to desert moonscapes, the skeleton coast, and back.

This trip was about visiting our friend Joseph, who Ty and I met in Harare, Zimbabwe last October during a permaculture design course.  Joseph is from the San bushmen, lives in Namibia, and works with people in his communities to create food gardens in the Khalahari Desert.

Ty and I sat on the front stoop of my house in Gaborone, spitting Gutkha and planning our trip.  The most we knew of where Joseph lives is from the night he pointed to the closest town on a map of southern Africa when he invited us to stay with him.  We got in touch with Debs who has worked with Joseph’s family and the garden project, and she informed us that Joseph was in jail- grand theft cow.  That certainly through a hitch in our plans.  She gave us an area in Namibia where we could go look for his family at least.  I remember Joseph telling us when we got close we could just start asking for him and people would be able to point us in the direction.

Driving a double cab toyota hilux 4×4 named Bertha (she’s a beast), we set out on the road for Ghanzi, and would cross into Namibia at Buitepos.  Some of our intentions were to: 1) see Joseph, 2) see a red sand dune, 3) visit with the welwitchia plant, 4) spend lots of time outdoors, and 5) check out the flora and fauna and collect seeds.  Unfortunately, driving the first day, I hit a baby cow that was standing broadside in the middle of the road as we drove west into bright sun. The state of my windshield with cracks and debris divots didn’t do much to help the situation.  It was quite a hard hit and we think the cow died on impact.  This was not a good way to begin the trip.  It feels awful to kill an animal by accident. Once we saw men herding cows by the road, otherwise the animals roam free in Botswana.  Even in towns, cows and goats are free to roam in traffic circles and shopping centers.  The goats in Mogoditshane have even learned to cross the streets on the green lights.  The men we saw with the cows were dressed in day glo orange vests with flags in hand to guard them from highway traffic, which is a way to protect your cows.

The cow collision banged up the cattle, oops, I mean brush guard, enough to where it interfered with the tire when turning left.  The next morning, in Kang, Botswana, we found a garage to get the bakkie fixed.  The guys took a rusty wire cable, tied one end to the front of the brush guard and the other around a tree.  The older man got in the driver’s seat and reversed the truck while the other workers congregated around the front, telling him which way to turn and when to stop. Good enough for government work.  It was more or less back in place.  We bargained down to P70 from P125, handed them the cash and drove for Namibia.

The Khalahari Desert spreads across Botswana and Namibia and is endlessly flat, with many acacia thorn trees, none taller than 40ft.  The grasses were high and already losing their color at the end of summer.  We listened to the weather forecast on imaginary Khalahari 92.7 The Desert, “well folks, today’s forecast is hot and sunny, and no chance of rain, well, until the rains.”  After crossing into Namibia, we realized we’d time traveled to south east Asia during the 1960s because of how everyone had stickers that read NAM on their rear windows.

The trip was 25 days in which we drove nearly 5,000km.  Besides a week long stay in Henties Baai, south of the Skeleton Coast and north of Swakopmund, we spent each night sandwiched between earth and sky.  We drove mostly along Namibia’s well maintained gravel roads, through landscapes that morphed from greenish hills near Okahandja to grasslands and desert mountains near Omaruru.  We met a nice young man in Omaruru who had his dad and brother take us up in their microlights the next morning before we drove off for Branderg mountain.  Nearly 1500 feet in the sky, I conversed with his dad through microphones in our helmets to make sure it was supposed to feel like that, like  a taught sheet flapping in a strong wind.  He pointed out Brandberg Mountain, red in the morning sun, and that the Atlantic Ocean was just beyod it.

Before arriving at Brandberg, we stopped in a small town called Uis, and asked for the old mine, so that we could go swimming.  We filled up our water bottles at the filling station, and bought stones from some guys who brought over trays of rocks and stones they found in the hills.  They traded us lapis lazuli, smoky quartz with blots of amethyst, flourite, and something that looked like a watered down version of rose quartz.  The filling station attendant hopped in the back of the bakkie with Ty to show us the way to the old Uis mine that people now swim in. When we arrived, we stood on the ledge, looked down through sliced walls of rock to find the entire surface of the water crowded with a carpet of fish.  Something wasn’t quite right.  These fish did not move, it was like they were too many to swim.  We hopped rocks down to the edge of the water, but were put off by the smell and sight of rotting fish on the shore, choosing not to swim.

To be continued.

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