My stay at Shipwreck Lodge was incredibly encouraging and exhilarating! The first thing I noticed was that it was busy, and not just with a few guests. They were almost at full capacity, with groups of guests from Italy, Germany, South Africa, the Ukraine, Austria, and the USA. This was so wonderful to see, as it gave me additional hope that we will see this happening in multiple destinations in the coming months and that perhaps we are at a time when, with the vaccinations, and with consideration for others as we travel, the tourism industry is finally on the rebound.
My first afternoon, I was lucky enough to join up with a like-minded Austrian lady, Anita, who was also traveling solo, and head out on the ATVs for a ride across the dunes. This was one of the most exhilarating activities of my entire trip. The scenery was just so incredible with 360-degree views of the gorgeous white sand dunes, which to our west appeared to just fall into the unforgiving waves of the ocean. It was also amazing to me how well Shimi (our guide) knew the dunes, as a wrong turn could have led us straight over the edge of a very steep and long incline which could easily have ended in injuries or even death, especially as both Anita and I were both loving the chance to ride the ATVs at full throttle!! Unfortunately, Anita was a day ahead of me on her trip and was leaving the next morning for Hoanib Valley Camp, however I would join her there a day later. One of the many benefits of traveling is meeting new people from all over the world and making new friends.
Later that evening, the restaurant area of the lodge was buzzing with chatter from the various groups of guests talking about their days’ activities. Several had enjoyed a beach lunch, others a ride on the ATVs and more new arrivals who were just settling into the lodge. Hearing the group of older Americans, who were all in their 70’s, talking about their time out on the ATVs was so wonderful as they clearly had enjoyed every second, and experienced the same exhilarating feelings I had, although at a much more sedate pace than Shimi, Anita and I. Sadly, they were also leaving for their next destination in the morning, although with a stop-over in Swakopmund, I was able to recommend that they ate dinner at The Tug, which they immediately made reservations to do. They were at the beginning of a three-week trip to include Botswana, Zambia, and South Africa. I have a feeling they would have been great fun to travel with as they were clearly living for the moment and enjoying traveling again!
The next morning, I joined up with another engaging couple from the USA, Peter, and Thanes, who in this wildly small world had a connection to my past life in clinical research. It is always so incredible to me when you meet someone traveling on another continent only to find you have a common link. As an early riser, Shimi and I had gone out for another exhilarating ride across the dunes and found this one area with vivid patterns in the dunes, created from the moisture from the early mist rolling in from the ocean and the wind. Shimi said that he had never seen anything like it before in his six years working at Shipwreck. Check out the pictures below. What was fascinating, although not surprising, was that about three hours later that morning I went out again - it really was the most fun thing to do - with Shimi, Peter and Thanes, and we went back to the same area of the dunes and the patterns in the dunes were rapidly disappearing as they had lost any moisture and the wind was now blowing the sand in different directions. There was something quite spectacular being the in the dunes that you know are never going to be the same again as they are always moving and changing shape with the winds, the beauty of these dunes was so absorbing and so very different from the red sand dunes in Namib- Naukluft National Park. And, as Shimi noted, when we got off the bikes, and walked over to a slightly rocky area, we were walking on ground that had never been stepped on before. It is only by traveling to places such as this in the world, that you have an opportunity to have these unique experiences. It is truly quite mind-blowing when you stop and think about it!!
Early that afternoon the three of us enjoyed a drive to the beach with Shimi where we were greeted by a team from Shipwreck Lodge who I had seen depart much earlier in the morning, to set up a grill and make us a very delicious late lunch to enjoy on the beach right at the mouth of where the dry Hoarusib River meets the Atlantic Ocean. We chatted away about the many shipwrecks that had happened on the coast and were talking about how disheartening it must have been for those sailors who managed to survive the ocean and make it to shore only to find that they were in such a desolate place with no water to sustain then and no shelter from the harsh sun. Peter told us about the survivors of one wreck who had found a case of champagne had washed ashore with them and so they had drunk it to try to quench their thirst. With the tide coming in we packed up and headed back to the vehicle to go back to the lodge only to find that the battery was flat, thankfully unlike the shipwrecked sailors we could radio for assistance and patiently waited to be rescued. But in good survivor fashion, we did decide to re-open the cooler and have a few drinks while we waited!
Later in the afternoon we took a drive eastward along the Hoarusib Riverbed to see the lichen fields. Another interesting lesson learned about the region was that they have a variety of lichen which are black, green, and orange in color and so when it does rain or there is moisture in the air, which is often at the Skeleton Coast, it looks as though these are fields of different colors, adding another dimension to the variety of landscapes and colors in Namibia.
The next day was possibly my favorite day of the trip and was the drive from Shipwreck Lodge to Hoanib Valley Camp. It was also fun to know that I would meet up with Anita again, a friendly face in the desert.
Because I would be driving completely off-road between the two properties, I did have an escort, so I did not get lost! Starting out after an early breakfast, the route started in the Hoarusib Riverbed, which in one area reminded me so much of the scene in the Lion King where the wildebeest are stampeding through the canyon, before Mufasa is killed. With the high rock sides, I could easily imagine the scene in real life!
At one point we took a slight detour out of the riverbed to see the ‘Clay Castles’, a clay formation that looked as though they could have been sandcastles. I have to admit when the safari vehicle in front of me turned to the left and just disappeared through the bushes I was a little worried about taking my nice white, well sand colored at this point, rental car through the same gap, as I certainly wanted to return it in one piece without any damage, but I managed to steer it through without mishap and found myself in a very rocky area, such a complete change from the river bed, and a good deal rougher to drive on.
After taking a walk to the top of the clay castles we headed back to the riverbed, for another hour or so before it took a sharp left bed and we exited it to the right. Again, my escort vehicle disappeared as I drove through a very wooded area before arriving at an open area of red rocks. I could see the dust tracks ahead to my left so headed in that direction until he was back in view. A couple of hours driving across a much more rock-based area, finally took us to the meeting point, where the one escort would leave me and head back to Shipwreck Lodge and the next, from Hoanib Valley Camp, would take over.
My new escort was an incredible lady who went by Mama, she was a guide at Hoanib Valley Camp as was a real character who I thoroughly enjoyed meeting! The next part of the journey was about an hour and a half in the dry riverbed of the Hoinab River, which was totally different to the Hoarusib. Mama headed off into the distance having told me that she would just wait at the point where we needed to leave the riverbed, and that I should take my time and enjoy the drive. I did exactly that, enjoying watching out for various wildlife, but most of all enjoying the numerous towers of desert giraffe grazing on the acacia trees on the banks of the riverbed.
I arrived at Hoanib Valley Camp in time to have high tea in readiness for joining up with Anita and our guide to head out for sundowners. They had seen a small group of the desert adapted elephants earlier in the day, so our first challenge was to see if we could track them down again. Driving with sheer determination to catch up with them before dark, we succeeded, and I enjoyed my first sighting of these elephants before enjoying a lovely sundowners and time to hear about Anita’s journey across the day before. It truly was an action-packed day and one that I thoroughly enjoyed and felt accomplished to have completed without incident!!
With just one full day at Hoanib, the team had arranged for our guide to take Anita and I to a local Himba village the next morning. Visiting any local tribal village in Africa is always something that I highly recommend, but it can also be an experience that will impact individuals in different ways. For me it is always extremely humbling, and it is something I struggle with, in that I feel as though I am invading their privacy, but I also know that by purchasing some of their wares, which can sometimes be nothing I want at all, provides some income to them which they can use for food, crops or other necessities that I take for granted. This visit was to have some additional meaning that I would not learn until the next day. We visited a family of three women, one with a younger baby of about three months, another had a small boy of around eighteen months and the third was pregnant. The man of the family was apparently in the hospital, so these ladies were having to do everything for themselves. Their home consisted of very little with just a couple of mud huts to sleep in and a couple of pots and pans to cook on an open fire. They did all look ‘healthy’, and they were focused on keeping their children content and cool in the burning heat of the desert.
From the village we headed back to the Camp on the ‘road’ that I would be using the next day on my drive to Safarihoek, so I had the opportunity to know where I would be going, at least for the first part of the journey, although it was a very bumpy road. Imagine driving over a road with a significant ripple, effect creating a permanently bumpy ride for almost two hours and that was it!!
We arrived back at the lodge to find another group of six had arrived, although in a bit of a mishap their pilot had landed at the wrong airstrip, so their journey took quite a bit longer than planned, and I certainly took note to check the airstrip details for any of my clients traveling in the future!
The next morning, as anticipated I woke early and said my goodbyes to the team at Hoanib Valley Camp before driving away as the sun was just beginning to rise for what would be another incredible day filled with ‘’firsts” and my personal encounter with a young Himba woman. Bookmark this page to read more about my experiences between the sunsets in Namibia.