If you’ve never been to the Sossusvlei area in southwestern Namibia, you really need to make a plan. We’ve been four times in the past 20 years and it still knocks our socks off. Each time we try to do something a little different and this time it was climbing the dunes of Sossusvlei.
For instance, the ‘head standing’ toktokkie beetles of the Namib put their bums in the air; the fog condenses on their bodies and flows down to their mouths. ‘Fog basking’ is what scientists call this oddly ingenious behaviour.
As we got back into the vehicle, I breathed a quiet sigh of relief that no one was expecting me to climb to the top. Then Athan broke the news that we were going to climb the 320m-high Big Daddy dune instead. I flinched. I was unfit. I was still recovering from a lung infection. It wasn’t going to happen.
‘You can do it,’ he said, shooting me one of his sunniest smiles.
‘But it’s soft sand. And it’s really high,’ I whined. Much higher than Dune 45.
‘You can do it, of course you can,’ he smiled again.
And I believed him.
At first the pace was just right for me because we focused more on tracks in the sand than on entering the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest climb to the top.
We saw the tracks of gerbils – nocturnal rodents whose long back legs make them look like mouse-sized kangaroos.We saw tiny parallel sets of dots that announced a fog-basking beetle had tip-toed over the sand. And we saw the tracks of the Namib dune ant, which can tolerate body temperature extremes from 10-55o C in short bursts. ‘It has long legs to keep its body 5mm off the ground, where it’s 10-14 degrees cooler than on the sand surface,’ Athan said.
For the first time since starting the climb I was glad I was the straggler. As the others surged forward to explore further and take photographs, I could plant myself in the sand, be present in the moment and soak up the view in silence. The dunes formed a three-sided amphitheatre above the white clay pan where the main actors (apart from scurrying humans) were dead camel thorn trees stretching up like bleached skeletons.
Big Daddy conquered, climbers refueled by picnic snacks at Sossusvlei, we set off to explore the Sesriem Canyon. This 3km-long canyon was carved out by the Tsauchab River and parts of it are 65 million years old. The midday heat was a furnace so it was a relief when the path led us into the canyon, the walls narrowed above us and we found blissful shade.
Note: I was a guest of Wilderness Safaris Little Kulala for two nights, but the opinions expressed are my own.
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