Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

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.

Part 1: Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Windhoek to Helmeringhausen, Namibia.

Wednesday, January 11th, 2017

Day 1, October 11: Dar es Salaam to Windhoek.

Our flight from Dar es Salaam to Windhoek, went via Johannesburg.

It was on this first leg of our flight that I read Australia had been thrashed by the Proteas in their fourth ODI.

The article was in a South African newspaper, and were they gloating. It looked like the series could be a whitewash and as it turned out it was.

I certainly wasn’t going to enjoy discussing cricket with the South Africans, once we reached there in a months time.

Having been up since 3am, for our flight to Windhoek, we needed an early night. We found an Italian restaurant a short walk from the hotel.

It was full of Western faces.

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Day 2, October 12: Windhoek.

Namibia, well at least Windhoek, is very German. The faces look German, they speak German and everything has a German efficiency about it.

Even the breakfast at our hotel, Palmquell Hotel Pension, was typically German with fruit, bread, cold meats and a selection of cheeses.

We were served by a very pleasant, but serious, woman with a very German accent.

Most of the hotel guests were also German. In fact 80% of tourists to Namibia are German.

Getting a new SIM card was the easiest we have experienced.

MTC (Make The Connection), the local provider, put Vodaphoney to shame.

Picking up the car was also very efficient. They knew our name as we walked through the door and then they proceeded to take us through a very thorough process of legalities and responsibilities. We were then passed on to another person who briefed us on the vehicle.

Our rental vehicle was a rather large, white, Toyota Fortuner 4X4, equipped with two spare tyres, an air compressor (for inflating and deflating tyres), towrope, two jacks and jumper leads.

Hopefully I will never have to use any of it.

After picking up the car we drove to Maeria Mall to get some supplies.

We were told not to leave anything visible in the boot of Fortuner. This was made difficult as there was no cover supplied, so we decided to buy a black sheet to put over our luggage. Plus we need a good supply of water and snacks for our days on the road.

The meal on our second night was at a Portuguese restaurant.

The food was very basic.

We decided to have some of the local meat and chose Oryx. It was an island of overcooked meat in a lake of rich, salty sauce and lacking in taste.

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Day 3, October 13: Windhoek to Kalahari.

Before driving south towards the Kalahari Desert we spent some time motoring around Windhoek.

With a population of less than 400,000, it’s a bit like a large regional town, rather than a capital city.

But then the entire population of Namibia is only 2.2 million.

As we drove south the geography changed to a semi-arid red sandy savannah.

The road was good and it was only when we reached the turn off at Kalkrand did we hit the gravel.

It was only 262 km from Windhoek to Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge, so our first drive in Namibia was relatively easy.

The lodges sat along side a dry lake bed, or vlei and there was a small water hole about 150 metres from our veranda.

We were expecting wildlife to visit the waterhole in the evening but they didn’t come until the next morning.

There were four large blocks, that looked like concrete, scattered around the waterhole. When a family of Eland came to drink at the vlei, we discovered that these were blocks of salt.

They are there to give the animals extra minerals.

Late in the afternoon, when the temperature had dropped below 30°C, we went for a bike ride.

The lodge has a number of ‘Fat Bikes’ that they encourage you to take out into the dunes.

The super large tyres make it easier to ride on the soft sand.

Unfortunately my bike didn’t have an adjustable seat. It had been set for someone far taller than me, which is most people, so I struggled.

We returned just on sunset and managed to get some hero shots of the sun setting behind the ubiquitous Acacia tree.

The evening meal at Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge was a fixed menu.

Oryx filet was our only choice.

Having had the very badly prepared Oryx steak in Windhoek, I wasn’t happy.

I needn’t have worried, as our meal was in total contrast to the one the previous evening.

It was a small portions with just the right amount of a creamy pepper sauce and plenty of fresh vegetables.

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Day 4, October 14: Kalahari.

Even though we had our own 4X4 we decided to take the afternoon game drive, provided by the lodge.

Jonathan was our driver and guide for the drive, which started at 4pm, when the heat of the day had subsided.

We were out for three hours, meandering around the park, but not really straying too far from the main camp.

As Jonathan explained, there are no predators in this part of the Kalahari so the animals can wander around in small herds without fear.

And so can the visitors.

There are many walking and hiking tracks around the lodge, which the Germans, being great walkers, love.

We saw oryx, Blue Wildebeest, Common Springbok, Ground Squirrels, ostriches, Black Springbok, Common Zebra and a Yellow Mongoose.

Apart from having an excellent knowledge of the animals, Jonathan also knew about the flora and especially its relationship with the famed Bushmen of the Kalahari or San people.

The San are believed to be the first inhabitants of Botswana and Southern Africa and were traditionally nomadic hunter gatherers.

There were eight guest from the lodge on the drive, all of them spoke German, except Thea and me. Of course they also spoke excellent English. Jonathan’s, sometimes amusing commentary, was in English so everyone could understand.

We ended the drive with drinks and snacks, watching the sun set over the Kalahari.

Our first Namibian ‘Sundowner’ experience.

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Day 5, October 15: Kalahari to Quivertree Forest.

We continued our drive south on the B1, which was arid with sparse vegetation.

We could be forgiven for thinking we were anywhere in the world that was dry and rocky. That’s until we came across three largish black baboons crossing the road.

We knew we were still in Africa.

Then, just after we arrived at the Quivertree Forest Rest Camp, a warthog wandered past.

It seemed to know its way around, as it headed straight for the restaurant kitchen.

Apart from the warthog there were three Border Collies and a very large, black greyhound hovering around the common area.

Two of the Border Collies like to chase dragon flies around the pool.

The next morning we discovered another three collies, now there were six.

That wasn’t the total menagerie as their was also at least one black cat and two small dogs that seemed to control the inside.

The Quivertree Forest Rest Camp is on the Farm Gariganus, which is 13 km north east of Keetmanshoop. It’s a very large working sheep station and like any farm, domestic animals are always present.  However I don’t think any of these animals did much work around the farm.

Just on sunset we went for a walk in the Quivertree Forest.

The Quivertree or Aloe Dichotoma, got their local name from the San people who used to hollow out the branches to make quivers for their arrows.

The tree is native to Southern Africa and protected there. There are fears of it becoming extinct due to climate change.

Isolated trees are spread around Southern Namibia but only three areas of forest are left in all of Africa.

Quivertree Forest in one of them, the others are a different variety of Aloe Dichotoma and on the east coast.

The forest is set in a Luna landscape of rocks and boulders and in the twilight the trees looked prehistoric.

Once we got over our excitement of the trees we started to see small brown creatures scurrying over the rocks and bounding up the trees.

We had seen rock rabbits, dassies or rock hyrax, as they are variously known, but certainly nowhere near as many as were here.

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Day 6, October 16: Quivertree Forest.

The next morning we had an early breakfast as we wanted to visit the Giants Playground before it got too hot, which it never did.

As we arrived at the restaurant we were greeted by the local cheetah who had wandered in for a feed.

She was 18 years old, which is a great age, even for captive cheetah.

Abandoned as a cub, she has lived on the farm all her life. Once rehabilitated she couldn’t be reintroduced back into the wild, as she would have posed too big a risk to the domestic livestock.

She wouldn’t be much of a threat now, as she has hardly any appetite and only eats small portions.

That evening she returned but this time she brought a friend – a seven year old female.

And she could eat.

She finished off both her dinner and that of the old cheetah.

The Giants Playground displays impressively weathered dolerite dykes which form part of the Keetmanshoop Dolerite Complex or Dolerite Swarm.

They were formed when volcanic magma rose to just below the earth’s surface. This was in the form of hundreds of individual dikes or sills that radiated from a single volcanic centre.

Over time, erosion has revealed these columns and blocks of basalt to create an unearthly landscape.

From the Giants Playground we drove a further 25 km to the Mesosaurus Fossil site.

Here the owner of the farm Spitzkoppe, Geil Steenkamp, discovered the fossils of an ancient crocodilian type creature named as a Mesosaurus.

The Mesosaurus came from the Early Permian period and became extinct over 299-280 million years ago.

The Mesosaurus Fossil site is convincing proof to support the theory of drifting continents. The same genus of Mesosaurus, in the same rock formations, can also be found in South America.

Geil was an old bushman who could spin a good yarn and told many stories about discovering the Mesosaurus.

Half of which were believable.

He could also play a tune on the Dolerite rocks that were on his property. These rocks are so dense that they resonate like chiming bells.

Adjacent to the Mesosaurus Fossil site is the grave of J. Splittgerber, a German soldier killed in action on November 13, 1904.

More evidence of Namibia’s colonial past.

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Day 7, October 17: Quivertree Forest to Fish River Canyon.

The owner of the Quivertree Forest Guest Lodge suggested we take the more scenic route to Ai-Ais Hot Springs on the D545.

We stopped at Naute Kristall for coffee. This is a small vineyard and distillery with a newly installed espresso machine. It’s just next door Naute Fruit Farm, a huge government complex that grows dates, pomegranates, prickly pear and pecans.

Some of the fruit from the farm is used in the distillery. And apparently the dates from the farm are of such a good quality that they are exported to the Middle East as well as Europe.

Not far from Naute Kristall is the Naute Dam, a lunar landscape of rugged rocks and an acacia tree that looks very similar to Australian Wattle.

Water from the dam is used to irrigate the Naute Fruit Farm.

On the way to Ai-Ais, Thea decided that we should make a detour to the premier viewing point of the Fish River Canyon.

This was a great decision as the views were spectacular. The Hobas View Point is situated 820 metres above the canyon and was very well designed with excellent facilities for picnickers.

The formation of the Fish River Canyon started about 350 million years ago.

Measuring 90 to 160 km long, 27 km maximum width and 549 metres maximum depth, is cited as the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

The Mexicans might disputes this as the Copper Canyon is reputed to hold that honour.

There was a dispute between the TomTom and MapsME on how far we needed to travel to get to the Ai-Ais Hot Springs, which is at the southern end of the Fish River Canyon.

The travel phone with MapsME won, as the TomTom was 50 km out.

There were hardly any guests at A-Ais Hot Springs at Fish River Canyon. However there was plenty of enthusiastic staff waiting to please us.

We decided to have a pre-dinner drink on the terrace, overlooking the campground and the river.

Our waiter had the dinner menu in front of us before we took our first sip.

They had a Hansa Draught on tap, which was very good and a pleasant change from bottled beer.

There is very little draught, let alone craft beer, in Namibia, it’s all bottled. The big brewers have a stranglehold on production and distribution. It’s a familiar story of the large breweries trying to restrict competition and then buying out any craft brewery that makes a success of it.

The camp ground was one of the best I have seen. Every site had a solid fuel BBQ, or braai, running water and electricity. Plus there were full camp kitchens and shower blocks every 50 metres or so.

All this was set in a garden area with a huge thermal swimming pool at one end.

The entire area of Ai-Ais is set against a backdrop of rugged mountains, that border both sides of the Fish River.

The dry river bed is etched with footprints, human and animal.

It’s interesting trying to identify the animal ones.

The trip, so far, has been very relaxed and that’s probably due to the fact that we are spending thirty days in Namibia, not five to fourteen as most people do.

We are seeing the ‘A’ sites and probably the ‘B’ and ‘C’ sites as well.

On some days there is nothing to do but relax and see no sites at all.

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Day 8, October 18: Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Fish River Canyon.

It’s great to be greeted by irony first thing in the morning.

There we were, staying at the Ai-Ais ‘Hot Springs’ and there was no hot water for our shower.

At breakfast almost everyone sat on the terrace, yet all the tables were set inside. It was the same with dinner the previous evening.

Either the guests are silly or the hotel hasn’t noticed where most people prefers to sit.

The customer is always right – allegedly.

Having spent many hours in the car over the last few weeks, Ai-Ais Hot Springs was a good opportunity to go for a long walk.

About 300 metres from the hotel is a dam wall across the Fish River. I fully expected it to be full of water behind the wall. However it was a sandy base with a intermittent springs along the edges.

How could such a relatively dry river have carved out the mighty Fish River Canyon we had seen the day before?

Namibia is in the grip of drought, but when it rains it must really pour down.

There wasn’t much wildlife on our walk but we did see a few family groups of baboons, one lone stallion, a pair of very frightened Kudu and a couple of talkative German tourists.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the hot springs, that were just below our room, and wallowed for a while.

Pale-winged Starlings were everywhere, especially around the restaurant. They have shiny blackish-blue plumage with fiery orange eyes.

I thought they were a member of the crow family at first, that’s until they opened their beaks.

They were definitely not crows as their call was much more melodic.

In Africa there are two types of tourists. The bird watchers and everyone else.

We have constantly run into ‘Birders’ as they are known. They have binoculars as well as cameras and always carry a complete field guide to the birds of whatever country they are currently travelling in.

We met a delightful South African couple in the Quivertree Forest Guest Lodge. They had only been birding for three years but had managed to sight over 700 of the 900 birds species in South Africa.

They were very proud of this achievement.

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Day 9, October 19: Ai-Ais Hot Springs, Fish River Canyon to Helmeringhausen.

We left Ai-Ais and headed south towards the Orange River, the border between Namibia and South Africa. There was much more water in this river than we had been used to seeing.

The roads were all gravel but excellent and we could drive up to the 80kph speed limit quite comfortably.

The locals drive much faster than that.

Just near the ferry crossing, to South Africa, we headed north, onto a sealed road – this was still on the C13. About 105 km from Helmeringhausen, it reverted to gravel.

Strangely we found our next sealed road again at Helmeringhausen. It was a stretch of about 400 metres that ran through the tiny village, past our hotel.

Helmeringhausen Hotel is on the 11,000 hectare farm, Helmeringhausen. The farm was established during the colonial period, in the early 1900s, by Mr Hubert Hester of the Schutztruppe or German Colonial Infantry.

It was famous for Karakul sheep which originated in Central Asia.

We were certainly made to feel welcome an the Helmeringhausen Hotel, as our names were on the door to our room when we arrived.

Most hotels have their idiosyncrasies, the Hotel Helmeringhausen was no different.

All the staff are chefs, with a chef’s uniform of hat, jacket and checked pants.

Thea was greeted at reception by a chef. All the wait staff, apart from the sons of the owners were chefs. Even the cleaning staff are chefs.

I think they were trying to promote their culinary expertise.

The sea and the city – Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam.

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

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Zanzibar.

Vasco da Gama visited Zanzibar, or Unguja as it was known in 1499. This was at the end of his epic journey that linked Europe and Asia, connecting the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans.

His voyage of discovery gave the Portuguese access to the Indian Spice routes and led to the age of globalisation by the European powers.

Spices became an important industry in Zanzibar, so much so that they are sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands.

The Portuguese took control of Zanzibar from the Arabs in 1504, making it part of the Portuguese Empire.

If remained under their control for nearly two centuries.

In 1698, Zanzibar became part of Oman, under control of the Sultan. In 1840 Said bin Sultan, the Sultan of Oman moved his capital from Muscat, in Oman, to Stone Town, in Zanzibar City.

Britain took formal control through the 1890 Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty. In 1896 there was an slight altercation, known as the Anglo-Zanzibar War. After which Britain put Hamoud bin Mohammed into power.

This was known as shortest war in history, lasting only 45 minutes.

In 1897 Hamoud bin Mohammed yielded to British pressure and brought an end to Zanzibar’s involvement in the slave trade.

And to add to the magic of Zanzibar, there was even a British administrator, named Harry Potter who was in control from 1954 to 1959.

Zanzibar became an independent nation in December 1963 but it didn’t last long.

A revolution took place in January, 1964 and in April it signed an agreement of confederation with mainland Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Zanzibar is officially part of Tanzania but it is very different.

We stayed at Hotel Al-Minar, in the heart of Stone Town and only a few minutes walk from most attractions.

It’s was a quaint Arab styled building with carved timber beams and heavy wooden furniture and doors.

The staff were fantastic and even tracked down a lost sock, that vanished from our laundry.

Having spent the last few weeks in the Kenyan and Tanzanian bush, it was great to be beside the seaside again.

There are a number of rooftop bars, along the waterfront, that take advantage of the views and the balmy evening air – we took advantage of them.

We were in Zanzibar for some R&R but with so much history to explore, we doubted that would be the case.

After all Stone Town in Zanzibar City was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000, so there is plenty to see.

Stone Town is the largest, living, Swahili stone town in the world. There are over 1000 coral ‘stone’ buildings with architectural significance.

The features that make this city unique are written on a sign at the door of the House of Wonders Museum.

“It is the confluence between Africa and the Indian Ocean. 

From a fishing village at Shangani, it developed as a cosmopolitan society with a unique architectural synthesis. 

This was based on Swahili building technology, the elegant simplicity of Arab tradition and ‘saracenic’ features imposed by the British.”

Coral stone isn’t as robust as granite, marble or even concrete and the city had a distinct feeling of being in decay.

Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim with over 50 mosques on the island.

Each morning we were woken to the sound of the Imam calling the faithful to prayer.

A majority of the women wear modest clothing and there are even some full burkas.

The big difference is that the clothes are much more colourful, compared to Arab countries, especially the headscarves.

The first morning was spent on some housekeeping. Firstly we extended our stay by another night, then it was off to find an ATM and after that, down to the ferry office to buy tickets to Dar es Salaam.

I was well overdue for a haircut, so that was another challenge we had to face.

I eventually did find a barber and paid more for a cut in Stone Town than in Barcelona.

They saw me coming.

In Zanzibar there are more taxis than passengers and more guides than tourists.

It’s the low season but at every turn you are expected to part with your money. It can be a bracelet, a selection of spices, a taxi or a full day guided tour.

There are even people hanging around cafes, restaurants and the ferry terminal. They are waiting to guide you, those last metres, to where you were heading anyway.

Of course they are expecting a tip from you or a commission from the business, of both.

After our chores were done we headed off to do some exploring.

The Old Dispensary, was formerly the Jubilee Hospital, built by a wealthy Ismali Indian, in 1887, to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. It is currently the Stone Town Cultural Centre.

It’s a testament to Zanzibar’s diverse history.

The wooden carved balconies and stained glass are of Indian influence. While the walls were made from Zanzibar coral rag and covered in European neo-classical ornaments.

We visited a private museum that was dedicated to Emily Ruete (1844-1924). Born Sayyida Salme, Princess of Zanzibar, she was the youngest of 36 children, born to Sayyid Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid, Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman. Emily is the author of ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’ This is an autobiography describing her love for a German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete, and her subsequent elopement to Europe. She then converted to Christianity and married him.

The Anglican Christ Church Cathedral is built on the site of the old slave market. The only remains of the market are the holding cells beneath one of the church buildings.

There is a well designed display giving a full history of Zanzibar’s involvement in the slave trade.

Many slaves that were freed were put into Christian missions. They were educated and indoctrinated into Christianity. This caused problems, once they left the mission, as they could not assimilate into a mainly Muslim society.

Zanzibar was one of the largest slave ports in the indian Ocean slave trade. It was dominated by Arab traders and originated before the creation of Islam.

Dr. David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a missionary, explorer and an important activist in pushing for Britain to ban the East African Arab-Swahili slave trade.

“Dr. Livingstone, I presume.”

Was the famous greeting by Henry Morton Stanley when he located David Livingstone in Africa on November 10, 1871.

One of Livingstone’s life goals was to find the source of the river Nile.

After his death Livingstone became a national hero in Britain. His exploits were a catalyst for the British and European’s rush to occupy Africa.

“It is not worth the while to go around the world to count the cats in Zanzibar.” 

There is some conjecture as to whether this quote, from Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, is literal or metaphorical. 

I do however believe there is a lot of truth in the passage.

Zanzibar is a city of cats, they are everywhere.

The House of Wonders is one of six palaces built by Barghhash bin Said, the second Sultan of Zanzibar. At present it houses the Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar. It was built in 1883 and at the time a pinnacle of modernity, having electricity and even an elevator. It again used traditional coral rag but this was combined with concrete slabs and cast-iron columns, allowing for exceptionally high ceilings.

The Museum was as dusty and in need of upkeep as most of Stone Town’s historic buildings.

The Old Fort or Arab Fort was built around 1700 and is the oldest building in Zanzibar. It was constructed with materials obtained from a Portuguese chapel and ironically was designed to defend the island from the Portuguese.

There’s not much to see inside as it’s totally occupied with souvenir stalls.

However in one part an amphitheater has been built, this is home to the annual Zanzibar Film Festival.

Considering the heritage of Zanzibar it seemed only reasonable that we embark on a spice tour.

We engaged a driver through the hotel and travelled north, on Malawi Road, out of Stone Town, we then turned east towards Kizimbani.

The Ziti Spice Farm was a slick operation.

Our tour was three hours door to door but we did see and learn a lot. It was a show farm, just for the tourists and the only things they sell are to the visitors.

Apart from spices, Ziti sells soap and a perfume they call Chanel No. O. This is because it contains zero chemicals.

The main spice grown and exported from Zanzibar are cloves. These were introduced by the Omanis as a way of creating wealth. There is very little in the way of indigenous fruits or spices in Zanzibar. Everything comes from somewhere else.

The Omanis were also involved in the export of ivory, which was tied to the slave trade.

All the important exports in Zanzibar are controlled by the Tanzanian government. This seemed to be a pattern in eastern and southern Africa.

We finished our tour with a fruit feast. The fruit was excellent as it has been in all of our African travels so far.

In fact all the food in Stone Town was excellent. We had modern cuisine, local Zanzibar fare, Indian and on our last night we even had Ethiopian at Abyssinian Maritim. This had been recommended to us by the manager at our hotel.

We ordered lamb and beef, as well as an avocado salad.

When the meat dishes arrived they were ceremoniously poured onto a large woven basket. This was covered at the bottom with a very light pancake. We were also given a roll of the pancake to help us soak up the gravy.

The meats were infused with all sorts of spices.

It was interesting to taste the spices in our evening meal, that we had seen growing in the morning.

This was all washed down with a very pleasant Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa.

I am sure that this wouldn’t feature with normal Ethiopian fair.

We checked out late from the hotel on our final morning as we were booked on the 12:30 ferry to Dar es Salaam.

This was a two hour journey by high speed catamaran.

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Dar es Salaam.

On our first morning in Dar es Salaam we were again woken early, this time by Gospel music, not prayers. They were coming from the Azania Front Lutheran Church, which was right next door to our hotel.

Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania and the largest in eastern Africa. There is a decidedly German influence in the city, which is probably due to the establishment of the German East Africa Company in 1887.

Even though it’s not the capital of Tanzania, Dar es Salaam has the bulk of its people, wealth, industry and commerce.

The Chinese influence on present day Tanzania goes back to 1965.

The first President of the United Republic of Tanzania, Mwalimu J. K. Nyerere (1922-1999) had a strong bond with China and its system of socialism. He is still controversially regarded as the Father of the Nation, yet he left it one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in Africa.

Like the late Fidel Castro, Nyerere created a brand of socialism that was more a dictatorship than a benevolent state.

By eliminating any opposition, from political rivals or unions, he managed to control power for twenty years.

We only had one full day in Dar es Salaam before we flew to Namibia so we decided to visit the National Museum of Tanzania.

We needed to put a cultural and historic perspective on all that we had seen and the museum was within walking distance from our hotel.

When the Portuguese visited Kilwa, an island of the southern coast of Tanzania, they were impressed by the wealth of the indigenous upper class. They wore silk and cotton with jewellery of gold and silver.

They subsequently returned to conquer the people and reap the rewards.

When the first Europeans visited Australia, the indigenous people would have appeared very poor.

There was no gold, silver or fine clothes, which is probably why they turned around and went somewhere else.

The museum exhibition included African rock art, European settlement, contemporary Tanzanian politics and human evolution.

The exhibition of human development was my favourite as it provided us with the other bookend to our trip to Ngorongoro Crater. There were some excellent illustrations depicting the path of evolution.

This was one of the best TSh13,000 (Aus $8) we have ever spent.

Kenya and Tanzania, hakuna matata.

Monday, December 19th, 2016

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Day 1, September 21: Nairobi, Kenya.

Hakuna matata means “no worries” in Swahili.

This saying, popularised by the 1994 Disney movie The Lion King, is so profound it’s frightening. As we found out on our 15 day tour of Kenya and Tanzania.

Our flight from Madrid to Adis Ababa, via Malta, was uneventful.

Except we didn’t stop in Malta.

We were expecting the worst, especially with our luggage, as the flight change was only meant to be 30 minutes.

We never did stop in Malta and the turnaround in Adis turned out to be two hours.

On arrival in Nairobi our driver, from Kenya Walking Survivors Safari Tours (KWSS), yes that’s the company name, was well over an hour late.

After two phone calls our driver arrived, he blamed the traffic. I had the feeling that our problems were far deeper than that.

We were driven to the office of KWSS, where we met Mr. Otieno Lysaniash, the owner.

He suggested that we change our itinerary and spend more time in Kenya and less in Tanzania. This was to make the most of the Wildebeest and Zebra migration which was happening while we were there.

Everything seems to move at a very different pace in Kenya.

It took us one and a half hours for Thea to get a toasted sandwich for lunch.

It’s a bit like Vanuatu and Fiji time – back in the 70s.

Another interesting aspect to Kenyan dining is that you never get a bill with a total.

You have to do the calculations and it’s only when you get your change do you find out if you were correct.

The population of Kenya is over 45 million and the official language is English. The common tongue is Swahili and there are 42 different tribes, each with their own language.

Kenya is named after Mount Kenya and is a combination word from the Kikuyu, Embu, Kamba and Kiinyaa languages, meaning ‘God’s resting place’.

Our driver and guide was David Mwendwa Kasau. He described the tribes in Kenya as being like football sides. They are fundamentally the same but fervently support their own origins and traditions.

In general the Kenyan population is very poor, with a third of people incomes going towards paying bribes, which averages 16 per month.

The largest contributor to Kenya’s GDP is tourism, so it’s not surprising that there are a lot of dodgy practices in this sector.

We were to discover this first hand.

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Day 2, September 22: Nairobi to Samburu National Reserve.

On our first full day we took Thika Road out of Nairobi where the traffic was light, however going in to the city was a car park.

As well as languages there seemed to be a mixture of religions, as we passed Buddhist temples as well as many Christian churches and church schools. There were also Mosques in certain areas.

Saccos are everywhere.

These are privately run mini busses, about the size of a small VW van. They have a driver and a ‘conductor’. The conductor’s job is to open and shut the sliding door, collect fares and direct the traffic so his Sacco gets into the best position.

The area north of Nairobi is the ‘fruit bowl’ of Kenya. On the roadside everything is sold, especially fruit and veg.

The fruit and juice beverage company, DelMonte, has a very big presence in Kenya and their pineapple plantations lined the roadside.

Greenhouses growing flowers for the European market, were also everywhere. Kenyan flowers make up 35% of the flower sales in the EU.

We moved from the very fertile red earth of the rain shadow area between the mountains to the black soil of the more arid valley. As we were told, Kenya is blessed with good soil but not enough water.

Furniture production replaced agriculture, with tables, chairs, sideboards and timber ornaments now dominating the roadside stalls.

Acacia trees started to appear, a true sign that we were in Africa.

We hadn’t seen a Caucasian since leaving the hotel in Nairobi – that’s until we made our first stop.

It was a souvenir shop and toilet break. This ‘opportunity to buy’ was full of whites.

I was sure that there would be lots more buying opportunities to come.

These souvenir places are called curio shops and in order to get the tourists in they provide clean washrooms (we call them toilets) and many either have food or at least a place to eat your packed lunch.

Even though we were happy to pay KSh10, (AUD13 cents) to use the toilets in other more convenient places, David insisted that we went to the curio shops.

I am sure that there was a reward involved somewhere.

We then passed over the equator. Here you could pay to see water turn clockwise on one side of the equator and in a anticlockwise direction on the other.

This is a complete con as this phenomenon doesn’t occur that close to the equator.

After a very long day on the road we arrived at Samburu Game Lodge.

No sooner had we got into the reserve, than we started to see animals.

Squirrels at first, then baboons and then they got larger – gazelle, giraffes and lions.

Plus there were birds everywhere we looked.

Our vehicle was equipped with a two way radio, which David put to good use. As soon as an animal was spotted, by the driver of any safari vehicle, he would radio the location. Before no time at all, other vehicles would arrive on the scene.

We were the first to spot a couple of lions and their cubs.

Once we retuned to the lodge and checked in there were even more animals. Monkeys, Baboons and a pair of Grand Gazelles.

After dinner we were heading back to our room, when we were stopped by one of the lodge staff.

He told us to wait as there were two elephants grazing in front of our lodge.

After they were chased back across the river we were escorted by two staff members and the chef, back to the safety of our room.

We locked the door, as instructed, because the Baboons often barge in unexpectedly.

What an eventful day.

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Day 3, September 23: Samburu National Reserve.

We were now into the serious business of touring with a guide. When you travel on your own you set your own schedule.

This doesn’t happen when you are under someone elses control.

They have a plan and you basically need to follow it. After all they know the local environment, where the best photo opportunities are and how long it takes to get from place to place.

We were away for three months, so 15 days of regimentation wouldn’t hurt.

We were up early for breakfast then on the road in the Samburu National Reserve.

There were two game drives planned. One in the early morning and another in the late afternoon.

These are the best times to see the animals, as it’s not too hot and they are active. It’s also the time they head to the river so they are concentrated into a smaller area.

Our lodge in Samburu National Reserve was very comfortable and the food was excellent. Original recipes, that used fresh and tasty ingredients. The presentation was just as good.

For most of our time in Kenya we got full board at the hotels, guest houses and game lodges. This means that there is more food, than one person could possibly eat, at every meal.

Our guide, David and the staff at the Samburu Lodge were shocked that we didn’t have all three courses for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The roads in most game parks are dirt and as this was the end of the dry they were also very dusty. In Sumburu it’s called Talcum Powder, not dust.

Once in Africa I found I was using my telephoto lens far more than I had done in Spain. In Europe the wide angle was the lens of choice as it better captures the architecture and scenery.

In Africa it’s all about the animals.

The Big Five are what most tourists come to see in Africa. They are the Elephant, Rhino, Lion, Leopard and Buffalo.

There is far more than that, as the place is alive with life, on the ground and in the air.

The animals are only part of what is there. The birds, reptiles and flora are also unique. We were constantly asking David to stop in order to get a snap of something small and seemingly insignificant.

He soon realised that we were in Kenya to see much more than just five animals.

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Day 4, September 24: Samburu National Reserveto Lake Nakuru National Park.

After a short game ride following breakfast, where we again found elephants, giraffe and lions, we got onto the A2 Trans-East African Highway.

Our driver wanted to see how our Tom Tom worked, so we plugged it in and set the destination to Nakuru, where we were to spend the night.

It was interesting to see David’s face as the GPS gave directions, our speed, turns right and left and then it spoke to him, with a very English accent.

It was very entertaining.

What we did discover after a few days with the Tom Tom on, was that it’s no replacement for local knowledge.

It directed us up roads that David said were impassable.

We headed towards Lake Nakuru National Park. Much of the way we were retracing the route we took coming from Nairobi.

We then turned off on the C75 at Kiganjo.

Just past the turnoff we went through a coffee growing region.

Red onions were also a popular crop and the locals lined the side of the road selling bags of them. Then tea plantations took over.

It was a roller coaster ride as the road climbed then descended through the mountains.

We stopped for a quick boxed lunch at the equator and then continued on to Thompson Falls and Nakuru, in the Great Rift Valley.

We were told that there are many ‘Equators’ in Kenya. Each one is trying to separate the tourists from their money.

We must have been in ‘God’s Country’ as there were so many churches.

Names such as The Redeemed Gospel Church, Deliverance Church and the Higher Life Christ Church were all advertised with hand painted signs.

Many of the Saccos also have a connection with the almighty and they proudly display their faith on the sides of their vans.

Addicted to Jesus, Fruit of Faith and Miracle Child were some.

The best one I found was: I hope you are following Jesus Christ as closely as you are following me. 

Our last stop for the day was at Thomson’s Falls.

It was named, in 1883, after the Scottish explorer and geologist, Joseph Thomson’s.

It is rather a spectacular cascade of 74 metres, spoilt by the residential apartments right next door.

As our guide, David, pointed out Thomson would not have been the first human to have viewed these falls, surely that would have been a Kenyan.

Our hotel in Nakuru wasn’t a patch on the lodge we stayed in at Samburu National Reserve. Fortunately it was only for one night.

The dinner was a buffet. There was a reasonable choice of meat, fish, salad and vegetables. The problem was that the ‘buff’ was set up and there were only four people there to eat it.

We were outnumbered by the staff two to one.

Á la carte would have been a simpler and more economic option.

Then the staff came into the restaurant to have their meal. I think the buffet was mainly for them.

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Day 5, September 25: Lake Nakuru National Parkand Maasai Mara National Reserve.

Our schedule had be altered to spend more time in Maasai Mara, rather than the Serengeti.

They are both part of the great migration route and in the same geographical area. The only difference is Maasai Mara is in Kenya and the Serengeti is in Tanzania.

This required a change of plans and there was some confusion between the tour operator, our guide and us.

After the discussion over breakfast we went to Lake Nakuru National Park and spent a couple of hours on a game drive.

All the changes were in Mr. Otieno Lysaniash’s head and everything seemed to be very fluid and the detail was scarce.

Hakuna matata.

Overnight it rained and the temperature dropped. There was a feeling in the air that more rain might follow.

The Lake Nakuru National Park is much lusher than Samburu and there are different animals there.

The one we came to see was the White Rhino, we also saw Buffalo, Common Zebras and Rothchild’s Giraffes. These are a different species of zebra and giraffe to the ones in Samburu.

Place names and business names are a strange dichotomy in Kenya. On one hand cities, towns and geographic locations seem to all have Kenyan names. To our English speaking ears most are unpronounceable.

However, business names seem to have a very Anglo Saxon flavour.

George’s Resort and Coffee Shop, was where we had a lunch stop. Surprisingly they had an espresso machine and made us a good short black.

Other names we encountered were, Club Berry Lounge, Father’s Choice Butchery, Ribbons Café, Great Stars Academy, Spring Valley Machinery and one I particularly liked, Threads of Hope Sewing Centre. 

We then had to try and get our tongues around local names such as, Nyambururu, Kamirithu and

Empopongi.

It was a long 277 kilometre journey from Lake Nakuru to Maasai Mara and again I sat up the front to keep David company.

I noticed that a lot of vehicles have their registration number engraved on their windows and even the plastic weather shield.

Apparently this is a deterrent to cars being stolen and then wrecked for the parts.

On the country roads and even some of the urban ones, cattle, sheep, donkeys and goats wander across without care.

Even wildlife like baboons and zebras have free reign in the more remote areas.

About 65 kilometres from Maasai Mara the road changed from being sealed to a corrugated, bone rattling ribbon of red earth.

Driving on the left seemed only to be an option, as the drivers chose the path of least resistance.

This could be on the left or right.

The verge seemed to be the smoother ride but it was sometimes on an acute angle. I found myself wondering at what degree of tilt would our van topple over.

Apart from the road changing, so did the weather – at least the rain settled the dust.

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Day 6, September 26: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

We were told that our solar shower would take two or twenty minutes for the hot water to come through.

We weren’t quite sure which time was right

After twenty minutes it still hadn’t got much beyond lukewarm.

Our 15 day safari in Kenya and Tanzania had been paid for in advance and everything was included. Hotels, meals, our driver/guide, his van and petrol.

David seemed to have to go cap-in-hand, on a daily basis, to ‘Mr. O’, as he became known, to get money for petrol, water and our lunch.

This came via the M-Pesa through his mobile phone.

The M-Pesa is a bit like a bank, where you go to withdraw money that’s been put into your account. Your phone is your pass book.

It was a long day in the office. We spent nine hours snaking our way around the rough roads of Maasai Mara National Reserve. Our only break was to have our boxed lunch under a tree.

Here we we joined by a variety of birds as well as flying ants, who seemed very anxious to share our lunch.

We saw many animals, some we hadn’t seen before, like hippos, crocodiles, wildebeest and a hyena. The highlight was getting a close up look at a Leopard.

The Wildebeest and Zebra migration was passing through Massai Mara, so there were many thousands of them in the reserve.

Massai Mara National Reserve was established in 1961 and is 1,510 square kilometres in size. It is in the north of the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem which covers 25,000 square kilometres of Kenya and Tanzania.

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Day 7, September 27: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

We started a bit later on our second day in Maasai Mara as our guide had to again get money from Mr. O, through the M-Pesa.

It seems that our guide was only being drip fed his spending money.

This meant he had to buy a new ticket to the reserve each day we visited, rather than getting a three day pass. This meant running the gauntlet of Maasai ladies who stood guard at the gate selling souvenirs.

They were very persistent.

The circle of life was evident everywhere, as carcasses littered the roadside. We even spotted a leopard’s kill up a tree. She had dragged a small wildebeest high into the foliage to escape a pair of lions.

One of the most interesting sights that day was a Secretary Bird landing. These huge long legged raptors are like A380s and have to run when they come into land – this can take metres.

Again we had lunch under a tree. The spot was right on the border between Kenya and Tanzania.

Fortunately we didn’t have to share it with any critters.

We had crossed over the Mara River and were in the Mara Triangle. This is between the Tanzania border, the Mara River and the Oloololo Escarpment.

David left us to walk along the Mara River with crocodiles and hippos. Fortunately we were accompanied by by an armed game warden. Although I wasn’t that sure how effective his aged .22 rifle would have been against the predators.

No GPS was required In Maasai Mara, as David, with the aid of his mates and a unique sense of direction, seems to be able to find animals in the remotest of places.

The word goes out, over the short wave radio, and in no time at all we have crossed creeks, climbed hills and wended our way through a labyrinth of small tracks to find our prey.

Then the tourist vans gather like Vultures at the site.

At one point we were following a lioness stalking a zebra. No sooner had the call gone out we were surrounded by 10 tourist vans anxious to get a closer look.

The mornings were clear but by the afternoon the thunderstorms were back. This was a sure sign that the rains were on their way.

My iPhone app, ‘Health’, is doing strange things. On September 27 it told me that I had walked 10.01 kilometres. This is hard to believe considering I only got out of the van once to do the river walk.

This was only about 500 meters.

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Day 8, September 28: Maasai Mara National Reserve.

The Maasai village visit was first stop on the agenda on our third and final day in Massai Mara.

This was an hour spent being escorted around the village by one of the chief’s sons. The chief was at the entrance to greet us, but more importantly collect the money for our visit.

We were told this would go to buy food for the village as their only income comes from animal husbandry.

They don’t grow crops or vegetables and graze their herd in both Kenya and Tanzania.

Passports or visas aren’t needed for the herdsmen as they can move freely across the border.

The chief’s son was a teacher and seemed very progressive in his attitude to the world, conservation and education. He told us that he had personally pushed for girls to get an education as well as boys.

This normally doesn’t happen.

In the Maasai tradition the role of chief is handed down to the oldest son. Our guide hoped that his work in education would put him in a good position to leapfrog his older brother.

We were given a demonstration of jumping by the men and then the women sang two songs for us. After that we were shown around a typical mud and straw house.

It was a tiny space divided into three small areas. A cooking space and two bedrooms. One for the parents and the other for the three children.

Then came our opportunity to buy. An entire area of the village was set aside as a shop for souvenirs.

We did buy a couple of necklaces but that was the extent of it.

Then the tour was over.

It was very staged but interesting and we were allowed to take as many snaps as we liked.

This made it very worthwhile.

This was our day of grizzly experiences. We came across a lioness with a domestic cow that she had just gorged herself on and was resting. Apparently the Maasai graze their cattle in the reserve, even at night.

They become easy prey for the predators.

A cow is worth a lot of money and this would have been a big loss to the owner.

Not long after that we witnessed a cheetah stalk and then run down a Grant Gazelle. She was accompanied by three juveniles. They kept a respectful distance from their mother, that’s until it was time to feed, then she stood back and let them get stuck in.

We then came across the leopard, from the previous day, who had hung her kill in a tree.

Now she was enjoying her catch.

It was much busier in the reserve on our third day than for the previous two. It took time to find a ‘Lunch Tree’, as most of them were occupied.

Within the reserve there was a constant threat of getting bogged. There were many small creeks to cross and I was very surprised just where the HiAce could go.

Everything is a trial in Maasai Mara, even getting fuel. We dropped into Sarova Mara Lodge to fill up but it was just past 4pm and the generator had been shut down. We then had to go into the Maasai village near our lodge and buy ‘Bush Fuel’, which they pump by hand. The problem with this is that you have no guarantee of the quality.

Only time and kilometres will tell how pure it is.

While we were filling up and having the oil checked the bonnet cable broke. This required repairs by the local mechanic.

This took time.

We have spent three, long, nine hour days in Maasai Mara and each one has been full of different experiences.

Time spent waiting for repairs was yet another.

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Day 9, September 29: Maasai Mara National Reserveto Lake Naivasha. 

Living in tented camps can be a trial.

Hot water is solar and very unpredictable. On the first morning the water was cold, while on the second it was perfect, on the third and fourth it ran out.

You also spend your nights engulfed in a net cocoon, to protect you from malaria carrying mosquitoes.

Some mozzie nets are better than other and each one was different.

The ride back to the sealed C12, from the reserve, was yet another body shaking experience.

Over four days we had what’s described as a ‘Maasai Massage’. The roads are so corrugated and the surface so uneven that you need to get back your land legs whenever you stop.

This also had a detrimental effect on the vehicles that use these roads, especially the tourist vans.

On average they last about three years before they need replacing. They also need constant maintenance and repairs during that time.

Each morning our vehicle would arrive to pick us up looking like new, having been washed the previous night.

It’s what was happening beneath the surface that was concerning.

On the road to Naivasha we stopped to go to an ATM. I wasn’t fast enough retrieving my card and the machine swallowed it up, without an explanation and without having coughed up any cash.

It was panic stations.

Normally if this happens you have to wait for the bank to return you card by post.

Fortunately the bank manager understood our dilemma and opened the ATM and I got my card back.

Our driver banks with KCB, the same bank that swallowed my card. This also helped us, as he could go guarantor, just in case we were up to no good.

We tried again, under the watchful eye of the assistant manager and this time it worked.

He thought the whole incident was hilarious and told me to be faster next time.

Travelling has its adventures.

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Day 10, September 30: Green Crater and Lake Naivasha.

At Lake Naivasha we were ‘upgraded’ to the Fish Eagle Inn from Carnelley’s Camp, which was right next door. I think this was a bit of spin by Mr. O to put us into a hotel that he had an account with.

It was a hotel rather than a lodge and had 24 hour power and reasonable WiFi all set in a beautiful garden.

However it was old and had seen better days.

And to Thea’s annoyance they couldn’t even provide a hair dryer.

We met a New Zealand couple in the AA Lodge in Maasai Mara, they were also traveling with Kenya Walking Survivors Safaris and we’re having similar financial issues with KWSS. By now we all realised that Mr O was in a bit of financial strife.

Like us, this Kiwi couple had paid their money up front to Mr. O. Unfortunately for them they had also asked him to arrange their flights from Kenya to Zanzibar.

He hadn’t done so early enough and there were no flights available when he went to book. This meant they had to drive hundreds of kilometres to another departure point.

Mr. O was taking the money and spending it on other things – he was, in fact, robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The word “Survivor’s” in the company name was now making sense.

Staying in this KWSS friendly hotel meant that David didn’t need to go to M-Pesa to withdraw money to pay our room bill.

There are seven lakes in the Rift Valley in Kenya, only Lake Naivasha is fresh water. Our hotel was right on the shores of the lake.

The main trip for the day was to the Crater Lake Game Sanctuary. This, as its name suggests, is a lake in a volcanic crater.

Anthracite, which looks like broken glass, littered the pathway around the lake.

I souvenired a small piece.

Crater Lake is unusual, in that it’s brown and salty. It has no exit for the water and is only fed by rain and a subterranean spring.

It changes from brown to green according to the seasons and the level of algae.

Anna was our guide and she was to take us for a walk around the rim.

Unfortunately Thea was having an off day and didn’t feel up to the walk in the heat.

So Anna and I did it alone. She was knowledgable about the area, the animals and especially the bird life.

The highlight for me was seeing the striking black and white Colobus Monkey. These are what’s called Old World monkeys in that they are native to Africa and Asia. However they may be related to the Barbary Macaques that we encountered in Gibraltar.

Anna had studied mammals at college but was really interested in birds. All kinds were pointed out to me but I only managed to see about half of them.

After our walk we had lunch on a pontoon by the lake. It was all very pleasant, especially the opportunity to get out of the van and have a good walk.

Mount Longonot, overlooking the Rift Valley, is still an active volcano and geothermal power is generated in the area that was near our hotel.

We had yet another Mr O interruption. This time David had to wait to have money transferred so he could pay for our lunch. In the end we paid the bill as we didn’t want to miss out on the afternoon boat ride on Lake Naivasha.

Peter was our guide and boatman for the afternoon trip and his first question was “What do you want to see, birds, hippos or both?”

We opted for both.

We then spent the next hour buzzing around the lake, sneaking up on birds and gingerly creeping up on hippos.

It was a lot of fun and every time we saw another bird Peter would yell out its name.

It was far too confusing so all the bird shots on Lake Naivasha will be annotated with ‘Birds on Lake Naivasha’

The boat trip was also a good opportunity for Thea to get out in the fresh air, especially after her morning malaise.

We did get uncomfortably close to many Hhppos. They float just beneath the surface, like giant black semi deflated rubber tyres.

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Day 11, October 1: Lake Naivasha to Amboseli.

To get to Amboseli we had to take the highway back to Nairobi. About an hour into our journey we were forced to make a detour, as the road was blocked by a broken down truck. We were onto yet another dirt track.

Another massage.

The dust was so bad in some spots that David had to use his windscreen wipers to remove it.

Once we returned to the main road we had a brief stop at a the Big Five Lookout to get the obligatory shot of the Great Rift Valley. Then we were on the relatively smooth, divided tarmac road into Nairobi.

The Great Rift Valley was once believed to run from Lebanon to Madagascar. It is now confined to Tanzania in the south and extending to Ethiopia in the north.

Once we were through the city we headed south on the Mombasa Road.

This is meant to be a motorway but there are still pedestrians, speed humps and hawkers.

It has a 120kph speed limit with commercial vehicles restricted to 80kph. We got nowhere near either of those speeds.

The road soon changed to a single lane and we slowed down to a sloth’s pace.

The GPS calculated that the trip from Naivasha to Amboseli would take around four hours. David’s estimate was for at least another two hours more.

We had lunch at Emali and then turned off the A108 towards Amboseli. There was still 113 kilometres to go.

I wondered how long it would take.

The landscape was now semi-arid and cement factories seemed to be the only feature on the landscape.

There is a new railway line running from Nairobi to Mombasa.

This, like a lot of other infrastructure in Kenya, was built by the Chinese. I am sure the cement factories are also part of China’s expansion plans in Africa.

With about fifty kilometres to go we had our first, very hazy, view of Mount Kilimanjaro. The snow flecked peak was just visible through a gap in the clouds.

Views of Africa’s highest mountain was one of the main reasons for visiting Amboseli.

We were hoping the clouds would soon shift.

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Day 12, October 2: Amboseli National Park.

In Amboseli we stayed at the Kimbo Safari Camp. It is regarded as a luxury tented camp. It’s tented only on the fact that the rooms are under canvas.

But the canvas is under a roof.

Dinner was the usual buffet in a large dining room.

To our surprise it was full.

This is the first time we had seen a crowd anywhere in Kenya. David explained that being a weekend many locals had come from either Nairobi or Mombasa for a break.

Amboseli National Park is in the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro.

Many in Kenya regard the mountain, the tallest in Africa, as the sixth main sight to see – even though it’s in Tanzania.

So now we have seen the ‘Big Six’. 

Apart from Kilimanjaro, the other attraction of the park is the large swamp area. This is like a magnet to the elephants, hippos and birds of all varieties.

Discounting the swamp, Amboseli National Park is very dry and dusty. Willy-Willys swirl randomly across the dry earth. Some of them spiral hundreds of metres into the air.

The park is more natural, in that there only a few roads to drive on, unlike Maasai Mara. The drawback is that you can’t get close to the action, when you need to.

The flamingos were hundreds of metres away.

Amboseli is for the animals while Maasai Mara is for the tourists.

We were witness to three kills on the game drive that were far less gruesome than we had seen previously.

A Saddle Billed Stork and a Purple Heron catching fish and a Yellow Beaked Egret scoring a frog.

We saw death and also creation as we watched two Ostriches mating.

I felt a little like a perve.

We had lunch at Observation Hill View Point.

It obviously had great views of the park and there should have been good views of Kilimanjaro, except it was still hidden by cloud.

Overall Amboseli seems to be a lot more peaceful reserve. If the lack of carcasses are anything to go by.

In the afternoon the Wili-Wilis all but disappeared and a dust storm took over.

Visibility reduced dramatically.

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Day 13, October 3: Amboseli National Park to Mto wa Mbu and Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania.

We were up very early to drive to the Tanzanian border.

This was our last morning in Kenya and as a farewell gift we got a good view of the ‘Big Rock’ (Kilimanjaro) and a sighting of two cheetahs.

As we left the Amboseli National Park the clouds rolled over Mount Kilimanjaro. It was like the curtain coming down on the final act of an MTC play.

We crossed over the border into Tanzania at Namanga.

It was very smooth, except we were stopped three times by police within our first fifteen kilometres after leaving passport control.

As we passed through small towns and then arrived in Arusha, my first impression was that Tanzania was more developed than Kenya.

This was confirmed when we found Msumbi Coffee, at our pick up point in Arusha.

We immediately ordered two espressos.

Other signs were better roads and public toilets. Even the villages were set back from the road and life seemed calmer and more ordered.

We passed the Tanzania Military Academy. This prestigious institution trains officers from across the region.

There was yet another change of plans. Our new driver/guide, Chris, told us we weren’t staying in Arusha but going to Mto Wa Mbu. There we were staying in the Fanaka Campsite and Lodges for two nights and travelling to Ngorongoro Crater from there.

Hakuna matata.

Our new vehicle was a heavily modified Toyota LandCruiser. It seated six on a raised platform at the back that also had a pop-up roof for game viewing.

These seemed to be the preferred tourist transport in Tanzania.

It was an ageing vehicle that could barely reach the 80kph speed limit.

Tuc Tucs were everywhere, replacing the Saccos we found in Kenya.

On the road to Mto Wa Mbu we stopped at Mbuyuni for a very colourful Maasai Monday market.

Everything was on sale from fruit, vegetables and meat to beds and sandals made from car tyres.

Memories of my hippy days in the 1960s’.

There were giant Boab trees along the way, a reminder that Africa and Australia were once joined.

There they are called a Boabad in this part of Africa.

There are more that 120 tribes in Tanzania, with English the official language. The common language is Swahili, however there are over 100 different other languages spoken.

Before independence in 1961 it was known as Tanganyika. In 1963 Zanzibar and Tanganyika merged and the country became known as Tanzania, a combination of the two names.

As we moved south the temperature warmed up and the humidity got higher. Then we arrived at Lake Manyara National Park, which is just near Mto Wa Mbu, Chris’s home town.

The lake is huge and surrounded by jungle, which explained the humidity.

As we wended our way around the park, there were plenty of baboons and birds hiding in the heavy undergrowth.

Once we reached the lake the undergrowth vanished and there was a flat open marshland filled with pelicans, Egyptian Geese, Marabou Stork, wildebeest and zebra.

The pelicans dominated the scene.

There were thousands.

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Day 14, October 4: Ngorongoro Crater.

Ngorongoro Crater is regarded as the ‘Cradle of humanity’

For us it was a void of whiteness, as the rim of the crater was shrouded in mist. When we descended the 600 metres to crater floor we were below the cloud.

Only then did we fully realise it’s grandeur.

Ngorongoro Crater measures between 16 and 19 kilometres across and has an area of 264 square kilomteres.

It is in part fed by water from Lake Victoria and is the world’s largest inactive, intact and unfilled volcanic caldera. It was formed between two to three million years ago.

It’s a very diverse eco system that has supported life for millions of years. It changes from arid grasslands and swamps to a verdant green, undulated Acacia forrest.

The animals that are in the crater, stay there and don’t migrate, except for some zebra and wildebeest.

Being a natural enclosure the lion population suffers from inbreeding. Any male lion that migrates there gets a very hard time from the indigenous lions of the crater.

We came across two lionesses asleep on the road. They had obviously had a big lunch and were sleeping it off.

It seems that siestas are also popular in Africa.

On leaving the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area we had a baboon experience.

There were a number of them hanging about at the gate. Thea had her side window open and in a flash one was through and snaffling leftovers from the lunch box on the back seat.

The baboon left as quickly as she came.

Not far from the Ngorongoro Crater is Laetoli. Here footprints were discovered by archaeologist Mary Leakey in 1978. These showed evidence that bipedalism (walking upright on two legs) preceded enlarged brains in hominids.

From this area modern man developed and populated the world.

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Day 15, October 5: Mto wa Mbu to Zanzibar.

Our final day was spent travelling. We drove from our hotel in Mto wa Mbu to the airport, on the outskirts of Arusha, to catch a 3:30 pm Precision Air flight to Zanzibar.

On the drive back we saw Massai boys dressed in black. We had seen many similar groups on the drive down.

These youths are partaking in their initiation into manhood. They paint their faces white, with a rather spooky mask and wander the roads on the tourist routes. (They also do more serious things like kill a lion).

If you want to take a snap you have to pay them. If you try and take one from your car, they will throw stones at it.

I kept my camera in its bag.

It had been an amazing 15 days, made even more interesting by the continually shady dealings of our tour operator.

In the end we saw what we came to see and got a wonderful insight into Africa and it’s vagaries.

There was even a Msumbi coffee shop at the Arusha Airport.

Hakuna matata.

Granada, a special city for a special event.

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

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The main purpose of our trip to Granada was for Hayden and Andrea’s wedding.

We had been to the city twice before in 2012 and had experienced its marvellous history in both summer and winter.

I was also in Granada way back in 1972, but that’s another story.

Our tourist adventures were very modest and mainly confined to walking trips around our hotel.

The Hotel Reina Christina is right in the heart of Old Granada so there was still plenty to see, even if it was done very casually.

While Thea was off having a manicure and pedicure with Kate; Evan, Stephanie and I spent an hour or so visiting the Granada Cathedral or the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

The construction of this cathedral was a long time in coming as it had to wait for for the acquisition of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada from its Muslim rulers in 1492. As a result it was designed in the Spanish Renaissance style. It was started in 1518 and built on top of the city’s main mosque, a common practice when one culture replaced another.

It took 181 years for the cathedral to be completed.

As part of the admission fee you get an audio guide to help you negotiate this very large and ornate place of Cristian worship.

I wished that I’d had a dictionary of architectural and ecclesiastical terms to help me interpret the very verbose descriptions.

We did venture, one hot afternoon, to the El Albaicin area, which is on the opposite of hill to the Alhambra, near Sacromonte.

This area features narrow winding streets that reflect Granada’s Medieval Moorish past. It was made a UNESCO World heritage site in 1984.

The group staying at the hotel for the wedding started with Thea and me and grew to fourteen over a ten day period.

We soon discovered the best coffee in Granada and possibly Spain. Visits to La Finca Coffee, or Plantation, soon became a daily ritual.

There were a number of other Australians in Granada, who were also there for the wedding, and they also discovered La Finca.

Thea and I hosted a cocktail party at the Hotel Vincci Albayzin. The idea was to introduce Andrea to those overseas guest who hadn’t already met her and to also give everyone a chance to meet Andrea’s immediate family.

It was a great success, going way beyond the predicted time.

The Spanish know how to party and so do Australians.

The wedding itself was a fabulous event, set in a spectacular location, on Sacromonte, overlooking the Alhambra.

The formalities started just before sunset, so everything was bathed in a magic evening light. Apart from a professional photographer and videographer, there were more cameras snapping than a frenzied pack of paparazzi at the film festival in Cannes.

I kept my camera in its bag.

The next day was to recover, not surprising considering we had been at the wedding for over ten hours and didn’t get back to the hotel until 6.30 am.

We weren’t the last to leave.

Olives are not tapas.

On our last night in Granada we went out for a drink and then a meal. Now in Granada the tradition is that for every drink you have you get a free tapa.

This didn’t happen.

At the first bar we got a very small bowl of sweets. And because we were waiting for our chosen restaurant to open, we were compelled to visit another bar.

Here we only got olives.

Sadly the partying is over and now it’s time for the serious touring to begin.

Barcelona old and new.

Friday, September 30th, 2016

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Barcelona was the first stop in our latest adventure.

Over the next three months we will be travelling to Granada, for Hayden and Andrea’s wedding, then on to the White Villages of Andalusia, down to Gibraltar and back north to Madrid. From there we fly to Nairobi in Kenya to start a two month tour of Southern Africa.

Barcelona seems to have become our second home and we are here to relax and acclimatise ourselves to the last warm breath of the northern summer.

It’s also a great opportunity for me to get used to my new Olympus camera, without the stress of missing any vital shots in new places.

Barcelona, while very familiar to us, is also constantly changing, so there is always something new to see and do.

Much to my delight the craft brew phenomenon has come to the city. There was in fact a craft Brewhouse right next door to our Air B&B in Raval. Ølgod has 30 taps, on a long white tiled wall. Surprisingly 25 were active, pumping out a variety of local and imported brews, with many from Denmark. Which is not unusual given that it’s named after a Danish railway town.

The ones I sampled were very good.

Barcelona has traditionally been the home of the big beer brands. Local brews such as Estrella and Moritz dominate while other European brands like Amstel, Heineken and Stella Artois satisfy the tourist tastes. It was exciting to see a move towards craft beers.

Over the first couple of days we had a number of déjà vu moments visiting familiar sites. We took the RENFE up to Badalona and had tapas in one of the temporary beach restaurants or Chiringuitos.

To get our legs ‘match fit’ for touring again we walked for hours around the city. Up the Rambla, through the Gothic Quarter to El Born and back from Gracia where the annual street festival was in its final days.

Looking for a completely new experience we took a return trip on the Port Vell Aerial Tramway to Montjuïc. The funicular isn’t new as it was built in 1931 and offers spectacular views over Barceloneta Beach, Port Vell and the city. We took the tramway from the Port to Miramar, which is halfway up the hill to Montjuïc.

After our funicular ride over Port Vell we walked along Barceloneta Beach towards the casino and the giant sculptural fish by Frank Gehry.

Barcelona has always been a creative city.

From the grand, Gothic inspired, Art Nouveau architecture of Antonio Gaudy to the small businesses, creating interesting and original craftwork.

We discovered Camino, selling handmade Spanish shoes and clothing. Effecto Limón making quirky dresses and bags all built around zips. And the Barcelona Duck Shop that has hundreds of different designs of rubber bath ducks.

We bought ‘Bat Duck’ a masked avenger version for Bruno, Andrea’s nephew.

Barcelona seems to be about two hours out of kilter with my body clock, or more probably what I’m used to.

Breakfast doesn’t start until ten or eleven, while lunch is at three and dinner isn’t till nine.

In keeping with the locals we walked down to Born and had a late lunch in one of the many outdoor restaurants close to the old market.

El Born CCM is a museum, where the ruins of 1700 Barcelona have been unearthed below the market area.

I get the feeling that Spanish dining times will become the norm once we reach Granada.

Following the plan to do something different while in Barcelona we took the funicular up to Vallvidrera Superior. This is a high point in Barcelona and has some spectacular views of the city and port. Overshadowing the sleepy hillside village, on Tibadabo Hill, is the Torre de Collserola or Collserola Communications Tower. Built for the 1992 Spanish Summer Olympics it stands 288.4 meters tall. It was designed by the British architect Norman Foster.

Kate, Mark, Alex and Sarah arrived in Barcelona and we had arranged to spend a few days with them before heading to Granada.

They would follow a few days later.

Sarah and Alex had arranged for us to go on a tapas tasting trail. This started in the Barceloneta district and then proceeded to El Born. We visited a mixture of four tapas bars and restaurants, each with a distinctly different style of tapas.

The first was La Bombeta, a bar that has been credited with inventing the bombeta. A round, deep fried ball of potatoes and minced meat, served  with a garlic and hot chilli sauce.

Next bar was Jai Ca, which was predominately seafood. It was a local place and our group of tourists stood out.

Next was my favourite, Cerveceria el Vaso de oro, a gastro pub serving their own craft brews – meat was their featured food.

This quaint establishment, with its long narrow bar, was brewing its own beer well before the craft beer revolution.

Our final stop was at Tapeo AMB Daniel Rueda, a very Catalan establishment. Here we were served a variety of dishes, including Ox Tail and a Catalan variation of paella made with noodles, not rice, and squid ink.

Next stop was Granada, this is Andrea’s home town and where Hayden and Andrea will be formally married.

Don’t worry, they’re English. 

Monday, March 14th, 2016

Richmond Bridge

The Twelve Apostles

We have recently spent 2 weeks travelling around Tasmania and then along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. This was with our English friends, Pat and Graham, from Dorset.

Being a tourist in your own country is an eye opener, as you start to see you home from a different perspective.

Not as a local but as a visitor.

We met Pat and Graham in Launceston and had intended to travel west towards Strahan, via Cradle Mountain. We had never seen that side of the island and we knew that they wanted to see some of Tasmania’s wilderness areas.

This was not to be.

In the week leading up to our visit bushfires had developed right across the north and west coast areas. Spring 2015 was the driest on record and the conditions were described by farmers as the worst in 70 years.

So after a night in Launceston we headed east, away from the fires, through St Helens and down the coast to Bicheno.

It was in Bicheno that the Tasmanian drought broke.

The temperature plummeted and the rains were torrential. So much so that our apartment in ‘Bicheno By The Bay’ flooded.

Pat and Graham had come to Australia for warmer, dryer weather. After all this was the land or oranges and sunshine.

On that particular day the temperature was higher in London than on the east coast of Tasmania.

In Bicheno we were told that there was a colony of Fairy Penguins (for politically correct reasons they are now called Little Penguins) just near the hotel, so we went out in search of them. It was raining and we were out in the dark, getting wet and cold. Pat and I decided to return to the apartment but Graham was undeterred so he and Thea stayed out in the foul conditions a little longer.

The penguin sightings were few and far between.

The next day we headed further south and spent hours walking around the Freycinet Peninsula. This stunning 18km hike took us to Coles Bay and then over the peninsula to Wineglass Bay.

Despite the rain Pat and Graham always carried their bathers. This was Australia and they were determined to swim whenever there was an opportunity.

We didn’t worry, they’re English.

Port Arthur was our next destination.

I have been to Port Arthur three times and on each visit the somberness of the place is reflected by the gloominess of the weather.

This time was no different.

What was different however is the development of this historic site. This is now a truly world class tourist attraction that showcases the brutality of the convict settlement – this was slavery in the guise of a penal colony.

Hobart Town was thriving, Van Dieman’s Land needed workers and prisoners were a cheap, available labor force.

The rain alternated between drizzle and downpour but we continued on our discovery tour. Pat and Graham seemed unfazed by the rain and by the end of the day we were all soaked to the skin.

They didn’t worry, they’re English.

Hobart was next, and as our hotel was very close to Salamanca Place, visiting the Saturday market was placed on the agenda.

This is a huge market that almost takes up the entire length of Salamanca Place. It’s sells everything from local arts and crafts to plush toys like Tasmanian Tigers and Tasmanian Devils.

Surprisingly most of these were made in Tasmania and not China.

That afternoon we visited the Cascades Female Factory. Again we found the whole tourist experience professional, enlightening and very confronting.

In many cases the women were treated more harshly than the men, and again were nothing but slave labor for the fledgling settlement. And even worse, any child that was born to a convict in the Female Factory had little chance of survival, as the mortality rate was almost 100%.

If by some chance a child did survive they would have been mute, as there was a strict code of silence in the gaol – so language skills were never learnt.

The Cascades Female Factory and Port Arthur, along with nine other convict sites form the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. These sites highlight the growth, through forced migration, of the Australian nation.

There was an exhibition of photography at both Port Arthur and the Cascades Female Factory by Mine Konakci, titled ‘A convict in the family?’ This was inspired by the fact that from 1787 to 1868 over 160,000 convicts were transported the colony, and many Australians have identified a convict in their family history. Mine posed the descendant with props, directly relating to the crime that had been committed.

This was a very creative way of connecting the past with the present.

Later that day we drove north east to Richmond. This is a well preserved tourist town, best known for its bridge that was completed in 1825 and is the oldest in Australia.

On our last day in Hobart we took the catamaran up the river to MONA (Museum of Old and New Art). The current exhibition was a Gilbert and George Retrospective – 97 pictures painted from 1970 to 2014. To my mind Gilbert and George are a well oiled ‘art factory’. Via a controlled form of graphic design, they use their distinctive style to make social commentary.

It’s not to everyone’s taste but you wouldn’t expect anything that David Walsh does at MONA to be main-stream.

Having had enough of art, culture and history we left Hobart and headed north to Pine Lake on the Central Plateau. This is part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area. It was here that the sun finally broke through and we got to see some blue sky.

On the road to do the Liffey Falls walk we met a group of ‘Firies’(male and female firefighters) heading back from a week in the state’s north west.

It was great to chat to them and get a small insight into their battle with the Tasmanian bushfires.

That night, at our motel in Deloraine, there was another group of sixteen firefighters, this group from New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

It was an interesting encounter for Pat and Graham, after all there aren’t that many bushfires in Dorset.

On our final day in Tasmania we drove from Deloraine to Springlawn Lagoon in the Narawntapu National Park.

Just off the track in the National Park is Bakers Beach, a long stretch of sand and surf that opens out into Bass Straight.

The beach was deserted and the water cold, but it was here that Pat and Graham finally got their only dip in Tasmanian waters.

They didn’t mind, they’re English.

We flew back to Melbourne for a week of sightseeing on home soil.

Graham discovered Sandringham Beach, which is less than 200m from our front door, and a dip before breakfast briefly became part of his daily routine.

After two days exploring Melbourne we made the trip down the Great Ocean Road to Lorne and then Port Fairy. On the way down to Lorne Pat and Graham had a swim at Urquharts Bluff. There was a surf class finishing up on the beach as we arrived. The young girls looked frozen, even though they all were well insulated with their winter wet suits or ‘Steamers’.

As Pat and Graham plunged into the surf, with nothing but their togs on, I got a strange, questioning, look from one of the instructors.

“Don’t worry”, I said, “they’re English.”

Lorne was a bit of a nostalgic journey for me, having spent two summers working there while I was at college. We had a drink in the Pacific Hotel, where I worked and breakfast at the Arab, which was the ‘cool place to be’ back in the 60s.

Graham again found the beach and while we had breakfast he went swimming.

One of the main reasons for the drive along the Great Ocean Road was to visit the Twelve Apostles.

We weren’t the only tourists with that idea.

Every vantage point was crawling with them. They came by the coach load and by private vehicles. We later discovered that the reason for the swell in numbers was Chinese New Year. The coaches were full of Chinese tourists while the private cars were local Chinese getting out of town for a couple of days.

They were all there to celebrate The Year of the Monkey.

On the way to the Twelve Apostles we passed through Separation Creek and Wye River. Evidence of the devastating Christmas Day Bushfires lay as a black carpet along the roadside.

However the rejuvenation had already started and the were patches of green sprouting from the charcoaled tree ferns.

We spent that night in Port Fairy, a delightful seaside resort town with an abundance of good pubs, restaurants and accommodation.

Taking the inland route back to Melbourne we briefly stopped off at Ballarat and gave our visitors a quick glimpse of this product of the gold rush.

Much to our visitors delight we got to see, and photograph, a couple of rather sleepy koalas. They were high up in a gum tree on the Hopkins Highway, south of Mortlake.

Once we were back in Sandringham we did the usual walk to Half Moon Bay, again Pat and Graham has a splash. While the next day we drove around the Mornington Peninsula, visiting the Merricks General store for a coffee and Arthurs Seat for a view. Then it was down to the bay and into Sorrento. There we did the ‘Millionaires Walk’ past the homes of the rich and famous.

Needless to say Pat and Graham’s togs got wet again, this time at both the front and back beaches of Sorrento.

While Pat and Graham swam at every opportunity, our bathers never got an airing – it was far too cold for us.

Don’t worry, we’re Australian.

Back to the Old World.  

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

It was a long flight from New York City to Europe, via Reykjavik, with Icelandic Air. This was the last few weeks of our adventure and it was a packed itinerary, with Switzerland, Malta and Germany on the agenda.

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Switzerland.

Jet-lagged from the Trans Atlantic flight we stretched our legs with a walking tour around the old part of Zurich. We wandered along the Limmat River and down to the Zurich Lake, through the narrow streets lined with cafes, restaurants and trendy boutiques.

The next morning we had another stroll around the old city centre. Our first stop was the train station to sort out our tickets for the next few days.

We then caught an afternoon train to Schaffhausen, where we were met by Heinz and taken down to the Rhine Falls, or Rheinfall. These are the largest plain water falls in Europe and were formed in the last ice age, somewhere between 14,000 and 17,000 years ago.

In the late afternoon we were joined by Mieke and she guided us around beautiful old Schaffhausen. The city has a long history, being first named as Villa Scafhusen in 1045. We visited the Allerheiligen Convent which was constructed between 1049 and 1064. Mieke insisted that we then make a brief stop at the local gaol, the venue of Thea’s famous indiscretion some 43 years earlier.

That evening we had a very pleasant meal of raclette, wine and conversation with Heinz and Mieke.

The next day we caught the train to Bern where we met up with Denis and Martine. The intention had been for the six of us to spend the weekend walking in the Bernese Oberland. Unfortunately the weather forecast was for storms, so we opted to spend a day in Bern and then drive back to Arnex and stay at Châteaux Barclay.

After a stroll around the main areas of Bern we caught the bus to the Paul Klee Centre. Klee is one of Bern’s favourite sons and the museum houses about 40% of his oeuvre. Completed in 2005 it was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano and features a wave formation roof line.

The current show was a joint exhibition, featuring the works Paul Klee (1897-1940) and Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944).  Both these men are considered to be the ‘fathers’ of Classical Modernism. As the curators notes said: “ …their friendship was one of the most fascinating of the twentieth century. Their relationship was shaped by mutual inspiration and support, but also by rivalry and competition.”

After an educational and entertaining few hours we then drove to Arnex, where we spent a very pleasant few days in this delightful Swiss/French village.

We had lunch at a restaurant on Le Chasseron, a peak in the Jura Mountains. It overlooked the Swiss Alps on one side and Sainte-Croix on the other.

Heinz and Mieke returned to Schaffhausen and we spent our last day with Martine’s extended family, at a Morel family picnic.

Denis then drove us to Yverdon, where we caught the train to Zurich.

Our next destination was Malta.

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Malta.

Just 38 years after Christopher Columbus discovered the New World in 1492, the Knights of Saint John were putting down their roots in Malta.

The Knights of Saint John or Knights Hospitaller or Knights of Malta as they are variously known, are so important that the call sign for Air Malta is KM or Knights of Malta.

Currently Malta is a country under renovation. Everywhere you travel there are construction cranes and works in progress.

Huge scale building projects are being carried out on the Island of Malta and to a lesser degree on the smaller island of Gozo. It most cases this work is being 85% funded by the European Union.

On our first night in Malta we went to the nearest restaurant, Kalkara Regatta, it was right on the marina and only 100 meters from our guest house.

We sat outside and enjoyed the fireworks display that went on for nearly two hours.

It was part of a celebration to commemorate the end of the Great Siege of Malta. In 1565 the Ottoman Empire tried to invade Malta but were held off by the Knights Hospitaller, 2,000 soldiers and 400 Maltese citizens.

There are a number of peninsulas that go to make up the greater city area and each one has a self contained township.

We were staying on Kalkara which means ‘lime’ in Latin. In fact the motto for Kalkara is ‘A Calce Nomen’ or Lime is my name. Kalkara is only two peninsulas away from Valetta, and offers relatively easy access to the capital.

Malta has been inhabited since 5,200 BC and in prehistoric times was once part of a land bridge that joined Africa and Europe.

Malta is bi-lingual.

English is very common, with the local language, Malti, being a real mixture of Italian, Arabic and English. This is understandable considering Malta’s close proximity to Sicily and North Africa.

It’s a weird accent and hard to place exactly what it’s origins are. The locals gesticulate and shout like Italians. Yet there is a seriousness that is more Slavic than Arabic.

The English influence manifests itself in the Zebra Crossings, red telephone and letter boxes and the fact that they drive on the left.

However the Maltese drive like Italians, not Brits.

There is a very old joke that goes something like, “How do you make a Maltese cross? Answer: “You poke him in the eye.” The Maltese Cross is so rooted in history that it’s found everywhere. Apart from the national flag, which uses a George Cross.

Due to its strategic position in the Southern Mediterranean, Malta has been subjected to more than one siege. From 1940 to 1942 the Axis forces, of Italy and Germany, blockaded Malta’s supply lines. They were determined to either bomb or starve the population into submission.

The WWII Siege Memorial commemorates the award of the George Cross to Malta, hence its proud position on the flag.

I had to work most of the day, so it was a late start to go sight seeing. At about 4pm we took the bus into Valletta. If took half an hour to wind our way around the three peninsulas. I am sure the water taxi would be faster as it’s only about 1 kilometre, as the crow flies.

In the evening the fire works were exploding again, and for a second night running we got a glimpse from our table. This was much to Thea’s annoyance, as she is a pyromaniac and anything that has flashes of fire, smoke and goes bang is a must see.

She would have rather been in the thick of it.

There must be at least 365 Saint’s Days or days of commemorations celebrated in Malta, as there was festivities, with flags, fireworks and festivals every day we were in the country.

The 16th Century city wall of Valletta was built, in the local honey-coloured limestone, by the Knights of St John. Recently the entrance and the square, that’s just inside the wall, have been dramatically redeveloped by Renzo Piano, using the same materials. This innovative Italian architect is also responsible for the London Shard, a new city landmark and the Paul Klee Centre that we had visited just a few days earlier in Bern.

Renzo is certainly getting some work.

After another day working we headed to Birgu. This is one of the other peninsula towns that’s adjacent to Kalkara. It had rained most of the day, so the time spent in front of the computer had kept us from getting soaked.

Day three and still working. This time we walked to Birgu and got the water Taxi to Valletta. It was a much faster and more pleasant trip.

It was late in the afternoon and the sun was low in the sky. All of Valletta and the surrounding towns are built from the same limestone as the walls, so come sunset they glow.

Valletta gets its name from Fra’ Jean Parisot de la Vallette (1495-1568) who was famous for his gallant role in the Great Siege of 1565 and the building of Valletta.

The peninsulas are serviced by a good bus service, which we had previously used, unfortunately it runs infrequently after 8pm.

We had to wait for an hour to get the last bus back to Kalkara.

As usual the taxis were being parasites and wanted €30 for the twenty minute ride.

We waited for the bus.

After four days the work was finished so we hired a car. The tiny black Peugeot 107, looked very smart but couldn’t pull the skin of a rice pudding.

Our first stop was Mdina, a beautiful walled medieval city. From antiquity until 1530 it was the original capital of Malta, it was then moved to Birgu and finally to Valletta.

One of our first stops was St. Paul’s Cathedral, built between 1697 and 1702. Here, under the intricate marble inlayed floor, we found the tombs of many Maltese luminaries, including some Mifsuds. We have some good friends in Australia with the same name, we later discovered that they have a connection to the Mifsuds of Malta.

Just over the road from the church is the Mdina Cathedral Museum. This compact museum contains Christian and Pre-Christian artifacts, including paintings, ceramics, pottery, coins and silverware.

The coin collection started with the Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Greeks. It then went through the rise an fall of the Roman Empire to the Byzantium, Arab, Norman, Spanish and French periods of Maltese history. The collection highlighted the churches power during the Maltese Middle Ages, culminating with the British period. It ended with a contemporary Maltese commemorative collection.

It was a who’s who of Maltese conquerors.

There was also an excellent collection of woodcuts and copper plates by Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) the German engraver. Dürer is one of my favourite artists of the German Renaissance, so this was a real find.

We then went for a drive down to the coastline south west of Mdina around Dingli. This is the highest point in Malta and still only 13km from Valletta – Malta isn’t very big.

Dominating the Dingli Cliffs is the MATS Area Radar Station. Constructed in 1939 it was the first radar facility to be build outside of the UK. It was part of an early warning system designed to defend Malta during the Second World War.

Not far up the coast is the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene. The chapel was originally built in the 13th, century, restored in 1646 and restored yet again in 2007. This area is on the tourist route, so there were busloads of travellers trying to get a snap of the famous chapel.

Dingli is less than 400km from the coast of Libya, yet there appears to be very few refugees coming from North Africa. In fact only 105 of the estimated 1 million that have arrived Europe in 2015, passed through the islands of Malta.

Having started with fireworks on Monday night, we ended the week with a live music performance, titled, Music Under the Stars.

The show was put on by the local Kalkara Council and staged in front of Saint Joseph’s Church, which was just 100 meters from our hotel.

We ate at the Supernova Heights Restaurant, which is next to the church, and had front row seats.

It was dinner and a show, for the price of a dinner.

The first band was the Copenhagen Brass Ensemble.

They played a collection of popular tunes which included the theme song to the Bond movie, Skyfall.

Then the local folk dancers took over. They were all in traditional costumes which looked surprisingly Swiss. Strange considering we were in the middle of the Mediterranean and very close to North Africa. But not surprising when you see how the Italians have influenced Malta and the fact that Italy does go as far north as the Alps.

Then there was a marching band from Estonia, again playing many popular melodies. The band master was a real character and produced a range of of miniature instruments to accompany each song.

My favourite was his use of a train whistle in ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’

The final band of the evening were Maltese. They were young and very serious – as was their music.

They did play a medley of American Western themes followed by another one of ABBA songs, including Dancing Queen, Mama Mia and Fernando. This brightened up their performance considerably.

All-in-all it was a very cosmopolitan night.

We had heard about the Sunday market at Marsaxlokk and decided to drive there to see what it was all about.

The market consisted of fresh fish, fruit, veg and an over abundance of souvenirs.

Marsaxlokk is a fishing village and port in the south eastern part of the Island of Malta. It was here during the 9th Century BC that the Phoenicians first landed and set up a trading post. It was also the main anchorage point for the Ottomans during the Great Siege of Malta.

Within the Marsaxlokk Harbour are many brightly coloured traditional fishing boats or Luzzi.  Each one has a pair of eyes painted on the bow. The eyes are believed to date back to Phoenician times and are said to protect the fishermen at sea.

From Marsaxlokk we drove to Saint Thomas Tower, via IL Kalanka Beach. There was no beach just a rocky outcrop, very reminiscent of the ‘beaches’ we saw in Croatia.

Not far from Saint Thomas was an abandoned hotel, with some rather stunning graffiti painted on the crumbling walls. The Jerma Palace Hotel closed in March 2007 and the area is now derelict. The hotel owners have walked away from the site and there is now an ongoing argument about who is responsible for cleaning it up.

In much better condition that the hotel, is Saint Thomas Tower. Built in 1614, this is the largest watchtower in Malta. The tower was built in response to the Raid of Žejtun, when the Ottomans landed in Saint Thomas Bay.

This was the last attempt by the Ottomans to conquer Malta.

We then drove back to Valletta, this time entering from the western side through Silema. It was here, looking across Marsamxett Harbour, that we got some great views of Saint Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

We enjoyed the view over a cooling lemonade, at the Hotel Fortina, before heading back to our hotel in Kalkara.

Transport costs in Malta are erratic, to say the least.

The bus from Kalkara to Valletta is €2.00pp, while the water taxi from Birgu, which is closer to Valletta, is €2.50pp. A taxi wants the extortionate price of €30.00 and the most reliable trip, by ferry, only asks 50 cents.

On our third day with the Peugeot we drove to the top of Malta Island and took the car ferry to Gozo.

Gozo is the second largest island in the Maltese Archipelago, next to the island of Malta. It is far more rural and less developed. Gone were the ever present construction cranes, high density housing and traffic.

One of the main historical attractions on Gozo are the Ggantija Temples. This Neolithic site is believed to be over 5,000 years old and amongst the world’s oldest free-standing religious structures. They are in fact older than the pyramids of Egypt. Ggantija means giant in Malti, as the temples were believed to have been built by giants. They were made a UNESCO site in 1980.

In 1928 Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965) visited the site. Which is ironic, as here was a pioneer of modern architecture visiting one of the world’s most ancient structures.

After three days with the car we only drove 204km, over two islands and got into fourth gear once, – the Peugeot had five.

As I have mentioned earlier, Malta is very small.

On our last day we went walking in Valletta.

The first stop was Saint John’s Co-Cathedral. Built by the Knights of Malta between 1573 and 1578 it is regarded as one of the world’s finest examples of Baroque architecture.

The facade was being restored so their was little to see except scaffolding.

The interior is very ornate, with crypts containing elaborate frescos as well as the remains of many of the Grand Masters of the Knights of Malta.

Much of the artwork was done by the Calabrian artist and Knight, Mattia Preti (1613-1699). Preti was a follower of Caravaggio, which is evident in the late Baroque style of his work.

This cathedral is as much about the Knights of Saint John as it is about Catholicism in Malta.

The cathedral’s architect, Geralomo Cassar (1520-1592) would be horrified to see that these days most visitors enter the cathedral from the side. The front door offers a grand view and shows off the architecture to its best advantage. Now with many churches charging for entry, the side door is the easiest place to put the ticket office.

Another very interesting church was the Basilica of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The architect of the original church was also Geralomo Cassar. It was rebuilt, adding the oval dome, after it was bombed during WWII.

There is a very Italian feel to most of the architecture in Valletta, such as Saint Paul’s Pro-Cathedral and the Grandmaster’s Palace. Yet there is also a touch of England, like the statue of Queen Victoria that’s sits outside the Valletta Library.

There is so much history in Valletta, it’s little wonder that the entire city was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

On our last morning we wandered over to Birgu again, to kill a few hours before catching our flight to Berlin. Most of our time was spent in the the Inquisitor’s Palace, which was originally built in 1530 as a law court for the Order of St John.

In 1574, following the establishment of the Roman Inquisition, the palace became the residence of the inquisitor.

Today it houses the National Museum of Ethnography, focussing on the inquisition and its impact on Maltese history.

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Berlin.

Hayden and Andrea have now moved from Barcelona to Berlin and their new apartment was going to be our base for our final days in Europe. They are living in the old eastern sector and very close to Alexanderplatz. This is a newly developed part of the city with many restaurants, bars and apartments popping up to cater for the expanding population.

This area of Berlin is home to many of the tech companies that have moved to Northern Germany.

English seems to be the default language.

Hayden had taken a couple of days off to show us around the city and our first stop was Bernauer Straße. This street was originally in the French sector of West Berlin and all the buildings on the eastern side of the street, in the eastern sector, were emptied and their windows and doors bricked up. When the wall was constructed in 1961 they were pulled down.*

There is now a memorial and a walk with displays, describing the wall and its history. This is the only remaining section of the wall and a big tourist attraction for visitors and locals.

We then did a walk around some more of the Berlin sites like the Cathedral, DDR Museum, Neue Wache or new Guardhouse, Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag.

On Saturday we all went down to Kurfüstendamm which was in West Berlin, when the wall was up.

We had been there in 2005 and noticed a big change. The area had returned to its previous upmarket style and was again full of designer boutiques and luxury car showrooms.

Even the hotel we had stayed in ten years ago was now boasting four stars – it was only three when we were there.

On Sunday we all went to Wedding for lunch in a traditional German beer garden. The weather had turned cold so the coats were pulled out of the bags.

Our long northern summer was finally over.

While Hayden and Andrea were at work on Monday we walked down to Checkpoint Charlie at the corner of Friedrichstraße and Zimmerstraße. We were last there in 1972, when the wall still divided the city and the eastern sector was a barren wasteland of bombed out buildings and vast open spaces.

In 72’ the streets were empty and so were the supermarkets shelves.

Now it’s an outdoor museum complete with actors, dressed in WWII uniforms, posing for the tourists. There are also many restaurants, apartment buildings and well-to-do shops in the area.

There’s no shortage of wealth there.

On our last day we took the train to Potsdam, which is about 24km from Berlin. Until 1918 Potsdam was the home of the Prussian kings and the German Kaiser.

Much of the city is designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and has only been accessible since the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1990.

We caught the bus from Potsdam Station to Sanssouci Palace.

This was built between 1745 and 1747 as the Summer residence of King Frederick the Great of Prussia. The literal translation of Sanssouci is ‘No Worries’. Frederick II wanted a place that was an escape from life in the Berlin Court.

Frederick the Great was a lover, not a fighter like his father, and the Sanssouci Palace reflects this. He was interested in art, music, poetry and a good time.

The building’s Rococo style certainly suited the King’s romantic tendencies.

A popular and regular visitor to the palace was the French philosopher Voltaire. Surprisingly Frederick was such a Francophile that he spoke better French than German.

While we were waiting to tour Sanssouci Palace we did a quick trip around the Renaissance inspired Orangery Palace. Built by Friedrich Wilhelm IV between 1851 and 1864, it was designed to be part of a much larger complex, but politics and lack of funds got in the way.

One of the grandest yet strangest rooms was Raphael Hall, containing over fifty copies of famous Renaissance works. According to our guide this was a way of bringing these masterpieces to the public. Albeit a very exclusive public that were guests of the King.

In this room the art had a religious theme, in keeping with the king’s conservative Christian beliefs.

For the rest of the afternoon we wandered around the Sanssouci Gardens.

We did stumble across the Chinese House, which was built between 1755 and 1764. It was built in the Chinoiserie Style, a mixture of ornamental Rococo elements and Chinese architecture.

From what little we saw, Potsdam was an interesting place, further exploration is certainly warranted.

But that will have to wait for another trip.

That evening we had dinner Pasternak, a Russian-Jewish fusion restaurant, just near Hayden and Andrea’s apartment. It was our 42nd wedding anniversary and great to be able to share it with some of the family, especially now that they are spread across the northern hemisphere.

It was a fitting end to our stay in Berlin. We had seen so much of the former Eastern Sector, that the Russian influenced cuisine seemed rather appropriate.

The next day we were on the flight back to Australia – our thirteen month adventure was at an end.

* I have just started to read Anna Funder’s ‘Stasiland’ Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall. It will be interesting to explore more of this dark period of Berlin’s past.