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Africa Travel Journal Blog - Calvin & Sharon

On June 25 2005, we embark upon a six week adventure trip to Africa, starting in Namibia, hoping to make our way into Botswana. The following is our journal, as we experience it. Our hope is to update this regularly (via a satellite phone connection) as we make our journey. We like to rough it, and expect that this trip will be no different. Our most interesting times have been in homestays, so we will looking for these opportunities.

Without a tour or any definite plans, we will be living out of a Land Rover with another couple (Dan & Ingrid), trying to find interesting people, places and experiences.

In Namibia, we hope to get to the northern border with Angola, where we would like to spend some time with the indigenous Himba people.

Photos From Africa Trip

My hope is that I will be able to upload photos occasionally (whenever we pass through larger towns with access). Check my Africa Photo Gallery if the journal below indicates that new photos are available!

2005-08-26: Photos & Stories being Uploaded!!!

A selection of photos from the Africa trip are currently being uploaded. Stories next. Please check back over the next few days!!!

Latest Stories

Latest Photos

  • 08/23 - North Cape Village
  • 08/21 - Bushman Rock Carvings
  • 08/16 - Oshakati Bars
  • 08/16 - Etosha Wildlife
  • 08/15 - Botswana
  • 08/14 - Himba, Soweto


2005-08-10: Bushmen of the Desert

Having spent the final two weeks of our journey far from the reach of electricity, we found ourselves in some of the most remote wilderness, with no certainty that we'd have enough gas to leave.

Arriving in a small village of the !Kung San people (also known as the Bushmen), we meet men and women who have survived as hunter-gatherers for nearly 30,000 years. Unfortunately, the outlook is grim as their lifestyle is now being displaced and eroded by commercial ventures and farming.

Story will appear here soon


2005-07-28: Northern Botswana

We have just spent the last week driving through the Kalahari Desert and on to the Moremi Reserve. Incredible experience having lions, elephants, leopards, hippos, hyenas, baboons and other animals come through your campsite.

We are now on our way to the northern reaches of Botswana to the Caprivi Strip, the narrow section of Namibian land dividing Angola from Botswana. From there we plan to head through the Bushman villages and finally on our way back home!

Story to come later


2005-07-19: In Land Rover, heading to Botswana

Finally, we meet up with Dan & Ingrid and their Land Rover!!

We are outfitting the vehicle with extra fuel cans and driving east across into South Africa briefly and then into Botswana from the south.


2005-07-17: Various Photos

Epupa Falls at Dusk

Trying to stay warm at Sesriem



Having spent a good amount of time with Nelson, a Herero man who came with us for much of the north, it was time to go our own way.

With our last day in Windhoek, we headed over to the township or location as they are called here. In contrast with the township and squatter camps of Soweto, Katatura appeared to be much less destitute. The squatter camp homes of Katatura were built from corrugated metal siding for all walls and the roof. Situated on the top of a steep dusty hill, the sprawling range of homes extends in all directions. Each home has a number painted on its side to help locating in an emergency. Scattered throughout the area are tuck shops, homes of entrepreneurs who sell everything from bottles to hair cuts. Much like Soweto, they have the same troubles with a limited water supply and toilets shared between too many families.

Walking through the singles quarters, a common area providing cover for people to sell their foods, I see nearly everything for sale. I was actually tempted to eat one of the thick roasted mopane worms that I saw spilling out of an overflowing sack, but without water on hand, I didn't fancy keeping the taste in my mouth for long! Moving on further, red peppers, cabbage, and rows upon rows of butcher tables. A girl sitting with two white tubs of brown frothy mixture offered me a drink of her home-made beer. Tradition is for her to take a drink of the mix from the bowl before me.

The butcher tables were heaping with inside-out cattle parts, many looking very fresh. A man holds a cow kidney in his hand like a baseball, ready to drop it on the grill. The barbecues were full of activity, roasting everything in sight. A quiet cow head looks longingly at me from the ground, it's hoofed feet proped against it's ears... Somehow I didn't feel hungry.

We walk in to the local community centre, designed to give youth who cannot afford college a talent that will keep them off the streets. Meeting the students and teachers, we had a chance to see their artwork in progress, many finding influence from photos and magazines strewn around the centre. Others explored themes of life around the township, bringing eerie symbols of daily life to the canvas.

Leaving to the dark train station, we climbed on the noisy locomotive at 7PM. Finding our seats, I was immediately reminded of our local bus trip to Puno in Peru -- although the smell was not quite so colorful... Over the next 12 hours, I told myself that it must be fried chicken, but I have my doubts.

With seats much like in the airplanes, freezing cold and frequent jolts, bangs and lurches -- it was a difficult sleep. Arriving just before sunrise, we enter the town of Keetmanshoop, the hub of southern Namibia.


2005-07-13: Southward Bound

After covering roughly 3,000 km of mainly dirt roads throughout Namibia, we are now going to be taking an overnight train towards the southern border of Namibia with South Africa (Keetmanshoop). We still haven't met our friends with the Land Rover as they have had endless troubles with their vehicle. However, it sounds looks like the end of the repairs might be in sight . Hopefully they'll be able to drive up part-way to meet us when we arrive in a couple days!


2005-07-11: Waterholes at Night

As I write this my fingers are numb from the freezing cold. I have been sitting fifty feet from this waterhole since 5:30AM, which is when I first heard the roar of a lion somewhere near my tent. Although the male never showed up, two small cubs could be seen quietly stepping over the stones on their way to the water.

While sitting at a waterhole, one is treated to a procession of animals, usually one group drinking while the next is patiently waiting. With the golden splinters of dawn slowly creeping across the barren landscape, a solitary white rhino drinks away, occasionally lifting its head to check for unannounced visitors. Having finished its fill, the rhino runs across the stones toward the distant trees, scattering a still herd of Zebra in the process. Each group getting its five or ten minutes share of the water, I leave after having watched the dainty springbok, zebra, guinea fowl, jittery jackals, elephants and gemsbok all take their turn.

Last night this hole was alive with activity. The sun falls bringing a gold-to-blue gradient to the sky. The thin crescent moon and a nearby bright star also make their way to the darkening horizon. Elephants call out in the distance. Jackals join in with an eery laughing howl. The brim of the waterhole is teeming with the silhouettes of little black birds collectively issuing a bubbly chirp. The first visitor to the edge of the pond is a skitterish jackal, drinking for only a couple seconds before snapping its head up to look left and right, then back down again, repeating its nervous drinking manner for a few minutes before running off.

A lonely springbok tiptoes to the pond, only to find itself inside a circling mass of six jackals. The springbok desperately tries to keep facing the jackal in front, only to have the jackals behind snap at his hind legs. Immediately, he spins around, facing the latest bite, only to be bitten again from another direction. Each time the springbok turns, the jackal in front backs off cowardly. For the next hour he jumps and turns, constantly being tormented by jackals with eyes glowing a yellow-green. I find myself disappointed with the jackals' progress in time for a line of silent elephants to walk through the scene, temporarily breaking up the routine.

The elephants took long pulls of the water, dumping the contents of their trunk into their mouths. The baby elephant, not more than four feet tall, tried to mimic its mother, but without full understanding how to get effective sips. The large bull of the herd stood silently, keeping a careful watch.

In the distant dark, the unmistakable shape of six giraffes patiently waiting. Unfortunately for the shy giraffe, it seems that they will have to wait all night...


2005-07-10: Etosha National Park

The sheer size of Etosha (23,000 square km) is overwhelming. Gravel roads pass through vast open expanses with little more than grass and low shrubs, to regions of dense trees and huge salt pans. Many of the eastern regions were crawling with wildlife.

Looking at the map of Etosha, one is faced with a wide selection of water holes (natural and man-made) to choose from. Distances are great, and getting from one campsite to the next can be 150km of gravel roads. Little white concrete pyramids mark the start of each road leading to another vista or waterhole, and remind in red, "Stay in Your Car". In the winter months, Etosha sees very little rain, and thus the land has dried up leaving only a few small waterholes for the animals to choose from. As many of the animals need to feed at the waterhole every day, the natural muddy ponds serve as great concentrators for wildlife.

At first we stopped for every springbok, zebra, blue wildebeast or gemsbok, but over time we became desensitized to these beautiful creatures, instead focusing our sights on some of the harder-to-see varieties. Unlike other parks, Etosha has a strict stay in-your-car rule. There are roughly 100 lions scattered throughout the 23,000 square kilometers that make up the park.

It quickly became apparent that we would not feel "successful" in our wildlife search unless we walked away with having seen a lion. Looking through the sightings book we could see a number of entries over the past few days of others who boasted seeing 2, 5 or even 10 lions. Frantically searching every shady tree and waterhole, we were always on the lookout for some lion cubs taking cover from the midday sun. Over time we learnt that the lions are very hard to spot during the daytime (taking cover from the heat) and that morning would make for better chances.

Early this morning we set out to the Goas waterhole in time for sunrise and were rewarded with 16 lions lounging in the crisp cool air. While a few of the olders lions sat peacefully, the younger cubs were tumbling over one another, play-fighting with their long fangs bared for all to fear. Half an hour later, the lions slowly picked up and started strolling towards the gravel road. Driving ahead to place ourselves in their path, we stopped and waited. With our windows down, we froze as they proudly walked around our car, looking up at us as they passed by.

It was hard to resist the urge to roll up my window, for it seemed an easy matter for one of these predators to jump in beside me. Apparently, lions don't attack people in cars as they only see you as prey once you've stepped out. Getting out to fix a flat tire can be an unsettling experience.

With the lions having departed for the trees, we drove off, along with four other cars who also witnessed the morning show. Just like clockwork, a volkswagen camper van with an elderly couple raced towards the waterhole, excited to see so many cars -- an obvious sign of something exciting. We didn't have the heart to tell them what they missed.


2005-07-08: Night Games

You're not supposed to drive at night...

But daylight fell hours ago and we're still hurtling along the dark highway, Nelson at the wheel, chewing on biltong. Apparently this stretch is notorious for accidents. We're trying to cover another hundred kilometers or so, and the boredom of long distances begins to set in.

There was no way that I was going to fall asleep, as it quickly became apparent that drivers here play little games to keep themselves awake. What I watched was a game of reaction time and pride, heightened by the thought of a car crash.

The game? A ritual exchange of high-beams with every oncoming car or overloaded semi. Deviations from the pattern are grounds for revenge.

It was clear that Nelson took it as a personal attack if someone left their high-beams on too long. Rightly so, for you can't see where you're going, eyes having only adjusted to moonlight. But his pride won't let it go.

The pattern: both cars have their high-beams on. Someone will eventually decide that it's time to drop them, even if they are still a kilometer apart (the weaker driver). The other driver has only a couple seconds to drop theirs before the first driver will take offence. A flash of the high-beams should wake up the other driver, but reaction times can be a bit slow. Eventually, both drivers will dim their lights, but this is where the revenge comes in...

Often, a driver will turn back on their high-beams just before they pass by, blinding you at the wheel. Boy, did this ever get under Nelson's skin. With as fast a reaction as possible, Nelson would mash the lever for his beams, hoping to have the last word with the oncoming driver. Frustration and swearing sets in if he didn't get to the lever in time.

This game of blinding each other just as they pass comes down to pride. Unfortunately, it often seemed that Nelson would be trying to blind oncoming semi-truck drivers, just to teach them a lesson. The last thing you need is a huge truck with a blind driver just about to hit you. But at least we'd get the last laugh.

"You see, these people are so silly," Nelson would respond, driving with his knees. With a wooden matchstick in one hand and a knife in the other, he proceeds to carve himself a toothpick, driving 100 at night.



This last week has been incredible. One of those moments that open up your eyes to life outside one's own.

Making our journey north as far as the border with Angola, we found ourselves in the land of the indigenous Himba people. With hundreds of kilometres of rough dirt roads seeing very few people ever passing, one must come prepared: a week's worth of water and food. Getting punctures is easy; getting stuck without help for days could be disastrous. With the isolation comes the preservation of local culture.

As we see three young Himba girls at the side of a nearby settlement their striking appearance gives an immediate sense of timeless existence.

The Himba are one of the last remaining hunter gatherer groups in Africa. Until 20 years ago, many of them still hunted with stone implements. Without any real land entitlement, they are nomadic, settling in temporary homes for a few months before moving on. When the earth is no longer ripe for cattle and crops, they pack up their few possessions and walk as far as necessary to find fresh land.

We approach a settlement with three small homes and a larger one for the holy fire. The homes are usually built from mopane branches stacked like a tent, which are pasted with cattle manure, creating a solid orange-red home, dry even during the rainy season.

Greeting a young Himba girl in the native tongue, we ask her for the chief. She points off into the distance and calls out. Sometime later, a young man approaches, wearing a blue mesh shirt, red print cloth and shoes cleverly fashioned from a discarded tire. After the traditional exchange of greetings, we ask him if we could enter their settlement and visit. Agreeing, we make an offer of a 10kg bag of mealie maize, the staple of their diet. One must never enter a Himba settlement without first talking to the chief or the chief of the holy fire (if one exists).

Life is simple in the settlement, though entails hard work. Their worth is dictated wholly by the size of their cattle herd, some amounting to as many as 200. Walking great distances (up to 50km a day), they must walk far to gather water or round up their herd. They are incredibly efficient with water, able to feed a family for several days on a litre of water. The morning ritual for the women starts with a cleansing and the application of the bright red ochre powder (derived of rocks from Ruacana) with butter. Acting as a natural moisturizer, the coating lasts for days and gives the bare-chested Himba their striking appearance.

Hair and jewellery play an important part of the Himba's attire, indicating one's marital status and puberty. Males wear a thick necklace made from loops of shell and a black tarry mixture of manure and ochre. These necklaces, over an inch thick, are donned as a young child, worn for life and must never be removed. Similarly, women wear tall anklets made from metal beads and fabric, again never to be removed. Young girls have hair matted down with ochre and butterfat into long braids hanging down in front of their faces or wound into two horn-like bumps with animal hide.

A nearby pile of ten cattle skulls, surrounded by stones, marks the grave of a once prominent member of their group. Flies constantly settle on my face, and I grow tired of waving them away.

Himba men are known for their fierce fighting; their wooden sticks or machetes carried everywhere. Even in the dusty town of Opuwo, men carry their weapons daily in preparation for fight. Confrontation often breaks out over theft of cattle, division of cattle between siblings and rape; but even small verbal disagreements can trigger these life or death matches. If you kill someone in a fight you must give the deceased's family 37 cattle, only 8 if you maim or injure. It is hard to understand what little value is placed on one's life.

The chief shows me his arm which has a large weeping wound, caused when he fell from his cattle earlier in the day. Putting on some latex gloves I applied ointment, gauze and a tensor bandage for him and did my best to explain how to redress the wound. Unfortunately I must have put on the bandage a little tight as he returned later with a bluish arm and motioned for me to fix it. Oops!

Turning to see the cause of the noise behind me, a young boy is dragging a goat for slaughter, the goat digging his hoofs into the ground, seemingly aware of his fate. The rest of the goats are held in a small square enclosure made from thick branches driven into the earth. Running across the dusty dry ground is a hen, five hatchlings in tow, hopping over the pebbles.

All of the tradition aside, the Himba people are slowly adapting to the life in more developed regions. Some Himba people make the occasional journey to towns like Opuwo, some live within the town while others have never ventured outside their own settlement. Driving along the lengthy gravel roads between the villages and the town, one is constantly encountering a Himba in traditional garb motioning with their hand for you to stop. The young children are typically asking for sweets, while most others will ask to hitch a ride in your car. Even if your car is full of gear, no seats remaining, they will often peer through your window and point out space on top of your luggage at the back, or on the roof. Accepting, you should be prepared for the tough red ochre stains that will remind you long in the future of your generosity.

While every girl and woman wears only a leather loin cloth and a variety of handmade accessories, the men are often seen in printed fabric "lap" (printed cloth worn around their waist), while others also wear T-shirts typically depicting some outdated logo or slogan.

A young child, only one year old, runs to me and lies down across my leg, ready to sleep. My khaki pants and shirt now covered in bright red paint, drool and other treats, the mom picks him up and cuts his hair. Restraining him forcefully across her lap, she takes a dry razor blade and drags it across the child's head amidst wails of protest. Finished, the boy is bald except for a tiny mohawk of black hair down the centre.

Asking the women about details of their life, we are constantly reminded of their different perspective. While some elements of their lives might seem very much in common with our own (weddings, funerals), all it takes is the simple question of their age to bring our differences to light. While one girl knew that she was 30, the others had no idea. Although many Himba have significant material wealth (200 cattle could fetch N$400,000), they live in simplicity. Owning little beside the clothing they wear and the cattle they drive, they are happy -- surviving in the past despite the world advancing around them.


2005-07-06: Opuwo - A morning kill

We have just arrived in the outskirts of Opuwo -- a last taste of civilization before heading north through Kaokoland. Resting here for the evening, the air is thick with dust. The setting sun has already disappeared behind the dusty air, setting everything aglow with orange.

Entering a campsite, I am approached by a young woman who tells me she was just robbed in her tent by someone working there. With that thought on my mind, I fall asleep and ignore my itching my nose and lungs.

Opuwo has been without water for the past 8 months. The town has not paid for its water bills and so the public water supply has been shut off. Earlier, I met the man who apparently stole the money. Everyone knows who, but there isn't enough evidence. Yet, under the layer of dust, the town survives. A local Himba woman tells me that the school children are having to use their own urine to wash their faces.

At the crack of 2:37AM, I'm startled by a rooster yelling in my ear, not more than a few feet away. Then, just as I find sleep, the rooster calls out again. 3:21AM. Did someone import this rooster and forget to reset his clock? Ever half hour thereafter, the rooster reminds me how annoying he is.

With an unstoppable alarm clock on the fritz, I give up and step outside the tent. 5:00AM, a desperate moan comes from the other side of a barbed fence, so naturally I find myself walking over. Five kids are running through a herd of cattle, long stick and ropes in hand. Singling out a large cow with sharp curved horns, the boys throw the rope and proceed to run circles around the terrified animal, winding him with rope. As soon as the cow trips, a brave boy dodges the horns and lunges out with a long knife, stabbing him in the back of the head. I try to turn away, but can't... The most ugly cry gurgles from the dying cow, but I stand, trying to sensitize myself to how the rest of the world feeds themselves.

With a machete dripping of blood, the oldest boy pauses, then grins and turns wild... He jumps and darts around the others, slashing at them, while they do their best to jump out of the way. My stomach falls as he sees me and runs my way, hacking the machete as he runs. Watching the long blade glinting in the morning sun, I freeze, making the assumption that this was his game. Realizing that I didn't run away as expected, he stops and laughs, eventually turning to walk back to the bleeding cow.

Skinning the hide and cutting slabs from within, the boys hang the pieces in a nearby tree to dry, while the dogs run to eat the scraps. The other cows are motionless with fear, pressed against the corner of the yard, watching, as the dust swirls around the carcass tree.


2005-07-03: Sossusvlei to Swakopmund

Last two days we ventured well over a thousand kilometers through dirt roads, taking us to Sossuvlei and then Swakopmund.

Sossusvlei has the world-famous incredible red sand dunes. Woke up at 3AM to make the dunes by sunrise. Story to come later.

As we haven't met up with our friends (who own the Land Rover), we are starting to re-evaluate our trip plans... Currently in the pretty coastal town of Swakopmund, we are thinking about heading up north towards the Angola border. We have met up with a great Herero man, Nelson, who can act as a translator with the indigenous Himba people.


2005-06-30: Namibia

Spent last night at a homestay within the black township of Diepkloof Extension, Johannesburg.

Flew to Windhoek, Namibia.

Rough first night in Windhoek - story to come later


2005-06-29: Soweto Mountain of Hope

Spent time with Mandla Mentoor of SOMOHO - story to come later


2005-06-29: Life in the Soweto squatter camps (Part 1)

I swallow my fear as I enter one of the Soweto squatter camps in Johannesburg, South Africa. With somewhere between 3 and 5 million people living in the black townships of Soweto, it is the extremely unfortunate ones that live in the squatter camps (or "informal settlements"). Devoid of electricity, waste system or an adequate water supply, the region is home to a struggle for life.

Waste is piled to the side; three wild spotted pigs are digging through plastic and spoiled goods. Streams of refuse run underfoot and one hops around, looking for dry ground. Turning down a narrow gap between the corrugated metal and wood shanty homes, I realize that very quickly one will become lost, as there are no real roads through this sprawling settlement, but simply passages between the homesteads.

To my right stands three concrete drop toilets, each providing for five families of seven each. Half a dozen kids are sitting on the surrounds of the toilet block, stopping their improvised games while they watch us walk by. Just ahead a solitary tap is crowded with activity, women filling large pots only to hoist and balance them overhead. Out of the 57 taps in the region, 9 are broken. This tap feeds 45 families. Access to water is the life-blood, and these taps serve as the daily epicenter of social activity and personal conflicts.

An unsettling howl causes us to turn as we see one dog attack another - a fierce lock around the other's neck. One young men is lashing the dog from overhead with a belt while another is throwing waste water at its eyes. The vicious dog is without a leash, wreaking havoc with its rabid determination. Two dozen men and children crowding around, the attacker is subdued and the poor victim limps away with an upset 6-year old owner. Even in these areas there are ground rules -- dogs must be on a leash.

Every so often one finds a home marked as a Tuck Shop -- a place where an entrepeneur has bought some bulk product, selling smaller quantities to the people. Five large white sacks of coal, with one poured out over the ground, individual pieces for sale.

Three young kids are throwing rocks and tops wound with string on the ground in front of me, and when a top starts spinning, smiles and excited laughter follow. The settlement is filled with kids, in part due to the large families, but also because many of their parents are now dead from AIDS. No one is allowed to comment on how serious the problem is, but its obvious that a good segment of the region's demographic is child-headed households. With 200-250 funerals a weekend in Soweto, death is an accepted part of life.

The kids are happy, and are delighted to see us. Some stand quietly watching us with a shy curiosity, while others run up to us and hug us with strength unexpected for a child. Above all of the rough challenges of life surrounding them, the children are genuinely happy. It is this strength that gives hope. The children are often unaware of AIDS and disease and the cards they have been dealt, but just accept their brief time as an opportunity to live.

Entering the coreche(?), a place where 80 young children are left each day while their parents are gone, I meet Bob, who founded a theatre group that provides an opportunity for the children to develop a talent. They are preparing for a production, one that will be shown to the president later today. The name is "Plus Minus Memories of the Battery".

As I enter the gated grounds, the kids stop and sign the African national anthem for us, doing so in 4 languages. These children are happy, and excited. They are all dressed in simple red aprons with a different animal stitched on the front of each in white.

With fists outstretched reinforcing the beat of the song, it is the innocent eyes that hit us. How could they be happy given the life they live? From an outsider's perspective it would be hard to imagine, yet the energy and excitement is overwhelming. Turning to walk away from the kids we are mobbed, arms out for hugs. Fifty fists are pushed towards us, thumbs outstretched, a continuous cacophany of the kids yelling out "shop". We return the manner of saying goodbye by extending our thumb to meet each of the little thumbs.

"These kids are rich inside," Bob tells me as he sees Sharon crying.


2005-06-28: Arrival in South Africa

Waking up in a sweat, I open my eyes to catch the deep orange glow of the 6AM sun flooding the aircraft. The horizon is burning with color, and the sparse trees below cast lengthy shadows dripping across the yellow-brown landscape. South Africa.

The journey here has been trying... Four hours spent at the leaking Bole International in Ethiopia (not from the roof, but from pipes, assumed to be carrying water) punctuated with its strongly visible culture. The airport is marked by fantastic security, sponsored by AK-47s and X-ray guards who were kind enough to let the guy in front of me take his butane torch with him on the plane, for smoking purposes only, he says.

This last flight has been the most difficult of all. Unfortunately, it seems that the luxurious 5 degrees of seat reclination weren't enough to convince my body that it was time to sleep. Instead, I'm left testing out all 20 possible sleeping positions from the middle seat. Another well-rested arrival awaits...

Making our way through the intense Johannesburg airport, full of porters, tour guides and taxi drivers, we find our way to Melville, a pretty suburb 30 minutes from Johannesburg. Looking past the security fences and gates enclosing every business and residence in the area, it feels surprisingly safe. Ignoring the sidewalk bead-and-wire hawkers, people are very friendly and will speak with smiles and genuine interest. Nearly everyone is dressed in black or brown toques, seemingly implying that the 20 degree weather is cold for the region.

The filtered sun sets through thick trees with leaves like ferns, draping the rusted and worn playgrounds in embers of warmth. The children seen earlier have gone, replaced by a group of a dozen men crowding around yelling and arguing. The elementary school, with its chain-link barbed-wired fencing retaining the children in its humble grounds, is now quiet, and all that remains is the squawky sound of some unknown birds flying overhead. As I walk through the side-streets I'm nearly jumped by two guard dogs leaping half-way through an absent owner's fence, flashing their teeth at me and growling incessantly. As if the barbed-wire and sharp spike fence weren't enough, I'm also reminded by a sign that the single-story deteriorating bungalow also employs an armed security response.

Tomorrow we're off to the black township of Soweto, Johannesburg, which is reputedly home to somewhere between 2-5 million of the city's less fortunate. The rough slum was born out of the days of apartheid as a place for the unwanted, and it now shares an extremely strong community bind. As we will have an opportunity to stay overnight at someone's house within the township, we expect to learn first-hand how the community and people have adapted to their situation. The nightfall outside suggests its time to walk back to our guest-house for a much-needed respite.


2005-06-26: Mainz, Germany

Im sitting in a smoky, humid internet cafe in Mainz, Germany, desperately trying to keep my eyes open. Could it be that weve been up for over 24 hours? No, its probably the thick clouds of smoke from the chainsmoker beside me, exhaling in my general direction every minute or so.

We have just spent one too many hours in the planes; first from the west coast to Montreal, and then from Montreal to Frankfurt, Germany. My wonderful habit of never getting any sleep on a flight -- usually a combination of crying babies (of which we had 3 nearby) interruptions for cheese and crackers, and a sappy movie (that I tell myself is not worth watching) -- all ensure that I leave the plane feeling no less than 110%!

Thanks to some last minute advice from anonymous individuals on the internet, we ran as fast as we could through the Frankfurt airport (feeling a little like those individuals on Amazing Race) to connect to the ICE train which was immediately loading for Mainz, a small town full of character and history. Either we coincidentally arrived in just the right time to experience their local street-filled beer gardens, bratwurst and general excitement, or perhaps this is what happens here every Sunday?

We are very glad to have spent our short-lived stayover here in Mainz as it truly is a beautiful town. Not only does one feel completely safe, but our absolute lack of German brings out the best confused smiles from the locals. Touristy highlights included: seeing the incredible Dom cathedral (1100 years old), sitting by the Rheine river, and exploring the Gutenburg museum, unable to read a word.

From here, we will be staying up to overcome our jet lag, spend the night, return to Frankfurt, and jump on a lengthy flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Arriving at midnight, we will have to find some way to kill 3-4 hours until our next connection leaves for Johannesburg, South Africa. Im certain that well find lots to do at 2 in the morning.

I think its time to go, not because of the unseen timer thats dying to shut my computer off at any moment without warning, but the novelty of (and my patience for) typing on a keyboard specially rearranged for german speakers, is beginning to wear thin!


2005-06-18: Our Home for 6 wks!

Here is the Land Rover that we will be living out of... Apparently it needs a fair bit of work (eg. brakes, engine mounts, wheel bearings, etc.), so we're hopeful that it will hang together for at least a few thousand kilometers!

On the photography side of things, I have now finished cleaning the CMOS sensors of my digital SLRs, so from now on I won't be changing lenses.


2005-06-18: One week to go!!

The last month has been very hectic, but we're almost set to go. Next Saturday, we'll be on our way to South Africa via Montreal, Frankfurt, and Ethiopia! I'm certain that we're going to have a rough series of flights, but we hope to recover quickly and not lose too much luggage in the connections! Just about everything that could go wrong with our plans has, so we really have no idea how things are going to work out!

Recent troubles:
  • One week before we were supposed to leave, the airline cancelled one of our return connections, making our return path impossible. As all alternate flights were already full, this was going to be a problem. Fortunately we managed to rebook a different return path last minute.
  • Our friends, who bought the Land Rover that we'll be sharing, were scammed by an African offroad outfitter of thousands of dollars. They arrived to find that the vehicle that they apparently purchased, hadn't been paid for. Nor was there any of the equipment that they had been sending money for over the past year. Unbelievable!

We're desperately hoping that the vehicle and our friends will somehow be ready by the time we arrive, otherwise we're totally on our own!



Reader's Comments:

Please leave your comments or suggestions below!
 I think we like the Himba culture buecase it reminds us who we used to be. before the many groups of humans left africa. and changed from being comfortable in the sun to struggling and warring in seasons temperate seasons of europe, moonsoons and typhoons of asia. before it all there was balanced life in africa. Before rise of nations of technology we were children in Africa. and to see an example of the essence of what it means to be human. to see last vestiges of what most of humanity used to be like. close to the land and close to each other. Not sexual predators, serial killers and wolves in sheep clothing. there was social balance. between men and women children and society. Those are just my thoughts . a socially balanced and highly functional society.
 I think we like the Himba culture buecase it reminds us who we used to be. before the many groups of humans left africa. and changed from being comfortable in the sun to struggling and warring in seasons temperate seasons of europe, moonsoons and typhoons of asia. before it all there was balanced life in africa. Before rise of nations of technology we were children in Africa. and to see an example of the essence of what it means to be human. to see last vestiges of what most of humanity used to be like. close to the land and close to each other. Not sexual predators, serial killers and wolves in sheep clothing. there was social balance. between men and women children and society. Those are just my thoughts . a socially balanced and highly functional society.
 i read this blog i live your blog details and i decided i want to go
2007-08-27Thomas Scaife
 wow you have a really interesting story i'm planning to travel as much as the world as a can in 2009
 Great website and pictures. I am currently working on an article for a childrens magazine and am looking for some good pictures of Himba boys and girls and how their hairstyles reflect what clan they are from. If you could e-mail me some it would be greatly appreciated. I am truly amazed by how these people live and their culture. I wish I could be there for the experience. Good luck and keep up the good work,
 Thanks for your interest... I've sent a private email.
 how long did you stay with the Himba?
 We spent about three days in northern Kaokaland amongst the Himba. We would have gladly spent longer in the area if we had the opportunity. For camping, I'd strongly recommend the site in Epupa falls, as it is also a perfect base from which to explore.
I just read few lines of the whole thing, but I amused.
2006-04-11George Espana
 I do not know if I will ever get to do something as beautiful as your adventure, but I must tell you that it looks like a facinating journey. I would love to take on this adventure some time in my life, especially to africa.
Maybe I'll start saving up for that Land Rover soon.
 Thanks! It certainly was fascinating... although I can't say that I'd choose an old Land Rover next time! (nothing but trouble!!!) It is definitely an experience worth making sacrifices for. All the best.
2006-04-11George Espana
 I do not know if I will ever get to do something as beautiful as your adventure, but I must tell you that it looks like a facinating journey. I would love to take on this adventure some time in my life, especially to africa.
Maybe I'll start saving up for that Land Rover soon.
 hey! we were wondering if you guys know of a place that we can buy landrovers and then sell them back at the end of a trip like this?
Thanks, Meridith
 Hi -- In all honesty, I can't recommend any particular place for it. The couple we traveled with bought their Land Rover in Cape Town via the phone/email from a tour operator and it looks like they were scammed badly. I would expect that there are many decent outfits in South Africa but it's probably best to deal with it when you are there.
2005-08-10Willy Volk

I spent several years in Southern Africa in the Peace Corps. I visited Soweto, and several of the places you hit in Namibia. I am impressed with your interest in seeking out "real Africa' as opposed to just the beautiful coastlines and the comfortable hotels. Have a safe trip, and be sure to do the sand boarding in Swakopmund.


Thanks Willy! Ever since our week-long stay in a village hut in the Amazon, we've been excited to experience and learn from local culture. It's so rewarding, although the weeks without showers can start to get to you (and others)!

2005-08-09Ananda Escudero

Hi Calvin and Sharon,

I just want to drop a note to say that I loved the pictures and stories about your trip. I can't wait to meet you guys so I can hear from you in person how amazing these 6 weeks were.

Miss you both!


Hi Ananda! Thank you very much! We have now come back with many stories memories... We'd love to meet up soon. I trust that you and Mario have been making the most of the summer's warm water freediving!


Hi Sharon. Your dad is visiting us here on Cortes for a few days and he showed us your website, its terrific. I shall check it out from time to time - I envy you. Who am I some cousin by marriage or something.

Julia & Marcel


I am living in Namibia and have lately started hiking around this wide expanse, taking photographs of landscapes and small succulents. I am quite impressed with the pictures I have been taking, but that is probably because I don't know anything about photography! I am currently thus trying to educate myself so that I can take better picturezz-- and this is how I landed at this page. Great info you've given here! And great pics you've taken in Namibia!

A question-- which camera feature should I consider if I want to take a good picture of a tiny thing, such as a flower? I find that with my digital camera focussiong at close range is difficult.


What a beautiful place to call home!

If you're looking to take photos of succulents and other small objects, you're going to want to have a camera that has a macro mode. Simply put, macro allows you to focus on objects very close to your camera's lens, thereby giving you significant magnification. While many digital cameras offer a macro mode (as identified by an icon of a flower), you'll really have to dig a bit deeper to determine how good the macro feature really is (ie. how much magnification can it achieve?).

A good comparison point to look for is a larger magnification value (eg. more than 0.25x or 1:4) or a smaller minimum focus distance (eg. less than 0.20m). When using this mode, you might find it difficult to get the focus right, so having a camera that also offers manual focus setting can improve your odds. Lastly, you will want a lot of light (easy in Namibia) so that you'll get reasonable shutter speed and therefore a sharper photo. Good luck!


Hi Calvin & Sharon!

It appears like you guys are having an absolutely amazing time! many stories and pictures i am always interested to see if more are up...You must have stacks and stacks of great photos. Hope you manage to do as much in the second half! and you meet up with your friends! Good luck guys and take care.

PS. My favorite pic is with the small boy looking up at Calvin. Darren


Sharon, your legs are gorgeous. i looooooooooove all the pix. finally i'm seeing pix of you sharon. love the himba boy and calvin. looooooooove it. keep the blogs coming. and pix, guys. going back to work next week, for 2 weeks, up here on the hill, where the electricians service coquitlam. will not be online much (but will check next week-hopefully more updates on here). sharon it was so nice talking to you the other day and Calvin the day before that. i kept bragging to everyone on msn that day saying 'i'm talking to africa'. ahahahhahaha

keep eating, tiny. love ya girl. t, e and m xoxoxoxo

2005-07-16Julia Hass

Hi Calvin and Sharon

Loved your accounts and new pictures. Especially the new one at night by the fire. It certainly is incredible the light over there for photo taking. Can only imagine how much effort must go into sending stories and pictures off. It must be hard at times for other things as well--eating sleeping, etc, but I guess when you see the conditions there, you just feel fortunate. Keep safe, Julia.


Thanks Mom!! Yes, so many areas have been incredible visually -- if only I could capture more of it. But besides the imagery, the people have been very friendly and interesting.

With the last two weeks of camping we were caught a little off-guard by the long freezing cold nights, and lack of camping equipment, but we managed OK! Uploading the stories and the photos has been relatively easy, and it's fun to share them as we go.

As for the conditions, it is incredible to see how others manage to cope with so little. It does put our lives in a different light. It is hard not to feel like helping in some way, something that I imagine would be a rewarding experience. Miss you all! C & S.


Sharron this comment is for you. The picture with your legs amongst the Himba people cracks me up, I've never seen someone look paler. I love it, it's priceless. p.s. Nice pink tank top.

2005-07-15Brian V

Calvin - Awesome stories - I'm glad that your hunt for a lion viewing paid off abudantly. Your description of Etosha brings back memories - see the wildlife there was one of my highlights from Southern Africa. Enjoy the rest of your trip


Thanks Brian! I think luck went our way on that one. Thanks again for all of the tips you gave us from your travels here. Glad you liked the stories!


Hi Cal I'm up in Summerland in an RV and Quentin has gotten us online. I'm making chicken and rice wraps for dinner and as the rice cooked I wanted to check to see your posts. I just finished reading the article about the Himba people out loud to Quentin and it was amazing. I can't believe the things you are experiencing and I'm so grateful that your taking the time to write and post your pictures. Thank you for sharing your adventure with all of us and I can't wait to see you and Share when you get back, tell Sharron I say hi and I hope she likes her tank tops.


Hey Lisa -- Thanks! This has been an incredible experience for us, and I know that we are going to come away with a lot. From this point onward we are hoping to finally meet up with our friends, where we can start the second half of our adventure!

Your RV looks like it will be a blast for the parties! I'm sure you are going to have a lot of fun! We'll catch up later.


I miss you guys so much! what an experience, wish i was there with you guys!!! keep the e-mails comming! Love ya!



p.s. i'm totally bawling. t

imagine how we complain about water pressure, water being too HOT, etc etc etc etc.

it's another day in paradise on this side o the world...............................

2005-07-01Tanya and Erik

Hey from the Burbs, Canada....... and Happy Canada Day.

We're thinking of you guys and can't wait to check the site FREQUENTLY.

Love your buds, t and e xoxoxoxoxo


Thx! It won't be long before you'll be bringing 'm' on his first big trip somewhere, I'm sure


Hey Calvin!

I'm waiting to get my haircut... and get this, there's a computer with internet access! What a different world. I'm happy to see that you guys made it out there safely and amazed that you've already posted some great stories!

Say HI to Dan and keep the photos and stories coming. Keep safe!



Hi Eugene -- thanks! Where are you? :) We're in Namibia right now, although we still haven't managed to get in touch with Dan by phone, so it looks like we might be on our own for a while!!

2005-06-28Derek Ho

Glad to see you made it in one piece. Looking forward to reading more of your blogs.


Thanks Derek!!


Wow Cal I can't believe that after having no sleep you have the emotional strength to write something so coherent. Your writing is so flush with details, I feel like I'm there with you. Can't wait to hear more :)


Thanks Lisa... this has been an incredible experience; one that I realize I can't completely absorb. I hope to continue writing, but some areas are difficult.

Right now the only reason I have access is that I managed to find a cable above the cieling panels that supplies this dodgy hotel with internet access. It's 5AM and I've tapped it briefly so that I can do this!


I'm so excited I can't wait to vicariously live through your African experience. Checking your journal is going to be a regualar summer activity. Bye guys be safe


Haha.. I hope that the satellite communication works! We'll have to see... I'm sure we'll come back with a couple photos and stories! See you later! Thanks Lisa!


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