Click on image for list of participants
Brandberg - Spitzkoppe - Erongo, Namibia
30th May - 16thJune, 2017
Site references based on numbering system of Ernst-Rudolf Scherz & Harald Pager
False colour images processed with dStretch,
a freely available software developed by Jon Harman
Day 1. - Windhoek - Okahandja
Bruno, Maggy and Hans Peter arrived a couple of days earlier and with one car made a visit to Etosha Park and the Twyfelfontain engravings, reaching our agreed rendez-vous at the ticket office in Tsisab on the 31st May. With Brenda we both traveled via Johannesburg, meeting in the transit lounge and taking together the early afternoon South African flight to Windhoek the day before. After receiving the car from Mark and Nadine we stocked up on supplies in the Maerua Superspar then set out to Okahandja to camp at the Country Hotel.
Day 2. - Okahandja - Uis - Numas Gorge
Next morning we made an early start (poor Brenda was wide awake well before with the jet-lag from Australia), planning a coffee and breakfast stop at the Omaruru Spar after the 8am opening time. Along the way we had a lovely sighting of a pair of giraffes sharing the watering hole with a pack of horses at one of the farms along the C36 to Omaruru.
With plenty of time on our hands we made a stop at the little granite inselberg 20 kilometres before Uis where our friend Richard Engberts found some intriguing paintings. We already searched the site with Magdi the previous year and found some meagre paintings, only realising back home that they were not the ones we were looking for. This time, with Brenda we made a more thorough search of the area, and found several panels of fine paintings on the round granite boulders at the base of the small hill. Some of the paintings are intriguing, like the bovid-looking animal with the curved feline tail, or a strange figure that appears to be a therianthrope on first look, but looking at it with dStretch it becomes more likely that it is a female figure (of the "girls school" type) wearing a back apron, with the head partially covered by a superimposed indistinct animal.
Even with the stops we reached the Tsisab gorge entrance at the Brandberg a good hour before our agreed time. Terry, the lead guide at the Brandberg was already aware of our plans, and much to my delight assigned Thomas, the son of Angula Shipahu (Harald Pager's assistant) to accompany us to the western side of the mountain. We already had Thomas with us in 2011 and 2012, since then he completed his NHC guide training and now works as a licensed guide at the Brandberg.
Our German friends arrived a few minutes after midday, and without much ado we immediately set out to reach our campsite in the Numas Gorge for lunch. We took the track along the Brandberg perimeter, but even with this short-cut it took a good one and a half hours to reach the Numas. We made camp and had our lunch in the shade of the cars waiting for the midday heat to pass before setting out to see the sites.
This was the first time for me that we could visit all the sites in the afternoon. As most of them are facing East, this enabled photographing many panels which cannot be shaded in their entirety, like Scherz's site K1.
Scherz's site K1 is the first better preserved locality upstream of the campsite, along the right bank of the Numas. With the sun behind it, we could spend some time to photograph all the details without the need for cumbersome shading.
We continued past K3, which was also conveniently in the shade, to Scherz's site L with the beautiful eared serpent, the finest site among this cluster of sites in the lower Numas.
We reached the upper island by mid-afternoon, starting at the lower tip (Scherz G) with the fine polychrome antilope.
While the others were busy taking photos at site G, I explored the rocks behind the site on the ridge of the rock island. Only 40 metres away I found a panel of paintings which was the elusive site J of Scherz, for which we searched for a long time last year without any success.
By the time we reached the cluster of sites F-L-H at the upper end of the island the sun was low, with perfect shadows across all the panels. We spent a good hour going through all details, including several which I have not noticed before as they were fully exposed to the sun during the morning visits.
With the sun getting really low we only had time for a quick visit to Scherz's site D then we made a hurried retreat back to camp, reaching it just as the top of the mountain turned deep red from the last of the sunlight before the switch was flicked turning everything into dark grey.
Day 3. - Numas Gorge - Orabes Gorge
With the flights and long drives of the previous days everyone was happy to have a slow start, taking our time to have breakfast and just sit and take in the amazing scenery as the sun rose above the mountain. Before leaving Numas we visited Scherz's site A near the dry waterfall a few hundred metres downstream from camp. While the others photographed the site, with Thomas we made a climb up the rocs by the waterfall to the pleasant terrace above. I have been eyeing this area on Google Earth for some years now, being a likely spot for some unreported sites. Indeed there were several suitable rocks and shelters and plenty of traces of past inhabitants on the ground, but no sites despite a thorough search.
We started driving back around the Brandberg to our next target at the mountain, the Orabes Gorge, stopping at a small riverbed which was full of Welwitschia mirabilis, the only place where we could encounter this amazing plant along our route.
We made our first stop in the main (western) branch of the Orabes which we explored with Liz & Jon in 2105. We walked up to the main pools which were now full of water after the good rains of the spring which fell on the Eastern side of the mountain. The stream was still flowing with a trickle above the lowest pool, which supported a large school of tadpoles.
Getting up to the main site (Scherz's A) above the pools was not easy, with the most convenient route now blocked by water and slippery wet moss on the rocks. We had to make a long detour on the steep right bank and cross the stream over a couple of precarious stepping stones to reach the shelter.
We returned to the cars and searched out a suitable larger tree in the riverbed for lunch and a little afternoon rest before continuing. As we were having or siesta Bruno spotted something largish moving in the grass under one of the cars - it turned out to be an armoured ground cricket (Acanthoplus discoidalis) causing much excitement.
As the midday heat passed we continued towards the Eastern branch of Orabes (Klein Orabes) which we also searched in 2015 but failed to find the sites reported by Scherz. Fortunately in the mean time I have managed to collect more information. In March I visited the archives of the Basler Afrika Bibliographien which houses the personal photographs and papers of Anneliese and Ernst Rudolf Scherz. Among the papers I found a letter from Albert Viereck to Scherz reporting these very sites with a detailed map (much clearer than the one reproduced in Scherz's book) which made locating the sites fairly straight forward (two years ago we turned back about 250 metres short of the first one). Even with a good idea of where the sites were we walked past the first one (Scherz A) and reached a large boulder which had some paintings on two sides (Scherz B). Intriguingly dStretch reveals a female figure with a tail-like back apron that is nearly identical to the figure at the small inselberg before Uis.
Site C was a low shelter with only some indiscernible blobs of paint not far from the big rock, then there was a 200 metre gap until site D, also in a shallow shelter along the left bank of the river, with just a few figures executed in black paint.
Site E was another half kilometre further up, at the northern edge of a flat terrace covered with eroding black lava blocks behind a conspicuous conical black hill that caps the ridge between the two branches of the Orabes (the terrace may in fact be easier to reach from the main branch). It only contains three figures, a group of walking women.
On our return journey once knowing the location of site B it was not hard to find site A on a small exposed rock surface along the Western bank of the watercourse. It is not a very prominent location, little wonder we walked past it on the way up. There are two prominent giraffes on the right of the panel, but the much more interesting ones are a large group of human figures on the left, partially hidden by a tree. On close scrutiny they are revealed to be women, all wearing back aprons, some with a strange double tail.
As we continued downstream we encountered a patch of ground that was covered with dense green vegetation, probably the vestiges of a larger pool of water that formed after the rains. On one plant I spotted a bright red and black beetle, then on looking around I realized that there were hundreds of them all about, feeding on the fresh shoots of the plants. They were identified as a species of blister beetle, Hycleus scalaris.
A little further I have managed to catch and photograph another species of which we have seen hundreds earlier that day. It was a large grasshopper, with bright red wings which are only visible in-flight. It was identified as an Acrotylus species, most probably a slender burrowing grasshopper, A. patruelis.
Along the path we also found traces of inhabitants which were from a time much before the paintings were made. Maggy picked up a perfect mousterian flake tool, in an area which was also marked on Viereck's map as a middle paleolithic site.
It turned out to be a long but productive day, following a well trodden animal trail we reached the cars past sunset.
Day 4. - Tsisab Gorge
Our plans for the day were to follow the "tourist trail", visit the Maack shelter and the Tsisab island sites, the only ones easily accessible for visitors. Brenda opted out of the long walk, so while the others left directly to the Tsisab, we drove to Uis to drop Brenda at the White Lady B&B. Along the way we saw several ground squirrels (Xerus inauris), and a huge armoured cricket crossing the road. As I got out of the car to take a photo it emerged that there was not only one, but hundreds all about the grass. It became clear that the one we saw the day before was a small nymph, the fully grown adults were nearly double the size.
Having dropped Brenda off in Uis I drove to the Tsisab to catch up with the others. It was mid-morning by the time I started walking upstream along the path, it was rather uncomfortably hot. Not far upstream I encountered flowing water in the riverbed, and further upstream the water was playing hide-and-seek, flowing on the surface for some stretches then disappearing underground.
I found the rest of our party close to midday, busy photographing at the Pyramid shelter at the base of the immense rock in the middle of the Tsisab island. It was a perfect location to take a quick lunch in the shade of the rock before proceeding any further.
We continued together to the Skeleton shelter, so named for the pair of figures which appear to be only skeletons rather than real humans. Leaving our packs here we visited the End-of-island shelter about two hundred metres further upstream, with the impressive polychrome antilope-headed therianthrope.
Having completed the round of the island, we descended into the riverbed, crossed the dense patch of reeds and climbed up on the far side to the Girls' School shelter, the finest of the upper sites in the Tsisab. With no time pressure we took a long leisurely photo session at this magnificent site.
We finished off at the Maack (White Lady) shelter, the best known (and certainly one of the finest) of all the rock art sites at the Brandberg. Hans visited Namibia over 30 years ago, he was amazed at the transformation the site underwent (at that time the site was protected by a rather unsightly cage against vandalism, with no guides or anyone else present in the area).
Already on my way up I have noticed what appeared to be elephant dung both on the trail, and elsewhere (even high up on the Tsisab island). Thomas confirmed that indeed there were elephants up in the valley in search of water in the autumn of 2013 (a few months after the last time I have been up here previously), and the trail of destruction they caused is very visible to this day, with more than half of all the trees along the lower valley dead or badly damaged.
Day 5. - Spitzkoppe
After a comfortable night, hot showers and breakfast at the White Lady B&B in Uis we set out towards our next objective, the Spitzkoppe mountains about 70 kilometres south east of Uis. In 2013 we made a brief visit, but the area contains many more sites than what we could see on that short stop. This time we had the whole day to visit the sites both at Spitzkoppe and the nearby Kleine Spitzkoppe, all documented by Scherz.
We started at the main site of the Spitzkoppe, the "Bushmen's Paradise" site located in a little high valley in the Eastern part of the mountain, accessible on a long steep granite slope.
The site itself is an immense shelter under a huge rock overhang, the rear wall of which was once covered with paintings. Unfortunately this site was one of the worst affected by the practice of visitors wetting the walls to make the paintings more visible (a technique introduced by Breuil who also copied this site). The insistence of the guides that at this site no flash is to be used "to prevent further damage" is a bit like closing stable doors after the horses have bolted. Nevertheless there are some nice and interesting details which become clearly visible with dStretch, including the "sphinx" which I failed to spot on our last visit.
On the far side of the small basin Scherz recorded another site. Our guide was aware of it, but he commented that there is hardly anything there. Regardless, while the others took their photos in the main shelter I made the short walk over, and found another large shelter with plenty of paintings on the rear wall, some better preserved than in Bushmen's Paradise.
After making it back down on the steep slope we moved to the second site near the base of the main peak. Presently it is known to guides as the Small Bushman's Paradise, however it was originally referred to as Sphinx Shelter by Breuil on account of the two prominent sphinx-like figures in the shelter, plus a number of other unique scenes.
A third site is located among the scatter of small inselbergs to the North of the Spitzkoppe. The area is fenced off, but unlike last time our guide had the key to the gate and we could pass between the main peek and the lower hill to the East. Approaching one of the larger hills we spotted a pair of mountain zebras, who did not appear to be particularly concerned about our presence. The site itself, called Golden snake shelter, is located in a unique cave-like fissure inside a small and seemingly inconspicuous granite knoll. It seemed rather strange that it was not recorded by either Breuil or Scherz despite the easy access.
The paintngs inside the crevice only contain two figures, but they appear exceptional: a long horned serpent of a golden colour (hence the name of the site) with an intentionally damaged head facing a human figure with long plumes emanating from the head.
In the "antechamber" of the cave there is a bizarre painting, very faint and damaged by a number of modern peckings of initials. dStretch reveals it to be a large human figure with a facing medusa-like head, and there is also a fish at lower right. The whole composition unlike other paintings of the Brandberg-Erongo region. There are further paintings on the adjacent wall of the shelter, including a pair of giraffe and what appears to be another snake.
Outside the shelters on the outer wall of the knoll we spotted some traces of paint. One of these turned out to be an almost identical pair of the plumed figure facing the snake inside.
The nature of the compositions and figures inside the shelter, especially the "Neptune" like figure and the fact that the site was not recorded raised the strong suspicon that it may be a modern fake. Following our trip I corresponded with Tilman Lenssen-Erz and Benjamin Smith (former director of the Johannesburg Rock Art Institute) who confirmed these suspicions. Ben has visited the site in the eighties and considers all the panels to be fake, though the site itself is a good match for Scherz's Site 81/C so at least some of the figures on the wall left of the "Neptune" could be original.
After a quick lunch at one of the campsites and dropping of our guide at the main gate we drove along the back road towards Klein Spitzkoppe, about ten kilometres further west. This area is outside the fenced off protected area, and there are several active and closed granite and gemstone mines in the surrounding area. The area is open for access, we could easily drive to the low hill with one of the most important sites of the region, the White Ghost shelter which appeared in the title of Breuil's book on the Spitzkoppe sites. Scherz's description is rather imprecise, it took a while spreading out to find the site, located along the side of the hill in a deep low shelter.
It is the three almost identical strange large white figures holding a club-like object in the left part of the shelter that give the site its name. To the right of them there is a unique therianthrope with a human body and an elephant's head (a theme that re-appears in the latest layers of the Ekuta cave in the Erngo).
One of the white figures is clearly superimposed over smaller more conventional red figures, and likely date from a relatively recent period.
The right of the shelter contains more scenes with many superpositions, unfortunately all of them rather damaged and difficult to decypher. One unique detail is a procession of white-cloaked human figures each holding up a stick with a bird's head, probably hunters mimicking an ostrich, a practice observed among the Kalahari bushmen till recently.
Less than a kilometre away there is the other main site of the area, White giraffe shelter, also copied by Breuil. This was easy to find, the shelter is at a prominent location visible from afar. There is an anchored dune leading up to the side of the hill.
The site is not a true shelter, rather a very high shallow overhang with the paintings distributed along the base. The most conspicuous features are the large number of white giraffe with red spotted coats throughout the shelter, including a facing pair that ranks among the finest giraffe depictions in the region.
Our time was up as we had to reach the gate of Ameib where we planned to spend the night half an hour before sunset, and it was a good hour's drive left. Driving past Usakos we reached the gate around 5pm, and were comfortably settled in at the campsite by sunset.
Day 6.- Ameib Ranch
Ameib is presently a huge private game reserve located on the southern side of the Erongo mountains, and contains one of the most important rock art sites of the Erongo, Philipp cave named after the former owner of the farm and the discoverer of the site, Emil Philipp who hosted Breuil in 1950. Breuil dedicated a complete volume (the second after the White Lady) in his African Rock Art series to this site. It is a pleasant half an hour walk from the car park to the site, we already visited it on our very first trip to Namibia in 2005. After a quick breakfast at the campsite we immediately set out to make the walk in the cool of the morning.
The compositions in the shelter consist of two very distinct parts. On the left, there is a large panel conatining dozens of human and animal figures, in styles common to the Brandberg - Erongo region.
The right side of the shelter is dominated by uniquely large scale figures of two elephants and two giraffes, surrounded by numerous smaller human and other figures.
Breuil only saw Philipp Cave (and one site at Klein Ameib), but subsequently in the nineteen sixties Scherz visited the farm and found dozens of new rock art sites, some very spectacular, yet strangely (and rather fortunately) their existence faded from memory and now hardly anyone ever visits them. Some of the best sites are around a rock now called "Elephants Head", close to the Klein Ameib spring, the name Scherz used to describe the sites. Presently the area is visited for the fantastic granite landscape, including the group of round boulders known as Bull's Party. With no information available on the site locations other than Scherz's sketch map and descriptions, we had to set out to search for them.
As we walked around the base of the hill it did not take long to find the first site, a small panel at the base of a huge boulder. Subsequently it was identified as one boulder of Breuil's "Richard Wagner" site (the boulders and rocks invoking Walhalla), Scherz's site A.
The most important site (Scherz's Klein Ameib B) lies in a shelter formed by a deep crevasse high on the side of "Elephant's head". With a near-continuous 2-3m high ledge running around the base of the rock it took some time to find a feasible route up to the site. However the difficult ascent was very rewarding.
The site contains a smaller panel of faint paintings on the left wall (only visible with dStretch) and a large panel of very well preserved paintings (lack of visitors meant no wetting) at the right.
The themes on the main panel include a very fine kudu, an elephant, and aside the usual assortment of gazelle and human figures a large pack of dogs (whether wild or domesticated is hard to tell), a rather exceptional depiction.
At the base of the hill there are two very conspicuous large boulders, both were found to have panels of paintings at their base, identified as Scherz's site A (Breuil's "Richard Wagner" site). Unfortunately these are easily accessible, clearly visitors have used wetting in the past and the scenes are now very faint.
It was past midday and was becoming very hot among the bare rocks, we returned to the campsite for lunch and a rest before continuing with the search for the sites. Once the heat started to dissipate we returned to to the Bull's Party rocks to ascend the back of "Elephants head", where Scherz reported a large shelter with a curious figure looking like an American indian, hence the name Red Indian shelter. Based on satellite imagery we expected the site to be somewhere near the top of the rock, and even from the bottom a number of likely shelters were visible.
It was a tough climb to the top on steep granite plates, and we found all the prospective shelters to be void of any rock art. We set out on a thorough search of the top area (made difficult by huge boulders and high vertical ledges), but aside a fantastic view and a basin half full of rainwater on the summit we found nothing.
Finally after struggling across several deep crevasses to the rear side of the rock, from a vantage point we could spot a little hidden basin in the middle of the ridge with a long shelter along its side. Convinced that we found the right site we descended, and indeed did find some meagre paintings, but definitely not the ones we were looking for.
It was very frustrating, by now we were looking for this single site for nearly two hours. Even though we knew it had to be on the top of the rock somewhere, the dimensions of the hill are several hundred metres in all directions, and with all the ledges and crevasses long detours were needed to make progress of a few dozen metres. There was one place where we did not look, above the ledge bordering the route we originally took up. The area is only accessible on a steep granite plate that descends into a nasty vertical drop (very reminescent of the access to the Gaaseb 8 site on the Brandberg), as I was climbing a particularly unpleasant section it happened: my camera bag was not properly closed, and despite the strap safely across my neck and shoulders the camera slipped out, hit the ground with a clunk and started slowly sliding down the sloping rock. For an instant I twitched to reach for it, but that would have caused losing balance and sliding after it. There was nothing to do but watch as the camera started slipping just beyond reach, gaining speed and disappearing down the slope towards the fall, then the loud crash of shattering glass and plastic confirmed that it reached the bottom. It soon came into view, bouncing and crashing again and again as it rolled down the slope until stopping in a small dip a good 40 metres below me. Bruno was the first to reach the carcass, he collected and brought up the larger pieces. The lens was broken in half with the front element completely missing (I later found it, amazingly the large lens element was complete and unscratched, only the plastic frame was shattered), and the camera housing was cracked in several places, the screen shattered and mostly missing, however astonishingly I could turned it on, and the displays in the viewfinder confirmed that the sensors were working. On pressing the button the shutter apparently worked with a reassuring click, but with the blank screen there was no way to tell if it was actually taking photographs.
The sacrifice to the spirits of the mountain seems to have worked, as a couple of minutes after the camera mishap we located the shelter we were looking for. It was in a deep recess practically hidden from view from anywhere below. I half-heartedly took a few photos with the mangled lens (even the flash worked), amazingly the one of the "red indian" figure came out reasonably well despite half the lens missing and both focus and aperture seized.
Descending to the car I could replace the broken lens with the telephoto lens, while it had restricted angle the autofocus was still working, so at least I could take a photo of the site of the mishap with the Red Indian shelter just beyond.
It was getting close to sunset, we only had time for a quick stop at the low granite knoll by the road leading to Bull's Party to find Scherz's "Geisterkampf" (Ghost fight) sites. We found the first one under a large boulder, with the reported kudu and hartebeest
The main site with the "ghosts" was on a nearby large boulder in a prominent location. We snapped a few photos then made our way back towards camp, to make it back before darkness.
Back at camp I checked the SD card on my laptop and found that against all odds the camera was in fact taking good photos despite all the battering. As I had no backup, I had to resign myself to using only a narrow angle lens until Magdi could bring a new camera, but it was better than nothing.
Day 7.- Ameib - Omandumba West
After breakfast and packing up camp we returned to the "Geisterkampf" sites to take photos under better light conditions.
In shelter B we found a lovely partially preserved panel of a rhinoceros hunt which we missed completely the previous evening.
In shelter A after consulting the Scherz book we could find the third "ghost" at the left, which was missed the day before. There are several more figures at this site, including a fine archer with a curious fork-tipped arrow (probably an exaggerated depiction of a transverse arrowhead, which are also visible on the rhinoceros hunt scene at site B).
We returned to the Ameib farmhouse and set out on foot towards Paradise Spring, a small water source one and a half kilometres to the North west of the house at the base of the mountain, with several adjacent sites reported by Scherz. There is a nice nature walk path built from the house to the spring, going past the dam and water reservoir which was now almost full with plenty of bird life.
We reached the spring and made a thorough search of the immediate area. The valley was densely overgrown with shrubs and other vegetation, and it was very difficult to reach the larger boulders scattered about. Aside finding the one smudged animal figure mentioned by Scherz we saw nothing else. We did recall however a cluster of big boulders a few dozen metres earlier along the path that was a more likely area, so we retreated to search these rocks.
This time we were lucky, on the side of the most prominent boulder we found a large panel of paintings, which remarkably included four rhinoceros, a very uncommon theme in such concentration. It was here that finally my camera gave up: while the metering and autofocus still worked the shutter stopped operating, probably some loosened contact or soldering finally disconnected completely.
Making a thorough search we found the other three of Scherz's sites in this cluster, all of them in good condition - clearly these are not known and never visited despite them being just a dozen or so metres off the path. There are several other fine sites on Ameib (the Jatow Grotte, Riesenblocke Tal and Minendam sites), but at present they are off-limits to visitors as the majority of the farm is a designated nature reserve with rhino and other game.
We returned to the house and cars and departed towards Omandumba West, reaching the farm at the North western corner of the Erongo after midday. After greeting Harald & Dieke we moved to the secluded Three Elephants campsite (named after a rock formation resembling three elephant heads) for lunch and a nice siesta, before making a round of the nearby south-western sites (Torchbearer rock, "horn-blowers" and the bee-swarm). In the late afternoon we had time to make a nice walk in (a successful) search of another minor site reported by Scherz in the camp vicinity.
Day 8. - Springbokfontein
While staying at Omandumba the Abbé Breuil recorded a number of fine sites just across the low range of hills on the western border of Omandumba, on Springbokfontein farm. This area is now community land belonging to the small village of Tubusis spread along the D2306 route. Harald helped to arrange a visit to the sites which is in a fenced-off area, with the key held by the village elders. Dieke offered a huge favor by lending me their best camera (a Nikon D3300) so I could continue taking photos until Magdi arriving with the replacement which I already ordered online the evening before.
The sites are scattered about on boulders at the base of the low hills, mostly facing the grass and bush covered plains extending to the western horizon. Before our trip I have tried to identify as many as possible on Google Earth based on Scherz's sketch map, which as usual was rather inaccurate with a varying scale, but at least we had a rough idea of the locations. Following a track we reached abeam of where we thought site E (Breuil's "Nursery boulder") to be, and leaving the cars we walked to the prominent large boulder at the foot of the low ridge. There was nothing, but soon we found a large panel of very fine paintings on a vertical rock face behind the boulder. Unfortunately the paintings were fully exposed to the sun, but at a near-perpendicular angle so there were no disturbing shadows. We presumed we have found site E, only later did we figure out that this was in fact site F (Breuil's "Battle boulder").
While I was fiddling with the unfamiliar camera's settings the others found a panel of paintings executed in black paint inside the deep crevasse at the left of the site. On the spot we could only recognise a rhinoceros and some human figures, not seeing the two hartebeests nor the exceptional scene with a human figure covered with embedded arrows fired by an opposing group, one of the very rare scenes of violent conflict between humans, a theme mostly absent from the rock art of Namibia (but also of the Sahara). This is not the scene which gave the site its name, Breuil considered the row of weapon-wilding human figures on the outer rock face to be "warriors going to battle", but they are much more likely just a party of hunters.
Still believing we found site E we set about to search for Battle boulder, described to be 100 metres to the North, where a prominent boulder was visible on Google Earth. The going proved to be rather difficult, with a dense growth of thorny bushes barring the way except for a small disused path. Soon we came upon a large split boulder with some very faint traces of paintings on one side, and a very difficult to reach panel with better preserved paintings on the far side. However clearly this was not the principal site we were looking for. Subsequently it was established that this was an unreported site, designated site P, the next available letter in Scherz's sequence.
A further 30 metres away we found a shelter formed by a pair of boulders on the top of the low ridge, with a larger panel of human figures. This we took to be site K, a smaller site reported by Scherz to be some 25m to the NE of site F, further reinforcing our misconcept (this was also unreported, designated site Q).
With quite a bit of struggle finding a way among the boulders and thorns, I managed to fight my way to the large boulder which was already identified as the likely spot for site F on Google Earth. It did have a shallow shelter at its base, but with only some very meagre paintings, including traces of a white giraffe (designated site R).
To complicate matters, Bruno found yet another smaller site 30 metres to the North of the big site earlier (turning out later to be the real site K) with several human figures, including a rather well preserved group.
A little frustrated by the mismatch between the found sites and our understanding of where they were supposed to be, we decided to move in to the central valley of the area which appeared to show a good match between the map and the terrain. These sites were unknown to Breuil and found by Scherz, in his site descriptions there was considerably more detail. Site O was supposed to be at the Northern end, this time by following the track we found it straight away. It was a large boulder with a near-vertical wall on its western side, almost completely covered by paintings in varying degrees of preservation.
The shade of the site offered a good lunch spot, and with our confidence a little restored we set about to search for two other sites which were supposedly in the vicinity. One was site H along the Eastern side of the valley, in a shelter formed by two huge blocks leaning against each other. Based on the description it was not difficult to find, it had paintings on both sides of the tunnel-like shelter. On the left there were only a few figures (including a fine elephant), the more interesting ones were on the right, including a curious small scene that appears to show a pack of canids.
Site G was on the far side of the valley, on an isolated boulder that was quite clear already on Google Earth. The scenes here showed almost exclusively human figures, some fully exposed to the sun and partially obstructed by a large tree, making them rather difficult to photograph.
During the lunch-break I have taken out the Scherz book tucked away to the bottom of my bag, and reading the descriptions it finally dawned on us that the first site we saw in the morning was in fact Battle Boulder (site F) and site E must be some 100 metres further south along the edge of the ridge. We returned to our morning stop, and with our bearings straightened we immediately found Breuil's Nursery Boulder in the middle of a small bay. The name only became obvious after a careful scrutiny of the rock face, as the tiny little figures adjacent to the larger ones are almost invisible on the spot.
A short distance away Bruno found another shelter with a single painted animal figure (site S), which was apparently not reported by Scherz. Not much can be made out on the spot, but dStretch reveals it to be a fine grazing zebra.
As the cars were parked right abeam of it, with Hans we made a quick dash back to Battle Boulder, as in the meantime the main panel had moved into the shade permitting much better photographs.
The next site, Scherz's A (Breuil's "Dark Mantles shelter") was again very prominent, a large boulder in the middle of an elevated terrace in a valley a few hundred metres to the south. There was no difficulty finding it, and the name too was obvious from the pair of cloaked figures which appear among the numerous other animals and humans(and which were chosen for the cover of Breuil’s volume on the Erongo paintings).
The location of site B ("Porters' boulder") was less obvious, it could have been on any of the larger rocks bordering the lower part of the valley. We spread out to look for it and this time we were lucky, after just a few minutes Bruno & Maggy stumbled upon the site in a low shelter not far from where we stopped the cars. Again the naming is evident from the three "porter" figures bearing a big bundle on their heads, a recurring theme also at the Brandberg.
Scherz (and Breuil) reported two more sites from the extreme southern end of the Springbokfontein plain, on a ridge bordering a riverbed as it exits from the Erongo. The more interesting of the two (site D) was named Lion Boulder on account of a prominent lion figure, a rather unusual theme. Based on the description (and Google Earth) it was easy to locate, we found it a dozen metres from the expected location. While all other figures are of the usual style, the lion is very strange, it is not clear if the head is just turned showing only the mane, or it is painted over.
Site C is just 40 metres away on a similar large boulder in the center of the ridge, with a panel of faint paintings which include a recognisable rhinoceros.
At the Western tip of the ridge Hans found another panel of paintings on a low vertical panel under a big boulder which appears to be an unpublished site (designated site T).
The sun was getting rather low, we only had time for a quick dash to an interesting site (Scherz's I) at the North eastern tip of the Springbokwasser plain. It was only 3.5 kilometres away, but it took a good twenty minutes on the bumpy track, then cutting across the plain to the north. Already on the way we were jolted by several porcupine burrows collapsing under the wheels, but as we continued on the track leading into the valley with the site there was a much larger jolt as the front wheel collapsed a large burrow, and with the momentum the rear wheel fell into the hole, hanging freely as the car was supported by the rear chassis with the nose pointing into the air. We tried to put the spare tyre into the hole for support of the rear wheel, but with the front right wheel spinning and no diff-lock, it soon became obvious that even with everyone pushing the car will not get out of the hole under its own power.
As the sun was setting and it was soon becoming dark, we had to do something fast (the thought of making camp there did occur). With Bruno and the other car we went back along the track to seek help in Tubusis. Fortunately we did not have to go that far, there was a small homestead about half way which we passed in the morning asking for the correct direction. On an African farm nothing of potential value gets thrown away, and among a pile of scrap metal we soon found length of steel cable, thin enough to be forced into a knot. We returned to the stranded car, looped the cable through the towing hook of the second car and the front towing ring on the other, and with a single seemingly effortless pull it was out of the hole, much easier than anticipated. On our way back we returned the cable with our appreciation, and were back in Tubusis by the time darkness fell.
It was only after we had our dinner at the farmhouse in Omandumba and made camp at the campsite near the "San living museum" that we discovered with some embarrassment that both cars were equipped with a towrope, neatly tucked away into the elbow support between the front seats...
Day 9. - Anibib
This day was allotted to see the numerous sites on the neighboring Anibib farm, many of which were also copied by Breuil. In more recent times a fine upscale lodge, Ai Aba was built on the property, which now functions entirely as a guest farm. Our campsite was just a few hundred metres away from the Ai Aba entrance gate, we had a nice relaxed morning before setting out towards the lodge. Scherz added a number of sites to the inventory of Anibib, but as usual his sketch maps and descriptions were rather vague. Fortunately rock art features prominently in the activities of the lodge, on arrival we were offered a guide who knew the most important localities in the Northern part of the farm. We immediately set out, it turned out to be a fairly long drive, more than six kilometres on the winding tracks until our guide pointed out a big rock in the bush, the first paintings. As we thought all of the Breiuil / Scherz sites to be in the vicinity of the lodge, we presumed this to be one of the dozens found by Martin Steppe, the former manager of the Ai Aba lodge who extensively explored the property.
The rock did not provide any real shelter, nevertheless there were several panels of paintings all around the base, concentrated on the few smooth on vertical sections, showing the usual assortment of human figures and animals, plus several strange "floating" figures.
The next site was a few hundred metres further along the track, on the flat rear wall of a huge elongated boulder. The panel contained several interesting details, including a large feline (lion?), a snake (?) and a hard to identify possum-like animal.
In another few hundred metres we reached a site near the bed of the princpal gully crossing the farm. This time it was a proper shelter formed by a mass of rounded granite boulders, with a prominent pair of elephants on one side. There were some further paintings on the opposite wall, but those were hardly discernible in the dim light.
We continued on the track across the river, to a small cluster of boulders about two kilometres away, rising from the surrounding broad grassy plain. There was a very fine panel of paintings executed in several colours on the lower part of one of the boulders, unfortunately fully exposed to the sun, only photographable in parts with shading.
Less than a kilometre away towards the south there was a granite ridge with a huge prominent shelter running along its base. Our guide was not aware of it containing any paintings, but admittedly he did not know all the sites found by Martin. As we were in no particular rush, we walked over to the ridge to take a closer look. The ground in front was littered with flakes and pottery shards, but the shelter itself was found to be empty. Originally there must have been some paintings (we could see some very indistinc traces of red colour), but whatever there was became obliterated by the excrement of dassies who now inhabit the crevasse above the vertical rock face along the shelter.
Returning to the cars beside the cluster of boulders we continued along the track, and just two hundred metres further we passed another boulder by the road with a panel of clearly visible paintings, unknown to our guide.
A short distance further we reached two enormous boulders surrounding a very pleasant flat platform, in the shade for most of the day, an excellent living site. The right boulder only contains a single painting of a kudu (but a very fine one), while the wall othe left one is covered by paintings. The scenes are very faint, however as they were not subjected to any wetting they stand out clearly when images are processed with dStretch. At the right of the panel there is an exceptionally large elephant (about one metre across), which may be giving birth (though the scene is indistinct, possibly it is just a case of superpositions).
The track we were following ended near an enormous solitary boulder perched atop an expanse of flat granite plates. This was the principal site of this Northern cluster at Anibib, with large panels of paintings on all sides of the boulder. From this vantage point there was an uninterrupted view over the plains surrounding the Erongo to the West. It was an exceptionally clear day, the Brandberg clearly stood out on the horizon 100 kilometres away.
The largest panel of paintings is on the Eastern side of the rock, with hundreds of human and animal figures. The state of preservation is not very good, the scenes are mostly faint and are only revealed after processing with dStretch.
There is another panel of paintings at the rear of the shelter, with fewer figures but some intriguing ones, like a large human figure with some round blobs (gourd rattles ?) attached to the arms and upper body. There are further paintings on the Northern side of the boulder and on a smaller adjacent rock.
A little to the East of the large boulder there was a castle-like granite outcrop with a deep inverted V shaped shelter. Our guide was not aware of any paintings there, but it looked like a very likely spot. We had plenty of time, and the opportunity looked too good to let it pass, we spread out to explore the small massif. The result was not spectacular, but we did find two panels of paintings, one at the base of the prominent inverted V shelter, the other on the vertical walls along the Southern side.
As we returned along the track we passed a low granite ledge, with a fairly deep shelter underneath. It looked promising enough to stop and check it out, and we did find several panels of paintings along the length of the shelter.
The last site our guide was aware of was a little removed from this cluster, a few kilometres along the track leading to Etemba Farm, a good shelter hidden among a cluster of boulders a short distance from the track.
There was a near-continuous panel of paintings on the rear wall of the shelter, curiously consisting mainly of giraffe, executed in several very differing styles.
We returned to the Lodge for a very nice lunch and a little rest, plus an opportunity to consult the maps of Scherz to try to make sense of them. We were still missing a major site named "Boyle's Egg" by Breuil, a large egg-like boulder with fine paintings all around, and Scherz's map showed a number of other sites in the area adjacent to the watercourse and along the foot of an elongated hill. The map and description matched the ridge immediately to the East of the lodge, so after lunch we drove to the riverbed, this time without a guide, and continued on foot leaving our cars there. Right about where we expected to find Scherz's site 124/H we did come upon a shallow shelter at the base of the rocks with some paintings, including a very fine little panel depicting two bucks and a human figure.
Continuing around a little spur, we found another site on a rock right where Scherz showed site G. Unfortunately it was exposed to the sun, with an adjacent tree creating a cobweb of shadows across the panel.
The location of "Boyle's Egg" looked pretty obvious from the map, on the far side of a little bay with a number of large boulders clearly visible. We approached them, however all turned out to be empty. We spent another hour till the approaching sunset looking for the site, but it was nowhere to be found. Returning to the Lodge we had a quick discussion with Gavin, the new manager, who was a bit surprised that we could not find the site. Martin showed him the location, so we agreed to return in two days to see the missing sites with him. After this somewhat disappointing afternoon we returned to our camp for a sundowner and dinner, entertained by a large moth (Sphingomorpha chlorea) which nearly drowned in Brenda's wine. By the time we noticed and saved it it was thoroughly drunk, teetering completely drenched on the table, unable to take flight.
Day 10. - Ekuta
While we were at Ameib Harald arranged an appointment with Helga & Karl Hinterholzer, owners of Ekuta farm in the interior of the Erongo. We wished to see the renown Ekuta cave, but Harald told us that there were some engravings too on the property which Karl would be happy to show us, so we planned to spend the whole day on the farm. We reached the farmhouse by the agreed 10am after a good hour's drive from Omandumba, and we continued on Karl's Landrover. The engravings were about 10 kilometres from the farmhouse along a narrow bumpy track, actually on the neighboring Ombu farm which also used to belong to Karl's father, occupying the remnants of the ancient caldera that formed in the last stages of the Erongo volcanism. From the car we needed to walk a few hundred metres to the first engravings on a wide flat exposure of dark basalt-like volcanic rocks (rhyodacite) which fill the central part of the Erongo.
The engravings mainly consist of hundreds of animal hoof- and footprints, encompassing the full range of common species found today, including ostrich and some smaller birds. Strangely we only saw one single figurative example, a rather crudely drawn zebra.
Moving about over the rocks, Karl led us to several concentrations of engravings, always showing the same animal prints, very realistically drawn. While one may only speculate on their intent and meaning, the suggestion some authors put forward that they were teaching displays is not inconceivable.
In one spot Karl pointed out a series of older engravings with a patination matching that of the undisturbed rock surface (while the prints appear rather fresh). They were a series of interlocking circles and ovals, with a hashed interior, very hard to make sense of (similar engravings exist at the Brandbergin the lower Dom Gorge).
Near one of the panels there was a conspicuous flat rock. Karl picked up a stone and hit the slab, which gave out a perfect high-pitched tone. It was a rock gong, its ancient use attested by the wear marks along its edge.
The round of the engravings took up the whole morning, it was well past midday by the time we returned to the farmhouse. While the Hinterholzers had their midday rest we moved to a nearby riverbed to take our lunch and relax a bit before the afternoon visit to Ekuta cave.
Ekuta cave is not far from the farmhouse, in the side of a small hill. Leaving the Landrover on the track it was a few minutes' climb up to the shelter, which is mostly hidden by vegetation from below so one does not really know what to expect until the very end.
After scrambling through some bushes all of a sudden one stands inside the shelter, completely unprepared for the sight. The floor is a very spacious flat platform, and the arched shelter roof reaches very high, creating a cathedral-like impression. With all the vegetation in front of the shelter it is rather dark inside, it takes some seconds until the eyes become accustomed to notice the hundreds of bright red figures covering the rear wall of the shelter.
The rear wall is divided into three roughly equal sections by crevasses running through the rock. The left section has a rough surface and only contains a few figures. The most impressive panel is in the center section, where nearly the whole of the vertical part of the rock is covered by paintings, mostly human figures. Up to about one metre the paintings are damaged by animals rubbing against the wall, but above that height they are in a perfect condition.
The borrowed camera only had a wide angle lens so I was unable to take any close-up shots, but already made a mental note that we must return here with Magdi after the Brandberg. Still many details could be discerned, including a very strange row of acrobatic figures, and three large figures painted in white over the earlier red paintings, which very strangely have elephant heads, similar to the one seen at the White Ghost shelter at Klein Spitzkoppe.
The right section of the wall is closer to the rock edge and more exposed to the elements, the paintings here are much more weathered. There are still some very nice scenes, but the bulk of the figures are only discernible properly with dStretch.
There is a small raised stone ridge in front of the shelter (the detritus of rock falls from above), from where there is a superb view over all of the surrounding countryside. This vantage point was crucial in its discovery about 70 years ago: Karl and his older brother were sent to look for a missing herd of cattle, and the hill offered a good look-out. It was a hot day, and little Karl decided to move to the shady spot while scanning the countryside. When his brother followed, he spotted the red colour on the wall of the shelter, and the two of them climbed in to investigate.
It was late afternoon by the time we all became saturated, and with some reluctance descended the hill and drove back to the farmhouse. We thanked Helga & Karl for their hospitality and the privilege of seeing this amazing site, then set out on the track back to Omandumba. Not far from the farmhouse we met a giraffe gazing at us from the middle of the road, and several kudus further along the way. We reached Omandumba around sunset, this time staying at the campsite opposite the farmhouse along the main road.
Day 11. - Omandumba West - Omandumba
There were several smaller rock art sites in the immediate vicinity of our campsite, in the area Scherz called Nordtal (Site 128). This valley is split between Ameib and Omandumba west, Scherz's sites A & B lie just inside the fence on the Omandumba side (while the rest are on the other side of the valley in Ameib). We easily found site A, a huge boulder with a rock wall facing East, hence fully exposed to the morning sun.
As we could easily return in the evening, we continued along the edge of the hill, finding a site with headless two animals that were apparently not recorded by Scherz.
Nearby we also found the panel with two recognisable giraffe which Scherz called B1. This panel too was fully on the sun and practically invisible.
Site B was a large boulder with a vertical face facing West (and finally in the shade). The only readily recognisable figures were two giraffes and few indistinct humans, but dStretch shows that the whole wall is covered with paintings.
As we returned to camp there was a perfect view over the Omandumba West farmhouse and the surrounding plain. We were in no hurry, as our appointment on the neighboring Omandumba East farm (ran by Harald's brother) was only at 10am, we could afford a lazy morning.
We reached the Omandumba East farmhouse after a ten minute drive. As Harald's brother was away on some chores, he arranged for one of the farmhands to guide us to the sites. He clearly took some tourists before, and immediately started out on his trained routine, taking us to the top of a hill after a good 20 minute steep climb, to show us ... the view. It soon became clear that he was not quite briefed on our intentions, but once it dawned on him that we were only interested in the paintings, we merrily trotted down the hill and set out, this time to the correct direction. To give the man credit, the view was indeed nice.
The main site of Omandumba East is the "Glockengrotte" (bell cave, Scherz's site 132/E), about four kilometres West of the farmhouse at the end of a narrow grassy valley between the hills to the North and a granite ridge to the south. It is a deep crevasse along the side of a granite outcrop, with two distinct panels of paintings. In the deep shelter to the right there are some weathered but rather unusual large-scale red and white paintings of giraffe, human figures and a fine kudu.
The second panel is in a niche at the left of the shelter, and contains some more usual red paintings of a variety of animals, accompanied by a single tiny human figure.
There were six more sites in the valley, three in along the base of the Northern hills, three at the Eastern tip of the ridge near the track leading to the farmhouse. Our guide only knew one in each group, so we decided to go to the ones he knew, and once we identified the sites we could start a search based on Sherz sketch map. We soon turned off the main track to a little used rough trail that shirted the edge of the hills, and soon came upon a promising cluster of boulders, which indeed contained a panel of very faint weathered paintings.
We presumed to have found Scherz's site F, however on reading carefully the description later it became clear that we passed F (which is on three separate boulders), this was apparently an unreported site. We continued along the trail until a large rounded boulder with a faint but fine panel of paintings on the side. This was the one known to our guide, and by matching the figures to Scherz's description it was clearly site C, the easternmost one of this group.
We must have passed site D along the way, in fact just a few hundred metres back we saw a likely pile of large boulders. We walked back, and while it was not the one we presumed, just another few dozen metres further we did find site D on the overhanging side on a huge boulder.
Returning to the cars we turned south and drove to the tip of the low ridge along the southern side of the valley, aiming for a point a little before the end where Scherz marked site B. This time we found it straight away at the base of a prominent rock wall clearly visible form afar.
Nearby Bruno found a small shelter with some faint paintings. The only recognisable ones were a round-headed partial human figure and another holding a spear or a bow, probably the one Scherz called a hunter (being part of site B).
At the tip of the ridge a built path starting from a gate in the fence led to site G, the third site our guide knew. It was a long wall with numerous paintings, including a large human figure which gave rise to the name "Langmann-Wand" (Tall man's wall).
Site A had to be somewhere near the start of the path to G, but we could not find it, and we were quite saturated with paintings. In the midday heat the prospect of returning to camp for lunch and a rest weighed heavier than the chance of seeing nine probably faint human figures, so we returned to the farmhouse to drop off our guide, then to camp for our midday siesta. While we had our lunch a big velvet ant (Dolichomutilla sycorax, actually a wasp) scurried about our feet, we kept an eye on it as it has a particularly vicious sting. Before leaving we also took our group photo, which turned out rather gloomy as it turned out the camera timer was set to 20 seconds and we had to wait increasingly impatiently while looking into the glaring sun.
After lunch we returned to the Ai Aba lodge, where Gavin promised to take us to "Boyle's Egg". Much to our surprise we did not start out in the direction where we looked, but towards the North. After zigzagging along the track and over the ridge in the Northern part of Ameib, we reached a little cairn by the track, and found ourselves at the very first site we saw two days earlier.
It dawned on us that we completely misunderstood Scherz's map, which in fact showed the ridge in the middle of Ameib and not the one adjacent to the lodge. Boyle's Egg was site E, and the immediately following one was H, while all the others were either somewhere further back West along the ridge, or between these two. This of course also meant that the ones we did find East of the lodge were unreported sites. Checking on google Earth later it became clear that they in fact were both beyond the fence (which we by-passed in the riverbed) and belong to Omandumba West.
As we still had sometime left before sunset, we visited a lovely small site in the North eastern part of Omandumba west which was only discovered recently by a friend of Harald, who showed us this "David's site" the previous year. The site is on a low inconspicuous boulder along a pleasant terrace on the top of a ridge, with a superb view over all of the property. There are several exceptional human figures with all facial features drawn, something very rare in African rock art.
We returned to camp before sunset to see the big adjacent site (128/A) which was on the sun in the morning. The paintings were rather weathered, but still there were a number of recognisable figures, and we also spotted a large rhinoceros which Scherz did not mention in his description.
For completeness we also looked for and easily found Scherz's site A1 on a nearby boulder. Only a single buck was reported, but dStretch reveals a large interesting panel full of paintings on the side of the rock.
We finished off at the nearby B1 site which was also on the sun in the morning. Here too dStretch shows many more figures than the two giraffe noted by Scherz.
Day 12. - Omandumba - Windhoek - Okahandja
We needed to be in Windhoek by mid-afternoon, as Bruno, Hans & Maggy took the late afternoon Condor flight to Frankfurt, while Magdi arrived with the 2pm South African flight via Jo'burg. We could afford a slow start, packing everything and tidying up for the trip, then set out via Omaruru and Okahandja.
Magdi took longer than planned to make it through the long lines at immigration, so in the end rather than meeting at the Dornbusch garage we dropped the other car, and met up with her and Mark more than half-way along the airport road. After the farewells Mark dropped off our German friends at the airport, while we took Brenda to the Etango ranch as she was taking a morning flight to Jo'burg then on to Sydney.
We did not linger long in Windhoek afterwards, we did a quick shopping in the Maerua Superspar to top up supplies then set out immediately to Okahandja, where we spent the night at the Country Hotel.
Day 13. - Okahandja - Uis - Naib Gorge
For the remaining six days our primary plan was to make a three to four day trek up the Naib gorge to see sites not visited on previous trips. We initially considered making the start that afternoon, but after some consideration spending a night in the comfortable rooftop tent and starting out at first light sounded like a better proposition, allowing for at least a part of the climb to be made in the cool of the morning. This permitted a slower pace for the day, leaving time for breakfast and testing the replacement camera Magdi brought before setting out towards Uis.
In Uis we dropped by Analene at the White Lady B&B to let her know about our flexible plans, then continued to the Tsisab ticket office to pick up our assigned guide, a thin quiet fellow named Jürgen. We also took along a young cousin of Alfons to mind the car and camp while we were up the mountain. As we waited at the village for Jürgen to pick up his gear, I noticed that the big armored crickets were all over the place, jostling for space in the few shaded spots.
Once everyone was ready, we drove around the mountain on the track leading from Tsisab to the Hungorob river. Beyond Orabes gorge everything was very dry, there was no trace of running water in any of the southern or western valleys, something that did not bode well for our planned trek up the mountain.
We reached the Naib early afternoon, and the heat quickly dissipated any lingering thoughts about starting up the mountain that afternoon. We would have needed double the amount of water, it was clearly better to start in the cool of the morning.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in lazy mode, relaxing in the shade reading the site descriptions then preparing our packs as the heat started to dissipate. To make the carried packs it lighter, we decided to take only four bottles of water each (six litres) lasting 2-2.5 days, hoping to find water in the Naib basin water holes.
Day 14. - Naib Gorge
With the good rest of the day before we were easily up before dawn, taking a quick breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee before setting out with Jürgen at first light. For some time we followed the riverbed and the path we used two years ago, and soon reached Scherz's site C on a huge block adjacent to an impassable step in the riverbed.
The panel of paintings with the fine row of human figures was now still in the shade, revealing finer details we have not seen on our previous visit.
We continued for some distance upstream in the valley, then at a suitable looking spot we turned uphill on the left bank, towards the huge smooth and steep granite plates that dominate the lower section of the Naib. Our target was I1, a unique site located far up on the slope, above the granite plates, among a mass of huge boulders. Tilman Lenssen-Erz called it one of the most remote sites on the entire Brandberg with good reason. It lies one kilometre away from the closest other site, 400 metres above the riverbed, requiring a difficult and long climb to reach it from any direction, some of it over the steep granite plates.
The granite plates were just below the critical angle, and while there were a few uncomfortable spots requiring all fours, mostly it was just a walk up. We were in the shade and made a surprisingly rapid progress, by 10am we were on level with the prominent rocks of the site just a few hundred metres ahead.
The sun rose behind the mountain just as we made our final push, and we were standing in front of the site before 11am, a far better progress than what we were preparing for. The row of big rocks still cast a large patch of shade on the small uneven platform in front of the site, however one panel on the far side of the rocks was already out on the sun.
Getting rid of our packs, we immediately started assessing the panels spread over several exposed rock surfaces, with only one located inside a narrow crevasse that would qualify as a shelter. The site turned out to be a bit of a let-down. Pager's tracings showed a number of large panels cluttered with figures, but in reality most of these were so faint that they can only be appreciated with dStretch, practically nothing is visible on the spot. We started out with the panel on the sun (Fixes A & B) which contained a number of human figures (the best preserved ones at the site), quite high up the vertical rock face which made shading a rather complicated exercise.
The main panel (Fixes F - J) is on the side of a large rock in the middle of the site, with the only reasonably flat patch of ground in front of it. The paintings are much weathered due to the unsheltered position, only a few figures are discernible on the spot from the hundreds that appear on Pager's tracings.
The paintings on the right wall of the crevasse between two boulders (Fixes K - L) are more protected, nevertheless these too are rather faint. The panel was important and interesting enough to be allotted a separate folded plate in the Pager volume, but only bits and pieces were discernible. Interestingly this is one of the few places where dStretch can improve on Pagers tracings, apparently the head and front part of a fine eared serpent was too faint to be recorded by his copying technique.
While I took the photographs the patch of shade shrunk considerably, by the time I finished it was restricted to a small patch on an uncomfortable sloping granite plate at the left of the site. We had a quick lunch and waited for some time for the midday heat to pass. Our car was clearly visible as a small white patch some 600 metres lower but only two kilometres away, a good illustration of the steep gradient we have covered during our ascent.
Around 2pm as the shade disappeared almost completely we started out towards our next target, the cluster of sites at the base of Dassie valley before it steeply plunges into the Naib below. The straight line distance was only one kilometre, but on unknown terrain along the contour of the steep boulder strewn valley side. As anticipated it was slow and difficult going, with vertical rock steps of several metres and impassable boulder fields requiring large detours up or down the slope. it took a good two and a half hours to cover the distance, and imperceptibly we also gained a good hundred metres of altitude, as when we reached the last ridge we saw the little basin well below us requiring a steep climb down.
At the bottom of the slope on a little terrace we found the first site of the lower Dassie valley cluster, I17 on a medium-sized boulder. It was a minor site with only a few figures, we were not planning to visit it but it literally straddled our path down. The nicest painting is an unfinished little buck, with only the head completed.
We camped on a small sandy plain a little further below, just before the edge of the cliffs where the watercourse drops steeply into the Naib some 300 metres below. We spent the remaining half hour till sunset scouting the terrain upstream to locate the two sites we came to see, plus to check for water. We succeeded in the first task, but all the waterholes were dry, so our only hope was to find some water in the Naib basin the next day.
Day 15. - Naib Gorge
In the morning, leaving our packs and gear at the campsite we climbed the 200 metres to the principal site of the cluster, I19. It is a very large site with numerous panels on all sides of two large boulders straddling the watercourse, with a good (but now dry) reed filled waterhole just a little downstream.
The most impressive panel (Fix A) is on the right (Eastern) rock in a concave underhang facing the watercourse, displaying a large snake (unfortunately the head and tail have weathered away) superimposed by a multitude of human and animal figures.
Fix C a couple of metres to the left of Fix A is another eye-catching panel with a number of giraffe, trees and human figures, some executed in the more unusual black colour.
On the south side of the rock there is a large and very well preserved panel (Fix E) with hundreds of human and animal figures representing several layers.
Fix F is at the corner of the rock to the right of Fix E, with another group of fine human figures.
At the rear of the rock there is a spacious flat platform which must have been the main living area associated with the site. On the adjacent rock wall there is another large panel of paintings (Fix G) depicting a variety of animals and human figures.
On the smaller boulder on the far side of the watercourse there are many more paintings (Fixes H - M), though these are mostly in a worse state of preservation than the panels on the large boulder.
Site I18 was about 100 metres away up on the hillside. In a rather unusual fashion the paintings were not on the side of the large boulder, but on the wall and ceiling of a very low shelter underneath, only visible when crawling into the rather cramped space.
Because of the protected location the paintings are well preserved, they mostly show human figures (including some rather unusual ones) and a few animals, including one that is probably a hyena.
From I18 there is a perfect view over I 19 and the rest of the Dassie valley, but there is hardly any space at the site, a rather strange location for paintings. We returned to our packs just as the sun started to rise above the crest of the mountain.
Again we had just over one kilometre to cover from Dassie valley to Crane rock (I20) at the edge of the Naib basin, but the route proved to be even more difficult than the day before. There is a steep vertical drop for about 100 metres on either side of where Dassie valley enters the lower Naib gorge, we spent a good hour finding a passable way upstream in the direction of our intended route. While we were originally level with the Naib basin, the vertical walls forced us several hundred metres down into the Naib watercourse, then we needed to ascend again, needing to by-pass several places clogged with huge boulders. It was a long and difficult climb, most of it in the midday heat, it was past 1pm when finally the terrain leveled off, and we soon spotted the large flat rock hiding the spacious shelter underneath.
Crane Rock (I20) is one of the principal sites of the upper Brandberg, so named after the numerous depictions of cranes on the large and perfectly preserved panel of paintings. It is located on the ceiling of a shelter under a huge flat boulder which provides shade all day, something very welcome after the long hot climb. One of the most intriguing features is the large red and white amorphous shape, one of only three such depictions on the Brandberg. The other two are the Mason Shelter (W1) in the upper Nuwuarib gorge, and Snake Rock (H43) in the upper Hungorob, all among the finest sites on the mountain. While there is no ready explanation for these abstract shapes (rainclouds are one suggestion...) there is a very clear common pattern among the three sites: all of them are at the gateway of the upper areas of the mountain, along principal access routes. We spent a long time gazing at the ceiling and re-photographing the site not seen since our 2011 visit.
Once the heat started to dissipate, with Jürgen we started out to check the waterholes on the granite plates on the northern slopes of the Naib basin, while Magdi elected to have a rest and wait at the shelter. We passed site I23 on a big rock wit some nice figures but fully on the sun, then climbed the slopes at the smooth granite to where we hoped to find water. Unfortunately all we found was a superb view over the basin, but the waterholes were completely dry, clearly there was no rain on the western side of the mountain.
Jürgen climbed a little further just in case there might be some water in the higher waterholes, while I set out to look for site I31 somewhere in the middle of the granite plates. It was not difficult to find, as it was the only conspicuous boulder on the otherwise smooth rock, with some nice paintings on the southern and eastern sides.
There is another site, I29 on the far side of the granite plates, in 2011 we must have walked right past it. It is a low shelter at the base of a vertical granite wall, with paintings along several spots above the shelter.
The site description spoke of a large rhinoceros at the site, but there was nothing that remotely resembled one. I only realised after looking at the photos with dStretch that some of the indistinct blobs I photographed were in fact the head of a huge and very finely made rhinoceros, I don't recall seeing anything similar on the Brandberg.
Returning towards Magdi waiting at I20 we passed by the low granite mound in the centre of the Naib basin, with site I24 at its north western corner, straddling the watercourse skirting the rock island.
Based on Pager's tracings one would expect a major site, however the paintings are very faint (I was unable to locate the ones on the boulder across the watercourse) and unimpressive on the spot, as usual dStretch reveals much more than what the human eye can perceive.
Walking back to I20 we could clearly see the big boulders of I22 and I21 on the slope south of the Naib riverbed about 200 metres from Crane Rock. They were still fully exposed to the low sun, but it was just a matter of a few minutes before the sun would dip below the ridge to the west and place them in the shade.
The huge pyramid-like rock of I23 with the fine row of human figures was also out on the sun, but the boulder composing the other half of the site across the flat terrace was well in the shade. The paintings depict the usual animals and human figures, but there is also a strange centipede-like shape.
We moved our gear to the sandy riverbed near I23 for the night, and before sunset with Magdi we climbed up to the huge boulder of I21 not far from our campsite.
The paintings were on the rear wall of a small low shelter, with a fine group of tiny human figures and several animals, including a hartebeest of which Pager only saw the head, but dStretch clearly shows that the rest of the body is there.
Site I22 was just a short distance beyond, with some very weathered paintings on the wall of the shelter at the left side of the huge rock.
We returned to I23 for sunset, finally being able to photograph the fine row of human figures at the base of the huge triangular rock.
Naib is perfectly aligned with the setting sun at the winter solistice which was just days away, from our vantage point we could follow the sun slowly sinking into the Atlantic Ocean on the far horizon.
Day 16. - Naib Gorge - Uis
Originally we were hoping to explore further up the Naib, but the lack of water forced us to change plans. We were down to one bottle each, which was just enough to make a rapid descent to the car. We were up a first light, to cover as much as possible in the shade before the sun came up over the mountain, increasing our water consumption.
We started well before sunrise, and descended practically non-stop until the sun caught up with us near the junction of Dassie valley, roughly half-way down. We were approaching the only planned stop along the way, site I65 which we by-passed both in 2011 and also when we made the one-day dash up to site I15 in 2015.
The site is on a little terrace adjacent to the riverbed, with paintings on a lower and an upper boulder. The scenes are much weathered and not particularly exciting, except for a strange unidentified rather chubby animal in an the upper shelter.
After consuming the last oranges and a short rest we continued down the Naib, from here much aided by the little cairns Alfons built in 2015 to mark the route on the successive terraces bordering the riverbed. We made good progress, and reached the car around half past midday, drinking our last drops of water as it came into sight. As we had no more plans at the Brandberg, after a quick lunch we packed up and started the drive back to Tsisab, dropping off Jürgen and his companion at the guides' village. With all the back and forth driving around the mountain it was late afternoon by the time we reached Uis and settled in at the White Lady B&B for the night.
Day 17. - Uis - Ekuta - Omandumba
As we were down from the mountain earlier than planned, we could afford a lazy morning and a slow start. We had an appointment with Herr Hinterholzer at Ekuta in the afternoon, we had time to go in to Omaruru before to fuel the car and buy some supplies. We also dropped in to the Erongo Wilderness Lodge along the way to make an appointment to visit the surrounding sites the next day. We reached Ekuta by the agreed time, and without much ado set out with Karl immediately to the cave.
While Karl showed Magdi around the site, I could afford to take photos of the finer details with the telephoto lens at leisure. We must have spent a good two hours at the site snapping away and just enjoying the details, before it was time for us to leave to reach our campsite at Omandumba before sunset.
Day 18. - Omandumba - Klippdachsberge - Windhoek
In the morning we drove back to the Erongo Wilderness Lodge, located among a group of low granite hills at the north eastern corner of the Erongo (within sight of Omaruru) which are a few kilometres removed from the main massif. The group of hills were referred to as "Klippdachsberge" (Dassie hills) by Scherz, who reported a number of sites from the area. The main one, called "Paula's cave" was copied by the Abbé Breuil. With a guide from the lodge we drove to the end of the track from where the site, located in a hollowed-out cave in the side of a granite ridge, could be accessed with a short walk.
Paintings cover both walls of the cave, which is best viewed in the early morning when it is fully in the shade (the cave points towards sunset, which is the time the lodge usually brings guests up here - not quite the best for seeing the paintings...). Already some of the right wall paintings were out on the sun, but fortunately with a nearly perpendicular light, so it was possible to photograph all the scenes with a number of intriguing details.
The left wall has many more figures, but their state of preservation seems to be much worse. This site was known for a long time, and undoubtedly suffered from repeated wetting by visitors. Nevertheless the scenes are very impressive, I was not expecting such a spectacular site to finish off our trip.
The surroundings of the hill are very pleasant, with much more vegetation than on the western side of the Erongo. Not far from the cave there is a large wild fig tree which we have only seen before in very sheltered locations with reliable water on the western side of the upper Brandberg.
The lodge is tucked away among similar low granite hills, and with enough time all the other sites in the area could be visited taking some nice walks. It is certainly something to be considered for a future trip.
We finished our stay with a very pleasant lunch in the restaurant, entertained by a large litter of baby dassies at the fig tree and water basin strategically placed under the restaurant terrace. Soon the mother joined the throng, and when they left a flock of colourful parrots took their place.
After lunch we set out on the drive back to Windhoek, dropping off our car with Mark Dornbusch, who gave us a lift to the Etango Ranch by the airport, our usual place to stay for the night before the flight home.
For June 2018 we are planning a different format trip to Namibia, making a more varied 15 day circuit to see not just the Brandberg but a wider selection of the Rock Art sites of Namibia plus some of the natural wonders of the country, staying at lodges and guest farms along the way. Please visit the News page for any updates (or "follow" the FJ Expeditions FaceBook page).