Ol and Jen's Excellent African Driving Adventure, Part Three: The Namibian Coast to Etosha Natio
“Is that a topless woman standing near the road?!”
Ol thought that he was seeing things. Maybe the desert was getting to him. Perhaps it was a mirage. Then we both saw them, native women who looked as if they had stepped out of National Geographic. They were selling trinkets alongside the road.
We were driving through Namibia across southern Africa in our 2WD Ford Eco Sport. So far we hadn’t had any real problems, other than a flat tire, although we were driving without our licenses and our cell service company notified us that we didn’t have coverage in this country. Things were great!
The native women looked strong and beautiful. They were wearing native jewelry and skirts in a bright African print, and literally nothing else. We had already passed several villages with straw huts and thatched roofs.
The huts were surrounded by primitive fences and animal pens made of dead tree limbs. We had just passed a group of young children sitting under the shade of a sign in the middle of nowhere. They were being watched by a child not much older than the youngest. The joy on their faces when we stopped to give them lollipops was magical.
I wanted to stop and support these women. We were also worried about the fine line of exploitation and although he wanted to, my picture crazy husband agreed not to take any photographs of them. I really can’t travel with any bowls, baskets, masks and other items they were selling. It was also getting late and we were trying to get to our bed and breakfast in Walvisbaai before dark. We wanted to follow the advice we had received and not drive in Namibia after dark. So we drove on.
Our guest house was like an oasis in the desert. We had no problem finding it. I was surprised to see a palm tree lined boulevard with modern homes. It was so charming and beautifully decorated that we decided to take a break from travel and stay a few extra days. The truth is that because of the high speed wi-fi I could binge watch Game of Thrones. Our charming hosts and their hot chocolate machine also played into the decision.
Over the next few days, we were tourists and explored the harbor town and it’s coast. We also indulged in great seafood, from sushi to the catch of the day.
We drove to the Pelican Point sand pit just outside town. It’s tidal lagoon is home to abundant birdlife including flamingos, pelicans, and Damara terns. It was the first time in our travels that we were able to get close to the flamingoes and not have them fly away. The area also had a large Cape fur seal colony near the lighthouse.
We toured the salt flats and were awed by the pink and red colors. The process used to refine the salt was the same as observed in Peru with the Inca’s.
We also decided to take a 4WD tour to Sandwich Bay. Driving full speed over, around and through the sand dunes is one of the most fun things we have ever done. This is where is where the giant sand dunes meet the Atlantic Ocean. It is the start of the Namib Desert.
Our driver tried to race the tide as we drove along the shore with waves crashing alongside us. The real fun began when we raced up and over some of the largest sand dunes in the world. I was in the front seat and after about ten minutes I finally had the courage to keep my eyes open as we plunged straight down the dunes and then straight back up again.
Our guide took the time to show us animal tracks in the desert, and with his help we saw the desert teaming with wildlife. When we stopped for our sundowner drinks and snacks we had a visit from a jackal. Our guide has known this jackal since he was a pup and we had fun feeding him our leftovers.
By the time we left Walvisbaai, we had cool sand dune videos that impressed our son, and we were well rested. As we said our goodbyes our hosts had the same expression as everyone else when they saw our car next to the other guests Land Cruisers and Range Rovers and just shook their heads and wished us luck.
We were headed up the Skeleton Coast to Cape Cross to see one of the largest Cape Fur Seal colonies on the Atlantic coast. It also is one of the Portuguese stone cross sites from 1484 when the area was first visited by Europeans.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it too far out of town when we met up with our first Namibian road block. Ol tried to play it cool, but failed miserably. He totally went off script from our original plan. He decided to tell the policeman that our licenses were stolen! Luckily, the police officer just told us to go fill out a police report at the next town and keep the report if we get stopped again.
Ol decided not to stop at the next town and just kept on going! What was the chances of running into another Namibian road block?
When we arrived at Cape Cross, as far as the eye could see in every direction were Cape fur seals and their pups! I had read that the smell was overwhelming so I grabbed a scarf and dabbed it with my lavender essential oil to cover my mouth and nose.
We walked on a raised walkway over thousands of seals. They didn’t pay us any attention, although wee occasionally got a grouchy bark. It really was amazing, but If I wouldn’t have had my scarf I don’t think that I could have done it. The smell was incredibly bad. When Ol and I got back in the car and removed our scarves, the smell clung to our clothes! It was really awful, but so worth it!
Namibia is also known for its large number of ancient rock art sites, particularly rock engraving sites scattered across the country. Our next destination would be to see “The White Lady”. Again, the traveling was slow going as we were on sandy dirt roads. By the time we made it to the destination, it was too late to make the hike up the canyon to view the paintings.
We ended up staying at a lodge with an amazing private cabin. We learned that we had just missed the migration of the desert elephants for which the area is known. The sunset was spectacular against the ‘Brandberg’ mountain. The giant granite monolith located in Damaraland is the highest mountain in Namibia. We had a great dinner and afterwards, we were treated to a show of local songs by the staff.
The next day we had an easy one hour hike up the canyon with our native guide. He showed us animal tracks and taught us the names of native plants and their uses. It was a beautiful hike. We also saw first hand the damage the elephants do to the trees and plants in a desert environment. I was glad that we didn’t have to be on the lookout for elephants or wait for them to get out of the way!
The Brandberg mountain hosts over 1,000 bushman paintings. The “White Lady” archeological site is found in a cave under an overhang. Even though it is over 2000 years old it is still stunning. Unfortunately for years the site was unprotected and it has lost some of its luster from people touching the paintings and putting water on them.
We learned about the discovery of these paintings and the controversy surrounding them. It turns out that “The White Lady” isn’t even a lady!
After leaving the Brandenburg mountains we headed to Etosha National Park, the greatest wildlife sanctuary in Namibia. “Etosha” means ‘Great White Place’. The park was established in 1907 and is now 8,600 square miles.
The park is so large that we planned to visit for at least five days staying in several of its resorts. We weren’t able to make reservations in advance because of our lack of internet so I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to get a room. We had our tent and in the worst case scenario we could always camp.
After a difficult time checking in, we were told that there was availability. A tourist in line behind us was annoyed that we had walked up to the office without reservations and made several rude comments.
When Ol and I pulled up to our two bedroom luxury hut, I had to laugh. I made a reservation the day of our stay, and because we were treated so rudely I think the receptionist gave us the best room at the Okaukuejo Lodge!
The cabin was front and center, right in front of the watering hole where all of the animals came for the evening drink. Ol and I sat out on our balcony in the chaise lounge under a comforter. We drank beer under the Milky Way into the early hours of the morning as we watched hundreds of animals come partake of the precious water.
Over the next two nights at our watering hole we saw all the Big Five, including many of the park’s endangered rhino. We even saw a leopard and a pack of hyena. In the morning we saw large herds of elephant and enjoyed watching the giraffes drink with their legs splayed out.
Etosha certainly lived up to its reputation as ‘the essence of Africa’. We spent the next week driving around the Etosha Pan. We loved the park’s lodges at Halali and Namatoni, but none was as wonderful as Okaukuejo.
Our drive across Namibia was a once in a lifetime experience. From the majesty of the Fish River Canyon, to the expanse, desolation, and beauty of the Namib Desert, to the other-worldly landscapes of Sossusvlei, to the power of the Atlantic Ocean along the Skeleton Coast, to the history of the Brandenburg Mountains, Namibia offered many surprises. But, after visiting Etosha and seeing the abundance of animals, I can say that Namibia has exceeded anything that I have ever dreamed it would be.