Sawat dee kha! We’re in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and while Kyle is busy remembering and practicing the Thai that he learned 20 years ago, I am leaning on the power of an apologetic smile and clumsy sign language for most of my communication here. Fortunately, most of the Thai people we encounter are pretty adept at deciphering what I’m trying to get across, or speak a little English. Especially here in Nimman, the hipster neighborhood where we’ve rented an apartment. Just how hipster? The coffee shop across the street, Ristr8to, has won awards internationally for their latte art.
Before coming to Chiang Mai, we spent a week in Bangkok, adjusting to the heat, enjoying the food, and visiting Chatuchak Market and Wat Arun.
We arrived here in Chiang Mai just in time for the Loy Krathong / Yi Peng Festival. For two nights we observed, and participated in, the beautiful spectacle of thousands of rice paper lanterns being sent aloft, while thousands more krathong (floating vessels with lit candles and incense) were floated down the Ping River.
There was also a parade that included the US Consul General, on a float, dressed in what looked like clothing from the 1800’s. This year marks 200 years of US-Thai friendly relations, which has involved a number of celebrations marking the occasion, as well as some interesting murals. Also, swing dancers!
We’ve been gobbling up experiences over the past few months and sometimes it feels like we aren’t giving ourselves time to digest. (Thanksgiving is on my mind, can you tell?) So it feels like the right time to slow our pace and settle somewhere for a few months. We’re camped out here in Chiang Mai for a couple more weeks, and on December 10th we’ll head to Hoi An, Vietnam, probably until March. We’ll definitely be taking some small side trips (and likely one bigger one, to the Philippines, with my sister Katy), and we have the great good luck of having my brother Brad and his family coming to visit at the end of January. It’s hard to put into words just how excited Max and Henry are to see their cousins. They miss family and friends, deeply.
We were on the move a lot in Namibia, and somehow still left feeling like there was plenty that we didn’t see. What we did see was captivating and often breathtaking.
Namibia is approximately twice the size of California, with a population that is about 6% of California’s (2.5 million vs. almost 40 million). It is almost all desert, and most of the people live either in the far north (where the rain falls), or in Windhoek, the capitol. The rest of the country has a population density of under 3 people per square kilometer. Driving along the wide, mostly gravel or sand roads, the vast empty spaces are striking.
We started our trip in Windhoek, which we didn’t really get to see much of as we left the next day to start camping. Our rented 4×4 came fully equipped with camping gear, two rooftop tents, and the all-important refrigerator, to keep beers and milk cold. We managed to adapt to having the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left pretty quickly.
We struggled a bit to find our first campsite at Weaver’s Rock, as we inexplicably decided to ignore the brightly painted signs with arrows that said, “Weaver’s Rock” and instead followed our Google Maps directions which led us to a locked gate on a dusty road. Once we changed tack and arrived, we found ourselves at a lovely, shady campsite with stunning views. The pool was just down a little path and the next morning the boys were very happy to jump in for a while before we took off. I managed to literally rip the diamond out of my ring trying to set up the rooftop tent. Luckily it didn’t go far, and I found it. Related aside: Diamond mining is a significant part of Namibia’s economy, and surprisingly, a lot of the mining happens on the sea floor.
Our next stop was Waterberg Andersson Camp, where a personal highlight was watching Max cheerfully scoop the baboon poop from around the pool so no one would step in it while they swam, and observing all the birds that congregated and chit chatted at the pool.
We also took a short hike along the “Porcupine Highway” to a spring that supplies all of the water for the lodge and campsites, and along the way learned that acacia trees have evolved to defend themselves against giraffe by emitting indigestible tannins when the giraffe starts to browse. When one tree does it, it also emits a scent that alerts all the other trees in the area so they do, too. Evolution, man.
We got better at setting up and taking down the tents as the trip progressed, and the only other major tent mishap was when Kyle and I didn’t properly close everything up one rainy night at Okaukuejo camp in Etosha National Park and woke up at about 1:00am because our foam mat had become a saturated sponge and we were getting soaked. Our luck was that the next day was sunny and hot, and the mat dried nicely by the afternoon. Besides Okaukuejo, we stayed at Halali and Olifantsrus camps in Etosha, for a total of 6 nights in the park.
After Etosha, we headed west and south toward the coast. We spent one night in Hoada, and I think we all agreed it should have been two. The campsite was nestled among huge boulders and had running water and even a hot shower when the boiler was lit. And I mean “lit” literally. One of the staff comes around at 4pm and 6am each day and lights a small wood fire under the water tank to heat it.
At sunset, we walked up to the bar (also situated among the huge rocks) to watch not only the sun set, but a storm roll toward us across the plain. The staff were hopeful for rain, but the storm passed by and just a few drops fell that night.
The next two nights we spent in Uis, a former mining town near the White Lady painting in Brandberg Mountain. Having visited rock engravings at Twyfelfontein (and a petrified forest!) in Damaraland already, and feeling a little punished by the heat, it wasn’t difficult for the kids to convince us to stay at camp and swim instead of going to see the White Lady.
We also wandered into Cactus and Coffee, where I learned, to the kids’ great envy, that if you order an iced coffee in Namibia, it comes with a large scoop of ice cream in it!
From Uis, we continued on to Spitzkoppe – the “Matterhorn of Namibia” – where Kyle made friends with the rock hyrax, and I briefly mistook a horse for a baby elephant. I tell you, heat does things to your brain sometimes.
Spitzkoppe is also where Kyle got stung by a bee on the ankle and the swelling and pain were severe enough that he couldn’t drive and we ended up having it checked out at the pharmacy in Hentie’s Bay. He was fine – he just needs to stop wandering into the homes of stinging insects.
All of us were excited to get to the coastal town of Hentie’s Bay, both for the cooler weather and for the luxuries of a beachfront condo for a few days.
Wifi, a kitchen, real beds… not to mention laundry service, which we sorely needed at that point. We relaxed, the kids played in the sand, and we visited the Cape Cross seal colony, possibly the stinkiest tourist attraction I’ve ever visited.
Swakopmund (another condo) was next. We arrived on Henry’s birthday and while the celebration was small and the gifts were minimal, he got lots of messages from friends and family and got to stay up late, so deemed it a success. We managed to vote by fax while we were in Swakopmund and play our small part in flipping CA10 for the Democrats. Swakop, as they call it, has a kind of SoCal vibe to it, with a lot of beach houses and oceanfront condos and hotels, a nice beach promenade, and lots of little boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. We spent a few hours browsing through the quirky but informative Swakopmund Museum, where we saw our only cheetah of the trip (stuffed).
After five nights without having to set up our tents, I was sort of dreading camping again. But when we arrived at Rooisand Desert Ranch and Stefan welcomed us with a cold beer and an invitation for the boys to use the swimming pool, I decided I could manage.
Our second to last night camping was at Sesriem, where we stayed for early access to the dunes at Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. Calvin, one of the staff at Sesriem, asked us about the recent election and introduced us to the Gondwana Collection’s videos, which poke some good humored fun at the current US administration, as well as promoting all things Namibia.
In the spirit of saving the best for last, Kyle had booked our final night camping at a luxury site in Lake Oanob Resort in Rehoboth, just south of Windhoek. We were right on the lake, with a big, thatched roof kitchen and seating area that caught the breeze perfectly. The restaurant and pool were just down a brick path, and we alternated between relaxing at the pool and relaxing lakeside. Really, roughing it.
Our final day, back in Windhoek, we said goodbye to the Toyota HiLux, did our best to wash the dust and sand out of our clothes and off of ourselves, and got ready for an epic travel day (and night) to Bangkok.
October 16th: Hallo from München we are right now (but not when you read this) in the B&B hotel. The day after three weeks ago tomorrow we leave for Namibia. Can’t blog without WiFi. Will pick up writing in three weeks.
November 9th: …Three weeks later, we are in an AirBnB in Windhoek.
We have stayed at the Weavers Rock, Andersson camp, Halali, Okaukuejo, Olifantsrus, Hoada, White Lady, Spitzköppe, Rooisand, Sesriem, and Lake Oanob campsites. (My favorite one was the White Lady.) And Airbnbs in Hentiesbaai/Hentiesbay and Swakopmund. I had my birthday in Swakopmund.
On my birthday we went out to dinner at gabriele’s italian pizzeria and it was awesome. Then we watched Black Panther, had ice cream, and stayed up to 11 o’clock. The next day we went quad biking and sandboarding, my thumb died, and somebody broke their arm. It was super fun.
Tomorrow we leave for Bangkok.
November 13th: We got to Bangkok a few days ago and on the first day I slept until 12 in the afternoon. Then we went to a cool new mall called IconSiam (cost $2.5 billion) that opened two days ago but the sinks were probably a last minute job because they were already broken. The next day we went to the Vietnamese consulate to get visas. Now I know why people go in saunas to lose weight. IT IS SO HOT HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
One of the most memorable aspects of visiting Namibia has been the animals, so we’ve summarized some of our favorite encounters here.
LionWe watched these two lions in Etosha for about 40 minutes from as close as 50 feet away. We felt lucky to get such a close view as Etosha is a large area (8,600 sq miles) and tourists are restricted to a limited number of roads and cannot leave their vehicle. These guys were hanging out right by a road. We arrived and quickly figured out that they were mating (short sessions every 10 minutes or so). This photo is the lioness letting the lion know that they’re done. Max + Henry claim that this experience should fulfill any sex ed requirement for the rest of this year.
We got a chance to see elephants at several of the waterholes in Etosha. This is a breeding herd at Okaukuejo. The most memorable experience was at Olifantrus at night viewing the elephants from within a large viewing hide.
Rock HyraxThe rock hyrax or dassie is one of my favorite animals in Namibia. Believe it or not, they are the closest living relative of the elephant. They hang out on the rocks in the desert and can scale seemingly impossibly steep rock faces and jump from ledge to ledge. They owned the giant pile of boulders that we picked as a campsite in Spitzkoppe and so we got to know them well. They were all curious about us and some of them were brave enough to stand their ground as I approached to photograph them. This one was from about 6 feet away.
Agama Lizard (male)We saw a lot of Agama in the desert and they are strikingly colorful, especially the male. After getting used to so many animals that have adapted so well to disappear in to their environment, it’s surprising to see these guys sticking out like neon.
Springbok are everywhere in Namibia, especially within Etosha. We started to take them for granted after a while. We didn’t really appreciate them fully until we saw a bunch of younger ones together actually springing around together at play (pronking), which is very impressive.
OstrichWe saw ostrich in several areas of Namibia. They’re easy to spot even from far away as a big black circle against the landscape. Such a large and funny looking animal. It was a treat to see a few families in Etosha, with a dozen or so chicks.
For height reasons, it seemed fairly easy to spot giraffe in the wild. Sometimes we could seem them from miles away against the horizon line. To see them walk around up close was a treat.
We only saw a few hyenas as they are mostly nocturnal. We saw this one in the morning getting a drink near the road. I thought it might be rabid as its mouth was foaming and it was moving back and forth slowly and seemed a bit confused.
These things just look cool. I feel like most of my prior exposure to the wildebeest was on nature documentaries, starring as the prey of choice for a big cat. So, it was good to see them relaxing. They seem to hang out with zebras a lot.
OryxOryx or gemsbok are one of the most visually striking antelope and are impressive for their ability survive without water for long periods of time. They are very well adapted to the desert and were one of the few large animals that we saw deep in the Namib.
Like the springbok, wild zebras were exciting to see at first. But, they are so common in Etosha that we started to take them, too, for granted after seeing hundreds of them. They like to travel in big herds and block the roads for drivers and completely take over the waterholes.
We only saw these two rhino – at night at the waterhole at Halali campsite. They are endangered and not commonly seen. Etosha lodges have game spotting logs that guests can use to record the details of sightings so that others know where to look. There are notices on each log book banning the recording of rhino sightings for fear that poachers will use the information.
Common DuikerThe common duiker is one of the smallest antelopes in southern Africa. They’re super cute. Even the adults look like babies. This one let Max and I get pretty close while on a hike in Waterberg.
Damara Red Billed HornbillI only saw one of these – in Spitzkoppe near our campsite. The red bill was striking.
There is much more to say about Namibia, so more posts from us and from the kids are coming. We’re off to Bangkok, Thailand tomorrow, trading 8% humidity for 83% – this should be interesting.