More Marvels in Namibia - Dune 45 and Fish River Canyon

Namibia still had two major attractions and distinct landscapes in store for us.

Firstly, we drove through the incredible ‘sandscape’ of the Namib desert to the region known as Sossusvlei. ‘Vlei’ means ‘pan’ in Afrikaans; a vast, circular expanse of white, cracked mud that is a low-lying flood plain. The pan is surrounded by Namibia’s massive, angular, rolling sand dunes, which at 300 metres high are amongst the largest in the world. Our campsite was a short drive away from the imaginatively named Dune 45, the world’s ‘most photographed’ dune (they had to think of some accolade to give it, since it isn’t the world’s highest!) and we set about mentally preparing ourselves for the following morning’s mission – climbing it before sunrise (when else!)

So we prised ourselves out of our sleeping bags excruciatingly early, plonked ourselves in the truck and drove in pitch darkness to the base of dune. I had a nasty suspicion that this climb was going to be very strenuous, especially so early in the morning and after weeks of little physical activity. We embarked on a single-file trudge up the side of the 170 metre high dune, feet sinking into deep, cold sand and pausing every now and again to catch our breath. It turned out to be more invigorating than exhausting, once we found a steady rhythm
and learnt to step in the footprints of the person in front. Finally we reached the crest and collapsed into the sand to admire the stunning, untouched sea of sand (aside from our own footprints) as the day began to break.

The early start was definitely worth it because we had the place entirely to ourselves. The descent was great fun – leaping and sliding our way back to the truck, where our guides had put champagne on ice and prepared a lovely cooked breakfast. This was certainly one of the most unique locations we enjoyed ‘Kwando cuisine’!

Sand dune action continued as we set off again in the style to which we were becoming accustomed – crammed into the back of a jeep. We were driven further into the desert for a guided walk to learn about the former lifestyle of the indigenous bushmen and the wildlife found in such seemingly inhospitable terrain. Our guide spotted snake tracks (alas no snake); delved his

hand into the sand and somehow produced a poor, squirming gecko for us to ogle; and pointed out small dotted circles on the sand that he claimed were ‘front doors’. He tapped several times on one, and sure enough a piece of sand flipped back and the inhabitant – a spider – popped out to see what was going on. The guide was a very curious character, and possibly an Olympic speed-walker: barely had he finished his commentary in one location before he took off at such a fast pace that we nearly lost him several times (or he nearly lost us, given that we were the clients!)

The most interesting part of the tour was visiting Dead Vlei, a kilometre wide white clay pan that hasn’t seen water for hundreds of years. The ancient, blackened trees spike eerily out of the pan’s baking hot surface and inspire iconic photographs of their skeletons silhouetted against the deep red of the dunes and the beautiful blue of the sky. The silence of the place is remarkable, and also the stifling heat, as the height of the dunes prevent wind from cooling the pan.

Leaving the sand dunes behind us, the final highlight of our Namibian visit was Fish River Canyon, Africa’s largest canyon boasting a 100 mile long ravine. There was no let up in the heat of the day as we strolled along the edge of the canyon, enjoying amazing views of its sprawling gorges and ravines. The sunset that evening was incredible, however – to my shame – I should mention that another unfortunate incident had occurred. I had dropped my camera onto a sandy track, lens open, and it immediately began to produce a sandstorm backdrop to every photo, before grinding to a halt altogether. So I cannot take the credit for any of the photos from Dune 45 to Cape Town! It was almost as inconceivable to continue my travels without a camera as it was without my glasses, so I added this to my growing list of things to buy in Cape Town. Certainly the city’s shopping malls were going to do very well out of me.

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