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Hints of our past in Damaraland


Leaving Swakapomund by car, we travel north and east over a featureless plain until, after some hours, the most mountainous region in Namibia slowly comes over the horizon.  Hardly a car meets us and no one overtakes us. In the mountains we see more and more groups of the sleek Springbok antelope. Eventually small scattered huts appear and at the few intersections and villages young men come to the car window and offer us mineralized rocks for a small amount of Namibian money.  At times women dressed from head to toe in calico, following the style of 19th century German colonists, and others topless, in Damara style, wave at our car hoping we will stop and buy their handicrafts.

Our goal is the Twyfelfontein Lodge.  This is a tourist lodge approximately 50 dusty kilometers off the beaten path. It is designed around etched rocks and aging desert trees and has many elegant thatched roofs.
 Upon our arrival at the lodge, an odd event occurred in the parking lot.   A tall Dutch 40 year old was waiting by his car for his wife and three children to return from the lodge. He told a tale of woe wherein they had run out of money and no ATMs were to be had. Soon his family reassembled and reported that this lodge had turned them down as well. They asked if we would give them 300 Namibian dollars (about $25 US) and they would repay us via a transfer to our bank account. Val decided that 300 N$ would buy a half a tank of fuel if there were a filling station around (which there isn’t for at least 100 km). So, Val gave them N$2000 and we exchanged addresses. Off they went, saying they were going to camp in the bush en route to Etosha National Park some 300 km away.
Twyfelfontein (doubtful spring) is nestled in an ancient rock art site below an imposing Utah-like red rock canyon wall. This lodge is an inholding within the communal land of Namibia’s Damara tribe. The lodge employs many locals and many more work as guides, drivers, maintenance workers etc. The lodge supplies water to the local village as well.  At independence, the new government bought out all the South African and German farmers.  They then restored this region to the Damara who had been living there for several hundred years. Some 20,000 years ago the land was likely wetter and was populated by the San people whose descendants are the bushmen of the Kalahari. The San are the artists of the thousands of rock art sites in these dry mountains including the UNESCO World Heritage site right around the corner.
We enjoyed walking amidst this dramatic geology, hunting for desert elephants, learning about the ancient art, and learning of the efforts to hang on to some of the old Damara ways.  We also liked peering through the clear, dry night at the Southern Cross and the glorious center of the Milky Way Galaxy.  All this yielded a couple of days of magical experience.
Here a herd of desert elephants stock up on a goat farmer’s water before tripping off to the dry mountains
The Damara have a living history outdoor museum which we enjoyed.

Liam did quite well learning their version of the game we call mancala.

At a few odd moments we chat about that Dutch family.  Could that have been a scam?  But, they all seemed so nice. Is their address for real? The tall, lovely wife corrected the address a bit as she wrote it.  Shouldn’t Val have asked to see their passports?  Hmm…..   It seemed to all of us that Val did the right thing — helping some people in need. We shall see if this family reappears in our lives……

7 Responses to “Hints of our past in Damaraland”

  1. Janie Smith says:

    We have the small board game of mancala and I still do not understand it….or maybe my grandchildren totally outfox me!!!
    As to helping a family in need, you are good people….it will be returned to you tenfold. Besides, Val chose to give more than what was asked.

  2. Henk (tall 42 year old Dutch guy) says:

    Val and Leslie really helped us out and I am happy to say that this was not a scam, but a real family in need. We now have mail contact and we will refund the money as quickly as possible. Thanks again!

  3. Lesley I Nilsson says:

    I’m loving your stories.

  4. Stormy says:

    Leslie, Val, Liam: Greetings from the Music Dept at Colorado College. You’re sharing adventures at a lovely, extraordinary place on our planet – thank you for letting me travel with you for a few minutes each day. OMG exquisite photography!!

  5. Audra Adelberger says:

    How great to hear that your kindness strengthened both your and their karmas.
    And I totally envy your trip to the pictographs, a fitting foundation to all the newness (for you) of your discoveries.
    I imagine you’re not looking forward to coming home.


  6. scott says:

    Thanks for broadening Liam’s horizons across the Atlantic and into a whole continent his parents have never seen. The photos you three took are amazing. My favorites in this batch include the thatched architecture, outstretched young elephant drinking, and that stunning blue hair-do..

  7. Eric Adelbergr says:

    iam is so fortunate to have such wonderful grandparents! As always your photos tell such great stories.


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