'I’m quite scared. Maybe this is not such a good idea after all…'- / < Back to photos
Davina begins her journey in Namibia, one of the hottest countries in the world, where from the desert dunes to the arid bush land, temperatures there can reach 50ºC degrees and years can pass without rainfall.
It is here that Davina comes face-to-face with one of the world’s most iconic predators, the cheetah, to find out how, as the fastest running animal on the planet, it deals with the heat as it reaches speeds of 70-miles-per-hour.
If a cheetah doesn’t catch their prey in the first 300-metres they’ll give up. They’re simply not designed to keep running in such heat. Fast they may be, but endurance isn’t an option. Conversely, sweating keeps a human’s temperature down, meaning they have the ability to run desert marathons.
To test out this inherent difference, Davina bravely decides to race a cheetah: ‘Obviously I’m not going to be as fast as a cheetah, but I want to compare how the heat affects us both, when we’re running… My heart is pounding, I’m quite scared. Maybe this is not such a good idea after all…’
Having survived her duel with the cheetah, Davina travels to Erindi Game Reserve, spanning 700-square kilometres of Namibia’s brutal interior, to discover how other animals there avoid overheating.
Despite the fact that temperatures regularly hit the 40s, the reserve is home to over 10,000 animals, most of which seek refuge in the shade during the hottest hours of the day.
Local ranger Henco Bantjes explains to Davina that every animal out there has its own unique strategy for keeping cool, and she discovers why the giraffe’s hide’s distinctive pattern has a much more useful purpose than just aesthetics.
Later, Henco informs Davina they’re going to spend the night camping out in the open, prompting Davina to say: ‘Let me assure you, this is not something I’d normally do…I’ve never camped in the wild before, so I’ve no idea why Henco thinks I’m going to make it through the night.’
In order to keep themselves safe as they sleep, Davina and Henco set about constructing a boma, a circle of loose thorn bushes which they will sleep in the middle of, but building this out in the direct sun where temperatures hit the 40s is no mean feat, as Davina finds out.
Their primitive means of protection is put to the test in the darkness of the night when Davina gets a visit from the animal she’s most afraid of, a lion, a mammal so immensely powerful that it can bring down buffalo and elephants.
An anxious Davina says: ‘Animals dominate this harsh landscape in so many ways. I’ve never felt so vulnerable.’
As her journey continues, Davina meets the San Bushpeople, some of the last hunter-gatherers on the planet, who call the Kalahari Desert their home. Intrigued as to how the San survive in such brutal and barren conditions, Davina goes foraging with them: ‘After two hours of foraging, I feel like every droplet of water has been sucked from my body…I’ve got to that stage where, oh god, I can’t even walk, my mouth’s so dry, I feel like my top lip’s just getting stuck.’
It’s evident that the San have mastered the art of living in the harsh environment, but there is one part of Namibia where no human lives, where it almost never rains and the methods animals have for coping with the heat are extraordinary.
So for the final leg of this journey, Davina drives 200-miles west to the vast dunes of the Namibian desert, 13,000 square metres of endless sand, where the country is at its driest and temperatures are at their most extreme.
On seeing the sheer scale of the dunes, Davina comments: ‘I feel like I’ve been dropped into a movie set, it doesn’t actually feel real at all. There’s literally nothing here, so desolate…I was sort of expecting Camber Sands but slightly hotter. I just wasn’t ready for the scale of it, the bleakness, there’s just nothing here.’
Davina meets up with local guide Dayne Braine, who assures her that there are animals living out there in the desert despite the seeming lack of water. These include the sidewinder, named thus because of its unusual method of traversing the hot sand, and some very well-adapted animals that only come out at night, when temperatures can drop to -2ºC degrees.
The morning brings with it a sheet of fog, and Davina discovers how some animals have ingenious ways of collecting it for hydration. Though soon the fog clears and the sand heats up to a scorching 65ºC degrees. To find out what that feels like on human skin, Davina braves a barefoot walk.
With her trainers back on, Davina’s time in Namibia draws to a close as she arrives at the source of the fog, the place where the baking desert juxtaposes with the cold Atlantic Ocean: ’It’s nuts, to think that you’ve just come over a sand dune and you are faced here with effectively a cliff of sand going straight into the sea. It’s been really amazing, the trip of a lifetime, and a real lesson in what it’s like to live life at the extreme.’