Saturday 19th of August. Year 2017. Swakopmund.
We had a lot of adventure in the Skeleton coast, like the jet flight above the Namib desert, the shipwrecks and the seal colonies, like the 4×4 expedition to Sandwich Harbour and the horse riding to the moon landscape. And after that we planned our route to go deep into the dead land of Damaraland. This land is a place where you don’t want to get lost, you don’t want to run out of oil or water, where there are almost no possibilities of calling anyone unless you have a satellite telephone and where you drive hundreds of kilometres without getting in touch with any human. Only wild animals like lions, rhinos, elephants or zebras and rocks. Red Rocks, yellow rocks and brown rocks, black rocks…
In the southern part of Damaraland there is the magic mountain of Spitzkoppe. It was magic for the Bushmen tribes that lived there for centuries. They left their thoughts on the rocks by craving them, their ancestors in a cemetery and their souls in every empty space between the incredible rock formations of Spitzkoppe. We arrived there in the afternoon, just in time to watch the sunset from the natural rock bridge. We looked for a hidden place between rocks to stop our car, set the table and two chairs and prepare everything for a late dinner.
Before having dinner, we started walking to discover the most beautiful rock formations of Spitzkoppe. Spitzkoppe is a group of bald granite peaks or bornhardts located between Usakos and Swakopmund in the Namib desert of Namibia. The highest outcrop rises about 1784 meters (5857 feet) above sea level. The peaks stand out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. We ended the day under the stone bridge, where we sat looking at the orange African sun going down to the horizon while reflecting its light to the red sandstones of Spitzkoppe.
We went down to find our car and cooked some fried eggs and a salad. We ate them under the starriest sky we have ever seen. The dry atmosphere of the Damaraland desert and the fact that there is no sign of civilization in hundreds of kilometres around allows you to watch thousands of stars that cannot be seen from a city.
I, as a physicist, studied astronomy and astrophysics at university. My interest in science started by looking at the stars and wondering about the secrets that lay above our heads in the outer space. I asked my parents to buy me a Celestron telescope and memorized the stars in the northern hemisphere. However, the sky of the southern hemisphere is completely unknown for me. I only could identify Orion because it is also seen from Catalonia while looking to the south and the Southern Cross.
A starriest sky like that one can only be seen from few places on Earth because of light pollution and when I am in one of those places I find it difficult to go to bed. What would you do if you are watching the most interesting and fascinating film of last years and it lasts from sunset to sunrise?
Sunday 20th of August. Year 2017. Spitzkoppe.
The day after we got up very early and had a shower. It is important to know that all around Spitzkoppe massif there are some campsites where you can park your car. But forget about having water, electricity or toilets. It is like doing free camping but paying. If you want to spend a night in Spitzkoppe to watch the mountain and its rocks in the sunset and sunrise you need to reserve a campsite some months before. Once you cross the gates you can look for the free space you prefer in some quadrat kilometres around the massif.
But as I said, we had a shower. I point this out because here there is an important tip: Have the shower in the afternoon and not in the morning. The shower hangs from a tree branch and there are four stone walls and one wooden door that protects you from not desired sights. No roof. But the water is heated with the sun. And of course, after a really cold night in August, there was no hot water in the tank from the day before. 5ºC outside, an orange sunrise in the East horizon and really cold water falling from a tree branch.
After the cold shower we wanted to discover some other places around Spitzkoppe, like the Bushmen cemetery or extremely rare rock formations, before departing towards the Skeleton Coast again. It was time to look for the biggest Fur Seal colony in the world with more than 200.000 seals!
From Spitzkoppe we took D1918 road. It is a dusty and bumpy road that is transformed to a salt road when you reach the always misty Namibian coast. Driving in a salt road is dangerous because it can be slippery, but it is one of the biggest pleasures in Namibia because it is so smooth and silent… above all after driving hundreds of kilometres thinking that we were going to crash because of the unexpected bumps on the road.
We arrived at Cape Cross at mid-morning. Before entering the protected area we signed at the entrance. Then we drove some kilometres till the coast and parked the car. There were only two more cars there and thousands of seals. The first thing you notice in Cape Cross is the disgusting smell. The smell of the seals surprised us and it was difficult to breath all along our visit to their colony.
However, we felt like Robinson Crusoe discovering a virgin landscape occupied by its inhabitants from centuries or millennia before we reached that place. The seals looked at us with indifference. Anyway, there is a wooden path where you can walk in a safer mode without being attacked by any seal.
We focused our GoPro and Reflex cameras to the babies. It is plenty of young fur seals sucking with their mums. We also spotted a jackal looking for lunch… which baby seal was living its last day? Mother nature in action. We didn’t see it having lunch, but we were hungry despite the smell. We took the car and drove to a picnic area 2 kilometres from the colony.
The smell there was not bad, just fresh salty seawater smell. We parked our car in front of the beach and cooked some pasta looking at thousands of birds migrating from north to south all along the seashore.
With full stomachs it was time to drive again inland through those roads that the car rental company told us they would not cover any damage that could happen to us or to the car. Damaraland is hard and some roads are just impossible. We wanted to go to the Rhino Save Camp, in the middle of nowhere between the Messum Crater and Twelfontein.
To arrive to this place there is no road in the maps. We discovered this place through satellite images and we knew that it was one of the best places to spot wildlife in Damaraland. This camp is located in the dry riverbed of Ugab river in the border between Erongo and Kunene regions. As it didn’t appear in the maps, I created an expedition route map with some satellite images with geological features seen from above that could help us to navigate through that deadly landscape.
Between the Messum Crater and Twelfontein there is no road, only wheel tracks on the land. It is very hard and exhausting to drive there. We were going very slow. Slower than expected in our plan. And we feared to have a flat tire at any moment. The rocks were sharp and hot because of the heat in the desert. We crossed some canyons, dry riverbeds and after one hour under that heat without reaching our next point, our moral started to decrease.