A Travellerspoint blog

Oslo

Norway_Nan..ram__2_.jpgJan and I are in Olso today and visited a few interesting museums. The Norwegians certainly love their boats and know how to use them. We saw preserved Viking ships as well as museums devoted to a couple of adventurers I have long admired, Fridtjof Nansen and Thor Heyerdahl. They were great leaders, innovative people and outstanding citizens of the world. Heyerdahl, together with veterans from the Norwegian Resistance, sailed the Kon Tiki to test a theory of migration. In 1947, without satellite assistance and no back up vessel, it was certainly a bold adventure over 101 days. He use multinational crews on later adventures and long ago drew the world's attention to ocean pollution.

Nansen was a classic overachiever. He was an outstanding sportsman and scholar. He travelled farther north than anyone previously and was only denied achieving the North Pole conquest by the movement of the ice. His voyage and trek over the ice acquired much scientific data and (like Mawson) he endured incredible hardships to survive. Like Shackleton, he was a careful and inspirational leader and lost no team members. Nansen's distinctive ship, the Fram, which was used in ground(/ice?)breaking expeditions to the north and south poles is well preserved. Amundsen, the outstanding Norwegian explorer, used it to win the race to the South Pole.

Nansen then went on to serve his country with distinction as a diplomat and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his vital work on securing release of prisoners of war after 1918 and his attempts to save lives from famine.

Tomorrow we're heading off to the Lofoten Islands for four days and then up to the Svalbard Archipelago where we will cruise on a scientific ship for ten days in search of polar bears, walruses, arctic foxes, puffins etc. On Svalbard everyone who walks outside the main town has to carry a rifle to protect against local wildlife.

Interestingly, the other day as we were sailing up from Stavanger to Bergen, we saw the lead news item on Norwegian television was a report on two kayakers attempting to be the first to circumnavigate Svalbard who had their tent attacked by a polar bear. We tried to piece the story together by the visuals and it took some time on the web and talking to locals to get the full picture.

Luckily (?) the bear grabbed one man by the head to pull him out of the tent. Something was said by the victim along the lines of "You'd better shoot it now." His companion then put four bullets into the bear. (Standard advice by the local authorities is to put three into bears and when you see preserved museum specimens looming 3+ metres above you with paws the size dinner plates you have no doubt that this is sage advice. The local Governor will have all dead polar bears investigated and you are in trouble if you shoot them in the back as it indicates you weren't under threat!) The man survived.

So, we knew from prior reading that we would have to be careful on Svalbard – after walking around African campsites over the last two months where there were leopards, elephants and hippos loose we were always careful anyway. But now we'll be doubly so. A guy the other day said that polar bears can smell you a mile away. From time to time visitors will be excited to see a bear a long way off heading towards them and then later concerned/terrified when they realise that it is now running very fast with intent towards them. They are aggressive, and if you are not close enough to your car you are in trouble.

Posted by insideleft 07.08.2010 09:46 Archived in Norway Comments (0)

FOOTBALL FEST


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As I watch the television replay of the England vs Germany game for the third time I thought I'd reflect on the tournament so far. It's a rest day. Finally, a chance to sleep in and recover somewhat after two weeks of solid wildlife/football action.

Tonight will complete our sixth consecutive day of watching football, which sounds outrageous, but has been thoroughly engaging. The World Cup is a tournament. that has a life of its own. The days and weeks unravel surprises, twists, trends and challenges. The 32 teams are not the best in the world. Some are ranked well outside the top fifty. But what it brings to the host cities is a sense of anticipation about the contest between the superstars and the unknowns.

But it's more than that. At the same time it's both tribal and a festival. A festival of the global game. And while it can be fairly partisan, generally the atmosphere is good natured and a great chance to meet people. Here in South Africa the vibe has been very positive. Most spectators wear their team colours and many paint their faces. But at this tournament especially, the locals have adopted a second team (behind Bafana Bafana "The Boys") and really make each game an event.

As our tickets were the cheapest we could buy (category 3) we haven't let that stop us finding a suitable category 1 seat on the half way line in some of the early rounds - we learnt from France 98 that there was often no apparent advantage in buying a more expensive ticket.

While I could write a book about how FIFA actively works against the interests of the football fans it expects to attend the World Cup, that's nothing compared to the contempt some South Africans have for what they term, "the interim government."

While Australia's first match was really a master class conducted by Germany, all you could do was appreciate the skills and organisation of their team. Later events have confirmed what a difficult group ours was. Commentators said that adding up the seedings of all the teams showed that Group D was the toughest. The fact that our top two sides eliminated USA and England in the knockout rounds showed that Australia's loss to Germany and draw with Ghana (when we had only ten men in both games) was a fair result. England lost 1-4 to Germany with 11 players!

Australia won praise from lots of spectators and commentators for the way they finished the tournament. We beat Serbia in a tight match and they had beaten Germany. Before our last game we were always dismissed in the media. The only references to Australia ran along the lines of "are not expected to win" or "against a weak Australian side."

Unfortunately we had no access to a helicopter so we had to sell our Bloemfontein tickets to the round of 16 clash between England and Germany. Otherwise we wouldn't have arrived back in time for Argentina vs Mexico at Soccer City in Joburg. Tonight we're off to Brazil vs Chile which should be a high class match. After that it's off to Cape Town for a quarter final (Germany vs Argentina) which should be a cracker and then a semi in Cape Town and a semi in Durban.
Football highlights so far:
Australia's win was memorable – all the Aussies stayed behind after the match. It was great!
Ghana's qualification (at our expense). They are a top class side playing sparkling football.
Slovakia's upset over Italy – we were knocked out with some good sides (and we scored more points than 13 other sides despite arguably the toughest group.) Slovakia played all the angles really well and some of their goals shone in their simplicity.
The stadia in Durban, Nelspruit and Johannesburg are outstanding facilities. Cape Town should also be excellent.
The local fans are wonderful.
The way supporters accept defeat in a sporting spirit.
Watching Spain's and Ghana's midfielders
Elimination of USA and England (sorry Mark!)
The fighting spirit of underdogs such as New Zealand, Slovenia and Algeria.
The competition – nowadays no game is easy. Brazil struggled to beat North Korea.

The vuvuzelas haven't been as bad expected. Our earplugs are there when needed and do the job. Only one night the transport organisation was diabolical. Thankfully we have plenty of warm clothes, though in Durban I was in short sleeves until 11 pm.

I'm glad Blatter was in Bloemfontein to see the English goal denied. There is no compelling argument against the technology. Everyone has been telling FIFA this for years. Not one kwacha has to be spent to implement this. It's all there.

That's all for now on the festival of football. Go Ghana! The whole continent is behind them!

Posted by insideleft 02.07.2010 08:43 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

KRUGER & FOOTBALL


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We've been away a month now and have had a superb time. I could come home tomorrow quite content. During that time we've driven over 9000 km which sounds a lot but besides a couple of consecutive days where we had long drives, we've also had enough rest days. At the moment we're in Lower Sabie camp in Kruger National Park for three nights and it has been great to catch up with reading, laundry and (finally) email access. This area is a favourite of Kruger visitors. The only way we could get it during the World Cup booking madness was to reserve a single hut and have one of us sleep on the floor – at barely AU$30 a night it is an absolute bargain!

However, we managed to get two nights for nothing in Mafikeng where we had the Game Reserve to (just about) ourselves. I had struck up a good rapport with the booking officer before we left Australia. When we arrived at Mafikeng she left a message to apologise that a party of buffalo hunters had taken our digs and we had to make do with a bigger place – she was busy feeding a baby rhino. There was no inconvenience to us but we had nothing to pay for accommodation or entry. Her husband, the manager, also looked after us and left the buffalo remains near our waterhole so we could see vultures the next day.

The Lower Sabie grounds are right beside the Sabie River and we have heard lions and hippos every night. The bar and restaurant are on a lovely deck overlooking the river. Everyone gathers around the bar in the evening to discuss football and wildlife and watch the World Cup matches (more on that later). Lions had a kill less than a km from the front gate on our first night. We saw the male with a magnificent black mane walk across the road in front of our car.

Game viewing has been excellent. This morning we watched elephants feeding along the road for an hour and then a km down the road saw another leopard. We managed to pull up quite close to it and it hung around for a few minutes while it defecated, growled and looked for its companion (mate or offspring). Even after it was out of sight we listened to it moving around the bush and growling for some time. In a couple of minutes another leopard came from down the road to join it.

Leopards are quite shy and mainly nocturnal so we have been very lucky to have seen five so far and three of them have been surprisingly bold and co-operative. Five days ago north of here we saw a dead impala slung in a tree. We watched the leopard return several times around the tree during the next five hours. The next morning we saw the leopard in the tree as well. This animal was such a celebrity it caused a traffic jam. We were there early both times and had great viewing.

The high calibre wildlife documentaries produced by David Attenborough at the BBC create an expectation amongst first time visitors to African parks that they will see all in a matter of hours – though people can see the 'big five' – Jan and I hate that tag – if they are lucky and observant in a couple of hours in southern Kruger. We have been lucky but have also given ourselves enough time and sussed out some good places as well. There are also lots of other things to see. Stunning landscapes and lots of small creatures that are delightful. We watched some beautiful lilac breasted rollers gutsing themselves on locusts that were escaping the burn offs yesterday. So, while anticipation is quite a nice thing, it really pays off to not have big expectations every time you head out the camp gate.

The rests we had today and yesterday are also quite welcome as game and football viewing take up a lot of time – early starts and late nights. On many occasions it's hardly worth trying to photograph something as it may be too distant or the light difficult. A good example of this was yesterday afternoon after we visited a lookout we came across a lioness and two cubs. They were about 50 metres away but the foliage was partly in the way and they were in heavy shade. We watched through binoculars for an hour or so as the cubs suckled and played with their mother's tail and whiskers. They were really active and great to watch.

I imagine a few of you were feeling for us after Germany gave us a football lesson in Durban and we managed to play most of our first two matches with only ten men. But the atmosphere has been really wonderful. The Durban stadium is magnificent and the vibe in the stadium amongst all fans, but the Aussies in particular, was very special. Again, it comes back to expectations. If you were naive and believed we would/should win you'd be disappointed. As for me, I can live with the result as long as we're competitive and show something on the pitch – which we did at the end of the match against Ghana. It really was good to see German players like Klose and Lahm in the flesh (3D even!).

Still, it's good that the Aussies have something to play for tomorrow night. And if we are eliminated it is still satisfying to be a neutral. Though we may be in good company – it's a measure of the evenness of competition that Germany and England may be eliminated themselves in the group stage. All I can say is go Ghana! Go Slovenia!

We managed to convert our category 3 seats (which were lousy in Rustenberg) into category 1 seats on half way line – the security is not as good as FIFA thinks it is! I haven't used my earplugs yet. The noise in the stadia is not a problem. The vibe is wonderful and it has been great to meet people and discuss football, politics & wildlife.

Posted by insideleft 02.07.2010 08:30 Archived in South Africa Comments (0)

NAMIBIA

sunny 28 °C
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Namibia
After brief visits to South Africa's arid parks (Mokala & Kgalagardi National Parks) we crossed over the border at Mata Mata and drove from the Kalahari to the Namib Desert. We spent two nights at Sesriem visiting the dunes again and also made a trip to the canyon which we missed in '98 due to the double puncture and wrecked rim. The camp sites are well separated and have good shade. The drive from the border took longer than expected due to a puncture – a rock ripped the side wall. Well, it was a very scenic place to get a flat tyre. When I mentioned to the Continental Tyre rep at Mariental that we had seven punctures on our last trip to Nambia he asked, "Well how many did you get this time?" He cracked up when I said, "Only one, but this is the first morning in Namibia!"
We then were conscious of getting to the park gate before sunset (after covering 620 kms plus border paperwork). We arrived at five minutes after sunset and found out that we were there 90 minutes early due to not resetting our watches at the border!
This time in the Namib we had excellent sightings of gemsbok (oryx) which we also had at Kgalagardi (pronounce "g" as "h"). The first day was very windy and really showed the forces that shape those mighty dunes. The views all around were excellent with the lighting changing dramatically during the first couple of hours after dawn. The second day I climbed a rocky peak sandwiched between dunes. I was limited to about three hours – it took around 40 minutes to walk the 2 km to get to the peak over a stony valley floor where I saw bat-eared foxes and gemsbok. The climb was easy, certainly much easier than slogging up a dune and I was able to gain more altitude for less effort. On the way back I made a quick descent off a side dune dropping a couple of hundred metres in no time at all. There were some amazing beetles scurrying over the dunes – they have featured in a few documentaries on the Namib as they survive by absorbing moisture from the fogs that roll in from the cold coast.
Besides the dune field at the end of the road there are amazing peaks, ridges and boulder heaps around every bend and over every rise. It is not unusual to have three different coloured mountain ranges and a set of dunes along the one horizon. Similarly, it's surprising how often you'll have a mesa married with a conical peak. Occasionally there will be a marvellous fang of rock in the middle of several peaks. The mountain ranges seem to float as they are surrounded by sand and appear weightless in places. Just when we thought we'd seen every colour and shape of rock (the whole place is a mineral paradise with local people selling crystals at roadside stalls – you can see them on the ground in places) we came over a ridge and saw a white mountain range set between a red and blackish one. The drives are long and dusty but pleasant with wonderful scenery.
As we headed north through Damaraland – one of the great drives in the world – we called in to a community-run site at Spitzkoppe, a massive peak with San cave paintings and Twyfelfontein where the San engraved rocks with animal pictures. Eventually, near sunset (again) we arrived at Grooteberg Pass where we parked the car and were driven by 4WD up to the Lodge. The Grooteberg Conservancy is a community run project that channels money back into the local infrastructure and provides training and job opportunities as well. The setting is breathtaking. We stayed two nights as the rhino tracking the next day took twelve hours – north of the tropic of Capricorn that's dawn to dusk! It was very special going into the valley with three staff and two others. Two of the trackers left the vehicle after a couple of hours and would have covered 15 km easily by the time they caught up with us again. Late in the afternoon, after a hot walk over rough terrain, we saw a desert black rhino in the thickets. It was a thrill to see it so close. We took a couple of pictures before it got spooked, did a reverse and head plant into some rocks and then walked off into the bush. We thought that was the end of the trip but we followed it and then had a good though distant vantage point from a ridge. We had plenty of time to watch it trying to make sense of our presence. After half an hour or so we headed back to the vehicle.
On the way back we had excellent viewing of elephants near the stream in the valley as well as kudu and black faced impalas.

  • I am typing this report while sitting back in the car at Salvadora water hole at the edge of the Etosha Pan. On arrival we saw six lions sitting in grasses near the water. Springbok, gemsbok and ostriches are wandering in from over the pan forming lines that trail off into shimmering specks on the horizon. After a few minutes the lions ran off into some tall grass close to the pan so we're waiting to see what happens – probably nothing much. The pan is shimmering in the heat but there is a coolish breeze to give some relief. This is the first chance to get a few words together as we have had to cover a lot of distance to get to Etosha by the beginning of June – four thousand km in just over a week.

Yesterday we saw seven lions just after dawn several kms from the campsite. The light was wonderful and they were very active. We watched for six hours as they terrorised hundreds of animals at the waterhole and would not let even birds drink! The gemsbok kept testing their patience and briefly got to drink around 1:30 pm. When we came back before sunset three elephants had returned the favour.

Posted by insideleft 02.07.2010 08:11 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

4 more sleeps

21 °C
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One more vaccination to get tomorrow for Jan and then hopefully all the gear fits in our bags!
home3.jpg

Posted by insideleft 20.05.2010 03:30 Tagged preparation Comments (0)

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