In Namibia’s most northern part, right by the river which serves as the border with Angola, lies Serra Cafema Lodge, one of Wilderness Safaris most remote locations.
Serra Cafema is set in a concession that is not accessible to anybody else but the lodge’s 16 guests and its staff. The definition of solitude and inaccessibility has a whole new meaning here. It takes the lodge between two and three days to receive supplies by road from the capital Windhoek. That means that everything which is not fresh comes in a convoy of all wheel drive cars that makes the journey every couple of weeks. Fresh food comes in the company’s light aircrafts that connect the various lodges Wilderness Safaris manages in Namibia. They have the concession in various parts of the country and run the most luxurious and exclusive lodges available in an already premium African safari destination.
Serra Cafema is, for most tourists, the last stop in their Namibian adventure because of how Wilderness Air, the flight company that brings guests between lodges, organizes their flights based on two hubs, one in Windhoek and another one in Doro Nawas, in the top half part of the country. Guests fly from Sossusvlei lodges to Doro Nawas which is the connecting hub to the Rhino and Damaraland lodges as well as Serra Cafema and Hoanib. The journey from Sossusvlei to Serra Cafema involves almost an entire day of flying and up to 4 connecting Cessna planes hopping around the country. From Serra Cafema the journey back to Windhoek is only marginally faster with one stop less.
Landing at Serra Cafema’s strip, about an hour’s drive from the lodge, is an experience in itself. After the dryness and absolutely desolation of the southern territories, with deserts that expand several dozen kilometers and rocky outcrops without any signs of water, the landscapes become slightly greener the further north one travels. As we land in the strip, out guide is already waiting for us with snacks, sausages, samosas and a glass of champagne to celebrate our arrival. The drive to the lodge, even after 9 days of seeing those magnificent and dramatic landscapes, managed to impress me yet again.
The road winds through more dunes and flat plains then ascends to mountains, roars down through steep dunes and passes along the side of cliffs and escarpments made of volcanic rocks. As we finally see the lodge, down by the river, the image is mesmerizing, not least because we are looking at a permanent flowing river, for the first time in nine days. The lodge appears like an oasis.
Finally at the lodge I couldn’t help but be drawn towards the water that we so hard have missed till that moment.
Serra Cafema sits along the river and each of the villas have a balcony sitting over the water. The rooms are large with three separate areas and a very big outdoor terrace. The entire river facing wall is made of glass for complete views. A four poster bed sits in the middle of the room with a living room area to the right and a bathroom to the left.
The bathroom has an indoor and an outdoor shower and all the sinks and appliques are made of shinny cooper. The villas are designed to blend in with the surrounding and even the colors are earthy and come in the same green, orange and brown of the sand-dragging river.
It is refreshing to hear the violence of the water rapids a few meters down from the room. At night, the sky lit with a million stars.
We were advised not to send any light colored clothes for laundry as the lodge struggles to have clean clear water given the proximity to the river and the limitations of such an incredibly remote location. Even the shower water wasn’t fully transparent. The electricity went occasionally off and was entirely provided by the generators and solar power. Internet was only available through the lodge’s shared computer and was dial up speed at best. We were isolated and disconnected, much like at every other lodge and camp in Namibia we had stayed at, regardless of the price. These small nuisances were something we had come used to through the trip. Despite we were staying at the most expensive lodges, usually well above the $1,000 nightly rate, the reality was that there was no way of providing urban luxury in the bush. And we were fine with it. In fact, I adored the fact that we were staying in the highest possible comfort but were made acutely aware of the limitations of staying in the middle of nowhere. This was the Africa I had fallen in love with almost ten years prior. Despite the development, much of this had not changed.
Wilderness Safaris has managed to maintain full occupancy despite the fabulously expensive rates, by controlling demand. This was also a decision to do with conservation. All of its lodges and camps in Namibia had 8 rooms, one of which was designed for families with two adjacent rooms.
Although Himbas can be met in Opuwo, which is accessible by road after a few days driving, and where the Himba have been integrating into urban life to a degree, the Himba near Serra Cafema still live how they used to. The lodge has a good relationship with two tribes that are currently located near the lodge and who welcome visitors for an evening of conversation.
Not a lot of known about the Himba, despite accounting for 50,000 today, and lots of misconceptions exist about the way they dress and why. If you want to read more about it I have an article about out evenings with them and a video of our conversations. Suffices to say that we simply had an exchange of ideas, a conversation, and that it was in now way a touristy thing, an abuse or a case of civilized white men staring down at some African tribes. It was a simple exchange of ideas and conversation between human beings. We sat down with them and asked questions as much as they asked us questions about our lives and traditions. Meeting the Himba was the reason I wanted to travel to the end of the world.
Serra Cafema also offers game drives, though wildlife is scarce, and ATV rides along the desert, which were fun if quite an adventurous experience given the terrain is rough, sandy and rocky.
Being by the river, some of the game drives happened on a boat rather than on a car. A morning river safari offered a chance to track crocodiles. The resort used to offer crocodile hunting expedition as well but has recently stopped. The hottest hours of the day can be spent by the small pool or sitting by the verandah with a book.
There are enough activities to keep one busy for three nights including two trips to see the Himba.
For such an isolated part of the world I was surprised at the variety and imagination of the chef. We had heavily meat-based food with some fish thrown in. This was the only place where we ate fish in the entire 11 day journey. We had vegetables, fruit and proper desert and although it was not terribly sophisticated it was tasty and appetizing. Drinks were always on offer at sundown or after dinner, though we had early mornings and early nights every day, and wines were appropriate with an adequate selection.
All drinks were served with a selection of snacks including dried meats, sausages, crackers and olives that went well with the setting.
Breakfast included a selection of hot dishes, including pancakes, on order plus fresh fruits, yogurt, cereals and breads. It was good and greatly enjoyed on the large verandah above the river.
The lodge set up dinner at a different location every night with memorable and romantic candle lit meals under the stars.
Like with all the other Wilderness Safari lodges we stayed at, we were paired with another couple of guests upon our arrival with whom we shared all activities. We therefore had to agree on what to do but given the selection, it was obvious what we could do every day. A guide was assigned to the group, Dawid, who was attentive, knowledgeable and terribly nice. He knew a lot about everything and gave off a sense of peace. We all immediately trusted him. He was a friendly and sturdy voice that could be relied upon. He was also our guide in the visits to the Himba, as he was a Herrero, the tribe from which the Himba descend, and had learned their language in the five years that he had been at the resort for. Having him there made our conversations easy and natural and it made a huge difference to the possibility of simply enjoying a human cultural exchange.
The rest of the staff at the resort was local, from nearby villages and even three Himba were employed in the back of house. They were friendly and smiley. The General Manager was of German descend but had lived in Namibia for a really long time.
This was a true gem of a lodge. The rooms were fantastic and the location stunning but the best part was the feeling of knowing that we were alone in hundreds of kilometers and that, safe for the few Himba people living in the area, their own territory for that matter, we were the only ones seeing those dunes and those mountains every day. It was magical in the way that going to the Moon would be, only that it was just 5 flights away from Europe.