Day 193 - Sand Dunes

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Africa » Namibia » Sossusvlei
January 11th 2007
Published: January 14th 2007
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The day didn't get off to a great start when we realised that there was no water available. Hopefully this isn't a sign of things to come in lesser developed African countries but unfortunately it almost certainly is. We took a few hours to drive to Sossusvlei, a salt pan in the central Namib Desert. It's famous for the huge, red sand dunes that surround it and stretch for miles and miles. After the heat of the day started to subside at about 4pm we went for a guided walk in the desert. This was absolutely amazing not just for where we went but also for what the guide was telling us. He was incredibly good, walking on 80C sand in bare feet and at a pace that would challenge a cheetah. The ecosystem here has adjusted to the fact that it only floods every 10 years or so, with some plants that only release their seeds after coming into contact with a certain amount of water to make sure it's released in floods. They open up at the first contact with water but if there's not enough they then just close again and can stay like that for 20 years if need be. He showed us a spider's nest, a hole in the ground covered by a door of spider web and sand on top - just like vellcro. He said it's easy to catch lizards without any effort as they sped around over the dunes. We believed him but couldn't imagine how it'd be easy. Then he took his cap off and threw it at a lizard 10m away. Apparently the lizard thinks it's a bird attacking it and so buried himself in the sand, meaning the guide can just stroll over there and extract the lizard. Amazing. We got to touch the lizard which was probably the softest thing we've ever touched.

When the rain comes down from the mountains it washes sand along and this gets deposited as a dune. There's a dune that almost stretches across the valley and in 500 years it will make a complete barrier meaning the area beyond, which has a few trees and plants at the moment, will just die. Then we walked over another dune to see Deadvlei which is one that had been prepared earlier. It's an impressive sight, with some trees still standing despite having been dead since the dunes stopped water coming in to this part 900 years ago.

As if the guide hadn't told us enough fascinating things for one day, he then got onto the subject of Bushmen. These are the people who used to live in this part of the desert. How anyone could live in such a barren, waterless place is just incredible. They would hunt with poison arrows and approach their prey very slowly carrying a bush. It sounds almost Benny Hill-like but supposedly worked. When they tried the same thing against the Dutch settlers they were named Bushmen, and it's nothing to do with them living in the bush. After killing a large animal they have to just eat it all or they'll miss out, and despite being 5ft tall they could put away 12 kilos (yes, Kilos) of raw meat before having a big sleep. One anthropologist in the 1920s descibes an experiment in which a bushman ended up eating 34kg of meat before then sleeping for 4 days. Verging on unbelievable but that's what he said.

On a more negative note he said that up until 1920 the government issued permits for hunting bushmen in the same way that they do for elephants, for example. Rich white people would enter the desert with guns and try to kill bushmen, keeping their scalps as trophies. Underlining where bushmen came in society's pecking order, a book on bushmen would not be found in the culture or anthropology sections of libraries, but rather in the animal section. These days the remaining bushmen lead a miserable existence, selling the food that the government gives them in order to buy alcohol.


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