Namibia is not a place to take a vacation. It’s a place to delve into beauty, undoubtedly—an alien beauty arising from dust and sand. It’s a place to have the boundaries of your mind expanded by nature’s lack of boundaries; by the great absence of anything or by the presence of something in the most unlikely location. It’s a place to enjoy the thrill of observing numerous species of wildlife in their intended habitats.
But it’s not a vacation. Namibia makes you work to discover its cache. You’ll have to take the longest, bumpiest, dustiest drives to get anywhere. You’ll have to trek across enormous peaks of sand while the sun shines on you with a vividity you’ve never known, and you’ll have to ration the last hot drops of water in your bottle. Namibia will laugh at your notions of wildlife waiting for you just outside your room. It’ll make you rise while it’s still dark to roam the savanna for the smallest glimpses of the kind of nature documentary scenes you were imagining before you arrived. And along your journey through Namibia, you may discover that it’s a country full of horrific secrets hidden deeper in its recesses than even the most elusive animals. Observing the country with open and honest eyes, you’ll see the lasting effects of apartheid and untold genocide.
You’ll see the natural world in all of its ruggedness and rawness. You’ll watch a cheetah devour an antelope it recently hunted for breakfast with the carcass before her and blood smeared all over her face. Gripped by the brutal honesty of this primal act of survival, your eyes will stay fixed on this sight. And in watching it comes a deep sense that you are not just observing the circle of life, but you are a part of it in a way you’ve never felt before, like you are summoning a wild and intrinsic part of yourself that lays dormant in the modern world.
The 2000+ miles you’ll travel in barren Namibia will leave you feeling like the speck on the Earth that you are. The large 4×4 and safari trucks that you’ll ride around the country in seem designed for conquering, but they only allow you to roll over the surface. The untamed landscape of Namibia is not to be conquered, it consumes. The sand, the emptiness, and the endless desert will swallow you up, pull you closer to the Earth, and embed the Earth more deeply in your soul.
Your time in Namibia is coming to an end. The year is coming to an end. So when you’re offered a glass of champagne as you head into a New Year’s Eve dinner in the capital city of Windhoek, you take it and raise it to two weeks of exploring one of the most fascinating places on the planet. You take a sip to commemorate a year brimming with meaningful travel experiences around the world.
In the dining room, you find the mother of all buffets. After having gotten used to a choice of beef or eland for dinner and day after day of pretty much the same food, you now have options for days and you’re not sure where to begin. A cook wants to know if you’d like some oysters. Yes, you would.
As you eat, the table fills up with a unique cast of characters from Angola, from Portugal, from South Africa. Most have an unusual story about how they ended up at this table on this day.
After perhaps a little too much seafood and wine, you take a quick break from the festivities. Then you head up to the roof for one last indulgence, fireworks and power pop music. The winds pick up right before 12am as if to signify that change is imminent. And then the fireworks explode after you countdown to midnight and everyone sings along to the DJ’s pop tunes, boisterously off-key, giddy with New Year glee.
(2012 New Year’s Fireworks in Namibia)
We signed up for a sundowner excursion through the Kunene region because it was our last chance to search for elephants on this trip. We never saw any, but as we drove through the veld, ruggedly beautiful views were plentiful:
Our vehicle for the drive.
Namibia’s fairy circles, mysterious bare patches spread throughout the desert grasslands. Scientists have yet to figure out what causes these spots.
The bumpy road less traveled.
A whole family of ostriches.
A sheep stampede.
We came across this village far away from any official road access. Our guide explained that these huts are incredibly well suited to stand up to the elements. When a huge storm came through the area, these huts remained while the one modern building here was destroyed.
Columnar basalt is a common sight in the Twyfelfontein area. The cactus-like plant growing from the rocks is a poisonous plant called Euphorbia virosa or Gifboom, which means “poison tree” in Afrikaans.
Petrified wood is also common in this area.
We had a “sundowner” drink of pink champagne to celebrate the sunset before heading back to the lodge.