“The Land of Wide Open Spaces ” is what they call it, and a very apt name too. This is a land where you can look from horizon to horizon and see no sign of human interference, just pure exhilarating wilderness. This is a land of such stark contrasts that the soul aches with its beauty. This land is rugged, serene, stark, bountiful and above all wide open!
There can be few countries left on earth that allow one to feel so in touch with nature and oneself as Namibia.
Located in south western Africa, Namibia is a large country, one and a half times the size of France and yet with only one tenth of the population of Texas . The people of this country are a fascinating mix, a real melting pot of life, with black Africans, nomadic San Bushmen, German settlers and Afrikaaner “voortrekkers” all thrown in for good measure. Each and every one though a true pioneer, for this really is the last outpost, a land that is not forgiving, where summer temperatures soar and bitter winter nights can freeze the desert landscape. A land whose borders are formed by perennial rivers and yet whose internal waterways are at best ephemeral.
For most international tourists, Windhoek , the country’s capital, would be the point of entry, and here the adventure starts. When the familiar announcement comes over the airwaves “ladies and gentlemen please fasten your seatbelts, we will shortly be landing in Windhoek ” the usual rush of excitement fills the plane as first timers vie for the best views out of the aircraft’s small windows. However, this sense of excitement quickly changes to one of a little concern – Where is Windhoek ? More to the point where is the airport? All one can see is miles and miles of open space, beautiful open space, but open space nonetheless! The plane is getting lower and lower and lower and there is still just a lot of open space, and then there it is, a gleaming runway in the middle of all this open space, and we have touchdown!
After the short journey of around 20 miles from the airport, through a magical landscape of African bushveld, folded mountain structures and the bluest skies imaginable one is greeted by the city of Windhoek . Windhoek is an easy city on the senses. This is Africa for beginners, in fact it is Cities for beginners. This city is home to around 18% of the country’s population, but that only means 300,000 inhabitants. The streets are wide, well maintained and clean and the pace of life is mellow. For a first timer to Africa, Windhoek is a gentle introduction, a place where African craft markets, modern shopping malls and turn of the century German style churches all co-habit peacefully. There are no major attractions in Windhoek, no “must see” monuments or places of outstanding natural beauty, but it is the type of place where one feels at ease, the type of “let’s just stay one more day” kind of place.
However, adventure awaits, and just beyond the city limits is where it starts. Most of the roads leaving Windhoek quickly turn from tar to dirt and within a few short miles the city slicker becomes a pioneer. Namibia is a country that perfectly fits the old adage of “life’s a journey, enjoy the ride”, for here the journey is as important as the destination.
Of the 44,000 km of roads in Namibia , only 7,000 km are tarred. The rest of the roads are made for adventure, roads of gravel, sand and even salt lead one to amazing places with amazing names like Otjiwarongo, Katima Mulilo, Okaukeujo and don’t forget Katopekomungoro. The very names themselves conjure images of adventure and that is exactly what one encounters at every turn while traveling through this beautiful country. The roads lead through unbelievably steep mountain passes, flat baking stone deserts, compacted windswept salt roads, rugged 4×4 terrain through wild animal kingdoms, through the worlds highest dunes and lush green forests, and everywhere one looks there is a beauty that simply assaults the senses.
Along the way rural villages lost in time greet the passing traveler, offering a glimpse of a life long forgotten in the west. A life ruled by the elements, by the turning of the seasons and the favours of the weather gods. Here life is not about the latest and the newest, life is simply about survival. Stop a while, contemplate the scenes, absorb the reality and let it alter the way forward.
There are dunes so high they tower like mountains, ever shifting, ever changing but always impressive. Created by sands of the world’s oldest desert the dunes of Sossusvlei are truly one of nature’s most impressive creations. Towering up to a thousand feet high these dunes are center stage for a twice daily natural light show. As the sun rises and sets, incredible shadows are cast, every second, all around the colours change from beige, to golden, to orange to burning red as the suns rays rise and fall.
As the suns’ rays finally fade the brilliant blue skies turn inky black. Without the slightest traces of human pollution the air is pure and the skies so clear that the milky way sheds a gentle glow over the earth. The Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt, Scorpio, Taurus, Mercury, Mars and Saturn all play out their roles in this most brilliant of night skies.
Beyond the dunes lie more dunes and beyond that more, until they are brutally cut off by the unforgiving waves of the Atlantic Ocean . This area is not for the faint hearted, it is brutal, harsh, unforgiving and spectacular. This coast is littered with shipwrecks, abandoned harbours reclaimed by the dunes, beaches rich in diamonds patrolled by scavenging hyenas and inhabited by vast colonies of seals. In the few calm enclaves along the coast humans have settled creating surreal scenes, with traditional German churches and houses standing guard over the Atlantic waves and towering dunes in the background.
Here the fierce forces of nature have been tamed to amuse and entertain man. Sand boarding and quad-biking through the dunes, canoeing through flocks of flamingos and pelicans on the lagoon, sailing with seals and dolphins around you, harvesting fresh oysters from the rocks, ballooning over the desert, horse riding across the parched landscape the list is endless, this is adventure territory.
Moving inland the scene changes, sands gradually give way to rocky landscapes straight from a Star Wars movie, interspersed with living fossils in the form of 1000 year old welwitschia plants. Rock art capturing the earliest human existence, telling of our early life in a land full of animals, is perfectly preserved in this arid environment along with forests petrified in stone and mountains that appear burnt to the naked eye and rock outcrops that tower over flat plains.
The sand and rocks give way to open savannah grasslands dotted with solitary acacias and patches of mopane. This is big game country teaming with wildlife both in and out of the reserves. Flat open plains stretch as far as the eye can see and all around wild, untamed Africa . In this harsh land, as the end of the dry seasons nears, nature forces one of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth. Herds of game congregate to slake their thirst at waterholes, each species understanding their place in this ancient hierarchy.
Giraffe punctuate the flat horizons, zebras blur the view with black and white stripes moving in every direction, springbok pronk, white tails flashing, oryx with their designer pelts majestically drift in and out of view. In the distance a dust storm rises from the parched plain, the cloud of white dust approaches, growing larger all the time, until at its epicenter appears a herd of elephants making their way determinedly in search of water. From the fragmented shade of an acacia a pride of lion watch the spectacle, too lazy to move in the heat of the afternoon sun, biding time until the cool evening air entices them out to hunt.
As the evening draws in the dust filled skies hold the blood red orb of the sun for a few minutes longer, before finally giving in to the absolute night. Under the cover of darkness this wilderness takes on an entirely new persona as sound replaces vision. The whooping of hyena drown out the sharp cries of the jackals, and a cacophony of noises rise from the earth creating a symphony that reaches deep into our subconscious, memorizing and unnerving at the same time. Suddenly every creature is still, no noise to be heard, danger lurks and then all becomes clear as the deep guttural call of the lion fills the void, the whole night sky seems to reverberate to his call, the king of the beasts has spoken!
Dawn brings with it a new day and a new adventure and a new sense of self. This is a country of discovery both external and internal where you are free in these wide open spaces to just be like never before. Namibia is not a country for everyone, it is a country that challenges every sense, but gives so much in return. Those wishing to visit this beautiful land must do so with an open mind and a sense of adventure in their heart and for those that take the chance the rewards will be great!