In some ways it felt like we had driven to the ends of the earth. We had put in very, very long days of driving, had camped two consecutive nights in bush locations without getting much closer to anything. There was no tarmac to be found, just an endless network of sandy highways in the desert and a concrete sky above. The landscape felt like a charcoal sketch, a colorless and forgotten world with rusted road signs pointing to nowhere.
The entire land felt uninhabitable – and inhospitable, like we were someplace we shouldn’t be and at any moment we’d be asked to leave. On the second day we passed the corpse of an abandoned oil derrick that lay dead in the sand. It was a visual relic of man’s ambition to excavate something the land wasn’t prepared to give. It made me angry, the way finding a wrapper or a beer bottle on the ground when hiking in the Pacific Northwest makes me angry. What environmental slobs we are. And yet the elements were already at work, rust eating the steel, sand and wind exfoliating the objects we have made and left behind, returning them to the belly of the desert, to the womb of the land.
Again, I was reminded of the work of Robert Macfarlane I have been reading so much of lately, of how true it is that wild places seem to reset our perspectives, in the most needed of ways. The days spent in the Skeleton Coast were eerie and empty, but somehow beautiful, reminding me yet again that world is bigger than I often perceive it be, that there are hidden landscapes in the world that do not conform to the needs of man, and they demand our respect.
On our final night we arrived at a small town called Mendes Bay and it was cold as hell. I could hardly bear to be outside with the wind blowing as it was, but before retiring for the night I caught a glimpse of the opening in the sky made available by the wind. For just a few moments the cloud cover had been pushed away and the stars overhead were fully illuminated in the sky. Suddenly, one didn’t feel so far from the rest of the world, and the land didn’t feel as barren as it had in days before. Months earlier I had been reading up on Namibia in a National Geographic publication. I had written this excerpt on a small piece of paper and had carried it with me. Truly, I felt the universe staring down on me.
“Namibia is one of the least populated countries in the world, relative to its size, with vast tracks of uninterrupted pristine landscape. Driving the gravel roads you won’t see another car, person or power line for hours. The night skies are light pollution free – and you may think you are alone, camping on the Skeleton Coast beach, until you look up and see the rest of the universe staring down on you”.