Desert magic

Sunday 29/10/17: I’m hungover after overindulging at Windhoek’s Octoberfest last night (hundreds of white Germans in the middle of Africa playing eurotrash music, riding a bucking bronco and eating schnitzel – surreal!) and I’m in a bad mood because it’s crazy hot and I’ve been unable to finalise any plans or tours for the next couple of days. The staff here at my hostel in Windhoek are really concerned about safety and insist that we don’t go wandering around the town alone. Add to that the fact that it’s Sunday and everything is shut anyway so I’m out of ideas and Google is offering nothing. I mooch around the hostel moaning to anyone that’ll listen that I’m wasting a day. Then I meet Audrey. Audrey is French; she has just arrived and is awfully excited because she’s waiting on a lift for her tour – the exact tour that I’ve been told won’t leave until Tuesday. My mood darkens. I ask the tour rep to double-check if there are spaces left. There aren’t. Audrey’s driver arrives and I somewhat aggressively ask him if there are any spaces. There’s definitely not. I settle back on the couch with a glass of wine and continue my rant about lack of organisation, wasted days blah blah blah. Suddenly the driver pops back and announces that there is in fact a space in the jeep. Thank you, travel gods! I’m instantly hyper, throw my stuff in a bag and leave my bad mood behind. You just never know how the day is going to turn out! 

After berating myself a little for my earlier lack of positivity, we head off. I’m with Michael and Michelle, and the serendipitous Audrey. Our driver is also handily called Michael and is from Northern Namibia. We’re heading on a four hour drive from Windhoek to Sesriem national park in the western middle-ish part of the country. We travel along long straight roads which widen until eventually there’s no distinction between desert and road – the bit we drive on is just flatter (for now at least!). We see weaver bird nests that look like massive hay stacks perched atop telephone masts and trees.

 The nests can hold up to 200 of the tiny birds and can apparently be in continual use for 100 years. There are no people and few animals but we take photos of a number of acacia trees, narrah bushes and camel-thorn trees. We arrive at our hotel in time for dinner and watch a beautiful sunset before heading to bed. 

Monday 30/10/17 4am: The alarm rings and I’m up like a prize fighter! This is going to be great! The night sky is clear and for the first time since I’ve arrived in Africa, the stars are dazzling. I still think that the northern hemisphere stars are superior to their southern equivalent (at least at this time of the year) but this morning is pretty special. We swallow down some coffee and cereal and are on the road by 4.45am. It’s a 70km drive to the middle of the park where the main dunes are so we need to get a move on if we want to make sunrise. Driver Michael throws our jeep along the bumpy road and we arrive at the park gates in record time. Unfortunately, the park gate is guarded by a grumpy man who won’t let us in until the park officially opens…at sunrise. We wait. When he finally takes down the barrier, it’s foot to the floor and we, along with 100 other tourists in cars behind us, charge into the park to make the best of the morning light. The colours and shadows are phenomenal. I didn’t know there were so many shades of pastel; yellow, orange, red, purple, pink, russet, gold, gray, mauve… The sunrise shows off the spectacular dunes in all their star-shaped glory. This is why people come here. It’s monumental.  We take hundreds of photos marvelling in the light. 

We head along to the most famous dune, Dune 45,  unimaginatively named because it’s 45km from the gate. It’s only 9am but the sun is already hot and we’re about to climb Dune 45’s 170 metres. The sand gives way with every step and having done very little exercise recently, I find it far tougher than I’d expected. It’s busy too and people walking down squeeze awkwardly past – no one wants to take the quick route down the steep sides. I’m a sweaty mess by the time I reach the top but it’s worth it and the views are glorious. I intended to slide down from the top but no one else is doing it and I panic that it’s too steep. I start the slow walk down with everyone else, ashamed of my cowardice. Five minutes later and Audrey catches up with me. I change my mind. F*** it! I take my shoes off and the sand feels silky and warm. I slowly lower myself over the edge and a shower of sand trickles down below my feet. It feels amazing! I slide a metre down on my bum and realise how easy it is stop myself. It’s so much fun! I sledge down, squealing all the way.

 wish I could walk back up so I could try running down the side but it’s far too hot now and I’m just too unfit. I rejoin the others at the jeep – I’m covered in fine red sand, sweaty and happy.

We now join an even bumpier road which takes us along the dried-out riverbed of the Tsauchab to the clay pan called the Sossusvlei. We travel through the park and leave the comfort of the jeep to walk 1km to the Deadvlei, “dead marsh”. The sand dunes cut off the river (when it existed) and left the camel-thorn trees to die. Scorched by the sun and with insufficient water to decompose, the trees’ skeletons have haunted the landscape for the last 700 years. The result is a spectacular landscape like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The dead trees are like works of art. 

They angrily jut out of the earth at obscure angles and offer no shade to the tourists. And there are a LOT of red, sweaty tourists here. We crawl all over the dunes like bugs. I say hello to everyone that I pass but comment to Audrey that hardly anyone says hello back. I say it must be a German or French thing and she retorts that it’s more likely just a Scottish thing. Touche. I start to get annoyed that people are ignoring the “don’t touch the trees” signs. I’m a firm believer that people are generally good but equally believe that they can also be inconsiderate ar*eholes. I wonder how much longer these fragile trees will remain. 

We have a picnic lunch and head back to our lovely hotel before we finish the day with the perfect sunset. 

Our little group sits on a natural marble mountain, with sundowners, good chat and a beautiful view of the setting sun. It’s been an awesome day. 

The middle regions of Namibia may not have much in the way of animals or people but they sure make up for it in landscapes!

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