The Namib Desert
Kaokaland is the northwest region of Namibia and extends south-north from the Hoanib river to the Kunene river (that also marks the border with Angola). The area is one of the wildest and least populated areas in Namibia. The most represented ethnic group is the Himba people. Who account for about 5.000 of the overall 16.000 inhabitants of the Kaokaland. The main settlement in this region is Opuwo (is named after Mr. Hahn who responded “opuwo”, which means it’s enough for me, after headsmen tried to sell him more land) and this town is the last stop for supplies and fuel before you embark into the backlands towards Marienfluss and Hartmanns Valley.
The Himba tribe are related from Herero herders who crossed the border from Angola and settled in Kaokaland. After surviving two terrible disasters, some of the tribesmen moved more south towards the town Opuwe. Here they seeked help from other tribesmen in order to get cattle and food, hence the name Himba was formed as it means beggar in the Herero native tong.
The Himba’s normally live very remote in small villages herding cows, goats and sheep. These small villages are nothing more than a few huts and a round fence where they keep their herd. The huts are made of wooden sticks covered by the skin of a cow to protect it against rain or wind. Only one person lives in the hut with their belongings as there is no more space. They sleep on the ground or on cow skin and they mainly live on flour with goat's milk, goat's meat, cow's milk and cow's meat. In some cases they also eat grains. This is back to basics and probably how all people lived up until the upcoming of mobile phones and access to internet.
Opuwo is not a big city, but a small town where development is slow and where most people still live in small sheds made of cardboard. Poverty is a major here and most people are trying to make quick money. This is clearly to see at the supermarket where women are selling jewellery while holding their baby on their arms or even breastfeeding them as young boys are selling tools or cutlery in raged cloths. Others go for an easier approach and just ask for money or food. We know that giving in to this will not help them in the slightest and even though we would love to support the local economy we have no use of what they are selling. We are more in need of groceries as we are going to the more remote region of Kaokaland where supermarkets, tank stations, etc are non-existent.
We are not only buying groceries for ourselves, but also buy food (rice, maizemeal and candy) for the people that live very remote. They don’t have the means to go to the supermarket as they don’t have a car and even by car it can take up to two days to get to Opuwo.
Inge is ecstatic when she comes out of the supermarket. “Himba’s are doing grocery shopping here”, she is shouting while walking towards me. The Himba’s are a tribe which can mainly be found in this region and they are quite a sight with their unique way of dressing up, especially the women. They cover their body and hair with a reddish sort of clay. For cloths they use only animal skin to cover the most intimate parts, whereas in the more remote villages the women are proudly showing their breasts.
Today not only the Himba’s are dressing up nicely, all people are doing their best to look beautiful as it is Friday, and everybody is going to the bar. We would love the join them, but we have more pressing matters as we are driving to Marienfluss, only separated from Angola by the Kunene river.
From Opuwo there are few roads leading to Marienfluss. One route ends up into the notorious Van Zeyls Pass which is a tough steep rocky climb and only for the more experienced off-road drivers. This pass is also only accessible from the east to the west because of the difficulty. The other two roads go around this climb but will take you a day longer to get to Marienfluss. We are taking the detour because we don’t want to put Marty to the test, and maybe even more, us to this test.
After filling our tank in the morning and reducing our tyre pressure we leave Opuwo. The road quickly changes into gravel which is normally no problem, but the road is corrugated so we need to drive slowly with a speed not more than 30 to 40 km an hour. We are passing small villages, and everybody is smiling and waving while we pass by. We cross dry river beds and we are surprised when we see the first palm trees, a beatiful oase. Or do we dreaming? When we cross another river crossing we stop as we see children digging in the sand with their hands, in search of water. We jump out of the car and start digging as well, to help them. We find out that it is very difficult to only get the water without sand, but we have the perfect tool for that and we grab our milk whipper to filter the water. As time is pressing we leave after 10 minutes but not without leaving our new-found water filter as a present for them to use.
We travel through the mountains and our pace is getting more slowly after every km. Looking at the time we see that we are not going to make it to a campsite, so we decide to wild camp for the night. Just 200 meters of the normal road we find a perfect spot with enough firewood to have a warm evening. When the evening falls, we lit our fire and enjoy our homemade meal while watching the stars.
The next day we come across a young man that needs a ride to a village 30 km from his own village. He would have walked the entire road if not for us. As we don’t have a proper place for him to sit inside we place him on the spare tyres at the back. He is more than happy to not have to walk.
Two hours later after dropping off our new friend we pass Marble Camp where we could stay for the night. Our plan is to continue to Marienfluss as we have still a few hours until the evening falls. What we didn’t expect is that the road changes dramatically. From the sandy/gravel road it now becomes rocky and the steep slope really slows us down. Although we are scared, Marty really pulls us through.
After descending the steep rocky slope, we come upon a red drum. There are 4 drums in total that are used as an indicator for the different roads that go into Hartmann’s Valley and Marienfluss of which the red drum is the first you will encounter. The other three, blue, brown and orange drum will lead you further away to the coast and to a more desolated area.
We take the red drum that leads into Marienfluss. The first 20 km we encounter several Himba settlements and along the way we find 50 to 100 sheep and cow which are being herd by young boys. We stop to give them some food. They say something in their native tong as they don’t know any English and we just nod like we know what they are saying.
Further up into the valley it is clearly to see how beautiful this valley is, golden grass as far as the eye can see with the mountains on both side closing it in. We take our drone out to make some nice pictures from above and when the drone is flying high and above we can clearly see big round shapes in the grass. They are called fairy circles and onto this day there is still no clear explanation how they come to be. Some say it is due to termites eating the grass, some say it is due to the nutrition in the ground and other swear that it could be extra-terrestrial. The only thing we can say it is a spectacular sight from above.
We find a camp spot just out of sight in the Marienfluss and set out into the Hartmann’s valley the next day. We cross the mountains and now I am being put to the test. I am scared as it is my first time, but resilient to make it to the top.
The environment changes when we cross the mountains. From the golden grass into the typical savannah bushes. We cross dry riverbeds and small hills and occasionally we come upon a lost Impala. An hour drive passes by until we encounter the first Himba settlement. A child spots us and runs away while we drive towards them. They are afraid, so we stop 50m before the village and step out of the car with presents (food and such) in our hands. The whole village, two man, an older woman, two young women and two babies move towards us. When we give them the presents they open up and although it is hard to talk to each other due to our language barrier we all have a great time. Especially grandma with her new bed.
We leave Marble camp early in the morning as we want to reach Epupa Falls in 1 day. Although the distance is not more than 200 km, most people need 2 days to reach Epupa due to the road conditions. Sometimes you even wander if there really is a road. Even we are doubting if we are going into the right direction when we turn right at T junction, and we can only find a hint of a previous track through the dense bushes. But the advice that’s been given to us by other travellers really proves to safe us time and after 11 hours of driving we finally reach Epupa Falls.
Epupa Falls is a great place to relax as you can camp along the river under palm trees. There are several camp sites and some great activities to do, such as rafting, hiking and of course the falls itself. From here on out we will drive slowly towards the border with Zambia where we will meet Jos and Thea who will be travelling with us for a month.
-If you decide to drive off the beaten track to Hartman Valley and Marienfluss, we have some tips for you that can help you prepare:
- When coming through Opuwe, make sure to fill up your tank and supplies as this is the last place where this is possible (we had 180 liters which gave us 4 days in this remote area).
- Note that the road is very bad, from corrugated gravel roads to sandy with boulders.
- There is no garage along the way. If you have a problem with your car, you are on your own.
- Make sure you have sufficient profile on your tires and have spare tires. The roads aren't tyre friendly. - Two cars is better than driving it by yourself as you can help each other out. - Your navigation will tell you that the route can be done in a shorter time frame than it actually is. - When you take the south road from Opuwe, the D3707, take two days to get to Marienfluss. - Make sure you have lowered your tire pressure accordingly, as this can be life saver. - Marble Camp is a great place to camp before you enter Marienfluss. They even do day tours to Marienfluss. - The Van Zeyls Pass is a notorious and tricky, steep and rocky pass. Experience and a second car is advisable. - You can only travel the Van Zeyls Pass from east to west, not from west to east. - There are two routes from Marble Camp to Epupa Falls. When following the D3703 the road will split in two routes, just after Otjitanda. The northern route, which is most commonly used, will take at least 6 hours to get to Okangwati The road is very bad and rocky. The southern route, which at first seems like no route at all, is the better option as you are in Okangwati within 4 hours. You will drive through small villages and beautiful nature, a highly recommended off the beaten track. - From Okangwati it is another 1 hour drive, on tar road, to Epupa Falls. - You can drive from Marble Camp to Epupa Falls in one long day (11 hours).
If you have more questions about this offroad track, feel free to contact us.
Chris & Inge