Mariental to Otjiwarongo

communication towerWe left just before 9am this morning as we headed up to Otjiwarongo. It is 530kms and you pass through Rheboth, Windhoek, Okahandja and then there is nothing for 186kms until you hit Otjiwarongo. 530kms of very straight road. As there is very little of interest, when you see anything strange or odd (see photo), it starts a lot of guessing what it might be until you approach it more closely and can actually figure out what it is (in this case a very large communication tower).  The other thing that we do on these drives is discuss items of random interest.  Today we discussed courts, trials, juries and the judicial systems worldwide, the death penalty, OJ Simpson, Anna Nicole Smith, Bernie Madoff, Nick Gleeson, Ponzi schemes, Pyramid schemes, Arbitrage and a few other subjects of interest. You can probably see the link through all the subjects covered today.

By this stage we had reached Windhoek where we stopped to refuel and defuel. helen and stephenMichael already was the occupier of the front seat by this stage as Helen had needed to have her first morning nap. After Windhoek, Stephen and her had a further morning nap. That left Michael and I to occupy ourselves and we did that by talking about another whole stream of subjects including driving skills (I have a lot to impart in this regard), people’s response to Christianity, driving speeds, overtaking, road signs and the like.

signOn the 186km stretch into Otjiwarongo, there are numerous warthog on the side of the road. So many that they in fact are constantly warning you about them. The problem is that they are pretty hard to avoid when driving at a speed of 120 km/h (or over). This was evidenced by the fact that as we were overtaking a truck at one point, the car in front of me did not pull back in immediately and I wondered why until I drove over a warthog which was lying in the middle of the road. Now that is a fairly large bump to drive over at 120 km/h but the Beast handled it magnificently (the car not the warthog in case there was any confusion) – I never even had to use my superior driving skills to do anything. Those who were asleep kept on sleeping even. Shortly after this a bird decided to test the strength of the windscreen glass. It hit the windscreen so hard that I ducked thinking it was coming straight through. That put me level with Mrs Blacker (our travel companions) who had managed to kill a bird on the first day of the road trip already. I didn’t even get a chance to ID the bird but there was definitely some crimson involved.

We made excellent time and arrived at Otjiwarongo at 1:45pm – averaging around 105km/h including stops. We are staying tonight at Hadassa Guest House (www.hadassaguesthouse.com/‎).  And once again I would highly recommend it to anyone looking for accommodation in Otjiwarongo. The rooms are of a high quality and the WiFi is much faster than last night.  We went to the Spar in Otjiwarongo to re-load our snack bag and also buy food for the next 3 days (self-catering). Quite a nice shop with a mix of SA and German brands. The bizarre thing was that there was no chicken on sale eseweragexcept frozen whole ones. People in Otjiwarongo clearly don’t eat chicken.  When we got back to the Guest House, the owners (who are French) saw us birdwatching at the Guest House and told us about the hidden secret of Otjiwarongo.  He said there were 10 lakes (read sewerage ponds) where numerous birds could be seen so Stephen, Helen and myself headed there for a quick 30 minutes of birding. Nothing like visiting the sewerage plant at Otjiwarongo while on holiday. But that is what we did and he was right about the sunsetbird life. The only problems were the smell (it was so bad Helen got back into the car), the visuals (you could see the raw sewerage being pumped into the dams) and the fact that the sun was setting quickly so we needed to get in as many sightings as possible before it was dark. Given that we did not expect to add many birds to our trip list today, we impressively added 13 new ones including ones that are not very easily seen (African Purple Swamphen – for you Paul).  And to top it off we got some beautiful sunset shots (have a look on Instagram under #templetravels).

dinner1We had asked about dinner and were told by the Guest House that it was too late for them to arrange for tonight. I asked what is the best restaurant in town and was told Kari’s. When we searched on our GPS for restaurants it only came up with 3 choices one of which was the Wimpy! We went to Kari’s and we were the only customers at 7pm. We took the only inside tables and so we had our own private dining area. No Haute Cuisine expected and none obtained. Stephen and I went for the Oryx steaks (Gemsbok for those of you who are less posh) and they were actually quite nice (either that or I was hungry). The others went for the boring option of chicken (not obtained from the Spar obviously) and hamburger. We just realised how fortunate we are living in Cape Town with all the restaurant choices we have.  Some more interesting conversation over dinner including Gini coefficients (Michael can give you the formula of how it is calculated if you would like that) and the population of Namibia and where are they (because we haven’t seen them yet). We did discover that only 40% of the Namibia population live in Urban areas and most of those are in Windhoek.  Otjiwarongo (for example) only has 21000 people living in it.

Still a lot more driving ahead and so no doubt a lot more facts to be gained.  Until tomorrow – P, H, S (back in his usual spot because he suggested we do the birding thing this afternoon at sewerage plant), M & C.

PS: I was told I have to correct yesterday’s blog – it was oversteer not understeer.

Finally in Namibia

tempIt was freezing cold this morning as can be evidenced by the photo at 8:11am. It was our last day in the Kgalagadi and so we thought we would give it one last chance and do a loop down to the nearest waterhole from Mata Mata. Going down we saw nothing of note. At the waterhole a bird of prey flew into the tree above our car and by the time we had positioned ourselves to try and ID it, it was attacked by Southern Pale Chanting Goshawk and chased away. On the road back we saw a White-backed Vulture collecting twigs for it’s nest and it was right on the side of the road (nice photo opportunity). The only the interesting sighting was 2 black backed jackals. We added no new birds to the list of 60 as well. So we remain underwhelmed by the Kgalagadi and can’t see ourselves rushing back. There is no question in our minds that the Kruger National Park, Etosha, Masai Mara, Karoo National Park, Augrabies, Okavango Delta all beat the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park by some distance. Seriously have no idea why so many friends of ours have raved about it. Might be time to change friends.

We exited the KTF at Mata Mata. We had done SA passport control at Tree Rivieren 3 days ago (in case you missed that) so we only had to do Namibia immigration. That involved a reasonable amount of paperwork and also paying a road tax (Western countries would consider this a form of legalised bribe). Fortunately all of this was done relatively quickly as there are not a lot of people entering Namibia through this gate.  As we crossed the border our GPS kindly told us we had just crossed into Namibia and flashed up a Namibian flag.

It was then a 330 km drive from the Mata Mata gate through to Mariental. 90% of the route was gravel. The gravel roads are in superb condition though and the speed limit is 100 km/h.  Within a kilometer I was up to 100 km/h and feeling very comfortable on the gravel. I did warn our travel companions (the Whiters) that they should give us a little space as you kick up a lot of stones and dust when you are traveling at that speed on gravel roads. While the roads are in excellent condition, you do have to keep paying attention all the time just in case there is a stray large stone or a hole or a rocky section or a dip or loose gravel. On one corner the gravel was very loose and at 100 km/h (or maybe slightly more), the back of the Beast slid out (I can hear the gasps from the grandparents) but the Beast is not called the Beast for no reason.  Along with the power and agility of the Beast, my superior driving skills ensured we recovered easily. Stephen said that going into a corner and sliding through it like that (with understeer) would be highly rated by the men from Top Gear and that would make us real ‘Petrol Heads’ (even though the Beast drinks Diesel I don’t think she would mind).

As with most things in Namibia, you pretty much drive for ever and not see a farm or town. It took us about 2 hours before we hit Gochas which was the first town since we left Mata Mata. We had to stretch our legs and refueled and unfueled (the ladies). And then we were off again. The Whiters didn’t stop and we only caught up with them when they stopped at the next town (Stampriet) which was about another 75 km down the road. That was where we enjoyed Namibian tar for the first tar. It was also our first Namibian road block. Why you would put up a road block in a place that only about 5 cars will pass all day is the question I have been pondering since we went through it. And they did the road block straight outside the police station. Element of surprise I suppose.

We stopped for lunch just outside Stampriet and then on to Mariental. We are staying at Mariental tonight. We are at Anandi Guesthouse anandi(www.anandiguesthouse.com/) for the night. It the same place we stayed at 5 years ago. And the quality remains the same. If you ever need to stay over in Mariental, this would be our recommendation. The boys and I went into town for 2 purchases – Namibian SIM cards (which we had to get 4 of to ensure everyone was connected again) and biltong. We found both. Paul will be pleased that there was no requirement to be RICA’d or any other ‘namby pamby’ such Western legislation. Just pay cash and get the SIM cards.  The biltong was a little harder to find – we drove the town flat until we found Wessie’s Biltong Shop. Wessie himself was there and we conducted the whole transaction in Afrikaans. Wessie told me about his daughter and apologised they had no Springbok biltong. The Kudu biltong was cheaper than the Beef. We bought both. The boys were standing with their mouths open that I could conduct such an extensive conversation in Afrikaans.  I was proud of myself.

We had an extra hour to kill of the afternoon because Namibia is on it’s own time zone and is an hour behind SA (i.e. on same time as the UK now). Why they have done it I have no idea. It was ‘pitch dark’ outside by 5:30pm this evening. Helen and two the Whiters went for a run around Mariental and ended up coming back in the dark.  It got dark very quickly. Fortunately they found their way back from the bread crumbs they dropped. The rest of us were just enjoying the use of the free WiFi and trying to catch up on Facebook, Email, Whatsapp etc.

The guesthouse arranged dinner for us – they don’t really have a restaurant but they will cook a plate of food for you if requested (what you would call ‘n bord kos’ here in Namibia). We had Chicken Schnitzel, Vegetables, Chips and Salad.  The Whiters had pizzas.  We got the better deal. (Food details given for you Josie). The rest of the evening has been spent catching up on emails, blogging (for me) and for Helen it would be watching a 4×4 racing competition (racing isn’t the right word – more like a skills challenge). Not kidding about Helen!

Until tomorrow from somewhere else far away in Namibia … P, H, C, M & (the least important because he has been insulting me the whole day) S.

PS: I said in the previous post that we saw a Civit and actually it was a Genet.  The biology teaching (Mr Whiter who is traveling with us) gave us wrong information but we corrected it with the use of our mammal book.

More from the Kgalagadi

I am typing this knowing that I won’t be able to post it tonight. We are now at Mata Mata Rest Camp in the Kgalagadi. We have no cellphone signal and the camp electricity will be switched off at 10pm.  It is now 9:50pm and so I am expecting to finish typing the blog by the light of my laptop only. I can hear the generator in the distance so I am glad they will turn it off.  We are all in bed so we are ready for the lights to go out.

Today we drove from Twee Rivieren up to Mata Mata. We left at 8am as we figured that it would be slightly warmer by that stage (it was 8 degrees C when we left). The Yellower’s (our travel companions – real name protected) weren’t quite ready by 8am so we left ahead of them knowing they would catch us up given our desire to stop to do some birding. By 4kms outside the camp they had caught us up.  The distance between the two camps is about 130 kms and we figured it would take us 4.5 hours – it actually took us 6.5 hours.

About an hour outside of Twee Rivieren we saw 3 cheetah sitting on the ridge purveying the world. We watched them until they started walking and eventually lost them as they went down a hill.  It was a great sighting and meant we had seem 3 times more cheetah than lion (and that ratio is still standing).  Later on the drive we spotted Hyena (the spotted variety) with suckling cubs. They were lying right on the side of the road.  We also managed to add 1 more lifer to our birding list (Fairy Flycatcher – for you Paul) and by the end of the day our bird list stood at 60 in total.  It was a slow start to the day because we had seen most of what we had already seen. However, when most of the family was sleeping, Stephen and I managed to see about 5 or 6 trippers including Rock Kestrel and White-backed Vulture.  At least 90 more for the trip needed and at least another 7 lifers as well.  The only other highlight of the morning game drive was seeing a very large herd of Springbok. Up until this point we had never seen more than 3 Springbok together at once and then we saw this herd of well over a thousand (not kidding).

river bedWe arrived at Mata Mata at around 2:30pm. We have two ‘luxury river front’ chalets while the Yellower’s have a family unit. I saw ‘luxury river front’ for a number of reasons. Firstly, luxury to Sanparks means DSTV (which we don’t need). Secondly, because ‘River Front’ is a very broad term for meaning looking out over the dry river bed which looks like it has never flowed in recent ‘known’ history. And the value of ‘river frontage’ when there is no game and no water is pretty limited. I think Sanparks have used the word ‘River’ quite liberally (see photo).

We chilled in the camp in the afternoon and Mr Yellower, Stephen & myself went out for a late afternoon drive.  We did manage to add one new mammal species – a lone Giraffe. Given the vegetation that is a very rare sight in the Kgalagadi. We also saw another two Black Backed Jackals (almost getting tired of seeing them) and the other usual game (being Gemsbok, Springbok & Wildebeest). I can see why the name of park used to be Kalahari Gemsbok Park because the Gemsbok is undoubtedly the equivalent to Impala in the Kruger National Park. There is no animal that comes close in sightings and number to the Gemsbok (even though we saw over 1000 Springbok at once today).

We had our usual braai for dinner and during the braai we heard cat like calling from near the petrol station and so after dinner the boys went to investigate and came back saying they had seen a Civet (or what they thought was one). It had started off on the other side of the fence and then ended up our side of the fence.  We all went investigating and eventually found it in a tree (and it was a Civet). With all the excitement Helen managed to take a heavy fall over a sewerage drain and fortunately did no serious damage except probably a little bruising (though I think she will feel it more tomorrow).

It was off to our chalets to ensure we were all in bed before the power was cut. I am finishing typing now by the light of the laptop screen only. I am also trying to kill mosquitos by the light of the screen. They are about 4 buzzing around my head and it is driving me crazy. I have only managed to kill 1 so far (make that 2 – just killed a noisy, big fat one – squashed against the wall – left it there as a reminder to the others) – another 3 (at least to go). Hopefully they won’t affect my sleep tonight!

Until tomorrow … P, H, S, M & C

Underwhelmed

sunrise twee2Today was our first full day in the Kgalagadi and we all agreed that we were underwhelmed. The landscape is very stark and dry but the game is very sparse and there is very little variety. We were up today to leave when the gates opened at 7:30am (as the sun rose). It was 3 degrees outside and it took about 2 hours to warm up to about 20 degrees. The animals were clearly also cold because they were nowhere to be seen for the first 45 minutes or so of our drive this morning. We headed up the road to Nossob again and after passing 2 waterholes and seeing very little we decided to keep going to the next waterhole. On route there Helen spotted a solitary lioness sitting on the ridge. We decided to pull off and have our coffee/hot chocolate/rusks and see if she was going to do anything. By the time we finished she hadn’t moved at all so we went on the waterhole. There we saw a black backed jackal come to drink and then a Lanner Falcon was doing some interesting flight maneuvers. Those were pretty much the highlights of the morning drive. We did add Red Hartebees to the trip list as well as some more birds (though no lifers). About half way back I might have gotten tired of driving and let someone else (not Stephen because he can’t yet officially drive) drive back.

We got back around midday by which time the temperature had risen to 25 degrees (even so Michael was still wearing his Cossack head coveringmichael1 when we got back – that’s him coming back from dropping off the permit at the gate). Michael and Helen headed for their beds (Michael was so exhausted from all the hard work he has done that he even skipped lunch). I believe our travel companions (let’s call them the Pinkers today), also tried out their beds. At 3:30pm we headed out for another drive and we decided to try the road to Mata Mata instead.  Helen and Chloe elected to stay in the camp rather so it was just the me and the Boys and the Pinkers in their own vehicle.  We (unfortunately) again did not see much.  The highlights were probably the Pygmy Falcon right on the side of the road, the Gemsbok with one horn facing forward and the other facing back and a Steenbok that was pooing. When a Steenbok pooing becomes a highlight you can really tell how sparse the game is. It was even a quiet day on the birding front though we are up to 46 trippers and 2 lifers (so far).

Mrs Pinker was so enthralled with the game life that we learnt this evening that she had given up and was reading You magazine (which she claimed she never bought herself but was ‘given’ by someone else). If you don’t bird then I am not sure what the attraction of the Kgalagadi is (at the moment). We are hoping that because we are right in the south, as we move further north we will get a better experience. The board showing animal sightings has giraffe and suricate on it so you know that you’re going to have tough spotting. And by late evening, the only sighting of lion for the day was the one we saw.

This evening we again had the mandatory braai, some good discussion around the dinner table (and Mr Pinker doing some impersonations) and now it is 9:48pm and everyone (except me) is already in bed. We are hoping for a better game sighting day tomorrow.

(PS: the beast is handling the gravel roads here with ease – she is taking it in her stride)

The best birthday present

Yes, it is my birthday today. And the best place for me to spend my birthday is in a National Park somewhere in Africa.  This year we managed to cover 2 national parks in one day.  We started off in the Augrabies National Park and end up in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. I warned you that we might not have mobile phone coverage to be able to post a blog but as you can see we do.

I was woken up at some unearthly hour that no one on their birthday should be woken up at. My dear, beloved wife decided to go for a run before the birds started singing and so turned on the light to find her running gear. About a hour later the sun came up and I got up out of bed to do some birding with Stephen. We added a few trippers to our list.  After the morning birding in the camp and the afternoon game drive we are up to 35 species for the trip including 2 lifers (Burchell’s Courser & Scaly-feathered Finch – given for you Paul).

We packed up and headed out of Augrabies National Park heading for the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. We were booked into the Twee Rivieren Rest Camp which is right at the gate of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Google Maps said it would take us 7 hours 50 minutes to do the 440 kms to the Park, our GPS (or SPG as my father-in-law calls it) said it would take even longer. It turned out that both were wrong. The road used to be untarred but now is tarred (though at stages it is as bumpy as a gravel road). We made exceptionally good time. And there is really not a lot to see between Augrabies and the Kgalagadi. We had to drive back through Kakamas and then to Upington and then from Upington to the gate you only pass 1 town and that was Askham and that was actually 1 km off the road.  We went in to Askham to refuel the Beast and incredibly it had 2 petrol stations to chose from. I think the main economic activity of Askham is refueling 4×4’s and their jerry cans.

As it was a Sunday Michael suggested the we listen to a sermon. The wonders of modern technology allowed us to download one from sermoncentral.com and so we killed off some time of the trip listening to sermon. The preacher (Philip Ryken) quoted Voltaire (the philosopher) who during his lifetime made the bold prediction that in 50 years Christianity would be dead and no one would even have heard of it.  The irony was that after Voltaire’s death, his house was purchased by the Geneva Bible Society who used it as a base to distribute Bibles.  A prediction that must still be haunting Voltaire today (well after his death). God does have a sense of humour!

twee rivierenWe arrived at the gate of Kgalagadi just before 1pm. At the gate you have SA immigration as well as Botswana immigration. If you plan to exit into another country you have to do immigration at the gate. So we are currently stateless as we have exited South Africa but have as yet not entered another country. The formalities did not take long and we picked up our keys (including our travel companion’s key) and headed up to our hut (which is a 2 bedroom one with an extra 2 beds in the lounge). Our travel companions (let’s call them the Bluers today), arrived about 20 minutes after us as they had gone to have a quick view of the Falls during daylight hours before they left.

We decided to head out for a game drive at 3pm (after letting down our tyres – helps you handle the bumpy gravel roads better). You have to collect your permit and sign out and when you get back you have to return your permit again. That way they know you are out and if you haven’t returned in time they can come out looking for you. The road network is pretty basic. There are two roads from Twee Rivieren Camp – one to Nossob Camp and the other to Mata Mata.  We looked at the board and all the sightings were on the Nossob Road so we headed up there. The bird life is incredible and we were soon stopping every few minutes to identify another bird. We are a little rusty having not birded for awhile and so are getting back into the swing still. Fortunately there was enough to entertain the Bluers who were traveling behind us. They cleverly brought a walkie talkie set along so we could communicate. We did see Gemsbok (they are beautiful buck and also incidentally make great biltong), Springbok, Wildebees and Suricate (made famous by the UK TV adverts Comparethemarket.com, comparethemeerkat.com – anyone in or from the UK will know what I mean – for the rest of you search YouTube and you will see what I mean very quickly).  We also saw loads of birds including a Pygmy Falcon which caught something and returned to it’s tree and proceed to eat it. As we started heading back we also saw Black Backed-Jackal (actually 2 separate sightings). The number of carcasses lying around is also remarkable and hopefully augurs well for the rest of the time in the park.

moonWe got back just before 6pm (gates close then) and got a braai going. As we started the braai the moon rose and it was staggering beautiful.  It is a SuperMoon tonight in the Southern Hemisphere. Not surprising because it is my birthday. I expect planetary alignment on my birthday. It was incredible to see it rise. If the connection allows me I will try to post a picture before I post the blog tonight. If not, go onto Instagram and search for #templetravels and you should be able to see a photo (and others from the trip). Our family has increased it’s use of Social Media for this trip by hashtagging on Instagram as well.

It is now 10:45pm and we have some guy strumming on his guitar in the camp site below. Quiet time is meant to be from 9:30pm. If he doesn’t quit his strumming soon I may just point that out to him! Until tomorrow.

 

Another day, another drive

blou nartjieLast night at 1:30am we were woken up by party revelers returning to their rooms at the Blue Nartjie (www.nartjie.co.za/).  Besides that interruption to our sleep we had a good nights rest. When we woke up this morning at 7:30am it was 6 degrees outside but it felt much colder.  We had booked breakfast for 8am and enjoyed the simple breakfast of coffee & bacon and eggs. While having breakfast our friends who are traveling with us joined us, also wandered in. You didn’t hear about them last night because they left Cape Town so late they only arrived after midnight. Being good friends we got their key from them which was probably a good thing as I couldn’t imagine the owner still being awake at that point. I don’t have permission to mention them by name so I will just call them the Browner’s (for want of a better name).

We agreed to leave when we were ready and given we finished our breakfast about 45 minutes before them and our car was already packed, we hit the road at 9am.  We were continuing to make our way north to Augrabies National Park. The road is marked out by three things:
1. Road works
2. Nothing but the occasional bush
3. Road works

One thing is for sure is that they are spending money on upgrading roads in the Northern Cape. But there really is nothing to see.road You leave Calvinia and drive for about 150 kms before hitting the next town (Brandvlei) and then another 150 kms before you hit Kenhardt. I am starting to see some validity to Michael’s question about why anyone would be born here. On this stretch of 300 km of road, Helen was fast asleep for 299 kms while the rest of us discussed the world’s banking system (including a quick lesson on the gold standard), the flood (Noah’s one), the fall of mankind (Adam & Eve’s one), the Covenants (God’s ones), bridge building, farming (including the biggest improvement in efficiency in farming in the last 400 years) and a few other minor subjects. Helen is now way behind in the conversations stakes. Helen was involved in the conversation about who is better looking – Stephen or Michael. Apparently Michael asked the question to Stephen’s girlfriend recently and she hesitated long enough to convince Michael that if he wasn’t 3 years younger than her, it would be him dating her and not Stephen.  (Any comments on that Brian & Sharon? You’ll have to ask you know who because she doesn’t subscribe to the blog.)

We did stop twice at petrol stations. Once because Chloe needed to empty her tank and once because we needed to fill up the Beast. The Beast is what American’s call a gas guzzler. So far she has drunk 12.5 liters per 100 kilometers. I thought that was bad until a random stranger wandered up to me while I was waiting for all the family to empty their tanks and told me his car (with a minor technical problem) was doing 20 liters per 100 kilometers. When you drive a 4×4 and you’re heading north from Calvinia you are suddenly a friend of every other person with a 4×4 as well.

We also passed through Keimoes (where you meet the Orange River for the first time and cross it twice) and then onto to Kakamas (where I was reliability informed they have the best dance place in the area – people even come from Upington on a Saturday night to langarm there). From Kakamas it is only a short 20 minutes until you get to the Augrabies National Park and after checking in we headed to our accommodation which turned out to be exactly the same one we had the last time we stayed here. The Browner’s arrived about an hour and 30 minutes after us (after stopping for some sightseeing in Keimoes and Kakamas we believe). Mr Browner (again we believe) took their new car up to 185 km/h on a stretch of road today to see how fast it could go. While there were some very straight sections of the road, I am a law abiding citizen and would never consider driving over 170 km/h on any section of that road.

giraffe silWe did go out for a late afternoon drive in the National Park itself. There is not a lot of wildlife but some beautiful landscapes and quite good birding generally. Helen decided to go with the Browner’s and Chloe decided to stay in the camp so that left me and two sons. As I am a law abiding citizen I would never let them drive without a license but if I did I would let Stephen drive out to where we would turn around and Michael drive back again (because I am a fair Dad). We got back at about 6:15pm (ahead of the Browner’s who were taking photos of the sunset). We never saw anything spectacular on the drive except a giraffe on the mountain with the sun setting behind it.We also saw Springbok and Zebra and our bird list is now up to 17 species for the trip (no lifers though).

The mandatory braai for supper followed by a quick walk and view of the Augrabies Falls which are now lit up by flood light at night from 8-10pm. They are really impressive at night maybe more so than during the day.  I googled how long tomorrow’s drive is and while it says it is only 448 kms, Google tells me that it will take 7 hours 50 minutes to get there (we think because a significant section is on gravel road). Time will tell.  If you don’t hear from us for the next few days it is because we are without any mobile phone signal. Even the last 2 days have been challenging posting the blog. So don’t panic, it will just be a temporary interlude if you don’t hear from me tomorrow pm.

And we’re off …

Today we left for a 2 week and 2 day road trip from Cape Town heading North and into Namibia and back again. We did one of these trips in 2008. It was one of our top 5 holidays and so it is only appropriate that 5 years later we are repeating it with a few slight differences.  It was also the trip that I first started writing trip updates (in those dark days it was sent out via email).  The first email went out to 9 people (and incredibly all 9 are still subscribers to the blog 5 years later). It was also the first time we started birding (and now we are over 400 lifers already).

We left at 1pm today as the children still had school. Our school has decided to have a full last day since some parents complained that the last day was a waste of time and ‘uneducational’.  Yes .. isn’t that precisely the point of the last day of school? You pitch up, have some fun, mess around, have assembly and go home.  I did that for 12 years (4 times a year) and it didn’t seem to affect my progress through life.  Unfortunately it meant that we hit the traffic from people who finished school at 11am but at least we got away before 4pm which is what we would have had to do if we kept our kids in school the whole day.  They missed interhouse drama and they were all devastated to have to skip that (they have their father’s strong dramatic talent).

The weather was deteriorating by the minute in Cape Town and we managed to get the car packed up (including our new Swedish roof box which can hold more than the our car’s boot) before the storm struck. About 30 minutes outside CT and Helen was hungry so we stopped for our first unhealthy meal of sausage rolls and we continued up North into the wheat & citrus farming areas of Malmesbury, Citrusdal & Clanwilliam. The traffic thinned considerably the further north we headed. And the passengers were falling like flies to. For about an hour it was just me, Lucy (the lady stuck in the Satnav) and the Beast (our Toyota Landcruiser – which is nothing other than a Beast especially when fully laden like it is now).

Stephen came back to life first followed shortly afterwards by Michael. We then got engrossed in a discussion about airlines that probably killed another hour of the journey. It is amazing how much you can discover in a few seconds about airlines from the internet even while you are driving through places you didn’t know existed. If you would like to know the biggest airline in the world by passengers carried, miles flown, number of aircraft – ask us or Google it yourself. By this stage we were in need of another pitstop. Toliets were the main destination but I went for the biltong shop next door. The young man behind the counter could clearly not speak English and so despite me trying to converse in English with him I switched into my Afrikaans (which I only bring out for road trips to Namibia). I managed to get my kg of biltong though (and there sign saying the best biltong in SA was probably correct).

We hit Van Rhyn’s Pass just as the sun began to set and got some great views and photos. Down the other side we hit numerous sections of road works with only one way traffic in operation. It afforded Helen to take a whole sheath of photos some of which I am sure are already on Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites. We arrived in Calvinia in the Northern Cape at just before 6pm. We are staying at the Blou Nartjie Guest House. Basic but very comfortable. I am reliably told that it is the best accommodation in Calvinia. Dinner was a relaxed (read slow) affair involving large portions of meat and chips. They kindly brought a finger bowl with the 4 lamb chops Stephen and I had both ordered so I knew we were encouraged to eat with our hands and get all the meat off the bone.  I obliged.

We did go past some interesting places today like Nieuwoudville. At the point we passed that place Michael said “Why would anyone be born here?”  And then followed that with “I am glad other people want to farm because I don’t”.  He made at least one further comment which I had to censor out of the blog. Politically correct he may not be, funny he may be.

While today was not really a birding day (hard to see birds at 120 km/h), we did start the list and have knocked off 4 so far including the country’s national bird – the blue crane.  Not a bad start but I am hoping for at least 150 different species by the end of the trip and secretly are hoping for closer to 200. Also hoping to add at least 20 lifers. Just under 500 kms done. Many more to come.