February 4, 2015
Images and Words by Micky Wiswedel
A case of good wine, a tent, some comfy bedding, a map, a BBQ grid, and your camera. Chuck these into the back of the Jeep and hightail it to the border. That’s it. That’s all you need to know about traveling to Namibia. At least that’s how my girlfriend and I planned our Namibia trip last summer.
We had no plan. No route mapped out. No accommodation booked. No idea what to expect. One thing we soon realized — by traveling this way, you open yourself to the full range of experience. From moments of wonder and bliss in some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth, to literally being stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire, hoping for the remote chance that someone might drive past in the next few days to give you a hand.
In our version of Namibia, there were no five star hotel lobbies or infinity pools. Our experiences were far from some pre-packaged, postcard version of travel — they were authentic.
Baboons raided our campsite in the Naukluft Mountains. French climbers helped us find new routes at Spitzkoppe. On the road to Gobabis we helped a family of 11 repair a tire. In Sossusvlei, a sandstorm nearly blew our tent away. 4X4 tracks across moonlike landscapes in Aussenkehr led us to a hidden plateau above barren canyons. We spent a blissful week paddling down the Orange River with friends.
While there are many iconic Namibian destinations that have been photographed thousands of times — where you’re bound to encounter busloads of tourists — there are countless more which are just as breathtaking, yet off the tourist beat. Here you experience the true Namibia — vast, silent, ancient.
At the border of South Africa and Namibia, in an area known as the Richtersveld where the Orange River carves its way through rugged desert mountains, you can travel by raft with friends, surrounded by some of the most dramatic mountain landscapes in the world. Fortunately, the flow of the water is constantly strong, so you can float down the river with a cold beer and your feet up while you watch desert mountains pass by. Occasionally the ride gets broken up by some medium grade rapids that feed your adventurous side. You’ll sleep on the banks of the river and cook food on the open fire.
Further up north, in the heart of Namibia, there is a surreal granite mountain outcrop called Spitzkoppe. Here you can camp in a dreamlike landscape of giant rock domes that look so unusual it’s almost as if they’ve been placed there by ancient rock gods. Spend days here exploring the bizarre terrain and attempt some climbing — if you’re brave enough. You’re guaranteed the perfect awe-inspiring sunset and more stars than you could ever imagine.
Namibia is not only about landscapes, it’s also about people. While traveling in a region called Caprivi, we were fortunate enough to spend time photographing in a small village of Hambukushu people. We were humbled that these families were so welcoming and openhearted to us and our 4×4 packed with camera gear. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get when you show someone who has not seen a photo of themselves in years — if ever — a portrait on the back of your camera. The laughs and smiles cut thru any of the language barriers instantaneously, and for that brief moment, a friendship was made. I can’t wait to go back and bring them full-size prints. This is the other part of Namibia — the one that’s off the beaten track —the genuine and friendly people who live in this beautiful country and welcome you to be a part of their lives for a short while.
Namibia is a world of experience around every corner. You can head in any direction and you’re bound to find something amazing or meet someone interesting. The campsites are beautiful, the people are friendly, and it’s safe. Our trip makes me wonder why people would choose to have some pre-planned holiday where everything is neatly organized by the minute. I can only assume that it’s fear of the unknown that keeps people from just winging it. But if you allow yourself to be open to those unplanned experiences — whether they’re good or bad — they’ll always be memorable. Like the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz said, “Fear does not prevent death, it prevents life.”