Anyway, I recommend it in case anyone else is thinking of doing a canoe trip in Africa.
Just off four days canoeing on the Zambezi river and missing my friend Anne Taylor from Ottawa. Anne and her husband Mark taught me how to get around in a canoe starting when I was really young. We wish they could have been with us on this trip.
The Zambezi is the fourth longest river in Africa. Most people see it at Victoria Falls. It starts in Zambia but much of it runs through Mozambique. Where we were, it forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Even though we did not have visas for Zimbabwe, we spent a lot of time on that side of the river looking into Mana Pools National Park and stopping for lunch and snacks on the Zim side. So we got to add another country to our trip list.
See this sign? We did, but then we ignored it. Only the second part. But only when our guide Martin told us that we could. It was a bit weird swimming in a river where there were animals that could eat you. But Martin told us that both crocs and hippo preferred to be in the deeper parts of the river and as long as it was shallow and he could see everything easily we could cool off in the water. So don't worry Oma and Gran, there was no real danger.
We saw hundreds of hippos, dozens of elephants, and several crocs. Really close up! Once we even saw lion footprints. And we heard lions at night, but we always slept on an island to make it harder for them to find us. It was freaky, but also cool. And my parents said I have to also say that the landscape was beautiful and amazing or something like that.
Anyway, I recommend it in case anyone else is thinking of doing a canoe trip in Africa.
Namibia was a revelation. Even though we had always wanted to go there to see amazing landscapes, I was still astounded at how amazing the landscapes were. Continually different, continually amazing! Also, it became very clear why there is a sun image in the Namibia flag. Even sunnier than Maputo! We started from the south, driving up from the town of Springbok in SA and having a picnic lunch and a dip in the hot-springs heated pool at Ai-Ais (the place of burning water), and the end of the five-day Fish River Canyon hike, which someday I would like to come back to do in its entirety. You could say that here was the resort of lost companions waiting with heated pool and bar, but of course we were not stopping there. We drove out to see the canyon from the top and camped at Hobas, near the starting point of the canyon hike. Next day on the drive to the quaint German costal town of Luderitz we stopped to see the wild desert horses of the Koichab Pan. These horses are descended from farm and army and former aristocrat horses that escaped or were abandoned around the time of the first World War. Around 200 of them currently roam in the desert, finding grass where they can and visiting a waterhole installed to help ensure their survival. Starkly beautiful.
The other "highlight" of that drive was the thousands of huge armoured crickets we saw (and squished) on the tar road. Every squished cricket becomes lunch for another cricket in a grizzly yet somehow sustainable cycle. In case you are wondering how we could see dark bugs on a black tar road, they are each about two inches long and an inch tall. Fantastically creepy.
At Luderitz we camped at the lovely but windy Shark Island, but the best part of this stop was a visit to the nearby ghost town of Kolmanskop, a former diamond-mining centre abandoned about 50 years ago and slowly being reclaimed by the desert since the mining has shifted to offshore dredging. A photographer's dream, and dramatic living proof of the second law of thermodynamics -- that all things inevitable trend from order to disorder (as demonstrated in this exact place by Brian Cox in the BBC's Wonders of the Universe series - see the link below in my last guest post beside the Namibia flag).
Seisreim and Sossusvlei are were really the place Neil Young must have been thinking of where the pavement turned to sand. We had unbelievable views during a morning balloon ride -- of the shadow of the earth on space (the dark blue line at the base of the sky in the first photo below) as well as of the dunes that reach 85km to the sea -- and the most scenic breakfast picnic ever. Dead Vlei was another photographer's heaven, with the dunes and the salt pan and the tree skeletons and the blue sky providing near-endless combinations of entrancing colour and shape and shadow.
The next day was a mind-bogglingly beautiful drive that felt strangely like southern Alberta and had me singing Ian Tyson and KD Lang in my head. Warm dry air, rolling grass-covered hills, mountain backdrops, vast blue skies, and cows everywhere, and even a western-style one-horse town called Solitaire. A prairie girl could sink some roots in a place like this. I really felt at home. Just like on trips back to Alberta, my hands and nose dried out and started to crack...
I will let Sam tell you about the adrenaline activities from our three-days in Swakopmund, and will skip ahead with a couple of images from the Skeleton Coast, including a decomposing shipwreck, the salt along the salt road, and the insane numbers of seals at Cape Cross (I don't think I have ever seen, or smelled, or heard) more animals in one place ever in my life), and then leave you with an image of the Etosha Pan, yet another distinct and amazing landscape in a land of stunning and diverse beauty. Visit Namibia folks. Plan for a month.
Cape Argulhas. The southern-most tip of Africa. I was first surprised that Cape Town was not the tip – I always thought that was where the Atlantic and Indian oceans met – at Cape Point, but it turns out that the REAL point is a few hundred km to the east. So of course we had to go there on the way to Cape Town.
Shuk is a stuffed polar bear that I got when I was born.
Polar bears are amazing (and, by the way ,also endangered – you can read more about that here). Lots of people think that there are both polar bears and penguins at both the south pole and the north pole, but it is not true. Polar bears live only in icy parts of the northern hemisphere, and penguins live only in the colder bits of the southern hemisphere. So Shuk is maybe the only polar bear in Africa right now. FYI Shuk is short for “Inukshuk”. Inukshuks are stone figures that were traditionally made by Inuit people in the Arctic to mark important places or for navigation.
At different times in this blog I’m going to tell you what Shuk is thinking. In my family we call it “stuff Shuk says” or #sss. At Cape Argulhas, Shuk was thinking about two things:
· "If I keep going south, there must be ice!” #sss
· “I’m hungry. Where are the seals?” #sss
The favourite food of polar bears is seals, which are found in both northern and southern hemispheres. I think he could smell the seals, but we didn’t see any that day.
We had to put our feet into the water at the southern-most point of the drive.
Yes, it was COLD!!!!
From here, the rest of the drive is north, latitudinally speaking. That’s cool. Or hot. Or whatever. Off we go!
And yes, technically this all happened before we got to Cape Town, which I already talked about below, but things got a little bit out of order based on lousy internet access and other stuff. So just use the map at the start to figure it out if you get confused.
We had a few extra days in Cape Town on our way to Namibia (bit if suspension work needed to be done). Fortunately, my buddy Seb from AISM in Maputo has a place south of Cape Town.
Seb was not there, he had just left. But his Dad Jesper was. We spent a few days at his spectacular place (apparently designed by Seb's Mum!)
Here's a pic of me with Jesper just before we headed north to Springbok on our way to the Fish River canyon.
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela is known simply by his clan name - Madiba. On the drive down from Capetown we were fortunate to stop in Madiba's home town of Qunu. We went to the rock above the school where he played as a kid.
When my Dad first told me about Mandela, he wanted to provide some perspective. He knew I loved soccer. And I knew that Pelé was the greatest football player of all time. So he said that Mandela was the Pelé of politicians, the greatest politician of my Dad's generation.
We managed to see his hometown. And we have seen the prison where he was released in 1990. But we have not managed to get to Robben Island where he spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. You need to take a ferry. And we have tried several times, including on this trip, but the boat has always been cancelled. So we left Cape Town once again not having seen the small cell where he lived for many years.
And this from my Dad: Mandela really was the greatest politician of my generation. Here are a few quick thoughts. This is what he said at the trial where he was sentenced to prison in 1964:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
In 1996, Morag and I were lucky enough to attend the concert to celebrate South Africa's re-entry into the Commonweatlh after the sanctions were lifted. The concert was called Two Nations Celebrate http://life.royalalberthall.com/2013/12/06/nelson-mandela-at-the-hall/
when Mandela returned after intermission the crowd gave him a ten minute standing ovation. It was unforgettable.
If you have not seen Invictus with Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, it is worth a view. Particularly for the powerful poem by William Ernest Henley
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
And finally, whatever you think of Obama, he is one of the greatest orators of our time. Here is his speech at Mandela's funeral. Nineteen minutes but well worth the time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vUB363cRqE
We left our house on Thursday morning with Green Day on the radio up really LOUD. On Holiday. This is my favorite road trip music with my dad. Usually we play it when my mum is not in the car. "This is the dawning of the rest of our lives / On holiday!" If you don't know what song I mean, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrWpLS0vM0g
Kinda sad leaving Maputo. Maybe we will do another post about that later.
The first day was a lot of driving, but we already finished one country! Straight through Swaziland. My mum says she forgot to even put Swazi on our list. Then we spent two nights in Durban because we were all really tired, and because it is an awesome place.
I thought the first week would not have too much adventure, but already on the second day I got to do something totally unexpected and awesome I DID THE GBWR ROPE SWING IN DURBAN!!!!! It was the most awesome scary thing I have ever done in my life.
This is a picture of the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. Pretty nice, right? To do the Big Rush swing I had to climb up the steps inside the vertical pillar on the left, all the way up to the FOURTH cross pillar in the picture - the tiny one you can barely see that has a ladder going down onto it. Waaaaaaay up there.
Also, my mum says I have to give the photo credit, which is from the Big Rush FB page, credit to Wayne Robert Horsley — with Owen Mbonambi. The webpage for the swing is here: http://www.bigrush.co.za/
So if you want to see my jump, you can click on the video below. I do not recommend that my Oma or my Gran watch this video, because they might get too mad at my parents for letting me do this. My parents, who by the way were sitting way down below in the stadium watching me jump... but they checked the safety standards first, and all that.... Anyway, this is me in the video with 80m freefall. Yolo.