Epupa Falls and Kunene – The Land of the Himba

Where Kunene River plunges some 40 metres down at the Epupa Falls and where it gently fondles southern Angola, there begins the land of the Himba tribe. Their homeland’s ruggedness and drought has a bizarre mysticism being likewise exotic as the nomad tribe that is living half naked but always adorned under the scorching African sun.

“There is a road” they told me. “There is a really good tar road” they said, “that’s leading you straight to the falls”. They, that are several Namibian traffic cops whose “advices” had the same quality like the ones being given by other street wardens. Their “No problem, within 4 hours you will be there!” became a profound being stuck on a mountain slope in a 40 degrees tilt while rocks lying underneath start to slide away.

Where am I? Somewhere along Kunene River, between its both waterfalls Epupa Falls and Ruacana Falls. A cropper coming motorcyclist a couple of kilometres ago visualised that this off road track is not half bad at all. Despite his heavy fall the guy is pretty much alive though, luckily. The cops’ so called “tar road” is nothing but a path through the rocky hilly terrain framing Kunene River, a trail being not accessibly by any other mean than a proper 4×4 jeep.

The mountains rises as well as descents are pretty difficult as you have to be super careful of not skidding or sliding away. Much important is to keep an eye on the tyres as an army of edgy spiky stones waits to make mincemeat out of those rubber rings. Struggling along that path metre by metre is tiring and the opposite of the word velocity.

The trail parts leading directly along the river are incredibly beautiful. Not a single living soul can be seen here, in this untouched piece of southwest Africa. Though Kunene River is Namibia’s fastest flowing river making some of the passages along the stream being a nightmare of soft sand and erosion. The next challenge for machine and machinist is literally just around the corner.

Holy crap! Again I am stuck on a rise up to a hilltop as I spot another jeep; and that idiot keeps on coming down instead of waiting. Well, traffic means to anticipate bullshit of others and adapting one’s own behaviour to it to prevent becoming screwed. Hence I moved my car into the bush growing next to the slope to put the intellectually challenged in a good position to continue his ride.

Why such things make me crazy? Well, there is a rule in Northwest Namibia to prevent people facing such situations on awkward off-road trails, meaning off-road you may drive in east-west direction only. If everyone would do that then everything would be fine, for example on super difficult tracks like Van Zyl’s Pass. Well, stupidly grinning the idiot clatters down the rocks to ground his jeep with a big bang on a big rock. Good luck setting it free yourself!

Being a little worried getting distressed by more of suchlike people, I search for a place to pitch my tent. Sleeping directly at the river would be extremely nice :-) Searching for such a spot I bump into an old lady wanting to fish. My wish to shoot a photo of her she replies straightly pointing to my beer reserves. The portrait of her holding a bottle of beer couldn’t be more bizarre. She draws my attention to stones with carved arrows being Himba signposts to a campground. Having arrived this spot I am not alone, but during the evening Dominque, his people from Le Réunion and I become good friends.

A wonderful sunset painting the river and clouds above heralds the African night to start. Within the blink of an eye things become pitch black. Without a torch you’re screwed out there. Driving in Africa under such condition beats everything for stupidity. My roof top tent is already pitched hence I can fall into the realm of dreams palmy while young crocodiles in the river croak me to sleep.

Oops! I have to see the toilet. It is 2 o’clock at night and I have to leave my flysheet castle. Boiling hot I remember the young crocodiles and hope that its mother doesn’t wait along the way to the loo. The rivers ripples while I straddle above a hole in the ground, well, you know what I am doing… ;-) On the way back to the jeep I let my headlight shine on the ground and become very happy that yet I didn’t make an acquaintance with one of the countless scorpions rushing around. Holy crap! Being on their nightly hunt they streak around my feet…, to boot also the small transparent ones, whose sting knocks you off your feet, like they say in Africa.

The next day Dominique and I decide to team up and cultivate French-German friendship on the joint way to Epupa Falls. Being inebriated by new acquaintances I do not realise my jeep skidding away on a short but very sandy passage along the river. F*ck! Having the presence of mind to stop the car I also stop its skidding. Slow speed, jamming the brakes and reversing a little again saved me from a personal catastrophe.

Meanwhile I teamed up with another chap I met along the way, that is Ananaes, a man being half Ovambo but also half a Himba. He doesn’t really smell like Chanel No5, but on our joint ride through the Namibian rocks he proves himself as marvellous aid to orientation as well as a superb translator when meeting Himba people. At first you meet the children of this nomadic tribe, who associate the strangers with sweets and other dainties. I for my share always give Mielie Pap as a present to thank for the photos I was allowed to take since sugary things ruin their teeth.

When Himba become nubile then they look most pretty. Both sexes wear traditional garbs. Young men curl their hair into two horn-like dreadlocks reminding of the animals they all too often have to shepherd: goats. The eye catchers are the girls though, as they doll up themselves eminently on the search for a husband. On their head they wear a cockscomb-like leather hat and around their neck laces being made of the same material. They paint their hair as well as skin with clay and earth colour. Clear thing: some of the girls are flirting with me and let me take countless photos, what is surely owed to me being marriageable as well and to boot a wealthy westerner ;-)

Having arrived the falls – the road close to Epupa is meanwhile a graded one and it’s only a matter of time until the adventurous off-road path along the river will be gone forever – I have to get rid of dirt first. Rarely I have had such a dust bath making my skin appearing browner and more tanned that it actually is. Above the falls are some natural pools with low current providing visitors an opportunity to have a swim right above the cataract. Being raddled from a long off-road drive such a refreshing bath is a pure piece of heaven…! :-) While lounging in a natural Jacuzzi of Kunene River I notice something nibbling on my feet. Small fishies seem to indulge themselves in having a horny skin feast, something that’s super ticklish making me laugh.

The Epupa Falls are not as high as the Victoria Falls of Zambesi River, but the fact that you can enjoy those falls alone make this experience play in the Champions League of African highlights. If you stand on the rock that extends into the main cataract makes you being part of the ever plunging water, that powerfully drags everything into the deep gorge. It leaves a fine spray behind that soaks everything around making rocks and soil being smooth as a mirror and very slippery. The drizzle paints a circular rainbow in the sky having no Pot of Gold but a pure magic African natural beauty at its end.

Bathing in the light of the setting sun I notice the river becoming stronger. Somehow there’s more water flowing towards Atlantic Ocean now than in the afternoon. Having a bath above the falls is now not possible anymore is the water pressure would push you down the falls. 1 litre of water not only means the weight but also the pressure of 1 kilogram – just as a little reminder ;-)

The spray of the water moistens the picturesque Baobab trees clinging themselves to the rocks of the waterfall. Amidst this scenery of glittering Baobabs the Africa typical sundowner tastes much better, also because I’ve just received and SMS telling me that I made it into the final round of Golden Turtle, a big Russian photo contest.

The settlement at the Epupa Falls not only means work for the people of Himba tribe, but also a significant change to their manner of life so far. It’s nice to get all my dirty clothes washed for few Namibia dollars only, but actually the girls doing that job should have had a much more nomadic life. I would love to know what the Himba think about us, the strangers rushing through their land swirling up dust and changing their life. I am part of this change, of this chance, of this problem that finally means a threat to their culture and character, a threat to a so far untouched piece of Africa.

A much worse influence have overland trucks making for the port called Epupa. Each of them brings 10-20 people at once. I meet those trucks on the way back that leads along a very good road, that must be the good road the police officers were talking about but misrouting me. Africa :-)

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