Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dune 45

I'm sitting on top of Dune 45 in the Namibian desert. Well – I'm not right now, but I was when I wrote that in my red moleskine notebook. Right now I'm actually sitting in a hostel in Livingston, Zambia trying to type up all the entries that will take me from this day (December 17th) to today (January 2nd.) It's strange to look back on my trip, and try to get myself back into the feelings, and the emotions, and write with the basis of how I felt then.

So much has happened, so much has changed, and so many friendships formed, strengthened, weakened, or were created. But I'll try to write day to day, and I'll try to put myself back into the feeling of how it was back then. But I make no promises. At the very least you'll learn about what I did. But hey, you won't notice the difference anyway, will you? So excellent – let us press on. I'll speak no more about this large gap in time, that feels like nothing at all.

I'm sitting on Dune 45 watching the sun rise up over the Namibian desert. And there are few things quite as beautiful as this. For a moment the sun throws all the dunes into sharp silhouette, and casts staggered colours across the sky. All around me cameras are snapping away madly. I made it to the top, and this view is my reward.

I would rather not discuss how I made it to the top, as I feel – for pride sake – that getting there was the true show of effort. I will say that I was the first person onto the pristine dune that day, though one of the last to make it to the top. And we'll just leave it at that. Maybe we can also make note of the fact that at some points during my barefoot climb, I feel to my knees needing to crawl for a little while, before standing up, and forcing myself to the top once more. At the top Courtney told me she was grateful for this, as it justified her rest breaks.

At one point Hamish (previously Hey – I can't abide these nicknames any longer. If anyone is upset by the use of their name, they can let me know, and I'll change it.) came and grabbed my pack from me. I'm ever thankful for this, as I had a hard enough time getting up without any extra weight to lug around.

But, as I said, I made it to the top, and watching the yellows and oranges, and golds of the sand shift, and change colour... Perfect slices of light and dark were created where the sun could not reach, across the peak of the dunes. Hundreds of pictures were taken, and I'd never seen a landscape quite like this ever before.

Now some might think that climbing to the top was its own reward. Others might think that the rewards was the English breakfast of bacon and eggs that awaited us down at the bottom, created by our cook Mia, was the reward. But in both those cases people would be wrong. The reward for climbing a sand dune is the journey back down to the bottom again. This is not a journey of one foot after the next, reverse hiking across the sand, which sinks inches with each step, making it seem as if you're walking in two feet of snow. No – down is so much simpler, you look over the edge, check your path, give a loud scream, and start skipping from the top all the way to the bottom, picking up speed, and gaining more and more air with every leap.

It should be noted that you must try not to fall, as that would complicate things, but fall I did not. And for a moment I thought of Scott Wilson jumping down dunes on the travel show Departures. And then I thought of my buddy Matt back home, and how much he would have loved to do this – and how amazing it would have been to do this with him.

Now, after walking up the dune we headed to our next activity – hiking up dunes, and across the desert.

Oh good – just what I had hoped we would be doing after I nearly wanted to kill myself climbing up 45.


But this was a guided walk where we were shown spiders who buried themselves in the sand, creating trap doors with their webs. We saw beetles, and lizards, and all sorts of dessert life that would be easily ignored, otherwise. And then we went to the dead flay – once a lake, before the dunes cut off the supply of water. Trees grew, gnarled, and foreboding, against the dunes, on sheets of clay. More and more pictures were snapped up. As I stood here, I could hardly believe I'd been to the top of a dune today. And back in the van, I'd find myself trying to believe that I was, indeed, here at the flay surrounded by the desert. It's just so – different – out here.

Apparently in the clay shrimp eggs lie in wait for up to eight years for the water to return – at that time, there will be no fish, by the shrimp will populate the pools. Flamingos will come from fifty kilometers away, somehow drawn to this spot, to eat them when the time comes.

Our guide also told us about how he hiked the fifty k to the ocean, over a one week period. Fifty K as the crow flies. With all the dunes, it was probably closer to eighty. He showed us how to get, and bury water in the ground in ostrich eggs. And then he told us about his youthful encounter with a lion, where his grandfather forced him to stand still for over half an hour while the lion charged and backed away, and charged and backed away.

If you come face to face with a lion – stand still. Yes, it might still eat you, but if you run it will eat you. Standing still – it's fifty fifty. That's just how it is out here.

At the end of the walk, we had somehow come to the top of another dune, without realizing it. So gradually was it sloped. But – this meant, of course – it was time to jump down another one, kicking and screaming all the while! Dune skipping is the best skipping.

The only downside to this day was that the greasy breakfast weighed heavily on many peoples stomaches, and washrooms here – well they were an “African Experience.” Think wood surrounding a hole in the ground, filled mostly to the top with the most terrible things ever.

I'm glad to be a guy.

On the way back to camp we passed all number of wild ostriches. They looked like Chocobo to me, running around the plains. It struck me how strange it was to see ostriches, and that they should be from this part of the world. To be honest, I had no idea where they were from – yet here they were, everywhere. I've been told they're delicious!

As a fun fact, seventy two over three chicken eggs fit in one ostrich egg.

Back at camp we checked the time – eleven in the morning. It's amazing what you can do when you're up at four. What choice did we have but return to the pool? The pool whose water was nigh opaque from all the dirty tourists jumping into it.

This time the party bus had already left, leaving us to swim to our heats content, without obstruction. Water and Ice Cream were also bought. I've been averaging four liters of water consumed a day out here. And the ice cream? Well – a chocolate covered ice cream bar, consumed in the middle of the desert, after climbing a huge dune – it is the most delicious of all the ice cream bars!

After who knows how long, we headed back into the van to go to Six Reigns canyon, so called because that's how many reigns would be needed, tied together, with a bucket on the end, to fetch watcher from the bottom to the top.

We climbed down to the bottom, and walked along to the pool at the far end. Hamish and Mitchel (Courtney's brother) threw stones into the pool, from being an outcropping – unable to see it. Mitchel tried and tried, failing with each throw. Hamish shrugged, picked up a rock, tossed it, Splosh! Perfect aim. Had he left it as this, it would have been magic, but the next ten failing throws (some bouncing off the rock wall, and heading straight back for us) removed all hints of omniscience.

At the top tour guide Raymond told us about the canyon, “It's so close in some points that you can actually jump the canyon.” He seemed to pause and think about what he'd just revealed to us, “Don't jump the canyon!”

Mia, the cook, said that we should name out truck, as we had named the party bus. But there was no way to do this just yet. People tried – but you can't force a nickname, and all seemed awkward: Sweet Tongue, Transportation: Desert Storm, the Ray-Team... You canNOT force a nickname.

On the way back to camp Mia asked us to sing Yellow Submarine – why, and how this came about, was due to a game of Humdingers we'd played earlier, without realizing the significance of it... Still unaware, we sang loudly out the window at all the people around our camp site, garnering looks for oh so many.

Over the mic, during one of Hamish and I's attempts to entertain, the following exchange transpired. It was a painfully accurate joke that I appreciate:

Mia: I just wanted to point out how good Erin looked in her dress yesterday!
Hamish: ...I thought that Mike was looking pretty good to, eh Mia?
Mia: Hamish – Mike always looks good!
Hamish: ...mumble mumble...
Mia: What?
Hamish [growing bolder?]: Is that because he always wears the same thing?

Cue laughter from all around. So true, so true – but in all fairness, I did wash the shirt in a sink with shampoo... so it's kinda like it's new again, yeah? No.

Back at camp the dark sky covered all in an amazing blanket, even more beautiful than the night before, as I was no longer stunned by it, and could start to take it in. I stared up at it for nearly an hour, in silence.

Anette saw a scorpion hide under her tent. But when Raymond checked it had already disappeared. Life in the desert.

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