Sosussvlei – dawn

Sossusvlei just before sunrise

Based on my experience photographing sand dunes in Death Valley, California, one of the best times to take pictures is at sunrise. (And I shouldn’t forget to add it is also the coolest time of day too.) After the long journey the day before, getting up at 4:30 was no picnic. Speaking of which, the lodge had packed one for us intrepid folk who insist on gobbling up nature at the light of dawn. It was still dark, our driver advised us to put on coats as it would be cold in the open jeep for the 35 minutes or so it would take to get from the lodge to Sossusvlei itself. While others were sleeping, I kept an eye out for that moment before the sun rises that marks the first dawn in order to take pictures, even if it meant a slow shutter speed and a bumpy ride.
I had never seen such large dunes before: in the blue dawn light, their size and redness were very impressive. Standing like silent sentinels, it was impossible not to be awed by nature’s majesty. Although I was able to take sharp, movement-free images later, I think that some of these early dawn shots are more expressive.


Windhoek – Sossusvlei

On the C23 to Sossus Dunes

At long last, a dream come true: to see the huge sand dunes of Sossuvlei, in the middle of the Namib desert. Off I went south from Windhoek through Rehoboth and quite nicely missed the turnoff to Sossuvlei. (Just outside Windhoek, there was a family of baboons clustered along the edge of the highway. One had to be careful as it seemed they thought of nothing of traipsing across the highway at a moment’s notice.)
Paved (or tarred as they are called here) roads are labelled Bx and everything else is C, D, E, F. F type roads is really nothing more than a beaten track. C type roads – gravel – are the norm and thus many destinations in Namibia require traveling these roads.
Missing the turn off at Rehoboth resulted in a detour that added two more hours to the total travel time and meant taking yet another stretch of gravel roads lasting 4 hours. The upside was snaking through very beautiful mountain ranges and combined with the very low population density left a feeling of being quite small in the middle of all this grandeur. It is a peculiar feeling to be traveling in places where there is no cellular access, very few cars and thus the possibility of being stranded due to mechanical failure was real. Yet, some people live in the middle of all of this and in what looks like very difficult conditions.
Given the condition of the road and the need to be careful with the car meant travelling most of the time no more than 40km/hr. Surprisingly, there were long stretches where it was possible to travel at more normal speeds. Given the 400km gap between Windhoek and Sossus Dunes, add the detour, the trip took about 7 hours to complete.

Namutoni (Etosha east) – Otjiwarongo (Cheetah Conservation Fund)

The drive to Otjiwarongo was thankfully on paved roads (or tarred, as they say here). I had paid for a full day at the Cheetah Conservation Fund, but I over-estimated our ability to cover the distance in time for the 8AM cheetah run. I arrived at noon finally and spent the rest of the day in the company of a guide and the cheetahs. Here are some pics from the day. I think they show how well the cheetah is camouflaged in the brown grass.
A couple of points of interest about the cheetah: First, apparently their genetic pool is very small and thus most of the cheetahs we see today are heavily inbred. This results in a very fragile animal. Second, most of Namibia is privately owned and fenced off. There are many game farms that grow Springbok, Oryx, Kudu, Ostrich etc. Inevitably, farmers and cheetahs are in perpetual conflict resulting in many cheetah deaths. Sometimes farmers kill pregnant animals and realizing there are un-born cubs will cut open the mother and bring them to the Cheetah Conservancy. Once they have been taken out of nature they must be cared for until they die. To this end, the Conservancy goes through 12-15 donkeys per week to feed the many cheetahs on hand.

Windhoek to Etosha (Okaukuejo)

On the road to Okaukuejo

We drove from Windhoek on the B1 to Okaukuejo at the western end of Etosha park. (Zooming in you can see the size and shape of the Etosha Pan.) The following is an excerpt from the park permit:

Etosha National Park is one of Southern Africa’s finest and most important Game Reserves. Etosha Game park was declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22 270 square km, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish. The Etosha Park is one of the first places on any itinerary designed for a holiday in Namibia.

Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.

A San legend about the formation of the Etosha Pan tells of how a village was raided and everyone but the women slaughtered. One woman was so upset about the death of her family she cried until her tears formed a massive lake. When the lake dried up nothing was left apart from a huge white pan.

When it was originally proclaimed at the turn of the century the Etosha Park consisted of an area of 100,000 square kilometres. This was the largest reserve on earth but in the 1960’s political pressure resulted in the Park being reduced to its current size.

The San people is in decline and number about 13,000; the language itself is dying out. UNESCO has undertaken a project to help preserve the San language.

We were able to see giraffes, kudu, zebra, rhinoceros, jackals, eagles. We heard the very load roar of a lion but did not see one. We saw an elephant train in the distance but none up close. We were advised not to get out of the car and to stay on the road. Thus, whatever photos I could grab depended on what we could find along the road. The photo with what looks like a lake in the distance is a mirage. As you can probably tell from the brightness of the light it was very hot, about 35 C. Nevertheless, we were thrilled to be here at all.

Holiday in Namibia

I will be taking a holiday of discovery here in Namibia and will be posting via my iPhone along the way. Here is the itinerary, basically wildlife and desert:

Windhoek – Etosha – Okakuejo, Halali, Namutoni
Namutoni – Otjiwarongo (Cheetah Conservation Fund)
Otjiwarongo – Waterberg
Waterberg – Windhoek
Rest a few days
Windhoek – Sossus Dune (Sossusvlei) – middle of the Namib desert
Sossus Dune – Windhoek through the Naukluft mountain range.

I rented a small Volkswagen Polo which should be adequate to the task. I hear there are a few gravel roads we will have to travel on but if I don’t go too fast, I’ll be ok.


I’m here for nine days, attending a SADC education conference where I will make a presentation synthesizing what was learned about education data quality in seven SADC countries. I flew in from Nairobi on Air Mozambique. As in the United States, we had to land at the first port of entry in a small place called Pemba. We were required to get off the plane, with our carry-on luggage, go to customs and obtain an entry visa. Everyone had to pay a fee of $28 USD. I asked for a receipt for my expense claims but did not bother to check it. As required, I went through security and waited to board the plane. Total wait time was 1 hour for re-fueling and on-board security check. Once i arrived in Maputo, a seaside city on the Indian Ocean, I emptied my pockets in the hotel room and looked at my visa receipt. The amount was for $25 USD. It appears that the difference between what I paid and was able to claim was nothing more than an “administrative” fee levied by the customs officer! My first run-in with local “carrying fees”.
My presentation went quite well but the amount of last minute work we had to do to accommodate member countries’ concerns around some of the data quality assessments resulted in many late evenings prior to the presentation itself. Nevertheless, I had a chance to take some photos with my iPhone from time to time.
As a Lusophone country, I could not really talk to any of the locals while out shooting. One could see the residual effects of the long civil war and for such a large city, there are not that many cars. The hotel was beautifully located, perched high above the city and we were presented with a lovely panorama of the sea while enjoying the fresh fish at meal times.


Flight SA 182 to Nairobi from Joburg

After 7 hours from Johannesburg, I arrived late last night. Flights on SAA are good, comfortable and generally with good food. I was lucky to have two empty sears beside and so I could work on the laptop with relative ease.

On arrival I made my way to passport control and as usual there were several different lines: residents, non-residents, visas and quick pass. Looking over at the latter which is where international civil servants and diplomats pass I saw several colleagues waiting in line. I was certainly pleased to see them as I was expecting to see them only the following morning.

By the time I passed through passport control (where they also take your picture with a Logitech web cam) my luggage was circling on the carousel ready for pick up. It wasn’t long before I was able to fund someone from the hotel who would shuttle me there. As usual in the Africa I visited so far people are helpful and friendly. In any event when all was said and done there was an interval of several hours by the time I actually got to my room.
The next morning I took a taxi to my meeting location outside city center, about 30 min in good traffic. The complex is huge, with banks, shopping restaurants, monkeys roaming about, and long walkways all within a highly secured area.

The day before I left, I took the opportunity to wander from the hotel, iPhone in hand, to take pictures. Since every city in Africa has its own do’s and don’ts, the common being no pics of anyone in military or police uniform and certainly no military or police installations. Other than that, you just have to get a sense of what people will tolerate and how safe it is. It is impossible not to be conspicuous, first because of my skin color and second because of my camera. Fortunately, Nairobi is a city filled with tourists, so while conspicuous, I was generally ignored or viewed with idle curiousity. There were a few moments though when there were those who looked at me with more than passing interest, no doubt by my camera. But those moments were very shortlived. It was clear, that like most cities in Africa, Nairobi is not one where you would walk at night, and definitely not alone. A shame though because my guess is that night photography would be especially interesting. Coming back to my hotel by taxi late after a long day’s meeting, the streets were certainly lively and gay.

The manner however by which one takes pictures with the iPhone is you must hold it up in front of you, compared to a regular SLR camera where you bring it up to your eye and focus from there. Thus, although I hold on the camera tightly, it really would take very little for someone to run up and grab it from my hands. The result is that although picture-taking is common, it is difficult not to feel a certain tension in crowded areas with your camera held out in front of you. Eventually, I decided to ignore the issue and tried to be discrete and focus on taking interesting images. Some of these were taken just by walking around and others from my hotel window. The Autostich app is truly a wonderful piece of software and can be used as an expressive tool.

© Frederic Borgatta and Fredericsblog, 2009