Wandering in the Namib-Naukluft

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Gary, Jonathan, Gil and Stephen next to a kokerboom

by Stephen Jaffe

In their book, The Sheltering Desert, German nationals, Henno Martin and Hermann Korn, describe their two-year sojourn in the Namib Desert, South West Africa, to escape internment by the South African authorities during World War II.

In August this year, Gary Anstey, Gil Baumann, Jonathan Musikanth and I spent eight days trekking the Namib-Naukluft trail, undeterred by its reputation as ‘the toughest trail in Southern Africa.’

Covering distances of between sixteen to twenty kilometers per day, we traversed dramatic mountains and desert terrain, as well as negotiating several chained rockfaces, with huge drops into the kloofs below.

The daytime temperatures were mild, although it cooled to minus 2 degrees centigrade at night. Sleeping under the stars was the routine, notwithstanding horror-stories of hyenas mauling sleeping hikers, until a huge leopard was seen near our camp on the fifth day; thereafter everyone slept in the shelters!

With sweeping views across the plains into the red sands of the desert, we saw sociable weaver nests in trees, gemsbok, springbok and other buck, zebras, buzzards, black eagles, grey loeries, giant centipedes, scorpions and spiders. Frequent, bleached animal skeletons reminded us that our name for one of the ravines, “Ambush Kloof”, wasn’t in vain!

An unusual sight was the occasional Namaqua rock fig, with roots carving their way through solid rock for up to twenty-five metres! There were gnarled succulents, kokerbooms (quiver trees) and, to our surprise, baobabs.

A luxury for us was arranging with the Authorities to resupply us on our fourth night, so we were able to enjoy fresh fruit, salad and a braai with a German trio who shared our permit with us.

Fortunately, we didn’t encounter the swarms of bees that cost one hiker his life in 2002, but we had antihistamine tablets ready, in case.
Although we wandered for a lot shorter than forty years and we didn’t have any matzah, we were sure that Moses would have given our eight days the nod. For the four of us … dayenu!

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