“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” – Anthony Bourdain
To say my connection in Johannesburg was confusing would be an understatement. I’d love to blame my confusion on being discombobulated from a 13-hour flight, but I won’t. Full disclosure: I wasn’t sure if Namibia was considered domestic or international. This was important to know, because immigration had two different checkpoints depending on where you were traveling.
I’m a proud traveler, which means I hate to ask for help. It’s a dumb thing, I know, but there’s no use in lying here. I didn’t want to look stupid, so after some contemplation, I got on the line for domestic connections. The line was long and filled with people who have no sense of personal space. Nothing irritates me more than someone riding my ass in a slow-moving queue. And slow it was.
Deep down, I think I knew I was in the wrong place, and when I got close to the front of the line, I finally asked, “Am I in the right place?”
Yep. You guessed it. Namibia is a country, and therefore, an international destination. So off I went, high tailing it up two escalators and down a long walkway, annoyed with myself for being a proud idiot.
The flight to Namibia was uneventful and rather quick if you compare it to a 13-hour flight. Hosea Kutako International Airport in Windhoek is one of those smaller airports where you disembark onto the runway and walk to the terminal. It was hot, and the immigration line was long. It was also a bit daunting as I watched many before me have tense conversations with the agents who’d ultimately green-light entry into Namibia. Some were sent to fill out additional forms and others just stood there, unsure of what to do next. I kept checking my “visa” over and over to make sure everything was in order.
One thing to note about my visa: the first page belonged to someone named Megan Bjornson.
I had done the whole process through a third-party agent and was told it would be “fine,” but as I approached the immigration window I started to worry. There was no greeting, just some mumbled instructions. I had no idea what she was saying, so I leaned in closer. She repeated herself. Still nothing. I tried giving her my biggest and warmest smile, hoping that might inspire her to be more patient. She replied and raised her voice, so at least I could hear, but I still didn’t understand. As she waved me back, I thought she was kicking me off the line, so I turned to go. More yelling, and then finally, some English. “You’re too close,” she said. Huh? “TOO CLOSE!!” Turns out I wasn’t standing in the right place for the camera that snap my picture. Sigh.
I made it through, got my bag and proceeded to the exit. As small as the airport was, the immigration exit was even smaller. It literally looked like the door to a public restroom. I opened the door ever so gently, peaked through with caution. (There was no way I was going somewhere I shouldn’t!) Alas, it was the right place. Scores of people stood waiting with signs as they do in any other airport. It was overwhelming for sure, trying to walk and look for my name at the same time. But I found it. I was officially on my way!
I was the second of four to arrive. The first was Sara. She sat quietly waiting and seemed shy from the get-go. And she was tiny. Not even five feet tall, if I had to guess. Her mascara and lip-gloss looked freshly applied, her long nails polished with pink leopard print, and her brown hair hung far below her shoulders. WHAT is this girl doing here? I wondered.
Carmella and Sam rounded out the group, and we piled into the van that would take us to Na’ankuse, I noticed two things – I was the only American and person over 25. It was actually refreshing to not be with other people from the US. The other part – my age – well, intellectually, I knew this would be the case. But the reality was uncomfortable. I immediately felt like an outsider.
The one thing about being older, though, is you know your own bullshit – at least in this case I did. I wasn’t going to let my insecurities get the best of me. Instead I settled into a get-to-know-you conversation with Handsome Sam.
I’d noticed Sam on the flight to Namibia and again in line at immigration. It was funny to be talking with someone I'd been judging from afar earlier. Nobody told us that we needed to fill out immigration forms, so a bunch of people, including me, had lined up only to realize we were missing the necessary documents. A nice man from Australia offered to get what we needed, so I was lucky not to lose my place in line. Sam, on the other hand, had stepped away to fetch his forms. I’d decided that because he was so good-looking, he was probably entitled as well. I watched to see if he’d reclaim his initial place in line. He did not, and I was impressed. It’s funny how you can come up with ideas about people you never meet.
Sam turned out to be a really nice guy. A pilot in the UK, 24 years-old and quite easy to talk to. We marveled at how bizarre it was to actually be in Africa, commiserated on the fact that we had no idea what to expect and wondered about what kind of animals we’d see. The 45-minute ride to Na’ankuse passed quickly, and I was glad to have made a friend so fast. The others in the van – Sara and Carmella – were seated behind us and said nothing.
Pulling up to the gate, I felt my excitement stir. I had no idea what to expect. I took in as much as I could while bouncing around on the unpaved road. Being that we were in the desert, there were more rocks and dust than greenery. Trees were short and squat, and they looked a lot like those Bonsai trees you see in local florists in NYC. The ground was dry and white in some places, and a terracotta color in others. Dry and arid scenery doesn’t really excite me, and yet still, I was in awe. The sheer vastness of it all was incredible. Miles to the left, right, front and back were the same – nothing but nature. It was the first time in a long time I felt like I was somewhere else.