by lyle e davis
You and I dream of exotic, far-off places of beauty and adventure. Those desert dreams where the shifting sands of the Kalahari whirl and twirl and change colors before our very eyes.
We dream of all this.
Bill Williams has the same dreams you and I do. The difference is . . he lives his dreams.
Bill Williams is a world class photographer who has visited 136 of the estimated 194 independent sovereign states (the total states listed in the world as of June 2006, per http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/).
Most recently Bill visited the country of Namibia.
“It’s one of the most peaceful, most beautiful, safest countries in the world,” he says. “It is also one of the most spectacularly desolate areas on the planet. You’ll find vast open places . . . a photographer’s dream! There’s no turmoil there, no political upheaval, no unrest. One of the most pleasant countries I’ve ever visited.”
To get some sense of proportion, Namibia is about half the size of Alaska, twice the size of California. Its population is about the same as Houston, Texas . . . around two million. Out of a measured 230 countries, Namibia is rated as 225th in terms of density. That makes for a lot of open space.
Thus far, the tourist market has focused on Europe. Indeed, you will find a great many German tourists visiting . . . and most, if not all, of the businesses in Namibia are owned by German nationals or those of German heritage. This is logical because Namibia was once under German control as South West Africa.
Even though Namibia gained its independence in 1990 there is still a heavy German influence.
“Americans would do well to explore Namibia,” says Williams. “I’ve traveled the world and this is probably the best value for the dollar I’ve found. Whether it’s a budget trip, a mid-level trip or an upscale trip . . . you’ll find excellent accommodations. Even the campgrounds are plush. They offer swimming pools, spas, excellent toilet facilities . . . the German tourists have demanded the best in accommodations and the country has responded.”
Williams participated in a safari tour that stayed in lodges that were all-inclusive. Food, drinks, lodging, wait staff . . . top vehicles with a regular supply of extra tires (practically all of the safari takes place on rugged dirt roads). For about $2400 per person you’ll get a 4-Star or better lodging and transport for 13 days. Airfare runs around $2000 so you’re probably looking at around $4500 per person for the trip of a lifetime. And, oh yes, the flight time. Expect about 15 hours and 45 minutes in the air, and that’s just from Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg!
Williams, having visited those 136 countries, is an old hand at handling jet lag. He recommends not drinking alcohol on board the plane, and to eat lightly, no matter how tempting the meals are. He says South African Airways is an excellent airline and offers a number of movies on board which helps to pass the time. Also, he says, if it’s daylight upon arrival, stay up. Don’t go lying down to just “take a nap.” You’ll sleep the day away and have a horrible time getting back on local time.
Upon arrival you’ll find a colorful country . . . none more colorful than the constantly changing colors of the Kalahari. Colors change before your eyes as you visit the Kalahari Desert, the oldest desert in the world.
There’s a reason for the changing colors . . . . the spectacular apricot colored sand dunes can become even more red as the freshly blown grains of sand mix with the older sand in which the high iron content has had more time to oxidize. The farther inland the dunes are, the redder they become. And the wind! The wind will swirl the dunes until all traces of footsteps are gone . . . even moments after having been left in the sand.
Namibia means . . . “vast open spaces” and it is well named. The Kalahari . . . the ‘bush,’ and the Etosha National Park. The democratic republic of Namibia will present some of its finest colors in its animal life and you can find much of this animal life throughout the nation: cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, zebras, the graceful springbok . . . especially visible within the Etosha National Park. It is one of Southern Africa's finest and most important Game Reserves. Etosha Game Park was declared a National Park in 1907 and covering an area of 22,270 square km, it is home to 114 mammal species, 340 bird species, 110 reptile species, 16 amphibian species and, surprisingly, one species of fish. The Etosha Park is one of the first places on any itinerary designed for a holiday in Namibia.
Etosha, meaning "Great White Place", is dominated by a massive mineral pan. The pan is part of the Kalahari Basin, the floor of which was formed around 1000 million years ago. The Etosha Pan covers around 25% of the National Park. The pan was originally a lake fed by the Kunene River. However, the course of the river changed thousands of years ago and the lake dried up. The pan now is a large dusty depression of salt and dusty clay which fills only if the rains are heavy and even then only holds water for a short time. This temporary water in the Etosha Pan attracts thousands of wading birds including impressive flocks of flamingos. The perennial springs along the edges of the Etosha Pan draw large concentrations of wildlife and birds.
The game viewing in Etosha National Park is excellent, the best time being from May to September - the cooler months in Namibia. Visitors to Etosha Game Reserve can expect to see many buck species, elephant, giraffe, rhino and lions. More fortunate visitors will see leopard and cheetah. There is a network of roads linking the three campsites and subsidiary roads lead to various waterholes.
“The more I see of Namibia the more I like it,” says Williams. “I’m thinking of going back there next year. I think I might be able to persuade Peggy (his wife) to go along this time. I’ve been to Kenya, Tanzania,
Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. They’re all very commercialized and very expensive. In Namibia you have fantastic creature comforts . . . and at a more than reasonable price. I just think, for the dollars spent, you get the most return.”
What brought Bill Williams to this point . . . a point where he travels around the globe to all of these exciting and exotic places?
He grew up in Longview, Texas, got a baseball scholarship to Arizona State, then moved to Colorado Springs and attended the University of Colorado where he took his bachelor’s degree, later taking his Masters Degree in Education from Arizona State.
Following school he needed a job so checked the job market and found a job teaching the Navajo and Hopi Indians on a Navajo Reservation in Arizona. He stayed there for a year and a half. While teaching there he also coached baseball, wrestling and football.
“It was a fascinating experience, working with both the Navajo and Hopi Indians. We bonded quite well. They would even come and invite me to their religious dances, including the Snake Dance, to which very few outsiders are invited. It’s quite an honor.”
“I met Peggy in Phoenix,” he says. They were married in 1966. “We took a trip to California and I discovered a place called Oceanside. I looked at the beach and the palm trees and I was hooked. I accepted a job at Oceanside High School teaching Ancient History. I was there for 39 1/2 years before retiring.”
The teaching of ancient history kinda whetted my appetite for travel. I’d heard folks talk about how they wanted to travel when they retired. That wasn’t for me. I wanted to travel while I was young and could really enjoy it. So, come summer vacation from school, I would go traipsing around the planet. Sometimes Peggy would tag along, sometimes she’d stay home. So, those 136 countries I’ve visited didn’t just happen overnight. It’s taken me around 37 years to accumulate all those trips . . . and I’m not done yet. I’m fairly certain I’ll return to Namibia . . . just because I like it so much. But there are other adventures out there as well.”
Over those 37 years Williams has documented his travels with outstanding photography. His photographs are on display at a number of art galleries from time to time, including Escondido’s Artisan’s Gallery. (We, in fact, are one of the proud owners of one of Bill Williams’ framed photographs of the sand dunes adjacent to Egypt’s Nile River. It is prominently displayed in our family room).
If not Namibia, where next? He’s been to Saipan, Truk Lagoon, Guam, the Himalayas, Fiji, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia . . . name a country and chances are he’s been there. What other adventures intrigue him?
Probably the Cook Islands, he says. Possibly Raratunga, which is just one of the many Cook Islands. The Cook Islands are located just off the coast of New Zealand. Or, he might consider Bhutan, in the Himalayas . . . next to Tibet. He’s been to Tibet . . . and was impressed. Though he almost froze to death.
Wherever he winds up going next year you can be sure there’ll be plenty of award winning photos to document the trip.
He combines his talents as a photographer with a sense of design, color, and form, of a graphic artist. His photos are always pleasing to the eye . . . and to the sense of artistry that awakens some inner sense in each of us that wants to share in his adventure . . . either for real . . . or vicariously.
(All photos used in this feature article are courtesy of Bill Williams).
Contact Bill Williams at 760.743.2610 if you would like him to speak and show his slides.