Today is the main reason we are in Namibia; this was to be Francine’s highlight of the trip. The mountainous, startlingly orange sand dunes of Sossusvlei in the Namib-Naukluft National Park have been on her bucket list for some time. There was a bit of scare yesterday evening with the fear that rain might fall overnight, making escape from Zebra River Lodge along its difficult dirt track impossible until the water subsided. Recently, the place had been flooded with many plants being washed away. Odd, considering we are close-ish to one of the driest environments on the planet. However, all was well and the game commenced at 0-dark-30. [It would have commenced at 0-dark-15 but driver Tam took a wrong turn down the airstrip. 😀 ]
After an hour of the now familiar African vibro-massage in the pitch black, we were back at the main dirt road and the sky began to lighten. After a couple more turns – there aren’t actually many roads in Namibia – we called in to the enterprisingly positioned fuel station just outside the entrance to the Namib-Naukluft NP. We were now about to be spoiled rotten: whilst all the road leading to and from the park is dirt, once inside the park, the single road taking you into the interior is smooth tarmac. Temporary bliss!
Our first stop was at Dune 45, so-called because it is 45kms from the gate. Dune 45 has been established as the dune for the swarms of grockels to climb, thus stopping damage to the other dunes. A modest car park at its base enabled us top pull of the road and play. This is a good time to point out that, with an (average) annual rainfall of only ~10mm, you have never touched such dry sand. Consequently, climbing a relatively steep-sided dune built of the stuff is quite arduous – one step forward, two steps back, kind of thing. It’s also hot at something over 30°C. Here’s Francine facing the first pitch; there’s another ascent further on. I chose to amuse myself around the base.
We left Dune 45 behind and headed to the end of the tarmac road which stops close to one of the most iconic landscape photography locations in the park, Deadvlei. Deadvlei is a dried up clay pan created after a lake dried up since the “mighty” Tsauchab river was diverted by the encroaching dunes. Left behind are the black skeletons of petrified Camel Thorn trees, still rooted in the white pan, backed by the orange sand dunes and topped with a vivid blue sky. The colour contrasts are mesmerising. The trees don’t rot because there isn’t sufficient moisture, hence the petrification. After a modest 20-minute trudge across the dry sand, we had another 20 minutes to play with the trees and repeat our 20-minute sandy trudge back. Bucket list item ticked, Francine declared herself to be content.
Finally, we transferred into a couple of very bouncy 4x4s to go on a little through the sand to Sossusvlei itself. Sossusvlei is the marsh at the end of the route of the Tsauchab river, falling short of the Atlantic Ocean by about 60kms because of the dunes. After Deadvlei, I must say it was less than scintillating but we did see a Spotted Eagle Owl (Bubo africanus) taking shelter from the midday heat in the branches of one of the trees.
It was time to retrace our morning tracks and return to Zebra River Lodge, where, after a time in the midday heat of the dunes, cold beer was calling loudly. Drinking on the veranda of the lodge requires a beer mat on top of your glass rather than underneath it. The place has a strong population of moths which have developed the taste for both beer and cold white wine.Leave your glass or bottle exposed for a few moments and a moth will be in there. Dinner presents a similar problem but without the beer mat solution. Last evening, I had no fewer than 12 moths all helping themselves to the red wine sauce around my Oryx. Two of the moths managed to turn turtle and kill themselves in it. Maybe that’s the moth equivalent of drowning in a vat of Malmsey?
There seem to be three resident species of Odonata here, but two of them, regrettably, are species that I can see in France and Spain I did, however, rack up my first encounter with the delightfully coloured Massai Sprite (Pseudagrion massaicum). Stalking these and the countless butterflies entertained me in between filching some of my beer from the moths.
Roast Zebra tonight. It was OK but I still preferred the Kudu.