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African Adventure Part Four: Namib Desert

You drive and camp near the big Namibian sand dunes in the Namib desert. It's damn hot!

Sesriem camp

Today's plan was to complete an easy two hundred kilometer drive north, through a nature reserve filled with warning signs for every African animal imaginable (and the animals themselves), to Sesriem camp. The camp was located just inside the gates to Namibia's (and the world's) highest sand dunes, where Soussusvlei and Deadvlei are found. After the drive you both had headaches from the ceaseless rattling over sand and dirt roads, so found you the camp and had a slow hot afternoon relaxing. You were allocated camping spot #14, which was under the largest Kameldorn tree of the camp, big enough to cover several 4x4's with tents. It was an easy afternoon, most of it spent setting down bottle lids filled with water for thirsty-looking tree lizards, and cooling off under a bag shower hanging from your tree. You did some washing together by hand and hung it on cloths lines strung between the 4x4 and a big nail stuck in the lowest branch of the tree. It was a nice place to be and, with it's mess of leaky overland water pipes, it reminded you of dripping-tap water-wasting Australia outback. The evening air cooled fast and the wind picket up speed as you prepared your dinner of pumpkin, mushrooms, carrots and meatballs cooked over a fire.

Sand dunes, Deadvlei

The next morning was an early start at 4.15 am to catch the gate opening time, to climb a dune at sunrise. About forty minutes along the road you came to dune 45, which had a carpark full of tour busses. You had begun calling tour busses 'cattle trucks', because they'd always seem full of loud and sweaty-looking confused animals. Every time you saw one you'd feel a little smug that you had all the freedom in the world! Most of the people attempting to hike up the dune's slope were on their way up already. With little time left to beat the sun you sun-creamed up, geared up, locked up and powered up the soft sandy slope. Climbing sand dunes is a depressing activity; for every step you take you then sink 2/3 of a step back, so you never feel like you're making any progress. Thankfully the soft and sinky sand was not singeing sand quite yet, and it actually felt very comfortable to walk on barefoot. As you neared the top, the ridge narrowed and became lined with sight-seers, making it a pain in the arse to pass. You walked along the ridge until there were no more people or footprints to blemish the cleanly wind-sweept dune's pointy top, and had a seat to watch the sunrise. The horizon's red glow burnt skyward at first, and then steadily lowered until it reached the tops of the highest dunes. As the glow progressed it lifted sharp shadows between the vast rolling dunes, until the sun finally broke the horizon and blinded every silly bugger without sunglasses at the ready. You leaped about on the top doing handstands and front rolls until you picked up some speed and got a mouthful of sand. The loud American tourists eventually became bored and made tracks back to their cattle trucks; it was much nicer with less people there, even though the sun was beginning to burn. You glided back down to the 4x4 at a running pace and continued on.

A short distance further along the road was another car park where some more-adventurous campers were switching into all-wheel mode. Your vehicle required some manual switching to change into 4x4, so out you jumped and got busy twisting cranks and deflating tyres. Ahead was another few kilometers of rather deep, soft sand that inspired no fantasy of being easy. The tyre grooves were deep troughs and so acted like magnetic guides. Trying to escape a groove required some forceful resolve; the 4x4 basically ignored your steering without some rough persistance, otherwise the tyres would be yanked back into line. You could basically drive by rail and just let the vehicle steer itself. All of this was rather amusing for you, but less so for your passenger who was voicing her unease about becoming stuck. At the farthest car park, where only sturdy-looking 4x4's were parked, you left the car and set out by foot in the direction of Deadvlei. By now it was about 9 in the morning and so the sun was really kicking into action. You hiked over some dry mud planes and up a sand dune, the whole time being surprised to see living things scurrying about. The area last received rain four years ago, so it was astounding anything could survive. At the top of the hill Deadvlei pan spread out before you, encircled by steep orange dunes. It was an enormous white plane with a few dark dead trees and nothing else. Deadvlei is about 1.6 km long and 0.5 km wide, but there were still enough tourists there to make it look like and ant-covered picnic. You waited in the centre of the pan (no illusion of shade anywhere) and waited for the people to leave - you really wanted a panoramic photo without all the camera-loaded stupid-hat-wearing tourists. Lying there on the cracked white surface at midday in the middle of the Namibian Summer was, understandably, warm. When you saw a family of springboks coming over a dune, all rather casually, you thought it was a mirage. After a looong time baking in the sun, Deadvlei emptied and you got your photos. You hiked back another way through a mini mud-canyon valley, where your camera battery died. The sand dunes on the way back to the car were so hot you had to detour to the afternoon-sun side which had not yet warmed up. However, the last forty meters was an unavoidable sprint over and through (sinky) burning-hot sand.

Soussuvlei

Back at the car you enjoyed a little break in the shade of a hardy-looking tree, and watched a desert mouse scurry around foraging for seeds. There were some thirsty lizards there too, happy to accept a bottle lid full of water. You noticed that other people were becoming scarse with the increasing heat, and as you drove over to Soussusvlei you were pretty much the last people in the area. You had a wander over the second dried mud pan along with the group of springboks from earlier (no a mirage) and decided to tackle the highest dune you could see. This next dune was even more depressing than the first one, that you slid 3/4 of each step back and the sand was uncomfortably burny. Your shoes were filling with sand, sandals no longer possible, to the point they became uncomfortably tight. Moaning aside, you reached the top feeling hot and bothered, where the hot wind gave no relief from heat. You did a little more sand dune gymnastics and tried following a Tok Tokki, who clearly had to keep running to save burning his feet. You walked along the top and back to the 4x4 to empty your shoes. You made your way back to camp, gave another thirsty lizard a drink and slept in your double-mattress folding tent.