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Beachcombing for Agates, and a Quest for Flamingos

Agate Beach is a popular spot for the folks of Luderitz, so we decided to make a late afternoon stop to see if we could find any of the lovely stones for which it is named. The docent at Felsenkirche had some remarkable ones he had found over the years, so I think we all fantasized about discovering a jewelry-worthy specimen. Alas, the local folks scoop a lot of them up on weekends, so they weren’t so easy to find; but I did get some, along with some jasper and quartzite that I’ll give to my grandboy.


We were also on the hunt for flamingos, and Dayne jubilantly found a flock — or, my favorite term, a flamboyance — including some juveniles. I do wish I’d had a longer lens to capture these pink beauties. But I did get a couple flying!


Next up: penguins! We found a waddle of them standing on a beach, but were too far away to get good shots. I make this entry only to be able to use the term “waddle of penguins.” (That’s if they’re standing around. If they’re swimming, they’re called a raft.)

A three-hour drive with a stop for lunch under the only large tree on this road led us to Ka’Naan N/a’an ku sê Desert Retreat, on over 80,000 acres abutting the Namibia-Naukluft National Park. My anticipation built as we turned off the main(dirt) road onto another (dirt) road, continued fifteen minutes to another (dirt) road, which in 8km delivered us to the small registration building. Then another ten-minute drive to the top of a rocky hill and we were at the lodge, overlooking a sweep of plains, dunes and more rocky hills. Perched a bit further down the hill were seven tents on stilts, our accommodations for the next two nights.


Rock Shandys slaked our thirst as we soaked in the view from the lodge deck. (Rock Shandys — our beverage of choice for lunch or a quick refresher for these two weeks — are made with dry lemon soda, club soda and Angostura bitters. Tasty, but even better was Ka’Naan’s Malawi Shandy, a combination of dry lemon soda, ginger ale and bitters. Sort of looks like a desert sunset.) The accommodations qualified as glamping in my book.

We met Kai and Lucas, our guides for the next couple of days, when they took us down the hill to meet KFC and Hannabella, two young cheetahs Ka’Naan rescued after their mothers were killed by farmers for getting after livestock. They were adopted when only weeks old, so will always live in captivity, as they were never taught to hunt. While they are habituated to humans, they’re by no means tame. Armed with cheetah sticks, we followed Kai and Lucas into their enclosure, which I estimate comprised about three acres, to watch feeding time. We’ll have more time with these girls later in our visit.

As the sun dipped lower, the dunes took on a lovely ochre glow, and the fine sand in the atmosphere created a vibrant sunset for happy hour.


To the Diamond Coast

Heading due west from the Quiver Tree Forest through the barren Kalahari Desert, the iron oxide sand of the Namib altered the landscape, and we began to see red dunes in the distance. If it was possible, the scene became even more desolate, almost making the Kalahari look like a garden. We met fewer than a handful of vehicles on the dusty road, and went through only one town, Aus, where we had a pleasant lunch and filled the gas tanks.

A single railroad track ran parallel to the road, and from time to time we passed an abandoned station, testament to the pointlessness of trying to keep the track open in the face of wind-blown sand.

Luderitz, situated on the coast, has a distinctly German atmosphere. From our room we had a nice view of the Felsenkirche, rising from a rocky crest above the town, and of the harbor hosting a thriving fishing industry.

Rock lobster and oysters are a special treat here, and we had dinner at the Diaz Coffee Shop, which looked an unlikely place for seafood. But it was exceptionally tasty; in addition to a rock lobster tail and some baked oysters I had kingclip, a type of rock fish.

In the morning we made our way just a short drive out of town to Kolmanskoop, an abandoned mining town originally established in 1908 after diamonds were discovered there. At its height some 300 people lived there, including over 40 children; and they had a school, hospital, shops, bowling alley, gym, casino, ice house and the first x-ray machine in the southern hemisphere (developed to ensure workers weren’t smuggling diamonds out). The town was fashioned like a German village, and the wealthy owners/managers imported building materials from Germany to construct their palatial homes. When the diamonds had played out, by the late 1920s, most of the townsfolk decamped to a larger field further south along the Orange River, leaving everything behind, and the town was abandoned. In the intervening years the relentless desert winds have blown sand into all the structures, resulting in an eerie, ghostly feel to the ruins. Remnants remain of the fancy wallpaper, elaborate woodwork and generous windows overlooking a barren landscape.

The late-morning sun filtering through rafters and windows creates dramatic effects.

The teacher’s house remains standing only because of the sand packed tightly inside.


In the photo above right, the mine-workers’ quarters are seen away from the main part of the town (and they’re not part of the tour). Working conditions were severe, with the crew managers taking extraordinary measures against smuggling. Besides periodic x-rays, workers were subject to involuntary enemas and other indignities. Miners worked on all fours above ground, scarves wound around their lower faces against the blowing sand, picking diamonds off the surface and collecting them in jelly jars (working at night under a full moon was common, as the gems gleamed in the moonlight).

Water for the town was brought by rail from 75 miles away, but this was no hardship for the prosperous townspeople, who cultivated lawns and gardens and lived in luxury.

A small museum exhibits tools, household items and clothing from the period.

So many photo opportunities…

Quiver Trees and the Giants’ Playground

Not far from our third night lodge is the Quiver Tree Forest, and our timing was great as we began exploring it leading up to the golden hour. The trees are actually a variety of aloe, which became obvious on close inspection of the leaves.  Fuzzy rock hyraxes scuttled amid the rocks, and one even took a high perch to gaze at the sunset.

Quiver trees grow only in Namibia, and this is the largest concentration of them in the country. Most of them are 2-300 years old. The forest is set in a field of tumbled volcanic rock, and I wondered where the volcano was that had deposited them there. Later, when I examined my map, I found a marker for an extinct volcano a short distance north.


Industrious sociable weaverbirds often select these sturdy trees to build their nests, and other birds are welcome too, like these lovebirds.


As the light turned golden, the papery trunks of the trees turned a creamy yellow, amplifying their texture; and the gradually setting sun created dramatic silhouettes.

After dinner (kudu ragu on rice) we returned to the forest to try our hand at Milky Way shots. Unfortunately, I’m having issues with focusing my camera, so my photos were disappointing, but I remember well what I saw!


The next morning found us at the Giants’ Playground, an even larger field of boulders that indeed looked as if petulant giants had tossed them randomly, some landing in unlikely stacks. Tenacious quiver trees sprouted from between the rocks.

As the sun rose higher and became more intense, we hit the road toward our next destination, Luderitz. Along the way we crossed an actual river (vs. the countless dry riverbeds that had been the norm) and spotted a small herd of feral horses, descendants of a stud farm herd let loose in the 1920s when drought put the rancher out of business. Today, there’s a woman who manages the herd by providing water and feed stations, and the animals don’t wander far in this desolate land.


The Route, Our Guides and First Cheetah Encounter

For the next ten days or so we were headed in a loop south from Windhoek, then west and gradually north through the Namib Desert, and finally back to Windhoek. Our drive would be primarily on dirt roads, some fairly smooth, others virtual washboards; my guess is that we were on paved roads for less than 100 miles of our journey.

Namibia was part of South Africa until it gained its independence in 1990. It abuts the South Atlantic just north of South Africa, with Angola to the north and Botswana to the east. The part of the country we explored was primarily desert — the Kalahari and the Namib, the latter being the oldest desert on the planet. Germany colonized the country in the 1880s, and their influence is still evident in the place names and cuisine (schnitzel, anyone?) More on that later.

Our fabulous guides are enthusiastic naturalists, Steve a renowned ornithologist and his son Dayne knowledgeable in all manner of geckos, burrowing animals, birds and larger wildlife, as well as an accomplished photographer. As the primary designer of the trip, Dayne knew the best spots for us to capture photos. His daily biology lessons were a real treat.

From Red Dunes Lodge we continued south to the Quiver Tree Lodge, where we had our first cheetah encounter at feeding time. The lodge owner ushered us into the enclosure where two cheetahs were awaiting their evening meal…


Where’s Namibia?

Namibia was not on my bucket list…and then I went.

After a 24-hour journey from Boston, I had just enough time to settle into my little cottage at the River Crossing Lodge and meet my roommate, Margery, before the first assembly of our little group of photographers and guides, a father-son team of native Namibians named Steve and Dayne. The lodge is perched on a high spot about 25 km south of Windhoek, the capital, and it feels like the end of the world.


It was in the 90s today, but at cocktail hour on the veranda a refreshing breeze kicked up as the sun started to set, and we enjoyed sundowner cocktails as we watched the swifts swoop and dive before nesting for the night. By the time we finished dinner the waxing crescent moon was an orange fingernail slipping behind the mountains to the west, and the eleven of us had started getting to know each other.

After a sumptuous breakfast the next day, we set off south toward the western edge of the Kalahari Desert. At the outset there were small jagged mountains dotted with scrub, but the further we traveled the more the land flattened The featureless landscape was mostly comprised of scattered scrub acacia and trumpet thorn bushes laden with small white flowers. We passed several larger acacias where sociable weaverbirds had constructed their enormous nests. Along the way we spotted the ubiquitous kudu antelope grazing in the scrub, and stopped to commemorate crossing the Tropic of Capricorn.


The Kalahari Red Dunes Lodge was our destination for this night. We had lovely little cottage-tents (two walls cement, two walls tent cloth). During lunch (smoked kudu salad) we watched as wildebeests grazed just off the veranda, and a herd of elands approached to have their pictures taken.


The highlight of our stay was a sunset game drive. We set off in open Land Cruisers around 5:00 to drive through the 4000 hectares of the preserve in which the lodge sits. We spotted a variety of wildlife, including eland, wildebeests (blue and black species), a couple of bat-eared foxes, oryx, blazebok and a family of giraffes. From a distance we spotted zebras, but they disappeared before we could catch up with them. As the sun was setting, we parked atop one of the red dunes to make pictures while our drivers set up the bar. A freshening breeze blew away the heat of the day, and a gin and tonic slaked my parched throat. The sky was ablaze with orange as the sun disappeared, and the vibrant color lingered for a good long while as we reflected on the good fortune that had brought us to this picturesque spot.

Back at the lodge, diner awaited. After an amuse bouche of shrimp and a peppadew pepper, and an appetizer of a “fancy deviled egg” salad, our entrée choices were roasted marinated chicken thigh or slow-roasted warthog! Our guide Dayne explained that warthog is a very popular dish in Namibia, but thinking of the ugly animals I saw in Tanzania, I couldn’t bring myself to order it.

The lodge owner has adopted a sweet little meerkat named Timon, and he slept on my feet all through dinner.


Margery and I realized that the mosquito netting around the beds was not just for show when we discovered that an army of termites had invaded during the night. Yuck! I hope I’m not taking them along to our next stop.

A Bit More of Albuquerque

Although we didn’t shoot the iconic Route 66 neon, because of construction along Central Avenue, there’s still a bit to be seen. By day, these copper graphics adorning the streetlamps are a nice contrast to the deep blue sky, while by night the encircling neon tubes make for a fun path down Central.



Dancing in the plaza, and a charming flautist…

Adios, New Mexico!

A Lovely Day in Santa Fe

One day is simply not enough to immerse oneself in the pleasures of Santa Fe. You could spend hours just sitting in the plaza listening to musicians or watching Native American dancers. Or take your time browsing through the huge array of jewelry and other handicrafts under the roof of the Governor’s Palace. Or shopping, if that’s your thing: fancy boots, art, pottery, baskets, antiques… Or just wander around, admiring the pueblo architecture that has been so carefully preserved and gives the Old Town its character.



The fine autumn day gave us a brilliant azure sky, providing contrast to the warm hues of the buildings. People in the plaza read the newspaper or watched musicians and dancers entertain.



Historic La Fonda is a luxury hotel marking the terminus of the Santa Fe Trail, with a justly acclaimed restaurant, La Plazuela. Two docents escorted us on a tour of the property and its bounteous array of artworks, from murals to stained glass, decorative sconces to historic furnishings to paintings.

The 1930s-era Lensic Theater, Santa Fe’s premier performing arts center, is a masterpiece of Moorish-style architecture.

And everywhere, ristras!