Overlanding in Africa: Part 1

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Apr 27, 2008

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Friday, January 25, 2008

It's been a few days now since we left Cape Town and any kind of civilisation. We've just arrived in Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast of Namibia after 5 days of overlanding up the West coast of Southern Africa. It's been an incredible few days and start to our trip. Here's a rundown of what we've been up to...
As I mentioned briefly, we went up Table Mountain on Saturday morning. I woke up early to check the mountain was open and as soon as we knew it was we jumped in a Rikki and headed up the cablecar. The weather was fantastic and the views of Cape Town uninterrupted. We had to wait for a while for the abseil guys to arrive but as soon as they did I was the first down that day. The Table Mountain abseil is the highest commercial abseil in the World, dropping over 100m from the top of the 1060m tall mountain. Half way down, the cliff face drops away into an overhang and you are left, suspended by the rope, with just the views to keep you company. Later that day we took a trip to the waterfront to grab our last supplies for the trip and met the other guys that we would be traveling with for the next three weeks.
We left on the truck at 8am and the first few hours was just spent getting to know eachother. There's a great mix of people in the group - English, Irish, Australians, Americans, Germans and Zimbabweans. We're the youngest on the tour, with most people having just left university. We arrived at Highlands, a campsite in the shadow of the Cederburg Mountains on the West coast of South Africa. It was 41degrees while pitching our tents so everyone took the opportunity to swim in the pool after lunch, but we were warned to be careful when walking around due to there being lots of scorpions. The campsite had incredible views of the mountains and five minutes walk away was a river, so me and two of the other guys decided to take a walk down and have a swim. After wading through knee-high mud and tree-high plants on the river bank we got into the main river channel and the water was beautiful. We were assured there were no crocs, but no such assurances were made about snakes.
The campsite was surrounded by the Klawer winery vineyards and so later that day we had a wine tasting session before getting ready for dinner. We tried 7 different wines which were all pretty good, except the port which I discreetly poured back. Everyone took an early first night after a trip to the bar, and the night was uneventful except for the camp's dog, Arusha, breaking into our tent.
After an early start we left the campsite to drive up North to the Orange River on the Namibian border. It was the hottest day of the trip so far with temperatures reaching 45degrees. We swam in the river that afternoon and went to the bar in the evening. The bar had fantastic views of the moon reflecting over the river and we spent a few hours talking with other backpackers about their experiences of countries that we're going to visit, and above all the interesting stories of traveling in South America.
When Lotte and I were walking back to the tents we spotted a scorpion on the steps of the toilets. I've never heard anyone scream so much in my life. As she ran away, I saw another scorpion scuttle into the bush behind her. It later turned out that it was one of Southern Africa's most dangerous scorpions and a bite can kill you in hours. We didn't go back to the toilets to clean our teeth that night.
We awoke looking forward to telling everyone about the scorpions we had seen but they had already gathered that we had spotted one as Lotte's screams had woken up the entire campsite. Later that morning we went out for a three hour canoeing trip along the Orange River, but spent most of the time swimming to cool off and capsizing other boats. Lotte was convinced it looked like crocodile water, and though it wasn't, two of the other guys did see a black snake swimming along.
As soon as we got back into camp we packed up the truck and crossed the border into Namibia. The change was obvious because the once-tarmac roads soon turned into bone-chattering gravel roads. We drove up to Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the World. It was obvious that we were the backpackers as, while others were sipping on champagne around us, we were drinking wine from a plastic bag from cut-off plastic bottle bottoms - a stroke of genius from the engineer on the bus. The sunset was awesome but matched by an equally stunning moon-rise that we saw from the bus on the way to our campsite.
In the bar that night, the walls were decorated with various car number plates. There was one on the wall which said "007 SK" that Caitlin tried her very best to get for me but with no success.
Today was just used to get halfway between Orange River and the Namib Desert so we camped at a really remote campsite in Helminghausen. That night we ate Kudu steaks and chips for dinner, cooked on the fire, which tasted amazing.
Yesterday we camped in the Namib Desert at a campsite near Sossusvlei, the location of the World's highest sand dunes. After lunch we took a two hour dune walk with our guide Franz who had grown up in the desert. His knowledge was second to none and listening to his explanation about how the dunes formed and evolved was fascinating. At one point he pushed his hand into the sand and pulled out a lizard, which he then put over his mouth to show how the lizard was biting his fingers. He also managed to uncover the nest of a baboon spider just by looking at the sand. The highlight of the walk was reaching Dead Vlei which I had seen in so many photos, and running down the dunes and stacking it right and the bottom. Sand went everywhere.
That evening we hiked up Dune 45 to watch the sunset over the desert and then ran down in a tenth of the time it took to get up.
Our campsite was right in the middle of the desert and whilst eating dinner we were surrounded by jackals who watched from a distance. The starry night sky was better than I have ever seen before.

Today we arrived in Swakopmund where we'll be staying for three nights. We've booked in to do a dolphin cruise and quad biking over the dunes.
Until then...
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