I hope you enjoy the story of nomading through the Namib desert, camping, climbing sand dunes, and acquiring a taste for antelope poo.
Flying from London to Windhoek: often the flight search engines will tell you that a stop in Johannesburg is the best way, but I would recommend flying to somewhere in Europe, from where you can get a cheaper flight to Namibia. Air Namibia have excellent plane food.
Namibia used to be known as South West Africa and was governed by South Africa until its independence in 1990 (this country is only as old as I am!). That means that life under the Apartheid is still fresh in many peoples’ memories.
When? March 2014
With whom? Alone
I awoke in my tent before sunrise. For someone who doesn’t thrive in the mornings, I felt that I was doing well with this trip, which involved seeing every sunrise and every sunset. For some reason they seem to be more beautiful in Africa than anywhere else I’ve been in the world. So each morning I would be perfectly pleasant despite my groggy state of mind, as long as nobody actually talked to me. In the group that I ended up travelling with, I had met a number of characters. Michelle; an ex-army Scottish lass, Vernon; a South African, Mel; a hardcore Aussie nurse, Mike; a young Brit looking for adventure. An eclectic mix.
We met on my first night in Windhoek and partied with some locals in Joe’s Beerhouse, which is a lovely place to eat. Along our travels together we entered Etosha National Park for safari, where we saw a pride of lions gambolling about the watering hole. We had climbed the Waterberg Plateau where from the top you can see Zambia, Botswana, Namibia, Angola, and even South Africa if your eyesight is good enough. We had stopped at some salt flats and argued about the best infinity photos (perspective photos) and somehow ended up having a saltball fight/wrestle. We stayed in Swakopmund for extreme sports where the majority of us went skydiving together. All the while camping with each other and sharing tents. As you can imagine, we knew each other’s bowel movements intimately.
Mike and I often watched the sunrise together; he understood that I needed a warm up period before I started the day, whereas others would try to make conversation with me. Completely unacceptable. We packed up our tents, being careful of scorpions, as ever (we learned this the hard way), ready to go. Today, we planned to climb Dune 45. Dune 45 is the dune on most Namibian postcards and the dune that the BBC constantly give the limelight to all their documentaries; named such as it is 45 km from the Sesriem Gate, and iconic because it’s bloody big.
We arrived as the sun crept over the horizon, as we had each read that this was the best time to climb. We took off our shoes and socks and left them in the vehicle to embark on our climb. The dune towered 80m above us, majestic looking with its solid red colour against the smoky sky. Off we went, one after the other, walking on the ridge of the sand dune. This afforded an amazing view of the undulating dunes of the Namib desert, which completely encompassed us from all directions. We enjoyed it so much that we sat down at the top to take a few moments to absorb the panorama; it was as though we had the whole desert to ourselves.
The sun had come up in all its blazing glory as we started the descent from the top. That was a mistake. The heat from the harsh African sun had, of course, warmed up the sand to the extent that it hurt to touch. We all bounded down the dune, some taking the high knees tip-toeing approach, and others prioritising speed. At this point, we were even more glad that we had the place to ourselves as we looked like a poorly choreographed amateur interpretive dance group.
We huddled in the shade proffered by a small tree and compared blisters on the soles of our feet. In pain, we were not quite ready for our next destination (Deadvlei), so we loitered under the tree a while longer. Vernon disappeared for a couple of minutes, the rest of us assuming he needed to relieve himself, rounded the corner of the sand dune returning with something cupped in his hands. As he neared the group we speculated what he could have found, but none of us guessed that he had rounded up some antelope excrement. They came in small pellet form and judging from the smell, were not fresh. None of us could have predicted the next words that came out of Vernon’s mouth: “Let’s have a shit-spitting competition”. Mike recoiled in disgust, Michelle outright and sensibly point blank refused, but Mel and I were intrigued. The three of us placed a pellet each in our mouths and lubed it up with saliva as much as possible for maximum firing distance. Aim torpedoes, fire. Vernon won by a sizeable distance, which begs the question of whether he has played before. We didn’t ask because we didn’t want to know whether he regularly goes in the pursuit of animal faeces to put in his mouth.
We piled back into the vehicle to make our way to Deadvlei, another iconic part of the desert. We parked up and it was about a mile’s walk, we kept our shoes on this time. We veered around the corner to the open plane that contained the dead trees. I loved the contrast of the colours; the sand in the basin of the plane was white and the bare black trees were more prominent on the red sand background of the dunes behind them, perfectly topped off with an immaculate cobalt-blue sky.
Info: If you’d like to know more about the itinerary we followed, please get in touch. It was a fantastic trip and I don’t think I would do anything differently (apart from taking more dehydration sachets).
Recommended product: There were a few heartbreaks in the desert when we discovered that most fancy cameras aren’t sand resistant. I would recommend Fujifilm Finepix XP70 for a supplement robust camera that is shockproof, sandproof, and waterproof but still has 16MP and 5x zoom. The link shows the upgrade to the camera I took (it was 2014) but I still use mine on trips in 2017.
Tip of the week: Climb Dune 45 BEFORE sunrise. Definitely go bare foot as this made the climb easier, and if you can, follow someone else up so that you can step in their footprints! There is a false peak and it is well worth climbing to at least the second ridge, but time this carefully with the sun to avoid blistering feet.
Things worth visiting nearby:
The Sesriem Gate: you will have to enter Namib Naukluft (the national park) through this anyway as it is how tourists get to Deadvlei. Also visit the Sesriem Canyon for some awe-inspiring rock formations.
The tropic of Capricorn, labelled by a big road sign.
Fish River Canyon is the largest canyon in Africa and arguably the largest in the Southern hemisphere (it depends whether you are measuring on volume or surface area).