Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Namibia: Sossusvlei and Deadvlei

Other Posts: Trip Overview, Little Kulala Lodge

Eddie (our guide) politely called out "good morning" from the other side of our door. It was 5:30am, the time of our wake-up call. We expected it to be a hot day but stuck with our long sleeve safari shirts to help protect us from the sun. We were going to look at the sand dunes in the area known as Sossusvlei. This is the area where stock photos are created of dead trees against a red sand background. We learned that the trees are technically in Deadvlei (dead lake) and Sossusvlei (dead end lake) is a separate distinct site even though it's the commonly used name for the whole area.

The camp's buffet was nice with a variety of fruits, meat, cheeses, pastries, porridge, and beverages. We could also order hot breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage. Our jeep-mate this morning was Judith. She was from Portugal and was touring Africa for three weeks after visiting her niece living in Mozambique.

The first 45 minutes of our drive was pretty uneventful. Oryx, springbok, tree, repeat. We eventually left the rock/sand road and found our way onto the highway: a narrow two-way strip of asphalt. We started seeing large tour buses, campers, and other signs that we were on the main tourist track. We did take breaks for photos along the way.

Our first stop was to look at Dune 45, named for its kilometer marker location on the road. People were already at the top this early. We call them the smart ones.

A few more miles down the road was the actual area of Sossusvlei. Several other cars and buses were all ready in the parking area. It was hard for Dave to stop taking photos. The area was so different from the location of our camp and scenic drive the previous evening. Orange and red sand was everywhere in really big piles.
Played around to give this one the look of another planet
We were given the options of climbing The dune named Big Daddy (900ft high), a sub-dune (450ft high), or stay level and go look at the trees. Judith had a bad knee and climbing was not an option for her. We chose the sub-dune in the interest of time and our cardiac well-being. The smaller dune was still no joke. Climbers have to walk up a narrow spine of the mound and each step digs deep down into the extremely soft sand. We needed many stops to catch our breath. Did we mention how hot the sun was already before 8am? It's a fond memory now but at the time it was not a pleasurable experience. Later on Eddie was kind by telling us we made it to the top very quickly.

This was about a half of the way up
Views from the top were great.
We thought there may have been a more preferred route off the dune than what we were witnessing. Turned out no. To go down we would have to just go down the steep slope.
We took very cautious steps down the mound. We didn't feel like falling and breaking something because we had a lot of trip left to go. Dave thought ahead and put his big camera in a baggie before trekking down the hill. The act of walking down the hill causes little avalanches and sometimes you hear the dunes roar as the sand shifts. It was soft sand, and very fine. At the bottom Dave emptied about two pounds of sand from each boot.
We were finally in Deadvlei. You've seen pictures of this area before: black trees against a red-orange sand background. A long time ago thee trees were suddenly cut-off from their water supply and quickly dried up. The lack of moisture prevented decomposition even though the intense sun has scorched them black. The trees are estimated to be 600-900 years old.
We made our way out of Deadvlei around 8:30am and it was WARM. Tour groups of folks older than us were just showing up and they were finding the small hills difficult to climb in this heat. The four of us re-entered our jeep (which Eddie smartly parked under a tree) and drove "across the street" to Sossusvlei itself. Eddie parked by another tree and told us to walk around for a few minutes while he set up a picnic. The area was fairly open and not full of many other tourists yet. A few folks were climbing Big Mama; another sizable dune.
We spent an hour enjoying champagne, cookies, sandwiches, and fruits under the shade of a thorny mess of trees. There were some field mice hanging out nearby waiting to enjoy whatever crumbs we would leave behind. We learned more about Judith's travel plans for the next two weeks and found out more about Eddie and the area of Namibia he was from. This conversation started Dave's "I have a map" ceremony. He picked up maps of Namibia in the Windhoek airport and kept them in his camera bag. Anytime a guide or someone else would bring up an area he'd announce "I have a map" and aid our geographical education.


The hour drive back to camp wasn't the most pleasant ride. It was warm, we were slightly drained from summitting the little sand dune, and the jeep had no A/C. Cracking the window open at these speeds meant dust showers so it took a bit to find the balance between breeze and sand. Back at camp we enjoyed lunch and the main camp pool (since our personal pool was being serviced that day). We'd leave at 4pm for our next excursion, to a canyon.

The dunes were amazing. Sand everywhere that changes colors every few moments as the sun shifts. We were really happy that our camp insisted on the early morning departure to keep the climb "tolerable". We could not imagine how much harder that climb could have been later in the day.



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