Africa – our Grand Namibia Adventure
We left Swakopmund on a typically misty morning – cold water meets warm land – and headed north up the coast towards Hentiesbaai and our first route decision. The salt road was smooth and straight although it looked slippery with the moisture from the mist and somewhat boring to drive. I hate UK driving on UK motorways as well.
So at Hentiesbaai, we turned right onto the C35, leaving the coast behind us and going back onto shale roads; the downside being the loss of comfort, the upside being we were back in the sunshine within a couple of miles. The road was arrow straight as far as the eye could see (and beyond) but after about an hour of this, in the middle of absolutely nowhere, we saw something totally unexpected – five ostriches walking in perfect line astern formation across the road in front of us. We had no idea where they had come from or where they were heading, but they seemed to be on a mission.
As we headed ever in land getting closer to the HUGE monolith that is the Brandberg, we decided to stop in Uis (pronounced ‘weece’) to top up on fuel and have a drinks break. This is truly a place that is clinging on by its fingernails – the main employer was the local tin mine, but that closed down a couple of years ago and as if that wasn’t enough, it hasn’t rained in Uis for five years. Water is now supplied by a daily tanker! This is tough living. I hope that by the time I write this, they’ve had some rain.
Tip – pay close attention to your map as the road you are on (the C35), which you need to take to get to Damaraland, is a left turn (not a bend) just before the town. It is not the road (the C36) that runs alongside the town. We almost got it wrong and probably wouldn’t have realised for a long time!
The ‘road’ from Uis to Damaraland is very scenic in stretches and you pass some small settlements close to ephemeral rivers, but the surface was in serious need of a re-grade. The conclusion we came to from the route we took was that perhaps the coastal salt road, up to Torra Bay before cutting inland, might have been a better idea. Perhaps!
After some 6 hours of driving we finally made it to the collection point for Damaraland Camp. Whilst we waited for the transfer vehicle to arrive, we chatted with the locals and had an impromptu game of football with a couple of young children wearing Lionel Messi Barcelona shirts – need to convert them to rugby.
The transfer vehicle arrived and within 30 minutes, I had a cold beer in hand looking down the hill to the Abu-Huab River – well its valley anyway – about two miles distant. Our room was light and airy and comfortably, rather than luxuriously, equipped but they sit well in the landscape and all have ‘that’ view down into valley and beyond.
I think Damaraland Camp was Wilderness Safaris’ first camp in Namibia and although it’s been upgraded over the years, its location remains its strength. Or so we thought, until we started to get to know the staff. What a bunch of characters, many from the local villages, that Wilderness have assembled here. A true credit to themselves, their county and Wilderness.
We headed out for a short sundowner drive to a magical location with close and far reaching views and following a delicious G&T and nibbles, as the shadows lengthened, we headed back to camp. Another (pre-dinner) G&T was followed by a superb dinner, introduced in fine style; but the best was to come with an impromptu staff concert – that some of the guests joined in. What a way to finish off a superb day.
We started early the next morning, had a quick breakfast and headed down the hill (bumpily) into the Aby-Huab river course and scouted for recent elephant tracks – this area is well known for its desert adapted elephants – and it wasn’t long that we realised that we were in the wrong bit of the valley and did a quick about turn. Quite soon we started to notice recent elephant spoor and, shortly after seeing a group of some twenty ostrich and a couple of black-backed jackals that seemed to be tracking us, we saw our first elephant a sub-adult who was far too interested in picking up berries to pay us any notice.
It was only when we rounded the next corner that we hit a rich vein of wildlife, apart from some fifteen elephants, including a mother and baby, we came across large number of kudu and of oryx, a huge troop of baboons (also with babies), more ostrich and more black-backed jackals – unless they were the same two!.
By this time it was really warming up, so after a quick coffee break we headed back up the hill to camp and a light lunch.
Once the heat of the day started to subside, we decided to go for a walk with our guide – you can eat/drink too much on a safari and be too sedentary. We walked and talked about almost everything, saw what was on the other side of the valley as well as lots of donkey spoor and a huge troop of baboons, perhaps the one from this morning, heading up to some caves in the upper face of a steep hill.
We arrived at Damaraland Camp as guests, we left as friends with the whole camp, even those off-duty and relaxing coming out to sing their ‘D-Camp chorus’. Safe to say we were very sad to leave but really excited about our next step into ‘the wild side’ of Namibia.
To come next time
We visit one of the remotest camps in Namibia (if not Africa), go quad biking over the dunes, have an encounter with the Himba and Roxane has a close encounter of her own.