Thursday, November 4, 2010

Monday 27 Sept. 2010 - Let the Dunes Begin...

All the drivers drove their vehicles up to the main entrance to have radios fitted for the trip while the rest of us couldn't wait for that first cup of coffee and discussed the sudden change in weather and wondered what we were in for.

We settled down to a hearty breakfast - the perfect start to the long day ahead and Andre gave us the lowdown of what the plan for the day would entail. 

First stop was at the garage so that everyone could see to their last chances on petrol and water, wood and other odds and ends as we were not going to see another civilised spot until Friday afternoon.
We hit the road at 09:00 and made our way to the Namib Naukluft National Park Gate about 30kms away, where we all took a sho't left.

Once we had all turned and were through the gate, the convoy was brought to a halt and we were instructed to deflate our tyres to takkies as we had now entered soft sand territory and the flatter the tyre the better as you "float" across the dunes. 
An amazing mountain stands majestically across the plain.  This is the Saagberg (or Saw Mountain) - the jagged range representing the teeth of a saw when the light catches it at certain angles and the shadows fall, apparently creating quite a sight.

Andre explains that the route we are taking across the plains is more or less the same route that was followed by the earlier settlers all those years ago, their tracks supposedly still visible in some areas, and thus one of the reasons why we are to stay on the tracks he follows and not wander about aimlessly, destroying the terrain as we go along.

 We pass the burnt-out wreck of a vehicle and we are told that whoever it belonged to was trespassing and there is no telling how they entered the area - the gate to the park is locked at all times and there are only a limited number of key holders who have sole access to the area.  Who knows what story that car could tell?

The air is so clean and clear.  The contrast between land and sky so sharp it is almost blinding and your eyes and brain just don't feel big enough to absorb what they are being exposed to.

We drove across plains scattered with fairy circles, which phenomena has driven scientists and botanists around the world crazy for many, many years.  An article in New Scientist written in 2004 confirms the explanations Andre related to us about the different experiments done to determine how they have come about.  Some of them were quite small, while others were quite wide in diameter.

After an hour or so, we reached the top of a grassy duney hill, where a quick leg stretch and photo opportunity gave us the opportunity to touch the silky soft red sands and admire what we had passed through.

Little did we know that the dunes were about to begin... ever so gentle as they were, it was quite challenging to follow Andre's example of ascending the uphill tracks without getting stuck, then having to reverse in the track you had just come up and try all over again.

It was here where Johnny pulled alongside us as we watched how everyone negotiated the red sand and got stuck where it looked as easy as pie.  "Kom terug.  Stadig.  Stop. Stop.  Low range, eerste rat" (Come back.  Slowly.  Stop. Stop.  Low range, first gear").  "Okay, nou probeer weer."  (Okay, now try again).  "Nee, nee.  Kom terug.  Bly in die track.  Stadig.  Low range, eerste rat.  Okay?  Gooi!"  (No, no.  Come back.  Stay in the track.  Slowly.  Low range, first gear.  Okay?  Put foot!).  We eventually all made it and when we waited for Johnny, he was right behind us - so effortlessly!  The drivers were all a little shaken, but were glad that they had conquered this dune as well as the next...

 ...and the next, and so we continued, up and down, slowly making our way across the grassy  and sandy plains, our eyes peeled back at the breathtaking expanse and beauty they were taking in.
Ascending these dunes was daunting, in our minds, and they were mere hillocks by comparison to what we were going to be faced with in the days to come!

As the wind blew through the grasses and rippled the sand, tiny flecks of glitter shimmered playfully before moving on to shine somewhere else...

Just before 12:00 the convoy was brought to a stop.  Time for lunch.  We were pretty high up and a rocky divide exposed an expanse of grassland and far in the distance we spotted at least a dozen Zebra and some Ostrich moving lazily about in the heat of the midday sun.  The only shade afforded comes from long, whispy grass or the tall and broad clumps of Euphorbia damarana scattered across the plains.

While we walked about studying our surroundings, Andre, Johnny and Gonzalez assembled tables, and produced a spread of cold meats, cheese and salads together with fresh rolls and dressings.  Surprisingly enough we were all pretty hungry and the refreshingly cool midday meal went down very well indeed.  The heat had become almost unbearable and the only relief we had from the sun was either in our vehicles or under the retractable shade awnings Brian, Janet and Ben and Ben had stretched out alongside their vehicles.

After being well fed and watered and everything once again packed up and tucked away, Andre explained that we were going to be driving through a rocky section where negotiation was very important as there were lots of sharp shards (in other words "tyre tearers") about and losing tyres at the start of the trip was certainly not an option. 

We made our way through the pass and fortunately there were no shredded tyres, but only a "takkie" partially off its rim.  Andre attended to the matter with speed and efficiency and with the help of some water, the tyre was back in place, pumped up and we were on our way again.  The Zebra we had seen from our lunch spot had moved on and we only caught a glimpse of them as they disappeared.  We passed several Gemsbok and learned that the Gemsbok Oryx gazella  is adapted to survive high temperatures and on very little water for several days. 

A most amazing thing happened as we approached and started driving past the Ostriches we had seen.  Almost in greeting, they broke into a run when they saw Andre's vehicle.  They ran along the track, heads held high, mouths slightly opened, legs stretching out in great strides to cover as much ground as they could. We had to slow down a bit to allow them to pass in front of our vehicles as they tried to catch up to Andre.  It was one of the most touching things I have ever seen.  It seemed they were saying "Andre, Andre, you're back!  Wait for us!"  Alas I have no photos!  I was so distracted by this event that it slipped my mind to click along. 

Once we had crossed this area, Andre brought the convoy to a halt for us to observe the most amazing variety of contrasts.  This is the Kuiseb Canyon, the southern side of which is made up of massive red sand dunes
and the northern side pitch black rock. 

The white dry sand of the riverbed is scattered with overgrown trees with bright green foliage.

We journeyed on westwards to reach our intended restcamp for the night, but had to move it if we were to make it before nightfall. 

We reached an area where Andre explained that the Toppenaars, a people of the Namib, built shelters for their goats.  These consist of pieces of rock crudely assembled in circular fashion in the shelter of a rockface.

In one of these, a tiny little flower known as Eidelweiss, grows.  It looks and feels like an Everlasting and is very, very small.

We continued our journey through the changing terrain and before we knew it, we came to where we thought our lives were changed forever...

Andre told us exactly what to do and one by one we slipped down the steepest incline we had yet to face... 

"Skillie" making the descent
 ...and it took us straight down into the shimmering silver sand of the Kuiseb riverbed, lined with shady Camel Thorn trees...

Andre waited for us all to descend, turned his vehicle around and headed up the river. 

The sand of the riverbed shines like polished silver, a sight to behold!

Suddenly, a Gemsbok sprang out of nowhere ahead of Andre and ran along the track, as if leading the way! Again, it was as though in greeting, that this animal appeared and ran at least two kilometres without once stopping... disappearing as soon as it entered the camp area... 
The campsite is situated in a cradle surrounded by the black rock of the northern sided of the Kuiseb Canyon.  We each found ourselves a nook and set about pitching tents for the night. 

A rustic ablution facility, consisting of a wood and bamboo shelter, houses a toilet in one side and a shower in the other.  Hot water is provided by the guides who heat up the water in jerry cans next to the fire.  We each have a ration of four litres to shower in, and it is surprising how far it goes!  Wet, soap, rinse, done! 

While we were all busy, Johan, Johnny and Gonzalez set up the windbreak, got the fire going, boiled water and cooked up a delicious feast of lamb potjie (stew), served with rice and salads.  A perfect meal to end off what was a perfectly exciting day.

At the end of the meal we chatted for a little while, Johan having given us the plan for the next day, which would entail a desert crossing.  Eventually we all dawdled off to bed, having succumbed to the dark and peaceful comfort of our dwelling...

And this, my dear readers, is the end of day one...

If you have missed the very beginning of this trip, go to Namibia Dunes Trip

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