Somehow both Philippa and I managed to get some sleep despite the force nine that spent the night trying to pick us both up and hurl us across the desert. My nose and throat both felt somewhat scoured but I was fast asleep when daylight struck and had to be woken by Philippa. The sand had left red outlines around us where we slept so when we packed up it looked like there had been a double murder at our site.
We’d arranged for the lodge to give us a breakfast to take with us to the dunes. P and T went to collect it and appeared looking giddily excited with one of the staff carrying the most enormous hamper. In it were two kinds of yoghurt, a cheese and meat platter, cereals, milk, coffee, bread, various jams, cherry juice, apples and oranges as wells as china and cutlery, glasses, napkins and a tablecloth.
THAT is how to enter the desert. And enter we did through the gate where a severe lady in a woolly hat and oversized sunglasses made clear that she was very much in charge and sent us off to get a permit. That we bought from a very friendly lady who had a daughter living in Bristol (!). “I’d like to go and visit her but I am scared of heights”. Not that Bristol is on a pinnacle or anything, but she didn’t fancy the flight there. We told her she should definitely go.
Back to Mrs Woolly hat for another formal exchange. Then we were off, with the big dunes shadowing the road at a distance; red in the early morning. There was so much sand and dust in the air that it felt like we were driving into a fine mist.
After about 45K we reached Dune 45, the first of the big dunes. It was still incredibly windy and walking up the spine of the dune was almost impossible. Tom was able to lean back into the wind without falling over and sand was blowing over the ridge like a waterfall.
It was a surreal feeling to be there on that mighty dune with the wind howling and the ghostly shapes of other big dunes appearing through the dusty, sunlit haze.
Eventually we took refuge in the truck, slamming the door on wind and feeling our faces glow in the sudden silence. We tucked into the hamper, starting with strawberry flavoured Rice Crispies (nice!). We distributed fruit juice and yoghurt and watched people battling up the dune, heads down, feet devoured by the sand.
We drove on to the end of the tarmacked road at which point you can either take a shuttle or drive (if you have four wheel drive) through 5k of deep sand to the main attractions. Having driven though the Hoarusib River bed I felt like an old hand at the 4×4 game and so we drove on, following one of he shuttle Jeeps fairly closely. We stopped at a second parking area and set out for Sossusvlei, one of the most iconic landscapes in Namibia. It is a curving dune at the end of a bleached, dried-up lake bed.
P and T immediately started climbing up the spine of the dune in the howling wind. I was Not At All Sure to be honest, feeling like the wind was going to throw me over the side at any time, feet sliding back in the deep sand. But they plugged away ahead of me so I wasn’t going to turn back and half an hour later we were at the top looking down on the baked white pan and ripples of orange dune flowing off in all directions.
We walked on to Dead Vlei, an ancient lake bed which stopped filling in the rains causing all the trees in it to die.
It was starkly beautiful with the wizened trees like witches hands reaching out of the hard white lake bed.
Some are more than five hundred years old.
It was getting hot now. We returned to the truck and drove out over the sand road, passing a little SUV that had got stuck. Then on the tarmac for the 60k drive to Elim Dune again during which P made lunch from the cheese and ham in the breakfast hamper.
We ate in the shade of a camelthorn tree, watched by oryx.