Safari 22

Getting caught between a river and a hard place during a 3500 kms Adventure Safari into Namibia, one of our planet’s wildest, driest and most alien-looking countries.
The radio crackled to life, and Jon’s voice could be heard across all 3 cars: “Yup, I can see it flowing, guys. The Hoanib is alive.”
A little explanation is needed. The Hoanib is only one of 12 ephemeral rivers forming an ecological feature unique to Namibia. They flow for short periods of time and support specially adapted wildlife: giant mopane trees, cacti the size of a small jeep, territorial desert elephants, and prides of desert lions who instead of water, can survive solely on their victim’s blood.
In this remote part of Africa it doesn’t rain every year. Sometimes not for a decade. But 2017 was different. The Hoanib had already flowed once, a couple of weeks before our arrival.
What were the chances for floods to happen again?
That late in the season?
Hoanib flowing on 2nd March 2017. Filmed by Cosmin
From where we stood, the Hoanib looked angry.
A raging torrent, formidably dark with silt.
While the others regrouped by the water, Jon took his shoes and pants off.
“I’ll try to find a way across.” 
namibia-hoanib-1
Jon attempting to find a stable shallow path across the Hoanib, and failing.
The current was strong. He stumbled. Brown waves almost pushed him off his feet. Meanwhile a leaves-chewing wildly-shouting family of baboons beckoned from the far bank, adding to the drama.
Jon returned caked in mud with an obvious verdict: “Without a winch we won’t pass.“
Changing fortunes
We were back in Africa for the 4th time, leading our 2nd Adventure Safari into Namibia, one of our planet’s wildest and most alien-looking countries, sparsely populated by strange wildlife and ancient tribes. It is a place like no other. If you ever wanted to travel to another planet, this is as close as it gets. Last year’s Safari took place at the height of the austral winter. This time we wanted to show our guests how the driest country south of the Sahara is transformed by rain.
We planned a loop from the rugged west, to the border of Botswana.
Roughly 2500 kilometres.
Green line: route of Safari 1. Magenta line: route planned for Safari 2.
Nobody knew then that we’d have to do 1000 kms more. That this Adventure Safari would challenge our resolve, and continuing our way forward would soon became a game where resilience, not the GPS, is the best tool.
For the first 100kms or so we rolled eastward on a smooth single lane tar with fenced farms on all sides. Then we hit gravel. The veld, usually more similar to an unkempt beard, was now glistening with rain drops. You could reach out in any direction and touch green: tiny buds on acacias, thistles in bloom, flowers poking from sand. Above hanged our first rainbow on the trip. A double. We immediately abandoned our vehicles and started abusing the smartphones in a futile attempt to capture the psychedelic colors of a sunset that only Namibia can deliver.
namibia-pano-rainbow
That night’s bivouac was pitched in the granite wonderland of Spitzkoppe. Before climbing into our roof tents for a night of bliss, the group was introduced into the sport of braai-ing a beef fillet to perfection while sipping on sundowners, in typical South-African fashion.
namibia-spitzkoppe-1
Safari bivouac. Photo by Razvan.
Scorpions of southern Africa are generally not dangerous to humans, except for the buthids (fam. Buthidae), commonly referred to as thick-tailed scorpions. Easier to observe with an UV light.
Parabuthus granulatus observed at Spitzkoppe. It is highly poisonous.
Spitzkoppe is a place where you want to wake up early. Dawn brings a bewildering show of colors, from deep purple to magenta, from coral to yellow, and soft hues of brown.
The hiking routes can keep anyone entertained for days. There are hyraxes, shrews and many other critters roaming all over the place.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed out of the veld.
As soon as we could get some 3G, we learned that Spitzkoppe is in fact a mountain formed by millions of years of erosion of the Damara Orogen, a layer of rock dated 750 to 450 million years old. When the Gondwana supercontinent split into the two continents of Africa and South America 130 million years ago, volcanic events forced up large amounts of magma, which cooled, hardened, and eventually became eroded by elements. The harder rocks and minerals of the original Damara Orogen left behind by this process are the Spitzkoppe.
Typical Damaraland view.

Learn more

about the unique geology of Namibia.

Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
At first sight Damaraland appeared devoid of life, but as we stopped to explore, the rains
Clockwise: Catophractes alexandri, a spiny scrub used as medicinal tea and popular food for black rhinos, Help me identify this flower, Ornithoglossum vulgare, Euphorbia gregaria in southern Palmwag Concession, Damselfly photographed at Spitzkoppe.

Learn what’s the difference

between Dragonflies and Damselflies?

Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Rushing to fix the flat before the day ended.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Vew over the pristine Etendeka Plateau.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Euphorbia gregaria covers large areas of the southern dwarf shrub savanna.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Jon laid out the Tracks4Africa map on the hood. As if adding items to a shopping list, he pointed out the ephemeral rivers crossed so easily the day before. “Those riverbeds we will not stay dry for long” he said. “We’d better get moving, or we’ll get stuck.”
As we scouted in vain for a potential crossing, I registered disappointment in everyone’s eyes. It was the enticement of desert elephants that has brought us there. Elephants who were now roaming beyond an un-passable boundary.
Our plans needed to be retailored.
That’s it, we have to drive back. 
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
namibia-hoanib-4
Suddenly, the most amazing illusion of my life happened. I nearly missed it. A slender, 4-legged thing walked in front of the car. A second one followed. A shadow. I blinked. Whatever that was, it vanished behind the sandy ridge.
Jon grabbed the radio: “A cheetah! On the right.” Roxana doubled down: “There are two!”
It took a few minutes to drive around and up on the flat area stretching between two rocky outcrops. Looked very much like our previous bivouac. The most conspicuous difference was the male cheetah curiously staring back. His female called from a few feet up. They scrambled. Is that their lair? Cubs? My heart skipped a beat.
cheetah
Cheetah couple photographed on 2/3/17 around 11 a.m. south of Hoanib river.
Hours later, as we retraced our route across the Palmwag Concession, I was still haunted by the sighting. The arid plateaus and rocky plains where some of the oldest plants on Earth scatter were as eerily devoid of animals as a day ago. The closest thing to being on another planet I could imagine.
It puzzled me though that we had made it that far north without a warning. The Concession does not monitor the rivers? Why did the Palmwag people not know about the floods?
We did spot a few Springboks, an ostrich, a Oryx, a side-striped jackal and a bunch of White-backed Vultures juveniles accompanied by at least a couple of adult Lappet-faced Vultures. Had no idea these two latter species could hang out.
But our troubles were far from being over. Let’s say that the rain spared us while we fixed Paul’s second flat tyre in less than 24 hours. Vindicated by the cheetah sighting, he had disregarded Vittal’s omen – in this desolated land, thou shalt avoid flat tires only if driving under influence. Problem fixed, Jon insisted we crack open some beers. Then, as soon as we rolled east, all hell broke loose. The Hoanib was by now overflowing even upstream, Ongongo campsite was flooded, the waterfall murky. I’d hate to imagine that if we hadn’t made the u-turn, we could had been trapped between the Hoanib and another flowing river!
We decided that we deserved compensation for all the setbacks, so we called our friends from the awesome Oppi-Koppi Rest Camp to tell them that we were arriving one day sooner. This change of plans allowed us to celebrate Ana’s birthday with the famous Mega Pizza and more rounds of Jagermeister than we could count, to stock on game meat from the Kamanjab Impala Meat Market (our choice since 2012!), to do a invigorating hike, to see the resident weaver birds, porcupines and mongooses, and finally to treat ourselves with a visit to the only Himba village in the area.
We have been fascinated with the Himba culture since learning about this semi-nomadic tribe from a film. Babies documents the first two years in the lives of 4 infants from Mongolia, Japan, Namibia and the US. After watching it, we decided to spend some time in a Himba community, in order to learn more about their way of life. For us, it was a slow, extraordinary experience. Quite famous for their physical appearance, the Himbas are pastoralist and patriarchal, and have a non-linear concept of time, which instead of the regular ticking of an a priori pendulum tracks personal events. When nothing happens, time stands still. Don’t tell a Himba “I don’t have time” or ask “how old are you?” To them, it wouldn’t make any sense.
Nowadays the Himbas are frequently visited by tourists like us, which may contribute to their eventual demise.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.
Leaving Spitzkoppe I could not help but think that these mountains must had been thrown from the sky, rather than pushed from the veld.

The first bivouac was pitched in the granite wonderland of Spitzkoppe. Before climbing into our roof tents for a night of bliss, the group was introduced into the sport of braai-ing a beef fillet to perfection while sipping on a sundowner, in the typical South-African fashion.

namibia-hoanib-1
Jon attempting to find a stable shallow path across the Hoanib, and failing.
Jon returned caked in mud with an obvious verdict: “Without a winch we won’t pass.“

Previous Safari

Safari 1