Along the Road in Namibia | Part 1: The Herero People & Etosha
Namibia is magic. The wild animals, the pale lightening, the sand dunes that towered like mountains over a turquoise sea. The ancient people who lived there, the petroglyphs, the place’s history. No map, no magazine, no issue of National Geographic could ever convey the mystique of this place. A place of sand dunes, diamonds and empty stretches of land. A place so rich in human history that the earth bleeds crimson. And though I left her oceans of sand more than four years ago, the place has not left me.
My name is Lobsang. I’m a film photographer from Tibet. I’ve traveled the world. I’ve lived on the road and off the land. I’ve visited many countries and photographed them all. But despite all my travels, nothing could have prepared for the breathtaking wonder that is Namibia.
This travel diary, as told through a series of photographs told in three parts, depicts my story of Namibia. I hope that by sharing it with you, it’ll inspire you to go out and find a story to call your own.
FEELING AT HOME WITH THE HERERO PEOPLE
Namibia is full of contradictions. It is a place that makes you feel small yet inspires something big in you. It is foreign yet familiar, in that old soul way. It is both lonely and inviting, depending upon which road you travel. It is made up of more space than people – encouraging you to find balance between the two. Only here, in the vast emptiness of Namibia’s open plains or the closeness of its tribal lands, can you come to understand that contradiction is what gives this place such intense and vibrant color.
In my travels, I try to live beyond borders. For me that means, living beyond the borders established by society or even those drawn up by my own mind. Thus, it can be difficult, when you first arrive in Namibia, to step outside the boundaries of what is culturally accepted back at home. You begin to understand how closed off Western society truly is from its own people. In New York City or Paris, for instance, you wouldn’t dare say hello to a stranger when walking down the street. They might think you were crazy.
But in Namibia, particularly in Okakarara, you’d be crazy not to. In Okakarara, I met the Herero people. I spent two days there, shooting around their village. I was lucky when I arrived because the entire town was having a celebration and so they were dressed in their finest. They were also a bit drunk on local moonshine by the time I arrived – which made for a more relaxed portrait session. This woman had me laughing. She was quite thrilled to have her picture taken and more than willing to strike a pose.
The first thing I noticed about the Herero was their vibrant clothing. Chromatic prints, playful patterns and billowing Victorian gowns intertwined into visual poetry. The Herero people were welcoming, gracious and ready to accept you with open arms. Though I was foreign, they welcomed me into their community and gave me barbecued meat to eat. They allowed me to ask questions. To photograph their families. And despite being thousands of miles from home, I was treated like one of their own. I must admit it was hard to say goodbye.
ETOSHA, THE OCEAN WITHOUT WATER
If I am entirely honest with myself, I don’t think I was prepared for the astounding beauty of Etosha National Park. It defied logic. Despite how dry it was, the savanna was full of life and the cloud painted sky hung high above the savanna. A vast Salt Pan edges into the fertile ground. When it rains, the water transforms the Salt Pan into one giant mirror, so much so that it is nearly impossible to separate the sky from the plains. The best way I can describe it is that it was like an ocean. But there is no water. You can hear your heartbeat, but there is no noise.
You cannot drive through it. It is too dangerous and far too vast. The wind takes the sands and moves it across the dessert in ribbons. It’s quite something to watch.
I was surprised to find that I couldn’t tear myself away from the shadows that stretched for miles across the Salt Pan. They were so surreal, the way they threaded out from beneath you and into the sea of salt beyond.