23 days, 3000 km, 13 campsites, 3 Airbnbs.
We were on the move a lot in Namibia, and somehow still left feeling like there was plenty that we didn’t see. What we did see was captivating and often breathtaking.
Namibia is approximately twice the size of California, with a population that is about 6% of California’s (2.5 million vs. almost 40 million). It is almost all desert, and most of the people live either in the far north (where the rain falls), or in Windhoek, the capitol. The rest of the country has a population density of under 3 people per square kilometer. Driving along the wide, mostly gravel or sand roads, the vast empty spaces are striking.
We started our trip in Windhoek, which we didn’t really get to see much of as we left the next day to start camping. Our rented 4×4 came fully equipped with camping gear, two rooftop tents, and the all-important refrigerator, to keep beers and milk cold. We managed to adapt to having the steering wheel on the right and driving on the left pretty quickly.
We struggled a bit to find our first campsite at Weaver’s Rock, as we inexplicably decided to ignore the brightly painted signs with arrows that said, “Weaver’s Rock” and instead followed our Google Maps directions which led us to a locked gate on a dusty road. Once we changed tack and arrived, we found ourselves at a lovely, shady campsite with stunning views. The pool was just down a little path and the next morning the boys were very happy to jump in for a while before we took off. I managed to literally rip the diamond out of my ring trying to set up the rooftop tent. Luckily it didn’t go far, and I found it. Related aside: Diamond mining is a significant part of Namibia’s economy, and surprisingly, a lot of the mining happens on the sea floor.
Our next stop was Waterberg Andersson Camp, where a personal highlight was watching Max cheerfully scoop the baboon poop from around the pool so no one would step in it while they swam, and observing all the birds that congregated and chit chatted at the pool.
We also took a short hike along the “Porcupine Highway” to a spring that supplies all of the water for the lodge and campsites, and along the way learned that acacia trees have evolved to defend themselves against giraffe by emitting indigestible tannins when the giraffe starts to browse. When one tree does it, it also emits a scent that alerts all the other trees in the area so they do, too. Evolution, man.
We got better at setting up and taking down the tents as the trip progressed, and the only other major tent mishap was when Kyle and I didn’t properly close everything up one rainy night at Okaukuejo camp in Etosha National Park and woke up at about 1:00am because our foam mat had become a saturated sponge and we were getting soaked. Our luck was that the next day was sunny and hot, and the mat dried nicely by the afternoon. Besides Okaukuejo, we stayed at Halali and Olifantsrus camps in Etosha, for a total of 6 nights in the park.
After Etosha, we headed west and south toward the coast. We spent one night in Hoada, and I think we all agreed it should have been two. The campsite was nestled among huge boulders and had running water and even a hot shower when the boiler was lit. And I mean “lit” literally. One of the staff comes around at 4pm and 6am each day and lights a small wood fire under the water tank to heat it.
At sunset, we walked up to the bar (also situated among the huge rocks) to watch not only the sun set, but a storm roll toward us across the plain. The staff were hopeful for rain, but the storm passed by and just a few drops fell that night.
The next two nights we spent in Uis, a former mining town near the White Lady painting in Brandberg Mountain. Having visited rock engravings at Twyfelfontein (and a petrified forest!) in Damaraland already, and feeling a little punished by the heat, it wasn’t difficult for the kids to convince us to stay at camp and swim instead of going to see the White Lady.
We also wandered into Cactus and Coffee, where I learned, to the kids’ great envy, that if you order an iced coffee in Namibia, it comes with a large scoop of ice cream in it!
From Uis, we continued on to Spitzkoppe – the “Matterhorn of Namibia” – where Kyle made friends with the rock hyrax, and I briefly mistook a horse for a baby elephant. I tell you, heat does things to your brain sometimes.
Spitzkoppe is also where Kyle got stung by a bee on the ankle and the swelling and pain were severe enough that he couldn’t drive and we ended up having it checked out at the pharmacy in Hentie’s Bay. He was fine – he just needs to stop wandering into the homes of stinging insects.
All of us were excited to get to the coastal town of Hentie’s Bay, both for the cooler weather and for the luxuries of a beachfront condo for a few days.
Wifi, a kitchen, real beds… not to mention laundry service, which we sorely needed at that point. We relaxed, the kids played in the sand, and we visited the Cape Cross seal colony, possibly the stinkiest tourist attraction I’ve ever visited.
Swakopmund (another condo) was next. We arrived on Henry’s birthday and while the celebration was small and the gifts were minimal, he got lots of messages from friends and family and got to stay up late, so deemed it a success. We managed to vote by fax while we were in Swakopmund and play our small part in flipping CA10 for the Democrats. Swakop, as they call it, has a kind of SoCal vibe to it, with a lot of beach houses and oceanfront condos and hotels, a nice beach promenade, and lots of little boutique shops, cafes and restaurants. We spent a few hours browsing through the quirky but informative Swakopmund Museum, where we saw our only cheetah of the trip (stuffed).
After five nights without having to set up our tents, I was sort of dreading camping again. But when we arrived at Rooisand Desert Ranch and Stefan welcomed us with a cold beer and an invitation for the boys to use the swimming pool, I decided I could manage.
Our second to last night camping was at Sesriem, where we stayed for early access to the dunes at Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. Calvin, one of the staff at Sesriem, asked us about the recent election and introduced us to the Gondwana Collection’s videos, which poke some good humored fun at the current US administration, as well as promoting all things Namibia.
In the spirit of saving the best for last, Kyle had booked our final night camping at a luxury site in Lake Oanob Resort in Rehoboth, just south of Windhoek. We were right on the lake, with a big, thatched roof kitchen and seating area that caught the breeze perfectly. The restaurant and pool were just down a brick path, and we alternated between relaxing at the pool and relaxing lakeside. Really, roughing it.
Our final day, back in Windhoek, we said goodbye to the Toyota HiLux, did our best to wash the dust and sand out of our clothes and off of ourselves, and got ready for an epic travel day (and night) to Bangkok.