The coastal desert "Namib" in Southern Africa is often referred to as the world's oldest desert and it stretches for more than 2,000 kilometers along the Atlantic coasts of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. In the heart of the Namib the Namib-Naukluft National Park is located, the largest game park in Africa and the fourth largest park in the world. The most famous and scenic attractions of the park are the red sand dunes at Sossusvlei, which are the tallest sand dunes in the world with an altitude up to 300 meters. "Sossus" is from Bushman and Nama origin for "gathering place of water", while "Vlei" is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water. Basically "Sossusvlei" is only the name of the huge clay pan covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. But the name is also commonly used in an extended meaning to refer to the surrounding area of the high red dunes and the famous neighboring Dead Vlei. The clay pan itself is only filled with water after a heavy rainfall, which is a rare event in this area, in average every ten years.
The best time to visit Sossusvlei and the sand dunes is early in the morning at sunrise, the red color of the sand is very strong and bright, allowing wonderful photographic opportunities. The sand dunes of Sossusvlei are about 66km past the gate, which is located in the small settlement Sesriem, a main access point to the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The gate to Sossusvlei opens at 5:00 in the morning. Since there are no accommodation facilities directly at the dunes, you have to stay in one of the lodges or camps around Sesriem. From the gate the drive to the sand dunes takes about an hour. You are certainly not the only visitor, so be sure to expect other cars or trucks waiting at the gate, especially in the high season around July to October. 45 km past the gate the Dune 45 is situated, also known as one of the most photographed dunes in the world. The dune is 80 meters high and it is not very steep, so that it can easily be climbed. If you start at 5:00 at the gate, you have all the time to reach the dune and climb up the dune before sunrise.
When you are travelling off the beaten track there is no guarantee to only see the wonderful things of the world. In fact, sometimes you also have to face very sad situations like for example begging children. You shouldn't give them anything, because they supposed to go to school, but they learned that is simpler asking tourists for sweets or money instead of walking a long distance to school and study. Sometimes it breaks your heart, but that is also part of travelling, especially in Africa.
Recently I watched a German documentary (still unreleased) with the title 'Süßes Gift' (which means translated 'sweet poison'). And I read the book 'The Trouble with Africa' from Robert Calderisi. Both publications, the documentary and the book, describe the problems with foreign aid, food aid and the huge difficulties the continent of Africa still has to deal with. Like the 'forbidden gift' to the begging children, a lot of people are questioning the foreign aid and the food aid. Among others it has been argued, that as long as the people in Africa are used to getting free food aid, why should they use their own strength and help themselves? Well, maybe the connection between begging and ditching school in case of children is quite obvious, but is foreign aid really a 'sweet poison' and are all the Africans lethargic? The whole field of foreign aid is undeniable far more complicate. But as a matter of fact, foreign aid is a global business.
Historically the idea of the foreign aid started after World War II. Institutions like the World Bank and the IMF were founded in 1944. The Marshall Plan (1947) was a major program to rebuild the war-battered European economies. In the 1960s the foreign aid flourished when most of the African Countries became independent. A basic idea was to give money to undeveloped countries that they supply raw material and manufacture light products like textiles and shoes. Right from the beginning the foreign aid was a business and the donor countries expected to benefit from the process as well: Foreign aid is given as a loan and, if the development is successful, the rich countries eventually find new ready markets for their products. Since the 1960s the foreign aid was increased steadily. In 2009 roughly $35 billion of international foreign aid from the ODA countries went to sub-Saharan Africa each year.
Cape Town offers a wide range of attractions, sights and activities. One blog post is certainly not enough to describe all attractions, so I limit it to three spots I liked best: Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch and Langa.
Table Mountain is Cape Town's most prominent attraction and a world famous landmark. The top of Table Mountain offers breathtaking views in all directions. The mountain is often cloaked in magical mist and surealistic cloud formations, which have become famous as the 'tablecloth'. Sometimes it seems that the clouds are pouring or streaming like a viscous fluid over the ridge of the mountain. In November 2011 Table Mountain was nominated and announced as one of the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature', which is a campaign to promote the cultural and natural heritage of the earth. For the nomination billions of votes are selected through an international poll.
Hiking on Table Mountain is very popular, you can reach the top of the mountain either by cableway or by foot. The summit can be reached by foot in a time between 2.5 and 4 hours, depending on the chosen route. The best photo spot to get the typical famous silhouette of the Table Mountain is from Bloubergstrand which is located about 25 km to the north of Cape Town city centre.