Tag Archives: Namibia

Into the Wild North West – Namibia

Slowly crawling over and between rocks and boulders we descended Van Zyl’s Pass, and saw the grassy Marienfluss Valley spread out below us between the mountains. I’ve heard people describe this moment as all sorts of special, but until you see it, you can’t feel that emotion. Photographs struggle to capture the grand scale of the scene or the feeling of remoteness. All I can say is that it was one of the most unique experiences of all my travels so far, and we took some time to breathe it all in before descending into the wide savannah with its jagged mountain backdrops.

Taking advantage of a flat bit to admire the valley...
Taking advantage of a flat bit to admire the valley…

People have told tales of abandoned vehicles and shredded tyres, of people stuck for days waiting for someone to come along and help them out of trouble. Others have said its nothing so bad, a bit rough but no problem. I have to say Van Zyl’s Pass has elements of both – getting it wrong could land you in a lot of trouble due to its remoteness.

An OK section of the track...lunch stop.
An OK section of the track…lunch stop.

It is a very rough track, with difficult elements and sharp rocks, and is extremely steep in places that have you staring straight down at the ground out of the front window, the car sliding over loose rocks the size of large watermelons.

Screenshot from GOPR0182.MP4 Screenshot from GOPR0186.MP4

But with care and good equipment it is easily passable, and we made the trip from Opuwo to Marienfluss in a day, skipping the stop off at the Van Zyl’s Community Campsite. Of course, getting in is only half of the fun – the way back out again is a long and sometimes challenging route of its own through the most remote of Namibia’s landscapes.

This has been a short couple of weeks to fit in so many spectacles, and we were left a little dazed by the kaleidoscope of ever-changing vistas and magnificent scenery. I hope some of the photographs convey a little of the magic of the wild North West of Namibia.

We started at a fair pace, heading out of Windhoek towards the Brandberg Mountain – Namibia’s highest, and visible for what seemed hours of dusty driving before it loomed closer.

The distant Brandberg
The distant Brandberg

Then up the Skeleton Coast and inland again to Palmwag.

Skeleton Beach
Skeleton Beach

Around here the fences largely disappear, you enter the land of the Himba people and road signs warn of wandering elephants.

From Opuwo the trail thins out, and then turns into a collection of narrow tracks through the thorny brush heading North to the sandy turn-off for Van Zyl’s Pass.

2016-07-27--14.06.56
Van Zyl’s Camp Sign

The pass itself winds its way down from the high plains at 1000m  into the Marienfluss Valley at 280m, which together with the Hartmann Valley form vast flat plains of sandy grassland spreading North to the Kunene River.

Dropping into the Marienfluss Valley
Dropping into the Marienfluss Valley

Once through the pass, a couple of hours drive on the red sandy track through tall grass brings you to the frontier with Angola. And the beautiful Syncro campsite on the riverbank, patrolled by crocodiles.

Valley Grasslands
Valley Grasslands

Here we paused for 2 nights to soak in the scenery and wilderness, and I got another paramotor flight in early in the morning before the wind and thermals got going. Sadly, the GoPro continues to malfunction and all we have in the way of footage is some blue-hued and bleached shots of Troopy I got while taking a brief aerial view of the valley on the way back South…but I can tell you it was a lovely place to fly!

The way out of Marienfluss took in the length of the valley, heading 100km South before clambering through Red Drum Pass and making our way across the ever more desert plains to Purros.

Approaching Purros
Approaching Purros

Here we camped at a community campsite on an island in the wide, sandy riverbed – usually frequented by elephants, but for now they have gone down the river in search of water so it was a quiet night under the stars. Followed by the first cloudy morning in memory!

faceedit2016-07-30--08.16.02
Purros Community Campsite

faceedit2016-07-30--08.15.36

Heading East the next day along the riverbed we crossed our outbound track at Sesfontein – refuelling again at the tiny station which is apparently out of fuel for 5-6 months of the year…fortunately not today!

Riverbed Giraffe
Riverbed Giraffe

Then again cross-country towards the Western end of Etosha along what my map described as a ‘game-track’, through deeply rutted dry river crossings full of deep feche-feche which covered the car and blocked out the sun, passing the spot we camped in the bush on the first trip but opting for an official campsite with showers this time.

Next up, a couple of days of wildlife watching in Etosha, which is always an exciting experience, if at times a little like a giant wildlife park with marked viewing spots and borehole waterholes. Check the photo gallery for the animals!

Etosha: Elephant hogging the waterhole.
Etosha: Elephant hogging the waterhole.

And then we landed on the tarmac again and made our way towards Livingstone  – randomly running into the Swiss couple I’d met in Lomo at a campsite in Grootfontein – they had shipped down to Gabon and driven the rest of the way. Talking to them over a beer and a campfire made me a little regretful, and a little relieved, to have bypassed the central parts of West Africa.

So via Caprivi to the Victoria Falls, and the end of Agne’s leg – though fortunately not as literally as Katana’s on the last trip! Bungy jumps done, waterfalls admired, elephants watched from the campsite and hippos shouting at each other all night, and the excursion was complete.

Right now Agne is on a plane back to London, which will I’m sure make the last couple of weeks seem even more like an unreal dream-sequence. Steve (who until yesterday reckons he’s never had a vegan meal) has arrived for his first taste of Africa and we will head off into Botswana in a bit. I think we’ll take this leg a little bit easier…

Trails Old and New – Namibia

It is 7pm and has been dark for an hour. Winter in the Namib is quite pleasant – warm and sunny during the day, and hardly any annoying flies or mosquitoes. This makes a nice change from Togo in the rainy season! We had a week of unusually hot and sunny weather due to east winds on the coast, but at night it can get chilly, especially at the the higher altitudes further inland. In Windhoek the other day I woke with a cold head to find it had dropped to 4 degrees C…tonight its set to drop to TWO!!

But we’re back on the road again and its good. After picking up Troopy from the port in Walvis Bay I spent a few nights in the Namib Naukluft Park before heading slowly to Windhoek to meet up with Agne.

The first night in the wild was just near the spot we camped last time and met the strange but friendly Rock Hyraxes. This time though I took the opportunity to do some more exploring, criss crossing my old trails and spending a night at the most remote campsite in the park. As usual I had the place to myself – camping in a sort of semi-cave of overhanging rock looking out over the Tinkas Plains.

Rock Arch Campsite
Rock Arch Campsite

I made a supper of corn and sweet potato on the braii – cooked using recycled wood and charcoal scavenged from old campfires.

The beginnings of dinner...
The beginnings of dinner…

I’m pretty confident there wasn’t another human being within 10 miles, which is a higher level of confidence than at any point on the travels so far – even back in the Mauritanian Sahara. It was strangely relaxing to be out there alone, though the sound of galloping zebra charging around in the night took a bit of getting used to. They seemed to be spooked and I don’t blame them – there were some strange noises out there!

Rock Arch Campsite
Rock Arch Campsite

If the Rock Arch campsite was basic and wild, the next night was its luxury cousin. Another overhanging rock to camp under, but this time on a ‘Guest Farm’ with running hot water for the shower – still outdoors of course, with a view across the rocky hills.

Shower With a View
Shower With a View

I have to say though that I preferred the real wilderness, rather than the fenced ‘safe’ version which didn’t seem to have much in the way of wildlife – just a pet Gemsbok and Zebra. My campfire cooking got a bit more adventurous and I came up with a couscous dish that reminded me of the daily vegetable tajine’s from the Moroccan leg.

Campfire Couscous
Campfire Couscous

There’s a lot to love about Namibia, but at the same time I’m already feeling a little uncomfortable about some things. History has left its mark in a different way down here than back up North – it is certainly a cleaner and more developed country, but you can’t help but notice the preponderance of white, German-speaking owners of the guest farms and lodges, contrasted with the poorer neighbourhoods of Walvis Bay. Then there was the sign at my campsite asking that we hand any donations of food or clothes for the ’employees’ to the owners for distribution. What Namibia does have however, which most of West Africa doesn’t, is tourists and the infrastructure to support them. It is a very easy place to travel, though not perhaps the most vegan-friendly!

Leo Enjoying the Gamsberg Pass
Leo Enjoying the Gamsberg Pass

So onwards to Windhoek and meeting up with Kevin and Heike again. Troopy had a trip to a garage to get a new front axle oil seal fitted – I’d have done it myself but looked at the Haynes manual and decided it would be a long, messy job that someone with all the tools and parts could do in half the time. I’m using the ‘iOverlander’ app on this trip for finding campsites and it also has other useful places like embassies and garages listed, with reviews, so I was able to pick a good mechanic who sorted it with no problem. Lets see how that works out later…

Tomorrow Agne arrives for the leg up to Victoria Falls, so we’ll have more to talk about soon. If I don’t freeze tonight, of course!

 

Reflections

Looking back at the route we travelled, it seems as if the waters closed behind us and it is no longer safe to travel that way.  Maybe it isn’t really much worse than at the time – our encounter with the Egyptian army was perhaps a sign that things were tense there even then. But the expansion of violence across the region is more than worrying so I’m glad we did this journey just in time.

Egypt - Human Conflict is not
El Alamein, Egypt – Human Conflict is not new to the Sahara

Having passed through the region did start me on a chain of thought – thinking about some of the horrific things people have done – for example videoing themselves cutting other people’s heads off. It makes us all wonder how someone can do that…they must have something wrong with them? It is obviously  inhuman? To be honest I have avoided seeing any of those videos – knowing they exist is bad enough. But I have also seen other things lately that I find disturbing for other reasons. I watched Earthlings for the first time, or rather I watched part of it. The abattoir sequence was too much for me as an engineer – the effort and ingenuity that must have gone in to creating a machine to manipulate a living sentient animal was really disturbing. All to make the process more efficient and make a few more dollars profit. Then there was an article on the BBC, looking into the brutal gang rape of a woman in India, and the attitudes of the perpetrators. This was in some ways more disturbing than anything  –  though I think people should read it, you have to admire Leslee Udwin who had the bravery to listen to those people, to expose and document the underlying issues. I was left speechless, I’m glad she wasn’t.

It seemed to me though that all of these things, though very different and some far more horrific than others, had something in common – the objectisation and devaluation of the victim by the social or cultural group around those perpetrating the act, and the rationalisation of individual actions on that basis. This is not inhuman – it is a very human trait. People can do almost anything if it is normalised by their peers. We find excuses for everything. I think we need to recognise that and deal with it – WE are those peers. It never starts out as these extreme examples, but the more we accept prejudice and the devaluing of others – even if it does make ourselves feel better – the more likely these attitudes form the foundations which develop into extremes?

From a vegan perspective, once we open our eyes it seems obvious that what we were led to believe was normal and necessary, was not. In most cases vegans have had to go through the process of accepting that we are wrong – since we have mostly been brought up as part of the animal-consuming society – accepting guilt for our time as non-vegans and doing something about it. I think it is important however not to stop there and keep our eyes open – being vegan is not the answer to everything, and having made that step once we should not close our minds to seeking out other opportunities to improve our interactions with the world, human and non-human. Its not easy – we natuarally fall back into habit and can’t think through every ramification of all our actions each day – even vegans mostly just go shopping like everyone else and pick the things they do every week without thinking. Its not difficult being vegan, its difficult questioning our own beliefs and assumptions then changing our habits where necessary – but perhaps we should all try that a bit more often rather than simply defending our current selves without thinking?

This trip has been a great adventure, but it is not in all ways a great example in this overcrowded world.

Our travels through Ethiopia made me wonder quite how many humans this planet can support – and not just in terms of how much food we can produce, but how many other species are forced into smaller and smaller spaces and then into extinction by our very existence.

Ethiopia - Live Sheep travel on the roof.
Ethiopia – Live Sheep travel on the roof.

Most Ethiopians consume very little compared to more ‘developed’ nations, but still we saw a country of visibly eroding landscapes where biodiversity was being ever reduced under pressure from the human population and their domesticated animals, amid a thriving international Aid industry.

Ethiopia - a beautiful country under pressure.
Ethiopia – a beautiful country under pressure.

We can give ourselves some time by moving to a vegan way of life, as well as becoming healthier and avoiding the unnecessary cruelty of animal production – which in themselves are reason enough. But in my own lifetime the human population of the planet has more than doubled – if we don’t do something serious about that soon, that time might not be enough. We all know the feeling of awe and beauty we get from the sight of a wild, natural landscape? We know it is good. Maybe we should start taking that particular natural instinct to heart and ask whether its acceptable to claim the majority of this land for ourselves at the expense of other earthlings? In Africa, there are estimated to be 30,000 lions left alive. In the same continent there are in excess of 1,100,000,000 humans. Since we have assumed the mantle of ‘top predator’, perhaps we should adjust our numbers and land claim to a more appropriate level for that position in the food chain?

One in 30,000
One in 30,000

Instead, we are on course to accelerate our uncontrolled growth – the UN’s population projections are really quite alarming, especially in some of the resource-limited regions. I’ll leave you to go check those details – Wikipedia is actually a fairly good starting point. But even here, we are inclined to look at it as a regional problem – we’re OK because we are developed countries and our population isn’t increasing so fast. We’re doing OK then and its not our problem? And anyway when we talk about resources and population, the definitions are all about how much food for humans the world can support – being vegan will solve that too…

Abu Dhabi - Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?
Abu Dhabi – Sustainable Population Growth with Local Resources?

But human population is not a geographically localised problem. Our actions back in Europe have direct consequences all over the world. Botswana has a very low population density – but vast areas of the country are given over to beef production for export, and they built huge fences to prevent the wildlife migrating (partly to meet European disease control standards). This not only cuts down the range of wild animals, but has led for example to large scale deaths of zebra when they couldn’t migrate from dry areas to areas with water. It IS free-range cattle, probably cheap for Europe – but at what cost to wildlife? But moving on into South Africa it was obvious that these current pressures on wildlife and biodiversity are just the latest in a long succession, and not by any means all are related to animal farming. We can be just as speciesist, albeit indirectly, while being vegan – when we buy fruits, vegetables and drink wine from Africa (or anywhere else for that matter) we are using the best land, long claimed for ourselves and fenced off to exclude other species. That has the same effect – reducing biodiversity and the capacity of wildlife to survive by migrating. Is it enough that vegans use less of this exclusive best land?

South Africa - This Land is Our Land
South Africa – This Land is Our Land

Even the game reserves and national parks often have the appearance of little more than a grand scale zoo for human entertainment – often fenced, nearly always featuring artificial waterholes to concentate the wildlife at suitable viewing spots. And then we create more problems – fencing the wildlife in, taking away their ability to migrate and concentatrating them in specific locations. The local environment can’t support this concentration and there are said, for example, to be too many elephants.

Floodlit Artificial Waterhole - Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests
Floodlit Artificial Waterhole – Bringing the Wildlife to the Guests

People lobby to have them culled to control the numbers. Is this always our solution? There are not too many elephants – there may be in certain areas that we have concentrated them in – but the real problem is too many people. And unlike elephants, the human population is a global problem – our global markets mean we have an impact wherever we are. Yes, being vegan reduces that impact considerably and we could sustainably feed everyone if we were vegan – but we continue to treat the entire planet as our personal food factory. For me, that is not acceptable. When will we start to do something about our own population rather than resorting to culling and ‘managing’ other species to treat the symptoms? We can be a very self-deluding species at times – always defending whatever it is we want or makes us feel better about ourselves with excuses in the guise of reason, rather than being open to self-criticism and change. That much is clear from our treatment of each other.

I do feel guilty about the amount of resources we have used in our Western lives and travels – especially in this last round trip to Europe to finish the trip to Cape Town. I have some making up to do. If we are to survive, we can’t go on with this number of humans using more and more resources. It is too easy to make a small step and then settle down into thinking we’ve done enough since we have done more than most. Its not enough. Go vegan, stay vegan – it is easy and takes nothing away from our enjoyment and quality of life – there is no sacrifice in doing that much, so no excuse not to. And don’t increase the population. Doing these things would be a start. But only a start.

I’m glad to have seen so much of this world, but despair at our apparent inability to control our own destruction of it. Isn’t it time we stopped looking at each other and finding excuses not to take responsibility for our own actions or inactions…all of them and not just our own pet issues?

“Unlike plagues of the dark ages or contemporary diseases we do not yet understand, the modern plague of overpopulation is soluble by means we have discovered and with resources we possess” Martin Luther King, May 5th 1966. The year England won the football World Cup. Now there are more than twice as many of us. Those 3 lions on an England shirt may soon be all the lions there are to watch outside a zoo.

Meetings on the Road (Mariental to the Orange River)

Today was quite a day, and probably deserved a blog post all itself. It started with a drive through the desert on rough tracks through alternating sunshine and fog banks, followed by a relatively short drive South on gravel roads to the banks of the Orange River. At this point I have to admit to having a little emotional moment – there on the opposite bank was South Africa. The last country. It is not easy to describe or even understand the feelings you get at moments like this – but a little later in the day when I met a lone cyclist, who turned out to be on the last leg of an epic bike ride from Sweden to Cape Town, he also spoke of his mixed feelings on approaching this same border. I’m guessing he’ll be crossing the river tomorrow.

Chance Meeting at a crossroads - www.swedentoafrica.com
Chance Meeting at a crossroads – www.swedentoafrica.com

If it weren’t for the fact that his intended crossing point was a ferry, motorbikes only (no Landcruisers), I was tempted to head back the same way to talk some more. But as it was, after 20 minutes or so exchanging tales, we set off in opposite directions towards the same place. I am now camping by the Orange River a hundred or two kilometres further South East and will make my final border crossing in the morning.

Further up the road towards Fish River Canyon, I met a bunch of nice lasses who stopped and chatted about our travels and being vegan/veggie on the road, and how nice Mozambique is…only a slightly sore point, that.

Another meeting on the road to Fish River Canyon
Another meeting on the road to Fish River Canyon

It was good to meet people today – to share experiences, and it also took my mind of the continuing worry of Troopy’s oil leak (I need to top up the rear diff oil before heading off in the morning!). In fact its been a good part of travelling solo – I have been talking to lots of random people.

Going back a little – the trip from Mariental to Luderitz was my first crossing of the Fish River, quite wide even that far North, though little more than a trickle between thunderstorms – we are in the land of dust and flash floods here.

First Crossing of the Fish River
First Crossing of the Fish River

Then as the landscape gradually changed from fields, to thick scrub, to desert I was pleased to see my favourite variety of antelope – Gemsbok – along with Zebra. By the time I came to the last 120km I was crossing the Southern Namib desert and it was pretty much sand, rock and more sand. I’ve even made a time lapse video of the experience so you can all join in – 2 minutes, rather than an hour and a half sound OK? I’ll post that on youtube HERE! Reaching the Atlantic again was just as cold as last time, though no surprise this time round.

Having found the campsite in Luderitz and picked a spot overlooking the harbour a German couple in a Landrover turned up and we shared some G&Ts and tales. I was a little jealous as the next day they were heading up through the dunes to Walvis Bay, a route which we weren’t able to take because a storm had washed the beach away in November. They also made me hungover and running low on gin (well that’s my excuse!).

On the upside, they suggested a campsite and a nice route towards Fish River Canyon, and they were spot on – and I found myself camping in an arid wilderness with a swimming pool. That is where I set off from this morning. The road along the Orange River was entertaining and picturesque, before the road North towards the canyon struck out straight across another vast, flat gravelly expanse of desert. I tried to take photos of Fish River Canyon, but its one of those things you just can’t get the feeling of HUGE scale from unless you are there.

The Fish River, but bigger!
The Fish River, but bigger!

Its big. Accompanied by thunder and lighting, it was a fair way to sign off Namibia. Tomorrow South Africa, first stop (I hope!) a car parts shop in Springbok!

Windhoek South

Well, we are back on the road again. I was pleased to find Troopy in as good condition as we left him, though 2 thoughts went through my mind when I got in again for the first time;

1. Its dirty in here – we cleaned the inside before we left, but the dust is still everywhere, and obviously on-the-road clean is not the same as London-clean!

2. Its SMALL in here – how did we ever manage to live in such a small space for 6 months?

The first night back was spent at the Trans Kalahari Inn – an evening discussing population, farming, and their menu with the owner over some local wheat beers (they are updating the menu to show vegan options now – they used to put cheese in things even though it didn’t say so on the menu). Next morning it was time to head South again, via Windhoek for some stocking up on supplies. You’ll also notice the Map page has changed – I am now using a mobile app to update the location over mobile phone network so I had to get a local SIM for the data. Somehow the satellite tracker went AWOL in the office back in London the day of departure, but this seems to work OK as well (just click on the link to see the map in Google Maps if they haven’t enabled the embedded map yet).

So how is it to be back? Its familiar – I took a detour on the dirt roads to take in some sand dunes, and remembered to photograph a Weaver bird nest for my mum. Troopy is also being familiar – the rear left driveshaft is showing signs of oil again, but nothing too bad so far. I’ve given myself a No.3 all over African-weather haircut, and then started to regret it when it got dark and the temperature plummeted! I did experiment with some starlight photography – it was good to see the Southern Cross again showing me which way to go.

Camping Under African Skies
Camping Under African Skies

For breakfast it was the familiar porridge – complete with Katana’s favourite topping of soy sauce. I always preferred jam on mine, but I left that off my shopping list, so soy sauce it was. Sipping coffee while waiting for the wood fire to heat the water for a shower on the veranda of my campsite at Bastion Farmyard was a nice change to the Central Line. This morning I will be heading on South towards Luderitz, but depending on the progress divert towards Fish River Canyon – Luderitz would require a backtrack of a couple of hundred kilometres as there’s only 1 way in or out, and I was never keen on doing the same bit of trail twice!