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Four Countries, 5 weeks Namibia self drive Part 2

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Tuesday 20th June

 

Relaxed and warm we fit our luggage into Beryl the 4x4 and make our way out of the gate of Le Mirage our home for the past three nights. We've had a most relaxing time, watched the most amazing sunsets and this morning I awoke perfectly normally at 6.50!!!! O.M.G. We are worried, will this become the normal back in Teignmouth??? Will we suddenly change the habit of our retirement and be early risers??? Nah, of course we won't. But this is Africa, this is different, this is amazing!

 

 

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We set off on a long, long haul of C roads which are all gravel, corrugated (that's rutted to you and I) dusty and difficult. We've  got 230 miles to travel to get to Swakopmund and our first pit stop is at Solitaire the first ‘Town’ to fill up with Diesel, have a coffee - the best we've had - and we almost drive by it. This hamlet consists of one petrol station set back from the road that we almost miss completely with adjoining thatched-roof cafe/bakery/shop. The bakery has about six sweet items to choose from (but none of the famous Apple Pie/Crumble today!) also nothing savoury for us to take for lunch later. The Oatmeal biscuit and Coconut cake are very delicious, so we go into the shop to find more supplies but except for fridges full of water and fizzy drinks and racks of crisps and nuts, this is definitely NOT a Morrisons. There are very few shelves, it's very dark, there are an assortment of old Gerry cans on the walls and other than a few tins of tuna and some small jars of mayonnaise, the choice is dreadfully limited. Doritos for lunch it is!

 

 

 

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We drive ever onward and the landscape changes rapidly. We see red dunes, we see miles of gorse, we see pale grasses, but we never see a home, a shack or a building of any sort. Occasionally we see a tiny side road with a sign to Camping, but I'm talking about over 150 miles and virtually nothing. We pass two canyons with a few parked 4x4’s where the occupants are taking time to rest and take photos. Gaub canyon is like a huge seaside switchback rollercoaster. The rock formations are spectacular and as we drive further we see Kuiseb canyon the weirdest mixture of rolling green boulders, slate stone and flint for about 5 or 6 miles. It's no more but a sandy dry river bed although it may run as a river for two or three weeks during the rainy season, but now three months on from then, there was little more than a three foot wide waterhole in just one place. This is a harsh environment.

 

 

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We next stop where we see half a dozen vehicles parked up close to a group of huge boulders. It's called Vogelfederberg and it's 527 metres high. It's easily climbed and has some amazing views of the surrounding area from the top. It's about 20 miles from Walvis Bay and that's where we are heading. The times getting on, that's the trouble always, so little time so much to see. So as we get to Walvis Bay it's gone 4pm and we would like to get to our hotel ready to watch the sun go down over the Atlantic Ocean, so we make the decision to carry on to Swakopmund. We pull up at the Hotel Zum Kaiser at 4.30pm and immediately book in and Peter orders 2 glasses of Wine to be served on the sun terrace and after dumping our bags in our room we're sat awaiting the going down of the sun far out, past the most fabulous huge waves that are crashing onto the beach below us. The temperature dropped like a stone as we got nearer to Swakopmund. In the desert it was about 30c all the way from Sossusvlei but the last 20 miles and it dipped to 17c so there is a real chill in the air. The waiter asks if we’d like coffee ( I guess he thinks Mad English) but we sip our Vino and as the sun sets at 5.30pm we reflect on another lovely day.

 

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The best part of Swakopmund for me another perfect sunset.

 

Wednesday 21st June

 

 

 

Hotel Zum Kaiser is not a luxurious stop, it's adequate. The best thing about it was a superb shower, hot and wonderful after a days travel. The staff were ok but not majorly friendly, the breakfast was minimal and the bacon sandwich cold. Never mind we'll get to know Swakopmund by having a good walk around town. We leave the hotel to be accosted by a guy trying to sell us trinkets. He's the first in a long line of pests. The only way is to be very rude and totally ignore them. Peter has to say Good Morning. As soon as they hear your voice they say Which Country? If you answer, you have a friend for life to the point they stick like Superglue, whether you tell them to go away, turn left or right they stay right at your side until I get very frustrated and Peter gets angry. 

 

These guys are also found in car parks. They wear very old hi vis jackets. If you don't park where they want you too they whistle and wave until you do. Then they'll look after your car until you return and they hope, but not always expect a tip. Peter got into a very interesting and instructive conversation with Mateo. Peter discussed the merits of the car parking facility Mateo ran and mentioned to him it was called ‘In the West’ a Protection Racket! Mateo insisted that he would never expect any reward prior to the event and that any remuneration should only be given afterwards when the vehicle was seen to be safe and sound and should only be from the heart. Ultimately he walked away, happy with this new found knowledge and also the pleasure of extracting a little financial reward from the English Gentleman!

 

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Grey, misty Swakopmund 

 

 

 

 

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The bird life was interesting.

 

Swakopmund is known this time of the year for its sea mist. In Teignmouth, on the English South West coast, we call it The Larry. The mist has descended and Swak is a very cold, very dull place. We spend the day wandering and driving and not doing much except visiting a museum dedicated to a very old steam traction engine known as Martin Luther. The lady and her son who ran the museum were a lovely chatty pair and we had an enjoyable afternoon with their help. Tonight we've booked into The Tug Seafood restaurant by the jetty, right overlooking the beach and even on a damp and miserable Wednesday this large eating house is packed to the rafters at 6.15pm It's a good job I booked as we'd have had no chance without and this was another recommendation this time from our local Trailfinders manager Ollie who told me about it six months ago. First rate choice, Ollie! It was buzzing, the waiting staff were flying about with trays and meals ten to the dozen. Almost every table was taken and as our first choice of table was rather in a cramped position, so much so that when Peter went to sit down a waitress with a full tray, albeit of empty glasses and bottles collided with him, we were swiftly moved to a much better position. Wine choice was quickly decided and dispensed and the extended mainly Seafood menu perused. John Dory Goujons for me, Seafood soup (including a giant Langoustine) for Peter. Now main course was a huge dilemma as the choice was mega, but eventually I chose a Kabeljou, a Namibian favourite, as yet untried by yours truly and Sir went for the a mixed Seafood curry, a superb choice by the completely clean dish when Peter had finished. If Swakopmund wasn't the must interesting or enjoyable visit on our extended holiday, The Tug certainly made up for it in quality of food, service and position of the venue. If you need a 1st class restaurant whilst visiting we can recommend it!

 

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Some of the architecture was interesting.

 

Thursday 22nd June

 

Up, out and away after another cold bacon butty (no H.P. like everywhere else, only mustard!) to top our dislike of the place their card machine didn't work and delayed us an extra 25minutes! Not happy! The mist is down and we drive to Hentiesbaii along the coast which resembles November in Caister (having had many Norfolk grey days as I child, I'm wounded forever.) We turn inland and I spend an hour driving along a very straight gravel road and slowly the cloud disappears and eventually 13c turns to 27c We picnic on elevenses, at a concrete table and chairs in the middle of nowhere, whilst many fellow 4x4 travellers toot their horns and wave. This is another wonderful part of driving in Namibia, the friendliness and camaraderie  of fellow travellers.  We motor further and see many Herero tribeswomen and children selling goodies on the side of the road. They are a nomadic tribe, famed for their red/brown skin and dreadlock type hair, all dyed with a mixture of earth, herbs  and cocoa butter. They wear costumes of their German ancestors, including crinolines and numerous petticoats. 

 

We are getting close to our destination so decide to stop, close to the side of the road ‘in the bush’ for our lunch. We've hardly seen a vehicle for over an hour except for a couple of mule carts and their owners. Peter unpacks our picnic chairs whilst I plate up bread, meats, cheeses, tomatoes and crisps. We sit down to relax for half an hour, completely alone in Africa, peace and silence…………… and low and behold, every minute for the next ten, a white 4x4 passes, hoots and the folks all wave!!!!! Madness, total madness!

 

The wilderness around us is utterly beautiful. Miles of long grasses, green trees not seen since London, small mountains of rusty red and black granite and slate as far as the eye can see on both sided of the road. Oh the road has also changed from rough gravel to sand. It's so, so different here and we are within 3 km of Mowani Mountain Lodge. The place I've looked forward to ever since Marie at Trailfinders and I put this amazing holiday together. It's one of those one off hotels of the world. Totally hidden from the road, 12 thatched, tented, large toadstool like buildings have been fitted between the natural boulders that have been nestling here for centuries, to be used as bedrooms. Larger ones are the open air lounge and dining area, smaller the office, reception and kitchens. My photos won't do the place justice, but it's incredible. We wanted a room with a view and we've certainly got that in abundance. Room 2 looks forwards as far as the eye can see and that must be 30 miles of boulders, savannah and red mountains. It's totally peaceful except for the occasional bird song.

 

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Tiny lizards sun themselves on the rocks all around. It is bliss. Similar in parts to the canyons in Utah and Arizona. But with Elephants living close by as well as Zebra and any number of animals. We unpack, explore the camp including the small plunge pool overlooking the savannah and then walk through the tiny paths in between the boulders high up to the viewpoint where there is a bar!!! Atop an enormous boulder there are cushions with old tree branches as back rests and picnic chairs for the unadventurous. This is the seating for sundowners where three waiters bring small wooden boards as menus with different choices of cocktails, then as we sit and watch the setting sun, the waiters bring trays of nibbles. The guests of which there are  about 16 are made up mostly of Germans with a couple of Italians and three Americans. The sun finally drops below the mountains at 5.30 and within 20 minutes the darkness is dropping and we make our way to our chalet to prepare for a delicious dinner before an early night as the alarm must be set for 5.30am!!!!!

 

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Small pool with stunning views

 

 

 

Friday 23rd June

 

When??!! 5.30 am Pitch black and with a sky full of stars we dress and shuffle to breakfast. Gently raising our eyelids and sanity, it's amazing what coffee can do, we load into a Safari vehicle with a guide who introduces himself as Max. There are six of us, two Italians and two from somewhere in the Antipodes by their accents. The light is just beginning to lift and as we leave the camp we see a herd of Springbok, beautiful creatures. Within another 6 miles still on the sand road a Zebra stallion rushes across with his harem of ladies, as the girls hide within the trees and bushes he turns to watch us pass and makes a fine photo for me.

 

 

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We turn off-road now and see Ostrich in the distance and drive for over an hour through wide dry river beds, we see such greenery, but no water. When the rains came 3 months ago the water above land finally dried up, but under ground the trees and shrubbery feed and live healthily because of their root system. Namibia hasn't had an appreciable amount of rainfall since 2011 but this year they had a better than average lot in January and February. How they survive, I just don't quite understand. We go through a couple of small villages, perhaps twenty homes in each, but more importantly with water pumps run by solar panels and large water tanks. The Namibian government has successfully educated the villagers how important tourism is to the country. So a reciprocal facility works. The government help the villagers by providing the water tanks and solar panels so  a two way system can work. The people get water for the village and their animals, ( they raise cattle, goats and chickens) and it also provides water for the passing Elephants. So the Elephants drink happily and leave the villagers in peace. But importantly tourists visit to see the Elephants and bring employment and vital income to the local economy. Namibia is a huge beautiful country and can only benefit if the infrastructure builds accordingly.

 

So now it's gone 8am and we've been travelling for an hour and a half, tracking Elephant. We've seen all the usual signs and we know they have been in this area very recently. Peter and I are becoming ace trackers since our Botswana visit earlier this trip. It's amazing what you learn about Elephant dung! The river bed we are driving through is very lush with greenery and there are large black items moving on our right. Wow! Elephants, there are three of them feeding on the trees around us, then two more, then a mother and her baby. Max tells us the baby was born on Valentines Day last year and the slightly bigger baby one close by is the youngster the mother had six years ago. How fabulous. We slowly watch them and photograph every angle for the next hour as Max gently manoeuvres the vehicle close to them without upsetting them. But they are utterly peaceful and quite used to the couple of vehicles that frequent this area. But they are wild animals. This is not a penned in National park, this is just part of Northern Namibia, open completely to anyone. It's just a matter of knowing where these gorgeous beasts are to just sit and appreciate them.

 

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Six year old on left, 16 month old on right.

 

 

 

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Some of the many Ellie's we watch. 

 

 

On returning to camp smiling at the wonderful morning we've had we then spend the afternoon by the pool, amidst the rocks enjoying the sunshine 30C is perfection. Then it's the sundowner habit once more.  5pm means Cocktails, sunshine and chatter amongst nationalities. Again then we pack, it's a fine art that takes minutes, change and head down to dinner watching the huge array of stars that is the Milky Way as we go. There is a fire pit to sit around, a fabulous lounge to enjoy before once more, at a ridiculously early hour we go to bed. Tomorrow we move further north.

 

 

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The wonderful bar overlooking stunning scenery.

 

 

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Mowani Mountain Camp has a very scenic location. And finding those elephants muct have been very special!

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Oh Xelas, it was amazing and the Elephants were just being viewed by us and 1 other vehicle, so peaceful, it was brill.

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