Soussusveli to Mowant – day in the air – Feb 24
Up ‘dark and early” as the morning host at CBC would say. Paulo has checked and the Balloon ride is a go. It takes about ½ an hour to get there. There are 6 of us this morning, a young couple from Montreal, both graduates of Waterloo, and another couple. In the middle of a very open field, the Sky Boys were filling the balloon. They pump air into it, and when it is partially filled turn on the heat to fill it up.
There are 16 of us, 4 in each compartment. Dennis, our captain is in the centre. With him is an older man, also a pilot, on his day off. This is his favourite activity. He is from Montreal, but lives now in St. Jacobs, just north of Waterloo, where he pilots the balloons there. Dennis’s father started the balloon company, and now flies them in Zimbabwe, or Zim as everyone here calls it, like Bots, Nam, Zim.
Dennis fills us in on the safety drill; don’t look directly at the fire, don’t look up when the air is coming out of the balloon as it will be full of dust, watch the ground when we are descending and bend your knees when we land, squat and hold on if we come down too fast.
There is just enough wind today. We go up quite quickly, to a height of 3000 metres or so. Then we just move with the wind, so it is absolutely silent, except when Dennis adds heat to go higher, or lets some air out of one side so that the balloon and its basket spin, allowing us to get a 360 degree view.
It is beautiful from here, and we fly close to a big outcropping of rocks, “threading the needle” (going through a small dip in the rocks), before landing on the other side. The wind has dropped completely, and we come to rest on the hill, further up than Dennis would have liked. The Sky Boys come running, up the sandy hill, and they grab hold of the basket, Dennis adds some heat, just enough to get us off the ground, and the boys drag us down the hill. I hate these baskets. They are hard to get in and out of. Especially, like today, when they are on a trailer, so quite far off the ground. The boys give me a hand and we hop in the vans to go to breakfast.
A lovely champagne breakfast is laid out in the desert. Dennis sabres a bottle and we chat and eat. All very nice and civilized. Then we head back to the lodge.
We are leaving today. Our pilots are expected to arrive at 9:45, so Robin and I have just enough time to finish packing before we leave. When we got to the lounge, our pilots were just finishing breakfast. Seigfried had just picked them up.
You can see the runway from the Lodge, and the little white thing in the middle of the desert is our plane. Seigfried drives us all over, the pilots stow our bags, and we climb in. Two pilots, two passengers. Ruby, a white from South Africa is relatively new to Westair, and they take the preparations and checklists very carefully. We are to head to the coast, then up to Swakopmund, to refuel, and then to Mowani Mountain Camp, in Twyfelfontein.
The plane ride is one of the highlights of our trip. We head over the dunes and they do a loop around Big Daddy for Robin. The dune field is huge, it extends for miles either side of the “once” river that we were in yesterday. There are many flat areas of dead trees. I can certainly see why it is called the Sea of Sand. The coast is also beautiful. The surf is quite strong, the water really blue. There is absolutely nothing here, no buildings or signs of life. The water is cold, too cold for swimming, the reefs and rocks too bad for surfing, the water too mixed with sand, and not clear enough for the sharks.
We pass a couple of shipwrecks, one quite far inland, as the sand has built up and the coast line changed. Ryan flies really low (300 meters), so we have a great look. There are lots of flamingoes and seals. There are many large fishing boats. The air is really clear. We later learn that we are incredibly lucky, as many, if not most flights are in fog.
When we arrive in Swakopmund, we are met by Jacob. He is to take us to lunch, and there is a bit of negotiating the time of departure as the plane only needs to refuel but we need to have a nice lunch. We head off, we drive through the small town, which has a bit of a German look to parts of it. Robin successfully extracts money from the ATM, after realizing that the disreputable man hanging around the machine is actually the security guard. There is uranium mining nearby, lots of new housing being built, some of it up the hill for foreign vacation homes. The Chinese are building something here, and as we have seen in other parts of the world, do not hire locals, but bring in their own workers.
We drive right through town and come to the beach. Jacob says, this is where we are going to have lunch. No buildings of any kind nearby. But, a lovely looking tent, with a beautifully set table and two gentlemen await us. We have a glass of champagne, then white wine, and then sit down to a wonderful lunch.
Starters are on the table – smoked Atlantic salmon rolled around asparagus, and fresh oysters. There are lots of oysters farms nearby (we saw them from the air) and these are obviously fresh – sweet and delicious.
Main course calamari, mussels in a cream sauce, crayfish, vegetables. Two kinds of salads. And dessert of course. We linger as long as possible and then head back to the plane, getting there just as promised.
The flight inland is scenic, but not as spectacular as the previous leg, and we both fall asleep for parts of it. It is not a long flight, we fly beside Namibia’s highest mountain, Brandberg, 2573 metres. We start to descend, in the middle of nowhere, and I see a small tent, with a vehicle beside it. Usco is waiting for us, which is very comforting.