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“This land has taken care of us like a mother. It has fed our goats and cattle. It is a land that has just enough.” Mengipo Tyambiru Tjivinba
This land that has nurtured Mengipo Tjivinba and other members of her Himba clan for countless generations is the mountains and plains of north-western Namibia, where there is just enough to survive and more than enough to allow your spirits to soar and your mind to wonder.
Grey rocks, red sand dunes, and ephemeral flushes of green grass that fade to yellow in the sun are outward expressions of a land that is wildly beautiful but is also a land that holds its secrets. Some clues to its past jut out of the rocks, like long razors poised to scrape the sky, while others flow westward on the currents of the Kunene River.
Nestled under huge acacia trees on the banks of the Kunene River is Serra Cafema, a joint venture lodge between Wilderness Safaris and the Marienfluss Conservancy. Currently undergoing a revamp, Serra Cafema has existed for a mere nanosecond of time against the ancient landscape that surrounds it.
Seemingly untouched by man, this land has been crafted by natural forces for hundreds of millions of years.
The rocks on the eastern side of Serra Cafema represent the oldest rocks in Namibia and some of the oldest on Planet Earth. They are more than 2 400 million years old and belong to a geologic period known as the Vaalian. As part of the Epupa Complex, this formation occurs here and nowhere else in Namibia.
In sharp geological contrast, immediately west of these formations the geology changes, revealing the unconsolidated sediments and calcrete that were formed during the Quaternary period only 2 million years ago. The juxtaposition of these dramatically different formations alongside one another, each harsh and dramatically beautiful in its own way, is the main reason for the spectacular scenery we see today.
Incising the mountains and calcrete flats, and separating Namibia from Angola, is the long, languid Kunene River, one of only two perennial rivers in Namibia.
The origin of the current Kunene River is in the tropical highlands of Angola with a catchment area of 106 560 km2. The river then flows for a distance of 1 050 km before it eventually runs into the Atlantic. At the coast, in an area of almost zero rainfall, the waters of the Kunene provide a rich environment where sea turtles nest and brown hyaenas prowl the beaches.
Along the banks of the Kunene, mainly within the western fluvial gravel deposits, are primitive artifacts referred to as the Levallois-Mousterian points. These are the first and earliest implements in this region of Africa and at the age of at least 200 000 years old, they correspond with the period of the first dispersal of humans from Africa.
A reptile that also appears to be an ancient relic but still haunts the waters of the Kunene River is the Nile crocodile. Some 55 million years ago, the crocodile separated from other crocodilians, such as alligators, during the Eocene epoch. While many crocodile species are at risk of extinction, the current estimate for the population of crocodile found in the lower Kunene is around 806.
Along with the crocodiles found in the distant Okavango River these Nile crocodiles belong to a single evolutionarily significant unit. They are also of near identical genetic composition to crocodiles in Gabon and Uganda, which suggests a common ancestry from the Egypt area, with the east-west split in populations currently in Africa occurring probably just south of the Great Rift Valley.
Below the surface of the water and sand, mysteries are revealed and others remain, waiting for wind, waters and inquisitive minds to ask new questions of this ancient land. Serra Cafema has become a place of discovery, providing a window where we can reflect into our distant past and ponder where the next 100 million years will take us.
Written by Ginger Mauney