The first thing that was different about Namibia was the newness and orderliness of the border offices and the requirement that we dip our shoes in some sort of anti ‘foot and mouth’ chemicals (this happened periodically throughout the northern parts of Namibia, the second time the guard wanted to check we didn’t have uncooked meats, we did, but they didn’t find them). The other thing that struck me was despite the lonely liars (aka planet) description of cultural tensions between blacks and whites all of the black Namibians we met were very friendly (in fact friendlier that the whites). They are also up for a laugh, especially when it involves rescuing a twit like me from the lav. Oh the shame, luckily I wasn’t locked in the cubicle or I might still be there but I had to shimmy up the wall and hang on to the window and shout for help, which came in the form of a very big black Namibian truck driver who was fuelling up his truck outside. He would of course have seen my weedy body hanging from the window (my legs were dangling a metre off the floor). He roared laughing before booting the door open, then laughed even louder right in my face when he saw me, ‘oh mama, oh ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha’. ‘Yes hello, thank you sir’. It is amazing how incredibly British we can become in such situations, I decided it was best for it to appear as if this was quite normal for me and glide serenely past him. This was a little harder than normal as I had scraped my boobs on the window ledge on the way down. He was still laughing when I turned the corner and got back to James who was annoyed that I had been so long. ‘But James I got stuck’… ‘yes yes Dee get in……’
Ngepi Camp and new friends
The first place we stayed in Namibia was Ngepi camp and lodge. This is about 200k across the border, it took us longer to get here than it should of because we got lost and ended up driving up the road to Angola from Zambia rather than across into Namibia. But it didn’t matter a very lovely woman in a very worn bra pointed us back the right way, noticing the bra was a good reminder for me to start giving away some of my clothes (and some of James if he would let me). Negeppi camp was in darkness by the time we arrived so we didn’t get to see how wonderful it was until the next morning. Unfortunately the next morning I wasn’t at my best (actually I hadn’t been well for about 4-5 days which is why we headed to Namibia and not Botswana) so I lolled around like a space cadet for a few days and James did solitary man type things like look at maps, look at car, look at firewood possibilities….until he got chatting to Keith Croucher who was camping in the spot along the river from us. Keith is travelling with his lovely wife Verlie, (they started off in Mombassa and will ship out of South Africa), they are also travelling in a Toyota Prado so naturally they are tip top people. Keith rides motorbikes, he and his wife have just retired, he from owning and running a lucrative classic car garage and she from the NHS. Keith has a strong southern accent and says things about Verlie like “she’s a good old cow” and “So I says to ‘im your ‘avin’ a larf my son” and “go on my son”. Keith loves to play practical jokes, for instance one year he ‘borrowed’ a brand new spanner and socket set (over 100 pieces) and novelty lamps (50) that his neighbour had just won, kept them for 12 months then on Christmas eve hung the now reconstructed spanner and socket set as a giant wind chime from just outside his neighbour’s bedroom window and all the lamps from his ornamental trees…or the time he ‘borrowed’ a mobile phone from his neighbour who owned the town bakery; after taking the phone he purchased a loaf of bread from the bakery, placed the mobile inside the loaf of bread then put the bread back on the shelf with other loaves. Keith then phoned the mobile phone and watched as his neighbour ransacked his own shop trying to find his phone. Keith also likes to blow things up and shoot squirrels. In contrast to Keith Verlie is much quieter, “ I don’t see any point in getting angry, it is a waste of energy”. She joins in with Keith’s practical jokes though and like Keith, enjoys her pop. Anyhow we all get along rather well, James and Keith share stories of home-made fireworks and are soon blarting on about car mechanics and fiddling with each other’s cars while Verlie and I talk about the downfall of the NHS. We get on so well that Keith suggests that as we are planning to do a bit of off roading, and he quite fancies this, that they travel with us so if there are any problems we can help each other out. Well why not!
We can heartily recommend Ngeppi camp, it is well run, the staff are lovely, the setting is beautiful and camp facilities are built to incorporate rather than overcome nature, for example here are our ensuite toilet and bathroom (the ‘Throne Room’ and ‘Bath with a View’)…
The views from these included watching the elephants take a bath and the moon rise over the Okavango river…
The river also provided the drama of the ‘magic swimming cow’, which involved watching the said cow swimming/drowning and being swept along by the strong current. Amazingly the cow had dodged the crocodiles but looked pretty desperate as it swept past us while we stood wondering what if anything we could do; then der der derdle der some of the guys from the camp happened to be sailing back to the camp on the camp boat and managed to throw a rope around the cow and bring it to shore. The cow was renamed the ‘magic cow’ (by me) and here she is coming round from her ordeal…
After a few days of recuperation (me not the magic cow) we set off down the road with Keith and Verlie, if you look at this map you can more of less follow our route, first Etosha National Park, then Twyfelfontein, the White Lady, along the Skeleton coast in Dorob National Park, then down to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay…..
Etosha National Park
This is a fabulous park and we were very fortunate while we were there to see some beautiful amazing animals. First off as we entered the park we saw lion cubs (3) and two lionesses who had killed and were devouring a kudu. The lions had had a good munch of the kudu and were now languidly wandering backwards and forwards from the dead animal to have a drink at the lake, on the other side of this lake stood a small herd of wilderbeast understandably too nervous to move any closer and actually have a drink. After a while we moved on and we were able to get up close and personal with some zebra who were anything but camera shy.
It is pretty hot in Etosha, (40 degrees or so) and whole swathes of land are salt pans, they look weirdly beautiful, I was lucky to have an informative talk from James about how the etosha pan came to be….I can’t remember much about it now but was very interesting at the time.
There are curfews in game parks which are strictly adhered to. If you are late the best that will happen is you get a large fine, if you are late enough to be wandering about the park you will be shot on site and buried there. This is because you are viewed as a poacher and nothing more, there are no courts just the barrel of the warden’s gun. You can imagine then that we did not want to be late but just as we were heading back to the camp for the 7.30 curfew we came across these young guns…
They were so close to us that when they yawned we could see their tonsils…(and possibly the remains of someone who had been late). The delights of the animal kingdom weren’t quite over as later that night at the water hole we witnessed two male rhino having a scuffle over who was allowed to drink there and when we retired to our tent had the joy of honey badgers marauding around the camp emptying the bins.
We left the park the next day and to my absolute delight met this gentle giant, he was
e n o r m o u s…..Apparently male elephants keep growing throughout their lifetime so this one must have had a few years under his tusks, he was the size of a bus but he was so chilled out he just waited until we pulled over to the side of the road then sauntered on down passed us.
We contiued on down the road with our companions Keith and Verlie to the Abba Huab camp near Twyfelfontein (where we saw our first bit of San rock art), and it was here in the desert that we gained our supernatural powers. It all started with me spotting an enormous shooting star and Keith saying he believed in aliens and other worlds etc….. Well it only seemed natural that we should claim super powers that matched who were are….I became COLOBUS WOMAN (because of my black and white hair, we are yet to figure out what power this gives me), Keith was reborn as CHAMELION MAN (because he scared some kids on Mozambique with a chameleon, this has given him the power to blend), Verlie arose as MOSQUITO WOMAN (because she had the most bites), Keith reckoned she wouldn’t be very stable as her huge chest would mean her legs would buckle every time she landed; and James der der der emerged as ORYX MAN (because these are his favourite animals and now he has the power to wee crystals but we are not quite sure how this would save the planet). Suffice it to say we were very very drunk….hic.
Having super powers meant it was no problem for us to walk up the gorge to see the White Lady paintings which are thousands of years old and were painted by the San people. I have to admit when I first saw the paintings the impact didn’t hit home until our guide told us the history around each of the drawings. The White Lady is actually a shaman, the paintings are completed over a period of time, sometimes many years and not always by the same painter, paintings can only be done by those deemed to have shamanistic ability and the paintings themselves portray the culture of the San and how they believe that they are linked to the past (through the spirit world) and to the animal world through an ability to become ‘one’ with animals. The San ritual and culture weds celebration and life initiations with art.
Our guide was passionate and a wonderful relayer of San history, and he occassionaly spoke in San, this language is beautiful it has clicks and whistles and some words are started off as if you are kissing them. If you want to find out more about the San people check out Voices of the San: Living in Southern Africa Today by Willemien le Roux and Alison White.
From here our journey took us from 45 degree temperatures to the relative coolness (in every sense of the word) of the Namibian skeleton coast…… The skeleton coast has been described as ‘taking in nearly 2 million hectares of dunes and gravel plains to form one of the world’s most inhospitable waterless areas’ (Lonely Planet 2009).
This description may well be true but driving along the skeleton coast can also be lots and lots of fun.
First of all and most obvious is the space, the place is vast and the dirt roads are in really good condition. The roads swoop and turn so that you get a real feeling of really driving your car, it reminded us of when we are on the dhow in Zanzibar and is as exhilarating. Then of course there is the fantastically cold and changeable Atlantic Ocean, the weather too can be unpredictably foggy and wet then hot, it is nearly always windy though so you get a good sandblasting most of the time. There are shipwrecks along the coast, driving to them isn’t easy as the sand has soft mud underneath, although the menfolk were keen on being more off road than the road we were already on they showed uncommon restraint and we steered clear. Huzzah for the men!
The coast isn’t all skeletons though, a little way down the sand dunes at Cape Cross are these stinky beautiful creatures.
There were thousands of them, with so many of them in the water they reminded me of tadpoles. They were amazing to watch, although the beach was crowded somehow they had managed a sort of system of getting in and out the water, there were lines of seals waddling towards the water that were met by seals trying to get out of the water, for those trying to get out waves would partially deposit them on the stony beach and then partially drag them back again so they only had a short time to clumsily lurch and wobble up onto the rocks. In the water though they were acrobatic, swift and sleek hunters. The noise matched the intensity of the smell. All in all it was great.
We had a pit stops at a fisherman’s campsite inside the National Park, here you are practically on the beach camping.
Most of the people here are men devoted to fishing (aka obsessed) and the ablutions are such that you need two of you to manage the bucket from a rope shower or it goes on the floor….and your clothes…and out the door. We hopped skipped and jumped from here down the coast to Swakopmund so I could spend my birthday in a place where I could do some girly stuff (back massage) and eat posh food at the rather salubrious ‘Jetty Restaurant’. Mmmmmmmmm
This is the view from the jetty
................this is the view of me and James stuffing our faces.
We did most of this in the company of the mad Keith and Verlie.
Leaving Swakupmund meant leaving the Skeleton Coast and heading back along the dirt roads, these are fabulous places not least because of the skies which come in 3D. I had appreciated the 3D land we were travelling on but the skies too have 3D cloud formations that allow you to see full pyramid and conical shapes, sometimes you drive under the flat bit and can still see the sides. The reason for this is because they ‘hang’ at the same height so it is like driving under rows and rows of washing lines that have clouds pegged to them. James says this is due to the topography of the land which causes a repetition in cloud formation……
Anyhow it all made for a wonderful journey to Sossusvlei and the next part of our adventure where we camped in the beautiful National Reserve and hiked up the massive sand dunes to see the sunrise over the famous Dune 45
and hiked up some more to access the surreal deadvlei
Sadly we had to leave the heat and the dunes and part company with our chums Keith and Verlie as our course took us to Luderitz, which is back on the Namibian coast. The drive was jaw dropping, initially because in total contrast to where we had been we entered lush grasslands that swept around flat topped (Wallace and Grommit) mountains. It was a fairly long drive but at the end of it we were rewarded with a camp at Klein-Aus Vista
and instead of having the company of the sociable Keith and Verlie we had the company of sociable weaver birds. We had seen weaver birds for quite a part of the journey, there are the non-sociable variety that build single nests as pairs but often with many nests in one tree, then there are the sociable weaver birds who build communal nests and these can be rather fabulously large.
And to prove that James too is a sociable creature check him out giving away some of his breakfast to the birds…..a rare sight indeed…ooh he’s come over all Mary Poppins….’feed the birds tuppence a bag….’
Ok so why go to Luderitz? Well folks this is the place in Namibia where diamond fever really hit and you can visit Kolmanskop, a ghost town where the diamond miners originally settled. The land was acquired by Adolph Luderitz (although he drowned before he saw the fruits of ownership) and became the property and headquarters of The Consolidated Diamond Mines of South West Africa. The area was so rich in diamonds that some were literally picked up off the sand. These ladies are going through their daily job of sifting bags of diamonds… me and Fio used to do this before we gave it all up for love.
The German inhabitants of the town could afford a luxurious lifestyle so had fresh water, ice, good food, beautiful furniture, a gymnasium, bowling alley, theatre….servants; the races were segregated and the Africans lived in single sex quarters close to but separate from the town. You don’t get to see what their living conditions were like….although I did ask. The town has now been reclaimed by the desert so the hospital, the general store, the houses…the school are all full of sand.
The area is still very productively mined so you have to be careful that you don’t stray into the Sperrgebiet (diamond) protected area as the guards are bored, have guns and are more or less allowed to do as they like.
While in Luderitz you can also be the only people mad enough to camp on the very windy Shark Island campsite and go off-roading along some rather technical dirt roads to see jackass penguins. The whole coast was sooooo windy, it was hard opening the car doors as they were either pulled out of your grip or it felt like you were pushing against concrete. You may remember that I (Dee) have vertigo? I had to be tremendously brave going to the lighthouse at Diaz Point as this required walking across a partially decrepit bridge that hung a massive 10 feet up from the rocks below. It makes me laugh now even to think of what a state I must have looked because I clung to the sides while James jauntily ambled across, but hey it was very very windy….
Here I am literally being pinned against the wall by the wind…
you can see danger bridge in the background. Needless to say, but I will say it, James sat on the edge of the sheer and terrifying rocks amused at both my lack of grace which was fuelled by the conviction that I would be either blown out to sea or fall onto the deathly rocks below…….
After a day or two of this fun we continued our journey through Namibia and headed for the absolutely enormous (second to the Grand Canyon) Fish River Canyon.
You know how some days kind of start out ordinary enough but can finish in a strange and unexpected way? Well this was one of those. The day started with gawping at Fish River Canyon and trying to get our heads around the sheer bigness of it all. The canyon has been made over trizillions of years by the water and weather wearing away at the rocks, it is 160km long, 27km wide and reaches a depth of 550m. The river far far below is green and has fish in it. There are eagles here, and snakes and spiders, lizards…but no elephants. It is hot. After walking about on the top of the canyon we set up camp at the lovely Hobas NWR campsite which was run by the equally lovely Anna.
The site was fairly quiet, then we met Alfred a very nice elderly Dutch man who told James that he had been propositioned by another elderly married male camper (who was travelling with his wife and friends). I was in the throes of getting all the detail I could from James so I could relate it here when two Americans came over and asked if either of us was a medic. They were part of a Dragoman overlanders group that had arrived and one of the group had fallen and dislocated her knee. So we said no, we weren’t but I was a qualified nurse and would help if they were truly stuck (I had never even seen a dislocated knee let alone know what to do with one). Well they wandered off but it turned out I was their best bet so they wandered back and asked if I would take a look at her. Yes of course....(inside I was thinking oh crap). This is how I met Miss X from England who’s left knee had truly popped, she was lying in pain, was going into shock and was surrounded by well-meaning first aiders. They had spoken to a medic at the clinic (some 5 hours drive away) who had in the absence of stronger pain relief prescribed and they had given tramadol, they now want to know if they could augment this with vodka, honestly they were serious. Er….no…you can’t do that. So after about 10 mins of bossing the first aiders around and working with Miss X in order to get some control over her situation (she is asthmatic and panicking) the effects of shock subside and the pain relief kicks in. I stayed with her for about another 45 mins and then went off to get my tea. Some 2 hours later the promised ambulance, medic and stronger pain relief turned up to take her to the clinic. The ambulance was actually a pick-up truck, the medic was an elderly enrolled nurse and the only pain relief was voltarol. So the first aiders (who were now my team) came to get me. As I am very good at bossing I bossed everybody into making a ‘bed’ on the back seat of the pick-up for Miss X for the ensuing 6 hour drive, I boss the first aiders into writing down exactly what has been done and what has been administered so the tour leader who has to go with Miss X can provide a proper handover. But most importantly I assisted Miss X in having a pee. Let it not be said that I am not a hands on clinician, this was achieved by bossing one of her travelling companions into giving us her (unused) ‘she wee’ and literally holding the she wee while Miss X pee’d. All of this seemed entirely acceptable and normal for everyone, although even at the time my little brain was saying er Dee don’t you think that even by African standards this is a bit odd? I must have thought it odd as afterwards I wandered back to James and said…’you’ll never guess what I have been doing…’ And of course he couldn’t. Anyhow Miss X endured a long and bumpy drive to the clinic and the next day had (under anaesthetic) her knee popped back.
Then next day we faffed about deciding whether or not to cross the border into South Africa but eventually this was decided by the fact we couldn’t arrange canoeing on orange river due to the fact we were at the start of busy Easter holidays. So late in the afternoon we enjoyed the efficient, friendly border crossing and left the gorgeous Namibia and entered South Africa; within an hour were sitting in the company of and drinking wine with three ‘charismatic, happy clappy’ (their description) Pentecostal ministers, who, we concluded in the spirit of brotherhood, all shared the same sleeping arrangements.
Right now no blog would be complete without a great big shout out.....so.......
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU DAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!