Desert meets ocean
There are four environments that are notoriously human free. We visit and wish to conquer them, but we can’t. They’re the frozen poles, high mountains, sand deserts and oceans. We can go there for a brief period of time, we can try our limits there, but we can’t live there for long. That’s somehow a relaxing thought, that for some time now, there would still be places where we can seek solitude. To be just with elements, with nature at its most extreme. At the western coast of Namibia, two of these extremities meet. The seemingly stationary red and golden dunes of the the desert flow straight into the ever changing waves of the ocean. The chaos meets order and fight battle of the beach.
The mark we leave
We humans dream about leaving a mark after we’re gone. We build the pyramids, The Great wall, skyscrapers and now even islands. We try to change, even terraform this planet to suite us. We say we do it for the next generation, and this principle is practically coded in our genes. The most significant marks however we leave unintentionally or as a byproduct. We pollute, we leave scars as we rape the earth of resources. If we were extinct today, it won’t be the tall majestic buildings and human made landmarks left as our most durable mark. It would be the waste we create, plastics that can weather the elements for thousands of years. That is our current mark in this world. The air would clean itself. Sun, rain and wind will take care of the buildings, ocean will reclaim islands. Yes it would take thousands of years. But standing over a Fish River Canyon, in the southern part of Namibia, today, I realized how insignificant mark we make. The river started its slow work in forming the canyon some 300 million years ago and if the geologist are right, the riverbed itself is as much as 1,5 billion years old, so it took the river, and other elements I suppose, 1 200 million years to grow enough to bite through the hard top layer of volcanic rock. The humans started to influence the world around them in more significant way some 10 thousand years ago. Ok I grant us that we are much efficient than the river in creating huge holes and scars in the ground and it is taking us mere 300 years until we deplete most of the world’s resources and it may take us only 100 to destroy the ozone layer and change the climate of the whole planet. But the planet will survive, maybe without any life like other planets, and maybe we will have a hand in that, but the Fish River Canyon will be there long after there is no trace of us here, not even the plastic waste. It takes nature longer to leave mark, but it also lasts longer.
A funny story for change. That morning was a premonition of the evening event. We were staying at the Ai-Ais hot spring resort and Petra decided to go swimming in pool before breakfast. A good idea, if the whole resort was not teaming with baboons, that were stealing anything that was not permanently attached to something else. I can be quite a challenge to undress and leave clothes by the pool. Luckily, the lady baboons must have decided that Petra’s bright clothes are not their size and the morning went quite uneventfully for us, even if we had to have a pile of stones ready to be thrown at the more courageous monkeys. With Ai-Ais we had hit the bottom of the mut so it was time to strike north.
A long drive was ahead of us as our next destination was Quiver Tree Forest. As most land that is not a sandy desert, this place was also on a private land, a big farm. A farm that among the livestock had also 2 cheetahs and abou 7 dogs of various sizes. But for us the Quiver Tree Forest was the main attraction. That is one beautiful place and immediately after the arrival I have wandered off in thought 8 years back when I have first come to Joshua Tree National Park in California. This place had very similar atmosphere even if aloes covered much smaller patch of land.
We had walked through the area with the biggest concentration of trees, taking lots of pictures because each tree was unique, in different light and surroundings. After that we have decided we would walk further to the bush behind fences. We took just canister with water and walked away from our camping spot. After maybe 500m Petra has frozen in her tracks pointing maybe 80m before her. She claimed something moved there. I have stopped as well and waited. Through the thicket, cornering rocks a warthog was approaching us. It was getting closer and closer and Petra started to panic: “Tomas, do something! Do something! It’s coming at us!”. And it actually was. It wasn't a small warthog, tusks long enough to do a lot of damage. I started to be a bit afraid myself, but I was more amazed and even more puzzled. Why is it going directly for us? Why isn’t it afraid? Why doesn’t it tries to warn us or scare us? We were standing at the spot we have stopped, the beast passed us by 3 or 4 meters, sniffed the canister that I have put down when coming after Petra’s call and walked further. We have changed our position and climbed a pile of small boulders to have a better view. The unperplexed animal circled us ones again and then made straight for camping making the same impression on all people there. Petra was stressed out and didn’t want to go further into the bush, afraid there are more. Finally we have walked a bit more, but always in sight of the camping. We have finally walked back to the farm for cheetah feeding. Stories the farm owner, a very nice and funny guy, has told while feeding them I leave for the next chapter. The more important event happened afterwards when we have moved closer to the reception for a wi-fi and our dose of online drugs. While engaged in facebook spamming, the warthog has come among us and other tourist and farmer’s wife started to feed it some old pastry, calling the warthog Specky! The dangerous beast became a household sweetheart in a matter of seconds and Petra was even tempted to pet it, against which she was advised by the farm lady. It’s been raised on the farm as an orphan but the wilderness instincts are coded deep in her genes and it’s behaviour might still be unpredictable, said the farmer. It might well be so, but as we watch it longer, it seemed that this particular warthog thought it was a dog. It was raised with dogs, played with them, did a lot of mischief to the lady with them (in this it was a pack leader). It's always good when the close encounters with animals turn from scary to funny, not the other way around. Even if those stories get filmed much more often.
Of cats and sheep
As I have mentioned before, the farmer at the Quiver Tree Forest farm told a story about the cheetahs while feeding them. I have been in many zoos and a few safaris as well and have read a lot about the large cat predators, but it was quite interesting to hear the farmer’s side of the story. I was already aware of the fact, that cheetahs can be quite easily made into a pet if raised from cub as they are not born with a killer instinct like any other cats. Even a household kitty has more inborn killer instinct than a cheetah. That means, cheetahs have to learn how to hunt and kill, which is why it is quite hard to teach it to them if they are rescued orphans. Many of them would simply not survive in the wild, because they wouldn’t know how to hunt properly.
This is something I have learned in a different safari though, in South Africa, where they have a large cheetah rescue camp with quite high release rate. The new and for me very interesting fact was something that many people use wrongly in comparison of animals and humans. People use to say, that animals don’t kill needlessly. According to the story, that is not quite so. The large portion of this part of Namibia is farmland and livestock ranches and large predators pose a serious problem. Some might say, let them kill their share, its natural and moreover their normal habitat. Problem is, cats don’t kill just for food. Cats kill because it’s in their blood. The farmer told us of a cheetah that have killed 167 sheeps overnight, just because it was easy kill, it was learning to kill. Traditional domesticated stock animals are bred out of their natural survival traits and therefore an easy prey for predators. Same as human sheep today. They as well have no means to defend against the modern predators, and I don’t mean the animals. We live in a herd, hoping the shepard is a good guy. But sometimes a predator sneaks between the sheep and bites with demagogia, lies and hoaxes and sheep fall one after another. And dilema is the same, is it the fault of the predator or humanity, that those survival traits are missing?
The monotonous beauty
Beauty is a strange thing. We can get use to it so quickly and then be blind to it. Sometimes it takes effort to get rid of the filter of routine. To see the beauty that is still in all everyday things. For some, desert is monotonous and flat. For me it is beautiful just because of that. It is not crying for attention, but is full of surprises, it’s mysterious even. When we headed up north from Keetmanshoop, we have decided for a side roads instead of the B1 tar road. We wanted to see the red dunes of Kalahari desert. It was almost 700 km to our next destination and it took us about 8 hours. In those 8 hours, from the starting point to our destination, landscape has changed immensely, but the changes were so invisible that sometimes we haven’t even realised them. Savanna becoming a desert and then back again savanna. Red sand, turning to golden to white, to ashen. Big trees, small trees, bushes, grass or no flora at all. There were no sudden changes, but I had few sudden realisations of how the landscape has changed. It is hard to spot those changes when they are happening, I have mostly seen it only when they have already happened. It’s thus with all monotonous things, with all things that changes slowly and invisibly. Sometime we spot the changes too late to do something about them. And even if we can still find beauty in them, they have changed so much, they don’t suite us any longer. Such are relationships, lasting, but changing. And such are we. Still the same, but learning. Beauty turned into commonness, smile into a grunt. The filter thickens and obscures the unchanging beauty inside. If we can’t remove it, we have to move on. Such is the Kalahari and such am I. And you.
Resorts of nostalgy
During our travels through Namibia, we have visited several resorts, that were a part of some points of interest. If it were a national park, the resorts were usually under the government owned company named Namibia Wildlife Resorts. A very fine establishments: large, luxurious looking and mostly empty. Another thing they have in common though are poor services. Stuff has zero proactivity and sales spirit, sometimes is almost bored or even seem bothered by visitors and not very proclient oriented or competent. We had such an experience in three out of four NWR we have visited. In a fireplace discussion with Karen, the Dutch women we met in Etosha Safari Camp (a very different kind of resort then the government owned ones), we talked a lot about how it is so common, that government run companies are very ineffective and the customers’ orientation and satisfaction has a very low rate there. Government run organisations are simply too big to fail and therefore have not much motivation to be effective. For me it was quite nostalgic experience. I have been born during last few years of communism in Slovakia, but didn’t really experienced it myself, but this is how the services probably looked like. If staff is paid equally if they serve 100 people or none, why should they bother? If you are backed by state money, why should you be proactive and inovative? If all buildings and machines are already paid for, does it matter if there are any people using them? I hate when the private sector is strictly commercial and money oriented, but this was even worse. Money could often bought you nothing, simply because no waiter has bothered to show up for your order. The most sad thing is that this happens in Slovakia far too often as well and even more sadly it is in private sector. I hate to feel like I am bothering someone by my business. I am sometimes even over empathetic about them. My work is service oriented and therefore I know how hard is to deal with some people. But smile pleases far more people then grunt (and disarms all else when rightly applied). It’s funny how it feels like that at some places people forget how to smile. In Africa I have seen much more smiles then in Europe despite the poverty and living conditions are uncomparable, but what strikes me, is that when I have encountered the same people as a customer the smile was gone, as if scared away. I was more accustomed to a reverse approach. To fake salesmen smiles, that does not touch the eyes. I couldn’t really put finger on it, why is it so? Is it the nostalgia of slavery and than servitude? We Europeans are in general totally unenergetic compared to the black Africans. They have rhythm and fire in their blood but it was oppressed for too long I guess and now they mimic us when dealing with us I guess. Shame, I was looking forward to be part of that energy.
A different kind of the same
Foreign places feels different even if they are very similar to my home environment. They are often different only because they are supposed to be different. When I’m driving my clients through the fields of French countryside, the often voice the same feeling. It looks like fields back home, but it doesn’t. We perceive the world around us through many different filters and it is sometimes hard to realize, that some new thing is nothing special. This is precisely how marketing works and we go through this brainwash so often that we cease to see it and blindly accept it. “Aw look at these african animal figures, they would make great souvenirs”. Nevermind they are made in China and you can buy the same at home. A bit exaggerated perhaps but you get my point. We are just continuously losing the ability to look at things as they really are. To see common things as common and to see an added value, where it really is. Practicality over brand, beauty without makeup, real thing over glamour. In the age of instagram and facebook, it's a hard thing to ask. I myself, love to share photos, that I enhance a bit. Or a lot. I too create illusions. Some unintentionally, some not. But I try not to loose critical sight on things I see. I don’t fall for ads very often. Or “enhanced” women, when we’re at that.
Funny how far a simple thought in a forest can lead. All the way to the “superwomen” of present age. The very first concept was much simpler. Today we have walked through the forest. No big deal, right? But it was the first real forest in 10 days we have spent in Namibia. Ten days of desert, savannah and ocean. The forest at the foothill of Waterberg plateau felt very strange all of a sudden. Very familiar, almost boring, but at the same time very different and enchanting. Forrest back home are no rarity. Large trees, not much undergrowth, I would call forest back at home spacious. Here, in this humid island in endless savannah, foliage use every square centimeter it can to grow. It’s more of a jungle then a forest. It felt alien, intimidating, full of strange sounds. But forrest is a forest, it can be different in many aspects, but the one is always common. Like all cities are the same, so are the forests. Cities all got people, forests are all beautiful.