Where Arid Desert Meets Frigid Sea (Part 1)
Story by Fyllis Hockman
Photos by Bruce Genderson
hey say its hard to walk in anothers footsteps, but those
were exactly the instructions we received when trekking along the ridge
of an approximately 350-foot-high sand dune in Namibia. The old mountain-climbing
adage applies here, as well: "The slower you go up the mountain,
the faster you get there."
The country is located on the southwest coast of Africa
and is named after The Namib, a 1200-mile-long stretch of real estate
where scorching desert in stunning contrast overlaps frigid sea, and
water, wind, sand and sun play off each other to create a unique visual
landscape that challenges the most versatile of photographers. The desert,
home to the highest sand dunes in the world, parallels the Skeleton
Coast, so named in honor of the many wrecked ships and sailors
lives lost over centuries. The latter also is home to hundreds of thousands
of seals but despite their close proximity, rarely do the seals climb
Our sunrise ascent of the dunes, rust in color, smooth
in texture, mountainous in size, and other-worldly in nature, was part
of many such excursions on our Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) tour,
where the daily mantra of our guide, Bhavi, focused on learning
and discovery. But more on that later.
First, from the summit we watched the early sunlight
dancing on the dunes to the tune of orange, pink, tan, yellow and gray-colored
notes. Later, flying in a small plane above a wider panorama, the dunes
more resembled frothy peaks of pink meringue covering the countryside,
and the sensuous gradations, indentations and undulations created by
the shadows playing off those soft swirls of desert icing added as much
to this visual feast as has the sweet geology of time.
My fellow travelers on the tour, all OAT veterans and
intrepid adventurers, came to Namibia in part because it was virgin
tourist territory. Mary Jo McDonald of Madison, Wisconsin touted the
trip as Exactly what I expected. It was full of adventure,
exposure to under-developed areas with wildlife different from my other
trips. And she added: I came primarily to see the
dunes and they didnt disappoint. I loved climbing them at sunrise
and seeing them in such terrific light.
The first thing you notice upon arrival at the Cape
Cross Fur Seal Reserve, one of about 25 colonies along the Skeleton
Coast and the only one accessible to the public, is a slightly pungent
acrid odor. That greeting is followed by a modest barking sound, the
level of which increases greatly as you approach further. As the general
din breaks down into honking, wheezing, coughing, whining, braying,
cackling, and bleating, and the small black dots begin to take shape
as they lumber across the rocks, I wondered: How can so many
of the same species make so many different sounds?
What first seemed like just a clamor of sounds then
take on a more emotional content: The racket emanating from the mass
of slippery humanity below? Sorrowful, belligerent, questioning, anxious,
soulful. As I pondered their fierce existence -- frigid waters, rocky
shore, crowded conditions -- I thought, No wonder their cries
are so mournful
The throngs of thousands are animated. Some seals brave
the rough waters of the Atlantic, others settle for sunbathing; mothers
tend to their pups, teens engage in rough n tumble frolic, a bull
or two seem to have what appears to be some words with each other. While
I was mesmerized by the sea lions, the birdwatcher next to me was trying
to determine whether it was a ruddy turnstone or an orange-legged ruff
running along the surf. Avid birdwatchers are a species all to their
I felt like a Peeping Tom overlooking massive gray communities
of seals and stones merging together in a surreal setting. Outside one
large boulder condo unit, a fiery male ferociously defends his territory.
A little further away, some parents and their children are out for a
stroll -- albeit a somewhat bumpy one. Down another (decidedly) rocky
road, a handsome young stud seemingly flirts with several females at
once. Hmmm -- perhaps not so different a social venue than our own.
Our OAT guide, who didnt shy away from controversial
topics - a very unusual trait among tour guides - told us
that clubbing of the young is still used as a means of depleting the
number of seals, seen by fisherman as a threat to their livelihood.
As evidence builds that its more the humans than the seals that
are responsible for the lower fish supply, it is hoped that the practice
of culling will recede. Another learning and discovery
But there is a lot more to recommend this unusual country
than just its western coastline; the culture of its people and its wildlife
offer visitors a whole other dimension to appreciate. More of that in
Namibia Part II.
If You Go
Because there's so much to see in an area the size
of Texas and Louisiana combined, it's best to visit Namibia with a tour
group. My trip with Overseas Adventure Travel demonstrated why it has
been named one of the top three value adventure companies in the world.
Groups are small, the hotels and game lodges where we
stayed range from comfortable to luxurious, and our guides were excellent.
I also like the fact that OAT undertakes charitable activities in countries
in which it offer trips.
OAT offers land trips around the world, as well as small
ship cruises. Prices begin at $1,895, for a visit to Costa Rica. The
18-day Namibia trip starts at $4995. For more information, visit Oatravel.com
or call (800) 955-1925.