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Archive for the ‘Namibia’ Category

Chasing Waterfalls

When travelling in northern Namibia there is a fair chance that you’re heading to somewhere that starts with the letter O. We leave Opuwo behind and head for Omarunga along the C43. Locals have told us about the beautiful Epupa Falls on the border with Angola and we decide to put the Hilux to the test and take a look. The road is in fairly good condition, but you have to keep your speed down as there are sudden dips crossing small river beds and they are not always marked.

We pass many Himba villages along the way. Children run from their huts and wave as we go past. Goats and cattle block the road in sections and we really feel we are now deep in Himba territory. Ahead of us a big storm is brewing. We are climbing over a pass where we pull up and watch the storm directly above us. A few bolts of lightning send us quickly back to the jeep. Just a little too close for our liking.
We arrive at the small village next to the falls a few hours later. Choices to camp are between two very shady and well placed sites. Tall palm trees grow next to the banks of the Kunene River but once you venture away from the river the land is very dry. The first camp is not able to provide diner that night, so we go next door to the Epupa Falls Camp. They have a very nice deck that affords great views of the falls and the surrounding mountains. We are warned not to go into the river as they are crocodile infested. With that in mind we pitch our tent on a site about 20 metres back from the bank. Not entirely sure why the crocs just don’t come into the camp but apparently they don’t?

The River, the falls, the mountains, it’s all prefect and we decide to stay here for a couple of nights. They even have a swimming pool, and trust me it is damn hot here and during the middle of the day that pool becomes a God send. We drive up a small mountain later on. It is prefect for viewing the falls at sunset. Apparently a local man is also aware of this and we pass a couple of signs saying entrance N$20.00 per person. No one is there to collect so we proceed. Indeed it is a beautiful position to view the falls. The light fades to a bright yellow and the true scope and grandeur of the falls is revealed. Epupa is made up of dozens of falls, cascading over the rocks and flowing either side of giant baobab trees. They are magnificent and their roots are left exposed by the crumbling cliffs on which they cling. The river is broad and dotted with small islands that are covered in Palm trees. It is a sight hard to leave to walk away from.

We never really expected to get away without someone seeing us and sure enough a lonely figure is waiting near the Hilux when we return. He has a broad smile and I really don’t want to argue tonight about money. I pay him the N40.00 and he gives me a very neat hand written receipt. I ask him does it entitle me to come back again tomorrow and I think he says okay, not sure tomorrow will tell. He even writes his name on it, Thomas.
Our battle with the Namibian heat continues and sleeping in the tent at night is near impossible. We continue to “plot” against it and decide to take a swim in the pool. The sky is inky black and the Milky Way is in full bloom. We wet our towels and go back to the tent, where we lay them over us. At last we have found a way to combat the heat!

The next morning a large truck pulls up next to us in the camp with a Belgian flag on the front. I walk next door and introduce myself. Gaston is immediately a friendly chap, he looks a little like Santa Clause and we quickly start to discuss his truck which he himself has converted into a mobile home with tank like power. He tells me “I put the toilet in, I put the Kitchen in, I even put the wife in” boom boom.
Hilda his wife emerges from the truck and she is even more animated than Gaston. They are both so lovely and I immediately feel at ease and go in to look at Gaston’s handy work. It is very impressive a complete mobile home away from home, that can cross deep rivers and carry troops! They will be travelling throughout Africa for the next few months.

We leave the next morning and are sad to do so. We have really enjoyed this little “piece of paradise” and out chats with Gaston and Hilda. We have two days to get back to Windhoek and we plan to get the bus to Livingstone on the 5th March. That night in Outjo (yes another town starting with O) we realise that we have made a mistake the bus leaves on the 4th at 3pm. If we miss it we will be stuck in Windhoek for another 4 days! We get up early the next morning and decide to try and drive to Windhoek. By my reckoning we should arrive around 1pm. I keep our speed at about 130km the speed limit is 120km but no one seems to obey this. In fact we see many cars with smashed windscreens and sometimes 10 people riding in the back of pickups, no one wearing seatbelts.

We are making good progress and are about 2 hours away from Windhoek; we have even picked up a little time, when I see a figure waving at me. At first I ignore it (as there are so many hitch hikers) but then I realise it’s the police. You are kidding me! I have been busted by one of the 5 functioning speed cameras in Namibia.
I walk across the road and sit under a tree while he writes up the ticket. I look at a page that shows the fine applicable based on your speed. There are two charts one for speeding in a 120 zone and one for speeding in a 60 zone. I was doing 136 according to the gun so my fine is N$ 1750 about A$ 190 wow that is steep as I was only doing 16km over the limit, but what I see next astounds me. The fine for doing 136km in a 60 zone is N$2000 only 250 more! What the… how does that work? I ask the officer if that is correct and he nods yes. I resist the urge to get into a debate as to why doing 40 over the limit in a 60 zone is half the fine as me doing 16 over the limit in a 120 zone.

We arrive in Windhoek just in time to unpack, return the Hilux and rebook our bus tickets and skip town without paying the fine! Amazingly we are greeted by the same conductor we had coming up from Cape Town. The bus pulls out and we reflect on the great times we have had in Namibia, but are looking forward to arriving in Zambia tomorrow morning. More blessings are made for the 22 hour journey ahead.

To be continued…

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Meet The Himbas

We arrive back in Windhoek from Sossusvlei feeling confidant to take on the north of Namibia. It’s time to abandon the VW Polo as travel north of Opuwo is only accessible by 4WD. Shopping around we score a great deal on a Toyota Hilux at $N 700.00 a day including insurance. Greg is feeling a little apprehensive, never having driven off road before and gets our man to show him how to use the gears and diff lock (guy talk).

We set off for our first stop Etosha National Park about 7 hours north west of Windhoek. The roads up to Etosha are all sealed and well sign posted. We splash out and decide to stay at the Dolomite Camp, $N 900 per person. This gives us access to the western Galton gate an added bonus as no back tracking is required to get to Opuwo. The large sign at the entrance is very clear. Do not get out of your vehicle upon entering the park. No problem, except the ranger shows no inclination to approach the car. After a few minutes we get out and show him our reservation. Perhaps the sign needs to say No getting out of your car once you have seen the lazy guard.

The drive to our lodge is another 40km over bumpy gravel roads. The bush closes in and I find myself scanning for wild animals. We arrive at the lodge and are escorted to our room, a traditional style chalet with thatched high roof and veranda overlooking the Etosha plain. The rules are very simple.

1/ Do not walk around the camp by yourself after Sunset, call reception… the top tier deadliest creatures are likely to roam around after dark and you will encounter them at your own risk!

2/ Do not sleep with the balcony door open ( I was going to… eek ) unless you want a snake to cosy up with you late at night or even better yet a scorpion

Points noted and embedded in to my brain I sit with a cup of tea on the veranda whilst Greg takes a nap. Observing the endless plains before me I wonder, what could be lurking out there? As I ponder this thought, I see an object moving in the distance. I focus my eyes and recognise its distinctive patch work print and long neck, it’s a giraffe. I have seen many animals in a zoo before but nothing can compare to seeing them in their natural habitat. It’s just breath taking, the expanse of land fools you into believing there is nothing there, yet here is this magnificent creature strolling, oblivious to the fact that he is being observed, it’s a really exciting moment for me, I quickly wake Greg to share this moment with him. We sit there quietly observing.

We eat well that night without guilt, knowing all meals are included in the price of our accommodation. As we head back to our room under the protection from the camp guard I notice some flashes of light. I sit on the veranda, before me are the dark plains of Etosha. The moon is obscured by thick clouds and I can just make out the horizon. We can see regular flashes of lightning in the distance, but it must be a long way off as no thunder can be heard. The wind is warm and carries the scent of the storm. It starts to gust and the curtains are flapping. The clouds are swirling in the moonlight, creating a giant canopy of grey and silver. We turn off the lights in anticipation of the approaching storm, it’s a magical feeling.
Crawling into bed, we shroud ourselves with the protection of the mosquito net excited about our game drive tomorrow morning.
We wake very early, in fact it’s still dark with just a hint of orange on the horizon. Quickly we eat a hearty breakfast (no guilt again) and head down to meet our guide Gabriel. He tells us we’re really lucky as we’re the only guests on this morning’s drive. We head off in his jeep and almost immediately come across a large male giraffe grazing on a tree. He looks up and catches us observing him. Cautiously he keeps chewing the leaves in his mouth, whilst keeping a fixed gaze on us just to be sure. As the jeep pulls away he relaxes and continues his feeding. Exhilarated from such a quick sighting, we continue on excited about what we might encounter next. Crossing the road we spot some Zebra. Again they stop and lift their heads. It appears that one Zebra will always keep a careful watch whilst the others take limited opportunity to graze, ever vigilant and ready to escape if they hear even a slight sound that frightens them. We sit tentatively watching and admire their amazing stripes, transfixed by what to them is a routine morning. We are enthralled as the morning proceeds. We see wart hogs which are incredibly sweet. Their heads are almost as big as their bodies and when they run their tail sticks up like a little flag pole.

There is a great deal of luck and timing when it comes to spotting animals. I must confess I never really understood the idea of safari and thought that maybe it would be a little dull, but I will admit I am wrong to have thought this. It’s really fascinating and our guide explains the importance of the animals, as well as interesting facts. As we drive out of the park I spot a herd of elephants about 80 metres from the road. We stop abruptly. We can see four adults and three babies. One in particular is very small. The mother watches us and then spreads her huge ears, a warning not to approach! Our stay on Etosha is short as our main focus for coming up to north is to see the famed Himba tribe’s people.

Opuwo is the official capital of Himbaland and a good place to stay for a night and organise a guide and supplies for a visit to the surrounding villages. It looks and feels very much like a frontier trading town. We see Himba mixing with Herero and regular western dressed Namibians. This is a place where tribe’s people will walk 50 km’s barefoot in the searing heat just to come to town and buy a single item. Wonderful assortments of people walk the streets and gazing through the window I note that there is not one white person to be seen except for me and Greg. It’s a real melting pot.

Greg tries to get money from the ATM, as we will be going into remote areas over the next few days. He comes back smiling and clutching crisp new dollars. Just as well, as the petrol station does not take any cards.
We drive up a very steep and rocky hill and find The Opuwo Country Hotel. It’s an impressive building built in the traditional style. They allow you to camp for a fraction of the room price but you still get to use the lodge facilities a bargain at $N 100. The view from our campsite is impressive. The Angolan foothills reveal themselves to us, lush, green and tantalisingly close.

In order to visit the Himba you need a translator, you need some supplies and you need the permission of the chief. We find a local man who has left his Himba life behind (much to the horror of his grandfather) and is now living the sins of a western life. Speaking the language fluently and knowing all the customs, we negotiate a price for his services and pick up suitable gifts for the Himba, maize, water, powdered milk and many other basic food products. He explains to us a few words that will show the tribe’s people respect.

Morrow – Hello, Nowa – Fine, Oko Hempa – Thank you

We drive about 15km out of town on a dirt track and then take a turn off the road and into the bush. We are now on the ‘Himba Highway”. The going is slow and we have to negotiate around the scrub trees. Fifteen minutes later we come to a clearing. Its perimeter is marked by a fence made up of tangled branches. Contained within are several mud huts with thatch roofs. Rayon leaves us for a little while, whilst he seeks permission from the chief to enter the village. Returning he tells us that the chief is happy for us to enter and accepts the gifts we have brought. Rayon gives us a briefing on Himba culture. For example Himba women will often ask a western female how many children she has. To Himba woman the amount of children you have, demonstrates how much of a woman you are, for them it is not uncommon to bear 9 or more children. They are also very interested in how many wives a man has. Western men will be asked how many wives they have, as again the amount of wives indicates how much of a man you are. The Himba laugh and look uncomfortable when we admit we have no children and Greg has only one wife. This they hope will change in the future.

The women are most striking, smeared with an aromatic mixture of ochre, butter & bush herbs which turns their entire body a burnt orange colour, similar to the colour of the ground upon which we sit. Their dreadlocked hair is adorned with incredible head pieces and they wear small skirts made of animal skins and dyed in the same colour as their bodies. The overall effect is captivating they are incredibly beautiful and quite like nothing else I have ever seen. The desert like body paint serves a few purposes for the women. Firstly due to their nomadic existence, the women never wash themselves so the scent of the herbs and ochre act as a natural deodorant. The paste is also a natural sunblock and protects them from insects.

Finally I have met a group of women that truly appreciate the need for extreme sunblock!
They are all decorated with various different bracelets, anklets and neck pieces. I ask the ladies if they could explain if they represent anything. I am told that all jewellery has a meaning for example ankle bracelets show how many children a woman has. One stripe means none if you are also wearing a heavy leather necklace otherwise one child, two stripes two children etc. I am welcomed into one of the mud hut homes which Greg and I must crawl on our hands and knees to access. I lie on the floor to get a sense of what it is like to sleep, especially given that you’ll be with maybe 5 or 6 other bodies lying there with you. We converse via the Rayon (who is now wearing ridiculously large sunglasses looking like an African Bono) asking questions about each other’s culture. Sitting with this lady she smears some of the red mud on my arm and smiles. I feel a connection with her and feel very privileged to be here.

We bid farewell to the Himba and continue our journey north.

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Into The Desert

We leave Cape Town courtesy of Intercape Coaches on a rainy drab morning. It’s 21 hours to Windhoek Namibia – pronounced Vind Hook, finally we have managed to get this right after much correction from Namibians and South Africans alike. The passengers are frequently blessed by the resident conductor. “Intercape and the lord Jesus Christ thanks you for travelling with us, we pray to the lord for a safe journey.” I am hoping divine intervention will not be required but being a novice to this part of the world I can’t be entirely sure. I have a feeling that blessings and prayers may come in handy on this journey across the world.

Sometime during the night we cross the border and go through the usual customs formalities. The South African Customs agents search all the bags thoroughly, the Namibian counterparts do not, is this a sign? We continue on through the night but sleep is difficult because the driver has decided to test out the busses air conditioning to full effect! We are now trapped in a mobile fridge and hypothermia is setting in. The conductor blesses our journey yet again over the PA system and all I can think about is praying that they turn the AC down. Finally I can take no more; I walk down to the front of the bus and ask them to turn down the AC. “You are cold” he asks me. Yes I shiver back. Well you know what happens next within 40 minutes the bus has been transformed into a greenhouse, the other passengers rightfully start complaining and its back to Siberia again! Lesson learned pack clothes for all weather when travelling with Intercape.

We arrive into Windhoek knackered and get a taxi to the Chameleon Inn, N$300 per night for a room with shared facilities. This oasis hidden behind compound walls is a lovely find, although sadly it has also been discovered by the “Banana Pancake Group” of back packers. They hang out by the pool, playing pool, drinking beer, ordering banana pancakes, playing loud music, never leave the hostel and then claim to have visited that country! They tend to be found in destinations such as India, Bali and now it appears Namibia… we don’t let this bother us too much as we’re pretty happy with the place and the staff are very friendly and professional.

Windhoek is very developed much to our surprise, don’t get me wrong that’s great for the locals, but for me I am still waiting to get that true authentic African experience and Windhoek is not delivering. Must note here that when we finally do get that real Africa experience we may be wishing for development, but time will tell.

The next morning we set about and organise our visas at the Zambian consulate. The lady working there tells us that Lusaka will definitely be a culture shock, excellent I think? The visa process is painless and an hour later we walk out with Zambian visas. We could get them at the border but I think it’s always better to get them ahead if you can. That afternoon we go shopping in the “Pick n Pay” for groceries. I have to say that it feels a little weird to be the only white people in the super market but we like it as we are starting to feel we really are in Africa and not just doing touristy things.

We turn our attention to arranging car hire so we can drive to Sossusvlei which is featured in every travel guide and the highlight of any visit to Namibia.  We decide to hire a VW polo sedan which is cheaper than a 4wd and should do the job in getting us down there in spite of the many gravel roads. Greg does a great job of keeping the polo on the road, always a good thing and the journey down takes about six hours. We were at first a little apprehensive about driving ourselves, but after reading many guide books, we decided that Namibia is a great country to explore by car, and we love the idea of being independent. Tours are just not our thing.

We book ourselves in at the Sesriem Campsite at N$450 including park entrance fees for two nights. The campsite is basic but adequate. We arrive late afternoon where the temperature still reads a welcoming 47c. It is draining; you instantly want to lie down and try to recover. Heat is a strange thing, I know there are times when I pray to be warm, but there is a fine line! This heat is unbearable. There is no escape, no place to hide. You lie there plotting, thinking and trying to outsmart the encompassing inferno. Then it dawns on me that we’re sleeping in our tent tonight. I’ve only ever slept in a tent when it’s been either pleasant or cold (ironically praying for warmth.) So this is a new experience and something I had not factored into the equation. Now I comprehend why this is the low season. I had only thought about saving money which is critical our trip being successful.

Plotting against the heat

Plotting against the heat

The sun is thankfully retreating towards the horizon and I find myself watching it, praying it will descend just a little quicker. Please Earth spin faster! In the fading light we decide to head to the famous Dune 45, a red 150 m high sand dune, easy for us to access as it’s on the main road and a 35 minute drive from camp. As we reach the dune it is really quite striking, terracotta red framed by withered trees that look mangled and aged, they complement each other beautifully. I can’t help but wonder how it is that nature provides such striking scenes. I sit and take it all in as Greg takes numerous shots. The sun makes its final appearance and darkness covers the desert. We rush back to our camp, noting that the gates close at 8.30pm sharp.

Dune 45

Dune 45

We dine that night on the Sossusvlei burger N$40 and spoil ourselves with two cold cokes. The sun has gone but the heat has stayed on. All I can think about is that deserts are supposed to get cold at night… well? Sleep for the first few hours is impossible and I keep going the shower block every 30 mins to douse myself in cold water, no towel is required. Finally the night starts to cool and we both fall asleep.

If you want to see the desert at its best you have to get up early, so with this in mind we get in the car at 5.30am. Staying at Sesriem camp allows you to get into the park an hour before everyone else.  We leave the car behind and start climbing up and down numerous sand dunes. I begin to wonder if we are going in the right direction when we crest a non-descript dune a natural beauty appears before us. Looking like some scary forest,  the trees are twisted like blackened hands reaching out of the dry white salt lake, waiting to grab you as you walk past. I can imagine the likes of Peter Jackson or JK Rowling being inspired by this fairy-tale like place. It is so eerie.

Dead Vlei

Dead Vlei

The sun creeps higher turning the surrounding dunes mauve, pink and rose. A light mist hangs in the depressions. The shadows shorten and the soft pastels finally relent to deep red and eventually reveal the desert that is truly there, stark and blistering white. By eight the soft magic is gone and the full fury of the Namib Desert is playing. It’s time to retreat back to the camp site before we are engulfed by this natural oven. Beauty is replaced by harshness!

The effort to get up early has paid off as we past numerous tourists now clambering in the heat to make the same walk. If you come to Sossusvlei make sure you stay at the Sesriem Camp its well worth it. We have the whole beautifully desolate place to ourselves, and we make a promise to get up the same time tomorrow. This proves not to be difficult as I manage to have yet another night of hot broken sleep and cold showers.  The next morning we eagerly head in darkness to Sossusvlei, a large ephemeral pan set amongst towering Sand Dunes. Usually an emerald coloured lake is present but the rains have not come to Namibia this year. The lake is instead a dried baked bed of mud crunching under our shoes. We climb the aptly named “Big Mama” dune which takes a big effort… but once walking across the ridge line of the dune we sit and catch our breath, soaking up the full panoramic view of this magnificent natural wonder. Dunes ripple as far as the eye can see with soft warm hues. The sun still creeping up, this is an amazing experience. To be so isolated from the rest of the world with not a sound to hear at all, we sit together and watch the sun rise, marvelling at the beauty before us.

Sossusvlei

Sossusvleik

 

Climbing Big Mamma

Climbing Big Mamma

To be continued…

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