Monday, June 16, 2014

Crossing the Namib Desert on a camel

Original text by Benedict Allen Explorer, executive summary by darmansjah

Charly’s Desert Tours runs day-and longer trips in the Namib Desert and rents vehicles, with half-day tours starting at US$80.30. For more information, get hold of a copy of Lonely Planet’s Boswana & Nambia. South African Airways flies direct from Singapore to Windhoek, Namibia.

FOR YEARS, I had been fascinated by the Namib Desert. Running up the southwest coast of Africa, it is distinguished by the Lange Wand, an Afrikaans term meaning ‘long wall’. The height of three houses, this wall of sand backs right up against the sea for 70 miles all the way up the coast. No one had ever been allowed to travel the length of the desert, because it is a prime spot for diamonds washed down the Orange River from South Africa. Luckily, someone somewhere decided that I wasn’t there to pilfer gemstones and agreed to let me make the journey, possibly because I’d decided to travel with camels.

I found three camels on a farm in South Africa, and had to train them for the journey. I soon realized that you have to do what they want. Unlike horses, who need to be fed, camels can go without eating for quite a while, so there is always the risk they will just wander off without you.

For the first part of the journey through the diamond area, I was escorted all way by guards. But once we reached the sand dunes, the guards left me alone, after frisking the camels to check I hadn’t hidden any diamonds in their ears.

After a while, I reached the huge sand wall. I started the walk along it as the tide was going out and got the camels to trot along ,with the waves bashing against the base of the vast sand cliffs. We only got about halfway, but I discovered that every now and then there were little indentations in the cliffs where you could shelter, so we could spend the night in the middle without fear of the tide.

Towards the end, the Tsauchab River cuts through the desert to the sea. It is an incredible avenue of life in the middle of the desert, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Ana trees on the banks produce pods that elephants finds absolutely delicious, so there were suddenly elephants everywhere. Being alone, so close to animals of such power, was really magical.

My final destination was the Cunene River ,which runs along the border with Angola. It was a wonderful feeling to finally arrive, but when I got to the camp, I felt like wanted to go straight back into the desert. It made me realize that I had adapted-I’d got used to the rhythm of walking along and being by myself.

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