Tuesday, March 6, 2007

My Return to Africa - October 2006

My Return to Africa
Accompanied by Mom and Dad
Pat Quinn – Tour Guide

My sister Pat arrived in Namibia in Southern Africa as secretary to Ambassador Joyce A. Barr in September 2004. I arrived soon after in March of 2005. Recently, in October 2006 I returned, with my mom (83) and my dad (86) who despite weaker knees, are still in remarkably good shape.

So, instead of leaving from New York’s JFK, like I did last time, I flew down to Washington, DC on October 15th, so as to accompany my parents from Dulles Airport, Virginia to Johannesburg, South Africa. If you want to fly to anywhere in Southern Africa (Namibia, Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe) one has to fly through Johannesburg. This is particularly annoying, as our flight path will take us over Namibia. Then, we will switch planes and fly back to Namibia. Grrr.

After my tipping my brother Vincent $2.00 for transportation and luggage handling, Mom, Dad and I head into Dulles Airport, get our baggage checked in (Only two bags? But there are three of you.), go through security, take the shuttle to the international terminal, breakfast at Starbucks, and then board the airplane for our 18 hour flight. We took South African Flight 208 and there’s nothing much to report. The service was fine, the movie selection was ok, the legroom was non-existent, and the yogurt they served for breakfast was the African idea of yogurt. In short, it looked funny, so I didn’t try it. We landed for about one hour in Dakar, Senegal to refuel, allow some passengers to deplane, allow other passengers to board, and get sprayed with some sort of disinfectant. Everyone stood up and chatted. Mom’s blanket disappeared, but Dad’s was big enough for them to share.

The woman next to me was returning home after a month in Texas, visiting her son and his French wife. Her other son and daughter live in South Africa. Her only regret was that her French daughter in-law was an excellent cook, and she never got to sample American cuisine (she quizzed me on biscuits and gravy).

So, we arrive in Jo’Burg, and book over for our connecting flight to Windhoek, Namibia. We run into Pat’s boss, Joyce, who was also on our flight back from DC. Of course, she flew first class. The ticket clerks were very upset that Mom, Dad, and I were not together, but frankly, all I cared about was getting on the plane and getting to Pat’s. Besides, I had just spent 18 hours with Mom and Dad. I think we were all looking forward to a little apart-time.

We arrive. We go through customs. Our luggage does not appear. I go over to the South African Air lost luggage spot. They send me to Air Namibia lost luggage spot (to see if the was a chance that our luggage was coming in on their next flight from Jo’Burg). I go back to South African Air after the lady at Air Namibia basically said, “She could have looked that up on her computer.” Remembering the best travel advice anyone ever gave (it was my nephew Luke to my sister Pat), “Is anyone going to die? If not, no problem.” I take a deep breath, and school my features to blank patience rather than irritation. I think the South African Air lady knew she had made a mistake, because despite my purposely relaxed shoulders, she took me ahead of the tour group that was now waiting at South African Air to inquire about their lost luggage. For some reason I don’t remember, I have to exit the luggage area, where Mom, Dad and Pat cheer my entrance. I get what I need from Pat (I think it was the embassy’s address – we just mail everything to her via Dulles, Virginia), then I have to go through security again. Finally, they have all the information (Pat’s cell phone, her home phone, her address, and the address of the US Embassy), and assuring the woman that there are only two bags involved – despite the fact that there are three people with lost luggage - I leave the luggage pick up/customs area with no luggage.

Hey, they lost the ambassador’s luggage too!

Pat loads us into the car and takes us to her spacious 4 bedroom home in Olympia, a nice subdivision of Windhoek that is near the future Capital Hill area (it’s a hill, and they are building the new capital there, so I’ve decided it should be called Capital Hill). My sister, who does not cook, makes us spaghetti, loans pajamas to Mom and I, and we go to bed.

Monday, October 16, 2006
It’s sunny! We have breakfast and don our fall/we’ll be on a freezing airplane clothes. Luckily, I was wearing a black tank top under my sweater so I’m relatively cool (and covered since I wasn’t wearing a bra on the plane). I’m still in jeans, but I’m wearing my tennies without socks, so I should be ok. Mom has borrowed a pair of tennies and a short-sleeve shirt from Pat. Dad is basically stuck – so we head off to Marula Mall to get him a short-sleeved shirt.

Last time I was at Marula Mall, that would be March 2005, there was a parking lot. Now there is a parking garage, and most of the former parking lot is the new wing of Marula Mall. And they are still adding on!! If you read my last travelogue on Namibia, you’ll remember how I said the country really seemed to be doing well. It wasn’t rich, and there are poor, but it does not have the grinding poverty that has haunted Africa. Namibia has a government which, (so far – fingers crossed) has avoided corrupt politicians , and focused on jobs, education, healthcare, and the environment. It’s pretty stunning.

The older section of the Marula Mall has more local-owned stores. You know, the Christian bookstore, the grocery store (now under major restoration to compete with the newer grocery store in the new part of the mall), the dried animal meat store, and the local fabric store. In the newer section you’ll find the South African chains. We got to a small department store that carries clothes and housewares. We get Dad a tan short sleeve shirt. Then, we go to a South African Chain that’s sort of like Eastern Mountain Sports, and Dad buys a hat to keep his face from frying – if the luggage doesn’t show up. It’s Australian style and looks very good on him.

Pat complains that the clothes all look great, but they are not cut right for her. I understand. I have the same problem with Target here in the states (my shoulders are narrower than their model’s). BUT as we walk around I’m thinking, “If the luggage doesn’t arrive I can come back here and buy some underwear, a bra, two pairs of shorts, and four shirts, and I’ll be ok.”

Next we go to the fancy craft center (I cannot remember the name) and I look for the butter bell, which I should have bought last time, but didn’t. They don’t have it. This place is really, really nice, but I’m not really in the market to buy fine art.

So, we head to the Craft Center; it was two stories when I was there in March 2005. It’s still two stories, plus a mezzanine, which leads out to a courtyard, which opens on to more stores. The place is jammed. Pat has never seen it so crowded. Dad buys a walking stick for 90 Namibian dollars. The exchange rate is 7.8 Namibian dollars to $1 US. So that comes to $11.53.

I can remember what Mom buys, but I’m sure she got something.

There’s a really good restaurant here at the Craft Center, and last time I was in the country I had bush tea here (just like in The Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series), but it’s time for us to get back in the car and drive out to the Penduka craft center in Katutula.

Katutula basically means, the place we will not name. It was the township established in the 1970’s by South Africa. After independence was gained a lot of folks moved out, then they moved back. There are many theories for this reverse migration. (1) In the white areas, all the houses are behind high walls toped with razor wire. This annoys black Africans who are much more into the idea of a neighborhood where you can see your neighbors. (2) They have been living there for 20 years, and they know everyone. (3) It’s still the cheapest place to live.

You’ll see very nice houses (some with a very well tended tree in front) and some pretty awful places. There’s not a lot of litter in Namibia (a result of the government’s drive to ensure that everyone in the country has a job and income – Namibia has a lot of road-maintenance workers and it’s a clean, clean place), so it’s rare that the poverty is squalid. It’s more like the house is run down and has an air of neglect. Most of these houses are small, small, small. Two rooms at the most. But we will see, when driving through the more traditional Caprivi, that a nuclear family does not have a seven-room house – they have a seven one-room-hut coral.

Anyway, Namibia has established government craft centers where women can sell their work and receive the profits directly. When you pick up an item, it will have the name of the person who made it attached. And when you buy your items, the clerk fills out a receipt with all the names of the crafters (Spoon – Josephina - $10 Namibian Dollars). The buyer signs the receipt, the clerk signs the receipt, and the buyer receives one of the three copies.

However, we didn’t buy anything. There wasn’t a good selection (which surprised Pat, usually there is) and there was no clerk. We could have picked up stuff and walked out. Oh well. On to Okapuka.

On the way we saw baboon hanging out on the median, and Pat told the following “stupid tourist” story.

A Texan comes to Namibia to hunt on a private game reserve. One morning, he gets up early and decides to take pictures of the animals (as opposed to killing them). When the employees of the game reserve found his body this is what they surmised. Texan gets up early and decides to take some pictures of the animals. He heads to a fenced-in area where a maturing male oryx and a couple of females are hanging out. He climbs over two fences. He manages to get gored to death by an animal that (1) is very skittish, and if not stuck in a fenced-in area for mating purposes, will 99 times out of 100 run away from humans, and (2) manages to get gored by an animal that has to put his head completely on the ground in order to thrust his horns, which arch over his back, directly into the Texan’s chest.

One of the embassy employees had the fun of identifying the body. The oryx was put down because it was a man-killer. How stupid do you have to be to turn what is basically a timid deer into a man-killer? An eater-of-tomatoes-in-your-garden, that’s not hard. But turning a deer into a man-killer takes a true idiot.

Okapuka is a huge lodge/privately owned game reserve right outside of Windhoek. I went there on my last day in Namibia last time. It’s a great afternoon activity, and if you ever want something to do while in Windhoek, I would recommend it. It has a very good restaurant, and the dinner menu reads like something out of The Lord of the Rings (complete with illustrations). The lunch menu, while Tolkien-free, is still quite good.

Okapuka Lodge has several guesthouses and a conference center, but we’re just here for the game drive.

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s what we saw at Okapuka.
➢ Springbok
➢ Giraffes (not that tall, they were young)
➢ 5 White Rhinos (including a toddler)
➢ Warthogs
➢ Pretty Blue Birds
➢ Oryx (the Texan-killers)
➢ Sables
➢ Wildebeests

Always get reservations for the game drive at Okapuka. It’s popular! They had to send out two game-viewing trucks crammed with tourists. Our truck was driven by the wife of the lodge-manager. Our companions were the second-in-command of the Embassy of Nigeria, his wife, and their three little kids. The kids had obviously been given a homework assignment. Every time they saw an animal they asked, “How long is the gestation period?” These kids were under ten, so this is not a natural question. Also, their mother had a notebook, and had to prompt them sometimes.

Now, the animals on Okapuku are living on a reserve. There’s a special double fence that keeps the animals from migrating (basically, most of the herd animals could jump over the first fence, but the second fence is too close to the first to give them the running start they need to make the second leap). The owner allows some of the animals to be hunted (there are no predators, so I guess they have to thin the herds), but his main business seems to be the tourists who just want to take pictures.

That said, these animals are still wild. They tend to ignore the game truck, but when it gets to close, they move away. The exception is the rhinos. First, rhinos have very bad eyesight, so the guide intentionally makes as much noise as possible when approaching the rhinos. Then, after the truck has stopped, the head rhino comes over and checks the truck out with his beady eyes. Then he gives the signal and it’s Rhino-chow time. Yes, we carry a bucket of rhino treats. The guide, while sprinkling the pellets looses her shoe. The second in command of the Nigerian Embassy gallantly leaps out while she drives in circles, gets her shoe, and gets back in as the rhino comes running at the diplomat/truck thinking, “Rhino chocolate! Rhino chocolate!”

While on the game drive Pat gets a call on her cell phone from Debbie, the secretary to the DSM at the embassy. Our luggage has arrived! Hooray! But, she is informed that only two bags came for the three of us. Really, are we the only people in the world who pack light?

Back at the lodge we take pictures with the Nigerian diplomat and his family. He has an embassy car and chauffeur waiting. Dad chats with the chauffeur. We drive back to Windhoek (baboons!) and stop by Debbie’s house to pick up our luggage (she brought it home with her). She is concerned that there are only two bags. Nope, we only have two bags.

Here’s the thing. Last time I came to Namibia I over packed to the extreme. This time, I have a bag small enough to be a carry-on. I packed four pairs of Capri pants, one pair of shorts, eight shirts (didn’t wear one), two sweaters (didn’t wear one), two pairs of sandals, pjs, and undies. I wore jeans, a sweater, tennis shoes, socks, and my fleece on the plane. Mom, taking my advice to heart, got everything she and Dad needed into one regular sized suitcase. I don’t think they once said, “oh, we should have brought something else.”

That night we watched TV, worked on a jigsaw puzzle, and ordered a pizza that never came. Tomorrow, we start the nine-day tour of Namibia.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The Great Trek Begins
Day One

Windhoek to Etosha (Okuakuejo Rest Camp)

This is the beginning of our 9-day odyssey across Namibia.

Today we are driving to Etosha. Pat has done this trip several times now, so she needs no navigation assistance. Etosha is in the Northern part of Namibia, and is an unfenced, so that the animals can follow their natural migration plans. Back in the old days, the park rangers used to stage feedings at certain waterholes for the tourists, but they haven’t done that for years. So aside from some man-made waterholes, and the jackals getting into the garbage at the rest camps (you just try to keep a jackal away from garbage – they are the raccoons of the wild) the creatures are on their own.

We go in through the _____ Gate, the west entrance to the park. Though clearly labeled _____ Gate in all maps and guidebooks, you will not see the words _____ Gate anywhere on the gate itself. You will not see an arrow sign with the words ____ Gate. I had a standing offer of 20 Namibian dollars to anyone who could spot the words _____ Gate anywhere. I kept that money.

So, at the gate you fill out a form, pay for your entrance into the park, get stamped, then drive 17 kilometers to the rest camp. It takes about five minutes, so Dad starts talking to a bunch of kids (about 13-14). The people who work at Etosha live at Etosha, and there are schools. The workers also get to use the facilities. Last time I was there, when Pat I were hanging out at the pool at Namatomi Rest Camp, a bunch of high school boys fresh out of school came flying into the pool with much splashing and hullabaloo. One of their teachers came by and told them to watch the splashing, but that was it.

Now, Namibia has ten official languages. But the language of the government and commerce is English. So Dad is having a fine time chatting to the kids. He asks if they go to school (yes, see the above paragraph). They tell him they learn all about the animals in the park, and their gestation periods.

So, we get there in good time and check in. Since the last time I was there Etosha has added a sign to the reception area that says, “Have a nice day.” Mom and I crack up.

Also, since I was last in Etosha, Namibia has a new minister of tourism. And boy oh boy, the tourist shops are actually stocked! Last time we were there the shelves were empty. You could hear an echo when you spoke. Now the post cards are in the wire rack, soda and water are in the fridges, and vegetables as well as raw meat are available.

Now, the best places to stay in Etosha are the two-bedroom self-catering huts/chalets right on the Okuakuejo water hole. Well, not only did Pat snag one of those prime pieces of real estate for us, but we got one right in the center, with an unobstructed view of the waterhole. So, we could sit around, bar-b-que the shish-kabobs we brought along, and when we saw the folks at the waterhole pointing, we’d get up, and walk about 30-45 feet to check out what was taking a drink.

But we have about two hours before the gates to the rest camp close, so we go out for a quick tour of some of the better waterholes. There is an excellent guide to Etosha that lists the waterholes, what you are most likely to see there, and which ones have been dry for over two decades (something that is left off the general maps). This guide will also give you a little history – like the Trekers (which is what they call the white pioneers) stopped here and named it this because of that, and over there is the grave of this woman and here’s where that guy did this, etc., etc.

There is also an excellent children’s book, which I believe is entitled The Animals of Namibia, or The Animals of Etosha. Anyway, I suggest you get it. Both (shock!) were available in the tourist shop at Okuakuejo.

Of course, we barely make it back to the rest camp gate before sunset. Each rest camp has a fence around it, so the lions and elephants won’t walk in and say hello. Granted, it doesn’t stop the jackals and warthogs, and I’m guessing if the elephants and lions decided they wanted in, they could get in. But there is a fence to protect the tourists, and there is a gate. The gate to each rest camp opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The times are posted on clocks as you exit the gate. Of course, we go a little to far looking for elephants (we did see lions!), and we are terrified that we are not going to make the gate. Of course, logically, you know they are not going to say, sorry you don’t get in. We suggest you lock the doors and enjoy sleeping in the car. But we are panicked. As is the four-wheel drive vehicle which is going much faster than us. We follow their cloud of dust. When we see that gate we all cheer. We made it by ten minutes.

We stop off in the tourist shop to get some postcards (and Mom gets the children’s book guide to Animals) and Pat asks one of the park rangers what would happen if we hadn’t made it through the gate in time.

First, they keep the gate open about a half-an-hour after sunset just to get the idiot tourists who were too busy looking for elephants to pay attention to the time. After that, they will open the gate and let you in – and fine you!

Here’s what we saw in Etosha on that drive:

➢ Springbok
➢ Zebra
➢ Guinea Fowl
➢ Lots of Elephant Poop
➢ Lionesses with (older) cubs (!!!!! – no pictures, they were too far away, and Pat has a better zoom)
➢ Wildebeests
➢ Oryx
➢ Impalas
➢ Jackals
➢ Secretary Bird
➢ Ostrich
➢ Squirrels (obviously male and female)

We had picked up some chicken and beef kabobs at the grocery store at Marula Mall, and we got our grill going and cooked them up. Since our chalet was right on the Okuakuejo water hole, we were able to tell from the clicking of cameras when something good was happening. Over the course of the night we saw a heard of zebras and I saw some beige maybe-cat-like creatures scurrying around (I have no idea what they were). But the best part was the giraffe vs. the black rhino. They were both young, and they were very careful about approaching the water hole, checking each other out, and establishing territory. The giraffe eventually loped off, and another black rhino came out.

We also saw some very male and extremely female squirrels.

At the Okuakuejo water hole:
➢ Zebras (at the Water hole)
➢ Giraffes (at the Water hole)
➢ Black Rhinos (at the Water hole)

We also had a beautiful sunset, which my camera totally failed to capture.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Two

Driving through Etosha from Okajavi to Halali to Natomi

Good morning. We heard lions roaring in the night, but didn’t see them (which is a good thing, since you don’t want lions in your chalet). We had breakfast, checked out the morning view at the water hole (Kudus!) and headed out for a day of driving around Etosha.

Here’s what we saw.
Kudus (At the Okuakuejo waterhole)
Elephants! (At the Olisphantbad Water Hole)
Ostriches (With babies at the Olisphantbad Water Hole)
Kudus (more!)
Zebras (tons)
Springbok (tons)
Wildebeests (tons)

We stop at the Halali rest camp for lunch. Last time Pat was here the tourist shop had sandwiches. But they are out. The place is jammed. We get some ice cream, which will hold us until dinner (we didn’t want to sit down at the restaurant). It’s a bit of an uphill hike to the Halali rest camp’s waterhole, so to spare Mom and Dad’s knees, I decide to run up real quick and see if there is anything worth seeing. I meet some tourists coming down who tell us there are bunch of zebra. As we have seen plenty of zebras, we decide to skip this water hole.

We get to Namutoni rest camp, just in time for the evening rainstorm. This water hole stinks, and you never see anything good at this one. I don’t know why, but my theory is that it’s too close to the road. Our chalet is not nice – indeed it’s the worst place we’ll stay in Namibia. The light bulbs are so dim we can barely see, and the pots and pans provided are really awful. This is a real surprise to me, because when I was in Etosha in 2005, I thought Namutoni was the best of the rest camps. Probably because we stayed in the old German fort, saw a romping clan of mongoose, took a swim, and saw adorable warthogs scurrying around the fort’s courtyard. Also, last time I was in Etosha, the chalet/room Pat and I had in Okuakuejo rest camp was pretty Motel 6.

But here’s the deal, all the places in Etosha are clean. And it seems that the park authority is always fixing up some of the places to stay. Sometimes, you luck out and get the place with the view or frolicking warthogs, sometimes you get the place that’s a bit run down.

Thursday, October 19, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Three

Etosha: Fischer’s Pan on the way to Twee Palms
Drove from Etosha to Rundu

The next morning, I make Mom, Dad and Pat pose for a picture in front of a giant termite mound. I don’t know how I missed this the last time – but just like many people in the US use old tires as gardening opportunities, many Namibians say decide to use giant termite-mounds as the basis of a lovely garden. Trees often grow out of them, so why not add some pretty flowers?

This morning we are going to drive Fischer’s Pan then leave Etosha. However, we don’t get to drive the whole pan due to roadwork. We get as far as Twee Palms (which means Two Palms in Afrikans). All I can say is Giraffes! Giraffes! Giraffes! And more Giraffes! My goodness did we see giraffes!

So, we head the car toward the unmarked Von Lindequist Gate at the eastern end of the park. Between the Namutoni camp and the unmarked Von Lindequist Gate gate, we see even more animals, including:

➢ Female Kudus and babies
➢ Impalas
➢ Giraffes
➢ Zebras

Tonight we will be staying at the Kavango River Lodge, so named because it’s on a high bluff overlooking the Kavango River. The Kavango River is the border between Namibia and Angola, so we relax while the guinea hens run around, and enjoy the view. There are kids down in the very wide marshy banks of the river, setting fires and running around in the water. On the high bluffs on the Namibian side are some nice homes. A bunch of teenagers are playing some music, very loudly, over and over again. Most popular is the dance version of “Time to Say Goodbye.”

That night, we dine at the Kavango River Lodge’s restaurant, which is very good. There are several people there, including a group of AIDs workers, and a reporter for one of the Namibian newspapers accompanying them. She (the reporter) is thrilled to discover that Pat is the secretary to the Ambassador from the US. She gives Pat her card. I’m thinking, what a nice gal. Pat is thinking, “Lady, I still won’t put you through to the ambassador.”

This is my first inkling that Pat doesn’t like to advertise her position because she can’t help people out. It’s like me telling folks, yes I work in publishing; no I can’t help you get your book published.

The room at the Kavango River Lodge was very nice, but it was the first (and last) time that all four of us were in the same room. That was not the best.

Friday, October 20, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Four

Drove from Rundu to Kongola in the East Caprivi.
Today we will drive into the Caprivi Strip – the panhandle of Namibia. Less then 20 miles wide in some spots, the Caprivi Strip is left over from the days of German Colonialism. Rhodes (for whom the former Rhodesia was named, and who also endowed the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford) was building an inter-African railway, and it would pass through Victoria Falls. So, Germany wanted to be sure that they not only had access to Victoria Falls, but that they owned that access.

The Caprivi actually tried to succeed from Namibia, but were not successful. They had some freedom fighters whose trials are still going on and on and on. If it ever gets resolved, it will probably cause some strife in the Caprivi.

Caprivi is the poorest section of Namibia and it’s amazing how different it is from the rest of the country. Literally, the second you drive over the line into the Caprivi, traditional villages such as you would see in National Geographic spring up. In the rest of Namibia, when you see the round houses made of termite-mound-mud or perfectly cut sticks, it’s for the tourists. No one actually lives in it. In Caprivi, this is how the majority of folks still live. A married man gets a bit of land from the chief, and he builds a corral (a large round fence) with several round huts. Each hut is one room, and as the family grows, more huts are added. There are usually nice gazebo-like structures for shade and hanging out.

Think of a barbell. The Caprivi has two bulkier ends (which have modern towns, lodges, gas stations, etc.) connected by a skinny strip, formally called the Caprivi Game Reserve, and more commonly called the Caprivi Strip.

The whole Caprivi Strip is a wildlife preserve. There are no white-owned farms, and no lodges. We will see so many corrals – it’s like cruising through a National Geographic documentary. Artistry is really displayed through the roofs, which are thatch and woven in all sorts of cool and amazing ways. Cattle wander freely during the day, and kids go out and bring them into the corral at night.

The native people who live in the preserve were not forced off the land. Therefore, about every 5 kilometers is a school (built by the current government), and in the bigger villages – Omega, Chetta, Omega III (no Omega II that we could see) are clinics. You can always tell when a school is coming up because the corrals increase.

There are also a lot of water tanks – we estimated about every 2-4 kilometers. Women and kids with buckets on their heads walk along the road to and from the water sources. Also, a basic bus system has been set up, but the bus probably comes only once or twice a day. We saw a lot of bicycles (my idea for a business that can’t miss in Namibia – a bike factory). The Caprivi, like the rest of Namibia, is sparkling clean.

Now we it’s time to turn off the highway, onto the gravel/dirt road, drive past the Mudumu National Park, and pull into the Namushasha Country Lodge on the banks of the Kwando River. They claim they have a sign, but Pat swears they don’t. Certainly, I don’t need a sign, but we know to take a right after the Kongola Service Station.

The Namushasha Country Lodge is a lovely place. We arrived the day a big tour bus left, and the day before another tour bus arrived. So there were very few people at the lodge. Consequently, we got some amazing rooms. It was all very African chic, with balconies overlooking the river, and beautiful beds redolent with romantic mosquito netting.

One of the other couples staying at the lodge asks about the boat tour. The employees ask us if we would like a boat tour. Sure! A phone call is made, and we are told to be ready at 4:00.

This was a terrific boat tour. Mom, Dad, Pat and I got one boat and the other couple got another. We set out along the Kwando River and see some of the most amazing birds and antelope in the distance. Basta (not sure of that spelling) our guide also makes water lilly necklaces for Mom, Pat and I. He pulls out a read and feeds us the roots (it tastes like water). He shows us papyrus! Dad, starts asking questions and we eventually discover that Basta is something of a conservative. He is, by the rules of his tribe, waiting until he is 35 to marry, and his grandparents will choose his wife. Basta’s almost 35, so we wish him good luck. He has worked for Namushasha for many years. He regrets that he had to leave school. The Caprivi schools (and many of the schools outside of the major towns) only go up so far, then if you have the grades, you have to go to a school in one of the towns. The school is free, but you have to either have a relative you can live with, or find/pay for your own room and board. He had an uncle who had the money, but didn’t help out. So Basta got a job at Namushasha. He started out working on the grounds, moved up to the kitchen, then into maintenance, then became a junior guide, spent his own money to get the books and learned about all the animals, birds, fish, and plants, and today is the head guide for the Namushasha lodge.

Mom, Dad, Pat and I all agree that Basta is quite a catch, and we hope his grandmother picks out a nice girl for him. And I’m pretty sure that Basta’s kids will go all the way through to high school, and college if he has anything to say about it.

We had a lovely dinner, and then went back to our African-chic rooms for a shower and a relaxing night. That’s when I see the spider. The chef, who is the lodge employee sent to our room after I run to the lodge and say, “there’s a huge yellow thing we think might be a scorpion in our shower” identifies it as a water spider. It’s big, it’s yellow, and it has HORNS! Pat was trying to kill it with an umbrella, but it was far too tough. By the time the chef has come on in, the spider is absolutely terrified. Armed with a water glass and a piece of paper, Spidey is caught and freed. The chef wishes us a good night. Pat also tosses out a large black bug. Then she starts killing the smaller ones swarming around our room.

Mom and Dad don’t have nearly as many bugs as Pat and I do (our rooms have a connecting door). I wonder why that is. Oh, there is a hole in our screen. I shut the window. Pat lets down the mosquito netting, and we sleep under the fine gauzy tent all night. There is nothing romantic about it. We were slapping at imaginary critters all night.

Saturday, October 21, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Five

From Kongola to Katima Mulilo.
We awake. Mom is not feeling well. She must have eaten some Kudu that disagreed with her. Dad, Pat and I go to breakfast. The staff unlocks the gift shop for me, and I get to wander through the place, with no helpful sales person or other tourist bothering me. Consequently, I take my time, pick up every item, and end up buying lizard magnets for the gals at work, a necklace for myself, and a toothpick holder for Dad for Christmas.

I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in a gift shop. I mean, this thing was the size of an American’s luxury bathroom, but I made the full circle at least six times. I think it’s the equivalent of being in a department store at night. The whole place is yours. Go ahead, try it, sample it, take what you want.

Back in the room Mom is still a bit out of it, but she is feeling well enough to ride in the car. We decide to drive straight though to the Caprivi River Lodge (at the end of the strip) on the banks of the Zambezi River. We decide to skip the heritage village, which is the Caprivi version of Colonial Williamsburg. You get to see native crafts, singing and dancing. I really don’t like those sort of things, so while mom apologizes for ruining our good time, I tell her (truthfully) that I’m grateful. I was going to go along and be a good sport, but I’m thrilled to be out of it. Especially since, as the youngest woman, I probably would have been pulled up to dance. The only thing I regret is that these heritage villages are apparently the only places to buy hippo calls. Pat has one at her house, and it really does sound like a hippo.

As we are about to turn back on to the highway that will take us through the Caprivi Strip proper, Pat stops for gas at the Kongola Service Station. There are no gas stations for the next 2.5 hours of driving, and it’s best to be filled up. Across the road is the craft center – but it’s closed. As I am taking pictures of the flame trees, I spot the sign for Namushasha Country Lodge. Yes, there is a sign. Of course, it’s a good 25 ft off the highway, and as Americans, we do expect the signs to be a bit closer to the road. That actually makes it easier to see.

The Caprivi River Lodge on the banks of the Zambezi River is terrific, just don’t talk to the owner who feels free to make comments to me about how crazy those Americans are having women in the government (Condoleza Rice). Look at your ambassador to Namibia. Yes, not only are they woman you jackass (I think, don’t say) but they’re black too. I wonder, “does he know he’s insulting me?” No, he probably doesn’t.

Something that will really stand out for me is that the deeper we get into the Caprivi, the more belligerent the white people get. They talk about “the war.” This is the Namibian war of independence against South Africa. One guess as to which side these guys were on. I think they’re very disappointed that Namibia is doing so well, and I believe they are waiting eagerly for the country to go bust. The white owners of the lodges we stay in treat the black employees like servants. They also have really sexist attitudes toward women. In short, I thought calling men pigs was something you did in 1972. But I assure you these fellows are bacon. By the way, their wives are the ones actually running the lodges.

But the river is lovely, and we watch Craprivians ride down the river in canoes (waving to the tourist taking pictures – that would be me), and gaze out to Botswana across the way. Also, the shaded patio where we eat is in need of repair, and two men are working on the thatch. That alone gives Dad something to watch for a good hour. I take pictures.

We’re asked if we want to go on a boat ride and I immediately say yes. I mean, what else is there to do? If you travel to Africa, bring a book. Bring cards. I mean, after the animals go to bed (mid afternoon) there is not that much to do. Unlike the men of the Caprivi, I cannot drink and talk about the war all day.

Pat however is unenthusiastic. It seems last time she stayed here with our Aunt Louise, her pal, and our cousin once removed, Michelle, the boat ride consisted of some drunken teenagers running them up and down the river while they hit on Michelle.

This time, it was much better. Getting Mom and Dad down the steep incline of the bank was a bit of chore, but it was accomplished. And because Mom couldn’t manage the step up onto the boat, one of the guides just picked her up and plopped her onto the deck.

It was a lovely trip. The two guys running the boat are older, and between drinking beers and reminiscing about the war and airing their right-wing views, they make sure we get to see some hippos. And, they had a lot to say about our huge, water-loving friends. First, hippos don’t swim. They walk along the bottom of the river. They also like to play in the wakes of boats, and our guides got one running along the lakebed, jumping up and down in our wake.

Because they don’t swim, but like to be mostly submerged, hippos are drawn to shallow rivers. For the most part you see their ears and their backs. But occasionally one opens it massive mouth, sticks out its shocking pink tongue, and yawns. It’s better than Disney.

More people are killed in Africa by peaceful hippos than by any other creature. This happens when pleasure boaters speed into mostly submerged hippos. Or, when folks decide to picnic on the nice sandy stretch of the otherwise reedy lakeshore. That sandy stretch was most likely made by hippos (see that path?). A hippo spying picnickers between it and land/lake will become threatened. It doesn’t think, oh great, tourists. It thinks, SOMETHING IS TRYING TO KEEP ME FROM THE RIVER!!!!! It will charge. Picnickers die. Sometimes people just play their music too loud. And though hippos are pretty loud themselves (and are nocturnal) they don’t like other creatures being loud. Please, turn off the pop music.

It was a nice group of people on the boat, including two Peace Core volunteers named Jennifer and another girls whose name I forgot. They were staying at the Hippo Lodge down the road, and were really enjoying the cable. Both were working on advanced degrees in political science, and could use their time in the Peace Core to earn credits toward their degrees. They work with kids.

Later, I wandered around the grounds taking pictures of beautiful flowers, and encountered a lizard at least two feet long. Though I had my camera, he moved too quickly for me to get a shot. You’ll just have to trust me. He was big. He could have made a sizable dinner for four.

Sunday, October 22, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Six

From Katima Mulilo we travel through Botswana to Zimbabwe to see Victoria Falls.

This is what we are doing today – we are traveling from Namibia, through Botswana, to visit Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. We could have gone to the Zambia side, but it’s “perfect for hiking” or “not good for your elderly parents.” The Zimbabwe side is like the Canadian side of Niagara Falls – you’ll have the better view. Also, it’s been very developed, and it has smooth paths. Sounds easy, right?

Starting from the Engen Gas Station in Katima Mulilo at 6:45 AM.
➢ 7:30 Get out at the Namibian border. Get your passport stamped.
➢ Drive over the bridge.
➢ Stop at the Botswana border.
➢ Drive the car through the chemical that will stop the transmission of hoof and mouth disease, stamp your shoes up and down on the sponge full of the chemical to prevent the spread of hoof and mouth disease.
➢ Get your passport stamped. Get out of paying the fee for entering the country because your sister is a diplomat.
➢ While Pat is filling out the paperwork on the car, take the time to enjoy the view. The Border is set up on a bluff, and view over the valley into Namibia is really lovely. Also, this will be your first look at the giant ______ trees.
➢ 8:00 Begin your drive through Botswana.
➢ Stop at the entrance to the Chobe National Park in Botswana, watch Pat get out and run over to the guard shack to sign something so that we can enter the park.
➢ Drive through the park. WATERBUFFALO! A whole herd! Oooo, look Mountain Zebras, which are not the same as the Plains Zebras we’ve seen in Etosha. Check out the herd of Roan (a kind of deer), monkeys, baboons, warthogs, Tawny Eagles, and Ground Hornbills.
➢ 8:30 At the end of the park watch Pat hop out of the car to sign out of the park.
➢ Enter Kasane, Botswana – a town devoted to the tourist trade provided by Chobe National Park. Notice how less clean it is than Namibia. Check to make sure if the gas stations (I think there are two) actually have gas. Sometimes they run out. They usually get gas within 24 hours, but then you have to spend the night in Botswana. If you need gas, get it now. Zimbabwe probably won’t have gas, and if they do, you will pay an astronomical amount. Go to the ATM, withdraw some Botswana dollars, and fill up your tank.
➢ Hit the Y in the road, and take the completely unmarked left so you’ll head toward the border and not head south into Botswana.
➢ Realize that you are heading south into Botswana. Turn around.
➢ Hit the Botswana border. Get out and get your passport stamped.
➢ Hit the Zimbabwe border. Get out and get your passport stamped. Pay for the privilege of entering Zimbabwe (this changes, we actually get in for $30). Pay for the car’s right to enter Zimbabwe – this is based on engine size. Pat did not know her engine size and later found out she overpaid.
➢ 10:00 Enter Zimbabwe
➢ Drive to Victoria Falls.
➢ 10:50 Arrive at Victoria Falls. Park in a gated parking lot, where locals yell to you through the bars to buy their souvenirs. Cross the street and pay $20 American to enter the park. You must have American money to enter the park. This means that the majority of Zimbabweans are not able to view their national landmark.
Total time: Four hours and five minutes.

Walk around and enjoy Victoria Falls. Luckily, the water wasn’t high because when it is the mist is so prevalent that you cannot actually see the falls. However, the mist was rocking. The falls were amazing. The flowers were beautiful. My camera’s battery died. On the way out I really began to notice how rundown the park is. Also, once away from the mist, it’s really hot. Miserably hot. It was hard on Pat and me, let alone Mom and Dad. There are benches, but they’re in the boiling sun. When the mist is really strong, this area is probably as lush as the area near the falls. But now it’s dead and baking.

Back in the fenced parking lot, Dad buys a walking stick for $10 American from one of the many people desperately hawking stuff through the bars. Later when we compare his two walking sticks, I will opine that I like the color of the Zimbabwean stick better, but that the carving on the Namibian stick is superior.

We then drove to the Victoria Falls Hotel to have a drink and some ice cream. We weren’t all that hungry because the lodge had packed a breakfast for us that consisted of 12 hard boiled eggs, eight sandwiches, more than four apples, and orange juice. Later, back at the Lodge, they told us they had packed a smaller breakfast since Americans don’t eat that much. And if you’re wondering – we didn’t finish it.

The economy is so bad that in order to buy two post cards and a little booklet on the falls for Mom (which came to $30 American!!) I had to have one receipt drawn up by the gift shop clerk (about 15 minutes), then was escorted from the gift shop over to the hotel cashier, then have a the hotel cashier do actually take my credit card and put the purchase through. The family got so tired of waiting for me, they went out, got the car, and came around front to pick me up. Then they sat there. I did use the facilities before leaving and got the only thing free in Zimbabwe’s retched economy. A sanitary bag from the ladies room stamped with the seal of Victoria Falls Hotel.

Why has Zimbabwe fallen on such hard economic times? That would be Robert Mugabe, the crazy president. When I was last in Namibia, Zimbabwe had just held presidential elections. Mugabe almost lost – and the election was fixed! All the commentators on Namibian TV were like, wow, can you believe he almost lost? The dictator is loosing his touch if he nearly looses a fixed election!

Mugabe is nuts. His idea of land reform was taking control of many of the white-owned farms (and throwing about 150,000 blacks out of work), giving the better land to his friends and family, and then allowing veterans of his various battles to claim land – without providing them agricultural supplies or training. Not surprisingly, Zimbabwe is now having trouble feeding itself.

Interestingly, since Zimbabwe under Mugabe supported SWAPO’s battle for independence against South Africa, the first Namibian president, Sam Nujoma always refused to speak out against Mugabe. The current Namibian president, Hifikepunye Pohamba has made it clear that the sooner Mugabe “steps down from office,” the better it will be for all of Africa.

The thing is, there’s not that much to do in Victoria Falls except see the falls (which are worth seeing) and have an over-priced lunch. There are lots of shops, but since I just paid $5 per postcard, I would not recommend actually buying anything there. I don’t think we spent three hours in Zimbabwe. And while yes, it was faster going back (since leaving Zimbabwe takes far less time then entering, and we didn’t make a wrong turn) it’s still a long drive. And, it was on the return that Pat got a few Botswanan dollars in order to fill up her gas tank JUST IN CASE. But we were back in Namibia before the sun set. Heck, we were back at the lodge before it got dark, and we pulled over at a local Namibian government run craft center and proceeded to buy the place out.

Why Mom, Pat and I were investing in the future of Namibia by supporting local crafts people, Dad was hanging out in the car. But he then decided to come into the craft center and check out the prices on the walking sticks. The craft center was right next to a tree with a picnic table and several people, including little kids were hanging out chatting and eating. When Dad got out of the car, one of the very little ones let out a shriek, and ran terrorized to his mother. Everyone hanging out under the tree is simultaneously laughing and trying to comfort the child. Dad is laughing too. For the rest of the trip he cannot get out of a car without one of saying, “Don’t scare the children!”

At this craft center I bought 5 sachets. They were woven from some grass, and stuffed with some nice smelly grass that I really liked. I thought these would make excellent gifts for my girlfriends because (1) if they don’t like it, they are absolutely justified in sticking it in a drawer and (2) if they don’t like the scent, they can untie the little woven bag and dump out the grass and replace it with whatever they want. Also, Namibia smells so good. Perhaps it’s because we are there in the spring, but roll down the windows and inhale while you can.

Back at the Lodge, we have a drink and dinner and go to bed.

Monday, October 23, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Seven
We travel to Ndhovu Safari Lodge, in Divundu.

We check out of the lodge and head over to the town of Katima Mulilo to check out the government sponsored craft center. The main entrance is under construction, and because this is a main tourist draw, there is no sign directing you to go around, drive up an unmarked road, and park in the back.

When Pat was here a year ago the Katima Mulilo craft center was one building with several rooms, a courtyard for locals to set up their stalls, and smaller store fronts with gates, also for locals to sell their wares. Now, the courtyard is being remodeled, a café was being built (we peered in through the windows and could see the bar and the bathrooms), more permanent store fronts are being added, and in the back, where we parked, there are more of the gated-store fronts and a thriving market for your daily needs such as plastic containers, live chickens, and kitchen wares.

It’s just amazing how much economic prosperity is on display in Namibia. Here we are in the poorest region of the country, and commerce is commencing. Everyone is building. Heck, even when traveling through the Caprivi Strip, all we saw was folks building more and more round huts and expanding their corrals. And it becomes more apparent after traveling through Botswana (which is still doing pretty well, but the conditions for the poor are much more squalid) and Zimbabwe (which is teetering on the edge of chaos).

This was an excellent craft center, and though I needed nothing, I bought. One sees these lovely things for so little money, one finds oneself filled with an acquisitive lust. I consoled myself that if I couldn’t find a place for these lovely items in my apartment in NYC, I’d give them away as gifts. Of course, the minute I got back to NYC I did regain my senses, and decided to give the adorable basket with lid to Tim and Greg as a host gift at Thanksgiving, and the bowl with giraffes to Bonnie and Gil Glotzer as a Hanukah gift.

Mom bought stuff. Pat bought stuff. Perhaps Pat inadvertently inspired me by saying if she likes something, she buys it. After all, all the money at the government sponsored craft centers goes directly to the crafts person. And, if when she gets it home and realizes she already has six carved giraffes, she puts it in the gift closet. She is never without a nice gift.

We could drive back through the Caprivi Strip today, but we’re going to stop off near Divindu instead. There’s a really nice lodge with lots of hippos, which I had personally requested we stay at, because I wanted to see hippos. Of course, we had just seen hippos two days ago, and as this was day 7 of The Great Trek, I was sort of kicking myself. But, what the heck, it’ll be nice to see more hippos, won’t it?

We pull off at another craft center where Dad has a swell time with some very little kids (who are apparently, not terrified of him).

To waste some more time we stop at Popa Falls Park. Popa Falls is a park and campground, and it has a nice little restaurant that serves sandwiches. Knowing that Namibian sandwiches are huge, we order two, and split them. We run into some nice Australians who have run out of gas, and have only a few Namibian dollars (no ATMS in this area), which they plan to use to buy gas. The gas station is expecting a delivery later this afternoon. Luckily, Popa Falls takes credit cards, and the Australians (who are driving all over Africa) were smart enough to throw a tent into the car (side note, the next morning the station does have gas, so the Australians got off ok).

We decide to drive down to see the falls, but the road gets too bumpy for the car, and we’re pretty sure Mom and Dad will not be able to make the final hike. Besides, we understand that Popa Falls are not wildly impressive – and we have just seen Victoria – so we turn the car around, and head to the Ndhovu Safari Lodge, in Divundu.

If you stay anywhere in Namibia, stay at the Ndhovu Safari Lodge. After Mr. Piggy-Pig at the last lodge, it’s a pleasure to be greeted by owner Horst Kock – a man devoted to Africa, proud of Namibia, and truly concerned about all of his employees. He’s such a nice guy.

Horst sells Penzo Pottery in a little hut on the grounds. This is absolutely beautiful stuff from Zimbabwe, and is becoming harder to come by as under Mugabe’s presidential term for life, a paintbrush probably cost $14 American right now. However, Horst tells us that the Disney Company has reached an agreement with Penzo to do some sort of pottery for it’s theme park stores. Dear God, if anyone can save the Penzo line, it’s The Mouse.

I bought a sugar bowl and creamer.

Have I mentioned that hippos have been bellowing away? I change into my swimsuit and hang out by the pool listening to the snorting/harrumphing/calls of the “water horses.” The rest of the traveling companions join me. Pat and I cannot believe how gorgeous that guy is. We think they might be Italian, and if all men aged that well, women would not be called the fairer sex.

We pass on the boat trip because we’ve done two boat trips on The Great Trek, and this one appears to already be bought out by the Germans. There is a huge party of Germans (some who live in South Africa and Australia) staying in the camping area of the lodge. Their journey is part of a birthday celebration. We figure, by default, that the tour will be in German.

We walk down to a little dock and watch hippos frolic. They are in the distance, but you do not get close to hippos (see my comments about them killing more people in Africa than any other animal). It’s fun to watch them, and they make the most bizarre noises. One of the German ladies comes down to fish off the little dock, and almost immediately gets her expensive hook/weight caught on some really tough grass. It’s an enjoyable half hour watching hippos and her determined attempts to free her hook. As we walk away, I turn back for a moment and see her stripping down to go into the water and get her hook back. She’s braving the hippos, crocodiles and flukes (small creatures who burrow into your skin and lay eggs). Later I’ll discover that flukes only like still water, so you won’t find them in rivers. I’ll also realize she’s in – at the max – two feet of water, so would see any hippos. However, the crocodiles are still a threat.

For the record, I did see her at breakfast the next morning.

So, what with all the Germans and all the chalets full, every place in the big dining gazebo is taken. We are seated in “the bar” which is separated from the actual “dining room” by a three-foot high wall that’s only the length of our table – so it’s really more of an area-delineator than a wall. They are so short on plates that we see Horst running over to the Penzo store for more plates (he uses all Penzo-ware anyway). And there will be none of this two-forks at the place setting. Hang on to your fork please.

Horst tells us that there will be entertainment tonight. Oh, swell. Is that drumming? Yes, they’re having a celebration in the nearby village. Wow, how cool. We assume that this is the entertainment, and using a flashlight, Pat and I escort Mom and Dad back to their chalet/tent. As we walk by the dining gazebo, Horst tells us we must come back. The staff has put together something special for tonight. It was all their idea, and we must come see it. Pat and I obediently turn back, collect Mom and Dad, and take our seats once again.

The entire staff has turned out to sing for the German Gentleman’s birthday. Some of the staff are in costume – the women are in grass skirts with these amazing grass wigs, which I really cannot describe. Others are wearing their regular work clothes. Some of the men have drums. They walk, sort-of-dance-step in singing:

You are welcome
You are welcome
You are welcome
To Ndhovu Lodge

The woman in front is leading the singing, and she carries flowers and a lighted candle in what appears to be a mayonnaise jar. This is given to the birthday boy. Next we are treated to a chorus of “Happy Birthday To You”, followed by “How Old Are You Now?”

And now that the niceties are out of the way, the evening really begins. Assembling themselves into a semi-circle, the staff has a quick whispered consultation, and with that the concert begins. I have no idea what they were singing, but it was amazing. Yes, I know it’s common knowledge that the call and response of gospel and spirituals comes out of Africa, but that night we all saw it. One person takes the lead, and with an eruption of harmony, the rest pick up the song.

At some point, Dad leans over to Horst and says something along the lines of, you’ll be passing the hat for them, won’t you? Horst gets this expression on his face like Dad has just suggested we slice the bread before putting it in the bag. Now Horst becomes obsessed with finding the perfect sized bowl to pass. That bowl turns out to be the one sitting on the bar wall, right behind my chair.

Since, of course, we didn’t bring our wallets to dinner, once the concert ends, I run (with flashlight) to the chalet/tent that Pat and I share, and grab the kitty. I should have grabbed Pat’s camera, but I didn’t want to take the time to look for it. Drat. Remember the first rule of Namibia is never go anywhere without the camera.

Horst tried to get Dad to take the bowl around, but Dad gave it to our waiter and told him to do it. The wallets open, the money comes out. So, were all standing around talking when suddenly, from the entrance to the bar, where the staff has gathered around the young man with the now full tip bowl, comes this high-pitched yip-yip-yipping and the singing resumes.

Look, if someone helps you with your bags, you give them $0.50 Namibian. That night, we put $20 into that bowl – and I think a lot of people were much more generous.

And the singing is going on and on and on. We finally give in, grab the flashlight, and take Mom and Dad back to their chalet/tent. Back in our chalet/tent, I take a shower and mention to Pat that it’s 11:00. That’s the latest we’ve stayed up on The Great Trek. Just as we’re getting into bed I ask Pat, “Is that German?”

Yes, one of the German’s is now serenading the African staff with what sounds like a lullaby. It’s gorgeous. Then softly, the drums begin. And so we are sung to sleep in German with excellent rhythm.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
The Great Trek Continues
Day Eight

Breakfast stops serving at 9:30, and Pat and I almost miss it. Mom and Dad are already there. They were up at 5 AM, and saw a hippo family frolicking.

According to Horst, the Germans and the staff were up until 2 AM. Yet, breakfast is jammed. We tell Horst that the performance last night was fantastic. Horst is insistent that we tell the staff that. It was all their idea. They deserve the compliment, not them. Heck, you compliment Horst on the food and he’ll ask you to go over to the kitchen and tell the cook (which one of the Germans does). So, when the ladies wrap up our Penzo pottery we say thank you, and thank you for last night. When we are helped with our luggage, we say thank you and thanks for last night. When we walk past the groundskeepers we say last night was wonderful, thank you.

So, after getting gas (and thinking about the Australians) we head off back through the Caprivi Game Reserve and out of the Caprivi. Tonight we will stop at the Khorab Safari Lodge (Place of Rough Stones) in Otavi. You basically stop here because it’s the place to break your journey between Etosha and Windhoek. I’m thinking, heck it’s only four more hours; we can push on through. But by the time we get to Otavi, I’m ready to stop. Driving through Africa can really wear you out.

It’s too chilly to go in the pool, so Pat and I play Uno. Then we have dinner. Mom, Dad, Pat and I make our nightly toast, “We’re still talking to each other!”

Wednesday, October 25, 2006.
The Great Trek Ends
Day Nine

The most interesting thing that happened on the journey home is that I had to hop out of the car to open the gate to the Khorab Safari Lodge so Pat could drive the car through. Right behind us were a bunch of South Africans who had also been staying at the lodge. They tipped me for opening the gate (it was a joke, but I made $5 Namibian).

Since I was the self-appointed water girl on The Great Trek, I’ll take this time to rate the various types of bottled water available in Namibia.
➢ Nestley - fine
➢ Bonaqua (Ocke) – not so great
➢ Hex Valley (South Africa) – ok.
➢ Gesundbrun – from Karstveld area of Norther Namibia – I didn’t like this one
➢ Rhino for Erongo – Thank you for your support * Omaruru Beverages – fine, and I think you’re helping to save rhinos.

Namibians are very proud of their water. It’s clean. It’s well managed. They aren’t draining lakes and underground reserves in order to “make the desert bloom” or create wide expanses of green lawns. However, I don’t like the taste of Namibian water. Sorry.

We pull into Pats and start doing laundry. It’s a beautiful, hot day, and I make Pat help me pull the tarp off the pool. Unfortunately the pool vacuum had a kink in the hose, so it was not traveling around the pool sucking up pool dirt. So the bottom of the pool is dirty. I don’t care. I’m in there. Soon, Dad is in his swimsuit playing pool boy, vacuuming away. Mom comes out and makes him put on his hat. Then Mom and Pat are both get into their suits and hop into the pool. We were in there for a couple of hours. It felt so good to float around in the warm water and just relax.

That night we had Kentucky Fried Chicken. Alas, you cannot get the Colonel’s biscuits in Namibia.

Thursday, October 26, 2006.
The Small Trek

We’re taking off again today for a quick overnight trip to Swapkomund and Walvis (pronounced Walvish) Bay. So, we are packing a lot less. But first, it’s time to visit the Embassy of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia.

Pat works for Joyce A. Barr, Ambassador of the United States of America To the Republic of Namibia. Pat apparently hates having to serve tea a cookies (IE be a waitress) when Joyce has guests, so Joyce has made sure that we have tea and cookies. When we pose for pictures, Dad gets to sit in the ambassador’s chair. I’m wearing a t-shirt and Capris, so I assure you, this was not a formal affair.

Then it’s back to the parking lot of the American Embassy of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia, and we’re off to the Skeleton Coast.
It takes about 2-3 hours to drive to the coast. The land goes from green and rolling, to flat dessert, to the rolling dunes of the Skeleton Coast. On the way out see some ostriches, some baboons, and the Uranium mines. There is also an extensive pipeline, which we later find out brings fresh water to the mines.

We arrive in Swapkomund and the air is wet and heavy (the ocean is right over there) and I worry that I didn’t bring a pair of jeans. But in just walking around the shops we quickly warm up. I finally find one of those white oval stickers which people put on the back of their cars to tell you where they are from. For example, if you’re from South Africa the white oval sticker reads, ZA. If you’re from Namibia, your white oval sticker reads, NAM. This cracks me up. And when I buy the sticker I explain to the woman behind the counter that in America most people will think our sticker refers to Vietnam. Either she gets the joke, or she’s smart enough to pretend she gets it.

Dad gets one too, but his NAM sticker also has the symbol of Namibia (Kudus) and the flag.

Now it’s time to head south along the coast to Walvis Bay where we will be staying tonight. It’s a bout half-hour drive. On your left (east) are the wild Lawrence of Arabia dunes. On the right (west) is the ocean. Between Swapkomund and Walvish Bay are a few small developments, including Long Beach. Not even a ¼ of a mile long, Long Beach has some cottages and a few lodges, including The Burning Sands. Yes! The Burning Sands is the place where Brad and Angelina stayed while awaiting the birth of Baby Shiloh.

We stop and take a picture. The guy who would take your luggage and tell you where to park your car laughs at me – as well he should. I really cannot stress how un-secluded and un-proposing The Burning Sands is. Pat and some gals from the Embassy had rented a little apartment in Long Beach while Brad and Angelina were there. I’m guessing it would have been a five-minute walk from their place to The Burning Sands if they had walked slowly, or could have penetrated the international press gauntlet.

By the way, the folks at the American Embassy (of the United States of America to the Republic of Namibia) were all excited that Brad and Angelina would have to come into the Embassy to secure a passport and social security number for their bundle of joy. Joyce, however, decided she didn’t want to deal with all the hoopla, and dashed everyone’s hopes by declaring that the appropriate officials would go to Brad and Angelina.

So, the proper officials numbered two, but a third person tagged along simply because she was a big fan of Brad’s. While the two who actually needed to be there put together the passport and issued the social security number, Brad’s number one fan – knowing Brad is into architecture – casually let drop that the US will be building a new embassy in Windhoek. They chatted happily.

No, they didn’t see the kids (nap time) though Angelina offered (no, as long as you say this is a picture of your kid, we’re ok with that). All three did get pictures with the glamorous couple.

We’re staying at The Pelican Bay Hotel which was officially opened on the 12thNovember 2003 by His Excellency, Dr. Sam Nujoma, The President of the Republic of Namibia (I read the plaque). We chose this hotel because every place in Swapkomund, Long Beach and Walvis Bay is booked, and Pat had to have someone at the Embassy pull in favors to get us the rooms. It’s right next to the Walvis Bay Yacht Club (sounds much grander than it is) and The Raft restaurant where Pat and I ate last time I was in Africa.

On that trip, Pat and I were dazzled by the flamingos, which flew around the lagoon as we ate. This time, we are dazzled by the Raft’s expansion. And, we cannot believe the size of the crowd – every table is taken. The place is packed. The meal is excellent, and Dad cannot get over the fact that the bill for four meals, with alcohol, and dessert, comes to about $50 American – with tip. The coffee isn’t good, but there is not good coffee to be had in Namibia.

Friday, October 27, 2006
Pelican Tours

Today is our final boat tour. Mom gets a bit concerned when she sees that the boat is a bit smaller than she envisioned. But the captain (who can’t believe that Pat has brought another group of tourists on his boat) brings her into the enclosed area, and gets her comfortable. We zip around the actual bay of Walvis Bay, enjoying the beautiful day and seeing:
➢ 2 kinds of Dolphins
➢ 2 kinds of Whales (one of which was called a “right whale” by American whalers, because it was the right sort of whale to kill and harvest)
➢ Gulls
➢ Pelicans (flying right along the boats_
➢ Cormorants
➢ Flamingos

We get a champagne brunch featuring local oysters; and since not a lot of folks on the boat seem to be into the oysters, Dad, Pat and I feel free to make absolute pigs of ourselves.

Then it’s off the boat, and goodbye to the Skeleton Coast. On the way back, I swear we saw the same 4 ostriches that we saw on our way out.

Pat is so tired, that she pulls over and asks me to drive. If anyone remembers my last trip to Africa where we got in a big snit about driving, you might be as surprised as I was. I drove for about an hour and Dad told me he thought I was a better driver than Pat. He said this when Pat was out of the car, but I made sure she knew he said that. I don’t know if Dad just said that to give me a pat on the head, or if he truly believed it but – Thanks Dad! I love you very much!

Back at Pat’s we relax. Tomorrow is our last day for a bit of shopping, and more importantly it’s the day of Pat’s party.

Saturday, October 28, 2006
I’m not going into detail about Pat, Mom and mine’s last chance dash through Windhoek to buy stuff we don’t need. I got Christmas ornaments.

No, the big news is that after two years in Namibia, and living in a house that could easily accommodate 100 –150 guests for a cocktail party – Pat is using her parents’ visit as an excuse to throw a party. Being my sister, a woman who has no interest in cooking, she has arranged to have the even catered. We are having kabobs, potato salad, buns, beer, wine, soda, veggie crudités, and snacks. The caterer is also working Octoberfest in downtown Windhoek (guess what – they’re German!), so we got two teenage boys working the barbeque. I give them beer. They like me.

Pat knows from experience that all the embassy people always drink wine and hardly drink beer. So of course, everyone drank beer and the wine was practically untouched.

Now, not everyone at the embassy is in the Foreign Service. I’ve met folks who work for the civil service, the Department of Agriculture, the DEA (in Malaysia – they don’t seem to have a drug trade in Namibia), the various branches of the military, the Center for Disease Control (not a government agency at all!) and the UN. But if you’re traveling the world, and you get a new assignment every few months, you got to know how to mingle. It was a great party and I met a lot of great people.

I was chatting with _____ whose daughter Lilly is adopted from China. As Lilly demonstrated her uncanny ability to walk along the tops of coolers, I told ______ that when visiting Pat in Israel I had heard about the only couple to ever adopt a boy out of China. Oh, she knows two couples that got boys from China. One of the boys had no earlobes, which is why he was put up for adoption. That stunned me. It doesn’t seem that disfiguring to me, and if you want your son to have earlobes, I’m guessing the pediatrician could make two quick snips.

Later, my friend Margaret Pai tells me that in Chinese tradition, long earlobes mean a long life. So no earlobes marked this little boy for a short life.

The things you learn.

I also promise sets of Naomi Novik’s fantasy trilogy to ______ and ______ (you can always find another geek if you just shout out – Who likes Star Trek? Lord of the Rings? Anyone?).

And, I listen to a lot of folks gush about how great my sister is. Which is quite nice. But if they think she’s terrific, they must be really impressed by me.

Sunday, October 29, 2006.
We are leaving today around noon. So we are going to go to an early mass at the Seminary rather than go to the later mass at the Cathedral. Pat’s never really liked the Cathedral in Windhoek as the sermon is in German, and the organist play everything like a dirge. When our Aunt Louise visited, they lucked out and got superb visiting musicians at the Cathedral.

Well, once again, we luck out. The Seminary church is very small. The priest appears to be Indian. And the seminary students sing like Ladysmith Mugumbo on Paul Simon’s Graceland. There are about 9-11 seminary students, and the sound that erupts out of them is stunning. They sing traditional hymns in that distinctive 400-part harmony with a great rhythm. They sing hymns in other languages. It’s the priest’s birthday, so they sing Happy Birthday, and throw in a second chorus:

May God bless you now.
May God bless you now.
May God bless you father.
May God bless you now.

After mass Dad is congratulating the priest on his birthday, and compliments him on the music. The priest (who definitely has an Indian accent) shakes his head and says, he knows, the music is amazing. He’s still not used to it. And the seminary students don’t even practice the hymns.

We have plenty of time before we have to get to the airport. We’re all packed and content to sit around. I find myself curled up in a chair reading a book during my last few hours in Africa. Soon, we’re off to the airport.

The only exciting thing to report about our flight home is that we shared it with two Lionesses. On departing South Africa the pilot informed us that the lions were on their way to Washington, DC (the National Zoo, perhaps?), and seemed very tickled to have the additional passengers. During our refueling stop in Dakar, we switch pilots. This pilot is also highly pleased to be ferrying lions. He tells us he went down to the cargo hold to check on them – that they are ladies, they are drugged, and they are right under business class.

Well, South African Airlines gets us and the lionesses into Washington, DC right on time. Vincent is waiting to pick up Mom and Dad. I tip him $10 Namibian, hug Mom and Dad goodbye, and hop the plane back to NYC.

Coda: Pat’s next assignment is Dhaka, Bangladesh. I swear I am not going.

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