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Kian Barker
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Kian Barker

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A Trip into The Naminbian Desert

So I can understand when touring Europeans say it is dark in Africa or Africa is dark. This definitely does not apply to the indigenous people that are famous for their ebony skin. In Africa it is dark, promise you it is dark, especially it you are used to dealing with billions of illumins of light pollution. And this I really noticed when departing from the Hosea Kutata Airport and heading towards Windhoek. Ja and you guessed it right it was early evening and the sun had set. In fact for 42 kms there are no streets lights. None. The convent is empty.

But soon your thoughts drift away from the Dark Africa and you start experiencing the really dry air. So as I  flew from Richards Bay on the East Coast of Africa I left behind a warm humid environment where you permanently feel as though you have too much skin. Suddenly in Namibia your skin has shrunk and your skin is two sizes too small. When I began experiences this state I was careful not to make any sudden movements, as I was scared my skin would rip, pop-off and shrink to the size and shape of a discarded piece of chewing gum. So for the first few days I moved around like a chameleon or a gecko on a ceiling with three instead of four legs - no rapid movement please, my skin is adjusting. "Slow and purposeful!". A life preserving state of ambulation.

Then after the dark journey into Windhoek I sniffed around and found a function lodge in the town outskirts of Windhoek. There was no ambiguity to the name. Windhoek Town Lodge. I suppose the name that would please any tired business name. No obscure pronunciation or any thing of the like. Functional name and the decor was as equally functional. A bed, in fact a second one, a shower, luggage stand, smallest TV, kettle and a few other commodities. The room also lacked skirting boards and cornicing. But there was a young chique, or the owners wife that took the money with a smile and offered help with the luggage. Answered to her husbands name of Mrs van der Merwe.

Hey, but breakfast was also included in the very functional price, bet there was no smile or table clothe. A choice of cereal, polony, cheese and coffee. A staple diet of any traveling business man that would prepare his alimentary canal foray couple of beers before lunch. But this was not my intention. That is I had not intention to either drink beer or have a business lunch. But I have to admit the clinically clean and functional decor of the dinning room was a deterrent to any potential germ. Any -- hear that germs there is no place in that lodge. And if you find a place it is so dry you will die. And when I realized this defined environment I realized the same for photography. So the meal was hammered down and I headed out as in the desert there is about and hour in the morning and two in the afternoon. If you are lucky you might get a little cloud in the day. MIGHT!

And I another thing is that I sometimes I suffer from a nasal drip. Within the first hour I experienced nasal dust. At times it is so dry that moisture rapidly disappears. And a little dust remains.

Good morning.

And after  a little session in Windhoek,  I headed out for my first experience of the Namib desert. Three years was the last encounter and over this time one develops a longing and a respect or there is a truce between these force of nature and yourself. You never try and force the desert. And after several visits you discover that this desert has many moods. Barren, windy, hot, dusty, bleak but "no" good moods come to might. But maybe rain, but then I still need to experience this desert state. And the first road that took me into the heart of the desert was the C28. And if you have never heard of the C28, well you would have heard about a C130. Sea Wun Thurteees are Big, big in the sense that you can put a lot in them and on them. Then they get hurled skywards, with all and sundry scattering, and running for cover. Especially when there are a few rockets attached to assist in take off. A hectic process, but it works and the aviators have calculated what is necessary to hurl these pregnant, constipated chickens skywards.

Then like I mentioned there is the C28, never heard of it, well at least 99.28% of people on this Earth would have not and I emphasis not stumbled across the C28. Maybe just the letters and numbers, but in Namibia this is the road that has the potential to end all road. And it makes flying a sea wun thurteee a walk in the park. well the C28 is possibly the longest uninhabited dirt roads in Namibia, and it exits in a westerly direction from Windhoek. The last sight of life you have is a bunch of animals in the Daan Viljoen Nature reserve. Then from that point onwards it is a vast expanse of skin shrinking wilderness that seems to go on forever and ever. The guy the  wrote the never ending story must have had a brush with this road.  And hey when I a say nothing there was nothing until Swakopmund not even a convent. Although towards the end there were animals, a bunch of them and in my opinion these animal must have been hydrophobic as there was nothing for them to drink. Nothing to drink, while I protected my dwindling source of water like a rabid dog!

So on with this C28 and forget about the avionics of a C130. And it seemed as though there was no true sign of any human habitation. The odd sign that seemed to indicate that people had a sign, decided to ride out into the middle of nowhere, dig a whole in the ground, plugged it with a sign board and left. They most propably were pranksters. Thinking someone would drive past and think there was some form of human habitation. In fact the sign erectors had left with no intention of returning. So for the 356km, take plenty of petrol. And a reading book. And like alcohol, you should not read and drive on this road, attempting to mix these two human pleasures will prove to be fatal. That is either drinking and driving  or driving and reading a book. Strange how there is no campaign to stop drivers from reading and driving. Although I believe drinking and reading a book might well result in you loosing your place in the book !  The C28 is for drivers that have an ability to steer a car. Focus, focus and focus. That is on the road, checking your fuel from time to time. Then there is certainly some relationship to the sign of the car. In fact an inverse proportion. Smaller car, bigger focus. And yes in the end I managed to steer the Tazz down this amazing desert track for 356km, without any mechanical impediments.

But there were rocks of all sizes that appeared at the most inconvinient of times. When there is good scenery - expect a rock. In fact there was a proportional relationship between rock size and scenery. And the shape also played a major role in avoidance tack-ticks. The really nasty ones appears to defy gravity and were perched on their end wuith a very nasty pointed business end pointing to the sky. Complete avoidance is required - like an irate wife, when you have been multitasking with a bunch of mates. Actually make thata traffic officer as well. Cops are never too impressed like wives when you convince them that multitasking is possible- Yes officer " drink and drive" simply "sorry fella" and the rocks are the same you try every trick, including those that will soon be added to the book of tricks. To survive avoid every rock, and you will climb every mountain along this roller coaster desert route to the coast.

So avoiding every rock is adviseable, and the only trouble you will get into by not doing so is either a flat, or your little Jap take-away car will be disembowelled from the underside upwards. Malignant rocks will with a gut rending crunch remove everything from the gear box, engine, bits of the drive train and even the gear lever will be removed from your sweaty hand. Your hand will be emptied of the gear leve, as your much needed gear box fragments. And like the life draining from beneath the bonnet of your car, the blood will drain froom your face, leaving an empty expression similar to the space beneath your bonnet.

So, yes it is about steering the C28, not driving. And at the same time taking in the wild scenery and wilderrness of a totally unspoilt and wild area. An area with seasonally abundant grasslands, rocky wasteland - not to the animals. NAnd then some very rocky and hostile yet spectacular areas that only have appeal in the twilight zone. Weird, but so wonderful in these long light periods that the hostile nature of these areas seems to disappear.

And slowly when you thought Windhoek was dry it gets drier. slowly along you speeding way down this desert roller coaster, all signs of water disappearsand i was mentioned to a friend that Namibia has three components. Sky, sun and the cold sea. Well, when the C28 hits the coastal zone of the Namib Nakluft Park there is just sky and Earth. Both components tend to conjure pleasant images. Then as it gets drier, there is just Sky and rock! Amazingly animals survive here.?!

And then you wonder - is water that important to these animals? Who needs waterBu they get it and enough to survive and breed in a totally harsh environment. Harsh for humans but totally comfortable for them. Babies a plenty. Then you think about the "Great Dorsland Trek". Realising the fear of the trekker, the desperation of the trekkers that their planining was fatal and the way that they had decided them to go, they would have never physically been able to reach those green pastures. Never. A foolish attempt into a land that has "Don't go there written all over it" And the C28 will spell this out to you very clearly and carefully. A desert track across an 80 million year old desert. My advise for the trekkers, take a C130 - it is a lot safer, especially will rocket assisted take-off.

Prior to reaching Swakopmond in the late afternoon, well there is lots of hman pollution. Well traces of human activity all over the desert. This vehicle tracks are clearly visible in the late afternoon as the sun create shadows across the thousands of vehicle tracks in the late afternoon.. The desert has been a sad diary of Human activity. So fragile, vast and harsh. And out from the east a pipeline meets you, which creates a new barrier, and has stopped those needing to drive needlessly across a so-called wasteland.And what was once acceptable this driving is now considered unnecessary and the deseert can once again back in it's own solitude. But with human tattos that will fade but never quite go away.

Then Swakopmund when you arrive, you are immediately greeted by a cold blast of air from the Atlantic Ocean. "Refreshing and moist", but strangely deceptive as it does not seem necessary to conserve water. And after gulping down water for 356km, one gets a little complacent. But then you return to your senses ad become a fox terrier with the need to protect an oversize bone. No sharing water. And you head for the nearest shop to load a couple more litres of water onboard just to be safe.

Good Morning

And then the surprise dust storms which make you a little too conscienc eof the prevelence of dust. The size of the particles that get between your teeth, makes you feelm as though you are constantly grinding your teeth. And the dust never really seems to settle. Sweep and five minutes later the dust is back. And the suddenness was apparent. A good day could rapidly turn into a dust storm. The cold Atlantic mist could be swirling around and then the next minute a dust storm. Planted palm trees would bend in submission to the cruel desert wind, their leaves wouls bend over as though they were hiding behind their gnarled trunks for protection from the burning desret wind. The sun would disappear and a weird apparition would assume its place. And just before the deseert wind, all the insects would flock inside seeking protection. Flies to beetlesthen an hour later as quickly as they had appeared they would disappear and set about the rooutine that had been interupted by a quick house visit. These storms are best for sleeping. and when you awake there is a rather peculiar taste of dust on your palate, or should I say recently formed mud!

Then as the storm arrived and sent the silence of the Namib desert scattering like a flock of pidgeon, silence returns like settling birds. the desert was hot again and  there seemed to be a temporary truce. mmm I thought to myself but for how long. And as luck would have it, it just depends on where you are at the time as to whether you get trashed in a dust storm or not. Fortunately although there where periods of fairly intense wind, I managed to avoid another dust storm, although there was never any intention or avoidance action implemented.

And as the dust settled and the sun slumped towards the west I headed towards Walvis Bay. Salt works and beyond. And interestingly Global warming ideas started to drift across my mind as there is little aggression or few distractions to disturd travellers. And then I realized if humanity or inhumanity to our environment continues and we destroy all life in our oceans, we can still at least produce salt. And in fact with the Earth getting warmer, the rate of salt production will certainly increase. And thinking about this and the lack of plastic pollution. One thing worse than plastic pollution is human pollution of this beautiful planet. It is time we appreciated this Earth and stopped taking it for granted. As there is no other place available if we lose this planet to complacency. And the sensitivity of this planet is always apparent when the everlasting ethereal light casts shadows over the gentle skin of the desert and then all the vehicle tracks become apparent..

Good morning - according to this diary it is the 7th May 2007.

This day started with an eishie. A big one because in the morning, on a bright morning the light disappears in fie minutes. Now I had better be a little more specific. The good photographic light disappears in five minutes, replaced with rather intense sun light that makes photography difficult as dark shadows tend to contras any photographic attempts. Fortunately this morning light is balanced out in the evening and the light lasts a little laonger, sometimes up to two hours. But what lasts all day and is very pleasing in the heat of the desert is the cool Atlantic breezes blowing in from the sea. And through the day there is this tussle between the cool Atlantic breeze and the fiercesome desert heat, attacking any form of life that needs water for survival. THese two have been rivals for 80m years. What does the future hold, will they eventually become alliesfrom them being ancient enermies?

Henties bay is at the end of a long road that is like a truce path down this temperature zone. The road is salt and runs parallel to the Atlantic for hundreds of kilometers. The temperature of the desert is trying to constantly sneak to the beach and the cool Atlantic breeze gently nudges the heat back into the desert. As you drive the temperature vascilates between a warm searing heat and cool refreshing sea breezes. Pockets of this air brings a unique sensation to this route. And eventually Henties Bay rises out of the simmering heat. It is like a monument to water conservation. Every inche of land is covered with succent plants grabbing every ounce of water and storing in their chubby stems. And the wathful desert does not seem to miss any minor detail, small or big the heat will get you if you allow you guard to drop. And it is not only the heat, but the dust. seal everything. But the dust will get in everywhere, but the attempt to seal everything will reduce the volume of dust. As the dust in Namibia does not settle, it goes sideways and then sticks. it can get through glass, steel and plastic. At times it is so fine, it makes hydrogen look like a bunch of tennis balls! And did I forget to mention the C28 ended in Swakopmund and the road north was all about the C24.

After driving the C24 for a full day, forget about the C130. As I now unnderstand menopause! As you drive north or for that matter of fact if you were to be driving south down the C24 towards Swakopmund. The Oceans and the desert creates this effect that it is now hot, and now it is cool. BNasically blowing hot and cold. Apparently or most probably a condition of hot and cold thathas lasted for 80 million years. Apparently not unlike menopause and especially for those that experience it second hand. The effects seem to last forever.

Nothing - is a lot in the desert!

Then after Henties Bay Cape Cross seal colony and more expansive dessert, an oasis then the Skeleton Coast Gate. A begging session as I was instructed that I should have gathered a permit in Swakopmund for a sucessful northward journey. I finally managed a one night permit after 50kms I realised that it might have been a little misdirected diplomancy and returning to Henties Bay may have been the better option. But it was too late and there was 30 litres of liquid happily jogging around in the back of the tazz. Just enough I had hoped to keep me long enough if I ran into trouble. Although I wondered "long enough for what?" I passed so few cars I wondered what I would be waiting for?" "a C130 - making an emergency landing to pluck and my tazz from the desert?" It was a thought but my determination  got me to Terrance Bay at sunset.

Good fishing and a life long ambition to cast a line in these chilly Atlantic waters in a true fishermans wilderness. I made it. The fishing was good and the angry pebbles applauded each retreating wave. A sound so characteristic of Terrance Bay, for those that have ventured into this pristine desert.

Posted by Kian Barker

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