From close by it resembles a climbing wa

From close by it resembles a climbing wall for free climbers: Vingerklip is 35 metres high, about 15 metres wide and dotted with protruding stones. In 1973 the rock stack in the valley of the seasonal Ugab River, some 40 km east of Khorixas, was indeed conquered in free climbing manner by Udo Kleyenstuber, who ascended on its east side. The hooks which can still be seen were left by American mountaineer Tom Choate who is credited with the first ascent of Vingerklip in 1970. http://ow.ly/bfdiX http://ow.ly/i/F39i

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Vingerklip – A Sculpture of the Ugab River

From close by it resembles a climbing wall for free climbers: Vingerklip is 35 metres high, about 15 metres wide and dotted with protruding stones. In 1973 the rock stack in the valley of the seasonal Ugab River, some 40 km east of Khorixas, was indeed conquered in free climbing manner by Udo Kleyenstuber, who ascended on its east side. The hooks which can still be seen were left by American mountaineer Tom Choate who is credited with the first ascent of Vingerklip in 1970.

For geologists, on the other hand, the erosional rock formation is like a book in which they can read stories that happened millions of years ago and shaped this landscape. They are captivating stories about sea levels dropping and rising, wet and dry phases of the climate, torrential rivers, chalky soil and rivulets that cause rocks to split. Even laypersons will notice that Vingerklip consists of different layers – layers of large stones alternate with layers of fine sand. They testify to the fact that at times the Ugab flowed rapidly enough to drag rocks with it, while at others it was so sluggish that sand was deposited in its bed.

Vingerklip/Outjo, issued in 1986, artist: Johan van Niekerk

Vingerklip/Outjo, issued in 1986, artist: Johan van Niekerk

Knowing this much it already becomes clear that it was the Ugab River that sculpted Vingerklip. These days a seasonal river which comes down in flood only after sufficient rainfalls, the Ugab rises in the western foothills of the Otavi Mountains, then passes south of Outjo and north of Brandberg Mountain to reach the Atlantic Ocean about 180 km north of Swakopmund.

Some 120 million years ago, as the southern supercontinent of Gondwana breaks up and South America drifts away, the southern African plate rises and so does its gradient to the sea level. Thus the erosional force of the rivers increases further. Southwest of Outjo the Ugab cuts its course deeper and deeper into the rock. Then, towards the end of the ice age 20 to 10 million years ago, the sea level rises again and a wetter climate prevails. The Ugab River fills the valley, which it created earlier, with rocks and sand. Layer is deposited upon layer, up to a height of 100 m.

The Vingerklip in the Ugab Valley, some 40 km east of Khorixas. Photo: Gondwana Collection

Two million years ago, during the ice age in the northern hemisphere, the sea level drops again and the Ugab once more cuts deep into its course which it previously filled with rocks and sediments. Parts of the wide riverbed fall dry. As the water evaporates, minerals precipitate – most of all lime because the Ugab and its tributaries drain the soil west of the Otavi Mountains and around Outjo which contains carbonate. The precipitated lime works like cement and binds rocks and sand into a conglomerate which is as hard as concrete. The deeper the river cuts into its original bed the narrower it becomes, forming several terraces over time.

The ‘cement’ in the conglomerate, i.e. the lime, is dissolved again by rain. This results in rivulets and streams which gradually cut into the terraces as if they were a cake. Erosion continues to gnaw on the edges of these pieces of cake, causing them to shrink and the gaps between them to widen as time passes. Vingerklip is the remainder of one such piece of cake, albeit not the only one: from its base another two, larger terrace islands can be seen in the Ugab Valley.

Furthermore, three different terraces can be distinguished. There is the ‘old’ main terrace, the plateau of which now rises some 160 m above the current riverbed, while the surface of a younger terrace lies about 100 m and that of the youngest one some 30 m above the Ugab.

Since this area does not experience much rain, chances are that Vingerklip will remain for years to come. It sits on a sound wide base with a circumference of 44 metres – in contrast to the Finger of God in southern Namibia, which collapsed in December 1988.

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Donkey carts: The 4x4s of rural Namibia

Although you may think that mini-bus taxis, buses and bakkies are the modern means of transport in an ever-expanding Africa, on the dusty roads of the Namibian interior, far from crowded cities and the hustle and bustle of the 21st century, it is also the donkey cart that is one of the quintessential Namibian forms of transport.

A donkey cart on a dusty Namibian gravel road.

A donkey cart on a dusty Namibian gravel road.

The many gravel roads that bisect rural Namibia are arteries in the vast country, ideal for this transport of old that has survived the centuries, providing a vital form of affordable non-motorised transportation for local inhabitants and for carrying essentials such as firewood and water. Donkey carts convey people from village to village, to wells and clinics, and transport children to school. They are a common sight in the communal areas from southern to northern and eastern to western Namibia as they wind their way to their destinations at a pace appropriate for rural Africa. The two-wheeled ‘4x4s’ of the Namibian countryside are often emblazoned with car names like ‘Toyota’, ‘Ford’, ‘Opel’ and even ‘Mercedes Benz’ and are led by teams of up to five donkeys. Humorous inscriptions such as ‘Take me home’, ‘Lady man’, ‘Barjero – It’s a lifestyle’ and ‘The king of the road’ are often also added.

With these donkey carts poor Afrikaner farmers from South Africa trekked northwards over the Gariep (Orange) river in the 1920es in search for a better life.

The donkey descended from the African wild ass and was domesticated about five thousand years ago in Egypt or Mesopotamia. From there, it spread around the world to be used for transport and as a pack and draft animal. Donkeys, like horses, are not indigenous to southern Africa but were imported into South Africa at the time of the first Dutch settlers in the mid-1600s when the Cape of Good Hope became a re-provisioning station for the ships rounding the tip of Africa on their journeys to the East. The hardy Equids were introduced as pack and draft animals and to breed mules (a hybrid bred from a female horse and male donkey), which were more in demand for their superior strength, stronger hooves and surefootedness. The first shipment of mules and donkeys is reported to have arrived at the Cape in 1656. Donkeys were introduced into what is referred to as southern Namibia today in small numbers as settlers began to cross over the Orange/Gariep River from the latter part of the 18th century. Later on, towards the end of the 19th century, German settlers brought in donkeys to breed mules for use in the diamond fields and for military purposes. In the depression years following World War I, there was an influx of Afrikaner farmers travelling north from South Africa in two- or four-wheeled wooden donkey carts, replacing the ox-wagon as a means of transport. In later years as cars gained popularity, the majority of donkey carts were made using remnants of old cars. The carts were made using the ‘bak’ or rear part of the car, rear axles and tyres. From the 1920s until the 1950s donkey carts were the main form of transport on the farms. When the karakul market started to peak in the 1940s, many farmers were able to purchase their first cars. Donkey carts were passed on to the workers and made their way into the communal areas. By the mid-20th century the donkey cart had become a popular form of transport.

Paulus is fetching his employer’s children from school with a donkey cart.

With the continual rise in petrol prices and the high cost of motor vehicles, people are depending more and more on donkey carts for transport. They have become part of the lifestyle and culture of rural Namibia. These valuable carts are the Chevrolets and Subarus of the countryside, often even proudly bearing number plates. The donkeys are also given amusing names. Originally custom-made, donkey carts are now innovative modes of transport constructed with recycled parts from the scrapyard. These include the tyres, and the donkey cart occupants may be required to wait while the donkey cart stops every few kilometres for the owner to jump out and pump the tyres.

A typical donkey cart of the 21st century with humorous inscription.

While the inhabitants of the north-central regions of Namibia have mostly used donkeys to plough their fields or to transport large water containers and the Himbas have used donkeys as pack animals, the Namas and Damaras of southern and western Namibia have wholeheartedly embraced the donkey cart culture.

An intriguing attraction for tourists, the donkey cart is part of the Namibian journey. You know you’re in Namibia when you see your first donkey cart hurtling along the auxiliary roads, disappearing between the long bleached grass into the distance or when you explore the hinterland. Just when you begin to think you are the only person for miles around, a donkey cart will appear on the horizon. These are the times to slow down, not to envelop its occupants in clouds of dust, wave and become acquainted with the colourful people of Namibia. Guaranteed they will be waving and smiling back, and will always have time for small talk.

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