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Meat and greet at Wild

Instead of visiting Etosha, I came up with a different plan. After seeing really cool pictures from a friend, I decided to visit R. at Wild* (*name changed). The only problem was getting to the farm, which is located about three hours east of Windhoek. This was quickly resolved, because I was able to get a ride on the shuttle that picks up new volunteers once a week. Lucky me, since there was only one seat left

Setting up camp

Wild* is a non-governmental organization, which takes in injured or abandoned African wild cats (lions, leopards, cheetahs, caracals) and other animals (African wild dog, baboons, ostriches, meercats and others). They are self-funded and make their money from donations, tourists and volunteers, who have to pay around 900 € for two weeks plus their working hours. Currently they have about 40 volunteers working on the farm. It’s not really a farm though, because they’re not breeding the animals and they don’t grow their own food.

The lawn at the farm was usually filled with dozens of animals

At the farm I was allowed to follow R. on the different activities. In the morning she was assigned to do the feeding tour, which took us all over the place to feed the different animals. Since most of their animals are carnivores, Wild* needs about two horses or donkeys per day (about 500 USD each). They are chopped up and distributed accordingly. For feeding of the lions and the leopards we stayed at a safe distance behind the fence and they would throw the meat in the enclosure.

Feeding the lions

Feeding the caracals was different, because we could enter the enclosure while they were eating. During that time they are too busy eating, so that we could have a close look at them. The same was true for the cheetahs – we entered their area on our trucks and R. and A. (another volunteer) climbed a wooden tower with meat pieces for all 21 cheetahs, who had only eyes for their food, totally ignoring us in the open vehicles.

The caracal being busy with eating
Inside the cheetah enclosure

. The baboons were given some sticky oatmeal, that was thrown over the fence while driving alongside. This method was adopted so that all monkeys get their share and not only the strongest ones. Last but not least I helped with feeding the ostriches, who will pick the mixture of corn and bird food out of your hands, which gives you a funny feeling.

I still have all my fingers
Ostriches are quite curious

In the afternoon everyone – volunteers and bushmen, who work for the farm – went to church to pray for some much needed rain, which did come in the evening. There was a big thunderstorm, common during this time of year, with enough heavy rain to prevent us from having an outdoor braai (barbecue).

The rain clouds are gathering while we’re inside the church

But before we got caught in the rain, we went for a walk with two baby cheetahs. They were found abandoned about four months ago and were hand-raised afterwards, making them being used to humans for the moment. At the farm they have a small enclosure, so that they’re able to keep a close eye on them. However, they need to exercise running, so they are taken to an open space, where they can chase after a rattling bottle that one of the volunteers is pulling behind on a string. But beware – you have to be really fast to outrun the cheetahs. And that only works on the baby cheetahs, because they get distracted quite easily.

R. and the cheetah
Walking the cheetahs

The next day I joined R. at the food preparation, where we had to cut up the donkey chunks into even smaller pieces. It took all morning to prepare all the food for the afternoon (more feeding happens in the afternoon), and we were about seven or eight people. Afterwards, I was able to catch a ride to Gobabis with a Belgian couple and from there a shared taxi back to Windhoek.

Food preparation means cutting up donkeys

Swakopmund over and over

After getting back to Windhoek from our trip to Sossusvlei, our paths separated again – Brendans trying to find a way to get to Maun and/or Livingstone, while Teemu and Carlos had to go back home again. Arttu and I decided to take the night train to Swakopmund. The train took almost 12 hours to cover the distance of about 350 kilometers. Once again it was due to the fact that it picked up different cargo wagons during the night, but also because we were delayed by two hours due to a broken TV, which was still not working after some maintenance.

Our train had one passenger car, the rest is freight cars
Watching the super moon from the night train

In Swakopmund we wanted to go for some sandboarding in the dunes surrounding the city and I wanted to meet up with Cameron and Natasha (the couple that I had met in Lüderitz) again to join them on their trip up the skeleton coast and into Etosha National Park. However, they were planning to arrive after us, leaving us two days to explore the city on our own.

At the waterfront

The town itself is supposed to be the most German town in Namibia. And it’s true, you can see it everywhere: The buildings, the bakery and the food offered in pubs and restaurants is all German. The streets are full of German speaking tourists (more than in other towns), emigrants and locals and even the weather makes me feel like I’m back home in Hamburg – it’s cold (23° C, compared to the rest of the country where it’s around 35° C) and grey; at this time of the year the clouds often don’t clear at all during the day.

German style houses in Swakopmund

For sandboarding we managed to find a good deal, which included transportation, stand-up and lay-down sandboarding plus lunch and a movie of this half-day  activity. After everyone was equipped with helmet, boots and board, we made our way up to the top of the dune. The first few runs we were going sideways down on the board, because the dune was too high and too steep to go down straight.

Making our way to the top of the dune

Going sideways requires the same practice that you need for snowboarding, so the people who had experience here had a clear advantage. This is one thing that should have been highlighted in the beginning. Luckily there was also the lay-down sandboarding, where you get down on a thin wooden board, get a big push by one of the assistants and race down at a top speed of up to 64 km/h. Even if you’re so close to the ground, you don’t get covered in sand – unless you fall off the board or make a wrong move; the latter one happening quite often…

Sandboarding is pretty similar to snowboarding

By the end of day two we still hadn’t met up with Cameron and Natasha, who were delayed at Sossusvlei. So we spend the next day biking and jogging from one end of town to the other to do some exercise, which I haven’t been doing for quite a while. We also walked some more around downtown with Margje (Holland), who happens to be the volunteering doctor that Renske (I met her on the first day in Windhoek) is replacing.

Biking up and down the coast in Swakopmund

By now Cameron and Natasha had reached Walvis Bay, a little south of Swakopmund, but got stuck there with some problems with the car. Here is where Arttu and I decided to go back to Windhoek with Margje, because the car would not be ready for another two days. We were counting on better and warmer weather, as well as more activities and a better hostel. And we did get all of the above, including a nice dinner with game meat at Joe’s Beer House, free food, drinks and movies at the Brazil-Namibia Film Festival and of course more time at Chameleon Backpackers!

Trying different kinds of game meat at Joe’s Beer House
At Joe’s Beer House with Margje (and Arttu)

When C&N’s car was supposed to be ready I said goodbye to Arttu and boarded the train to Swakopmund once again. However, I was not lucky and the car was still in the repair shop for another day when I arrived in Swakopmund. This, along with misunderstandings, a lack of communication and a bad feeling in my stomach made me change my plans. I canceled my ride with C&N (along with the prospect of going to the Skeleton Coast, Twyfelfontein and Etosha) and took a shared taxi back to Windhoek.

I decided to change my plans over some delicious fish and chips

Life and death in Sossusvlei

Back in Windhoek, Teemu had already found Arttu (Finland) and Carlos (Bolivia), who also wanted to go to Sossusvlei to see the red dunes for which Namibia is famous for. We managed to book the car two days in advance, but it seems like we were quite lucky, because a day later there were no more cars available in all of Windhoek. Getting to Sossusvlei involves mostly gravel roads, which is why we decided to take an SUV instead of a normal car.

On the road to Sossusvlei

At the pick up of the car we were lucky again and got upgraded to a Toyota HiLux with four wheel drive (4WD). This solved any problem we would have had with our luggage, but also enabled us to take Brendan (Canada) along, who had almost given up on getting to Sossusvlei due to the lack of rental cars. The only downside to the upgrade is the fact, that the back of the car was not air tight, leaving little holes where the dust could enter, covering everything with little layers of dust.

Traveling lots of gravel roads

However, the better car did not prevent us from getting a flat tire about 100 km from the park entrance. So we got out the necessary tools and the spare tire to get us moving again. We managed quite well, but from now on we were driving even more carefully. It felt a little bit like losing the last life on Mario Bros., because one more flat tire would have screwed us up completely. But everything worked out and we managed to reach the park just before the gates closed for the day.

Keeping the spirits high even with a flat tire

When visiting Sossusvlei it is important to stay on the campground within the park limits, because the gates are closed during the night, making it impossible to get deeper into the dunes on time for sunrise, when the light on the dunes is best. Equally impressive is the sunset, which is also impossible to watch if you have to leave before the gates close.

Sunrise in the dunes

For sunrise many people are going to “Dune 45”, which is located 45 km from the park entrance (where the campground is located). To be on time we had to get up at 4:45 am, leaving us enough time to get there. Fortunately the main road through the park is paved, allowing us to go at higher speeds than on the gravel roads. Nicer and more quiet is “Dune 40”, where I went the next morning.

Chasing the sun at “Dune 45”
At “Dune 45”
Arttu, Carlos, Brendan, Teemu and I

After a magic sunrise we drove deeper into the park. Here is where our 4WD came in handy, because the last few kilometers are sandy road, where normal cars are not allowed. Driving slow and steady, we managed to get to the end, saving us another 10 Euros per person. From here we climbed the highest dune of Namibia – “Big Daddy” – for an amazing 360° panorama of the red desert.

Climbing “Big Daddy”
Getting down is much easier…

As hard as it was to get on top of the dune, getting down was so easy and quick, because you can run/slide straight down to “Deadvlei” (=dead valley), which was cut off from the (infrequent) water supply of the neighboring Sossusvlei. As a result most of the trees in the valley died. Due to the dry climate, the wood is not decaying, leaving only the trunks standing.

The heat enables Arttu and Teemu to perform some difficult acrobatics

During midday we went back to the campground, because it’s too hot to do anything. As it cooled off in the afternoon, we got a new tire at the gas station, giving us more safety for the drive back to Windhoek (or a “1-up” to stick with Mario’s terms). But before going back there were still a few things worth seeing – Sessriem Canyon, sunset at “Elim Dune” and the best apple pie in Namibia, which can be found at “Moose’s Bakery” in Solitaire.

Exploring Sessriem Canyon with Indiana Jones
Watching the sunset at “Elim Dune”
Newsfeed in the middle of the desert

Namibia’s Wild West

From the Victoria falls I took a bus to go back to Windhoek and from there a local bus to get to Lüderitz, located in the south west of Namibia. All in all it was a nearly continuous bus ride of 30 hours to meet some people that I’ve never met before. Cameron and Natasha are real travel bloggers, who travel the world to make money ( They have been in Cape Town for the last few months, bought a car and are driving it through Africa right now. Since their travel itinerary for Namibia looked nice, I decided to join them here in Lüderitz.

On the local bus with 18 people, including two small children
Downtown Lüderitz

Lüderitz, as you may guess, is also strongly influenced by the Germans, who came here in the early 1900s. It is surrounded by desert, which made the accessibility very difficult. Even nowadays they have problems of rebuilding the railway connection to Keetmanshoop, because sand dunes keep on moving and blocking the tracks. Back in the days they also used covered wagons for the inland connection. During a sandstorm, one of them got stuck and by the time it was over, he found a diamond at that spot. This led to the founding of Kolmanskop (Kolmannskuppe).

The ghost town of Kolmannskop is being taken over by the forces of the desert

Kolmannskop, now a ghost town, was once a bustling town with about 400 Germans, 50 children and 800 natives. Besides from having a general store, a butcher and a community hall, they also had a bowling alley and an ice factory. Each household (probably except for the natives, who were exploited) would get one block of ice per day for free to use it for their fridge. The melted water was collected and could be used as drinking water. They even had a hospital, which was in use until the late 1950s.

Chasing the wild horses with Cameron, Natasha, Carola and Jan-Hein

Together with Jan-Hein and Carola, a Dutch couple who had arrived with me in Lüderitz and who had come with us to Kolmannskop, we left in the direction of Keetmanshoop. We set up camp about half way to have a look at the Garub wild horses. However, they are not very wild at the moment, because they have to be fed on a regular basis due to the scarce availability of food during this unusually long dry period. Curious and hungry they came right up close.

The Garub wild horses

Then, although I wanted to join Cameron and Natasha, I decided to meet them again later, because they have to work for about a week (taking pictures for different lodges). This gives me the opportunity to stay with Jan-Hein and Carola, who want to visit the Fish River Canyon. Our first plan was to rent a car and drive there by ourselves. However, Keetmanshoop doesn’t have any rental cars, despite being so close to a major Namibian attraction. Luckily there is Rudy, who is offering day trips to the canyon (or the Kalahari, or the quiver tree forest and the devil’s playground) in his nice car with four wheel drive. He’s been doing these tours for the last ten years and is thinking about expanding his business.

Rudy is showing Jan – Hein, Carola and me the canyon

The Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and is also very impressive. There is a hiking trail at the bottom of the canyon, but it’s only opened in the cooler months between May and September. Right now there is only very little stagnant water left and the hiking is limited to the rim area, which still allows for stunning views down to the riverbed.

The impressive Fish River Canyon
A quick stop at the quiver tree forest

And what is missing in the wild west? Right, the train ride. After saying goodbye to Jan-Hein and Carola, I boarded the night train back to Windhoek, where I’ll meet up with Teemu again.

Night train to Windhoek

White waters

From Kasane (Chobe National Park) Daniel and I took a taxi to the border between Botswana and Zimbabwe. After crossing the border on foot, paying for a single-entry-visa and filling out various documents, we had to look for another ride to the town of Victoria (Vic) Falls. It didn’t take long until we found a local, who was willing to take us for some extra money. The car was old, but not completely filled up with people or luggage so we didn’t mind the hours ride.

The Zambian side of the Victoria falls is almost dried up

Vic Falls is a town, which was just build for tourists visiting the waterfalls. You notice it by the number of hotels in town, numerous people trying to sell you their old currency (billion and trillion dollar bills, which were in use during the massive inflation in 2009) or other souvenirs and by the relative cleanness of the town.

Visiting the falls with Daniel, Teemu and Katie
Watch your food, otherwise the monkeys will get it!

The Victoria Falls or, as the native people say “Mosi-oa-Tunya” – the smoke that thunders – was originally not on my list of things to see in Africa, but I’ve heard great things about them from other travelers. Additionally, it’s considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world, being the largest waterfall in the combination of width and height (area of flowing water).

A lush rainforest is growing on the Zimbabwean side of the falls due to the constant spray

However, since it is almost the end of the small dry season, there was not a lot of water and almost none on the Zambian side of the falls (they are located right at the border). The low water allows you to take a special tour to the Devil’s Pool, where you can sit in a natural basin at the edge of the waterfall. Unfortunately I missed the chance to go there (accessibility only from the Zambian side), but that makes it a great reason to come back!

Watching people in the devil’s pool

The amount of water is still enough to be impressive and to allow for river rafting downstream of the falls. So Daniel, Teemu (from Finnland) and I decided to do a day trip of rafting, which included more than 19 rapids (some bigger ones consisted of several smaller ones) up to class 5,which is the highest difficulty, if you don’t count class 6 (like Niagara falls). It was a lot of fun and quite interesting, because the water and the oncoming wind were warm and we were happy about every wave entering our boat.

Starting point of our rafting trip is at the bottom of the falls
Rafting trip with Teemu and Daniel