Psychedelic landscapes and man eating cats.

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
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Trip End Apr 13, 2011


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Flag of South Africa  , Western Cape,
Saturday, August 14, 2010

As I had recently noticed whilst jumping from a plane, Swakopmund is literally in the middle of nowhere. There is nothing but desert as far as the eye can see, with sandy plains, dunes and bare black rocks stretching all the way over the horizon. It was into this nothingness we were now headed – towards the martian landscapes and towering sand dunes of Sesriem.

Soon after leaving Swakopmund, the desert came to life. We had driven into a sandstorm, and due to the heat, the windows had to remain open. Everyone sat helplessly, breathing through makeshift filters as everything inside the truck became covered in a layer of sand. Once it was over, we all resembled albinos due to the fine sand turning our hair and faces completely white

A few hours after crossing the Tropic of Capricorn, we reached Sesriem National park, and I began to suspect someone had slipped something into my drink. The views from my window became incredibly surreal - vast, brilliant orange sand dunes towered hundreds of feet into the air. Beneath the dunes, twisted dead trees writhed up towards the cloudless blue sky. 

At the point where the road ended, we met our local guide for the day, Boesman, a park ranger here and the first friendly white Namibian I had met. Boesman is the Bear Grylls of Sesriem, and knows the desert like the back of his hand. We spent a highly entertaining few hours in his company, as he told us how to survive in this environment, and about the native people and the wildlife. I was surprised to hear that there was any wildlife, but the seemingly sterile desert was actually teeming with life. He pointed out antelope and fox tracks, and reached down into the sand and pulled out a lizard. By looking for telltale dimples in the sand, he found the nest of a trapdoor spider, and lured it out.

A tiring uphill trudge through the sand took us to the most surreal sight yet - a huge patch of bleached earth nestled below the towering red dunes. Scores of blackened dead trees rose up from the cracked white ground. This was 'Deadvlei', a former forest which had its water supply cut off by the advancing dunes. Pop videos and scenes from ‘The Cell’ (a crappy J. Lo fantasy film) have been shot here owing to its utter psychedlic weirdness.

The following day brought another trip highlight. Ever since missing out in the Serengeti, I had been dying to see some cheetahs. Our guide George knew of a place we were guaranteed to see them. We stopped at a farmhouse, and were met by one of the farmhands who led the whole group of us into a fenced enclosure. At first I could only see trees and yellow grass, but then HOLYSHITTHEREARECHEETAHS20FEETAWAY!!! 

Three man eating cats were sat just feet away, camouflaged by the yellow foliage. They stared at us with an intense, predatory gaze. I remembered that if they came for us, I didnt actually have to outrun three cheetahs, just the three slowest members of our group. As it happened, the cheetahs showed no interest in us at all, preferring just to doze or have the odd sip of water. They had gotten used to people over the months they had been here, where they were being nursed back to health following injuries. Cheetahs often get shot by farmers for killing their livestock, or injured on barbed wire fences, and are becoming increasingly endangered as their natural environment is turned into farmland.  I was disgusted that anyone could bring themselves to shoot such graceful and intelligent creatures.

Before our final night in Namibia, we stopped to watch the sunset at Fish River Canyon, a vast ‘U’ shaped chasm carved out over millions of years by a river. It was very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, devoid of vegetation and nothing but jagged red rocks in every direction. I drank a beer, watched the sunset, and reflected on how much I had enjoyed my two weeks in Namibia,  undoubtedly my favourite country of the trip. I had loved every minute of this barren, wild place with its psychedelic landscapes and teeming wildlife.  

The following morning, we crossed the border into South Africa, heading down to Highlanders vineyard, the last campsite of the trip. Everyone was in high spirits due to our imminent reacquaintance with normal beds and inside toilets, and our impending freedom from the incessant cooking/washing up duties.  To be honest, I was surprised by how well I had adapted to life on this trip. I had never camped a night in my life before,  but by this point was comfortable putting up and taking down the tent, going days without a shower, sleeping through hippo and hyena noises and even the nightly ritual of staggering around a strange campsite at 2am trying to find the toilet.

The evening at Highlanders winery started off in a civilised manner, cheese and wine tasting with the hospitable manager, Sparky, overlooking the vineyards and mountains. After dinner, things livened up as most of us in the group sank a few bottles of the local produce and ended up dancing about like idiots.

The next morning I remembered why I had drank so little alcohol on this trip so far – a hangover in a tent is not a nice way to start the day! After saying farewell to Highlanders and our tents, we headed south towards the Cape of Good Hope, the most southerly point of the African continent.  The Cape itself is a pleasant place, with scenic clifftop walkways, views of whales out to sea and beautiful beaches with soft yellow sand and pounding waves .

We had now completed our overland journey from the equator to the Cape, probably the most incredible and intense experience of my life. I was sad that it was over, but now had a few days in Cape Town to reacquaint myself with civilization. I had been to Cape Town once before, in 2002. It is one of my favourite cities, a vibrant, liberal city in a stunning location beneath the vast table mountain. I was shocked at how expensive everything was now, but enjoyed three good days there making the most of the nightlife and the views from table mountain before my flight back to the UK.
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