Brandberg and Fairy Circles- September 2021

We left Uis and made camp close to the start of the White Lady hike. We all went exploring a bit around the camp site and found different spoor and tracks: elephant and giraffe being the most prominent ones. During our discovery walk around camp, Gavin made me very happy by discovering our first Fairy Circles! (Bottom two photos, but not as clear as what we’ve seen them afterwards. More to see in stories to follow)

We saw a documentary a few years ago and since then that has been on our bucket list for when we would start travelling in Namibia. I read up on this curiosity and although it seemed very difficult to really pinpoint particular areas where you can see them, I had figured out that you might be able to spot them in an area from just north of the Orange River in the south to Angola in the north and, as far as I could understand, about 100 – 200km inland.

To jump the gun: Since this first viewing, we have been on the lookout and we’ve seen them all over. When we left the Ugab River and drove north towards Twyfelfontein, we had a few sections where we saw them reasonably clear. Ideal opportunities for Stefaan to play around with the drone. It is a fascinating natural phenomenon!

Back to our camp: we had a braai and the traditional glass of wine and plans were made for the continuation of the trip.

After breakfast the next morning we parted ways once again. We drove a bit further to take on the White Lady hike while Gavin and Lee would continue on a circular route around Brandberg.

We arrived at the info office, got hooked up with a guide and off we went on a 2hour walk into the mountains. While there is of  course the ample variety of plants, grasses and trees, the most fascinating on this walk was seeing a Omumbiri tree (top two photos): a tree where the local Himba communities harvest the resin which seems to be very sought after in the perfume industry. (also something we remember having seen on a docu many moons ago)

We passed and clambered over various rock and boulder  formations, one of which was aptly named Monkey Face (top right).

We eventually arrived at the rock overhang and “reception area” where our guide explained what we were about to see. As we walked to the exhibition space we were impressed by the good quality of the paintings. Our guide, very animatedly, pointing out the different figures and connotations of the images on the rock wall: the white lady actually being a sangoma/witchdoctor/holy person. (4th row picture, middle figure)

We walked back to the car and took a road that skirted the mountain for a while before diverting into the grasslands again.

After a while we arrived at the Ugab River and where we initially just wanted to cross and continue, we changed our mind and turned off to drive into the dry riverbed. Before the river crossing we had driven through what looked like a bush camp and had seen various camp sites along the riverdbed. We drove a fair distance into the river to be far enough away from the camp, parked under a nice, big tree and Stefaan went for a short walk to explore the river.

There was a bit of traffic in the riverbed of the 4×4’s camping upstream and as we were enjoying a glass of wine, one of them stopped and the next hour flew by with chatting with a Swiss couple about travelling, scuba-diving, surfing and Namibia.

Later in the evening we heard the tribal music and singing from the camp drifting over the riverbed. It was just perfect! Our personal “African Night”.

When we woke up the next morning, we worked a bit on the computer (one couldn’t find a better office) until Stefaan said we almost needed to pack up. He  went outside just in case there were elephants. You know this “kitsie, kitsie” when people call cats? Well… Stefaan did the same… for the elephants: ‘olifantjie, olifantjie”! And was he surprised when he saw indeed two elephants eating at some trees not 50 meters away from us. This put our whole “departure” strategy on hold and we spent the next two-three hours watching them while they were enjoying their breakfast. The younger one got a bit agro when Stefaan got too close, but when danger passed (Stefaan went on a run back to the truck) he got back to the business of eating and destroying some bush.

The most amazing realisation is that these elephants are truly wild. There are no fences like game parks or enclosures like zoo’s. These animals belong to nobody… they roam free and walk wherever they want. We don’t know if they’re hunted or poached, but they do run free. Later on our trip we would also see the free-roaming giraffe and oryx in the desert. Seeing that these animals live and survive in the desert, we have also seen that private and government entities provide waterholes and the animals know where to find them.  

While we were watching the elephants, all of a sudden a Jimny stopped, two young people got out and low and behold, they were the young couple we had met at Cederberg a few months ago.

We talked about heaps of things and when they were about to leave we wanted to play a prank on our other Jimny friends we met at Kosi Bay and asked these young people to also “fake-pull” Trokkie! Heaps of fun!

This young couple had also told us about an elephant carcass and ears that were lying on the verge of the riverbed a bit more upstream. So after they left, we packed up and went looking for the carcass. We did very well in the riverbed. Stefaan now had some more experience after the Messum river trip and we were able to negotiate some sections with reasonable deep and loose sand. We eventually didn’t find the carcass (bummer!) so we decided to return to the main river crossing, get out and continue the trip.

Where we had parked for our last ‘elephant-carcass-search’ we had stopped on a section that looked like dry and hard ground. Unfortunately only the top layer was hard and caked and when Stefaan started the engine and wanted to drive, we broke through the hard top layer and sank away in the sand. Stefaan tried the usual routine of diff-lock and low gear and then a few times forward and in reverse, but he couldn’t get us out of it. We just got in deeper and deeper.

There is always a first for everything and this was our first time to try out the brand-spanking new winch! Lucky there were heaps of trees in the river. We got out all the toys: soft shackles and rope and unrolled the winch. Stefaan tied the rope around a tree, got the winch motor connected and off he went! It was a surprising fast exercise (about 1 hour or so) with lots of smoke and dust! But we got out!

We left the river, and continued on a gravel road with magnificent views over Brandberg. On one of the narrow gravel tracks we saw a fairly big ‘parking spot’ and we made camp for the night.

We had planned to go to Doros crater and then north towards Twyfelfontein, but we discovered that certain parts of the route are such a confusion of tracks and roads going in all directions, that it resulted in us actually reaching Twyfelfontein first.

The road however was a never ending slideshow of magnificent panorama’s, weird plants and shrubbery and, much to my delight, a few more area’s where we saw fairy circles. At the campsite where Gavin had seen the first fairy circles, Stefaan had thought this the perfect occasion to play with his drone and had gotten a good impression of the fairy circles. Even though they are visible at ground level, they are much more spectacular when viewing them from above. Hence… on this part of the route we had another few stops where Stefaan got the drone out and fly over the landscape to view the Fairy Circles.

As said, the millions of tracks in this desert landscape must have confused us (and the gps) because we seem to have missed the track to Doros and eventually made camp along a road that indicated that Twyfelfontein was only a few more km down the road.

We parked, ate and slept.

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