Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Where do I belong?

That's a question I've been thinking about a lot over the past 24 hours or so. I'm sure I am not the only person who wonders this from time to time. Having left home to go to university 10 years ago, it pains me to be back living with my parents, back in my childhood bedroom. I should be grateful that I have this place that I can always come back to, others are not quite so lucky.

I have come to the conclusion that I do not 'belong'. I don't 'fit in' and I don't think my family get it. To be honest I don't think they ever got why I went travelling in the first place, never mind why I moved to Africa and why I want to travel some more. This was ever more evident when I found presents that I had made and bought for them shoved in the back of the cupboard and being sent to the charity shop. To be honest I feel like an anomaly in my family. My interests are completely different, ever since I've been young I've felt different. From my children's encyclopedia where I loved reading about different cuisines and cultures around the world to my dream world in books that could transport me to far-away lands without ever leaving my bed, I've always been a dreamer, wanted more than what was around me, was obsessed with other countries. And that interest that was born in me when I was younger has not left me yet, I wonder if it ever will.

So if I do not belong in my home town, where do I belong? Where is now my home? Where is the place I should be returning to and slotting back into daily life?

And so I put it out there, is travel something that changes your feeling of home? 

Monday, 28 April 2014

Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary

Way back when I was studying my English poetry for the Leaving Cert, one of the phrases I most remember was my teacher talking about Patrick Kavanagh and his ability to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Some fine examples of this are Canal Bank Walk and Inniskeen Road: July evening. Seeing the ordinary details and reveling in them was something that Kavanagh excelled at. Sometimes I feel that we don't take enough time to look around and marvel in the world that we are fortunate enough to live in.

It's the little things in life that can raise a day from a disaster to something that might improve: a steaming bowl of porridge on a cold morning, a cold pint with friends on a sunny summer day, a perfectly made mug of tea. The little things in life are all too often overlooked in our busy lives.

When I was living away, one of the simple things that would change my day was receiving post. I loved getting handwritten letters from people and still do. Often my Mam and sister Ciara would send me a little parcel that would contain Lyon's tea bags and some chocolate (Cadbury's does not taste as good anywhere as it does in Ireland) and I would pass a lovely evening with a big mug of tea, chocolate and a movie. The little things in life!

Sunset over Wakefield. Take from my kitchen window
So take a moment to look outside your window and see the beauty around you, see the rainbow instead of the rain, watch the birds or if like myself you are in the countryside with farms, watch the baby lambs leaping about.
Stephen's Green

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Since I've been home........................

Since I've been home there are a lot of things I most definitely have not done

  1. Eaten a whole chunk of brie over the course of a day
  2. Eaten a meal with 3 pork products (mmmm Irish breakfast)
  3. Drank wine that does not come in a box
  4. Worn more makeup at once than in the whole year previous
  5. Bought 4 dresses for the one wedding
  6. Spent a day reading
  7. Climbed a hill
  8. Ran in the rain
  9. Cooed over baby lambs

Nope, have not done any of those. 

Quote of the day: "The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go" Dr Seuss

Friday, 18 April 2014

Northern Namibia Nomadic (N)adventures

There is one thing I have noticed about people you meet travelling in Africa, they are some of the friendliest, down to earth people I have ever met. I don't mean to sound stuck up or self appreciating but I find it's a certain type of person who travels independently in Africa and it constantly surprises me the people I encounter, from a couple cycling from Cape Town back to Holland, a couchsurfing couple who had cycled down the west coast of Africa from Spain, Susana and Nicole who had spent a year travelling by public transport in Africa and then in Desert Sky, I met Tony and Steve who had traveled on their motorbikes from London down the west coast of Africa over 5 months and had hired a car in Namibia to travel to the national parks. After talking to Tony for a bit, he offered me a seat in their car to go north to the Skeleton Coast, to visit the Himba tribe and to see Etosha National Park. Luckily his friend Steve had no problem with it either and so 2 days later we left with Niki and Irene in tow.

Our first stop was the Cape Cross Seal colony which is home to one of the largest colony of seals in the world. Estimates put the number of seals at around 10,000. Now for those of you who haven't seen that many seals in one place, they are noisy and they STINK. Honestly, the smell of rotting fish and seal poop is something else. However, I happen to think seals are cute and came away with nearly 200 pictures of the thousands of seals there.

From there we continued on to Skeleton Coast National Park. Now, once again lack of planning nearly cost us. To enter the National Park you need to be at the gate by 3pm AND have made a reservation with NWR in Windhoek or Swakopmund, neither of which we had when we showed up at about 4pm. Luckily Nicki and Irene worked their charm and the guy at the gate let us in provided we promised to drive straight to the campsite! Which of course we did. Torra Bay campsite is right on the Atlantic Coast and is very popular with Namibians for fishing. Apparently the cold Begula (sp?) current brings a wide variety of fish and we met a group of Namibian farmers who were on a guys week away. Our little tents were dwarfed by these guys camp. They had everything you could imagine, coolers, tables, chairs, bags of ice and kindly donated lots of brandy to us while we played drinking games with them. 
Our amateur camp

From there, Nicki and Irene headed back to Swakopmund while the guys and I headed towards Sesfontein en route to Opuwo. Here we were driving on gravel roads with not another car in sight. We spotted zebra and giraffe on the road side and marveled once more on the vast open spaces in Namibia. Here we stopped off at Fort Sesfontein to bask in the luxurious surroundings, pilfer their free wifi before heading off down the road to Camel Top campsite where we were the only guests.

Next morning we hit the road again to head to Opuwo where we picked up Antonio who would act as a translator and guide for our visit to a traditional Himba tribe. Antonio and his company were recommended to Tony and Steve and I am glad to report that it was well worth it. There is always a worry that when you visit tribes or villages that it turns into a zoo of sorts or that they are acting for the tourists, as I felt when I visited as Maasai village in the Serengeti, but this visit was worlds apart from that. First of all we arrived at the village 17km from Opuwo and there was no one to be seen. Apparently all the adults were at the village garden and the chief had gone to attend a funeral. Antonio has worked with the Himbas and is half Himba and thus was a perfect guide. He explained that he likes to visit different villages every time in order to spread the gifts around. The village we were about to visit had not had mzungu visitors before.

The Himba are indigenous people who live semi-nomadic lives in Northern Namibia and in Angola. Our guide explained that semi-nomadic means that only part of the tribe moves around. In this case the teenagers move during the dry season with the livestock (cattle and goats) to find water and they return every year to the village. As seems to be the norm in most tribes, the women do the physical work i.e. planting and harvesting vegetables, taking care of the children and animals, looking after the home etc.

This girl's hairstyle indicates that she is not of child bearing age

The Himba are famous for the red colour they smear on their skin and hair. Every 2-3 days they smear a combination of butter and ochre on their skin. The red in their hair is redone every 6 months. The clay covered hair indicates that the woman is of child bearing age. Before they reach that age, their hair is styled into either one or 2 plaits. The big necklace indicates that the woman has not had a child and anklets with metal bands indicate how many children they have had. In a society with no mirrors these beautiful people were excited to see photographs of themselves. Having a translator who was known to the village was fantastic, we were able to ask questions about how they perceive us and their lifestyle. They said that they were confused as to why we would want to come and look at their lifestyle and said that they would have no interest in changing their lifestyle which is reassuring as the traditional way of life is dying out due to the younger generations moving into towns and cities. When we returned to Opuwo we even met a lady working in the grocery store who moved out of her Himba tribe to live in the city after experiencing the town life during school. It would be a shame if cultures like this were to die out and the world to become more homogeneous and a little bit more boring. 

From Opuwo we traveled towards Etosha National Park, staying about an hour from the park gates. The next morning we took off and entered from the northern most gate. 

Within minutes of entering we noticed two giraffes off to our left, found a trail and followed it. We were rewarded with seeing 2 male giraffes fighting over the attention of a female. We stayed watching the spectacle for about 30 minutes, during this time the female paraded back and forth but showed no interest in the fight going on next to her. We headed towards the 'Sinkhole' where we encountered more giraffes and then a herd of elephants crossed the track in front of us.

But the crown of the
drives that day was spotting a black rhino just off the road side. I am proud to say I spotted it! This was the last of the big 5 I had yet to see close up and was delighted with seeing this endangered species in the wild.

From there we continued towards Halili campsite, seeing many haretbest, wildebeest, oryx and even some more giraffes fighting before arriving at the camp shortly before sunset. We raced to the waterhole and oh were we rewarded. First to arrive were a herd of elephants coming for their evening drink. Next a rhino arrived, which the elephants were not too happy about. Once the second rhino arrived the elephants decided to show their distaste for sharing this water source by loud trumpeting and even spraying water at the rhinos.

Once the sun started to set, the waterhole was bathed in the most gorgeous light, from orange to pink which provided an amazing backdrop for the spectacle that was unfolding before us. We then returned to the camp to find honey badgers, the notoriously ill tempered weasel like creature, roaming the campsite. 

Next morning was an early start to see if any animals graced us for sunrise at the waterhole. Unfortunately not and so we set off after breakfast in search of lions. We may or may not have taken a wrong turning and may or may not have ended up on a closed trail where we may, or may not have seen NOTHING for a few hours. But in the end we arrived back on normal trails and saw more hartebeest, elands, kudu before arriving at Okaukuejo camp by mid afternoon where we made the most of the swimming pool before going for a sunset drive during which we saw a black backed jackel eating the remains of a dead zebra. Unfortunately the waterhole was quiet here so after a dinner of green curry and a beer or 2, we retired for the night to make one last drive in the morning. 

Sunset over Okaukuejo waterhole. 

Next morning, having heard about a lion kill the day before, we set off with the aim of finding a lion or two. And sure enough less than a kilometre from the park's gate, we come across a male lion eating the remains of a giraffe kill. As is normal with lions, the females do the kill and the male will eat his fill before leaving the remains. Once this male had eaten his fill and walked away,the carcass was covered in jackels to eat the remains. After finally seeing a big cat we left for Windhoek happy. 

Quote for the day: "Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better."- Albert Einstein

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Namibian Deserts

After tearing myself away from the party life in Livingstone, I spent a lovely 18hr bus journey to Windhoek in Namibia. After a minor issue at the Namibia border where, because the stamp at the Zambian border had very little ink, I climbed back on the Intercape bus for the next 14 hours to Windhoek.

After arriving at Chameleon backpackers, and sampling their brilliant breakfast, I set off to explore the city. I always like to walk around a city to find my feet and my bearings. What I noticed in Windhoek is that there is not that much to do. It's a pretty, clean and easy city to explore on foot but it is mostly a base to sort out your other Namibian travels. And that was my aim. Having read up on Namibia I knew that without your own transport, you are limited to taking organised tours to see much of the sights. Namibia basically has two main roads that public transport runs on, one north to south and one east to west. And so I began to investigate the options for tours. Luckily, having talked to some amazing Swiss girls, they happened to have a Toyota Hiliux and were leaving the next morning for Sossusvlei and had a spare seat for me. Cue racing to Namibian Wildlife Resorts to book my camping space and permit to enter the national park, and then a race to the supermarket for beer and chicken for a braai. And the next morning at 6:30 we were off.

Namibia is full of empty space, I mean FULL of it. It is the country with the second lowest population density, after Mongolia, with a population density of 2.54/km2 (source) so most of our 6 hour drive to Sesriem was spent as the only car on a gravel road with nothing but vast open spaces around. Beautiful vast open spaces mind. After arriving at 1pm, we put up the tent and headed straight for the pool, a welcome addition to the campsite for the 40 degree heat in the desert. That evening we climbed Elim dune to watch sunset. Permits for NWR parks are valid for 24 hours from when you purchase the permit which meant we could enter the park for sunset and then spend the next day there without any additional cost. In my experience, not many parks do this. So we set off with the obligatory beers to watch sunset over the desert.

Now if you want to make it to the very top of Elim dune, don't do it like we did and leave 30mins before sunset and then drive past the turn off (hint, it is right inside the park gate) for about 5km before realising that we had passed it and then turn around and have to race up a sand dune! Of course it was worth it as you watch the sands change to a vivid red before you and you see the expanse of the Namib-Nankluft National Park. 

The Sesriem Campsite is based inside the park boundaries. This has a major advantage that you get to set off one hour earlier than others who have camped outside the park boundaries. There are 2 gates to the park, one before the campsite and one after. The gate after the campsite opens one hour before sunrise while the one before the campsite opens at sunrise. This means that if you want to watch the sunrise over the dunes, you have to stay at Sesriem campsite. So the next morning we were up at 5am to leave as the gate opened at 5:20. After some rally type driving from Susana, we arrived at Dune 45 with plenty of time to climb and watch the sunrise. Now climbing sand dunes is no easy feat. This sand dune is 170m high, after 5mins my calves were screaming. Only the thought of being able to sit down and watch the sunrise over this awe inspiring landscape kept me going. Once I reached the flat peak and sat to view the sunrise I was convinced it was all worth it. Watching the sunrise over the horizon and seeing the landscape change from light red, to deep red and to orange and realising that this is not something everyone gets to see made me grateful. It is moments like this that make the sleepless nights in hostels, the long bus journeys and the loneliness you can experience on the road worth it. The world is truly a beautiful place and I am blessed to be seeing the best that the African continent has to offer. 

As soon as the sun rose, the tour group who shared sunrise with us trodded down the dune and the 4 of us were alone on the top for 30mins. Glorious! 
After running down the dune (the best way to get down), I waited for the girls at the bottom by emptying my hiking boots and socks of sand, two nice piles a few inches tall, before driving to Sossusvlei. The last 6km before you get to Sossusvlei is 4WD only, the nice tarmac finishes and it's a sand road. If you only have a 2WD, not to worry, there are regular shuttles into the Sossusvlei area (some even led by John Deeres!). At this stage the sun had well and truly risen and the heat was rising. A pale person like myself would sizzle and burn in this environment and so I held everyone up to cover myself head to toe in factor 30 and then we began the 15min walk to Dead Vlei. When you first start researching Namibia and things to do in Namibia, you see photos of Dead Vlei. This is a clay pan that used to be fed by a river until the river changed course and the water dried up. This causes the acacia trees to die (giving the pan it's name). The contrasts in colour here are amazing. The white of the clay pan, fringed with the vivid red of the sand dunes, dotted with the black silhouettes of the dead acacia trees and all framed by an unbroken blue sky. 

 At this stage it was well and truly too hot to be out in the full heat of the day so we went back to the campsite for a swim and to start a braai. Once again the sunset was something to behold with the colours lighting up the landscape and once night fell, the stars were like nothing I've ever seen. With no light pollution and only the sound of crickets as a backdrop, I lay on the ground and stared at the stars for some time, trying to pick out the constellations and trying to remember the rudimentary astronomy I had read before and really just enjoying the quietness before once again retiring to my faithful tent and being soothed to sleep by the sounds of nature.

The next morning we set off for Swakopmund, some 400km north. About 140km from Sesriem is a tiny town called Solitare, famous for it's bakery and the apple pie. The famous Moose who founded the bakery had passed away only the month before and there was a somber air around the bakery. The apple pie however is still delicious and it is a nice stop off to or from Sesriem.