12 Mowani Mountain Camp –Feb 25, 26
Usko was waiting for us at the airstrip. You can tell it is an airstrip because it has one small tent and a wind sock.
The drive to our lodge was not long. The lodge consists of a main building/lounge and about 10 tented rooms, all tucked into and hidden by the big boulders. The land is a concession, run by local people. They lease the land to the lodges, but maintain control over what is built, how it is built, and where it is built. This lodge has gone to a lot of effort to leave the site intact, and has carefully tucked the rooms in.
Our room is the “suite”. It is all by itself, down a path that clearly states that it is for the guests in the suite only. The rooms are essentially tents on slabs. There are no bugs here, so no windows and no screens. There are pull down canvas shades for the heat or at night. We have essentially three tents; a living room, a bedroom and a bathroom with a shower and an outdoor shower on its porch. The views are spectacular. There are springbok down on the flat, and I finally spot a dassie, sitting on to of one of the rocks. They are called hyrax in East Africa, and are the closest relative to the elephant.
There are also full sized elephants in the area, and Usko takes us out this afternoon to find some. We head off, turn right and drive along the sides of a dry riverbed, searching for a way across. When we do get to the other side of the river we indeed find elephants. About 11 of them. A bull who keeps to himself, some bossy females, youngsters and a baby. They are eating. They do that a lot. We sit quietly and watch them for quite a while. I neve tire of elephants. Usko hears a noise, and we look further away, up on the mountain, and a solitary elephant is way up there and has just pushed over a tree.
These are “desert adapted” elephants. The adaptations are more behavioural than physical, although they do have larger feet, the better to walk in the soft sand. They are a little more careful with the trees that they eat; they eat some of the branches, but in general do not knock over the while tree as in some other areas.
We get back to the lodge in time for a sundowner, lounging with the other guests (all European) on the top of a large rock.
Sunday, Feb. 25
Today we are off visit the Himba. It is a long drive, the main road is pretty good. There are lots of hills and we go over a couple of passes to get there. At one point we are stopped by giraffes on the road, but they move off a bit and we get a good visit with them. We head off into a narrow river valley, moving from one side of the dry river to the other. There are huge palms here, some of which have been knocked over. Finally we reach the village. The Himba like to get visitors, and there are two groups of tour operators who visit, not every day, but a couple of times a week. The tour operators bring food stuffs as gifts.
The Himba live pretty much as they always have. The men herd cattle and goats. They are often gone for weeks at a time. They have recently started to sell some of the cows, but having them is still very important. The children go to a boarding school that we passed on the way in, about an hour or so away. One of the ladies has a “preschool” which is a blackboard under a tree.
As usual it is the women who have maintained their traditional clothing. What clothes they do wear are made from goat skin. Their hair is elaborately braided, with extensions added to make the big fluffy balls at the end. Mud and ochre is applied to the hair, and a goat skin decoration on top of the head. There are various other bits of decorations that they wear. Anklets, good for keeping snake bites away, also indicate marital and children status. Young girls wear a braid that covers their face in the front. Breasts are bare, but they are careful to keep their private areas private.
Their skin is covered with ochre mixed with butter fat, and on special occasions, like when the men come back, or the young girls have a caller, they use smoke to cleanse the body and their clothes, rub ochre and butter fat and herbs all over. The Himba do get married, but as the men are away for long stretches, it happens that a woman is visited by another man, and if that results in a child, the husband assumes responsibility.
The little boys have their heads shaved so that there is only enough left for them to have one braid on the top. They are adorable and very curious.
The whole group, all the women, the 4 or so young men who are lucky enough not to have to be out with the cattle, and the kids all dance for us. They love dancing, and Usko says “if we don’t call a halt to it they will just keep dancing”. A couple of the youngsters join in too.
We drive home, and Robin spots an elephant by the side of the road. Usko says, “well spotted” and says it looks like they are headed to a watering home, and we drive over to a small farm where the farmer has a bore hole with a windmill that supplies a large water tank. There is one elephant there, and Usko asks the farmer if we may stay, and he answers yes, and then takes his little boy inside.
The other elephants, 11 in all, slowly make their way to the tank. The baby can just reach his trunk up and into the tank. They drink and drink, and then spray water on themselves, rinse their mouths out and let the water drip out. We stay for ages, watching their interactions, and then leave them there and head home. It has ben a long day, so we decide to get up early tomorrow, again, and visit the rock carvings and the Living Museum before our flight.
A young girl, I am not sure from which tribe, but her vocabulary includes 4 clicks, each made in a different part of the mouth, showed us around. The bushmen carved many images in the rocks around here. Because they are carved, there is no way of telling when they were done. Some are ornamental, some are done to indicate what animals are around. We wander up and over the rocks, and Usko joins us to help me over some of the sketchier bits. It is all very interesting.
After that we head for a quick visit to Damaraland Living Museum. This is a demonstration village, no one lives here, and the people we see are doing their day job. They demonstrate how the bushmen of old made tools, cleaned goat skins for clothing, made fire. They are dressed as in olden times, but their hair is not as elaborate as the Himba, perhaps because they actually live in a village nearby, where they wear clothing, not like here.
We head for the airstrip – the major one in this area, not the one we flew into. While we are waiting in the waiting tent, we see Patrick and Rumy, who were in Tswalu at the same time as us. Next stop, Skeleton Coast.