Traveling south from Sesriem along the D707 is an incredible experience. The vastness of Namibia’s desert landscape is only made more intense by its near emptiness. Our three vehicles moved rapidly along the dirt road that flanks the eastern edge of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, but still, distances seemed to crawl by. That is one of the complications of travelling in Namibia. The distances between locations are enormous. The workshop we are leading takes in four of the most iconic landscape destinations in Africa, but, they each require almost a full day’s traveling to get between.
Namibia as a country is extraordinarily first world in its services, tar roads and major cities. Their dirt roads are also some of the best that I have ever driven. However, in this huge country with such a small population, dirt roads are long and rough in a large number of instances. If you are going to travel overland in Namibia be prepared to expect some issues with your mode of transport. In most cases it has to do with the tyres.
Our two Nissan Hardbodies both experienced punctures which we were able to sort out in Sesriem. Another slow-leaking puncture along the D707 slowed us all down a little as we had to pull out the compressor to re-inflate and limp on to Luderitz (where we were to have worse later). The real slow-down on our journey to Luderitz was with my Land Rover Discovery. Coming out of Sossusvlei the Landy managed to blow a hole in the side of a rubber hose connecting the turbo-charger to the intercooler. This isn’t too serious apart from the fact that spares are hard to come by for any vehicle in such remote corners of the country. Nick managed to salvage a similar sized hose in Sesriem from an old Defender. This we were able to install halfway to Luderitz and the Landy was back in action.
You drop down from the D707 and its amazing vistas and you are suddenly turning onto a smooth flat tar road that runs almost directly west to the coast. Smooth white sands pile up on the edge of this straight black line and the desert changes form before your eyes from the soft reds of the Namib to the glaring yellows and whites of the Sperrgebiet. If you are lucky you also get a glimpse of the wild horses that now roam in the grasslands just before the Sperrgebiet. Then as you crest over a permanent dune, the remains of the now famous Kolmanskop mining town stand stark against a white dune hill.
It’s hard not to find images of Kolmanskop in any major photographic competition. The combination of time worn buildings slowly being eroded by the wind and colonized by the sands with bright pastel shades of paint makes for some incredible imagery. Obtaining a permit in advance also allows photographers access to the town outside of normal tour operation times. This meant that our group were able to wander around the decaying sand filled rooms before the sun was even up. This means that when the sun does finally crest over the lip of the dunes, you are already in place to capture the interplay of warm sunlight against the weathered doors and walls of the abandoned homes.
The town is so eerily silent that even though you are working with a group of photographers, when you do come across someone it is with a fright that you bump into each other. As was the case when I walked into the long hallway of the hospital and had the fright of my life when Sue, one of our English photographers popped out from behind a doorway.
It was at this stage of the journey that the photographers really began to get a feel for the workshop as well as what we had been discussing informally and in our seminars. Looking at the LCD screens and later at the critique session, images came alive thanks to masterful compositions. Mark and Marc (both builders) joked that they were more at home photographing buildings than landscapes which was part of the reason for the improved compositions. Whatever it was, it was hard to wrench ourselves away from the buildings in the mid morning when the tour buses started arriving.
We spent the afternoon working on images and doing seminars in Luderitz before heading back out to Kolmanskop for the late afternoon light and potential star trails. This was truly phenomenal. To top it off we did a crit session at the edge of the town under the night sky while eating pizza. Nothing like an off-the-wall location to have a critique session.
Wandering around the empty ruins and then watching as the moon rose and cast a silvery light over the dunes is a breath-taking experience. Doing so in the company of a wonderful group of photographers who have now become friends is truly a privilege. While we were sitting under the stars watching the moonlight slide down the side of a building, exhausted, but euphoric at the day’s shooting, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I love my job!”