We said goodbye to our amazing hostel (Amber Tree Lodge) and Cape Town bright and early on Easter Sunday and headed on down to the Nomads office in town with two German guys, Benedict and Lenaurt who were staying in our hostel and were on the same trip. Before we even reached the office we could see the big Overland truck we would be spending a large part of the next 12 days in. As we pulled up we saw this beast was named Marvin so in true Gaye style, “Let’s get it on!”
Our first stop in Marvin was at Table View on the coast North of Cape Town. It was somewhere we’d wanted to go whilst family Eccles were here the previous week but we’d ran out of time. It was a really spectacular view across the Atlantic Ocean back to the city of Cape Town with Table mountain looming in the background.
Our next stop on our trip was one of our least interesting as we spent two hours in a shopping mall whilst the guides purchased lots of the provisions for the next few days. We bought water, fruit and biltong (dried meat like Jerky just better!). Shopping done we set off to our campsite in the Cederberg Mountains.
We pulled up at a pretty decent looking campsite and there were lots of looks of confusion and terror from the families enjoying their Easter holidays. I assume they thought we were going to cause mayhem and keep them up all night. We then set about putting up our tents for the first time and luckily for us ours was all there and went up perfectly, whereas a few of the other pairs didn’t have enough poles or they didn’t match the tents so alternatives were called for and some poor guy had to bring them out from Cape Town. The tents that Nomads supplied were actually massive and pretty nice to be honest our only concern may have been our sleeping bags. We have excellent ones at home but didn’t want to carry them around the world for 10 months just for this moment, so heavily under the influence of ‘Thrifto’ Eccles I had had to buy the cheapest ones I could find a couple of days previously and had got some for just over a tenner which would allegedly keep us warm if it didn’t drop below 5 degrees Celsius! Only time would tell just how many extra layers we may have to sleep in as the Namib Desert can get cold.
When we did this kind of overland trip from Nairobi to Johannesburg in 2008 we’d had such an amazing time and a lot of that was to do with the incredible group of people we spent a month and a half with. We are still in touch with lots of them and will always have special memories of that trip. So it was always going to be a difficult first day trying to figure out if we were going to have another awesome group or not. To be fair the dynamic of the group couldn’t have been much more different as it was made up nearly entirely of Germans and Dutch. We were in fact the only English people in the group of 23! The good news is that we are so used to travelling and meeting new people that we can get on with anybody from anywhere, so it was great to have some new people to share our experience with.
In the afternoon we went on a little trek in the surrounding hills which was nice enough. The local guide, Skippe, was good although I was a little put off when I saw him pull out a turtle from his bag and hand it round the group. I just prefer to find my wildlife in the wild I guess. The most exciting part of the walk was when he caught a couple of Scorpions and held them on his hands without being stung.
He also showed us some indigenous paintings on a wall which were approximately 1,500 years old. He explained what each of the three ‘chapters’ meant and it was basically saying how they were happy and were leading a good life here all those years ago. Later that evening we ate a pretty tasty beef stew and shared a few beers whilst getting to know people a bit better. We went to bed that night pretty tired and drifted off quickly using the pillows we’d stolen from the airplane the other week!
It had got a little chilly at night but not too bad, yet. So we were up, decamped, fed and packed by about 7:30 a.m. and prepared for a fairly dull day travelling on the bus heading up north to the Orange River.
The highlight of the journey was when we finally found an off licence that was open and everyone stocked up on beers and wines. When we reached the Orange River campsite we all decided it would a good time to cool off in the river as it had been a long hot ride in the truck. Whilst we were swimming one of our guides, Victor was busy cooking us up some Wors (South African sausage) on the Braai (SA BBQ!) along with veggies and pap (maize like mash potato). It was really good and Ecco and I decided to wash it down with a super strong caipirinha as we still had a bottle of cachaça with us from Brazil.
The next morning was pretty chilled as some of the group went canoeing on the river. We decided to save a few quid for later in the trip and figured we’d already done some pretty awesome kayaking in Laos and New Zealand. We borded Marvin the truck and crossed the South Africa – Namibia border relatively stress free and carried on to our camp for the night at Fish River Canyon, which apparently is the 2nd largest canyon in the world after that Grand one in the States. We quickly set up our tents for the night, before heading off to the canyon to watch the sunset. It was an amazing place and was quite like the Grand Canyon but perhaps a little less orange. Having been spoilt with sunsets over the last 11 months this one only really fell into the OK category.
Whilst we’d been doing that our guide, Victor, had been preparing a tasty Spag Bol. The only problem was we didn’t know we were eating here and it was getting a little nippy in shorts and flip flops. It was a quiet night around the campfire and everyone was in bed by 9 pm as we were up at 5 the next morning for another looooong 600 Km drive.
Fortunately we’d avoided the cold of the night by zipping our sleeping bags together and wearing as many clothes as possible. We spent the next 8 hours in the truck stopping only to stock up on the essentials (water, beer and biltong!!). When we got to camp we went for a short trek into a spectacular 60 meter deep canyon which apparently fills up with water when it rains.
After our chicken curry that Victor had cooked up we all went to the campsite bar as they had a massive TV and we watched the Real v Bayern Munich match. The German guys were not too happy with loosing 1-0 but us and the Dutch didn’t mind Bayern loosing too much.
If the previous day had been early then this morning was ridiculously early. We woke up at 04:45 and were in the truck and away 15 minutes later. Our first stop was to the enormous sand dunes and we began climbing Dune 45 so we would be on its peak for sunrise. These are the biggest sand dunes in the world and walking uphill in fine sand is actually pretty hard as you just sink and slide all over the place and the cross-wind was pretty fierce. The struggle was worth it though as when we reached the top we only had to wait 10 minutes for the sun to poke its head over the distant mountains and dunes. It was really beautiful and worth the early start. When we made it back down we were greeted with a lovely scrambled egg and baked bean breakfast, a great reward!
After the sand dunes we jumped in the truck and made our way to Dead Vlei, which looked spectacular in the photos I’d seen on the Internet, it looks like burnt trees in a river bed surrounded by sand dunes. Apparently they are formed when the rains fall in the desert and there is a flash flood in a river which runs all the way into a valley of the sand dunes. This water then gets trapped and vegetation begins to grow. In particular there are the camel thorn trees which are amazingly adapted to living in the desert and can grow roots 80 meters deep to find water. Eventually the water dries up and these trees are left to die and dry up in the middle of nowhere. The white flooring comes from the lime that gets washed down in the rain and eventually is left there when the water evaporates and hardens over time. To get there we had to get into a trailer that was pulled five bumpy kilometres through very deep sand by a tractor. When we pulled up our guide, William, said just wander around and when you’ve had enough come back. It was really pretty there and Caroline and I wandered around for an hour or so taking photos of the enormous dunes and tried to find a dead tree to take a picture similar to the ones I’d seen before. It was nice but I walked over to wait for the return tractor feeling pretty disappointed because it wasn’t anywhere as dramatic as I thought it should be. Whilst chatting to a few of the other guys from the group I heard them ask each other if they’d made it to the black trees in the valley. One of the Dutch lads, Tom (good name!), said yes and showed me his amazing photos. Shiiiiiiiiiiiit. Thanks to the lack of guidance from our guide and lack of any signage we’d missed perhaps one of the best photo opportunities on the planet. There was only one thing to do. We turned straight back round and headed over the two distant sand dunes to find this mystical place, it was time to be a little selfish as we weren’t missing out on this! It was a flipping hot power walk and we were out of water as I’d given our last bit to the little birds! As we climbed one last steep dune I saw exactly the place we were looking for and it was incredible. In the middle of the Namib Desert sat approximately fifty dead, dry and blackened trees in a white rock-like floor all surrounded by tangerine and orange ginormous sand dunes under the bluest of skies. It really was a photographer’s paradise and I was a little peed off at not having longer there but was so, so happy that we’d decided to turn back and find it. The photos are stunning and will be right up there with my favourites come the end of this phenomenal year. (Feel free to check out the extra photos in the link at the end of this blog!)
After lunch we were back in Marvin the truck and headed to our next campsite via an Apple Pie Shop called Solitaire that used to be owned by a giant Scottsman called Moose McGregor. Poor Moose had passed away earlier this year!!! We were all excited about the sweet treat but unfortunately they had no apple pie ready. Our guides were not having a good day!
Arriving at our campsite was pretty cool that day. We were literally in the middle of the Namib Desert and were camping on a farm. The dunes were a lot greener than you’d expect. Apparently the levels of rainfall have increased dramatically and this has caused the growth of lots of bushes and grasses.
The guy who owned the farm was an awesome Namibian guy called Boes Man (Bushman). We spent the early evening on a desert drive where he taught us all about the land and the ways of the traditional Namibian bushmen who’d been hunted and killed to extinction by the 1930’s. He told us they were little yellow skinned people never bigger than 5 foot tall and amazing hunters. They used to hide in the undergrowth and could crawl to their prey so quietly that the could shoot a poisoned arrow as close as 5 foot away from a wild antelope without them knowing that they were there or what happened. He taught us about their hunting, food, history, lifestyle and amazing heritage. He even caught a little lizard and pretended to eat it, much to the horror of the females in the audience. He was completely captivating and everyone had a great time listening to his tales.
On the advice of Bushman about 7 of us decided that tonight was the night to sleep under the stars and not in our tents. Although there was a watering hole which attracts a leopard, in the grasses apparently a few varieties of poisonous snakes and under the rocks there were scorpions he assured us that none of them would come anywhere near us, so seeing as it wasn’t that cold and there were no mosquitos we dragged our mats and sleeping bags out and drifted off to sleep whilst watching shooting stars fly through the most incredibly clear and bright starry sky you are ever likely to see. It was a cool feeling knowing that it doesn’t get much more basic than this and was amazing to wake up to the bluey orange sky just before sunrise.
Days 6 and 7 of our trip were to be spent in Swakopmund, which is the heavily German influenced adrenalin activity centre of Namibia. We decided that we were going to go Sand-boarding as it looked pretty awesome.
We checked into our lodge for the next two nights and were very surprised at quite how nice the rooms were. It was good to be able to sleep in a real bed after 5 nights sleeping on a PE mattress! That night we decided to all go out to a restaurant called Neopolitania. I had Orx (huge Antelope type creature!) steak for my dinner and it was superb. Like an amazingly tender piece of fillet steak. Eccles went for Kudu and was equally impressed. After that half of us headed out to the town’s nightclub and had a great laugh in a pretty strange place!
The Saturday was sand-boarding day and they came to pick us up at 09:30. We were glad the previous night’s Windhoek beers hadn’t caught up with us and we were hangover free. They drove us out to the sand dunes and explained what we’d be up to and kitted us out with helmets, boards and boots. Then we had the boring bit of having to walk up to the top of a massive dune. At the top we were separated into beginners and people who had snowboarded before. As I’ve been a good few times I strapped myself in and just went for it. To be fair it felt pretty similar and was a lot softer to fall over in! My first run was just a feeler and I went nice and slowly. It was nice and steep and probably about 300 meters long. Once at the bottom I had to begin the long task of climbing back to the top of the run again. Caroline had never been snowboarding so went in the beginners group. On my way up I watched her go on her first ever run. She seemed to be going pretty well until speed got the better of her and she had a pretty tasty wipeout. She had bashed her head a bit and was shaken up but being ‘Competitive Jane’ she gathered herself and we walked back up for run number 2. Next time round she was better and had begun to get the hang of how to turn a little bit. By my third time I felt confident enough I wasn’t going to hurt myself so took on the nice big jumping platform. In total I did 3 jumps and landed them all, only to come a cropper 5 seconds later each time because of the amount of speed if picked up! Still I landed the jumps and had a few cool photos to prove it! On Caroline’s last run for a bit she had got much better and was really beginning to enjoy herself. Thank god, she isn’t the best at learning things that require patience and wants to be amazing at everything instantly!! Confidence up and enjoyment levels high we switched to have a couple of goes on the lie down boards. These were sheets of waxed wood where you lie down and ride them like a magic carpet and extreme speeds for about 20 seconds! It was a great laugh and Caroline (Competitive Jane) was loving it and even managed to clock the second fastest speed of the day at 75 Kph. We knew this because a guy at the bottom had a speed gun! The other fun person there was Zac the terrier dog! He was a cool customer and very friendly. The best bit was when he chased his owner all the way down the dune when she went down on a snowboard. They even supplied a free DVD, lunch and beer. We’d had a great day and were really glad we’d chosen to do sand boarding.
That night the four South Africans of our group had kindly volunteered to cook us all a Brai, which is basically a BBQ. It was a huge task for them as there were 25 of us eating but they did a great job and gave us tons of food including lamb chops, sausages, chicken skewers and lovely salads. Everyone was pretty tired after Friday night’s partying so we all got an earlyish night.
Spitzkoppe was our next destination. I think in German it means pointed mountain. The landscape was pretty dramatic as we approached our campsite for the night. It was a very flat grassy plain with huge orange coloured, bold, round granite mountains rising up out the ground at random points. We spent the afternoon exploring and went to look at some ancient bushman rock paintings. Just before sunset we climbed the huge Rocky Mountain behind our camp and were treated to a really spectacular African sunset as the huge orange fireball descended right between two of the tallest mountains around. After an excellent fish BBQ a few people spent another night sleeping outside their tents and under the stars.
After Spitzkoppe we spent a bumpy 5 hours driving to spend the day with a local tribe called the Himbas. These are the tribes people you’ll probably think of when people talk about Namibia. The are one of the last traditional tribes left in Namibia. The ladies are painted with a red paint like substance which is a mixture of butter, ash and ochre to protect them from the desert sun. They are all topless, covered in jewelry made from copper and bones and their hair is tied in clay covered dreadlocks with excitingly designed head pieces. We were shown around their village by a lady called Marie and we first saw the local school which helped teach the kids of the village. Lots of us had brought exercise books, pens and rulers for them which they happily took from us. From there we were shown around their village and the kids had great fun hanging off us like human climbing frames and playing. We met a few of the ladies, saw some traditional dancing and looked inside one of their huts. They also showed us how they washed themselves and their clothes in smoke as they weren’t allowed to use water because of traditions and drought. They also had a Holy Fire that the chief had to keep lit constantly. We’ve been on a few of these types of tours so far this year and to be honest this one felt a little contrived and uncomfortable for us. We got a sense that we were just there so we could make donations and buy their crafts at the end. It was a shame really because they were fascinating people who still lived a very traditional way of life, it’s just I think they got the balance wrong between being a money making project and an interactive chance to see traditional ways of life.
Up next was something we both were very excited about. A trip to Etosha National Park, which meant lots of game drives and wildlife spotting. Etosha means ‘Great White Place’ due to the enormous salty, clay pan that dominates the middle of the 22,000 square kilometre park. We did our game drives in Marvin (our giant truck) which gave us quite an advantage because we were that little bit higher than usual. We were going to stay in two different campsites with in the National Park which therefore gave us plenty of time to see the wildlife whilst driving to them. Not long after entering the park gates we saw our first giraffe and it was reasonably close. This was a few peoples first game drive so at first we stopped lots to take photos of Springboks, Impalas and Zebras. We however were seasoned game drivers nowadays and were holding out for the big cats and elephants!! Of all the trips we’ve done the one animal that has eluded us so far has been the famous solitary Leopard, so that was top of our list for the next two days. An hour or so into our first drive we made our way over to where there were three cars and a truck parked. To our delight there were three female lions just chilling out under a bush not far from the roadside. They’d obviously had a kill fairly recently as their faces were covered in blood. They are such beautiful animals that I could spend all day just watching them and nothing else. Unfortunately we had somewhere to be so after lots of photos we moved on. On the way to our ‘village’ for the night we saw hundreds more Springboks and Zebras and some giraffes.
Our camp for the night was pretty good but the undoubted highlight was the floodlit waterhole. So after realising watching the Champions League was impossible we chose to spend our evening watching the Discovery Channel unfold right in front of our own eyes. At the waterhole we were really lucky because not long after we’d settled down a huge Rhinoceros came out of the bushes and spent about half an hour walking around and drinking from the hole. It felt so good just to see it doing what it does naturally. Later on we noticed there was a second one approaching and then a little third one came out the bushes close to the first. This however proved to be a mistake as the giant first one all of a sudden charged the little third one. The speed and the thundering noise of this amazing looking animal charging was a sight and sound to behold. That was a real spectacle and an unbelievable thing to witness. We stayed for another couple of hours but nothing came close to that.
The following day we were up early to try and catch the animals in the first light of the day. The first thing we saw was a beautiful male lion just basking in the sunshine. Unfortunately the next male lion we saw didn’t look so well and was obviously quite old, frail and skinny. I guess that he wouldn’t last too long with the Hyenas around. Coincidentally that was exactly what we saw next. There were two Hyenas about 50 metres from the road and they had the head of an Impala or Hartebeest which they were feeding on. They are such odd creatures, with ugly faces, long front legs and short back ones. This leads to them having such a strange hunchback posture. Their food also meant that there were a couple of Jackals around trying to steal their breakfast. It was such compelling viewing watch the two tiny Jackals getting closer and closer to the Hyena with the food. It basically ended in a stand off with neither moving.
After that we moved on and we found another three female lions shading themselves under a bush. As we approached one of them got up and crossed the road and started slowly crawling through the long grass. About 600 meters away there were loads of Zebras she had her eyes on. The Zebras came closer and I think spotted her in the undergrowth as after a while she just stood up and turned back to the other two. Even though we’d not see a chase or kill it was still great to see her in hunting mode. Perhaps she was just doing a recce for their dinner that night. We also went to see the expansive salt pan and our guides gave us a nice little talk about some of the animals we’d seen.
The morning’s game drive was a monster and lasted nearly 6 hours in total. I chose to spend the afternoon just lazing by the nice swimming pool whilst Caroline went on another game drive. The reason I’d not gone in the afternoon was because we were off on a Night Game Drive. This was pretty cool as 7 of our group jumped in an open safari jeep and entered the park in the pitch black with our only light coming from the red headlights and lamp our guide Barnabus used to search out the reflection of animals out in the bush. Our first stop was for a fairly large pack of 6 or 7 Hyenas. Also there were a few Jackals meaning there must be food around somewhere nearby. Our guide turned his jeep to face the undergrowth and revved his engine. On the third attempt a female lion stood up about 100 meters away and dragged off some Zebra carcus deeper into the vegetation. Barnabus then showed us a nice big trail of blood from where the kill must’ve happened the previous night. It was so cool to be able to see all this. Later on in the drive we also got to see a huge pride of female lions and even better a large number of 6 month old cubs who’d been left on their own whilst mum was away hunting. Watching them in the red light of our truck was incredible. It was just like watching a bunch of giant kittens play fighting. They were leaping around, bitting each other’s tails and chasing each other. It felt special to be able to be so close to these wild little cubs. Eventually they began to get a bit inquisitive about our truck so it was time to move on. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to track down a Leopard and the closest we’d got to finding an elephant for Caroline was being able to smell them close by. Still it had been a really great experience and felt different to see the animals at nighttime.
So that was that. We packed up our tents for the last time on our 12 day Namibia trip and headed out for the last 15 kilometres of the park. Suddenly one of the Dutch guys, Tom, shouted stop an uttered the immortal word, “ELEPHANT!”. There it was in the distance a big male wandering out of the trees and flapping his ears. Caroline had got her wish she must’ve made on one of the many shooting stars we’d seen over the last few days. Just to top it off, at the same time as finding an Elephant, a lion was walking straight down the road in front of us. It came very close before turning off and running into the bushes. What a perfect way to finish our time in Etosha. The Leopard may still be eluding us but we couldn’t have asked to see much more during our two days.
The final day of the Namibia trip was going to be a fairly lengthy a dull 450 Km drive back down south to the capital, Windhoek.
Upon reaching Windy it felt completely different to anywhere else we’d been to in the country. It was a really big city compared to all the small towns we’d been through. Our truck dropped us in the centre which confused us a bit as we thought they’d at least give us a lift. Nevertheless they helped get us a taxi and we said goodbye to some of the group but not our last goodbye to everyone as we were meeting up for our Last Supper that night. The Chameleon hostel we were staying at for a couple of nights was great and exactly what we needed after 10 days sleeping in a tent. It was really spacious with loads of areas to just relax and even had a small swimming pool. Before dinner I continued my domination of Eccles in our worldwide pool competition.
That night most of the group met up at a spectacularly massive restaurant called Joe’s Beer House. The menu was fantastic and we shared some Oryx carpaccio to start and for mains ‘Caroline the Brave’ had Zebra, medium rare obviously and I had some Ostrich, Springbok and Kudu. They were all absolutely gorgeous and it was really interesting eating these exotic game steaks. So after trying to split a bill 20 ways we said our final goodbyes to the group and although we had only spent 12 days together we felt quite close to some of them so it was a little sad. We sneaked in a final drink with a lovely South African couple from the group called Keith and Alison as they also we staying in a different hostel to the group. It was a very nice way to finish the evening, only tarnished by a wasted Japanese man who kept trying to steal our women away from us!!
It had been a fantastic 12 day tour with Nomads. Our only slight grievance was with our guides William and Victor. Perhaps we’d been really spoilt back in our 2008 Africa trip with our guides Sammy and Julius who were absolutely amazing, so, so friendly and couldn’t have done more for us. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said about this year’s guys. Whilst they were really nice guys we just got the feeling they were there for the money and not too much else. William had really let people down with his lack of directions or guidance as to where to find the spectacular tree valley in Dead Vlai, which staggered us because it’s in the top three things to see in Namibia. It would be like going to London and not knowing where Big Ben was. He did apologise for that but I still don’t know how a guy whose been guiding for over 10 years didn’t know their location, leading to lots of our group missing out on one of the most dramatic places I’ve ever seen. We’d also had a disagreement with William about booking a night safari and when it was booked up he basically accused us of not asking the right questions and it was our fault. We didn’t stand for it and defended ourselves staunchly. Every night Victor cooked great and plentiful food for us but then would just sit in the truck or far away from us on his phone and wouldn’t really interact with the group which was a real shame as he was very funny and a nice young lad. William would always complain about being very tired after dinner and would try and get to bed very early on all but two nights. Which was fine but left us wanting a bit more from our guides. The biggest insult was that after the last night’s meal at Joe’s Beer House they just left without even saying goodbye to us. We felt pretty aggrieved and let down as we’d paid lots of money and even tipped them. But don’t get me wrong the 12 days had been beyond fantastic and an awful lot of that was because of William and Victor.
The last day in Namibia was spent just lounging at our fantastic Chameleon Hostel and getting our orange sand covered clothes washed before heading out for a great Indian meal at Garnish just around the corner.
So after missing out on Namibia 6 years ago we were so glad we’d fulfilled our promise to come back one day and see it. What a wonderfully diverse country with so much to see and do. The few minutes in the real Dead Vlai will stay with us for a long time and I adore the photos I got and can’t wait to make them into canvases. The safaris had been great and spying on the animals as they went about their business at night time was very special. We’d met some great people from all around the world on the trip and am sure they went on to have a great time in Botswana and Zambia.
That just leaves me to say a big thank you to Namibia and its people for not only living up to our expectations but exceeding them!
Next it’s time to say Jambo to Kenya.
There are an extra-ordinary amount of photos from one of the most photogenic countries we’ve been to. If you want to see more then please click here…….
Tommy and Caroline ‘The Return!’ is getting scarily close. See you soon.