Back to the back of beyond

Winter rolled in overnight. Our sleeping bags kept the icicles at bay but our faces were cold and Philippa and I woke to the sound of condensation dripping from inside the tent. Time to get up. I’m so glad we brought a thermos for hot water from the night before. We made hot chocolate and sat in shafts of sunshine. I climbed the boulder in front of the tents and watched a river of golden sunlight slip through a gap in the cliffs and pour across the valley. The rim of the mountains around us glowed orange and slowly it spread towards us.


I lit a fire for breakfast and we hauled Tom out of his “man cave”. We’d bought a tub of oats and some golden syrup; porridge really hits the spot on these cold mornings. We were also looking forward to hot showers as the nice man had lit a fire under our water tank, and the bathroom between the rocks with its polished concrete floor and white porcelain fittings looked so inviting. Irritatingly though there was no water, and when the pump was finally turned on, there was no hot water. Another day dusty and unwashed.


We stowed the tents which always takes longer than setting them up. We bought firewood from the guy at the gate (always good to have some in hand) and set off on the road back to Twyfelfontein. At the turnoff to the engravings, off to the side of the road is the Damara Living Museum, and we pulled into the parking area. The Damara are some of the original inhabitants of Namibia along with the San (Bushmen) people and they were “given” a large area as a homeland by the German colonists in return for their support against the Herero people, But few if any still live the traditional life (unlike the Himba). The entrance was between two massive boulders and we were greeted there by large lady in a traditional goatskin skirt. There can’t be many museums where the docent is topless but she was businesslike and efficient, filling in a receipt for our entry and she led us into the re-creation of a traditional Damara village, full of Damara people demonstrating a bygone way of life.
Three women were making traditional necklaces; chipping pieces of ostrich egg into tiny disks and drilling holes in them. Three burly young men showed how to make fire by rotating a stick (with a little sand) in another piece of wood.
Another young guy, his face alive with enthusiasm, translated while a woman explained how they used different plants (and elephant dung) for various medicines.
He made us repeat the names with the click language they speak.
There are four different clicks all made with the tongue; one that sounds like a “tsk”, one like you are encouraging a horse, one like you are doing an impression of a horse, and one that a horse might make if you gave it a piece of sugar to suck on. The whole thing was done so well and we really learned a lot. Tom especially enjoyed playing a game with an older guy which in times past was used to settle disputes by different tribes. Variations of it seem to be played across Africa – its called Bao in Kenya and involves the movement of seeds or stones across holes in the sand (or pieces of wood) and a game can take all day. T was soon giving the guy a run for his money. The young interpreter said if Tom lost, they won the car… I said if he won, he could stay and choose a wife.
We spent the rest of the day trying to hitch a ride with Tom looking a bit crestfallen. I’m sure the car rental place will understand. Seriously though, if you are in Twyfelfontein, don’t miss the Damara Living Museum – its great.
So, on past the Organ Pipes and Burnt Mountain, still looking like a colliery byproduct in South Wales, and instead of following the turnaround at the end off the track, we drove on through it, up a very steeo slope that made us all wonder if it really was a track. The Garmin insisted that it was and so we persisted and soon found ourselves climbing on a reasonable gravel trail over the hills.
We drove first through Mars and then across the moon. Stark rocky landscapes strewn with evenly sized and spaced stones; first red and then grey. When I mentioned my planets analogy to Philippa she said “and last night was Neptune – it was that cold”.


The track wasn’t great, but compared to Kaokoland it was a newly rolled French autoroute and we picked our way through mountains of burnt orange, past the massive Doros Crater and with the Brandenberg Mountain looming off in the misty distance like a rocky aircraft carrier.

We drove past our turnoff to find a little spring Chris Card told us about (thanks Chris), which was a forty minute detour.
Not surprisingly it was clearly once an important Damara settlement area with a large village now reduced to rocky piles, and the dry stone walls of several houses from a later settlement.


There is also a rock overhang forming a reasonable cave which must have been used by some of the original nomads wandering though. It felt like we were at the birthplace of mankind. Judging by the profusion of tracks the waterhole was clearly well used. Chris said they had seen rhino there in the past. We saw six ostriches running off to the horizon.

Back on the track, with the sun beginning to descend, we did too; through landscape which became ever more rocky and unforgiving. Great shafts of grey/black rock stuck out of the ground at an angle which suggested it had either been hurled there or was struggling to escape. Cliffs closed in on us and sharp rocks stuck out of the track, impossible to avoid. The trail went ever steeper down through the gorge towards the Ugab river. At one point we passed a spring which had left pools of water across the trail and exposed short, near vertical drops between one part of the track and the next. It was challenging stuff as the light began to fade. But soon we were crossing the sandy riverbed to the SRT Rhino camp, a conservation station set up by a charity. A man on a bike appeared and checked us into the campsite. We were the only ones there, and parked in a small enclosure by the sign saying to beware of the elephants and lions. And not to feed them. We didn’t.

Categories: Namibia

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