Thursday 15 May 2008

Late Learning in The Great Outdoors - part 1

This post was meant as a contribution to the blog carnival "Learning in the Great Outdoors".
I was - however - so satisfied with getting down to writing something for my blog (instead of just posting a few pics and making up a few lines) that I got carried away and continued to write and write and write.
This had two dire consequences:

1. I didn't meet the deadline of LitGO # 12 and thus was - naturally as I didn't submit - not included.

2. The post had to be broken down into several parts, with the nice consequence that I can still extend the ones not posted yet.

Okay, without further ado, here goes:

Two Lessons Learned in the Great Outdoors
Part 1 : Where I Learned

The Fish River Canyon in the far South of Namibia is a place where magic abounds and where the wonders of the Great Outdoors are breathed in with every step you take. However, and very remarkably so, it is also a place that only few get to fully appreciate, for a reason that is highly unjust as it has nothing to do with the Canyon itself. It is too far off the other touristy highlights of the country and for those who venture into South Africa, the adjacent Namaqua Land also offers no significant attractions (unless you are a birder and terribly fond of larks), so in general there is a big rush from Namibia’s Keetmanshoop past the Canyon and all the way down to Cape Town. The Fish River Canyon is usually experienced by those travellers from the view points scattered along its eastern rim during a short detour from the highway. After about an hour or two and a few pretty pictures matching exactly those you see in travel magazines or on postcards, the area is ticked off the trip’s to-do list in a nonchalant been-there-seen-that way and left in a hurry - with Cape Town or Windhoek’s airport calling loud and clear.

This is very much how I experienced the Fish River Canyon during a short stop around high noon back in 1991, and the blinding harsh sunlight reflected off the cliffs, the heat and the general lack of life amongst the rocks made for one of the least memorable moments of my travels through southern Africa.

A few years later, in 1997, I was about to finish my studies of Zoology at the University of Greifswald and was looking for a research project for my Master’s Thesis. The only local option was salt marsh beetles - admittedly an excellent group of biota to understand the ecosystems along the Baltic coast of Germany but not really the reason I started studying Zoology in the first place - and thus I soon found myself enquiring about projects abroad. Soon, my attention was focused on Namibia but in the days of affirmative action, it was very difficult for a foreigner or a white man (let alone for a white foreigner) to get into anything even remotely similar to an official project or research position. The radio-collared Leopards of Waterberg Plateau, the prime target at the onset of my enquiries, were soon found to be definitely out of reach.

Just as I started to accept having to fall in love with beetles, a surprise possibility arose: a scientist I met during my early days at the University of Freiburg was to start working as the general manager of a huge (600 square kilometres) private game farm in southern Namibia and invited me to visit him privately and conduct my studies there. No official permit needed, just a tourist visa you get at the airport in Windhoek. He also offered to be my supervisor, so the case was settled rather quickly and preparations began.

Of all the places in Namibia however, the farm was bordering on the Fish River Canyon National Park (nowadays called Ai-Ais / Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park or Peace Park), a place I thought (back then) was amongst the few ... well ... lesser attractive ones in Namibia, especially when compared to the lush and green (in parts, this is still Namibia) Caprivi Strip and Kaokovelt.

But beggars can't be choosers and as this was my only chance to avoid the salt marsh beetles, I was all game and ready to dive right into the Great Outdoors of Namibia's Fish River Canyon.


Nate said...

Looking forward to the rest of this series!

Chrissy said...

First time visiting your blog. Great posts and wonderful photos.

Anonymous said...

It is great learning about you but I also love your photos that you post! Keep up the great work and thanks for sharing these moments with us!

Jochen said...

N8: Thanks!! Some patience might be required though as I have a few other posts planned.
Chrisss: welcome and thanks!
Mon@rch: you are right in that there is a distinct lack of photos, also in my next post, but I promise to fix that soon! Thanks for the kind words!!