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Desert

    Travel Around the World

    Namibia Part II

    Oh The Places You’ll Go

    Location: Namibia

    Namib Desert

    Namibia quickly became one of my favorite countries for its varied landscape, colorful cultures and interesting history.  So although I did not see the entire country, Namibia Part II is an opportunity for me to share a bit about what I saw and learned during my fascinating ten days touring with Wild Wind Safaris.  Namibia Part II – Oh the Places You’ll Go.

    Only a few years ago Namibia never showed up in articles or blogs about travel destinations.  But then all of the sudden there it was – stunning photos of dunes and mountains, animals and oceans.  Article after article listing it as a must see destination of 2017 or an out of the way place to see before the crowds of tourists discover it.

    The furthest south latitude at which the sun is directly overhead at the solstice.

    And so, I wanted to be there.  I wanted to see what few people had yet seen.  Namibia was high on my list.

    Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of tourists, and plenty of tour operators and companies to help you find your way (check out the company we used and were so happy with: Wild Wind Safaris).  But we didn’t meet any other Americans, and 99% of the tourists we met were German.  Germans know about this place and flock here, partly because German is spoken here as is English, Afrikaans and tribal languages.

    Most visitors come to go on safari in Etosha

    Magnificent

    National Park and it is a must of any visit to Namibia (see blog here).  Etosha is not even remotely as crowded as the safari I did seven years ago in the Serengeti with about a million other people.  Etosha was quiet and beautiful and amazing.

    Sociable Weaver nest can House up to 200 birds

    But a trip to Namibia really needs to include time to see and experience more than Etosha.  I’ve come away from the country with an even greater appreciation of the remarkable geology of our earth, and an incredible insight to the importance of preserving cultures and not just objects and nature.

    Our guide explains to Arne

    Until 1990 Namibia was part of South Africa (and from 1884 until after WWI it was a German colony).  Gaining its independence the country has embraced tourism but being such a new country it still has its share of problems.  Like many places we have been, government corruption takes much away from the average person and tribal cultures suffer.  But the roads were remarkably good (even though Namibia has the highest car accident death rate in the world) and the people we met (mostly in the service industry) were incredibly friendly both with each other and us.  In fact some of the friendliest and most genuine people we have met anywhere in our travels are the Namibians.  That really hit home.  We never felt like we were unsafe or being cheated in anyway – although warnings of pick pockets we took seriously.

    Himba women with mud hut

    Namibia has 13 ethnic groups scattered about the country and the native people identify with an ancestral tribe even if they no longer live in the region where that group is.  Our amazing tour guide “Seven” explained to us some of the differences and he could look at nearly every person and know immediately what ethnic group they were from.  Since we didn’t see the entire country we missed learning about most tribes, including the Owambo of the north, the tribe Seven is from.

    We did get to learn about two distinctive tribes – the Himba and the Damara as well as a little bit about the Herero, an offshoot of the Himba.

    Little Himba girl

    Using smoke to “wash” hair

    One of my favorite experiences of the entire ten days was our short visit to a special Himba village where we were able to meet Himba women and children.  Note the photos of these remarkable people.  These are not costumes.  This is the way they dress everyday.  The hair style is really remarkable, and a female Himba begins wearing this hairstyle at puberty.  The adornments are made partially of their real hair and animal hair and are updated every three months.  Because of the shortage of water in the north of Namibia where the Himba people are found, they do not bath with water.  Instead they daily “wash” their hair with smoke – literally holding their head as well as their underarms over a special perfumed smoke (similar to incense) that keeps bugs and (most) odor away.  They also cover their bodies daily with a mixture of butter and ochre as a cleanser and repellant, this is what lends the red tone to their skin.

    Me with ten-year old girl

    The village we visited was a special place because all the children here are orphans.  This is a place where Himba orphans are brought to be raised in the culture of their parents rather than being adopted out of the culture.  The women here care for these children as if they are their own and there is a school here too.  The people are sustained by raising goats and cattle and they have access to a well so water is available but their bathing customs remain the same.

    Damara village

    As we visited the women let us take photos and then they wanted to look at the photos on our phones.  They seem to very much like to see themselves in a photo.  The women’s first question to us was if we had children.  When we said we had grown sons they wanted to know if we had grandchildren.  When I said not yet they wanted to know why not?  Why had we not yet chosen wives for our sons?  My answer that our sons would hopefully marry someday and have kids didn’t seem to satisfy them.  Their entire existence and culture is wrapped around family, child-bearing and daily survival.

    Once again I am reminded of how many people live every day hand to mouth.

    Dancers at Damara village

    We did not visit a Herero village but these people endured near genocide by the Germans who wanted their land and intended to eliminate the Herero race to have it and the 1904 Battle of Waterberg ensued.  Half of the total Herero population was

    Herero Women

    killed. Luckily not all were massacred and today the women have developed a very unique dress that is a unique mix of Victorian gown and petticoat and a unique cloth headpiece that is designed to resemble the horns of a cow.  Today the Herero people continue a battle in court with the German government for retribution for all they lost during the genocide period.

    Damara man building fire

    Swakopmund pier

    The Damara people, the other tribe we learned about, are the oldest tribe in Namibia.  They came from the East and settled in the middle region of the country.   This tribe was primarily hunter gatherers and pastoral, raising cattle and sheep and living off the land. The Damara have an incredibly unique language known as “click” language.  The language uses a complicated system of mouth and tongue clicks and is very musical and fun to hear. The village we visited was a reproduction of how a village would have looked hundreds of years ago.  Where the Himba live in huts made from wood, mud and cow dung, the Damara live in huts made of wood and thatch.  The Damara dress was tied to the animals they raised creating clothing from

    Damara Medicine Woman

    sheepskins.  The women use ochre on their cheeks much like we use blush today.  Music and dance and making ornamental jewelry and carvings were a big part of their culture, where the women did domestic chores and the men tended the livestock.

    Cape Cross Fur Seal colony

    Pink Flamingoes in Walvis Bay

    The geology and scenery of Namibia is as diverse as its ancient people.  The incredibly beautiful red sand dunes of the Sossusvlei region are the oldest dunes in the world and the stark beauty of these dunes is remarkable.  The turquoise blue water of the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund in contrast provides visitors and locals a cool get-away from the heat of the interior.  Here on the Atlantic the fog settles every day and so do thousands and thousands of fur seals, flamingoes and other shore birds.  Local seafood is a treat including the KingKlip and Kabaljou two of the most popular and most delicious fish caught locally and served everywhere.

    Welwitschia plant

    Dolerite Dike

    From the ocean heading east within minutes you are back in the arid desert where the welwitschia plant grows – the only region in the world this unusual plant is found and growing as big as ten feet across and living as much as 2000 years I was reminded of Audrey Two in Little Shop of Horrors.  The inhospitable environment has little greenery and almost no animals except birds.  The valley of the moon and eroding  mountain range are desolate yet beautiful in their own way – especially the interesting dolerite dike a natural phenomenon of black sunburnt rock that runs along the ridge of the mountains like the spine of a dragon.  This area is home to the largest Uranium mine in the world.

    Ancient rock etchings

    ANcient rock etchings

    Namibia’s storage hunter-gatherers and Bushman (San) people were nomadic and traveled the country wherever the animals were.  Their history is written on stones in several regions and we visited two fascinating sights to learn more.  The Twyfelfontein site is today a UNESCO Heritage site in the Kuene region. Guides take visitors on a walking tour of the hundreds of rock etchings estimated to be several thousands of years old.  The etchings depict animals as well as human footprints and tell a story of the nomad life and the animals they followed for substenance.  It is thought this place was both a message board and a spiritual gathering place for thousands of years.

    “The White Lady” is the pale figure on the left

    More paintings

    Even more amazing though was the preserved painting of “The White Lady” estimated to be 6000 years old.  This painting is located in a very remote region of the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain.  It is a two mile hike to visit it.  Not as many people see The White Lady because the trek and the heat make it difficult.  I’m glad we endured it however in 100 degree temperatures.  Very different than the rock etchings, these paintings are preserved because they are inside a cave and out of direct sunlight.  Discovered in 1918 and now a protected heritage site, the White Lady is actually not a lady at all.  Early anthropologists believed it to be an Egyptian women, but today archeologist know it is a local tribal shaman, painted with the traditional white a shaman would have on his legs and body from dust and mud.  The painting includes other human figures and many animals all painted with ochre (red), egg, animals oils, charcoal and blood.  The painting has luckily withstood the test of time, although since its discovery humans have touched it and thrown liquid on it to try and see it better and this has deteriorated it.  Today though it is protected and can only be reached with a guide who makes sure no one does any damage to it.  It was a beautiful and remarkable world heritage site to enjoy.

    Moon landscape

    The Namibian people have a great deal to be proud of and I hope this beautiful country overcomes its problems and finds its strength in the world.  It has so much to offer, charm and beauty, history and culture.  I will never forget my time here and I can say with all seriousness it is by far my favorite African country of the seven I have been to.

    Thank you Namibia.  Thank you Wild Wind Safaris.  Thank you Seven for showing us your remarkable home.

    Travel Around the World

    Five Days Fes to Marakesh

    Chapter Eleven Comes to an End

    Location: Morocco

    One month in Morocco has been marvelous.  We have seen so very much, and still there is much to see – so we will return one day.  But for now, I am so happy to have experienced this magical and friendly country – especially the past five days as we have traversed the diverse geography from Fes to Marrakesh.

    We hired a guide to show us parts of Morocco we

    With our guide Abdul

    would find difficult to reach on our own – and I am so glad we did.  Our fantastic guide Abdul from Your Morocco Tours was amazing(5 days only $250 per person).  He safely drove us for five days and was funny, interesting and proud of his country and his heritage.

    Have I mentioned how friendly everyone is?  

    Ziz Valley

    With our friends Steve and Sarah we left Fes on a Saturday morning for the long but beautiful drive.  We began to climb into the mountains only a few hours out of Fes.  Eventually we made it to the beautiful Ziz Valley.  Here we began to see the red rocks and reddish pink buildings I had always imagined when I thought of Morocco.  Although the white and blue and green and grey we had seen up to this time was beautiful in its own way – this red color of the desert against the green of

    Desert sunset

    the date palm trees made me feel I was part of a movie set.

    Have I mentioned how great all the roads are?

    After a long day of driving we arrived in the desert, just in time for a spectacular sunset over the Sahara.  It was breathtaking.  I didn’t want it to end.  Awash in orange from sand to sky it was spectacular.

    We then continued a short distance into the dunes to our spectacular hotel called Kasbah Azalay.  Stunning.  How can this be our hotel when we paid so little for this tour?  Not only was it pretty in a very Moroccan way but the service and hospitality was perfect.  We enjoyed a lovely tagine for dinner

    On the camels

    and a good nights sleep.

    A more leisurely day was on hand for Sunday and after breakfast we climbed the dunes and shopped for scarfs in the town of Merzouga.  We then enjoyed a visit to the village of Kamila where we sipped mint tea and listened to the authentic Gnaoua music of the region performed by the ancestors of the original Sudanese slaves who were brought here five hundred years ago.  Their efforts to preserve their culture and music are commendable and we danced and had a great time with them.

    Have I mentioned that this country, more than any other, is where I want to buy things – pottery, rugs, leather? I am restraining myself.

    Late in the afternoon we arrived at the staging area for our camel trek into the desert.  To be completely accurate it’s actually a dromedary trek.  Camels are the beasts with two humps.  The animals with one hump are technically dromedaries, but everyone calls them camels so, hey, whatever!

    On the camel trek with arne

    I wasn’t really sure how this was going to go – was it scary? Painful? Smelly?  Actually, it was a teeny bit painful – but mostly just fun.   The dromedaries were not smelly, they didn’t spit or bite, but once you are sitting up on one, you realize this ain’t no horse.  Wow.  They lumber along and your leg muscles feel the movement, but honestly the next day it was my arms that were sore, from trying to hold on when the camel goes down a hill, or sits down.

    There were ten of us riding and after an hour and half on the camel, including a stop to watch another spectacular Sahara sunset, we arrived at the nomad camp.  We were assigned tents with beds and served tea while we waited for another group of 18 to arrive.  When they did we all had dinner together (tagine) and then a bonfire and music around the fire.  By this time the temperature had plummeted and we put all our clothes on including wool socks and hats and snuggled under the covers for the night.

    Have I mentioned there are more stars in the sky in Morocco?  Billions.

    Wake up at 6am and you immediately feel the pain in your legs (and crotch) and arms.  Yikes.  But back on the camel we go, even before I get a cup of coffee.  Ugh.  I was hoping my camel knew the way to the nearest Starbucks, but instead he took us out of camp into the dunes to watch the sunrise.  Surreal.  And way better than Starbucks.

    Dunes

    After the sunrise and a thousand more photos we were back in the saddle and headed back to town, where we were served a nice breakfast (with plenty of coffee) and had a hot shower before we reconnected with our guide Abdul and began day three of our tour.

    We drove away from the dunes and into the amazing Moroccan red rock canyons and gorges.  A

    Todgha Gorge

    truly surprising area of Morocco I had never even heard of.  The Todgha Gorge was stunning and we enjoyed it late in the afternoon where the 1000 foot walls had sunlight on the tops, but the river was in the shadow of the mountains.  We also visited a remarkable fossil museum where we learned about

    Fossils

    the 500 million year old ocean fossils found in this area and another place where we learned about the ingenious well and aqueduct system the Berber people built to access and save water from the

    Ancient wells

    Atlas mountains 300 years ago.

    Have I mentioned  how diverse the geography is? From ocean to desert to mountains to rivers to lakes.

    Finally we arrived in the Dades Gorge, another amazing marvel of Mother Nature, where our hotel for the night was perched on a cliff overlooking the valley below.  We enjoyed an authentic Moroccan couscous meal and met a nice couple from Seattle and swapped stories before a good nights sleep.

    Up and on our way in the morning we drove to see

    Monkey Feet

    more ancient Kasbahs perched in the Dades Gorge and throughout the red rock region and stopped to view the geological wonder called Monkey’s Feet.  A geology uplift of rock that is unique to this area and impossible to describe.  And yes, it did look a bit like the bottom of a monkey’s foot.

    Midday we visited one of the best preserved Kasbahs in Morocco, the Amerhidil – built-in the 17th century and in remarkable condition.  Given that most of this construction is made from mud and straw bricks, finding well-preserved ones of this age is unusual.  We toured the building, ate a delicious lunch of grilled turkey kebab and then headed on our way to our hotel.

    This night we stayed in another very beautiful boutique hotel with exceptional customer service.  Everywhere we go the people are so kind and helpful and that is the case at Riad Tama.  Big rooms, and a beautiful garden and a lovely restaurant where we enjoyed a a French inspired dinner.

    Have I mentioned a Dar is a house, a Riad means garden but is often used to refer to a hotel or house with a garden?

    Day five- our final day began early at 8:30 with our fabulous guide Abdul as we headed off to the

    Kasar Air Ben Haddou

    famous and well-preserved Kasar of Air Ben Haddou where we spent a couple of hours walking with an incredible guide who had been raised in this village. Morocco has a big film industry and this place is one that is often featured in many films including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Jewel of the Nile.

    Have I mentioned a kasbah is a house of a rich family usually with four towers while a kasar is a fortified village with more than one kasbah?

    Our final day continued with another spectacular

    All together and a wonderful time.

    drive with surprising scenery and geography over the Tizi Tichka Pass to the famous city of Marrakesh – our final stop of our Morocco adventure.  We will be in Marrakesh for three days.

    We loved our tour!  An inspiring experience in a magical place.

    In the future when I think of Morocco I will certainly remember the cities we have visited (Casablanca, Chefchaouen, Tangier, Asilah, Fes and Marrakesh) but I think it will be the rural areas I will remember most fondly.  The desert is such a special place to be, and to be able to sleep there and see the stars at night and ride the camels – unforgettable.  The gorges and red rocks and Kasbahs of old are like something out of a movie set (and some are) but they are real.  And beautiful.  And cherished by the wonderful Moroccan people.

    Five Days from Fes to Marrakesh.  What an experience.  What a lucky girl.  What a life.

    Fabulous!