A Canadian girl and her incredibly charming British boyfriend, moving and shaking around the world- and arguing about who is from the True North
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  • Day185

    Leaving Africa

    March 18, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☁️ 5 °C

    The time has come to leave this amazing continent behind.

    Ideally, we would have liked to stay another two weeks, to explore a little bit more of Namibia and head to Botswana. However, Coronavirus has the world in its grip, and borders are starting to close. At least now we have a reason to come back to Africa in the future.

    Windhoek is starting to shut down, and it has had its first cases of Corona- two Romanian tourists. The tourist industry is already taking a massive hit- our car rental company has had all of its bookings cancelled, and the taxi drivers are just sat around doing nothing. In a country that relies heavily on tourism, this will be a disaster.

    The airport is on full pandemic mode, with staff wearing face masks, signs warning about the disease and hand sanitiser bottles everywhere. We board the plane, but have to wait for a couple of hours. It seems that some disembarking passengers were turned back at the border, because Namibia is no longer letting people into the country. They have to board the plane again to go back to Johannesburg. It means that the border was probably closed whilst they were in the air. We start to get a little nervous about our connecting flights, especially since Katie is Canadian and we're heading to the UK.

    At Johannesburg airport, we have to be screened for the virus. Our temperatures are taken, and we see an old Portuguese man being taken to the side after being tested.

    Luckily, we're able to get on our next flight, and land safely in London the next morning. At Heathrow, it seems like there is no pandemic. No-one takes our temperature, there are no face-masks, no sanitiser bottles or anything- just business as normal. We make our connecting flight and land safely in Leeds.

    Chris' mum picks us up. She's been watching the live flight information online, and it turns out we picked the only route that got us back without a hitch. If we had decided to go through Cape Town rather than Joburg (which was our first plan), we would have been stuck, since the onward flight to London was cancelled. If we had taken an earlier or later flight to Leeds from London, we would have been stranded in London, as they were cancelled, too.

    In any case, we're now back in the UK, in unusual times. Africa has been good to us, and we have many amazing memories to reflect back on. We crossed a vast continent, through rainforests and deserts, over mountains and oceans, and mostly overland (except that ONE flight in Mozambique). It's been a fantastic adventure. Sat here at home with nothing to do, we feel oddly flat. But at least we'll still have the memories (and a load of African football shirts).
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  • Day183

    Etosha Day 2

    March 16, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☁️ 27 °C

    We wake from a good night's sleep in the Elephant culling station. Today, we're heading across this vast park to the eastern sector.

    It's a long drive- it takes about 2 hours to get to the central section- but of course we see animals along the way. Near to the central section, we start to meet tour groups that have come out in their open air safari vehicles. It's quite useful, since the drivers are usually experienced guides and are good at spotting animals.

    They don't all seem to be completely on the ball, though, as we come across one guide whose jeep won't start up. His mate, the driver of their other jeep, has driven away, leaving the guide, and all his guests, stranded. Even though we're strictly told not to leave the vehicles, since there are dangerous animals camouflaged in the bush, Chris gets out to jump-start their jeep. Grateful, the guide and the guests drive away. We're not sure what would have happened had we not helped them- there aren't many vehicles in this section of the park, and phone signal is sketchy.

    We meet our Dutch friends- Jorieke and Bart- at the central section, entirely by chance. We decide to drive together to the eastern part of the park, since eight eyes are better than four.

    The game viewing is decent, but we get a little bored of seeing the same animals- springbok, zebra, ostrich, the occasional oryx and giraffe. We're here for rhinos and leopards!

    As we get closer and closer to the eastern campsite, we grow more and more pessimistic. But then, our luck dramatically changes, and we see two rhinos and a leopard, just outside the camp. We're absolutely buzzing. It's a strange thing- safaris: when you tell people that you saw rhinos and leopards, you shouldn't expect a huge reaction, but to us, it's a massive thrill.

    At the campsite, we enjoy a sundowner, watching the blazing African sun sink into the horizon, surrounded by dozens of huge insects, some two inches long and heavily armoured.

    After sundown, we enjoy our last meal in the bush, aware that we'll very soon by leaving Africa. We have a Braai, which is interrupted by two scorpions, one after the other, running across our Braai area. One is a yellow scorpion, which apparently is very deadly indeed. We frantically run away from them, and tuck our trousers into our socks.

    We sleep soundly, thankful for our sealed tent, raised off the ground on top of our 4x4.
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  • Day182

    Etosha National Park Day One- Olifantrus

    March 15, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    And so, our final adventure of the tour. We've been excited about Etosha for a while, but reports have been varied about exactly how much wildlife it's possible to see during the wet season. One of the staff members at the car rental company told us that his safari guide friend didn't see so much as a warthog, so we might just be staring at bushes and trees the entire time. I guess we'll find out.

    Our first plan is to head west, to where the rhinos are supposed to congregate. There, there is a campsite where you can watch out over the waterhole, in case any animals come to drink. On the drive over (it is a vast park, so takes us most of the day), we are lucky enough to see hyenas (who we play a sort of peek-a-boo with), an elephant, and a giraffe drinking from a waterhole- legs dramatically splayed out. This is in addition to the huge amounts of springbok and zebra who stand around in large herds, often blocking the roads. We even spot a warthog. I suppose we should be in the safari guide business.

    We get to the campsite in the late afternoon. It is situated, somewhat morbidly, at an old Elephant culling station. Here, over 500 elephants were killed to control the population. A large metal frame still stands over the campsite, where the elephants would be hauled up after being killed, and all the meat would be extracted. The meat was then sold in small cans, reminiscent of spam or corned beef (complete with a cartoon elephant on the front).

    At the waterhole, we see a large bull elephant spraying itself with mud to cool itself down in the intense sun. Later, after tea, we return to the waterhole, hoping to spot rhinos. No luck for us on that front, though. The waterhole is deserted, and the only wildlife we encounter are bats that swoop through the seating area, flying directly in front of our faces. We call it a night.

    The next morning, heading back to the waterhole, one of the staff points out some rhino tracks. "There were rhinos here this morning". "Are they still here??" I desperately plead. "You missed them." I frantically check the horizon for any traces of rhino- perhaps they're still in the area? He shakes his head "You missed them".
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  • Day181

    In the Tracks of Dinosaurs

    March 14, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Heading out of Erindi, we take a self-drive-game-drive out of the park. We see a herd of a dozen giraffes, but not much else, and we leave feeling a little disappointed.

    Today, we're heading up to Etosha, the main National Park in Namibia. On the drive up, we pass a sign saying "Dinosaur Tracks", and excitedly head towards them. We reach a small farmstead, and we're greeted by an eccentric Afrikaaner, who speaks a strange mix of Afrikaans, German and broken English. We pay a couple of dollars, and we're told a little bit of background about the tracks. Unfortunately, we can't really understand him, and the A4 sheet of paper he gave us has gone missing. Essentially, though, they're tracks made by some sort of dinosaur, back in the days of dinosaurs. Pretttty cool.

    And they are pretty cool. There are around twenty footsteps, clearly visible in the rock, and it's amazing to think that they were made around, err, I forget, but a long time ago. Certainly more than a few years. Wow!
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  • Day180

    Spitzkoppe and Erindi

    March 13, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 30 °C

    Today started with a tour around the Spitzkoppe massif. First stop: "Bushman's Paradise". To reach it, we have to climb up a sheer rock face, pulling ourselves up using a chain bolted to the rock. We are much quicker than our guide, who pulls himself up after us, panting heavily in the morning sun. He leads us down into the "Paradise", and shows us a wall covered in rock paintings that date back thousands of years, daubed in a blood mixture by the San Bushmen. One painting shows a Rhino, which points in the direction of water. One painting shows a Rhino, which points in the direction of water. The guide has a tendency to repeat everything twice. He also points us to a spot, about halfway across the wall which is blank. He explains that tourists would come and throw water over the paintings, as it makes them stand out for better pictures, but also ruins it for everyone who comes after.

    After a tour around the rest of the massif, along with more rock paintings, we leave Spitzkoppe behind and head to Erindi, a private game reserve about halfway to Etosha.

    Unfortunately, Google Maps isn't so great at navigating the small dirt roads of Namibia, and we get lost near the reserve, with Google telling us to take farm tracks that are impassable. We get a little nervous as we lose signal and head deeper into the bush, though the ostrich running in front of our car, and the antelope lazily watching us do something to lift our spirits.

    We eventually find our way (after heading through a farm gate), and reach the park in the early evening. We set up camp, and, amazingly, we're welcomed by a small herd of Dik-Diks- the world's greatest animal. They aren't shy, and come right up to us, reaching our knees.

    We have a Braai, cooking a game sausage over a wood fire and enjoying some nice South African wine from the Wine Regions.

    We're starting to get a little concerned about Coronavirus, and so we book a flight with BA, from Windhoek to the UK via Johannesburg.
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  • Day179

    Dead Sea and Spitzkoppe

    March 12, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 25 °C

    Today, we're heading to Spitzkoppe, via a stop off at the Dead Sea. The hotel tells us that we'll need a permit for the Dead Sea, and we can get one at the Seal Reserve reception. However, the ranger at the seal reserve seems a little surprised at our request. She doesn't have any permits, but gives us a permit for the Seal Reserve, but with "Seal Reserve" crossed out and "Dead Sea" written above it in red pen. Legit.

    It's not so far to the Dead Sea, but the drive takes a while due to the terrible road conditions. The gravel road is so bad that it's like driving over big rumble strips for 17 kilometres. It is the pinnacle of the African Massage.

    The Dead Sea is definitely worth the drive though. It's an old tin mine that was abandoned and flooded. Because of the high salt content, the water is so soluble that you float on the top. It's great fun, and we're the only ones in the water. At the car park (just a flat bit of ground with a Braai pit) there's a group of Afrikaaners who, at 11.30am, are incredibly drunk and enjoying a Braai. They lend us a bucket with a shower head to rinse the salt off ourselves, and offer Chris some Braai to put "some more fat on him". The guy manning the Braai grabs his ginormous belly and jiggles it, to drive home the point. No thank you!

    Leaving the Dead Sea (and after getting a little lost in the salt pans), we head to Spitzkoppe, a large rock outcrop where you can camp. We drive through the desert, and after a few hours of nothing but flat ground all around us, Spitzkoppe rises up from the horizon.

    The campsite consists of different pitches, each at different spots at the base of the rock. They're all secluded, at least 100 metres away from each other, so we have a little spot of desert all to ourselves for the evening.

    After a spot of lunch, which featured some Hornbills stealing our crisps, Chris climbs up the rock, clambering over boulders to the base of the sheer rock face. The views up there are incredible, with desert as far as the eye can see.

    Sundown turns the red rocks and even more stunning shade of red, and we have some beers and cook a meal. The silence is astounding, and the stars light up the dark. Out here, in the desert, with a roof of stars and perfect silence, we wonder if this is the perfect camping spot.
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  • Day178

    Swakopmund Desert and Cape Cross

    March 11, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 21 °C

    This morning, we're off on a desert safari, to see the small creatures that roam the desert. It's a little strange, as the guides have to actually find the animals in the sand. We walk a little into the desert, and suddenly our guide pounces on a spot of sand and starts digging frantically. After some determined digging, she emerges with a small transparent gecko. It's an interesting animal- its skin so clear that you can see its organs, but it feels strange to be pulling it out of its home.

    Similarly, the guide finds a pregnant snake in a bush, and keeps dragging it out with a stick, even after the snake keeps trying to get back into the bush. We later see a Chameleon (without dragging it out of anywhere), which is super cool. We do leave with mixed feeling- it is nice to see these cool animals, but it does feel like we bothered them a bit too much.

    Onward, then, to Cape Cross, up the Skeleton Coast. Along the way, we visit a shipwreck. The idea of a shipwreck is very evocative, and brings to mind the golden age of sailing- big galleons forced onto land by huge waves. The crew stranded in the desert, slowly going insane and probably eating each other or something. This, however, was just an empty fishing boat that broke free of a tow line and washed up onshore. Still quite cool to look at.

    Cape Cross itself is an important historical spot. Here, the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cão planted a cross on the headland to claim this spot for Portugal. More interestingly, it is the home of THOUSANDS of Cape Fur Seals. The noise they make is unbelievable, and the smell even worse. We were told by the ranger at the reception that if there are any seals on the walkway, we shouldn't approach them. However, there are so many seals that we can't even reach the walkway.

    A French-Canadian family pulls in afterwards. Their toddler cannot handle the noise, and has her hands firmly clamped over her ears. But nothing will stop the parents from getting right up to the seals, trying to feed them Canadian dog food (Katie recognises the brand), which we guess must have been brought here for that exact purpose. We leave before we see if she gets bitten.

    Our campsite for the night is at the (quite posh) Cape Cross Lodge. We have a sundowner on the beachfront terrace, and watch a pod of dolphins swim past. It's all quite nice really.
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  • Day177

    Swakopmund

    March 10, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

    Leaving Spitzkoppe for Swakopmund today. But unfortunately, it seems that the fridge has been using the battery rather than the mains power, so the battery is flat. Not long after I open the bonnet, three local guys huddle round and help me. I assume that they are mechanics from the petrol station, and let them poke around. One of them starts fiddling with, and loosening, the battery connectors, but says "Go ask in the petrol station for a mechanic!" Luckily, they don't do too much damage.

    Fortunately, the Dutch couple we met come to our rescue, Bart quickly jump starts our car, and we're off to Swakopmund.

    The first stop is a curious little rest stop in the middle of the desert. It looks like a 1950's American gas station, and is full of rusting old pickups. They have a famous apple pie, which is pretty good.

    The next leg of the journey takes us deep into the heart of the desert. We enter a strange, almost alien landscape, which is completely flat as far as the eye can see. The occasional canyon or rocky outcrop punctuates what is otherwise extremely inhospitable desert. You would not want a flat tyre out here.

    We arrive into Swakopmund mid Afternoon, after briefly stopping to take pictures of a few Flamingos outside town. Swakopmund is a strange German-looking town in the middle of the desert. It could almost be in the middle of Bavaria. We stop into a German Beerhouse and order tall, frothy Weisse beers. There is German beer memorabilia on the walls, and they sell good-looking Pretzels.

    The couple next to us strike up a conversation. We talk about Coronavirus, which is all anyone is talking about nowadays, and the husband of the couple tells us to "follow the money". "You'll see," he says, " they already have the cure, but couldn't sell it. Now there's a global pandemic, people will buy the cure!" It's a good way, normal way, to start a conversation.

    Steering the conversation into more normal territory, we talk about our plans here. We had thought about driving to Sandwich Harbour, where the giant sand dunes plummet straight down into the ocean. They warn us against this, though, by saying that a local guide drove out there recently, and the tide swept his truck away. We're put off the idea.
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  • Day176

    Sesreim- Deadvlei

    March 9, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    We get up early to take the rooftop tent down and to get in the park for 6am. There's a small queue of people already waiting at the park gates, so we park up in line. At 6am on the dot(!), we enter the park. Everyone is racing through the park, trying to get to the sand dunes for sunrise, which should be around 6.45. It's about 50km to the main dunes, so it's no time to take it slow.

    As the sky turns lighter, we can start to make out the distant shapes of far-off dunes. They're so big that at first, we don't think they can be dunes. But surely enough, as the sun starts to rise, we find ourselves surrounded by blood-red sand dunes, taller than skyscapers. It's magnificent.

    The sun hasn't yet risen by the time we make it to Dune 45, one of the climbable dunes. We put on our walking shoes and set off up the dune, which looks far more of a challenge than we imagined. As we get to the base of the dune, an owl swoops down and stands before us in all its wisdom. With a glint in its giant eyes, it studies us, considers us up to the task, and allows us to proceed.

    It's a fair old hike up the dune, and we are racing against the clock to beat the sun. We sink into the dune with every step, and our boots fill up with sand, bogging us down further. One or two people give up, and just sit on the slope of the dune. We're determined, though, and we make it to the summit JUST in time for the sun to peek its way up over the rugged dunes and spill light over this bizarre landscape. All around us, we see monumental dunes, curving one way and disappearing another, meandering out to the horizon. It's the desert landscape that stories are made of.

    After taking in the sunrise, we head back down, empty out our boots and head off to Deadvlei. This is the remains of an old riverbed that dried up. The trees that once drank from the river's waters died, but were petrified in the intense dry heat. It's another walk through the sand to get there, and it seems that all the signs have been covered by the shifting dunes. We head slightly the wrong way and start climbing up another massive dune. When we catch sight of Deadvlei, it's at the base of the dune, 150 metres or so below us. So, we turn, and throw ourselves down the steep slope, running down the dune, sending sand everywhere. It's fantastic fun.

    Deadvlei itself is magnificent. It is watched over by the biggest dune of them all- the 300 metre "Big Daddy", which is just the worst name we can think of. It is possible to climb the dune, but it's a fair old way, and even at 9am, it's reaching 36 degrees. With limited supplies of water, we decide against it.
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  • Day173

    Cape Town to Windhoek

    March 6, 2020 in Namibia ⋅ ☀️ 37 °C

    Leaving South Africa today to head to Namibia, the final country on our adventure. We've had a great time in South Africa. It felt like a lot more of a normal holiday than a backpacking adventure, for good and bad. It was much more comfortable, the food and beers better; but, it lacked the real sense of adventure that we came to Africa for, and was full of annoying tourists (not that everyone we met was annoying!).

    To get to Windhoek, we need to take a 26 hour bus ride. Fortunately, it's on the Intercape bus, which, as we discovered on the journey to Joburg, is the most comfortable bus ever.

    At the border, we need to be tested for Coronavirus. Just today, South Africa has had its first confirmed case. We have our temperature taken, and submit a small health questionnaire before we are let into Namibia.

    At the service stop just after the border, Chris makes a fateful decision to order a late-night burger from Wendy's. It's a little mushy, and before we get into Windhoek, his belly is cramping up. We spend the next day and a half in bed whilst Chris shakes his food poisoning.

    The following night, Chris' stomach is strong enough to allow a meal out. We head to a well known spot- Joe's Beerhouse. Here, they cook all different types of game meat, and we order a platter of Springbok, Oryx, Kudu and Zebra. It's pretty good, and although we do feel slightly guilty about eating these nice animals, we remind ourselves that chickens, pigs and cows are also animals. Getting back to our vegetarian credentials, perhaps?

    The next morning, we pick up our hire car. It's a beast, a huge 4x4 pickup with a rooftop tent. We drive it deep into the desert, mesmerised by the vast Namibian landscapes. It feels like true adventure. That evening, we camp just inside the Sossusvlei National Park, inside the Namib desert.
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