Day 16 – a day in the dunes

Up very early today as we needed to be on the truck by 6am. We drove to the main lodge and had a lightning fast breakfast – 30 minutes to get off the truck, across the parking lot, eat breakfast, and get back on the truck. We then joined the steadily lengthening queue to get into the park. 
We drove 60km into Sossusvlei stopping along the way for some photos. We saw the legendary Dune 45 but didn’t have time to climb it if we wanted to get our dune walk done in reasonable time. We took a few snaps and moved along. The other Kiboko truck was there and they got to climb the dune – I was a little jealous. We had a much better breakfast though (theirs was prepared by the side of the road) AND we have beds to sleep in every night! 

I kept trying for that dramatic dune shot with a shadow down one side and the sun lighting the red sand on the other. We SAW lots of that driving in but I never managed to get a proper shot once we finally stopped – the sun had moved. C’est la vie.

Our two Italian ladies rocked up in suede boots with heels for the desert hike. One of the guys had a very dressy pair of trainers on and the other had sandals – we had been SPECIFICALLY instructed not to wear sandals as the sand can become extremely hot and there are any number of spiky plants in the desert. We planned to climb several dunes and walk about 5km through the desert! NOT ideal footwear. We all assumed they would take the shuttle into Deadvlei and just do a short walk across the relatively flat sand to get to the pan to take photos. Imagine Misheck’s face when they announced that they were going to do the hike with us. The hike that the trip notes SPECIFICALLY said we needed to be properly dressed and physically fit to do!

The wind had picked up substantially by the time we reached the starting point for our hike. It was biting cold and blowing fine sand and grit into our eyes, ears, hair, mouth…. Poor Jess was in shorts and her legs were getting painfully sandblasted.

Jess and Alexandra opted to skip the hike and head into the desert on the shuttle instead. Several people from our group were taking the shuttle so we tucked some cash into Jess’s pocket and let the girls go with them. It was a good plan as the first part of the hike was a bit difficult with the cold wind and blowing sand. 

I didn’t dare take my SLR out of its case. I shot photos with my little waterproof point and shoot instead! Kind of a bummer given the absolutely breathtaking scenery, but I didn’t want to risk a sand filled camera for the upcoming wildlife photos I wanted to get. 

The hike was AMAZING! We braved the gritty cold wind with our buffs pulled up over nose and mouth and headed into the desert. This was THE highlight of the tour for me. I’d wanted to see this desert for a long long time! We hiked up and over our first sand dune – watching Angela (owner of the wedge heeled “desert boots”) kick off her shoes, strip into tights and a tank top, and gad about on the top of a dune mugging for photos. I’m sure she got some fantastic shots – and as soon as I saw her up there I wanted to do much the same thing but I figured I didn’t really have the moxie to get up and do a sexy dance in the dunes for a good Facebook profile pic!!

Coming down the first major dune we started to seriously outpace the Italian ladies. Misheck had to help Erica down the dune. She has something wrong with one of her legs – perhaps a recent serious break? One is substantially thinner than the other. Her suede combat boots with the 2-3 inch soles and zero ankle support were likely not helping matters at all! We headed across a salt pan and some more dunes, leaving them (literally) in our dust. 

Misheck began to worry as the group split apart. We all began to worry that this would set the tone for the entire trip – missing things because we were waiting on the Italians. Hopefully this wouldn’t be the norm for the next two weeks!! Misheck gave us directions on how to proceed and went back to fetch the Italian crew and take them another, easier, way.

Down on the pans in between the dunes, the wind often died down and it became a much more pleasant walk. We marvelled at the scenery and snapped photos like the paparazzi. 

We ended our hike by climbing the largest dune of them all: Big Daddy – most of it anyway! It was hard work with the wind blowing against us and the sand shifting underfoot with every step. I can’t even describe the awe I felt looking out across the (almost) top of Big Daddy; red dunes stretching as far as the eye could see, some acacias off in the distance to remind you this is still Africa, white salt pans in stark contrast with the red sands, and eerie dead tree skeletons poking up out of the pans casting their stately shadows down onto the white surface. Breathtaking. Perfect.

Eventually we dropped down the other side and headed for Deadvlei. What an amazing amazing place. Stark white limestone pan hemmed in by the massive red dunes, dotted with trees that have been dead for hundreds of years. Easy to see why this is the most photographed place in Namibia!

We walked right up to the edge and took some photos and then began to worry that we’d spent too long climbing the dune and that we might be holding up the group waiting over by the shuttle. Grant and I had climbed the highest and were the longest coming down. We couldn’t see most of the people from our tour anymore so figured we’d better hightail it; we definitely didn’t want to cause everyone to wait for US! 

We found Misheck and realized we would have had time to walk out on the pan itself. Bummer. But I was too tired to walk all the way back so we hung around a few minutes drinking water while everyone wandered in from wherever they had gone off to!

At this point, I started to worry about Jess. I had thought we’d meet the kids out at the pan and they were nowhere to be seen! Grant and I jumped in the first shuttle we could catch and went to see what was going on. I’m super glad we took the shuttle out. When I first heard the itinerary, I was annoyed that we were not hiking both there and back, but now I was tired and grateful for the shuttle! (Maybe I DO belong on the old people tour after all!)

We found the kids (whew) safely back on the truck. There had been a bit of confusion around the payment and neither kid had had enough cash. Tony had graciously stepped in and paid the difference so we thanked him profusely and paid him back. The kids had an absolute blast playing in the sand and formed the entertainment committee for the people who had taken the shuttle in. They slid down dunes and buried themselves in the sand. I was glad to hear that Jess had enjoyed her dune experience as I’d been feeling guilty for not making her do the hike – which had turned out to be an amazing experience for both Grant and I.
We dumped 17 pounds of sand out of each shoe, shook ourselves off, and headed to a little convenience store for a sandwich lunch as none of us felt like waiting ages for the buffet. Fortified with sandwiches, chocolate bars, and potato chips, we all piled onto the truck again to head to Sesriem canyon.

When Misheck pulled the truck up next to a long crack in the earth, we were all rather disappointed! After Fish River Canyon, this looked boring in the extreme. I thought about sitting this excursion out, but figured a walk was better than sitting in a hot stuffy truck; regardless of scenery! 

Sesriem Canyon, however, was surprisingly awesome once we got into it. The girls had fun climbing up and down the walls and into various caves and we snapped (of course) a bunch of photos. We spent a vary happy 30-45 minutes or so exploring and headed back to the truck.

Back at the lodge we headed off to relax by the pool. Jess swam, as did Roberto- the only two brave enough to get into that cold water! The resident cat came over and DEMANDED to be petted. I’m pretty sure it was part wildcat or something as it was HUGE! 

This time I was prepared for the sunset and had my camera ready. Oh. My. God. The sunset. Wow. It went on for seemingly hours and there were a few clouds in the sky to catch the light. All the photographers among us were snapping away like maniacs while the others laughed at us, then eventually took out their cameras and phones and tried to catch that perfect shot as well. I’m certain none of us came even close, but it was fun to try!

The wifi at desert camp made me CRAZY! My phone WOULD NOT CONNECT… For two days!! Everyone talking to home but me! Kevin was excitedly uploading scads of photos to Facebook and chatting via FaceTime! So so so annoying!!

We headed back to the same buffet as the previous day. This time we all brought several sweaters each… And we were seated inside! Can’t win! I tried some more game meat: wildebeest, impala, and ostrich. I really love ostrich. Wonder if we can get it at home? It’s really good for you apparently.

Back to the tents to hit the hay. Bundled up a little better for sleep this time as we’d all been cold the previous night. They had given us a triple room with only two extra blankets so I just wore wooly socks and my down sweater to bed gave the blankets to Grant and Jess. Brrrr. It was hard to sleep with the wind banging the canvas tent into the metal poles, too!  

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