Sometimes, being away for a year makes a big difference. July 2013 marked the second time I’ve been to the Gobabeb Research and Training Centre in the Namib Desert. In 2012, a group of Aggies worked with the Gobabeb Centre to produce posters and other materials for the Centre’s UNESCO World Heritage Site application. That work was well received and useful; Gobabeb achieved UNESCO World Heritage Site status on June 22, 2013. Good work Aggies!
All things considered, the 2012 Gobabeb experience was successful. But, our students let us know, after the fact, that WE’RE IN THE DESERT…we should be outside, running, exploring and having FUN in the red sand dunes! Good point. We applied their advice to the 2013 experience. We will EXPLORE, early and often! And, we’ll be mindful that sidewinders, cobras, poisonous scorpions, etc., call this place home, so watch your step. The Namib Desert is not for sissies! Thanks for the advice, Dr. Schneider.
A wonderful staff that cares deeply about Gobabeb and the Namib Desert made our 2013 experience most memorable. Robert Logan, Gobabeb Training Coordinator, Grinnell College graduate, and all-around awesome dude, guided us along the Gobabeb nature trail. Robert passionately explained micro-life under rocks, plant defenses against drought, and insects’ moisture-sucking abilities from sand grains. Tobin Redwine may have said it first, but Robert inspired the “Brobabeb” in all of us.
We traversed the dry Kuiseb River and climbed ancient rocks. We were greeted by an enormous red sand dune that appeared to stretch into the wild blue heavens. I heard the constant crackle of camera shutters around me as I kept a steady gaze on the red dune. We crisscrossed an open gravel plain to breach the dune at its mid-point. Students jostled for an all-out assault to the top…Robert continued extolling the wonders of flora and fauna in the Namib Desert.
After the “race,” we rested atop the red dune. Then, the past year crashed down upon me. Last year’s group didn’t get to the dunes until our third day at Gobabeb. Our current group was speechless, breathing in the Namib Desert’s beauty, less than 24 hours after entering the front gate. Lesson learned! When at Gobabeb, get outside, feel the sand between your toes, listen to Robert’s love of science, and gain new perspectives from this vast solitude. Atop that dune, seeing great swaths of empty gravel plains and the mighty Red Sand Sea in all directions, you realize your place in this universe. We’re not as big as we think. I’m glad we got it right in 2013.
A few other differences from 2012…last year was cool, sometimes quite cold, and constantly windy. This year’s weather was warm, sunny, and with one exception, we only had calm breezes. Last year we saw lots of stars, but didn’t photograph them; this year’s near full moon wreaked havoc on several nighttime photo shoots. More on those photo shoots in another post. And, of course, each group’s members, their personalities, tolerances, etc., also made a difference. Suffice it to say that each group was unique in its own way, and I appreciated them both.
Gobabeb is now long past in our rearview mirrors. We’re currently whisking through northern Namibia, where fierce winds have dusted everything with a fine layer of beige. Eyes watering, a slight grinding between the teeth, and lots of goats attempting highway-assisted suicide fill each passing hour. Oh Gobabeb, where art thou?