When we entered Namibia I was finally able to see if my loving and conscientious caring of “Jules the Malaria Patient” had paid off in Uganda by becoming ill. Some would argue that my affliction was even more dangerous and life-threatening than malaria, but this blog post, although belated, is proof that I am alive and have a constitution only a trip through Africa could give rise to. After two months in Africa a friend of mine sent me a concerned but highly un-PC email asking me how the trip was going and if either of us had caught one of the big three yet (TB, Malaria, HIV). I took it one step further and ended up at Death’s door with CV and references in hand asking for a job with a combination of all three – Man Flu. Not only do you have to appear to be extremely ill, you also have to devise a strategy that allows you to lie comatose in a hammock all day so that you don’t have to do any chores like washing dishes. When night falls you then have to weigh up the pros and cons of helping yourself to a beer. Beer means you get to drink a beer. No beer means you are allowed to be sick again the next day.
To recuperate we spent a few days at a campsite called Ngepi Camp in the Caprivi strip. The view was spectacular, right on a river with Hippos in the water, incredible birds and bizarre loos – King and Queen thrones overlooking the river, Tarzan and Jane showers, etc – for those of you who are worried that your ablutions could never live up to anybody’s expectations, this place is proof that if you can dream it you can do it. We went on a bird walk with the most enthusiastic person I have ever met, a guy who gets equally excited seeing his fourth Rufous Breasted Heron as he does seeing his first (Ed. For the uninitiated, “rufous” is a bird-watching word for “red”. Instead of having a red breast a bird has a rufous breast – hence a Red Bishop has loads of rufous). He kept going on about the elusive Tsirping Testicular, an extremely rare bird that you won’t find in Roberts, Newmans or Sasol birds of Southern Africa (Ed. Actually a Chirping Cisticola. Big thing in Bird Land, although if you can actually tell the difference between one Cisticola and the next then you are either a liar or Rainman). When he isn’t taking other people on guided bird walks he takes himself on guided bird walks (Ed. “Lesser Tit Wobbling Swamp Donkey?” Bird Guide “Third bird on page 73 of the 2010 edition, first on page 75 of 2013 edition. You might also have noticed in the picture that although the second dorsal fin appears to be pink, in real life it is in fact light rufous”).
On the way to Etosha we passed through a town full of people with similarities to yeast and flour (in bread). The one redeeming factor was that it had the most incredible droe wors I have ever tasted. We had two amazing nights in the Etosha Game Reserve, seeing incredible game including lions being chased from a watering hole by elephants. The baby elephant in the herd hid in the background, and once the lions had finally got the message that they weren’t welcome he went to the front and did the elephant equivalent of giving them the finger before quickly running back to hide behind one of the bigger guys.
From Etosha we went on to Twyfelfontein, a Unesco Heritage Site. There are loads of carvings of animals in the rocks and maps pointing out springs for other people coming past, made thousands of years ago. We had heard that there were some desert elephants in the area, so popping the beast into low range we headed off down a dry river bed in search of them. In the olden days people used to do this in ox wagons – and not just for shits and giggles. Twyfelfontein was apparently discovered by a guy who had tracked elephants until he found the spring and then settled there to farm. It means “doubtful spring” because whenever a friend of his asked him how he was he would reply that he was doubtful there would be enough water in the spring until the rains came.
We spent a day driving through the Skeleton Coast Reserve, one of the nicest drives of the trip. We were really excited to hear that my parents would be able to join us for a part of Namibia, and drove through to Swakopmund to meet them. I had told my father that he would need to get a spare tyre, forgetting that he always carries one around his waist.
We all drove up to a seal colony to witness what concentrated seal pooh smells like, then because our senses hadn’t been tortured enough we drove through a seaside town called Henties Bay to look at some of the garish holiday homes in the town. I have finally worked out why loads of places around the world have building restrictions in place – in case your next door neighbour employs a Namibian architect to design his house. In Namibian Holiday Home Design 101 you are taught that it is perfectly acceptable to tile the entire exterior of your house with shiny smooth bathroom tiles.
We still have some items of food that we brought from the UK. A tin of chickpeas – were we honestly going to try and make some hummus? Another item is the sort of thing normally advertised with a hot lady putting on stockings and suspenders and then lighting a candle to enjoy a cup of Creamy Mocha Latte Frapuccino before having all her friends arrive and go on about what a good figure she has and how confident she is. Unfortunately for the duration of the trip the sachet has been sitting in our box of spices, so the posh coffee I was expecting on the coldest windiest night we have experienced in a while ended up being cumin infused posh coffee – definitely not a blissful marriage of decadent ingredients fortified by the union of exotic cultures. Outside Walvis Bay we climbed Dune 7 and then headed off to Solitaire, a town in the middle of nowhere with a petrol station, shop, tea room and bakery, and plenty of rusted cars dotted around.
From Solitaire we drove to Sossusvlei to go and see if we could take a unique photograph of red sand dunes and dead trees. We all managed to climb Dune 45 in time for sunrise – something my father is especially happy about, because the exercise gave him a few more points to use that day in his Weight Watchers diet, a point wisely spent on a beer (Ed. He had eaten a tiny packet of peanuts the day before only to discover that the 5 nuts in the packet is worth about 4 points – 20% of his daily allowance). Driving to the actual vlei involved driving through quite deep sand, and we found out that although his car is comfortable to drive, in this case 4 x 4 != 16. Fortunately a nice guy was able to rescue the car from the sand.
On the way to Luderitz we stopped off at Duwisib castle, a large castle built in the middle of nowhere by Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf. The material was mainly imported from Germany and transported by ox wagon for Baron Captain Hans Heinrich Von Wolf’s castle. Unfortunately Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf went off to fight in WW1 and saw the business end of a bayonet and Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf’s wife couldn’t bring herself to return to Namibia, so Baron Captain Hand Heinrich von Wolf’s castle was abandoned. (Ed. With a name like Baron Captain Hans Heinrich von Wolf it would be a shame to use pitiful pronouns)
In Luderitz we stayed at a place called Shark Island where we were buffeted by wind but had a superb view of the sea before heading on to Kolmanskop to try and take some more photos that have never been done before. Instead of the only gay in the village, we had the only gay in the ghost town for a tour guide, starting the tour with a song on an old piano in the town hall so that we could all hear the acoustics of the hall.
From the cold and wind of the Namibian coast we experienced the sweltering heat of the desert and got blasted by a sand storm in Seeheim. With sand in our tents and cars at least we had a good sunset, probably the best of the whole trip. They also had a working model of a windmill at the Seeheim hotel, so I was finally able to see how a windmill works – believe it or not, something I have wondered more than once in my life. It doesn’t turn a screw to lift the water in case you were wondering; there is a sort of piston thing. For more info click here.
From Seeheim to the fish river canyon with spectacular views and tentative plans to return for a 5 day hike through the canyon. We spent a night in Ai-Ais before driving to the border into South Africa.
It was absolutely brilliant having my parents around to share some of the trip with us, although I think they were a bit shocked by how our standards have devolved over 9 months and our lackadaisical attitude towards clean cars, sand in beds, weeing on the side of the road, spitting toothpaste into bushes etc. I think it was like meeting a real life Ralph and Jack, without the wisdom and reasoning of Piggy. Coffee in one of our cups was gracefully declined, but I think they were impressed that I was able to make a fire with only a few matches. Time flew by and we all felt a bit flat at the end – as if we hadn’t seen enough, or spent enough time together in Namibia. From the ancient rock art to endless desert and infinite skies, it is a country that will show even the most extreme narcissist just how insignificant he really is.