In 2012, I billeted a teacher named Richard from South Africa, who was in my town for a Theatre Festival. Richard holds many titles in my mind; along with being the most fascinating man I’ve ever met, he is also the one who introduced me to Namibia.
He showed me photos into the wee hours of the morning and I was so gobsmacked by what I was seeing that I made a pact with myself then and there to somehow, someday, find my way to Namibia.
Six years later, I was on an Intrepid overland truck pointing in the direction of Namibia on my Cape Town to Zanzibar trip.
Namibia is awesome, in the true sense of the word. I’m a landscape girl and the country did not disappoint.
Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world is in Namibia…in the middle of nowhere! After a night in Hobas Camp, we rumbled along until we got to the edge of an enormous, gaping, 100-mile-long hole in the Earth. We went on a wee hike up to a lookout that was perfect for sunset, but it was hard to keep walking when the view was so stunning.
Every day in Namibia was like this. Stumbling on rocks and tripping on my own feet as I was gazing at some natural wonder that I couldn’t look away from. As we travelled across Namibia, shrubby plains turned into crumbly hills, and mountains led us down into red-walled valleys. Castle-like rim-topped mountains led to open horizons with peaky mountains half buried by sand dunes in the distance. I had never seen massive mountains of red sand spike the dawn sky like meringues.
One very cold morning, I was silently climbing the much-loved Dune 45 outside of Sossusvlei. It was like climbing a vertical beach, one step forward, two steps back. I sat on the ridge of the dune with the steep edge dropping off below my feet and ran my hand through the sand. It felt like velvet. Five-million-year-old velvet. The sun rose and cast a rosy glow across the desert and lit my face. Everything looked ancient and surreal.
I had sand in every crevice of my body and finally gave up wearing shoes. The sand was cool in the morning, having not yet soaked up the heat of the day. As the day wore on, the heat became unrelenting, especially walking into Deadvlei. This white clay pan is peppered with the remnants of camelthorn trees that have since scorched in the sun. The trees do not decompose because there isn’t enough moisture to rot them. The whole place looks like a witch has cast a hex over the place and left it as it was, 600 years ago, frozen in time.
I travelled across Africa for 6 weeks. Most of the moments that I considered highlights occurred in Namibia. Top of the list were bush camps. I totally get how people can have a love-hate relationship with bush camps. They are not built for comfort but they are a phenomenal way to unplug and interact with nature on her own terms.
We had two bush camp in Namibia. The first had us snug up against the edge of a hill that housed a wee cave with a ‘Fred Flintstone’ table inside. There was just a sliver of a moon that night, but it cast enough light for me to entice a few Intrepid travellers to join me for a ‘no lights wine tour’, which essentially was a moonlit walk with mugs full of wine. We walked along the edge of the hill for some time before we came across a camp! We were all geared up to go introduce ourselves when we realized we had circumnavigated the hill and stumbled across our own camp. So, we tucked ourselves in and discussed all the big ideas in life until the moon set.
My favourite bush camp was in the Spitzkoppe Mountains. The peaky mountains of Spitzkoppe cut a dramatic figure against the horizon as you approach them. We did a desert hike with a guide that took us to see some San Bushmen cave paintings and later climbed up on the rocks to watch the sunset. That night, I decided to sleep on top of the rocks close to our camp. The rocks were grippy and easy to climb and so I grabbed my mat and sleeping bag and went to the top.
I was settling in when I heard, “Where’s Carla?”
I scrambled to the edge and shone my headlamp down, “I’m up here!”
“What are you doing?!”, they chimed.
“I’m sleeping up here!”
And so, I found myself with three others who dared to sleep outside on the rocks. At one point I woke up to see the moon sitting on the pointy peak of the mountain so that it looked like the flame of a candle. As it set, the stars became more intense. I stared up at them, entirely disoriented by their position. The wind rustled my hair, jackals were yipping in the distance, my roomies were softly snoring and I couldn’t think of a more perfect moment. I felt like I was leaving an imprint on the ground that would stay far after I had left.
The most visceral moment of the tour was meeting the San Bushmen. We headed deep in to the bush, where roads don’t go, leaving our truck behind and met with a San guide who spoke English. He translated as our hilarious hosts demonstrated traditional hunting and trapping tricks. The women followed us, speaking the Nama/Damara language with soft clicks.
When I see live theatre, I am rarely watching the lead actors. I like to watch the ones in the background to see what they are doing when they think no one is watching. And so, I watched the women. I was trying to figure out why the scene looked so strange to me. It wasn’t because they were half-naked and sitting in the sand, it was because they were looking at each other in the eye, entirely focused on the person talking.
We don’t do that. We scroll on phones and listen out of one ear. I felt myself mourning the death of human connection. I was looking at another time, before technology stole us away from each other.
Namibia is a mosaic. Dramatic landscapes with nickering zebras and slinky cheetahs strolling by, long dusty roads leading to horizons that only Mother Nature could conceptualize, foggy ocean coast with shipwrecks and seal colonies, German towns with Oryx Schnitzel on the menu or mopani worms if you dare, San Bushmen speaking tribal languages as barefoot children run across thorny bushes without a care.
In Out of Africa, Karen Blixen wrote, “If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me?” This is what I feel when I think of Namibia. I left myself there, on the rocks and in the caves, while standing in the ocean surf and when sifting my toes through the sandy dunes.
There’s an eternal spirit in Namibia, that was there before me and will be there when I’m gone. I can’t nail down the exact moment I fell in love with Namibia, but I know it happened somewhere between a past life I once lived and me 1000 years from now.
Go visit – you’ll find a song of me.
Feeling inspired to visit this magnificent country? Check out Intrepid’s Namibia tours.
(All images courtesy of Carla Powell and taken on Intrepid’s Cape Town to Zanzibar trip.)