Thursday, October 15, 2009

Namib Desert

I had to go to Namibia for work again and took the opportunity to get out of Windhoek this time and go to Swakopmund on the coast. The shortest way - if not necessarily the fastest - is a dirt road which is almost a straight line between the two places - it takes four hours to cover the 300 kilometres and you can only do it in a four wheel drive - and you need a certain amount of courage, because there is NOTHING on the way except scrub, rock, dust, and the occasional group of ostriches - no petrol stations, no human constructions, no humans, nothing except the road itself and the occasional signpost (not that you need road signs as such - there's only one turn off along the entire route). We saw five other vehicles - four coming towards us and one we had to overtake. Each vehicle raises a vast plume of dust, so it's actually better not to encounter anyone else.

The landscape is beautiful, though of course bleak and at times literally featureless - a flat grey-white plain and a heat-hazed blue horizon. I'm still getting used to how enormous the distances are in Africa - Namibia is well over three times the size of the UK, but with a population of only two million - and most of them clustered in the north of the country. It's humbling and slightly scarey to drive for four hours through a vast area of the world where human beings have made no impact whatsoever - and where no-one in their right mind would want to live anyway.

(As a footnote, when you finally come off the dirt track near Swakopmund, the road is actually made of salt, rather than tarmac - salt after all is plentiful near the sea - there are natural salt pans - and it works fine, the road surface is hard and smooth to drive on. The only drawback, apparently, is when it rains - then the roads become extremely slippery, like wet ice. But then again it hardly ever rains, so not a large problem.)

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