As our time in Namibia is drawing to a close, I’m finding a part of me already misses the incredible skies and vivid sunsets of the desert. As barren as those lands were, they held something special. I can’t deny though, that being next to a river is food for my soul. Watching the hippos wallow in the river, and seeing the crocs cruise by, fills me with such a sense of peace. It also makes me want to hop in the river however. They seem to have such fun cooling off while the rest of us land dwellers over heat in the upper 30-degree weather. And this isn’t even the hot season! I don’t know how the people here cope in the summer months. The last week has been unbearable, we have been doing game drives in the middle of the day, even though we know we’ll see no game, just because we need to cool off. Our thermometer measured 41 degrees a day ago, luckily that wasn’t the day we got ourselves stuck in the sand…
Etosha Archives - A Familia Adventure
It has become quite apparent to me over the last week or so, just how spoilt we are. I don’t mean this in an ‘I get everything I want’ kind of way, I mean it in an ‘I have such an easy life’ kind of way. I should probably just title this post “#blessed”, but I’m not sure if that is the truth of it.
Two days ago I found myself hanging laundry, marvelling over how this is the first time in my life, that I have ever had to hand wash 5 loads of laundry. I was so proud of my efforts. There I was with my rubber gloves and perfect white buckets, and an image popped to mind of the countless rows of clothes we have driven past along the side of the road, flung over fences, hanging from poles, and I thought: I am pretty damn sure those weren’t washed in a machine! Never-the-less, my arms were tired and my fingers were sore, and I was satisfied with my first ‘en masse attempts. But then I thought about it more…
We had just driven from Etosha to the Caprivi strip, and the landscape changed dramatically. There is something called a ‘vet fence’, which is a large fence entirely separating the very north of Namibia from the South. The Northern lands were given back to the native Namibians, but as the spread of disease between animals was rife, the government-run South fenced it off and implemented policing of the borders, stopping any meat products from being taken from the North into the South. What’s interesting is that as soon as you cross over that ‘border’, there are animals everywhere! Cows, goat, sheep – all walking across the road, grazing on the verges, it’s like crossing into really-rural Africa. Suddenly there are kraals or homesteads every couple of hundred metres. The houses are all built out of wood and grass, and there are people walking along the side of the road carrying buckets of water on their heads, or on poles supported by two people. Even the children carry water. The first time I ever had to carry my own water was when Cape Town had its severe drought last year and suddenly we had to carry buckets of water from the shower to flush the loo’s, and from gutters to the pool, but I feel that’s not at all the same thing. Here I am being so proud of my laundry, and all around me, people not only hand wash all of their laundry, but they carry their own water to do it in too!
All of this was really hammered home this morning when after an incredibly beautiful game drive along the banks of the Okavango river, we popped in at a local store to pick up some supplies we had unexpectedly run out of. One of these things was milk. As I fought my way to the front of the petrol queue, Shaun ran into the general store with me yelling at his back, “Don’t buy milk if they only have long-life”. As it turns out, they only had long-life (not a surprise, this is true of most of Namibia). Back at the van, as I unpacked the groceries and moaned about Lola’s sudden love of cows milk, I may have mentioned milk rationing as a way of saving the fresh milk for my tea (we only have 1 litre left!). When we established (after some choice language) that I would rather not drink tea than have it with long-life milk, Shaun told me to grow a pair. Although I prefer not to grow a pair, I did think on the conversation for a while, and this is where it lead me: blessed is not at all the correct way to describe it – spoilt is.
Although there are numerous things I do feel blessed about, like medical care and access to education, there are other things that are unnecessary spoilings that in no way make our lives ‘better’ than any of the people living here. Maybe the good life is in the simple places. Once you have had it easy, like everyone who is reading this right now, it makes it harder to enjoy the simple things, because you are so aware of what you are missing. In my case, fresh milk and a washing machine, and I have no doubt many more things are going to rear their heads the further away from civilisation we go. Thank goodness we had enough boot space to stock pile good coffee and toilet paper!
It’s always the people you meet that add the special moments to an adventure. The stories you hear, the cultures you learn about; they add the little bits of ‘real life’ to an otherwise beautiful yet foreign setting. We have spent the last 3 days in Etosha with a social calendar that rivals ours in Cape Town. It’s been such a lovely few days. Feels like we’ve been able to have a bit of normal in an otherwise bizarrely abnormal life arrangement.
I have to back track a little as there is a fair amount I haven’t filled you in on… After soaking in the warm waters of the Ai, we drove north to Aus, and stayed in a camping spot that wins the prize for best sunsets and hiking trails. In fact, it was the start of an area that Shaun and I would put on our list of ‘must stay’ places in Namibia. It really is in the middle of nowhere and there isn’t a lot going on apart from epic vistas, wild horses and lots of nothing. Aus doesn’t even have a grocery store. The Engen garage, wait; when I say this don’t picture the convenience kind in South Africa that has a Woolies inside it, begin anew, because this is unlike anything you have seen. It comes complete with a car tires and random tools section, an animal hide rack, random tourist memorabilia, a caravan park reception area, as well as tinned foods, frozen meats and long life milk shelf. That is Aus. Don’t let it put you off though, it is the gateway to an incredible part of Namibia – just bring your own food!
We stayed there but drove through to Luderitz; a town on the coast, boasting, well, not much, but it does have its very own ghost town near by. It was eerie to walk through a deserted town with nothing but empty houses filled with sand. It was like stepping into another time. The area surrounding it is like a post apocalyptic wasteland, complete with dust devils and swirling sand across the road. It was nothing compared to Sossusvlei, which is the real dessert in the middle of Namibia though, and that is where we headed next.
We stopped off for a night in the M-O-S-T spectacular campsite, and then carried on through to the real dunes. We cursed these sand roads when we got into the country, but it has forced us to explore more and stop over on our way to places, because you simply can’t drive certain stretches of road at more than 60km per hour. It has meant we have found real gems of places, little treasures hidden away off the main roads. This was one of those treasures. When we arrived at the dune area (Sossusvlei National Park) the following day I was ready to turn around and run for the hills! It was a seething mass of tourists. The campsite lacked any of the characteristic beauty we have encountered throughout Namibia, and was instead just a sand bowl. The reception area was operated with all the finesse of an African government office. I must admit I did wonder when we arrived if anything could be worth that kind of commotion, but when we headed off for the dunes it was a special kind of magical that waited for us. We plotted a course for the Big Daddy dune at the end of the park, and not surprisingly greeted another hoard of tourists when we got there. So off we went in search of our own dune to climb. There are literally hundreds of dunes, but for some reason, everyone climbs the same few. We found one all on its own, with no footprints destroying the pristine ripples of sand in front of us. With not another human in sight we slogged our way up that dune, racing the sunset as we summited. Not only did we not want to freeze to death after the sun went down, we also had to be back in the camping area before 7.30pm. Sadly, we never made it to the real top, there seemed to always be another rise. So after turning back at sun down, we had to run down the dune, sprint back to the car, and ever so slightly exceed the speed limit to get us back to the gate at precisly 7.29pm, scraping in as the last car through the gate! Shew. We were also one of the first back into the park the following morning because we had the daft notion of watching the sunrise over the dunes. We had packed our breakfast picnic the night before, and left in the dark to find one of the smaller dunes to climb. The evening before we had climbed bare foot as sand gets in everywhere. Your shoes get progressively more uncomfortable as the sand works its way to the front, making you feel like your shoes are 2 sizes too small. So we all trotted off to the dunes in our flipflops, discarding them at the bottom. The joke was on us because the sand temperature drops to almost zero along with the air temperature. It was like putting our feet in the deep freeze! The kids and I abandoned the plan very quickly as our toes turned red, but Shaun with his thick skin and dogged determination made it all the way to the top. He did regret it later when the feeling hadn’t returned to his toes by that evening.
Luckily the night we spent there was calm, freezing cold, but still. The night after we left there was a sand storm which apparently blew people’s tents away, deposited heaps of sand all over everything, and sandblasted a layer of glass off everyone’s windscreens. We couldn’t have been luckier that we left when we did.
After the dunes it was off to Swakopmund for 4 days in a real house! We needed some catch-up-with-work-and-life time, some time to really valet the car, and not sleep all piled in 8 square meters of space. It was much needed and thoroughly appreciated. Swakopmund is a quiet little town, even though it is Namibia’s 2nd largest city, and had some really great little coffee shops and even a pizza restaurant! Anyone who knows how much the Wuths love pizza knows how much that was appreciated ☺
But small comfort stops can’t last forever, and so we were off to find some more perfect spots Namibia had to offer. We made our way through Damaraland as we headed up to Etosha, and visited living museums (where you get to see how the Damara people lived hundreds of years ago) as well as run around the hills looking at thousand year old rock engravings. It is a beautiful area and quite different from the south of the country. From there we rolled into Etosha game reserve, and were greeted with more animals in our first hour in the park than I think I’ve ever seen. We had a matriarch ellie mock-charge our car which terrified the lot of us! She was huge, and slow, and graceful, but clearly didn’t like the look of our green machine. Slow turned to dust churning speed in seconds and Shaun did a nifty reverse manoeuvre – with the trailer in tow – and luckily she backed down.
The game in Etosha is prolific around the waterholes, so we spent most of our time sitting in the hide at our campsite, enjoying the quiet and calm days, watching lion, ellies, hyena and black rhino saunter over for a drink, and in some cases even a bath. I never thought I’d ever be luckily enough to see black rhino so we were thrilled.
We met some wonderful people, were invited to gourmet meals in other people’s campsites, and picked up some very handy tips about how to cope with life on the road. We have met few South Africans in Namibia but the ones we have encountered have been so warm and friendly, it makes us proud to be South African. They are always quick to share what they have and offer help when they can. The added bonus is that they have all been interesting, intelligent people who have shared their knowledge, their life stories, and had us doubled over with laughter from some of their encounters. The people you meet really do add that little something extra.
We have just left the western side of Etosha for a night of stock-up and work needed wifi, and are about to head back in on the eastern side. The landscape is changing quite dramatically as we edge ever closer to the more rural side of Africa. I am both nervous and intrigued to see what lies ahead.
Sending love to all of our South African peeps, and those wonderful foreigners we are lucky enough to call friends too!
S & M & L & L