In Namibia, a wild and timeless land, for an adventure raid between natural parks, deserts and villages with German architecture: here is the travel reportage of “Colori di Sabbia” which, driving two off-road vehicles, toyota traveled 4 thousand kilometers off road ….
In a country that, first of all, has included the protection of the natural environment in its constitution, national parks and private wildlife reserves can only be the flagship enough to attract millions of tourists from all over the world every year. Yes, because in Namibia, a wild corner of Africa enclosed between desert and ocean, wild animals and unspoiled nature offer fans and lovers of the environment (but also of the off road) among the most enchanting scenarios on the planet. From the cheetahs of the Waterberg plateau to the white rhinos reintroduced in Etosha Park to the colonies of sea lions in Cape Cross: for those who want to see the great African animals up close, Namibia is certainly the right place for a holiday. If you prefer to go on the off-road raid, driving jeeps equipped to enjoy the thrill of a race on the dunes that plunge into the Atlantic crossing dirt tracks and dry fords, then this ancient territory of German colonization in the south- West Africa is for you. From Milan to Windhoek – with a stopover in Frankfurt – through the Namib Desert, the Etosha park, Walwis Bay and Swakopmund: a 15-day tour and just under 4,000 kilometers driving two Toyota Double Cabs with the friends of “Colori di Sabbia ”, specialized for years in travel and 4 × 4 raids. Step by step, here is the reportage (also photographic) of this splendid adventure to discover one of the wildest and timeless lands of the African continent.
From the German architecture of Windhoek to the dunes of Namib Naukluft Park
It is from the city of Frankfurt that the direct flight of the airline Air Namib takes off for the capital of Namibia where the small African airport welcomes the arrival of the five Italian tourists accompanied by Dario Basile, coordinator of the Milanese tour operator. Of decidedly German imprint, with its “strasse” to remember day after day the past German colonization, Windhoek, an important center for the trade of sheep skins, deserves a visit to the historic center where among the most important buildings stand the Lutheran church Christuskirche (built halfway between neo-Gothic and art nouveau), the Reiterdenkmal, a monument to the soldiers of the Schutztruppe who fell during the Herero wars and the ancient fort with its walls still well preserved. Driving two 4x4s of the Toyota house – equipped with bull bars, sand tires and additional tanks for diesel and water – we head towards Lake Oanib along a stretch of 120 km that accompanies up to this small crystalline expanse where splendid cottages in pure African style they frame the walks of giraffes and ostriches. A long dirt road crosses the African plain interspersed with acacias and low bushes that make their way among the golden yellow of the sun-burnt grass: from Oanib the direction indicates Sesriem which can be reached after just over 200 km covered by observing families of gazelles and oryx. For lunch, the stop is in Solitaire, a small settlement of houses located at the entrance of the Namib Desert park, where the highest dunes of Namibia are located. In spite of the name (Solitaire), tourists are seen here and also many … not only for the excellent “apple pie” served in the local store but also for the characteristic open-air museum that collects carcasses and wrecks of historic cars and old farm tractors! In Sesriem, a comfortable lodge nestled between reddish rocks with bizarre shapes, anticipates the beauty of the landscapes protagonists of the next stages of this 4 × 4 raid. From here you take a dirt road that crosses rocky mountains and large African clearings lit by the sun until you reach the long-awaited Namib Naukluft Park where the highest dunes in the world (up to 400 meters), shaped by the wind, take on shapes and colors that vary with daylight. With its 50,000 square km, the Naukluft – also known as the “living desert” – is the largest natural oasis in the country: an immense plateau rising from the desert plain, deeply engraved by steep and deep gorges, a natural habitat for mountain zebras, baboons and cheetahs. Once the four-wheel drive has been inserted, the off-road vehicles go up the sandy road “brushing” it with soft and linear trajectories up to the top of the famous Duna 45, renamed so because it is located at the 45th kilometer on the stretch that connects Sesriem to Soussuslvei, and still “Big Daddy”, the highest dune in the world with its 390 meters, encountered after crossing the Tsauchab river. Continuing the off-road route, you get to Soussuslvei, an ephemeral pool of water surrounded by sand, where the dry river bed, lined with shrubs and rare plants, becomes an ideal place to observe local flora and fauna.
Walvis Bay and Swakopmund: a show from another era
After returning to Solitaire, the GPS points to the north, a direction to follow to reach a dirt road that climbs up the mountain to pass two high passes where dark rocks create bizarre games of light and shadow and then gradually descend into a vast desert expanse and sandy. The raid resumes towards Walvis Bay (whale bay) where walking along the coasts populated by myriads of elegant pink flamingos, observing the expanses of white salt, is a truly exciting sight. Port city of 40 thousand inhabitants, located 30 km from Swakopmund in the bay of the same name, Walvis has always been at the center of international disputes for the presence of the natural breakwater consisting of a strip of land, Pelican Point, where numerous settlements arose over the decades Europeans. The journey leads to another destination, Swakopmund, reached via asphalt on a road bordered on the right by the dunes and on the left by the Atlantic ocean with its high and impetuous waves. Dinner in a typical restaurant housed in an old stranded ship anticipates the African atmosphere that will be breathed in the following days. Built on the delta mouth of the Swakop River, from which it takes its name, in this city of western Namibia you can admire historic buildings of German colonial imprint including the prison and the public library. But not only: for tourists here there is no shortage of curiosities that you can visit the ranch (open to the public) where dromedaries are raised and the Martin Luther, steam locomotive of 1896 completely abandoned in the desert. Traveling on the B2 road (or alternatively using the TransNamib railway) you move towards the hinterland where you can observe the Welwitschia Mirabilis, an endemic plant that grows in this region, characteristic for longevity (up to 2000 years) and for the two huge leaves that expand in the opposite direction on the surface of the ground. To enjoy the beauty of this rare species of local flora you have to go along a track that seems to cut the “mountains of the moon” in two, so much so that the landscape you encounter resembles the moon with its dark rocks among the dusty road. After a short stretch of asphalt, the two Toyota try their hand at off-road driving, this time to reach the Spitzkoppe, also known as the “Matterhorn of Africa”, with its reddish granite that stands out among shrubs and Butter Tree. One hundred and thirty km separate from Swakopmund where you return for a visit to the Kristal Gallery where crystals and stones of all shapes and colors are exhibited but also to sip a “Windhoek Lager” at the Light House Pub near the city lighthouse.
From Cape Cross seals to Etosha Park via Epupa Falls
Along a road – paved first and then a dirt road – you come across the first wrecks of ships stranded on the beach: this is the path that accompanies Cape Cross, famous all over the world for the colonies of Cape fur seals that populate this area and that in certain months of the year they reach 200 thousand specimens. From this natural paradise we leave for the Skeleton Coast where at the entrance gate are two animal skulls to welcome tourists: a dirt track in the middle of the absolute desert where a mantle of blackish magnetite covers the sand dunes yellow, now ocher, now veiled in green. Heading towards Twyfelfontein means moving from one landscape to another completely different in a few tens of kilometers: the new scenario that appears to the eyes is at times green, with zebras and gazelles acting as the undisputed landlord, at times reddish, with mountains worthy of an American canyon. The arrival at a lodge built among rocks embellished with rock carvings concludes this stage of the trip to Namibia which led to travel for another 480 km. The 4 × 4 raid resumes with a visit to the Burn Mountains, expanses of volcanic rocks, followed by that to the Organ Pipes, columns of dolerite (coarse-grained basalt) that look like real organ pipes. But to arouse the deepest emotions are the rock engravings of the ancient San hunters who on the rocks designed the places where to find animals for hunting and water sources: walking between walls and ravines to admire these graffiti millions of years old not it really has a price. The journey continues in the direction of Sesfontein: along the way there are zebras and giraffes but also the first faces of Himba women and children, who to protect themselves from the heat and insects sprinkle the hands and the leather of their ocher earthen clothes, and others of the Herero ethnicity with clothing that brings back to the Victorian style … Starting from Opuwo you take a dirt road that, crossing dry rivers, takes you to a Himba village where you meet many women but almost never men, out to pasture with cattle. Off-road vehicles take the track that leads to Epupa Falls where another splendid lodge on the banks of the Kunene river overlooks the path that leads to the waterfalls: a interweaving of waterways, between palm trees and baobabs, joins up to form jumps of each height. A natural spectacle that leaves you speechless … also thinking that on the other side of the river there is Angola! We then continue to Oshakati where the traditional local market is worth a visit, appreciated for the variety of spices, fish and meat and for the splendid tunics that give a touch of color to the stalls. From this village, excursions to Etosha park, north of Namibia, can be reached by traveling another 240 km of asphalt: here, the game drive with gazelles, springbok, antelopes, elephants and rhinos is the flagship of tourist attractions. . The resorts, built in African style, all overlook pools of water where, at night, elephants, cheetahs and big cats come to drink and be admired (in total safety) by tourists. The journey marked “Colori di Sabbia” is now at the end when you start in the direction of Otijwarongo (covering 250 km) where a stop is a must to visit the Cheetah Reserve Foundation where we are involved in the study and care of cheetahs (here 56 of them are hosted): thanks to the information campaign carried out with local farmers against the killing of these felines (providing them with dogs trained to defend the cattle), now the owners of the farms themselves feed the cheetahs. Reaching Windhoek (260 km) and then returning to Frankfurt means ending this incredible adventure between unspoiled nature and wild animals, after discovering the beauty of a country that has a mix of African and European traditions in its history. A goodbye that is already a promise of return!
Thanks to: Cinzia Sforzini, Lorenza Breda and Dario Basile