Monday, 1 June 2015

May 11: Across to Namibia

We always knew today was going to be a long day with an early wakeup and almost 10 hrs on the road, meaning our scenery was limited to the views out the window. And indeed, we were on the road by 7:15 AM, when before sunrise, ground fog abounded.

Mystic swirls in the valley 
A wall of fog awaits 
Descending into the murk 
Tree islands in the mist 
Grapes growing invisibly
The sun rose over the mountains to the east about 7:50 AM

African dawn
Citrusdal, where we started our day, is a big citrus growing area, so we went through endless fields of lemons and oranges for the first few hours. These farms all rely on the water from the Oliphant River, and we followed that for a couple of hours.

By 9:15 AM, the farms had stopped and we were into rangeland --  endless miles of scrub desert with cattle, sheep and goats.

Barren -- the start of weeks of it 
Endless dry
Around there, kopjies started to appear. These are an African classic; boulder piles sticking out of the desert sands. They form homes for rock hyrax (which we saw a lot of), meerkats and other critters.

Rock piles
Mountains on the east seemed to move closer.

Visibility: 100 miles or more

We stopped for bathroom breaks every couple of hours. One was at a little town that had a tourism info office (and restaurant) and in front of the place, dead old trucks. There are lots of dead old vehicles all over Africa.

What, a 1946?
We drifted farther east into the mountains near Vanrhynsdorf.

Desert scrub and mountains 
Drier mountains
We stopped in Garies for gas, and south of Sprinkbok for a picnic lunch at a roadside layaway, which trees with weaverbird nests and blue starlings. Most of the roadside lay-bys are planted with Australian eucalyptus trees for shade in part because they grow fast; trouble is, each tree sucks up 600 l of water per day, in land where water is scarce.

Mass lunch prep 
Many hands make light work 
Under the eucalyptus 
Blue Starling; pretty at first, robber barons after a while
The landscape continued to change, getting drier as we headed north.

Bare rock, and now sand
The town of Springbok is the last major outpost, so we stopped there and the whole crew stocked up on wine (you can take it over the border, apparently).

Copious water = copious people
We had an interesting conversation with the Store Manager of the grocery store; he is worried about the Governmental corruption in South Africa and a plan (similar to Zimbabwe’s) of forcing land transfers to black South Africans. While we have a very good impression of the country generally, he has a different view, but was impressed that some Canadians were in his store.

He did tell us the origins of the name of the town Springbok. When German settlers first arrived in the area, they watched a single herd of springbok take 7 days to pass through what is now the town. He told us sighting springbok in the area now was rare except on game farms and hunting ranches, explaining why we haven’t seem many.

From Springbok north past the copper mines of Okiep, things got a lot drier and a lot more desert-like very quickly. At times, it looked like we were driving through the tailings and spoils of a major mining operation.

Getting more barren 
Sand > grass 
Sand desert
I wasn’t aware that the Orange River, which forms the border of South Africa and Namibia, is in a deep valley. 

Descending through sandstone layers 
Where there is water... 
...there is green and life
Almost immediately upon descending into the valley, we hit the South African border. Our guides handled the border efficiently. First, stamp out through SA Immigration. Then get confirmation from the police that no one is looking for you. Then cross the Orange River Bridge into Namibia.

Dead on the border. Middle of the bridge
Then stop and clear entry to Namibia, where the Immigration dude seemed happy to see us. No visa is needed by Canadians.

Once into Namibia, “really dry” becomes “excessively so”.

A stunning lack of anything 
Roads to nowhere
Not 10 km north of the border was our home for the night, Felix Unite Cabanas. Wow. What a beautiful location and setting.

Our cabin 
Inside. Africa has yet to discover Queen beds. 
The bathroom 
The pool 
Our cabin's on the left 
We arrived for sunset.

And the colours turn 
South Africa over there 
Brilliant reds illuminate the rocks 
One of many birds fishing at sunset 
A sunset panorama from my balcony

Dinner tonight was from our truck; saut├ęd chicken and mushrooms, rice, spicy mushroom cream sauce, steamed broccoli, cauliflower and carrots, and cole slaw. Excellent.

We had as an option tomorrow to go canoeing on the river early in the morning. When I say “early”, I mean it’s a 5:45 wake-up call. We were warned that we would get wet, would not really have access to cameras (which had to be sealed away in dry bags), and would probably need to shower on return – though we would need to check out of the room on our way TO canoeing at 7 AM. We liked the idea but decided to pass.


Today's Africa Travel Tip: Water

We are now in the desert. It’s dry here and there isn’t much water. I have ranted before (and will likely rant again) about how bottled water is one of the worst products on the planet from and environmental perspective, and generally a terrible waste of money.

Except here.

While South African tap water is fine, we have arrived at the first place where drinking tap water is not recommended. What to do? Well, you can buy bottled water (most of our touring companions bought 3-5 liters each today and yesterday).

Or you can do what we’re doing and use a SteriPen. This simple lightweight little dude is a UV treatment system; a miniature version of what I installed in my house after the 2013 floods. It treats ½ or 1 litre at a time, and takes ~90 seconds to make water parasite free. The system we brought has a 40 micron pre-filter, and is simple to use. Each set of charged batteries offers 200 treatments (and I have rechargeables), and the lamp handles 3,000 treatment cycles.

Plastic bottles are not recycled in Africa, by the way.

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