Namibia: Dunes and the Desert
From Windhoek, we flew into desert country, land of Sossusvlei and the Namib Dunes.
We stayed at Kulala Wilderness Camp, about an hour's drive from the dunes themselves.
Here, there weren't any large carnivores to eat us, so we were able to walk around and explore a bit by ourselves. The first thing that struck us we left camp for a little hike was that something didn't smell right. There was a stink and buzzing flies — a bit like perhaps the camp's septic system wasn't working properly. The smell came and went as the wind changed direction, and we couldn't quite track it down. Later we learned it was a desert plant, a green bush with fetid flowers!
We went on a some desert safaris, investigating the wildlife of this dry region.
The social weavers are birds who like to live together. They build these enormous nests in trees, growing until the weight can be too much for the branch, breaking it.
On grassy plains were these circular spots where nothing grew. They are called "fairy circles" because no one knows yet why nothing will grow there.
Our visit to Sossusvlei and the Namib Dunes was an all-day expedition. We rose early to make it to our first dune in Namib-Naukluft Park by sunrise.
We then followed a recently paved road heading west towards Sossusvlei into a crack between the dunes. We admired the magnificent orange dunes from a distance — most of them are now blocked to vehicle access.
Life in the desert. The spiky green balls are "!nara", edible melons.
The orange color of the dunes comes from iron oxide (rust) in the sand, as proved by this magnet.
A few miles before Sossusvlei, the pavement ends. Vehicles that aren't 4x4 have to stop and transfer their passengers here.
We drove a few more miles through the thick sand to a dune called "Big Daddy", which we would climb! It sure was a workout, but our guide climbs this dune in the heat almost every day. And, he carries with him a backpack full of drinks and snacks! From this dune, we had a great view of Dead Vlei, a dry lakebed pan (what we might call a playa in the American southwest).
From the top of Big Daddy, we ran full speed down the 30° slope, jumping and sliding to the bottom of Dead Vlei. We dropped 800 feet in a couple minutes.
Dead Vlei is similar to the more famous Sossusvlei, but our guide thought it was more scenic and less crowded. It is ¾ mile oval of featureless dry mud, with a grove of dead trees at the north end. These tree trunks are supposedly hundreds of years old, from the time Dead Vlei was a lake.
Leaving the dunes, we stopped for a picnic lunch under the shade of one of the very few live trees around. Unfortunately something in that lunch made about half of our party very ill that night. Perhaps it was the warm pasta salad with mayonnaise?
Nearby was Sesriem Canyon, a curious place to explore. At one end was a little puddle with some frogs waiting for the next rains to fall. Our guide also pointed out a poisonous snake lurking in one of the cracks in the wall.
Days ended with a sundowner, with drinks as we watched the sun set over the distant Namib Dunes.
When we left the Sossusvlei area, we flew west over the Namib Dunes to the town of Swakopmund on Namibia's Atlantic coast. From the air, we were able to spot Dead Vlei and Big Daddy, where we had climbed the day before!