Desert Wilderness

In 2002 I went with a group of geologists on an epic trip to Namibia. It was a journey like none other I had ever been on and a landscape like none other I had ever seen. Vast, desolate, and harsh in it’s aridity and isolation, I found it haunting and mesmerizing in it’s beauty. So when I received an invitation in 2011 to join my friend on another adventure to the Richtersveld, the northern most border of which adjoins southern Namibia, the temptation to go was irresistible.

From stories I had heard of the Richtersveld, it sounded like a magnificent place, though in my mind it was shrouded with an element of danger due to it’s isolation and complete lack of amenities. Unlike the previous expedition, this time we traveled alone. After three days of driving from the E.Cape diagonally across South Africa, we finally arrived on the bleak and foggy West coast, turned right at Port Nolloth and drove northwards parallel to the coast, until we reached the Orange River, which we then followed inland for a short while until after cresting a hill, below us lay the dark and ominous mountain ranges of the Richtersveld National Park. As we approached the entry gate, I had the sensation of us entering the legendary Mordor from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I felt a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

The first night was spent camping on the banks of the mighty Orange River.

Entering the Richtersveld National Park

Our first night stop

Heading out into the wilderness

Heading out into the wilderness

Our first sighting of a kokerboom tree

Our first sighting of a Kokerboom (Aloe dichotoma)

A view across the Richtersveld

A view across the Richtersveld

As we traveled deeper and deeper into the maze of arid mountain ranges, the sense of isolation and our vulnerability grew. We had no cell or satellite phone contact and in the four days we were there, saw only one other group of travelers. Clearly we were on our own.

A view of the typical gradations in rock colour

A view of the typical gradations in rock colour

Desert beauty

Desert beauty

After an adventurous day of driving over narrow, rocky tracks, we finally wound our way down to Tatasberg Wilderness rest camp on the banks of the Orange River, where we had the luxury of staying in a comfortable little cabin.

Our second night in the desert was spent on the banks of the Orange River

Our second night in the desert was spent on the banks of the Orange River

After a bit of a slow start, when we found ourselves stuck in the silt, we made our way through magnificent jagged mountain valleys that led us up to the famous Kokerboomkloof, the ultimate in desert isolation eeriness. I felt like we were the only people alive on this planet, and with the nearest water supply being over 40 kms away and no form of communication with the outside world, I shuddered at the thought of us having an emergency. We were completely and utterly alone in the most splendid desert Eden. What a way to go.

Desert flower garden at the Kokerboomkloof camp site

Desert flowers at the Kokerboomkloof camp site

The Kokerboomkloof  camp area is striking in it’s scenic beauty, with magnificent rust coloured, sculptural  rock formations and trees that add to it’s primordial atmosphere.

Being at Kokerboomkloof is like being in a desert sculpture garden

Being at Kokerboomkloof is like being in a desert sculpture garden

With sentries standing watch, as we slept out in the open

With sentries standing watch, as we slept out in the open

A view across the Richtersveld

A typical view of the Richtersveld’s lunar landscape

For me, this journey was a surreal encounter with the unknown. It challenged me on many levels, and left me knowing that there is still so much about myself and this world that I don’t know. As with my trip through Namibia, it reminded me of our human fragility and our relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things, but it left me feeling so much stronger and richer for having had the experience of meeting it, if only for a short time.

The desert requires a full exhibition of it’s own, in fact a lifetime of exhibitions if I really think about it, and still I would only scratch the tiniest surface, so, in my forthcoming exhibition Delta & Desert: Journeys into the Wilderness, I have very humbly attempted to express just a tiny fraction of what I saw. I believe that this is just the beginning, and I plan to continue adding to this body of work.

The world at our feet

The world at our feet

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Categories: Exhibitions, Inspiration, Landscapes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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