 3282

IMG 3245

IMG 3256

As the sun set this small group of zebra wandered off, kicking up a small dust cloud as they went, such a magnificent sight.

IMG 3287

IMG 3283

Ibron baked me a beautiful piece of hake for dinner and it had been flavoured to perfection. After dinner I went back down to the watering hole to see if I could spot the black rhinoceros which is apparently due at the waterhole at 8:00 pm every night, and he was there on schedule, but very hard to photograph in the dark – lit only by some strong lights.

IMG 3297

A great day, our first game drive, first time seeing some of the animals here and tomorrow promises to be awesome!

Photographing wildlife is hard ! I was using the 2x extender on my 70-200 mm lens and pretty much every shot is at the maximum focal length of 400mm. Hand holding a heavy Canon 5d mk1 with this lens steadily is not easy and shooting at slowish speeds due to the low light made for lots of not quite sharp images. The rhino was shot using a tripod though. I may try and set the tripod up in the truck when we go to another park.

The Cheetah Conservatory

Day 278, Monday 08 October 2012 – Ojitotongwe Cheetah Conservatory, Namibia

We were up at 5:30 again after a lousy sleep. There was lots of loud snoring equally matched with some of the local donkeys braying throughout the night, it was a long one.

We packed the tents and the site and were in the truck for 6:00 to drive up the road a bit for a road side breakfast with a great view of the mountain range at sunrise. The Brandburg is an old volcanic range and basically was just popped out of the desert and glows red on a clear day. All around the mountain are small piles of rock that were tossed out during the eruption. They made for some great photo backdrops but I wasn’t really feeling it and this is reflected in most of my photos, though I did get a couple of good ones.

IMG 2952

I just love how these rocks just end up balanced on top of others, you couldn’t plan this, nature is so cool!

IMG 2964

IMG 2972

IMG 2985

IMG 2993

We were on the road for 7:30 and it was a rough old drive out to the ‘main’ road, which was a rough old road as well. We stopped at road side craft stall run by some herero and himba woman in traditional dress. I bought a small bracelet (which I lost the next day) from the himba woman, this afforded me an opportunity to take a couple of photos of her as, well. I took some of the near naked herero woman as well, but they are rubbish photos sadly. The herero cover themselves in mix of red ochre and fat as a form of protection from the elements and bugs, it is quite interesting.

IMG 2997

IMG 3009

There were a couple of stalls along the way at this one, one of the people on the truck bought one of these dolls so I snapped a shot, of the very happy woman making them.

IMG 2998

IMG 3024

You need to be careful on the road here!

IMG 3019

IMG 3028

We arrived at Ojitotongwe Cheetah Park mid afternoon, after getting tents up and things sorted I was in the rather cold swimming pool for a much needed swim and dust off. This and the last few camping sites have been really dusty and the dust is just everywhere, I am being quite vigilant with my electronic and camera gear in an effort to keep it dust free, but I can hear the grinding when I manually focus my zoom lens, not a good sound!

At 4:00 we were all picked up by a ute towing a trailer and packed in with the other groups staying in the park and were taken to the main house to see and interact with the tame cheetahs, three adults and a cub. There were a lot of people here and it was a mass of bodies and cameras as people tried to get the best shot, I was one of them of course – though I was trying to get an angle that excluded the house and other people in my shots. It was pretty hopeless really. I did get my photo taken with one of the cheetahs – see that cool bracelet !

IMG 3045

IMG 3046

IMG 3049

IMG 3063

IMG 3071

IMG 3092

I was conflicted over the cheetah park. On one hand it was great to see these beautiful animals up close and to be able to touch them and feel the power in their bodies and roughness of their fur, it is possibly the only time we will see them as well. On the other hand this was purely and simply a money making attraction for this farming family. Yes, they do take in cheetahs that are trapped by the local farmers – at least they are not shot out of hand like they used to be. However, the farmers did not talk about the animals, there was no information on them, their habitat, what the “conservatory” was trying to achieve, it was a case of hand over your money and come and get your photo taken with the animals, it was deeply disappointing really.

After the close up session we were all bundled back into the trailers and taken to a large fenced section of bush land where we watched the cheetahs being fed, again I loved watching it and took a load of photos, but it was a shame that there is no effort made to rehabilitate the animals and prepare them to be released, they are just fed by hand. A conflicting afternoon!

IMG 3115

IMG 3125

IMG 3134

IMG 3159

IMG 3168

It was Dave’s birthday today so after dinner back at camp we had birthday cake that Ibron had made on an open fire. It was a decorated and piped, triple layer chocolate cake, moist and delicious. I could not make this cake in a kitchen let alone on an open fire. Ibron is a pretty amazing chef!

We had a later start in the morning so most of us stayed up a bit later past the usual 9:00 pm or so bed time. It was another enjoyable, but challenging day.

A day off in Swak

Day 276, Saturday 06 October 2012 – Swakopmund, Namibia

Today was the first of a couple of optional extra days – where we could do one of many self funded tours or just laze about. One of the great things with the Africa-in-Focus tours is that most things are included; a lot of the other operators have a huge list of excluded optional extras, which would suck. I elected to do nothing, though in hindsight I should have done the desert explorer trip as those who did it said it was fantastic.

I stayed in bed quite late, had a leisurely breakfast and then Leonie and I wandered into downtown Swakopmund to see the sites, not that there were many! Swakopmund was developed by the Germans around the start of the 20th century. Some of the old architecture still remains, but as always it has been modernised.

This store was a private concentration camp during the German conquest of the Herero people at the turn of the last century. Apparently there were a number of privately owned camps here.

2012-10-06 10.01

2012-10-06 10.20

2012-10-06 10.21

After dropping washing at the local laundry and a visit to an ATM and the internet cafe – and another coffee we wandered down to the local museum, which was OK. A typical provincial museum, though there was no mention of the massacre of the Herero people by the German settlers in the early 1900’s.

2012-10-06 11.06

2012-10-06 10.40

I loved this kids toy in the park!

2012-10-06 10.41

The local tourist market was outside the museum.

2012-10-06 10.38

I was feeling quite tired and drained so headed back to the room for a lie down while a few of the others went for lunch. On the way back Leonie and I were stopped by a guy selling key rings carved from a soft stone, I ended up buying one with my named carved in it, mainly because as he said to me, there is no work. If he didn’t sell things he made to tourists then crime was the only other choice – no social services here. It only cost a couple of bucks and I would rather support individuals than the big stores.

I then managed a good couple of hours photo sorting, typing blog entries and listening to music on my own which was just perfect. One of the downsides of group travel and shared accommodation is a lack of personal time and space, and I do miss it. I was in desperate need of the blog typing as I have done virtually none since Cape Town and I was (and still am) days behind. I also found that the external hard disk I had bought as a back-up had been damaged in the truck and was un-usable, hopefully I will have enough space on my USB drives to back up the new photos on my laptop.

I shot up to the internet cafe again and uploaded the three posts I had written and then back down to the Desert Tavern for a couple of pints and to watch the All Blacks play the Springboks on the TV. We were the happier supporters at the end of the day.

Almost the whole group headed out for dinner with the aim of going to the seafood restaurant at the end of Swakopmund wharf as it had been recommended to a few of us. Sadly it and a couple of the other restaurants were all fully booked and we ended up a basic fish and grill place, which turned out to be fine. The food was good and plentiful and the prices were probably far less than the upper end restaurants.

On the way out for dinner I passed this seafood restaurant – obviously owned by Aussies.

2012-10-06 16.30

It was an early start (again) so everyone drifted off to bed after dinner. It was good to have a day off.

It has been a week of travelling now and I have been having a good time so far. I like the crew and the company I am with so have decided to do another two weeks at the end of the trip and visit the gorillas in Rwanda. I asked Brett the tour leader to email his boss to sign me up.

Spaar farm and Walvis Bay

Day 275, Friday 05 October 2012 – Swakopmund, Namibia

Only 5 days behind now, again!

Well it looks liked today was going to be another one of those wow days ! Loving this trip so far.

We were up early yet again to meet Boesman, the farm owner (manager ?) Boesman used to be a guide at Sossusflwei before the rules changed a few years ago and he has moved to the farm. He has a huge amount of knowledge on the area, the desert and all the beasties that live in it, on it and under it. Our hour long tour took almost three hours and was interesting and entertaining. Boesman does not wear shoes and hasn’t done for twenty years, wandering around the desert and the grass lands in bare feet. He is a deeply passionate and enthusiastic man and it comes across in his stories and his speech.

IMG 2670

Our first stop was a dead oryx, it has been here for four or five months and like Dead Flei as it is so dry here it has not yet rotted. The oryx died from natural causes and has slowly been munched on by various animals since its death. Eventually there will be nothing left.

IMG 2667

The grasslands here should all be desert, but the changing weather  has meant more rain than usual and as the sea gets warmer each year the rain will only increase. At a small part of desert that was left Boesman showed us how the beetles and spiders live in the desert and get water. When this beetle goes up to the surface it excretes a wax that protects it from the harsh sun.

IMG 2676

P1010669

After the tour we had breakfast and then packed up and were off again on our travels. We passed through this amazing gorge with some wonderful formations in the rock.

IMG 2684

IMG 2694

This marked quite a clear boundary between the different terrains and we were into more desert like area now. Late morning we passed by the Tropic of Capricorn…

P1010671

We stopped off at this really cool little rock that has grown out of the desert, we were not allowed up and into it as a permit was required, which was a bummer as it looked quite interesting.

IMG 2695

IMG 2698

Soon enough we were in Walvis Bay township, a largish town between the desert and Walvis Bay, the largest natural port in Africa. Walvis Bay has some good flocks of flamingos which we were there to see. Or some of us were, our driver, Will, just lay down.

IMG 2712

The flamingos were pretty cool, and it was a good test for me to shoot moving animals at distance with the 2x extender on the 70-200mm at 400mm. Man that 200mm lens is awesome, so crisp.

IMG 2707

IMG 2718

IMG 2720

It was then on to our final stop and our destination for the next two nights – Swakopmund, another big desert town. We stayed in the municipal bungalows in two room bungalows with two singles beds per room. It was weird not being in a tent for the night, though I will say I have been pretty comfie in the tent.

We all had showers and got organised and then went out for a group dinner at a local fish and steak restaurant that was part funded by the tour. I had a piece of kingclip a very nice white fish, though I did try a small piece of orix schnitzel. It was good night and a smaller group of us retired to the Desert Tavern next to the camp ground for a couple of (in my case ) whiskies.

2012-10-06 09.46

It was another awesome day, Boesman was great, the flamingos were cool and it was a good night.

OMG – Dead Flei – I was in photo heaven.

Day 274, Thursday 04 October 2012 – Spaar Farm, Namibia

Today was one of those days, when everything was awesome.  I could have spent a day in Dead Flei alone, easy!

I took half a sleeping pill for the first time in a long while last night and slept like a dead man for six hours, fabulous ! Even with the pre-dawn start I still felt OK and was up and on the truck nice and early along with everyone else at 5:20 AM – we were warned in the pre-trip notes that there would be some early starts.

The reason for the early start was to get to Dune 45 for sunrise. Dune 45 is one of the larger dunes in the Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. Dune 45 is the only dune open to the public to ensure the dunes are kept clean and tidy. There is nothing special about the naming of the dune, it is just the 45th one in the series. It is a magnificent dune !

IMG 2451

The rising sun was pretty spectacular as we climbed up the spine of the dune to take photos. There were a large number of other people on the dune also watching the sunrise, including a very grumpy old man with a walking pole who would not stand aside to let people pass, forcing us slipping and sliding down the side of the dune, wrecking the lovely clean lines.

IMG 2468

IMG 2461

The dune was pretty special and the views were cool, but I just loved the trees the most. They are camel thorns, which are the only trees able to grow in the area, their roots go down as far as 80 metres to look for water. I took a lot of photos of the few trees scattered around the dune.

IMG 2454

IMG 2458

IMG 2459

IMG 2487

IMG 2495

IMG 2511

IMG 2527

IMG 2522

IMG 2485

IMG 2490

While we were yomping about on the dune Ibron was preparing the first cooked breakfast of the trip, there was bacon, sausage and eggs and coffee – lovely stuff.

After breakfast we made our way to the car park at Dead Flei to wait for the parks four wheel drive vehicle to come and collect us, it was a bit of push and shove to get on as there were a lot of people waiting and only a couple of vehicles. Our group had to do a gang charge on a vehicle just to get on ! A flei is a marsh, there is an underground river that surfaces every now and then and it used to pass by Dead Flei until a giant dune blocked its path and the river moved a kilometre to Soussusflei.

IMG 2573

As the air is so hot and dry with a harsh drying wind to add to the fun there is no bacteria to aid in decomposition, the dead trees here are over 900 hundred years old. To say I LOVED Dead Flei is a massive understatement, it was absolutely stunning, the clouds above were amazing and the light was moody, perfect. I went straight to the far end of the flei and had to wait a bit for the more stupidly dressed (bright orange and red) people to leave before I took some shots. I was surprised to find I had a large chunk of the site to myself for quite a while, and shooting at 16mm meant I was up close to the trees. The trees are just so cool, I just loved them to pieces and the background was just superb, added with that moody light it was a photographers dream. Sadly I had a bit of crap on my sensor so all my shots have a dot on them, I have badly cloned it out on these ones.

IMG 2595

IMG 2551

IMG 2553

IMG 2570

IMG 2584

I was dragged kicking and screaming away from Dead Flei and we walked on over to Soussusflei 1.1km away. Soussusflei was not as interesting, but the dunes were cool and the water allowed for some good reflections.

IMG 2593

IMG 2600

IMG 2606

We were lucky in that the tractor and trailer arrived to take us back to the carpark soon after we were done otherwise it was going to be a long wait in the sun.

IMG 2614

We went back to the campsite for lunch and to pack up the tents before heading off for our next stop in the ‘town’ of Solitaire. Solitaire is basically a petrol station and shop and a cafe run by Moose Macgregor. Moose has been here for many years and has been made famous on a couple of TV programs for his apple crumble. He bakes 100-150 kilos a day and it was damn good – as was the much welcomed coffee. Once you engage Moose in a chat, prepare to spend some time….

IMG 2639

There is also a great collection of rusting old car bodies outside and I could have spent a bit of time there taking photos, it was a lot of fun.

IMG 2616

IMG 2617

IMG 2620

IMG 2628

An accidental hi-key shot, but I really like it.

IMG 2634

I said it was a shame they had stopped recording the rainfall this year on Mar 27 – and was advised they hadn’t, it just hasn’t rained since then!

IMG 2641

It was just a great place to walk around.

P1010655

P1010656

On the way to our camp site for the day at Spaar Farm we saw a couple of road side ostriches so had to stop for a quick snap, not the best, but the first ostriches in shooting distance, and you never know there may not be another opportunity.

P1010659

We arrived in Spaar Farm late in the afternoon, we were originally scheduled to do a tour of the farm but it was getting late and the Nomad truck people were still on their tour and we ended up with a bit of time to ourselves so I wandered around and took some photos in the late afternoon sun before joining Will, our driver for a couple of beers in the bar.

IMG 2645

IMG 2654

The camp-site is great, there are only three camp spots and they are a reasonable distance apart, it was quite dusty on the site with a strong wind so we had to peg the tents down for a change.

It was such a good day !

On to Sesriem

I was slightly hung over when the sound of breakfasting people woke me at 5:00 AM, thinking it was time to get up I staggered out of the tent to find it was the Nomad truck people from the next campsite – I went back to bed for another half an hour before it was our turn to get up and start the day. I lingered as long as I could before dragging myself out.

Bizarrely, I found a group of young guys off of one of the other overland tracks applying hair gel in the bathroom – each to their own I guess.

We were on the road for 7:00 again, there was a long day of driving ahead and not a lot to see so it of was headphones on and head back for a doze. Once we clear of the more desert like surroundings and in to some quite well grassed plain lands we started to see quite a bit of wild life – sadly they were mostly too far away to photograph. We saw springbok, kudzu, dik dik, orix and some ostriches, awesome, just what I am here to see, it was very exciting as we spotted species for the first time, I only managed a fleeting shot of these springbok.

IMG 2352

And these guys as we whizzed past in the truck. Donkey is quite a common form of transport here and the rear end of broken down cars and utes make for great carriages.

P1010653

The plains soon turned back into the moon like rocky desert and it was back to dozing again.

As we pulled into the small town of Bethanie for a coffee break the truck took a (slow) emergency stop, flipped a u-turn and headed back up the road in to the wilderness for a hundred metres before coming to a grinding halt. We were all wondering what was going on when we saw Will, our driver, come round the side of the truck with a small tortoise he had seen in the middle of the road and was moving to safety. We all jumped out and snapped a few photos.

IMG 2355

After the excitement of the tortoise we stopped for an hour long coffee break in Bethanie, it was pension day so there was a number of people around waiting to get money out of the bank – and sadly in many cases go next door to the liquor store and spend it.

IMG 2361

IMG 2362

There was a cool little lizard hiding under a tree that got the full paparazzi attention.

IMG 2371

The next stop was an amazing socialable weaver bird tree on the road side. The socialable weaver birds build massive joint nests in the camel thorn trees, I had seen a number on the journey and had wondered what they were. It was great to stop at a massive example and be able to taking some photos. The birds disappear as people first approach but come back fairly soon. I am not a birdie person but I could not help but get stuck in taking photos.

IMG 2374

IMG 2383

IMG 2387

We stopped for lunch under a shade tree that is obviously used by a number of the tour companies on the journey through Namibia. I love these road side lunch breaks, I get to wonder around and take a few pictures as well as snatching a few moments of solitude. Some days I wonder if I take photos so I can disappear by myself for a while with the handy excuse of doing something creative.

IMG 2397

It was a long drive to our night time stop in the “town” of Seisrem- basically three or four lodges and campsites on the side of the desert. I was really looking forward to the desert, two days of hilly grasslands with limited wild life had me edging for something different to see. An hour or so away from the camp site we entered a private game reserve area and started seeing springbok and oryx which we had seen before and had gotten a little used to. But, all of a sudden we saw a herd of something gathered in the plains and they were mountain zebra. Awesome in its awesomeness, for me this was the first taste of real wild Africa. Even with a 400mm lens they were too far away to get any detail – and way too shaky shooting from a truck – even if it was stopped. But wow – I am in Africa Africa now 🙂

IMG 2405

Sadly we didn’t stay long before heading off to our night stop at one of the campgrounds in Sesriem, but it was great to have a shower. It is incredibly dusty here, thick sand everywhere – it was like Siem Reap in Cambodia – feet and legs are just going to be covered in dirt for a few days, before and immediately after a shower.

IMG 2410

We went out for another sunset shoot, with Brett providing some great lessons to those in the group who are wanting to improve their technical knowledge of photography – tonight was a bit about white balance – something I do not worry about too much myself – and perhaps I should as I am not shooting raw at the moment. The sunset was not particularly spectacular sadly, but an ND filter would have been great.

IMG 2443

Dinner was a fabbo pasta and Ibron had

made a very nice chilli soy option for the veges in the group, though I would have been more than happy with the beef mince! With a very early 5:40 am start tomorrow it was an early night!

Another day, another country.

Day 271, Monday 01 October 2012 – Orange River, Namibia

Another belated post, I had intended to type on the truck as we went, but the roads are rough as anything and typing is impossible, even photo editing is not worth bothering with.

I can see why the other truck was in bed early, they were on the road before 6:00! Compared to them we had a leisurely wake up of 5:30, I was mildly hungover after that combination of beer, red and white wine and whisky. A lesson learnt nice and early on the trip though one forgotten way too much!

I had a walk around as the sun rose and took some photos of the mist over the small river on the farm. I have decided to switch back to shooting JPEG, I have been using raw for a while, but having to do everything in a bouncing truck with little battery life was going to be a pain, though of course I lose some of the detail – a tough choice.

Breakfast was cereal and fruit and I had a great hot shower before pulling down the tents, loading up the truck and getting on the road again.

Our first stop was at the gas station at Bitterfontein, there is a weaver bird colony living there which was cool and we all stopped to take photos. I am not really into birds, but it was a good lesson in shooting moving objects with the heavy 70-200mm lens. I was not overly happy with the results, but the weaver birds have cool nests, so am posting a shot anyway.

IMG 2164

IMG 2170

There were road works off and on all the way to the Namibian border.

IMG 2156

Over the morning the terrain went from rolling farm land, through mountain desert areas which were very much like the Desert Road are in NZ’s North Island – accept huge, and into some very arid and rocky areas. It was great watching it all roll by though we were all staring out the windows waiting for our first glimpse of wildlife. We saw lots of cows and sheep and goats until finally just before lunch we saw a small heard of oryx in the Goegap nature reserve. Yay – we were all massively excited to see them. Though it was another lesson in safari photography as they were quite a way off and shooting with the 2x extender on the 70-200mm was difficult in a truck with people moving around. I am going to have getter better at holding the lens steady. I learnt that the oryx is one of the most dangerous creatures in southern Africa – even though it is only an antelope. People think they are safe but they are very territorial and will defend if they feel threatened, and those horns are huge.

IMG 2173

There was this weird old quary site on the road side, from a distance it was hard to work out what it was, it looked like some alien fortress.

IMG 2172

Lunch was in the nature park, it was hot and dry and quite beautiful, I have fallen in love with Quiver trees and took quite a few photos of these awesome trees.

IMG 2177

IMG 2190

I spotted this guy on a bathroom window.

IMG 2203

The town of Springbok was few minutes drive away and we had to stop here to change vehicles. A recent South African law change means that foreign registered vehicles cannot transport clients over the border into Namibia, so we had to unload all our gear and jump into the Bundi Adventures van for the trip to Namibia and onto our camp at Bundi. The journey to the border took almost two hours and was pretty hot crammed into the van.

IMG 2209

The border crossing was fairly straight forward, though it was interesting that at the SA border police post, after immigration we all had to hand in our passports to the police and then were told to leave the room leaving the van driver alone with the police. Not sure what happened there ! We did get our passports back though.

The last trip the guys did through the border everyone had to unload bags and were sniffer dogged and searched. We were all praying it was not going to happen to us – it was just too damn hot to be hanging about.

The border between SA and Namibia is the Orange River, named after the Dutch Prince William of Orange – not because the river is orange. The camp site was on the Namibian side of the border and not too far from the border crossing. The site was packed with loads of kids and families – it is the first day of school holidays in SA.

After unpacking the van, reloading the truck and putting up tents some of us took a quick dip in the river, it is perfectly safe to do so, no crocs or hippos this far south.

P1010640

We all walked up a small hill next to the campsite for a sunset photo shoot, Brett our tour guide, is also doing photography lessons as part of the tour and held the first one on top of the hill. It was interesting listening in and Brett is a good teacher. The countryside is very bleak as well as beautiful, on this side of the river.

IMG 2220

IMG 2222

IMG 2225

IMG 2249

After dinner we sat around for a while waiting for the large group of people starting a five day river safari in the morning to clear from the bar area so we could go and have a quite beer and access the very slow internet. I managed to get to read a couple of emails, but the connection died before I could reply to any.

Brett found a small scorpion on the bench seat and grabbed UV light to show us how the scorpions glow under UV. The picture is crap, but you get the idea!

IMG 2255-2

Brett is a wealth of knowledge about the local environment as well as the beasts and flora we are seeing on the journey, we are lucky to have such a great tour guide.