Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Namibia Part One

The border crossing was a snap; the usual go to immigration first then the police next then customs next and then repeat on the other side and pay the $30.00 carbon tax and you are on your way. It is hard to believe that up to maybe 20 years ago there wasn’t a border between South Africa and Namibia. It was like crossing between provinces and you only knew that you had crossed into South West Africa, as Namibia was known then, if you were alert enough to see the sign.

Once across the border we headed to the petrol station as we crossed with as little petrol as was prudent because petrol is about .50 cents a gallon cheaper in Namibia. Unfortunately that is the only thing that is cheaper! Camping is 50% more expensive, food is more expensive and you pay a daily fee at game parks for each person and an additional fee for your camper. But, Namibia is huge and you will drive many, many miles so cheaper petrol helps balance the budget.
Petrol Station Namibia style.

Our first destination was the Fish River Canyon which Namibia claims to be the 2nd largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. Well, that claim and, as it turns out, a couple of other Namibian claims to fame, are not quite true as the Blue Nile Canyon (or is it the White Nile) in Ethiopia is the 2nd largest canyon. You reach the Fish River Canyon by taking a dirt road off the main Windhoek highway or the B1 and drive the hundred kilometers down this deserted, dusty road, and I mean deserted as we didn’t see another car in either direction for the whole ride and then suddenly out of the blue is this ‘Road House’ beside the road. Of course you must turn in and see if they have ice cream and we are amazed by the place. The owner has collected vintage cars and planted them all around his garden. He has a cactus growing out of the engine of a really old Ford and has vintage American cars parked in front of the restaurant and inside the restaurant there are all sorts of vintage auto memorabilia from petrol pumps to vintage advertisements. Man what fun and it doesn’t end there, in the men’s room there are old risqué movie posters and on one wall is a larger than life mural of Pandora!

Lonely, dusty road

Bush Baby on Dusty Road

Bush Baby

Canon Roadhouse

Vintage cars in the garden at Canon Roadhouse

Canon Roadhouse Restaurant

Pandora inside the men's bathroom

We had delicious Apple Strudel with ice cream for lunch and decided this was the place to make camp. The campground was shaded and spotless and there was a very clean swimming pool. What an introduction to Namibia!

Campsite at Canon Roadhouse

Horse begging at the kitchen window outside the restaurant

That afternoon we drove the 30 or so kilometers to the park and after paying our entrance fee we drove the last 15 kilometers on one of the worst dirt roads in Southern Africa. The road is so bad that South African car rental companies explicitly ban you from taking their rental cars to the Fish River Canyon. Once there the view, although not spectacular, was nice!  We spent a very pleasant hour or so chatting with the 3 or 4 other intrepid visitors exchanging stories. The best story was the one told by the young German couple on their honeymoon (Germans seem to like to take their honeymoons in Africa in a rental truck with a rooftop tent, as this must have been the third or fourth ones we had met). They took a park arranged night game drive in the Kgalagadi and when the guide heard some lions she stopped the game viewing truck, which was one of these open top and open sided trucks that are so popular in game parks. They listened to the lions for a minute or two and when the lions got quite close the guide decided to move off, but the truck wouldn’t start so she got on her radio to call for help, but the radio didn’t work either and they were out of cell phone range. The long and the short of it was they were stuck in an open air truck with lions roaming about in the pitch dark for over 4 hours!

Fish River Canyon

From the Fish River Canyon we drove to Aus to see the remains of the South African concentration camp where they kept the captured German soldiers during WWI. Not very interesting, just a plaque in the middle of the desert and some very rusty tin cans. Further east of Aus there is a wild horse sanctuary where a couple of herds of wild horses are protected and roam free. The story of how they got there isn’t quite clear but the amazing thing is that they survive in very harsh conditions and seem to be able to go without water for days on end.
Memorial at Aus 

Entrance to the wild horse sanctuary on the way to Ludritz and of course a Ostrich has to be standing in  the middle of the road

Wild Horses

Stallion with long forgotten battle scars

Our plan was to drive to the town of Ludritz and spend the night. Ludritz is an old German settlement right on the Atlantic Ocean with some famous German style architecture. About 30 kilometers from Ludritz we ran into our first sand-storm. The wind was blowing very hard and the sand was making it hard to see. Once in Ludritz it was still windy and miserable so after a quick drive around town and getting some supplies and petrol we high-tailed it back to Aus and a great campground just 15 kilometers east of town.

Start of the sand storm on the way to Ludritz

Downtown Ludritz

Camping at Aus
Aus campsite

The next day we set off for Keetmanshoop which really has a Wild West feel to it. It is named after a German gentleman who supported the mission in the   small town by sending them supplies and helped finance the mission, so they named the town after him which translates into Keetman's Hope as he gave the mission hope. Nice story I thought.

Keetmanshoop. Shopping done. Notice the wig?

We wanted to spend the night at the Kokerboom Forest but the campground was hot and dusty, with little shade. We decided to get our money back and move on to a farm campsite 30 or so kilometers down the dirt road which was much more pleasant. The Kokerboom Forest wasn’t that great either and I think the one just outside Nieuwoudtville in the Northern Cape is not only bigger with many more trees but it is also free!

Horse cart on the way to the farm campsite

Namibian cowboy on the way to the farm campsite

On to Windhoek for much needed supplies and an oil change and service for the Chevy. Each time we visited a dealership the excitement that the truck generated was amazing. The service guys call the salesmen over and then the manager’s show up. There is a general buzz going on with questions being thrown at you from all sides. When we were deciding to bring the Chevy to Africa we got in touch with Chevy USA and questioned them about the Chevy Lumina in South Africa, (the Lumina also has the 6 Liter gasoline engine). They referred us to Chevy South Africa who assured us that the engines in the 3500 HD and the Lumina were the same, albeit tuned a little differently. They also assured us that we would be able to get parts for the engine in South Africa. They were right, as oil filters and such are readily available. We then offered to show the truck to select dealers in South Africa so they could see what an American Chevy looked like and we would do it not wanting anything in return. We never heard back from Chevy South Africa and I think they missed out after seeing the reaction of the staff at the couple of dealerships we have visited for a service. They show a tremendous pride in the Chevy product….

And the road goes on

Finally we are on our way to Etosha which is one of the must see places during our trip. We arrived at Etosha’s Anderson Gate quite late in the afternoon and rather than pay the entrance fee for just a couple of hours of game viewing, we decided to camp about 50 kilometers outside the park at a private campground. We got up bright and early the next morning and were on our way to Etosha before sunrise. We arrived at the gate about 45 minutes before the gate was due to open. I got out to stretch my legs and heard the grunt, grunt call of a lion. Never fails to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, it must be a primeval thing, I don’t know. Now the excitement really kicked in. Lions just the other side of the fence. Oh Boy!

Sunrise outside the Etosha gate

Annie's innovative mosquito net around our bed.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Support is Everything update 1

One of the things that excited us about the XP Camper when we went on the buying visit was that it had Webasto appliances and we were sure we would get service for the appliances worldwide. We had the exact same diesel stove in Australia and our friends Mike & Liz just had the same stove installed in there camper in the U.K. So when the heat control switch on the stove broke we were not concerned and thought we would give Webasto South Africa a call and find out which dealer in South Africa we needed to visit to pick-up a new one.
Well, after going through an incredibly ill thought out phone tree, for over 15 minutes, repeating the same sequence of buttons like a madman expecting a different result, I eventually got through to a pleasant young man and when I informed him of my problem he wanted me to call back and speak with the tech department as they don’t sell the stove in South Africa and the controller would have to be ordered from Germany or the USA. I flatly refused to call back as I explained that their phone system stinks, “Oh, we just it installed it this weekend and are having some problems with it” was his reply. Hmmmm, would you please have the tech department call me back so we could work things out. 3 days later and still no call, so I thought I would get Marc involved. His instant reply was that he would get his rep in San Fran on the case and they would have the controller shipped out the next day. O.K. great, not a very big issue as we had set the heat controller to the medium setting and we could still boil water, fry bacon etc. It just meant we had to hang around and wait for the part.
When we hadn’t heard from Webasto by the end of the week I sent Marc another message asking for the tracking number. He forwarded my message to the rep asking the rep to respond. Well, we still had heard nothing by the following Wednesday and then Marc sent us a message and said he was going to pull the controller from the camper he was currently building and would ship it to us the same day. I think he, with his dry German humor, called it a donor part. I guess Webasto had dropped the ball again. So here was Marc to the rescue one more time and who knows where he was getting a replacement for the camper he was building. It arrived the following Monday and was installed and working within 20 minutes. Thanks again Marc and Toni.
Webasto needs to take a couple of lessons about what customer service means from Marc and XPCamper…..

Two things I have learnt to hate about Africa:

  1. The first day of the month. Because gas prices, which are set by the government, go up. The price of gas started at R10.65 a liter and now, 4 months later, it is at R12.33 a liter which is exactly $6.00 a gallon.
  2. The Ibis. When I saw my first Ibis 30 years ago in Kenya I was beside myself with excitement, maybe because of its association with Egyptian Gods, I don’t know but I thought it was a special moment! Not so much any more. They are everywhere and they like to call each other, with this awful noise, constantly, but in particular they like to call in the early morning just before sunrise.

I know I am extremely privileged to be here in Africa seeing and enjoying amazing stuff, but I hate the Ibis and the first of the month!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cape Town to the Namibia border

John's Photo

As John has requested a close-up photo of the XP I thought how better to start this update than with a John photo. As you can see we fly the American Eagle each time we raise the camper! Lots of looks but no comments yet. Actually it was a test as we wanted to add murals on the sides of the camper and we weren't sure if lowering and raising the camper would rub the murals off so we bought this cheap sticker and after hundreds of lowering and raising it is still there. Never got around to doing the murals though!

American Eagle
Northern Cape

After leaving Cape Town we then spent a couple of days at Yzerfontien where the beautiful white sand beach stretches for 16 miles. Great for walking and enjoying the cool ocean breeze. Our camping neighbors were cattle and wheat farmers from nearby Malmesbury and with typical South African hospitality, they gave us samples of their cooking, so we got to taste fried Snoek, which is a very large fish caught in the ocean during the winter months. They had frozen and kept it especially for their holiday week at Yzerfontien. Fresh matured beef from the farm and of course boerewors (farmer’s sausage) which was delicious.
After Yzerfontien we visited the West Cape National Park which is a small park that surrounds Langebaan lagoon, a turquoise large lagoon which is a known for its flamingos.

Kudu in West Coast National Park. You get some idea how thick and tall the brush is.
Abandoned building overlooking Langebaan Lagoon in the West Coast National Park

Our campsite for the night was at Paternoster’s Columbine Nature Reserve which is a fabulous park right on the Atlantic Ocean. The road to our site was sandy and a little rough but the destination was well worth it. We were all alone and right on the water’s edge where we enjoyed the sun setting over the ocean. Memories are made from such places.


Sun downers at Paternoster

Early morning fog surrounds the lighthouse at Paternoster

The next day we drove the very rough road to St Helena Bay and then our first dirt road that was a toll road! Yep, dirt roads can be toll roads.

Toll Road African style
From Elands Bay we went inland to Clanwilliam and the Cedarberg mountains.
We then had the long drive to Springbok and it was time for laundry and grocery shopping.

Vineyard at Clanwilliam with the Cedarberg in the distance
Yellow Mongoose in the Springbok campground

We then took the N14 East to see the Augrabies Falls and make our way to the Kgalagadi Transfrontier National Park. The N14 was an exceptional good road for being so remote and relatively little traffic and then we found out why; BMW has sponsored the road and helps pay for its upkeep as they use the road in the heat of the summer to do their high-speed heat testing. While we were at Augrabies there must have been 15 or 16 brand new BMW’s of all shape and sizes which they had shipped over to do their testing with. Boy do the Germans know how to party?

BMW Speed and heat testing road.

Along the Orange River on the way to Augrabies

Workers laying the grapes out on slabs to dry into raisins.
Quiver Tree

Aurgrabies Falls Park
Aurgrabies Gorge

Next was the Mandatory stop in the busy town of Upington to stock up before heading to Kgalagadi.
Most if not all parking lots for shopping centers have parking marshals that guide you into and out of your parking space and watch your car while you are shopping. It is customary to give them a small tip of around .50 US cents or so. Well, while we were being guided into our parking spot in the Upington supermarket’s parking lot, there was a sudden bang and our back left just sunk down. Annie thought we had hit something real sharp and had blown a tire, but on further inspection the ground under the wheel had given way as it was over some sort of drain. The hole was so large that the entire tire was sunk up to the axle. I engaged 4 wheel drive low and the locking diff clicked in and out we came. It was quite shocking to see the size of the hole. And the adventure continues. Yes, we still tipped the parking guy, much to his surprise.

Collapsed storm drain that almost ate Bushbaby

We had broken the key to the door of the camper and were using the spare key but knew we needed to replace the key as soon as possible. So one of our chores in Upington was to find a locksmith and see if we could get a new key. The Upington locksmith studied our key for a minute or two, shook his head and said “Nope, we don’t have this key in South Africa, but I can make you one if you like!” He then went out back and returned with what he said was an old Nissan ignition key. Filed it down to approximately our key size and then duplicated it on his key machine. We then went back to the camper and did a test fit and when it didn’t work, back we went for some more filing. We did this a couple of times and then finally the lock turned! He brushed the key off with his wire brush, oiled the lock and with a huge smile gave me the new key. When I asked how much, he just smiled and said "Welcome to my country". Typical South African hospitality and kindness. Thank you Mr. Locksmith in Upington! 
We had a great campsite under a huge tree but boy it was noisy that night. Saturday night in the big town.

Camping in Upington. We always looked for the biggest tree.

The Lonely Planet Guide Book had pointed out that the last 60 kilometers to the Kgalagadi was on a very bad dirt road and that many of their readers had broken their cars along that route, with that in mind we left very early the next morning so that we could take it really slow along the bad road and not break our truck. Well surprise, surprise, since the last update to the Lonely Planet guide they have tarred the road and so we had a very easy ride all the way to the park. The last 40 kilometers or so you travel through the San Peoples land and many of them have small huts next to the road where they sell their handicrafts. 

We had made the long trip to the Kgalagadi as it is one of the very few places where you can see the Black Mane Kalahari Lion. It is also famous for its beautiful red sand dunes. Well, I guess we should have checked the guide books a little more closely as we arrived at the end of the rainy season so the grass was knee to waist high and there was tons of water everywhere. That meant the dunes were covered in grass and the animals didn’t have to be restricted to the few water holes as there was plenty of water. So the end result was although we heard the lions calling at night we didn’t see any and of course all the dunes were as green as grass. Even though we were there at the wrong time of the year we had a great time, we especially enjoyed camping at Rooiputs which is a wild campground on the Botswana side of the park. Wild means that there are no fences between you and the animals, which is way too much fun. Although this is where we heard the lions we didn’t get see them, but we were lucky enough to see a rare African Wild Cat walk through our campsite and we were visited by a couple of male Ostriches. We now need to return to the Kgalagadi in the dry season!

Kokerboom or Quiver Tree

Gemsbok using its long horns to scratch its butt

Baby Springbok amongst the wild flowers


Blue Wildebeest.

Leopard Tortoise 

The Weaver nests get so large that portions 
drop off and then thejust rebuild!

Safety in numbers



Monitor Lizard 

Tawny Eagle
Tawny Eagle down for a drink

Sign in Kgalagadi Park

Wild camping at Rooiputs Botswana

Our neighbour at Rooiputs through the long grass.
 Hmmm maybe the lions were closer than we thought!

African Wild Cat taking a stroll through our campsite at Rooiputs

Ground Squirrel using its tail as an sunshade during the heat of the day.

A family of Red Hartebeest

After the Kgalagadi we went back West to the small seaside town of Port Nolloth and then North to Alexander Bay and the Orange River mouth where many diamond mines are located. Both Port Nolloth and Alexander Bay were cold and fogged in so off we went to Vioolsdrif and our last night in South Africa before crossing into Namibia

2 Minute video of the Orange River Detour

A surprise through the fog at the Orange River Mouth