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Days Twenty Seven to Twenty Nine – Desert, Dunes and Germans

19th - 21st October 2011

sunny 42 °C

Namibia is home to around 2 million people. Given that its land surface area is four times the size of the UK this is a sparsely populated land. Temperatures regularly hit 40oC which means that water starts to evaporate almost as soon as it hits the ground. Nowhere is this unrelenting heat and desiccated ground more obvious than in the worlds’ oldest desert, the Namib. The desert is contained within the Namib-Naukluft National park. It is massive. It covers just shy of 50,000 square kilometres of land and here, despite the hyper arid nature of the region, life manages to prevail.

At the ground level, beetles, skinks, lizards and desert rats have evolved to become desert specialists. Surviving by gaining the water they require from the plants and seeds that they eat as well as eating each other. Day to day, or rather from night to night, moisture is obtained from the fog brought in by the Atlantic winds. It is thirstily taken in by the plants on which it condenses. Even the beetles utilise the condensation that forms on their bodies at night to fill up before facing another day. Springbok and Gemsbok swap the hardship of predators, there are no big cats here, for the hardship of survival. Able to go for weeks at a time without water they have to perform return loops from and to the languishing water holes.
The most accessible route into this desert landscape is at Sossusvlei. Here a huge salt pan has created the flat 70km entrance way into the thick of the dune system and this is where we were headed for the next few days of our trip.

Arriving late on Wednesday 19th we again found only fence bound fields with no real access for bush camping. Plan B was quickly assembled, we found a roadside picnic spot on a little-used D road thirty kilometres from Sesriem (the entrance ‘town’ to Sossusvlei.) At our chosen camp we found a large Camel Thorn tree providing relief from the late afternoon sun, a concrete picnic table beneath the canopy and a hundred or so glass bottles dumped at its base. This blatant disregard for our surroundings wasn’t going to work, on a visual level as much as an environmental one, but we weren’t going anywhere. Like gypsies turned eco-warriors we spruced the place up a bit. Half an hour later we had a large hessian sack full of glass and a box of various debris and recyclables that we could take to the recycling bins wherever we saw them next. Good deed completed we cracked a couple more bottles, started a little camp fire and out came the Scrabble.

The next day was spent at Sesriem Canyon. During the rainy season of February and March the area receives an average of 110millimetres of rain, the river that arises from this downpour has worn its way 30 metres down through the sandstone and pebble rock, carving out the canyon that lay before us. It took a few kilometres of canyon-top walking before we found a way down into the canyon itself. We wandering back along the dried out river bed, alone for the first few kilometres, only to find someone had built steps into the canyon from the car park thus allowing hundreds of individually numbered Germaustrians (and the occasional unnumbered Pom) to visit every day to take their pictures before re-alighting their air-conditioned super steeds to ‘adventure’ in search of the next photographic opportunity. If this sounds hypocritic it probably is, but we don’t have air conditioning or camera lenses as big as the Germans. (Some appear to have been designed based on Hubble telescope.) A slow afternoon of playing in the dunes and we headed back to our picnic-side campsite. Alas no Scrabble though as we had an early start to be in the park for sunrise to see the dunes in all their morning glory.

We arrived at the gates ten minutes before opening time and joined the throngs of vehicles already queuing like grannies at a Cliff Richard concert. We got inside, eventually, and drove the sixty kilometres into the park to see what everyone had come to take pictures of. At the end of the tarred road was a five kilometre stretch of sand road which allowed access to the parking area for the ‘Dead Vlei’ and nearby water hole surrounded by some fairly picturesque dunes. (Vlei meaning flat area, marsh or field.) The Dead Vlei is an area now surrounded by dunes. The Camel Thorn trees that once lived within it have long since died as the encroaching dunes cut off the water supply. All that now remains are the dessicated and scorched skeletons of these once green trees. The ground beneath them is parched clay, cracked into paving slabs, engraved at its edges with small tributaries of the water supply that very occasionally makes it to the periphery of this sand walled graveyard. It’s a photographers’ paradise and nemesis at the same time as the bright light and the contrast between white clay, blue sky and orange dune between seek to befuddle those that take pictures in anything but perfect light. It didn’t stop us taking pictures a plenty continually watching everyone else to check they hadn’t seen a better angle...

Posted by ibeamish 14:49 Archived in Namibia

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Finally I found your website address (Thank you Sanel!) and can catch up with where & how you are doing. Very cool!! I get to travel vicariously through your stories!! Cheers!! Oh and sorry about the North Americans...met any Canadians yet???

by Leslie Shooter

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