Damaraland is such a rugged and lunar landscape that we joked about finding astronaut boot prints there. It’s true, there’s something otherworldly about its uncompromising ups and downs, and yet life clings on – albeit in strange forms like the ancient welwitschia plants. While the Apollo crewmembers are nowhere to be seen, skilful local trackers can somehow find desert-adapted black rhino when you walk with them.
Ancient traces of our own species can be found in the San cave paintings at Twyfelfontein (including, intriguingly, a penguin) and on the Brandberg (Namibia’s highest peak). It’s not hard to imagine having a spiritual experience in such dramatic surroundings as the pointed Spitzkoppe (a place of mysterious significance to the ancient San people) or while wandering between the stone trunks of the aeons-old Petrified Forest. My favourite rock formation was the spectacularly isolated Vingerklip – like a limestone spire missing its cathedral.
I’d definitely recommend a day on the Skeleton Coast for a more immediate history lesson. The sun-bleached bones that litter the beaches are testament to the struggle for survival here, while the incredible rusted hulks of doomed trawlers and cargo ships have stories swirling around them like sea mist.
The guides delight in telling tall tales of woeful wrecks and thrilling rescues, and when I heard about the mysterious crouching skeleton found buried close to the most famous of them, the Dunedin Star, it wasn’t just the breeze that made me shiver deliciously. The drive back inland is a highlight in itself, revealing both inselbergs and fossil riverbeds.