There’s a touch of the Wild West about OPUWO, a frontier feel that exists nowhere else in Namibia. During the day, there’s a purposeful bustle of tourists, NGO workers and the occasional film crew passing through on their way to somewhere else – usually Epupa Falls, lesser-explored parts of the Kaokoveld, or a Himba village – pausing only to stock up with supplies. Indeed, the reason most tourists are drawn to Opuwo – though relatively few ever reach this remote region – is in order to interact with and learn about the Himba.

Only officially declared a town in 2000, Opuwo is now the regional capital of Kunene. For many years after independence it was a neglected backwater, in no small part due to the fact that many Himba and Herero – who are related to the Himba and also fairly well represented in the town – were on the wrong side in the independence struggle. Even now, Opuwo’s town centre still consists of little more than a couple of paved roads that converge at a T-junction, a collection of government buildings and ever-expanding, informal Himba settlements. Indeed, when many Himba lost cattle and other livestock in Namibia’s worst drought for thirty years, in 2013, they saw little alternative than to migrate to Opuwo in the hope of some relief. These days, pavements are crammed with Himba camping out, the women surrounded by crawling babies, swigging out of large bottles of Fanta, while the older men sit in deckchairs or on makeshift stools, surveying the scene. Himba from remote villages also periodically come into town, to visit the hospital, stock up at the wholesalers, or to sell crafts to tourists.

There are no tourist sights as such, but pick your way through the rubble and rubbish dumped by the roadside and the thriving shebeens to take a wander round the Himba market behind the main shopping complex, or seek out the newly opened Kunene Conservancy processing plant, Scents of Africa, southwest of the T-junction, which manufactures Himba cosmetics made from traditional ingredients, and can offer guided tours with advance notice.

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