data Bisbocci Abroad: Sandboarding in Swakopmund

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sandboarding in Swakopmund

          Everyone who knows me is well aware of my undying love for the Pacific Northwest. They know how proud I am of Oregon's wild coastline, its perfect snow-capped mountains and its sparkling lakes and rivers. They know of my love for the towering coniferous trees and deep green forests that surround my home in the Willamette Valley. It is the beautiful shades of green that I miss most whenever I leave my home state. 
         Yet, those who know me best, also know that I am equally awestruck by a different kind of beauty--a beauty that is wholly different from that which surrounds me back home. It is a beauty that stands in sharp contrast to the verdant hills and lush vegetation of western Oregon. It is the bleak and uncompromising beauty of the desert. 
         For some reason, every time I go abroad, I am drawn to areas of the world that are primarily covered in sand. It began when I studied in Tunisia for the summer and spent a few months on the fringes of the Sahara, and continued during my academic semester in Jordan. I was drawn to the vibrant reds, yellows and oranges of the earth and mesmerized by their beauty. 
          There is little I find more awe-inspiring than the view of a great expanse of sand from the top of a dune. In 2010, when I first glimpsed the undulating sand sea of the Sahara on a trip to the Tunisian desert, I was enraptured by the scenery. I felt that there could be no place in the world of equal beauty. Then again, in 2011, I found myself standing on the fiery-red desert sands of the United Arab Emirates, enthralled by my surroundings. Later in 2011, I visited Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado and White Sands National Monument in New Mexico. Each of these destinations has left me speechless and awe-struck. 
          Given my enthusiasm for such natural environments, I was excited beyond belief for my venture into the vast expanse of the Namib Desert dunes.

          A day after our excursion into the lagoon of Walvis Bay, my friends and I scheduled a day of sandboarding on the outskirts of Swakopmund. When we woke up, the sky was mostly overcast and misty and I couldn't help but worry a bit that the weather conditions would once again put a damper on our plans. I could not imagine trying to sandboard in a rainstorm. 
         Yet, luckily, the worst of the weather conditions were behind us and we were able to enjoy the sand sea with little more than an accompanying sprinkle. Though the skies were mostly grey and the sand was still wet from the rainfall the day before, we found the cool temperature to be refreshing and wonderful. The conditions were perfect for a day of boarding, too, for the lack of sun and arresting heat facilitated our long and tiring walks to the top of the dunes.

Overlooking the Sand Sea
          Our tour company allowed us to choose between stand-up and lie-down boarding. I chose stand-up boarding, which is essentially snowboarding on sand rather than on snow. However, I soon realized that my experience snowboarding translated very loosely to sandboarding and, as a result, I found myself face-planting on numerous occasions. Nonetheless, by the end of the afternoon I was able to go down a few runs without falling and it was thrilling to wind down the steep dune faces, while marveling at my surroundings.
         I sandboarded down the dunes a handful of times before our guides suggested we try lie-down boarding down the steepest and longest run.
         The ride down was exhilarating and I sped down the hill--over bumps and around ridges, with my hair streaming behind me--at nearly seventy kilometers an hour until I reached the bottom. Every time I reached the bottom of the dune, I would unstrap my bindings, sling my sandboard over my shoulders and begin the walk back up the crest of the dune to the top. It was a tiring trek, but the damp sand facilitated our laborious climb.
          When I reached the top, I would hold my breath and gaze at the dazzling display around me. The dunes of the Namib Desert are the oldest in the world and they are amongst the tallest. The landscape is so immense and foreboding that it was difficult to imagine I was on the same planet as Swakopmund, let alone only a few kilometers away.
          From the top of the dune, I could see nothing but the oceans of sand that extend outward for miles upon miles in every direction. The sand sea stretches inland from the Atlantic Ocean for nearly 13,000 square miles. It is a seared and bleak landscape, with dramatic vistas and mirage-inducing panoramas.

Wind-Carved Namib Desert Dunes
        The great sand mountains of the Namib Desert have been chiseled by the Kalahari and Atlantic winds. They are ever-changing and transforming by the minute--their curves, ridges and crests carved by the elements over millions of years.

Spectacular Namib Desert

           I enjoyed sitting at the top of the dunes and staring out into the vast expanse of nothingness and dreaded the moment that our tour guide would shuffle us back into the vans.
           As I was leaving the desert, all I could think about was how much I looked forward to returning in August and how excited I was to show this awe-inspiring natural wonder to my family. 

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