Strange, Moonless Moon in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

We’ve been driving for four hours and still haven’t seen another soul. Nobody. No cars. Curiously, the lunar nothingness stretched south to the horizon. On the left, the desert; on the right, the ocean. A road full of salt has sewn a tight seam between the two. Under an overcast sky, the three surfaces fade into an indistinguishable gray-brown streak.

We were traveling along Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, a region often considered the end of the Earth.

With a view through a dusty windshield, the title seems appropriate. The untamed Skeleton Coast begins at Namibia’s northern border with Angola and continues 300 miles south to the former German colony town of Swakopmund, where bakeries and beer gardens are teeming with animals. roads still line the streets – and where, a century ago, thousands of Africans from two ethnic groups, the Herero and the Nama, killed by German soldiers.

The region contains a fusion of cultures, landscapes and species unlike any other on Earth, sometimes evoking a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

My partner and I found ourselves driving down the C34 motorway along this rugged stretch of land midway through a three-week road trip across Namibia in early 2021. A year before that, we’d packed up our lives. , leaving home and work in Seattle. with plans to travel around the world, only to come to a sudden halt when the globe went down just a few weeks after our trip. In what turned out to be perhaps one of the more unique pandemic experiences, we were locked up in our first destination, Portugal, for seven months.

As things slowly unfolded towards the end of 2020, we decided it might be prudent to begin revisiting our original itinerary. Then comes the task of answering some key questions: Which countries currently allow U.S. citizens to immigrate? (Very few.) Where do we feel safe going based on current Covid-19 case numbers, testing and cover requirements? (Even less.) And most importantly, won’t we become a burden on the country’s health care system if we unfortunately get sick?

Namibia quickly rose to the top of the list. Being among the least densely populated countries in the world and as a place where we could travel completely independently, it seemed like a good choice. We don’t know how we would be in awe of its vast and varied landscape.

I knew very little about the country before we set our sights and immediately began researching its history and geography. As soon as I learned about the Skeleton Coast, reading stories of shipwrecks, incredible panoramas, and diamonds from the 20th century, I felt its pull. The wilderness, the desolate, the inaccessible mystery of it all – it lit up my imagination, and I knew I had to experience and photograph it.

The gates through which we entered Skeleton Coast National Park, near the Ugab River, were guarded by towering skulls, crossbones and whale ribs. The objects serve as a warning: “Abandon the hope of all who enter.”

Before crossing the 6,300 square mile protected coastline, we were obliged to provide our names and information – lest we not be notified before nightfall – in exchange for a transit permit and a healthy dose of fear. We crossed our fingers and held our breath as we drove through the gate, praying that we wouldn’t blow a tire on the rented, covered Toyota Hilux that had been our home in recent weeks, or get eaten. butchered by the beach lions in no human land in front.

This arid desert, where the Atlantic curvature swells violently, has unfortunately killed many sailors, ships, planes and animals. Their carcasses – rusted ships, sun-bleached skeletons – are now visible reminders of the park’s harsh conditions. It is an inhospitable place where almost nothing grows, and where there are many dangers, from wild mountains to dense coastal fog.

Visitors are often drawn to the park’s wreck-strewn coastline. Although only a few are still visible, hundreds of ships met their fate along this stretch of coast and were slowly devoured by the elements. Some can only be reached by plane or four-wheeler.

At the north pole, traces of the Dunedin Star remain. The British Blue Star was brought ashore in 1942, stranding 106 of its passengers and crew. An aircraft and a tugboat, including several crew members, were also lost in the rescue effort. To the south, the freighter Eduard Bohlen ran aground in 1909 and can now be seen from above, a quarter of a mile inland, as a ghostly ship surrounded by the desert.

We can see the ruins of the South West Seal, a ship that crashed ashore in 1976, now just a pile of wood and rusted metal peeking out from the sand, and Zeila, a fisherman who ran aground last year. 2008 near Henties Bay, still a degraded but largely visible presence, now home to dozens of black cormorants, just offshore.

The few man-made traces here are all in a state of decay: Road signs have faded and decomposed, an abandoned rig is left with only a pile of rust, eroded by time, sand and air. sea ​​gas. Every few minutes, I go back to capture these details with my camera, stretching what should have been a six-hour journey into an 11-hour journey.

Along the way, we passed other quirks, including the Cape Cross Seal Sanctuary, home to more than 200,000 foul-smelling fur seals, and the Walvis Bay Salt Works, home to salt granaries. giant is colored bright pink by the presence of Dunaliella salina microorganism. Match the flamingos stalking shrimp in the nearby marshes. Makeshift tables line the road north of Swakopmund; lying on them were dozens of pale pink halite crystals, often accompanied by rusty boxes of money, waiting for honest passers-by to drop a few dollars in exchange for a treasure.

The barren landscape feels like another world, raw and powerful. Both excited and scared. The coastline and colors slowly change, the sand turning red, as we head further south and into Namib-Naukluft National Park, home to the world’s oldest desert: the Namib.

Named today for the fledgling country (Namibia gained independence in 1990), Namib has existed for at least 55 million years, its towering sand dunes plunging into the ocean.

The solitude and aloofness that we have been pursuing in our search for this lonely part of the world – free from man-made illness, yes, but also from the slogans of everyday life – awaits. us in batches. In the best ways, Namibia made us feel small and insignificant – a prospect I often crave in a world overwhelmed by instant gratification and endless battles for attraction. my attention. And finally, the Skeleton Coast is a strange and beautiful reminder that we humans are powerless against time, and that in the battle between man and nature, nature always wins. Strange, Moonless Moon in Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

Fry Electronics Team

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