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John and I have just returned from twelve days in Namibia.
Having been to Africa a few times before, I’ve had many visitors tell me to “tick all the boxes”, “see the big five”….whatever you want to call it. Call me a philistine, but once you’ve seen one reticulated giraffe, you’ve seen them all. I was after a different kind of trip.
If, like me, you want to experience a completely unique landscape and witness some of the most hostile and dramatic environments in the world, then Namibia is a must. It blew me away.
We started the trip in Windhoek. A nondescript city, but a pleasant enough place to recover from the flight and an interesting insight into the horrors of modern, German-influenced architecture.
The next day we left. South. We were advised to drive through a special pass, which we duly did. When we came to a corner of the pass, the most amazing desert was visible in front of us. I got out of the car, shot a roll of film and would have happily gone home there and then.
If I had known what was coming, I wouldn’t have even wound the window.
For the next four days we stayed in various places in the southern part of the Namib desert. I will not list them. They all have different qualities and it depends on what you are after. My clear favorite for the record was Wolwedans where we spent one night at the lodge camp and the other night at the dune camp. Whichever you prefer is really your call. Lodge Camp is luxurious, Dune Camp is authentic. The food at both is truly exceptional – perhaps the best I’ve had on safari.
The Wolwedans area is absolutely, absolutely amazing. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe the landscape and yet that is half the wonder of this place. The atmosphere and aura are amazing to behold and the changing colors of the dunes defy belief. You may not see much wildlife, but what you do see, it has a special beauty and commands the utmost respect. For my money, seeing a gemsbok in the Namib desert is more impressive than a lion in the Masai Mara any day.
Another area we visited in the south and one that is probably on most people’s “Namibia hit list” is Sossusvlei. It was the only time I saw anyone else the entire trip. It’s Namibia’s number one tourist attraction and it shows but, even if it gives you a hard time, it’s worth a visit. The mystique of the desert is somewhat lost here but, they are the tallest sand dunes in the world and they are incredible. My advice, which will make more sense when you’re there, is to drive past the famous dunes and into a less visited area called Deadvli (you’ll need a 4WD car). Get there as soon as possible while the shadows are long. I guarantee a surprise.
While in the South we squeezed in a couple of extras. One morning we hit a balloon over the dunes. If you’re a balloon virgin, this is a great place to lose your cherry. I was and I love it – despite my fear of heights.
I hate horses, camels stink and elephants are too uncomfortable to ride, so quad biking is always at the top of my list. The Namib desert is a very fragile environment so at first the eco-tourist in you may feel a little uneasy at the thought of quad biking. Two hours later you’ll be sitting on a sand dune as the sun sets with a vodka and tonic in hand and your morals will be forgotten. Trust me, this rocks. I don’t see anyone jumping for joy as they ride across the desert on these modern camels.
We then headed north to Swakopmund on the coast. The initial reaction? What are we doing here? So Windhoek looks like Venice. But my opinion changed. If you follow one amazing desert landscape with another amazing desert landscape, and then another amazing desert landscape, it’s possible to get a little jaded and lose perspective. In hindsight, and the mind-blowing four days we were about to embark on, I’m glad we had such a short time.
At least not because we had time to practice shark fishing. You have two options; By boat or on the beach. Logical thinking might assume that a boat would equate to more success and bigger fish. Not a bit of it. Choose the beach – without a doubt. Even if you’ve fished a hundred times or never held a rod in your life, I urge you to give it a go. It is totally unique and totally exciting. Unfortunately, I cannot say more because any description of that day from me, I fear, will only deepen the wounds of John’s pride. Suffice it to say we have had a lot of success as a “collective”. The cool part is that they all returned to the ocean.
Then we started what was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip. Schoeman Fly-In Safari of the Skeleton Coast. For the next three nights and four days I was bombarded relentlessly with incredible scenery, thrilling experiences, fascinating knowledge, infectious enthusiasm and an African-desert-drop-dead-gorgeous-mind. -Blow-reliable time.
I feel like I’ve traveled a bit. I’ve ridden a motorcycle from Calcutta to London, lived in the jungles of Belize for six weeks, lived in rivers in Canada, played football in Japan, traveled the Karakoram Highway, lived on deserted islands in the Philippines, camped in Lawrence of Arabia’s favorite area. Desert Wadi Rum……I could go on.
I have been fortunate enough to experience the A list of safaris in Africa. I’ve traveled with Robin Hurt and Kerr and Downey. I’ve been to Abu’s camp in Botswana, rode horses with PJ and Barney, seen a leopard kill…..again, I could go on. But nothing, and I mean nothing, touches Schoeman Safari.
I don’t want to try to describe it. Two reasons. First, I can’t. Secondly, the best thing about a Schoeman trip is how beautifully the brothers unfold the desert before your eyes and ears. Every day is opening new doors for new surprises and for you. Schoeman has lived here all his life. It shows – they are crazy – you will be too. But in that craziness is an inexhaustible source of knowledge and a passion to share it. I never knew such a place as the Skeleton Coast existed on this planet (Henk Schoeman – the youngest brother and our guide – is sure that the recent pictures of the Mars exodus were taken here).
The Skelton Coast was shown to me by one of the Scomans and to see it in this style was absolutely final. This is the real McCoy. No competition.
It’s hard work though. The planes and Land Rovers are old and uncomfortable. The pace is relentless and the camps are basic – but certainly adequate. Food is not great – it is logically impossible for it to be good.
But that’s what makes this trip so great and so real. Living in the Namib desert is no walk in the park, and to be honest, if the Himba people survive years of drought, you can manage a tough four-day trek. I guarantee you will be completely stunned when you land at the sight of the first camp and you have yet to experience the land-rover tobogganing, the Welwitsia plant, the Bushmen artwork, the roaring sand dunes (the most amazing thing I have ever seen). heard of), desert elephants, bread baked in coffee percolators, shipwrecks, quartz kaleidoscopes, seal colonies….
But above and beyond all this, you will experience pure, complete and completely untouched wilderness.
A rare and incredibly beautiful thing.
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