Looking ahead, behind


The road along the Namibian coast, where the desert runs into the sea, is dotted with crosses, marking the places where someone has died. You wouldn’t think there would be so many accidents along this deserted highway, but the road is straight, and untarred, people get bored or distracted, or perhaps they have had too much to drink, and the next thing they know, perhaps the last thing they know, is they are spinning into oblivion.

This image, from our first trip to Namibia, marks just one of those lives lost. For me, coming at the end of a year in which the war in Syria, the destruction of Palmyra, Brexit, and the election of the most grotesquely unfit man ever to hold the office of United States  president dominated the headlines, the image also says something about a year of waste and desolation.

On the public, political, historical stage, that is. Looked at from a purely personal perspective it has, in contrast, been a year of wonders, starting with my son Jonathan’s marriage to Hayley in South Africa in April and then, in July, the miraculous arrival of our first grandchild, Joshua. Life not only goes on, it flourishes, with more grandchildren hopefully to come, and the future stretching way out in front of them, to the end of the century. In the midst of so much unhappiness and suffering, we are blessed and fortunate.

There are also, as some of you know, some rather large changes in store for Rob and me in 2017. In just a couple of weeks’ time I will be on my way back to South Africa, to start work with a new, 4 ½ year contract on an EU project. Located in Treasury, the project will focus on capacity building support for the South African government’s employment promotion initiatives; the work will entail providing support across a range of departments in the areas of technical and vocational education and training, small and medium enterprise development, and active labour market policy, through a combination of training, research, workshops and colloquia, study visits to the EU etcetera. My job is not to do all of this of course, but to help government departments identify their needs, put together technical proposals, and bring in the necessary advice and expertise to help them. It should be interesting –  challenging, but varied, and pretty darned relevant given South Africa’s “triple challenge” of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

Rob will follow a month or two  later, once she has finished her current show, and has had a chance to catch her breath and get herself sorted. Needless to say, we are looking forward to welcoming our Canadian and US family and friends to South Africa! And of course, we are thrilled that we will have the opportunity to spend the next few years back in my home country, with my mother and family.

So, after a year of public dismay and personal happiness, let me wish one and all a wonderful time over the holidays, and the very very best for the New Year. And let me end, personally and symbolically, with this image of an infant and his parents, under the Christmas tree.






Walvis Bay

Twenty miles south of Swakopmund, along the coastal road, lies Walvis Bay, of minor historical significance (it remained a British enclave during the German colonial period, and was incorporated into the newly-fledged Union of South Africa in 1910) but no real charm or appeal. The lagoon, however, offers some of the best bird watching in Southern Africa, and supports almost half of the region’s flamingoes. There is also a salt works, which in the coastal light can provide some interesting images – a Canadian might be reminded of snowfields.

I thought I would include in this post a photo of Rob, sunburned and Laurence-of-Arabia-ish as she photographs the desert.

‘Welcome Visitors’

From the Fish River Canyon, Luderitz and Sossusvlei, our 2006 journey in the Land Rover through southern and central Namibia took us to the disconcertingly turn-of-the-century ‘little Bavaria’ of Swakopmund, on the coast. We camped on the beach, and did day trips north, towards the Skeleton Coast, and south, to Walvis Bay, with its flamingoes, bird life and salt factories, as well as inland, to the dunes.

Looking back at the photographs from our journey makes me think about the difference between travel and tourism: tourism, to my mind, is about going to distant places to shop, sightsee, and take selfies, while travel is about entering another place, history, landscape and culture.

In the one, the visitor careers through a foreign place in a bubble, all of her home assumptions intact; in the other, the visitor not only leaves home behind, but sees herself through a lens that others see her through: you go somewhere else to learn about your own cultural and other assumptions, just as you go to discover, respectfully, the worlds that others inhabit.

I use ‘respectfully’ to indicate that travel, at least as I see it, is not about gawping at ‘the other’ – it’s about expanding our understanding of what it means to be human.

With all of this in mind, here are three images. The first, ‘Welcome Visitors,’ was taken on the road heading north toward the Skeleton Coast: a fisherman’s retreat and bar. There was something about its isolation, the jaunty optimism of the ‘welcome visitors’ emblazoned in white paint on the tractor tyre, and the ramshackle modesty of the place in that wild and barren setting, that made, to my mind at least, for an unforgettable image.


Welcome Visitors

The second, ‘Light and Sand’ is an image of the dunes inland from Swakopmund – as is the third, ‘Palm and Crypt.’ My wife says that ‘Light and Sand’ does nothing for her – but I  beg to differ: it does something for me, as does the shot of the desert dunes, the palm, and the crypt. See what you think.

Light and Sand-2Palm and Crypt




Kolmanskop #2

Kolmanskop #14.jpg

Don’t forget to bath, at the end of a hot day digging diamonds in the desert….Here’s one more image from Kolmanskop.

Which gives me an opportunity to explain, as I was asked to in response to my previous post, that the Sperrgebiet in Namibia is a forbidden area: the road to Luderitz passes through it, but you may not stop your car or get out, as there are diamonds scattered just below and even on the surface.

Well, there were, until most of them were mined out, which is why Kolmanskop is now deserted – but still it is possible to find the odd stone, and they don’t want you doing that, now do they?



In the Sperrgebiet, or ‘forbidden area’ outside of Luderitz lies the abandoned mining town of  Kolmanskop. You need a permit to visit, as Rob and I did on our 2006 Namibia trip in the Landy, but it’s worth it: here’s a small town, complete with bakery and shop and miners’ houses, slowly being infiltrated and swallowed by the desert. It’s one of those places that make you think  about human endeavour in a wider, more geological and philosophical perspective, and it makes for some good photos.

Here is a baker’s dozen.

The Road from Sossusvlei: Five Landscapes

Not only Sossusvlei itself but the whole area surrounding is extraordinary: the landscape unfolds in every direction, with every shade and tint of light and colour, every curve and contour you can imagine.

Here are five images.

Dead Vlei, Namibia

From the red dunes of Sossussvlei you slog your way up the sandy slope to Dead Vlei, the dried out bed of a swamp, or lake, with its dead trees crucified in the morning heat. This must be one of the most photographed places in Namibia, but still irresistible to the photographer, and a place of timelessness and wonderment to the observer.

Here are some images. I was going to do them in black and white, but Rob prefers them in colour. See what you think.


Luderitz, on the southern coast of Namibia, is a time capsule of German Art Nouveau architecture, a sleepy fishing port at the end of a windswept road across a lunar landscape. Our stay there, in December of 2006, after our explorations of Sossussvlei and the Fish River Canyon, was a bit longer than we had planned – in fact, we were lucky to make it.

Somewhere along the road, as we were overtaking a huge pantechnicon, at around 120km per hour, we had a blow-out, and came within microseconds of being killed. Fortunately I managed to bring the Land Rover to a halt – amazingly, the Discovery didn’t even swerve, although it shook as though a fist had struck it. We had to wait an extra day in Luderitz for a spare tyre to come from Windhoek – the original was shredded, and you can’t travel by road through Namibia without a good spare, preferably two.

All of which meant we had plenty of time to sample the Luderitz oysters and to explore the town. Here are some photos, taken on an early morning walk.

Desert elephants of Namibia

Without question, the most emotionally intense moment of our visit to Namibia in April was the morning we spent, in an open vehicle, with the desert elephants near Twyfelfontein. I have written about this already, in an earlier blog: here is a portfolio of photos that I hope will give you some sense of what is is like to be in their presence, to share their space and appreciate their behaviour.