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    Diving the Rig, Malaysia

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    Duned in

    March 30th, 2007 by steve

    Swakopmund has more to offer than just skydiving. They’ve found that crazy tourists like us will do just about anything if it’s on sand. In one action packed day, we went sandboarding, jumped out of the plane and then jumped on quad bikes for a wild ride on the dunes. And then sat down for one of the massive German-style meals that abound here in Swakop.

    Sandboarding is just like snowboarding. In fact, they use snowboards with a layer of formica on bottom that you need to wax on every run. It’s not as fast as snow, but hurts a lot less when you fall. The only real downside is that you have to hike back up the dune for each run. No lifts here! Mary had a great time with a few nice runs. I wasn’t making any fancy turns with my ankle all banged up, but I still had a good time. Then they send you down some seriously steep bowls on flat boards clocking up to 50mph. Good times.

    Off to the skydive and then straight to QuadbikingRiding the quad bikes was a blast. We ended up in a group of just 3 of us with a guide who took us up and over dunes, through “rainbow” runs where you go as high up the side of a dune as you can without tipping over – and then turn back down the same side. It’s fast, fun and pretty scary. Don’t worry mom and dad, we had plenty of reasons to take it pretty easy. We were tired after a long day, my ankle was pretty sore and there was an accident the previous day that kept our speeds down.
    One of our truck mates was driving a little too aggressively and landed his bike too hard. He fractured a vertabrae and his pelvis. He’ll live, but his vacation is over. He should be able to fly home to the UK in a couple weeks.Mary: I went to visit our bed ridden friend at the hospital. At the nurses’ counter there was a box on the wall labelled “Specimens/Monsters”. That was enough to keep me away. This happened to be the same hospital that Brad & Angelina had their baby last year. The nurses were kind enough to show some people the room they stayed in, etc. Yippee.

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    JUMP!

    March 30th, 2007 by steve

    We landed in Swakopmund, Namibia for a few days of crazy outdoor sports. Swakopmund is really a study in opposites. One side of town is desert wasteland (except for the uranium mine), the other is the Atlantic Ocean. Aside from the crazy tourists running through town, it seems to be mainly a South African retirement community.

    We decided very quickly that we’d learn to skydive by taking a one day course on “how to pull the chute”. The course culminates in a solo jump at 3500 feet (4500 for Mary) on what’s called a static line. That means that there’s a rope from the plane to your ripcord so your chute is automatically deployed for you after you jump. After a few dives of demonstrating good body position jumping out of the plane and dealing with panic, they let you pull the cord yourself. We didn’t have enough time for that, though.

    After hours of chanting “arch thousand…look thousand…handles thousand…right thousand…left thousand…arch thousand” to make sure we could deploy our safety chute in an emergency, we were ready to go. We stuffed ourselves into a tiny plane with a big hole in the side and cruised up to altitude. Just to keep it interesting, our jumpmaster decided to skip all the protocol we had learned and just yelled “GO!” to me as I was crouched in the doorframe. And out I went.


    All was going well until I looked up after my 5 seconds to find that there wasn’t much of a parachute above me. I had one of the common problems known as “twisted lines” which meant that I was falling really fast without a deployed chute … but that’s ok! With a few yanks and twists of the lines over my head, the chute opened fully and I started floating peacefully… and my heart started again. Then I opened my eyes :)

    Below me was an incredible view from the Atlantic out through the sand dune fields and off into the desert. After taking it all in, it was time to try out the flight controls and play with the chute. You get a cord on your left and right hands that let you turn the chute or flare to slow down briefly. It’s so much fun I almost couldn’t stand it. After a few minutes of gliding down, it came time to land. It’s only been two days since I sprained my ankle, so I landed one legged. Well, and on my butt.

    Mary had a similar problem with her chute, but jumped from 1000 feet higher than me so had a lot more time to play around on her way down. She came in with a picture perfect landing.

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    ouch. OUCH. AAAAAHHH. Thump thump thump. OUCH!!!!

    March 30th, 2007 by steve

    We camped a night at Spitzkopf, Namibia’s 2000 foot Matterhorn of craggy rocks and rough boulders seemingly put in the middle of the desert just for us to climb. Being lazy, we picked a small 500′ish rock to play with. Our first bit of excitement was a 4′ monitor that ran hiding into a nearby bush and he turned out to be the friendliest creature we met.As we ascended the rock looking for fun paths, I started climbing up a narrow canyon with a bizarre tree that I wanted to check out up close. I got under the tree and within a split second of hearing really loud buzzing all around me, started feeling sharp stabs on my back.

    I spun around and started running down the rocks to get away from the pain and managed to slide off my sandals on a boulder and do my best humpty dumpty down a few boulders. My sandals and backpack had gone flying, but I did bring along a nicely sprained ankle, bloody stump of a foot and handful of stings with me. I didn’t stick around long enough to see if they were hornets, wasps or some awful African monster bug. Let me know if you can identify the hive on the tree (photo bravely taken by Mary after the attack). As if this wasn’t fun enough, we still had to get me down the rocks and a kilometer or two back to the campsite.

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    Cheetahs, cheetahs and more cheetahs

    March 30th, 2007 by steve

    It almost seems like any hick in Africa with a farm and knack for catching animals can start a tourist attraction. We spent a night on a small sheep and cattle farm that kept a few cheetahs for housecats and then another 30-some wild cats on a private reserve. After playing with the ‘house cats’, we went into the wild cat enclosure and watched a feeding frenzy from the back of a pickup truck. Wow.

    From the sounds of it, Namibia is doing all it can to single handedly exterminate the cheetah. It is apparently common in the farmlands for hungry cheetahs to attack livestock and find themselves on the wrong end of a farmer’s shotgun. The family at cheetah park had been paying farmers to allow them to come in and trap these nuisance cheetahs. But now, the Namibian government has apparently made that illegal. And they’ve made breeding or selling them to zoos or parks illegal. It is actually possible that there is a sane reason behind all this, but in the meantime, the number of cheetahs in Namibia is dropping to extinction.

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    Chocolate + warthog steak = heaven

    March 30th, 2007 by steve

    The disneyland like eatery was packed with tourists and Africans with feathers on their heads. Boma was the restaurant for game meat in Zimbabwe, but after Carnivore in Nairobi we were skeptical. Our meal was started off with some squash and roasted peanut snacks washed down with a local beer that smelled like elephant urine and tasted like a really thick, grainy hefeweisen. For appetizers I got the ostrich and guinea fowl pate which was okay but I enjoyed Steve’s smoked crocodile much more. Then we headed off to the buffet to get a small plate of salad related things before attacking the grill. There were pans filled with chicken, stir fry, ribs, and sirloin but what we were really there for were the warthog steaks, ostrich kebabs, and impala steak. We each got a plate full and rushed back to the table to dig in. We had heard such good things about the warthog and it was all true. Yum. It was a juicy, no, succulent pork prime rib. The impala steak was also very good. The ostrich kebab was good but it paled next to its neighbors on the iron plate. The ribs were finger licking good so I had to get more for my second plate along with a helping of kudu stew. The kudu reminded me of beef jerky oddly. Steve was brave and tried the mopani worm which was hairy even after being fried. They were about the size of my pinky finger and after one bite all he was said was ‘that’s disgusting’ which I answered with a simple ‘duh’. Gotta give him credit though because he did swallow it before washing it down with warthog. My third, and fourth, plates wer dessert. The chocolate mousse was thick and rich. It tasted great with a dollop of meringue around a roasted hazelnut. We quickly found out that the warthog was best after a bite of chocolate. Somehow the sweetness of the meat was enhanced by chocolate goodness. What a wonderful discovery that was. In between bites we joined in with the drumming show and beat on the drums that we were each given, but not to the same beat.

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    Victoria and Steve Falls

    March 30th, 2007 by steve

    Vic Falls is one of the bigger tourist traps…errr attractions… in southern Africa. The falls are about 3/4 mile wide and up to 350 feet tall. That’s roughly twice as wide and twice as tall as Niagra. Unlike Niagra, the water falls over the wide side of a gorge and you can stand on the other side, maybe 200 feet away. You really can feel the power when so close. The downside is that you are so close and the gorge so narrow that the water is forced back upwards into a rainstorm that prevents you from actually seeing the falls at times. We couldn’t see the entire falls at any time. Turns out that this is partly thanks to the highest water in something like 40 years and 40% more than last years record flow. It was more like looking at 20 individual 300 foot tall waterfalls strung together.

    Just to make sure we tourists can truly enjoy mother nature, there’s a bridge over the gorge that is home to the third highest commercial bungee jump in the world at ~350′. Now I didn’t scream or cry, but it was close. The absolute worst part is taking that final step off the edge, but a near second place is being told to carefully hop over to the edge with your legs bound! The jump was incredible, of course. From the bottom, the view of the waterfall was great and surrounded by a 360 degree rainbow. And I saw all 360 degrees because I was spinning once every 3 seconds for about a minute.

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    Close encounters of the rhino kind

    March 30th, 2007 by mary

    Rhinos are herbivores and generally friendly beasts. So a game walk in Matopo National Park in Zimbabwe seemed like a good idea. Especially since “game walk” means we drive around looking for signs of rhinos and then jump out of the jeep to track them on foot. We had huge success and by the end of the day had stood in front of eight rhinos. Most calmly continued to chomp on the grass while we watched. By far the most exciting were two adolescent males whose curiosity brought them within 15 feet of my crouched position. I don’t recall too many recent experiences that were more frightening than staring down the barrels of these two unpredictable youths. The standoff ended when someone in our group sneezed and the two rhinos literally jumped, spun around and ran off. I knew going in that they can run faster than I can, but to see a nearly 2 ton meat tank with a big horn move that fast is more than a little scary.

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    Drowned by elephant

    March 30th, 2007 by mary

    African elephants are GInormous but extremely gentle. It’s fun to ride on their backs, feel their massive boneless feet, rub their tusks, give them a hug while patting their soft underside, and use their knees as chairs. They even have surprisingly good aim when kicking balls with their feet and throwing with their trunks. It’s the weirdest thing to see them swing their trunks in circles and to feel the suction of their trunks as they suck food from your hands. It feels and sounds exactly like a vacuum cleaner, but slimy. Their mouths are the slimiest though, and smelly. Just steer clear of the backside when nature calls because they will make rivers and mine fields proportional to their size. The most fun we had with them was during the high heat of a sunny day when we went into the river on their backs. Elephants love to play in the water to cool off so while our 4 ton 20 year old was sloshing around we were getting continually dunked in the water. She would roll to the side leaving only the tip of her trunk above surface and we held on to her for dear life waiting for her to stand again so we could catch our breath. And she did this constantly, rolling us with her. I think she thought she was fish. It was great fun, until the floaters showed up. Luckily we were walking out of the river as they appeared behind us. One of the other girls on the truck wasn’t so lucky and she got thrown off the elephant amongst the floaters and headbutted one while everyone groaned on the shore, happy it wasn’t us.

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    When walking with lions carry a big stick

    March 30th, 2007 by mary

    We spent a few days at a park in Zimbabwe that is breeding lions for release into the wild. We got to spend quite a bit of time with a group of 5 month old cubs as well as a pair of 10 month old males that are being slated for the first release into the wild. Apparently, there has never been a successful release of lions into the wild. The lion rehab folks at African Impact have been working on this for something like 20 years.

    Mary’s fun:
    I only had to point the stick at them a few times to stop them from charging me. The 5 month old lion cubs were the most playful and rambunctious. They tackled each other at every opportunity and would give us the “naughty” look as if we were injured gazelles. But you rub them on their bellies and they’d calmed down enough so we could open their jaws to check out their teeth and retract the paws to reveal their claws. Of course we didn’t do any of that when they were eating and had a chunk of cow in front of them. Something about instinct overriding discipline. The 10 month adolescent lions were our favorite. They were so big you could stroke their backs while they walked and letting them use your hand as a chew toy was no longer suggested. But they were much calmer so you could sit with them for a long time rubbing their fur and playing with their tail. Their expressions were majestic and their eyes had a keen focus. Just watching them walk was mesmerizing. They still climb trees with comical awkwardness though. One fell out of the tree and leapt right at me, luckily I stepped back fast enough to have him fall at my feet instead of my head. Although the split second curiosity of experiencing a lion pounce on me was tempting. The lion walks were easily one of the highlights of our trip, if only we could’ve taken one home.

    Usually, the lions are fed in their cages. But every couple weeks, the cats intended for release into parks are allowed out at night to practice hunting. We got to go along! Under a near full moon, we loaded into the back of an open jeep and followed 4 anxious lions as they were released from their pens into their 3000 acre buffet stocked with wildebeast, various antelope, giraffe, zebra and elephant. Sometimes the lions were ahead, leading us through the brush. Sometimes they slowed and walked surrounding us. After a while wandering in the dark, we saw the reflections of wildebeast and impala eyes ahead. The lions didn’t take long to decide what to do and suddenly we’re moving 60km/hr through brush and trees. Yes, trees. The lions went under them and we drove through them to keep up.
    Within seconds of the attack, the dominant lion had snared an infant gazelle and was discussing dining rights with the other three. We spent the next hour and a half watching the ritual feeding as the big cat slowly ground through flesh and bone of her prey – sharing not one bit with the others. Sad and gruesome, yet simply amazing.

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    Not worth the paper its printed on

    March 30th, 2007 by mary

    Zimbabwe is so messed up. They have a crazed ruler that has scorched the farmland to pave the way for foreign tourists leaving the residents homeless and the country lacking in vegetables and fruit. He has reinvented the currency multiple times, revaluing it on a daily basis. The official rate was 250 Zim dollar to 1 USD. A banana is 700 Zim dollars, a bottle of soda 3000. The black market when we showed up was 6,500:1. Ten days later we got 10,000:1. A restaurant owner exasperated that prices had gone up 168% in the last two months. By June the rate was expected to change by the hour at which point he’d pack up and go fishing. The notes themselves are a joke. The largest bill is 10,000 the smallest I saw was 2 so people carry plastic bags of money around to buy a loaf of bread. Of course, once you exchange to Zim dollars you cannot change it back. The paper currency look like monopoly money I used to play with twenty years ago. On every bill it has the validity date of August 2006 and expiration of July 2007 right above the words ‘Bearer’s Cheque’. Given these conditions it is mind boggling how the residents are able to cope and yet they seem to. Most people try to get hard currency like USD or Euros, or they don’t save at all but rather spend money as soon as they get it for items they can sell later. Zimbabwe ended up being a very cheap country for us to travel though but there was so little available to buy. Getting eggs meant hiking all over town going from one empty shelf to another. There was no bread for a while because that week the mills in the country were making wheat meal. And yet between Antelope Park and Victoria Falls it was one of our favorite countries.
    Mary laundering our money after we had a bit of a run in with a roudy group of drunks and a swimming pool

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