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Jim Friend: Namibia

Deutsch-Südwestafrika
Story by Jim Friend
Unless otherwise indicated, photos by Dave Disi and Jim Friend

the German war memorial in Swakopmund, Namibia
German war memorial in Swakopmund for Great War and Nazi soldiers.

JR Ewing, the Great Namibian Oil Boom, and Welwitschia Mirabilis
So we descended from the skies, fresh from the dark cultural landscape of Zimbabwe, and already we had a problem. I had been entrusted with one task for our multi-country trip to Africa… renting a 4x4 for our leg of the journey into Namibia. Much procrastination had brought all to nought, as we arrived in our new, unfamiliar, and brutal land without the aforementioned task being executed. Worse yet, designated as the driver for this portion of the trip, I had misplaced my license back in the States, and as a result, was without it. Sheeeeesh. Let those traveling with me to exotic locales in the future be thus fully forewarned...

Just a glance at the odd shape of Namibia on a globe tells you very clearly that you're headed to a very strange place. After Mongolia, Namibia is the second least densely populated country on the planet. It is also famously known as a place where the red-dirt stained Himba tribe live. The women of this clan never wash themselves, even after childbirth, preferring instead as a matter of some manner of aboriginal cleanliness to smear their bodies and hair twice a day with cow's butter and ochre-colored dirt ground from the local sandstones; and wander around everywhere in such a condition in public to this day, as in former times, nearly butt naked. Back in the day, castaways from shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast would wander soaking wet from the frigid East Atlantic onto the Namibian shores, only to find themselves ironically surrounded by hundreds of miles of parched dune swept deserts, bizarrely populated with elephants, mud-caked dreadlocked tribesmen, and thousand-year-old Welwitschia mirabilis shrubs. A strange expanse indeed. In fact, from times long past, the natives have called Namibia, "The land God made in anger"… an innately understood collective prophecy, to be sure.

The Taxi and Car Rental Mafia obviously runs Windhoek, because for some odd reason, they decided to built the airport about 30 miles away from the rather small DownTown. Much conversation was bandied about concerning our situation between John and Dave and I on the long taxi ride to the hotel, and it was discovered that, being from New York City and not needing to acquire this skill, neither of my traveling companions knew how to drive stick, which the 4x4 we'd be renting would surely require. Now I was really in trouble. How could I have misplaced my license right before this trip… when this was my only responsibility…? Unreal. I really couldn't believe it. Eventually it was decided that I would try to rent the vehicle the next day with my passport, and if that didn't work out, John would fill out the paperwork and I would teach him to drive stick in a one day crash course lesson before our trip to the wastelands. A tall order. Complicating matters for John, in Namibia, they drive on the opposite side of the road. Great. "Good times," as Dave would say.

We arrived at our hotel in Windhoek, The Kalahari Sands, quite a bit after dark, to much sketchy activity on the streets outside. Even so, despite the closely-held affections of the locals for pick pocketing, and much like our digs at the Victoria Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe, the queen of England, decades earlier, had also chosen to lay her big rump down on one of the beds at The Sands for a night or two of dozing before floating off to the nearby Tintenpalast for exercises in fantasy governing. Well now, speaking of The Sands and rather deceased individuals… I know that, uber-regrettably, JR Ewing has been purportedly graveyard dead for almost 30 years, as was suggested forcefully on the legendarily popular episode of Dallas known as "Who shot JR?" However, despite this, a full three decades later, the The Kalahari Sands has been preparing for and longingly expecting his surely imminent resurrection for the as-yet-unhappened Great Namibian Oil Boom which is surely currently desperately requiring his manifest presence. This hospice is indeed a bizarre mix of upscale German/European/ 1980's hodgepodge interior design loudly beckoning JR to arise from the crypt with plenty of familiar scenery skillfully prepared to comfort him; populated by colorful Bergerac-caliber disciples marching through the lobby in ritualistically anticipation, their Falcon Crest-esque couture suggesting a cryptozoological conference in progress somewhere nearby. Complete with a rather overly guarded small casino near the main entrance, clouds of Benson & Hedges smoke everywhere, and only occasionally working elevators, the Kalahari Sands was indeed a feast for the senses. After settling in, we took the two mile taxi ride to Joe's, a famous local restaurant and bar, for a feast of zebra steaks, gembock sushi, and Windhoek lager. The zebra steak that night ranked as one of the best things I've eaten, ever, even if it was just like eating a striped cartoon horse. Yum. I asked a security guard at the restaurant if it'd be safe for us to walk back to the hotel rather than take a taxi again, so as to see some of the local sights more closely. He said firmly, "No. You will be robbed."

the B2 or Trans-Kalahari highway passes through the Namib desert
The legendary B2 (photo by Asco)

Deutsch-Südwestafrika, The Second Reich, and Lebensraum
Like the rest of Africa, Namibia has been inhabited for thousands of years by food-water-and-happiness-seeking aboriginal denizens. It's only in the last 150 years or so that Whitey has shown up abruptly to royally mess things up for folks otherwise generally exercising their lives peacefully amongst Africa's desiccated west-central wastelands. Worst of all for the natives of this region, notably the Herero and Nama peoples, the particular colonialists who decided to introduce themselves to their parched piece of African homeland during this world-epoch turned out to be the dreaded and blood-thirsty Germans, who at that time had political and social ideological aspirations throwin' down Certain Doom for whichever people-groups that happened to be squarely in the path of their Weltanschauung-ian thoroughfare. Unfortunately, these tribes didn't quite coalesce with Bavaria's demented version of the Garden of Eden Circa 1880, and so begins our sordid modern imperialistic tale…

The Berlin Conference, or Kongokonferenz, held in 1884, auspiciously set the stage for Namibia's conquest. This bizarre agreement amongst European superpowers demarcated dividing lines for each attendant country in the mad Scramble for Africa. In this decadent land-lust orgy, Germany scored the kingdoms of Togo, Cameroon, German East Africa (now Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda), and Deutsch-Südwestafrika, yes… our beloved modern-day Namibia. In contrast to Otto von Bismarck's conservative and somewhat benevolent exercise of kaiserreich years earlier, German settlers of Namibia in the late 1800's had come to embrace a much more inspired and draconian view of colonialism, no doubt encouraged by their arbitrary and surprise new imaginary ownership of Any-New-Land they laid claim on. In addition to this mindset, many new theories had been sweeping through the homeland, further encouraging their rampant terrra firma carnality. Among them in particular, a new concept known as "Lebensraum" had been recently thrust into their mindset by a German geographer by the name of Friedrich Ratzel, a professor at the University of Leipzig, bursting forth from his two-volume (ahem) masterpiece Anthropogeographie. Simply stated, the Lebensraum theory espoused that nations needed progressively and ever-enlarging land space to ensure any possibility of survival. Africa, he argued, was exactly the place for this sort of national expansion.

Arriving in their new homeland thus encouraged by aspirations of cultural dominance and entitlement, the German colonists of Deutsch-Südwestafrika arrived to the bleak reality of a land thoroughly populated by proud and dominant native culture. While some of their number, notably German-native and government-instated administrator and governor Theodor Leutwein, embraced an ethos of, in his words, "colonialism without bloodshed," most new-comers absolutely did not. Buoyed by ideals of land-privilege and infected by the recent tendrils of racial superiority theories that had also begun to infiltrate German society during this time, the emigrant population began to take out their pent-up aggression on the local savages. Rape, murder, and generalized abuse of the local Herero tribe began to spread as the settlers attempted to assert their growing dominant presence. Eventually, the Herero decided enough was enough, and in 1904, localized contingents of the tribe struck back against their newly-acquired parasites in the coastal port of Swakopmund, killing about 100 Germans. Relatively few Herero were involved, with the rest going about their business in other parts of the land, but when the news got back to Der Homeland back in Europa, the populace was incensed. At the behest of the Kaiser, a large military contingent was cooked up, armed to the teeth with cannons and the most apocalyptic of modern weaponry, and quickly shipped off to the new threatened offshore colony. The head of this band of locustry was headed up by a man of vicious reputation… and gruesomely named: General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha.

the writer's rented car on a desert road, Namibia
Our trusty steed and the very typical feel-good environs of desert-west Namibia.

a view of Namibia's South Atlantic coast with the writer's friend in the foreground
John rocks the Swakopmund pier as we get our first glimpse of the fierce South Atlantic.

Trans-Kalahari Highway, Gross Barmen, Busted
So the next morning we were off to the car rental place to see what was up with the chariot. A long hot walk later, which was surely a punishment for the most recent of my abundant inadequacies, we found that indeed, as feared, I would not be able to rent a car in that country without a license. What a surprise. So now it was up to John to go through with the paperwork, and as a resultant requirement of this process, he also had to drive the 4x4 out of the gate, while never having actually touched a stick before in his life. Yikes. After somehow skillfully negotiating this crucial first test, we drove around the local hillsides for an hour or two while John practiced the manual five-speed, and then headed off to the hotel to pick up Dave for our long road trip into northwestern Namibia. Of course, it was understood that an hour's worth of learning stick wouldn't be enough to cover all of our bases, so inevitably, license or not, I would certainly have pick up some of the driving on our multi-day trip.

On our five hour drive to the coastal town of Swakopmund on the Trans-Kalahari highway, also known as "B2," we passed the sparse vegetation typical of chaparral/desert environs of much of the flatlands of southern Africa. Not far along the way, we happened upon a sign at an intersection stating that a few miles to the south of us was a town called "Gross Barmen." Now I don't know what kind of genius city planner is living over there in that neck of the woods, but he's long overdue for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Gross Barmen. Right on. Enough said. After this, we soon found that distances driven between the small towns scattered through the Namib desert are considerable indeed, with much road construction along the way. The country is so enormous, the highway workers didn't even go home at night, but lived in makeshift tent camps sporadically placed along the roadside. I believe one was called "Hyena Bait Camp." Or maybe they all were. Occasionally, we would drive through a small town that looked a dusty old west American ghost town set up as an attraction on the outskirts of a traveling Swiss circus. A few of these towns had quite a few people wandering about, but a number of them, notably Usakos, turned out to be conspicuously devoid of humanity. Weird, man. It reminded me of Carnival of Souls. Staying in the truck sounded like a really good idea.

Throughout the day, John and I had been trading off at the wheel, and about an hour away from Swakopmund, it was my turn. Driving on the left side of the road turned out to be big strange fun indeed, and when the surface wasn't ground down to gravel by the road crews, a lot of driving really, really fast could be accomplished. At one point in the journey, I rounded a corner clinging sharply to the to the edge of the pavement, and came within inches of pancaking a gecko that was bravely sunning himself on the pavement. As I passed at 75 miles an hour, I saw him in my rear view mirror, resolutely holding his entrenched position. While driving, I was essentially still trying to be careful seeing as how I didn't have my driver's license and could potentially get into a lot of trouble in Africa (of all places) if I somehow got pulled over without it, but the closer we got to our destination after all of the sceneless/scenic driving of the day, especially without seeing scarcely a cop, I was driving pretty fast, quite ready to feast my eyeballs on a long stretch of Liverpool v Stoke City on the hotel TV. Just about 15 miles from our our hotel, I have some sort of derelict memory of hurtling around a corner near a small town passing a yellow sign with a lower-spectrum two-digit number on it. Immediately after negotiating that corner on two or three wheels, I saw a dude ensconced in a uniform of some sort standing in the middle of the road with a fat Jetsons-style gun in his hand waving me over to a small tent about 40 yards off the road. A Namibian cop. Busted.

So now my pulse is "mildly elevated," because I know beyond the shadow of a doubt because I'm speeding, as usual, but this time in a foreign country. I was already told by the rental agency people that I couldn't drive in Namibia because I didn't have my license, and because of this specifically by law wasn't allowed to drive their vehicle. And now here's an African cop ordering me out of the truck and marching me towards a tent where yet another policeman was waiting at a makeshift desk. Dave and John were instructed to stay stay put, and during the long walk up to the wigwam, I just decided to relax and go with it. With that thought, a few bars of music started mercifully began filling my mind, which I soon auspiciously identified as National Geographic's theme music to "Locked up Abroad."

Dave Disi walking on the beach towards the wreck of the freighter Zeila
Dave heads out to the wreck of the Zeila, which we later purchased from local villagers for about $50 USD.

Dave disi tries oysters at a restaurant in Swakopmund
Bravery comes in many forms. Disi volunteers for the Hånsa Oyster Experiment.

The Annihiliation Order, Bavarian Backlash, and Backlashings
General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha, a veteran of the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian wars, was having none of this Negro uprising nonsense. A meeting with Leutwein, who encouraged peaceful negotiations, produced in von Trotha little more than an utter resolve for total dominance and complete vindication of his brethren settler populace. An immediate military engagement of the Herero began soon thereafter, and after a couple of months of skirmishes, the Herero retreated to the edge of the desert. After having proved their point by striking back against the locals and engaging the German military, the bulk of the tribe settled in at one of the last oases before the vast Death Fields of the legendary Kalahari desert, and waited for negotiations with their level-headed old-school pal Leutwein. It was not to be. With von Trotha instructing his troops to "encircle and annihilate the Herero," the German forces fell on the natives in a full military engagement, and the survivors fled into the only place left to go, the uninhabited arid wastelands just beyond the last water-source available for hundreds of miles. Of this battle against the backdrop of palm trees, starkly contrasted by the adjacent red iron-oxidized dunes beyond, one German soldier later recounted, "...the death rattle of the dying and the shrieks of the mad...they echo in the sublime stillness of infinity." von Trotha sealed the area just beyond the oasis, and waited.

While he blithely anticipated the subsequent and inevitable Herero starvation in the 120 degree wilderness, the General penned what was later to be known as "The Annihilation Order." In it, he stated: "I, the great general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the Hereros. The Hereros are German subjects no longer… The Herero nation must now leave the country. …Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun or cattle, will be executed. I shall spare neither women nor children. I shall give the order to drive them away and fire on them. Such are my words to the Herero people." In a flourish of generosity, von Trotha eventually instructed his troops not to kill the Herrero women and children, but instead, told his men to shoot at them so as only to scare them away, adding, "The troops will remain conscious of the good reputation of the German soldier." Let history ever witness as a testimony.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, news of this dire situation began to filter back to The Taxpayers. When the German citizenry in Weinerschnitzel Paradise heard about Lothar Von Trotta's Kalahari Herero Barbecue Adventures, they were aghast. Even for German society during this time, including politicians at the Reichstag, all of whom had enthusiastically sent this expeditionary army off into future Gleiwitz glory, the news of Lothar von Trotha's exploits was appalling. Major protests were mounted against this furious evil, among commoners and bureaucrats alike. Tellingly for the future concept of three or four Thousand Year Reichs, even with this mounting tide of popular dissent, the Kaiser did not instruct von Trotha to annul his Annihilation Order for yet another two months.

Subsequential to this surely begrudged renunciation, the Hun expeditionary force rounded up the remaining Herero that were still surviving in the badlands, about 15,000 hardcore of them all. After hunting them like animals for months, the Schweinhunds told the natives they were pardoned and would be free return to their homes. Sickeningly, within walking distance of our exalted digs at JR Ewing's African Palace, as we slept amongst our snoozy comforters, there was founded just subsequent to this eternal lie, one of the first modern conveniences of the 20th century, what we now commonly know as a concentration camp. Thousands of emaciated indigene were brought to their new homeland in Windhoek in railroad cattle cars. (Ahem… sound familiar?) About 3,000 more were sent in a similar manner to Swakopmund, Germany's exclusive Namibian port and epicenter of then-modern commerce. While in these Social Paradisos, surely exactly similar to the freedoms they were earlier promised, the Herero were assigned numbers, attached to their necks amongst chains by metal assemblages similar in shape and size to modern tags affixed to the collars of dogs.

As the army ran out of uses for these slaves in the ports and forts of German South West Africa, they began to rent them en masse to local German corporations. (Hmmm… also sound familiar? Schindler's list anyone?) These upstart companies in fact, were allowed to run their own concentration camps. Records currently residing in the Windhoek archives document thousands upon thousands of Herero deaths in the pursuit of Deutsch empire building, most through exposure to exhaustion, starvation, and cold. (Wow, the familiarity here is almost palpable, nein?)

Saddam Hussein shopping center in Mondesa
Saddam Hussein shopping centre in Mondesa (Photo credit: Khopan)

war veterans memorial near Mondesa
Just a few miles away from the Mall of Saddam,
another veterans memorial.

Swakopmund, International Police Bribery (again), and Advocaat
"You speeding," spoke the policeman who extracted me from the highway as he motioned for me to take a seat on the picnic bench in front of the table. He finished this statement with a menacing utterance: "Oooooooooo…" The noise was kind of out of place, and was the sort of "oooooo" that's uttered after a person within earshot overhears someone getting verbally burned by a witty retort. Or like when somebody totally screws up and, realizing the implications, says, "Oooooo, this is bad." The other cop was looking up at me, seated on the bench to my left, with a pen perched above a massive ticket book, poised to write. "You know how fast you going?" the first cop asked me while tapping the radar gun in his hand and showing me the results on the digital screen. "No," I stated. "Veddy, veddy fast," was his reply in stunted English. He showed the second cop the gun…. "Oooooooo," he chimed in after taking a look. It was clear that I was driving very close to twice the posted speed limit.

"Yeah dat not good. Driver license please. And passport." Great. Now I had to bust out the brilliant excuse I'd invented only moments earlier for this truly unlikely contingency. "I don't know where my license is, sir, I think I may have left it in the hotel room." "Oooooooo," he breathed gravely. "You need license to drive car in Namibia. That no good. No good all. What you doing? You take holiday?" I started rambling about what we'd done in the previous week and what we were going to do the next day, etc, and he interrupted me. "Where you go now?"

Having basically just arrived in Namibia, Dave and John and I had no idea how to pronounce "Swakopmund," nor did we care. We came to discuss this place as "Swampland," and after struggling for a second to answer the cop, I told him: "Swamp-ox-land," or something very close to it. At this, both policemen pitched their heads back and howled in laughter. Whatever word I used they found massively entertaining indeed. I sat in silence with a palsied smile as their roar subsided to a hearty chuckle. After this adventure in mangled semantics, it was clear that the ice had been broken, and we joked back and forth for a minute about what I'd said before their attention turned back to the fact that I was a tourist, and didn't have a license.

"If we write ticket, you go home. Never pay. Ooooooo, no good," argued the first cop. Massively relieved now that they were only talking about giving me a ticket rather than taking me down to the station for a night in jail or some such lame inconvenience, I think I emphatically promised them I would pay the ticket once or twice before I finally sensed the opportunity I probably should have apprehended a few decades earlier. With the particular strain of conversation they were engaging me in, I realized they might be fishing for a bribe. Delicately, I suggested: "Hey, how about I give you all the money in my pocket and you just let me go right now." "Oooooooo," he said in just a bit of a different tone, turning to look me straight in the eye… "How much you got?"

I quickly pulled out all the money I had in my pocket, which turned out to be about $280 Namibian dollars… around $40 US boneskees. I handed it to the first cop, expecting him to somewhat diplomatically place it on the table or in an envelope, and perhaps jot down a few notes in a feigned display of show to make it look like, even if just perhaps, the money might be going into the local jurisdiction's coffers. Instead, with no one but the three of us around for miles, he kind of hunkered down a little bit, looked over his shoulder quickly to the left and right, and shoved the whole wad of cash into the right front pocket of his pants. After witnessing this magnificent adjudication, I immediately chirped: "I'm free to go?"

"Yes, free to go," he replied with a smile. Without further ado, I stood up and started back towards the truck. "Have a great trip!" one of them yelled with a laugh as I beelined down the hill. "Thanks!" I said loudly, without looking back. "Yes, have a great trip!" I heard the other say, chuckling. I was so relieved to be extricated from this sticky situation, that I simply hopped back into the driver's seat again and drove off, forgetting that was the reason I was there in the first place. I guess I had paid for the privilege.

After checking into our hotel in "Swamp-ox-land," The Hansa, we took a quick stroll out onto the pier to stare out into the awesomeness of the cold and vast tempestuous south Atlantic Ocean, and ended up in the hotel's amazing restaurant a little later, where I devoured the delectable remnants of a warthog and ostrich, and watched Dave "roll the dice," as he aptly stated, throwing down his hatch some local African oyster shooters. Scary. Amidst pods of German tourists chatting away in their native tongue, we feasted on several courses of various local foods like kudu and ostrich, drained numerous bottles of South African beer, and polished the night off with a round of Advocaat. We then headed out to the check out the local late night scene, and ended up at Africa's version of an Oakland hoochie mama bar, wading along the way through occasional roving bands of emaciated prostitutes and pseudo street gangsters, with whom Dave would quickly engage with his very entertaining brand of wry and lively international discourse. Eventually stumbling upon Kücki's, a Berlinsk-Namib pub for locals of European descent, we closed out the night draining glasses as true foreigners amidst the chatter of Afrikaans; ancient colonial maps and photographs staring down at us from the walls above.

giraffe at Etosha National Park
Giraffe in Etosha National Park, transmitting dangerous giraffe radiation from his freaky giraffe horns.

elephant crossing the road, Etosha National Park
Elephant on the road in Etosha; unfortunately we had to run him over, as he too was radioactive.

Eugen Fischer, Franz von Epp, and The Ending of All
In the midst of all of this Enslavery Madness, and upon hearing about their Herero neighbors' travails; the Nama, who lived to the south, decided to rise up against their new oppressors. They lost, and their fate was perhaps even worse than that of their kinsmen. Just off the coast of Luderitz, Shark Island was set up as the Final Solution for yet another group opposing the exalted ideal of Lebensraum. In September of 1906, 1,700 Nama were sent to Shark Island. Just over six months later, a thousand of them were dead. Soldiers manning the outpost began trading in the skulls of the dead Nama, sending them to scientists, universities, and doctors back in the homeland. Among those Dealing in the Dead, a German eugenics proponent by the name of Eugen Fischer traveled to Shark Island to study the corpses and bones of the captive deceased, seeking to prove through his studies that Africans were animals.

Somehow, despite German homeland idealism and the sure progress of humanity that was developing quickly overseas; inextricably, by 1908, the concentration camps in Namibia were shut down. Of the native populace, at least 70% of the Herero were dead, and 50% of the Nama also had gone the way of Mauthausen-Gusen. It was now that the Germans were firmly in control of their new little blood-stained paradise of Lebenamibia.

After World War I, a Great War and former Deutsch-Südwestafrika campaign veteran by the name of Franz Ritter von Epp formed a paramilitary group in Munich by the name of Freikorps Epp, from which future SA commandant Ernst Rohm became leader. During this time, von Epp also helped developed the ideologies of two other former WWI soldiers… Rudolph Hess, and Adolph Hitler. Undoubtedly inspiring Hitler's budding Nazi ideology with tales of The Witchcraft performed in the name of the Second Reich in Namibia, of von Epp, Hitler stated: "I learned to speak through him." Soon a fixture in Hitler's upstart regime, von Epp was eventually promoted to Reichskommissar of Bavaria, a lofty territorial governing position that came with nearly absolute power. Meanwhile, Eugen Fischer, the Shark Island eugenics vampire-in-residence, was appointed by Hitler as head of the Kaiser Wilhem Institute in Germany during WWII, where he would regularly receive body parts from Auschwitz for his continuing eugenics research, sent along by his contemporary and protege, Dr Joseph Mengele.

Currently in Namibia, 75% of the arable land is owned by around 4,000 farmers of mainly German descent. These farmers make up less than 5% of the total populace. Descendants of the Herero, by and large, live in slums. Several of those that we saw are immediately adjacent to Swakopmund and Windhoek, where the impoverished family line continue to serve as laborers for the local shopkeepers and store owners. These Inheritors of Peculiar Destiny can be seen daily in Swakopmund, walking into town from their ramshackle tenements, crossing the very railroad tracks that brought their ancestors there in chains, a hundred years earlier. Their grandparents are buried nearby, and if you like, you can seen their unmarked graves right now, by the thousands. A simple entry of "Swakopmund, Namibia" in the Google Earth search field will quickly bring the town to your view. Just south of the bulk of the small city, below the tiny suburb of Kramersdorf, lies a massive field of lumpy shallow graves, conspicuous in the barren desert. There are several more of these cemeteries on the periphery of the town, north and south, you can find them easily if you look….the city is built on them. A century later, they still cry out to the sky.

abandoned buildings in the fishing village of Wlotzkasbaken
Soundtrack to Wlotzkasbaken = Poison Idea: Getting the Fear

Wlotzkasbaken, Maggot Rolos, and The Staring Eyes of the Sky
The next day, on our drive north to Etosha National Park, we saw evidence of why the Skeleton Coast is so aptly named. About 20 miles into our trek, the rather recently shipwrecked hulk of the Zeila cryptically eyeballed us from its sandy tomb about 100 feet off the shoreline, bearing a cautionary witness of the constant fury of this ruthless section African coast. Driving onward, many miles north of there, a conglomeration of what appeared to be buildings and towers came into view between the road and the beach, the sight of which was almost beyond comprehension. Like a long-abandoned Carnival from Hell, left over from the previous month's Pageant of the Damned, only a photograph will even partially suffice to explain this exceedingly creepy place, which I later found out was the "town" of Wlotzkasbaken… a seasonal fishing village… or something like that… none of my business. Yeah you don't want to have anything to do with that place. Stay away. Forget I even mentioned it.

We eventually reached Henties Bay, which would be our turning point inland for our many hours of driving that day through the vast Namib Desert on our way to the Toshari Lodge, our overnight destination. The Namib is considered to be the oldest desert on the planet, and assessed by some fancy scientist or another to be 500 billion-kajillion years old or something like that (maybe more like 5,771 years old?), but you know… like really, really old. Now, a super strange thing about the road we were traveling on is that it was almost perfectly straight for over 40 miles. I am not exaggerating. A peculiar and awesome effect of this ingredient, combined with the flatness of the surrounding landscape and the heat of the day, was that the road ahead of us trailed off into a massive shimmering mirage, as did the telephone lines attending it. It was as if we were simply driving off the edge of the earth into the ether, where reality breaks down into its invisible spiritual components.

As we approached the small town of Uis, a few Himba and Herero stood at their utterly pitiful roadside structures and waved for us to come have a look at their wares… bracelets and woodcarvings, and the like. If a camera was produced to capture the sight, they would duck and cover. Strangely enough, just before we got into the small, our windshield was treated to a tiny smattering of the quarter inch of rain the Western Namib receives each year. That's right I said, a quarter inch a year. The droplets peppered our windshield, but not enough to turn on the wipers. John and Dave were keen to have lunch in this town, but not being very hungry at that moment, I sat with them for awhile having a grape-drank, or something like unto it. At some point during this meal, the owner offered us a free "appetizer" of dried grubs; yes, those kind of grubs. They was utterly reprehensible, virtually inedible, and I ended up going outside to spit out its filthy aftermath out onto the ground, where it surely done-belonged from the get-go. Soon after, I crossed the street to a gas station to have a look around, and much to my utter amazement and delight, I actually found some Rolos on the rack; yes, that delicious chocolate and caramel treat. "Just the recipe to cleanse my palette of that wretched caterpillar abortion I just ate," I thought. I purchased the Rolos and greedily tore them open, threw one into my mouth, and started chewing. Yum squared. However, something caught my eye as I strolled out of the store with them. Back in the sunlight, I looked down at the second Rolo, still in the package, only to see a few tiny holes in it, with a small white worm of some sort writhing around on top. Immediately spitting the contents of my mouth onto the ground, in a remarkably similar fashion to just about five minutes earlier, I marched inside the store past the security guard, and told the cashier what had just happened. Ascertaining that she didn't speak much English, I pointed to the Rolos and stated loudly, "Worms!" while throwing the candy into a nearby trashcan with a flourish. As I headed out of the store, I ran into Dave, who was on his way inside. I briefly explained what had happened and trudged back to the truck, to the sound of his chuckling. When Dave returned from the gas station, he told me the security guard had dug the Rolos out of the trash and was eating them.

The drive for the rest of the day was a truly wild-west style adventure, with endless dirt roads and stream crossings, and all the driving-as-fast-as-you-like that you could ever have wanted. In Namibia, you get a great sense of freedom, the kind that America's first settlers showed up for, but which has since been utterly crushed under the weight of our monstrous system of bureaucracies and thoroughly disgusting and increasingly degenerate Rules Factory: The United States Congress. Still temporarily exulting in this newly-found sense of liberty, we eventually ended up at Toshari, a totally worthwhile hotel way, way out there somewhere in the endless chaparral. Inside my small but totally cool cabin, I found a massive spider hanging out on the inside of my bed's mosquito netting. Right on. I chased him into the bathroom and put my flip flop on him, as a sort of experiment. The next morning, he was gone. With that disconcerting thought, we headed off to Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. In the midst of the park is a sort of resort, where we decided to have lunch. Just after eating the carefully inspected offering, I climbed the stone turret built in the middle of the compound, and from some distance, witnessed a lion or a cheetah or some bitterly fast animal kicking up a supersonic dust trail while chasing a gazelle or some such other victim beast. Wow. Way cool. We drove around for quite some time seeing a multitude of animals: Elephants, lions, giraffes, kudus, gazelles, zebras, wildebeest, ostriches… pretty much every African animal you could hope to see, ALL of which I wanted to saddle up and ride for a minute; then dismount and shoot, and then roast over a fire with a lot of Heinz 57, and then send whatever remained to the taxidermist.

That night was almost our last night in Africa, and during dinner, back at the Toshari, we were treated to the amazingly complex sounds of the locals singing in the multitude of layers, cross-rhythms, and bell patterns characteristic of west African songcraft. Totally remarkable. The owners had announced that these were natives who worked as kitchen staff at the lodge and had come up with the idea to sing for tips to make a bit of extra income. After dinner, I went back to my cabin and stared out into the unfamiliar dark sky of the Southern Hemisphere with the songs of the locals still echoing through my head and heart. The stars were like thousands of pairs of eyes which had seen all of this before. They stared back at me, examining everything.

a memorial to Herero peopl who died in the Swakopmund concentration camps
(Photo credit: Alex Mank)

Related Articles:

Namibia, Part 1; Namibia Part 2


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"Namibia" Article

Jim,

I spent several school holidays in Windhoek with family friends. Much later I took each of my kids (U.S. born & raised) on separate trips to my native, Cape Town and "Overlanded" through Namibia into the Kaokoveld. I enjoyed your travelogue immensely. Please advise me if you ever publish a collection of your travel experiences. The apple strudel at Helmeringhausen somewhere after Ai Ais was the best ever. Graciously,

Merv Hayman, Sarasota, FL

Hi Merv, thanks for the correspondence, glad you enjoyed the article. It sounds like that country got into your blood, as it has in mine. I'm looking forward to getting back there someday and seeing much more of the place, Namibia has a peculiar allure. Thanks for the complements and I will certainly put you on the list for a travel stories compendium.

Cheers and happy travels!
Jim

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"Bullriding in Texas" Article

Hey Jim,

I love your website. It has shown me that all this time my boyfriend was lying to me about who he was. On his Facebook page he was using the picture of "Thomas Bosma"... Btw great story and pictures.

MaKayla, Rapid City

Hi MaKayla, glad we could be of assistance in busting your prevaricating suitor! Thanks for the complements as well.

All the best, Jim

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"Canadian Arctic " Article

Hey Jim,

Just wanted to say 'Hello'…love your intro/bio Mr. Boitano, fits the call of excitement/steelo of Mr. Friend. Hope to keep correspondence, and hope all your travels keep you busy but safe, Check my Friend...

Mico Gonz, Seattle, WA

Miiii-coooooooooooooooo!!!

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"Jalalabad, Afghanistan" Article

Hello Jim,

Very interesting, I find it very important for me because my BF is there. Hope he is fine...His name is Sgt.Jason Adams...Thank you and God bless...

Leonila, Guiguinto, Bulacan, Philippines

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Cpt. Disi was at Kutschbach with the guys of 2nd platoon. I was in 4th, we were right up the road at FOB Morales Frazier. I don't think I read anywhere about you being at KB but if you were up there in Kapisa province with us you would have loved it. It was 10x better than Jbad. The air there was so full of smog, and you couldn't really see that far out early in the morning when the sun was rising. But its nice to see someone like you who was out on patrols and documenting all the things we did. Great stories. Keep up the good work...

Kevin Myrick, Calhoun, GA

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Love your writing. Have you read Spike Walker's books by now?

Kerry, Wenatchee, WA

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Nice.

Christian Louboutin, New York City

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I do not believe I've seen this described in such an informative way before. You actually have clarified this for me. Thank you!

Janice Randall, Post Falls, ID

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I like the style you took with this topic. It isn't every day that you just discover a subject so to the point and enlightening.

Charles David, St. Anne, Manitoba

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Hey Jim! LT Singh just checking your site.. looks great… very slow internet here.. will be home in 2 weeks.

Alvin Singh , New York

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Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones. You have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up! And according to this article, I totally agree with your opinion, but only this time! :) .

Arthur Cox, Next to Paris

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Jim. Take it all in, smother your senses with the culture and people. Watch your top notch and have a once in a lifetime experience. Miss you.

Jeff and Andrea, Los Angeles, CA

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Fascinating photos Jim! Singly they are all fodder for short stories; together they really capture an out-of-body trip! Enjoyed mine, thank you! I'm curious what those compounds contain...mostly businesses? residences? Love that the T-Boy card is making it's way around the globe!

Wendy, Los Angeles, CA

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These are outstanding photos. You capture scenes that I've never seen in the "mainstream media." Haunting images that make me think that there is danger around every corner.

Al Burt, Friday Harbor, WA

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Enjoyed your article immensely! Your title is fun and so is learning about bin Laden skipping out without paying the rent - what a loser! It's great you could meet with Mr. Jouvenal, hear the stories and see the guns. Give our highest regards to T.G. Taylor and the other military personnel serving in Afghanistan. Courage to you all!

Steve, Renton, WA

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Jim, I enjoyed this fascinating article. It reminded me of how sublimely surreal life is. Also, I would like to thank you for your courage, and to express gratitude towards your bringing this piece of the world, with its foreign realities, to my doorstep. I look forward to reading more from you.

Sandra, Seattle, WA

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This is outstanding reporting, Jimmy F! Fascinating stuff. You've taken on a dangerous, important assignment in Afghanistan, and we readers appreciate your work with the military and your unique observations. I look forward to your next post. In fact, I'm going to go through the archives to see your entire body of work on TravelingBoy.

Terry, Los Angeles, CA

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I really enjoyed my entry into Kabul with you and the visit with Peter Jouvenal... look forward to more of that adventure.

Brenda, Richland, WA

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Great story, Jim, a story really "as current as yesterday's news." Now there's a real TravelingBoy!

Eric, San Diego, CA

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Jim you have probably revealed more about Bin Laden than anyone...his rage on the world has to be linked to his limp handshake. Be careful over there!

Janet, Caldwell, ID

Thanks Janet! I get the distinct impression that his handshake isn't the end story to all that's limp with bin Laden's physiology!

Jim

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What a fantastic piece. You're a modern-day Hemingway. Your writing is compelling and fascinating. I look forward to much more of this great adventure.

Roger, Puyallup, WA

Wow, Roger, what an awesome set of complements. Thanks a lot. My first journal entry of 2010 was: "The stories will tell themselves. I just need to show up." So far, so good! Thanks again!

Jim

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Jim, first time reading your stuff. Very cool. I hope to read about our units and life in eastern Afghanistan very soon since you will be coming to our area as an embed. BTW, I'm the PAO here in Jalalabad and will be coordinating your visit with CPT Disi.

T.G. Taylor, US Army, Jalalabad, Afghanistan

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Hello T.G.!

I saw your email address included on a couple of correspondences, and I cannot wait to spend some time with you, and even yet more of our honorable fighting forces over there in that bleak neck of the woods in Afghanistan in January, including CPT Disi. This is truly a trip of a lifetime for me, and I'm completely looking forward to absorbing the experiences there and recording the sufferings and sacrifices of so many of those of you who continue to strain and press to make Our Country Great, those of you who daily labor to assist those in other countries whose lives had once withered under the burden of tyrants, and whose hopes can now flicker again with the help of those like yourself. Thanks so much for putting it all out there for us every day. My fervent hope is to honorably document the expenditures of each of your individual lives in the midst of this conflict, those of you who "anonymously" struggle daily to make what We Hold As Good prevail in what, at times, is a dark and wicked world.

Thanks so much, man. Great to hear from you... See you soon!

Jim

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Sad to say, this is the first time I've read one of your articles Jim. What have I been missing!? Thanks for the funny, informative, and just plain awesome read! Take care and have a great Turkey day!

Jeff, Pasco, WA

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Jim, I just loving reading your blogs. As I've dreamt about going to Costa Rica for at least 20 years, this was a very insightful and fun read for me. You always make me laugh.

Deborah - Burbank, CA

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Wow, what a HILARIOUS guy!!!!! I really really enjoyed the article. The Village Artist is my 'uncle Boyd" as I call him. He is closing his shop next year. That made my day and thank you for letting me know of this on the world's BEST travel information source.

Sandy - Sitka, Alaska

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Hi Sandy!

Comments like those that you wrote make all the hassles and travails of writing resoundingly worthwhile, thank you! I am so sorry to hear that Boyd is closing his shop! The Alaskan State legislature should immediately intervene to make his shop an Alaskan cultural heritage site of some variety (not kidding). Meanwhile, from the sound of the conversation Boyd and I had, it's the federal government that's confused and harassed the poor guy with inconsistent and random applications of federal law to the point where it's probably not worth it anymore. I hope that's not the case, but I wouldn't be surprised. Whatever the reason, I am really sorry to hear that he's closing shop. I'm privileged to have seen it... once in a lifetime. Thanks again for reading and thanks a lot for your comments!

Jim

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Hi Jim,

Now I know what you were doing on the Alaska cruise when I wasn't around. Besides playing cribbage. I'm glad that you, a younger, more slender and fit person, also saw the value in cruising. I didn't come back with a tan, but I did lose 3 pounds while sleeping every night and eating every meal but one. Jade and I are looking forward to three weeks exploring Mediterranean ports in May. We put down our deposit for it on our last night on board and have starting our training. Sleeping in the same wonderful bed every night makes such a break-neck pace completely possible for a grandma like me. I'm looking forward to reading your Afghanistan piece WHEN you have returned.

Janice - Seattle

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Hi Janice!

Yes that was a blast! I would do all of that again any day of the week. Have fun on your Mediterranean cruise, that sounds like great fun!

Jim

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Love your expeditions. Keep writing.

Karen Cummings - Yakima, WA

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Jim can't tell you how much I am enjoying your writing. One other commenter mentioned you are living the life we all dream of, ain't that the truth. As far as looking for a place to live that will challenge you to be able to make a real living and supplying a steady flow of women looking for the bbd (bigger better deal) then you should try the Yakima Valley here in Washington State (inside joke). Look forward to reading more from you.

Huston Turcott (hooter) - Yakima, WA

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Awesome!!! I love Japan!

Maja - Chur, Switzerland

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Jimmy my love,

I totally thought you were kidding when you told me you went bullriding. OH MY GOSH you actually did it. (SIGH) Am I going to have to smack you around a bit?? heheheheee Seriously, come see us!

Leah, Richland, WA

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Jim,

Rock on Friend! Living it up... inspiring us all to do the same!

Celeste, Seattle


Jim,

Are you for real? You're living the life many people only dream about. You're obviously not yet married. What wife would allow her husband to do all the crazy things you do? This Virginia skydiving adventure is probably the scariest yet. Your writing style helps bring the exhilaration out. Great photos too. Loved the caption about you striking that "gangsta rap" pose. Come to think of it, why do we do that in front of the camera?

Thanks also for the tips. $250 for a few minutes with nothing between you and mother earth is a bit costly but I guess if you have a death wish, this is definitely the way to go.

You mentioned that 25 people a year lose their lives doing this. With my luck I will be among that number if and when I decide to do this.

Enjoyed it very much. Can't wait for your next adventure.

Peter Paul of South Pasadena, CA

Jeem!

Found ur Glacier trek (I will Destroy You Glacier Peak) to be serious kick ass. To be honest, I’m such a lightweight, I’ve never been more than a day tripper. When u really get out there on one of those long solo treks, and the water runs short … can u drink from local streams? I’ve heard that pollution is so bad that even places untouched by man are now off-limits.

VitoZee

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Howdy VitoZee,

Great to hear from you and thanks for the complement and question. That is a seriously cool name, by the way: VitoZee. Just from the phonetics of it, I get the impression that you might be a very friendly and mild-mannered hitman working out of North Jersey. Really cool.

As for your drinking water from streams question, there are a lot of answers for it. The simple answer is that, no, you can almost never implicitly trust stream water sources, unless they are flowing straight out of the ground (via an aquafer or spring) bubbling up right there in front of you. That's your best bet, but you rarely see that in the wild unless you're looking for it, and even so, I have actually gotten sick from drinking spring water straight from the source at Panther Springs on Mount Shasta. You never know what you're going to get drinking untreated water from the wilds.

Most of the time the pollution you'll be dealing with out in the wilderness is not man-made, it usually comes from bacteria and parasites that inhabit the bodies of wilderness animals. For example, on this Glacier Peak trip, I drank from a stream I was confident was trustworthy. In the immediate vicinity were living quite a few marmots. A number of days after I got home I fell ill, and had to wonder if I hadn't picked up something from the water I drank, as there was not much of any other explanation for my symptoms. I knew a trip to the doctor would probably result in them sending me back home with a plastic cup that was required to be filled with my own poo, which would need to be delivered back to the lab steaming hot so they could figure out exactly what kind of bacteria or parasite they were dealing with. (Not a joke, remember Panther Springs?) After this diagnosis, I would then have to go back to the doctor and get a prescription, but by then, my body would have probably fought off the tiny invaders completely on its own. Not worth the trouble, and all of this would certainly = Jim minus $280. So I suffered it out, and whatever happened to be bothering me left my system in about 7 days or so. Yuck. No fun.

Anyway, I don't recommend drinking straight from the streams of the wild, but in a pinch, I do it everytime, unless I see a bear or a moose straight upstream from me pooping in the river, which has only happened about ten times. (Or zero times.) Anyway, sometimes I get sick, sometimes I don't. If I'm exhausted and thirsty, to heck with it, I'm drinking it.

All this notwithstanding, or withstanding, or notwithoutstanding, whatever, they just recently invented the coolest thing in the world though, so you might want to check it out. Previously, for treating your water in the wild, you'd always have to put a pellet of iodine or a congregate of other evil ingredients into your jug of stream water and let it sit there for an hour before you drink it while the chemical cocktail thoroughly treats your water. That is ridonkulous because when you're hiking and thirsty, you aren't going to wait a full hour for that pill to dissolve and work properly, you are going to guzzle. Anyway, they just invented this magic wand of sorts that you can find at any decent backpacking or outdoors store. You turn it on and dip it in your stream filled water jug, and the ultraviolet light it produces irradiates everything to death on the spot, after about 30 seconds or so. Kind of like my pinky finger, which I keep forgetting to treat my stream water with, because I'm always so dang thirsty.

Jim

Keep it comin' Jim. Sounds awesome.

Matt Langley, Duvall, WA

Hey Jim,

Enjoyed your Victoria article. It was an intersting slant on a city that is generally just promoted as a destination for tea rooms, gardens and double-decker buses. Now let's get serious ... are the Canadian women there really that attractive, good-natured and open-minded? Maybe I won't get married either and just move up there. It sure sounds refreshing after having to deal with the smugness of all those LA starlets, trying to make it in Hollywood.

Gary, Santa Monica

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Gary,

Thanks so much for the communique. I can honestly tell you that there was little exagerration involved in my description of the girls there in Victoria. God, in his infinite wisdom, has thankfully granted American mankind a few other places than the great old U.S. of A. to relieve our hearts of the burden of the eternally-self-absorbed, career-tracked, Bill-Gates-as-a-husband seeking beastly variety of female. I know, after living here in the States forever (especially in Seattle), how it is. I was recently researching a trip to Columbia, and heard the same news implicitly spoken about the women there, they are apparently of the same caliber of those that live in British Columbia. I invite you, before relocating, to take a trip up to Victoria, to see for yourself. I'll never forget it.

And my brotha', if you think you have it bad in the Los Angeles area (I lived there for six years), try Seattle (where I have lived for the last laborious three). Seattle seems to be crammed with nothing other than Ice Princesses, who live their lives completely within the confines of darkened cerebral domains, mental attentions locked firmly onto the goal of marrying the next Bill Gates, hoping to live in one of those big houses smooshed up against Lake Washington, hearts available only to the ultimate goal, the dream of all dreams ... being on Oprah someday...absorbing the jealous attentions of the millions of suburbanite women watching, all hoping to sit right there across from Ms. Winfrey someday, too, while regaling her with the tales of the good life, closets full of the savvy and smarmy garb purloined at Nordstrom's, their husband a virtual "Prince Charming," their family-owned barnacle encrusted yacht anchored firmly in some northern fjord. Oprah smiles back approvingly amidst a cacophony of applause, screen fades to commercials, all conduits nourishing The Beast.

You're my kind of guy, Gary. Hang in there, amigo. I look forward to meeting your smokin' hot wife someday.

Jim

Stay tuned.


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