From Lush Winelands to Scorching Deserts

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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What I did
Winelands, city, desert

Flag of Namibia  ,
Saturday, November 10, 2012

Day 5 (8 Nov) in Cape Town was the earliest morning I had since arriving and my last full day in this picturesque city. My tour of the Winelands (3 main towns in a winery region about 45 mins drive east of the city) was picking me up at 8:30 am and it was a clear calm morning with the forecast heading to the high 20's – hot for here according to the tour guide – but thankfully not the gale-force wind of yesterday. By now the breakfast staff knew me by name, my table preference and I had branched out from straight orange juice to the accompanying champagne. Good service, great food, and excellent views. For $188/night (inc breakfast), I couldn’t fault this place and not really wanting to leave.

Despite my advanced planning, my original wine tour had fallen through due to not meeting minimum numbers. Whilst touring the castle the day before, I had made some calls but it wasn’t promising. In the end, I called the hotel and the very attractive travel desk lady easily got me booked on a similar tour within minutes – I should’ve just done this all along. There were 9 of us in total – I was the only Aussie which made a change. The driver/guide spoke of history as we made the journey out to the winelands; occasionally he went into a bit too much politics for my liking preaching about his preferred political party – keep it to the wine mate! Surprisingly, all except me and the two New Yorker girls spat out their wine with each tasting. I on the other hand had no problem with tastings at 10am (I didn’t tell them I had already started with champagne at breakfast!). I thought I was being quite reserved and refined, but after about the 3rd tasting for the day they were making jokes about me enjoying the wine and the Swedish man jokingly offered me the spittoon to drink from!! I was a little offended by this and thought 'how did I give off this impression’. Oh well, all in fun and it was a good group to spend the day with. We visited 2 of the 3 main towns: Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The latter is a village where Protestants escaping persecution in France came to settle and is very French inspired and this is where we could choose from any restaurant to have lunch. We also visited the outside of the prison where Mandela was released at the end of his 27 yrs. A good tour and although it only visited 3 wineries, it was good to also get a tourist overview of the area and drive around the very scenic landscape.

I checked out and left for the airport at 10am the next day for my 12:20 pm flight to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. I had plenty of time at the airport – a very rare moment in my life and I was a little unsettled at the thought of what to do for the hour or so I had while waiting for my flight since usually I only just make it to the gate on time. The Air Namibia flight was only 2 hrs and their planes a little suspect – one seat had a missing backrest. On arrival, it took quite a while to clear immigration because of the lengthy queues and slow staff, but no visa required and I was through to the waiting driver holding my name up. Dry heat and a 30 min drive until even the sight of a single house – the airport is 45 km out from the city! Windhoek is small, less than half a million and only 2.4 million in the whole country. After checking in at my decent hotel, it took less than an hour to wander around to the sights that I had on my list. I resisted the urge to visit the hotel casino and instead sat in the bar drinking beer from an unlabelled tap.

After an uncomfortable sleep due to the non-functioning air con, I waited in the lobby at 8am as I was told this was the time the tour guide would pick me up to start the 9 Day Deserts and Canyon tour run by Sense of Africa. At 8:50 am and no tour guide, I started to get a bit worried. I called 3 different numbers with no answer – all the tour offices were closed on a Saturday. Hmmm. I knew this would happen and thoughts of hiring a vehicle to self-drive around Namibia sounded like Plan B. But at 9:22 am, a sun exposed khaki wearing white man came up to me and I knew it had to be my tour guide. Meet Ralph...German tour guide and the guy who would hold my life in his hands as we drive thousands of kilometres around this vast vacant land. Turns out that he was scheduled to pick up at 9:30 am, so technically he was early...not late. I was given the wrong info. When booking, I was told there would be only 2 of us on this tour, but fortunately there are 9: 2 Dutch, 4 German, 2 Canadian and me. Not surprising with the Germans – Namibia is a former German colony. The Canadians are Mother and Daughter, the rest couples. I would guess they are all 50+. While everyone understands some English, the guide explains in German then English. The Dutch are particularly friendly and recently did a 6 week tour of Australia so have an avid interest in all things Aussie. Ralph offered me the front seat of the touring van since I was the solo traveller and after debating the pros and cons of this in my head (including my survival likelihood in an accident), I settled in the front as we set off on the first 280 km of our tour. Day 1 had begun.

After passing the Tropic of Capricorn and stopping briefly at a very isolated lodge to collect the Canadians, we arrived at the first overnight lodge in the Kalahari Desert mid afternoon. The bitumen roads are very good and even the dirt roads are good with only patches of corrugation. After resting for a few hrs, we set off on an evening safari and sundowner drinks atop a red dune overlooking the desert – I was very happy to be in Namibia and smiled knowing that this was just the beginning. Not many animals to see, but that’s not what I came here for so I don’t mind. The lodge guide gave us some lessons in the local dialect – yes, we all tried the tongue clicking which is embedded in the Kalahari language and I’m amazed at how naturally this clicking noise flows when they speak. Delicious dinner followed back at the lodge, including some of the animals that we’d just seen! I always thought Australia was the only country that ate its national emblem, but I can now add Namibia to that list – the Oryx is quite tasty.
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