Under African Skies

Thur. 23rd May ‘24

The balloon rises as the full moon setsIs there no end to our suffering? We have the cruelty of a 4:35 alarm today as we need to be at the outer gate for the park by 5:30 as that is (the only??) opportunity to get out prior to sunrise. We need to be at Namib Sky Balloon Safaris by 6 for our balloon ride over the dunes this morning. It’s a bit of an extravagance, but I don’t think we’ll be coming back to Sossusvlei or Namibia (too many other places we want to visit) so we might as well make sure we see the dunes from all angles.

Balloon over the dunesFortunately, once we get to the Namib Sky office and check-in they have flasks of coffee and some cookies to help us wake up. After the other punters have arrived we are soon driven off to the launch site where the balloons are already being set out. There are two balloons going up today and the first surprise is the size of the basket underneath them – much bigger than I was expecting as there are 12 passengers (and a pilot in each). We’re able to walk around as the balloons are inflated and we try to get some shots that capture what’s happening against the setting full moon and the sunrise behind us.

Getting down low to view the SpringbokOnce we’re all aboard and Ivo (Iwo?) the pilot has explained our landing positions the two balloons simultaneously lift off with very little fuss. We’re quite close together at first and I get an unusual view looking down on the other balloon. Then we’re off and heading across the plain and into the park in the general direction of the dunes. The next surprise is how low Ivo takes the balloon – it looks to be only a few feet off the ground but is probably a few metres. Definitely all under control and it gives us the best chance of spotting Springbok and other local wildlife.

Balloon follow my leaderThe two balloons tend to be at different heights – one higher than the other – and then over the radio the two pilots swap notes on wind direction and strength. It’s almost like they know what they are doing!! We are just enjoying the views of the landscape, trying to spot wildlife and take pictures of the balloons and the scenery. The basket is divided into 4 separate compartments with 3 people in each so Janet & I split up so we were on opposite sides. Sharing the compartment with Janet are Lauren & Steve, originally from Brighton but now in Sydney. They quickly twig that Janet & I are competitive when it comes to photography (amongst other things) and quickly join in the banter.

Champagne breakfast at the end of the flightOther than the short bursts from the gas burners, all is quiet in the balloon and you really don’t feel any motion – even though the ground is passing by underneath. As Ivo explains, the only time we feel the wind is when the balloon is changing speed or direction, so occasionally we feel a little breeze. All the while we’re taking pictures of the other balloon or the dunes – or both together! All too soon it is landing time – the wind is sufficiently gentle that the basket stays upright. But to compensate for the disappointment of the flight ending, we are whisked off to an alfresco champagne breakfast. Just what’s needed and the only disappointment is that I need to restrain myself on the champagne (well SA fizz) refills.

Vines under the nets at NeurasWe’re moving on again today – back to the middle of nowhere. The direct route to Tsondap Valley Lodge is only 1.5hrs. However, if we go the indirect route, we go past a winery. Well it would be rude not to, so we head off on back roads to Neuras Winery. On the way, we wonder how it’s possible to grow vines in Namibia with so little rainfall and such high temperatures. Neuras turns out to be a small winery relatively recently opened and with only 4 wines on offer currently. They do offer cheese & wine pairings, which actually look rather good, but we have a date with the café in Solitaire so we settle for a tasting of a single wine (rather too big in body & alcohol @ 14.5%) and move on.

Janet's carOne of our memories of Namibia from our RTW trip, is stopping in Solitaire, a tiny town (pop. 92 back in 2013) – but strategically situated and with both a filling station and a café. As well as baking ‘famous’ apple pies, dotted around the grounds are the wrecks of antique cars. Janet was delighted to find out that the car she had photographed in 2013 (here) – looking a little more worse for wear, but nevertheless still quite photogenic. With both us and Mungo refreshed, it was time to push on for our destination for the next couple of nights.

Zebras to welcome us to Tsondap Valley LodgeWhilst it is only a few km to the turn-off to Tsondap Valley Lodge, we’ve been warned that it is a further 18km on ‘farm track’ and that we should expect it to take 30mins. So, it isn’t entirely surprising that it is a narrow, bumpy and sometimes sandy track that just heads out across a vast plain with seemingly no end in sight. There is, however, some company for us as we disturb a flock (?) of vultures and then meet a herd(?) of zebra. The latter are more photogenic and so are included here.

At least we know we're on the right track!Periodically, there are notices painted on flat rocks – just as well as the track seems to stretch on and on and there is absolutely no signs of any habitation. At last, the lodge comes in to view and we are given a very warm welcome by Kristin and her husband Hans. They have a lovely set up with the lodge set on a rise looking out over a valley with a nearby waterhole. Below are as set of cabañas (as they’d be called in South America) for guests – a bedroom and bathroom as a single separate building. The setting is just stunning.

We'll be on the roof of our cabaña tonightKristin is a wonderful cook, and as we are the only guests here this evening, she and Hans join us for dinner and tell us about how they have gradually built this ‘farm’ and about their lives here. There is one final surprise for us as Kristin asks if we’d like to sleep the night on the roof of our cabaña – it shouldn’t get too cold or windy and they can take our mattress, duvet and blanket up. Whilst it is a shame that the moon is full and very bright, so we won’t see a huge number of stars, we’re up for this. And so we end the day as we began it – under African skies.

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One Response to Under African Skies

  1. Sheelagh and Phil says:

    Fabulous report guys. Thank you for sharing your adventures. Keep the posts coming. All well here, albeit less scenic!

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