THE NAMIBIAN DESERT
This barren country on the southwestern coast of Africa features some of our planet’s most unique and intriguing landscapes. It is one of the oldest lands known to the geographic world – a landscape dying a slow death on a timescale much too large for us to appreciate. In its desperate final breaths it shows some of the world’s most unique natural phenomena as nature battles on despite an ever-dwindling supply of water.
My first trips to Namibia were as a young boy on family holiday – before my mind had ever come across subjects like composition or shutterspeed. I was an unbiased observer and what I observed was permanently etched into my soul. Years later, when I got into landscape photography, the need to rediscover Namibia with a new eye was obvious.
My first encounter with the Namib as a photographer was in 2011 – a year that Namibians will remember for a very long time to come. Most of Namibia got 5 times the average annual rainfall. The valleys amongst Sossusvlei’s dunes looked like wheat fields and most days ended in a display of rainbows and lightning. I fell head over heels for the rain-drenched landscapes of Namibia. Unaware of how special this was, I returned every year after hoping for the same. Against my hopes, it just got drier and drier in the years since, as if the desert had a vengeful conviction to show me it’s worst side. In just 5 years, Namibia has gone from one of the wettest years in a century to one of the driest.
Then in March this year, I visited the far North on the border with Angola and the Namib had a surprise for me. As we descended to the airstrip in the Hartmann valley, the landscape was covered in lush grass as far as the eye could see. Only the extreme north had received plentiful rains. It’s as if it was intended for Angola, but it accidentally rained a bit too far to the South. A bit of hope on the horizon…
Now, looking ahead to 2017, the world’s meteorological bureaus are recording a minor La Nina event, which should bring plentiful summer rains to Southern Africa, but so far (October 2016) we haven’t seen much. Historical patterns show that it’s always the 2nd year after a major El Nino event, like the one of 2015/2016, that brings flood years to Namibia.
Namibia is an incredibly photogenic country, but my obsession with it is when there is water in abundance. Nowhere do you see the incredible effect that water has on the living world more than where it is needed the most. Nothing gets me more excited than the ominous tension of thunderstorms building on a humid day in the desert. There is no smell sweeter than that of the Namib’s dust kicked up into the air by heavy raindrops. Nothing makes me feel more alive than the thrill of a nearby lightning strike reverberating on the desert breeze.
I feel like the past 5 years have just been training and that my real dance with the world’s oldest desert is yet to commence. I’ll be ready for the rains when a strong La Nina finally brings it.
If you’re interested in a photographic tour to Namibia, please get in touch and let me know.