The words ‘May you live in interesting times’ came true for all of us in 2020 whether we wanted it to or not. Covid-19 arrived with a vengeance, generating a worldwide flurry of fear. I realised with a dire feeling of angst that if an Earth cataclysm could wipe out the dinosaurs in one fell swoop, an infectious virus could easily eradicate us earthlings. It was possible. It humbled me. It put me in my place. What I also realised was that it, inadvertently, united humanity. No-one was immune – it put us all on par. For a period, nature rested. It sighed with relief. I’m sure I could hear it take a deep long-overdue planetary breath. After all, being planet Earth with nearly eight billion inhabitants is no easy task.

Photo: Ron Swilling

Being a supreme optimist, I always try to ensure that I see my cup as half full and not half empty. I learned early on that how you live your life is all about perspective. But this darn virus severely challenged my optimism. It pulled on my heartstrings as I saw people battling to survive. It clipped my wings, and as positive as I tried to be and as many Zoom courses as I enrolled in, it was a year before I could get back to Namibia. I heard how good rains were ending a decade-long drought, how the desert had turned green, how the lilies were blooming, how the rivers were running. There was no doubting it, I was pining.

Photo: Ron Swilling

So, at the end of January with the land borders once again closed, I realised that a window of opportunity had opened, and stayed open. We could still fly into the country – on presentation of Covid-free test results. It was only a matter of days before I boarded a plane at the now strangely empty Cape Town International airport and felt my wings once again stretch out and quiver in anticipation of green-tripping in Namibia.

My chariot for the adventure is a sleek Namiba2Go vehicle, robust enough to cruise the gravel roads with ease and luxurious enough to channel a constant stream of lovely cool air into the cab. First port of call was the Namib Desert, and as I circumnavigated the Remhoogte Pass I began to feel all the angst of the past year start to dissipate as I began to engage with the wonderful world I found myself in. “Hello Namib”, I shouted exuberantly out the window, “I’m back”.

Photo: Ron Swilling

Sossusvlei was calling (big-time) as was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of experiencing it with water. For the first time in years the Tsauchab River had rushed through the narrow Sesriem Canyon and travelled through the auburn desert sand to fill the Sossusvlei pan. Instead of walking through it as on previous visits, I now stripped down to my swimming costume and swam as far as I could. The unusual and exceptional experience of swimming through the canyon will remain etched in my memory for a long time. I continued to the Sossusvlei pan where the beauty of seeing the normally dry pan transformed into a lake was awe-inspiring. I threw off shoes and padded barefoot around the vlei, past the prickly !nara bushes and the camelthorn trees, trying to avoid the long white thorns that jabbed at the soles of my feet. It’s always imperative at Sossusvlei to gain some height to appreciate the splendour. Perspective once again. So, while the more intrepid visitors trudged up Big Mama dune, I walked up the adjacent lower dune and plonked down in the warm sand. The late afternoon light lit up the spectacular scene as if it had the best director in the world. And I suppose it did. I couldn’t resist the muddy water. I thought that I might never have the opportunity again. So I ran down and splashed merrily in the desert vlei encircled by the mighty Namib dunes.

Photo: Ron Swilling

It was time to make my way to my desert home. Gondwana’s Desert Collection, 60km north of Sesriem, is set against the backdrop of a band of majestic, ancient and epic (that’s the very best word for them) fossilised dunes. Namib Desert Lodge, Camping2Go self-catering safari tents, Dune Star Camp, the upmarket desert pod ‘Desert Whisper’ and the slinky ‘Desert Grace’ lodge share some of the most spectacular scenery in the Namib Desert. From atop the fossilised dunes, ripples of sand lead the eye out to plains bisected by a thin line of trees marking the river and edged by the Naukluft Mountains.

Photo: Ron Swilling

The expansive view, this time transformed into vivid green, was the most life-affirming scene I had cast my eyes on for a long time. Healthy-looking gemsbok cantered away, beetles scurried over the sand, springbok grazed contentedly in the long grass. And as I took in this heavenly scene, I could hear a voice from long past saying ‘Welcome back, Ron. Welcome home to Namibia”.

Ron Swilling is a freelance writer, who has a deep love for the land of big sky, its vast open plains, spectacular scenery, free-roaming wildlife and salt-of-the-earth people.