Men on the moon

by Eugene Yiga

A leap into the unknown Namibia


"Welcome to the middle of nowhere," Erwin says as he puts my suitcase into his van. "So much emptiness here." I was thinking the same thing earlier. First, when my early morning flight approached for landing at Windhoek International Airport; I could barely see the runway, surrounded as it was with all that barren land. It happened again as the next plane touched down after the half-hour trip to Walvis Bay; I could have sworn we were about to land on the beach. "Only 2% of our surface area has roads and habitation," Erwin explains as we drive the 30km from Walvis Bay to Swakopmund, a coastal town established by German colonists in 1892. "About 85% of our roads are unbarred." Perhaps this is why Namibia, with around two million citizens spread over almost 825,000km², has the second lowest population density in the world. Namibia, chosen by Lonely Planet as its second best destination for 2015, is also the world's first country to have its entire coastline under protection through a network of national parks. "We believe in protecting our country," Erwin says as we enter the Dorob National Park. "That's why we drive the same routes when we do these tours. It's how we minimise impact on the land." But even though much of the area seems fragile and in need of protection, the rocky granite Moon Valley, 30km east of Swakopmund, strikes me as tough enough to defend itself. Erwin describes the shifting tectonic plates, magma spewing through the cracks, and erosion from floating glaciers at the end of an ice age. "This place is 500 million years old," he explains. "Now you know where they made all the lunar films... and where Neil Armstrong landed!" Near the end of our three-hour drive, we reach the Goanikontes Oasis Rest Camp. It is our first sighting of other people all afternoon. The area is popular for hiking and horse-riding, although this isn't allowed in summer because the temperature is too high. "I like to bring the city slickers here," Erwin says, "so that they can see what stars really look like!" My first question, given that Namibia has the world's largest free-roaming cheetah population, is about safety. "I've seen baboons and hyenas," Erwin says. "And I've seen cheetah tracks, but never a cheetah itself. But most animals will leave you alone if you pack your food away." Risks aside, the idea of camping out here is appealing. No lights. No cars. Just open sky. Perhaps a little bit of nothing is everything you need.