Meet the Himba's
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From Twelfelfontein we ploughed northwards deeper into Himba territory and pulled in to Ongongo Hot Springs after a long hot day on the road taking in the ‘lovely’ detour to Khoriaxs in search of an ATM. The steep rocky descent into the campsite was too much for Kwetu and claimed our first tyre puncture, but we abandoned the car and went in search of the springs to rest our weary limbs. Thankfully they weren’t actually hot, but luke warm and crystal clear, it was the perfect remedy for tired bodies. I melted into the idyllic pool while Lani sat and lectured me about the dangers of swimming in African water after reading one too many scare stories
There was only one other couple staying at the camp; a Dutchman, Jereon and a Spaniard, Anna. So we buddied up and shared a few beers. We instantly gelled with them and it turned out they were planning roughly the same trip as us through Africa, although they had already been on the road criss-crossing southern Africa for the past 5 months. We got a few great tips off them for places to visit and they raved about Zimbabwe as their favourite country, so we have added a few weeks in Zim to our plans, instead of just a day at Vic Falls.
We left them the following morning and managed to get back up the steep hill from the campsite without rupturing any more tyres. The next stop on our itinerary came courtesy of an Italian couple who recommended Purros, deep into the Kaokoveld, as the best place they had camped in Namibia. What they failed to mention was the state of the road to get there. It was reminiscent of the hell that shook us to pieces in the Kalahari. One of our spotlight mounts quickly fell victim to the corrugations and cracked through the weld. Poor Kwetu, he looked like he had lost an eye.
Fortunately Purros turned out to be worth every second on the road, the Italians were spot on
We hired a local guide, Theunis, bright and early the next morning to take us for a bit of a bush walk explaining how the Himba live off the land and giving us a lesson on the local history.
Later that afternoon, we heard a familiar low-pitched diesel hum, and sure enough it was Anna and Jereon pulling up to Purros after a night bush-camping on another dry riverbed. They asked what we thought of the elephants, to which we replied, "what elephants?!". They told us to hop onto the roof of their Land Rover and we took off in search of our elusive first elephant sighting. It was only 1km or so out of camp before we spotted the first, quickly followed by a large bull, a female and a young calf. They were pretty peaceful, but we remained wary given their unpredictable reputation and the fact that there were several abandoned villages in the area due to elephant attacks
That night Anna and Jereon put on a feast for us (very much appreciated because our food stocks were dwindling) and we sat round the camp fire drinking wine till the early hours planning a possible off road adventure up the riverbed for the next day.
Rather than taking off early for our river bed adventure, we enlisted Theunis once more to take us out to the traditional Himba village where his grandmother has lived her whole life. It truly was like stepping back in time, listening to stories about how they live and survive off the land. The target number of children for a Himba is 10, 5 to attend secondary school and 5 to live the traditional life and tend to the animals. Having a guide to translate meant that we could really interact with the Himba, but they were definitely as fascinated by us as we were by them. They asked us how it was possible for Lani and Anna to not have children....erm...it felt like that first difficult birds-and-the-bees talk
A Himba elder showed us the process of lighting a fire inside in the huts to smoke and perfume their skin with aromatic wood chippings. Before this though, they cover their skin head to toe with a mix of ocre and animal fat which protects them from the sun and mosquitos and is also their equivalent of a daily shower... The Himba women’s jewellery tells you a lot about the status of the wearer, a thick leather necklace indicates they are childless and a beaded stripe on bracelets for each child and a certain type of necklace is worn if their father is still alive. Just a world apart from what we are used to but we were welcomed with open arms and lapped up the opportunity to spend time with these people.
We departed the village after giving some of the Himba boys a football to play with (when we saw them playing with an old flat ball) and I had a bit of a kick about with them, then we took off up the riverbed and out into the great unknown, hoping that the river was passable for the 100km stretch to where it joined a gravel track on our map. After a few hours driving, we set up for the night at a wide sandy bend in the riverbed, far enough away from any lions lurking in the undergrowth. We collected a pile of driftwood and set up the mother of all campfires to keep us safe for the night
Within an hour on the road the next morning we encountered a group of elephants at a narrow muddy bend in the river. In a dilemma about how long we would be stuck for and whether there was another route around the riverbed, the elephants kindly gave way and allowed us to pass. The track got tougher but Kwetu ploughed through it with flying colours. The only issue came when the tyres got caught in a rut and slid sideways into a conveniently located jagged rock which made quick work of our tyre, leaving a nice 3 inch dent in the rim for good measure. With Anna and Jereon’s air jack (which inflates by strapping it onto the exhaust) we made a tyre change that an F1 pit team would have been proud of. The only issue facing us was that we still had 30km left on the riverbed, and over 100km to Opowu, the nearest town, and now we were down to our last 4 tyres....this was not the place to be looking for a replacement. Needless to say the tension levels rose and every time we bounded over a boulder, we wondered if it would be the one that would leave us stranded and deflated, pardon the pun. Some careful maneouvers and excellent navigation by Jereon along the riverbed got us through the final stretch. We had never been so happy to see a potholed, corrugated, rubbish gravel road. It was manna from heaven.
A couple of hours later we descended on Opowu excited about finally being able to stock up on vegetables and to offer some back to Anna and Jereon as they had donated so many to us in the previous few days
The next morning we finally got to restock on veggies and get the tyres fixed up. Opowu didn’t quite live up to our expectations, but the image of bare breasted Himba women in traditional dress walking down the street chatting on iphones will stay with us for a lifetime. We knew that we would only be staying in Opowu for one night because we had a booking for Etosha National Park, our first bit of forward planning of the trip. We managed to get all the way to the entry gate for the park and camped at the Etosha Safari lodge on a beautiful grassy campsite, highly appreciated after 4 weeks of bringing dust up into the tent. A night of peaceful sleep and we were well rested and ready for our first game park since the Kalahari.