Ten hour flight over to Frankfurt, movies: Be Cool, ? Business, 2 more? Arrived in Frankfurt 10am in the morning, local time. Attempted to sign-in and/or get a boarding pass for my connecting flight out to South Africa, a task that I was already expecting to be impossible so far before departure (8pm). Giving up on the airport in general, decided to move on to stage two of the German-plan - heading out into Frankfurt. Spending twenty minutes deciphering the S-bahn ticketing machine yielded a one way ticket to the hauptbahnhof central city station, 3.30 euro. From there a short ten minute walk into the city center, through an area described as drug and prostitution central. Advice: "if you see anyone plunging a syringe into their arm just ignore it, since everyone else will." Walked through Romer, the old town square and site of Roman emperor coronations. The Dom cathedral, under construction, via the Roman gardens, and then to the edge of the Main river, a large affair branching off from the Rhine and running East-West through the city. Crossing over one of the pedestrian bridges brings me face to face with a figure I am to see three more times that day, in various parts of the city. A man seemingly out of a stereotypical old-style European city, cranking the wheel on his mobile music spewing contraption - a purely mechanical device, where gears and sprockets (= its trade secrets) hidden away behind the cabinet-like doors. He even came complete with a monkey, albeit a most likely plastic and most assuredly fake one. His sidekick was a long white-haired dog who seemed entirely content to lounge around in the shade of the cart, perhaps resentful when its tether necessitated a change of location. Across the bridge and walking down the waterfront, a stretch known as the ? for its abundance of museums. I wandered through the front doors of every interesting looking museum that appeared, though I never made it past the reception desk and the inevitable 3-5 euro entrance fee. Somehow the ethnography museum and the architecture museum, described as disappointing by WK, didn't hold too much appeal. Back across the river I encountered perhaps the only train I've actually seen in use hauling something through a city. I was tempted to hop on the back though it was headed in the wrong direction. Now getting hungrier and hungrier by the minute I settled on a bakery-made sandwich, described only in unfamiliar German words, though resembling roast beef and cucumber. Once out from behind glass two key senses (taste and smell) disproved this hypothesis, though I was still hungry enough to eat it. During the course of which the beginnings of a protest march came through. I followed a large group back into the Romer where hundreds of people had already gathered. At first I thought the cause might be abortion related, later maybe in support of a political figure, later still maybe pro-anarchy, though I never decided nor could figure out for sure. I had seen groups of POLIZEI in green riot gear taking up positions around the bank on the square and other buildings of importance - leaving I saw even more grouped together, and police vehicles extending as far as I could see both directions down the street. Interesting - I have a feeling the protest was unannounced to the city, it seemed entirely made up of 13-25 year olds getting out of school. With three hours until my plane left I decided to head back, a trip which involved a walk through the deserted downtown financial high-rise district, the purchase of another ticket, and waiting at three different rail platforms trying to figure out how to get back to the airport. In conclusion, never ask women for directions. The train to the airport arrives on the same platform and leaves in the same direction as the train heading away from the airport, however that works out.
3 months! After unsuccessfully trying to stay awake at the airport out of fear of missing my flight, the trip from Frankfurt to Johannesburg commences. Sadly, another 10-hour affair. Movie: Meet the Fockers. Arriving into Joburg Intl. take a very familiar bus ride to the terminal and trip through passport control. Reminder: it's illegal to pay any public employee in USD (or anything other than South African Rand). Met Cam right outside, easy as clockwork, and hopped on the shuttle back to the Backpackers Ritz, plus two girls. Checked into the hostel, received my 1/10 slice of a dorm room only occupied that night by Cam and I. Went out to breakfast at a little place just down the street from the Ritz (which despite being in an extremely nice neighborhood had spike-toped fences as well as electrified fences with a double gate buzzer entryway). At around fifteen Rand for a ham omelet with toast, it was guaranteed to be the most expensive meal of the trip. Having had maybe five or six hours of sleep in the past forty, took generous naps and otherwise hung about in the area. Strategized about future plans and destinations, checked out Hyde Park, the local mall, and watched some random TV with fellow backpackers courtesy of satellite. Asleep by 8pm, no problem.
Wake up, almost adjusted to South African time by now. So begins grocery store created meals, consisting of the basic necessities: bread, cheese, chocolate, peanut butter, perhaps yogurt, milk, stolen cream cheese, water. Shopping trip for such aforementioned necessities for the next few days, which as planned would involve time in Swaziland as well as Kruger Park. Visited the "travel center" at the hostel, and arranged for the car rental - which turned out to be a brand new Nissan Micra. Met the first additional inhabitant of our room as I came back in at some point to discover her changing with just a towel on in what I expected to be an empty room. Katjia, from a small Swedish town about an hour from Stockholm, suspecting that someone had stolen some of her clothes, ended up coming to see a movie with us later that night. Assault on Precinct 13 (quite horrible). We got back late, maybe 10:30, and I headed off to bed minus one distraction. Gavin, a hostel employee I'd had the pleasure of meeting the other day, attempted to get me down to the bar to take "three young ladies" off his hands, who wanted to do bad things to his body. I declined, much to his disappointment, checked my email and went to bed.
Waking up even earlier today, a little before seven. Quick shower, pack up, and then out on the road towards Nelspruit, about 300km East. After an hour trying to get on the correct road, we got on our way, N12 via N4 via M3. Ate lunch in Nelspruit, then headed up North towards Sabei and Graskop. Managed to pick up some ice along the way to keep our cheese cold. Saw Longtom Pass, including the old artillery gun of debatable time era, and "The Panorama" views which would have been even more impressive had it been less hazy. Picked a nice cozy spot off a logging road - tomorrow we have to pick up papers needed to cross any borders in the rental car. From there, assuming all goes well, we'll cross over into Swaziland at one of the half dozen or so checkpoints on the Western border. As light is quickly becoming non-existent, and the only other source would have to be a crappy car light, this day is done.
Earliest day yet - awake before sunrise this time, I'm quite impressed with myself. Though, I do suppose going to sleep at or near sunset would allow one to get up at or near sunrise. Seems like an enviable way of life - for its simplicity - except that it makes a day about half asleep and half awake. So, with the whole maximizing awake time of one's life (18 hours/day reasonable, 20/day admirable) the whole sunset to sunrise plan doesn't hold up too well. In any case, this day began at 5:45am, with an expectant sunrise of 6:00 which turned out to actually be 7:00. Drove to Mac-Mac Falls to watch the sunrise (see green/brown contrast pictures). Lounged around, watching the clouds turn slowly pink and drift away, while reading some of Wittgenstein's Poker (upon which this paper now calls a table) and listening to bad radio stations. LIGW and FIVE FM are quickly becoming favorites. Driving south to the ? Intl. Airport, which comes in second only to airports from my previous experience in terms of lax security and out-in-the-middle-of-nowhereness. Learned the sad news that a crossing into Namibia, which we previously thought would be free, will actually cost R1000, about 160 US. May change the shape of our future plans, we'll have to see. From the airport drove South, back through Nelspruit and Barberton into the mountains at Jesefsdal AKA Bulembu. Officially passed out of South Africa into the Kingdom of Swaziland. An interesting change takes place over the few hundred meters between the border control posts of the two countries. From the armed officials asking about the contents of the car, destination, and duration to the officials jokingly handing over a much needed map of the country - without even really being asked. Once over the border (both sides of which consist of 36+21=57km of extremely bumpy and extremely dusty dirt roads) a short ride through timber logging country to the Maloletja Nature Reserve. Decide to wait till tomorrow to enter, since only a few hours of daylight left and a T25 per person entry fee. Head down to the capital of Swaziland, Mbabane, attempt and fail to stay at the Thokoza church for a R40 double, and end up at the All Trails Way (previously the Tricky Rhino). Quick walk downtown reveals the craziest bus terminal I've ever seen (though it pales in consideration to the one near Sun City) - consisting of a dozen or so buses milling about circular style in a dusty dirt lot, hundreds of people surrounding them and trying to cram on-board. After a successful trip to the thankfully open albeit slow internet café, headed back, probably half an hour more of real sunlight left, at most. Tonight at the hostel which is more or less empty, though apparently bustling the night before. Perhaps a shower? Tomorrow is a new day.
Up early and heading towards Maloletja Nature Reserve, and a promised hike to a viewpoint allowing the simultaneous viewing of two separate waterfalls. A short drive inside the park, past a few herds of blesbok (antelope-like). The other big mammal of the park, a type of wolf species, didn't make an appearance at any time during the day. After arriving at our original destination in about an hour, I didn't see how it could take three hours for the short walk back up the valley floor, but I definitely changed my mind about that later. Found a way to the top of one of the waterfalls, relaxed there for the afternoon with the book instead of attempting to make it to and climb up a distant mountain. The trip back, peak to peak instead of up the valley floor, consisted of rock hopping as the sun slowly but inexorably turned my skin into a crispy covering. Decided to drive down to the Ezulwini Valley, the "cultural and political heart of Swaziland," instead of staying another night in Mbanane. Arrived at the Legends Backpackers Lodge sans any difficulty. A few nearby mountain tops look promising for tomorrow. Alex, two schoolgirls from joburg, and cd-burning guy.
Decided to stay another day in Ezulwini and embark on another hiking adventure, this time a bit more modest. After a rousing breakfast of muesli and milk, walked 300m up the road to "the path" - what we later decided was a dry riverbed at best. About two hours of uphill time led to the top of the mountain, "Sheba Breast" as named and joked about by the hostel employees. Nice view of the valley, a pair of hunting hawks, an elusive rabbit, a low frequency of bugs of any sort. After a sufficiently long time for soaking up the sun we headed back down - a trip which was half as long and took at least twice as much work. A quick stroll down to the local Pick N' Pay yielded the ingredients for a pasta dinner, the second in as many nights. Only one repeat guy at Legends Backpackers Lodge, though about ten new people arrived. Tomorrow we head out of Swaziland and towards the coast, the beach, and peace and quiet.
Up early for a semi-early exit from Legends, heading out of the valley past the nearby Parliament - an unimpressive building other than the above-par fences - and other sites of interest noted on the map but not actually glimpsed - the Royal Kraal, home of the King of Swaziland and his family. Aiming for an exist from the southeast corner of the country, passed through Big Bend, which turned out to be nothing more than a curve in the road and a sugar-cane refinery. Arriving to the border check point, Lavumisa AKA Golela, we accidentally drove all he way through the Swazi side, walked over to the South African side and were asked how it was that we had never departed Swaziland, with a helpful hand pointing back the way we came. Then successfully walked back across the Swazi border, in the wrong direction, with minimal notice from any of the guards. After officially departing country (A) we entered country (B) without incident. Drove about an hour south to meet up with another dirt road, this time approximately 71km in length, though in my defense the driver (Cam), who had earlier requested a strict avoidance of all dirt (and for that matter toll) roads in the future, specifically requested the off-road route. This lead to the Sodwana Bay National Park. Must have passed thousands of school kids along the way, all walking to or from the nearest institution of learning no doubt. The roads out here, as in most of Swaziland, seem mainly for tourists to drive on and locals to walk on. One scene I wish I could have captured in a photograph: about twenty or thirty women, and twice as many ~10L containers, all clustered around a green water tank waiting patiently for what I assumed was their daily allowance of fresh water - dolled out through a small hose wielded by another woman of some obvious authority. R20 each entry fee into the park and R45 each for a campsite (she rejected our E20 Swazi with a funny look) makes our little hole in the woods about the same price as a dorm bed in most hostels. Took a short walk down to the beach, quite nice, stretches of it are untouched and look like pristine hills of rolling sand. Our trip back involved the scaling of a 8-ft high electrified (just as the lion was petted) fence, correctly predicted by myself since the outbound walk had involved slipping through a gate with a lock hanging there just begging to be closed. Alas, but all ended ok. And once again it is already nearly dark and the car is my sole source of scriben illumination. So, goodnight.
Missed a wakeup in time for sunrise by quite a few hours, but that's ok since I don't think I would have enjoyed the walk to the beach in the dark all that much. Walked along the beach for a bit, watching monkeys play at the tree line and collecting interesting looking rocks. The day is unfortunately cloudy and quite cold, the first day of bad weather since I got to Africa? The thought struck me: While watching two monkeys dig through a trash can and tear apart a Styrofoam cup, trying to eat it, how different the separation between people and animals here versus my last trip in Northern Botswana. As Cam threw a tic-tac towards them I had a flashback to a whole family group of monkeys in the Okavango Delta, perhaps thirty or forty going about their normal business, observed from afar and certainly without interference - perhaps never having known human interaction in their lives. Not sure how I feel about that - last time was a long time ago (about 2 months shy of 5 years). Heading South and then West inland made our way Empangeni to Melmoth to Dundee, a "South African style planned suburbia." Yes, one might wonder why such a place would be chosen as a destination. Firstly, it is near a string of battle sites of the Boer Wars, including a large British massacre at the hands of the Zulu. Tomorrow's agenda is to see what can be seen in terms of militaristic history (the best kind). This night's lodging is quite intriguing, "Kwa Rei" is a Flintstone's themed camping park with its own assortment of wildlife - springbok, blesbok, peacock, parrot, rabbit, gigantic domestic dog and annoying loud birds that avoided classification by a layman. Hopefully some pictures (on to the 2nd CF card).
Backtracked 40km back along the main road and then branched off for one more dirt road adventure. First stop was Rorke's Drift, a small battlefield of importance in the British-Zulu wars (not the Boer, pardon the error), whereat 140 British successfully withheld an attack by some 4000 Zulu warriors in 21 Jan, 1879. Quite interesting actually, walking through the museum (including a model of the battle, though with only 2000 of 4000 Zulu shown) made walking around the defensive lines and imagining the fight quite easy. Next, headed West (though out of chronological order) to Isandlwana, an opposite turn of events where several thousand British were annihilated by 20,000 Zulu, earlier on the same day. I was expecting windswept hills littered with white crosses, "every fallen soldier's place marked" was promised. Instead, a few barren hills with a few dozen large clumps of rocks painted white. Not quite as evocative as I had been expecting - I think it would take a true military history buff to enjoy such a site. Either that or a R600 per person guide, which we were later told are quite good. Of the two battlefields I think the smaller was much more interesting, easier to visualize. From there we migrated back onto the main road network and towards the Drakensburg. First sight of them was quite impressive - near sunset and with fog/mist partially covering them (see picture, hopefully). Arrived to Amphitheatre Backpackers just before sunset, so named for one of the nearby peaks, one of which is also the tallest in South Africa. Walking in ran into the guy Cam had been telling me about, who had been trying to sell his van with which he had driven from Germany to South Africa. Most random of meetings, seems like a pretty interesting guy though Cam described him as similar to Mr. Marshall, an interesting comparison I thought. There are a lot of long hikes nearby, 15-20km affairs taking every hour of daylight for a fit mountain-climber, hoping to avoid anything quite so crazy. We'll have to see what I get myself in to tomorrow. I was hoping to be heading back towards civilization today, instead I find myself all the further from it and only looking deeper. Lesotho is bordered by the same Drakensburg Mountains, it will certainly have to be a destination in the next few days. "The highest country in the world" according to the hostel owner here. Strange, the only reason I had hoped to be heading into civilization rather than away from it is how frequently I can keep in touch with Emily. After getting away from it all she is the only thing pulling me strongly back towards home. First time the name has appeared on these pages? It has been much more frequent in my thoughts.
Oh thank the heavens last night was not -10C like the night before last. And walking outside tonight it was eerily warm - the kind of weather I've come to hope and expect from a handful of places, among them S. Africa. This morning headed out towards the Royal Natal National Park, and as per the usual style aimed to reach the top, at least of something. Went through Tiger Falls, then up "the crack" and down the other side through "the mudslide." Quite interesting routes, very nearly vertical, complete with ladders, both wood and hanging chain. Views from the top of the sandstone cliffs, some of many in the area, were amazing. Weird though cool, Portishead just started playing here at the bar. The total hike was probably somewhere around 12-15km, 5-6 hours. The longest yet - at this rate I'll probably be in the best shape I've been in about two years by the end of this trip. Other than getting a job when I get back either some sort of gym or maybe Vertex would be fun. Tomorrow off to Lesotho, hopefully via one of the passes doable by 2wd vehicles such as our wonderful blue Nissan. Oh, and successfully recovered the flip-flops.
After a nice albeit early sunrise we set off towards Lesotho. Stopped in Bethlehem (complete with the Jordaan River) to re-supply, as by this point we'd completely run out of food - breakfast consisted of two pieces of sliced bread and an apple. Passed over the border at Caledonspoort AKA Butha-Buthe. Unfortunately our entry stamps give us a max of 3 days in the country since that's what we quickly jotted down on the entry form. Nevertheless, that was the original plan - just have to make sure we stick to it now. Headed through the craziness which is a Lesotho "highway" in the middle of a small city with splits and dead-end T junctions, all lacking any signs. We're mastering the technique of (A) when in doubt go straight, (B) if straight isn't an option, turn right as opposed to left, and (C) there are always eventually signs, assuming of course that you've chosen the correct way. These simple rules have led us right more often than not I think. On to yet another bumpy dirt road (which will probably be quite unavoidable in Lesotho), 30km or so to Ts'ehlanyane National Park. There was a bus of school kids here when we arrived, but they took off - we are probably the only people in the entire park. This may be the cheapest night ever, $5-6 USD depending on the exchange rate. It may also be the coldest; we'll see. Took a short hike up the trail until it ran into a small river and we ran out of sunlight. Tomorrow heading further (SW) into Lesotho. As of tomorrow I'm on the lookout for something local for Emily's birthday, even though it'll be mos def passed by the time I get to Maryland.
Last night, sadly, was not blissfully warm. In fact it was -3C at a quite lower elevation than we were at - the coldest day yet in Lesotho we were later informed. Drove West to Maseru, the capital, in search of an internet café. Found our way to Leo's, as described in LP and managed to spend nearly an hour there. Found out that Stuart is giving both Cam and I an additional $250 each, bringing the total money I've received for the trip to $800, and my total expenditures to maybe a hundred or less. Anyways, that's quite nice. Continued on to Malealea Lodge, former trading post of the early 1900s. In fact, our "dorm room" which actually only contains the two beds is one of four in a row that appear to be ex-concrete bunker type storage areas. Though I'm definitely not complaining - the first real bed since Joburg I realized. And a shelf full of books, I most definitely have to steal one. During a shortly lived ping-pong game the local choir came in and practiced, for donations. It was actually quite good, comparable to the Santa Rosa HS Choir which is famed to be the best in Santa Rosa. Whatever change I had went into the donation box, though I have a feeling it fell short of the recommended M10. Despite wanting to stay here another day our visa's are up tomorrow, and since we don't know what kind of fees or penalties we might incur by over-staying our allotted time we will dully vacate the country. Heading towards Port St. Johns, apparently a big hippie city as well as full of backpacking hostels. At least it should be warmer there. Oh, and father's day is apparently this coming Saturday or Sunday, I'll have to remember to send an email.
Said goodbye to the Malealea Lodge and headed West out of Lesotho via the Bepener border town. We were convinced that it was the most laid-back crossing yet, as neither side seemed particularly interested in anything other than getting a stamp on our passports and having us out of their area of responsibility. Agreed to get down to Queensmith and then decide if we were up for the rest of the way to Port St. Johns or not. Stopped for our first experience at a Wimpy Burger - which we had thought to be the McDonalds of South Africa (and India too, according to Cam) but which turned out to be a sit-down diner type establishment. Had what is to date our most expensive meal. Also picked up a newspaper containing an article about a band of brigands terrorizing, shooting, raping, and generally causing unnecessary mayhem to both tourists and locals alike in Port St. Johns. Eased our decision to head somewhere closer, though also highly recommended, Cintsa. Besides, the entire way to Port St. Johns would have made something like eight intolerable hours of driving that day. After wandering around looking for the hostel for about an hour longer than necessary we landed at Buccaneer's Backpackers - apparently S. Africa's most well known backpackers hostel. Will have to see if it lives up to its reputation. Hopefully plan on lounging around here and doing as little as possible on the beach tomorrow. Looking forward to a few nights which aren't quite as cold, and days that involve a little less driving. I suppose my trip is about half over now? Being the middle of the month and all. Started a to-do list of sorts at the front of this little book, things are starting to pile up, though not quite as fast as expected - isolation in Africa does wonders for removing responsibilities of all sorts.
Ah, the day where the plan was to do absolutely nothing. A plan accomplished quite well if I do say so. Managed to get to the beach about 9am (hard to tell exactly without any sort of watch to speak of) and started heading back to the hostel at about 3pm. Slowly but surely working on the suntan. Arrived back and cooked up a scrumptious pasta dinner - number three? Watched some time wasting TV and started the Elegant Universe. Anything else? Nope. Sleep.
Said farewell to Cinsta and drove West, once again. Passed through East London and Port Elizabeth before... J Bay! AKA Jefferson Bay, the "premiere surf spot in South Africa." Very cool little beach town, sand everywhere and plenty of cute girls walking around in bikinis and carrying surf boards. Had our second chain restaurant experience of the South African inclination - Boundinarie's Pizza. Shell Museum, and then a short jot down the beach before getting back on the road. Arrived in Storms River - a recommended destination of the previous owner. Seems to be a little town just a few minutes off the highway, halfway between the mountains and the coast. Practiced my soccer and pool skills - other than that it promises to be quite a quiet night. Tomorrow the idea is to follow the usual series of events: first, hike up the highest hill that can be seen from here, and second, jump in the car and head West. Probably one more night somewhere in-between here and Cape Town. And, of course, we have to make an appearance at the Southern-most point of Africa, which is coincidentally en-route (give or take the ~100km detour).
Set off up the mountain (of no particular name though apparently 500m high) via the forest fire/logging roads and eventually past a fire lookout station about halfway up the hill. The wildlife highlight of the hike were two (2) giant cockroaches, encountered entirely separately. Stopped short of the tallest nearby peak, as we were already behind schedule in our relentless progression towards Cape Town. Made it to Swellendam by about 5pm, passing by some mountains just in time for some good quasi-sunset pictures. Should be a quiet night at the Swellendam Backpackers Lodge - off to Cape Town tomorrow. The entire family of the owner is here tonight, I sense a bonfire and a large amount of wine consumption.
Left Wellendam and the crazy party family heading South towards the southern-most point on the African continent - Cape L'Agulas. A rather unremarkable stretch of coastline other than a lighthouse resembling a castle and a plaque declaring its place in the world, including an imaginary line demarcating between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Shell collected for a bit, took some pictures for a few minutes, watched the ocean for a few minutes, and then back on the road. Through Napier (!) of South Africa the road less traveled to Cape Town. Pretty impressive driving in, with Table Mountain (which sits at 1000m in the center of the city) rising into the clouds. Cam got us to the hostel he had stayed at before sans any directions. Think it's the fullest out of any we've stayed at yet? Makes sense though since Cape Town is probably the most popular tourist destination here. Saw Star Wars: Episode III to satisfy Cam's need, and walked down the infamous "Long St" which is only about 1km long. We'll have to see what else we can find in Cape Town - on the agenda are a few more movies, getting up Table Mtn, getting to the Waterfront and some sort of craft shopping. Oh, and managed to send a happy father's day message to Stuart. No word on anything house related, even though the lease starts in ten days - hope everything is going ok. And have to write the application for the Alumni Scholarship tonight since its due on the 30th. Ah, real world things.
Well maybe yesterday wasn't quite good enough weather to hike up Table Mountain, today was absolutely horrible. Raining quite steadily, the bottom of the mountain hardly visible. First stop internet café, had the privilege of wasting an hour online for only R10. Next to Around About Cars , where we managed to secure papers to enter Namibia for free as well as a 10% discount for the entire car rental. Next off to the Labia Theatre to see Mar Adentro "The Sea Within" by Alejandro Amenabar, quite an interesting movie about a paraplegic wanting to commit suicide. Split up and I headed to the South African National Museum - pacing myself for the sole hour I had left before it closed. A lot of interesting exhibits on all things South Africa, human, animal, and otherwise. After that walked around for a bit - the Company Gardens, statue of Cecil Rhodes, Greenmarket Square, and finally back as it was getting dark. Dinner at the local Cantonese Cuisine place - soon enough the diet will be back to bread and cheese, at about the same time that accommodation switches from real beds inside the hostel to sleeping in the car outside the hostel. Tonight is the last night here since we can head up towards Namibia tomorrow - will have to wake up early and see the last few sites of interest in Cape Town. Met Amy, the girl from New York, and Elya, the Israeli girl on her way home.
Woke up early at 7am in order to have time to walk down to the Waterfront area and see the famed harbor turned shopping complex. Perfectly clear day, actually a little hot, would be good to hike up Table Mountain if we weren't already leaving. Ah well, next time I'm in Cape Town. Looked through Diesel, Uzzi, and similar stores where a pair of jeans sets you back in the triple digits US. Realized I most definitely wasn't going to buy any one piece of clothing which could increase my total cost for the trip by 25% or more and checked out some of the more local craft areas. Found almost what I was looking for but not quite. Did find my string though! We'll have to see how that goes. Got back to the hostel by 10:45, only forty-five minutes behind schedule. And my clean laundry waiting for me! Ah, exquisite. Took off and went up to the lookout point over Table Mtn, Lion's Head, the Twelve Apostles, and most all of the City Bowl. Took a few pictures. N1 to N2 to N7 and then 550km North to Springbok. Further and further North and the landscape turned progressively from green to brown, definitely desert up here. Rolled in to Cat Nap a few minutes before the sun would have disappeared behind the hills. Received what is basically a huge house for about $12 USD per person for the night. No one here but us - guests, owners, or otherwise. No guard dogs to play with either, disappointing. The shorts have been mended though! With the help of Cam's little sewing kit. Tomorrow will have to get some supplies (who knows what will be available to be found in Namibia, or for that matter Botswana) and then head across the border into Namibia. As of 2002, or so says the guide book, Namibia had signed peace accords with all of its neighbors - thus, not expecting things to be that bad at all.
The day we crossed into Namibia. Said goodbye to our "hostel" which was now swarming with cleaning ladies restoring everything to perfection. Drove North to the border crossing at Viadsdrif - no AKA on the other side that could be called any sort of town. En route to Fish River Canyon we had our first flat tire of the trip - and I thought we might avoid any for the entire month. After encountering a group in Swaziland which had had the misfortune of two flat tires in one day, and thus not enough spares to go around, we spent the remaining two or three hours of dirt-road driving hoping to avoid any more incidents. The Canyon itself was quite nice, reminiscent of the Grand Canyon. Came with its very own baboon, which walked across the ridge to our observation point, screeching into the void the entire way. Lonely baboon thinking the echoes were perhaps members of the opposite sex? Escaped from nowhere and returned to civilization at about 5pm. Arrived in Keetmanshoop, the crossroads of southern Namibia. Also described charmingly as a forgettable dust bowl, which it most definitely resembles. Night here in the Municipal Caravan Park and we're off early tomorrow to Windhoek, the capital, or possibly farther. Only one week left in this segment of my adventures away from home - time disappears here about just as fast as it did last year at school.
Got an early start out of the caravan park heading North the 500km to the capital of Namibia, Windhoek. Next another 300km East to the coast at Swakopsmund. Long eight or so hours or driving, but quite necessary. Pretty interesting scenery slowly turned to boredom itself, with a power line running along side and an oil pipeline or somesuch along the other side. Did manage to see some kudu and warthog though - level of wildlife is definitely increasing. Etosha should be quite cool. Finally submitted the scholarship app, got it off the todo list. Tomorrow we leave this eternally encased in fog city. On the upside, though, Cam managed to buy two giant carved wooden masks for about $5 US each.
Strangely enough it was sunny when we woke up, though it didn't keep the fog away long enough for us to get a good view of the fabled red Namibian sand dunes. Last net contact with the outside world for awhile. And it's the last day of the trip, barring massive global warming and polar ice cap melting, that we will be at the ocean. A solid half a day of driving along salt roads (slightly better than dirt at times) put us at the Lodge at the base of the Brandberg Mountains, a World Heritage Site (apparently) for its rock paintings. The Lodge was gigantic, room for hundreds of people without any trouble. But, as usual, only about ten of us there. The luxury part was deceiving, as the swimming pool and planted lawn didn't quite extend to the camping sites. Sadly the toilets, as an example, were ant covered contraptions surrounded by three walls of badly constructed wooden planking. It worked though - albeit I did not partake in the showers. Hiked around the area a bit until sunset, watched from a hilltop. A ton of stars out, with the Milky Way really visible - made me want to take some astronomy type classes at Berkeley. After spraying the tires with DEET - against anything crawling - and wiping the windows with DEET - against anything flying - went to sleep.
Headed early out of the camp grounds and towards the mountains. Because of vandalism and whatnot all walking/hiking in the mountains must be accompanied by a guide, costing the small fee of N25 per person of course. Walked 45 minutes up to the famous "White Lady" rock painting, and then another 10 to a giraffe/rainmaking scene. Both pretty interesting (see pictures) but I don't think that this kind of stuff really holds my interest unless I know the historical context and interpretations. Maybe it's simply because I have no expertise at all - it just looks like rudimentary stick figures painted on a wall. As we were leaving four minibuses of tourists pulled up - glad I'm not doing something like that. This was one of the first places on this trip where I've gotten the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, in absolute silence, alone. It's a feeling I like, one I've come to associate with Africa. Heading North we restocked some supplies at Outjo and then entered Etosha National Park, N120 entry and N240 per night for the camp grounds. About two minutes past the gates we see two cars stopped on the road - passing by I see two giraffes about a foot from the road, calmly eating foliage and posing for pictures. See springbok, gemsbok, and zebra also. The first camp (Ohaukuejo) is like a fortress, ten foot high fences enclosing a huge complex complete with souvenir shop, lookout tower, gas station, and at least two hundred people. Not quite what I was expecting, a little different than my last time to Africa, but interesting nonetheless. Checked out the watering hole visible from within the camp - groups of springbok, elephant, and zebra coming steadily through. Every single person here has a camera, all taking pictures, a little insane. At night (the watering hole is lit) my first rhinos ever, a pair, came wandering in to have a drink! Some either wild dog or hyena present too. Not bad at all. Tomorrow we're to meander our way through the park to the next camp site, seeing what there is to see.
Decided about when we woke up that we shouldn't stay another night in Etosha since it was costing us $40 US per night to sleep in our car. Driving through towards the Eastern exit we managed to see most every other kind of critter we were after besides lion: wildebeest, kudu, giraffe, ostrich, a fox/wild dog type critter, impala (finally), and an as of yet unidentified dinosaur-looking creature (see pictures). Overall not as many people driving around on the roads as I expected - I suppose most come for a day or two and always stay at the first rest camp. In any case it was pretty good, definitely a different type of experience than Botswana. No refund on the day we aren't going to end up staying in the park, sadly. Drove out of the park and to the small town of Tsumeb. Staying at a place where the lounge makes it "easy to do nothing, but that's all there is to do in town anyways." Tomorrow have to get across the border into Botswana. The trip definitely seems like it's in the heading back to the airport stage at this point.
The Day of Driving Part I. Goal: To get into Botswana before the border closes. Left our little gem town behind and headed South through Windhoek and to the border crossing. Contrary to rumor, we did not have to dive through a vat of disinfectant liquid nor wash all our shoes with said liquid. Did manage to add another stamp to the passport though. And finally really learning how to drive a stick shift. Since Cam didn't really want to drive the approximately 2000km from Etosha to Joburg, he gave me a thirty second lesson. After that ended up driving maybe three or four hours today. Soon after getting into Botswana the sun set (the time changed an hour later, since Namibia went through a confusing DST during our visit, but neither Botswana nor South Africa do DST), so we each drove some at night for the first time. The Trans-Kalahari Highway is littered with signs warning caution about animals in the road. The book notes that cows are easy to see and avoid, as they are fairly slow moving, and impacts with smaller critters shouldn't prove fatal to car or passenger, but that encounters with either Kudu or Elephant on the road were not recommended. Only encountered cows at night - thus, no serious damage. Probably about 900km traveled today with N500 worth of gas purchased. Tomorrow have to get into South Africa and beyond.
Awoke to find ourselves entrenched in sand, which we had (I had) apparently parked in the previous night, none the wiser. Got underway with only a few minutes of digging and pushing - the last night spent in the car came to a successful conclusion. A few more hours of driving put us at the Labotse border crossing back into good old South Africa. The entire time in Botswana passed without incident, the "ZERO TOLERANCE FOR CORRUPTION" sign when we had entered had held true, at least for us. Not for too much longer, though. About half an hour into South Africa we are flagged off the highway by a cop with a radar gun at the bottom of a hill - the speed limit having just changed from 120 to 60 - going, supposedly, 87. Cam managed to evade a purported R300 speeding ticket with a donation of R20 to an un-uniformed guy sitting in a chair - an "amount that made him happy, whatever would make him [Cam] happy." Oh well. Cheap speeding ticket though. We were wondering if we might get some sort of reward if we reported him - probably not. A little further got us to the turn off for Bokfontein, a bumpy dirt road heading off into a valley. Twenty minutes later welcomed into the Revel Inn, staying in some double suite thing with dragons painted on the walls for $60 - since the dorms were all booked. The trip to Sun City postponed until tomorrow morning, though I lost the blackjack sheet and will have to reacquire it, else the trip to the casino may be rather short, either for bad or for good. A guy working here doing some of the artwork is also going to get a ride with us, since we are eventually headed to Pretoria - the capital. No, Johannesburg isn't the capital, common misperception I suppose.
We left the Revel Inn minus quite a few items: two blankets, two pillows, two books, two bowls, two spoons. Offloading of previously "borrowed" items, in preparation for departure, has begun. Collected our fare, Michael "Fire" and headed to Sun City via Rustenburg. Our passenger disembarked at the entrance gates, to wait until we had satisfied ourselves in what someone called the haven for rich whites during apartide. Now an extremely fancy complex, complete with its own sky train, a cross between Las Vegas and Disneyland. Sadly our main reason for coming - a bit of blackjack and roulette - went mostly unfulfilled, since none of the real casino tables were going to open until after we had to leave. Still, managed to loose a little money (in my case) and make a little (in Cam's case) as well as eat lunch at Wimpy's, and little else of note. About an hour and a half later arrived into Pretoria. Were guided, in perhaps the most round about way possible, to Kia Ora Backpackers, at which point our fire dancer took off. Just hung out for the rest of the day, talked with Jenna from SF and her fiancée from St. Lucia Village. Also met Ishoa, an individual that Cam deduced to be Japanese male but who turned out to be African female. Oh well, not too far off. Off to the airport by 11am tomorrow, although both of our flights leave in the evening. The end of the trip is fast approaching, the next entry and possibly the last will be from 30,000 feet. The month has definitely gone by fast, seeming to speed up as time went by. I suppose as one becomes accustomed to the groove and grind of things time starts to fly by, even when the "groove" is traveling cross-country across Africa. Looking forward to Maryland, getting to see Emily, and also home, getting to do not much at all. Not particularly school, the school side of things that is - not sure why. Perhaps simply because it is always new, challenging, not comfortable. Perhaps it will never be in the "groove" that Africa fell into fairly easily and perhaps that is a good thing.
Officially the last day in Africa. Dropped the rental car off and had to wait in the airport for about seven hours. Picked up two shot glasses - have to keep up the collection. Split up with Cam and boarded my ten hour flight to Frankfurt. Met an English girl (most definitely forgot her name) from London who was doing a year abroad at UC Santa Barbara studying anthropology. Said goodbye and waited around the Frankfurt airport for the five hour layover. Apparently I was able to get into the secure terminal (for all flights headed towards the U.S.) before there was any security in place, and was subsequently kicked out while they set up all the additional checks. Finally did manage to get on the plane to Dulles, getting to see Emily and all her peoples is just a few hours away now. The first phase of this trip is over, the second begins, and it promises to be just as interesting and crazy though entirely different. Thus, tomorrow is, once again, day one.