Intellectually, of course I knew that Namibia is a vast and empty country – well, come to think of it, New Zealand is pretty empty too – but no amount of knowledge can prepare you for the experience of the vast tracts of nothingness that is Namibia.
As we touched down at Windhoek airport, I wondered “but where is Windhoek?” The airport itself located in a vast empty plain some 40km from the city itself. After a long wait for customs – two flights from Johannesburg in at exactly the same time, with just two customs officers processing “foreigners” – we headed for the Hertz desk to pick up our car, only to find the costs were nearly double what we’d been quoted. To add insult to injury, having told us there’s an additional NZ$400 not included in the quote because we’re dropping off the car in Cape Town (which they obviously knew when they did the quote), she then fiddles about to find us a car that needs to be relocated back to SA anyway! Final straw! Sorry says Peter, forget it!
Marches over to the next rental car counter, where we secure a bigger car, at very close to what Hertz quoted us originally, all costs included! So there!
But by now we are running a tad later than expected, and still have a 4 hour drive to Swakopmund, Fortunately on good roads, but also roads which everyone advises should not be driven after dark because of wandering wild animals (such as those baboons crossing the road featured in my previous post).
As the sun fell lower and lower, it became clear we were not in fact going to make it in time… The last 30km into Swakopmund, with roads full of traffic right at shift changeover time for the surrounding mines, and big trucks serving the supply chain from Walvis Bay to the rest of the country, were the longest 30km of the trip thus far.
Nothing that couldn’t be fixed by a nice dinner of oryx steak, washed down with a fine Cape red, followed by a couple of Dom pedros at the Lighthouse down the road!
Sunday, of course, sees everything but the churches closed in Swakopmund – fortunately anticipated when I booked a full day guided tour with Steve from Batis Birding Safaris, and what a fabulous day it was. We headed to Walvis Bay lagoon, where the flamingoes and pelicans are normally the key attraction – though our morning was highlighted for Steve by the sighting of a very rare bird – yet to be confirmed as a royal tern quite far from “home”, and for us the sight of a black-backed jackal, strolling along the beach stalking flamingoes, or to be precise, one rather large flamingo that, according to Steve, he had probably identified as being infirm or elderly, and thus a good target. Sadly we didn’t tarry to observe the chase, Mr Jackal being a little indecisive…
A long bumpy ride into the dunes in search of the elusive dune lark – only to spot one flying away! Namibia’s only endemic bird, has adapted to desert life to the point where it doesn’t need water! Never mind – we were subsequently treated to a sighting in the dunes near Sossusvlei over sundowners.
Lunch of fish and chips on the wharf at Walvis Bay and we were off into the hinterland for a “drive along the Swakopmund River”.
Major discovery of the day – when a Namibian says they’re taking you for a drive along the river, there will be NO WATER in sight, just a dusty, desiccated river bed that doubles as a road track. “There was water here for 2 months in 2011” Steve tells us. Wow!
What the drive lacks in terms of actual river, it makes up for many times over in amazing geology. Rocks folded and folded over again, truly ancient, and fascinatingly vast fields of lichen covered stones, which just look like desert until you examine the stones closely to find a host of different lichens giving the stony field its colourful hue.
And the object of this adventure? The ancient welwitschia plants, which live for thousands of years – these babies just about 150 years old, apparently… Male and female plants (a bit like birds, the male more decorative)… And their very own welwichia beetle that feeds on them and is responsible for pollination. A tight and ancient ecosystem.
Two sleeps later we were on the road again – only 350km to Sossusvlei… Steve had pointed out the turnoff to us a few days earlier – turn off here on the gravel road, he said. How far is it unsealed, asked Peter. All the way…. Oh!