Tag Archives: bushmen paintings

Weekend at Twyfelfontein

Namibia and Botswana have a wonderful system of helping the indigenous population to share in the spoils of the tourism industry and to realize the benefit of preserving wild animals and the environment.  In association with Conservation Tourism, community campsites have been set up that are run by the local community and the money earned is used to benefit the people of the area.  Not only do they learn new skills running campsites and chalets, but they can display their cultural activities, art and craftwork, do guiding and have gainful employment in the rural areas.

We stayed recently at a community campsite, called Granietkop, about 19 kms from Twyfelfontein in Damaraland.  This delightful spot had about six campsites on and around a granite outcrop, each with its own excellent ablution facilities.  Twice a day the wood burnng stove was lit, so there was always hot water available.  We were sad to see that this immaculate campsite was not as well supported as the rather overcrowded and run down Aba Huab River Camp closer to Twyfelfontein.  Their rates were more reasonable and we had peace and quiet as well as amazing facilities.  If you’re heading in that direction, please give Granietkop your consideration and business – you won’t be disappointed.  And if you want excellent views over the landscape, ask for campsite no. 5!

Campsite amongst the boulders - Granietkop

The area supports the elusive desert elephant, which we didn’t see, but on an early morning walk we did see wild giraffes grazing near the road.

Wild giraffe near Granietkop

There is plenty to see in this beautiful area.  Twyfelfontein has been declared a National Heritage Site because it has the largest concentration of rock art in Namibia.  Whilst there are plenty of the usual Bushmen paintings, where staining material was used for their art, Twyfelfontein is famous because the rock art has been engraved deep into the soft red sandstone rocks.

Rock engravings at Twyfelfontein Lodge

There are over 2500 petroglyphs of various sizes, mostly of animals and people.  Considered a sacred site by the indigenous people, Twyfelfontein was an ideal spot for the Bushmen to tell their stories by means of art about fifteen thousand years ago.  Twyfelfontein means “doubtful fountain” in Afrikaans and the little spring that rises in the area has been supporting life for thousands of years.

Organ pipes

Nearby, the Organ Pipes are an interesting geological feature in the Twyfelfontein area.  We walked down into a narrow gorge and were surrounded by literally thousands of perpendicular dolerite pillars, some measuring up to five meters in height.  These were formed when dolerite that had intruded into the shales of the Karoo Sequence, shrank during cooling and split.

Burnt mountain - not at its best

Our next stop was Burnt Mountain, formed by the Karoo shales and limestone deposits about 200 million years ago.  The dramatic changes that took place over the centuries left a mountain sporting various shades of colour (red, black, grey, purple, white and orange), which, at certain times of the day with the rays of the sun hitting it, give the impression that the mountain is on fire.  Seen at midday, people might wonder what all the fuss is about as it just looks like a black mountain!

Stunning scenery in Damaraland

This is a beautiful area to visit, with so much to see and do.  From here it’s a short drive to the petrified forest, which I wrote about in a prevous blog.

Climbing to Konigstein in the Brandberg

At the beginning of May 2010 we took a walk to the highest point in Namibia, the Konigstein in the Brandberg (Fire Mountain), which lies in Damaraland. This is a three day trek that is surprisingly strenuous for such a short excursion at fairly low altitude – you can read a brief report on this trip here.

View down the Hungorob Gorge

Weekend at Spitzkoppe – Matterhorn of Namibia

Anyone who has traveled from Windhoek to Swakopmund will be familiar with the imposing outline of the Spitzkoppe mountains.  Standing on a flat plain at an altitude of 1728m above sea level, they should be clearly visible.  Often, however, they are shrouded by haze or dust.

The highest peak is 700m and is known locally as =/Gaingu, meaning the last large mountain on the way north (isn’t that quaint!)  It sits proudly alongside other domed mountains called the Pondoks, which is the local vernacular for small rounded huts that are made from branches and cow dung.  Further west lie the Little Spitzkoppe. These granite inselbergs have been eroded over time by wind and weather and shaped into the interesting rocks that so many folks have come to love.

Pondokke

Spitzkoppe is an easy three hour drive from Windhoek and as we’d never camped in the area before we were keen to experience it for ourselves.  We arrived quite late in the afternoon and were a little dismayed to find that all the regular campsites were already occupied.  By regular I mean those campsites that had a 44 gallon drum serving as a dirt bin – there were no other facilities on offer, not even toilets or water, at least that we could see!    We drove around until we found a nice spot right up against an enormous granite mountain – in fact a sheer cliff rose hundreds of meters above us, making our car look quite dinky by comparison.

Campsite at Spitzkoppe

Sunset at Spitzkoppe

Night fell quickly as the sun sank down behind the mountain and it wasn’t long before we were treated to the sight of an enormous orange full moon that made the need for torches quite unnecessary.

Moon over Spitzkoppe

Rob soon had a fire going and we sat chatting about the prospect of seeing new birds the following day.  Our Roberts Bird Guide told us that Herero Chats were endemic to this area and they would be lifers for us.  It’s always exciting to notch up a lifer and to get a photo of one is an added bonus.

We were up early the next morning and after breakfast, we walked a short way from our campsite around the base of the mountain, where we came to a clearing with a thicket of bushes covered in purple tubular flowers.  This turned out to be a magical spot as the flowers attracted the Dusky Sunbirds and there were literally dozens of these lovely little birds flitting from bush to bush drinking in the nectar.  Rob was in his element photographing them and we spent a good hour there totally enthralled at the spectacle before us.

Dusky sunbird

We eventually dragged ourselves away and headed back across the plains to an area called Small Bushman’s Paradise where rock art adorns the faces of enormous boulders.

Along the way we noticed some mountaineers attempting a particularly steep and difficult climb.  The enormity of what they were doing struck us when we saw how small they looked against the rocks meters above us.  This area is a favourite with rock climbers and over the years many have met their fate on these perilous mountains.

Rock climbers

It gets quite hot walking, even in winter, so it’s always a good idea to carry plenty of water and something to eat.  We had lunch in the shade of some big boulders and managed to tick off a pair of Herero Chats, although getting a decent photo of them proved somewhat difficult.  The birdlife in this area is quite magnificent with about 200 different species on the list.  There are also a number of animals to be found, but they made themselves very scarce during our visit and we were out of luck until the following day.

By mid-afternoon we were ready to head back to camp and take a rest.  The campsite offered up no shade at all so it was rather hot inside the rooftop tent.  We did manage to sleep for a bit and were woken rather rudely by birds gathering outside.  I had thrown some breadcrumbs out for them and as we’d taken our cameras up with us, we were able to photograph them from our own ‘bird hide’.  Starlings, Mountain Chats and Hornbills all fought over the scraps of bread as we clicked away happily unseen above them.

Montiero's hornbill

It had been a magnificent day and we’d had plenty of exercise, sunshine and birds to photograph.  Once again the moon gave us a special show as we bid farewell to the day.

We packed up our belongings the next day and drove to all the places that we hadn’t been able to go to on foot.  Our first visit was to the southern part of the area where the boulders were spanned by an enormous natural arch of rock.  From here the Erongo Mountains were clearly visible in the distance.  The guide book told us that there were some old graves on the way to Bushman’s Paradise, but try as we might we couldn’t find them.

We stopped off at a disused water reservoir that was covered with bushes and trees and were delighted to spot a pair of black mongooses.  The black mongoose (Galerella nigrata) is a fairly rare specimen in Namibia and is mainly found in the Erongo mountains.  I had been fortunate enough to spot these elusive creatures on two previous occasions and had a hard time getting Rob to believe that I’d actually seen them!  I was therefore especially pleased when we came across the pair at the reservoir and Rob was able to see them for himself.  They were rather shy though and ducked into the undergrowth and although we waited for a good half hour for them to reappear, they must have been watching us and kept hidden.

From there we moved on to Bushman’s Paradise, on the eastern side of the area.  Here there is a climb up a steep incline, with assistance provided by a thoughtfully placed chain handrail.

Handrail at Bushman's Paradise

From the top it’s a short walk to a rock shelter in which a number of paintings can be found.  This art, believed to have been the handiwork of the San people some 25 000 years ago, was created using extracts from vegetables, blood from animals as well as the urine from dassies (Rock Hyrax) and even Ostrich egg yolks.  It was a sacred area for the nomadic people of old and many of the paintings depict their spiritual practices.  We watched in horror as other visitors placed their hands on the paintings.  This is causing significant damage to these ancient paintings and we wondered why their guide didn’t dissuade them from doing this.  Often visitors wet the paintings to make them clearer to photograph – another reason why they are fading at a faster rate than ever before.

Our time at Spitzkoppe was drawing to an end.  It had been a wonderful weekend and we were happy to take away lots of happy memories of our two days there.  As we drove out we passed the local Spitzkoppe community, who farm the area with goats and cattle.  The area abounds in semi-precious stones and these also form part of their income as visitors are always keen to buy them.

Well worth a visit, we will definitely be going back to Spitzkoppe before we head home to South Africa.

Weekends at Ameib Ranch

The First of Several Weekends at Ameib Ranch – June 2006

Someone in Underberg once said: “Here comes the tortoise” when I drove the Toyota into their driveway.  I smiled when I realized that they were referring to our rooftop tent – the little house on the back of our bakkie.  Yes, that’s true and what a wonderful little house it has proved to be over the years.  It has served us well on many trips and Namibia has been the ideal country to put it to good use.  This being the land of eternal sunshine, one can always rely on the weather being sunny and fine when planning a camping trip.

Thanks to an informative book called “African Adventurer’s Guide to Namibia” by Willie and Sandra Olivier, we discovered Amieb Ranch quite soon after our arrival in Windhoek.  Situated in the beautiful Erongo mountains halfway between Windhoek and Swakopmund, Amieb is one of my favourite places in Namibia.  There are two ways to get there, one via Usakos and the other on a rather scenic route via Omaruru and through the Erongo Mountains.  If one has time obviously the scenic drive is better, but it is longer, so the first two times we stayed at Amieb we opted for the shortest route to get there.

After turning off at Usakos one crosses the dry Khan riverbed at least six times as it winds its way alongside the road to Amieb.  Huge trees line the river banks and I always feel that we should take a walk along this riverbed sometime before we return to South Africa.  Amieb Ranch, being a nature reserve as well, is fenced off and on arrival one is met by an enormous metal gate that the guard opens with great effort to let one in.  The scenery here is quite dramatic, with the Erongo mountains forming an awesome backdrop. These imposing mountains just get bigger and bigger as one comes closer. After passing an airstrip flanked by an “arrivals  building” consisting of a thatched roof supported by four wooden poles, a large dam comes into view.  The two bird hides on its banks invite us to view the water birds that live there.

On arrival we are guided into the car park by a friendly employee and escorted to Reception through an amazing garden of indigenous trees and plants.  We are greeted by a number of friendly cats, one of which looked like it had long gone Siamese ancestors.  With the formalities taken care of we spent some time looking at photographs on the walls.  They had the usual pictures of the mountains and Phillips Cave, but we were interested in a photo of a zedonk – a cross between a zebra and a donkey.  Assured that this creature did actually exist and could still be seen, our appetite was whetted for whatever other wonders lay in store for us.

Zeedonk

We were then directed to the camping area a short way from the main buildings and were pleasantly surprised to see how neat and orderly it was.  Campers have their own reasonably sized swimming pool and a small but adequate ablution block.  Many of the sites had thatched umbrellas and bomas with concrete floors, but generally the ground was dirt that was meticulously raked every day.  The groundsman must have had Zen tendencies as he raked away any footprints almost as soon as they were made!  We’ve been to Ameib several times and always managed to stay in the same campsite – a rather nice one close to all the amenities.

Located on the property is Phillips Cave, a national heritage site because of its rock art, and Bull’s Party, a collection of gi-normous round granite boulders spread over a large area.  We haven’t worked out why it’s called Bull’s Party, but everyone we’ve taken there has been most impressed with the place.  In addition to these two attractions, the Ranch also offers technical climbing in the mountains and numerous hikes.  On arrival we’d discussed an ambitious circular hike with the owner that would have us walking from the campsite to Phillips Cave, across the valley to Bull’s Party and then around the mountain to see Elephant’s Head and back again, a distance of roughly eighteen kilometres.  Not too far in hiking terms, but when one takes the heat into consideration, the hike becomes something of an epic journey.

Setting up camp literally takes a few minutes for us.  We have a wonderful routine going – Rob opens up the rooftop tent and I tend to the table and chairs and unpack sleeping bags and pillows.  In no time we’re relaxing in our new environment, usually with a kettle on the gas fire for some tea, or with a cold beer from the fridge depending on the time of day.  Apart from the rooftop tent, our little Engel fridge has been the single most useful purchase that we’ve made for our camping trips.  Always assured of cold beers, cool drinks and unrunny margarine, it’s an absolute must in this hot environment.  It’s also ideal for storing meat and salads for a couple of days.

Looking forward to our hike the next day, we settled into the camp and watched the sun set over the distant peaks of Spitkoppe.  This was followed by a scrumptious braai under fifty trillion stars!  The night sky in Namibia, especially out in the country, has to be seen to be believed.  One feels rather small and insignificant in the grand scale of things when one looks up at the Milky Way in all its glory.  Namibia is well-known for its magnificent views of the stars and the big observatory in the Gamsberg draws lots of visitors.

We set off early the next morning to try and catch the coolest part of the day.  The walk to Phillips Cave starts off along a flat path that is flanked by lots of trees, most of which have been numbered.  We’d been given an information sheet about all the numbered trees, so spent some time identifying them as we walked past.  One of the most common in the area is the Shepherd Bush, a strange tree with stemless leaves growing directly on the branches.

Also plentiful and literally growing out of the rocks, are the varieties of Commiphora (also known as “kanniedood”) – vaguely similar to the botterboom with their papery bark, they are bulbous in shape and seem stunted in their growth.  Sometimes their bark is a bright copper colour, making them rather beautiful.  Because of their short stocky shape, they look like miniature bonsai arrangements on the rocks and I never cease to be fascinated by these quaint little trees that seem to grow with no nourishment whatsoever.

When the path changed to rock and we started climbing a bit, Rob pointed out a small and somewhat lethargic Horned Adder he’d spotted.  We were wearing hiking boots so were in no danger of being bitten by the adder if we’d inadvertently stepped on it.  Horned Adders are quite venomous and a bite has some nasty repercussions, so one does want to avoid them if at all possible.  Hikers have to keep an eye open for snakes as they are rather plentiful in Namibia!   Fortunately they are more prevalent in summer and most of our trips are done in winter, so we don’t come across them too often.

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We reached Phillips Cave about an hour later after a very steep climb up a rocky incline.  Set in the side of a huge rock face, the cave is more of a gaping opening in the mountain really and looks like a large open mouth.

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The back wall is covered in bushman paintings, some very faint, others more distinct.  There is a real danger of them fading and not being visible quite soon in the future.  The paintings typically were of animals, and included antelope, zebra, ostrich and a big white elephant.  There were also some humans depicted, probably performing a spiritual ritual.  On the floor of the cave were a number of stone implements supposed to have been used by the bushmen.

Rock art in Phillip's Cave Rock art in Phillip's Cave

Rock art in Phillip's Cave

It was interesting to see the composition of the rock at the entrance to the cave and also on the way up there.  It is very soft and breaks off in huge chunks.  This process is known as exfoliation and that’s an apt description because that’s exactly what it looks like the rocks are doing.  In fact the pieces of rock fall off like an onion peeling layer by layer.

We sat for a while watching a magnificent lizard with a bright orange head and blue scaly body.  Its proper name is the Namibian Rock Agama and these colourful little fellows are found wherever there are rocks.  I think they provide a tasty snack for the eagles and kestrels that hunt over the mountains.  One can also always be sure of seeing dassies wherever it’s rocky and the Phillips Cave area is home to dozens of these little creatures.

After a light snack and some cold drinks we set off on the track that lead across the valley to Bulls Party.  The path wound down the same way we’d come and then crossed a dry river bed before turning right onto new territory.  The walk across the flat plain seemed to take forever, probably because of the lack of shade, and the heat that was making itself felt.  The sky was an endless blue with no signs of clouds to cover the sun even for a moment.  We saw some buck along the way and were amused by the loud screeches of the colourful rosy-faced lovebirds as they flew overhead in small groups.  With their rounded heads and beaks, Rob likened them to spitfires – the planes used in the Second World War.  That description appealed to me immensely and I had a good chuckle every time I saw them after that.

When we were in New Zealand we stopped at a tranquil place called The Chasm quite near Milford Sound and came across a notice board nestled in the trees with the following quote:

“The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with liberal allowance of time.”  David Henry Thoreau.

This could have been written about our next stop – Bull’s Party.

At Bull's Party

Bull’s Party is an amazing assortment of round granite boulders.  One in particular looks like the head of a parson, others just look like what they are – enormous boulders.

The Parson

What is interesting about them is the way the wind and water has, over millions of years, eroded them into round spheres, now resting on very small points on the ground.  The geological name for them is ‘woolsack’ granite boulders – due largely to the variations in temperature – extreme heat and cold over a sustained period.  With many of these boulders perched on the side of the mountain one can easily imagine them reaching a point where, with sufficient wind or water, they could roll down to a new resting place on the flat plain below.  It’s a fascinating place and we almost had to drag ourselves away after spending some time exploring the area.

Giant boulder

From Bull’s Party we made our way around the mountain to a flat rocky plain.  From here we had a wonderful view of Elephant’s Head – an enormous rock taking up the entire side of the mountain which, as its name suggests, resembles a large elephants head with the trunk coming down almost to ground level.   We carried on around the mountain, past lots of even bigger boulders than we’d already seen, to a point on the southern side where we could climb to the top of the Elephant’s Head.

Elephant's Head

This section was really interesting.  Where we had to negotiate the sheer rock face, there were rungs hammered into the rock.  Other spots had rungs in conjunction with sturdy ficus trees that we used to pull ourselves up.  Still other places had rungs and chains for us to pull on.  It only really got challenging and a bit scary near the top of the mountain, where we had to pull ourselves up with the help of a chain. It would have been a very high drop if we’d slipped and fallen.  At the top we had to jump over a rather wide chasm to continue with the walk across the top of the mountain.  Unfortunately the wind was blowing quite hard up there and neither of us wanted to risk falling into this deep cavity, so we opted to retrace our steps and go back the way we’d come up.  This wasn’t quite so easy, as the scary section was just as frightening to go down backwards as it had been on the upward journey.  We made it though and felt rather pleased with ourselves for having been so adventurous.

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It’s not really advisable to visit granite sites in the heat of the day.  Not only does one have to contend with the burning sun overhead, but the rocks reflect the heat, making it rather uncomfortable.  Early morning is probably the best time to visit the area if one has the choice and the time available.  The rocks cool down dramatically at night so there is quite a variation in temperature at the start of the day.

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Having seen all there was to see in the area, we made our way back to the campsite.  This time we followed the road that is used by those not fit or mad enough to walk the whole way.  The mountains on either side of the road are really beautiful so we continued to enjoy the spectacle as we made our tired way back.  Our round trip had taken us ten hours, admittedly with many stops to look at birds, so we rewarded our mammoth effort with some ice cold beers followed by a wonderfully refreshing shower.

Early the next morning we walked a short way back along the road and took the trail leading to Zum Reisen.  This is another fascinating place amongst the rocks and we saw lots of interesting trees and animal tracks along the way.  Dassies called out from the rocky outcrops, their cries mimicking the braying of donkeys.  We heard too the cries of the Red billed Francolins, who also like to walk amongst the rocks.  We were especially thrilled to see a pair of black Verreaux’s Eagles circling overhead – too high up for a photo unfortunately, but we were able to identify them easily enough.  We had hoped to see some Hartlaub’s Francolins, which are found in that area, but they remained off our ‘lifer’ list for the weekend.

And yes, we did manage to see the extraordinary zedonk before we left. His body was quite plain, but the stripes were clearly visible on his legs.

On a scale of one to ten, I’d rate Amieb Ranch a nine.  It’s a wonderful spot – and excellent value for money if you are camping as there is so much to see and do.   We like the place so much that we have since taken many of our guests and friends there – Mick – Pete and Lauren – Vaughan and Mary – Mary and John – Jo and Des – Neize and Hartmut.  (I think we should be on the Ameib payroll!)