Continuing northward we head along another 400km of roads from Swakopmund. The first section, which loosely follows the coast, is on a salt road. Now, in England we use salt to melt snow and ice with the downside being that it rapidly increases the rate of rotting of the car. Think driving into the sea. Metal and salt don’t mix. In Namibia these salt roads occur along the Atlantic coast, in the area where the mist hangs over the landscape for nine months. The roads are a mixture of salt and gypsum-rich material; they look black but don’t have any markings, and they’re notoriously slippery. North of Swakopmund there’s a major road rebuilding going on so perhaps their days are numbered.
We turn right on the C35 towards Uis, a stretch of maybe 100 or so kilometres in an almost straight line, this time on the more normal gravel roads. The road is hardly distinguishable from the surrounding desert, with only a row of telegraph poles on one side, disappearing into the distance. We see virtually no cars, even when we turn north towards the Torra Conservancy and Damarland Camp. We do see some signs of life along the way; a smattering of small roadside huts with women [and children] in traditional dress looking after small shacks selling local crafts. Maybe a dozen people in 400 km.
After the gravel road we find the signpost for Damarland and stop to engage four-wheel drive for the last 20 or so km. It’s in the middle of nowhere again. The camp is run by Wilderness Safaris but very much in partnership with the local community. Wilderness built it but it is owned by the community, with the staff coming from the local villages. Profits are shared 60:40 with the community, helping to improve infrastructure, jobs and education. We visit a local village, meeting the oldest lady, and hand over some school supplies. Her house is spacious but basic. She has a kitchen with open fire, a second kitchen with gas cooker and gas fridge, a couple of bedrooms and a living area. Communal toilets are provided [Amalooloos] along the “main street”. Goats are herded into pens, and drinks cans threaded on string around the meagre plots of vegetables deter the elephants. The wildlife here has, over many years, adapted to life without water. Desert-adapted elephant take their moisture from the leaves, only occasional using the narrow fertile area of spring water. Everywhere else is dry, the last rain being in 2011.
Damarland Camp is one of the oldest and longest established, and is astonishing. The camp itself luxurious in a tented sort of way, relying on a part-time generator for power and a borehole for water.
The camp is small and intimate, with just 10 guest chalets dispersed among the valley floor. The decor and design is fairly minimal. The public areas and guest chalets have been designed to resemble adobe-style homes, with clay and stone walls and thatch roofs.
The activities centre around heading out into the desert to appreciate the landscape, a rich mixture of volcanic and sedimentary rock formations, together with a dried up sea or two. On a morning drive we stop and gaze across the endless view that characterises southern Africa. The chatter stops and, one by one, we fall silent and soak in the millennia of history and the changes which led to the barren landscape we see unfolding before us.
One morning drive started with breakfast outside the camp, in the desert. A table was laid with one of the most outstanding views across the desert. There’s even a toilet constructed nearby, complete with flushing toilet, handbasin and all the trimmings – the most luxurious toilet in the desert. In the evening we gather in the Boma for dinner. We loved Damaraland Camp, not just for its excellent facilities and friendly staff, but for its overall ethos. The transition from hunting to tourist facilities hasn’t always been easy or comfortable for the locals, but the partnership between Wilderness Safaris and the local population seems to be working.
Safari Lodge Damaraland Camp, Namibia