An African Diary, Part IV: Stinky Seals And Stone Carvings

IMG_1181

Day 9: Friday, November 27, 2015

The plan was to sleep in, but Rug awoke at 730am and thanks to FOMO I couldn’t stay in bed. So instead of lounging in our gloriously comfortable beds, we had a yummy breakfast, teas, showers and took our laundry in to be done.  I had connected with Leah Von Hagen and she invited us out to lunch that day, so we met at Bojo’s cafe at noon. It was so nice to see the Von Hagen’s, and it was great to touch base as I was going to be staying with them for a week at the end of my Namibia adventure. Kern, Rug and I were all sold on the waitresses suggestion of the waffle with bacon, banana and cheese – and a solid choice it was! We sat talking about life, travel and Yellowknife for hours before Leah had to head back to work. Kern kindly offered to show us around the town and take us out to Walvis Bay as we missed it coming in and Leah suggested ordering Indian food for dinner and invited us over. Once again, the outstanding generosity of people always touches my heart so deeply. They don’t just offer you information on the town, which is what I had originally asked for – they take you for lunch, drive you all over the city and the neighbouring city whilst giving you a full detailed tour – and they invite you over for dinner – giving up their entire Friday evening for two long lost faces from Yellowknife. The generosity and hospitality that I’ve received on the road from beautiful people like the Von Hagen’s is what I will remember the most about this journey. It’s the people- it always is ❤

Once we got back to their place, we got a tour of their stunning house. They started a fire (I told you it was cool on the coast!) put on some Adele and Kern picked up the Indian food, which was absolutely delicious! I hadn’t had Indian food in so long, it was such a divine treat! Then Leah threw some home made chocolate lava cakes in the oven and we waited anxiously while the sweet smells of cooking chocolate filled the house. We devoured it with a little vanilla ice cream, all the while chatting away often about the amazing adventure of travel. Having lived in South Africa, Mongolia and now Namibia, the Von Hagen’s were well travelled these last few years! As if this day wasn’t enough, Leah dug out their binoculars for us to take and gave us her Namibia handbook (which was a blessing as Rug had forgotten his in YK) to take on our journey, asking only that we report back on all of our adventures as they have yet to explore much of the country themselves, having only been here for six months so far. Rug and I left, arms and bellies full.  We bid farewell and I was able to squeeze in another yoga session at the hostel, but no bath this time. It was such a lovely evening, a nice little touch of home on the road when you’re so far from that home.

DSC_0026

Day 10: Saturday, November 28th, 2015

Today we left Swakopmund to head to our next stop, Madisa- inland and north. But on the way we were taking a slight detour and stopping at Cape Cross, 100km North of Swakopmund.  Here we would be visiting the massive fur seal colony. I had no idea what to expect. No, that’s a lie, what I expected was a beach full of adorable little seals going ‘orkk orkk orkk!’, or whatever sound seals make (basically the sound from the Little Mermaid when they crash the boat wedding), waddling around and diving off into the ocean. Cape Cross was nothing of the sort…

We stopped to buy our $8.00 permit and I was immediately sucked in by the beautiful seal skin purses and knew they would make beautiful gifts – and the prices were much more comparable than back home, so I stocked up. Plus, this was seal skin from AFRICA! We drove down the road and soon the seething dark mass of seals came into view. They obscured the entire beach; there were thousands upon thousands of them. As we pulled up and parked there were seals everywhere.

“Is this for real? No way… that has to be a statue … no, nope, it’s real! Oh my god, they are all real!”, I burst forth with repeated exclamations of my disbelief, for you see, they were perched on every surface:  every rock, every board of walkway, every space of the parking lot, every piece of sand on the beach- all straining their necks backward like an impressive cobra, sunning themselves, just meters away from the car. I was elated and jumped out of the vehicle before it was even in park.

And I stopped dead in my tracks as a wall of absolutely horrific stench hit my face.

It was abominable. “What the hell… My god it f*&king reeks out here!”, I exclaimed as I desperately tried to wrap my scarf around my face to lessen the stench. If I thought the sulphur in Iceland was bad, that smelt like daisies in comparison to this hellish odour. It was wretchedly pungent. I had no idea seals smelt so atrocious! But I soon discovered what the smell was all about. The ground wasn’t just covered in seals, it was crawling with little, black baby seals, many so new they still trailed their after birth behind them as they waddled about. But many of them weren’t crawling. In fact, they weren’t moving at all… It was shocking and sickening to see, but there were hundreds of dead baby seals littered all over the beach.  Some badly mutilated from attacks by the bulls and childless mothers fighting over the pups. 

DSC_0065

A pup is attacked and thrown by a bull

And the sounds!!! What happened to the cute little ‘ork ork ork’ from the Little Mermaid? I thought seals made cute sounds?! Not these beasts. The screams that came from them were so ridiculous I couldn’t be sure they were actually coming from the seals at all. It sounded as if a human was butchering a Chewbaca impression; it was hilarious! However, it was slightly terrifying when the larger ones were fighting, and terribly grotesque. In fact, the whole scene was terribly grotesque – fascinating but grotesque. The overwhelming pungent odour that assaulted your nose, the butchered baby seals lying about, bloody and torn, the bulls attacking and biting the poor babes as they pathetically try to defend themselves, and the comical screams and howls that punctuated the whole scene with a painful cacophony, grating on your ears – it was utter and absolute mayhem.

Yet I couldn’t tear myself away. This was a fascinating world I had never seen, not even on BBC! Seeing how the seals behaved, the way the bulls fought each there with wide open mouths, jagged sharp teeth and fat heads  wildly swinging into each other. The way the little pups wandered around crying and flopping about as if not quite understanding how their bodies worked yet. The way they all leaned their heads back towards their tail as if posing. The terrible way the bulls would attack the babies and the pitiful way they would stand their ground and bite back. The dynamics were fascinating and the photo opportunities endless.

DSC_0959

A baby cries beside his lost sibling

We lingered a long while, wandering around the boardwalk observing, photographing and being absolutely bewildered. The stench eventually drove us away and we gratefully got back in the Wildebeest and slammed our doors quickly in an attempt to eliminate the odour from penetrating the inside. But it wouldn’t be banished so easily. It lingered on our clothes and in the car for miles to come. I pulled out the amber stick of perfume I had bought in Jordan and dabbed it under our noses in an attempt to cover the rotten smell of death that hung about us. I eventually realized the smell had saturated my scarf and whipped it off in disgust after having taken a whiff and nearly dry heaving. I kept shaking my head, as if to rid it of some of the disturbing images and sounds and smells I had just experienced. I just couldn’t quite believe I had just witnessed all of that. After five minutes in complete silence, as I stared straight ahead at the lines on the road blurring past us, I said, in nearly a whisper, ‘What the hell was that…’ .

DSC_0983

Rug just shook his head slowly… “That may have been the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” I continued.

“Yup”, Rug agreed without hesitation. We were clearly disturbed by the whole experience. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved it – I wouldn’t miss seeing the seal colony – it truly is a remarkable experience. Just be prepared for what you will see/smell/ hear!

DSC_0080

We had a couple more hours of driving ahead of us as we veered inland, heading east into Damaraland. The white dunes and sand gave way to red earth and soon mountains that appeared strangely out of place erupted from the flat plains all around. We passed a few Himba women who would try to wave you over to their little hut to buy some of their crafts. They flailed their red mud streaked arms that matched their matted, mudded hair. Later four young boys ran right into the middle of the road trying to flag us down to buy something from their shop. These crazy kids are going to get run over the way they bolt into the road like that! We didn’t see much wildlife here, mostly just cows, horses, donkeys and goats. Side note- I think I discovered that if you shower, the flies like you even more! They are infuriating! I can’t help but think of all the commercials I saw my whole life about sponsoring children in Africa, their young faces and bright big eyes staring into the camera, flies crawling all over them, and I wondered why they never swatted them away. Now that I see the incredible amount of flies here I understand – you can swat them away, but ten more will replace them in a second! They are relentless! While no they don’t bite, they swarm your face especially and crawl all over you and are much larger than mosquitos. And since I just showered they seemed to increase by tenfold! ARGH!!

DSC_0089

Madisa was a small community run camp that we were staying at. It sat nestled between several massive piles of boulders that created mini mountains.  A dry river bed cut through the centre and huge acacia trees offered much needed shade. A circular pool with a massive boulder in the middle offered refuge from the intense heat. We left the cool ocean breeze behind only to be greeted by the infernal heat of the inland Africa again. Each campsite runs in a circular shape, has a small fire pit and huge piece of dead tree that serves as a seating bench, a huge beautiful moapne tree within the circle and several outside its two foot high brick perimeter to offer shade. A brick counter with a sink and an area for a fire to heat your own hot water stood at the back next to the elevated shower and toilet complex, both roofless and totally open to the heavens above. The mud walls were created in the same fashion the Damara people used to make their houses. We felt at home instantly in the charming camp, welcomed warmly by the friendly staff. There was only one other campsite filled so it felt like we had the place to ourselves, as usual!

I decided to throw down my yoga mat and get in a nice session in the shade as it was nearly 5pm when the day was beginning to cool down. This was the session I really felt like was connecting to my practice in Africa.    

I began to meditate:

As I lie on my mat, I can feel the heat of the scorched earth beneath me that’s been baking in the sun all day. I can smell dust, dry and hot earth as it twirls in whirlwinds around me. I take the heat of the earth into my body – thanking her for her warming gift. I stare up from savasana through the verdant green lung shaped leaves of the mopane tree that lovingly hangs over and shades me. I hear the steady high pitched whir of the cicadas song as they rub their legs together, hidden in the trees. This and the rustling of those bronchial leaves are the only sounds, the sounds of the earth. I feel so blessedly grounded in this moment. So blissfully full. So perfectly content. So at peace.
Om Shanti.
   

IMG_1338                 

After I rolled up my yoga mat, we made our way over to the largest boulder pile mountain and climbed  up to watch sunset. The view was stunning. All before us and all around us for miles on end was the open plain sparsely dotted with trees and lone mountains here and there by the horizon as the sun sank. Sometimes you find yourself sitting on top of an ancient pile of massive boulders on the oldest corner of the planet, watching the sun sink down beneath the distant mountains, the vast African plains spread out before you, dotted with the green tops of acacia trees every which way you look. And you think, ‘holy shit, this is my life right now… this is one crazy, special spectacular moment of my life and I never want to forget it.” So you take a picture. You take a video even. And you write about it. But nothing can capture the vividness of the moment, of the emotions the moment makes you feel. I am so happy. I am so blessed. I am so full of life.

The night cooled off significantly and I ended up being quite cold in the tent which is surprising considering how damn hot it was in the day! But I soon drifted off to sleep with dreams of what tomorrow would bring. 

Day 11: Sunday, November 29, 2015

I didn’t have the best night. I slept okay from about 11pm-5am. I knew I hadn’t drunk enough water when I awoke at 5 and had to go pee but not bad enough to merit leaving the tent so I went back to sleep pulling my blanket over my head as I was so cold. Rug had been snoring all night and it continued in the morning even with all my nudges and kicks. I finally couldn’t take it and grabbed my blanket and pillows and headed into the truck for silence and more sweaters. The rest of my morning wasn’t exactly comfortable and I had another case of terrible sleep paralysis and was sure if I could get my eyes open I would see someone or something attacking the truck through the windows, coming for me.  Giving up on anymore sleep, I got up, threw on the tea and put together some granola, yogurt, apples and banana for breakfast. We hit the road around 1030am looking for elephants and stone carvings, but finding only the latter.

DSC_0155

We drove to Twylfelfontein which means ‘doubtful spring’ in Afrikaans. The original Damara name was Ui Ais (jumping waterhole). We had a guide take us through the World Heritage site and explain the drawings and history. The heat was unbearable and I kept looking for shadows cast by boulders to shade my feet because they felt like they were going to split open like meat over a fire, the heat was so intense. The carvings/drawings were made into sandstone between 2000 and 6000 years ago and are still nearly perfectly preserved out in the elements completely exposed because it is so incredibly dry here; there is never any rain nor hardly any wind. It remains one of the largest concentrations of petroglyphs in all of Africa. There were beautiful depictions of the animals in Namibia – many of the drawings were used to teach children  – the sandstone their chalkboard. They would draw the animals and their foot prints to teach the children what to look for when tracking and hunting. The last drawing we saw was the most famous of the area- the lion, but I’ll be honest, we were grateful when the short tour was over so we could get out of the scorching heat and crank the AC back in the truck and tend our burning skin.

We stopped to play with the ubiquitous ground squirrel who wasn’t the least bit shy, before we left, coming right up to sniff our hands and say hello. Next we drove out to see the underwhelming organ pipes – rock formations like the basalt columns in Iceland but no where near as spectacular. Next was the burnt mountains, close by, two rather lack lustre sights, but perhaps more interesting to geologists. Our last stop was the one I was looking forward to the most – the petrified forest. Here we walked with our guide among 280 million year old trees that had come down a river long ago and been buried beneath the earth by alluvial sands, suffocated from oxygen. The trees trunks remained in tact and completely petrified . It was bizarre because my brain and eyes were telling me I was seeing a tree trunk laying on the ground, that I was seeing wood because that’s what it looked like, a tree trunk! But when I touched it I was touching rock solid rock!

DSC_0170

You could see the knots, the bark, the broken areas where branches had snapped off and even count the rings! One piece had quartz growing on the side of it! It was quite a unique sight, but the heat again made it difficult to want to linger or even focus on what I was learning and seeing because the whole time I kept thinking, “my god the sunscreen isn’t working… I’m meeeellllting!”.  We wanted to head out to the Skeleton coast for the rest of the day but after reading up on it, we discovered they have this silly rule about entering through one gate and not being abel to leave through the same one – and there was no driving in dark allowed. It would easily take us 6 hours to drive out to the coast and down through the park from the East gate to the South gate, and already being 2pm it was out of the question. Instead we headed back to camp and I put together a new yoga playlist and put down my mat under the beautiful sheltering mopane tree for a healing Sivananda session.  I felt on top of the world during and after. Famished, I put together my first pasta salad ever, using the leftover way too spicy pasta from last nights dinner, added some plain yogurt, chopped up yellow pepper and cubes of cheddar cheese.  It was pretty damn good if I do say so myself! And then I treated myself to a nice warm shower; the heat of the sun had left me with plenty of warm water so I didn’t need to heat any up myself! It felt so good to wash the sweat and dust of the day off. And now I sit writing, catching up on my journal, listening to my lovely music with the sun set and the last of the daylight fading fast and the night cooling quickly.

And so, tomorrow is the day we’ve been waiting for…tomorrow we are off too.. ETOSHA!!!!

xoxox

Brittany

DSC_0055

P.S. Stay tuned for part V coming soon – this is where things start to get really exciting!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s