This is the first part of my travel diary through Namibia. It is a mix of feelings, description of places, thoughts on current, past or future events and my presumptions. I felt like writing it in English, as I was using it daily and started to think in it and find it more descriptive and precise for what I wanted to say. It is going to be a series of stories in chapters, not always in chronological order. These thoughts are quite raw, but so was the country and the overal experience. Welcome to Namibia and inside my head.
Feeling of security
All of my travels start with a security check. Not the one at the airport. The one my mom does. As every mother, she tends to ignore the fact I am a grown up man now, with some experience of my own. Both me and my sister Zuzana (and sometimes even the youngest of us, Lucy) occupy ourselves most of the year travelling the world for almost 10 years. Nevertheless the maternal worries do not count it in at all. We are still just naive, fragile children in our mother’s eyes. She worries, so I don’t have to. Like in so many other things. For this trip, she worried a lion would eat us or that some desperate locals would rob and murder us. In fact, since our journey has begun, I have felt most unsafe at the airports in Europe. I hate crowded places and the everpresent security checks and announcements are a constant reminder of some potential danger we’re in. They make you feel like a potential collateral all the time. And the worst of all, you can’t do anything about it. In Africa it’s much simpler. You need to just stay away of dangerous beasts, be it animal or human in form. I avoid cities and places with high density of people. I don’t feel comfortable there. I like people, but in a moderate quantity. I like to meet locals, but meet them as equal not as a victim (and I feel as a victim even if they beg money of me or try to sell me something). It’s hard to avoid these situations here, but I have not felt unsafe, not once since I have arrived. It’s pretty easy to avoid places of eminent danger. In cities, there is more security personnel on the street then regular citizens, all ATM machines have a security guy, all parking lots as well. I have no reason to go to slums, what for? To have a closer look at the poverty? To make a tourist attraction out of it? To take away another piece of dignity, while watching people like animals in zoo? No, because I wouldn’t be surprised if they would get aggressive then and there, I know I would, if I were them. With animals it’s even simpler. Humans have broken out from the middle of the natural food chain some time ago and we have placed ourselves on top of it. It’s strange, but most animals get it. They avoid people, they either ignore us or run away. If you do the same, you’re safe. What else is there to fear? What makes so many people stay at home their whole life, never to have a bite of adventure? I guess everyone has their own feeling of security and some choose never to expand it, they choose their secure stereotype and are sausible to other stereotypes as well. Fear is the best of all manipulation tools, it can create bloodthirsty mob out of peaceful gathering. And more succinct are we to fear the easier are we manipulated. Fear must be contained inside, must be a slave to reason, not the other way around. Feeling of security is always an issue when traveling to third world countries and I would not force it on anyone. Just think if you feel safe where you are, if immigrants or homosexuals or muslims or gypsies are really a threat or its just a bubble, a tool by which are we manipulated, like honest but simple German folk in ‘30 & ‘40 of the previous century. One thing I’ve learnt in Africa very early, the more we have, the more we fear to lose it, thus the feeling of security must be stronger to allow for peaceful sleep. One more thing I have almost forgotten. Everyone fears diseases and stomach problems. For that, we wake up with “a sunshine”, 45%, 90 proof Maker’s Mark bourbon whiskey. It can solve problems with other fears as well, when intaking larger quantity, but only briefly and the reality happens to strike back with a vengeance afterwards, so beware.
Meaning of silence I am a city child. I grew up in a city, with all it’s noises and sounds. I have lived among that humbug long enough that I’ve stopped to hear it anymore. And I could have lived there happily ever after, if I haven’t get to the place, with no sound. I have always pictured desert as a place with an absence of things. Absence of trees, grass, animals, humans… But I have never thought about the absence of noise there. Never until it hit me. Until the wind died and only sound was my breath and my steps. That silence was thundering. It enveloped me completely, I have bathed and drown in it. From that moment on, city become a nightmare of artificial noise. My sleep has worsened, my mood has become a rollercoaster. I have been made into a junkie. My drug, the silence. I started to crave for those deserted places with no artificial sound, or even better, with no sound at all. Mountains and deserts started to call me with their silent voices. In silence, all the tears on my soul heal, my mind regains focus. I never believed in meditation, but something is happened to me when I was sitting alone on a high cliff above savanna in Spitzkoppe, watching sunset or on a dune of a desert at Sossusvlei in a baking sun and a wind with no sound. I don’t know what meditation is about, but there and then I could free my mind of all thoughts, to reset and reboot. To clean the sheet, to start anew. The silence is a necessary empty void before the Big Bang of my best thoughts. Enough said, enjoy the silence.
Meeting at the beach (and bar) For me, leaving Bratislava, usually means leaving people. I like a good company and love my job as climbing and soft skills coach and trainer, but you can get oversaturated of even things you like and love. Then I need to leave and recharge my social tolerance batteries. The world is big, but it’s quite hard to avoid meeting people. And more I travel, more I’m fascinated by chance meetings.
In Slovak, we use a saying: a crow sits with a crow. Certain types of people are just drawn together. That’s also how communities are formed, but when I’m in a foreign country, surrounded by strangers, certain people just stand out from the general crowd. Today, one stood up literally and walked to us, while we were having a milkshake at the Tiger Reef beach restaurant in Swakopmund. I have registered him briefly before. He was there alone, sitting two tables apart from us, having a beer. White, blond male in his thirties, with merkantile orange sunglasses reading a book in German. A tourist. A surfer by the T-shirt. Yes, now he says he is a surfer. The name is David, Austrian, lives near Vienna, almost a neighbour by world’s standards. For him we have stood out from the rest of the restaurant’s customers like two zebras in a herd of horses. Me with a dreadlocks mohawk and forearms bigger than biceps and Petra in neon orange sports bra with a boulder contest graphics on the back and her own merkantile orange sunglasses. Climbers he thought, so he walked to us and asked if he may sit with us. We had a couple of beers and have talked for an hour or two. The themes ranged from work, to politics to travel but we have found a core common theme - climbing, as David used to climb before he hurt his shoulders, which was one of the reasons he switched to surfing. We could even talk about few routes in Hochkogel we shared as projects for some time in past. It was as pleasant a meeting as it was unexpected.
We had another such meeting by the end of our stay in Etosha Gondwana Safari Camp. The whole day we have spent in car moving around Etosha National Park watching and photographing a great variety of animals that live there. I was quite tired and my head was throbbing from the sun and the bumpy unpaved roads. I wasn't feeling very social that evening, but we decided to have a beer in the restaurant in our camp. There was a live music and fire going and the atmosphere was quite pleasant even if the restaurant was almost full. We’ve got our beer and sit by the fire, thirsty for beer and internet, catching up on things in the online world we have left behind for some time. Other people have joined the seats by the fire and we happened to end up surrounded by a Dutch family. Well rather than surrounded maybe I should write that we end up splitting the family, so when Petra went to take another round, we have shuffled a bit and striked some small talk. I suck at small talk. I value people’s privacy too much to ask questions and I don’t want to burden others with my unwanted thoughts. Silly, I know. Luckily mother of the Dutch family, Karen, was rather talkative and the themes varied between traveling experiences and recommendations to a communist era in Slovakia and other countries as we were talking about inefficiency of most of the government owned companies. Meanwhile, Petra, the goddess of small talk embodied, questioned their son and daughter and got their whole life stories out of them, and basically about the whole family. All in all it has turned out to be a very pleasant social evening. Something I would have missed if I have succumbed to my antisocial mood. I have realised some time ago, that these meetings don’t happen much when we travel in a larger group, as that group is socially selfsufficient. That’s why travelling alone or as a couple opens many more channels for new experience and chance meetings then the usual travel agency group style. It also requires much more courage and charisma. Big flock of crows simply scares away other crows. Horizons Traveling has changed me. It changes everyone I guess, no one escapes untouched. It, as they say, broaden horizons. We usually don’t even know how much.
There are horizons wherever we look. They might have a sense of limitation to them. They may feel like boundaries. At least many people give them such stigmas. Some people are born and never even leave the horizon of their block or their city. But some are drawn to the horizon as soon as they can perceive it and walk. At first it takes just curiosity to see what’s beyond the field of vision, that first horizon. Curiosity is a dangerous thing and the natural antidote for it is fear. The fear of unknown. Many people get too big a dose and are put off by the mysterious and terrifying horizon and what may lay beyond. But for a brave few, the dose of fear is insufficient. The curiosity is too strong a charm. Them, they struggle, they suffer, they hurt, they pant heavily, they bleed and sweat, until they reach that horizon. It is a challenge they do for themselves, for the sake of a challenge alone. And when they finally make the last steps to the summit and they stand on that mystical line, they thought was the horizon, they stop in awe, shock and sometimes even disappointment. Because what they see is another horizon, far, far away. Jungles and deserts and snowy mountains separate them from it. That sudden breathtaking view, that realisation is nasauting. There is no ultimate horizon, there are just our own limits. Maybe I was writing about just the physical horizons, and maybe not only. That disease, the curiosity, usually do not stop with exploration of new places, it tends to meddle in our ordinary lives as well. It questions beliefs, seek shortcuts and innovation, pushes progress and brings self realisation to the top of the Maslow's pyramid. It is the essence of entrepreneurship. People who has climbed to their first great horizon, could not be contained by four glass walls of the open space office. Not for long anyway. They will seek ways to break free, to be able to turn to their own horizons and fight their way towards them. If the antidote of fear is not too strong. If mortgage, family or other ties don’t put out that fire of curiosity and freedom. If their abilities and skills are sufficient to reach their horizon.
Today, when I have walked to the first dune in Sossusvlei, it felt like the first horizon. From there I have seen another dune, much bigger and I have realised that it is so big, it obscures my view. I couldn’t see very far, I’ve seen just that big dune, just it’s horizon. So I have struggled walking to it and up it’s steep side, one step up, while the red liquid sand took me three steps back, I have sweated in the baking sun, I have endured the wind blowing sand into my face and the thirst that burned my throat. All that just to look what’s beyond. The desert, more dunes and desert mountains shutting the rest of the desert to my eyes, creating more horizons, some of them, unreachable for me.
Thus I walk from horizon to horizon in my everyday life as well. My sleepless nights outnumbers peaceful by large. “Is it worth it?” you may ask. If you do, you do not share my thirst or you have not tasted the ambrosia of adventure yet. Travel, see the world, struggle up the dune to see the vastness of desert, climb the mountain to see valleys beyond, sail to the ocean so you see its greatness. Maybe it won’t become you. But we both know, there is just one way to find out... Peace of poverty Three different stories or events inspired this streak of thoughts. The essence of it has hit me while watching savanna from a dune in Sossusvlei. I call that vast barren basin savannah but it was more a desert as only a few patches of dried yellow grass grow there dispersed in that dead valley. On those patches, half a dozen oryx grazed that scarce flora. My first thought was ”poor them!”. Then I thought about it further and a brighter image has started to form. They live and feed there totally unbothered and free. There is no large predator, they need to worry about and it is very easy for them to avoid humans if they want. It felt almost like its their choice to live in poverty but peace. Unburdened by ambition and greed.
The following night we stayed at a camp around 40 km south of Sesriem on C19. As all our camping choices, this too was unplanned and just plainly random. We have driven in quite late and were greeted by a black guy at the gate, he was very polite, shown us the spacious camping spot and luxurious african style toilets and shower. He kept asking how may he further be of service. In the morning, we have seen the camp in broad daylight and the fine details amazed us. Bushmen tents from natural materials, walkways lined with stones, trees, palmas and cactuses carefully planted and freshly watered. Since we have woken up, we have seen the guy labor around the camp. I have shared a thought with Petra, that I wish on the guy, it was his own camp. From the experience, most of the accommodation establishments here belong to white people, as there is still a great colonial nostalgy and the farming land along roads mostly belong to white settlers, their ancestry traced back to the German Südafrika conquest. I have a strange compassion with disadvantaged people and from my several visits of South Africa, I still perceive black people as disadvantaged in their own country. In the age when money speak, and they speak through the wallets of white men, the black can mostly just listen. This said, I was genuinely surprised and pleased when I’ve learned that Martins, because that was the black guy's name, was the owner of the camp and have built it himself and develops it everyday. The small rectangle of land, that is the camping belongs to the government and Martins was allowed to use it. It is surrounded by a white farmers’ vast lands, where he used to work before. He had opened his camp in April. Since then, Martins proudly announces, he had hosted 39 visitors, most stayed just one night, as we did. He charges N$90 per night per person, which is about 6€. The camps we have stayed before charged almost twice as much. When we went to check out, he was already sweaty and looked tired even though it was just morning, but he sounded very proud when he spoke about his camping and when he has showed us some artefacts of his culture that covered the walls of his reception office. He said he wants to educate people about his culture through having the camping. We have paid him much more over his night fee and insisted we want to buy some local artefact of him. We have left all our remaining cash with him, and left happy for him. It's a long way out of poverty for him, but looking at him, I knew he has already found his peace.
The third story stands in contrast to the previous two. It is the story of the Duwibis Castle, we have visited the day we have left Martins’ camp. In this story, there is no poverty and no peace either. The castle, as it is styled, is in fact an extravagant mansion from the german colonial era of the beginning of the 20th century. A certain H. von Wolf and his american millionairess wife have bought extential lands around Duwibis settlement and in the course of two years have had build the castle of some 900sqm. It was quite a feat in that era as all wood, furniture and furnishing was imported from Europe and hauled on oxen wagons some 350 km from Lüderitz port. The extravagant couple hasn’t hold back any expenses. When their castle was finished, they lived there some 5 years, before they have left for a business trip back to Europe from which neither had returned back to their castle. World War I had broken out shortly after they left Africa. Baron von Wolf has enlisted to the German army as becomes any good patriot and was killed in less then a week afterwards in France. His wife left for her home in New Jersey, never returning to the red sandstone castle in Namibia. Such was the destiny of rich, who had all, but could not find peace in this peaceful country.