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With a new hartebeest hide cover for Williwaw front seats, fully provisioned we depart. It’s until we meet again Time. The longing in Colin’s eyes sums up Walvis Bay. We turn off the tar road towards Spitzkoope.
Now begins a part of our journey where Christianity and Islam has been held a bay by the inaccessibility of the region. Where we hope for the next few weeks there will be only the earth the sky and us. However, before we reach the Kaokoland there is arid Damaraland. Home to a massive mountain range that rises up out of the plains to a height of 2,570 odd meters above sea level called the Brandberg.
Williwaw seems to be running hot. Touch wood that we don’t have a repeat performance. The sun climbs higher and higher. Our shadows have abandoned us as with all other shadows long disappeared. The dreaded hours of the early afternoon are upon us. Fanny has her window draped with a black scarf. Florence is snoozing. The grey dusty road horizon is flat, empty, and lifeless.
We pull into a dry riverbed behind Spitzkoope. Inspected by some long-legged beetles we set up camp. Pitch no 71 looks out on two rock peaks that hang in the evening heat like Hover crafts. Luckily our beetle friends are not good climbers so we all sleep on the roof thankful for the smallest breeze.
A quick water search in the village produces not a drop. The cloudless sky promises yet another sizzling day. So rather than waste time, we hit the road with some urgency to get as many kilometres under our belt before it becomes a joke to be out in the noonday sun. Two hours into the day’s drive we arrive at a bank of a dry river. Stuck in the middle of the riverbed sands are two Namibians > Telecommunication Men. By the look on their faces, it is their lucky day. They have been digging, stuffing rocks, and branches under their Toyota for some hours. Mobiles don’t exist never mind work out here. When stuck you are stuck till someone happens bye, which is one in a million. Williwaw to the rescue to eternal gratitude.
Out of the stony landscape rises an eerie brown mountain range. The famous Brandberg’s with Konigstein the highest peak in Namibia. Standing at 2500 meters it might not be an Everest but against the blue, its burnt red-brown colour gives it a presence larger than its height. The range covers an area over nineteen miles by fourteen miles on first sighting it is somewhat like Alice Rock in Australia. You can see it but it takes an eternity to reach it. Another hill, another dip, and another, and another till we eventually arrive at the sunset turns all in front of us to a rustic red.
As darkness begins to consume the Bergs magnitude our campfire under acacia crackles in a perfect silence. It is not long before new sounds of the African night fill our ears. Sounding like a machine gun fire the resident rock bunnies are in full communication till the moon rises and shuts them up.
Our campfire light dances on the Brandberg, Afrikaans for “burnt mountain.” We are surrounded by total darkness. Not another light pierces our surroundings except the stars. Pitch No 72 is sensational in its purity of wildness.
(Top TIP: Campfires. They attract attention. They fend off unwanted animal/ insect company. They cause bushfires. They have limited light penetration in heavy bush or jungles so don’t walk far away. Use felled wood where possible. Always bury the ashes.)
After a game of Dominoes won by Florence, Fanny and I enjoy a glass of whisky to the night sounds. A lion roar, if there were any, would have capped our evening and made us jump out of our skins. The heat of the day releases itself from the Berg.
Morning > Not quite seven a.m. and the Berg is already reheating. The view from our pitch is a sea of golden savanna grass, dotted with blobs of green. We treat ourselves to a hot shower. (Top TIP: If you buy a solar shower fit it with a longer bit of piping.) Down below us, a cloud of dust warns us of an approaching vehicle.
A group of Over Landers arrive in a large truck almost before it stops regurgitating fifteen whites in various shades of sunburn. Without further ado, they evaporate into the mountains. We in the meantime over a leisurely breakfast are somewhat less than unenthusiastic to leave this first camping spot recommended by Colin. We remain undetected until I turn the key in Williwaw. Her coming to life rebounds of the rocks, startling the trucks tour guide from his siesta. Daza the tour guide is a Mozambican of twenty or twenty-five years of age. He has one of those smiles that toothpaste manufacturers would die for.
He is more than mildly surprised by our appearance as if by magic out of the mountains. We learn that his group had gone to see the White Lady a rock painting. We were going to do the same till he told us that it was a waste of time. Apparently, it is over one hour hike to see the old girl. She is covered in graffiti and now rests behind a wire-protecting cage. Bowing to Daza knowledge we decide to push on the Twyfelfontein where the most far-reaching collection of early Stone Age art and engraving in the whole of Africa awaits our viewing. According to Colin the Louver of Africa rock art and one of Namibia best sites for camping.
Armed with what is best and stay away from that information, Daza waves us off promising a few beers on our next meeting. In the coming weeks, he will be driving his group after they have visited Fish Cannon back up into Etosha, across the Caprivi Strip into the Okavango so our paths might cross again.
Our stay under the Brandbergs, with Daza metaphors, has lifted our Walvis Bay despondency. The day’s drive is full of chat of expectancy. The orange ball of the setting sun is just visible on the horizon as we arrive in Twyfelfontein campsite named after Ada-Huab River, which is dry as a bone. There is a funny fact about driving after dark in rural Africa. Drivers avoid it like the plague because they speed up rather than slow down. The potholes, ruts, landslides disappear, while your eyes search either side of the road for the daemons of the night.
The campsite is peaceful. Pitch no 73. Rather than the usual ugly concrete synthetic round huts with thatched roofs and a utility block, it is at one with its surroundings.
The washing out the girls find a wonderful shower in a clump of bamboo worked by pulleys. We all sleep like bricks. Tomorrow seven kilometres down the road it is the Louve of rock art and engravings and around the corner the Burnt Mountain itself.
Arriving at high noon we find that a guided tour is unavoidable. Florence takes a fancy to an older guide sporting a Crocodile Dundee hat and very smart whiskers. There is no cover so hats, water, and a heavy smearing of sunblock and we on our way not before the formal welcome with a well-rehearsed speech. “This is the biggest concentration of rock engravings in Africa, dating back thousands of years there is the picture of lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes back in the Stone Age.” “We will also visit the Lion’s Claw.” “First my fee.” As we are his only punters the fee parley is agreed without much argument.
Unlike the Prehistoric art of the Vallee Vezere or the Dordogne in France, all housed in caves this art, is hands on. > Exposed to all.
After two hours of crawling over rocks, the heat is crucifying bouncing back of the polished rocks each engraving get the odd shower of our perspiration. The engravings are of animal’s long gone, eaten bearing witness that they once meandered in these parts. There is one of a whale somewhat out-of-place considering our surroundings. Our guide explained that some of the pictures are bushmen’s art but it still requires some imagination that a little bushman had gone to the coast and spotted Mobi Dick.
Under the unforgiving sun, the lion’s claw rock formation is of Picasso quality but is our limit. For the sake of some cooling air, we drive on to the Burn Mountain. A complete waste of effort as it turned out to be just a large mound of barren basalt shale and rock with one section somewhat like the giant causeway in Sligo in Ireland.
On we move arriving at Khorixas where the Michelin map has all but given up the ghost. Luckily we have Colin detailed map of the Kaokoland. There is a Petrified Forest marked nearby which we give a miss. Hallelujah, his map has a waterfall marked that fills a deep pool. The promise of a swim kills the stoned trees a thousand times over. We push on to Ongongo. Dusty, hot, tired, and grumpy we are lost in less than fifty miles. The pressure is on. Can you read a map or can’t you type hassle. A small broken board lying in the dust with an arrow is my only salvation. “How do you know it’s pointing the right way?” “I have a feeling.” Another few minutes and doubting Thomas would have taken over. A Hero saves us not the Hollywood type but a real Herero.
With two people to ever-square mile of Namibia landmass of 824,269 sq km the chances of meeting someone out here is like winning the Lotto. (Four-time the size of the Britain 27 times the size of Belgium)
We who know nothing about Herero people are totally flabbergasted by the vision of a woman dressed like a Victorian lady sitting in the middle of nowhere. She sporting an enormous crinoline dress puffed out by several petticoats down to her ankles. On her head she is a horn-shaped hat or as Florence observes a corkscrew made from rolled red cloth. Patently hearing the Jeep coming for miles she is not in the least fazed by our sudden appearance she. All we can think is that she must be steaming in gear like that. God forgive the puritanical missionaries that did penetrate this Wasteland to con them into wearing clothes.
Fanny who has a good grip of the language enquires after the waterfall. Bob your uncle. In a jiffy we are alleviated of fifteen rands, engage low differential and disappear over a rocky cliff. What that? > A stream.
Rather than subject our bodies to any more torture we settle on the side of the stream > A mistake. The insect life beside the water is overbearing. We move back up precipice to a spot under a large Acacia. Pitch No 74. Florence and I go on a reconnaissance trip up-stream. We not had gone more than a few minutes when we discover Colin’s pool > A sparkling diamond of crystal clear water fed by a small waterfall. No invitations needed for us to drop our drawers. The resident terrapins dive for cover a Wilderness experience of a lifetime.
The Herero are believed to have arrived in Namibia from east Africa lakes some 350 years ago. There are about 100 000 in Namibia found mostly in the central and eastern parts of the country. They are divided into several sub-groups > The Tjima, the Ndamuranda the Mahereo and the Zeraua. Around the town of Gobabis once known as Hereroland, there is another group named Mabandero. The word Herero may be derived from Okuhara, meaning to throw an assegai. (A slender hardwood spear with an iron tip)
They are unique among South African indigenous people to recognize their descent from both the mother’s and the father’s families. Residence, religion and authority are taken from the father line, while the economy and inheritance of wealth are passed on via the mother clan. They believe in a Supreme Being called Omukuru the Great one, or Njambi Karunga. Like the Himba, they have a holy, ritual fire, which symbolizes life, prosperity and fertility. Most are converted to Christianity although their church the Oruuano, combines Christian dogma with ancestor worship and magical practices.
Traditionally they are nomadic pastoralists. There is no private ownership of cattle since they belong to the lineage of the mother‘s tribe. An heir is expected to share his inheritance with his brother’s and the sons of his mother’s younger sister. He must also now take care of the wives and children of the deceased. However, this system is changing and nowadays more children inherit cattle from their dead father. They fought the Nama people who were migrating northwards. The Nam descended from the Khoi-Khio groups (Hottentots) came from the South. The Nama were responsible for the gradually displacing the San (Bushman) and the Herero in there turn displaced the Nam and what was left of the San.
They prospered till the colonial period. Namibia been colonized by Germany. The Herero attempted to preserve their Independence rebelling in 1904. The response was genocide in which 80% were wiped out. Those that escaped fled to Botswana. The Herero gave the now named Kunene River its name from which the name Kaokoveld derived. When they arrived the river was on their right hand so they called it Okunene meaning big or right hand. They hold that their right hand is larger than the left. The land on their left they called Okaoko meaning exactly what it describes on the left.
It has now been several weeks if not more since we spotted a cloud of any description. The hard blue sky is almost touchable. Every Acacia, every hill slice opens its blueness. An early morning swim, a good breakfast, a leisurely braking of camp, we climb aboard wet and fresh. Damaraland gives way to the Kaokoland at Sesfontain.
Sesfontain gets its name from six perennial springs that have their source near bye. A small Lawrence of Arabia style fort once manned by German police that had it signal hill outside its walls where a heliograph was erected by German soldiers. It is now owned by Sean Marshall a friend of Colin who has turned the fort into a hotel. For us it is the thought of a cold beer, crisp sheets and good food, not forgetting the swimming pool that attracts us like a strong magnet.
Gone are the days it was a desert oasis called Nani/ous with date palms, enormous fig trees and the ubiquitous Bushman who were ousted by the Bergdama who in turn were subjected by the Herero cattle nomads.
Now a day’s it all adds up to a spot of but who cares credit card bashing with a splash of Florence breaking the blue waters of the pool. We decided to stay the night. One beer leads to another. Florence is in conversation with the only other poolside occupant > a young red-haired clutching a beer with his only good arm. “What happened to your arm” “It was bitten off by a crock.” The pool looks less inviting. “Did it hurt?” “The Croc.” “NO!” “You.” “Florence ——– dinner.”
A dusty friend who has just driven in for dinner joins Chris our one-armed, red hair, Croc killer. I am invited over for a pre-dinner drink. Fifteen minutes into Who, Are you, Where are you going, Where, have you come from the type of conversation dinner is served. It is a dismal affair. German chicken al la the new German manageress with whiplash all washed down with some highly overpriced wine.
Chris turns out to be a ranger as is his dusty friend. They live in one of the twenty-odd houses up from the fort. He points it out to his friend and me up on the hill. “Drop by for a few beers when you are finished here.” The girls call it a day.
Armed with two six packs and the light of the moon it is not long before we spot the light in the window. “Hy it is us”, shouts Dusty through the window” Like a Springbok, a large breasted naked woman jumps out of the bed and starts yelling like a dog. Within a split second every dog within yelping distance has joined in. Whoops! > Wrong house. We stumble on up the hill towards a fire.
Croc Chris scar tissue looks the part in the flickering light. The story goes that he went he was in the South African army he went for a swim in the Cunene River. A Lot of bodies were dumped into the river during those times. Apparently, he was watching a croc on the opposite bank when he entered the water and had not noticed a younger croc lurking underneath the bank he was standing on. He was seizing by the arm. In the struggle not to be dragged into the river, he lost his hand from the elbow down. He has nothing against crocs but after a few more beers some very warped views come to the surface. The English are not worth pissing on. Might is the only thing that black understand. The banning of the word Kafar is a tragedy. Apartheid was correct. He is proud of what he did in Angola. All lead to a heated discussion so by the time I staggered down the hill to the safe haven of the fort I was glad the croc had bitten his hand off.
Ironically overnight a group of British turn-up. They have a permit to enter the Kaokoland but have very little off-road driving experience and need to be accompanied under their permit. We agreed to team up for a few days. I will take them as far as Otjinungwa up on the Cunene River.
(To Be Continued)
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