Southern Africa Road Trip: Sossusvlei

(This is the fourth post in our Southern Africa Road Trip Series. Feel free to start at the beginning: Let’s Road Trip Through Southern Africa!)

Spending several days driving while experiencing little else was starting to drain our batteries, so we were happy to finally arrive in Sesriem, the small town just outside of Sossusvlei where we would be spending the night and exploring the area. Unlike many, we hadn’t come for Sossusvlei proper – a large salt pan in the middle of the desert – we had come for the huge red dunes that surround it.

The entire area is a national park, and as we pulled in, we were surprised to learn that the campsite we were heading for was a government-run one, and pretty nice at that. We headed inside reception and paid for the camping and the park fees using a credit card (I love Namibia) and drove over to our assigned campsite. Our primary goal was to see the sun set from the dunes and we had some time to kill (it was about lunchtime), so we went into the campsite’s restaurant to have a nice hot meal that we didn’t have to cook. Bonus.

This is how we had been eating our meals. It was great fun, but every once in a while, we wanted to sit at a restaurant and just eat.

This is how we had been eating our meals. It was great fun, but every once in a while, we wanted to sit at a restaurant and just eat.

Our waiter was a nice guy who found it hilarious that we didn’t want the Namibian “sauce” on our hamburger (it was basically thousand island dressing) and basically didn’t believe me when I said I don’t like raw tomatoes. He laughed and laughed, and then returned to discuss the world cup with us, as he hadn’t seen many Americans come through and we were set to play Ghana the next day. In between visits from our waiter, a familiar face came walking through the restaurant – it was Peter, of Peter and Dorothy, the couple we had met days ago at our Ai-Ais campsite.

We made smalltalk for a few minutes and then he had to head back to his campsite to deal with a few problems with his vehicle, and I headed off to shower. When I was done, I found Danielle over at Peter and Dorothy’s campsite chatting and we learned that Peter is something of an electrical handyman. We sat and watched as he fashioned a lamp out of a lightbulb, battery, wire, and soldering iron, in about 45 seconds. It was amazing. We mentioned that we were having some problems with the electrical outlets in our camper and he sprang immediately into action, charging over to our camper and tearing through the thing for a good ten minutes while swearing and laughing. He was having a blast. I was really confused.

After a while I heard “You… bloody bastards!” and then he called me over and demonstrated that he had fixed our electrical outlets. Apparently, some wires and plugs had come loose and weren’t seated properly, which he had remedied. I offered to buy him a beer (he declined) and offered to fix any kind of computer issue he may have in the future. We were really grateful, as we had not been able to charge our electronics or use our electric tea kettle in the camper over the preceding few days, both of which would have been a nice convenience.

With the electrical work done, we got back in our truck for the 15 minute drive out to the dunes for the sunset. The staff that had checked us in told us to leave about 30 minutes before sunset so we could witness it from the dunes, which we did. The drive took 15 of those minutes, and we assumed that the other 15 would be used up while climbing the dunes to get to the top.

One of the smaller red dunes.

One of the smaller red dunes.

Now, we’re not in the best shape, granted. But we are hardly decrepit, we’ve been walking several miles a day for months now, and we’ve climbed a great many things. That said, for the camp staff to suggest that the dune could be climbed in 15 minutes was laughable. It was easily the height of a 15 storey building, it was steep, and oh yeah, it was composed entirely of extremely fine sand. Walking up it was a considerable workout. Running was borderline out of the question. We realized immediately that we probably wouldn’t make it to the top, but I don’t give up that easily and so I took off running up the side.

In this photo, we are already about 30 feet up. You can (barely) see the person at the top. Click for a larger image.

In this photo, we are already about 30 feet up. You can (barely) see the person at the top. Click for a larger image.

The dune had several “paths” carved in it by people who had climbed it earlier in the day, and I endeavored to follow them, but my footwear was inadequate to the task (flip flops, which I lost and had to dig out twice) and my level of fitness was falling short as well. I eventually made it to what appeared to be a vantage point to see the sunset about halfway up, but was thwarted by another dune that lay just ahead of me. There would be no shortcuts here – it was the top of the dune or nothing. After 15 minutes of a really good effort, I settled for “nothing” and turned around to find Danielle. We had a good laugh, took what pictures we could, and enjoyed the (still gorgeous) view that we had until it got dark, and then went back to the campsite.

One of the "paths" up the dune.

One of the “paths” up the dune.

Our "we surrender" selfie.

Our “we surrender” selfie.

The view back toward our campsite.

The view back toward our campsite from the dunes.

We debated heading back to the dunes the next day for sunrise but ultimately decided to just move on to Swakopmund where we planned to stay for several days. Swakopmund is the self-proclaimed adventure sports capital of Namibia, and it lives up to the billing. You can do pretty much anything there – skydive, paraglide, kitesurf, windsurf, ride ATVs, ride dirt bikes – anything. We had picked out two activities, one that pushed our comfort zone (ATVs) and one that did not (cruise on a catamaran). The rest of our time would be spent wandering the quaint, German-looking town and relaxing.

Continue along our road trip adventure series: Southern Africa Road Trip: Swakopmund

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