Iceland! It’s a place that conjures up images of longboats riding white capped waves and black mountains jutting out and over pounding dark surf. A land of vikings, volcanoes and ice. As such it has drawn photographers in their droves to explore the island which sits just south of the Arctic Circle. It has drawn so many photographers that it is hard to pick up a photographic magazine or look through the images in a photographic salon without coming across at least a few images from Iceland. It is this allure that had me chatting to some photographers around a fire, in quite the contrary location - Botswana’s Kubu Island, about their thoughts in visiting Iceland.
Two years later, almost to the month I found myself setting foot onto Iceland’s soil joined by some of those same photographers who planted the seed of visiting Iceland in the first place. We had touched down in one of the few pronounceable (for anyone who doesn’t speak Icelandic) towns on the Island, Keflavik. This is about an hours drive from the more familiarly unpronounceable capital, Reykjavik - home to just under a third of Iceland’s 350, 000 strong population. From the air we could see a ring of snow-capped mountains surrounding what to us looked like a flat plain of green and dark grey. We later found the plain to actually be churned up moss-covered prehistoric lava flow.
The Namibian landscape has an almost hypnotic effect on me. I keep finding myself drawn back to it time and again. The Composing The Dunes workshop that I run with Nature’s Light (a new venture between myself and Nick van de Wiel), is one of our mainstays for the very reason that Nick and I feel that this incredible country needs to be shared with visual artists. Simply standing and taking in the emptiness, the moisture sapping dryness and eerie silence, can be a humbling experience. The act of crafting images in this otherworldly space is a true privilege. So I was extraordinarily fortunate to once again travel back to the desert in the company of two talented photographers during November for the second Composing the Dunes Workshop.
Unlike last year’s trip report and 2013s recce report, I won’t give a blow-by-blow account of the expedition. From what I understand, Dave Hoggan of The Veiled World, and one of the photographers on the trip, is putting together an extensive trip report accompanied by some beautiful images that he captured while we traveled the southern section of Namibia (Update: the first part can be read here). I would suggest checking in on his site for his Namibia post as well as some of the other incredible locations that he has been photographing recently.
It has to be one of the bucket-list destinations for photographers from around the world. It ranks there with Antarctica, the Okavango Delta, Torres del Paine and Death Valley among others. It's instantly recognizable from screen-savers splashed across both Microsoft and Apple computers around the globe, and it was our last location. What a finale! Sossusvlei and the incredible tree skeletons of the Dead Vlei.
We're here, so why not? Etosha Game Reserve in the north of Namibia is one of world's most famous natural reserves. Its enormous pan and surrounding arid lands are home to thousands of animals and some of the most startling photographic opportunities to be had. Although we are in Namibia to recce for next year's landscape workshop, it seemed silly not to take a look at Etosha. So, although the reserve won't be included in the 2014 workshop, it is an option for photographers to continue to after the workshop (which can be organised through Tailor Made Safaris as an addition to the workshop).
Towards the west of Namibia's Kalahari, in the region that settles itself as the Nama Karoo but is spitting distance from the Skeleton Coast, is the Spitzkoppe. Rising some 600m from the flattest of landscapes, this incredible engorging of orange colored granite is like a giant beacon visible from dozens of miles away. It's immense folds of rock contort and wave around the pinnacle that is the Spitzkoppe itself, creating a Mountain that would not be out of place in a Martian Landscape. Meanwhile the heat of the desert bakes the rock face so that moving over it is like walking across a massive stove top, searing your body if you dare to spend too long in the sun.
Leaving the surreal landscape of the Quiver Tree Forest we cut across the southern end of Namibia towards the coastal town of Luderitz. The landscape only gets more surreal as you journey along the B4 highway. Dolerite capped hills disappear and you find long avenues of short grassed sandstone hills that march along the side of the highway, forming a huge geologic avenue of sorts. The very occasional farmhouse stands out starkly against this semi-desert landscape. An oasis of humanity in a sea of emptiness.
But it changes. Rapidly. From these soft hills the horizon suddenly starts to get hazy as the heat builds up an ocean of mirages ahead. Oncoming vehicles grow as a ghostly reflection and the hills and mountains in the distance look as if they are growing out of a silvery sea. Then the orange sands of the Namibia desert pounce upon the horizon and move like a glacier towards the dead-straight road that runs between Aus and Luderitz.
Namibia is a long way to travel if you want to start from the Indian Ocean. Two days driving, not all of which was uneventful, and 1667 kilometres from Durban to Keetmanshoop with a short stop in Bloemfontein en route. Clouded skies rapidly made way to limitless blue skies over a burnt horizon. Miles and miles of scrub and dust make for a harsh beauty in the dry landscape.
Finally crossing the border between the Northern Cape Province and southern Namibia we were surprised by the distance between the South African and Namibian border posts. At one point we even wondered whether we had now entered the country illegally. We finally made it through the small buildings that marked our official entry into Namibia and set off across the flatness towards our destination near Keetmanshoop.
Crossing the desert one last time we drove between Luderitz and the Fish River Canyon, before snaking our way back north-eastwards to the incredible scenery of the Quiver Tree forests north of Keetmanshoop. Crossing the desert was itself an experience. The tarred B4 highway shoots straight as an arrow after the permanent dunes around Kolmanskop towards the West. Distances are truly vast, particularly when you get to the flat landscape of the Khoichab depression that looks more like it should be found on Mars rather than on earth. The searing heat throws up shimmering mirages that double the sense of vastness.
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.
The thing that strikes people most strongly when they first encounter the desert is the absolute vastness. It just stretches on forever. The horizon is a shimmering mirage that intensifies the sensation of endlessness. Add a cloudless blue sky and desiccating oven-like heat and you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the waves and waves of red sand marching into the distance. This is the Namib desert. It is a place that is simultaneously eerily beautiful, and brutally harsh.