14 March 2013

{My Story + Our Story}

I've been seeing a few new faces around here lately, so today I thought it might be a good idea to take a break from all of the Namibia posts and tell you a bit more about who I am and how I came to be an expat living in South Africa.  Sometimes it's fun to go back to the basics, right?

First things first, 
I'm a born and bred Southern California girl and my parents and brother still happily call the sunshine state home.  In fact, my brother and I went to the same primary school as my mom and the same high school where my parents met and became high school sweethearts.

For my undergraduate degree, I went to a university quite close to home, mostly because it offered amazing study abroad opportunities {let's be serious here}.  I was first a psych major, then switched to business admin, and finally landed on international studies.

During my second year, I studied abroad on a program called Semester at Sea and it changed my life.  I became completely addicted to travel and the exhilarating experience of getting to know and understand people and cultures so different to my own.  It was, without a doubt, the most amazing three months of my life.

Upon returning home, I quickly decided to enrol in another semester program at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.  It was a pretty easy choice considering the beautiful campus, surrounding vineyards, and extensive service learning opportunities.

Within about a week of landing in the country I met Jurgen and within another week we were basically inseparable. What started as a fun international fling, quickly turned into something way more serious.  When it came time to head back to the States at the end of the semester we knew that we wanted to give this long distance thing a try even though we weren't sure when we would next see each other.

Distance was so hard, but worth it. 

After a semester apart, I returned to South Africa for the last semester of my undergraduate degree, flew home for graduation, and {much to the surprise of my poor parents} jumped straight back on a plane bound for Africa.  And well... the rest is history.

In 2010, we moved to Johannesburg so that Jurgen could pursue his PhD.  Although we were initially both less than excited about the move, we've come to love this city so much.  The people, the diversity, the artiness, the edginess, the everything.  But, this is a transitional phase in our lives and eventually we will probably actually settle elsewhere {although we don't know where elsewhere is yet}.

Speaking of settling down, last year Jurgen proposed {!!!} and we're slowly starting to embark on the adventure of planning an international and intercultural wedding.  This process has been somewhat sidetracked by my own postgraduate studies this year, but definitely not abandoned completely.  Stay tuned!

We love road tripstravel, and weekend adventures.  
And we're so excited to build a life together.
Although we know that the fact that we come from different places means that we will always have our own unique challenges, we're more than game.

If you still want to know more, see {here + here + here}

Thanks for following along so far!

11 March 2013

{Deadvlei}: A Photo Essay

As most of you know, 
Jurg and I toured through Namibia for a month during this past December and January.
If you're new around these parts, you can catch up here.

Deadvlei was everything I hoped it would be and more.  Equal parts eerie, ancient, and awe-inspiring.    Definitely goose bump worthy.  Especially when you're one of the first people in the park on a particular day and you're able to stand in solitude, not wanting to make a sound, as the sun silently creeps over the surrounding dunes.  The trees get their 'spookiness' from the fact that they're over 900 years old, mere skeletons of what was.  Sort of like going back in time.  

Witnessing this place first hand was sort of like a dream come true, only made better by the fact that I was able to experience it with someone so close to my heart.  So thankful that I have photos to remember and so thrilled at the prospect of visiting again someday.

07 March 2013

{Sossusvlei}: Sossus Dune Lodge + Sunrise on the Dunes

As most of you know, 
Jurg and I toured through Namibia for a month during this past December and January.
If you're new around these parts, you can catch up here.

From Sesriem {and after our incredible stay at Namib Desert Lodge}, Jurg and I headed the relatively short distance to Sossusvlei and checked-in at NWR's Sossus Dune Lodge.  Leading up to our trip, this had been one of the bookings that I was most excited about for two reasons:

Firstly, I was completely enamoured by the small and intimate arrangement of the lodge.  Nestled right at the foothills of a mountain, the entire lodge consists of only twenty-three thatched bungalows and from your window you have unobstructed views of the Namib Desert in all directions.  
Secondly, Sossus Dune Lodge is currently the only accommodation located inside the Namib-Naukluft National Park gates.  With park gates opening and closing at sunrise and sunset, this essentially means that Sossus Dune Lodge residents are the only visitors able to enjoy sunrise or sunset from the top of Sossusvlei's renowned red sand dunes.  This fact in-and-of itself had Jurg and I sold.

Once we arrived at the lodge we immediately put our names on the list for a sunrise tour of the dunes the following morning.  The rest of the day was spent lounging around the pool {starting to see a trend emerging here...} and then we enjoyed a delicious meal on the main deck overlooking a waterhole frequented by the occasional antelope or warthog.  The following evening was especially memorable, as it happened to be New Year's Eve, and the lodge treated us to a spectacular buffet and bottle of wine on the house.  Although our New Year's was rather mellow, I don't think we could have asked for a more special or unique setting.  Sipping bubbly underneath the clear Namibian stars was something that Jurg and I will not soon forget.  It was the perfect way to ring in 2013.

On the second morning of our stay we were up before the sun {much to Jurgen's dismay} for our sunrise tour of the dunes.  This was something I had been looking forward to for months and the whole experience more than exceeded my expectations.  Afterwards we both agreed that our trip wouldn't have been complete without it.  Walking up the dunes in the cool, early hours of the morning and then sitting in complete and utter stillness as the sun began to peek over the red sand was a once in a lifetime experience.  With the park gates still closed, it felt like we were the only people in the world there to witness the desert's unimaginable beauty.  I think I took about one million photos in the span of thirty minutes.  

It was just phenomenal.  

As you can probably guess, Jurg and I would recommend Sossus Dune Lodge one thousand times over.  In my opinion, there's no better way to see Sossusvlei, especially considering the lodge's superb location inside the park gates.  Combine this with excellent quality and a very talented chef and you have yourself a real oasis in the desert.  This lodge was a bit of a splurge for us in terms of the price, but it turned out to be more than worth it.

One word of caution though.  Jurg and I happened to visit Sossusvlei in January, which falls within the peak of Namibia's very hot and dry summer.  To give you an idea, daily temperatures ranged between about 45 and 49 degrees while we were there (about 113 - 120 degrees Fahrenheit).  It was scorching.  Because Sossus Dune Lodge (and many of the other lodges in the area) are environmentally friendly, the rooms are not equipped with air conditioners.  This basically meant that our bungalow was a hot box during the day and remained fairly warm throughout the night.  Although we were able to counter this by spending our afternoons by the pool, our experience would undoubtedly have been better had we visited during a cooler time of year.  Just something to keep in mind

Aside from the whole hot box thing though, Sossus Dune Lodge gets a huge two thumbs up.

By the numbers:

Rates: R1,180 - R2,300 {$130 - $250} per person per night
Breakfast: Included in the above rates
Dinner: Included in the above rates
Sunrise Excursion to Sossusvlei: R500 {$55} per person

For more information see their website here.
For other accommodation options in the area, see here.

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Exploring the dunes of Sossusvlei, Namibia


05 March 2013

{Sesriem Canyon}: Aka the Day I Almost Melted

As most of you know, 
Jurg and I toured through Namibia for a month during this past December and January.
If you're new around these parts, you can catch up here.

One afternoon during our stay at Namib Desert Lodge, Jurg and I spontaneously decided to hop in the bakkie {truck} and head the 60 or so kilometres out to Sesriem Canyon.  We had heard so many lovely things about it from Jurgen's family while staying on the farm and his Aunt had shown us photos of the canyon littered with pools of water and people relaxing in their bathing suits.  Baking in the heat of the summer Namibian sun, around lunch time Jurg and I decided that these cool water pools sounded like a pretty spectacular idea.  It's a canyon we thought, there would be plenty of shade right?

Our first warning should have come from the bemused look on the receptionist's face when we asked for  directions.  "You want to go to Sesriem Canyon right now?!  In the middle of the afternoon?  Most people go in the early hours of the morning."  Not understanding her concern, we bought a tube of sunscreen and headed back to the room to grab our tekkies {trainers}, backpacks, and water.  

Thinking we were just going on a casual stroll, I wore my jeans.  Mistake #1.  On the way I also realized that I had forgotten my tekkies {I thought Jurgen had grabbed them and he thought I had grabbed them}, but decided I would be fine in my sandals. Mistake #2.  We thought one bottle of water would cover the two of us and we didn't take any food.  Mistake #3.

Shortly after arriving, I realized that we had probably made a bad decision.  The canyon was completely deserted of all signs of life and the few tourists we did see in the parking area were getting out of their car, walking to the ridge, taking a photo, and driving away.  But of course, down into the canyon we went {with me sliding the whole way in my sandals}.  At first we didn't see any water, but finally we turned a corner {hopping from shade patch to shade patch}, crawled over a few boulders, and found one teeny tiny pool just out of reach in the corner.  We headed in the other direction for a couple of excruciating miles and kept telling ourselves that the rest of the water must be 'just around the corner'.  By this stage I was almost in tears because the sand was so unbelievably hot and it kept sliding under my feet when I walked.  And the jeans I had worn for our "casual" stroll, they were now plastered to my legs in the blistering heat.  And there was no more shade.  And we were completely out of water.  Bad move for team Jurg and Jen.

At one stage Jurgen actually, seriously recommended that we attempt to climb out of the canyon and walk up top along the ridge back towards the car.  But to his great dismay, I was not willing to attempt to scale a canyon wall.  No way José.  The truth was that there was no water... because it was the peak of summer in the middle of one of the driest deserts in the world.  Needless to say, it was a long, slow, life-draining trek back to the car.  As we were climbing out of the canyon I could actually feel my limbs going numb.  A/C has never felt so good.

Later that evening we found out it had been a high of 49 degrees that day... 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

By far the hottest temperatures I've ever experienced.

There is a moral to this story.

1) Namibian summers are extremely hot, particularly in Sesriem and Sossusvlei {two of the driest areas on the planet}.  If you find yourself in Sossusvlei over summer, schedule all your activities for the very early hours of the morning {think sunrise} and spend the afternoons lounging next to the pool with a good book and an ice-cold drink.

2) Dress appropriately.  I thought sandals wouldn't be a big deal.  They were.

3) Enquire beforehand.  We just assumed that the canyon would have water in it all year long and it definitely didn't.  Ask at reception and speak to other visitors who have visited wherever it is you are going.  And when the concierge looks at you with eyes full of a combination of confusion and pity, take a cue.

Amen and Amen.