Aileen & Fearghal

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bye Bye Katima

So, here it is. The end of our year in Namibia.

As we decided way back in May that we'd only do a year instead of two, it has always seemed as though we had ages left before we leave. But, as ever with these things, it has snuck up and surprised us.

Although we're still very much looking forward to going home, we're actually kinda sad about leaving. This is mainly due to the dramatic improvement in our social life in the last month or so. Take our last three weekends for example. Three weekends ago we were in the depths of the very remote Mamili Game Park.Two weekends ago we were at the ultimate in luxury - Impalila Island Lodge.
And this weekend we had an amzing day out on the mighty Zambezi in the boat of a friend followed by everyone round to ours for our farewell braai.So, if things have been going so well, why are we still leaving. Well, as amazing as the weekends can be, the weeks can be pretty tough. With no funding or vehicles we are not achieving as much as we want to or could do. This can be pretty frustrating at the best of times and utterly infuriating at the worst. Especially as so many of the teachers are willing to share and learn. When we have been able to do something you can see such an impact - there's so much potential here!!

Has it been worthwhile? Definitely. Especially for us. We've learnt absolutely loads about ourselves and each other and feel that we will have better lives as a result of this experience. It will also make sure that we appreciate and enjoy what we have at home, instead of complaining about what we don't have! (for a while at least :-)

For the teachers and learners of the Caprivi, they would benefit from another year of our presence - but only if we'd be able to do our jobs!

So we pack up tonight and drive to Rundu to hand over Jack Jack to his new owners - sniff. Then we have a few days in Windhoek before flying home on Sunday 1st!

We're really thankful to everyone who has kept in touch during our time here - looking forward to seeing you once we're home.

If you want some information on VSO, the Caprivi or Namibia please do not hesitate to contact us.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's Raining!!

It just started to rain.

It hasn't rained since about April.

The rains didn't start till the start of December last year.

This place is weird.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Botswana

We’ve been away again. As soon as we found out we’d be based in Katima for our placements Tim & Kate pledged that they’d make it out and visit us and true to their word as ever, they did. They flew the new(ish) Air Namibia route overnight from Gatwick to Windhoek, picked up their hire car and bombed straight up to Etosha. Once they’d had their fill of lion, rhino, elephant, giraffe and squillons of impala, they came up and met us at Bum Hill.

Our plan from there was to spend 10 days or so exploring Botswana. This was a well planned trip - the master excel file has a created date in the region of February - but we already had to make some big changes. Firstly, Tim didn’t have as big a beaming smile on his face as we had expected. He’d bought a snazzy GPS before flying out to make sure we could find our way around the barren landscape of the Makgadikgadi Pans. It broke on their way up from Etosha. Grrr. Secondly, when in Katima we had a bit of trouble with the gear box on Jack Jack, so we had to leave him behind. One vehicle instead of two means that you can’t go TOO far off-road. Grrrrr.

Anyway, a few Windhoek lagers at the floating bar helped wash away the frustrations and let us get on with enjoying the rest of the holiday. From Katima, the first stop was Chobe once again. If you’re ever in the Kasane area you really must go on the sunset boat cruise. It’s so fantastic to sit and watch the elephant swim, hippos fight and buffalo graze as the sun sets spectacularly over the Chobe river.

Next stop was Nata Lodge again, where we went for Fearghal’s birthday. We didn’t stay in the luxury chalet this time, but made use of their campsite instead. Although this was clearly a step down, the campsite is one of the best around. It has very good ablutions, access to the pool and bar at the lodge and entertainment in the form of crazy Italians reversing into trees at high speed! Brilliant.

From Nata lodge we drove to the Nata bird sanctuary for a sundowner. We were expecting a few birds eeking out an existence on the edge of a vast expanse of dry pan. Imagine our surprise when we drove up to find a beautiful enormous lake surrounded by white sandy beaches.

Due to the changes of plan we had an extra night in hand before we returned to our schedule so we decided to give Planet Baobab a try. All we really knew about this place was that it has a giant aardvark next to their entrance. It turns out that it is the budget side of Jack’s Camp (a luxury camp in the middle of the pans, which we are all now saving to return to) and has a fantastic bar and great little campsite. As this was our first Friday night together we got a bit dressed up and hit the bar for a few springboks.

Although we’d had do give up on the idea of exploring much of the pans, we decided that we could at least try to get to Green’s & Chapman’s Baobabs on our way to Xwaraga the next day. So we drove to Gweta and headed south through a maze of sandy roads. We eventually found out just how useful a GPS would’ve been as we ended up heading in completely the wrong direction and we had no idea where we’d gone wrong. With our tails between our legs, we turned around and drove back to Gweta and across to the entrance of the Makgadikgadi National Park.

Now that we were back on track we were due to stay at Xawarga campsite for the next two nights. This had been described to us as a beautiful campsite overlooking the Boteti River with a good bar and swimming pool. When we got there it wasn’t quite what we’d pictured. Due to shifts in the tectonic plates, the Boteti River has been dry for a number of years now and is actually a collection of waterholes, some which are supplied by a diesel pump. The vegetation at the campsite is very overgrown, so the view is quite restricted. The ablution block is a significant walk from the campsite we had, and considering the number of lion kills dotted around, not a walk you could do without a few nerves!

It was a pretty amazing place despite these drawbacks. You could hear the hundreds of zebra in the valley below, the elephants crashing down the opposite bank to get to the waterhole and scariest of all - Fearghal spotted a male lion walking past the campsite within metres of the car!! We increased our grey hair count sitting around the fire that evening (all except Tim, who wasn’t scared at all :-)

Given that Xawarga wasn’t quite what it is cracked up to be, we decided to skip the second night there and head on into Maun. This had the added advantage of making the next day less frantic as we were due to drive to Maun, shop and drive up to Moremi all the following day! Once in Maun we decided to stay at Island Safari Lodge as this was to be our scheduled stop off point after Moremi. We weren’t overly impressed - and noone else is either as we were almost the only people in a massive campsite! (incidentally, both Xawarga and Island Safari Lodge are owned by the same people - African Secrets). As we’d paid already we stayed put for the night but had a wee explore for alternatives. Although the crocodile farm was recommended to us, it wasn’t much better than Island Safari, and FULL of big overland trucks. Getaway Magazine recommended Maun Lodge, and it does have a lovely little camping area but we were tempted from our tents by their great chalets - a bit of luxury for our night after Moremi. In case you are ever in Maun, the best place to camp appears to be Audi Camp. We went there for dinner and the food was fantastic. It’s recently been renovated the bar/restaurant/pool area is stunning.

We left Maun the next morning fully loaded with the excessive quantities of food we now needed - by this point we’d added a number of meals to the day: 1. First Breakfast 2. Second Breakfast 3. Brian (a pre-lunch snack) 4. Lunch 5. Dave (a pre-dinner snack) 6. Dinner. Occasionally we also added in a bit of Bert in Ernie as well! (Don’t ask - you just had to be there.) Our next stop was Mankwe Lodge on the edges of the Moremi Game Reserve. This place demonstrated how to do basic camping in style. The campsites are 2km from the main lodge and far enough away from each other that you feel as if you are on your own in the bush. Each site has it’s own ablution block which consists of a toilet, sink and bucket shower. The lodge makes you feel more than welcome at the bar and has a lovely little pool. All this and they bake fantastic (but expensive) bread to take into Moremi!

By now, we felt ready to see some serious game. Moremi Game Reserve is a massive national park on the edges of the Okavango Delta. It is famous for it’s lions, leopard and empty roads. To get there, we drove north along the eastern edge of the park then turned left and followed the River Kwai to North Gate. This in itself was a fantastic drive with beautiful scenery, amazing birds and plenty of hippo. Once in the park we chose our campsite and shooed away the baboons and monkeys. As we’d heard, Botswana is not great at maintaining their campsites in the National Parks. The campsite at North Gate was a bit unkempt and had rubbish ablutions - but in it’s favour it did have impala roaming around and hippos swimming straight past.

Once we’d set up camp we hit the road again and drove back the way we’d come but along the south bank of the river this time. We’d had a pleasant drive and we’re gearing up for turning around when Tim screeched to a halt and started ripping his camera bag open. Cheetah. Sitting in the grass right next to road. We sat with excited grins on our faces while this majestic animal watched us and then gradually walked away to lie somewhere a bit more peaceful.

The following morning we had to get to a campsite on the other end of the park - Xakanaxa. We drove slowly West along the river keeping our eyes peeled, hoping for more cats. After a few hours of choosing random roads to try Tim & Fearghal finally got to exclaim the magic word - lion! A male lying half on the road directly in front of us. Kate clearly didn’t have her spotting eyes on yet as she admitted that she almost drove over him! It didn’t take long for us to realise that on the other side of him was a female, sleeping in the grass. It was a mating pair. When a female lion is in season, the male takes her away from the rest of the pride for a few days. They then mate roughly every 15 minutes without hunting or eating. We were in no hurry and were lucky enough to witness this for a few hours!

After a while we decided to give them a bit of privacy and head further down the road we’d started on as there is a big baobab tree at the end of it. A few minutes after leaving the mating pair we noticed a heck of a lot of excited vultures. The reason? A dead zebra under a tree. But what’s that next to the zebra? Another lioness!! We didn’t hang around quite as long this time as it wasn’t overly pleasant looking inside a dead zebra and the flies were everywhere!!

Now with even bigger grins on our faces we made it to our campsite at Xakanaxa, which is in much better shape than North Gate, grassy, spread out, with a decent ablution block. Once we had set up camp and eaten second breakfast, brian, lunch and dave all at once, we headed back out. This was another occasion when the GPS would have been fantastic. After half an hour of “I think we’re here”, “I think we should turn left” and “no, I think right” we eventually made it back to camp. Just before we got there though we noticed a foul smell as we drove past a waterhole. No, it wasn’t Tim - it was a dead hippo in the middle of the pool being visited by a few vultures. We didn’t think much of it and headed off to bed.

Next morning was another early start to get out of the park by 11am - when our permit ran out. We pulled out of the campsite and Tim & Aileen immediately started practising their tracking skills. Hanging out the windows they were trying to spot whether the lion/leopard had gone thisaway or that. We turned a corner and once again right there in the road - lion! A pride had turned up to get tucking into the free meal in the waterhole - the hippo. We were first to find them so we were able to park upwind of the feast to avoid the smell as much as possible. We stayed until people were starting to fight over a decent photograph spot, then we left them to it and headed for the gate with very smug grins on our faces.

Once we were back in Maun our first task was to find out about flights over the delta. We’d been advised that a flight over the delta is well worth the expense so we hired a 5 seater plane form Kavango Air between us and spent an hour flying over the buffalo, elephant, hippo and giraffe exploring the southern edge of the delta. The delta is so huge that you still don’t get a whole view of it from a little plane, but it was still fantastic and highly recommended.

After our night of luxury at Maun Lodge we realised we were coming to the end of our adventure. We had only three more nights together. From Maun we drove around to Guma Lagoon Camp where it was supposed to be back to our tents. When we arrived we were asked if it would be ok to be upgraded to proper beds in the preset tents as a large group of campers were due in the next day and there wouldn’t be room for all of us - we reluctantly accepted. We really enjoyed our two nights at Guma, it really is such a fantastic, relaxed and friendly place. And the mokoro trip into the delta is a must. Our guide even paddled into a hippo pool, where he banged the mokoro with his pole to try to make the curious hippos appear. A couple did stick their heads up in the distance, but didn’t seem too curious that day - much to our relief!

From there it was a quick detour to Tsolido Hills on our way to Ngepi Camp - back home in Namibia. At Ngepi we finally braved the “swimming pool” and were surprised at how pleasant it was - much warmer than any of the other swimming pools we’d encountered on the holiday.

And so, with fuzzy heads from the night before, Tim & Kate dropped us off at Divundu and headed off to Waterberg and, eventually, Manchester. We waited for a few hours at Divundu and eventually got a lift in a very nice backie with air con.

Another fantastic holiday. We’re gonna miss these! A massive thanks to Tim and Kate for choosing to spend their hols with us, we hope you enjoyed the trip, and the company, every bit as much as we did.

LOADS more photos on flickr >
And check out Tim's flickr as well >

Monday, July 31, 2006

Look what we got!!


Look what we got!!
Originally uploaded by Aileen & Fearghal.
Since we got here we've been moaning to the regional education management that we haven't got:
1. A computer - essential for preparing workshops
2. Any money - essential for financing workshops
3. Transport - essential for following up on the workshops by visiting teachers in their schools

11 months in and they've finally relented and found us a computer to share. It doesn't have any USB ports or a CD drive. Our printer is USB only and our personal laptop has no floppy disc drive so their are certain compatability issues - but it's a damn sight better than nothing!!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Week in Okahandja

When last we left you we had just returned from our fantastic weekend at Ngonye Falls. Unfortunately, the following week was not quite as much fun for me (Fearghal). I was due to travel the next day to a 3-day workshop at NIED (the National Institute for Educational Development) in Okahandja - a whopping 1140km from Katima.

Once I’d written the blog below I gave the transport officer a ring to find out what transport had been arranged. In the course of the conversation I discovered firstly that the name I’ve been calling him all year is wrong (cringe), and that he had managed to acquire a “combi” to transport us to Okahandja which he then promptly delivered to the house. A combi is a small minibus type thing, which is very common out here and will sit about 15 without luggage.

Unbelievably, I then had three stress inducing incidents on the Sunday night - not a good omen! Firstly, Katima had yet another power cut in the middle of me getting fuel at the filling station, which led to me sitting waiting for ages to finish refuelling. Secondly, when I got back to the house the plastic jerrycan I’d just filled with petrol for the journey cracked and I had to quickly find another to decant 20l of fuel into. And then worst of all, when trying to unlock the backdoor of the combi the only key disintegrated in my hand. Luckily the government garage people were able to find a spare and bring it round.

Despite arranging to meet at 6.30am on the Monday morning, it wasn’t until 8am that we actually pulled out of Katima. 13 people and their luggage plus a spare wheel and a jerrycan of fuel, crammed into a small tin can on wheels. Luckily, I was driving. And I decided there and then that unless I really couldn’t drive any longer, I was not relinquishing my precious drivers seat. About 12 hours later we arrived at NIED with me successfully still at the wheel.

On arrival I had expected that some sort of sustenance would be provided. At the time, I was a bit annoyed to have to drive to a service station to pick up some dinner, but during the course of the week I came to the conclusion that service station food is infinitely superior to NIED fayre. A particular low point was when I thought we’d been served up a piece of juicy steak. I tucked in with much enthusiasm only discover that it was in fact liver. I now remember why I gave up eating liver just as soon as my mother stopped trying to force me to eat it.

So apart from being badly fed, and frozen at night, what were we doing there? Well, all of the subjects in the Upper Primary (Grades 5-7) are having new syllabi introduced next year. I was invited as the Natural Science Advisory Teacher, along with 6 Natural Science teachers, to find out what the changes to the syllabus are and what information we need to pass onto the rest of the teachers in the Caprivi region.

The changes, on the whole, are good and the syllabus is definitely an improvement on the old system. The problem, as always, is its implementation. There wont be any money to train the rest of the teachers until early next year - after the syllabus as been officially introduced! So I’m going to carry out some training in September before we leave, with the remnants of my British High Commission fund, which I’ve been saving for this all year. After that who knows. But at least the teachers will have copies of the syllabus they’re supposed to be teaching and have been introduced to it. I shouldn’t complain too much though - the English Syllabus is changing also. It hasn’t yet been finalised and they won’t even have their NIED workshops ‘till April next year!

It was with great relief that we pulled out of Okahandja at 5am on the Friday morning to hit the long road home. And it was with even greater relief that we pulled into Katima at 5.30pm with me still stubbornly nestled in my drivers seat. I’ll never complain about having to attend a course in the UK again!