NAMIBIA & SOUTH AFRICA
NAMIBIA: Windhoek, Namib Desert
SOUTH AFRICA: Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope, Garden Route, Wine Country
NAMIBIA July-August 2005
Imagine humongous piles of sand wind-whipped into knife-edged meringue. The 30-million-year-old dunes of the Namib Desert are the world's largest (up to 1000 feet high) as well as its oldest. In Nama language, namib means vast - understandable since the dunes drift 80 miles inland along 200 miles of coast. At sunrise and sunset they glow surreally red. In the photos below we were hiking high on the knife's edge at sunrise; the sun was higher for the second shot.
Traveling without reservations is seldom a problem since we avoid peak tourist seasons. However, when we arrived in Namibia in July it was packed with families on school holiday. Unable to find a camping trip headed north (we were sorry to miss the unique Himba people), we arranged in Windhoek for a three-day camping safari in the Namib Desert - a half-day drive south to a campground near Sossusvlei. We camped for two nights with our driver/guide/cook Ben and a charming young Italian couple, and hiked the dunes at sunrise and sunset. Here Joan and Ros (who's an actress in Milan) pretend to be "dying of thirst."
SOUTH AFRICA August 2005
In two weeks we traveled through the French countryside, arrived in Honolulu, hiked in the gorse and crags of Scotland, visited San Francisco's Alcatraz Island, and drove along the rugged California coastline. Amazingly, we visited all of the above in a single country!
We'd taken an overnight bus from Windhoek, awakening the next morning in what appeared to be the verdant countryside of rural France. The change from desert-dry Namibia to fertile South Africa was that abrupt. Entering Cape Town - a sophisticated city in one of the world's two or three most gorgeous settings - we were reminded of Honolulu, which also nestles between ocean and mountains.
In Cape Town, our host - we stayed with a couple we met in a Nepalese trekking lodge - vigorously led us up a steep trail to the top of Table Mountain, where we wandered among gorse-like vegetation and lunched by a lake that looked like a Scottish loch, then down an even steeper trail.
The hike took five hours in all. Sprightly septuagenarian Lou descended the mountain swiftly, but out-of-condition-Joan wobbled down on complaining quad muscles. The next day the two of us took a ferry from Cape Town's Victoria and Albert waterfront to Robben Island (very similar to Alcatraz) to tour the former prison of black political prisoners during apartheid.
BLACK AND WHITE
Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island (see his cell below). Today the island is a national museum. Two of our guides, former prisoners here, spoke to the tour group - without bitterness – about the need for reconciliation, rather than revenge. We were quite moved.
Mandela, along with the white former President of South Africa, F. W. de Klerk, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. It took the efforts of both men to avert massive bloodshed during the change from white minority control to full democracy in South Africa. With formal apartheid a thing of the past, the country is now governed by a black president and a mostly-black congress.
However, there remains a great deal of racial separation and economic discrimination deeply rooted in the past. Very tangible evidence of apartheid are the "townships" - rusty scrap heaps of shantytowns where blacks live on the outskirts of the cities - far removed from the best schools, jobs, clinics, churches and neighborhoods. Some of them were relocated when their mixed-race neighborhoods was bull-dozed in the 60's - as shown in Cape Town's District Six Museum.
To complicate the problem of economic integration, immigrants from war-torn Angola and Congo are flooding into South Africa looking for a better life. As Americans, we can feel sympathy, while realizing that the history of our own country is similarly besmirched. We live with the sorry results of slavery - our own version of apartheid. It's been 140 years since the emancipation of slaves, and equal opportunity is still not a reality in the U.S. And immigrants from Mexico - many of them illegal - are currently overwhelming our health and education systems. Not easy problems to solve.
Another day our hosts drove us through wind and rain (July and August are winter in South Africa) to wine country, reminiscent of California's Napa Valley - except for this area's mountains and Cape Dutch architecture. The villages of Stellenbosch and Franschoek are particularly charming.
After driving along the shoreline south of Cape Town (similar to the Big Sur coast of California) and picnicking at the windy Cape of Good Hope, the two of us drove our rental car along the Garden Route in a 1000-mile, five-day loop. The Route is lined with comfortable lodges, excellent restaurants and natural beauty. For us it was like taking a California vacation from hard travel. The road winds past orange-poker aloe plants backed by mountains, dips down along the coastline with both rocky and wide sandy beaches, and winds through brilliant chartreuse fields of rape and past ostrich farms. The ostriches kept a close eye on us.
Looping back, we stopped at Oudtshoorn, where we visited the Cango Wildlife Ranch - a preserve with a variety of Africa animals and a cheetah conservation program. Along with three guards, Joan went into the cage of two adult cheetahs and scratched one behind his ears. He made a deep raspy sound that was mildly terrifying - until she realized he was purring! Not to be outdone, Fearless Lou went into another cage ALL ALONE to face two ferocious....
After ten days of vacation, it was time to go traveling again. Here's Lou with our generous Cape Town hosts, as he prepares to board a train for our27-hour ride through the immense Karoo wilderness to Johannesburg, where we caught a flight to ETHIOPIA
DETAILS, DETAILS, DETAILS
GUIDEBOOK: Southern Africa (Lonely Planet)
BACKGROUND READING: AFRICA BOOK LIST
NAMIBIA: Namib Dunes: Sossusvlei Camping Safari www.hellonamibia.com/index.html
Robben Island history and Mandela link: www.freedom.co.za/
Joan and Lou Rose firstname.lastname@example.org