After swimming with bats at a spring-fed waterfall (see previous post), Mathieu and I continued north to explore Namibia’s Kunene Region where we hoped to meet Himba and Herero people, see more amazing wildlife, and explore more beautiful scenery.
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After leaving the waterfall, we continued on the aptly named “Arid Eden” route, a dry, dusty, 2-lane washboard road through beautiful landscape. While passing through a small community, we saw a large gathering of people. There were men, women, and children and, based on their traditional clothing, they were from different ethnic groups. The Herero women stood out the most with their long, colorful dresses with their hair under the traditional triangle-shaped hats. The Herero are an ethnic group of about 250,000 people inhabiting parts of Southern Africa, the majority in Namibia with the remainder in Botswana and Angola. Their dress incorporates the styles of clothing worn by their German colonisers, now worn as a point of pride. The womens’ dresses are high-necked and have voluminous skirts. Their distinctive horizontal horned headdress, the otjikaiva, is a symbol of respect, worn to pay homage to the cows that have historically sustained the Herero .
We also saw Himba people with the women wearing animal skin skirts with only necklaces adorning their bare chests and their hair plaits wrapped in red clay. The Himba are an ethnic group of about 50,000 people living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region and on the other side of the Kunene River in Angola. The Himba are famous for covering themselves with otjize paste, a cosmetic mixture of butterfat and ochre pigment. This paste cleanses the skin over long periods due to water scarcity and protects from the extremely hot and dry climate, and against insect bites. The otjize paste is considered foremost a highly desirable aesthetic beauty cosmetic, symbolizing earth’s rich red color and blood the essence of life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty .
And we saw groups of young girls and boys, some dressed in traditional Herero or Himba clothing and some wearing modern clothing. It was very cool to see such an interesting mix of people. We found out later that the gathering of the various people from the area was to vote for their regional representatives.
After a night bush camping in a cluster of mopane trees along the road, we continued north to visit the Ovahimba Living Museum. Kamati, the manager/guide, explained that the small entry fee allowed tourists to learn more about Himba culture while providing the inhabitants a small income, allowing them to spend more time making handicrafts to sell at local markets. Kamati lead us into the homestead where we spent the next several hours interacting with the group of Himba women and their kids. Most of the men were away, grazing the goats. Kamati answered all of our questions about his culture. It was especially fascinating to learn about the many uses of the mopane tree (i.e., for huts, fencing, heating, and ceremonies) and how the arrangement and color of beads on the women’s necklaces, belts, and ankle bracelets indicated the status of their fertility, marital status, and the number of children birthed.
At first, the women seemed a bit ambivalent and the kids shy. We were tourists, just like all the others who’d visited. They smiled for the camera as requested. However, after Mathieu brought out the drone, the mood changed. They’d seen a drone before but they, especially the kids, seemed to have fun as Mathieu flew it over the homestead. And they really liked seeing the videos he’d taken of them. There was so much laughter; it was really a wonderful moment together. After the drone, I was lead by several of the women into one of the larger mud and mopane wood huts. It was the birthday of one of the women and she invited me to change into the traditional Himba dress. Absolutely! None of the women spoke English but thankfully getting dressed, and undressed, can be accomplished using universal hand gestures. I stripped down to my undies and the women went to work. It took about 20 minutes for them to adorn me with three layers of animal-skin skirts, belts, chest jewelry, necklaces, and head jewelry, and to slather my skin with a thin layer of otjize, the red-colored paste the Himba are famous for. As I emerged from the hut, the women and kids gathered around me. Everyone was smiling. I felt like a beautiful Himba princess. We all laughed together and danced around a bit. It was another really wonderful moment (hopefully for the Himba women and kids as well).
After that extraordinary experience, we continued north on mile after mile of washboard road to Epupa Falls on the Namibia/Angola border. In the rainy season, the waters of the Kunene River drop in a series of waterfalls spread over 0.9 mi (1.5 km), with the greatest single drop being 120 ft (37 m). Being the dry period, we experienced only a single fall. However, standing at the edge of the deep, narrow canyon, we could still appreciate the falls magnitude and visualize the water otherwise rushing over and completely covering the canyon below. Afterwards, we continued east along the Kunene River, peering across the beautiful, wide river into the forests and distant mountains of Angola. We passed numerous Himba homesteads and shared the company of a young Himba boy and his goats as we ate lunch by the river. We passed only a few other vehicles on the long stretch of dirt road along the border. It was wonderful.
After several hours, we left the border and drove southeast, stopping in Outapi, the first town we’d seen for a few days. While there we resupplied and replaced the front indicator light cover that had fallen off somewhere along the bumpy road. [These washboard roads are tough on Wily!] That night, we camped next to the Ombalantu baobab tree. The tree, called Omukwa by the locals and known as the “Tree of Life” is about 750 years old. There was a reverent vibe surrounding this beautiful, ancient tree. We enjoyed talking to Gebhard, the caretaker, who explained the history of the mighty tree and how the large “room” in its wide trunk had been used over the years (i.e., a prison, a storage room and a church) and how the local community rallied to have it designated a national heritage site.
We then continued south, stopping for the night to bush camp next to an artificial waterhole. We hoped to see wild animals at the water but shared the site mostly with cows and goats. At least we enjoyed a nice sunset. The next morning, we drove the short distance to Etosha National Park, named for the large salt pan, the Etosha Pan, covering about 1,900 sq mi (5,000 sq km) of the park. As we drove through the park, we saw many animals we’d seen in other game parks including ostrich, zebra, impala, oryx, jackals, giraffes, and rhinos, but finally saw some we hadn’t seen before including mongoose, dik dik, and honey badger! We also saw more elephants but this time we watched as a herd of twenty or so elephants of various ages marched majestically to a waterhole, then we watched as twenty or so serpentine trunks dipped into the water. It was an unforgettable sight.
From the game park, we drove south to Waterberg Plateau National Park. We enjoyed hiking up to the top of the rocky plateau, referred to as the “Table Mountain of Namibia” to overlook the surrounding flatlands of the eastern Kalahari desert. After so much time in the truck, it was especially nice to get outside and walk through the forest and among the red-orange colored rock.
We enjoyed another interesting and especially wonderful week in this beautiful country. I’ll let the pictures and videos illustrate the beauty and intrigue of this part of Namibia.