May 9-10. Start the long trek home with an 11:25 AM flight from Windhoek to Joburg. Nevada and Bob Newman are on the same flight and we hang out together at the Windhoek airport.
Time for some reflections on the trip. First, it was great to have Carol with me, for most of the trip. In recent years, I’ve done a couple photography trips without her, and it’s just not as much fun. Though I wish she’d been on the extension, I understand that she needed to get back to Judson.
The trip was terrific. Logistically, everything went smoothly, the accommodations were excellent, as was the food and wine, and the guides were outstanding (which makes a huge difference). As I said at the outset, Nevada runs a great trip. She’s adventurous and fun. The group, too, was very good. We laughed a lot together. While one always has some group members who you relate to better than others, none were people you would want to avoid at all costs, or even close to that.
A digression here to illustrate the point. On a trip that Carol and I took to Alaska many years ago, with our friends, Valerie and Michael Lewis, we were part of a small group of about twelve people. One of the fellows, Leroy, was a total bore, and never stopped talking. I started designating certain areas as “Leroy free zones” to Carol and the Lewises. We often had choices of two things to do on the trip and I would wait to see what Leroy chose, and then choose the other option. Carol, who in general is a far kinder and more tolerant person than I, explained that Leroy was just lonely, having lost his wife not long ago. I speculated that his wife had suicided to avoid Leroy.
On the other hand, on the same Alaska trip, we met a couple from New York, Burt and Jannie, who became very close friends of ours and with whom we traveled every year. We had a similar experience with a couple from Maryland, Joe and Madeline, who we met on our biking trip to New Zealand. In both cases, the husband has, unfortunately, died, but we remain close friends with, and see, Jannie and Madeline. I’m not sure we’ll have a similar experience on this trip, but that may well be because we were the only couple on the trip.
Back to the trip. Although logistics and accommodations were excellent, in some ways it was not an easy trip. We drove approximately 2000 miles. While that’s an average of only about 150 miles a day, some days covered far more territory than others, and driving 2000 miles in Namibia bears little resemblance to driving that distance in the US. While the vans were very comfortable and the fact that we had two fewer people than anticipated allowed us to spread out some, the air conditioning was not really adequate when we drove in the heat of the day.
In addition to the driving, it was very hot in the middle of the day and dusty or sandy. Walking in the sand, particularly in the dunes area, was not easy. For me, this was complicated by having some knee and/or foot pain during a significant part of the trip. Those pains waxed and waned, though they were not unbearable, and were definitely worth tolerating to experience the trip. Most days, we were up and off very early in the morning and kept going for a long time. Periodic midday rest periods were most welcome. Finally, though, it’s hard to admit, these trips do not get easier as the years go by. I’m not close to being ready to quit, but this realization is part of what compels me to do as much traveling as I can now, rather than waiting.
There were three major components to the trip–cultural, landscape and game viewing. It’s easy for me to identify which of these three I’d have given up, if I had to–the game viewing. It’s not that this aspect was not good–it was–but Carol and I have been very fortunate to do a good deal of this, and more exciting game viewing, before.
The choice between landscape and culture is much more difficult. I’m not really a landscape guy. I like people and culture. But if I had to pick one aspect of this trip that was most special, I would have to pick the landscape of the dunes. They are so spectacular, and so unlike anything we’ve seen before, that they would have to be my top choice on this trip. I’ve never seen such a magnificent and distinctive landscape. The only thing that comes to mind as a comparison is the Grand Canyon.
That said, though, the people and culture were fabulous, too. That’s why I travel–to see and experience people, and how they live. We had a unique opportunity to experience some unusual and, unfortunately, dying cultures. Indeed, while tourism may threaten and ultimately (though, happily, not yet) taint and change these cultures, without tourism some of them might have died already and certainly others would disappear in the not-too-distant future. So, there’s a kind of symbiotic relationship between these cultures and tourism. I think that, as the trip wore on, I became more conscious of the darker aspects of this symbiotic relationship and so became more uncomfortable “exploiting” these cultures for benign, but voyeuristic, purposes.
Experiencing the villages on this trip was quite different than experiencing the rural villages we’ve visited in Ghana and Nigeria. In one sense, we experienced these villages more fully than we have in Ghana (I’ll use that as a shorthand for Ghana and Nigeria), because we were often in these villages for at least two or three hours and several times visited the same village twice. In Ghana, we typically visited a village for an hour, or even less, though we often went back to the same village in subsequent years. In Namibia, our interactions were with individual villagers, whereas in Ghana it was with Chiefs. In Ghana some of the Chiefs have become real friends. We know one another and greet each other warmly. In Namibia, the relationship is with people in the village. For Nevada it’s real, as she goes back from year to year and brings them photos. The rest of us, though, are highly unlikely ever to see these people again.
There was a more “legitimate” reason for visiting the Ghana villages, because our friends (and, to a much lesser extent, we) were helping with long term issues, such as clean water, education, health and agriculture. This legitimacy made the visits to Ghanaian villages more comfortable and less voyeuristic than the visits on this trip. It’s not that I and others on the trip were not genuinely interested in these people and their cultures, but any contribution we might be making to improving their lives was very indirect and incidental. In other words, buying jewelry or crafts is different from building a well, adding a school room or supporting a medical clinic. That’s not to say that what we did in Namibia was “wrong” or lacked value, it was just very different.
I would be very interested to know what the people in the villages in Namibia and Ghana really think of us, and our visits. My hunch is that they would feel very differently about us. I may never know. In retrospect, I think my interest in making a contribution to the church in Namibia is probably a desire to make our Namibia visit a bit more like our Ghana visits.
As you know, this was a photography trip, so let me reflect a bit on that. I probably took around 3500 photos on the trip. That may seem like a lot, but I expect that I took far fewer photos than anyone else (except Carol, of course). In many, perhaps most or even all cases, I think other group members may have taken two or three times the number of photos that I took.
Photography of the villages and the dunes was great fun. The wildlife photography was much less so. Of the 3500 photos I took (of which perhaps 500 or so are wildlife), I imagine that only a couple of the wildlife photos will interest me enough to spend much time revising them. The landscape and village photos will take the bulk of my time.
Though this was not a workshop intended to teach photography, I learned quite a bit. Most helpful were the sessions I had with Nevada reviewing my photos. But also, just watching her work and working along side her and talking with and watching other group member was also instructive. All of the others are more into the equipment and technical aspects of photography than I am. For almost all of our visits they carried two heavy cameras, with multiple lenses and, sometimes, with heavy tripods (I used a small and rather useless tripod a couple times).
For some of the wildlife photography, I used my Nikon, with a 300 mm zoom lens. But I didn’t really like doing it. The damn thing was heavy, and I was out of practice using it. I was a lot happier and more comfortable with my much lighter Sony NEX 7, with an 18-200 mm zoom lens. I intend to compare the Nikon and Sony photos, but my instinct is to stick with the Sony and just accept that there are photos I won’t be able to get.
Sorry to bore you with all this, but, as you can see, I’m still working through some issues. Bottom line is that I think I’m content to remain a rank amateur. Though I’d like to improve and learn, I’m primarily interested in the creative aspects. Clearly there is an overlap between equipment and technical knowledge and creative possibilities, but carrying a lot of heavy equipment and spending a lot of time on technical matters that don’t really interest me would detract from my enjoyment of photography. So, for now, anyway, I’m prepared to trade a bit of creative possibility for comfort. Besides, I can make up for part (though by no means all) of the creative possibilities in the post-processing work of fine tuning and improving images on the computer.
For all of you who have followed, and especially those who have commented or emailed about the blog, thanks for your interest. I enjoy hearing from you, and that’s part of what motivates me to write the blog.
You’ve worked hard, though, so take a break. Our next trip is not until next month.