We passed through Opuwu to restock for the next 10 days or so, in Northern Namibia. There were many Himba and Herero in traditional dress going about their day, on the street, in the supermarket, stocking up on grog, carrying cases of Black Label (their preferred beer) on their head. I did not dare to take any photos.
We headed up to the Cunene River on the Angolan border. After being in the desert, this was very refreshing and relaxing; and having endless tap water was luxurious. A guy came around the campground looking for company to do the 4WD Riverside track, which goes to Epupa Falls. He did not get any takers; some said it was too difficult; others were not permitted to take their hire cars that way. We were doing it, but we did not want to go until 2 days later. He needed to head off the next day and was very nervous so we told him not to worry, as we would be a day or so behind him.
The only vehicles we did see when we did the track were a convoy of Mercedes G Wagons, 7 of them coming in the opposite direction. They were on a Mercedes event and having a GREAT time!!! And who wouldn’t! They had been flown to Epupa Falls, handed these brand new company cars, Mercedes G Wagons, no less; to bash down a 4wd track, in Northern Namibia. (Each car only had 140km on the clock and was brought to Epupa by truck. They did not have to go easy on the vehicles as Mercedes would look after any problems if something happened.
The drive takes about 6-8 hours at flower sniffing pace, we split this over two days and arrived at Epupa Falls to have another day relaxing (as with Cunene, there was no malaria, no hippos, no fishing).
Van Zyls track is quite long, slow, rocky and bouncy, with a number of low range/ 1st, technical sections. Good ground clearance is useful. Take everything to be self sufficient.
We found rocks placed in many of the trees along the track. Not sure what it means or who does it.
The people in the campsite next to us at Epupa Falls told us they were doing the Van Zyls track as well. They took off a couple of hours ahead of us, very early the next morning. They were in a Landcruiser and a Mitsubishi (something) with independent front and rear suspension. This probably explains why we were seeing so many scrape marks on the rocks.
Around mid afternoon we had already come up behind them, the ladies were walking, guiding the cars over the rocks, they must have been doing that all the way.
They let us pass them, and said they would be camping “at the top”. We moved on slowly and within 100 meters they had already dropped behind and out of sight. Not far along was a reasonably steep rocky hill climb, with a couple of tricky technical steps right before the top. I was thinking those guys are going to be out examining this hill for a while as Frankie made a nice clean ascent straight up in our good Defender (if they could not drive their car up the last section they might have had to winch as it would be difficult to build it up, and awkward to snatch). We passed what could be “the top”, it was not obvious, but a quick check on the GPS confirmed it. There were no good spots to camp up there, certainly not for three cars, so we continued on until we found a nice area.
Next morning we waited around to see if they would come by, but I think some of the sections would have put them back at least a few hours. One of the ladies would not have had a happy face with the endless bouncing and rough going.
We left after waiting an hour as we still had another tricky descent before we got to the end of the track.
After Van Zyls track, we could either turn right as originally planned and head back to the Cunene river along the Marienefluss; or turn left and head back into the desert – we turned left and once back in the desert, we were spotting animals again. We passed a wreck of a ute, said to have been blown up by a land mine – Not sure if it got blown up where we saw it, but I made sure I only walked where there were plenty of footprints.
Out of the blue, there was a couple tricky technical sections, and one climb in particular took us by surprise. No problem, just had to drop into low range and we went straight up. A local car had been following us and when we stopped I was instantly his best friend, we had a brief chat in broken English. When we were leaving he gave me a big bear hug. I guess he was super surprised to see a girl driving up those hills.
We drove up to a marble quarry and felt the smooth, cool marble on the hot desert day.
One day we were driving in a riverbed and stopped to set up camp. When bush camping we make sure we get up into our roof tent soon after sunset, so before we retired we took a quick walk to see if anything was nearby. About 150m along, Frankie stopped, he heard something on the other side of the bush and suddenly we were staring at a giraffe. The poor thing got such a fright that we had crept up so close, that it took off, up onto the plains and way off into the sunset. It eventually stopped and even though it was so far away it would not take his eyes off us as we walked back to our car.
The expected elephants were not around Puros Conservancy, but we stopped to camp anyway. We had a relaxing afternoon and enjoyed the luxury of endless water on tap again. Every thing is so dusty it is nice to be able to wash your hands all the time. I also caught up with the laundry (later regretting I used so much water during our stay).
Next morning, as I was having breakfast, I saw a giraffe walk by, so I took my muesli and went to see if I could get closer. We stood staring at each other, both of us chewing our breakfasts. The nearest bush to the giraffe was 20-30 meters, so I only went as close as that bush. (I am not sure if my idea of running around the bush and keeping the bush between us, would protect from giraffe attack, if there is such a thing).
We drove through Puros town and I chatted with a local. I asked about water and he explained that the water is pumped up from the bore by solar. When the town tank is full, a bell sounds to indicate to the town residents that water will be released to their taps and they will be able to fill some containers with good clean water. I asked how long it takes to fill the tank, and depending on the weather, the tank fills approx every 3 days. I then realised that water for the locals is not endless but quite limited. I suddenly felt guilty about the amount of water I splurged for washing our clothes and to be able to feel clean again.
This was the first of the Desert Elephants we saw.
Elephants are clever and can hid well. This fella was behind some bushes waiting for us to pass, but we spotted him before he hid, and therefore could see his tail swinging as he was waiting for us to leave. We stopped the engine and waited. In the meantime his friend also came browsing along but did not notice us. The first elephant then had to come out of hiding to be with his friend.
Most of our animal spotting has been while traveling along the back tracks. The animal fear factor varied a lot, depending on how many cars come by, from fleeing at first sight, to just moving away a short distance as you get close.
Then there is Etosha National Park. The animals are so used to cars that some won’t move off the road and you have to gently drive through huge herds.
We came across many Himba and a few Herero. Himba tend to come out and stand on the track with their hands out and expect you to give them something. We were told NOT to give money or food to begging children as it reinforces continued begging. Giving food is only acceptable in return for something eg they help set up your tent, or fetch water, selling handicrafts. One thing we did noticed was Himba do know what a GoPro is, and if they saw it mounted on the bull bar they would not approach to beg, they even send the children away in the opposite direction.