I would imagine that most people would not be able to find Namibia on a world map.  This is not so surprising considering it’s one of the newest countries (founded in 1990) and has a population of just two million people spread across an area twice the size of California.  It also has a stable economy, good infrastructure, a functioning democracy and a free press–rarities for most of Africa.

When our friend Karley was accepted into the Peace Corps and assigned to Namibia we promised her that we would visit.  We were not the only ones to make this promise, however after three years there she has yet to have a visitor from home.

This past summer while on break she crashed on our couch in Portland and after hearing the amazing stories about her life in this remote corner of the world we decided to finally follow through on our promise.  But let me tell you, this is not an easy place to get to.

First there was the 40 hour flight (including layovers and connections) from Portland to Cape Town.  Then there was the 22 hour bus ride to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.  From there we had to catch a ride in a four wheel drive cargo truck that delivers supplies to remote outposts in the Namibian desert.

On the way the gas tank of the truck was damaged by a rock and for two hours we took turns filling up empty two litre Coke bottles with the leaking diesel while the driver chain smoked cigarettes a few feet from the tank.  It was a classic African travel experience.  After 10 hours on the back of that truck, I can’t tell you how happy we were to see Karley.

Her assignment for the Peace Corps is with a environmental education organization called NaDeet which is located on the private NamibRand Nature Reserve.  The reserve is surrounded by rugged desert mountains and bisected by huge red sand dunes.  An upmarket resort on the reserve is where Brad and Angelina stay when they come to Africa to adopt more children.

Every week a different group of Namibians arrives at NaDeet to learn how to make fuel efficient stoves, conserve limited water resources and cook using solar power.  It’s a wonderful organization and it was so cool to see some of the work that they do.

Just recently the NamibRand Nature Reserve was the first location in Africa to be certified by the International Dark Sky Association.  Luckily we were there during a new moon and the clusters of stars were so thick in the sky that they looked like clouds.  The Milky Way was clearly visible and we were actually able to see a black hole.  Even though there was no moon we could easily walk around at night without a headlamp.  I’ve seen the night sky in places like Tibet, Alaska and Patagonia, but have never witnessed anything quite like this.

I recovered quickly from the Two Oceans Marathon and have been able to maintain a somewhat consistent training schedule during our travels.  Karley showed me a 7 mile loop that she used to train for a half marathon.  The narrow red dirt trail twisted and turned through the savanna while herds of oryx, springbok and zebra grazed alongside.  One day a family of super cute bat-eared foxes scampered in front of me on the trail.  On another day I saw a giant secretary bird, which looks like the byproduct of an ill-fated threeway between an ostrich, an eagle and a chicken.  Running this trail every morning was pure bliss.

Our last night on the reserve was spent with Peter, a ranger on the reserve.  He’s an American expat who has lived in Namibia since the early 70’s and is one of those characters you only seem to meet while traveling.  He drove us around in his pickup and showed us some of his favorite spots.  Afterwards we had a barbeque back at his place, cooking up some kudu steaks and boerworst sausage and then finishing up the night with his signature cocktail, the Namib Coffee.  He wouldn’t give us the recipe, but it tasted like equal parts brandy, coffee and brown sugar.

After four days at NaDeet we were sad to say goodbye to Karley, but happy that we had the opportunity to visit her in this uniquely beautiful location.  We were also happy that we didn’t have to take that diesel-leaking cargo truck back to Windhoek.  One of Karley’s co-workers was able to give us a ride and on the way we stopped at the aptly-named town of Solitaire for some yummy apple strudel.

Next stop–Mozambique.