Firstly a belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to both my avid readers.
For Christmas this year a multinational group (3 British, 2 American, 1 Philippino, 1 Malaysian and 1 Namibian) went on a trip organised by yours truly to a place called Torra Bay on the Skeleton Coast. The Skeleton Coast is the harsh unforgiving bit of the Namib Desert that meets the harsh unforgiving waters of the South Atlantic and regularly (even today) lures unwary mariners to wreck their ships and if they survive leaves them in one of the most desolate places on Earth. A good choice for festivities.
On the first night (23rd) two groups met up at a wonderful campsite called OppiKlippe just outside Outjo (my favourite in Namibia). As people took stock of the glorious surroundings, went for walks in the hills and found the showers carved into the rockface they started to relax and think that maybe, just maybe, I had managed not to totally mess up the organisation. Little did they know.
On Christmas Eve we left OppiKlippe and stopping by the Ok in Outjo to stock up on novelty Santas and food (the busiest I’ve ever seen it and with canned carol music over the speakers – it was almost like home) we forged East. Once at Khorixas the last member of our expedition joined up and now in a three vehicle convoy we left tarmac behind and burned (or rather “dusted”) down the gravel for the coast.
Once we had negotiated the park entrance gates and waited for convoy stragglers to turn up it was a short trip to Torra Bay. The Skeleton Coast national park is like the surface of Mars but with less chance of finding life. A wonderfully bleak and empty expanse of rocks and sand stretching seemingly forever into the distance.
Having crossed through this wilderness of nothing we came over a hill and there before us was Torra Bay in all its glory. I had visited previously in September for two minutes and it had been totally deserted. Not now. Covering a couple of square miles was a massive array of windbreaks, tents the size of cathedrals (with smaller tents inside), caravans, trailers, 4x4s and throbbing over it all the sound of a couple of hundred throaty generators roaring away.
We found two adjacent pitches and set up. Whereas at OppiKlippe our seven tents looked like a big organised camp here, set against the background of the canvas cities, they looked small and feeble.
It turns out that Torra Bay is basically for hardcore fisherpeople. They bring everything with them (one lot even had their own donut trailer), build a replica of Johannesberg with canvas, setup their generators and then race off with massive fishing poles to go and fight sharks or something. There are no brai (BBQ) pits, seats or tables. The toilets (which thankfully there were) are of the “drop” model which is fair enough but without water to wash afterwards. Water is available for 50c per litre and showers are $2 a go (though there is hot water for your $2).
Naturally we had no generator, oil drum or other brai equipment, table, windbreak, tent to go over our tents and only one chair.
What little hope any of the party had that I had organised well following on from OppiKlippe rapidly disappeared from faces as tents were setup and a fire pit dug by hand under the drumming of generators.
Christmas Eve night we stayed up until gone midnight around the fire trading stories such as “where I would rather be for Christmas”. It was all rather jolly.
Christmas morning began with a festive game of Cricket in which, once we had convinced our colonial brethren to hold the bat straight, some fun was had.
Afterwards we drove up the coast to Terrace Bay hoping to see some of the many shipwrecks the tour guides and internet searches promised were lurking just along the coast. Alas, no.
Terrace Bay is a more substantial place than Torra Bay with actual permanent buildings, holiday cottages and a clinic. It also had mobile phone network which was good for those who had brought their phones and worthless for those that had left them at the camp (such as me).
Enquiries at the tourist centre (yes I know – proper civilisation) revealed the only shipwreck was a further 80km of bumpy road further North and we would need special permission to visit it. Unfortunately nobody was answering the phone at wherever it was so the permission wasn’t forthcoming.
We dropped by the clinic to say hi as most of us were Ministry of Health people (and also to fill up some water for free – sssh) when one of the party, boredly reading our permit noticed a set of handwritten rules on the top including “1. Don’t go to Terrace Bay“. Oh. Too late.
We decided against simply deleting don’t from the rule and instead just beat a hasty retreat back to Torra Bay. Not hasty enough. Barely out of the town and a Minitry of the Environment bakkie appeared and flagged us down demanding to see our permit. The one that explicitly forbade us from going to Terrace Bay.
That an official was working at all on Christmas Day let alone actually out and enforcing permit restrictions speaks volumes either for the selfless dedication of the staff or the ingrained bitterness they feel having spent years stuck at the very end of the earth fostering hatred against the tourist-scum that are the reason they’re there in the first place. I am not sure which it is.
Luckily as he was pulling his official fine book out and counting heads whilst grinning with mirth one of our member was able to implore upon him to let us off as we are just a bunch of penniless volunteers who apologise unreservedly, accept our stupidity in not reading fully the permit and will never, ever, do it again. He relented. This meant my plan of running into the dunes and living wild within the park didn’t have to come into effect.
Safely back at Torra Bay with the comforting phut-phut of generators all around a mighty and excellent effort was made to produce Christmas dinner. Potatoes were roasted in foil, chicken cooked, garlic bread prepared and many other wonders brought forth. Naturally I had nothing to do with it.
It was excellent. Doubly so considering the lack of, well, just about anything to aid preparations.
Afterwards the wind built and built and built and built. In the end most of us were sitting in my car.
At some point one of the tents collapsed totally. Obviously this is not at all funny. In the slightest. Apart from it being the funniest thing I had ever seen that is. Luckily no lives or property was lost and she slept ok in the back of her car.
Various groups of Afrikaners who had been treating our camp as some pitiable leper colony to be avoided whilst they went into their dinner tents with full tables and chairs to be waited upon by the staff they had brought with them (seriously) now came from far and wide to gawp then snigger at the collapsed tent.
That night my tent just about bent double though other than being repeatedly smothered by polyester I suffered no ills and it was still standing in the morning.
On Boxing Day we decided against trying to get another night at Torra Bay and headed back inland. Arriving at the gate we discovered that the permit was missing and had to deploy charm and people-skills to get out of the park. A quick wheel change on one of the cars later and we were off again. Two of the party headed to Khorixas and the rest of us up through Sesfontein.
That night we stayed at a campsite called Warmquelle which had been recommended. It was a nice spot by a babbling brook with a lagoon. The only slight issue was driving down a steep sheer-drop-sided road and then through a river to get to our sites.
The next day we watched in horror as several “big” 4x4s stalled or otherwise had problems getting through the river and back up. Obviously like the kind of hardened trekkers we now are both our cars (“little” 4×4 RAV4 and 2×4 Condor) made it through and up with no drama.
From there back to Opuwo through a mountain pass and various dried up riverbeds.
Strangely it seems that most of the party are already making plans for next Christmas and only two of us are up for the “even more remote than Torra” plan. Finding somewhere that meets this criterion is proving a bit of a challenge but the middle of the Kalahari is the current front runner.
For New Year I organised yet another hell-trip, this time to Ruacana up in the far north. The falls were off as usual (though agreed by all to be theoretically impressive were they on).
Then it rained. And rained. And rained.
Obviously being from the UK I seldom go anywhere without full wet weather gear and was the envy of everyone when I pulled a cagool and waterproof trousers out.
At midnight the dam sounded the “we’re opening the floodgates” siren but nothing else happened.
The big change since I was last at Hippo Pool is the addition of hand-drawn signs of a satisfied looking crocodile with the words “Don’t Swim” above. This is following a most unfortunate incident where a German tourist got eaten.
Didn’t seem to put the locals off swimming but I didn’t fancy it much.