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September 6, 2018

5 Hours, 4 Strangers, 1 Desert Adventure

Written by

Hans Brunk

Harvard 21'

iXperience has a unique sense of community. So much so that when a fellow student asked me to join a weekend trip to Namibia, I didn’t hesitate. All that was set were the flights. We had no car, no place to stay, no plans, and no worries. Some may call it being spontaneous, others naive. Either way, we wanted a break from the city. We wanted to see some sand.

Our motley crew consisted of a Southern pilot, a Silicon Valley engineer, a Swedish skier, a New England creative, and a Kanye fanboy. This is not the script of a Tarantino film, or the new hangover movie–just a collection of the various kinds of individuals you might meet during a summer internship with iXperience.

How well did I know these guys? Well, I couldn’t spell their names at the airport. What could go wrong?

After a quick flight from Cape Town, we land in Walvis Bay, Namibia. Giant dunes met an ocean filled with thousands of flamingos– an unbelievable sight.

Namibia set 2-18

Namibian Junes, photo by Hans Brunk

We had no car reservation and tried to talk our way into an SUV, eventually finding a reluctant clerk willing to offer us a car by the end of the day. Until then, we had five hours to kill. Time for some quad biking!

The town of Walvis Bay is famous for its sand dunes. The action film "Mad Max: Fury Road" was filmed just a half hour from the airport and we were going to try our best to recreate the action. "Watch this wheelie!" was met with a quick "One more stunt and I’ll take your keys!" Our angry guide didn't share our enjoyment. Where we saw fun fishtails and drifts; he saw rambunctious tourists looking to get hurt. I guess telling five 20-year-olds that Mad Max was filmed "right here" isn’t the smartest way to start a safety briefing. Sand sprayed in all directions as we fishtailed our machines once again. Four hours later, we left the dunes with wide smiles and (surprise!) no injuries.

We then caught a ride from a new friend at the dunes and made it downtown, where our clerk and a Toyota Foretuner SUV met us in the parking lot. Our home for the next two days awaited.

A friend of a friend’s suggestion later, and we decided to drive five hours south through a land of dunes and dead trees: Dead Vlei at Sossusvlei. A photographer's paradise, Dead Vlei is home to 600-year-old dead trees that have not decomposed because it is so dry.

We began our long, dusty journey in the early morning on gravel roads, soaking in spectacular desert views along the way. Music was the topic of discussion (sorry fans):

"Kanye is a musical genius."

"Maggie Rogers is as unique to the musical world as Wu-Tang Klan."

"Oldchella was better than Coachella."

Only a couple of the five were permitted use of the aux cord.

A few ostriches, some abandoned houses, and lots of sand later, we enter the park. Whereas the rest of Namibia has a yellowish glow, the sand at Sossusvlei is a burnt orange, resembling more of the red planet than our blue one.

Namibia 1-23

We do our best ant impressions, climbing the highest dune in sight. The air was hot, the sand was deep, and our newfound friendship was nearing its second test. Not only can musical preferences vary, but hiking abilities too.

"We should wait for the rest of the group."

"Patience isn’t my virtue."

"We should finish together."

"But the top is right there!?"

A little burnt, we eventually all made it, admiring the vastness of the desert, while taking a scenic pee break. The hike was long but the run down was quick. We sprinted down the face of the 50-degree red dune, cheers ringing out as a feeling of weightlessness overtook the moment. We felt like astronauts on the moon.

On the road again.

"The tire doesn’t look so good."

The light was fading. We were in the middle of the desert at a closed gas station, with a flat tire that none of us knew how to change. Thankfully, a local tenant stuck around. The guy was experienced, and the tire was changed faster than at a NASCAR pit stop. The kindness of strangers is remarkable.

Our next challenge? Finding a place to stay for the night, 2 hours south in the dark. Quick reminder: Namibia is pretty empty. This makes the country fantastic for stargazing, but impossible for asking directions.

"Where are we?"

"Dude who cares...Look up."

The stars were endless. The Milky Way stretched across the midnight sky, and a blanket of stars filled the inky darkness. I’ve lived away from civilisation before, but the stars in Namibia are otherworldly. No other stargazing destination compares: not the Arctic Tundra, Western Woodlands, or Savannah Moonlight. The only comparison my mind could draw was the awe of the Northern Lights. I am a forgetful person, which is why I travel with a camera, but I will never forget that night sky.

The local family we ended up staying with served Springbok with red wine for dinner. The desert was cold at night, but I found sleep effortlessly.

We packed up early the next morning and headed for the airport. Our weekend trip was almost up. Having made good time, we stopped to enjoy a final picnic with the flamingos along the way, recounting close calls in the desert while we ate. When we departed for this adventure, I really had no idea what lay in store. I had never done anything quite like this before, stepping out of my comfort zone in so many different ways. I realize we had some close calls: 

Almost lost our car rental. 

Almost got locked in the park.

Got a flat tire. Got lost at night. 

Almost lost my trusty hat (a true tragedy).

Our group had some growing pains, but when it came down to it, we were able to work through any uncertainties together, as a team. From learning to love Kanye, to climbing mountainous dunes, we made the most of our short adventure. More than that, we arrived at iXperience Cape Town as four strangers, and left as four close friends; a group of guys I’d happily call up for another round of Mad Max in the desert.

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