Approaching Van Zyl’s Pass

Starting today we’re definitely exposing ourselves to Namibia’s lonely and deserted north-west – we’re heading towards Van Zyl’s Pass.

Passing Okongwati we stop again at the “gas station” we stopped at a few days ago while on the way to Epupa. In the region we’re headed to every drop of petrol counts. The Okongwati gas station is off the main (gravel) road hidden behind a few shacks. You’ll miss it if you simple drive through the village from Epupa to Opuwo or vice-versa. It’s everything from ordinary as it’s got no gas pumps. A quiet lady who doesn’t speak English sits in front of a shack that stores a 2-3 barrels of diesel – and regular if you’re lucky. Sometimes there’s gas and sometimes there isn’t. The gas is transferred from the barrels to you car with canisters or old pet bottles. The fact that this procedure inevitably takes time doesn’t matter. It feels real, we’re in Africa after all.

Gas station in Okongwati
Gas station in Okongwati

We’re already accustomed to the fact that gas stations in Africa are run by women because men apparently can’t be trusted in southern Africa when it comes to handling money. The boys who help the lady are happy that Thomas presents them with a pair of bright yellow rubber gloves.

The first several kilometers on the D3703 lead us on a narrow soft sand-road through almost lush groves. It’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful. There are no other safari cars and apart from a few Himbas every now and then we don’t see a single soul – it’ll stay that way for the rest of the day. Usually we stop when we see Himbas and give away corn flour or the like. They however would rather have “sweets, sweets”. Thomas & Sandra often give away LolliPops to kids which Akiko & I disapprove of. On the other hand we feel bad to deny them the goodies we ourselves would have liked as when we were kids.

A few kilometers after Okauwe the dust road is supposed to turn from south to south-west. Both my map and the GPS map say so. In reality it’s a little different. There are many tracks in the sandy savanna. When the GPS keeps insisting that we have left the imaginary route we turn around and start looking for the turn that we must have missed. The route we were following isn’t even listed on the GPS maps.

The road condition is getting worse (very rugged) as the day gets longer and longer. Shortly before we reach the Van Zyl’s Pass campsite near Otjitanda we stop at a Himba village. We try to tell the chief that we would like to take a few pictures in exchange for flour. Of course, he speaks neither English nor Afrikaans but our hands proof to be a wonderful secondary communication tool.

The stench in the village is atrocious for our sensitive western noses. The Himba live on the same ground as their goats. Hence, there’s goat and dog poop everywhere. Inside their clay huts the stench is a mix of cold smoke, sweat, excrements and rancid butter. This world is fascinating and repulsive at the same time. I very strongly feel that we shouldn’t even be here, that we should leave these people along. I feel that we’re destroying a precious unique culture just by being here, by taking photos and by letting the Himba see our western gadgets.

Traditional Himba village

The sun will soon set and we have yet to drive some 10km until the camp. In Otjitanda our eyes become big as some brand new solar panels appear next to the road. Apparently, the state installed them to power the water pumps in the tiny village. I hope that our guides don’t stop to take pictures as we’re hungry and don’t feel like putting up our tents in darkness; we’re running late already.

The Van Zyl’s Pass campsite is super pretty and very private. The other two sites appear to be unoccupied and we feel like the only people on this planet. Yet, despite this remoteness there are water tanks for the showers and the toilets at the camp! Apparently they weren’t expecting anyone today – the water pipes are all dry. We follow the pipes back from the showers towards the tanks and eventually find two valves that were closed.

I’m tired, particularly my head is tired. However, Akiko’s presence comforts me. 2 Panadol help against the pulsing head ache and we spend a cozy evening with our friends under the African sky.

Dinner at Van Zyl's Pass campsite

Namibia 2009 photos

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