1700 Miles in the company of Vinnie, Jac and the Col K. A grand tour of Namibia with its sights, animals and highlights. A huge 4×4 with a tent on the top. To camp or to stay in a lodge? What would a couple of southern softies and strangers to camping opt to do?
Nicky and I have been asked to write this blog about our trip and time with Vinnie and Jac, to compare our expectations of Namibia and what we actually found. This gave them the opportunity to rest from writing for a week
So this is what it’s like to follow the Colonel for 10 days
I knew that we would be traveling behind the Colonel K in a Nissan 4×4 with a roof tent. We aimed to split our 10 nights between staying in lodges and camping in the tent. I was keener on the tent idea than Nicky. The last time I had camped was in the 4th form with the cadet force, all I could remember was it raining all the time and the smell of bacon in the morning. Nicky’s last attempt was with the Girl Guides and all she could remember is that it rained all the time!
Well, as Namibia is currently enduring its worst drought for ages, we thought there would be no problem.
Vinnie had organised an 10-day tour of the countryside that would show us all of its aspects, spending each night at a different site.
I was expecting a barren country looking pretty much the same all over, and I was expecting to see poverty in places and then hopefully some animals, but as we were not expecting to go on any organised safaris I was not that hopeful of seeing any of the ‘Big Five’. I was expecting places to eat to be basic and the food to be mediocre but friendly people.
Nicky is a self-confessed control freak and only used to beach type holidays, with bikinis, white jeans and hair straighteners and definitely no tents. Whatever happened, it was going to be different. As a result she was extremely anxious if not a little scared.
I did know that Vinnie could organise a great motorbike trip and this was going to be no different.
This was going to be our home
For our 1st night, it had been decided that after 13 hours of flying to Windhoek, with a 5 hour stop in JoBurg, we would be in lodgings so that we could catch up on sleep. Vinnie had arranged SunKarros in Daan Viljoen National Park.
For V and J
For J and N
It was a lovely room, comfortable bed and a really good night’s sleep!
We now had our 1st lesson in bushcraft! Vinnie demonstrated to us how to stomp Frodo style across the meadow to ward off any sleeping snakes.
We ate in the restaurant and that blew away my misconception that the food would be average at best, it was brilliant.
Day 1 was a trip to Sossusvlei Sand dunes
Traveling out through Windhoek we saw our 1st Township
Our next big culture shock was leaving tarmac and onto the gravel roads, almost all roads are gravel. Even in a huge 4×4 these shake like mad, it’s a question of finding the speed at which things stop resonating, usually about 30mph or 50kph.
At our coffee stop we had to pay a small child to “mind our car”. I had been expecting behaviour like this but in actual fact it didn’t happen again.
The scenery was showing us things we hadn’t encountered before like this Weaver bird nest
This is a communal type of nest. A different type of weaver bird builds individual nests.
This picture shows the difference in size of vehicles
(and that 4×4 is Big making the Colonel huge- so huge in fact that every where we stop other overlander’s kept taking photos of it)
The road ran in between 2 mountains inhabited by plenty of springbok
We stopped at the entrance to the Sossusvei park and went into the little shop to buy a snack. When we came out Jac noticed that the Nissan was listing quite badly. It was apparent that we had a puncture, and I’m sure it was ok when we arrived. Just as Vinnie and I were rigging up the jack a young ranger came along and offered to repair the tyre for about £3. When I asked him his name he told us it was ‘Shady’. We couldn’t have made it up, so from then on Vinnie called him ‘Slim Shady”
We even had a sand storm to deal with while we were getting the wheel off.
From there it was a 20 mile trip on a dedicated road to the dunes.
The rusty red sand dunes in Sossusvlei are a bit bigger than the ones in StAnnes on Sea that I’m used to.
I had the experience of driving the 4×4 in low range 4 wheel drive through the soft sand under the instruction “Do not stop under any circumstances – just keep powering through”
We climbed a dune and even tried skiing down, but even Frodo’s big feet didn’t work
On the way it rained. This was the 1st rain this part of the country had seen in 2 years. We really had brought our terrible English winter all the way with us.
We had a little extra stress because we had to arrive at the lodge before dark. The Col has very dark tinted windows to keep the heat to a minimum during the day but apparently it is quite difficult to see at night.
That night we lodged again, this time in Gondwana Namib Desert Lodge north of Sesriem
And had another good meal in restaurant with V and J but their campsite was 5km down the track near the gatekeeper’s lodgings. V had a chat with him only to discover he’d been a former paratrooper who had become disillusioned by what it all stood for and was now living with his memories.
Our next trip was to be another interesting experience.
It started with a stop at Solitaire. In the middle of nowhere it has a superb bakery founded by a Dutchman. Why anybody thought they could make a bakery work in the wilderness beats me, but it obviously does. It is complete with a collection of old wrecks
I saw my 1st zebra close up
Not the best photo I admit but note the stripes on face and legs because they are different to the ones we’d see later
We crossed the tropic of Capricorn and as tradition would have it we signed it somewhere in the vicinity of where Charley Boorman had done on his ‘Long way Down’ programme.
(The Tropic of Capricorn is the imaginary line along the southernmost point at which it is possible for the sun to be directly overhead at noon)
We went through and over 2 passes
Had a cup of tea and tried to fly my drone on the edge of the desert
And saw a quiver tree. These are very old and as name suggests were used to make arrow holders (quivers), but they have the most beautiful shiny golden bark.
Then began the unexpected trip. What felt like hundreds of miles across nothingness with no other cars about. We were guessing how far it was between bends- the longest we got to was 9.5km without having to turn the steering wheel.
After this desolate landscape of the desert, the sea of Walvis Bay complete with its shipwrecks suddenly appeared in such stark contrast.
We drove up to Swakopmund to stay the night. I love seaside resorts because of where I grew up. Each has its own character but they each harbour (forgive the pun) an atmosphere unique to them. This one was weird because it had buildings not dissimilar to those in Disneyland.
This was to be our 1st night in the tent
We had our own private bathroom with shower and all in all it was way more comfortable than either of us had imagined.
Jac had booked us a meal in the popular Tug Restaurant. One of their favourites and I can see why. It would fit in anywhere in the world. Better still the bill for 4 of us including drinks was less than £50!
This next day’s drive would take us to the foot of Brandberg
(Being half German I just love the fact that the names of so many places are in German. Brandberg is next to Spitzkopf, which would be the pointy one then, wouldn’t it!)
The camp here is right next to the riverbed where my 1st chance to see elephants would be. Not just any old elephants but Desert Elephants. These are not captive in game reserves but wander many miles sometimes passing right next to campers without tripping over guy ropes.
The drive down to the campsite was a lonely bumpy track through the most beautiful landscape in the shadow of Namibia’s biggest mountain. (Brandberg)
We all had our eyes peeled for these creatures but when we got to the lodge we were told they had passed through, on their way north because of the rain. But luckily we were traveling north too, so we hadn’t lost hope
As you see we were introduced to open air shower and loo!
I successfully started a fire using a flint stick thingy and cotton wool, given to me by my nurses for my birthday, a la Bear Grylls
The lodge had very westernised Garden, and we had a chance to swim and relax.
and a fabulously friendly Meercat
A less accommodating lizard that thought he was auditioning for Superman
J&V cooked us a great one pot meal and that topped off our 1st real night of proper camping.
Next was to take us to Palmwag Lodge . We swapped over vehicles so that Nicky could enjoy a trip with V in the cab of the Col and Jac drove me in the Nissan so that I could take photos and enjoy the scenery without having to concentrate on the road.
The scenery was starting to get seriously green and consequently quite beautiful.
Signs of warning of elephants filled me with hope.
I promise if I was still a student I’d have nicked that road sign for my room.
I was attempting to learn the ancient art of tracking and was guessing that this
meant “elephant has been, but ages ago.” (It’s very neat isn’t it, it appeals to the German in me for neatness)
We stopped at Twyfelfontein for lunch. This was one my favourite unexpected finds of the holiday. The lodge was beautiful and blended in with the scenery almost invisibly. The views were amazing, the restaurant superb and it even had ancient tribal engraving in the stone walls.
I would definitely recommend stopping here if you are passing. This was way beyond what I’d imagined in Namibia.
I got my 1st close up of a giraffe
Nicky and I lodged at Palmwag which was a lodge dedicated to safari drives with a team of guides as well as students and post grads doing research into desert lions. It sits on a riverbed (in Namibia these never have water in them unless the Whiteheads have arrived. It never rains in Namibia)
This gives you an impression of how green it can become given a bit of rain
This is the river bed which saw the desert elephants passing through only earlier that day! 15 of them. We immediately booked ourselves on a safari the following day to try and find them, to satisfy my urge to bag the 1st of the ‘Big 5’ and not just any elephant but a desert elephant. Worth 50 of a park elephant.
Well after dinner it rained, in fact it didn’t rain it just fell out of the sky. 21mm in an hour. Even the frogs joined us in reception. We sat the rain out listening to the thunder and missed the local leopard doing his nightly tour of the estate. Why they didn’t tell us I don’t know.
In the morning we were treated to a sunrise
And gathered for our 1st ever safari
(The colonel had leaked and V had slept with a bucket balanced on his tummy)
Erwin was to be our guide. Knowledgeable in everything vegetable, animal or bird.
Just after we set off in our wagon with a postgrad studying lion behaviour we stopped so that Erwin could warn us about the plant that was in most plentiful supply.
This plant kills humans if they eat it. It even kills them if they touch it! Here he is breaking a leaf to show us the milk that comes out of it. Rhinos eat it. And elephants sleep on it because it is soft and comfortable.
Just around the next bend we came upon a pack of spotted hyenas. The Lion King is correct- they are scary little buggers. I do not want to meet one in a dark alley never mind 5. The look in their eyes has no remorse. They don’t even stop to spit out bones, hence the white poo that they do. (I haven’t seen any of that since the 70s)
Well they glared at us like Millwall supporters without the beercans and I was glad we had Erwin and Vince to save us.
We saw Oryx that look like deer with underpants pulled over their faces
The scenery looked like this
lots of ‘elephant pillows”
next up was a black backed Jackal
This is Erwin early on; realising Vinnie was a bad influence and sending him to the naughty step
Our vehicle for the day
That 4.2 litre Toyota could climb up and over anything.
We searched and searched, stopping only to examine elephant poo and debris they had eaten and discarded
until, with hopes raised, Erwin worked out that they were this way!
So off we trolled but sadly to no avail. The Whiteheads were to miss the desert elephants by a day yet again!
Zebra roam with Springboks in what looks like a brickmakers back yard
and iguanas (Chameleon, James, Chameleon) try to hide
This lizard is about to spawn, if you zoom in you can see the lumps of its eggs
Now we were off to Kamanjab just outside Etosha National Park
1st though the Vet Fence, originally erected to prevent spread of Foot and Mouth disease, but now only there to supply some officers with free uncooked meat. They are obliged to confiscate this, and to wind up Vinnie and Jac who can’t see the point of the vet fence because only yards away animals quietly wander by while your truck is having its wheels sprayed and you are dipping every single shoe in a disinfectant
Now it was here I met my 1st Himba woman.
Earlier Erwin had told us a little about tribes, he was a Hereto but another tribe were Himba.
Himba women do not wear any clothes above the waist, ever. They do not wash, ever. And at the age of 8 or 9 the children have their lower incisors smashed out with a rock! As dentists, Nicky and I were quite speechless. He couldn’t explain, other than that it was their culture as if this made it ok. Any way, I had to have a photo and I would have to pay for it too, or at least Jac had to because I had no small notes.
Sadly it’s out of focus but Jac wasn’t going to pay twice. I think the Himba woman was a bit surprised because most adult men want photos of her chest, she was quite taken aback that I had no interest in her breasts. 200 Namibian dollars that cost, about £8. Nicky got 3 bracelets from her for £2.
We passed lots of millipedes
They were all crossing the road because the grass was greener on the other side.
Kamanjab was a proper campsite. There were lodges but we all camped again.
It was just outside Etosha leaving us only a short drive to the gate.
Now we were talking! The veritable arc of all Namibia’s animals (apart from desert elephants)
Greeted at the check in desk by the friendliest and most intelligent of homosapiens – not . Single tasking was a step too far; we had met the missing link.
(Honestly in the whole of our time in Namibia she was the only person who did not have a bright outlook on life)
Finding the animals suddenly became a distinct possibility.
1st up were some easy ones
“You ain’t seen me right!”
and then in the distance
Blast- just missed him, but I’ve seen the back end of an elephant.
Notice the rain in the background
What a beautiful animal! How could anybody want to harm one of these! Magnificent doesn’t begin to describe him.
For those interested in improving their tracking skills, this means an elephant is very near
We pitched our vehicles in the camp site of Olifantrus. A safe enclave within the park and we are but yards from the fence that separates us from the animals and Vinnie has chosen us a site very close to the water hole. This hole has a viewing gallery like the largest twitchers’ hut ever seen. It arcs around the inside of a crescent shaped pond, and is covered. It is elevated and there are red lights to light up the animals in the dark. . There are no windows. Silence is key, apart from one chap with emphysema whom the animals seem to accept. Perhaps some of their elderly relatives can’t breath quietly either!
Out of the gloom loped a female Lioness Chalk off ‘Big 5’ number 2! Now we are smoking. Even the guy with emphysema has forgotten to breathe now.
She ambles up to the water and after a cursory sniff starts to lap it up with big furry tongue.
This would have been the moneyshot
but I can’t hold the lens still enough with beating heart.
The excitement is palpable and we go back to camp with a glass of Champagne. We deserve it – we’ve seen an elephant and a cat in one day. Unfortunately we have camped on the same spot as what Vinnie correctly identified as Party Moths.
Now most moths are attracted to the light. Not these little buggers. They are a) not that little, and b) only attracted to alcoholic beverages and in particular Moet Chandon. Their favourite game is akin to our game of, how many students can you fit into a mini, apart from they play – how many moths can you fit into a champagne flute. Now seeing as how we were drinking out of coffee beakers it would appear the answer is quite a lot.
Now we were joined by a mouse who’s favourite game was eating party moths so we left him to it and went to bed.
But not for long.
About 3 O’clock we all woke to a mighty lion’s roar, just the other side of the fence, he/she could not have been much more than 50 yards away. If any of us needed an enema that would have been it, apart from the fact that nobody was going to leave the safety of the tent with that racket going on. If you opened your mouth at the same time as the roar you could feel your own chest vibrate.
I tried to record the noise on my phone but all I got was Nicky’s and my heart beat.
In the morning before sunrise we sneaked back into the hut, only the dedicated cat hunters there now. One lady had been there all night, she knew the direction the lions were in but they were not visible yet. One would ‘speak’ and then another maybe 30 yards to his left would reply. Every 15 minutes like clockwork.
As the sun rose they became apparent as a female alone being talked to by a male who was with another female.
Now it is unbelievable that in the dimmest of light the only photo I could get was on my iPhone (other two photos from Vinnie)
Decamped we drove on Eastward across the Park coming across an elephant in the wild
and then a carcass of a giraffe
And to prove how able the vultures are
But then we were treated to a sideshow by the squirrels
Now I didn’t know this but squirrels are born with a bag to take home their shopping, weirdly it is between their legs
This is the Adam Ant Eagle
I know V likes his birds and regularly puts them in his posts so we stopped to take photos, and just as we were focusing long lenses on this, a leopard crossed the road right in front of the tree that this eagle inhabited. We both tried shooting from the hip so to speak but failed to get a good photo. Something for another day. Leopards are difficult to spot so just watching him cross the road was a bonus and a tick for Big Five number 3.
(I’d like to think the leopard is the blurred object just distant to the tree on this)
We drove further when all of a sudden we get a squawk on the walkie-talkie that Jac has seen a Rhino in the hedge. We backed up and eventually could see this
Now that was properly scary. He/she was only the other side of a bush and just ignoring anything in its way unless it wanted to eat it. We inched along the road until it burst through to drink from the roadside puddle.
Cue enema number 2
What were we going to do if he charged us, backwards was not possible with the Colonel behind us. That would lead only one option – to suddenly change my mind and reapply for my membership of believers in God.
BIG 5 number 4 tick! And how. I haven’t let go of that much adrenaline since my 1st black run. I nearly needed a tablet.
What could possibly improve on that?
A proper jungle love story, that’s what, and it wasn’t written by Disney or Elton.
The scene is the camp of Halali on the Eastern end of Etosha National Park. It too has a water hole but this is a longer walk up to a wall of rock that forms a natural amphitheatre overlooking the circular pool. And the other side of the pool is dense vegetation. The sun is low and as we 4 arrive a lonely rhino is slurping at the water’s edge
He is not quiet drinking and boy can he drink! We revel in his company while being eaten alive by mosquitos but none of us can miss a minute to go and apply the forgotten spray.
Eventually he has enough and leaves the bar only to be confronted by another big drinker at the exit
They have a stand off
and square up. (we all place bets, we know who will win)
A deer (Impala, James Impala) wanders in stage right as though nothing is happening, quite oblivious and unbelievable.
They grunt some more and then the loser backs away. Amazingly we all lose our money as the wrong guy walks. The new boy has it and he goes for a drink, and a drink again and then a bath
The crowd are ecstatic
and then his wife appears, whom he kisses!
and his child follows and bathes while they carry on kissing
then they all kiss (James this is a little sickly!)
With that, they go and we go.
Back at the camp it’s the Whitehead’s turn to cook and after our exciting day we fail miserably. Sorry Guys we’ll do better next time. You 2 make it look so easy.
Another day is over but I don’t think I shall ever be able to repeat it. It really is a once in a lifetime day and we were so lucky.
This is a honey badger that did its tour of the bins in the morning
It is funny how things change in the space of a week. Nicky is now quite comfortable with the idea of sleeping in a tent compared with the fear of that which she had prior to coming out here, so much so that this coming evening we actually have a room booked but Nicky is considering giving it up to camp one more night. That is a sea change of opinion!
3 of us enjoying an early morning coffee
and one of us has hair to deal with
and this is how the tent folds away
is it worth one last look at the water hole?
What a difference 12 hours makes…
Incidentally at the last water hole, which is frequented by lions, the other animals approach the water hole so tentatively. Even a Jackal would wander about back and forth, not reaching the water because a smell would spook it. We watched a jackal for about 30 minutes trying to pluck up courage trying to get just one sip in the complete absence of other animals, only because the lioness had been there before. And yet Rhinos are of absolutely no consequence to a Sprinkbok. Unless of course they wanted the same blade of grass in which case I should guess Bambi gets short shrift.
We left the park to begin our Journey South and home. We were to stay overnight in a campsite with a lodge in Tsumeb and as an example of how the tide had changed Nicky chose to forego the booked room in the lodge to camp along side the Colonel for one last night. This would turn the tide to 6 nights camping and 4 in lodges.
This site had an Olympic size pool and had been quiet the last time V&J stayed here. Tonight it had a massive touring party of Swiss campers in identical motorhomes.
We lounged in the pool, contemplating how amazingly quick Ian Thorpe must be to swim one length of 50m in less (sic) than 30 sec
Meanwhile Nicky pointed out the dark clouds and how it might be a good idea to put up the tent. How right she was. The down pour was biblical. We sat in the car as so much rain came down the grill around the pool floated away.
We spent the rest of the night in the bar!
All that was left now was for a longer drive to the lodge we had spent our 1st Namibian night.. The countryside made the journey worthwhile. What is normally arid now looked like this
(The brown column is a termite mound)
And so to the lodge we like so much, with a view that could be mistaken for Borrowdale in the Lake District to reflect on our time in this magnificent country.
So many preconceptions altered.
The landscape is not all the same, it is not all brown, the food is anything but average or simple, it had been fabulous.
It never rains – well it does when we come.
AND Camping on the roof of a big car is perfectly comfortable and manageable for 2 complete novices albeit with the reassurance of having an able couple like Vinnie and Jac around.
We covered 1700 miles
£160 on fuel
£517 0n accommodation
camp sites work out about £10-15 per night , rooms about £100
The safari £25 each
Our itinerary so painstakingly worked out by Vinnie and Jac it must have taken considerable time and worked out superbly, to show us
Driving in Soft sand
Crossing a vast desert
A coastline which strikes fear into mariners and a restaurant which would not be out of place in the West End costing only £55
A guided safari tour
And 3 days in National Park inhabited by so many animals which we actually managed to see. For all this we shall always be eternally grateful. I just don’t know how to thank you 2 enough.
A Dentist went to Namibia and shot a lion, but this time with a camera.
Footnote from Vince and Jac’s
Thanks so much for taking the time to write this post, I must say it was a pleasure to spend those 11 hectic days with James and Nicky, and it was extremely sad to say goodbye to them at Windhoek Airport. I really hope they enjoyed Namibia as much as we do (considering its the “wet” season here they were very lucky to see as much wildlife as they did).