A black rhino!
A black rhino!

Sossusvlei

Africa, Namibia Comments Off
Apr 072012

When a friend of mine heard that we were going to Namibia she told me that Sossusvlei was one the most spectacular and bizarre places she had seen anywhere.  Having visited myself, I have to say that I agree!  Sossusvlei is an area in the Namib Desert that is known for its spectacular sand dunes and salt pans.  We visited Sossusvlei at the end of our 8-day safari.

After a full day and two nights soaking up the cool breezes in Swakopmund, we loaded up the jeep and headed back inland across some hot and desolate terrain.  Come to think of it, Namibia has quite a bit of land that could be classified as hot and empty!  Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere we found a nice sign clearly designating the Tropic of Capricorn so clearly a photo was necessary.

A bit further on we passed through the settlement (read: intersection) of Solitaire, Namibia which is home to Moose McGregor’s Desert Bakery.  Moose’s most famous creation was his apple pie which I have to say is quite good even though it wasn’t the pie shape I was expecting.  In addition to the bakery, the outfit houses a gas station and a small eatery.  The whole compound is littered with ancient cars which didn’t quite survive the rigors of Namibia.  You could have told me I was in one of those quirky little towns along Route 66 in the American Southwest.

The campground at nearby Sesriem was nice and spread out with ample room between us and the other campers.  The fact that the surrounding land isn’t teeming with lions means they can spread the operation out a bit more, I guess.  On the day of our arrival nothing specific was planned so we just pitched the tents and enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the prairie.

The next morning it was rise-and-shine at the crack of dawn because the main thing to do at Sossusvlei is watch the sunrise over the dunes.  The park staff  open the gates to the park so that there is just barely enough time to drive the to the dunes and climb them prior to sunrise.

(Slightly) ahead of the tourist hordes climbing Dune 45
(Slightly) ahead of the tourist hordes climbing Dune 45

Dune 45, named because it is 45 kilometers into the park, is the focal point for all sunrise-seeking tourists.  When we arrived there was already a sizable throng of people plodding up the ridge of the dune.  If you haven’t climbed a dune before all you need to know is to stick to that razor-sharp ridge that runs up the center.  It is still not easy but it is much better than trying to scale the loose sand on the face of the dune (like we did in Mongolia).

After sunrise we drove to Deadvlei (literally “dead marsh”) which is an area in the dune field that was once fed by a nearby river.  At some point way back when, the dunes shifted and cut off the river that was flowing into this area.  The trees growing there died and their scorched remains are still standing hundreds of years later.

Before crossing Deadvlei itself we climbed one of the huge nearby dunes.  This dune is over 350m high and locals claim that it is one of the highest in the world.  Getting to the top was quite a workout but the views from the top were spectacular!  It was a good thing that we completed the climb in the mid-morning because it would have been way too hot in the middle of the day.

Deadvlei from above (the famous dead trees are the dark spots at the far end)
Deadvlei from above (the famous dead trees are the dark spots at the far end)

We descended straight down the steep face of the dune that faces Deadvlei.  This was one of those situations where the ascent took 90 minutes of sweaty determination whereas the descent took all of 2 or 3 minutes!

I think the photos from Deadvlei speak for themselves.  It’s a positively strange sight to take in.  The contrast between the blackened trees, hardened white mud, red dunes and azure sky is amazing.

By the time we finished poking around at Deadvlei the clock was creeping towards noon and the intense sun was starting to make it uncomfortable.  After a brief stop at at small canyon near the campground we retired to our shady campsite to pass the afternoon.  This was definitely one of the days where Amy and I regretted leaving our bathing suits behind in Windhoek as the campground had a pool!

We spent our last night of the safari doing what had become a familiar routine: cooking our dinner on the braai (Afrikaans for barbeque).   We stuffed some gems (small local squash) with onions and garlic and then roasted them on the coals of the fire.

On the last morning we again rose early to catch another sunrise from atop the dunes.  This time we elected to try for a less accessible dune to avoid the large crowds at Dune 45.  Chad dropped us along the road at the large dune due east of Dune 45.  It was about a mile from the road and was substantially higher than its more famous counterpart.  We missed the sunrise but did eventually make it all the way to the top!

Dune Hairy-footed Gerbil (Gerbillurus tytonis) - white spots behind the eyes distinguish him from the standard Hairy-footed Gerbil
Dune Hairy-footed Gerbil (Gerbillurus tytonis) – white spots behind the eyes distinguish him from the standard Hairy-footed Gerbil

To me, one of the most amazing aspects of the dunes was the creatures that call them home.  We saw a wide variety of beetles, lizards and even a dune gerbil.  My favorite was the Namib Dune Geckos which I managed to spot on my evening walk to the bathhouse at the campground.  These geckos are specially adapted to survive in the dry environment and even have webbed feet for better maneuverability in loose sand.

Namib Dune Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei)
Namib Dune Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei)

Overall, Sossusvlei is stunning.  I would rank it up at the very top of all the natural sights I’ve seen and highly recommend it to anyone considering a visit to Africa.  The next post will be a short wrap-up post regarding our safari costs in Namibia.

Sossusvlei
Some of the inhospitable terrain east of Swakopmund
Some of the inhospitable terrain east of Swakopmund
Knobbly Darkling Beetle (Physadesmia globosa)
Knobbly Darkling Beetle (Physadesmia globosa)
Moose's famous apple pie
Moose’s famous apple pie
Southern Masked-Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
Southern Masked-Weaver (Ploceus velatus)
Sunrise before climbing Dune 45
Sunrise before climbing Dune 45
(Slightly) ahead of the tourist hordes climbing Dune 45
(Slightly) ahead of the tourist hordes climbing Dune 45
Seed Beetle (Stips stali)
Seed Beetle (Stips stali)
Racing Darkling Beetle (Onymacris plana)
Racing Darkling Beetle (Onymacris plana)
Beetle tracks
Beetle tracks
You are going to need the 4WD here!
You are going to need the 4WD here!
A long climb to the top!
A long climb to the top!
Wedge-snouted Lizards (Meroles cuneirostris)
Wedge-snouted Lizards (Meroles cuneirostris)
Trying to keep cool: two feet up, two feet down
Trying to keep cool: two feet up, two feet down
Deadvlei from above (the famous dead trees are the dark spots at the far end)
Deadvlei from above (the famous dead trees are the dark spots at the far end)
Namib Dune Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei)
Namib Dune Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei)
Namib Dune Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei) - the webbed feet are a special adaptation
Namib Dune Gecko (Pachydactylus rangei) – the webbed feet are a special adaptation
Dune Hairy-footed Gerbil (Gerbillurus tytonis) - white spots behind the eyes distinguish him from the standard Hairy-footed Gerbil
Dune Hairy-footed Gerbil (Gerbillurus tytonis) – white spots behind the eyes distinguish him from the standard Hairy-footed Gerbil

Saxaul tree
Saxaul tree

Mercifully, the fourth day of our tour involved less driving. I think we only covered about 150km today traveling from Yolyn Am to an area known to tourists as the Flaming Cliffs.

Lunch in progress at the ger cafe. Single pot cooking is the name of the game.
Lunch in progress at the ger cafe. Single pot cooking is the name of the game.

Along the way we stopped in a small village called Bulgan for lunch at a ger cafe. I am starting to gather that lunch at a ger cafe is always a lengthy process. First, placing your order (that is, Ultzi placing our order for us) takes some time. It always seems to involve a great deal of back-and-forth conversation/debate/bartering between Ultzi and the cook in completely incomprehensible Mongolian. Second, one has to wait for someone to go out and obtain the requisite ingredients. Third, the stove has to be lit. Forth, the veggies have to be chopped.  And so on.  Don’t get me wrong, freshly cooked food is the best plan in an area without refrigeration but it is amazing how long it takes. Budget at least 2 hours for lunch at a ger cafe.

During the lengthy dining process you do get to learn a little about the people who own the cafe. In Bulgan the family had a number of kids that were playing around the ger. By the end of our lunch stop one of our tour companions decided to buy the whole group of them lollipops from the store. We evacuated shortly thereafter and didn’t get to witness the sugar-fueled chaos that ensued.

The Flaming Cliffs were just a short ways beyond Bulgan and we had plenty of time to wander around before sunset. The area adjacent to our ger camp had loads of saxaul trees which grow at an amazingly slow rate into all sorts of twisted and strange shapes.

The Flaming Cliffs
The Flaming Cliffs

The next morning we visited the Flaming Cliffs. The rock formations are impressive and apparently a large number of dinosaur fossils have been found in the area. We didn’t see any dinosaurs but there were all sorts of strange plants, bugs and lizards to be found.

Minivan odometer: 902km (150km today)

Mongolia Tour Day 4 – Flaming Cliffs
Our ger camp near Yolyn Am
Our ger camp near Yolyn Am
Instead of a stone, this ger had a piece of an old radiator to hold it in place.  Discarded crankshafts are also popular.
Instead of a stone, this ger had a piece of an old radiator to hold it in place. Discarded crankshafts are also popular.
The village of Bulgan's modest temple
The village of Bulgan’s modest temple
A comorant in the middle of the Gobi.  He looks lost!
A comorant in the middle of the Gobi. He looks lost!
Lunch at a "ger cafe."  Amy, Bonnie and Miina plus some random American guy who was lost.
Lunch at a "ger cafe." Amy, Bonnie and Miina plus some random American guy who was lost.
Lunch in progress at the ger cafe. Single pot cooking is the name of the game.
Lunch in progress at the ger cafe. Single pot cooking is the name of the game.
A full belly after lunch.  I wonder if they deliver?
A full belly after lunch. I wonder if they deliver?
Miina and Bonnie bought some candy for the kids at the ger cafe.
Miina and Bonnie bought some candy for the kids at the ger cafe.
Mongolian road
Mongolian road
The Flaming Cliffs
The Flaming Cliffs
Even-toed undulate (camel) footprints
Even-toed undulate (camel) footprints
Lizard crossing
Lizard crossing
Miina, Amy and Ultzi
Miina, Amy and Ultzi
Saxaul tree
Saxaul tree
The Flaming Cliffs
The Flaming Cliffs
Sand circles
Sand circles
Busy beetle
Busy beetle
Porcupine quills
Porcupine quills
Every ger has a sky light
Every ger has a sky light

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