Namibia: Dunes that roar

Something I wrote on a trip to Namibia shooting two hotels in 2008, it made me smile when I read it again….

Usually on trips for Top Billing Magazine, I would be accompanied by a the TV crew or magazine colleagues but not this time. Paul, the Top Billing driver, dropped me at the airport and I was on my own pushing a trolley pilled with oddly shaped black bags which resulted in some sideways stares and intrigued whispers. I swiftly moved to the check-in counter – the madame too one look at my trolley and said: ‘you are taking, “all that”.’ I smiled sweetly and said well most of it is hand luggage. She was at a loss as to what to say. My itinerary made no sense either: whichever planes I was to be on and when, would have to be explained to me. Back to madame, I think she felt sorry for me and said that I should go to my gate early as it was at the other end of the airport. Off I went, but er, a huge sign said NO TROLLEYS IN LIFT. I asked the cleaner if it mattered and she dared me to break the rules. Ok I had an ally so off I went just as I stepped into the lift over the intercom in perfect pronunciation and pitch of my not so South African name I was summonsed to the ticket and sales counter. For a second there I thought I had been caught out with trolley and bags; blushing slightly I reversed out of the lift and backtracked to the counter. Just a minor adjustment in my ticket issuing procedure, ah whatever! Through customs, though duty free… all very tempting but even the most enthusiastic shopper would have trouble with a 40kg backpack, pro tripod, laptop and of course the girls handbag with everything in it. So blinkers on, and off to gate B2 I went. The waiting game, where no one says anything but judgment is passed silently, yet not so discretely. Of course in the queue someone had to say something to the obvious fact that this is a photographer… look people this is not a machine gun but close, it can shoot. So in true spirit some dude assumed I would be photographing the dunes or some such thing. Getting on the plane was fine up to the part when I couldn’t get the back-pack to squeeze in the overhead compartment. Ready to give in on the impatient passengers mounting irritation; as if they the plane was going anywhere without them. The air-hostess was way more determined than I was, and she forced the backpack in with a tug-and-a-twist, ‘voila’. Sit.
I was stunned at the beauty or rather the unexpected landscape that awaited me. There was just desert all around. At the Walvis Bay airport, through customs, the unbearable silences and piercing looks trying to pry out illegalness.
And there, I almost missed it, in front of me was the smallest luggage carousel with almost a 90 degree twist, pretending to go someplace. Well I guess it is better than Oudshoorn where you and your luggage are deposited on the tarmac (but that is another story).
In a fabulously air conditioned hotel bus, I, the only passenger, was taken to the Swakopmund hotel, and old railway station – very colonial looking built in 1901 I was told several times. Cool time to meet the GM and then off to one suite, and another; shooting the hotel inside out.
The next day we squeezed in some quad biking. Yay. It was breathtaking, firstly to be actually riding on the dunes, their overwhelming beauty and then the roar of the dune. My crazy guide took it upon himself to be my personal guide and to make sure I had the most fun and the best experience in the shortest time possible. I even went dune/sand boarding… and he took the pictures! Great to be in the action for a change. Eventually we abandoned my bike (kinda slow) and went on his – both of us. Wow, this little machine had power, we picked up speed up and over and beyond the dunes. He even did a wheelie with me on the bike, yeah, it did feel as if I was going to fall off. Have you ever ridden on the crest of a dune? One edge is a sheer drop and the other a smooth tumble. Time was running out and we collected my quad bike but there was one more thing to do. Ontop of a steep dune we turned off the bikes and let them slide down the sheer drop. Using only our brakes to prolong the experience. There is was this roar, or was it the sound of a jet – it was the dune. Apparently the weight of the bikes compresses the air between the grains of sand but the sound that emerges seems inexplicable, my brain could not compute the strange deep sound. An incredible experience. I barely made it on time, with sand still in my nose and ears, onto the 20 seater plane to Windhoek to shoot one more hotel.

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