I have been feeling overdue for a return to Africa- my last trip there was in 2012. Last fall, the company I've traveled with in the past hinted at a 2017 trip to Namibia featuring a wildlife sanctuary where one could get close to animals. I was very excited because it seemed perfectly suited to me. But then the trip details were published and I had 2 major concerns. First, the trip would involve being away for Mother's Day weekend, which is a time I'd prefer to spend at home with my mom. Secondly, half of the itinerary would be spent in Johannesburg and Pilanesburg, South Africa. I can only take 2 weeks off at a time and I don't want to spend 4 precious days anywhere I'm not passionate about visiting.... and I knew I could never talk myself into being enthusiastic about those spots, especially since I've already visited Jo'burg.
Once I started considering Namibia, I couldn't let go of the idea. I was intrigued by unique landscape of sand dunes that extend to the ocean, which would be an amazing site to visit in addition to typical safari destinations. My friends who have traveled to Namibia have all raved about their visits. However, I couldn't find any tours that were a good match for the dates and destinations I had in mind. Eventually, I said what the hell and priced out a private guided tour. It was obviously more expensive than a group trip, but it would allow me to be in control, to visit the places I am most drawn to... to stay at lodges of my choosing... without having to drive. (self drive tours are often advocated on Tripadvisor's Namibia forums) I was curious to be able to compare the experience to being on a group tour. So I crunched some numbers, threw caution to the wind and booked a private safari!
Part of my plan for Namibia (and yet another reason why the group tour's inclusion of South Africa wouldn't have been ideal) was to fly via Qatar Airways which would allow me to depart from my hometown with only one stop en route. More importantly, it would give me a brief chance to visit another country. I was able to book a transit package through the airline which includes hotel, transfers, and meal vouchers. It seems worth it if only to make everything super easy. I have a 20 hour layover scheduled, and that should be enough time to get at least a taste of Doha beyond the airport and hotel. It will be super hot (over 100 degrees)... so I'm not really sure how much I will want to be out exploring the city.
After my most recent (amazing) trip which featured so much Disney and Hello Kitty, I found myself craving a contrast- a destination that would be more authentic and down to earth. I am looking forward to being transported far from the neon glitz of modern cities... exploring varied dramatic panoramas... and marveling at a myriad of animals in their natural habitats. I will get dirty and dusty, some days I will be in a vehicle more than I might like, and I will surely struggle trying to climb the huge sand dunes... but that's part of the adventure; that's what makes it real. I hope to be able to try some different foods (but no thanks to the worms that I saw friends eating- eww!), and maybe have a glass of wine occasionally. After busy days of discovery, I imagine myself relaxing in charming lodges gazing up at clear African skies dotted brightly with stars... simply embracing the world around me. I am still working at being entirely present when I travel, and the fact that I won't need to worry about getting from X to Y should most assuredly help with that.
As usual, I will undoubtedly always have at least one camera within reach but I try not to live my travels exclusively through a viewfinder... which explains why many of my photographs are not as ideal as I know I could make them if I took my time trying to perfect each shot. I take photos so that I can look through them later and remind myself of the fabulous places I've been... the travels that make everything else worthwhile. Even if a photo isn't technically perfect... even if the lighting is horrible or it isn't sharp as it could be... I may nonetheless treasure it for the memories it evokes. Some of the lyrics from the song "Stop the World" from a recent favorite musical. "Come From Away" capture my feelings when I'm fully in "travel mode"; I hope to feel this way many times during my upcoming adventure.
Stop the world
Take a picture
Try to capture,
To ensure this moment lasts
I can't wait to add uniquely Namibian images to the eclectic collage of travel memories that live in my heart.
My flight was scheduled to depart at 10:40am which meant that I had to get up early so Julia could pick me up at 6:30. However, it turned out to be an even earlier morning than I'd anticipated when the Furricanes decided to be little asshole cats and make a ton of noise at 5am. When I got up to investigate, I saw that the hall closet was opened and a Lush soap from said closet was on the hallway floor. In all their years of mischief, this was a first for them! I'd had some trouble sleeping anyway, and figured I'd have plenty of time to catch up on the plane.
Julia, who was on summer vacation from college, arrived at my apartment on time to drive me to the airport. It was good to see her one more time before my big adventure.
There was no line to check in at the Qatar Airways desk so I checked in quite quickly. There was a bit of a line for security and, in fact, they offloaded a bunch of people behind me to the security in terminal A East. I had plenty of time, though. Something new to me was that passengers going through security were required to remove any food and place it in the bins to be X-Rayed along with liquids and laptops. I always pack so that the items I may need to take out of my carry on are near the top and this requirement threw me for a bit of a loop; fortunately, I didn't have to dig around too much to find the snacks in my bag. (I have TSA pre check, but it doesn't work when flying Qatar; in fact, it hasn't been valid for any airlines I've flown thus far since I got it last year)
After I got through with security and reorganizing my bags, I took a few moments to breathe in the reality that my adventure was about to start. My travel plans always seem like a bit of a distant pipe dream until I am smacked in the face with the fact that I am on my way.
I was happy to see an Au Bon Pain near my gate, and I headed there in search of an Asiago cheese bagel. Because the bins were not labeled, I almost grabbed a Jalapeno Cheese one by accident which would have been tragic since I don't eat jalapenos.
As I walked around the terminal, I saw a ton of American Airlines planes outside and smiled as my brain flashed to the "Come From Away" lyric: "American Airlines had the prettiest planes..." I was freezing cold, even after digging out a long sleeve shirt from my carry on, and was trying to see if there were any halfway cute sweatshirts I might buy. But I just couldn't bring myself to purchase a Philadelphia sweatshirt that I'd probably never wear again. Memo to self: Next time, put the fleece in the carry on instead of the checked bag.
I was granted my wish of an empty middle seat next to me during my ~14 hour flight. Unfortunately, the seating gods laughed in my face by placing me in front of not one, but 2 toddlers. The one in the middle seat was fine, but the girl in the window seat behind me..?! There was much kicking, especially when the mother (2 seats away on the aisle) was preoccupied with a movie. It got better when I asked her to stop (at first I wasn't sure the family spoke English) but it never completely went away. I honestly don't know how I was able to get about 4 hours of sleep during the flight.
When the plane taxied for takeoff, I cued up "Me and the Sky" from my trusty "Come From Away" cast recording. I had to pause it at one point so that I could time the lift off as closely as possible to the lyric "Then suddenly the wheels lift off/ the ground is falling backwards/ I am suddenly alive." Although the circumstances of the character singing are different, my feelings were much the same; I feel most alive during my travels... which were now suddenly on their way! As I gazed out at the ever distant horizon, I felt a sense of awe. Qatar and Namibia seem like such amazing, exotic places- and here I was, en route to those destinations. No matter how much I travel, I can never take it for granted; I am always grateful for the opportunities I've had to see some amazing little corners of the world.
I believe this was the first time I flew on an Airbus 350, and I very much liked the plane. The lighting was bright- and I particularly liked how Qatar Aiways had some purplish colored lights installed. The seats were as comfortable as you can get for economy, with a very nicely sized touch screen seatback video system. There were a ton of movies available including the entire Star Wars library and much of Pixar. And I watched... exactly none of them during the flight!
As the song "Screech In" played, I glanced at the online map and was excited to see that the plane was close to Newfoundland, Canada (which is where the planes in "Come From Away" were diverted). However, we were not diverted there which is probably a good thing- although such a diversion would make an epic travel blog story. And this is the last "Come From Away" reference I will make... in this entry, anyway.
The food service was pretty decent for an airline. For dinner I had something called "Chicken kapsa with fried onions" which was served with actual silverware and a fresh roll. It felt a bit exotic to me, and I liked it. On the other hand, I completely trashed the cheese/lettuce/tomato sandwich served in the middle of the flight. Finally, a couple hours before landing, we had breakfast service for which I chose the omelette with chicken sausage.
At one point during the flight, I freaked out because I couldn't find my wallet inside my purse. It turned out that it was still on my lap from having paid for wifi access hours earlier. Memo to self: put your wallet away promptly!
The 14 hour flight didn't really all that long and pretty soon it was time to prep for landing in Doha, where it was 6am. I was disappointed that I did not have a view of the skyline from my seat, but I was incredibly excited to be on the brink of discovering what the city had to offer.
The process to get to my transit accommodations was both straight forward and confusing. If I hadn't done my research, I might not have realized that I needed to follow the general "Transit" signs until I reached a desk clearly labeled "Transit Accommodation at City Hotels". (there was a lot of walking involved; I could have taken a tram but I was glad to stretch my legs) I had to wait only a few minutes, and the person behind the desk went through the paperwork and handed me the voucher I'd need to redeem at the hotel. That was when I found out I'd be staying at the Concorde Hotel. Not that I really cared where I was staying on such a short layover; the important thing was that I'd be able to get into a room.
Paperwork in hand, I was sent through the arrivals area to go through customs which went smoothly. Once I exited to the arrivals hall (my luggage was checked through), there was no signage as to where to proceed for transportation. Basically, it seemed that representatives from the different hotels prowled the area looking for people carrying the transit vouchers. Someone spotted me pretty quickly and directed me to sit down and wait for a few minutes. During that time, I marveled at the palm trees inside the comfortable, modern airport.
Pretty soon, I was shuttled on a van along with 2 other transit passengers who were staying at the same hotel. I was excited to look out onto the unfamiliar roadways; even McDonald's is interesting when sighted on the side of the road in a different country!
After about 20-25 minutes, we pulled up at a hotel which seemed quite nice. The 3 of us handed over our vouchers and then were called to the front desk, one by one, to get our room keys. After taking a few minutes to take some photographs of the spacious room, I collapsed into the cozy bed and ended up taking a refreshing 4 hour nap. Much needed!
I got up around noon and took a shower (also greatly needed!) and called down to order Spaghetti Bolognese from room service. The person on the phone tried to convince me to go down to the buffet which also allegedly offered that selection along with other choices. However, room service was cheaper- if I ate both lunch and dinner in the restaurant, I'd exceed my meal voucher allowance. (technically, I'd still exceed it- but only by a couple dollars) Once I explained my reasoning, they agreed to serve me and my food was delivered pretty quickly.
After eating, I headed downstairs, eager to explore but not 100% certain where to start. I had a pretty clear idea that I wanted to head to the Museum of Islamic Art but the concierge desk was trying to talk me into a private tour that wouldn't even go there. A front desk clerk intervened and suggested I head to the museum and then the nearby Souq Waqif and told me how much it should cost by taxi. When I got outside, the concierge recommended using the hotel car and I relented because it was only a couple dollars more.
The collection inside the Museum of Islamic Art was interesting. But, for me, the main attraction was the museum itself which was designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei. The interior was even more fascinating than the gorgeous exterior; you could look in any direction and your eyes would be treated to fascinating patterns of geometric shapes. I spent about a little over an hour enjoying the museum.
I knew that Souq Waqif was nearby but it was slightly difficult to figure out how to walk there. In the process, I saw a Pearl Monument noted nearby on my Google maps app and was intrigued. I'm glad I took the time to satisfy my curiosity, as it turned out to be a unique and beautiful fountain in the shape of an oyster with a pearl inside.
Eventually, I figured out how to get to the Souq; the best path involved taking some underground passageways. Souq Wakif is a traditionally Middle Eastern styled shopping area. While I was not very interested in buying anything, I was most definitely interested in satisfying my thirst! It was quite hot out- over 100F. Fortunately, I stumbled upon an outdoor juice cafe that had several tables occupied. (I sometimes find it creepy to eat anywhere that is totally empty) While it was quite hot out, at least I was in the shade and directly in front of a fan. I ordered a Strawberry/ Pomegranate with Ice Cream and it was perfectly refreshing! As I relaxed, I twice saw police officers ride by on their Arabian horses.
After my break, I wandered around some more. I was intrigued by some bird sounds... and found myself in an animal market. The birds were fun to see, but it was upsetting to see other animals in cages. I couldn't even take a photo of most of the rabbits, as they seemed quite distressed/terrified (and, inexplicably, most of them had clothes on?). The cats, similarly, seemed like they were not happy and were perhaps overheated. It was even sad to see turtles trying to climb the sides of their cages. It was an oddly uncomfortable area to walk through.
I stopped to get a soft drink when I found a place that sold sodas in bottles that were exactly like Japanese Ramune soda. I chose the strawberry flavor. I'd struggled mightily with how to open these bottles the first time I got one in NYC last fall (it's very different than typical soda bottles), but now it's second nature so I politely declined when the gentleman at the stall offered to show me how to open it.
At this point, it was 6pm and the sun was beginning to set. One of the great things about traveling by myself is that when I think "Let's walk 2.2 miles to the giant Orry the Oryx statue in 104 degree heat!", there is no one to complain. Of course it was crazy- but I also had really wanted to walk along the Corniche, which is a promenade along Doha Bay.
Fortunately, the setting sun and the bay breeze made the walk much more pleasant than it might have been. It was very hazy out, so I didn't have the clearest view of the city skyline but it was still a sight to behold. I enjoyed my walk, despite the heat. I mean, I was exploring a new city, strolling along a lovely waterside promenade at sunset, and watching other people enjoy the area- what's not to love?
As the sky darkened, the dhows in the bay began to dazzle with strings of brightly colored lights and music blared from within them. I smiled and dubbed them "rave boats". It would be fun to take a cruise in one if I return to Doha with friends; I didn't exactly feel comfortable doing so as a single woman.
Orry the Oryx is a giant statue that was erected depicting the mascot for the 2006 Asian Games. It was the perfect kind of quirky sight that I enjoy seeing. Moreover, different species of oryx are the national animals of both Qatar and Namibia (as well as the symbol of Qatar Airways) so it seemed quite fitting to make a point to see the statue.
I was thrilled to spot an Aquafina vending machine nearby... but disappointed when I did not have small enough change to use it. I really needed some water! As luck would have it, a random stranger handed me an unopened bottle as he bought another for himself. I thanked him profusely. There are good people all over the world.
I still had 4 or 5 hours until I had to go back to the airport, so I theoretically could have tried to stop at one of the city's malls. Unfortunately, there is currently no subway in Qatar although they are building one which is tentatively planned to open in 2019. I didn't really want to deal with figuring out where to go so I decided to just order an Uber back to my hotel- a process that would have worked more seamlessly had my credit card not changed expiration dates just before I left. I didn't have that card with me, so I entered a different one which worked perfectly, although it was slightly cumbersome to manage in the dark.
When you order an Uber, the app shows you a map of the area with an icon representing vehicle that will be servicing you. I was quite confused to see my driver make some questionable turns (ie. U-turns and going out of the way). But he got to me soon enough. He asked me if it was ok that he was on the phone, and I had no objections. Ordering an Uber is so much easier than trying to hail a taxi.
Back at the hotel, I took another short nap then relaxed with a nice long shower. I went down to the buffet restaurant for a late dinner around 10:15pm and... the food was quite mediocre.
At midnight, I was transported back to Hamad International irport for my 2:30 am flight to Windhoek, Namibia. I marveled at the brightly colored light poles that decorated the road at night- especially since some were purplish.
As I wandered through the airport at a ridiculously late hour, I was very grateful that my body had no idea what the hell timezone it was supposed to be on! There were tons of flights arriving and departing in the wee hours of the morning, so the airport was not at all as dead like JFK has been at a similar time.
I lucked out into another empty seat next to me on the plane. Yay! But boo, unlike the Airbus 350 I'd flown into Qatar, there was nowhere to charge my phone on this plane!
I was looking forward to hopefully getting a glimpse of the illuminated city skyline during takeoff. But I was puzzled when our plane stopped moving up in the taxi line; in fact, it seemed like other jets were passing us. Eventually the captain came on the P.A. system and announced that there was a mechanical problem... and a little bit thereafter the plane turned back toward the gate.
When your current favorite musical ("Come From Away") has characters talking about being in a plane for as long as 28 hours when their planes were diverted after 9/11, it really gives one perspective on flight delays. So I sat pretty calmly while the flight attendants occasionally came by with water or cheese flavored potato chips (yummy!) and the captain issued not-frequent-enough updates. Fortunately, I didn't have any concrete plans after my arrival. The rest of the passengers seemed similarly mellow- or maybe everyone was just tired.
3 hours after scheduled, we finally took off at 5:30am. I was indeed able to see the city skyscrapers- although by now it was light out so they were not lit up. All I remember of the 9 hour flight is that I slept for most of it, and was awakened twice for meal service (I declined the 2nd time).
When the plane started its descent, my eyes were glued on the landscape outside my window. I saw brownish green colored plains dotted with clusters of green and very few buildings, with rows of mountains lining the horizon. Namibia! I was so excited for my adventure to truly begin...
As you probably know if you are reading this, I have traveled a few places in my life. Which means that I've obviously filled out many different landing forms for customs. They are always a bit of a pain but I was surprised that there were questions on the Namibia form that actually baffled me. Contact person? How much money do I expect to spend??? I just left those blank. I didn't think they'd appreciate a truthful but snarky answer like "I'll spend however much I need to."
Windhoek Hosea Kutako International Airport is one of those small airports that do not have a gangway to the terminal. It seemed to take about 20 minutes for someone to bring over a staircase so we could exit the aircraft. The line for customs was not very long, especially since I was seated toward the front of the plane. However, it was painfully slow; the agents often seemed to idle between calling people forward. But eventually I reached the front and breathed a huge sigh of relief when no one mentioned the unanswered questions on my form.
By the time I got to the luggage carousel, my bag was already there. Then I exited to the arrivals area and scanned the signs people were holding, looking for either my name or the name of my lodge. A big smile lit up my face when I finally saw a sign with my name on it! The gentleman who was picking me up asked me if I needed to change money and fortunately there was no line at the ATM. I didn't quite remember the exchange rate, so I took out a bit of an arbitrary amount.
I had 2 main thoughts alternating through my mind on the drive to the lodge. Mostly, I felt a surreal sense of joyful wonder that I was actually in Namibia starting my safari. But I also cursed myself for not stopping to buy water at the airport. I was practically dying of thirst and figured that it was because I spent the entire flight sleeping on-and-off and therefore not properly keeping hydrated. Memo to self: drink water on long flights.
When I arrived at the lodge at around 1:45pm, I was thrilled to be offered a welcome beverage. I asked for some water which, based on their reaction, was probably not exactly what they had in mind. But, as already mentioned, I was in desperate need of some hydration and fortunately they were able to offer me a bottle of water... which I am sure I gulped down in record time. The woman at the desk was very friendly as were all the staff throughout my stay.
I walked around the main building and was delighted to see a couple warthogs roaming the area! I caught a glimpse of the pool which was dramatically placed at a scenic overlook. I didn't plan to go swimming (it wasn't that warm out), but I love taking a good pool photo.
In all but one of the places I stayed in Namibia, my accomodations consisted of a standalone bungalow. I could barely contain my glee when stepping into the first such lodge of my trip- it was huge, and full of cute little artistic touches. Most of all, the thatched roof and natural materials like wood and stone screamed out at me "You have arrived at the unspoiled destination you've been craving!" The shower was inset in the ground right in the middle of the room so I was very glad to be traveling solo. I kept walking around and marveling at my accommodations from various angles, inside and out- it was the perfect welcome to Namibia!
When I checked in, I'd asked about afternoon activities and had decided to book the 3pm Carnivore Feeding Tour so I quickly got myself ready. I'm so glad I did the tour instead of just lazing in my room because it gave a nice overview of the animals at the wildlife sanctuary. We learned how all of them ended up there- mostly, they were caught as babies by farmers and often their parents were killed. Once the animals got used to life on the sanctuary, they lost their fear of humans and it would not be safe to release them. (on a whole, they do try to trap and release- but it's not always possible) The guide was very enthusiastic and made it a lot of fun.
During the course of the tour, we saw baboons, cheetah, leopard, wild dogs, carcal and lions. They were all behind fences which made photography challenging. Fortunately, there was a viewing deck above the lions. Some of the mammals jumped for their food which was extremely cool to witness. Unfortunately I didn't think to set my camera shutter speed so that it would adequately capture those moments.
The fact that I was viewing animals from behind a fence obviously made the experience less authentic than a traditional safari. I would never stay at a place like this in lieu of observing animals in the wild but I felt like it would be a good complement to my later visit to Etosha National Park. It was a much better experience than visiting a zoo because the animals still had tons of space to roam freely, and they were still living in their natural environment- not an artificial habitat in an entirely different climate. I also believe that the sanctuary is trying to do good work. And hey, I never managed to see a leopard in Kenya and at least I quickly saw one this trip!
I hadn't anticipated how vast the lodge grounds would be- it took about 15-20 minutes each way between the main building and where the animals lived. On the way back in an open vehicle, I enjoyed my first African sunset of the trip as the darkening sky was painted with fringes of bright orange. It felt so incredible to be in the savannah, amid wildlife and nature as the wind blew my hair... so marvelously different than my city/suburban existence back home.
Because the only place to access wifi was in the main building, I hung out in the small lounge after the tour so I could upload some photos. Eventually I headed over to the main dining room. With tables lining semicircle of floor to ceiling windows, it was a wonderful place to enjoy my meals. The food was absolutely delicious, exceeding my expectations! The starter was butternut feta & basil pesto ravioli, which was right up my alley because I love pasta. For my main course, I chose the stuffed chicken which was served with sundried tomato mash and green beans with hollandaise. The piece de resistance, however, was the dessert- the menu called it "chocolate tartlet with vanilla ice cream" but it might more appropriately be dubbed "decadent gooey chocolate oozing out of a chocolate crust"- perfection!
As I was eating and trying to mind my own business, I noticed the lady at the table next to me stand up and start talking to the gentleman she was with. It sounded like she was reciting wedding vows- complete with a ton of mushy cliches. I mean, she actually told him he was the wind beneath her wings. It took all my strength not to burst out laughing because it just sounded so trite- and so out of place. The oddest thing is that I'm not even sure that English was their native language since she spoke with an accent. I was relieved that after she was done, the gentleman did not reciprocate in kind.
My chalet was very close to the main lodge so I just had a quick walk back when I was done eating. In further exploring my room, I found a remote that could turn on some heat which made me very happy because it got quite chilly after dark (it was autumn/winter in the Southern hemisphere). I'd been told about the heated bed but not that there was actual heat for the room. Speaking of which... my nieces and I have a saying that "love is a heated seat" based on driving in my car winter; I have now decided to add "love is a heated bed" to my repertoire. It was very cozy to snuggle under the blankets with the heat turned on.
I hadn't had a real good night's sleep in days so I called it a night at an early 9pm. As I reflected on my day, the first word that came to mind was "peace". The lodge was quiet, and felt at one with its natural surroundings through it was also quite luxurious. I was grateful to be far from the fast pace of my daily life, and excited to continue my adventures in the coming days.
I woke up at 6am and decided to take a quick peek outside to take a photo of the sunrise. Practically as soon as I slid the glass doors open, I saw a creature rush toward me from the grass. It was a calico cat! Well that was not at all the kind of wild creature I expected to encounter in Africa, but I was definitely happy to see her. I'd only intended to be outside for a minute and, despite wearing long sleeved winter pajamas, I was feeling chilled. I went inside for a second to put on a bathrobe so I could more comfortably enjoy some kitty snuggles. The cat wanted to come inside my chalet, but I wasn't sure that was a good idea so I just sat with her outside. What a magical way to start my first full day in Namibia!
I took a quick shower (which was a bit chilly, what with the shower being in the middle of the room) and then headed out to breakfast. I ate what became my standard Namibian breakfast: some cereal and an order of scrambled eggs with bacon. The bacon was disappointingly not crispy, but everything else was great. Since I was cold, I ordered a hot chocolate which was amazing- lots of foam at the top!
This morning I'd pre-booked the Behind the Scenes tour and I was excited to see more of the animals that were at the lodge. I almost burst out laughing when the "wind beneath my wings" lady from the previous night's dinner sat next to me in the vehicle for the tour. She told me that she was on her honeymoon so maybe the mushiness made sense? I asked her where she was from, but I couldn't understand her answer.
Our first stop of the morning was the cheetah walk, where we were able to follow around 4 tame cheetah for about 40 minutes. It was a total blast for a cat lover like me, however it would have been even better with fewer people... and with people who actually listened when they were told not to take selfies or pose for photos with the animals. We had the same guide as the previous day and she seemed to be at her wit's end with everyone disobeying her constant warnings. I felt for her. We weren't allow to touch the cheetah... but no one told them they couldn't touch us, and I was thrilled when one of them whacked its tail against my leg! Sooooo cool! I absolutely adored watching these sleek cats enjoying themselves on a beautiful day. After they'd used up their energy, they lay down lazily and purred- just like domestic cats.... but bigger. Unfortunately, my video of the purring did not come out as well as I had hoped.
After the cheetah walk, most of the people in the vehicle went back to the lodge for another activity while 9 of us (including "wind beneath my wings" lady) continued on to meet some of the animals being cared for at the sanctuary. We could hold or pet some of the smaller ones which was amazing- but alas, I didn't think to ask anyone to take my photo. They'd attempted to release of these animals... only to have them come back. Others they hope to release eventually. There was so much cuteness! Even the skunk was adorable! Some of the many other animals we saw were: meerkat (who posed adorably), a porcupine, mongoose, a gentle hartebeest, and a baby zebra.
The third part of the tour consisted of hanging out with baby baboons who were out for their daily exercise. They were quite outgoing in their interactions with humans, though they tended to mostly avoid those of us in the group with large DSLR cameras. However, at one point a baboon jumped on me from a tree such that its front paw touched my mouth. I was freaked out for a moment- because, I mean, it's not like I expect baboons to fly out at me! I was chided a bit by the guides for my instinctive shocked scream. Ooops.
Although I didn't personally interact all that much with the baboons, it was a lot of fun to observe them in a beautiful setting. At one point, the guides swung them around like they were little acrobat babies and the primates really seemed to enjoy it. I had not realized that the baboon experience was part of the Behind the Scenes tour; if I'd had, I would not have also booked the activity for the next morning. Oh well. I figured I might leave my camera behind the next day to focus more on the interaction.
The final stop on the tour was a presentation about the rescue work they do. Usually it is not the last activity, but due to other circumstances the normal order had been shuffled. Unfortunately, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open which did not reflect at all on the presenter or the topic- I was actually very interested in learning more about the mission and the sister properties.
We returned to the main lodge at about 1pm. I debated whether I should eat something and decided that it would probably be a good idea to do so. Then I had to choose between real food or a sundae topped with amarula toffee sauce which really tempted me. I ended up ordering the Tagliatelle pasta with smoked salmon which only goes to show that sometimes I can actually be a responsible adult. It was a wise decision to have some lunch (even though it wasn't quite as tasty as the dinners), because I would probably have descended into an irritable mood otherwise. Also, the caffeine in my coke zero was most welcome.
I spent the rest of the afternoon taking things easy. There isn't a lot to do around the lodge if you aren't taking part in a paid organized activity. I was tempted to take a nap, but I knew that would mean that I'd be up all night. Instead, I enjoyed the serenity of walking around the grounds and then eventually settled on my patio to sort through the day's photos. As I was seated there, I noticed a baboon on top of the neighboring chalet which prompted me to later message my nieces that "Baboon on the Roof" would be an awesome name for a musical. Later, I was amused when another baboon scampered quickly across my deck. When the sun began to set, I embarked on an impromptu photo shoot to capture the gorgeous pink-blue sky.
Once again, I enjoyed my dinner. It started with Baby Marrow Soup which I had to google because it didn't sound at all appetizing; I was relieved to find out that it's made with zucchini, not infant bone marrow. For my main course, I selected the "Seared Game Fillet" which I was told was Oryx; I was definitely intrigued to try this unique menu selection that I can't easily find at home. It was pretty good, but a bit much for me to finish. I also ordered a glass of red wine with my meal- wheee! Dessert was once again a highlight- this time, Vanilla Pod Pavolva with Chantelle Cream topped with fruit.
I went to bed early again, full of gratitude for everything I'd seen and done. Everything so far at my first lodge had exceeded my expectations- the activities, the scenery, the people, etc. The next day, I'd be meeting my guide and starting on the main safari experience. I was excited to be heading to the desert but I was also a bit nervous; I really didn't know what it would be like to be the only one on a guided tour and part of me was questioning whether that had been a good decision- but there was no turning back now. I was pretty sure that I'd have an amazing time, but there's always some risk when trying something different.
It was bliss to be able to catch up on sleep! I slept and slept... and slept some more... from around 9pm until around 7:30am. OK, I was semi-awake earlier... but I was too comfortable in my warm heated bed to actually move.
I packed up my stuff so that I'd be ready to head off when my guide arrived. I wasn't really all that hungry so I just had cereal and juice for breakfast. I felt like I was going to miss the beautiful dining room which I'd called home for the past 2 days.
I'd already booked the baboon walk without knowing I'd already be visiting with the baboons as a part of the previous day's behind the scenes tour. But I figured I'd make the most of it. I was the only guest who booked the tour, although when we reached the baboon area- the same one as the previous day- a bunch of volunteers came with the baboons. The guide pointed out to me that one of the baboons was special needs, and it was really sweet to see her included.
I'd hoped that not bringing my DSLR might mean I'd have more interaction with the baboons... but nope. They mainly ignored me and hung out with the volunteers. However, I wasn't too upset at being overlooked when some of them were sopping wet and muddy from frolicking in the water. I was content to be an observer and enjoy the lovely day.
After about an hour, we started walking the baboons back to... wherever it is that baboons go. I don't know exactly since I only completed part of the hike before the lodge guide met me to bring me back to the main building. He said I could continue a little more, and I gave him my phone with which he took a series of both posed and candid photos of me. I have more photos of me walking with the baboons than I have for the rest of the trip combined! During the walk, I was actually able to carry a couple of baboons (or perhaps the same one) for a short bit. That was really cool... even if the baboon began to feel a tad heavy after awhile.
At a certain point, everyone took a break and sat with the baboons. I was happy when one came over to me- I felt popular at last! As I was petting the little guy, I heard a snap and realized that he'd eaten one of the buttons from my shirt wrist! Cheeky baby! It was hysterical- and reminded me of the time in Kenya that a monkey had stolen my memory card. When he started looking at me again, I joked that I still had a button on the other sleeve. Memo to self: baboons don't understand jokes. Apparently taking me literally, he little guy soon helped himself to a button from the middle of my other sleeve. So basically the baboon didn't like me after all; just my sartorial decorations.
It was time now to meet my guide, H, and get on with the rest of my trip. A week or so earlier, the agency I'd worked with emailed me the first name and phone number of my guide. It was enough information to allow me to do a 5 minute google search to find some really quick info on him. I must confess that I'd expected to have a black guide... just because that's all I've experienced before in Africa. I recall the lyric in Avenue Q that "everyone's a little bit racist" and must admit that I was exhibiting some prejudice.
I was initially a bit disappointed not to have a "real" Namibian for a guide, but rather someone representative of colonial rule. But (jumping ahead) that actually proved to be fortuitous, as it gave me the opportunity to understand the humanity of "other" side that is not represented in most books or new articles about race in Africa- a 4th generation white Namibian of German descent who fiercely loves his country. Discussing race and racism with him (both in Africa and the US) was fascinating. It's only by looking at different perspectives that one can truly grow.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. After returning from my baboon experience, I saw a handsomely rugged man standing by a vehicle with the logo of my tour company. I guess he must have introduced himself- but, I mean, it was pretty obvious he was my guide. I just remember running into the lodge to use the restroom, and responding to the lady at the front desk that I'd already met my guide.
So then we were off for a really long drive to the desert region of Sossusvlei. I popped into the front left seat (they drive on the opposite side of the road in Namibia) for the first of many times. At some point during the 5.5-6 hr drive, I had a revelation: I had signed up for an 11 day road trip with a stranger! Obviously, it was a well vetted, qualified, professional stranger... but the description is nonetheless accurate. It's the journey, as much as the destination, which makes for a great trip- and I'd be spending many hours riding in a 4x4 alongside someone who started out as a complete stranger. I'm sure that if I had not been traveling solo, the dynamics would have felt different.
Interestingly, one of the things that had been getting me down all winter was that I really craved embarking on adventures with friends and family... but it had been frustrating me that I always had to be the one with the ideas. Just once I wanted someone else to take care of plans while I coasted on for the ride.... and to feel more like I belonged. And now I magically had an 11 day trip which, in a bit of twisted way, fulfilled that desire of mine. I could just relax in my seat while H took care of everything (since that was his job) as we conversed on all manner of topics (since that's what happens when 2 people spend an ungodly amount of time together). It was weirdly wonderful because I sometimes felt like I was with a friend. (Note: I was always aware that it was H's job to keep me happy and that I was just another client that he would probably forget in time.) On the surface, he was the total opposite of me: a big, outgoing man who grew up on a farm in Namibia and who loves the outdoors vs. a petite, introverted American city gal who is a computer/ theatre geek. But I discovered that we nonetheless had common values such as love of travel/experiences, and genuine kindness. Which highlights my belief that people of various nationalities/creeds/etc are not so different from each other at root. At any rate, if I had to spend so much time with a person, it was fortunate that we got along and that he didn't annoy the crap out of me like so many people do.
That first day, I still wasn't exactly clear how everything would work. I just tried to enjoy the mountainous landscapes as they unfolded before me on the mostly unpaved dirt roads. A nice thing about driving through Namibia is that it's mainly just road and scenery. You aren't oversaturated with billboards and storefronts like you are even in my suburb. You may, however, see the occasional animal which only adds to the charm. It was probably a similar environment in Kenya, but I was on a bus with a bunch of other people so I didn't pay as much attention to the roads.
During the ride, H and I got to know each other a little- which is to be expected when you spend 6 hours in a vehicle together. He talked about the rest of the itinerary and, honestly, I wanted him to just slow down and focus on the current destination! I wasn't ready to hear about where I'd be going at the end of the trip. This was not helping me in my desire to be present.
We made several brief stops to look at the scenery. There were barely any cars on the road so it was super easy to pull over for a minute or 2. At one point, H wanted could show me an example of the amazing large nests made by the sociable weaver birds. Any time I tried to take a quick photo as we drove, H offered to stop so I could get a better one which made me a little self conscious.
The longest break was 20 minutes in the town of Solitaire which was the only place to fill up with gas anywhere in the vicinity. (Much like New Jersey, all Namibia gas stations are full serve not self serve.) It was a tiny, quirky town, decorated with cacti and random old wrecked cars. I'd been intrigued when H told me there was a bakery but it proved to be disappointing. It was a better use of my time to walk around and snap some photos. After getting back into the car, I munched on one of my Golden Grahams bars.
When we finally arrived at the 4.5 mile dirt road that led to the next lodge, it was just about sunset. The colorful skies made for a dramatic introduction- especially when we saw some Oryx on the grounds. I was surprised that H took care of the entire check in process; I didn't have to sign any forms or present a passport. This was the case for all of my accommodations (although one lodge did require a signature).
I was staying in another gorgeous private bungalow. This one was smaller than the previous but it was just as stunning in its own way. One of the highlights was the amazing view it offered of the mountainous desert landscape. I was excited that there was an outlet right by the bed- it's little touches like that which make me happy about hotel rooms. The room also inexplicably had a chair that was decorated with NYC designs.
After freshening up a bit, I went back to the main building (which I later tracked at being 0.33 miles from my room so it was a bit of a hike) and met H for dinner. I hadn't really thought about whether I'd be eating meals with my guide; when I'd taken a private tour in Guatemala, the guide ate in a separate room which had been awkward. It was much better to eat together- especially since I'd already decided that H was cool (as opposed to the many people who I'd rather not be around if I have a choice). It was another amazing dinner- this one was 5 courses; the 3 introductory plates were quite small which was perfect. A couple of the highlights were the guava granita (similar to a sorbet and served before the main course, probably as a palate cleanser), and the pan-friend kingklip fillet (fish) that I chose for my main course. As would become my tradition, I accompanied my meal with a glass of white wine- which was damn good! (and soooo cheap!)
Now that I am home where internet is much better and more prevalent (I'd had many issues trying to upload photos during that particular dinner), I googled Kingklip and discovered that it's related to Cod. Cod is a fish that figures quite prominently in the musical "Come From Away" which I've been slightly obsessed with- and which I was overdue to mention again since it's been a couple entries. I am quite amused by this coincidence. At any rate, the fish was tasty.
After dinner, it seemed to take forever to get back to the room; I was walking with H because his room was in the same direction but past mine. At one point, when I was between #4 and #5, I was jokingly frustrated that I was only halfway there! After finally making it to #9 and saying goodbye to H, I walked out on my private deck to gaze at the stars, which twinkled brightly in the amazingly clear sky. It was exactly the scene I'd dreamed of, and I wanted to take it all in.
I didn't stay out too long because I had an early morning of dune exploration ahead. It had been another great day, wherein I continued to feel at peace with nature. I was relieved to get along well with H, and I laughed thinking back to the baboon eating my buttons which already was starting to seem like ancient history.
I woke up feeling confident that it was almost time for my 5am alarm to go off. I glanced at the clock on my phone and couldnt' believe that it was only 2am. WTF?! So I went back to sleep... woke up again... checked again... and it was 2:45. After that, I refused to look at the clock. Suffice it to say that I slept rather fitfully after an initial 4 solid hours of sleep. It was weird because the bed was quite comfortable.
5am finally arrived and I took a super quick shower and headed down the 0.33 mile path to the main lodge. H was already there, waiting in the car. He was always waiting whenever we were supposed to meet which was pretty awesome; you really don't want to wonder where your guide is or if you are in the right place. Other than mornings when I often ran 5-10 minutes late because... mornings... I usually trend toward arriving early to designate meeting times. And he was always there before me.
It was still dark out as we drove to Namib Naukluft park which opens at sunrise. H was wondering if it would be crowded. Suffice it to say that I was highly skeptical that the tourists flocking to the dunes would in any way compare to the madness that is a Disney park after the evening fireworks, which is my standard for "Holy shit, it's packed!" But I understood what he was saying; part of the charm of Namibia is that it is a place where you can feel at peace with nature. H often mentioned that he wondered where tourism was heading, and that he hoped that too many crowds wouldn't overwhelm the local resources/infrastructure or make the tourist destinations feel less special.
There was a short line of vehicles in front of us at the gates. After we waited for a bit (during which time I got out to take some photos), the gates opened at 6:30. Early morning is the best time to visit the dunes for 2 reasons. First, that's when the lighting is best for photography, with the sand shining in a nice orange tone. Even more importantly, we were in the desert and you don't want to be exerting yourself during the hottest part of the day.
H decided that we should take our time driving in, so we stopped several times whenever there was something interesting to photograph. (I usually left the exact itinerary up to him since he knows these places really well... and I had no clue.) There were several locations where we spotted animals, such as Oryx and Springbok. We saw a couple colorful balloons in the air nearby, which prompted me to reminisce about my incredible Kenya hot air balloon ride; it seemed like the Namibia ones offered a similar experience, with breakfast served in the middle of nowhere. But since I've done it once, I'm loathe to pay $$$ again.
Eventually, after driving through some sandy paths that could only be negotiated by a 4x4, we arrived at a place to park the car. And then the fun began. I'm not being sarcastic, except for the fact that I had a tough time walking up and down the sandy hills on the nearly one mile trek. I kept lagging far behind H; when he'd eventually turn around, I'd laugh about how trekking through sand is difficult for a city girl.
The struggle was worth it when I finally caught sight of Deadvlei, a clay pan full of twisted skeletons of camel thorn trees. The photographer in me marveled at the combination of shapes and colors in a valley between the huge dunes. I stayed in the area for about an hour, just enjoying the scenery, while H spent part of the time talking to a guide he knew. And as for crowds- there were a number of people, but it was less populous than the least crowded morning at a Disney park. Definitely an amazing place to visit.
We saw a couple guys who were flying a drone, which annoyed H who told them to stop because it was prohibited. I can't find reference to any such regulation but I trust that H knows what he's talking about. Drones probably shouldn't be allowed, anyway, as the sound ruins the otherwise peaceful ambience.
Our lodge had packed us large brown bags of food in lieu of eating breakfast there; it's obviously common for their guests to arise ridiculously early to visit the local attractions. I'd already cracked my bag open to munch on a sausage. After walking another mile back from Deadvlei, H found a table in the shade where we could relax for a bit and enjoy the rest of our food. I ended up eating strawberry yogurt, half a sandwich and some of an orange/pineapple juice. (there was a constant supply of water in the car; I drank more of that) H's breakfast package included Simba brand cheese and onion potato chips and mine didn't, prompting me to react with mock outrage. He ended up offering me his bag which I gladly accepted. (yes, the bag featured a cute lion mascot) I usually don't like the boxed lunches provided by lodgings, but this one was actually pretty good- many items (some which I didn't eat) and a decent variety.
Then we headed over to Big Mama, which is supposed to be one of the easier dunes to climb. I had no intention of climbing all the way up, although it didn't seem as impossibly hard as I'd expected. Hiking on the edge of a dune is interesting, and provided some great views of the area. But I started getting a little nervous about the height, and self conscious about how far ahead H was (and how a million people were passing me... although that was also because I let them) and I eventually announced that I didn't want to go any further and we headed back. Also, my feet were killing me- it turned out that not only did I have sand in my shoes, I also had a ton in my socks which was rubbing against my feet. I have some problems with my feet and the scratchy sand was exasperating them. I'm sure I didn't get very far at all, but it's all good
On the way out of the park, we stopped again so I could take some more photos. It's hard to describe the amazing feeling of being among the colossal orange tinted dunes. As I've been going through my photos, they hardly seem real to me even though I took them! I was surprised to see occasional greenery dotting the landscape; apparently it was due to Namibia getting more rain during the wet season than it had in several years. My visit to the Sossusvlei dunes was definitely a highlight in a trip full of highlights.
On the way back, we headed to Sesriem canyon which wasn't too far from the park. It was a neat looking place, and I enjoyed climbing down into the small rocky canyon and walking around. I needed a little help on a couple of the inclines which annoyed me because I pride myself on being an independent woman.
H stopped somewhere to get permits (I never thought to ask for what; perhaps belatedly for the dunes and the canyon?) and to fill the car up with gas. We got back to the hotel after 2; I sat by the front desk for a bit and worked on photos and heard H go up to the dining room to order some lunch. I was content with munching on a Golden Grahams bar once I got back to my room.
Of course, the first thing I did when back at my room was to dump out all the sand from my shoes... and socks... I didn't think I'd ever get it all out! (I laughed when my mind flashed to the "Come From Away" quote: "I wanted to burn my socks") Once my feet felt semi-clean, I sat outside for a short time and admired Oryx grazing nearby- so cool! But after all the walking I'd done in the heat, I soon collapsed on the bed to relax although I don't think I actually took a nap. I worked on travel notes and going through photos, which is my typical travel "down time" activity.
For some inexplicable reason-mainly my desire to take advantage of all opportunities especially when they promise to offer great photo ops- I'd agreed to meet H at 5:30 so we could hike up to the lodge's viewing deck for the sunset. This made me reluctant to take the afternoon shower I'd originally intended on because it seemed a waste if I'd just get all sweaty again. At 5, I was partially regretting that life choice as I had to drag myself out of bed. Just as I was getting ready to head out, H knocked on my door and said that the sun was already going down and 5:30 might be too late. Fortunately, I was just about ready to go, anyway.
The viewing deck was quiet and peaceful. It was relaxing to sit there and embrace the pleasant breeze while watching the sky change colors. Climbing up wasn't too bad, although it was slightly challenging since I hadn't been hiking in awhile, but I could tell that getting down would be another story... so I jokingly announced to H that I intended to spend the rest of my life up there. Someone could bring up a bed and I was sure I could get my mail forwarded there. It might be a problem not having any internet, but life is full of obstacles, right?
As you can probably guess, I did eventually make it down. I needed some help again a couple times (grrr). I know it's mainly a mental thing. Eventually I started repeating to myself "one foot then another" which morphed in my head to "one plane then another" and pretty soon I was singing to myself the entire song "38 Planes (reprise)" from... you guessed it... "Come From Away". Hey, anything that works to allow me to get over myself is a good thing.
The 5 course dinner was fabulous again. My favorites were the pear granita (sorbet) and the cream of tomato soup. My entree, chicken breast wrapped in bacon with barbecue sauce, was also delicious. And of course, I had some wine again. Dinner conversation veered off onto the topic of religion which could have potentially gotten weird if H was some kind of religious zealot. But fortunately (since I prefer dinner without a side of awkward moments), his views were quite similar to mine. I must have been pretty engrossed in the discussion as I neglected to photograph some of the dinner courses.
At 9:30pm, I finally took the shower that I'd been craving. I was tired, but I also felt a beautiful sense of calmness. Spending more time in nature and less online was undoubtedly good for me. I was very happy with how the day had gone, especially the time I spent wandering around Deadvlei. The next day I'd be off to Swakopmund, an ocean town that promised to be quite different than my previous 2 stops.
I like to get an early start when I travel and H claimed to wake up early all the time, so we agreed on a 6:30am breakfast. I actually slept well, and awakening to a 5:45am alarm felt almost like sleeping in. After taking a shower and getting ready, I went outside to take some photos of the sunrise. I truly could not get enough of the natural beauty in which I was immersed.
After breakfast, we set off on another long car ride. Once again, we stopped along the way to enjoy highlights such as the unique Quiver Trees and a scenic overlook. We also saw wildlife that included Oryx, Mountain Zebra, and a snake. The landscapes were so beautiful and pure. But one annoying thing about the dirt roads was that on the rare occasions when vehicles passed us, we'd be left in a trail of dust.
A big theme of the day was to hash out plans for the next stop in Swakopmund. H was constantly trading phone calls with the office to get information on tours- or, at least he was whenever he could actually get phone service. The first thing that he worked on was dining reservations since this was the only stop where dinner was not included. Actually, he'd started trying to plan for dinners a day or 2 earlier. Apparently it was a popular weekend in town and we weren't able to get in either of his first choice places. I kept joking that if nothing turned up, we could always split the bag of emergency M&M's that I had with me... which of course necessitated explaining my tradition of traveling with M&M's just in case I need them. We eventually succeeded in obtaining dinner reservations; I wasn't picky as to where we ate but- spoiler alert- I ended up being very happy with the selections.
I also had to figure out what I actually wanted to do during my stay. There are a lot of intriguing activities in the area; unfortunately I didn't think that some of them, like quad biking through the dunes, would be as fun by myself. I told H that if I'd had to choose one place to go in all of Namibia, I'd want be where the desert dunes meet up with the Atlantic ocean. A friend had shared photos of the area which were simply gorgeous.
My first thought had been to take a scenic flight, which would only be affordable if there was a company that already had a few other people interested in taking one. H got a call pretty early from the office that I could get on a flight- if I could get to my next lodge to be picked up by 2pm. It was possible, but it would be tight. Eventually, we both agreed that we didn't want to rush through the drive. That's not how I like to travel and I don't think H does, either.
H came up with the idea of taking a Sandwich Harbor tour, which entails riding in a 4x4 to the area where dunes meet the sea. That fit what I was looking for, and as a bonus it was much more affordable than a flight. There was some back and forth between H and the office about what tours were available: there was a full day tour and a half day tour. I was confused as to what the difference was between the 2, but eventually decided that I couldn't spend too much time on my dream destination so the full day tour would be better.
Unfortunately, by then there was no more space available for the full day option. Sometimes I curse my indecisiveness! So I ended up booking an afternoon half day tour, and added on a morning catamaran cruise offered by the same company. I cannot say enough good things about how diligently H and the office worked on these details for me throughout the day, and how H knew exactly what to suggest.
We arrived at Walvis Bay somewhere around noon, and H drove around to show me the flamingoes. There are always a ton of flamingoes there. Except when there aren't, like this time. H said he has never seen the area without a single flamingo but I guess there is a first time for everything.
I mentioned being hungry, so after our flamingo-less drive around the area, we stopped at the cutest little quirky restaurant. The dining room was decorated with eclectic sayings ranging from the profound ("Sometimes what you're most afraid of doing is the very thing that will set you free") to the amusing ("Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon") I must have enjoyed the lunch stop quite a bit, because just looking at the mediocre photos I took makes me smile. No doubt H and I were talking and laughing about various random topics including the sayings on the wall.
I ordered a plate of Schnitzel and Chips which was quite good. At the end of the meal, I was surprised that H paid for both of our orders. I just smiled (I think) and thanked him, and didn't make a big deal of it. I mean, technically I was paying for all of his dinners (except the 2 that were not included).
Part of my rationale for embarking on a full day of tours by other vendors the next day was that I wanted to give H a break from spending so much time with me. Well, that's what I put in my notes and it's not a lie. But I think the truth is just as much that I was really enjoying our time together and whenever I get too close to anyone, even as a friend, I start pushing them away. I was especially sensitive in this case because I knew he was just doing his job. Plus, he'd already mentioned having too many friends so there was no logical way for me to expect that I'd hear from him after returning home. I'd been through this before- genuinely caring about friends who didn't really give a damn about me, and I did not want to go through it again. Anyway, I felt that it would be a good thing for both of us to spend a day away from each other.
After lunch, we drove to Swakopmund, which was about a half hour away. The road between the 2 towns was stunning- to the left was the ocean; to the right were sand dunes. H gave me a short tour of the quaint little city, including a stop where I got out of the car and wandered around taking photos of the beach and lighthouse.
I was staying at another amazing lodge- this one was on stilts and had an idyllic view of an area just off the edge of the ocean. I was amazed when I first gazed out of my window and saw camels grazing! This was one of the lodges I personally chose, and I was very pleased with my decision. In addition to the obvious charms of its spacious bungalows, I was glad that it sat in a quiet location just slightly off from the center of town.
I spent about an hour relaxing by editing photos and listening to music during which time I noticed that, to my chagrin, that I'd left a piece of my travel adapter behind in my previous lodge. That's... a problem since it meant that I would not be able to plug any of my electronics, including my phone and camera chargers. I always travel with a spare adapter but unfortunately that one didn't work at all with either style of Namibian outlet.
As the sun began to set, I walked around the property to take some photos of the scenery. When I met up with H to head to dinner, I mentioned my issue with the adapter. He said he'd try to get one while I was on my tours the next day as long as I could give him an example of a US plug. That would not be a problem- I could bring my existing useless-in-Namibia adapter to breakfast. For the meantime, the lady at the front desk was nice enough to loan me a plug for my phone so I could charge it.
We were eating at the Jetty, a restaurant at the edge of a pier over the ocean. There had been some talk of driving, but the weather was good and I prefer walking anyway; it was way too close to take a car. The path was gorgeous, with views of the beach set against an orange sky as the sun was just finishing saying farewell to the day.
Dinner was fabulous. I was beyond excited when I saw sushi on the menu! An order of sushi was the perfect size for my small appetite... and it was just plain cool to eat sushi in Africa. For dessert, both H and I ordered the chocolate volcano and OMG that was incredible! Naturally, I had a glass of wine as well.
I went back to my room feeling happy and relaxed. It had been another great day. Even though I hadn't really seen all that much of note, I enjoyed just being in Namibia and journeying to a different part of the country.
I met up with H for breakfast as usual. By now I had learned to mimic him in asking for crispy bacon with my eggs so that I'd get something more edible than I'd received in my initial stop. Yet another reason why it was useful to have a guide!
After breakfast, I sent off a few pairs of pants to the laundry. I had packed more than enough shirts, but at the very least, it would be good for my yoga pants to be clean for the flight home. Then we were back off on the road to Walvis Bay, with the dunes on one side and the ocean on the other.
I went in the tour office to pay for my activities. The lady there was very friendly, and assured me that I would be in van with a very funny guide for my afternoon tour. H said that it would be a good change from him; I thought he was funny enough in his own way but nonetheless I can never have too much humor in my life so I was excited.
I waited outside for the cruise to board. It was slightly confusing because there were several different companies with different boats who were meeting in roughly the same area. But it was also peaceful sitting by myself and gazing out at the glasslike still water that faded into the hazy horizon.
When I heard my ticket category was called, I headed to the boat. There were 30 people on my cruise, including a group of 10 people from China who seemed to take delight in taking photos of the oddest things. I mean, there was practically a line of them wanting to take photos in front of an offshore oil drill station. Why?!?
The cruise started out delightfully with a seal actually waddling around onboard the ship. The guide punned that if we took photos with him, they would be "sealfies"- get it?! It was fun to be so close to a seal and to watch him eat his food. As we cruised out a little, he slid out into the water and a pelican came onboard- such a gorgeous bird! Pelicans would be on and off the ship throughout the duration of the cruise.
The staff came around offering everyone glasses with a shot of a local alcohol (Sedgwick's Old Brown sherry). I figured why the hell not, and took a cup for myself as I flashed to a lyric from "Come From Away" in which a character says "Nobody here knows me- I can be whoever I want to be" while heading out to a bar. Wheee!
I guess the highlight of the cruise was when we approached the Cape Cross seal colony, where the shore was lined with tons of seals. However, we didn't get nearly close enough for me to really enjoy them. I've been pretty spoiled in my close encounters with animals in previous trips. But I learned an interesting fact- lighthouses are black and white, instead of red and white, if they are surrounded on both sides by the sea. That makes them more visible against the blue background.
They served snacks on the way back to the shore, which gave me an opportunity to try oysters for the first time. I preferred the ones made with garlic and cheese to the raw variety. I guess I'd eat them again if they were served to me, though I doubt I'd choose to order them. The crew also served sparkling wine... and, again, I figured why not?!
The cruise was pleasant enough and had its share of fun moments, but overall I was kinda "meh" about it. It felt too touristy, too crowded, and not really substantial enough. Still, I wasn't sure what would have been a better alternative for the morning. I basically felt like it was a nice prelude for my afternoon dune visit which was sure to be off-the-charts amazing.
After the ship docked, I went back in the office and talked to the lady there who introduced me to the driver for my afternoon Sandwich Harbor tour. I was super excited, but I wasn't paying much attention due to being preoccupied with the fact that I had to use the restroom. So I went next door and waited in a rather long queue. When I was done, I looked around to try to figure out where to go; I saw the lady from the office leaving so I couldn't ask her for any information. There was a lot of activity of people leaving the morning tours and coming to afternoon tours. I was looking for the man who was my guide and expecting him to be looking for me as well. So when someone motioned for me to follow, I assumed it was him and did so- even though he didn't look quite like what I'd remembered. I was confused and hesitant, but he seemed pretty sure that I belonged with his group so I went along and got in the van.
I sensed that something was off, but I kept telling myself that it's fine. After all, no driver would load people into his van who didn't belong there. I keep asking myself why I didn't ask a simple question to confirm the van's destination and I honestly don't know. Especially when I found myself headed on the familiar road to Swakopmund. I guess I figured maybe you could get to the dunes from there more readily? I mean, my knowledge of Namibian geography is less than nil.
When the van stopped at a hotel and everyone else got out, I realized with some certainty that things were far from fine and finally sorted things out with the driver. He apparently had thought I was with a group of people who were returning to their hotel, which is rather absurd since they weren't even speaking English and I obviously hadn't interacted with them. By then, there was no chance of doing the dune tour because it had left- the guys called the office and confirmed this fact. I was devastated. My dream of seeing the dunes meeting the ocean- the one absolute must of my trip- had faded away. And that, kids, is why you should NEVER drink in the morning! The only plausible explanation I could find for my actions was that I was feeling really happy from the alcohol (though I wasn't anywhere close to drunk) and that I'd let my defenses down. Although, in retrospect, part of me thinks that it's simply how the story was meant to unfold. But at the time, I lacked any sense of perspective... to put things mildly.
The only thing the driver could do was to drop me back at my hotel. I wanted to go into my room and hide under my bed covers and never see anyone again. In addition to being crushed about losing out on my most coveted experience, I was mortified that I had made such a grave error in judgment. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist; many times when I have I made mistakes, they have led to unbearable consequences. So I can be unbelievably hard on myself.
Unfortunately, hiding from the world wasn't a realistic option. Well, I could lock myself in my room but it would be awfully rude to make H drive to Walvis Bay to pick me up at 4 if I wasn't going to be there. I swear, even when I am feeling my worst, I still think of others first. So I went into my room, searched the itinerary I'd been given, and nervously dialed his phone number. And... he didn't pick up! I thought maybe I'd dialed wrong but I'm fairly certain now that I had the right number; I guess he just saw an unknown number and ignored it.
So I went to the front desk... which meant I had to deal with another human- and, even worse, I had to do so in person. I asked her to leave a message for H, so she called him and he answered and said he'd be right over. Oh dear. I did not want to face him. I did not want to face anyone. Ever. Again.
Telling H the entire story in person felt absolutely humiliating. It didn't help when he told me that in his 15 years of being a guide, he's never seen anyone get in the wrong car. Meanwhile, I was in tears and the front desk lady was saying that she didn't like people who cry. I think she meant well, but pro tip: that is never a helpful thing to say to someone who is genuinely upset. Also? I really don't care if a random lady in Namibia likes me or not so there's that. Anyway, I felt so stupid and awkward, and I wished the ground could just open up and engulf me.
Knowing how badly I'd wanted to see that area, H suggested that he rearrange the schedule so I could take the tour the next morning. But I did not want to see that tour office again. I did not want to ride on that damn road between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay again. I was so mad at myself, and so upset that basically, I mentally shut down and was incapable of coherent thought. This was probably the only time on the entire trip that H tried to tell me what to do; he wouldn't even answer me if I should try a drink when I was curious about his choice of alcoholic beverage! Thank goodness he kinda sorta pushed me to reschedule, because in retrospect that was 1000% the right move. He was even willing to make a late start driving to our next lodge to accommodate the change in plans, which would mean he might have to drive on dirt roads in the dark the next night- all so that I could fulfill my dream. I didn't exactly appreciate it at the moment (to put it mildly)... but when I reflect on the situation now, my heart is overwhelmed with gratitude!
Once that was settled, I randomly wanted some ice cream, but I didn't trust myself to walk around the city alone after my earlier errors in judgment (especially when told that if I walked somewhere, I should leave the DSLR back in the hotel) I think I muttered something out loud about ice cream but H didn't offer to take me to find some. In my half-delusional mind, I was sure he didn't want to be seen with someone so stupid.
So I went back to my room, and laid in bed inert with the covers over my head for... quite some time. At some point, my thoughts flashed to lyrics from the musical "Dear Evan Hansen" when the mother sings to her son:
No matter what
I'll be here
When it all feels so big
'Til it all feels so small.
I knew that I'd eventually laugh about the mix up; possibly as soon as later that night. But man, I felt like a huge idiot when it happened. And I was all alone, thousands of miles from anyone who cared, anyone who could give me a hug and tell me that things would be ok. So eventually, after I listened to the song and cried some more... when I felt ready to attempt to face the world again, I did what any social media addict would do: I trolled the internet asking for hugs. I wasn't ready to explain the details- I just posted that I really needed a hug (and assured everyone that I was safe, lest they worry unnecessarily).
And... it worked! About 30 of my friends, some of whom I'd never met in person, responded with warm messages and cute images. It moves me to tears to look through the thread now. As one of my friends aptly noted, I wasn't traveling alone- I had so many wonderful friends joining me in spirit as well. Their kind thoughts lifted me up when I most needed it, and I am so grateful to each and every person who took a few seconds to help me rediscover my inner smile.
I timidly came out of my room and headed off to dinner with H to a quiet restaurant that wasn't quite as nice as the one the previous night. But the menu included Spaghetti Bolognese which is my "go to" comfort food so it worked out well. Plus, I was able to get the ice cream I'd been craving for dessert! No wine for me with this meal- not after I was convinced that alcohol had contributed to my idiocy earlier in the day!
I hadn't wanted to ask him about the adapter, but H did in fact get me one so I was fortunately able to continue to use electronics for the remainder of my trip. He wouldn't even accept my money to repay him. He may not have offered a hug when I was desperate enough that I would have embraced pretty much any living being (I'd told him about my internet post), but being able to charge my devices was a heck of a lot more important than getting my feelings soothed! My trips would be practically worthless without the ability to charge my camera battery so I could take photos.
I was so ready for the day to be over when I finally got back to my room. I was slowly trying to forgive myself for my stupid mistake, and to remind myself that things happen for a reason. Incidentally, I did not write a single note about anything that happened that day. I knew that when it came time to write this entry, I'd remember every detail vividly, no reminders required.
After breakfast, it was time for the Sandwich Harbor Tour: Take 2. When we finally arrived at the tour office, I cracked jokes about how stupid I'd been which probably made them more sympathetic- how can you tell someone they're an idiot when they are already laughing at themselves? H noted that they did admit the drivers showed some lack of judgment. (and obviously a severe lack of counting skills because come on, how can you have someone extra in your cars and not notice?!) I had to pay a kinda bogus cancellation fee but, eh, it's just money. In the context of this trip, $25 wasn't going to kill me.
The guide on my tour told me that it had been very windy the previous afternoon, with sand blowing all over the place. The weather conditions were so much better this morning. So perhaps things do work out for a reason, after all. (I later joked to H that I planned the entire incident out masterfully)
I shared the tour with 2 other people, a sweet couple from Spain who were a lot of fun. In as melodramatic and humorous fashion as possible, I narrated for them the entire story of the previous day. Every time I got back in the car, I made an exaggerated gesture of checking to be sure I was getting in the correct vehicle; I did the same thing later with H. If you can't laugh at yourself, you lose at life.
The visit to Sandwich Harbour was everything I'd hoped for. We even saw some flamingoes en route. But most importantly, I got to see the enormous sand dunes rising up from the edge of the blue ocean and it was amazing! There were stunning patches of red on the shore which I learned were caused by garnet being washed ashore. The 4x4 even did some dune bashing, like I'd done in Abu Dhabi- so fun!
The view from on top of the dunes was incredible- it was like standing on the summit of a dream world. Just breathtaking! Photos can't possibly do justice to the dramatic landscape. I was incredibly happy, especially since I'd come oh-so-close to not being able to witness this marvel in person. As awful as the previous afternoon had been, this morning had been even more fabulous. It is not lost on me that if it hadn't been for H urging me to reschedule, I would have missed out on this magical sight.
After I was done my tour, we obviously got a late start to the next lodge. The first part of that journey was so peaceful and beautiful, with the ocean just to the left of the road as we traveled North. Part of me wished that stretch of road would last forever. I felt so relaxed, after a spectacular morning, with H by my side. In some ways, it didn't matter to me if H was just doing his job or what he even thought of me- I enjoyed his company and I felt comfortable being myself around him. Home and reality seemed so far away. Never had the lyric "stop the world, please" felt more appropriate.
We pulled over at one point so I could take pictures of a 1976 shipwreck (the Suiderkus) that was sitting on the shore. That was a pretty cool sight. We also made a short rest stop at a restaurant. I said I'd get a soda and then went to the bathroom; I came back to a soda water. Mental note: the word "soda" in Namibian doesn't have the same implications as in my corner of the US. It wasn't exactly what I'd meant but I didn't say anything because I thought it was super nice for H to get it for me. At any rate, I'm sure I enjoyed my beverage more than he cared for his coffee, which he complained was cold. We made one more stop a little later where I bought some snacks to tide me over to dinner- Simba brand Creamy Cheddar Flavoured Potato Chips and Tomato Flavoured Frito's. They were both great, although I didn't break open the Frito's until several days later. Why do they not have tomato flavored Frito's in the US?!? They were awesome!
We made good time (there was a GPS tracker on the car and H got permission from the office to go slightly faster than usually allowed), so I don't think H had to drive in the total pitch darkness, after all. But the sun was barely a glimmer by the time we arrived at the next lodge.
This was, by far, the largest and least impressive lodge I stayed in, but I was only there for one night and barely spent any time there. I had a bit of a more traditional room rather than a single bungalow, and it was quite warm. H told me that they had redone the guide rooms with A/C but had not gotten to the guest rooms yet which seemed backwards.
During my trip, I discovered that they have special rooms for guides in the lodges- these are smaller and usually further away than the guest rooms. Unfortunately, there had been a lot of noise around where H had been staying the previous night; I think one of the relatives of the owner was staying in the other guide room. I felt really bad that he didn't get so stay in a space that was as tranquil as mine had been. When he told me stories like this, it reminded me glaringly of the inequity of the situation- he was working, I was on holiday. It would be easy for me to forget that, if I didn't constantly remind myself of it.
Dinner was a buffet which was better than the one in Qatar... but that's not really saying much. I was back to my usual glass of wine with my meal. The troubles of the previous day, as I'd predicted, had faded into something trivial and barely worth a thought beyond an occasional laugh.
I got back to my room, ready to collapse into bed. But then I spotted a huge ass ugly spider inside of the mosquito netting on the bed. I tried to convince myself to ignore it... but I'm sorry, I knew I could never settle down to sleep with that thing inside the netting. I recalled that there was can of bug spray in the room so I tried spraying it to death but it was a stubborn little bugger!
I couldn't think of anything else to do but to walk to the front desk and ask for help. It was 0.27 miles away, so that wasn't a trivial task. But it had to be done. I laughed as I told the guy at the desk the story. I mean, I'm really not one to generally get squeamish about spiders so I was slightly embarrassed to be asking for help- but this was not the kind of tiny creepy crawly thing I occasionally see at home in the US! The nice man at the desk followed me to my room, doused the unwanted intruder with more spray, and then took the carcass away. I thanked him profusely.
I went to sleep hoping that everything going forward would be back to smooth sailing. I can't regret my emotions of the previous day, because feelings are never wrong. But in the future, I need to try to be less hard on myself when I make mistakes; it's probably the toughest life lesson for me to learn.
My room felt warm and stuffy so I didn't end up sleeping very well. During some fitful moments of slumber, I had the strangest dream wherein I got a $60 ticket from the police for parking a bathrobe in a car space in downtown Philadelphia while I watched a rehearsal of the musical "Something Rotten." I have no idea what it all means... except that I am a little bit crazy, which is not news. I woke up at around 5am which gave me plenty of time to get ready for a 7am breakfast. For a change, they had waffles at the breakfast buffet.
The lodge grounds were quite beautiful but I was not at all sad to check out. It wasn't a bad place to stay- it's just that all of my other Namibian accommodations were fabulous. This place was perfectly adequate for one night.
The first stop of the day was Twyfelfontein, which was really close to the lodge. Or so it seemed because I found myself closing my eyes for a second to do some yoga breathing... and we were there already!
Twyfelfontein is a UNESCO World Heritage Site whose claim to fame is its distinctive 2000+ year old rock engravings that depict animals and hunting scenes. After parking the car, H secured a park guide for me- a very short and friendly young woman. Over the course of our 1hour+ tour, I ended up talking with her about how people are really the same everywhere; she smiled at some of my statements in support of my comments.
The first thing she asked me was whether I wanted the short or long version of the tour. Anyone reading this blog should not be surprised that I asked for the latter. I mean, duh. I want to see everything especially in remote and unusual sites.
The carvings were fascinating, and I listened at her explain each one to me. But even beyond that, the entire setting and landscape was amazing. I loved that I wasn't being fed exhibits like in a museum. The path through Twyfelfontein was a legitimate hike that made me feel as though I was walking in the steps of the ancient bushmen who created the pictures. (for the most part- there were some decidedly modern stairways at a couple points) Occasionally, it was slightly challenging to get my footing so I went slowly- but it was not nearly as hard as I feared after reading some online reviews about the climbing. One of my favorite spots of the trip, the visit was beneficial for both my body and my soul. If I had one regret, it's the fact that at the time of my visit, the lighting was not ideal for photographing some of the engravings. (I'm not sure if there is a better time of day to visit)
Afterwards, H asked if I wanted to stop at the nearby Living Museum of the Damara and of course I answered in the affirmative. Again, H waited in the car as I was led through the open air museum by a local guide. My feelings about this site were decidedly mixed. I thought it was great that the locals were keeping their traditions alive and demonstrating them for others, and it was interesting to watch them sharing activities such as creating fire and playing a traditional game.
However, particularly as a solo guest and an introvert, I felt a tad uncomfortable being taken from station to station as the entire group focused on me. As interesting as it was to learn about a different culture, part of me couldn't wait until it was over. It also felt a little touristy as in "let's put on a show of how foreigners want to see natives and finish with a big stereotypically happy dance." Since the museum is run by the Damara, I feel bad questioning the authenticity but I can only speak for how I felt. I was relieved that H did not ask me what I thought of the museum when I got back into the car.
Then it was back to the gloriously peaceful Namibian roads en route to my next lodge. On the way, we went off road a bit to try to find elephants that had been reported in the area. Unfortunately, we did not see any- at one point, H found a local to ask and concluded the elephants were probably too far away. Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the search. As I often mentioned to H: it's about the journey, not necessarily the destination.
At about 2pm, we arrived at our next lodge, which sat atop a plateau with an epicly dramatic view of the surrounding valley. When planning my trip, this was one of the first lodges to capture my heart. I was bummed when my agent was initially unable to secure a reservation. But somehow availability soon opened and I was elated to find out that I'd be able to stay in my dream lodge, after all! As my trip dates approached, I would occasionally gaze at online pictures of the view in excited disbelief that I would soon find myself there. The panorama did not disappoint at all- in fact, the sight of vast plains below was even more thrilling in person.
My room was a lovely private bungalow on the edge of the plateau so obviously it had a magnificent view. Even the shower boasted a window which allowed guests to take in the surrounding beauty. A cute touch was that the one of the sink spouts was decorated with a beaded chili pepper to signify that it delivered hot water. Speaking of the bathroom... the first time I used it, I had a ridiculous time trying to open the door and wondered how long it would take before anyone started looking for me. Fortunately, I figured it out. But for the rest of my stay, I always left the door open a crack which was ok since I was traveling solo. (I think it worked similarly to the Dubai bathroom door that had confounded me and my roommate)
I was so hungry that I was starting to feel faint by the time H and I sat down to lunch in the hotel dining room. I had the chicken schnitzel which was terrific; as a bonus, there was catsup for the fries! I felt so much better after eating.
I could have joined one of the hotel activities like guided walk or sunset safari but I'd been asked about those before I ate, when I was feeling a bit weak, so I'd passed. Also, the schedule would have been a little hectic for me. Instead, I spent the late afternoon sitting at a table outside the main building, listening to some of my favorite music, editing photos, and constantly marveling at the amazing vistas. H went off to clean the car; I told him he'd find me outside if he wanted to join me later.
When the sun began to set, the view became even more dramatic, as the brown/green landscape grew flush with pinks and oranges. Finally, after the colors disappeared from the horizon, they were replaced by stars twinkling magically in the clear black sky. Being the musical theatre geek that I am, I was inspired to listen to the song "Stars" from "Les Miserables" in as many languages as I could find on my iPad- which unfortunately was nowhere near as many as I have at home- just French, Dutch, and Japanese. It became a little chilly after the sun set, but I didn't mind.
I could hear that H was at the bar but I figured- since I was exactly where I'd told him I'd be- that he wanted time to himself which is cool. So I just continued to enjoy my private moment embracing the serenity of nature's beauty... trying not to think, but rather to just tap into my inner joy. It may sound lame but it was an idyllic way to spend an afternoon.
I think H must have eventually joined me because I have a note that we were talking outside. (Sometimes my travel notes could use some more specificity) In any case, we went inside for dinner which was quite good starting with a Fish Cake Salad and continuing with Chicken Gorden (sp) Bleu. My entree was served without mushrooms in the sauce since, when asked earlier, I'd mentioned earlier not particularly liking them. I would have been fine picking around them, but it was very nice of the staff to customize my food. My plate including 2 potato chips which I suppose marked it as special. During the meal, one of the staff read the menu in her native language which is interesting because of how it includes various clicking sounds. She received a round of applause from the enthusiastic guests.
This evening, I threw caution to the wind and drank 2 glasses of wine. Ha ha. I'm such a lightweight drinker but it's all good. I think I needed the 2nd glass after the conversation turned to death and dying. Don't even ask. (OK, I'm just kidding about the fact that the topic of conversation led me to drink more) I always enjoyed ending my nights having a drink (or 2 in this case) with dinner and talking to H about... whatever topics came up. At the time, it was just totally natural. But in retrospect, I marvel that I always felt comfortable around him and never grew bored of his company- both of which are somewhat of a rarity for me. I generally spend most of my free time alone, often by choice. I'm almost shocked when I think about how open and honest I was in discussing my life; usually I am much more closed off but I guess I felt a certain level of trust. I may never know if he was just doing his job and humoring his client- I mean, it's possible (though I admit not likely) that he ran off to his room each night thinking "Thank goodness that's over". It's really only now that I am looking back on my trip that I sometimes wonder if he might have actually enjoyed our conversations, too. But it's pointless to analyze; what matters to me is that I will treasure many fond memories of nightly dinners.