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giovedì 15 marzo 2012

Get lost (in) Namibia

The reason for this title is that the summer of 2010 my journey to that part of the world was a complete disaster. I had already been to South Africa three times and I went again since (as you might have gathered) I really love the place . That year everything went wrong.. I was very stressed and overworked and I arrived by myself in Cape Town with the idea of going north up to Namibia . The part of South Africa you cross to reach the border is a very desolate and wild (not in a very good sense) one. But I'll skip on that part since it's not worth talking about it even because it was half a disaster as well. I arrived after a dreadful 10 hours bus journey at night from Upington, South Africa to Windhoek capital of Namibia. The bus, which was supposed to be a Sleepliner with very comfortable reclining chairs was rather a Wreckliner... old and freezing one, completely packed with people . We had to get off the bus twice at the border and line up for hours to get our visa and then run through the country in the deep night and in the cold. In addition everybody on board was coughing and I didn't know then that I would start as well very soon .. When I arrived in Windhoek,I went to Pension Steiner ( care to guess where they're from -like half of the businesses in Namibia?)which was a very basic but quite nice accomodation apparently the only one available since everything in town was taken for the African Congress or something like that which was taking place just in those days. I was immediately told off by the owner for being so disorganized since I did not plan ahead and did not have a car. This was a place for very adventurous people with jeeps and tents and kaki suits and what was I thinking? So I decided that in the end I could rent a car and drive around to go and meet my three Italian biker friends on a tour in the same area, even because I was literally stuck in Windhoek where there is nothing to see and nothing to do. Before taking off I had a very good plate of pasta in Sardiniathe only Italian restaurant of the city even because the night before I had been toJoe's beer house and my stomach didn't feel very well. So I took my Toyota Corolla and left to go and meet my friends nearby Etosha Park. On the way I stopped at Otjiwarongo at the Cheetah conservation fund, conservation centre for these magnificent animals where you learn everything there is to learn about them .
At the Cheetah Conservation Fund
Smiling on the way there
I stayed nearby the conservation center for one night and then went to meet my friends. We were very happy to meet and we didn't know what was coming next.. We went to Etosha,which is one of the most beautiful parks I have ever seen where animals are so used to people they come really close, one of the resaons why my friends (all men by the way) basically decided that I shouldn't drive anymore although they were in my car. (actually I think it's a way of sciovinism ). The most amazing thing is the desert pan in the middle of the park where you can drive to and walk around, where there is no plants,no animals, nothing:just you and the desert.
Etosha park
I started having this very annoying cough (told you) and to not feel well and learnt the same night that the next day my friends were going to Opuwo,400 km away 250 of which on a gravel road... The next morning I woke up and I was feeling even worse but nevertheless I followed my friends with my car. On the way we stopped in a village I had a quick check up at a doctor's and found out that I had fever and a bad bronchitis. My strenght was diminishing drastically but I was in the middle of nowhere so I decided to drive and follow my friends to the final destination. The doctor gave me antibiotics and a cough syrup containing codeine,which of course I had to take at night only. When we got to the gravel road I was the colour of a ripe tomato and sweating profusely although shivering, notwithstanding the 30 ° temperature outside . One of my friends told me to go ahead since I was so sick and since I could not go over 50 km per hour assuring me that they would be right behind me since they could go faster with the bikes and they would catch up easily. Well, guess how it ended : I lost them or better they lost me and I had to drive for God knows how many hours by myself on a gravel road where I saw for the whole time only three human beings.One of those situations you wish you never find yourself into especially when you're sick and with no mobile phone connection ... (there isn't any in Namibia out of the main towns). I don't know how I did it but somehow I managed to arrive at the hotel and collapse on a bed and take my medicines. In the mentime my friends, who had also lost each other on the way (and ended up arguing out of my door) arrived and assisted me while I was in a semi comatose state. The next day the fever was gone but I wasn't feeling very well. Nevertheless I went to see the Himba tribe, which is the main attraction of the area. When you get to Opuwo they walk around the streets dressed in animal skins and with their bodies and their hair covered with butter and red ochra as a protection from the sun. Nevertheless they live in villages with hay shacks living a very basic life, so if's funny when you meet them at the village store for example with a mobile in their hands...
Himba village
After that, things continued to go wrong: we went to visit another area but my friends got lost on a gravel road and I called the police since they were five hours late at night, when it gets pitch black and there are wild animals running around including elephants. All this resulted in an argument with one of my friends(swearwords and door slamming etc) and the next day we left to go to Swakopmund always on separate roads (tarred for me and gravel for them ). I had not been feeling well during the night but I didn't think this would result in fainting in the middle of nowhere and not being able to stand up.While I was driving I had to stop in a village and entered into a little restaurant. I didn't even manage to say hello that I had to run to the toilet since I was about to throw up for what resulted to be many many times. In one of the breaks from this pleasant activity I realized I didn't have the strenghth to stand up so I collapsed and the woman who owned the place basically had to catch me from falling and took me on her shoulders (literally) to a B&B close to there so I could lie down. And did I! Sixteen hours on the bed not been able to move nor speak with a lot of medicines a pharmacist came to give me while I was in this semi comatose state. In the first hour I called my friends to ask them to come and get me.. only to learn that they had a far more serious problem: one of them had had a bad accident on the bike and had broken seven ribs!! Can you believe it? I couldn't at the time but I was also in such a state I didn't even know where I was. I slept for 12 hours and then still weak but a little better I drove 250 km to get to Swakopmund to see my friends , especially the one in hospital. Now I didn't see anything of this place really : apparently there are a lot of things to do but I didn't do any. The only thing I did which was worth doing was to drive to Walvis Bay which is just a few kilometres away and it's on the ocean. The peculiarity of the road is that you have the ocean on one side and the desert on the other. It's very beautiful but also a little eerie since the ocean is very rough and the wind blows very violently and to be honest I really wasn't in the mood.
My friends at the hospital
Me and my Toyota Corolla
Desert on the way to Swakopmund
While my friends drove back (by car)to South africa I decided that I had to give a meaning to my trip, therefore I went to visit three places I strongly reccomend if you are in the country. Not too far from Windhoek even. The first one:Amani lodge: one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in my whole life. Situated on a hill (not too short though since it's 2150 m )it looks like paradise when you enter the property. I originally went for a sunset big cat experience drive but since the place was so amazing I ended up staying for the night in one of the bungalows and having a lovely dinner in the lodge restaurant. I thought I really deserved some pampering after what happened. Imagine this : I arrived looking like a crazy witch with a bird's nest on my head and the first person I saw was the angel -like looking guy you see in the website who just smiled and said "You have arrived here now, you can finally relax and relieve all of your stress". I must have looked awful. Anyway, the drive was really amazing : we went to see the cheetahs, the two lions and the leopard and then we had champagne at sunset on the terrace. After dinner when I went to my bungalow I sat on my veranda overlooking all the valley and I listened the lions roaring in the distance which resulted to be a weird but very effective lullaby.
Lion at Amani lodge
Louise the pet warthog of Amani lodge
Ongwe six months pet cheetah at Amani lodge
View from my bungalow
Second place: Dusternbrook Guest farm: spectacular drive off the highway into the nature and wildlife surrounding the place.Best time to go is always sunset because the earth becomes reddish and the bush takes on some many different vibrant tones of yellow and orange, that when you see that with baboons and bucks running around it can really move you to tears. The place itself is very nice and the cheetahs are amazing.They would stand on their back paws and cling onto the jeep to ask for food. They make this sound which is like a miaow and when they feel good they purr.... Lovely and amazing animals. I also played with a three legged one which was just like a big cat.
Dusternbrook cheetahs and leopards
My three legged friend
Third one: N/a'an ku se, a wildlife sanctuary and research center run by beautiful conservationist Marlice Van Vuuren where there is also a lodge but I didn't stay the night. The style is very modern and minimalistic however it is amazing to be there surrounded by nature and I guess one night there could be quite an experience. I learnt about all their projects and went to visit the animals. It's really quite impressive. I left with these images in my heart and realized that notwithstanding what happened, maybe those three days were the reason why I took that trip in the first place almost to say : it's not that bad, as you can see: things happen sometimes and sometimes we also take too many risks: probably you should come again just not alone driving around such a rough country when sick .Just take it a little easier and get a bit more organized and then you'll see that this country has so many things to offer. Will I take it on that? I probably will. I'll just act smarter next time. A lot smarter...
N/a'an ku se dining room
Caracal at N/a'an ku se
Lioness at N/a'an ku se