Dune Buggies, Sky Diving, and Oryx Steaks.
Swakopmund is Namibia’s second largest city and the adventure capital of the country, located on the Atlantic coast. Namibia was once a German colony and then later a South African protectorate known as South West Africa, but since 1990 has been independent.
To get to the coast we jolted over the Kuiseb Canyon Pass and sliced through the northern corner of the Neukluft Park and then drove due north to the city, which means “On the mouth of the Sunko River”, where we spent two nights at the Drifters Swakopmund Lodge. We stopped a few blocks away at a Spar store where Jo re-victualed the truck.
Swakopmund Lodge has a wild feel.
The lodge manager, Agnes, was born in South Africa of German heritage, but grew up in Swakopmund and she was a bit crusty in tone, but you knew who was the boss. Her assistants in the kitchen did the cooking, and the lodge had its own full laundry service, meaning someone else did the laundry, a nice surprise because we were getting a little crusty too. The truck was cleaned and washed, and it felt like we were just starting our adventure.
We all immediately congregated at the lodge’s open air bar and checked out the adventure activities book; all adventures tours must be booked a day in advance at your own expense. Most of the Millenniums chose the skydiving drop but the Vikings and I went for the quad bike trekking on the vanilla colored shore dunes I noticed coming into town. Other activities included horseback riding, surf fishing, dune boarding, surfing, deep sea fishing, dolphin sailing (catamarans), bungee jumping, and cultural township visits.
Dune adventures on quad bikes.
The quad bike transport from Desert Explorers picked us up at the lodge; at the bike center we strapped on helmets and met our guide who introduced the various hand signals to avoid flying over the edge of the immense dunes. The quad biking was awesome, with trails branching out farther and farther into the desert. Ride plans are priced at one hour or 1½ hours or longer. It doesn’t take much experience to rev the engines and take off, and we did, the four of us, in a sort of quadraphrenia sort of way. The center also offers camel treks into the desert.
The sky divers later showed videos of their jumps back at the lodge bar TV, and the facial expressions resembled the lodge pug’s mug just before they bailed out tandem with their dive master; their demeanor was more complacent once the chutes opened. After the jump some of them phoned home and their mothers were as breathless as the divers themselves. What’s great about a Drifters Adventure Overland Tour is the chance to try new things. I now can check off quad biking from my bucket list. None of the others had attempted any of their adventures before either.
The lodge hound dog, a pugnacious pug, insisted he get his belly scratched and he made sure everyone was given the chance to do so. I must say his grunts of pleasure sounded just like Jo when he snored.
I had given up hope of cutting into an oryx steak, but Namibia is the home of large herds of the animals. The last night in Swakopmund we strolled a few blocks to the local hole-in-the-wall called Kuch’s Bar and Grill where everyone ordered an oryx steak except for Jo, who went for the beef. The succulent and tender oryx came with a light pepper sauce and it was one of the best meals on the trip, but at our own expense. I had developed a taste for the local Namibia Toefl lager (the same company brews Windhoek beer), and soon it was rounds all around. The medium-sized oryx antelope are specifically raised on private game farms for table fare. Jo, a staunch conservationist, could never shoot a wild animal himself.
“This Place Is Alriight.”
Hold your nose for Cape Cross seals in the fog.
After leaving Swakopmund we followed the Skeleton Coast to Cape Cross National Park where thousands of seal lolled on the beach in the fog. The stench was over powering from kilometers away, but up close on the boardwalk it burned the eyes like acid rain. Cupping a hand over the nose didn’t avert the paralyzing odor. We packed up quick and moved on heading east and back into the Namib Desert.
Our next camp was in the Brandberg Mountains, which means Burnt Mountains because the volcanic rock looked burnt. It was the hottest leg of the tour. We stopped in the bush for our lunch break with the shade provided by weak leafed acacia lining an arroyo. Drifters is a conservation minded company and when doing the duty in the bush the toilet paper must be burned, but be careful not to set the bush aflame because Namibia is experiencing a drought.
Bushmen once roamed the rugged Brandberg Range.
We camped out at a private resort not owned by Drifters. The next day we sweated on a hot hike into the Brandbergs to visit one of the most famous San rock paintings, called The White Lady, which was also the name of the resort. I lingered back near the local park concessionaires and a blue bodied, red headed agoma scampered across the wall. A rare and protected rock python hid in the crevices of the boulder foundation with just its head apparent. We never spotted any of the rare desert elephants that roamed the area.
Next stop in our bush mobile was Namibia’s Etosha National Park where we tented in the communal Okaukuejo campground near the western gate with block house showers nearby. During the evening meal jackals slunk in within the fire ring light looking to cart off some meat scraps, they were clearly aggressive. I remembered seeing the notice in the park headquarters that jackals in the area had rabies. We placed our trash can inside the truck to keep away midnight mischief makers, and it was required to sleep in a tent.
Drifters rise early for Etosha photo shoots.
Some days were early rises, and we were up before first light to catch the sun blast behind the silhouetted acacia trees. A bull elephant was just waking up as well. We made a slow game drive through the park from west to east. We were now in the Kalahari Desert, which was more of an upland savannah than desert and I was surprised by the arboreal coverage of the Mopane trees, or butterfly trees; the Mopane butterflies in the worm stage are fried or eaten raw as a delicacy throughout southern Africa. At the noon lunch I queried Jo about what was cooking, but no worms were in our diet that we knew about, but we were back in malaria country, but I hadn’t seen a mosquito yet.
A giraffe munches on Mopane tree leaves.
A kudu eyes us from the bush.
The fenceless zoo of Etosha provided endless photos of rhinos, elephants, jackals, springbok, impalas, ostriches, zebras, wildebeest, helmeted guinea fowl, and giraffes. At the Etosha salt pans we stopped for a group photo. The largest salt pans in the world are in the Botswana region of the Kalahari.
Somewhere along the route the truck conked out and Jo diagnosed dirt in the fuel line; hydraulics lifted the hood and after Jo sucked the fuel line clean, we were back on the road again. At a campground in the middle of the park we stopped for lunch which had an Olympic size pool that was deep blue clean. Our swim suits dried instantly in the heat. Before exiting the blue ribbon park it was one more night camping at the eastern gate at the fabulous Namatoni Camp.
Drifters lounge like lizards at an Etosha pool.
The Okavango Rivers rises high in the highlands of Angola and forms a short border with Namibia. In the Caprivi region we bivouacked at the private Rainbow Camp outside Etosha for an additional night because the Drifters Okavango River Delta Camp was still too far a slog in a single day.
Guests could upgrade to a Lodge hut but camping by the river was more pleasurable because we had a bright gibbous moon. The pool here needed to be cleaned, so only invincible Jo dove in. I noticed the croc tail marks on the river bank so the Okavango was out of the question. The rest of us gathered in the overwater lounge to watch the sun set over Toefl beers.
The main portion of the Okavango River ends in the delta in Botswana. A hydroelectric dam is proposed for the Capriva district, but stiff opposition hopefully squashes the plans. Going through the Botswana border and getting the visa stamps was a breeze, but the price tag depended on which country you held a passport from: Americans paid the most, then the British, then the Germans, then the Norwegians. Only baku, the local currency, or rands were accepted. If you are an American and paid in rands instead of U.S. dollars the stamp was less. No other country accepts baku (which means rain), so I made sure my beer change was always in rands.
— Feature and photos by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.. Click the sign below for more Drifters Adventures .