The makalani palm breaks up an otherwise treeless landscape in the northern part of Namibia. I have searched for some information on these trees, and have found very little. However, thanks to the internet I have gleaned a bit of background.
The makalani grows quite tall, up to 20 metres high. Aside from looking beautiful with a blue sky behind and when the sun hits their leaves, the makalani is used by locals. Their leaves are cut into threads and used to weave baskets that can be found for sale around Namibia. They are also the source of two alcohols. Palm wine is made from the terminal bud, but, as this kills the tree it is against the law. This law is apparently flouted however. Less devastating to the plant is the distillation of a local brandz, ombike, which is made from fermenting the fruit of the makalani. The seeds are often carved and sold as decorations and are also used as fuel for fires in this country where wood is at a premium.Related to:
See 280 million year old Fosils at Megasaurus Camp
This camp is a farm owned by a very nice and hospitable africaaner family. They still run the farm and 1.5 hour tours of it where you will get the opportunity to see thousands of kookerbooms and millions of rock piles everywhere. The special part of the tour are the three or four fossils of 280 million year old lizard fish that are just sitting out in the open. They are in excellent condition. You can see the sedimentary layers of rock in which the fossils were once hidden. This whole region used to be a huge lake system when the African and South American continents were pulling apart. Included in the tour is a fossil of a plant that would have been found during the time of the megasaurus.
The cost is R30 per person.
North East of KeetmanshoopRelated to:
Driving around the farm at Huab with Jan we were thrilled to find this bottle tree in bloom. These striking trees are distinguished by their thick bottle-shaped trunk, which is almost branchless until the top. The branches are few and covered with thorns up to a foot long. The flowers appear in the spring, when the tree is leafless, which is why they look so dramatic. Jan told us it was quite unusual to find a tree with as many blooms as this so early in the spring (i.e. mid July).
The Bottle tree is an endemic species of Namibia, growing in semi-desert areas and dry bush, especially Damaraland. Jan described how local people have traditionally used the latex as arrow poison for hunting. In contact with the eyes this latex can produce blindness.
We got up early one morning while staying at Huab Lodge to join our host Jan on his daily early morning walk. We set out in the half-light of dawn. It was still pretty chilly so warm clothes were needed. We followed the dried-up river bed for part of the walk and Jan described to us the very different scene in the wet season when for a few short weeks the water (usually) flows through the farm. We also climbed a small outcrop for a wonderful view of the sunrise.
Heading back to the Lodge Jan took us up the hill behind the accommodation bungalows and showed us the extensive solar panel system and small generator that keep all the buildings supplied with light and hot water. We arrived back at the main building just as breakfast was being served, and it really is worth taking an early morning walk just to work up sufficient appetite to do real justice to the wonderful spread that is laid on at a Huab breakfast: home-made breads, fruit, various meats, cereals etc – all served on the terrace under what is by then a beautifully warm sun.Related to:
Porcupines and honey badgers
Another must-do activity when staying at Okonjima Lodge is a night time visit to a hide. After dinner everyone wraps up warmly for the short drive to the hide. There you need to keep very quiet as you all file into the space. Torches are provided so that you can see where you’re going. Everyone is seated on a long bench, and when you’re all in place torches are switched off and the flaps covering the window slots are lifted. The guides put raw meat in a clearing just in front of you, and you wait…..
On our visit the porcupines were first to arrive – three or four of them came snuffling out of the surrounding trees and nosed around the meat for a while. We all took photos and the flashes didn’t seem to bother them at all – the guide explained that they probably think it’s lightening. But you will need a good flash to get a photo - mine were a little disappointing so I've borrowed the image from the Lodge website (thank you Okonjima!)
After a while the porcupines left, just as the honey badgers arrived. Just one at first, then a couple more. These aren’t anything like the shy, cuddly British badger – in fact I read a description of them as the fiercest animals, for their size, in Africa. Perhaps that’s why the porcupines left!
After an hour or so watching and enjoying, it’s time to go back to the lodge to get warm by the roaring fire, and a welcome warming drink.Related to:
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Black eagle chick
While staying at Huab Lodge (see my Accommodation tip) we had the chance to visit a black eagle's nest. There was a chick in the nest but we were reassured that unlike other eagles, black eagles won't desert a nest that has been visited. I stayed below to watch and take photos of the climb, while my husband Chris (who took this great photo) and two other guests joined our host, Jan, for the climb. The nest was perched on a rocky ledge high above the dried up Huab River, and wasn't easy to reach (understatement of the holiday!) but their efforts were repaid by some stunning views of the young chick, who was about seven weeks old and already the size of a hen.
We learnt later that the chick continued to thrive and took to the skies a few months later, none the worse for the invasion of his privacy!Related to:
Bushman trail at Okonjima
One of the activities on offer at Okonjima Lodge is a bush walk, which I can definitely recommend. You set out early in the morning (so wrap up warmly) and after an early morning snack consisting of tea or coffee and muffins, follow an easy trail around the surrounding property. Your guide will stop in various pre-arranged spots to describe an aspect of the San bushman’s life, such as fire-making, hunting, trapping etc. Although our guide wasn’t a bushman himself, he had lived with a San tribe in the north for about a year while studying and could tell us lots of interesting stories about his time there.
The walk lasts about 90 minutes and you get back to the lodge in time for brunch. This is a substantial meal of maize porridge, muesli and other breakfast cereals, fruit, yoghurt, salami, cheeses and bread, followed by eggs, sausage or bacon. Brunch is served daily at Okonjima and replaces a conventional lunch. We were certainly glad of it after this early start!
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If you’re travelling anywhere in the north/central part of Namibia, e.g. near the town of Okahandja, you’re bound to see groups of Herero women selling crafts at the side of the road. The most popular item is a doll dressed in the traditional Herero costume. If like us you don’t want to buy, it’s still worth stopping and asking if you can take some photos – most won’t mind but it’s courteous to offer them a small tip if you’re not also buying their goods, of course.
The Herero are cattle farmers who measure their wealth in cattle, and the importance of cattle to them is even evident in the women’s dresses. The traditional dress is derived from a Victorian woman's dress, and consists of an enormous crinoline worn over a several petticoats, and a horn shaped hat made from rolled cloth, which is said to represent the horns of a cow.
The Welwitschia Mirabilis is as its name suggests one of the most amazing plants you will see. You can spot it in several areas in the Namib Naukluft Park, or as we did, in the Petrified Forest. An adult welwitschia consists of two leaves, a stem base and roots. That is all! Its two permanent leaves are unique in the plant kingdom. They are the original leaves from when the plant was a seedling, and they just continue to grow and are never shed. They are leathery, broad, and lie on the ground becoming torn to ribbons and tattered with age. And boy do these plants age! Their estimated lifespan is 400 to 1500 years so many that you’ll see are at least 500-600 years old, while some of the larger specimens are thought to be 2000 years old. So these aren't the prettiest plants you'll see, but they are interesting and worth capturing on camera.Related to:
Maybe Solitaire isn't really off the beaten path, but it sounds as if it should be and more or less looks as if it is. Most people travelling to or from Sossusvlei stop here for a cold drink and maybe something to eat, and to fill up on petrol.
We also found it a good place to take photos, especially if you're looking for a change from all that scenery, fantastic though it is. There were some beat-up old cars, children happy to pose for us, and this blackboard on the wall providing a news bulletin service. The only problem was that this news of Marlon Brando's death was over a week out of date.Related to:
- Road Trip
Amazing plantlife #1 Welwitschia Mirabilis
I know, I know… that photo does not look like a pile of anything very interesting, but hold off your judgement till you hear a bit more.
It is a plant called the Welwischia and survives in one of the world’s harshest environments, drawing moisture from costal fogs and from deep down in the ground. It may not be pretty, but it is a true miracle of nature. Unlikely as it may seem, it is named after an Austrian theatre critic who fled the country at some point to Angola!
Although this plant has only been known to the outside world for less than 150 years, the oldest living specimens are estimated to be between 1500 and 2000 years old. Its characteristics make for some startling reading: the roots can grow to 30m deep. The leaves grow at a rate of 13.8 square metres per year annually. A large plant can grow to 1.5 metres from soil to top of stem, and can extend to a circumference of 8.7 metres… and all of this surviving in temperatures of over 65 Celsius.
This plant enjoys national protection and the area where it flourishes has been incorporated into the Namib Naukluft park.It is illegal to harm these plants, or to take any part of them out of the country. Few specimens have been successfully cultivated abroad.
A circuit has been developed across the Namib desert which enables visitors to see these plants up close and personal. I didn't follow the circuit, but the link below will give you as much info as you can handle on the Welwischia Mirabilis and the other rare species of plant that survive desert conditions.Related to:
- National/State Park
- Road Trip
Amazing plantlife # 2 - Baobab trees
Ever since I read “The Little Prince” as a child I’d wanted to see a baobab tree. I hadn’t realised they grew in Namibia, but was delighted to discover when I asked the question, that indeed they did, and they do still. I admit that I was amazed that they could. The little I knew of the tree was that it could grow to enormous proportions, and from what I’d seen of the Namibian terrain, it seemed impossible to imagine it could support anything as large as a baobab.
As you can see from the photo, the trunk was enormous ( I can assure you that my friend Guy is no midget!). I learned also that the tree serves many useful puroses: apart from the shade it provides, the white pulp inside the pods is sustains life around, and is also used by humans in the form of “cream of tartar” (a raising agent in cooking and an essential ingredient in a good scone and also in sherbet, puff candy etc). In some countries the bark is used to make rope also.
We found this baobab in the north, on the road that leads to the Ongongo waterfall.
Some say that the baobab is Namibia’s oldest inhabitant! For more information see the website below.Related to:
- Road Trip
Flamingo Colony in Walvis Bay
If you are near Walvis bay, perhaps on route to Swakopmund, make a quick stop to the harbor in Walvis bay and check out the flamingos that hang out in huge numbers. There really isn't a whole lot to do in this town but see the flamingos.
Off shore Walvis bay, located just south of Swakopmund.
Check out my Walvis bay page for more information.
Walvis BayRelated to:
Himba people # 1 significant hair and decoration
Dress and decoration are very important to the Himba people. From babies they wear pearls, shells and other decorations which define age, sex and stages of life. In this photo we see the mother. She is clearly of child-bearing age according to her hair style, and she has had at least 2 children, according to the metal ankle decorations she is wearing. The hairstyle of the older child defines him as a boy who has not yet reached puberty, and similarly the little girl, with her two thick braids, has not reached puberty.Related to:
- Arts and Culture
Himba people #2 – traditional dress back
Himba women are certainly the striking half of the race. Their dress is intricate, the “skirt” being made of softened leather, impregnated over time by the ochre they use on their skin.
The neck, arm and leg decorations are made from metal, often copper, decorated with shells and pearls, brought on foot from markets many days away.
Adult women wear their hair in intricate dreadlocks with a leather headpiece woven into their hair. The children’s hairstyle changes over time. Boys heads are shaved except for a small braid pointing to the back of the head. Little girls have their heads saved except for the braid mentioned above, which points forward. They grow their dreadlocks at puberty.Related to:
- Road Trip
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