Friday, January 22, 2016

Namibia: Sesriem Canyon and Coastal Flight to Swakopmund

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei

Our days were typically spent doing a morning activity and evening activity. The trip to Sossusvlei to see the dunes was our morning excursion and our afternoon trip was a visit to Sesriem Canyon. Our guide Eddie said we'd hike the canyon. We were thinking Grand Canyon hiking and could not conceive going through all that effort in this heat. Sesriem Canyon is actually not very daunting. The canyon's name means "six belts" in Afrikaans, a reference to how many belts were tied together to dip a bucket in to fetch water (a long time ago). Nowadays the canyon is pretty dry with a small patch of stagnant water tucked in a corner.

Our trip took us back to the the small asphalt road that led to the dunes earlier today, except we turned the other direction. In our car was Judith (from Portugal) and now Sabrina, an employee of Wilderness Safaris from Cape Town. We arrived at the canyon at 5pm and the temperature was tolerable. The canyon was deep, but nothing that would strike you with awe.

"Does anyone want to see the water?" was Eddie's question. He told us we have to climb and squeeze a bit between some rocks. Initially we declined, but then Sabrina shamed us into changing our minds. It wasn't much effort, but also not really worth it. Lots of flies and strange odors.

"Look up and take that picture. It's Africa." Dave was not impressed.

We ran into this snake. Someone asked if it was poisonous. Eddie's response: Slightly. We steered clear and moved along.

There's really not much to say about the canyon other than it was pretty and the late afternoon was a nice time to visit.

It took us about an hour to get to the canyon, but maybe only 30 minutes to get back to the general camp area. We could not imagine how this was possible. We had an extra long sundowner period this evening.

The next morning we had an early flight to our next destination. We were flying to the coastal city of Swakopmund where we'd be spending two nights at the Swakopmund Hotel and Entertainment Complex (and Casino). We were lucky to have excellent weather conditions for the scenic flight route with Wilderness Air. We flew mostly along the coast and could make out tiny dots of seals and large flocks of flamingos. We were able to see one shipwreck that was way beyond the current water line. What was most amazing was watching the sand turn from red to yellow-white and to see just pure cliffs of sand plunging into the water. Here are some dirty airplane window photos:

Remember when Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had their baby in Namibia? She didn't deliver out in the bush. She gave birth in this swanky little high-end development just outside Walvis Bay.

Swakopmund was a cute little town and we had enough time for lunch and to explore a bit before our scheduled afternoon excursion: sandboarding.

Video Sossusvlei Area and Flight to Swakopmund


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2015 Rehoboth Beach Race Report and Video

Here is Holly's report from the Rehoboth Marathon:

In my quest to do a marathon in every state there are a few races that I want to do but are a scheduling challenge. The Rehoboth one is always early December right after we get back from our usual Thanksgiving vacation. This year was even worse because we were just getting back from our Namibia vacation on Sunday night and would have to head to Delaware on Friday night. I also would be doing zero running for the 2 and half weeks we were in Namibia. This should work out really well ??!?!?

We landed into Philadelphia a little late but made our way to visit our friends the Weeks at their home for a fantastic homemade Italian dinner. It was great to catch up with Joe, Maria, and Olivia and we can’t thank them enough for the great hospitality! Unfortunately we still needed to drive the rest of the way to Rehoboth that night because the race was the next morning. Another dear friend, Helen, was kind enough to pick up my bib so that took care of that worry. We finally went to bed around 11 that night.


The good news is that I was still jet lagged so had no issue with getting up early the next morning. I met Helen in the lobby and we walked over to the start. Dave and Joe were going to be race chasing, and Helen’s husband, Brian was doing the half. It was a very chilly morning and I was one of the only idiots wearing a skirt/shorts. I was freezing. Thankfully it did warm up a bit, but the temperature continued to change throughout the day and I was never comfortable.


Neither Helen nor I were excited to run 26.2 this morning and we both agreed to take it slow and just finish it. We decided to do slower intervals than normal and I know that helped me feel pretty good throughout the day. The course was beautiful in parts and really boring in other parts. We had the longest out and back I have ever had (and it was straight out and back so you could see how far you had to go before you could turn around). It reminded me of the long hallways in The Shining. It was also towards the end of the race when you really just want to be done running. Overall the boys did a great job of following us and brought us the best race snack, a philly soft pretzel. It was delicious! We finally managed to make it through the boring parts, the vultures circling, and running past some really large chairs.

We finished the race, which was all we wanted. The medal was very cute, but we were disappointed that they had run out of beer in the post race area. They told us to go to a nearby restaurant, which would also have the free beer and food, but it was up several flights of stairs, not the best solution but we did it. The race organization was good with the exception of the post race area and I wouldn’t do it again because the course was not the best, but I can’t complain about the location. Thanks to Helen for keeping me company for all the miles and to Dave and Joe for doing a stellar job of race chasing


Dave's Comments


I was so happy to have Joe as a Race Chase partner. Not only was he great company, but he also drove! His familiarity with the area helped to fill in some of the gaps of the course map and get us to places I thought were inaccessible. I had a very fun morning filled with silliness and coffee. At one point we were able to film a conversation with Holly and Helen while doing a drive-along. I couldn't accomplish that alone. I also enjoyed showing Joe the joys of standing on a course in a bright orange shirt with a big camera. Everyone thinks you are a race photographer and they start to mug it up, or get really mad when you are not holding up your camera and taking their photo. Hilarious! Overall the course itself was boring to spectate with little scenery.


Holly's comments about the post-race were spot-on. We arrived at the tented area early enough to see the half marathon runners having a dance party. I managed one beer from the truck, but towards the end of the race the tent beer was gone and we all crammed into a Chinese restaurant. At least there was still beer.


Post-race we enjoyed lunch at The Pig + Fish and then wandered town for a few hours. The next day Holly and I detoured into downtown Philly to do the famous Pat's/Gino's cheesesteak face-off. Our decision was Pat's had the better sandwich.


Check out our race day video below:


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Namibia: Sossusvlei and Deadvlei

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge

Eddie (our guide) politely called out "good morning" from the other side of our door. It was 5:30am, the time of our wake-up call. We expected it to be a hot day but stuck with our long sleeve safari shirts to help protect us from the sun. We were going to look at the sand dunes in the area known as Sossusvlei. This is the area where stock photos are created of dead trees against a red sand background. We learned that the trees are technically in Deadvlei (dead lake) and Sossusvlei (dead end lake) is a separate distinct site even though it's the commonly used name for the whole area.

The camp's buffet was nice with a variety of fruits, meat, cheeses, pastries, porridge, and beverages. We could also order hot breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage. Our jeep-mate this morning was Judith. She was from Portugal and was touring Africa for three weeks after visiting her niece living in Mozambique.

The first 45 minutes of our drive was pretty uneventful. Oryx, springbok, tree, repeat. We eventually left the rock/sand road and found our way onto the highway: a narrow two-way strip of asphalt. We started seeing large tour buses, campers, and other signs that we were on the main tourist track. We did take breaks for photos along the way.

Our first stop was to look at Dune 45, named for its kilometer marker location on the road. People were already at the top this early. We call them the smart ones.

A few more miles down the road was the actual area of Sossusvlei. Several other cars and buses were all ready in the parking area. It was hard for Dave to stop taking photos. The area was so different from the location of our camp and scenic drive the previous evening. Orange and red sand was everywhere in really big piles.
Played around to give this one the look of another planet
We were given the options of climbing The dune named Big Daddy (900ft high), a sub-dune (450ft high), or stay level and go look at the trees. Judith had a bad knee and climbing was not an option for her. We chose the sub-dune in the interest of time and our cardiac well-being. The smaller dune was still no joke. Climbers have to walk up a narrow spine of the mound and each step digs deep down into the extremely soft sand. We needed many stops to catch our breath. Did we mention how hot the sun was already before 8am? It's a fond memory now but at the time it was not a pleasurable experience. Later on Eddie was kind by telling us we made it to the top very quickly.

This was about a half of the way up
Views from the top were great.
We thought there may have been a more preferred route off the dune than what we were witnessing. Turned out no. To go down we would have to just go down the steep slope.
We took very cautious steps down the mound. We didn't feel like falling and breaking something because we had a lot of trip left to go. Dave thought ahead and put his big camera in a baggie before trekking down the hill. The act of walking down the hill causes little avalanches and sometimes you hear the dunes roar as the sand shifts. It was soft sand, and very fine. At the bottom Dave emptied about two pounds of sand from each boot.
We were finally in Deadvlei. You've seen pictures of this area before: black trees against a red-orange sand background. A long time ago thee trees were suddenly cut-off from their water supply and quickly dried up. The lack of moisture prevented decomposition even though the intense sun has scorched them black. The trees are estimated to be 600-900 years old.
We made our way out of Deadvlei around 8:30am and it was WARM. Tour groups of folks older than us were just showing up and they were finding the small hills difficult to climb in this heat. The four of us re-entered our jeep (which Eddie smartly parked under a tree) and drove "across the street" to Sossusvlei itself. Eddie parked by another tree and told us to walk around for a few minutes while he set up a picnic. The area was fairly open and not full of many other tourists yet. A few folks were climbing Big Mama; another sizable dune.
We spent an hour enjoying champagne, cookies, sandwiches, and fruits under the shade of a thorny mess of trees. There were some field mice hanging out nearby waiting to enjoy whatever crumbs we would leave behind. We learned more about Judith's travel plans for the next two weeks and found out more about Eddie and the area of Namibia he was from. This conversation started Dave's "I have a map" ceremony. He picked up maps of Namibia in the Windhoek airport and kept them in his camera bag. Anytime a guide or someone else would bring up an area he'd announce "I have a map" and aid our geographical education.


The hour drive back to camp wasn't the most pleasant ride. It was warm, we were slightly drained from summitting the little sand dune, and the jeep had no A/C. Cracking the window open at these speeds meant dust showers so it took a bit to find the balance between breeze and sand. Back at camp we enjoyed lunch and the main camp pool (since our personal pool was being serviced that day). We'd leave at 4pm for our next excursion, to a canyon.

The dunes were amazing. Sand everywhere that changes colors every few moments as the sun shifts. We were really happy that our camp insisted on the early morning departure to keep the climb "tolerable". We could not imagine how much harder that climb could have been later in the day.