I’m not sure how many synonyms exist for the word ‘vastness’, but all of those combined would not be adequate enough to describe Namibia.
Inevitably, after a long enough while of being here, a wildness creeps into you and changes you. It’s impossible to know when or where it will happen. It could be in the shadow of the massive Spitzkoppe mountain peaks. Or, while roaming around in the ghostly silence of Sossusvlei’s ancient dunes. As a physical part of a continent it is an ageless land occupied since early times by indigenous peoples. With its hot, sandy western side up against the cold Atlantic, South Africa borders the south, with Angola to the North and Botswana to the east. The Caprivi Strip reaches across the Okavango like a lonely eastward limb, and provides access to the Zambezi river in Zambia. The Caprivi is a product of the last days for the ‘Scramble of Africa’, when Britain chopped a piece off Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and gave it to Germany in exchange for Zanzibar.
Outside of Time:
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Namibia. It has a special place in my heart and I truly love it. Its recorded history began about five centuries ago, when two crosses were planted on the desolate, arid coast of a great nameless space. It has something to do with the savage, raw and parched beauty. Maybe also the desolation that characterises the place. Few other countries on earth are known for the immense and diverse amount of nothingness it contains. Its main attraction is its absence of distractions.
It has one of the lowest population densities in the world, yet those who live there are diverse and heterogenous. Depending on where you find yourself, you can truly feel as if time never moved forward. The landscape of Deadvlei near Sossusvlei has been the same for hundreds of years. It’s a strange feeling to stand amidst a forest of petrified trees, and know that they have stood in a landscape that otherwise is completely inhospitable.
After a while it strikes you how many points of interest focus around the absence of life, rather than the presence of it.
These trees patiently stood enduring the sun while the face of the earth was transformed elsewhere. They have been here longer than most European cities. Here, surrounded by ancient red dunes, it’s easy to feel like you find yourself in a weird vortex where there is no passage of time.
Respect the Elements:
Enormous climatic changes through many millions of years have left intriguing traces throughout the country. The cruel coastal winds were grinding seas-shells on a surface of rock, consequently forming moving towers of sand. In some places, both time and the elements slowly but surely defeated human endeavours, and they are now known for the aftermaths of that fatal encounter. An example of this is the scattered shipwrecks along the aptly named Skeleton Coast. Through the centuries many ships crashed on the coast due to treacherous gale force winds, and their shipwrecked skeletons populate the desolate stretch of beach. It’s quite eerie – and after a while it strikes you how many points of interest focus around the absence of life, rather than the presence of it.
Another prime example of the power of the elements can be found in the former town of Kolmanskop, a place slowly being consumed by rising sands. Once a prosperous mining town, it became depopulated when the riches of diamonds ran out and the rush was over. Today it is a known as a ghost town, abandoned, and haunted. Walking through it, I could not help but think about the dependence of civilisation on finite resources and how the past sometimes acts as an echo of the future.
The Weird Welwitschia:
A truly unique thing to encounter is the weird plant known as Welwitschia Mirabilis. it survives by sending down its main root deep into the sand-surface of the Namib’s arid valleys to cling to life tenaciously for up to two thousand years, if not more. The ages have no meaning for Welwitschia Mirabilis. It is one of the largest, weirdest and oldest plants known to botanists. It is also possibly the plant with the longest life. Once a century a single pair of leaves curls into the open. The Welwitschia flourishes in places most other living things would find inhospitable. They only occur in the North of Namibia and the South of Angola. They are an ancient miracle.
The Most Amazing Night Sky in the World:
Every night, we sit in awe of the night sky and witness one shooting star after the other. I am convinced that the brightest stars in the world can be seen in the desert plains of Namibia. Human settlement is few and far between, so the night sky does not suffer the dimness caused by light pollution.
In the distant past a celestial body of an estimated 65 000 tons came roaring through the heavens from outer space to settle on the earth’s surface. It can be seen near Grootfontein today. About 120km from the earth a meteorite becomes luminous. It soon reaches white heat, and scorches the starry sky with its sparks, leaving a flame-red trail. Then it disappears. It is the largest meteorite ever discovered anywhere in the world.
As my time in this amazing country comes to an end I am a little bit saddened. I lay on the floor of my open tent and contemplate the stars, and my time here. It is difficult to put into words, but the place really does have a way of creeping into your skin. I say a slow farewell. I will miss these days spent in awe of majestic panoramas of wild desolation. How strange that anyone could ever take this openness, and nothingness, and silence for granted.