Some time ago, my trip to Namibia was featured on a Canadian Travel Blog: 1Life196Countries. Kelly Little, travel author, mom extraordinaire, and anthropology graduate, asked me to write a piece on Namibia. I asked what she was looking for specifically and she said her readers would “really love to read about the socio-cultural aspects and any interesting happenings or off the beaten path places you discovered.” This is what I wrote:
“The earth is not ours, it is a treasure we hold in trust for future generations.” This was a quote shared with me, courtesy of my Ju’hoansi guide, a man who took myself and a group of overlanders on a tour of his backyard, the Namib Desert. In that quiet moment of reflection, I looked around me, in awe of the red earth that lay beneath my feet, I closed my eyes, and filled my lungs with the dry Namibian air. This would be one of many poignant African moments to come, and I asked myself, was my heart ready for it? Ready or not, I was here. A wide-eyed Canadian, from the rugged West Coast, here to experience everything this vast continent was about to show me. This is Africa.
I was northbound on an overland tour, traveling up from Cape Town. Our truck rumbled across the Namibian border and eventually came to a stop at Fish River Canyon. So this was Namibia. What an introduction. I jumped out of the truck, and without hesitation, traipsed right up to the canyon edge, and kicked a rock down into the rocky abyss. As I looked up, the late afternoon sun was blasting the canyon rock with a few last bursts of warmth, and as I watched my fellow overlanders walk along its edge, snapping photos furiously, I couldn’t help but feel wonderfully insignificant. Namibia has that effect on you. It’s beauty is eerie, vast and everything about it makes you feel small. I loved that. After spending the night in the towering shadows of Spitzkoppe, we had an early start the next morning. Next stop: The Namib Desert.
To appreciate this beautiful country, one must understand that Namibia is a nation of extremes. It’s home to the oldest desert in the world, it’s one of the least densely populated and unfortunately, it’s also one of the poorest nations in the world. But in the desert, money makes little difference out here, because as any visitor to this part of the world can attest to, we’re at the mercy of the dunes and her loyal subjects. If the scorpions, Red Adders or the Cartwheeling Spiders (yes, as if having eight hairy legs and being ivory white wasn’t enough of a horror show) don’t get you, the unforgiving climate will. Our inadequacy was made very apparent when our guide, a proud bushman, shared with us the rich oral tradition of his culture. Stories that traversed millennia, passed down from fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, all invaluable teachings about how to survive in the desert. I stood there entranced, his voice a labyrinth of words, clicks, tones and delightfully unfamiliar sounds. He regaled hunting tales of old, and tried his very best to convince us that sleeping in scorpion filled sand dunes was perfectly safe! I strayed from the group and chatted with him about his family, village life, his perspectives on conservation in Namibia and in those few hours, Dead Vlei transformed from an ancient white clay pan to the greatest classroom anywhere in the world.
After wandering around 900 year old Acacia trees, it was time for our ascent up Dune 45, the most photographed sand dune in the world. I stood at the bottom, feeling that delicious insignificance again, butterflies in my belly. There’s something special about 5 million year old sands accumulating in the sole of your shoe. See what I mean? Insignificance.
Our time on the dune was brief but sweet. We had enough just enough time to crack open a few Windhoek Lights, give a celebratory toast, and race back down before the park closed its gates for the night. Sunsets in Africa are quick, but always spectacular, and incomparable to anywhere else on earth. It’s not just merely the breathtaking inferno that lights up the inky sky, but marry that with the hush that befalls the earth below, and it’s easy to be rendered speechless.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks, my journey took me out of desolation, into to ‘civilization’ and thankfully, back to the desert again. A three day stopover in Swakopmund left me with the sober reminder of Africa’s troubled colonial past. I can’t lie and say I didn’t partake in a number of the adventure activities offered here, but I remember finding it difficult to juxtapose rural Namibian village life with the comings and goings of European Namibians and those who lived on the periphery in sprawling shanty towns.
At one point we come across a small group of Himba Women who had set up shop in a dusty parking lot. I sat with them for a moment as they sold their wares, beautiful handmade jewelry. Their earthen toned skin, and mudded hair gleaming in the sunlight, I felt conflicted about taking their photo. But they were seasoned vets, and I was the rookie. They’d done this before. They smiled graciously and and nodded, and in return, I purchased some jewelry. There really is no currency for ‘pinch me’ moments like this.
It’s impossible to summarize a trip to Namibia without feeling like you’ve left out something essential. If it weren’t for the Namibian people, gracious, graceful, light-hearted yet soulful, my experience wouldn’t have been as rich without their stories intricately woven into the fabric of my trip, and the warmth of their smiles have left me imprinted. The spectacular desert-scapes that fell before my camera beckon me to return, and for those who’ve yet to step foot in Namibia, I can only say this: This is Africa.