Tag Archives: Namibia

Trails Old and New – Namibia

It is 7pm and has been dark for an hour. Winter in the Namib is quite pleasant – warm and sunny during the day, and hardly any annoying flies or mosquitoes. This makes a nice change from Togo in the rainy season! We had a week of unusually hot and sunny weather due to east winds on the coast, but at night it can get chilly, especially at the the higher altitudes further inland. In Windhoek the other day I woke with a cold head to find it had dropped to 4 degrees C…tonight its set to drop to TWO!!

But we’re back on the road again and its good. After picking up Troopy from the port in Walvis Bay I spent a few nights in the Namib Naukluft Park before heading slowly to Windhoek to meet up with Agne.

The first night in the wild was just near the spot we camped last time and met the strange but friendly Rock Hyraxes. This time though I took the opportunity to do some more exploring, criss crossing my old trails and spending a night at the most remote campsite in the park. As usual I had the place to myself – camping in a sort of semi-cave of overhanging rock looking out over the Tinkas Plains.

Rock Arch Campsite
Rock Arch Campsite

I made a supper of corn and sweet potato on the braii – cooked using recycled wood and charcoal scavenged from old campfires.

The beginnings of dinner...
The beginnings of dinner…

I’m pretty confident there wasn’t another human being within 10 miles, which is a higher level of confidence than at any point on the travels so far – even back in the Mauritanian Sahara. It was strangely relaxing to be out there alone, though the sound of galloping zebra charging around in the night took a bit of getting used to. They seemed to be spooked and I don’t blame them – there were some strange noises out there!

Rock Arch Campsite
Rock Arch Campsite

If the Rock Arch campsite was basic and wild, the next night was its luxury cousin. Another overhanging rock to camp under, but this time on a ‘Guest Farm’ with running hot water for the shower – still outdoors of course, with a view across the rocky hills.

Shower With a View
Shower With a View

I have to say though that I preferred the real wilderness, rather than the fenced ‘safe’ version which didn’t seem to have much in the way of wildlife – just a pet Gemsbok and Zebra. My campfire cooking got a bit more adventurous and I came up with a couscous dish that reminded me of the daily vegetable tajine’s from the Moroccan leg.

Campfire Couscous
Campfire Couscous

There’s a lot to love about Namibia, but at the same time I’m already feeling a little uncomfortable about some things. History has left its mark in a different way down here than back up North – it is certainly a cleaner and more developed country, but you can’t help but notice the preponderance of white, German-speaking owners of the guest farms and lodges, contrasted with the poorer neighbourhoods of Walvis Bay. Then there was the sign at my campsite asking that we hand any donations of food or clothes for the ’employees’ to the owners for distribution. What Namibia does have however, which most of West Africa doesn’t, is tourists and the infrastructure to support them. It is a very easy place to travel, though not perhaps the most vegan-friendly!

Leo Enjoying the Gamsberg Pass
Leo Enjoying the Gamsberg Pass

So onwards to Windhoek and meeting up with Kevin and Heike again. Troopy had a trip to a garage to get a new front axle oil seal fitted – I’d have done it myself but looked at the Haynes manual and decided it would be a long, messy job that someone with all the tools and parts could do in half the time. I’m using the ‘iOverlander’ app on this trip for finding campsites and it also has other useful places like embassies and garages listed, with reviews, so I was able to pick a good mechanic who sorted it with no problem. Lets see how that works out later…

Tomorrow Agne arrives for the leg up to Victoria Falls, so we’ll have more to talk about soon. If I don’t freeze tonight, of course!

 

Reflections

Looking back at the route we travelled, it seems as if the waters closed behind us and it is no longer safe to travel that way.  Maybe it isn’t really much worse than at the time – our encounter with the Egyptian army was perhaps a sign that things were tense there even then. But the expansion of violence across the region is more than worrying so I’m glad we did this journey just in time.

Egypt - Human Conflict is not
El Alamein, Egypt – Human Conflict is not new to the Sahara

Having passed through the region did start me on a chain of thought – thinking about some of the horrific things people have done – for example videoing themselves cutting other people’s heads off. It makes us all wonder how someone can do that…they must have something wrong with them? It is obviously  inhuman? To be honest I have avoided seeing any of those videos – knowing they exist is bad enough. But I have also seen other things lately that I find disturbing for other reasons. I watched Earthlings for the first time, or rather I watched part of it. The abattoir sequence was too much for me as an engineer – the effort and ingenuity that must have gone in to creating a machine to manipulate a living sentient animal was really disturbing. All to make the process more efficient and make a few more dollars profit. Then there was an article on the BBC, looking into the brutal gang rape of a woman in India, and the attitudes of the perpetrators. This was in some ways more disturbing than anything  –  though I think people should read it, you have to admire Leslee Udwin who had the bravery to listen to those people, to expose and document the underlying issues. I was left speechless, I’m glad she wasn’t.

It seemed to me though that all of these things, though very different and some far more horrific than others, had something in common – the objectisation and devaluation of the victim by the social or cultural group around those perpetrating the act, and the rationalisation of individual actions on that basis. This is not inhuman – it is a very human trait. People can do almost anything if it is normalised by their peers. We find excuses for everything. I think we need to recognise that and deal with it – WE are those peers. It never starts out as these extreme examples, but the more we accept prejudice and the devaluing of others – even if it does make ourselves feel better – the more likely these attitudes form the foundations which develop into extremes?

From a vegan perspective, once we open our eyes it seems obvious that what we were led to believe was normal and necessary, was not. In most cases vegans have had to go through the process of accepting that we are wrong – since we have mostly been brought up as part of the animal-consuming society – accepting guilt for our time as non-vegans and doing something about it. I think it is important however not to stop there and keep our eyes open – being vegan is not the answer to everything, and having made that step once we should not close our minds to seeking out other opportunities to improve our interactions with the world, human and non-human. Its not easy – we natuarally fall back into habit and can’t think through every ramification of all our actions each day – even vegans mostly just go shopping like everyone else and pick the things they do every week without thinking. Its not difficult being vegan, its difficult questioning our own beliefs and assumptions then changing our habits where necessary – but perhaps we should all try that a bit more often rather than simply defending our current selves without thinking?

This trip has been a great adventure, but it is not in all ways a great example in this overcrowded world.

Our travels through Ethiopia made me wonder quite how many humans this planet can support – and not just in terms of how much food we can produce, but how many other species are forced into smaller and smaller spaces and then into extinction by our very existence.

Ethiopia - Live Sheep travel on the roof.
Ethiopia – Live Sheep travel on the roof.

Most Ethiopians consume very little compared to more ‘developed’ nations, but still we saw a country of visibly eroding landscapes where biodiversity was being ever reduced under pressure from the human population and their domesticated animals, amid a thriving international Aid industry.

Ethiopia - a beautiful country under pressure.
Ethiopia – a beautiful country under pressure.

We can give ourselves some time by moving to a vegan way of life, as well as becoming healthier and avoiding the unnecessary cruelty of animal production – which in themselves are reason enough. But in my own lifetime the human population of the planet has more than doubled – if we don’t do something serious about that soon, that time might not be enough. We all know the feeling of awe and beauty we get from the sight of a wild, natural landscape? We know it is good. Maybe we should start taking that particular natural instinct to heart and ask whether its acceptable to claim the majority of this land for ourselves at the expense of other earthlings? In Africa, there are estimated to be 30,000 lions left alive. In the same continent there are in excess of 1,100,000,000 humans. Since we have assumed the mantle of ‘top predator’, perhaps we should adjust our numbers and land claim to a more appropriate level for that position in the food chain?

One in 30,000
One in 30,000

Instead, we are on course to accelerate our uncontrolled growth – the UN’s population projections are really quite alarming, especially in some of the resource-limited regions. I’ll leave you to go check those details – Wikipedia is actually a fairly good starting point. But even here, we are inclined to look at it as a regional problem – we’re OK because we are developed countries and our population isn’t increasing so fast. We’re doing OK then and its not our problem? And anyway when we talk about resources and population, the definitions are all about how much food for humans the world can support – being vegan will solve that too…

Abu Dhabi - Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?
Abu Dhabi – Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?

But human population is not a geographically localised problem. Our actions back in Europe have direct consequences all over the world. Botswana has a very low population density – but vast areas of the country are given over to beef production for export, and they built huge fences to prevent the wildlife migrating (partly to meet European disease control standards). This not only cuts down the range of wild animals, but has led for example to large scale deaths of zebra when they couldn’t migrate from dry areas to areas with water. It IS free-range cattle, probably cheap for Europe – but at what cost to wildlife? But moving on into South Africa it was obvious that these current pressures on wildlife and biodiversity are just the latest in a long succession, and not by any means all are related to animal farming. We can be just as speciesist, albeit indirectly, while being vegan – when we buy fruits, vegetables and drink wine from Africa (or anywhere else for that matter) we are using the best land, long claimed for ourselves and fenced off to exclude other species. That has the same effect – reducing biodiversity and the capacity of wildlife to survive by migrating. Is it enough that vegans use less of this exclusive best land?

South Africa - This Land is Our Land
South Africa – This Land is Our Land

Even the game reserves and national parks often have the appearance of little more than a grand scale zoo for human entertainment – often fenced, nearly always featuring artificial waterholes to concentate the wildlife at suitable viewing spots. And then we create more problems – fencing the wildlife in, taking away their ability to migrate and concentatrating them in specific locations. The local environment can’t support this concentration and there are said, for example, to be too many elephants.

Floodlit Artificial Waterhole - Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests
Floodlit Artificial Waterhole – Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests

People lobby to have them culled to control the numbers. Is this always our solution? There are not too many elephants – there may be in certain areas that we have concentrated them in – but the real problem is too many people. And unlike elephants, the human population is a global problem – our global markets mean we have an impact wherever we are. Yes, being vegan reduces that impact considerably and we could sustainably feed everyone if we were vegan – but we continue to treat the entire planet as our personal food factory. For me, that is not acceptable. When will we start to do something about our own population rather than resorting to culling and ‘managing’ other species to treat the symptoms? We can be a very self-deluding species at times – always defending whatever it is we want or makes us feel better about ourselves with excuses in the guise of reason, rather than being open to self-criticism and change. That much is clear from our treatment of each other.

I do feel guilty about the amount of resources we have used in our Western lives and travels – especially in this last round trip to Europe to finish the trip to Cape Town. I have some making up to do. If we are to survive, we can’t go on with this number of humans using more and more resources. It is too easy to make a small step and then settle down into thinking we’ve done enough since we have done more than most. Its not enough. Go vegan, stay vegan – it is easy and takes nothing away from our enjoyment and quality of life – there is no sacrifice in doing that much, so no excuse not to. And don’t increase the population. Doing these things would be a start. But only a start.

I’m glad to have seen so much of this world, but despair at our apparent inability to control our own destruction of it. Isn’t it time we stopped looking at each other and finding excuses not to take responsibility for our own actions or inactions…all of them and not just our own pet issues?

“Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess” Martin Luther King, May 5th 1966. The year England won the football World Cup. Now there are more than twice as many of us. Those 3 lions on an England shirt may soon be all the lions there are to watch outside a zoo.

Meetings on the Road (Mariental to the Orange River)

Today was quite a day, and probably deserved a blog post all itself. It started with a drive through the desert on rough tracks through alternating sunshine and fog banks, followed by a relatively short drive South on gravel roads to the banks of the Orange River. At this point I have to admit to having a little emotional moment – there on the opposite bank was South Africa. The last country. It is not easy to describe or even understand the feelings you get at moments like this – but a little later in the day when I met a lone cyclist, who turned out to be on the last leg of an epic bike ride from Sweden to Cape Town, he also spoke of his mixed feelings on approaching this same border. I’m guessing he’ll be crossing the river tomorrow.

Chance Meeting at a crossroads - www.swedentoafrica.com
Chance Meeting at a crossroads – www.swedentoafrica.com

If it weren’t for the fact that his intended crossing point was a ferry, motorbikes only (no Landcruisers), I was tempted to head back the same way to talk some more. But as it was, after 20 minutes or so exchanging tales, we set off in opposite directions towards the same place. I am now camping by the Orange River a hundred or two kilometres further South East and will make my final border crossing in the morning.

Further up the road towards Fish River Canyon, I met a bunch of nice lasses who stopped and chatted about our travels and being vegan/veggie on the road, and how nice Mozambique is…only a slightly sore point, that.

Another meeting on the road to Fish River Canyon
Another meeting on the road to Fish River Canyon

It was good to meet people today – to share experiences, and it also took my mind of the continuing worry of Troopy’s oil leak (I need to top up the rear diff oil before heading off in the morning!). In fact its been a good part of travelling solo – I have been talking to lots of random people.

Going back a little – the trip from Mariental to Luderitz was my first crossing of the Fish River, quite wide even that far North, though little more than a trickle between thunderstorms – we are in the land of dust and flash floods here.

First Crossing of the Fish River
First Crossing of the Fish River

Then as the landscape gradually changed from fields, to thick scrub, to desert I was pleased to see my favourite variety of antelope – Gemsbok – along with Zebra. By the time I came to the last 120km I was crossing the Southern Namib desert and it was pretty much sand, rock and more sand. I’ve even made a time lapse video of the experience so you can all join in – 2 minutes, rather than an hour and a half sound OK? I’ll post that on youtube HERE! Reaching the Atlantic again was just as cold as last time, though no surprise this time round.

Having found the campsite in Luderitz and picked a spot overlooking the harbour a German couple in a Landrover turned up and we shared some G&Ts and tales. I was a little jealous as the next day they were heading up through the dunes to Walvis Bay, a route which we weren’t able to take because a storm had washed the beach away in November. They also made me hungover and running low on gin (well that’s my excuse!).

On the upside, they suggested a campsite and a nice route towards Fish River Canyon, and they were spot on – and I found myself camping in an arid wilderness with a swimming pool. That is where I set off from this morning. The road along the Orange River was entertaining and picturesque, before the road North towards the canyon struck out straight across another vast, flat gravelly expanse of desert. I tried to take photos of Fish River Canyon, but its one of those things you just can’t get the feeling of HUGE scale from unless you are there.

The Fish River, but bigger!
The Fish River, but bigger!

Its big. Accompanied by thunder and lighting, it was a fair way to sign off Namibia. Tomorrow South Africa, first stop (I hope!) a car parts shop in Springbok!

Windhoek South

Well, we are back on the road again. I was pleased to find Troopy in as good condition as we left him, though 2 thoughts went through my mind when I got in again for the first time;

1. Its dirty in here – we cleaned the inside before we left, but the dust is still everywhere, and obviously on-the-road clean is not the same as London-clean!

2. Its SMALL in here – how did we ever manage to live in such a small space for 6 months?

The first night back was spent at the Trans Kalahari Inn – an evening discussing population, farming, and their menu with the owner over some local wheat beers (they are updating the menu to show vegan options now – they used to put cheese in things even though it didn’t say so on the menu). Next morning it was time to head South again, via Windhoek for some stocking up on supplies. You’ll also notice the Map page has changed – I am now using a mobile app to update the location over mobile phone network so I had to get a local SIM for the data. Somehow the satellite tracker went AWOL in the office back in London the day of departure, but this seems to work OK as well (just click on the link to see the map in Google Maps if they haven’t enabled the embedded map yet).

So how is it to be back? Its familiar – I took a detour on the dirt roads to take in some sand dunes, and remembered to photograph a Weaver bird nest for my mum. Troopy is also being familiar – the rear left driveshaft is showing signs of oil again, but nothing too bad so far. I’ve given myself a No.3 all over African-weather haircut, and then started to regret it when it got dark and the temperature plummeted! I did experiment with some starlight photography – it was good to see the Southern Cross again showing me which way to go.

Camping Under African Skies
Camping Under African Skies

For breakfast it was the familiar porridge – complete with Katana’s favourite topping of soy sauce. I always preferred jam on mine, but I left that off my shopping list, so soy sauce it was. Sipping coffee while waiting for the wood fire to heat the water for a shower on the veranda of my campsite at Bastion Farmyard was a nice change to the Central Line. This morning I will be heading on South towards Luderitz, but depending on the progress divert towards Fish River Canyon – Luderitz would require a backtrack of a couple of hundred kilometres as there’s only 1 way in or out, and I was never keen on doing the same bit of trail twice!

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.