We Bid Our Self-Drive Safari “A-dune”
July 26 – 31
We departed from Etosha, plum tired of spending all day playing I-spy in national parks, where your tired eyes play tricks, replacing bushes with crouching lions and a breeze through the trees with a yawning leopard. Not to mention the constant adrenaline rushes and skipped heart beats when you do spot one of the more elusive animals. Okay, well, one of us was tired. Our drive now turns to more scenic adventures, with our first order of business taking us miles and miles through Damaraland, a strange, mountainous stretch of desert-like land, pocked with red hills and petrified forests. Perhaps it was once again my prior ignorance of Africa’s topography, but I was shocked at the dramatic change from the dry plains and salt pan of our previous drives. Either way, it was beautiful, and if you’re driving at least 4 hours a day, the scenery is important.
I’ll spare you the details of a few stops and skip to the end. What’s that you say? You need to know our every movement? Fine. For you, here are the highlights of two otherwise un-noteworthy stays:
We set up shop at a tiny restcamp, nestled between the rocky red mountains, seemingly in the middle of absolutely nowhere, relaxing at sunset with a few beers. The vastness of this country still continues to amaze us, especially as you think about the folks who run these sporadic camps and make their homes there. The young German man who ran our camp seemed completely at peace serving the handful of guests he had each evening. But I guess with the peace, quiet and views, you pick your complaints.
Another all-day drive through, this time, miles of endless, gravel plains brought us to this former German colony on the coast of northwestern Namibia. What makes this sleepy stay worth talking about? The nude photos that adorned every wall, tabletop and ceiling of our temporary digs. Did I mention that the B&B owners were lovely hippie liberals stuck in the 60s? Or that the photos were of these very same owners we shared lengthy conversations about the fall of capitalism with?
Before returning our mobile home to the rental company, we have one last adventure with her – the Namib Desert. 43 million years old, it is largely considered the oldest desert in the world, and I had been anxiously awaiting our visit due to the incredibly beautiful red sand dunes found in Sossusvlei. This salt and clay pan hosts some of the highest dunes in the world, their red hues a result of the high percentage of iron in the sand (resulting in oxidation). The redder the dune, the older the sand. Not that I cared a lick about any of this when we were planning to visit. It was more like, “Ooooooooh SHINY!”
A quick check-in and scoping of the campsite later we were back in the car en route to catch the infamous sunset “from the dunes.” We were not disappointed. Climbing 80 meters up Dune 45 rewarded us an incredible view of miles of these rust colored dunes, shaded on the sides away from the sun, and glowing golden where the setting sun hit its slopes. Absolutely breathtaking.
We spent an hour sitting at the top watching the sun sink below the last peak, with our feet sunk deep in the cooling sand. What an experience. And to cap off the awesome, we chose a quicker, and way more fun, route back to the car parked at the base – running down the side of the dune. We felt like astronauts, each ankle-deep step seeming to float into the next. (EDITOR’S NOTE: (Cshhh) One small step for man… (Cshhh).)
We headed back to camp to make dinner (working through our stockpile in the final days, so believe this meal was a masterpiece of rice, complete with canned corn and peas) and get a good night’s rest before a full day of exploring further into the dunes – we were like kids on Christmas Eve.
Ones that apparently had been very, very naughty.
1 am rolls around and I’m shaken awake. Not by Dave, or even a ballsy wild animal (yes, these are two separate entities), but by the SAND STORM that has chosen to visit the Namib Desert. I don’t know how else to describe it other than the fact that I asked Dave if he thought the truck would tip over. Gale force winds at their finest. After managing to convince myself that it will blow over (pun intended) by morning, and Dave half-convincing me it’s impossible for the truck to tip over, I fall into a few more hours of fitful sleep. 6 am finds the winds even more mad at us, to the point where it’s difficult to climb out of the tent down the ladder. We’re talking coal in stockings, people. Sand is blowing fiercely in our face, hair and clothes, and remember, we have no shelter except the teeny tiny cab of the truck and tent perched on top. So we take refuge in the cab after playing Wrestle Mania with the roof tent to get it packed up, and head to reception. Told that these storms COULD LAST FOR DAYS, we discussed how badly we wanted to see some of things we had on the itinerary for the day.
An hour later, finding myself trudging headlong into the desert wind toward Dead Vlei with a face scarf accessory (EDITOR’S NOTE: One step below my face hair accessory in effectiveness at blocking wind, sand and other elements including but not limited to world hunger, sickness, the new One Direction movie and… I really miss my beard.), I can say it turns out the answer was “a lot.”
The experience was really cool, minus the natural exfoliant my face was getting. 900-year-old Dead Vlei, or “dead marsh,” is a clay pan that long ago was home to shallow pools, where camel thorn trees thrived. After the climate changed and drought hit, the trees died, but their skeletons remained…apparently refusing to decompose because it’s so dry. Where the pools dried up, a parched mirage-type stretch of cracked sand remains. It’s definitely an eerie place to be. Not sexy enough for you? Did I mention J-Lo filmed scenes of The Cell over 10 years ago here? So it’s legit.
Back at camp, we huddled in the tent and told ourselves that “not everyone gets to witness an African sand storm, so that’s pretty cool,” each pretending to believe it.
The next day, we headed to our final drop off spot 5 ½ hours north. When we hit the Namibian capital of Windhoek, reality came crashing back. The big city, filled with gas stations, fast food restaurants, shopping malls and most jarring, other cars, we were already nostalgic for the long quiet days on the road and peaceful connection to nature we’d so easily become accustomed to.
This particular once-in-a-lifetime experience had come to a close – the very first thing of this whole crazy trip we booked months before we headed out– and it was indeed a grand adventure.