Luxe Double Date: A Nine-Day Adventure in Namibia
Namibia is a must-see destination for every adventure lover, and it's easy to see why. The South African country is characterized by its expansive sand dunes, canyons, deserts, diverse wildlife, and rich culture. Recently, travel writer Cecilia Ramos Licauco had the luxury of visiting this spectacular setting.
Licauco is the only daughter of National Book Store founders, Jose and Socorro Ramos. She is the author of her mother's biography An Open Book: Thursdays with Nanay Coring. She also constantly writes about her storybook-like travels for the Philippine Star.
She recounts her recent trip to Namibia with her husband, Mitto, and close friends Vic and Corlu Caparas.
After an overnight stay in Capetown, we flew to Windhoek Airport, Namibia. We were met by our pilot, Grant, and he flew us to Geluck Airstrip in a 5-passenger Cessna 210.
From the aircraft, Namibia’s terrain unfolded like a Hollywood-painted backdrop, a surreal, Mars-like tapestry of arid landscapes that changed color and shape, and stretched as far as the endless horizon. A giant must have wielded his palette of knives and brushes, and made forms according to his mood: dreamy-wavy sand dunes, razor-sharp rocks, solid Play-Doh boulders. It certainly took 43 million years to do so.
The famous red iron-oxide sand dunes occupy 50,000 square kilometers, under the protection of the Namib Naukluft Park. Constant winds from the Atlantic Ocean, 50 kilometers away, were responsible for these dramatic angles. The corridor of dunes is a continuous display of the tallest dunes in the world. It takes tourists about two hours to climb the 380-meter high Big Daddy. At the bottom of Big Mama is Dead Vlei (vlei means lake), a white clay pan that dried up because the sand dunes blocked the water from the Tsauchab River. The dry air has kept the 800-year-old camel thorn trees from disintegrating.
Fairy circles (2-15 meters in diameter) dot large areas of the desert. Grass grows around the circumference, but not inside. Scientists have been studying this phenomenon, but they have not found anything conclusive about what causes these circles. Termites, maybe. Aliens?
Courageous Corlu fell asleep on the ‘star’ bed on top of their room in Little Kulala camp until Vic woke her up. She enjoyed a cold, moonlit night, with the constellations in attendance.
In Sossuvlei, the Tsauchab River formed the Sesriem Canyon 4-5 million years ago. We walked on the dry river bed and touched gnarled rock formations on this three-kilometer-long canyon. The stony, two-meter-wide path led us through 30-meter-high canyon walls, an incredibly blue sky above, and silence punctuated only by the sounds of the birds that live there.
At the end of this day, Obie, our guide, drove us up to the top of one of the Numeb mountains. Our eyes saw 360 degrees of awesome—an endless desert reflecting the varied colors at sunset. He prepared our sundowner, complete with spirits and munchies. Magical!
We landed on Mowe Bay Airstrip on the Skeleton Coast and drove through sandy (slippery) roads to camp. Thick fog blankets the desert and makes everything look mysterious.
Shipwreck Lodge, owned by Natural Selection, mimics a ship that has been blown towards the middle of the desert, a kilometer away from the ocean. Very nice interiors, complete with a wood-burning fireplace.
The Namib Sand Sea, a UNESCO World Heritage site, reaches all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Relentless waves, strong winds, and dense fog have caused many vessels—and sometimes, whales—to ram against the rocks of the Skeleton Coast.
The oryx is Namibia’s national animal and is included in the coat of arms of the country. They served oryx for dinner in the camp. Firm but tender, with no fat.
The full moon was beautiful against the cloudless, desert sky, as it reflects the color of the dunes. Only in Namibia did we see the sun set and the moon rise (and the sun rise and the moon set) at the same time, on the same horizon. The experience defies description.
Rocky, our guide, drove through the dry river bed of the Hoarusib River. The word hoarusib means ‘water that twists and turns through a narrow gorge.' Different layers of rock and clay ‘castles’ are in full display. There are a few puddles on the road, signs of an underground spring.
Plankton-rich foam forms a long line on the beach, a source of food for many species of fish.
There are about 100,000 seals in this area. The fishy seal smell is quite strong. The seals were happily barking, snorting, sunbathing—unafraid of predators. We saw a lone hyena walking afar, probably hunting for sick seals or carcasses.
There are more seals and springboks than Namibians (population 2.6 million).
Rocky’s surprise! Lunch in front of the Atlantic Ocean just for us, complete with chefs barbecuing chicken, beef, and sausages! How awesome is that? Our table was right at the very edge of a 45-degree, 30-meter drop towards the beach below.
A super fun quad ride through the dunes. (Channeling the Power Rangers!) With nothing to collide against, we learned how to bank on the side of the dune, rev up on the incline, and shift gears when necessary. This pristine wilderness was ours to explore! (Without a guide, one can get lost.)
Vic and Corlu liked the experience so much that they went for another ride the next day. Great date place, don’t you think?
We started our day with a ride down a very steep dune. Corlu wanted to photograph our descent, so she decided to walk down instead. Brave!
This was a land transfer. From the Skeleton Coast, Rocky drove us halfway through the river bed and rough, dusty roads to the Hoanib Valley; another guide, Mamsy, met us and brought us to the next camp. Four hours to the Hoanib meeting point. Two hours to the camp.
The entrance to the camp has a narrow rocky opening. The camp was nestled beneath large mountains, keeping it safe from windstorms that occur on occasion. A breathtaking valley in the middle of nowhere, indeed!
Our sundowner was perfect: drinks, snacks, a warm fire. Needless to say, our bath that evening was well worth taking.
We left the camp at 6 a.m. and brought a rhino ranger with us. A vulture with its wings spread against the sunrise was a sight to behold. It took two hours to drive to the area where the rhino walked about. It took another two hours for the ranger to look for the rhino’s tracks and to use his nose to locate it. For our safety, we had to park in the direction where it couldn’t smell us and feel threatened.
We finally saw this beautiful, rare black rhino, ready to nap under the shadow of a small bush. Its horn was sawed off so that poachers will not kill it. So worth the time spent for searching!
The Himba women are attractive with smooth, silky red-orange bodies and braided hair. Their waterless bath includes rubbing their skin with a mixture of red ochre stone, some herbs, and cow fat. They ‘wash’ their cowhide clothes by hitting these against a rock, again sans water. They live in this village, with only one male head. He is 60 years old and has two wives, who live together in the same village. His 25-year-old second wife is actually in the hospital giving birth to their fifth child.
Mamsy shows the pillow used by the Himbas to sleep on. They also use cowhide as their bed.
With much reluctance, we left Namibia with many memories of this unexpectedly beautiful country and its incomparable landscapes.
The lack of animals, especially the 'big five,' may disappoint first-timers to Africa. We recommend a visit to Kenya, Tanzania, or Botswana first, before visiting Namibia.
Those of us who have come to love Africa can’t help but be like Danny, the elephant. It takes him many days to walk to the ocean. When he gets there, he turns around and walks inland, back to his mopane trees. He repeats the same trip regularly.
We would most willingly travel many kilometers home and happily return to this incredible continent again and again for another addictive ‘adventure’ (‘safari’ in Dutch).