Touring around Damaraland 79km
Total km driven since leaving Nairobi 12,430km
We had almost arrived at Twyfelfontein in Damaraland on the late afternoon of Gillian’s birthday (December 5th) when my parents bumped into us … on the side of the road plugging a puncture we’d picked up along the way. This would not be the last of our car trouble in this area.
We made our way to our campsite, which was a stunning location set against the boulder-strewn Mowani Mountains looking down over open grassy plains towards the dry Haub River in the Twyfelfontein Valley. Babcia (Granny in Polish) and Mzee (Elder in KiSwahili) as my folks are known to most had spent the last couple of days viewing dinosaur tracks near Mt Etjo whilst we were up in Hoanib. They’d rented a double cab Hilux, at least a decade newer than ours, with all the camping kit they need and would be with us for the next 8 days/7 nights of our safari. Our first night with them was a great reunion, with a lovely dinner up at the main lodge, before which we enjoyed icy cold sundowners atop the boulders, looking west over miles and miles of empty Africa.
We’d been to the Twyfelfontein Valley before but had camped in a different area and had definitely not seen all the attractions of the area. The following morning, we started with something new, the petrified remnants of a 260 million year old forest in the middle of the desert. Our little tour there was absolutely fascinating and the petrified trees that have been naturally exposed (they haven’t undertaken any excavations there) were very impressive. The old pine trees had apparently been washed down into this location by an old river before being buried for eons, only to resurface in the midst of one of the driest places on earth. Measuring up to 40m long and nearly 2m in diameter, the stone was easily identifiable as having been a tree, with rings, bark and branch stubs all easily visible. We also saw our first Welwitschias, a pre-historic looking plant unique to Namibia, made up of a woody core and two large leaves with either male or female flowering fronds in between.
On the way back to camp, things with the car took a turn for the worst – it didn’t feel right and started making some strange noises – so we stopped and found that wheel was incredibly hot. I hoped it was something easily repairable, like sticking brakes … but it wasn’t, so we went off in search of a mechanic and absolutely hit jackpot, with my new Maurice, the Workshop Manager from a nearby lodge. He took one look at the car and promptly diagnosed worn wheel bearings, which was pretty disastrous given we were in the middle of nowhere and miles – 240km as we later figured out – from the nearest spare parts merchant. It was obvious that we weren’t going any further without some serious intervention …
… which Maurice provided. He rang around and found the spares we needed in Outjo, then offered to personally drive me there – ‘it’s only a 5 hour round trip’ he said – the following day to go and buy them. So, whilst Gillian, Kian, Babcia and Mzee all stayed to explore more of Damaraland, Maurice and I toddled off in his little Nissan ‘bakkie’ (what Southern Africans call a pick-up truck) to what turned out to be a rather charming little town, with a surprisingly well-stocked spare parts shop, where I was also able to get a replacement tyre for the one I’d written off in Kaokoland. Our little outing ended up being a full day event and it was 9pm before Maurice had fitted everything back to the car and pronounced it good to go – he was an absolute saviour.
Whilst Maurice and I were listening to Christmas tunes and having lunch in the local bakery, the rest of Team Charleson were out taking in some of the spectacular rock formations that Twyfelfontein is famous for. They saw ‘Burnt Mountain’, a hill with a solidified lava flow at the foot of a 12km long volcanic ridge, but the ‘Organ Pipes’ were their favourite … stacks of columnar basalt from volcanic eruptions under the earth’s surface, some as tall as 100m though only a portion of this was exposed, that seemed to have been carefully arranged along the side of a river.
They also visited the nearby petroglyphs, carved into sandstone by San Bushmen over a long period of time between 4-8,000 years ago, close to a water source where they used to hunt, which may well have become a sacred site for them. The thousands of engravings depicted instantly recognisable animals, including giraffe, gemsbok, lion, leopard, rhino, hornbills and even seals and penguins, which seemed a little unlikely given the harsh, arid surroundings but the guide suggested this was because they roamed and hunted as far as the coast.
Despite having had very different experiences in Damaraland, we all enjoyed our stay there. Tomorrow we have a long drive ahead of us as we head west towards the Atlantic Ocean and a drive along the famed Skeleton Coast.