Thursday, July 14, 2011

Walk the Line

We met a man named Mario in Cape Town. He's not a pizza addicted plumber like his namesake, but a mechanic. He's also someone that has helped us more than any other person on our travels so far. He fixed our car. Trained us how to drive a 4x4 (where we learned how to drive through sand, mud and water (when driving through water, ALWAYS pull up your trousers and walk through the tracks where your tyres will drive and do NOT start your engine whilst under water) and luckily took pity on us and became our friend.

Mario on left with luminescent legs

His tuition has proved invaluable so far, but in the Okavango Delta, we nearly came unstuck, hence the full title of this next chapter:

10 things not to do in a national park where the animals (mostly, but not limited to, lions, leopards, elephants, hippos, snakes and spiders) want to kill and/or eat you but not necessarily in that order.
The man eaters of Tsavo

1. Start off the day arguing with your wife

2. Get out of your car to take photos

3. Get a flat tyre in lion country

4. Find out that your no1 spare tyre doesn't fit your car

5. Find out that you don't know how to release your no2 spare tyre from it's bracket

6. Arm your wife with a machete and can of pepper spray for protection from lions

7. Drive around with a wobbly wheel loosely attached to your car

8. Mistake Africa's largest snake (the African Rock Python*) for a log, just as you're about to step on it.
Er.. that's not a log.

9. Wallow in glory as a man wearing a pink shirt, chinos and cravat has trouble starting his very expensive Landrover.

10. Fail to properly wade through and check the water you're about to drive through to avoid stepping on more Pythons that might be lurking in the muddy deep.

11. Get the car stuck, waist deep in water, in deep holes that were in the murky muddy deep.

12. Try to start the car with the exhaust under water.

13. Swim around in the Croc and Python infested water in an attempt to get the car out.

14. Walk 1km with a machete, can of pepper spray and wife for protection to an empty campsite deviod of help.

15. Mix up pepper spray with insect repellant.

16. Have to ask the very same man in pink shirt, chinos and cravat for a rescue.

*The  African Rock Python:
An enormous stout snake, with small smooth scales. Triangular head has many teeth for holding prey. Up to 7metres in length. Usually attacks by biting first, hanging on with it's many teeth, and then coiling around the victim. The African Rock Python usually prefers small antelopes, jackals, monkeys, monitor lizards and crocodiles.

The eye of the tiger.

Being a vegetarian and going fishing don't usually go hand in hand. But I'm not a vegetarian, I'm a pescatarian and I eat fish. I've been known to say that one of the reasons for my fish but not animals policy is that I could bring myself to kill a fish, but not, for instance, a defenceless baby cow. I suppose the reason might also be that I don't like fish, the slippery little buggers.

So, on the edge of the Caprivi Strip (a little rectangle that belongs to Namibia and is bordered by Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana), my new wife and I made camp and arranged to go out with a local big game hunter, Anders. We were going onto the Okavango river in search of our lunch, what the locals call Nwembe, but known to you and I as Bream, and what Anders enthused was the tastiest fish in the world (and this from a man who has eaten elephant).

What people really come to the area for though is the Tiger Fish. Said to hit the lure at 60kmh and have teeth like a shark, they are on many peoples fish hit list, if such a thing exists (and if it doesn't, it should).

Anders probably hadn't taken many pescatarians out fishing before, and it goes without saying that he hadn't taken any on big game hunts (there being not much point in not eating meat if you're going to kill it in the name of fun). But he was open to talking about his way of making a living and Fay and I learned a great deal. We learned that nearly all his customers are American. That the rights to hunt animals are strictly controlled. That the government allocates to tribes different quotas of animals depending on how endangered the various species are. The tribes will then sell some or all of those quotas for a considerable sum to companies and then individuals pay for the privilege to hunt and kill the animal. An elephant sets you back a mere 50,000 USD. But if you want that extra special something hanging above your fireplace, above, presumably, your polar bear skin rug, something that just NONE of your neighbours will have, then why not go the whole hog and bag yourself the very endangered black rhino? A snip at a quarter of a million US dollars. Their eyesight is so poor that they can barely see. But don't let anyone tell you that shooting the thing from 50 metres away, from an armoured jeep, with an elephant gun, makes it an unfair fight. If you tell yourself you're a hero enough times, then it must be true, heh?

Anders hadn't killed a rhino, and said he probably never would. He also said that one of the biggest subjects he had to study at animal killing school was how to kill as humanely and quickly as possible. He seemed to mean it too. He said that when his clients insisted on trying to kill an elephant with a head shot, they would invariably miss the brain, so he insisted that as soon as they took their shot, he would shoot the elephant in the heart at the same time. It's probably a given that he's not going to win the Greenpeace 'Man of the Year Award', but he had his morals and he stuck by them, which is more than can be said for me as far as this story goes.

We fished by 'trawling' with rod and reel. This meant we let our artificial lures out about 30 metres behind the boat and then the boat chugged along and the artificial lures get towed along and act like little fish that the bigger fish want to eat (from that sentence you can probably gauge what an experienced fisherman I am). After a blissfully happy unsuccessful hour or so of fishing, I felt a tug on the line. I reeled in my prey to find that I had caught a Tiger Fish, but caught it through the eye, and not unsurprisingly it hadn't put up much of the fight it's famous for. I grabbed hold of the fish and with a handful of fishy goo, tried to disgorge the hook. I managed it, but disgorged the fish's eye along with the hook. I'm not sure who disliked the experience more, me or the fish (but accepted, probably the one eyed fish). Tiger Fish aren't really for eating so I threw him back and with the eye still attached to my hook, I cast back into the river and over the next couple of hours caught two more unfortunate beasts. But alas no Nwembe, no lunch and my pesky-tarian moral high ground sunk and drifting between the murky reeds, looked down upon by my cycloptic victim.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Heal the world

At a certain point in Northern Namibia you pass through what is known as the red line. It marks the transition from mostly white owned farm estates to black communities living in rural, basic, accomodation. The contrast is immediate and stark and feels like literally crossing from the the first world to the third. We crossed the line and were so engrossed in the traditional dress, mud huts, people selling earthen wares, that we had become unaware of the song that had been chosen by the ipod shuffle. We were also unaware that we had started singing the song and waving our hands back and forth. The song was Heal the World by Michael Jackson and for two white people to drive along in a relatively expensive car, waving at the locals whilst singing 'Heal the world, make it a better place, for you and for me and the entire human race' must surely be in breach of the Geneva Convention. In fact there should probably be a clause specifically prohibiting it. Once I'd realised what was happening, I wouldn't have been suprised if dry ice had started to pump out from our car and we'd donned white robes and started to place hands on some of the children. If Jarvis Cocker was there he would have punhced both of us in the face, and rightly so.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


Most every evening we camp in our rooftop tent. Many farms have campsites attached although some are pretty basic. At one, en route from the Sousslevei dunes to Windhoek, we set up camp and were given wood to make a fire in a makeshift boiler to heat our shower water, which at that stage was a novelty. At this same campsite I found myself, in an all too Ollie way, 'having' to make many requests of the campsite manager. "Can i charge my lap top in the office?" "Yes." "Can i have some more wood?" "Ok." "Can I collect my lap top?"  "Mmm." "Can I..." And then for the first time in my 32 long years, he responded by exclaiming "Zut alors!". I thought they only did that in films.

African GPS


Warthog for dinner

Further up the road we stayed at a campsite in Okahandja. Here Fay and I befriended the 2 campsite cats. The campsite owner was wrinkled and smiley. Are the lions yours joked Fay? "Neh, they just live here. I've tried to shoot em a few times but they keep the mice away and that keeps the snkaes down" It wasn't quite the answer she'd expected, but she carried on. "Erm.. ok. What snakes are around here?" "Puff adder, black mamba, zebra snake." "How dangerous?" "Let me put it this way, you've got a few days if you get bitten by a puff adder, but if you get bitten by a black mamba then they say it's best to lie down in the shade so your body don't rot too fast." "Ahhhhh, and spiders?" "Yep, they're all dangerous, but it's the scoriopns that scare me." "Scorpions?" "Uchkk yea, you're in Africahhh."

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Zut alors! We're on our way.

Over the moon about the 2 grand we spent on a new engine part, we set off. The first part of our route would take us north from Cape Town and continue north through Namibia, taking in the Ai Ais hot springs, Kolmanskopp Ghost Town, the sand dunes at Sousslevei and Etosha National Park.
Namibia is one dusty country. It permeates everything. You brush your teeth in dust, shower in dust, you even sweat dust. Like, it's really really dusty. So dusty that, oh.. ok, you get the point.

Kolmanskopp ghost town is a relic from the German colonial era. It used to be a diamond mine in an area once so prolific with diamonds that they could literally be scooped up off the ground. Now, most of the inshore diamonds have been mined and exported and offshore exploration heads the way. The town is now a pseudo museum, but today it was also being used for a different purpose. In the gymkhana I made my way upstairs and came across two women. The older one was a make up artist and the younger one her mdoel. Rather than leave them to it, I asked what they were doing and found out that it was a photo shoot. Rather than leave it there I asked what the photo shoot was for. "It's a nude calender shoot". I tried hard to act cool and respond as if I heard that all the time, but being cool doesn't come naturally to me, and so instead I went red and stood there for too long a time before making my inglorious exit.
The shoot was taking place in and amongst the windowless buildings half filled with sand. Kolmanskopp is a desert town and the town is slowly but surely sinking beneath the sand. Which for me begged the obvious question, for a calendar, which shots would they use for winter? I for one did not see any santa hats in the mark up artists wardrobe. In fact I didn't see any clothes at all. Which made for a unique scene when an elderly German tourist, with some expensive looking binoculars, walked ahead of his wife and (not having knowledge of the shoot) got a view that wasn't expressly included in his entrance fee.