Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Epic Air Safari: Naankuse to Wolwedans

20th May

First step toward home.  There are 3,553 miles to be flown in the next 18 days.

Last night under the stars with the bushmen at Naankuse was simply magical.

This morning, sunrise is marvelous and we drive in the chilled dawn to the runway.  Then we have our first glitch on this air safari: my C206 fuel micro switch “dies.”  Antonella, Pierre, Billy, Sheri, and Veronika leave with the caravan and head to the NamibRand Nature Reserve, south of the red dunes of the Sossusvlei.  Michael and I manage to start the engine of the C206 and fly to Windhoek.  In a couple of hours, my flying giraffe is back in good shape, so we fly to join the others at beautiful Wolwedans Dunes Lodge.  There are 200,000 hectares of astounding nature here.  We have a great sundowner surrounded by oryx.  On the drive back to camp, we are surprised once again by the incredible view of a fully candlelit table.  Our dinner under the stars is waiting for us!  Africa is beautiful -- even more so when experienced with a safari in style!

21st May

Early rise with a surprise breakfast overlooking the sandy plains of the NamibRand.  The sunrise is spectacular, and the oryx herds are entertaining.  We drive to the foothills and into a great forest of acacia.  A surreal view in this desert landscape.  The afternoon is spent in contemplation of this beautiful landscape, and the day concludes with a sundowner featuring a dramatic sunset and Venus glowing in the purple sky.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Epic Air Safari: Hartmann Valley to Naankuse

18th May

We loved our quad ride so much yesterday that we rode the quads again to reach the runway up in the Hartmann valley.  A lovely one-hour drive at sunrise.

The flight from Serra Cafema to Naankuse, near Windhoek, was the one I had been looking forward to since the starting day.  We flew over the red sand of the Hartmann Valley and then headed toward the coast, where we soared through the Skeleton Coast National Park.  The usual morning fog created by the Benguela current was coming in but not thick enough to prevent us from flying low over elephants tracks, seals, and powerful waves.  (Watch the video below.  The altimeter is indicating zero feet!)  This was my favorite flight so far....


The fog soon came in stronger, so we had to fly above it and started getting a bit worried about landing at Swakopmund, which has no instrument approaches.  While we were thinking about deviating to Walvis Bay, the fog kindly gave way and allowed us to get to Swakopmund.  A quick refueling, and then we headed to Naankuse over a moonlike landscape.  The landing here was the one we were most anxious about....  Last year the “runway” was just a narrow road.  This year it has been largely improved, yet we somehow missed the thrills of having to do a real bush landing.

Naankuse is a not-for-profit ecolodge that hosts rescued wildlife.  We will have the special opportunity here for close encounters with big cats.

I will now divert a bit off topic, but this blog is a description of our emotions during this trip....  This morning when we landed at Swakopmund, we had internet access after few days of "black out."  We learned that our eight-year-old son Jacopo had badly broken his arm, which he had already fractured last Christmas.  Not easy news to digest....  He had successful surgery, two plates were inserted, and he is about to be dismissed from the hospital.  We decided to stay here and carry on hosting our air expedition.  Jacopo is in good hands with Stefano and his great Kanzi Academy teacher, Sarah.

19th May

We have reached the halfway point of our epic journey.  We have now flown 3,230 miles, and we have 3,570 miles ahead of us.

This morning we say goodbye to Robert and Claire, Louis and Annemarie, and Rebecca.  Louis told me this was the best trip he has ever taken.  Very rewarding for me after ten months of planning....  We also say welcome to Veronika, who is joining us today from New York.

Our planned walk with Kiki, the cheetah we walked with last year, did not take place.  She was not feeling well.  We spent the morning instead with her brother and sister, who were incredibly charming.  We then visited the other animals kept here, all saved from farms where their parents died at the hand of the farmers.  Yes, tolerance of wildlife by a commercial farmer is usually equal to almost nil....  We visited two leopard brothers, who are kept in a nine-hectare enclosure.  We then saw a huge lion and his two sisters, who were all very active ( too active for Antonella’s nerves when the lion charged the fence…).  A family of thirteen wild dogs and three caracals ended a great morning.

We look forward to this evening under the stars when we will hear bushmen stories....

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Epic Air Safari: Etosha to Hartmann Valley

In the oldest desert on the planet

16th May

Today we had a “short” flight, just under two hours.  Another 239 miles down, 4,679 to go....  The flight to Hartmann Valley is one of my favorites.  This valley is on the border between Namibia and Angola.  So hard to describe: red sand in a mountain valley... a Mars landscape with a massive river, the Kunene.  This is the homeland of the Himba, a nomadic tribe capable of living, like the oryx, in the very harsh conditions.

To be back at Serra Cafema is a great pleasure.  This is one of my favorite lodges.  (I hope it will take my recommendation to use Campi ya Kanzi as a model and become 100% solar.  If we have done it in the cloudy Chyulus, they can certainly do it in this place, which is hit by the sun 365 days a year.)  The lodge is stunning, the hospitality graceful.  Charming Alice, an Italian young lady who is passionate about Africa, makes us feel at home.

In the afternoon, we all enjoy a great boat ride on the Kunene, spotting a couple of crocs which drive away any desire to swim in the river.  We watch a superb sunset with our feet on the sandy river bank, which is technically in Angola.  A few Himba ladies watch from not too far off, as the village is just a couple hundred yards away.

17th May

Sunrise is poetic.  The rapids of the river make me feel alive.  What a contrast having this massive river in the middle of one of the driest deserts.

This is the paradise of geology.  Some rocks are 2,600,000,000 years old.  Yes, you read it right: 2.6 billion years old.  Intimidating.  But the valley of the Kunene was created by a glacier when Rodinia (the original single continent) came back together after a first splitting, thus creating Gondwana.  That was 280 million years ago.  Here you can see rocks that range in age from 2.6 billion to 750 million to 550 to 280 years old… a fantastic opportunity to read the story of our planet.  And how nice to do it with a walk in the morning -- going up the dunes, down into the Kunene Valley, and then along the river.

In the afternoon, we have the thrilling experience of quad biking.  Incredibly beautiful, climbing the valley of the Kunene and reaching the sand plateau of the Hartmann Valley.  The views are amazing.  This scenery is impossible to find anywhere else: sand dunes, mountains, and an immense river.  The superb day ends in a magnificent way: a bush dinner under the stars near the rapids of the Kunene river.  What a marvelous way to bid farewell to Serra Cafema.