Notes from Namibia: part five

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

When it comes to fabulous weather and wildlife, there is nowhere like Namibia, says Adrienne. Over the next few weeks, she will be sharing her notes from Namibia – arguably Africa at its most authentic – exclusively with CD-Traveller readers. Today: Art, culture and chalets

We left early to get to the Brandberg Gate as we needed to complete the walk before the sun got too high, and too hot. We picked up a man on the way along the deeply sandy road, who turned out to be our guide to the White Lady Paintings.

Once we got going we set off at a rapid pace but fortunately it was an easy route, over pretty flat terrain. En route we were introduced to local flora – the Brandberg acacia with poker straight stems as red as the ground they grow from, and the white coffee tree, the roots of white are used by the Damara People to make a coffee-type drink.

On reaching the information platform we had time to read the excellently informative interpretation boards before hanging our bags on hooks provided (as we couldn’t take them with us). It was at this point I wish I knew more about geology; it’s been pretty spectacular all trip. There was some smoothed rock that looks draped like silk. We were told that this is all that remains of a dried up river bed and the draping appearance of the rock was actually the polishing action of a waterfall. It looked so sensuous that I longed to touch it, but our guide rallied us to follow him to see the object of our trek.

The White Lady Painting, painted by the Damara people, is part of two groups of ancient rock art and is some 2,000 years old. The second, older monochrome set is 5,000 years old and was painted by the San, who were moved on by the Damara. We learnt that this had happened to the San a lot. Now they are restricted to the Kalahari, but they were once the only indigenous people of southern Africa.

The White Lady is in fact a man. The lack of breasts and apparent male genitalia are a bit of a giveaway, so how the archaeologists who discovered it decided it depicted a female I can’t quite work out. It shows a trainee shaman being trained by the chief shaman. The white coating is ash from the fire, which he is dancing around. The animals are all shown with their hind legs as human and represent the animals he will become in his trances. The tradition is passed down orally through the generations.

The equally pleasant walk back started after some of us used the toilet. What a revelation! Clean as a whistle, ecologically sound, and fragrance free.
Our natural history tour took in various dye plants, and basket making and perfume shrubs. We were also shown some lines in the rock above us – ‘natural writing’ – forming the letters A, X, H and K. Quite remarkable.

Our 1175km journey to the coast started once we were back on the bus. Our destination was Uis. It was here that we experienced a chocolate craving, and were able to feed it with good old Cadbury’s. There was a large sign warning hawkers that their activities were illegal and wouldn’t be tolerated. Empty words that were ignored by their target audience.

Getting back in the vacuum cleaner, the realisation that we were about to set off a non-stop 1175km journey to the Cape Cross fur seal colony hit us. All we could do was sit back and enjoy the epic scenery outside. As we skimmed through the landscape we saw the scrub reduce in size and density. When we sudden hit a sand dune my question as to whether the scrub would peter out or suddenly end was answered. We were now in the Namib Desert.

However we were suddenly distracted as we came closer to the coast by the most enormous bank of cloud. The temperature plummeted and we had to reach for our coats. This was a bit disappointing after all the crystal clear skies we had so far enjoyed. To distract myself I chose to consult my guide book, to find out more about Cape Cross. Oh dear, I thought. It was described as the smelliest place on Earth. Which was an entirely accurate description!

We turned right at Henties Bay and headed north along the coast road. It was possible to only travel so far along this road without a permit. Further north lay the Skeleton Coast and Namibia’s diamond fields. We however were turning off to a car park. Whilst Tuhafeni paid for us we all raced to the toilet, to relieve ourselves after 1175km of Vacuuming. Sadly the water was off here – as it had been at Etosha.

Passing through the office we noticed some products made from seal skin. The irony was lost on none of us – it is after all about conservation of the seals. I found out much later that seals are culled each year, the Namibian government claiming that this needs to happen to protect the country’s fishing industry.

Our thoughts were jolted on the incredible smell. Peggy handed out wet wipes, which we all held gratefully to our noses. It was truly awful. Guano from what could be one million animals. As we reached the area where many of them were we decided that we didn’t care about the smell, or the sign that warned us that they could attack – it was smelly wonderful! The cacophony of the seals as mothers called their young was deafening. There were so many of them! Most of them appeared to be sleeping, and in positions that made cats seem inflexible. You could tell which were sleeping and which were awake – the ones that were awake were making all the noise. But how could the others sleep through all that din?

Wet seals are sleek, dry ones, fluffy. Many here were half and half. All of them looked as though they were having the time of their lives. I photographed one pair who looked as though they were enjoying a drunken sing-song in an old fashioned pub. Top class entertainment irrespective of whether you were a participant or a spectator.

The low wall we were walking along ran out and we were among them; mothers and pup, adults and adults, all around us. They posed for our cameras and were completely unphased by our presence. The jackals around us were too not bothered by our being there. There was a sudden commotion.

Here was nature, red in tooth and claw, and several jackals were tucking into fresh seal. Tilly saw the kill. Suddenly jackals are no longer so cute. There were other jackals too – on the other side of us. I know they won’t attack us, but we made sure we stayed close together all the same.

Heading back to the picnic spot pick-up point, we were increasingly aware that we weren’t alone. Had the jackals decided the presence of tourists meant a change from their usual diet? We looked around a little nervously. We were being followed!

Seals in the water were in hot pursuit. It was a huge relief, but also gave us a sense of wonder at the fragility of their existence. Now we understood why they seemed to make the most of life – it could be snuffed out without a moment’s notice. And their reward was they really are the world’s greatest surfers!

As we reached the picnic spot, poor Tilly looked very green. She really wasn’t at all well. The picnic lunch was a little subdued as a result, before we turned round and headed south to Swakopmund for two nights with solid roofs over our heads.

As we approached Swakop (as it is known locally), we were struck by how small it was, a stark contrast to the vastness of the country itself. The outskirts looked poor but it got wealthier as we reached the centre where there were cream coloured wooden buildings, European in style. Even the stone building in the main part of the town were painted in bright colours. On the promenade, expensive looking stylish new apartment blocks were under construction. As we drove around we saw the craft market. (selling the same stuff as at Okahandja) We turned up a very wide, smooth dirt road that passes the local brewery. At the end of this was the entrance to our rest camp.

We got our keys from Tuhafeni and found our chalet. These were solid little bungalows with steeply pitched roofs, simply laid out and furnished. The door went straight into the kitchen. From there was a short corridor – the bedrooms off to the right, a cupboard straight on, and the shower room on the left. I bagsied the first shower, which was hot, had good pressure and was completely glorious.

I had decided in the shower that people like Ozzy Osborne must have been doing very silly things to come off their quad bikes, so I chose the ‘3-hour combi’ activity package. Two hours quad biking, with one hour sand boarding.

Getting back into the vacuum cleaner to go to our restaurant, the Tug, for dinner, we began discussing safety. Our various guidebooks had all warned us that we should take precautions like not walking around at night. This irritated Tuhafeni, who ticked us off. So far as he was concerned it was fine as long as we stayed together in a group.

The Tug was previously the Dian Hugo. After it ended its service it was bought and converted into a beautiful restaurant. We were seated at an internal table – rather than by a window, but as it was dark it didn’t really matter. In fact it enabled us to look around us at the other diners and staff. It came as a bit of a shock. The clientele were exclusively white, and the staff were all black. It suddenly felt as if we were living in a segregated state.

But this was where we were eating, so we looked at the menu. This was fantastic – extensive and varied. We had been told it was the most expensive restaurant in town, so were very pleasantly surprised by the prices, very reasonable. Having decided to pay for Tuhafeni and Joseph (partly by way of apology for our earlier misunderstanding) we split the bill equally between us. The princely sum of £21 each, including a tip.

To read the next part of Adrienne’s African adventure, visit the CD-Traveller website tomorrow (Tuesday November 15)

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