Sunday, November 04, 2007

A Beautiful Shade of Desert

If you’ve been following this blog through our last few vacations then you know that Hubby and I like to do something someone adventurous and cool whenever we go. Whether it’s parasailing in Mauritius or visiting famous porn sites in the Seychelles we like to be able to say that we left our mark and tried something new on every holiday. Well, October’s trip to Namibia was no different!

Our initial plan had been to go dune surfing, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. You strap on a snowboard and sail down the huge dunes that dot the Namibian coast. For those people who are not as adventurous, you can also fly down the sand seated on a sheet of plastic. The downside to this bit adrenalin rush, according to our guidebooks, is that you need to be really in shape. Unlike skiing, you have to walk up to the stop of this hill before every run.

Based upon this information we quickly reassessed our plans for the day and consulted the guidebooks for further inspiration. We eventually realized that a compromise was in order. The desert was beautiful and deserved to be explored, but we were in no shape to be climbing those giant sand hills all day. Riding ATV’s, or quad bikes as they were called here, was the only answer.

After a bit of research, we chose our quad bike company – the Desert Explorers – who were quite proud of the fact that Brad and Angelina visited them numerous times during their Namibian stay. For only $50US per person we would have an hour and half out on the dunes with our guide, Paulus and two German guys out for a similar adventure. Paulus later told us how luck we were to have such a small party; during their high season some groups would be as large as 70 people.

Since none of us had ever been quad biking before, the first order of business was a very quick instructional and safety review. “If you do that you will die. If you fail to do this you will die.” It was a fabulous boost to my self-confidence. The first decision we had to make was whether we wanted to ride the blue manual bikes or the green automatic ones. Hubby and I looked over the foot-operated clutch and gears on the blue bikes and immediately signed our uncoordinated selves up for the green ones.

Paulus, the guide, knew the confusing maze of dunes like the back of his hand and took us several miles into the dessert. We laughed that if he left us we would likely never be able to find our way out. He also knew his smaller and more lightweight bike so well that he kept popping wheelies whilst I was struggling to keep up and not stall my bike.

Which brings us to m confession – I got stuck not once, not twice, but three times. Did anyone else get stuck? Not a one. Hubby will point out that he did, but that was actually my fault since I was riding in front of him in the line. Not only was our guide good about it, but also so were the Germans who were very patient with my slightly slower pace and occasional “get Typ0 ‘s bike unstuck” moments. While I seemed incapable of getting myself to the top of some hills, Hubby, on the other hand, had problems steering his bike. This meant that neither of us (me due to my slight cowardice and fear of tipping over) fully took advantage of the “roller coasters.”

The Typ0 inspired breaks, I should note, were greatly appreciated and needed. While some members of our party quoted the chilly air as the reason for their numb hands, my problem was the constant vibrations of the bike itself. And since I couldn’t let go of the handle (since that’s where the accelerator was) I found my hands unable to unclench on those rare occasions when we paused for a moment.

Only two times was the entire group paused and warned to take the next downward hill slowly. Each of those was a very sheer drop straight down. My way of confronting these slightly scary moments was to drive my vehicle to the very edge until gravity took over and dragged my bike and me over the edge with a cry of, “Damn! Here I go! Gravity sucks!!!” Hubby’s approach was slightly different – he just went right over the edge with a bit of humor in his own kamikaze yell. “I’m Richard Quest in Namibia!”

Let me pause in my adventurous story to tell you how incredibly beautiful the desert is. I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen it first hand. But the very starkness of all that sand is breathtaking. The undulating dunes, the vast colors to be seen the in sand, and even the stillness and peace of standing in the midst of all of this combined to take everyone’s breath away.

When we turned our bikes back toward the Explorer’s home base, we stopped for a break near the ocean and we were dumbstruck once again. Here we were standing in the midst of what most people would describe as complete lack of water – the desert – and yet we were only a short distance from the gorgeous blue wildness of the ocean. But that’s Namibia – a country of contrasts where all these things that shouldn’t fit together simply do.; and in a way that makes you wonder if the fabled Eden might not have been a bit like this wonderous African country.

Our quad biking adventure, we both agreed from the very moment we arrived back into the Desert Explorer lot, was one of the most exhilarating of our entire lives. Racing over the dunes following the jacket in front of you and the tracks they left behind them, all the while learning the new skill of quad biking on the fly was both terrifying and joyous. A little bit like real life – only so much more beautiful.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What great photos (and write-up)--Namibia better go on our list of must visit places.