Road Trip Namibia
Namibia is beautiful. There’s no doubt about it, but it’s an eerie, empty kind of beauty that highlights nature’s simplicity and vastness, similar to New Mexico or Arizona. Although the country is huge, it’s almost exclusively desert and receives less rainfall than any other country in sub-Saharan Africa. Because of this, it is one of the least densely populated countries in the world – second only to Mongolia. There’s a lot to see so we allocated 15 days to explore and mapped out a giant loop around the country. Road trip it was!
We knew two things from renting cars in South Africa: 1) the roads were great so we could make do with the cheapest available rental and 2) the car rental companies were sticklers with damage – they’d document the smallest dent to the car. This lead to quite a few heated (and profanity laced) arguments between Mark and the rental staff. Despite this, we gave it a go. We stayed one night in the capital city of Windhoek and spent the next day on the open road heading towards Etosha National Park, the world’s third largest game reserve.
Unlike Kruger, which has paved roads, restaurants, hotels and general amenities for tourists, Etosha is billed as a more authentic (READ: bare bones) safari experience. The environment is harsh; the land is flat, barren and stark. The map we were given upon arrival was more or less a map of the park’s watering holes since that’s where most animals are seen. Over the next three days we drove from watering hole to watering hole (many of which were dried up) and saw numerous animals including rhino, cheetah, elephants and a pride of 15 lions bathing in the afternoon sun. Still no luck seeing the elusive leopard.
In contrast to the park, our hotel proved to be an oasis. There were complementary foot massages, five course meals and my personal favorite, a private watering hole –where you could sip wine, read a book, and watch all sorts of antelope come to drink. If you’re heading to Etosha check out Emanya @ Etosha. We must have picked up some sort of last minute internet deal because it was a steal at $95/night!
After our safari we headed southwest, first to Outjo then to Uis. In Brandberg Mountain we saw a petroglyph called ‘the white lady’ that was painted thousands of years ago by ancient bushman. Then we traveled further south along the skeleton coast to reach Swakopmund, the so called adventure capital of Africa. This was a fun city where we explored the picturesque Namib sand dunes via 4×4, kayaked with curious seals and sand boarded down the steep and surprisingly fast dunes.
Before heading back to the capital we made a three day detour to see the Sossusvlei pan and the giant red sand dunes that surround it. This area is the most photographed in Namibia for good reason. It is spellbinding and otherworldly. The sand that comprises the dunes is over 5 million years old and is rich in iron, which gives the dunes their distinctive apricot hue. Any guide book you read will tell you to visit at sunrise when the color is magnified and the temperatures are cool. But this place is remote. It took us hours to reach so we did exactly what you shouldn’t do and arrived at noon. Luckily, we were treated to a beautiful 75 degree day since we visited in the middle of winter. Most of the tourists had left and we were able to wander around in peace. We hiked the 1,000 ft dunes and marveled at the scenery.
Our 15 day road trip put well over a thousand miles on our rental car and the assumptions about good roads and a compact car turned out to be dead wrong. It didn’t help that we destroyed the car’s grill and hit a good share of rocks on the dirt and gravel roads. That’s how we ended up in the amusing situation of having to clean the car with a bottle of Windex and two rolls of paper towels in downtown Windhoek at 10pm. The repair shops and car washes were closed and we knew returning the car completely covered in dust and sand would warrant a thorough inspection. A homeless man helped us out, which probably added to the strange looks we were getting. We gave our silent but hardworking helper our remaining currency and food and were happy with how the car looked. Surprisingly, our plan worked and we returned the rental without incident!