Coming Home

We are back in London, slotting back into the rest of our lives. I haven’t seen Katana in a whole week – which is quite a change after spending 24 hours a day in each other’s company for 6 months. But we are off out for an Ethiopian dinner and a catch-up this evening and hope to be booking our return to Africa soon – there is the small matter of getting to Cape Town to deal with!

But first we should wrap up the last part of our journey, having left you in Tsumeb on our way South towards Windhoek. We set off into the Namibian wilds again aiming to find some traces of extremely old wildlife. On the way we passed the Waterburg Plateau, and were almost tempted to stop a night on a private game reserve there, but the campsite pool wasn’t quite enough to stop for since it was only just lunchtime. Instead we carried on, admiring the ever grand scenery from some good gravel roads. The maps were a little vague on the subject of exactly where we were to find what we were looking for, but Katana’s usual navigational magic worked again and we rolled up to the Dinosaur’s Tracks campsite in time for tea. Our host told us all about the dinosaur’s tracks and the history (short term and geological) of the place, whilst firing up the hot water. We were again the only people on the camp site, and enjoyed another special evening in the bush…aware that these were coming to an end so soon and making the most of them.

Dinosaurs Tracks Campsite
Dinosaurs Tracks Campsite

In the morning, we walked to the tracks – 190 million years ago some dinosaurs walked through the muddy remains of a pool, which was then covered by the encroaching sand as the climate dried out. Just like the pans and dunes of the present day Namib desert. Perhaps we should have left some footprints while we were there for whatever species there is to find in another 200 million years?

Checking out the paw prints...
Checking out the paw prints…

But we had to move on – when we first looked at what to see in Namibia, Katana was keen to check out the work of other artists in the area. At Phillipps Caves, there are some impressive examples of 3500 year old rock paintings. We followed the roads marked on our maps into the mountains, and they were rough and stony tracks, until they stopped. It seems that someone has drawn a road through the mountains from their imagination, since it has never existed in reality. There was plenty of wildlife and scenery to make the detour entertaining though, and we were in no particular hurry. Again we considered camping early, having driven off the track into a fold of the hills, but again it was just a bit too early and we headed on. This was to be our last night in the wild areas of Namibia, and we spent it at the Ameib Ranch campsite – a wildlife reserve which also provides access to Phillipps Cave, and a swimming pool for our private use since there were no other guests. This was not a bad way to sign off!

Ameib Ranch campsite
Ameib Ranch campsite

In the morning we visited the cave and admired the rock art – Katana making the hike/climb without too much trouble to her injured leg. After some lunch at the strange rock formations called ‘Bulls Party’ and ‘Elephant Head’, we turned towards Windhoek and began our journey home.

Bulls Party
Bulls Party

OK, we spent a few days in Windhoek before flying out, but it was all about preparing Troopy for storage and ourselves for the cold weather of Europe.

Whilst in Windhoek, we had intended to go to an Ethiopian restaurant we had heard good things about – already pining for the tastes from earlier in the trip – but it turned out to be permanently closed. Home cooking in Troopy was a good solution anyway – after a second lunchtime visit to La Marmite Royale for some African specialities. So we tidied and cleaned, threw away worn out clothes, agreed to come back in the Spring and then headed for the airport, leaving Troopy behind. I hope he doesn’t mind too much.

Vegan Meals Part IV

Last time I talked about vegan meals on the road, we were crossing from Malawi into Zambia. The more south we have gone in the last couple of months, the less we have gone out to eat and started cooking more and more in the car. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, there are better stocked supermarkets; secondly, there isn’t as much traditional foods to try, but rather a mix of different cuisines, mostly meat-based; and thirdly, the places we have been staying in lately have “game” on the menu, basically the animals we see running around wild end up on people’s plates. No thank you.

Home-made Bloody Mary in Lusaka
Home-made Bloody Mary in Lusaka

When we got to Lusaka, I thought I got rid of yet-another-illness of the stomach and we got some tomato juice and pickles and celebrated with a Bloody Mary. A day later I ended up going to the hospital (unrelated to the drink) and found out I have multiple infections in my digestive system and got put on yet another platter of pills, so Jonathan had to drink all the consecutive gin&tonics and Bloody Marys for a few weeks.

Lusaka lunch
Lusaka lunch

While in Lusaka, we had gone out to eat twice (not counting chips). The first meal was at the mall, and we ate in an Indian fast-food place, which was alright and even good by mall standards. The second time we ate at a backpacker place where we had gone to check out the wifi and the bar. Jonathan ordered a veggie burger, while I opted for the beans and rice; the food was quite yummy despite taking about an hour to make and driving us into hunger-induced bad tempers. I found the “veggie burger” option in a few places actually, which is a nice addition to the usually predictable chips.

Indian snacks bought in Lusaka
Indian snacks bought in Lusaka, nicest one on the far left

Before leaving Lusaka, we found a little Indian shop that sells Indian snacks, so of course we had to buy some. The most bizarre looking one ended up being the insanely oily but addictive one, whereas the others left us mostly indifferent. They are good to munch on before lunch, but they are so oily that everything in the front of the car gets oily as well.

Holiday Inn buffet dinner, first course
Holiday Inn buffet dinner, first course

After Zambia we headed to Zimbabwe, and in Harare went out to eat the first night – to the Holiday Inn restaurant. They had a buffet which surprisingly had quite a few (accidentally) vegan options. On top of that, they apologized tremendously that they didn’t have more for us, and only charged us the price of one meal. Incredible? We had some salads and then some sadza (maize meal) for the first time on the trip, and I wasn’t impressed. I know it is a staple in many countries but it was just a bit bland and reminded me of baby food – or kindergarden food.

Holiday Inn buffet dinner, second course
Holiday Inn buffet dinner, second course

The other amazing thing about Harare of course was that we visited V Delights – the Vegan Friendly Products (read interview here) restaurant, which is completely vegan. There are many items on the menu, all catered for different kinds of people, some are vegan African dishes, some more Western ones, then there are a whole lot more “healthy” options, and then again more options suited for new vegans or transitioning vegans. The pies and the cookies we had in V Delights were just out of the world. If you are ever in Harare, you have to stop by there!

Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products / V Delights
Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products / V Delights

While staying in Victoria Falls, we went to one restaurant twice – and had some tapas. There were a few vegan options (I had maize again, this time with some spinach things inside) but the second time we came the food quality had dropped significantly. Their gazpacho was too salty, their toasted bread was soggy, but overall it wasn’t so bad I guess.

The last place I want to talk about (before mentioning that we are going to check out the Ethiopian restaurant here in Windhoek!) was called La Marmite in Windhoek. We accidentally stumbled upon the place in the “Zoo” park in the center, thinking we would only have drinks but then saw the menu and decided to try out the vegan options. The food was pretty good, and the dishes are supposedly variations on Western African cuisine. I had a stew with okra, Jonathan had another stew with groundnut sauce, and we also shared spring rolls and salad. Windhoek has a lot of places to eat and drink, and I am sure traveling vegans would have no problem finding food here.

La Marmite in Windhoek
La Marmite in Windhoek

The rest of Namibia – not so much. In Botswana and Namibia a lot of expensive lodges (where sometimes we end up staying because they do cheap-ish camping) the menus pride themselves on having extravagant game steaks – gemsbok, springbok, kudu, oryx, and so on. The first place we stayed in Namibia, in Gobabis, was one of those places. I think I already mentioned how awful the service was in a previous post, but let me add that the menu was incredibly un-vegan, and when we tried to get something altered, it came as is, so I ordered potato wedges, asked for “no mayo” and they still brought mayo. Trying to ask for some olive oil instead of creamy dressing turned into another ordeal. This is sadly the way it is in most places where expensive guests are catered for. We had another buffet experience, this time in the Etosha Park, and I ended up eating sad salad and boiled rice with mustard. Only after we paid we were told “oh yes there is a separate thing for vegetarians” like the waiter couldn’t have told us earlier or figured something was wrong as he saw a pile of sad rice with nothing on it on my plate. Oh well – I was just getting my cold then and I was already in no mood for food anyway.

Potato leek soup and salt&vinegar Simba crisps
Potato leek soup and salt&vinegar Simba crisps

As for us cooking our own meals, we have come up with some real highlights lately. We have been buying leeks because I personally love them and Jonathan makes a really nice potato leek soup. Sadly one day I decided to make it, with a special twist (pickles) but I didn’t manage to achieve the taste I wanted, which was a shame. Otherwise we’ve had a lot of curries and chillies, there was a particular evening meal I remember well. We bought a box of white wine, which was quite fancy (by our standards) and I wanted to make a few dishes. I made a stew / chilli with cabbage, cauliflower, potato, beans and so on. I also made guacamole (the avocados are good again) and Jonathan toasted some brown German bread as we had no tortilla chips to go with the guac. It was truly magical, the whole combination!

Nice dinner in Troopy with guacamole and home-made "toasties"
Nice dinner in Troopy with guacamole and home-made “toasties”

And then just the other night Jonathan made one of his coconut curries which was supposed to be very good for my sinuses, as I was really ill at this point. There was chilli sauce and ginger, and many other ingredients, and they blended so well together that we had to restrain ourselves to leave some for the next day’s lunch.

Coconut curry
Excited for some coconut curry

A word about chakalaka: what is it? where does it come from? It is a tasty canned mixture of tomato gooeyness with some veggies and curry flavoring – and quite spicy too! It has an unforgettable taste and smell, I mean I recognized somebody else having it in our campsite yesterday. It can be put on bread, it can be used in stews and sauces and curries. We mostly put it on bread, but sometimes we also use it in sauces. They even make chakalaka packet soup! Which we had once as well, it didn’t look like much but it was spicy and it was better than tomato packet soup.

Chakalaka
Chakalaka

We’ve had a lot of snacks, most of them quite unhealthy, so instead I am adding a picture of me snacking on tomato paste, something I do quite often. We are done with our adventure for now, excited to try out the Ethiopian restaurant in Windhoek(we really miss Ethiopian food) and overall it hasn’t been hard being vegan on the trip at all! I do realize we have the option of cooking for ourselves, which a lot of times saved us, but in reality everywhere will have at least rice or maize and some vegetables. However, Ethiopian food has been the most memorable by far on the whole trip, both in terms of availability and quality of taste!

Tomato paste snack being devoured by Katana
Tomato paste snack being devoured by Katana

Himba and the Art of Troopy Maintenenace (Namibia)

We were 30km up a rough, 2-wheel-track, rocky hill and sandy riverbed alternating ‘road’ leading off the main gravel run between Opuwo and Epupa Falls into the wilderness of Namibia’s North West. Then there was an excruciating metal grinding noise as we crawled up a boulder slope. We stopped. Oil flowed down the rear left wheel again – the infamous driveshaft oil seal had gone again…only this time it looked a lot worse.

Van Zyl may have, but we didn't Pass
Van Zyl may have, but we didn’t Pass

This was the moment our plans changed again. We were heading for Van Zyl’s pass – touted as one of the most beautiful, yet harsh and steep routes there is. Instead, we found ourselves some 30 minutes later being assisted in a strip-down and rebuild of the wheel bearings by a Himba guy who happened to be walking that way, watched by his wife and buzzed by hundreds of little flies whose sole intent appeared to be to commit suicide by flying into any available orifices. These are the things that make a trip memorable.

Camping above the Epupa Falls
Camping above the Epupa Falls

We had already gone North to the Angolan border and teetered on the edge of the thundering Epupa Falls as the river Kunene slices its way down a jagged stairwell towards the distant Atlantic. The base for this launch into the wilds of the North West was Opuwo – a frontier town far from the national border where the colourful Herero and Himba people mix with a few intrepid tourists and a lot of locals. It’s a dusty, chaotic town of supermarkets, petrol stations, bars and tin shacks….and one luxury lodge – on the way up we stayed there in the attached campsite and made good use of the infinity pool.

As we took the hub apart it became clear that the damaged lock-screws had once again come out, only this time the whole retaining mechanism had completely unscrewed itself and shaved bits of metal into a nice greasy-oily-paste which was then deposited into the brake drums and onto the desert sand. The good news? The bearings seemed to be still functional, if only we could get the whole lot back together over squashed screw-threads and tighten it all up again. And thankfully I had had the foresight back in Botswana to get an extra spare oil seal! It was messy, hot and frustrating work, but we did the necessary road-side repair and turned back to limp towards Opuwo again. Having paid off our helper with cash and apples, we were sadly not able to give him, his wife and 2 dogs a lift as Troopy was full of firewood.

The return to town was uneventful, and the repairs held out well – even though we only had 1 (badly bent) lock screw left, and that wasn’t in fact doing anything helpful, and the oil seal failed again! Over the next 2 days I discovered the intricate details of how the whole thing works. I also found that we are no longer in a part of the world where every corner shop sells Troopy spares. The oil seal had to be sent for from another town. The lock-screws were just unobtainable so I had to make my own – walking for hours around town finding tools and bolts, then cutting bolts to length and shaping the ends to match what was left of the mangled originals. It was nearly a perfect repair…except for a couple of sheared off bolts!

During this time we stayed at the Ameny Rest Camp in town – it was cheaper that the original lodge and walking distance to the spares and food shops. It did however come with shouted arguments between customers and the owner at 2am, and was basically a dust-bath…soft but bad on the lungs when crawling around under the car. So, by the time Troopy was fitted out with new bearings and put together as well as possible given the limited resources, we were definitely ready to leave! Where to though? In the circumstances, with less time and less confidence in Troopy, we decided to abandon the extremely remote North West, and simply head into the remote North West along the border with Angola. It is still a wild place with beautiful and varied scenery, but the odds of being stuck for a couple of weeks with a breakdown looked a little lower.

Spaghetti Monkey
Spaghetti Monkey

After following the river Kunene and staying on its banks (where we were robbed of our spaghetti from inside a cupboard by a cheeky and swift raiding monkey) we dropped in at the border post at the Ruacana Falls to see if we could get our visit permits extended to cover the extra time before our flights, but despite a lot of sympathy from the immigration guy, it seems this can only be done in Windhoek. I’m sure this won’t be a problem. The falls themselves are a little dry now, since the water is nearly all diverted for a hydro power station, but they must have been impressive once!

Ruacana Ex-Falls
Ruacana Ex-Falls

So onward towards Etosha, where we hoped to see some Rhino at one of the park’s waterhole camps. First though we had another night of wild camping, tucked away amongst the rocky outcrops off a sandy track. It was a really nice wild camping spot despite the tiny flies, but not without consequences – after an evening of playing cards (with gin) we had both managed to accrue forfeits which required us each to wear clothes chosen by the other for the following day. Entering the National Park and obtaining the permits in the morning was therefore a little entertaining, but I did find the skirt more comfortable than my usual trousers in the heat.

The effects of gin and cards...
The effects of gin and cards…

As to the park – it was remeniscent of the Central Kalahari in Botswana, but with more visible wildlife – elephants, zebra and all sorts of antelope gathered at and around the natural and man-assisted waterholes. In the evening we sat by a floodlit waterhole and waited…and just when I was thinking we were going to see little more than the birds hoovering up the flying insects in the floodlights, along came some giraffe, followed by a rhino…then another, and a family of 3. A sole male lion also turned up for a drink to complete the evening’s viewing before bedtime, though this didn’t seem so popular with the other animals!

Rhinos and friends at the waterhole
Rhinos and friends at the waterhole

In the morning, with a sick Katana suffering from a cold, and Troopy showing small signs of oil around the rear hub, we set off for a leisurely tour of the eastern end of the park. As usual we found our way into the less-travelled parts! Here we found lots of elephants, Kudu, Gemsbok, herds and herds of Zebra, Springbok etc. We did have to crawl along for a while behind a group of giraffes that were well aware they had right of way and looked slightly  disapproving of the car using their track, but in the end they were nice enough to step to one side and let us pass. Then as we were heading towards the exit…a pride of lions dozing under the shade of a bush! This pretty much completed all our aspirations for wildlife in Africa…though a Cheetah would have been nice!

Lions!
Lions!

We rolled out of the park and onto tarmac, turning South again onto the last leg of this trip in the direction of Windhoek. Thunderstorms were gathering and dropping curtains of dark rain to the West and North. In Tsumeb we stopped at a backpackers campsite, on a nice clean gravel and grass area, where the infamous driveshaft came out again and the seal was replaced after a morning trip to the local (genuine) Toyota garage. The bearing is all holding out well, but it looks like a new driveshaft may be required to put an end to the leak…however, that and the annoying lock-screws are not in stock even here! In any case…its going to be a bit tricky to disassemble on the road as I first need to contrive a way of extracting the decapitated home-made lock screw which is still firmly doing its job! Oh well, we must leave some things for the next chapter!

Namibia Side to Side

We crossed into Namibia without much hassle, the Trans-Kalahari border post was empty and relaxed. It was a bit of a drive to Windhoek, so we decided to stay the night at a midpoint – in Gobabis. We found a nice enough looking “restcamp” but from the first moment of being there I felt uneasy. The attitude of the staff and the manager, the strange tiny camp plot, the “park” with various antelopes fenced in, probably getting fat to be put on someone’s plate later for dinner, and the lonely ostriches hanging out by the fence, probably longing to escape. They had internet, they had a bar, and they had a restaurant, but when we decided we wanted some dinner, the service was absolutely appalling, trying to find out what stuffed tomatoes were stuffed with or whether we can get the salad without cheese – all of this was met with an annoyed shrug. We settled for fries, potato wedges and salad – the salad dressing was creamy-looking, and when I asked for simple oil, the lad went and “hid” and kept looking at me across the room to see whether I had forgotten about him yet. Needless to say, we didn’t pay much attention how well we cleaned our camping spot when we left.

We planned on only staying in Windhoek one night, but then we realized it was the beginning of the weekend and the South African embassy would not be opened until Monday. We plopped ourselves at the Cardboard Box – a backpackers’ place with tiny camping spots, but it was good enough and they had draught beer. In the meantime, we managed to explore the center of the city, even with me still limping and walking with a stick. The city is clean, very empty and has nice little parks and German churches. We had lunch at a place called La Marmite, and they had pretty good West African vegan dishes. Afterwards we even allowed ourselves to be swept up by the touristic vibe and we bought a pillowcase with a cheetah face on it from a souvenir shop. At the end of our walk we got heavily rained on, and because of my bad knee, we couldn’t exactly run home either.

German church in Windhoek
German church in Windhoek

The embassy visit was disastrous, and you can read about it in the previous blog post. After discussing our new plans, we made our way lazily to the coast, to the city Swakopmund. The journey there was amazing, and here Namibia was finally opening up its infamous landscapes to us. First the gravel road became mountainous, with dead, dry and scarce vegetation, the sun beating upon us as we stopped for lunch. Then the scenery slowly flattened out until it became huge expanses of flat plains with zebra and gemsbok grazing in the heat haze. Eventually we came upon Swakopmund and saw sandy dunes in the distance just south of our campsite, which was right on the beach. The temperature drop was unbelievable, as the sun was still blazing but the cold Atlantic winds made us shiver.

Jonathan about to fall into the ocean
Jonathan about to fall into the ocean

We finally made it to the other side of the African continent, the other ocean! The waves were huge, covered in seaweed and other debris, and the water very cold. We couldn’t resist going for a dip, although the other campers looked at us as if we were mad. With my bad leg I couldn’t exactly walk in – I had to rely on Jonathan for balance and support (and breaking the waves with his back!).

Jonathan on the pier in Swakopmund
Jonathan on the pier in Swakopmund

The center of Swakopmund looks like a quaint little German holiday town. The next morning we visited the Namibian Wildlife office, stocked up on food for the fridge, and then took a leisurely walk up to the pier, from where we saw huge red jellyfish, most of them dead, with bits torn off and floating on their own together with seaweed. We also saw a dead baby seal on the beach, so of course I got excited and took many pictures.

The world's lowest bench, in Swakopmund
The world’s lowest bench, in Swakopmund

Waking up in the morning was impossible, the outside temperature was freezing, the wind was strong, and the sun hadn’t come out yet, but we powered through and drove out to Walvis Bay, where we saw a lot of flamingoes in the lagoon. Then we took the road into the Namib sector of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. We didn’t end up seeing the sand dunes in Egypt, but we saw them right here, bordering the ocean. Huge mountains of yellow sand, especially seen in the heat haze, is everything you imagine about desert mirages. The first part of our trek through the park was just that – dunes, desert landscapes, no life. But as we drove further inland, the flat desert gave way to lonely rocks and rock formations, not quite mountains but big enough to be in awe of when we stopped for lunch at one of them and sat under the overhanging rock, almost like in a cave. The desert became more populated by antelope-type animals, as the ground became more covered in thistles and dry grass. Eventually we came upon our camping spot – official camping but with very few facilities – a picnic table, and a toilet that we were only too happy to ignore – the stench was nauseating. While we set up camp, I noticed there were a few black birds being nosy about our stuff, and as soon as I got out an apple, the birds became overly excited, I thought this was going to turn into a scene out of Hitchcock’s “Birds”! I gave them the core of the apple and they spent the next few hours eating it. Then we encountered another rock-dwelling creature – a rock hyrax. We didn’t know exactly what it was – a fat mole-like creature with big front teeth and grey/brown fur, eager to find out whether we were going to be friendly, and sure enough Jonathan fed the hyraxes some pieces of cabbage. One of them was so brave, he actually took pieces of cabbage out of Jonathan’s hand!

Jonathan feeding the hyrax a piece of cabbage
Jonathan feeding the hyrax a piece of cabbage

The next day we drove through even more mountainous areas, in some parts the hard rocky trail reminded us of the lava field in the Danakil Depression. We came out of the official “park” area, and drove through the Gaub pass – a very intense curvy mountain pass, the hills looked like fillo dough, layered pastry eroding away, and the road felt like a roller-coaster. We camped at Agama River Camp and made a camp fire, where we barbecued mushrooms, carrots (only for Jonathan – I hate cooked carrots!), tomatoes, onions, and made nice potatoes in the hot sand. There were warthogs walking around, and we believe a jackal visited our bin in the night.

Leo flying among the red dunes
Leo flying among the red dunes

We drove out early in the morning to Sossusvlei via Seskriem to see the famous red dunes. The scenery really did not disappoint, and no matter how amazing the pictures, I don’t think they could ever do justice to the eerie landscape in this part of Namibia. We even climbed a dune, me with my wonky bad leg. There were so many colors everywhere, the sand sea is all colors between blue, yellow, white, grey, orange and red, and in some places you can just spot the outlines of the mountains in the intense heat haze, as if the mountains are actually floating in the air, like flying islands.

Leo, Jonathan, dunes
Leo, Jonathan, dunes

We had to drive all the way back to Swakopmund, it was long, tedious and uneventful, mostly because we hate driving back on the same roads, but in this part of Namibia there aren’t really many other roads one can take without making a huge detour. We camped in the same place again on the beach, and the next day headed out to the Skeleton Coast park. We knew that to gain passage for overnight, we had to have reservations at the only place open at this time of the year – a rather expensive lodge with no camping. We decided to get a transit pass instead and be out of the park before the gates close. Before we actually went to the park, we drove through the coast, visiting Cape Cross with the seal colony, and went to look at the seals.

Dead seal baby and an adult seal rubbing up on the wall
Dead seal baby and an adult seal rubbing up on the wall

In some ways it is amazing – there are thousands of seals here in a small cramped space, and you get up close and personal with them (the smell! I will never forget the smell), but the seals are loud, they fight all the time, they are violent, and they are all in this small rocky space by the water, with dead baby seals everywhere. The scene was not for me, I got sad and grossed out and had to wait in the car. We camped for the night just 45 km south of the park gate, at Mile 108 campsite, which was huge, completely deserted, and the only facilities were flushing toilets and tiny sinks with salt water. The coast was particularly cold that day, I sat wrapped up in my warmest “Panda” jacket, whereas Jonathan even attempted a swim! Attempted – among jellyfish debris, huge foaming waves and dead seals on the beach.

Bits of jellyfish on the beach
Bits of jellyfish on the beach

We drove to the Skeleton Coast Park the next morning and spent the morning and part of the afternoon there – and it was truly magical. The road is isolated, we saw only a couple of tourist cars the whole time. The sand is mostly untouched (one is not allowed to drive on the sand, but unfortunately some people do – the tracks remain there for a hundred years!), the ocean is wild and angry, and there is nothing but desolate desert landscape in any direction you look for hundreds of kilometers – you can see how unfortunate one would be to be stranded here after a shipwreck, the name “Skeleton Coast” becomes crystal clear when you are there. We saw the remains of one shipwreck, the lagoon (pink!), and some other odd curiosities, but the weirdest thing we encountered was when we approached Torra Bay, and then turned east to exit the park through the other gate – the traveling sand! There was very strong wind, and the light fine white-yellow sand was traveling across the road, resembling mist, creating the most ghostly landscape for those driving through it. We got covered head to toe in the sand, I was shaking out my head all day and still I think I still have some sand on my scalp.

Jonathan trying to take pictures of the sand moving in the wind
Jonathan trying to take pictures of the sand moving in the wind

Of course how can I talk about our visit to the Skeleton Coast without mentioning my mustache. Sometimes we pass our evenings playing cards, and sometimes we play for some sort of forfeit. At Mile 108 campsite I lost and the forfeit was to have a drawn-on mustache all day next day, and speak with a funny Hercule Poirot-like French accent. The mustache was fabulous but the accent I am afraid I could not do very well, so it just came out very strange and made Jonathan laugh a lot all day. However, it played up nicely with my clothes resembling a pirate and we took some silly pictures, of course.

The mustache was born
The mustache was born

As we drove more east, the landscape started looking like Mars – huge red desolate mountains with deep shadows and little vegetation. We drove to Bergsig crossroads, and then proceeded a bit southeast, before getting stuck in sand while looking at a dune eating a huge rock, then turning back and heading north to Palmwag, where we camped at a rather nice (but posh) lodge/campsite. A black cat came to rummage through our sink at night, but otherwise the stay was uneventful, and today we drove to Opuwa, where we started seeing a lot more of Himba people, this being the frontier town between the wild north and the rest of Namibia.

Panda, Leo, Cheetah - we are a traveling zoo
Panda, Leo, Cheetah – we are a traveling zoo

We are heading to Epupa Falls (almost on the border with Angola) then driving through the northwest corner, where the roads are supposed to be very rough and the journey long and excruciating, and after that slowly trickling down back to Windhoek. Only just over 2 weeks left of our journey, seems forever ago that Jonathan was in the hospital in Ethiopia, or I was throwing up in the Sahara desert after taking malaria medication on an empty stomach.

Vegan Zimbabwe: Interview with Harare Vegans

A few months ago I came across a peculiar website – “Vegan Friendly Products” in Harare. Immediately I emailed the contact provided on the site, and got a reply from Louisa Ndlovu. She explained to me that what they have is a multiple parts juncture: part wellness centre and lifestyle change coaching, part health shop, part restaurant (V Delights) and an organic garden. We were very intrigued and decided to change our plans to include a stop in Harare to meet up with Louisa and her family, and to interview our next vegans: in Zimbabwe!

Zimbabwe Vegans meet Troopy and Katana
Vegans in Harare meet Troopy and Katana

The compound they have is beautiful: there is a large garden with shade and a few tables, and in the back they have some vegetables growing, such as tomatoes, cabbage, spinach, beets, and so on. They have a small shop with all vegan products, such as flour, nuts and seeds, gravy powder, cereals, dried vegetables, a few oils, and many others. They also have a restaurant with various menus, and a health clinic in the back as well. Their clients include many of Harare’s high profile people who want to change their life around with a plant-based diet, which is the primary drive for being vegan for Louisa’s family. Vegan Friendly Products is a relatively new business, but it already has a lot of clients and the people involved seem very passionate about their work. We were received with lovely pies, smoothie and tea (the tea was so good we ended up buying a whole packet for the car), and we chatted to Louisa and her sister Sicelesile about them becoming vegan, their passion for healthy living, and even an idea to have the world’s first vegan police force. We also met another vegan, Morathi Howie, who is originally from North Carolina in America, so of course we had to have a quick interview with him as well.

Katana: How long have you been vegan?

Sicelesile: This is my ninth year that I’ve been vegetarian. Initially I became a vegetarian, then I became vegan, I went back to vegetarianism, now I am vegan.

Louisa: As for me, I became vegetarian in 2008, and by the end of 2011 started being vegan, and by the end of 2011 my whole family was vegan.

Katana: You said you have three children?

Louisa: I’ve got three children. A seven year old, three year old and two year old. The two year old was already born when we were vegan, the three year old was semi-vegetarian then vegan, and the first one we transitioned between meat and vegetarianism.

Sicelesile: She used to eat KFC!

Louisa: “You are the one who taught me meat!” but it happens with kids. My husband is vegan also.

Katana: When did you start the business?

Louisa: We started this business in June this year, that’s when we moved into this place. Prior to that we had a shop, moving around, like a moving shop in our car with the healthy food stuff. Then we decided, as a family, me, my husband and my sister, to grow out this passion into something we believed could serve the world. We realized that many people are suffering from lesser diseases that come from appetite. If you control appetite, control the taste buds, and educate, at the end of it all we will be in a position to deal with certain things that even the medical field is trying to deal with but by giving people drugs. Drugs to just suppress symptoms but leave someone with another bad condition. So you’re talking about blood pressure, cancers, diabetes, weight loss, obesity, asthma.

Sicelesile: You name them! I refuse to call them diseases.

Louisa: They are lifestyle conditions.

Sicelesile: They come from negligence of the laws of nature. What we do here is to reverse that process. We don’t treat symptoms, like my sister has already said, but we do root-cause analysis, look at the whole lifestyle, including not just food but exercise, if you have clean air around you, if you drink the correct types of drinks, if you rest enough. It’s a holistic approach to treating diseases.

Katana: Sorry to backtrack a little, how did both of you decide to become vegetarian and vegan?

Louisa: For me, first of all, my husband was obese as I said before, and when he did his lifestyle change, because I am the one who spends time in the kitchen cooking, I was supposed to cook three different meals, one for him, one for the kids, and one for myself, because we all had different needs. In the process I developed a problem, I couldn’t conceive at that time. And as I interacted with many health reformats, I was also educated to believe that if I change my lifestyle, I would get rid of those problems. One day I said I am going to go this route, I am not going to cook separate meals for anyone, I am going to eat what he eats and the kids will eat what he eats. It will save me time and everything else, and if it works, then it works. And apparently for me it worked, I am a mother of three, I would have just been a mother of one then, if it wasn’t for my lifestyle change. Doctors told me my ovaries were destroyed and I couldn’t conceive, but once I did my lifestyle change, it worked for me. My husband was obese, you saw him, now he is skinny. Because this thing worked for us as a family, we stayed with my sister’s choice. Initially when she came from the UK, we didn’t support this thing. We thought she was weird.

Sicelesile: They hated holidaying with me! They complained every single moment, like “you’re so weird, we’ve paid so much money just eating these leaves.”

Sicelesile holding Leo and Louisa in the back
Sicelesile holding Leo and Louisa in the back

Louisa: What happened was that we thought we had one common ground. We understand how we should eat and how we should live. Why not come up with a business model that will help serve the world. Since it has worked for all of us, then we decided to take it to greater heights. For me and my sister, we already abandoned the former employment, so we are full-time here. Our passion is here, our life is here. My sister used to work for a big company, but she left. I used to be the head of IT, and I left. And it’s working out for us, many people come through here, through the wellness center, we have clients which give us repeat business, and people give us good testimonies.

Sicelesile: As for me, I became vegetarian when I was in England. I’ve always been small-framed but I’ve always had a problem with a big belly and I had terrible skin. I had acne, and I used to spend so much money on make-up. When I decided to become healthy, I was a McDonalds and KFC addict. I had a loyalty card for Nandos! I loved my meat and I worshiped it. But I realized that the direction my life was going was not good, and I started learning more about healthy living. Growing up I always learned about healthy principles, but I thought “That’s just for the religious people, not me.” At this point in my life I decided to try it to see if it worked. And when I did, my life changed. I used to hit the gym every morning and evening and run 3-6 miles a day, but it wasn’t really registering in my belly. But when I became vegetarian, things changed, and when I became vegan, it became even better. Now I don’t even wear any make-up, and I don’t spend so much money on it, instead it goes to the nuts and fruits and vegetables that I enjoy eating. Being here for me is like a dream come true. I love being a software engineer, but this is my passion. This is one of our fundamental beliefs, that we treat our body as a temple, so when we are here, it is first a health ministry, only then a business. We enjoy seeing every single person that walks through this gate, showing them the love and seeing them recover. This is priceless, it’s a hobby, it’s a passion, it’s a calling for us.

Jonathan: Does Zimbabwe produce most of its own food?

Louisa: It’s kind of small-scale, so it’s not sufficient for everyone’s needs. We basically depend mainly on South African products, for example take sunflower seeds. We grow them locally, but because of the economical situation, we don’t have the equipment to process them. What happens is we farm the seeds here locally, then they send it over to that side, then we buy them from that side, because we cannot process them on our own. Things like sesame seed, now some local farmers are doing those for us, so we can get those locally, the moon bean, they are growing it locally, but it is probably an issue of educating people, what they need to farm. People have the mindset to farm more profitable crops, because it will give the farmers more money, but now as we educate many of the people who are visiting our center, they are willing to partner with us in farming what we think is the right things to grow.

Jonathan: Growing things that people can eat straight away. What happens in Europe and America is the land is used to grow huge amounts of corn, only to be fed to farm animals, instead of growing directly food for consumption.

Katana: What would you hope for in the future for the people of Zimbabwe in terms of what they eat?

Louisa: What I realize is that the world has become so fast these days. People like chasing money, but one thing that can bring down a business man is sickness. Once you’re sick, you can’t continue to chase that money. So because of that love for money, people are willing to do a lifestyle change, to reform and to see their enterprises grow. Like I said before, we don’t have ordinary people coming here, so because we have those influential people here, one of the guys was even saying he would invite us to their spheres of influence. Once you get through the “big bodies”, the message will spread on a larger scale. One of the projects we are looking at currently, although it is still in its infancy, is driver fatigue. Because we were both in IT, we can partner with other people in IT and look into reducing road carnage. According to Zim statistics, 85% of road carnage is linked to driver fatigue and human error. We are saying, as vegan friendly, we know certain foods trigger tiredness, fatigue, dizziness, and all those kinds of things. We are coming in with the mindset that if a driver follows our dietary requirements, they can be free from fatigue. The companies of those trucks transporting between Zimbabwe and South Africa would rather have their drivers on a vegan diet than be involved in putting in special gadgets that get triggered by driver’s fatigue and get sent to the central system, and it becomes a criminal offense. We are hoping to get a breakthrough.

Sicelesile: The part she left out is that we want to be the ones supplying those meals to the drivers, so that we can deliver them at strategic points, a meal that’s full of vitality and that will actually keep you awake.

Jonathan: That is an argument for going vegan I haven’t heard before.

Sicelesile: The first thing we are hoping is to start with the police vehicles, suppose like this December. Let them be on the program, have the drivers eating our meals. They could have two samples, the people on the program, and people that are not, and evaluate afterwards.

Jonathan: So we have the world’s first vegan police force!

Louisa: Hopefully! We believe in this, and we’ve put so much effort into it.

Sicelesile: It should change the nation.

Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products
Tea and pies at Vegan Friendly Products

Katana: What about you, Morathi, how long have you been vegan?

Morathi: I’ve been vegan since I was 20 years old, about 17 years. I turned 37 on the 22nd of October.

Katana: How did you become vegan?

Morathi: I became vegan when I went off to college in North Carolina Central University. It was the path that chose me. Some friends grabbed me up and they said “Hey, did you know that you can eat a better way, did you know that this is not good for you?” Of course, I denied it at first, and then the truth hits you once they teach you about it, so then I learned, as I was with my friends, how to transition into being a vegan.

Katana: How do you find being vegan in Harare?

Morathi: It’s excellent. Basically all the food is organic, mostly. It’s better than any food that you can get outside or any other country that I’ve experienced so far. I love it, and they (pointing to Louisa) made it so much easier, as they opened up a new restaurant (V Delights). I think that once you put it in your mind that you don’t really need the food supplements, you can do the fruits, everything that comes out of the ground, and you can lead a very good vegan life here.

Katana: And have you travelled a lot around other African countries?

Morathi: Yes, I’ve been to Zambia, I’ve been to Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt, a little bit of Dubai, and of course Zimbabwe.

Katana: How do you think Zimbabwe compares in terms of vegan eating to other countries in your experience?

Morathi: If Zimbabwe could get the fresh squeezed juices like Egypt has, then they’re going to be amazing, but we are going to help Zimbabwe to get to it. But especially the living here, it’s the most peaceful country that I’ve been in my whole entire life. Very very peaceful people: people make the environment and this environment is heaven on earth, I love it.