Posts Tagged With: aviation

Namibia – Jonas’ Story of Love and Marriage

My guide while I am staying in the Kulala Wilderness Reserve in Southwest Namibia is Jonas. He is 35 years and has two sons –Milton Marvellous who is 15 and Gilbert Donald who is an energetic 10 year old. When the boys were small Jonas’ former partner died, and as is the custom, the children were collected from her family and have been raised by Jonas’ parents in their Himba village in the far northwest of Namibia. Tribal identity is very important in Namibia and quickly establishes an individual in a social and ethnic hierarchy.

The roots of the Himba come from the isolated northern areas of Namibia and even today there are groups that practise a very basic and ancient nomadic herdsman way of life. However, Jonas’ traditional home is in a permanent village, but life in the village is still firmly rooted in tribal customs and practises.

Jonas tells me that he has a fiancée now and plans to marry her in December. The auspicious date was selected by meeting with the headman at the “holy fire” in his village. The holy fire is the focal point of the village and this is where all the important meetings and decisions occur officiated over by the village’s headman. They believe that the holy fire is the avenue by which the headman communicates with the ancestors. Jonas and his fiancée initially wanted to marry in August but the ancestors decided that the 29th December was a more appropriate date. However, this can be delayed a whole year should a close member of the family die in the intervening period, and as a matter of protocol, the wedding will be postponed to another auspicious date.

Bride price is always negotiated as a matter of protocol. The usual price is four or eight head of cattle depending on the groom’s status and how hard the negotiations go. If the bride is working or even better, if she is educated or qualified, the price can escalate. The dowry can be $20,000 Namibian dollars, which is approximately AUD $2,500. During the negotiations, the representatives of the groom approach the bride’s house and they sit down quietly on the left of the headman and elders. No one talks as they wait to be formally greeted by the headman and elders – only then can negotiations begin. Negotiations can be a protracted affair, lasting for many days, even weeks, with much to-ing and fro-ing from village to village until the “contract” is finalised.

The wedding festivities and ceremonies are held over a weekend so that the guests and family from far and wide will be in attendance. On the wedding weekend, the official party go to Jonas’ fiancée’s house where the head of the family consults with the ancestors at the holy fire and instructs the bride on her new role as wife and mother, and the expectations of her new husband and his family. He also instructs her to obey her husband and particularly the mother and father of the groom. She will leave her own family for good and now be considered a part of her husband’s family.

The procession, including daughter-in-law to be, then moves to the house of the groom where they sit before the head of the house and the holy fire to once again consult the ancestors. The headman of Jonas’ household tells the fiancé how she will be treated as part of their family and that she will be respected as a beloved daughter.

That night after partying, feasting, dancing and after much alcohol is consumed; all the guests and family retire. Once everyone is asleep, Jonas will creep into his fiancé’s bedroom and fully clothed (minus his shoes) he will get into her bed and lie with his back to her. His best man will be there to ask any questions of her regarding any issues that might be worrying the groom to be. Just before dawn, Jonas must sneak out of the house without anyone seeing him. Should he be discovered in the house he will have to pay the bride’s parents a penalty of two or three goats or a case of brandy. This ritual is repeated the next night.

Finally on the third day, the wedding formalities are conducted. Everyone dresses in their finery, a new suit for Jonas (his only suit which he will probably wear to his children’s weddings and he will probably be buried in it too), a large white wedding dress for his finance and the eight best men and bridesmaids will need to be newly suited and dressed for the occasion.

The festivities include the slaughter of two cows to feed the masses of invited and uninvited guests. The number of guests can be in the hundreds and of course there will be lots of singing, dancing and drinking of alcohol. The wedding feast will be stewed beef, lamb and goat, maize meal porridge all washed down with sour milk.

At the appropriate time, Jonas and his new bride will retire to a specially built wedding hut constructed out of mopone timber. In here, they will consummate the marriage, and auspiciously if the ancestors are smiling on them, a child will be conceived that night.

Categories: Namibia, Oryx, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Botswana – Safari Adventures, Okavango Delta – Part 2

The Okavango Delta is a vast inland delta in the Kalahari Desert that drains each year into a swamp covering up to 1500 sq km. In January – February the rains that fall in Angola drain 1200km into the Delta, which means that for the next few months there is abundant ground water and vegetation that attracts wild life and thousands of birds. The Delta is a unique landscape in all of Africa and varies from vast grass savannahs, dry sandy desert, wooded areas, low-lying islands (that twice yearly become isolated refuges for many animals during the flooding), vast marshes, channels and lagoons.

Our camp, Sandibe, is perched on the edge of one of these vast lagoons that is filled with papyrus and reeds. The sleeping quarters at the camp consists of eight thatched cottages with canvas sides where large insect screened windows catch any breeze. Attached to the tent is an “en suite” bathroom which is an open air (complete with monkeys and geckos – actually the monkeys really have a taste for soap). The room is well furnished with a really comfortable queen sized bed which I find hard to leave on those chilly mornings when the sun has not crested the horizon.

Just a few minutes walk from your tent along a sandy path is the main “building”. This large, open sided space houses the bar (well used when you come home after a game drive hot and parched), the dining area and several squishy lounges and comfy chairs where you can sit and let the wildlife pass you by. No animal is deterred from venturing close by. Elephants freely stroll through the camp, knocking over the fence around the swimming pool, but are careful to manoeuvre gently and gracefully around the outdoor furniture without ever knocking over a chair.

Our arrival is heralded by a chorus of African women singing a welcome song and providing cold towels, used to refresh faces and hands which are now covered in fine Kalahari dust.

Our host, Kate, gives us the camp overview and instructions that will be consistently reinforced no matter where we are in Africa: don’t go outside your tent at night, wait to be escorted to the main building before dawn and after dusk, stand still if you are on the path and an elephant is close by, don’t run if you see a lion or leopard in camp (running means prey and you could be the next meal), use the mosquito net and insect repellent liberally every day, don’t leave anything outside your tent because the hyenas will eat it or the baboons and monkeys will be wearing it.

We easily adapt to the pattern of camp life: wakeup call at our tent is 5:30am, collection for breakfast at 6am, into the jeep for the morning game drive at 6:30am and ready to see the sunrise at 7am. Usually there is a stop at a picturesque bush location around mid-morning for a coffee/tea and a “wee” stop at a location that is free from man-eaters and other potential dangers. I am reassured that the guide will scout out the bush toilet to ensure that there are no nasty surprises lurking in the foliage or behind the anthill.

Late morning we return to camp for lunch and a very welcome cold beer to wash away some of the Kalahari sand that is in our throats. Following lunch it is time to return to the tent for a siesta, take a dip in the pool or sit on your veranda and enjoy the quiet (apart from the grunting, snorting and bellowing of the hippos) and watch the passing parade of wildlife and the birds that dart about in the trees.

At 3pm we gather for a cup of tea before heading out for the afternoon/evening game drive. Our guide, Gee is full of information and quickly becomes our new friend. We exchange jokes and share stories of our different homelands, customs and cultures.

Gee is in his mid-40’s with a wife and three daughters. They live in Maun, a 4 – 5 hour drive over incredibly rough, sandy roads. Usually he works for two months and then gets two weeks off where he returns to the family. His aspiration is to retire from guiding when he is 50 and grow vegetables on a plot of land that he has bought outside Maun. To supplement this, he will take private guiding jobs. His knowledge of trees and plants and the animals and birds of the Delta seems limitless and he recounts many amazing stories and opens our eyes to the secrets of what is the African bush.

As we drive through this vast open land Gee is able to recollect every bush, tree, anthill, swamp and stream as though these landmarks are indelibly printed on his mind like a road map. As we drive along, bouncing over rutted, pot holed roads or sandy dredges where the wheels sink up to the axles, he is forever examining the horizon, peering behind every tree, bush and blade of grass to point out some animal or bird that is so well camouflaged that it takes us a few minutes to focus on where his finger is pointing.

Next blog we discover the big cats…

Categories: Animals, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, Hippos, Leopards, Lions, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Botswana – The Okavango Delta – Part 1

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The Okavango Delta, Botswana
After rendezvousing in Johannesburg with my friends from Australia, we spent a night in a hotel that was distinctly reminiscent of Las Vegas in the 70’s. Funnily enough it was attached to the casino as well. The next morning dawned and everybody was in a high state of excitement – we are going on safari! Next stop Maun, Botswana.

The Maun International Airport is a small, makeshift building that contains Customs and Immigration and Departures and Arrivals as all airports do. However in this instance, it is difficult to tell who is coming and who is going, who the officials are, and who the passengers are. A mass of humanity from all corners of the globe huddle in this small overcrowded room. The place is teeming with people of all colours and ethnic backgrounds and countries of origin – with one united purpose – to find a plane. Somehow out of this chaos we find our onward connection.

We transit through the next security checkpoint and as usual, my metal knees (due to knee replacements) set off the metal detector. When I look up, the three male security guards look back at me in bewilderment and then at the machine and each other in surprise. I can read the looks on their faces and imagine what is going through their minds… “what the hell are we to do now? Pat down this woman? Ignore the metal detector? or, Call a supervisor?” They choose the path of least resistance, all looking at me with big smiles and say quietly under their breath…“ Please just move on”. I look into their eyes and I can see they mean … “please just go away and we will pretend that this never happened”. Gladly I move on and they turn their attention to the mass of people pressing to get through the gate.

At last, we make our way across the sweltering tarmac to our plane – a single-engined 12 seater. As the engine revs up, the body of the plane starts to shake, the engines whine, people grip onto their seat belts and we are off. The excitement mounts knowing we are off into the Okavango Delta and the African bush where wonderful and exciting adventures await us.

The 40-minute flight passes quickly as we fly over vast plains and lightly wooded ridges. Everywhere looks deserted. The vegetation is sparse and many trees are devoid of leaf and the ground is bare of grass. Occasionally there is a glimmering pool of water or a swamp with tracks leading to it from all directions. The shout goes up as we spot our first animals – elephants, giraffes and hippos dot the landscape. This is a foretaste of the amazing and exotic wildlife that we will see in the ensuing days.

The plane slowly descends from 10,000 feet and the bush airstrip below is a ribbon of bleached white earth studded with huge clods of elephant dung. The pilot buzzes the strip a couple of times to make sure that there is no game that can wander onto the strip when he is touching down. Flying into elephant poo is one thing, but a whole elephant in the propellers would certainly cause a mess on the windscreen.

We are met by our guide for the next three days – Gee. His big smile greets us and we are warmly welcomed in a truly hospitable African way. The hour long trip to camp takes us through dry savannah grassland which is punctuated by Camel Thorn, which is the stereotypical African tree. It has that signature umbrella shape with thick green foliage where the animals seek the cool shade in the heat of the day. It is a welcome variation against a dry, golden landscape of parched grass.

Occasionally we cross swamps and streams where the water from the last rainy season. The Okavango Delta has two faces: dry and wet. The “dry” winter officially runs from May to October; and the “wet” summer from November to April. These oases of cool water are a respite from the ever increasing heat of the day. Many animals inhabit these pools permanently, whilst others make their way to them twice a day to quench their thirst. These pools and swamps are the lifeblood and beating heart of the Delta.

The thirstiest of animals is the elephant. When really thirsty, they drink up to 120 litres a day. Apart from drinking water, they love the pools to bath in and to create mud baths where they spray themselves with a muddy slurry which acts as protection from biting insects and the sun. The elephants are majestic and amazing creatures and we are delighted to see so many of them and to study their habits and family life at such close quarters.

Did you know:-
• elephants are right or left handed? They use the tusk of their preferred side as a tool for digging, foraging and investigating potential sources of food
• the cows and calves form a cohesive group and spend their days and nights together. When bull calves reach their teenage years and become a nuisance in the group, they are chased out and join a bachelor group
• the soles of the elephant’s feet are padded and allow for silent movement
• they eat 150 kgs a day of vegetation; mostly grass and only 40’% of this is assimilated, hence the enormous piles of elephant poo everywhere. They excrete up to 100 kgs of dung per day
• the cows gestate for 22 months – the calves are 120 kg when born and are weaned at 3 – 8 years. Just before the next calf is born
• they live to 60 years
• they feed up to 18 hours a day and when sleeping they stand or lie down. The bulls with large heads and heavy tusks will often lie down beside a termite mound and use it as a pillow
• their trunk is like an arm with fingers and it is so dextrous that it can pick up a single seed and it is strong enough to uproot trees
• as their chewing teeth wear away, they are replaced from behind by a series of six in each jaw.

Categories: Animals, Botswana, Elephants, Hippos, Leopards, Lions, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Stockholm – Venice of the North

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The flight from Rome to Stockholm via Munich was uneventful but I was fascinated to watch the Italian landscape change from the chaotic patchwork of farms to the cool green meadows of the alpine region of the Alps. The stone houses and barns of the Italian countryside are surrounded by brown fields, newly ploughed or a tapestry of ripe wheat and corn waiting to be harvested. Dense oak forests hug craggy hillsides where small hill top towns adorn the summits and spill over the edges like icing dripping over a cake.

As I fly across the Alps, the landscape changes to a vivid green in the deep valleys that vast glaciers cut between the mountains long ago. Nestling in the bottom of these glacial valleys, are quaint villages of white houses with red roofs which cluster along the river banks that meander through these picture book valleys. On either side of the valleys, the mountains rise up vertically from the valley floor. The verdant meadows give way to rocky grey summits where in some sheltered pockets there is perpetual snow.

The view from the aeroplane window could be described as panoramic unlike the sight of my lunch tray which drew gaps of horror not delight from my lips. Lufthansa as you know is the national carrier for Germany so this nationalistic fervour may account for a dinner of meatballs (closely resembling male anatomical parts) floating in a soggy soup of sauerkraut. This may not be the wisest meal to feed to 100 or so people who are trapped in a tin can 30,000 feet above the earth for 4 hours -the atmosphere in the plane may get a bit ripe after consuming this dinner!

My wish for cooler weather after the unrelenting heat of Italy was granted. On arrival in Stockholm, I was greeted with driving rain and a cold blustery wind whipping the fallen leaves out of the gutters. The drive from the airport was through dense pine forests and after about 45 minutes we are in the centre of Stockholm. What a beautiful city this is. There is water everywhere. The buildings are low rise and this makes for an intimate city on a human scale. No soaring canyons that block out the light and create great wind tunnels.

Founded around 1250 Stockholm is a conglomerate of 14 islands on the coast in the south-east of Sweden at the mouth of Lake Mälaren and it has a population of around 1.5 million. Sometimes called the “Venice of the North” Stockholm is known for its beauty, its buildings and the many styles of architecture. The first part of the name (stock) means log in Swedish, although it may also be connected to an old German word (Stock) meaning fortification. The second part of the name (holm) means islet. We explored the city by foot, bus and canal boat gaining an insight into the life of the City and its different sectors.

One of the islands is Stockholm’s core – the present Old Town – Gamla Stan which was built on the central island in the 13th century. This small island is a warren of cobbled streets, interesting buildings dating from the Middle Ages and later, cute little squares and tiny green spaces. There is a central square which is surrounded by beautiful buildings and is a congregation point for many tourists who flock there to people watch or take a breather to rest their feet after navigating the treacherous cobble stones.

Gamla Stan is also the site of the royal palace, an imposing square building that overlooks many parts of the city and other islands. Today this is the administrative centre for the Royal household and a place where important ceremonial duties and functions are carried out. It is an impressive sight when it is time for changing of the guard at the palace as a large cavalry troop parades through the streets, all gleaming, pressed and handsome on their chestnut horses.

The city originally rose to prominence as a result of the Baltic trade between many of the neighbouring countries: Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Germany and Poland. This ideal geographic position also brought many wars and disputes to its shores, the aggressors hoping to steal more land, power and wealth. These battles see-sawed over the centuries particularly between Denmark and Sweden and to this day there seems to be some underlying tensions often disguised as humour.

The next leg of the holiday is a 2-week cruise around the Baltic. We made our way to the harbour where we could see giant ferries that traverse the Baltic from Stockholm to St Petersburg, Helsinki, Estonia and other ports to the east and to the west Copenhagen, Oslo and other ports along the way. These giant ferries take hundreds of passengers and trucks, bikes and cars traversing the shipping lanes of the Baltic.

Our ship was easily identified by its gracious nautical profile and the 5 masts that will carry the sails when we are out to sea. It is the largest sailing ship in the world and carries about 300 passengers and 150 staff. All your creature comforts are catered for, a beauty salon for massages and facials, gym (I am not inclined to venture in there), a coffee shop where you can get a coffee and sandwich, 3 restaurants, a pool deck with a small pool and 2 hot tubs, 2 bars and lounges, quiet nooks to lounge both in and out of the sun.

We set sail around 6 pm and head out to sea through the myriad of pretty islands that make up Stockholm’s harbour. We turn east and head for St Petersburg – a 2-day sail away. I sink into life on board – relaxing by the pool in warm sun (no scorching Mediterranean heat here), reading, gazing out over the deep blue sea, contemplating the world from the other side of my eye lids, lulled by the quiet as the only sound is the swishing of the wind and the waves.

Some people say that the only clock needed on board is the one in your tummy. The day starts with breakfast where there is an ample buffet of fruit, yoghurt, smoothies, juices, hot savoury dishes – prepared and on order, smoked salmon and the trimmings, freshly baked bread, rolls and pastries. Lunch is a buffet – a range of salads and cold cuts, cheeses, fruit, deserts, ice creams and a daily bread and butter pudding, to supplement this there is a made to order pasta dish. Afternoon tea is served on deck – mini rolls and cakes and cookies. At dinnertime savouries are served with cocktails in the lounge and then dinner comprises a selection of appetisers, salad and soups, main course and finishing with cheese and dessert. After all that if you wake up at 2.00 am and have the munchies there is 24-hour room service.

If you enjoyed this blog please leave a comment below and forward this onto your friends. Thank you.

Next port of call – St Petersburg – stay tuned for more fun on the high sea.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Language, Photography, Stockholm, Travel, Uncategorized, Wine | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Italian Job

Italy here I come. The flight from Amsterdam was uneventful and me and my bags made a safe landing. However, the impending chaos around the baggage carousel can only be found in Italy.

Firstly, it is a trick to find the appropriate carousel as there is an absence of signage. However, if you have your wits about you and have noted some of your fellow passengers on your flight it is a good bet that you are at the right carousel. After half an hour, three bags tumbled down the conveyor belt onto the carousel and this immediately set off a herd Italians, like a stampede, to rush over and grab their bags. However, this was just some cruel joke by the baggage handlers, as these three bags were obviously not from our flight and they then spent the next half hour circling waiting for their owners to claim them. Finally, after another 15 minutes, our bags streamed out and away I went to meet my car to downtown Rome for an overnight stay at the Hotel Lord Byron. This was just a brief stop before the main act, which was Orvieto in south-western Umbria, about a two-hour drive from Rome.

Orvieto, a centre of ancient origin and is situated at the top of a single mass of tufa (known as “la Rupe”, or cliff). It rises above the agricultural plain at 325 metres above sea level. It has been inhabited since the Iron Age, and became famous for the earlier Etruscans, who were present on the cliff from the 8th Century B.C. At the destruction of the city by the Romans in the year 264 B.C., there followed a long period of total decadence which lasted for at least six centuries. Italy then became the scene of barbaric invasions as the Roman Empire became increasingly unstable. Orvieto rose again as a “garrison” to protect and represent its people.

Beneath the city there are an incredible number of artificial cavities, and an intricate labyrinth of tunnels, galleries, cisterns, wells, caves, and cellars carved into the tufa.

Today, there is little evidence of the Etruscan or Roman civilisations but now, there is the enchanting Medieval Orvieto with its palaces, towers, and churches. Of particular note is the Duomo, called “The Golden Lily of Cathedrals”. This Italian Gothic masterpiece has always been the most representative image of Orvieto around the world. It was begun in 1290 and was completed over the course of three centuries.

This is one of the great masterpieces of the late Middle Ages. It is covered in the most glorious mosaics depicting various biblical scenes and central to the mosaics is the large rose window built by the sculptor and architect Orcagna between 1354 and 1380. It truly is an impressive building and breathtaking when you see it for the first time. In the late afternoon the sun falls onto the façade and the richly coloured and gold mosaics shimmer as though they are lit from within. I spent many early evenings sitting in any one of the bars in the Piazza del Duomo sipping on my apertivo of choice – Spritz. This is a wonderfully refreshing drink on a hot day – Aperol, prosecco and a dash of sparkling mineral water.

I am living in the medieval part of Orvieto, a maze of twisting, cobbled streets, lined with ancient 3 – 4 storey stone buildings. There are a number of churches around me so I am regaled by church bells on special days, masses and weddings, and of course every hour and quarter hour the time is rung out – no watches required here.

The entrance to my building is gained through huge wooden doors from the street and you climb the ancient stone stairs to the apartment. The walls are 3 feet thick and the ceilings must be at least 15 feet high. It is cool and restful inside. I open the windows and hear the sparrows, pigeons and swallows (and the bells). There are thankfully, no trains, cars, sirens, garbage trucks or yobbos as in Sydney.

Living in the old quarter is close communal living as every room has a neighbour. Outside my bedroom window my vicini (neighbours) are anziani (pensioners) who bicker and shout at each other. Across the stair well reverberate battles at all times of day and night. La Mama mutters to herself, but just loud enough to irritate him into action, so he shouts “che”? (what?), and that then gives rise to a stream of frustrated shouts from her at him. He shouts back grumpily. The louder she shouts the louder he turns up the TV. She then crashes the pots and pans muttering to herself and then finally it all goes quiet. I lie there wondering if she has finally put a knife in him because he complained about her cooking for the last time!

Another irritant to my vicini (neighbours) which is constantly coming under fire – is their cat. At right angles to my bedroom window is theirs, and both open onto a stairwell. Their bedroom window has a metal venetian blind which is open and closed, raised and lowered according to the time of day and the position of the sun. As you can imagine, as this blind is metal there is a considerable amount of percussion that goes with its tidal movements. The cat adds to this cacophony by pushing through the blind so he can sit outside on the window sill and survey the sky and wish that a bird would land near him. However, he has not worked out how to get back inside. Consequently, he will brush up against the blind and create a clattering of metal as the slats rattle. This sets off Mamma – “Vieni qua! Vieni qua!” (Come down Come down!). Meanwhile Papa has been woken from his slumber and the domestic sparing match is on again.

Outside my lounge room window, there is a young couple with a tiny crying baby – Carlo. They seem to be at a loss of what to do when Carlo gets into top gear and is screaming his lungs out. However – the last couple of days all has been quiet and there appears to be no one home. I wonder if they all have been packed off to a sanatorium for new parents.

Upstairs lives my landlady Sabrina, her husband Cesare and 3 year old Alessandro who gallops around all day. They also have a three month old who is a happy and smiling baby. Also living with them are Cesare’s parents who own a small enoteca (wine and food store) around the corner.

Living at such close quarters with your neighbours must create many tensions along the way, particularly if you have a “un ficcanaso” next door. This is the Italian for a busy body – “Ficca” being derived from the verb ficcare – to stuff, to put in the “il naso” – the nose.

Everything is so close – that is the beauty of living in a small country town. No car is needed here and there is no traffic on the streets, just an occasional delivery van or local car so the whole town is virtually pedestrian friendly.

Categories: Food, Wine and Cooking, Italy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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