Friday, 1 February 2008

Sand dunes and leaks

We said goodbye to Amai in Oshikato and headed out on our own again. We had intended to buy fuel at a town close to the Angolan border. However some of these towns turned out to be more of a dot on the map and when we blinked we must have missed it. We just hoped we had enough diesel to last us to Opuwo. The one item that these towns sell in abundance is beer and there is a proliferation of bottle stores in the North West of Namibia. Often they are helpfully are combined with a builders merchant or motor spares shop.

The mopane and savanna gradually gave way to flooded sand plains and palm trees with a light dusting of new grass. Many animals were grazing in the flooded area. Most were either skinny, pregnant or tending their young, evidently just holding out for the rain. In Etosha we saw a Springbok doe licking her newborn clean. The foal was already on its feet trying to jump around.

Having journeyed north from Botswana we were again very close to having the sun overhead. The last time it was overhead we getting stuck in the mud.

The route to Epupa Falls took us along the Kunene River which forms the border with Angola. This is one of the few permanent rivers in Namibia and the road was a bit like a rollercoaster as we drove up and down all the dry river beds running into it. I had been scanning the skies in the distance hoping for rain clouds which might herald a flash flood, there was plenty of higher ground to escape to. However, despite all the rain we have seen my hopes were in vain. The rain has brought the area to life though. Many charred and sunburnt plants were giving way to blooms and trees were just bursting with leaves. Even out of bone dry sand, flowers were emerging. Each day brought more greenery and blooms.

As usual the actual distance bore little resemblance to those quoted on our maps and on road signs, with our ever dwindling diesel supply we eventually arrived at the Epupa Falls. This was a delightful area where from the surface it all just looks like a few rapids but when you walk over the rocks right to the edge all the water gushes down a 37 metre deep gash in the rock with Baobab tress clinging to the sides of the ravine.

This area is home of the Himba. The Himba women paint themselves (skin and hair) in red earth even their garments are red. They are bare breasted and wear leather skirts. The men seem to wear jeans and a shirt. There are many signs inviting one to visit their villages where one is expected to pay to take photographs, I have heard as much as 50N$ per photo is demanded. At the Falls we met a group pf Estonians who had visited a village and really enjoyed the experience until they were virtually mobbed by vendors of trinkets and souvenirs which they ended up buying many items because they felt both guilty and pressurised. I do appreciate that these cultures are very fragile and need support but we did not feel comfortable with this kind of support. Especially considering the number of beer bottle dumps co-located with the towns.

On the road to Opuwo we did find a fuel vendor so we bought 5litres from their drum after carefully inspecting it for impurities and water, just in case. We need not have been so worried. We made it all the way to Opuwo, past the first two fuel stations, through a stop sign, without quite stopping, and onto the forecourt of the BP station. Where, if Jan Toots and his truck had not been in the way we would have rolled to the diesel pump. Much to the amazement of Jan we had travelled 2030 kilometres on one tanking (including jerry cans) and had to use our emergency 5litres to make the final ten metres to the pump.

In Opuwo we were similarly mobbed by Himba who wanted to sell to us. When I politely declined, all the souvenirs are made of wood and seeds anyway which we would not be permitted to take into either Australia or New Zealand, I was accused of refusing to support their community.

Driving south to Sesfontein we drove down the steepest of roads. From the top I could barely see the bottom a few hundred metres down. It was a very slow descent for us. We saw no other vehicles on the whole stretch of road and I wondered how the trucks managed.

At Sesfontein we stayed at a local community run campsite on the hillside and attended to “personal administration”. The next morning, as I emerged from the tent, I could just make out a figure on the bend of the road one kilometre or so away, watching the campsite. As I was preparing breakfast the lad suddenly appeared with his bundle which he dropped near to the car. I greeted him and after a while he retired to the shade to watch us. As we were preparing to leave two women from the village turned up to re-connect the water supply (which the village and campsite share). The boy picked up his bundle and bolted, we never saw him again.

Hoping to spot desert dwelling elephants we took a drive down the ephemeral Hoanib river bed. We drew a blank on the elephants but Gavin did manage to complete “fiendish” sudoku puzzle he had been trying to figure out for ages. Carrying on the road south we saw these special elephants, giraffes and of course springbok.

The next morning after a windy and wet night we came across a car with four passengers and wheels all over the show. Late last night they sustained their second puncture and with no means to repair it were a bit stuck. We were the first car to pass by so we picked up another hitchhiker for a short while.

That night we made a lovely bush camp in the setting sun reflecting off Brandberg, Namibias highest mountain, nestled into some rocks for shelter from the wind. In the morning everything was shrouded in mist.

That day, whilst stopping to look at Welwitchias, which may not be traditionally beautiful they do live for 2000 years, we noticed a new leak of diesel from the main fuel tank.

Closer inspection, which involved removing the step and tank guard, which resulted in more bolts shearing off, revealed a pretty knackered fuel tank that is not really repairable. Let’s hope that our third and final fuel tank does not develop any holes now. Our jerry cans, thanks Pete, have come in really useful for siphoning fuel out of the tanks as well as increasing our range.

After a not so happy day we took refuge that night at the lovely Save the Rhino Trust Base Camp on the Ugab river. Although water was a bit scarce we did have hot showers out of a bucket. In the morning a ranger showed us the tracks of lion which had walked 50metres from our car during the night. Also, for the first time in Africa, there was loads of information about the area, the Rhinos and other fauna and flora.

From there it was all downhill to the sea. It was quite strange how the desert melts into the ocean. The very long, straight and flat shoreline is flanked by a hard salt road (not sure what happens when it rains, which is pretty seldom) and big fish fishing must be the main pursuit. Just about both of the other cars on the road had very long fishing rods attached to the front bumper like a big radio aerial.

Yesterday morning, I noticed a new fluid leaking from the bottom of the car. Oh no, it looked like brake fluid. But no the brake fluid levels were fine. It was clear salty fluid and as the sun rose higher it all dried off. It was there again this morning. All we can think is that despite spending ages washing and sluicing Etosha lime out of every nook and cranny, much of the salts still remain and is attracting moisture overnight. We think it is only happening now because there is much more moisture on the coast. Does anyone else have an explanation?

After finding tools, screws and more lovely shops to buy food from in Walvis Bay we are now camped in the sand dunes close to Swakopmund where Gavin has carried out yet more repairs to the car.