A desert adventure

At a godforsaken hour on Friday morning, Tom and sat in the dingy “local flights” airport in Cape Town, waiting to board our Air Namibia flight, and ready for a desert adventure…

Getting off the aeroplane in Windhoek, I knew what Tom did not – we were getting in a rental car, with no GPS, to drive (allegedly) 5 hours into the Namib desert – our destination for his birthday weekend surprise.

We set off through Windhoek – a quaint, clean, and organised town – and were soon driving along dust tracks in the mountains.  GREEN, luscious mountains.  NOT the red sand we anticipated.

After 4 hours, and a scary spiralling dust track down the mountainside, we hit dust… lots of it.  And the first “town” we had seen since Windhoek, comprising a petrol station, a hotel, a restaurant, a small shop, and no houses….and lotsss of cactii.  We had just driven into the set of a Wild West movie, a feeling confirmed when the restaurant featured a bar with horse saddles on stools around it.

An hour later, we were finally in the desert, turning into Sossusvlei Lodge, a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert with blue shimmering pool, open air restaurant, a beer garden under the acacia trees in the bush, and luxury tents littering the private game reserve.

We were showed to a beautiful tent (with aircon and a shower inside) sitting on its own with an undisturbed view of the bush, complete with animal footprints around our little terrace.  This was going to be an amazing trip.

At dinner, we found an on-demand “braai” (barbecue), serving every type of game meat imaginable, from zebra, to wildebeest, to sprinbok…

At 6am the next morning we were up before the sun, and off on our guided tour of the desert.  We drove along in the cold and dark until the sun started to show up, and we watched the sunrise over the red dunes.  Then it was a rush to make it to the “Big Daddy” dune – the tallest dune in the world – before the heat kicked in.

By 9 we were hiking up the dune, each step filling our shoes with sand, and the air getting steadily hotter and hotter.  At the top of the smaller peak, we looked down over the Dead Vlei – once a lake, with 400 year old fossilised trees scattered around it.

By now I was sure I had a starring role in Arabian Nights.

Then we were in for a treat – we got to run down the side of the 200 metre dune, each footstep sinking us knee-deep into the sand.  It was incredible fun, and left us at the bottom of the dune pouring sand out of our shoes and socks for a good 10 minutes.

Back to the car, we were served our desert picnic, and were visited by a very cheeky jackal trying to beg some food from anyone it could find.

We spent the afternoon by the pool – and neck deep in the pool – surviving the 40-45C heat, and dinner was…. you guessed it, game meat gallore.

The next day we felt we had gotten a feeling for the place, so we set off into the desert alone to visit the Elim dune (another huge red dune).  Parking up under a tree, we spotted a huge porcupine only a  few metres away… and queue a comedy sketch of us trying to sneak up on the porcupine to take a photo, terrified that it would shoot its spines at us. (NB. We since know they cannot do this).

After a long hike up the dune to take in the staggering vistas, we made our way to the Sesriem canyon.  A huge canyon cracking open the desert floor, we were shocked to find a pool of water of one end of it, complete with fish!

By this time, 11am, the heat was deadly, and we drove back to the campsite at the gate of the desert where we found benches under huge acacia trees and cold beers waiting for us.  We also attempted icecreams, which fell off the stick into our hands before we took 2 bites!

Another afternoon by the pool, and a night filled with game meat and wine.

The third day saw us relive all the good stuff of the previous two.  We got up bright and early (by 6am), and collected our pre-ordered picnic hamper and set out driving into the desert.

First stop, the Big Daddy dune, and this time we hiked further right to the end of the first “peak” – followed by running aaaaalll the way down the dune again.  Another wander round the Dead Vlei, and we walked back to our car to empty our shoes and lay out our picnic of cereal, fruits, yoghurt and fruit juice (much to the envy of another cheeky jackal).

Next, to the Sesriem canyon again, to marvel at the huge rocks and the impossible pool of water with fish in the scorching heat… and when we couldn’t take the heat anymore… you guessed it, cold beers under those acacias again, sitting on a bench and just watching the red desert, and a family of meerkats (?) scurrying around.

In the evening we treated ourselves to a “Sundowner safari” – a long drive around the game park our lodge was situated in.  Although we saw few animals, we were taken to a hideout of the ancient San people, together with rock paintings of elephants, lions, and people.  We watched the sun go down over the desert, before heading back to the lodge for more game meat!

In the morning it was time to head back to Windhoek, then Cape Town.  We took a different route back, through incredible mountains, local villages out in the middle of nowhere…and finally through the modern and organised Windhoek again.

Back in Cape Town, we realised this was a holiday we’d never forget…. mainly because of the endless sand in all of our clothes and shoes!