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Tony Park encountered members of the Himba tribe on a rafting adventure along the Kunene River. Here, he reflects on these people’s way of life, survival skills, beliefs and how they are coping in a modern world
WALKING THE DUNES: Himba women on the banks of the Kunene River
A Himba woman milks the clan’s cows in Namibia’s Kunene Region

Water. You don’t know how much you’ll miss it until you’ve spent a week in the deserts of north-western Namibia. The Kunene may not be Africa’s biggest waterway, but by the time we reach it, this blue border between Namibia and Angola is like a giff from the gods. Kunene River Lodge is an oasis of palm-shaded campsites, green lawns and high-pressure showers, but the river and Epupa Falls, whose tumbling roar is like music to our sand-clogged ears, is also a life-giving artery for the semi-nomadic Himba people.

My first up-close encounter with the Himba was in a supermarket in the regional town of Opuwo. A mother was walking down the aisle, a toddler in tow, pushing a trolley and talking to a friend on a cell phone. She was topless, wearing a skirt made of cow skins and sandals cut from old car tyres. Her elaborate headdress was shaped to resemble a cow’s horns and her skin, head to toe, was covered in a rich, red paste. The paste, otjize, is made from red ochre, butter and the fragrant resin of the omuzumba bush, and serves as a skin lotion and protection against the sun.

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About Travel Africa

Life as a chimp - everything you need to know about this great ape • Kafue National Park's natural attraction • Driving around Zimbabwe • The Waterberg and Madikwe, South Africa • Tarangire on foot • Stunning leopard portfolio • Learning to guide in the Mara • Taking tea in Malawi • The Himba today... and much more!