Damaraland

Day 6 – Jun 24: Swakopmund – Spitzkoppe

After our "Living Desert" tour near Swakopmund we drove to Spitzkoppe, our first stop in Damaraland. Damaraland is a semi-desert spectacular wilderness with breathtaking mountainous scenery in Northwestern Namibia, and is home to the country’s famous desert-adapted elephants and black rhino, and also to small settlements of the ethnic Herero in the south and Himba tribe in the far north.

The middle of nowhere - locals selling gemstones.

We checked-in at Spitzkoppe Rest Camp and were free to drive around and find a camping spot. Spitzkoppe was one of my favourite camping sites and offers some of the most spectacular night skies in the world. 

How is that for a camping spot?

Hyrax.

Rock Agame Lizard.

Braai in the bush.

Milky Way.

Day 7 – Jun 25: Spitzkoppe – Palmwag

We had an early start, as today we wanted to have as much time as possible to look for desert elephants somewhere along the way. I learnt about the desert elephants too late in my planning and could not change the itinerary anymore, otherwise I would probably have spent a night somewhere around Twyfelfontein, halfway to Palmwag.

In our quest for desert elephants and because I thought we wouldn’t miss much we decided to skip Twyfelfontein’s famous rock art, Burnt Mountain, Organ Pipes and the Petrified Forest. We planned to make a quick stop at the Damara Living Museum, but it looked closed. 

Most roads in Namibia are gravel like this.

A quick lunch-stop.

We turned back towards the main road, when I suddenly recalled I read about desert elephants in the the Aba-Huab and Huab river valley. So we turned around again and drove to a little campsite and decided to ask there. To our excitement one of the guys working there said that they had seen a herd of elephants a day earlier and that they were moving north. He suggested to follow the road and look for tracks. Now we were really getting excited..! He pointed us in the right direction and off we were…

Only a few minutes later we were driving over a little sand road through a spectacular deserted river valley with not a single other car or human in sight for as far as you could see; this is Namibia! 

Just us.... Nobody else...

A Welwitschia plant, sometimes called a "living fossil". Most of these plants are more than 1,000 years old!

We finally got to the main dry river bed and eventually found elephant tracks. We followed the track and a trail of increasingly fresh elephant dung for about an hour, until we eventually found a breeding herd of desert elephants…!

Words cannot describe the experience, I still get goosebumps writing this…! For 2 hours we hadn’t seen anyone else and here we were, off the map in a dry river bed watching a herd of about 15 desert elephants quietly feeding along the river banks… We looked at each other and simply couldn’t believe we found them..!!

A wagging tail, a sign the elephant is relaxed.

Watch your back.

After about an hour 2 safari cars from some nearby lodges arrived on the scene, clearly surprised some self-drivers found the elephants first…! We all followed the herd to a large water tank from a nearby farm, where they drank and dusted themselves for an hour, an unbelievable scene. Time for us to leave and find our way back to the main road.

We arrived right before sunset at Palmwag Lodge, a rather luxurious campsite, where we had a dip in the ice cold swimming pool and a couple of beers under the setting sun. What a day, again...! 

Day 8 – Jun 26: Palmwag – Etosha National Park

Today's choice was rhinos or the Himba tribe. Yes, you can meet (see?) Himba on your way to Etosha, at the Otjikandero Himba Orphanage Village or a Himba village walking distance from Toko Lodge, both near Kamanjab. Online reviews clearly indicated this was not for me though, so the only real option for us was to drive up north towards Khowarib and beyond and try to meet some Himba there. Not enough time it seemed, so we decided for a game drive through the Palmwag Concession and perhaps see our first rhino… Besides, yesterday we had seen a few Himba selling souvenirs at the nearby Vet Fence, so we planned to stop there on our way to Etosha and briefly meet some Himba there.

We entered the park right during a spectacular sunrise.

Springbok.

Jackal.

Oryx.

Time for breakfast! All clear, only rocks: all safe to get out of the car. That's what we thought... 

I got out of the car to prepare for breakfast. No animals in sight and only a single bush in a landscape of rocks. I opened the back of the car and all of suddenly from the corner of my eyes I saw movement behind this one single bush and all of a sudden this spotted hyena couple was standing there, about 8 meters away and clearly as startled as I was. They must have had a nap in the shade and didn't expect any visitors... We looked at each other for 10 seconds and they then decided to find another bush a bit further away; what a moment! 

I'm not sure who scared who the most, but wow, this was a memorable experience..!

So that was the Palmwag Concession. We spend 4 hours in the park, and didn't see any other car, which was pretty cool... It's a bumpy ride here and there, but that's all part of the experience. No rhinos, although I could completely visualise some standing there, in the middle of the rock-filled plains.

At the Vet Fence we made a stop to meet some of the Himba tribe, who were selling some handcrafted souvenirs.

The red paste in the hair is Himba cosmetics, a mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment, sometimes perfumed with an aromatic shrub. It's like a clay. They also cover their bodies and it protects them from the hot and dry climate as well as against mosquitos. For the Himba red symbolises earth and blood, both the essence of life. What is less known is the fact that most this hair is not their natural hair, but actually hair extensions woven into the usually relative thin hair of the Himba women. The entire hairdo takes a few hours.

Just after noon we left the vet fence, through again spectacular scenery, particularly from Palmwag over the mountain pass towards Kamanjab. We made a quick stop in Kamanjab for some shopping and to fill up fuel. We were finally on our way to Etosha, the park that inspired me to forget about my plans to visit South Africa and Kruger and visit Namibia. Yeah…!! 

On the road to Kamanjab.

That was Damaraland, time for our next destination, ETOSHA NATIONAL PARK.