We had been in Namibia over two weeks by the time we got to Windhoek, the capital city. Our plan was to set up a base camp and get some “town chores” done. Sometimes, especially in somewhere so sparsely populated as Namibia, you can only get some services in a larger town. On top of that, our traveling companions, Paul and Julie, needed to have some mechanical work done on their truck, so we would use the down time to finish getting settled into the trailer and to knock some other items off our to-do list. We camped at Elisenheim Guest Farm, just north of the city. The campground is nicely rural, without being too remote. Jen used our extended time in camp to make and freeze a batch of bolognese sauce. That gives us some quick dinners after a long day in the future. While we enjoyed the benefits of what a city has to offer and happily got our chores done, we were glad to get back on the road after a week in Windhoek.
With Paul and Julie, we decided to check out some more remote locations through the Easter weekend and the end of South African school holidays, then head to the vacation beach town off Swakopmund. Namibia, and the Namibian coast in particular, is a popular vacation destination for South Africans, and we wanted to avoid major crowds. So, we headed to the Brandberg mountains. The Brandberg is a patch of mountains known for great hikes, some San rock art, and the way the light of the setting sun catches their western face. We took a couple of days getting there, our route leading us through the northern end of the Erongo Mountains, another patch of mountains rising up out of the rolling hills. We found a campsite where Paul. could photograph the mountains in the ever changing light of the setting sun. We found a place with a great view a short drive from a small gorge that captured the sunlight in various colors, changing every few minutes as the sun set. While Paul took photos from various spots in the gorge, the rest of us enjoyed a sundown snack while watching the colors change on the rocks surrounding us.
The next day, we completed our trip around the mountains, stopping for lunch just outside the White Lady Lodge. The lodge is named after the San rock paintings nearby, one of which looks like a lady in white, though it is actually a male figure. After lunch, we headed to Spitzkoppe, the remnant of an ancient volcano that is now a cluster of massive rock outcropping that are well known for their scenic beauty and historic importance to the San culture in the area, replete with multiple rock art sites. The campground and guided tours are run by the Namibian Cultural Trust, and they have set up a collection of beautiful campsites nestled into the base of the outcropping. We stayed three nights to enjoy the beauty of the area, and took a tour of the rock art sites. Our guide told us that the paintings were used as signs and warnings by the San people, indicating where water could be found, or where to watch out for poisonous snakes or lions. Some of the pictures were symbolic, a rhino meant water was to be found in the direction it faced, and others were more direct, a lion is just a lion. The guide shared a few of the rock art sites, letting us know that they are still discovering rock art in the area.
On our last night, Jen shouted out while cooking dinner. Something had bitten or stung her toe in the dark! She shined a light on the ground to see a scorpion scurrying away. Paul quickly stomped on it as I got out a book on first aid to see what we should do. It seems that only a couple of scorpions in the world are truly dangerous to people, most are just painful. Jen sat out the rest of dinner prep as I made sure she didn’t show any of the warning signs of the dangerous type. Pain and tingling were all she showed as I finished dinner, this scorpion wasn’t one of the worst. She did have painful tingling from her mid calf down for the next 3 or 4 days, but no lasting effects. We learned our lesson and have taken to wearing shoes, not flip-flops in camp at night.
School holidays in South Africa were now over, so we headed to the coast. The team at Elisenheim Guest Farm had recommended a campground outside of Swakopmund, just far enough to avoid the nightly fog off the ocean that would soak everything. An extra benefit is that the proprietor is also a certified Master Butcher from Germany, so we were able to get some delicious salami and sausage from him for future meals. On our way from Spitzkoppe, we noticed that one of the latches holding closed the bed on our trailer had broken off. Conqueror shipped the necessary parts to fix it to a local 4×4/camping shop. We were reminded that we are not in the USA when this process took nearly a week. We weren’t too bummed out though, as we found lots to keep us busy in and around town. We drove out to see the Welwitchia Trail, a road through the desert that highlights the natural and cultural history of the area. We saw lichens that change color when they get water, massive Welwitchia plants, and remains of army camps from WWI. One of the Welwitchia is 1500 years old! The next day, we drove with Paul and Julie out to the lighthouse on the spit of land opposite town. We also drove to Sandwich Harbor. For this, we needed to get a guide, as it is in a National Park, and the roads are not marked. We took the Jeep and Paul and Julie’s Land Cruiser, as we knew we would be driving in deep sand and wanted two cars to help each other should one of us get stuck. Sandwich Harbor is an old Park Ranger outpost, now a bird sanctuary. To get there, we not only drove through the bush and short dunes, but also right along the coast, where towering dunes come right to the sea. Two hours on either side of high tide, the trail is closed as the ocean is right up to the dunes too steep to drive. We made it to our destination before high tide, having lunch and puttering around until the way was open for us to head back. It was a nice lazy afternoon at the beach. As our time in Swakopmund drew to a close we still hadn’t received our parts from Conqueror. They had not arrived on the once weekly shipment to the shop they were sent to, so we called the courier service to find them. They had been held up in Windhoek, but she would put them on a shuttle bus coming the next day. We had to laugh at just how spoiled we are in America, with overnight shipping pretty much everywhere. We did finally get our parts.
The road took us north out of Swakopmund, towards the Skeleton Coast, so named because of the many shipwrecks caused by the heavy fog where the frigid Atlantic meets the hot desert air of the Namibian coast. We stopped to see a couple of shipwrecks, and the seal colony at Cape Cross. Normally, I wouldn’t get too excited about seals, but this was astounding. Hundreds upon hundreds of seals call this single beach home! Seals snuggle side by side for a quarter mile along the beach, from near the water’s edge, inland about 100 yards. The sheer mass of sleeping, snoring, barking seals was unlike anything we had ever seen, or smelled, before. They were out in the water too, surfing in the waves and fishing. We spoke to a student studying the seals for his graduate degree to learn that we were only seeing the females and young, the males stay in the ocean and come ashore at the edges of the colony. After such a crazy scene, we welcomed the solitude of another wild camp, just close enough we could hear the waves breaking, far enough away that we couldn’t see the road. The jackals here were pretty brave though, getting within 25 feet to camp as we watched them, and one even tried to steal our BBQ grid cover as we cooked dinner! I had to chase him fifty yards, yelling the whole way in order to get the cover back.
We then drove to the gate to the Skeleton Coast National Park to learn entry permit costs and find out where we could camp. Camping is not allowed in the park, unless staying at the lodge a couple of hours up the coast. The price was a bit much for us, and we were ready to head back inland, so we opted to just drive through the park that day. Along the desert coastline we kept an eye open for the desert lions that have been spotted along the road. No such luck for us, but we enjoyed the stark beauty of the area.
As we headed east, out of the park, the landscape changed to something similar to a Wile E. Coyote cartoon. Red sand and gravel valleys and massive red rock canyon walls. It is a stunning change from the various shades of grey we had seen along the coast. We reached the no-frills campground at the park gate just at dark, glad to call it a day.
Our next destination was Twyfelfontein, an area that has a number of scenic and cultural sights. We drove though the hills, finding a lovely campground along the banks of a dry river bed. Here, we met a couple from Belgium that was bicycling to Dar Es Salam, in Tanzania. They laughed when I jokingly asked which was cheaper, their food costs, or our fuel costs. They are tougher than we are for sure. Among the sights we visited was the petrified wood that had washed down from central Africa in a flood hundreds of thousands of years ago. We saw more San rock art, etched in to rock walls that have long since collapsed. At the San rock engravings, we saw fairly fresh elephant droppings where they had climbed through the rocks piled at the base of cliffs to get to the trees growing on these slopes. They climbed through areas that were a tough fit for us to get through, showing impressive nimbleness in such a large animal. We went out looking for these elephants, only to find footprints, and ostriches. We were itching to move, even if we couldn’t find the elephants. With Paul and Julie, whom were still traveling with us, it was decided to head north towards the Marienflus Valley.