Sensations on the road…Namibian journal

120km per hour - late afternoon on tarmac road to Grootfontein

120km per hour – late afternoon on tarmac road to Grootfontein. “Blur”

More than the sum of its parts. That line certainly describes our days – and nights – spent on the road. In our first trip out, two weeks in the 4×4 with my sister and brother-in law, we traveled 3,000 kilometeres. So many km were traveled on gravel, but these images are of our time on tarmac roads.  Driving, riding, rotating, stopping…and starting again.

It was sometimes like having several days in one…changes in the landscape and plants; the exchanges with people in the busy towns and then driving out into wild or sparsely inhabited rural expanses.

We had a loose system. We would rotate so that everyone got turns in the front where it was more comfortable and had the best visibility…and in the front you could control the stereo! As a driver I had to be alert for animals making their way slowly off of the shoulder to cross the highway. The range was great…may be a herd of goats or cattle or wild springbok or eland. And, fellow, local drivers had a different style of driving. They were crazy about passing…pushing too close and veering out into the oncoming lane to see if it was clear. They might be towing a trailer and would still go for it!

Some typical expressions on riders in the back seat. Cecil and John making the best of it?

Some typical expressions on riders in the back seat. Cecil and John making the best of it?

Sitting for hours in unusual positions wasn’t bliss…lumped together, we talked, we laughed, we listened to music and sang…and we had stretches of quiet.

Then a stop – a much needed break. Sometimes we would explode out of the truck! Other stops would find us slowly untangling ourselves from seat belts, each other, and stepping out gingerly on cramped, creaky legs. Stretch, move and then…always things to see would take our minds off of our stiffness and we would wake up and focus. Adjust, look around – POW ! – first impressions – animals – amazing geography and geology or an expanse of landscape, as the case often was in Namibia.But there was the next wave of experience…a slower, rolling sensation – reactions to temperature, colors and light and people. Thinking and feeling at the same time.

Our vehicle was full of creatives who, armed with our cameras and sketchbooks would start working… stills and video and pencils all clicking and scratching to gather details of a place or the immensity of a scene. Sometimes I would just stand and feel the sun, the wind, the dust and listen to the sounds or the quiet.

There was practice involved in this traveling together. Practicing sitting like sardines for hours – practicing patience when it didn’t always feel good. The road was often bumpy. There were bumps in our family dynamics – we all practiced compromise and thinking about the good of the group. This practice was unspoken, we all understood.

It took time, but by the end of our two weeks, spending twenty four hours together – working, playing, camping, eating, driving and riding – we had a system…synchronicity. We knew we were in it together – more than the sum of its parts. We were traveling a miniature lifetime – our little familial collective- a moment that will never be repeated.

Climb back in – take our places – color and shapes blur once again. New sensations. It was all good.

Little did we know what was to come…Namibia journal

After a great campfire evening and making dinner in our “poitje pot,” we readied ourselves for bed. My brother-in-law decided to hike the short trail to the waterhole at Halali camp in Etosha before retiring. Daughter Zara was in her bag in the roof tent and I was climbing the ladder to join her and we got a text from Cecil saying “lions!” John had already hussled up the trail and Z and I decided to go…with our headlamps bobbing little specks of light all around as we ran and walked. No luck…we missed them. Cecil had made a good sighting of two lions and John saw their rumps and tails disappear into the darkness. Back in our tents…we dozed off to the sounds of the lions growling and rumbling at the edge of the fenced camp. It’s a sound that I could feel in my gut…as well as hear.

Other nighttime excitement included keeping watch for fierce honey badgers that had figured out how tasty human food was. They are nothing to mess with. We would shine our flashlights and catch the red glow of their eyes in the bush at the edge of our campsite. I was awakened in the night to hear them turning over the large garbage cans and tearing up anything food-related. They hissed and growled and shredded.

The next day was our last day in Etosha and we hiked up to the Moringa waterhole in Halali one more time. We decided to spend 3o minutes or so to watch and observe whichever animals were there. We sat under the shaded viewing area; moved around quietly, making photographs and I sketched. We soaked up the calm, beautiful activity of kudu, and black-faced impala and zebra drinking from the waterhole…and funny groups of guinea fowl scurrying around.

We all decided it was time to hit the road…we had some distance to cover and places to stop before we would reach our night’s destination.

All of a sudden, a little dust began to rise up from the bush across the waterhole and almost out of nowhere came a few elephants. Then more and more…in a perfect line. They emerged, one by one in a perfect procession that became 47-50 elephants! They circled around the entire waterhole, clearing out any other animals as they completed their march.

Needless to say, we changed our plans and stayed for another hour and a half…watching, listening, absorbing in awe! We saw huge elders drink and spray and babies roll around and play in the water in pure joy. We saw teenage elephants jousting and pushing each other and we saw gentle nudging and playing between all ages of the group.They trumpeted, snorted, blew air and water from their trunks…an amazing assortment of sounds.

It was an unbelievable life moment for all of us…we would throw glances and smiles back and forth without speaking but we were all feeling the power of being in the presence of such magnificent creatures. Elephants became synonymous with Halali camp in Etosha.

Our time was too short in Etosha. I must come back to this place. This “great white place,”… shimmering mirages and white hot gravel and the homes of such amazing animals.

(All of these animal photographs were made by my husband John and my daughter Zara.) ©John Wiley and Zara Wiley