Thursday 29 September 2011

Higher than a kite on our wedding anniversary

Its 5.30am, 8th September 2011, our 4th Wedding Anniversary and we are on holiday in Namibia. The exact location is the Namib Desert near to the Sossusvlei Dunes, the highest dunes in the world.

Yesterday we climbed one, which at 300m is no mean feat in the heat of the desert. To add to the difficulty level is the fact that the beautiful red sand is as fine as talcum powder and getting a proper footing is difficult and exhausting.

But.... if you know me, then you know me, I led Hubster to the top.

"on top of the world looking down on creation......."

Eric is the Pilot. Eric is also the owner of the Balloon Company "Namib Sky". Eric is about as cool and knowledgeable about his craft as you can get.
As well as giving his 10 wide eyed balloon virgins a running commentary in perfect French, German and English, it is soon clear he is an incredible pilot, fun, playful and clearly passionate.

As he fires up his "baby", he is in constant radio contact with the "Sky Boys" on the ground. Up, up and away in the most elegant and gentle fashion possible. Apart from the intermittent WOOSH from the gas fired flame, there is no sound, hardly any sense of movement and certainly no sense of altitude. We rise without barely noticing it.

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We are now in Eric's playground and he is in playful mood.

The sight before our eyes is other worldly.The Namib Desert Savannah to the East heraldsa beautiful sunrise, lilac in hue. To the West, rolling in over and through the valley's of the Sossuvlei Dunes is a thick blanket of icy-cold sea fog, charging in from the coast hundreds of kilometres away.
As we look from one side to the other, there could notbe a more contrasting vista but both incredibly beautiful.
Stunning lilac hued sunrise in the East

Icy cold sea fog rolling in from the West

Eric is delighted with the show that Mother Nature has given us today, he enthuses "we are so lucky, there may be only 20 days a year like this"

A fantastic anniversary present then, just perfect.

We dont just soar high above the mountains, Eric takes us to play among them, skillfully piloting the balloon through their rocky curves and undulations. At one point, we feel so close to the rock that it seems we can touch it.

Breathtaking colours contrasting land and sky

Hovering in the mountain tops

Look carefully, can you see the shadow of the balloon in the mist?
Adore this picture of Hubster, delight and happiness all over his face
The balloon's shadow looms large as we make our descent
 to the desert floor
Back to earth with a very exciting "sports landing!. Imagine the dam buster bombs skimming the water? That is us, the 1 tonne basket pitched on it's side skimming the desert grass land to an eventual 40m - ish halt.

Woo hoo! Laughing heartily and lying on our backs with our legs in the air, we clumsily scramble out. It's not pretty.
The Sky Boys rally into action and we are whisked away to the most sumptious breakfast in the biggest restaurant in the world - The Namib Desert.

Eric kicks off the proceedings by ceremoniously and deftly lopping off the neck of the Champagne with a hefty machete. I believe he is well practiced.

It couldnt have been the more perfect start to a wonderful anniversary and we left with our spirits higher than a kite.


Sunday 25 September 2011

We're on the road to nowhere..................

The roads in Namibia go on and on and on, barely a bend. In fact bends are so rare that the driver is warned of them with signage long before they appear! Road hypnosis is not only understandable but is something you fight against and if you are a passenger "comme moi" something you regularly succumb to like the proverbial nodding dog!

Such is the vast topography of this country that one day we clocked that we had driven 160km without seeing any other vehicle whatsoever, nichts, nada! Mind you, you can see another vehicle approaching from miles away due to the dust cloud kicked up from the pan dry gravel roads.

Even the sight of a Springbok leaping across the road is less remarkable than the fact
that the road actually has a bend in it!

When you eventually pass another driver you wave frantically at each other like long lost friends.

Vehicles are a luxury that is for sure in this country and available to the very privileged few. Most of the vehicles we see are other tourists like us bombing around in their "bully boy" Toyota Landcruisers.

For the majority of Namibians transport is walking, pony, donkey, hitching a ride and if they can afford it; bus. To own a vehicle a local Namibian on an average shop assistants wage, would have to save every single penny they earned for 15 years in order to buy a second had truck. Puts it in perspective doesn't it?

This country does that an awful lot to you. Putting things in perspective that is. Whilst on the road/transport theme, here is another example.

Whilst refuelling at the quirky hill top town of Gochas, Gareth engages in conversation with a guy at the next pump who has travelled a staggering 100km to fill up his truck. That's like me driving from home to London to do the same thing!

Fuel station at Gochas
Said gentleman also fills jerry cans of fuel too for himself and his neighbours. Word around town soon gets out that he will be travelling south and a steady stream of local farm workers in blue boiler suits appears, all hoping for a hitch. The gentleman will take as many as he can.

Co-operation like this is how things tend to work in Namibia. It has to. Settlements and farms can be so remote that the "you rub my back and I'll rub yours" mentality is not just a neighbourly national characteristic but is wholly depended upon.

The gift of a lift is highly prized.

This gentleman hasnt just come here to re-fuel and give lifts tho. Whilst he is here he will use the opportunity to tap into the "Bushmans Telegraph", catch up on the goss. Who's farm is doing well, who's isnt, who is selling, who has died etc

Des Res for Sale

There are no tabloid newspapers out here.

Now consider this, if there is only one pump and you are in the queue behind such a character expect to be waiting a long time. Slowly does it here and if you dont subscribe quickly to that mentality then you will soon burst a blood vessel.

Luckily there were 2 pumps!

Wednesday 21 September 2011

Division of Labour is vital

It is very important on such a holiday to clearly define tasks and responsibilities up front.

I cant emphasise this enough.

Oh yes, believe me it removes masses of potential for sulks and petty bickering and in the 40 plus degree heat of the desert that factor alone often needs no other contributors.

As experienced campers we have a bit of a head start on this strategy but the challenges of Africa are a whole different ball game.

So lets start, let me introduce the 3 key players in this trip. Yes, thats right 3.

Lilly" XA10 ALM Landrover Defender Extraordinaire
Fully equipped with everything we need to be self sufficient on the road;
including linen napkins darlings!
1. Super Model - Has many admirers on our trip
2. A true workhorse on some tough Namibian terrain, she excels..
3. Home, shelter, sustenance and beer cellar!

Transforming "Lilly" into the perfect "des res"

Gareth "the Hubster" Tamblyn-Jones
Safari Tip No. 1 acc. to GTJ
"Before you set off, whack a few colds ones in the fridge for when you
arrive in camp, you'll be glad you did"
1. Expedition Leader with Stripes (unreservedly known as E.L)
2. Driver (every day, all the way! Wow)
3. Head, Sous & Commis Chef combined
4. The voice of common sense with a good measure of braun thrown in.
5. Provider of cuddles and encouragement on those tougher days, 100%

Debbie "Mrs T-J" Tamblyn-Jones

Safari Tips No.1 - Mrs T-J
"Wet wipes are indispensable and you cant have enough"

1. Chief Navigator - dont laugh!
2, Chief Photographer
3. Committed" Travel Writer - undisputed
4. Domestic Camp Assembler (including that bloody table)
5.Willing "doer" of whatever the E.L instructed, ie the stuff he didnt want to do
6. E.L's personal massage therapist. Some people just cant leave their work behind

And when you have your division of labour it works well, see!

Happy Man at the wheel

Busy in the "largest" kitchen in the world

Thirsty work, a quick slurp "Floyd" stylee

La resultat and it aint bully beef and bean!

Find shade will write, dedicated to my written memories



A poignant start

Before setting off on the road tous seules, we stopped at a lodge called Hochlands Nest for the first 2 nights of our trip to acclimatise to the heat and rejuvenate from our journey.
Hochlands Nest is a stunning lodge and our thatched wooden lodge is set up high among the quartz and granite boulders and faces the Namibian sunrise.

We awoke on 4th September to a beautiful sunrise and yet we soon learnt; they all are.
It was a personally poignant day, 1 year since my Dad passed away. I was very mindful but not maudling, he never did maudling and so I wouldn't either. However, this is the one continent he never got to see and right from the start I felt him with me on this trip.

At breakfast that morning we were accompanied by Bill and Ben, 2 resident Meerkats who had somehow become separated from their group and had made Hochlands Nest their home. Such cuteness should be illegal. I soon discovered that Meerkats have no interest whatsoever, in branflakes but bacon is a different matter. I dont recall eating much of it myself.

Keep your eyes peeled. I think they are coming!

Now listen up, this is the plan, your super cute face ok?
She will be putty in our foraging fingers and the bacon is ours!
They were hilariously entertaining and the bacon was theirs!
After a long morning's walking safari, we chilled out that afternoon, the exertion from the travel still with us and a pool with such a lovely vista, had to be appreciated.

At around 5pm that day we headed out in Lilly Landrover to catch the sunset over the lake and dam from a viewing point upon the ridge. I took a candle with me and at an appropriate spot, (checking it was snake and scorpion free!), I made a small stone pyre and gathered a few yellow spring flowers.

I lit the candle (careful not to start a bushfire!!!), in memory of my Dad. As the sun ebbed and glowed a beautiful golden flickering dance of gold, orange and red, I dedicated the day, that "Now" to him.

Gareth hovered as I fumbled with the match. The grass is so dry one tiny spark and the
whole lot can catch and be out of control in seconds.

Christopher Leslie Cottam
30.12.1938 - 4.9.2010
Gareth stepped away, I didnt cry I just wanted him to know I hadn't forgotten.
"He would have been proud of you" Gareth whispered "especially as you didnt set light to the whole savannah"

Very funny!


No Dad. I will live as many as this life affords me I promise.

Monday 19 September 2011

"Must Love Dogs" - Wherever you are!

I had never left Radders for such a long time before. So I had mixed feelings about leaving him for our 19 day trip to Namibia. As wonderful and amazing as I believed and indeed it was, you will not be surprised to learn that my babe was never far from my mind the whole time.

In my head I imagined him, pining like this, when is she coming back?

I knew I was being  irrational of course as 2 and a bit weeks at Aunty Ruth's with all his doggy mates would be nothing but pure bliss for the young teenager!

So in reality it was this, home from home.

So we left for Namibia, back on the road again with Safari Drive, on our gargantuan 5000km trip, exploring one of the most vast and arid countries Mother Africa has to offer.

Now when I say vast; 

I mean ..............V....................A....................S.............T!!

No amount of visualisation or playful imagination can prepare you for it.

To put this into perspective we engaged in conversation with a cattle farmer at one of the outback desert fuel stations and he had travelled 100km, yes that's right, ALL that way to fill up his truck.

The Desert Monitor Lizard is more common sight than another car
or a Fuel Station in Namibia

This distance for our Farmer, is like me driving from where I live here in Rutland to London to do the same thing! It takes him a whole day too as the corrugated gravel roads/tracks are cruel and unforgiving. That we know.

The only fuel for 100km and more! (Gouchas, Namibia)
Whilst there, our farmer also seizes the opportunity to connect to the "Kalahari Gossip Telegraph", "who is prospering, who is not, who has died, who is marrying and who is facing imprisonment", that kind of thing! OfI course, a couple in a British Landy are the best diversion ever, who are you, where are you from, where have you travelled from, where are you going to, what else have you to tell me. These exchanges are common and we realise we are probably like the equivalent of a travelling tabloid newspaper!

However, as a tourist if you get behind such a character, you can prepare to wait to fill up for a long, long, long  time, patience really is a virtue, as it is all over Africa. Embrace it or burst a blood vessel.

On sentry duty at every petrol station is a dog (s), always friendly if not as well presented as our own pampered pooches back home.

Namibians love their dogs too, now there is a great reason to visit a country, and as you will see plenty of them are subject to my affectionate outpourings!

Bucks, the "I have the cutest begging face in the world" Jack Russell

How the heck Dolly the Greyhound survives in the heat here, but she does and is a true Doll. Loved her.

Joyous Jess and her lovely kisses
Echo, an affectionate girl, who couldnt cuddle me enough
Remy the Golden lab, proud and loyal

Thank you my Namibian doggy friends, you gave a stupid dog lover, therapy for her inevitable pangs  and turned them into to twinges instead.

That is until we are close to home and I am nearly peeing my pants with excitement to be reunited with my little one.

Of course, he had the most wonderful time and he found it hard to decide whether the huge knuckle bone he was chewing on my arrival was worth trading in for a welcome monumentous cuddle from the Momma!
BUT it was xxx