It's the skies I miss most when I'm out of Africa- I always thought the vast dusty blue skies of my Botswana homeland could never be beaten. But then I finally visited Namibia- my god the skies! Truly mind blowing. Even the most devoted city lover needs to escape for open horizons to let their head breathe. And Namibia, with its seemingly infinite empty skies above beautiful, wild, ever-changing and empty landscapes must be one of the ultimate escapes. The perfect tonic to modern city life.
I was exploring Namibia by road and air, the perfect combination in my opinion. First flying along the spectacular Skelton Coast, so named for the many shipwrecks which pepper the beaches off the treacherous north coast, and then hitting the road to explore the southern deserts, the central highlands and Damaraland regions.
First stop, the swish new Hoanib Camp in the north-west of the country, on the border of the Skeleton Coast National Park. These luxurious tents, overlook craggy rock faces emerging from sandy plains dotted with acacia trees which deserve a hearty tree hug for surviving out there. Everything does really. It's extraordinary.
I spent the afternoon tracking a little herd of desert elephant along a deep dry riverbed. I could watch elephants for hours and hours, and these little ones in particular. Desert Elephant are delightfully small and nimble in comparison to their bigger cousins. With our fabulous guide we scrambled up a little kopjie and watched them march purposefully below us and over to a waterhole. It was so peaceful we heard every padded footprint through the sand and the happy purr as they gulped the water after days of walking the desert.
Rejuvenated, the youngsters proceeded to dig up the waterhole pipe and we spent hours watching them play with their new toy ever so sweetly. The sun sets quickly out there and suddenly this already rusty world seemed to be on fire for a while. And then just as quickly the stars were out and we were still perched on our rocks, listening to the elephants below, until eventually they tired of the pipe and moved on so we could climb down and walk back to camp with our guides.
And then onto the far north of the country, to Sera Cafema, a beautiful camp set on a deep papyrus lined river overlooking the Angolan highlands and surrounded by various forms of desert. It's wonderfully remote, a 2 hour flight from nowhere to nowhere and when you land you feel you may have arrived on Mars with angry red flinty rock faces and red dunes. Earlier in the year they had the best rains for 17 years so much of this harsh land now has a soft coating of fluffy Savannah grass which seems to take the edge off everything. The grass dances in the wind exposing flashes of red sand below while the jet black rocky outcrops have white tufts of grass on top giving them the look of noble old African in Chiefs.
Quad bikes are offered to anyone wanting a change from the 4x4 game vehicles or motorboats, and I spent an exhilarating afternoon bashing dunes and savannah plains. We visited a Himba village along the way. A beautiful tribe, often found in pictures of Namibia because they are so striking, covered in a rusty red mud from top to toe, with fabulous hairpieces and beads. I met an incredible old woman called Crocodile, named for the animal she beat back from the river as it launched at the baby tied across her chest. It caught her breast instead but she fought back with a mother's ferocity, clawing at its eyes and eventually it let her go. That was 16 years ago and now she bares the scars across her chest almost proudly, as a testament to the steel soul of the woman. She clearly rules that village. Sitting tall and proud, smoking her cow dung pipe, she watched us with unnervingly crocodile like eyes, completely expressionless. I really wouldn't have been surprised if when she'd blinked her eyelids shut from side to side just like her namesake. Never mess with Crocodile.
I left the Skeleton Cost with a touch of the Himba myself actually, having stupidly burnt my arms while quad biking. Bright red and feeling ridiculous for being caught out by the African sun after all these years, I shifted my travels from the air to the wide open roads, beginning with the drive 400km south of Windhoek to the Namib Desert said to be the world's oldest desert.