September 13, 1998

South Africa: British Airways Flight 058, Cape Town-London

The "what a long strange trip it's been" entry.

(And I'm not even a Grateful Dead fan.)

Sarah McLachlan on the in-flight: cool.

I feel...I don't know _what_ I feel. Other than turbulence (several kinds, he echoed). Flattened affect.

Maybe Africa forces serenity as a survival mechanism.

I have no dramatic philosophical conclusions to draw from the last six months. I'd hate to cheapen them to a few scrawled lines even if I could.

Let's just say: I'm more who I want to be than I was when I began.

Suppose I should fill in the details of the last few days. They will be sparse: a kind of cumulative literary exhaustion has set in.

And I'm tired, too.

A long, lazy nothing day in Windhoek, that was Thursday the 3rd.

Friday, off to Cape Town, a gleaming blue luxury double-decker Intercape bus through raw wild Namibia. Chilled and sleep-stupid at the border crossing. Woke to green plains and jagged escarpments of South Africa. Shane & Maggie got on at Keetmanshoop, and saw Jason & Liz at the bus station: the Fabulous Five reunited.

Checked in to the originally named Backpack Lodge and wandered town. Cape Town _is_ San Francisco: hills & highlands, chilly sea, winelands, prison island, small walkable downtown, etc. Ate, drank, farewell'd with Jason & Liz.

Sunday, further wanders - circumnavigated Signal Hill and Lion's Head - and ate, drank, farewell'd with Shane & Maggie (at _Nando's_, of all places.)

Monday, finally checked in with my Cape Town connection, the Wichts. With my usual stunning timing, I showed up on the eve of Caroline's father's birthday party. David's brother-in-law Richard drove me to the Wichts' palatial mansion: ate, drank, swapped philosophy w/David, slept in my luxurious room.

Tuesday, an epic climb up not-very-epic Signal Hill, and more films. (Major movie fix in CT: hence few activities the first few days.)

Wednesday, and grand tour off Cape Point: a seal visit, the Chapman's Peak drive, biking down the coastal road and into the nature reserve, a v.g. picnic, hike from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope - both of which very much feel like the End of the Earth.

Thursday, aimless roving and fab THE BIG LEBOWSKI. Minibus taxis cramped, but not like Ghana's tro-tro's.

Friday, went hiking up Table Mountain with fine fellow named Gavin. Violent Arctic winds had closed the cable car, so the mountaintop was ours nearly alone. A good hike. Descended through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.

Saturday - yesterday - a winelands tour. Drank considerable quantities of very good wine, another picnic, and then an afternoon visit to the Cape Flats Nyanga township and a few beers in a shebeen. Followed by dinner with the same crowd - crocodile, ostrich, springbok & boerowors, coffee, drinking, all on Long St.

Today, gift-shopping, packing, and exodus.

South Africa: beautiful, prosperous, but very very uncertain. All the whites who can are thinking of leaving...

Here endeth the manuscript found in a Moroccan corner shop.


September 02, 1998

Namibia: Golden Gate Coffee Shop, Windhoek

OK, so I'm actually in the Sardinia Cafe, but was just in the GG, and it seems like a cooler byline.

Sipping Tafel beer. Good stuff. Ex-German colonies have their good points.

Beers I recall: San Miguel, Flag, Castel, Brakina, Bock Solibra, Star, Export 33, Mutzig, King, Castle, Zambezi, Bohlinger's, Windhoek, Tafel, Lion.

Much to report: >3000 km through Namibia's desert wastelands in the last week.

Last Tuesday, long ride from Vic Falls. Rode w/ Jason & Liz & 3 local hitchers. Spent all of 2 hours in Botswana: passed through Chobe National Park and saw hordes of elephants. Then through the fairly lush, river-striped Caprivi Strip, parallelling the Angola border. Trouble struck 20K out of Divundu when the combie (VW van) developed a massive oil leak. Got a tow from a 16-wheeler(!) to town, and when the problem proved unquickfixable, a further 200K to Rundu, where we ate a fantastic meal and crashed in a tent outside the roadside gas station/supermarket/takeaway/restaurant/hotel.

Wednesdey, Renier - guy who runs the company - stayed behind to fix his combie and sent us off in his other vehicle, a pickup, with his assistant Paul, an ex-police-special-forces veteran who'd fought UNITA in Angola and liked tourism much better. A great cook. Had to jumper the pickup's flat battery, but the ride went smoothly after that: after a stopover in Renier's house on Otavi, proceeded up to Etosha National Park, where we spent two days. Combie returned on Thursday.

Etosha is incredible: a huge park, bigger than Kruger or the Serengeti, surrounds a vast salt pan, absolutely flat bare white-gray, 100Kx60K. Thorny trees and tufts of brown grass dot the dust-clogged landscape, and the heat beats down like a hammer. Animals - thousands of springbok, hundreds of gemsbok & zebras & giraffes & wildebeest, scores of elephants and jackals, foxes, ostriches, eland, guinea fowl, rhino (at the amazing floodlit lunar-landscape watering hole by the second campsite), hyenas, and birds galore.

Saw a lioness, posed dramatically at the head of a crag overlooking the pan. Hadn't realized just how big & strong they are.

Left Etosha on Friday morning and drove across craggy, wild, barely- inhabited Damaraland, stopping at the impressive Petrified Forest, the not-bad Twyvelfontein rock art, the Burnt Mountain and the Organ Pipes, and camped at the charming Abu-Huab camp, with a terrific tree-trunk shower and a nice outdoor bar. Slept out, under the fire and under the countless stars. Started awake by dogs/jackals/hyenas (still not sure) crunching dinner's leftover bones some 5ft from me.

Saturday, into the appropriately-named Skeleton Coast, the bleakest landscape I've ever seen, a vast expanse of wind-carved rocks and sand the colour of bone, absolutely waterless, running straight up to the near-freezing sea, where a vicious salt-and-sand wind scours everything in its path. Picnicked in the lee of the combie on cucumber sandwiches, a truly bizarre sight, and picked mussels at the seashore. Made our way to the 60,000 seals at Cape Cross, swarming like clumsy army ants over the rocks and swimming with incredible grace through the sea, a sharp foul smell and a noise like a herd of satanic sheep riding wheezing Harley-Davidsons. Finally down to the spaced & spacious bungalows at Swakopmund's Mile 4 campsite, ate mussels & meat, joined by 5 new pax, slept in beds.

Sunday: Swakopmund & sand-boarding.

(scene change: Cafe Schneider, Post St. Mall)

Sandboarding was a bit delayed, so roved around Swakopmund's eerily clean, organised, Dick-Tracy-esque streets for half an hour, had first decent coffee for a while. Then to the dunes: 16 of us trekked up, each holding a board 4ft x 2ft x 3mm, polished on one side. Lay flat and plunged down. First couple rides were easy, next were dizzyingly fast, then standup down an easy slope and the grand finale: 80 kph down to a gravel plain that scratches hell out of the hardwood board. Shane (Sean?) gashed his elbows there.

Onwards (after lunch & beer) to Walvis Bay & wetlands, thousands of spindly white-and-pink flamingos, a salt factory with a mountain of NaCl, wide pools of multiple brilliant colours, salt clustered and crystallized into rock at the side of the road.

Lunch 2 at Dune 7, and off past hilarious "Sand" signs into the Namib-Naukluft. Glorious sunset from atop a kopje. Dinner, conversation, and sleep at quaint roadside Khauseb campsite.

Monday to Sesriem. A long ride through desert canyons and ridges. Stopoff at Solitaire, an extremely charming shop/hostel/cafe in the absolute middle of nowhere, with CNN and a day-old calf and fantastic homemade bread. To Sesriem, a campsite amid the Namib's dunes & crags. Chilled for a few hours, then to the Sesriem Canyon - phantastic Indiana Jones-esque place, caves and waterworn rock, sunlight peeping from gorge above, mostly dry with occasional dark pools and a flash-flood waterline far above our heads - and to Elam Dune, a barefoot climb to the top just in time for a magnificent sunset.

Tuesday - yesterday - woke up at 5 to catch sunrise at Sesriem. That first tiny gleam, like a gem on the horizon. Stunning desert landscape and fractally patterned cracked-clay-tile pans between the dunes. Then a long drive to Windhoek (via Solitaire again), some accommodation chaos sorted out eventually, magnificent meal (mmmgood kudu steak) and beer-drenched conversation at Joe's Beer House.

Today, administrivia: email, letters, this, money changing, etc.

Friday: Cape Town.