Namibia Part 1 – South

When we arrived in Windhoek, I was excited and a little overwhelmed at the same time. Excited for Namibia and our 4×4 with roof tent, and overwhelmed because it had all happened so quickly. We were just in Ethiopia… and then suddenly here, since we pre-poned our flight to Windhoek to avoid potential problems with Ethiopian immigration as they made a mistake and gave us 29 days instead of 30. We had booked an AirBnB to get ourselves a bit organised before receiving our car for the next 5.5 weeks. Yay!

We first headed South, on a nice tar road until shortly before Keetmanshoop where we found a pretty campsite surrounded by quiver trees. They are so cool!! After struggling with the roof tent, a thunderstorm surprised us. We first fled into the roof tent, then realized we were probably not save in there when lightning struck very close, so fled into the car. At least our roof tent withstood the storm and rain test – and it didn’t last too long. Afterwards, we were treated to some beautiful evening light, kitschy rainbows and photogenic dark clouds in the distance. A good start after all!

On day 2, we headed further South to Fish River Canyon, an easy drive during which we spotted some Oryx antelopes. The canyon was really cool, supposedly it’s the 2nd biggest one after Grand Canyon! There’s different viewpoints which can be reached via rough dirt roads – the first time we were glad to have a 4×4. The views were great everywhere!

We then drove further to Aus, where we wanted to camp – but the nice campsite was fully booked and the one in town didn’t appeal to us. So we decided to wild camp at the wild horses viewpoint. We were lucky enough to spot some wild horses over the next day, although less at the waterhole than while driving between Aus, Kolmanskop and Lüderitz.

Day 3 started with a visit to nearby Kolmanskop, a ghost town that is being swallowed up by the surrounding desert step by step. It was much cooler than expected!! We were in photo paradise.

The old buildings, the sand which is piling high in same places, the doors which are barely still hanging in there… it just all looks very photogenic. It was also much larger than expected, so we spent over 3 h wandering around, exploring, taking photos.

From here, we went on to Lüderitz which in return was a bit underwhelming. Took some photos of old houses, checked out the expensive campsite on Shark island, decided not to stay there, moved on to the peninsula to see Diaz Point and the surrounding bays. We were not so lucky on the peninsula: we saw some pretty flamingos around Diaz Point and some seals and penguins on the islands too far away to take proper pictures. The other bays were virtually empty besides the ever-present seagulls. Since there wasn’t really an appealing campsite nearby, we decided to wild camp again – in Witmuur bay which at first seemed sheltered. Later, quite some wind came up and it was coooold. The whole day we had been cold already, with clouds hanging low, strong winds and high humidity in the air. Let’s just say it was not an enjoyable night… The highlight of our stay on the peninsula came next morning when we saw 3 jackals in Griffith Bay! We also saw some more flamingos and other birds.

After this night, we were definitely ready for some warmth again though! We drove back to Aus and then up North, taking the photogenic D707 road with many photo stops, all the way to Betta. Here we found a really nice campsite, not the best views but really good facilities and most importantly: good showers to clean ourselves up after wild camping for two nights. A good day and finish to our „South“ Namibia adventures.

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Harar: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

From Lalibela, we embarked on a little travel marathon to reach our final destination: Harar. Flights out of Lalibela to anywhere were pretty expensive on short notice, so we decided to take a bus to Bahir Dar and fly from there, via Addis Abeba, to Dire Dawa. Harar doesn’t have an airport, so from Dire Dawa we would take another bus to Harar. Sounds long? Yeps, it was.  

Our bus journey to Bahir Dar was probably the worst we had in Ethiopia: first no seats, then overcharged for our luggage, or they would have kicked us off the bus. In exchange we did get seats, however the bus was too full and a puking women (8 h straight almost!!) sat and puked next to Mathijs on the floor. Not very enjoyable. The flight was the easiest part and went rather smoothly, Dire Dawa a catastrophe stopover with a bad overpriced hotel with unhelpful staff, and the bus ride to Harar longer than expected.

Harar started off badly as well. Lots of homeless people, many druggies trying to talk to you and get something from you etc. Some guys grabbed me, tried to touch me and so on. I shouted at people, slapped one of the guys in the face and people around me were just laughing mostly. What the f…!? Ethiopia so far had been exhausting, but this was just plain bad bad bad. I just didn’t feel safe, something that was not the case anywhere else in Ethiopia.

It turned out though that the town itself is nice and colourful. It’s just not as pretty as we had expected, but there’s lots of picturesque little streets and colourful local markets.

Because it’s a mainly Muslim town, women were all covered, but in a very colourful way that made for good photos. Fortunately, they usually didn’t mind, so Mathijs was one happy street photographer.

I was still not feeling too comfortable, but the photogenic old center made up a bit for the exhausting trip here and the drama with the homeless druggies. A bit. I wouldn’t go back to Harar, and it’s not a must see for me. The effort required to get here is just not worth it – there are easier to reach market towns in this world.

After these last exhausting days, I was also more than happy about our sudden plan change to leave Ethiopia a few days earlier than planned: we had discovered that the visa we had gotten was valid for 29 days instead of the usual 30 days. Our flight out was on day 30. We couldn’t find any easy way to clarify the mistake without paying lots of money and read about people being forced into ridiculous fees or otherwise missing their flight. In short: the easiest way out (literally) seemed to be to change our flight to Windhoek for 2 days earlier – not cheap either, but at least our worries were gone!

Ethiopia, you’ve been very interesting, and very exhausting.

Touring Danakil Depression

Our next stop after Tigray was Mekele, the starting point for excursions into the Danakil Depression – one of the most amazing volcanic landscapes on Earth. Unfortunately, we arrived in Mekele on a Sunday which apparently meant that most tour offices were closed and comparing and booking a tour turned out a bit more difficult than we expected. After whatsapping with some agencies and bargaining a lot, we finally decided to go with ETT – Ethio Travel and Tours – who are known for their big groups, but who just offered the best deal, including a transfer to Lalibela afterwards.

So next day, we were off to Danakil, with our first day consisting mainly of driving and stopping at some viewpoints along the way. In the late afternoon, we drove a bit across the big salt lake. On the way, we came across some camel caravans who are transporting salt 400 km further. Hard work for the men and animals!

We then passed by a little pool in the salt lake (which otherwise like Uyuni is solidified on the top so you can drive across it). Some people went in for a dip, but we weren’t keen on being completely salty for the remainder of the tour, so we just walked around a bit and took some pictures.

Our last stop for the day was to see the sunset over the salt lake which was quite pretty, even though the sun set behind some clouds eventually.

The night was spent on wobbly makeshift beds outside. It was nice to sleep under the stars, but I’ve had my fair share of nights under stars, so wouldn’t have minded if they had built a simple hostel like those on the Uyuni tour.

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Next morning, bright and early, we went to see the highlight of the tour: the volcanic landscape of Dallol. At first, when we arrived, I was a bit underwhelmed to be honest. There was some pretty yellow underground, but nothing thaaat amazing. That was before I saw all of this:

W.o.w. I had high expectations towards Dallol, but they were wayyy surpassed! I didn’t know there would be these little terrace pools, and I didn’t expect new crazy views wherever you went.

Only to see Dallol, it was already worth doing this tour – even though it was expensive. After seeing this unreal landscape, there were two more stops we made. One at a bubbling lake (volcanic activity but apparently not hot), and some cool looking rocks that reminded us a bit of Ciudad de Itas in Bolivia, but on a much smaller scale. We also passed a place where locals were cutting salt blocks out of the lake, to transport them onward on the back of their camels. It’s very hard work, that – as so often – pays very little.

After that, it was back to our lunch stop from day 1 and then back to Mekele town. Even without seeing the lava lake at Erta Ale (it’s not visible anymore at the moment), touring the volcanic landscapes of Danakil Depression has been amazing and something we won’t forget too quickly.

Destination: Everywhere