Namibia welcomed us – stark, yet captivating.
At first glance, the moonscape vistas and ragged outcrops, seemingly devoid of any measureable life, seem able to sustain only poisonous plants in the searing heat and rain deprivation. But we look again, with the aid of Jimmy, our Explorations Guide, as he tells us to watch, look and observe through the brutal madness and be captivated... We were.
I could write reams on the excellent standard of service in the camps with attention to detail, the fabulous delicious bush cuisine, the wonderful friendly charm of the camp staff, the comfort of the vehicle that was our home for ten days, the incredible ever-changing views, the superb game sightings … but rather let me tell you of the events that touched and changed my heart and mind.
Jimmy, our guide, first met us at Olive Grove, our accommodation pending the Diverse Namibia Exploration trip. First apparent was his peaceful disposition, ever-patient with our many questions, explaining our adventure, as he must have done many times prior, with an infectious enthusiasm of a first-timer, excitingly setting the scene for our adventure that was to unfold.
Two hours and 150 km into our adventure, the gearbox on our vehicle failed. Jimmy immediately contacted his backup team in the Windhoek office but being a Saturday the wheels turned slowly. Patiently we waited in the baking sun on the side of the deserted gravel road, wandering around the vehicle, looking for shade and objects of interest to keep us occupied, neither of which was found. Occasionally another vehicle was spotted in the distance, as it passed us it slowed and a friendly wave was bestowed upon us. For many this could be perceived as a bad omen at the start of a trip. These three hours turned into an ice breaker for complete strangers to become acquainted with each other; unbeknown to us the foundations of an everlasting bond were formed on the side of the C24 road.
To see with one’s own eyes the magnificent shapes, heights and colours of the Sossusvlei dunes, all too familiar from classic photographs – what a privilege. We scaled the ridge of the dune that overlooks the mystic Dead Vlei, a flat, ancient pan, the dead trees giving testament to long past, more prosperous times. Quite eerie to walk in the huge basin, with only the wind whispering in one’s ears, almost hearing the rustling of the leaves, in the once-proud trees. Veniebamus, videbamus, vincemus (we came, we saw, we conquered) – climbing a dune in Sossusvlei – a definite bucket list item.
Driving back to Kulala Adventurer Camp on the second day, after an amazing afternoon exploring the remarkable dry riverbed of the sculpted sandstone Sesriem Canyon, Jimmy stopped the vehicle at a crossroads to the west of the airfield, and asked us to get out and find our own spot and be silent until he clapped his hands. We sat or lay down on the ground with absolute contentment watching the light and colour fade and stars emerging in the departing-day sky, the new moon hung saucer like above the dark mountains in the vast sky. The silence was broken by an ambiguous excitable call, at first one lone caller then others joined in the affray, heads turned to pinpoint the direction of the captivating sound. Later, as Jimmy served us snacks and drinks, he supplied the explanation to the mystery: the rarely seen barking gecko that certainly comes to life vocally at night.
From the harbour in Walvis Bay, we took a catamaran trip to Pelican Point, an opportunity to learn from the boat guide about the oyster beds farming project, meet seals and great white pelicans up close; as they come aboard for fish, the array of colours on a pelican’s bill is astonishing. I felt privileged to share space and time with two dolphin pods, going out to sea in search of food, swimming alongside our vessel for a short while, it was a marvellous moment for me. With such grace and ease they leap through the water with perfection. Returning to dry land an array of alimentation de la mer, (food of the sea) was served in the saloon of the craft, a spread of fresh and baked oysters and delicious sea food snack platters, accompanied by sparkling wine.
After leaving the flat sandy coast, we drove inland through the dry Ugab riverbed toward the Ugab River Rhino Camp, scallop-striped granite mountains surrounded us, with little sign of vegetation until we reached the camp, where huge acacia trees shaded us as we ate our appetising picnic lunch. The camp supports an informative education centre, highlighting the achievements and setbacks in the history of the Save the Rhino Trust, illustrating the assistance of ex-poachers and the local community during the development. The dedication that Namibia and its people have for protecting and growing their rhino population is humbling.
Once in Damaraland, the scenery changed again. Between the flat-topped mountains, the Huab River, a green ribbon of life, gives hope for survival within the barren rock. Beautiful accent acacias and mopane trees stand tall and majestic in the dry riverbed, decorated by trees and branches telling tales of past flash floods, a striking reminder of life and mortality. Numerous plants and animals species have adapted for survival, trees that are pale in colour and small-leafed to conserve water, like the gracious shepherd’s tree, a lone white angel. The desert-adapted elephant that can go days without water, the grass-eaters that eat leaves. Pockets of moisture in the rocks give life to seeds, typically the oak-leaved commiphora, a short stubby, untidy tree devoid of leaves, peering out of the sandstone. The poisonous Euphorbia damarana, extremely toxic to most but allows the oryx and black rhino to eat off and even make a comfortable bed for the rhino. There is no shortage of life here. Not surprising that in days gone by, Strandlopers (ancient tribe) settled in the Twyfelfontein (which means “doubtful spring”) or Uri-Ais (“jumping fountain” in Damara) area and left their paintings on the huge boulders strewn around their magnificent valley to prove it.
Driving towards Etosha, we passed through Khorixas and Outjo, suppliers of goods to the tourism industry in the north. Tidy welcoming towns greeted us, patches of lush grass, palms and bright bougainvillea do not tell the tale of the national water shortage or erratic rainfall, but of the dignity of a nation that makes the most of the little they have and are proud to prove it to passing visitors.
In Etosha, vast open flat white pans, the shimmering heat distorting the open skyline, we watched forms emerging on the horizon, developing into creatures of magnitude, as ghost-like elephants soundlessly ambling with determination, toward a waterhole for refreshment and bathing. We watched springbok, huddled out of the midday sun, making the most of the shade an acacia tree affords.
Under our last Namibian starry sky, after a scrumptious dinner, we were privileged to witness a truly magnificent sight that celebrated our trip. A rhino and her young calf appeared out of the evening darkness to drink from the waterhole in front of Andersson’s Camp; unaware or untroubled by the presence of spectators, they carried on their natural behaviour. This gives me hope of a prosperous coexistence between humans and beast. Long may this last, with the serenity of Namibia, enabling many more people to experience the pleasure I had of this humble land.
Wilderness Air – Johannesburg
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