Since we didn’t make it as far as we thought we would yesterday, we weren’t going to make it as far as we thought we would today either. Originally we had designs on making it all the way to Palmwag today. Not gonna happen.
We woke up with the sun and went about our business of packing up the tent (we packed up the rest of the camp the night before in case of a rain storm and needing to make moves out of the rive bed in a hurry…) We had a bit of a leisurely breakfast and set out again after covering our tracks at the campsite and filling in our braai pit so we didn’t spoil the wilderness for the next people driving through.
I hadn’t mentioned in the last post that as it was getting dark we could no longer find the way to continue up the Ugab river and assumed we would have more luck in the morning. We didn’t. The tracks just seemed to end no matter which way we tried. We tried and tried again, almost getting ourselves stuck. Still no way to go.
It turns out this was the correct way to go. Someone had tried to go that way and had a really bad day a few days before. Impossible to pass.
Plan B was to backtrack all the way back down the river and take an exit out to a well-graded road up and around the river to the Rhino Camp. As this was our only option (besides back tracking all the way to the main road) we took it. A few hours of driving through river bed (we didn’t get stuck this time) up craggy hills and through Mars-like landscape and we arrived at the Rhino Trust campsite.
Driving out of the riverbed from the night before we realized it was questionable whether we were actually allowed to stay there. No one said anything though so we assume it was fine. (It may be because we saw no one but still.)
We decided not to stay but made some pleasantries to find out about the roads north. All clear. Though there’s no way we were making it to Palmwag, they said. They were right.
We drove through steep canyons and out into an incredible desert where we spent almost the entire afternoon. The scenery was stunning. A lot of it also looked very similar and it was tough to tell where you were going. At one point we found ourselves getting turned around but luckily Cheryl quickly noticed (after 15 minutes – mind you, I hadn’t noticed anything amiss) that the sun was on the wrong side of the car and we turned around again to correct our mistake.
Looking out across the desert. No flowing sand dunes here. The colors varied but mostly a red dirt-like material. And lots of dust. Lots and lots of dust.
One of the welwitschia plants for which the area is famous
As the sun was getting low the desert gave way to the Huab river (again mostly a dry river bed) and we descended into the valley. It was some of the most beautiful landscapes either of us have ever seen. There was no doubt in either of our minds: we would be camping down there for the night.
Checking to make sure this water was driveable. It got quite deep in the track but we decided we could do it. Fiona had no trouble but it did make our hearts race when we dropped in and it was deeper then we thought. Doesn’t look like it but it went up almost to the hood! Also shows the great contrast between down by the river bed and the desert beyond that we had been driving through all day.
When the road to the Huab River look-out point wasn’t passable we decided to set up camp on some high ground just above a reed-filled area. Our mistake was that we were right next to a bush which blocked our view to one side. Naturally, as the sun dipped behind the mountains and the moon came out, so did the lion grunting: coming from the direction behind the bush.
“It’s far away” I assured Cheryl.
“It’s just the echo that makes it seem close.” Cheryl agreed.
More grunting. Louder this time.
“Maybe let’s move the fire closer to the car.” I offered. We did. We dug a new braai pit and picked up the fire with a shovel to move closer. The next couple of hours were spent listening and watching before going to bed. No cats in sight. Though we heard them throughout the night.
In and around our campsite for the evening. The scenery was absolutely stunning. We could have stayed there for days!
The next morning as we were packing up I heard more grunting. This time from the other direction. It sounded very close. Very, very close. I called out to Cheryl to listen with me. Nothing. Was I just hearing things?
We finished packing and as we were driving out from our campsite, just around on the other side of a koppie (small hill) we found the tracks. Two sets of very clear cat tracks. Maybe 40 meters from camp.
We tracked them for a while but couldn’t spot them. Bummer.
Cat tracks near camp. The close-up is of a smaller set, not the ones from the road. We drove down that track on the left but never found the lions.
You may be thinking: “This is nothing new, you had 13 lions in your campsite in Mana Pools!” and you’d be quite right. The big difference here is that we weren’t in a protected area. This wasn’t a national park. This was truly out in the wild. Desert (adapted) lion are quite rare so it would have been an amazing sighting to have seen them out in the open at our camp. Let alone anywhere in the riverbeds.
On we go!
One last picture, just for fun.