Today we planned to be at Sossusvlei, in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, for the sunrise, so we had a very early start. Paul’s alarm was set for 3:20 am, but André’s alarm went off at 2:45 am. They were camped right next to us, so we got up at 3 am. We packed up our sleeping bags and took down the tent, then just sat on the truck until everyone else was ready. We actually departed on time (4 am) and made it out to the main road without getting stuck in the sand. That was a relief!
We did arrive at the national park gate around 6 am, but then we found they wouldn’t be opening the gate until sunrise, about 6:45 am. So Leon set out the breakfast and everybody ate. It was cold standing around there, must have been only about 5 C. At 6:50 a park employee, bundled up in hooded sweatshirt, opened the gate and in we went.
Unlike the rocky desert we had been traversing for the last few days, this part of the Namib was sand dunes. And this particular part was the enormous red sand dunes that are world-famous. Leon headed to Elim Dune, one of the two dunes that people are allowed to climb (the other being Dune 45). He left us there while he went off to get the truck’s tires pumped up to the correct pressure. We made the 130-metre climb to the top, on the way seeing several Dune Larks, which only live in these dunes in Namibia. The sand was cold, quite red, and very fine, so walking up was difficult. But once we were at the top we had a spectacular view over red dunes to the horizon, some with yellow-green grass patches.
Getting back down the dune was much easier than climbing up. We just ran down the sandy slope. This wasn’t totally successful, though, because some of the sand was quite firm.
Back on the truck, we drove 60 km further out to Sossusvlei, where we transferred to 4×4 trucks which took us further out into the dunes. From there we walked about a kilometre across sand to the equally world-famous Deadvlei. Formerly it was a river bed, with trees, but the dunes shifted and blocked the water flow. So what was left was a salt flat, about 500 metres across, with dead trees sticking up out of it. It was quite an eerie sight.
We wandered about a bit, then headed back to the 4×4 pick-up area. We had to wait a while for our ride, but once back at the truck we had lunch before starting out on the long journey to Swakopmund. Packing up went quickly, then we settled down to driving for the rest of the day. This was one of the days the tour brochure was talking about when it said “This tour covers a vast distance”.
The road went north across the stony desert grassland we had become accustomed to; it was stark but beautiful in its own way. Then it went down the canyons of the Gaub and Kuiseb Rivers, and finally across the interminable coastal plain to Walvis Bay, where the wind was blowing sand across the road. Here we saw the Atlantic Ocean again, and turned north for the final 30 km to Swakopmund. Leon had hoped to be there by 5 pm but as it turned out it was actually 7 pm when we finally arrived.
Arriving at the Drifters Inn, we were assigned our rooms and had 45 minutes to clean up. The showers were much anticipated after our dusty day. We were going out for a group dinner, but first we had to sit through a video presentation for various energetic activities we could buy, such as sandboarding and skydiving. We both decided that we would spend a day sightseeing and shopping, rather than doing one of those activities.
The group dinner was at a nearby German restaurant that specialized in game dishes. Rosemary had butterfish, which she wasn’t very enthusiastic about, and Paul had oryx steak, which was disappointingly bland. Back at the Inn we did a little bit of laundry and some journal writing, and finally got to bed about 11:30 pm. A very long day indeed.