Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Namib and the Naukluft

At the beginning of May, Alex and I decided to have a weekend away hiking in the Naukluft mountains in the middle of the Namib desert. And since it's very close to Sossusvlei, the well-known site where tourists can climb sand dunes, we decided to have a day there too climbing 'Big Daddy' dune, which we hadn't had time to climb when we'd been there previously.

Packing our car with our camping gear and food, we set off for the Namib desert, about a 4.5 hour drive South of Windhoek. 

The view from our campsite, in 'A Little Sossus' lodge

Namibia is stunningly beautiful at this time of year.  The weather isn't too hot or cold, and there are plenty of public holidays to use to enjoy seeing the country. Our lodge campsite was fantastic - each camping pitch had its own ensuite shower and bathroom, as well as kitchenette. There was also a 'shed' for the car.

The first night there, after setting up the tent, we decided to go on a sundowner drive, driven and guided by the lodge owner's son - and his dog, who followed us the whole way.  The surrounding landscape was stunning.  Blue, blue skies and dramatic mountains, followed by a stunning sunset.  Plus, our lovely guide had brought a bottle of 'Goats Do Roam' wine from Fairview vineyard in Cape Town - the same vineyard we'd visited when we had travelled to Cape Town for my birthday in April. Lovely memories and great wine!

Driving through the bush on our way to a vantage point from which to watch the sunset

In the car, driving up the mountain

Setting up the wine with our fabulous guide

We travelled back to the lodge and cooked dinner over our gas stove.  We'd bought some whisky at the campsite store and took turns swigging it as we sat and watched the stars overhead - hundreds and hundreds of them filling the sky. Warmed, relaxed and fed, we turned in for the night and slept fantastically.

The next day, after a breakfast of Weetabix and apples, we drove out to Sossusvlei.  In complete contrast to the last time we came, there was hardly anyone there. Turning on the 4x4, we left the 2x4 track and drove into the sand along the river bed - a little nerve-wracking, but kept reminding ourselves of our friend Smittie's advice - low gear and good speed, keep going whatever, follow tracks already made by other cars and DON'T STOP.  We pulled up into the parking space by Big Daddy a few minutes later, locked up the car, and walked into the dunes.  

Dead Vlei and Big Daddy at the back

We walked over to Dead Vlei, a big salt and clay pan with the ancient skeletons of dead trees frozen in the middle, watched over by Big Daddy dune behind it.  

We decided to start our ascent.  Unfortunately, somehow we completely missed the official 'way up' Big Daddy and ended up taking the psycho-killer route up, involving near vertical stretches of sand-scrambling. And there are spiders in the sand too.

It's bigger than it looks.

After an hour of sweating and climbing, we finally made it to the top.  Exhausted, we sat down and looked around at the fabulous views that the height of the dune afforded.

The view over Dead Vlei from Big Daddy

The view looking the other way...

Tired, sweaty, covered in sunscreen - but very happy

Enjoying the view

Walking back down

And of course, we had to do some 'dune running' - taking a steep stretch of sand and running down it.

Alex goes for it

At the bottom, we're back in Dead Vlei with the cracked, baked clay that forms the pan.  It was 1pm by this point, and the heat was intense, the sun unrelenting.

We also had half the desert in our shoes

Walking back through Dead Vlei

A blue-white Tock-Tock beetle - what would Bear Grylls do with this?!

We sat and had lunch in the cool shade of a tree and thanked our stars that we had a 20l jerry can of water in the car boot. Making our way slowly back whilst appreciating the stunning scenery, we made our way back to camp. That night, our guide at the campsite invited us over to his house for a braai (barbecue), and we sat and chatted long into the night about Namibia and Europe. His family had moved to Namibia from South Africa, where he'd studied agriculture. He loved South Africa and Namibia, and the healthiness of the way of life - slow-paced, outdoors, in tune with nature. His friend, Megan, working with horses at the lodge next door, agreed.  They also told us about the fact that many Afrikaaner farmers find it hard to find wives, living in such isolated spots, and a TV show had been created to help them - 'Boer suche Frou' (Farmer looking for a wife) was a big hit in South Africa. Our guide was planning eventually to buy more cattle and bulls, and cross breed them to find a great cow.  Buying bull sperm was a tricky and political business in Namibia, apparently ('Bull suche Cow', we suggested).

Unforuntately, his puppy then decided that Alex and I were Mum and Dad and followed us back to our tent. We zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags and tent whilst telling him to go home and go to sleep, but puppy had other ideas and hurled itself onto the tent for twenty minutes, finally bringing it down. Alex got out to re-erect the tent, and the puppy shot inside, curling up in my sleeping bag before I could protest.  He stayed like that the whole night, curled snoring into my arms, before I popped him out again at 6am.

The following day, we enjoyed French pancakes in the lodge (it's called Glamping, darling) before setting off in the car to the entrance of the Naukulft National Park to go hiking.

We love our car - it's been by far the best purchase we've made in Namibia and has helped us see the country and the surrounding countries in their best and worst conditions.  And, to date (fingers crossed), it's never broken down or even had a puncture.

The lovely Naukluft mountains

At the entrance to the park, the lady on reception handed us a map and pointed to the poster on her wall detailing the hundreds of snakes to be found in the park, including the Black Mamba.  "Just stay away from them. And enjoy" she smiled.  We nodded in agreement, a little unsure.

Cattle under trees

Alex on the trail

The trail, however, was really badly marked.  Trying to find the markers was worse than our hike through Dan Viljoen, which hadn't been upgraded for, oooh at least ten years.

The lure of a warm fire, relaxation and whisky was too much and after two hours hiking we went back to the lodge.  Two Savanah's and a good chat with our host later, we went back to our campsite and cooked, played guitar and sang old songs together.  The fact that we were the only campers there meant we had the whole field to ourselves - no chance of embarassment.  A perfect evening, wrapped up with whisky, italian coffee and star gazing.  Another good night's rest.

Returning to Windhoek was a bit of a shock after such a fantastic weekend, but we were pleased we'd had some rest.  It's only 12 weeks now before we're back in Europe for good, and we've got a final push to get everything done before we go. 

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