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Published: November 23rd 2014
Dune 45 at sunrise
Such a lovely place in this world.
Overland travel, if nothing else, allows for hours of contemplative reflection.
Which is good because as I make my way back to Windhoek from Swakopmund, all there is to do is don some earbuds and daydream out the dusty windows as the scorched Namibian landscape whizzes by.
I’ve got no complaints. In the illustrious words of Joe Walsh, Life’s Been Good to Me so Far.
Well okay, maybe one tiny complaint. Scheduled tour itineraries suck.
Being a disciple of solo travel for 20 plus years, I've struggled to embrace "tour groups." Their severe lack of time allotted for activities on a planned tour make my adventure turn into a digest of blurred landmarks and contrived cultural experiences. Luckily, the people I have met along the way feel the same as I do, so we all misbehave like children trying to delay an inevitable bedtime, constantly making excuses, and pretending to get lost, just so we can squeeze in a few more precious minutes observing wildlife or interacting with locals.
Complaints aside, this entire trip has left me feeling somewhat bewildered. Did it all happen? Was I really in Africa for 3 months?
Close the door will ya
Or you'll get sand in the house. Too late.
at the headquarters of Wild Dog Safaris, I have coffee with the owner Liz. I’m getting excited about touring the southern half of the Namib, because for years I've coveted photos of the ‘Vleis’ and now I'm about to gaze upon them with my own eyes.
I literally hold my breath as I wait to meet my new tour mates. Surely they will be more fun than the last collection.
Yep. Out stumbles a Viking-like brute with wild hair and beer in hand with his tiny weightlifter of a girlfriend. Then an older newlywed couple from Argentina stuck together by the lips. And Joe, just call me Joe, the American. Our tiny entourage was side armed with a rambunctious leader/driver named George, and our camp cook Rueben. We were off, stopping only briefly to take pictures at the marker for the tropic of Capricorn and for some supplies in the town called Mariental.
Namibia seems inhospitable with its ruggedly dry terrain, but honestly I love it. There are little oasis townships that dot the endless highways in a welcoming way. It is winter here but deathly hot. Hours must pass before we arrive at our first
Beast kabob at Joe's
Luuuuteritz tucks into her dinner of kudu, onyx, ostrich, springbok while we watch in amazement.
point of interest, so I get to know my fellow travelers.
The Viking is an Afrikaner that lives by the motto “here for a good time, not a long time.” He is an absolute hoot. His little German girlfriend chain smokes and keeps a suspicious eyebrow on me. Joe, just call me Joe is a retired navy air force pilot and currently advises for NASA. I speak fluent pilot so we immediately bond, and when the kissing Argentinians finally come up for air, they reveal they are both engineers.
Bonus, everyone is as thrilled as I am to be here. We play cards and socialize while the miles roll by.
George, a Botswana transplant was worth his weight in gold. He loved to talk and talk and talk, especially about Namibia. Anything we wanted to know he would tell. He explained politics, hierarchy, history, evolution, biology for each place we visited. For example, while passing through the town of Rehoboth, he points out several blue eyed, tall, fair coloured locals called Basters, the offspring of Dutch and Nama who believe they should be treated higher than blacks, which often causes conflicts and uprisings.
It is definitely
Many people believe that the trees died from lack of water, but actually they drowned in the marsh when there was a flood hundreds of years ago
different here in Namibia.
Meaning, you can just feel the hostilities between the races…they coexist out of necessity but not harmoniously.
As we cross over the edge of the Kalahari, George explains that it isn't your stereotypical desert because it has this permanent ground cover which becomes endless pastureland after the rains. Considered a semi-arid region, it is approximately the size of France. Most notable, the landscape is artistically sculpted by the wind with high ridges of red sand every 50 meters until infinity. Hard to explain, but think ocean floor.
We roll into the Bagatelle game ranch and their lodge with fancy safari décor is jaw dropping, we are quickly shuffled off but I did spy a few ritzy patrons sitting around on overstuffed chairs drinking G&T’s in their “Out of Africa” getups. We are the only ones roughing it and with no one else around, the springbok prong the deep dry grasses right by our site. Setting up camp is far more fun with this bunch. We joke around while we enthusiastically discuss any subject. I am looking forward to Rueben’s cooking, and a blazing campfire later.
But first, we are collected in a
Durango 95 Zebra Jeep
Oh the fun, blasting all over the hillside chasing Ostrich. Only on the Kalahari!
stripy jeep and taken out on a game drive, spotting many Kudu, Elin, springbok, giraffe, wild horses, wildebeest, jackal, and oryx while ripping all over the countryside like we were in the Durango 95 from A Clockwork Orange.
The Viking and I both take a turn at the helm to sneak up on ostrich strutting down the jeep tracks like Mick Jagger and chase them all over the ranch with glee. At the top of a red ridge lookout, we find the Bagatelle staff preparing a proper sundowner. Jeeploads of the lodge guests join in and we stand about highfalutin as the brilliant sun carves into the red earth leaving behind a mirage of ultraviolet glory. The Kalahari hosts spectacular vistas from which to take a photo, yet my camera has now taken on a scratch across the lens which makes each picture I take look like there is a smoke monster hovering in the backdrop. Sigh, I can’t win.
Back at camp, Rueben apparently has the same salt fetish as his older brother Stephen (camp cook for the north) but that’s okay. We are all famished, he presents a stew with freshly baked buns and salad greens
Kampsite in the Kalahari
I was blown away by how diversely beautiful the Kalahari was
for us to devour. I can’t even explain to you what the stars look like in this part of the world, I did not want to go to bed. They are enchanting. We drink tea and George warns us of a chilly overnight so I double up on wool blankets and enjoyed my cozy cocoon, until daybreak, when I had to inevitably pee. Well imagine my surprise when I pulled back my tent flap and found a bunch of semi nude San bushmen standing about talking click with George. Awesome. It is believed that these are the peoples the entire human race originated from. They were fascinatingly indifferent and took us for a bushwalk to show how they collected their traditional medicines and built weapons to hunt before we bugged out and headed for the township of Keetsmanshoop.
On the outskirts, we find a site with Mesosaurus fossils, the lizard-like fish creature perfectly preserved in the rocks from an ancient sea.
Another amazing attraction nearby was called the Giant’s playground and it formed some 180 million years ago when massive upheavals of molten lava bubbled up as tectonic plates tore apart, cooling into gigantic square blocks of dolerite
Yes, another plant alert
Oh the Quiver tree, such a beaut. My apologies.
neatly stacked upon each other. The whole area is a confusing maze we clamber up and over. When you strike the boulders with another rock, they bong like they are hollow. A spontaneous ‘rock’ concert is inevitable. Crawling around with us is my new favourite critter, the Hyrax, their cute little faces make you believe they are a rodent, when they are actually related to elephants.
Plant Alert! Again! Oh yes, I have finally set eyes upon the famous Quiver tree, which was only a David Attenborough myth for me up until this point, actually touching one, beyond my wildest dreams. The Aloe dichotoma
is a broccoli shaped tree-forming succulent with white powdery upward sweeping branches with little florets at the end of each, the gnarly papery trunks can grow to a metre in circumference and can live in this region that rarely gets moisture for over 350 years. The San people hollowed out branches to make their hunting quivers, hence the name. I was lucky to be here when the entire grove was in bloom, the yellow flowers striking against the midday blue sky, but my photos unfortunately have a smoke monster in the backdrop. This tree is
Great sense of humour
The German roadhouses would have such elaborate gardens with vintage cars. Loved it!
so unique to Namibia it has become a national symbol for the country.
If you are like me, little snippets of strange experiences while travelling stick into your memory. One for me was standing in a convenience store line up when two of the female clerks started chatting away in the Khoekhoegawab click language, occasionally yelling orders over our heads to others in the vicinity, socially unaware that I was mesmerized. I actually put items back so that I could go re-stand in the line and eavesdrop for longer. Later, I asked George to teach us the 4 click sounds, and then attempted to use them in simple sentences. We miserably failed but laugh our fool heads off in the process.
Our next stop is a roadhouse next to the Fish River Canyon. Did I ever tell you that Germans know how to do camping right?
Each roadhouse we stop at has a full bar, sometimes with a pool and restaurant, flushing toilets, laundry, shower blocks with hot water, and pastry shops. Honestly, it doesn't feel like camping.
While the couples couple, Joe, just call me Joe and I become a pseudo couple, sharing off
Highly recommend Wild Dog Safaris for your Namibian experience
each others plates, indulging in dreamy Amarula cheesecake and apple strudel while talking about weather formations and piloty things. We also walk together around the rim of the canyon and mutually agree that this spectacular landmark gives the Grand Canyon a run for its money. Had I traveled in Namibia by myself, I would have partaken in the five day hike at the bottom of the canyon, ending in the town of Ais. There is just not enough time allotted for this kind of thing on a tour.
Back at camp, Rueben serves up a chicken curry with rice and broccoli. We have been spoiled so far. This group help out with washing dishes and cutting vegetables, unlike the last group. Interestingly, each night after chatting us up for a while George suddenly does this strange disappearing act and stumbles back into camp in the middle of the night. I surmise he must have a girl in every town. We don’t miss him really, and go about enjoying our roaring campfires together. Hardest nut to crack is the chain smoking little German girl. If I talk to the Viking for more than five seconds she forms a sauerkraut barrier
George and Rueben
I have now been to all three on all continents. Probably not saying much but I think its cool
I nickname her Lüüüüüüderitz because she spends inordinate amounts of time correcting George’s pronunciation of towns.
Speaking of Lüderitz, the sleepy little fishing village is nicely sheltered from an angry Namibian coast, but the gusty sea breezes make it chilly yet blazing hot. We go sailing today!
As we wait for our boat to dock, the Viking brags about his inordinate sea skills. The cruise takes us out into rough seas to Halifax Island to see a colony of jackass penguins. On the way we saw dolphins, whales and seabirds of all varieties. Most amusing was to watch the Viking turn bright green and hurl over the port side while we rode out the gigantic swells. Back at the docks, we find a seafood restaurant and hunker down for a seafood lunch…only to be told that there is no seafood. Pardon?
We settle for chicken fingers and badly cooked pasta.
As we drive back to Aus, gigantic drifts of sand cover over the highway, forcing George to slow down to a crawl as we get engulfed in a sand storm. Out along the restricted zone of the active diamond mine, the ghost town of
Campsite at Aus
So very beautiful each campsite. Well done Germans.
Kolmanskoop comes into view. It is truly spooky. Back in the early 1900’s, this town site was thriving, only to slowly get consumed by the ever moving sand dunes. Unlike most tourist attractions this one had no rules or safety precautions so we crawl in and out of windows and over sand banks inside the houses, even though they look like will collapse in on you any second.
At the Aus roadhouse, we enjoy a few cold drinks on their deck overlooking the scenic valley before returning to our campsite, the evening sky changes the landscape and is breathtaking, but instead we spend our time watching the gigantic sociable weaver nest suspended above our camp, where a zillion birds come and go. The holes to the nest are underneath, so that snakes are unable to slither in. By nightfall, Rueben has grilled lamb chops for us and the little birds roost as they peak down at us. It is adorable.
George disappears again. Pretty sure his call to port here is the giggly salesclerk in the gift shop, I don’t care, but the Viking decides to try to catch him in the act. He stumbles off into the
Silly things could easily outrun and escape us, but would run for miles in front of the zebra jeep instead
dark with Lüüüüüüderitz and they subsequently get lost out in the hills. From my tent I can hear them yelling that their flashlight died. Rueben is hysterical and goes to fetch George. In the meanwhile, I use my iphone torch to pinpoint their location and Joe and I guide them back to camp. Not a swift move on their part with all the deadly snakes and roaming beasts around.
George never deserts us at camp again.
Tomorrow we are going to see the Vleis. All of us excitably put up our tents around an ancient Mopani tree and enjoy the hot showers. Yes, we are beyond thrilled to see a gigantic hill of red sand. Why, you ask?
Well you just gotta see for yourself.
George wakes us up at 4:45 so that we will be the first trekkers at the top of Dune 45 before sunrise. I don’t even know what Sosselvlei looks like yet because we rolled into camp late. All I know is they have mint flavoured magnum bars here in the middle of nowhere, dammit.
I had a fitful sleep in zero temperatures only to be awoken by an animated George
The travelling staple, delicious jerky of springbok, kudu, oryx
who won't let us brush our teeth or make coffee. We claim pole position and race with twenty other vehicles out to the edge of the dune.
As I start climbing, I can’t even grasp the scale of this monstrosity in the dark. I’m knee deep in cold sand on an insanely steep ascent, seeming to go nowhere after every grueling step, but finally summiting. Looking back, I can see the tiny wild dog safari truck and a trail of people-ants coming up from behind, helping me to comprehend how high we really are. I plonk down on the ridge line, and we all watch as the land is painted by the warm glow of the sun. Sometimes in these moments, you have to just stop the world and sit in awe.
We ate our breakfast at the foot of the dune, bacon and coffee wafts as busloads of tourists go by and give us the stink eye.
We decide we will hike into the Namib-Naukluft national park to get to Deadvlei and it is absolutely the best living desert experience I’ve ever had. George outdoes himself again. We tumbled up and down the red dunes,
Taste like Asparagus said someone, and I smiled, because, I'm aware Aloe is actually related.
walked across crunchy clay pans, stopping to admire all the bugs and snakes, and carcasses along the way. Desert giraffes peak out from behind acacia trees to see what we are doing. It is all surreal.
Deadvlei (dead marsh) is where my interest for Namibia originated from.
When I first saw the picture of scorched tree skeletons frozen in time against the red sand hills and chalky white pan, I was done. I just had to go there.
Most interesting fact about this stunning site is those camel thorn acacias actually drowned 900 years ago, not died of lack of water, as most believe. The wood, although not petrified, is blackened by the intensely hot sun but cannot decay because it is so dry. So there they stand. As we look around, busloads of tourists begin to arrive and everyone jockeys for that money shot. With no shade, and temperatures getting close to 42 c, and we find ourselves alone again in no time. This is also the first time George doesn’t look at his watch.
On our way to back to Windhoek we stop in Solitaire, sadly the population is down by one to 91
They actually bong when you strike them. Lava formed these bubbles millions of years ago
as the township had recently lost their famous strudel baker Moose McGregor. On a chalkboard, someone painstakingly records the rainfall amounts for the year in millimeters. Some years, zero. Yikes, that is dry!
Like each roadhouse we have encountered, Solitaire too has those elaborately decorated rusty vehicle horticultural displays. Who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour.
We end up back in Windhoek just as the sun sets for some farewell drinks at Joe’s beer house.
Although the south was lacking in cultural experiences, it far made up for it with the landscape marvels. This is truly a fascinating part of the world and I cannot wait to return to spend more quality time here...with a better camera.
For now, I am reluctantly leaving Namibia and returning to Nairobi in Kenya, and despite the severe travel warnings and British tourist evacuations, hopefully going on to Mombasa.
Wish me luck.
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