Having bade a sad farewell to the staff at Damaraland Camp, we drove the short distance – well short when compared to previous journeys – to Doro Nawas, some 45 minutes distant for our flight to the far north of Namibia and Serra Cafema.
This was the part of the trip that I was really looking forward to. I’d visited the camp some 6 years ago and just about everything about it had blown my mind – its remoteness, its setting and the camp. So it was with some excitement and some trepidation that we parked the car under cover at Doro Nawas and hopped into the transfer vehicle for the short trip to the airstrip. Doro Nawas is a hub location for this part of Namibia with light aircraft arriving from Windhoek and from outlying camps from where guests connect onwards to their next destination.
We didn’t have long to wait before our aircraft landed and anyway there is a shelter by the airstrip that offers cold drinks and light refreshments whilst you wait. We were soon on-board and on our way over the vast expanse of Kaokoland to the border with Angola. The flight takes about 90 minutes and can be quite bumpy, so keep your seat best tightly fastened. Upon disembarking the memories of my previous trip came flooding back – the remoteness of the place and its sheer beauty. The immediate Namibian side of the River Kunene, which is the border with Angola is largely rolling sand dunes but the Hartmann Valley gives it more identifiable form. However looks past the valley and the dunes and the most incredible mountain range dominates the view – the Serra Cafema Mountains in Angola.
The drive to the camp takes about an hour, down a couple of bottom clenching slopes but then as you enter the Kunene river valley, Serra Cafema camp comes into view nestled among the trees by the side of the river. I’m back.
The welcome is warm and the drinks and towels cold – just the ticket.
Our room is at the end of the raised walkway and has been angled to face downstream overlooking some small rapids. It’s spacious with an indoor and outdoor shower and a lovely shaded deck to relax. Perfect.
N.B. Serra Cafema has been hit by flooding of the Kunene on a couple of occasions and plans are ongoing to move it about a couple of hundred yards to the rear onto a small ridge line. I look forward to seeing what the redesigned camp looks like.
Later in the afternoon we boarded our excursion boat and went upstream in search of monkeys, crocodiles and birdlife. We were not disappointed.
That evening was a full moon which rose over Angola, so the anticipated stars didn’t put in an appearance but instead we had a bright shaft of moonlight reflecting off the Kunene and lighting the camp. Cue the question that was discussed over dinner that night – who sang the song Moon River?
Today was time to get out and explore the region around Serra Cafema and the camp had the ideal vehicle – quad bikes. After a thorough tutorial on their use by our guide, followed by 15 minutes of ‘follow my leader’, when he was gently assessing our levels of control, we headed out into the hinterland. We clearly had all passed.
Having crossed over the ‘rocky pass’ into the dune-belt we picked up speed and were soon carving our way over and around the dunes in line abreast, stopping to have features of interest pointed out to us. Personally it would have been far more of an experience had we not have to war full face helmets but clearly the Health and Safety ‘taliban’ have now even reached this far.
We pulled up just short of a Himba village to have a rest and let them know we were in the area – in case they couldn’t hear us! The Himba are one of the few truly nomadic tribes left in Africa who live a very basic lifestyle, on the edge of life itself – no running water, no electricity, no idea where the wood for their fires comes from, in fact nothing that we in the ‘developed world’ take as a human right these days. And yet they seem happy. Note to teenagers who are ‘bored’ and have ‘nothing to do’.
As we rolled gently into camp we were greeted by the head of this group of Himba and allowed to meet the others, principally women, children and goats, who were in camp. I never feel totally comfortable ‘invading’ their living space but they didn’t seem to mind and, via our guide, we managed to get a good understanding or how they eke out an existence in this harsh landscape.
Back in camp, we parked the quads and found our land legs again. However Roxy tried a different approach and found her sea legs instead. When I say ‘sea’ I really mean ‘pool’ as it failed to come into her field of view and she walked straight into it; camera in hand. Concerned – yes, laughed – most certainly.
Serra Cafema is one of those places that you have to visit and whose experience will have you coming back. I may well go back for a third bite.
To come next time
We head south for some close encounters with the big cats at Okonjima.