After leaving Sossusvlei and Deadvlei, we headed off toward Damaraland – but we were going to stop for a couple of days on the coast at Walvis Bay and Swakopmund.
You can see them on this map of Namibia:
We had an interesting drive to Walvis Bay – what was supposed to be a 5 hour drive became 9 hours due to a couple brief stops and our inability to drive over 60 km/hr on gravel roads.
The following sign (which we came across) is apparently one of the most photographed landmarks in Namibia and I must admit it was a unique experience to “cross” the Tropic of Capricorn in our vehicle.
Before arriving in Walvis Bay, we stopped in Solitaire to refuel (and yes, we still had our gas tank issue) and to have some of Moose McGregor’s famous apple pie. I was a bit skeptical when I was first told to do this – really, apple pie in the desert? I was soon put in my place – this is the best apple pie I have ever had, and being from Canada where we have copious quantities of the stuff, that is saying a lot (sorry mom, Moose’s pie is awesome). After gorging ourselves, we decided to move on.
Walvis Bay (which means “Whale Bay” in Afrikaans) is a lovely coastal city of about 70,000 people and situated in the desert. When you got to the outskirts of town, this is the view you would often see:
We were fortunate enough to take in a cruise of the harbour in Walvis Bay where we saw a lot of wildlife – humpback whales, dolphins, fur seals and pelicans:
Our cruise was organized by Mola Mola who were great and provided us with plenty of information on the harbour, beverages (ask to have a “Namibian coffee”… it contains no coffee and will make you happy) and hors d’oeuvres.
Unfortunately, we spent our time in Swakopmund (a cute German inspired tourist town) sorting out car trouble – in addition to having wonky gas tanks, we were also having issues with a rear window (that was opening on its own while driving) and the battery gave up the ghost. I guess it is a good thing that we had vehicle issues in the city (as opposed to being in the middle of nowhere), however, we lost a day of our vacation trying to sort it out.
I called Advanced Car Hire (our rental company) and explained my dilemma to them – their response, “You must have left the lights on as batteries don’t go flat on their own.” Ummm… interesting customer service – immediately absolve yourself of any responsibility and blame the client. Even if I did leave the lights on, it would have been only for 45 minutes as the battery died right after we checked into our guesthouse, Villa Margherita (a really lovely and comfortable place – $N 1,050.00 or $USD 130.00 per night including breakfast).
It was mid/late afternoon so I asked the car rental company if someone could look at the car that day as I had arranged a private tour of Sandwich Harbour with Sandwich Harbour 4×4 Tours and I needed to drive back to Walvis Bay to board their boat. Their response, “Who is the tour company? Get them to pick you up, they should be doing that anyway. We won’t be able to look at your vehicle until 9:00 am tomorrow.”
I had to cancel my private tour. I really regret hiring a vehicle from this company.
Not having a working vehicle, we wandered around town for a bit on foot and ended up having a lovely meal at Zur Kupferpfanne Restaurant ($N 560.00 or $USD 50.00 for dinner for two with wine). It was like dining in a funky German museum and was a very interesting (and tasty) experience.
At 10:00 am the next day (17 hours after my phone call to the vehicle rental company), someone came to look at our Nissan 4×4 and towed it away. It was returned to us in the afternoon and hopefully, everything was sorted out. I am glad I did not have to deal with this in the middle of the desert as I would have hated dying of dehydration waiting for help.
We started our journey to Damaraland and pulled into a petrol station to fill up – it had been another 500 km since our last fuel purchase. We were only able to get 15 litres of fuel into the vehicle before the pump shut down. The attendant and I rocked the vehicle (gently) to release the air lock that was continually building up and during the next 20 minutes and we managed to get another 15 litres into the tank. So, our Nissan 4×4 was getting 17 kms per litre now? I don’t think so. Our request to have the gas tanks fixed went unanswered. Not only that, the gas station attendant tried to overcharge me for the petrol by $N 200.00 – I only paid what the pump said I owed and then left.
I wasn’t having a good day.
Moving along, we were headed to the southern part of Damaraland (labeled with a red star with the number “1” in it) to a resort called Doro Nawas ($N 3,810.00 or $USD 473.00 per night including dinner and breakfast for two people) for one night. It was an interesting drive through the Skeleton Coast – I felt as though someone had dropped us on the moon as the landscape is very eerie and gray in appearance
We took the turn off for Doro Nawas and noticed that the main road had been washed out. A couple weeks earlier, there had been really heavy rainfall and the road became a casualty in the resulting flash flood. The road repair crews were trying to fix the road, however, it was an absolute mess. A normal sedan would have no chance of making it on this road. Our Nissan 4×4 really struggled with the hills – even in first gear using 4WD. Quite frankly, this thing was a piece of junk and I feel ripped off ($N 14,550.00 or $USD 1,807.00 for 16 days rental) that we did not receive the Toyota Hilux that we originally booked.
We finally made it to Doro Nawas (8.5 hours vs. the 5 hours quoted by the travel agent) to a very lovely welcome – we were greeted in the parking lot by 3 people – one with cold towels, another with cold fruit juice and another to take our luggage.
It is an absolutely beautiful setting with incredibly spacious rooms – and the main building was simply luxurious. The staff were unbelievably friendly and treated us exceptionally well. There was also electricity which was surprising given its very remote location.
If you visit the Doro Nawas website, you will see that you can roll your bed onto the front veranda (it is safe to do so as there are no wild, human eating animals) so you can sleep under the stars. My wife and I did that and it was an amazing experience.
Here is a photo to give you an idea of what the rooms look like from the outside:
The main building is perched on the top of a hill and is quite modern – they have Internet access which I used to email the car rental company in addition to leaving a voice-mail message about our continuing fuel issues:
Everything about this place was beautiful – as I mentioned before, the main building and common areas were lovely.
The view (and sunset) was incredible and we had a lovely time relaxing, having a sundowner and just taking in the surroundings and colours. The setting of this lodge is just breathtaking.
Be careful when photographing sunsets. Do not stare at the sun for too long when you are using an optical viewfinder and have a telephoto lens attached to the camera. You run the risk of damaging your retina. Seriously, be careful.
Dinner was good, but not great. Given what we were paying to stay here, I expected more but perhaps I was spoiled by the cuisine at Wolwedans. Service was excellent though and I have never seen so many people smile at me while staying at a lodge/hotel before.
We unfortunately had only one night here – we would have loved to spend one more as it was really beautiful (both the lodge and the surroundings) and there were plenty of things to see and do in the area. Not on this trip though – we had to hit the road for our next destination (and to find gas, we were running low). When we do visit Namibia in the future, we would love to stay here again.
We had a lovely breakfast during the early morning and I checked my email and voice-mail – nothing from the car rental company. I guess we were on our own and hopefully, we would not run out of fuel. Fingers crossed.
We traveled on the washed out road again as we traveled to our next destination, Khowarib Lodge ($N 3,570.00 or $USD 443.00 per night including dinner and breakfast for two people) located in the northern part of Damaraland (shown on the map with the red star with the number “2” in it). We were to stay here for two nights, so it was going to be nice to stay put for 48 hours. On our trip, there were long distances between destinations – and traveling at 60 km/hr (or less) on gravel roads makes for really long days.
Our journey was supposed to be 2 hours, it ended up being 5 hours. I guess we could simply ignore all of the transit times given to us by the travel agent as they were completely inaccurate (or she didn’t take into account that we were restricted to 60 km/hr with our vehicle – maybe she might want to talk to the car hire company to confirm this herself and adjust her times accordingly).
To our relief, we made it to Palmwag to refuel but encountered the same gas tank issue as before. I just hoped that we could keep putting enough petrol into the tank along the way to make it to our next destinations and finally, back to Windhoek airport. Again, the gas station attendant tried to extract some extra cash from me – I just paid him what the pump said and moved on.
We arrived at Khowarib Lodge which is a funky looking set of buildings with really cool fences on the property:
It is set in the valley and while we were there, it was really hot. How hot? One day it got up to 51 C (124 F). I know it is a dry heat, but it is the equivalent of vacationing in a blast furnace …
We were greeted by the manager who warmly welcomed us – and that welcome was complete with cold towels and beverages. A nice way to start our visit here. In fact, the manager (Adele) and her husband (Hino) were extremely kind to us and went out of our way to make us feel at home.
Given that it was high season, we found it odd that we were the only guests staying at the lodge – I guess we were going to get the royal treatment as there was no one else to serve! The main building (bar) has a lovely view of the valley and was a great place to escape the afternoon sun. It was too hot during the day to do anything (our room was sweltering hot with no air flow and a small fan), so drinking lots of water in the bar was our favourite pastime during our stay.
(aside: if you look at the following image, the mountain at the far left by the umbrella is called the “sleeping elephant” – can up see the trunk on the very far left and as you move to the right, can you also see the head and then the body?)
During our first evening there, I spent my time looking for interesting subjects to photograph…
… including my favourite Namibian beer!
The rooms are permanent tents on wooden platforms which were small compared to all of the other places we had previously stayed. We had enough room to move around and store our luggage, but it was quite cozy. One thing to note was that there was electricity in the room to charge our batteries and boil water for coffee in the morning… very nice!
One unique feature of the rooms was the outdoor bathroom – you could shave, shower, brush your teeth… and answer the call of nature (yes, there is a toilet) – all outside! Don’t worry though, no one will see you as there is a stone wall around the bathroom (no roof) for your privacy.
It was a very unique experience and I have to admit that the showers I took (many of them given the heat) were the best I have ever had!
The shower is on the left hand side of the sinks.
We were offered the option of a full day safari ($N 1,000.00 or $USD 125.00 per person) to see the desert elephants or a half day visit to a Himba village ($N 300.00 or $USD 37.00 per person). Given that we would soon see elephants in Etosha National Park and that it was stifling hot (we wanted to avoid being out in the mid-day sun), we chose to visit the village the next morning.
The Himba are an ethnic group of about 20,000 to 50,000 people living in northern Namibia – one of their villages was close to our lodge. They live in huts (made from mud and cow dung) with thatched roofs and a Himba male can have up to 4 wives provided he has enough cattle (considered to be the main form of wealth).
The women cover themselves with a red paste made from cow’s blood, milk fat and ochre. It helps keep them cool (and sun burn free) in the hot Namibian sun.
Here is my wife having some of this paste rubbed onto her arm. Little did we know it would eventually end up everywhere – and it will permanently stain your clothing if you do not wash it out soon (about 4 hours) after application. I had a little bit put onto my forearm and it permanently stained my pants after they came in contact with my arm.
Those of you who have viewed my wedding work know that I love photographing children. The Himba children are exceptionally photogenic and were fascinated by us. I could have spent all day photographing them.
We had a good visit and I am glad we took the time to do this as it is a unique part of Namibian culture. There was a “question and answer” session where we could ask questions of each other and they took a particular interest in me and my wife. The women present seemed to have a few chuckles after making some colourful comments about us – which the interpreter chose not to share. I guess they were having a good laugh at our expense – our (Western) way of life is so foreign to them.
We spent the afternoon trying to keep cool and once the sun started to set, we ventured out to the river to take in the landscape. Along the way, we found a few critters who did not seem to be camera shy:
It was quite lovely along the river which was a nice way to finish our day.
I am glad we had the opportunity to stay at Khowarib Lodge, however, we would not visit again on a future visit to Namibia. I found it expensive for what we received (reasonable meals, smallish room/tent and a not-so-breathtaking location) and IMHO, there is not a whole lot to do in the area unless you are participating in one of the full day elephant safaris. I believe we would have been better off to spend one night here and two nights at Doro Nawas to get a better feel for Damaraland.
That is not to say that the staff were not good to us at Khowarib Lodge – their service was excellent. That alone, however, does not justify its cost.
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