We're already two weeks into the new year, but I feel I haven't finished 2013 yet. So much happened. So many new experiences. Crossing new borders, meeting thousands of people, feeling welcome in the most inhospitable places, being helped by people that could only be described as vagabonds and robbers in our civilized definitions.
Tears in my eyes when I spent a week with the Syrian refugees in Jordan. Excitement when a grizzly came up really, really close in the wet forests of BC, Canada. Joy and sheer fun, driving an old Volvo all the way from Amsterdam to Dakar, Senegal for charity.
I spent 4 months in Namibia, travelling to the most remote places together with Dutch guests that would hop on the 4WD for a week or 10 days. Trips full of adventure and surprises, overcoming our fears, tackling technical challenges, sleeping like babies..
The first weeks of the new year I spend a lot of time just enjoying all my memories. So I am sharing a few of them with you. Here's my annual report. In 10 images, or maybe 11. If you enjoy them, please share. Thanks!
During our travels in Namibia we encountered loads of wildlife. Elephants, lions, cheeta's, giraffe, the whole thing. Snakes, scorpions and spiders too. Most of the times it was great, there were moments were it was a bit scary (remember that hyena coming to the fire Marc?). But this brown hyena was a sighting that really struck me. For the first time I could have a close up look at this magnificent and legendary animal. And understand how it is possible that they eat anything, including the thickest bones of their prey.
The fishing beach in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott is one of the craziest places I've ever seen. While hundreds of fishermen have a hard time landing their boats in the rough surf, on shore these fishrunners are trying to get the merchandise loaded into fifty year old Peugeots as quickly as they can. They need to be fast, because hundreds of locals are doing everything they can to pocket one or two fishes themselves. They will even snatch 'm out of these baskets, attacking from the back!
Namibia became fully independent from South Africa almost 25 years ago, but life on some of the white-owned farms still reminds very much of the days of apartheid, especially in the south. Many black workers' rights only exist on paper and they are living in the most basic conditions.
Nikolaus Hakusembe (64) proudly points out one of his former church choir members that made it to governor in Namibia. When asked about the little blue crosses Hakusembe, the vicar of the Dutch Reformed church in Takwasa in Northeastern Namibia, explains those are the choir members who have already died. HIV is a major problem in Namibia, even more so in the North, where over 35% of the population is infected.</span>
Meeting the himba people in the remote Kaokoveld was the most impressive part of my journey. I can only talk in superlatives to describe what I felt here. Himba are an incredibly beautiful, tough, proud, strong, straightforward and happy bunch of people. The inevitable conclusion I had to draw is that the less pampered your life is, the more happy you can become!
I photographed this beautiful girl in Orupembe. Due to the worst drought in decades practically all Himba left Orupembe in 2013; at the end of the year only a handful of people resided here. In better times the village may have 400+ inhabitants.
2 year old Jason lives with his grandmother Theresia Swartbooi (43) in a corrugated iron shed on the Huns farm where his grandfather Timothias (54) works, in a remote location close to the Fish River Canyon. Lovely people that literally didn't even have salt to put in their porridge. Another moment where I felt how love can give so much that money can't buy.
Mundo Resink was one of my first guests in Namibia. He is taking his daily shower here, early morning on the Gainas plains. Want to know how remote a place like that is? Check out Google maps: this where I shot the image.
Having guests joining me was such a nice way of exploring remote places like this. So THANKS Richard Zweekhorst, Daphne Prieckaerts, Pieter Hemels, Jeroen Hemels, Mundo Resink, Bert-Jan ter Hofte, Jeroen Stolting, Erik Hoekstra, Godelieve Janssen, Annemarie Vd Toorn and Marc Knip!
God, this is travelling the way it's supposed to be! 'The most pure, powerful and intense experience of my life', as one guest put it. So I decided to set up another expedition in 2014: http://thijsheslenfeld.com/join/
It took us almost three weeks, but then again, we didn't do it the easy way. In February I joined the Amsterdam-Dakar Challenge. Driving an old car of 500 Euros max all the way deep into Africa was the challenge. Our Volvo performed great and Gerard Reddingius and I had a great time. The image was taken in Mauritania, the most dangerous part of the trip due to terrorist threats (the reason that the Paris-Dakar is now held in South-America). This is an adventure I can recommend!
I didn't know it could rain so much in August. But in British Columbia, Canada it can. I spent 10 days here and it felt like the rains never stopped. Still, BC's nature was as beautiful as ever. And I finally spotted my first grizzly bear. What a great animal!
O yeah, I almost forgot, but in September I did the Transsiberia Express, all the way from Bejing to Moscow. Not my piece of cake, to be honest. It all went too fast and too organised. Nevertheless, I loved the two days we had in Mongolia and picked up some Russian culture. And found out that in Poetin's Russia the old habit of having children march at the monument for the unknown soldier is re-established. That's where I took this portrait. In Jekaterinenburg. Or was it Irkutsk? I really can't remember...
Leon Coenraad van Wijk portrayed in his farm in a remote location in the Groot Karasberge, in the South of Namibia.
Namibia became fully independent from South Africa almost 25 years ago, but life on some of the white-owned farms still reminds very much of the days of apartheid.
The hunting trophy's from Leon's grandfather certainly add to that atmosphere.