Monday, March 29, 2010

The unsatisfied boots!

The first of our guest bloggers, - a wonderful guy I grew to respect on our Elephant-Human Relations Aid project in Namibia, 2008 - has submitted a claim for compensation for my boots that have finally worn out. But this canny bootmaker has asked him to submit in writing an account of how they have been used since he took ownership of my travelling boots, and I was able to establish that the unconditional guarantee expired when they stood in the dog shit!
Dog shit is not good for anything these days: it used to be used for leather tanning, but no more...hopefully.

Enjoy this-

Edwin Ramboer writes March 29.
2 years ago, I was working for EHRA, in Namibia. My job was taking care of the volunteers who came to help building walls and protecting the desert elephants. The most exciting part was the volunteers, as one never could tell what kind of weird people would come along...
One of those guys was Jim, a Kiwi who looked like a modern crocodile dundee...

"Gee I desperately need some new boots Hendrick."

"Hey Dave, you reckon we can pinch those boots off Jim for Edwin"

After a while it appeared that Jim was making shoes for a living. Not just shoes, as he made the shoes for the actors of 'Lord of the Rings'! I was quite impressed about this, and was a bit jealous about the selfmade shoes he was wearing, especially as mine were falling apart after the hard labour on rocks and in the sand and heat.

You want my boots, you come get them offa me!

When Jim left, he gave me a great present; his shoes!!!!

Those shoes I've been wearing with pleasure for the rest of my time in Namibia. Back in Belgium, I kept wearing his shoes-boots, no matter where I went to. They adapted quite well from the desert, to Belgian pubs, beer, my cat, sheep, mud and rain on my farm.
A bit later I took them on a trip to Italy, where they could see and touch snow for the first time! But still they weren't satisfied...
So last year I took off with some friends in a 4x4 towards Mali.

The shoes loved to be back in a 4x4, and enjoyed going through France, crossing the Pyrenees, and having a little walk in the mountains.
From there we crossed Spain, where it was about -20°C, and again lots of snow.
Once in the far south of Spain, they enjoyed the view of Morocco, despite a huge cyclone and heavy rains and storms. But at the end they met dog dung, from too close by, and they wanted to go back to Belgium.... All this in 6 days!
Now they are waiting quietly and patiently for the next adventure, which will be skiing in Italy next week, and who knows, after that, looking for mountain gorillas?

Great shoes, thank you Jim!!


PS; did I tell you about Jims beenie, a black warm beenie with the text 'Bledisloe Cup 1999'??
Well, 2 years ago, I was working for EHRA.......

A PS. from me-Here's the reason the car rally from Plymouth to Bamako,Mali was cancelled-


Friday, March 26, 2010

The Village Pump.

Here is a little story of one of those great days in our travels... possibly the day we look back upon with the greatest and fondest memories.

Our family sponsor 6 children around the world. We travel when we can.
In April 2006 we arranged with Childfund ( ) to visit a child we sponsor, her family, and their village, in Jharkhand state, west of Calcutta, India. This was organised through Childfund with the Sisters of the Carmel High School in Chakradharpur, Jharkhand state which is next to Bihar. Both states are noted for relatively high incidents of banditry, and Naxalite rebel activity. So, with a little trepidation about our foray into unknown areas, we made our bookings and crossed our fingers.

We travelled 6 hours by train from Calcutta, arriving in Chakradharpur at 11 am in 40 degrees heat. We noted, that the Carmel sisters had every platform staked out making sure two dumb foreigners didn't wander away from the station to be hijacked by Naxalites, or bandits, and perhaps never be seen again. Or held for ransom (I'm sure they'd want plenty for us!). The Carmel sisters made us very welcome, taking us to their headquarters at the Carmel High School of 840 pupils. They also operate a renowned hospital in that city. Kay and I were then driven to a village 1 hour out in this dry, dusty countryside, where, we had been told, a few people were waiting for us.

Not expecting much of ado about our arrival, what a surprise to see this as we drove up.
 I managed a quick shot through the windscreen.

Imagine arriving at a reception of 200 villagers, flags, drums, many of the children gaily dressed in their school uniforms, then being the centre of the procession for a kilometre through the village to the family's humble house.
We have this all on video and stills as I gave the video and camera to locals to use with no fear of them being stolen. It's not often that the King and Queen of New Zealand arrive up to visit a poor village in the middle of India! I remembered to do the royal hand wave.

We met 'our' child Savitri, and her family, at their house, where a shade tarpaulin was rigged up and a modest meal was waiting. 200 or more villagers crowded around, all taking the chance to have a full days celebration of food, rice beer, and dancing. Rice beer is very refreshing. I drank plenty. Later on, being shown through their house, we saw how it was made - mud brick, and asbestos roof covered with rice straw to insulate from the sun. A few very small windows, so very dark inside. No electricity or running water.
But spotless throughout.

In one large room was stored their paddy. Paddy is the unhusked rice. This is stored in an ingeniously simple container made of coiled rope. As it is filled, the rope is coiled higher on itself creating a huge barrel-like container. But open to all the rats and mice... and their droppings probably gave that rice beer extra flavour!

In times of good harvest, once a year after the post-monsoon planting, the rice rope barrel will be full. But every 3 or 4 years the monsoon does not arrive. Hence, the village started an irrigation project to pump water to a high reservoir, then gravity feed their fields. This would allow them to cash-crop vegetables all year round to sell in the local markets.

Joy and consternation.
Soon after this, Savitri was in tears.It was just too much for her.

We were truly impressed with the sheer joy, and natural grace and exuberance of these tribespersons who are the poorest of the poor. We, with all our modern luxuries, I doubt are any happier.

Coming back to the Carmel School that evening, we were over-nighted in a clean, simple guestroom. Kay remarked how she'd love to live another day like that. We were thoroughly exhausted and overwhelmed.

At the village, during our discussions via our host Sister Bernadette, we learned that their irrigation system was stalled as they had no money to buy the needed diesel irrigation pump to pump water when the river was flowing up to the reservoir. So how could we not make the offer? We gave the village headman, and Savitri's father, an undertaking that we would find the $US1,000 for them. Well, they had killed one of their 3 chickens for us.

So we came home and raised the money for their diesel pump.

We later learned that the head Sister, who had shown us such kindness, had been very ill when we were there. And on her death bed, she had asked whether we had yet sent up the money we had promised.
When it arrived, they were able to tell her. Sister Bernadette died soon after, happy when she knew the village they cared for would get their pump.

When we learned of this, we asked Childfund to arrange to call the diesel pump after her, as a lasting monument for the work that their Christian organisation undertakes with India's poor.

A year after our visit, we received photos and a letter from the Carmel sisters of the dedication ceremony for the pump. So imagine how we felt when we looked at the photos- all the village children playing under this big plume of water, gushing out of the pump. 

And there, in huge gay writing across the pump, was written ''Sister Bernadette's pump"!

Editor's note- re-reading this has decided us to return. That pump is probably due to be replaced.


Weekly Desktop Photo. 2.

Making out at Etosha.
I've been asked by a friend more about Okaukuejo Camp at Etosha Park in Namibia, and coincidentally, this photo has been on my work computer desktop.One of our all time favourite photos.So I guess it's no coincidence, as I really like it, so it would be showing somewhere.

click on image for full screen.

The big bull ele is chatting up his sweatheart .Just like the kids today, making  out at the pickup wateringholes in any downtown bar area.
"Okay honey,what you doing in a pickup joint like this?"or "Hey, you wanna just hang out here heh?"
"Oh you are a big boy....",Or as the old Mae West line would go..."Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?"
Naah, I guess the kids today have got better lines than that!Or do they just text each other?
Still, it's a great photo.Taken from the viewing area overlooking the main wateringhole at Okaukuejo.And no, the wildlife can't get to you.There's a big rock wall enclosing the whole camp,and seats just behind that, so you can sit there all day, and night watching an endless procession of animals coming in to tank up.Depending what time of year, and how dry the country is, will see more animals needing to drink at the permanent waterholes such as this.
You really don't have to be told about the size of this bull elephants tusks.Tiny aren't they in contrast to our story book images of huge tusked elephants.Well, truth is ,while  there are a few big tuskers around,  sadly, the large tuskers have been the most sought out for their tusks, so consequently, it's smaller tusked eles that have survived.And they are mainly the breeding stock  today.
For those of you that have even the tiniest bit of concern or interest in Africa's elephants,have a read of this organisation's website.Explore their pages.Read of the valuable work they do in rescuing young baby elephants.Take the time to access the other pages on this site and read about the research that is going on about elephant social structure,how they show deep concern for each other, the dangers they face from poachers.You may grow to respect them as I do.

Monday, March 22, 2010

What's coming up?

The Mac's are off again.This time Samoa!Why Samoa?
Well, the tsunami, that's why.The tremendous devastation of people's lives by the tsunami last year was very close to home for us.Because we had witnessed the after effects of the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami that swept through many countries and the south east coast of India .We had flown into Chennai that very day to join a Dragoman Overland tour.More about that later...
But that did leave a vivid impression upon us of how devastating it can be on people's lives, not just the loss of loved family members, but the destruction wrought on their livelihoods.People with very little, or nothing need assistance to get back on their feet.
So , along with a good donation, and an extra dollop for food for the starving animals, Kay and I decided to switch our holidays to Samoa.Tourist dollars help tremendously in rebuiding an economy that relies heavily on tourism.And of course, soon as there is a disaster like this, most tourists flee.
So Samoa for Easter.Looking forward to hearing those packed churches resounding in full massed choir!I wonder if they mind being filmed?
Oh well.If I get kicked out Kay can tell me all about it afterward.
We'll be there from 28th March til 8th April.

And in August the Mac's are off to Ethiopia!Ethiopia?!Yep!Can't wait.Going to visit a child we sponsor through Childfund, and her family.Now this could be a real experience.A wonderful chance to see within a totally different culture.While in Ethiopia, we'll be taking a tour of the Northern Historical Circuit with GAP Adventures -

Then off up to UK, a meet up with Emma our eldest daughter.And 3 weeks around Scotland.Now we are on a mission in Scotland to get up to Unst the most  northern populated island in the UK ,way up in the Shetlands.A friend has a cottage up there, so we can imagine a few nights up there in that windswept wild region.
Apparently they've got the most northern bustop in the UK , which has a computer and  microwave   also.
A place where I will be able to catch up with all our blogging!

And in between all that, followers, this guy and his mate just may be, maybe... taking a wee ride in Western Australia.Now that I am looking forward to.I can quite imagine myself getting lost in all that outback desert flora and fauna.The sunsets in that vast hardly inhabited terrain.The desert wildlife.Snakes, lizards, witchetty grubs.Bring it on!.But most of all , I'd like to explore Aboriginal culture.I know nothing about that, but I'm sure I could find it fascinating.How they relate to nature.The pressures they face, similar to Himba tribespeople in Namibia, of tourism, and economic development.I'd really like to understand more about that.
Guess I'd better go do some reading up.

So hopefully, we've given you lots to look forward to.In between, there are many tales to be told of past travels.Keep tuned, please.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Goodbye to Namibia.Or is it?

You'll have read of our time at Na'an Kuse' where my wife and I and our 2 daughters spent 2 weeks together. But when we waved the girls goodbye, it was time for a quickie 5 day self drive on our own, around one small part of Namibia, (the area where I had been on volunteer project with Elephant-Human Relations Aid in 2008.): a sort of zip around to say a reluctant goodbye to a country you can fall in love with, as it holds a lot of memories but that we may never get back to - sadly!

So picked up a prebooked Nissan X-trail 4wd from Avis at Windhoek's airport and we hit the road. First day saw us cutting across to Omaruru intending to get to Brandberg/Ugab River area. Thought I'd like to show Kay the stone wall I'd helped build, and the beautiful scenic area we were in. And if you haven't read why we slog our guts out building rock walls in Namibia, we do it to stop desert elephants breaking down the village water installations.

Just pulling into Omaruru, and a flat tyre! Wouldn't that rock you?! First day on sealed roads and a flattie. With a rental that won't accept repaired tyres, we were up for a replacement. To top it off, no replacements in town, meaning couriering one up from Windhoek: where we were going, you need to get a flat tyre repaired straight away. Oh well, $350...just money after all.

Omaruru Guesthouse is huge, plenty of rooms and a wonderfully friendly host. On the morning of our departure she called her staff out to the doorsteps and their choir sang us goodbye with a traditional Damara song.

 She observed that I was familiar with the tune, having heard it on a Mascato Coastal Children's Choir CD I bought on our first Namibian Visit last year, so we were able to discuss to her delight Damara music.  She presented me with a CD of Windhoek's own Cantare Audire Choir, a collection of classical European and African works.

Then we headed off to Brandberg White Lady Lodge, set in a beautiful rocky area beside the Ugab at the east base of Brandberg Mountain.
Brandberg White Lady Lodge. Note the Springbok in background.

 We parked in the White Lady car park next to an Elephant-Human Relations Aid vehicle.EHRA are the organisers of the rock wall building project I had worked on 12 months before. So I was able to walk up to a stunned Johannes Haasbroek, director of EHRA, and shake his hand!  Easily explained as they'd popped along from EHRA's base camp futher along the Ugab to watch the Tri-Nations Rugby at the only TV in the area!

Another coincidence was to quickly follow. As we are checking in, a housekeeper lady walks past us singing the very same song we'd been farewelled by at Omaruru Guest House!
The omens were good for us that day.

Next morning we did the White Lady game drive along the dry Ugab riverbed, seeking out the desert ellies who had passed through our lodge camp that night. Footprints showed a lone bull elle circled around our chalet in the night. Old friend Voortrekker come to say hello I would like to think.

The area is spectacular, and viewing the riverine and kopie landscapes would have been enough but finally seeing my old friends the desert ellies was just the icing.

First night in our individual stone chalets at White Lady, we heard singing off in the background. We closed our eyes and drifted off to sleep with the serenade of traditional native singing. On the game drive I asked a local about that. He said an overland tour was in the tent camp area, and the staff put on a performance. I asked him if he would arrange one for the dining room that night. OK, done!
That night at dining, guests were getting up to leave after desserts, and I motioned to many to remain seated and stay. Quizzical looks I got in return. Eventually all the cooks, barmen and waiters got together and then began their performance to everyone's delight. Incidentally, once again many of the traditional songs they sang so well were on my Mascato Cds. After the performance they asked how I was so familiar with some of their songs and we were able to discuss Mascato, of which they were aware as one barman's brother had been a member recently.

Enjoy Mascato Youth Choir here-
And in this clip,listen to this guy singing his heart out.Just wonderful.

On leaving Brandberg White Lady we travelled via the C35 across the Ugab and then veered off to visit EHRA's Base Camp. Now I'd spent a 2 weeks stay there in July 2008, but this time as I drove in to show Kay the camp, I finally took in just how beautiful the area was, and the secret area that the base camp is set it. On arrival there was only one local around cleaning up. I showed Kay through the camp where I’d spent some great times, and she was overawed at the setting, and said to me the camp and it's surroundings were just 'stunning'!
It was good to go back to fully appreciate the area.

And we'd also called in to chat with the locals at the village I'd helped build a rock wall - still standing by the way. The photo album of our building team, and villagers was greatly appreciated when I presented it to them.

So off via Khorixas to Kamanjab where we visited the Himbas, and you will read about that later.
Our final morning we loaded up the 6cd changer in the x-trail with 5 CDs I had bought in Namibia and South Africa, punched 'Mix" and commenced our final drive in Namibia...and the realisation that we were finally heading home after 6 weeks hit us!

It seemed as if Africa's wildlife was out lined up along the road to wish us farewell as we drove by with the various beats of African music blaring out; giraffe stood like towering statues, warthogs dashed across the road, zebra pranced along, springbok and duiker gambolled across our path. Sadly a green snake had slithered too far out and the vehicle in front had got him.

So it's sad to finally leave such a beautiful country. But we haven't just got great  memories and photos of it, we've got the music, and that will be playing in my workshop for many months to come.

Incidentally, after saying to ourselves that it WAS going to be our last visit to that part of Africa (as Ethiopia is next...) Kay is now saying...."We've got to go back. I can't stop dreaming of being in Africa!"

Africa kind of grabs you somehow....


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Weekly Desktop Photo.1.

Having three computers, home, work, and Kay now has her very own laptop,(because otherwise she'd never get on here to pay the bills, keep the IRD happy,or pay the GST!)it's fun to load up a new screen background from the huge range of trip photos.And they're changed around as the mood fancies, and thoughts wander to places I'm longing to get back to.Each photo has it's own story.And as they change, let's go on an adventure together.
This week it's a shot of two cheetah, taken at Naan Kuse, wildlife sanctuary, Namibia Aug 2009.Where Kay and I met up with our daughters, Emma and Elissa to volunteer for 2 weeks aiding in their wildlife conservation schemes.This is what greets me, gladdens my heart, and brings back rich memories whenever I'm at the screen,this week.
Lucky and Ayla.

Lucky was brought to Naankuse ,Namibian Wildlife Sanctuary in January 2009, but sadly had a wound that finally meant amputation of a leg.But she's adapted to her tripod status, and now lives a great life being mother to any orphaned cheetah cub brought to the sanctuary.I cannot but admire this cat for her willingness to take on the surrogate mother role to the now 3 orphan cheetah cubs,despite her own tragic loss of a limb.She's an inspiration to us all, reminding us that no matter how bad life is for us,whatever bricks have been thrown, or how low we are, there is always hope, always someone worse off that needs our help.
If you follow that link , read about Aiko, Kiki & Aisha , the cheetahs that inspired this poem-
Cheetahs have such a hard life in Southern Africa.Farming and fencing has interferred with their natural prey numbers, so a hungry cheetah may then take down a farmer's sheep or a calf.For that, a farmer  viewing them as vermin ,won't hesitate to destroy them any way he can.Thankfully, often the cubs may be taken into a sanctuary.But cheetah numbers throughout Africa are declining under these pressures.
There's a glimmer of hope though, that sanctuaries such as NaanKuse, or Africat, Cheetah Conservation fund and others are pioneering.Read about the excellent new initiatives here-
And attitudes are changing among many farmers.Our driver was chatting of how he runs a small holding.And now he runs herds of springbok, and kudu as food buffers between the leopard and cheetahs and his sheep and cattle.Whereas once those grazers would have been shot out as competitors for sparse pasture, they are now valued ,and can also be farmed for the buoyant biltong industry.
Those farmers and hunters who would once have shot out the game,today are the most ardent protectors of the same.Times change,attitudes change,farmers' prejudices and practices change or they adopt new ways.
Perhaps there may be a future for Africa's big cats.Especially if we all help.

It's an amazing feeling stroking a tame cheetah,sitting beside you purring away like any old hearthside moggie.
Some say these cats are more like a dog, once tamed they remain faithfull like a dog.And not having retractable claws as a cat would.
It would be better of course, to have these cheetah roaming free.And later  on we'll talk about Naankuse's Rehabilitation and Release program for large cats,leopard,cheetah, and caracal.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The Leatherman Loss.

I've been reminded sadly by new friend Lisa,  of the loss of my Leatherman tool.
A Leatherman tool?


"Is this your bag, sir?" 
"Yes. My bag. What's up?"
"We need to check what's inside, down the bottom."
"Oh, ok." Thinking to myself, about the spare pair of silk boxer undies with the yellow elephant design I packed, because my wife likes me travelling with quick dry undies (and  not because they have reminders of large things all over them.) Baggage through Oliver Tambo Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa has a notorious habit of being lost or delayed, so packing a change of clothes in one's carryon makes good sense. But right now the Sydney Airport scanner security guard was looking rather sternly at me.
"You could hijack a plane with that!"
"What? With yellow elephant underpants?"
Mr Security Man is not happy and flourishes a shiny bright tool at me. A Leatherman tool. My Leatherman tool I realize.
The tool I had looked so cool with in its holster, on my belt, all around South Africa and Namibia, just like all those professional guides. A Leatherman on your belt and you were someone. You knew your stuff, you looked the part, you instilled confidence that you could do anything with a Leatherman tool. Brandish one of those and you could stop a raging bull elephant in his tracks at 50 metres. And I'd wanted one for years.
Finally found one too. Outjo, Namibia of all places.
We'd travelled up from Cape Town on a GAP Adventures tour, and were heading up to Etosha, and comfort stopped in Outjo.You have to stop at Outjo just to see the cool hairdos the local Himba girls wear.

You can only but admire Himba tribespeople for their proud bearing and their pride in their culture. Many other tribes are rushing to adopt Western ways, clothing and lifestyle, but there's real beauty in the way these people carry on with their traditions under the onslaught of increasing tourism and economic pressures.

For further info on Himba, try here-

My Leatherman tool appeared. Thrust in my face with ''You buy.You Buy'' insistence from a young guy."300 rand only"
Being the canny haggler who's done his apprenticeship in the best markets of Asia, I feign disinterest but eventually offer a ridiculous price. The way these things work is that the guy is trying to sell goods for a Fagan who has many others out selling for him.There's a rock bottom price each guy buys or is supplied the goods for, and anything above that he can sell for, he can keep.So the trick is to find his rock bottom price where he walks away from you.Then the next guy you are accosted by, you know what you can get it for, leaving him a reasonable margin for him to earn his living.People need to live, and this is their only way of earning a living for himself and perhaps his family. So don't be too mean in your haggling.
So I offer 50 Rand. And walk away. Gee the guy must have been desperate as he yells after me "OK, we sell 75 Rand ." A little over $15US.
My very own Leatherman.
Or so I thought. Gee those Chinese copy anything! Ha.
And here I was, having it confiscated! Last seen disappearing into my day backpack after using it once in Namibia and then forgotten about. Travelled through 3 airports, been through 3 scanners, and now being confiscated at Sydney.
So much for African Airport scanners. Or were they blinded by yellow elephant printed underpants?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Is it safe?

Africa!Why would you want to go to Africa?!

How many friends have exclaimed that, when they learn you're going to Africa?"Is it safe?You'll get robbed!What about snakes and all those lions?"
You can just see all those stereotypes flashing across their radar...
"Well , yeah, but...ummm..Just thought it could be a good idea."
"What a dumb idea"
"What made you suddenly think of Africa?"
Well, how can you explain it? How can you explain a sudden decision to get as far away from your known comfort zone as possible? What justification can you offer,for wanting to take off into a completely alien and unknown environment, where you just do not have complete control over what is going to happen? Why would you?
But there again, could it have something to do with your 60th coming up? And wanting to break the mold again,get away, taste new adventures before it's too late? Hey, you wake up and realise there's more life behind you than out front! Or is it the second big mid life crises hitting you with it's bloody big baseball bat before that 3 strike and you're out?!!
The first hit got me started on a great adventure way back in the early 80's, on an adventurous road of self employment.And hey, that worked out just dandy.So this time around, let's hit out again.
So where too?
Google is just great.Type in Siberia,desert,wildlife,whatever, and up pops-
Now that looked just the thing.That I could go for.So far away from civilisation,unknown places,vast uninhabited scenery,up close to wildlife..yeah, that looks good.Bookmark that one.
But wait.A little more Googling and I came across this-
So,you ever have a moment when something just hits you...falls into place,.. seems right? That was it! It was me!
Perhaps I was always destined to go there?Back there?...Yes.Back there.
You see I have been there before.Not physically, but in a dream.
You ever have those weird dreams where it is so real, and later on an event unfolds in real life and it's just like that dream? Almost as if you had a glimpse of the future.OK.Let's talk about that later when we're around the campfire and Hendrick and I are chatting, and an extraordinary coincidence is revealed.
So where was this? Oh Namibia. Where's that? Oh Africa.Africa? Last place I wanted to go to.Never thought of going there.Been to a lot of places, but Africa? Namibia? Is it safe?
Yeah.Why not? Let's go.
But a wee problem.Ummmm.... I'm married.How do I tell my wife I'm off to Africa?
So I tell her. "Africa?Why would you want to go there?Is it safe?"
"Dunno.But I'm going."
"What, on your own? Don't be stupid.You'll get lost or lose your money or passport or something.You can't go on your own.I'm coming too!"
"Oh, OK.Ummmm....But I want to go and get lost in the desert....deliberately"
"Yeah, well you're quite capable of doing that.What do you expect me to do while you're lost in Africa?"
"Ah well.Perhaps you could do a tour or something , then come look for me?"
"Alright.You now want to get lost? But I've been telling you that for years!"
Oh dear.....they do that.They have always been telling you that for years.
Anyway, we had a look together at travel in Southern Africa and found a great tour from Cape Town up to Windhoek that then carried on through Botswana to Victoria Falls.Allowing me to get off in Windhoek ( much to my dear wife's delight...)and go get lost in the Namib Desert chasing elephants.Hey, happiness all round!
Just hope those eles are happy to see some wandering Kiwi lost in their desert!
So that's the start of our Africa travels.Adventures to follow.
Stick around.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Moonlight Nightmare.

"Shit! There’s an elephant right behind you guys!" Sam exclaimed in wide eyed horror.
 Freezing, adrenaline pumping, and fighting the rising fear, I turned my head slowly to see a monstrous black shape just 12 metres away, silhouetted in the moonlight next to the very tree we were sitting under. Alan and Earl  froze also. First night at Base Camp on the Ugab River bed, Damaraland, Namibia, and we guys were yakking around the dying embers of the braie, late at night, getting to know each other as all strangers would.

Now we four were caught off guard, up so close to a huge bull elephant with no chance of getting away if he chose to charge. Those few beers we'd had wouldn't help us move either....
How on earth does such a huge animal walk up behind you so silently?

Strangely my fear subsided, and I began to appreciate the moment. This was unique. This was so unexpected. This was what I'd come for, an adventure! Time seemed to slow down as I sank into the moment, just to absorb every second, because there's never going to be another time like this again.

What a welcome they'd put on for their new volunteers at Base Camp!
Give us a thrill like this , and we'll want to come back for more.

                                           Welcome to Base Camp.

Just a few hours earlier we’d been given our Safety Lecture by our Elephant-Human Relations Aid (EHRA) patrol guides, advising we 15 new volunteers never to approach within 100 metres of these beasts. They will charge. Recent encounters between elephants and locals, competing over scarce water supplies, had left the herds skittish, and there had recently been human casualties. Time to test their encounter theories now because this bull had walked right up so silently…..

 2 short weeks prior I’d flown Qantas Airlines with my wife to join a Cape Town to Windhoek, Namibia, GAP Adventures tour. Then I had kissed Kay goodbye in Windhoek, as she continued on the tour through Botswana on to Victoria Falls. But I was free, off on my adventure. Getting right out of my comfort zone, joining a volunteer project with EHRA, an organisation at the coalface of human/wildlife conflict.

                                        My bedroom...before the elephant ate it!

Volunteers, (you pay for the privilege of working hard..) are the key in enabling EHRA to build rock wall protection around village wells and water tanks, to stop desert elephants breaking down facilities in their hunt for water. Namibia, for most of the year is arid, with only a 2 month rainy season. Namibia’s desert elephants have adapted to this harsh environment, browsing the mopani thickets, and digging seep holes for water in the dry sandy riverbeds. But village or farm wells and tanks are irresistible, bringing them into conflict with locals. Just 2 months earlier, a local had shot and wounded an elephant while driving the small herd off. Soon after the herd had cornered that local, chased him up a kopjie, and killed him. They say elephants don't forget....
Great effort everyone.

We built our wall. We cooked over campfires. We chatted and learnt about each other as the fiery orange African sun set over the stunning Ugab River scenery. We slept in sleeping bags on the ground and gazed up at the brilliance of the Milky Way covering the heavens. We didn’t mind not showering for 5 days! And we fell in love with the country.

But now it was just survival! “What the hell do we do if he walks right through the camp? There’s no way we can get out of his way!”
Calmly, Voortrekker began to browse on the very acacia tree we were sitting under, keeping a stern eye on we, the intruders in his territory. Then with a look as if to say “Keep the noise down you guys,this is my patch.” he turned. Hitching up his baggy pants, he ambled away as silently as he'd arrived at our camp, across the dry, sandy riverbed to the other side of the valley where he continued to select dessert from other foliage. I had time to get my video camera and take nightscene movies as he browsed.

We are scarred with those dreams, and of that first night encounter with Vootrekker, as we came to know that majestic beast, who had come to welcome our patrol. Perhaps he understood EHRA was trying to help his herd survive in this desperate but beautiful land.

When you’re up so close to Mother Nature’s greatest land beast, and your life is in the balance of his whim, there’s a moment when the greatest event in your life becomes etched upon your memory forever. Incredible and life changing.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Why this site?

Kay and I have been travelling for many years, and have many wonderful memories, some amazing adventures ,and stories to tell.Someone once said I should write them down.And when you're sitting around a campfire in the middle of the Namib Desert, ,chatting with a local guy, who opens up and talks of things he experienced when a young man, as a guerilla freedom fighter in then South West Africa,and says to you-
"I have never talked about this with anyone before." it leaves a mark.A deep mark, that I was so privileged to become his confidant.And I asked him to write his stories down, because they should be told.
And it was then I realised that if you don't talk about those events, or write them down, they die with you.And that  some stories should never die, they are so valuable, so precious, because they're unique.If we lose them we can never regain them.

Kay and I are avid readers of every travel story we can find.Our local library is raided for non-fiction travel books.There's a pile of books at home right now.I guess other library users must get pretty frustrated with our library's seemingly sparse selection!
These books are other people's stories.Other people's experiences.They make our world so colorful and more vibrant ,because they wrote about their experiences,enlightening us to places we dream about, but may never see.

And it's not just books.It's the music CD and DVD section also.And I'm lucky to have created the type of business  where I control my own work environment.And with a huge range of music that I have collected along our travels,my workshop will resound with the music of Hungarian Gypsy Bands,South African Gospel music, Zulu or Swazi massed male choirs ,Mongolian throatsinging or Cambodian landmine survivors music groups, etc ....A 5CD changer, and a hit on Random Play and I'm off again.I can travel all day long.....
Clients nowadays walk in and ask "What on earth are you playing today Jim?"
Yeah I know an IPOD can do all that.But somehow putting that CD souvenir on, from one off those far off places, does it for me.My Ipod meanwhile, collects dust!
But it is modern technology that makes a lot of this possible.Hark back to your great grandparents generation.What do you know of their lives and experiences? How much do we know of the tough times many of them experienced? A letter here, a few faded photographs,possibly a family heirloom is all we have of them.A few books perhaps.But the bulk of their individual thoughts , deeds , feelings and experiences have gone with them.
Fast forward today.Twitter, Facebook,cellphones,Internet,YouTube, etc all enabling anyone to record their everyday experiences.Info overload!. But taken for granted. Taken as always being there.
What a load of crap amongst it all!  In the future, instead of archaeologists sifting through the dirt to find an artifact, they'll be sifting through the electronic junk pile middens of our age for that 1 decent piece of info that really means something!
But I do realise that this age, this generation ,does have a great opportunity to leave it's collective  experience, it's social memory behind, in a way and in detail unlike any generation before .In the past, there were a few great travel writers.Some outstanding authors made it into press.And we read them, and cried out for more.
Nowadays, the Internet opens up a whole new world of possibilities.Everyone who travels can write about their travel experiences.Sure, we're not all the greatest authors.Some of us can't spell to save ourselves.Or know what an apostrophe is, let alone what it's for.And most of us won't make any money from our blogging.
But those are irrelevancies.The important thing is this-
that people are blogging on their experiences.Those unique experiences that are going to remain with us forever.They're not just precious....they're diamonds.Because they're now indestructible.

So the idea for this site is the culmination of many things, the end of a journey, and the start of another, perhaps.Or probably just taking a different direction....
For after all life is the journey.The places we visit are just bustops along the way.
Our journey has plenty of bus stops!