Saturday, November 12, 2011

From Windhoek to the World

Monday, November 7, 2011

The peace and quiet of Sunday evening has given way to a Monday morning bustle in Windhoek, as it does in many cities. We fan out in all directions, seeking gifts for those back home, or maybe a late-morning ice cream as the sun climbs higher. We bump into each other, and into a few crew members from the Jewel of the Desert, as we wander. Our two weeks of wonderful memories are an unspoken bond we all share.

But it is time for us to head to the airport and our next destinations. Some are taking Road Scholar's extension to Victoria Falls and Capetown. Others are traveling to Madagascar in search of lemurs and more new experiences. Most of us, though, are heading back to the United States, whether it's through Frankfurt, London, or Dakar, Senegal. Hanging out in airports and jetliners are a small price to pay for yet another adventure of a lifetime. 

Some of us described it by way of analogy. Our program was like summer camp for adults; Namibia's nature parks were the closest thing to Jurassic Park, the movie. In the desert, we were Lawrence of Arabia. But mostly, we have been ourselves, made much happier by the goofy struts of ostriches and guinea fowls, the curious look from the top of a giraffe's tall neck, or the sideways sway of elephants walking toward us.

It's impossible to sum up the experience
in a few words. But, as it turns out, there are words that come close to capturing the inspiration of it all, and they can be found at the very first place we visited, the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. In the Veld Garden, a place of contemplation after the museum's many stories of struggle and triumph, a plaque stands with a message written specifically for South Africa. But its final sentences will always mean much more to me. 

"Take a moment to walk and contemplate the beauty of this, our country. Think of what has gone before and what is still to come. And then walk away free."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Kalahari Sunday Star Magazine

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Our Namibian adventure in pictures:

A hiker's view of the Fish River Canyon

Roger Werner, Connie Martin, Kay Davies, Betty Werner, 
and Carroll Moore at Sesreim Canyon

Stopping for a quick drink in Etosha National Park

Jim Acret and Laia Lee at the Kristall Kellerei 
Winery in Omaruru

Looking back, Etosha National Park

Co-Leader Andreas Lappe has seen a lot of Namibia 
from onboard the Jewel of the Desert

Cameron Kirkpatrick working his magic near the Kalahari

In stride and stripes near the Etosha Pan

Kay Davies, Betty Werner, Program Leader Bianca Preusker,
Connie Martin, and Danna Moore at Giant's Playground

A wildebeest in all his shaggy glory

Ben Nathanson enjoying a close-up view near Fish River Canyon

Students at Katora Primary School in Usakos

Warren Boudreaux outside the Tsumeb Museum

Gene Simonson in the Red Namib Desert

Carol Thompson and Walter Kinsey enjoying 
hors d'eouvres in Omaruru

Earleen Ahrens watching the sun set above the 
Etosha Safari Lodge

Hiking the sand dunes in the Namib Desert

Monday, November 7, 2011

"Copper: Our Past, Our Future"

Saturday, November 5, 2011

We’re heading south, back to Windhoek, and civilization gradually returns as we watch the scenery from our windows. Before we board, we catch a group of mongooses (mongees?) fighting over a snake one of them has killed. They're an energetic bunch, but after the struggle, one poses for us before we leave. 

We're traveling through what Bianca has told us is Namibia’s “Maize Triangle,” where both farming and mining are staples of the local economy. Namibian maize is not harvested for human or even animal consumption as we think of corn; instead, it is ground into maize meal, an alternative to wheat flour. It’s harvested in this area because of what locals call “strong water,” a term describing a steady (usually underground) supply of this precious resource. 

Our stop in Tsumeb centers on different kinds of underground resources – those supporting the country’s mining industry. The Tsumeb Mine has most recently been a copper mine, but it has the distinction of having produced the most diverse collection of metals and minerals than any other in the world. Current low prices for copper have shut it down, but there is talk of reopening it in the next few years. 

The city has a museum that interprets its mining and railroad heritage, and also the battles fought here between the German Army and South Africa in the early 20th Century, culminating in a South African victory in 1915. The Germans threw their weapons into Lake Otjikuto, “the bottomless lake of Namibia,” only to find that most of them settled on a ledge fifty feet deep. Much of what has been recovered is now on display.

We continue on our way, stopping for lunch in Otjiwarongo, where a local wedding party shows up for a while, complete with bride, groom, happy children, and a group of women having the time of their lives as we enjoy a few minutes of relaxation before heading south once again.

Our final stop for the day is in Omaruru, where we visit the Kristall Kellerei Winery, one of Namibia’s only vineyards. Michael and Katrin Weder have been at it for over twenty years, and have produced excellent white and red wine, along with prickly pear schnapps. We try them all, with cheese and olives, as hors d’oeuvres before our farewell dinner on the Desert Express. Two weeks have definitely flown by.  

Elephant Memories

Friday, November 4, 2011

Etosha National Park by Jeep is what everyone imagines a safari to be. The rules are you can’t get out of your vehicle, but as we discover, that’s not a problem. The animals sometimes come to you. Road Scholar has arranged for one of the park’s best Tour Guides, Paulus Haimbodi, to drive us through Etosha. The first animals we see are a herd of giraffes. They use the park’s roads because it’s easier to see any danger approaching. Once they arrive, the giraffes give us quite a show.

Paulus notes that not every giraffe uses the tripod technique to drink. Some just bend their forelegs down, which gets them to the water more quickly. We also learn that older males have darker brown spots; it's one way to tell them from the others. For a while, two young males get into a fight, standing side-by-side and swinging their necks at each other until one finally gives up and moves away. It doesn't seem that either one has been hurt, at least physically.

Our afternoon drive is suddenly blocked by a large male elephant, which Paulus and Bianca estimate to be about 100 years old. He eyes us for a while, moves off to the side of the road to eat, and then walks back in front of our jeep, eyeing us again. Several times, Paulus has to move the jeep backwards as the elephant gets closer. It's a magnificent show, seeing such a large elephant in action as Paulus describes him in similarly close detail.

Elephants have six sets of teeth, and they try to conserve them as much as possible, in order to continue eating into old age. As if on cue, our large friend moves to a nearby thorny bush, and with a flourish of his trunk, breaks off a large branch and begins to munch on it. Seeing an elephant up close is one thing. Hearing him eat is unforgettable. Eventually, he grows tired of a jeep full of Road Scholars and moves on.

Our way back to the lodge brings us through grasslands that are heaven for wildebeests. They graze in the late afternoon sun, oblivious to us, a perfect finale for our two days of wandering through the wild. 

On Safari in Etosha National Park

Thursday, November 3, 2011

“Etosha” means “great white space” in Heikom, the language of the first inhabitants of what is now northern Namibia. And it is truly that – the Etosha Pan stretches for hundreds of square miles, and, except for a few months when it holds up to three feet of water, it is vast, dry, and white.

We journey along the southern edge of the pan, where watering holes host regular visits by the wild animals we’ve come to see. The first of these is Okaukuejo, where we climb off our bus to wait and watch. It’s a very short wait. Dozens of zebras are on their way, joining a few impalas and kudu already there. They march their way in, a wave of black and white stripes in a beautiful blue lake. We watch them silently as they drink for a while, and then move on.

Eventually, so do we. On our way to the next watering hole, we find the rarest view of our safari, a lioness guarding her kill. It’s a zebra she isolated from the herd last night. She’s resting, probably from the combination of the midday sun and the effort of bringing down her prey. Her right paw rests on top of the fallen zebra, reminding everyone whose meal it is.

Before lunch, we find a few elephants. They use their watering hole differently from the other animals -- they submerge themselves to keep cool in the heat of the day. Elephants also gather in family groups; it's easy to spot parents and their young, enjoying a cool dip in the pond, splashing themselves and each other with their trunks. When they're done, they get up and stroll along, passing close by us as they leave. We can imagine smiles on their faces if we want to.

Just as the elephants we've been watching get up and leave, one of us notices some movement off in the distance. It turns out to be a second herd of elephants, marching out of the trees, along one of the paths they've established for themselves here in Etosha. Slowly but surely, they get bigger and bigger, and ultimately wetter and wetter, as they reach their destination.

In the afternoon, we head to another watering hole, this one hosting a fair number of giraffes. They're wary animals, and they check on us frequently before they drink. Once they’re ready, it’s fun to watch them spread their forelegs wide and then lower their heads to the water. From the front, they look like giant brown-spotted tripods. But you have to be quiet; the slightest movement brings a quick reaction from all of them.

At the end of our first day on safari, we rejoin our German friends at the lodge and compare stories and pictures of all the animals we saw. Tomorrow morning, our jeeps will come for us early, and we’ll do it all over again.

Answer to Ms Patience’s Math Problem: The chicken house would need its second side to be 10 meters in length in order to have a perimeter of 36 meters. Its other side, for those of you keeping score at home, was 8 meters.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Taking the Trans-Kalahari Highway to Ms Patience's Math Class

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

It's good to be back on the Jewel of the Desert. We're on our way to Etosha National Park and its promise of elephants, giraffes, wildebeests, zebras, and every kind of antelope you can imagine. As we roll along at breakfast, we notice a sharp mountain in the distance. It's Spitzkoppe, the "Matterhorn of Namibia." Honestly, with all of this country's natural beauty, who needs these references to Europe and Australia?

We're actually going there, and to the nearby Bushmen's Paradise, where rock paintings from ancient tribal people can still be seen with the naked eye. Sadly, they cannot be photographed well -- another reason to come to this most wondrous country and see for yourself. Eddie, our guide, is great at pointing out the paintings, shading them from the morning sun with his hat, and describing the rich history behind them. 

He then leads us on one last rock climb, to a stone arch formed by sheer wind and sand erosion, where once again, you can see for miles and miles.

Etosha and its wildlife call, but before we get there, we stop at the Katora Primary School in Usakos. There, the children greet us warmly, and everyone wants a photo taken, to send back after we return home. The school has arranged for them to sing the Namibian National Anthem, which is actually harder to sing than the Star Spangled Banner. Through most of the song, their harmony is unforgettably beautiful. And, when it's time for the high notes, we're treated to a solo from the young girl with the best vocal range you can imagine.

As we bid farewell to the students, Jim Ahrens calls our attention to Miss Patience's sixth-grade math class, where today's lesson is "Calculating the Unknown Sides." The first problem reads, "Calculate the length of a chicken house that is 8 meters wide and has a perimeter of 36 meters." We take this problem with us, to solve on our way north. It's the only problem we'll have all day. 

To Swakopmund: The Most German Town in Namibia

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Our southern journeys in Namibia are at an end, and we're heading north to trade dramatic desert landscapes for wildlife and safari. It's a trade we're all excited to make, even if we have to bid a fond farewell to the canyons, red sands, and endless vistas that have become so familiar to us in the past week. 

And so we're off -- on our way to Swakopmund, where we'll meet another familiar traveling companion -- the Jewel of the Desert, which is waiting for us there. But first, we get to see more of Namibia as only a Road Scholar can see it. About an hour after our departure from the Namib Desert, we stop in Solitaire, a town that can't have more than a few hundred residents, and Moose McGregor's Bakery, which claims the best apple cake in all of Namibia. Moose greets us, if you can call it that, with stories of how his hometown, on one weekend every year, hosts the Desert Music Festival, the Woodstock of Southern Africa, when 15,000 people gather for peace, love and music, Namibian style. You can doubt him if you want. I won't.

Our next stop is a true landmark. We're crossing north through the Tropic of Capricorn, and Bianca has asked for a photo stop to mark the occasion. The fact that the tropics can be so dry is a bit unexpected, but the sun is well on its way to summer in the southern hemisphere, and we're all here, so why not? We get back on the bus heading north, and have ample time to tell each other stories of where we've been. 

The best of the day goes to Warren Boudreaux, who traveled the world as an Aramco executive, and now as a Road Scholar. Along the way, he went to Bhutan, where his tour guide was Tenzig Norgay, who climbed Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. How's that? Later, we stop at Vogelfederberg, the "Ayers Rock of Namibia," from which you can see the enormous dry landscape that we're about to leave behind.

Finally, we arrive at Swakopmund, a town with strong German roots, the largest urban area we've seen since Windhoek. It's a beautiful afternoon, and we're all happy to stroll about streets filled with people for the first time in several days. There is much colonial history to explore, and many shops to visit. But the most surprising and welcome sight of all is the South Atlantic Ocean, and a sunset over it, to the west.