Let’s go camping: day 1 – dead sea, the welwitschia and lion tracks

It’s again that time of the year. February. Swakopmund’s streets are empty. Tourism is quiet and so are our days. Plenty of time to do some fun stuff. And there is Desirèe’s birthday. Instead of giving each other presents which we don’t need we rather spend time together and go on a road trip. Just for a couple of days. Get lost in the wild. Be in the nature. Far from civilization. Out of reception.

It’s 6 of us. We don’t wanna drive far. We want to enjoy the drives. Be in the nature. Spend time together. Put a point on a map. Let’s go to the Ugab river. Drive it up from the coast side towards Brandberg. The other 2 couples are part of the Land rover team. Both drive a Land rover. Dawie and me are taking the good old Isuzu from his Grandpa. Thanks again Oupa! This red beast has almost 500 000 kilometres on the clock but runs still so smooth on the gravel. Solid car. Well looked after. And yes, where the 2 landrovers go through she will make it as well.

You are probably asking yourself why we take 3 cars when there are enough seats in one car for all of us. Which we used to do on our older trips. The situation is different. We are driving into a remote area with no reception or regular traffic coming through. You should have at least 2 cars in those cases. We are driving through a riverbed where you can get stuck in soft powder sand or in water if a flash flood is hitting you. We are going for 3 nights and won’t pass any fuel stations, bars or supermarkets. There for we have to load extra fuel in jerry cans, bring all our drinks, lots of extra water and food for the whole time with. That’s means as well keep all those things cool (especially the beer). And suddenly the bakkie is full. And yes. We do go bush camping. But we camp in style. With fridges running on the car battery, chairs, tables, gazebos and lots more. So as we start packing we begin with the clothes. Dawie makes a pile. 2 shirts, 2 pants, underpants. One jacket. Just in case. (Was totally unnecessary). One pair of shoes. I’m looking at his pile. It will be pretty difficult to beat that. But I got one option. All I pack is one dress. And a bikini. Wild camping means no shower, so there’s no point in changing clothes. One sweater I take with as well. Which I had to wash afterwards without having it used but it looked like it got dragged through the mud. The little bag with toiletries and the pile of clothes is small. Very small. And then we continue. 2 bags of wood. 40 litres of water. 4 cool boxes. Mattress. 2 sleeping bags. 1 blanket (both as well totally unnecessary). My camera of course. And we’re ready to go!

Our first stop is just after Henties Bay. A turn off to the east and a drive for about 20 kilometres through nothing in search of the dead sea. It’s a old rose quartz mine where the underground water filled up the hole and due to the presence of different minerals the salt level in the water is so high that you float in it.

I’ve never been there. I’ve never been in a dead sea. Neither did Jonah. And there we are. Walking into this water. Just moving your legs feels weird. Slower. The others are waiting for us screaming. Both of us have a few wounds on our body. This salt should make it burn. But it wasn’t that bad. Only a scratch on my hand started burning a bit later. I’m going down. And the water pulls your legs up. There am I floating. Such a weird feeling. In the same time really relaxing. You can lie on your belly as well. It works just as good as lying on your back.

Our drive continues. Back to the coast then further north. We leave the main road just before the messum river and drive east. Welwitschia plains ahead of us. Do you remember that plant?

The Welwitschia mirabilis is the national plant of Namibia, it is on the coat of arms of the country and of the city of Swakopmund. Therefore the welwitschia plains close to Swakopmund are a popular tourist destination. But a lot of them are disappointed from it. It’s an ugly plant. Not worth the drive. Yes, it is not the prettiest plant at first sight. I find the real beauty in this flower lies in the how and where. The Welwitschia is an endemic plant which only grows in southern Angola and Namibia along the coast line (but not right at the coast). It is a living fossil since these plants can become up to 1500 years old. Imagine that! Over 1000 years, that’s very old. You rarely ever find young plants since the seeds need a lot of water to grow. The reason for that is that the plant gets most of its water through taproots which can reach ground water up to 3 meter deep. It has as well a wide spread network of roots close to the ground surface to collect all the water from the bit of rain that is falling in this area and especially to get the moist out of the fog. That is why it is important not to walk close to the plants because you would destroy those sensitive routes underneath the ground. This makes the reproduction so difficult and only possible in the wettest of the wettest years since the plants have to grow their long taproots in order to survive in this environment. I’ve been told that the youngest plants over here are about 50 years old.

The welwitschia has only 2 leaves which brake with age and make it look like a pile of leaves. There are female (picture top) and male (bottom) plants which use insects to carry their seeds over.

The Afrikaans word for the welwitschia is „twee-blaar-kanniedood” which means two-leave-can’t-die and sums up the the facts of having only 2 leaves and surviving in a rough terrain where nothing else grows. A quick lesson for all those who were interested. I think it is pretty amazing,

In this area it looks like it rained a bit because lots of grass and small plants are pushing through, but a few kilometres further the ground looks like it’s impossible to live here. Black rocks and no sign life. Except of those welwitschia plants which can only grow here because of some wonder. Or long roots…

We’re driving into rougher terrain. Mountains on our left. A canyon ahead of us. We shouldn’t be far from the Ugab river.

We reach the main channel of the river bed. But the only tracks we see are going down stream. Thick bushes block our way upstream. Now I start doubting if Martin will find us. The 3rd car with Martin and Jolandi is joining us later in the day. Jonah and Martin decided at home with a pin point on the GPS where we will set the camp up. We marked the last kilometres with a few cans for him to follow.

We turn around, collect one of the cans and follow another track through the mountains.

We have to drive slower. Big rocks are lying on the road. I just hope Martin will get to this part before it gets dark.

After doubting if we’re on the right track we see the Ugab base camp. Made it. Now drive 5 kilometres up the river and choose a nice spot to camp.

We need a sandbank as protection if the river comes down. Blue sky is no sign of safety. A cloud burst about 200 kilometres from here could cause a flash flood and hit you in the river while you see no sign of rain at all on the sky. So find a spot on higher ground with some shade because in this heat you can’t survive in the sun.

Set up the shade net and relax. Too hot to move.

Later in the afternoon I go for a walk.

Birds are singing. Insects are flying from tree to tree. Some bushes are greener. Lots of animal movements are to spot. I am just not the one to know which track is from which animal. But this one looks like from a lion. And there are lots of them. I take a picture of them to ask the boys back at the camp. They seem quite fresh as well…

And yes Dawie agrees with me. It’s definitely from a lion. Looks even like a female lion with a cub. They asked me in which direction they walked. Towards the side valley. Proud of myself. Slowly I’m learning something about reading tracks.

Beautiful spot we got here.

Nobody seems further concerned about the lions. I set up the bed. Upgrade from sleeping on the ground is putting the mattress on the back of the bakkie. Very comfortable bed. Important to mention all that water next to me. Just in case I get thirsty during the night 😉

As we are discussing what time Martin will arrive he is busy reading our tyre tracks down the river and gets confused with the Land rover turning around and the bakkie driving to the left. We did take some detours unfortunately. But eventually we can hear him. Using the horn for like a minute straight through. If the lions were in this area by now the latest they started running far away.

As the sun is setting we start making the fire. The massive t-bone steaks need some coals to get ready. But I’m telling you, they were perfect. We finished all 4 of them. Leaving nothing for the jackals around us.

The fire is lighting up the grass in front of my camera in such beautiful way. But I catch as well the clouds rising on the horizon. Let’s see if we stay dry tonight…

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