By Jason & Lyndon Duplessis
We had a solid 5 hour drive to get to our first camp in Damaraland, Doro Nawas. Most of the drive was on gravel road and although it was smooth sailing for the most part you should always be on the lookout for sudden dips or bumps in the road because if you are traveling too fast it is a recipe for disaster. We arrived in camp and thought that we had dodged some bullets only to discover the following morning that we had a flat tire. Apparently a piece of wire had found its way into the tire and overnight it had gone almost completely flat. Luckily for us it happened in camp and there was no problem and only a small fee getting it fixed up.
Back to our arrival, the camp itself is set up on a nice rocky hill and we arrived right around the middle of the day during a bit of a heat wave so to say it was hot would be an understatement. Between 110-115 degree temperature, a scorching sun and rocks soaking all of that heat in it can be rather unpleasant even for someone growing up in Texas. Luckily the rooms provide shade and a fan not to mention the camp’s swimming pool which we frequented during our stay. It cooled down significantly in the evening and night but even then I would classify it as warm and because of this we declined the option of having our bed pulled out and sleeping under the stars instead opting for the steady breeze from the ceiling fan.
The terrain and geography is really stunning, reminiscent of the southwest United States. The area is arid and mountainous with igneous rocks all around. Desert adapted vegetation thrives such as the different types of Euphorbia and the national plant, the Welwitschia mirabilis. Oryx was the most commonly seen antelope in the area followed by springbok and the occasional Kudu.
For our first activity our guide, Reinhold, was keen on finding the desert adapted elephant herd that had been in the area the day before. We left camp at about 4 after some snacks at camp and set off on the trail of elephant. It was still blazing hot at that time so be sure to bring more water than you think is necessary because you should be taking in a lot of it. Our first stop on the elephant search was a local village that has a permanent source of water. The elephant are said to frequent the area and we see signs of their passing all around. Unfortunately we had missed them by a couple hours so we had to start tracking them from there. For the remainder of our afternoon drive it seemed like we were on their heels but in the end we found tracks that appeared to go up into the mountains to a point we could not follow. The next day in fact our guide talked to a fellow guide who said he had gone on foot from the point the tracks ended and he had seen the elephants moving down the far slope of the mountain. On occasion the elephants move out of the area for 4-5 days at time and it just so happened that they chose the days we were in Damaraland.
That evening we had a nice dinner at the camp and discussed our planned itinerary for the following day with our guide. The following morning we set off for Twyfelfontein, Namibia’s first World Heritage Site and the location of the largest collection of San rock art in Africa. The rock art consists of animals found in the area and also contains maps of waterholes. A few of them are different in that they depict combinations of animal and man, said to be witchdoctors transforming into said animals. There is quite a bit of walking involved in the tour and as mentioned earlier it is quite hot so come prepared with water and some nice sturdy shoes/boots.
After resting up a bit we took off to go take a look at a few of the interesting natural formations in the area including the “Burnt Mountain” and the “Organ Pipes.” The Burnt Mountain is actually somewhat of a literal term as basaltic rock magma rising from the depths did indeed scorch sections of organic sediment turning it a nice crisp black. The Organ Pipes, just a stones throw from the Burnt Mountain, can also trace their origins to rising magma. In their case they are the remains of molten rock pushing through the Earth’s surface.
Lastly, we took a visit to the “Living Museum,” which is a recreated traditional Damara village. Some of the highlights include getting a lesson on many useful and interesting herbal remedies, taking a look at the village blacksmith and his tools, seeing how leather, mostly goat, is tanned and used, the making of traditional jewelry, and of course some singing and dancing. Photographs are encouraged and the people are extremely friendly.
Our drive from Doro Nawas Camp to Damaraland Camp was nice and easy and took about 45 minutes to an hour. There is a parking spot for non 4×4 vehicles that we took advantage of and we waited about 20 minutes to be picked up by a couple guides. Damaraland Camp has a great location with a couple of fantastic walking trails and beautiful scenery all around. The activities are nearly identical to Doro Nawas as they are so close in proximity.
The highlight of our stay in the area had to be our rhino tracking activity. We had to get up quite early in the morning, get in a quick breakfast and then drive about an hour to get to a hotspot of sorts for rhino. We waited a little while in the vehicle while the rhino trackers (3 in all) went to a nearby hill to scout the area. After a short while they signaled for us to make our way towards them. It was a bit of a hike over some rocky terrain but it was well worth it because there were two nice black rhinos waiting for us in the distance. We managed to get some very nice photos and even got relatively close before they heard us and took off. Once they decided to go it was amazing watching them and listening to them. Where we had been creeping silently and struggling with the terrain they were loud and unbelievably fast. By the time we got back to the vehicle we had worked up an appetite and ate our picnic lunches, all the while feeling very pleased with the outcome of our rhino tracking.
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