WE ARE THE WOMEN WHO TRAVEL TO AFRICA (4) / by Mariam Harraz

Some days felt packed with activities and some didn’t but it was only the fourth day and the only thing I could make out of it, was how shattered I was.

I felt as though my days had more significance waking up early. Sleep was more beneficial than a shower, but I had noticed that no matter how clean I try to be, packing up a tent in the desert would take me right back to the feeling of discomfort. I had to live with it. Putting my scarf on before even washing my face became galling. 

I cautiously unzipped my tent making sure no baboons were in hindsight. Yesterday night I could feel things jumping on my tent and rocking the poles. The electricity cuts off at 10pm so there was no way I was going to step outside. 

A smaller canyon, Sesriem, was awaiting us before we head into the desert. Sesriem means six belts, the name comes from when people had to tie six belts together to lower the bucket into the river and fetch some water. The river has dried up since then because of the lack of rainfall in Namibia so we were allowed to delve into the insides of the canyon. 

What I noticed most whilst travelling was the different textures of the mountains we saw. Sesriem was a combination of sand, gravel and pebbles all deposited into the canyon whilst the river flowed through. Sesriem was formed by the river so the rock formations were mesmerising, the lines engraved on the rocks flow through most of the canyon. We were directed by the path of the canyon; every time you think it will end you realise that there’s another narrow curve. Walking on the stones made me realise my lack of balance, I am more worried about breaking my camera than injuring myself. We reach a small pond which indicated the end to our path. We turned around and made our way to the starting point. 

On our drive to Sesriem campsite the backdrop is scattered with small mountains that are composed of rocks and gravel. Amongst the dried bushes we spot Mountain Zebras. The first of many animals I see in the wild, but this time it’s special. The Zebras are facing us with their striped bottoms; the moment we stop they turn to the side to show us their endangered beauty- their white bellies. Mountain Zebras are only found in three countries in Africa, a threatened species. 

Colleen and Lulu dumbfound me with their extensive knowledge of the wildlife. We stop in the middle of a highway to cross the road and observe the social weevers. Social weevers entwine their nest by collecting stiff grass to form a nest. More than a dozen birds every minute appeared with grass in their mouths to construct their nest. The amount of nests on this tree is incredible. They carry on for years until the tree can no longer handle the weight and collapses.

A few hours later and we are in Sesriem camp, we are officially in the Namib desert encircled by golden orange sand dunes from a distance, which afterwards influenced the sunset’s colour. 

That evening we were advised to leave the tent at night only when necessary and to take with us a bright torch. They instructed us to face our torch in front of us rather than on the ground. Considering we could walk right into an Orxy’s horns that would go right through us. Fun, right?

A 4:30am beckoned us to start climbing Dune 45 before sunrise. Dune 45 happens to be 45KM from the start of the desert. It is 90 metres high and probably one of the most difficult things I have done. My Go Pro was fully charged and strapped to my head, we began to run up barefoot. The dune was a dark orange-brown with flickering glitter. The sand was cooler then the air surrounding us and soft as flour caressing my toes. Running up was a lot worse then I thought and to reach the peak felt out of reach. My Go Pro video consists of 30 minutes of me gasping for air and looking down conceding “I can’t do it anymore.” 

The sun began to rise when I was a only a few metres away from the peak yet it was magnificent. In a few minutes I witnessed the sun ascending behind curvaceous bronze dunes. The tangerine sunlight gleamed on the glittering dunes, casting patterns and colours. When I reached the top I spent a few minutes amongst the serenity of the dunes with people I had already grown to enjoy their company.

The reason why Namib desert is ranked highly is because of the minerals in the sand that allows you to witness such beauty. 

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that only 4% of the desert is sand dunes, considering the distance we drove to get to our next stop: Deadvlei. By 9am it had already hit 40 degrees with extreme heat intensity. Our hiking boots were back on because of the spike in temperature and we got off at a spot the 4x4 can no longer drive us past. 

As we are dragging our heavy boots through small sand dunes, my mind wonders off to the condition the Bushmen had to live in the past and even now. A striking fact is the Bushmen in the desert had to leave either the youngest or the eldest when they no longer have food or water to provide for them. Seeing as they are the weakest and are the most difficult to take care of, the Bushmen leave and never look back. 

Deadvlei is a clay pan which is surrounded by Big Daddy and Big Mama. Yes that is indeed their real names. They are the highest dunes in the world. The clay pan was formed after rainfall when the river flooded creating shallow pools. Namib desert has seen drought for years and the dunes slowly moved towards the pan which prevented water flowing through.

The clay pan is a blend of bronze and ash, it is vast and surrounded by the tallest dunes. From the small dunes we walked on before to the flat pan we are on now, the place is one of natures creations that astonishes me. There is a fascinating pattern on the pan, that are formed by various shapes. In-between there are rifts revealing the dunes colour along with a few odd trees. The 900 years old trees have fully dried out setting a haunting ambience. 

When the heat hits a point we can no longer handle we head back to drive to ‘Desert camp’. It’s in the middle of nowhere. I didn't see anyone else there except for us and some Zebras in the evening. 

We all struggle to leave the truck, trying to avoid the heat and the small amounts of water we are allowed to use. Finally in the evening, just before dinner, I sit with Beth- an English girl who worked for two years in order to afford travelling for a year. I don’t know much about her, but she’s keen to know about my religion. It was the first time someone asked me about it, it felt comforting that she was curious to learn about me and my religion in a non-judgemental way.

Tonight we were sleeping under the stars, literally. We put 20 mattresses side by side, I made sure to sleep in-between the girls and in a place which I figured no insects or animals can reach me. They couldn’t reach me anyways because I had a mosquito net on my head. It was the only night we were allowed to sleep under the stars and although I had to sleep with my scarf on (along with layers of clothing to keep me warm) I was grateful. I laid my back onto my mattress. I looked up to a scene I can only pray to see again. A sky filled with stars, not one snippet of the sky was empty. They shined and every time I wanted to blink I tried to avoid it, for if I was to miss out on a shooting star I would miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Truly there is nothing as magnificent as that was. A moment I am grateful to be travelling. 

As everyone falls asleep, I lay awake for hours, not wanting to dream of anything because I can’t imagine it would be more captivating. I realise tomorrow is the first time I would be able to talk to my family but not only that- I was going to jump off a plane 10000 feet high. 

By Mariam Harraz

For the Arabic version:

http://www.huffpostarabi.com/mariam-harraz/story_b_9530744.html