Namibia - A quick adventure across the border.
Google will tell you that Namibia is a country in southwest Africa and is distinguished by the Namib Desert along its Atlantic Ocean coast. Through various searches, you’ll also find information about the country’s diverse wildlife and landscape.
William has travelled to Namibia more times than he can count and has always spoken about his love for the country. I, on the other hand, had never been. My father has always been a strong believer in “know your own country before you leave it.” So while Williams travel adventures spread across land and sea, mine have always stayed within the border of South Africa (with the exception of a trip to Zimbabwe to visit a close friend). We’d been joking about visiting Namibia since early this year but plans finally fell into place when William was on a work trip in Botswana.
I’d say it took us about three days to plan and book an eight-day trip. He sent me a makeshift itinerary over WhatsApp that read:
Night 1: Orange River Namib Side
Night 2: Aus (pronounced Aus as in mouse or Aus is in moose — we’re still not sure)
Night 3: Sesriem (Deadvlei)
Night 4: Sesriem
Night 5: Swakompund
Night 6: Spitzkoppe
Night 7: Fish River Canyon
Night 8: Spend a night somewhere along the way home.
Frankly put, I am not a camper. So when William asked me to look at booking campsites at these locations, terror, rather than excitement was the emotion of the day (but I wasn't going to tell him that). Although, to this day, I believe he had an inkling because perfectly nestled in the middle of the trip was a night in Swakopmund.
A week after William got back from Botswana we started our journey inland.
It was a typical road trip, we had tasty snacks,tea, and good music. The landscape changed into more dusty terrain than I’d become accustomed to in Cape Town, and my amazement at the functioning little towns grew more and more along the way.
Crossing the border was a lot easier than I imagined. Bearing in mind that my only other experience with border crossings was when I flew into Zimbabwe and got tested for Ebola the moment I got off the plane.
Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe the drive into Namibian. With ocean blue skies above, black sand edging along the tar road and boulders growing from the ground that shimmered in the heat - I was mesmerised. I could go on for ages about the drive, there was always something to look at, whether it was a rock formation, a line of colourful hibiscus trees or people walking along the sands.
We spent our first night along the banks of the Orange River, as William would put it, the most “civilised” camping spot we’d be at. I couldn't even dream of complaining though. As the sun began to set, breathtaking colours fell over the river and its reflection was something even a photograph couldn't capture. When bedtime approached, my apprehensions were high. William had set up the rooftop tent (read: canvas covered mattress, two sleeping bags and a mosquito net that hung from a nearby tree and over the top of the land cruiser). My insecurities faded away as I climbed into my sleeping bag and overhead was the most spectacular night sky I’d ever seen.
We woke up early the next morning and started venturing to our next destination, Aus. In the distance, we saw the beginnings of a village made entirely out of reeds. William explained that it originally started out as a piece of land where vineyard workers would put up homes from reeds during the grape picking season and then break them down when the season ended. William and I stopped to photograph the village, which was full of life and activity. We must have sat there for more than 15 minutes, taking in the atmosphere of the village.
Below are a few shots of Aussenkeher, the little reed town.
In order to get to Aus, you have to travel quite a distance along the orange river, with sweltering heat, it was near impossible to resist a dip in the river. Before that could happen, we (William), had to spend a decent amount of time photographing a troop of baboons. Stopping a little further down the dirt road, we made our way to the river bed and had a bite to eat. I felt brave and was the first to dip my toes in the icy waters. I do believe that if it wasn't for me splashing William for five consecutive minutes, he wouldn't have come in. But as he says, you’ll always regret the things you never do.
We arrived happily in Aus and I instantly understood what William was saying about “civilised camping.” Here, we were surrounded by vast mountain ranges, no grass underneath our feet and a good distance from our fellow campers. For the first time in the last 24 hours, I was genuinely scared. We had to hang our mosquito net from a tree that had a huge sociable weaver nest in it and from what I understood about snakes, they liked birds. Looking back at this now, I feel ridiculous. That campsite was by far my favourite; after I made it through the first night - I felt so at peace.
We wanted to make it to Kolmanskop for sunrise, but after much deliberation decided that after all, we were on holiday and deserved a little bit of extra shut-eye. We arrived after travelling a few hundred kilometers and I was not disappointed, to say the least. If you’ve never heard of Kolmanskop (me before the trip), Kolmanskop is Namibia's most famous ghost town and is situated in the Sperrgebiet, (forbidden territory) a few kilometers inland from the port of Luderitz.
As the story goes, in 1908 a railway worker found a sparkling stone amongst the sand he was shoveling away from the railway line, near what's now known as Kolmanskop. Excitedly he showed his supervisor and both were convinced that what he found, was indeed, a diamond. Once confirmed, flocks flew to Kolmanskop and the town soon developed. It became a bustling center that provided shelter for the diamond workers and large houses that resembled German houses were soon built for the “fortune hunters.”
Amenities were also built that included; a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, 4-lane skittle alley, theatre and sports hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray station in the southern hemisphere. The property also boasted a butcher, bakery, furniture factor and even a swimming pool.
By the mid-1920’s, Kolmanskop had reached its pinnacle. After World War 1, diamond prices crumbled. Records state that approximately 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 Owambo contract workers lived in the town. Unfortunately for Kolmanskop and it's inhabitants, richer diamond deposits were discovered further south, and operations were moved to Oranjemund.
It takes only a little imagination to repaint the lively town in one's mind when you see the ruins before you. The wind has taken its toll on the houses and encroaching sand dunes cover a large majority of the houses now. I could have spent hours walking up the sandbanks and into the fragments of buildings. Every corner had a story to tell. All in all, we left with full memory cards, fond memories and a little more appreciation for the history of the town.
We took a drive to Luderitz, a mere 12 kilometers from Kolmanskop. There isn't much to write about the town, and I wouldn't lose sleep if I missed it. However, it does have a pretty waterfront to take a stroll around if you’re in the area. We happily went back to Aus and enjoyed our last night between the mountains.
Our trip to Sesriem, was a little more interesting. The journey between Aus and Sesriem is largely made up of dirt roads and in the heat of the day, we had a tyre blowout. William handled changing the tyre as swiftly as he could given the circumstances and I tried not to think of the 2-tonne car falling on him. After a quick clean up with the ever trusty baby wipes — we were off again.
We arrived in Sesriem, ready for a quiet night after a long day. I’d like to tell you more about the settlement, but I am afraid that’s all it is, a settlement in the Namib Desert with a grocery store and petrol station. The main attraction to the area is that it's the nearest filling station to the entrance of Sossusvlei. We stayed in a less than stellar campsite, with the only benefit being we could enter the park an hour early to make it to Deadvlei before sunrise.
Under our little tree, with the bustling campgrounds behind us, I cooked a pasta dish that evening. In the middle of the night we woke up to a little crash, flashlight at the ready - William shone the torch. Peering back at us was a jackal. He’d enjoyed the remains of our dinner and then scurried off into the darkness with a full belly.
We were not the only eager tourists at the gates the next morning, and with good reason. After watching the sun rise over the dunes and cast its shadow over the dead trees below, it baffles me as to why this site is not one of the World Wonders. We spent a large part of the morning photographing the trees and surrounding dunes, even though Deadvlei was busy — there was an eerie stillness to the morning.
We headed back to the campsite for a dip in the pool and then went for sundowners on Elim Dune. Sitting on the dunes we had a vast view of the desert, watching the sun paint the sky blue, orange and yellow was an unforgettable experience. I still think back to the orange sand dunes, they weren't just orange, but rather a burnt crimson blend — a sight, I can't really ever forget.
We started the next leg of the trip to Swakopmund. I thought I’d be more excited driving into Swakopmund — it was civilisation after all? But I already missed the stillness of the outdoors. After forking out a small fortune for a new tyre, we made off for our accommodation, which did not disappoint. I had never been more excited for a shower though and once refreshed we took off for a stroll into town. It’s impossible not to notice the Germanic influence across the town, from the architecture to the names of stores. While strolling through the shops it was evident that this was indeed a tourist hub. We made our way down to the waterfront where we had a delicious supper and watched the sun go down. It was a completely different experience to what we had witnessed the previous nights, the sea was moody and dark blue with a cloudy sky — but breathtaking in its own right nonetheless.
William was looking forward to Spitzkoppe, which was our next destination. I’d only seen photographs but was already intrigued. We took an unexpected detour getting there and ended up driving through a few small villages along the way. There were plenty of handmade signs pointing us in the right direction though, which we presumed meant we weren't the first to get a little lost.
Spitzkoppe looks like something you’d find in Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones.
It’s a mesmerising site, where a group of granite boulder peaks stretches as far as the eye can see. This is one of the places I wish we had stayed longer than one night. We found the perfect campsite at the base of a boulder and set up camp. The only thing I had to adjust to was the idea of using a long drop. There wasn't a single trip to the loo I didn't make William check out the long drop before entering it. I’d grown fond of camping but I still had my one or two fears. We climbed up some rocks, made a lovely supper and enjoyed the vast open sky once more. Below are two photographs William took at Spitzkoppe.
We covered a large stretch of our journey home the following day and spent the night at Lake Oanob. This was a little too commercial for our liking but it was a stunning nonetheless. We set up and settled down for a much-needed glass of wine after the drive, we watched a variety of water sports take place on the lake before we ventured down to dip our toes in the water. I contemplated going in, but for some unknown reason, I feared I’d be eaten by a crocodile.
For the first time in our entire trip, it rained, and poured, then rained some more. The campsites were busy (read: Afrikaans hit singles blaring) and the bathrooms had been taken over by a colony of mosquitoes but William and I couldn't help but laugh as this was truly something we hadn't experienced before. Once the rains eased, and the sun began to set, the most magnificent rainbow peaked through the stormy clouds. The rainbow spanned from one side of the river to the other and was shortly joined by a second rainbow. As nightfall fell, we pitched our tent and settled in early, falling asleep in the tent felt like a betrayal to our rooftop tent but we preferred to stay sheltered from the rain.
Our trip came full circle as we drove back towards the border the next day. Arriving at the same accommodation we first stayed at when we came into Namibia, I felt changed. Not in a dramatic way, but I had a new found appreciation for camping. Before the trip, I’d say being attached to my phone was a bit of an understatement. I was so used to the routine of always being on standby because of my job, being available to friends and family whenever they needed me, regular social media check-ins and all the other bits and bobs that come with owning a cellphone. As the trip drew to an end, I didn't even blink at the thought of being back in signal the following day. I’d had time to write, read, laugh and joke without a ‘pinging’ sound going off every five minutes.
After Swakopmund, William offered for us to stay another night at the accommodation if I wasn't ready to go back to camping and I firmly said not a chance, I was loving camping. He offered again for our last night in Namibia but his offer was met with the same response.
I fell in love with falling asleep under the open skies, waking up to the sun rising above you, making tea on a portable gas stove (which I nearly blew up once) and ability to just sit and enjoy the outdoors.
I had learnt so much about myself on the trip and where I was going with my life. William and I spoke about travels and where we would like to go, we laughed every day while we explored a new place and I learnt more about birds and wildlife. Yes, getting another stamp in my passport was great, but I came back from Namibia with so much more than that.