Bornholm had long been on my ‘Go To’ wish list, but other destinations got in the way. Why did I want to go to Bornholm? There are lots of reasons, one, that being Danish, I wanted to see what this other part of Denmark was like. Two, I had done a lot of reading about the island, and the history fascinated me.
A word of warning: you will probably fall in love with the island – try give yourself at least 10 days there, there is just so much to see. I still have lots more to see there, so it hasn’t been taken off my ‘Go To’ wish list.
The small island of Bornholm is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but is closer to Poland, Estonia and Sweden than what it is to Denmark. Lying in the middle of the Baltic Sea or the ‘Eastern Sea’ as the Danes call it, this tiny island of 400sq km, is known as Denmark’s Sunshine Island. Its unusual unScandinavian weather makes it the ideal holiday spot.The best way to get to Bornholm, if you are not in Denmark, is to fly to Copenhagen, and then take a bus and ferry to Rønne (Ronne), the capital of Bornholm. There are flights to Rønne, but the cheapest route is the flight, bus and ferry route via Copenhagen.
Are you wondering how to pronounce that strange letter in Rønne? Danish uses the same alphabet as English, but it has 3 extra letters: Åå (also written as AA/aa, as in the city, Aalborg), pronounced as ‘oh’, Ææ, pronounced as the ‘e’ in ten and Øø, pronounced as a rounded ‘e’, sort of like the e in ‘err’. Danes delight in getting foreigners to say: Rød grød med fløde – go on try it – it means red porridge with cream, and is made with berries.
We took the bus, drove across to Sweden on the amazing Øresund bridge, going under the sea, through the tunnel for a while, and onto Swedish soil. Swedish border control officers boarded the bus, and checked our documents. I found this really weird. Denmark, Sweden and Norway, are all part of Scandinavia, and up until fairly recently, passports were never checked. Now, the officers did a thorough job, making sure no unwanteds were coming onto Swedish soil. The drive through Sweden is short, mostly through open country, where houses had the national blue and yellow flag flying, but also through some urban areas, where, on some buildings, ‘interesting’ graffiti had been allowed to remain. Eventually we got to the ferry terminal, drove onto the ferry, disembarked, and climbed up to the upper decks. A few hours later, the outline of Bornholm loomed up on the horizon.
The main tourism office in Rønne is close to the ferry terminal, as are the bus stops, so after popping in and picking up brochures, we caught the bus up to the northern town of Allinge, where we had booked a ‘sommerhus’. ‘Sommerhus’ directly translates to summer house. Many Danes own these at the coast; they are mostly small and functional wooden cabins. Ours was about half a kilometer from the town, and was surrounded by berry bushes in full fruit, which had us happily sharing the fruit with the many birds which visited our little cabin.
Bornholm’s main economy is now tourism. It was fishing, but with the near collapse of fish stocks, Bornholmians had to make changes to their lives. The story of the near collapse of the economy in the 1980s, and the change of direction to make tourism the major industry is a story of necessity and resilience. Fishing is still a good part of the economy, but a large part of the catch now supplies the restaurants that serve Bornholm specialities to the tourists.
It is well geared for tourism, there are very well-informed tourist offices in many towns, and all the bus drivers happily act as informal tourist guides, and go out of their way to make sure that you’re on the right bus to where you want to go.
Hotels, guesthouses, homestays and camping grounds abound, as do restaurants of every variety. Many years ago, ‘Badehotel’, or Bathing Hotels were the fashionable place to book into, then they went through a period of being regarded as old fashioned, and lost popularity. There has now been a resurrection of these seaside type of hotels, and you will find many of them on the coast. The interior of the island does not have as many accommodation establishments, but who needs that? With a maximum length across the island of 30km, everything is a bus ride, a quick drive, or an energetic bike ride away.
Although a part of Denmark, the unofficial green and red flag of Bornholm is often proudly flown together with the Danish one.
Image courtesy of Langkilde & Søn
Bornholm has its own language, called Bornholmsk. Well, Bornholmians like to say that it is a stand-alone language, but the linguists say it is a Danish dialect. It is considered an endangered language, and is more spoken than written. As one Bornholmer said to this ‘førder’ (non Bornholmian): ‘’If it isn’t a language, why is there a Danish – Bornholmsk dictionary?’’ A good question, I thought. The language issue becomes a political issue, because the Danish that is spoken, is in the lilting sing song fashion which Swedish is spoken in; a leftover from the days of yore when Bornholm belonged to Sweden. I simplified the matter by saying that the Bornholmers spoke Danish with a Swedish accent. I found it to be a beautiful sounding accent.
Driving around, the landscape alternates between beautiful seascapes, deep woods and farmland, and villages in the most beautiful bright colours. Bornholm is famous for its round churches too.
Bornholm’s history goes back to well before the birth of Christ. Before the common era (BCE), the island was inhabited by amongst others, the Wends, who were a people thought to originate in what is now Germany. These people left behind clues to their way of life, of what was important to them. In fields and forests on exposed rock surfaces, still clear petroglyphs are visible. Many of these resemble Viking Ships, and they are thought to indicate the journey of departed souls to the afterworld. Barrows of different sizes are found everywhere. These burial sites have been excavated, and many artefacts which are now in the numerous museums, were found.
Megaliths, or ‘Bautasten’, as they are called in Danish, are everywhere. Some were believed to be petrified Holy Women, and on walking past these stones, it was the habit to greet them. Even at Hammarshus, which was a Christian Bishop’s seat, there is a ‘Bautasten’ raised on a plinth at its entrance.
Hammarshus is the largest Nordic castle ruin. Built in the 1200s; what is left of it is impressive. Built on a high promontory, it has been the seat of the governors and the church at different times over the centuries. It has seen fearsome battles by different inhabitants. The Lübecks tried to tear it down when they took over, then they tried to rebuild it for their own defense. The Swedish Princess Leonora Christina and her husband were imprisoned there; the tale of their escape from their prison room using sheets to lower themselves to the ground and their subsequent recapture, with those that saw them thinking they were raggedy ghosts, is still told with delight and much head shaking.
Many myths are woven around Bornholm, including that it was possibly inhabited by Burgundians from France at one stage, or that Bornholmians inhabited Burgundy, and that the name Bornholm may be derived from the word Burgundy. The most popular legend is that the island was a Templar stronghold, and that the history of Bornholm may have ties with the Merovingian dynasty of France. The round churches point to these myths being factual, and many archeological digs have been done. Strange items, such as the ‘guldgubbe’- small gold stamps measuring about 1 x2cm – have been found by the hundreds; but these finds have only deepened the mysterious history of Bornholm.
Bornholm’s history includes being under control of the Lübecks of the Germanic Hanseatic League in the 1500s and Sweden in the 1600s. The Bornholmians objected to foreign rulers and had them removed. The island was occupied by Germany in during WWll, and the Russians, in their efforts to beat the Germans, bombed Bornholm, especially the eastern town of Nexø (pronounced Nekserr) badly, destroying the town center, which is why Nexø, having been rebuilt, is more modern looking than the rest of the island’s towns.
If getting away into nature is what you are after, Bornholm has walking and cycling trails everywhere. You can wonder through open countryside, through ancient woods, or along the beach and shore. There are many cycle hire shops on the island. Bornholm’s natural history includes dinosaur sites, and it even has a bison herd which lives in a 2 square kilometre enclosure in the Almindingen Forest in the middle of the island. I didn’t see the bison – I was told a bison was there, but I’m really not into viewing sad, lonely animals in a paddock, so I wasn’t interested in seeing it. Afterall, a bison is a bison, not so? As I saw plenty near Yellowstone in the USA, it was of no interest to me. Silly silly me, not having done any homework on the subject. The Bornholm Bison are not American Bison, they are European Bison (Bison bonasus bonasus), also known as Wisent, Zubr, or the European Wood Bison, and are part of the Rewilding of Europe project. There were three European bison sub species in recent times (mid 1800s to 1920s); all were shot out in the wild, but a few of B b bonasus existed in captivity. Sustainable wild herds have been bred up from these few animals, and have been released in many European countries, Bornholm being one location. It is thought by some scholars that the horns on Viking helmets came from bisons, as did their drinking horns.
On your wanderings, stop in at a restaurant, and enjoy the local specialty dishes, like smoked fish. The locally caught fish is smoked in family owned smoke houses. If smoked fish isn’t for you, there are many other dishes to sample. Complement your meal with a beer from the local Svaneke Brewery.
All sorts of delicious foods are produced on the island, these include handmade sweets, chocolates and ice cream. ‘Bolcheriet’ (the Sweet Shop) in Svaneke make their sweets in the front shop for all to see. I did not know that making handmade sweets involved sheer hard physical labour. The guy who demonstrated the art of sweet making was a delightful showman, completely trilingual in Danish, English and German, and he took us through the whole process, from melting the sugar and flavouring, to how to get patterns inside the sweets. Did you know that licorice, my favorite sweet, is actually clear, but it is coloured to the likes of the market? Denmark and the rest of the licorice eating European countries like it black. Australians like it red. Of course, tasting what we had just seen made, was the best part. Jars of brightly coloured delicious sweets were added to my luggage.
The round churches of Bornholm are possibly the biggest tourist attraction. Apart from being beautiful and of fascinating architecture (they were built so they could also be used as strongholds against the enemy invaders), they are steeped in mystery about who built them, and are said to be linked to the obscure practice of Sacred Geometry, which is connected to the Knight Templars. A number of churches are named for Sankt Lars (Saint Lawrence) and bear his attribute, a gridiron. He was put to death by the Roman Emperor Valerian by being doused in oil and roasted on a gridiron, because he refused to hand over Christian Church treasures to pagan Rome.
Of the seven round churches found in Denmark, four are on Bornholm. They were built to be multi-purpose, to be used both a churches and as fortified buildings, in times of attack. Three of the Bornholm round churches are three storied, and the smallest and newest one (if one can call having been around for seven centuries, new) is two stories high.
Østerlars Church (St Lawrence Church of the East) is the largest of these churches and probably dates back to the 1160s. During various renovations, coins and such were found, making dating possible. In literature, the church is first mentioned in 1332. The church is famous for the wall friezes depicting Biblical scenes. One can get to the second and third stories via a narrow stone staircase. From the top you have unbroken vistas of the countryside.
Nylars Church in Aakirkeby was possibly also built in the early 1100s, and is often said to be the most beautiful of the round churches. The central pillar has a painted frieze on it, with scenes from Genesis. Various renovations and changes have been done over the centuries, including the addition of a porch in the 1870s. As decoration in the porch are two rune stones, with Christian inscriptions on them. One of these rune stones has the date 1050 engraved on it.
Aakirkeby’s other ancient church, Aa Kirke (Brook, as in little stream, Church) was built in in 1149, of sandstone. The limestone font is unique, that it is inscribed with runes, which is one of the reasons this church is also regarded as a tourism treasure. The church gave its name to the town (‘by’, is pronounced sort of like yew with a b – it means town), which today is the third largest on Bornholm.
Many of the megaliths found on Bornholm are inscribed with runes, the ancient Nordic script, with Christian messages on them. These megaliths are commonly found in churchyards, in churches, or have often been used as lintels when repairing or adding to churches over the centuries.
Prehistory is everywhere. All the periods from the early stone age (9000 BCE), through the bronze ages and the late iron age (500CE) are represented. Barrows abound, stone circles are common, single megaliths are everywhere, even though it is thought that 75% of the megaliths have been broken, used in building, or as gravestones on Christian graves. Dolmens, the multi-stone burial chambers are common too. Petroglyphs, depicting Viking-like ships, crosses in circles, rings and cup marks are on so many stones out in fields, that one can almost get an overload of these wonders.
The prehistory of Bornholm also includes dinosaur remains and fossilized jelly fish, which had previously only been found in America and India.
Trolls, the ancient beings of the north, have been part of Danish folklore for centuries. On Bornholm they are ‘alive’ and well, and have their own forest, the Troldskov (Troll Forest) and other hangouts. Bornholm has made the troll, Trølle Bølle, from the popular children’s stories, their national mascot.
Known as the Island of Artisans, all forms of art are celebrated, with renowned painters, glass makers and designers having studios and shops on the island.
The next time I’m in Bornholm, I want to spend a good amount time there, so that I can explore everything from the primeval forests to the history, to the very important exploring of the chocolatiers. I would also like to experience the annual ‘Folkemøde’ (Public Meeting;, the Political Festival where all things that affect Danes are openly discussed. A trip to the tiny Christiansø (Christian’s Island), a few kilometres north west from the town of Gudhjem, is also on my list. Museums, art galleries and so much more also have to be put on my ‘been there, done that’ list.
The coastline is made up of sheer cliffs, sandy or pebble strewn beaches and quiet bays which make perfect small harbours, where numerous boats are moored. Most are fishing boats, but many are also pleasure boats, and many owners are happy to hire themselves and their boats out for some sightseeing from the sea, or for a spot of fishing.
Christiansø and the tinier Frederiksø (Frederik’s Island – both named for Danish Kings) are living museums, and everything, down to the littlest wildflower is protected there. Scheduled crossings by boat run year round, but change seasonally. A causeway connects Christiansø and Frederiksø. Accommodation is available on Christiansø, but book well in advance, as it is popular, and places are limited.
Of all things, Bornholm is famous for its Grandfather clocks. These large longcase pendulum clocks are brightly decorated and come in both male and female clocks. Grandfather clocks have straight tops, Grandmother clocks have decorative shaped tops, often resembling ‘Nøller’, the flower covered bonnets worn by Bornholm ladies about a hundred years ago. The clock making tradition happened by accident, when a Dutch ship, carrying a consignment of clocks, ran aground on Bornholm’s coast in 1744. The damaged clocks were sent to be repaired by a local craftsman, who through repairing the clocks learnt the art of clock making, and started his own workshop. Clocks were made commercially until the early 1900s, when cheaper imported watches became available. A beautiful collection of these clocks can be seen in the Bornholm Museum in Rønne.
Museums are everywhere, and whether your fancy is vintage motor vehicles, ancient weapons or the Second World War, you will find extensive collections in one of the museums. The highlight of our visit to the Rønne Museum, was the display of the mysterious ‘Guldgubber’. What were they? A coin? A membership medallion? Or the work of a bored goldsmith, who had fun imprinting them with caricatures?
Statues vie for attention with the bautasten – placed on street corners, they are a constant reminder of the amazingly talented people who live on the island. Art Galleries are numerous too, you just cannot get bored when visiting Bornholm.
I could carry on writing about this wonderful island, and turn this blog into a tome, so this blog ends here, and now you should go and discover this wonderful destination for yourself.
I got onto to the Entebbe bound plane in Johannesburg, feeling like I had a run a mini marathon. I had specifically booked a flight from to Durban to Johannesburg many hours ahead of my flight to Entebbe, just in case of things going wrong. Which was just as well. My Mango flight was delayed, then cancelled several hours later. I was put on another flight, which was also cancelled. Fellow passengers were muttering that it had been done deliberately by the company, because the flight wasn’t full. I went to the airport authorities to say that I wasn’t impressed. If I missed my flight, I would miss a whole itinerary, and I would hold them responsible for all costs. I was put on another flight pronto, and arrived at Johannesburg well in time to catch the Entebbe flight. I thought.
I collected my luggage from the Durban flight, checked in, was wished a pleasant flight etc, and made my way to security and customs. Security was also pleasant, and I then joined the queue for customs. And queued and queued. Any amount of people were waiting patiently in the queue, flying to all sorts of destinations. There were only two custom officers on duty, and it seemed that every second passenger was pulled off into separate rooms for some sort of extra security check and questioning session, by the same two officers on duty, and we didn’t move. An hour passed with this going on, and we were all getting irate. Some ladies going to the DRC were getting very stressed about possibly missing their flight. I was too. Missing a flight when you have checked in timeously, and done everything correctly, because of too few customs officers would be ridiculous. The ladies went through, and I went through. I started walking as fast as possible towards my departure gate, when my name was called over the public address system. Damn. I started walk-running, with no idea how far away my gate was. Passenger Costello Kathryn, this is your final boarding call or words to that effect, being repeated several times, together with another person’s name. A guy was also moving in my direction, and as we got to a fork in the departures building, I asked where he was going. Nigeria, he replied, his gate was next to mine. Our names were called again, and he grabbed my hand luggage on wheels, and said: RUN! Which I did, with him close behind me with both our bags. I got the gate area as they were closing the gate, shouted my name to the flight attendants, thanked my hero profusely, grabbed my bag and ran again. The flight attendants (SAA), smiled reassuringly that I had made it, and I boarded, totally exhausted, from the run, swearing to myself that I would work on getting fit again.
Oh, the luxury of a half empty plane and sweet attendants. SAA management may leave a lot to be desired, but I have always found SAA a pleasure to fly. In this half empty plane, I spread out, put lots of pillows behind my back, swung around, and stretched my legs out over the adjacent seats. I quenched my thirst with a litre of water, snacks, a late lunch, a glass of wine, and settled down with my iPad, writing a stinker of a letter to my bankers; their standard of service was pathetic. They had lost some of my papers, and instead of phoning, and asking if they could have copies, they froze the account with my Uganda holiday funds in it. That had nearly caused my trip to be a non-event. I had ‘made a plan’, but I was furious, and the bank with no standards lost most of my business. That done, I read my guide book to Uganda the rest of the way.
Why go to Uganda? It had never been on my ‘Go to list’. I had been partly brought up in Tanzania, and Kenya, and Idi Amin’s reign of terror had started when we were living there. We had visited friends in Jinja during this time, and I have the trip very strongly imprinted in my memory. I very clearly remember us children not being allowed out in to the garden, whose lawns stretched down to the banks of the Nile River, before our parents had done a patrol and checked that there were no bodies washed up on the bank. That had left a terrible impression, and I had never, until now, considered going back.
At least that was the status quo when a good friend phoned, and said that she was joining another friend to celebrate a family birthday. Did I hesitate? I don’t think so. I did the usual instant yes, and then wondered afterwards what I was doing. We would stay at the backpackers Red Chilli Hideaway, in Kampala, and then we’d go up to Murchison Park for a few days. Murchison as in Murchison Falls – oh yes please!
I needed to sort out a visa, and contacted the Ugandan High Commission in Pretoria. This was my first contact with anybody from the country, and the man I corresponded with, set the tone of what was to come. Yes, they could issue my visa, but it really wasn’t necessary to go through all the rigmarole of sending my passport to them, I could just purchase it at the Entebbe Airport.
The staff at Entebbe Airport were equally friendly, customs was quick, easy and pleasant, and my visa purchase was simple. I walked out to the arrivals area, and there was the taxi that Red Chilli had sent to meet me, complete with my name on a board. Off we went, in the direction of Kampala. Kampala is only 60km from Entebbe, but it’s generally a 3 hour trip of congested, slow moving traffic, through what seems to be a never ending open air market.
There were traders everywhere, and as night fell, all the street vendors were lit up with candles or paraffin lamps. As we neared Kampala, my driver (sorry, I can’t remember his name), asked if I needed anything before he dropped me off at Red Chilly. Did I have Uganda money or US Dollars? It was a question I was reluctant to answer. Answering it, it my opinion, was setting myself up to be robbed. So, I answered nonchalantly, I did have some dollars, but no Ugandan shillings. Oh, said he, in that case we need to stop at a money changer, so that I could get useable currency. Say what? At night, in a strange city, in Uganda? Serious? No. I thought passing up on the offer was a good option. But my driver was insistent and pulled up at small shopping centre, where a Bureau de Change was open. Armed guards stood outside. I got out of the taxi bus, heard something fall, and reached under the car for it. It turned out to be an empty water bottle, and I chucked it into the car. I went into the Bureau de Change and joined the queue. I was now tired, really tired. I wondered where my phone was, but I was at that stage of tiredness where I couldn’t have cared less about anything. I couldn’t find it in my handbag. Ag, who cares, maybe it fell out of the car with the water bottle, I’d look when I got back to the car. If I had the energy. I got to the counter, the transaction went smoothly, and I put the money away, thanked the clerk and walked out of the office. Well, I tried to. A shout went up behind me ‘Madam!’ Who, me? Yes me. A guy came up to me. ‘Is this your phone? You left it in there.’ I thanked the man, and got into the car again. Thank-you Uganda, so far you’d made a really good impression.
Red Chilly Hideaway is more than just a lodge. There are dorms for those on a budget, and private en-suite rooms fr those who like their privacy. It was good seeing everybody, and after supper (Sushi), we went to bed.
We were up at dawn, sitting on a verandah with good coffee, watching birds in the garden. We saw birds with weird names: Gonoleks, Plantain Eaters, Piapiacs and Pittas. These are just a few off Uganda’s 1000 bird species. Some are just weird. Like Shoebills, which are on the top of many birders’ ‘want to see list’. Gonoleks, with their bright red plumage and oriole like call, became a favourite immediately.
What does one do in Kampala? One has lazy mornings at the pool. One goes to Lake Victoria, and has lunch at a marvelous hotel, or one enjoys the park and botanical gardens. One enjoys the local coffee shops.
One admires the disciplined soldiers on security patrol. As we were in Uganda just before the Presidential inauguration, we saw a number of platoons on duty. We also had the fright of our lives while enjoying cake and coffee at a coffee shop – an extremely low flying military jet screeched overhead, so low, that we actually ducked. Those of us that gaped slack jawed at the event, swore we could clearly see the rivets holding the plane together. The sonic boom was awesome.
We spent a few days in Kampala, and then we were off to the Murchison Game Reserve. We stopped at the Uganda Rhino Sanctuary, ZIWA, to do a spot of Rhino Trekking. This is basically a walk through the bush looking for the introduced rhino, with a guide. Both white and black rhino were extinct in Uganda until a few years ago, when some passionate people decided to reintroduce these iconic African animals.
A few years ago, some land was bought, and 3 white rhinos from Kenya, and 3 from…..…… guess where? Disneyland of all places, were introduced. They bred successfully, and to date (2018), a healthy population of 23 rhino are in the sanctuary. The rhinos live in different family groups, and have monitors 24/7, who live, sleep and eat with them, to stop any poaching. Should something untoward happen, the monitors, who are invisible in the bush, simply call for back up, and a well-armed security force will be at the site within minutes. Later, we were to meet a man who has in his employ, the man who shot the last of Uganda’s Black rhino, back in the Amin days.
Years, after the deed, he found out what he had actually done, and is now a keen conservationist. Education is a vital key to preserving the natural wonders of the world, and Uganda educates its youth to protect their natural assets. We found the rhinos, spent a while a few metres from them where they lay in the shade, and having a good laugh at a youngster who got himself stuck in a fallen over sapling.
Murchison Game Reserve is awe inspiring. It’s huge. It has a rain forest with chimpanzees. It has the Nile River. It has Murchison Falls. It has hundreds of animals. Thousands actually. Buffalo. Elephant. Hippo. The biggest wickedest Nile Crocodiles you’ll ever see. It has the Uganda Kob, which is Uganda’s special version of an impala gazelle. It is bigger and heavier than the common impala. It has Rothchild’s giraffe, lots of them, and until very recently, only on one side of the Nile. A family group were captured and taken across on the ferry to the non-giraffe side and released there. Why weren’t there any on the one side? Because in the bad days, they all got shot out, like so much of Uganda’s game, and swimming across rivers, is not what giraffes do for fun. Oribi are common, as are Kongoni (aka Hartebees), and Grants Gazelles.
Above: Elephant, Olive Baboon eating a mushroom, Spotted hyena, Lion, elephants, Kob, buffalo, Nile crocodile, warthog (having a pee, just like a female dog does).
It has Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, which have blue faces as opposed to the red of the more common Southern Ground Hornbills. It does not have Black Crowned Cranes, you have to go further north to see those, but it does have the amazing Shoebill, which walk in the long grass on the river banks. Lions? Yes. Leopard? Yes. We saw both species of large cats.
Uganda has just under 1000 species of birds. A big part of its tourism industry, is birdwatching. Birdwatchers travel from all over the world to not only see the three big near endemic species: the Shoebill Stork, the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and the Black Crowned Crane. Smaller species include two species of gonoleks, which are part of the shrike family. The black-headed gonolek, which has scarlet undersides, sounds more like oriole, than a shrike. The Eastern Grey Plantain-eaters, are a dully coloured turaco family member. Piapiacs are crows with long tails, which are often seen on animals, because they eat the ticks and other parasites. A Silver Bird is a flycatcher with a silvery grey back, and a bright rufous-orange breast.
Thankfully, poaching is no longer a problem. Uganda is adamant about preserving its wildlife for future generations, and so it is protected by the people of Uganda. A little bit of poaching for the pot does occur, but that is antelopes like kob, and it does not harm the population to any major extent.
The chimpanzees live in the rain forest section of the park. Well trained guides are there to make sure that you do see a chimpanzee or six, and they are in radio contact, telling each other where the chimpanzees are. I had expected semi tame chimpanzees, and had had visions of them, when seeing humans, coming down to our level, to scrounge a banana.
Above: Top left: Our guide educating us about Chimpanzees. Bottom left: A Chimpanzee high above us. Right: A Chimpanzee drum.
It was a really pleasant surprise to find that these chimpanzees are truly wild, and tolerate humans coming into their territory, but were not interested in us. As it was, the chimpanzees were uncooperative that day, and stayed high in the tree canopy, the only bit of acknowledging of our presence, was that they threw some wild fruit at us. Their aiming wasn’t too good, so we were ok. While walking through the forest, we did hear them communicating with their ‘drums’. These drums are part of the root system of certain trees; these above ground roots are called buttresses, which, when smacked hard, produce a booming sound which can be heard for miles. They communicate all sorts of happenings through this drumming. Different sounds are produced for ‘good food here’, ‘leopard on the prowl’, ‘look out – incoming tourists’, etc. We tried drumming a la chimpanzee; it wasn’t easy, you really have to hit those buttresses hard, to make any sort of sound. Those chimpanzees were probably rolling their eyes at our efforts at copying their behaviour.
Our home for the next week was Red Chilly Rest Camp. Accommodation is in huts scattered in an area above the river. The huts are equipped with mosquito nets, comfortable beds, and plenty of hot water. The communal space has a simple but good restaurant and a bar; you really couldn’t wish for more. Hippos wandering through the camp at night is added on for free.
Different types of accommodation is available in the park. The Murchison River Lodge (the locals call it MRL), where we had the actual birthday dinner, is an upmarket lodge overlooking the river. We spent the week going on game drives, or on a boat on the Nile.
The Nile River is the longest in Africa, and until recently when a bunch of Brazilian scientists said otherwise, claiming the Amazon to be the longest, the Nile was thought to be the longest in the world. Its headwaters are near the town of Jinja, and the river starts off at a small rapid coming out of Lake Victoria. Different sections of the Nile, have different names. The section in Uganda is called the White Nile, and later that becomes the Blue Nile. The White Nile between Jinja and Lake Albert is called the Victoria Nile, and the section after Lake Albert is called the Albert Nile. Millions of litres of water make their way northwards to Egypt, and when they get to Murchison Falls they are squeezed through a narrow chute which is seven meters across at its widest part. It is spectacular.
Ernest Hemingway’s claim to fame for having visited the area, is having crashed his plane. Twice. And survived both times, although word got out after the one crash that he had died. Imagine how many of books wouldn’t have been written if that had been true. The site where Ernest Hemingway crashed his plane the first time, is not far from the falls, and is marked with a sign.
He was presumed dead after his plane was seen near the river, and newspapers reported the loss to the world. A few days later, he and his party surprised everyone by turning up unharmed. Hemingway, after having had his plane fixed from this first crash, took off, and crashed again, this time hurting himself and the rest of his party. Many totally outrageous and untrue stories of Hemingway’s trips to Uganda are unfortunately perpetuated by guide books, but this one about crashing the same plane twice, in the same area, is true.
The waters of the Nile River, specifically the White Nile, which has its source at Jinja in Uganda, takes 3 months to complete its 6600 odd kilometre journey to the Mediterranean Sea.
The Blue Nile is actually a tributary, which has its source at Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and it joins the White Nile at Khartoum in Egypt, where it becomes the simpler name; The Nile.
After Murchison, we went back to Kampala, and met up with a family friend, who took us on a road trip, first to Jinja, and the source of the Nile, which was first described to the outside world by the explorer John Hanning Speke in 1862. A memorial to him stands in the park. The source itself, where the Nile starts from Lake Victoria, is not spectacular, it is little more than a few ripples on the water surface, but we were lucky enough to see a family of very large otters swim up against the current, and go up onto a nearby island.
Above: top right: those ripples are the start of the mighty Nile River. The island is where the otters were headed. Memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in the park. View of the Nile at Jinja.
What does one eat on a road trip in Uganda? Grilled chicken. Sold by street vendors, and displayed like a fan; they are delicious – do not turn your nose up at this delicacy. Ask the vendor to source fresh chapatis (pancake type bread) to go with your meal, and a local beer or fruit juice, and you won’t want to go to restaurant on your trip.
Uganda is also home to Angoli Cattle. This breed of cattle has unbelievably huge horns, and can be seen in rural areas, often herded by young boys. I tended to get as excited seeing these magnificent animals, as I did looking at game, much to the amusement of our guide.
Nile Perch, a huge freshwater species, caught by local fishermen, is another delicacy you shouldn’t miss out on in Uganda. I don’t like ‘fishy’ fish, and I definitely do not like freshwater fish that taste muddy, so I was sceptical about the taste of Nile perch. I needn’t have worried, it was a truly delicate flavour, which I will re-order when I have the opportunity.
It’s quite normal to see a man on a bicycle or motorbike with a huge fish strapped down behind him, with its nose and tail practically being dragged in the dust on either side of the back wheel.
Our next stop was a lodge in the Mabira Rain Forest, which is home to the Western tree hyrax, Dendrohyrax dorsalis, 100s of bird and butterfly species, and of course, indigenous trees.
The lodge apartments are built up on poles, so you are literally looking in to the middle section of the forest. I particularly wanted to hear the scream of the Western tree hyrax, although I knew I didn’t have much chance of seeing one. The call of this hyrax species, is also weird; hearing one of these nocturnal animals would be scary, if one didn’t know what it was. Best described as a series of screams and grunts, I still think the blood curdling scream of the Southern tree hyrax found elsewhere in Africa is ‘worse’. After dinner of delicious Nile Perch, we sat in the dark on our verandah and waited.
It didn’t take long before we heard them. They can throw their voices, so although they sounded like they were on the nearest tree, they were probably several hundred metres away. They screamed for a while, and then fell silent for the rest of the night.
Our Uganda trip was coming to an end, and our final trip was to the shores of Lake Victoria, at a public park in Kampala. The park was full of people having a great time in the beautifully maintained gardens, playing soccer, picnicing, spending family time together. For some reason, the lake had flooded, if that is the correct term, the water had jumped its shores.
I have no idea how that happens, as the Nile River was flowing normally, but the grass nearest the water’s edge was waterlogged, and walking in that squishy grass, was a stark reminder that we were in Africa, and Africa does have nasty diseases. We had taken prophylactics for malaria, but bilharzia, a disease caused by infection with freshwater parasitic worms which penetrate human skin to enter the bloodstream and migrate to the liver, intestines and other organs, is rife in East African waters. It can only be treated after contracting it. Open sandals are not going to prevent the bilharzia larvae getting into your bloodstream, if you have any open wounds or cuts. We checked our feet properly for cuts when we got back to Red Chilly Hideaway and were glad that our bush whacking of the last week hadn’t left any sores or cuts.
My last night was spent in Entebbe, as my return flight the next day was early. The 60km drive took nearly 3 hours, even though we had left after peak traffic times. The manager at the aptly named Entebbe Airport Guesthouse insisted on waking me at 4.30 am, and serving me full breakfast before being picked up for the airport.
The wake up call and breakfast were typical Ugandan hospitality – but I still had to have my last bit of it. At the airport, I did some last-minute gift shopping, and lost track of time. The result? A lady came in person to find me, and made sure I boarded the flight.
Uganda doesn’t feature much in glossy travel magazines – articles of great holidays there, are hard to find, but if you ever have the opportunity of going, do it!
It was a hot January morning, as hot as any January morning would have been for thousands of years. We were walking the concrete pavements, that not that long ago, not much more than 150 years ago, had been sub-tropical jungle, with huge trees and exotic plants growing in profusion right where we were walking.
In that sub-tropical jungle, high above what is now the City of Durban, Kwa Zulu-Natal, South Africa, herds of elephant, bush loving antelope such as puti and bushbuck, the odd leopard, and lots of monkeys had called home. The vervet monkeys, being masters of adaption, did what they do best, and learnt how to cope with the invasion of humans, and are still plentiful. Ferdinand Krauss had noted in the mid-1800s that being in the forest was ‘not safe without a gun in case one of the colossi [elephants] happened to pass by’. The last recorded (note the important use of the word ‘recorded’) lion was shot in 1854, after it was traced from the Botanic Gardens to Mr Cato’s farm, where it was shot. Mr Cato was the first Mayor of Durban.
The last elephant to be seen in Durban, was an Indian elephant by the name of Nellie, who gave the children rides in Mitchell Park in the 1930s.
The Berea, being much cooler than Durban proper, was originally a series of large farming estates, which had a few ramshackle houses on it. Over the years, these early houses were replaced with stately mansions, and beautiful gardens.
Today, most of us drive along Musgrave Road, Innes Road, Currie Road, and all the small connecting roads, concentrating on the traffic, and only see glimpses of ‘lovely old’ buildings, but few take the time to learn about their history.
One can book walking tours of the old suburbs – contact Durban Tourism for more information.
I booked to go along, and a group of us met at the St Clements Restaurant on Musgrave Road near the Anglican Church of St Thomas. Musgrave Road has numerous places of worship, in the aptly named Musgrave Holy Acre. The Methodist Church is the oldest, the original building having been built in 1893. Before the Catholic Church was built in the mid -1900s, the Chapel at the Marie Stella Catholic School for Girls, which was built in 1927, was used by those of the Catholic faith. A Mosque is the most recent addition to the Musgrave Holy Acre.
The Berea started off when a Captain Gardiner retired from the navy and became a missionary. He named the area in honour of St Paul who had preached in Berea (now Veroia) in northern Greece. His little mission school eventually became part of the Cato Estate.
Our tour started off at St Thomas’, where a staffer kindly let us inside. It has beautiful stained glass windows, and a small separate side chapel, which is separated by an ornamental wooden fretwork, which reminded me of the wooden screens used to separate the various chapels at Winchester Cathedral in the UK.
The marble baptismal font, in these times of the Covid 19 pandemic, is a stark reminder of a previous epidemic, where 5 children died, and whose faces were carved into the outside of the bowl. A frame of a kind had been placed in front of a large painting of Jesus, giving me the thought that he had been double crossed. Sorry – no insult intended, just my strange thought processes were at work here.
Our tour continued, and we all learnt all sorts of fascinating history as we admired the beautiful buildings. The small narrow roads, such as Overport Drive, were once the driveways to large properties.
Cute Victorian cottages are often hidden behind blocky blocks of flats and apartments built in the 1960s and 1970s, when, for some reason, architects didn’t design anything pretty, and drew straight utilitarian lines on their drawing boards. Some of these apartments are large and spacious inside, but unfortunately one can only call their exteriors ugly.
Grand houses are everywhere, they just need to be looked for, preferably on foot, as they are often hidden behind high walls. We were privileged to visit one of these beautiful houses, and went to the top terrace, where, except for one ugly blocky block, we had an uninterrupted 360° view of all of Durban.
Some buildings were private hotels, in other words, boarding houses, where persons could live in comfort without having the hassles of keeping a house. Some of these have now been turned in to Homes for the Aged. The Aged with healthy bank accounts, that is.
The first home to be built in the Cape Dutch style, Muckleneuk, built by Sir Marshall Campbell, now houses his daughter’s famous Africana book collection. Killie Campbell and her widowed brother lived in the house until their deaths in the 1960s. The world famous Killie Campbell Collection of 20 000 odd books, and many manuscripts were bequeathed to the University of Kwa Zulu-Natal. One may visit the library and gardens by appointment. Ms Campbell was also a keen gardener – unfortunately, the gardens, although well maintained, have lost their lustre.
Sir Marshall named his house for the region of Scotland that his parents had hailed from. His name lives on in everyday use by much of KZN’s population. KwaMashu, the town ship that developed on what was his sugar cane farm, is named for him, as he was known as Mashu by the Zulu people.
One of the weirdest architectural stories also belongs to this area. 638 Stephen Dlamini Road (formerly Essenwood Road) was in the wrong position on the right piece of land. The owners wanted to add buildings to the land, but the house was in the way. So, they literally moved it 15 metres closer to the road. Spray and Cook, the non-stick baking spray, was supposedly used to effect the move. Whether true or not, the house is often called the Spray and Cook House by Durbanites.
There are a number buildings of Art Deco Architectural design; most which are kept in the often gaudy colours of that style. As Art Deco is a passion, many people travel the world to admire these often strange buildings. One such building has sadly got a humongous modern block of flats going up next to it. Currently the skeleton of the new building is shrouded in netting, and one can only hope that the owners and architect have some sort of appreciation of classy buildings, and that this new modern building will reflect good taste.
A fact that is little known by the people who pass the rounded façade of the Art Deco style Observatory Court apartments, is that once upon a time, in the 1880s, a real, functioning observatory stood here. It was especially built to observe the transit of Venus on 4 December 1882. These observations would be used to increase world knowledge of how the heavenly bodies affected navigation. Due to lack of funds, it closed in 1911, was reopened in 1922, but was closed again shortly there-after, and later the building was demolished.
Occasionally, looking down a driveway, one can see the spectacular views that the houses built here commanded. Sadly, many of these views were ruined when the properties were sub divided, and more buildings were erected in front of them.
There are properties for sale here, some are beautifully kept colonial mansions, such as the house built and owned before the Group Areas Act of the 1950s was enforced, by an Indian rice merchant, a Mr Bassa. Mr Bassa and other non-whites had to sell to whites at non market related prices, and leave their homes and move to where the then South African government deemed they belonged. Naturally, in South Africa today, anyone can buy property where they want to live or invest.
The gardens that one can get peek-a-boo views of, are lush, some are formal and manicured, others are tropical delights. Exotic orchids have been propagated on trees – it isn’t just in Singapore or Madagascar that these delightful beauties can be found on streets for all to admire.
For more information on old Durban, there are many publications which have recorded the rich history of the city.
Rain. Petrichor – my almost most favouritest smell. The road was slushy with red mud; at last we had had proper rain after a very dry winter. My friend Sandy did a half gasp as we negotiated a muddy patch. I’d said I hadn’t driven in mud for ages, and needed a bit of practice ; she thought I would limp through the nasty parts. I didn’t – that’s a recipe for getting stuck., so we did a few skids, and a few bumps, but eventually we got to Nyandeni Great Place, near Libode, in Pondoland, Eastern Cape, South Africa, after having flagged down a few taxis to ask if we were on the right road. Rain, is regarded as extremely auspicious in Pondo culture. Rain at a wedding is a sign of a marriage being a long and happy one. Rain at a coronation, is an extremely good sign of the king having a long and good reign. It rained today, 3 October 2018, at the coronation of Ndamase Ndlovuyezwe Ndamase, as King Ndamase ll of Amapondo ase Nyandeni, Pondoland, so his subjects who came to see the coronation, were very happy, and stepped through and over puddles with smiles.
Pondoland, a region of the former Republic of Transkei, now part of the Eastern Cape, South Africa, stretches along the Wild Coast, from Hluleka south of Port St Johns to the Mtamvuna River in the north, on the border of the Kwa Zulu Natal south coast, and extends 100 – 150km inland. It is divided into Western Pondoland, and Eastern Pondoland. Amapondo ase Nyandeni is part of Western Pondoland, and the king’s seat is at Nyandeni Great Place near Libode, about 75km from Port St Johns.
Great tents were erected to accommodate the thousands of guests who were in attendance. The guest list included South African Government Ministers, South African Kings and Queens from other regions, Bishops and priests, foreign dignitaries from as far away as China, and Kenya, local government officials, and of course, the ordinary, but most important people, the Pondo People.
We, as media, chose seats in the fourth row, in front of the raised dais. It turned out that those seats were reserved for the Royal family, so we moved further along. The seats that were chosen for us, were also in the fourth row; we sat down as instructed. The rows behind this row was full of people from Port St Johns, who were very happy to have us in their group. They were delightful. They sang and chanted their opinions, and had to be the noisiest, happiest group in the audience of several thousand people. A bit later we were also asked to move from those seats to make room for more royal family members. We were very happy to oblige, but our new found friends, told us not to move. They had no intention of moving either, and it turned out that our seats weren’t needed after all.
The Royal Family members were splendidly dressed; the princesses were quite gorgeous. The Pondo people in attendance were dressed in traditional Pondo attire, with magnificent bead work enhancing the clothing.
Of course, the main reason for the day’s celebrations was the ‘crowning’ of King Ndamase ||, who, due to various reasons, had not been able to ascend to the throne on the death of is father, who had died many years before. King Ndamase || was invested as king, when he donned the lion skin of the Amapondo ase Nyandeni Kingdom. ‘Crowning’: the Amapondo kings do not wear crowns as western kings do, they wear a lion skin.
I recognized and greeted many people. Ayanda, who had probably hired out the massive tents for the ceremony, OR Tambo Regional Municipal staff who I meet at tourism get togethers, Roger, representing the South African Defence Force and local regiment; resplendent in his dress uniform, and untitled ordinary men and women who had also travelled up from Port St Johns to be part of this historic occasion. Speeches were many.
Ululations and singing was plentiful. Traditional dancers performed, including one very unusual dancer, a man, who impersonated a female dancer. He had everybody agog – cross dressing is not common in Pondoland, and especially not at royal functions. Speeches ranged from political wish lists to the reciting of the entire Royal Pondoland family’s genealogy, with great emphasis being made on the great King Faku, the Ndamase family, and the Bokleni family.
The mention of the Bokleni family brought to mind how many royal family members and chiefs’ family members from this area, had died when the SS Mendi was sunk in 1917. The SS Mendi was a troop carrier that sank when another British ship collided with it in the icy English Channel. 646 men perished in this disaster, many were from Pondoland, including those from the Bokleni and Ndamase families.
Speeches included how to get farming up and running in the area again, and how royal families and traditional leaders were going to be asked to give a lot of their unused lands to their subjects and communities, so that they could become self sufficient again. Pondoland was traditionally extensively farmed, but with the South African government creating a welfare state, people no longer had the need to grow their own foods, and the skills and will to farm was lost. Nyandeni Great Place is surrounded by rolling hills, which still have unused terracing clearly visible on old farmland. Getting crops growing on the fertile land will be easy.
The motto of the Nyandeni Kingship says it all: “The Soil is our greatest asset”.
The horrendous unemployment was also mentioned, with figures from Port St Johns being cited: out of a population of 55 000, 53 000 people are unemployed and are surviving on government grants. The actual investiture of King Ndamase was about to happen. The lion skin which is the king’s symbol of office was duly blessed by the Bishop, and then it was placed over the head and shoulders of King Ndamase ll. His people expressed their pleasure and happiness in song and chants, and the new king signed the necessary documents. More dance and song took place.
He then took his place on the golden throne, and faced his happy subjects.
During the entire ceremony, the king’s wife, now queen, did not take part in any of the ceremony. She sat on her own throne, amongst her family, in the front row of the audience. Only at the end of the ceremony, did she join the king on the raised dais.
Praise singers are normally male, but King Ndamase also had a female praise singer; she was full of whim and vigor about how King Ndamase would make development and job creation happen in the area.
Many a closing thank-you was done, it was now time for a rather late lunch, which we declined, as we had to drive back to Port St Johns in the auspicious, but heavy rain.
Sandy and I got separated in the throngs of people, and I wandered around, for a while trying to find her. It was indeed a privilege to be there, stopping to chat to people, photographing people in their wonderful traditional costumes, just being part of Pondoland. I did laugh at myself though, taking a youngster to task in the melee of people: one young and tall whippersnapper (maybe, being tall, he wasn’t a Pondo), thought himself quite clever by walking past me and saying: ‘Hi Mlungu’. Whatever you may have been told about the use of that word, Mlungu in Pondoland, is generally an insult. Sometimes it isn’t, you have to be au fair with how and when it is used. This young man, wasn’t exactly being insulting, he was being disrespectful, naughty, maybe trying his luck at impressing his friends. Luck wasn’t on his side. I stopped, turned and called him back politely with a smile. He and his four friends came up to me, and I greeted them all, and then asked him if he would talk to his mother like that? His face fell, his friends sniggered at him, and I got many an instant ‘cele xolo’ (I’m sorry) from the young men. The apology was accepted, and we parted. Later when I saw him in the car park, he again greeted me, this time politely, with a sheepish smile. Yes, Umfana – manners maketh a man, I hope you don’t repeat your rudeness to someone else.
On the way home, I took the road to the Mendi memorial – it was newly erected and I hadn’t seen it yet.
The Mendi Memorial, commemorates those brave fighting men who died so far away from home; one of whose family member was made King of Amapondo ase Nyandeni today. May his reign be long and good, and may he remember the words that that were spoken as the ship sank: ‘We are the sons of Africa’, and instill that same sense of pride in his subjects, and build the Kingdom up to be prosperous for all.
Books on the Amapondo People and the Mendi tragedy:
Mpondoland, The Navigation Of History by Malibongwe L Ngcai
Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom by Timothy J Stapleton
Men of the Mendi by Brenda Shepherd
Dancing the Death Drill by Fred Khumalo (Historical fiction)
Guests in traditional dress at the Coronation of King Ndamase Ndamase
Munich. München. A great city to have a long lay over. No-one likes long lay-overs. Airports are generally just that, airports, and a having to hang around for hours waiting for a connecting flight is generally no fun. Munich can be fun. Munich has year after year won many awards for being the best airport in Europe. I flew in from Chicago. A long trans Atlantic flight with United Airlines, which was pleasant. They pull the blinds down and switch off the lights as you in fly eastwards, more or less fooling you into thinking that you’re flying during the night; you’re really flying into a new time zone, and your body on arrival, sort of agrees that you flew through the night.
Munich – arrivals is fast, the Bavarians are pleasant and efficient, and you get through customs and arrivals quickly. If you have the right documents to leave the airport and enter Germany proper, head for the exit. Clear passport control, and enter the world where ‘Gruss Gott’ is the local greeting. Many years ago, I went to Germany on tourism marketing trip, and I asked a German friend to help me with some basic German before I left. Her answer was basically a snort of derision. ‘’Why bother?’ She of north Germany said, and continued with great exaggeration: ‘they don’t even speak proper German in Bavaria, it’s some weird language’. Oh. So much for my attempt at learning German. Off I had gone to Bavaria, with only a few words of German. I learnt to say Gruss Gott, and a few other words, but never quite got it right for biscuits to go with my coffee. My order went something like ”ein café mit küshe/ keks / küken” (All similarly pronounced, this means: coffee with kitchen/ biscuit/ chicken), which always resulted in raised eyebrows from the waiter.
Munich airport is huge, there is everything, including a cycling park, complete with ramps and jumps.
The only complaint; the Bureaux de Change weren’t open, and the lady at information said they were hardly ever there. Oh well, too bad, there’d be lots in town. I found the baggage storage office. It’s called Left Baggage, which I suppose it is when you leave the office. Pay when you collect please. So, with just my handbag over my shoulder, I went and bought a train ticket to Munich City at the ticket machine. Nice and easy, even I could get that right, and I went down to the platform to catch a train. Direction: München Hauptbahnhof. I would get off at Marienplatz, the town center. The train ride was lovely, a relaxing 30 minutes or so. The train swished past farm lands, country houses, a village named Englsshalking with cute architecture, green fields with horses and cattle and a field with deer running across it too!
I got off at Marienplatz, wearing a silly smile as I got to the top of the steps into the sunshine. It had been many years since I had been there, and it was wonderfully unchanged. I had timed it perfectly, the Rathaus – Glockenspiel, the iconic musical carillon consisting of 43 bells started a few minutes later. In summer these chimes play three times a day, and the 32 figures spin, commemorating the 1568 marriage of Wilhelm V to Renata of Lothringen. Knights joust at the Royal wedding on one level, and at a lower one, figures do the Schäfflertanz, a dance from 1517, that commemorates the end of the plaque. I oohed and aahed with the rest of the tourists and children.
I played the happy tourist, taking in the buildings; the Rathaus is actually new, rebuilt in the late 1800’s. The original (Alte) Rathaus, next to it, now houses a toy museum in its Gothic Tower. A climb up the circular stairs is just what is needed to get the blood flowing after a long flight. The toys, some dating back to the 1700’s, are fascinating. Barbies and Kens from the 1970’s are also on display.
Below is the Alte Rathaus, now a Toy Museum, and some of the displays. The Teddy Bear could be a cousin to my Bamse, which I still have.
The summer sun was hot, and I was glad I had brought my hat. I filled up my water bottle at the drinking fountain near the Alte Rathaus. Munich has a total of natural 180 drinking fountains spread around the city. Information is scant about these fountains, but I like to think that that the nearby Peterskirche (Church of Peter), followed the age-old formula of building a Christian Church on top of an ancient Pagan site, which was traditionally near a spring.
The Fish Fountain, in front of the Rathaus was my next stop, to admire the statuary, and its history. First built in 1318 to supply water to the citizens, it has been renovated several times after being damaged. It is topped with a bronze fish which commemorates the original fish market which was near there. Since 1884, water from the Mangfall Valley, 40 kilometers away, has been piped into the fountain. One of the latest renovations added a ground basin, for Munich’s dogs to drink out of.
Tourists from all corners of the world mingled with locals. A flower seller happily posed with an admiring tourist. Cafes served beer from the local breweries, local dishes, and lots of ice cream was sold too. I wandered down streets branching out from the square, at one stage arriving at one of the ancient city gates, Sendinger Tor. A busker was playing under the tower. I wondered how many minstrels have played near those gates over the centuries.
Being hungry, I walked slowly back to Marienplatz, popping into assorted shops along the way, very happy to buy my favourite cosmetics which are not available in South Africa. The assistant and I did the Gruss Gott thing, and I surprised myself, by answering her queries in German, the big surprise was that she understood me and didn’t swap to English, until I got stuck.
The Golden statue of Mary on top of her 12 meter column was ahead of me, and I ‘joined‘ a tour group who were listening to their tour guide’s story. I don’t know his name, but he was hilarious, his history lesson included ungrateful Swedes, whose invasion of Munich wasn’t successful, and how they may have expressed their sentiments in very colourful language, and what they may have thought of the statue. This statue of Mary was created in the 1500’s, and has gone up and down over the centuries when safe keeping was needed. She is surrounded by four putti (I didn’t know what that was either – a putto is type of cherub), each depicted fighting a different type of evil. I was surprised to see monks in the cassocks of age old Catholic Orders from a city monastery; I had thought that all monks wore trousers and shirts nowadays.
As in most European squares, an obligatory human statue was there, hoping to make some money. He was good, but could not resist children being in awe of him, and would come to life and talk to the kids. It was the sweetest thing to watch, and I hope his beautiful smile put many euros in his hat.
Lunch. There are lots restaurants around the square. I chose the Café Am Marienplatz Zum Ewigen Licht, because…… because it looked like my sort of place. It turned out to be pretty ancient. It has been business since 1857, minus a short closure. The staff uniform hasn’t changed either; the waitresses are dressed in traditional Bavarian pale blue skirts and low cut white shirts, and the waiters are dressed in lederhosen. It is the same restaurant where the traditional Weisswürst (White Sausage) of Munich was created. Not being a sausage fan, I opted for their delicious Viener Schnitzel, complimented with ein apfelsaft. If you are a review reader – ignore the bad comments, and enjoy a meal in this historic restaurant.
After lunch, I again strolled around, this time around the back of the Rathaus, to the Frauenkirche, home of the legend of the Devil’s footprint and the tomb of Ludwig lV. History is everywhere, but the possibility of the Devil’s Footprint being a tourist trap is very real, but who doesn’t love a mystery? Supposedly the architect of the Cathedral needed money to build the church. He made a pact with the Devil, who in exchange for supplying the money, would get a lightless church, where dark deeds could be practiced. When the cathedral was completed, and the Devil inspected it, he found that the architect had tricked him, and stamped his foot in annoyance. The Devil’s footprint (or is it a hoax maker’s footprint?), is there in a tile to this day.
Then it was time to head back to the airport. Another relaxing train trip, and soon I was in the Left Baggage Office paying Euro 11.00 to the gentleman for services rendered. That was another pleasant surprise; I had paid three times that at Milan’s airport a few months earlier. The Left Baggage office, like the rest of Munich Airport, is well thought out and has the traveler’s comfort in mind; it has tables and space for you to repack your bags, should you need to get your Munich purchases safely put away. After going through security, I found my gate, which was in another building of Terminal 2’s main building. Getting there required a bus ride. It is advisable to find your gate well in time – if you do have to get to a gate in another building, you could be creating unnecessary stress and unexpected runs for yourself, if you haven’t gotten there early.
Munich in the height of summer is hot, and walking around made one hotter. I now had another eight-hour flight ahead of me, and the thought of a shower was delicious. Munich airport again got 5 stars from me. Munich Airport has Showers. With a capital S. Yes, many airports have showers: you know the variety: shower stalls, small, utilitarian places, where your clothes get wet, and you bang your arms on the walls of the tiny space as you try to dry yourself with your tiny thin travel towel. Munich Airport has showers close to the gates, which is so convenient. Next to the doors (two were marked with male figures, two were marked with female figures), there is a pay point. Insert your credit card, enter your details, and the door unlocks. Voila! You enter a bathroom that would do a five star hotel proud. Complete with a pile of freshly laundered thick and fluffy white towels in the dressing area, a hairdryer, a basin with huge mirrors, and a loo in the central area. The shower area on the far side, is many square meters in size, and has two showerheads, and lovely shower gel is also supplied. It was luxurious, and your payment gives you an hour to enjoy the facility. Freshening up in an airport takes on a whole new meaning here.
Refreshed, ready for dinner and a movie, I boarded the SAA flight home, and arrived back in Johannesburg the next morning. I have always enjoyed flying SAA, and have never had a bad experience, contrary to what many people write in their reviews. Recently the company has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. I sincerely hope that with whatever changes are made to SAA, that they retain the great service that I have always experienced.
Have you heard of the rare Golden Wildebeest? Have you seen this animal, which was once thought mythical?
The collective noun for all species of wildebeest (also called gnu), is a confusion. They do get confused quite easily; they’re not regarded as being particularly bright. Pretty stupid actually.
On a hot day in the middle of the Limpopo bush, I was the one who was confused – I was looking at wildebeest, but these wildebeest-like animals were strange. These wildebeest were bright, as in a bright shade of bronzy gold. My host laughed, he’d seen my type of expression often enough, and he explained that there are actually only two different species of wildebeest, or gnu as they’re also called: the common Blue Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) , which is a grey/ charcoal colour, with a black tail. The second species is the more unusual Black Wildebeest (Connochaetus gnou) which is black, with a white tail.
The Golden wildebeest is real; they’re unusual and rare, and are generally only seen on private reserves. Their colouring is due to a recessive gene in Blue Wildebeest . Recessive genes create anomalies in nature: white lions, black leopards, white Impala, and black Springbok, are all caused by recessive genes.
The Golden Wildebeest is seldom seen in the wild, as their unusual colouring makes them easy prey for predators. Originally named Golden Wildebeest by the Khoi people of the area, the wildebeest was first described in the 1920s by the early farmers in the region and named the Vos Wildebeest (Vos is pronounced Fos). Some hunters knew it as a Red Wildebeest. It was thought to have been a cross between the Black Wildebeest and The Blue Wildebeest, by the hunters of that era, and was sought after as a trophy.
Extensive testing has proved it to be an uncommon mutation. The first animal was captured in the early 1990s, and they have successfully been bred since then, on specialized game breeding farms, mostly situated in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
Just as the early hunters sought out this animal as a prized trophy, so do the hunters of today. Most are bred on hunting ‘farms’, and the price tag of hunting one of these unusual animals is in the region of USS7000.00.
Top row: Buffalo are also bred for hunting. Sable are a popular trophy animal. A hunting lodge in the Limpopo bush.
Middle row: Baobabs and red soil in Limpopo. A naughty bushbuck helps himself to food at the breeding facility.
Bottom row: The wide and dry expanses of Limpopo. A curious ostrich. A Golden Wildebeest. Notice on the gate of the breeding and hunting facility.
As their colouring is not conducive to surviving wild in the bush, these animals can only be seen on private reserves.
Victoria Bay, South Africa Strolling down the Vic Bay waterfront, I found myself humming / singing the Beach Boy’s 1960’s hit song, ‘Surfin’ USA’, but changing ‘USA’ for Vic Bay, complete with the falsetto ‘inside outside USA’ bit. Vic Bay? Well, a surfer probably cannot tell you where South Africa’s Victoria Bay is, but they do know where Vic Bay is. It is a 15-minute drive from the city of George, in the Western Cape.
Vic Bay is tiny. It has less than 15 houses, some which are B&Bs. Add two restaurants, a curio shop, and a few places that rent out surf boards, and that is Vic Bay, South Africa. Privately owned holiday houses have been there since the 1800s. The entire area from Ballots Bay to Wilderness was once owned by a Mr Edmeades, who left Victoria Bay to his eight children when he died in 1927. To purchase a property in the tiny hamlet today, is well-nigh impossible.
Victoria Bay was originally named Gunters Bay (who or what is a Gunter? Were there Germans settlers in that area??), in the mid 1880s it was renamed for Queen Victoria, after the bay was surveyed by the British Navy, and it was deemed to be suitable to ‘land goods at all times’. These goods would then be transported to George by wagon.
Now it is purely a place to vacation, and surfers, because of the reef like right hand 200m wave, are usually in the water. Surfing competitions are often held here too. Competitions such as the Victoria Bay Classic and the Vic Bay Quad are regularly hosted. Big names in surfing, such as South African Champion Nikita Robb, internationally rated Dylan Lightfoot, and Springbok surfers Bianca Buitendag and Rob Pollock have all surfed Vic Bay. Many of the famous surfers, have left their imprints of their hands on plaques, and these have been set into a low wall. These are a lovely reminder that small villages can attract the champions of the world.
Land’s End, at the end of the road along the shore, is a jumble of large boulders which at some stage tumbled down from the hillside. Fresh flowers and candles are regularly brought to this natural ‘temple’, keeping the memory of loved ones alive. A South African version of a ‘chain and lock’ bridge is close by – it is not a huge padlock festooned bridge like those found in cities in Europe; this is a simple wall made of wire. Numerous padlocks have been attached, a symbol of promises made that cannot be unlocked or broken. I always wonder how many padlocks in those situations illustrate broken hearts and promises, and not kept promises.
On the other side of the bay, is the town of Wilderness. Wilderness is another popular tourist town, it lies between Victoria Bay and the famous town of Knysna. The Wilderness side of Vic Bay is popular for fishing, especially cob, also known as Cape Salmon, Kabeljou or Dagga (not be confused with the cannabis plant). I had an amusing conversation with the American tourist I was showing around: looking across the water, I said: ‘That must be Wilderness’, he looked at the buildings, and being polite, said: ‘yes, probably on the other side of the mountain’. Thinking he was looking in the wrong direction, I repeated what I had said. He repeated what he said about the wilderness, and then I realized that he did not know that there is a town called Wilderness, it was a funny and typical case of the meaning nearly get lost in translation, and we were both speaking English!
The Victoria Bay camping site is above the row of houses, so if the B&Bs are full, you do have another option for accommodation.
A tidal pool is next to the pier, which stretches out over the rocks into the bay. The pool and pier were built with funds won in a sweepstakes by a Mr Bramwell Butler in 1923. He won the large sum of 125000 British pounds, which would be approximately R93 000 000.00 in today’s money. He brought a property, built the pier and tidal pool, and tried to donate money to the Nederduitse Gereformede Kerk (NGK), but as it was deemed sinful gambling money, they couldn’t take it. The Methodist Church, of the opinion that life is a gamble, accepted the donation.
Today, the hamlet is strictly controlled by the property owners, making it extremely exclusive; properties seldom become available. Visitors are welcome, whether they are day trippers or are booking into a guesthouse, and you don’t have to be a surfer to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of this little bay.
How to get there: from George, follow the signboards.
It was 6.00 am, and the only thing I could find fault with at the guest farm 70 odd kilometres from Sossusvlei, was that I had to get out to the dining area to make my morning coffee. The guy next to me, said something about being a farmer, and having to have coffee as soon as he woke up. Oh, I thought, he’s actually local, where does that sort of German accent come from? Politely, I asked what he farmed. ‘Cattle, small stock and tourists’. He then added, that the tourist part was the more lucrative of his farming efforts.
In retrospect, I think the forced coffee making trip was great, it forced people out doors early. As a bird watcher, I had all ready been up and seen the rosy faced love birds scavenging for food, and a lonely little Springbok walk past my verandah. Now having coffee in hand, the bird watching was more enjoyable.
A few months before our trip, Donald Trump had made another of his gaffs, and called Namibia, Nambia, and sparked off a few hilarious videos, which ridiculed Trump, and put Namibia firmly on the tourism destination maps of the world. Trump’s gaff did wonders for the country’s tourism industry. Namibia had also benefitted from them having their own video in the older, ‘(Insert country here) First’, series; Namibia was now known to the world. For a good laugh and amazing visuals, google these videos. Tourism had grown, thanks to Trump. The tourist farmers were happy. I had been there 13 years ago, and this trip was unexpected. Shall we go to Etosha, said a friend? I said yes, and started planning. Originally, the trip was to be all Etosha, but we decided that we had both seen more than enough game, and that 7 days, even in a huge park, would be too much. We met at Johannesburg Airport, and boarded an Air Namibia flight for Windhoek. Air Namibia runs a very slick operation, and we landed at hot and dry Windhoek’s International Hosea Kutako Airport a few hours later. We went to collect the car I had hired, to be met by a blank look from the front office man. He searched through papers, checked on my surname several times, and asked for my confirmation document. He kept a professional face, but he must have been thinking I was some kind of stupid – I had reserved the car to be picked up in Walvis Bay. Ja well no fine, ek se niks nie. Alright, in that case what did he have available? Cars were available, but if not pre – booked, the price as good as doubles. So we went shopping at the various companies, and Thrifty Car Hire had a car a decent price. A VW Polo, which lived up to the old VW saying: You can take a VW anywhere. The drive to Windhoek was like already being in a game reserve, there were warthog and baboons all the way into the city. And a serious police road block. Uh uh, was my initial reaction- but it turned out to be a very pleasant and efficient check, the first of many we were to go through. One question that I was so pleased to be asked, was ‘are your headlights on?’ I was completely taken aback, but answered yes, I always drive with my lights on. ‘Good’, he said, ‘it’s compulsory here.’ Why is it not compulsory in South Africa?
We checked into Rivendell Guest House, in Beethhoven Strasse in a quiet suburb. Rivendell had also been our Windhoek base on the previous trip. I remembered the guesthouse as lovely, but had forgotten the name. During the planning stages for the trip, I had asked a friend who guides in Namibia for advice and recommendations. His recommendation of Rivendell and the memory trigger of the name was welcomed. In Windhoek and Swakopmund, many street names are in German, as are a large percentage of shop signs. After independence, it was decided to make English the official language, so as to get away from the languages of two oppressors; German and Afrikaans. A good call, but it wasn’t really followed through in daily life. Driving around, I brushed up on my German sign board reading, and spent the week speaking Afrikaans to everybody, whether they were shop assistants, petrol attendants or guesthouse owners.
It rained on that first afternoon; I was so surprised that I went on to Face Book to ask if that was normal.
The answer: not really, but all rain in Nam is good, said a Namibian friend.
In the morning we drove north east, Nanutomi Camp in Etosha Park being our destination. Namibian roads are good, both the tar ones and the gravel ones. Later, during our trip, we drove on only one road that wasn’t so good: the Remshoogte Pass, which we were advised as the best road between Solitaire and Rehoboth. It was interesting, and there was a couple of places where, I thought if we get stuck here, we have a long walk to find help. We saw nobody on the road until we got near Klein Aub, but the scenery was spectacular, and we saw real, wet water in two rivers! Now at the start of our trip, we drove through the towns of Okahandja (where a sign pointed to where an area called ”gross barmen” could be found – we avoided it), Otjiwarongo (very pretty with brilliant flamboyant trees in full flower lining the main road), Otavi and Tsumeb. Namibia is clean. As in super clean and litter free. I drove 2000 odd kilometres, and I think I saw five pieces of litter, which must have been escapees from a litter bin.
About 15 kilometres from Tsumeb, you can stop at Lake Otjikoto. This is really a sink hole that has filled with water. It is very pretty, and the bird life is fantastic. As with most places of interest in Namibia, the lake is gated, and you a pay a fee to enjoy the beauty. I think that this is a brilliant idea, as the money goes to the local communities. The local community here, are the Etosha Bushmen, who did a traditional dance for us on the way out. Not being sure about which people the locals are, I asked (in Afrikaans) the older man who was in charge of the performers. He proudly said they were Etosha Bushmen, which is why I use the term here. Bushmen is not a term that I’m comfortable with, so I asked if they were Khoi or San.
The old man shook his head, and said no, they were Etosha Bushmen, so I accepted that. We had a lovely chat about their lifestyle while the youngsters danced. The money generated from visitors to the lake, goes back into their community, and pays for, amongst other things, the school teachers and electricity. Personally, I think it wonderful that these people can have a foot in both worlds, the old cultural one, and the modern one. If you are one those people who resent paying for the pleasure of viewing other peoples’ backyards or natural resources, please stop and think for a minute and ask yourself: do you resent paying the entrance fee at a museum or zoo? Just because an area of beauty is part of nature, it still needs maintenance to be kept in the pristine condition you enjoy, and the people who belong there, if they cannot make a living of it, and view it with pride, will have no reason to look after it. I live on South Africa’s Wild Coast, and am involved in tourism; for many years I have been rooting for our area to adopt a ‘pay and enjoy’ policy; unfortunately most people think my idea as ridiculous, and it is not implemented (insert rueful emoticon here), so there is no pride in the natural resources, and ownership and guardianship are not worthwhile, with the result that many environmental tragedies happen on a daily basis on the Wild Coast.
Etosha Game Reserve was now directly ahead of us.
At the gate, forms were filled in, and then we drove towards Nanutomi, playing the old game – the one who sees the first animal is bought the first drink by the other person. The first animal was a giraffe, lying down, right next to the road. He or she just lay there, under few trees, and balefully stared at us. It wasn’t my sighting, so the first drink was on me.
Having done some homework, I knew that there is a German Fort at the camp. But nothing actually prepares you for the gleaming white fort that looms up ahead of you.
It really is unexpected and spectacular. We checked in; our rooms were large and beautifully appointed, without being flashy. We headed for the waterhole, for a quick look see before going out for late game drive. Oh yes, welcome to Etosha, Namibia’s largest game reserve: a herd of between 20 and 30 Oryx (Gemsbok in Afrikaans), arrived for a late afternoon drink just then. I think that after Sable, Oryx are the most beautiful of African antelopes. I was now in heaven. I had never seen that many Oryx at one time before. later, our first game drive didn’t produce much in the way of game, some zebra, some springbok and some Kori Bustard.
And of course, the great flat expanses of the smaller pans in that area were beautiful.
Dinner at the restaurant was lovely, complete with a lion roaring in the distance. After dinner, we took a trip up to the waterhole, but just a few zebra were roaming around. I was up at dawn, and bird watching, seeing new species and old familiars. After breakfast, we drove towards Okaukuejo, the camp on the western side of the park. Zebras and springboks by the hundreds, if not thousands, were everywhere. I regard myself as spoilt, as I was partly brought up in East Africa, and I have seen a lot of wildlife, but even so, Etosha’s large herds were impressive. Seeing and experiencing the actual Etosha Pan is what we were there for, the animals were a second consideration to me; it would have been lovely to see lion or cheetah, but it wasn’t to be.
The pan itself is an amazing study of seemingly nothing. A huge expanse of shimmering sand. A few hardy bushes cling to life on it, and insects, I would imagine, but when looking out at it, one sees an incredible emptiness.
A hundred years ago, the Germans were in charge, building their Nanutomi Fort in the middle of nowhere, and having battles with the local people. A plaque at the entrance commemorates (in German of course) a battle at the Fort, where 500 Hereros, and 10 Germans were killed. The Germans’ names are listed. As is the norm in battle, only the victor’s losses were noted. What was it like to ride out in to this inhospitable land, trying to find one building (albeit a big white one), in the middle of thousands of square kilometres of bush in the baking sun? ‘Kurt, you haf ze kompas, ja? Left or ryet at zees bush?’ Dressed in heavy military uniforms; it must have been hell. That your horse could step on a venomous snake or get munched by a lion, or that you could get punctured by a poison tipped arrow at any stage, must have made being posted to this area hellish.
The landscape varied from the flat shimmering pan, to low bushes, to what I think were Mopane woods; they weren’t big enough to be called forests, to areas where there were just big, loose rocks. The roads were good in general, except the last 20 or so km from Okaukuejo.
There the road deteriorated badly, and I was glad that we had started from the other direction, because I think if I had started on the bad section, I may just have said to hell with it, turned back and stayed at the camp. Okaukuejo Camp, the administrative center of the park, was also big and well run. Again, we had lovely rooms, chalets really. With air-conditioning and small kitchens, which would be really handy if one stayed for a few days, and didn’t feel like eating out every night. Again, we explored the water hole after checking in. A few springbok were at the edge of the forest, and a scarlet chested shrike made my day. We drove out, and returned before a big thunder storm hit us. We grabbed a bottle of wine, a couple of packets of chips, and joined the rest of the guests who were hoping to see something exciting come down for a drink at the waterhole. At waterholes, you’re supposed to be quiet, at least only whisper. I had no idea that a potato chip packet could be as noisy as they are. I tried to keep the rustling of the foil to a minimum, but the social weavers who were building their multi compartmented colony nest above us, must have had a lot of experience of noisy chip packets, and we were surrounded by them immediately; the little birds doing their best we-are-little-starving-birds begging act, looking up at me with beseeching eyes.
Unfortunately for them, we stuck to the don’t feed the animals rule, but they did pick up the odd crumb. Our second packet of chips got opened by accidently popping it. It sounded like a gun shot; any whispering by fellow game watchers stopped, heads swivelled in our direction, eyes glared at us accusingly. My shock at the noise made me want to giggle hysterically, the whole thing was totally farcical. The social weavers took cover in their nest, the springboks stopped grazing, their eyes alert, ears flicking, their tails wagging at speed, and they moved into bush with some dignity. The duck that had been sitting on the water squawked and disappeared, the flock of guinea fowl that had been coming down for a drink, scuttled off in the opposite direction. Oh, for an invisibility cloak to hide under. I pretended I had one, and sat out the glares and head shakings in the hopes that an animal would arrive and draw the attention away from us. Nothing ventured anywhere near the waterhole that evening. After dinner at the restaurant, we again went to the waterhole. Still no animals, but I did get some beautiful photos. It was dark, we were incognito, so there were no glares from the other guests either, thank goodness. That night I was woken up at 12.15, by a lion roaring. He was so close, that I thought he was on my verandah. I actually got up and checked that the doors and windows were properly closed. I hoped he’d be at the waterhole in the morning, but no, he was elsewhere.
There is a tower at Okaukuejo.
I asked the staff what and why about it, but all I got was ‘from the war, when they were killing our people’. I decided that it was probably best to google it later, as my guide book didn’t mention it. Sometimes, Google just doesn’t cut it, the tower is hardly mentioned, only that it was built in 1963, as a watch tower. It looks older, feels older,but if it was built in 1963, it must have been built by the South Africans; after all, the Germans surrendered to the South Africans in 1915. Okaukuejo dates back to 1901 when it was a German Military Camp, but, unlike Nanutomi, there is no visible evidence of the Germans having been there.
Etosha, as a park, dates back to 1907, when the German Governor realised that the slaughter of the animals had to be curbed before they were exterminated.
The borders of the park have changed over the years, and currently it extends over 20 000 square kilometres, of which 5000 square kilometers is the pan. The pan, in years of good rains, is home to thousands of flamingo. Over 340 bird species have been recorded in the park.
As we had a short drive to Khorixas that day, it made sense to drive around the southern part of the park and do some animal spotting, and then exit at around two o’clock in the afternoon. This we did, and found out that rain water does not seep away rapidly in Etosha. Some pretty hectic puddles were around. So hectic that at one, we came up behind one 4 x 4 vehicle, which had come to a standstill at the edge of the puddle. Ok, small pool may be a better description. The driver eventually decided to take the plunge, and drove through the centre of it at speed, creating quite a wave. Should I? Shouldn’t I? Ours was no 4 x 4, it was a sweet little VW Polo. I waited for the wave to subside and did. Why? Because, I reasoned, if we did get into trouble, another 4 x 4 would be bound to come along soon, and would help. I hugged the edge of the pool, and took it slowly, but steadily. The grey water washed right over the bonnet and windscreen, causing a white out. I concentrated on getting through the puddle and not stuck, so I only used the windscreen wipers on the other side of the puddle, while extolling the virtues of our little best 4 x 4 by far. It was only once we were out of the park, and buying curios, that I realised our car had had a colour change. No longer a sporty red, she was now in the Etosha camouflage colour of a lighter shade of grey.
It was hot, animals other that zebra and springbok were few and far between. I started a long distance conversation with the not-to-be-seen-elephants, telling them that I appreciated them waiting near the gate for us, and would they please be patient, we were getting there, albeit slowly, via most of the loops. They obviously heard my one sided conversation; and there he was, a few kilometres from the gate. I nearly missed him. A huge lone bull elephant.
Solitary, leaning against a tree, swaying slightly – it looked as if he was asleep. We watched him for a long time, and he didn’t acknowledge our presence at all. On reflection, our car colour was the same colour as the road, maybe he couldn’t see us?
Thank-you Mr Elephant, I would have been very disappointed if I had not seen you. A few kilometres later, in the distance, we saw a small herd that had just been to a waterhole, and the babies were delightfully wet and muddy.
Although Namibia’s elephants are of the same species as all other Savannah or Bush African elephants, Loxondonta africana ( only the leeeetle Forest elephants of Gabon, Loxodonta cyclotis are a separate sub species), Etosha’s elephants are taller than the average elephant. Also, their tusks tend to be short. The reason for this is that they use their tusks for digging for water and roots, and they break off. The short tusks thankfully make them undesirable to poachers. The desert elephants of Namibia are also regular elephants, which have adapted to the harsh conditions, and have in their adaptations to survive in the hot dry conditions, developed longer legs and bigger feet.
We exited the park, and stopped just on the other side of the gate, because I wanted one of those cute, if badly carved and painted bird mobiles that I had see at the Nanutomi side. Which one? Many bird species were represented – I chose one which had a Crimson breasted shrike on it. My Crimson breasted shrike sighting had been one of those quick-intake-of-breath moments. It truly is a magnificent bird. At the gate, there is also a group of Himba women, who sell their crafts. Lovely items, made and sold by lovely, proud people. Seldom in Africa nowadays, does one see bare breasted woman going about their daily lives.
Going bare breasted nowadays is most often kept for ceremonies or protests. The Himba Women were dressed completely in traditional garb, which only covered their lower bodies. As I realised later, somewhere in a non-touristy area, the Himba don’t dress traditionally for the tourists, they do what they do, because they are Himba.
Our next stop was Khorixas. First petrol, then a car wash. Yes, we got ripped off, but we did get our red car back. Everyone who saw our pre-wash car were most impressed that she has taken a deep ditch in her stride. Khorixas was also our overnight stop, at the Khorixas Rest Camp. First impressions weren’t favourable; the rooms, from the outside, looked like the single quarters of a road construction camp. Inside, they were pleasant enough, simple, and utilitarian with just enough space for a single bed and a chair. Good beds, newly done up bathrooms, a kettle with lots of tea and coffee, and air conditioning made for a very comfortable stay.
Recently taken over by NWR (Namibia Wildlife Reservations), the exterior will probably get prettied up soon; a coat of non drab khaki paint and some potted plants will make it pretty, fast. A large pool, great staff, and plentiful bird life make this a worthwhile stop.
The next morning we headed for the coast. We swapped, I became the passenger. I asked, as we passed a ‘beware of desert elephants’ sign, and hit the gravel road: how much experience have you had on dirt roads?
‘Not very much, actually; nothing’, was the reply. I took a deep breath, and swallowing my reservations, I instead launched into a lecture on how to drive on gravel and sand, which was pretty loose most of the way. It wasn’t taken that well. I cited that accidents on Namibian gravel roads are generally caused through speeding by non-gravel-and-dirt-road-drivers. Oh come on, says the one from Europe, a mutual friend said the roads in Namibia are so good, you can travel them at 140km per hour. Say what? I said. Actually, I didn’t, what I said contained several expletives. Yes, the roads are great, but only an idiot travels on loose dirt at 140 kilometres per hour. We drove on. An area of where the sands were different colours approached. We didn’t slow down, I had a near cadenza; different colour sands mean: ‘be aware, something could be wrong’; and as we didn’t reduce speed, we went into a skid. Only a skid, thank-goodness. More how-to-drive-on-dirt-roads lectures followed. Going through the dry river beds was an education in how driving teachers must feel – scared! Europeans are spoilt; real, out in the bush dirt roads are few, so those driving skills are not learned. Dry river beds don’t exist in Europe, so how would you learn how to go through a huge dip? They should be treated the reverse way of how one goes over big speed bumps:, brake, slow, speed up as you hit the top, or the bottom, in this case.
Driving through this mineral rich area, could take me forever. Along the way are stalls where pretty, and semi precious, stones and crystals are sold, often by Herero women in their multi coloured and layered long European / Quakerish dresses. They are absolutely beautiful, and incongruous, out here in the desert. Often, they have a dead tree planted next to their stall, with stones and crystals tied to the branches.
In a Face Book post, I called them ‘Boompie geograficus’ (a bad mix of Afrikaans and bad Latin), and, that the crystals were the fruit of these rare trees. Friends and I had fun expanding on this silly theme at the expense of other friends. You do realise, we said, that green fluorite is unripe fruit, and that in a few million year’s time, it’ll ripen into purple amethyst or red carnelian?
The landscape was flat, and it was tempting to drive at a trouble making 140km per hour. We drove through the town of Uis, passing the beautiful Brandberg and some wonderful natural stone sculptures, and arrived at the coast just north of Henties Bay. Now, that has to be one of strangest towns one can visit. It has holiday homes with the weirdest architecture and decorations, which are so ugly, that one thinks one has surely seen the worst of bad taste, when one finds another that eclipses the last one.
The closer we got to Swakopmund, the more picture book desert like the landscape became. And it got cold. We checked into our very pleasant guest house, Amarachi Guest House, located in a suburb, and then went into the still very German town.
We decided to have lunch down at the waterfront. As the restaurants were all very cafe-ish and casual looking, we chose what looked like the best of a lousy choice, and sat outside and froze with blankets wrapped around us. Only afterwards, when we went exploring, did we realise that the water front area is full of regular inside, out of the cold restaurants.
Shopping was fun, there were so many German products on the shelves. Mozart Kuglen, and Fenchal tea for a friend’s baby, were part of the purchases. Fenchal – waz zat you ask? The best anti colic stuff ever – no new mother should be without it. The craft market was a bewildering array of local crafts and what looked like rare masks from Central Africa, but possibly they had been made for the tourist trade. We purchased a hippo carved from beautiful malachite.
Swakopmund is famous for its German architecture, and many of the buildings are beautiful. Even the prison is beautiful, and is often mistaken for a hotel. The tall red and white light house stands guard over the ‘Mole’, as the water front area is called.
I went for a run in the morning, around the streets with gem stone names; Amythyst, Emerald, Ruby, Tanzanite (you’d think that Namibia, with its amazing variety of gemstones wouldn’t have to name a street after a stone only found in Tanzania) and more. I found my way to the beach, with very cold looking waves breaking close to the buildings. Up and around the gem stone streets again, and then I was in for another surprise; I was at the edge of the desert! Remarkable!
After a yummy breakfast, we drove to Windhoek; drove around the harbour area, up and down a few streets, and then left – it was quite boring compared to Swakopmund. It had always been British controlled, and they couldn’t have had any reason to pretty up this far away post of the British Empire.
We drove inland, through the desert with real dunes. Miles and miles of sand.
Through the Namib Desert Park. Through the Namib–Naukluft Park, through the Kuiseb Canyon, which must be one of the harshest places on earth. Have you read ‘The Sheltering Desert’? It’s about two German geologists, who, during the Second World War, to avoid conscription into the army, hid in this amazing geological area. Harsh, as harsh as harsh can possibly be, they survived, even managing to grow some vegetables. I don’t think one can appreciate their lifestyle and survival, without having seen this amazing part of the world.
Signs to ‘keep our desert clean’ pop up in strange places. The desert is clean, and taken care of.
When one clears the Kuiseb canyon, the landscape becomes almost soft. Muted colours, mountains and hills in many shades of russet rise around one. We had stopped to look at Oryx; a convoy of camper vans overtook us, they weren’t interested in Oryx. There’s definitely no shortage of tourists in Namibia, some travel in large groups, others alone.
I marveled at how healthy the antelope were, what do they eat? How do they survive on the little bits grass that exist? How can they be so fat and healthy looking, on what little food there appears to be in the area?
We opted not to stop at Solitaire, we wanted to push on, get to our next stop over, and see Sossusvlei that afternoon. Solitaire: – I have fond memories of having ‘kaffe und apfelstrudel’ there, I wonder if they still serve it? When I was last there, I was told of desert lion roaming the area, and that camping in the area was not a good idea. I mentioned the lions later to our hostess at the guest farm – she got that ‘oh no, not another tall story’ look in her eyes – no, she had lived in the area all her life, they did not have any lions in the area. Leopard, yes, but no lion.
We dumped our suitcases, told our hostess that we were off to Sossusvlei ‘quickly’. She thought we were mad, the light would be too harsh in the late afternoon, we wouldn’t enjoy it. Against her advice, we drove the 90 odd kilometres to this amazing place.
Now 13 years later, there was a gate with controls, and an office, loos, a shop and everything to make your trip to Sussusvlei perfect.
We paid the entrance fee, and drove off, calculating that we’d have enough time to get there, have a quick look see and get back to the gate before 6pm, and then enough time to get back to the farm before nightfall at about 7pm.
The road is now a tarred strip. A strong wind came up, and we worried about the car possibly being sand blasted, one thing that insurance didn’t cover. If that was to be, there wasn’t much we could do about it, there was no shelter anywhere, and I wasn’t about to drive back to the camp area. The wind caused the sand to swirl over the tar strip, it looked liquid, ethereal and mystical. Then the magical, red dunes appeared. They are truly beautiful. Tourists were walking up Dune 45, looking like little stick people silhouetted against the azure sky.
The tar strip ends, and there is a small office with parking space under a few lord-knows-how-they-survive-trees. A shuttle at a fee, takes you to the actual ‘vlei’. Thank goodness – I had forgotten that it was a good walk.
The ranger on duty took our money, and the shuttle arrived about 30 minutes later, driven by a delightful man (sorry, I can’t remember your name), who, if the Mad Max film series is continued, should get hired as stunt driver.
I said something about badly wanting to see Oryx up close and personal, and he broke into a grin, and drove on. There, a few hundred meters later, were a small herd of Oryx, well and truly upfront and personal, I could almost have stretched out my hand and petted them. They were nonchalant, uninterested in another bunch of oohing and aahing tourists. One promptly lay down and posed for photos. I could have spent hours with them, but it was getting late, and Sossusvlei was what we had come to see, so we drove on.
Sossusvlei is amazingly beautiful. The photographs that one sees of it, all effortlessly capture the amazing colours.
I had wanted to go to Dead Vlei, which is in the same area, but we just didn’t have time for that. Dead Vlei, in my opinion, is more beautiful than Sossusvlei. On the way back to the car, now with a bunch of French tourists on board, the Oryx again posed for us. They got oohed and aahed at in French this time, the Oryx posing on top of a dune, with the marvellous blue sky behind them.
Two other lots of tourists came past us, sorry, I’ll try that again, tried to come past us, as we drove back to the parking lot. Typically, with no idea how to drive in sand, they bogged down to their axles. Our Mr Wonder Driver, took control of both bogging downs, and had the cars out in no time.
Did they make it back to camp on their own I wonder? If they had gotten stuck again, they’d have had to sleep there until the first shuttle went past in the morning.
During the drive back to the guest farm, we had our first wake up call – a 4 x 4 hire vehicle had gone off the road at a corner, and rolled. It had been attended to, no-one was there now, but it was reminder not to drive badly, madly, or inattentively on loose gravel, especially not around corners.
Weltevrede Guest Farm was a true oasis in the desert. Lovely rooms, great hosts, and lovely food. Oryx steak was on the menu. Shot on the farm. Our hostess started the ‘sustainable hunting is an important part of conservation’ story; she must be so used to people doing the ‘ag shame, poor bokkie’ thing, that she automatically launches in to it. She was pretty relieved when I said something that made her realize that I fully agreed with her. Weltevrede’s Oryx steak was much better than the one I had at an upmarket restaurant in Windhoek.
In the morning, over breakfast, after seeing the wild love birds, routes back to Windhoek were discussed with other guests, and the Remshoogte Pass road was recommended. All I can say is, there must be another road; don’t take it if you’re not driving a 4 x 4 (or VW Polo), it is totally devoid of people and traffic; we passed one farm, and no other sign of human habitation. Had we gotten stuck, we would have had a problem. We had our second wake up on the main Solitaire road, before the turn off to Remshoogte Pass; another 4 x 4 had rolled. This time on a straight stretch of road. Again, the accident had been attended to, and no-one was around.
Eventually we got onto a better road, and followed it, towards what I hoped was in the direction of Rehoboth. A new road seemed to have been built since our map had been published, and we got to a very confusing fork in the road. I chose the better looking one without much discussion, but lots of consternation. “What happens if we get lost?” I was asked several times.
My standard reply: “I don’t do lost, sometimes I just do some unexpected sightseeing, and if it gets really bad, then I turn around.” Simple really, what’s complicated about that?!? The added bonus, if one does get lost, is seeing countryside that you hadn’t planned on seeing.
We went over the Klein Aub River bridge. There was some hardly moving water in the river, but judging by how deep and wide river bed is, occasionally, huge amounts of water must come thundering down with flash floods. There was antelope spoor in the mud, and also tracks of some largish cat, but no game showed itself.
Eventually, we got to Rehoboth, which is about 90km from Windhoek. Rehoboth is where the Baster People eventually settled after their trek from the Cape in the 1860’s, and is now the administrative centre of the Baster People. In brief, the Afrikaans speaking Baster were the offspring of the Dutch settler men and the local Nama women, who got fed up with being regarded as nothings, and decided to move off from the Cape, and find their own land. They settled around Rehoboth, and were even briefly given ‘independence’ by South Africa in the 1970’s. They are a fiercely independent and proud people, and up until fairly recently, were only allowed to marry other Basters, an outsider really had to have something of value to be allowed into the community resulting in that nearly all Basters are related. Basters are distantly related to the Griquas of South Africa.
My guide book was very disparaging about Rehoboth, describing it as a ‘scruffy bottle store town’, and had I not been there before, we would have driven through, but I had to see the museum again. The dusty little town isn’t too good with signboards, so we saw a fair amount of it (remember- I don’t do ‘lost’), but we did eventually find the museum. It was still run by the same knowledgeable curator who had given me a guided tour 13 years ago. We were given the history of the Baster people, and were shown all sorts of fascinating historical items. I wanted to photograph the oxen shoes that I thought I had seen there, but no, I must have seen them somewhere else. I had confused the Baster trek with another Afrikaner trek, the Dorsland Trek (Thirstland Journey), from what is now Gauteng in South Africa to what is now Angola; the oxen pulling the wagons were shod to protect their hooves from the hard ground and desert like conditions. Disappointed, I do wonder where I had seen them before.
Onwards to Windhoek. We rechecked in to Rivendell late in the afternoon, our last night in Namibia.
The swimming pool was heavenly after 40C heat. Over dinner at the nice, naaah, that’s not a suitable description: the delectable restaurant, Nice, in Mozart Strasse, we discussed how best to spend the next morning in Windhoek, before flying out in the afternoon. My choice as always, was museums. The Alte Feste where the hapless Reiterdenkmal (Equestrian Memorial) had been mysteriously dumped one night, was top of the list.
We started off at the centrally situated Christus Kirche, parking our car there, leaving it under the watchful eye of the car guard. The building of Christus Kirche was started in 1907 and finished in 1910.
It is what I call sugar top architecture, the sort of architecture that comes to mind when I think of Hansel and Gretel, but what architects call a mix of Art Nouveau, Romanesque and Gothic. Very pretty, very German, with a beautiful stained glass window, it was originally named the Church of Peace. It stands tall and proud on its own little island, in the middle of Windhoek, with museums, and the Parliament buildings flanking it.
Across the road is the Independence Memorial Museum, a very modern building; its design is mockingly and truthfully described as being akin to a coffee machine.
It is well planned and has different floors dedicated to Namibia’s history and wars. At the top of the building is a restaurant, which wasn’t very friendly, so we decided not to have breakfast there, just coffee. We went out on their verandah for a look at the sprawling city of Windhoek below us. Probably because we hadn’t sat down yet, we were promptly told that ‘we weren’t allowed’ to take photographs from there without buying anything. With that attitude, we left, and they lost out on the coffee sale they were about to make. That badly trained waitress was the only unpleasant person we met on our entire trip.
Next to the Independence Memorial is Alte Feste, originally a German fort and later the State Museum.
It’s very sad in its present state; exhibits have been moved to other museums, and only a few very interesting items have been left on the verandah. A sign says it’s being refurbished; I hope they hurry up. What is there, in the messy courtyard, is the beautiful Reiterdenkmal, which has been put out of everyday sight, because it commemorates a part of Namibia’s dark oppressed history. As so much other ‘oppressor’ history is everywhere in the country, hopefully, it will be displayed in a prominent place again sometime in the future.
Across the road, are the Museum administrative offices; they are not a museum at all, but have many exhibits lying around everywhere, and we were made welcome and were allowed to wander around and enjoy them.
Now starving, we walked the few blocks down past Zoo Park, into Independence Avenue, which is full of shops, history and good cafes. I love people watching, and the mix of people was fascinating.
Business people, classily power dressed; the women in designer outfits, the men in beautifully cut suits and ties, walked up and down the pavement, being jostled by tourists, army personnel, traditionally dressed women and the odd Rastafarian. It is a true cosmopolitan mix.
Our last visit was to be the Geological Museum, as it was on our way out to the airport. Mrs Google Maps was instructed to take us to the address, and it wasn’t there, at least there was no sign of it. We asked a number of people where it was, and they had never heard of it. I checked the address in my guide book; we were at the right address. It also said that few tourists know about this museum – we realized the locals didn’t know about it either. Someone had to know, so we enquired at the reception of the government offices there. Yes, it was right there, in the same government building. Entry was free, security was tight.
What an amazing place we had found, possibly one of the best small museums I have been to. Other than the expected geological exhibits, gem stones and history and tools of mining, there was a children’s play centre (digging in the sand for dinosaurs), fossils,with a dinosaur skeleton, fossilized animals and other ancient things. Also there were fascinating displays of everyday things – like a bathroom and a car, with descriptions of what metals and minerals went into what products. Have you ever wondered what is in your toothpaste? Or how many different metals are used in your car? No? Visit this museum and learn!
And so time went, it was time to head for the airport, and head home. It had been a wonderful trip, a trip whose planning that had driven me to distraction at one stage, as when I originally made booking inquiries, I got the answer fully booked/ not available, or just no reply. I don’t even remember filling out an enquiry form for Namibia Reservations, I think I was just writing to all and sundry in the hope of getting a reply. I was so pleased to get their reply, and I had a great rapport with their consultant, Millburches, who went the extra mile to make and change bookings, until I thought our itinerary was perfect.
As I’m about to click the ‘Publish’ button on my Blogspot, President Trump has done it again, calling African countries ‘sh*tholes’. Namibia,instead of causing political furores and recalling diplomatic staff as many countries have done, has produced a wonderful video of why Namibia is a “sh*thole”, in the same style as the Number One video, with beautiful visuals of the country and how it is the very opposite, ensuring once again that it is seen by a maximum number of people, who will all want to visit Namibia.
Kilwa Sea Rescue If the place that you’re boating in doesn’t have any rescue facilities, and you develop a problem, what do you do? In South Africa, the NSRI (National Sea Rescue Institute) is so synonymous with sea and ocean rescues: – with pleasure cruises going wrong, shipping disasters and any other water orientated ill that may be befall a hapless person, that we don’t even think twice about it – calling the NSRI is a given. What happens in countries where is no such thing as the NSRI? Where considerate seamanship doesn’t seem to exist? Where, if you get into trouble, you’re on your own?
In Tanzania, in the Kilwa Bay, I unexpectedly became part of a rescue. There was nothing dramatic about it, there was no danger to any person, but if our boat hadn’t come along when we did, and passed close enough to be within shouting distance, the thirty odd people on the stranded boat would probably have spent the night on a remote sandbank. Kilwa Bay, in southern Tanzania, is a vast expanse of water. Several islands lie in this bay; islands on which some of Africa’s most fascinating ruins lie.
We were returning to Kilwa Masoko, the town on the mainland, from Songo Mnara on an old tub of a dhow-ish boat, under sail, with all the time in the world, reflecting on the fascinating ruins which in the 11th century, and for another two hundred years, had been a thriving city port.
We passed another old sail boat, which was stationery. I liked the colours of the people’s clothing, and started taking photographs. A shout went up, and our skipper answered, but didn’t seem interested. I actually thought that the shout had been directed at my photo taking – that once again,
I was in trouble for photographing people without their permission. The exchange carried on, and eventually, the other boat skipper started shouting ‘mafuta mafuta’, which is petrol in Swahili. It turned that the spark plugs weren’t functioning, and being stuck on the sand bar, they couldn’t use the sail either. When they asked for help, our skipper was totally unhelpful, until the offer of their petrol was made.
We came up alongside them, a line was thrown, and they were pulled off the bank, and up to us. Before our skipper would move off, all the petrol had to be transferred to our boat. No Sir – there was no trust there!
With the petrol transferred (by crew members with lit cigarettes), we towed them, and another little boat, that claimed a free ride, all the way to Kilwa Masoko town, only slipping the tow rope as we neared the jetty. Thank goodness for the NSRI here in South Africa, and other sea rescue organizations around the world – imagine if the NSRI behaved like that and demanded upfront payment before helping?
Many sea rescue organizations are non profit organizations that rely on donations from the public; often they are not funded by their governments. The South African National Sea Rescue Institute depends on you and me for donations. Be generous: one day, you and I may be dependent on them to be rescued.
The children are grown up, and they live scattered around the world, but they do like getting together for family trips. My daughter, wanted to dive with whale sharks; the chosen destination was the Tofo Bay area in Mozambique.
Plans were put together. ‘Us girls will fly to Vilanculos, the boys can drive, and pick us up.’ Were her words. Driving would be over 1000km from home. Yes, the boys could drive, her dad and brothers would meet in Durban.
My older son wasn’t able to get to Durban in time, so he decided that he’d hire a car in Johannesburg and drive through on his own. Us girls didn’t think that fair, so we decided that we’d only fly to Johannesburg, and join him there. That almost went to plan. A car had been booked, with instructions that it needed all the papers and extras for Mozambique. Instructions hadn’t been followed, and the only car available with the necessary documentation was a mini bus. The car hire company, after rousting out their management, came to the party, and ensured that we would have a car waiting for us at the Kruger Mpumalanga Airport at Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit). As it was now much later than planned to go through the border post, and not knowing anything about Mozambique, we decided to spend the night on the South African side, and cross into Mozambique in the morning. We booked into a delightful little cottage in Marloth Park, which is about 30 minutes from the border. We had bush babies come investigate who we were, and in the morning, we had impala munching our lawn. The whole area is so well geared tourism; everything runs smoothly, and there is so much to see. We were on the road at 6.15am, to be at the border post at 7.00am when it opened. The border crossing at Garcia de Ressanes near Komatipoort is exactly the reason why I will never recommend anyone driving through to Mozambique through that border post. Avoid it, unless you have someone with you who is an old hand at it, or you have lots of patience, or you want to throw your money at rogues. Fly to Vilanculos, if you’re headed to Tofo and Guinjata Bay from Johannesburg. Hire a car there, don’t put yourself through the stress of crossing the border at Garcia de Ressanes.
This was my post on Face Book about the border crossing: “Mozambique Travel Warning: Mozambique is a great country and is a wonderful holiday destination, but their Lebombo / Garcia de Ressanes border post near Komatipoort is going to hurt Mozambique and Mpumalanga Tourism badly if not gotten under some form of control. My recommendation: if you don’t absolutely have to use that border post: don’t. It was everything bad one has ever heard about Mozambique. The South African side is fast and friendly. There is a huge presence of South African Police there, who are all relaxed and helpful. Then you cross over to Mozambique, and you’re immediately accosted by what seems a real border control officer, wearing an ID card with a photo. He is a lying, fraudulent impostor.
We were accosted by Roy. May he be infested with the fleas of a thousand camels, and not be able to scratch himself. He orders: come this way, do this, do that. I need R100 for this permit, R100 for that permit. Money flies out like a groupier’s cards. There may be no visa costs: you just pay to the bandits. R800 was the final tally. Not knowing the drill, and not wanting to attract the ire of border control if he was genuine, we complied. More money flew out. Being had by a conman is one thing, that I will take responsibility for, but that the border control officers allow this, are complicit (they were happily accepting passed on R100 notes), and do nothing to stop it, is not going to do Mozambique any good. This does not happen at the southern border post, therefore it is mismanagement of the Garcia de Ressanes officers. Mozambique: do something please, your police are great, why is your border so lousy?The toll road has been built and is managed by Trans African Concession. It is a lovely road, and I imagine that they make good money from it. Why do they not do anything to curb the sheer criminality that goes on? Or is the tourism traffic negligible to them, after all, the huge trucks that move between Mpumalanga and Maputo makes them lots of money. Sadly, Mpumalanga tourism will also suffer if people do not take this route. Coming and going, we spent the night at Komatipoort accommodation establishments. We had lovely dinners, breakfasts, bought petrol, snacks etc. A good few thousand rands were spent in the Komatipoort area. Sadly, Komatipoort, you won’t benefit from me crossing that border post again, at least not until the conmen at the border are stopped and removed. I recommend flying to your destination from Johannesburg. I reiterate: Mozambique is wonderful, just avoid the above mentioned areas.”
Having made it through the border control with less money in our wallets, as I had handed out R100 notes in the same fashion that a casino groupier hands out cards in a game, we drove on towards Maputo.
Mrs Google Maps said that the road through the town of Moamba, was the best route. My printed map clearly indicated that the road was awful. A mini argument ensued, “Mom your map was printed a few years ago, the road will have been fixed by now.” I decided to shush and to enjoy the site seeing. The road to Moamba was everything my map had indicated; in places it was little more than a strip road, but the kids were adamant that it would get better. We arrived in Moamba, a little town that must have been delightful in its day. I bet not many people can proudly list Moamba as a ‘been to’ destination, as we can; but it isn’t on the ‘should visit again’ list, and I doubt we’ll go through there again. We brought Mozambican SIM cards for our phones from very helpful street vendors, and then discovered that the road on the other side of town sort of peters out. A 4 x 4 and lots of time is what that road needs. We back tracked to the main road, politely pulling off in to the bush to allow oncoming cars to pass us. The country side in that area is pretty humdrum, but what made it special, was the lack of litter, and that people walking along the road, stopped to pick up litter if they saw any.
Mozambique’s history is a checkered one. The nomadic indigenous people were displaced by the migration of tribes from the north west of Africa, when they moved south east. Arab traders have been calling on the area for over 1500 years. They created the ancient port of Sofala, which together with Ilha de Mocambique was invaded by the Portuguese in the early 1500s, after having been sighted by Vasco Da Gama and his fleet on a sail past on Christmas Day in 1497, and naming it Natal (Yes, another one). He anchored at Inhambane in early 1498, and is regarded as the ‘discoverer’ of Mozambique – of course, the inhabitants’ ‘discovery’ of their homeland centuries earlier, wasn’t regarded as important to the Portuguese.
The Dutch tried, but failed to overthrow the Portuguese in 1607 and again in 1608. They gave up and went to the Cape of Good Hope instead, ultimately giving birth to the Afrikaaner Nation and South Africa. Which just goes to show, that when assorted people want to blame South Africa’s woes on the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in the Cape in 1652, it just isn’t justified – it was all the fault of the Portuguese chasing the Dutch southwards. Many Portuguese married Africans, and this gave rise to the so called Muzungos of ‘prazos’, which were leased crown lands. These Afro Portuguese areas and villages, with their own warlords, were a law onto themselves, and were a major problem to Portugal. Eventually, agreements were made, that if the prazo holder took care of their area, land claims would be recognized by the government. Vast tracts of land became privately owned through this initiative. Prazo concessions were often given to female orphans and widows, in an attempt to increase the number of European women in the territory. Portugal increased autonomy to Mozambique from the 1920s. The military coup in Portugal in 1926, and the changes there, caused Mozambique to become a province of Portugal in 1933.The road to an independent Mozambique started after WWll, with the rise of African nationalism. In turn, MANU and Frelimo, both liberation parties, fought for independence, and eventually, in 1975, independence was gained. Samora Machel was the first president. His widow, Graca Machel, eventually married Nelson Mandela.
Many name changes were made, and Lourenco Marques, the capital, named for a Portuguese trader in 1544, became Maputo, which is where we now were.The outskirts and ring road of Maputo was busy. There were lots of huge trucks on their way to off load South African goods at the harbour, bakkies (pick-ups) and ordinary cars, bicycles and pedestrians were everywhere. All driving politely, and adhering to the speed limit. The traffic laws in Mozambique are strict.
We’ve all heard horror stories of people having run ins with the police, and every time we were stopped by police, we expected trouble. We only had polite, efficient staff to deal with. No asking for bribes were tried by them either. The trick to having a pleasant drive through Mozambique: stick to the speed limits, and make sure that you have what you need to comply with the laws, like reflector vests. Hang them over the seats so that they are visible when you are stopped, and you will have no problems.
Later when we got to Guinjata, and shared our travel stories, John told us of how he had been caught exceeding the speed limit. The police had told him the fine was 1500. As John had done his homework, and had spoken to friends who had driven through Mozambique, he was well prepared, and only had R400.00 in his wallet. He told the officers this, and showed them his wallet. After a lot of discussion, with John pleading that they should take what he had, they took it somewhat reluctantly. As they drove away, John turned to my younger to ask what he had wanted to say at the police check. “Dad – it was 1500 Meticals that they wanted, not rands. You gave much much more than you should have.” John was not impressed that we thought his generosity was very funny. The road is good, but it is a long drive up the coast. Again, if you are limited for time, rather fly.
Everyone (mostly) adheres to the speed limit, and the scenery is pleasant. Along the road, there are stalls which sell cashew nuts, peri peri sauce, coconuts and crafts. Toilets at petrol stations are clean and well looked after. The road is mostly away from the immediate coast, and the only clue one has of getting near the sea, is that the red sand on the side of the road changes to white sand. The glimpses of the sea are those of travel brochures: turquoise and gorgeous.
At Xai Xai (pronounced Shy Shy: – X in Portuguese is pronounced ‘sh’), we crossed the grey, greasy Limpopo, Dearly Beloved. There were no elephant children getting their trunks from crocodiles in sight, only a lone fisherman in a boat. It was quite idyllic.
The hours and miles kept on piling up. Coconut palms, mango trees laden with fruit, cashew trees, the odd hare, and red villages were what we saw. Vodacom is very well represented in Mozambique. Airtime and data are much cheaper than what they are in South Africa, so everyone can afford a cell phone. Vodacom’s advertising agents have literally painted the villages red, and the walls all advertise either Vodacom or the local beer.
Eventually, we got to our turn off to Guinjata bay. The road is loose sand, and without a 4×4 vehicle, you may get bogged down. Guinjata Bay is lovely. There are a fair number of holiday homes, a few restaurants, a well-stocked little supermarket, and of course – dive centers. The house we had booked: Sentimos Dos Mar, was about half a kilometer from the Guinjata Dive Centre, which we had chosen to take care of all our diving. Sentimos Dos Mar, is an extremely well-equipped self-catering holiday home. It can comfortably sleep 10 guests, and has a large lounge, dining room and open plan kitchen. The staff are delightful, and ever so helpful. For more info, see their Face Book page.
The beach was wide and white. Vehicles were allowed to drive on the beach in certain demarcated areas, which made getting to the restaurants at night very easy. A turtle had laid her eggs on the beach in front of a restaurant, and the area had been fenced off to protect the eggs.
Local fishermen would bring you their catch to buy, and would happily agree to meet you at the house to complete the sale. Crafters would ask you to buy their art and capulanas, as sarongs are called there, but they would never harass you. Diving was an everyday affair for the others. I dived once; it was the first time in about 10 years, and I was so nervous. I had to smile – not so long ago, I held the kids’ hands in all sorts of situations. Now they held mine, and nodded when I told them not to let me out of their sight underwater.
Theft just doesn’t happen up at Guinjata, our house did not have keys. Anything could be left outside. The staff of the various houses helped each other, and everybody was so polite and pleasant.
A day trip to Inhambane was organised. The ancient town must have been beautiful in its day. Today, it is still pretty, just a bit tired looking. It is clean; the buildings of beautiful architecture are mostly well taken care of, and are newly painted. The harbour area is a pleasure to walk along; I imagined the colonials of yesteryear strolling along at sunset, on their way to the club for a gin and tonic or two. We had coffee in a lovely little café, and then we decided to find the museum. I’m a museum groupie – I have to see them all. This museum, when we eventually found it, was rather sad. An enthusiastic official showed us around the various displays, proudly showing us ancient diagrams of what Inhambane had been like in its heyday.
We then took a drive to Tofo, which is really geared up for tourism. Restaurants, souvenir and craft stalls are everywhere, as are dive operators and deep-sea fishing charter boats. Sadly, sea shells were also on sale; tourists need to be educated that buying these deep-sea beauties, keeps the trade alive. Buying shells is the marine equivalent of rhino poaching. It’s like the plastic straw story: just say ‘no’.
Tofo has a giant turtle; a wire frame filled with a few thousand plastic bottles; this effigy reminds everyone of reducing, re-using and recycling their plastic. It seems to work, as the town is clean. Hopefully the Mozambique government implements a ‘no shells to be brought or traded law’ one of these days. Conservation efforts along the coast are visible, one was only allowed to drive / launch boats on demarcated beach areas, everyone was picking up rubbish on the beach, restaurants displayed “NO straws available here” signs, but unseen, there are horror stories of what is happening to Mozambique’s natural resources. Forests are being felled and shark fishing is rife. It is actually shark torture and murder. The sharks, including the gentle giants, whale sharks, are caught, their fins are hacked off, and the animal is then thrown overboard, alive, only to die a slow and agonizing death.
I saw first hand why so many marine animals eat plastic. At the high-water mark, were thousands of tiny little balls, which looked exactly as if they were made of plastic.
I picked them up, and squished some between my fingers. They crumbled; OK, I thought, so they weren’t plastic, what were they? I inquired from local divers as to what they were. They were all clueless. I then asked a marine biologist friend, who was delighted that I had asked, and asked that I bring him some of the little balls. Those tiny little balls were an organism called pteropods, which are eaten by other marine life. As pteropods look just like plastic, and some plastic looks just like pteropods, it is no wonder that marine life eats plastic.
Guinjata’s crafters are talented. On a walk, I discovered a shop with walls made of odd pieces of wood and branches,
which was scant security for the beautiful items inside the shop. Carvings and woven items were displayed for tourists to fall in love with, buy and take home with them. A bit further down the sand road, was a ‘bakery’, not a real bakery, but the lady who lived there, made a living from baking bread and selling it. All one had to do was order what you wanted a few hours in advance, and you had the most delicious bread for your lunch.
I didn’t have time to do much of bird watching; I saw the common, ‘already ticked’ birds, but as there is a number of different habitats in the area, there are probably some interesting species around.Much of the area around Guinjata is cultivated. Cashew trees are everywhere, as are coconut palms and mango trees. Vegetables are cultivated with extreme patience in the sandy soil. The spinach like leaves of the cassava plant are crushed and cooked as a vegetable, and served in a variety of ways.
My favorite is the Matapa soup made with cassava leaves, coconut milk and spices, it is delicious. Cassava, being a tuberous root, does quite well in the sandy soil, and it has become a staple food; it is prepared in a number of ways, including frying and roasting. Mozambique, is of course famous for its seafood. Lobster, prawns, crabs and many species of fish end up as gourmet meals. Local restaurants prepare these to perfection.
Another of Mozambique’s famous culinary items is Peri Peri or Chilli Sauce. It can be super-hot, so do be careful, and test a little bit before happily pouring it over your prawns. Mozambique has a number of locally produced drinks, ranging from non-alcoholic baobab juice, to potent rums. The country produces several varieties of beer. An order of ‘Doshem’ refers to two bottles the popular brand called 2M. Cashew nuts are distilled into a brandy by the name of Ekhaja. A must drink / have to drink Mozambican specialty for holiday makers is an R&R, ‘rum and raspberry’. This local concoction is best made from the local Tipo Tinto Rum, and Sparletta Sparberry. Be warned, the mix is potent, and may lead to unusual behavior.
Our week of diving, Mozambican food, and chilling came to an end, and we got up early to do the long drive back, and run the border post gauntlet again. The trip southwards was fine; we used our last Meticals on cashew nuts at roadside stalls, and all went well, until half a kilometer from the border post. Talking too much, my son didn’t concentrate, and we were pulled over for speeding, not badly, but we had exceeded the speed limit. We were guilty as charged, and needed to pay the fine, but we were Metical-less, having bought cashews and crafts on the road side to get rid of the Mozambique currency, as it is difficult to change it in South Africa.
Remembering how John had paid too much because he thought he was being charged in Rands, my son did some very careful negotiating, and converting from Meticals to Rands; he was not about to be ripped off. It was the same kind of story: ‘I don’t have Rands on me, but I do have some Euros’. The police weren’t sure about accepting Euros, and they discussed it amongst themselves. One eventually declared that it was ‘ mucho grande pesos’, and they accepted the proffered Euros, and waved us on our way. A lousy conversion of Euros to Meticals had been done – he had paid about twice of what the fine was. Yes, overpaying speeding fines runs in the family.
The border was ok going out – we now knew when to say ‘No’. A lodge on the banks of the Crocodile River, looking into the Kruger Park, was where we spent night, and a fair bit of money. My next trip to Mpumalanga will not be because I’m driving through to Mozambique – my next trip to Mozambique will be by plane, or through the southern border post in Kwa Zulu Natal.