The Namib deserts lie in Namibia. Considering that the word ‘Namib’ means ‘area where there is nothing’, this then means that it is a place of nothingness within nothing. What can we expect to find in the middle of this void? How about the top attraction of Namibia, Sossusvlei?
Sossusvlei is home to enormous red sand dunes. These giants line a 66 km long drainage basin for an ephemeral river. The dunes average a height of 200 metres, but can reach as high as 325 metres. They come in shades of rust, literally as the redness come from oxidising iron in the sand. The redder the dune; the older it is.
A single road runs the length of the Sossusvlei basin. There is only one entrance to the park, and that opens at dawn. Getting there for dawn is highly recommended for two reasons. The first is that the long drive (66 km remember?) is spectacular in the morning light as the low-angle light cast long shadows that show of the curves of the dunes and give a knife-sharp contrast to the centre ridge that all dunes have.
The other reason for getting there early is that by mid-day, temperatures can become unbearable. The day before I went there, it had reached 46 degrees Celsius, or 115 F. And considering that you’ll be climbing some of these dunes barefoot…
Oh, I didn’t mention that you can climb the dunes? Hell yeah! That is the most exciting and life affirming thing I’ve done in a long time!
The first dune that my travel buddy Alex and I climbed was Dune 45, located 45 km from the gate. Barefoot we walked up the ridge of the dune, higher and higher. On either side was the steep drop towards certain death, or at least so I thought. I was convinced that if I fell, I would tumble all the way down and break my neck. It gave me a fantastic adrenaline rush! I felt alive!
Then we got to the top, and I saw people sitting not on the ridge but on the slope. It is apparently completely safe to step outside the ridge. In fact, the way I got down from Dune 45 was by running straight down, taking huge jumping leaps!
We drove onward as far as we could get in Sossusvlei by car, and swapped to a 4×4 shuttle which took us to the heart of Sossusvlei. It is a bit confusing what you are meant to do once you get dropped off. So, we decided to climb the tallest thing in sight: the Big Daddy, tallest dune in Sossusvlei at 325 metres (1066 ft.). This was obviously a bad idea considering it was already getting quite hot. But, mounting Big Daddy was a challenge I could not resist!
The 45 minutes non-stop march up the Big Daddy almost killed me, but I was revived by the magnificent view. For as far as the eye can see, waves of red dunes stretched out under a deep blue sky. Here and there, bright white clay pans lay amidst the dunes, like silver lakes. The largest of these lay at the foot of the Big Daddy, the clay pan after which the entire area has been named, Sossusvlei.
It took me 45 minutes of hard labour to walk up the Big Daddy. It took me two and a half minutes to run down. See the video if you don’t trust me.
The Sossusvlei clay pan is a strange place. White flat clay stretches out for a long way. How long is impossible to gauge due to the lack of features. At the furthest end away from Big Daddy lies a scattering of gnarly black petrified trees. It’s all very creepy.