True North Travels

A Canadian girl and her incredibly charming British boyfriend, moving and shaking around the world- and arguing about who is from the True North
Living in: Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Day182

    Etosha National Park Day One- Olifantrus

    March 15 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 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 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 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 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 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 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 I 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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  • Day149

    Johannesburg

    February 11 in South Africa ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Passed across to South Africa from Mozambique on a very comfortable bus (who knew they could be easy?) and arrived into Johannesburg early evening. We were a little nervous about arriving so late, especially with the stories about Joburg’s violence, but we were welcomed into a city on the rise- a gentrifying, hipster place with craft beer, street art, galleries and great restaurants. It is almost culture shock coming here, which is almost like a western city’s trendy neighbourhood.

    We head out on a tour of Soweto, a township which was incredibly important in the development of the anti-apartheid struggle. We visit the Apartheid museum which lays bare the systemic racism that tore the country apart- the wounds that inflicted upon South Africa’s society still have not fully healed, but there is the sense of optimism. The arguments made by radical, racist South Africans bring to mind some of the claptrap that our South African tour guide through Botswana spouted. People agree that it will take a few generations before it disappears, but there is hope.
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  • Day144

    Surfin’ Mozambique

    February 6 in Mozambique ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Surf’s up! Apparently... We don’t know too much about surfing, so we’ve booked into a lesson. Tofo is great for beginners, as the waves are relatively small, and there are no rocks or coral to bash your head on when you inevitably take a tumble. The only annoyance is the portuguese man o’ war (bluebottle), which can drift into the bay.

    Whilst we are having our lesson, we see big fish in the waves, and small flying fish seem to emulate us by falling out of the breakers. We also keep a close eye on the ocean, hoping to spot a dolphin or two- however, given our dolphin luck, our sightings remain at 0.

    After the surf lesson, we relax to regain strength in our arms. Later, we head down to the beach, and see fisherman drag in a MASSIVE TIGER SHARK. It’s quite disturbing to see such a magnificent creature having been speared through the eye and in dragged ashore. Our friends from the hostel later see it butchered in the shade next to the beach. They ask the fisherman what it is, and he just replies “a big fish”. Sure buddy. Apparently, fishing for sharks can carry a prison sentence of 24 years, but this must not be enforced, as the shark was being cut apart on the busy, police-patrolled tourist beach. You can’t find shark meat on any menu or in any market- the only reason the fishermen kill the sharks in for the fins, which can be sold for $40, and will be sent to East Asian countries.

    It’s very disconcerting to see this practice undertaken so brazenly, but it seems that so long as the economic incentive for fins is there, the killing of sharks will continue.
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  • Day142

    Tofo- Ocean Safari

    February 4 in Mozambique ⋅ ⛅ 29 °C

    Another day, another safari. This time, we’re off out on the ocean (Indian version) from the small town of Tofo. Everyone is looking for Whale Sharks (and you are offered a free trip the next day if you don’t see any), but since we’d already seen them in Tanzania, we were on the lookout for dolphins and manta rays.

    It was somewhat ironic, then, that we had gone about 5 minutes out from shore and came across a whale shark. Not that we are complaining- they are incredible animals, and the visibility was much better this time around. Also, we had picked up a knock-off GoPro (GoAmateur?) for $38 in Maputo, so managed to get some footage. We swam with the shark for a good 15/20 minutes, and managed to get quite close.

    From the boat, we also saw a Portuguese Man of War (or Bluebottle Jellyfish). These things really pack a punch, and the tentacles trail quite far, so from then on out, I keep a vigilant eye on the surface.
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