How can’t you love a country where the roads have signs warning of elephant, warthog and antelope crossing? All of which, including ostriches, we’ve seen while driving down a main road.
The one that was really impressive was a huge kudu that crossed in front of our car only to find himself in front of a 4 foot fence. I readied my camera thinking it would turn around and I would get a great shot of its face. Effortlessly this beast, in one move, gracefully jumped the fence and continued its stroll. Not only did I miss the shot but I then wished I had the camera in video mode.
The one area of the country that we didn’t see any wildlife on the road was the drive up the Skeleton Coast. Not only did the barren and isolated coastal road lack animals you can drive for hours without seeing another car.
If you stop in Cape Cross there is a fur seal colony (or eared seals) where up to 100,000 seals can be seen lounging on the rocks and playing in the rough sea. But while on the main road the only thing to be seen in the water are shipwrecks, which add to the eerie isolated feel of this famous stretch.
The landscape changed drastically as we drove inland toward the central part of the country. The mountains in the area are where the ancient rock carvings can be found sharing the area with the desert elephants. When we arrived we were disappointed to hear that we were just minutes too late to join the elephant tour. So we set off to see some sights and then found a place to photograph Africa’s huge orange ball as it dipped below the horizon. Then we got lucky, returning to the lodge with photos of another beautiful sunset to share, we ran across a desert elephant. I was told these elephants are different because they have bigger feet from walking on the sand and they can survive long periods of time without water. This particular elephant saved us. We had planned on taking an organized tour for $100, but thanks to our spot we didn’t have to.
Driving Namibia is easy and there’s always something to see. Whether it’s a person selling handmade crafts, animals along the road or just the beauty of the ever changing landscape. One of the least populated places in the world offers a warm and wonderful experience.
Thanks to a fellow traveler we met in Tanzania, who convinced us that Namibia was worth adding to our itinerary, we are here. What an interesting country with beautiful scenery. The nice thing is that we were able to rent a car for a self drive around the country. From the architecture to the food, the German heritage is obvious in the capital Windhoek and the coastal town of Swakopmund. Who would have thought I would have the best schnitzel ever in Namibia?
Just a couple miles outside of Windhoek we saw a baboon crossing the highway and a warning to watch out for warthogs. Those were the first signs that this was going to be a fun adventure. Yesterday we spent the day checking out the Welwitschia Plains in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It’s Africa’s third largest conservation area. Unique to this area is the Welwitschia, a desert plant that grows two large leaves, survives on water from the fog and can live over 1000 years. There’s also the impressive “Moon Landscape” which are mountains made up of Damara Granites that pushed up through the earth’s crust 500 to 460 million years ago.
After the park we headed to south to Walvis bay and what a treat that was. As we drove towards the lagoon we saw pink all across the water: there were thousands of flamingos. It was a stunning sight!
I never thought spending two days visiting churches would be a highlight of my trip but it is; these aren’t ordinary houses of worship. In Lalibela there are 11 rock-hewn churches and most are monolithic. Each church was carved from the top down from a single piece of rock. It is said that it took about 40,000 craftsmen using chisels and hammers 23 years to complete these structures. The top windows were the entry point used to hollow out the inside of the church. The roofs of these churches are at ground level so you must go down in order to enter. For security reasons they were connected by an elaborate underground tunnel system. Our guide said these churches, still used as places of worship for Ethiopia’s Orthodox Christians, were the vision of King Lalibela after he returned from a visit to Jerusalem.
A few miles outside the village another King is credited with building his church, Yemrhane Kristios, during the 10th Century A.D. Unlike the churches in Lalibela this one was constructed with not just stone but also wood and mud. Aside from age, the unique feature is its location, built inside of a natural cave. The King is buried here and on October 19th, the date of his death, a tradition still exists which involves holding a rock on one’s shoulder and walking 3 times around the King’s casket. Followers believe doing this has healing powers.
This is another place (Havana the other) where I wished my friend Eric B. (an architect) was here with me. Considering how in awe I was, I know he’d greatly appreciate these incredible structures.
Life in Lalibela is simple. In this small village in the country, mountains make up the landscapes and donkeys and mules rule over any type of machinery. The culture seems to date back to the time when the amazing stone-hewn churches were built. The Saturday market brings people on foot from miles away. Here three main things are sold: agricultural products, livestock ($15 for a goat) and plastic shoes.
From the countryside to the city, Ethiopian coffee is everywhere and the best part is the way they brew it: over a small wood stove. After it has been brewed, the tiny cups of coffee are presented with a side of popcorn and a type of burning incense. This traditional ceremony is worth the maximum cost of a dollar for a good cup of coffee. Here in Lalibela the history is rich, people are nice and the prices are right. (Especially if you need a goat)
There’s nothing like falling asleep to roaring lions, laughing hyenas and hippos grazing the grass around the tent; where for some reason the plastic enclosure makes you feel safe. These sounds and the light from the gazillion stars in the sky are the upsides to camping in the bush.
During day trips in Tanzania’s Serengeti Park we were privileged to be just a few feet away from lions mating and a cheetah munching on its catch of the day, a rabbit. (I captured this on video so I could share the experience, just click on the green links above ) Of course we ran across some herds of elephants and as I watched a mom take special care of her baby I wondered why anyone would buy ivory. Killing this animal just for its tusks is just senseless. On a lighter note the giraffes were my favorite to watch: the way they walk across the plains standing so erect taking gentle steps with their long legs. They seem so elegant. We also saw hyenas, jackals, gazelles, toppies, elands and so many colorful birds it’s no wonder the world is filled with birdwatchers.
I did fear for my life at one point during our camping trip but it had nothing to do with the lions or hippos outside our tent, it was fire. As we were driving from the south to our new campsite in the Northern Serengeti we were told by some men on the road that a burn had taken place earlier in the day but the fire was out. Not only did we run right into a live fire, but the three men down the road who told us it was out had just started a fire behind us. So there we were in the middle of thigh-high dry grass with flames on two sides of us. We were told not to worry the men knew what they were doing; it was a “controlled burn.” A “controlled burn” here means using a box of matches to light a competing fire while fanning the flames with a big leafy branch. Needless to say I worried our way right out of there.
Fortunately we were unharmed but unfortunately that was not the last fire we encountered while there. We were told that fires are set to eradicate the high dry grass so that new green grass will grow providing food that will keep the wildebeests in the area longer. Fires are set but not maintained therefore staff at the tented camps must start their own fire to create a line that will protect their camps. One was set about 50 yards from my tent. (note the picture above where I am brushing my teeth outside the tent) I was told the wind wouldn’t switch and we would be fine. I still packed an evacuation bag and my “favorite” material items suddenly became insignificant.
The fires were a bit stressful especially one that we drove through but overall they did not put a damper on our incredible trip. There’s nothing that can compare to seeing all these animals in their own habitat. I will be posting more animal videos on YouTube in the next few days. In the meantime you can check out the Facebook page’s album Animals in Africa for still photos.
Now my trip focus has changed from wildlife to history and culture, and I have arrived in the perfect place to take it all in, Ethiopia.
This quote sums up my thoughts on this part of the world: “”If you only visit two continents in your lifetime, visit Africa, twice,” R Elliott.
Thank you to our friend Simon at Intrepid Expeditions, LLC for setting up another great trip to Africa for us!
The dust being kicked up by thousands of wildebeests as they charge the Mara River can be seen from a mile away. These animals know they must be quick as they cross the river; it can make the difference between life and death. The crocodiles are waiting but they’re not the only danger, some of these animals will break a leg on the river rocks rendering them immobile and some will get trampled by the herd.
The wildebeests, also known as gnus, are on their annual search for food on a route that takes them from the southern Serengeti in Tanzania into Kenya and eventually back across the river to the south. Seeing about a million animals lining the fields on the river’s bank is an astonishing sight. When the wildebeests are on the move they walk in a line that extends past the horizon leaving a visible trail in the dry grass.
As the wildebeests gather in groups at the river’s edge they sound like a swarm of bees. The group waits for one brave leader to start the crossing which can take hours of milling around before they are ready. We have to hide our vehicle behind a tree. If the herd sees us they won’t start the crossing. When the dust begins to kick up we are able to move closer to view this incredible sight. Once the wildebeests start the charge they are only focused on crossing the river.
The Serengeti is a special place. In my next post I will share with you lions mating and a cheetah having rabbit for lunch. The sad thing is we did not see one rhinoceros. Poaching, for their horn, has made some species of the rhino extinct. Even today they are still being hunted because people in some cultures actually believe the ground up horn can act as an aphrodisiac and others use the horn to make a handle for knives.
If anyone has any specific animal request let me know I will see if I can deliver.
I am glad we stopped in Dubai for a couple of days even if it was during the summer and 111˚ degree heat. Seeing this modern city in the middle of the desert was worth the time. We played tourist by going on a “safari” which meant four-wheeling on the sand dunes then being taken to a pseudo Bedouin camp tourist trap in the desert where at least a good meal was served. For a bit of culture we took the tourist bus around the city and stopped at a few places including the Dubai museum and the spice souk. With the weather so hot I had to check out the beach and stick my toes in the Arabian Sea. The water was so warm it was more like taking a dip in a Jacuzzi than a bathtub, 88˚ F.
Next up a quick stop in Nairobi where we will get to see a couple of friends before boarding a bus to Tanzania. I have been looking forward to this part of our trip for a while. We will spend 8 days camping in the Serengeti checking out the great migration. (Hundreds of thousands of wildebeest and zebras on the move to find water.) I am not sure if I will be able to post while I am there but if not I can guarantee you I will have lots of pictures for you when we get back to civilization.
My last day in the Maldives and I am excited to move on. I start each day here with a snorkel. The highlights are the Maldives Anemonefish otherwise known as a Maldives Clownfish. This type of clownfish is named after the country because here it only has 1 white stripe. There are 27 species of Nemos worldwide. The colors
of the host anemones, where they live, are really pretty. Here I have seen them in bright blue, white and pink. They are easy to see because they are the colorful spots among a lot of damaged and broken coral. The 2004 tsunami and the waves (which are good for surfing) have impacted the coral reefs on Kandooma, the island I am on. I was happy to see that the resort has started to grow a coral garden just off the main beach.
A snorkel than a day at the beach has been nice but I am ready to have more cultural experiences. Tomorrow we head to Dubai for three days than it’s off to Nairobi. I am pretty excited to get to Kenya to see a friend who I produced for during Hurricane Katrina. It will be nice to see him again and learn about his country.
I love traveling and feel so fortunate that I have friends all over the world….and making more every day!
If you surf this is definitely the place for you. Right off the beach is a reef break where I spent the day watching surfers get tubed. The Perfect Wave surf shop has trips to other spots where the waves are bigger but softer for those, like me, who wouldn’t dare try surfing off the beach.
My thoughts on the diving at this particular resort are relative, since I just came from the most beautiful place I have ever seen (Komodo National Park) This was a disappointment. I did see a few large schools of fish, about 4 reef sharks, 3 turtles, 1 octopus and a couple moray eels. I did say it’s relative! The coral is monochromatic, a bone white. I was told it’s the heavy waves here on this atoll break the coral causing them to fall onto the ones below.
Although this is a beautiful island I feel trapped and guilty for expressing this out loud. The white sand beaches and the warm clear aqua blue water are what one would expect for an island paradise.
As I had mentioned in an earlier post all-inclusives are not for me but most of the outer atolls here only have one property on them. That means eating and drinking at the same place for all meals which offers little, if any, interaction with the locals. After paying a reasonable rate for the room everything cost extra and it is not cheap: $33 for a hamburger, $25 for an appetizer of wings and that is before the tax and service charge!! I won’t bore you all with the water sports and excursion prices. (That will be available in the Maldives page when I post it)
I will spend the week checking out the surf and whittling down my list of “books I want to read.” I have plowed through a few great ones so email me if you are interested in book recommendations!
After an 8 minute boat ride from the airport we were at our Male hotel in the heart of the city. Actually the island city is 115.8 square miles with 103.7 thousand people on it so everywhere can probably be referred to as the heart. The town was jumping at 10p when we arrived. Shops and restaurants still opened and many people on the streets. We found out that there were big screens set up near the waterfront showing the World Cup. So off we went on a 15 minute walk to join the locals who were ALL male. As the only tourists we just blended into the crowd and settled in to watch the Spain vs Chile game.
This may have been the first dry sporting event I have been to, it’s a Muslim country so no alcohol. What really surprised me was some of
the tourists on the plane arriving in short shorts & belly shirts. I was stunned by this ignorance and lack of respect. I’m not saying one has to cover their head but they could have put on pants and a short sleeve shirt! Not wanting to attract attention I wore long sleeve shirts and pants while in the city. But now we are off to an outer atoll to spend the week surfing and diving!
I could have spent my entire three-month trip in Indonesia. What a wonderful place. I spent most of my time here underwater so I didn’t see all the country has to offer like its many volcanoes, riverboat tours, temples and orangutans. But what I saw I loved and I have posted an information page with tips, advice and prices. Komodo National Park is now at the top of my all-time favorite tropical paradise list, sharing the spot with Fakarava, French Polynesia.
It is an expensive and long flight from the United States but it is well worth it. In country prices are inexpensive for everything from hotels to food. The Indonesia people are very kind and helpful. Although a tourist destination I was rarely hassled with offers of good prices.
But it is time to move on. Next stop is a week in the Maldives, yes more diving, then on to Dubai and then Africa. I’m not sure where in Africa because we are trying to not plan that far ahead. I do know the Great Migration is on the top of the list and a visit with some dear South African friends who we met a few years ago when we were there.
I feel so fortunate to have this amazing opportunity and I thank all of you for traveling the world with me I just wish it didn’t have to be virtually!