The Sands of the Namib

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Africa » Namibia » Sossusvlei
June 18th 2007
Published: January 13th 2008
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I don’t remember the first time I learned of the Namib Desert. My first images of its mountainous red dunes probably came out of the pages of National Geographic Magazine or one of my early school textbooks. Regardless of where I first learned of them, I have been drawn to the dunes of the Namib Desert since I was very young. I almost traveled to Namibia back in 2003, but I abandoned the journey when I discovered that it would have cost me the same amount of money to do a two week trip to the area as it would have cost me to visit Southern Africa for several months - The idea of going on a long trip had been floating around in my head since I had returned from Nepal a year before and that final revelation pushed me off of the road that led to the comforts of normal life and dropped me on a slightly overgrown and rarely used track into the unknown. The long, circuitous path I began walking that day has led me to many amazing places and has allowed me to fulfill many longstanding dreams and, after many miles, I finally made it to
Desert SceneryDesert SceneryDesert Scenery

This is where we ate lunch on the first day.
Namibia and the red-sand sea.

My first impressions of Windhoek, Namibia’s capitol, were great. I was surprised to find such a cosmopolitan place in such a little known country. The downtown area was filled with several excellent restaurants and coffee shops, many of which highlighted Namibia’s German roots, and I spent a good deal of my time sitting with a cup of coffee and watching the crowd go by. I also spent a lot of time exploring the multitude of shops, big and small, that lined the streets and offered up just about anything you could ever need, including many upscale name-brands, for sale. Despite the modern image that the city center portrayed, Namibia’s ‘outback’ feel was very noticeable on the sidewalks and in the streets. Business suits and high fashion mixed and mingled with ‘bush’ gear on the sidewalks and the expensive cars of Namibia’s elite shared the road with safari vehicles and rugged four-wheel-drives that looked as if they had been plying Namibia’s sandy byways for generations. The thing about Windhoek that stood out the most to me was the secure feeling I always had walking around town alone - That was a rare feeling in most
Shade in the DesertShade in the DesertShade in the Desert

This is one of the trees near the area we stopped for lunch on the way to the desert.
of the African cities I visited, but it seemed to be the norm in Namibia. Windhoek was a bit of a boring city, as far as attractions go, but I liked the place instantly.

I was staying at the Paradise Garden Backpackers. It was a new hostel in town and there were still a few minor things that needed to be sorted out, but the good far outweighed any of the minor annoyances and it proved to be an excellent home base to explore the city from. The hostel was located in a residential area about a fifteen minute walk from the city center. Across the street on the corner was the Chinese Embassy and there were several bed and breakfasts in the area as well as a small market, which told me that it was a good part of town to be in. There were not a lot of backpackers in the hostel, in fact, I was the only one as the place seemed to cater more towards expats and people visiting on long-term work visas, but I later learned that most of the hostels in the area were filled with similar clientele - For a country of
Welcome to SolitaireWelcome to SolitaireWelcome to Solitaire

This old car was planted at the entrance of the town.
such immense natural splendor, Namibia has a surprisingly insufficient tourist infrastructure and has not really found its way onto the independent traveler circuit of Southern Africa yet. The multiple long-term guests at the hostel added a lot to the comfortable homeliness of the place and most nights were spent watching a movie or a favorite TV show, which was a nice change from the normal drudgery of life on the road. In all, I liked the hostel a lot - They even had a big white dog and a demented cat to play with!

I had heard rumors from other travelers along the way that it would be difficult to travel to the places of note in Namibia on a backpacker’s budget, so I was prepared for some annoyances. My normal means of getting to the tourist destinations in a country has been to take public transport as close as I can and then walk the rest of the way, which has resulted in several 20+ kilometer walks, but usually gets me to where I want to be. In some countries the locals regularly visit the tourist sites, which mean that the public transport will get me there with little or no walking. In other countries the tourism industry is organized in such a way that there are several affordable ways to get to the sites, regardless of the number of locals that go. I discovered quickly that in Namibia there were really only three ways to get around to the many amazing tourist destinations: rent a car, hitchhike, or take a tour - Public transport wouldn’t even get me within a few days’ hike to the places I wanted to see! My plan had been to try and put a group together and rent a car for a few weeks, but, due to the lack of backpackers in Windhoek and the obscene prices they wanted for a rental car in Namibia, that plan fell apart quickly. I don’t mind hitchhiking if I am going short distances with little gear, but I won’t do it with my full backpack, especially into a desert - The idea of sitting on the side of the road for hours or days without a ride doesn’t sound pleasant. As much as it turned my stomach, it seemed like the expensive tour was the only way for me to get out to the dunes,

This is me on Elim Dune - My legs are longer than they look.
so, with the help of the hostel owner, I found a reputable company and signed up for my exploration of Namibia.

My morning of departure arrived and a small, white minivan stopped at the hostel to pick me up. The tour had been expensive compared to many comparable tours in other countries and I was a little worried that I would be making the journey in the small cramped van instead of the less cramped vehicle that the price suggested. My worries were unfounded. We drove towards downtown and, after a few turns on the city streets, we came to a stop in front of a bus-like vehicle emblazoned with ‘Wild Dog Safaris’ on the side. We walked into the adjacent building and waited for the rest of the people to arrive. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and perused tour literature for the company’s many different tours while we waited. Once the final group of tour participants arrived we met our guides, did a quick discussion regarding what to expect on the tour and then we loaded into the bus and found a seat. There were thirteen of us, including the guides, and there was plenty of room to stretch out on the bus. We rambled our way through Windhoek, passing a lovely park and church that I had missed during my walks, and then we stopped at a large, western style supermarket at a mall on the south end of town. We were at the store for about half an hour while our guides bought the supplies for our trip and we purchased a few snacks for the long, dusty drive. We all met back at the bus and we put Windhoek behind us. About ten minutes later we were at the police checkpoint that signified the end of the metro area. On a hill in front of us on the left side of the road a large monument rose up out of the brown, desert hills - Our guide said it was the place that Namibia’s important people were buried. We drove on into the desert.

We were on Namibia’s main north-south road, one of the country’s few paved highways. From time to time we would drive through a small town or village, but most of the scenery lining the road was of overgrown pasture land and stunning desert landscapes - It was strangely beautiful. After a few hours we made a rest stop at a small gas station. A short time later we turned west off of the paved highway and headed down a thick, gravel road that seemed to stretch to the tiny mountains on the horizon. We rattled our way towards the coast. At times the road was in great condition, but they were few and far between. Most of the time our driver piloted the bus through a sea-sickness inducing, pothole slalom, swerving from one side of the road to the other in order to miss one of the gaping chasms that would regularly appear in front of us. Occasionally traffic in the other direction, which was a rarity, would force him to plow right through the crater in our lane - It was difficult for me to decide which I liked better, the constant swerving, or the bone-jarring crash as I returned back to my seat after an unexpected lesson in human flight. We reached the mountains, which were really just rocky hills and we found a nice shady area off of the road to stop for lunch. We all set to work to get lunch prepared, cutting up fresh
Sunset from Elim DuneSunset from Elim DuneSunset from Elim Dune

It was a long climb, but it was worth it.
vegetables and cheese and opening packages of lunch meat. We all sat in a circle beneath the shade of a stand of trees and ate a delicious, but simple lunch while we got to know each other a little better. After lunch I took a quick walk around the area and found several cool things to look at, including a large vein of flaky rock of some sort. Lunch was only a short respite from our rattling adventure on Namibia’s roads, but within the hour we were stopped again.

We had left the hills and the landscape had taken on a flat, grassland appearance. Ahead of us we could see a small clump of buildings at a crossroad. We started slowing down and as we turned I noticed two tiny meerkats standing up in the adjacent field looking at us. We came to a stop at a gas pump that seemed to be the center of the group of buildings. The dusty outpost we were at fittingly went by the name of Solitaire. Our guide told us that Solitaire’s claim to fame was its excellent apple pie - I don’t possess the willpower to pass up a piece of
From Elim DuneFrom Elim DuneFrom Elim Dune

This is one of the many magnificent sights from the top of Elim Dune.
homemade apple pie, especially after not having any for so long, so I jumped off of the bus and headed straight for the food counter. The store was one of those places that sold everything. It was decorated with aged lion-skin carpets and stickers from just about everywhere in the world. Armed with my camera and a steaming piece of apple pie, I went off to explore the ‘town’ a bit while our guide fueled up the bus. In addition to the store and gas station, there was a large corral, a small hotel and what looked like a fairground and behind the buildings I could see what appeared to be an airstrip. At the entrance of the town there were two old vehicles and an antique gas pump ‘planted’ in the cactus landscaping, which made for a very photogenic welcome to town. Well stuffed with apple pie, we loaded back onto the bus and left Solitaire behind us. We were following the ‘new’ road that we had turned onto at the crossroads, but it was just as bad as all of the others. Ahead of us we could see tiny mountains and large expanses of desert-like grass. Wildlife became more prevalent and the landscape took on a wilder aspect - In addition to the meerkats, we spotted several gemsboks, springboks and ostriches, as well as several birds. The sun was low in the sky when we arrived in Sesriem, where we would spend the next two nights camping. Instead of setting up camp first, our guides decided to take us to the Elim Dune so that we could watch the sunset over the dunes. We were dropped off at a large tree a short distance from the foot of the dune and we were told to meet back at the tree after dark. Our guides drove off to claim a campsite and we started to climb the giant red dune that rose up out of the grass in front of us.

I was excited, much like a kid in a sandbox, only the sandbox I was headed towards rose up like a giant, red mountain in front of me and stretched to the horizon! In my excitement I began running. It wasn’t until I had made it half way up the steep, sandy slope that started the ascent that I realized how tiring climbing a steep dune was
Sunrise on Dune 45Sunrise on Dune 45Sunrise on Dune 45

We had to rush to make it in time, but the sunrise was worth it.
- Each step only gained me a few inches in elevation as the sand continually slid out from under me, so I had nearly exhausted all of my energy in the first few minutes of the climb! Later at camp the rest of the group was laughing at me for my sprint away from them, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t have anything against the group, they were all great people, but I had a strong desire to make it to the top of the dune in time for the sunset and I still had a long way to go. As you would expect for a giant, windswept pile of sand, there was no trail to the top, so I forged my own way. At times I would cross over a set of tracks from an earlier hiker, but I generally just went up until I could no longer do so. By the time I had made my way through the surreal sandscape of undulating, wind-contoured mounds of red sand and swaying green grass and stood on the summit of the dune the shadows were getting long and the sand was bathed in the deep red light of the
Orange HazeOrange HazeOrange Haze

The blowing sand was not nice to my camera, but it was beautiful.
setting sun - It was one of the most magnificent scenes I have ever seen! I stayed on top for a while and I watched as the rippled surface of the sand changed from bright red to alternating bands of deep black and bright red and finally to a uniform purplish red. By the time the sun had descended below the distant horizon, none of my friends had made it to the top and it seemed like they had all turned around, so I did the same. I stopped a few times to take some pictures as I walked back towards the big tree and I always kept my eyes opened for one of the strange creatures that call the dunes home, but they all remained hidden. I had hoped that I could slide down the dune, but all I managed to do was fill my pants with fine sand. I did, however, learn that I could morph skiing and running into an enjoyable means of descent and it took me considerably less time to get down! We all met the bus beside the tree and we made our way back to camp. Our guides had a surprise waiting for
Climbing Dune 45Climbing Dune 45Climbing Dune 45

The trail up Dune 45 was long, but enjoyable.
us - They had claimed one of the better campsites and they had set up our tents for us! We had an early dinner and then we stayed up for a little while and enjoyed the Namibian night. We had an early start to look forward to the following morning, so we all called it an early evening. Just as I was preparing to crawl into my tent for the night my flashlight lit up two glowing eyes right behind my tent. I managed to get a closer look just before the animal disappeared into the darkness and it turned out to be a black-backed jackal - I wanted to go searching for more, but I decided, instead, to get the rest I needed and to dedicate the following evening to the jackals.

Five-thirty came too quickly for my liking. It had been pleasantly cool during the evening, so I had slept very well and I was lying awake in my sleeping bag when my guide knocked on my tent and said it was time to go. I said good morning to everyone as I stepped onto the bus a few minutes later, but my words were masked behind
The Dead VleiThe Dead VleiThe Dead Vlei

This was an amazing valley full of a skeletal forest.
a big yawn and were unrecognizable - I suppose I was understood, though, because I received several more similarly expressed greetings in response. A short while later we were in line at the park’s entrance gate. Our guide told us that the gates opened officially at six-thirty, but that if there was a line and the right guard was there they would usually open them early - Sadly, our guide’s gamble had not gone as he had hoped and we were forced to wait until the official opening time. There was a bit of complaining going on, not because we had gotten up earlier than we needed to, but because the guard was being so stubborn, which meant we would have to rush to Dune 45 for the sunrise. The time came and the gates swung open and the three vehicles, including our own, that had been waiting were permitted to enter the park. It was an all out race to the dune and we were all driving considerably quicker than we would have liked, but the road was newly paved (it was possibly the best road in the country!) and we quickly put the forty-five kilometers that separated us
Shifting SandsShifting SandsShifting Sands

The dunes formed amazing paterns in the desert.
from the dune behind us. The sky was getting brighter and the stunning landscape of huge dunes became visible on both sides of us. We passed a small group of gemsboks on the right side of the road at about mach 2, but there was no time to stop. The road seemed to go on forever and our guide, while still driving quickly, was unwilling to drive as fast as one of the other groups, so we watched as the distance between us grew. We were starting to think that we were not going to make it in time for the sunrise when we slowed down and pulled into a small parking area at the base of a magnificent red dune. Our guide pointed us in the right direction and we set off climbing as quickly as we could. The trail up Dune 45 was well trodden. It started at the foot of the slope, near a tree, and ascended steeply up the dune about half way up the slope’s face. After a seeming eternity of hard slogging the sandy path merged with the windswept ridge of the dune, but we were still a long way from the top. For a while I led the procession up the ridge towards the summit, but exhaustion set in and I had to slow down and let a few people pass while I regained my breath - Someday I will learn that the tortoise always wins in a race of endurance! I had learned a hard lesson the previous evening on the Elim Dune when I filled my boots with sand at the beginning of the hike, so I had decided to wear my sandals that morning. As I climbed I could feel the cold sand against my feet, which was invigorating. The wind was strong and it whipped the surface of the dune into an orange haze of wind-born sand. It was a strange sensation, much like walking in a sandblasting cabinet, the airborne sand forced me to put on my sunglasses, even though the sun was still below the horizon, in order to protect my eyes and, despite how tightly I kept my lips together, I could feel the grit in my teeth - It was an amazing feeling, but I felt sorry for my camera! I managed to make it to the top of the dune just in time for the sunrise. I watched as the sky to the east changed from a deep purple to a faint red and finally to a frosty blue. A bright yellow spot on the horizon gave away the sun and we sat on the narrow ridge, high above the desert floor, and watched the fiery orb usher in a new day - It was beautiful! As far as sunrises go, it was fairly normal, but the effect that the sun’s warm rays had on the dunes was nothing short of spectacular! The dunes had appeared to us as a pail, reddish-orange, but as the morning light crept its way towards us, sections of dune began glowing bright orange. The contrast between the long dark shadows and the fiery, sun-lit sections of dune was amazing and, as the sun’s rays advanced, the shadows morphed and danced about as the flames spread. The orange haze of wind-borne sand that was flowing over the ridge had taken on a beautiful light and, while I knew my camera would protest, I was forced to stop and take several pictures. I made my way back down the dune using the ski-running method I had enjoyed the night before
The Namib DesertThe Namib DesertThe Namib Desert

The dunes of the Namib Desert were amazing - It looked like this in just about every direction.
on Elim and I had a lot of fun doing so. I walked around the base of the dune and I searched out some more interesting photos and then I walked over to the bus and helped prepare breakfast. We sat at the base of Dune 45 and we ate our simple but filling breakfast in the warm, early morning sunlight and we all marveled at the majesty of the landscape that surrounded us - What a perfect way to start a day!

My poor camera! Since I began my journey with the camera back in January it had been drowned in the waters of Iguazu Falls, frozen in the harsh Antarctic climate and pounded by the salty waves of the Southern Ocean. It had rattled its way down miles of dusty byways and it had been banged against innumerable inanimate objects. The camera had even served as a cushion when I took a hard fall on South Georgia Island, but through all of that it never developed any problems! It seemed like it had met its match with the sands of the Namib Desert! I took my seat on the bus and set to work cleaning the sand
Bird CompanionsBird CompanionsBird Companions

There were hundreds of these birds keeping one of our compainions company while we hiked to the Dead Vlei.
and grit out from my camera’s many hiding places. Against my better judgment I had to remove the lens, because the fine red sand had even found its way inside to the sensor! I had managed to get most of the dust off of the sensor and the lenses by the time we made it to the two-wheel-drive parking area for the park, but there was a new, very disturbing development - Whenever I moved the focus or zoom rings on the lens there was a nearly imperceptible gritty sound, as if I was running a piece of sandpaper over something! I never imagined the camera would make it through the trip intact, I had, after all, killed its two predecessors (death by freezing and death by chocolate), but I still had nearly six months to go and the environments were not going to get any more forgiving! The camera still worked, but for how long I didn’t know!

The nice paved road ended with the two-wheel-drive parking area that we had stopped in. From there the road continued towards the coast for several kilometers, but it was all deep sand and only passable for the tougher four-wheel-drives and
Climbing DunesClimbing DunesClimbing Dunes

This is the start of the ridge trail in Sossusvlei.
then, only when they were in experienced hands. Our bus would have had a better chance driving over water than through the deep sand, so we stopped and loaded into the park’s special built shuttle vehicles. The remainder of the drive to the Dead Vlei was a lot of fun. Our truck was slipping and sliding its way down the sandy track and, even in the driver’s capable hands, it was a wild, adventure filled ride! At one point we passed a few tourists in a rental four-wheel-drive and they had buried themselves to the axles in the shifting sands - Our driver cursed them in a way that said, “Not again!” and then we stopped to give them assistance. Luckily they managed to get their vehicle going again, but the incident definitely demonstrated the difficulties of driving in such deep sand, even in a proper vehicle. We reached the end of the road and everyone piled out of the trucks and prepared for our hike across the dunes to the famous ‘Dead Vlei.’ The day was turning into a nice one. The sand was still a bit chilly, but the air temperature was warming up nicely and the sun
Climbing Dunes (2)Climbing Dunes (2)Climbing Dunes (2)

There was a path part of the way up the dune.
was shining brightly overhead. Our guide pointed to the small plastic poles that marked the route across the dunes and he told us we were free to hike at our own pace, but to wait for the group at the sand ridge above the distant valley. We said farewell to one of the older men in our group who was having some problems hiking in the sand and was going to sit and wait for us at the lovely picnic area at the start of the trail and then we set off into the desert on foot. I was watching the surface of the sand closely, keeping an eye out for tracks that could lead me to some of the desert’s unique wildlife, but the few tracks I found disappeared into small holes that dotted the islands of vegetation that our path passed. I was walking slowly, but I still managed to stay well ahead of most of the group, many of whom had started displaying a disinterested attitude - I was beginning to notice that some of my companions were not seeing the same majestic landscape I was walking through. I made it up the steep, sandy slope to
Climbing Dunes (3)Climbing Dunes (3)Climbing Dunes (3)

The path eventually disappeared.
the ridge and I took a seat on the sand with a few of my companions. The view that spread out before us was both surreal and amazing at the same time - The dead valley was ringed by the massive red dunes that the Namib Desert is so famous for, but the valley floor itself was a flat, white expanse and there was an entire forest of skeletal trees rising like black ghosts out of the white sand. When the whole group was assembled on the ridge our guide explained a bit about the desert and how the valley had been formed - He told us that the dunes themselves, which are some of the largest and oldest dunes in the world, were formed from the iron-rich sands of the Kalahari that have been blown towards the coast from the heart of southern Botswana, miles to the east. The white sand that the dunes are formed on was the ‘native’ sand of the Namib Desert. He also told us that the dunes were fairly stationary, as far as dunes go. When the dunes were forming the existing forest in the Dead Vlei was encircled by the shifting red sand
Climbing Dunes (4)Climbing Dunes (4)Climbing Dunes (4)

This is the knife edge, which was a lot of fun to walk on.
and the surface water was cut off, which eventually killed the whole forest. The exceedingly dry environment preserved the ancient trees and the valley’s gnarled ghosts are now one of the most endearing scenes from the Namib Desert. Before our guide released us into the valley he fooled one of the girls in the group - He had made some tracks in the sand with his hand that looked a lot like a baby’s bare footprints and he had her completely convinced that some careless parent had let their baby walk freely in the desert. We spent about an hour walking through the skeleton forest on our own. There was a strange feel about the valley - It was a place I felt I knew well from all of the photographs I had seen, yet I also felt as though everything was completely new and unexpected. It was definitely a lost world kind of place, but, sadly, the valley’s isolation had also killed it and I found very few signs of life, excluding the occasional set of tracks from some transient animal. Our guide mentioned that the dune on the left side of the valley was one of the largest
My Japanese FriendMy Japanese FriendMy Japanese Friend

This is the other man who accompanied me up the dune.
in the area and he mentioned that we could climb it if there was any interest - The rest of the group made it clear that there was no interest, so I didn’t rock the boat. The walk back was a lot more interesting than the walk to the valley. I found several animals, including a big beetle and a few birds. Back at the picnic area we discovered that the man we had left behind had made friends with a large flock of black, brown and white birds and they were swarming around him at the shady table he has been sitting at. There were also several mice there keeping him company.

We loaded back into the trucks and headed over to the valley that the park was named after: Sossusvlei. We passed a lone gemsbok on the way there, but he quickly disappeared, and then we stopped in the shade of a large group of trees. Our guide told us that the valley was a neat one to explore and that the large dune in front of us had some unequaled views from the top and then he asked if anyone wanted to stop, or if the
The Dune LizardThe Dune LizardThe Dune Lizard

The dunes of the Namib had many amazing animals - This is the little lizard I found.
group wanted to head back to the camping area and swim in the pool. Silence filled the air! Nobody said a word and it was clear that they all wanted to rush back to the relative comfort of camp. I, on the other hand, did want to see the valley - I had joined the tour to see the desert, not to socialize, so, much to the chagrin of the rest of the group, I said, “Yes, I would like to stop and see the valley.” I think the guide was happy that at least one person in the group was interested in actually seeing his beautiful country, so we stopped and off I went. I did have one other person on my side, but he was a Japanese man and his English was not good enough to have understood the question (or, if he did, he didn’t want to rock the boat.) The two of us set off through the trees towards the ridge of the big dune and the rest of the group took a seat in the shade of one of the large trees and pouted. By the time I made it out of the trees and
A Little MouseA Little MouseA Little Mouse

This is a little mouse that was hanging out with us while we waited for the truck to pick us up.
started climbing the dune I had seen several lizards and a few birds. There was a set of footprints that led a short distance up the dune, but most of the ridge was completely un-trodden and the sand formed a knife’s edge. I had always wondered what it would be like to hike up the sharp ridge of a dune - I had done it on snowy mountains and it always required a lot of concentration and the dune looked very similar, but far less dangerous. I quickly learned that I had to be careful regarding where I put my feet. If I stood directly on the knife edge, both of my feet would slide out from under me in an unpredictable direction. If I stood on one side of the ridge or the other, the sand would slide out from under me so quickly that I would stumble and fall. The only method that worked for me was to straddle the knife’s edge and quickly shuffle my feet forward and even that resulted in several near falls. At times the sand grains seemed to defy physics with slopes that were so steep and edges that were so narrow that
Amazing SceneryAmazing SceneryAmazing Scenery

The dunes formed one of the most amazing landscapes I have seen.
thoughts of turning back filled my mind, but I continuously reminded myself that even if I fell it would have been virtually impossible to get hurt as I gently slid down the soft slope and I pressed on. I reached a sweeping, level ridge that stretched for a very long way into the desert before it rose to a small peak. I decided that it would take me too long to get out there and back and the views from where I was were stunning enough, so I decided to follow a narrow ridged that descended down the large face of the dune to the valley below. Before I went down I stopped and took in the scenery surrounding me - It was an amazing mountainscape of giant sandy peaks that stretched as far as I could see in nearly every direction. It was startlingly similar to the scene that I took in from the poop deck of the bark Europa on the moonlit night of the big storm, only this time the inky-black waves were made of red sand! I caught something in the corner of my eye that drew my eyes away from the amazing sea of sand

We found a small group of these guys walking through the desert on our drive back to the bus.
- Whatever it was, it was moving! I moved as quickly as I could towards it, yet, whatever it was, it widened the distance as it ran away. Luck was on my side though, the animal found something in the sand that it was interested enough in to stop and take a look. I managed to get close enough to see a tiny, sand-colored lizard with wide feet and a stubby tail - It was one of the strangely unique creatures that had adapted to life in the dunes. I was as close as I was going to get, so I put my big lens on the camera (the wind had died, so I was not as worried about getting sand inside the camera) and I got a closer look that way. I could make out several of the small lizard’s features including its odd, slit eyes. The lizard decided to show off how easily it could move across the sand, so it took off again with a quick burst of speed and then it stopped, made a strange movement and disappeared beneath the sand! I knew the show was over, so I slid my way down the dune and quickly followed a new trail along its base back to where the rest of the group was waiting. It turned out that the truck had left us in the valley, so my rush to get back was not necessary. Our ride showed up a few minutes later and we returned back down the sandy road we had followed to get there. Along the way we stopped a few times to take some pictures of some springboks we found in the dunes - The desert was surprisingly full of big animals, which I didn’t expect from such an unforgiving place. We loaded back into the bus and less than an hour later we were sitting beneath the giant tree in camp eating lunch - Even with my ‘delay’ we made it back to camp before 1:00! After lunch we had about three hours to relax before we set off for our final sightseeing trip in the area. Some people took a nap, others swam in the sandy pool and a few of us explored the giant grassy field that was adjacent to camp. I think everyone forgave me for wanting to spend a little more time among the dunes, but, regardless of what they thought, I am glad I did!

At about four o’clock we were in the bus again. We were going to a place called Sesriem Canyon, which was only a short distance away from camp. I found it a bit odd to have one of Namibia’s best roads (the one in the park) connected with one of its worst, but the road to the canyon was so rough that it took us nearly fifteen minutes to cover the distance to the canyon - I think I could have walked there quicker! The name Sesriem literally means ‘six ropes’ and it refers to the number of ox ropes that early settlers had to tie together in order to be able to draw water out of the bottom of the canyon. We parked the van in a small parking area near a massive overland truck and we set off to explore. At first glance, the area we had stopped at was a flat and unimpressive plain of gravel and rock with small mountains rising up behind it, but a closer inspection revealed a narrow, but very deep, gash in the ground. From the edge of the canyon it was

The green pool at the bottom of the canyon.
a long way down, yet, in places, it looked nearly narrow enough to jump across - It was an impressive sight. I had found a way down that would have required a good bit of climbing towards the bottom, but our guide pointed us towards a place where we would be able to make a safe descent to the canyon bottom. The conglomerate walls of the narrow chasm were filled with deep overhangs and caves, some of which passed through the rock to other walls forming tunnels and passages - It was a great playground and I spent nearly an hour climbing around and through the different ledges and rooms. In one of the overhangs I found a massive, pterodactyl-sized nest clinging to the wall over my head - I can’t even begin to imaging the size of bird it would have taken to build the nest, but the guano-stained rocks surrounding it suggested a bird of enormous stature. Our guide had mentioned that the canyon was more interesting in one direction than the other and he had told us which way to walk. The sandy canyon bottom was narrow and flat and its sheer walls rose up far above
The Sesriem Canyon (2)The Sesriem Canyon (2)The Sesriem Canyon (2)

The canyon widened at one end, but it was still beautiful.
our heads, narrowing in enough at the top in places to nearly obstruct the sky. There was debris piled in several of the little alcoves along the walls, which told us the canyon’s history of flash floods. At the end of the long, narrow slot we found a small pool of green water that had been standing there for who knows how long - I suppose that in the old days even the green water was a wonderful find in the desert. The spectacular canyon was a great way to end our explorations of the amazing Namib Desert.

We made it back to our campsite just after dark and we immediately set to work on preparing dinner. We were having pork chops on the braai and, being the pyromaniac that I am, I jumped at the chance to be the cook. We ate our last dinner together under the stars of the Namib Desert and we did a lot of laughing as we reflected on the day’s explorations. We had finished cleaning up and people were starting to yawn when we had our first visitor. It was a small dog, about the size of a fox, that had an
The Night of the JackalThe Night of the JackalThe Night of the Jackal

The jackals were all around me at times - These were eating the table scraps from the camp next to ours.
orange-brown body with a black back - The jackals had returned! I had been expecting them and, after my lack of preparation the night before, I had already made sure that my camera was ready for their arrival. I was over the stubby stone wall that ‘separated’ our camp from the wilds of Africa in one leap and, with my camera in hand I took up my position in a clump of bushes and I waited for them to return - The night of the jackal had begun!

I was prepared to donate as much of my beauty sleep as was needed to get a good picture of the black-backed jackal. It was one of the few predatory type animals we had not seen in Kruger and I was excited to be among them. I waited for a while and had very little luck at first, but then something changed. The camp next to ours was a good bit less environmentally friendly - Our guide had been clear that we would not be feeding the animals, directly or indirectly, but our neighbors didn’t follow the same rules. They finished with their dinner and then they dumped all of their leftovers on a mound a few feet from where I was hidden - I disapprove of feeding wild animals and I am not sure if their goal was to feed the jackals or just clean their pots, but I decided to take advantage of the situation. Over the next half hour I was surrounded by the small canines. At times there were no less than seven of them all around me and they would run with a start each time my flash went off. Once or twice they were within a few feet of me, apparently unaware of my presence, but they had no interest in me when there was such a tasty morsel only feet away. It took me a few shots to get my focus right, since the auto focus rarely worked in the extremely dark conditions and I was forced to do it manually, but after I had the focus I managed to take several very nice pictures - I know, they were not exactly wild jackals, but I enjoyed the experience just the same! I ended up getting tired of the ‘set up’ pictures so I left my post in the bushes and walked back over
Night of the Jackal (3)Night of the Jackal (3)Night of the Jackal (3)

This was the big jackal that came out at the end of the evening.
to the fire where my friends were keeping warm over the dying embers and waiting for my shouts of pain to let them know that the jackals had won - It seemed like only my guide and I knew that there was very little danger from the extremely timid animals, because the rest of the group had written me off as mad. As I sat next to the fire talking to the few remaining stragglers another large jackal walked up and took a seat in the bushes about ten feet away from us - It was a natural pose; It was my wild jackal! I decided that I could do no better with my photos, so I said goodnight and I headed to my tent.

We spent the next day retracing our tracks back through the stunning desert landscape. We made another stop in Solitaire and I had another piece of apple pie, which was as good as it was a few days before. We stopped again in a large town off of the main, paved road where we bought some supplies for lunch. We also made a quick stop at the town’s police station so a girl who had been robbed of several hundred dollars when we were at the grocery store on the first day of the tour could file a pointless police report. About twenty minutes later we pulled off of the road at one of the many picnic areas that lined the highway and we enjoyed our last meal together. Despite my dislike of organized tours, we had a great group of people and wonderful guides, so I had a lot of fun exploring the desert with them.

That evening I was back in my room at the Paradise Garden Backpackers. As luck would have it there was a big party planned with a huge braai for that evening. I met a lot of great people at the party, most of whom were in Namibia doing aid work of some sort and many of them were not even staying at the hostel - It was more of an expat party and it was my first real glimpse into that lifestyle. I had the strange misfortune of being forced to wear my swimsuit and a t-shirt to the party, because I was leaving on another tour the following morning and all of my clothes were being cleaned - It was a cold evening, so a guy in blue Hawaiian shorts and a t-shirt must have looked quite strange amongst a group of people shivering in their thick (and stylish) winter clothing! Despite my odd attire, we all had a lot of fun. The music was great, the food was delicious and plentiful and the conversations were great - I wish I could find parties like that at home! I would end up running into several of the people I met at the party all over Namibia over the coming weeks and every one of them remembered me as the crazy guy in shorts - I suppose there are worse things to be remembered as! I enjoyed the festivities until the early hours of the morning. I was joining the second leg of my tour a few hours later that morning, so I said good bye to everyone and made my way to bed - The party raged on for a few more hours, but I didn’t notice.
After about five hours of sleep my ride arrived and I was on the road again, this time on a seven day exploration of northern Namibia.


14th January 2008

Stunning Pictures
I just want to congratulate you on a very enjoyable blog and some absolutely stunning imagery,it looks like a beautiful place.
9th February 2008

Still Watching
Amazing blog Keith x

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