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Published: July 28th 2010
I’m in the final few days of this “Africa Encompassed” trip with Intrepid and its time to fill you in on my Namibian adventures - and there have been quite a few! I have become quite the adrenalin junkie....the rate I’m going, maybe ill do a bungy jump in 5 years time - when im 40?!
Casting my mind back a couple of weeks, we left Botswana and passed into Namibia, camping close to the Angola border. One evening we bushcamped with the San bushmen....the oldest ethnic group in the country, having been around for about 20,000 years. There are only about 2000 traditional San still around and although many do not continue to live in the exact original way they used to (its called capitalism encroaching on even the most rural and secluded parts of Africa), we were fortunate enough to be taken out by a semi-traditional tribe for demonstrations on how they used to live. I have already uploaded my San photos so you hopefully we have seen their distinctive pale brown skinned aquiline faces, their dress - semi-clad in skins, carrying quivers and knives, their tiny emaciated bodies creeping through the bush in search of berries, rock hyrax or ground squirrels for food. We sat with them learning about their hunting , fire-making, and lifestyle including their unique ‘clicking’ language. 4 different clicks - used like phonemes create a beautiful soothing sound to their communication....
We left the San early the next morning to avoid both the heat of the sun and the hoards of village children who had descended on us causing havoc in our tents and camping area.... drove to the 20,000sqkm Etosha National Park - “The Great White Place of Dry Water” for 3 nights. The facilities of the parks down south are so much better than at the beginning of the trip (flush toilets, running water, decent showers, shaded cooking areas) but im afraid Im a little ‘gamed-out’. The Serengeti in Tanzania was the piece de résistance for African fauna and nowhere else has equalled it. Our tour leader, Mutiso explained that seeing the Serengeti first is like eating the icing on a cake before the sponge! That said, Etosha had its own magic but as it’s the wet season the infamous flood-lit watering holes were a little lacking in animal life. More like “The Great White Place with too much bloody Water”! Some of us even got up in the middle of the night in the vain hope of spotting a rhino, taking a night-time dip.....sadly all we found at 2am were a couple of sleeping ducks. Kind of disappointing but the bar had been set so high......
Leaving Etosha to head further into central Namibia, we suffered a couple of flat tyres and were marooned in the middle of the lion-infested park while the spares were rolled out. We were all on carnivore spotting duty but all we could see were a few wandering kudu and ostrich. The landscape got steadily more barren - the greenery of Etosha fading - until we were surrounded by vistas more reminiscent of the Pilbarra in Western Australia than anywhere archetypically African. Giant curvaceously sculpted red granite rocks, hewn by wind and water erosion, rose from the parched earth. With temps in the mid to late 30s, we bushcamped on the stones under a billion shimmering stars and the smell of the dry desert, waking to see the huge looming Matterhorn of Africa - the Spitzkoppe; a mountain which rises above the dusty plains of southern Damaraland
Next, it was on to the coast - the Skeleton Coast; a stretch of inhospitable land where the waves of the Atlantic meet the sands of the Namid Desert. The cold air from Antarctica meeting the hot temperatures of the land often creates a strange sea fog and has lured many a boat to their doom in the treacherous shallows.
There is little on the Skeleton Coast except ship wrecks and seals - Cape Cross Seal Colony was a veritable feast for the eyes and indeed nose. The stench of 100,000 seals hit you full frontal as we got closer. Stepping off the truck , was an olfactory challenge - the putrid, fetid reek of these creatures - their shit, sweat and decaying food remains wafted into our open nostrils, causing an intense and sudden gag reflex. It was truly vile. The stink seemed to permeate your clothes, your hair and the back of your throat making breathing an endurance test. Occasionally, the winds of the Atlantic blew the malodorous odour in an alternative direction so it was possible to gulp some marginally fresher air. The sheer volume of blubbery seals with their thousands of pups was a sight to behold...the sea was literally bubbling with the numbers frolicking in the white frothy breakers. On land, the air was filled with the plaintive calls of calves to mothers and dominant bulls challenging others to duels of masculinity.
Spectacular but not a place to linger unless you had the nasal capacity of a live-sewage treatment works cleaner... you get the idea!
After countless nights under canvass, it was sheer bliss to reach Swakomund - a German frontier town where for 3 nights we renounced our sleeping bags and snuggled down under a proper roof. The town was a strange ghostly place with few people (its low season), and the ephemeral mist from the sea hanging like a net curtain over the shops and buildings. As Livingstone is to Zambia, Swakomund is to Namibia.... an adrenalin hot spot full of travellers living their lives to the Pepsi Max. Normally, I eschew places where you’re called ‘dude’or ‘bro’ , where life only becomes liveable if you are moving at over 100kph.... i find the whole bungy scene a cliché with guys straight off the set of Bill & Ted or Point Break....however, for some reason i decided to go nuts in Namibia and ended up not just sandboarding (got up to speeds of 66kph down the steepest slope), not just quad biking (80kph tandem with a guide) but....... i jumped out of a plane and hurtled in freefall at 220kph towards the ground for 35seconds before my tandem skymaster opened the chute and we floated gracefully back to Earth.
AWESOME DUDE!!!!! Wild man, like crazy shit..... !!!
Ok, enough of the lingo..it was pretty damn amazing. In all honesty, I was in two minds right from the beginning as I have always thought id like to try skydiving (and didn’t do it in New Zealand) but have been way too chicken. Much as i liked the idea of some gentle avian gliding down, I thought the freefall would be too ‘fowl’ for words! Although i was totally bricking it when the door of the plane opened with a rush of deafening air and he said to hang my legs under the plane. That initial leap into the abyss was terrifying, but within a couple of seconds, it suddenly dawned on me what i was doing and the rush was all consuming. Apparently, one experiences an airgasm (a rush of excitement shortly after leaping from the plane)! In fact, it wasn’t nearly as scary as i had anticipated and i didn’t feel i was falling. Id go as far as to say id like to do it again now I know what to expect so i could take it all in that little bit more.
A huge thank you to all the people who responded to my querulous emails and FB postings... the encouragement, support and overwhelming “go for it” attitude really helped me come to a decision.....and i don’t regret it. Now i feel ready to have another go at zip-lining! Hehehehe!
After our brief sojourn in Swakomund, it was back to basics and back on the road heading through Walvis Bay to the Namid-Naukluft National Park - the heart of Namibia. Although the Swakomund dunes were huge, from the air they looked like balletic swirls on an iced xmas cake and the colours were very bleached. That famous Namibian red was absent. In contrast, in the Namid-Naukluft National Park, a 23,000sqkm desert, the dune fields were bright orange and imposing, stretching up to the azure sky - some over 400meteres high in an ecosystem which is one of the oldest and driest on the planet. The winds constantly buffet the dunes shaping and reshaping their tips so at times they resembled the Giza pyramids with their austere, steep slopes. Others take on a more organic, eddying shape with curvaceous edges, like the coils of a serpent.
We camped in the dust whipped Sesriem campsite and got up at dawn to climb the legendary Dune 45 to watch the sun rise over the distant undulating colossal mounds. A rigorous hike in the soft sand to the top rewarded us with incredible views of the shadowy sand mountains and the Sossuvlei pan - a stretch of desert devoid of water and ‘apparent’ life. The colours of the landscape sprang slowly into being as the sphere of fire lit up the valley. Desiccated, dead acacia trees were silhouetted against the huge slopes. From a dusky brown to a pale ginger to a rich velvety ochre the dunes came alive - this is Namibia! It was almost transcendental - the void of silence - quite deafening!
Scrambling down the 150m Dune 45 was messy but lots of fun and after breakfast flanked by these orange beasts we transferred to a pick-up truck taking us further into the park for a walk with an animated guide who showed us the hidden life in this uncongenial climate - baboon spiders which build web trapdoors in the sand, plants which rapidly open as water touches their parched buds and lizards scuttling across the scorched floor (due to the iron content) using 3 legs at a time..... We walked into the midst of Dead-Vlei - a dry desert lake empty of moisture and searingly hot with limestone beds home to 900 year old dead acacia trees, their blackened branches, scorched after years under the sun, casting beautiful shadows on the red sands. This is the Namibia i have always wanted to see.....
Leaving the Namid-Nauklauft Park behind, we continued further south to Fish River Canyon, on the fringes of Namibia and South Africa. On the way we stopped to meet cheetahs and warthogs, rescued from the wild by a barking mad Afrikaaner woman, followed by a wander amidst the stately quiver trees and the Giant’s Playground - a natural rock garden with precariously balanced chunks of stone, shaped and eroded by wind and past waters.
Fish River Canyon deserves the superlatives heaped upon it - as visually impressive as my memory of the Grand Canyon, it measures 160km in length and up to 27km wide, with inner canyon depths of up to 550m and has been gouged out over the millenia by the Fish River which curls in sweeping bends through the rock. We sat and watched the sun set over the lip of the canyon with the sky turning from blue to yellows to oranges to reds and finally black. Then the stars came and we lay there in the pitch dark watching the glittering sky...another classy Namibian moment. J
Im now in Orange River , on the border with SA and going canoeing this afternoon. Its bakingly hot..... temps are probably over 40 degrees and if i go any browner , Ill start to look like a San bushman (without the tiny emaciated figure!).
Hope all is well and bye for now! Cape Town here i come.......
Love Han xx
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