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Welcoming roadside stall

We did have a hot and sticky night and even though we had our mossie net down in the tent I must have had my hand right up against it as I picked up a few new bites overnight. The showers block was also full of mossies so even though the shower itself was pretty good it was not somewhere you wanted to linger long. We were up and out at a reasonable time heading back through the Sosfentein valley towards the main C43 southbound.

A few kilometres on we were waved down by a man standing next to an empty 4x4 truck. A group of women and children of varying ages were sitting on the side of the road and he and another man came to talk to us. They had run out of petrol and asked if we could help. They were very quick to hop into the back of our truck and help us get out our jerry can of spare fuel, a necessity here as petrol supplies can be sporadic and distances between petrol stations potentially large. The two litres turned out to be slightly more but we were happy to help. How true the “sick child who we have to take to hospital in Sesfontein” story was we will never know but it was our good deed for the day.

We joined back onto the main road which took us again through the huge open expanse of a large valley. The landscape here is really strange. The tops of the mountains/hills surrounding the valley are all flat as if someone has come along with a large knife and levelled them off. And it goes on for miles and miles and miles…… Finally we reached Palmwag, noticeable only by the signs to the Palmwag resort off to the right and a light aircraft sat on the landing strip to the left. The petrol station here had supplies so we topped up even though we had only used a quarter of a tank.

At the junction with the C40 we pulled in to get some cold drinks and Stef, camera in hand, was soon the main attraction. The local ladies seemed keen to have their photos taken and before long he was back at the truck with Raymunda and Catherine in two who have given us their address so that we can send them copies. This next stretch of road was again a bit rough in parts but Stef steered us safely over rocky hills, along river beds (fortunately dry) and through sandy sections. Some of the landscape we passed reminded us both of parts of Scotland we’ve been to with low rolling hills covered in what looked like heather and grasses.

We turned off along the C39 in the direction of Tywfelfontein again bumping along rough bits of road. A debate was ongoing on a slightly silent basis about where we would spend the night. The lodge we stayed at in Opuwo has a branch at Twyfelfontein too and much as I think we both would have quite happily gone there, common sense prevailed and we stopped at the Abu Huab campsite instead. The campsite runs along the side of the river and has large sandy plots with tables, fire pits and a new bar area.

Still with a few hours of daylight to spare we headed a few more kilometres further down the road to see one of the local sights, an area rich in 5,000 (approx.) year old rock paintings. Our edition of Lonely Planet says you can wander around these on your own but that’s no longer the case. A friendly chap meets you at the car park, which to our surprise was full, and then directs you to the visitors information centre. Here you pay your fees and wait for the next guide to become available. Our guide, Charles, was ready in just a few minutes and we set off with two other couples.

The area where the cave paintings are is now just a vast area of dry scrub land set in a valley ringed on either side with large sandstone hills. The first European settler in this area, D Levin, built a small mud brick house here for his wife and five children. It was he who gave Twyfelfontein its name, which means doubtful spring, in recognition of the fact that the water supply is not constant. The house has long since been abandoned and is now in ruins, although it is protected by a low wall asking people not to cross. Behind and attached to the Levin house is a smaller concrete house, also now a ruin, which is where the guard who was the first person to protect the cave paintings used to live.

A small marked out trail leads around what at first sight looks to be an anonymous wall of rock. It is probably a few hundred metres from the visitors centre to the ruined hosues and then a few hundred more to the first paintings. Here a metal viewing platform has been built so that you can get the best views of the paintings. They were etched into the sandstone by the San people who used to live in this area. At that time the rains were good and the valley was green and fertile, very different to how it is today. The sandstone was soft and easy to carve.

The paintings were used to educate and inform other people in the village about animals and were also sometimes used as a communication tool. The pictures depicted local animals such as giraffe, elephants and rhino as well as the seals and penguins that San people had seen when they went to the coast. Waterholes also featured in the drawings. While we were looking at the carvings of rhino’s Charles told us the main differences between black and white rhinos, which are the same colour. The black rhino can lift its head up and eats from leaves on trees. Black rhino babies walk behind the mother. The white rhino cannot lift its head and only grazes grasses on the ground. Its babies walk in front of the mother.

Ancient rock paintings at Twyfelfontein
Glorious sunset

At the start of the tour not knowing what to look for we missed many cave paintings along the path. Having spent just a few minutes with Charles we soon started to see paintings pretty much everywhere we looked. The San were cave dwelling people and paintings were dotted about all over the sides of the hills. Now the only animals of size that we saw living in this area was a group of monkeys who had been chattering and barking away as we walked around the site. We were probably there for about an hour in total, long enough to get a feeling for the place and for the 2,500 paintings that have been found so far in this area.

On our way back we decided we had enough time to see the Burnt Mountain and Organ Pipes, two other local attractions, before the sun set. We followed the road down to the right and soon found the burnt mountain. In contrast to the red sandstone all around it, one mountain side was black, as if someone had poured a vast vat of oil down the stone or that it had literally been set fire to. It was interesting to see but didn’t really rank up there as a top sight for us.

We were surprised that we hadn’t seen a sign for the organ pipes, columns of dolerite (basalt) rock and just assumed that we needed to follow the road beyond the burnt mountain. This quickly degenerated into a small very bumpy track which looked as if no one had been along it for a long time. We switched into 4x4 mode and Stef drove on for a short while, despite me pleading being a whimp and telling him he should turn back. Eventually he did also decide we were going the wrong way. I almost had kittens though as we went back down one short hill. It was a steep incline rutted with deep holes and you could hear the bottom of the truck scraping along the floor. I had visions of us toppling over nose forward but Stef navigated us down safe and sound. He later admitted that he knew we’d gone the wrong way all the time and that he just wanted to have a play with the 4x4 on a bit of rough track!

As we headed back on the road to the campsite I noticed that there was a car parked just off the road in the same spot where there had been a 4x4 truck earlier. We pulled in and met again one of the couples who had been in our group for the cave paintings. They waved us down a short hill into a dry river valley which is where the organ pipes were. We had seen a sign from the road as we’d passed it earlier but didn’t put two and two together. I have to say that the organ pipes were so unimpressive to me that they even made the burnt mountain look interesting. I suppose it is now one of the down sides of having seen so much in our travels around the world that we expect every sight listed in a guide book to wow us and look twice. The pipes were interesting rock formations, really just a collection of small vertical columns of rock but they didn’t have the wow factor.

The sun was setting as we headed back to camp lighting up a clear sky with fabulous organs and pinks. We set up our site and then headed to the small bar on the campsite where a couple of cold beers awaited. A French couple came and sat next to us and we chatted for a while sharing tales of where we have been so far in Namibia and swapping hints and tips. We were both feeling very settled in the bar and it was tempting to stay and have yet another beer. I persuaded Stef that we should cook rather than eat in the restaurant upstairs which depending on who you talked to either did or did not have food.

I think we probably had the quickest dinner on record, mainly due to using our gas burner rather than getting a braai (barbecue) going. Its amazing how tasty mince fried with onion then mixed in with a can of butternut squash stew can taste when you are hungry and slightly worse the wear for too many beers. The beers were also the culprit for us breaking what is no doubt another campsite golden rule. Neither of us could be bothered to walk a couple of hundred metres to get to the nearest washroom when there was a perfectly adequate tree not so far away. There is something very liberating about peeing in the open air on a dark night with just a few stars lighting the way and not really knowing whether a car is about to come round the corner and catch you in their headlights!