The Namibian Desert

June 2, 2016

Oh Namibia, I am having the most difficult time writing about you.  When we were traversing your surface almost 3 months ago, I wanted to jump on couches like Tom Cruise, shouting out exclamations of my new and profound love for you.  I was anxious to spread the word about your under appreciated beauty. Our short affair was intense and deeply moving, and now there is nothing but distance and the absence of your tangible warmth.  I still want to express the depth of how you touched me, but my voice has left me with whispers only.  It seems like an insurmountable task to honor your memory as you deserve…

Our first night was spent in the canyons of Ai-Ais, a hot spring resort and campsite, located near Fish River Canyon, the largest canyon in Africa, second in the world. After a warm swim in a thermal pool and an outdoor meal wedged between quiet desert rocks, I had a moment to reflect:

It was after sunset. I took my first solo stroll on our first day in Namibia around our almost empty campsite. Quiet, except for the buzzing of insects (or was that the sounds of electricity in the rare street lamp?), and the distant voices of g & d. I could still see the outlines of the surrounding mountains, and goosebumps began to rise, as I acknowledged where I was. Africa. Namibia. A land of vast space, desert winds, hidden danger and hidden grace. The feelings of gratitude and awe overwhelm me. I lose my breath as I feel the deep wonder of our world… I wish I had a complete lifetime to explore.

The next morning we drive to Fish River Canyon, (not nearly as early as I had hoped) in order to capture the shadows and shades of sunrise reflected on its canyon walls.  We prepare hot coffee and porridge on a cliff’s edge, peering at the wonder below.

We have a long drive ahead of us, as we aim to stop for the night at a farmstead midway between here and Sossusvlei.  With no GPS and only simple maps lacking detail, it is difficult to determine how long it will take to travel between places.  This results in wildly underestimating the lengths of our drives.  When asking Namibians how far it is between two destinations, they answer in kilometers, not in time.  Besides not being able to picture this distance in my mind, we have no idea if it is going to be on one of the country’s few paved highways, at 80km an hour, or the worst of a bumpy, gravelly road, which requires a snail’s speed.

For seven hours, we criss-cross our way through endless desert and private ranches, necessitating the opening and shutting of gates.  Just when you think the road has become monotonous, you turn a bend to reveal a completely new moonscape of undulating mountains topped with drizzle castles, or a family of meerkats (a delight!).  The sun begins its descent, and the ochre sands start to blaze a brick-red.  Our panic starts to rise as we fear we will not find our accommodation before darkness falls. With the hourglass near empty, we spot the entrance to our destination, Ranch Koiimasis, and finally arrive at the most stunning campsite we have yet to stay in.  We are on the lands of an old ostrich farm, turned horse ranch and guest house, run by an Afrikaans family. Another stunning night and morning pass.

Day 3 and we cannot take the time to enjoy our environment as much as we would like to, fearing a repeat of yesterday’s epic drive. So begins another journey through the Namib desert lands, devoid of other cars, except perhaps the rusted carcasses of those vehicles abandoned in the sand.  We arrive at a gas station/campsite at the border of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, where we set up camp with other travelers in a horseshoe ring around a pool.  The desert is fiercely hot by day, and bone-chilling at night.  The stars shine like pinpricks of light piercing through black velvet. I am most anxious for our next day, when we will wake before the sun does to enter the park at 6 AM.

The Namib desert lives up to my dreams and expectations, with towering sand dunes and desiccated skeletal forests of trunks and branches.  Specifically, Sossusvlei’s salt and clay pans and surrounding iron-oxidized, red dunes make up one of the most amazing desert places I have ever been too.  Cream, rust and cobalt color-block every vista. We climb the wavy ridge of a dune, two steps up, slipping one step down, to eventually summit a massive mountain of sand. Once our breathing is back to normal, and we have meditated long enough on our 360 degree view, we race down the steep side with sand flying and spraying our toothy smiles. In order to further explore the park’s depths, Dan lets out most of the air in our truck’s tires, and drives a fish-tailing route through deep sand.  In the oppressive midday heat, we find shade under living acacia trees, where we lunch and study the birds.  Our skin is covered with long pants and sleeves, and heads wrapped in Sahara-style scarfs.  The kids are wilting, but this desert Mama is alive and blossoming.  I feel nothing but magic as I explore Deadvlei, introducing myself to the spirits of each black and barren sculptural tree.

Later in the afternoon, and despite the oppressive and debilitating heat, we couldn’t drag ourselves away from the desert.  We were told of a mini-canyon that might provide some shade, so we mustered up the will to attempt one last hike:

Namibia – the land that took a beating when the earth shifted (mountains and rocks everywhere).
Namibia – a geologists wet dream.
Namibia – the land of my favorite color pallette.



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  • Reply Pablo Campos June 2, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Red ochre everywhere, and sand, what an inmense amount of sand!…Which reminds me that, according to Steven Hawkins, all the grains of sand on this planet do not ammount to the numbers of stars in the universe, a fact that makes your brain numb, so incomprehensible it is.
    It also reminds me of you Sarah, when barely a toddler not two years old yet, how you would go by yourself ahead of us, hobbling like a duck, to discover what was in front of you, not caring one bit for your anxious parents behind. Discovery was your thing, exploring, endlessly curious. How it continues without abating today, and perhaps tomorrow. Yeah, you are and always will be a nomad. I hope you get to see every nook and cranny in this world.
    With much love, Dad.

  • Reply Laurie June 2, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Incredible pictures of a breathtaking land! (If that was a grasshopper in that one picture, it sure was big!!!) When you talk about how hot it is, I wonder how you are able to continue on. I am so impressed with the 4 of you. The determination to see every possible thing you can, despite any fear you have. Dan, Sarah, Stella, and Gabriel, I love you all so very much. I pray for your continued safe travel!

  • Reply Mike Young June 2, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    I remember playing in the sand dunes of Spokane as a boy. What fun. But I can’t imagine living in the desert.

  • Reply Lisa June 3, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    I have always been jealous of the Peace Corps volunteers of Namibia for all of the reasons you mention above and the photos. I’m so glad you enjoyed your time there. The sun flare photos were my fave. xoxo

  • Reply julie j June 6, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    beautifully written & gorgeous pictures. thanks!

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