Namibia Part IV – Sossusvlei, Sesriem, Swakopmund and Walvisbaai
After spending Monday morning at Kolmanskop, we went to the location of the Diaz Cross near Lüderitz in the afternoon. The wind was so fierce and cold that Sophia and I opted to stay in the car. When Hugo and Gustav opened the car doors to get out, we almost lost one of them. The doors that is, not many a wind will blow The Boss away!
On Tuesday, 10 March while we were getting ready to leave, we received bad news from home. Hugo’s sister’s father-in-law had just passed away. We knew Oom Johan Lemmer really well and our hearts went out (and still go out) to his family. I know we are having the trip of a lifetime and “living the dream”, but sometimes it can also be tough, especially when you want to be with your loved ones in their time of need.
But fortunately or unfortunately, depending on where you stand, life has to go on and so we left Lüderitz via Aus for Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft Park. Halfway to Aus we went to the Garub waterpoint where we were hoping to see the Wild Horses of the Namib.
“Fighting for a life in freedom
They hold an irresistible fascination: the Wild Horses of the Namib in south-western Namibia. For centuries [Borderjumpers: most probably only about two…] their origin was shrouded in mystery. Their habitat, the barren plains around Garub on the eastern fringe of the Namib Desert, is no paradise; nevertheless they have managed to adapt to the harsh conditions. Their forebears, once in the service of man, gained freedom for themselves: a life in the vastness of the Namib, away from human civilization, according to the rules of their own horse society. Perhaps this is the reason for the fascination of thousands of visitors every year. Plans for moving the herd to farms have been discarded by now: it has been decided that also in future the horses’ place is in Namib Naukluft Park.
For 100 years the horses were able to develop in almost complete isolation, generation by generation, through seasons of drought and abundance, becoming a pure breed through decades of natural selection. They are now regarded as a breed in their own right, the ‘Namibs’.”
– Source: http://www.wild-horses-namibia.com
Just as we arrived at the viewpoint, two horses left the water and we couldn’t really enjoy watching them. But our luck was in! While we waited in the sweltering heat (how can it be so hot just a few kilometres from Lüderitz, where we scrambled for warm clothes?) three horses approached the waterhole to drink with a few oryx. The last oryx to arrive had the longest horns I have ever seen, but she looked weak and undernourished, probably because of old age. There was another oryx who stayed on after the others have left, watching the horses drink, almost as though he wanted to make sure the horses knew who is in charge at the waterhole.
“The conservation of the feral horses in the Namib-Naukluft Park has aroused controversy. Some people argue that the horses are of historical and scientific value and that they should not be removed. Many others think that the horses, as non-native species, compete with the indigenous wildlife (mainly gemsbok, springbok and ostriches) for the sparse vegetation. In fact, there is little or no evidence of competition between the horses and the game animals, and the former occasionally graze within a few metres of gemsbok and springbok without any apparent interaction. Gemsbok move away from the waterhole when horses approach and vice versa, but sometimes both species drink at the same time. Being relatively independent of water, the indigenous wildlife range over far greater territories than the horses do, so the presence of the latter has probably no significant bearing on the numbers of game in the park.
The Namib feral horses are unique in the sense that they have been isolated for a number of generations. Their hardiness in the face of extremely harsh climatic conditions is extraordinary, as is the fact that they have been able to circumvent the vital problem of food and water availability by adapting their behaviour and their allocation of time. For these reasons, if for no other, they deserve our wonder and admiration.”
From Garub we went to Aus, a small town on the edge of the Namib-Naukluft, where we had one of the best lunches to date. The owners of the little café were very friendly and warm, and they took our business card to stick on their shop window. The shop had everything, from motor spares to frozen meat and beer. As they are in the middle of nowhere, it is quite a feat!
The road from Lüderitz to Sesriem is about 480 kilometres long, and we were not making great progress with all the horse watching and eating. We know the National Parks close around 19:00, so the moment we had reception, we stopped to phone them and tell them we are on our way. We were not really worried about them having a place for us. So far, everywhere we went, we were one group of only a few travellers and often the only ones. Still, we needed a place for the night and it was becoming late. It also needs mentioning here that we wanted to stay at Sossus Dune Lodge and not the campsite, because of the 75% discount the NWR offers. I phoned all the numbers I could find for the lodge and at last got through to a human. She explained that I have the wrong person, but that I should please phone another number she gave. So I phoned. A man tells me, “Sure, we will wait for you, but what is your booking number?” Sorry, no booking number. “Hmmm, (in the African accent we know so well…) ôh kêhhh… Let me see… We have one room with two beds, we can put bed in for children. Ôh kêh?” Ôh, mmm, sorry, okay thank you, that will be great. See you in about two hours.
We arrived at the gate after closing time with no booking, which was a problem, as the lodge is very fancy-schmancy and exclusive and want proof that you have the right to go to the lodge. And to make things all the more agonising, the staff refused to understand English or Afrikaans. At last a friendly woman turned up and she helped us, but they had no clue who we were. And they were fully booked! All 23 chalets, including the two honeymoon suites. At long last they figured out they had one room open, with two beds, and could put mattresses in the room for the kids. Really?! They had no idea whom I spoke to ‒ and that person was missing until two days later when we ran into him and he excitedly told us that he is the one I spoke to. I almost gave him a slap. But in the end, it all worked out and the place was indeed very fancy and exclusive. So exclusive that we were the only people from South Africa or Namibia.
On recommendation of one of the staff members, we decided to skip the sunrise in the sand dunes the following morning as we were tired after the long drive, but went to Sesriem Canyon instead. It was a very hot hike!
Sesriem is the gateway to the sand dune desert. Together with Sossusvlei, Sesriem Canyon is one of the most popular destinations in Namibia. The canyon is about 4.5 km from the entrance gate of the Namib-Naukluft National Park. The Tsauchab River has shaped the Canyon over millions of years and it is one of the few places in the area that holds water all year round.
The early Afrikaans explorers in the region named the canyon after the fact that they had to use six (“ses”) leather straps (“riem(e)”) tied together to create a rope long enough to lower buckets into the canyon below to haul up water.
After we went back to the chalet for a well-deserved rest and cool-down in the pool, we took some snacks and drinks and set out to watch the sunset from a dune overlooking Sossusvlei. It is in the largest conservation area in Africa, the Namib-Naukluft National Park. Characterised by the large red dunes that surround it, Sossusvlei is a large, white, salt-and-clay pan. The dunes in this area are some of the highest in the world, reaching almost 400 metres.
Sossusvlei literally translates to “dead-end marsh”, as it is the place where the dunes come together and prevent the Tsauchab River to flow any further, some 60 km east of the Atlantic Ocean. However, due to the dry conditions in the Namib Desert, the river seldom flows this far and the pan remains bone-dry most years.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I give you sunset at Sossusvlei!
Hugo and I often talk about how utterly frustrating it is to try to capture scenes like these. A camera just doesn’t do justice to the breathtaking beauty. The colour of the sand catching the last rays of the sun almost looks like red gold. When you pick up a handful of sand and let it run through your fingers, it shimmers. The sand here is five million years old. It is composed mostly of tiny grains coated in a thin layer of iron oxide, giving the Namib its distinctive red color.
The dunes of the Namib were created by sand being carried on the wind from the coast. The wind in Sossusvlei itself blows from all directions, and the dunes are known as “star” dunes ‒ as they cause the sand to form a star shape with multiple “arms”. This wind pattern also means that the dunes hardly move.
The children had great fun running up and down the dunes while we experimented with the settings on the camera. I am still (two weeks later) finding red sand in their clothes. Itʼs a sticky kind of sand, and it was really hard getting it out of our socks. We were tired just watching them. The two of us had to drag ourselves to the top, but looking at the results, I’m glad we did.
They would run up, or climb where they couldn’t run, then try to slide down ON THEIR TUMMIES WITH THEIR FACES IN THE SAND! When they got stuck, they would kick with their legs as though they are swimming breast stroke. They have been looking forward to sandboarding since we started planning the trip. Every day (every freaking day!) on the way here, they have asked (bordering on whining) when will we get to the sand and where will we buy a sandboard. Alas, as the real sandboarding is still coming (Walvis Bay) they had to make do with what they had – their bodies.
It was a spiritual experience. Just the four of us in the sand with the stars so close you can almost touch them. No other lights or vehicles or people or sounds. Real peace on earth.
We saw the fantastic sunset, so we wanted to be brave and also see the sunrise. For that, we had to get up just after four, apparently. We finally made it out the door just before five in the morning, with children who were not completely awake and their mother definitely sleepwalking. With 4 brown paper bags with breakfast that the lodge packed for us.
We arrived at Dune 45 while it was still dark. I opted out of the “little” walk; it’s not a good idea to climb dunes when you haven’t fully woken up yet. That, and I was not completely sure that I could move after the rigorous exercise of the day before. Sophia wisely insisted on staying, so my verbal reason for staying was that I needed to look after her. Thanks, my favourite daughter! In the dark I watched the flashlight move up the dune at warp speed. I realised it had to be Gustav who was so energetic. Poor Hugo was not only logging their breakfast, but also the super-heavy camera… That was his excuse anyway. He said he had barely started when Gustav reached the top! Another group arrived and passed Hugo, so Gustav joined them when he went back up for about the third time. When the sky started lighting up, Sophia (she is petrified of the dark in the great outdoors, my city girl) reckoned she had sufficiently woken up to also make her way up the dune. She kindly offered to go on her own. My favourite daughter is also very independent!
Hugo must get the credit for the following photos:
We went back to the lodge, had a shower, packed, and drove 473 km of gravel road to Swakopmund. Namibia’s gravel roads are very well maintained, but they have a very fine white dust that is by now coating Petronella and the Trolley (named by my father-in-law). The black rubber around the trailer lights are a dirty white. It looks like light brown icing sugar. And it gets into everything, even the trailer… Our spare sheets in the bottom part of the trailer received a beautiful coat of dust that got sucked in the back door. Our clothes are better off by a tiny margin. I see washing in my future…