9 Namibia – this is a quote from the Tourist Bureau.
“Namibia is a country of almost-superlatives. The second-least densely populated country in the world is also one of the newest, and is home to some of the largest dunes, the darkest skies, the oldest cultures, the biggest conservation areas in Africa – to name but a few.
We arrived at Sossusvlei Desert Camp after a very long drive from Wyndhoek, having stopped once for apple pie. For some reason apple pie is a big deal here, and what once was a small gas station has become THE place to stop for lunch on the drive. The camp is truly in the middle of nowhere. 10 beautifully appointed suites/houses sit facing the hills and open plains. We had a lovely dinner sitting outside. Usko joined us so we have tomorrow all organized.
Again with the early starts. We have to leave here at 5:45 to get to the gate at 6:15 in time to register the vehicle. There can sometimes be quite a lineup, so we agree to be early. There was not too large a group at the gate. The vehicle in front of us suddenly emptied, and 8 people stood around. Usko said that their vehicle did not have 4 wheel drive, so the drive had gone to the nearby gas station to get some cash and they would then drive part way to the 2x4 parking lot where the people would take a shuttle to the dunes. We of course have a hefty 4 x 4, a Toyota Landcruiser – the same type that is found in Tanzania, not so comfortable on the washboard (African massage) roads, but they can go anywhere and have two separate diesel tanks, just in case.
The road goes between two sets of dunes, with their “toes” pointing towards us. The first one of any size was dune 45. I will let Robin continue with this for a while.
Robin--We came to dune 45 which is near to the road and had a parking lot with some cars in it. Did we want to climb it Usko asked? He said that there were better ones so I said, let’s go there. So we went to “Big Daddy” which I think it the highest one in this area. But only about 300 meters high so what can be hard about climbing that I thought. After all, the Grouse Grind is more than 3 times that high. We parked and set off, first of all across a flat hardpacked area and then onto the dune and I started to understand how difficult it was going to be. I have walked, and biked, on sand but this is very soft, almost fluffy and the footing is terrible. Every time you put your foot down it sinks at least ankle deep and the sand is so soft that it is difficult to keep your balance. And, it was really hot. We did the climb in the morning but the high for the day was 41. “One step back for every 2 forward” people say but it felt like 1.9 back for every 2 forward. We trudged along, alternating taking the lead as it is a bit easier to follow in someone else’s footsteps. We were breaking a new trail as we were the first up since the wind had erased any previous tracks. We walked along the ridge which is very sharp—no flat piece at the top—so that your foot is always sliding down one side of the other. After about half an hour I was really tired but we were nowhere near the top but of course I admit to the guide that I wanted to stop. After a while there were three people behind us following in our tracks so then I thought we have to beat them to the summit. On and on we went with shorter periods of walking and longer breaks. I thought of the description of people trying to summit Everest where they describe each step as a major undertaking. Eventually we did reach the top. At this point we had been climbing for over an hour. We could see our trail winding along the ridge and we could look straight down a very steep slope all the way to an extension of the flat plain that we had started out on. What is the best way down I asked and Usko pointed down the steep slope—walk, run or roll he said. So we walked/ran/slid down in about 5 minutes. See the picture of the sand I emptied out of my shoes.
Linda here again.
I did not even attempt to climb up the dunes.
Tourist board quote – “the dunes here are some of the highest in the world and the tallest in this area – at a whopping 325 m is the appropriately named Big Daddy. The more popular – and widely photographed – Dune 45 is just 80m high, but people still like to climb the monster Big Daddy for two reasons; firstly, because it overlooks the surreal landscape of Deal Vlei, a white pan filled with the dark fossils of camelthorn trees, and secondly because climbing Big Daddy gives you ultimate bragging rights.”
The dunes of the Namib were created by sand being carried on the wind from the coast. The wind in Sossusvlei itself blows from all directions meaning the dunes are known as “star” dunes, as they cause the sand for form a star shape with multiple arms. This wind pattern also means that the dunes hardly move.
I walked across some hard pan and then over and around and down some small dunes at the foot of Big Daddy. Around a corner and down a hill and the white pan area, with many dead trees, comes into view. I walked around, tried to stand in the shade, which quickly disappeared as the sun came up over Big Daddy. The trees are hundreds of years old, and have been dead for a very long time. The dunes shut off the river that once flowed through here on the way to the sea and the flooding caused the trees to die. Then the river dried up so now the trees are black and sit in a flat plain of white clay. There are park rangers around, and more than one of them asked me “are you okay here?” as I waited for robin and the guide. It is spotless here, no garbage at all. People are MOSTLY respectful of the signs that ask you not to touch the trees. Yes, they are dead, and so if you break off a piece it will not regrow.
Finally, as I was just about giving up hope, I see two tiny dots near the top of Big Daddy. Even with the zoom lens of my camera I cannot tell if it is Robin and Usko. Then another two dots appear. It takes about 20 minutes for the dots to reach the summit, and then, finally, I see them descending. I hope it is Robin as I am quite hot by now, standing in the shadow of a dead tree with a shadow about 6 inches across. And yes, it is the two of them, and they slowly make their way across the white plain.
The colours here are spectacular – although they are getting paler and paler as the sun gets stronger. They were really amazing at first light. We leave the dune and head over to a flat area with living trees, - they are filled with tiny hungry birds – for our breakfast. Usko brings out coffee, and juice, and granola and yoghurt, and buns. Then a small stove, and bacon and eggs and sausages. Robin and I decline the cooked stuff, but he cooks sausages for himself. The birds wait until we are almost finished and then descend by the dozens. As we turn around to tidy up, they swoop to the table, spill the remaining juice, poop in Robin’s coffee, eat the remaining buns. It is time to go.
Here is the website you might find interesting – there are some amazing pictures
After our visit to the sea of sand we headed back home for naps. Robin was really exhausted. Late in the afternoon, Usko suggested that we go for a walk to the nearby hills. In one of them is a small cave with Bushman paintings – faint ones he says. We walked past the other cottages, past the manager’s house, across the desert and around the hill. There are oryx’s around, but they don’t seem to care about us. There are not really too many animals here – some zebras, oryx, springbok, birds. There is no natural water – the camps pump some filtered grey water into watering holes for the animals. It has not rained for ages, so there is very little vegetation – at least green vegetation here. The colours early morning and later afternoon are stunning. I am not sure that any of the pictures really do them justice. At the bottom of the hill with the cave are two heaps of rocks, thought to be bush man graves, and a kraal made from stone. I watch as Robin and Usko climb the side of the hill. It doesn’t take them long and we head back.
Again with the good dinner. My meat-eating cravings are certainly fulfilled here. I think I have had meat – venison – every night. I have also learned to ask for “small portions” and Usko responds with “I will have a large portion”. The food is great.
There is a resident astronomer, Paul from Australia,, with his own small observatory with great big telescope. Robin and I spent about ½ hour looking at the moon. He obviously loves what he does. I asked if he had to pay them and he laughed and said that the astronomers were a volunteer position and usually they had short stints, but he was happy to stay here all year, have someone cook for him and do his laundry. He takes photos, writes courses, and entertains the guests.