Thursday, May 29, 2014

Namibia (Last one I swear)

Ok. Rounding up the Namibia photos.

There were two sights that made me really want to come to Namibia - and the south part of Namibia in particular. The first were the dunes at Sosussvlei. According to our guide they are the largest dunes in the world. Let me just say that climbing dunes is crazy exhausting, but they are a lot of fun to run down.

I could post about a million pictures from the dunes because it was all so breathtaking, but I think these are some of the best - also, I had to cull out quite a few because the fine sand that was blowing around did a number on my camera lens. :( Might need to get that replaced sometime soon. Who knew dunes were so dangerous?

 

The deadvlei. Photographed better by other people, but still very dramatic, even when an amateur like me comes along with a little 'point and click' camera.
 
Poor camera! This is what all that blowing sand looked like to my lens.

My friends, climbing 'big daddy'. In the million degree desert - it took maybe 1 1/2-2 hours. No thank you!

This was the only dune I ended up climbing to the top - Dune 45. It was plenty difficult so I feel like I got enough of a workout in.

I love the color - the early morning light really brought out the red in the dunes, though they are by nature very red anyway.


 
Ok, so that was the dunes.
 
The other thing I really wanted to see in southern Namibia was the ghost town of Kolmanskop. It has a fascinating history, here. It was great to learn about, but to be honest I mostly just wanted to run around and take pictures and from that standpoint I got exactly what I wanted...the second the tour guide stopped talking.
 
Most of the pictures are pretty self-explanatory. It's a former mining town that is slowly being taken over by the dunes, so houses full of sand - pretty much as you'd expect. Even the ones without much sand were beautiful to photograph though. Something about the light and the hints of the original owners (like paint, furniture, and wallpaper) just made the houses very moving.
 
 


 



 
This (finally!) concludes the Namibia trip pictures. I'll try to condense all the South Africa stuff into my next post, but we'll see. It was pretty jam-packed.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Tough love...and Efo Riro

Nigeria is not for the faint of heart or the difficult to please. I realize this at least once a day.

You may say this is true of any foreign country but I beg to differ. (boy, oh boy do I beg to differ) Way back when I was an exchange student in Thailand. As you may know from personal experience, Thailand is easy to love. The food is world-famous, the people are polite, everything is cheap and beautiful and exotic. They have orchids on every table for god's sake. I spent a half-day being homesick and the rest of my exchange falling hopelessly in love with Thailand and Southeast Asia generally.

Nigeria is a different beast. This is not to say that I don't love Nigeria, but it's an attitude that requires a conscious effort every day. If you aren't careful you just see the negatives - the city is dirty, the traffic is atrocious, the people are aggressive, everything is expensive, the work is grueling and yes - we don't get out much almost ever. I try not to write about this side of life here because it isn't any fun to read and it's not very healthy to write.

More so than in many places, you have to dig deep to see the beauty - but like any place, it is there. I love the palm trees and the fresh fruit, I love that it's summer every day, I love highlife music and West African fabric, I love the elderly couples in matching local outfits and the babies strapped to their mothers' backs, I love my community and the life I've built here. I love that Lagos has made me tougher and braver and opened my eyes in so many ways.

But there's one form of love that has come pretty slowly (and I finally am getting back to the point of the blog prompt in case you're wondering). I've been slow to warm up to Nigerian food.

I eat suya of course, but that hardly counts. Meat on a stick is pretty universal. And I eat fish/goat pepper soup. I guess that's pretty legit. But most Nigerian foods make me just a little nervous.

This weekend a friend invited me out to give Nigerian food another try. We went to a good place, popular with expats and Nigerians and ordered something that definitely pushed my food boundaries about a mile: Efo Riro.

Let me just include the ingredient list for Efo Riro to add a bit of perspective to the discussion.
  • Fresh vegetable leaves (water leaves, spinach or fluted pumpkin)
  • Stock fish head
  • Meat
  • Tomatoes
  • Fresh pepper
  • Onions
  • Ground Crayfish (about 1 cup)
  • Iru (locust bean)
  • Dried fish (two to three medium sizes)
  • Palm oil
  • Snails (washed with lemon juice/alum)
  • Smoked fish (1 medium sized)
  • 2 knorr cubes
See what I mean? And let me just say, this is not an unusual dish, most foods seem to have the dreaded ground crayfish/crawfish stock as an ingredient and they all seem to have an ample helping of peppers.

But I took a deep breath and a small bite and it wasn't so bad. In fact I actually enjoyed it a bit. The ultimate proof of success?

 
 
I took home leftovers (on the right, it's the green stuff).
 
 

So there it is. I found something to love yesterday, and something today, and I'll find something tomorrow too. Here's to Efo Riro and finding the courage to love even the tough places.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Namibia (landscapes)

Namibia looked so much like the American Southwest that for a while I didn't feel the need to take any pictures, but eventually the scenery was just too spectacular to resist.  I'll save the big dunes for the next post, but otherwise I feel like this is a fairly representative sample.
View of the plain from Elim Dune, the start of the red sand dunes of the Namib
 
The bay at Luderitz. It looks tempting but as a novice sailor all I could think was how strong the wind was - you'd have to be good to stay upright in those waters.

Quiver trees!

Ai-Ais, the campground at the very south of Namibia. Unlike everywhere else we stayed it was nice and warm at Ai-Ais. No surprise this was my favorite campground. (Also notable is how much like an American campground it was. They were all like that! Hot water showers, electrical outlets for each campsite, landscaping, signs, everything clean and orderly.... I couldn't help but notice that camping in Namibia felt more civilized than staying at a hotel in Nigeria.)


Loved this white grass - we saw it near Marienthal on our first day.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Namibia (animals)

As the title of this post implies, these are just pictures of animals. I decided there were too many pictures to post everything at once.
 
Apologies if things aren't labeled properly. I'm a little fuzzy on some of the names.
Springbok. Exciting on day 1. By day 6 I wouldn't even look out the window to see these guys. They were everywhere. This was at a game park outside Marienthal (Central/East Namibia) in the Kalahari.

Wildebeest at the same park, or as our guide called it 'Wild-a-beast'.

Oryx? Also possibly a kudu. Near Fish River Canyon in the south of Namibia.

Zebras! Unfortunately this is as close as we got all week. But how crazy is it to see a herd of zebras in just chilling by the side of the road?

Flamingos by Dias Point/Luderitz on the southwest coast of Namibia.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

So...Namibia

As I mentioned, I spent a week camping in Namibia earlier this month and it was amazing. I followed up with a few days in Cape Town, but I'm sure this trip debrief will take longer than one post so lets just focus on first things first.

First take away from the trip: Group travel was invented by the devil to punish me.
I traveled with a tour group because I thought it'd be too hard to drive by myself in Namibia. Having seen the roads I can definitely say that I was afraid for no reason. There is no one on the roads, they are perfectly paved, there are lots of signs, everything is safe, and people drive like Americans. The group tour made a lot of aspects of the trip simple, but if I did the trip again I'd do it with a group of my own choosing.

Second take away: Namibia itself is fantastic.
We did a swing through the south of the country and while it required a lot of driving, the countryside was so beautiful that I was never bored.

We saw a ton of animals on several game drives and sometimes just driving from place to place; springbok, wildebeest, oryx, kudu, zebra, ostrich, seal, flamingo ... and plenty of cows, goats, and sheep of course.

We saw landscapes that mostly reminded me of the American Southwest - lots of mountains and mesas and plains and desert (both the Kalahari and the Namib). We also saw the highest dunes in the world and the second largest canyon in the world (Fish River Canyon). We camped in stifling heat and some very intense cold. We visited ghost towns filled with sand and fossil sites dotted with quiver trees.

I would highly recommend a trip to Namibia if you're in the region. I'd love to serve there in the future too. All that wide open space and the freedom to explore it would be so refreshing!

I'll try to post some pictures tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I'm back!

My trip to Namibia and South Africa was pretty much the best thing ever, and it has restored my mental health for at least another month or so. ;)

More to follow, but here's a teaser!