Great Adventure

Namibia Called. She's Ready for Her Close-Up

by Lee Litumbe

Getting to know the locals. All photos by Lee Litumbe.

Cameroonian-born, Atlanta-bred Lee Litumbe takes a dynamic approach to photographing her travels, which she catalogs on her site Spirited Pursuit. Equipped with a film camera and a sense of adventure, Litumbe recreated a trip her mother took to Namibia in the vast hinterlands of southwest Africa.

NAMIBIA – While on a business trip years ago, my mom had the opportunity to visit Namibia. The surreal landscapes left her awestruck. I listened intently, mesmerized as she shared her experiences of driving the Skeleton Coast, detailing what it felt like to witness the meeting point where the staggering sand dunes of the Namib Desert juxtapose against the piercing blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It was a description that struck a major chord within me.

After securing a deal on a flight late last year, I spent hours combing through every blog, forum, and article online hoping to absorb as much information on the country as possible. Namibia is extremely diverse, with a rich cultural history and contrasting landscapes of deeply colored deserts and sand dunes, vast plains, massive salt pans, boulder-like hills and pristine beaches. Not to mention friendly people, astounding night skies, and expansive wildlife.

Getting to Namibia would be an adventure in itself. Atlanta to NYC: 2 hours. NYC to Johannesburg: 16 hours and 30 minutes. Johannesburg to Windhoek: 2 hours. My total flight time (without layovers): a whopping 20.5 hours. One way. Once I factored in my very limited paid time off (the woes of having a corporate day job...), I began to doubt if going through with the trip made any sense. How would I possibly see and experience all that I hoped to in such a short amount of time? I decided I would just have to jam-pack all that I could into the ten days I had.

Though I had to quickly accept that Etosha National Park, a wildlife utopia and home to several threatened and endangered species, was completely out of the question, I was happy to set my sights on exploring the capital city of Windhoek, the red dunes in the salt pan of Sossusvlei, the coastal cities Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, and maybe, just maybe, Kolmanskop, the ghost town in the Namib Desert.

In an effort to cover as much ground as possible, I opted for a self-drive instead of a guided tour. While I'm not against guided tours, I am against the idea of traveling with large groups of people, especially in cramped spaces for long periods of time. Venturing out independently would be challenging, but it would be worth it, if only for the flexibility of changing or rerouting my itinerary at any given time.

I learned it would be fairly easy to rent a car from the airport in Windhoek, though I would have to drive on the opposite side of gravel roads (steering wheels are on the right side in Namibia). What I didn't realize, however, was that most cars in Namibia are manual (which I have absolutely no experience with) and how unrealistic it was to think I would be able to safely drive long distances while still suffering from jetlag. A major oversight that seems quite silly in hindsight. It wasn't until I actually arrived in Windhoek that I came to my senses and accepted that I would need to either hire a driver or succumb to a guided tour.

A Hertz reps took pity on me and my sister and our unfortunate situation and suggested we hire an independent driver, Thomas Mpande, for the job. What a relief! Thomas would not only be our driver, but also our guide, friend, and the most integral resource for us throughout our stay. Finally sorted, we were able to start our Namibian journey.

Our drive was filled with unique photographic opportunities, and the lonely winding desert roads we drove along were the charm that made the long distances between each destination masterful. What a delight it was to have a front row seat to watch all sorts of wildlife casually go about their daily rituals. To see the shifting sands, mountains, and gravel plains extend the entire length of the horizon, right from the comfort of our car, was incredible.

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