This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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What’s in a name (of a dune)?

dune-elim-1The colors of Sossusvlei and the Sesriem area at dusk and dawn are the colors of every Namibian travel guide. No, the photos of those guide books are not photoshopped: the colors are truly magical. The red and pink hues come from iron content in the sand.

Many dunes in Namibia have names: Dune 7, Dune 45, Elim Dune, Big Daddy. Elim Dune, just off the Sesriem camp site, takes its name after an old farm. Dune 45 got its name as it is on the road to Sossusvlei and exactly 45 km from the Sesriem camp site. Some dunes, like Dune 7 are simply given a number, often counted from the sea towards inland in rows, like waves of sand.

And yet, when one looks at a satellite image, behind each of these famous dunes is about 500 other dunes. The sand sea is endless and we only see the edge of it because there is no way we can move or survive through the rest. All we are capable of doing is perhaps climbing one of them and running down the side like tiny ants.dune-elim-2(Namib-Naukluft Park, Namibia; July 2017)

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Endless sand

namib-2East winds are here again, blowing from the desert for a few days. In Walvis Bay we probably have 27 degrees Celsius on land, and we can feel the hot desert winds out at sea and witness the sand storm behind the dunes. The dunes have obtained a black rind that indicates a shadow: the wind has blown the edge of the dune over toward the sea.

A weekend off means exploring the desert. This time with just a clumsy 2WD Volkswagen, but it does fit all 6 of us. The road between Walvis Bay and Windhoek, toward the junction of Solitaire, is terrible. From the junction onward it is dreadful. No paving but a sand road through the Namib desert, with ridges and bumps so my teeth shake in my mouth. There is a mountainous area with a few narrow passes, and otherwise there is sand on the road, enough for some proper swerving of any type of car.

After the highlands come grassy plains. Everything is yellow and dry after December rains (the first in 4 years). Still, the plains are inhabited by hardy animals: zebra, springbok, oryx, wildebeest. The oryx can apparently live on the tiny amount of water in desert plants, and only need to top up with drinking water every few weeks.

It is a strange experience to drive in the desert. There are signs to lodges, but nowhere does one pull up into a nice lookout spot with the buildings hiding in the shadow of trees. Simply, someone staked a plot of land and decided to put up a number of houses in the sand. A road sign, and voilá: done.

Before cars there was no living in the desert. People only crossed the desert because they really needed to, even with risking their lives factored in. Today, one can experience a night in the desert by entering from one side and exiting through the gift shop the next morning. namib(Namib desert, Namibia; July 2017)

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Dune trekking

dune7-1Today I was exposed to so much sand there will be sand in my belongings still one month after returning home. There is a row of dunes between Walvis Bay airport and the town. Dune 7 is the most famous one of them (why?), and does not migrate too much. It is meant to be climbed up and run or boarded down. Dune 7, like any dune, is best ascended barefoot, along the ridge. Descent happens really anywhere one prefers. It is a bizarre sight to see people, young and old, running down a 200 meter tall dune at an angle of 45 degrees without tumbling.

Down at the car park, a cacophony of different varieties of reggaeton and dance hall beats reigned: it was a popular picnic spot with the local black people and each family had brought their own boom box. Why not, since the desert is silent and without echoes, like a padded chamber of a mental asylum.dune7-2(Dune 7, Walvis Bay, Namibia; July 2017)

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Moon landscapes

moonlandscape-2There is an area in the Namib the locals call the Moon Landscape. It really does look like a moon landscape with soft craters and hills made of sand and soft-polished rock. If you scream here, it is highly likely that not a single living thing with ears will hear you.

The Namib desert is not a friendly place. But with a trustworthy car underneath it is an incredible place. Fine yellow sand everywhere. If not dunes then barely a single rock or brush per a hundred square meters. It is unfathomable that people lived here before proper 20th century living with water and power brought in.
hauntedhouse-1Most of Namibia is traditionally uninhabitable, and people have always flocked to the rivers and oases. Because the other choice is a desert with no water bordering on an ocean with too much water, and none of it potable.
hauntedhouse-2On our day drive we passed three jeeps in a junction in the middle of the wide-open desert. There were three families out on a Saturday drive, drinking beer and driving around the desert. This, and tailgate picnics, seems to be the best Saturday pastime for locals. It is as if the locals do not get enough of the hostile empty hot nothingness but actually embrace it. The human species truly is adaptable.moonlandscape-1(Namib desert, Namibia; July 2017)

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Never alone at sea

pelicans-2In Walvis Bay one may not see dolphins for hours, but one is never alone. There is the Namibian Air Force, also known as great white pelicans….sealand cape fur seals, that steal joyrides on boats and ships of any size…petrel-1and giant petrels, and penguins. Yes, penguins. A swimming penguin looks like a drowning duck. I have no photos but please take my word for it.

And sometimes one can spot a dolphin swimming sideways along the boat, just to get a good look at who’s in it.dolphin(Walvis Bay, Namibia; July 2017)

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Jellyfish mass stranding

jellyfishIn places the Benguela current is like a thick soup, with swirls of orange or yellow plankton. There are patches with 5 jellyfish per square meter, just as far down as one can see from the boat. And lots of live jellyfish mean lots of dead, stranded jellyfish. Everywhere. Every day. People slip on them on the boardwalk like on banana peels.

Today, the following question harassed my mind: if a blue whale eats 4 tons of krill per day, how many shrimps is that? Our team did some quick calculations and arrived at the following answer: 40 million krill lose their lives every day so that one blue whale can get its belly full. That is more than the population of the Nordics combined. Actually, it is 8 times the population of Finland. All in 2 big feeds, if the whale is lucky.

Krill apparently live up to 10 years of age, with an average lifespan of 6 years. Say that the average age of the krill population swallowed by a whale is 4 years, corrected for any young (unfortunate) krill. That means that during one day, a single blue whale obliterates 160 million life years. That is a whole lot of life experience lost. Even if it is only the life experience of a lowly krill.

(Walvis Bay, Namibia; June 2017)

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Back to the ocean – and dolphins

walvisbay-3Back on a boat – and with dolphins. This time with bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins, in the cold plankton and jellyfish soup that is the Benguela current. Walvis Bay has a large industrial port, which means dolphins often zigzag between ships and oil platforms. And we, too, alongside of them.

The office is filled with cetacean bones. Our front yard is filled with boxes of bones. Killer whale and bottlenose dolphin skulls, minke whale vertebrae, a Ryde’s whale jawbone, and huge, hairy, bone brush baleens.

Inside hangs a poster with dolphin and whale species, many named after scientists: Heaviside’s dolphin, Peale’s dolphin, Bryde’s whale (pronounced here as “brutus whale”, even if Bryde was a Norwegian). Perhaps it was a custom to give famous naturalists a marine mammal species named after them upon retirement. If not dolphin or whale then a seal. Or a penguin. walvisbay-2(Walvis Bay, Namibia; June 2017)