Letters from Africa - Stephanie & Ian - Q-4 2002


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October 6th

Hello everyone! We made it to Windhoek yesterday afternoon...but the server was down until now (Sunday 5:00pm). It was a very long trip to get here (20 hours of flying and lots of waiting around). We were both quite tired and slept all afternoon yesterday...we woke up in time to have beer and lamb grilled on the ourdoor bri.

Today we got up around 8 and went to Midgard Lodge (100km NE from Windhoek on gravel roads). We saw baboons, kudu and giraffes on the way. The lodge was really rough! Only 2 pools, thatched roof bar areas and a wonderful buffet lunch (with every meat you could think of).

We will be in Windhoek tomorrow finalizing some plans and renting a car...maybe Ian will even let me go into some of the stores : ) It is much different than home though (and I am already missing it).

Love, Steph


October 11th

Hello all!

I know that it has only been a couple of days since the last email...but we have done a lot!

We left for Sossusvlei (see the southern coast of the map) bright and early (6am) Tuesday morning (I thought this was supposed to be vacation : ) And spent almost 6 hours driving on gravel roads up to Sossusvlei Wilderness Lodge (Ian's first surprise for me). The lodge was in the middle of no where! Surrounded by desert and mountains with a view of the sand dunes in the distance. We had our own bungalow with a plunge pool on the deck. The guide at the lodge took us for a sunset tour of the property (complete with Champagne) and then we sat down to a real safari dinner (all 18 of the lodge's guests sat together at a long table and the staff waited on us excellently!).

The next morning we woke up at 5am for Ian' s next surprise...a hot air baloon ride over the Namib desert. The ride was great (our height reached 1.5 km) and the view of the dunes, Sesrim canyon, and the mountains was amazing. The baloon landed in the middle of the desert where a Champagne breakfast was waiting for us (feeling sorry for me yet?). They drove us back to the lodge where we picked up our car and drove to the next surprise...The Little Kulala Desert Lodge. This lodge was at the base of the sand dunes (still in the middle of nowhere!) We had lunch and a dunk in the pool and then just had enough time to grab tea and catch the guide's sunset tour. This tour was better than the last because the guide was great! He kept us entertained by breaking the rules and taking us to all the best spots (even though they belonged to other lodges). We had Champagne, smoked zebra and caviar while the sun set (it was incredible because there was a sand storm at the same time, which reflected the sunset's colours). We slept on the roof of our bungalow under the stars (the stars are shocking because there are no clouds and no light pollution!).

Thursday morning we woke up at 5 again and boarded the truck to Sossusvlei. The dunes are huge! We stopped at the well know Dune 45...but there were too many tourists so we drove on to "Big Daddy" (the world's tallest sand dune @ 1000ft). As Ian was part of the group he talked the guide into letting us climb it...so up we went. We have now climbed "Big Daddy"...it was incredibly tough as every 3 steps you take you slide back down 2. At the top the guide, Ian and an italian guy 'sand boarded' down the dune (on pieces of cardboard). We then had a great lunch under the trees and toured Sesrim canyon. Once we returned to the lodge we took a dip in the pool and drove to the Naukluft Mountains. We camped over night (with the baboons) and went on a three hour hike this morning...Ian found a great rock pool and went for a dip. We now have just returned to Windhoek to collect our camping stuff and we will head off to Waterberg tomorrow.

Lots of love, Stephanie


October 20th

Hello again! Thanks for the responses to the last email...it was really nice to be reminded of home (it is hard to think that I am missing Fall).

Once again we have had a busy week! First off I have to mention that it is HOT here! There is a heat wave because the rain has not yet come (it is late this year), so it reaches about 40 regularly!...but as Ian says "it is a dry heat".

Anyway, last Saturday we packed up our stuff and headed north. We drove to Okanjima lodge (our last 'luxury place' for a long time!) This lodge is on the property used by the Africat foundation, which takes in orphaned, injured and unwanted wildcats and tries to rehabilitate them to re-release into their natural habitat. The lodge was amazing because the gardens were lush despite being in the middle of a dessert, but what was even more impressive were the cats! We went for a sunset drive and tracked the leopards that live on the property. We found one (the young female) and watched her eat dinner...amazing! The next morning we ate breakfast looking out on a couple of lions, (pretty tame ones as they have been at the reserve since they were young,) and then went for a drive to feed the cheetah. The ranger put the meat on the hood of the truck and told us about each cheetah as they jumped up and grabbed the grub.

We then left the lodge to camp at Waterberg Plateau. The facilities were excellent, and the camp ground had its own pool and bar...very nice. We hiked the park and climbed up the plateau for a great view of the area (very flat). We didn't see many animals here...except for the resident baboons who tried to steal the spices from our trunk! We camped at Waterburg for 2 nights and then at Ombinda for one night. Ombinda is a resort, but we just camped out the back. It was a little noisey there as the goat farmer decided to stop for a drink at the bar (leaving his 15 goats in the truck!).

Wednesday we drove to Etosha...a park (about 150km x 80km) that has 3 camps and the animals live naturally. We stayed at Okaukuejo for the first 2 nights (and had to brave the rude German tourists). We saw so many animals at the local waterhole (you can see from the camp) and at the waterholes we drove to (but you have to stay in your car...or risk becoming dinner!). Animals we saw: giraffe, zebra, springbuck, oryx, kudu, jackal, wildebeast, hartebeest, elephants, ostrich,rhino,hyena, rabbit, desert fox,impala,steenbok,warthog,lions...I know I am probably forgetting something!

Memorable moments: the first day we watched a pride of 7 lions sleep and play (for hours); we were watching a male lion when 32 elephants decided to come and wash in the waterhole; we saw a couple of jackal with their 3 babies; 2 young lions decided to pay us a special visit and come right up to our car....we had forgotten that we had dried meat in the car :)

Yesterday we drove back to Windhoek to sort out the safari for this week (banks are really useless!). Marlene and Johan had a great dinner for us of lamb ribs off the bri. Today we have been packing for our trip tomorrow (we have to drive to Maun to meet the safari group for Botswana). We should be gone for 9 days and then we fly back to meet Marlene and Johan, and then we are all going out to the coast to go fishing.

Everything has been great so far, and we both still have all our digits! (we have not seen any snakes...or had any real problems at all - except for my usual spacial issues (I got a nice goose-egg from hitting my head on the trunk)).

We miss you lots! Lots of love, Stephanie


October 30th

Hello all! We are back safe from a wonderful, but challenging trip to Botswana.

We left on Monday (Oct.21) bright and early. We picked up our rental car in Windhoek and started the 830km drive to Maun, Botswana. It was an incredibly long drive made worse by the donkeys and goats covering the main highway in Botswana. Maun was shocking to see. It is the third largest city in Botswana and it has no infrastructure! The houses were randomly placed dilapidated mud/beer can shacks.yet most had trucks (worth $20 000 USD)..I am very confused about their priorities and as to why Botswana is considered Africa's 'success story'. Anyway, we got to Maun and met our safari organizers (and worked out the messed up financial details). We stayed the night at the Sedie Hotel, which was very poorly run by the locals (and we were too exhausted to deal with them by that point).

Tuesday morning we started the safari with a British family (Cathrine - doctor, Hugh - lawyer and Felix-14 year-old comic relief). We started by driving out to the Okavango Delta and boarded mokoros (very flat canoe like boats made out of a hollowed out sausage tree). The five of us and our luggage required 4 boats accompanied by 4 expert 'polers' (they move the mokoros much like gondolas - they stand at the back and push off the swamp bottom). We rode through the delta (home to plenty of wildlife including hippos and crocodiles) for almost 2 hours before we got to the island where we were to set up camp (no facilities.very much in the middle of no where). We set up our tents (this is real bush camping! No fences!), and then went for a very refreshing swim in the delta (our polers guaranteed that there were no crocs in this area.). We were surrounded by elephants, but still decided to go for a game walk (we saw all the usual-zebra, wildebeast, baboons.). Then we were faced with the challenge of cooking dinner. The safari provided the food and recipes.but the Brits were useless when it came to pretty much anything to do with outside. So I took on the managing role and Ian was in charge of making the fire and cooking over the hot coals.

Wednesday we woke up at 5:30 to go on another game walk (3 hours) around the island. We returned to cook a hot breakfast, swim and siesta. We then were treated to another mokoro ride through the reeds of the Okavango. It was a very relaxing day, but we were worn out by 8:30 and went to bed.

Thursday we started the morning with another game walk (4 hours).unfortunately Ian got really very, very sick half way through and had a painful walk back to camp. He later said "I wanted to throw myself to the lions" and that it was the worst walk of his life. Ian was out of commission, so I packed up our stuff, had a last swim and loaded up the mokoros. Luckily we were supposed to head back to Maun that evening. We stayed at a nice camp called Audi Camp. I drugged Ian up so that he would sleep and then went for dinner with the Brits.fillet mignon, greek salad, cheesecake (but I WAS still thinking about Ian!)

Friday - Ian woke up feeling much better (phew, not malaria.) and I was very relieved! We think that he must have had a drink of some un-boiled Okavango water. We packed up and waited for the guide that the safari had arranged.he was late (bad start). His name was Patrick.and he was USELESS! He wore inch thick glasses and had a cataract in one eye.and did not speak English very well. He refused to learn our names (only clapped at us and pointed if he wanted something done) and didn't help cooking (but ate all our food). He was not a guide at all, just a driver (and a poor one at that - not being able to see he hit every large rock on the roads!) Anyway, we were still excited and headed off to Moremi Reserve (still part of the Okavango delta - very green). We set up our tents (but had to leave them open to let the baboons and vervet monkeys in so that they wouldn't destroy our tents) and went for a game drive around the reserve. We saw 7 lions, lots of elephant, our first hippos, crocodiles and buffalo. I didn't sleep very well that night as there was nothing between us and the animals besides the canvas of the tent (the hippos sounded VERY close, and we found hyena tracks around our tents the next morning).

Saturday - We woke up early for a game drive. The highlights were 2 large male lions (Patrick seemed to have little fear of getting close to the animals as he was in the closed cab of the Land Rover.we were a little bit uncomfortable being in the back of the open truck), and a 3.5 meter long Python (we thought it was PVC pipe lying across the road at first!). On the way back to camp we drove by a group of 72 elephants! I slept better that night.

Sunday - we packed up the truck early and headed off to Savuti (part of the Chobe Reserve). The drive was 5 painful hours (the roads through the parks are very basic and our backsides hurt from the bumps). On the way we passed a large elephant herd.again Patrick got too close and a large one threatened us (shook his head and trumpeted). I am now much more scared of elephant than lion! (They are massive!). The camp at Savuti had what Ian called "engineered facilities". They were made to be elephant proof (as elephants have a tendency to try and knock things over.we saw one take down a tree) and were sponsored by the European Union (Ian filmed a guided walk through the facilities that you can look at later). We took at game drive in the evening and saw a herd of wildebeast push some elephant out of a waterhole, only to be pushed out themselves by 3 lionesses, who then got pushed out by 2 bull elephants. That night I didn't sleep well again as I heard something walking around our tent and I could hear the lions calling (from less than 1km away - we were told that the local pride is made up of 22 lions!).

Monday - we packed up again and drove 4 hours to the Chobe river (Ihaha camp). There were hundreds of buffalo amongst the trees, and plenty of elephants (which I am now scared of). We set up and then took a nap. When we woke up for the game drive I was shocked at the weather.it had turned very dark and windy and a cold rain was starting. I tried to call off the drive, but our 'guide' just sat in the truck with the engine reving.so we went for a drive. It was so windy and COLD (because we were so damp). The rain was coming in from the sides and the canvas roof was leaking water all over us. We saw 7 lions, and were heading back to camp (because the sun was setting and you are not allowed to be out in the dark) when the truck started to make a loud clanging noise. Patrick immediately stopped and climbed under the truck."We're Fucked.Big Probem.Shit" .some English that we didn't want to hear. The prop shaft had broken (we lost 4 wheel drive) and inorder to drive in 2 wheel drive we had to remove the part.Patrick opened the 'tool box' to find an adjustable wrench (in 2 unattached parts) and other useless tools. Panic set in now. Because the sun was setting the chances of another truck passing us were very slim, so Ian set the Brits off to collect firewood (incase we had to spend the night with the lions) and took out his leatherman and our headlamps and crawled under the car. Luckily a final truck rushing to get back before sunset passed us and lent Ian the proper wrench. He took off the part (Patrick was useless! He just swore and peed around the truck.truly a baboon!) The sun set (it was very dark), and Ian got the part off.we then had to rock the truck forward and back to disengage the 4 wheel drive. It worked and we drove back to camp (in the dark). The Brits and I spent the evening thanking Ian and were all unified in hatred for our 'guide'.

Tuesday - Since the truck was still broken we decided that we did not need any more game drives, and settled for a relaxing morning. We packed up and left the park around 11 and drove to Kasane (a town) to camp at Chobe Safari Lodge. We took at boat cruise up the Chobe river, and had a great braii dinner (kudu and impala). We did not sleep well because the evening was very humid, the hippos and dogs were loud and there were mosquitoes.

Wednesday - we said goodbye to the Brits (who invited us to stay with them anytime) and to Patrick (yeah!). We go picked up by Brownie, locally known as Mr. Brown (a driver for a Kasane travel company), who took us to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (where we had to catch our flight back to Windhoek). At the boarder we unexpectedly had to pay for an entrance visa (which used up all of our US $).this was our first taste of how bad Zimbabwe has gotten. Once at the falls our guide told us that admission was $20USD each and there would be a large airport tax on our departure.only accepting US dollars.PROBLEM: we only had traveler's cheques - You cannot get foreign currency in Zimbabwe, but they only accept foreign currency (STUPID!). So our driver (knowing everyone in Vic Falls) took us around to his 'friends', we finally had some luck at a German guest lodge where they finally agreed to take our traveler's cheques 1 to 1 for US cash (very lucky!). So Brownie dropped us off at the falls for 3 hours before we had to go to the airport. They were beautiful! They are more spectacular than Niagara and they are still surrounded by nature (the only rainforest in southern Africa). Then Ian decided that he had to see the bridge over the falls (a civil engineering landmark built in 1905 as part of the cancelled Cape to Cairo railway project.), the only problem was that it is in the middle of the boarder between Zimbabwe and Zambia. So we went through the formalities of getting a gate pass and walked across into Zambia (where we were immediately accosted by the locals - who are very poor - to buy their crafts). We were running out of time and had to go through the bureaucracy of getting back into Zimbabwe, so we ran back. We were 10 minutes late to meet Brownie and he was worried about us (Do Not Visit Zimbabwe!). He drove us to the airport (more bureaucracy) where we met a National Geographic photographer who was heading home a month early due to the decline of the country (he had been beaten by some thugs for his equipment). We loaded onto our Air Namibia plane (a whopping 18 seater!), the pilot pulled out the cooler from the back of the plane and handed us our snack trays and we headed home. We were so glad to be out of there! Johan surprised us by picking us up at the airport (it was just what we needed).

Today - we spent the morning in Windhoek looking in the local shops.the gem shops are incredible! Now we are packing up to head off to Swakopmund and Henties Bay tomorrow (fishing on the coast).

We hope that you are all doing well, and don't worry about us our real Africa' (Ian's term for Botswana,etc.) is over.

Happy Halloween!

Lots of Love! Steph


November 6th

Hi all,

Our weekend to the coast was good (but definitely less exciting than our last email!).

We left Windhoek early Friday morning and drove straight to Swakopmund (4 hours). Swakop is a great little town! All the buildings are German architecture and the town is filled with German retirees. Micheal had to go to the doctor so we dropped Marlene and him off and drove out to the sand dunes just south of town.

Ian and Francois climbed to the top and sandboarded down a couple of times (until Ian got head blisters on his feet). That night we stayed in Hentiesbaai (north of Swaop).

The next two days were spent on the coast fishing.Ian caught a couple sharks, and catfish (which had to be thrown back), and an 88cm long Caballero fish (good for eating and has a huge mouth!). I only tried once.which was enough for me! The coast was really cold and windy.pants and a jacket everyday.certainly a shock for us!

On Monday I wimped out and looked around Hentiesbaai while Ian went out fishing again.I picked up a great pair of African buffalo sandals! Ian and I spent Tuesday morning walking around Swakop. We went to the tannery and got Ian 2 new pairs of 'vellies' - the leather shoes he wears into the ground, and went to Peter's Antiques (which is full of German antiques & propaganda).

On the way back to Windhoek we stopped in Walvis Bay & Karibib. In Walvis Bay we saw the salt flats which are beautiful! Each different part of the salt extraction process changes the colour of the water in the flats to beautiful shades of pink, red, orange and blue. There were also flamingos and pelicans.

On the way to Karibib we stopped at Dune 7, Ian and Francois climbed it while the rest of us enjoyed a cool drink! We also stopped in Karibib which is know for having the highest quality marble in the world, it also has a nice jewelry store : )

Today we are taking it easy in Windhoek.and making Piragis! We hope to go on a tour of a weavery tomorrow, and a tour of the local brewery... but we'll see.

We are off to Reunion and the Seychelles on Friday (via a 23 hour bus ride to Joburg). I don't know if we will be able to email from the islands so this may be the last email until December.

We love to read about what all of you are doing, and we apologize that we cannot respond individually (the internet is just too slow and power surges keep shutting the computer down).

Have a great November!

Lots of love,

Steph


November 15th

french keyboard..must be short

-climbed 10 000ft mountain...tired...off to seychelles tomorrow

-hope Dad and Kyle are okay...he hasnt emailed...lookingforward to seeing him

love ya! Steph


November 25th

The i cafe is closing so have to be short.

Went to Reunion - climbed 10 000 ft mountain

Seychelles - gorgeous beaches!

Now in Cape Town, SA....climbed table mountain - GREAT!

will email when have more time!

Love,

Steph


SA was not in the original plan... but it is a good place to see the eclipse and we came back a week early because the Seychelles were not what we had expected.

Jan. 4 for Christmas sounds great! I thought we were going to miss it forsure!

I miss home too...but time seems to be flying by now! It might be because we have been on 5 planes and in 4 countries in the last 2 weeks.

Sorry the email yesterday was so short! I have a little bit more time this morning (but not much!)

Anyway, we left Nambia via bus to Joburg. We caught a plane there for Reunion (a Department of France in the Indian ocean). The airline (Air Austral) was absolutely incredible! We had full meals with lots of drinks, extra bread, truffles, cheeses and appetizers!

Reunion was amazing! It is a volcanic island (2 volcanos...1 dormant and 1 was started to erupt on our last day!). We spent most of our time in the interior of the island hiking through the gorges and climbing up the tallest peak (over 10 000ft...I know that I have already metioned this...but that is TALL!).

After a week in Reunion, we flew off to the Seychelles for what was supposed to be our 'relaxation' time...ha! The beaches are gorgeous! But this 'democratic communist' country has problems! Also, the day after we got there Cyclone Boura decided to pay us a visit...we didn't get hit hard but it wasn't pleasant!

We spent 4 days on Mahe (the large island) and then went to La Digue (via a cargo sailboat...interesting). La Digue was fabulous! We could bike the whole island and had beaches to ourselves. Ian went diving with the sharks!

(Ian writes)

Seychelles was beautiful but EXPENSIVE. We cut it short and we flew back to Reunion, then to Joburg, and then 40 minutes before the flight left to Cape Town we bought the ticket. So here we are in CT and it is beautiful but now we are heading back towards the Seychelles in a way! We are driving along the coast up to the North East province of Limpopo to watch the eclipse on the 4th of Dec and then head west to make it to Windhoek for the 6th so that we can go on the farm for four days.

(end)

We are doing Cape Point and the Winelands today which should be great...but it is 30 degrees already at 9:00am...

Will try to write soon, (we are not missing the snow : )

Lots of love,

Steph


1 Dec 02

Hello all!

We are now in St. Lucia, SA...very cool little (white) sufer town on the east coast.

Since I last wrote: Monday we climbed Table mountain (met a young English couple), checked out the V&A waterfront - very chic shops and went out for dinner at 'House of Meat' with our new friends (Ian had Warthog ribs, I had a Kudu steak)and then stayed at an Irish pub till closing.

The next morning we went to Cape Point, Boulder's Beach (where we closely observed a Jackass Penguin colony...very cute!) and stayed in Stellenbosch (wine country)at a little B&B.

We drove to Franschoek the next morning, and did some wine tasting at the Blouklippen estate (very exclusive wines as only 60 or fewer barrels of wine are made of each type). We then continued to drive along the coast and went up to Outshoorn. We toured the Cango Caves (amazing formations!) and camped the night (after enjoying a local Ostrich BBQ).

Thursday we started early in order to make it to Monkeyland for 9:00 opening. Monkeyland is a primate sanctuary...it was right up my alley! There were monkeys all over the place! The most fun was being able to see the different species interact. At one point Tarzan(an over weight Spider Monkey) got lost in the forest and some gibbons and capuchin monkeys helped him find his way across the rope bridge.

Then we drove to Bloukrans...home of a 216m high bridge (over a gorge), the biggest bridge in Africa. So Ian decided to jump off (with a bungee cord attached ofcourse!)...He did great...I almost puked. We then drove up to Addo Elephant Park (and camped), the park has the densist population of elephants in the world.

Thursday we had another early start and spent the day driving (lots of ups and downs) to the Drakensberg. We lucked out and got to spend the night just outside of Underberg, in our own private log cabin on a hill looking out on the Drakensberg...Amazing! Saturday we took a 4x4 tour up the Sani Pass into Lesotho (a great drive!) and toured a Lesotho village. We also had lunch at the Highest Pub in Africa (at 9400ft). That evening we had a little crisis (we thought we lost our keys), but everyone was very helpful and we found them in the guide's truck.

The South African couple (early 60's...'Babs' and 'Cookie') that helped us out wanted to cook us dinner and let us stay in their living room (an informative evening!) Today we woke up at 5:00 and drove to St. Lucia (to get internet access)...we have checked out the solar eclipse and have decided it will be better in Botswana...so off we go again : )

We really haven't had any problems in SA and the landscape is beautiful (in some parts we think that we are still in Canada). We will be back in Windhoek on Dec. 6 (but off to the farm) and back from the farm on Dec. 10 ... giving us enough time to prepare for Kyle and Todd's arrival (we are looking forward to familiar faces!).

Lots of love!

Steph


5 Dec 02

Hello all!

Attached we have sent our first picture (care of the other couple that went on the Botswana safari with us). The picture is of us and our poler having a really rough time on the Okavango Delta : )

Anyway, since the last time I wrote (St. Lucia) we drove through Swaziland (very nice!) and camped at Hlane Royal Game Reserve (where the king keeps game for whenever he wants to hunt). The next day we drove through Kruger Park (SA) and along Blyde River Canyon (impressive!) and camped at a well equiped camp ground (trampolines! pool! mini golf and hiking). Then we drove to Botswana (Francistown) camped inorder to get to the perfect solar eclipse spot. We woke up at 3am and drove to the Zimbabwe boarder...the eclipse was AMAZING! But then we drove all the way back to Windhoek and here we are! Going to the Farm this weekend : )

Hope all is well! Love ya,

Steph


12 Dec 02

Hello all.

Well, we are back from the farm and well rested (and a little bit sun burnt). We left for the farm on Friday afternoon after having taken Micheal to see his new "big school" which he will start in January. The drive up was full of game viewing - Eland (world's biggest antelope), Kudu, Oryx, Springbok, Waterbuck, Wildebeest, Warthogs, Ostrich.all fairly close to the road! The farm was really neat, it is 400 hectares of veld (natural fields covered with grass and thorn covered trees) with a good size farm house that is surrounded by amazing gardens (and ofcourse.a pool).

The weather was great for us and the food was even better.Marlene's parents (who own the farm) operate a butchery, so we tried a different type of meat at every meal! I tried horseback riding, but the horses hadn't been ridden since Feb and they were a little reluctant to follow instructions. Ian, however, made friends with them right away and had long rides each day we were there.

We also saw our first scorpions, rhino beetles, sand snakes and a tree snake.I was not impressed, but the others didn't understand why I rather not keep my feet on the ground (we always ate outside.dark and lots of creepy crawlers!).

So we got back on Tuesday night and then spent yesterday making plans for our last two weeks.that is strange to say, it doesn't feel like we have been here for 2 and a half months already.

I hope that everyone is well and looking forward to the quickly approaching holidays. I am getting excited for Christmas, but Ian says it's not Christmas if it isn't cold : )

Lots of love,

Steph


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Updated 12 Dec 2002