|Red Duiker or a Klipspringer|
We woke to yet another clear day and again felt well rested after a luxury night in a proper bed. We have enjoyed our stay at the lodge and if time and money were on our side I think we would both be tempted to stay for another night, or two, or three…. The staff here have all been very friendly and attentive, almost overly so but perhaps that is due to the low number of guests here at the moment. We checked out with the offer of a free extra night not materialising into a discounted free night for one of our two nights so far – no surprise there really.
It seemed strange to be packing out stuff up again into our 4x4. It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to a different lifestyle, although I have to admit that adjusting to a hotel is much easier than adjusting to a tent on top of a truck! Amazingly the fridge had kept things cool even though it had been off for over two days. We did a quick stop at the craft centre in Opuwo before heading out. Stef had seen a different type of tribal head-dress decorating one of the walls in the hotel and out guide from yesterday said we may be able to find one at the shop and we did. It’s all very interesting stuff but whenever you touch it you get covered in red ochre and these latest acquisitions in particular have a unique smell to them. Hopefully it will wear off before we need to get this stuff through customs checks but somehow I doubt it.
We headed down on the C43 towards Sesfontein. There was no surprise tarmac surface for us here, in fact it was the roughest road we have been on so far. It was reasonably wide but very stony and there had been no programme of filling in the dips and levelling out the hills as they have just done on the C35 so it was up and down lots of river crossings all the way. Himba villages lined the road here and there, some with signs that made us both feel there were the destinations the less professional guides in town would take you to. Before long though we were out in the wilds of the countryside and over the full course of the next three hours we encountered three tour jeeps, a tractor pulling a broken down lorry, three cars and two carts being pulled by horses.
A couple of times as we stopped to take photos children appeared out of nowhere along the side of the road. After the first couple we wised up to what they were after. Being true to their tribal name they were begging for anything they could get – pens, sweeties (their word not ours!), money – and their hands soon came into the windows to ensure they could get a good look around at whatever you might have that they thought they should get. After that experience we just waved as we passed by and kept the windows firmly shut.
For what seemed like an endless time we were passing through wide open landscapes that didn’t change for mile after mile. Mopane trees lined the roads on either side and grasses were growing everywhere. Grass also grew along the road an indication both of how wet it has been this year and of how little traffic passes along this road. It was definitely not a place that you wanted to pick up a puncture.
Gradually the landscape started to change and we started to climb slowly. There were no discernable hills, just a gradual incline upwards broken only by the endless dips in the road where the water runs in the wet season. We passed Omao, a small village that makes it onto our map but which is really no more than a collection of a few houses. Modern ways are evident here as unlike the huts in the villages towards Opuwo which had thatched grass roofs, here they were made of sheets of corrugated iron that glimmered and shone in the sunlight.
After Omao the road did start to climb and we soon came upon the Joubert Pass, the only stretch of tarmac we were to see on the whole 135km trip today. The tarmac probably only stretch for about one kilometre but it was definitely needed. There is a steep incline on either side of the pass and even with the tarmac we struggled up in second gear. Driving this stretch on a gravel surface would, I think, be a guaranteed recipe for sliding off the edge of the road. Once over the pass the road followed the curve of the hills and you really couldn’t make out where it was ahead of you. There was no clear gravel track it was simply the bottom of a river bed that you drive along so it was just as well it hadn’t been raining.
On the other side of the pass the landscape had definitely changed and the first signs of desert were evident. A small village on the side of the road was housed in the middle of large boulders rather than grass and the whole landscape was much more dry and arid. Knowing that we had gone the distance we expected to we both started to scan around for Sesfontein fort, our planned stop for the night but it was nowhere to be seen. Ahead of us a wide open flat valley floor stretched away with trees dotted around but no signs of life.
We wound our way along the valley and then came to a junction, Sesfontein was a further 12km along a smaller side road. The first river crossing we came to would be impassable in the rainy season. Dry now, it was deeper than the height of our truck and the water must come raging and crashing down along the river course. Our road took us through a smaller and greener valley which made both of us think of large country estates back home. The trees here too were different, no longer Mopane trees but more like upright willow trees, not that that really makes any sense.
Finally we reached Sesfontein, another tiny village with a collection of houses and huts. Here though there are also some shops but I doubt they have much of note on their shelves. We found our way to Sesfontein Fort, which seemed to be the best option of a place to stay. The ladies tending the local petrol station gave us a friendly wave as we passed them and made our way to what reminded me of my brother’s toy fort that he had as a small kid. Square crenellated towers formed the corners of low brick walls so I doubt the fort acted as much of a defensive barrier when it was built by the Germans.
Behind the walls is a landscaped courtyard with fountains keeping the grounds green. There are no signs to point you where to go but only one door was open which led into the reception area and restaurant. Here we had a friendly welcome from the family’s dog, paid our camp fees and went and set up our site. The plots are large and open and as the only campers there we had the pick of the sites, just as well because it was searingly hot and we were able to pick a site with lots of shade.
Being dab hands now at this camping lark we had soon got our tent up, sleeping bags out to air and lunch on the go. Stef went off to test out the hotel pool while I sat and caught up with my diary. He came back about half an hour later in a state of disbelief. When we got here I had had to chase them for the key to open up the shower block and as I went in search of help I passed the pool which was pretty mucky and dirty. The water looked like it hadn’t been changed for a while and there were loads of leaves and bits of muck floating on the top, a total contrast to the pool at Opuwo Lodge which was cleaned on a daily basis and had a constant flow of fresh water.
Before getting in for a swim Stef asked for the pool to be cleaned but the token skim of leaves off the top didn’t really do the trick. When he asked again for it to be cleaned the receptionist/female owner overheard him doing so. A group of Belgian’s had just arrived, strange as when we asked earlier if there were other people expected tonight we were told we were the only ones, and she seemed to be a bit stressed out about it. Their tour guide seemed to have disappeared and wasn’t doing what he should have been. To make matters worse the Belgians were committing the crime of walking around the garden drinking beer and they were told off and told not to do so.
The receptionist/owner told Stef the pool was clean, said the dirt was flaking paint, which it wasn’t, and said that if he wasn’t happy she would get her husband to come and have a word. She had a pretty bad attitude but nothing compared to her husband. His response was that as campers we were only using the pool out of the kindness of his heart and that if we didn’t like it at Sesfontein Fort we could go somewhere else. He also stated that he didn’t have the time to keep cleaning the pool every day, not a great indication of the overall level of cleanliness of his hotel. When Stef said that we would comment on our website about this he got even more arsey telling him that we couldn’t do that, but as you know we can and we have.
His attitude stank and it was really not what we would expect to get from a hotelier anywhere, let alone one who clearly knows that his hotel/campsite is really the only choice in town. Had it not been so late in the day we would have packed up and left but to do so now would have meant driving in the dark on dirt roads, a prospect neither of us relish. What was most frustrating about this is that the campsite is in a pretty unique setting, a small oasis ringed with palm trees, but the attitude of the owners has really been a bit of a dampener for us. So travellers beware, Sesfontein is a unique spot but the owners of the Fort need to learn a lot about the tourist trade.
We spent our evening in the company of the local donkeys enjoying a quiet night in front of our campfire. A German couple had also come onto the campsite but had locked themselves away inside their camper van. In the distance we could hear local women singing, a real scene setter for the evening. The stars gradually came out to play and we ended up having a pretty hot and sticky night under canvass.