Sunday, September 1 Windhoek
While I had thought Botswana had a whole lot of nothing, it seems Namibia succeeds in having even more nothing. This can largely be explained by the fact that there is not a single major river system in the entire country!
First stop was Windhoek, the nation’s capital. What a city. Its highlights consist of the century-old Lutheran cathedral and …. um …. okay, so Windhoek doesn’t have much to attract the tourists, but I must admit that I was attracted to its cleanliness and order. I mean, the Parliament building has a sign out the front listing the ministries with arrows pointing in their direction. I haven’t seen such advances in human communication in a long, long time! The shocks continued as I was dropped off at my accommodation – Arebbusch Lodge – and felt a wee twinge of ecstasy when I discovered they had free WiFi and coffee from a machine. Don’t judge me. In the evening, I headed into the town to the (in)famous Big Joe’s Beer House, where I consumed my weight in game: Oryx, Kudu, Zebra, Crocodile and Ostrich; and local Bock and Weisszel beers. I guess there is something for the tourists, after all.
Monday, September 2 – Wednesday, September 4 Etosha National Park
Heading into Etosha, I had the privileged of meeting up with the relatives of those I had consumed the previous night, plus a few more. The second day proved even more fruitful, as we spied a hyena hiding under a bridge, zebras and springboks joining forces to protect against little baby lion attacks, leopards snacking on a zebra while jackals and vultures patiently looked on, and elephants bathing themselves in Etosha’s white dirt. I also got my first glimpse of how Springboks got their name – Hilarious! Camping close to a waterhole, I spent the evenings sipping Tefal lager and watching giraffes awkwardly drink while lions roared in the background, and black rhinos snorting and stamping their feet at each other from across the watery divide. I must admit that despite all of these sightings, I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to see a springbok eating a lion or a giraffe eating an elephant. Oh well, next time.
Despite the number of times that I’ve seen these animals, it amazes me that I am still unable to fight the urge to whip out my camera for every four-legged being. Even better is that I am now extremely adept at butt shots, as that tended to be the angle most often presented to me when I approach. Looking through my photos, I am thinking of making a montage.
Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive salt pan that covers about a quarter of the park’s 22,000 square kilometres. While some perennial springs exist on the edge of the pan, the abundance in wildlife could also be attributed to great migrations across this area. Of course, when Africa was attacked with the cookie cutter and fence lines were erected, migration became impossible. As a result, 67 man-made waterholes had to be constructed to support the permanent population, and vegetation has no opportunity to regenerate against the park’s hungry elephant population. Now, the park is forced to cull / sterilise the elephant population to counter their inability to migrate and to protect the park’s other flora and fauna. The legacy of colonisation continues.
Wednesday, September 4 Himba Tribe, near Kamanjab
Despite a restless night where I woke up startled, certain that an elephant was traipsing through the camp (turns out it was a pack of jackals), we left Etosha and headed to Kamanjab. Here, the countryside started to remind me of home: the dirt took on a red hue and rocky outcrops burst up like blisters from the scrub-covered plains. Compared with -5oC in Ghanzi a week earlier, the temperature soared to a balmy 47.9oC (43oC in the shade)!
Our purpose here was to visit a Himba community. While Himba tribes generally originate from Northern Namibia, this particular community settled here to escape the issues of that area, and set up an orphanage. Like the San Bushmen, they run tours to showcase their culture while earning money for basic needs.
Certainly, the Himba culture is fascinating, with women covering themselves in a butter-ochre mix and wrapping their hair in a way that puts my dreadlocks to shame. They are also not allowed to come in contact with water (except to drink), so wash themselves and their clothing using smoke, missing out on what, I think, is one of the greatest pleasures in life. Yet, unlike the San Bushmen, their enthusiasm to share their culture appeared dependent upon the amount of toys, cigarettes and food brought by visiting tourists. Unknowingly, some of those on the tour did provide tokenistic gifts, leading to fights among the children, adding to the culture of expectation and dependency, and leading them further away from the traditional lifestyle that they claim they want to maintain. Sigh.
Sadly, this experience left me feeling very unsettled, so to clear my mind, I joined a few others in climbing one of the rocky outcrops to watch the sunset. I could almost imagine I was home.
Thursday, September 5 Spitzkoppe
With daytime temperatures again reaching over 40oC, our driver decided to head off road to find a shady spot for lunch. We found one, under a thorny bush, right next to a soft, sandy, dry riverbed. So, once again, truck recovery became part of the itinerary. After digging out tyres, paving a way with rocks, and pushing a 15t truck several times in the midday sun, the driver decided additional help was needed. Fortunately, we were only a few kilometres from the closest town, Uis, so he flagged down the first vehicle that passed our way: This happened to be a donkey and cart (Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up!). Two hours later he returned with a grader and we were on our way. TIA.
We briefly stopped at some Herero markets before making our way to Spitzkoppe, which translates to something like “Pointy Peak”. The rocky blips on the horizon had now morphed into rocky granite skyscrapers, stretching as tall as 700m from the ground. The granite is more than 700 million years old and the highest outcrop rises about 1 784 m above sea level. As it began to cool, we scrambled up a few of the peaks and waited for the sun’s rays to slowly disappear behind them, capturing every second on camera. Stunning.
Friday, September 6 – Sunday, September 8 Swakopmund & Walvis Bay
After the heat wave of the past two days, Swakopmund greeted me with a bitter, icy gale. Best known as the place where the sand dunes meet the sea, Swakopmund is little more than tourist village plonked on a sandy desert. Also known for experiencing four seasons in one day, we could barely see the town for the fog, as we made our way to the sad-looking tumultuous ocean.
With the thought of ocean activities pretty much ruled out, a couple of us decided to hit the dunes instead. Given my extensive (ahem) snow- and sand-boarding experience, I did a couple of trial runs straight down before taking on some jumps. I will leave you imagine how wonderfully that ended. Helea and I did, however, show the boys how to tackle a sand dune while lying down on a bit of chipboard. We recorded the highest speeds of the day at 76km/hr. Speed Queens.
While ocean sports were off the agenda, ocean produce was not! I took the Bushman challenge and gorged myself on seafood for the next two nights, to the point where I felt like I was actually giving birth to a lobster.
Heading South past dancing flamingos at Walvis Bay, Britain’s only colony in Namibia, we entered real desert country. Mountain zebras (differing from their cousins by their smaller size and stripes down their legs) were seen cooling off on the breezy peaks of barren shale-layered mountains. We stopped for lunch at a non-descript, unsigned farm (how do people find these places?), where Frans the bushman took us a tour of desert survival. We followed this up with the opposite of desert survival – a massive chunk of apple crumble at Solitaire.
Monday, September 9 Sossusvlei
At 6am, the campsite is abuzz as cars gear up for the 30-minute drive, and 15-minute walk up the 170m-high Dune 45 in time for sunrise. When you’re just one of hundreds climbing, it doesn’t exactly give you the serene, secluded experience you were hoping for. Never-the-less, the sight of first light hitting the rusty dunes was beautiful. Before the heat became too much, we finished this off with a hike to the “hidden” deadvlei, stopping to inspect and harass the desert life along the way – ants, head-standing beetles, striped sand snake & lizards galore. All nutritious specimens.
Namib-Naukluft National Park is the largest game park in Africa, covering around 50,000 square km. Life here is sustained by fog from the Atlantic, which is also responsible for the creating the park’s towering sand dunes, which are the tallest in the world. Sossus vlei means the gathering place of water, and this is where water accumulates as it becomes blocked by a sand dune wall on its way to the ocean. When the water is blocked by a sand dune further upstream, it then becomes a dead vlei.
As the day heated up, there was, again, little to do but nap by the pool as springbok munched on the rare green grass beside me. In the afternoon, we ventured out to Sesriem Canyon, which feeds the Sossusvlei in the wet season. Then by night, I lay awake in my tent, surrounded by springbok and oryx munching loudly on fallen “fruit”.
Tuesday, September 10 Fish River Canyon
The vehicle was not happy today. Cracking the diesel filter then busting a tyre, we had a slow beginning to the day-long drive. In between repairs and sleeps, I got lost in the towering tablelands and the plains of acacias that, leafless and laden with white thorns, looked like a sea of floating ghost trees.
Formed by the break-up of Gondwana land, Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, and has rocks dating to 1,500 million years ago. However, the canyon itself formed far more recently – “only” 350 million years ago. Its winding snake-like shape, at 160km in length, 27km wide and 550m deep, can be attributed to Koutein Kooru, a snake that was frantically scrambling to get away from San Hunters. While mostly dry at this time of the year, when the rain comes, it rapidly fills with water and catfish that rise up from their place of hibernation metres below the surface. The bushmen, seeing the concurrent appearance of water and catfish, apparently believed that when it rained, it rained fish, which is how the canyon got its name.
It truly was a spectacular sight, and seeing it from the top has simply whet my appetite to conquer the 5-day 80km hike along the bottom.