Mountain hikes and rock art

Monday, September 22, 2014
Khorixas, Namibia
Saturday night was another cold one despite my having the radiator on in my room all night. I couldn't wait to leave the cold damp coast and return to the interior and the hot lands.

Julie was well on the way to recovery but we had a new batch of sick people on the truck when we left on Sunday morning . Alison, Dave, Alan and Ifor were all ill. We would eventually be heading inland but for an hour or so we travelled north along the bleak coastal plain. This was the start of the "Skeleton Coast" and we drove down to the shore at one point to see one of the wrecks.
A little further north was Cape Cross, where two crosses commemorate the arrival of Portuguese explorers and where today is found a huge colony of Cape Fur seals. There were thousands of them on the beach, clambering over the rocks and splashing about in the sea. They were very noisy and gave off a foul smell which did not go down too well with the poorly members of our contingent. It was a spectacular sight however. We watched them from a wooden walkway which took us right through their midst. There were huge male seals and many females suckling young.
Soon after leaving Cape Cross we turned away from the coast and almost immediately noticed an improvement in the temperature. By the time we stopped for lunch it was hot. Once again our driver had found us a tree under which to rest for a while, no mean feat in such a barren environment
Back on the road again we made our way towards Brandberg Mountain. We stopped on the way at a roadside jewellery stall run by members of the Himba tribe. They wear animal skins and the women smear themselves with a mixture of ochre, butter and herbs giving their bodies an orange hue. They have elaborate head adornments made from cow hide and smear their hair with the same dye to mould it into amazing dreadlocks. They didn't seem too pleased to see us as first as we were reluctant to make any purchases. Blessed told us all about the tribe and gave them some money. What they really wanted though was water and they were delighted when we passed over some of our bottled water. By the time we left they were much more friendly and crowded around to inspect our cameras and look at their pictures in the displays.
It was about 4 o'clock when we reach Brandberg Mountain. Those not feeling well stayed on the truck and continued to the lodge where we would be staying overnight. The rest of us prepared for a hike into the mountains to see the ancient rock paintings known generally by one of the main figures - the "White Lady" (actually now believed to be a male figure) .
We had a local guide called Enid who was from the Damara Tribe. She was a real character and very knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna we passed on the way. She also amused us by demonstrating the weird clicking noises that form part of their language. It was very hot and it was a much longer and more strenuous walk than any of us was expecting. We followed dried up river beds and clambered over boulders to reach the cave containing the paintings. It was worth the effort though as the paintings were colourful and quite extensive. They were from 3000 to 5000 years old and depicted hunters, shamans and various animals. Before descending Enid pointed out the nearby peak which was the highest in Namibia.
Later, on the drive to the lodge, we were lucky enough to see some desert elephants. Sightings are unusual apparently and Blessed said he had only seen them on two previous occasions.

The accommodation at the Brandberg White Lady Lodge was basic. My chalet was attractively decorated but very dark and the shower that I was so looking forward to turned out to be little more than a dribble . At dinner the staff entertained us with some singing and dancing. The singing was lovely as they were so enthusiastic about it swapping from lilting melodies which they sang in parts, to fun songs including one called "Toyota Cressida". I had unwittingly chosen to sit at the end of the table nearest the performers and so was the first to be dragged up to join the dancers.
Back in my cabin I found that the bathroom light had given out completely and the one in the bedroom was little more than a glow. There was no mains electricity and so I couldn't plug in any of my electronic gadgets. I worked in the light of my laptop for a little while but soon gave up and went to bed, untying the mosquito net for the first time on this trip.
We were up soon after 6.00 next morning and found that the elephants had been around in the night. Some of the group had seen them and most had heard them. Somehow they had got into the gardens of the lodge and ripped up some of their shrubs.
After breakfast (attended by more or less the full group as most were feeling a bit better) we set off for Twyfelfontein where we would be climbing into the mountains again, this time to see rock engravings. On the way we stopped at another roadside stall run by Himba people (whom we had seen yesterday) and also members of the Herero tribe. These colourful ladies wore full length dresses, modelled on the crinolines which they saw worn by the wives of the early settlers. They measured their wealth in cattle and the ladies' pointed head wear represented the horns of cattle . They all posed for photos and chatted with us for a while.
To reach the rock engravings at Twyfelfontein we had to clamber up a rocky hillside. There were engravings on nearly every flat surface around us, mostly depicting animals such as giraffes, buffalo and elephant but also some surprising ones such as penguins and seals. The most famous of the figures represented a shaman taking the form of a lion.
After our usual picnic lunch we drove a short distance to see the "Organ Pipes", some rather unusual rock structures, before continuing to the Petrified Forest. Here a guide showed us many examples of petrified tree trunks. These lay partly buried in the earth and several were more than 40 m in length. The trees were conifers and had grown in Central Africa and had been carried south to Namibia during the ice age. They are said to be between 260 and 280 million years old. He also showed us several examples of Namibia's national flower, the Welwitschia. This straggly low growing plant can survive for over 1000 years and has a strange solid root system beneath its double leaves, enabling it to grow in this arid environment
Monday night's accommodation was classified as "Simple" like the previous night's and so we did not have high expectations of the Khorixas Lodge. It turned out to be much more salubrious however. Again we had individual chalets but each had mains electricity and so there was a fridge, sockets, proper lighting and even air con. Geraldine and I cooled down with a couple of beers by the pool. Alison sat with us. She was on the mend but not up to alcohol yet. Blessed and Mbusi were cooking dinner for us. It was a lovely warm evening and we strolled across to the camp site where they had tables set up and laid for us. We ate beefsteaks, sausages, boiled potatoes and salad by candlelight and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We all made a point of congratulating them on the food. We had been feeling recently that they were both getting a bit stressed and worried that we were not happy. Their future careers depend on the comments that we guests put on our feedback forms at the end of the trip . In fact everybody is having a great time but occasionally Blessed clearly isn't sure if we're being serious or not. At the very basic accommodation Julie had boarded the bus to go to the main lodge for dinner and announced to everyone that she was very sorry about her appearance but as there had been no iron in her room, she was having to wear a creased shirt. Blessed's face was a picture until we convinced him that this was English humour.
Hopefully the next few days will see them relax a bit more as they have told us that there are now fewer long drives and more days spent game viewing. That all starts tomorrow when we reach the first of the many game parks on the itinerary, Etosha National Park.