Excerpt from the African Icons Book chapter: The Namib Sand Sea. Namibia.
Everything that ever happened to me that was important happened in the desert.
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
The World in a Grain of Sand
The sun rises suddenly in the desert: within an hour its rays are beating hammer blows down onto the Namib’s surface. It is hard to believe anything could survive out here. Flying over the Namib sand sea that surrounds Sossusvlei you can only marvel at the sheer extent of this arid vastness.
It is a wind driven system, one created by wind and maintained by wind. The sand comes from erosion deep in the southern African interior, from where it is carried by the Gariep, or Great, River, to the Atlantic coastline. The sand, along with an untold wealth in diamonds, has been dispersed along the coastline by the relentless, icy cold Benguela current. When it makes landfall the prevailing southwest wind is there to welcome it and usher it inland and ever northwards on its way.
It was diamonds that drew German colonists to these shores in the late 1800s, but it was the wind-driven sand that finally was their undoing along the Skeleton Coast. Today if you visit the abandoned old diamond mining settlements at Kolmanskop, Elizabeth Bay or Conception Bay you will find buildings eaten away by driven sand, rooms piled high with sand, machinery rotten with salt and sand. Those who still live in and around the sand sea at places like Lüderitz and Walvis Bay say you eventually get to enjoy the taste and texture of sand in everything you eat.
When the sand, driven by the relentless wind, reaches the Kuiseb River canyon inland of Walvis Bay, it is captured there and slowly returned to the sea, where the cycle continues. North of the Kuiseb is an endless plain of volcanic rock, the gravel plains, that stretch all the way to Angola. It was in this canyon that two German immigrant geologists decided to hide out during the Second World War.
Have a look at our Video below:
We stayed at Little Kulala Desert Lodge while photographing and researching this chapter.
A Sense of Space and Silence
Wilderness Safaris is a company that often describes itself as a conservation company with a tourism problem, and only half in jest. In total it has something to the order of three million hectares of wild Africa in its care – no small responsibility. In this is the 37,000-hectare Kulala Wilderness Reserve with just 11 kulalas, or places to sleep.
“Places to sleep” describes the individual guest rooms, arranged around the perimeter of a large imaginary circle and looking outwards so that each has its privacy as well as its very own aspect of the daily chimera of changing patterns of light on the surrounding desert. Each kulala has an enclosed outdoor lounging area with plunge pool.
The capacious lodge echoes the sense of space and silence of the surrounding desert in its use of natural materials, the harmonious use of desert colours, its horizontal lines and a generous sense of space. It looks like something Lloyd Wright might have designed had he been commissioned to do so. The structural lines are strongly horizontal, with floor-to-ceiling windows and glass doors, all reminiscent of Wright’s Arizona inspired period.
Each well-spaced unit looks out across the desert plain and is surmounted by a sleeping deck called a “star bed”. You will not regret making use of it: even if the desert wind is up it is a rare opportunity to reflect on the nature and scale of the universe and your place in it.