Leaving the US for Africa on a 6-month adventure requires a bit more luggage than is our norm. As we wanted to avoid any excess baggage fees, we carefully juggled all of our stuff (including business suits for the formal Ghanaian business community, malaria pills, other medications, favorite toiletries, and a sampling of clothes) into two checked bags and one carry-on per person. Our goal was to be able to maneuver through an airport without a cart. Still, we raised a few eyebrows from fellow passengers in line, who asked, "Pardon me, but where are you going?" Of course these folks had a carry-on only for a two-month trip.
Since we were renting a car, the first question was, "Will it hold all our stuff?" We ended up with a large Jeep 4x4, with a powerful engine and thirsty gas tank. It's name is Ico (not Eco...we're sorry to say!)
During our first half hour behind the wheel of the Jeep, Ed was just getting the hang of driving on the right side of the car and we found ourselves on a 4-lane divided highway out of Windhoek. Suddenly in front of us, a family of 30 baboons decided to cross the road. Luckily we had time to slow down and watch the cross all 4 lanes successfully. I guess they know that the population density of Namibia is tiny ... There are only 2.1million people in this country which is 2 1/2 the size of California. So, during our week here, we are often the only one on the road (except for a few baboons, oryx, warthogs, and other creatures.) The road network is well marked, extensive, and created from tar, gravel, dirt, sand, or salt.
One place where the population is a bit more dense is Cape Cross--home to a colony of Cape Fur Seals. Silly question of the day: After we paid the National Park entrance fee, we asked the ranger, "Just checking...are there seals here today?" She replied, "Yes there are...lots of them." In a moment, we found that she was correct! We drove 1 km to the shore and found ourselves in the midst of 100,000 seals who were barking quite loudly and climbing all over each other. The smell was intense as well. We later learned that this is one of the largest seal colonies in the world. And, since they don't migrate, they're always at home. We were joined at the sight by a Kenyan TV reporter with his cameraman from Nairobi. The reporter even interviewed us on camera. Who knows, we may become the next big thing on Kenyan Youtube.
As the seals are protected in the National Park along the Atlantic, we also visited a foundation near the Waterburg Plateau that protects cheetahs. The Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) cares for abandoned and injured cheetahs and reintroduces them into the wild when possible. They also focus on solutions to "human wildlife conflict", since many cheetahs in the past have been killed by farmers. They try to educate farmers about "predator-friendly farming" techniques. We were lucky to witness the transfer of several Anatolian Shepherd puppies who were finding new homes as guard dogs for sheep and goats. At 12-weeks old, these puppies go to live with their new "sheep and goat families". They live as part of the herd, but are not herding dogs. Instead they bark like crazy whenever they sense a predator (cheetah, leopard, etc.) in the vicinity. This startles the prey, and since it knows it cannot hunt using the element of surprise, the predator turns around and leaves the flock alone. At the CCF, several volunteers had been taking care of the puppies. But, since the pups were going to live with sheep and goats, they had to resist the temptation to hold and pet the puppies. Not an easy task, since the pups were adorable.
We also enjoyed some crazy "dune experiences". Dune Seven near Wallis Bay is the highest dune near the coast. The guide book writer was correct when he said it was difficult and tiring to climb. At the top we met three charming and beautiful blond college girls. One was Dutch. One was Swedish. The other was fifth-generation Namibian. Can you tell who's sho? The gals taught us to "dune jump" and rundown the dune to get back to the Jeep. Very cool.
On our last day in Namibia we rose before sunrise to catch the morning light on the dunes at Sousselvei. The effect was dramatic--one side basked in sunlight while the other receded in the shade. Just like the postcard! We spent over two hours climbing to the top of the Big Daddy dune and then ran down the sandy face in less than 15 minutes.
Namibia may sound far away and foreign, but traveling here is actually quite easy. Since it was once a German colony, German hospitality is everywhere -- down comforters with crisp white sheets, good draft beer in chilled glasses, and 3 pm kuchen und caffe (cake and coffee) even when you're in the middle of nowhere! The people we met on our journey were warm. friendly, quick to smile and laugh. It's truly a welcoming place. We were fortunate to spend this week here and are happy to share more details with whoever is interested.