Lingering in Lüderitz

For some reason, our trusty Hilux is labouring going up the steep curved driveway at the hotel and smoking badly. Not good…. Not only do we seem to have lost the handbrake (which I discovered when I parked outside the hotel just now) but something is badly wrong here. Clutch we suspect. We will have to call Bushlore first thing in the morning. We are 460kms from Swakopmund and 830kms from Windhoek and there is only one car repair close by.

Our priority today is to get our 4×4 seen to by a mechanic following our smoky arrival last night. There is no Toyota specialist in Lüderitz, but we are told to go to Udo’s Car Service so off we walk over. Udo is busy but is happy to have a look at our 4×4 sometime today if we bring it over. I am not sure if I will be able to drive over or if he will have to collect it. I can give it a go. Reversing out and around the parked car in the tight sloped parking area is nerve wracking – I hear some horrid metal noises and I am worried the clutch will completely fail as I try to back up from a brand new Audi but luckily make it to Udo’s. Not hearing from him for 6 hours, we decide to walk back to Udo’s and see how things are going. Here is what we find:

Udo staff removing our gear box to get to the clutch

Udo staff removing our gear box to get to the clutch

Udo confirms it is the clutch, it is not completely dead but he has already spoken to Bushlore who have agreed to send new parts overnight from Windhoek. What brilliant service on the part of both Udo and Bushlore.

So our overnight stay in Lüderitz turns into a 3 night stop over. We make the most of our time to walk around Lüderitz, which doesn’t take long as it is so small, and we quickly find our new regular favourite spots: we find a great quaint and quirky tea house with a gorgeous back garden full of flowers, herbs and one giant tortoise and a good restaurant. Lüderitz has a population of around 12,500 inhabitants and has a somewhat eery feel, built on rocks, sandwiched between the wild South Atlantic Coast and the barren Namib Desert, with the winds whipping up every afternoon, suspended in time with some pristine German art nouveau architecture and signs of its mining past. Although the Lüderitz economy is linked to the fishing and crayfish industry these days, the port was quiet while we were there as the fishing season was closed at this time of the year but we did see a cruise ship which visits once a month. We had not planned on spending that long here but we are glad we did.

Kirchen Str, Lüderitz

Kirchen Str, Lüderitz

Mais, Katia and Luciano asked me to take a photo of them - Lüderitz

Mais, Katia and Luciano asked me to take a photo of them – Lüderitz

Cheeky Katia - Lüderitz

Cheeky Katia – Lüderitz

Sweet Luciano - Lüderitz

Sweet Luciano – Lüderitz

Trendy Mais - Lüderitz

Trendy Mais – Lüderitz

Notice on Felsenkirche door, Lüderitz

Notice on Felsenkirche door, Lüderitz

Lüderitz Port

Lüderitz Port

Felsenkirche, Lüderitz

Felsenkirche, Lüderitz

Hammer and Pick found on many houses in Lüderitz

Hammer and Pick found on many houses in Lüderitz

Udo's car service in Lüderitz

Udo’s car service in Lüderitz

Slow wifi is only available in the hotel lobby so we make the most of our time there to upload photos and catch up on blog entries while chatting with other travellers and Graham whom we ended up having dinner with twice.

We return to Udo’s at 4pm: our 4×4 is ready so we can leave Lüderitz tomorrow.

Our next stop, 15kms out of town, is Kolmanskop: a diamond mining town abandoned 100 years ago, on the edge of Sperrgebiet National Park, or “Forbidden Area”. The best preserved building, which was the entertainment hall, now houses a fantastic collection of photos, historical information and descriptions of some ingenious and risky smuggling methods such as homing pigeons, crossbows, radios, on and in their body or even involving security couriers. It is strange to see how a vibrant community, where residents were paid in diamonds, ended up this a ghost town swallowed up by the sand and I cannot help but wonder how many of those residents lead a happy life after making the exorbitant amount of money they made while here…

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Kolmanskop, Namibia

Fish River here we come….

– Anne

Swakopmund and Sossusvlei

Pressure’s back on me. Anne has delivered another superlative blog entry so I must respond in kind. Anyway enough of that and onto the meat of this blog entry which will cover our departure from the St Nowhere Spa through to Lüderitz with the Sossusvlei dunes sandwiched in-between. Our first stop is the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. On the way we pass unmanned tables laden with pink rock salt crystals. An honesty box sits on each table, with each crystal maked with a price. Very trustworthy.

Salt crystal for sale, Cape Cross

Salt crystal for sale, Cape Cross


Pick your size of salt crystal for sale, Cape Cross

Pick your size of salt crystal for sale, Cape Cross


Danie had told us the story behind these pink rock salt crystals. It seems as you head home overseas with your souvenir from Namibia the creatures that give the pink colour in the crystals die, there goes the pink colour! Then the crystal absorbs moisture and turns to regular salt! What a great business that has been running for decades.

The Cape fur seal colony can number up to 200,000 at the height of the breeding season in November and December, which we are close to the start of, with a few thousand seals already established. The strong pungent smell reminds us of the penguin colonies we saw in 1997 when we went to Antarctica. Great for clearing a stuffy nose.

Cape Cross Cape Fur Seal Colony

Cape Cross Cape Fur Seal Colony


Am I cute or what....

Am I cute or what….


We had seen a jackal earlier and the fact that up to 25% of seal pup fatalities are attributed to the jackal accounts for their presence. As we approach Swakopmund we are driving on tar for the first time since Ruacana, which seems so long ago. No more dust to add to the layers that coat everything in the 4×4. The town has a distinctly German feel, signage, buildings, restaurants and the large number of German tourists. German appears widely spoken in the tourist industry, although it is old German, a little like French in Quebec. As one German tourist put it, “We can only go to Switzerland and Austria and speak German”. This provides a great warm holiday alternative with the tourism issues currently confronting Turkey and Egypt.
Swakopmund, Namibia

Swakopmund, Namibia


Swakopmund, Namibia

Swakopmund, Namibia


The streets are a mixture of tar and dirt, even in the centre of town. I presume cost comes into the equation and residential streets get dirt and commerical ones tar. We also notice a number of shops with an extra metal grill over the door that can only be opened from within. We are told this is to stop robberies in stores where the staff may be at the back of the store – a rather sad state of affairs. Outside Swakopmund is a shanty town where some 4,000 people who have travelled here under the illusion they would find work reside. They are too poor to return home and are trapped in limbo. I suspect some of the crime comes from this source by desperate people.

As we wine and dine in Swakopmund, I notice here as in South Africa, the much lower mark up on wine compared with retail shop prices. In Australia there is such a high markup, but I was wondering if this due to restaurant owners seeking additional profits or the cost of recovering the liquor licence fee imposed by the state governments. If the latter, then another tax by stealth. Anyone know the answer?

Swakopmund, Namibia from the restaurant on the pier.

Swakopmund, Namibia from the restaurant on the pier.

We did enjoy eating at the restaurant at the end of the pier, the ocean swells surged below us, giving a feeling of being at sea, even though we could see the land in one direction. The temperature was in the mid teens and we were rugged up for the first time since Cape Town.

We head inland via Walvis Bay, which is the main port for Namiba and was until Namibian just after independence part of South Africa. Claimed by the British in 1884, denied the Germans the only deepwater port location on the South West African coast. Just like those board games of world domination we used play from time to time.

We quickly return to dirt road and as a check of the Namibian road network will reveal, most roads are dirt and tar only connects the main centres. The road is little used and we are surprised to see many cyclists, including families some 30km / 20ml from town. Seems at weekends they take their bicycles out by bakkie/ute/pickup and ride on the good dirt with little traffic to worry about for the children.

The temperature rises quickly and we are soon back to the high 30’s centigrade. We are headed for another must see, but touristy location, Sossusvlei, but first we must stop at Solitaire, a tiny town that makes great apple strudel, so we have been told. The apple is great and the here we see a number of old car bodies used as decoration for the entrance to the shop/lodge/petrol station. As the environment is so dry they do not rust and last for years.

Solitaire, Namibia

Solitaire, Namibia


The Sossusvlei is a series of sand dunes running either side of the floodplain of the Tsauchab river which itself ends in the sand dunes some 65 km / 40 ml from the park entrance as do so many westward flowing rivers in Namibia. Located in the Naukluft National Park, they have a quaint system of two gates giving access to the Sossusvlei. The first for those staying within the park opens an hour before the external park gate allowing one to get the best positions for the sunrise over the Sossusvlei. We stayed within the park. As we expected there were probably over 200 tourists there, a huge crowd for us after the last few weeks.

Anne has always loved and admired sand dunes – created by nature, majestic, graceful yet constantly changing and moving. People feel the need to climb the tallest ones, and walk along the thin, sharp but fragile spine. At least nature will have the foot prints removed by the following morning. The dunes crescent shape can actually change direction due to the wind here.

Sossusvlei, Namibia

Sossusvlei, Namibia


To test my shovelling skills, Anne decides to bog the vehicle in deep sand at the end of the park. As I prepare to do my he-man stuff, well let the tyre pressures down further, a local guide stops and offers to drive the vehicle out without me having to do anything. So easy, saves my energy for another day.
Local guide John driving us out of Anne's mess

Local guide John driving us out of Anne’s mess


The day we visited the park, the wind was so strong, lighting was not at its sharpest. But the scenery was still stunning. We were also alone as we walked out into the desert to see the dead forest. No other people or vehicles, it’s an eerie but amazing feeling to have all this beauty and solitude to ourselves. We are so lucky.

'Anne of the desert'

‘Anne of the desert’

Dead forest at Sossusvlei

Dead forest at Sossusvlei

We travelled out to see the sunrise the next day. A constantly changing vista for us to enjoy while we had breakfast at the side of the road. What could be better than this.

Sunrise at Sossusvlei

Sunrise at Sossusvlei

Sunrise over the Sossusvlei, Namibia

Sunrise over the Sossusvlei, Namibia

Dune 45 and climbers, Sossusvlei, Namibia

Dune 45 and climbers, Sossusvlei, Namibia


Back on tar we make good progress till we reach about 40km / 25 ml from Lüderitz where we are blasted with sand by a strong wind which seems to only be a few feet / meters high. We later see a car with opaque headlights: it only took 45 minutes for that to occur. Locals advise that vaseline and clingfilm over the lights can mitigate the damage. Bet the manufacturers did not see that use of their products.

Sand storm outside Lüderitz

Sand storm outside Lüderitz

Anne heads uphill into the car park for our one night stay with grey smelly smoke billowing from under the engine – even I, a mechanical novice, realise this is not normal. We have a problem Houston……..

– Anthony

Wildlife

We have been asked by one of those sitting on the long couch if we had more wildlife photos, so here they are:


This post will give me a little more time to catch up on my regular blog entry, phew!!!

– Anthony

Onto St Nowhere Spa

After a refreshment stop in Puros, which way now? We have multiple choices to get to Sesfontein, our next fuel stop, but mainly 2: canyon, passes and Hoanib & Ganamub river beds or shorter gravel D3707 through a plain? We have heard of the first ones but nothing about Giribes Plain. And after the stunning view last night and a less then optimal night’s sleep really in the car, we feel ready for something different as nothing could possibly surpass the beauty of the area we left behind – the Ongongo hot springs sound very appealing and the plain road will allow us to get there today.

Puros

Puros


Giribes plain

Giribes plain

What a fantastic choice – although I have no doubt we would have felt the same way wherever we went in this region!! What a stunning, vast and wild plain – with not a soul around – just one car going in the opposite direction all morning!! The vastness of it didn’t allow us to take any photos to do it justice.

Our drive off the main road towards Ongongo Gorge and hot springs was disappointing with many kids along the way shouting and demanding money. It didn’t feel good. After a few kilometres, we decide to give up and turn back.

Where to next then? After a lunch stop on the side of the road, we decide the road is so good now, we could make it all the way to Palmwag (pronounced palamvagh). Ooh what spectacular scenery again as we approach Palmwag.

Between Sesfontein and Palmwag

Between Sesfontein and Palmwag

But what a shock when we arrive at the lodge: people!!! Lots of tourists!!! Groups waiting to be hearded into the right direction by guides shouting to get their attention. Once again, many of those tourists either look dazed, exhausted and generally unhappy. Maybe they would be happier in a 3D theme park safari back home?? Our camping spot is well away from the luxury lodge and we have a fabulous view. We even spot a couple of desert elephants up the side of the hill opposite. How do they walk across those big rocks and pebbles that cover the land here?! Evidence of recent elephant visits around the lodge and campsites is everywhere but we didn’t spot any close by during our time there.

We take a drive through Palmwag Reserve the next day – the short loop we choose takes us three hours due to the rough terrain. We finally see our first welwitschia mirabilis which a friend in Australia told me about and we see on posters in all the national park offices, warning visitors to be careful with them: this plant which is depicted on Namibia’s coat of arms is only found in southern Angola and north western Namibia and is commonly referred to as a living fossil – some are believed to be up to 1000 years old. We did see many springbok, impala, oryx and many desert elephants. Sadly no leopard – naughty leopard, hiding from us and no doubt watching us drive by… It is only when we left the park through the north gate that the guard let slip that most of the animals had left the reserve due to lack of water…

Our campsite at Palmwag lodge

Our campsite at Palmwag lodge

Palmwag Reserve

Palmwag Reserve

Welwitschia Mirabilis

Welwitschia Mirabilis

Elephant at Palmwag Reserve

Elephant at Palmwag Reserve

Elephant at Palmwag Reserve

Elephant at Palmwag Reserve


Springbok at Palmwag Reserve

Springbok at Palmwag Reserve

Onwards towards the Skeleton Coast we go. And we cross the Veterinary fence one last time then drive along it nearly right up to the coast. What a massive piece of infrastructure across the entire country. As we drive along the desolate Skeleton Coast, a heavy feeling envelops me – what is this? My heart is in my throat, my stomach in knots. The energy I am picking up is not pleasant yet I had been looking forward to seeing this area. This area got its name for a reason and maybe I am picking up past events here. Anyway, we are aiming for a camping area we were told about while on the Kunene river.

Bergsig school

Bergsig school

Veterinary fence through the Skeleton Coast National Park

Veterinary fence through the Skeleton Coast National Park

Skeleton Coast wreck

Skeleton Coast wreck

Skeleton Coast southern gate

Skeleton Coast southern gate

We turn off the main road south at about Mile 113, drive past many vast salt pans and arrive at our windblown destination, St Nowhere Spa and Campsite. The name sounds promising and intriguing. It will be lovely to sit in a spa bath as a change especially after our bone shattering days and less then optimal sleep last night.

St Nowhere Spa and Campsite is basically a fishing camp. We decide it is too windy to camp and not feeling like another night sleeping in the car, we opt for a cabin, of which there are 6. Anthony immediately has flash backs to his childhood, when he, his family and cousins used to spend summers in some big cabin by the sea. Happy memories. Our cabin has 5 bedrooms, sleeping up to 9 people, with one bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen and a massive freezer for the fish we are about to catch.

Freezer in our cabin at St Nowhere Spa and Campsite

Freezer in our cabin at St Nowhere Spa and Campsite

One of our bedrooms at St Nowhere Spa and Campsite

One of our bedrooms at St Nowhere Spa and Campsite

The only other people staying at St Nowhere are all serious fishermen. What makes this place is its owner, Danie, with whom we chatted for a few hours. He first started with a salt mining lease. He had to mine and truck a minimum of 15,000 tons a month. Sadly, when the price of oil went up, there was no profit left. He decided to hand his mining concession back. The local government pleaded with him to see if there was anything else he could do in order to keep his staff employed. He thought of a fishing camp but not being sure it would be viable, asked for 4 years of free lease to give it a go. He made it worked and obtained a 75 year lease. That was 8 years ago. The salt pans are still there and some people come specifically to have salt baths for therapeutic purposes. St Nowhere is now a thriving campsite which has up to 650 people staying there during peak fishing times in December-January!!! He has built his own desalination plant there. While we were there, the low season with just 4 tents on the beach, there was a hive of activity with new ablutions blocks being built, old ones given a fresh coat of paint. There is so much more to Danie – what a character. He told us of the time he fought off a lion which locals tried to kill for taking one of his cows but only succeeded at making the lion angry by shooting it in the back leg. When Danie appeared, he was attacked by the lion. He says he instantly remembered a story he had read as a kid where someone being attacked by a lion put his forearm forward for it to grab. Despite the intensity of the situation with both lion and Danie staring at each other, the trick worked but thank goodness he was able to call out to his teenage son to shoot the lion in the head while it had Danie’s arm in its mouth. The puncture marks he showed us were impressive.

St Nowhere Spa and Campsite

St Nowhere Spa and Campsite


It was a privilege to meet Danie and inspiring see what can be accomplished with guts, integrity, determination and foresight. Once again, and as always, it is the people you meet along the way and the emotions they or places leave you with that makes travelling so fascinating. The Spa may not have been quite what I was expecting, it was better in so many ways and I leave St Nowhere Spa and Campsite energised – thank you Danie. South to Swakopmund we go.

– Anne

Ruacana into Kaokoland

We made good progress to Ruacana, thanks to good roads built by the South African Army back in the 70’s and 80’s. It is strange to think that it wasn’t long ago that a war broke out in this part of the world, so recently really, back in 1988. Most of Ruacana was destroyed in the process. We manage to fill up – out last fuel stop for a few days now. We have 200 litres of fuel and 150 litres of water so we are set to travel deep into Kaokoland.

I wonder how far we’ll get today along the Kunene river and where we will spend the night. The scenery as we leave Ruacana is so different to anything we’ve seen so far. The road now crudely follows the terrain, with steep hills up and down, no more cut and fill. It is wild out here.

We are suddenly graced with the most beautiful sight: a stunning Himba, in her complete traditional dress. The sudden sight of this beautiful woman will remain implanted in my memory as we hadn’t expected to see anyone walking out those bushes, with no village in sight. And she radiated in her deep red skin, against the barren land.

The road heading due west of Ruacana mostly follows the Kunene river which forms the border between Namibia and South Africa, and is one of the few year-round flowing rivers in the region. We start off going through a few passes. The road is now a mixture of gravel and sandy patches, sometimes it is simply a faint track across meadows. Usually a sudden faint track means that people had to deviate from the original track for some reason and numerous new ones have been formed, to find the best way past an obstacle. In our case, it is a small stream with water running. As if by magic, help is suddenly here to guide us: a most handsome teenage boy and 2 young boys.

Himba teenager showing us the way across the creek

Himba teenager showing us the way across the creek


The teenager is wearing his hair in the traditional Himba way unlike the younger boys. Their attitude towards us is very different. The older one is keen to help guide us while the younger ones demand money and sweets. This immediately worries us both: have we, western tourists, created an expectation that we will give out gifts as we pass through the area, ‘buying’ them and is there a disconnect between generations and those embracing their traditions and those preferring western garb. Unfortunately, the request for money and sweets was repeated many times just for passing through and waving hello, along the Kunene river, the more accessible area to tourists. Being interested in indigenous people and culture, I am looking forward to learning more about the Himba while we travel through their land.

The Kunene river area is simply stunning. It was hot out here, 39 degrees mostly, and the river so inviting …. if it wasn’t for crocodiles… We spot so many areas we would have loved to stop and camp, but we are not comfortable with idea of crocs nearby. So on we go to Kunene River Lodge. Once again, we have no booking but we are still in luck. Kunene River Lodge, where we decide to camp for two days, provides us with the opportunity to visit a Himba village. Not speaking their language, going with a local guide will be interesting and allow me to hopefully have some of my questions answered. We are lucky there are just the two of us and our guide is half Himba himself.

Along the Kunene river

Along the Kunene river

Our camp site at Kunene River Lodge

Our camp site at Kunene River Lodge


A bit of background: the Himba population of approximately 50,000 live in the Kunene region of North West Namibia and just over the border, across the Kunene river in southern Angola (yet another example of how people have been separated thanks to our wars and orders). The Himba are one of 12 major ethnic groups in Namibia. Many still live a semi nomadic life, raising goats which they milk and cattle which reflect their wealth, both of which are sold for cash. Himba women go topless and both men and women smear their skin in a mixture of butter, ash, aromatic resin and crushed ochre as a way of cleansing their skin and keeping their skin youthful. With their red skin, long platted hair and various leather, bead and shell adornments, the Himba women are beautiful. Girls wear their hair in two plats going forward, boys, one single plat going backwards and married women wear ornate headpieces. But the most fascinating for me was being able to ask questions and share some of my knowledge of Australian indigenous culture and seeing their reaction to the similarities and differences. The similarities especially, considering the physical distance between them, fascinate me.

Our guide to the Himba family

Our guide to the Himba family

Himba milking area

Himba milking area

Himba girl

Himba girl

Himba family outside their living area where we spent a couple of hours

Himba family outside their living area where we spent a couple of hours

Making butter

Making butter

Himba woman's ornament made of leather, shells and even found bullets

Himba woman’s ornament made of leather, shells and even found bullets

Himba lady

Himba lady


Our next stop is Epupa Falls. We are told the road that used to take 10 hours has recently been upgraded for the Namibian police and the veterinary service (who are developing a new facility in the region) and the journey time has been cut to 3 hours. They are not wrong. But it is not only time that has been slashed – the poor country has been brutally scared with an oversized 4 lane wide dirt road cut through. It is painful to see. Interestingly, we heard that tourists who used to visit the area for the challenge of driving the old track have now cancelled their holiday. A double negative. Let’s hope it is worthwhile for the vet services.
Upgraded road to Epupa Falls

Upgraded road to Epupa Falls


Epupa Falls must be incredible in the rainy season! They were very low for us after 3 years of drought and being at the end of the dry season but the raw, wild area is stunning nonetheless.
Epupa Falls

Epupa Falls

Onto Opuwo next for resupplies of fuel, water and food. What a fascinating place. A crossroad for tourists and Namibians. In the supermarket we see and hear mainly German and French tourists, and see Himba and Herero in all their splendour. So many photo opportunities but I don’t want to ‘steal’ photos.

Tonight’s stop is Marble camp, some 270 kms away. We agonise over the route to take, with conflicting stories and recommendations and choose to take the advice of a local – road conditions can change quickly, from season to season and year to year. From talking to a German couple we met at the camp that evening, we made the right choice – it took them 2 days to get here from Opuwo, while it took us 5.5 hours using the D3707 through Orupembe.

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia


Kaokoland, Namibia

Kaokoland, Namibia

Outside Orupembe towards Marble Camp

Outside Orupembe towards Marble Camp

Himba village

Himba village


Marble Camp

Marble Camp


The drive the next day has to be one of the most memorable. From tricky steep narrow rocky pass, to having to part rebuild a by-pass, past an burnt out and over-turned 4×4 just two days prior, to a most beautiful and serene valley, the Marienfluss onto Syncro Camp on the Kunene River. Photos cannot do this valley justice. We drive past many Himba villages, all so immaculate and past many Himba women and kids. Life must be hard out here. Otjinhungwa is where I had hoped we’d get to in Namibia and we made it!!!
North of Marble Camp

North of Marble Camp

Track blocked by overturned vehicle

Track blocked by overturned vehicle

How much beer were they carrying?!

How much beer were they carrying?!


Red Drum junction

Red Drum junction

Himba family

Himba family

Himba mother

Himba mother


Marienfluss, Namibia

Marienfluss, Namibia

Springbok, Marienfluss

Springbok, Marienfluss


We are lucky that Syncro Camp space for us as only 2 of the 4 camping spots they have here are occupied by 4 vehicles and the 4 South African couples are all lovely. And even luckier that the next day we have the whole camp to ourselves.
Syncro Camp

Syncro Camp


Our campsite at Syncro Camp

Our campsite at Syncro Camp

Angola across the Kunene river at Syncro Camp

Angola across the Kunene river at Syncro Camp


Marienfluss

Marienfluss

The raw beauty of the region touches me in a way few places do.

– Anne