Hot springs and bat caves

Having failed to get through to the canvas workers in Otjiwarongo we put the tent problem aside for the time being and headed north. After a tip from the guys at Oppi-Koppi we stopped for the night at the Ongongo Gorge and hot springs. We were told it was beautiful and although we weren’t totally convinced about the idea of hot springs when the air temperature was nearly 40 degrees we gave it a go. The camp site, which was run by the local community, was about 6km up a 4×4 track. It sat below the springs at the foot of the gorge, which was blocked by a wall of what looked like volcanic rocks. The spring-fed stream poured over the cliff face in a warm waterfall, filling a crystal clear pool below. The front of the pool had shallow sides but beneath the cascade the pool was really deep. To the sides of the waterfall were partially-submerged caves that you could swim into. It was just idyllic, and although the waterfall was warm the water in the pool was lovely and cool but not cold.

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Ongongo ‘hot’ springs

We had a quick dip, sharing the pool with a bunch of local kids who were having a great time larking around. Leaving them to it, we climbed up to the gorge behind. It was a real surprise. The valley floor looked more Alpine than Namibian, as the warm stream water meandered over a flat grassy plain grazed by some of the healthiest looking cows we’d seen out here. The long drought that southern Africa has been enduring, and which has led to the emaciation and even death of quite a lot of livestock and wildlife, doesn’t seem to have affected this small valley. We followed the water, which slowly petered out as the spring sources were left downstream, to a tight bend in the gorge. Here we found a kraal, enclosed by a fence of poles and brash, where a very pregnant Herero woman was planting and tending maize, or melie, the staple food of the local people. She was carefully channelling the spring water to each and every plant. We had a quick chat – very quick as she didn’t understand English and we didn’t understand Herero – and carried on. Beyond this the gorge was far more as expected, dry with a stony bed and sheer sides. A real contrast. Time was now getting on so we headed back to camp. The kids had left and the camp site was empty. It was still hot and in the golden light of the late afternoon we had the pool to ourselves. Absolute magic.

The following morning the place started getting busy with day visitors, so the vague idea that we might stay another night was rapidly put aside. We’d decided to try out some of the 4×4 tracks in the area. We could explore things at a more leisurely pace and get some more off-road time under our belts. We found some lovely scenery and nice tracks, as well as some not-so-nice tracks. Along one of the good ones was our stop for the night. Camp Aussicht (or Outlook) was up a beautiful valley with fantastic views over the hills. It also has a mine that the owner has been working for years, extracting malachite and other semi-precious stones. We were given a tour of the mine and one of the caves that he had dug by hand, with a jack-hammer. They were trying to show us the seams of blue stone and crystals that they worked, but Angela was more interested in the colony of bats that hung from the roof, walls and old mine fittings. As we moved down the tunnel they shifted further in, dropping off the walls and wafting past our heads on their delicate wings, chattering away crossly to each other about the disturbance. Some of the bats even had babies wrapped in their wings. We’ve never been so close to bats and although it may not be everybody’s cup of tea we thought it was brilliant (tinged with a pang of guilt about disturbing them and tinged with the whiff of bat guano!).

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Slit-nosed bat

We spent a couple of nights, exploring the local walks and chatting with the owner and his wife. He turned out to be an “end of days” believer, seeing various signs in the world today as fulfilling the prophecies in the bible and leading up to the end of the world as we know it. An interesting chap, even though we didn’t share his views! We dined with them on our last night and were told to bring cameras as we would have special guests. Just before dinner a large bowl of melie pap was put out on the dining room floor and as we watched, one by one a family of Porcupines made their way through the open door into the room and noisily scoffed the lot. Brilliant and surreal in equal measures.

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Guess who’s coming for dinner…

In the morning we drove the 2 hour trip to the busy town of Opuwo. The town was rammed with people and had the biggest queue for a cash-point that we have ever seen. We were mobbed by people, trying to sell us tourist tat or simply asking for money, from start to finish. Our least favourite town by far so far, but it was the only place we could stock up with food and fuel for the next phase of our trip – a journey off the beaten track and into the heart of Kaokoland.

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