I've been fascinated with different cultures for as long as I can remember - from my first meeting with a Native American medicine man at Mesa Verde in my home state of Colorado, to my time hiking through the Dogon villages on the Bandiagara Escarpment of Mali, West Africa. So when I made contact with a guide named John Tjipurua (highly recommended on TripAdvisor), I was beside myself with excitement, for I was all set to meet the beautiful, semi-nomadic pastoralists called The Himba.
The Himba are an indigenous people with an estimated population of around 50,000 living in northern Namibia, in the Kunene Region (formerly known as Kaokoland). The Himba history is rife with disasters, including severe droughts and guerrilla warfare, particularly during Namibia's war of independence. Between 1904 –1908, they suffered from a genocidal war conducted by the German colonialist government in German South-West Africa under Lothar von Trotha that nearly wiped out the Herero and Nama people. By the 1980s, it appeared that the Himba way of life was in grave danger due to adverse climatic conditions and political conflicts. A severe drought killed 90% of their livestock, and many gave up their herds and became refugees in the town of Opuwo, living in slums on international humanitarian aid to cope with widespread famine. But after the South African Border War with Angola, and Namibian independence (1966 – 1990), the Himba managed to overcome most of their hardships and have been relatively successful in maintaining their culture and traditional way of life.
I arrived in the town of Opuwo after a very scenic drive from the Erongo Mountains, and I must say that it was quite shocking after camping alone in the African bush, this largish, modernish, spread out town of 7,500 people. I pulled into a crowded bank parking lot and was immediately gobsmacked by the long, diverse queue coiling out from the ATM - a colorful smorgasboard of Himba, Herero and Germans standing there in various modes of dress and undress. I really don't know how I managed to get cash, let alone pick my jaw up off the ground.
After regaining my composure, I purchased a few handmade trinkets from a couple of desperate looking ladies, then headed back to my 4x4 to make my way to Opuwo Country Lodge, which was situated on a hill overlooking the beautiful Kunene valley. I arrived, checked in and got directions to my campsite, then messaged John, my guide, to let him know that I'd arrived. He asked if I'd wait there at the lodge, because he wanted to come up and meet with me.
John showed up and we had a really nice visit. He told me a little about the area and what we'd be doing the following day on my 'Himba cultural tour'. We agreed on a noonish meeting time so that I'd have the opportunity to 'sleep in', something that I hadn't had the chance to do on my solo journey thus far. We parted ways and I headed off to make camp.
I woke up around 8 am in my tent after a wonderful night's sleep, and was just reaching for the tent-flap zipper when I heard a vehicle come rolling up. I peered out squinty-eyed. It was John. "Hurry!" he said, "we have to get going or we'll be late!" And I laughed.
"What do you mean?" I exclaimed, as I blearily navigated the aluminum stairs that extended down from my rooftop tent. "You said we weren't going until noon!" And he shrugged.
"There is a Himba wedding happening and you must see it," he answered. "I need to get something in town. I'll come back for you in 30 minutes."
Oh, my! I hadn't even had my morning tea yet! So as he peeled off down the road, I peeled off to get ready. I ran for the propane tank and the tea kettle. Then for a change of clothes and the ablution block. No way in hell was I going to a Himba wedding without showering first! As the kettle was heating up, I jumped in and out of the shower in record time, realizing all too late that I'd forgotten a towel! Arrrrgh!!! Nothing like getting dressed...wet...in the morning desert chill. Yikes! Ran back and made my tea and slammed it down. Burnt my tongue. Really? Great start to my morning. Forget about having any brekky. Fun times. Yanked my bedding out and brought down my rooftop tent just as John was pulling back up. Couldn't get the zipper of the tent cover zipped for some reason, so John had to help. (Found out the reason for zipper problem later that evening. In my rush, I'd left my two lanterns inside the tent! And they actually survived the crush!)
We headed out into the Kunene countryside, John driving like a madman and me following desperately. Unaccustomed to the roads and all the speedbumps, it wasn't a fun drive by any stretch of the imagination, but I managed to hold my own. We were meeting up with some guests that were staying at his private campsite, and he didn't want to keep them waiting. After about a forty-five minute drive we turned into his place called Omungunda, where we met his group and then headed back out again, with me bringing up the rear. A few clicks down the road we made a left turn onto a d