Namibia is a country in Southwest Africa that meets the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Zambia, Angola, Botswana, South Africa, and shares a quadripoint border (actually 200 meters away) with Zimbabwe. Namibia gained independence from South Africa in 1990, following a War of Independence.
Namibia is the driest country in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the most sparse populated countries in the world, with a population of 2.5 million. It’s rich in natural resources, including diamonds, uranium, gold, silver and other minerals.
In 1884, the German Empire took control of most of the territory and from 1904 to 1908 committed a brutal genocide against the indigenous Herero and Nama tribes. In 1920, after the end of World War I, the League of Nations entrusted the administration of the colony to South Africa. South Africa enforced its laws, including racial discrimination and apartheid. In the late 20th century, African activists organized protests and demanded independence, which they eventually won after continuous guerilla wars. After independence, Namibia ended the apartheid rule of the white minority and established a parliamentary democracy.
The majority of Namibia’s population is of Bantu tribe. Other ethnic groups are the Herero and Himba, who speak a similar language, as well as the Damara and Nama.
Whites are mainly of German, British and Portuguese descent and make up just 7.0% of the population. Although their population percentage declined after independence, they still constitute the second largest population of Europeans in Sub-Saharan Africa. Most whites are descended from the German settlers of Namibia and retain German cultural traits.
English is the official language in Namibia, but only 3% speak it as a mother tongue. Oshiwambo is the most common language spoken and Afrikaans is a widely understood language.
Unfortunately, as in the neighboring countries, the rate of HIV infection reaches 25%. Imagine one in 4 people around you being HIV positive!
Namibia has a relatively high crime rate. Although the danger factor is not comparable to that of neighboring South Africa, armed robberies are not a rare case and caution is recommended at night and in isolated places on the outskirts of cities.
I personally met only smiling, kindhearted people everywhere, in the cities, in the tribal villages, in the ghettos of the slums (townships), so I could rank Namibians high on the list of friendliest Africans.
Namibia lies between the Namib and Kalahari deserts, and has the least rainfall of any country in sub-Saharan Africa. The Namib Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world and the sand dunes created by the strong onshore winds are the highest in the world. Due to the location of the coastline, where the cold water of the Atlantic meets the warm climate of Africa, extremely dense fog often forms along the coast. Here is also the famous Skeleton Coast, which got its name from the whale and seal bones scattered by the whaling industry. In modern times the coast is home to the skeletons of shipwrecks washed up in shallow waters and reefs. More than a thousand ships of various sizes flood the coast.
The Bushveld is located in northeastern Namibia along the border with Angola and the Caprivi strip. The area receives more rainfall than the rest of the country, but the sandy soils lack the ability to retain water and support agriculture.
The Kalahari Desert, which straddles both South Africa and Botswana, is one of Namibia’s best-known geographical regions. The Kalahari, while known as a desert, has a variety of environmental features, and even includes areas of vegetation.
The capital and largest city is Windhoek, followed by Rundu, Walvis Bay, Swakopmund, Oshakati, Otjiwarongo, etc.
Τhe oldest desert in the world
Namibia has been for me a dream destination for many years. It is a country that has impressive geographical and ethnographic characteristics, but also has tourist infrastructure even for those who are not willing to sacrifice their comfort – and pay the respective price – and therefore attracts a large number of visitors from all over the world, especially from South Africa. and Germany.
The main postponing factor of the trip has always been the complexity of visa issue. While for most European passports the visa is issued on arrival, a bureaucratic process is required for Greek passports that need to be sent to the London Embassy, including photo, airline tickets, hotel bookings and travel insurance. On this trip, the team consists of 4 travelers, so the cost of courier and – most importantly – a vehicle hire cost is divided by four.
Namibia follows culturally, socially and administratively the standards of South Africa. Public transport exist, however, in order to reach national parks and other remote points of interest, it is necessary to rent a vehicle. Hitchhiking is prohibited.
There are several car rental companies in Namibia that offer 4X4 vehicles with camping equipment. Since the country is sparsely populated, distances are long and accommodation is rare and too expensive, the camping choice offers not only a practical solution but also true nature experience, making an unforgettable travel experience. Our initial thought was to free camp in the bush (like in Iceland ), but local infos informed that this is dangerous, especially near cities but even at deserted locations. There is a big poverty rate in the country, so attacks or even opportunistic thefts are frequent, so we have to look for organised camping areas.
The road network is mostly untarred, the mobile network has no coverage outside of the few urban areas and the vehicle reliability is vital. </p >
After extensive search for car agencies we chose the cheapest being Camel Car Hire, and we had a fairly ok experience. The vehicle is a Toyota Hilux double cab 4×4, 2.4L pickup and costs N$ 1700 a day (€ 90) along with Camping equipment for 4 people/ 2 roof tents and zero waiver insurance ..
The contract, like the rest of agencies’, has some restrictions. It prohibits driving after 8pm, disrespecting speed limit, driving on some bad roads, dunes, beaches and rivers. Insurance coverage does not apply in these cases, however, the terms will not be respected on our part. Also all vehicles are equipped with a satellite tracking system and emit a sound beep to the driver when the speed limit is exceeded. The beep will be heard quite often.
The 10-day road trip begins.
5200 kilometers are waiting to be driven by the 4 travel buddies.
The agency staff demos how to open the two tents adapted on the car roof, the box with the cookware and tire change tools. Needless to say that the staff is black, as is usually the labour force in these countries, while the owner and her husband, whom we’ll meet during the vehicle delivery, are whites. “>
Before we leave the capital Windhoek, we obtain the necessary food and water for the first few days. In a small town we make a stop to get in touch with the residents and to buy a necessity we forgot, that’s a bottle of whiskey. Some children are begging with a cheerful mood, rather out of habit rather than need. We pay back the smiles donating some chocolate bars. The route to the south is rather boring, with no particular interest. But the sunset colors of Africa, these unique skies that you don’t meet elsewhere, turn the monotonous savannah to idyllic. Soon we leave the tarred road and need to drive a long time after dark, with increased attention for wild animals crossing. The first ones we come across are the tiny deer species called Dik-Dik and fortunately do not end up on our wheels.
Resisting the fatigue of the journey from Greece to Namibia and the 300km route from Windhoek, we drive as much as possible to be close to the next day’s destination. In the wilderness and darkness, we finally see lights of civilization on the horizon. Sesriem is not even a settlement, only 1-2 campsites are around, quite far from each other and here is the gate of Sossusvlei national park. The guard, who is probably surprised by the presence of people at this time, gives us some instructions to find a nearby campsite. In the dark we follow the fence, but we don’t easily find any gate, just the only gas station in the area. Crossing through it we see some camper vehicles in the background. We approach them, since there is no one else to direct us a camp space. The group of campers with the super-equipped vehicles have occupied the circular area, they are drunk and having fun around the barbecue. Somewhat inhospitably they tell us in a South African accent to move further. The next space is occupied as well, but in the end we discover an area to settle. The place provides only a water tap and a lamp, we don’t locate the toilets or other facilities until next morning. An unfortunate finding is that the cover of his car’s trunk does not lock tightly, resulting in all our food and luggage being covered in a thick layer of dust. This problem will follow us all days making our life hard. Cooking in these conditions is not easy, but thanks to our travel buddy who takes the role of chef, we enjoy a delicious dinner.
The galaxy spreads its diamond veil and the Southern cross mentioned by the poets, οn the starry sky above the Namib desert, defining the point of my tiny presence on this earth, in this universe. A few glasses of rum from the bottle we “borrowed” from the airport lounge and a few more from the whiskey we bought, send me to interact with this universe.
The fatigue of the previous day and the spell of the night stars did not allow for an early wake-up. We refuel at the gas station, the car has a high consumption and diesel costs around €1.40/lt.
The Sossusvlei is an expanse of over 300 kilometers long and 140 kilometers wide consisting of endless sand dunes. Loosely translated from the Nama language it means “place where there is nothing”. The highest sand dunes in the world, with a height of up to 400 meters, make up an imposing and otherworldly landscape. Sossusvlei was formed about 5 million years ago when this unique landscape of sand dunes, clay soils and few trees was created in this desert. Despite the harsh desert conditions in the area, there is a variety of plants and animals that have adapted to survive.
After entering the national park there are 96 kms of paved road that crosses the area surrounded with amazing sand dunes. A few solitary animal entities stand out in this inhospitable landscape. Some ostriches and some oryx! Excitedly we drive on the dirt, off-road track following the animals that are running bored. During the trip we will meet lot’s of animals that we will cease to be that impressed. The dunes have a numerical name, according to their kilometer location. We leave the car and climb into one of them. Having been in many deserts, the feeling is familiar. But when I raise my eyes from the golden sand and look at the vast, insurmountable landscape around me, I am dazzled by this wonder that doesn’t exist anywhere else on earth.
At the end of the paved road there is a parking area from where some people continue with groups in safari vehicles. The last eight kilometers of the route is deep soft sand, but we manage to drive the distance by pushing the car’s off road capabilities. At various points we stop to enjoy the scenery, and I try to get close to a pair of oryx that of course do not wait to be approached.
Next comes 6 kilometers of hiking in deep sand, under an unbearable heat of over 38 degrees C and sunlight.
The Deadvlei is a basin of white clay deposits, Its name means “dead marsh” (from the English dead, and the Afrikaans vlei-lake ) and surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world,
It was formed after a flood of the Tsauchab River, which allowed trees to grow. When the climate changed, drought hit the area and the dunes blocked the river, so the trees died as there was no longer enough water to survive. There are few plant species left, adapted to survive, taking advantage of the dampness of morning mist and the infrequent rainfall. The skeletons of trees believed to have died 700 years ago, are now black from the hot sun and due to dry climate they don’t decompose. Namibia’s most monumental images, and some of the strangest on earth, make up this landscape. The day heat gives me the opportunity to enjoy the large area, almost empty. Few figures stand out, like an American girl of African origin who declares herself a travel influencer and struggles to wear a heavy and rather warm dress. Her guide is also struggling, trying to operate the camera.
We adapt to the heat and drought and enjoy the area as much as we can. The skin burns from the sudden change, from the European winter to the African summer. I feel once again in my native element, I assimilate with the universe of sand and lifeless trees, I relive familiar moments of meditation, like a year ago in Mauritania .
The road ahead is long, crossing the same sandy track, the short tarred and then the endless dirt road that follows.
Somewhere in the utter desert, a small gas station pops up reminding a western movie, with a metal water-pumping windmill, cacti and some rusty antique cars half-buried in the sand. Surprisingly, there is a restaurant and in fact it has quite a variety of food. We stop for beer and delicious apple pie. A few kilometers further down there is a cheetah protection center that we bypass. During the trip we will discover several similar private centers that claim to be conservation farms, which organize expensive tours at a certain time of the day. I hope to see this animal in conditions of complete freedom.
The Atlantic Coast Road is an absolute wilderness, mostly without dunes but in a lifeless environment reminiscent of NASA images of Mars. Although not a single sprout is growing, some dik-dik are running scared on the side of the road. Strangely too, there is a wire fence along a large part of the route and we wonder why it exists in this barren land. It is not related to the so-called “red line” that we will encounter further north, it probably defines private lands and restricts the movement of animals. Of course, there is no mobile phone signal during the route and vehicles that could help in case of need rarely pass by.
Approaching the sea and the harbour town of Walvis Bay, the route instead of becoming more welcoming, takes on an even wilder form. The landscape is surrounded by dunes of off-white sand that a sandstorm sweeps away, covering parts of the road. In the background there are signs of civilization, large storage and shipping facilities can be seen. Suddenly on the right hand we see a small lake full of flamingos. But on our left appears an entire wetland, a complex of lakes with tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of flamingos and other bird species.
Together with the lagoon and salt flats located on the southern outskirts of the city, they form the most important coastal wetlands in southern Africa. Over 150,000 migratory birds spend the summer months in Walvis Bay. Out of the more than 150 species, some migrate from Europe and Siberia covering a distance of up to 14,000 kms each year. We wander off-road around the lakes and try to get closer to the countless flamingos on foot. A flurry of flutterings wings paint the sky with pink touches as the flocks flee scared. This spectacle, combined with the water element between sand dunes, is incredible. I could say that this spot enchants me even more than Sossusvlei and of course there are no tourists here.
Walvis Bay is the second largest city in Namibia and is a safe harbor for ships plying the Cape of Good Hope circumnavigation. The waters rich in plankton and marine life also attract large numbers of whales, as well as whalers and fishing boats. The city is located just north of the Tropic of Capricorn.
Walvis Bay has beautiful upper-class villas along the Atlantic coast, but is of little interest to the visitor. Local pedestrians and cyclists stroll along the waterfront, while flamingos adorn the landscape in the shallow waters of the lagoon. The port’s cranes lay on the northern shore, while following a route to the south and the end of the “flamingo lagoon” we come across the salt flats. A little further down is the famous pink lake! Although the wind is strong and there is quite a bit of swell on this particular day, the sight is unreal. The color of the water is pink, foam and salt deposits form on the coast. The color is said to be due to microorganisms releasing a reddish substance called beta-carotene as part of their photosynthesis process.
The road does not continue further south, the route to the famous Sandwich Harbor where giant sand dunes end at the ocean requires off-road navigation, Rental companies do not allow driving there as there is a risk of the vehicle being trapped and destroyed by high tide and sandstorms. Someone offers us guiding services with our own vehicle, but the offer besides being unreasonably expensive (N$ 3000/person) is unsafe for the integrity of the car. There are also organized tours, but they cost more than N$4400 per person (€240) and even though the place looks fantastic in photos, organized tours are not much our travel style. At the edge of the port some bars and restaurants create a spontaneous atmosphere where small groups of white and black people are dancing.
Swakopmund, in addition to being hard to pronounce, is Namibia’s 4th most populous city, a beach resort with beautiful German-influenced colonial architecture.
We arrive in the evening and choose to spend the night in a hostel with 10-bed dormitories, the only accommodation with a reasonable price, to celebrate Christmas Eve in “civilized” conditions. Due to the holiday and the late hour, there aren’t many restaurants open, but the one we find exceeded all expectations. Menu includes snails, beef, oysters, lobsters at €12 each, prawns and… oryx, for which I will relax my ecologic sensibility and enjoy its delicious meat. All this accompanied by a superb South African wine.
On Christmas Day the city has little activity, most shops are closed, some neighborhoods seem uninhabited. Colonial, colorful wooden buildings make up the unique image of Swakopmund, admittedly the most beautiful city in the country, despite not having many to compete with. The characteristic lighthouse of the city and the pier are some of the other points of interest. The city is generally attractive, but on this particular day there is not much to do.
There are some impressive sand dunes outside the city where camel rides or quad bikes are organized, but again these tourist activities do not appeal to us. We prefer to visit Mondesa township (slum). The presence of people is also sparse here, except for the ladies that go to church for the Christmas pilgrim. But all those we meet are returning us hearty smiles.
I would like to stay several days in the beautiful town of Swakopmund, but the holiday season with closed shops, the huge distances ahead and the uncertainty of the road conditions ahead, they direct us to move on.
The day continues northward, unaware of the road conditions or the destination we could reach till night.
The Skeleton coast
The deserted road by the ocean is devoid of settlements and there is little human presence, sporadically in spots that offer pole fishing. Some vehicles even carry the long rods, vertically in special positions on the front bumper. The Skeleton Coast is of course famous for its shipwrecks and stories of sailors walking the desert in search of food and water. The name comes from the bones of whale and seal hunting, which were scattered on the shores, but some of the skeletons were human.
Coastal fog and shifting shallow waters result in many ships running aground and wrecking. The coast is littered with many shipwrecks, many of them disintegrated by the sea and weather and without signposts it’s not easy to locate them in this vast expanse. Zelda is one of the newer wrecks (2007), relatively intact and easy to spot.
The Portuguese seafarer and explorer Diogo Cão arrived at Cape Cross in 1486 and erected a cross as a symbol of his country’s sovereignty.
At Cape Cross there is a protected area, a sanctuary for one of the largest seal colonies in the world. Up to 200,000 seals congregate at Cape Cross during the November and December breeding season.In mid-October the males come ashore and engage in dramatic breast-fighting displays with chest. A male can have 7 to 60 females in his harem. After a gestation period of eight months, females give birth to a cub weighing 4-6 kg. Newborns are nursed soon after birth, and a sound-smell bond is established that is essential for mothers to find their young among tens of thousands of others. The first months of life are critical for newborns due to predators such as jackals, hyenas and lions.
From the sanctuary’s parking lot, the sight of mothers trying to manipulate their young by roaring and violently transporting them using their teeth, is shocking. I cautiously approach some of the massive adult animals, up to a point beyond which they become aggressive. The smell is unbearable, not only because of the feces and urine but mainly because of the large number of dead newborns lying everywhere rotting. The causes are unknown even to scientists, including environmental contamination, bacterial infections or malnutrition.
This strange hell of souls captivates me, wherever my eye looks I see a moving mass of these creatures roaring and rolling clumsily on the sand and rocks.
The Ugab gate separates the northern from the southern part of the Skeleton Coast National Park. Huge whale bones and a skull with crossbones sign warn you of the inhospitable conditions ahead. The passage of our vehicle is recorded. Desert lions often appear at this point, on some website we saw the next days the lonely march of a lioness (with GPS tracker) to the coast where she was looking for seals to feed on.
The few sights along the route are made up of the remnants of human activity. A dilapidated oil rig that operated in the late 60s is rusting and being digested by the sand that wants to swallow it, creating a scene reminiscent of a dystopian future movie.
Torra Bay is 300km away from Swakopmund and the road ends a little further north. At Torra Bay there is only one tented camp and a petrol station. The icy waters of the Atlantic and the windswept shores do not make for an attractive beach holiday, visitors are only keen fishermen who arrive in December and January. A group of local men and women are singing on the beach drinking beers and welcome us enthusiastically. They are workers in Walvis Bay lodges who during their holiday season come for an extra day’s pay at the camp. There’s not much interest to remain much here, we are stressed to be drive inland on a road of condition we ignore. We also forget to fill the tank with diesel but we hope that the range of the car will be enough.
Several hours of complete wilderness follow, something we are used to by now. On the left side of the road is the wire fence referred to as the Red Line, which separates northern Namibia from its central and southern parts to exclude animal diseases. It was created in 1896 to control a plague epidemic in the German colony of South West Africa. South of the fence today there are farms owned by whites, while to the north the agricultural land is shared by black farmers. Animals from the northern region must be quarantined for 21 days to be sold in the south or exported, increasing production and marketing costs. Wild animals are not easily kept inside fences and often roam even on the road.
We drive for hours without meeting anyone. The car speeds at 120 km/h on the dirt road and in some places makes low “flights”. The beep from the GPS tracker often warns of excessive speed. Some abandoned construction site container buildings and the Springbokwasser east gate of the national park are shown. After an hour the bored security guard appears to open the gate and suggest we buy fuel at a relatively inflated price. We decide to venture all the way to Palmwag, which is 550 kms away from our starting point in Swakopmund.
We meet the first giraffe casually grazing on the side of the road. She doesn’t pay much attention to us, only when we start to approach her on foot she lazily moves away. We meet more giraffes until we reach Palmwag. The surrounding area is aid to be rich in free-ranging wildlife, including leopards, lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, springbock antelopes and kudu, desert elephants. It also has the largest population of black rhinos in Africa.
Desert prevails in Palmwag as well, there is no notable settlement except a fuel pump. Two half-naked Himba women are selling handmade dolls and bracelets. The gas seller gives us a handwritten receipt. The original plan was to spend the night here in an adjacent camp. There are also some luxury lodges in nearby places, which cater to another style of travelers. As we have covered this long distance quickly and still have 1-2 hours of daylight left, we continue on.
A family of elephants is crossing the road! We stop beside them excitedly, but the male leader makes the characteristic warning movement with his ears. Without a second warning, the elephant starts stalking us. We start at full speed, he chases us, we stop to wait for him, we starts again and we’re laughing. It’s the second time happening to me, after that chase in Zimbabwe , which could have been fatal because I was on foot at the time.
A feast is going on in the countryside, with music, food and Herero women in their colorful costumes and strange triangular hats. They welcome us hospitably, we treat them to honey cookies and with their permission we take pictures together.
We arrive at the first village of the Himba tribe at dusk. A young tribal girl in modern clothing asks us for money to allow visiting the camp. Paying for photos is a practice I do not support, neither makes any good in preserving the authenticity of traditional tribes. Instead we happily buy some of the handicrafts they sell.
The Himba (or OvaHimba) is a tribal group of about 50,000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene region (formerly Kaokoland) and the homonymous river, as well as on its opposite side, in southern Angola. The Himba are a semi-nomadic people in that they have small settlements and crop fields, but if necessary they move depending on rainfall and water availability. They are considered the last nomadic people of Namibia.
They are mainly livestock breeders and less farmers whose main diet is milk, sour milk, corn porridge, eggs, herbs and honey. They receive little financial assistance and pensions from the government.
Women do the heaviest work, such as carrying water, firewood, tending crops, cooking, and making handicrafts and clothes. They also take care of milking the animals and raising the children. The men are engaged in animal husbandry and are often found in pastures far from the settlement. They are also responsible for relations with other village chiefs.
Members of a large family usually live in a small village, a circular settlement of huts. The Himba people have their own language, customs and traditional beliefs. They believe in one God, Mukuru, who is the creator of the universe and all living things. They also believe in a number of ancestral spirits and have a strong tradition of worshiping the dead.
The Himba and especially the women follow a special clothing tradition. They go around topless, wearing a leather skirt and usually barefoot or with leather sandals. Characteristically, they cover the skin and hair with a mixture of fat and ocher pigment that protects against the sun and insect bites. The skin and solid strands of hair acquire a special texture and reddish hue, these are considered beauty decorating elements.
Young children also have a distinctive bun, boys have one braid towards the back of the head, while girls have two braids directed towards the front.
The Himba are polygamous, men usually have two wives, and youth marriages are arranged by family. Girls are married as young as 10, although child marriage is not legal in Namibia.
In recent years, the Himba have faced challenges such as land loss, displacement and cultural assimilation. However, they are still a resilient community and strive to preserve their culture, customs and traditions.
The Himba usually live in remote places, but they are not isolated from the culture of the urban centers with which they coexist. Especially in the capital of Kunene province, Opuwo, they travel to buy food in supermarkets and to access health care.
We arrive in Opuwo late at night, having traveled 700 kilometers of dirt road in one day. Due to the bad road and high speed, the car has a problem, some strange sound is heard from the steering system. Fellow traveler A, who has some knowledge of mechanics, spots a center screw in the suspension whose nut has been cut and is about to come completely out of place. If it came out during the ride and at the speed we were going, the wheel would be unsupported and the car would be out of control, possibly causing a serious accident.
Some bystanders claim to be experts and intend to offer engineering services. The time is not suitable for such a thing, it is more important to find a place to spend the night. With a little effort we find the owner of two very basic rooms. Since there is no open restaurant, we try to dust the food and cook some noodles in the yard.
With daylight, the city gets alive. The local tribes, most characteristically the Himba women, roam the city, creating a strange contrast between the modern and the primitive element. Topless Himba people roam freely on the streets and in local shops. Many women and children are hustling, others are asking for empty plastic bottles, a kid tries to wash the car and in general all this hassle makes confusion and prevents helping anyone. Car repair is a priority. A modern repair shop is closed due to holiday, but at the gas station where we fill up, the employee offers to leave his work and take us to some mechanics. Surprise, the engineers are the same people of last night! The repair takes a long time, 4 people struggle in the repair by dismantling the whole suspension, something unnecessary I think. They also overcharged us by N$950 (€52), an amount for which the owner is informed by phone so that he accepts.
I would like to stay in this city longer, to enjoy the interaction with the people, but the mistake of rush goes on.
Encounters with Himba members of all ages are frequent along the way and the food we have procured from the super market to offer them is becoming rapturous. Also, the dozens of cereal bars that we had “borrowed” for this purpose from the airport lounges, found recipients who appreciated them mostly.
After another route through the dust and arid landscape, we face a dreamy oasis with palm trees. The Kunene River forms a natural border between Angola and Namibia, is approximately 1,100 km long and is an important source of irrigation for the region. It hosts species of fish and crocodiles.
There are 2-3 campsites near the Epupa waterfall and we choose the first one, using the charm of travel buddy A to get the receptionist girl to give us a campsite in front of the river. There are also a few modern bungalows for those who have booked long ago and have a high budget. Facilities at the campsite include toilets, showers and a delightful swimming pool. The restaurant needs to be pre ordered for dinner and only if there is availability, but has cold beers. The campsite is located directly above the waterfall, allowing easy access and spectacular views.
At this point there is also a local market for Himba handicrafts and their presence in the area gives the opportunity to interact with them. At a local store we stock up on some more food for us and for the villages we want to visit, as well as some “Windhoek” beer cans. Some teenage Himba girls have consumed a lot of alcohol and insist on being treated beer.
Some local guides of Himba origin offer tours at the Himba villages and an introduction to their culture and customs. There is also the possibility of rafting on the river. One of them is particularly kind, he tells us about his activism as a long-distance runner for the protection of the environment. He tells that he has walked the entire Skeleton Coast, tells about his hometown called Marienfuss, a remote spot east of the river, for the three lions left there and the Namibian president who gave permission to hunt one of them. The independent mentality we travel with and the fact that we’d have to bring the guide back, makes us not choose his services, which this time I will regret. We decide to enjoy the tranquility and beauty of this place and explore the rest of area when leaving. At the campsite we also meet some Austrian overlanders who travel with a converted, old Mercedes truck which they sent by ship from Europe to South Africa. They are back from a two week tour of Marienfuss and in addition to sharing experiences, they supply us with a replacement part of the gas stove, because ours was worn out and caught fire! </span >
Staying in this little paradise is wonderful, I’d love to illegally swim across the river to Angola, besides I don’t see a crocodile, neither any border police or any other human presence. Instead, we put on swimsuits and go for a walk to the waterfall. The Himba women are happily smiling and proudly pose for photos. I promise to come back next day and buy some souvenirs they sell.
Epupa is a small but impressive waterfall with a height of about 37 meters, surrounded by towering rocks and lush vegetation. The sound of falling water and steam clouds make the experience magical. Its flow starts at the same level of the observation point and ends lower through a narrow gorge. On a precipitous edge of the rock, I admire the imposing power of nature with the water of Kunene precipitating. Some baobab trees are perched on the slopes of the gorge. Himba women wash babies in the small ponds that form near the river banks and some men fish.
At night the stars twinkle behind the fronds of palm trees in this alternative exotic spot on earth, where Kunene’s sound lulls me on his way to the ocean.
Although we had decided to stay a few days in this beautiful spot, after another walk in the Himba village our travel frenzy makes us pack up and leave. We have marked another campsite further east on the river.
The D3700 is a dirt road about 170 kilometers long and connects Epupa Falls to the village of Ruacana and the waterfall of the same name there. It is a scenic road alongside the Kunene River that passes through some of the most remote parts of the country.
The road is rough and insurance does not cover rental vehicles, careful driving, 4WD and enough fuel for the trip is required. But it passes through beautiful landscapes along the river and through the most authentic Himba villages, which we make some visits to.
The few campsites we come across do not excite us and we finally end up back in civilization, to my great disappointment. I honestly wish we could do the arduous route again and go back. A little north of the unremarkable town of Ruacana, there is the border post between Namibia and Angola and the waterfall of the same name, which is one of the largest in Africa. A group of children lead us down a flight of stairs alongside a large concrete water channel to see the waterfall. Unfortunately the water is minimal at this time of year and does not present any remarkable spectacle. My pity is great, I wish we had several days, Angola visa, Namibian double visa and a car that is allowed to drive in the neighboring country to explore its southern region. I walk over to the Angolan guard who is enjoying his nap on a chair. He only speaks Portuguese, but I insist on asking him about the possibility of entry. Bored, he leaves to go ask. There is no soul, I feel like walking to Angola and leaving my fellow travelers back in the car. The guard comes back and tells me to come tomorrow. The Namibian border officer is more informative and tells me to look for the consulate in the town of Oshakati, 160 kilometers east and near another border crossing. Of course Angola will remain a dream for the time being, I hope to be able to get there in the future.
Outapi is a small town with a population of about 8,000 inhabitants where we stop for the night. It is a rural area, with crops such as corn, and also has a power plant. There are many baobab trees in the city, but the famous Ombalantu is 28 meters high, 27 meters in circumference and estimated to be 800 years old. The trunk of the tree has a door that leads to a room that can accommodate about 35 people. It has been a chapel, a post office, a house and a hiding place, while today the tree is a tourist attraction. The town hosts the annual Olufuko cultural festival, starring teenage girls preparing for adulthood.
Etosha National Park
Etosha National Park is a National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary in northern Namibia, one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The park is home to a wide variety of animals, including elephants, lions, cheetahs, rhinos, giraffes, hyenas, jackals and many species of antelopes and birds.
At the center of the park is the Etosha Pan, a huge, shallow salt flat that covers about 25% of the total area. During the rainy season it fills with water and becomes a refuge for thousands of migratory birds such as flamingos, pelicans and storks.
The park, which consists of savannah grasslands to low forests, has several waterholes that attract animals that come to drink water or cool off by entering the water.</p >
The park has four camps, Okaukuejo, Halali, Namutoni and Onkoshi. Each of these has accommodation options, from campsites to luxury apartments. Campgrounds are located near the park’s waterholes, allowing visitors to enjoy 24-hour spectacular views of the wildlife that congregate there.
The first day of the safari, after we enter Etosha’s eastern gate, unfolds with several animal encounters, including giraffes, impala, zebras and sprinkbock antelopes, which will soon they are routine meetings. We get out of the car and like small children we chase them on foot, which is of course forbidden. The most impressive animal is the first black rhino we encounter and we approach it by car driving off-road, which is also prohibited. From another close contact of mine (on foot) in Zambia, I’m aware that these animals have poor vision but a very good sense of smell. If the wind is not in the direction of the animal and you are not wearing light-colored clothes, it does not notice you. Of course we’re in a massive white car and the rhino raises its front leg… rather alarming reaction.
We arrive at the Halali camp at dusk and find comfortable camp space next to roofed facilities with a sink that protects cooking process from a short rainstorm.
The waterhole located on the edge of the enclosure offers night and day visits of animals, mainly rhinos. At this particular season we know the animals are on the west side of the park so the next day we head there, exploring the savannah, the waterholes with the thirsty animals and the view of the vast salt lake of Etosha.
We arrive again in the evening at the next campsite, Okaukuejo, which is the most equipped of all, with luxurious bungalows, a restaurant and a busy camping ground. It also has a gas station and a mini market. In our previous phone call we’ve been informed that there were no space available. Until we finish our dinner without stress, the reception is closed and anyway we have to look for free space by ourselves. A hungry jackal wanders between the vehicles looking for something to eat.
The Okaukuejo waterhole is crowded with animals, like the campsite is with visitors. It’s worth spending hours here, observing 24-hour giraffes, zebras, kudu, antelopes, hyenas and rhinos cooling off.
Even more crowded are some waterholes on the west side such as Nebrownii and Okondeka. A parade of the animal kingdom takes place here. Giraffes, antelopes and giant elephants claim some space to quench their thirst.
Etosha elephants are among the largest in Africa, standing 4-5 meters tall. Adult males weigh up to 6 tons, while females are smaller. Their tusks are smaller than elephants in other parts of Africa due to a lack of minerals in their diet, but this is an advantage, as it makes them less likely to fall prey to poachers. They use to shower with the milky muddy waters of Etosha to protect their skin from the sun and this gives them a white, otherworldly appearance. White rhinos – not because of the mud but because of the species they belong to – are endangered but here they abound. At another point in the day, a lone lioness emerges to star in the eyes and camera lenses of people attending. The rest of animals keep a safe distance. The lioness doesn’t care about the water, she walks relaxed past the line of cars and continues till liyng down on the open plain. A male lion also appears and lies down too, some distance away. The driver of a safari tour vehicle blames us because we open the doors to take pictures, otherwise we are apt to start walking around.
Among other things, we break the rules once more, almost by chance, moving on a road in the thickets, where we meet zebras, antelopes and giraffes.
Etosha left a great impression on us, because of its difference from other safaris and the abundance of animals. Unfortunately we were not lucky enough to meet a leopard, but whatever the case may be, the independent safari with our own driving does not compare as an experience to the organized ones, no matter how many animals one sees in them. After 3 days we leave and on the exit we don’t present the park ticket that we forgot to pay at a particular point. The employees collect the money without a receipt.
After Etosha the rest of the days are relatively boring, with a lack of points of interest. The idea of visiting the Caprivi strip with the Zambezi river wetlands at the northeastern tip of the country is not a plan we follow. The distance just to get there exceeds 900 kilometers. After all, we have had enough of seeing wild animals.
I have located a Himba village on the map that is strangely located this far south. We decide to take another dirt road there, with the intention of camping in their village. Finally we see a gate and an empty camp before the village. The guard phones with the boss but it is not possible for us to stay within the village. We will have to pay N$350 per person to visit it but spend the night outside, at the camp. I am wary and ask to check around the village, only to see some bored, overfed Himba women, a sign of tourism and the alteration of their authentic way of life. To my great surprise, the security guard tells me that the visit lasts about 20′, then we have to leave because they are waiting for another group. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, but any contact with the Himba south of Opuwo is a complete tourist trap. The same thing happens in another remote place where there is a Herero village. The guard of the field with the two or three well-maintained huts wants to sell us ticket. We ask how many members the village has and he answers us… one! He had dressed his wife in costume expecting tourist victims.
The landscape to the south changes sharply. We leave the arid landscapes and the low vegetation with the cultivated areas makes its appearance. Togetherthe climate also changes, the rainy season recalls its presence even sporadically.
Otjiwarongo is a town of 28,000 in north-central Namibia, a commercial hub and a station on the TransNamib Railway. It is a city with a large German-speaking population and one of the most developed in Namibia, due to the rare earth deposits in the area. It has modern facilities such as supermarkets, banks, shops and hotels. In this city we return to the experience of urban Africa, with excellent restaurants and entertainment bars to enjoy.
Around the city there are several private parks with leopards, cheetahs and other animals, which as we will learn only accept guests with accommodation, at exorbitant prices. In Namibia there are unfortunately also many private parks where some unwitting hunters can legally, by paying a fee, kill rare game animals such as rhinos, leopards, cheetahs and others. < /span>a simple internet search showed me the gruesome images and information.
Waterberg Plateau Park is a national park 68 kilometers southeast of Otjiwarongo. The Waterberg Plateau is a special location with a trapezoidal mountain rising high above the Kalahari plains. We decide that we are not interested in seeing a mountain and continue towards the capital with some intermediate stops.
Arriving at Windhoek we find an excellent resort, a whole village of self-contained cottages which, for €40 a day including breakfast, allows us to enjoy two days of rest, the New Year’s celebrations in the city and partial exemption from the dust until the return flight.
Windhoek, although small, is the largest city and capital of Namibia, built in the center of the country. It is a modern city and political, economic and cultural center founded in the late 19th century by German settlers. It has a rich history and cultural heritage and the German colonial influence on the architecture is evident.
The city has many restaurants, cafes and bars, as well as a lively nightlife. A signature restaurant is Joe’s Beerhouse. Its particular aesthetics and the countless objects of decoration are an experience in themselves, if we exclude the hunting “trophies” that adorn the wooden walls of the many outdoor and indoor spaces. Definitely not a place for vegetarians and the meat-eating menu includes zebra, kudu, oryx, springbock and crocodile options.
The Brewers Market is a very lively club in Windhoek, in a multi-level industrial space with loud music and dancing, ideal for the beginning of the new year. I have visited other nightclubs in African cities, but I rank this one as one of the best.
The Christuskirche Lutheran Church is a landmark of the city and directly opposite is the modern independence museum building, and the statue of Sam Nujoma, anti-apartheid activist and politician who served as the first President of Namibia, from 1990 to 2005.
My personal travel desire is always contact with vulnerable social groups and a visit to the Katutura slum could not be omitted.
Katutura was founded during the apartheid era, when the South African government enforced racial segregation and forced black people to live in designated areas outside the city. Today, Katutura is known for its vibrant community, but also for the problems associated with poverty and unemployment.
Those visiting such a place should be respectful and cautious. The reception we have, especially in the open meat market and vegetable market which is open on New Year’s Day, is particularly friendly. Also, the food that was left was offered to homeless and vulnerable social groups, giving them joy during these festive days.
The trip to this amazing African country ends, leaving a question mark. There is never enough time to explore a place, but given the major points of interest we have covered and the enormous distances that require effort and expense, would there be any reason to explore more?