Along the Road to Namibia Part. 2 | The Himba, Solitaire & Sandstorms
What I didn't realize, until I reached her rust-colored shores, is that Namibia is not magic. That would be an understatement. Namibia is a magician – revealing stories that transcend time with just a slight of hand. This travel diary, as told through a series of photographs told in three parts, depicts my story of Namibia. I hope that by sharing it with you, it’ll inspire you to go out and find a story to call your own.
THE DANCE OF THE HIMBA
After Etosha, I drove to Opuwo. It is a small town balanced on a knife’s edge between the past and the present. A place where tradition and modernity exist peacefully among the various ethnic groups who live there – most notably, the Himba people. They are the last semi-nomadic people left in Namibia. And when walking the streets of Opuwo or shopping in the grocery store, you’ll see many in their traditional garb – calfskin skirts and the blood red otjize, a paste made of ochre and butterfat. Otjize acts as a sort of sun protectant and skin cleanser – keeping the wearer clean, dry and protected from the harsh Namibian elements. Himba women will wrap their braids in this paste, making them appear as if they’ve just risen from the rich red earthen plains of Namibia like the summer sun.
Dancing is almost sport to the Himba people. And everyone participates. First, the community gathers in a half circle beneath the shade of an old tree and begins to clap rhythmically. Clap clap clap. Soon, the beat picks up and children join in. Clap clap clap. A woman steps out. Someone shouts. Singing begins. Clap clap clap. The woman, surrounded by her friends and family painted in ochre, begins to stomp and spin. Clap clap clap. Soon everyone takes a turn in the circle, dancing, spinning, stomping, as if they were singing to the hidden part inside everyone that longs to dance freely in the long shadows of Namibia.
Driving in Namibia is quite the experience. At first, it’s full of stops and starts. This is mainly because I was overcome by the near constant urge to photograph every vista we came across. The incredible loneliness of the sand dunes, the breathtaking skies that stretched like mountains overhead – all of it called to my camera and me and for that very reason, I stopped the car at least a thousand times and snapped photos like this one: an abandoned truck swallowed by sand. The truck was shot on the way to a place called Solitaire. Such a lonely name. There were hundreds of abandoned, rusted out old trucks along the way, their metal carcasses stripped bare by the sun and the wind. This stretch of highway was a boneyard for old machines now lost to the encroaching sands of Namibia.
There was a town here once. I was told that many years ago, it was a prosperous place for mining. A gold rush brought thousands of people from across Namibia and other parts of the world to try their fortune here. The town flourished – but just a little while. A year maybe. And then, like that it was gone. Namibia is full of stories like this.
The rains come and flood the dry, desiccated sands and overnight, green plants and flowers sprout where no life could possibly have grown before. And then, in the blink of an eye, the sun rises and the green withers away. Dunes rise like tidal waves and bury fortunes and futures in one instant. This is the way of Namibia.
THE PERFECT SANDSTORM
They only tell you one thing when you arrive in Namibia: Never drive in a sandstorm. Sandstorms in Namibia are violent, dangerous things. It happened when I was in the Tiras mountains, photographing the plains. I had my camera out on a tripod, taking long captures of the distant mountains when behind me thunder began to shake the earth. I spun around as lightning crackled across the sky. This once empty place was now transformed by dark clouds, black as night. And they were headed straight towards me. It was in that very moment, when lightning struck just meters away that I realized something very important. The only metal in this whole place was my tripod. A makeshift Namibian lightning rod. And I was standing right next to it. I’ve never run to my car faster in my whole life.
I’m not sure perfection exists – even though every photographer is after that one perfect shot. Perfection, of course, was what I was chasing before the winds of Namibia changed. Then, suddenly, I was outrunning a violent sandstorm and throwing the very notion of perfection to the wind.
That’s how I captured this photograph of a storm devouring a mountain like dinner. It was pure luck and a bit of stubborness. I would drive my car as fast as I could up the road. Then, I’d stop a few kilometers away from the sandstorm, jump out, set up my gear, snap a photo of the storm and then pack up to leave – my girlfriend yelling out the car window the entire way. Not pictured here were the flocks of ostriches fleeing from the torrents of sand. It was a surreal sight. They were keeping pace with our car, their black wings billowing in the wind.
Perhaps I could name these photographs ‘The Perfect Storm’ because it truly was.
With the tempest nipping at my license plate, I decided trying to capture any more photos was a worthless venture. My cameras and equipment bouncing in the back, I hit the gas and gunned it out of the desert until the daylight peeked through the clouds once again. The storm, on a dime, spun off into a different direction, into the mountains, leaving behind a soft pink sky.
Only then did I stop to take one final shot. This is it: a double rainbow framing this perfectly unflappable horse. It’s as if he didn’t care that only moments ago a storm was breaking over the horizon.