by Luise Hoffmann
You’re fond of hiking? You take an interest in rock art and in the survival skills of the San people? You enjoy camping in a natural setting without being watched by your neighbours? You prefer original Namibian hospitality to the commercialised version? Then Omandumba, situated in the northern Erongo Mountains, is the place for you.
Many millions of years ago, the Erongo massif was a highly active volcano towering 3 000 metres above the surrounding plains. Eventually so much lava had been spewed into the atmosphere that the mountain collapsed into the huge vacuum that had been created underneath its base. Lava oozed into cracks around the periphery of the sunken rock and solidified underground, resulting in the well-rounded, so-called woolsack formations of red granite that were uncovered by erosion over time and that today form an irregular ring around the extremely hard central formations of this impressive mountain massif. Because the lava originally cooled and solidified underground, it turned into granite that differed from the granite found in Europe.
The large, reddish, rounded boulders create a uniquely beautiful landscape. They are often strewn over large expanses of fairly flat rock, which makes for easy walking and climbing without the nuisance of dust or thorns. Various geological processes are easy to detect. For instance, granite of this nature tends to erode into concentric layers of split rock, resembling the consecutive skins of an onion, an eye-catching phenomenon that can be observed while hiking. The large boulders expand while absorbing the intense heat of the desert sun and contract during cold winter nights or occasional hailstorms, now and then causing one of them to crack in half with a deafening boom. Such half boulders – having just toppled over or slid downhill – can often be seen. Accordingly, hiking on Omandumba is a most rewarding experience. Moreover, after the rains, a great variety of small flowers emerge from cracks and crevasses in the rock, and many different shrubs and trees thrive at the foot of the boulders, where they take advantage of the run off from the rocks.
In addition to hiking there is also the opportunity for serious rock climbing, which should be undertaken- in cooperation with the Mountain Club of Namibia.
Omandumba is home to a living museum featuring the Ju/’Hoansi-San tribe. A group of these ancient people living in the surroundings will sing and dance for you, and show you how they build their windbreaks with grass. Your San guides will take you along a trail and explain how they make their bows and arrows, how they set traps and snares for small mammals and how they produce the neat necklaces made of ostrich eggshells and other artefacts.
For city dwellers, trapping an animal in a snare is regarded as cruelty.- But in the days before firearms and supermarkets when you were hungry, you had to get hold of your dinner in the most reliable and the least energy–consuming way. In this context, setting traps and snares is a matter of survival. Your San guides will also show and explain how certain plants or parts of plants are used as food or medicine, and introduce you to the art of tracking. Learning by doing, you can attempt to kindle a fire by twirling traditional fire sticks between the palms of your hands, and attempt to hit a target with a bow and arrow.
Having learnt something of the San people’s ancient way of life may enthuse you to go with Deike or Harald Rust, your hosts at Omandumba, on a tour of a few of the numerous and varied rock-art sites on the farm. It is important to view these paintings in good light, so you need to make suitable arrangements with your hosts well in advance, since they also run a cattle and goat-farming operation.
The rock art on Omandumba is unique. It cannot be adequately described using words alone. To be fully appreciated, it needs to be seen. To derive the most pleasure from such a tour would involve spending time at each site, as the longer you look, the more figures or animals become visible, depending on the position of the sun and how the light is reflected on the rock face.
Harald is an experienced hunting guide and member of the Namibian Professional Hunters’ Association. Animals hunted are greater kudu, gemsbok, springbok, jackal, mountain zebra, steenbok, klipspringer, warthog, baboon, Damara dik-dik, cheetah and leopard, the latter two species being subject to permits made available by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
Bird-watching is a highly entertaining pastime almost anywhere on the farm, and Harald is an experienced birder.
Sundowners – the traditional Namibian salute to the end of a day – should not be missed. Watch the sun set, often in a glorious blaze of colours,- with a cool beer or other drink in hand, listening to the last bird calls of the evening, maybe a jackal howling… and watching the first stars appear, brilliant in the clear air. Keep in mind that, unlike in more temperate regions, the sun in subtropical Namibia sets fast. Within barely half an hour, it will be pitch dark!
Deike and Harald were both born and raised on farms in Namibia. Before settling on Omandumba, which Harald’s grandparents acquired in 1942, they both trained and worked as tour guides. It is here that you will experience farm life as it used to be before tourism in Namibia developed into the somewhat hectic industry of today.
There are three comfortably furnished double rooms and three bathrooms at the homestead. Light is provided by kerosene lamps or candles. However, there is cellphone contact and at certain times of the day – when the generator is switched on – you can connect with the Internet via Deike’s office.
Interesting features at Omandumba are the ingeniously constructed pieces of furniture devised by the previous generation, such as a washbasin stand consisting of the tops and bottoms of petrol drums, or a metal container – formerly used for transporting cream to the creamery – fitted with a tap and now used to hold drinking water on the farm bakkie (truck). These gadgets speak of a time 30–40 years ago when Omandumba, as were most other farms in Namibia, was truly remote. A trip to Omaruru would be undertaken only once or twice a month, and shops in this little village would stock basic necessities only. Roads were poorly built and maintained and there were no 4×4 vehicles. A trip to Windhoek would be a real adventure to be undertaken possibly only once a year.
Home-cooked meals are enjoyed with your hosts, usually on the veranda or under the stars, offering the opportunity for discussions on life in Namibia, on animals and natural phenomena and on a host of other topics. Children are most welcome – Deike and Harald have three of primary-school age (who attend school in Omaruru, but are home for most weekends). With cattle, goats, dogs and cats and the freedom to run around in a natural setting, this farm is great fun for kids.
Two camping sites
Camping in the Erongo surroundings is clean because the soil there is sandy, there is little dust, and in wet weather, no mud. There are two camping sites at Omandumba. One features several sites arranged around a gra-nite koppie, far enough from each other to guarantee privacy. A communal ‘open-air’ shower and WC toilet block with water heated over a fire in a so-called ‘donkie’ (a petrol drum encased in a brick construction) is available for ablutions. Braai packs (meat for grilling) and wood can be purchased at the homestead. The other site, situated cozily at the base of a rock wall under shady trees, is completely wild except for a long-drop toilet. In both camping sites you are close to nature with its many scents and sounds.
This article appeared in the April/ May 2011 edition of Travel News Namibia.