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African Adventure Part Six: Cape Cross Seal Colony, Spitzkoppe and Twyfelfontein

Drove to the Nimibian Sea Lion colony at Cape Cross, stayed at the Bushmens campsite at Spitzkoppe, and visited Twyfelfontein

Beach breakfast

Sleeping on the beach is a far nicer thought than it is a reality. You realise how bothersome sand really is when you're shaking it out of all your cloths and your sleeping bag feels gritty. It's also bothersomely loud at the beach; the waves may seem calming and peaceful during the day, but at night they sound much louder. This morning you woke before dawn and left without paying - no sense to pay really, since you didn't use any of the amenities. You drove back down the Atlantic Namibian coast to the beached (as) ship to take a daybreak photo and have breakfast, thinking that so early and so far from everything you would be alone. When left the salty main road and drove over the soft sand to the beach, you saw that you were not alone there: there were already beach fishermen and some of their kids loitering around. As you began to have breakfast (tinned pineapple on weetbix with milk) the kids walked over and started offering trinkets and fish for sale. When you showed no interest in their wares, they started begging for food, cloths and then eventually breakfast leftovers. They stayed close-by the entire time saying "we're just waiting for your leftovers", watching you intently and making you feel a bit nervous. You even decided against walking down to the beached ship, not wanting to leave your lovely lady traveling companion alone by the 4x4. It was not that you expected anything bad to happen, but didn't want to create a situation where it may. Anyway, the conditions were entirely foggy for a good photo; the day earlier was better. Black families with kids living close to white communities and tourist areas shows a strong division between rich and poor. The kids beg because it works and so they keep doing it, making it a hard cycle to break. One travel guide recommended carrying pens and notepads to give as gifts in place of food and money; it was a shame you didn't try that, and instead left with mixed guilty/annoyed feelings.

Sandy smelly sea lions

You drove north past salt mines with salt for sale tables along the road, to the Namibian seal colony at Cape Cross. The seal colony's numbers were around 200,000 sea lions. Upon arrival, you were met with an impressively pungent smell of dead fish, which hung heavily in the air. In chorus to the smell there was a booming-loud yelping/groaning noise, which sounded like a symphony of syncopated accordions being played through over-amplified speakers while the players scream in agony at the top of their voices; it was a truly horrific sound. There were also huge flies everywhere. The seals were spread over the entire 50 meter gap between boardwalk and ocean. The black-furred pups had taken over the picnic spot and all space under and surrounding the boardwalk. The sand and rocks area leading down to the ocean was smothered by huge lumbering brown hairy masses, which flopped and rolled in total disregard for whom they may be squashing. It was hard to tell which piles of black fur contained living pups, but there were definitely a lot of corpses in the group. It's a farce that the Namibian government receives bad press from the seal colony due to periodic population culling. None of the protesters or boycotters pay attention to the fact the colony cannot maintain it's population because of food supply, and that it's more humane to kill the weaker pups than let them starve to death. The travel guide was right that the seal colony leaves a strong impression: it hits your senses hard.

Shipwrecks

Still driving north along the coast, you decided to visit the Winston ship wreck. The road there was over sand and mud (4x4 only) and was rather vague, causing you to loop back over your own tyre tracks. The wreck itself was nothing impressive; there was little structure left and much of it buried in the sand. Along the beach were groups of fishermen - rich white ones with big 4x4's- with wives in tow lounging in beach chairs looking bored. Beach fishing and quad riding seemed the be all there was to do on the Namibian coast.

Matterhorn of Namibia

You returned to the dusty desert with its sunny skies and long boring featureless roads, leaving the grey gloomy Atlantic coast behind. Luckily there was only one very long and featureless stretch of desert to cross to reach your next camp, Spitzkoppe. For about an hour traveling along this bland dirt road you could see a big rock off in the distance. It was impressive in the way it stood out alone in the vast emptiness. Spitzkoppe has two parts, Klein Spitzkoppe and Gross Spitzkoppe (small and big), and is occasionally referred to as the Matterhorn of Namibia. It's amusing that every single rock and tree in Namibia is marked on the travel guide map, and it all fits on one page - visit #1 through #10 and you've seen it all apparently. The 5 km leading up to Spitzkoppe had roadside stands tended by (seemingly) no one, selling semiprecious gemstones. You stopped at one table just out of curiosity and it had some nice things - quartz crystals in all sizes, mineral formations, etc. As you were browsing, two kids came running down a long path from a tin-roof shelter held up by a few lumps of wood about 60 meters away from the road. By the time they arrived you were about ready to go, but because they had run the whole way barefoot you thought you'd be nice and browse a little longer, maybe ask some questions. As you turned to leave the kids asked for cloths and food, making you feel really sad and unkind having nothing to give.

The road towards the mountain was a little off-beat, and it was not until you arrived at an unattended entrance that you realised you taken the back way. There area seemed completely deserted (hehe, deserted desert) until a couple in a 4x4 appeared, who gave directions to reception. Perhaps racist to mention, but it was a surprise that the driver was black, and was in such a nice vehicle with a white female passenger - you immediately assumed they were non-African (or rich South African) tourists. You drove into the rocky area along roads with which you'd only imagine a 4x4 to be happy, until you arrived at reception at the other side. The place was hot, dry and excessively bright. Everyone seemed to be hiding indoors somewhere, but you eventually found someone to pay camping fees. The Spitzkoppe camping area was run by descendants of the Bushmen people: nomadic native Africans, short and compact hunters and foragers, who are said to be able to read the earth and understand its markings like language. You could believe they may be Bushmen descendants since the camp was hardly developed at all, remaining untouched and unspoiled save for a few garbage bins and one brick-walled outdoor shower with no roof near reception. You had the feeling of being invited to stay in someone's home, to experience it as its owners have for thousands of years before you. The place had a quiet and calming atmosphere about it, making you feel harbored and (strangely) safe; perhaps this feeling came from the surrounding rock walls shielding you from the desert.

Spitzkoppe camp

After settling on top a rock plateau behind a high wind-shielding rock [4005km], you walked the two kilometers to reception to ask about water supply and showers. For part of the way you followed roads lined with tall dry grass and the occasional flowering tree, and later trekked along dry river beds and over boulders to reception. Walking about Spitzkoppe was pleasant but really hot; although you'd been adjusting to the climate over the last week and a half, it was still surprising how draining the heat could be, making you want to stay indoors. The camp was low on water (was on order) but still had some drinking water for sale and a few litres in the showers tank remaining. You walked back from reception towards your camping spot but then turned off to the western side, towards Bushmens Paradise (the inner garden atop Spitzkoppe). Naturally, you didn't climb up the normal boring safe way, but instead gecko'd you way up a steep rockface - during which your camera lens cap flew away - with the occasional climbing bolt fastened to it. The way up was over huge undulating (wave-like) rock faces, until a final ramp for which you needed a run-up to scale. Affront you spanned an open bowl shaped area containing hot rocks, dry grass and a few trees. It was surrounded on all sides by red walls, which gave the feeling of a secluded garden. Large round boulders lined the rim of Bushmans Paradise, and you could see water courses carved into all surfaces leading down to the sandy inner base. After a quick scout around you found some bushman wall paintings of various animals drawn in red under an outcrop, and a strange tree with initials carded into it (which you found sad, considering how long it took to grow). It really is amazing how plants can grow here. You decided leave for now, but to come back again later for a more thorough explore. On the way down towards the chain lined path you heard something rocketing overhead with the sound of a fighter jet. You jumped and looked up just as another one zoomed past a few meters above your head, making the same whoooosh! - it was some kind of rocket bird!

You walked along to road back to camp and noticed long, narrow trails of dry grass clippings shaping out squiggling networks all over the ground (also, your lens cap). It kind of looked like snake or lizard trails but seemed almost organised. There were also piles of dry grass clippings in places - odd. You made the trip back to reception for showers by vehicle and had a red sunset brightening Skitzpokke to a warm glow as your background. Dinner was made by candle light from a wind-proof jam jar lantern. You were far away from any other campers and, appart from some light rain and some wind that sounded like animals walking around under your tent, the night was very peaceful.

The next morning you shaved while you travel companion chased lizards, and then with GPS in hand you set of for another explore. After meeting some kids on donkeys your first discovery was a rock bridge, which proved very hard to conquer (climb). You trekked off the roads through the tall dry grass for a few kilometers, felt a bit lost, and then discovered another smaller Bushmans Paradise (just some paintings). The GPS showed camp 2.5 km away and since it was lunchtime and too hot to do anything else, you went back to camp. Later in the day you visited the real Bushmans Paradise again, this time exploring the inner area more closely. Again, here it was so bright that the camera had issues. Between some of the large wall sections there were some rather lush trees and other greenery forming a barricade against any escaping water, so it wasn't all dry - unlike the showers which now only dripped. Back at reception you found some blokes, one of which was very kind in saying he liked white people and so wanted to help us. He rounded up some help and tried propping up the only water tank with a drop left in it to change dripping into trickling showers. The restaurant was closed, but they offered to make a plan (negotiate something special for a price) if we had no other food. Instead of being a bother you had cous cous with mushrooms, peas and salami for dinner. During dinner your traveling companion insisted she was hearing a crunching noise coming from the glovebox. It turned out that a desert mouse had found his way in there and had been enjoying your curry flavored trail mix (which he was welcome to).

Twyfelfontein

After leaving Spitzkoppe (bloke at reception appearing stoned) and driving for a while through the desert and its intermittent small towns, you eventually stopped for petrol in Uis. The travel guide explained the town of Uis had tried to be a tourism centre but failed to ever get started. The town's only tourist attraction was some kind of rock painting a long fair distance from town, so all its new roads and service stations were for naught. You drove 262km in total along dusty dirt road and over river bed crossings to reach your next camp. The camp was well set up, well ordered and tidy, and had ample water supply. Perhaps the only negative thing were noisy cattle trucks. Nearby were several tourist attractions which appeared proudly on Namibia's top ten list: Burnt Mountain, Organ Pipes and Twyfelfontein - all of which together should only be counted as one, but still attract all manor of livestock (bus tour groups).

You drove off to visit the Organ Pipes, which turned out to be just a few oddly oriented vertical rocks; and then on to the Burnt Mountain, which was just a boring dark mound of dirt. You failed to believe this small pile of black dirt could count as a tourist attraction and so tried driving further along a very dodgy trail, but gave up after it became too adventurous. One consolation prize for going nowhere useful was stumbling upon a Welwitscha: Namibias national plant, only discovered in 1859. Welwitschas have two thick leathery leaves and live for thousands of years. The leaves channel rain water to the plants central root hub, and only grows a maximum two centimeters each year (too much or too little water gives no growth). The plants also come in male and female versions. The third tourist attraction in the area was Twyfelfontein where guided tours to Bushmen engravings were available. Your tour guide was a fat lady in khaki safari cloths and sandals. She showed us the engravings (elevated viewing platforms at each rock) and explained some stories about them. The Bushmen engravings were used as teaching tools to describe animals, their tracks and habits, and to also show locations of water. Water sources were shown as rings and often had giraffes nearby; giraffes were signs of water to the Bushmen tribes. You asked when the last rain had fallen, to which the plump guide answered April last year. There was one engraved stone with a lion on it, which the guide explained was actually a shaman in a dream state taking animal form. There were some engravings of seals too, showing Bushmen collecting salt from the ocean. On the way out you noticed a familiar looking rock, actually identical to one in the travel guide appart from a little more erosion.

Back at camp [4704km] you both did an enormous load of washing, taking up all available tree branches to tie washing lines. It was nice to have running water again. You visited the bar for a beer and met some jolly French ladies who were up for chatting. You returned to the 4x4 and packed a backpack with water and camera things for an evening hike. As you zipped closed your bag and let it lay down on the table, you lovely lady called out why is there a bottle lid on the car seat?. To which you answered there's a reason for that, as you bag began dripping - she was highly amused. You hiked up the dry river bed to discover lots of elephant pooh and a few birds. You came back, showered, and sat yourselves atop a hill overlooking a water tank where elephants have been known to visit. There you ate dry snacks with sweet chili sauce while waiting but, appart from a nice sunset, nothing came.

Written by Sam while my left hand was in a brace, making it hard to type