04 Jan The Namib
When I see photos of amazing places, I want to go there. That is exactly how I decided on discovering the worlds oldest desert. I saw a photo of Sossusvei, and knew I had to see it. I planned a trip to Namibia, and signed up for a desert safari.
So what is a desert safari? To be honest, I really didn’t know either, I just signed up for it because it had all of the places I wanted to see listed on it. Well let me tell you, this is a shocking experience if you are not outdoorsy, into nature, or are just generally uncomfortable being stranded hundreds of miles away from humanity.
Long story short, instead of a big game safari where you track animals like elephants, this one is more of about seeing wildlife that thrive in the desert, massive dunes, and unique arid landscapes.
Two days after arriving in Windhoek, I waited in the lobby for my tour to collect me and to head out to the Namib. I booked ‘superior’ accommodations so I assumed some big tour bus with wifi would be picking me up with every other dummy heading out to the desert.
Um no, that is not what happened. This truck came to pick me, and one other lady up.
Her name was Emiko and from Japan. Later, I will come to find out she will be my best friend over the next few days. I was a little weary hopping into the truck, the driver spoke little English and there was a communication barrier. For some reason he thought I was German, I said I was American, but nevertheless he would tell Emiko what he was saying in English, and then tell me in German. Whatever, we got two translations the whole way.
Three hours with this guy driving on rocky, dirt roads we arrived at some tiny lodge completely invisible from the main dirt road, and parks the car and says ok go see if you stay here.
What? Don’t you know where we are staying?’ He did not. I was so confused and scared, this place was literally in nowhere, and it looked like the equivalent of a KOA. Ok, don’t panic, clearly I am not staying here. Emiko and I walked into the lobby and sure enough a generous staff was waiting for us! We were staying there.
I lost all self control and went into sheer panic. These are the rude things that flew out of my uncensored mouth: omg we are staying here for 3 days?? I can’t, I am on a desert safari. I want to see the Namib. They in turn, started to panic and informing me that you are in the Namib, and all of your excursions leave from this lodge. Sheer panic. At no point did I realize my desert safari actually included sleeping out in the desert. I am not sure what I was thinking, but this was not what I imagined. Walking to my room I saw a tarantula scurry away and I almost passed out. However, once I saw the room I realized it was totally fine.
However, I was still thinking what did I sign myself up for this? Why do I do these things to myself? The owner came over to me and said I heard you aren’t happy here, I retorted, no, I am just having some culture shock. He laughed a bit and said This is Africa. Yeah, I’ve gathered that.
Due to my shock and what would certainly be perceived as an ungrateful manner I decided it was best for everyone if I went to bed, at 6:30pm. I snapped one photo, went into my room, covered myself in bug wipes, which I would find later to be useless because this lodge was actually extremely clean and bug free, took three xanex, and peeked out the window and watched the African sun set. Once the xanex kicked in I put my eye mask on and drifted off to sleep.
4am wake up call! In order to see the sights of the Namib, you have to get out before the sun, because naturally, it is a billion degrees in the desert in the summer. It was just me, Emiko, and our guide Vanna.
Where is everyone I thought? It was just us two at this lodge of 12 rooms. It turns out we had arrived at the very end of the season so most of the tourists had gone and it was just us two lil’ ladies. In the end, it turned out perfectly because it was almost like a private tour and I became very close to Emiko experiencing this with her.
We boarded this relic and hit the roads. The first, and my favorite thing Vanna said was there is no air condition, so when you want air condition, please open the window. Nice, summer in Africa without A/C. But really, would I have had the full experience with A/C? Doubtful.
We drove for a couple of hours to arrive at Sossusvlei just as the sun was starting to come up.
The dunes were so magical, almost like a fantasy, just like I imagined but even better. How could these massive dunes just stand the test of time and stay here for what seems like eons? The sand is packed very, very deeply and even if the wind blows it around they are so packed they won’t waver.
As we drove through the dunes we learned there are 50 dunes, each with a number. Our guide suggested we climb Big Daddy – or as he referred to it biggie daddy – the biggest dune. Characteristically, I started to find excuses as to why that was too hard for me. He just ignored me and I decided if I hiked a glacier in Iceland, I could definitely hike a sand dune.
The three of us set out to hike the largest dune. This was a hard hike because you sink into the sand with each step. As you start to reach the peak you see Deadvlei. The picture I had seen so many times on travel guides and on advertisements for Namibia. There it was, the worlds oldest desert, dried in time. It is so dry and dead that the trees can not decompose. Nothing lives in there. No insects, no animals, nothing.
We ran down the side of the dune and into the clay plan. I was elated! I was here! We spent a long time there. I was already pretty filthy since water in Namibia is scarce, I decided not to shower to make the experience real and do my part to conserve water – also I am lazy. I laid down on my back and spread my whole body out on the dead pan. Looking all around me and up at the sky, I was in Africa doing the coolest thing ever
We took a lot of photos, layed around, chatted, it was so fun. If you think I am adventurous, Emiko is a human development expert currently working and living in Nigeria, but not before also living in Guinea and Gaza! She is an inspiration.
We made it back to the lodge around 3, took a nap, and then went for a desert sunset tour. Truly, the best sunsets in the world are in Africa. I think the sun was made for Africa, and the rest of the world just gets to use parts of it.
A few more days at the lodge led to animal watching – not the big 5 – but we saw oryx, zebras, fox, meerkats, one warthog, jackals, and weaver birds. I was both interested and disgusted by these weaver birds. They make these huge nests and live 100-150 per nest!
By the end of my trip in the Namib I was sad to go. I loved being fully unplugged, with very limited cell and internet service, it was a full disconnect from the world. No terror, no news, just the open desert and a few people. You get the sense that you are vulnerable there, to the heat, the lack of water, the animals. You are not the top of the food chain there and you realize how amazing nature and animals are.
If you seek adventure, head to the Namib. To see more pictures, click here!