Living in the Namibian bush for a month has truly been the most eye-opening, perspective-changing, absolutely incredible experience I have had. I just got back Sunday afternoon and am still a little jet-lagged and a lot culture-shocked. Overall the trip went extremely smoothly--we collected plenty of samples for my project and didn't get a single flat tire, which is nothing short of amazing since everything is covered in thorns. I went just over three weeks without using my phone or accessing the internet, which was so refreshing (even though I was greeted with 600+ e-mails to deal with come August). Camping every night and working hard every day was extremely rewarding, even though some days I was definitely feeling exhausted. I learned how to drop-start and use the drill, which is basically a huge chainsaw with the blade taken off and replaced by a diamond-bit rock drill...so I felt pretty cool. Being in the field, I learned so much, not only about geology, but also about myself. Through a rolled ankle, a day of nasty dehydration, and some serious sunburn, I've come away feeling both stronger and more knowledgeable, and I have too many stories to share in one blog post.
The trip was great because I feel like I really saw the whole country. We started with sampling in the North, right on the border with Angola, where it was burning hot during the day and nearly freezing at night. It's crazy because we would go from working in serious desert, where everything is brown and dusty and thorny, to camping near a river, which serves as an oasis with palm trees, huge flowers, and flourishing life. I climbed mountains while baboons barked at us to look out over stunning quarzite cliffs, covered in baobab trees. I walked down ancient riverbeds to find nearly perfect exposures of rocks over one billion years old. I stood in a sodalite quarry with huge pieces of bright blue minerals shining in the sun. I struggled to interact with villagers who spoke absolutely no English--some were kind and showed us their village so we could ask permission from the head man to do our sampling, while others simply stared and followed us around as if we were the most exciting thing they've ever seen. I went days without showering and slept on the ground with scorpions under the brightest, most gorgeous night sky. The sunsets and sunrises in northern Namibia were my favorite parts of each day--I honestly felt like I was living in a National Geographic documentary.
At around the halfway point of our trip we drove south to sample some new formations. As a quick break from the physical work, we stopped at Etosha National Park, which is a massive wildlife reserve area. We spent a day just driving around from watering hole to watering hole, where we saw almost every animal imaginable. We were lucky enough to spot a cheetah and both a lion and lioness. I saw elephants rip down a tree, rhinos hobbling around, zebra and wildebeest walking down the middle of the road, and even a few awkward ostrich. It was such an unreal experience--a much-needed break from sampling. Continuing our drive we passed through the capital city, Windhoek, once again. We had a few problems with our drills overheating, and Windhoek is really the only "big" city in Namibia, so it was necessary to make a stop. The contrast between bustling downtown Windhoek and the beat down villages of the North was shocking to say the least. The city is very westernized with big shopping malls, gas stations, and grocery stores, where everything is ridiculously cheap (including the fantastic South African wine). It was our chance to snag some (kind of) fresh vegetables before heading back into the land of canned food and red meat.
Driving south, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and, although we were still in the desert, it was suddenly cold all day. Nights were below freezing, but luckily we met some farmers who let us stay in a little bunk house for the week. Going from extreme hot to extreme cold was a little challenging, but it was great to see a new landscape and meet such a kind family. They invited us to dinner twice--the first time we had a South African fish called snook, which is traditionally served on fresh baked bread with jam and is surprisingly good. The second time we had beef...that had been shot, hung up on a tree, and slaughtered the day before right outside the house. Each morning we would get up, eat breakfast, then get tackled by the huge, loving farm dogs on our way out. There was a lot of hiking in search of perfect sites, but we used each day to the fullest and found some great areas. Just as our work was finishing up that week, though, I started to have terrible sensitivity to the sun. I had been taking malaria pills all month, which my travel nurse told me that I may experience the side effect of increased sensitivity to sunlight. Each day it got worse and worse--I was putting on sunscreen 3 times a day and wearing long sleeves and still looked like a tomato. I decided to stop taking the pills (so let's hope I don't get malaria), but not before I got some terrible third degree burns on my hands. But hey, maybe they'll turn into badass scars.
I feel like I was gone much more than a month with how busy we were each day. There is so much more I could say about the experience, but now it's time to get back to my IRIS internship and the work I have left to wrap up in the next three weeks before school starts again. In my next post I'll share some images I meant to share before I left--I'm finally to the point where I'm working on drawing conclusions from my data, which is super exciting. It's a little overwhelming how much I have to do in the coming weeks, but after climbing through thorns up the side of a mountain carrying a rock drill, I think I can handle it.
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