Thursday, 8 February 2018

What goes up must come down

Once back in South Africa I spent my last couple of days in a Johannesburg hotel.  It was very near the airport and full of quirky aviation features.
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The bar stools were aircraft tyres although, funnily enough, no-one deemed them comfortable enough to sit on.
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Working hard honest.
20180117 Pool
My flight home turned out to be a classic Ruth adventure.  We were flying from Johannesburg to Schipol.  As we neared our destination the pilot announced that, due to weather (it turned out to be a major storm across NW mainland Europe), we were in a holding pattern for 45 mins.  So we dose-doed around Amsterdam as elegantly as you can in a 777 for 3/4 of an hour and then came into land.  Or tried to.  Being the geo spotter I am, and particularly because I was bored by this time, I was watching the flights stats screen as we came into land.  2000' feet, 1500' feet, wheels down...  It was the rockiest landing I've ever experienced and people around me were deploying their sick bags.  1000' to go ("thank goodness") and suddenly the pilot nosed up and accelerated.  And then the flight stats screen displayed JNB-BRU. I looked around me and exclaimed "we're going to Brussels!".  The flight attendants told me to shush awaiting the Captain's input (pardon me) and then the Captain tannoyed to say that we couldn't land in Schipol (it was gusting 60 knots) and we were going to Brussels.  So off we went to Belgium.

We landed, taxied and were told that we had to refuel (good point - there is only so long a 777 can be airborne) and would wait until the weather cleared in the Netherlands and then we'd pop back.  However by then, obviously, 100s of flights over Europe were out of place.  Schipol had closed that morning and air traffic control were naturally focussed on landing the long haul flights and just not letting the short haul take off.  At the end of the day, if you have an aircraft coming into land from across the equator, which has been flying for 11 hours and probably only has a couple of hours' fuel left, you're going to make it a priority over a local European flight.  Wow I really do so love how air traffic control works.  It was absolutely seamless.  We tried to land, failed and within a minute air traffic control re-routed us to Brussels, which obviously delayed other flights into Belgium etc etc.

Anyway, after 3 hours on the tarmac we took off for what I think will be my weirdest ever city hop: Brussels to Amsterdam in 25 minutes. In a Boeing 777.

Anyway Schipol was OK except that due to its earlier closure the re-booking facilities were max'ed out and I went all African and simply pretended I didn't understand the queueing system and re-booked my tickets on an available machine (no-one was using it honest) and caught the last flight out of Schipol to London.  Meanwhile I had time to amble amongst the tulips and other non-seasonal events.  I was a little confused by this scene.  There was a guy behind the clock face sort of repainting the clock handles. Very strange.
20180118 Schipol
Aaah, this is better.
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Anyway, I landed at Heathrow late Thursday evening and rocked up to my aunt's at 2200 (I had warned her: she'd had time to hide) and stayed with her overnight.  What a relief.  And then the next morning I ambled home.  I've had shorter journeys back from Africa.

As I rebounded over the next few days - washing, post etc - I emptied my wallet and was amused to see its collection.  This is why I adore travel.
20180119 Money

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Cape Cross - Seals

On Saturday (13 January) Reinhard and myself hired a car and driver (the lovely Zane) and went to Cape Cross.  I'd met Reinhard on the catamaran earlier that week and he'd quickly sussed that I was a bit of a sucker for marine life.  He'd been to Cape Cross before, I think this was his 14th visit to Namibia, but thought I'd enjoy the trip.  Wow.  And I did.

Cape Cross is about 1.5 hours drive north of Swakopmund on tar roads so a very easy journey. It consists of a fur seal colony of around 80,000 to 100,000 seals.  It was first 'discovered' by Portuguese explorer Diego Can in 1486.  He erected a wooden cross which has since been replaced by a stone one, and added to by a German cross.
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The shoreline is just covered in seals.
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There is a dedicated walkway. This works fine until you realise that the seals have fathomed out how to join the visitors - and they are snappy things so best given a wide berth.
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The pups are very cute.
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A pup nursery.
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It's a hard life being a seal.
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It was lovely just to stand and watch (and smell) the wildlife.
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On the journey home we passed typical dwellings.
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And a salt factory.
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And, at my request, we stopped to see this abandoned trawler.
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Reinhard, left, and Zane, right.
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After an early dinner with Reinhard - in the German restaurant Kucki's - and the promise to myself of a prompt night, I fell in with some bad company back at the hostel from the UK who shared their wine with me then dragged me (not that I needed much dragging) to a quirky local bar. I just loved the soap dispensers in the bathroom!
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And that was my last night in Swakopmund.  Staying up far too late talking absolute nonsense with a two Brits (Hull and Newcastle) plus two Germans.  Memorable.  

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Swakopmund - Ambling Around

In between various excursions to see seals, snakes and lizards, I pottered around Swakopmund.  It's a beautiful small town with lovely coffee shops, bars and old buildings - many of which were built by the Germans at the beginning of the 20th Century.

One afternoon I paid 20 N$ (~£1.20) and climbed the Woermann House Tower to enjoy the views of Swakopmund.
20181010 Woermann House Tower
20181001 Woermann House
View to the north.
20180110 Woermann House Swakopmund N
20180110 Woermann House Swakopmund E
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20180110 Woermann House Swakopmund W
And down into the wonderful courtyard.
20180110 Woermann House down
With its decorative tiles.
20180110 Woermann House courtyard plants
This is another beautifully preserved building, Hohenzollern.
20180110 Woermann House view
I'd never seen one of these before! A mobile ATM. I'm not quite sure why it was parked here bearing in mind there were numerous ATMs just around the corner.
20181212 Mobile ATM
And when in Namibia, drink Namibian...
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But I wasn't brave or probably capable enough to down one of these huge steins.
20180112 Stein
I met some interesting people along the way all with their own stories, backgrounds and cultures. Many of them were German but Swiss, Irish, French, Austrian, South African, American and Romanian all appeared along my journey.

I dined out with a French, Swiss and German trio one evening.  They were fun to chat to although we'd unfortunately chosen to eat in a noisy bar so I struggled to hear the conversation.  The Swiss lady was particularly inspirational as she'd travelled solo all over Africa (Rwanda, Uganda etc) and was driving herself around Namibia.  Perhaps I should do so next time.  The French guy had ridden his motorbike down from Gibraltar and the German was just starting a 4 month exploration of Africa.  Blimey - I feel very untravelled.

The following evening I dined with Reinhard at the Jetty.  A place of glorious sunsets. Rienhard (German) is a paraglider and outdoor instructor who I met on the catamaran trip.  As my German is non-existent and his English poor we had to resort to typing messages on his iPad using a translator tool which made the conversation a little stilted.  But not uninteresting.  I think he was just glad to escape his paragliding colleagues for a bit.
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And there goes another day in Namibia.
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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Walvis Bay - Seals and Pelicans

I joined a catamaran tour on Wednesday.  Me, a boat, the ocean and some wildlife.  What is there not to love?

As soon as we left the wall a seal jumped up aft. They probably lie in wait for the boats to launch as they know there's brunch on board.
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They sit anywhere. Even leaning up against the passengers.
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As we sailed we attracted a following who enjoyed the fish we had on board.
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Such beautiful beaks.
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I think this has to be best wildlife photo I've ever taken. Look at that cartoon look on the pelican!
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I sat on the top of the cataman, wind in hair, blanket over knees and was handed a so-called 'Namibian coffee'. It's sweet sherry.
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And as you'd expect, it didn't take me long to join the skipper on the bridge. 22 deg south - just north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
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I spotted a lighthouse on the chart, which we ended up sailing quite close to.
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A flock of cormorants.
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Oyster pot markers.  The oysters are started off in Chile and imported here.  It's a huge business.
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As we motored up the spit we spotted a couple of jackals on the sand.
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It's a hard life waiting for dinner.
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We sailed to the edge of the bay to the fur seal colony.
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This ship looks beached, but it's just the other side of the sand bar.
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A seal tiff.
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Lots and lots and lots.
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And a tourist (elephant seal).
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A dead one being inspected for a tasty snack.
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As we sped back to harbour a seal played in the wake of the boat.
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We then had a snack - oysters and other meat type delicacies which I obviously turned my nose up at.
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Mmmm, oysters. Yum. Not.
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But at least I had compensation!
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What a lovely way to spend a few hours.  Muchly loved.