Category Archives: Namibia Travel Blog

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Ostrich and oryx at Wolwedans
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 24-11-2018 09:48 | Resolution: 3386 x 3386 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 4.5 | Focal Length: 150.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

Lee agreed that we could all have a lie-in, so of course I woke up at 4, and was just getting back to sleep at 6 when the sun rose over the mountains and shone straight into my room. Bugger…

Today we moved on from Wolwedans to Lüderitz, a "Bavarian" town on the coast, which meant most of the day on the road. Southern Namibia is staggeringly empty: it’s over 300km of well-graded road from Wolwedans to Aus, at the South-East corner of the Naukluft National Park, during which we passed two graders working on the road, but we think no other vehicles at all.

The new game to entertain myself is to build up playlists for our intended destination or attractions. We were promised a view of the wild horses at Aus, so I had to work to a "wild horse" theme. Obviously I started with Ride A Wild Horse by Dee Clark and Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones. I have two versions of Horse With No Name, by America and Paul Hardcastle / Direct Drive, both good and quite different, so they both got added. A search for "Wild" was fruitful, including Born to be Wild, Walk on the Wild Side and Wild Thing (I have the Trogg’s original, but sadly not the Hendrix version at Monterrey), and then several on a theme: Reap the Wild Wind, Ride the Wild Wind, Wild is the Wind (two versions, Bowie, but also Nina Simone which doesn’t really work in this playlist). Some of the others don’t quite work, but I never miss a chance to listen to Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry), even if it’s cheating and slightly out of place.

Tomorrow it’s a "Diamonds and Ghosts" playlist, as we’re exploring the abandoned mining towns near Lüderitz.

We did get to see an ostrich on the way out of Wolwedans, but badly the horses at Aus were a bit of an anti-climax. We’ll have another look on the way back on Monday.

Predictably as we got nearer the coast the African sun disappeared and the weather got a lot colder and greyer. I’m now sitting in my hotel room in Lüderitz, with major breakers rolling straight off the Atlantic and breaking on rocks a few feet from my bedroom window. What this presages for sleep tonight I’m not quite sure: it may be quite restful, or it may be bloody annoying. Time will tell.

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The Wolwedans Game Drive

Oryx and zebra at the watering hole
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 23-11-2018 15:10 | Resolution: 4515 x 2822 | ISO: 400 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/640s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 300.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

We’ve been a bit spoiled by the game drives at Okonjima, where it was almost a challenge not to see a great variety of game. The Wolwedans equivalent was less productive: after 4 hours in the jeeps under a blazing sun we saw a lot of oryx, one solitary zebra, fleeting glances of a jackal and a fox (they really don’t like being anywhere near humans), and a dot on the hillside which my longest lens just about resolved to something ostrich-shaped.

On the way back the sun was steadily on the back of my neck and I was lucky not to get sunburnt. I can really recommend Coppertone Sport.

However, I really mustn’t grumble. The scenery is magnificent, the oryx are fun, and I’m still privileged to be here. Please enjoy another picture of an oryx:


Oryx sheltering from the sun. I could usefully have done the same thing!

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And Another Dead Tree…

Dead tree at Wolwedans, Namib-Rand Game Reserve
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 22-11-2018 18:58 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/125s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 46.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

There’s a long-running joke between Frances and myself that I like to use a dead tree as foreground interest in my photos. In Namibia, it’s often the only viable target, and I’ve found that I’m in very good company. We all had a couple of goes at this one, first in poorer light, and then when the sun appeared from behind a cloud we got the Land Rover to reverse back down the track to have another go. I think it works…

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Into Wolwedans

Sunset in Wolwedans, Namib-Rand Game Reserve
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 22-11-2018 19:32 | Resolution: 5593 x 3495 | ISO: 640 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/60s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

My cunning plan to have a lie-in worked, and I had a great night’s sleep, sorted myself out, and had a leisurely breakfast. Those who had chosen the "third 4.15 start in a row" option got back looking distinctly frazzled.

The drive to our next location was mercifully quite short, as we were getting onto progressively more tricky unsurfaced roads. We’ve come to a private game reserve called Wolwedans (Vol-Ver-Dance). This is one of about half a dozen private owned reserves which together make up the Namib-Rand Game Reserve, a privately owned game preservation area over 2,000 km2 in area, or a bit bigger than the area inside the M25. Wolwedans has a total of 20-30 rooms split over 3 or 4 camps, and is usually frequented by the likes of Brad and Angelina, although I suspect they fly/flew in rather than taking the long road route. I’m not quite sure how we’ve managed to get here for a reasonable fee, but very grateful that someone’s made it work.

The topography is quite different to anything we’ve seen before, with a combination of large savannah areas, dunes, and quite substantial mountains particularly along the western edge where the reserve adjoins the Namib Desert National Park. While the terrain is obviously African, the "big skies" also put me in mind of Montana. So far we have had a very dramatic sunset and sunrise, and we’re off to try and track some game down later.

The drive back after sunset last night was interesting, with the drivers of the two Land Rovers opting to drive with lights off, relying on their night sight. It was quite peaceful, and probably avoided spooking the game (which seems to be a guiding rule here), but I suspect I would have used more light.

The Namibian diet (or at least the tourist version) is taking its toll on my waistline. Last night we only got to dinner at 9 and then had 5 courses (although the first three were only a couple of mouthfuls each).  I couldn’t get into my green shorts today, so I just hope the other ones come back safely from the laundry… I suspect it’s going to be the apple and coffee diet for me when I get back.

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Deadvlei

Tree at Deadvlei
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 21-11-2018 07:06 | Resolution: 5224 x 2939 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 6.3 | Focal Length: 38.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Deadvlei is the home of the iconic Namibian desert image: a dead tree on a salt plain with an orange dune in the background. Despite the ubiquity of such images, in practice it’s a single relatively small location, a bowl in the dunes maybe 500m x 200m. Hundreds of years ago it was a small oasis with fairly healthy vegetation, but the shifting dunes cut off its water supply, and the trees died. However in the dry, sterile conditions they have only decomposed very slowly, and are effectively now petrified. The other thing which is surprising is the salt pan – I was expecting a fairly thin even crust like you see in pictures of Bonneville, but instead it’s a rocky, lumpy and very solid arrangement.

Our tour bus took us the 70km down the Sossusvlei valley to the end of the surfaced road, and we then took a 4×4 shuttle 4km through the sands to the jumping off point for several walks. It’s about 1.1km to Deadvlei, a distance which I would normally knock off in about 12 minutes, but walking on the sand proves very difficult, and it took me over half an hour. My combination of small feet and, er, large frame means I just sink into the sand with every step, and it’s suspiciously like wading through treacle.

Regardless, our timing was good and the walk fully justified by the scene. We had timed our arrival to be there just as the sun was reaching into the bowl, and we got great shots of both trees just emerging from the shadows, and in full light against the orange dunes and cloudless blue sky.

We were just packing up to go back when we got the first hint of what was coming, some lines of sand being whipped across the salt, which stung the legs as they hit them. We had a brief respite as we walked back, but by the time we arrived at the car park we were in the middle of a full-blown dust storm, so bad at times other vehicles were invisible except for their lights. We had a 4km drive in an open 4×4 through this, which was not pleasant. I’m not sure that it was ever actually on my list, but "sandstorm" can now be ticked off.

We had a relaxing middle of the day, but I was starting to feel a bit weary and couldn’t face the walk into Deadvlei twice in one day, so at the end of the day while the rest of the group went back to Deadvlei John and I commandeered the 4×4 and went photographing dunes off the sand road. We got some decent shots, but it’s a challenge as the salty ground and scrub vegetation make getting a neat foreground a real challenge. I made a few "rookie errors", including shots out of focus and then trapping my finger in the car door, and decided that I really need to not do three 4.15 starts in a row. Tomorrow I’m going to boycott the dawn start and have a lie in…

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Oryx from the air

Oryx from the air
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 20-11-2018 07:06 | Resolution: 3174 x 1984 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/1000s | Aperture: 3.2 | Focal Length: 100.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

‘Nuff said.

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Nice Chopper (Ride)

Namibian dunes from the air
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 20-11-2018 06:45 | Resolution: 5391 x 3370 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/500s | Aperture: 4.5 | Focal Length: 35.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Up at 4.14, but in a very worth cause, our helicopter flight over the Namibian dunes. We had to take it in turns, as the company only have one helicopter with three passenger seats flying at this time of year, so I volunteered to go first along with Alison and John. We were met at the park gates by the pilot, a big South African called Pierre. After the usual necessity of signing one’s life away, he drove us out to the chopper, which turned out to be dramatically smaller than the last one I flew in, many years ago in Barbados.

Called a Raven II, this is a great sight-seeing device, with a clear bubble canopy, plus in honour of the photographic trip they had removed the doors, giving us each a wide view to the side, plus I could also shoot through the canopy to the front. It was fitted with harnesses very similar to standard car seat belts, but at least Frances’ fear that I would be left with two odd ends like Sam Neill in Jurassic Park was unfounded.

I have to confess that the first minute or so of the flight was a bit disconcerting, in that such a small craft has to tilt down quite sharply to build up speed, when you are still fairly low to the ground. However things quickly stabilised and we were humming along down the Sossusvlei Valley. We were initially battling poor light, but our luck held and the sun came out exactly when required, when we were turning over Deadvlei and Sossusvlei. However the slow appearance of the sun meant I got some very rare shots of the hills behind the dunes wreathed in cloud and mist – Pierre reckons he only sees anything other than straight sunshine about 8 days a year.

We then flew deeper into the dunes, and back to the airfield via some meadows with oryx, ostriches and jackals. These were trickier to photograph, but I did get one great shot of the oryx.

We were back at the hotel by 8am, just in time for breakfast, and had a great lazy morning before the rest of the group arrived back.

For the afternoon shoot we were meant to all go back to Deadvlei, but there was a problem with the booking for the 4×4 required to take us through the last 4km of sand track from the bus stop, and we had to re-plan. We spent the rest of the afternoon shooting dunes and trees along the road back to the hotel.

Another early start tomorrow – our turn to go to Deadvlei.

Addendum – Size Matters

If you’re going to do a “doors off” helicopter flight then the physical size of your equipment matters (ooh er missus 🙂 ). Smaller is definitely better. I got great results with my Panasonic G9 and the 35-100mm lens (70-200mm equivalent). Another group member shooting with the equivalent Olympus kit was also fine. However those shooting with the big Canons and Nikons and 70-200 or 70-300 lenses were finding great difficulty getting sharp images. The dual stabilisation of the Micro Four Thirds cameras helps, but the biggest contributor seems to be the fact that the big lenses project out of the cockpit into the slipstream, and the wind-shear on them makes them very difficult to hold still.

I also had the Panasonic GX8 with the 12-35mm lens for wider shots, and I was able to have both on the floor in front of me and switch between them. That arrangement also worked well, but would be tricky with physically larger cameras.

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We’re On The Road To Nowhere

Old vehicles at Solitaire, Namibia
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 19-11-2018 14:40 | Resolution: 5098 x 2867 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 28.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

Playlist for today:

  • On The Road Again : Canned Heat
  • Highway Star : Deep Purple
  • Bright Side of the Road : Van Morrison
  • Call Me The Breeze (I keep blowin’ down the road) : Lynyrd Skynyrd
  • Goin’ Down The Road (A Scottish Reggae Song) : Roy Wood
  • King of the Road : Roger Miller
  • Rockin’ Down The Highway : Doobie Brothers
  • Roll On Down The Highway : Bachman Turner Overdrive
  • Rollin’ and Tumblin’ : Canned Heat
  • Davy’s On The Road Again : Manfred Mann’s Earth Band
  • The Long and Winding Road : The Beatles
  • Crossroads : Eric Clapton / Cream
  • Rollin’ On : Uriah Heep
  • Road to Nowhere : Talking Heads
  • Road to Hell : Chris Rea
  • Highway to HellI : AC/DC

Did I mention it was going to be a long drive?

The south western quadrant of Namibia, an area comparable with Northern England, consists of the Namib Desert, and apart from a narrow corridor about 2/3 of the way down, plus a short stretch of coast, is all in one of two national parks. These are not crossed by road, and the few tracks into them are strictly controlled. The problem is that we start the day just north of the north western corner, and we need to get about halfway down the eastern edge. Therefore we have to circumnavigate the park on a Namibian "C" road. These are mainly unsurfaced, but wide and well graded. However speeds are inevitably slower than on tarmac, and there are periods where the ride is very rough, or it gets very dusty, or both.

We left civilisation at Walvis Bay, just south of Swapokmund, and the next habitation and services are over 200km away, at Solitaire, which appears to exist to service weary travellers at a key road junction. They do so in style, with a great collection of photogenic wrecked old cars, and their special, an excellent apple pie.

Another hour or so of driving brings us to Sesriem, gateway to the Sossusvlei area, and our base for the next few days. More than one night in one place? Luxury.

The Sossusvlei Dune Lodge is inside the park, which is good news for our forthcoming dawn starts. It’s run on a surprisingly Germanic basis, with more rules and constraints than we’ve experienced elsewhere. Quite a few of the rules seem to relate to keeping pests out of the rooms: mosquitoes (fair enough, although it is the middle of the desert), and baboons (I wasn’t expecting that).

Another early night: up just after 4 for the helicopter flight!

Addendum: 4am

Well, that blokes’ baboon repellent seems to have worked. The mosquito net also proved an effective barrier, locking a single mosquito in bed with me all night. Bugger.

Sleep was OK for quality…

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Hot Dry Desert, Cold Damp Desert

Yous truly under the rock arch in Spitzkoppe Park
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 18-11-2018 11:05 | Resolution: 5184 x 2920 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: 0.33 EV | Exp. Time: 1/800s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 64.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 35-100/F2.8

Despite the distractions of the chalet’s canvas roof I eventually got an OK night’s sleep, and woke up ready for action. With the sun just rising we had a great pre-breakfast shoot at Spitzkoppe, with the rock formations beautifully lit by low sun, and just a few whispy white clouds breaking a clear blue sky.

The Spitzkoppe Lodge is quite new. The unresolved issues with the roofs are one challenge, breakfast turns out to be another. Lukewarm coffee is a recognisable drink. Lukewarm tea is a waste of ingredients and a challenge to the nausea response.

After breakfast we drove to the other side of the park and made a short climb up to a rock arch. I scrambled up to the arch itself and had my picture captured, just in time before the group of about 15 Germans arrived via a much gentler path from the other side…

We then headed for the coast, along an absolutely straight, flat and empty road. At the start we were at about 1000m, in baking sun with the sand punctuated by occasional clumps of scrubby grass. At the end we were at sea level, under a grey sky, much cooler, with the sand punctuated by occasional small mossy mounds.

Lunch was taken at our driver’s favourite cafe in Hentis Bay, which appears to be a sort of African Clacton-on-Sea. The cafe is also recognised by another member of the group and clearly a known target. The food is tasty and the portions more than generous: I have something called a terrazini, a large flatbread stuffed with chicken, bacon and cheese and then toasted. Nigel goes for a burger, which turns out to be about the size of a discus.

After lunch we spend an interesting but surprisingly cold half hour photographing a shipwreck using very long exposures. It’s very good practice for me to remember how to drive a camera in manual mode, something I rarely do.

It’s a short drive down the coast to Swapokmund, a rather larger city, somewhat reminiscent of a European seaside town. This looks prosperous, but somewhat dead on a cold Sunday evening.

You can tell when a Namibian town developed by the signage and street names: somewhere which has developed since independence will be almost entirely English. Those which developed in the mid 20th century will use English and quite a lot of Afrikaans. Swapokmund obviously dates back to the 19th century and there’s a lot of German – our hotel is just off Kaiser Willhelm Strasse.

Early night. Long drive tomorrow.

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Thrills and Disappointments

181118 G9 1003259
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 18-11-2018 07:10 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 200 | Exp. bias: -33/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/400s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 12.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 12-35/F2.8

5am call, quick cup of coffee and back in the big FWD for "leopard tracking". This was a dawn game drive with a tracker for the radio collars fitted to the park’s other leopards. On the way we stopped to photograph more diverse ungulates (including wildebeest this time), baboons and some colourful birds.

We eventually tracked the other female down to a thicket about 100m in each direction, but she seemed to be moving. We drove back to the main track and I suddenly spotted a shadow moving at the thicket’s edge. We positioned ourselves in time for her to cross the track just ahead of us. Another gorgeous animal, and this time we were definitely not the prey.

It’s a six hour drive, including lunch, to Spitzkoppe. At least this allows me to variously catch up on sleep, writing this blog, and Angry Birds. Namibia’s roads are well surfaced, empty, straight and very boring.

Packed lunch from the game reserve included an oryx wrap. There’s a pattern emerging here…

Spitzkoppe is where a bunch of dramatic granite monoliths rise out of the otherwise flat desert, not unlike an African Monument Valley. We enjoyed the long drive in, promising ourselves some great late afternoon shooting, but by the time we got to the lodge and checked in the sun had disappeared behind clouds and the light was rather disappointing. Still, we can look forward to Dawn tomorrow.

Night 4 – Addendum

Ready for a good night’s sleep?

Sensible bed-time? Check. Sensible start time tomorrow negotiated, as worst case I can just photograph the sunrise from bed? Check. Right amount of food and alcohol, not too much, not too little? Check. Room temperature wrangled from "furnace" to "comfortable"? Check. Pillow adjusted to right height with towel? Check.

Ready for a good night’s sleep.

This is when I discover the major structural flaw in the design of the Spitzkoppe chalets. The base and sides are solid, but the roof is a weird double canvas affair. If it’s meant to manage temperature it doesn’t work. What it does do in any breath of wind over Beaufort Scale level 1 is whip, creak, groan, snap and pop vigorously. Something a bit stronger and it sounds like it’s about to come off. At midnight I decide the latter would be a good thing as then I could finish the night under a clear and silent Namibian sky. Sadly it doesn’t happen. At least that explains the earplugs in the soap dish.

The sleep deprivation experience continues.

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A Long Drive, then a Great Opener

181116 G9 1002918
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 16-11-2018 17:44 | Resolution: 3888 x 3888 | ISO: 250 | Exp. bias: 0 EV | Exp. Time: 1/320s | Aperture: 5.6 | Focal Length: 150.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

It’s looking like we will spend a lot of time on the road. Once our transport arrived on day 3 we drove back out to the airport to collect the final member of the group, then back past our hotel in Windhoek, then another 3+ hours north to the Okonjima Nature Reserve. There we transferred immediately to a 14 seat open-air FWD and set out on our "game drive".

This was absolutely excellent. Within shouting distance of the lodge we had seen warthogs, giraffes, oryx, springbok, kudu and various other ungulates whose names I can’t remember. Then we went into the cat enclosure.

First up were the cheetahs, which are apparently very used to humans and had also been recently fed, so were just lying around like large spotty moggies. They are smaller than I expected, but just as beautiful. It was great being able to photograph them at a range of 20m or less with no concerns on either side.

The leopard was a different matter. Okonjima have two adult females, both rescued from elsewhere, one of whom roams the main park with her two sons, but the other is kept separately as otherwise they would fight. The captive female has been trained to come to a hide from where she can be viewed at very close range. This is an unnerving process as she prowls up and down inspecting each visitor in turn, and would obviously love to get into the hide and choose from the menu if not prevented by an electric fence and mesh.

Maybe this was an encounter with a top predator who viewed us as potential prey. Maybe, but I have another theory. I think she has become a working animal with a reliable routine. All I could hear in my head was Joanna Lumley’s voice saying "sorry darling, I have to go. I have another group of tourists to scare."

Whichever is the case, she is aptly named with the local translation of "beautiful". Well deserved.

Dinner was oryx carpaccio, followed by oryx sirloin, and a chocolate mousse. "Chocolate oryx", surely?

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Back On The Road

View of the Posh Bit of WindHoek from the Hotel Thule
Camera: Panasonic DC-G9 | Date: 15-11-2018 18:58 | Resolution: 5176 x 2915 | ISO: 3200 | Exp. bias: -66/100 EV | Exp. Time: 1/160s | Aperture: 8.0 | Focal Length: 100.0mm | Lens: LUMIX G VARIO 100-300/F4.0-5.6II

I’m off on my photographic travels again, this time to Namibia. I’m travelling with Lee Frost of Photo Adventures, as I did to Cuba and Morocco, and it promises to be an interesting mix of landscape, wildlife and general travel shooting.

As is often the case, the first two days were largely taken up with travel, although I learned my lesson from the Myanmar trip and made sure we built in some rest time as well. I can never sleep on a plane, and going straight out shooting after a long journey leaves me fit to be tied…

The main flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg was smooth, although delayed by a change of plane which significantly cut into the relatively short transfer time at the far end, and saw us almost sprinting through the terminal. However in marked contrast to recent experiences with BA, Virgin did an efficient job of boarding (by row number), and Johannesburg Airport staff did an excellent job of triaging their queues, so we got the connecting flight.

The long-haul flight was on a Boeing 787 "Dreamliner", which is a real curates egg, good in parts. The new technology like the electronically dimming windows works brilliantly, but some well established technology appears to have been sacrificed. I couldn’t on my own recline my seat, and the seat back pocket is now wholly inadequate. The tray table is a ridiculous design which slopes downwards and is made out of some shiny plastic – a young lady sitting near me got a glass of water in her lap halfway through dinner, and I’m aware she wasn’t the only one. On a single flight! How on earth did that ever get through QA? Why industrial design has to be this odd zero sum game is a complete mystery. If it ain’t broke…

Minor complaints aside the air transportation got us to Windhoek on time. It’s a surprisingly long drive from the airport to the city, I reckon at least 25 miles, and that’s another mystery, given that most of the intervening countryside is completely empty and flat as a pancake. I can only assume that the former owner of the airport land was on the "where should we put the airport" commission.

Windhoek, at least the bits visible from the main roads, is a spacious, modern city. For our first night we stayed at the Hotel Thule, which sits on a promontory overlooking the rest of the town. It’s a very pleasant place to stay and also seems to be one of the "in" places for the locals to eat. A gentle afternoon and late start next morning at least started my batteries recharging.

Dinner is an oryx steak, slightly overcooked but otherwise delicious.

So far it’s warm, but manageable during the day, but hot at night, not less than about 26°C.

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