We drove further North and ended up in the Walvisbay-Swakopmund area where we went on a special quest. As our team was made up of mainly biologists we were very excited to go on the Welwitcha-drive. The Welwitcha is an endemic plant for the Namib desert and can live thousands of years due to a constant elongation of the leaves from the meristem and degradation of the tips of the leaves.. blabla biology stuff bla. As their roots are very superficial every Welwitcha got a circle of stones put around it to avoid people damaging these rare plants by walking to close. The oldest plant here was over 1600 years old. It was very humble to be in the presence of an organism that’s been living here for so long, the botanists among us were living in a dream.
From these mysterious plants we went on to the harbor of Walvisbay to go on a dolphin-seal-watching-trip by boat. It was funny for me to hear the South African guide explain in the African language, because it’s very similar to my native language Dutch. At times it was easier to understand Afrikaans than to listen to their weird English accent. The fur seal colony of Cape Cross in Namibia is the biggest one in the world with several 100.000s of seals, but when a group of heavy side dolphins started playing next to our boat, the trip was complete. It was the first time I saw wild dolphins and it amazed me beyond belief. After trying to take some pictures which was much too difficult on this wobbly boat, I decided to just enjoy the moment without camera for once in my life. Later on we went for a walk at Cape Cross between the seals, the smell was unbearable and the noise was so loud! Let me tell you, covering ears, nose and taking pictures at the same time was not easy. We saw several little seals looking for their mommies by making a sound that for me resembled that of a sheep. The elegance with which they moved through the water was in contrast with their clumsy movements on land. Most of them were just taking a nap and chilling out, the laziest, smelliest animals I’ve seen so far.
We went on to “Brandberg” which means ‘Fire Mountain’. This name is given by the locals because of the color the mountains have during sunrise and sunset. This is Namibia’s highest mountain, over 2600m high. We went for a hike in these mountains to have a look at some old bushmen rock paintings, especially the ‘white lady’ that dates over 2000 years ago. The painting depicts a medicine man performing some sort of ritual, but the precise meaning is not known yet. There were also some engravings around the Twyfelfontein region called the ‘lion man’ and ‘dancing kudu’ which are an estimated 6000 years old. They have all been preserved quite well but it seemed to be the Mekka for tourists, waiting in line to have a look at a rock painting was not uncommon here unfortunately. It took away the pleasure of discovering the paintings on the rocks yourself.
We also went to the ‘Petrified Forest’, again I was amazed by their use of the word ‘forest’ when it meant only one or two trees. The big stone tree laying on its side was dated to be 200.000 years old and had been turned into stone by a process called silicification where the wood slowly dissolves and a precise replica of stone is formed. You could even see the growth rings in the cross section of the trunk. Although it’s forbidden to collect pieces of the petrified forest (that were scattered around the park), a lot of people from our group, although no one admitted at first, still managed to smuggle pieces out. Punishment for stealing fossilized wood: pay around €250 or spend one year in prison.
After some hiking and smuggling we were finally ready to get to know more about the old Namibian tribes that are still existent in the somewhat less touristic North of the country, against the border with Angola. Along the way we saw Herero women dressed in traditional clothes selling souvenirs and minerals, but our main objective was to visit the Himba tribe, one of the last ‘real’ or ‘unspoiled by tourist influence’ tribes in Africa. We saw some of them along the road to Opuwo asking for money in order to take a picture with them. These were the ‘fake’ ones that came to the cities trying to earn money with their appearances and trying to live a wealthier, more western life. It was very weird seeing them walking through shopping centers in their traditional clothes. We went with a guide to one of the tribes on the country side, he told us they always take tourists to different tribes so each one doesn’t see tourists more than a few times a year to keep the western influences to a minimum. Apart from some of them (mostly children) wearing plastic bracelets that probably tourists gave them, everything was very authentic and unspoiled compared to what I’d seen in Africa up until now. We first had a meeting with the town elder, which we paid in bags of rice and flour to enter the village. Then we had to meet the 4 women of the tribe leader, they were together in a hut working on their fascinating hair with clay, herbs and red pigment. They also put the herbs and red pigment on their skin to protect them from the sun and insects. By putting a stripe of this smelly red-brown stuff on our arms or legs, we were officially welcomed to the village. The smell of it was very.. African?
Himba-girls had 2 stripes of hair hanging in front of their face, boys had one stripe of hair. As soon as a girl was wedded to a man (notice the words girl-man) she got a completely different hairstyle with a lot of tresses of hair with clay and a leather hair piece on the top of their heads. They’d apparently also never heard of a bra before, but then again, who in Africa has? At the end of our visit they saw the opportunity of selling us some souvenirs, some touristic influence unfortunately, but we did all buy something because it was really from the people of the village and not just from a market in the city. It was very weird to see that they didn’t really understand the meaning of money although they were asking for it. A lot of small coins was in their eyes more precious than having a few billets of money which was actually worth much more. I bought a little wooden Himba statue that has been in my freezer for 1 year and still smells really like.. Africa, which is a very bad smell back home, but wasn’t as horrible when we were there.
After this visit we went to the popular Etosha National Park to do some safari. I’d done a lot of safari already in Zambia the year before, so I wasn’t that impressed. This was really touristic compared to Zambia where we were just driving through the woods off-road style, here the trucks/jeeps needed to stay on the assigned roads and there were even arrows to the good viewing spots, a bit disappointing for me, but okay, I was safari-spoiled in Zambia. I did see a few new species like the beautiful oryx antelope. The highlight here for me was when we saw a few female lions with 5 cubs along the road eating a dead giraffe. I felt like I was starring in ‘The Lion king’. At the Waterberg plateau later on I also saw my first dik-diks, the smallest antelope in the world, up to 70cm high. They were super cute and didn’t really know if they should be afraid of people or not. Females have no horns, males have 2 very small horns. We could get quite close to admire these funny creatures.
It was finally time for us to go back to Windhoek where our journey started, along the way we quickly saw the biggest ‘in-one-piece’ meteorite in the world, the Hoba-meteorite. Although less than 3x3x1 metre large, it weighs over 60 ton. After spending 25 nights in a cold tent we were happy to have our last night before going back to Europe in a soft and warm bed in a fancy hotel. After a trip like this you really start to appreciate the small things again, like seeing yourself in the mirror after almost 4 weeks and having breakfast at a table on a chair. Being back in civilization took some getting used to again.