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Morning, not totally awake yet

We had had a baboon free night but Stef met a man from one of the other sites this morning and the baboons had been a problem for them. What they had done we are not really sure but Stef was given the feeling that it was pretty bad. The main reason people come here is to go walking in the hills. There are two separate trails, one 10km the other 17km, which lead you up the side of the mountain and on to the plateau above. Neither of us was really in the mood for walking so we decided to head on to Sesriem instead.

At the camp office they called ahead to see if Sesriem had availability which they did but we were told it would on be on their overflow site. We were able to transfer the extra night we had planned to spend at Naukluft to Sesriem and we were soon on our way. The road out of the park came and went and we turned right back onto the D854 down to Sesriem. It was a relatively short journey but on the way we passed a couple of nice looking lodges, again making me want to ditch the tent in favour of being clean and dust free.

Our welcome at Sesriem was a bit beyond belief. Rather than welcoming us to this national park, the parks admin woman gave me a grilling. She was really rude in the way she spoke to me growling as she asked why we had changed our booking and barking at me that we had wasted money as we couldn’t get a refund on our park entrance fees. It wouldn’t have achieved a huge amount but I felt like barking back and using a popular expletive of a four letter word followed by “off”. Instead I just kept calm, let her get on with it and walked out without saying thank you.

We were not in a proper campsite but were also not really on the overflow site which is a large open field by the entrance. The proper sites all have a large area enclosed by a low stone wall with space for a couple of cars and a campfire. Our spot was simply under the trees next to the ablutions block with a few stones in the sand for a campfire. Having checked it out it was still early enough for us to go out and about in the afternoon so we headed down into the next national park, renowned for its sand dunes.

The dunes were amazing. The sand here is red and the light plays off the dunes producing warm glows of reds, ochres and golden yellows. We stopped at Dune 45 and went for a walk up the ridge of the dune. I was in my sandals and soon had to turn back because the heat of the sand was burning my feet. Stef carried on up further but had much more fun bounding down the dune than he had climbing up it.

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Enormous red dunes of the Namib desert

A road has been laid through this part of the park which leads down to the main attractions, Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. Dunes line the road one either side creating on huge row of sandcastles all melding and merging in with each other. You could see the wind whipping the tops of the dunes as we went. It is about a 60km drive from the main park camp to the vlei’s. Normal cars can only go so far and from there a 4x4 shuttle service takes you the final few kilometres. No knowing what the road would be like, and not really wanting to get stuck in sand without knowing how to get out again, we decided to take the shuttle service. We had to wait until they could fill up the car, which only took a few minutes as a German tour group arrived not long after us.

It was a sandy track, deep sand in places, for those last few kilometres. Our driver dropped us at the car park for the Dead Vlei, telling us how to get there and saying that he would pick us up again in about an hour and a half at Sossusvlei. Without the benefit of aircon or the wind created by the 4x4 we soon began to feel the relentless heat of the sun as there was no shade on the walk to the vlei. We again bumped into the South African couple who we first met in Twyfelfontein. The chap was bounding up the dunes and was soon walking along a ridge. The lady was more cautious, having only recently come out of a plaster cast on her leg.

The chap seemed to be able to see the way from the top so we followed his instructions. This turned out to be a dodgy move as he led us up a very high dune before we realised we weren’t really going in the direction we wanted to. From the height we reached we could just see over a further dune that looked more like a dam. Beyond that was the flat expanse of the vlei. We slithered our way back down the dune, walked across a dried out pan and then made our way up the dam like dune to reach the vlei.

If you wanted to make a film that was based in the future when the world had almost run out of water this would be a potential candidate for the set. In the wet season the vlei is probably full but today it was bone dry. The gnarled and shrivelled trunks of trees stuck up from the ground looking as if they had been burnt. Beneath our feet, the ground shifted from hot sand that was hard to walk on to a solid and firmly dried out mud flat with splits and cracks a centimetre or so deep. There was a very other worldly feel to the place and had it not been for the South African couple we could have been the last people on earth.

This illusion was soon shattered. As we made our way back to the road a backpacker style tour group was coming the other way, obviously short on time to make it to the vlei and back again based on the speed with which they were walking. Fortunately for us, the 4x4 chap who was picking us up had seen us coming and stopped to wait for us on the road before carrying on round to Sossusvlei to pick up the Germans. He was a very welcome sight. Walking across the sand, and especially up the sand dunes, was not easy going and with the sun beating down on us too it was also very hot work.

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Chilled at Dead Vlei

We made our way back to the campsite, parked in our very sandy spot and Stef went to work getting a fire lit. There was no hope really of having a braai so we cooked our steaks on the gas stove, no meant feat because it was very windy and we had to stand stratigically placed so that the stove didn’t blow out. The Germans that we’d shared a 4x4 with at the vlei were in the site next to us but frustratingly they chose to walk through our site to get to the washrooms rather than walking around the outside. It gave Stef a few minutes of pleasure though as he rearranged our site to block as much of their direct route as possible.

They were quite a large group, 23 people in all, and were staving in a Rollende Hotel. We had seen one of these before, I think in South America. During the day they all travel in a high sided coach which pulls the hotel behind it. The hotel is little more than 8 rows of triple height bunk beds which are divided so that each bed is its own little cubby hole. To me it seems like a claustrophobic way to spend a night, particular as some of the nights here have been very hot. A kitchen folds out of the back and a canopy rolls down and out to provide a bit more private space. Amazingly there was a real mix of ages travelling this way, one lady was over 80 years old. They all seemed to be enjoying themselves and there was a pretty convivial atmosphere.

We had planned to spend this evening starting to think about our next country, South Africa, but the combination of hot sand, rude women at reception, a steak dinner washed down with a bit of wine took its toll. Instead we spent the evening playing gin rummy before sleep got the better of us and we headed for bed.