Thursday, September 30, 2010

Far-out Farm Sign

I just love this sign at the entrance to a farm on the gravel road between Aus and Helmeringhausen in Southern Namibia, a road I travel often.

The area here is very desolate but ideal for sheep farming. The short tree in the images is a Quiver Tree - Aloe dichotoma or, 'Kokerboom' in Afrikaans.


Monday, September 27, 2010

How 'Alien Gap' Got It's Name

Well, because of the interest shown in 'Alien Gap' mentioned in my previous post, I'll tell the story:

As you can make out from the pic above, the area is very rocky and at this spot the road inclines steeply to the top of a hill which has a narrow cutting through which only one car can safely pass at a time.

Late one moonless night I was traveling this Orange River road, my daughter Megan in the passenger seat and a Fox Terrier named 'Boo' sitting on the backseat.

The Corolla was functioning normally but Megan and I were both feeling tired after a day-long journey.

As we approached Alien Gap and were about to drive up the incline, the car suddenly lost power and stopped dead in the middle of the road. The engine was still running but I couldn't get the car to move, it was as if there was no connection between the wheels and the engine.

All of a sudden Boo jumped up and started snarling and barking furiously at 'something' outside the window behind me - I've never in my life seen a dog so terrified, he was in a state of total panic - the whole 'atmosphere' was highly charged and the hair on the back of my neck was probably standing straight up.

It was pitch-dark outside and the whole episode felt like one of those dreams where you're trying to escape from something but, despite all your efforts, you just can't move or make progress ... it was as if a 'force' was holding us there.

After what seemed like ages but was probably only about minute and a half, I finally got the car to edge forward slowly up the hill and, having passed through the cutting we continued on our journey without further incident.

Both Megan and I were baffled by the incident and the way the dog had gone completely crazy. Having no rational answer we jokingly speculated that we'd had an "Alien Encounter" ...

... but that's not the end of the story ...

A few weeks later I was traveling with three passengers in a DIFFERENT car, (a four-wheel drive vehicle), on a flat stretch of the same road in broad daylight. All of a sudden the same thing happened - with the engine still running, the car suddenly lost power and started slowing down ... this lasted about 20 seconds before the wheels seemed to 'engage' again and we continued driving.

The funny side of this second incident is that everyone was aware of the 'Alien Gap' story and, when the vehicle lost power, we all looked out the windows and up at the skies as if in search of 'flying saucers' - and then looked sheepishly at each other when we realized what we'd just done ...

As for Boo, he was never the same after Alien Gap ... one day, at my home in the north, he disappeared and, after a search, I found him standing in a patch of long grass, stiff-legged and staring blankly straight ahead. He was unresponsive to my calls and appeared to be looking right through me. Far from any vet and afraid that he had rabies, I had no choice but to put him down - the test results showed that he didn't have the dreaded disease ... so what made him lose his mind?

So there you have it, the story of Alien Gap ... do you have a possible explanation for these incidents, was it just a coincidence of two mechanical failures?


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Namibia's Stunning Orange River Road

The 2,200 km Gariep, (or Orange River as it is commonly known), has it's source in Lesotho's Drakensberg Mountains and for the last 550 km of it's westward journey to the Atlantic Ocean, forms the international border between Namibia and South Africa.

This post highlights the 160 km stretch between the town of Rosh Pinah in the West and the Noordoewer border post in the East, a road I travel often.

On leaving Rosh Pinah, the road descends a few hundred meters down to the river. This is one of my favorite scenes - I've named the mountain in the distance 'Flower Mountain' because looks like a rosebud about to bloom.

Behind Flower Mountain is the Sendelingsdrift border post with pontoon access to South Africa's Richtersveld National Park

The scenery on this stretch of road is spectacular and, until recently, has been one of Namibia's best-kept secrets.

The Orange river is responsible for Namibia's diamond wealth, having carried the crystals from South Africa's Kimberly area millions of years ago.

The river normally flows peacefully, with no diseases, crocodiles or hippos. The last hippo was shot by a poacher in the early 20th century but there is talk of reintroducing the species in certain areas.

The 50 km near Noordoewer is a popular stretch for canoeists because the area offers unique fauna and flora, rock formations and perfect all year temperatures.

The Boom River, one of the seasonal streams flowing into the Orange, is a spot where I often see Baboons and Vervet Monkeys. The river also abounds with bird life, especially large water birds.

The dirt road twists and winds around cliffs and mountains and in some places there is space for only one vehicle to pass.

This pic was taken a few years ago when the area had really good rainfall and the whole desert burst into flower.

'Alien Gap' - so named because late one night I had a very strange experience here. I've said before in an earlier post that I've felt some unexplained 'powers' or 'forces' in the desert - I'll just leave it at that for fear of being called a 'nutter'.

The mountains overlooking Aussenkehr - the pastel colors around here have to be seen to be appreciated, images don't really capture the beauty.

I wish I could show all my pics of the area in this post - you guys will just have to come check it out for yourselves ... :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Horse & Donkeycarts

Donkey-drawn carts are a common form of transport in rural areas of Namibia, here a pair of them drag a cart up a steep incline.

Horse-drawn carts are sometimes seen on highways in cities like Cape Town, I think these guys probably make a living transporting things.

Two women and kids cross the Fish River Bridge near Kalkrand.

Elderly folks return from town, near Maltahohe.

Hawkers in Cape Town, South Africa.

Donkey cart loaded with firewood near Rehoboth, Namibia.

A family outing.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Aussenkehr - Reed Huts and Grapes

Aussenkehr is a man-made 'oasis' on the banks of the Orange River in southern Namibia. It owes it's existence to a number of grape farming projects which ensure employment for thousands.

Most of the workers here are from the Kavango region of northern Namibia - they've imported their style of hut-building to the south. Reeds are gathered from the river bank.

A view showing the desolation of the area. Across the river in South Africa, the Richtersveld, with the Orange River running a green lifeline through the desert.

Huts in the desert.

A room with a view.

I guess you could call this environmental minimalism?

A storage hut in the Aussenkehr community constructed with wood, grass and mud.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 - An African Remembers

September 11, 2001 was just another day-in-the-life for me; I was sweating in the Namibian spring sunshine, building on my house.

I vaguely knew about Al-Qaeda because of the US embassy bombings in East Africa and the attack on the USS Cole. In my mind New York was just another termite mound, irrelevant in my world. The Twin Towers? ... I wasn't even aware of their existence.

I remember feeling thirsty and going inside to take a break and make a cup of tea.

Waiting for the water to boil, I switched on the TV and flicked through the channels to CNN - on the screen was a live image of a skyscraper with smoke billowing from it, the news anchor reporting that an aircraft had hit the building. An unfortunate aviation accident? I was about to go outside again when another aircraft crashed into the other tower. WTF was going on here? From that moment I was transfixed, all thoughts of work forgotten.

Someone was attacking the United States. Reports of hijackings, an aircraft crashing into the Pentagon, people jumping to escape the flames, repeated footage of the aircraft hitting the building, news anchors openly crying and - the ultimate horror - the two towers collapsing. People were dying live before my eyes, ... I was stunned and can't describe my emotions.

Later, I went online to my favorite chat room to offer condolences to my American friends. One of them said "It's no big deal". NO-FUCKING-BIG-DEAL? I couldn't believe his nonchalance - hundreds, perhaps thousands, of his fellow countrymen had just died a horrible death. No big deal? ... I had no response.

A lady asked me in private conversation "Why does the world hate America so much?". My first impulse was to say "Because of what they see on the Jerry Springer Show" ... but no, that would have been absurd ... instead I just replied "I don't know".

Eventually I went to bed and slipped into a troubled sleep. Sometime during the night I half-awoke; the wind was blowing hard outside and, in that otherworld between dreaming and consciousness, I knew it was the spirits of the dead wailing through the trees ...


Thursday, September 9, 2010

How's The Weather Up There?

The name "Giraffe" comes from the Arabic zarafa, meaning creature of grace and one that walks safely. Their Afrikaans name is kameelperd which, literally translated, means 'camel horse'.

There are about 2500 Giraffe in Namibia, about 1400 of them in the Etosha National Park. The sub-species found here is Giraffa camelopardalis angolensis.

A female chewing on a mouthful of leaves.

Giraffe browse mainly off the top trees but will also occasionally graze on fresh sprouting grasses.

The short 'horns' are bony outgrowths covered by skin, the tops covered with black hair - in females the entire top of the horn is tufted, while in males it is bald with hair around the circumference of the knob.

Giraffe drink water when it is available but, are not dependent on it, as they are able to obtain their moisture from the plants that they eat.

Amy Schoeman - Notes On Nature


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Crocodile Ranch

Earlier this year I visited our local Crocodile Ranch - it's in an unusual location because Otjiwarongo is far from their natural habitat in northern Namibia where they're found in the Kunene, Okavango, Zambezi, Liambezi and Kwando Rivers as well as in the Okavango Swamps.

Our local species is the Nile Crocodile, Crocodylus niloticus, which is, (or was), widespread throughout central and southern Africa. The bigger ones in these pics are for breeding purposes.

A very large specimen going walkies - they don't seem to walk very far before flopping down on their bellies to rest.

Personally, these reptiles give me the creeps, I think it's their cold eyes that turn me off. At least with a Lion, it seems that they may be open to discussion before they eat you - not so with a croc.

One of the nurseries. If I remember correctly our guide, Tate Ganache, said that these were about two years old.

They're bred mainly for their skins which are made into belts, handbags and shoes. I checked-out some of the items on sale and was astounded at the prices they were asking, way beyond what the average person could afford (if you're inclined to adorn yourself with crocodile skin).

Apparently, some of the meat is eaten in exotic restaurants but ewwwww ... not for me thanks!

There are hundreds of young crocs in the temperature-controlled nurseries. It's pretty humid and smelly in there.

I couldn't resist asking Tate Ganache how they were slaughtered when they are ready to be harvested and he replied that they're dispatched with a .22 bullet in the skull.

Smile for the camera.

A croc's teeth are not used for chewing, they serve as clamps to hold their prey while they drag it under the water. If a tooth is lost, it is soon replaced by a new one. They account for many human deaths in Africa each year

Crocodile Toilets - everyone knows it's not cool to pee in the pool ...

Crocodiles have an immensely long evolutionary history, 'relics' from the Mesozoic Era between 140 to 240 million years ago, they have seen continents shift and have persisted through many ice ages - can they survive the age of Man?

Amy Schoeman - Notes On Nature


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Termites - Insect Mountain Builders

A distinctive feature of the Namibian landscape north of the Swakop River are the so-called 'Ant Hills' or termite mounds.

These structures - Termitaria - are constructed by the fungus-grower termites Macrotermes mossambicus. Fungus gardens are situated near the base of the termitary.

Termites are often erroneously referred to as 'white ants' - termites are not true ants.

A pic to show just how huge these mounds can be - they do get taller than this.

A termitary built around the base of a tree, it doesn't seem to affect the tree at all.

The mounds are most distinctive in the rising or setting sun - this pic was taken on a cloudy day.

They come in all shapes and sizes, the color being dependent on the soil they're built on.

The hole in this one was probably made by an Antbear or 'Aardvark' hunting for food - I wonder who lives there now?

In his book The Soul Of The White Ant, Eugene Marais puts forward the theory that a termitary is a separate composite animal.

This one has been worn smooth - it's been used by Elephant and/or Rhino as a scratching post.

Here's a link to an earlier post I did on the yummy giant mushroom found on these termitarium during summer: Omahova


Amy Schoeman - Notes On Nature.