In the 1830’s wanderlust and the notion of a fertile ‘promised land’ in the North impelled the ‘Vor Trekkers’ (migrating Boers) to set out from South Africa across the deserts of Namibia in search of their dreams. Like the luckless mariners shipwrecked on the barren reaches of its Skeleton Coast the last of these much romanticised settlers perished in a world as alien as any on earth. Though what was terrifying desolation to the white man had been a bastion for the indigenous Africans who for millennia had lived in isolated harmony with their savage land.
Now, more than one hundred and fifty years later, the ‘Namib’ – the Bushman word meaning endless expanse, has been divided between national parks, farmers and diamond mines. However, close to the border with Angola in the remote North West of Namibia the region of Kaokoland remains little visited and for the moment largely unspoiled. Tucked away in its inaccessible valleys live the last of the desert dwellers: the Himba ‑ tall independent nomads remarkable for their resilience, their unusual history and for their new role as caretakers of their unique environment.
Rivulets of bull dust streamed through the breaches in the door and window seals to blanket everything in a fine talc. In the rear of the Land Rover miniature drifts built up in every nook and cranny. Only zippered and air tight seals prevented it from permeating our baggage and food supplies. Unsettled by the slide and bounce of the four wheel drive, it hung in the dry heat of the cabin – a breathable soup that seemed to be the taste of the landscape through which we travelled. Gears crunching, we slued across the last of the dust bowl. Then the wheels found firm ground and we left the billowing clouds behind to disperse on the hot wind. An ancient lava plain spread out before us on either side of the barrel straight road.