Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Himba Nation

One of the things that was important to us during this trip was making sure we connected with the people of each area we visited. To be honest, this ended up being more challenging than we thought it would be as we were often viewed as tourists (which, of course, we were) and as a source of income. That said, we still had plenty of deep and authentic connections with people all through our travels, and one of the most intimate experiences we had was when we visited a Himba village.

The Himba people live in northern Namibia and form a very specific tribal group. The Himba are cattle farmers and the men often take more than one wife. In our case, the family we visited had four wives, one husband, and sixteen children.

Himba husband, two wives, and children around the main fire

Julia with the first wife

Family photo 

The Himba people live in northern Namibia and also in Angola, and set up their villages in the desert. The village we visited was just in the process of moving locations, which basically means re-building the round, earthen huts they live in and moving their few belongings.

Himba playground

Himba toy

The first wife of the village was very interested in teaching us about her culture, and particularly about what women do to be beautiful. In traditional Himba culture, the women wear almost no clothing except for a small piece of cloth over their lower body. The women are not allowed to touch water, and never bathe. Their form of bathing is to build a small fire each night, burn herbs and incense in the fire, then cover themselves in a cloak over the fire to let the smoke penetrate their skin.

Wearing handmade jewelry and rubbing ochre into skin makes this Himba woman beautiful

A large part of Himba beauty involves rubbing ochre into skin. The women from Himba villages will travel for days by foot, or, if they're lucky, in the back of a truck, to collect ochre from the mountains. They then rub the powder into butter and rub it into their skin and hair.

First wife with ochre rubbed on her hair

Hands dyed red from ochre

Julia has been beautified by getting ochre rubbed on her legs and by wearing the traditional Himba wedding cap

Before we left, the first wife of the village wanted to sing a song for us.We were able to catch it on video, and showed it to her after she was finished. The look on her face as she watched herself was priceless.

The first wife asked to walk us to our car as we left, and after many hugs and a few kisses, we climbed into the truck and headed back to our campsite.

Though we were with this family for just a few hours, the memory will stay with us for a lifetime. What a gift to be welcomed so openly into their lives, even if it was just for a brief moment in time.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Double Click

We knew when we planned this trip that we would meet many different people from varying tribes and cultures. We've really enjoyed learning a few words in other languages, particularly the languages of the local tribes in the areas we traveled through.

We especially enjoyed our trip to Damaraland in Northern Namibia, where we had the chance to meet and spend time with a lot of Damara people.

We asked Tony, our guide at Twyfelfontein, to make a video explaining the different click sounds in the Damara language and how to make them. He was happy to help, and incredibly professional considering he's never been filmed before. Watch and see how good he is on camera!

We loved his enthusiasm - so go visit him already!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Border Patrol

The town of Kasane, Botswana sits at the corner of three other countries: Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia. As we'd already traveled through Namibia, we decided Kasane was a good place to slow down for a few days as we did some research to determine whether we should head into Zambia or Zimbabwe next.

We'd heard from other campers that Senyanti Safari Camp was a good spot, so we headed there. It turned out we liked the camp (and the owners - Louw and Lulu) so much we stayed for three days. The big draw? A private watering hole where animals from Zimbabwe crossed over into Botswana (the border here is around 100 meters behind the water hole) for water during the dry season.

Elephant and Giraffe having a drink in the hot afternoon

Young elephant after a mudbath

Our first afternoon we looked off in the distance and saw something moving near the treeline - and realized it was a herd of buffalo heading our way. As we watched, the buffalo just kept coming - first it was one, then three, then five, then too many coming too fast to count. We looked to our left and saw a family of about 20 elephants moving in as well - and as soon as the buffalo and elephants sensed each other, the race was on to get to the water. The elephants picked up their pace and sprinted toward the watering hole - they have a favorite spot in the center where the fresh water comes out. The buffalo were happy enough to take whichever spot they could find, but they had to watch out as they were quickly knocked out of the way by the large elephants. 

Elephants and Cape buffalo jockeying for position
Two young elephants
By the end of the night, over 300 buffalo had visited the waterhole along with around 100 elephants - that was a view that couldn't be beat!

We did take one night off from the water hole to do a sunset cruise on the Chobe River. We'd heard rave reviews of the sunset view from there, and had to check it out. Like many tourist attractions, it ended up being a little more crowded than we would have preferred, but we enjoyed our time on the river nonetheless.

Boat parade on the Chobe River Sunset cruise
Elephant on the Chobe River - this one is shaking the dirt off the reeds pulled from the river

African Darter - these birds swim with their bodies under water so they often just look like snake heads sticking out of the water

Open-bill stork

Male waterbuck with a Cape buffalo in the background


White-fronted bee eater
Chobe River Sunset
Chobe River Sunset

Our final evening in Senyanti we were invited by Lulu and Louw to go into the underground bunker they had built just a few meters from the water hole - we were able to see the elephants up close and even had one step on top of the bunker for a few moments:

Watching a breeding herd drinking from the underground bunker

Viewing a large bull elephant from the safety of our bunker

We'd planned to go into Zimbabwe at this point, but as there were presidential elections happening on July 31st, we decided that we'd better avoid Zim for the time being and headed into Zambia instead. (Yes, we know we are quite behind in our posts!)

We'd been warned of the difficulty of crossing into Zambia by the company we rented our vehicle from, so we left camp early to make sure we'd have plenty of time to get through the border.

Exiting Botswana was super simple for us, but much less simple for the truckers who drive the routes into Zambia and Zimbabwe. There were transport trucks lined up for over 5 kilometers waiting to get on the ferry to Zambia - some of them told us they'd been waiting in line for three weeks as the ferry is quite small and can't move many vehicles at once.

Trucks waiting in line for 3 weeks to get into Zambia
Once we'd exited Bostwana, we knew we had to catch a ride with a ferry about 750 meters across the Zambezi river to get into Zambia. Imagine our joy and surprise when this is what pulled up:

Kazungula Ferry to Zambia

The ferry fit exactly two cars and one long-haul truck - plus about 20 pedestrians. Once on the ferry, we had to get out of the cars (even though the ride took only about 5 minutes). We tried not to be too nervous even though water from the river was splashing over our feet as we stood on the ferry.

Kazungula Ferry to Zambia

Asa driving off the Kazungula Ferry
When we arrived in Zambia, we were careful to make sure we stopped at all the offices we needed to visit in order to enter the country. Unlike Namibia, Botswana, and South Africa, Zambia requires the payment of several taxes and fees in addition to a visa.

Our first stop was at immigration where we paid the visa fee of $50 each for a 30 day stay in Zambia. The immigration official was incredibly helpful and even warned us that Zambia had changed it's currency at the beginning of the year and taught us how to tell the difference between the old and new notes.

New banknotes from 1/1/13 in Zambia
After we went through immigration, we had to head to the customs office, around the corner and past a very bored looking guard holding an AK-47. In the customs office, we had to file a temporary import permit for our car, and pay a fee for bringing the car into Zambia. There began our first problem - the customs office only takes Zambian kwacha, and we only had US dollars, Namibian dollars, and South African rand. The customs official told us to simply go around the corner to the bank located within the immigration office to exchange cash - easy enough. We walked over to the bank and asked to change some USD into kwacha. The two men there told us it wasn't possible to change money as they didn't have the correct stationary - they'd just run out. We asked if they had kwacha, which they did, just not the right paper to write a receipt for us. We asked if they could make a copy of a receipt, to which they turned away from us and discussed for a few moments. No, they could not. But they could direct us to another office to exchange money.

We followed their directions and headed out of the immigration office, past the officer with the AK-47, and around the corner to an exchange bureau where we quickly were able to pick up the necessary kwacha. We went back to the customs office and tried to pay our fee - unfortunately, the cashier had gone to lunch while we were out getting kwacha. No big deal, we said, we'll just go make our other payments.

First, we headed back toward the ferry (and past the AK-47) to the police station, where we had to hand over a $20 bill (in US currency). We're still not sure why we had to pay that, perhaps a road tax, perhaps just a quick bribe, but everyone told us to go to the police office to pay $20.

With that done, we needed to pick up third party insurance, which is required if you are self-driving in Zambia. Funnily enough, the insurance covers almost nothing - we just looked at it as another travel tax. After standing in the road trying to figure out where the third party insurance office was, we went back to the customs office to ask the official there as he had been super helpful to us. He walked us outside (again past the AK-47 wielding guard) and pointed at a white building on the outside of the gate. We walked over, knocked, and were promptly let in. We asked for third party insurance and received blank stares - we were definitely in the wrong office. One of the men there told us to go to the green building across the street.

We walked across the street (with dozens of 'touts' in tow - men who want you to pay them to help simplify the immigration process) and into the green building, and were sure we had the wrong place again. There were four women sitting inside and dressed to kill - long artificial nails, complicated weaves, and tight vests and shirts that showed off ALL their assets. It looked much more like a beauty salon than an insurance office, but it turned out we were in the right place. Getting the insurance form filled out took much longer than we expected, and the women were looking Julia up and down for about 10 minutes before one of them said,

"You know, we like your style. Your hair."

Julia: "Oh, thank you."

Insurance woman: "We can't have hair like that, we have to have weaves."

Julia: "I think your hair looks nice, too."

All the women: "Oooooh, thank you!!"

Insurance woman: "You know, we think you don't look like a white girl. White girls are always skinny skinny. You aren't skinny skinny. You have curves and boobs. We like it. It's nice."

Julia: "Um, thank you?"

Finally the insurance paperwork was finished, and we were able to head back to the customs office (and of course past the guard with the weapon) to see if the cashier was back from lunch. She wasn't, but the customs official liked us and called us over. He wrote a note at the top of our temporary import permit saying we could just pay the fee upon exiting Zambia. With a wave and a smile, we ran out to our truck and jumped in, ready to get out of there.

At the last minute, we noticed a woman flagging us down - we had inadvertently passed her when we were trying to leave. We had to show her all our papers, and once she was satisfied, she let us drive through the gate.

Two hours after getting off the ferry we were finally in Zambia! Could have been easy to get frustrated, but we decided to approach everything with a sense of humor, which really helped.That seems to be the best way to handle most things here. We left the border post hoping that our adventures in our fourth African country would be less complicated.