Namibia Side to Side

We crossed into Namibia without much hassle, the Trans-Kalahari border post was empty and relaxed. It was a bit of a drive to Windhoek, so we decided to stay the night at a midpoint – in Gobabis. We found a nice enough looking “restcamp” but from the first moment of being there I felt uneasy. The attitude of the staff and the manager, the strange tiny camp plot, the “park” with various antelopes fenced in, probably getting fat to be put on someone’s plate later for dinner, and the lonely ostriches hanging out by the fence, probably longing to escape. They had internet, they had a bar, and they had a restaurant, but when we decided we wanted some dinner, the service was absolutely appalling, trying to find out what stuffed tomatoes were stuffed with or whether we can get the salad without cheese – all of this was met with an annoyed shrug. We settled for fries, potato wedges and salad – the salad dressing was creamy-looking, and when I asked for simple oil, the lad went and “hid” and kept looking at me across the room to see whether I had forgotten about him yet. Needless to say, we didn’t pay much attention how well we cleaned our camping spot when we left.

We planned on only staying in Windhoek one night, but then we realized it was the beginning of the weekend and the South African embassy would not be opened until Monday. We plopped ourselves at the Cardboard Box – a backpackers’ place with tiny camping spots, but it was good enough and they had draught beer. In the meantime, we managed to explore the center of the city, even with me still limping and walking with a stick. The city is clean, very empty and has nice little parks and German churches. We had lunch at a place called La Marmite, and they had pretty good West African vegan dishes. Afterwards we even allowed ourselves to be swept up by the touristic vibe and we bought a pillowcase with a cheetah face on it from a souvenir shop. At the end of our walk we got heavily rained on, and because of my bad knee, we couldn’t exactly run home either.

German church in Windhoek
German church in Windhoek

The embassy visit was disastrous, and you can read about it in the previous blog post. After discussing our new plans, we made our way lazily to the coast, to the city Swakopmund. The journey there was amazing, and here Namibia was finally opening up its infamous landscapes to us. First the gravel road became mountainous, with dead, dry and scarce vegetation, the sun beating upon us as we stopped for lunch. Then the scenery slowly flattened out until it became huge expanses of flat plains with zebra and gemsbok grazing in the heat haze. Eventually we came upon Swakopmund and saw sandy dunes in the distance just south of our campsite, which was right on the beach. The temperature drop was unbelievable, as the sun was still blazing but the cold Atlantic winds made us shiver.

Jonathan about to fall into the ocean
Jonathan about to fall into the ocean

We finally made it to the other side of the African continent, the other ocean! The waves were huge, covered in seaweed and other debris, and the water very cold. We couldn’t resist going for a dip, although the other campers looked at us as if we were mad. With my bad leg I couldn’t exactly walk in – I had to rely on Jonathan for balance and support (and breaking the waves with his back!).

Jonathan on the pier in Swakopmund
Jonathan on the pier in Swakopmund

The center of Swakopmund looks like a quaint little German holiday town. The next morning we visited the Namibian Wildlife office, stocked up on food for the fridge, and then took a leisurely walk up to the pier, from where we saw huge red jellyfish, most of them dead, with bits torn off and floating on their own together with seaweed. We also saw a dead baby seal on the beach, so of course I got excited and took many pictures.

The world's lowest bench, in Swakopmund
The world’s lowest bench, in Swakopmund

Waking up in the morning was impossible, the outside temperature was freezing, the wind was strong, and the sun hadn’t come out yet, but we powered through and drove out to Walvis Bay, where we saw a lot of flamingoes in the lagoon. Then we took the road into the Namib sector of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. We didn’t end up seeing the sand dunes in Egypt, but we saw them right here, bordering the ocean. Huge mountains of yellow sand, especially seen in the heat haze, is everything you imagine about desert mirages. The first part of our trek through the park was just that – dunes, desert landscapes, no life. But as we drove further inland, the flat desert gave way to lonely rocks and rock formations, not quite mountains but big enough to be in awe of when we stopped for lunch at one of them and sat under the overhanging rock, almost like in a cave. The desert became more populated by antelope-type animals, as the ground became more covered in thistles and dry grass. Eventually we came upon our camping spot – official camping but with very few facilities – a picnic table, and a toilet that we were only too happy to ignore – the stench was nauseating. While we set up camp, I noticed there were a few black birds being nosy about our stuff, and as soon as I got out an apple, the birds became overly excited, I thought this was going to turn into a scene out of Hitchcock’s “Birds”! I gave them the core of the apple and they spent the next few hours eating it. Then we encountered another rock-dwelling creature – a rock hyrax. We didn’t know exactly what it was – a fat mole-like creature with big front teeth and grey/brown fur, eager to find out whether we were going to be friendly, and sure enough Jonathan fed the hyraxes some pieces of cabbage. One of them was so brave, he actually took pieces of cabbage out of Jonathan’s hand!

Jonathan feeding the hyrax a piece of cabbage
Jonathan feeding the hyrax a piece of cabbage

The next day we drove through even more mountainous areas, in some parts the hard rocky trail reminded us of the lava field in the Danakil Depression. We came out of the official “park” area, and drove through the Gaub pass – a very intense curvy mountain pass, the hills looked like fillo dough, layered pastry eroding away, and the road felt like a roller-coaster. We camped at Agama River Camp and made a camp fire, where we barbecued mushrooms, carrots (only for Jonathan – I hate cooked carrots!), tomatoes, onions, and made nice potatoes in the hot sand. There were warthogs walking around, and we believe a jackal visited our bin in the night.

Leo flying among the red dunes
Leo flying among the red dunes

We drove out early in the morning to Sossusvlei via Seskriem to see the famous red dunes. The scenery really did not disappoint, and no matter how amazing the pictures, I don’t think they could ever do justice to the eerie landscape in this part of Namibia. We even climbed a dune, me with my wonky bad leg. There were so many colors everywhere, the sand sea is all colors between blue, yellow, white, grey, orange and red, and in some places you can just spot the outlines of the mountains in the intense heat haze, as if the mountains are actually floating in the air, like flying islands.

Leo, Jonathan, dunes
Leo, Jonathan, dunes

We had to drive all the way back to Swakopmund, it was long, tedious and uneventful, mostly because we hate driving back on the same roads, but in this part of Namibia there aren’t really many other roads one can take without making a huge detour. We camped in the same place again on the beach, and the next day headed out to the Skeleton Coast park. We knew that to gain passage for overnight, we had to have reservations at the only place open at this time of the year – a rather expensive lodge with no camping. We decided to get a transit pass instead and be out of the park before the gates close. Before we actually went to the park, we drove through the coast, visiting Cape Cross with the seal colony, and went to look at the seals.

Dead seal baby and an adult seal rubbing up on the wall
Dead seal baby and an adult seal rubbing up on the wall

In some ways it is amazing – there are thousands of seals here in a small cramped space, and you get up close and personal with them (the smell! I will never forget the smell), but the seals are loud, they fight all the time, they are violent, and they are all in this small rocky space by the water, with dead baby seals everywhere. The scene was not for me, I got sad and grossed out and had to wait in the car. We camped for the night just 45 km south of the park gate, at Mile 108 campsite, which was huge, completely deserted, and the only facilities were flushing toilets and tiny sinks with salt water. The coast was particularly cold that day, I sat wrapped up in my warmest “Panda” jacket, whereas Jonathan even attempted a swim! Attempted – among jellyfish debris, huge foaming waves and dead seals on the beach.

Bits of jellyfish on the beach
Bits of jellyfish on the beach

We drove to the Skeleton Coast Park the next morning and spent the morning and part of the afternoon there – and it was truly magical. The road is isolated, we saw only a couple of tourist cars the whole time. The sand is mostly untouched (one is not allowed to drive on the sand, but unfortunately some people do – the tracks remain there for a hundred years!), the ocean is wild and angry, and there is nothing but desolate desert landscape in any direction you look for hundreds of kilometers – you can see how unfortunate one would be to be stranded here after a shipwreck, the name “Skeleton Coast” becomes crystal clear when you are there. We saw the remains of one shipwreck, the lagoon (pink!), and some other odd curiosities, but the weirdest thing we encountered was when we approached Torra Bay, and then turned east to exit the park through the other gate – the traveling sand! There was very strong wind, and the light fine white-yellow sand was traveling across the road, resembling mist, creating the most ghostly landscape for those driving through it. We got covered head to toe in the sand, I was shaking out my head all day and still I think I still have some sand on my scalp.

Jonathan trying to take pictures of the sand moving in the wind
Jonathan trying to take pictures of the sand moving in the wind

Of course how can I talk about our visit to the Skeleton Coast without mentioning my mustache. Sometimes we pass our evenings playing cards, and sometimes we play for some sort of forfeit. At Mile 108 campsite I lost and the forfeit was to have a drawn-on mustache all day next day, and speak with a funny Hercule Poirot-like French accent. The mustache was fabulous but the accent I am afraid I could not do very well, so it just came out very strange and made Jonathan laugh a lot all day. However, it played up nicely with my clothes resembling a pirate and we took some silly pictures, of course.

The mustache was born
The mustache was born

As we drove more east, the landscape started looking like Mars – huge red desolate mountains with deep shadows and little vegetation. We drove to Bergsig crossroads, and then proceeded a bit southeast, before getting stuck in sand while looking at a dune eating a huge rock, then turning back and heading north to Palmwag, where we camped at a rather nice (but posh) lodge/campsite. A black cat came to rummage through our sink at night, but otherwise the stay was uneventful, and today we drove to Opuwa, where we started seeing a lot more of Himba people, this being the frontier town between the wild north and the rest of Namibia.

Panda, Leo, Cheetah - we are a traveling zoo
Panda, Leo, Cheetah – we are a traveling zoo

We are heading to Epupa Falls (almost on the border with Angola) then driving through the northwest corner, where the roads are supposed to be very rough and the journey long and excruciating, and after that slowly trickling down back to Windhoek. Only just over 2 weeks left of our journey, seems forever ago that Jonathan was in the hospital in Ethiopia, or I was throwing up in the Sahara desert after taking malaria medication on an empty stomach.

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