Traveling Through Nowhere, Namibia

Empty.

Namibia is, in a word, empty. I used to think Wyoming was empty, but this place gives new meaning to the word. We’ve driven approximately 600 kilometers across Namibia and have literally seen zero towns, except for about 20 huts on the border.

Namibia is a country meant to be road-tripped across. There’s virtually zero public transport outside of the cities, so we’ve rented (against all advice) a two wheel drive Ford Fiesta.

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Our first stop in this rugged country was the Fish River Canyon in Ais Ais.

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This is the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. The Fish River formed via tectonic movement, unlike the Grand Canyon which was formed completely by erosion from the Colorado River. Namibia is currently in a pretty brutal drought, and the Fish River is currently dry, save for a couple pools of water, and hiking into the canyon is forbidden until the rains come and cool things down.

From Ais Ais we travelled northwest to the town of Lüderitz, a very German colonial town sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Namib Desert. The winds blowing across the desert cause a nearly unbearable temperature (~110 F), but still not as bad as my summer spent in Blythe, CA. Lüderitz is also the fishing and diamond mining capital of Southern Africa, and both practices are pretty environmentally destructive.

About 10 kilometers east of Lüderitz is the ghost town of Kolmanskop, a diamond mining community started in 1902, and abandoned in 1956.

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After a couple days in Lüderitz we moved further north to Sossusvlei, home to the red sand dunes that characterize Namibia.

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Formed millions of years ago, the soft red sands of Sossusvlei were deposited here from the Kalahari Desert. The countless dunes reach up to 325 meters, and the area contains many ‘vleis’, dry lake beds which rarely hold any water, such as the aptly named Dead Vlei.

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Next on the itinerary was the eerie shores of the Skeleton Coast. Arguably the most inhospitable waters in the world, this huge stretch of coast has claimed the lives of many ships and sailors.

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From here we continued north, toward Epupa falls on the Angolan border. Approximately two thirds up Namibia, there is a fence across the country known as the Veterinary Cordon Fence, or the Red Line, built to keep livestock safe from diseases. This fence is also the unofficial dividing line between German Africa and Africa Africa, the haves and the have-nots. Because few tourists make their way to the Skeleton Coast and beyond (north), this part of Namibia sees little money. It is also the beginning of Himba territory, and the start of seeing the typical African wildlife from the road.

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Getting to the falls required driving 400 kilometers on roads that appeared to be built by some sadistic engineer with a particular hatred of midsize sedans. I’ve driven plenty of gravel roads but this was ridiculous. After being warned from locals not to go, we wisely ventured forth. It was slow going, and required stopping the car multiple times to remove rocks and help guide. Then came Robbies Pass, a very steep, very rocky series of mountain passes that are barely meant for any vehicle to traverse.

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We managed to get the car up, but only after completely unloading it at the bottom and subsequently carrying all our gear and food up the road. Even then the only way to get up was going in reverse. Miraculously the car made it, and we watched a 4×4 drive to the bottom of the pass, stare at it, and turn around.

After eight hours of driving on these brutal gravel and rocky roads, we made it to Epupa Falls with only one (more) flat tire.

The Kunene River designates the border between Namibia and Angola. Due to a recent civil war (with random, yet to be discovered land mines), a dismal economy and a flag that looks like this, we will not be entering Angola.

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However, the Kunene River is home to Epupa Falls, a cavernous stretch of river and waterfalls that claims the lives of tourists and locals on a yearly basis. But beside their deadly allure, they are also extremely beautiful.

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Above the falls are a series of natural pools that are protected from the falls, as well as from the many crocodiles and hippos that call the Kunene home (I also found one rather large crocodile using my sleeping hammock for shade one afternoon).

We visited a very traditional Himba village while at the falls, which was an amazing experience. While many of these types of visits are tourist traps and very akin to a trip to the zoo, this was a beautiful, fascinating experience, led by a Himba man who left the traditional ways but still does tours. He is constantly changing which village he brings people to so that tourists are not too intrusive. The Himba are semi-nomadic cattle herders who move 2-3 times a year, following the rains. They form patriarchal societies, with a chief and several wives. The boys stay at the village where the girls move to their partner’s village after marriage, which happens after puberty. The Himba women use clay in their hair and have specific decorations on their body denoting age, marital status and number of children.

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Living an amazingly simple life, these traditional villages have no electricity or running water, and they sleep on cow hides in small huts made from sticks and cow dung.

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Epupa Falls marked the climax of our trip through Namibia. We are now traveling south to the capital city of Windhoek, where I will be traveling to Botswana en route to Zimbabwe in the coming days. These past days at the falls came with tough news for my friend, Canada, and she will sadly be flying home immediately. We’ve had a lot of fun together but I can’t help but feel depressed that she has so much to deal with and that we won’t be able to see the rest of Africa together. Also, as was expected, my good friend Juanjo is traveling back home to Cape Town, and I’ll surely miss his optimism and uplifting spirit.

But traveling alone has its perks and I am excited to continue my journey! I’ve already met lots of people doing similar overland trips and I intend to meet up with them and others along the way.

Good luck Canada, I’ll see you in Nepal! Or Ethiopia! Or Bolivia! Just not Canada.

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5 thoughts on “Traveling Through Nowhere, Namibia

  1. looks like you are having some great travels!

    Tlalli and I drove on a washboard gravel road in my pickup truck in Baja to see cave paintings but we never made it because the road was shaking the truck apart.

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  2. Hey Adam, it’s Dave Larom, your brother Jim’s friend who you visited in the hospital a few years ago. I spent four months in Namibia as part of a meteorological experiment back in 1992. Try to go to our base camp, Etosha National Park. Insane wildlife! There’s also a biological research station called Gobabeb that is amazing if you can get a permit to visit. Best of luck… enjoy that very very unique part of the world.

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  3. PS If you get back into South Africa on your way northeast, I recommend hiking the Drakensberg. Really beautiful mountains and unique plants (cycad forest). Also, though I suspect you won’t be going back to Capetown, the Cape Fynbos is the richest floral regime in the world with something like 8000 species of flowering plants. On our hike there it seemed like no plant looked the same. Vic Falls is cool if touristy, and I really liked my brief glimpse of Zambia. Bring me some food plant or nut/fruit tree seeds from your journey!

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