Today is our exploration of Sossusvlei. We get up at 4.30 a.m., and have a very early breakfast because we hit the road at 5.30 a.m. so we arrive at Sesriem gate when the sun comes up. There are 6 French people, a German couple, an Australian couple and a British couple. We put all the French together in the car with Jonathan ☺ Our driver is called Johnny and he seems to have some more humour than Jonathan who is the leading guide today. Despite the early hour he’s already making jokes and he asks us all to introduce ourselves.
At Sesriem gate there’s a short line of cars waiting and the sky starts to light up purple and red. A group is doing some yoga while waiting. The British man is in the car with the French and says to his wife who is in ‘our’ group: “well, you are definitly in the good car...”. The ambiance isn’t happening yet with the French. Then the gate opens and we start the 60 km drive to the Sossuvlei area. But I’m glad we don’t rush and take time to stop along the way. We see air balloons rising in the sky as the sun comes up. Jonathan and Johnny take us out for a first walk to talk to us about the geology of the desert and the life on and under the sand. We spot a snake and a spider called ‘white dancing lady’. I have no desire to meet a scorpion. “What is a desert?” Jonathan asks like a real teacher. I would say: a dry place where it’s very very hot. The scientific explanation is a bit more complex and Jonathan draws numbers and schedules in the sand with a long stick. The Namib desert is at 55 million years the oldest desert in the world, but it’s certainly not a ‘dead’ place. Surviving in the desert is harsh, but some species seem to be adapted. Spiders, gecko’s, beetles, snakes, birds... and also springbok, oryx, kudu, .... they might seem less impressive than the big safari animals, but they are pretty tough.
As we continue our drive to the heart of Sossusvlei, we admire the shapes and colours of the red sand dunes. A popular tourist activity is climbing a dune. “But we are no tourists, we are explorers!” Jonathan states. So no, we don’t climb a dune. I’m not heartbroken, it’s getting terribly hot and I’m sure I can appreciate this special place without the exhaustion of tackling a sand giant. Still, the sand is a challenge. The Sossusvlei can only be reached with a 4x4 car, and even then many people get stuck. Ofcourse that can’t happen to us because Johnny drives here nearly every day! Yep, you guessed right ... we sink in deep. And Johnny’s manouvres to try to get us out only make it worse. The engine roars and we smell burning. “Can we do something to help?” one of the women squeeks. Johnny doesn’t even answer, no jokes now. It’s time to get out of the car. We don’t even need to step down anymore, the wheels are totally covered in sand. Jonathan’s car is already ahead so they can’t help us. But immediately another driver of a desert tour stops to try to pull our car out. He’s driving around with a bunch of Asian tourists who start clicking their photocameras. Yes, we are an attraction! Johnny and the other driver connect the cars with a cable. The cable snatches. Boy boy, this isn’t Johnny’s day. Another safari truck stops and this time the rescue is succesful. We thank the other driver and we get back into our car. “The guys will tease me with this for at least a week!” Johnny nods. And we say “oh, but it was an adventure, Johnny! How boring it would have been without getting stuck in the sand!”
We stop near Deadvlei where we walk the last kilometer tot this peculiar place. Deadvlei is an old pan with merely the skeletons of trees left – some over 500 years old. A walk over a sandbar takes us there. It’s only a kilometer, but it’s midday and the air is hot hot hot and very dry. Time to get the sun hat out, sun factor 50 and water. I have seen photos of Deadvlei so many times and it’s strange to finally stand there myself. The colours are bright: the blue of the sky, the red of the dunes, the almost white of the cracked underground and the brown-black of the dead trees. Very peculiar. It’s a pity it’s just too hot to stay out a bit longer and get a better feel of the place. But our bodies just tell us to get out of the sun and after about 20 minutes we head back to the car in desperate need of a cold drink and some food.
We’ve been on our feet since 4.30 a.m. and start to feel it. Good news though, Jonathan and Johnny have the perfect lunch stop under a wide accacia tree. We are invited to just take a seat on a camping chair and before our eyes unfolds a peculiar routine. We are in the middle of nowhere and our guides set a table like we are in some classy restaurant for lunch. I expected they would hand out sandwiches or something, but oh no these gentlemen don’t just go for your average pick nick. There are table cloths, napkins, complete set of cuttlery, glasses, butter on little plates, and even an improvised sink where we can wash our hands. The salads and cold meat are displayed on a buffet table and on the drinking list is anything from water and cola to rosé wine and beer. We propose a toast and enjoy our fancy desert lunch. The food attracts little birds, the so called sociable weaver. They build large compound community nests, a rarity among birds. We have seen many nests along the way, huge bird houses in the trees.
Sitting around our big lunch table it’s time for us to be sociable too. We learn that our French companions are all from around Marseille. There’s this mother and daughter travelling together and they don’t even seem to like eachother. The mother isn’t in such good shape and for the whole day Jonathan and Johnny pay special attention to ‘maman’, even getting her food, or offering her an arm when she needs to walk a bit. The daughter doesn’t seem too enthousiastic about her ‘maman’ and I wonder why they are on this roadtrip together. The Australians and British are befriended couples. And then there’s Birgit and Michael from Germany who are also at the beginning of their trip and already had bad luck with the car. One day on the road and all the electrics failed, so the rental company needs to replace it. It’s stressy for them. “Hey man, what did you do to your car?” Jonathan teases Johnny, referring to the stuck-in-the-sand incident. And then it’s time for coffee and cookies.
The day isn’t over yet. We cannot leave the area without a little exploration of Sesriem Canyon, on our way out of the park. It’s a narrow fissure in sandstone, 30 meters deep in places, carved by the Tsauchab River. It was used by the early settlers, who drew water from it by knotting together six lengths of hide ropes (‘zes riemen’ in Dutch, or ses riems in Afrikaans). Certain times of the year the river’s bed is marked with refreshing pools. Heavy rains can also cause flash floods in the canyon. Then you won’t make it out alive. We are visiting in a very dry time, no danger there, so we descend. At least, half of the group does, the others decide to head back to the lodge. Johnny takes us on a short walk and explains the geology to us.
By late afternoon we’re back in our beloved lodge. Last evening in this enchanting place. It’s only the beginning of the journey and we already feel nostalgic about leaving this place. We are spoilt once more with a delicious dinner and we spend some time in the gorgeous lounge (I want a living room like this!) going through large photo books. The images show us what to expect for the next part of the trip and walking back to our desert ‘house’ under the stars I cherish the very moment, pure joy of travelling and discovering beautiful parts of the world. Large grasshoppers welcome us at the door.