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A Walk in the Namibian Desert with a Resident Expert and Nomad Tours – Day 5

Boesman Camp, Namibia

A pretty awesome spot at Boesman Camp in Namibia.

After climbing a sand dune, visiting Deadvlei, and visiting Solitaire, it had already been a long day, but our guides saved the best for last:  a drive and walk through the desert with a third-generation resident and expert in desert ecology.  And camping on his property which provided sublime views of ancient mountains and petrified sand dunes.

Born and Raised in the Namibian Desert

Our host and desert guide is a third-generation Namibian man whose German grandfather settled in Namibia in the 1940’s to raise Karakul sheep, prized especially for their pelts, which must be taken within eight hours of birth.  Welcome to the world lamb.  Now say goodbye.

This was a huge industry for Germans in Namibia throughout the 1900’s, but the industry crashed in the 1970’s.  It is recovering slowly now, with demand coming from high-fashion houses and from Russia and China.  But most farmers went bust in the 1970’s and desert tourism became the only option for making money.

Such was the case with our guide who depends on giving desert tours and a small campground for income.  He has a 200-meter-deep-well that provides limited water, so expansion into anything more would not be possible.  Not an easy life.  But a beautiful one if you like solitude.  His nearest neighbor is 45 kilometers away.  Not close enough to be asking for a cup of sugar.

The Fragile Ecology of the Desert

A spiderweb under the sand.

A spiderweb under the sand.

Our host assured us that nothing would harm us in the desert, despite the angry scorpion we saw setting up camp or the cheetahs, springboks, hyenas, jackals, spiders, snakes and more that inhabit the area.

He told us that in this area of the world, rain sometimes does not come for 10-20 years.  It is so dry, it takes an orange peel sixty years to degrade.  He laments the climate change he’s noticed in the last few years.  In 2009, there was 3 mm of rain.  In 2010, there was 10 mm of rain.  And in 2013, there was 300 mm of rain.

“Rain is bad for the desert”.  So many animals live just below the surface of the sand where it’s cooler, and with too much rain, they literally drown under the sand, disrupting the whole food chain.  He showed us a spiderweb built about a centimeter under the sand to demonstrate that most life in the desert is not visible.

We were shown how the plants in the desert function to ensure maximum survival.  Our host held a dried seed pod in his hand and poured a bit of water on it.  Instantly, it opened, but the seeds remained inside.  Had he doused it again in a few hours, the seeds would have been released.  But the plant will not let those seeds go until it is sure there will be more water to help the seed grow.  When no water comes, the dry pod closes again and waits.  Sometimes for years.

For thousands of years, the San People lived here.

Namibian Desert

The Namibian Desert

The San people (aka “Bushmen”) were the first residents of this area (and all of Southern Africa) having lived in harmony with the land for 30,000 years before other populations arrived and their demise began.  They were hunters and gatherers and followed water and the game and edible plants that could be found.  They lived in small egalitarian communities and owned nothing but what they carried.

In the 1700’s, The Dutch, French and British moved them from their lands.  Europeans did not consider them human, but animals.  Bushmen lived in this area until 1918 when they were hunted for sport or captured and kept as “pets”.  The last permit to hunt Bushmen in Namibia (then a part of South Africa) was given in 1936.  Since then, the harassment has continued up to the present day.  And these people, who are considered to be some of the first people based on DNA studies, will soon be gone.  In all of Africa, only a few thousand San people still live as their grandparents did: as nomads.

The San people believe that when you die, you go to the moon.  When the moon is crescent shaped it is because it is so heavy with the spirits it carries.  I especially love this idea, despite modern science ruining everything.

Our host explained that in this blazing hot environment San people rarely drank water.  They had a saying that translated to “men don’t need water” – a way more hardcore version of “real men don’t eat quiche”, eh?  Only women and children got what little water they might find or filter from the sand.  The men obtained all they needed by eating the eyes and drinking the blood of oryxes.  Or from ostrich eggs.

Oryxes (a type of antelope) themselves have also adapted to the tough dry climate.  They can go their whole lives without drinking water, existing on only the dew that comes from eating grass in the morning.  It’s mind-boggling considering the heat.

Sunset in the Desert

As we climbed a rocky mountain for a view of sunset I marveled again at the colors that move across the land and literally shed a tear at the beauty.

While most of us were exhausted, after dinner we gathered our strength to walk to the “pub”, a counter in our host’s living room.  Sitting outside with wine in hand, we talked while the stars beamed and oryxes sipped at the nearby waterhole.

Disclaimer: Nomad Tours offered me a discount in exchange for documentation of the experience.  I have complete freedom to share my thoughts.  All opinions are my own.

Photos of the Day:

2 Comments

  1. Beautiful photos! Thanks Laura.

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