Monday, May 31, 2010


the sea front

Bradt’s Namibia guidebook reckons that Swakopmund is viewed by Namibians as the country’s only seaside resort, and i reckon they are probably right.

The South Atlantic blows across the coastline bringing mist, fog and noticeably lower temperatures in this rather weird oasis.

Surrounded by the desert, the town oozes its German colonial roots at every corner. Large clean avenues and traditional German-style buildings give the town a sense of Bavaria at the beach. After our recent sojourn up in the North East of Namibia it all comes across as somewhat surreal and i have lost the sense of traditional Africa.

Surrounded by the Kalahari desert, up until very recently Swakopmund had to pipeswater into the town some 300kms away. However, a desalination plant has now been built.

Swakopmund's museum is next to the lighthouse on the front. Founded in 1952 it has a bit of everything, including natural history, archeology, minerals and a new vaguely interactive display on uranium mining. There is also a completely reconstructed dentist's surgery and old-style pharmacy. It is open weekdays 10 - 5pm and Saturday mornings. Admission is N$25.

There is an Arts and Craft market close by to the museum outside the State House.

The town also boasts a few good bookshops and a cinema which off-season can be almost empty of customers.

German style church

Swakopmund is reinventing itself as an adventure sport town with sand-boarding, kayaking, skydiving and quad-biking vying for the attention of adrenalin-seeking travellists. Desert Explorers offers quadbiking for an hour at N$300, Go-karting at N$260 per hour, sandboarding from N$250, paragliding at N$790 and and tandem skydiving at N$1900. For more passive pursuits dolphin cruises depart in the morning at N$450 (including a light lunch) and catamaran charters also at N$450.

This is also the town where Angelina Jolie came to give birth to her non-adopted brood, staying at the highly exclusive Long Beach just south of the town.

street mural

Prices seem to rival or indeed exceed Windhoek, most notably in the restaurants and accommodation, and John and i opt for the dormitories of Villa Wiese some 10 minutes walk from the town centre. These are available at N$115 per night. The villa was built in 1904 and much of the wood comes from a plethera of ships that sunk off the Namibian coast.

Beryl’s offers a cheap bite to eat in the form of burgers, pizzas, snitzels and fried chicken. I try an oryx steakburger at Bistro's which is has a slightly tougher and gamier texture to it than regular beef. They are kosher too!

Bavaria by the beach?

the Youth Hostel

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Windhoek Beer

Josef - a beer connoisseur

Although not a beer drinker, Josef who is a six pack a day man swears by the quality of Namibia’s special brew Windhoek Beer circa 1920.

Clearly a high compliment from a German. And he is clearly not alone for the beer (lager to us Brits) has now been assigned the status of one of the top ten beers in the World (the source is The Namibian, but it fails to say which survey this is from).

It was announced last week that they will now be exporting Windhoek Beer to London. Grab a bottle if you can!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hanging Out For A Bus

John and i hit the bus stand in Tsumeb just after 8am this morning. We wait, we wait and then we wait some more. Nothing comes. By 9.30 we vow to take the first bus that comes along. Destiny seems to dictate that first bus coming in at 10.15 is a minibus to Windhoek. I would be prepared to hang on, but John’s 70 year old legs won’t put up with any more so i acquiesce and we jump aboard.

John is only 5 foot 5” but even he feels cramped by the bus. Being 6 foot 2” and mostly legs it seems a form of masochistic torture. I meditate as best i can for the five and a half hour journey despite the blaring African music pumped out on the rickety sound system.

My legs take time to unfold and re-circulate as we hop from bus to taxi and return back to Chameleon Backpackers. At least we are given a very warm welcome return. We check the availability of the shuttle buses heading to Swakopmund tomorrow, but both companies are fully booked. We are also unable to get a confirmed room in the town so we will check again tomorrow, before taking a local bus to the coast.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tsumeb Swallows

I love football - “The Beautiful Game”.

Sitting in the park on our first visit to the town i am approached by a young teenager waving a formal typed letter with a Swallows stamp on it. He is raising money for his local football team to buy shirts. I wish him luck but i genuinely don’t have any money on me.

Arriving back in Tsumeb yesterday i am approached by a different boy with the same formal letter. I dig in my pocket and draw out N$5. At which point the original teenager comes round the corner and sees the transaction. A fight ensues between them. I tell them to cool down, after all the money goes to the team. They do stop fighting, but this now appears to be a begging scam, rather than a genuine team.

I won’t ever be supporting the non-existent Tsumeb Swallows team again.

Thursday, May 27, 2010


the Kavango River

Rondu is a small northern town, and makes an alternative stop for John and i on our return to Tsumeb. It sits on the Kavango river and makes a good chill-out spot.

Without Josef, it’s Yours Truly who is behind the wheel, and damn fine i do too despite the lack of recent driving practise – it has been some eight years now since i last sat behind a steering wheel. Like riding a bicycle it is clear that one never forgets. Whilst John has a driving license with him his glasses are broken. I have a UK driving license which i failed to pack for my African Adventures - DRATS!

We splurge at the Ngandu Safari Lodge. Lonely Planet describe it as a place to suit all budgets but we have to pay some N$535 for a basic, but comfortable double. We push the boat out even further by ordering a T-bone steak with fries and dessert of vanilla ice-cream and chocolate sauce. After three weeks on the road this is the first time i eat at a “real” restaurant.

At such places i endeavour to load up on the free breakfast buffet and today is no exception. John gets my liver and bacon and i pretty much polish everything else off.

From Rondu it is some 511km back to Tsumeb and suddenly it feels like coming home. The roads are a pleasure to drive with virtually no traffic. Aub notes it seems that only whites own private cars.

It’s a sad farewell to the Kavango district, but a trip up here comes with my highest recommendation. The scenery is beautiful and offers a glimpse into traditional African village life.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Victoria Falls

Back in 2006 K and i travelled to Canada to check out Niagara Falls. Despite the rather Disney-style setting we were both impressed.

However, Victoria Falls 10kms from Livingstone city centre is undoubtedly by far more an impressive spectacle.

Dr. Livingstone described them perfectly when he first saw them. He described the falls as 'a sight so beautiful that it “must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight”.

The statistics speak for themselves. Whilst Niagara boasts a width of 998 metres a drop of some 58 metres with a volume of 6,818,182 litres per second, Victoria Falls has a width of some 1.7kms, a drop of 108 metres and a volume of more than 10 million litres per second has been recorded in the wet season.

The Zambezi river is high at the moment and it is difficult to see much of the falls. However the power of the spray emanating off the water is intense and deafening as you cross the overhanging bridge across.

There is nothing Disney about this experience and really is a must for those travellists going through Zambia.

Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the falls now cost non-residents US$20 per adult, US$10 for children and free to children under 7. An additional US$5 is charged to leave your car there and a US$1 for a hire of a rain-coat. The Falls open from 6am – 6pm.

They also offer a Full Moon Rainbow package for US$25 per person.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Devil Thorn

The Namib Naukluft desert is one of the most inhospitable environments in the World.

Precipitation far exceeds the annual rainfall, and only the most hardened of flora and fauna species can survive.

Thus it is some surprise to find one flowering plant.

The "Devil Thorn" Tribulus spp. develop extremely rapidly and completes its whole life cycle from germination, to flowering to seed-formation, within as short a period as two weeks.

The Road to Livingstone

not an elephant was seen on the Caprivi Strip

The ride up from the Caprivi Strip remains elephant free despite promises otherwise, and the road in Namibia is straight and fast with lush vegetation and more traditional African villages to the left (Angola) and to the right (Botswana). It stretches some 310 kms. There is a police check 115kms from the Zambian border.

There is little problem departing the Namibian border, but with our rental car it takes almost two hours to negotiate the four offices we need to register both ourselves and the car.

The road on the Zambian side remains lush and straight with mud huts either side, but with huge pot-holes. Maybe it’s because it’s the 50th Anniversary of African Independence Day today, but the road to Livingstone (190kms) is deserted both ways. There are two police check-points about 30kms before Livingstone, but we are greeted warmly and thanked for visiting the country.

John and i stroll round the city centre for a bit with our cameras, but with all the shops shut for the holiday, there is not much to shoot.

Livingstone museum in the city centre

Livingstone market

It’s a race to Victoria Falls at sunrise at which point we say fond farewells to Josef, whilst John and i need to bomb back to Tsumeb to return the hired car on Friday.

Zambia is a great place to be able to celebrate African Independence Day especially such an auspicious one - today is the fiftieth anniversary!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kavango District

traditional life in Kavango

Heading up out of Tsumeb we drive some 550kms up to Popa Falls close to the borders with Angola and Botswana.

The further north one travels in Namibia, the greener the country becomes with the larger rainfalls. As we enter the Kavango region i really get a sense of Africa, away from the feel of colonialisation. Gone are the security fences surrounding opulent houses and farms, small thatched wooden huts are enclosed by basic stick fences. Cattle and a few goats are herded and a few maize fields are growing along the side of the road.

The road is sealed and straight, and Josef opens up our rented Hyundai like Michael Schumacher.

We arrive at sunset into Popa Falls, where accommodation prices seem to have sky-rocketed since the Lonely Planet was last updated. After shopping around the Pupa Falls Lodge run by the Namibian Wildlife Resorts gets our vote. Despite the somewhat run-down chalet at N$250 per person plus breakfast, it’s some N$100 cheaper than its surrounding competitors.

Set next to the Oriwanga river it is a picturesque stopping point before we hit the Caprivi strip. We will endeavour to get up at dawn to look for hippo and we have to hit the road early anyway to see if we can bring in the car to Zambia.

Be warned however! The Falls are actually small rapids. Clearly trying to tempt passers by.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Etosha National Park

Etosha, meaning “Great White Place of Dry Water” takes in some 22912 sq kms including the white and green Etosha Pan.

There are some 114 mammal species, 340 bird species and some 16 reptile and amphibian species.

male kudu crossing the road

Only two thirds of the Eastern part are open to the general public, the rest being reserved exclusively for tour operators. It is on the Eastern side that there are three rest camps, each with a nearby watering hole for wild-life viewing. All roads are passable in 2WD. Cheaper lodges are scattered at the entrances into the park at Von Lindequist (Namutoni), Andersson (Okaukuejo) or King Nehale. The park is open from sunrise to sunset, as indeed are the park accommodation sites. Don’t be late for apparently entry can be refused.

Entry to the park is N$80 per person plus another N$10 per vehicle. You can rush through the park in a day, but it is best appreciated over at least 3 days.

Whilst this sounds quite reasonable, accommodation prices are somewhat more pricey. It costs N$250 for a campsite plus an additional N$100 per person. A room in a “Chalet” costs some N$800 whilst a double room including breakfast is N$2500. The sites appear clean and there is a bbq pit, light and electricity socket at each camping station. The toilets, showers and bathroom areas are kept clean. No wonder we only see whites on safari – the only black faces being camp workers. There is an overpriced restaurant, provisions shop, gift shop and a petrol station at each accommodation site. We have brought many of our own supplies into the park, but we don’t possess a cooler.

I do however splurge on the buffet breakfast, but endeavour to get value for my N$90 extravagance.

Aubrey Safari Breakfast
3 egg cheese, onion and garlic omelette
5 beef sausages
3 slices of marmalade bread
3 glasses of juice
4 cups of black coffee

There are several accommodation options outside the park, but these are not necessarily cheaper than what is on offer inside Etosha.

Indeed John, Josef and i are very much the poor person safari-ites. Most of the other visitors are either with tour groups or in flash 4WD Toyotas or Land Rovers. Tents are top quality whilst John boasts a kids two person plastic crappie one. Many are in full safari suits and with binoculars and camera draped around their necks. The Terrible threesome are in a rented Hyundai Atos Prime GLS, scruffy t-shirts and waterproof pants or jeans. At least John and i have the cameras and John even possesses binoculars. We self-label as Gringo Tours and spend 3 days in the park.

clearly not a member of Gringo Tours

1 crappy tent and a dodgy car

Gringos - Josef and John

Josef takes the tent, John is happy to sleep outside and i spend my first night on the back seat of the car with my 2 metre legs folded around my head. Finding this somewhat disabling, i “borrow” padding off a lounger by the swimming pool and sleep in the shower unit on the second night – marginally less painful and somewhat warmer.

blue wildebeast

Unless specified on very rare signposts, visitors must stay in their vehicles at all times and not to drive off- road. Wardens regularly check these rules are obeyed. This is particularly vexing for John who is suffering from chronic squirts. However there is a load of stuff that can be seen from the car and visits to some 30 water-holes rarely disappoint.

at the waterholes in early morning

As well as a good chance of spotting the Big Five there is so much fauna to be spotted. The variety on offer for nature lovers is truly awesome, and it’s difficult to go a few minutes and not see anything at all. One gets somewhat blasé at yet another springbok or zebra – well both Josef and John do. Coming from Watford, i am simply awestruck and could happily watch for hours.

impala in flight

The highlight for me is undoubtedly the evening in camp watching rhino at the waterhole. A family descend on both evenings and traipse loudly from bush to water emitting violent grunts.

A lot of safari seems to involve luck. One minute you can see several mammal species by a watering hole, and then five minutes later they have all vanished. Patience is a must! We see no lions in the park which is most unusual, but amazingly we see a lone cheetah on the hunt. Swings and roundabouts.

lucky find

By hiring our own vehicle on-line, bringing our own food and doing the safari independently we save a heap full of bucks and have an immense time on “Gringo Tours”.


lilac breasted roller

zebra in evening light

More pics can be found by clicking here.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


The gemsbok or gemsbuck (Oryx gazella) is a large African antelope, of the oryx genus. The name is derived from the Dutch name of the male chamois, Gemsbok. Although there are some superficial similarities in appearance (especially in the colour of the face area), the chamois and the oryx are not related.

Gemsbok usually live in herds of about 10 - 40 animals, which consist of a dominant male, a few non-dominant males, and females. They often live in association with zebras, gazelles or other antelopes. The female's horns may be curved but the male's are thicker and parallel. Male gemsbok have been known to gore attacking lions with their horns.

There are two types of gemsbok: a northern and southern variety. The northern gemsboks have black-fringed ears while the southern ones have longer horns and more rounded ears – as photographed by me.

Gemsbok have an average shoulder height 1 metre, 20 centimetres and can weigh up to 200 kilogrammes.

The oryx is the national symbol for Namibia.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cape Sparrow

a male Cape Sparrow

The Cape Sparrow or Mossie (Passer melanurus) is a species of passerine bird in the sparrow family. Brightly coloured and distinctive, it is coloured grey, brown, and chestnut, with some black and white markings on the male. It is found in southern Africa, where it inhabits savanna, cultivated areas, and towns.

The Cape Sparrow is brightly coloured and distinctive, a medium-sized sparrow at 14 to 16 centimetres (5.5 to 6.3 in). The breeding male has a mostly black head, broken by a broad white on each side band curling from behind the eye to the throat. On the throat a narrow black band connects the black bib of the breast to black of the head. Underparts are greyish, darker on the flanks. back of the male's neck is dark grey, and its back and shoulders are bright chestnut. The male has a white and a black wing bar below its shoulders, and flight feathers and tail streaked grey and black. The female is plumaged like the male, but is duller and has a grey head with a different pattern from the male. The juvenile is like the female, but young males show black on the head from an early age.

The Cape Sparrow's vocalisations are chirps similar to those of the House Sparrow, but much more musical and mellow. The basic call is used in flight and while perching socially and transcribed as chissip, chirrup, chreep, or chirrichup. A call used by the male to advertise nest ownership is transcribed as tweeng or twileeng. Distinctive and loud, this call sometimes becomes a jerky and repetitive song, transcibed as chip cheerup, chip cheerup.

The Cape Sparrow was first described by Philipp Ludwig Statius Müller in 1776. It is a member of the genus Passer. Within this genus its relations have generally been regarded as obscure. Mitochondrial DNA studies, however, have strongly suggested that the Cape Sparrow is the earliest offshoot, or the most basal member of this genus.

The Cape Sparrow has three subspecies. The nominate subspecies Passer melanurus melanurus is found in eastern South Africa, east to the west of Free State, and the subspecies vicinus, which is sometimes merged with melanurus, east from Free State to the Eastern Cape and Lesotho. The subspecies damarensis ranges from the extreme southern coastal areas of Angola into Namibia, Botswana and the extreme west of Zimbabwe, as well as northern South Africa.

The Cape Sparrow inhabits southern Africa from Angola south to South Africa and east to Lesotho. Its original habitats were the semi-arid savanna, thornveld, and light woodland typical of southern Africa. When settled agriculture arrived in its range about a thousand years ago, it adapted to cultivated land. Since then it has moved into towns.

While it occurs in urban centers, it prefers parks, gardens, and other open spaces, and has a low reproductive success in more built-up areas. The Cape Sparrow prefers habitats with an annual rainfall of less than 75 centimetres (30 in), though in desert areas it is usually found near watercourses or watering holes. When vineyards in the southwest Cape started letting weeds grow between vines to conserve moisture around 1956, the Cape Sparrow moved in. Cape Sparrows quickly exhausted the seeds and started eating the grapes. The Cape Sparrow is now a serious pest in vineyards, but in these areas they have such a low reproductive success their populations cannot be maintained without immigration.

In towns, the Cape Sparrow competes with both the native Southern Grey-headed Sparrow and the introduced House Sparrow. Since it is more established around humans in its range than either, it successfully competes with both species, though they may exclude it from nesting in holes.

The Cape Sparrow is social, living in flocks, and usually breeding in colonies. Away from humans it is nomadic, and forms flocks of up to 200 birds. In cultivated and built up areas, it forms smaller flocks where food is provided for livestock or birds. In such places, it associates with other seed-eating birds, such as the House Sparrow, the Cape Weaver, and Euplectes birds. Birds from urban areas form flocks seasonally and fly out to nearby countryside to feed on ripening grain, returning at night to roost. Outside the breeding season, birds in uncultivated areas roost in old nests or dense bushes, but the birds of farmland and towns build special nests for roosting
An unusual social behaviour has been described from Cape Sparrows in Johannesburg. Groups of 20–30 birds separate from larger flocks and stand close together on the ground with tails on the ground and heads held high. These groups sometimes move in an unconcerted fashion by hopping slowly. Often birds will fly up and hover 30 to 60 centimetres (12 to 24 in) above the ground. During these gatherings birds are silent and are never antagonistic. This behaviour's significance is unknown, and it is not reported in any other sparrow.

The Cape Sparrow mostly eats seeds. The larger seeds of cereals, wild grasses, and other small plants are preferred, with wheat and khakiweed (Alternanthera caracasana) being favourites. Buds and soft fruits are also taken, causing considerable damage to agriculture. Insects are eaten, and nestlings seem to fed exclusively on caterpillars. The Cape Sparrow eats the soft shoots of plants, and probes in aloes for nectar, but these habits are not important sources of food.

The Cape Sparrow usually breeds in loose colonies of 50–100 birds. 10 to 20 percent of the pairs in each population nest away from colonies, for unknown reasons. It seems pairs are formed in the non-breeding flocks, but it is not known how pairs are formed, or if the pair bond is for life. Once ready to breed, newly mated pairs look for a suitable nesting site, spending mornings searching, and returning to their flock in the afternoon. Once a site has been selected, both birds begin to build their nest. Other pairs seeking a nest site join them, and in this matter a colony forms quickly.

The Cape Sparrow utilises a variety of nesting sites, including holes as well as open locations. Bushes and trees, especially acacias, seem to be preferred. Holes and other covered sites are chosen less frequently. Nests have been recorded from the eaves of buildings, on creepers on walls, in holes in earth banks, and in holes in haystacks. Sometimes the Cape Sparrow nests in the disused nests of other birds, such as weavers and swallows. Pairs that nest away from colonies usually choose low bushes or utility poles as nesting sites.

Nests are placed at least a metre above the ground, and can be only a few centimetres apart in colonies. Only the nest and its very close vicinity are defended as a territory. Males defend their territory with threatening postures, and sometimes by fighting with bills on the ground.

Nests built in the open are large and untidy domed structures. Nests are built mainly of dry grass and twigs, with a soft lining of plant down. Any leaves or thorns present in a nest tree are worked into the nest. In cavity nests, the hole is simply filled with a shapeless mass of grass with a cup of soft material containing the eggs on the inside. When the disused nests of weavers are utilised, they are simply given a soft lining. The nest entrance is in the side, and is sometimes extended into a funnel. The male and the female construct the nest together, keeping close when finding material and weaving it together.

The courtship display is poorly recorded. J. Denis Summers-Smith observed a display in which the male hopped beside the female in a tree, drooping its wings and ruffling the chestnut-coloured feathers on its back. Groups of two or more males have been observed chasing a female. In the House Sparrow a similar display exists, in which a female who is not ready to copulate is chased by her mate, who is joined by other males. It is not known if the display in the Cape Sparrow has a similar significance. When ready to mate, the female crouches in solicitation and is mounted by the male.

Clutches contain between two and six eggs, typically three or four. Clutches are larger further south, and during the peak of the breeding season.

Both birds of a pair incubate the eggs during the day, switching every ten or fifteen minutes. At night, only the female incubates the eggs, while the male roosts outside or in the nest. In pairs breeding outside of colonies, birds leave the nest to make room for their mates upon hearing their mates approaching. Among colonial pairs, the incubating bird waits until its partner arrives in the nest, to prevent other birds from entering the nest. Incubation seems to begin before the clutch is complete, and lasts 12–24 days. The young of a clutch hatch over two or three days and are brooded until their feathers develop and eyes open five days after hatching. The young are fed on insects until they fledge 16 to 25, typically 17, days after hatching. After this they are fed for one or two weeks. While feeding nestlings, the female is dominant over the male.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Tucked away in Namibia’s northern corner lies the somewhat Hicksville town of Tsumeb. Small, clean and clearly historically very German. According to Lonely Planet, this is “perhaps Namibia’s loveliest town”. It comes equipped with ATMs, Bureaus de Changes and a quality Pick and Pay supermarket.

For the geologists amongst you, this is said to be a mineral collectors heaven. 184 minerals have been found in and around the town, with 10 of these found no-where else on the planet.

For myself and my two odd travelling companions, Josef, a 62 year old German, and John, a 70 year old whore-mongerer from Oregon/East Washington State, it is a pretty cool jump-off point for both Etosha National Park and also onward travel across to Zambia. By travelling together we have secured a rental of a Golf 4 door at a really reasonable rate for 7 days of exploration – Euros185 for seven days via – the English site doesn’t seem to accept Tsumeb as a reasonable point to collect a vehicle, so a big hurrah for Josef! This saves almost two thirds of the price asked for by the hire car company in town.

Navigating around Tsumeb’s few streets has been made a bit more tricky as a few months ago all the street names were updated to local politicians, doctors and dignitaries.

the German-style Church

Arriving in late last night, we stumble upon Martin’s Guest House. Whilst quite pleasant rooms, small kitchen, two aviaries and a “Social Room” this place doubles up as a whore-house. Two rather scantily-clad and rather attractive Namibian girls greet us on our arrival.

We can’t wait to check out this morning, and as the highly recommend Mousebird Backpackers is currently undergoing construction we opt for the clean, tidy and efficient Etosha Cafe and Beer-garden on the main thoroughfare – formally known as Main Street. There are several other options available, but i reckon we have done good.

The Tsumeb Museum situated on the Main Street (now named Presidents Avenue) offers a glimpse of Tsumeb through history, from pre-Colonial days to German occupation and beyond. It displays old steam engines, artefacts from mining times, a large collection of assorted minerals, stamps and even the scouting movement in Tsumeb. The museum is open 9am – 12pm and 2pm – 5pm Monday to Friday and 9am – 12pm on Saturdays. Entrance is N$20 for adults and N$2 for children under 13.

inside Tsumeb museum

The Mineral Gallery also on Presidents Avenue appears to have closed down.

As for safety, locals tell me the city is no problem during the day in carrying bags and cameras, but by about 6pm the streets are almost deserted. We are warned not to wonder around after 11pm.

a local with quality earrings

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sociable Weaver Bird

the vast nests of the sociable weaver bird

The Sociable Weaver bird was first described by ornithologist John Latham in 1790.

Measuring around 14 cm (5.6 in) in length, the Sociable Weaver has a black chin, black barred flanks and a scalloped back. The species ranges across northwestern South Africa, southwest Botswana and extending northwards across Namibia.

The sociable weaver is insectivorous. As an adaptation to living in the dry Kalahari Desert, where standing water is scarce, the sociable weaver obtains all of its water from a diet of insects.

The nesting colonies of the Sociable Weaver are amongst the largest bird-created structures. Sociable weavers construct permanent nests on trees and other tall objects. These nests are the largest built by any bird, and are large enough to house over a hundred pairs of birds, containing several generations at a time. The nests are highly structured and provide birds with a more advantageous temperature relative to the outside. The central chambers retain heat and are used for night-time roosting. The outer rooms are used for daytime shade. Sociable weaver nests are used by several other bird species, most commonly the Pygmy Falcon.

The nests can continue to grow sometimes resulting in the branch collapsing under the great weight of the structure.

In the southern range of the weaver's habitat, breeding is triggered by rainfall. Under typical conditions, weavers raise up to four broods per breeding cycle. Sociable weavers are known to assist in the care of younger siblings and unrelated hatchlings. A mating pair has been recorded as producing nine broods in a single season in response to repeated predation of its young.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Valuing Fake Dollars

Darren has been around a lot!

A fellow dromomaniac hailing from a tiny town in the far north of New Zealand’s North Island, he has lived and worked on four continents and travelled extensively on six. We swap tales on special moments in our most beloved countries, including Bolivia and Pakistan, and it transpires he grew up supporting Watford Football Club through a love of Luther Blissett and John Barnes, two of the town’s legendary players – and the football club haven’t had too many of these.

Darren is now in Namibia having brought his much used Landrover down from Morocco along the West Coast of Africa, not always a popular route due to “internal difficulties”. Not surprisingly he has had a few “difficulties” himself on his journey down, most notably in Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo where he has been pulled over by the police at gunpoint demanding money.

But Darren has come prepared. His last domicile was Hackney, in East London where he purchased good quality forged dollars at about 10% of their face value. He keeps these in his pocket at all times for just such occasions. He slips out a couple of notes and goes along his merry way. Brilliant!

His journey sounds interesting, if somewhat fraught with danger at times, but arriving into Namibia, he feels he has reached an oasis which he is very reluctant to leave. Leave he must as he still has the rest of the East coast to navigate. However this is a road more travelled, and like myself he is hoping for less scary moments on the journey.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Camel Thorn Tree

The Camel Thorn tree is without question the best known of the trees or plants in the Kalahari desert. Depending on growth conditions the camel thorn tree can become an immense tree of up to 10 metres high, or less commonly, a smaller, multi-stemmed shrub. Strange as it may seem, the "Camel" that the name suggests, is not the Dromedary camel, which do occur in the Kalahari but which is an imported animal, and bred in captivity. The name "Camel thorn" actually refers to the love of Giraffe's latin name Camelopardus or Afrikaans "Kameelperd" meaning "Camel-horse", as can be seen from the old botanical name of the tree, Acacia giraffae.

The Camel Thorn tree has a very hard and dense wood, but not so hard or so dense as leadwood or Lignum vitae. It is used for many purposes, and is the preferred fire wood for a "braai" or "braaivleis", which is the Afrikaans word for a barbeque. In the Kalahari, at least in South Africa, these plants in the Kalahari desert has been a protected species under the Forestry act, for the past two years, so please do not break off branches or twigs, or even, like in the old days, pull over a large half-dead tree. It is only sale of the wood that is forbidden unless you have a permit.

Although this may serve the purpose of protecting the Camel Thorn tree amongst the plants in the Kalahari desert, this has displaced the burden of supplying fire-wood, to other trees and/or and plants in the Kalahari desert. At best, invader species like the Rhigosum or the Alien Prosopis or "Mesquite" from the Cowboy books, is used as an alternative firewood, but where these invaders have been eradicated, other local species of plants in the Kalahari desert, such as the Shepherd Tree now carries the brunt. This has happened recently around Askham, where Prosopis trees was eradicated by Working for Water, an initiative of the Department of Water Affairs to eradicate water-greedy exotics plants in the Kalahari desert, from water courses.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Camel Thorn tree, is its seeds which forms a large crescent (or "half-moon"), up to 4 or 5 inches from end to end, and covered by a fine grey down, almost like that of a camel. These pods, of which a mature tree (80 years plus) can produce 500 kg in a season, contains a fine nutritious powdery inside, that surrounds a number of hard and shiny seeds. In severe drought periods, these seeds makes up a major part of the survival rations of most Kalahari animals and are a very important survival food amongst the plants of the Kalahari. The hard shiny seeds can be ground up and produce a drink not dissimilar to coffee.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Robbery and Theft in Africa

The sign posted on the gate of Chameleon Backpackers invites you to “try the Windhoek experience. Bring a bag into town and get mugged at knifepoint”. However this isn’t always the case.

Three Americans working up in the north came down to Windhoek for a vacation only to get their vehicle, computers and all their belongings stolen in broad daylight right outside the lodge.

Talking to several backpackers who have spent any time in Africa and they all have a robbery story to tell.

I feel particularly empathetic to poor Martin, a French national teaching in New Caledonia. He took more than 500 quality photographs in Kruger National Park only for another backpacker to steal his camera before he had a chance to upload the photographs. Of course, cameras are replaceable, but the photographs are not. He now takes out the memory card after every shoot.

I fear it’s not going to be a question of if i’m going to get robbed, but when and how many times?

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fairy Circles

Fairy circles are enigmatic barren patches, typically found in the grasslands of the western part of southern Africa.

They are most prolific in Namibia, but are also present in Angola and South Africa[1] . These fairy circles consist of round areas barren of vegetation; as yet there is no clear picture as to how they are formed, although scientists are researching the matter. One theory suggests termites as the creator of these circles, but recent studies have stated that there is no evidence termites would cause this phenomenon.

In the oral myths of Himba people these barren patches are said to have been caused by the gods and/or spirits and natural divinities.

Studies done by South African scientists shows that these circles are under continuous development. They grow in diameter, expanding to as large as 9 m in diameter, where they mature and "die", filled in by invasive grasses.

My own personal favourite theory however is that not unlike crop-circles in UK and the United States they are caused by aliens visiting the area to check it out.

Friday, May 14, 2010


The ostrich, Struthio camelus, is a large flightless bird native to Africa. It is the only living species of its family, Struthionidae and its genus, Struthio. Ostriches share the order Struthioniformes with the kiwis, emus, and other ratites. It is distinctive in its appearance, with a long neck and legs and the ability to run at maximum speeds of about 70 km/h (45 mph), the top land speed of any bird or indeed any two legged creature on earth. The ostrich is the largest living species of bird and lays the largest egg of any living bird, although the extinct elephant birds of Madagascar and giant moa of New Zealand laid larger eggs.

The diet of the ostrich mainly consists of plant matter, though it also eats insects. It lives in nomadic groups which contain between five and fifty birds. When threatened, the ostrich will either hide itself by lying flat against the ground, or will run away. If cornered, it can attack with a kick from its powerful legs. Mating patterns differ by geographical region, but territorial males fight for a harem of two to seven females.

The ostrich is farmed around the world, particularly for its feathers, which are decorative and are also used as feather dusters. Its skin is used for leather products and its meat marketed commercially.

Ostriches usually weigh from 63 to 130 kilograms (140–290 lb), with exceptional male ostriches weighing up to 155 kilograms (340 lb). The feathers of adult males are mostly black, with white primaries and a white tail. However, the tail of one subspecies is buff. Females and young males are greyish-brown and white. The head and neck of both male and female ostriches is nearly bare, with a thin layer of down. The skin of the females neck and thighs is pinkish gray, while the male's is blue or gray dependent on the subspecies.

The long neck and legs keeps their head 1.8 to 2.75 metres (6 to 9 ft) above the ground, and their eyes are said to be the largest of any land vertebrate – 50 millimetres (2.0 in) in diameter; they can therefore perceive predators at a great distance. The eyes are shaded from sun light falling from above.

Their skin is variably coloured depending on the sub-species. The male tarsus has red horn plates, while the female's are black. The strong legs of the ostrich, like those of other birds, are scaled and unfeathered. The bird has just two toes on each foot (most birds have four), with the nail on the larger, inner toe resembling a hoof. The outer toe lacks a nail. The reduced number of toes is an adaptation that appears to aid in running. The wings reach a span of about 2 metres (6 ft 7 in)] and are used in mating displays and to shade chicks. The feathers lack the tiny hooks that lock together the smooth external feathers of flying birds, and so are soft and fluffy and serve as insulation. They have 50-60 tail feathers, and their wings have 16 primary, four alular and 20-23 secondary feathers

Ostriches have three stomachs, and the caecum is 28 inches (71 cm) long. Unlike all other living birds, the ostrich secretes urine separately from feces and also have a urinary bladder. They also have unique pubic bones that are fused to hold their gut. Unlike most birds the males have a copulatory organ, which is retractable and 8 inches (20 cm) long. Their palate is different than other ratites, in that the sphenoid and palatal bones are unconnected.

At sexual maturity (two to four years), male ostriches can be from 1.8 to 2.8 metres (5 ft 11 in to 9 ft 2 in) in height, while female ostriches range from 1.7 to 2 metres (5 ft 7 in to 6 ft 7 in). During the first year of life, chicks grow about 25 centimetres (10 in) per month. At one year of age, ostriches weigh around 45 kilograms (100 lb). Their lifespan is up to 40–45 years.

A female ostrich can determine her own eggs amongst others in a communal nest.

The ostrich was originally described by Linnaeus in his 18th-century work, Systema Naturae under its current binomial name. Its scientific name is derived from Latin, struthio meaning "ostrich" and camelus meaning "camel", alluding to its dry habitat.

The ostrich belongs to the Struthioniformes order of ratites. Other members include rheas, emu, cassowaries, and the largest bird ever, the now-extinct Elephant Bird (Aepyornis). However, the classification of the ratites as a single order has always been questioned, with the alternative classification restricting the Struthioniformes to the ostrich lineage and elevating the other groups.

Five subspecies are recognized:
• S. c. australis in Southern Africa, called the Southern Ostrich. It is found south of the Zambezi and Cunene rivers. It was once farmed for its feathers in the Little Karoo area of Cape Province.[17]
• S. c. camelus in North Africa, sometimes called the North African Ostrich or Red-necked Ostrich. It is the most widespread subspecies, ranging from Ethiopia and Sudan in the east throughout the Sahel and the Sudan to Senegal and Mauritania in the west, and at least in earlier times north to Egypt and southern Morocco, respectively. It is the largest subspecies, at 2.74 m (9 ft) 154 kilograms (340 lb). The neck is red, the plumage of males is black and white, and the plumage of females is grey.
• S. c. massaicus in East Africa, sometimes called the Masai Ostrich. It has some small feathers on its head, and its neck and thighs are bright orange. During the mating season, the male's neck and thighs become brighter. Their range is essentially limited to southern Kenya and eastern Tanzania and Ethiopia and parts of Southern Somalia.
• S. c. syriacus in the Middle East, sometimes called the Arabian Ostrich or Middle Eastern Ostrich, was a subspecies formerly very common in the Arabian Peninsula, Syria,[18] and Iraq; it became extinct around 1966.
• S. c. molybdophanes in southern Ethiopia, northeastern Kenya, and Somalia, is called the Somali Ostrich. The neck and thighs are grey-blue, and during the mating season, the male's neck and thighs become bright blue. The females are more brown than those of other subspecies.[19] It generally lives in pairs or alone, rather than in flocks. Its range overlaps with S. c. massaicus in northeastern Kenya.

Ostriches formerly occupied Africa north and south of the Sahara, East Africa, Africa south of the rain forest belt, and much of Asia Minor. Today ostriches prefer open land and are native to the savannas and Sahel of Africa, both north and south of the equatorial forest zone. In Southwest Africa they inhabit the semi-desert or true desert. They rarely go above 100 metres (330 ft). The Arabian Ostriches in the Near and Middle East were hunted to extinction by the middle of the 20th century.

Ostriches normally spend the winter months in pairs or alone. Only 16 percent of ostrich sightings were of more than two birds. During breeding season and sometimes during extreme rainless periods, ostriches live in nomadic groups of five to 50 birds (led by a top hen) that often travel together with other grazing animals, such as zebras or antelopes. Ostriches are diurnal, but may be active on moonlit nights. They are most active early and late in the day. The male ostrich territory is between 2 and 20 km2 (0.77 and 7.7 sq mi).

With their acute eyesight and hearing, ostriches can sense predators such as lions from far away. When being pursued by a predator, they have been known to reach speeds in excess of 70 km/h (45 mph), and can maintain a steady speed of 50 km/h (30 mph), which makes the ostrich the world's fastest two-legged animal. When lying down and hiding from predators, the birds lay their heads and necks flat on the ground, making them appear as a mound of earth from a distance. This even works for the males, as they hold their wings and tail low so that the heat haze of the hot, dry air that often occurs in their habitat aids in making them appear as a nondescript dark lump.

When threatened, ostriches run away, but they can cause serious injury and death with kicks from their powerful legs. Their legs can only kick forward. Contrary to popular belief, ostriches do not bury their heads in sand. This myth likely began with Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79), who wrote that Ostriches "imagine, when they have thrust their head and neck into a bush, that the whole of their body is concealed."

They mainly feed on seeds, shrubs, grass, fruit and flowers; occasionally they also eat insects such as locusts. Lacking teeth, they swallow pebbles that act as gastroliths to grind food in the gizzard. An adult ostrich carries about 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) of stones in its stomach. When eating, they will fill their gullet with food, which is in turn passed down their esophagus in the form of a ball called a bolus. The bolus may be as much as 210 ml (7.1 US fl oz). After passing through the neck (there is no crop) the food enters the gizzard and is worked on by the aforementioned pebbles. The gizzard can hold as much as 1,300 g (46 oz). Ostriches can go without drinking for several days, using metabolic water and moisture in ingested plants, but they enjoy liquid water and frequently take baths where it is available.

Ostriches can tolerate a wide range of temperatures. In much of their habitat, temperatures vary as much as 40 °C (104 °F) between night and day. Their temperature control mechanism relies on action by the bird, which uses its wings to cover the naked skin of the upper legs and flanks to conserve heat, or leaves these areas bare to release heat.

Ostriches become sexually mature when they are 2 to 4 years old; females mature about six months earlier than males. The species is iteroparous, with the mating season beginning in March or April and ending sometime before September. The mating process differs in different geographical regions. Territorial males typically hiss and use other sounds to claim victory over a harem of two to seven hens. The successful male will then be allowed to breed with all the females in an area, but will only form a pair bond with the dominant female.

The cock performs with his wings, alternating wing beats, until he attracts a mate. They will go to the mating area and he will maintain privacy by driving away all intruders. They graze until their behaviour is synchronized, then the feeding becomes secondary and the process takes on a ritualistic appearance. The cock will then excitedly flap alternate wings again, and start poking on the ground with his bill. He will then violently flap his wings to symbolically clear out a nest in the dirt. Then, while the hen runs circle around him with lowered wings, he will wind his head in a spiral motion. She will drop to the ground and he will mount for copulation.

Ostriches are oviparous. The females will lay their fertilized eggs in a single communal nest, a simple pit, 30 to 60 centimetres (12–24 in) deep and 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide, scraped in the ground by the male. The dominant female lays her eggs first, and when it is time to cover them for incubation she discards extra eggs from the weaker females, leaving about 20 in most cases.

Ostrich eggs are the largest of all eggs (and by extension, the yolk is the largest single cell), though they are actually the smallest eggs relative to the size of the adult bird.[31] – on average they are 15 centimetres (5.9 in) long, 13 centimetres (5.1 in) wide, and weigh 1.4 kilograms (3.1 lb), over 20 times the weight of a chicken egg. They are glossy cream-coloured, with thick shells marked by small pits. The eggs are incubated by the females by day and by the males by night. This uses the colouration of the two sexes to escape detection of the nest, as the drab female blends in with the sand, while the black male is nearly undetectable in the night. The incubation period is 35 to 45 days.

Typically, the male defends the hatchlings and teaches them to feed, although males and females cooperate in rearing chicks. The survival rate is low for the hatchlings, with an average of one per nest surviving to adulthood. Predators include hyenas, jackals, various birds of prey, and vultures.

Ostriches reared entirely by humans may not direct their courtship behaviour at other ostriches, but toward their human keepers.

Hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari use ostrich eggshells as water containers in which they puncture a hole to enable them to be used as canteens.

Ostriches have inspired cultures and civilizations for 5,000 years in Mesopotamia and Egypt. A statue of Arsinoe II of Egypt riding an ostrich was found in a tomb in Egypt.[35] The Kalahari still use their eggs as water jugs.

In Roman times, there was a demand for Ostriches to use in venatio games or cooking. They have been hunted and farmed for their feathers, which at various times have been popular for ornamentation in fashionable clothing (such as hats during the 19th century). Their skins are valued for their leather. In the 18th century they were almost hunted to extinction; farming for feathers began in the 19th century. The market for feathers collapsed after World War I, but commercial farming for feathers and later for skins became widespread during the 1970s.

It is claimed that ostriches produce the strongest commercial leather. Ostrich meat tastes similar to lean beef and is low in fat and cholesterol, as well as high in calcium, protein and iron.] Uncooked, it is dark red or cherry red, a little darker than beef.

In some countries, people race each other on the back of ostriches. The practice is common in Africa and is relatively unusual elsewhere. The ostriches are ridden in the same way as horses with special saddles, reins, and bits. However, they are harder to manage than horses.

The racing is also a part of modern South African culture. Within the United States, a tourist attraction in Jacksonville, Florida called 'The Ostrich Farm' opened up in 1892; it and its races became one of the most famous early attractions in the history of Florida. In the U.S. today, the Phoenix, Arizona area hosts an annual 'Ostrich Festival' every Spring in which residents race. Racing has also occurred at many other locations such as Virginia City in Nevada, Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Prairie Meadows in Iowa, and Ellis Park in Kentucky.

The wild ostrich population has declined drastically in the last 200 years, with most surviving birds in game parks or on farms; however, they have a conservation status of Least Concern, with an occurrence range of 12,000,000 km2 (4,600,000 sq mi).

Beanie, my guide around Sossusvlei, gives us some solid advice on what to do if attacked by an ostrich. The ostrich will want to claw out your stomach, so lie on your belly and wrap your hands around the back of your neck.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More Money Than Sense?

Associated Press announced the top CEO earnings for 2009.

Top of the food chain is Carol Bartz who is CEO for Yahoo on a whopping US$47.2 million per year.

I wonder what on earth one has to do to warrant such a contract?

Nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers devote their lives to make the world a better place, and yet earn a mere fraction of this sum.

Here i am trying desperately to find US$4000 to keep a school running for one month in one of the World’s poorest country that will change the lives of Cite Soleil’s 300,000 residents, whilst Ms. Bartz could keep the project running indefinitely.

I hope Ms Bartz uses her money wisely.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Catholics Behaving Badly

Chameleon Backpackers has been haunted by Shane, an twenty-something year old Irishman.

Like many of his fellow country-folk he enjoys his drink, although somewhat more unusually, his poison of choice seems to be white wine.

You don’t have to talk to him for very long before he informs you of his Catholicism. This is only paralleled with a complete hatred, not just for Protestants, but for anyone who is not of the Catholic persuasion. Catholics “are good because they disapprove of rape and murder”. His support for Celtic and Liverpool football clubs are not surprising, but according to him, almost every team and absolutely everything has its origins in either Catholicism or Protestantism.

Not surprisingly he has rapidly become an isolated and alienated figure, but strangely he does not seem to understand why!

Somewhat scarily Shane is a qualified single engine pilot, but unsurprisingly he cannot find work, which he puts down to “being European”. I thinks it’s more due to being a completely insane bigot.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Black Backed Jackals

this jackal was just hanging about whilst we ate breakfast hoping we'd leave some scraps

I’m now hanging back in Windhoek again, and will be here over the next week before heading up North to the Etosha National park next week for another safari – this time for wildlife rather than desert wilderness.

When i’m not up to much, and a teacher by profession and love, i thought i’d add some educational padding on some of the wildlife i have observed, predominantly sourced by Wikipedia and then edited, with photographs taken by yours truly. Don’t worry however there will be no tests or final examinations. I do have a particular interest in mammals and birds, but i’ll also incorporate some other stuff on flora as well.

The black backed jackal (Canis mesomelas), also known as the Silver-backed or Red Jackal, is a species of jackal which inhabits two areas of the African continent separated by roughly 900 km. One region includes the southern-most tip of the continent including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. The other area is along the eastern coastline, including Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. It is listed by the IUCN as least concern, due to its widespread range and adaptability, although it is still persecuted as a livestock predator and rabies vector. The fossil record indicates that the species is the oldest extant member of the genus Canis. Although the most lightly built of jackals, it is the most aggressive, having been observed to singly kill animals many times its own size, and its intra-pack relationships are more quarrelsome.
The black-backed jackal is an exceptionally stable and ancient form of canid. Although numerous fossils dating back to 2 million years ago have been found in Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa, they are entirely absent in Ethiopia.

Black-backed jackals are small, fox-like canids which measure 38–48 cm in shoulder height and 68-74.5 cm in length. The tail measures 30–38 cm in length. Weight varies according to location; East African jackals weigh 7-13.8 kg (15-30 lb). Male jackals in Zimbabwe weigh 6.8-9.5 kg (15-21 lb), while females weigh 5.4–10 kg (12-22 lb).

The general colour is reddish brown to tan, while the flanks and legs are redder. Males tend to be more brightly coloured than females, particularly in their winter coat. The back is intermixed with silver and black hairs, while the under-parts are white. Their tails have a black tip, unlike side-striped jackals which have white tipped tails. The back of the ears are light yellowish brown, well clothed with hair without and within.

Jackals usually den in holes made by other species, though they will occasionally dig their own; females will dig tunnels 1–2 metres in depth with a 1 metre wide entrance. Black-backed jackals are monogamous and territorial animals, whose social organisation greatly resembles that of golden jackals. However, unlike the latter species, the assistance of elder offspring in helping raise the pups of their parents has a greater bearing on pup survival rates. During the mating season, they become increasingly more vocal and territorial, with dominant animals preventing same sexed subordinates from mating through constant harassment. In southern Africa, mating occurs from late May to August, with a 60 day gestation period. Pups are born from July to October.

It is theorised that summer births are timed to coincide with population peaks of vlei rats and four striped grass mice, while winter births are timed for ungulate calving seasons. Litters usually consist of 3-6 pups. For the first 3 weeks of their lives, the pups are kept under constant surveillance by their mother, while the father and elder offspring provide food.

Cubs typically leave the den after 3 weeks, and become independent at 6–8 months. Pups have drab coloured coats, which only reach full intensity at the age of two years. Unlike golden jackals, which have comparatively amicable intra-pack relationships, black-backed jackal pups become increasingly quarrelsome as they age, and establish more rigid dominance heirarchies. Dominant cubs will appropriate food, and become independent at an earlier age.

Black-backed jackals are omnivores, which feed on invertebrates such as beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, termites, millipedes, spiders and scorpions. They will also feed on mammals such as rodents, hares and young antelopes up to the size of topi calves. They will also feed on carrion, lizards, snakes. They will occasionally feed on fruits and berries. In coastal areas, they will feed on beached marine mammals, seals, fish and mussels.

A single jackal is capable of killing a healthy adult impala. Adult dik dik and Thompson's gazelles seem to be the upper limit of their killing capacity, though they will target larger species if they are sick, with one pair having been observed to harass a crippled bull rhinoceros. They typically kill tall prey by biting at the legs and loins, and will frequently go for the throat. In Serengeti woodlands, they feed heavily on African Grass Rats.

In East Africa, during the dry season, black backed jackal hunt the young of gazelles, impalas, topi, tsessebe and warthogs. In South Africa, black-backed jackals frequently prey on antelopes (primarily impala and springbok and occasionally duiker, reedbuck and steenbok), carrion, hares, hoofed livestock, insects, and rodents. They will also prey on small carnivores such as mongooses, polecats and wild cats. On the coastline of the Namib Desert, jackals feed primarily feed on marine birds (mainly Cape and white breasted cormorants and jackass penguins), mammals (including cape fur seals), fish, and insects.

In the Ngorongoro Crater, where both black-backed and golden jackals are sympatric in equal numbers, the former species congregates at carcasses in large numbers far more readily, and is bolder in approaching larger predators.

Eagles are the primary threat to cubs; bateleur eagles will carry off pups up to the age of 10 weeks, while the larger martial eagles will even target sub-adults. Spotted hyenas and golden jackals will also kill unprotected pups.

The main threat to adults are leopards.

Sounds made by black-backed jackals include yelling, yelping, woofing, whining, growling and cackling. When calling to one another, they emit an abrupt yelp followed by a succession of shorter yelps. Jackals of the same family will answer each others calls, while ignoring those of strangers. When threatened by predators, they yell loudly. Black-backed jackals in southern Africa are known to howl much like golden jackals. They woof when startled, and cackle like foxes when trapped.

In their northeastern range, black-backed jackals inhabit habitat zones intermediate to the grasslands favoured by golden jackals and the woodlands favoured by side-striped jackals. In the Serengeti, black backed jackals predominate in Acacia and Commiphora woodlands, while the golden species limits itself to open plains. In their southern range, where golden jackals are absent, black backed jackals are found in more open and arid habitats, though preferring areas with scattered brush.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Namib Naukluft National Park

Sossusvlei sand dunes lie to the South West of Windhoek in the Namib Naukluft National Park. Lonely Planet describe it as the Namibia of the picture books and the movies, “and it doesn’t disappoint”.

Sossusvlei is a huge ephemeral pan set amid infamous red sand dunes as high as 325 metres. This is part of the Namib desert which stretches some 2000kms between South Africa and Angola. There are some 32,000 square kilometres of sand and are part of the oldest and driest ecosystems in the world.

I take the three day tour option from Chameleon Backpackers Lodge which costs N$3850 with a N$600 single person supplement. Proof of travel insurance is required. Food and accommodation are provided and the only additional costs to the traveller is water and soft drinks. Tea and coffee are provided after each meal. Luggage is limited to 15kgs per person. Passports are essential to take, as indeed proof of travel and medical insurance. It is recommended that you bring the following:-
• Neutral coloured casual clothing
• Stout shoes
• Jumper
• Flashlight
• Sunhat
• Towel
• Sunscreen
• Sunglasses

The vast sand dunes change both colour and shape during the course of the day, casting interesting shadows in the early morning and evening. I’m particularly keen to view the night stars with zero light pollution.

Day One
It’s some 350kms drive down from Windhoek to the National Park and we depart at about 11.40am with Beanie, our guide, and three pairs of travellists. Taking the road heading south, our first landmark is Heroes Arch, a large monolith which pays tribute to the Independence movement. Controversially it cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, using imported materials and built by predominantly Chinese builders. The straight road is heads on down underneath the railway bridge forming what is known at the “Window to the South”.

the "Window to the South"

The road is paved all the way to some 87kms to Rehoboth. This colourful settlement is predominantly made up of some 15 - 20,000 Barstars – people of mixed decent who became outcasts from both the White and Black communities. Indeed there was a strong claim by these residents back in 1974 for their own independent state, but the situation has improved somewhat. There is a local spa which seems to be used exclusively by locals. They are famed for their excellent farming skills.

From here we take the unsealed road, the C24 first via Klien Aub (Small Fountain) an old gold mining town with just a few buildings and then onto Rietoog, a tiny community of Nama tribe. After the turnoff to Bullsport we take the C14 and then right on the D854 into the Namib Naukluft National Park . Almost immediately we see a family of warthog, gazelle and three large ostriches.

At about 4.50pm we stop for the night at Desert Camp about 6kms from Sesreim. Desert Camp was recently taken over by Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their entourage. A cool choice methinks.

The evening light is gorgeous and we enjoy lamb chops, beef sausages and a Greek salad for dinner. The night sky does not disappoint. With zero light pollution and a cloudless sky, the freckles of light are simply amazing.

Desert Camp - our base in the park

view from Desert Camp

Day Two

It is a 5am rise to ensure we can be one of the first in line to enter the park at Sesriem. Although the gate says the park is open from sunrise to sunset, (traditionally at 6am), by 6.15 a huge tail-back is getting more impatient.

take a balloon and avoid the queues - if your rich!

Sesriem is the gateway to Sossusvlei where a park permit is required, and it’s some 65kms on to Sossusvlei along a paved road. Most vehicles stop off at the famous Dune 45 for sunrise, but Beanie has got other ideas and heads over to Deadvlei stopping on the way to watch the incredible changing light over the sand dunes. The dramatic swathes of light cast contrasting colours and shadows which change visibly every few moments and make for the most surreal and Dali-esque landscapes.

winds creates an ever-changing landscape on the dunes

It’s a some 5 and a half kilometers hike across the dunes from the car park to Deadvlei, where the images become even more surreal. Water disappeared here some a long time ago and skeletal trees remain almost undamaged for some 600 years. I spend a good half hour walking round this parched arid area, before we return to the vehicle and head further into the park up to Sossusvlei. There’s time for a bracing 25 minute walk up the 110 metre high sand-dune, as the light continues to strengthen, flatten out the shadows and the colours change to a pastel yellow. It only takes 5 minutes to return to the bottom.

Aubs on the summit

After a hearty brunch, watched eagerly by a lone jackal, we head out of the park for an ice-cream and cold drink break via Dune 45. The wind has picked up and the sands are blowing fiercely of the ridge. Most of the dunes are numbered for scientific research and most are off-limits to park visitors. Dune 45 must be one of the most photographed sand dune in the World.

We head back into the park again, this time heading to Sesreim canyon, a mere baby at about 65 million years. After all the sites from the morning shoot, it is a little disappointing.

Fortunately we are rewarded with a sighting of an oryx, the national symbol of Namibia.

oryx in the dunes

We’re back at Desert Camp by 4pm, but i’m keen to explore some more, so I take a short hiking trail around an island rock. I stroll real slow and am rewarded by one of the most stunning sunsets I have witnessed.

Despite the heavy clouds, they pass quickly and by the time our barbeque chicken is ready at 7pm, the skies are alight with stars again.

Day Three

It’s always sad to say goodbye to such a beautiful environment, so it is with a heavy heart that after a 7am breakfast we head back to Windhoek, this time passing through the tiny settlement of Solitaire, named after a dead tree. The apple pie from the bakery is awesome, and the bakery is run by a real character who came to town 20 years ago to visit his sister and never left. The roads are clear and we are back in the metropolis by 2pm.

graveyard of the car - Solitaire

An amazing safari that really is a Must Do for visitors to Namibia.

Editor Addition: Yes my photos are cool, but they are copyright. These and more photos can be found by clicking here.