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Monday, June 28, 2010

Into Botswana

Hello, hello! We have safely made it through another border crossing and another country. I am writing from Botswana’s Okovango Delta, the largest inland delta in the world. Where the Zambezi, Chobe, Okavango, Lynyani, Thaoga,  Kwando and other rivers spill out into a huge wetland before seeping deep into the desert sands of the Kalahari. Despite arriving in the dry season water abounds; this was an exceptionally wet year, so there is still tons of water in the delta. It should make the ‘4X4 only’ roads a bit more interesting…good thing I have an exceptionally talented driver ;) It hasn’t rained in months, so the smaller waterholes in the region have dried up for the most part, forcing the animals to migrate into the delta. We are excited to go check it out. Apparently we have missed the zebra and wildebeest migration northward, but with some luck we are hoping to cross their paths later on, on our own migration north.
After a couple of glorious days driving through Chobe Game Reserve we headed south to the little town of Maun. We have grown quite car weary and plan on kicking it here for a while before heading into the Okavango. Maun sits at the edge of the delta and serves as a ‘fueling’ station for travelers heading into the more remote areas within the Okavango.  Our camp sprawls out along the water’s edge. It is a nice place to spend a few days cleaning up our act and restocking. We are both super excited to drive into the delta. The tributaries around Maun are teeming with life!
We have been told that services in the Okavango are quite limited, so we may be offline for a while. You know that we’ll post as soon as we can.
Wishing you all adventures of your own,

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Day in the Life of the Intrepid

Glenn and I are not strangers to adventure. Seven of the past 8 years we've spent our winters exploring the world, so you would think that we would be fairly seasoned travelers. We've had plenty of experience living out of a car, traveling through Western Australia, Madagascar, New Zealand, Peru, and a good part of the Western United States vamping (our word for van camping). But somehow this trip through Africa is vastly different. For starters, we are not going home after two or three months, as we usually do; we're out for the duration, however long it takes. Secondly, we're not on a destination action adventure, our kites were shipped home when we left South Africa and we don't have surfboards or bikes, the impetus for many of our past excursions. But the biggest contrast, for me, is that we are perpetually transient. With so much ground to cover, so many countries to see, we are continually on the move. Friends of ours, who are driving the Pan American Highway from Alaska to the tip of Chile, have described their life as nomadic, a very apt description: one without roots or a permanent home. But we do have a home, of sorts, it is just on wheels. What we don't have is permanence. Each day brings something new.

For those of you that know me, know that my life is fairly unconventional: I am not a mother nor am I focused on a career, chickens roam through the house without much notice, I can spend days on end perfecting a recipe or learning a new dish, solely focused on little more than the task at hand. I tend toward Ď‹ber enthusiasm for the random cause or issues of the moment (which everyone around me is sure to hear about). I can't sit still and for the life of me cannot ever remember being bored. The fear of stagnation seems to fill my life completely and then some. So it shouldn't be hard living on the road…right? Where every day brings something new.


Without a mental task list bigger than the day is long I feel a bit out-of-sorts. Aside from feeding Glenn and myself, there is nothing pressing. No distractions. In a way I am forced to just be in the moment, experience the sights, sounds and smells of an unfamiliar, new environment…every day. No repeats.

This is hard.

But, I am learning.

What I've learned: I have learned that each day it becomes a little easier to let go of the familiar and embrace the unknown. I have learned that I can cook without an extensive library at my disposal…not by weight and measurement, but by feel and taste. I have learned to be aware of my surroundings. I look for footprints and even 'tracked' Glenn on his way to the loo. I have learned the value of a head of cabbage and a raw onion when fresh produce is no longer available. I have learned to love strangers as you do your girlfriends, because the former often becomes the later. I have learned that I am more of a houseplant than I would like to admit. I have learned to never take those languid afternoons with your friends for granted. I have learned that I really like to define things, so that the foreign becomes less so: I name birds, look up flora and want descriptions for places/people and animals. I have learned that picking up the phone to ring your Nana is a wonderful privilege. I have learned that I am addicted to FaceBook because it enables me to feel connected to those I love. I have learned that Glenn and I are wussies when it comes to strange noises in the dark (like the giant badger that just circled my chair). Without the internet, I have learned the value of a dictionary. I have learned that those afternoon runs/bike rides/snowboard and kite sessions are essential to my well being. I have learned to slow down and engage my 'other' senses. I have learned that nothing brings me more joy, or more frustration, than my husband. I have learned the same is true for him. I have learned to never take for granted someone else doing my laundry, ever again. I have learned to wash my own clothes in a bucket! I have learned to be more resourceful, a lesson I sorely needed. I have learned that people are more or less the same everywhere, if you love them, they will love you back.
With months left to go, I am looking forward to being forced out of my 'familiar' and into the ever changing landscape of life on the road. Maybe I'll even learn how to be still. Not likely, but this is life and in life, EVERYTHING is possible.

Missing you like crazy but loving every minute,


Saturday, June 19, 2010

All Things Namibia

When we arrived in Namibia the border guard asked us how long we planned to stay. We looked at each other, then back at him, "6 weeks?" Ok. As he was about the write out our visa we interrupted him. Can we stay 8 weeks? Sure. Cool. We didn't dream that we would be here that long, but as we have learned, it is better to overestimate than underestimate a stay. That was about 8 weeks ago. Today or tomorrow will be our last day in Namibia, so I thought I would reflect on the past two months.

Visiting a foreign country for the first time is always exciting. Neither Glenn nor I are planners. So we often have absolutely no idea what to expect. We don't make reservations, we don't make plans and we rarely know where we'll be tomorrow. So when we crossed through from South Africa we had our Lonely Planet, a couple of maps and a very vague idea about where to go and what to do. I should add that I am a fan of the Lonely Planted Guidebooks to an extent, they certainly map out a friendly no-hassle itinerary for the masses; but if you follow along too closely, you end up going where everyone else goes, eating where they do and seeing the same touristy sites, at the expense of an authentic experience. So we use our LP's as rough guides, consulting them now and again, which is how we found ourselves in Swakopmund having a drink with Wayne and Jennifer. As I have written earlier, Wayne is an expert on all things Namibia. And in less than one hour, we had three pages of nearly legibly scribbled noted that dictated the duration of our visa.

Wayne suggested we head up dry riverbeds, through uncharted parks and into remote villages, which is what we did. And we loved every minute of it. We bumped along rutted out, whooped up sand tracks for days, discovering the lesser known gems of this beautiful country. Some of our favorites were:

  1. Whitewater rafting the Kunene River Gorge
  2. Exploring river valleys searching for the endangered desert elephant
  3. Driving for days on end and seeing scores of animals, the giraffes being my favorite
  4. The opportunity to experience life in the semi arid desert through the eyes of the Bushmen
  5. Seeing the old ways of the Himba prevail amidst modernization, climate fluctuations and other threats to their way of life
  6. Riding bikes over perfectly worn footpaths, waving and greeting the people along the way
  7. Crossing the cultural 'divide' that keeps many travelers along the safer, more known routes
People often ask what our favorite parts were. That is such a hard question to answer. Here I have listed 7 experiences that thrilled us, but there are so many extraneous circumstances that make an experience memorable. Usually it is the people and the interactions you have with them, but not always, sometimes it is your mood/attitude, how long past lunchtime and other trivialities. Travel is a complex organism that doesn't often fit into 7 neat bullet points. But here they are…our favorites.

Namibia is a beautifully diverse country with a population to match. To our delight we have discovered a common thread that holds this entire country together: the warm friendly graciousness of the people. No matter where we went or what we did, we were welcomed with whole face smiles. How can you not love that?

Thank you for reading and being part of our experience. We love and miss you all,

Corrin + Glenn

Friday, June 11, 2010

Lions, Elephants and Giraffes, Oh My!

Game parks stoke me out. I know, I know, there is something majestic and unparalleled about seeing animals range free in their intended environment, migrating hundreds of miles in search of food, water and/or a mate. In an ideal world, all animals could experience this kind of freedom. As Glenn and I have recently learned, nothing can compare to spending weeks following Namibia's endangered desert elephants up dry riverbeds in search of water… and finally finding them. The opportunity to watch elephants just be elephants is such an incredible privilege. But I have to tell you, having 50 or so elephants file past your car over the course of a couple hours is also quite exciting.

After our desert elephant search we headed to Etosha, Namibia's most famous [read: commercial] game park. Until now we have skipped the main attractions, for instance, South Africa's famed Kruger Park, for lesser known gems like Imfalosi and Umkhusi National Parks. We both prefer the quite, laid back atmosphere and lack of crowds. In Umkhusi, we drove for two days and maybe passed one or two other cars. You could sit watching animals for hours without disruption. That sort of scenario doesn't happen in Etosha. In Etosha, busses and busses of people are carted in daily, the restaurants are cavernous dining halls to feed masses of people, camps are big enough to get lost in and the kook factor is off the charts; zipoffs, pith hats and large cameras obscure the landscape. But once you're away from the camps, driving through the park the masses disperse. Etosha is huge, so there is plenty of room for everyone. Before long, you're standing on top of your car watching a pride of twelve lions laze under the shade of an acacia tree. Magic. For all of its sins, Etosha is still a place of majestic beauty. It is a huge hard pan that turns into an enormous sea for a few weeks every year, then dries up. Animals once migrated hundreds of miles during the rainy season to drink from its waters.

Etosha supports large populations of animals year round. We saw: baby elephants nurse, giraffes drink from clear blue waterholes, a pride of lions wake from their slumber, then slink across the road right in front of our car, hawks fighting over something just above our heads, a rhino sauntering past (apparently inspecting us), a constrictor warming its reptilian body in the morning sun, at least 5 or 6 elephant families file past on their way to the watering hole, a brand new baby pacaderm slip and fall into the water and the commotion that ensued and countless other scenes.

We spent 4 days in Etosha, but day 3 was by far the most remarkable day we've ever experienced in a park. Toward the end of the day it would have taken something really, really special to have topped all that we had seen. Maybe a leopard giving birth by the side of the road would have sufficed.

We have organized our photos according to day. You can check them out here:


Sometimes it Takes a Guide

From Opuwo, Namibia we drove east down the Hoarusib River then turned back. The river had just succeeded from the floods and there were no visible car tracks to lead the way. The rout was marked on Tracks for Africa, our GPS savior, but we didn't exactly want to roll the dice in the middle of nowhere. We headed for higher ground through the steep narrows of the river valley passing through the mountains for a bit before dropping back into the riverbed. This time we found tracks to follow.

A couple days later we arrived in Purros, a tiny villiage known for the conservation efforts of a few scientists living and working in the area. We had been told to seek out a man by the name of Dr. Flipstandis, who has dedicated his life to preserving the rare desert lions that inhabit the canyon. Unfortunately our lion expert was in Swakupmund so we headed to the bottle shop (the hub of commerce in all small villages) and asked for a guide. We had driven two days down the river valley without seeing a single elephant and apparently that was uncommon. This is how we came to meet Ricco; our drunk guide who had sworn off alcohol for several months only to find himself a worthy cause to celebrate…for two days running. We made arrangements with Ricco and a couple hours later our boozy guide was bumping along in the back of our camper for an overnight elephant seeking expedition. And to our good fortune, Ricco was an excellent guide, tracking and spotting tons of elephants. Over coffee we asked about scorpions, as we had yet to see one (a good thing, I think). A few minutes later Ricco gets up and heads over the hill. He came back within minutes carrying a long stick and walking very cautiously. On the end of his stick was the biggest scorpion I had ever seen.

We had a fun two days with Ricco, whose nickname comes from his love of Riccoffee, a powdered coffee drink. Hanging out with Ricco we learned the names of the desert plants, fed him funny foods that he had never eaten - spaghettine with red wine, garlic and tomatoes. He couldn't get over the pasta and kept asking why the noodles were so long. So we showed him how to separate a few, twirl them around the tines of his fork and eat them somewhat effortlessly - listened to his stories of cunning and trickery and realized that we had no stories of our own to share. This is a big difference between people with oral traditions and those without. To me, a story comes from a book, or a person, but it is relevant to a particular culture or group. Our stories had long been forgotten, so Ricco improvised with more of his own.

The next day we drove around Mt. Himba, circling back into the Hoarusib River. Earlier that morning we stopped and chatted with a Namibian family that had watched a group of 8 elephants passed right in front of their camp. We began tracking that group. A couple miles down the river we saw a lone male elephant, then we saw two more. Within seconds the others began emerging from the brush and within minutes 8 desert were headed straight for our car. You never notice small squeaks and noises until you're trying to be quite, but when being quite coincided with a gigantic momma elephant walking straight toward you as you noisily roll up your car window, even the smallest noises sound unbelievably loud. Had it not been for Ricco's reassurance GP and I would have started up the car, avoiding a 3 point turn at all costs, and broadied out of there, totally freaked out and driving for our lives (as we had done once before, without a guide). But Ricco was very calm and just as he predicted, the elephant family filed by without incident. Wow. What a rush of adrenaline for both of us. When you're parked in the bend of a very steep, narrow river canyon with a posse of wild elephants a trunks length away from your car, time seems to stand still and memories are stored forever. What a thrill it was seeing these beauties in the wild.