Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Sand dune

My little family is on the verge of great changes, enduring the waiting period before another adventure, a life in New York City. This July we've been enjoying the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables, but without a real kitchen to call my own (all of our belongings are in storage before we get to New York) food blogging is regrettably on hold. While waiting out the transition, I'm taking stock of a few legendary trips we've taken. It's always good to stop and pause before taking another leap.

Tracks in sand

The Skeleton Coast lies on the Northwest corner of Namibia, Africa and gets only about 100 visitors a year. A few years ago, we were among those few and we knew that it was the trip of a lifetime. We embarked on a fly-in safari from the capital, Windhoek on a 2 passenger plane and landed on a strip of sand where we were met by a 4x4 that took us to our first camp.

Tent at Camp, Skeleton Coast

Landscape, Skeleton Coast

There was something powerful about being in such a remote place surrounded by natural beauty unlike any we had ever seen. Virtually alone, with just a few guides and two other couples, we all set out each morning to experience this rugged and breathtaking land. The Skeleton Coast is a 500 km stretch along the coastline of Namibia, which got its name from the scores of shipwrecks that took place there. Whale bones and wood from the wrecks are still part of the scenery on the shores. These bones and debris are actually protected as part of the National Park, and interestingly enough, Namibia was the first country to write Nature Conservation into their constitution.

Bottle, Skeleton Coast

Whale skeleton

Salt Brine, Skeleton Coast

My mind goes back to Namibia when we're driving the super highways around the DC metropolitan area, past strip malls and giant suburban sprawl. It's almost unfathomable that two such shockingly different places can exist on the same planet. Namibia's mega dunes, salt-brines and grand mountains are vast and practically untouched by man. The sands are gem-laced and life is everywhere, from the tiniest lichen to the huge seal colonies, endless varieties of birds, reptiles, and the elegant oryx thumping across the plains.

IMG_0384

Bushman's bottom

Oryx

We visited a small community of Himba, an ethnic group of 20,000-50,000 nomadic and pastoral people living in Northern Namibia. I think of the Himba women often. These families in their simplicity and togetherness are a true community in every sense of the word, one that I do not belong to, nor could I seek to recreate in this modern world of mine. But I look to their example in keeping Roman close to me just as they raise their children. I feel lucky to have witnessed even a brief moment of their lives for their impact on me was profound.

Himba baby

Himba people

Our last night back at Camp before leaving the Coast, we were treated to a Namibian style "braai" (grill) complete with local meats, the spring bok and oryx, as well as bread baked on the grill. We sat down to eat feeling wistful as the staff spoke the names of the foods in each of their African languages. The clicks and singsong quality of their voices rose up into the black sky that hung low like an onyx curtain, thick with stars. We ate the meal humbled by all that we had seen, savoring the flavors of the braai and trying to imprint those memories deep into our minds so that wherever we go, we carry them still.

Braai

Footprints

Kelby's lizard

Notes:
The Himba people are featured in this documentary.
Our trip was planned through the ecotourism company Wilderness Safaris.

18 comments:

  1. What a beautiful and haunting landscape! I can imagine this being the trip of a lifetime!!

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  2. Nicole

    This was a fasinating read and your photos are a wonderful way to convey the magic of this place; I have never been to Africa, but somehow, your reflections reminded me of a trip I took in the seventies into an area of Iraq known then as the Marsh Lands. People there lived on water away from modern civilization and where so warm and welcoming. I posted about it a year ago (a post on Batata sharp, the Iraqi dish); sadly the area was destroyed and these folks decimated a few years later. I sure hope Namibia stays untouched and the tribes there unharmed.

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  3. What an experience Nicole. I dream of such a trip. You are so lucky to have witnessed the everyday life of nomadic people and to have sat among them and shared a meal.
    Beautiful photographs.
    Magda

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  4. What a beautiful post and photos - how lucky you are for this experience. Thanks for sharing

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  5. Hi Magda, We didn't actually eat that meal with the Himba, it was back at the camp before we left. I'll have to make an edit! sorry!!

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  6. Another incredible adventure you took us on, so beautifully described. It is places like that that make us feel how tiny we are in the face of nature (astonishingly beautiful nature, may I add). It is humbling, a good lesson for those of us born into lands of highways and malls.

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  7. a breath-taking journey, and life-changing, no doubt. When we visited the Hamar people of the Omo Valley in southern Ethiopia, (also pastoralists) it was an experience beyond measure. To be so removed from Western/industrial ways, and connect with people at the most primal level is profound. In a way, it is the most important, because every familiarity and comfort of our culture is stripped away. What remains is who we truly are as human beings, living together on this planet.

    my daughter has traveled to Namibia. She works in public health for US/AID and has been involved in maternal and infant health projects. I shall direct her to your compelling post.

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  8. I've never seen a landscape and people so different from anything I've ever experienced. What an amazing and memorable journey.

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  9. Nancy, your daughter's work sounds both important and fascinating!

    Denise, sometimes I still have to pinch myself that we actually went there. Not sure how I got so lucky.

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  10. Hi there, thanks for stopping by my blog, and best of luck with the cake!


    These photos are breathtakingly beautiful - what an incredible landscape!

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  11. Oh, the adventures you have had!

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  12. Hai Dear

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  13. AMAZING!!!!! You have seen things that so many people never will in a lifetime! Something to treasure! Beautiful as always!!!!

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  14. How beautiful. I've spent lots of time in North Africa and a few weeks in Kenya/Tanzania, but I want to go back and see some of the regions that I missed. Namibia looks so starkly beautiful (and probably with more similarities to NYC than many people would think about).

    I'm sorry you're without your "stuff" as you get ready to move - it can be hard to get ready when everything's in storage.

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  15. Hi
    I love your blog, the pictures are so beautiful. I am a proud Namibian, I was born in the city, I still did not get a chance to visit this beautiful part of my country, I am happy to hear about your amazing experience, Do come back to Namibia....

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  16. These pictures are extraordinary! What a remarkable experience.

    May your preparations and new adventures begin with peace and wonder.

    xo,
    Molly

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  17. This seems so incredibly surreal, un-earthly almost. I am impressed by the lunar landscape, the beautiful people, the ferociousness of Nature, and the way you saw it through your eyes. Magical, unique, like a dream...

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