Namibia is one of our favourite countries. We had been there 12 years ago, driving its rough roads in a brave Ford Fiesta which we put through its paces. This time we were better equipped in a 4×4 and were looking forward to exploring more of this vast country with so many incredible things to see and so few people. With a population of around 2 million in a country almost four times the size of the UK, this makes for about 2 people per sq km!
We spent a few days driving around the Kaokoveld region in the remote north-west corner of Namibia and may have seen 10 cars at most during that time. There is space in Namibia for the geographical features to spread out and the landscape to take its time unfolding in front of you. Even the beautiful Epupa Falls spreads its numerous watery veins along the border with Angola for half a kilometre or so.
The Kaokoveld is the region where the Himba live, a group of nomadic pastoralists scattered in villages throughout. Their traditional life is slowly being eroded by contact with money, tourists etc. There was a surreal moment where I stood next to two bare-breasted, short-skirted, bare-footed Himba women at the meat counter of the OK Supermarket in Opuwo, the last place to stock up before going into the remote parts of the region. Himba women braid their hair into intricate styles and cover it in ochre, which gives it a copper-coloured appearance. Also, they are not allowed to wash, which made for an interesting blend of aromas at that meat counter!
Among the hills of northern Namibia are some lovely examples of rock engravings and paintings. The World Heritage site of Twyfelfontein is like the Louvre of rock engravings. And at Brandberg, we hiked through beautiful landscape to see the White Lady painting, which in fact isn’t of a lady at all but was mistakenly called so by an early ‘expert’ on rock art. The rock art at Brandberg shows animals, people, and sometimes a merging of the two, said to be visions from the shamens’ trances as they transformed themselves into revered animals whilst praying for rain or good hunting.
Also amongst the hills are some weird and wonderful signs….
One of the highlights of northern Namibia has been Etosha National Park with an abundance of animals that congregate around its waterholes. Sitting by the waterholes is is like being at the theatre and watching a play unfold. Wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, elephant, oryx and springbok all have decent walk on parts. At the more open waterholes, you can see the animals approaching in the distance, walking from backstage and eventually standing in the wings, waiting for their turn to drink in front of an audience. One of the waterholes even has tiered seating. It’s a bit like being in the cheap seats ‘in the gods’ at the theatre, but grateful you’ve even got a ticket!
The waterholes are ‘open 24/7’ and it was a late night at flood-lit Okaukwejo as we watched the black rhinos arrive to drink. By 11pm the turf wars had started, and a drama unfolded worthy of any David Attenborough ‘Secret Life of Rhinos’ documentary. As with any testosterone infused fight there is a lot of posturing and staring out the opponent. Eventually there is a clash of horns. But it’s brief, and the two walk away after a few seconds to their own corners. As the tension mounts again, a new rhino enters the ring, hoping to take on one of the challengers. He charges on of them, but is also exhausted after the briefest of tussles. He sulks away, leaving the original two to start their build up once more for the next round.
A lioness makes a few tentative attempts to drink at the water’s edge, but eventually gives up. We assume it just wasn’t worth the risk should the wrath of one of the rhinos descend on her! As Ven remarked, “it’s pretty amazing when the lioness is the side show!”
By 1am the rhinos have sorted out their issues. While the defeated rhino slowly fades away stage right, the remaining two begin a beautiful water-based courtship ritual. All’s well that ends well….