We have concluded that we are able to experience things much faster than we are able to create blog posts about them. This post will serve to catch up with the present so that our blog posts are more relevant.
Sesriem - Elegant Desert Lodge
Aside from the light sleep that comes as a result of being subconsciously vigilant of ones surroundings, listening to each footstep and rustle outside, our desert wild camp experience went well and we were determined to do many more like it. Some actual campsites are required every few days do fill up with water and empty our waste water and toilet. If we are careful, we can manage a week off-grid without any problems. Our route South took us past another municipal campsite and we decided to stop at it since the last one had been a success. Unfortunately there were no good opportunities for the next couple of days and we were forced to stay at a lodge. After trusting our gut and walking away from a campsite attached to a petrol station we headed just out of Sesriem to a place called "Elegant Desert Lodge" - and elegant it was.
A huge thatched lodge with pool, complementary towels, free wifi, and and a well-stocked bar. We went for a swim and had a drink at the bar, although we were disappointed by their lack of vegan, or even vegetarian options, though their list of meat dishes was eerily similar to my safari-spotting wish list. A Brit enquired about our truck and asked lots of technical questions about purchasing and registration as he was considering doing the same. The night was uneventful and and the next day we continued south.
Hardap Dam and the Rock Hyraxes
About 5-6 hours into a long and hot drive, the terrain became rockier and we began to climb altitude. We eventually summited a crest and a huge lake came into view, propped up by a large dam. We passed through a sentry post and booked into the campsite. The main-building was a disc-shaped restaurant overhanging a cliff with panoramic views onto the lake, supported by branching stilts. On a lower terrace was a crescent shaped pool covered in dolphin motifs. Peculiarly the entire place was empty aside from a few staff members. The combination of well-maintained facilities and absence of a single guest produces a strange atmosphere and brings to mind images of manufactured towns from the cold war. We fetched our bathing suits and towels from the truck and descended the steps to the terrace to go for a swim. We rounded the corner at the bottom of the steps and stepped out onto the poolside to find a rock hyrax (similar to a gopher) sunning itself on the deck. We startled it and it ran off towards a third, and still lower deck before jumping through a hole in the wall to join dozens of friends. After a relaxing swim, the sun started to set and we discovered from a staff member that the place has just re-opened and today is a corporate party for head office, hence the lack of other guests. At our pitch, we lit a braii (a wood-fuelled BBQ) and cooked dinner before heading to bed. The bass tones from the party at the restaurant incessantly played until 3am so it must have been a good corporate do. In the morning they kindly, they let us fill up our water tank from their fire hose for free so set off down South fully stocked.
Our journey South passed by a feature not marked on the tourist maps we obtained from campsites, but present in topological maps and our guide. An extinct volcano in the middle of the desert, complete with a crater and abandoned campsite at the base. About 50km from the main road it was a bit of a detour but we arrived before sunset.
We carefully passed through the abandoned gatehouse until we arrived at an ex-campsite behind a small peak. the stone components of buildings remained, as did the pit-toilets and braii pits, but the wooden and metal roofs had disappeared. We tried to follow a mountain track towards the crater but it was too rocky and we turned back. The site has a magnificent view of the flat plains all around it and was incredibly windy. The wind rocked the truck side to side so vigorously that we turned in to face the wind to prevent seasickness. While dinner was cooking, but just before sunset, a car appeared and then drove off. From the looks of the passengers it seems the spot might double as a lovers-lane for the local town.
In the morning, we donned hiking gear and started walking up the crater. The guide said it was a 3km hike so we brought no water. After an hour walking, we reached another camp. Then we realised that the 3km the guide specified was measures from there, and that it included steep, scrambly sections. Determined to see the mysteries that lay inside this crater we pressed on, although some encouragement (and water) was needed. Kim's fear of snakes and my preference for wearing shorts clashed and I reassured her that there were no snakes. A few snakes later, I re-assured her that there were no LARGE snakes. The view from the edge of the crater was beautiful, plants and trees grew there and the cliff-faces were full of rock-hyrax's and circling eagles. The paths of a stream were visible, although dry, and led to a depression in the ridge where a (still dry) waterfall would be. On the way back we rounded a corner to find three mountain sheep walking along the path in the opposite direction. From the length of their wool it seemed they had escaped a shepherds grasp and fled to the mountains, father ram, mother ewe, and grown lamb. After a staring contest, they conceded and took an alternative route.
Aus - Klein Aus Vista
Our journey South continued and included an uneventful night in a snooty lodge, Klein Aus Vista, which promised pool access, but placed your pitch about a mile away from it. We were offered a space in the very sandy overflow pitch and after nearly becoming stuck once, we decided to make our own pitch closer to the others. The constant clamour of chirrups could be heard from a nearby mega-nest of birds that had taken over a whole tree. The birds were so tame (or hungry) they would eat out of your hand. After trying to make use of their wifi and engaging in a conversation with another Brit intending a similar trip on his retirement, we headed to bed and left early the next morning.
Luderitz - Kolmanskop
The intended destination of our long detour was the ghost-town of Kolmanskop, a former diamond-mine headquarters in the early 20th century, long since abandoned and slowly being reclaimed by the desert. The road on the way in was covered in sand-drifts and scores of bulldozers were the front line defence against the desert. The nearest active town is Luderitz, a former german colony on the coast. The town is a strange mix of marine industry and old-world german buildings. We stayed at a coastal campsite before heading to the ghost town the next morning.
In Kolmanskop itself, we arrived early and watched scores of self-drive safari vehicles and coaches pull up. The groups were split unevenly into three groups by tour language: Afrikaans, German, and English. The German group was so large that the proficient English speakers were encouraged to join our group. Starting in a wooden bowling alley, the tour moves through the main buildings of the site: school, ice factory, shop etc before ending and allowing visitors to roam around freely. We found an old swimming pool, abandoned houses, dormitories etc. Pictures to the place more justice than words can.
Rosh Pinah - Lorentias catering
The next destination on our list was ai-Ais hot springs which required us to drive down past the enormous "forbidden" diamond territory, Der Sperrgebiet, to the South African border and along the Orange river. We didn't make it as far as we'd hoped ad sought accommodation in a mining town. We made a few enquiries and ended up staying in the back garden of a bar/restaurant/lodge/conference-centre, diversified indeed. During check in at the bar, I got distracted by a rousing American-dubbed Hispanic Drama which, despite it's unintelligible plot, seemed extremely popular with the staff who were gasping and laughing on cue. We parked the truck in the back garden in between a trampoline and a sprinkler and were told to use the sliding door to get to the bar. After setting up camp, we walked through the sliding door as directed to find ourselves interrupting a business conference. After double taking and finding no other door, we apologised with our eyes and theatrically crept through the meeting to the other side of the room. After escaping the awkwardness of the last room, we again found ourselves interrupting a quiet dinner of 3 couples in a cramped dining room. As we opened the door, six sets of cutlery hit the plate and twelve eyes were upon us. We made our way across this room and opened the door, to our relief, to a bar courtyard. We used the wifi and ordered drinks which we nursed until after sunset when surely dinner and the conference would be over. On our way back to our truck to find the conference progressing late into the evening. This time we were not acknowledged by the attendees wo continued pointing at papers in hushed voices and browsing a spreadsheet. The night was pleasant and the sprinklers washed one side of our truck. The next morning we headed towards South Africa, turned left just before it, and followed the Orange river which acts as legal and physical border. After 3 weeks in the desert seeing only small shrubs, it was pleasant indeed to be surrounded by lush vegetation and water. Eventually we turned North again back into the desert towards the hot springs.
The hot springs campsite at Ai-Ais is in a sweltering and dry valley and we arrived in 45 degree heat. We set up camp, had showers, and prepared to relax for a couple of nights. I discovered when dusting off some breadcrumbs from the chopping board that the local birds were very unafraid. While Kim showered I tested their bravery with some leftover bread. By the time Kim came back, I had a bird on each hand, one on each shoulder, and one on my knee. It started to become hard to control their access to the food I was holding. The one on my knee then pooped on my shorts and I thought it best to shrug them all off. This did not stop them from following me around for the next 48 hours however. The midday temperature is so great that not even the green algae in the swimming pool deters guests, although after jumping in they are often disappointed to find it bath-tub hot. The hot spring itself is similar to a shallow well up through which 65 degree Celsius water emerges. We spent our time between the truck, the poolside, and the bar and I had some time to do some odd-jobs on the truck. On the second evening, a biker on a Honda Transalp arrived looking disheartened and somewhat reluctantly set up camp nearby.
The next day we headed North for Windhoek. We decided to wild camp at the volcano again which was almost a full days drive. We stopped for lunch at another Arizona themed rest-stop and bumped into the biker from the campsite. After shooting the shit about bikes for a bit, he joined us for lunch and we learned he was an ex-auto engineer from Detroit who had followed a very similar career path to me, albeit on the other side of the Atlantic. He was re-skilling and heading to Zambia to continue his masters in sustainable agriculture. We chatted over a long lunch, then head off as we had a large distance to cover.
Brukkaros with Adam
Later at the crater (song name reserved) Kim had just cooked dinner (Chana Masala) when Adam arrived. He had been delayed by an empty fuel station and by the time he had back-tracked he was unable to make it to Windhoek. We split our dinner into thirds and invited him to dinner, continuing our discussion about the well-trodden path, engineering, and finding meaning in life. Afterwards he set up his tent and we slept better knowing we had company. In the morning we shared another meal of pancakes and set off for Windhoek.
Windhoek - Urban Camp
The second campsite we arrived at in Windhoek made space for us and didn't have low-handing branches like the first. Popular with overlanders and tourists, there were two other trucks there. The Mercedes Unimog looked familiar and on instagram (@uni.mog.i) I noticed they followed us, we messaged them and joined them for a beer the next night. They had travelled down the east route from Europe. The other overlander, the MAN was a beastly professional conversion with no blog, site, of instagram, although I am certain I have seen it before. While in Windhoek, we took our window mosquito nets to a canvas repair shop and had them sew a hem around the edge to prolongue their life and make them easier to open and close. We also started taking our Malarone antimalarials and prepared for bug-country. We visited the permit office for Etosha and then went to the Angolan embassy. The embassy is rather unfriendly and, after telling Kim to sit down, the chief walked me over to a map, asked if I spoke Portugese, and then made a first and final offer of 100USD each for a 7 day permit. Angola is a massive country and the capital city is in the North, it would be impossible for us to visit there and return in just 7 days. After futile attempts at charm and reason, we cut our losses and left empty-handed. If I wasn't mistaken I'm sure the chief seemed glad. A few nights of much needed R&R later we departed Windhoek in the morning heading North again.