Monday, July 16, 2007

Land of Five Hour Drives

M and I have landed safely in Swakopmund, Namibia, after several long drives over lonely roads. From Giant’s Castle in the Drakensberg, to Fugitive’s Drift Lodge, where we were bowled over by the intimate hospitality and the masterful storytelling, was five hours by car. The experience at Fugitive’s Drift is amazing. They take you to the battlefields of the start of the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879 and recount the harrowing tale of loss and redemption(for the British, at least) that unfolded over about 18 hours, but which affected the British Empire’s view of itself from then onward. For me, it was mostly a lesson in storytelling and hospitality. They hew very close to the line between personal and professional hospitality, with the guides and staff having dinner with you every night. Stories are told casually around the fire at night, and during the day by professionals who are as much actors as guides. We really enjoyed the experience of having the stand at Rorke’s Drift recounted to us at sunset by Rob McClaskie. Fugitive’s Drift is moving forward after the tragic murder of its founder and guiding star, David Rattray. I feel confident that we got as good an experience there as my brother and parents had when they went there whiled David Rattray was still alive. His spirit, voice and shadow still lingers over the place, but I think the day is not far off when he will be another of the lively characters in the stories told there, rather than a tragic presence. This land has seen a lot of bloodshed and sorrow, but it is really inspiring.

From Fugitive’s Drift to Johannesburg airport was another five hours. We flew to Windhoek, spent an exhausted night at a pension in town and the next morning set out for another five hour drive., this time mostly on gravel roads(though that prospect in Namibia is not as daunting as in South Africa or even Italy or America) through the desert to the Desert Homestead. The various shapes and shades of jagged rock and blue sky here are amazing. And the sparseness of people/towns/anything is astounding. At the Desert Homestead, we were treated to more great hospitality, with an excursion to Sossusvlei/Dead Vlei. White dead lake, auburn dunes all round, black dead trees. It is iconic. Pictures are necessary to do this justice. Unfortunately, Namibia’s internet service is akin to dial up. We’ll be posting pictures later. Much later.

We also got the opportunity to go on a horse ride. A real one. We got to canter for a bit, which they never let you do anywhere else. Meghan and I were grateful for the opportunity, but it left us a bit sore for our next drive, this time six hours to Swakop, as the locals call it. It’s a nice little beach town, and rather than taking a scenic flight we’d planned on, we’re going to take today to do our internet stuff, walk around, stare at the sea, and eat some good prawns. Tomorrow, we’re off to the Erongo province and Erongo Wilderness Lodge. Then on to Damaraland and Etosha. Thankfully the roads will be paved from here forward!

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