- E.O. Wilson
Well, I've really gotten completely over this Cool Guy Hat Flaps Up pretension, let me tell you. The African sun as advertised is a brutal, insidious, and insistent beast. While we're on the subject, I also seem to be well beyond any acute need for daily showers; and I've gotten quite sanguine about being rather more dusty and sometimes sticky than I would have been at all jiggy with, oh, a week ago. We've barely cracked this trip but it seems like we've been living camp- and road-life as far back as memory goes. There's truly a nomadic hunter/gatherer rhythm to the business, which probably triggers reactions quite primal and atavistic. (Albeit I realized we don't actually hunt, gather, farm, flay, or otherwise produce anything whatsoever; we're just living off the fruits of our 21st-century economy jobs.)
But, at any rate, we woke to a truly glorious morning on the river. I indulged in some shirtless morning stretching and pushups on the sunrise-splashed grass; and then we broke camp. I'm also enjoying the multi-cultural morning greetings as people file by for ablutions: "Morgen, Jörg." "Top of the mornin' to you, Rachel." "G'day, Aaron." Everyone is up before Paul's wakeup call, despite another late night. It is also a freezing night just behind us; and today is turning into a scorcher before 8AM. I suppose that's the desert for you.
We hit the barren, desert road to some very cool, and entirely appropriate, trance-y music courtesy of our Canadian mate, Doug.
We pause for a very serious desert piss break; and gussy up a group photo on the roof of the truck. Speaking of the group, word has leaked out about the existence of this site; now I'm getting a lot of attention from people who want to look at the pictures and, moreover, want the URL for their families and friends back home. Hi, everyone.
So, as regards Namibia: it's a repbulic of 1.7 million people, with twice the per capita GDP, and half the population density, of the African average. It's wedged between the chilly South Atlantic on the West, and the Kalahari desert in the East. The terrain actually varies amongst four regions, but it seems quite unvarying to us we're sticking to the Namib Desert region in the West. We take a little side loop to the hot springs of Ai Ais, at the end of the Fish River Canyon actually 60ft below sea level. Dangling our feet into a cool wading pool, Deutschlander Andrea and I chat for about an hour. Mark comes back with some rocks he picked up, for the Spaniards. Also, he found a large, dead fruitbat, in a dry riverbed.
We hit the road, again. On our way to our new camp site near the Fish River Canyon we stop for a ritual, by Paul's
favorite tree. It's traditional, for three years running now, to stop and everyone splash a bit of water around it. Apparently, it's grown quite a lot in that time. And it's become a good luck thing. We reach the camp site in a blistering heat, and Mark and I score a righteously shady spot. Regarding our immaculate tent set-up:
M: The phrase "well-oiled machine" comes to mind.
M: And this is only Day 3 wait 'till we've been doing this a month.
M: Soon we'll be doing time trials blindfolded, one-handed . . .
M: Hang on; you finish, while I write that down.
M: Hey! You're screwing up my well-oiled machine!
After setup, we all pile onto the roof for the ride to the canyon. Paul and Jo caution us to stay away from the sheer, scrabbly edge. Later, I creep a bit closer, perhaps, than I should.
M: That's sheer and the drop is measured in, oh, hundreds of feet. You won't be coming back from that.
M: Come on back, please. I have much more acute empathetic acrophobia.
M: Oh, yeah. It's from having little sisters! "GET AWAY FROM THE EDGE!" Actually, as soon as I stepped back, I started worrying about you stepping forward.
Mark shoots me. Another reason he's a joy to have around is that, as a cinematographer, Mark frames shots at least as well as I do. (Normally, I'm all "Okay, put the rock on the left edge, come in two steps closer . . ." Now I just hand him the camera.) Amazingly, he not only allows but actually requests that I shoot one of him! Wonders never cease! Less surprisingly, he finds a very pretty iguana. Paul drives by our lizard, moving the truck to meet us at the other end of the rim. We very happily hoof it around. We grab a few nice shots en route, before reaching the lookout and the trailhead leading down into the canyon. Then, we crack a few cold ones (more Windhoek lagers, mainly) and get busy with the main event: our sundowner on the canyon rim. The other side of the sky is also lovely and bruised as we load up the truck again, and head back to the site.
And there? Carousing by the campfire, naturally! [I also had the most spectacular, and inspiring, conversation with 18-year old Londoner Laura; should I get her permission, I'll post it here soon.] The very late night led quickly to a very early morning and a full-day, 500km drive through some hardcore Namibian desert. After a hard push, we stop for lunch, pulling to the side of the road on a stretch of desert so so blighted and desolate, one trembles to consider the engine trouble we've been having. (More on that later, perhaps.) With the sun directly overhead, there's not even enough shade for a scorpion's tail. Mark's off bug-hunting, as per usual; and almost misses the vegetarian segment of today's meal. [More on the politics of group food production, perhaps later.]
The drive drags on. [That's Laura's friend Jamie (also 18 and a Londoner), asleep on American Deb, in front of Andrea.] We roll it off of the main Road to Nowhere, into some serious canyonlands. We spot springbok. We check in at the most desert-y camp site yet. I find a power feed in the tiny pub. I sit and get caught up. I leave you now, to get some veg grub myself. Good night!
Tomorrow: Sunrise from the Namib Dune Sea.
But, moreover, right now, she's homeless like me no flat, boxes of stuff scattered in various cities. Aside from some good tips on working abroad, and Commonwealth work permit issues, she provides me some brilliant insights on pediatrics, medicine in general, and more. Talking about practicing in the third world, she mentions a childrens hospital in Cairo, where a doctor might see 100 patients in a day. I opine that this must be very frustrating not being able to give any one patient all the attention needed. Actually, she notes, there are some benefits: in the third world, the patients (or, rather, the parents of her young patients) are focused on getting advice, and are compliant and patient. Whereas, in the first world, everyone's been on the Internet researching their own issues and they all have very strong opinions. However, notes Andrea, "all they know is a tiny, tiny piece of the larger whole. I studied medicine for six years." I'm also fond of comparing troubleshooting computers which I know with troubleshooting a human body which is a system thousands of times as complex. I figure it must often be terribly frustrating, when symptoms are ambiguous, when you simply can't say what's wrong. "Of course," she answers. "Sometimes you just must wait and see or you must wait for the disease to develop." Also, as a pediatrician, she knows she's playing a role, it's a bit of a show and "parent management" (as I put it) is a huge component of her job.
Anyway, suffice it to say, I'm kind of knocked about by Andrea. She's just drop-dead smart, and very confident, and kind of radiates capability. Also, she's pleasingly sarcastic, and doesn't appear to "give too much of a damn" (about what others think, etc.) She's also rather cuter than this picture; entschuldigung, Andrea sorry I didn't manage a better one. (hide)