Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: Black rhinoceros. Damaraland, Namibia.
That was the Africa we knew,
Where, wandering alone,
We saw, heraldic in the heat,
A scorpion upon a stone.
Hanging Onto Existence
Flying low over the rugged, brawny and barren Etendeka mountainscape from Windhoek to the airfield at Dora Nawas, it looks like some supernatural force has diced it up with a machete. It is sobering to see the tiny farming outposts connected by sandy ant-trail tracks, and to think that people are living down there.
As the Wilderness Air Cessna Caravan approaches the little airstrip deep in the Palmwag wildlife concession that serves Desert Rhino Camp, it looks like the ground has, at some time in the geological past, exploded and strewn the entire landscape with rock shrapnel. Which is in fact pretty much what has happened – not once but a few times.
That supernatural force is the earth’s own thermic engine, the molten minerals that lie beneath our seemingly solid crust. The process is called plate tectonics and at least seven times over the past four billion years the planet’s continents have been crushed together only to be torn apart again.
The last time this happened was around 130 million years ago when Gondwana was broken up to form most of today’s southern landmasses as well as India (the Himalayas being one current manifestation of the process). As the southern Atlantic Ocean opened to fill the gap between Africa and South America, vast sheets of magma poured to the surface. The volcanic Etendeka Plateau of Namibia perfectly matches the Parana landscape of eastern Brazil, but there it is covered in dense, lush vegetation and so not so easy to recognise.
But it is the desert animals you have come here to see – the mountain zebras, the springbok and oryx, and also, incredibly, the small herds of elephants and even the skittish, reticent desert-adapted lions. What you did not anticipate was that the landscape itself would be such a big feature of your Damaraland adventure.
Have a look at our video below:
We stayed at Desert Rhino Camp while photographing and researching this chapter:
Our Kind Of Camp
On arriving at Desert Rhino Camp, Pat looked like the cat that got the cream. “This is our kind of camp,” she declared, knowing we would like it as much as she. It is comfortable and generous in the things necessary for a happy safari, but with no excess, as befits its desert situation. The structures consist of timber and canvas, but to describe the units as tents is a misnomer. The eight guest suites are raised and their front verandas offer superb views over the desert and the magnificence of the Etendeka Mountains.
Desert Rhino Camp is the showpiece of Wilderness Safaris when it comes to giving back to neighbouring communities that in many ways own the land. The camp staff are a very professional team and have a sense of fun not often encountered elsewhere. At the same time they appear to take great pride in their role as partner custodians of the desert creatures.
The camp is not an easy place to get to; the best places seldom are. It is an often-repeated homily that you cry twice when you visit Namibia. The first is when you arrive and the second when you have to leave. On your departure, as you climb into the 4X4 headed for the airstrip, and the amazing camp staff line up and sing a heartfelt farewell you will be strong indeed if you are able to hold back a tear or two.