We just pulled away from Namibia and Im honestly very sad to leave. I dont think I ever would have come here on my own and I would have been missing so much. Its an incredible country with deserts, shoreline, wildlife and really great people. It has been my favorite port by far and everyone Ive spoken to on the ship is already planning a return trip in their heads. I know these entries are like novels and I want to apologize/thank you in advance for putting up with them. Theres so much to capture and so little justice that words can do.
The first day in Namibia we were greeted at the port by a choir of girls in traditional African dress clapping and singing. They were all around ages 8-13 and they were great. They were dancing, and stepping along to the songs and it was such a cool treat to have them welcome us to the country. After we were able to get off the ship a bunch of people were playing guitar and the girls
were singing along and dancing with the students and teachers.
We took the long walk to the end of the port and wandered into Walvis Bay to get money changed and check out the area. We rented a house on the beach in Swakopmund, so most people took cabs there to get the house settled while my friend Chas and I headed back to the ship for the FDPs we had scheduled that day. FDPs, or Faculty Directed Practica, are trips planned by the professors that relate to the classes were taking. Were supposed to do a certain number of FDPs for our classes as a way to help relate our experiences in port to the material were learning.
My FDP was for Ecoacoustics and our trip was going to be putting on a concert in the desert. In case youre wondering (and Im sure you are), Ecoacoustics a music class in which we listen to both environmental recordings and soundscapes and analyze them. We also make our own recordings in port and discuss the sounds that we hear. And while that may sound pretty hippy, I actually really love the class. Its making me completely re-examine how I think about music and the sounds that we hear on a daily basis. In addition to Eco, Matt Burtner, the professor who teaches the class, also teaches Technosonics (a tech composition class) and M.I.C.E which stands for Mobile Interactive Computer Ensemble. MICE has already had two shows on the ship and this trip was to be their first performance in port a concert in the desert. The way that MICE works is that we take live sounds, like the wind, water or squeaky toys and create music by mixing those sounds with synthesized versions in order to create a new composition. A little out there, but also awesome. Since I like my class so much and had helped with one of the other MICE performances, I decided that instead of just going and watching the concert I wanted to help with the performance and make some music. In addition to just performing we were also making a video of the show which would then be edited into a kind of music video.
The group of us going early to film and perform met at 1pm and headed out into the desert. I have to say that I had never really seen the desert before and when you look off to the left and see the dunes rising up along the side of the road, it is breathtaking. All around there are just dunes upon dunes and the landscape is beautiful. Its hard to do it justice with words or pictures but Ill try nonetheless. Ive realized we spend a lot of time in port in disbelief, trying to wrap our minds around where we are. This boils down to a lot of turning to one another and saying CAN YOU BELIEVE WERE IN THE DESSERT RIGHT NOW!? IN AFRICA!? Either way we drove along the main road out of town and then pulled off onto an unpaved path. After the unpaved road our bus pulled right out onto the sand and dropped us literally in the middle of nowhere with all of our gear. Some of the dunes have names or numbers to identify them but the place where we were was just called Dunes. We hiked up one sand hill and were met with a beautiful plane surrounded by blue sky and tall orange, khaki, and golden dunes. The show was set to start at 3 so we spent the time until then attempting to set up a variety of computers, microphones and electronics without getting everything sandy. This is a semi-daunting task considering we are surrounded by sand accompanied by a constant wind. But everyone in the group was in great spirits, excited to be in such an incredible setting and laughing and joking the whole time. We had plenty of time to play and take pictures while setting things up and getting some initial shots for the video. We took a number of band photoswhich quickly evolved into a very funny/awesome photo shoot in the desert with hair and scarves blowing everywhere as we did our best to appear like a badass band.
By the time everyone else arrived we were ready to play and everyone getting off the busses was excited by the scenery and the setup. The piece that MICE played was called Sandprints and was created by burying flat mics in the sand along with two standing mics near two of the performers. Around the flat mics we moved and drummed on the sand and two of the guys whistled into the standing mics. These sounds were mixed with computerized drum beat and they were synthesized through the computer so that the sounds of the sand and the wind and the whistling came out as new notes. It started off slow at first but once it picked up it was really great. People were encouraged to dance and to join in the drumming and by the second time we played everyone was dancing and drumming and whistling. It was so fun. After the piece was over everyone climbed on the giant dunes while we cleaned up the equipment. The other buses headed back to the ship but the group of us was having a great time and didnt want to head back just yet. We decided to pull over on the side of the road on go Geocaching. I didnt know about geocaching before the trip but one of the guys in MICE is really into it and had us all come along to find this cache. In geocaching there are little treasuresor caches all over the world, tons in the United States alone, and you find them by plugging the coordinates into any GPS system like a Tom-Tom or a Garmin. Once you find the cache you sign the log book inside and people sometimes leave little trinkets in them. Occasionally there are Travel Bugs inside, which are tags that you can go online and plug in their codes and see how theyve traveled from cache to cache all over the world. Needless to say, its pretty cool. So we pulled our bus over onto the side of the road and looked around for the cache, finally spotting it under a rock in a little green Tupperware container. We signed the log book and left a pin, a pen and a program from the show in the box for the next person to find. Then we took the van to Dune 7, one of the largest sand dunes in the world, and took a break to enjoy some sodas and beers at the foot of the dune. We talked to Prof. Burtner and his wife about some of the other shows hes played and he told us about playing shows in locations all over the world using all kind of natural materials and sounds. Hes a pretty young guy and he and his wife, a dance teacher on the ship, are traveling with their three year old son Barrett. He says he looks for venues with magic and has played everywhere from caves in Sweden to ice melts in Alaska. We learned today that someone is writing a piece about the concert for the Journal of Computer Music, which is pretty exciting. We have another MICE concert tomorrow in South Africa that Im really looking forward to.
After we got back to the ship I showered the sand off, grabbed a quick dinner and my friends Chas, Justin and I got together to go to Swakopmund. Its a long walk to the end of the port and we couldnt find a taxi near the ship so we started to take the trek, bags in tow. Luckily a guy in a pickup truck passed by and gave us a free ride to the end of the port in the back. Perfect. We caught a cab to Swakop and started the drive through the desert. After such a great day it was incredible to be able to look out the window as we flew down the road and see the sun setting over the desert. It was almost dark and it was so calm and quiet and all I could see was sand and the last vestiges of the sunset peeking over the dunes. Not a bad way to spend a Valentines Day if you ask me.
Unfortunately the calm dissipated once we reached Swakop. My phone hadnt been working all day so I borrowed a friends in order to get the address of our house before we left the ship. Once we got into town we told our cab driver the area we needed to go to and he didnt know where it was. So he found some other cab drivers and once they told him where it was he said it was too far away and he was going to charge us more plus, since the other drivers were going to show us where it was, we would have to pay them as well. It was dark and we didnt really have any other choices so we said fine. They drove us to the area but pass our place so we have them turn around and take us to the cross streets that my friend had texted me. Its dark, quiet and not close to anything, but its our destination so we get out, pay the drivers and they leave us. However, now we dont know what house is ours and most of the ones in the area have the lights out. We walk around calling names and looking to see if we can find them but to no avail. We have no phone and no idea what were going to do if we cant find them since were far from town and have no way to get back. Twenty minutes pass and Im getting a little worried so we decide that our best option is to go back to a house where we saw someone watching TV with their door open and ask to use their phone. This turned out to be a great choice. The guy watching TV was a 22 year old South African named Quentin and not only had seen our friends earlier that day but he offered to walk us to the house to find them. Thank Goodness. We follow Quentin and find our friends all settled in our beautiful beach house. There is dinner on the counter and the fridge is fully stocked with food and drink. There are 3 bedrooms with sleeping space for 6 and two bathrooms with big showers and tubs and a washer and dryer. We are in heaven. Quentin leaves and we invite him to come back later and have a drink with us. We settle in and Quentin does better than make good on his promise when he and his uncle, Clifford, show up with two bottles of champagne. We sit and drink and talk with them for a little while. They tell us they run a scenic flight business that takes tourists in small planes over the desert and along the coast. After they leave a bunch of us walk to another beach house to visit friends. We have some more drinks, hang out and then head home.
Once we get back my friend Nate stumbles in behind us and we realize that he is bleeding profusely. He must have stepped on something because his foot is a mess and there is blood everywhere. My friends clean the cut and put antiseptic on it but its really deep and we decide that he needs to see a doctor. We call Med-Ex which is the insurance provided to us by the ship and they hook us up with a local doctor. Keep in mind however that its 2am on Valentines Day Saturday and were in the middle of nowhere with no means of transportation. My friends Alicia and Taylor decide to take Nate to the hospital and the rest of us go to bed. Apparently the ambulancedid come and get them but the ambulance was a pickup truck. On the way to the hospital they made a pit stop and dropped one of the nurses off at her house and finally made it to the hospital. They cleaned Nates foot and found that it had cut all the way to his fat layer. They cleaned out all the sand and sea glass and shell bits and gave him 5 stitches. After Nate was all stitched up the doctor gave the three of them a ride home since they had no other way back and they ended up back at the house around 5am. Somehow Alicia and our other friend Jill got up at 7am to go skydiving and the rest of us slept in until 9 or 10.
We got up and decided to make Sunday breakfast before heading out to the dunes. We had scrambled eggs, toast, onions and peppers and bacon along with coffee and orange juice. Not too shabby for a bunch of college kids on limited sleep. We hopped a taxi back to Dune 7 and spent the day enjoying some of Namibias extreme sports. The first thing we did was zorbing, also called sphere-ing or hydroballing. Basically you get inside a giant hamster ball filled with water , they push you off the edge and you roll down the dune. We had seen people doing it the day before and heard it was awesome so we signed up and hopped in the truck to go up the dune. My friends Megan, Taylor, Rosaly and I were joined by two older South African men in banana hammock speedos on our zorb adventure. The South Africans went down first and then we decided it was our turn. Megan and I hopped into the ball and they pushed us down the hill. It goes quickly but its suck a rush. There is water everywhere and its like being inside the spin cycle of a washing machine. We screamed the whole way down and had a blast.
After we got back to the base we put on some dry clothes it was time for sandboarding. Sandboarding is basically like snowboarding or sledding but on the sand dunes instead of snow. I thought we were going to be doing the kind where you lay on these flat pieces of wood and go down on your stomach but apparently we were doing the one where you stand up. I was really nervous since I had never snowboarded before and I am generally incredibly clumsy. To give you an idea of how much so, when we were putting on our boots to strap in my pair somehow hooked together and I fell flat on my face, this before even having touched a board. But this is an adventure so I grabbed a board, hopped on the back of the quad and our guide, Marcus, drove up to the top of this giant dune. He gave me a one minute crash course (lean back to go, forward to stop), hooked me into my board and then led me to the edge. Its a long way down and very steep so I was nervous at first, but once I took the drop onto the hill it was surprisingly really easy. I started and stopped my first time down, mostly because I wanted to make sure I could stop, but once I figured it out I was able to go up a few more times and zip down the hill. The view from the top was incredible and it was so fun to fly down the hill and see the path you carved down the dune.
After sandboarding we decided to finish the day by spending an hour riding ATVs in the desert. I had heard from a friend who had done the trip in the past that ATV-ing in the desert was one of, if not the most fun things to do in Namibia, and I have to say that he was so right. We got onto the quads and we were a little nervous since they were semi-automatic and we got another 1 minute crash course which basically consisted of, push this to go, push this to brake and change gears when you feel like you should. But again, we had nothing to be nervous about. We headed into the desert and had a blast. We followed our guide all over, down ridiculously steep hills, up the sides of bowls and all across the flats. He would go ahead of us to scope out an area and do ridiculous tricks, jumping halfway off of peaks and popping wheelies everywhere. The views were incredible and driving the quads was so fun. Also, the phrase eat my dust has never taken on a more literal meaning then when you drive through some really dry sand on a flat plane. You kick up giant clouds of dust and the affect is pretty neat looking. The hour passed too quickly and all of us were sad for it to end. We thanked our guides, grabbed some snacks for the road and hired a van to take us home. The sun was going down as we drove and all of a sudden the song The Lion Sleeps Tonight came on the radio. We all starting singing and laughing and it was a pretty perfect end to the afternoon.
We got home late and by the time we all showered and changed most of the restaurants in the area had already closed their kitchens. This coupled with the fact that it was nearly impossible to find cabs left us in a bit of a predicament. We decided to walk to a nearby hotel that we knew had a restaurant and try our luck. When we got there the kitchen was closed and the woman said that they only thing that would be open was the gas station but that they did have food and were open 24 hours. We had her call us a cab and the driver said that he would take one group and then come back and get the other. Half of us took the first shift over and arrived at Total, a perfectly nice gas station market in downtown Swakop. We had lots of tuna at home so we bought a few loaves of bread and some chips, drinks and snacks and waited for the other group to arrive. Apparently our cab driver made some pit stops on his way to get the other group so we hung out for a while and talked with the guys who were working at the gas station while we waited. Simon and Eben were both around 21 and were working the 12-hour shift from 7pm to 7am. We talked about American and Namibia politics and the national elections that they have coming up in November. Swakop, the majority party is facing opposition from a faction that has broken off and will be running candidates for the first time in this election. They expressed their distaste for George Bush and their excitement at the idea of an Obama presidency. We also talked about music. Simon had more songs on his little cell phone than I think most people have on their iPods so he played us clips and told us about his favorite American singers (Rihanna, Chris Brown, T.I. and Usher, just to name a few). Apparently Simon liked me quite a bit and asked me if we could take a picture together on his phone. Finally the other group arrived, got their food and we headed home to eat. We were all starving and feasted on tuna sandwiches, chips and snacks. We were all beat from a long day in the sun and we crashed hard in our beds until the next morning.
The next morning people had made appointments to get massages at the hotel down the beach since the exchange rate made the prices really reasonable. I couldnt book one in time but I tagged along with Taylor and Rosaly to see if they had anything else open. We all got fluffy white robes and I relaxed in the sauna while they got massages. The spa looked out onto the beach and it was a beautiful day. After being very sandy and dirty the day before it was nice to feel refreshed and clean. We took a cab back to the house, locked up and, after picking up some postcards and stamps, headed back to the ship in Walvis Bay.
Spain was a test route. Morocco was a culture shock. But Namibia was a gift. The landscape was so beautiful and so different than anything most of us had ever seen. It was so easy to just sit back and be in awe of how majestic, sprawling and exquisite the desert was. Plus, the contrast of the desert and the ocean, literally right next to each other, was amazing. Being able to wake up and look out our window to see the sun rising over the water and then being able to watch it set on the dunes is something that is so rare and striking. Namibia was also really fun. I had the opportunity to spend my time with people who were excited and open to all possibilities and that was something that made my trip really wonderful. There were certainly moments where it would have been easy to get cranky, when there are no cabs, no dinner and youre lost or stuck, but everyone rolled with it and had such a better time for it.
The gravity of this trip continues to hit me every day like a ton of bricks. Every time I wake up in a new country I feel like I need to be pinching myself to make sure that this is real. We turn to each other all day, wherever we are and ask, Can you believe what were doing right now? Can you believe where we are?and Im fairly certain that we will never stop asking those questions. Tomorrow we arrive in Cape Town and Im sure that I will be in awe all over again. We have 5 days there and I cant wait to make the most of it.
Until next time,