Friday, 12 June 2015

May 17: Elephants for my birthday

We left Swakopmund and crossed the vast expanse of a lot of nothing sand, broken by the odd mountain, and with more mountains on the horizon.

Desert and mountains
Our first goal for today was to visit Gross Spitzkoppe, the “Matterhorn of Namibia”.

Sticking up, but not quite like the Matterhorn
This is a granitic intrusion thrusting up into the ancient sands, towering 780 m above the plain. As the rock is hard, it eroded slower than the lands around it, and so it eventually stuck up like a sore thumb. Volcanics mean heat and heat means minerals, which leads to…

Do you have one of these near your house?
Yep, an entire market dedicated to people who simply comb the landscape for cool rocks. Lots of cool rocks, from geodes to pyrites to micas to quartz crystals. All geologists should stop here, which is not far from Spitzkoppe..

From just around the corner
Just before the park around the Spitzkoppe, there is a small village of ~400 people. About 1/3rd work for the park, another 1/3rd work for the school or the government, and the rest are farmers, raising sheep, goats, cattle, donkeys or horses.

Houses made out of oil drums 
The school 
Houses smaller than cars 
Imagine if Banff National Park had this as an office
The closer you get to it, the cooler the rocks get.

It looms 
Now there are house sized boulders 
Still in the desert 
Van in the campground for scale
We were taken on a tour by a native Damaraland bushman, who taught us to talk like a Damara (they have 4 different clicking noises as part of their language), and helped us understand the plants and animals that lived there.

Those leaves are full sized
People survive even today by carrying water long distances. Our Damara guide, Lazarus, lives in the little village just before the park. They have a well, but the water is brackish. Their nearest fresh water well is 5 km away, so they walk or take a donkey cart to that well 2-3 times per week, and come back carrying 25 litres of water. Our guide and driver Leban demonstrated.

A joke, but only slightly so
We saw lots of interesting wildlife on the walk including an eagle, lots of lizards, a dung beetle, and a fledging Dusky Sunbird, who happened to be impaled on a acacia tree thorn when we found him, but got away just fine.

Probably only a month old
Grosse Spitzkoppe is also home to Damara rock art, which is about 4,000 years old, and tells things like where water holes are and how much wildlife is in the area. 

The art is in the shaded area at the base of the rock 
No idea why it's called this 
Ummmm... not sure 
Aliens. Or small octopus 
The rocks are apparently a climber’s paradise…

Good looking bouldering 
Ascent routes are all up the cracks
…and there are cool caves in the cracks.

One of the caves in the campground
Leaving there, we travelled north via Uis through desert that started off very dry but got increasingly green.

More deadly plants appear 
It may not look it, but that's actually grass 
Mountains appear
We didn’t see much wildlife along the way, just a few ostrich and some springbok. We saw what the Damara refer to as a “Namibian Ferrari”.

How most things move around in northern Namibia (and Botswana)
We passed by some villages with a sense of humour.

Wonder what shops are in the mall?
We saw interesting warning signs.

Not a crossing sign where I live
We stopped at one small roadside market village of the Herero people. This tribe dresses in beautiful costumes with unique hats, and they sell purses and dolls of similar style and material.

Sorry about the post in her face
They make them, by hand and by machine.

I last saw one of these for sale in Chile in 1995
There’s a reason they use a hand-cranked sewing machine.

Segue: Abandoned cars and trucks like that one in the photo are everywhere in Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and to a much lesser extent, the northern desert part of western South Africa. They all lack useable parts -- tires, rims, engines -- and most just sit on the side of the road or in a field like that one.

As we continues north into increasingly green country (though still passing dry riverbeds along the way)…

Lots of people drive in these dry riverbeds
…we ran across a small herd of desert elephants. These are an endangered desert adapted elephant, and there are only about 600 left, mostly in this area. Our herd had a baby with them, which is good news. When we first saw them, they were paralleling the road and walking in a line, kicking up dust, plus were also were backlit by the setting sun. It was a scene right out of African movies. But we called out to the team that we had seen elephants, and they pulled a U-turn and drove back. By then the elephants were “hiding” (yes, a 4 ton beast can hide), having dust baths and eating acacia trees.

Two of the herd 
Going away 
Trying to hide 
Checking us out
Desert elephants are smaller than their plains counterparts; none looked that big. This was the first time our Nomad team had seen desert elephants in 4 years.

Sunset arrived…

Dusk at Khorixas
…just as we arrived at our night’s lodge.

Yet another thatched roof paradise 
Yet another beautiful (but cold) pool
As we explored the grounds, in the dry riverbed behind the BBQ area, we found feeding springbok.

10' away 
Looks to me like they eat dirt
Then an ostrich came charging through and chased the springbok out.

Commin' through! 
An ostrich on a mission
We stayed in camp for dinner (Spaghetti Bolognese again, which was fine because it was very good), and were entertained by a kid’s singing group from the local church. Ranging in age from 12-16, they sang some English language gospel songs, but also a lot of songs in Damara.

Rare elephants, springbok and ostrich, then being sung to. Not a bad way to spend my birthday.


Today’s Africa Travel Tip: More on Markets

The more markets I go to in Africa, the more I realize that in any given market, every stall is the same. This is quite unlike European markets, where every stall is different. In today’s Herero market, there were 10 ladies, each selling the exact same dolls, the exact same purses, the exact same ornaments and beadwork – but unlike so many markets, these ladies probably made the stuff in the were selling.

So given that every mask is the same, every doll is the same, every soapstone carving is the same, every ____________________ is the same, How do you decide who to buy from, assuming you’re going to buy something?

I have no idea.

In addition, I would spend more time in markets if I spent more time shopping than I did fending off people trying to sell me things I don’t want. As a result, I didn't even go into the crystal market today, nor did I look at the Herero market. Their loss, but in a way, mine, too.

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