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Sunday, 9 August 2015

Namibia Postscript - the essentials

Namibia is perfect for an adventurous driving holiday. There are plenty of companies that will rent you a truck with tents and camping gear. Most of the gravel roads are maintained pretty well. If you want to go onto the 4x4 tracks, it helps to know your way around four wheel drive (to some extent) and if you are planning to drive in deep sand, take plenty of advice about tyre pressures and techniques. There is lots of good advice to be had on the various Internet forums - Tripadvisor forums are a good source.

Many thanks to Chris Card for all your wise and useful advice!

There are incredible sights to see and lots of good places to stay: campsites and lodges. Book them in advance in the holiday periods, particularly in Etosha. The remote areas should be taken seriously though. Some of the routes through Kaokoland are extremely tough going and a breakdown of any sort could see you stranded for days. There is no cell coverage there so take a satphone if you are on your own. Plan your routes carefully and don't leave it until the last minute to get fuel - the next pumps could be many hours away. Be aware that what doesn't seem that far on the map could be a lot slower if the gravel road is badly corrugated, or barely there at all. Don't drive at night if you can possibly avoid it; you can't see the road surface clearly or the animals getting ready to spring out in front of you. The advice we were given in Opuwo (and took) was that it's better to try to camp near other people if you can't reach your destination, and get their permission first. 

What to bring from home...

The Tracks4Africa Namibia map - excellent detail. 
A Garmin satnav with the T4A Namibia road map installed. We simply could not have reached some places without it. 
Really good sleeping bags - the nights can be very cold in the winter.
Several multi-LED lights/head torches to hang from tent roofs and over food prep and cooking areas. It gets dark quickly!
Spare batteries
Gaffer tape - for just about anything that needs a quick fix. 
Multi-tool or penknife for can-openers and scissors and bottle tops and small repairs.
A folding washing up bowl is brilliant
Two thick tea-towels for lifting hot pans from the fire as well as drying up. 
A small tyre pressure gauge for checking tyres and getting the right pressure for the road.
My wife says a "she-wee" is a must
A good solar charger (at least 15 watts) with a big battery is good for gizmos. 
Take spare camera batteries and big memory cards. Everything is a photo-op

To Windhoek

I'd sort of hoped this day wouldn't come. We had such a long holiday planned that, at the start of it, it felt like we would never actually get to the end of it. But we have. P and I were up early while Tom pleaded for a bit longer in his "Man Cave". We emptied the last odds and ends from the fridge, rolled up the sleeping bags and stowed the tents for the last time. A little striped mouse scurried around to see if we had left anything.

On the way out of our site, Philippa ran over to the one opposite to see if they wanted our remaining fire-lighters and wood and olive oil and other bits and pieces. They were two days into their three week trip and very pleased to have them.

One more lodge breakfast and a last check of the tyres, and then we were off. The satnav had us retracing our steps south to Mariental and then turning north on the B1 but we decided to spend more time on the D road, heading north through the Kalahari. 

It's a friendly sort of desert, quite different from the big threatening dunes and barren terrain of the Namib. The red dunes come in regular low ridges like big waves and between them the sand is covered with grasses and small trees, many of them tufty with weaver bird nests. 

The only gamble with this route was that we needed fuel and Mariental had several petrol stations. But so did Kalkrand 75k north where we rejoined the B1. The low fuel light had been on for a while by the time we got there and the needle was on empty. But there ahead of us was a gleaming Shell station with smartly uniformed attendants. Everything we needed in fact. Except diesel. "The tanker is coming today but we don't know when. The nearest pump is in Mariental" said one of the lads at the pump. We didn't have 75Km of fuel. We probably didn't have 20km of fuel. After a month of carefully plotting out our fuel supply and making sure we never had less than half a tank, suddenly on our last day we were stuck. With a truck to return and a plane to catch. We rang a nearby lodge to see if they could sell us any. "Sorry, we don't have fuel for sale. Mariental is your best bet". By this stage Tom was all for re-booking our flight for tomorrow...

Then the pump attendant came back and said quietly that he had found us 20 litres. "Will that be ok?". It was such a relief. He brought it out in a big yellow barrel from the back of the garage, two of them hoisted it on their shoulders and sucked some diesel through a syphon tube into our tank. I gave him probably the biggest tip he's ever had for pumping gas and we got back on the smooth tarmac of the B1.

Just east of Rehoboth is Namibia's largest dam and the promise of a picnic area. We had packed lunches from the Bagatelle and took the dusty track to the dam. Irritatingly, the picnic area seemed to have been taken over by a camp site which was very keen for us to pay in order to do anything by the dam so we circled back to a public viewing area on the other side - where I am writing this now in fact, looking out over a small lake of blue water. 

It's very quiet, and hot. Tom has just finished the marathon stop-motion project he has been doing at various places for the past month. P is reading, I have just walked across the dam which, I read, was dangerously full in 2006 forcing them to drain some water out. They let too much into the river though and Mariental - 180K downstream - was flooded to a depth of 1.7 metres. 

So, wearily and reluctantly we packed away the table and chairs for the last time and locked down the hatches for the final hour of driving back to Windhoek. The lowering sun shone hot through the side window and we three were all quiet; Tom reading, Philippa snoozing and me pondering the last month. 

Namibia really is a terrific place. It's uncrowded and unspoilt enough that you feel like you are among the first to discover it. If you want to feel truly alone in the wilderness, Namibia is the place to be. Nothing feels too touristy, cynical or money-grabbing. The sights are spectacular and varied, the people are interesting, welcoming and friendly. The food was always good - even at the little places. We will miss rock shandies and cheese sandwiches fried in butter. Everywhere we went we were also aware of how different it will be at other times of the year. It would be amazing to see so much of what we drove through covered in grass during the rainy season. Another time perhaps...

The low fuel light pinged back on with 30k to go, so we really did return our truck empty as requested. Hats off to Toyota; our Hilux was unstoppable in any terrain. In all we did 5860K, on gravel roads through deserts, mountains, salt pans, plains and river beds. Along the wild Skeleton Coast and the lush, palm-lined Kunene river. And over barely-there trails through Kaokaland where we didn't see another car for two days and where we met the Himba and they showed us a place to sleep under the desert sky. 


It was really nice to lie in the tent for an extra hour and listen to birdsong rather than a howling gale this morning. Our site is a clear patch of red sand with a wooden fence and a shady tree. Oh and a stone bathroom block which feels to be the height of luxury. It's a good fifteen minute walk to the lodge and at 8 o'clock one of the open-sided game vehicles drew up to take us there for breakfast. Most of the other residents had been up and out on various activities for a while but we'd decided to take it easy and recharge a bit. After breakfast we plugged into the intermittent dribble of wifi and blogged and read and looked over our pictures and enjoyed not having anything particular to do. I got the map out and worked out how much fuel we needed in order to drop off the truck empty tomorrow, and tried not to think too hard about the end of the trip. It is coming though...

The service at the Bagatelle is from the school of "Well Meaning but Erratic". They seemed to be taken aback by our reservation and puzzled over the fact that we had booked meals with them. When we wanted lunch the incredibly smiley lady said "yes of course" and rushed off somewhere for ten minutes leaving us standing in the dining room. When she eventually re-appeared to serve the people at the only two tables set for lunch I asked where we should sit. "Anywhere you like". Big smile. We lunched, we walked back to the campsite, and generally whiled away the afternoon until 4, when we came back to the lodge for some Activities.

The first, was a sunset ride into the dunes. Our horses were gentle sorts and fairly keen to do a lot of eating as we went. 

Tom's mount - Ziggy - seemed to think that the entire excursion had been designed to give him new dining options and consequently T spent a lot of time cajoling, demanding, pleading and eventually Taking Ziggy In Hand with a combination of heel kicks and mane-stroking to get him going. It was a lovely plod through the red sand dunes as the sun went down; springbok watching us as we went, birds flitting about and a table at the top of a ridge set with gins and tonics and other goodies. We were all beaming. 

Tom was especially taken with the experience, and with Ziggy. "We have an understanding now" he said. 

It was dark by the time we rode back to the lodge and Tom was all for going again tomorrow. After supper we had one more Activity: a night drive. We bundled up under blankets and the guide turned on a powerful flashlight and drove us out into the bush. We saw one or two things we'd never seen before - a little aardwolf about the size of a small fox; the flashing green eyes of a genet. There were bat-eared foxes and a small herd of giraffe too. Mostly though we just irritated a lot of springbok and oryx who were settling down to sleep. Tom just liked being wrapped up in a blanket and driving through the dark desert. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

Into the volcano

Yes, it was a long night (for me and P anyway). Tom is clearly blessed with the ability to sleep through pretty much anything, but somehow, in fits and starts Philippa and I managed to get a few hours in. It was just as windy when we woke up but the sun was bright and it was quite warm. It was exciting to be the only people camping on the flanks of the volcano. We got a fire going and made porridge before setting out to climb into it. The volcano that is, not the porridge, though truthfully it was hefty stuff. 

The track up the side was rocky and awkward with sharp stones which slipped and slid underfoot. The crater rim was eroded into a dip ahead of us, where streams converged to make a big waterfall in the rainy season. 

There were still some good sized pools below it. We crossed the lip of the crater, then down towards the crater floor, which was covered in fine grass and some quiver trees. Then back up the inside of the rim to the remains of the Brukkaros observatory; now just some stone walls and a solid concrete floor where once the telescope was mounted. 

Actually the view back towards where we had come from was even better. Mile upon mile of flat plain stretching away forever. We watched it for a while with oranges and trail nuts. I'm going to miss these views. 

We walked back down, past a small troop of baboons which barked at us from a clifftop below. Back at the campsite we got another fire going - billowing away in the strong wind -  and had beans on toast in the classic style of Brits Abroad. I could have done with a stiff gin for the journey back down the terrible track but we got down with the tyres still largely intact. We turned towards a village apparently beefed up by missionaries in the nineteenth century (said the guidebook) but now somewhat ramshackle. We'd hoped to find a cold drink and while a young boy told us guardedly that there was a shop, we couldn't find it and got back on the fast B1 heading north.

We had one more stop, at the Fish River, on its way to excavate the canyon. A small black dog was bringing a herd of goats across its shallow green pools.

 They all seemed to know where they were going. We each ceremonially dipped a finger into the cool water and got back in the truck with the sun beginning to sink. It was dark by the time we reached the Kalahari desert and we bounced along a D road to the Bagatelle Guest Ranch where the campsite had hot water and - blissfully, no wind. 

The mighty Mesosaurus

We were the only people for breakfast this morning and everything had been laid out for us on a trestle table in the little stone hut with the gravel floor. Our guide for the morning, Giel Steenkamp came over for a chat. He is a well-weathered, enthusiastic chap who was born and raised in nearby Keetmanshoop ("Keetmunsverp") and bought the farm in the 1970s. His son now runs the business and he takes people to see the fossils.

We drove through the farm to a rocky hill where a grave marked the death of a German soldier in 1904. He'd been with a patrol trying to retrieve some animals stolen by the local Nama. They opened fire on the patrol from a ridge and the soldier was buried where he fell. 

Fifteen years ago Giel was clearing a track through the area when his ten year old son Hendrik noticed an unusual rock in the rubble. Giel came to have a look and cracked it open. Inside was the perfectly preserved imprint of the mightiest creature to roam the shallow lagoons and marshes in the area two hundred and sixty million years ago. The Mesosaurus! 

It dominated the environment with its snout of needle-teeth, and its great bulk - growing to an impressive, um, thirty centimetres. The animal had died and sunk into the mud and although the remains had long dissolved away, the imprint was left perfectly preserved. It was so detailed that you could see the individual joints in its bony claws. 

Giel had a friend who knows about these things come and look and was astonished to discover that it is one of the oldest fossils in Southern Africa, pre-dating the end of the dinosaurs by about two hundred million years. It came from a time when Africa and South America were joined together, and the same fossils can be found in Brazil. So important was this fossil area that Namibia's Department of Antiquities said Giel wasn't allowed to open any more rocks, and it took him a year to get permission to conduct guided tours on his property. 

He showed us several more fossils that were already exposed on his land and had a great line in patter. At one point he said "they are very common these fossils" and threw the ones we had been looking at into the bush. We were left open-mouthed and he roared with laughter, before revealing that he'd actually thrown away two other stones which he'd switched without us noticing. 

The tour ended at some stacks of dolorite - cooled lava tubes that have been exposed by erosion. 

Some have a very musical chime when struck and Giel played us a couple of tunes before leaving us to wander around on our own. Its a special place, and part of its charm is that it hasn't been overdeveloped. 

We had a picnic lunch up with the dolorite stacks and the quiver trees before packing up and moving on. 

The next stop turned out to be about the most dramatic of our whole trip - and one of the most difficult to get to. After an hour or so of driving through flat, featureless gravel plain a big black volcano loomed on the horizon like an island. The Brukkaros volcano has a few community campsites at its base and some more dramatic ones up a tough 4x4 track.

There was no-one at the entrance gate and we opened the barrier and drove in. First past the lower campsites and then up a track which eventually became almost undriveable. By that time of course it was impossible to turn around so we had to keep going up a road which had once been re-inforced with concrete but now had little strips of concrete on one side and rocky pits on the other. It was a nail-biting, jolting ride and ended at a cluster of semi-derelict campsites with the most stunning view. We hadn't seen a soul all afternoon and the five sites were all deserted. We found one that had the most level strip of ground. Each site once had a shower and a stone hut and a long-drop toilet, but the huts no longer had roofs, and the sites no longer had water. The fireplaces and long-drops were still useable though and it was a magical place. 

There was a stiff wind blowing so we got the tents up quickly and started making supper over a fire, using up the odds and ends in our fridge and coolbox. 

After supper we spent almost an hour simply staring up into outer space. The stars were astonishing. We watched satellites and shooting stars and used an iPad app to find the planets. There was no light pollution whatsover and I doubt we will ever see so many stars again. 

The wind was getting stronger and when we crawled into the tents they were blowing around almost as hard as they had been at Sesriem. We worried that Tom was going to be kept awake but he was asleep within ten minutes. P and I hunkered down in our sleeping bags as the tents shook violently around us. The flysheets whipped and slapped, generating so much static that sparks were jumping between the tent frame and car roof with a violent crack. It looked like being a long night. 

View from the edge.

Tom started the day being violently sick, which was a bit of a surprise to all of us, and particularly him. Thankfully it came and went and he quickly perked up, though his breakfast was a piece of bread.

The Fish River Canyon is 20k further down the gravel road, and all the more exciting because you can't see it from a distance. From the parking area we walked up to the brim, eyes fixed on our feet. Then, "1,2,3 look!" and we all raised our eyes together to look out over the canyon.

It was almost too big to take in. Still and silent, snaking off into the far distance. It is less than six hundred meters deep but up to 23KM wide, and in the bottom, a sliver of green water. At this time of year it is in pools rather than a flowing river, but some pools have fish in them apparently.

The canyon is so deep and the walk so precipitous that day visitors aren't allowed down into it. If you want to walk into the Fish River Canyon you have to do the 80KM trail over five days with a guide, a head for heights and something other than flip-flops. We only had a morning so settled for a 5k walk along the rim instead. Here and there the path veered within a few feet of the edge and took your breath as you looked down into the rocky void. The path ended at a narrow outcrop where the five day walk starts. There are chains for the way down and the path was so steep it vanished at the first switchback.

Back at the parking area we got in the truck to drive along the 4x4 trail the other way along the brim, stopping where it ended and walking through cacti and rocks to a flat stone looking down into the canyon. It was the perfect lunch spot until several car loads of German tourists decided they too would like to come to where we were sitting to take photos and talk as though they were at a party. Its weird isn't it? There we were, way off the path which follows the rim, at a spot which is really no different from any other part of the rim and yet because we were there, other people want to go there too. I wanted to ask them whether they realised that actually the canyon is quite large and that we weren't required to all bunch up in one teeny tiny bit of it, but being English we grimaced and bore it instead. And actually, while I'm feeling irritated here's another thing. I'm convinced that one day it will be impossible to go to any natural wonder - no matter how difficult or remote the journey - without finding a profusion of stone cairns that various witless tourists have decided will somehow improve it. Clearly the Fish River Canyon - or for that matter the Sesriem Gorge - aren't nearly as impressive without a series of small stone piles to interrupt the view. I've said it before (see the Trollsteigen entry in our Norway trip) and I'll say it again; it is vandalism, stone graffiti, selfish, stupid and annoying. So stop it already!

Eventually of course the other tourists departed, chattering away, and we were left to gaze into the deep stillness and listen to the breeze whishing around the rocks. It is a grand spot. Africa's biggest canyon and one of Namibia's least visited sites. It really is a long way from anywhere and we had to start heading back north. 

Less than two hours drive away is the grandly named Mesosaurus Fossil Camp. Its a little farmstead 30K down a dirt road where some of the oldest fossils in the world were discovered, quite by chance. Its a homely place with a few thatched huts for visitors. We scurried up to a viewpoint in a stand of quiver trees to watch the sunset. 

Once again we felt to be on another planet surrounded by these extraordinary spiky succulents that can live for hundreds of years.

We'd booked a meal and they assured us that they had taken on board the fact that Philippa is vegetarian. So while Tom and I were given a platter of barbecued meat to feed a family of five, Philippa was given the meat-free alternative of grilled chicken. Namibia is so firmly meat-focused that not eating animal meat really does not compute. So she had a big bowl of Greek salad, pickled cabbage and homemade bread and we put the chicken in our fridge for T and me to have another day. Its a smashing little place though - very much like staying at a holiday home that has been in the same family for a long time. They couldn't have been nicer and after eating in a rough stone room with a gravel floor we sat around a fire outside and marvelled at the speckled sweep of the Milky Way. 

Ghosts, diamonds and fish

"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is a phrase I have come to rely on as a useful excuse for being slack. But sometimes it also cuts through all the ums and ahs about decision-making when you can't quite get everything that you want. Here was the problem... we had to end the day at the Fish River Canyon south and east of us, but then there was this ghost town, Kolmanskuppe, and the end of the world port town of Luderitz both around 100K due west of us to see as well. No, we wouldn't get to spend hours or days exploring them both, but 100K on the fast B4 was only an hour from Aus, which in Namibian driving terms is like popping next door. So at 8.30 we dropped off our laundry at the front desk and hit the road to the ghost town.

The road is a straight line through golden desert following the tracks of the railway from Windhoek to Luderitz which fell into decline and is being upgraded to serve as a freight line for the mine at Rosh Pinah. Its still due to be completed about three years ago. Until then the freight - huge trucks hauling gravel and other supplies - is about the only traffic on the black tarmac between Aus and Luderitz. As we got closer to the coast we could see a thick fog bank lying across the desert like a grey duvet and soon we were in it. 

Kolmanskuppe was once the most prosperous town in Namibia with a population of more than a thousand. It was a mining settlement founded in 1908 and owned by the company which discovered diamonds in the area. 

It had a casino, a bowling alley, sausage deli and a general store from which you could order champagne and caviar.

Its hospital had the first x-ray machine in southern Africa and there was a narrow-gauge horse-drawn tram which ferried people from one end of the town to the other.

Tom in the pool
Opera singers were brought in from Europe to perform in the community centre and dining room, which also showed some of the first movies.  Every house had electricity and a telephone (and this was 1908 remember...), and every day, every residence was given a block of ice, fresh water and lemonade. They imported their water from Cape Town and piped in seawater 35KM to fill a swimming pool.

I should point out though that this was for the white workers. The hundreds of black workers lived in barracks further down the hill where they were confined for the two years of their contracts.

Barracks for the black workers
The work was gruelling for them, shuffling on their bellies over the gravel plains picking up diamonds with mesh taped across their mouths to stop them swallowing them. There seems to have been a constant battle over stolen diamonds, with some workers going so far as to make incisions in their skin to hide them, and a gruesome regime at the end of the worker's contracts involving two weeks of castor oil and wire mesh toilets. We weren't shown that area...   

In its heyday the diamonds carpeted the plain. They were so easy to find that there were twelve hour shifts overnight too, when the stones were said to glitter in the moonlight. But the diamonds thinned out, the company moved on and the last cluster of miners left in 1957.

In the sausage works
We had an excellent forty five minute tour through the skeletal brick and wood buildings that remain.

Our guide had some great little details about German miners bringing their wives over from Europe and paying the captain to disembark them in Luderitz at night so that by the time the women saw the desolate surroundings in which they found themselves, the ship home had already sailed and wouldn't be back for another two months.

Afterwards we were left to potter about by ourselves; wandering through the old hospital with its wine cellar in the basement, exploring the remains off the old ice factory and finding the granite bath in one of the palatial but ghostly mansions on the hill.

And in all of them, an unstoppable tide of sand marching through.

The schoolteacher's house was basically a large dune with a roof.

Yes, we could have stayed longer (perfect, enemy, good, etc) but we drove another ten minutes down the road to Luderitz for an early lunch.

Luderitz is a gritty little port town, full of dock workers and diamond miners and fishermen. Everywhere there were knots of young men watching, laughing, waiting for something or someone, but it wasn't threatening. It was simply a workaday place with people getting on with their business. Luderitz is literally at the end of the line. And the line has no trains on it. Its not on the way to anywhere and though vaguely on the tourist trail, it is so far out on its own that few come through. But it is not without charm.

The old town has a sweep of German buildings going back to the early 1900s all vividly painted and there is a bustle to Luderitz which you don't see so much of in the hot and dusty towns inland. 

We scouted out a cafe on the waterfront and were met by a young waitress with a sparkle in her eye and a world-weary air. Her name was Amante; "Born in Luderitz, went to school here; I have a three year old son. Probably be a grandmother here" That last bit said with a wry laugh. She brought us pizza, amused by P not eating meat. "Here's one for the vegetable". Then coffee and what might just be the best apple cake we've had in Namibia. It was a jolly lunch and Amante kept coming back to chat. She couldn't wait for her busy three year old to go to school and was intrigued by what Tom was up to. She was one of those people who in a different setting could have been anything she wanted. We said our goodbyes and had a quick look at the waterfront before heading back to the car.

Luderitz actually has a rather dark past. Just beyond the harbour there is a desolate bit of rock called Shark Island where the German military set up a concentration camp after the Herero uprising in the early 1900s; working thousands of prisoners to death while thousands more starved. Up to eighty percent of those who went to Shark Island are thought to have died. There was much to see and it would have been nice to look around a little more, but "don't let the perfect..." etc, and we had a long way to go. 

First back through the desert, flanked initially by signs from the Namdip diamond company saying the land either side of the road was off-limits. They now mine a big swathe of the coastline around Luderitz and entry to the area is liable to see you escorted off by armed security guards. The battle over diamonds continues...

The guide books advise not driving out of Luderitz in the late afternoon as the sand whipped up by the strong winds can take the paint off your car. We blatted down the highway and got to Aus an hour later (with our paint intact) and picked up our laundry from the lodge. It was very nice to have fresh clothes again after several days of, er, recycling.

Next stop, the world's second largest canyon (by volume), a solid three hours away and our furthest point south. It was an unremarkable drive through gravel plains. Wooden electricity pylons marched off to the horizon. Gravel trucks wooshed by. Now and then we drove over sandy river beds, but we didn't see a single animal. It may be the aridity, or it may be the proximity to the hunters of South Africa who wiped out so much of Namibia's game but there are far fewer animals in the south it seems.

Just before the Canyon Lodge we stopped at one of the boulder hills for a run about and to watch the sunset. Off in the distance we could see the gorges of the Fish River weaving through the desert. The sun slowly rose up and off the boulder tops around us.

As we returned to the car we saw a newly dead Oryx which appeared to have fallen and broken its neck. The hyenas had yet to get to it. 

Our chalet - a thatched stone hut - was set in manicured lawns looking out across the plains. We were all a bit frazzled after a very long day. Dinner, bed, sleeeep.


It was good to wake up in a bed this morning. The Namtib Desert Lodge is a farmstead set a few K back from the D707 on a sandy road, in a cluster of big rounded boulders and rocky hills. Thorsten who runs the place with his wife said it was really too small a farm to be viable and tourism was the main business now. He said that means focusing more on the preservation of the wild animals in the area, than raising stock. Its a simple setup with fairly plain chalets, each with a solar water heater and solar batteries for a little bit of electricity. The meals are communal around a big table. I sat next to a wiry American called Steve who's a teacher in Doha and spending a month travelling around Namibia in a two wheel drive Chevy which he as "learning to love" - and sleeping in most nights. He had brought a tent but had yet to unpack it. Breakfast around the table included mealie-pap - a hot corn paste which you make palatable with sugar and cinnamon. Not as bad as it sounds in fact, but it looked like something you would use to glue furniture. Tom was distinctly tired. I looked up to see him eating a bowl of cereal with a knife and fork...

This part of our trip was always going to be a bit of a pinch point as we are gradually making our way back east to Windhoek, but there is a ghost town and a coastal port which I really wanted to see and they are both in the south west. Thorsten was dismissive of our ability to see it all; "You'll end up rushing and won't have enough time anywhere". His advice was to head to Aus and do a little hike, and chill out and the next day go straight to our next destination, the Fish River Canyon.

Well we took part of his advice; packed up and drove ninety minutes to Aus. The  D707 was just as pretty in the morning light, past little farms with tall aluminium windmills tucked into the hills off the D707. There was a veritable stream of cars coming the other way. We must have passed ooh, at least five, dust clouds billowing in the sunshine behind them like steam locomotives. The only community we passed, Goageb, looked to be empty and crumbling.

Aus is a little village on a hill. The street is lined with small buildings dating back to the early 1900s, all brightly painted. There is a petrol pump and a general store run by a big man with a bushy white beard who looks like he could have been one of the original founders of Aus. Across the smooth tarmac of the B4 is a cluster of smaller houses on the hillside which used to be the black township during South African rule and apartheid. The B4 was the border between black and white in Aus, but not any more, and the former township is brightly painted and looks like a housing estate. 

Aus is also famous for its herd of feral horses - about 175 at last count - which roam the desert, but stay close to a man-made waterhole about 20K from Aus. No-one really knows how they got there, but its thought some are descended from horses abandoned by German troops at the beginning of the first world war, others may have come from stables assembled by a German Captain at Duwisib Castle, who was later killed at the Somme. Some may simply have been farm horses which escaped or were let loose. However they came to be there, they remain one of the only herds of desert dwelling horses.

We went to see them at the waterhole which they share with the local oryx and ostrich populations. There seems precious little for them to eat in the dry season but they had glossy coats and looked in reasonable condition. 

We were due to stay at the Desert Horse Inn, one of a cluster of accommodation options now all part of the same group. When we got there, Piet who runs the business said one of the stone chalets 7k away in the desert was free and would we prefer to stay there..? We would.

It was the very nicest place we have stayed in Namibia. The chalet was a good sized stone house, the back wall of which was the smooth face of a giant boulder. It was beautifully done with a big stone fireplace, simple wooden furniture and a kitchen.

We immediately abandoned any plans for a hike and spent the afternoon on the terrace, reading, playing cards and taking in the huge sweep of the desert in front of us.

Tom also climbed the rocks behind us, climbing high enough to be almost out of sight amid the huge red boulders. It really was idyllic - worth the entire trip on its own. 

Piet had given us a "braai pack" of meat, salad, baked potatoes, cheese and tomato sandwiches for frying (a Namibian speciality) and some big hunks of chocolate cake. After sunset, fat and happy, with a fire crackling in the grate we settled down to watch "Some Like it Hot", part of Tom's classical education...