Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sossusvlei & Naukluf Mountains

I think I’ve just seen my dream bicycle set up. The bike itself is in pretty rough shape, and the seat looks like it would make sitting down painful for the rest of your life. But the set up is brilliant – it has a huge shopping cart-like basket welded to the front. Do you know how many groceries could be carried on that thing? Or camping equipment? Or furniture? I think the man uses it to deliver laundry from the Laundromat where we’re currently hanging out. Our clothes are once again filthy; this time from sand and dust.
We finally made it to the number one tourist destination in all of Namibia, the Sosusvlei sand dunes, and for once I think they deserve all of the praise they receive. The towering, sinuous dunes create beautiful curves and lines that flow into each other and cover the landscapes in shades of red, orange, and brown. When seen at sunrise the growing light creates stark distinctions between the glowing red sand and the deep shadows. Even when seeing them in person, it feels like you are surrounded by paintings instead of actual landscapes. Our photos do not do them justice.

Jeanette on Dune 45 at sunrise

Springbok running over dune right before pronking

Sunset on Elim Dune

We spent two nights in the park, which was much cheaper for camping than either of our guide books suggested. We’re also traveling well off season, so we’ve been able to get sites at the last minute. After driving to the dunes for the sunrise on the first day we hiked up Dune 45, the tallest of the dunes, and then hiked out to Sossusvlei itself. A vlei is a low, flat, dry area of land, though the namesake of the park is currently filled with a shallow lake from all of the rain in January. Apparently they’ve had very atypical weather this year including a rainy summer and now a cold winter. An unusual number of low-lying plants and beautiful flowers bloomed in the sand covered landscape. We hiked to a few very desolate vleis as well that had skeletons of trees standing on flat plains of mud and sand.
Dead Vlei

Anne on Dead Vlei admiring trees that she so misses

Two women hiking alone apparently stood out. The male drivers of the shuttles down the sand road to the vleis didn’t understand why we wanted to walk instead of paying close to $40 for a ride. When we decided to walk another 4 km to another vlei, it was shocking. We’re frequently asked where are men are because clearly two women, especially of our age, should not be without husbands. Our story is that they couldn’t get off of work, so we decided to travel without them. No one ever asks for details, though, which is unfortunate. It’s fun to concoct stories. I’ve decided my fictitious husband is an astronaut.         

After Sossousvlei we went to the much less popular Naukluft Mountains for a day hike on the Waterkloof Trail. The mountains weren’t very far from the dunes, but we allowed plenty of time to drive there. A large majority of the roads in Namibia are gravel and vary from being wonderful one minute to washboards with sandy dips and rocks the next. We got our first puncture on the way to Sossousvlei, but changed the tire on our own without any issues. (Though I’ve changed many bike tires, I’ve never had to change a car one, so it was a good lesson for me.) We’re pretty sure that “waterkloof” means river bed ravine, since the entire hike walked through one. Though not the most exciting trail we’ve ever done, we encountered many beautiful views, rocks, purple flowers, and painfully prickly plants. At night we huddled into our sleeping bags and extra blankets. Jeanette keeps complaining because so far, though we are now technically in the tropics, Africa is COLD.
Naukluft Mountains

When we left the mountains we headed to the moon landscape and welwitschia plains of the Namib Desert. Welwitschia are ancient dwarfed trees that only grow in this small section of Namibia and nowhere else. Their trunks actually developed into long roots underground. Above ground they have two leaves that split apart to look like grass skirts around them. The oldest plant here is 1,500 years old. It started growing when the Roman Empire still controlled Europe and Atilla the Hun was just defeated.

The moon landscape is just that – a weird, rocky, crater-filled landscape in the middle of the desert that looks like the moon. I think Jeanette is right when she says that if it were in the U.S., some tourist trap would have set up a model of an astronaut and Apollo 11 so that people could take their photos with them. In Namibia they just have signs that say “Viewpoint” and “Stay on the road, drilling in progress.” Mining companies are searching for uranium within the national park.
The Moon

While driving we met a couple from Holland who turned an old army truck into an overland travel vehicle. They’ve been traveling through Africa for two and a half years and have had brilliant adventures. Checkout their blog at
So after all of that we’ve finally landed in Swapmokund, tourist destination extraordinaire. We’re doing everything on our own instead of taking tours, so for us, this town means well-stocked grocery stores, pizza, and a Laundromat. Then we’ll head back out into the desert, because you can just never have enough dust. However, we will always keep with us the brilliant words of wisdom from an Arabella wine bottle:
Important Words of Wisdom


  1. I must say that even though your idea of a good time in Africa is quite different than mine, I find your stories hilarious good fun, and the pictures of the sand dunes alone are worth the cost of this post! You really need to do some high resolution large photos of those dunes--maybe for the Unalaska arts and crafts fair next year. Still regret I missed you in Cape Town, but at the rate you are going, you will still be there when I return in December so maybe we can try again. And, one final note, being back in hot and humid Mississippi, I am longing for the cool autumn going on winter of South Africa!

  2. Have had so much fun following you on Google Maps. Amazing landscapes and pictures! Those dunes-ah! Jeanette you looked freezing! Glad you two are having a much better time after renting the car. Can't wait to see what comes next....

  3. Those photos are amazing!! Love following your adventures! Miss y'all but glad you are having all kinds of fun. And I especially enjoyed learning about Bob. What about Jeanette's husband? I need to know.

  4. I agree that you need to enlarge and frame some of those dune photos--absolutely breathtaking. I can only imagine how stunning they are in real life.
    Your narratives are priceless--you should definitely publish when you return.... :)