Friday, 18 April 2014

Northern Namibia Nomadic (N)adventures

There is one thing I have noticed about people you meet travelling in Africa, they are some of the friendliest, down to earth people I have ever met. I don't mean to sound stuck up or self appreciating but I find it's a certain type of person who travels independently in Africa and it constantly surprises me the people I encounter, from a couple cycling from Cape Town back to Holland, a couchsurfing couple who had cycled down the west coast of Africa from Spain, Susana and Nicole who had spent a year travelling by public transport in Africa and then in Desert Sky, I met Tony and Steve who had traveled on their motorbikes from London down the west coast of Africa over 5 months and had hired a car in Namibia to travel to the national parks. After talking to Tony for a bit, he offered me a seat in their car to go north to the Skeleton Coast, to visit the Himba tribe and to see Etosha National Park. Luckily his friend Steve had no problem with it either and so 2 days later we left with Niki and Irene in tow.

Our first stop was the Cape Cross Seal colony which is home to one of the largest colony of seals in the world. Estimates put the number of seals at around 10,000. Now for those of you who haven't seen that many seals in one place, they are noisy and they STINK. Honestly, the smell of rotting fish and seal poop is something else. However, I happen to think seals are cute and came away with nearly 200 pictures of the thousands of seals there.

From there we continued on to Skeleton Coast National Park. Now, once again lack of planning nearly cost us. To enter the National Park you need to be at the gate by 3pm AND have made a reservation with NWR in Windhoek or Swakopmund, neither of which we had when we showed up at about 4pm. Luckily Nicki and Irene worked their charm and the guy at the gate let us in provided we promised to drive straight to the campsite! Which of course we did. Torra Bay campsite is right on the Atlantic Coast and is very popular with Namibians for fishing. Apparently the cold Begula (sp?) current brings a wide variety of fish and we met a group of Namibian farmers who were on a guys week away. Our little tents were dwarfed by these guys camp. They had everything you could imagine, coolers, tables, chairs, bags of ice and kindly donated lots of brandy to us while we played drinking games with them. 
Our amateur camp

From there, Nicki and Irene headed back to Swakopmund while the guys and I headed towards Sesfontein en route to Opuwo. Here we were driving on gravel roads with not another car in sight. We spotted zebra and giraffe on the road side and marveled once more on the vast open spaces in Namibia. Here we stopped off at Fort Sesfontein to bask in the luxurious surroundings, pilfer their free wifi before heading off down the road to Camel Top campsite where we were the only guests.

Next morning we hit the road again to head to Opuwo where we picked up Antonio who would act as a translator and guide for our visit to a traditional Himba tribe. Antonio and his company were recommended to Tony and Steve and I am glad to report that it was well worth it. There is always a worry that when you visit tribes or villages that it turns into a zoo of sorts or that they are acting for the tourists, as I felt when I visited as Maasai village in the Serengeti, but this visit was worlds apart from that. First of all we arrived at the village 17km from Opuwo and there was no one to be seen. Apparently all the adults were at the village garden and the chief had gone to attend a funeral. Antonio has worked with the Himbas and is half Himba and thus was a perfect guide. He explained that he likes to visit different villages every time in order to spread the gifts around. The village we were about to visit had not had mzungu visitors before.

The Himba are indigenous people who live semi-nomadic lives in Northern Namibia and in Angola. Our guide explained that semi-nomadic means that only part of the tribe moves around. In this case the teenagers move during the dry season with the livestock (cattle and goats) to find water and they return every year to the village. As seems to be the norm in most tribes, the women do the physical work i.e. planting and harvesting vegetables, taking care of the children and animals, looking after the home etc.

This girl's hairstyle indicates that she is not of child bearing age

The Himba are famous for the red colour they smear on their skin and hair. Every 2-3 days they smear a combination of butter and ochre on their skin. The red in their hair is redone every 6 months. The clay covered hair indicates that the woman is of child bearing age. Before they reach that age, their hair is styled into either one or 2 plaits. The big necklace indicates that the woman has not had a child and anklets with metal bands indicate how many children they have had. In a society with no mirrors these beautiful people were excited to see photographs of themselves. Having a translator who was known to the village was fantastic, we were able to ask questions about how they perceive us and their lifestyle. They said that they were confused as to why we would want to come and look at their lifestyle and said that they would have no interest in changing their lifestyle which is reassuring as the traditional way of life is dying out due to the younger generations moving into towns and cities. When we returned to Opuwo we even met a lady working in the grocery store who moved out of her Himba tribe to live in the city after experiencing the town life during school. It would be a shame if cultures like this were to die out and the world to become more homogeneous and a little bit more boring. 

From Opuwo we traveled towards Etosha National Park, staying about an hour from the park gates. The next morning we took off and entered from the northern most gate. 

Within minutes of entering we noticed two giraffes off to our left, found a trail and followed it. We were rewarded with seeing 2 male giraffes fighting over the attention of a female. We stayed watching the spectacle for about 30 minutes, during this time the female paraded back and forth but showed no interest in the fight going on next to her. We headed towards the 'Sinkhole' where we encountered more giraffes and then a herd of elephants crossed the track in front of us.

But the crown of the
drives that day was spotting a black rhino just off the road side. I am proud to say I spotted it! This was the last of the big 5 I had yet to see close up and was delighted with seeing this endangered species in the wild.

From there we continued towards Halili campsite, seeing many haretbest, wildebeest, oryx and even some more giraffes fighting before arriving at the camp shortly before sunset. We raced to the waterhole and oh were we rewarded. First to arrive were a herd of elephants coming for their evening drink. Next a rhino arrived, which the elephants were not too happy about. Once the second rhino arrived the elephants decided to show their distaste for sharing this water source by loud trumpeting and even spraying water at the rhinos.

Once the sun started to set, the waterhole was bathed in the most gorgeous light, from orange to pink which provided an amazing backdrop for the spectacle that was unfolding before us. We then returned to the camp to find honey badgers, the notoriously ill tempered weasel like creature, roaming the campsite. 

Next morning was an early start to see if any animals graced us for sunrise at the waterhole. Unfortunately not and so we set off after breakfast in search of lions. We may or may not have taken a wrong turning and may or may not have ended up on a closed trail where we may, or may not have seen NOTHING for a few hours. But in the end we arrived back on normal trails and saw more hartebeest, elands, kudu before arriving at Okaukuejo camp by mid afternoon where we made the most of the swimming pool before going for a sunset drive during which we saw a black backed jackel eating the remains of a dead zebra. Unfortunately the waterhole was quiet here so after a dinner of green curry and a beer or 2, we retired for the night to make one last drive in the morning. 

Sunset over Okaukuejo waterhole. 

Next morning, having heard about a lion kill the day before, we set off with the aim of finding a lion or two. And sure enough less than a kilometre from the park's gate, we come across a male lion eating the remains of a giraffe kill. As is normal with lions, the females do the kill and the male will eat his fill before leaving the remains. Once this male had eaten his fill and walked away,the carcass was covered in jackels to eat the remains. After finally seeing a big cat we left for Windhoek happy. 

Quote for the day: "Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better."- Albert Einstein

1 comment:

  1. What an amazing story and series of photos! I agree about not wanting the world to become more homogeneous... I felt that way when I stayed with Mongolian families in their ger camps last summer.
    You are one lucky gal to have experienced this. Thank you for sharing!