Epupa Falls, Skeleton Coast, and dodgy livestock

After a quick over night stop in Opuwo, we set off nice and early to make the most of the (slightly) cooler morning air, and headed North on the gravel road that takes you to Epupo Falls. This is a long and fairly slow drive of about 200km, and crosses approx 50-80 dried river beds, and the entry and exit angles to many of these are quite steep, so have to be tackled with a certain degree of caution. On more that a few occasions the rear suspension on Colonel K bottomed out when we hit the bottom of the depression a little too quickly. 

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This area of Kaokoland really is beautiful, and the scenery is changing all the time, truly a very wild place.

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There is one small village on the way called Okangwati, and amazingly this boasts a bar, mini mart and a ‘fuel stop’, though you only buy fuel here if your desperate, as its sold in old plastic 1 litre water bottles (a la West Africa).

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Apart from this tiny village, there is virtually nothing else on this road, apart from the odd Himba traditional family settlements, in their usual construction of stick, and straw houses. So it was with some surprise when we got to Epupa Falls to find 3 or 4 campsites, a fair size Himba village, a couple of lodges and even a police station!

As you enter the village (at the bottom of a steep hill) the Falls are immediately on your left and so we decided to try the small campsite at the start of the village. Wow, this really was a very very special spot, and as we were the only people there we had the choice of where we wanted to camp, and we ended up right at the top of the falls, the constant rush of water, and spray in the air only made the experience more intense. We have been lucky enough to camp in some amazing places on this trip, but this one may possibly be the most stunning yet!

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The Kunene River here is lined with palm trees to both banks, and makes a fantastic backdrop, but once again the river is infested with crocodiles, and so swimming is again out of the question.

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We met a local Himba guide, and arranged for him to take us upstream early one morning, again to miss the worst of the daytime heat (it was far in excess of 40c in the shade again, and unlike at Ruacana, there was very little breeze here). We were out with “John”, (we can’t remember his strange Himba name, but he said to call him John) for 3.5 hours, and we had a fascinating time with him, learning not only about the natural Flora and Fauna, but also more about the Himba way of life and how it has changed in the last 20-30 years. He spoke about how Himba males are allowed to have more than one wife (as long as they are also Himba), and that women are not allowed to wash their bodies once they reach puberty (hands and face only)!

During our walk, we sensed (and heard) that we were being followed, eventually this little fella decided to show himself.

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There were also some great birding to be done, if thats your thing.

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Including everyones favourites, the Rosy Cheeked Lovebirds.

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There were also some more dangerous animals about the riverbank too.

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 The banks were quite overgrown in places, and in many areas we were very cautiously treading on a deep covering of dead palm leaves, a perfect spot for a snake to be chilling! John was telling us that there are very many venomous snakes in these parts, including Black Mamba, large Python, Puff Adders, and a couple of species of rather nasty Spitting Cobras. We tried to step EXACTLY where John had stepped!

There was a gravel track a little way away from the river, and I noticed a couple of Police pick-ups driving along them, I asked john if they were policing the border (the river is the border with Angola), he explained that they were in the process of upgrading the direct route to Ruacana, when the machine that was “scraping” the gravel road surface uncovered two land mines. This really high lights the dangers around this border region, and when I asked if they were SouthAfrican or Russian/Cuban land mines, I think the answer was that it could be either sides! It was a messed up place a few years ago.

But now thankfully it is peaceful, and the finding of land mines is getting less frequent.

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 On the way back to the truck (as the heat was rapidly starting to build up again), we came across these two women fishing with a couple of cane rods with some sort of line fixed directly to the tips, these people are not fishing for fun, this is to put food on the table.

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We asked “John” why so many of the trees have stones wedged into the branches, he explained that it was a custom for Himba’s to place a stone in a bush for luck for a journey to do something on that particular day, wether it be luck for hunting, fishing, fetching water or what ever.

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 We stayed at Epupa for 3 nights and really enjoyed ourselves here. They are even building a new medical centre for the Himba Community at Epupa, though personally I thought that the existing one looked just fine.

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We said goodbye to the dogs at the camp (two Jack Russells, and a six week old Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy with razor sharp teeth), and headed back down the gravel track towards Opuwo. In the few days that we were at Epupa, we had barely seen a cloud, and certainly not seen any rain, but as we got about 50km south, we noticed that quite a few of the dried river beds were starting to show signs that water had recently flowed down them (leaves washed down across the track, and much deeper sand in places), then all of a sudden the next 10 or 12 river beds had washed away the gravel track totally, and the drop into and out of these were much much steeper than when we arrived 4 days ago, if you hit these too hard you were likely to at least to puncture a tyre and more than likely damage the vehicle. This really did high light for us the dangers involved in driving in Northern Kaokoland, and how the terrain can change and bite you when you least expect it. 

We got stopped at the Vet Fence where you have to hand over any uncooked meat that you may be carrying, and get all the soles of your shoes, and your tyres disinfected. At the check point we were approached by a very stern looking Policewoman who immediately asked me for my driving licence. She looked and the licence, then looked at me, then back at the photo on the licence “there is a problem” she said, “this is not you” pointing to the photo on the International Driving Permit! Then with a huge smile she pointed at me, and said that “you are cute, and the person on the IDP is not cute”. I think Africa is good for me!

We had another overnight stop in Opuwo, and in the morning filled the truck with diesel, and topped back up with food, oh and of course Jac bought some jewellery from the Himba women.

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We planned to leave Opuwo and head down the gravel track to the town of Sesfontain, the only trouble was (with no prior warning for the 30km to the sign) the gravel road was closed as they were blasting rock in the Pass near Sesfontain. So we had to head back towards Opuwo, as to chance it for the next 80-100km wasn’t worth it, we would have to go around! Arrrrr, a wasted couple of hours, and fuel.

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So we went the much longer and more boring route via Kamanjab, but once we left our overnight stop at Kamanjab it was far from boring! We hit a cow! yup a fully grown huge African Cow, but to put it more accurately, he hit us. he had already crossed the track with about 30 of his best mates, when just as we were level with him, he turned and charged straight into the side of Colonel K. We were doing about 50kmph, so it was no going to end well for either party, he hit the fuel tank, and bounced off to head butt our locker containing our two 6kg bottles of propane gas. The fuel tank was largely unscathed, but the gas locker was bent out of shape quite badly, and couldn’t be opened. The cow needed an Ibuprofen or ten! We decided to temporary secure the locker with a couple of spare straps and try to get it sorted when we got back to Swakopmund.

Next up was the dreaded Grootberg Pass, this is a very long and very steep hill up (and down) a mountain range just east of Palmwag.

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If it was tarmac, as most mountain passes are it wouldn’t be an issue, but we ended up selecting the low range gearbox, and even then got down to 2nd gear, it was a very slow climb! we just prayed that out trusty Michelin XZL tires managed to maintain grip on the very loose gravel surface. Jac took this photo of our Garmin sat nav, with still 100 metres to go, and yes the actual speed was 16kmph (I think we were down to 10kmph at one point near the summit).

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But Colonel K made it up, coughing and spluttering but made it, in the mid day heat.

The track behind the sign in the photo below leads to Grootberg Lodge, and clients have to leave their vehicles at the bottom and a  Landcruiser comes down and takes them up this monster steep track to the Lodge beyond. We watched this happen, and it is very very steep. We stopped and rested the Daf for about 30 minutes before heading down the other side, again very slowly, trying not to over heat the brakes or brake suddenly on the loose surface.

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Even in this wild and inhospitable place there are surprises round the corners if you look for them, including this young Giraffe with its family.

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And this twister, coming our way.

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We were now back into Damaraland, which both of us think is our favourite area of Namibia so far (and on a previous visit).

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We spent the night camped at the entrance to the Skeleton Coast NP, in a transit type camp, that offered only a place to stop for the night, as you have to be in and out of the park the same day, unless you have a specific place to stop for the night (there is only camping in Torra Bay campsite in Dec and Jan). So we registered for a permit the next morning to transit the Park and left as the early morning mist was rising over the desolate landscape.

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And yet again there are animals in this place, it looks like there’s no food here, but they are eating something, below is a Gemsbok, and a Black Backed Jackal, as you can see there’s not a blade of grass.

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Along the coastal stretches we came across this old oil rig, that had long been abandoned, and the beach here has dozens of ship wrecks.

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We had to stop for a coffee of course, and it was a little windy out there so our Moroccan gas bottle had to be tucked up tight to the truck to stop it blowing out. 

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On the way down the Skeleton Coast we kept “leap frogging” a Honda CRV car, that kept stopping, and then past us as we stopped, the young couple seemed quite amused at this, then a couple of days later we bumped into them again, this time able to speak to them on a campsite. Marcus and Jeanette (a young German couple) were a fantastic testament to travelling on the cheap, they did have a very small ground tent for emergencies, but 9 times out of 10, they just pull up, or use a campsite if they want to use the facilities, and then roll the front seats back and sleep in the rental car, not a roof tent in sight. They are well travelled, having done similar trips to Australia, and Central America. They were also very friendly and were keen to see inside Colonel K. If they are reading this, keep travelling guys and enjoy the rest of your trip.

That night we ended up in a campsite behind a bar called Fishermans Inn, which is just north of Henties Bay, and ended up having a few beers in there in the late afternoon, its quite a rough and ready type of place, but that was nothing compared to the clientele in there! It was an education, lets leave it at that. We also ate in the bar that night but there was only the two of us and the very friendly barman so the atmosphere wasn’t great.

Anyway we now find ourselves back in the touristy town of Swakopmund, have done a few maintenance jobs on the Colonel, including straightening the gas locker (perfectly back into shape and closing and locking again now), and we have booked it into a workshop here to have a full service. Its an amazingly well equipped place, with all sorts of equipment for testing flows of diesel pumps etc, I’d be quite happy to eat my curry off of the floor in there. And the hourly rate is £22.00 per hour! In the UK you could easily add £100 to that rate. So fingers crossed they do a decent job. The Daf deserves a little bit of TLC after all its been through.




















































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