Looking for life in The Skeleton Coast

Arriving into Swakomund was like arriving back into Europe, the German influence in the town is evident in both the people and the architecture. A lovely, comfortable little place but if it was comfort we were looking for we would be in a beach hut in Koh Samui, and so after one very sleepless night (thanks to the chick who decided blasting Beiber at 3am for a sing-a-long session whilst clomping round in 6inch hooker heels was a good idea) we headed down to Walvis Bay. Unlike its neighbour the town is much more about function and less about aesthetics, with the port taking up much of the prime waterfront in the main town. Driving just outside we found huge flocks of flamingos and pelicans with the odd jackal running about, and with such an awesome view it seemed like a good excuse to spend the afternoon drinking beers in the sun.




Wavis bay also boasts Dune 7, so off we drove in search of Namibia’s largest dune. Unlike the dunes of Sossusvlei dune 7 is a lot more commercialised and we found people clambering all over the place, joining them we started our assent. On hands and knees we climbed, we stopped, we slipped back down and we climbed again, after repeating this process several times for about 20 mins we found ourselves at the top, a few obligatory photos later and we could get to the fun part….running back down the side at full tilt, jumping, falling over and being big kids.




A few days doing bulk loads of nothing, just enjoying what the towns had to offer and we were happy. Majority of our day was spent finding a place on the beach to lie in the sun and trying to avoid the weird Scooby Doo style fog that rolls in a couple of times a day. Whilst necessary to the region as it gives life to the otherwise dry desert, it is a pain to anyone who owns anything metal as it takes no prisoners, covering everything in its path in a thick layer of salty sea mist. As Frank is almost entirely metal this was not good news. We saw rust popping up on the jack within 2 days, subsequently costing us a fortune in power washes, greasers and anti-rust sprays. We are however happy to announce that Frank is car cancer free thanks to the preventative measures taken but anyone thinking of heading to this region needs needs to take precautions as this fog is legit.


We soon found ourselves back on the road and heading North to Hentiesbaai, a small, pretty and very Afrikaans town precariously perched on sand dunes overlooking the ocean. It was here that we encountered the rare event of a thunder-storm in the desert, a truly epic experience that helped settle the dust before heading off to Cape Cross the next morning. Two things exist here, a ridiculously nice lodge in the middle of nowhere and a colony of over 10,000 very cute seals with some serious hygiene issues. When you first arrive, in the sanctuary of your car, there are seemingly thousands of cute puppies with flippers everywhere, however, opening the door is instantaneously regretted as all your senses are assaulted (get it? because it’s by the sea… And there is salt). Seriously, its like you can see the smell that these things make, between that and the deafening grunting its hard to venture outside. Once you have learned to close off your ears and breath through your mouth however it is absolutely amazing watching the playful pups run around and witnessing the daily arguments of neighbours crawling over each other in the most ungraceful way.







Resisting the urge to sneak a little sea dog into the back of the car we headed off the next morning with high hopes of what was to come as we were en route to the infamous Skeleton Coast or “sands of hell” as the Portuguese affectionately named it. Arriving at the huge skull and cross bone adorned gates we were not disappointed. Large whale bones along with the skulls of rhino and elephant that had not made it out of the region lay alongside the gates giving you an idea of what was yet to come and soon we were at the first wreck. What looked like an old fishing vessel that had lost the battle against the rocks lay broken, battered and scattered everywhere up on the beach. The wreck was surrounded by hyena prints, the creator of which assumedly hunting whatever tried to seek reprieve from the freezing ocean on one side or unforgiving desert on the other. Now really excited we shot along the salt road dying to see what else was out here. A whole lot of sweet f*%# all is what we found. We passed the first abandoned camp and then the turn off to the exit and drove on for another hour to the next camp, finally spotting signs of life in the form of 2 ostrich and 3 gemsbok, seemingly the only animals capable of survival in an area where everything else goes to die. This camp was slightly more open than the last, but with only evidence of about 8 people living there, the camp was hardly a bustling metropolis. We drove on, unbeknownst to us at the time into a region that you are usually not allowed to drive through without guides. As we hadn’t seen any other car in quite some time and the sand was getting deeper we soon realised that we were in danger of not making the gates in time, or worst still getting stuck and finding out just how hungry those hyena are, so we turned around and headed out making camp just inside the gates at the ranger station.





The next morning brought movement to Twyfelfontein, an area made famous for housing one of the largest collections of well-preserved rock art in Africa. Damaraland, in which Twyfelfontien sits is a stunning region and also home to some terrible roads, so bad that after an hour on these roads we decided to make camp for the night. We found a site next to a dried up riverbed that to our surprise had been home to a large bull desert elephant the night before, evidence of his footprints and the trees he had destroyed were everywhere.


Less of a town and more a collections of camps, Twyfeleontein hasn’t capitalised on tourism opportunities as yet and there is no shop or even village centre, so a drive to the local lodge in search of a few fresh supplies along the heavily corrugated road brought to light a new rattling sound that gave us something to talk about. After a massive debate of what it could be we set about finding the source. A slightly unconventional way was devised and involved one of us driving slowly along the bumpy road, hanging out the open door whilst the other ran alongside with their head half under the wheel arch before swapping roles. Thankfully, without fatality, we had both come to the conclusion that it was, worryingly, the driver side shock. A breakdown neither of us was equipped deal with but with nothing else to do we decided to drive on and hope for the best. On arrival to the lodge we discovered that there was no shop but there were sign posts to a local workshop. One beer down to help brace for the inevitable bad news that was to come and we drove towards the ‘mechanics’. Some broken english and a lot of pointing later we managed to explain the issue, after a lengthy meeting underneath the car the mechanics came back with a diagnosis, and to our surprise we were on the money (maybe we are actually learning something). The good news was that we hadn’t damaged the actual shock and had just worn through the rubber bushes at the bottom. They didn’t have the part that we needed but they were happy to ‘make a plan’ and two minutes later they were cutting apart an old tyre, hammering a hole into the stacked pieces of rubber and fixing in into place, ensuring us that we would have about 300 kms before we needed to get the actual part.



50 bucks and a box of cigarettes later we trundled off down the road with the new goal of looking for a few of the desert elephant that we had heard about. To our surprise we bumped into Phillip the guy from our camp who told us he had just seen them “just down the river and make a left rudder”. So off we went, questioning our sanity as we drove into the deep sand towards where we thought the eles were. After bumbling around for a while, unsure of which fork in the ‘road’ we should take we called it a day and headed back, defeated. On our arrival back into camp it turned out that Phillip’s “just down there” was in fact about 4-5km of hard off-road driving, and needless to say it was looking less and less likely we were going to find these guys on our own.

None the less we were up bright and early the next morning, continuing our mission. First stop was the water hole, the spoor on the road however clearly showed that they had moved off fairly recently and in the direction of our camp. A quick stop off on the way back and another lodges manager confirmed that they had indeed wandered past only one hour prior. We began to fear that instead of getting up early to search for them we might have been best placed waiting in bed for the eles to come to us, but as we drove on a dirt track past the local settlement a guy waved us down and in broken english explained that his son has seen them in the riverbed only 500m down about 30 mins ago. Off we drove, joined by tourist car with a paid guide they were also meandering in and out of the riverbed following the clear, fresh tracks. As 500m turned into 1km, then 3km we were doubling back on ourselves and finally as we hit 5km we began to give up hope, we had lost the guides tracks long ago but all of a sudden a local come to the banks and pointed urgently just down the river. Again we set off, we could see no signs of the herd so decided to turn our engine off, sit on the edge of the windows and wait. Silence, nothing to be seen or heard. Again unsuccessful and ready to head back Tash turned to slide back into the car and there was a trunk. Almost falling out the car in her excitement we got back into the car and moved forwards, slowly and cautiously, until we had a clear view of a mother, her calf of about a year and a young bull. As we tried to move around to get a better view, where we could disturb them the least, we came across another mother with her calf of about the same age with a male just a little older than the other teenager. After spending about an hour alone with them the older of the 2 young males began to move closer to us, ears flapping and trunk out. Either he had decided that he wanted to get to know us better or he was fed up with the guests. Fully aware that they are more nimble in the riverbed than Frank and not wanting to find out if he was friend or foe we left the family in peace, happy that we not only saw the Desert Eles, but that we had found them on our own.



As previously mentioned Twyfelfontiens claim to fame is the well-preserved rock art in the area. One area alone contains over 2,500 pieces of art, some of the highest concentrations in Africa. A look around the area did not disappoint with the famous ‘Lion Man’ being a highlight. Damaraland was fast becoming a favourite of ours but alas we needed to head back to civilisation for supplies and to fix the car. What we didnt know was that finding the parts we needed out here was going to prove more difficult than finding the bloody elephants, but thats a story for next time.



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