When we think of sub-saharan Africa, the first thing that comes to mind is most definitely the wildlife (cue opening music to the Lion King). When you don’t have the time to drive around the countryside for weeks on end in the hopes of spotting a wild elephant or rhino, this is when you hit up the national parks. Namibia’s main park is Etosha National Park, and is in some circles
“≠Xáí o” is “hello” in the language of the Ju/’hoansi San people. (Think “The Gods Must Be Crazy”.) The San people are of the Kalahari in eastern Namibia, Botswana and I think a touch of South Africa. We visited a living museum of this particular San tribe just outside of Grootfontein, and let me tell you these people are pretty awesome. To start, the people in the images do not actually live like this anymore. This is a living history museum, meaning the old traditions are pretty much just carried down for tourists these days. However, the preservation of the culture is important in my opinion, regardless of whether or not they still walk the walk. They do, however, still talk the talk, and their language is one of the more distinctive areas of their culture as they incorporate click sounds.
Visiting the museum was a pretty easy affair, except for the fact that you really just kind of show up (no appointments necessary) and they take care of you, and we weren’t really used to that. When we arrived the villagers quickly started to scuttle around (which we later realized was to change into their traditional dress of loincloths and beads). We followed the signs to the “reception area,” which was really just a tree with a laminated piece of paper on it and a menu of the different things we could experience. Activities included everything from a few hours of instruction in bead and weapon making and how to start a fire by hand to overnight camping including nature walks and dance lessons. We went for the fire and weapon making as we really only had a few hours to hang out.
We quickly met our translator and then were redirected to the parking area. Our translator met back up with us, now wearing the traditional garb, namely a loincloth. “Loincloth” is a loose term, as it doesn’t always completely cover the “loins” per se. (When we first met him he was in shorts and a t-shirt; so of course suddenly that makes the scant clothing a little awkward.) As the villagers started explaining some of their traditions, I was astounded at how engaging and genuinely excited they were to be sharing their way of life, out dated and no longer in use as it may be. They were so charming, sweet and peaceful that it made me wonder how there were ever attempts at their eradication or how anybody could have considered them “wild game” (which was apparently the case as late as 1920).
They showed us their approach to making fire by essentially “rubbing two sticks together.” They used the method where you have a plank of wood with a notch carved into it and then a stick that you rub together with your hands. Typically when you see this performed on survivor shows and the like one person holds the plank and the other spins. These awesome-sauce dudes, however, used a little more of a team effort. One guy held the plank in place and they took turns spinning the stick so that it kept moving at an even pace despite any tiring. Very streamlined. After the lesson in fire making we went on a very short nature walk where we cut down branches for the men to make bows and arrows out of, and I was then shuffled to jewelry making with the ladies. There wasn’t much to it, it was mostly grinding holes in tiny circles of ostrich shells, but it was cathartic nonetheless and I still actually wear the little bracelet I helped to make on occasion.
This is JP looking for his lost arrows with some of the San dudes.
Visiting these gentle people kind of gave me a bit of appreciation for the sort of hunter-gatherer (“paleo,” if you will) roots engrained in all of us. This is how humanity existed until the invention of agriculture. After our lessons it was time for games and singing and dancing.
This is a game where the women toss the coconut to each other
while singing and dancing. The game is over when a man
comes by and can swipe it away.
We clearly didn’t understand what they were singing about, but we definitely got the general spirit of it all.
I think this is as good a place as any to bring up a little mention of race relations in Namibia. While the San people do their thing and are now more protected then fought against (not unlike the Native Americans back home), race relations amongst the rest of the tribal descendants versus European descendants is not as rosy. Namibia didn’t gain independence until 1990, before which it was called South West Africa and was under South African rule. This means, for a history lesson, that just as America was on the verge of eradicating racial segregation, South Africa (and what is now Namibia) was segregating in full-force. The apartheid was put into place in 1948 and continued through the early 90’s. While racial segregation was already in place, this was the period when it was actually official public policy. As you can imagine, when it comes to race relations Namibia is about half a century behind us. Everyone lives, shops, and works together peacefully, but that’s about where it ends. At one point I thought I saw a bi-racial couple and thought to myself, “oh maybe the race thing here isn’t what I’m thinking it is,” but it actually turned out to be a black woman and her black-albino partner.
I definitely got the impression that business owners were primarily white and the workers/subordinates were primarily black (I say “subordinates” because in some cases the separation was markedly “upstairs-downstairs”). I was also a little shocked at how freely people would toss around a racial slur or joke or even consider the general non-white population a real threat. While race relations in the US are still not perfect, as an American traveling around I started to get on a little bit of a high horse because we are better than that and where we still struggle we make great efforts to make things better for everyone. Then at one point we were getting gas and the young man pumping our gas asked where we were from and then started asking about the black versus white population, finally admitting that moving to America was his ultimate dream. Now, I am not one of these super-patriot, American-flag-wearing-and-flaunting types. Usually when traveling I do my best to be polite and dispel any of the typical American stereotypes of being pushy, insensitive, or otherwise unapologetically “American.” However, being from the country that’s the international leader in attempting to end racism? That one I’ll take and for the very first time probably ever I genuinely found myself proud to be an American. As much as we sit around at the bar and bitch about politics, the economy, or whatever it is we hate about our lives here, a little appreciation at having been born here, for me anyway, was long overdue.
Note: This post is about hunting in Africa. Some of the images in this post are slightly graphic, involving dead animals. For the curious conscious hunter, the hunting outfit is NOT a high fence operation, meaning the animals on the land are free roaming.
Continuing our journey, after a one night stop over in Windhoek (and some really awesome Cameroonian food), me and my travel mate headed north to meet back up with my husband and his brother who had been hunting in the north. The hunting lodge and land is about an hour from Otjiwarongo, near the Waterburg Plateau and definitely a little off the beaten track. The lodge is on about 20,000 acres of land, and it’s a pretty cute little place to hang your hat for a few days. They have seemingly everything a small farm needs; citrus trees and gardens, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys and, like every good farm, some cats. This was the kind of place to relax, get good and bored, and wile away a few afternoons taking photos and trying to get goats-that-scream-like-humans on video. (No real success there – the goats stop yelling as soon as you walk up and they seemed to specifically run away from my travel mate despite the fact that he was the only vegetarian in the group.)
As avid hunters back home in the US, to say that my husband and his brother were having a good time hunting would be a bit of an understatement. While we were gone they went off to the mountains mountains for mountain zebra. Yes, they shot zebra. No, the zebra are not endangered; they are actually quite ubiquitous and hunting them is really not a big deal, I promise. At least no bigger deal than hunting anything else in Africa. Most of the feedback I’ve gotten on the hunting part of our trip has been sensitivity to the hunting of zebra. The thing I had a harder time with was the shooting of baboons. The baboons are ubiquitous and vermin in Namibia, and if they manage to get inside an open window your house is torn apart. They are kind of like giant, ape squirrels. Nobody with us shot a baboon, for the record. Dirk, the hunting guide and owner of the outfit and land, is a character in his own right. His token phrase is, “Africa is not for sissies!” We even have the bumper sticker.
As for the hunting, the gettin’ was good. They both shot an eland, kudu, mountain zebra, warthog, gemsbok (oryx). El Gallo (as we will call the husband) also shot a hartebeast and a rabid female eland that they had to chase through the bush and he practically had to take a running shot at. Not for sissies indeed. Rabies is a real concern in the African bush, as a bad rabies year can wipe out a good chunk of the animals.
While we did eat the meat while we were there (thanks to Thea’s wonderful cooking!), the US has some pretty strict-ass laws about bringing meat into the country. In other words, you can’t unless it’s canned. So we had to leave all the meat there, but no worries; they keep what they need and sell what they won’t eat. While wild game is not very popular outside of the hunter’s kitchen in the US, it is a staple in Namibian restaurants, mostly in the form of German fare. (Springbok schnitzel and spaetzle anyone?) In case you are wondering, eland tastes the best.
When we went over our route with the rental car company and the hunting guide, we got a lot of sighs and murmurings that we were doing a lot of driving. Even one of our guidebooks said that driving from Luderitz to Sossuvlei was too far a trek for one day. What everyone has failed to take into account, however, is that we are American and as Americans we are more than happy to put the pedal to the metal for long periods of time and enjoy it. We are a country of people that jokingly name our computers New York to LA (because it’s a “hard drive”) and we are so married to our cars, we tend to do other things in them besides drive (like listen to audio books, put on make-up, text or play Words with Friends, and of course eat). Mention a long drive to an American and you will get an overwhelmingly positive response to the tune of, “It’s a really great way to see the countryside.” A 6 hour drive on well-maintained gravel roads? Pish posh! The only thing that was keeping us really from driving longer distances in a single day was the fact that it was winter and daylight was limited.
So me and my travel mate embarked on the trek north to Sossuvlei, leaving the beloved paved road after about 20-30 miles. Now, I have road tripped on unpaved roads before, but let me tell you; even the unpaved roads in Namibia are regularly and well maintained. The hardest part is having to drive behind another vehicle, because the dust kicks up so much it’s impossible to see anything. Luckily there are very few other drivers so this is not typically an issue. Since we had a double-sized gas tank, it wasn’t even necessary to fill up at every gas station we happened to pass. The absolute best part about the trek from Luderitz north was the scenery and the animals as we wound our way through Namibia’s back country. As we got closer to the Namib-Nakluft park, it got even more beautiful as we started to see that the sand dunes had seeped into the valleys, seemingly overtaking the mountains. Passing giraffe crossing signs was also pretty rad, though we did not see any in the wild.
On the map, Sesriem looks like a small town when in fact it’s mostly just a stand of guest houses and campsites that serve as the anchor point to head into the area of Namib-Nakluft park with orange sand dunes, commonly referred to as Sossusvlei after one of the distinctive dunes. Apparently Tarsem is quite enchanted with this place, because if you have ever seen The Cell or The Fall you will recognize the flat pans with the striking orange dunes in the background and the dead trees. We arrived to Sesriem around 3 in the afternoon, secured ourself a campsite at the place located inside the park allowing us earlier entrance and decided to head out to see the dunes. What we failed to realize was that the campsite was a full hour drive from the dune area, and everyone was required to be back by 7 pm. This only gave us an hour for the giant dune buggy vans to get us to one of the dunes and to walk out to it, look around, and head back. We were 6 minutes late and got a little talking to by the guy manning the gate, who I might add played very well off the fact that white people are sometimes afraid of large-framed black men with deep voices. (“Why are you late? Did you not know the park closes at 7? Because you are late I won’t get home on time and my family is waiting.” And yeah, I said it. Sometimes white people are unnecessarily afraid of black people. More on race relations in Namibia later.) Of course all of this went down in half-serious jest.
At any rate, that first day we visited Deadvlei, which translates to “dead marsh.” In front of the impressive dune called “Big Poppa” of Deadvlei is a flat expanse of parched land dotted with dead acacia trees which serve to remind us that a river once ran through this area and all it takes is a shift in course to render the landscape dead as dead can be. Regardless, the Tim Burton-esque trees are quite striking against the brightly colored dunes at sunset.
The following morning we trucked it back out to visit Sossuvlei, the picturesque dune called “Big Momma” that adorns the covers of many ‘o travel magazines and guide books. Despite the fact that everyone said “Oh, head out there for sunrise, it’s great, it’s the best time to go,” we get there just after sunrise and the damn sun is on the wrong side of the dune. So, here we are folks, a mediocre photo of Big Momma lit from the less desirable side (not that Big Momma’s ass isn’t beautiful in it’s own right).
After the Quiver Tree Forest, we headed west to Luderitz, a very small, coastal town on the south side of the Namib Desert. As we headed west, the landscape slowly changed from the veldt (dry brush land) to desert and we finally started to see animals other than livestock (and had a few close calls). Unlike many of the world’s deserts, the Namib Desert is a little closer to the storybook version with regular old loose sand in ample supply. As we headed further towards the coast, road signs simply bearing the word “Sand” started to pop up, and we quickly realized it’s because the sand was being blown across the road in proportions that make me wonder how the road doesn’t get plain covered up. (I think they plow it regularly or something.)
Spanning from the South African border to a little ways north of Luderitz is a national park called the Sperrgebiet, formerly known as Diamond Area 1 due to the diamond mining that was prevalent in the area until they pretty much found all the diamonds. While the mining has subsided and despite the fact that it’s a national park, the area is prohibited to casual visitors; you have to go through an organized tour to see this area (something I did not realize was possible and consider it a missed opportunity). Needless to say we did not stop and go off-roading.
Finally we made it to Luderitz, a small but charming fishing village that’s claim to fame is mostly an anchor point to Kolmanskop, a popular tourist destination and the only part of the Sperrgebiet that you can drive up and visit without a guided tour. While there is not much to do really in Luderitz besides the Kolmanskop ghost town and maybe start a guided tour up the coast, if I was on a more extended trip I could definitely see wiling away a few afternoons in this laid back town that boasts some pretty excellent seafood.
The following morning we got up bright and early to go visit Kolmanskop, a ghost town that once operated as an old mining town. The distinctive thing about Kolmanskop is that the people moved out and the dunes moved in, filling the old houses and structures with sand. It’s beautiful and a little bit eerie in a way; it provides the reminder that the desert, her shifting sands and the secrets she holds will creep up on you if you stop and sit for too long. This is definitely not the kind of place to get lost and subsequently give up.
Last May I went to Namibia with my husband, his brother, and our friend Scott. My husband and his brother had booked a hunting trip, so naturally me and Scott headed off on our own for a spell at first. While our destination in heading south was to Kolmanskop (more on that later), that was about a 9 hour drive from Windhoek where we started so we needed a cool place to stop over for a night, especially considering we were advised to not drive at night. (Apparently the animals just can’t resist jumping in front of oncoming headlights. They are like giant, horned moths.) At just over half way, outside of a town called Keetmanshoop, is the Quiver Tree Forest, one of the largest stands of quiver trees in the nation.
The Quiver Tree Forest is a pretty surreal landscape, especially when you have just flown some 40 odd hours and are still jetlagged, have driven on the wrong side of the road for 5 hours and then come upon this place full of aloe trees with glittering bark and rat-like animals that are more closely related to an elephant than a rodent. Surreal indeed, and quite stunning at sunset (which was the perfect time to visit). The quiver trees themselves are literally aloe plants that grow on trees. They call them quiver trees because back in the day, the bushmen would hollow out the branches to make quivers for their arrows. Their bark crackles and splits, not unlike a crepe myrtle, except that it has this gold, glittering quality about that I just couldn’t get enough of once I noticed it.
The whole landscape kind of made me think of Dr. Suess, especially when we came upon a curious creature called the hyrax. (I like to think he speaks for the quiver trees! You know, Lorax… okay you get it.) This strange little animal likes to sun itself on the rocks at sunset. I first noticed it, however, by its clucking tweet/scream. I was originally looking for a bird making the noise and then noticed it was the hyrax. It screams so loudly and so hard that I actually saw one of them choke on itself while doing it.
Luckily we were able to stay within the park because A) we weren’t traveling during high season and B) for an extra $50 for the whole two weeks we fashioned a tent/mattress situation on top of our 4×4. A little note about camping in Namibia; it is ubiquitous, as are the car-top tents, extremely easy and extremely popular. There are campsites littering the countryside and outside of all of the cities, including Windhoek, and they are all pretty nice and most of them even have electricity for those traveling with a camper type thing. Since we weren’t planning on camping for the whole trip, we decided not to get a kitchen kit because it included things that we thought were nonsense like utensils, a table and chairs, dishes, and a little camp stove of sorts. Cut to us at our campsite, sitting on a sarong I had brought with me (because we didn’t want to get our towels or anything else dirty), and eating peanut butter sandwiches we made with napkins and this hunting knife thing. Oh yeah, and then there was the vodka and sprite in paper cups. You know, it’s pretty wildly amazing that neither of us fell off that damn roof tent trying to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night after getting so ridiculously schnockered because we didn’t really bring anything with us for entertainment except a bottle of vodka.
So as we were chewing the fat, I found out that my travel mate had never seen the milky way. It was at this point that I got all excited and went to get my tripod, which I usually don’t travel with, only to realize the stinking screw plate did not make it to Namibia with us. Grrrr. So, after some kicking and screaming and profanities, and being the resourceful photog that I am, above is a photo of the milky way and the 4×4 with tent. Despite the fact that my camera is basically laying on and propped up with various pieces of luggage, I think the photo came out A-OK.
To see all my photos from Namibia, head on over to my Flickr page.
Yes, I like to travel to lands that are usually far away, uncomfortable in a multitude of ways, and reasonably safe so I can take pretty photos and share them. This much is known. However, I have recently decided to make an effort at seeing some things in my own city so I’m not one of those people that insists that a subject must be exotic to be beautiful. This is a trait I very much dislike; when a person regards themselves a travel photographer but refuses to turn their camera homeward bound. So, in an effort to be a better, less hypocritical person, I paid a little visit to the Dallas World Aquarium! (Rough day at the office, I know.)
The Dallas World Aquarium is actually more like small zoo of sorts that also has aquariums in it and is right in the middle of downtown. I knew from a quick scan of their website that they had some birds and stuff, but I did not expect to be wondering where the aquariums were an hour after wandering around. (Hint: they are at the end. They are there. Patience, grasshoppa’.) There are some pretty amazing animals to see and the foliage and exhibit is actually so nice you almost don’t feel bad for the animals being all cooped up in pretend nature. (At least until you get to the panther cage; when I went I saw it practically trying to work out an escape route, but apparently it’s a temporary thing and they change the cats out or something so don’t feel too bad for the panther.) All in all, it was fun, even if you have kids. Or even if you don’t have kids. You know, wherever your priority lays. If you don’t have kids and are annoyed by other people’s or if you do have kids and are annoyed by your own, don’t worry, they sell booze. I would definitely go back at some point, especially if I find myself entertaining any kiddos or just to take an afternoon during their slow time to soak in some peace (it’s very peaceful when it’s not crowded). Here are a few photos I took of our afternoon at the aquarium.
I will note in closing that it’s a little pricey (I think it was about $26 to get in) and that the facility is actually completely independently owned so there is no reciprocation if you have a membership to something else. (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then in other words, there’s never any discounts so don’t ask because the lady behind the window will kind of make fun of you.) It’s also worth nothing that the restaurant right next door, Zenna, is a Thai/sushi place that has really really cheap happy hour specials.
If you’d like to see a slideshow of the images above, please click any of the images below:
Kids and springtime go together like peanut butter and jelly. While I don’t keep a lot of portrait clients, I do have a few and I generally get to see them around spring before the weather heats up too much for summer and everything is green and blooming. I like that I can maintain a half-way decent report with kids (something that is not always easy for me, especially before they can “use their words”). One of my favorite things about shooting kids is the outtakes. I know that parents typically want hands at their sides and pretty smiles during a portrait session, but kids are so expressive and when they are bored of sitting still, uber hyper because we are outside (usually at a cool park or the like), or on the verge of a meltdown they really do wear it all on their faces.
Thanks to Emmy and Eden and Whitley and fam, had a great time this year, as always. Coincidentally, both of my clients are also expecting and I can’t wait to meet the new additions to the families! Here are my picks of favorite pics from both portrait sessions.
Last May my husband ran the Iron Man St. George, and as a good wife I went along for support and to drink beer on the sidelines. The St. George Iron Man is one of (if not THE) hardest in the country apparently, although due to low participation 2012 was the last year for the full Iron Man in St. George; they are bumping it down to a half.
This particular race was a doozy. 25 minutes into the swim the wind picked up creating 3 foot chop. They pulled about 400 people out of the water, some of them against their will. Those that did finish the swim had a strong head wind to look forward to on the first part of the bike course, a good chunk of which was uphill. Those poor bastards.
Cut to me on the sidelines, waiting patiently for my husband to finish. I waited over three hours due to the grueling conditions causing him to finish much later than anticipated. As I was watching all the finishers cross the line, I really started to notice the looks on all their faces. It’s pretty difficult to keep your emotions at bay while in the throws of that level of fatigue. Hats off to all these finishers. We can see it all in your face. In case you’ve never been to an Iron Man before, this is what people look like after a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a full marathon.