T ABLE OF C ONTENTS
INTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................................ 2
NAMIB DESERT.................................................................................................................................. 3
PARTICULARS OF THE TRIP .............................................................................................................. 5
DESERT RHINO CAMP ....................................................................................................................... 9
OKIHIRONGA ELEPHANT CAMP ....................................................................................................15
SOSSUSVLEI DESERT LODGE..........................................................................................................25
All Travel Arrangements on this designed trip made by www.AfricaEasy.com
Why did we want to revisit this country which we had explored through an itinerary
which included Botswana, Zimbabwe and Cape Town a few years ago? Simple answer:
we never saw the Skeleton Coast and gorgeous reddesert dunes for which the country
is so justly famous. In addition, therewere three animals we particularly wanted to see
there: the desert adaptedelephants, the desert adapted black rhinoceros, and the
desert adaptedlions. There was one insect we hoped to see as well: the head-
standerbeetle. As you will soon learn, we were successful at three out of four! We
were lucky enough to see other animal species we had not anticipated.
Namibia has been independent only since 1990, after having been the German
colony of Southwest Africa until World War I when it became a protectorate of South
Africa. After a lengthy uprising, the United Nations negotiated a settlement between
the insurgents and the South African government which created a free & independent
It has a large territory, being a slightly more than half the size of Alaska. Because it
is occupied by two deserts, the country has less than 1 percent arable land.
The two deserts are the Kalahari in the southern part and the Namib running the
length of the Atlantic Coast stretching as far as 100 miles inland. One great
achievement of this arid nation is the fact that it is the first country in the world
to include environmental protection in its constitution ; therefore about 14% of the land
is set aside as parks and preserves.
The Namib is the world’s oldest desert at 55 million years and it boasts the highest sand
dunes in the world: the tallest is 980 feet high. The entire desert is part of the
preserved land of the country. The Kuiseb River bisects the desert creating two fairly
different terrains. South of the river is the great sand sea characterized by parallel
sand dunes with regular troughs between them. The great red hills are beautiful in
their austerity and in the colors which the sunlight and shadow paint on their silky
sides. Gravel terraces beneath the sands contain the world’s largest deposit of gem
North of the river gravel and rock plains stretch as far as one can see, even from an
airplane. This area is harsher in appearance and even less hospitable to animal &
insect life. It is this part of the Namib that is called the Skeleton Coast . The treacherous
currents of the Atlantic Ocean have driven many a ship onto this desert where both
ships and humans per ish; there i s no fresh water available. Even a sailor who
survived the shipwreck would not last long on the Skeleton Coast.
There is less than one inch of rain annually in the Namib but dense fogs roll in off
the Atlantic and create heavy dews which add another l.6 inches of moisture to the
terrain. The temperatures at midday in the desert can reach 150 degrees F. The
marvel here is that anything living survives the drought and heat.
P ARTICULARS OF THE T RIP
The Kalahari Desert covers most of Botswana and parts of Namibia and South
Africa. Though it is a semi-arid plateau, it is not a true desert because in its total
territory it can receive between 5 and 20 inches of rain annually. Geologists also use
animal life present to determine what is true desert and what is not. In the Kalahari
many animals live who cannot survive in a true desert. Furthermore, many humans
have lived in the Kalahari for millennia but that is not true of the Namib where only
scattered small tribes have lived nomadic lives in the past. Three lodges in Namibia
were our homes away from home while we explored this dramatic and beautiful
country. We used small planes to travel from one of these camps to the next.
Africa Easy, a company owned and operated by Nadia Eckhardt, planned this safari for us.
She also introduced us to two other people who wanted to see Namibia, so Peter
and Sharon Robinson became our traveling companions. It was a good match and we
enjoyed the wonders of the country together.
After only an hour in the capital city of Windhoek, we boarded the first of the small, single
engine planes that would ferry us about the country from north to south. Our first
destination was Desert Rhino Camp in the north. During this flight we observed the
rocky and barren terrain north of the dividing River Kuiseb.
There were cindery, sharp and craggy granite spines and spires occasionally jutting out of
the flat land and we could see lines of green trees & bushes which follow the courses of
dry rivers under which run enough water to allow them to live on despite no rain
and no standing surface waters.
To say this land looked uninhabitable would be an understatement ; it actually
looked like I would expect the “seas” on the moon to appear. It even seemed that
there was no atmosphere above the gasping earth. It was beyond “dry” and to
emphasize the point, the sandy areas were interlaced with salt pans of dazzling but
deadly glaring white. A true “dead zone.” But awe-inspiring nonetheless.
The black ridges, aretes, and crag testified to the ancient pedigree of this desert
like dinosaur bones emerging from the antediluvian sands. Even the gravelly sands
here lacked the brilliant reds of the desert dune area; these sands were light ochres
or even grayish smears below the plane’s wingtips.
Surprisingly, there was a kind of beauty to be seen in the sand patterns
where it appeared that water had flowed at some time in the past. These sand
patterns looked like the prominent veins in leaves or lightning forks in the sky.
When had these patterns been created was an unanswered question.
Another wonderful phenomenon came into view as our young pilot, Waldemar, took us
out to the coastline at Cape Cross. As we flew above the blue green Atlantic and
looked back at the shore, there were granite boulders lining the water’s edge and
others out in the shallows. When we passed over the area at a lower altitude,
these rocks metamorphosed into lounging, swimming, fighting, and “arfing” fur seals
thousands of them. We were told that about 20,000 stay in this area year round. They
are wonderfully fluids creatures in the water but awkward and endearing o n
land. We greatly enjoyed seei ng them sporting in their natural environment.
As we flew for two hours over this desolation (perhaps a preview of what more
of the earth will resemble due to catastrophic climate change?), the four us
wondered behind the deafening noise of the engine where in all this chaos of rock,
sand and gravel could there be hidden a tourist camp for visiting desert rhinos?
We landed on a plateau in the middle of nowhere on a clearly manmade strip but
as in Ozymandias , the desert stretched around like a wasteland. As we hesitantly and
more than a little apprehensively disembarked the noisy dragonfly which had
deposited us here in this “nothingness,” we heard another loud engine sound
prophesying some other human beings in the area. Sure enough, the Land Rover
appeared on the rise from the desert floor onto our plateau and we felt relief at our
D ESERT R HINO C AMP
Desert Rhino Camp was about a 45 minute ride from the landing spot and
the rock-strewn suggestion of a path took us through an amazing transformation in
scenery. It was surreal to see actual greenery growing alongside our way. Bitter and
bitten plants to be sure, but something alive anyway. In the distance we spied 4-
legged creatures which our driver identified as a small herd of Oryx - a very
handsome desert-adapted antelope which we had not expected. Dramatic
sweptback, long and ridged horns characterize this animal’s lovely head with
beautiful facial markings of dark and light stripes to minimize sun glare. Both
males and females sport these horns, but the males are larger. It turned out we would
see this beautiful animal everywhere in the three sectors of the Namib that we visited.
Then we were startled to come across real grasses growing in this desiccated
and sandy soil. Of course, it was dried up but apparently serves as food for the
creatures living in this oasis. The biggest plant surprise was the incredible
Welwitschia - a plant which grows only in this desert (and it is the only species in its
genus as well). It is composed of two leathery leaves but it can grow to over 6 feet
tall. Talk about desert adaptation; this plant is the epitome of that evolutionary fact. The
two huge leaves are so torn and shredded by the drought and desert winds that
the plant often looks feathery from a distance. In another testament to the powers
of adaptation, there is even a beetle who lives only
in the welwitschia plant; it is
called the “Dontus Sexpuntatus” or pushmepulya bug. How’s that for specialization?
The road into camp would prove to be typical for all the safari routes we used here: twisty,
rock-filled, steep, and potholed. So our safari van provided a carnival-like thrill ride of
bumps, jolts, squeals, and dips. Sharon christened the roads “The Drake Passage on Land.”
Anyone who has crossed that treacherous passage from South America to the Antarctic
Peninsula will understand what she meant. Desert Rhino Camp was a typical tourist
accommodation in Africa with tent cabins for tourists and a central dining/library area.
Everything was open to the air. There were breezes to keep us all from melting in the heat
that lay on the land with a very heavy hand.
We enjoyed meeting the staff and taking the exciting safari rides for which Southern & E
Africa are so well known.
Our quest here was to see the desert-adapted black rhinoceros and we were fortunate
enough to see one 22 year old male called by the Rhino Trackers “Don’t Worry.” I imagine
they enjoyed his willingness to be found and stared at by the eager tourists and they know
as long as he was in the area they didn’t have to worry about producing a rhino encounter.
The Rhino Trackers were interesting fellows who come from backgrounds as diverse as
former rhino poachers to trained aides to the Minnesota Zoo and National Geographic
Magazine. They spend every day tracking the 22 or so rhinos who live in this area,
monitoring their health, their habits, the distances they travel as well as protecting
them from poaching. Their record during the last 10 years has been excellent in
preventing their charges from falling to the specimen hunters and in providing
much needed information for the animal researchers and conservators. Our biggest
surprise came when our Range Rover hurried through an ever darkening twilight to
meet the Rhino Trackers who had found “Don’t Worry” for us.
He was grazing along a swampy area among tall grasses (I guess the first surprise was
that there was a swampy area in this desert)! The second part of our astonishment was
the fact that we were told to get out of the vehicle, cross a very low and watery
spot over a log, stay as quiet as possible and emerge on the bank only about a
football field’s length from the rhino.
So there we stood looking at this behemoth who was well aware of our presence
with no protection whatever. He shambled a bit closer to us perhaps as curious
about us as we were about him but not nearly as vulnerable as we felt. He was
huge and seemed to grow exponentially as he edged closer. So we got excellent views
of him as well as good close up pictures. “Don’t Worry” might have been his name, but
we could not stop worrying that he might charge and we knew we’d never get back
over the log bridge, the watery area and up the hill to the car without his
reaching us first! But we were completely safe as it turned out and thrilled to see
this huge creature living in such an unlikely environment.
At a dinner one night we conversed with Agnes who runs Desert Rhino Camp, with
Raymond the coordinator & driver for the safaris and Consigy who was the grandson
of a reformed rhino hunter. We felt that we had real person-to-person conversations
with these three people and learned much about why Namibia is already a successful
African nation in a sea of failed states. The interest in education that all three of
these young people evinced, as well as their personal ambitions to better their own lives,
that of their families, and the society at large, was inspiring. They all saw the value of
learning skills that were marketable, of conserving their country’s natural resources
and making sure that they were used to benefit all, and of preserving the natural
They were politically aware of what was going on in the country and were eager to see
Namibia prosper and progress. Raymond and Agnes were continuing their educations
at university and clearly had profited from their earlier basic education.
O KIHIRONGA E LEPHANT C AMP
Our airplane safari from Desert Rhino Camp to the Okihironga Elephant Camp was
another amazing experience because the landscapes beneath the plane were so
beautiful yet so stark and unforgiving .
AERIAL VIEW ELEPHANT CAMP
This camp was much plusher than the tent camp in the north of the country. We
had individual bungalows decorated with wonderful native arts - masks, weapons and
shields, pots and paintings. The owner is a native Namibian of German extraction who
has decided himself to helping create a real tourist industry for his home country.
The camp is in a long valley, bone dry of course, except for some natural springs and
a river nearby which attracts the wildlife which of course brings the tourists. This
valley is one in a series of gorges cutting through the area creating mesas, buttes,
and marvelous panoramas o f des er t scenery. The river we explored ev er y day wa
s shallow but overflowing and it supported grasses, trees and shrubs for the animals
and birds of the area. Such a green and beautiful oasis in this unbelievably dry
Yet another example of the urge to improve Namibia was Pieter’s choice of his second
in command, our young guide, Pollan. As we learned during our stay, this young man
(in his 20s) is a member of the tribe nomadic people who have lived in this area for
centuries. These people live a Stone Age kind of life with very little interaction and
interest in the miracles of the 21 century.
They live in small extended family groups of about 20-30 individuals and create
temporary “towns” in the open desert by erecting thorny fences in a circle to protect
themselves from wild animals. Inside the circle are their rude huts created of cattle dung
and wattle. They have some cattle, goats, and sheep as well as chickens and try to grow
some vegetables in the inhospitable sands.
The women are bare
breasted and wear sarong
type skirts around their
waists anchored by metal
belts. They cover their
bodies with the red powdery
dust of the desert to protect
themselves from sunburn
and from biting insects.
Because water is such a
their clothing is not
washed in it - rather
costumes over smoky
fires to cleanse them by
encouraging the smoke
to flow through the
We thought perhaps the purpose was insure that no insects or other parasites could live in
the materials. The method of cleaning certainly did not remove dirt from them.
The day we visited the village, the men were all away searching out the next site for a village
since they would soon be leaving this current place because all the grass was drying
up or being eaten completely by the village’s livestock. The women willingly
demonstrated how they created their red powders, how they made a fragrance to
apply to their bodies, how they made beads for decoration, how they cleaned their
clothes. They seemed totally incurious about us or where we might have come from or
even why we had come. It seemed their only contact with our world was their
eagerness to sell their bead creations and other jewelry to us.
Yet Pollan was a son of this tribe and laughed and talked with the ladies all the while
we visited. In just one generation he emerged from this primitive tribe to join the new
Namibia. He went to school in the settlement below the Elephant Camp and was
hired by Pieter the camp owner who further educated him in the skills it takes to run
a tourist operation. So now when Pieter goes to another of his camps, Pollan runs
this one. He has learned to drive, to guide, to keep records of business, to use the
computer, to direct the cooks and waiters and housekeeping personal, to make
small repairs of things around the camp as well as the vehicles. Pollan has ambition
and wants to better himself even further. And this new Namibia has given him the
chance to be something other than a nomadic shepherd. Another example of the
importance of education in personal and national advancement.
Another good thing to report is that Pollan did not have to sacrifice his tracking
skills to advance in the tourist industry above the ranks of driver/guide. Because
we were the only four people in camp during our visit, Pollan himself took us out on
the safari drives in search of the rare desert-adapted elephants found only in Mali and
here in Namibia. He was persistent and successful in getting us to see the six member
herd in the area in two different habitats on two different days.
We first saw them in the lush river canyon where the grasses were prolific and the
waters ran clear and cold. We drove after them and found the 6 shambling along
slowly towards water which Pollan told us was at least another 10 miles away. They
had already walked at least 40 miles during the late afternoon and night of the day
The following morning, we returned to the lush valley and found they had disappeared.
We followed the valley to an exit into the grasslands and then onto the desert
Then after much on foot tracking as well as some exciting 4 wheel runs up steep
hills and onto to barren and rocky plateaus, he spotted them on a long stretch of
open desert with no water or vegetation in sight. Their gait was interesting. They walked
very slowly and stopped frequently as though to rest. When they halted,
it was almost as if they were playing the child’s game of “Statues” as they seemed
to freeze in place, even with one foot raised and kept there. The matriarch with the
young one was definitely the leader in this deadly game. She appeared to be giving
the older male at the rear of their single file like a true respite since he seemed to be
having the most trouble keeping the pace. As she started to walk again, the line moved
like train cars catching up with a restarted engine. The last one to get going was the
aging bull. Pollan estimated they had about another two hours before reaching the next
What was most amazing to us was the fact that the elephants left the sanctuary of
the canyon with its abundant water and grass to trudge across the desert spaces
to reach another such place. Why not just stay in the canyon? Were they practicing
some sort of “conservation” by n o t completely using up the resources at one place
before moving out? Did the Himba folks practice such care in saving their
environment by constantly moving on? Pollan told us that there is another similarly
sized herd that lives in this area and they too constantly migrate between water and
food sources. They had pushed on in another direction about two days before we
arrived and we were told that unless we stayed about 4 days, we would not see them.
By the same token, if other guests arrived on this day or in the next 2-3 days, they would
not see the herd we were lucky enough to observe.
Since the Elephant Camp was the only spot where we had a chance of seeing the
desert adapted lions, we were disappointed but not surprised when we were told
that there are currently no lions in this area due to poaching and to normal migratory
patterns of the prey species which the lions follow. But that’s the way it is when you
come to see animals in their own environments - it is not a zoo and the animals are
free to be wherever they want to be! Safaris are more exciting that way - it’s like a hunt
And we were fortunate to see other animals as we searched for the elephants. In the cool
of the mornings, creatures were out and about.
S OSSUSVLEI D ESERT L ODGE
Our last camp in Namibia was the plushest of all the Sossusvlei Desert Lodge and
it was quite beautiful, set in a wide valley with the most amazing mountains
forming the shape of the valley. The mountains were especially magical because of the
many colors they displayed depending on the quality of light, sunshine, shadow,
clouds, and even misty rains going on at any one time. And the colors changed quickly
and dramatically in such rapid succession. Every look into the valley was different.
The bungalows were built from native stone and blended perfectly with their
settings. The insides were air-conditioned, fitted with modern furniture and the
most delicious bedding. The communal dining room served gourmet meals and
there was even an observatory staffed by a real astronomer! The skies at night over
this marvelous setting were spectacular. Even the “jewel box” star cluster in Orion’s
scabbard could be seen with the naked eye! That’s means no light pollution at all or any
haze or dust in the air.
Besides the nightly astronomy shows, the resort offered quad rides in the dunes,
morning and afternoon safari drives, a really special gift shop with local creations as
well as interesting gift ideas, and very good reference library to research
questions that arose about the animals and plants and geology in the area.
Our biggest curiosity was about the “fairy rings” we observed as we flew into the
valley a couple of miles from the Lodge. These were round patterns all over the
ground where nothing grew inside the circle. Each was outlined with plants but nothing
seemed able to survive in the interior. The pilot told us that these were still a mystery,
despite several studies which were undertaken to understand the phenomenon.
The circles are fairly uniform in size though there are larger and smaller ones. The
floor of the valley is sandy with scattered small stones as well and there is plant life
thriving there - just not inside the circles. Some theories have been advanced but
none of them is universally accepted as the answer. The most likely one seemed to be
that the surrounding plants exuded a toxin that prevented other plants from growing
inside, but that was disproved. Well, needless to say the library gave us no answer
either. So -- another African mystery.
Our two most wonderful sightings in this camp were the African Wild Cat which looks
very like a slightly larger than normal domestic cat but we had not seen one before and
the amazing Aardwolf which we had never seen before either.
The Aardwolf is not kin to wolves or canids of any kind but looks rather like a small
hyena sloping back, spotted fur, pointed nose, and very erect ears. But he does not prey
on animals living or dead. His diet is chiefly subterranean termites. In what our guide
stated was unusual behavior, we saw this creature in full sunshine. Normally they are
nocturnal, but this fellow as very obliging so we got an excellent picture of him as well.
Our guide, Siegfried, was another example of Namibian emphasis on education
and self-improvement. Siegfried had
as a janitor/baggage handler in a
tourist lodge and soon realized that the driver/guides made much more money
that he could ever aspire to doing the job he could perform.
So he decided that he must get more training and experience so he could move
ahead. He took advantage of some training courses offered in Windhoek but
decided he needed more in-depth education than was available in Namibia. So he
applied to the Phinda training program in South Africa at one of the premier
national parks of that country. He was accepted and lived and worked there for a
couple of years as he learned about the flora, fauna, geology and geography of
Southern Africa. He also received training in how to guide effectively, manage safari
vehicles, and work with difficult tourists as well as the usual kind. Then he returned to
Namibia with his new credentials and has been a tour guide and assistant camp
manager for over 10 years.
Of course, our conversations were with people in the tourist trade, so the emphasis
was on education/training for those careers. But Martin, a British citizen who lives in
Namibia full-time, assured us that educational opportunities are available in
many fields through the emphasis on childhood and high school education.
University is not free but is priced within the range of many students and financial
support is also available.
Siegfried took us on the long trip that would take us to our chance to experience
the gorgeous red dunes and to see the head-stander beetle. It was 110 kms away from
our beautiful lodge but we got to see more of the countryside from the road rather
than the air, so the ride was an extra too.
Before we reached the legendary red dunes, the land was less harsh with a little more
greenery showing. In addition, we saw several of the chalk white salt pans created
by the migrating dunes which dam up rivers, even small rivulets of water during
the rainy season, and prevent those waters from reaching the sea or a larger river. As
these waters evaporate during the dry season, the salt percolates out and leaves these
“dead vleis” or salt pans.
The red dunes rose up like the Rockies when you approach them from
Calgary. Suddenly, there they are even though the land was pancake flat as we
drove between Sossusvlei and the coastal area. This is the area of the world where
stand the tallest sand dunes in the world. Their sides are steep but silky looking and
the sun and the shadows make magic of their curves and slumps and sharp crests.
The most famous of the dunes is # 45 not b e c aus e it is the tallest (263 feet high) but
it is closest to the tourist route and is therefore the most photographed. It was already
busy with climbers when we reached it.
We were taken to Big Daddy dune which is 1066 feet tall. It was the one we were to climb.
And so we did! It is the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area.
On the way up we were lucky enough to see the famous head-stander beetle
though it was a little late in the day to see him actually perform his headstand routine
to get a drink. But Siegfried assured us we were seeing the very insect we had wanted
to see. So tiny and black but a lot lighter than we are, so I think he climbs the dunes
more easily than we did.
This dune area is magnificent and it is the biggest tourist draw in all Namibia.
There is an unexpected amount of vegetation on the dunes because of the dense
fogs that roll in from the Atlantic to condense into thick dews (the beetle and other
small creatures drink from this supply as does the vegetation). There are also
underground springs which supply water to the plants. The play of light on these iron
rich dunes creates a most amazing palette of colors during the day - everything
from pinks, to ambers, to orange, deep red, mauve, and cream! Simply splendid!
What a wonderful final day in Namibia! Our visit there was totally fulfilling and
visually spectacular! With silent thanks to Nadia, the tour planner extraordinaire for
Southern Africa, we got on our small plane the next morning and flew to Walvis Bay
on the coast to board the Clipper Odyssey on its repositioning cruise up to Douala,
Cameroon, where our journey with Zegrahm Expeditions would begin.
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