Sunday, 21 June 2015

Namibia Travels: Wrap Up

Namibia Dunes

For those who have been following me, you'll know that Frosty and I recently went on a camping holiday to Namibia in March. I thought it would be pretty useful to do a quick round up of the various practical aspects on the trip and some useful tips.

So here's my wrap up of our Namibia trip. If you've missed the previous posts, clik on the following links:
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

  • Remember N$1 = R1
  • Average Price per Night Camping: +- N$ 100 - 200 per person.
  • Other costs: if you're camping in some sort of reserve, you will probably need to pay another N$100 - N$150 for a permit to drive around the reserve.
  • Budget on about R1 - R1.50 per km that you'll be travelling.
  • When you get to the border, you'll pay around R200/N$200 for road taxes.
  • Try to buy and cook your own food, it'll probably work out to about the same that you would normally spend on food for the time period you'll be camping.
  • Breakfasts: Coffee and rusks.
  • Lunches: tomatoes, cold meat, butter and ryvitas along with a piece or two of fruit.
  • Dinners: Braai, salad/quick fried baby cabbage and potatoes or garlic bread (normal bread with garlic and butter inside).
  • Snacks of nuts, chips, leftovers from the previous day.
Other Useful Stuff:
  • Documentation (and a file to store it all) that you'll need at the border - this is what we used, but do a bit of research as it may change.
  • A pen and some paper - often the border posts won't have pens, and it's much easier if you can whip out your own pen to write with.
  • Make sure your spare tyre is pumped up. We were lucky and I only lost a hubcap. But you don't want to be stranded in the middle of Namibia with no spare tyre, as lots of the roads are dirt.
  • If you're into your photography, bring along your camera stuff. Namibia is an incredibly photogenic country! Try to limit yourself to one, multi-purpose lens*, because you don't want to be changing lenses in the middle of a sandstorm.
  • Take a set of socks for every day that you think you'll be wearing socks, and then add a few extra pairs for luck. Walking around with half the desert in your shoes isn't great.
  • Take as little camping stuff as possible when you have to unpack and re-pack every day.
  • A little dustpan and brush is useful for keeping your tent relatively clean. And put a brick of soap into your tent when you wrap it up to keep it smelling fresh!
Tent in dusty setting

Do you have any tips for when you're camping? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!

If anyone wants to sponsor me this Tamron lens with a Nikon mount, I would be more than willing to accept!

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Thursday, 18 June 2015

What is a MOOC?

Recently, Frosty signed up two programming courses via Coursera. Online learning has been around for a while, but there is a new wave of online learning and online courses. They're called MOOCs - which stand for Massive Open Online Course's and often these types of courses are free. Yes, you heard me right, FREE! Coursera offers courses from Arts to Engineering to Business to Law to Languages. Most of these courses are free, although from the looks of it, there are a few courses (in which you get a "Verified Certificate") that you would need to pay for. If you're looking to expand your knowledge on something, I would suggest you give them a try!

I thought I would keep Frosty company in a python programming course, which is aimed at beginners who are interested in learning how to program (of course, with a focus on Python). So far it's been a relatively simple intro to programming concepts, but I've been really impressed with the way in which the lecturer (Dr Chuck, as he refers to himself on twitter) has presented the information. He's one of the first online lecturers that I've felt a rapport with and he's simplified things down to the basics... Well, the basics from my point of view. Then again, I started learning to code in Grade 10 which was 10 years ago now!

The second course that Frosty and I are taking is a course that is, hopefully, going to teach us the basics of programming Android Apps. I have a feeling that this is going to be a lot more challenging, but I'm really looking forward to getting started and broadening my programming skills and knowledge, so watch this space, maybe you'll see a Practical Cookie app hit the Google Play Store in the not too distant future!

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Thursday, 11 June 2015

Letter to My 16 Year Old Self

I recently read two blog posts where the authors wrote letters to their younger (21-year old) selves, you can read them here and here.

I've always loved this concept, either of writing to your past or your future self, and so I thought I would do the same. 21 feels like it's is a bit too close to be writing about, so instead I chose the age of 16*, which was probably one of my favourite years/ages at school and also quite a milestone age. I also thought that it's relevant to do this post in my birthday month, as it's been (almost) 10 years since I turned 16 and that's quite a milestone in itself!

* As I was writing this letter, it turned out to be pretty fun reminiscing about how much was still to come, so it's turned into a bit of a remembering session mixed with the odd piece of advice. Enjoy!

Dear just-turned-16-year-old-self, 

Remember when you sat at school and wondered what you would be doing 10 years from now, you tried to imagine the person you would be and the job you would be doing and who your friends would be and where you would be living and it seemed completely unfathomable to you? Well, you got there and it's pretty cool.

You're half way through Grade 10 and it turns out that your decision to choose a wide variety of subjects that would allow you to pick from a wide variety of careers after school was a good one. 

Art, English, Afrikaans and Biology Bilge turn out to be "supporter" subjects in your choice of career, but they're still useful. Especially English and Afrikaans orals. Those dreaded orals teach you incredibly valuable skills about speaking confidently in front of a group of people (you even come to enjoy talking in front of people, when it's a subject you are passionate about).

Science, Maths and Computer Science end up being the subjects that contribute the most to your current degree and career choice. Especially Computer Science. You don't end up studying forensic science (although you end up with a friend who studied it). You don't end up studying architecture, which is what you eventually decide on as your first choice of study (but you have a few friends who studied it). You do end up starting off studying computer and electrical engineering, your second choice of study. You think maybe you'll try to re-apply to architecture at university, but you don't. Ditch the hope now, put engineering as your first choice and rather get into res. You'll always be sad you never got to experience the res life at university. You do end up having some amazing times in digs though, in first and second year all your res friends would come and visit to get a taste of home life and you and your flatties would visit all your res friends to get a taste of res life. 

Do a bit more cooking at home. You find you really love cooking when you start having to cook for yourself, but a bit of a head start would definitely have helped in your first few weeks of varsity. And always remember to turn the stove off so that you don't come home after a night out, to charcoal-like mince! 

All you know about engineers at this stage is that they generally make good salaries, they work hard and a few of your cousins have engineer husbands. You imagine them fixing things underneath the hoods of cars, wearing stained overalls. Well, some engineers still wear overalls and fix things, but they're also the ones designing the cars and planes and computer programs! You don't know of any females in engineering and school never encouraged this as a viable career choice. Get out there and do a bit more research into engineers, you'll thank yourself later!

You end up being the only girl person to finish Comp Sci in your matric year. This is probably the most useful subject to you, even though it's your 7th subject. If you can, try and learn a bit more about web languages like HTML and CSS, they'll be useful later on, both personally and professionally. And Java is only one of many programming languages - you'll find out about that at varsity.

Mum gives you a book on your 16th birthday, full of advice from family and older friends. You still read it every now and then. Some of the advice is stuff you've followed. Some stuff you haven't. But you cherish the words from all the different people. A few of those special people have passed away since then. You'll remember them fondly, even more so when you read their lovely words and remember the great times you had with them.

Chanel Ball really is all it's hyped up to be. You don't know your partner yet, but he's cool. You have a great time with him and he stays a good mate of yours throughout high school. You dance with a tall blonde guy on the night of Chanel Ball. He catches your attention and it seems like you catch his attention too, as you end up dating until the beginning of your matric year. Then you break up. Your first serious boyfriend. You'll survive the heartbreak and even though you don't get back together, you stay friends.

You'll go to your first real house party in a few months. The day after, when you go to the mall and you feel a bit dizzy for no reason - that's because you got a bit tipsy, even though you didn't realise it at the time. You have lunch with that same guy at the beginning of 2015 and reminisce about that party. A lot has happened in the past 10 years and you wonder what the next 10 years will bring.

There are some close high school friends that you don't get a chance to see very often past high school. Make the most of your time with those friends now. There are some friends who you loose contact with, even though you think you'll stay in contact. There are others who you stay in contact with, even though you think you'll loose contact. And there are those friends who you don't get to see very often, but when you do it feels like you never left off. Also make the most of being surrounded by a bunch of girls, because at varsity and work you become used to being the only girl woman in the group or room. 

You meet your current boyfriend at varsity. In a maths tut (not terribly romantic, but hey, you'll learn that engineers aren't all that romantic. Just practical!). Initially he's your mate. He's the guy who you go to when you have guy troubles and to get help from when you can't do the latest maths tut. Eventually he ends up being the guy you have dated for the past 6 or so years. Just a heads up - he's a great teacher! Make use of his teaching skills earlier so that you don't have to go to extra maths lesson with your matric maths teacher in the July holidays of first year, holidays are a precious commodity when you're working! 

You'll learn at varisty that practice makes perfect when it comes to Science, Maths and Comp Sci. Instead of spending the time making notes, learning the theories and remembering the formulas rather just do past papers and past tests when learning for these subjects at school. And then do some more. And then figure out where you went wrong so you don't make the same mistake again. It'll be much better for you.

You do eventually get to see Joburg. It's not as scary as you thought and the game farms are awesome. You even end up living on the outskirts of Joburg for a bit while you work in a factory. You didn't see that one coming, did you?!

Please, don't take your privilege or the colour of your skin for granted. Your privileged high school allows you to be blind to some of these things, but I dare you to be different. Get uncomfortable and interact more with people who are different to you, even though it's more comfortable to not. Although your high school isn't all that diverse, your class at varsity is so diverse that your skin colour is now in the minority, as is your gender. Make the most of that opportunity - instead of sticking to the people you know, branch out and make more of an effort with a wider variety of your varsity classmates.

Your preoccupation with cameras and taking photos stays with you, embrace it. I would recommend joining the photographic club at school, you'll learn so much there that you haven't yet had the chance to learn (like how to develop your own photos from film). Take prettier pictures at varsity, there are only so many clubbing photos that one can have on facebook before it gets boring.

Speaking of clubs, join the SaWomEng society at UCT and get involved while you're a student. You'll get to meet other female engineers and get to partake in some pretty fun activities. Later on, for work, you'll talk to school girls about choosing a career in STEM, excited to explain to them that there is a place for women in technical, male dominated fields! You'll get to be one of the women breaking the mould and stereotype in engineering, don't be afraid to reach out to others to lend an ear, hear their story and give your support and encouragement.

You've got a really exciting 10 years coming up. Sure there will be some challenges, heart break, sadness and frustrations, that's par for the course. There will also be a lot of fun, happy, amazing, exciting times. I'm kinda jealous that you still have all of that stuff to experience and hope that my next 10 years are just as exciting as yours are going to be!

Your almost-26-year-old-self

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Sunday, 7 June 2015

Namibia Travels: Part 6

Day 9 and 10:
After getting buffeted by wind and spending the entire night thinking that the wind was going to blow us and our tent to Timbuktu, I was super relieved when the alarm went off at 4:45 am, indicating that we could wake up, get dressed and set off to see the sunrise in the desert along with all the other crazy people early birds. 

Sunrise in Sossusvlei
Sunrise in Sossusvlei - just too beautiful!
Silhouette of tree and man in Sossusvlei
Silhouette of tree being held up by Frosty.
Grass at sunrise in Sossusvlei
This is the grass that all those animals survive the middle of a desert!
Orange sunrise with tree silhouettes in Sossusvlei
The sun getting ready to show her face...
Sun peeking over mountains in Sossusvlei
Peeking over the distant mountains
Sunrise in the desert of Sossusvlei
The first rays of sun, sneaking over the ground sand (and grass patches).
We decided to go back to Dune 45 for sunrise. This time we didn't climb the dune, but meandered around in front of it. We eventually made our way to a smaller dune next door that had only Frosty and I on it, instead of the miriad of tourists that were scrambling up Dune 45, looking like an army of little ants patrolling up the edge, one-by-one.

Sunrise catching wavy dunes in Sossusvlei
I love the ripples that the sand makes, enhanced by the shadows.
Frosty likes that the ripples are usually straight, but then sometimes
branch out to join with other ripples.
Long shadows against red dunes in Sossusvlei
You wouldn't guess it from our shadows, but those dunes are pretty tall!
Sunrise catching the sandy waves of the dunes in Sossusvlei
More ripples in the sand.
Photographer in action in Sossusvlei
Taking pictures of pictures.
Grassy patches in front of sand dunes in Sossusvlei
Grass and dunes.
Frosty with his coffee (that tasted horrible because of
the off milk that I put in!
Waves in sand dunes in Sossusvlei
Ripples and dunes, I really like this pic and how the ripples disappear into the depths of the sand.

Waves in sand dunes in Sossusvlei
Light and shade.
I think he found an interesting sand grain!
After watching the sun come up, we headed back to the end of the road and caught one of the 4x4 shuttles who took us a little bit further into the desert and dunes. We got dropped off at a car park, in the middle of the desert, full of 4x4 vehicles, so at least we knew we were in the right place. We seemed to have missed the memo that we were meant to hike all the way into the dunes with a minute bottle of water in our hands to keep us hydrated, which was what the majority of our fellow tourists seemed to be doing. After spending a bit of time walking around and people watching, we caught a shuttle back to the (non 4x4) car park and eventually camp-site. 

Beetle in the sand in Sossusvlei
We found this beetle burrowing it's way into the cool sand.
Early morning selfies
Tiny people on top of a sand dune
Those little black speckles at the top of the dune - they're people!
People running down dune 45 in Sossusvlei
Woohoo - some of the people who braved the early morning
hike up the dune running down once the sun had risen!
Tree and sand dune in Sossusvlei
Tree and sand in the middle of no-where
Dried mud in Sossusvlei
Some dried mud - who would have thought that something so dry and cracked could
be so pretty?
Green plant growing in the Sossusvlei desert
Life in the middle of the desert.
Exploring the dunes before breakfast.
Before setting off in the morning, I had tried to do the camping-thing and make us some coffee savour while the sun rose, but somehow the milk inside one of our milk cartons had gone bad and so we ended up pouring our coffee to the ground and making some more when we got back to the camp site. After a second, successfully made cup of coffee and some rusks for breakfast, we started off on our loooong drive all the way to Hobas.

Giraffes in Namibia
We found some giraffes on our drive to Hobas
Giraffes in Namibia
These guys were a bit shorter than the giraffes we're used to
seeing - I guess shorter food makes for smaller animals.
Lunch at Canyon Roadhouse
Inside Canyon Road House Namibia
Take some time to take a wonder and admire all the old cars they have lying around
Old fashioned car next to a windmill at Canyon Road House Namibia
For those of you who follow me on Instagram - here's the colour version :)
We were originally aiming to spend 2 nights in Ai-Ais, to avoid having to put up and take down the tent again, but after close on 8 hours of driving and a delicious lunch at the Canyon Roadhouse we decided that it would be better to just stay at the Hobas Camp Site one night, save ourselves an extra hour of driving and then go through to Ai-Ais the next day. So after finishing off a leisurely lunch, we only had to drive a few km to get to Hobas Camp Site. After checking in we went straight to the viewpoint of the Canyon (which is close to the start of the Fish River hike) and had a quiet sundowners before setting up camp.

Fish River Canyon at sunset, Namibia
Panoramic pic taken by Frosty of the Canyon
Fish River Canyon at sunset, Namibia
Fish River Canyon at sunset - beautiful!
Moon rising with pink clouds and purple-blue sky
The moon and clouds on our way home were also just too spectacular - always look behind you when admiring a view, you might find a view just as good in the other direction!
Sunset at Fish River Canyon
More sunset pics - I was astounded that the viewpoint was so deserted, but definitely
not complaining.
Say cheese!
The next day were got up and went to have our breakfast of coffee and rusks at the Canyon Viewpoint. We did a bit of exploring and found the starting place for the Fish River hike, as well as another viewpoint that you would ideally want a 4x4 to get to. Luckily my little Ford is a wannabe 4x4 and Frosty is a somewhat crazy farm boy! We managed to bump our way across a rather scary road without too much of an incident. 

The start of the Fish River Canyon Hike
We found these padlocks locked onto the chain at the start of the Fish River walk.
Just a tiny chain, held up by two poles and a scarily steep climb to get to the
bottom of the canyon - hopefully one day we'll get a chance to do this walk.
Playing around with black and white pictures of the canyon.
Red plant in the Hobas area
Spiky red plant that we found while exploring one of the other
view points in the morning.
Black and white image of the Fish River Canyon
Another black and white view of a different part of the canyon
The one thing we had fun doing at the Hobas Camp Site when we got back from our breakfast, was a bit of birdwatching. We had a lovely time stalking the birds with our bino's and my camera, trying not to spill our second cup of coffee for the morning. All too soon, it was time to say goodbye to Hobas and set off for Ai-Ais.

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater in Ai-Ais
When we arrived at Ai-Ais I let Frosty do some of the unpacking while I stalked off to get pics
of some of the many Swallow-tailed Bee-eaters in the camp site. I think this was probably my
sharpest shot, but I think the ones below are more interesting.
Swallow-tailed Bee-eater in Ai-Ais
I caught this little guy (or gal) in action and after a bit of editing, I'm pretty chuffed with the
final result!
It was only an hour's drive this time, which was a bonus, probably our shortest day in the car. Even so, I napped for half our trip there and only woken up a few km before the entrance! I have to say, I was a little disappointed with Ai-Ais in terms of the cleanliness of the place. Our camp site was messy, with glass on the floor and there were little piles of rubbish spotted around the entire resort. That being said, the buildings/flats looked pretty nice and I think they would have had a lovely view! When we found the hot spring that is in the middle of the resort, Frosty popped his finger in it and verified that the temperature was very warm. We couldn't swim in the actual hot spring, but we went and spent some of our afternoon in the pool, which was lovely and warm and I could feel all my travel-worn muscles instantly loosening up! It brought out the water baby in me, I could have happily spent all night in that water just soaking up the warmth! Instead we wandered down to the river and had a lovely time watching the sky be painted like a watercolour painting, turning from blue to purple-orange-pink as the sun went down. Not a bad way to end off our trip at all!

Swallow-tailed Bee-eater in Ai-Ais with a snack that it caught
If you look carefully, you'll see what was on the menu for the bee-eaters' dinner!
Fluffed up Swallow-tailed Bee-eater
I had a good model in this birdy.
This pic of it all puffed up was just too cute!
If you read the sign at the back, you'll see why there is
a big fence around the actual hot spring!
Taking a stroll down the river for sundowners and some final bird watching.
Sunset with orange and purple skies
The colours of the sky as the sun went down were really incredible, I don't think these pics
do it enough justice.
Sunset with orange and purple skies
Final rays before darkness fell.
If you'd like to read about the rest of the trip, click on the links to read and see photos from Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5.

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