Posts Tagged ‘Sossusvlei’

Into The Desert

We leave Cape Town courtesy of Intercape Coaches on a rainy drab morning. It’s 21 hours to Windhoek Namibia – pronounced Vind Hook, finally we have managed to get this right after much correction from Namibians and South Africans alike. The passengers are frequently blessed by the resident conductor. “Intercape and the lord Jesus Christ thanks you for travelling with us, we pray to the lord for a safe journey.” I am hoping divine intervention will not be required but being a novice to this part of the world I can’t be entirely sure. I have a feeling that blessings and prayers may come in handy on this journey across the world.

Sometime during the night we cross the border and go through the usual customs formalities. The South African Customs agents search all the bags thoroughly, the Namibian counterparts do not, is this a sign? We continue on through the night but sleep is difficult because the driver has decided to test out the busses air conditioning to full effect! We are now trapped in a mobile fridge and hypothermia is setting in. The conductor blesses our journey yet again over the PA system and all I can think about is praying that they turn the AC down. Finally I can take no more; I walk down to the front of the bus and ask them to turn down the AC. “You are cold” he asks me. Yes I shiver back. Well you know what happens next within 40 minutes the bus has been transformed into a greenhouse, the other passengers rightfully start complaining and its back to Siberia again! Lesson learned pack clothes for all weather when travelling with Intercape.

We arrive into Windhoek knackered and get a taxi to the Chameleon Inn, N$300 per night for a room with shared facilities. This oasis hidden behind compound walls is a lovely find, although sadly it has also been discovered by the “Banana Pancake Group” of back packers. They hang out by the pool, playing pool, drinking beer, ordering banana pancakes, playing loud music, never leave the hostel and then claim to have visited that country! They tend to be found in destinations such as India, Bali and now it appears Namibia… we don’t let this bother us too much as we’re pretty happy with the place and the staff are very friendly and professional.

Windhoek is very developed much to our surprise, don’t get me wrong that’s great for the locals, but for me I am still waiting to get that true authentic African experience and Windhoek is not delivering. Must note here that when we finally do get that real Africa experience we may be wishing for development, but time will tell.

The next morning we set about and organise our visas at the Zambian consulate. The lady working there tells us that Lusaka will definitely be a culture shock, excellent I think? The visa process is painless and an hour later we walk out with Zambian visas. We could get them at the border but I think it’s always better to get them ahead if you can. That afternoon we go shopping in the “Pick n Pay” for groceries. I have to say that it feels a little weird to be the only white people in the super market but we like it as we are starting to feel we really are in Africa and not just doing touristy things.

We turn our attention to arranging car hire so we can drive to Sossusvlei which is featured in every travel guide and the highlight of any visit to Namibia.  We decide to hire a VW polo sedan which is cheaper than a 4wd and should do the job in getting us down there in spite of the many gravel roads. Greg does a great job of keeping the polo on the road, always a good thing and the journey down takes about six hours. We were at first a little apprehensive about driving ourselves, but after reading many guide books, we decided that Namibia is a great country to explore by car, and we love the idea of being independent. Tours are just not our thing.

We book ourselves in at the Sesriem Campsite at N$450 including park entrance fees for two nights. The campsite is basic but adequate. We arrive late afternoon where the temperature still reads a welcoming 47c. It is draining; you instantly want to lie down and try to recover. Heat is a strange thing, I know there are times when I pray to be warm, but there is a fine line! This heat is unbearable. There is no escape, no place to hide. You lie there plotting, thinking and trying to outsmart the encompassing inferno. Then it dawns on me that we’re sleeping in our tent tonight. I’ve only ever slept in a tent when it’s been either pleasant or cold (ironically praying for warmth.) So this is a new experience and something I had not factored into the equation. Now I comprehend why this is the low season. I had only thought about saving money which is critical our trip being successful.

Plotting against the heat

Plotting against the heat

The sun is thankfully retreating towards the horizon and I find myself watching it, praying it will descend just a little quicker. Please Earth spin faster! In the fading light we decide to head to the famous Dune 45, a red 150 m high sand dune, easy for us to access as it’s on the main road and a 35 minute drive from camp. As we reach the dune it is really quite striking, terracotta red framed by withered trees that look mangled and aged, they complement each other beautifully. I can’t help but wonder how it is that nature provides such striking scenes. I sit and take it all in as Greg takes numerous shots. The sun makes its final appearance and darkness covers the desert. We rush back to our camp, noting that the gates close at 8.30pm sharp.

Dune 45

Dune 45

We dine that night on the Sossusvlei burger N$40 and spoil ourselves with two cold cokes. The sun has gone but the heat has stayed on. All I can think about is that deserts are supposed to get cold at night… well? Sleep for the first few hours is impossible and I keep going the shower block every 30 mins to douse myself in cold water, no towel is required. Finally the night starts to cool and we both fall asleep.

If you want to see the desert at its best you have to get up early, so with this in mind we get in the car at 5.30am. Staying at Sesriem camp allows you to get into the park an hour before everyone else.  We leave the car behind and start climbing up and down numerous sand dunes. I begin to wonder if we are going in the right direction when we crest a non-descript dune a natural beauty appears before us. Looking like some scary forest,  the trees are twisted like blackened hands reaching out of the dry white salt lake, waiting to grab you as you walk past. I can imagine the likes of Peter Jackson or JK Rowling being inspired by this fairy-tale like place. It is so eerie.

Dead Vlei

Dead Vlei

The sun creeps higher turning the surrounding dunes mauve, pink and rose. A light mist hangs in the depressions. The shadows shorten and the soft pastels finally relent to deep red and eventually reveal the desert that is truly there, stark and blistering white. By eight the soft magic is gone and the full fury of the Namib Desert is playing. It’s time to retreat back to the camp site before we are engulfed by this natural oven. Beauty is replaced by harshness!

The effort to get up early has paid off as we past numerous tourists now clambering in the heat to make the same walk. If you come to Sossusvlei make sure you stay at the Sesriem Camp its well worth it. We have the whole beautifully desolate place to ourselves, and we make a promise to get up the same time tomorrow. This proves not to be difficult as I manage to have yet another night of hot broken sleep and cold showers.  The next morning we eagerly head in darkness to Sossusvlei, a large ephemeral pan set amongst towering Sand Dunes. Usually an emerald coloured lake is present but the rains have not come to Namibia this year. The lake is instead a dried baked bed of mud crunching under our shoes. We climb the aptly named “Big Mama” dune which takes a big effort… but once walking across the ridge line of the dune we sit and catch our breath, soaking up the full panoramic view of this magnificent natural wonder. Dunes ripple as far as the eye can see with soft warm hues. The sun still creeping up, this is an amazing experience. To be so isolated from the rest of the world with not a sound to hear at all, we sit together and watch the sun rise, marvelling at the beauty before us.




Climbing Big Mamma

Climbing Big Mamma

To be continued…

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