Author: cora and cw

:: notes from lesotho ::

We love to spread the news about how wonderful Lesotho is.  Thanks to the wonderful network of Foreign Service bloggers, we were able to do just that.  Ania at The New Diplomat’s Wife blog has a great little side feature called Notes from the Field in which she highlights a different post around the world every so often.

Cora reached out about featuring Maseru and Lesotho, and Ania was more than happy to give us a slot.  It was great to be able to write about this fantastic place that we love so much and hopefully help other people, both in and out of the Foreign Service, to learn a little more about this hidden gem!

Check out our feature on her blog here: http://www.thenewdiplomatswife.com/2015/10/notes-from-the-field-maseru-lesotho.html

:: visions of namibia ::

For two weeks we ventured through the vast expanse of Namibia and though we covered around 5000 kilometres of the country, we still don’t feel like we really saw the place.  This is a country that takes your breath away at nearly every turn and will leave your brain desperately trying to make sense of the awesome size, beauty and richness of the environment.  Two weeks, two months, two years, none would be sufficient to truly experience this vast country.  All we really know is that we will find a way back here to find new adventures out in this awesome wilderness.

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Search our blog for keyword Namibia to read about some amazing adventures in this gorgeous country.

:: to the edge of the abyss ::

If there is anywhere that truly encapsulates the awesome expanse of nature in Namibia, it is Fish River Canyon. Standing on the edge of the world’s second largest canyon, you can only stare out with wonder over the chasm stretching before you.  There is little vegetation, or water most of the time, and therefore all you see is the curving gash of the earth below rocky plains and ancient mountains.

All the way in the far southern part of the country, the Fish River, like many rivers in Namibia, only flows when there are heavy or persistent rainfalls.  This was not always the case obviously and much of the canyon was formed millions of years ago when the African and South American continents split apart, causing a massive shift in the topography of this part of Namibia and allowing the then very full Fish River to carve its way through the terrain.  Standing atop the rim near the tastefully designed visitor centre, you can’t help but gaze into the open space and wonder at the power of water to affect the natural environment.

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Not far from the visitor centre is the start of a four day hike through the canyon, a rite of passage for many hard core distance trekkers as once you descend, there is no way out until you reach the end 85 kilometres later (unless you want a helicopter evac!).  We did hike into the canyon from the end point of this monstrous hike, the Ai-Ais hot springs, and literally just going a couple of kilometres into the sandy, sun-baked terrain made us appreciate the achievement of the full hike.

Our campsite at Hobas was quiet and had lovely little pitches nestled under a few trees, perfect for escaping the harsh daytime sun.  Plus it had a swimming pool, perfect for cooling off and meeting people.  We had the good fortune to spend a few hours with Peter and Marijke, a Dutch couple with a similar spirit of adventure.  It is amazing how you can meet people from far flung corners of the world in other far flung corners and have similar interests, especially having both decided to venture off into the wild.

Fish River isn’t as popular a destination as many of Namibia’s other sites, but that makes the experience all the more incredible.  You aren’t jostling people out of the way to see nature at its finest.  You are there, almost alone, with nothing much to do other than sit and stare out at something that makes you feel truly insignificant.

As the sun sets over the canyon and the light turns from the deepest gold to the darkest of night, you wish that the moment could last forever…

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:: sands of time ::

Nature is unrelenting.  Wind, sun and sand never stop their detrimental efforts to erode, erase and retake space humans have altered.  Sometimes we only see the after effects centuries later and can’t fully comprehend the process of nature’s will.  But sometimes, we can have an audience with the power of Mother Nature and see exactly how she works her magic.  Kolmanskop is such a place. 

Not far from the Namibian coastal town of Luderitz, Kolmanskop is an old mining town, once home to wealthy diamond miners and the families of the mine workers.  It was built during the German colonial era and therefore has the architectural and cultural influences of Germany, including a ballroom, theatre, skittle alley and casino.  

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Today the clapboard houses and buildings are being inexorably overwhelmed by the sands of the desert surrounding it.  Everything from the grand mansions to the tiny row houses of the workers have sand, wind and sun damage.  Walls have holes, floors have caved in and sand dunes reach up to ceilings. 

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It is a surreal experience to walk into a room through a perfectly normal doorway, albeit a little worse for wear, and see a slopping pile of sand filling up one whole corner of the space.  There are even reminders of the life left behind, with bathtubs, bed frames and other pieces of everyday life left scattered through the ruined houses. 

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For us it was a dream to wander through these unique spaces and take photos of changing light, shifting sands and fading colours on pock marked walls.  Neither of us have a lot of experience with locations of decaying manmade structures like this, and it was truly magical to spend a whole morning investigating this mesmerising location.

 

 

:: wild horses ::

In the middle of extremely arid plains in the centre of the Namib Desert is a herd of wild horses of Namibia. These wonderful creatures are thought to have their origins from horses released from nearby farms and camps during World War I. Regardless of where they come from, these hardy survivors still exist in a herd that ranges from 80 to 150 members depending on conditions. They are left to roam free, but they like to congregate near a man made watering hole close to Garub, on the road to Luderitz. 

Standing there, blissfully in the shade of an observation hut, it is hard not to be amazed at these animals’ ability to survive in the suffocating heat of the desert. But there they are, acting like any other type of horse we have encountered. We gave them a a bit of love and took some photos before moving on, feeling amazed at how so many animals have found a way to survive in this arid corner of the world. 

:: rolling red dunes ::

Sand makes a special whistling sound when it is being blown off the edge of a 150 meter tall dune. It is the sound of an inexorable force altering an inconceivably immense structure; one minuscule grain of sand at a time. It also pelts the heck out of any exposed skin.

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I think it was this part of the trip that we were most looking forward to – finally seeing Deadvlei and the towering sand dunes surrounding Sossusvlei. Tucked in the middle of the Namib-Naukluft National Park of Namibia, Sossusvlei is a famous pan surrounded by enormous reddish, orange sand dunes. Vlei is an Afrikaans word for a small shallow lake, and in the deserts of Namibia, that more often than not means a dried lake bed – or pan. Sossusvlei itself is occasionally filled with water following exceptionally heavy rains that allow the Tsauchab River to flow all the way into this dead end pan.

Though the area is referred to as Sossusvlei, it is actually Deadvlei that is the most famous pan, at least from a photography perspective. Most people have seen pictures of dead trees in the flat shimmering white earth with the orange dunes around. However, sitting atop the impeccably named Big Daddy sand dune and looking down on Deadvlei as the sun rose behind us, was the culmination of a decade of longing. We couldn’t contain our excitement any longer and charged down the enormous dune, twenty minutes up and no more than two down!

Unlike Sossusvlei, Deadvlei never receives water, unless it actually rains on the pan. The ground was deeply parched and crumbled with every step we took. The trees, long since petrified, stood like quiet sentries watching over the lifeless scene. It was exactly what we had hoped it would be! Rarely do you look forward to something for so long and then it lives up to your hopes and dreams. For us, Deadvlei did. We could have spent all day there, but considering it was meant to be 40+ degrees, and there is no shade, we decided that lunch in the shade near Sossusvlei would be in order.

Sand dunes are amazing because the outer layers are constantly in flux and yet the very middle of the bottom layer might not move for thousands of years. Certainly sitting atop Big Mamma, the dune that overshadows Sossusvlei, it was easy to dwell on the dichotomy of these fascinating geographical features. From up here the sand was constantly being blown off the top and yet looking around at the sea of sand dunes, it seemed implausible that these mountains of sand ever disappeared from their current locations.

There are sand dunes throughout the entire 60 kilometre drive along the dry Tsauchab River. Some, like Dune 45, are famous, most others are not.  The scenery along the way is spectacular, with dunes rising up on both sides and the sun casting strong shadows making them appear almost black in places.

Anyone can drive the tarred road from the entrance gates to the car park, where tractors will take you the last five kilometres to Sossusvlei and Deadvlei. Or, you can try your own luck if you have a 4×4.

Being adventurous souls, and recalling our sandy exploits on the other side of the continent in Mozambique, we of course went for it. Not a problem. However, the second trip later the same day we were really struggling to make headway and after perhaps 2 kms, we got bogged down. So, we got out, and started letting a bit more air out of the tyres and I got back in the car. At that point I realised the reason why we were stuck – I had forgotten to switch on the 4×4 when we left the tarred road! So, 4×4 engaged and Bob’s your uncle, we were out and on our way again. Moral of the story, driver error is almost always to blame!

The couple of days in Sossusvlei were fantastic and exactly what we had hoped. We even had the rare experience of seeing a chunk of meteorite streak across the sky not more than a few hundred feet above our lodge while we had dinner. It was truly spectacular to watch the arch of light against the inky blackness and it was another reminder of how wild and unexpected this beautiful country can be.

:: skeleton coast ::

I now know where NASA practices moon landings.  Along the northern Namibian coast lies far and away the most remote, forsaken place I have ever been; the Skeleton Coast.  In a country renowned for open expanses, this barren landscape sends even the most comfortable traveller into fits of agoraphobia.

The Bushmen called this region “the land God made in anger” and it is truly not for the faint of heart.  Stretching northwards from Swakopmund all the way to the Angola border, this thin band of desert is home to some seal colonies and a couple of remote fishing outposts and nothing else – unless you count the shipwrecks.

The freezing cold Benguela current sweeps the Southern Atlantic Ocean along the sun parched deserts, creating an almost daily fog that leaves sailors at the mercy of the waves and rocky shores.  Historically, sailors shipwrecked here had next to no chance of survival.  If they were exceptionally lucky they would wreck near one of the dry river beds and follow it upstream until some mountain rain run off could be located.  From there it would be a continued trek inland over the mountains to hopefully find one of the few settlements.

In fact, that is probably still the case since even car traffic is sparse along the coastal road.  We drove from the eastern gate through to the southern gate and only came across four cars in about six hours.  Further north is even more remote as the tracks take you onto the beach with the cold forbidding Atlantic on one side and 100 ft wind swept sand dunes on the other.  It is not a place to take lightly.

Still, we had a fairly uneventful trip through this unique landscape – stopping at a couple of shipwrecks, an old oil rig and even coming across a seal colony – complete with stench!  We wound up camping along the seashore much further south and saw firsthand how significant the fog can be as our little tent was quickly swallowed up as the sun went down.  We, and our car, re-appeared the next morning so thankfully we didn’t have to test our survival skills!

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