Namibia Road Trip – Day #7: Sosussvlei
Above: a lone Oryx wanders across the dunes of Sosussvlei
We got underway early that afternoon, following a snaking asphalt strip due West into the Namib towards Sosussvlei. Our 4×4 bakkie was shoved violently across the road as we fought our way through a sandstorm. When we broke through the opaque cloud of dust, my jaw dropped…
I’d already been in Namibia a week, but the scope and scale of the landscape still blew my mind every damn day. Prior to the sand storm, the mountains had been steel gray or a classic tan speckled with scrub brush (think of those classic, washed out “African safari” photos from vintage issues of National Geographic from the 1960s that you leafed through when visiting Grandma). Now coming out of the sand storm, we were on a chalk-white plain, and the gray and tan peaks had been replaced by fossilized dunes of a deep cinnamon color. As we continued further west, the fossilized dunes were replaced by real ones.
The plain we were on opened up, extending half a mile to the left and right of us. On either side, the plain terminating abruptly at the base of the encroaching desert. Sand dunes towered ten stories high, the sand’s apricot color contrasting dramatically with the dried out white clay. This corridor west really played tricks on our sense of scale and distance, and I was about to learn a very hard lesson.
We pulled over at a site called Dune 45, which is famous for its sunrise and sunset photo opportunities. Dune 45 didn’t look that big from the car, even after I drove to the base of it.
I decided to climb it.
Ten minutes into my little stroll I was gasping for air and my calves were burning as the lactic acid began to build up in them. My route was a simple one: I followed the razor-like ridge the that separated the windward and leeward sides of the dune. I’d begun my climb at a casual walk, but as the angle rapidly steepened, my feet began to sink rapidly into the sand. I pushed harder and harder. Every step required more effort.
The sand was clearly a curse and at the same time, a bit of a blessing. It anchored me securely to the windward side of the dune. I looked over the razor’s edge, and the leeward side of the dune seemed like a straight, thirty-story drop from where I was standing. (Even though it really wasn’t.) Powerful winds shoved me, and I was thankful that my legs had disappeared into the dune.
Getting to the very top of Dune 45 was hardly motivating. The higher I got, the more dunes I saw. Unlike a mountain climb, where you achieve a sense of reward and finality when you reach the top, reaching the top of Dune 45 simply showed me that there were a thousand more dunes just like it.
As the wind continued its ferocious howling, I carefully twisted myself around to see the path I’d taken. The winds had already erased my footprints. Only the regular occurrence of depressions in the sand gave any hint that a living things had been there. A few more minutes and even those remnants of my trail would be gone too.
I felt insignificant.
As my feet sank deeper into the dune, plates of sand on the leeward side broke off and slid down. The plates would then break up and “liquify” before grinding to a halt. It was fascinating watching sand behave like a liquid, but also horrifying. I was now ten stories up. What if a bigger chunk of the dune broke off? I made a mental tick in the box next to “Climb Dune 45 at Sosussvlei” and got the hell out of there.
I slept like a baby that night. It helped that my fellow countrymen were gone, as were the other boisterous guests from the night before. (See “My Fellow Americans Abroad: Please Shut the F*ck UP!”) I was ready for the bat-eared foxes as well. As soon as they approached the campsite (around 9 pm), I zapped them in the eyes with my 1 million candlepower spotlight that came with my bakkie. They were easy to spot in the full moon, and using the powerful beam, I corralled three of them into the high grass beyond the edge of the settlement.
Three pairs of glowing yellow eyes peered warily into the intrusive spotlight. They never did enter the camp that night, but I could hear their yelps and howls of frustration carried across to us by the desert wind.