I pull my beanie down tighter over my ears. Zip up the jacket to my chin. Bear down on the high desert cold and darkest dark you’ve ever experienced. Turn on my torch and start stumbling through the sand. I’ve spent the night in the Sossusvlei Lodge having opted for the accomodated vs the camping version of the safari. The guide told me to walk across the field till I get to the fence where he’ll be waiting to take me with the rest of the group to Dune 45 for a sunrise and climb to the top. Scouted in the daylight the afternoon before, seems all very straightforward. It’s not far, but even the few hundred yards creeps me out. I have a high power LED light and theoretically the Oryx, Eland, and others have finally nodded off. The cobras must be coiled up tight in their dens right? I mean, it must be 4 or 5C out here. I make it to the fence and climb through the wire so we can hit the road.
The gates to this National Park open at 545a on the dot and not a minute earlier. We are 3rd in line, and once the gate opens, the line of truck lights look like a caravan to nowhere. Did I mention it is really dark here? It is officially one of the best places for stargazing and for good reason. There are only 1.2M people living in this enormous country, and mostly confined to a few major towns and farming areas. When the sun finally starts to peek over the horizon, our eyes strain to determine how far we are from the dune and our mad dash to the top before the sun comes up. The sunrise lights up the dunes with a brilliant orange that is sure to make many a highlight reel on the photo social media sites. These dunes migrated from the Kalihari desert. Living in Southern California, I’ve convinced myself for years I am not a desert person. This Namib Mars-scape could change my mind. It is mesmerizing.
When we arrive, everyone piles out of the van, zipping up jackets and grabbing camera gear all while racing toward the bottom of the dune. The climb itself is hampered this morning by a monstrous wind coming from the same direction as the sunrise, creating havoc on the camera gear. Sandblasting of camera equipment is not good. I stop to rest for a minute and take my shoes off. Trudging upward in the sand is harder than I thought. The wind and the cold does not help. The sand feels good between my toes. It’s comical that people get worried about falling off the knife edge of the dune. It’s sand after all. If you fell you would just land with a big kerthump and fill your shorts with more sand than they already possess. My mind wanders to the idea of demonstrating the physics. But damn, I’m already exhausted. Must. Get . To. Top.
Making it to the top gives you a sense of relief. A continued sense of urgency to get further along the dune to watch the sunrise and contemplate the vast emptiness of the dunes. The wind on this chilly morning does nothing to let you contemplate much at all. If you were looking for zen on this morning, you are sorely disappointed. The cold, the wind, the sand… meditating will have to wait. That said, the experience is a once-in-a-lifetime memory nonetheless.
With a cup of coffee and some breakfast in hand, I think I could spend most of the day watching the shifting light on Dune 45 and the surrounding dunes. The light and shadows make for a never-ending possibility of contrasting photographic subjects. The scale of a person climbing these massive dunes which can grow 20-40m in a single day with winds like today fascinate me to no end. But it is over all too soon. Next time I’ll rent a car on my own. The driving over the past 10 days has been long on miles but easy hard pack. With plenty of gas stations and 2 buck toilets which are cleaner than most restaurant WCs back in the US, Namibia has to be one of the easiest places to get around if you can handle the vastness. And this is a geologists’ dream. Wait 10km, the landscape will change. The number of mines (silver, uranium, tin, and more) would make a rockhound mad. Yeah, next time a self-drive will surely be the way to go.
From Dune 45 we head deeper into the windswept desert. The color of the dunes change as the sun grows longer in the sky. Our next stop is Deadvlei. It is said that this area was once flooded which allowed these camelthorn trees to grow. Now surrounded by some of the highest dunes in the world, the trees are long dead. They are not petrified, rather they are dried like a raisin in the sun, and blackened like one as well.
There are a number of people wandering the clay pan but everyone is surprisingly aware of other people taking fotos and demonstrate amazing patience and generosity in their attempts to stay out of the frame. I also note that there is no litter, and no one climbing the trees. It’s sad that I even think about that, but true nonetheless. Since we took a bit of time to get here and the sun was already high, I decided to focus on the structure and contrast thus including only my black and white fotos here. The colors are equally stunning with a little saturation in Lightroom, but the sense of the place just feels better in monochrome.
I would highly recommend getting to this place. Anyone making a trip to South Africa and stopping through Joburg. Windhoek (vint-huk) is a short flight from there, and the Namib-Naukluft park is an easy drive on good roads. The Sossusvlei Lodge is beautiful and has amazing buffets to keep you fat and happy. Staying there gives you easy access to the park gates and ensures you will be one of the first through to see this beautiful landscape. You can also book flights over the dunes and along the Skeleton Coast. The pictures I saw from these flights was truly jawdropping and leaves me something to wish for on my next trip to the friendly and beautiful country of Namibia. Yes my dear, I will be back.