RICHTERSVELD TRANS FRONTIER PARK to WINDHOEK
The next day we ventured into the Namibia Side of the Richtersveld Trans Frontier Park and Fish River Canyon. This area we visited in 2010 however it is of such grandeur a second visit is warranted. First stop Ai-Ais at the southern end of the canyon. “Ai-Ais” means “burning water and its thermal water reaches 60°C and is rich in sulphates and fluorides. The thermal bath next to the hot spring is popular and part of the camp site (Prices have gone up)
The canyon at the lower course of the Fish River belongs to the most impressive natural beauties in southern Namibia. The Fish River Canyon is up to 550 metres deep and after the Grand Canyon in America the second biggest canyon in the world. The canyon winds its way over a distance of about 160 kilometres through the rugged Koubis mountains down to Ai-Ais. The canyon starts near Seeheim and ends after 161 kilometres near Ai-Ais. With a length of 650 kilometres the Fish River is the longest river in Namibia. Another place we revisited was Hobas only a few kilometres to the Canyon rim where we had a stunning view of the famous “Hell’s Bend. Once we left Fish River Canyon we headed north to the sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert. Sossusvlei is part of the Namib Naukluft park, the largest conservation area in Africa, and fourth largest in the world. The park is a formidable sea of rolling sand, stretching in unbroken immensity all the way to the coast. Since our last visit in 2010 prices have sky rocketed and the facilities at the camp ground have gone backwards. Not to mention the question “where are you from?” So, you pay 8 times as much as a local??? Is this racist? Or still apartheid!!! Or maybe a thank you for all the foreign aid we already pay!! Our aim this trip was to explore the non-touristy areas of Far North West of Namibia (Kakaoland) so we continued North following 4WD tracks where possible.
Our last stop before entering Damaraland was Windhoek. Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and lays at 1680meters above sea-level. We stayed at the Elisenheim Guest farm and camping ground 12km North of Windhoek. (A MUST when you stay in Windhoek). The population of Windhoek is approximately 342,000, an extremely small capital by global standards. This number is growing rapidly at present mostly due to a lack of employment in rural areas. The city centre is characterised by a proliferation of German style buildings, a lasting reminder of Namibia’s early colonial history. During the day the city centre has a European cafe culture, German cuisine dominates, but Namibian influence can be found in the quantity and quality of meat on offer (vegetarians be warned, Namibia is carnivorous country!)
During South African occupation the city was divided into three areas; the central suburbs for the whites, Khomasdal for the coloureds and Katutura for the blacks. Katutura and Khomasdal have a vibrant nightlife and over the weekends the partying is non-stop. For the uninitiated visiting one of these disadvantaged areas can be extremely daunting (and unsafe), but with a little local guidance you could be in for the time of your life. For us it was the last chance to stock up, repair our brakes and move out of the city to Damaraland.
This week we received the terrible news that my mother passed away.
It is the shittest thing I have had to do in my life, talking to my mother a few hours before she died (Euthanasia), saying goodbye to her via skype while in the middle of no-where. TERRIBLE and what do you say to someone who will not be there in a few hours. She was in a lot of pain, could hardly breathe and only had days to live? She was worried that she would choke to death, hence she planned her own death. Once the infuse was placed she fell asleep in a few minutes and she passed away. My sister told me it was so strange, so sad, but she passed away with a smile on her face. The cruel disease had over taken her body – but not her mind -at least she got to leave and say goodbye on her terms. Anyway, life goes on. MUM R.I.P
WINDHOEK to KAKAOLAND
We ventured well and truly in to Far West Kakaoland, probably past Puros on our way to the Marrienfluss, a ruggedly beautiful region that offers the off-road traveller a more adventurous challenge. Here there are prehistoric water courses with open plains and grassland, massive granite koppies and deep gorges. As we travelled further west the geography changes dramatically with endless sandy wastes, that incredibly can sustain small, but wide-ranging, populations of desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, ostrich and springbok. These animals have adapted their lifestyles to survive the harshness of the sun-blistered, almost waterless desert spaces. Elephant move through bush country and can travel up to 70km in a day in search of food and water. Our interest in this region was, The Brandberg – Namibia’s highest mountain and Twyfelfontein. The Organ Pipes are a distinctive series of dolerite pillars that have been exposed by erosion and can be viewed in the small gorge on the left-hand side of the road leading to the Burnt Mountain. This flat-topped mountain derives its name from the piles of blackened limestone at its base, The Petrified Forest. The trees of the Petrified Forest were uprooted some 200 million years ago and were swept along by rivers in flood, covered by sediments and then subsequently uncovered by erosion. The Vingerklip (finger rock) – The 35m-high Vingerklip (finger rock) is also known as Kalk-Kegel (limestone pillar) and rises above the Bertram farm. It is an erosional remnant of a limestone plateau and was formed over 15 million years ago. The large cave in its base, surrounded by rubble, gives the impression it will topple over any minute. A million stars, a campfire, the sound of wild animals, local villagers singing in the distance, this is the type of one-million-star hotel we are staying in at present, a long way from everywhere. This is Africa at its best. For the last 12 days we travelled Kaokoland following riverbeds, sandy tracks, lots of bulldust, sandy plains, rugged mountains, very rough roads, very corrugated roads.
Kaokoland is home to the nomadic Himba tribe. When all became too rough or the roads too narrow for our truck we off- loaded the scooter to visit the remote villages in the mountains. Kaokoland covers roughly 40,000 sq. km of sparsely populated land and is often described as one of the last truly wild areas in southern Africa. Although it is harsh and offers little respite at midday, the rugged landscape is especially attractive during the early morning and late afternoon when it is transformed into softly glowing ochre shades. Kaokoland lies east of the Skeleton Coast Park, a very rugged area that is for us one of Namibia’s most scenic regions.
A landscape of table top mountains, cone shaped hills, and rock- strewn plains where desert dwelling elephant, rhino and giraffe roam. The region is also home of the nomadic Himba people, who migrate seasonally with their herds of livestock in search of grazing, much as they did a century ago. The landscape in the south of the area is characterised by rugged mountains which are dissected by numerous dry river beds, but north of the Hoarusib River the scenery is dominated by table-top koppies. Still further north, the Otjihipa Mountains rise steep to form the eastern boundary of the Marienfluss, while the west of the valley is defined by the Hartmann Mountains.
The Marienfluss valley is very scenic and relatively greener than the Hartmann’s valley. Hartmann’s valley is closer to the Atlantic and yet much more arid. Kaokoland differs greatly from Damaraland in terms of roads, accessibility and infrastructure. While quite a bit of Damaraland is isolated from the outside world, it is really Kaokoland which is the back of beyond. Silent, huge, with only tracks; progress is slow and rough and for most parts it’s empty. Kaokoland has 16,000 inhabitants, 5,000 of them Himba. It’s population density is only one person to every two square kilometres which is about a quarter of the national average. The Himba people who inhabit Kaokoland are the descendants of the earliest Herero’s who migrated into this area in the 16th century. The Himba are an ancient tribe of semi nomadic pastoralists, many of whom still live and dress according to ancient traditions and live in scattered settlements throughout Kaokoland. They are a slender and statuesque people. The women especially are noted for their unusual sculptural beauty, enhanced by intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. Himba men and woman wear few clothes apart from a loin cloth or goat skinned mini-skirt. They rub their bodies with red ochre and fat, a treatment which protects their skins against the harsh desert climate. The homes of the Himba are simple cone shaped structures of saplings bound together with palm leaves and plastered with mud and dung. A family may move from one home to another several times a year to seek grazing for their goats and cattle.
The Herero people of Namibia are a pastoral cattle breeding nation. It is believed they migrated from the east African lakes arriving in Namibia about 350 years ago. Their initial home was in Kaokoland near the Kunene River, but some 150 years ago a large portion of the Herero population moved southwards leaving the Himba and Tjimba tribes behind. There are about 100 000 Herero people in Namibia, and today they are mostly found in the central and eastern parts of the country. A group called the Mbandero occupy an area in eastern Namibia, around the town of Gobabis, which was formerly known as Hereroland.
The Herero are proud cattle farmers who measure their wealth in cattle, the importance of cattle to these people is even evident in the Herero women’s’ dresses. The traditional dress is derived from a Victorian woman’s dress, and consists of an enormous crinoline worn over several petticoats, a horn shaped hat (said to represent the horns of a cow) made from rolled cloth is also worn. Unfortunately for us we missed the traditional Herero festival in Okahandja by one week. This is when the various paramilitary groups parade before their chiefs, and Herero women line the streets in their beautiful dresses.
In terms of wildlife Kaokoland is probably most famous for its desert elephant. Although the desert dwelling elephants are not a separate sub species they have adapted to their extremely harsh environment. The only other place in Africa where elephants live in such harsh conditions is in Mali on the edge of the Sahara Desert. The secret of their survival in the arid wastelands is an intimate knowledge of their limited food and water resources. During the dry periods they will even dig deep holes to obtain water and in this way also provide other animals with water. Unlike other elephants which drink daily, these ones have been observed going without water for up to four days. We were lucky enough to see Desert elephants, giraffe, mountain zebra, gemsbok, black-faced impala and springbok. No black rhino; only a few individuals survived in the extreme western parts of Kaokoland which makes them a very rare sight.
The Himba’s are one of the last African tribes living their nomadic life in their traditional way. But for how long is the question. Busloads of tourists arrive in places such as Opuwo, Ruancana and Epupa Falls where casual Himba’s are ready to get a photo taken for money. Some tourists are paying up to 200 Nam dollars for photos.
This week we followed the Kuene River. It follows its way through the arid desert landscape of northern Namibia, forming a natural border to Angola. The Kunene River is perhaps one of the loneliest rivers in Africa. The river has for centuries supported the semi–nomadic Himba people, flowing steadily from the Angola highlands south to the border with Namibia and then west along the border until it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. With its constant flow of water, it creates a lush, slim oasis along its banks that acts as a natural magnet to the local people and animals. We followed the rough 4WD track and saw Himba men, women, and children coming down to the river to collect water, bathe, play, or wash their clothes. Along the way we visited the local Himba villages. One of the most striking things about the Himba is the colour of their skin and hair and their unique way of dressing. They smear their skin with a mixture of cattle fat, ash, and ochre to protect themselves from the harsh desert climate and the merciless sun above. As an additional bonus, the paste gives the Himba a deep red colour that is a highly desirable look in the Himba culture and is very striking to look at. The women wear small skirts made of goat skins adorned with shells and jewellery made of iron and copper. The men and boys wear goatskin loin cloths. Away from the tourist spots, the Himba people are still unaffected by modern civilization and are a rare and unique people to experience. After 2 weeks of bush, dust and roughing it we arrived at Epupa Falls, a touristy spot on the river and we could not help ourselves but booked at Omuranga campsite located right on the river above the falls. Here we stopped for a few days relaxing with a good pair of binoculars spotting the many crocodiles and listening to the sounds of the passing water and had the feeling that time has ceased to exist. Our next stop was Ruacana Falls but not before we visited Kunene River Lodge. Kunene River Lodge nestles beneath a beautiful canopy of indigenous trees stretching down to the river. In addition to its idyllic setting, it has a perfect campsite overlooking the river. From here the track improves and reached the tarmac in Ruacana. Ruacana is located on the border with Angola on the river Kunene. The town is known for the picturesque Ruacana Falls nearby, and for the Ruacana Power Station. We visited during the dry season hence the falls were a non-event.
Ruacana was developed around a major underground hydroelectric plant linked to the nearby dam across the border in Angola at Calueque. The dam and pumping station were bombed in a Cuban airstrike in 1988, during the Angolan Civil War. The facility was partially repaired and today Namibia Power operates three turbines producing a maximum of 240 megawatts. Our plan was to stay at Hippo Pools campsite, but the place was filthy and being charged triple as a foreigner was not want we wanted to do. We moved out of town to find a camp spot, inflated our tyres for the 90Km of gravel road and 200KM of tarmac tomorrow towards Etosha National Park our next destination.
KAKAO LAND to ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
After 3 weeks of gravel, dirt, soft sand, Off Road tracks and riverbed driving it was nice to do 200 kilometres on tar roads. We took a break at Oppie Koppie before entering the newly opened West entrance of Etosha National park. Etosha National Park is a 22 750km² wildlife sanctuary with a 5 000km² salt pan. The ‘Pan’ provides a great, parched, silver-white backdrop of shimmering mirages to an area of semi-arid savannah grassland and thorn scrub. The pan itself contains water only after very good rains and sometimes for only a few days each year. The many waterholes attract endangered black rhinoceros, lion, elephant and large numbers of antelope. Our view is that Etosha National Park and Kruger national park in South Africa are the 2 finest Game Reserves in the whole of Africa. Etosha is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, and 16 amphibian species. Etosha, meaning “Great White Place”, is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin. We entered Etosha via the newly opened Galton Gate (Feb 2014) in the far west of Etosha National park an area previous only open to a few tour companies with a special license. This area is teeming with wild life, our first day between Galton Gate and the Olifantsrus Campsite (500.00 NAM per night for overseas visitors!!!!) We saw zebra, wildebeest, antelopes, elephant, giraffe, rhino and lions. It being the month of September it was bone dry and cool. It is one of the best months to see wild life in Namibia. We also spent the second day in the far west of the park with hardly a tourist in sight. From here we arrived late at Okaukueio which according to all reports was completely booked. As per usual in Africa this was not the case. Upon our arrival we noticed at least 50% of the campsite was empty. Okaukueio, Halali and Namutoni are the three rest camps, all have floodlit waterholes with perfect game viewing. Rhino and elephant are often seen at the waterhole at Okaukuejo. The waterhole at Halali has the reputation of attracting leopard. During our 3 visits to Etosha we have never been lucky at Namatoni. Namatoni waterhole is rivalled by the artesian springs of Klein Namatoni and Koinachas, so fewer animals frequent it compared to Okaukuejo and Halali. No doubt the western part of the park boasts the highest concentrations of wildlife. Lucky for us we saw them all while driving in the park, including the shy and elusive leopard. The dominant vegetation in Etosha is Mopane or Omusati in a local language, and it is so widespread in the north-west of Namibia that a region in Owambo is named after it. The western areas of the park support mainly mopane scrub, whereas there are extensive woodlands of tall trees in the southern parts of the Halali area as well as in the camp.
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK TO THE CAPRIVI STRIP
After 1 week in Etosha we left and headed north via Rundu to one of Namibia’s most fun Camp sites Ngepi. We visited this campsite twice in 2010 and a third visit was warranted. After 5 days R & R trying all the different toilets and showers (see the pictures) it was time to explore the Caprivi strip now called the Zambezi region, a thin strip of land in the north-east of Namibia bordered by Angola, Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Three rivers cross the Zambezi River making it a wetland paradise full of animals. Up to a third of the Zambezi Region is floodplain. Two other rivers are often regarded as rivers in their own right – the Chobe and the Linyanti – but they are really extensions of the Zambezi and Kwando rivers respectively. The Zambezi Region has a tropical climate and during dry winter months, large populations of elephant and buffalo are known to congregate along the Kwando, Zambezi and Chobe river corridors. The Caprivi regional capital is the town of Katima Mulilo, which is located on the Zambezi River on the border with Zambia and close to the border with Botswana.
BORDER MATA MATA to FISH RIVER CANYON
Namibia is called the land of contrasting landscapes. Well it only took 30 minutes past the border to have this confirmed. Not only was the scenery completely different (desolate) but the roads were also different. Perfectly graded and as good as bitumen. Just North of Keetmanshoop, we saw the first quiver trees (kokerboom – Namibian name). They reach a height of seven meters and look magnificent against the rocky outcrops. The other unique thing about these trees is the bark. This is smooth, with a pearly grey and golden sheen giving an appearance of wax.
When we arrived in Keetmanshoop, priority one was the modem because this had to be loaded up. Priority two was buying the Namibian currency although they do accept the South African Rand. Then priority three was to fill up with fuel (about 500 litres). A pleasant surprise was that the fuel was cheaper than what we have been paying in South Africa. We set up camp at the Hobas camp ground near the Fish River Canyon.
The longest river in Namibia, the Fish flows for more than 800km from its source in the Naucluft Mountains, merging with the Orange River 110km before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean. Over millions of years, it has carved one of the world`s greatest canyons, a 550m deep chasm that twists through eroded cliffs of ancient sandstone. We found a local person chopping wood. I explained I needed wood for heating not cooking. 50 Nam dollars ($7AUD or 4 Euro) later, we had enough wood to keep us warm for a few nights as the nights are cold. After a magic sunset over the canyon and a great night around the fire we were up again at 6am, still dark, but the fire was still burning. We got up to watch the sunrise, had breakfast. (Nothing beats that hot cuppa in the morning next to the fire) and we watched the monkeys play havoc with anything loose that they could get their hands on. Around 7am we went back to the view point of the second largest canyon in the world. The views are breathtaking. The canyon is one hundred and sixty kilometres long, up to 27km wide and up to 550m deep. Plenty of 4X4 tracks along the rugged eastern Rim. We saw klipspringers, rock hyrax and ground squirrels; and off course, baboons! From here we took many day trips before we travelled to Ais Ais Richtersveld Trans Frontier Park. We followed the Orange River thru some amazing scenery. The sandy road runs directly along the Orange River and leads to the Mining Town of Rosh Pinah. The Orange River is over 1800km long and originates in the Drakensberg (now called Gariep River). It flows into the Atlantic Ocean at Oranjemund. It was a very interesting and scenic day. We had a lot of photo stops, took hundreds of photos and in the process, we lost track of the time. This resulted in a 7pm arrival in Aus. It gets dark at 5.30pm. The local park (Klein Aus Vista) was full! And there was no way we would be allowed to camp in the car park of the restaurant. We were going to have a few drinks, have dinner and camp, all up, for just a few dollars. Anyway, Nein means No. A lot of Germans live in Namibia and in our first disappointing experience in Africa, we were turned away. The man who turned us away was an expat, not a local. So, we backtracked to the little town of Aus and stayed behind the pub. The toilet did not work, the shower only had cold water, no security and no level sites, but who cares, most people in town did not have a toilet, shower or electricity or a proper house for that matter. We were very tired, so we had a meal and went to bed early after a stunning day. Lüderitz is a sleepy town that is exposed to Atlantic winds, sandstorms and heavy fogs off the sea. This is what we were told and what most info about the town writes about. We arrived at around 11am and were greeted by blue sky, no wind, 26 degrees and whales frolicking in front of our campsite. How lucky can we be? Having said this, we won`t be going swimming in the ocean because the water is freezing cold. The town has German street names such as Hafen Strasse, and a church which could have come direct from Germany. For the rest of the town, no it is not German, but it may resemble the pre-war Germany from the time before Clary and I were born. After lunch we explored the town and the surrounding area. We visited Agate Beach, and drove down the Lüderitz Peninsula to Dias Point to have fresh oysters. Around the lagoon we saw flamingos and many little bays and untouched beaches. We eventually arrived at Grosse Bucht (Large Bay) before returning to Lüderitz via Kolmanskop, the once prosperous diamond mining town, which is slowly being buried in the white sand of the Namibian Desert. The town is now a ghost town and it is hard to imagine that it once had a casino, a hospital, a lemonade factory, and a desalination plant that pumped seawater 28km from Elizabeth Bucht (Bay).
Once we left Lüderitz we turned off on the D 707. We were told it was the most scenic way to Sossusvlei, passing the Biosphere Nature Park. I think we are getting spoiled. After Fish River Canyon, Ais Ais, Richtersveld Trans Frontier Nat Park and yesterday at Lüderitz, we thought it was nice but nothing spectacular. We left a little late this morning, so we kept driving until about 4.30pm before finding a camp spot. The sunset was spectacular and unlike our bush camp in Mabuasehube Game Reserve, at this camp, we didn`t have lions or cheetahs to worry about.
A perfect sunrise and a great bush-camp. We had a short drive to Sesriem. We soon found that the prices paid by the tourists are three times that paid by the Namibians, South Africans and the Botswana people. We have no choice other than to pay the tourist price. We were told that our truck was not allowed on the 4WD road. The shuttle bus operator told us the cost is 220 NAM for 2 and the sign stated that the fine was 300 NAM. On those sums we are happy to pay the extra 80 NAM if we do happen to be pulled up. Unless of course the fine is 300 NAM per person! We are getting used to the term, “This is Africa”. There is no one around and the track looks like it will be easy going. The whole park is stunning and the monumental sand dunes have magnificent colours ranging from ivory to deep brick red. The colours change as the day progresses and the angle of the sun changes. It is stunning. Just before Sossusvlei is the Deadvlei with Big Daddy, a 350m high dune. According to the local rangers, it is the highest dune in the world. The main attraction at Sossusvlei is Big Mama, a 250m high dune. The saltpan lays at an altitude of 570m above sea level and the crest of some of the dunes exceed altitudes of 960m. In this inspiring landscape, one`s imagination can run on and on like the desert that spreads across 50,000 square kilometres, all the way to the Atlantic coast more than 70km away. It was dark by the time we arrived back into camp that night. We sat at the camp fire, staring at the Southern Cross, and the Milky Way both part of an astonishing vision of glittering constellations, stars and planets, that bring magic to the desert nights.
The following week we explored the area and the magic desert sunrise between Sossusvlei and Windhoek. Sesriem Canyon, a narrow gorge up to 30 meters deep and between 1 to 2 meters at the top. A track leads into the canyon from where the rocky layers are clearly visible. Our next stop, for morning tea, was at Solitaire. The `town` has a bakery with a German pastry cook and we could not resist the apple strudel, torte etc. Just perfect! Like most places we stayed longer than planned.
Near disaster as we were travelling down a steep pass we had a complete brake failure! Today, even I shit seven colours! And once out of the truck, I had very wobbly knees. Clary did not only do the 7 colours, but she also changed colour. Anyway, if it was not for the quick thinking of another motorist allowing us passage, we would have gone over the edge for certain. There are no guard rails here, just 200-500-meter drops. As we passed the other vehicle I am sure my outside wheels were on the very edge of the drop. No second chances on this one. Our luck was in. Unfortunately, this was the end of our planned week in the area and we had to go to Windhoek to get the truck repaired. No brakes for the next 300km was not nice, believe me. It has been a bad week for us. Brake trouble, broken fan belt, and a stolen phone and camera. To top it off our GPS has been playing up and this finally resulted in the purchase of a new one. For the record, once you call Garmap for sales they seem to be very fast in taking your money, however when you need help, I don`t suggest you hold your breath. You learn as you go but many companies claim to be international but that is only in name, and once it becomes a service matter, you are on your own. Brake repaired it was time to explore Windhoek.
WINDHOEK TO NAMIB NAUCLUFT NATIONAL PARK
Windhoek, in the heart of Namibia is the capital city. It has a unique charm of African and European culture. It is one of the smallest capital cities in Africa. Tourism is booming in Namibia with tourists mainly coming from Europe, the US and South Africa. The city is clean and feels very safe. German is widely spoken, and it is quite strange to see signs advertising Wiener schnitzel in Africa. While the official language is English, most of the white population speaks either German or Afrikaans.
Even today, 90 years after the end of the German colonial era, the German language plays a leading role as a commercial language. Afrikaans is spoken by 60% of the white community, German is spoken by 32%, English is spoken by 8%. A smaller proportion of whites (around 30,000) trace their family origins directly back to German colonial settlers and maintain German cultural and educational institutions. Clary was told of a very good supermarket catering for the European people (German descent in particular); Two and a half hours later, and more shopping than the average Namibian would buy in 6 weeks, we walked out with 2 shopping trolleys full. It included real German style sausages, European coffee for our espresso machine, herring, real mayonnaise, German style bread, German style bread rolls, curry sauce, etc. Lucky, we ran out of time because Clary also wanted to get her hair done! I have offered to do it for her tomorrow for half the price but she wasn`t interested in my suggestion. Next was Swakopmund and set up camp 68km northwest of Windhoek. Approaching Swakopmund, Namibia`s main seaside resort town was like driving into Dubai or Kuwait (except there is no oil). Locals swamp this area in the hot months (Dec/Jan).
The town is indeed very touristy and very German. Pensions, hotels, apartments, coffee shops selling German cakes and pastries and restaurants offering every German dish you can imagine. The old iron jetty is being rejuvenated and we are told a new restaurant will open on the jetty shortly. Following a recommendation, we checked into the Alte Brucke caravan park. This is one of the best caravan parks we have ever stayed in anywhere. Open fire-place, own shower, own cleaner, own toilet and level grassy site. The old German architecture sets a clear reminder of Swakopmund`s German history. The restaurants are superb, the shopping is like any European city (groceries) and a perfect strong cup of European coffee everywhere. (No Starbucks, Gloria Jeans, Jamaica Blue or Coffee Club in sight!) Once we left Swakopmund, we drove south to Long Beach, half way between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. Packed with 4WD on the beach, you would be forgiven thinking you are on Moreton Island in Queensland, Australia. The area is a major mining area too. The mine supplies 11.8% of the world`s uranium. In total, up to 2009, it has supplied 97,831 tonnes of uranium oxide to the world market. Major shareholders are Rio Tinto 69%, Iranian Foreign Investment Company 15%, South Africa 10%, and Namibia 3%. Namibia does have voting rights 3% general and 51% when it comes to issues of national interest. The mine has a licence of 180km2 of which 20km2 is used for mining, waste disposal and processing. Mining is done by drilling and blasting, loading and hauling from an open pit before the uranium bearing rock is processed to produce uranium oxide. The open pit measures 3 x 1.5km and is 400 meters deep. Currently the mine will produce till 2023. There is now talk of a second pit 1.5km away. The world is hungry for uranium we are told, and Europe, USA and Asia represent an increasing demand. The most important factor was that 97.9 % of permanent staff were Namibians. Anyway, it was a very interesting morning, but I am not sure if we are now radio-active or not. Maybe we will light up tonight! In Walvis Bay there are two important landmarks. Walvis Bay Lagoon and Sandwich Harbour (48km south of Walvis Bay).
Walvis Bay Lagoon is regarded as the most important wetland for coastal birds along the west coast of Southern Africa. It has many flamingos and other birds. We are told this is the only place in Namibia where the great white Pelican breeds. From here, we turned south to Sandwich Harbour, a saltwater lagoon. It is only 48km south of Walvis Bay, but driving is a challenge. With a 7500KG truck we never made it hence we camped on the way. Otherwise we would have to negotiate sand-dunes in the dark and this idea was not something the Catering/Finance/Laundry department, cum boss, would have agreed to.
NAMIB NAUCLUFT NATIONAL PARK to KAKAO LAND
Once we returned to Swakupmund a few days later some more shopping (European food) and a fridge full of German bratwurst, German beer, German bockwurst and coffee for our espresso machine, we left for the drive north on the salt road towards Torra Bay. This area is called the Skeleton Coast Park. Our first stop was at Cape Cross. This is a 60sq km seal reserve and must be seen to be believed, but the smell was terrible! It has between 200,000 and 340,000 seals at any one time. It is a sight not to be missed. From here we drove another 60km to find a nice bush camp on a deserted beach. It is here we found that the actuator (roof lifting system) was broken at the mount on the driver side rear. It seems that we can`t win. It became quite cool and we decided to go inside. During the day we saw some jackals and hyenas. I left my croc shoes outside and you guessed it, they were gone in the morning. They must have liked the smell of my feet! We explored the beach all the way to Torra Bay on the Skeleton Coast. The landscape is very inhospitable. We found ship wrecks and bleached bones of whales exploited in the heyday of the whaling fleets. The landscape is mainly vast desert (no trees or scrubs) and sand dunes. In the distance we saw the extensive mountain ranges. We did see hyenas, gemsbok, springbok, jackals and ostriches in the remote desert landscape. We never saw any lions, but we are told that they do roam the dry river beds. So does a desert adapted elephant along with black rhino, leopards, cheetah, giraffe and zebra. After 80km we heard a loud bang. The passenger side, rear tyre exploded! Oh no! No damage to the tread, however the tread separated like you would expect from a retread tyre. It was a new tyre. During the few days we spent in Palmwag the bush mechanic fixed the bent rim and put our new tyre on the rim for us. The setting was perfect and there were even a few palm trees.
For the past few days we had seen nothing but sand dunes. After the phone call to our friends in Windhoek we decided to make some changes to our plans. We urgently need to have the actuators broken mounting and a broken shock absorber bracket repaired. So, we decided to cancel our trip to Angola and back track to the nearest town to have all this attended to. As the following day was a public holiday in Namibia, we decided to visit Ruacana Falls (border post Angola) before heading back to Ondangwa. Today`s drive was pretty and after about ten minutes on the road, we came across two people on bikes. We stopped as we thought they may be Dutch. But they were from Spain and they have been traveling for 2 years. Currently they are on their way back to Spain via Western Africa. They had been harassed by hyenas last night and they said they did not get much sleep. Clary said she heard the hyenas but not close to our camp. I asked if the hyenas were wearing shoes as they had pinched mine the day before!
KAKAO LAND to ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
Along the way we saw plenty of Himba and Herero people. The road was perfect gravel apart from one or two passes and a dry river bed full of rocks. It wasn`t long before we arrived in Opuwo, the main town in Kaokoland. We found a nice shaded campsite next to the Opuwo Country Hotel, great spot for lots of R&R. After the repairs we left Opuwo and explored Kaokoland for the next 2 weeks. Once we arrived in the many villages we were told we could walk around anywhere and take photos where ever we liked.
The Himba people speak no English so communicating is very difficult but a lot of fun. We brought them presents and food. The Himba women are admired for their unusual sculptured features enhanced by intricate hairstyles and traditional adornments. Himba people do not use soap and water for washing themselves. Instead, they wash their faces and bodies with a mixture of animal fat, red ochre and herbs. A Himba woman can spend as much as 3 hours a day to wash and dress. They use a separate mixture of butterfat herbs and black coals to run through their hair. They steam their clothes over a permanent fire. It was an unbelievable experience to meet these nomadic people who still live and dress according to ancient customs and traditions. The people in Opuwo told us that the improved roads will open the northern part of Namibia in the next few years and with that the people will be thrust into the twenty first century. Tourism will take over and change things forever. Tourists are already starting to appear in this area.
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK
Today would have been our crossing into Angola, but after we visited various mechanical shops in Opuwo, we were advised that the actuators and the parts would only be available in Windhoek. All suggested that we return to Windhoek. Good bye Angola! We decided to drive south to Etosha N.P where we arrived at the gate just on closing time. It is still another 60km from the gate to the camp site, but we were allowed in as long as we moved on and did not stop for wildlife photos. Well just imagine driving 30 minutes before sunset and having giraffes, elephants, zebras, rhinos and kudu all around you. We can`t take a picture? We arrived at dark, set up camp and listened to the sounds of Africa. 2 weeks Etosha, just magic. Early wake up calls from the roar of the lions. They are out there but they are nowhere to be seen. We explored all areas of Etosha. But the park is very expensive at $570 NAM per day. This is twice as much as we paid in Kruger National Park. As foreigners, we pay twice the amount that the locals pay. The park was loaded with Dutch, German, French and Italian tourists, and I am sure this is not going to change in a hurry. Etosha means “Great White Place of Dry Water” and it must be the best setting to see animals against the unique backdrop of the Etosha Pan. This makes the game viewing unique. For those of you who have travelled to Lake Eyre in Australia from either William Creek or Maree, it is the same type of country but with all the game you can imagine. The park is 103 years old and is 23000Sq km. The Etosha Pan is its main feature and is 5000sq km of dry, white cracked mud. Etosha National Park is half the size of Switzerland and 114 species of mammals are found in the park, including the rare black rhino. As we were having dinner we had an incredible experience. We heard the roar of something we had not heard before. Then all hell broke loose as a leopard tried to attack a baby rhino right in front of us. It was an unbelievable experience. The black rhino must have realized we were watching, because he decided to rest right in front of our camp; just five metres away from us (on the other side of the fence). Clary was worried that it might push the fence down if it was antagonized or if it panicked. I said, “Of course not!” as I held my breath. Anyway, we took some good photos, but it took Clary a long time before she could go to sleep. When we woke up the Rhino was gone, and all was quiet. We had breakfast and left to explore more of Etosha National Park. It wasn`t long before we saw the whole range of game again and then we came across 6 lions sunning themselves on the dunes near the Etosha Pan edge. It only took two and a half hours to see the big 5 and we decided this was enough for today and set up camp at Okaukuejo. It was hot and dusty, so a nice shady tree gave us the perfect camp spot. We decided to have an early dinner and go to the waterhole after dark to see if any game was coming to drink. We rounded the corner to the waterhole and could not believe our eyes! It must have been a special occasion, as it looked like the total elephant population of Etosha had come for a party! There were a least 150 elephants at the waterhole; from the matriarch to the just born little baby elephant. It was an amazing sight. Because it was dark, once again we couldn`t take as many photos as we would have liked, but we were very lucky to be there on the right day at the right time. The elephants stayed for about an hour and then the different groups vanished into the night until one big bull and a smaller female elephant were the only ones left at the waterhole. The bull eventually followed the female into the bush. All up an amazing sight we were glad we were there to witness it. We drove as far west and north as we could. Our permit expires at 2pm at which time we planned to arrive at Anderson Gate in the south of the Park. However, after last night`s phenomenal wildlife at the campsite water hole, we decided to stay a few more days.
The days in Etosha are beautiful with blue skies and a temperature around the 35 degrees Celsius, but the nights are very cold, and we need the fire to keep us warm. Last night Clary and I were wondering how much fire- wood is used in Africa daily. It must be an enormous amount as wood is for sale everywhere and most people cook on an open fire.
ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK-WINDHOEK & THE CAPRIVI
It was time to return to Windhoek to repair the attenuators. We also got the bad news re the spare part for the attenuator, none available. Off to the Auto Electrician to fix the attenuators (roof lifters). As it worked out it was the control box and not the lifters. Eight hours later we bypassed our very nice system and are now working it manual. A lesson to be learned (KISS method) Keep It Simple Stupid. Lesson one was learned. We will get rid of the pop top and install a solid roof once we arrive in Europe in 9 months’ time. After lunch at Joe`s Beer house, we were off again this time to the Caprivi strip. The Caprivi Strip, which is a narrow strip of land in Namibia and we camped a few nights along the Okavango River just south of Popa Falls; Ngepi Camp to be exact. This is the funniest place we have been to for a while. The toilets and showers are hilarious. One of these setups sits in the top of a tree. This one is called the Long Drop. Another is called the Throne of the Kings; both overlooking the river. Funny as a boat comes past! A bathroom with bath overlooking the river, a floating swimming pool where the hippos and crocodiles swim on one side and you on the other! At the His and Hers toilet you both sit next to each other! You do have your own entrance, but once you enter you meet at the toilet. You never know who you will meet…! Some say gross – I say hilarious. Our campsite was right on the river`s edge and we loved the place and could have stayed for another week. We also enjoyed the warmer weather again with around 32 degrees. That night, at our nightly campfire, we had a few sundowners and a meal, which always tastes better under an African starlit night. After dinner, it became a roaring fire. It was hard to leave this beautiful African setting after 10 days, but the rest of Africa was calling and our planned itinerary was already in the bin as it was just impossible to achieve with so much to see.