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DESERTSCAPES OF NAMIBIA (article first published : 2002-12-28)

The Nama people call the sandscape that stretches from the wasteland of southern Namibia to the Kuiseb River canyon in the north, the “Namib”. In their language this means “plain without end”, a perfect description for this desert distinctive for its vast grasslands and burnt mountains, bone-dry gravel plains and 250 million year old tree fossils.

Measuring 900 kilometres from north to south and 120 kilometres across, it was dubbed by the San hunters “the land God made in anger”. Its ghostly desolation has driven fear into the hearts of explorers but in Desertscapes of Namibia photographer Jéan du Plessis has created a series of sublime photographs accompanied by author Tim O’Hagan’s text that depicts the incredible beauty of this inhospitable environment.

It is also far from ghostly, as O’Hagan points out in his informative introduction. Millions of minute creatures live in the slipfaces of the dunes sustained by the detritus carried in by the winds from the east. The weight of the food they consume exceeds that eaten by all the mammals living in the desert. To survive the scorching heat, the “dancing” lizards move by lifting two legs at a time and desert crickets have feathery feet and long legs.

O’Hagan describes the Lepidochora beetle as the “civil engineer of the Namib’s creatures” for its ability to excavate a trench perpendicular to the advancing columns of fog, thereafter drinking the condensed moisture from the lip of the trench. Winning the award for ingenuity is the Onymacris unguicularis which does a headstand in the fog so that the moisture rolls down into its mouth!

The Namib and Skeleton Coast are home to the regal baobab which the San hunters believed for centuries was hurled over the walls of paradise by the gods, landing upside down with its top buried in the ground and roots raised to the sky. An excellent food source for birds, animals and baboons, the baobab has a life span of around 1,000 years.

These are just a few of the compelling snippets of this area that has fascinated travellers for centuries. Photographer and author share their respect and love of the desert, surely even stirring armchair travellers into action. Any thoughts of living there are quickly dispelled by the series of images of Kolmanskop where the sand has reclaimed the buildings of this ghost town.

To most people, the sinuous and shifting dunes provide the largest fascination and these have been captured magnificently by Jéan du Plessis in photographs which portray the many colours and moods of these ever-changing sand edifices. Design director Janice Evans has been careful with her crisp and attractive layout, creating a tactile feel and placing side by side photographs that both complement and contradict each other.

Beautifully presented in hardcover with a dustjacket, Desertscapes of Namibia is in English and German and retails at R179.95. It is a perfect gift for anyone who has visited Namibia or as an incentive to anyone who has dreamed of a trip to this fascinating area. – Caroline Smart




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