In Namibia, a Landscape Both Unforgiving and Awe Inspiring

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Desert elephant in Namibia (c) Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Desert elephant in the Damaraland region of Namibia, in Southern Africa. (c) Elissa Leibowitz Poma

The people of Namibia possess a hard-to-grasp reverence for their landscape. No matter how little rain falls on the southern African country, or how strongly an unforgiving sun bakes the earth, or how swirly dust devils get when they whip across dry river beds, Namibians still respect the natural assets that surround them.

I didn’t have an emotional understanding of this until I spent time exploring some of the remotest and driest nooks of the Namibian desert. I was in the country to visit joint venture lodges where rural Namibians develop skills for the hospitality and tourism industry and gain job opportunities. They, too, have a strong reverence for the wildlife, in part because it draws adventurous tourists, and the tourists bring much-needed money to pump into local communities that otherwise have few opportunities to earn it.

That correlation is clear. But what explains how a Kunene Region farmer, living in a shed-sized mud hut barely tall enough for him to stand upright, can still respect cheetahs after one killed 35 of his goats in one night? Goats and cattle are like currency in Namibia, so that killing spree would be equivalent to half your bank account being wiped out—and with little hope of ever getting your money back. Yet that farmer remained protective of cheetahs, leopards, hyenas and other desert predators.

This veneration for the landscape and wildlife stretches across multiple walks of life. Herero women wear traditional dress including a hat whose shape represents waterbuck horns. Remote Himba tribeswomen slather their bodies from hair to toe in a mixture of animal fat and ochre; they literally cover themselves in the landscape.

And after a few weeks in Namibia, I, too, was covered in the landscape.

Dust coated my skin, desiccating it like baked clay. Every hair on my head was sheathed in dirt – my hair could stand up straight on its own, without the addition of gel. Sand filled my shoes, making me a half-inch taller after an hour-long walk. Thorny bushes slashed my face if I sat too close to the window in our vehicle. Rock-strewn elephant trails became our roads, jostling our vehicle so violently sometimes that my upper arms were polka-dotted with bruises. My skin looked medium-rare despite using sun block, and my fingernails were striped with little latitudes of dirt.

In Namibia, you cannot avoid becoming part of the landscape, because the landscape takes you over. It pulls you into its dusty arms, envelopes you in sand, tints you red, makes your eyes squint. And once you stop resisting, with your ever-dirty sunglasses and hiking shoe treads filled with the scat of who-knows-how-many species of animal, you, too, become part of the land.

You are no different than the hardy animals, plants and people that have surrendered to the desolate landscape. And suddenly it makes sense why Namibians are so connected to their surroundings. They are as entrenched in the land as every other being that ekes out a living in the harshest of environments. They are all survivors together.

Destination: Norway

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The Atlantic Road along the coast of eastern Norway is one of the most scenic roadtrips in the world (c) Innovation Norway

The Atlantic Road along the coast of eastern Norway provides one of the most scenic road trips in the world (c) Innovation Norway

The meaning of the name “Norway” is quite literal: “the way north.” And that’s the way I suggest you proceed in order to enjoy the best experiences the nation has to offer. Start in the south, in the sleek capital of Oslo, and work your way north.

As I write this month on The Independent Traveler, along the way you’ll encounter notable art museums, some of the earth’s most scenic vistas, Viking gorge-fests and a few adventures that will get your heart racing. And there are amazing places to stay, including posh and cozy fisherman’s “shacks” that are anything but shabby.

10 Best Norway Experiences
Where to Stay in Norway
Getting Around Norway

Cover image: The Northern Lights as seen from Finnmark, Norway. (c) Innovation Norway

Sweden: A Nature Lover’s Paradise

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Dog sledding in northern Sweden (c) Fredrik Broman/imagebank.sweden.se

Dog sledding in northern Sweden (c) Fredrik Broman/imagebank.sweden.se

With sky-stretching, snowy mountains in the north, a forested midland and wildflower-carpeted meadows in the south, Sweden is a nature lover’s paradise — especially (but not exclusively) during the summer.

As I write this month on Independent Traveler, Swedes spend a lot of time outdoors during the warmer months to take advantage of their country’s ecological assets. There are also plenty of cultural and historical attractions to keep you busy, including literary walking tours and festivals celebrating native peoples.

To get the most out of your visit, fill up on coffee — Sweden’s fixation — and get outdoors. And when your achy muscles have had enough, pamper yourself at a famed Swedish spa.

11 Best Sweden Experiences
Sweden Lodging: Castles, Cottages, Farmstays and More
Getting Around Sweden

Cover page photo: Kayaking during the midnight sun (c) Henrik Trygg/imagebank.sweden.se

Peru series on Independent Traveler

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ceviche

Learning to prepare ceviche (Photo courtesy Lima Gourmet Co.)

Peru is most often equated with its top attraction, Machu Picchu, but there’s much more to this nation than its ancient artifacts. In this slideshow for Independent Traveler, I take a look at the top 10 off-the-beaten-path experiences in the South American country. I also review the variety of lodging options in Peru — from thatch-roof cabanas deep in the rain forest to crumbling colonial haciendas — and the best ways to travel throughout Peru.

10 Best Peru Experiences
Peru Lodging: Jungle Cabanas, Colonial Mansions and More
Getting Around Peru

9 Ways to Cope the Week After Your Pet Dies

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Three days after we said goodbye to our dog Sammy, a friend invited us to a big party at her rural Virginia farm. We all agreed it would be a good distraction from our grieving, so we decided to go and planned to spend the weekend.

Sadly, our good intentions didn’t work out as planned. My husband and I didn’t feel like boozing it up in the pool house with the merrymakers. I had trouble making small talk—that part of my brain felt paralyzed. We ended up isolating ourselves from the group, and we left early.

Trying to figure out what to do with yourself that week after you lose your beloved pet is a toughie. These nine strategies helped me:

Leave the house. Especially for the first few days, it was too hard to be at home, with Sammy’s missing presence so amplified. It was driving me crazy that I kept “hearing” him in the house. I went to close friends’ place for an evening and played with their daughter. I went for a walk in the neighborhood. One night I even sat in the car and listened to music.

Rearrange the furniture. Seeing the empty spot on the floor in the family room where his bed and toys were was heartbreaking. At the suggestion of a friend, I rearranged the furniture. I don’t love the design now, but we will leave it this way for a few weeks as we readjust.

Talk to friends online. Aside from a small handful of people, I wasn’t feeling up to seeing many people face to face. But I needed a way to share my feelings. Posting on Facebook and emailing friends helped, especially when I received supportive and empathetic notes.

Just in case you weren’t sure how sad I’ve been …

Do a marathon baking session. If you were unsure about the depths of my grief, check out the food I baked on Friday: Eight cakes, four dozen chocolate chip cookies, 1 ½ dozen muffins and two dozen biscuits. Totally excessive, but it kept me very busy. I stashed some of the items in the freezer but shared most with friends.

Do nice things for other people. That second night after Sammy was gone, we went out to dinner. The waitress was quite excellent. So I wrote a note at the top of the bill saying “thanks for being so good at your job and being so cheerful.” Then I sought out her boss to share the compliment. It uplifted me to do something nice for someone else.

Watch funny things on TV. There’s a mindlessly silly program called “Impractical Jokers” on TruTV that gave me my first smile of the week.

Write a note to the person who gave you the dog. I found it cathartic to write my letter to the Washington Humane Society to say thanks for letting me take Sammy home back in 2000. The letter made me feel good, to share his legacy, and it also made them feel good about their work.

Do something challenging but unimportant. I found an old puzzle book I bought for a long-haul flight, so I spent one afternoon doing logic puzzles and crosswords. My brain was distracted but the task at hand was rather meaningless—an important aspect, since I’ve found my mind isn’t thinking straight yet and I wouldn’t want to screw up something important.

Read articles online about coping with pet loss. The articles reminded me it’s ok to be upset, that it’s ok if I’m not getting over this as fast as I think I “should” (whatever that means). It’s only been five days after all.