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The International Writers Magazine: Return to Africa

Part 1: South Africa-Namibia.
• Tabytha Towe
The last piece I wrote for “Hackwriters ” was over a year ago when I did a brief six day stint in Prague back in January, 2012.  After those amazing yet lonely and extremely cold days experiencing old Czech streets of historical magic on my own, I also went back to visit my first love, South Africa, in February. I have not written about that trip until now.

Cape Town

Yearning to return to Cape Town since I left as a naïve, wild and broken-hearted 20 year old in 2003, I finally I made it again after all these years gone by.  Just as wonderful as I remembered and all that I hoped for.  Even some of my friends from over nine years ago were still there and I was very fortunate to re-connect with most of them (minus my beloved cousin, currently in Germany). I also met some new friends whom I’m sure I’ll meet again soon.  Spent a total of a month in that glorious city which is never enough (ended up going back after the five week safari, turns out I waited nine years to be there once more, so I had to go back and extended my stay).

Devils Peak My days in the lovely Cape were consumed with relaxation by the pool, dining on terraces, walking the ocean fronts, streets and mountains, chilling in sunshine, having numerous happy hours, listening to live bands, picnics in the garden, doing fun adventures like paragliding over the sea, visiting the eagle sanctuary where I had wild birds feed from my fingers and land on my arm.  I rode on motorcycles, trains and backs of bakkies (trucks). I went to “Monkey Town” where I got electrocuted on a fence but then –pun intended- shockingly ended up playing air guitar with a chimpanzee (true story!)

I was very lucky to have pet two sensitively beautiful, six month old, sister cheetah cubs, to hold a sweet, baby owl, to dance at “Groovy Troopers” (an outdoor music festival,) to sail at sunset with champagne and my man, to visit the sand penguins, to walk around Table mountain, and check out museums. Basically, as you can tell, just having the worst time with the worst company in the most awful place ever. Seriously Cape Town is still incredible and unforgettable and will always draw me back.

 I invited my boyfriend at the time to come with me on this dream safari. We had never been on one before and he had never travelled so far. I also never wrote an article on the Africa trip yet, for a few things can be too personal, but I will go through some of it before I tell you stories of my Colombian, Peruvian and Guatemalan journeys this year.

From Cape Town a giant truck came to pick us up, we called him “Megabus” where if not sleeping in tents or venturing, we were in this mechanical beast. We met our guide Ingwe, who really is the best and he introduced us to our intimate, mixed nut bag group of Canadians, Aussies, a Korean Kiwi and an Indian Brit, all of whom we became family with over those five weeks. We then set off through the mountains on a drive that will lead us to unfathomable adventures.

Namibia The first night we had a lovely campsite where we had a wine tasting and a sunset dip in the outdoor pool, clearly insufferable. The next morning proved to be less luxurious for the rest of our days: 5am wake up calls, breaking down our tents in the dark (poor us living the life in the wild.) Alas we arrived hours later drenched in sweat in Namibia, to a very derelict border crossing mind you, but stamp in passport here thank you.  This desert land is divided by The Orange River which is the border between the two countries.

We canoed down that river for hours until it became a race, and then my partner and I were too far ahead to heed the warnings of rocks ahead, so we flipped over our canoe crashing in to the large rocks and went flying. When Ingwe yelled “crocodiles!” I have never swam so fast in my life - especially up stream. 

It was a lovely first few days at our campsites by the river, we had very long drives, but the vast open desert just clears your mind of everything and watching for wild life was exciting. The canyon was incredible, old, deep and serene. We had camp fires, slept under caves, got eaten alive by mosquitos, but better to itch by them than be stung or bit by the alternative; scorpions, swarms of bees and poisonous spiders, which of course we encountered. Every night our hilarious chef made us awesome meals, as our group sat on lawnchairs, listening to stories and passing the wine bottle on.  And yes, we did share in the chores and had cleaning and cooking duties too. Flapping dishes dry in the wind is a good work out actually

Now the Sesriem Desert is something I’ll never forget and was my favourite day on safari. *Worst days were the long journeys being sick on a sticky bus and having to hold my stomach with agonising pain and fear, nonetheless embarrassment of having to shit in an open desert. Both my man and I must have drank the water before the iodine was added since he got the bad belly too….so when we got better we drank a lot of cold beer on that bus from then on.

We woke up at 4.30am (I don’t usually get to sleep at home till then or later) and walked up the Sesriem sand dunes that collide ever changing shape over thousands of years between the east and west winds. They do not look real from afar and our foot prints behind us seemed liked animation. We made it to the top with cold, bare feet gently massaged in the soft sand collapsing under our toes with every exasperated step, just in time for the surreal sunrise. Nothing can depict the serene beauty from that height and seeing the bleeding landscape come to light from that distance, it’s like the sun rose over your heart, because you feel awake again, truly awake. 

Afterwards we ran down hill and it was so much fun.  One naturally tends to hop as a springbok would, rather than run really fast down those dunes. I had a big smile tattooed on my face all the way. 

Then we arrived at 35C degree heat at the Sossusvlei, the place where things went to die.  A superlative historical site that used to be a swamp; until everything died in it.  The red sand silhouetted by blue sky and grey limestone a washed from its vast past. The trees are centuries old, still standing in their black skeletons upon the dry mud cracked and long forgotten. It was the hottest day and sweat dripping into our eyes burned as much as the sun did. However it still was incredible to walk through it, haunting and captivating at once.

As soon as you loose your breath you catch it again at the same time.  I don’t know how else to describe this place.  Here we saw our first wild animal, the legendary Oryx. What an amazing creature. The San Bushmen --whom I’ll get to--the father decides the worthy husband for his daughter to the hunter who can kill an Oryx, as their long, sharp horns are dangerous making it fatal for a man to go near. So much excitement and hundreds of photos over African animals, it’s the best knowing they are free. Well, most of them….. not the rhinos and elephants from evil poachers.
Orange River Canyon
Solataire On our 4th day after stopping by a desert town called Solitaire, an appropriate name as it was forlorn out there all alone from any society, we visited a town called Swakopmund (open mouth or swamps mouth, something along the lines) which is a quaint but weird German town.  Something was not right about it.  I felt like I wasn’t in Africa at times as the German white influence took over the architecture, language, even the restaurants. I swear they still celebrate Hitler’s birthday amongst the locals who live there.
It was weird to see a colonised place with such a divine, cultural contrast. For three days we spent roaming the town and sleeping in bungalows that smelled of awful, septic sewage, so much so I had a scarf tied around my face. We cooked braais (barbeques,) took our guide out clubbing for his birthday, gambled at the locals dive bars and went go-karting which was super fun for everyone, especially watching the adult men getting all childish and excited for competition.

Last day we all went on a township tour through Mondesa.  What a place, what life. We take for granted so much. It wasn’t as bad as South Africa, but then we drove onwards and saw more. I feel very fortunate to have met the beautiful children at their primary school. They are so full of smiles and full of life, just wanting to learn and being typical kids. Just having their photo taken was a gas for them; that were a special moment in the township for me at least, hanging out with them and also visiting the orphanage, humbling. You just want to reach out and squeeze them all and give those books, clean food and water, shelter and healthcare, but make them smile and feel loved.

In Mondesa we ate one of my favourite meals of the whole trip, (well, next to the memorable Waterfront brunch I had that morning with my boyfriend for the first time in weeks, and that place where we found the patio pier with the succulent prawn salad, mmmmm). A woman created for us a traditional, home cooked chicken with some lentils, carrots and a doughy corn bread to mush it all together that we ate with our hands as they do, and no doubt coca cola to wash it down as water was not adequate nonetheless available. As we had lunch a singing group performed accapela style and synchronised a tribal dance, I loved it.

Spitzkop was another great evening camping under starlight. Absolutely no electricity or civilisation around us, just some grassy hills, animals, sounds of night crawlers and a dark, big open space.  Simply peaceful mind set and awe.  Met a local couple whom had never left Namibia, how they envied us for even being able to go on to Botswana, their sister country….I feel privileged being able to talk to people in their native lands.

Black Rhino
Lions Cubs

Our best was to come yet too.  Etosha National Park!   Animals are being more protected now as they become endangered. The park is massive for wild life preservation, thank goodness, but poachers have families to support and illegal ivory can pay them more than their lives amount to.  Now poachers can be shot on sight. I don’t want anyone to die, but rather a human’s life than 40 elephants. Sadly, it will never stop, but it is being more acknowledged.

Watching those magnificent beings soldier on through the brush with those crazy ears flapping away to cool themselves down in dire heat, playing with the lake squirting each other, consuming seven gallons of water each per day, rolling in the mud, pulling leaves off the trees with their wondrous trunks, seeing them walk by close in a herd, babies protected in the middle. A sight to make any one flutter with a bit of love, it seriously is amazing to watch these gentle giants. Although they can also be extremely vicious. I would not want one charging near, you’d be trampled in a heartbeat! Witnessed a teenaged elephant get kicked out of the herd by the leader I presume, by being run off and screamed at. He had to go on alone now.  Often the elders go off in solitude to die alone, so as not to slow the herd down.  This is better than being slowly killed for your tusks and leaving the body to rot. They say nature is cruel, which I am no stranger to observing, but at least a hunt is fast and the body is used for survival, every bit goes to life around.

In Etosha I saw 2 of the big 5, one of them the great black rhino.  Very rare to see.  He was about to ram our wheel on the bus but missed, we really could have tipped if he pierced the tire or went full speed.  All I recall is a flash of his horns and eyes, then immediately a side profile then his bum trotting off.  It was only a moment, but some can spend a month in the park without seeing one.  Many died in 2011 due to a bush fire, the fire sparked more branches and spread it around them.

Next, wow, the lions…… How fortunate we were to witness a full family, mother, father and three cubs under a shady tree. Later we were more blessed by seeing 20 feet from our face the “honeymoon” ritual. A young, strong candid male chooses 2 lionesses to fornicate with away from the others for over a week. Here he chooses back and forth between them every 20 minutes to impregnate them. In an hour we saw him shag three times! Just three pumps then roll over; chill for a break, then back at it again. No wonder the male lion gets to be king of the jungle! The females also do all the hunting, he gets first claim to eat, and sleeps for 80% of the day if not more.  He didn’t enjoy us exploiting his performance. We left the threesome alone after that.

Zebras In the distance before sundown, packs of striped zebra and skittish giraffes (who only get to sleep like 15 minutes a day to always be alert, poor things) was happily prancing around chewing the grass, ignorant to the lions watching them in the background awaiting darkness for their dinner. I have a photo of three cubs watching them from afar. A lonely wilderbeast was walking on his own with a bird on his back, the creature Africans consider god to have created from other creatures leftovers.

We camped in Grootfontain and had an epic time at the park, but next were to move on to encounter the San Bushmen and head to Botswana!

© Tabytha Towe July 2013

To be continued -
Prague Winter of 2012
Tabytha Towe

It was a long and overwhelming day, but I still ended up walking home to the hostel that evening. It really was tough, but for some reason I just had to do it


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