Ever see those amazing pictures of sand dunes in Africa that you assumed were from the Sahara? Well it turns out they’re not from there. They’re actually from a weird place called Sossusvlei, Namibia, home to the largest sand dunes in the world that can tower up to 300m. Linda’s the small green figure in the front for scale…
So how did all this sand get here? Well it’s originally from South Africa- erosion on the coast- and is brought up in the current to Namibia where it washes up on the coast. Then slowly but surely over millions of years the sand gets blown inland, creating what you see. They’re a bit red from the iron content in the dune, which of course turns into rust.
This is Dune 45, so called because it is the 45th dune from the gate into the park and coincidentally 45km from the campsite. At 170m it’s not the biggest dune or anything like that, but it’s got a good spine for tourists to climb up to watch the sunset (or sunrise for the particularly masochistic) but still conveniently close enough to the gate that you can make it out before the park is closed.
It turns out it’s surprisingly hard to climb up a sand dune by the way as your feet get really tired without having a good grip, but going down is very fun after you’ve watched the gorgeous sunset. Basically you just barrel down as fast as you can manage taking care to lean a little backward if anything, and momentum gives you a great speed to keep going.
Another thing that was a true highlight of Sossusvlei was the Desert Walk, led by a slightly crazy Afrikaner pictured above. He is pictured as walking far ahead because this guy consistently power walked several meters in front of the group so that none of us thought keeping up his speed was possible. While barefoot.
It’s kind of weird to say that going around to walk into the desert to learn about sand and bug tracks and whatever else was cool, but with a charismatic guide it really was. Plus somewhere between showing us how to catch a lizard and how to coax a spider out of its nest I figured this guy would be great on Survivor Man: Namibia or something similar.
And this, ladies and gents, is my footprint in the sand. I didn’t take this picture just because it was a lot easier to walk through giant dunes whilst barefoot, but because of the indigenous bushmen tribes who lived in the area. Back then if you were a bushman (who were originally yellow-skinned and capable of eating 10kg of meat at a time) the first thing you learned as a child was how to identify your mother’s footprint in the sand, followed later of course by those of everyone else in your family. Each person’s footprint is unique so later on in life if you’re wandering and happen to see those prints you will be able to meet up with long-lost relatives. So just in case you ever get lost in the Namib desert and you spot this print, come say hi to me will you?
And because I thought it was interesting, it turns out the bushmen are called such because game runs if you get within 10m of it but their poison-tipped arrows were only good at closer range, so they’d fire from behind available bushes (or take their own bush with them if none was conveniently located). They also gave Sossusvlei its name- back then all the whites who came up into this area would be shot and killed, and since none of them ever returned the name is really “dead man’s vlei.”
I know you hear it often, but one important thing to never forget about a desert is how even though it looks like nothing could survive out there lots of things cope and thrive, even if it means living 20 years without ever drinking liquid water. What’s the coolest thing we saw? How about a pair of ostriches with about 50 little ones between them! It turns out in the wild ostriches wait until the rainy season every few years to have their young, and to maximize their offspring whenever two sets of proud ostrich parents meet they fight over who gets to keep the young. Whoever wins gets the thankless task of raising the loser’s kids on the grounds that they are better prepared to protect them from predators, while the losers have the punishment of having to go off and make more ostrich chicks.
I know, ostriches are totally doing it wrong. But more on them later, assuming I ever catch up enough to talk about my time on an ostrich farm in South Africa.