Friday, February 12, 2010

Adventures in Etosha National Wildlife Park

While on the mineral tours in Namibia with my Brother in Law Doug, we took two days to visit Etosha Wildlife Park in North Central Namibia. This 8,600 sq mi game park has many watering holes. We drove from water hole to water hole to observe the animals as they came to drink.

Within 15 minutes of entering the park we looked above the tall hedges and noticed these giraffe. What a wonderful and whimsical scene. We never saw their bodies; it almost looked like they were performing a puppet show for us.

(Pick for larger view - Back to return to the blog)

Birds of Namibia

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Flight of a Lifetime in Namibia ~ Memorial to Nico

The ultra light two seater plane we flew around Brandburg Massif in Namibia


Since I wrote the following narrative, I was told that Nico, the Son of The White Lady bed and breakfast, passed away this past summer in an automobile accident. Nico was a wonderful person that was full of life and love of flying. His enthusiasm was captivating. Although I only met him twice, I'll remember his friendship forever. The flight we took around Brandburg Mountain is one of my favorite life experiences and as I mention in the story, I'll remember it for the rest of my life.

I previously posted the Steve Minkin Memorial Water Well story. This described how and why we constructed the well for the miners and area wildlife. The photos in that blog entry were taken last year after the well was constructed and in use.

This entry is about the trip where we actually found the location for the well and includes some amazing photos.

Doug picked me up in Windhouk, Namibia on January 19th, 2008 and we went to the Ministry of Water Affairs. We got verbal permission to locate and put in a well. They said the official paperwork would follow and may take some time. As an interesting note, we actually got the official paperwork a few weeks ago on December 12th, 2009; almost 2 years after our request.

The nearest town to the mining camp is Uis, Namibia. (look it up on Google Earth) Uis is our favorite place to visit in Namibia because the people are so friendly, the accomendations are very nice and it is centrally located for day excursions to collect minerals. I think Doug would like to buy a case of cigars, home in Uis and retire there forever. Anyway... We stay at The White Lady bed and breakfast where they have a nice pool, outdoor dining pavilion and nice comfortable rooms. The buildings have thatched roofs which are exposed inside - wonderful ambience.

The Son of the owner, Nico was an avid sports pilot and took people up for rides in his ultra light plane. I talked him into flying me over the mining camp and Brandburg Massif (mountain). This was an adventure of a lifetime. We took off early in the morning and flew above Brandburg. He showed me the highest point in South Africa, where a plane had crashed on the mountain and other interesting sights of the area. The most important part of the 2 hour trip was flying over the mining camp and especially over the site for the water well. You can actually see the containment pond for the well in the photos.

I could go on for some time about the flight, but I think the photos speak for themselves. You can actually see what I saw by looking at this area in Google Earth. It is amazing how similar the photos are to Google Earth.

(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)
Brandburg Mountain at dawn as we take off for a 2 hour flight

(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)

The light blue spec in the middle of this photo is a Piper Cub airplane that successfully landed on Brandburg Mounatin. Unfortunately they died on impact while trying to take off. There are few people that have seen this wreckage.
(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)
Flight regulations are the same in an ultra light as they are for any other aircraft. We had to stay at least 500' above the highest point on the mountain. 9300' is amazingly high in an open air aircraft.

(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)
The pile of stones in the middle of this photo is the highest point in Southern Africa. In the background, notice what appears to be the Atlantic Ocean. What you're seeing is actually a fog layer that comes in from the cool waters of the coast 80 miles to the West.

(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)
Another Massif. Although you cannot see it, Steve's Water Well site is just above the bar on the left side of this photo.

(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)

This is a dramatic view of the mining village Steve became so enamored with. Notice the white specs in the middle of the photo. They are the shantis the miners live in. I brought 2 10x20' plastic tarps which provided valuable cover for their shacks. As you can see there is no water, vegetation or food available - anywhere. Because of the water well we constructed in Steve's memory, they do have drinkable water now.
If you look closely in the center of the photo, you can see the pothole mines on the sides of the slopes.

(Click for full view - Back to return to blog)
Notice the small white circle in the lower middle of the photo. This is the concrete containment pond which now has a water well and windmill. This provides water for the local wildlife and people of the mining village.

  (Click for full view - Back to return to blog)

Here is a close up areal view of the concrete containment pond. The concrete pedestal above and to the left of the pond is the old abandoned well. I can't wait to see the finished well on my visit next month.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Getting Stuck in Namibia

While traveling in central Namibia the road transitioned to a dry stream bed. As you can see in the photos, we were driving a large passenger van and had a luggage trailer in tow. Colin was driving and got a little nervious crossing the stream bed. Rather than speeding up to keep the momentium going, he slowed down. The trailer actually acted like an anchor which got us stuck - big time. We all got out and did our best trying to dig out with our hands and fashoned shouvles. We didn't make much headway though.

(Click the photo for full view - Back to return to the blog)
While trying to scoop out the sand, Linda noticed help was coming...

After about a half hour, a local came by in his donkey cart. This form of transportation, a car axle trailer towed by two donkeys, is the norm in Namibia. With our limited understanding of the language we asked if he could get us some help. He excitedly trotted off down the riverbed toward his village. About 45 minutes later he returned, but no one else was in sight. We asked him where the help was and he pointed to the rope in the trailer. After a long laugh... we went to work.

Now this is the hard part to believe... We scooped out all the sand we could in front of the tires of the van and then tied the van to his two donkey powered cart. We also disconnected the trailer. Believe it or don't, it worked! The donkeys had enough power to get us unstuck. He kept us going till we made it to the other bank of the stream bed.

We all still thought that the donkey really didn't do that much, but we still had the trailer to deal with. Remember the trailer was the "anchor", it was buried up to it's axle. We then tied the donkey to the HEAVY trailer alone. If we weren't believers before we sure were when we saw the donkey cart move and then pull the trailer 200 yards through the deep sand to the other side.

What an adventure. Thinking back, it is still amazing that this primitive method worked.

Enjoy the photos.

(Click the photo for full view - Back to return to the blog)

We soon figured out that scooping and pushing was not going to work.

(Click the photo for full view - Back to return to the blog)

Finally... Help is on the way!

(Click the photo for full view - Back to return to the blog)
Tying the trailer to the cart wasn't an easy task.

(Click the photo for full view - Back to return to the blog)
Just a walk in the park for these hardy beasts of burden.

(Click the photo for full view - Back to return to the blog)

As Willie sings it "on the road again"

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Collecting Druzy Quartz Amethyst in South Africa

This druzy amethyst quartz specimen is unusual because there are large crystals encrusted with thousands of smaller ones

These photos were taken in a town north of Johannesburg South Africa. It was quite interesting how they mined the unique minerals in their town. The druzy quartz is actually found underneath their homes. Doug has a family he usually visits. As you can see in the photos they dig and tunnel for the minerals literally under the home's foundation.

The people are very friendly and excited to see us come. Villagers from all around come with their flats filled with all their finds. It's funny because each person wants to sell us everything they have. Of course, we're only interested in the best. In the end we provide a lot of income to the community.

The minerals come out of the ground encrusted in soil. It takes a lot of water, which they do not have, to clean them well enough to tell whether they are good or bad. So, we buy only the specimens which are cleaned. I'm sure we turn down a lot of good ones not knowing what's under the dirt.

(Click to view full size - back to return to blog)

Local villagers and Doug's Mineral Safari tour group.

(Click to view full size - back to return to blog)

Tunneling under their homes for minerals.

(Click to view full size - back to return to blog)

Ladies working hard digging in a deep pit for Druzy Quartz.

(Click to view full size - back to return to blog)

Once the word got that we were there, folks came from all around with all they had.

Here I am examining the tips of the druzy amethyst crystals to make sure there are no chips or breaks.

(Click to view full size - back to return to blog)

Doug's partner Colin knew that they had better samples somewhere. He finally talked her in to seeing the best she had hidden under the bed.

(Click to view full size - back to return to blog)

Absolutely beautiful children. They got every cookie and piece of candy we had.

Steve Minkin Water Well in Namibia

My Brother Steve passed away in an accident at home in 2004. Steve was one of those people you would never forget. He was always thinking and helping others. He loved teaching and sharing his knowledge with anyone that would listen.

Steve's Brother-in-Law, Doug is a mineral dealer and often visits South Africa and Namibia (Western South Africa) to collect rare and unusual specimens to sell. Doug has an extensive network of contacts there and often trades with local miners for their best finds. Steve went with Doug to Namibia and became friendly with a group of miners. He was so moved by them that he said "wouldn't it be nice if we could some day help these people" These miners live in a remote area of the Namib desert and do not have food, water or even wood to cook their meals.

Katherine (Kit) Minkin, Steve's Mom made his wish come true. Mom had Doug and me do the leg work of providing a water well for this mining camp. Doug contacted the Ministry of Water in Namibia and a driller somewhat near the site. We investigated drilling locals and decided on a site near the village which had an abandoned well from many years ago, The site already had a containment pond which was for the desert wildlife. The fact that the concrete pond existed meant that the water would probably be drinkable and not laden with salt.

The well was drilled, equipped with a windmill and holding take for the people. This was serendipitous because the well provides water for the people and wildlife. As a naturalist, Steve would be especially proud to help the miners live a little easier and provide for many different species of animals. Zebra, kudu, springbok and even black rhino tracks can be seen around the well.

(click for full view - back to return to the blog)
The Steve Minkin Water Well in the Namib Desert

(click for full view - back to return to the blog)
In the Shadows of Brandburg Massif, this Well Provides Water for the Local Miners and Wildlife

(click for full view - back to return to the blog)
Clean Unsalted Water in the Containment Pond. Notice the Razor Wire Fence which Protects the Windmill and Equipment.