Yesterday, we again had a long drive, from Swakopmund.
First stop was Walvis Bay, formerly British, established as a bulwark against the neighboring Germans 40 kilometers to the north. It’s another modern city, an industrial port. There is a large, shallow lagoon full of flamingos, both white greater flamingos and pink lesser flamingos. Just south of the lagoon is a gigantic salt production plant with huge shallow pools for evaporation and white mountains of salt.
Back out into the desert. This part of the desert is quite boring, flat, white sand, no vegetation at all, no mountains to break up the monotony. After a couple of hours, mountains appeared, scrubby vegetation, miles of dead yellow grass and ephemeral rivers, marked by acacia trees in lines following the riverbed. Abel told us that, while the Namib desert is one of the driest, there is a lot of underground water. The places we have stayed in the desert get their water from wells, nothing is piped in.
At one point, we crossed a canyon, formed when the Earth’s crust collapsed. The sedimentary rock was mica schist, and broken into huge chunks, all sitting at the same angle, probably 25 degrees. The road wound through this area, it was quite impressive.
Not long after we passed the big canyon, we drove to the bottom of a smaller one, this one cut by a river. At the bottom, we stopped at a shady spot to have the lunch that we bought at the well-stocked, clean, ultra modern supermarket in Walvis Bay. We saw zebra tracks in the road at our picnic spot.
Here and there we see African wildlife. The black and white crows that we saw in Senegal; weaver birds who create elaborate communal nests out of grass. Huge woven structures built into the branches of a strong tree, attended to by the sparrow-like Weavers. Oryx, the Namibia national animal can be spotted near the road where it crosses ephemeral rivers. Rain was good this past season, the water flowed and the trees that line the now-dry riverbeds are green. Little bands of springbok here and there on the vast, empty landscape. Zebras and a wildebeest come to the water hole behind our lodge after sunset.
We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn south to north.
On and on we drove. We’ve been debating whether or not we can recommend Namibia as a destination just because of the distances between places. This whole trip will be about 1300 miles, 65% of them on decent gravel roads.
We got to the lodge in the late afternoon. Le Mirage is quite fantastic, all made of stone with balconies and great views of the gardens and the surrounding desert.
Early dinner and early to bed.
The next morning, up at 5:30 in an attempt to make a 6:30 departure for our morning at Sossusvlei. After a 40 minute drive, we lined up at the park entrance which was supposed to open at either 7:00 or 7:15, we were 6th in line.
They opened and we commenced the 40 minute drive in to the first stop.
As we drove, the mountains gave way to sand dunes. The sand covers a mountain and becomes a gigantic dune, these are very tall, 300 feet and more.
We followed the tourist route. First stop, Dune 45 (at the 45 km mark). Everyone gets out to climb this dune. About a dozen German tourists started immediately after we began climbing. We let them pass, all except a big fat guy who turned back pretty quickly.
The climb up the dune was as arduous as walking on lose sand at the beach, only uphill on a narrow path, each side falling away down at the angle of repose of very fine sand. A bit of vertigo, but if we fell, we would stop immediately and awkwardly get back on our feet. Fortunately, all was fine. We made it to about 300 feet before turning back, probably 60% of the way to the top.
We wore light jackets on the climb. Today’s high was probably low 70s with a breeze. The air felt mostly cool in the shade, but the sun was strong.
Next step, Deadvlei. This is a flat pan that used to get covered with water in the short rainy season until a dune blocked the water. So the vegetation died. 500 years ago. The acacia trees were several hundred years old when this happened. Their trunks are still standing. Their tap roots go 150 feet into the earth where they sought water when they were alive. The pan is about a kilometer in diameter.
The place was crawling with tour parties, groups large and small, mostly German, but we also heard French in the multiple conversations that had to be blabbed by folks who need to talk instead of just absorbing the place.
Next stop, Sossusvlei, where the Sossus river ends its journey across the desert. There was still some water, but it was slowly drying. We walked across cracked dry river bed then it got a little softer. We stopped before it became muddy, closer to the water. No one was there. We saw a jackal trot across the parking area.
Then the hour long drive up the river bed to the road and back to the park gate. Just inside the gate, we took a short turnoff to Sesriem Canyon, a small canyon that I went into.
Then back to the lodge, where there were 6 zebras at the water hole. We had a lazy afternoon sitting in the lobby and chatting with Abel who told us about the tribal people we had met earlier in the week. The Demara are pretty much assimilated into modern society and are Christian. Many of the people we meet in the shopping mall were Damara. The Herero are somewhat assimilated, but have their native religion. The Himba stubbornly resist assimilation, this was one of the breaks between them and the Herero, they previously had been a single tribe. It was very interesting.
We’ve learned a lot about Abel. He’s 45 (Maria guessed 34, I guessed 37). He’s very smart, knowledgeable, articulate, with the wry sense of humor shared with a lot of the people here.
We finished off the afternoon with a massage, followed by a bubble bath. A perfect end to our Namibian adventure.
Oryx for dinner. It was delicious, juicy and flavorful, not gamey at all. They are very proud of their national animal.
We have a long ride tomorrow back to Windhoek. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.