Sunday, March 28, 2010

Postings from Pretoria #31

28 March 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

“Namibia” “Namibia: Sossusvlei”

Our Namibian adventure continues.

If you plan on traveling to Namibia, be forewarned: tourism there is a very expensive proposition and it is easy to spend beaucoup bucks, even with modest accommodations. We elected to go with an inclusive package deal through a company called African Extravaganza. Following a four and a half hour return drive from Walvis Bay to Windhoek, we immediately – and I mean within minutes - embarked on a four-hour drive to the Namib Naukluft Lodge, located in the Namib Naukluft National Park.

Also making the trip were Daniel and Sonia Harel, a lovely couple from Durban, and their daughter V, visiting from London. We all ended up sharing vehicles on several occasions, and they proved to be excellent traveling companions. The highlight of the drive was our transit over the Streetshoogte Pass, described in the brochures as “scenic and steep.” Yebo.

The Lodge is not fancy, but our room was perfectly fine and the food quite decent. No TV, no internet, no problem; the desert provides all the entertainment one could wish, and we had adequate shade and a nice breeze even during the hottest part of the day. Necessarily, organized activities took place in the mornings and evenings.

Morning 1: After breakfast, A.J. and I took a two-hour stroll amongst the rocks, accompanied by Princess, a very sweet and savvy border collie. Besides being good company, Princess knew her way around, so we were never in danger of losing the trail. Upon returning, we enjoyed some quality pool time before retreating from the sun.

Evening 1: Time for a “sundowner” drive to Marble Mountain to watch the sun set. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the whole “constantly shifting colors of the desert panorama” thing. It is a beautiful sight to see. After dinner, we settled in for the evening’s entertainment: pulling up a couple of chairs outside and taking in the Milky Way in all it’s glory, contemplating our cosmological insignificance.

We are so small.

Morning 2: Anne’s birthday, the 20th anniversary of Namibian independence, and the big adventure on our schedule: a trip to Sossusvlei (“So-soos-vlay”) to see the dunes. The Namib Desert is over 55 million years old; the oldest on the planet, and the dunes are among the most photographed geological features on Earth. Still… the sight of sand dunes up to 320 km in height is wicked awesome. And climbing one barefoot in the desert heat (topping out at 43º C – that’s 109º F) is a serious reality check. (It was observed that the texture of the sand itself is trés exquisite.)

Escaping to a shady picnic area, we had a spot of lunch, at which we were joined by a small flock of sociable weavers and a cautious black-backed jackal, before heading back to the Lodge. This drive was to prove to be the “extra” in “African Extravaganza,” as our 4WD desert-touring vehicle developed a problem with one of its cylinders. Fortunately, our driver Michael was on the case and phoned for backup. So, with grand bonhomie, A.J., myself, the Harel family, and Michael limped along on three cylinders until the cavalry arrived. We made it back none the worse and immediately succumbed to the siren song of the swimming pool.

Evening 2: One last climb up to “Sunset Rock,” followed by dinner (Oryx Cordon Bleu) and a chorus of “Happy Birthday” to Anne from the staff ladies. Then it was off to view the Milky Way, catch a couple of shooting stars, and pack for the trip back to Windhoek and on to Pretoria.

This was, in all likelihood, our last trip to Namibia, although, just in case, we have already started another list of sights to see, including the Skeleton Coast, Caprivi Strip, and Fish River Canyon. Should I ever be fortunate enough to have another go at this remarkable country, I will not hesitate.



Friday, March 26, 2010

Postings from Pretoria #30

26 March 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

“Namibia” “Namibia: Sossusvlei”

When we first arrived in South Africa in 2008, A.J. and I made a list of places we wanted to visit during our two-year posting. Our record of touristic accomplishment is mixed, but I am extremely pleased to report that we have just returned from a week in one of our Top 5: Namibia; which is, IMHO, among the most physically beautiful places on Earth.

A bit of historical background: Namibians have suffered much torture and violence, notably at the hands of German colonizers (1884-1920). Following WW II, the League of Nations mandated what was then known as South West Africa to South Africa, which imposed their laws, including, after 1948, apartheid. Inevitable insurrection ensued and much black blood was spilled, but on 21 March 1990, the Republic of Namibia (Motto: “Unity, Liberty, Justice”) came into being. The German influence, however, is still pervasive, not least because of the large numbers of German tourists and retirees.

[Sidebar: Being of pink and blondish hues, I am often presumed to be an Afrikaner or German. I therefore make a point of identifying myself as an American as soon as possible when interacting with black Africans. This usually results in greater respect as well as lots of questions concerning immigration and President Barack Obama. I might have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.]

This being a DOS bidness trip, we stayed two nights in the capital Windhoek (“Vind-hook”), a pleasant small city (and home to our current favourite beer, Windhoek Lager), then took off for the coast with several of A.J.'s colleagues to visit an American Corner in Walvis (“Valvis”) Bay, which is much more a working harbour than tourist mecca. Our hotel overlooked the Walvis Bay Lagoon, home to thousands of flamingos and the biggest f**king pelicans I have ever seen.

We also visited Swakopmund (“Swakopmund”), which is a very quaint town, and home to many of the aforementioned Deutsche pensionäre. Lunch was taken at a scenic restaurant at the foot of a lighthouse, where we were joined by three resident, and very well mannered, chickens. That evening, we dined at the Walvis Bay Yacht Club, where I scored some really excellent tourist loot. Anne and I were most reluctant to leave the coast, but we had to book it back across the desert to Windhoek, where transport awaited to take us to an altogether amazing place.



Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Postings from Pretoria #29

07 March 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Photo Update Alert:

“West Coast”

We all experience transitions, welcome/dread/endure them, and ultimately move on, like it or not. No deep existential revelations here, of course, just the musings of someone gearing up to leave somewhere he’ll likely never see again; just a bittersweet fact of life to reflect upon when considering special places.

South Africa is that kind of place and we’ve been pretty creative about seeing as much of it as we can. Our latest trip took us to the West Coast, in the Western Cape province. We flew into Cape Town for a couple of days on official DOS bidness. Then we rented a car and headed for the fishing village of Paternoster (a name bestowed by grateful shipwrecked Portuguese sailors washed up alive on the shore), located 147 km up the road, where we stayed at the Baywatch B&B (Tony and Shirley Ansley, Proprietors), a lovely place a mere two minute walk from the South Atlantic Ocean.

The landscape is stark, although there are wheat fields, cattle, and sheep; and, so I’m told, wildflowers in abundance during the spring. Mostly missing, however, are trees. When the temperature reaches 38° C (100° F) and the sun is remorseless, hiding out from late morning to early evening is a must, especially for those of us of the pale complexion persuasion.

But the area is beautiful, what with the white sun-baked buildings and long beaches conducive to strolling; although swimming is somewhat problematic, given a summer water temperature of 11º C (52º F). In addition to vacation homes and rental places (including self-catering), the nearby seashore parks provide accommodations for caravans.

Afrikaners love to caravan; not surprising, I reckon, given the migratory history of their tribe. But rather than traveling in huge RVs, they tend toward bakkies (pickup trucks) with camper tops and/or trailers, or Land Rover Defenders. A typical encampment might include a central vehicle accompanied by tents and, most importantly, a braai (BBQ). Very efficient, homey, and quite suited for camping on rocky seashores.

In addition to getting in some quality ocean time, A.J. and I took an excursion on the Berg River Estuary, a primo spot for birding. Our guide was one John Wayne (“the real John Wayne,” he would have you know), a Brit who was raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and currently operates a fleet of funky tour boats in Velddrift, not far from the Cerebos Saltworks. The cruise was most enjoyable, although it was so hot that many of the birds were not to be seen, having sought refuge in the rushes. Still, we observed a fair number of flamingos and pelicans, as well as assorted smaller fowl.

We also saw, across the estuary, the longest freight train ever in my extensive trainspotting career: 12 locomotives spread out among approximately 340 wagons, each carrying 80 tons of iron ore for processing. Wicked cool.

But the most spellbinding sight came on the last night of our stay in Paternoster: the simultaneous setting of the sun and rising of the full moon. I have seen this once before, standing at the edge of a frozen lake in western Kentucky with my Cowboy Envy saddlepals. It’s a remarkable thing to experience and if you’ve not had the pleasure, I sincerely hope you someday will. Beauty beyond measure.

It’s not certain, but if this was our last trip to Cape Town and its environs, well, so it goes. In any case, it’s good to be home in Pretoria and off the road for a week. Then, we’re headed to Namibia. Just making the most of it all.



Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Postings from Pretoria #28

03 March 2010

Hello there... Rodger French here.

Two months between Postings seems a tad long, although I’m undoubtful that loyal readers have found productive ways to while away the weeks whilst waiting for updates. I do, in fact, have excellent excuses, having spent five weeks on the road in the U.S., followed by one day in Pretoria to recover from jetlag and repack for nine days in Kaapstad (Cape Town) and the West Coast of South Africa. Which is where I am today, living fairly largely at the Table Bay Hotel on the Victoria & Alfred (V & A) Waterfront in Cape Town (Kaapstad), where it is quite hot and very windy.

The trip Stateside came off remarkably well, thanks largely to family, friends, and fellow musicians. The flight over took 16.5 hours, transited seven time zones (and five movies), and whisked me from pleasant summer to dreary winter. I subsequently flew, in short order, to Louisville, KY and Los Angeles, CA, resulting in an internal clock so messed up that I decided to become my own time zone. This proved to be a logistically salutary delusion, considering how miserable domestic air travel in the U.S. has, IMHO, become.

Extortive Delta baggage fees, “kabuki” security screenings, and lousy airline seats aside, I had a wonderful visit to the homeland. Some highlights:

Stone Mountain, GA – Got to pal around with LaBanana, who is in the midst of her own international travels.

Louisville, KY – Spent time with my Mom and both my brothers. Doesn’t happen often.

Los Angeles, CA – Played a concert with Cowboy Envy for 1,400 people and had the best mole poblano ever in a little joint on the Redondo Beach Pier. Also took in the Museum of the American West at the Autry National Center (On display: The Lone Ranger’s outfit! And Tonto’s, too!), visited with chums from the ATL, and enjoyed ridiculously good Chinese take-out and poker with the cowgirls.

Tucker, GA – The “Main Squeeze Deux” Album Release Concert came off very well indeed. Collaborated with my peeps, visited with people whom I really like, and even sold some CDs. (Not to worry: I have plenty left. In fact, if you haven’t already bought one, you should. Ask me how.)

Pine Lake, GA – Picked up an impromptu gig with Joyce Brookshire, Elise Witt, and others. Good folks and real country music.

Atlanta, GA – The 32nd Annual Groundhog Day Jugglers Festival. ‘Nuff said.

Clarkesville, GA – Super Bowl party featuring an orange menu (pizza, wings, Cheez-Its, and crunchy Cheetos) and a great victory by the New Orleans Saints. Nothing against Peyton Manning, but the Saints, and their city, were f#@king due.

Daphne, AL – Played accordion for the old folks, including Anne’s Mom, at Mercy Medical. I’ve played at dozens of senior centers, retirement homes, and medical care facilities in my checkered career, and it’s always a bit tough. And always worthwhile.

New Orleans, LA – Hooked up with las grandes amigas for Mardi Gras 2010. A Classic. Huge crowds of revelers who had been partying since the Super Bowl, picturesque parades with lotz of loot, and exceptional food, drink, and music. I’d like to live there some day, albeit keeping in mind some cautionary words from a very wise man: “New Orleans will not save you from yourself.”

Pensacola, FL – Shacked up on the 15th floor of a high rise overlooking Pensacola Beach (the best beach in America) and joined in the festivities surrounding the nuptials of A.J.’s remaining eligible unmarried niece. Family fun with a nice bunch of relatives.

So… sorry if I missed you on this go-round, but we’re back in South Africa until September, when we ship out for the District of Columbia. I fully realize how fortunate I am to have these travel opportunities and intend to make the most of them. And, rest assured, I will continue to periodically inflict these modest travelogues on all of you. Thanks for your indulgence and comments.