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Travel Namibia 13 well maintained, but in the north an extinct riverine system has left thousands of small gullies (dongas) all across the landscape. I drove first through Ovamboland. Here, the main roads are mostly tarred; a 4WD is not essential, but it does help in getting to some of the more remote destinations. The towns and villages are small and far apart. Most of the local Ovambo people live in tiny communities of thatched huts and cattle and goat kraals made of acacia logs stuck upright into the sand. There is a harsh, shimmering beauty to the sun-beaten landscape. The flat pans in this region are known as oshana and the tall, exotic-looking palms are known as makalani. The roadsides are dotted with cuca shops with names like Lucky Bar, Back of the Moon and 7 to 7, where you can speak to the locals over an ice-cold Coke or a bottle of Castle beer. One night I found myself at a tiny lodge, enjoying a Russian sausage and chips, some Tassies red wine in a thick glass, and the unexpected sound of Jim Reeves crooning “You’ll never be unhappy again”. I drove further north and west to Opuwo in Kaokoland, where I came to Himba country. Here most people still live in a traditional way, smearing ochre and butter fat over their bodies and wearing loincloths, handmade jewellery and distinctive hairdos. They are a people straddling the past and the present. Many are still semi-nomadic, moving seasonally with their cattle in search of grass and water in the dry months, but returning to their villages in the rains. If you have a 4WD, extra petrol and two spare tyres, I recommend the relatively tough and very stony drive along the old South African army road which follows the Kunene River along the border between Namibia and Angola, from the Epupa Falls – a mini-version of the Victoria Falls – to the spectacular Ruacana Falls. The Kunene is one of the most remote and picturesque rivers in Africa. Here, green waters glide past vegetation-covered islands and crocodiles sun themselves in the shallows close to the pale sandy banks. Seeing a full moon throwing a silver glow over the dark flowing waters Breathing space – capturing Namibia’s vast desert views. MAIN PICTURE: STEVE DAVEY

and the stony hills is an unforgettable way to drift asleep at the river’s edge. I bought a large hand-made Himba knife in a leather scabbard as a souvenir. At a garage near Ruacana I stopped to fill up and clean the grass seeds out of my radiator with my new knife. “You have a katana,” the attendant said to me with a smile, curious that I was using a local artefact. I felt an excited chill as he uttered the word ‘katana’. It is the Japanese name for the samurai sword; the word was brought to the Himba by the Portuguese explorers whose caravels landed in Namibia and Angola from the late-1400s onwards, fresh from their search for Marco Polo’s fabled Jipangu, or Japan. Our modern world is full of connections that are older and more complex than we know. I returned to Windhoek for a much-needed rest. It has a population of just 250,000 or so, but there is a cosmopolitan feel to its streets that blends Namibian, European and South African influences in equal measure. Curio stalls selling anything from ostrich eggs to copper bracelets stand alongside old buildings which would look at home in Bavaria or on the banks of the Rhine. Kwaito music mingles with African gospel. Tourists and locals sip coffee or lager at pavement cafes while traditionally-clad Herero women stroll past in magnificent wide-skirted dresses and pointed headgear. Etosha is an easy day’s drive north of Windhoek. It’s one of the largest game parks in Africa, with huge, flat open spaces which make for perfect game-viewing. Better opportunities for photographing wildlife are hard to find. It was founded in March 1907 by the German governor von Lindequist. In only two days in Etosha I managed to see the usual zebra, warthogs, ostriches and so on, plus three lions, two of them mating, a herd of elephant coming down to drink at a waterhole in the late afternoon, two male impala fighting and a herd of giraffe galloping across the dusty pan against the backdrop of a scarlet and bronze sunset – a perfect African moment. The Beau Geste-like ramparts of the old colonial Fort Namutoni shimmer in the heat across Etosha’s famous salt pan, which at nearly 5000 square kilometres is a sight in itself. Driving along its edges, the contrast between the dry salt depressions and the last of the shallow puddles left over from 14 Travel Namibia TOP: Etosha National Park at dusk: a herd of giraffes kick up the dust MIDDLE: Lion drink at an Etosha waterhole ABOVE: Epupa Falls Freewheeling Namibia Tourism Board Ute von Ludwiger NAMIBIA TOURISM