In all its incarnations, Serra Cafema, Wilderness Safaris’ camp in the extreme northwest of Namibia, has stayed true to the essence of what makes it special. Magnifying a feeling of connection to this vast, wild space and a personal connection to the Himba communities in the Marienfluss Conservancy, Serra Cafema creates a unique space where the deepest connection may be found within yourself.
That a small camp at the edge of the earth could achieve all these things is truly remarkable, but that is Serra Cafema – remarkable, truly.
Serra Cafema reopened in September 2018 after the camp had been completely rebuilt. But, given the luxury of space, thoughtful design and subtle detail, the camp feels as if it has always been here.
Serra Cafema sits on the banks of the Kunene, one of only two perennial rivers in Namibia, in a spectacular landscape where red sand dunes fold into layers of dramatic grey and purple rocks, and the statuesque, semi-nomadic Himba are the partners in the camp and its muse.
The “new” Serra Cafema is grounded in the earth. Natural materials and deep grey canvasses reflect the surrounding landscape. Stone sourced from the adjacent valley defines walls to create texture and connection to the land. Tall, rambling acacia trees provide highly welcome shade in the desert jutting out from thatch roofs and around walkways to the river.
Communal areas, including an informal lounge, dining room, wooden deck and convivial bar, are positioned in a semi-circle, echoing the circular design of Himba villages and ensuring pockets of privacy within a larger cohesive whole.
Seven guest rooms and one family room, linked by a raised wooden walkway, maximize a sense of space and privacy. With views across the Kunene River to the wilds of Angola, the rooms are luxuriously spacious. The colours are subtle, the textures natural, and a large image of one of the local Himba villages defines one wall and adds to the unique ambience of each guest room.
A sunken seating area with a wine refrigerator and coffee and tea making facilities, an extra-large bed surrounded by a curtain of sheer fabric, indoor and outdoor showers, and a large private deck for enjoying the sights and sounds of the river and private dining enhance the feeling of natural luxury, intimacy and space.
In a spectacular landscape where red sand dunes fold into layers of dramatic grey and purple rocks, and the statuesque, semi-nomadic Himba are the partners in the camp and its muse.
The details that give Serra Cafema depth of purpose are found in unlikely places. Young craftsmen and women at TABLED, a social enterprise that gives orphans a future by involving them in creating furniture, built the tables for the dining room. Myeisha, a Windhoek-based company that provides training and employment to previously unskilled local labour, produced the rich, ochre-coloured leather menu folders and room folders, while Mbiri, a company owned by harvesters, that works with Himba women to take the tradition of sustainable harvesting of the resin from Commiphora wildii trees and use in skin care products, developed its first bathroom range for exclusive use at Serra Cafema.
While Serra Cafema draws guest in, it also entices them out into the stunning landscape. Enjoy nature walks and drives. Walk along the river. Ride a quad bike across the dunes. Drift down the Kunene River where numerous birds can be found, including the rare endemic Cinderella Waxbill, and above all venture into the unfamiliar world of the Himba.
Mengipo Tyambiru Tjivinba, a Himba elder who lives a semi-nomadic life in the tiny villages that dot the floor of the Hartmann’s Valley, told me: “As a stranger, you should not approach a place with two hearts. Do not devalue an area, keep your heart open.”
And, wait for your heart to expand. Because when you approach the Himba with respect, you leave with a sense of awe and humility.
This isn’t voyeurism or a contrived cultural village – it is an invitation to enter the world of the Himba. After a thoughtful introduction from a Wilderness Safaris’ guide, guests are invited to ask questions, take photographs and learn about the fascinating culture of the Himba. From the layout of their villages to the importance of the holy fire, from traditional clothing and elaborate hairstyles to a life that is rooted in the past but evolving, the Himba are proud to share insights into their world.
Children play, women feed their babies, and questions give way to laughter which gives way to the Himba’s questions to guests. How many children do you have? Are you married?
Does it rain where you live? Universal questions of life that connect us all.
When you drive away, the feeling is that life in the village has been briefly touched but remains unchanged by your presence.
This is true of the Serra Cafema experience. The rapids run, the river flows, the sand dunes shift with the winds and the Himba continue to give the place its heart and soul. The only change you may notice is within, as your heart opens wider with new experiences and a fresh perspective on life and our place on this fragile, beautiful Earth.
This article was first published in the Summer 2018/19 edition of Travel News Namibia.