Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Namibia – Enter Sand, man!

December 29-31

Hello everyone!

Namibia’s landscape is vast and diverse. From the mountains of Damaraland to the pan of Etosha, the background seems to change every day. The setting with which many associate Namibia, however, is this:

Deserts generally cover a vast area. We saw the Trans-Namib desert in two places: Swakopmund and Sossusvlei.

Swakopmund is Namibia’s second biggest establishment (apparently Windhoek is the only city so it is still a town) and self-styled adventure capital. Most of the dunes here are a rather large, red-tinted playground.

The first part of our morning in the town also known as ‘Swakop’ was spent quad biking and hunting for insects. We found spiders and a gecko with a transparent body whilst cruising along the sand.

The other activity we did was one I’ve been desperate to try ever since deciding to go to Namibia: sand boarding.

A fairly minimalist activity, this is the warm version of the skeleton bob event seen in the Winter Olympics. The tea tray used in that event is replaced by a piece of balsa wood.

Once you have scaled the peak of the dune (not an easy task in itself), you wax your board to smooth the lower surface, lay it on the hot sand, place your knees on the back, raise the front corners with your hands and kick.

The rush is incredible. Your board picks up speed quickly, making it increasingly difficult to hold up the front. The consequences of your board flattening are severe for your mouth as it gets filled with sand. This happened to me twice in four of my runs, once pretty badly.

In spite of the early and very dry lunch, I can safely say that sand boarding is one of the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I absolutely loved the speed. It took a long time for my heart rate to recover, such as the thrill of the devilish descent.

They may both have mounds of sand but Swakop and Sossusvlei are two totally different beasts. With its rugged coastline and Atlantic breeze, multiple layers of clothing are needed in the former; in the latter, you ideally want to wear as little as possible due to the searing heat of the interior. And you certainly aren’t allowed to sand board down these dunes.

This is the location of the perfectly photogenic sand dunes you may see if you search for Namibian landscapes on particular internet search engines. Driving there from Windhoek is a toasty and long affair, though some of the views on route are pretty spectacular.

Some of the reddish sand emanates from the Kalahari Desert due to a westerly wind and the river which occasionally flows when the country has had rainfall. It’s not often – there was no river when we visited. The grey tint which can sometimes be seen adorning the dunes is actually mud from the river.

The river bed is bone dry, with cracks prevalent all over its shimmering white floor. Shrubs are seldom found in this barren land, even though we found plenty of tracks suggesting wildlife and spied three ostriches as we walked through the valley.

The river used to reach the Atlantic but now ends in Sossusvlei. The ever-expanding dunes have cut off some access to the river, resulting in the ‘death’ of various parts of the desert. The starkest example of this is at Deadvlei: literally, ‘dead marsh’.

Some of the sun-scorched, blackened trees in Deadvlei are up to 800 years old, something which I struggled to comprehend as I trudged across the vast expanse of lifelessness. The searing heat, which was intense as I’ve ever experienced with the exception of Las Vegas, may have drained my mind of the ability to make sense of what I was seeing.

Sossusvlei is famed for its stunning sunrises. They don’t disappoint.

I’m more of a sunset person though. The previous evening I had driven with a friend to Elim, a dune near the gate of the national park. Joined by a pair of oryx, we watched the sun disappear behind these imperious sandy hills.

Two completely different locations within the same country with one common feature: striking scenery filled with iron-tinted sands. Beautiful and thrilling places in which to end 2016.

Love you all


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