Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Camping at Namtib biosphere reserve

Well so there's been many exciting adventures in my life and this must be the top of the list so far. I've learned to drive a boat, double engine rigid inflatable hull boat, driven about for a few days as well, scaled rock face, conquered a hill/mountain, seen the milky way, photographed dolphins on a rocking boat, seen wild horses, springbok, gushawk, orix, fire, camping in the cold... OKAY let me elaborate.

So on the 15th of June, we set off in the morning after some last minute grocery shopping to travel 1600m up the country side towards Aus in search of a hearsay camping site called Namtib Biosphere reserve. And after about 2 hours drive we found the first sign, indicating to turn off the main road and after another 30 mins drive we finally came to the second sign and a third 7km away. Driving off the main road along a beaten track which would be covered in savannah grass in a week if no car has passed that way in that time. It was a long drive up a smooth deceiving slope into a valley nestled in the mountains (to me, hills to them) and we finally reached the campsite. 

We had two tents, Tess and Simon in one and Sara, Shannon and me in another. It was a beautiful sight, something from the scene of lion king, where the sun peeping over the hill cast glorious rays over part of the grasslands and the shadow of the hill stretches out on the side like the "dark side" just like the movie. It was close to sundown as we finally managed to erect our tents and tent covers no matter how slipshod it was. Light was running away fast and despite torches, it was pitch black and walking to and fro the washroom 150m away could get us lost totally!

The stars were magnificent! I've always dreamed about going away to some country and seeing the sky lit up with stars and never was I able to imagine a sight like this. I was standing there mouth agape realizing why would people get into Astronomy and oh I finally see the light. Unless you have been in a place like this and witnessed it with your entire being, it is very different from watching a documentary of stars on television or even in a dark cinema. I was swept away. Walking in the darkness from the washroom I felt as if I was taking step by step into the galaxy itself. I was walking among the stars along the milky way. Oh yes I could see the shimmer of the milky way. I could not get enough of them. 

We often sat around the campfire to keep warm and with all the chatter about me I just snuggled into my extra blanket satisfied to listen to the conversation and gaze at the stars. On the first night I think I suffered from smoke inhalation and felt very uncomfortable the whole time until we doused the fire and got up. At that point I puked and brought back the delicious steak dinner we had. Oh well, I did feel much better after that.

On Saturday, a family of the neighbouring camp suggested to us a quaint waterfall nestled in a valley 15min drive away so we decided to go check it out. Taking about 2 hours of climbing up a valley of boulders and rocks before we reached the place I felt quite wary of my shoes which have been ducted taped to prevent falling apart!. There was no path so we just stumbled through the bush avoiding cacti and other various thorny bushes, Tess and Simon forged ahead, kinda ignoring us. I find the people here too independent, it would be the sort of situation in which if you were with your Sg friends you would turn around ask how are u spur each other on. But no, the scary thing was the lack of camaraderie. Picking our way across rocks and boulders each getting bigger looking as though we're traversing across the remnants of a rockslide. Avoiding nests and swarms of large wasps even I was a bit more than necessarily wary off, eyeing carcasses of rotting porcupines or something alike. When we found the rock pool, we had to find the waterfall of course, and now we travelled higher up, climbing over metre high rocks, then it crossed my mind," How are we going to get down?" ahhh.... I wished all the while I had bought trekking shoes. We set up pit stop at the waterfall. It was worth the climb. But oh they wanted to move on and I don't wanna be left behind! Moving on climbing between granite and boulders and finally I got stuck. Stuck on top a perch of boulders that I can't find a safe way off without jumping and crashing my ankles against rock. With knees trembling and in a half crouch I examined each edge and finally had no choice but choose the least steep one and sort of slid and jumped off. Then me and Sara who were separated from the group made our way back to the pitstop but completely bypassed it behind some more rocks and got lost for a bit before back tracking.

Never felt safer to meet up with the rest who were already lying in the sun dozing or reading. The scary times, sliding uncontrollably off a rockface was over and I was glad to be on solid flat ground when we reached the campsite.

But lo behold the next day they've decided to climb the hill behind the campsite! So I went up but this was harder! Because you can look behind you and see that you've climbed so high up. Inching along crevices fingers clawing into the rock for a finger hold, foothold anything. I grabbed and bushes and rockfaces hoping for something to stabilize myself as we climbed higher and higher. I had to tell Sara, I was afraid of heights! There were flat boulders, metres across and wide, flat as a floor but at an angle that you can walk up, so smooth I was afraid of sliding off but we still carried on, with me on all fours crawling up. Till I just called it quits there and waited for Sara to go to the tip and come back for me.

Waiting there, my imagination ran wild and I hollered for her but only heard my echo. Imagining the horrible slide down I thought I would be stranded and dehydrated without water or rescue and started thinking what to say in a farewell video. I'm mad. Altitude sickness HAHAHA. The way down was just as treacherous but I was overwhelmed to have overcome my fear and also be back at camp ready to end this camping experience.

Monday, 18 June 2012


It was a beautiful calm Thursday afternoon and we've launched the boat from the slipway, clambered onto the boat from the jetty. I was sitting behind the console applying sunscreen before we set off when Tess turned as asked me if i wanted to drive the boat! I was like "Noo.... hahaha..." thinking she was joking. So she asked again, I said "No really?!" And she was serious!

It is not easy! Quite heavy to put the engines into gear and the steering is much less responsive due to the water, so if you've turned right you need to counter turn to the left quite a bit to go straight after. I'm so proud of myself! Feeling good. :) Just came back from camping as well, will write about that in another post. It was a well deserved break from the office and sea days. I've been doing photo identification of bottle-nosed dolphins as fast as I can, hoping to be set to the acoustics analysis soon before I go, I think I would benefit more from learning those skills. Data collection is a serious business here in the field of research and I'm impressed with the administration and how they use efficient software to enter the data and okay I don't know about the statistical analysis, have to read up on my own for that, they won't need me to do that.

Southern Right Whale!

Spotted this one off the north coast on the calmest of days. 4/6/12. Hardly any wind, the sea was like a sheet of glass.  To me this beastie was huge already! the biggest animal I've seen so far, can you imagine if I was to ever meet a sperm whale or humpback! One day, maybe. The Right whale was about twice the length of our boat. I'm trying not to be too touristy here, I know the rest probably had their touristy spells and took all their touristy photos already. So all these boat photos are taken sneakily behind their backs probably from my jacket pocket! Embarrassing haha but its difficult and I'm proud of these few good photos I have. 

Its freezing here, the wind chills you to the bone and the openess of the town makes it colder. When I was in NY and the temperature was lower than this, it didn't feel as cold due to the buildings I suppose. Ah but out at sea my nose could've fallen off! Snuggling into a cold duvet and furry blanket on a queen-size bed now. :) I'm the lucky one among the interns for getting the larger bed, I suppose they're being nice by not taking over this bed when the intern for may left. Tomorrow's gonna be an office day!

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Heaviside Dolphins

 Endemic to these parts of Africa, I'm studying one of the smallest dolphins in the world :)

Well the office work I'm helping out with is regarding bottle-nosed dolphins. see how I have to identify photos to see if they are of the same individual or not. So after 3 days I'm almost done, went through 197 dolphins, 60 odd more to go :) I think they gave me something irrelevant to while away my time but oh well.

Its amazing, today we spotted a Southern Right whale! We went about 10m away from it nearest. My first whale sighting. Its really something different to be out at sea spotting animals, hence the wildlife tourism. But that's not good because those tourist vessels harass the animals unnecessarily and cause stress and induce trauma like propeller injuries. So.... not everyone is so lucky like me! I'm still trying to fit in. It is difficult, I don't know many of the habits, speech patterns, cooking styles, even CHOPPING. I get it all wrong. Washing one cup, big no no, have to wait for a full load. And I thought I was being good by washing when there are dishes there. And oh gosh they don't rinse the soap off! Just set it aside with all the bubbles, to either be wiped or sit there. Cooking a lot of western food like baking bread and gnooki. Well I help out with the preparation of ingredients. This I hope to bring back as something learned, though I doubt I'll know the recipe I hope to get the cooking habits and intuition. I'm really stressed when I can't fit in, don't know what to do with myself hovering about the kitchen table trying to be useful and not get in the way. UGH! I want to belong and feel relaxed! But the food they cook is great, Tess is a great cook.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

34 hours, 5 airports, 4 flights.

It was tough. Sleeping at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg was so cold the metal bench was sapping my heat away. So cold it was such a long night. All the shops were closed and there was no internet nor power sockets. At windhoek I nearly couldn't pass customs. All the counters started closing and directing me to another and the last one had escorted someone away. Scary. The last plane I took to get to Luderitz had a diameter of 2 meters interior! Smaller planes have less ear pressure, I wonder why.

 I nearly missed my last plane. The airport was so small you had to walk out to the landing strips and the waiting area was just one for all. The sign said south african airlines bound for Johannesburg so I didn't approach, yet it was time already!! so when I did go and find out it was my flight I had to literally run to the plane! and also Some one took my seat and didn't give it up!! Terrible. They are a little inconsiderate. And I've noticed they shuffle their feet while running. It is amusing. I was watching them at the airport.

When I arrived at Johannesburg, met so many people. The Chinese tourists on the flight there told me I was so brave and awesome to travel alone hahaha. They said that in passing. Then, while sleeping over at Johannesburg I met this Japanese lady, Leiko, she just spent a month in Namibia, and another in India and has no plan where's she going next! Quit her job, up-ed and left, going away for a year with a 15kg luggage and worn out normal sneakers! I wanna be like her and do that! She's 30. Sweet, smiley lady talking to any strangers that talk to her. I wonder how does she keep safe. She can't drive! Then inside Johannesburg airport after checking in I met a Chinese man going to Namibia,  he thought I was mainland chinese and I didn't understand half of what he was saying, but I did catch that he's living in Namibia and they have a substantial population of Chinese :)

When I got to Luderitz airport it was only a little bit bigger than a 5 room flat!! (The old ones) I had a mouthful of sand as a greeting from Luderitz. pui pui!! Quite funny though. Tess, the researcher I'm working under was late. Then I realised that Tess and Simon are a couple. They are the researchers I'm working under. Its alot of hard work here. There's another intern, a masters student and pHD student. Everyone's really into their work and have been here since May. I wish I was here in May, then it wouldn't be so difficult to fit in now.