Namibia: Kaokoveld: Opuwo
The route North from Twyfelfontein to Opuwo is a well graded gravel road, blissfully devoid of the 3 inch deep corrugations that had made the main road from Swakopmund so tiresome. The problem with this road was that it was too good. On the long straights our speed crept up to over 60MPH and after a while we were almost lulled into thinking we were driving a “normal” car. Such delusions of grandeur came abruptly to a halt every time we came to a corner – Tonka’s primitive suspension and high centre of gravity had us drifting on the gravel more than once. Further entertainment came from concealed dips and troughs in the road. Hitting these at full pelt was too much for the springs and the axles banged hard up against the chassis – maybe our suspension modifications in Swakopmund had not been enough. But using Tonka to travel fast is like asking Berlusconi to chair a woman’s rights conference - not recommended.
After some hours as mile after mile of the huge landscape drifted past, Josi scanned the scrub for wildlife and wondered what would be our first big game sighting. As if on cue, it was at that moment that she shouted “A giraffe!”
Bringing Tonka from warp speed to a standstill took several hundred feet and by then we had to U-turn to get the best view of Africa’s tallest animal. Although dwarfed by the scale of its surroundings, this remarkable creature stood completely still as it watched us watching it. Here, far from the taller trees of east Africa’s savannah, its long neck seemed more of a hindrance than a help. It had to stoop in an ungainly way to feed on the desiccated leaves of the desert scrub. Looking rather solitary, this individual gradually moved on with its distinctive, rather clumsy forward and backward gait.
We had not gone more than 10 minutes further up the road when (again) Josi pointed to what looked like a large boulder, the outline of which broke the otherwise smooth contours of the hilltop on which it stood. We could easily have driven on without a second glance, but as Josi’s beady eyes continued to stare at it, 2 enormous ears suddenly sprouted from its sides. This “boulder” was nothing less than a large desert elephant. This was a slam on the brakes moment. Tonka momentarily pondered the meaning of this, before lumbering to a halt and we were treated to a perfect side-on silhouette of this amazing beast, tusks protruding into the totally empty sky. As with the giraffe, one of our first impressions was just how stationary most of the wildlife is here. In a landscape so devoid of nutrition that it takes many square kilometres to support one large herbivore, the conservation of energy is key to survival. It reminded us of Churchill, who attributed his own success to just the same principle – “Never stand when you can sit, never sit when can lie down.”
Save for an occasional flapping of its ears, it stood stock still, moving only once to suck up a trunk full of dust and snort it onto its back. We wondered how such a vast animal could survive on the withered vegetation. It, like the rest of the wildlife here, must be desperate for the long overdue rains.
Opuwo itself is a typical crossroads town – bustling traders, roadside car workshops, tin roofed bars and a forlorn looking supermarket. But pulling into our destination of the *Opuwo Country Hotel” was a breath of fresh air. Camping in places like this is amazing value for money. For the equivalent of US$30 we were given a great pitch with hot shower, electricity and braai. But the real value for money is being able to use the lodge facilities and to rub shoulders with the package tour clients who are paying a fortune to stay here. So after putting up our tent, we scrubbed up as best we could and headed to the main lodge. Here there was a friendly bar, opulent reception area and an infinity pool overlooking the valley below. A perfect stop over and our last taste of luxury before the wilderness of Kaokoveld.
In the morning we squeezed every drop of fuel we could into the long range tanks and then turned East onto the small dusty road to Etanga.
Days in Africa: 12
Km driven: 156km
Km total: 1,614km
Animal sightings: Desert Elephant, Giraffe, Baboon.