A Travellerspoint blog

Day 8. Namibia. Brandberg Mountain

sunny 35 °C

I had coffee with the camping neighbours we had had a little run in with, or rather Don had had a run in with. The Dad had come to apologize the night before and everything was in fact fine. One of their dogs, however, bit my arm that morning but thankfully didn’t pierce the skin. I had thought I would be fine without my rabies shot if I made it out of Gambia, but hadn’t taken into account these types of situations.. The neighbours, from Windhoek, gave us their map which had far more detail than our current map and included a whole bunch of back roads and spots of interest marked. They also pointed out a few things, for example the Save the Rhino Trust camp that we visited the following day. The map and their advice proved to be a huge help throughout the rest of the trip.

Our engine light had come on the day before so we had been back and forthing about whether to go get it checked. In the morning the light had gone off so we started on our way.. in the wrong direction. We backtracked the 5 or so km and then the engine light was back on. We made a few calls to the car rental company who arranged for us to see a mechanic on Easter Saturday in Usako, a town about 55km back in the direction we had come. We turned for the second time that morning and headed to Usako. As you move north along the Skeleton Coast and then inland to Kaokaland you get into some pretty remote areas and we wanted to be sure we had a car that wasn’t going to break down. By 2pm we were on the road (there was no car problem- just dust in the sensors) and by 4 we’d made it to Uis, the ‘major’ town southeast of Brandberg mountain. This drive was less scenic than others so far on this trip- all gravel with big dips where the flood waters pass through. You look around and there is nothing for miles and miles. I again found myself wondering how people could live out here. When you do see houses they are in the middle of open areas, instead of near trees and the protection of shade.
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We stocked up and various bits and bobs and continued on to Brandberg mountain. At about 4:30pm we found a small track that took us near to the mountain base and set up our camp here. We were in the middle of what looked like wheat fields, or a close cousin. Light golden yellow as far as you could see. When it shimmered in the sunlight it looked like an ocean with a breeze running over top. The name Brandberg is Afrikaans, Dutch and German for Fire Mountain and is so named because of its glow in the sunlight. The area is a spiritual site of great significance to the Bushman tribes and various rock paintings can be found in the region and on the mountain.
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At 5:30 in the evening it was still way too hot to sit in the sun and you sweated just sitting there in the shade. I am just not built for this kind of heat, even after a year of living in Africa! We had a relaxed evening, Don taking photos and playing with his new filter, me doing some work on the blog.
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Posted by Jmclellan 06:23 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 6/7. Namibia. Spitzkoppe

sunny 32 °C

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Today we had a really relaxed day. I was still exhausted from work over the past month and Don was exhausted from getting us ready to leave The Gambia. Plus we had had a few really busy days of travel. We had coffee, hung out. I had thought I would walk back to reception to pay for our campsite, see what the showers looked like etc. Don wasn’t out of bed yet and to use the truck you need to pack up the tent. I made it about 100m before I decided it was way too hot to be doing this. We eventually made it to reception with the truck and checked things out.
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Napping and finding a new, better campsite with some shade were the big events of the afternoon. We climbed to the top of one of the small boulder mountains for sunset. Beautiful spot. The Spitzkoppe rocks rose up out a nearly flat, open plain that stretch for miles in every direction. The rock is all bald granite, about 700 million years old, and if you are a rock climber has some incredibly challenging routes.
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At this time of year there are huge (and I mean huge) crickets everywhere. They are harmless but pretty ugly. They are all over the road, impossible to to squish as you drive. I mention them because I have never seen such big crickets and are just one example of a giant bug we saw on this trip.
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The next morning we went with a guide to see the rock paintings drawn by the Bushmen between 2 and 4 thousand years ago. You can only access this area with a guide because the paintings, done to communicate between Bushmen groups traveling through the area, are delicate and easily worn away if touched by curious visitors with sweaty hands. The drawings are done with Ostrich blood on sections of the rock that stay dry. Our guide, Benjamin, who grew up in the nearby town of Spitzkoppe, told us about a plant called Milk bush that the Bushmen used to poison their darts (shown below). Don and I are a little unsure on the consensus story he told us but one version is that a large group of Bushmen died because they cooked with the branches of this plant. When you crack open the soft branches a milky liquid oozes out that the Bushmen collected and carried with them. After making a kill they would swiftly cut out the area penetrated by the dart so as not to spoil the rest of the meat. I spent the afternoon at the Café/Bar writing postcards, charging my laptop (I had a small amount of work I needed to finish) and Don took care of napping.
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When I returned to camp there had obviously been a bit of a tiff and a group of campers had decided they would share outr campsite. It had escalated and resulted in Don driving back to the reception to speak to the manager. It all eventually got sorted out and they ended up staying because by this time on Easter weekend all the other campsites were occupied. For the late afternoon we went again with Benjamin to another set of cave paintings and into a mini game reserve. The movie 10,000 BC had been filmed behind Spitzkoppe mountain and for the set they had brought in Zebra and Springbok, which they left after the filming. It wasn’t exactly like &Beyond game drives but we did get to see some more cave areas with amazing trees growing up the sides of the rock. Apparently their preferred location as they need the rocks to support their trunks.
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We had a beer with the camp manager, who has had an interesting life managing various high end &Beyond type camps, one in particular at the very northwestern corner of Namibia on the Angolan border that one of the heads of Microsoft books out every year and flies in his own band. Sounds nice. He regaled us with stories of his time at these camps and also of his trip to Canada to ‘find himself’, as one does. Hilariously when we arrived at the bar the staff were all asking if we were the couple from camp site 10A that had gotten into an argument with the other campers. Like Gambia, nothing is secret for long!

Posted by Jmclellan 10:06 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 5. Namibia. Deadvlei Early Morning & drive to Spitzkoppe

sunny 31 °C

Today we woke up at 4:30am and were at the inner park gate along with a caravan of cars at 5am. A lot of people stopped at dune 45, a much shorter hike that you can summit by near sunrise. Because the dunes are relatively stationary they were numbered by the Park for identification. Dune 45 was numbered as such sequentially and also happens to be 45km from the park boundary. We seriously hustled to get to Big Daddy but the sun was already coming up by the time we arrived. Don close to ran the km into the salt pan and I took up the rear. The near full moon was still up when we arrived and again the dunes looked completely different from the night before. I was actually feeling quite sick so lay down under one of the trees while we waited for the sun to move further up so Don could get some photos with the trees’ shadows behind them. By 8am it was time to head home as the area was now filled by tourists on foot and planes and helicopters doing aerial tours. We definitely hit this spot at the right times the night before when we had it completely to ourselves and early this morning when there were very few other visitors. Plus, they were quiet visitors. Your voice really echoes through this are so if you don’t whisper everyone can hear you. This noise certainly detracts from this beautiful place, so give some thought to the timing of your visit. Plus, the sun is blazingly hot midday when most people tend to visit.
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Deadvlei is the white clay pan located at the base of Big Daddy Dune. The clay pan was formed after rainfall, when the Tsauchab river flooded, creating temporary shallow pools where the abundance of water allowed camel thorn trees to grow. When the climate changed, drought hit the area, and sand dunes encroached on the pan, which blocked the river from the area. The Camel thorn tree’s name refers to the fact that giraffe and camels commonly graze on the harder-to-reach succulent leaves normally out of reach of smaller animals. Giraffe have a specially-adapted tongue and lips that can cope with the vicious thorns. It has crescent shaped pods and dark reddish-brown wood that is extremely dense and strong. It is slow-growing, very hardy to drought and fairly frost-resistant.
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Sossuvlei region is made up almost entirely of ‘Star’ dunes, which are created when various different winds are present to shape the dune. They have a central peak, which can shift as much as 8 m per year (relatively stable as far as dunes are concerned) and have several radiating arms. The other types of dunes are Brachan dunes, which in contrast to Star dunes form when there is one predominant wind and can move up to 1km per year. These dunes are crescent shaped with the longer arm in the direction of movement. These are the dunes that you need to worry about when you hear of sand storms and can block roads during their movement. They form when there is a scarcity of sand and when sand is plentiful and the Brachan dunes are continuous they are called Transverse dunes. The hierarchical organization of dunes is linear (Linear dunes). Star, Brachan and Transverse dunes can sit together in long strips with the space between the linear strips up to a km wide.
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We left Sossuvlei area late morning and stated on our drive North to an area called Spitzkoppe. The drive was beautiful. We entered the Erongo region, so named for the Erongo mountains, and made our way through Gaub pass.
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We followed another car up to a lookout point that was definitely 4x4 vehicle access only. Just getting used to being in a 4x4 truck I thought the road down was way to steep for our car, but that proved not to be the case.
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When we turned off the main road (most of the roads in Namibia are hard packed dirt or semi hard packed with big dips where water moves through during flooding) we saw a family of ostrich with about 10 babies! They were quite skittish so we didn’t get very close. But wow!! We have seen a fair number of ostrich on this and other trips but never have we seen babies.
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Within a few hrs drive you exit full blown desert, travel through the hilly pass region, and finally enter a relatively flat region interspersed with large rocky hills. Such different landscapes over such a short distance. We made it to Spitzkoppe, which means large hill, just in time for sunset, quickly found a campsite, and then as seems to be our routine these days were early to bed.

Posted by Jmclellan 08:40 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Namib Desert Facts

sunny 35 °C

If you need to do research for a high school project (as I often feel I am doing when I write blog posts on things I previously knew nothing about) on dunes than look no further.

One starting question might be ‘Why is the Namid a desert when Angola to the north is sub-tropical and South Africa to the south has copious amount of rainfall?’ The two main contributing factors in this case are high pressure zones and cold ocean currents. The majority of the world’s deserts are found at 30o above (Sahara) or below (Kalahari and the Namib) the equator. These latitudes mark atmospheric high P zones, created by convection currents, which are in turn driven by the sun’s heat. At the equator the air is hottest and this lighter air rises. This causes low P zones on the Earth’s surface, which are filled with moisture laden air brought in by the trade winds. These areas are tropical and have huge amounts of moisture and rainfall. After the air in these tropical areas heats up, rises, and loses its moisture the anti-trade winds move it to the poles. During this movement the air cools and becoming heavier it descends. Because the air is compressed its temperature increases and results in high P zones on the Earth’s surface. These high P zones inhibit moisture rich air from flowing into these regions. The Namid desert falls within one of these high P belts.
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The cold ocean currents contribute to the extreme dryness of the Namib, rather than being a primary cause of the desert’s existence. The cold Benguela current, originating in the Antarctic, flows towards the equator along the Western Coast of Southern Africa. This current cools the sea and decreases the evaporation that might otherwise occur from the ocean. This effect reduces the amount of water available in the air, increasing the aridity of the Namib desert region.
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Experts estimate that the Namib desert is about 80 million years old with ‘true’ desert conditions predominating as long ago as 20 million years. Where does the sand come from you ask? Most of it is sediment from the Orange River on the Namibia-South Africa border than is washed into the sea and moved northwards by ocean currents. The sand is deposited on the beaches and then moved inwards and northwards by the strong southerly quadrant winds. The Namib desert extends for 2,000km, with its Northern most region in Angola 450km north of the Namibian border and its Southern most region bordered by the the Olifants River in South Africa. The desert geology consists of sand seas near the coast, while gravel plains and scattered mountain outcrops occur further inland.

The dunes have various colours because they consist of 90-95% quartz (silica) grains and 5-10% mica, feldspar and heavy minerals such as garnet, ilmenite and magnetite. If you were wondering what makes a desert a desert it is the lack of rainfall. Hyper-arid regions receive less than 100mm of rain per year (as occurs in the Namid desert), followed by arid and semi-arid regions, which receive 100-250, and greater than 250mm of rain per year, respectively. Another way to define a desert is when annual potential evaporation exceeds precipitation by at least three times. Rainfalls in desert areas are also characteristically unpredictable. It may not rain for several years and then an unexpected cloudburst can cause heavy flooding, making up the rainfall for all those dry years in a single, brief event.
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There is so much more to tell about the desert but I'll leave it there for this post.

Posted by Jmclellan 12:05 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

Day 4. Namibia. Sesriem and Sossuvlei

sunny 35 °C

In daylight our camp was less inconspicuous and we were eager to get to Sesriem so headed out early. We pulled through the park gates a little over an hour later and decided to head directly out to the dunes to an area called Sossuvlei. The campsites are just inside the park border and if you drive 65km towards the coast you get into what feels like real desert. The park is the Namib-Naukluft Park and is contiguous with Dorob and Skeleton Coast parks to the North and Sperrgebiet NP to the South. These parks together house the Namib Desert and run the entire coastline of Namibia from Angola to South Africa. The Namib-Naukluft Park is just shy of 5 million hectares and is the third largest protected area in Africa after the Selous Game Reserve in SA and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana. The word Namib comes from Nama origin and refers to a large desert plain.
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Once we arrived at the end of the tarred road there is a 5km loop only accessibly by 4x4. And they don’t mean city cars with 4x4. I almost immediately accidentally veered off into deep sand, at which point we switched drivers, and then Don almost immediately got our 4x4 stuck and a passing guide got in the driver’s seat to get the car unstuck. We learned that you need to keep your speed up (which feels to me a bit like you are driving recklessly since my instinct is to go slowly) and stay in someone else’s tracks. We learned from a Dutch couple coming off one of the dune hikes that if you are staying inside the park, like we were, you got an hour’s head start in the morning and could stay out an hour later. We decided to hike what we later learned was a dune called ‘Big Daddy Dune’ that evening for sunset. Along the tarred road to Sossuvlei you see a lot of Oryx (English name), aka Gemsbok (Afrikaans name) and Springbok. More on these guys later when we’ve got some good photos since we didn’t see any particularly close to the road.

The campsite was nice and had a bar/restaurant, gift shop (where we bought the animal and bird books we had been wanting to buy in Windhoek, hence our search for the bookstore), and surprisingly nice toilets that reminded me of &Beyond, which if you’ve read previous Botswana and Tanzania blog posts you’ll know that these toilets were really nice. We made lunch camping style, went for a swim and rested for the rest of the afternoon.
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At about 3:30pm we headed back out to Sossuvlei to catch sunset, which was setting at about 5:45. In the middle of the day, when we first saw the dunes, they appeared a bit bleached out. You can’t see very much definition because the sun is directly overhead and there are few shadows. It is also incredibly hot and gives you a sense of the unforgiving nature of this environment. The dunes are a completely different story at night. Clouds had come in that were absent in the morning and as the light began to fade you could see many more ridges, angles, and texture on the dunes. The sand had different colors, with the lighter and larger grains of sand at the bottom of the dunes, and the finer, redder grains on the top. They dunes also took on an almost purplish glow, instead of the intense orange of mid-day. They were really absolutely beautiful.
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It took us about 45 minutes to get to near the top of Big Daddy. This is a very popular dune to hike because it has the salt flats with all the Deadvlei (dead Camel Trees) at the bottom (more on the Deadvlei tomorrow). Most people hike the small shoulder that is closer to the road but we decided the main dune looked more exciting and less traveled. I can’t believe how hard hiking in sand turned out to be. My calves were burning. On some sections that were a bit steeper you had to almost run because with each step forward you slipped back if you didn’t keep moving quickly. We sat down to empty out our shoes multiple times. A brazen crow joined us for the sunset at the top of the dune. We spent quite a bit of time watching the different burrowing sand beetles. I’m amazed they can live out here. Actually I’m amazed that anything can live out here!
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Getting down the dune is infinitely easier than getting up and takes about 1% of the time. It is in fact a lot of fun. Kind of like running downhill through fluffy powder about a foot deep, but the sand is more substantial. We ran down the hill laughing and turning around to watch each other. You probably don’t want to fall as the dune was quite steep on the face we descended (I would never even attempt to climb the steep face).
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At the bottom we came into all the Deadvlei as the light was fading. They were so incredible we decided we would return the next morning to see them at sunrise.
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Of course it took us longer to get back to the car than anticipated (about a km when we thought it was maybe 300m) so by the time we arrived at the car it was completely dark. We hustled back into the car and hoped for the best on the sandy 4x4 track since we were most definitely the only group still out here. We made it out of the park about 15min after closing but there was no one at the gate waiting to chastise us. We ended the evening sitting on the tailgate of our truck sampling Windhoek lager and Grant’s Cider. I think this may turn into a cider trip.

Posted by Jmclellan 11:40 Archived in Namibia Comments (0)

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