Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Exciting news!

If you live somewhere where nothing ever happens...

Next weekend, both a comedy show AND a jazz show are scheduled to take place right here in Gaborone, Botswana. Now we can finally find out about the real Botswana comedy scene!

Why they would schedule all cultural events of 2011 for one weekend is beyond me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Solitaire, together (Part 2)

When we last left you, it was New Year's Eve, and we had just pulled over to the side of the road in Middle of Nowhere, Namib-Nauklaft Desert. Our fan belt was broken and we were stuck.

We hopped out of the car and checked for snakes in the high grass. The loud buzz of desert beetles was ominous, but we had plenty of drinking water. I checked the fish--still frozen.

Less than a minute after we pulled over, we flagged down the first car that passed us. In it was a friendly Portuguese family of tourists. They offered us water. We had plenty. They offered us petrol. We had plenty of that, too. The dad offered to tow us to the next town, even though their car was only 2WD. The mom tried to dissuade the dad, in Portuguese.

Luckily, the conversation was moot because a minute later, a huge truck drove by. They pulled over, hitched our car to theirs like they'd done it a thousand times and we were on our way.

(Our view for the next 45 minutes)

We had to keep the car turned off, which meant no a/c. And we couldn't open the windows because clouds of suffocating dust would blow in. A rock shot up and cracked D's front windshield. We were trapped and sweating buckets. Feeling useless, I took it upon myself to make sure we all stayed hydrated, even if the water we had was warm and unappetizing.

The truck driver and his companion towed us to the nearest town, a little rest-stop called Solitaire. It was about 80 km north of Sossusvlei, where we were headed. He dropped us off near the gas station and we climbed out.

We waved at the Portuguese family eating lunch at the little restaurant next to the gas station. They waved back.

(Um...okay, I guess.)

We got the car looked at by a couple of mechanics who had a small repair shop there. They didn't have the right size replacement fanbelt. We called a tow company in Windhoek--it would cost $600 to be towed. Not to mention that it was New Year's Eve and they weren't willing to tow us for a couple of days. We talked to a Land Rover parts store in Windhoek. They'd send us the fanbelt but were we sure it was just the fanbelt and not the wheel that had seized? They were right. The wheel had seized because the bearing was shot (hey, you'd know a lot about Land Rovers, too, at this point). We talked about getting a tour company to drive us to Sossusvlei for the day, but it was expensive and we decided it wasn't worth it. Our car was broken and we weren't going to see the famous dunes of Sossusvlei. We were feeling kinda down.

Then it started to rain.

(Drizzle on Tando's hood--D's car is named "Tando," not sure if I mentioned that.)

Did I mention we were in the desert?

(Someone does a really poor job of filling out this chart, but I gather it does not rain much in Solitaire.)

We were feeling pretty darn sorry for ourselves. But then, the rainclouds lifted. We put up our tents and lit some coals to grill the miraculously still-cold fish. The sun started to set.

(D slept in the small tent and A and I slept in the huge tent. We were carrying jerrycans of petrol in the trunk, and they spilled all over D's sleeping bag and our sleeping pad, so our tents basically stank of petrol. Also, we were highly flammable.)

(Oh wait a minute, it's really beautiful here.)

(I really do wear that shirt a lot! Also, take stupid pictures!)

We got some beers and even a tiny bottle of champagne at the town general store, and started to slow down to the Solitaire pace of life.

(Beautiful sunsets. Grilled fish. Beer. If we'd meant to end up here, it would have been charming.)

That night, we also ran into A's Doris Duke friend and her family, whom we'd seen in Swakopmund. They were on their way to Windhoek the next day and offered to take one of us to the Land Rover store to get the parts we needed. We didn't know how said person would get back so we declined.

The guy who seemed to run most of Solitaire threw a big party that night for New Year's. Lots of people were up late dancing. A and I fell asleep, actually, but we woke up at midnight to light sparklers and drink champagne.

(A ran around waving his sparkler like a kid with a sparkler.)

We woke up the next morning and set out to explore Solitaire. We walked through a flock of peacocks (no idea why there were peacocks) and started our day with breakfast at the surprisingly delicious bakery. Apparently, it is famous for its apple pie. They also had excellent filter coffee (aka REAL coffee). We started to loosen up a bit.

(Thank god for this place.)

(Really good scones, too.)

The bakery was awesome, not only because of the baked goods but because of the eccentric owner and head baker, Moose McGregor (doesn't that sound like a character from a children's book?). Moose was alternately rude and overly friendly, both snapping at me and insisting I check out the burn he'd gotten that morning--on his (rather large) belly.

(Charming Solitaire.)

Probably the saving grace of Solitaire, even more than the bakery, was the pool. Technically, it belonged to the small hotel, where we were not staying, but we figured our situation earned us access. We spent most of our time there.

(I read one and a half books in those lounge chairs.)

On our second full day in Solitaire, we started to get bored. What time was it? Why was it so hot? Was there any cold water? Should I get some ice cream? What's the point of it all?

After two nights in Solitaire, growing increasingly antsy, we were planning to get towed the next day. We were eating breakfast in the bakery, when D started up a conversation with a guy from Swakopmund, also a Land Rover owner, named Charles, who was passing through. Charles told us we were crazy to get towed, and that his son surfed with someone who worked at the Land Rover parts store in Swakopmund and when he got there he would send the part down to us via a tour company. It was a big risk to stay another day and wait for the part, but we decided to put our trust in Charles.

A few minutes after we said goodbye to Charles, the Portuguese family came to the bakery. They were on their way back from Sossusvlei. They could not believe we were still there.

The next day we sat nervously by the gas station, waiting for the tour company to bring the parts. There were so many things that could go wrong--Charles not delivering the order, the store not having the right parts or being closed, the tour company not getting the parts to bring down, the parts not actually fitting onto the car. But amazingly, it all worked out. The bush mechanics fixed us up, free of charge.

That night we tried to celebrate by making homemade pizza over an open fire with bread from the bakery and sauce and cheese from the general store. It did not work.

(The general store where I sat and used the wifi. Of course they had better internet access in Solitaire than we do in our apartment.)

But we didn't even care! We were going home! After five days and four nights in Solitaire, we were finally free! drive to Windhoek, over bad roads and frightening cliffs, and then another 12 hours to Gabs.

And from that day on, Solitaire always held a special place in our hearts as somewhere we never, ever wanted to go to again.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Solitaire, together (Part 1)

(Daisies only make me think of wedding planning--sick.)

I've been meaning to post about our adventures in Namibia for a while. These actually took place over the end of December 2010 and New Year's 2011. But let's pretend it was last week or something. What's the difference to you anyway?

A and I drove to Namibia with our friend D. It takes 12 hours to drive from Gaborone to Windhoek, Namibia's capital city. The scenery doesn't change much, but it's quite pretty.

(Artsy rear-view mirror shot. Did I mention the drive took 12 hours?)

(Either that's a giant bunny in the sky or we were losing it.)

At a rest-stop called Kang halfway between Gabs and the Namibia border, D, who grew up here, ran into someone he knows. They said hi, and then just moved on, like it was no big deal to see a random friend in the middle of nowhere. Botswana really is a small town.

Windhoek was pretty nice, although it seemed to have been abandoned (apparently most people leave for the beach during the summer break). We spent the night there and ate at a West African restaurant for dinner. The food was amazing.

There were two roaches in our hostel dorm room and it was about 100 degrees in the room. Gross.

(Obviously, we're at brunch. Do you see Namibia in the background? Also, look, I'm wearing that pink shirt!)

In the morning, we had brunch and then got on the road again and headed for Swakopmund. As we drove, the scenery became more and more desolate, until there was nothing but sand.

(Already less green than Botswana.)

(Palm trees?!)

Swakopmund is a charming coastal town, that all the guidebooks say is "more German than Germany." I don't know about that (never been to Germany), but it was pretty cute and could not be more different than Botswana. We watched the sun set over the rotten-fish-smelling ocean and the following morning, we went sandboarding.

(Charming D and charming A check out charming Swakopmund.)

(A romantic, fishy sunset.)

(Dunes! Or as D said with his weird Irish-Botswana accent, "djunes!")

Sandboarding was totally sweet! At first it was quite scary (also exhausting to climb those dunes), but there were some little (6 and 8 years old) kids in our group who were fearless. After they went down, how could we be scared? I went both the fastest and farthest of anyone in our group, because I excel at things that aren't quite sports. We rode down the dunes on our tummies, but some people did more like snowboarding in sand.

The sandboarding day was probably the best day of our trip (foreshadowing). After sandboarding, we went to our hotel and washed off the buckets of sand we'd acquired on every surface of our bodies. We took a leisurely walk through downtown Swakopmund, stopping at a bookshop, a cafe, and a shop that sold really neat antique stamps from Southern Africa. We got a couple of old Botswana ones, and some that said "Rhodesia." We mailed a couple of postcards that have still not made it to our families in America. We walked down to check out the old Lighthouse, then got ice cream that didn't suck for once AND German pastries that definitely did not suck, and finally made our way to a great wood-burning oven pizza place for dinner. It did not suck.

While we were sitting at the cafe, we ran into another Doris Duke fellow, who is based in Durban this year. She was traveling with her family and they were also heading down to Sossusvlei next to check out the dunes (remember this for later).

(Did I mention my entire blog is an advertisement for Penn's study abroad programs?)

The next day we went on a boat tour. We saw hundreds of seals, a few dolphins, some weird-looking pelicans, and a family of racist Afrikaaners!

(D feeding a seal. Please don't feed the racists.)

The Afrikaaners actually came right on our boat and talked to us about how black people don't take care of their women and children, don't have "our morals," and how when you see the violence in South Africa today, you start to "understand why we had Apartheid." That and the smell of seal poop made me a bit seasick.

(D and A took turns taking naps like this.)

In the afternoon, we went to the snake park. It was full of snakes. Did you know how many poisonous snakes inhabit Southern Africa? And how many D's mom has found in his backyard? Apparently, they're everywhere! Great!

On our last morning in Swakopmund, we were riding high. We got some groceries and frozen fish to grill that night when we went camping near the Sossusvlei dunes (one of the charms of Namibia was the availability of fish, unlike in Botswana). We drove out of the city and A blasted Bon Jovi as we enjoyed the scenery of sand dunes on our left and ocean views on our right.

A couple of hours later, we hit some really weird scenery. These huge rocky hills were everywhere, and meanwhile the road was getting worse. We started sliding back and forth in the dirt.

At one point, we saw some people stopped on the side of the road. They were watching a group of completely camouflaged zebras nearby.

We drove on, and on, and on. The road was rocking us up and down and back and forth. Suddenly, D said "Uh oh, the engine's overheated." He pulled over immediately, popped open the hood, and yanked out a piece of shredded black rubber. Then he made a pronouncement that would change our plans quite a bit for the next week or so.

"The fan belt's shot."

(To be continued sometime when uploading photos isn't taking so freaking long...)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Riding in a mokoro even though it's terrifying

(Very few days are like this here.)

I really did not want to go in a mokoro. A mokoro is a low-sitting canoe traditionally carved out of a tree (most today are made of fiberglass so they're more eco-friendly). Everyone at Penn knows that a doctor visiting here was tragically killed by a crocodile while riding in a mokoro, and I've been swearing I would not go for a ride in one. Why risk it?

But then everyone was doing it.

Everyone is A's parents (above), who were visiting us last week and took us on all sorts of luxurious and extravagant trips.

Well, A's mom didn't want to do it either, but she got convinced, and then I took two Klonopin and I got convinced, too.

It wasn't even that scary! Just a little bit when we got in, and then during the middle part. Our guide made me a necklace from a lily. A's parents' guide made himself a hat out of a lily pad.

This is of course just part one of a gazillion part series on "Things I Didn't Post Yet But Now They're Really Adding Up, So We'll See What I Get To."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Sites of Gaborone

We have visitors this week in the form of A's parents, so we're taking them to see the key sites of Gabs:
  1. Fego--the decent Italian restaurant inside of the oddly shaped Square Mart building.
  2. Sanitas--a garden restaurant--great for brunch and allegedly the best ice cream in town.
  3. Cafe Dijo--feels like you're in an American cafe, decent lattes.
  4. Equatorial--probably the best place to sit and work at Riverwalk, assuming their internet's working. Best lattes in town.
  5. Chutney's--best Indian food if you can deal with it doing a number on your digestion for a few days afterward.
  6. Bull and Bush--safari themed pub with decent tomato soup and cheesy bread.
  7. Fresh Cafe--great lunch place.
This way we can make sure they're getting the full Gabs experience.