Desert Run-Ins

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This blog entry about the events of Sunday, April 04, 2004 was originally posted on April 14, 2004.

DAY 169:  I’ve learned that traveling in Africa so far is a lot different than traveling in South America.  Despite the language barrier, South America is easier for the solo traveler; public transport is the way locals get around and there are plenty of little towns to service.  Buses leave at least once a day to whatever town you might want to go to on any one of several bus companies.  In addition to public transportation being fairly straight-forward, meeting people to travel along with is easier because you sort of just gravitate to anyone just as confused to Spanish and/or Portuguese as you are.

Africa (at least in South Africa and Namibia so far) is different; most people get around by car.  Mass transit isn’t a common mode of transport, even for the locals.  This lack of a transit infrastructure transcends to the independent traveler, which is why the preferred mode of getting around is by rental car — especially in Namibia.  Most travelers arrive in pre-established groups from home with a pre-determined plan to split costs or go on a big four-week long overland tour.

Without the common bond of “Hey, we both don’t speak the same language of the locals” in English-speaking Namibia, it was hard for me to find a fellow solo traveler with the same limited time schedule I had, and thus I simply joined a tour for a week-long safari of southern Namibia.

Whether you have your own means of transportation or are in a guided tour, there’s one common fact:  getting from place to place involved long stretches of road through vast deserts and countryside.  At times you feel you are all alone; sometimes you don’t see another vehicle for hours.  I swear we only saw less than ten cars on the road per day as we made our way, place to place in southern Namibia.  Having said that, it was pretty amazing when — in the same day — I ran into three different familiar faces that I met at three different times, just by coincidence.


AFTER RISING AT SIX O’CLOCK, when the sun was already up in the new Daylight Savings Time, we packed up the house and left the Klein-Aus Vista.  We traveled by dirt road at about 130 km/hr, passing herds of oryx and the occasional group of ostriches, down a straight road that stretched 30 kilometers through the desert.  Ben, a very serious birdwatcher, had Samora stop the car for bird sightings — grouses, eagles, sparrows.  One highlight of our morning journey for him was when we stopped at one of the several sociable weaver nests where dozens of the little birds lived as nestmates.


THE FIRST OF MY COINCIDENTAL DESERT RUN-INS happened around 10:30 when at a crossroads seemingly in the middle of nowhere, we droved passesd two motorcyclists parked on the side of the road.

“Hey, I know those guys!” I said.  Samora stopped the truck.  “Hunter!” I called.

It was Hunter and Miles, two guys I met in the backpackers in Windhoek.  Last I heard from them, they were getting their motorcycles tuned up for a long cruise around Africa.  Coincidentally, out of all of the African continent, they happened to stop on the same road we were driving on.

We warned them about the river crossings in the south near Fish River Canyon — Samora showed them on a map — and also about the hour-back time zone change.

“Really?” Hunter said.  “Oh, so we didn’t get a late start after all Milesy.” 

Hunter’s battery was low so he couldn’t shut his engine off, which meant he and Miles didn’t have much time to talk.  “I bet you cruising around in this thing is better than being in that truck,” he said, making smooth bouncing motions on his bike and spastic moves to symbolize the truck.  He and Miles went on their way to Fish River Canyon while we went off to the town of Sesriem at 130 km/hr on a bumpy dirt road — with minimal spastic motions.


SESRIEM IS THE DESERT OUTPOST near the world famous red sand dunes, Namibia’s “number one attraction” according to my Lonely Planet.  Here, any traveler on a budget ends up at the modern campground facility, which is where we pulled into.  After setting up camp under the shade of a tree in a semi-enclosed area by a two-and-a-half-foot stone wall, we had a tuna salad lunch as little finches landed in for a visit.  Nearby were three desert groundsquirrels, which Ben glanced at through his binoculars.

“Wow, his scrotum is massive!”

It was almost as exciting as spotting a new species of bird for him.  Almost.


THE SECOND COINCIDENTAL DESERT RUN-IN happened in the afternoon at the swimming pool near the centralized bar.

“Erik!” a voice called out to me.  I looked over and saw a familiar face from Cape Town:  Eve, the French girl (from Reunion Island) that worked at The Backpack backpackers.  It was her that helped me get my act together the night I got mugged at knifepoint

“Eve!  What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m here with Nomad [Overland Tours].”

“Right, right.  You said you were going to Vic Falls in two weeks, two weeks ago.” 

“How is it going?” Eve asked me.

“Good,” I answered.  “I haven’t been mugged yet.”

I chilled out in the pool with two of the other Nomad girls until they all collectively got their belongings to leave; they were leaving the camp that afternoon for Swakopmund.

“Bye, Erik,” Eve said.

“Bye again,” I replied.  “How long will you be in Swakopmund?  I’ll be there in two days.”

“Three days.”

“See you there then.”


SHORTLY AFTER EVE’S NOMAD OVERLAND TOURS TRUCK LEFT CAMP, a big Chameleon Safaris one came in with eleven people from the same company.  I went over to say hello and to see if — by any other chance — I recognized someone, but it was just a truck full of old Dutch folks.  I said hello and introduced myself to their guide Chico, who turned out to be Samora’s mentor.  Another Chameleon mini-van came shortly thereafter, bringing in a younger crowd, some on a four-day tour.  Again, no one I knew, but I introduced myself anyway.

The sunset excursion of the day was to nearby Elim’s Dune, three kilometers away from camp.  Samora dropped Ben, Karen and myself off for one of two options:  hike back to camp and catch the sunset on the way; or climb Elim’s Dune at a height of 75 meters.  I opted for the latter.

Seventy-five meters doesn’t seem like a lot; the peak of Elim’s dune seemed reachable in fifteen minutes from afar, not factoring the sand dune part.  I found out quickly that the hardest thing about hiking up sand dunes is that every step forward, the sand takes you half a step back.  Plus, it’s all uphill

Ben and Karen walked up the first part of the dune but then head back through the desert, leaving me alone with Elim and his dune.  The peak up the dune seemed farther and farther away as I made my way up the ebb and flow of the dunes.  False peaks teased me but I kept on going, taking photos of the beautiful ripples in the sand formed by the winds and the green tufts of grass amidst a sea of red sand.  I was climbing up another false peak when I heard a voice behind me.  “You there!”

It was one of the travelers from the younger new Chameleon mini-van group that I met before.  She was Emily, a Brit on holiday from her job in Angola.  Nearby was another, Martin, from Bern, Switzerland, and the three of us made the dash for the final leg up the peak to see the other side.  Emily stopped mid-way on the ridge on one of the higher dunes (picture above), but Martin and I continued to the highest one for the sake of accomplishment.  “Well, we got this far already,” I said.

The sun set fast and the three of us regrouped after the obligatory photos and headed back down the dunes the way we came.  It was a lot easier coming down, even though it involved a lot more sand entering our shoes.

“I think I have enough sand in my boots to make another sand dune,” Emily said.


THE FULL MOON ROSE IN THE EAST almost immediately after the sun set in the west.  With the sun’s rays reflecting off the surface of the moon, the entire desert was illuminated by what felt like a big natural street lamp and I saw a lone jackal raid the garbage bin in our Campsite 19.

After a spaghetti dinner, I joined others in the bar to close the night.  Before the night was over, I bumped into yet another familiar face:  Sarah, the University of Stellenbosch student I met by Fish River Canyon and Kolmanskop.  Her and her classmates’ beat-up rental Mercedes Benz had a blown tire, and she and her Dutch classmate used their girlie charms to ask Samora and Chico for a lift in the morning to sunrise on the dunes.  The guides welcomed them aboard and made the plan for the next morning.


AS I WENT TO SLEEP IN MY TENT, listening to the gecko calls in the desert, I marveled at the fact that although a lone traveler, it wasn’t so lonesome.  Because in a country like Namibia, with a population of two million people, you’re bound to bump into someone you know sooner or later.






Next entry: Three Dunes and A Canyon

Previous entry: Sleepy Head, Sleepy Town




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Comments for “Desert Run-Ins”

  • beautiful dune photos!  Yeah, isn’t it weird how small the world really is?

    Posted by Liz  on  04/14  at  02:10 PM


  • The squirrel pics from Washington Square Park are better… hehe..

    “medune” pic….LOL….protect ur neck, cuz when u get home…you know what ur gonna get!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  03:20 PM


  • nice dunes! surreal like the flats

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  03:46 PM


  • Completely surreal - great!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  03:47 PM


  • wow, the dune photos are amazing. i especially like the one with that little tuft of grass in the middle of all that red sand. that is very bizarre. how does that little bit grow in such a just that one spot?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  06:56 PM


  • Thoes dunes are amazing… Definatly on my list.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  04:00 AM


  • Okay, dune pic is SO close to replacing the salt flats on my desktop. The colors are so rich, and it’s only SAND. There’s no spectacular monuments or buildings, no crashing waves or exotic animals… just the sand and the sunset. Amazing.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  10:48 PM


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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
Three Dunes and A Canyon

Previous entry:
Sleepy Head, Sleepy Town




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