The following morning, whilst I dozed on the bus, we crossed into Damaraland, a beautiful desert region of Namibia where the language has five clicks in addition to more familiar phonemes. We were advised that we would be visiting a village of Himba people, a tribe native to Angola and north Namibia, and that we should buy schoolbooks, pens and toys for the children there, as they had few of any of them.
On arrival, we were greeted by Adam, our guide for the visit and one of eight men in a village of 40+ women. We first entered the schoolhouse and gave our books and toys to the school-teacher, who would, presumably, apportion them as she saw fit after our departure. As we filed out, we were greeted by a host of young, naked or semi-clad children who gathered round inquisitive, the more temeritous among them stepping forward and shaking our hands with the traditional greeting of, “Moro, perivi, nawa!”
Up ahead were several mud huts with thatched roofs and, close to a pen for young kids (baby goats, not children), sat eight or so Himba women, in heated discussion with a man. (We never got to the bottom of the argument but it seems a jackal had killed a sheep and they were apportioning blame.) Everything about these women was striking – the roots of their braided hair, was coated in a thick, red material that we were to learn was ochre clay, and their bodies, head-to-toe, were coated in the same red clay for sun protection and skin-health reasons. They wore skirts of fur and pelts, with some metallic decorations, anklets and elaborate necklaces, aside from which they were naked.
We were ushered into one hut where a woman, seemingly (and rather awkwardly) to enhance our tourist experience, was taking a shower. This is not as gratuitous as it sounds. Due to the water shortages to which Namibia is prone, the Himba people take smoke showers, and remain clothes whilst doing so, adding dried petals or leaves to hot embers to create clouds of smoke in which they bathe. Clothes are washed in a similar fashion.
Adam told us that, once they are educated, teenagers can decide to leave the village to live in modernity in cities or larger towns, however, few choose to leave. He also told us that, in order to differentiate from other tribes, all Himba people at the age of 16 have their four bottom teeth knocked out with a hammer and chisel! Not comfortable at the dentist even for routine checkups, this news left my stomach performing sympathy rolls.
Waving goodbye to the little ones (focusing inadvertently on the brilliant white of their lower teeth and wincing through projected, vicarious pain), I boarded the bus and we completed a short journey to Hoada campsite, an other-worldly place with large boulders and strange trees that looked like it could have been created out of polystyrene and cardboard as a set for a Star Trek episode. The views, once again, were breathtaking.
Next came a day of endurance: 400km on corrugated gravel roads that shook the very soul quite apart from almost certainly causing mild concussion. Even the bus was feeling the strain and voiced its dissent by attempting to jettison the exhaust pipe, only to have it resourcefully reattached to the undercarriage with a wire coat-hanger and submitted to more bone-shaking.
Our only respite came in the form of a visit to Twyfelfontein, a natural spring where bushman carvings purporting to be up to 6000 years old had been found. Whilst the carvings were numerous, I was having trouble reconciling the fact that they were in the open air, at the mercy of the elements for the last few millennia, and that, whilst the canyon I had seen had formed through erosion on a similar timescale, these carvings were perfectly preserved. Call me a cynic but………
We camped within striking distance of Swakopmund, a large coastal town, and I was warmly greeted by Jack, the campsite coordinator’s handsome ridgeback, whose warm (literally) welcome extended to peeing on my tent whilst I was in the process of erecting it.
With the smell of dog urine now a distant memory, we set off for Swakopmund via a nearby seal colony. We were given an hour to look around so planned to take full advantage. Through the window of the bus we saw hundreds upon hundreds of seals of all sizes, lazing, frolicking or feeding on the sand of the beach and still hundreds more playfully splashing around in the water. Eager to get a better view we descended from the bus. And then it hit.
A. Violent. Stench. So. Vile. It. Made. Speech. Impossible.
While seals are very cute, when gathered en masse, the resultant nose trauma is quite unforgettable. Everyone agreed that an hour might be unnecessary and retired early to the bus in search of Febreze.
We rolled into Swakopmund in the early afternoon of the following day, delighted to be swapping the now familiar camping routine with a hotel bed for an evening. Update-hungry data-fiends swooped like vultures on Wi-Fi codes and we scuttled off to our rooms for showers and social media feeding frenzies.
Plans were made for activities for the next day – the Chinese ladies and I elected to skydive – and then we donned our glad-tags for a smart dinner at The Tug, a restaurant made from the shell of an old tug boat near the town’s jetty.
I had the best Oryx steak of my life (not difficult as it was also only the second) and ploughed through a bottle of South African pinotage.
Dawn broke reluctantly on the day of the skydive and the sun, ever-present until that point, decided to abscond behind a bank of low cloud. Then came the drizzle.
Over breakfast we were told that visibility was too limited for us to make the jump and so last-minute quad bikes were booked. Whereas gravity would have dictated the speed of my companions’ skydive, sadly, they were in complete control of their own speed on the quads, which ranged from “glacial crawl” to “asthmatic tortoise”. Luckily our guide, clearly also bored out of his skull by this funereal procession, got them to park up on the pretext of taking photos while he led me on a high-octane charge through the dunes.
Adrenaline hit scored, we chugged back to the rental site where two macaws mistook me for a perch (and one mistook the button of my hoodie for a snack). Just another normal day in Namibia!