As most of you know, Chris and I are not massive fans of organized tours or groups while traveling. We often find it is not a very authentic experience and for us that usually equates to it detracting from the experience. However, we ended up in a major time crunch to make our flight from Windhoek, Namibia to Victoria Falls. We wanted to see Namibia along the way to Windhoek, but every do-it-yourself option we explored did not fit our budget or time constraints. We therefore turned to overland tours and found a 7 day tour that fit our needs. We begrudgingly booked the tour to leave from Cape Town and to end in Swakopmund, which is a 5 hour drive away from Windhoek. We found a shuttle service that would take us from Swakopmund to Windhoek on the day before our flight.
The day of our tour departure we rocked up to the office with a slight apprehensive feeling. Immediately we recognized the tour was almost at capacity as we counted 20 other people waiting to be checked in. It was an hour of introductions where we all immediately forgot each others names while we waited to hit the road.
We finally got rolling and Chris and I were both very impressed with the layout and comfort of the truck. Each person had a locker for their belongings which was big enough to fit all of our bags, including our tent. The seats were large and comfortable and came with a pocket holder where you could store water bottles, books and other knicknacks you wanted access to while driving. There were overhead bins where you could store daybacks, snacks and other larger items. The windows were large and all opened the entire way for photo taking opportunities. Best of all they had a cable we could plug our ipods in to listen to music, and a cooler for our beverages!
Our first stop was at Table View, where we were rewarded with a spectacularly clear view of Table Mountain. The viewpoint really put into perspective the size of the mountain and how it towers over the city of Cape Town.
The next stop was at a large shopping mall where we all had an hour to pick up anything we would need for the tour. Chris and I grabbed a bunch of snacks and a book each to help pass the time in the truck. After we picked up the things we needed we continued on to the Cederberg region of South Africa which was to be our campsite for the night. We arrived to our campsite shortly after noon and had a quick lunch with a round of introductions. The group was over 50% Dutch, and I will leave it to you to decide if this was a good thing or a bad thing! After lunch we had a tutorial of how to set up our tents, and went to work getting them ready for the evening. These tents were heavy duty safari camping tents, compared to our lightweight hiking tent they were positively enormous. We were also provided with nice thick matress pads which was a major step up the “glamping” ladder for Chris and I. We set our tent up next to the Australian couple, Nathan and Ayesha. We became what we all joked as ” fast friends” due to the amount we had in common and the fact they were absolute legends.
Chris and I went for a quick run while the rest of the group finished setting up their tents and getting ready for their dinner out. We opted not to go for the “traditional dinner and wine tasting package” as we had been in South Africa for almost a full month at that point and had plenty of both along the way. We stayed back at camp with our tour guide and were treated to a delicious beef stirfry. After the group got back we socialized for a few hours before it was time to turn in for the night. It was definitely a cold night spent in our tents, we all slept fitfully while battling to stay warm.
The next morning we got an early start and headed towards the Orange River that straddles the border of Namibia and South Africa. It was again a long day of driving in the truck but we passed the time easily with a few games. Our favorite had to be everyone taking turns plugging their ipods into the speakers and putting them on “All songs, shuffle” to see what people were really made of. A few hilarious songs made there way onto different peoples ipods and we had lots of fun teasing them about it.
On a quick stop to restock snacks and food I made a trip to the local pharmacy to grab a nasal decongestant. It was a rather hilarious experience as even though it is OTC the pharmacist still checked it and received a dispensing fee, and then locked it in a small cage with the receipt which I walked up to the cash register to be rung in. It certainly would cut down on the number of scripts that mysteriously walk out the front door!
Once at the campsite we got our tents up and then Ayesha, myself and another girl on the tour got a workout in before dinner. While waiting for dinner to be finished we dabbled into a few bottles of wine, having been deceived by the size of the camping mugs we ended up well on our way to a good night. After dinner we headed to the bar area where Ayesha and I performed a dance number to Chandelier, and had an epic photoshoot compliments of Maren. Poor Maren had booked the accomodated tour but when she showed up there was a mixup and to make a long story short, she was stuck on our camping tour. God love her with multiple bottles of wine she championed her way through the mistake!
The next morning some people went canoeing, while a group of us stayed back and relaxed on the river jetty. I managed a run despite all of the wine! We had lunch and then quickly broke camp as we still had to cross the border and make it to Fish River Canyon before sunset.
Unfortunately, the border took longer than expected (not naming names, Matt) so we were in a bit of a hurry to make it to the caynon. Luckily we arrived just in time and Ayesha, Nathan, Chris and I were able to walk along the rim of the canyon as the sun set and get some amazing pictures. We did see two different snakes on our walk though, which I could have lived without!
It was an early night at camp as we experienced a bit of rain, and we were all pretty tired from the previous nights adventures.
The next day we drove into the Namib-Naukluft Park where we did a quick canyon walk before setting up camp. Ayesha and I were able to fit a great run in while the sun set over camp.
I must make mention at this point the quality of food on tour. I admit my expectations were quite low after my safari in Tanzania, where the cooking was resourceful, but basic. I will never forget our grated carrot, butter, and bread sandwiches. The food was outstanding on this tour and I felt we were very spoiled! Ostrich and beef mince bolognase, beef stirfry, tuna pasta casseroles, braai’d porkchops and peanut cabbage sald are just a few examplea of the meals we experienced while on tour!
The next morning was our earliest start, waking at 4:30 am and the wheels were turning by 5 am. The reason for the early start was we were to climb Dune 45 for the best view of the sunrise that morning. We started out and it was absolutely freezing, I was again reminded the fickleness of the desert. Luckily it was steep enough that we warmed up a bit on the way up. The climb in the sand was exhausting in the same way walking through deep snow is. We made it to the top early enough that we were able to watch the changes in the sky as the sunrise progressed. It was a spectacular sunrise and once the sky brightened we got an even better look at our surroundings. The contrast of the red sand dunes and the brilliant blue sky was absolutely stunning. The Namib desert has some of the most interesting scenery we have experienced. It was a much more typical desert than that of the Jordanian desert, but still so unique.
After the sunrise we made our way back down the dune to the truck where our amazing team had a hot breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast and most importantly coffee, waiting for us. We quickly ate and then hit the road to go even deeper into the Namib Desert. We were heading towards Deadvlei, or the Dead Valley, where there was the option to climb the highest dune in the area (Big Daddy) to get to the Dead Valley, or do an easier walk to arrive there. Chris and I chose Big Daddy along with a group of about 10 others. It was similar to the morning climb of Dune 45, except it was hotter now as the sun had risen, and it was much steeper with the sand less compact. I will admit it was challenging, but the view from the top was indescribable. 360° of pure awesomeness. There were mountains, dunes, the Dead Valley, and beautiful blue sky everywhere you looked. Climbing Big Daddy was an all time travel highlight, if you are in Namibia do not miss it!
We thought the view from the top were going to be the best part of climbing Big Daddy, but the descent has to be one of the funnest things I have done. You simply run down the side of it. It is quite steep so you can get going really fast, but the sand is soft enough that you sink in a lot so you have excellent traction. It was a ball running down!
Once at the bottom we were in the Dead Valley and the landscape was unlike anything else. It is a salt pan so the earth is dry and cracked, and the trees that grew when water was present are believed to be 900 years old. The sun has scorched them black and they do not decay because they are so dry and there are no termites present. This place is a photographers dream!
We headed back to camp to pack up and have a quick bite to eat before continuing on. Our guide in training, Matt, cooked up an incredible potjieko (the traditional South African pot dish cooked over the fire that I have mentioned previously) for dinner. Chris and I opted out of the desert walk so we were able to watch him in action preparing the meal and pick up a few tips on how to prepare a potjieko. Our camp for the evening did not have electricity so we were treated to some of the best star gazing of the trip. There was also a watering hole at the camp and we were lucky enough to have a group of mountain zebras stop by for a drink.
The next day we made our way to our final destination, Swakopmund. This town is considered the adventure capital of Namibia and is where you can go skydiving, dune boarding, 4 wheel dune bugging adventures etc. Nothing particularly appealed to Chris or I (or fit in the budget) or Nathan and Ayesha so we headed to our lodge and relaxed for a few hours before our group dinner.
We headed to a place called Napoltinas, an Italien restaurant (go figure), for dinner as a group. Nathan, Chris and I split three different pizzas and surprisingly they were quite good. One even had oryx on it, which I didn’t particularly enjoy but the guys did.
Conveniently attached to the restaurant is one of the towns only bars. We headed over as a group and had an absolute blast dancing the night away. The DJ played all the songs that made every girl yell, ” I love this song!!!” and had us all dancing so hard I really was afraid the wooden floor was going to give way. We introduced the group to “icing,” which is the art of buying a smirnoff ice and in a creative way having someone find it at which time they have to stop everything they are doing, take a knee, and drink it. Every single guest on the tour made it onto the dance floor which was awesome and made for a really fun night!
The next day Nathan, Ayesha, Chris and I spent the day relaxing and getting caught up on planning and emails. The resident cat, Sparkles, who I had met the evening before but had forgotten, spent the day relaxing with us. That afternoon we went for a long walk on the lovely beach where we found a really nice restaurant that we decided to make dinner reservations at for our last night together.
We headed to the restaurant for sundowners before dinner as they had a really nice outdoor seating area with a perfect view of the sunset. Corkage was $6.5 so we brought along a 1.5L of rose.
The restaurant itself was in a converted ship, and our table was where the steering wheel of the vessel would be. We split three appetizers; calamari, shrimp and john dory. I had a filet of king klip wrapped in phylo pastry with a coconut, cashew sauce over spicy rice which I cannot rave about enough! Chris had the king klip with a beautiful tartar sauce. The food was really excellent but the company was even better! We were so sad to say goodbye to Nathan and Ayesha, they are definitely the best couple we have had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with. I know we will meet up again in the (near) future which makes me very excited!
That night Chris and I awoke to a very familiar, but out of place noise; purring. We both sleepily looked at each other, and then at Miss Sparkles who was happily purring away in our bed, and then both panicked a bit. How did she get in? We must have left a door open? I jumped up and turned the lights on and checked both doors, which were shut and locked. I then walked into the bathroom where we had left the windown open a crack, which was enough for her to sneak her way in. Chris and I laughed and were going to kick her out, but she slyly hid under the bed until we had given up and turned the lights off and got back in bed. She then made her way back onto the bed and happily slept with us until the next morning.
The next day Chris and I headed to the capital cit, Windhoek, where we caught our flight to Vic Falls the next morning. Our time there was unremarkable as we really just used it as a stopping over place.
What a post! My fingers are exhausted but I am happy to share with you our incredible experience with Nomad Tour. I highly recommend the company, we were very impressed with them. This tour has us very excited for our big tour in a little under a month!
Up next is our time in Vic Falls!