Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Part 1: New York and the eastern states.

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018

01_May 15, 2017_Tarrytown

May 11-18, 2017. New York City and Tarrytown, New York State.

After a very long flight from Melbourne, via Sydney and Los Angeles, we arrived in the Big Apple.

This was the first leg in another adventure – discovering new places and chasing our family around the world.

We are planning on being away for about ten months and the first part was all about family.

Over two years ago Evan and his wife Stephanie came to NYC. Steph had been offered a place, in the Masters program, at Columbia University.

We were in New York for her graduation and from there we were going to explore some of the eastern states.

Columbia University was first established in 1754 and was formerly known as King’s College. It was established by a royal charter from George II and was renamed as Columbia College in 1784, following the American Revolutionary war.

I wondered why a crown was on the crest of Columbia – the answer was in its history.

We arrived on a Thursday, just in time for Mother’s Day on the Sunday.

Jenny and Neil, Steph’s parents, were also in New York for the graduation and Ev and Steph had planned a Sunday lunch.

Where we were going and how we were to get there was a well kept secret.

A Mother’s Day mystery tour.

After a bus ride and a train trip we ended up in Tarrytown, about 40 kilometres north of Manhattan, on the Hudson River.

It was a wonderful surprise for everyone, especially the mums.

After an excellent lunch we had a stroll up and down Main Street in Tarrytown.

We even visited the local fire department and chatted with one of the local fireman, a huge 17 year old volunteer.

Then it poured down.

There was plenty of shelter, so we managed to get back to the station and New York without getting soaked.

The next few days were taken up with the graduation which is the subject of a separate post.

 

80 Church Lane, Bridgehampton

May 19, 2017. The Hamptons, New York State.

On our final day in NYC we picked up a Hertz rental near the Washington Bridge and made a very slow escape from the city.

The car was a white Nissan Sentra with cavernous boot space, so our bags and packs fitted in easily.

After our slow start we got onto Long Island and the speed increased as we hit the rural areas.

The Hamptons are the ‘escape’ towns for New Yorkers. They are quiet during autumn and winter but turn feral in the summer months.

We had arranged to spend time with our old friends, Cathie and Earl Gandel. They have had a house in Bridgehampton for over 40 years. It’s been both their principal residence and holiday home during that time.

The weather was very hot as we left New York and the Nissan’s air conditioner worked overtime. By the time we reached Bridgehampton it had dropped to a very pleasant 25°C.

The next day the New York weather had reached us and the temperature had risen to 35°C again.

In the morning Earl and Cathie drove us around the Hamptons and we caught a glimpse of some of the vast hedged estates that are home to rich and famous New Yorkers.

We stopped for lunch and had one of the notorious lobster rolls, a local specialty we were told.

Two serves were enough for the four of us.

We were back in the States and the servings were huge.

How quickly you forget.

Earl and Cathie had just sold the Bridgehampton house and were planning to move back to LA.

We spent two nights and a full day with Earl and Cathie.

I met Earl at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in 1982.

The agency was a partnership between Schofield Sherbon Baker in Sydney and Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (DFS) from New York.

The founding and primary reason for the creation of DFS was the servicing of the Toyota business in Australia.

Commercial vehicles were handled out of the Sydney office and passenger cars from Melbourne.

Earl was sent to Melbourne as General Manager and chief authority on all things Toyota.

Earl still has a love of cars and owns two beautiful vintage British sports cars – a 1949 Triumph and a 1950s’ MG.

Earl is retired but still holds honorary positions with the local fire station and historical society. While Cathie still works as a free-lance journalist.

 

Sterling Library, Yale University, New Haven

May 20, 2017. Bridgehampton, New York State to West Haven, Connecticut. 

It took three ferry trips to get from Bridgehampton, in New York State, to West Haven in Connecticut.

Two short and one long.

The longer journey was from Orient Point to New London. This is the only one we needed to book in advance.

We broke our trip at Greenpoint, with a good cup of coffee at Aldo’s, followed by a short walk.

It was a pleasant 80 minute boat ride, marred briefly by the beeping of a car alarm coming from a black BMW.

Our ferry was the New London, operated by Cross Sound Ferries.

We stopped in New Haven, the home of Yale University to explore the campus.

A strange feature of the city landscape, especially around the campus, were the ‘Personal emergency stations’. These were freestanding poles, with a blue light mounted on top and down below, an emergency button.

I can only surmise that students on the campus are at risk of muggings or other attacks. The poles were everywhere and placed at 50 metre intervals.

Wandering around the campus we also discovered the Women’s Table, a sculptural piece by the artist Maya Lin.

Maya Lin was a student at Yale and in 1993 designed the piece to celebrate the growing number of female students that have and will attend the university.

There were women at the university right from its very start in 1701. They were what was called ‘silent listeners’ and could only sit in on classes and not participate.

The first female students on record registered in 1837.

The hotel/motel prices in New Haven were over the top. Probably due to graduation season in Yale.

We therefore stayed out of the main centre in West Haven, at a small and rather run down motel.

Our evening meal was at Cask Republic, a brewpub with 43 beers and ciders on tap.

Again we were rewarded with a good meal, at reasonable prices, with excellent local craft beers and wines.

Thea has decided on a new strategy for accommodation. By staying out of the main town or city centres we can save on accommodation costs. That saving can then be spent on using an Uber to travel to where the action is.

So far it has worked well.

May 21, 2017. New Haven, Connecticut to Kingston, New York State.

We headed back into New York State, on our way to Kingston and the Catskills. This was via Scenic Byway 58 into Bethel.

Here we had a cup of coffee at Molten Java – the write-up and reviews were better than the coffee.

The drive into Kingston was again on a Scenic Byway. The countryside was verdant green with spring growth.

Kingston is a strange town as there is no apparent centre or commercial area. In fact there is very little accommodation at all in the town, with most of it being centred near the Hudson Valley Mall.

Luckily this was where we were staying.

Surprisingly I took no snaps this day.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

May 22, 2017. Kingston and the Catskills, New York State.

This was a day of country and culture.

Firstly we found a good coffee at Coffee Beanery. The guy was very anxious to find out how we discovered his café. He seemed surprised that we had Googled ‘good coffee close by’ and his name popped up.

We then headed into the Catskills for a drive.

The weather had turned cold and cloudy and rain was constantly threatening.

Part of our country drive took us along Railroad Avenue where we came across an old dilapidated hotel. It was a huge, rambling structure that was literally collapsing in on itself.

On the way to the Vanderbilt Mansion we discovered Kaaterskill Falls. This has been a tourist destination since the 1820s and is one of the highest waterfalls in New York State.

There are two stages to Kaaterskill Falls. The total height is 79m and the longest drop is 55m.

It was quite a hike up to the viewing platform but the views were worth it.

Even if everything was shrouded in mist.

In November 2016 a 30 year old hiker fell to his death. However it was winter and the ground was slippery with ice.

It took us almost two hours for the return trip and as soon as we arrived back at the car park, it started to rain.

We didn’t get to the Vanderbilt Mansion until late in the afternoon and the main building was shut. It was a little disappointing but we had enjoyed a great walk in the morning and you can’t do everything.

To add to it all, the mansion was undergoing major renovations and scaffolding adorned all sides of the Neo Classical construction.

The 54 room Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park was designed by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White and built between 1896 and 1899. It all sits on 85 hectares of formal gardens, woodlands and auxiliary buildings.

The estate originally dates back to 1764 when it was then used as agricultural land.

The Vanderbilt family were of Dutch origin and prominent during the ‘Gilded Age’ from about 1870 to 1900. They made their money through shipping and railroads. Two generations of the Vanderbilt’s were the richest family in America from the late 1800’s to the middle of the 20th century.

As with so many families that achieve great wealth, the Vanderbilt’s legacy only lasted three generations. It was described to us as ‘Shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves’ with the first generation building an empire from nothing and the last generation loosing it all.

 

Deer at Ashokan Reservoir

May 23, 2017. Kingston to Ithaca, New York State. 

On the way to Ithaca and the Finger Lakes we stopped at the Ashokan Reservoir. The temperature was still fresh but it promised to warm up in the afternoon.

Construction on the reservoir was started in the early 1900s, with the first drinking water pumped to New York City in 1915.

It was a monumental project that used over 3,000 workers, all of whom were housed near the construction site.

It was ground breaking in that the authority offered food, housing, doctors, recreation and a broad education to the children of the workforce, as well as English classes to the immigrant families.

In the 1880s’ New York’s water supply was being stretched and the new Ashokan Reservoir promised to deliver 600 million gallons (2,271,247 litres) per day into the city.

The project displaced many locals from their farms and homes.

Once completed the system included four reservoirs and over 127 miles (204 kilometres) of aqueducts and tunnels.

The cost then was $177 million, today it would be over $4 Billion.

On the way to Ithaca we had a scare – there was a screeching of alarms in the Nissan.

Initially we thought it was a warning from the car, but nothing seemed to show up.

No lights or any indications.

Then we realised it was coming from our iPhones.

The alarm was from an alert, that had been put out by police, in regards to an abduction.

The offence had taken place hundreds of kilometres from where we were.

We still kept an eye out for the red Ford Pick-up truck.

In Ithaca we were staying out of town again and planned on getting an Uber to go to dinner.

There were no Ubers in Ithaca.

So we were back to the old, dated and extremely ineffective taxi system.

We were told that the taxi would be 20 minutes, it only took 10. We were also told it would cost $12, it only cost $10.

Maybe they are starting to learn.

 

1950 Chevrolet Pick-up Truck, Montour

May 24, 2017. Ithaca and the Finger Lakes, New York State. 

We found yet another excellent coffee at Montour House in Montour Falls.

The Montour or Sch-qua-ga Falls are a looming backdrop to this quaint little village – they seem to cascade right into the main street.

From there we drove to Geneva, along Seneca Lake, one of the many long narrow lakes in the Finger Lakes region.

Geneva it at the very top of Seneca lake and boasts a number of beautifully restored buildings from the turn of last century.

My favourite was the Romanesque revival YMCA building (1898) with its beautiful Art Nouveau typography on the facade.

From Geneva, on the shores of Seneca lake we then drove to Seneca Falls which is very close to Cayuga Lake.

The US women’s rights movement started in Seneca Falls in 1848. However it wasn’t until 1920 when women, across the US, actually got the vote.

The Seneca Falls Convention ran over two days, July 19-20 and attracted widespread attention. The convention’s Declaration of Sentiments became the single most important factor in spreading the news of the women’s rights movement around the US.

There is a life sized statue on the Seneca River, not far from the falls that depicts three women. This was the meeting between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony, introduced by a mutual friend, Amelia Bloomer.

This chance meeting is said to have been the start of the suffragette movement in the US. This ultimately led to the Nineteenth Amendment to the American Constitution – the right for women to vote.

 

WWI Poster exhibition, Johnston Museum of Art, Cornell University

May 25, 2017. Ithaca, New York State.

Ithaca is the home of Cornell University.

Cornell, like Columbia and Yale, is another Ivy League, private University. It was established in 1865 by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White.

Its charter was to make contributions in all fields of knowledge. From the classics to the sciences – from theoretical to the applied.

It has always been co-educational and non-sectarian. Ideals that were unconventional for the time.

As of 2017 Cornell claims amongst its 245,000 living alumni to have, 34 Marshall Scholars, 30 Rhodes Scholars, 29 Truman Scholars, 7 Gates Scholars, 56 Nobel Laureates and 14 living billionaires.

The currents students also like to drink.

We were in Ithaca just before the Commencements, or Graduation Ceremonies (This depends on whether your are starting or ending your academic year) and there were a lot of very ‘merry’ graduates.

They were harmless and who could blame them for letting off a bit of ‘academic or practical ‘ steam.

Ithaca, named after the Greek island, was founded in 1740 and incorporated in 1888.

Due to its large student population the voters are more liberal than upstate New York.

Ithaca hasn’t always been liberal leading. In the late 1800s, it was home to the Ithaca Gun Company, manufactures of high quality shot guns.

The company became the icon of the hunting and shooting world. The famous trick-shooter, Annie Oakley favoured, and promoted, Ithaca guns.

On our last day in Ithaca the weather turned foul so we visited the Johnston Museum of Art at Cornell University.

There was an interesting poster exhibition, immediately we entered the museum.

During WWI, posters went from artistically advertising products, to aggressively promoting propaganda for the war effort.

The exhibition was all about that transformation.

This was followed by an interesting retrospective of printmaking with artists such as Albrecht Dürer, William Hogarth, Claude Lorrain, Giovanni Batista Tiepolo, Antonio Canaletto and Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn.

Installations and diverse collections were also in the museum.

Thea even donated her old red iPhone case to an exhibition of Abandoned Red Objects.

It’s all about the art.

There was even an Andy Warhol Campbell’s Soup collection from 1969.

The entire collection was very eclectic, in that there were a small number exhibits from many periods.

This is probably due to the fact that almost everything was from a bequest or donated.

In the afternoon the weather hadn’t got much better so we went in search of a mall to replace Thea’s iPhone cover.

We then had a short drive and a quick walk to Ithaca Falls, which is almost in the centre of town.

This is the site of the infamous Ithaca Gun Company.

Much of the area has been fenced off, as it was polluted with lead from the factory.

Rehabilitation is still taking place.

 

Grey Towers near Milford

May 26, 2017. Ithaca, New York State to Milford, Pennsylvania.

We drove out of Ithaca and eventually got onto the NY 97, a scenic drive that took us down the Delaware River.

This is the border between New York State and Pennsylvania.

Near the junction of the Delaware and Lackawaxen Rivers we found the John A Roebling’s Delaware Aqueduct that was built in 1847-1848 and opened in 1849. It is also known as the Roebling Bridge and was originally designed as an aqueduct that connected two parts of the Delaware and Hudson canal.

It has now been converted to carry vehicles and pedestrians.

We also found a public toilet, which is rather rare in the US.

The construction of the canal and the subsequent building of the Erie Railroad in 1848 help development in the Upper Delaware region.

Late in the afternoon we made our way to Grey Towers, a stately mansion on the outskirts of Milford.

Grey Towers was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and built by the philanthropist and businessman James Pinchot in 1886.

The Pinchot family originally came from France and the mansion reflected their French heritage.

James Pinchot was deeply disturbed by the deforestation, caused by over logging in the US, and convinced his eldest son, Gifford Pinchot to consider a career in forestry.

After studying abroad, because no forestry schools existed in the US, Gifford went on to become the first Chief Forester. This was in the the newly created United States Forest Service, formed by President Theodore Roosevelt.

During his tenure, national forests more than tripled in size to over 170 million acres.

Gifford went on to serve two terms as Governor of Pennsylvania.

In 1963 Gifford Bryce Pinchot, son of Gifford, donated the property to the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

On September 24, 1963, President John F Kennedy dedicated the site to the American public in the hope of further promoting the ideals of conservation.

There is a monument to the Forest Service in the forecourt of Grey Towers.

 

Washington's headquarters, Valley Forge

May 27, 2017. Milford to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Our morning started with breakfast at the Village Diner, which was next to our motel.

Bad move.

It’s only saving grace was that their menu had been designed in the Googie style (1950s’ space age design genre)

The service was lazy and the food was poor.

Dissatisfied we headed to Philadelphia, via Valley Forge.

This was an interesting side trip as Valley Forge is regarded as one of the seminal locations in US history.

Valley Forge was the site of General Washington’s headquarters during the winter encampment of 1777-78. This was the third year of what was the eight year War of Independence.

No battles were ever fought at Valley Forge.

The area became famous as the place where, though extreme hardship, the Continental Army survived a brutal winter and went on to eventually triumph over the British.

This is seen as the defining moment in the US – the time when the American spirit was established.

It’s a bit like our ANZAC Day.

Late in the afternoon we discovered the King of Prussia Mall. This has the dubious honour of being the largest, by rentable space, mall in the US.

To their credit they have a Bluestone Lane coffee shop. This is a part of an Australian chain, that now has 7 outlets in the eastern US.

They serve great coffee and much to Thea’s delight, Lamingtons.

That night we stayed in the university district of Philadelphia and discovered the White Dog Restaurant for dinner.

This proudly boasts being the first Philadelphia establishment to source all their ingredients locally.

True or not, their food was fantastic.

The restaurant’s design followed the ‘canine’ theme with dog busts on the walls. As well, cushions and art were all incorporated into the decor.

 

White Dog Restaurant, Philadelphia

May 28, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

We were in Philadelphia for the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

This is the day that Americans remember those who died serving in the American Armed Forces.

It is held on the last Monday in May.

It was about 5 km into the old part of Philadelphia, so we decided to walk, having been stuck in the car for the last few days.

Stupidly we stood in line to see the famous Liberty Bell, only to discover that our view was through a window.

Once we found the real queue it took 45 minutes to get inside.

Well the Liberty Bell is one of the patriotic touchstones in the US and this was the Memorial Day long weekend.

The Liberty Bell was commissioned in 1752 by the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly and was originally placed in the Pennsylvania State House.

While it is closely associated with the Declaration of Independence, there is no account of it actually being rung on July 4, 1776. However most historians agree that it probably was one of the bells rung on July 8, to mark the reading of the declaration.

The bell fell into obscurity until the 1830s’ when it was adopted as a symbol by the abolitionist societies who called it the ‘Liberty Bell.’

The bell has been recast twice, due to cracking and there is a large crack in the one on display. Since being retired it has made many road trips across the US.

We then continued on a few more kilometres down to Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River.

There is a big Irish influence in Philadelphia. This is mainly due to the influx of Irish immigrants following the potato famine of 1847.

There is a large memorial to the Irish near Penn’s Landing  and many Irish pubs and bars in the city area.

We discovered The Plough and the Stars, a lively pub that was bursting at the seams with weekend revellers.

We managed to get an outside table. I think the locals knew something that we didn’t, as it wasn’t long before the rain came.

 

Portrait of Dr Hayes Agnew (The Agnew Clinic) Thomas Eakins 1889

May 29, 2017. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The rain held off and we again walked. This time to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was just over the Schuylkill River from where we were staying.

The steps leading up to the Museum were made famous in the Rocky movies, staring Sylvester Stallone. There is even a ‘Rocky’ statue out the front, and tourists line up to have their photo taken with him.

We spent three hours in the gallery, mainly concentrating on the America art that spanned the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

The exhibit that caught my attention was Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’.

One hundred years ago this piece turned the art world upside down with its uniqueness and sheer audacity.

Duchamp created the concept of ‘readymades’ by taking mass produced items, and presenting them as art.

The ‘Fountain’ was a urinal that he purchased from the New York showroom of J. L. Mott Iron Works. He then signed it ‘R. Mutt’ and submitted it to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists.

It was rejected.

Today the debate still continues as to whether it is object or art.

After our cultural experience in the gallery we went in search of more basic needs.

A good glass of wine and a local craft beer.

The 2nd Story Brewing Company, on Chestnut Street, fitted the bill.

Just next door is the Han Dynasty, a Chinese restaurant with a difference.

Despite the food descriptions being foreign to us the meal was great.

Fresh ingredients, manageable portions and full of flavour.

It was in an old bank and the lofty ceilings and timber features made it all the more impressive.

There was even a row of large clocks with world times displayed.

Unfortunately they didn’t work.

 

Eshleman's Covered Bridge, built 1845, rebuilt 1883

May 30, 2017. Philadelphia to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The morning we left Philadelphia was overcast and drizzling.

It didn’t improve.

It wasn’t so bad as we planned to spend the day driving in search of covered bridges and the Amish folk. There are a number of covered bridges around Lancaster and we had been to the Tourist Information centre to get a map.

We did stop in Lancaster for a coffee and visited the market. Built in 1730, it’s one of the oldest covered markets in the US.

There were once as many as 12,000 covered bridges in the US, today there are fewer than 1,500.

There is a romanticism associated with these quaint old structures, but they are entirely practical.

Their timber truss design allowed for a greater span and they were covered to give them greater longevity.

We drove around the area for about 20 miles (32 Km) and visited four of the bridges, each one was different.

Being in Amish Country we wanted to see if we could spot these traditional Christians. They have been made famous by their simple living, plain dress and a reluctance to adopt modern ways.

The Amish began with a schism in Switzerland between a group Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists, led by Jakob Andaman in 1693. Many in this group emigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 18th century.

We did see many in farm yards and in their traditional horse drawn buggies. But what was surprising was a lot were also driving their John Deere tractors.

Obviously not all the Amish have rejected technology.

Historically we were travelling in the right direction.

Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, especially Valley Forge were the site of Washington’s winter encampment of 1777-78. These were the touchstones of the American’s strive for independence.

Now we were in Gettysburg, founded by Samuel Getty in 1761.

This is where the Civil War was won.

This war wasn’t about sovereignty but more about states’ rights and slavery.

Fought between 1861 and 1865 it was an idealogical battle between the north and the south.

In 1862 seven southern ’slave’ states individually declared secession from the US to form the Confederate States of America.

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought between July 1 and 3, 1863. The battle involved the largest number of casualties in the civil war and was the turning point. After three days of battle in Gettysburg, Robert E Lee’s army, of North Virginia, were defeated in their attempts to invade the north.

This changed the course of history.

Speaking to the locals, they say that if the north had lost then America would never have become ’The United States’ and world history would have been very different.

Given the current politics within the US, I wonder if that would have been such a bad thing.

Our accommodation in Gettysburg was right in the heart of town, at the Inn at Lincoln Square.

This was an historic house, originally built by Joel Buchanan Danner (1804-1885) in 1824. Joel B Danner was born in Liberty Maryland and was a Democratic member of the US House of Representatives between 1850 and 1851. He was probably comfortably retired from politics and running his hardware business when the Civil War broke out in his front yard in 1863.

Apart from a few modifications, the room we stayed in had an authentic 19th century feel.

There’d were even steps to get up into the four poster bed.

 

The Pennsylvania Memorial, the largest in Gettysburg

May 31, 2017. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The day was spent on the battlefields of Gettysburg.

It was suggested that we hire a guide for a few hours to escort us around the site. The guides were all booked out, so we purchased a CD pack and escorted ourselves.

The itinerary was intended to run for two and a half hours.

We took much longer than that – about five and a half hours.

We had a rough beginning, as we couldn’t find the start of the tour. After that it all went extremely well.

The guided tour was a mix of facts, yarns and dramatisations.

There are over 1,400 monuments dotted around the battlefield area, making it the largest open air gallery in the US.

That’s if you regard monuments as art.

One was of an indian chief, erected for the Tammany Regiment Memorial. The monument is a bronze statue of the Delaware Indian Chief Tammany standing in front of a teepee. Tammany was a friend to colonists in the early days of America and became the symbol for the powerful New York City political hall that raised the regiment.

It sits rather incongruously with the images of white men in uniform.

There were three CDs in the set, one for each day of that battle that was fought from July 1 to 3 in 1863.

Our final stop was at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. This is set within the Gettysburg battlefield and was consecrated on November 19, 1863.

This is the place where Abraham Lincoln delivered the historic and eloquent ‘Gettysburg Address’

This must go down as one of the most monumental speeches in history.

Surprisingly it is only 272 words long, yet it expressed so much.

 

Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, Mill Run

June 1, 2017. Gettysburg to Uniontown, Pennsylvania.

Mowing the lawn takes on a whole new meaning, once you escape the big cities.

Wherever we went, men and occasionally woman, sat astride their ride-on-mowers and ‘cultivated’ their lawns. This seems to be a national pastime at this time of the year. It’s needed, as there are so many blocks of land, about the size of a small European country, that need constant maintenance, especially in spring.

Our primary adventure for the day was a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.

This is regarded by many as the finest piece of domestic architecture in America.

The irony is that he achieved this greatness by ignoring the brief.

Designed and built between 1935 and 1939 for the Kaufmann family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the house is cantilevered over a 30’ (9.1 metres) waterfall.

The Kaufmann’s owned a large estate at Bear Run and wanted the house to overlook the waterfall.

Wright decided to build the house over the falls instead.

It was part of Wright’s new architectural philosophy of incorporating the surroundings into the design. The stone used to construct the house came from a local quarry, also owned by the Kaufmanns.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed about 1,000 houses in his lifetime, 500 of those were created after Fallingwater, when he was in his 70s.

This is regarded as his best.

Fallingwater is so popular, that at the height of the season, 1,000 visitors file through the house every day.

On the day we were there it processed about 800 tourists.

You can only take pictures outside, as they believe it will hold up the tours if photos are taken inside.

If you want to photograph the interior, you can book one of the Photo Tours, but these only run in the early morning and are booked out weeks in advance.

I did try a grab a few snaps through the windows.

As with most of his designs, Wright also created the furniture, lighting and interior decor. So it’s a pity I couldn’t have captured a few more images.

Fallingwater was designed to be the Kaufmann’s summer house, so cooling was important. Wright, without using a traditional air conditioning system, utilised windows and the draft from the waterfall below to allow cool air to flow through the house.

 

The Strasburg Hotel

June 2, 2017. Uniontown, Pennsylvania to Strasburg, Virginia.

Heading south we crossed the Mason-Dixon line again. This is a line that was surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon, between 1763 and 1767.

The line ultimately became a symbolic and cultural division between the North and the South, especially in regards to slavery.

It is 250 years since Mason and Dixon were commissioned to survey the 4,000 square miles (10,360 square kilometres) of disputed territory.

The survey was a result of a disagreement between Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware in Colonial America.

The two British surveyors used the most advanced equipment that was available in the day. The accuracy was so extraordinary, that even today it astounds the scientific world.

The countryside was green and heavily wooded. We went off the main road and had a great drive through the countryside on very narrow, winding roads.

Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles was released on May 26, 1967 in the United Kingdom and June 2, 1967 in the United States.

We were in the US on the 50th anniversary, so dutifully played the album as we were driving through Virginia.

It’s a classic.

We arrived in Strasburg, Virginia in the afternoon and decided to drive around town to see what was happening.

The drive was very short.

Strasburg, founded in 1761, is on the Shenandoah River and is know for pottery, antiques and Civil War history.

However most people would remember the name from the American folk song, ‘Oh Shenandoah’ This was recorded by many artists, including Bob Dylan, Glen Campbell and even Judy Garland.

For a change we were staying in an old colonial pub, the Hotel Strasburg. This was very different to our usual motel/hotel style accommodation.

The building was constructed in 1902, as a private hospital, but then became a lodging house.

It was restored in 1977 to its current state.

Antiques were everywhere and our computers and digital cameras seemed very out of place. Apparently the Hotel Strasburg used to be owned by one of the large antique dealers in the town and everything in the place was available to purchase.

 

Little Devils Stairs Overlook

June 3, 2017. Strasburg to Roanoke, Virginia.

Antiques are still big business in the US, well at least in Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The vast majority of domestic architecture in the eastern US hasn’t changed in the last 100 to 150 years. Modern houses are very hard to find and even the decor in the motels and hotel we have stayed in seem to hark back to an older era.

That combined with the fact that the American War of Independence and the Civil War all loom large in the culture of these towns.

We found a great coffee shop in Front Royal, which is only about a twenty minute drive away from Strasburg.

There we met Bruce.

He lived in Front Royal and loved a chat. He was retired but had been a salesman, worked on the railroads and even in the funeral business.

There was music coming from the town square and Bruce told us that there was a Baptist revival meeting going on.

According to Bruce, another regular Font Royal activity happens on Wednesdays. This is when the Democrats and Republicans face off in the square, yelling and waving placards at each other.

The main part of the day was to be spent driving along the Skyline, a ridge road in the Shenandoah National Park, within the Blue Ridge Mountains

Bruce told us it was well worth it even if it was a little slow.

He wasn’t wrong.

The drive is 105 miles (169km) long with 75 overlooks on both sides of the road. However you are restricted to 35mph (55kph), which makes the trip very long indeed.

We drove from near Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south.

It certainly was a great drive, regarded by many as one of the best mountain roads in the US.

Apart from the day trippers on the road, there were many on bikes and an unknown number walking in the forests.

Every car park, leading to one of the many walking tracks, was full.

On the recommendation of the hotel receptionist we went to Billy’s for dinner. This was in the market area of Roanoke and about a twenty minute walk from the hotel.

From the outside Billy’s looked rather small and very crowned but when we got inside it was much larger than it appeared.

It was a beautiful balmy evening so we opted to eat outside.

The food was great and a change from burgers, sandwiches and over sauced pastas.

Uber is operating in Roanoke, so we booked one to bring us back to the hotel.

That’s when we met Perry, ‘The best Uber driver in the world’. They were Perry’s words not mine.

Apart from his huge ego, Perry did have some interesting innovations. One was a small blue illuminated Uber sign on the top of his car.

It did help us to find him. There was the 59th Annual Sidewalk Art Show in the streets around the market area and Perry was forced to park at the end of the streets, as the road in front of the restaurant was blocked off.

We saw Perry again the next day. His other job was in a hot dog stand.

I wonder if he made the best hot dogs in the world?

 

Taubman Museum of Art

June 4, 2017. Roanoke, Virginia.

In 1852 the town was known ‘Big Lick’, after a large outcrop of salt that drew wildlife to the site near the Roanoke River.

This name wasn’t well regarded by the locals, so in 1882 it was renamed to Roanoke and became an independent city in 1884.

One of the main attractions in Roanoke is the Taubman Museum of Art. This was designed by Randall Stout, a southern architect originally from Tennessee, and built in 2008.

For seven years Stout worked with Frank Gehry and this is very evident in his design.

The Museum is rather boxed in, with the railway line on one side and a bridge on the other.

This is ironic, considering that there is so much space in this city, most of it taken up by vast carparks

Fortunately the interior was much more spacious.

The collections in the Taubman place an emphasis on South Eastern US art. There was a small, rather diverse offering that ranged from 18th century colonial works to contemporary painting and arts and crafts.

One that I particularly liked was an installation of images projected onto four boxes filled with different foods. Entitled I am not in the business, I am the business it was created by Eva Rocha.

It was surprising how dramatically the images were altered by the background material.

There was also a collection of highly decorative handbags entitled, Earthly Delights by Judith Lieber.

She was born in Hungary in 1921 and after the war, in 1946, married an American GI, Gerson (Gus) Lieber, then moved to the US.

She obtained a traineeship at a handbag company and eventually became the first woman to join the Hungarian Handbag Guild.

In 1963 she founded her own company and became famous for her unique designs that featured animals, fruit, birds and snakes.

Her bags have been carried on the red carpet by the rich and famous, as well as a number of US First Ladies.

Another collection was some beautifully intricate metal work entitled, Metal Delicious by Alison Pack.

It was suggested that we go to the museum inside the visitor’s centre, however it was closed.

There was a small exhibition on Raymond Loewy in the foyer, so we had a wander around there instead.

Raymond Loewy (1893-1986) was a French born American industrial/graphic designer. He designed everything from famous corporate logos like Shell, Exxon and TWA, to Greyhound buses, Studebaker cars and the first Streamliner locomotive for the Missouri Pacific Railroad.

He is regarded by many as the Father of Industrial Design in the US.

Later in the afternoon we walked down to the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This concentrates on cars and trains, with the odd motorcycle and bus thrown in for variety.

A very interesting exhibit, in the train section, was an old mail sorting carriage. Most mail in the US moved on railroads, in Railway Post Offices cars, until the 1960s.

The term ZIP Code means Zone Improvement Plan and was used from 1963.

Who killed the electric car?

This was a question asked on the exhibit sheet from a 1996 General Motors EV1 Electric Car.

The vehicles were produced between 1996 to 1999 and only ever leased, not sold outright.

They were limited to Los Angeles, Phoenix and Tucson but were popular enough to expand to San Francisco and Sacramento.

Then, in 2002 the program was discontinued. The majority of the cars were recalled and crushed. The remainder were given to museums with their power trains deactivated.

One has to ask why?

We then wandered back into downtown Roanoke for dinner.

Then it started to pour down, but it did clear long enough for us to walk back to our hotel.

No Uber that night.

Street dogs.

Sunday, February 25th, 2018

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In Colonia, Uruguay, they have a unique way of dealing with homeless dogs.

And there are quite a few of them.

The local animal welfare organisation has a list of the dogs and makes sure that they receive annual vaccinations, health checks and are sterilised.

The locals feed them, give them water and make sure they are cared for. Even the restauranteurs leave food out for them, once they have closed for the night.

We were told that the dogs never show aggression, which has helped them to become an accepted part of the community.

The dogs inhabit different areas of the town and are known to the locals and even have names.

There is even one group that follow the tourists, keeping them company while they explore this classic colonial town.

It is a symbiosis between those who needed help and those who could help.

Our tour guide told the story of one dog who was adopted, given a bright red collar and a home. Being separated from his street friends and the life he had grown up with, he became so depressed he would escape and return to the streets.

His owner eventually removed his collar and set him free – he was a much happier dog.

They are now an old group of dogs, and due to the desexing, dying out.

I think the people of Colonia will miss them when they’e gone.

The subway in the sky.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Mi Teleférico (My Cablecar)

La Paz in Bolivia is one of the highest major cities in the world, sitting at 3,640 metres. While the adjacent town of El Alto, which is part of the metropolis of La Paz, sits at 4,150 metres.

The Le Paz CBD is in a canyon that has been carved out, over millions of years, by the Choqueyapu River, while the residential areas cling to the surrounding mountain sides.

This topography presented the government of La Paz with a unique public transport problem.

The only public transport before 2014 was taxis and mini busses which are chaotic and unreliable.

The solution was Mi Teleférico (My Cable Car), an urban, mass transit system that spans the city and the suburbs.

Phase one was opened in 2014 and consisted of the Red, Yellow and Green lines. Phase two opened in 2017 adding a further two lines, Orange and Blue. A further six lines are under construction or planned.

This will make it the longest cable car system in the world, covering nearly 34 kilometres and the only public transport system to use cable cars as the primary mode of transport.

It was relatively easy to construct, as the footprint of the towers is small and less disruptive than building a rail or subway system. It is environmentally friendly as it runs on both solar and hydro electricity – there is also no noise or pollution.

Mi Teleférico is lateral thinking at its best.

“You’re welcome”

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Tray with receipt and cash

The US tipping phenomenon effects everyone.

In Eastern Europe, especially in the more remote places, if you speak English, you must be American.

Therefore you tip and tip well.

However there is often no service and in many cases a total disdain for actually serving you at all. This reflects their recent Russian heritage.

There has to be a happy compromise.

As I have bleated about before, the service industry in the US is a result of a corrupt capitalist ideology. It believes that it’s the customer’s responsibility to pay staff wages, as well as your food, not the restaurants.

This results in most Americans tipping when overseas at the same ridiculous rate that they do at home.

Something between 18% to 35%.

This ruins it for the rest of us and creates a false expectation within the service industry in these countries.

On the bright side there is little waste, as there is in the States, due to the use of proper washable crockery an cutlery.

When we do get great service, we don’t mind rewarding the staff – with about a 10% gratuity.

Then it’s a real reward not part of their salary.

Don’t follow, lead.

Sunday, October 29th, 2017
Laisvės-Alėja. The longest walking-street-in-Europe

Laisvės-Alėja, Lithuania. The longest walking-street-in-Europe

Soomaa National Park Peat Bog walk in Estonia

Soomaa National Park Peat Bog walk in Estonia

As a tourist it’s easy to buy a package tour and visit the places that are high on the wish list.

This can have its problems.

The issue is that you are not alone, as there are millions following you.

As mentioned in a previous blog, this was highlighted in a BBC article about tourists flooding popular destinations such as Barcelona, Venice, Florence and some Greek islands.

And more recently Iceland.

It is expected that over 2 million people will have visited this spectacular and sparsely populated country in 2017 – completely overwhelming the local population of just 334,000.

This has been exacerbated by the influx of tourists from China, India and Russia, plus the growth of cruising.

Some of the popular destinations are so overrun with tourists that the locals are moving out during the high season.

This year 70 million tourists will have visited Spain.

Another factor that changes the state of the destination is the accommodation.

The more tourists there are, the more places they need to stay.

In steps Airbnb and other accommodation sharing businesses.

The result is that the locals move out, because their apartments are worth more when they are rented.

Apart from the sites, the other attraction in a destination are the locals.

Increasingly the only people you see in the tourist areas of Berlin, Athens and Santorini are other tourists.

Another casualty of excessive tourism is the loss of local cuisine.

Unless you venture into the backstreets of Geneva, Hamburg or Prague you won’t find much more than pizza and pasta.

The local restaurants all left with the locals and moved into the suburbs, well away from the tourists.

Try finding good Catalan food in the centre of Barcelona.

What is tourism about, if not experiencing the culture, food and people?

On this trip we have been to some big cities like Berlin, Helsinki and Warsaw. There English is always spoken and everything is relatively easy.

But you are not alone, tourists are everywhere.

The prices are higher and you are more likely to get fleeced, as the locals are aware of what the punters will pay.

While in many unexplored countries the prices are very reasonable.

This trip we have been fortunate enough to visit Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Slovakia. In Banská Štiavnica in Slovakia we seemed to be the only tourists that weren’t from Eastern Europe. Most seem to be from bordering countries, such as Hungary Poland, Austria and the Czech Republic.

The countries we visited offered us an insight into Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. It also gave us a new perspective on the history and culture of these places, both before and after the Second World War.

Both the German occupation and subsequently the seizure by the Soviet Union left its mark. However the history before that was equally as turbulent, as invasion from neighbouring countries seemed to happen on a regular basis.

Travelling to unique places allows you to experience different people, cultures and geography. We discovered the ‘longest walking street in Europe’ in Lithuania and walked in a peat bog in Estonia.

However travelling in uncharted water isn’t without its difficulties.

Language can be an issue as English isn’t widely spoken and communication can be an issue. Especially when it comes to ordering from a menu that’s only in the local tongue.

Tour guides at these tourists sites tend to deliver the narrative in the language that most of the tourists speak and in many cases this wasn’t English.

Failing to find an English speaking guide we turned to the next best thing – maps and and printed information.

Even this had its problems, as on many occasions they weren’t printed in English either.

In large, well patronised, tourist towns you can always find a meal, at any time of the day or night.

When you are in these smaller places you have to eat when the locals eat, which isn’t necessarily when when you’re used to eating.

The benefit here is you are eating and talking with the locals and having a genuine tourist experience.

One of the real pleasures in visiting these off-the-beaten-track destinations is that you are an oddity to the locals and local tourists.

People want to engage you in conversation, just to discover; “Why on earth are you here?”

Graduation Day.

Saturday, May 27th, 2017

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“There’s a time a for joy

A time for tears

A time we’ll treasure through the years

We’ll remember always

Graduation day”

‘Graduation Day’ was a hit single for the Four Freshmen in 1956 and then covered by the Beach Boys in 1964.

The version by the Beach Boys is the one I remember best.

We had come to New York for Steph’s graduation and had no idea what to expect.

Graduations aren’t that big a deal in Australia and both Hayden and Even had missed theirs entirely.

Steph had just completed a two years Masters at Columbia University Teachers College (TC).

My vision, probably developed from 1960s US sitcoms, was of students, dressed in black academic gowns, throwing their mortar boards in the air at the conclusion of the ceremony.

There was much more to it than that.

My first big surprise was that the Columbia graduates didn’t wear a black gown, but sky blue.

The celebrations and presentations went on for three days. There were welcome drinks for the International Students and their families and friends on one night. This was followed the next day by the Masters presentation, called the Convocational, at St John the Divine. It was preceded by a light lunch and followed by a dessert of strawberries dunked in chocolate and chocolate chip cookies.

The following day was the ‘big one’.

It was called the ‘Commencement of 2017′ celebrations, however it was really the conclusion of the 2017 academic year.

It was attended by a crowd of over 30,000 guests and students, sitting in the hot sun, with most having no shade, not even a hat. That is apart from those clever people who improvised with headwear made from the Columbia newspaper.

It was huge.

It took close to two hours for everyone to be seated and the academic staff to parade in.

The speeches, awards and confirmation of degrees took another few hours.

Finally, when it was all over, I waited for the mass mortar board toss.

It didn’t really happen.

The biggest surprise to me was the tone of the speakers.

Without every mentioning his name ‘The Donald’ and his administration was put down in every conceivable way.

The President of Columbia, Lee C Bollinger, led the charge by reminding the graduates that they would always remember the graduation of 2017 as a dark year in the history of the US.

Another fascinating part of the event was discovering the history, and culture, of the Teachers College.

The Teachers College was founded in 1887 by Grace Hoadley Dodge. Today it has over 90,000 alumni in 30 countries.

It was the world’s first Teachers College and incorporated the study of educational psychology and educational sociology. It was also mindful of the vast number of immigrants entering the US and tried to incorporate their special needs in the teacher training. The founders insisted that ethics and the nature of ‘good society’ should also be a part of the curriculum.

No wonder both the college and the university are at odds with the Washington administration.

My favourite Africans.

Friday, March 31st, 2017

There are so many more animals to see in Africa than just the ‘Big Five’.

Sure the lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos might kill you but there are others that have their own intrinsic character, beyond their ability to take your life.

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Giraffes for their pure beauty and elegance. 

The supermodel of the animal kingdom with their extremely long neck and legs, as well as their come-hither eyes.

Measuring between 4.3 and 5.7 metres in height, they’re the tallest living terrestrial mammal.

They are most vulnerable to predators when drinking, as they have to spread their legs in order to get down to water level.

Currently there are believed to be six species of giraffe. The West African, Rothschild’s, Reticulated, Masai, Angolan and South African.

Their habitat ranges from Chad in the north to South Africa in the south and Niger in the west to Somalia in the east.

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Warthogs for their character. 

The ugly comedian – a combination of Marty Feldman and Rowan Atkinson.

The common warthog is a wild member of the pig family with a head and body length ranging from 0.9 to 1.5 metres and shoulder height from 63.5 to 85 centimetres.

With a disproportionately large head, two formidable tusks, steel wool for hair and skin that’s like extra course sandpaper, they are neither graceful nor beautiful.

Due to their short necks and relatively long legs they kneel on their front legs when they eat.

I am so taken by the warthog that I was given a pottery one for my birthday. It’s a very flattering representation of a truly ugly animal – it has pride of place in our living room.

There are four subspecies, the Nolan Warthog, Eritrean Warthog, Central African Warthog and Southern African Warthog.

They are found all over central and southern Africa.

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Hyraxes for their cuteness.

They seem to love life and enjoy just mucking about.

Hyrax have a number of nom de plumes and are also known as Dassies or Rock Rabbits. They measure between 30 and 70 centimetres in length and weigh between 2 and 5 kilograms.

They are closely related to elephants and dugongs but look more like a rodent. There are four species, the Rock Hyrax, Yellow-spotted Rock Hyrax, Western Tree Hyrax and the Southern Tree Hyrax.

They can be found across Africa and the Middle East.

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Hornbills for their annoyance factor.

If their squark didn’t wake us up pre-dawn, then the banging on the window did.

They vary in length from 30 centimetres to 1.2 metres and are characterised by a huge, often brightly coloured, bill and strong neck (all the better to bang on the window with).

There are about 55 species ranging from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent to the Philippines and Solomon Islands. There are 25 species found in Africa.

The hornbill is the most travelled of my favourite Africans – a true tourist.

Along the Garden Route, Port Elizabeth
to Cape Town, South Africa.

Friday, February 10th, 2017

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Day 1, November 11: Port Elizabeth to Tsitsikamma National Park.

The weather had certainly changed for the cooler as we commenced our trip west, from Port Elizabeth to Cape Town.

The change wasn’t just in the temperature, as everything else seemed very different to what we had become used to in other parts of Southern and Eastern Africa.

The roads, shopping centres and housing were much more western and white faces much more evident.

And the internet worked.

We drove into Jeffreys Bay, the home of Supertubes, one of the world’s most famous surf breaks. It was made even more notorious when Mick Fanning was nearly taken by a Great White in the opening moments of the 2015 J-Bay Open.

Remarkably he returned to the competition in 2016 and won.

A drive along the shopping strip at Jeffery’s Bay is like being in Torquay, Anglesea or Lorne. There are surf shops, cafes and all forms of associated surf culture.

Brands like Billabong, Rip Curl and Quicksilver were all there.

It’s a pity they’re not Australian any more.

Continuing westward on the N2, past Storms River Gorge, our next stop was Tsitsikamma National Park to see the Grootboom or Big Tree. This massive yellowwood is believed to be around a thousand years old: about the time of the Norman conquest of England.

We spent the entire drive, from Port Elizabeth to Tsitsikamma, listening to Leonard Cohen.

It was November 11, 2016, the day we heard of his passing.

Thea, Hayden, Evan and I were great fans. Leonard’s music was often heard in our house and it played a big part in the soundtrack of our lives.

Our accommodation in Tsitsikamma was within the park and yet again we got given the honeymoon chalet.

What is going on?

The bonus wasn’t the king-size bed or the spa but the spectacular views. The accommodation consists of chalets and camp sites, all of them have sea views. However the ‘honeymoon’ chalet had a particularly good position with 180° views of the Indian Ocean crashing into South Africa.

 

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Day 2, November 12: Tsitsikamma National Park to Plettensnerg Bay.

We had planned to do the 3.5 hour Waterfall Walk in Tsitsikamma National Park.

That was cut short by rain.

The rain wasn’t so much the problem, but rather the rocks we had to scramble over to get there, became very slippery.

Tsitsikamma National Park covers about 80 kilometres of coastline and is a popular destination for visitors travelling along the Garden Route.

It was spring in South Africa and the wildflowers were in bloom.

We came across three Giant Green African Grasshoppers mating. Another sure sign that spring was in the air.

As the rain came down, I could hear our raincoats laughing at us from the back seat of the car – stupidly we had decided not to take them.

There was nothing left to do but to return to the visitor’s centre and console ourselves with a cup of coffee.

Then the sun came out.

Plan ‘B’ was to go on the Suspension Bridge Walk. This was very crowded but at least there was a boardwalk for the entire journey and no rocks to worry about.

When we returned to the visitor’s centre there was a group of Hyrax playing on the lawn.

They are very comical animals and seem to love life.

 

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Day 3, November 13: Plettenberg Bay.

We were told that very little is open on a Sunday night at Plettenberg Bay, but lunch is always available.

We decided to spend the morning at Birds of Eden free fight sanctuary. This was only a 25 minute drive away, so there would be time to visit before lunch.

It’s the largest single dome, free flight sanctuary in the world, inhabited by African species as well as birds from all over the world.

Many of the birds have been rehabilitated. We even spotted a galah called Rosie who had been rescued – in fact all the parrots in Birds of Eden are ex-pets.

Our lunch was at Equinox, a short walk from Swallow’s Nest, our guest house in Plettenberg Bay.

It was a contemporary restaurant, with great staff and excellent decor.

The food was very good as well.

If you’re a tourist in South Africa, it’s great value for money. We had a four course Sunday lunch for A$15 per head.

The bar prices for wine is also very inexpensive, with the average bottle costing around A$15.

Craft beer is again very reasonable, with a bottle of King’s Blockhouse IPA only costing A$4.

Equinox was right on Plettenberg Bay overlooking a large swell. Late in the afternoon a couple of surfers arrived and attempted to tame the waves. When the surfers left the birds moved in and then the Dolphins.

 

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Day 4, November 14: Plettenberg Bay to Knysna.

Unseasonable wet weather in the Western Cape kept us confined to short trips, or indoors.

It wasn’t a long drive from Plettenberg Bay to Knysna, our next stop. We therefore had time to do a bit of housekeeping.

Thea’s nails were in need of major reconstruction and my hair was looking rather scraggy.

The last cut was in Zanzibar.

I was told that the ‘Cutter’ was due in the salon soon.

A hour and a half later he turned up.

It was a Monday morning and I think he had slept in after a hard Sunday night. That’s if the energy drink he was downing was anything to go by.

This part of the drive would continue on The Garden Route, along the famous Route 62, and then onto Stellenbosch and the Winelands.

‘Coffee culture has come to the Western Cape.’ Well that was the theme in one of the many magazine articles I read while waiting for my haircut.

Knysna is on a narrow bay, fed by the Knysna River and surrounded by hills.

We were in Paradise, literally, as this was the name of the suburb we were staying in.

Before checking into Hamilton Manor, our guest house, we did a short circuit around the area.

Noetzie Beach in the Pezula Private Estate is a very weird place.

We had to drive for several kilometres, on dirt roads, to get there and our only access was to Noetzie Beach. The rest of the area was enclosed in electrified fences and large gates covered in razor wire.

The reason for the security are the ‘castles’ dotted throughout the the peninsula.

These are stately holiday homes, designed to look like stone castles, using the local rock and complete with turrets.

The strange thing is, that along the stretch of Noetzie Beach we could get to, they were sitting next to fibro-cement beach houses.

Quite a contrast.

Our next diversion was to Knysna Heads, the narrow opening to Knysna Bay.

On one side of the heads is a viewing area and housing while the other side is the Featherbed Private Nature Reserve.

The Southern Cape coastline is truly spectacular, with rugged rocks and a pounding Indian Ocean.

Parking is a strange affair in South Africa.

There are very few parking metres and the locals seem to control who parks where, for how long and at what cost.

There are official parking people or ‘car guards’ and they have a high-vis vest and identification to prove their authenticity.

Then there are the opportunists, who believe that there is money to be made by ‘pretending’ to be a parking official.

They may have a vest, of sorts, and no identification. They appear from nowhere, as soon as you approach a parking spot, and offer to “Watch your car, boss?”

For two reasons we decided to pay most of the people, official or not.

Firstly, in the hope that our car would be looked after and secondly, and more importantly, to give some money to the locals.

The suggested parking fee is somewhere between 20 and 50 cents Australian, so it wasn’t going to break the bank and it’s cheaper than parking metres.

 

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Day 5, November 15: Knysna to Oudtshoorn.

We drove along the N9 and then over the Outeniqua Pass and into Oudtshoorn, the Ostrich capital of the world.

We drove through the pass three times. All the best lookout points are on the right hand side, as you climb up through the pass, heading north from George. They are inaccessible from the left of the road, so we had to double back and then come down. Then of course we had to go through the pass again in order to get to Oudtshoorn.

There were two ostrich feather booms in South Africa, one between 1865 and 1870, the other between 1900 and 1914. The start of WW1 caused of the last boom to collapse. Fashion was the driver behind both booms and the price of the feathers soared. At one point during the first boom the value, per pound, of ostrich feathers equated to that of diamonds.

The town was named after Baron Pieter van Oudtshoorn, who became Governor of the Dutch Cape Colony 1772.

The town is full of grand old colonial homes, called ‘feather palaces’ that were built by the wealthy ostrich farmers, known as ‘feather barons’. There are also some magnificent public buildings such as the 1907 CP Nel Museum building and the NG Moedergemeente (Dutch Reformist Church) completed in 1879.

All signs of Oudtshoorn’s past glory.

There are similarities between cities in Australia such as Adelaide, Ballarat and Bendigo with Oudtshoorn. The difference is that Oudtshoorn made is wealth from feathers, not gold.

Parking was a different experience in Oudtshoorn. We arrived in the town just before lunchtime and decided to visit the museum first.

The temperature was on the rise again and there was no one around so we parked our car right out the front.

After touring the museum we walked a short distance to a cafe so Thea could get some lunch and I could get a coffee. When we returned to the car there were a few very dishevelled looking chaps hanging around the vehicles.

They made no attempt to even look like car guards and still expected me to pay for their protection, even though they had just turned up.

This lot went empty handed.

Craft beer, as well as barista coffee, is becoming very popular along the Garden Route.

I discovered Kango, a local craft brewery making a Larger and an IPA. Both are naturally brewed, the IPA was cloudy and both were very drinkable.

We had dinner at a local Italian/African, fusion restaurant.

The food was good, the wines inexpensive and the bill, so low that you wonder how its possible to make and serve a meal for that price.

What we didn’t know was that November was high season and the restaurants were full. We were told by our host to book in advance if we wanted a good one.

At the current prices I’m not surprised that many people are eating out.

 

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Day 6, November 16: Oudtshoorn to Hermanus.

This was going to be the longest drive on our trip.

We left Oudtshoorn at 10am and planned to have a coffee break on the way.

In Barrydale we discovered Diesel and Créme, a very funky cafe and western style bar serving good coffee, craft beer and an interesting menu.

It was in an old motor workshop and decorated with a eclectic selection of memorabilia, much with an automotive theme.

Very fitting being on Route 62.

Our drive to Hermanus took us over the Tradouws Pass on the R324. Again we drove both ways through the pass, as the only vantage points were on the return journey.

Hermanus is the whale centre of the Western cape and everything is geared to whale watching.

We had a drink at Coco, a very pleasant bar overlooking the Hermanus waterfront.

They even had binoculars on the wall, just in case you spotted a Southern Right Whale – we didn’t see any.

 

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Day 7, November 17: Hermanus to Stellenbosch.

All our accommodation in South Africa, apart from Stormsriver Mouth in the Tsitsikamma National Park, had been in ‘Guest Houses’. These are a fusion between a boutique hotel and a B&B. Many are built in old homes that have undergone extensive renovations to accomodate tourists. We always had an ensuite and the facilities were first class.

They are similar to the ‘Casa Particulares’ in Cuba.

The first recorded guest house was established in 374 AD by St Basil the Great, in Caesarea, (or Kayseri) Cappadocia, Turkey.

There are many benefits of staying in guest houses, such as personalised attention, quietness, lower cost and the food.

A guest house breakfasts was always a good way to start the travelling day.

The Gumtree Lodge in Oudtshoorn, prided themselves on their local produce. At breakfast there was local cheese, cold meats, chutneys and even single origin African coffee. In the evening the owner, Phil Putzel, even ran a little bar serving wine and craft beer, all locally produced.

Running a guest house isn’t without its problems, as we discovered in Hermanus. As we headed to breakfast at the Potting Shed Lodge, we discovered the owner, David, cleaning out the small pond next to the slightly larger swimming pool.

He was looking for a frog.

Apparently its croaking had kept the guests awake for much of the night and they weren’t happy.

On the way to Stellenbosch we made three diversions. The first was to the Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens at Betty’s Bay, then Stony Point to visit the penguins and finally Pringle Bay for coffee.

The botanical gardens is located between the mountains and the sea, with spectacular vistas of both. Then there’s the plants, a stunning array of indigenous flora that was in full bloom, all set in 10 hectares of cultivated gardens. There are about 1,600 plant species in the area, more diverse per unit area than any place on earth. We even discovered a critically endangered Geometric Tortoise wandering across the lawn.

African Penguins were originally called Jackass Penguin, due to their donkey-like braying.

They are the only penguin that breeds in Africa and can grow to a height of between 60 and 70cm. They have a distinctive pink gland above their eyes which is used for thermoregulation in the wildly changing temperatures of the southern oceans.

On the way back to the car park we came across a group of young Hyrax playing in the rocks.

At any age Hyrax are very cute.

At Pringle Bay the cafe offered Red Espresso. The waiter couldn’t explain what it actually was but I decided to have a double shot anyway.

It wasn’t coffee.

It’s made from ground Rooibos tea and then prepared in an espresso machine.

It has no caffeine.

Worth a try, but only once.

 

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Day 8, November 18: Stellenbosch.

In Stellenbosch the Hop-on Hop-off wine bus or Vine Hopper is the best way to visit some of the wineries, taste some wine and not get picked up for drink driving.

When we went to book the Vine Hopper we were told that it was full (remember this was November and the height of the tourist season).

Plan ‘B’ was to drive ourselves.

The company soon put on more buses so it was back to ‘A’ again.

The Vine Hopper offer three routes with seventeen wineries open for visitors. It was Friday and the Friday tour takes in the northern wineries – we visited four of them.

The Stellenbosch wine tours was one of the highlights of our South African adventure.

All the wineries we visited offered a unique experience, not just the wine but the ambience and location as well.

We followed the driver’s advice and had the full wine and cellar tour in Bergkelder, then wine tastings in Beyerskloof and Simonsig, followed by lunch in Delheim.

Like everything else we have come across as tourists in South Africa, generosity and value for money were key.

The tastings were a half serve in a full size wine glass. It was your choice how much you drank.

We soon learnt to pace ourselves.

There was no time limit or pressure to buy at any winery. The cost for five wine tastings averaged A$5 and the Vine Hopper bus was A$60 per person.

The bus gave us plenty of time at each location.

Each of the wineries strived to be individual and their marketing reflected this.

Bergkelder was ‘Following nature’s lead’ while Beyerskloof claimed to be ‘The home of Pinotage’. (Pinotage is a uniquely African variety of grape, being a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage vine stock). Simonsig, who first produced sparkling wine in South Africa was, ‘The Cuvée experience’ and Delheim, being out of town, was ‘Worth the journey’

Our wine regions in Australia, and possibly others around the world, could benefit from how Stellenbosch market their area.

Like the Yarra Valley and the Mornington Peninsula, Stellenbosch is close to a major city, Cape Town. Yet they offer a unique ‘wine experience’ with restaurants, accommodation and services all catering to the wine lovers.

Most people don’t do a day trip from Cape Town, to visit the wine region, they come and stay for a night or even two.

Apart from wine and tourism Stellenbosch is a university town and therefore has a thriving alternative culture.

After Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in South Africa. It is situated on the Eerste River and is also known as the ‘City of Oaks’ due to the abundance of the trees that were planted by its founder Simon van der Stel in 1679.

Stel named the town after himself and Stellenbosch means ‘(van der) Stel’s Bush’.

The Dutch were excellent hydraulic engineers, which can be seen in Mill Creek, a canal that’s still runs down the main street.

 

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Day 9, November 19: Stellenbosch to Cape Town.

After a bit of gift shopping in Stellenbosch we headed for Cape Town, the final stop in South Africa.

On the way we drove via the other Cape Wineland towns of Franschhoek and Paarl. We then did a brief tour, circling around Table Mountain, before arriving at the Verona Lodge, our guest house in Cape Town.

We walked down to the V&A Waterfront, as we did every night, and got our first view of Table Mountain.

This 3 kilometre level plateau overlooks, and dominates, the city of Cape Town. It also seems to be a barometer to the local weather. When the ‘tablecloth’ rolls over the top, the winds are strong and the temperatures are cooler and when the mountain is clear, then so is the weather. The tablecloth is caused by orographic clouds that are created when wind rolls up the the mountain from the south-east and runs into cooler air causing the moisture to condense.

Contrary to science, there is also the legend that the tablecloth is caused by a smoking contest between the Devil and Van Hunks, a local pirate. Van Hunks was a prodigious smoker and the contest has been repeated yearly since the early 1700s.

Breaking dishes will be a constant reminder of African restaurants. It happened at least once a night in the majority of restaurants we visited.

If it’s not the crashing of plates, then it is the clatter of cutlery.

The staff, on the whole, have been fantastic but they do have a total disregard for the hardware.

We were told by one waiter, after we heard yet another crash in the kitchen, that a glass has a lifespan of about one week.

 

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Day 10, November 20: Cape Town.

As we do in many cities, we took the Hop-On Hop-Off bus and explored Cape Town. There were four routes covering the city, coast and wine areas.

First we did the city and then the coastal route. The most memorable part of the city route was a drive through District 6. This is an inner suburb of Cape Town that was laid bare during the sixties and seventies. Over 60,000 residents were forcible removed by the apartheid regime in an attempt to stop racial integration.

The place has become a shrine with little development. All that remains now are vacant blocks of land covered in long grass.

After the bus we went walking around Cape Town. This took us past St George’s Cathedral, the Anglican church made famous by Desmond Tutu and his stance against apartheid. The role this church has played in the fight for democracy and the anti apartheid movement has resulted in it now being known as the ‘people’s cathedral’.

Next was the Company Gardens, started by the East India Company in 1652. The gardens were originally planted to provide fresh vegetables to the Dutch trading ships sailing between the Netherlands and the East.

The first wine produced in South Africa came from grapes grown in the garden.

South Africa is a very multi cultural country. Muslims, Malays, Coloureds, Blacks, Whites, Indians and others all form part of the demographic.

But it’s not very equal.

Wherever we travelled there was little sign of a coloured or black middle-class. Admittedly we might have been in the wrong areas but even in the restaurants and bars of the V&A Waterfront there were very few non-whites.

South Africa is also diverse, with a wide variety of cultures, religions, languages and ethnic groups amongst its 52 million people.

According to the 2011 census, Africans make up the majority with 79.2%, Coloured, 8.9%, Whites 8.9%,  Indian and Asian, 2.5%  and Others, 5%

Cape Town has a population of 3.74 million people with the white folk making up 15.7 %, a lot more than the South African average.

It’s no wonder that there seemed to be a lot more white faces there.

In the afternoon we discovered the South African Jewish Museum in Hatfield Street.

The Jewish story in South Africa is an interesting one.

It makes absolute sense that the Jewish community in South Africa played an important role in the dismantling of the apartheid system.

They know a lot about racial discrimination.

Jewish lawyers were the only whites willing to represent the ANC members charged with crimes against the state.

There was even one lone Jewish voice, in the all white parliament, during the apartheid era. Helen Suzman fought for thirteen years, from 1961 to 1974, to give the Blacks equal rights.

 

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Day 11, November 21: Cape Town.

The departure point to Robben Island, at the V&A Waterfront, is known as the Nelson Mandela Gateway – this sums up the tone of the trip.

In many respects it’s all about Mandela.

However the history of Robben Island goes back to the end of the 17th century, when the Dutch used the island as a prison for political prisoners.

The island has also been used as a whaling station, leper colony and quarantine station.

During the Second World War it was fortified and became part of Cape Town’s defences.

Due to wide spread pilfering of artefacts by the tourists, you don’t get much freedom to explore Robben Island. After the 45 minute ferry ride from Cape Town you are met on the Robben Island wharf by an armada of buses. From there you are taken around to the various sites, which you view from your seat on the bus before being taken to the main prison complex.

On the bus the commentary was informative and graphic. So much so that a middle aged African American woman, sitting near us, was reduced to tears after hearing the countless stories of atrocities committed on Robben Island.

The guided tour around the main prison area is given by former prisoners and again they painted a very grim picture of life there.

The highlight for most was seeing Nelson Mandela’s cell – this was his home for 18 years from 1964 to 1982.

This is probably the most photographed site on the island.

 

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Day 12, November 22: Cape Town.

On our final day in Cape Town we planned to go to Table Mountain.

And, as it has been for all our time in the city, luck was with us again.

The tablecloth had cleared, the sun was out and the wind had dropped.

The cable car had only just re-opened, after being closed for over a week due to bad weather.

We booked our tickets online and within an hour we were on the mountain. We even got a rare parking spot metres from the front of the cable car station.

Table Mountain is a constant backdrop to Cape Town. It’s only 1,084 metres high but dominates the city.

The views from the top are stunning.

Our host at the guest house, Sean, suggested that we walk to Maclear’s Beacon on the northern side then take the rim track, on the southern edge, back. It was a great suggestion and we had spectacular views in every direction.

Maclear’s Beacon is a large cairn on the highest point of Table Mountain. It was built in 1865 by the Irish born South African astronomer, Sir Thomas Maclear (1794-1879) to assist in measuring the curvature of the earth.

Our luck continued, as the clouds converged just as we neared the end of our walk.

In the afternoon we drove down to the Cape of Good Hope.

So it seemed, did everyone else.

The placed was packed with bus and car loads of tourist racing to get a snap of themselves in front of the sign post for the Cape.

The Cape of Good Hope is the most south western point in Africa. It’s the spot where ships coming, from Europe, start to travel more eastward than southward.

We then drove to the Cape Point Lighthouse and took the funicular to the top.

The wind was so strong that we had to hold onto the hand rails to stop being blown into the Indian Ocean of even the Atlantic.

We were in Cape Town for four nights and each evening we would walk to the V&A Waterfront for dinner.

It was a pleasant 30 minute walk and there was a huge range of bars and restaurants to choose from.

Getting back to our guest house wasn’t as straight forward, as we had to take a taxi.

There were plenty around but they weren’t allowed to stop and pick-up a fare.

Traffic was controlled by security guards, dressed like real police, they were everywhere.

Actual coppers were nowhere to be seen.

On three occasions we managed to be able to corner a cab, negotiate a price and get in before he was forced to move on.

On our final night guards were again controlling the traffic, this time there were more of them and they had bollards. They were only letting taxis in that were pre booked.

We finally found a rogue driver outside of the control zone and flagged him down.

He explained that the security company and the big taxi groups had joined forces to control the price and keep the independent drivers from working the lucrative tourist areas.

The whole thing smelled of corruption – he wasn’t happy.

He told us that they were charging 100 Rand (A$10) to take the tourists back into the down town area.

This was about a five minute ride.

Our trip with him was about seven minutes and we paid 50 Rand (A$5).

The V&A Waterfront has interesting history, in that the ‘A’ in ‘V&A’ doesn’t stand for Albert, as you might expect. It actually stands for Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria. In 1860, as a 16 year old Midshipman in the Royal Navy, Prince Alfred visited the the Cape Colony and instantly became a hit with the locals. There is even a plaque on the waterfront commemorating the fact that he tipped the first truck of stone for the new waterfront breakwater.

Day 13, November 23 and 24: Cape Town to Melbourne.

It seemed fitting that on the flight from Cape Town to Dubai I watched the David Yates film, The Legend of Tazan. 

It was set in the Congo and nowhere near where we had been, but it was Africa.

Part 3: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Ongava Game Reserve, Namibia to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

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Day 19, October 29: Damaraland to Ongava Game Reserve via Etosha National Park.

We left Toko Lodge mid morning and headed to Ongava Game Reserve.

It was suggested that we not take the sealed road route, but rather go via the Galton Gate, in the west and travel through the Etosha National Park to Andersson’s Gate.

This was our opportunity to ‘self drive’ our own game drive.

It was a great experience.

We stopped at five of the eight waterholes and found each one to have its primary inhabitants. They happened to be the birds or animals who were there when we visited.

This could change very quickly, as a new species came in to take control.

The ‘Elephant’ waterhole or Dolomietpunt was the fist we came across and as the name suggests it was full of elephants cooling off. There were zebras and springbok but they couldn’t get close to the water.

The ‘Vulture’ waterhole or Duineveld had ostriches but was dominated by the vultures. There were also zebras and a lone giraffe waiting patiently in the background.

The ‘Ostrich’ waterhole or Nomab also had vultures – fittingly the surroundings were flat and stark.

Our fourth stop was at the ‘Oryx’ waterhole or Olifantrus. The oryx soon left when two bull elephants arrived and started flinging muddy water around. There were also ostriches, eagles, vultures and zebras, keeping their distance.

Our final destination was the ‘Springbok’ waterhole, or Ozonjuitji m’Bari, there were also elephants, ostrich and zebras.

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Day 20, October 30: Ongava Game Reserve.

Andersson’s Camp is inside Ongava Private Game Reserve and very close to Andersson’s Gate into Etosha National Park.

Ongava was created in 1991 when four non productive farms were combined. It’s 30,000 hectares and shares a common boundary with Etosha National Park.

We had arranged to do an afternoon game drive in Ongava so we spent most of the very hot day overlooking the waterhole that’s just metres from the hotel lounge.

There had been a few animals there the evening before but there was now a cavalcade of zebras, Black Faced Impalas, oryx, wildebeest and a giraffe.

The giraffe was so cautious approaching the waterhole, that it took over 1.5 hours from when it first arrived, until it spread its long spindly legs to take its first tentative sip.

It was good to have the animals come to us for a change.

Andersson’s Camp was named after Swedish explorer Charles Andersson (1827-1867) who was one of the first Europeans to expose Etosha to the outside world.

Andersson’s spirit for adventure was forged at a very early age, being the illegitimate son of an English bear hunter, Llewellyn Lloyd. (How many letter ‘l’s’ can a name have?)

All the lodges we have stayed in have been unique in their design, Andersson’s Camp was both strange and special.

The walls around the bathroom and toilet area were built from loose rock held together with a web of chicken wire. Inside there was also an additional covering of fly wire – just to stop the nasties from entering.

There was also a wide use of corrugated iron and raw timber.

The shower base was a large tin tub set into the floor and the towel rails were rough cut tree branches.

Yet there was the convenience of hot water, plenty of power outlets and an oscillating fan. There was even a small in-ground swimming pool.

Strangely there were no locks on any doors.

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Day 21, October 31: Etosha National Park.

We were now back inside Etosha National Park and took the road from Andersson’s Gate, in the west, to the von Lindequist Gate, in the east.

The park was proclaimed a game reserve in 1907 and became a National Park in 1967. Etosha National Park is 22,270 square kilometres in size and gets its name from the Etosha Pan, which is 4,760 square kilometres in area. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’.

We made twelve stops, detouring off the main road, over a seven hour period. Eight of them were at waterholes.

The weirdest stop was at the Etosha Lookout. This was a two kilometre diversion, onto the Etosha Salt Pan itself. The pan is so large that you get the feeling you can see the curvature of the earth. Then there’s the added sensation of seeing water on the horizon, this is only a mirage.

The waterholes were again the best places to view the animals – there was a huge variety. From the more common, like zebras and wildebeests to the exotic, like rhinoceros and even lions.

We also saw ‘White Elephants’. These were actually bush elephants that had been wallowing in the light grey mud of the Springbokfontein Waterhole and had dried off to a very light grey.

The waterholes have wonderful names like Gemsbokvlakte, Olifantsbad, Ondongab and Charitsaub.

I think you need to speak Afrikaans to pronounce them.

Our accommodation was just outside the park at Emanya@Etosha Game Lodge. This, by contrast to the earthiness of Andersson’s Camp, was an Apple Store – a vision of minimalism in white.

But form certainly didn’t follow function at Emanya@Etosha, as everything from the building design to the shower seemed to be at odds with practicality. The bathroom was larger than most bedrooms, yet I even had trouble fitting into the tiny shower cubicle, which was stuck in a corner.

But that didn’t really matter, as there was no hot water anyway.

The the strangest paradox was the offer of a foot spa and massage after you returned from your game drive in Etosha National Park.

You are forbidden from leaving your car in Etosha, so this treatment is totally unnecessary.

I am not usually this critical of hotels – they are what they are.

However Emanya@Etosha Game Lodge claims to be five star. Their brochure proudly boasts: “Explore the warm soul of the African bush from the supreme comfort of your sumptuous accommodation…”

Despite the starkness of the design, we were continually reminded that we were still in Africa. There were ostrich, kudus and even a group of Leopard Tortoises wandering around the grounds. Then there was a very active waterhole close to the hotel pool.

There is always a bright spot in any stay and apart from the animals around the waterhole, they served ice cold draught beer.

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Day 22, November 1: Etosha to Otavi Mountain Region.

This was our ‘est’ experience in Namibia.

Hoba Meteorite, the larg’est’ known in the world, was discovered by Jacobus Hermanus Brits in 1920.

It weighs approximately 50 ton, is 3 metres long and 1 metre thick. It struck the earth 80,000 years ago.

Having done over 3,500 kilometres on gravel roads it was strange to be back on bitumen.

Tar can be so boring.

Our only two, one night stops were at Emanya@Etosha Game Lodge and Roy’s Rest Camp in the Otavi Mountain Region.

They couldn’t have contrasted more.

Emanya@Etosha strove to be upmarket with a sleekness that verged on sterility. Also everything was impractical in its design.

While Roy’s, like Andersson’s Lodge, was eclectic, rustic and to my mind, far more reflected Africa.

The only thing that seemed to be at odds with the environment was the ‘House’ music playing in the bar.

That didn’t last long.

We arrived at Roy’s mid afternoon and the temperature was in the high thirties.

There was nothing to do but sit by the pool and jump in every now and then to cool off.

Wrecked cars seem to be a feature of the landscape in Namibia.

You see them by the side of the road, decorating the entrances to lodges or farms.

At Roy’s Rest Camp they were part of the architecture and built into the very fabric of the building.

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Day 23, November 2: Otavi Mountain Region to Okavango Delta.

We were now in the north east of Namibia.

It was no longer dry and hot, but humid and hot.

Our accommodation in the Okavango Delta was at the Ngepi Camp on the Kavango River.

Our room was literally suspended over the water.

There were Hippos in the river, just opposite our treehouse, and elephants, buffalo and warthogs on the far bank.

On our first afternoon in Ngepi Camp a herd of more than 25 elephants came down to drink.

We never saw them again.

The shower and toilet were outside and to get to them, we had to negotiate an open deck.

There was no guard rail, just a three metre plunge into the river if you got it wrong.

We made a pact with each other, that if one of us needed to go to the loo during the night, they would wake the other and let them know.

Apparently there are also Crocodiles in the river, so a midnight swim wasn’t advisable.

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Day 24, November 3: Okavango Delta.

It was a strange night at Ngepi Camp.

Apart from sleeping above the river, there was the added interest of strong winds and the constant threat of rain.

November is the start of the wet season and there are ever-building thunderheads in the sky. As the sun set in the west, the sky lit up in the east.

Then the thunder started.

All night it seemed to circle us but it never rained.

At some point during the night the thunder stopped, then at dawn the birds started.

It was a weird feeling being able to shower in the morning, while watching the Hippos wallow in the river just opposite.

I wondered how many other pairs of eyes were also looking at me.

Just over the river is the Bwabwata National Park, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of animal activity. It’s also an important migration route from Botswana to Angola for the African elephant. I guess the herd of elephants, that we saw the previous day, were on there way to somewhere else.

Ngepi Camp has a sense of humour.

It starts by telling you, as you are wending your way along the long approach, that; ‘You are nearly there.’

There are a variety of other signs, around the camp, that show a real sense of fun.

There’s a toilet block just near the hotel bar. Not unusually it had two entrances, male and female, however once inside it was actually one facility, with two toilets.

The one on the left was in grey with the toilet seat permanently bolted up. While the one on the right was decorated in pink.

My favourite sign was the one in front of the pontoon swimming pool, that’s actually in the river. ‘World’s 1st Hippo and Croc Cage Dive’

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Day 25, November 4: Okavango Delta to Caprivi Strip.

We took the B8 or Trans Caprivi Highway across the Caprivi Strip to Camp Kwando.

This was through the Bwabwata National Park which was full of signs warning us of Elephants.

We didn’t see one.

Camp Kwando was on the Kwando River, which is the border between Namibia and Botswana.

Our view was of another country and our next destination.

The Caprivi Strip or ‘panhandle’ is the finger of land in north east Namibia that borders Botswana, Angola and Zimbabwe. It’s the only place on earth where four countries intersect.

Variations on the colour khaki are everywhere and on everything in Southern Africa. Tents, furniture, guides uniforms, vehicles and especially tourists. They are all decked out in it.

The French and Germans tour groups love to get into the African experience with a uniform of khaki hats, shorts, T-shirts, shirts, boots and sox.

There’s more khaki than you’d see in Puckapunyal during a graduation day ceremony.

I somehow can’t see them wearing it in Paris or Berlin once they return home.

The layout of Camp Kwando was very simple and it worked.

There were three circular areas, under thatched roofs, that were linked by a boardwalk.

In the centre was reception and a lounge. To the right was the dining area and to the left, the bar.

All this faced the Kwando River.

Large seed pods were continually falling around the lodge area, dislodged either by wind or the Grey Lourie Parrots or ‘Go Away Bird’ that were everywhere.

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Day 26, November 5: Kwando River on the Caprivi Strip.

We had booked a boat trip on the Kwando River in the afternoon, so the morning was spent sitting on our veranda, watching the river flow past and the seed pods dropping.

This was our last full day in Namibia so it was great to be able to reflect on what we had seen and done.

We had been hoping to take a dugout canoe or mokoro through the backwaters. Unfortunately this wasn’t possible as the drought had reduced the water level so much they weren’t passable.

The bird life around Camp Kwando was relatively active but animals sightings were sparse.

I saw a lone buffalo on the Botswana side but not much after that, until we did the river cruise.

The buffalo was an old bull that had passed his used by date and was now destined to wander the rest of his days alone.

Life in the wild it tough. There’d be no retirement, surrounded by family and friends for him.

Kwando is a river that flows both ways. Like the Tonlé Sap in Cambodia, it’s flow changes direction from the wet to the dry season.

Elephants are destructive, but they need to be.

Much of the deforestation that we had seen is all part of the ecosystem in Southern and Eastern Africa that can be attributed to elephants. They tear down the trees for food, which then allows grass to grow, providing food for grazing mammals.

Our guide for the afternoon river cruise was Hidden (not a typo but his real name). He lived in a local village and told us that many of the backwaters were now too shallow to use, even for the locals.

We bottomed out a number of times, even on the main river. At one point I wondered if it was the river bed we bumped over or a submerged hippo.

There was large amounts of floating reeds in the river, again caused by elephants. And again beneficial, as it helps the plants to proliferate by dispersing them downstream.

Our second night at Camp Kwando was jut as hot and humid as the first.

It was uncomfortably warm in the dining area even though it was outside. The problem was that there was no ventilation in the thatched roof.

There was nowhere for the hot air to go.

Using convection, the Egyptians discovered natural air conditioning, with ‘Windcatchers’, around 1,300 BC. I was beginning to wish that the concept had travelled south.

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Day 27, November 6: Kwando River on the Caprivi Strip to Chobe River, Botswana.

We took the longer, more scenic, route to Katima Mulilo along the C49. The road had recently been sealed, so the drive was easy.

The border crossing between Namibia and Botswana was painless. The main concern was bringing a foreign registered vehicle into the country.

Fortunately our paperwork was all in order.

We saw so many road signs, warning us of elephants, in Namibia but never sited one.  It was therefore ironic that as soon as we crossed the border into Botswana, we saw elephants by the roadside.

But there were no signs anywhere.

Our accommodation was in the Water Lilly Lodge, an older style hotel in the centre of Kasane and right on the Chobe River.

Kasane has a Spar supermarket and therefore ranks as very sophisticated, according to the office staff at our last stop, Camp Kwando.

Our room looked right onto the pool which was very inviting in the 35°C heat. There was also a 35 meter high pole next to the hotel buildings and I wondered what it was.

Then it struck me, it was a lightning conductor.

A useful feature, considering the thunderstorms we had had over the last few days. And essential, knowing the hotel roof was thatched.

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Day 28, November 7: Chobe River, Botswana.

Through the hotel we booked a morning game drive in the Chobe National Park. It started at 5:30am as this is the best time to see the animals.

The most interesting part of this drive was that we spent a lot of time on the Chobe River, the border between Botswana and Namibia.

The river backdrop made the photos different to what we had experienced.

Chobe National Park is 11,700 square kilometres in area, which gives the animals plenty of places to hide and avoid the nosy tourists.

We did see lions, elephants, hippos and a rare Sable Antelope.

There were also hundreds of impalas. These are known in Chobe as ‘McDonalds’, as they are fast food for lions.

Young Impalas are born at the same time each year, at the start of the rainy season. They have the amazing ability to be able to control the gestation period and choose when to give birth.

As well as the morning game drive we had also booked an afternoon game cruise.

Our boat contained a mixture of nationalities. Two Spanish girls, a Dutch couple, three from Japan and the two of us.

Of course English was the language of conversation.

The Chobe and the Kwando are in fact the same river, with the direction of the flow influenced by the seasons.

Like the morning drive, the afternoon boat trip offered a very different perspective for game park photography.

Again the river aspect was the focus.

The Chobe River and Chobe National Park are a very important tourist attraction in Botswana.

This means lots of tourists. It was crowded in the park in the morning and just as busy on the river in the afternoon.

Looking over the Chobe River into Namibia we could see plumes of smoke rising into the sky. This was coming from the crop burning, that happens just prior the wet season.

I have always wondered why a shot of a hippo yawning was so special. That afternoon, on the Chobe River, I discovered that the ’yawn’ is actually a bull trying to assert his dominance over the herd.

We started the day with a sunrise and ended it with a sunset.

In Africa both are spectacular.

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Day 29, November 8: Chobe River, Botswana to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Our Toyota was ‘repossessed’ by a driver from Autovermietung Savannah CC, who would be taking it back to Windhoek.

He would only take a day to get back.

We then were driven to the Zimbabwe border. Unfortunately a group of French tourists got there just before us.

This border crossing was in stark contrast to the one coming into Botswana.

There twenty people to be processed by two officers who seemed to do everything manually and in triplicate.

Then that paperwork was passed on to another guy who actually put the visas in the passports.

As we intended to walk across Victoria Bridge to Zambia at Victoria Falls we bought ‘double entry’ visas.

This made things even more complicated.

The drive to Victoria Falls was through the Zambezi National Park. There wasn’t much activity, just a few Elephants crossing the road.

It was very hot when we arrived in Victoria Falls, about 36°C. We were staying at Amadeus Gardens, a guest house that was a little too far out of town. Stupidly we walked into Victoria Falls township in the heat, there we found the Shearwater Cafe.

They had an espresso machine and a contemporary menu, which included the obligatory serving of ‘wildlife’.

The Shearwater Group seem to own most of Victoria Falls. Their name wasn’t only on the cafe but on just about every other tourist activity in the area.

At the recommendation of our hotel, we went to the Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for dinner. Even though it was very close to our hotel, it was suggested that we take a taxi there, as most of the backroads in Victoria Falls are closed after dark.

Apparently ‘wild animals’ still wander the streets at night. I wondered what wild animals they were referring to.

The Victoria Falls Safari Lodge is built on a plateau, overlooking Zambezi National Park. Here you can watch the animals coming down to the waterhole, while you are also having your evening drink.

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Day 30, November 9: Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

Due to hyperinflation in the 1990s, the Zimbabwe government stopped printing their own currency in 2009. They now only use US Dollars.

This has its issues.

One is that the smallest denomination is one dollar – you never get change smaller than that and every bill seems to come to an even dollar.

The next day we walked back into the Victoria Falls township and found a much shorter route. This was good as the temperature was skyrocketing into the high thirties again.

Visiting Victoria Falls was the main objective of our time there, that and having High Tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel.

We had a long walk along the falls, unfortunately many of the attractions were lacking water, due to drought – we were still the dry season

November in Zimbabwe sees the lowest water level and the hottest temperatures.

There are 16 viewing points along the length of the falls and we stopped at them all but didn’t necessarily take snaps.

Victoria Falls or Mosi-oa-Tunya (the indigenous Tonga name meaning ‘The Smoke that Thunders’) is on the Zambezi River and borders Zambia and Zimbabwe.

In 1855 David Livingstone was believed to have been the first European to discover the falls while on his quest to find the source of the Nile River. He named his discovery in honour of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. There is a statue honouring Livingstone’s achievements at the start off the Falls Walk.

Victoria Falls, along with Niagara Falls in the US and Argentina and Brazil’s Iguazu Falls are regarded as the world’s premier waterfalls.

Victoria Falls was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.

The Victoria Falls Bridge is at the end of the 16th viewing point. It crosses over the Zambezi River and is the border post between Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The bridge is designed as a Parabolic arch and completed in 1905, with a total length of 198 meters and a hight of 128 meters.

It was conceived by Cecil Rhodes, who founded the southern African territory of Rhodesia. His dream was to: “…build a bridge across the Zambezi where the trains, as they pass, will catch the spray of the Falls.”

Unfortunately there was no spray that day.

Later that afternoon we walked to the Victoria Falls Hotel for High-Tea on Stanley’s Terrace.

This overlooks the Second Gorge and the Victoria Falls Bridge.

We decided not to have either tea or coffee with our tiered platter of sandwiches, cakes, and Devonshire Tea.

It was far too hot.

I did have a wine and Thea, keeping with British Colonial tradition, had a gin and tonic. After our High Tea we sat on the lawn and watched the warthogs playing on the grass, while security chased away the pesky baboons.

The Victoria Falls Hotel was built by the British in 1904 and was originally designed to house workers from the Cape-to-Cairo railroad. The property is still owned by the National Railways of Zimbabwe but is now a luxury five star hotel.

When we returned to our hotel, which certainly wasn’t five star, there were a group of Americans having a drink around the pool.

I think they were drowning their sorrows, as Donald Trump had just been elected.

We all agreed that we would remember where we were that day. Just as we had when the news broke about the assassination of JFK, Chernobyl and 9/11.

It was another world disaster.

Day 31, November 10 – Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Our flights from Victoria Falls to Port Elizabeth, via Johannesburg, was in Business Class.

This wasn’t our choice.

It was the only flight we could get and it cost us more than our Emirates flight from Cape Town back to Melbourne.

Determined to make the most of the expense we went in search of the Business Class lounge, as soon as we checked in at Victoria Falls International.

It was closed.

The lounge in Johannesburg was open and very full.

I allowed myself one beer, as I had to drive, once we got into Port Elizabeth and picked up the rental car.

So much for flying Business Class.

We arrived in Port Elizabeth and the temperature had plummeted 20°C to 16°C, it was also raining.

After getting the hire car we went straight to the Admiral’s Lodge Guest House.

As they didn’t serve dinner we had to quickly find somewhere to eat.

The closest place was a drive away which was a pity because Charlie’s served excellent Craft Beer.

Yet again that day I was restricted to one glass.

Part 2: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Helmeringhausen to Damaraland, Namibia.

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

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Day 10, October 20: Helmeringhausen.

Being located on a working farm there isn’t much to see around the Helmeringhausen Hotel. We therefore, on the suggestion of the hotel proprietor, made a short road trip on our day in the area.

This turned out to be around 250km.

This was a circuit from Helmeringhausen down the C13 to the D707 then clockwise back via the C27.

The countryside was varied, starting with outcrops of boulders along the C13, through red desert along the D707 and then past the Tirasberg Mountains. At the junction with the C27 we headed east again, back to Helmeringhausen.

The mountains certainly influenced the weather as there was a build up of clouds and virga (rain falling but evaporating before reaching the ground) on the higher peaks.

Our constant companion, while driving on the gravel roads, has been a rooster tail of fine dust.

This changes colour according to the material the road is built from.

We have had reds, light grey, dark grey and black.

It gets into everything.

The Helmeringhausen Hotel boasts ‘The best apple cake in Namibia’ and they have T-Shirts, and a sign out the front, promoting their claim. Yet it’s never the dessert that’s part of the evening’s fixed menu.

You have to order it separately, at an extra cost of course.

Don’t you just love marketing.

What’s not promoted and a missed opportunity for the hotel is the ‘Sundowners’ walk. Just behind the hotel is a hill with a well laid out path to the top. There you get great views of the surrounding landscape and, more importantly, the setting sun.

There were six of us up there the night we went, all wishing we had taken a drink to celebrate the sunset.

I am sure the hotel could have provided a bar service, as well as snacks.

After all there was no shortage of chefs.

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Day 11, October 21: Helmeringhausen to Sossusvlei.

We drove north up the C14 then turned west on the C19 towards Sossusvlei.

Again there was a dispute between the TomTom and MapsME, in regard to the distance we had to travel.

This time the TomTom won.

Sossusvlei is in the Namib Desert, one of the world’s oldest. It stretches for nearly 1,000km along the Atlantic coast.

Sossusvlei is one of the easiest places to access the desert and our hotel, the Sossus Dune Lodge, was surrounded by it.

There was a rocky ridge behind our room and a vast expanse of the Namib Desert in front.

At check-in we received yet another baboon warning, telling us not to leave any windows or doors open. After our experience at the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area, everything remained shut.

Why we were booked into the honeymoon suite I have no idea. It was about as far away from the office, restaurant and bar as you could get. Our area was huge and it even had a swinging day bed at one end of the wide veranda.

Being in the heart of the desert the winds ebbed and flowed, gently rocking our day bed. This was a wonderful vantage point to take in the spectacular desert scenery.

In the late afternoon we headed out to explore the famed dunes of the Namib Desert, especially Dune 45.

This is what’s called a ‘star dune’ and gets its name from the fact that it’s 45 kilometres on the road that connects the Sesriem Gate and Sossusvlei. It’s made up of 5 million year old sand that was accumulated by the Orange River and came from the Kalahari Desert, then blown into the Namib Desert.

As the sun sets, one side of the dune is thrown in shadow, while the other side glows bright orange.

I can understand why Dune 45 is the most photographed dune in the world.

As tourists we tread gently.

Whatever country you travel in, it isn’t yours, unless you live there of course, you therefore need to be mindful of offending people.

Some tourists believe it’s their right to demand. It could be what they want to eat, what language they want to speak, or even where they want to sit.

These people are rude.

We witnessed one such couple rearrange a table for four, at a window seat, just to suit themselves.

Everyone in the restaurant looked on in disgust. Especially those who had taken the tables for two, that were not by the window.

Ironically the light vanished within minutes of them sitting down, so they had no view anyway.

As it turned out the couple were celebrating a seventieth birthday and the restaurant staff made a big fuss, giving him a very large birthday cake.

It was so large that they shared it with the other diners in the restaurant.

We felt that our judgement of them may have been a little harsh.

That’s until we bumped into them again the next day – they were just as obnoxious.

Our first impression was the right one.

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Day 12, October 22:  Sossusvlei.

We ordered a packed breakfast from the hotel and headed out just before dawn.

It was hazier, with more cloud around, so the photos weren’t as striking as we had taken on the previous evening.

When we reached the end of the 60km stretch of paved road, we went for a walk in the dunes.

Despite the fact that the car park was full of people, 4WDs, buses and safari vehicles, the dunes were surprisingly quiet.

The light had improved and there was a real contrast between the orange dunes and the bright blue sky.

Our only companions were three Oryx grazing in the distance and the occasional lizard scurrying over the sand.

Our next move was a mistake.

We took the shuttle down a 4WD track to see more of the dunes.

So did everyone else.

There were hundreds walking and climbing over the dunes and along the dry river bed.

It was like Kurfurstendamm on a warm summer’s evening, complete with the chatter of Deutsch.

Then, when we decided to return to our car again, so did everyone else.

The shuttle bus drivers never stopped at the same spot, to drop-off and pick-up passengers.

This meant that random groups of people gathered where the last bus made a drop-off.

However they never stopped there.

There was a further complication, in that some of the buses went an extra kilometre down the road to the end of the track – so we never knew where they were going to end up.

Again there was no obvious pattern, so we decided to get on any bus we could, and stay on it until we eventually got back to the car park.

This strategy worked and we had the bonus of doing the full circuit and seeing the last of the Sossusvlei Dunes.

With all the confusion I wished I had taken the Toyota and driven myself, that’s until we saw two 4WDs up to their axils in sand.

Our hotel, the Sossus Dune Lodge, was one of the first lodges to be developed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts in 2007.

It is literally perched above the Namib Desert.

The lodges, walkways, restaurant and even the pool are all built on stilts. The only footprint left by the lodge are the holes in the desert floor.

Just as we arrived back from our drive in the dunes, a tour bus came out of the dust and heading for the Sossus Dune Lodge.

At dinner we found out it was a Chinese tour group.

Now Chinese tourists are very valuable to a hotel, they can also can be very disruptive, as ‘they want it and they want it now.’

There were 24 in the group and they returned to the restaurant at 8pm, after a sunset tour, looking to be fed. It took well over an hour for them to be served, yet they consumed their meals in less than 20 minutes.

There has to be a more efficient way to service their needs.

If the Namibia Wildlife Resorts want the Chinese tourists they’ll have to do better than that.

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Day 13, October 23: Sossusvlei to Swakopmund.

Continuing on the C19 we now headed north.

About 70km from Sossusvlei is the tiny town of Solitaire.

It was suggested that we stop there as they have a good bakery and an espresso machine.

The cake was better than the coffee.

There was no parking in front of Moose McGregors Desert Bakery, so everyone parked under the two trees that were conveniently out the front.

A much better option, considering the temperature was now around 34°C.

It was a rather long, 375km, drive from Solitaire to Swakopmund and the terrain became flatter and dryer with little vegetation.

We hit the Atlantic at Walvis Bay and drove to the Walvis Bay Lagoon to see the flamingos.

There were a lot.

They were the Lesser Flamingo and not surprisingly, smaller in size to the Greater Flamingo.

When we got out of the car to take some snaps, we found that the temperature had plunged about 20°C.

Walvis Bay plays an important role in the oil and gas industry as well as being a vital port for Namibia. It is also growing in tourism and is the second most important coastal resort town next to Swakopmund.

When we arrived in Swakopmund it was as quiet as a church mouse on a Sunday. About the only thing that was slower was the internet in our hotel.

After wandering around the town and finding nothing open we returned to the hotel.

Not surprisingly it was very busy, as everything else was shut.

The Anchor Point Restaurant, within the Swakopmund Beach Hotel, has an interesting history.

It’s named after three rather ornate brick structures that are just outside the hotel. These were anchor points for an 86 meters high communications tower that was used by the Germans during WW1. This transmitter was a vital radio link to Lüderitzbucht, Windhoek and Berlin. In 1914, when war broke out in South West Africa, the local German military destroyed the tower, fearing it would fall into enemy hands.

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Day 14, October 24: Swakopmund.

Our hotel was right on the junction of the Atlantic Ocean and the Swakop River.

The river was the boundary between the town and the desert.

On our first morning we couldn’t see much as the fog had rolled in and visibility was down to a few hundred metres. This is caused by the hot desert air running headlong into the sea breezes from the cold, moist Atlantic.

Swakopmund is the second largest town in Namibia and the resort capital. It remains cool when the rest of inland Namibia boils.

There is 1,570 kilometres of coastline in the west, stretching from the Kunene River in the north to the Orange River in the south. The coastline north of Walvis Bay is referred to as the Skeleton Coast and most of it is desert. The entire Namibian coastline has been designated as a national park. In fact the Namibian government has become a trailblazer by using tourism to fund conservation.

Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are an oasis of cool sea breezes and Atlantic swells in the otherwise dry south.

We spent the day walking around Swakopmund, meandering through the wide ordered streets.

It was good to get some exercise – we walked over 14km that day.

The fog lifted by late morning but then settled again. However by the late afternoon it was gone completely and the sky was blue.

The air was still chilly and we kept our jumpers on.

There are number of good examples of Colonial German architecture from the early 1900s in Swakopmund.

There’s the Evangelical German Lutheran Church, built in 1912. Just over the road the Namib High School, built a year later in 1913.

The best for me was the former railway station, or Bahnhof, built in 1901 and now the five star Swokopmund Hotel.

The large in ground pool sits on platform one, where the locomotives once chugged in and out of the station, bringing holiday makers from Windhoek.

In the evening we decided to go German and visit the Swakopmund Brauhaus.

We were lucky we set off early as the place was fully booked.

Monday night was almost as quiet as Sunday and there were only a few places open.

Those who knew had booked the Brauhaus in advance.

We did get a table but were told we had to be out in an hour and a half. However with some clever table manipulation by the staff, we got to stay longer.

The Swakopmund Brauhaus was very German, like a small slice of Bavaria in the heart of the Namib Desert. They served hearty German fare and a great variety of German draught and bottled beer as well as German and South African wines.

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Day 15, October 25: Swakopmund to Brandberg.

The sea mist was back the morning we left Swokopmund.

It is truly a different part of Namibia, in all aspects. The architecture, the people, the Atlantic and of course the weather.

The drive to Brandberg White Lady Lodge was relatively easy, although there was some confusion as to where it actually was.

For the first 70 km after leaving Swokopmund we were on a sealed and then a salt road.

We had experienced this surface coming into the coast at Walvis Bay and it was a surprisingly smooth ride.

Namibia has more than 44,500 kilometres of roads and they are regarded as some of the best in Africa. There are only 288 kilometres of salt roads, which are limited to the Atlantic coast, inside the mist belt. These road are constructed from concentrated salt water and a gypsum-rich material.

Over half the roads in Namibia are a standard gravel road, covered with imported gravel.

When we arrived in Brandberg White Lady Lodge there were signs warning us of the dangers of Desert Elephants – the place is apparently famous for them.

Was this going to be the same as Sossus Dune Lodge, where were warned about the Baboons but never sighted one?

The White Lady Lodge is named after the famous cave paintings that were discovered in 1918 by the German explorer Reinhard Maack. They are in the Brandberg Mountains, not far from our hotel.

There is significant conjecture as to the origins and authorship of the paintings. The current theory is that they were created at least 2,000 years ago by the bushmen or San People.

The ‘White Lady’ is not a woman at all but a medicine man, with painted legs and performing a ritual dance.

In every place we have stayed the layout, style and ambience have been unique. The Brandberg White Lady Lodge was no different.

It was divided into three distinct areas: The restaurant, bar and swimming pools were the hub, then about 200 metres into the bush were the stand alone chalets, where we were staying. There were seven of these, spread throughout the bush and all under trees. The trees kept the room cool and also provided shade for our car. Within this area there were also two sets of seven rooms apartments.

The third area was for the campers. There was a combination of tented camps and camp sites. These were set around the dry beds of the Teisen and Ugub Rivers.

All this was set against the backdrop of the Brandberg Mountains.

Brandberg or Fire Mountain is Namibia’s highest peak, with its zenith, the Königstein or ‘King’s Stone’, 2573 metres high.

It was a hot, dry and dusty environment, that was both hostile and stunning.

Power for our chalet came from a 12 volt battery that’s charged by a solar panel that was just outside. While the hot water was provided by a solid fuel boiler, that was behind a high stone wall next to our chalet – it was lit twice a day.

There was no WiFi or connectivity of any sort. If you needed to charge your devices you had to take them to the main lodge area, where there was a generator.

Dinner was served at 7:30 so we went up to the lodge to have a pre dinner drink at the bar.

We were alone.

Everyone was up on the hill, behind the bar, at the ‘Sundowners’ seats.

We didn’t bother. I think we have become a little blasé about sunsets, as we get one most nights in Sandringham.

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Day 16, October 26: Brandberg.

In the morning we headed out to visit the site of the White Lady rock art.

This is only one of a reported 40,000 individual pieces that are on Brandberg Mountain.

The art in the caves vary from 2,000 to 5,000 years old.

The White Lady was name as such by the French anthropologist Henri Breuil in 1929, believing the art could have been painted by Phoneticians from the Mediterranean. The headwear was very similar to that worn by Egyptian women.

This theory has since been discounted.

The organisation of the cave walk was very well done. Firstly we were checked in and had everything explained to us. Then we were given a guide for our 45 minute walk to and from the cave.

Marcus could talk and didn’t stop chatting the entire time.

On the way there we were in constant lookout for the elusive Desert Elephant.

Native Africans have a very well developed fear of elephants, more than any other animal it seems. We noticed this in Kenya, Tanzania and now in Namibia.

There’s were plenty of smelly signs that elephants were in the area and it was only when we arrived at the cave did we actually see them.

They should be really called ‘Rock Elephants’ as they were perched on a rocky ledge, over the dry river bed that was opposite the cave.

We heard them before we saw them, as they were snapping off tree branches for food.

All along the track to the cave the trees had also been devastated by the hungry mammals.

Camp gossip told us that there might be more elephants up the dry river bed, not far from the lodge.

So in the afternoon we headed off, hoping that my limited 4WD experience would get us through the sandy river bed.

We gave up on the elephants after travelling 6km up the river and turned around. Then we sighted two on the river bank – one was giving himself a sand shower, while the other was asleep under a tree.

Dinner is a fixed menu with an entrée, main course and desert.

There is little variation.

There was a family of seven, mum dad and five children, ranging from five to fifteen.

All the family were served the same meal as everyone else and it was interesting to watch them divide up the food. In the end all the appetites seemed to be satisfied.

I guessed they had done this before.

At the end of dinner the staff put on a performance. On our first night there were fifteen of them and on our last, seven.

The size of the ensemble is determined by how many guests they have to serve.

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Day 17, October 27: Brandberg to Damaraland.

There was no water in our chalet on our last morning. We went outside and discovered our hot water service lying on its side, with all the connections broken.

After reporting it to the staff, we were told to shower at one of the campsite facilities.

When we got back to our room after breakfast there was a guy there repairing our broken water heater.

He explained that the damage was done by an elephant looking for water – they can smell it.

Apparently this happens all the time.

In the end we didn’t see the Desert Elephants in the camp but knew that they had been there.

It was a long drive from Brandberg to Damaraland, as we had to make two diversions.

One to the Petrified Forest and the other to the San rock engravings at Twyfelfontein.

The Petrified Forest is an area of land where 280 million years ago large pine trees were washed into Namibia from Central Africa.

They were subsequently covered by alluvial sand. Deprived of oxygen, they couldn’t rot and over millions of years underwent silicification, fossilised, and subsequently turned to stone.

Almost of as much interest as the trees, was the Welwitschia. This is ancient plant that taps water from the coastal fog. If can live for hundreds of years and is considered a living fossil.

The rock engravings at Twyfelfontein date back 2,000 to 2,500 years but the site has been inhabited for 6,000 years.

The area was made Namibia’s first UNESCO World heritage site in 2007.

The most famous is the ‘Lion Man’ engraving. This depicts a lion with five human like toes on its feet and one on its tail.

This is believed to be a depiction of a Sharman or Witchdoctor’s dream of his afterlife form.

The image of the lion is a cross between an animal and a man.

A lot of the rock art was created to be as much educational as spiritual. Many engravings were designed to teach current and future generations about the bush, animals and where to find water.

They were like a ‘blackboard’ of information on learning about nature.

There was one particular engraving of an ostrich with four heads. This was a form of animation that depicted the ostrich standing then lowering its head to drink. The direction the bird faced indicated where water could be found.

The name Twyfelfontein means ‘Doubtful Spring’ in Afrikaans. It was used by a German settler, David Levin, to describe the place. He didn’t believe that the water from the local spring could sustain his cattle. Levin’s friends started to call him David Twyfelfontein or David Doubts-the-spring.

The name stuck.

Because of our diversions it was 3pm before we started the drive to Darmaland. And as usual there was confusion between the TomTom and MapsME as to how long it would take.

However the difference wasn’t as large this time.

It was going to be a long drive whatever device we used. And all of it, apart from two short stretches, was in gravel roads.

The benefit of travelling on dirt roads is that you can see vehicles coming, way before they get to you. The plume of dust is visible, even if the car isn’t.

We covered about 500 kilometres that day, so my evening beer was very welcome.

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Day 18, October 28: Damaraland.

We were staying at Toko Lodge in Damaraland. Now Toko is the local word for Hornbill and they were everywhere.

Their squawk woke us up at five and just to make sure we were awake, they then knocked on our window at seven.

There is plenty of food for them, both indigenous and provided, so they naturally hang around the hotel.

The birds and animals took it in turn to eat at the feeding points.

In the morning the Tree Squirrels were there, they were replaced by the Hornbills who grazed all day. In the evening the Guinea Fowls then waddled in for a meal.

After breakfast one of the staff told us that there was a problem with our car.

Fearing the worst we went to have a look. As It turned out we only had a slow leak in the right rear tyre and it was soon repaired.

The staff operated like a Formula One pit crew. The problem tyre was soon off the Toyota and replaced with one of the spares. Then they found the cause, it was part of a valve shaft that had imbedded itself through the rubber. Once that was fixed the original tyre went back and then they gave our vehicle a bonus car wash.

All this cost us the equivalent of A$5.

As it turned out this was the only issue we had in the entire 4,800 kilometres of our Namibian road trip.

Just down the road from the lodge is a Himbas Village and we decided to do the village tour.

The Himbas people actually come from an area that’s about 300 kilometres north of Damaraland and that’s where they graze their cattle.

Traditionally they were nomadic but these days the women and children live in the village, while the men stay with the cattle.

The Himba are traditional people who escaped being converted to Christianity by the zealots of the German Colonial Missions.

The women are topless and don’t bath. They use a combination of perfumes and smoke, infused with herbs, to cleanse and beautify themselves. They also rub ochre on their skin as another form of beauty treatment.

Their traditional clothing, like belts, anklets, loincloths and headwear all holds spiritual or social significance.

There were single women, mothers, babies, young children and an assortment of small farmyard animals. Often some of the teenage girls have to stay at home, rather than go to school, to learn the Himba ways.

I only sighted one male – I guess the rest were off tending the cattle.

Some of the tourists came laden with Chupa Chups for the children. It wasn’t long before there was a small white stick hanging out of every mouth in the village.

I am sure that that the kids could have been given a more appropriate gift than sweets.

At the end of our visit we were given a very enthusiastic performance of singing and dancing as well as an opportunity to buy souvenirs.

We bought a small carved African Elephant. The tusks were made from the lollypop sticks, so at least they were being put to good use.