On December 20, as H and I emerged from one of the largest malls I’ve ever been in, in Pretoria, we both commented on how it was lighter later than in Mozambique. I said, “Tomorrow is the longest day of the year. We need to be outside for it.” Twenty-four hours later we sat in the middle of Botswana, eating eland stew by Kalahari Rest’s pool, watching the sky darken over the endless scrub brush.
The trip wasn’t always quite so magical, but it was pretty marvelous. In two weeks we covered a little over 6000 km, traveling from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic, staying in five different locations around Namibia.
On Christmas Eve, after a couple days in the capital of Windhoek, we finally met up in Twyfelfontein with H’s sister and her family as well as another family, all of whom also live in Maputo. That night we drove a few kilometers down the road from our campsite to enjoy a holiday buffet at an upscale lodge built into the desert rock. I ate ostrich. Back at the campsite we opened gifts and drank glögg. Christmas Day was spent admiring rock carvings then spending the afternoon in and around the lodge pool. The nights were cold and the days hot.
The following day we drove out to and then along the Skeleton Coast, so named for the several shipwrecks scattered along the often foggy coast. But one half expects to find human skeletons in the hundreds of miles of salty, sandy, rocky nothingness. Who can survive in that environment if stranded?
Seals, apparently, can survive and thrive on that coast in the hundreds of thousands. North of Swakopmund, we stopped at the Cape Fur seal colony where we were delighted to discover that the birthing season is the beginning of December. There were seal pups everywhere! Between 200,000 and 340,000 Cape Fur seals make their home at the colony. That’s a quarter of a million salt-covered, fish-eating and pooping mammals occupying a fairly small space, plus many expired pups strewn across the sand. The smell would have driven us away much sooner if the pups (the living ones) weren’t so cute.
I thought I would hate Swakopmund, especially at Christmastime, all touristy and filled with South Africans on their summer holidays. But actually it was kind of nice to wander around a German town, eat some nice meals and some very yummy ice-cream and actually forget that I was in Africa. Swakopmund is also where we went sandboarding. The host of our campground was a German guy who has lived in Namibia for ten years. He’s a skier and trains on the dunes in the off-season then competes in Switzerland every winter in the snow. He told us to buy some plywood boards and wax, then he took us to some isolated dunes where H’s brother-in-law skied, H used a snowboard, and the rest of us raced down the dunes on our bellies. So fun, SO sandy! I was crunching on sand and blinking it out of my eyes for the next couple days.
A few days later and a few hundred kilometers south, we found ourselves gazing at the largest sand dunes in the world at Sossusvlei. This is the part of the trip I had most been looking forward to, and honestly I was disappointed initially. Unlike the dunes outside Swakopmund that were just there, quietly accessible to anyone with a 4×4, that we had all to ourselves, these required an entry fee and guidelines to keep cars on the tarmac road. And there were people everywhere. We drove to the end, to the part accessible only by foot or 4×4. There were still a lot of people, but H, his nephew, and I enjoyed a solitary hike to the top of one of the highest peaks. A couple hours of huffing and puffing later, we looked across an endless sea of red sand, and below us what looked like lakes. In reality, they were loooong dried up, creating beautiful patterns of cracked white mud.
Several hundred kilometers further south of there, we found ourselves gazing into the sixth largest canyon in the world, Fish River Canyon, and also staring at a sign forbidding any day or leisure hikes into the canyon. Most people come to Fish River Canyon to hike an 85 km trail. Permits are required, but they aren’t given out during the summer because of the heat and threats of flash floods. So like the majority of tourists at the Grand Canyon, we stood on the edge for fifteen minutes, took our pictures, then returned to our campsite. The next day we discovered an upscale desert lodge and spent the afternoon in its cool, sparkling pool. Not a bad last day.
And that was the end. The end of good food, good company, amazing scenery, refreshing pools, wild animals (I didn’t mention the impalas, springbok, ostriches, mountain zebras, and birds of prey we saw along the way, or the baby giraffe being raised by staff at Kalahari Rest because its mother was bitten by a deadly snake), good infrastructure, cold nights, dry days with bright blue skies, the freedom of the open road, and being outside, which is where I love to be more than anything, directly interacting with God’s creation.
On January 5 we crossed the border (the last of five border crossings) into Mozambique, a little tanner, a little plumper, a little stronger, and quite tired. But good tired. The tired of hard work and fun play. The tired of great vacations.