Namibia: A Country of Diversity

May 14, 2008 - Maun, Botswana

Southern Namibia

When Johanna and I first started planning our African adventure, we knew little about the country of Namibia. But since that time, many people who had travelled to Namibia came out of the woodwork and raved about this diverse nation. We were excited to be heading there, and in the end, were not disappointed.

From Cape Town, we sped north in our little blue VW Chico, and were somewhat surprised to make it across the border in a single day. After crossing the border, we raced the sunset to set up our tent at a gorgeous little camp site - something that we became extremely proficient at in our time in Namibia. We spent the next couple of days simply relaxing, fishing and swimming in and next to the Orange River.

From there, we continued north through dry, mountainous terrain over dusty roads with hardly any other people or cars in sight. Namibia is about the size of France with a measly population of 2 million people, so as we discovered, there is a lot of empty space in this country. Talking about empty space, we soon reached the second biggest canyon in the world, the Fish River Canyon. Smaller only to the Grand Canyon, this canyon measured 160km by 27km, and is up to 550m in depth. The canyon was one impressive big hole, and the view from the main lookout was impressive

That night, back at the Canyon roadhouse, one of the local staff there gave us a quick lesson in Nama, one of the many local languages in Namibia. Amongst the phrases, the lady tried to teach us to use some of the clicking sounds endemic in their language. Having only heard some of these in the movie "The Gods Must be Crazy", we needed some practice. But I have to admit, Johanna and I must have looked pretty silly sitting there trying to click at each other.

Sossusvlei

Along the way, the dustry roads and dry flat plains were suddenly replaced by stunning red, rocky mountains. With the strong sounds of "The Power of One" being played in the background, it was like we were entering the Africa of our dreams. We then continued towards Namibia's most famous tourist attraction - the sand dunes of the Sossusvlei.

We made an early start to catch the sunrise over the sand dunes, and arrived at the gate to Sossusvlei by 6am. When it opened, the race was on to Dune 45, a sand dune 45km away from the gate. On arriving at its base, we quickly grabbed our bags and started the long walk to the top of this red sandy monolith. It was a tough slog in the heavy sand as we followed the crest to the top, but was well worth it. The view from the top was nothing short of spectacular - vast plains surrounded by gorgeous red dunes which seemed to glisten in the morning light. Johanna and I set down, prepared our breakfast, and savoured the view as we savoured our breakfast. Rather than follow the crest back down, I could not resist running down the side of the dune. I ran, slid and jumped down the sandy 45 degree slope.

Back on flat land, we continued to the 2WD parking spot, and made the sandy 5km walk in the rising heat to the Sossusvlei dune itself. While the metallic green scarabs made it look easy as they scurried up and down the slopes, it was another tough slog to the top. From the top, we looked out over the plains and crackly dry riverbed below, wondering how Namibia's number one tourist attraction could still be so peaceful.

We soon started to walk back through the sand towards the 2WD parking spot. But as the midday sun shone down, and with only a mouthful of water left, it was not much fun. But luckily enough, we managed to scam a lift with a safari truck back to our car. Despite a mild case of dehydration, Johanna and I were happy that we had tackled the desert of the Sossusvlei ourselves.

Central Namibia

On the map of Namibia, you can see spots marked as towns. But when you get there, you find it is nothing more than a roadhouse. This is what we found at Solitaire. But luckily enough, nearby we found an oasis in the desert known as the Solitaire Guest Farm. While it was a beautiful spot in itself, the most amusing thing about this place was the animals. The local pets consisted of a springbok that took a liking to licking Johanna, its side-kick goat, a jack russel that liked to chase the springbok, and two cute meerkats that relaxed with us by the pool. We chilled out with the animals there before heading for the coast.

We approached the town known as Swakopmund - the adventure capital of Namibia. Swakopmund was an old German colony town, and the traditional German buildings set amongst the surrounding sand dunes was a little strange, but charming. On our arrival, we met two poms named Craig and Steve who were also driving another Chico. We instantly got into a conversation on how our Chico's handled (or didn't) the local dirt roads, then settled into the backpackers for a BBQ and beers.

The following day, I went sandboarding with Craig and Steve at the local dunes. After a trudge to the top and a quick lesson, we were off. I started slow, and gained momentum before stopping the best way I know how - falling off. After a few runs, we also had a couple of runs lying down on the board. Head-first, and with little control down the dune, we slid rather quickly. On my second turn, I even took off a couple of times, clocking speeds of 73kph.

The next day, Craig, Steve and I went out for a quad biking adventure on some other dunes. We set off on red quad bikes over gorgeous dunes that overlooked the blue sea. It was a real thrill as these powerful machines took us up and down these steep, sandy slopes and climbed the side of huge banks. It was like being on a rollercoaster that you had a little control over. The last five minutes were spent riding up and down a huge half-pipe that had been naturally formed in the dunes. It was a great way to top off a thrilling ride.

From Swakopmund, we continued to the capital, Windhoek, and spent a couple of days here taking it easy. Then we drove north towards Etosha - Namibia's major national park.

Mike

Etosha National Park

Etosha turned out to be a spectacular national park. In comparison to its more famous neighbours like Kruger and Okavango it is quite small and the 3 days we had dedicated to it turned out to be quite the right amount of time to go from the Southern to the Eastern gate. As with gamedrives everywhere the mornings were the ultimate time to see what we had come for. We count ourselves extremely lucky to have spotted to have spotted lions on three consecutive morning drives. On day one we drove to a waterhole where Mike had been given the tip that lion sightings were common and just as he had been told three male lions were wandering across the plain to a small shaded bush area about 100 metres away from our car. We only saw them in a distance but it was still a brilliant way to start the day. We had packed out breakfast and enjoyed it at the waterhole watching zebras and wilderbeests play around only a few hundred metres away from these kings of the savannah.

As the sun rose over the sky it started to get unbearably hot and we left the lions lazying in the shade. This is what we both thought meant the end of lion sightings for the day, but we had only drivena  short while until we stopped next to a heavily pregnant lioness lying in the shade of a large tree not far from the road. After we had watched her fpr a short while she stood up, stretched and walked across the road into the bush. This is where we thought we had seen the last of her. FOrtunately we were both wrong and she walked back onto the road and after having followed here for a few hundred metres she slumped down again under a tree so close to the car thatwe could hear her breath and feel the smell of her breath. We stayed there for a good hour with her, all alone with no other cars in sight.  It was a beautiful experience and she was still lying in the grass panting with perhaps another month until her little lion babies were to come out and meet the world.

We then started to make our way to the Halali rest camp  and as we slowly rolled past jackals, ostriches, zebras, wilderbeests, springboks, giraffes and ground squirrels we were truly thrilled over the luck we had had. We didn't get to the camp until quite late in the afternoon where we met up with Steve and Craig, piutched tents, showerted off all the dust, cooked some pasta and brought dinner and drinks to the camp's waterhole where we sat all night whispering and waiting for the wildlife to join us for a drink. We were just starting to give up hope when we could hear something in the bushes and a large white rhino appeared. He was stumbling a bit on the gravel and boulders around the water, but made his way down and styed for a few minutes greedily giulping down the cold water. Within the next half hour another two rhinos, a mother and her juvenile, and a lone hyena also came passed for a drink and we all sat with jaws dropped watching the spectacle.

We went to bed shortly after thoroughly exhauastred and it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say I was as exhauset when we had to get up again at 5am for another day of driving.  Safariing is tough business! The second day was significantly slower than the first, although we did see a couple of young male lions in the distance at another waterhole, but after that we drove around again without seeing much at all. Again, I just think that makes us realise how lucky we are when we do see some of the more elusive creatures.

The next morning, yes, you guessed right started at 5 am with packing up the tent and then off on our last drive in Etosha. Again, a few male lions majestically walking across the road which made for some spectacular photos and a very successful morning before we returned to the camp for petrol and to farewell our friends Steve and Craig.

Recharging the Batteries in Tsumeb and Treesleeper Camp

Following days of safariing with early starts on cold mornings we were quite excited about having a bed to sleep in at the backpackers we found i Tsumeb, a lovely little tranquil town in Nortern Namibia. We decided to stay for a couple of  days doing our washing, having a few nice meals out and just cathing up on some much-needed sleep. It was also in Tsumeb we were told about a nice little surprise off the well-beaten backpacker track just outside the small village of Tsintsabis just an hour North. At the gorgeous Treesleepers campsite, entirely run by the local San (Bushman) community, every camp site has its own wooden deck built high up in the canopy of the surrounding forest where you can either pitch a tent or sleep under the stars safe from the wildlife around you. We chose the middle ground option and only pitchd the mosquito net part of our tent  so that we could see the impressive night sky above us, an amazing sight to fall asleep to. Somehow the sky just seems a lot bigger in this part of the world.

Before hitting the sack though Mike and I went on a sunset bush walk, guided by one of the locals, George. I have forgotten his real African name but I remember that it meant "What can I say?", which were apparenty the words his father uttered when he first saw baby George and did not believe George was his. Not the nicest way to earn your name...
Anyway, George was half San and half Owambo meaning that  he hadn't grown up according to either tribe's traditional ways. In fact, he was most religious about hiphop, football and his girlfriend, but the knowledge he possessed about the flora and fauna wa so impressive.  He showed us tracking methods, how to set up traps for birds and other animals as well as poisonous, edible and medicinal plants. He even showed us how to make fire according to the traditional San method by grinding the tip of one stick into a hole of another stick. This is the guy you don't want to have to compete against if you're ever on Survivor/Expedition Robinson...
He was a great guy, and as usual when you go on one of these tours it is just as interesting and memorable to listen to the guide's own story about his life as it is hearing about the topic he was actually guiding us on. The night on the tree deck was star studded, and the moon was still up when we the next morning headed for our next destination Ngepi Camp.

Ngepi Camp
Ngepi is one of those places that everyone everywhere in Namibia raves about. A remote camp / backpackers on the riverside of the great Okavango River where you wake up to hippos grunting in the reeds below  and birds and frogs going about their usual noisy business. The river is teeming with life and is the source of all that is living around it.  The water is pumped straight out of the river and thirsty tourists, locals, cattle and wildlife are all entirely dependent on it. There is simply nothing else around there and it is so beautiful.
This blissful place became out little home away from home for a few days. We spent our days lazying by the riverside reading, doing Sudoku meeting other people travelling through and going on a  few short game drives to the nearby Mohembo Game Reserve where we saw a lion hunt for the first time.
Ngepi was also the place where I ended up celebrating my 25th birthday. We woke up in the treehouse which Mike booked for the big day overlooking the river as the sun rose and saw one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. After a solid brekafast at the restaurant  we spent the afternoon in the luxurious treeshouse just enjoying the comforts of the place. In the afternoon Leigh and Shawn, the lovely managers at Ngepi, took us on a sunset cruise on the river and I continued being spoiled as Mike borrowed their kitchen and cooked up a storm. The pre-made mushroom sauce however were one of the most horrid liquids any of us had ever tasted - but as Mike said it was prepared with love so it didn't matter. It made for a funny joke.

We spent the rest of the night in the bar with Leigh and Shawn, who were so sweet and had made me a cake with candled and m&ms, their team and Darren, a UK overland truck driver who were waiting for his tourists to arrive from Botswana. It was a brilliant night, I could really not have asked for a better way to turn 25!

The days and nights at Ngepi were well-timed and much-needed I think and we were quite sad to be leaving. Ngepi was also the end of our time in Namibia and I have to say it felt right to end it there being quite a special place. The sights and places we have visited in Namibia; the sunrise over Sossusvlei, the beautiful lioness in Etosha and the vastness and the emptiness driving through the Namib desert were all nature experiences I think will be hard to match. Those experiences will put Namibia up there among extraordinary places to visit.

Johanna

The thing we continue to discover and enjoy about Namibia, as well as Africa, is its diversity. It is not all about, as some would expect, just going on Safari to spot lions and elephants. But it is about all the people, places and experiences that make this continent so incredible.  We continue to be amazed, enthralled and entertained by what Africa has to offer.

Mike again...

As usual, photos are posted...


Pictures

A lonely drive
Sun rising over beautiful Sossusvlei
Long walk ahead
The tough slog to the top of Dune 45
 
 

9 Comments

May 14, 2008
With all the wildlife, Steph would love it there! We just did a camel trek out into the dunes round Erg Chebbi in Morocco - some of your photos are looking strangely familiar!

Keep on trekking - sounds like you're having a great time!

Kyle
Carlotta Daldoss:
May 15, 2008
Dear guys... you have such good pictures and descriptions that is hard to understand that and I'm sure this trip would be the best in your memories!!
Enviing you, but happy for you... a big hug, Carlotta
rouky debelak:
May 15, 2008
hi guys dont know if first message went. loved your report. you must be very very tired after all this .you both look so good in the pictures. love the meerkats and headlights. are you not too close to the lions????????? says the jewish mama......... love you both a lot. take care. mum
the young one:
May 15, 2008
hey, great pictures! going to spend my lunch break reading the journal! let's talk soon!
Denise:
May 15, 2008
hey guys - don't know where you find the time to write such a lengthy report!! Seriously, I hope you are keeping them all - they would make a nice travel book.

Good news - Mark and I got engaged and we're getting married next Aug - let us know if you pop into London on your travels - sounds like you're having an absolute blast - keep safe and happy!
Ness:
May 17, 2008
Wow, another amazing entry! Love reading about your travels and seeing your fantastic photos.

Your birthday sounded brilliant Jo, we missed you over here, but it looked like Mike spoilt looked well (of course!)

Looks breath taking! Keep on having a ball.

xxx
Emma:
May 18, 2008
Hello Hello!

So good to see you are enjoying your african adventure!
Im sure you were so glad to whiz along the garden route and cross the border in to real 'africa!'.

It was such a pleasure to meet you both in Knysna.

I very much enjoyed the coast from Port St Johns up - the rest was very samey!
I got to bulungula - the eco lodge that guy at Buffalo Bay told us about - it was fab! I went for 2 days and stayed a week!

You two had quite an influence on my trip and consequently your recommendations turned out to be my highlights!
3 day horse trek from khotso was amazing!!!
Im so glad that i got to do it! It was snowing in Lesotho when we got there which was amazing! Snow in africa!!
Tofo, Mozambique.
What a place hey! I spent my last week there having a holiday at the end of my travels!
PJ and I travelled together right up to mozambique which was very cool.
Anyway Im back in the Uk (arrived a week ago) and its time to get a job, blah!
I'll keep reading your blog and as you near Tanzania I'll contact 'my people(!!)' for you!
Stay safe!
Em X
Sam Wee:
May 27, 2008
Hey guys,

Finally managed to get a chance to have a good read through your blog and to see you photos. I'm in the BA lounge at Heathrow and have several hours spare before my flight to Hongkong (it's a long story).

Looks like you guys are having a great time. V. jealous I wasn't able to make it over to share some of those wonderful experiences with you - but already planning a mid-summer's trip to Sweden next year.

Take care and safe travels!

Sam
James:
August 4, 2008
Hi, Mike & Johanna,

Just checked out the blog ... especially the photos from Namibia. My brother spent 2 years in Rundu ... he’s a blacksmith & was teaching the local bushmen how to make farming implements out of any old stuff they could scavenge. The older 2 kids & I visited him there back in 1999 ... your pictures brought back a lot of memories (Sossuvlei, Solitaire, Swakopmund, Etosha, Rundu, quad-biking). You were lucky to see lions & rhino. We only saw lions at a distance & never saw rhino. Hundreds (no exaggeration) of elephants, though, especially in Kaudom National Park ... a terrifyingly isolated self-drive safari park right up in the north east corner.

You’re looking well. I reckon there’s a book in your blog.

All the best.

jb
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