To face the desert from the front is to travel in more ways than one. Faced with the immensity of sand and stone - and of our fragility - it is inevitable to review parameters, to turn the chest of fears and to embrace intense sensations. And doing so in the country with the second-lowest population density in the world (after Mongolia) makes the experience even more potent.
On the roads of Namibia, in south-west Africa, one can hardly see the shadow of its 2 million inhabitants, scattered in an area equivalent to the sum of Italy and Germany. Driving hundreds of miles without crossing a human not only requires planning (gas stations are as scarce as the cell phone signal), as cold blood to deal with the fact that a mere mechanical failure can mean hours (or days) of waiting for help. But it's all worth it - until the heat of over 45c in summer - to be practically alone with some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, under a starry sky in full HD.
Namibia is famous for its national parks inhabited by the big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard). It also boasts the second largest canyon in the world (on the Fish River, near the border with South Africa) and the highest dunes on the planet, in an area known as Sossusvlei. The best kept secrets of the country, however, are in the NamibRand Nature Reserve, 400 kilometers southwest of Windhoek, the capital.
I realized that I was in a really unique place when Frank, the naturalist guide with whom we took a Land Rover ride, pointed to the first fairy circles. Seen closely, they are discreet embossed marks surrounded by ragweed vegetation (ignored by animals even in the dry season and food shortage, which is strangely). Great mystery of the desert of Namibia, this terrestrial "chickenpox" extends for a band of almost two thousand kilometers without one circumference never overlapping another. And they are especially numerous in NamibRand Nature Reserve.
The phenomenon of the fairy circles takes decades intriguing the researchers and giving cloth to the sleeve of exoteric currents, as well as the lines of Nazca, in Peru. Would it be a pattern imprinted by the action of termites? Marks of the effects of some radiation? Micro-organisms that prevent the growth of plants? A gas emitted by the deep layers of the Earth? The theories are many. None definitive.
The desert asks for time
But the beauty of the place goes far beyond the enigma of fairy circles. Although zebras, ostriches, giraffes and an oryx (a species of antelope with a long xifre) circulate through the property, much of the present life is not seen at first. But just raise a pebble so that beetles in unusual shapes appear, as well as various species of lizards and other small animals. "We tend to think the desert has no life, but in reality there are a lot of things going on. You have to stop and watch. The desert takes time, "said Frank.
There is no digital image capable of capturing the grandeur of an afternoon at NamibRand Nature Reserve. As the sun goes down, the nuances of red multiply on the horizon, in a scenario formed by several overlapping layers of dunes and mountains of "fossilized" sand. The Land Rover makes its way between them until night falls on our heads, starting an astronomical spectacle that is worth the trip.
Silence and darkness: objects of contemporary man's desire
Formed from the union of 13 farms, this private preservation area has a rule as the bastion of its sustainability policy: a hotel bed for a thousand hectares (equivalent to a thousand football fields!). Lying in one of these is a privilege, especially if you are staying at the and Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.
Such a large amount of space per capita is essential so that the hotel can provide its guests with an increasingly rare experience. "Silence is the natural resource that is disappearing faster." The phrase is acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, author of One Square Inch of Silence - One Man's Search for Natural Silence in a Noisy World (2010, Ed. Simon & Schuster). In addition to providing this feature, the and Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge also follows the precepts of the International Dark Sky Places program, created in 2001 to encourage the preservation of nighttime darkness. According to the organization's criteria, NamibRand Reserve is considered the darkest places in the world. With a discreet lighting, the hotel zela for the comfort of the animals and allows to observe the sky in its fullness of its observatory, piloted by an Australian astronomer. Waking up before five in the morning was never so pleasant.
A pool (small) that says a lot
It is not every day that you wake up with an oryx on the other side of the window. Unless you occupy one of the ten villas of the andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge. Mimetized in the landscape, the hotel has a compact and stylish social area with bar, restaurant and lounge decorated with natural fibers and mirrored desert tones. The pool is small and simple, in obvious sign of respect for the surroundings.
From stone and glass, the villas have two uneven environments with sparse furnishings of minimalist lines. The décor is limited to a few pink quartz stones (an icon of Namibia), pictures of local nature and clever details, such as the lantern of sunlight made by one of the foundations that andBeyond maintains in Africa - something elementary for any good company of luxury hotel on this continent.
At the top of the suite, the king-size bed is positioned under a glass ceiling with a retractable curtain (the intensity of the star's brilliance is so great that sometimes it is necessary to "turn off the light"!). Framing the landscape, the floor-to-ceiling window opens onto the porch, where some animals roam with the same resourcefulness as the guests.
The daily (from € 440 per person) includes all drinks, meals, excursion to the Sossusvlei dunes (which are at the gates of the reserve), quad and safari tours through the majestic dunes of the property. The best time to visit the Namib desert is from March to May and the end of August to October when temperatures are milder. There are more hotels and camps in the Sossusvlei region that can be booked through the Namibia Wildlife Resorts website (nwr.com.na), linked to the national tourism body.