Rothesay Raft Race 2016

August 18, 2016

On Sunday we had another of the Island’s fun filled charity events.  No rain at this one but a lot of people got wet anyway.  The Sailing Club organise this race of home made rafts from the beach at Children’s Corner to in front of the Yacht Club.  Nine teams entered on this overcast but warm, calm day.

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There are strict rules about wearing life jackets plus official encouragement of sabotage equipment – flour, eggs and pump action water pistols.

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They’re off.

Teams of more than four adults have a one minute time delay so the hardy folks from Stand Up to Cancer had a bit of catching up to do.

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Ballerinas tentatively tiptoeing through the seaweed. 

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The Co-op being not quite so elegant.

A lot of effort had gone into the building of the rafts, decorating them and creating the costumes.

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A wetsuit, a lifejacket and then a bikini on top.

The sea conditions and the weather were so benign that the safety boat took to zooming very fast through the fleet to create waves.

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Man made waves.

I think it was gravity and balance that did for this team rather than waves.

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They look as though they are chasing after the ferry.

I wonder if any of the paddlers will make the GB Team for the next Olympics.  According to the Buteman report all nine teams finished the course although the last home, with only two oarsmen remaining, took two hours – that’s the kind of grit and determination that wins gold medals (all they would get would be a beer and a beef burger).  A great afternoon’s entertainment.


Bute Agricultural Show 2016

August 12, 2016

Unfortunately the Cattle Show on Wednesday drew the short straw as far as weather was concerned – damp, light drizzle to start and getting wetter as the day progressed.  The previous two weekends had both had good weather which was much appreciated by the hoards of visitors attending ButeFest and the inaugural Bute Noir crime writers event.  If you have time to read a very funny description of the crime ‘scene’ in Rothesay last weekend click here.

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Happy campers enjoying breakfast at UCB

For the three days of ButeFest the cordon bleu chefs at the United Church of Bute cooked bacon and sausage rolls for breakfast – the campers from the field below the church very much appreciated the good food, warm welcome and especially our nice clean toilets!

Rothesay is a very busy place when visitors are involved but  ‘home grown’ events have a place in all Brandanes’ (and incomers like us) hearts too – and one of the most special events is the annual Cattle Show.  I love the mix of people, animals and the feeling of friendly rivalry on the day.  This year the weather was not entirely kind.

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Even some horses had their coats on.

Some hairdos coped with the dampness better than others –

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I liked how these sheep had a banner of their own fields to make them feel at home.

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A fluffy fringe looking a bit damp.

The entrants in the ‘young handlers’ class seemed even younger than usual this year ….

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…. and sometimes resorted to brute force rather than persuasion ….

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There were other uses for wellies apart from keeping your feet dry.

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Every year I try to work out what exactly the judges are looking for when picking the winners in each class but find it impossible, for example the only difference I can see in the three below is a slight variation in size and colour.

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It is even harder with the milking cows – they are all nearly identical, some brown and white, some black and white and all with perfectly straight backs.

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The next photograph shows a very unusual distinctive animal.  I love it but have a small reservation about how much adult ‘support’ this ‘under 6 years’ artist had.

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I find it funny that the donkeys are always held in a pen as far away from the other livestock, especially the horses, as possible.  I’ve been told that the young elegant ponies get very skittered by their equine cousins.

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Looking very innocent.

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Looking elegantly in control.

Inside the marquee some of the most fiercely contested competitions of the day took place  – on this island baking is taken very seriously.  I admire all the mouth watering entries and find it frustrating that they are destroyed after being on open display all day, for food hygiene reasons.  because we are down to only two ‘Rurals’ here now we no longer compete against each other but instead prepare a joint display of our combined talents.

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Ballianlay and Port Bannatyne Rurals on display.

The rain got a bit heavier in the afternoon but that did not deter the hardy dog owners of Bute – as usual there was a large entry for the various classes in the dog show.

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I love how the dog on the right is carefully sitting on his owner’s feet and not on the wet grass.

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My favourite.

The rain started in earnest on Wednesday afternoon and has continued incessantly now for 72 hours – I think I’ll check on that half built ark we have in the basement.


Etosha National Park, Namibia

July 23, 2016

The last section of our holiday was spent in the north of Namibia in amongst the wildlife of Etosha.  We were based at Ongava Lodge very close to one of the main entrances to Etosha.  We arrived late in the afternoon and were immediately taken out on a game drive. The rules had changed now – no more hopping in and out of the vehicle to inspect things up close, we had to stay in the car at all times; after dark we even had to be escorted from the bar / dining area to our room.

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This young male lion was purposefully leading two much younger cubs – the guide reckoned he was about 4 or 5 years old and was ‘babysitting’ the others.  The adults could be seen way up ahead heading out hunting.

The light was fading fast when we found this trio.

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Not the best quality photo but it was getting dark.  I was very surprised and  very excited when we were told we could get out and walk closer to the rhinos.  The driver of the next vehicle had a rifle and escorted a dozen of us a good bit closer.  We all took photos and the guides in whispers explained what we were seeing.  After my adrenalin rush began to subside I began to think what should I do if the rhinos charged – run, stand still, no trees to climb, could I lie down and pretend to be already dead?  Of course my fantasies were totally unnecessary – not sure how much the rifle was for show or if it would ever really be needed.

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The gun was real – but would he ever use it?

For the next two days Jeremia took us into Etosha National Park.  I am struggling to find the words to describe the awesome sights we saw.  Although I have seen countless wildlife documentaries the real thing was so much better than I expected.  Such a privilege to sit quietly and simply watch.

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Little and large

Colin unexpectedly fell in love with the giraffes – driving along we would spot a long neck  appearing above the tops of the trees and be subjected to an imperturbable gaze through those beautiful long lashes.

Beauty …………

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Steenbock

….. and the beast (literally).

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Wildebeest

Etosha covers 20,000 square kilometres of northern Namibia and is scattered with about 60 waterholes, some natural and some man made.  There are gravel roads between the waterholes and vehicles are not allowed to go off road.  This protects the animals and allows them peace while they drink and move about.  It is such a huge place and the wildlife so abundant that sometimes we would have a waterhole to ourselves or at most a couple of other vehicles.  I think the most important aspect to me was that the animals totally ignored us, never even glancing up.

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The Batchelor’s Club at Okaukuejo

This is a group of young males.  Within the park there are three ‘resorts’ – fenced areas with accommodation, restaurant, shop and administration / security offices.  The above photograph was taken from a seating area at the resort.  It is the humans who are fenced in here and the animals completely free to roam, as it should be.

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Dusk at Ongava Lodge 

When we returned to the lodge in the late afternoon it was such a pleasure to stand on the veranda with a cool beer and continue the animal watching.  The waterhole was lit at night so even a nocturnal toilet visit involved animal watching!

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I loved the mix of animals at the waterholes.  Jeremia explained how they all coexisted without any obvious strife – except for lions of course, although even then the other creatures kept a wary eye open but knew if the big cats were likely to be hunting or not.

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Springbok, ostrich and oryx.

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In the centre of Etosha is the Pan – nearly 5,000 square kilometres of totally dry, hard baked clay and salt, seemingly visible from outer space.  Driving along a bit of the edge was like any shore line with grassy, low, sandy dunes but instead of welcoming cool water beyond there was glinting hard whiteness as far as the eye could see.

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The dot in the middle is an oryx, a long way ‘offshore’.

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My new best friends.

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Rietfontein Waterhole, Etosha

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We watched this ostrich having a thoroughly good dust bath, finishing off with an exhilarating shake – just like the wee sparrows in the garden in Rothesay.

All the time we were taking photographs at Rietfontein we, and all the animals, were aware that a few hundred yards away resting in the shade of the trees were two lions.  I have debated with myself whether I would have liked to see them hunting or not – have concluded that in spite of how exciting that would have been, I would really rather not see the gory details.

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Lions in the shade.

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I have kept my promise and not shown you the ‘hundred’ photographs of elephants we took.  Our trip to Namibia was awesome, so varied in the different areas we visited and made extra special by  our very knowledgeable, friendly and caring guide Jeremia.

Well, just one more picture of a few of the elephants of Namibia –

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All Creatures Great and Small – in Namibia

July 17, 2016

I mentioned in an earlier post about how good our guide, Jeremia, was at spotting wildlife.  Driving along a dead straight, gravel road, across a featureless plain at about 50 mph he notices this.

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Namaqua Chameleon

This little fellow was only 6 inches long and quietly sitting by the edge of the road absorbing the early morning sun.  After a few minutes with us watching he got up and started to move across the gravelly sand surface.  After only a few strides he looked like this –

Namibia Select 090616  - 133and when the chameleon was about two yards away the only way we could pick him out was by the tiny shadow his body was creating.  The camouflage was perfect.

Namibia Select 090616  - 136We saw lots of ostriches and learnt that several females over a period of about ten days will lay their eggs in one communal nest.  Two dominant females from the flock will then raise the entire brood – so all these funny little scuttling chicks are not brothers and sisters.

I hadn’t thought about it in advance but being in a very arid country meant that there were very few insects about – far too hot in the daytime and too cold in the evening, although in a couple of places we had mosquito nets over our bed and we took antimalarial tablets for the northern most part of our journey.  The beautiful red dragonfly was by a pool at a restaurant.

Namibia Select 090616  - 138Namibia is a very large country with a very small population.  Apart from in the two towns of Windhoek and Swapokmund the only people we saw were those working in the tourist industry.  From reading the guide books and visiting the museum in Swakopmund I knew a little of the country’s history, the European colonisation and the movements of indigenous peoples, and Jeremia was keen for us to visit two groups of local people who with support from his company were trying to improve their own lives.

Namibia Select 090616  - 142This extended family group of Himba people were making and selling beaded jewellery.  The women’s hair was utterly fascinating – many tight, narrow plaits thickly coated with ochre mud, with the ends combed out into bushy ‘tails’.

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At the Hairdresser

The woman having her hair plaited was sound asleep.  We made a donation in respect of taking photographs of the people, but with Jeremia translating for us we discovered that they had a $50 and a $10 American notes which they had no way of exchanging for Namibian dollars.  After checking the exchange rate on Jeremia’s mobile phone we were happy to help.

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The other main ethnic group were the Herero people and their appearance  was totally different.

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Buying Dolls from a Herero Woman

These ladies wore full length, very colourful cotton dresses – the Herero national costume.  The story is that the early Victorian era Portuguese settlers were unhappy with their almost naked house servants and covered them up with flowing dresses.  Today, long after the days when styles of clothes could be imposed on folk, and even after independence, the Herero people choose to continue the tradition.

As we approached the Damaraland area we started seriously looking out for elephants.

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I didn’t know that an elephant puts its back foot directly on top of its front foot print – so at first glance it could be a two legged creature.  I have also added to my skill set that I can tell how old a pile of elephant dung is!

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About 24 hours old.

Unfortunately no sightings before we reached our next accommodation at Damaraland Camp, another luxury tent.  On the first night here, all 16 guests were taken by torchlight away from the main camp to a wonderful barbecue party in a ‘boma’ out in the rocky desert.  Boma is the Afrikaans word for a stockade, and that is exactly what it was.

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Waitresses at the boma

We sat around a huge camp fire and later ate our meal by oil lamps.  The waitresses were a huge entertainment as they described each course of the meal, and the wines, firstly in English and then in the native ‘click’ language.  When a word could not be translated into click they improvised with miming and gestures – ‘lamb’ had much baaing, and if something was going to be particularly delicious there was much tummy patting and eye rolling. Great fun.

The next morning our elephant tracking practice paid off.

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Only the first of many.

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Over the next two days we saw many family groups of elephants browsing the trees in the dried up river beds.  Such a joy to simply sit and watch these magnificent creatures – they totally ignored us.  One afternoon we visited the world famous rock carvings at Twyfelfontein, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Twyfelfontein, Namibia

The animals carved on these 20 or so slabs of rock are thought to be about 5,000 years old. As well as the instantly recognisable giraffes, wildebeest etc there is a sea lion on the far right – 100 miles from the sea.

On the last morning at Damaraland we were up at 5.30am to be taken for Bush Breakfast to watch the sunrise.  This was a stunningly beautiful location but quite chilly until the sun rose from behind the mountains.

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The staff singing a farewell song after breakfast.

On our way north we visited a petrified forest in the Aba-Huab Valley.  The trees are calculated to be about 260 million years old and are so perfectly preserved they look as though they were felled only a few years ago, and they are very, very big – over 30 metres long.

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You can even see the bark in places.

Dotted in amongst the fossilised trees were many Welwitschia plants, probably the strangest plant I have ever seen.  They grow in the most inhospitable place and some are thought to be as old as 2,000 years.

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Welwitschia plant

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Termite Mounds

In this post I have deliberately not included the many other animals we saw in these few days but instead concentrated on some of the other things we saw and experienced.  The final post of the Namibia adventure will be wall to wall animals, which is exactly what it was like in Etosha National Park.

To be continued ……


Bute Vintage Tractors 2016

July 13, 2016

The buzz along the esplanade started early last Saturday as over 100 much loved elderly mechanical workhorses gathered for their annual day out.  The weather was a bit disappointing – very grey and dull with occasional rain and drizzle i.e. summer.  After 8 years of attending this event even I can now recognise return visitors, although some do make it very easy.

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I think more soft toys get added every year but every child always wants to sit up on this tractor.

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‘Now we have sorted out Chilcot can we move on to Jeremy Corbyn.’

There are always so many deep conversations going on.  It is such a joy to see obviously very long standing friendships being continued over a shared love of these venerable vehicles.

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Cheery colours on a grey day.

As well as being on display for an hour or so, the tractors also do a ‘road run’.  Every year they take a different route and visit one of the farms for refreshments.  This year they snaked all the way to Plan Farm at the very southern tip of the island.  Zac has very good photographs of that on his Daily Bute website.

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Even side by side 100 tractors take up a lot of space.

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Where are the ‘Rockers’ then ?

I’ll get back to the elephants again soon.


Where are the Elephants then?

July 8, 2016

It was to be a few more days and many more amazing sights before we saw any pachyderms – and then from an unusual angle.

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The only sound was the bubbles in the tonic popping.

The next morning we headed off early to drive all the way to Swakopmund, with many stops on the way to admire the changing scenery.

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Hot Air Balloons at Dawn

I would love to do that but Colin is not so keen and we didn’t really have any time to spare. Jeremia, our guide and driver, was constantly on the look out for anything interesting to show us.  We stopped at a small town called Solitaire for coffee and fuel,  a fascinating place.

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Rainfall Statistics

Only 6mm of rain in the whole of April and very little in the first three months of the year. The very unusual 479mm in 2011 caused some amazing sights with flash floods and ‘permanently’ dried up river beds having water in them for the first time in living memory.  Would love to have seen that.

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An Austin Eight in need of just a little TLC

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Jeremia, as well as being proud of his country, was also very proud of the company he works for – Wilderness Safaris.  He was very keen to take photographs of Colin and I together and would spend time getting us arranged in the perfect spot with the logo on the Landcruiser in prominent view.

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Gaub Pass, Namibia

That little patch of blue was the only open water  we saw, apart from the waterholes in Etosha.  It was in this area that two young German geologists hid, and lived off the land during the first few years of WWII – highly recommend the book The Sheltering Desert by Henno Martin. We gradually turned towards the coast.

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near Walvis Bay

This beautiful view was a lagoon at the edge of an industrial site at Walvis Bay.  While staying in Swakopmund, a delightful holiday resort, we had two special trips.  Firstly a mini cruise to see the huge Fur seal colony – thousands of them, all strung out along the water’s edge.

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Swakopmund’s German roots are still evident.

We changed transport mode for our second trip.

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I was so excited I could have flapped my arms and taken off without the plane!  This was such a privilege – soaring like a bird for a couple of hours over the amazing landscape.

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Swakopmund golf course

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Dried river beds

The pattern of the scrubby bushes, seen above, clearly show the route of this dried river and all its tributaries.  Being photographed from above creates the impression that the ground was flat.  It is a smooth rock surface but with higher ground between the dried water courses.

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This is the way to learn about geology.

We flew down a part of the infamous Skeleton Coast – hundreds of miles, dead straight, huge Atlantic rollers crashing onto the wide strip of sand which just morphed into the never ending desert.

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Skeleton Coast, Namibia 

The name, of course, comes from the fact that many, many ships have foundered on this inhospitable coastline.  I was intrigued to learn that the vast majority of seamen who have lost their lives here died of thirst rather than drowning.

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The Zeila foundered in 2008

Due to modern navigational and weather forecasting aids shipwrecks are rare today.  The next day we drove up the coast and had difficulty finding the Zeila again because of an atmospheric great fog bank drifting on and off shore.

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Zeila shrouded in fog.

Earlier I mentioned our first sighting of elephants  – can you spot them in the slightly out of focus photograph below?  I was being joogled about in the wee plane and shaking with excitement.

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There is a mother and baby elephant just below and to the left of the white vehicle and five more off to the right.  We took hundreds more photographs of elephants – much better ones to follow, but this was the first.

…. to be continued.


Another Adventure Begins

July 4, 2016

Last month we had the privilege of another amazing travel experience.  This time to a spectacular, fascinating country that not many people go to visit.  I don’t know why this country had been lodged in my brain for a long number of years – perhaps I saw a TV documentary or a magazine article, I certainly know no one who has visited, but after much planning we set off for ….. Namibia, to fulfil my dream of seeing wild elephants in a desert setting.  We certainly saw that and much, much more beside.

The stunning, dramatic scenery and abundant wildlife meant the taking of nearly 2,000 photographs.  I will try not to over indulge myself – if you haven’t taken the photographs yourself, an elephant is an elephant is an elephant!

We flew into Windhoek and were then driven to Kulala Lodge, Sossusvlei for the first few days.  The themes of these days were ‘small’ and ‘vast’.  The scenery made us feel small, surrounded by vast open spaces.

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Dune 45, Namibia

In an early morning drive through the spectacular dune area of Sossusvlei,  the colour of the sand in the early light was ever changing and I was happy to have these fitter tourists in my photographs to indicate scale.

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All these footprints would be gone by the next morning – obliterated by the wind.  Indeed sometimes it could happen instantly.

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Sand blowing off a dune.

It wasn’t just me who was small and leaving footprints –

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Sand Beetle

We made the practical decision not to induce heart attacks by attempting to climb either Dune 45 or Big Daddy Dune but we did hike a couple of kilometres over rolling dunes to experience Death Vlei.  Just before we got there our wonderful guide, Jeremia, encouraged us to close our eyes as we scrambled the last few yards up a rise. The wow factor of seeing the amazing scenery in this dramatic way was sky high.

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Death Vlei, Sossussvlei

This huge white, circular clay pan is surrounded by brick red sand dunes on all sides.  The floor is littered with dead acacia trees. These are black in colour, completely dried out, very hard to the touch and over 1,000 years old.

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We took a lot of photographs here!

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from the edge of Death Vlei

Not a lot of animals about in the heat of the day in the dunes but as we neared Kulala the afternoon before, the very first animal we saw in Namibia was this lovely oryx – we were to see hundreds of them during the latter part of our holiday.

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As well as being expert at spotting the larger animals, Jeremia was constantly finding other interesting things for us – small and vast.

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Termite moving ‘huge’ dried grass stalk.

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Feeling small beside this great granite outcrop in the vastness of the flat plain.

We stayed for three nights in Kulala Lodge – technically a ‘tented camp’.  Certainly not the same as tents of my childhood, the only resemblance being that the walls were made of canvas and the windows didn’t have glass, only mesh.

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Our ‘tent’ !!!

At the back, out of sight in this photograph, was a stair leading up to a flat roof sleeping platform.  You could have a bed made up here to sleep out under the millions of stars.  Too cold for us – we were happy with our hot water bottles inside.  But the stars were awesome.

One night Jeremia took us a hundred yards away from the lights of the Lodge and using a powerful laser pointer identified some of the important stars for us – the Milky Way, of course, the Southern Cross, Jupiter, Mars, Orion’s Belt etc.

Another day we visited a different geological wonder – Sesriem Canyon, where water in very ancient times had carved a 30 metre deep, 3 km long channel.

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The ‘small’ and ‘vast’ theme continues with the amazing sociable weaver’s nests.

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These amazing constructions are built up over many tens of years by generations of small sociable weavers, a bit like sparrows.  The accumulated weight can eventually break the branch of the tree.  This one was at a petrol station and restaurant, hence the satellite dish.

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The nest from below showing the entrances to the individual ‘apartments’.  The largest of these nests can accommodate up to 4-500 birds.

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A puncture!

I knew we had made the right decision in choosing not to self-drive like most visitors to Namibia do, because we had such a knowledgeable guide with us all the time. That good choice  was confirmed when we got our first puncture.  A small sharp stone in a vast empty desert.

……  to be continued.

 


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