After a truly enjoyable stay in the Etendeka Mountain Camp we picked up our trusty Toyota from the Palmwag Lodge parking lot and continued south. Our destination for the day was Damara Mopane Lodge near Khorixas, but first we stopped by Twyfelfontain which boasts one of the largest collections of ancient rock paintings in Africa and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. I am a bit of a history buff myself, but cannot say I got too excited about these paintings which probably came down to a combination of our guide’s knowledge being rather superficial and the scorching midday heat. Had there been some shade I would have probably spent more time there, but the heat just did not make it especially enjoyable. Which is no one’s fault, really.
On the way back to the main road we passed the Damara Living Museum, a little open air museum of a traditional Damara village set up by a German foundation to generate income for the local community. The visit consisted of a personal tour along a number of stages showing the traditional life and activities of the local Damara people, and we were introduced to types of natural remedies, local art, shown a Mancala type game that was pretty close to Oware (which I played in Ghana), and given a demonstration in making fire using the traditional method of friction on wood. Our guide elaborated that in order to be able to marry a man had to demonstrate that he was able to provide for a family by being able to hunt and make fire, but ironically the demonstration went a bit awry. The guy made it to the smoke stage but failed to produce flames, a second and third guy came to help, after some time it was decided that the wood was no good and another set was brought in from the souvenir shop. Finally, in a concerted effort involving the three taking turns and a lot of sweat, a fire was produced. “Looks like the three of you have to share a wife,” my mother joked.
After another two-hour drive we finally arrived at Damara Mopane Lodge, which, as Etosha Safari Lodge, belongs to the Gondwana collection of Namibian lodges. We only stayed for one night and not much happened, but I really liked the way our rooms were essentially small brick huts that were surrounded by their own little vegetable garden, complete with plantain trees. The plantains brought back memories of my year in Ghana, where I would walk to school every day through little groves of them, and for a couple of seconds the illusory taste of fried plantain chips lingered on my tongue.
The next day we continued towards Cape Cross. As we left Damaraland and came closer to the coast, everything around us changed. The mountainous terrain disappeared and was replaced by the flatness of the desert, and the temperature that had stood at about 25°C when we left Khorixas slowly dropped, degree by degree, until it finally arrived at about 14°C. We arrived at the coast at Hentiesbaai, a popular little holiday resort, but immediately turned north towards Cape Cross. As we drove through the barren landscape, we noticed little make-shift tables, sometimes barrels, placed along the roadside. Little pieces of white material were sitting on them, and as we stopped to inspect them we realised that they were chunks of pink sea salt being sold. The price varied by size and colour, and payment worked by placing the money in a small tin can. We were later told that the quality of the salt was quite high and subsequently bought a couple on our way back as small presents for people at home.
A bit later we arrived at Cape Cross Lodge which turned out to be very different from the kind of lodges we had come across so far. A small group of buildings huddled together at the beach, complete with a couple of wind turbines and a mobile transmission tower. The interior was full of pictures of lighthouses and seashells, and models of wooden ships – all in all it felt more like a hotel at the Dutch or Danish coast than an African establishment. We rushed our baggage to the rooms (large and comfy) and I immediately changed my shorts and t-shirt for jeans and a thick jumper. Then we enjoyed hot drinks and cake, and ventured out for a walk along the beach.
Despite the occasional seal carcass and complementary smell we had an enjoyable time. I played around with my K3’s high-speed functions a bit, tracking seagulls and the likes. It once again confirmed that its more the speed of lens’ AF motor than that of the camera that is responsible for Pentax still trailing behind the competition in continuous AF speed, but I still got quite a few shots in focus. And then discarded them immediately, because if I wanted images of seagulls I might as well take them from our kitchen window in Scotland.
The next day we drove to the nearby seal colony, one of the largest breeding grounds of Cape fur seals in the world. As we parked our car we were greeted by an overwhelming stench. Boy, these animals SMELL! And we thought it was bad at the beach … There was a fenced in wooden walkway running through parts of the colony, but first we actually had to manage to get there, which proved a bit problematic. Fur seals are usually friendly and inquisitive when in the water, but can behave very differently when on land. In his Antarctica travelogue Canadian photographer Roël Dixon-Mahatoo wrote about his encounter with fur seals in South Georgia: “Here is a warning for you: male fur seals can be dangerous. The males are very territorial, have sharp teeth and can be quite aggressive. If they perceive you to be a threat to their territory, they will often “charge” you (even the young seals will do this).” While my parents and brother managed to get through a group of seals to the gate of the walkway, I was less fortunate. A male seal apparently decided that he did not like my face and decided to go after me with bared teeth, which resulted in a quick twenty metre sprint and jump over the wooden fence on my behalf – my family cried tears of laughter.
Once within the safe confines of the walkway, I got out my camera and started to take pictures. As we walked along, we were surrounded by tens of thousands of seals, some so close they were trying to have a nibble at our feet through the gaps in the wood. This can only be described as a photographer’s paradise – from head shots of dozing cubs to cuddling groups, and seals being tossed through the air by massive waves, you get everything.
All in all Cape Cross is a place so different from the rest of Namibia that I greatly recommend visiting it, if only to have a bit of a change of scene.
Read part 9 here.