An Abrasive Journey
We started by confessing that we had not done our homework for Namibia nor were we prepared for the dramatic transition that would follow. A few days before, we completed the route from the capital Windhoek to PN Etosha, comfortable and flying low. The same happened in the initial stretch between Etosha and Damaraland Camp where we were supposed to enter before dark.
We hit Otavi in a flash. In Otavi, we are forced to leave Namibia's road backbone and head west. We opened on the country's C gravel roads instead of the well-paved B roads. From Otavi to Outjo we proceeded without complaints, but from Outjo onwards we soon found ourselves in a motorized hell.
Our car and the others started to raise a dry dust that infiltrated the cabin and irritated us, as well as irritating the airways and eyes. The sun and temperature soared and the air conditioner succumbed to the invasion of dust.
In the hours that followed, we felt in a dirty sauna. As if that wasn't enough, the rollercoaster profile of the itinerary – which passed over rivers and streams exclusive to the rainy season – required us to pay extra attention.
Sudden ramps and detours forced us to brakes and “landings” that sometimes glued us to the benches and sometimes shook us. "Is this always going to be like this?" she complains to Sara, sweating, broken, with a dying air, from the place of the dead.
The truth is, at that point, we had no idea what the next two weeks would be like. Even if I knew them the same or worse, I would always answer in the same way: “It's just a little longer like that. We're there for another hour. Tomorrow we won't even remember it."
Panoramas and the Outlawed Inhabitants of Damaraland
Well over an hour passed without a shadow of a place to stop, have a drink and refresh ourselves. We only interrupted that African rally to photograph the first surreal sets of Damaraland.
At half past five in the afternoon, between rocky and stray hills, we found the Damaraland Camp car park. Only the most robust jeeps could complete the journey to the lodge.
As such, we immobilize the car and wait for the transfer to chat with Neil Adams, neighbor of Sabina Waterboer, the usual guardian of the vehicles. Both Neil and Sabina belonged to the Riemvasmaak tribe and the Damaraland ethnicity.
Dona Sabina had gone to a funeral. We never got to know her. In any case, we quickly realized that, more than a car park, what was there were lives. Exile lives in a no man's land.
Two humble houses had been built on sandpaper. Wire fences protected the homes, a few low trees and a few domestic animals inside. The longer the jeep took, the more intrigued us why anyone would settle in those arid nowhere.
We knew we were in an area crossed by wild animals. We started the conversation there. "These goats must attract a little bit of everything here, no?" “Attract each other”… Sabina's neighbor answers us.
From time to time, the lions smell them and we find them around here. Other times, it's the brown hyenas.” We let the verbiage flow until we feel comfortable.
At a certain point, we couldn't resist: “Don't get us wrong, but… how did you end up in a place like this”
“We didn't have much of a choice”, explains the calm interlocutor, who takes the opportunity to enlighten us about the misfortune that devastated the small community.
An Inhuman Legacy of Apartheid
In the 60s, under the auspices of the League of Nations, the Apartheid government of South Africa he still ruled Southwest Africa, confiscated from Germany during World War I. Following the example of the atrocious years of Germanic occupation and the historic preamble opened by boer pioneers, endeavored to implement a Homelands policy there, colloquially known as the Odendaal Plan.
According to the recommendation of such a Commission of Inquiry on the Affairs of South West Africa, “the good use of the resources available to both whites and natives recommended the creation of lands that would accommodate the different ethnic groups of the vast territory”.
Through this Machiavellian plan, in practice, the authorities proposed to exile entire communities from the places where they lived, manipulating their dignity as if they were a game.
Of course, in the midst of this so-called ideology, countless commercial interests spoke louder. “We had a perfect life there in Mgcawu, near the Orange River,” Neil tells us. "But they wanted that whole area for mining and they sent us here."
According to the plan, the new Bantustan of Damaraland was supposed to house only the Damara people, considered one of the oldest in the Namibia region, after the San and the Nama. The Odendaal Plan continued to move the natives at the pleasure of the rulers.
Neil and many of the neighbors were forced to rise from nothing in those inhospitable places. Mrs. Waterboer's agreement with Damaraland Camp to take care of the cars, supplemented her particular existential vacuum as a blessing.
From Damaraland Camp to Desert Elephant Demand
The jeep appears and interrupts the conversation. It takes us to the lodge where we settled in three stages. The setting toasts even more the surrounding hills and valleys. It makes them so scarlet that we wondered if we had not reached Mars. Only dinner at the table with the other guests and the respective earthly pleasures dispels this doubt.
We wake up at 5:30 am. A jeep from Damaraland Camp takes us to a central elevation above where we have breakfast with the full moon resisting the re-emerging sun.
The dawn, instead of sunset, gilds and reddens the panorama, in the image of the Fish River Canyon, in southern Namibian, semi-martian. Made of mountains and valleys dotted with stout, thorny green bushes. After the meal, under the pretext of finding one of the herds of desert elephants that roamed there, we set out to discover it.
Three jeeps descend the hill into the valley. They start by going by caravan but soon disperse in order to optimize the search for pachyderms. We cross desolate valleys surrounded by old mountains and volcanoes. In the vastness, a solitary acacia confirmed the biological resilience of those confines.
The landscape would soon change. We traversed parched riverbeds from which we emerged onto savannahs lined with yellow hay that a train of baboons was crossing at great speed.
The jeeps keep in touch via radio. They exchange information about footprints and other clues. Before long, we crossed the road on which we had arrived at Damaraland Camp the afternoon before. “These desert elephants here are special, you know?
They are much lighter and more agile.” explain the guide to us. “They got used to going up and down the hills. So, sometimes, it costs us to find them.”
Anyway, the Elusive Pachyderms
We searched the other side until exhaustion. Meanwhile, stuck in narrower valleys, we intersect the paths followed by the other jeeps and stop to exchange new signs. Finally, well after eleven in the morning, we find the herd there.
There were thirteen elephants, in fact, smaller than those on the African savannahs. They protected some offspring in the shade of woody acacia trees. We admire them for some time and the animals to us.
Then we return to the lodge and repack. We say goodbye. We head south. The farther south we got, the more fascinating piles of red rock abounded, identical to those that surrounded us as we searched for the elephants.
The Unusual Petroglyphs of Twyfelfontein
A hundred kilometers later, we find that the most famous site of rock art in Namibia, Twyfelfontein, congregated a range of these hills, inhabited by lizards and large colonies of hyraxes.
Under a blue sky that blended perfectly with rocky ocher, a black-skinned but Caucasian-featured service guide leads us through the complex. It takes us to where the most famous petroglyphs were.
And it explains, in detail, what was known of the hunter-gatherers who took refuge there and who recorded there the animals they were forced to hunt, imitated by the Khoi Khoi ethnic group that succeeded them.
We too needed shelter for the night ahead. As usual, in Namibia, the next lodge was far away and the itinerary featured roads of category C, D and worse. We are on our way as soon as possible. Even so, we arrived at Sorris Sorris Lodge at night. Andrew, the manager, installs us and treats us to a divine dinner.
Sorris Sorris Lodge and the Supreme Mountain of Namibia
As happened at the Damaraland Camp and is characteristic of the region, the dawn opens up to us a new improbable place. The warm morning light falls on the lodge's terrace on one side and, on the other, outbuildings, placed on the slope of another large hill of pink granite pebbles.
The sun soon passed behind the lodge. Finally, he highlighted the setting in front of that privileged amphitheater, handpicked by Victor Azevedo, a businessman who has long breathed Africa – he lived in Angola, South Africa, then Namibia – and which, after triumphing in restoration, bet on a network of lodges that would reveal selected Namibian spaces.
In front of us, a good distance away, we had the sandy bed of the Ugab River and the alluvial plain that the savage floods of the rainy season spread.
Above, Brandberg towered over an impressive 2573 meter rock mass, the queen mountain of Namibia. For 72 hours the eccentric geology of Damaraland dazzled us. We decided to extend our stay at Sorris Sorris with a clear objective: to continue to admire it.
More information about Damaraland on the website of Namibia Tourism.