May 2015: As part of a longer trip that involved South Africa and Swaziland, my girlfriend Paula and I visited Namibia for ten days. Namibia is one of my favorite African countries to explore because it combines the wild and exotic of endless desolate 4×4 tracts, traditional tribes and wildlife and all of it is easy to experience on your own in your own vehicle. It does require preparation and some luck with vehicle tires and engines. It also holds the bizarre distinction of being one of the only ex-German colonies in Africa and some coastal towns still bare the legacy of Germany’s presence such as German names, music and food. Namibia is one of those countries that is just too awesome to visit on a quick trip and I wanted to make the most of our trip and do it as cheaply as possible. So, I focused on the wild north of the country where most of the land is fenceless and tribal and the animals are not only found in reserves but along the roads. Paula and I hired a 4×4 vehicle and set off with our tent onto some of the wildest parts of Africa, Etosha, northern Kaokoland, skeleton coast and the Namib desert. This is the story of our adventure.

 

My Itinerary

Our itinerary in Namibia

Day 1
Depart Sokcho (SHO), Swaziland 0810
Arrive JNB 0915
Depart JNB 1200pm
Arrive WDH Windoek, Namibia 1:00pm
Pickup rental car
Drive to Etosha National Park (approx 5 hours)
Camp Etosha Safari Camp,

Day 2
Enter Etosha
Olifantsrus Campsite

Day 3
Depart Etosha to Opuwo lodge campground

Day 4
Stay Epupa Falls, Epupa Camp
Visit Himba villages

Day 5
Drive to Himba Village and camp in Himba village

Day 6
Drive to Damarland
Camp at Palwag Lodge
Track rhinos on foot

Day 7
Drive to Point Cross via Skeleton Coast/springbokwasser gate to Ugab River Gate
Visit seal colony, Hotel Cape Cross Lodge

Day 8
Drive to Sassosvlei dunes
Camp in National Park

Day 9
Sassosvlei dunes
Camp in National Park

Day 10
Scenic flight
Hotel Africa Camp

Day 11
Drive to Windoek
Depart Windoek 435pm

 

Etosha National Park

Paula and I flew into the capitol of Namibia, Windhoek from Swaziland via Johannesburg and picked up our rental car. Our first destination was the arid wildlife rich national park with vast salt pans and seasonal rainwater pools where wildlife congregates to drink. Etosha has a large population of black rhinos as does northern Namibia. Etosha is a self-drive park, and the sandy roads are treacherous, and drivers need to be prepared and experiences.  of From Windhoek, we drove all the way to the gates of Etosha National Park where we camped at a campground in Etosha Safar Camp. Driving in Namibia requires the ability to drive long distances across some long stretches of featureless land devoid of any population or towns without falling asleep and many of the roads were single lane with two directions of traffic. I had to avoid more wildlife on the road than I did opposing vehicle traffic especially at night when antelope would dart across the road trying to commit suicide.

Campsite in Etosha

We camped in Oliphant’s on my birthday, a wild campsite with no separation from our tents and the wildlife. The campsite was in the middle of nowhere and only a few others were camping there. One Namibian man with his family camping there was barbecuing wild antelope meat and wildebeest and shared it with us. At night from our campsite, we walked to a hide peeking at a watering hole, and we watched the silhouettes of elephant and black rhino drinking. from Oliphant’s we drove across the park stopping at watering holes to observe wildlife. The park was wild and there were few other visitors a feeling I grew to love about Namibia. We saw elephant, antelope, zebra, Jackel, Oryx but no lions. At one watering hole we heard we just missed a group of lions attacking a rhino.

Jackel

Zebra

Jembuck

Elephant at a watering hole

Elephant at a watering hole

Watering hole

Antelope

Zebra at a watering hole

Kaokoland

After two night of camping Paula and I decided to splurge and stay in a lodge outside of Opuwo. The lodge could only be reached via a rough road but the drive was worth it. It was heaven and for an affordable price. We stayed in a bungalow with A/C and a hot shower, but the best part of the stay was the meals, infinity pool overlooking the plains and attentive local staff.

paula looking out fromthe Opuwo Lodge Infitnty Pool

After recharging in the Opuwo Lodge, Paula and I had to stock up on groceries in Opuwo for our trip up north to koakaland, which we knew would be rough. Our plan was to find a Himba camp to stay with and we didn’t know how we would do it. Opuwo was an interesting mix of tribal pastoral topless Himba  and agriculturalist Herero people wearing huge Victorian era European dress. The Herero population in northern Namibia is large and they were targeted by a genocide by German people in Namibia during the early 1900s and approx. 100,000 were killed. As for the reason of why they wear Victorian European clothes, one legend is that conservatively dressed German wives were jealous of young scantily dressed African women who were seducing their German husbands so wives started to encourage Herero women to dress like them in their large flowing dresses and head dress that successfully covered all of their curves making them less desirable and for some reason the custom as stuck to this day with Herero but not German women.

 Herero lady

Paula and I grocery shopping for supplies before ourroad trip into Koakaland

 Herero lady

From opuwo we drove a few hours via the road to Epupu Falls. The drive was beautiful, and we crossed rocky arid terrain with baobab trees passing occasional himba camps that I took note of for us to potentially camp at. The plan was to stay the first night at Epupo falls campground by the Kunene Rier on Angola border.

Road to Epupu Falls

There is very little infrastructure in Epupu. it is a wild place and a good base for further exploration deep into the Koakaland. We camped one night and hiked to visit the waterfalls and a viewpoint where some of the largest crocodiles I have ever seen were basking in the sun. Across the river was Angola but the only motorboat in the area that used to take tourists across the remote border for a few hours was broken down and no longer in operation.

To find Himba camps we could camp with, I approached some Himba men walking on the road, and I eventually found one who spoke English who claimed to be a guide and seemed reputable and for a fair price agreed to show us some camps and ask them permission for us to spend the night.

Paula by boabab tree on Kunene River

Camping on Kunene River but careful to not put the tent too close to the river because of crocodiles

Kunene River

Epupu Falls

Huge crocodile on Kunene River

Tranquil swimming pool on Kunene River 

Camping with Himba Tribe

The Himba man we hired to guide us knew of a few camps that are rarely visited by tourists off the main road. He served as our translator and guide. he suggested we bring a bag of rice, small bag of sugar and 20USD to give to the chief as a gift in Exhange for our stay in a camp. We drove our own vehicle to find the Himba camps. We visited one for a few hours but determined that we should continue on and find another to spend the night. This Himba camp was everything we hoped for. No one asked for money, and everyone greeted us and was genuinely interested in us. We presented the food and money to the chief and I took photo with a Polaroid camera that I gave away as gifts to the Himba, which they loved.

 

Himba Camp

The Himba are fiercely traditional and continue to be animistic staving off all attempts from missionaries to convert them. They raise goats and some cows and live in semi-nomadic camps of huts protected by stick fences to keep wild animals such as leopards, hyenas and lions out of their camps. A sacred fire in the center of the camp is never put out and no one is allowed to walk across the stones that protect it. Each village has a chief who can have multiple wives. Women are promiscuous and it is common for visitors to be offered a woman as a gift for the night and a husband will even give up his bed for a night. Water is scarce and is for drinking and not bathing. Smoke is used instead to disinfect their bodies. Men and women have distinct hairstyles and jewelry. Women have a brown, bronze sheen on their skin from the butterfat and ochre, which they also mix into their hair and women also wear goat skin and bones in a head piece. 

Paula was embraced by the himba women, and they absolutely loved her. The promiscuity of the village was no lie too. One woman asked Paula when she found out we were together if she could sleep with me, and the chief asked me if he could sleep with Paula in exchange for one of his wives. In the middle of the night a man in a vehicle pulled up to the village and entered a hut with a Himba woman

 

Paula and her Himba friends

Paula and I spent most of our time with the friendly lady who was very interested in us. She asked us where we were from and when we said California, she asked how long it takes to get to California by donkey.

 

Friendly Himba lady

At night most Himba went to bed early because they depart early morning with livestock or walk hours to the nearest water wells to collect water. I drank some red wine in the outskirts of camp and relaxed. I discovered that the chief banned all alcohol in the village because of its detrimental impact on the Himba people so I respectfully put it away.

 

Night time in camp

Himba children

Himba woman breastfeeding

Himba laughing at their polaroid photo I gave them

proud Himba woman

The Himba chief explained to us that his brother died, and he inherited his wife and needed to travel to the village to attend his wedding but needed lots of goats and money for the wedding. He asked us for a ride, and we agreed to let him sit in our vehicle. The body odor was a lot to handle in the car and luckily, he decided to exit the vehicle after 30 minutes on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere.

 

Himba Chief with bow and arrow for hunting

Paula showing her photo of a Himba woman

Indicative of being married

Himba girl

Himba girl

Himba Man

Himba girl

Himba girl

Damarland

From Opuvo we drove south hundreds of miles across endless deserted roads until we eventually reached a region called Damarland, a wild semi-arid country of dry vegetation with lots of wildlife including black rhinos outside of game reserves. We drove to a small campground community located at Pulwag Lodge where we camped for the night and repaired some of our flat tires.

 

giraffe on side of the road

We saw ostrich, giraffe, antelope, oryx…. but the highlight was when I saw a mother and baby black rhino in the distance and I walked 100 yards from the car to get a better photo thinking the rhino couldn’t see me, but it did and charged me.

 

Black rhino mother

We had our first flat tire on this stretch of the road, and we would have a 2nd too. Changing a tire with a jack that was foreign to us while reading an instruction manual in Japanese in the beaming hot sunlight on a slope was a challenge, but we managed to pull it off. As soon as we were in a village, we repaired the flat tire to ensure we had all available tires with us at all times. We also encountered other cars broken down and hounded out water to stranded travelers.

 

Skeleton Coast

The Skeleton Coast a vast coastal desert with little to no vegetation was a place I couldn’t miss. To enter the skeleton coast, I had to check in with the office and provide an exit time. Only a couple of ranger vehicles drive the road per day so ifa vehicle breaks down they advise you to stay with the car and do not wander offroad and to definitely not drive offroad because of the possibility of never being seen again.

The highlight was seeing the ancient welwitschia plant. It isn’t beautiful by any means, but it is unique in that it grows in areas where there literally is nothing else around and the plant lives from 400-15000 years and provides its own ecosystem with endemic insects known to live nowhere else but on the plant. We saw a few of these plants and they all almost appear to be dead but with so little water they typically look wilted.

 

The welwitschia has an estimated lifespan of between 400-1,500 years

Paula and I saw about 2 other cars in the day that we drove the Skeleton Coast. it is exactly what you imagine the end of the world to feel like. There is no life and shipwrecks, and abandoned mines dot the barren landscape giving it a post-apocalyptic feeling. I made sure to drive slowly and avoid swerving off the road and I brought far more water than I could ever hope to drink in one day just in case.

 

Empty roads

paula freezing in the whipping skeleton coast wind

Shipwreck

Abandoned mine with hyena prints around it

Abandoned mine with hyena prints around it

Skeleton Coast

Skeleton Coast/Paula by our car

paula alone in the desolation of the Skeleton Coast

Sand dunes of Skeleton Coast

One of the many shipwrecks of the Skeleton Coast

Animal bones in the Skeleton Coast

Despite being in the desert, the Skeleton Coast is not hot and it is typically cloudy because of the freezing Benguela Current, that carries nutrient-rich ocean current originating off the Western Cape of Africa. The nutrients of the Benguela Current also bring lots of fish and predators that prey on the fish such as the southern cape fur seal which lives in massive colonies with thousands of individuals in the Skeleton Coast. We walked among one colony and the seals cared little for our presence with the exception of the occasion sassy one who would give chase to us. The seals have to be tough however because Jackels are known to prey on the pups, and we saw lots of Jackel prints among the seals. The rotten fish stench of seal excrement was the hardest part of the experience. 

Massive Cape Fur Seal population

Massive Cape Fur Seal population

Pup seal

Namib Desert

We stayed in an old inn at the Hotel Cape Cross just outside of the Skeleton Coast before continuing on the one of the world’s oldest deserts, the Namib Desert.  The best place to access the Namib Desert and one of the only places we saw other tourists in Namibia was in Sassosvlei dunes. But it was easy to escape them in the towering sand dunes. We camped one night in Sassosvlei inside the park gates to have easy access to the park and access the big sand dunes at sunrise. We hiked some of the tallest sand dunes in the world and to dry lake beds with ancient, petrified forests and came face to face with the unicorn looking oryx grazing on the meager grass growing on sand dunes.

Paula walking the Sassosvlei dunes

Sassosvlei dunes-Deadvlei that you can see Big Daddy Dune. At 1,066ft high

Sassosvlei dunes

Oryx at Sassosvlei dunes

Ancient dried lake bed with petrified forest

One of our favorite experiences was taking a sightseeing flight across the Nambi Desert to see the 100-year-old German shipwreck along the coast that is now dozens of miles away from the beach.

 

Namib Desert from small sightseeing Cessna Caravan Plane

Eduard Bohlen Shipwreck

Eduard Bohlen Shipwreck

Small fairy circles where nothing grows inside their circular boundaries. The reason is unknown.

Paula and I camped one night in the Namib desert and then stayed a 2nd night in a cabin in Hotel Africa Camp that was part of a lodge overlooking the vast desert before driving back to Windhoek and flying back home.

 

Paula looking out from the porch of our cabin in the Namib Desert

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