A First Time For Everything

Petro Van Rooyen

© Copyright 2021 Petro Van Rooyen

They say there is a first time for everything. Well, De Jerez, who was one of Columbus’s crewmen, was apparently the first European to inhale the smoke of burning tobacco leaves.

He tried it, after seeing the native people of Cuba, at that time, doing it. When he repeated this stunt in Spain, however, it did not end all that well for Rodrigo de Jerez. People thought it was the work of the devil when they saw smoke coming from his mouth and the Inquisition was informed, which led to his arrest. It was not a good idea to start smoking for the first time in those years; it was 1492 after all!

When a Welshman, some years late, saw an Englishman smoke for the first time he was shocked and upset to see smoke coming from the man’s nose. They were drinking in a pub and to quench the “fire” the Welshman threw his bear in the face of the Englishman (Or did he just look for an excuse to do so; who will know?)

When electricity was first installed in the White House, it is said that the President residing there at that time, was so scared of it, that someone had to be hired to switch the lights on and off for him!

The first time escalators were installed in at this one posh shop in England, the people who entered this escalator for the first time in their lives had to be revived afterwards with brandy (or was it whisky?) upon reaching the top floor!

Yes first times can be scary, strange or even weird sometimes.

My first visit to the Namib was neither of these, luckily. But it surely was a unique experience. I was twenty-six at that stage and went there with my hubby and mother-in-law. We didn’t go in the summer, but rather chose a cooler time of the year to visit and yet it was the warmest, temperature-wise that is, that I have ever experienced.

At one stage we stopped for a short period of time to investigate some strange rock formations and my husband also needed a bit of a break to stretch his legs, as the distances between places can be long indeed. When we returned back to our car, the fizzy drinks were so hot that you could scarcely drink them! Thus I can advise people to rather not leave cold things in the car while you are out gallivanting in a desert.

At first the long distances from one place to the next got on my nerves. It feels as if you are driving forever to get to the next camping place and all you see is sand dune upon sand dune; you feel hot and sweaty and the water becomes lukewarm in no time; no matter if you keep it on ice or not. I sometimes wished that we could just get to the next camping grounds so that I could have a cold shower or something.

This feeling of irritation persisted for about two days and I sometimes wished that I was back in a civilised world, but then something changed. It was as if the Namib was growing on me in a quiet way. In time I began to notice just how many different colours sand there really was: red, yellow, brown even black and pinkish and many other shades; grey even.

You start to see things as if for the first time. The little family of ground squirrels peeping from behind a small dune; you notice a little bush next to the road where two sleepy owls hide; the one opens his eyes slightly to see who it may be disturbing its sleep and it is so cute. When you stop to stretch your legs later you may even see an orange-pinkish gecko running about on the hot sand. These little fellows run fast, lifting two legs from the sand and running on the other two and a while later they switch legs so the other two are on the sand. It is probably to prevent them from burning those cute, little knobbly toes they have.
When you open your eyes and your mind to notice the little things, you might see strange insects scurrying across the desert sand and even a snake now and then. Some snakes you do see, however, others hide under the sand in wait for prey. I never saw a snake of this nature, but only read about it in a brochure I got at this one camping site. It gave me a shiver down my spine; not the photo of the snake, but the realisation that they hide beneath the sand. One of them could have bitten me that time I rolled down a sand dune!

Yes, people I did! After being so indifferent about my first visit to the Namib in the beginning it later became such fun. The realization that everything is unique and that there are life forms waiting to be discovered in and on top of the miles and miles of sand opened my mind to so many new possibilities.

The one night we held a barbecue at the camping site. Hubby was doing his thing and me and mother-in-law sat on our camping chairs talking when suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I saw something that might as well have been a “lurker" escaping from the PC-game “Gothic” or that is what I thought it was, having a vivid imagination and all. Then as my eyes became more adjusted to the dark I realised that it was the lone shadow of a hyena I saw and it gave me a bit of a shudder; to think it was walking about among us camping there at that Namib campsite!
I have never heard of them biting people, however, but they have been known for stealing meat straight from the barbecue grid! They are scavengers after all, so this kind of behaviour might be expected. It was a bit scary to have the hyena that close; so close in fact that you could actually smell the strange beast with its strange laugh!
In the end I really enjoyed our visit to the Namib. The wondrous sand dunes in so many hues greeting you everywhere; even the dead trees, which sometimes stand like strange, forgotten skeletons in the sand, started to look beautiful to me and no I did not get heat stroke people. It is just that my eyes were opened to see the beauty all around me; the true beauty of the Namibian desert.

The last night, at our camping site, even the moon seemed brighter there and bigger and it was as if you could almost touch it! I was almost sad that it had to be the last night in this desert place we were in and to think that in that harsh world my eyes were opened to so many wonderful things. Things I might have missed out on, having had this city attitude where you sometimes stop seeing beauty and just rush through life with blinkers on to get from point A to point B.
We are sometimes so blasé that we tend to miss things that we may have seen for the first time and as they say there is a first time for everything...

I am from South Africa and this is my travel story. We visited Namibia in 1996, but it was an adventure. Something to remember fondly now that I am unemployed and thus unable to travel any longer. 

I have always been a creative person. Illustrating, painting, a bit of crafting and a lot of writing. Wrote my first poem at the age of ten in Afrikaans. These days I write in English mainly. I have not published anything yet, but am in the process of making this dream become a reality. It takes time to do it the traditional way, but being an older person I would prefer to do it that way.

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