After a memorable stay, we somewhat reluctantly left Madisa Camp and hit the road southwards, towards Uis. A very dry and pretty rough dirt road, but nevertheless very scenic. The drive was at times interrupted by donkeys standing in the middle of the road. I’m not sure whether these animals are stubborn or just stupid, or maybe they have some death wish in order to escape from their hard life in severe surroundings.
First stop was at Brandberg, where we wanted to see the famous “White Lady” rock painting. The Brandberg mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain, rising high above the surrounding countryside, is (for a geologist, anyway) an extremely interesting area. The mountain is formed largely by a complicated plug of granite that was pushed up into the surrounding layers of rock, somewhere between 132 and 120 million years ago, during the time when Gondwanaland was breaking up into the continents we know today. The surrounding Karroo-age rocks have been baked and pushed aside by the hot intruding granites. Since the vegetation is sparse, the evidence for all of this is clear to see (though the ages of the various granites were determined by radiometric dating).
After a friendly reception at the entrance to the National Monument (and after parting with the entrance fee and collecting a mandatory guide to show us the way) we walked along the dry bed of the Tsisab river, between the spectacular geology, for about 45 minutes and then reached the quite well-preserved rock paintings.
Discovered in 1917/18 by a German geologist, the “White Lady” received its name from the famous French pre-historian Abbe Henri Breuil, who had seen a sketch of the painting and visited it in 1947. He was convinced that the painting was of a “graceful young woman of Cretan or Minoan origin”, who had somehow managed to travel from the Mediterranean to central Namibia. It is now accepted that the central figure of the panel, presumably painted by Khoisan or San people, is in fact a shaman or medicine man, partly covered in white clay or ash. His gender is indicated by the presence of a penis (and absence of breasts) that earlier observers had managed not to notice, being blinded by their own preconceptions … In addition to the central figure, it was interesting to see depictions of oryx, zebras and other animals that must have roamed the area at the time, maybe a thousand years ago.
Leaving the Monument, we passed through Uis, a tidy but dusty little town on the site of an old tin mine that ceased operations around 1990. There is a reserve estimate in place and there are apparently plans to restart the open pit mine, but in the meantime, locals try to sell you pretty crystals from the area, usually at exorbitant prices. Yes, I did buy one.
After Uis, we drove down the long and incredibly straight dirt road towards Henties Bay, where we were very glad to see the Atlantic Ocean. Stopped for a few pictures and then drove along the coast to Swakopmund, our home for the next few days.
More about Swakopmund and surroundings in the next instalment!