Travel Report from Namibia (19 April 2004)

Greetings from Namibia!

Having departed Botswana at the Caprivi Strip border post, we continued along the Caprivi Strip toward Etosha Park, staying in Rundu and Tsumeb en route. Rundu is right on the Okavango River which has flooded due to the vast amount of rain this area has also been having. Tsumeb is a quiet little ex-mining town (as virtually all towns in Namibia are) with one internet café which closed at 17:00 every night, shops which close at 16:00 and no cinema. Interesting to see in this area are the Herero people, famous for their stand against the German colonial invasion and also for their dress. To this day, the women wear the turn of the 19th century dress forced upon them by the prudish German missionaries. So, despite the intense heat, Herero women wear long Victorian dresses, complete with long sleeved bodices and corsets, bonnets, and layer upon layer of stiff petticoats underneath their voluminous skirts.

The first camp we stayed at in Etosha Park was ………… Although we did not see much game, we were joined by Jackal at our camp fire who were looking for scraps from our evening meal. Christian came down with a fever at this point, which left almost as quickly as it had arrived. The following day we drove from ….. Camp to Halali Camp, seeing Hyena, Gemsbok and many other plains animals (Zebra, Springbok, the rare Black Faced Impala, Wildebeest etc) en route, which took us along the edge of the Etosha Pan. Many of the roads to the pan were off limits owing to the rainfall which has turned the pan into a quick sand death trap for vehicles. Once at Halali, Christian again came down with a fever, which continued to climb despite administration of panadol to bring it down. Again after around 3 hours, the fever was gone. We left Halali the following day for Okokaujo Camp, this time seeing lion en route, and we drove on to the Etosha Pan for our midmorning tea break. Once at Okokaujo, Christian’s fever struck again, climbed to over 40 degrees and did not relent. We packed in our camp and drove to the nearest hospital in Outjo (120km away) suspecting malaria.

Once at the hospital, and after a blood test, Christian’s Malaria was verified. With the administration of Fansidar medication, the doctor predicted that his condition would improve within 24 hours. However, Southern Africa is out of Fansidar (this being the start of the peak malarial season here), so Christian was prescribed Quinine tablets, which although effective, require an extended recovery time. We booked into an overly priced guest camp in Outjo and started his treatment, which for the first two days proved effective. But on day number three, his condition deteriorated, the fever came back with a vengeance, as did the sweats, chills and head pain, and so Christian was hospitalised and administered a quinine drip. The doctor warned Christian in advance that he would ”feel like a dog”, the quinine resulting in temporary deafness, double vision and extreme nausea, all of which was accurate. Christian became impossible over the next few days, with staff and myself having to shout at him to make ourselves understood, and trying to coax him to eat. But in the end, it did the trick, and he was released, still weak, but no fever, and without parasites. We returned to Okokaujo Camp in Etosha for a few days, and were lucky enough to witness a lion kill, as well as a jackal that had got hold of a baby zebra, and then called it a day with Etosha Park. Although pleasant, it is overpriced for what is has on offer in terms of facilities.

From Etosha we headed for the Rock Finger, which is a rocky projection that brings to mind the landscape of the Grand Canyon in the USA. We climbed up to the finger, and then sat inside the caves there to cool down and enjoy the view. From Rock Finger we drove on to Abu Huab and stayed in a community campsite on the edge of a dry riverbed. It is unusual to find community run projects in Namibia, this being a country dominated by white minority landowners. In fact, it is very hard to have any contact with local Namibians at all, other than the white community who complain about the hardships of too little land (?), problems with (black) employees, dissatisfaction with the new (black) government and fears of (black) land reclamation. When one sees the quantity of land owned by the white Namibian community land reclamation appears long overdue, irrespective of the arguments for and against, and how the government should go about it. The community campsite in Abu Huab was great, with more character than any other campsite we stayed at in Namibia! It consisted of a central bar and pool table, all constructed with wood picked up in the area, and no electricity – only gas lamps. Scattered around this structure were open A-Framed thatched platforms on stilts were one could lie their tent in and sleep, watching the stars outside. The stars in this area are fabulous!

From Abu Huab we left for the Skeleton Coast Park, which we drove through en route to Swakopmund. The Skeleton Coast is a deserted stretch of coast, so named after all the ship wrecks or “ship skeletons” that one can see along the coast, depending on the tide at the time of visiting. We located one wreck which is now on land, as a result of the movement of the sea. Many others have completely disintegrated owing to age, wear and tear, and more still are submerged. The coast is notorious for its dangerous waters (hence the wrecks) and for the cold Benguela current which influences the fog and mist which always lie along this stretch coast. Landscape wise, the skeleton coast is desert and dunes. So for any sailor who did managed to survive a shipwreck, his problems had really only just begun once ashore. Very little life exists in this barren landscape, although lion, elephant, rhino, hyena, jackal, gemsbok, zebra and springbok do roam the coast, yet are seldom seen. These animals have all adapted to the harsh desert environment, and the lion, hyena and jackal prey on beached whales, and bird colonies. The other form of life famous in this area is the Welwitschia Plant. This is a prehistoric plant that survives in the desert, although there is much debate as to how exactly it survives. The plant consists of two leaves only, although there appear to be many more leaves as the two main leaves tear into smaller and smaller leaves with any wind. The larger of these plants (like the ones in our photo’s) are over 500 years old. They are very slow growing and a protected species in Nambia. From the Skeleton Coast Park and went to the Seal Colony and observed the moving mass of noisy seals, playing, swimming, fighting and sleeping in the sun.

We spent a few days in Swakopmund, which is also on the coast. It is a small town, well known for its colonial German architecture. German is widely spoken, and food is mainly German – Eisbein, Spaetzle, Sauerkraut etc, so for those that like that kind of thing, this place is for you. The majority of Namibia’s tourism comprises German package tourists fascinated by the oddity of fachwerkhause (typical German homes) in the desert. The rest of the tourism comprises individual and overland trucks which are lively groups, who always gave us good tips of where to go and what to see. We left Swakopmund for Naukluft park were we did the 17km Waterkloof Hike. This entailed walking past various very pretty and refreshing crystal clear pools in an otherwise dry riverbed, before climbing to the top of the surrounding kloofs for a panorama of the Naukluft Park. We met many baboons en route, and took shelter from the heat in the middle of the day under the only small tree we could find.

From Naukluft, we headed for Sossusvlei to see the famous red sand dunes. This entailed another long hot drive and yet more extortionate park fees. The dunes in Sossusvlei are superb and the Dead Vlei is a particularly haunting image. We had the bad luck of arriving with a sandstorm which had to subside before we could walk to the Dead Vlei. Once the dust had subsided the rain began – almost unheard off in this area of the world. We met a large camera team down there doing shoots for various international films and the new De Beers diamond advertisement which stars the latest Bollywood sensation belly dancing in a red silk creation in the middle of the vlei, adorned in the De Beers Diamond Cluster. (Look out for us hiding in the sand dunes if you see this advertisement!).

From Sossusvlei we headed for the little town of Luderitz – more fine examples of German architecture! Luderitz is a fishing and mining town, has a distinct Wild West feel about it, and is far more fun than Swakopmund. The seafood here is superb! We used Luderitz as a base from which to explore Kolmanskop, a deserted diamond-mining town which the desert has reclaimed. In its heyday, prospectors were able to pick their diamonds up from the floor of the desert by moonlight. All the original miners homes, hospital, schools, skittle alley and offices are still standing, the walls and doors still prettily coloured with peeling paint, and every room flooded with sand dunes which have crept in through windows, roofs and doors. Diamond mining still goes on not far from Kolmanskop, so the entire area is a restricted area (Sperrgebiet) and falls under the ownership of De Beers.

From Luderitz we headed toward to the South African border, but had to spend an impromptu night at Seeheim: A village made up of one hotel and petrol station. Whilst we were filling up with petrol in Seeheim, the owner pointed out a storm on the horizon and strongly advised us to stay put owing to the danger of flash floods in the area. We sat in the bar of the hotel and watched as the road in front of us became a raging river within minutes. The owner of the hotel and his wife sat on the hotel terrace to watch the rain explaining that “in other countries they go to the theatre, in Namibia, we watch the rain”. It is the first time in two years that this area has received any rain.

From Seeheim we left for the Fish River Canyon. The majority of the roads we had wanted to use were closed off due to the flash floods. We had to cross the Nama Dam which was 120% full and had had to be opened. All the local farmers and employees alike, were at the damn watching the water being released, it being a phenomenal event to see so much water at once. Further long the road, we passed many overland trucks which were in various stages of being stuck in the mud. Most of the local farmers had come to the roads with their vehicles in order to assist with towing passing vehicles out of the mud. We didn’t get stuck, but driving was slow, and we never really seemed to reach Fish River Canyon. When we did, it was disappointing. A large grey canyon, many others in the world far more spectacular. Again another overpriced park entrance fee. The most interesting thing to see was a baby desert viper crawling along the rocks in front of us. From Fish River we departed for South Africa, from where we will be sending our next report.

All in all we enjoyed Namibia, although its sights are few, and not as spectacular as one is led to believe. To get to any destination of interest involves hours of driving through boring countryside and endless array of entry fees, park fees, overnight fees, campsite fees etc. Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana have a far more distinctive and enjoyable culture, the sights to see are impressive and easily accessible, and for the similar prices offer real luxury and an unforgettable experience. But maybe we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time…

We hope that you are all well and have had a enjoyable break over Easter! Julianne and Christian.

As always there are more pictures on our website: