travel & nature photography
Text and images © marcus karlsen / no use without written permission
Namibia is an extremely beautiful country with a burning sun, vast desert areas and plenty of wildlife. A feeling of unlimited freedom arises from the infinite horizons, the clear blue sky and a population density among the lowest in the world. Peace and calm is what defines the monocrome landscape, full of contrasts between light and shadow. The diversity of people makes a rich mixture of different cultures and traditions. The word Namib means "an area where there is nothing" in the local Nana language, but in Namibia even nothing is beautiful...
On each side of the Tsauchaub river, which is as dry as any desert river, sand dunes line the road. The highest are almost 300m and among the highest in the world.
The first rays of sunlight hits the dark sand dunes and creates different abstract patterns, as they play with the shadows. As the sun gets higher in the sky and lights up the landscape, the dunes turns to a warm golden red colour. At the foot of the dunes white, bone dry clay pans, or vleis, shines in the sun. On these pans dead camel thorn trees stretches there naked branches towards the sky as a prayer for rain. It is like a surreal picture from another world. The vleis are dried lakes that only fill with water a few times during the lifetime of a human. The water evaporates fast, and it won't take long after a rainfall before the ground is hard as stone. The mud cracks in the sun and creates beautiful mosaic patterns. We can still see the footprints of the animals that got to drink the refreshing water after the last rain fall before the lake dried up again. Cause the desert is far from deserted even though it looks inhospitable.
The Namib desert are among the oldest in the world, an inhospitable, beautiful landscape of sand and stone. The Orange River has taken millions of grains of sand from the lesothian highland to the mouth of the river by the Atlantic Ocean. Here the cold Banguela current have taken them further up the namibian coast. Then the winds have blowned them inland and turned the whole of Namibia into a desert. The Banguela current haven't just created a desert but also given it life. When the cold Antarctic waters meets the warm winds, fog is created that drifts in over the dry land. In a land without rain, these water drops are the difference between life and death.
The little Tok Tokkie beetle quenches its thirst by lower its head, spreading it legs and streching its back end to the sky. This way the surface area is enlarged and moisture that condensates on its body runs in small drops to its mouth. But not all creatures depend on the fog for water. Because deep under the dry river beds there is still ground water that feeds nara melons and camel thorn trees. These plants then feed birds and animals. We can see small herds of Springbok grazing in the dry river beds, and a single Gemsbok is marking its territory. If you want you can join the Gemsbok on its way to the top of the dunes. Two steps forward and one step back is the price you have to pay for not being adapted to the desert environment. But it is worth the effort. From the top of the sand dunes you can see a landscape that takes your breath away. Red sand dunes all the way to the horizon in all directions. The red sea is only broken by the white vleis. There is no shadow. When the suns burning rays removes all the fog and heats the sand the temperature can rise to 70 degrees celsius.
While we are taking cover under the shadow of the camel thorn trees, a small lizzard is dancing on the sand dunes. Its thermoregulating dance goes as follows; the tail and two legs are lifted alternately from the sands burning surface. This way it want burn its feet when it is hunting insects barefoot. But the lizzard dance might end abruptly. It is not the only one in the desert that can dance. The namibian sidewinding adder is dancing sideways along the dunes and is always looking for a snack, like a little lizzard out of tune. We are leaving the dancing to the animals and have gone under ground to avoid the burning sun. The 30m deep Sesriem Canyon cuts its way through the plains above. It is made by the Tsauchab River when it was still carrying water. Now it is just some small ponds left. But down here it is nice and cool. If the underground world does not sound tempting, a lunch at the luxurious Movenpick Lodge comes recommended, if not just to take shelter from the burning heat. Back at the campsite later that day, dinner is cooked on an open fire under a sky with millions of stars and a shining moon while we talk about todays experiences.
Early the next morning, before the winds start blowing, we can see many tracks criss-crossing the sand dunes. The prints are left by Gemsboks and dancing lizzards, by Tok Tokkie beetles and thumbling seeds. The Namib desert also makes an impression, no one ever forgets a visit to this fantastic world.
After a long and bumpy road trip through Kaokolands deserted areas we finally reach Opuwo. This dusty little town is the gateway to the Himbas. The Himbas is one of a few traditional tribes in Southern Africa that still lives without much influence from the modern world. They are nomades and move their village several times a year to feed their cattle in this inhospitable region of Namibia.
The Himba village does not have electricity or water and is consists of a ring of mud huts around an enclosure that keeps their animals safe at night. The Himba women are bare breasted and wear the traditional leather skirts made from calf- or goat skin. They have beautiful jewelleries made from metal, leather and shells. Their bodies are covered by a home made mixture of butter, ashes and ocer to keep their skin young and smooth. The young girls have two braids hanging in from=nt of their face, while the women have lots of thick braids covered with the same mixture they use on their body.
According to a San legend, the Etosha Pan was created by the tears of a Heiqum woman crying over the death of her child. The tears evaporated, and left only white salt. And white is the colour of Etosha. White dust, white rocks and the shining white salt pan. Sometimes you can see a springbok or an ostrich walk over the pan like a black spot on a white canvas. Etoshas salt pan covers almost a quarter of the national park. The dust, the heat and the burning sun makes this a very inhospitable area, yet 114 species of mammals and more than 340 species of birds has made this their home. No plants grow on the pan itself, but in the surounding area there is fertile land. Here the savannah provides fresh grass for wildebeest, zebras and antilopes. Despite the harsh look Etosha has one of the highest concentration of animals in Africa.