There are certain stories that need time before they can be told. They need long moments to settle on the skin for before settling in the soul. Like the fine red (and yellow-gold) African terrain, which rises like a flock in flight and can be seen even kilometers away, and then glides slowly back down. It’s not in any rush, nor should you be. And generally speaking the less you own the better off you are; in Africa you only need what’s essential, but one doesn’t always manage to distinguish between what’s superfluous and what’s needed.
There are stories that wouldn’t be the same if so much as a comma were decided to be changed. Stories that, without certain equipment – physical and emotional – could not be written or drawn. Dust and light are two powerful elements in an on-the-road trip in Africa. It is they that set the rhythm of the days, the obstacles and the wonders that one can come across.
Dust gets in everywhere; in the bed of the 4×4, in the flap of the pants, the pockets, in your hair and the creases of one’s soul. And rightly so. Africa wants to get under the skin. All that dust got in everywhere but luckily not in the camera equipment. Now that’s essential. A camera may not seem that necessary for most people, but for us it’s unthinkable to leave without it. And what’s essential isn’t even the camera, extension of one’s body, but proper equipment to prevent dust getting into the lenses.
Seeing as how we traveled 6,841 km almost entirely on dirt roads, let’s face it, it wasn’t an easy task. Our backpack accompanied us at the airport, on the plane, in the dunes of the black and rainy Skeleton Coast, on the only high ground in Botswana, on the Tsodillo Hills, amongst the flaming dunes of the Namib-Naukluf National Park and during the Okavango navigation. In all situations it proved to be a valuable travel companion.
It proved to be the perfect hand luggage on the plane: not only did it protect the machine, the lenses and action cam, but after filling every compartment we were also able to bring a change of clothes and bath kit to confront the long stopover in Abu Dhabi. If you’re looking for a cheap flight, my advice is to try and buy the flight at least 8 months in advance, this way you’ll be able to pay for the flight at the lowest price possible if you are willing to bear going through two airports (if you leave from small cities).
During the trip from Botswana to Namibia we got completely covered in dust, due to the 4×4 trucks which unfortunately aren’t air tight. Every time the backpacks, mini-fridge and all the equipment were covered by quite a layer of dust and sand and our fear was that the camera too could be affected by the end of the trip. Despite the stress, the camera body and lenses were intact after 19 days on the road.
Actually we even went to look for water during our trip in Mokoro along the Okavango Delta, the second largest inland delta in the world and the only naturalistic site protected by UNESCO in Botswana. Here silence reigns, broken only by the grunting of hippos, fascinating animals that look tender but are markedly fierce. The mokoro is the traditional canoe of the people who have always lived in the Delta. Though it’s functional, it’s not really that comfortable and having the right backpack turned out to be very useful both while on the trip and later, during the walking safari.
During our journey we crossed similar yet very different landscapes; we went from the lush prosperity of the Delta to the boundless aridity of the Kalahari. However, the main difference was always the color of the earth. From white to gold, from black to red.
One of the most exciting moments was trekking to the Tsodillo Hills, the only UNESCO cultural heritage site in Botswana. Due to the scarce (or inefficient) tourism promotion, this historic and naturalistic site is often considered of little interest, especially by the truck itineraries with groups of people. This is a good reason to visit it because it’s difficult to run into large groups of adventurers. You’ll mainly see a few people or small groups of friends traveling in 4x4s.
The cultural importance of this site was recognized in 2001 for both its spiritual and religious meaning and for the evidence found of human settlements that go back at least 100,000 years. In a roughly 10 km² area inside the Kalahari Desert there are over 4.500 examples of rock art, a record that has earned it the nickname – Louvre of the desert.
The Tsodilo Hills rise suddenly from the desolate plains of the Kalahari Desert and are considered sacred by the Bushmen. Furthermore, this area is considered the cradle of humanity, where it is believed that homo sapiens sapiens took their first steps. Once from these hills, you could see giraffes and many other animals as far as the eye could see. Now you can gaze all the way to the horizon.
Another decidedly exciting moment was when we were in southern Namib. Here you’ll find one of the most famous sites in Namibia and Sub-Saharan Africa: a belt of dunes characterized by intense colors, from bright red to all its shades ranging from pink to orange. There are some spectacular ones in Sossusvlei, like Dune 45, the most photographed, and the 305 m high Big Daddy which is considered the highest in the world. We suggest you spend at least two nights there, because unlike the Tsodillo Hills, these dunes are obviously besieged by hordes of tourists. The best way to live (and photograph) them is to take advantage of the various moments during the day, from dawn, the most sought after, to sunset.
During each of these unforgettable traveling moments we could always count on a reliable and versatile companion, which helped us to have on hand (and change) all the lenses and tools needed to depict our trip, with all the dust, the diversity of landscapes and the experiences that we breathed.