As we left swakopmund to travel along a small portion of the Skeleton Coast, the scenery changed yet again. The high sand dunes and rocks disappeared to flat empty desert with very little vegetation.
There were stranded boats along the shoreline, just abandoned since the cost of recovery was probably more than the boat. The name Skeleton Coast originally came from whale and seal bones that once littered the ground, from the whaling industry but is now just the ships caught by the dense fog and offshore rocks, running aground.
We turned off and followed the Messum river as we headed toward the Messum Crater and Brandberg Mountain. We had left later in the day so the sun was setting beautifully over the ocean, in a display of reds and pinks. My anticipation grew as the moon could be seen right away, full and white, just waiting for the Lunar Eclipse to start.
The road was surprisingly good as it seemed like a grader or some big equipment had come through to make a path way through the rock and gravel.
We looked for a spot to camp that would provide some protection from the wind and hopefully animals when we started passing huge walls of crumbling stone and rocks. I found out later that they are called the “Horse Heads” since the erosion caused parts to stick out and make the shapes of heads. We took shelter in a nook that to me, looked like the head of an animal with its mouth open, I tried out several animal noises until I decided on a sheep.
The moon was slowly turning an amber color, more mocha than red like it had been predicted as the earths shadow started from the bottom and slowly covered it completely in a Lunar Eclipse.
I walked out a little ways into the dry river bed next to us and the silence surrounded me completely. The wind had died down and so had the birds and bugs.
I just stood looking at the sky endlessly. Thinking about Franco and what a difference a year makes. Last August, a full Solar Eclipse happened where I live and we were in the best spot to see it completely covered. I remember going home that night and talking with Frank about what we both saw and thought about it. Almost one year later, I’m in the middle of the desert in Namibia, in Africa….without him.
It will be 6 months since his death in the few days after I arrive back to America. 6 months since that devastating knock on Susan’s door. I can’t even imagine the shock and strength it took for her to pick up the phone and dial my number. Knowing that what she had to tell me would be one of the hardest things she has ever had to say out loud.
To me, when you say it out loud, makes it real and there is no going back to “normal” once the words leave your lips.
All of these thoughts bombarded me as I stared at the amber moon and the million of stars that shone even brighter without the moonlight. I just closed my eyes and took deep breaths in and out, then slowly made my way back to the fire. After dinner, I made a quick escape to my tent, bidding the team goodnight and quietly saying no to coffee, sitting around the fire and watching the moon.
I’m sure Andrew and Laura felt the shift in my mood but let me go without questions.
The next morning, since we were so close to the sea, the dense fog pushed into the river bed and we couldn’t see very far away until it finally lifted after a few hours. We were finally able to see the beautiful campsite we had chosen. The wall of horse head shaped stones, the mountains and we got our first look at a plant called Welwitschia
It has 2 very broad green leaves that get torn apart by the wind so it appears to have many long leaves. The base looks almost like burned wood and the long leaves collect dew. There are male and female plants that each flower different pods and with the help of the wind and inserts, bloom. Most of the larger plants are anywhere from 1,000 – 2,500 years old. The edges of the leaves start to get very dried out and it looks almost like they were burned to ash by the harsh desert sun. We were told that the largest plant stands close to 6 feet tall. We never found that one but we found other really wide ones.
There was also field of lichens. Some bright green that dried to yellow. Some a rust colored red that appeared to stain the rocks. Small white flowers grew among the stones of a volcanic rock and slate hill.
While driving, Andrew noticed a small hole through the hill so we stopped and hiked to it to take a closer look. The rocks were so crumbly and dry that it sounded like I was walking on granola with that crunchy, cracking sound. There is a lot of iron in the stones and it makes swirling patterns in the rocks.
I stopped short of the top and let A & L continue up as I sat on an outcropping. Just looking out onto the Crater and seeing the tracks go for miles in either direction. Trying my best not to cry from the thoughts of the night prior. Feeling the heat of the sun burn into me. I have been collecting small stones since the beginning of the trip and added about 5 more from the Crater.
There was very little animal life but we saw some ostrich in the distance as we followed Laura’s map and directions.
We got to a steep sand dune that was a way out but the sand spurs were too deep and crossed for us to get through with our 4×4 so we took the alternate route out and I am so glad that we did. We were able to see so much more as we worked our way toward and around the Brandberg Mountain.
It’s called the “Burning Mountain” because the sun makes it a bright red color so it appears to glow red. It is the highest mountain in Namibia and it is stunning with peaks and valleys. There are caves there with paintings, one of the most famous is the “White Lady”. We weren’t able to go in and see it because it has a water source and the lions were there.
We made our way into Uis, to the Brandberg Rest Camped, owned by A & L’s great friend Basil. That night, the lodge was fully booked with the men and families of “The Round Table”. I don’t know anything about it, only that it is for men 40 and under and they do different things to help people. Basil is a “41’er” meaning he still goes to meetings and events but can not vote. The people were dressed to the nines in black tie wear. It was really strange to see all these fine dresses people coming out of tents covered in sand. They partied late into the night but I was able to sleep without any issues.
The next morning I was able to talk to and observe Basil. He is a very interesting man. He is very tall and built large like the men in my family. He has a bushy beard and a mop of hair with blond highlights from a previous adventure with the Dawgs. He has a quiet nature, enjoys his cigarettes and coffee. It’s very easy to sit in a comfortable silence and just enjoy the view of the Brandberg. There’s no questions or expectations from him. He just lets you breath in and let the mountain cleanse your soul. If you want to talk, he will answer your questions but he is content to just enjoy your company. I feel like he has experienced a lot of pain and keeps it to himself.
The lodge is very busy with tourists but we managed to get him to go on an overnight trip with us. Since the spot he wanted to take us to was fairly close, we made a plan to leave around 4pm. We had left about 30 minutes early but had to make stops to pick up oil, petrol and for the meat that we forgot at the lodge.
It was actually a wonderful thing that we were delayed because as we were driving, we started seeing fresh elephant tracks on the tire tracks. Turns out that most of the wildlife will choose to walk on the soft car tracks instead of the rock.
We came to an old stone well and were checking out the tracks when A & L started pointing from the other car and I turned to see a small herd of wild desert elephants coming through the trees. Bas recognized the big male, called “foot tracker” with a herd of cows and babies that were probably around 5 years old. Foot tracker came about 25 feet away from the car and Bas called out to him like an old friend, which he is. The elephant knows him since Bas will lead Game Trips and Foot tracker has been known to come up to Basil’s car, sniffing it and even putting his truck through the moon roof. They were very calm and did not feel threatened by us at all. I just was in wide eyed, jaw dropping awe at these beautiful creates. Foot tracker went and checked out the stone well, sticking his trunk down and finding it empty, he shook his head in a “no, nothing here” motion and the rest of the herd immediately turned and walked into the trees again. I have seen elephants up close and even rode on one in Thailand but those were trained elephants that lived on a tourist farm. If we hadn’t been delayed, we wouldn’t have seen them at all. The experience is so special.
We continued on our adventure as we headed to what Basil calls “Rhino Rock”. It’s a large black stone in the middle of the desert. The rhinos comes and have a dust roll and rub themselves again the rock. It was was from the afternoon sun, black, round and shiny from wear.
Bas then took us to his favorite tree and we camped in a beautiful canyon. A, L and I got busy setting up our tents as Basil just took out his camp chair made of cow hide and table. Cracking a beer, he watched us set up our tents. He had said he was going to sleep on the ground and motioned the the front wheel as his sleeping area. We had imagined him shivering in a tiny sleeping back when he pulled out a huge, thick bed. Complete with pillows, a mattress and a down blanket. All covered in a canvas cover that slid over the wheel to keep it in place. It looked incredibly comfortable and we had a good chuckle over it.
Andrew did all the cooking for the braai as Bas supervised from his chair, cigarette and beer in hand….telling Andrew how to not fuck it up.
We stayed up very late, drinking beer, red wine and a sweet 20 year old Port that had a delightful caramel finish. The moon was so bright in the canyon and I made sure to put my ear plugs in since I heard stories from Quinton about Basil’s snoring.
I stepped out of my tent that morning. The valley had a haze over it and Bas was just standing with his hands linked behind his back, just staring at his mountain. I hated to disturb him but he called out a cheerful greeting but he had hints of sadness behind his bushy beard and hair sticking in every direction. He left us early that morning after a quick coffee since he had to get back to the lodge and we packed up and continued down the route that he plotted for us. He, Laura and Andrew had spent hours going over the route and identifying the markers and turns. The remoteness of Namibia means that there is no such thing as being over prepared.
As we left the Brandberg further behind, we entered valleys of yellow dried grass. Herds of Springbok ran and jumped away from us, looking like kangaroos. Ostrich with tiny babies, Oryx with their long pointed horns and a lone spotted Hyena eyed us from a rock pile. His ears twitching as he listened and studied us.
The trail ran around a valley in between mountains and rock outcropping. We went through what he called “Zebra Canyon”. It has stripes of black and white stones going vertically and horizontally in crazy patterns. There were also black slate stones that looked like thousands of books lined up for miles.
We followed the route to our campsite for the night, “the cave”. It ended up being next to a sandstone rock outcropping that had the appearance like the rock was melting and the stones below it were super smooth from the wind. Some of the tops of the rocks had pockets of holes that almost looked drilled and streaked.
We were actually very close to the sea so there was a fog bank that next morning that hide the mountains across the valley. I just opened my tent flap and enjoyed the view until I realized that two heady little eyes were staring at me from the huge prehistoric looking grasshopper from outside my tent. I angrily shook the tent to get him off and he just chattered away with a loud buzzing noise. Laura labeled him my new best friend and she had entirely too much fun playing with it.
We started out and I was enjoying the lichen fields, welwitschia, milk bush and scenery when all of a sudden, Andrew pulled the car over and said “rhino tracks”. He and Laura got out to inspect and they were very fresh, maybe only an hour old and headed back where we had come. Andrew lamented that the rhino had probably passed by us when we were drinking our coffee, completely unaware. We continued and the rhino tracks stayed on the soft tire tracks too.
We had to cross the river bed and we were on constant alert for animals. The reeds and brush were very high and we had just exited when we saw a game vehicle up around a bend that was staring intently at something we couldn’t see. We slowed to a stop to not disturb them and looked around when Andrew cried out “elephant, just there”. He directed my gaze as I couldn’t see it when I finally saw it. It was half hidden behind a sand dune and small bushes. It had thrown red dirt over itself and was very camouflaged. We shut off the car and just sat in silence until he finally peeked around the sand dune and seeing that we posed no threat, walked out in all his glory and started eating the high grass again. He paid us no mind as first as he went number one and two and basically ate breakfast. He eventually turned and looked straight at us, assessing us and we didn’t want him to get upset so we slowly drove away and left him in peace. The other vehicle was long gone by this point as they couldn’t see him from where they had stopped.
The roads were well maintained since we were close to a major tourist attraction, twyfelfontein, but we were following our own path and turned to go down a rock path. Stones completely covered every inch of the ground and it took hours to get through. It was not a route that was travelled often and we had to stop occasionally to get out of the car to look for the track. Luckily Laura kept us going in the right direction and found the route easily.
We stopped for a coffee break, eat a late lunch and see how much further we had to go. We debated about camping again or driving the rest of the way into Kamanjab to see their friends Lars and Juanita. The prehistoric scary bugs came over and started eating the used coffee grounds and they loved them. I’m sure they had a caffeine high after we left. We were also able to find a lot of really cool stones with crystals inside and spent a long time searching the ground. Andrew broke lots of stones open for us by slamming them with a big rock. Most were duds but we found some pretty ones.
We eventually came to the major road crossing and saw signs of homes and electric pole lines as far as the eye could see. The road was terrific so we made up a lot of time and decided to drive into town.
I got to see glimpses of 3 giraffes but they were so quick and almost appeared to melt into the trees until I could see them anymore.
I am so glad that we decided to take the 4×4 car. The views and animal sightings have been so beautiful and away from the normal tourist attractions. It’s giving me so much to experience and soak in.
Franco is on my mind constantly and I miss him so much. I have so many ideas for the house and to decorate in a way that honors his memory without making it seem too much like a memorial that can’t be touched or disturbed