Desert Adventure – Day 6

Things had gone too smoothly. Plans had been achieved a little too easily the previous two days. Our last day of our desert adventure and of course something had to go wrong. We found ourselves in the Hoarusib river where we camped last night searching for the track that was purported to be there. It wasn’t. We drove back and forth and (literally) around in circles. No tracks.

“Do we just go for it ourselves?” we both thought. (I’m sure Cheryl thought this too…)

Our thoughts flashed back to the day before when we drove through the same river much lower down. There we had at least some tracks to follow. We also saw the signs of people who didn’t follow the tracks and had really bad days. (read: deep ruts in the mud with shovel marks all around.) We remembered driving yesterday when we had to turn around lower down in this river and drive around a mountain just to get back into it because we couldn’t find tracks and got stuck.

“I think we’ve got to use Plan B.” we both agreed.

Disappointed we decided to back-track out of the river bed and take a northerly route passed fields with massive herds of oryx, springbok and zebra mixed in with the occasional herd of cattle, to the Khumib river. From there we would be able to join the numbered gravel road to get us back on track.

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Sunrise in the Hoarusib River valley

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We take ‘Leave No Trace” seriously.  Covering our tracks after filling in our fire pit from the night before.  Yes, I’m sweeping the desert…

This time things worked according to plan and although the day was a bit long we ended up all the way in the north of Namibia at Epupa Falls drinking a beer and G&T on the banks of the Cunene river.

My only gripe on the day is this: The proper numbered road was extremely deceptive. We started out feeling great. Cruising along at 50-60km / hour when we noticed a small warning sign. It seemed benign enough. The sign made it look like there was a small bump that would cause a mild inconvenience on our otherwise unobstructed pathway back to (momentary) civilization. It did not state that we were about to enter a technical 4×4 track and that I should slow way the heck down. Suddenly, our open gravel highway turned into a steep incline with loose rocks, axle twisters and big dips. It’s like the road builders got together and said to themselves “what’s the most understated sign possible but where we are still warning people?”

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You can see how good the road was that we were on when we saw a sign just like this one.  Who would have guessed what lay ahead?

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Don’t go off the path to the right.  You may fall in a ravine.  But of course I knew that from the sign that was 6km back.  At least the track here was relatively good or this could have been really interesting.

Next time we saw any sign, like the one that showed a mild bend in the road approaching, we decided to take it very seriously. (This one said next 5km under it which we were amazed at. How do you have a 5km bend in the road? World’s slowest turn?) The bend it turned out wasn’t mild at all but a series of zig-zags and along a sheer drop that eventually led down into a shallow ravine. “These are some of the most subtle and understated sign posts of all time” we thought.

So you can imagine how slowly we proceeded after seeing this sign, half tucked behind a bush.

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The funny thing was, after taking a photo and getting psyched up for what lay ahead, it turned out that there was no real obstacle up ahead after this one. Not even that many turns.  And we had gotten our hopes up!

At least they put signs up though. That’s more than we can say for some other roads we’ve been on.

Desert Adventure – Day 5

I’m sitting tonight in the Hoarusib river (well, the mostly dry bed of the river) after an amazing drive through long stretches of desert, deep sand, hard rock, thick mud, running water, Himba villages, deep canyons, steep graded loose stone inclines, steep dirt declines and pretty much everything else besides tar. It’s the beginning of June (normally winter down this way for my Northern Hemisphere readers) but I’m sitting in shorts and a T-shirt sipping a Windhoek lager. What a day.

As was our plan, to plan day by day, we decided to change plans. Our original, original plan was to do this whole desert trip north to south directly after Etosha, ending in Swakopmund and then heading out to do a day or two of hiking in the Waterberg. Of course that plan was thrown out the window when we went directly to Swakopmund to get Fiona serviced (is it OK to say that in polite company?) so now we are doing the drive south to north instead. We still had the idea of going to the Waterberg but that would require a loooong drive, which would see us criss-crossing all over northern Namibia. Our other option was to continue driving north into northern Kaokoland into the Marianfluss or Hartmann’s valleys. This area is described as “The last true wilderness in Southern Africa.” Since we feel like we are in the deep wilderness we couldn’t imagine what that would be like and we might just have to go.

This morning (well, last night) we decided to scrap both of those plans. No Waterberg. No “true wilderness.” Who needs hiking? We feel like we are already in true wilderness.

Instead, we’ve decided to continue our desert adventure for just two more days and head north to Epupa falls (on one of our original lists for Namibia but got removed a while back as time got tight – yes, believe it or not time still gets “tight” on a 90 day trip.) From there, we’re read out an awesome “northern track” along the Cunene river, which forms the boarder with Angola, to Ruacana falls. It should take us ~2 days from Epupa to Ruacana. It should be epic. Who needs hiking when we are loving this wild driving so much? We’re sold.

Because of that, this morning we decided to high-tail it the rest of the way west down the Hoanib, then north through the desert, before dropping into the Puros Canyon and up the Hoarusib river. There we get through Puros village, along a dirt track and then back into the Hoarusib river where we find a camp spot. That was the plan and we almost made it exactly according to that plan. Except for one small part where we had to detour around a mountain instead of driving through the Hoarusib a second time but we made it back on track.

On top of this, we had an awesome morning drive where we came across our first desert-adapted elephant in the daylight.

The amazing thing about desert elephants is that they’ve actually adapted to living in the harsh conditions of the desert. It may be tough to realize from the picture below that we are in a desert given all of the green around but this is the only real green for long distances to the north or south. These elephants have bigger feet to walk on the soft sand which makes their ankles look narrower. They also have shorter tusks that we’ve noticed tent to go out at different angles but we aren’t sure exactly why.

We continued north through the desert and after a quick pit stop at something our GPS described as “Castle formations” (According to the HMT2DM I gave it a 2, Cheryl gave it a 3. That’s a 2.5 interest level. Add 1 for still being able to get where we’re going and add 1 for not stopping us from doing anything more interesting. That’s a 4.5. Clearly counting as 3 or more. We went there without delay.)

Puros canyon was awesome. It was the first river bed we’ve driven down that actually had water in it. The sand was soft in places and the mud was deep. Luckily, we weren’t the first people to drive this way so we stuck to the main track and got through with no issues. We loved the incredible scenery. Probably our favorite of the trip so far. The photos just don’t capture it.

After the canyon we drove through Puros village and back into the Horarusib after seeing some ostriches and 4 more desert elephants. This time one of them was a baby. Awesome.

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You can really see the contrast here. When I say there is no water to the north our south for the elephants this is what I’m talking about.  Where the river cuts through the sand there is a lush eden.  Everywhere else is another story.

The GPS kept trying to take us up and around a mountain that seemed entirely out of the way. We promptly decided to shut it off and continue up the river as we planned. Once in the riverbed we quickly realized why the GPS was trying to take us a different way. There were no tracks. Well, there was one VERY faint track. We went anyway.

And we got stuck.

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It doesn’t look too bad in the photo but believe me, we were going nowhere.  A quick shovel and some well-placed sand tracks (borrowed from Cheryl’s uncle Bryan) and we were on our way again.

Luckily we got out quickly and after a bit of back tracking back to the main dirt track and we were back on our way. A quick loop around the Himba Sphinx (the name of the mountain that was on the GPS) and we dipped back into the river bed.

A long day of driving but we made it. Should be another long one tomorrow but hopefully we’ll be in Epupa Falls by then.

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