Friday, March 31, 2006

Floral kingdom, south of south, penguins and farewell.

1. Fynbos. This is the sixth and smallest floral kingdom. Plants grow on the Cape of Good Hope that don’t grow anywhere else. From a distance it looks like a bit of British moorland with springy, heatherish vegetation. But get close in and a whole lot more variety shows up. There are 2,250 species (this is more than in the whole of the British Isles). One day I am coming back on a special looking-at-plants holiday, and it's going to be in the spring when the peninsula flowers.

2. Standing on the Cape of Good Hope. This is the southernmost point of South Africa. It was strange looking across the thundering sea and thinking, next stop Antarctica. At school I learnt to mark it on the map, along with Cape Horn and the Equator and the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. At home we were told that you could put your elbows on the table once you had been to both capes -- now I’m halfway there. The cape is, I suppose, my journey’s end -- I have come as far as I can, and now I must really accept that it’s home time. It’s sad in a way, but there’s so much to look forward to.

2. Penguins -- we went to Boulder Beach, Simonstown to watch them from a boardwalk. They were lying panting on the white sand and waddling about as if they couldn’t pull their trousers up enough. In the water they were just as silly -- they have to lie right down, heads thrown back, because they paddle with their wings. As if that isn’t enough, they make a braying noise -- apparently mostly at night, which makes the residents just love them. Also people complain that the penguins build nest burrows in their gardens. I ask you! What a thing to complain about. ‘Those bloody penguins have dug up my agapanthuses again.’

3. Rosey dropped her purse in a minibus taxi and the driver came and found our friends at the jazz concert to give it back.

Cape Town, South Africa

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The island, meeting up and fireworks.

1.We toured Robben Island. This is the prison where they held Nelson Mandela. Our guide had spent seven years on the island for sabotage during the 1980s. He wasn’t exactly bitter about what had happened -- more puzzled, I think, that the authorities could think that black prisoners didn’t need underwear, and that they should be given a different diet to white prisoners.

2. Seeing Debbie. She is our designer at work. We e-mail nearly every day, but I’ve only met her once. It’s good to catch up and talk about how we work (very briefly) before going on to more serious matters like what we are going to eat and where we are going to watch the fireworks.

3. Darren liked ‘fireworks like shooting stars. They would die, and then bang, went off again over the water.’
Cape Town, South Africa

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Flat top, release Iris and farewells.

1. Seeing Table Mountain. It’s such an iconic image of the city. The other place I’ve seen it is in engravings illustrating books about early explorers.

2. Iris chasing a singer round the restaurant. Poor man. He thought he was on to a good thing. Get the big table going and the entire restaurant will follow, he must have thought. ‘Come on then, what will it take to get the big table dancing?’ he asked. So we released Iris. She chased him round the restaurant, in and out of the tables, cackling wildly. At first the other tables tried to pretend it wasn’t happening, but gradually, people got into it and soon everyone was dancing.

3. It’s time for goodbyes. I like the way people suddenly open up and tell you all sorts of things. I like all the promises to stay in touch that may or may not be kept.

Cape Town, South Africa

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Early arrival, affirmation, distraction, good positition, food at last, prize and care.

1. Rosey and Wayne turning up first thing. They were there when the surgeon came round, which was reassuring. I was really glad Wayne brought Rosey, though, because I didn’t like the thought of her wandering round town by herself. Later, when I came out of theatre, Rosey and Gill and Darren were waiting for me. And Claire had sent over a little jade goddess of wisdom to help me along.

2. As they took me into theatre, a nurse said in a thick Afrikaans accent: ‘Do not be afraid. It is not necessary.’

3. The surgeon talked to me as he worked, so I didn’t really notice much pain or strangeness. He told me about the music we were listening to, and about a drive I should take round Cape Point.

I got to do this tour -- see Floral kingdom, south of south, penguins and farewell.

4. The cuts fall along a natural line of my face, so they are not as noticeable as they could be. And micropore tape conceals the true horror of the stitches (see them at whereiamworking) -- which are very neat when all's said and done. But it’s still noticeable enough that people ask what happened so I get to tell the story.

5. The plate of fish and chips that I got for late lunch -- I’d been nil by mouth since I arrived (apart from a few mouthfuls of water and glass of juice.

6. The gang had been on a wine tour that day. They brought me a bottle of their favourite wine, and said they’d missed me. Awww.

7. Gill and Darren say that their beautiful thing was seeing three little middle class white boys give their burger to a homeless man in Steers. Everyone else in the restaurant was ignoring him; but the boys looked at him, looked at each other and then without a word went over and gave him the burger.
Stellenbosh, South Africa

Monday, March 27, 2006

Rocks, farewell, country, beautiful things, poison and medical care.

1. The shattered mountains and jaggy ridges on the way from Citrusdal to Stellenbosh.

2. The owner of Citrusdal saying goodbye to us. He told Anne that we were a lovely group.
3. Darren’s county faces. You can name an English county and he will have a face for it. Pictured are Cornwall and Buckinghamshire.
4. For our first farewell dinner, Elaine had the idea of going round the table with each person saying what their beautiful thing for the trip was.

5. Cream soda in Stellenbosh is bright green. We drank it with cane -- the local rum. This is called a green mamba.

6. I have broken my face. Rosey says I toppled forward and didn’t even put my hands out to stop myself, so the edge of the pool terrace did for me. It didn’t hurt a bit, and it made me giggle. My first inkling that something serious had happened was when Claire said she had been cut ‘just as badly and now you can’t even see my scar’ but refusing to let me see -- or touch -- my face. It was that and the blood on Darren and Craig. I pretended I needed a wee and went and had a look anyway. There were two gaping cuts, one right on the bridge of my nose and the other running under my left eye, and it still seemed funny.

Gill and Claire cleaned me up while Craig held my hand. Anne was woken up and she drove me, Rosey, Wayne, Claire and Gill and a random hostel employee who happened to be passing to the medical centre.

All the way Rosey kept saying: ‘Stop laughing. Stop laughing now.’ That made me laugh more.

The emergency room people were so kind and said they didn’t mind a bit having a herd of drunken overlanders running about. They refused to sew me up and made me wait overnight for the plastic surgeon: ‘You’re a beautiful girl and it’s not worth risking your face,’ the nurse said.

Claire, who is an NHSer at home, went and got more information. ‘The nurses say he’s very good, and I think he’s a bit of a dish.’ Which, really, is all you need to know when choosing a surgeon.

‘You could have seen him right away if you’d done this at 9.30 tomorrow morning,’ said the doctor.

‘I’d never have fallen over drunk at 9.00 on Monday morning,’ I shot back. Actually, it probably came out as ‘Tee hee hee hee ver ver drunk.’

Anne had not been able to wait, as the hostel man needed to go back and see the police -- we’d been burgled earlier in the evening. So the medical centre director told one of the nurses to drive the gang back to the hostel.

Stellenbosh, South Africa

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Nature walk, too hot and satellites.

1. Our guide was called Skokie -- Afrikaans for ‘Fright’. He had a fine set of dreads under his woolly hat. He told us about the time he was bitten by a scorpion and by a snake. He showed us bushman rock art and bushes that cure coughs and dandruff. We saw where a leopard had killed a porcupine and a dassie toilet. I’ve often seen the white stains on cliffs where their wee runs down, but he made us climb up and look inside to see a 4ft high mass of a substance like hard black tar. ‘Dassie period,’ he explained. ‘My grandfather tell me that it is urine, but at school me and some other boys found out more. Dassie is the only animal I know that have period like a woman.’ He said that his people chip bits off the mass and use it to make a tea (which looks like Coke and smells bad) for treating kidney problems.

2. The heat on the mountain was incredible and by 1pm we’d all had enough. The relief of getting back to the lodge was marvellous. We sat in the lounge gulping down iced roibos and enjoying not feeling the sun beating down on our heads.

3. Lying on the lawn watching a huge satellite go overhead. We’ve seen them as little tiny dots of light moving among the stars. This one appeared well before the stars came out. It looked like a planet and arced slowly across the sky.
Citrusdal to Stellenbosh, South Africa

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Le chef, phew, hey ladies, achievement and last homely house.

1. Francis our cook getting up to supervise his last ever breakfast despite drinking 14 bottles of beer the night before and falling on his back while doing a headstand. We left him at the campsite to catch a bus back to Windhoek, then to Livingstone where he will either get some more work or continue back to Nairobi. We will miss him and considered wearing black armbands and having a minute's silence at lunchtime. But in the end we were too busy eating, so contented ourselves with a few mournful cries of 'Francis? Francis? Where's the salt?'

2. Getting away from the campsite without being hurt by the psychotic stroke man.

3. A man in the town of Springbok tried to sell me and Claire M some drugs -- the first time on the trip. Go Cla(i)res.

4. The taste of a cup of tea when you are hungover. Last night I announced that I was going for a hangover, and I suceeded very satisfactorily. As a result, I have been murmuring 'Oh my head' and then smiling to myself smugly. My other mission -- to drink lots of gin and cry -- failed wretchedly. Even the loss of Francis squeezed no tears out of hard-hearted Clare.

5. Today's drive was both hot and windy -- it was like putting your face into the oven. So arriving in Citrusdal was lovely. Our hostel -- Gecko Backpackers -- is cool and shady and green and watered by drip feed hoses so there is a smell of water everywhere. There is Cartoon Network and small children and homebrew. And and and there are lawns to put our tents on, and I can't tell you how comfortable grass is to sleep on. Soft sand is good too; but gritty sand is definitely out of favour as it is hard, doesn't hold tent pegs and gets everywhere.

6. Wayne offers: 'A couch within walking distance of the fridge and pile of magazines.' By the time we left he had read: GQ, FHM, Men's Health, New Woman, Heat and Cosmopolitan. And some random motorcycle ones.

Citrusdal, South Africa

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Mother, G&T, slurp, you wag and night out.

1. It was Robert's birthday, but he was too busy being in Scotland to speak to his travelling sisters when they phoned. But it was good to hear The Mother's voice for the first time in almost nine weeks, and she told me that PaulV has won a prize -- he is photographer of the year for his newspaper group.

2. My feelings towards the barman who served me a gin and tonic made with Gordon's, a slice of lemon and some real ice.

3. As if that wasn't enough, he showed me a gecko that was just about to snaffle a moth.

4. Then his friend told me that sometimes tourists refuse to believe in things -- such as communal weaverbird nests, which look like a haystack up a tree. 'They go "that's not a birds nest." So I go "Yeah, you're right. It's a giraffe's food store."'

5. An evening of drinking that included a marriage proposal (no, but it was my first one ever, so naturally it set my girlish heart a-flutter) and a psychotic stroke victim desperate for a fight. He threatened us with a pool cue and some bottles and then threw up on Wayne. Finally, he resorted to begging. 'Hit me. Go on, hit me. You've got to hit me.'

Nordoewer, Namibia

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Art, hills on either side, treat and forbidden pleasures.

1. We have been illustrating further scenes from truck life. A lot of people have joined in unexpectedly. I like Craig’s rendition of an elephant treading on Elaine and Julie’s tent, Rob’s picture of Bob getting a red card and Rosey’s picture of Rob getting into the wrong tent.

Since time of writing, Craig contributed again -- the elephant stealing our supper at Ngorongoro. Louise illustrated the joys of skydiving and Francis drew The ‘movement of jah people’ leaving him behind at the South African border. See them all at Scenes from Truck Life.

2.Driving down a long narrowish valley with a flat floor. I can’t say why this sort of road is pleasing -- perhaps it’s the slightly closed in feeling; or the thought that there is no doubt about where we are supposed to be going.

3. Wayne, Anne and Francis dropped us off at the far viewpoint of Fish River Canyon and suggested firmly that we might life to walk back to the next viewpoint where they would be waiting with the truck. When we got there, we found that they had set out wine and nibbles -- real deli food with salty crisps and biscuits and real blue cheese and gherkins.

4. Feeding starlings on crumbs. They stood on the barrier gaping their beaks like nestlings and landed for a moment on my fingers to snatch the crumbs from my palm. One took a big piece over the barrier and bashed it to crumbs on a rock.

5. There is a sign on the canyon that says: ‘No day or leisure hikes into the canyon’. It made me want to set out then and there.

Fish River Canyon, Namibia

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Overdoing it, better climate and dog.

1. The excesses of Kolmanskopf. It’s a German diamond mining town that was abandoned in the 1950s. Now you can pay to go in and see a genuine ghost town that inspires mutters of ‘I’d have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you pesky kids’. When the desert outpost of Kolmanskopf was built, they imported all the building materials from Germany. This included sand. Yes, sand, the same stuff that is blowing across the main street and filling houses to this day. And water was brought round the coast by ship from Cape Town.

2. Leaving the dust scoured Kolmanskopf and coming into Ludervitz, which isn’t a ghost town. We sat on a pub balcony looking out at the harbour while the sun (and the beer) warmed our windchilled bones.

3. There is a dog that comes say hallo to Luderitz visitors. He is friendly and intelligent and ready for a game. He runs where he wants -- his collar is his passport. No-one particular owns him, but he we were told that a lady has looked after him since he appeared in town 18 months ago.

Aus, Namibia

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sun-up, knowledge and strange sight.

1. Climbing up Dune 45 to see the sun rise. We tramped up the spine of the dune, following the trail of footprints, and then ran all the way down the flank to breakfast.

2. Walking with Boesman. He is an expert on the San people and he shows walkers the wonders of Sossusvlei. He can find a lizard that has buried itself in the sand, and open up a trapdoor spider nest. He can show you that the black sand sticks to a magnet, and tell you why it doesn’t get all mixed in with the red sand; and explain how vleis form. He tells San stories; and explains why the things that the San do that make them appear savages are actually very sensible: they eat 10kg of meat at a sitting because if you’ve eaten the meat, no-one can take it from you; it doesn’t go off; and it’s easier to carry. He told us that the first thing a San child learns is its mother’s footprint: ‘See my footprint, see my face.’ They could tell if a footprint was made by a sick man or a healthy man; and it was said that one day a young man might see footprints that set his heart on fire, and he would follow them and find himself a wife.

3. Dead Vlei. It looks as if someone pointed a finger and killed a forest. Dead trees have been stuck in the white mud for about 400 years now. The desert is too dry for them to rot, so here they stay.

Sesriem to Aus, Namibia

Monday, March 20, 2006

Valleys, catch of the day and inspiration.

1. Driving down long valleys full of feathery grass. And seeing the sun catch floating seeds.

2. Eating Eva’s fish. Eva and Kev went fishing yesterday, and Eva caught a fish that was half as tall as her. Francis cooked it and we all ate it for dinner.

3. Rosey and I draw further scenes from truck life -- a stick Francis with a stick hangover fails to fill a supermarket trolley with stick vegetables, while a stick Rob goes into the wrong tent and confuses a stick couple -- and bully Claire (bottoms in the bush) and Louise (skydiving) into doing it too.

Swakopmund to Sesriem, Namibia

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Close-up, dolphins, getting it, illustration, the bells and bottle.

1. Touching a seal. I was rather taken by the seals at Cape Cross and now I get to meet one in person. We were on a dolphin cruise. We saw dolphins and obviously, it was a deeply moving and spiritual experience. Wow. Dolphins, they’re great. Whereas the seals... they jump on to the boat and bully the passengers. Of the 1.8million seals in Walvis Bay, about six jump into boats. While we were boarding, a huge male leapt on and tried to steal fish. The skipper, Arche, told us to ignore him ‘That’s Flipper. He’s bad.’ They had to encourage him to jump overboard by throwing fish into the water, and eventually he left us alone. Later we met a female who had learnt some tricks. She swam alongside the boat and for the usual reward (a fish) would cover her face, roll over and jump.

Then we met Bushman. He is about seven feet long and I couldn’t get my arms around him at his widest. He jumped on to the boat and we all jumped to the other end of the boat. ‘Sit down next to him,’ said Arche encouragingly. Rather nervously, I went over and sat. Bushman put his nose right up to mine. I took in his thick whiskers and enormous liquid eyes and his tiny ears and his leathery flippers with their cunning hidden claws. I touched his neck, ready to snatch my hand back at any moment, and felt bristly hair where I had half-expected oily smooth skin. Then rather meanly, Arche waved a fish behind my head and I found myself pinned beneath this swimming machine. I wriggled free -- it was just like dealing with a drunken man at a party -- and fed Bushman a fish myself. Then I had to let someone else have a turn.

2. I know I’ve just been a bit sarcastic about dolphins, but actually it was good to see them. Apparently the vibrations from the boat engines stimulate their skin in interesting ways. Gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘pleasure cruise’.

3. Went quad biking in the afternoon -- it’s a great way to see the dunes without walking up and down them. As predicted, I struggled at first -- you really can’t steer by leaning to one side -- but when I finally cracked it, I felt very pleased with myself.

4. Rosey and I wrote a Mother’s Day postcard. We illustrated it with scenes from truck life -- most notably, the dead hippo.

5. Kev says: ‘Sitting in a pizza place I heard church bells. I don’t know why it was a beautiful thing -- perhaps it reminded me of home, or perhaps it was the thought of all the people congregating.’

6. Kev also adds: ‘The number of Amarula bottles in the truck.’ The total stands at about six.
Swakopmund, Namibia

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Coffee, treasures and our table.

1. Drinking coffee -- real coffee -- in a street cafe. The cups are real china, and we have our own cafetiere to plunge.

2. The yellowness of sulphur crystals -- they're like sherbert lemons. We saw these at the Crystal Gallery, where they also have on display the largest rock crystal in the world. It's about the size of a largish garden shed. The shop is very good, with any amount of pretty sparkly things. It was lovely to spend time looking without being hassled by anyone.

3. We went on a girls' night out -- and walked into one of the most popular restaurants in town. They had just had a party of 13 cancel at the last minute, so we got their table. Thanks, whoever you were -- hope nothing bad happened to punish you for trying to sit down to dine with 13 at the table.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Going up, late start and all in one room.

1. Watching the sunrise turn the clouds gold.

Sunrise can be tricky. You wake up all groggy and cross at being pulled from your sleeping bag too early. Then you scramble up to a convenient spot and you wait and you wait and you wait. The sky goes a bit pink, or at least you think it does. And you realise you are cold and your bottom has gone numb. You think affectionately of beds you have known and yawn fit to split your head. After a bit more sitting, the stars have gone dim and the air is lighter, definitely lighter. You wait some more, maybe shut your eyes for a moment. Suddenly: ‘There you are! We thought you’d fallen down a hole’ and it’s much lighter and your fellow happy campers are wondering if you enjoyed the sunrise. ‘We were right up there. It was a deeply moving and spiritual experience.’

Rosey and Elaine strode manfully up the bouldertumbled slope of Spitzkopf while I pulled the sleeping bag over my head and pretended I didn’t care for sunrises. But soon the zips from the other tents and the quiet kitchen noises made me want to be up and doing, so I pulled on some clothes -- mostly right way round -- and set off round the foot of the rock. After not-too-long a walk over the long grass and a few thorns in my sandals I found a good spot. There was a nailparing of sun on the horizon under a lead grey cloud bank, the top of which appeared to have been heated until it glowed.

2. Having a late start. Today we left at 10am -- which meant plenty of time to moon around enjoying the place while Francis, breakfast duties over, climbed Spitzkopf.

3. We are sleeping in a dorm. It may be some people’s idea of hell -- but it’s very reassuring when you wake in the night to hear the other girls nearby.
Spitzkopf to Swakopmund, Namibia

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dry bones, walls, soap, up and leftover.

1. Driving down the Skeleton Coast. I mean just the name is wonderful... it is like something out of H. Rider Haggard. It's cold Atlantic surf on one side and scorched salt desert on the other. The skeletons are shipwrecks. It would be a bummer to be wrecked there: 'Land! Land, we're saved.' Oh. One zillion miles from anywhere or anything but dust and rocks. We stopped for lunch at a wreck from 1976. There were a few sad ribs left and a bit of rusted solid winching gear.

2. Building a maze. Sand is lovely to draw on with a piece of bleached driftwood. And the shore is littered with things to line out the edges: kelp strands, flat stones, big mussel shells and, strangely, an awful lot of dead butterflies in every colour and shape. I made this maze to acknowledge all the things I have lost and found on this trip.

3. We got within feet -- actual feet -- of the seals at Cape Cross. If seals had whites in their eyes, you would have been able to see them. We saw them playing in the water, leaping up and waggling their back flippers in the air. And we saw their awful parenting. The babies flop around the rocks crying 'meh meh meh' searching for their mothers who are having chavtastic fights over sunbathing spots or disappearing off to play in the surf.

4. Rosey says: 'Climbing Spitzkopf: When you get to the top it looked like the Plains of Rohan because its completely flat apart from the occasional outcrop.' Spitzkopf is a red rock jutting 800m out the plain -- the top is 1,700m above sea level. The rock is a rough granite that you can almost walk up, and at this time of year there is a pleasing amount of green around. We camped at the bottom and ate barbecued kudu for supper.

5. When the sun is gone but the rock is still warm.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Rock formation, stone zoo and fish.

1. The organ pipes. They are basalt fractured into geometric shape in a dry riverbed. Rosey and I find some that have split so they clonk like bells when you hit them.

2. Rock art at Twfelfontein. It was used to teach San children how to recognise animals -- including the seals down on the skeleton coast. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3. We haven’t eaten much fish -- Zanzibar was the last place -- but Francis has managed to find some frozen haddock in a supermarket. While we are lounging in the bar of a posh hotel drinking cocktails he cooks it with a crust of tomatoes and herbs. It is so delicious that even Louise, who doesn’t normally eat fish, enjoys it.

Twyfelfontein, Namibia

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Hunting in the air, purr and shopping.

1. After a rainy night we unrolled the tarpaulin sides on the truck. Moths flew out and immediately the scruffy sparrows that had been fighting over our toast crumbs leapt into action, going after them like fighter planes. We've seen several predators with their noses in kills, but no hunting action -- the sparrow flyby sort of made up for it...

2. Scratching a cheetah behind the ears. At Otjitotongwe Cheetah Farm, they keep three as house pets, and being scratched makes them purr. Later we watched the farm's 'wild' cheetahs being fed. One of them hid her piece and tried to pretend she hadn't been fed yet.

3. Buying clothes while drinking. The campsite bar sells cheetah gear to help feed the cats, so we stocked up on tee-shirts and caps while we could. We found that buying with a bottle of Hanza beer in your hand makes you a lot more bold in your choices.

Monday, March 13, 2006

All around, lions and trick of the light.

1. Rosey and I climb the tower in the campsite -- it’s an old fort -- and look out over the park. In all directions we can see black clouds slashed with lightning. The sky below them is blurred with rain. We set out on a game drive in the opposite direction to the storms and when we turn back we can see the tower surrounded by dark clouds.

2. A pride of lions ranging over the airstrip. Big game isn’t everything, but the four who joined at Livingstone haven’t seen lions yet. They cross the road and stroll through the grass and we watch until they are out of sight.

3. We get caught in the rain again, but the sun comes out and makes a rainbow and long shadows for us.
Etosha, Namibia

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Dead lake, squirrels and our leopard.

1. The view over Etosha Salt Pan. It’s a dried out lake. It looks as if someone decided that nothing would be allowed to live here and rubbed everything out. The bright white mud stretches away to the horizon. The ground and the air are both crackly with salt. In the distance there are some islands, but the heat makes the air buzz so they look like they are floating.

2. Ground squirrels popping in and out of their hole. They meercat on their back legs then drop down to nibble a grass stalk or tickle their babies. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

2. Our leopard. Another evening game drive had been washed out. We were heading home, sides battened down and the world blurring in the rain. Suddenly the truck stops. Francis has spotted two kills. There is one lying under a tree and another up in the branches. It’s got to be a leopard. We sit still hardly daring to breathe, peering under the sides out into the rain. A flash of spotty fur. ‘There it is, there, under that fifth tree, just a little back, follow my finger. There. See it?’ ‘Ohhh.’

Etosha, Namibia

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Crash, little'un, marchers and pronking.

1. The world's biggest meteor -- it's the size of a hefty double bed. It fell 80,000 years ago and must have surprised the locals somewhat.

2. Eva spotted a zebra foal frollicking. It was practising its feints and dodges and looked like it was really enjoying itself.

3. Soldier ants that had worn themselves a 3cm wide path through the grass.

4. Springboks. They look like they are wearing skull masks. When they are spooked they pronk -- or leap up into the air off all four feet.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Where I left it, unequal struggle, click, and Spanish.

1. Gareth says: ‘I left my passport in the computer place. When I went back an hour later it was still there.’

2. Watching the other truck trying to put their kitchen tarp up in the rain after they had drunk a punch made of two bottles of vodka, one bottle of Sprite and two tins of fruit salad.

3. We watched some cultural dancers. They sung the Namibian national anthem for us and they were wearing skirts made of bamboo beads threaded on to strings. There were bottle tops among the bamboo and it made a lovely clicky noise as they danced.

4. Kevin liked hearing Spanish speakers in the other group at the campsite. ‘I used to have lots of Spanish friends. I find it a very nice language.’

Rundu, Namibia

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Light of day, reeds, victory and exchange rate.

1. Seeing a place in sunlight and realising that it’s really quite nice when it’s not raining.

2. Papyrus waving in the wind. Rosey says they look like the ears or tails of a Jim Henson creation. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3. Anne says I should put not losing at Uno. We play in the evening when I’ve had a glass or so of wine I find it very difficult to remember to shout ‘Uno’ when I’m down to my last card.

4. Darren says he like the Swamp Stop exchange rate of 6.3 pula to the US$.

Sepupa Swamp Stop, Botswana

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Glop, jewels and changer.

1. Golden syrup on pancakes.

2. The waterlily necklaces made for us by our polers. They pulled out the flowers with long stalks, which they snapped at intervals and then very carefully peeled bits of stalk off the outer skin, first one side, then the other. We hung the lilies round our necks, the wet stalks cool against our skin. Every so often on the journey to the houseboat I would smell the flower. I can remember that it felt damp, and I can remember that the stalk got limper and limper. I can remember Francis saying I should be going to a wedding and that the flower would keep better in the fridge. I can remember finally dropping the necklace off the top deck of the houseboat, making Anne jump; but I can’t recall the scent of that waterlily. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3. Finding a chameleon in the road. It was bright yellow with big green splodges and was strolling across a dusty road as if it owned the place. Elaine loves chameleons, so we summoned her over to admire him. And then a whole crowd gathered round, following it over the road. A 4x4 was coming and we tried to make it drive round, but it rudely hooted us out of the way. We scattered and when it passed, regrouped. The chameleon was fine, but he was now mostly green.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Ho ho, washblock, hot water, secret garden, low boats and dead hippo.

1. We had travelled by open boat straight into the driving rain through the trackless wastes of the Okavango Delta. When we reached the pick-up point for Umvuvu, we were cold, wet, worried about our sleeping bags and a bit irritable. But then something made Iris laugh (it’s a sort of a-ha-ha-ha ha-ha-ha), and things seemed a lot less awful.

2. The blissful ablutions at Umvuvu bush camp. They are open air, which prevents bastard mosquitoes concentrating where you are most vulnerable. They are single sex so you don’t have to worry about boys walking in. The walls are bundles of reeds, with straw roofs where needed (i.e. over the loo and where you leave your clothes while showering). The showers are hot -- really hot, not just pretend hot -- and there are towels and soap (towels and soap!). The loo is clean and it flushes at the pull of a handle, so there is no need open the cistern and fish around. It uses a reedbed filtration system, so it’s all environmentally friendly, too. There is no door -- instead you hide behind a spiral of screens, hooking a string across the entrance.

3. ‘Sound of the gas water heater kicking, umph!! Umvuvu campsite godlike showers’ someone has written in my diary. They sign themselves KWW, so I imagine it must be Kevin.

4. The campsite itself is pretty amazing. The owner describes it as his garden. It is a series of clearings joined by mazey paths carved out of the bush on a remote delta island. Walking round and not being able to see over the vegetation made me feel as if I was tiny again.

5. Travelling by mekoro. These are dugout canoes -- although they are mostly fibreglass these days. Two of us sat in each one and we were poled through the reeds by a local man. We were only just off the water and the grasses parted before us and closed again behind us. There was so much to see at that height -- tiny frogs in blood red and buff and pearly green, water spiders, gekoes. There were lilies, too, in blue and pink and yellow. The scent is very light and sweet, and you can only really detect it if you pick the flower and stick your nose right in. Our poler told us all about everything we saw, and gave us things to eat -- I liked the soft papyrus pith best. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

6. We heard hippos -- huh huh huh; then we saw a hippo. Very quietly and carefully -- because a stroppy hippo would probably eat a mekoro without realising -- we stood up for a better look at the curve of its back. No movement. There was some debate in Setswana. Joseph, who was in charge, clattered a stick on his pole -- hippos hate sticks, well-known fact. No movement. ‘I think it’s dead.’ But just to make sure he threw the stick. It bounced off. Definitely dead. We poled over and had a good look from all angles, including -- dear god the smell -- downwind. Joseph stepped out of the mekoro and posed on its flank. It floated on its side, eyes and ears eaten away. It had several huge gashes on its side and head. ‘It’s been fighting with another male.’ They have huge teeth -- the size of your forearm -- and have been known to bite people in half. I know a tonne of rotting hippo is not in any traditional sense beautiful, but I had been secretly yearning to see a dead hippo. See a sensible person would not go within 100m of a live hippo, so a dead hippo is the only safe way to get a good close look at what the skin is like (thick, rough and greyish brown) and what the size is (Volkswagen Golf).

Also, the other beautiful thing about this story is that we got back to Anne in dribs and drabs, so she heard all about it eleven times. She seemed surprised that we thought it was the highlight of our day.

Okavango Delta, Botswana

Monday, March 06, 2006

Energy, long neck and by the lake.

1. Iris doing star jumps to keep warm at the lunch.

2. Stopping the truck to see giraffes grazing at the side of the road.

3. More pied kingfishers. This time I was sitting by the lake at Sepupa Swamp Stop watching them plop out of the sky into the water. I suddenly noticed a girl with white blonde hair was sitting under the tree too. She was so quiet and still that she must have been meditating.

Sepupa Swamp Stop, Okavango Delta

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Half the work, fisherman, quizzes and loud.

1. Wayne contributes: ‘Having two drivers means you don’t have to take risks like driving with malaria.’

2. A pied kingfisher with a beakful of fish. They are a bit disreputable-looking -- English kingfishers are definitely more exciting to look at, although you can have a proper look at pied kingfishers because they sit posing on trees. All you ever see of ours is a flash of blue and orange.
3. Three lady travellers got chatting to us in the hotel bar. They tested us fiercely on the national animals, flowers and birds of each country we had visited.

4. Fat Canadians. These were two more lady travellers and they were on a game cruise with us. They wore big round hats and shorts and had any number of cameras and binoculars round their necks. They shouted: ‘Hippos fighting at 10 o’clock and we all crowded round to the side of the boat to see.

Chobe, Botswana

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Cobalt, dice spots, family life, recovery and beasts in the night.

1. Male vervet monkeys have bright blue balls. I’d never noticed before and nearly fell off my chair in surprise as one walked past.

2. A purply brown butterfly with big white spots on its wings.

3. The group has become a bit like a family in the way we care for each other. After lunch I trip on a tentpeg and graze my knee. Within moments it has been sprayed with Detol and I am surrounded by people offering sterile wipes, plasters and comfort.

4. Wayne has thrown off the worst of his malaria. He is back among us, still sweating a bit and rather smaller, but much more cheerful. For the last few days we have had reports from Anne -- ‘I went in the room and my glasses steamed up.’ And ‘Last night he was complaining that his ears filled with sweat.’ He is still a bit sorry for himself, so we are trying to keep him from working too hard. Anne has been coping with four new passengers as well as a sick boyfriend, so it’s a relief to see the pressure off her, too.

5. Sitting in a waterside bar and hearing crocodiles snapping in the dark.

Livingstone, Zambia to Chobe National Park, Botswana

Friday, March 03, 2006

Spill, brave girl, hold on and bundle.

1. Rosey and I went white water rafting on the mighty Zambezi. On our first grade four rapid (The Mother) Rosey and I were thrown out. On the video, the raft disappears behind a wall of water and when it appears again, there are two less people on board. You can see Malvin, our guide, standing in the back brandishing his paddle in a triumphant manner. It was only then that I began to suspect that white water rafting involves a certain amount of theatricals.

2. We pulled Elaine into the raft after she got stuck under her kyack. 'Are you all right?' 'No'. 'What happened?' Shake of the head. 'Are you all right?' 'No.' Her face was grey and her lip was trembling. 'Are you going to get back in?' Pause. 'Yes.' And we all cheered.

3. Meeting the rescue canoe after swallowing a lot of river. You cling on to the front with your arms and legs and wait for a raft to come close enough to board.

4. We lost a paddle, so we snatched one from another raft. Their guide jumped on board to get it back and three people jumped on him, after a moment of struggling, they all ended up in the river.

5. Getting trapped under the raft is really very scary indeed, but the moment that I got out into the sunshine again was wonderful. I also love the way I was terrifed at the time but looking back find it hysterically funny.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Crossing, drink and go go go.

1. Seeing elephants swimming across the river.

2. Free bars on boats.

3. Watching Iris terrorising young men from outside our group. Iris is 68 and says she is growing old disreputably and that ‘It’s all talk, darling.’ She is fitter than the rest of us and has about twice as much energy and when she is not appreciating beautiful men she bounces around or races up and down hills, making me feel positively matronly.

Livingstone, Zambia

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sun on water, thinks he's people, dry spot, blue knees and patience.

1. Victoria Falls: I wasn't prepared for the size of the it, or the wetness: the spray is just like rain, sometimes torrential, sometimes just drizzle, sometimes heavy fog. Within minutes we were soaked to the skin. The sun shining through the spray makes rainbows everywhere, so the place looks like something out of a 1980s children's cartoon: 'Princess Khalisa, we have reached the Palace of the Chromatica and now we must return the Amathysteria to its rightful place, restoring life to the Rainbow Empress.

2. Baby baboons playing in creepers. One had an old corn cob, one a dead flower and the other a piece of straw. They were practising their climbing while clutching these treasures. The parents were sitting up straight with their legs bent up and their hands hanging louchly off their knees. 'They look so human,' we all said. But then I wondered when I had last seen a person sitting up like that. (Picture by Rosey Grant)

3.Walking along the photograph trail -- it's a great view of the falls with no spray -- and feeling our clothes drying on us.

4. A thumb-sized grasshopper with bright blue knees.

5. A German man carefully photographing the sort of yellow butterfly that sit in a circle on bare earth.

Livingstone, Zambia

Lolly, rabbits and fairy festival.

1. As we walk, the grinding, crunching sound of Bettany working on a chalky double lolly. 2. Midsummer afternoon on the common -- rabbits gr...