A few words of intro
Namibia….a name that brings a warm fuzzy feeling to my heart. The country where it all began. 7 years ago, I travelled to Africa for the first time, landing in Windhoek just before sunrise. It was dark when we left the plane, and so the first thing that hit me was the smell. A beautiful, rich, happy smell that the African bush ensnares you with. As we were waiting to fill in the visas, the sun started slowly rising, revealing the Namibian landscape surrounding the airport. The love story had started, I was hooked and I felt it physically. Ask any traveller who has been to Africa and you’ll get a smilier description….it’s special. There’s something about this continent that supersedes us completely.
Fast forward a few years, to my recent 21st birthday. What better gift to my universal entrance to adulthood than travelling back to where I realised that whatever I would end up doing with my life, Africa would be a part of it? I’ve been wanting to go back for the last three years. Tight budget and other adventures to be had kept pushing back the date. Kilimanjaro or Namibia, Virunga or Namibia…it was always in the back of my head, but somehow I knew it wasn’t the right time.
I’ve been wanting to go back because at 13, I believe my appreciation of the continent, as well as what I saw and learnt was very, very different to my now accustomed self to solo travel in Africa. My photographic skills have also improved… or so I hope. Rediscovering Namibia with a different eye (both artistic and in terms of experience) is something I’ve been really looking forward to.
So here it is. Driving across one of the most dramatic countries in Africa landscape-wise (might I add that although I love driving I’ve started fairly recently - this is a challenge I’m looking forward to) for 2 weeks with one of my closest friends from uni and my camera equipment. It’s daunting but incredibly exciting. For practicality and sentimental reasons, I directly contacted the local eco-tourism company I had travelled with for the first Namibia trip - Ultimate Safaris
I hope you’ll enjoy our adventures. Hopefully nothing too dramatic like getting bogged in the desert or not having issues with break fluids, but interesting enough to spike your curiosity.
Day 1 - Landing in Windhoek, and sunbathing prep for the road ahead - 20th June 2018
Something a little interesting about my travels is the relation I have with flights. I love flying - used to be terrified and had flight anxiety, but the more I flew alone, the more I got used to it - it it just so happens the I seem to have bad flight karma.
Every time, something happens - severely delayed, lost luggage, missed connection, over-friendly neighbours, rude neighbours, etc. So it was a big surprise when my last trip to Kenya went extremely smoothly on the way in.
Anyways, in my mind, this was it: I had finally broken the streak. My connections to Amsterdam were great, and I was ready to take on a new life of comfortable flying. As Anne and I board the plane, the last ones to leave the gate, we gushed at how empty it was. We get to row 20, each of us have a window seat, and we wait. Minutes to departure tick one after the other and still, no one sits next to me. Not believing my luck, I start making myself comfortable, checking the time - 3 mins till the gate closes.
Of course, as a good friend of mine recently told me, never smile before the plane is moving. A class of 30 school kids ran into the plane, having clearly sprinted from wherever it was they were coming from. A young boy -who, of course, was sick all night - took the seat and that was it. Although...I woke up a few times at night to find myself surrounded by a starry night sky, it was absolutely gorgeous.
But these are details. Instant happiness hit me as I stepped outside. It kept intensifying upon arrival at Galton House, our first stop. We were simply amazed by Ultimate’s (once again) formidable organisation, and Europcar’s professionalism. In Europe they’re terrible but here it’s literally top notch. It turns out it’s not a car we’re going to drive, but a tank. The Ford Ranger is ENORMOUS.Not gonna lie though, getting used to it will take more than just the drive to and back from Joe's Beerhouse. It took me forever to park it (another guy rushed in the parking space I was attempting to move into because I was taking so long) and it feels heavy to drive. And Windhoek is so hilly. We'll get the hang of it though, I'm sure....
And we also get two spare tyres, because yes, two 21 blonde Europeans know how to change a tyre. Really hope it doesn’t come to that though.
What better way to prepare a 3000km road trip than to nap by the deliciously (painfully actually but still good) freezing pool, under the blue Namibian winter sky (I wish British winters were like this) eating homemade cake? Particularly after the journey we had. I had been travelling since 5am the day before, and I don’t think anything came even close to beating the feeling of completeness both Anne and I had by that pool.
The Africa effect is simply beautiful.
Day 2 - From Windhoek to the Namib Desert - 21st June 2018
Early start (well not so early Africa time but we still need to get used to it). Breakfast at 7:30 - we stuffed our faces because small budget means limiting food expenditure for more activities, so lunch is usually made of cake we get upon arrival or some tortilla wraps filled with feta and ham we bought in a local super market.
I did the first 100km driving from Windhoek until Rehoboth, getting used to the car and also overtaking huge trucks on small roads.
The landscape just kept getting more and more beautiful as we drove south. No reason to be apprehensive of the gravel roads, they’re super wide and we rarely meet other drivers. A little bumpy, but actually quite fun. Everything is so…quiet. the immensity of our surroundings are delightfully overbearing and humbling.
We drove down to Spreetshoogte Pass, following a more scenic route to get to Solitaire (the most random coffee place in the middle of nowhere, world famous for its Apple Pie), and stopped for a bit. The vantage point overlooked dramatic ridges, and we could make out the beginning of the Namib-Naukluft National Park’s red and purple mountains. Our reaction was simultaneous: jaws dropped as we parked near the edge and got out.
Next bit took us to Solitaire. I didn’t understand where Moose, the iconic bristly moustached German baker was, until I learnt he passed away in 2014. His Apfle Schtrudel was amazing - I have a vivid memory of rich, warm apples in buttery crust from the last time I stopped there - but it seems like the recipe was well preserved. Following our growing routine of ‘cake for lunch’ we indulged in the perfect pie. And off again.
In total, we were on the road for about 7 hours. These two stops were really welcomed, and the landscape was stunning, but fatigue definitely made its way towards the end.
The Desert Homestead Outpoust is really well positioned, facing huge plains and gorgeous purple mountains. I think the both of us will enjoy basking in the sun after the visit to Sossusvlei and the sand dunes tomorrow morning.
We still had the energy to go horse riding for the sunset though. A fifteen minute drive took us to the neighbouring ranch, where Willy, our really chill guide met us with the horses. We were joined by a group of 4 British friends, and off we rode into the sunset. Cheeky, my mount, kept foraging for food along the way, although she mastered the whole walking and eating situation pretty well. Again, the immensity of it all was really intense.
The sun was setting, the bush was awake, and the light golden. Willy took me galloping whilst the others started their sundowners, and we joined them just as the sun disappeared into behind the mountains
Which meant that the ride back was…under the starry sky. And that the drive back was in pitch black night (woops…not really meant to drive around at night because of game). I was trying to figure out how to maintain the full headlights on (it seems you have to keep pushing the paddle towards you) as we were going back, when Anne told me to stop the car. An Aaardwolf slowly crossed in front of us, less than 10m away, looking at us inquisitively. I’d never seen one before and it was gone before we had the time to react and take a picture. They’re so elusive that coming across one was an incredible stroke of luck.
Dinner was beautiful and set the mood for some star gazing…Orion’s belt is shining bright.
Day 3 - Exploring the Namib-NauKflut National Park and sunbathing under the desert sun - 22nd June 2018
Getting up was hard. I’d stayed up late to battle with the wifi and post the blog, and we’d had a pretty tiring day. But we wanted to get to the park gates at sunrise, to catch the golden light above the dunes, and their enticingly beautiful game of shadows. We left as the sky was starting to brighten. The first half hour towards the Park entrance was utterly serene: the heavens were on display for us, boasting a pastel palette of the rainbow. We’d forgotten our map but it’s pretty straightforward - everything is straight and the roads are well indicated.
Finally reaching the park after around an hour, we got ready to pay the trance fee when the warden just smiled at us and said ‘don’t worry have fun and pay later’. I love this country. The drive towards the famous Dune 45 began. Being more of a morning person, I was the driver this time, although pulled over every 5 mins to take pictures of the dunes and bypassing lone oryx (oryxes? what’s the plural for this word?). Perks of travelling with a photographer i suppose….poor Anne aha.
I must say, sticking to 60km/h on this beautifully smooth tarmac road was really hard. We have to of course, also because the car is equipped with a tracking device and they can fine us for negligence if we overspeed. Most of the accidents in Namibia happen for exactly that reason, paradoxically making the safest country to road-trip in Africa the one with the highest death toll on the road. 50 times more deaths on the road than in Europe (the video the Europcar guy showed us said so ). Anyways, bottom line, 60km/h is slow. But gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views. I parked the car in front of Dune 45, one of the only dunes you can walk on, we slathered on sunscreen and up we went.
A side note to this would be that because of my stopping along the way for photography, we arrived way past the time we’d initially planned for. Also we left late because we took forever to get ready. It actually turned out that all the crowds get there super early morning. So as we were starting our ascent, everyone was coming down. At one moment, we had the dune to ourselves. Completely. Considering how popular this place is becoming, I really appreciated this - some of you are aware of my aversion for mass tourism…
It was SO windy. Reaching the top, we started making our way back down, defying the howling wind (quite literally) and the sand it was blowing all over us. I was busy (again) taking pictures, and Anne had already reached the car when the wind blew away my lens hood (which, annoyingly, keeps falling off, even when properly fixated). The issue here was that it got blown to the other side of the dune. Imagine me chasing a light plastic object on the side where all the wind was blowing the sand. I felt like I was in a sandstorm. Apparently, so did my camera because next thing I knew as I got back to the car - it had stopped functioning properly. Only thing I could do was press the shutter, and even then, the autofocus was out. My screen was frozen, couldn’t change any settings. I felt physically sick. As I took us to the next part of the park, I was still quite upset. I know cameras aren’t everything, and the experience is so much more important. But still.
The road to Deadvlei really cheered me up though: only 4x4s were allowed and it was incredibly satisfying to drive through deep red sand to reach an astoundingly aesthetic salt pan. It was just plain fun to make use of the car’s off road abilities.
By I don’t know which miracle I managed to temporarily fix my camera. I think it’s still a little temperamental, but I think it should hold until the end. The sand was so violent, it may have just needed a moment to regenerate. I gently blew around the mirror to get rid of any grains of sand, and as I fixed on a new lens, it was back on track. I was determined to keep it away from sand though, which is why I changed into a spare dress I’d taken, and wrapped my t-shirt around the camera. Anne and I both looked like we were going to a fashion shoot rather than climbing dunes to reach a salt pan ‘full of dead trees people travel to the other end of the world to see’ (Anne Blanken, 2018).
It was gorgeous. The wind was blowing salty mist from the pan (sand included…but I was ready) and we walked through the smaller dunes to reach the famous Deadvlei. We got a few weird looks from the people coming our way, dressed to hike rather than sit on a beach, but for what it’s worth, being bear foot with a floaty skirt / dress seemed way more comfortable in the heat than heavy boots and safari vests. The sand was everywhere, the less you had on you, the less it was a hassle.
As soon as we got back from our 2 hours drive home, we rushed to the pool and sunbathed in the desert all afternoon. We currently have the lodge to ourselves, which, given the whole aversion for many tourists (only the irresponsible and annoying ones, I promise) is pretty cool.
As some of you know, I have a terrible phobia of wasps and hornets. I’ve done everything to get rid of it, it's much better now, but I still get paralysed with fear at the sight or upon hearing a deep buzzing noise. Obviously, a source of water in the middle of the desert attracts big bugs and so I would quite frequently be seen running to and from the pool, in an effort (useless, of course) to protect myself from the offending creature.
We had bought pineapples on our first day in Windhoek for our lunches, so our lunch was not cake this time, but freshly cut pineapples - with a swiss army knife - by the pool. Can it get more basic?
The sun slowly set and we made our way to dinner, amazed at the idea of having an entire lodge to ourselves. As we were waiting, one of the members of staff shyly came up to us…’excuse me but…you have left your car lights on’. This is the 4th time in three days. I think the only way we’ll learn is when we definitively run out of battery. They don’t turn of automatically, and during the day, you literally just forget they’re on. So they’d been on all afternoon…
Dinner was an amazing combination of the best soup I’ve had in a while (sorry Mum) and Oryx steak. Game meat is by very far my favourite, and this steak was perfect. Tomorrow is a driving day to Swakopmund, by the coast, where the temperatures will definitely not favour sunbathing. The place where desert meets the ocean, where two giants collide, naturally cannot be forgiving.
Day 4 - From Sossusvlei to Swakopmund: 6 hours and 10 different landscapes - 23rd June 2018
My alarm woke up me in the black of night (well no, it was 6am, but winter here means pitch black night…except for the thousands of stars above our heads). As I’ve mentioned in one of my previous Instagram posts from the Kenyan coast, I ALWAYS manage to plan my trips when the moon is at its brightest, which makes astrophoto completely besides the point….in the evening. So there I was this morning with my tripod, capturing the night sky and hoping for less noise than two months ago in Kenya. Let’s just say the results look promising ;)
I’d also made friends with Arnold - a member of the Outpost staff - who I had to keep up till late as I was working on my blog in the main area - only area to have a bit of wifi, and he had to wait on me. Which meant we had a lot to talk about, and he offered to take me on an early morning hike before breakfast. So as the stars started to disappear, I got ready and met him for the hike.
The light was incredible. We hiked up a steep rocky hill (climbed more like), and the sun had already risen when we reached the top, but the shadow overcast across the plains was simply superb. The same fairy circles we saw in the Namib-Naukflut NP were present here - they’re a really interesting phenomenon and not much is known about how their origin. Essentially, they’re round patches of red soil, rimmed with low grass. Quite mysterious but very gracious to look at.
The hike lasted for about 1:30, and the usual delicious breakfast was well appreciated. We stuffed our faces again, and took some homemade, warm, baked with love chocolate muffins with us for the road. Off we were again. 380 km towards the coast.
We drove past Solitaire again, where we stopped for a refuel (and especially for the Apple Pie) and I started chatting to John, the hot-air balloon pilot. He gave Anne and I a fascinating briefing about the Solitaire Concession and its conservation objectives - I may have landed a photography job at the same time: he was curious to hear about my work. John was really awesome, spoke most European languages, had flown hot air balloons across the world, and his determination for conservation to success was really heartwarming. So John, if you read this, thank you!
(We forgot to turn the lights off again when we parked in Soliatire….).
The road was incredibly scenic - views just kept changing every half hour (until started getting deeper into this part of the Namib). As we left the Sossusvlei part of the Namibia behind us, the landscape turned into long golden plains, before we drove down through the Gaub Pass, a little canyon that seemed to come from nowhere. I particularly enjoyed driving this part - short turns, going up and down…the car may be a monster (we’re trying to find good name for it, suggestions welcome) but it’s really pleasant to drive, particularly on roads like these. And then once we were out of the Pass…it felt like we were on the Moon. I don’t know if you watched the Teletubbies when you were younger but Anne and I did, and after the Moon, we had a very similar setting to that of the children’s show (all the credit goes to Annie for this brilliant analogy). Of course, an obligatory signpost picture was order as we passed the Tropic of Capricorn (well actually I just really needed to stretch my legs and re-apply sunscreen to my burning right shoulder which actually didn't end up red, thankfully).
We then reached a little rest area, where I pulled over for food because it was 2pm and the Apple Pie was far away. That was a bad idea. The place was beautiful - rocks here literally sparkle. They have part of their composition that resembles silvery glitter, 3 quiver trees were nearby and the view was impressive. The issue was that as soon as we opened the cooler, 5 gigantic paper wasps and another unidentified wasp species swarmed around us, and our food. They then decided to go INSIDE the box, and we couldn’t - well, Annie couldn’t, I was standing at a safe distance - close it. To be honest, they were around me too. After a good 15 minutes of dodging, ducking, limboing we managed to get the cool box in the car, and had our lunch inside.
This part of the drive was perhaps a little less fun. We had French 80s music blasting on in the car since the Pass, but the plains were getting longer and emptier. No more red or purple mountains in the backdrop, trees were getting sparser…the inhospitality of this area of the desert, as we drove towards the stark coast, was clear. After each small hill we would hold out breath and hope that the end was close but ….it kept on stretching out towards the horizon. Anne took the wheel for the last hour or so and we were both pretty relieved when the first sand dunes and the mist rising from the ocean could be seen.
We arrived at our cute little Bed and Breakfast, the Swakopmund Sands Hotel, literally 2 mins from the Ocean. The smell in the air reminded me of home, or where I spent my childhood summers in France, on the Southern West Coast (still do). No sunbathing possible here, we added on three layers (and a bikini, just in case) and went to the beach. I couldn’t help it, stripped off my jeans and ran to the waves. The water was fine, it was just windy, and it felt so good to be in the brisk Atlantic again, as the sun was starting to set.
Day 5 - An ocean of dunes and water, featuring Kürt - 24th June 2018
We had the full day in Swakopmund…although I think we can both agree that staying only one night in Swakop could have maybe been better. We both found the town so…ugly (in that it was quite soulless). Architecture is very German, and the colours are dim. You can sense the industrial influence from the surrounding uranium mines, which isn’t really fantastic. Admittedly, it is pretty cool to have the fog from the Ocean hanging on the shoreline before revealing blue sky for a few hours, and then coming back, and the beach itself has beautiful rolling waves that bring me to a happy place, but that’s about it.
We slept in a bit, woke up at 9am and had a big breakfast, scavenging toast, ham, salami and peanut butter for our lunch, and walked around town for 45mins. There frankly wasn’t much to see.
We then drove to Walvis Bay (or should I say Walvisbaai) to meet up with a guide taking us with his 4x4 to the sand dunes, towards Sandwich Harbour - which we didn't end up reading because the tide was too high..
He was quite a man. A 75 year old croc-wearing German named Kürt, who happened to have a very pronounced German accent. We couldn’t help giggling when he said words like ‘kaput’, quite frequently. He was such a character. As Anne rightly declared, the fun we had this afternoon was as much due to the gorgeous landscapes as it was to Kürt himself. His jokes on ‘the ladies’ (which clearly weren’t really jokes) made us cringe and smile uncomfortably in the back seat, and the rest of his punchlines and attempts at humour were terrible..making the situation funnier than what he was saying.
Dune cruising was hilarious. Kürt would speed to the top of the dune before letting the car dip and glide forwards, on dunes sometimes inclined at 35%. A French couple was also with us, and the woman, who was at the back, kept gripping Anne’s leg in fright as we rallied across the dunes. It was exhilarating and we both had a giddy feeling in the pits of our stomachs (maybe also because we’d just eaten the sandwiches made in the morning…). Imagine us smiling broadly and nervously giggling in false anxiety as each new dune was approached.
The REAL treat was when Kürt (pronounced Kouuurrrt btw) parked the car halfway up a dune, and told us to walk the rest of the way. Annie and I sprinted to the top, half falling over ourselves, but gasped with joy when we saw the view. The powerful Atlantic waves were lavishly rolling towards the giant sand dunes, their thundering rumble contrasting with the stark silence of the desert. We just stared, speechless.
After pictures and more staring, I had the brilliant idea to take off my trainers and socks, to be more comfortable (I think anyone can relate to the really annoying feeling of having shoes filled with sand). As I was taking off the second sock, a stronger-than-average gust of wind just….blew it away. Typical. I was really having issues with wind and objects. It hadn’t gone far but was unreachable nonetheless so I had to wave goodbye to it.
Anne and I ran our barefoot selves down the dune to the car, waited for the French and we were off to a second view point. Because the wind was so strong, I suspected my camera would do its nut again, which it did but I knew the drill now. Sand was flying everywhere.
More dune sailing, until Kürt brought us to a halt at the bottom of a dune for oysters and snacks (‘The McDonalds of the desert’ he said as he unpacked everything, trying and failing to make a funny joke). Namibian oysters are famously huge and tasty, just because the water here is so full of nutrients, so it was a real treat. Now Kürt also really wanted to be a ‘cool’ guide and introduced us to his friends…4 jackals who knew exactly where and when he would be because he doesn’t just feed them, he STUFFS them with food. Any snacks left on the platter (there was a lot) he just threw at them, to Anne and I’s annoyance. They came very, very close to us, and although they’re extremely cute animals, they’re still wild and carry diseases. He laughed away our critiques, saying that ‘everyone did it’ - of course that makes everything better.
I must admit though, so far we’ve eaten more game (oryx steak, marinated kudu, springbok carpaccio…) than seen some. I was expecting more gemsbok and springbok in Sossuvlei, though I suppose it must be because of the dry season. Praying we’ll see some desert adapted elephants in Damarland and lots of game in Etosha…
We chose to go to Kucki’s Pub, a chill and famous German place to have dinner. On the way back to the car after we had finished, we noticed this man coming towards us as we got in it. I locked the doors as Anne fumbled with the keys to drive off before he reached us but she had trouble with it. ‘I can’t fine the hole Alice’. 2 minutes later (2mins is a long time when you have someone outside your car trying to get you to lower the window), still struggling to insert the keys - ‘F*** me Alice, it’s not going in’- I was (very usefully) just sitting there laughing as she swore some more and the guy outside frantically tried to speak to us. FINALLY contact was made and she pulled away. We spent the 2 min drive home wondering if we should have given him the benefit of the doubt, but oh well. Car parked, we rush to the hotel reception, eager to just get in our rooms and sip rooibos (it’s COLD). Issue was, we’d forgotten reception closes at 8pm and so we were locked outside, unable to remember what Sandra the receptionist had told us. Of course, we’d also forgotten to bring the small phone Ultimate Safaris had provided us with, so no way of calling them. After much more exploring, swearing, and trying to fit more keys in keyholes, we discovered a new part of the B&B leading straight to the corridor where our room was.
A bit of football on Afrikaans TV before bed - we’re looking forward to leaving Swakopmund and getting back inland, eager to find the warmth of the people and climate again. The staff from our B&B have been ADORABLE though, but that’s about as far as it goes.