Namibia is essentially the Africa you dream about. Vast open spaces; wild animals walking around; unreal vistas; and towering desert sand dunes going all the way out to the icy Atlantic Ocean. Amongst all these attractions is the top destination for tourists in Namibia; Sossusvlei. It is everything you could ask for and more in a destination. You can hike up to the top of the worlds highest sand dune and gaze out over the whole Namib Desert, as you ponder the steep sprint down into Deadvlei for some of the most unforgettable scenery on Earth. This is where I found myself the other day on day two of my three day camping trip into the Namib Desert and Sossusvlei.
The Namib Desert is one of the driest places on the planet. Much like the Atacama Desert in Chile, you feel as if your nose is going to start bleeding from being dry almost at all times. Sossusvlei is the main attraction without a doubt and is the center point along a line of massive sand dunes stretching some 100km or so. This would become one of my favorite places I’ve ever been and rivals the Southern Altiplano in Bolivia for the best scenery I can think of.
I signed up for the three day camping trip through the travel agency at my hostel called Cardboard Box Backpackers or The Box. It was with a company called Travel Bug run by an awesome guy named Chad Wratten. Chad is kind of famous in Namibia as a native Joburg boy. Last year he walked some 600km through the bush from Luderitz back to Windhoek (capital of Namibia) with his dogs. One of those dogs is a gorgeous Boxer and only has three legs because one of them was shot by a private security guard with an AK-47 because the guard was scared of dogs. The dog was walking away from him when he was shot and never even came close to attacking the man. This caused quite an outrage as you’d imagine. This year he plans to walk some 1900km across the country for charity. I look forward to following his journey on facebook.
After departing Windhoek in a big Land Cruiser (above) with 8 campers we headed through Rehoboth and down to our campsite at the awesome Camp Agama. The camp was run by a funny woman named Monique and was much nicer than we expected. My fellow campers; another American, an Aussie, three Germans and two Japanese all spoke good English and everyone was really cool and funny. We all enjoyed each others company which made for an even better trip.
Camp Agama was a camp but also hosted higher end tours with some nice villas near the main house where dinner was served. We were able to watch the Tri Nations Rugby match between South Africa and the All Blacks of New Zealand at the bar. South Africa won and with the World Cup looming in a few weeks, that was a major boost to their confidence heading into the World Cup as they had previously been winless in the Tri Nations this year.
Dinners were gourmet at Camp Agama. The first night we had three courses of soup and bread; stir fry chicken with vegetables and then a nice coconut dessert. The second night we had an awesome BBQ with zebra steaks (my favorite) and sausages amongst other things. It was all very good and took place right after an amazing setting for sunsets on the roof of the camp building. It reminded me of Arizona with the vibrant white light or vanilla sky, which I always say has the best sky for sunset.
On day two, we were woken up at 5am in order to get to Sossusvlei for a freezing sunrise over the dunes. It was a gorgeous site and was a good start to our day. After seeing Dune 1 and a few others along the way, we stopped to climb Dune 45 which is the most accessible from the road and about 150m high. All eight of us made the climb and were surprised how rigorous it was to trudge up the dunes. I suppose it makes sense because you’re walking up sand but for some reason it didn’t register with anyone beforehand. As climbing the worlds highest dune was looming next, some people were a little nervous.
The best part of Dune 45 and dune climbing in general is running down the steep sides that nobody else has stepped on. I ran down the 500 feet or so and didn’t fall so I was pretty happy although I did come out with two boots full of sand and even down my socks and somehow in other places that shouldn’t have sand in them (below). It was really fun. Some of my new buddies on the trip like my pal Jonas from Germany, who is an NBA writer in Germany and a really nice guy who loves sports, took a huge tumble or ten (on purpose). It was hilarious to watch and since his camera managed to survive the beating as he filmed, it made it even better.
Once everyone had cleaned out their boots, we headed over to the worlds highest sand dune, stupidly called Big Daddy. It towers some 380m over the Namib Desert and takes about an hour or so of slogging in the deathly hot sun to make the top. Everyone eventually made it and truth be told Jonas and I made it in about 40 minutes, which according to Chad was super fast. Needless to say, when you get to the top, you are shattered, thirsty and sweating profusely from the hot sun.
There were some 20 people up at the top at one point just admiring the killer 360 degree panoramic views of the dunes and the Desert as I am doing above. Deadvlei loomed below which is the highlight of Sossusvlei. Its massive dryness awaited and the killer photos that it would produce, but first I had to run straight down a quarter mile of sand at a nearly vertical angle.
I was excited but at the same time I had never seen something like this that high before. So I tightened up my laces, which didn’t help, and started running leaning back almost like lying down and running. About half way through, I couldn’t believe I was still on the dune because it felt like I’d been running forever through the sand but the bottom still seemed so far. So I focused on the sand beetles running with me and started chasing them down and eventually made it without falling. At the bottom, I took off my shoes to dump out an entire baseball infield of dirt from each shoe! But alas, I was in Deadvlei.
Deadvlei is the place where all the famous pictures of the dead trees on the dried out lake bed are shot. It is offset by the vibrant colors of the sand and the bright blue sky. It was spectacular. There is no other word to describe how beautiful and cool it was to see. Pictures cannot do it justice but I did my best. It again reminded me a bit of Southern Bolivia on the salt flats but Sossusvlei produced better pictures I think-although photography is not my strongsuit.
After spending about 90 minutes taking the scenery in and taking pictures we headed out and back to Sesriem to have lunch and then back to camp. We all slept pretty good that night as the day was really exhausting and the showers were some of the best in my recent memory. It’s not comfortable having sand in every orifice of your body!
On day three we headed back to Windhoek, Africa’s cleanest capital city without a doubt, but made a few stops en route. The best was Spreetshoogte Pass (below) which gave an awesome view of the whole valley. It is one of those quintessential African vistas that make Africa my favorite continent.
Now back in Windhoek after a night in the Chameleon Backpackers which is excellent and a dinner for ten at Joe’s Beerhouse which is a legendary eating spot in Africa, much like Carnivores in Nairobi. I am heading out to Swakopmund this afternoon to Namibia’s adrenaline capital. I am not quite sure what I will be doing yet as there are many options but it will be awesome and I cannot wait to get there!