October 31, 2010


One of the Polytechnic feral cats, modified somewhat for Halloween!  :>)

October 29, 2010

Day Two in the Kalahari

Because our game drive was not until 4PM, the next morning we slept late, had a leisurely breakfast, and afterwards decided to drive east from Stampriet to see if we could locate some of the Kalahari dunes and take some photos. The majority of land in Namibia is privately owned so being able to position yourself to take good photos of the Kalahari in this area unfortunately requires access to private land. Nevertheless, we drove for a while just to understand how the Kalahari runs throughout this section of Namibia.

The Kalahari Farmhouse is just at the edge of the village of Stampriet. The land around Stampriet is a highly productive agricultural area because of the luxury of water from artesian springs in the area. Citrus is grown here as well as large fields of vegetables.

Driving east from Stampriet toward Leonardville, the landscape is dry and somewhat bleak simply due to the monochromatic vegetation. Though to be perfectly fair, spring is underway in Namibia and there is periodic green in the landscape where two months before, all we saw was grey and tan. Given that there has been virtually no rain since early in the year, the flowering trees and shrubs that are greening up now must be mega-adapted to the desert climate they inhabit in order to put out flowers and leaves without so much as a drop of rain as encouragement.

This is the look of the road from Stampriet to Leonardville.

Actually it’s a pleasant region of rolling hills – the hills are the linear dunes of the Kalahari which run north-south and the valleys, the inter-dune expanses. Unlike the dry sand dunes of the Namib, the Kalahari dunes, which actually receive seasonal rains, can support vegetation.

What was amazing to us is that given a little water, a lush landscape as at this farm can emerge in the midst of this desert.

Here is the view just across the road from the farm (sans water).

We continued our drive but the landscape never really varied so we decided to head back to the Farmhouse for lunch and some relaxing around the pool before the game drive.

Apparently this is just the time of day that everyone relaxes around the pool.

Our game drive was a sundowner excursion across the Gondwana Collection’s private land surrounding its Anib Lodge, located about 40 km or so west of the Farmhouse. Once everyone had been sorted out (common phrase here) into three game vehicles, we took off through the desert.

 It was a beautiful late afternoon. There was welcome scattered cloud cover to temper the heat and cool air moving through the depressions between dunes, making for a beautiful drive through the dry river beds and surrounding dunes.

Among the smallest game we saw were sociable weavers who build these giant condominiums in trees and on telephone poles throughout their range in Namibia.

Our driver said that the male weavers (who build the nests) size up the trees before they begin to build in order to secure a very strong branch on a very strong tree.  If they don't find one to their liking, they build on very strong telephone poles!   Apparently you don't want to stand under a weaver nest like this one because there are Cape cobras who visit the nests to eat eggs and birds and one can simply drop on you (cousin Connie's and my worst nightmare). Pygmy falcons which are small enough to enter the nests also live there.  They do not prey on the birds in their home nest, but go to other nests to make their kills.

The sociable weavers' nests are frequently built in acacia trees.  The leaves and seed pods of the acacia tree are prime food sources for all the grazers.  According to our driver, In order to not be completely stripped of leaves, the trees have adaptations that allow them to quickly alter their leaves to make them unappetizingly bitter-tasting to the antelope and giraffe.  When their leaves are being grazed, the trees can also emit a chemical signal of some sort that floats through the air to neighboring trees, alerting them to make their own leaves bitter and thereby conserve the food-producing apparatus of the trees.

We did see giraffe, springbok, steinbok, oryx (gemsbok), ostrich, and wart hogs on the route but because of some technical problems with our lenses and decisions about who was to take video and who was to take still photos, we ended up with very few usable photos for this post.

Giraffe in the Kalahari

Steinbok, Giraffe, Oryx, Ostrich seen on Kalahari game drive
The obvious star (yes, of course that's a pun) of this drive was the sunset. The game vehicles arrive at different vantage points throughout this stretch and set up drinks and snacks on metal tables that are already at the view points waiting for a vehicle’s arrival. Our driver set up a generous array of drinks and folks milled around chatting, asking questions, and just enjoying the sunset.


Once the last thin arc of glowing sun dipped below the horizon, it was time to head back to the Lodge and then on to the Farmhouse for dinner. Our last dinner there was at candlelit tables on the lawn with a selection of tempting entrees on offer.

Such a hearty dinner made for sound and peaceful sleep.
Following a shady patio breakfast the next morning,

 it was time to head back to Windhoek.

We lingered a bit for a few more rounds of fetch

but soon enough we had to turn in our key

and say our good-byes.

We want to come back sometime later and see the Kalahari cloaked in summer green. And it will be really good to see Casper again.

October 21, 2010

Casper of the Kalahari

In early October, we headed to the Kalahari for the weekend. The professor had heard about the Kalahari all his life, had always wanted to see it, and was anxious to finally see its expanse of red sand and the animals that live there.

We had reservations at the Gondwana Collection’s Kalahari Farmhouse which is an easy drive from Windhoek -- pretty much straight south to just shy of Mariental, then southeast toward Stampriet. We got there at mid-afternoon.

We were greeted at our car by a very friendly staff member who walked us from our car to the shady compound that housed reception. At reception, they had cold wet towels waiting for us to refresh our hands and faces after our hot drive and a tall glass of peach punch to counteract the day’s heat.

Path to Reception

Kalahari Farmhouse Reception

We moved our gear into one of the gorgeous little chalets styled after old Cape Dutch farmhouses.

We were too late to make that afternoon’s sundowner game drive, so we signed up for the next day’s drive and retreated to the poolside patio for a cold drink and some relaxing time planning a 4x4 camping trip with our kids for January.

We were absorbed in measuring distances on the map when we were interrupted by a tennis ball accurately bounced just to our feet by one of the animals of the Kalahari.

Casper of the Kalahari
Casper (whose humans pronounce it with British vowel sounds, ‘Cah-spur’) is the Farmhouse guard dog and has this routine down. Every day, new humans check into the Farmhouse and predictably fall captive to his irresistible smile and cheerful demeanor. The professor, who is a push over for all domesticated animals, happily surrendered to Casper’s wily ways. After 30 or 40 times either kicking or pitching the ball and stating firmly, “Okay, but this is the last time”,

we had to retreat to a walking tour of the grounds to stop Casper from wearing himself ragged chasing his ball. Besides, new people were arriving at the Farmhouse and he needed to get them indoctrinated by dinner time.

The Kalahari Farmhouse is a working farm with its own cattle, goats, and sheep which provide both meat and milk to produce the homemade cheeses they make on site;

chickens who provide both eggs and meat; and a large garden where they grow all the vegetables served at meals.

The property is ringed on one side by grape vines for sultana production.

Gondwana actively works at offering top notch training for their staff with language classes, hospitality industry, and skills training -- even sending some of them to Europe to learn cheese and bread-making with knowledgeable European artisan producers. It’s an amazing opportunity for many of these folks who can remain in their communities, have a great job with Gondwana, and learn skills they can capitalize on through their future. Too many rural Namibians don’t have those opportunities and must leave their rural communities to move to Windhoek or Swakopmund to try to find whatever employment they can to support their families.

 Dinner that night was a candlelit braai buffet on the patio. There were game steaks, lamb kabobs, bratwurst, lamb chops, numerous vegetable side dishes, and a gorgeous tiramisu for dessert.

By dinner time, Casper had met and indoctrinated all the new guests. People were cheerfully popping up from their chairs during dinner to take turns pitching the ball for Casper (the professor included, of course).

After dinner as we headed back to our chalet for the night, through the darkness we could still hear disembodied voices calling out in accented English, the same phrase over and over again –“Okay, but this is the last time”.

October 19, 2010


We recently made a quick weekend trip to Swakopmund to see the sea. After months of endlessly sunny days, daytime temperatures now increasing into the 90’s, and dessicating single digit humidity in Windhoek, it was time to prove to ourselves that the ocean and humidity still exist. Well, they do, and only a mere 363 km (225 mi) from Windhoek. The trip traverses what has become familiar thorn and shrub veld until 20-30 km out from Swakopmund. The scenery then becomes much more desolate with thinly scattered plants on light colored sandy soil, occasional peeks of the Namib dunes to the south, and a hazy blue band of sea lying just on the western horizon.

About 20 km out from Swakopmund we began seeing clouds overhead. By the time we arrived in Swakopmund, it was completely overcast. Grey skies notwithstanding, the sight of the Atlantic ocean crashing onto the African continent was very welcome (and hydrating!).

The village of Swakopmund looks like a Bavarian movie set, built of stucco instead of wood -- but with palm trees!

Obviously, some seacoast inhabitants are present the world over.

Despite towering dunes of dry sand just at the edge of the sea, Swakopmund’s tropical climate provides for the growth of beautiful palm trees everywhere.

I was most anxious to see the phenomenon of sea on one side of the highway and towering dunes of the Namib Desert on the other. Hard as it is to believe, that’s exactly what it looks like.

Dunes on one side of the highway

Directly across on the other side of the highway
We decided to follow this incredible landscape down the highway to Walvis Bay, about 21 miles south of Swakopmund.

Road to Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay is Namibia’s only deep water port, home of its fishing industry, and also a migratory home to some flamingo and pelican colonies. Because this was just a quick one-hour jaunt, we only got to see a small flock of flamingos wading in the ocean just off the highway. It was still fun however to watch the water-walking take offs and landings and to take flamingo portraits.


 After breakfast the next morning, we drove out to the desert to see more of the dunes and the fascinating Welwitschia plants that are native to Namibia.

Traversing the desert was unlike any other drive we’ve made. It could just as well have been the moon. Across big swaths of desert terrain there was absolutely nothing but sand.

 There are some overlook areas of folded rocks

  but soon enough, it’s back to nothingness.

Just about the 100th time we remarked that we couldn’t believe how desolate it was, we saw a figure running to get away from our oncoming car.

Nothing could have been more unbelievable in the midst of nothingness!

A few kilometers further down the road, we found the Welwitschia.

It’s an amazing plant that can live up to 2000 years. Ostensibly for the entire 2000 years, there are never more than 2 leaves in this entire assembly. The leaves get tattered and wound around in a tangled mass, but the plant never grows additional leaves. A little further away was a young Welwitschia just getting started on its long life.


On leaving the desert, we had a quick lunch back in Swakopmund, said our good-byes to the sea,

and headed east back to Windhoek.

About an hour before arriving back in the city, we snapped a fuzzy photo of the African sunset as we whizzed by.

It’s no wonder folks here like their sundowners, taking the time to ponder the amazing sunsets.