August 4, 2013
Oliver and I finished our Peace Corps Service, officially ending our service on July 19 at midnight. We spent a long weekend with a few friends who will be in country a little bit longer and also went hiking at one of our favorite Swazi game parks. And then, boom, we were outta there.
We flew to Namibia, where we’ve been for the past two weeks. This trip has been in the works for over a year and a half, so we’ve been excited. Namibia is a huge country compared to Swaziland in size but they are almost the same in population. So you have vast areas of desert where there are no communities. We looked forward to renting a 4×4 and camping in the wilderness.
After a few days in Windhoek, the capital, where Oliver and I got our laundry done in a washing machine, went to an art museum, and ate some pizza, we were picked up by Bobo Campers to go and get our vehicle. It was a little truck, similar to the Tracker we used to have in America. On top was a tent that you pop up at night and in the back was a fridge, drawers for food, and cooking supplies. The kitchenette was better equipped than our kitchen in Swaziland. There were 3 types of cups to drink from!
That first day, we drove south from Windhoek. It was clear the moment we reached the city limits–the tar road was suddenly dirt and there was no one around. It was surprising how quickly we were on our own. We drove several hours through flat desert and then a worrisome mountain pass until we got to our first camp. It was fun setting up camp for the night and since we had a very early morning we went to bed after dinner. In the middle of the night we heard someone walking around our camper. We peaked out the little zipper window and it was actually a gemsbok. Gemsbok are a larger species of antelope with two very long black horns going almost straight up. They had wandered in to camp to eat some of the seed pods that fall from the trees. For some reason we were concerned about the table and chairs we had left next to the car (the lady at the rental office had shown us a very long and expensive list of replacement fees). We got out in the middle of the night and packed those things up. We saw eyes nearby of possibly a genet and climbed back on top of our car into the bed. We watched them on and off for the rest of the night and two even took to fighting right next to the car’s bumper.
We woke up at 5AM to get ready before the sunrise. We picked this campsite so that we would be close to Sossusvlei and the surrounding sand dunes. The area around looked similar to what I had seen for the last two years–bushes and dirt. But once we started driving, the giant sand dunes began to rise in the distance. We reached the first few in time to watch the sunrise. As we drove in, more and more sand surrounded us. It made me really uneasy. As a Wisconsinite, I don’t really like mountains, either looking at them over my head or feeling the loftiness of them once you get up there. But to see them made out of sand was even more unusual. Why don’t they fall down? Are they going to blow away? I knew there is a difference between what I was seeing and quicksand and that these dunes have been relatively in the same spot for thousands of years, but in my mind, one step off the trail, and you were a goner. After a while, I put my hand on one big sand dune, then my foot. It seemed stable so eventually I started climbing. It was just like snow. The fun part was coming down, taking giant leaps and skiing down on your feet. Yes, travel, certainty has a way of broadening your mind.
Oliver and I spent the day and the following night in that area. Our next destination was Skeleton Coast. This miserable stretch of sea coast got it’s name from sailors who knew that if their ships wrecked along that coast, they would die. You can still see some of the ship wrecks and there are stories about lions who eat the whales that wash up on shore. It took us an entire day to drive out there. There were a few cars here and there and even fewer houses. We spent the night at Cape Cross to see a seal colony of about 100,000 Cape Fur Seals. Seals live in my mind as adorable, happy little mammals that enjoy swimming. These were smelly and loud and liked to chase each other around. We camped on the coast and it was freezing.
In the morning, we drove up to Skeleton Coast. The entire day we saw only one other car which was fishing illegally. Everything we saw, old oil rigs, ships, abandoned vehicles, were covered with rust and sand. It was a strange sort of beauty. The landscape at times made you feel as if you were on the moon. There were times where no vegetation was in sight, just these rolling dead hills.
Once we got out of the park we headed towards the next area we wanted to camp in. But we were quickly running out of gas. The car came with an extra jerry can and the woman at the office had told us it was filled with petrol (and that the extra water container was full as well). We discovered that was not the case the day before and filled up half way. We started getting nervous that even with the spare gas, it wasn’t going to be enough. Oliver and I have different ways of visualizing uncertain scenarios. He thinks of what might be the most likely possibility and focuses on that. I have 10 ideas in my head ranked from ok to terrible. We had read something about a gas station in a different, but shorter direction than we planned on taking so we did that. It got pretty close to E even after using our reserve supply but we got there in time. The gas station barely resembled a gas station. We saw another car leaving as we pulled up and the attendant said “wow, busy day!” It turned out to be a lucky detour because a short ways a way, some Himba women were selling bracelets on the side of the road.
We went to a camp on the side of a dry river bed and got set up for the night. We were sitting by our fire when a giant grey shadow began to emerge from the darkness. It came closer, only 30 feet a way from our fire-it was an elephant. I got up from my chair and went around the car to watch from the side. Oliver got up as well, but for some reason, went in front of the car placing himself in the middle. ‘”What are you doing” I hissed. Oliver laughed, and looked surprised to be on the wrong side and came over by me. In a short time, about 20 elephants were wandering around the camp. It was a relief not to be in that situation alone and it was interesting to see the other camper’s responses. One guy immediately started tearing down a tree to build a big fire. Two older ladies didn’t seem disturbed, they were making sandwiches. Every time an elephant came close, they switched off their lights as if it were a pesky bug. One man took to banging his pots and pans together to try and scare them away. Everyone had advise for each other–don’t shine your light in their eyes, go grab your camera, lets go look at it, get inside your car, etc. Oliver and I climbed up to the balcony over the reception and chose to watch from there. The elephants lingered for about two hours, and then we went to bed.
The next day we went to see rock art paintings, a cultural village and then drove towards a camp near Etosha, our next destination. We were 15 minutes from camp when the car started making this weird rasping noise. We pulled over and were trying to figure out what was going on when another Bobo camper pulled up. It was one of the men who worked for Bobo going to deliver a car. He helped us get in touch with the office and we drove to a garage. Apparently a plug came out at the oil in the gear boxed leaked out. We spent the night in town and got a replacement vehicle.
Oliver and I drove up to Etosha where we spent the next four nights. We had read good things about this park. A lot of desert adapted animals lived there. During the day we saw a lot of wildebeest, springbok, and gemsbok on the plains. Each rest camp had a flood lit waterhole were we spent our evenings. Lions, elephants, bat eared foxes, hyena, black rhino and a lot of other animals came to drink as night fell. The elephants always came to the waterhole looking hot and dusty. Upon seeing the water, you could see their relief, many came running for that first drink of water. Once it seemed they couldn’t drink anymore it seemed as if they still enjoyed putting water in their mouths just to let it dribble out.
In total, our trip took us and our little Bobo Camper over 3,000km through dusty deserts, over rocky mountain passes, and along sandy shores. We saw several new species and enjoyed our last few days with the more familiar African wildlife. The woman at Bobo said that the dust in Namibia is so fine it goes through your skin and into your blood — “in about 2 years you will hear a voice… ‘Namibia calling’. We’ll be back.
PS. We can’t post pictures yet but will do as soon as possible.