We drove East through Kunene, Namibia, stopping to camp and visit several natural and historical highlights of the region. These included Twyfelfonstein (a UNESCO world heritage site that has the largest concentration of African petroglyphs), the Organ Pipes (a geological phenomena of dolerite columns), Burnt Mountain (with layers of red, purple & blackish colored compacted rock) and a petrified forest (not really a forest but rather an accumulation of 280 million year old enormous, fossilized tree trunks that were washed down to this location during a flood). All of these stops were only a precursor for the grand event… Etosha National Park.
Etosha National Park is the largest most renown game park in Namibia, occupying almost 8,600 square miles. A large portion of its surface is spanned by a salt pan that can be seen from space. Surrounding it’s salty dry perimeter are desert, semi-desert and savannah landscapes, with acacia and mopani trees. It is densely populated with wildlife (over 100 different mammals, birds and reptiles) that congregate around its many watering holes. We obsessively drove through much of the park in 4 days, camping one night each in 3 main campsites (Okaukuejo, Halali, and Namutoni). Every day was a quest to spot a new animal or bird, with a keen interest in lions, cheetahs, the endangered black rhino, and the secretariat bird. In truth, we were so very spoiled at this stage, that giraffes, kudu, impalas, ostriches and elephants barely registered more than a minute of excitement. Much of our drive was monotonous, listening to the same soundtrack, trying to stop backseat fighting, scanning the land and skies in repetitive patterns, and bemoaning Stella, who released a steady stream of fart bombs that she referred to as “beans”. Taking afternoon breaks in the many campsite swimming pools provided much-needed respite from the heat and diversion for the kids. Bathroom and picnic breaks were only allowed in specific designated areas which were supposed to be safe, but we encountered at least three of these in disrepair with torn down fences, missing gates and broken toilets. This was unfortunate to see as it made apparent the lack of funds and organization within the park. Even the campsites that we slept in had questionable and slightly worrying protection. The quiet of the nights were definitely disturbed with the scavenging antics of honey badgers, black-backed jackals, warthogs and baboons. Although the majority of the park’s facilities had definitely seen better days, it seemed fitting in so wild and rugged a place. We were here to spy on the untamed life of African animals, and Etosha fulfilled our aspirations. We saw our first male lion with mane and battle scars, and a family of cheetahs, resting in the shade of a tree. What more could we ask for?!
Our next destination before ending our trip in the capital Windhoek, was 2 nights camping in the Waterberg National Park. The limited wildlife, consisting of birds, wart hogs, and dik-diks (rare small antelope), meant that we were able to rest our wheels and exercise our legs by hiking up the prominent table mountain of the Waterberg Plateau, with its grand views of lush green land below. After immersing in nature, we were back in the not very big city of Windhoek, to drink good coffee, shop for trinkets, and dine at cleverly kitschy, Joe’s Beerhouse. We ditched the camper van for a night of sleep in a proper guesthouse with en suite, and prepared ourself for the next days’ departure out of the country.
Namibia is a fascinating country that I could have easily spent more time exploring. Although we did travel across a great deal of the land, and I do feel that I have a rudimentary understanding of what the country “looks like”, I left feeling that we had missed out on connecting with the people of Namibia; specifically, this is a country with a rich ethnic diversity: 49.8% Ovambo, 9.3% Kavango, 7.5% Herero/Himba, 7.5% Damara, 4.8% Nama, 3.7% Caprivian, 2.9% San, 2.5% Basters, 4.1% coloureds (mixed race), and 6.4% white. The minority white population is primarily made up of South African, British and German descent, with 60% speaking Afrikaans, 32% German, and 7% English. White Namibians represent the second largest group of European ancestry in all of Sub-Saharan Africa. Overall, Namibia’s population is estimated at 2.35 million, which makes it the second least populated country in the world next to Mongolia, with 2 people per square kilometer. This explains the lack of road traffic and opportunity to make new friends! Those Namibians that we did have the pleasure of meeting helped us to better understand their unique country, strong identity, and fierce patriotism. Both our encounters with those natives and fellow travelers, painted the picture of a country meant for the hardy. Namibia is a place where you meet a different breed of person – the intrepid, the adventurer, the brave and self-reliant, the fierce lover of sand, land and wildlife, the un-superficial, the no frills, bare bones “live-er” of life. Here we met a back packer who has been on the road for over 2.5 years and a couple who have already driven down the entire west coast of Africa from Europe, with plans to enter South Africa and traverse the east coast all the way back home – a one year odyssey.
Almost 3 months from when we said goodbye to Africa, and we reminisce about what we miss and remember:
Clicks and clucks of Zulu and Xhosa, birding, braais, leopards, lions & cheetahs, desert boulders, dung beetle crossings, bunny-chow, oryx, kudu & impala steak, peri-peri sauce, Super Spar, “shark warning” and “at your own risk” signs, South African wine with Gavin & Meriem, braided and beaded Afros, fynbos & proteas, Table Mountain, penguins, Appletizer, wild coasts and tide pool exploring, rock paintings, Drakensberg, pony trekking, our hilux and rooftop tents, biltong, sand dunes, dik-diks and dassies, peanut butter & Jack Daniels shakes, stoplight venders, Amarula sundowners, Castle Beer, lekker anything, Welwitschias, rock hounding & giant crystals, SANSParks, the Southern Cross, Lesotho jug bands and Swaziland dancers, electric fences & barbwire, rondavels, Cattle Baron, hippos on the lawn, Cape Dutch architecture, corrugated unpaved roads, warthog crossings, giraffes, elephant tusks and rhino horns and antelope antlers, chameleons and bush babies, large smiles and louder laughs, big skies with cotton ball clouds, and deep orange African sunsets…