But despite all the dust the air seems so clean and sounds seem clearer. Our old faithful Ford F250 has taken a beating from this rocky land as the heat shimmers off her hood in the shade of a large thorn tree. We’re parked at the campsite at Sesriem. Apart from the few trees there is nothing living as far as I can see. As you look into the distance the horizon seems to dance like a mad thing. Tomorrow we will drive to the huge Sossusvlei sand dunes, the largest dunes in the world, and the “vlei” itself. In a place like this it’s hard to imagine that we, soft, water filled humans, have had any impact on this planet at all.
It seems as if our hosts are as unforgiving as the land. We did not book at Sesriem. We thought we’d be the only people there, and we are right. A few lovely, shady campsites lie vacant. But, you see, we haven’t booked so we stay outside the camp area. One gets the distinct feeling that here in Naukluft Park they don’t need your business.
As soon as it is dark we’re over the fence and into the showers, as quietly as possible. There’s no hot water but, who wants hot water here? It’s good to be clean again, and tired.
Back at our camp I feel the need to be alone. I wonder if I will ever be so alone and so at peace again. The full force of the night sky reveals itself as the day slowly bleeds away in the west over the jagged peaks of the Witberg. The warm wind blows gently with the evaporating heat. It’s going to be a cold night again. The magnitude of the stars is quite overwhelming. There’s no moon tonight but I can see my way clearly through the short grass. I find a spot to lie down and just look at the stars.
Somewhere close an eagle owl is hunting. I can hear his deep call. All the red of evening is gone now. It’s just jewels on black velvet. I hear the owl again, and an anticipation starts to build in me. He’s hunting, flying against this spotlight sky. If he flies up, I will see him! Suddenly he breaks through the horizon and punches an arc across the stars. He’s magnificent, I can see the detail of his feather tips against the stars but I can see no shade or depth to him. His shape changes as his silent wings grip the warm, black air like a shadow animation, then he’s gone again, and it’s quiet.
Such a spectacular sight! I want to shout and cheer; but there’s no sound, no endorsement, no guarantee. Just the brilliant stars, exposing me and my cheap, thrill-seeking, cosmopolitan attitude. I suddenly feel like a tourist. Nothing here in this bleak, beautiful place is trying to impress me; yet how impressed I am.
Alan Jones is a writer from South Africa.
About Editors’ Choice:
Every week we choose one of the great stories we’ve received from travelers around the world and present it here as our “Editors’ Choice.” For an archive of these stories go to the Editors’ Choice link on The Flying Carpet; for more about the editors, see About Travelers’ Tales Staff.