The sublime beauty of desolation

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Throughout my years as a traveler, I have discovered, especially since I began to travel by bicycle, that the essence of a country and a culture lies in that delicate transition that occurs between its the renowned points of interest. Over time, I have lost almost total interest, at least when it comes to traveling properly, in visiting tourist attractions, because in them I have seen over and over again that the essence of the local culture is diluted in the perverse play of the greed and the commercialization of beauty. The result is to be found in places that, although they originally treasure an exquisite beauty, the whole structure that has developed around them makes them very difficult to enjoy in a fairly pure state.

Having said this, there are famous attractions that given their nature are easier to tolerate and many times it is even possible to enjoy them. It is in Namibia also where I found one of these: Sossusvlei, the country's number one attraction and certainly one of the most beautiful places I have seen in the world as far as tourist traps are concerned. There we arrived with Niel after several days of crossing impossible roads with few people, little food, and little water, through which no one around here ventures without a 4x4.

Sossusvlei is a protected reserve in the heart of the Namib desert, the oldest in the world, where from the utter desolation the most sublime beauty has emerged. It is a space without time, visually static; in it, the world seems to have said: enough! and decided to stop forever. The silence is absolute when the golden sun begins rise revealing the sensual undulations of the orange dunes. They connect each other through a fine line that delineates the division between sun and shade. The views are simply memorable.

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Nested among this ocean of dunes is Deadvlei, a flat patch of hard white clay, perpetually cracked by the lack of water. At some distant time, it used to be a fertile swamp where the water flowed to hydrate its lush vegetation until the geological changes of the planet left it without it. The rigor of an extremely dry climate deprived every living thing of the humidity necessary for the microorganisms that normally devour the vegetation to thrive. The result is this surrealistic still life spectacle. Deadvlei is an immortal courtyard in this desert, a museum of outdoor sculptures; and its 900-year-old trees have been embalmed by nature to perpetuate its existence.

Deadvlei is a natural art space that changes its look dramatically with the passing of the hours. Light transforms its reality to turn it unreal. Going up and down the dunes changes the shapes we see altering our perception of space. In this way, at times it can be an impressionist space while in others becomes expressionist. Sometimes it is definitely surrealistic but other times it is definitely cubist, and at any point, all variations can derive in the purest abstraction. Whatever visual interpretation we make of it, this is where nature produces art.

After Sossusvlei, we have a few more days of desert ahead. We are past the hardest stretch though. Now there are more corrugations along the way, but at least there are fewer sandpits and we don't have to get off the bikes and push every few kilometers. Loneliness, however, is perpetuated, this country seems even less populated than Mongolia. From dawn til dusk, the heat is moderate now in winter, but still, the sun does not forgive and the clouds seem to have migrated from here a long ago because they are sure to find a better life in the tropics. As much as I hate humidity, I am now starting to miss it when I can no longer stand on my feet due to all the deep cuts on the skin of my heels that have cracked open result of this extremely dry climate. Similarly, the slits in the lips no longer let me smile without hurting and my nose bleeds for every stone-like booger I need to take out in order to breathe properly. It is during the nights, these supernatural nights of the Namib, where I find the reward for all efforts.

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It's been almost two weeks and 1000 km across the Namib desert. In it I have seen my spirit transforming itself. I have risen from the ashes and reconnected with myself. I have also made a great friend that I met on the road, Niel, with whom I have not only shared these great moments of beauty and harshness in absolute desolation, but also the moments of meditation that we both share as practicing Buddhists. I certainly will not forget the Namib, it is a very significant point in this trip for me and a new desert that I have crossed and fell in love with.

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In Windhoek ends the first stage of my ride across Namibia, which has been very hard and yet it cannot even be compared to the one I have planned ahead. It is time to take advantage of the comfort of this quiet city to rest, eat well, share life with other travelers in the busy Chameleon hostel and have the opportunity to socialize in a country, where outside its capital, there is almost no one to talk to. Above all, it is time to sort out one the most difficult obstacles of any trip across the western half of Africa, the Angolan visa.