February 26, 2011

Camping Safari Day Seven – Swakopmund to Aabadi Mountain Camp and Twyfelfontein

We left Swakopmund early in the day so we could squeeze in a trip to Cape Cross and still get to Aabadi Mountain Camp by nightfall. As we turned to leave Swakopmund, we saw the last of the marine-motif holiday decorations

and headed for the salt road to Hentiesbaai and Cape Cross. Salt roads, as it turns out, are amazingly smooth. It was like driving on the silky smooth linoleum -- but with traction.

Cape Cross is due north of Swakopmund and home to 80,000 to 100,000 Cape Cross fur seals. New seal pups had been born anywhere from a few weeks to a few days before we arrived. The beach was speckled brown and black with mothers, babies, and huge, assertive males.

We were able to park our truck right near the shore rocks and had to step over sunbathing babies to get to the visitor boardwalk through the area (something you would never be allowed to do in the US!). It was not only smelly but loud at Cape Cross.

This many seals vocalizing almost drowns out the equally loud patch of pretty rough sea. The babies’ cries were a cacophony ranging from the sound of crying human babies to crying seal pups to bleating lambs to mooing cattle. Many babies sleep and hang out under the boardwalk. Walking on the boardwalk directly over them was unnerving; their calls vibrated up from below our feet making us feel we were literally trouncing on seal pups with every step!

Loads of photos later, we headed back to Hentiesbaai to reconnect with C35 northwest toward Aabadi Mountain Camp. Not long after leaving Hentiesbaai, the road smooths out to an arrow straight path through desolate, empty landscape.

We thought stretches of the American southwest were desolate but they hold not a candle to this uberdesolation. For a solid 104 kilometers the only thing that identified the roadway was the long line of telephone poles paralleling the road in echoing straightness, converging to the same vanishing point as the roadway.

By noon, it was clear there was going to be no shady spot for a picnic lunch so we stopped at a rest stop at the side of the road to grab a quick lunch and to walk in the empty landscape long enough to know what it feels to be surrounded by nothing but sand.

Walking up to it from a distance, the rest stop's rusted, shot-up sign looked like a TV monitor inexplicably placed in the middle of an alien, surreal landscape – a conduit to a familiar civilization that seemed light years away from this spot.

After lunch, we drove through more straight line roadway until finally, hilly regions began to appear ahead and toward mid-afternoon, the scenery morphed into the hilly ranges of Damaraland.

More and more hills began to appear as we entered Damaraland. We saw beautiful mountains out the windows as well as Himba and Herero settlements just off the road.

We stopped by the side of the road to meet this lovely Herero lady and her son selling their crafts to passersby.

Donkey cart drivers waved as we passed

and the roads got more and more hilly

until we reached the crest of a hill that led down the other side to the turn off to Aabadi Mountain Camp.

Aabadi is a great little rustic campground with friendly proprietors and a location in a dry river bed that the famous desert elephants frequent in the dry season. We arrived just as the rainy season was approaching and the elephants had already moved north out of the area.

We set up the tents for the night and retreated to the restaurant/bar tent for Rock Shandies and Windhoek Drafts.

It was hot that afternoon – temperatures were in the high 90’s F with humid breezes blowing in off of nearby thunderstorms about to initiate the rainy season in this hilly country.

As sunset began to color the hill just across from the reception/restaurant tent, they called us to dinner.

Unfortunately for readers of this post, we were enjoying our amazing dinner of excellent peanut soup, spicy bobotie, and cinnamon flavored milk tart far too much to stop to take pictures of the food. You’ll have to take our word for it…the cook at Aabadi is one talented lady. Every morsel was scrumptious.

We walked back to our tents under deep indigo skies hung with millions of stars and the Milky Way and Magellanic Clouds we had last seen in Sesriem. When living in a city, you forget the magical light show the night sky puts on each evening. It was good to have the chance to look up and relish it again this night.

February 21, 2011

Camping Safari Day Six — Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and Dune 7

Day six was an idle day of sightseeing and hanging out in Swakopmund and Walvis Bay. It was overcast, much like the majority of mornings in Swakopmund (Swakop to the locals). Cool, humid air moves in from the Atlantic over Swakopmund and Walvis Bay overnight but instead of forming clouds and pushing inland, the moist air meets dry warm air masses from the adjacent desert and cannot rise to form clouds. Instead, it forms fog over the coastal area that can extend inland up to 30 miles. The fog takes a good while to burn off each day and sometimes, doesn’t burn off at all. Those cool moist breezes coming off the ocean and dreary skies overhead made a perfect reason to warm up over a cappuccino at an open-air cafe with a view to the sea. While we waited for our son-in-law to finish some research at a nearby internet café, we passed the time watching the ocean and the seabirds nearby.

Cape cormorant
The day’s plan was to do some birding around the lagoons of Walvis Bay and then to the big dunes of the Namib just across the highway from the ocean. After a lunch of fresh fish caught just off shore along with the requisite Rock Shandy,

we spent some pleasant hours up and down the lagoons of Walvis Bay helping add to our daughter’s life list of birds. Most of the birds were better viewed through binoculars than the lens of my camera, so I have only a few photos to show for it. The flamingos were in lagoons closer to the road so we snapped a few pics of them foraging for food.

It’s mind boggling to me to see these tropical birds rooting around in the shallow lagoon when some of most arid desert on earth is just across the highway.

Our birding excursion took us down a road that led to the salt factory in Walvis with shallow salt beds on either sides. Some were pink, others white.

We weren’t sure how the pink beds came to be pink when ones just across the road were white but it was fun to see such huge expanses of sea salt. This is the sort of stuff that costs you a small fortune at Whole Foods.

Toward the end of the afternoon, we headed out to Dune 7 just outside Walvis Bay. Dune 7 is the largest of the nearby dunes. You can hike all over it which is what the rest of the family did. I opted out of the hike and took photos from below.

The white specks on the close ups and what appears to be sheen on the side of the dune are in fact, accumulations of sparkly mica. You can watch how the dunes shape shift just by sitting and observing.

As we headed back to Walvis and on to Swakopmund, fog was beginning to roll in from the ocean.

Since this was only January 3rd, Swakopmund had its holiday decorations still in place. It was fitting that on the edge of the ocean they would be marine motifs!

Back at the campground, we feasted on some of the most excellent sausages we’ve ever eaten (hand made by the wonderful owners of Sophia Dale Rest Camp).

and enjoyed another gorgeous sunset to close our two days at the Atlantic.

 The next morning we were leaving for Damaraland and Twyfelfontein.

We had no idea we would have to completely reconsider our previous definition of desolate in the process.

February 15, 2011

Camping Safari Day Five – Sesriem to Swakopmund

It was hot again the morning of January 2nd and we had another long day of driving ahead of us. Just after this photo,

we packed up our camp and headed out. Before leaving Sesriem, we stocked up on cold water and snacks at a small convenience store/gas station with an internet café just across its parking lot! 

Back onto gravel roads, we were reminded again it doesn’t pay to follow the vehicle in front of you too closely.

Better to hang back a little or it’s guaranteed you will eat dust all day long.

By 11 AM, it was time for more cold drinks and a driver switch, so we made a quick stop at Solitaire for supplies.

Solitaire is little more than a smudge on the map but has a small lodge, small gas station, small bakery, small convenience store, and small restaurant all on a compact spot of land just off the road.

When I went into the store, I was surprised to see these ancient typewriters as part of the proprietor’s collection.

This old Underwood looks just like the one my sister bought sometime in her grade school years when she suddenly decided to learn to type. She could always do that—simply decide she wanted to accomplish a goal, gather the tools and knowledge to do it, and promptly accomplish it. She couldn’t afford anything much better than this old Underwood (our folks didn’t want us to ruin their good typewriter) and she bought a 33⅓ rpm record that was the audible Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing of its day. It took a lot of months of my listening to her record drone “A…S…D..F… Now, J…K..L…” before she learned to type. But once she did, she typed like the wind. Not having that kind of patience, I would try my hand at it, but become immediately frustrated when the old typewriter did this in response to my efforts.

Unlike my sister, who had a far larger frustration tolerance, I learned to type  much, much later.

The mountains played out as we continued on C14 but just before the point the road crossed the Kuiseb River, suddenly there were hills outside the truck windows and dips in the roadway leading to the river floor.

It was fascinating to see this ravine crop up out of what seemed to be nothing but flat land as far as the eye could see. We stopped to walk around a bit and marveled at the variety of rocks (and huge chunks of quartz!) on the sand at the river’s edge.

Weavers’ nests dangled from the trees like Christmas ornaments.

 Out of the Kuiseb River ravine, the road looked like it did before the river but the closer we got to Walvis Bay, the more desolate and moonscape-like it became.



The last thing you would ever expect at the end of such a protracted stretch of emptiness is this:

But there it was again, that amazing juxtaposition of empty desert ending right at the sea. Brilliant sunlight danced on the waves making it ideal for a carefree romp through shallow waters.

We pushed on to Swakopmund for groceries and then to our campground outside of Swakopmund for the night. The campsite was large and accommodating but best of all, had a nearby open field where at day’s end, you could watch the sun setting into the ocean a few kilometers beyond the ridge.