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The blog of my 2002 Namibia trip is back online

August 22nd, 2016 No comments

I am pleased to report that the blog for my month-long trip trip to Namibia with World Challenge Expeditions in 2002 is back online after being taken down temporarily since May. If you read the blog you will notice that there are some references to an anonymous group member, as opposed to naming the group member being talked about like I do most of the time, and that some photos have black boxes on them or are cropped to non-standard dimensions. Let me explain.

Some of you will know the details by now, especially with the worldwide media interest generated by his story, but a member of the group who travelled with us to Namibia was recently convicted of some serious crimes that he committed while living abroad. I won’t go into details, or mention him by name in this post, as I would prefer not to receive web traffic from the sort of people who might search for his name online. However due to the media interest over the summer I found it necessary to take the blog down to protect my own privacy.

I now feel that sufficient time has passed since his conviction and so, 14 years to the day from our final full day in Namibia on this trip, I have returned the blog to my site. Where possible I have found new photos to replace ones that he was featured in but where this was not possible I either cropped the photo or added a black box to cover him in photos where he was recognisable. I have also removed his name from the blog itself.

Our group

(Most of) our group

In the school hall

In the school hall of Oaseb Senior Secondary school in Gibeon

For the purposes of any media that may find their way to this blog, in the event of any future interest in his case, I have no information to give and will not be making any statement or providing any further information. However I will point out that the fact I have edited a 14 year old blog in ways described above should make my feelings about this issue perfectly clear.

The original text of my blog has been archived to my computer should it be needed by anybody, for a valid reason, although the changes to the content itself were fairly minor other than removing references to the one group member.

I am glad that I have finally been able to put my blog back online as this was an amazing trip, one which probably started my love of getting off of the beaten path and delving deeper into the culture of places I visit. Without this trip I would probably never have visited many of the places I have seen since, had some of great experiences that I have had or met most of the amazing travel buddies that I have met. Plus the people and scenery of Namibia are great as you can see from the selection of photos below.

Four Fingered Rock

Four Fingered Rock

Amazing views on the Waterkloof Trail

Amazing views on the Waterkloof Trail

Tallest sand dune in the world

Tallest sand dune in the world

Leaving Gibeon

Leaving Gibeon

If you have not read my blog from this trip then feel free to have a browse as I really enjoyed it. It contains details of our time improving the sports facilities of a school before travelling around the country seeing the sights and having fun. Sights and experiences from the trip include visiting Gibeon, Mariental, Hardap, Sesreim, Namib-Naukluft, and Windhoek in addition to trekking through Fish River Canyon and Dune Boarding in Swakopmund. It is a trip that I will remember for the rest of my life.

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The return of old friends!

August 22nd, 2002 No comments

Today we left the coast and headed back to Windhoek for the last time. On the way we stopped at a local craft market to purchase some souvenirs and I decided to buy lots of woodwork and other crafts including bowls and little statues. They wanted a mixture of both cash and other items. I was able to part-exchange an old watch, old pair of shoes and some unused suncream for some of the statues. It was a nice place to pick up traditional souvenirs but there were so many people there in competition it almost felt like we were being fed to the Wolves at times but they were really friendly with it and we never felt threatened or anything.

The market

The market

After arriving back in Windhoek we did some last minute shopping in the city centre – parking in the same car park by the Supreme Court again. I bought some souvenirs for people and also stocked up on Steers Special Seasoning. I tell you – this stuff has been a life saver these past few weeks. We bought it on the first day just to spice things up occasionally but ended up using it on everything every night so had to re-supply ourselves with some when we stopped at the supermarket in Mariental after leaving Hardap. The food we were supplied in advance (the MacDougall’s stews etc) was so horrible it tasted like watery cardboard. I think what we didn’t use was exchanged by people in the craft market too but the Steers definitely helped get us through until we could get some proper supplies. Although we carried on using it after getting supplies as it’s nice stuff!

Windhoek City Centre

Windhoek City Centre

Windhoek City Centre

Windhoek City Centre

When I got back to the truck Dan was causing more problems and this time for the locals not just us. There was a kid that was trying to sell the people in the truck some sort of traditional musical instrument. Dan decided it would be a good idea to demonstrate his spear that he bought at the craft market and when I got back to the truck he was chasing this poor kid across the car park waving the spear over his head to cries of “don’t kill me… don’t kill me”. If that isn’t an example of how bad things were getting with him, and an example of something that will destroy relationships between Africa and Europe, then I don’t know what is. It was also not a good idea to do that outside of the Namibian Supreme Court but luckily for our group he didn’t cause some sort of international incident.

Our Truck

Our Truck

Supreme Court

Supreme Court

We then made our way back to the same hostel we started at on the first night. I arranged it so we were in the same room again… and were greeted by seeing GERTRUDE again! When we were relaxing in our room the Meerkat paid us a visit too. It came walking into the room and straight under one of the beds. We wondered what he was looking for until I laid down and saw him unwrap and then eat a boiled sweet that somebody had accidentally dropped. That creature was so cute… I love Meerkats!

Meerkat on the bed

Meerkat on the bed

Meerkat feast

Meerkat feast

GERTRUDE!!! AGAIN!!!

GERTRUDE!!! AGAIN!!!

Tonight we decided to blow the money we had left on ordering something like 18 pizzas for us all to share and while they were basic they were also really nice. As pizza is my favourite meal it’s a fitting end to my time in this amazing country. I’ll be sad to say goodbye in the morning!

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Swakopmund

August 21st, 2002 No comments

What a nice place Swakopmund has been especially compared to the last couple of nights we were at Fish River Canyon. I’ll give you no points for guessing who caused the problems again!

The Truck / campsite

The Truck / campsite

I guess the start of the problems weren’t specifically Dan’s fault. Remember that nice meal I told you about? It was indeed a nice meal but we had to wait over two hours for it. We all ended up eating everything that was food on the table, including the sugar cubes, but we needed some sugar and energy in us after the trek so not a bad thing. The frustration from this delay made Dan R even more of a pain than he was.

Later that evening me, Simon and Sam were relaxing in the tent trying to get to sleep when we heard movement then this weird noise. What had Dan done? He had found a hose pipe, connected it, put it under the top sheet of our tent and turned the water on resulting in a nice waterfall of water over all of us. One of Simon’s books got ruined, as did the film that was in his camera. Luckily I had a waterproof camera because of the sand, even though people did make fun of me for it, so the photos from Fish River Canyon were saved. We turned it off and saw Dan behind his tent laughing but were too tired to do anything so went over to the truck and slept there. That was one of the coldest nights sleep I have ever had and how Rod sleeps in there every night I don’t know. We woke him up and had to explain what was going on but he let us sleep in there for the night which was a big help.

A bird came to say hello!

A bird came to say hello!

The next day we just relaxed by the pool again all day. There were some hot springs too but they were too hot to paddle in this time compared to the ones at the start of the trek. A few people went to the indoor swimming pool but I was quite happy outside. Today was also the first day most of us were able to call home to get results from GCSEs, AS Levels etc. I decided not to ask as I wanted to open the envelope myself when I got home but mostly people did well. We were planning to have another meal in the restaurant but after the chaos the night before Rod cooked us a BBQ comprised mainly of Springbok. It was nice but certain people had too much beer and caused problems again. Sam and Simon escaped into other peoples tents which left me alone and at the mercy of the bog brush, which had somehow made an appearance again. Not a good night, but it was the last night we would have to camp this trip so I survived it.

We left early on the 18th for an all-day drive back up to Windhoek to stay at the Roof Africa Lodge. The other place we stayed at was better but this was a nice place to stay. We all went out for a meal at the famous “Joe’s Beerhouse” and all but one of the group ordered the Bushman Sostie – a shish kebab comprised of lumps of Ostrich, Crocodile, Zebra, Chicken and Kudu meat. I was a little hesitant but it was actually really nice! If you’re in the area I highly recommend this place for the great food and great atmosphere.

On the 19th we left Windhoek and travelled to Swakopmund before spending most of the rest of the day just generally exploring the local area and relaxing in the hostel. Duneboarding was organised for the next day and we had paperwork for that to sort out too. I had to go to the bank to exchange some more money as I had kept a bundle in both British Pounds and US Dollars due to the exchange rate slowly getting better all month!

The 20th was another highlight of the expedition so far – Dune Boarding. There is no greater way to soak up the atmosphere than to rush down sand dunes that face the Atlantic Ocean. I chose the slightly cheaper option of laying on the board rather than what was a converted snowboard. Not only was it cheaper but it was easier! We went down various slopes on our own before going down another slope in pairs which a lot of people failed at miserably. I was with Dominic and we didn’t fall off in a big pile even though I expected we would. The last run was the fastest, steepest and the sight of the famous “Sam Thomas falling off his board at top speed, rolling off across the sand and having his shorts fall down” incident. It looked painful but was impressive to watch!

Preparing for Dune Boarding

Preparing for Dune Boarding

Me Dune Boardfing

Me Dune Boarding

The scenery

The scenery

More scenery

More scenery

Me and Dominic

Me and Dominic

After duneboarding we had a picnic with the whole group which mainly comprised of us but also contained some Americans and Germans. I removed sand from places I didn’t know existed again but it was a great day. In the afternoon the team leaders went skydiving and the rest of us explored Swakopmund again. I had a KFC before returning to the hostel to watch the video from the Dune Boarding. I decided to purchase a copy, as well as a floppy disk with some photos on and also bought a T-Shirt. Apparently last night some of the group went out to a nightclub. They didn’t invite me which sucks, but most people didn’t get in and I’m not a nightclub person anyway!

Picnic after Dune Boarding

Picnic after Dune Boarding

A low-quality version of the video is shown below. It could take a while to load if you have a slow connection as it’s quite long. The first 1 1/2 minutes are a generic introduction introducing Swakopmund and the company that operated the day so if you only want to see the actual Dune Boarding you can skip to 90 seconds. (By the way I’m the person in what looks like a luminous blue t-shirt. It wasn’t that bright in real life!)

Today was another good day, as so many others have been while in Namibia. A few of us (Me, Dan Becks, the two leaders and Rod) went fishing to catch some fresh fish for dinner. I think we all caught at least one fish (I caught 2) but Rod caught something ridiculous like 17 which meant we all had enough to eat tonight. The difference in our catch was confusing as we were all on a small boat but we thanked Rod for his efforts! I don’t know what most of the fish were but I know dogfish was in there somewhere. I’m not much of a fish person but they all tasted nice, especially when cooked on a BBQ in the terrace of the hostel. Another highlight of today…. a ceremonial sacrifice of the bog brush which made up for me not being able to get back into the room for a couple of hours after fishing due to Sam and Simon going to the cinema with the only pair of keys for our room! It gave me a chance to wander the town and buy some local music and a Namibian flag though.

Fishing

Fishing

Swakopmund Harbour

Swakopmund Harbour

Our boat

Our boat

Tomorrow we head back to Windhoek for the last time before leaving this amazing country!

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Gibeon project – week 1

August 2nd, 2002 No comments

We’ve been in Gibeon around a week now and are having a great time in some respects but not in others which I’ll explain more about in this post.

After leaving the hostel last week we made our way into the city centre. Our main priorities were to exchange money and get supplies. The supplies aspect wasn’t too difficult as our truck parked in a huge car park right in the centre outside the Namibian Supreme Court and right next to a supermarket. It wasn’t as big as the Sainsbury’s you would be used to in the UK or the Wal-Marts you would be used to in the USA but sold everything we needed. The exchanging of money took a little bit longer due to all of the local regulations. I didn’t need to exchange so much money as I had already purchased some South African Rand before leaving the UK and Namibia accepts it as a dual-currency which has come in handy. While the others were still inside a few of us were outside and were approached by a Namibian beggar. In the UK we are used to people holding signs while begging – this guy had what looked like a flick-knife in his hand. Not as scary as it might have been though – we told him we weren’t interested and he accepted this and walked away.

Windhoek

Windhoek

After finishing in Windhoek we made our way out of the city, past a petrol station that was on fire, and into the country towards Gibeon. The countryside is amazing here. It’s not as green as in Europe but there are still some plants around and some wildlife. We arrived in Gibeon in the afternoon and went straight to the school. They were happy to see us as they were expecting us the day before and had called the British High Commission in Windhoek asking if they knew where we were. They said they didn’t – even though we left them an information pack with our itinerary. Although maybe they never found it – they didn’t open by the time we left Windhoek so it was just thrown over the front gate and into the grounds.

Driving

Driving

The school said we could have some spare rooms in the school if we wanted but we decided to camp as we had brought the equipment with us anyway. We had to be careful when setting the tents up as there were some really evil things on the ground that looked like thistle heads but were sharper and if you put your tent on them they hurt!

That evening we were invited to the school hall where the kids gave us a presentation. They sang and danced and also performed a scene depicting life in Namibia (although that part was in Nama so we didn’t understand it). They then sang the Namibian National Anthem before inviting us on stage. We all introduced ourselves before singing our National Anthem – WAY worse than they sang! One thing I will always remember from this evening is how embarrassed Dan B looked. He’s the smallest member of our group but has one of the deepest voices which some of the kids found this hilarious although Dan went all red 🙁

Setting up camp

Setting up camp

Our campsite

Our campsite

In the school hall

In the school hall

The next day (28th) we played a football match with some kids from the school. We won on penalties after a 3-3 draw but they quite obviously let us win and were a LOT better despite none of them wearing shoes during the game. We found out later that the school team was the best in the region! We were then shown around by the school Principal – Mr Fleermuys. We were shown the facilities, teaching rooms and accommodation before being told his vision for the school. He’s thinking big!

Playing Football

Playing Football

In the afternoon we started getting to know some of the kids. Bradley is the one that stands out the most. He’s only 4 years old but has attached himself to a few of us, including Sam and myself, as if he’s another member of the team – he doesn’t speak English and we had to ask him his name in Afrikaans but he’s great! There are other kids that are hanging around that I get on well with overall – Kakashol and Sebu…. although they have outstayed their welcome after ruining somebody’s sunglasses and biting me. That evening we sampled the local beer (Tafel) but unfortunately some of us the team got very drunk and caused us to miss the church service we had been invited to that evening. An alcohol ban came in place quite quickly!

BRADLEY

BRADLEY

A bad pic of me and Bradley

A bad pic of me and Bradley

Some other kids at the school

Some other kids at the school

Teaching Rugby

Teaching Rugby

The next couple of days were mainly dedicated to working on the projects in the school, getting supplies and sending letters to people. We won’t finish the projects on this visit but Mr Fleermuys said he knows this and that his vision is a five year project incorporating several visits by groups from World Challenge Expeditions. Supplies have been a little more difficult to find. The shops in town only really sell everyday essentials so groups of us have gone to the nearest town a few times, Mariental, which is almost 70 miles away. The first time we went to the post office it was closed by the time we found it. We got lost in the town but some local kids showed us the way and we gave them a small amount of money for their help. The next day it was open and we sent letters home.

They got this in to help

They got this in to help

Starting work

Starting work

Working on the volleyball court

Working on the volleyball court

Bradley trying to help

Bradley trying to help

Walking into town

Walking into town

Phoning home

Calling home

Over the last couple of days things have been going downhill. The principal seems to be more interested in the money we have than our help and we recently found out he has been hiding things from us. The school does need improvement but one of the students showed us to their computer room – it only has one PC but we were told there were no computers in the school. Lots of little things like that, too many to list, have just been making us feel a little unwelcome although nothing that is enough to make us leave on its own. We’re going to do what we can do realistically then move on somewhere else I think.

However tonight was a good night in that we were invited to a BBQ (braai) that some of the teachers had set up for us. It was fresh goat that had been slaughtered that day for us and I’ve never had such fresh food. They could have been a bit more tactful and not said “Do you like our goat? We slaughtered it for you this morning” while I was eating a mouthful but it was very tasty. We all sat around the BBQ eating goat and homemade bread while talking with the teachers – the food was a lot better than the random cardboard chicken we have been having and a lot more successful too (see below)! I showed them the school prospectus and they were thrilled to see it and asked if they could keep it. I knew it would be a good idea. A fairly late night tonight but it’s been a good day although these little things have been mounting up a lot.

BBQ with the teachers

BBQ with the teachers

Dan makes fire!!

Dan makes fire!!

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We made it to Namibia!

July 27th, 2002 No comments

Welcome to Africa…. we made it to Namibia!

We’re currently in the Chameleon Hostel which is a fairly nice place to stay in the capital, Windhoek, which has a very friendly resident Meerkat. It keeps looking at us strangely but seems used to tourists. Our room has this weird mural/tapestry thing that looks like a cross between a tribal leader and the Pringles man. Me and Dan B have named it Gertrude and now we can’t stop laughing!

The Meerkat

The Meerkat

On Wednesday after arriving at the school we all had either Fish and Chips or KFC for lunch before sorting through our bags and completing last minute paperwork. I did add something to my bag though – not something I forgot but we were told that the locals in Namibia would be really interested in our lives and where we come from so I took loads of photos but thought it would be a good idea to take a school prospectus too. We will be seeing their school I think they will enjoy seeing ours. The rest of the day we mainly played games (football, basketball etc) and chatted to each other before sleeping on the very hard floor of the school gym!

In the school gym

In the school gym

Thursday morning we spent checking the World Challenge equipment such as tents and checked that everything else was there before heading up in convoy in two school minibuses (one for us, one for the equipment) to Heathrow Airport. As the person that did the majority of work organising this trip I was nominated as the team leader until we get to Johannesburg and managed to get everybody through Heathrow fairly quickly. South African Airways did a good job of checking us in and we were soon in the departure lounge waiting for our flight. We’ll have a different leader every day I but we’re there a month so I’ll be the leader again at some point.

After a 10 hour flight we arrived in Johannesburg airport and I managed to lose something – my bum-bag containing all of my money, passport etc. Luckily I remembered seeing it at the baggage scanner in the transit area so I went back there to collect it and after filling out a form and bribing the customs official with 20 rand I got it back. I then went back up and met the others before realising something else was missing – my top. I didn’t remember using it on the plane so must have left it at Heathrow when the rather large security man decided I needed searching and I had to put everything down. Luckily there was a good outdoors store in Johannesburg airport so I bought a new fleece. We had a long wait ahead of us so found various ways to amuse ourselves. Dan B decided on this….

Dan and the hats

Dan and the hats

After a 10 hour layover we boarded another plane for a short flight to Namibia. When we arrived I had to help the group through immigration – our accommodation for that night had been arranged by our driver so we didn’t know where our first nights accommodation would be for the incoming passenger card. Most of us put the address of the school we’ll be staying for the next 2 weeks, but a few people didn’t put anything and got queried by the woman on immigration. Luckily this matter didn’t involve bribery! We spent most of the rest of the day drinking and playing pool in the hostel before having an early night.

In the hostel

In the hostel

GERTRUDE!

GERTRUDE!

I had my first African shower last night – it was outside in the courtyard and very cold which came as a bit of a shock. We have just had eggs and toast for breakfast (a few people decided on eggy bread instead) and should be leaving the hostel soon. We’ll be stopping off in the city to exchange money, buying anything we need and then heading off to the town of Gibeon. We’ll finally be able to see the real Africa – we had to stay in Johannesburg airport and arrived after sunset yesterday so haven’t seen any of the continent yet!

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