Text and photographs Ginger Mauney
During the night, when the birds fly west to the sea it means that someone in the family will die”, said Karitiano Tjipoza, a Himba elder from Otapi village, a collection of dome-shaped wooden huts and kraals perched high on the hills above Hartmann’s Valley.
“We know that this is true because after hearing the big black birds in the night, a man from our village who was out with the cattle was struck by lightning and died.”
“But”, she paused, “if the birds fly from the east, it means that the rains will come.”
Was there something else in the birds’ flight on the evening of February 1st that foretold of what was to come?
The next day it started to rain. Gently and persistently, harder at times but with breaks in the downpour as if nature was catching her breath.
In a place where rainfall is patchy and sparse, 100 mm of rain fell in less than 24 hours – the equivalent of the average annual rainfall in one night.
Water flowed down the rocky walls that flank parts of the Kunene River, poured into the river, raised its level and the intensity of its flow. Logs bounced down the river, and the Himba were concerned for their cattle and goats grazing nearby, as it isn’t easy to spot crocodiles in the muddy waters.
In the Hartmann’s Valley, which incises this part of the desert, the normal range of colours is red, gold and grey, but the rains transformed the land.
Nature put on a show, in an eruption of green.
Across the plains fairy circles were rimmed by green grass, making this natural phenomenon even more pronounced. Lines of green ran up and down the hillside, and pools of green grass accumulated in dense patches at the base of the mountains.
Some areas had a light dusting of green, a 5 o’clock shadow of grass cover that had yet to be shaved by grazing animals or yellowed by the sun.
The Hartmann’s Valley has been transformed by rain.
After heavy localised rain the Kunene River surges.
A strong relationship exists between Wilderness Safaris and various Himba communities.
Other parts of the valley had a full beard of lush green grass cover, broken by yellow patches of tribulus flowers and flecks of purple peeking out from flower petals among the grass.
One hundred millimetres of rain created another world right here on earth.
Hartmann’s Valley has always been a special place for the Himba. Mount Ondau, part of the Hartmann mountain range, is sacred to them. Villages dot the landscape: some are active, some completely abandoned and others dormant, waiting for groups of semi-nomadic Himba to pass through again.
“This area is beautiful and it is good for our cattle and goats”, said Tjipoza. “When there is no grazing on the plains we send them up into the mountains to graze. This year there is plenty.”
Plenty for now, for what comes with the rains dies by the sun.
Already the tops of the grasses have begun to turn silver, with feathers of seed waiting to be dispersed by the wind.
They wait, patiently like the Himba, for a new cycle of rebirth in the desert that begins when the birds fly in from the east.
Photo ©Ginger Mauney
Photo ©Ginger Mauney
Photo ©Ginger Mauney
It isn’t often that Serra Cafema, Wilderness Safaris’ stunning and remote joint venture lodge with the Marienfluss Conservancy, is quiet, but on February 2nd all the guests had checked out and no one was expected to arrive until the following day.
By 14h00, the camp was clean and the staff was looking forward to a relaxed evening.
The quiet lasted for approximately 4 hours.
Camp Manager Ulrike Jacob kept a record of what followed:
2 Feb 2016 – It hasn’t stopped raining all afternoon. Evacuate all staff from the staff village into the main lodge. Power issues. Email HQ to move all bookings.
Lost satellite phone signal. Flood watch team up until 4:30 am to check the water levels.
3 Feb 2016 – No let-up in the rain, water rising from the river and falling from above. The sheer weight of water on thatched roofs is bringing down years of red dust into the guest rooms. Second large flood started around 16:00 pm. Back area and staff village completely flooded. Airstrip under water.
4 Feb 2016 – Around 3 am water levels begin to drop.
5 Feb 2016 – First emergency flight into camp. Pregnant staff and others who were going on leave are the first to fly out.
7 Feb 2016 – All guides leave camp in game viewers. Rest of the team keeps on cleaning and repairing.
11 Feb 2016 – Staff from the Windhoek office arrive to help with the clean-up.
12 Feb 2016 – First truck arrives in camp with bulk of supplies. Second truck has broken down.
14 Feb 2016 – Another truck arrives with items needed to refurbish the rooms.
For the next few days we clean, oil, rebuild walkways and put the final touches on the camp.
19 Feb 2016 – Serra Cafema reopens to guests.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2016 issue of Travel News Namibia.