Dawn light filtered through our tent. I emerged from my sleeping bag, a crumpled heap squashed up to one side of the tent. What a night. I’m not sure what was more scary: the lions roaring outside or that god-damn mosquito that thought it was funny to fly around my head all night. Fortunately, my repellent kept me safe.
We followed a similar routine every morning. Get dressed, make breakfast and then pack up our tent and cooking supplies. Today we were off to the Skeleton Coast, a place that filled me with heaps of wonder and excitement. Just the name ‘Skeleton Coast’ has me drooling with anticipation. I love anything that sounds creepy and knowing that it is often referred to as ‘the gates of hell’ is enough to have me hooked.
The Skeleton Coast is part of the Namib desert which has one of the most unique travel destinations in the world.
One of the massive benefits about being constantly on the move is that I don’t feel super sad about leaving each campsite. The Madisa Desert Camp that we were staying at looked like it should be located on Mars or something. I had never seen a landscape so crazy and awe-inspiring. However, as our journey took us to another exciting place, I wasn’t leaving with a heavy heart like I would normally.
As we hit the road again, I did something which I couldn’t believe we hadn’t done already – okay I could. We’d had a crazy jam-packed schedule so there was no time for anything other than driving until today. I took droney for a spin. I mean, after paying £120 for a drone licence, and going through a lengthy traumatic experience getting into Etosha with a drone, I had to really get my money’s worth.
I mean, boy, what a place to fly a drone! After 1 flight, I already was convinced the licence and stress was worth every penny. An aerial view really gives you a whole other perspective of the landscape. When driving along these straight, endless gravel roads, you don’t quite get a sense of how long they stretch on for but from the air when you see the road fade away into the landscape, snaking around trees and boulders, you really see it does go on forever.
I honestly didn’t know how anything could top the drive from yesterday. We saw so many incredible landscapes, not to mention my jaw practically hit the floor when I saw Damaraland’s boulder-like structures for the first time. Would you believe me if I told you that today’s drive would almost blow that one our of the water? Because that’s exactly what happened.
Suddenly two men on horse-back (or mule-back but that doesn’t have the same ring to it) appeared, walking parallel to the road. I felt like I’d stepped into a western movie and was watching two cowboys on their way to the next town which was over 100km away. The desert rolled out endlessly behind them and I wondered where their journey was taking them. Imagine having horses or mules as your only source of transport?
Again, I didn’t think anything could top what I had just seen. I was certain of it this time! However, Namibia seems to be full of surprises and always seems to have another trick up her sleeve.
I noticed a slow-moving vehicle in the road ahead. I squinted my eyes, straining to see what the hold-up was. The thing with gravel roads is, if you are behind another vehicle, visibility is absolutely hopeless. Dust is kicked up into massive murky clouds and you have to hope and pray as you drive through the dust cloud that you aren’t going to hit anything.
Fortunately, this dust cloud wasn’t as big as usual and as I approached, it suddenly became clear why. It wasn’t a car at all but a wooden cart being pulled by two donkeys.
The owner sat in the cart, shades covering his eyes, glancing in our direction. He seemed like one cool guy, just oozing with swag.
Later on we saw yet another donkey cart but this one was at the side of the road, being loaded up for its trip.
I love exploring different cultures and I was really starting to feel like I was getting a sense of some of the cultures in Namibia. Here in Damaraland, life seemed like the simplest we had come across on our road-trip. Or maybe it just seemed that way because it was only in Damaraland that we had ‘gone of the beaten track’ as you might say, turning off the main tarred road and onto the gravel back-roads.
Farming seemed to be in abundance here and I suspected that people in this region largely lived off the land due to the rarity of cars. Considering many travelled via mule or donkey-driven carts, the nearest towns were very much out of reach.
Many locals created stalls by the side of the road where they’d sell hand-made crafts and precious stones. It was nice to see so many tourist cars pulled-over at these stalls. Regretfully, I didn’t stop although looking back on my trip, I wished that I had. The crafts obtained here would be very special and unique and the money is going straight to the local community.
Some locals at the stalls were dressed in traditional tribal gear. One stall even had the village behind it and the village consisted entirely of straw huts. It was incredible!
The stalls at the side of the road became lesser and lesser. Houses also became rarer until they disappeared altogether. The landscape began to change around us with orange and deep yellow stony terrains being replaced by pale yellow sand. The rocky hills also vanished leaving us surrounded by nothing but flat sand on either side of us, the most barren wilderness that I had ever laid eyes on. There was no doubting it, we were entering The Skeleton Coast.
The Skeleton Coast actually acquired its name as a result of the numerous shipwrecks that have washed along its shores. The conditions along the coast here are treacherous with strong winds, rough seas and thick fog. These are the perfect conditions for disaster. The ‘Skeleton’ in its name refers to the skeletons of shipwrecks lost to the sandy shores.
One of the main reasons for coming to The Skeleton Coast was to see some of these shipwrecks. Sadly, it’s not as easy as that. The same conditions that have caused the wrecks have also made them either inaccessible or disappear altogether. As time passes, the skeletons of these ships are blown further and further inland and sand gradually buries them. Only a handful of shipwrecks are actually accessible by road.
To my right, in the distance, towered a huge mountain known as Brandberg Mountain. It’s in fact the highest mountain in Namibia, standing at 2,606 metres in height.
It was an incredible feeling to be completely in-the-middle-of-nowhere. For miles and miles, we didn’t pass a single car. Oh, apart from that guy above, if you count him as another car. Occasionally I thought to myself, damn, I’ve not filled up with diesel for a while. I hope we don’t break down here. Out of all the places we had been to so far, this seemed like the worst place to break down. We passed so few cars and there were no settlements at all.
To me, the slight element of fear always adds to my experience. Today’s drive had definitely been the drive of a lifetime where I’d seen so many amazing sights and landscapes that would stay with me forever.
What’s the coolest drive that you’ve ever been on?