The Eerie, Lunar Nothingness of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

We had been driving for 4 hours and had but to see one other soul. No folks. No vehicles. Simply eerie, lunar nothingness stretching south to the horizon. To the left, desert; to the appropriate, ocean. A packed salt highway sewed a good seam between the 2. Below an overcast sky, the three surfaces light right into a single indistinguishable gray-brown smear.

We have been touring alongside Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, a area also known as the top of the Earth.

Given the view by means of the dusty windshield, the title felt apt. The untamed Skeleton Coast begins at Namibia’s northern border with Angola and continues 300 miles south to the previous German colonial city of Swakopmund, the place strudel-filled bakeries and beer gardens nonetheless line the streets — and the place, a century in the past, 1000’s of Africans from two ethnic teams, the Herero and the Nama, have been killed by German troopers.

The area incorporates a mixture of cultures, landscapes and species not like anyplace else on Earth, at instances evoking a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

My accomplice and I discovered ourselves driving the C34 freeway alongside this stretch of distant, treacherous land halfway by means of a three-week highway journey throughout Namibia in early 2021. A yr earlier, we had packed up our lives and left our dwelling and jobs in Seattle with plans to journey world wide, solely to be abruptly halted by the worldwide shutdown mere weeks into our journey. In what turned out as maybe one of many extra distinctive pandemic experiences, we ended up locked down in our first vacation spot, Portugal, for seven months.

As issues slowly opened again up in late 2020, we determined we may cautiously start to revisit our unique itinerary. Then got here the duty of answering a number of key questions: Which nations have been at the moment letting in U.S. residents? (Only a few.) The place did we really feel secure going primarily based on present Covid-19 case numbers, testing and masking necessities? (Even fewer.) And most significantly, the place would we not be a burden on the nation’s well being care system if we did occur to get sick?

Namibia rapidly rose to the highest of the checklist. Among the many least densely populated nations on the planet, and a spot the place we may journey totally independently, it appeared like a good selection. Little did we all know how awe-struck we might be by its huge and assorted landscapes.

I knew little concerning the nation earlier than we set our sights on it and instantly dug into researching its historical past and geography. The minute I realized concerning the Skeleton Coast, studying tales of shipwrecks, stark panoramas and Twentieth-century diamond rushes, I felt the pull of it. The wildness, the desolation, the inaccessible thriller of all of it — it lit up my creativeness, and I knew I needed to expertise and {photograph} it.

The gates by means of which we entered Skeleton Coast Nationwide Park, close to the Ugab River, have been guarded by twin cranium and crossbones and towering whale ribs. The objects served as a warning: “Abandon hope all ye who enter.”

Earlier than crossing into the 6,300-square-mile space of protected shoreline, we have been obliged to present our names and data — lest we didn’t make it out earlier than dusk — in change for a transit allow and a wholesome dose of apprehension. We crossed our fingers and held our breath as we drove by means of the gates, praying that we wouldn’t blow a tire on the rented, tent-topped Toyota Hilux that had been our dwelling in latest weeks, or get eaten by seashore lions within the no man’s land forward.

This arid desert, which dead-ends into violent Atlantic swells, has precipitated many unlucky sailors, ships, aircrafts and animals their premature deaths. Their carcasses — rusting vessels, sun-bleached bones — at the moment are seen reminders of the park’s hostile situations. It’s an inhospitable place the place virtually nothing grows, and the place risks, from wild rip curls to thick coastal fog, abound.

Guests are sometimes drawn to the park’s shipwreck-dotted shoreline. Although only some are nonetheless seen, a whole lot of vessels have met their fates alongside this span of shore and have been slowly devoured by the weather. Some can solely be reached by aircraft or four-wheel drive.

To the far north, traces of the Dunedin Star stay. The British Blue Star liner foundered ashore in 1942, stranding its 106 passengers and crew. A aircraft and a tugboat, together with a number of of its crew members, have been additionally misplaced through the rescue effort. To the south, the Eduard Bohlen cargo ship ran aground in 1909 and now might be seen from above, 1 / 4 mile inland, as a ghostly ship surrounded by desert.

We have been capable of see the remnants of the South West Seal, a vessel that crashed ashore in 1976, now only a scattering of wooden and rusted steel peeking out of the sand, and the Zeila, a fishing trawler stranded in 2008 close to Henties Bay, that continues to be a deteriorating however nonetheless largely intact and visual presence, now dwelling to dozens of black cormorants, simply offshore.

The few man-made traces listed below are all in a state of decay: Highway indicators are light and decomposing, an deserted oil rig is little greater than a pile of rust, eaten away by time, sand and sea air. I pulled over each couple of minutes to seize these particulars with my digicam, stretching what ought to have been a six-hour journey into one which lasted 11 hours.

Alongside the highway we handed by different oddities, together with the Cape Cross Seal Reserve, dwelling to over 200,000 foul-smelling fur seals, and the Walvis Bay Salt Works, the place large salt pans are coloured vibrant pink by the presence of Dunaliella salina microorganisms. Matching flamingoes stalked prawns within the close by wetlands. Makeshift tables lined the highway north of Swakopmund; resting on them have been dozens of sunshine pink halite salt crystals, usually accompanied by rusted cash packing containers, mendacity in anticipate trustworthy passers-by to depart a couple of bucks in change for a treasure.

The barren panorama felt otherworldly, uncooked and highly effective. Each exhilarating and terrifying. The shoreline and colours slowly modified, the sand reddening, as we headed additional south and entered the Namib-Naukluft Nationwide Park, dwelling to the world’s oldest desert: the Namib.

Now the younger nation’s namesake (Namibia gained independence in 1990), the Namib has existed for at the least 55 million years, its towering dunes plunging for eons into the churning sea.

The solitude and apartness we have been chasing after we sought out this lonely a part of the world — escaping from human-borne illness, sure, but additionally from the slog of our day by day lives — awaited us in spades. Namibia made us really feel small and insignificant in the very best of how — a perspective that I usually crave in a world overwhelmed by on the spot gratification and unending battles for my consideration. And ultimately, the Skeleton Coast was an odd and delightful reminder that we people are powerless in opposition to time, and that in a conflict between man and nature, nature all the time wins.

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