Travelogue Namibia 2: Sossusvlei

SOSSUSVLEI
25-27 September 2021

Leaving behind lovely Luderitz, we hit the road to take us into the desert at Sossusvlei. The roads in Namibia are really well maintained – which must be no mean feat with the wind and the desert constantly trying to cover them – but also very economically distributed between landmark towns.

Consequently, we needed to retrace our route, past the Ghost Town we had passed on our way in and then visited properly the previous day, and about another 100km inland to get to the turn off to move north towards Sossusvlei.

This new route, although a main artery, was a dirt road, which slowed our progress somewhat. With the first item on the day’s itinerary being lunch at a German restaurant pitstop, Helmeringhausen, there may have been sense of humour issues had it not been for our holiday high spirits, a downloaded playlist (we had already learnt that consistent cell network is not a thing in Namibia) and the benefit of experience meaning we’d planned and packed padkos snacks.

Once again, our landscape view shifted from light sand to rocky outcrops to the sort of desert you see in the movies (dark peppercorn knobbles of shrubs on a red sand scalp) and then to the golden longer brush you expect in a game reserve back home. With a low mountain range – we suspected to be the Tirasberge – framing on all sides, the view could contend to be what Uncle Peter would call a vistarama.

We attempted the much-talked-about game of I Spy, but once we’d gone through Sand, Rock, Fence, Road, Sign, Sky and Telephone Poles, the options were pretty much to start again or quit. We chose to quit while we were ahead.

Arriving in the booming metropolis of Helmeringhausen revealed nothing more than a handful of buildings; a general dealer, a house, a post office, the hotel/curio shop/restaurant lunch stop and a 2 pump service station … Which proved usefully-timed as Chris spotted our back passenger tyre was flat as we left the restaurant.

The garage attendent popped a plug into the tyre and we were off, crisis averted.

Except it wasn’t.

About 100km later our back driver-side tyre burst. Argh!

Fortunately, the boys knew what to do and – besides a big mission to get the jack in the exact right place to hoist up the massive car – it was a relatively smooth operation to change out the dud tyre for the spare, which had been nested under the car.

We had been very fortunate to break down somewhere with cell phone signal – which had been at best erratic on all roads – so I was able to make myself useful and contact Avis to report the mishap and get instructions. The lady at the Avis call centre found a matching tyre at Maltahohe, 80km down the road (and not a whole lot off our route) and we dutifully obliged; spending a half hour in another of Namibia’s tiny towns while the tyre was replaced and the spare renested.

The detour meant that we arrived in our homebase for the next two nights much later than expected. It was after 6.30pm and we were chasing last light to get safely to our haven in the very remote and daunting terrain. We were relieved and delighted to arrive at the Desert Quiver Camp in one piece (and 5 functional tyres) as the darkness enveloped the road.

Sossusvlei and surrounds are famous for the dunes and the desert experience, which are immensely popular with international tourists and nature buffs alike. Consequently, accommodation options vary from camping to glamping to eye-wateringly priced luxury camps. We had taken our chances with the reasonably-priced chalets at Desert Quiver… And our bet had paid off.

Simple but tasteful, modern and very comfortable 2-sleeper chalets with aircon (essential!), kitchenette, braai facilities, and generously spaced for unobstructed views of the desert on all sides, with a serviced clubhouse with pub and pool, if you felt social.

After a fairly harrowing extended day on the road we declined the option to drive 4km down the road to Sossusvlei Lodge for buffet dinner, opting rather to have a sundowner at the pub and fashion a picnic dinner from our leftovers from Luderitz and our padkos supplies.

Great decision, leaving us to appreciate the great outdoors and continue with our newly-acquired amateur star-gazing hobby while Chris stole the show, whipping up fried cheesy hotdog toasties on the hotplate in our kitchenette.

Awaking to an already-warm 7am, we applauded ourselves for heeding the advice of the receptionist the previous night; she had warned us that leaving for the dunes too late could ruin the experience because of the oppressive heat.

With fruit and leftover hotdogs in the fridge, it was quick n easy to get a slap-up breakfast together and hit the road.

We were ideally placed, with the Gate to the Namib-Naukluft National Park a few kilometres down the road (just beyond the restaurant we had declined the previous night). However, once in the park it was another 60km to get to the shuttle that transports tourists around the dunes.

The shuttle drivers were very friendly, got us packed into the game drive vehicle efficiently and before you could say “so much sand”, we were trundling across dry salt pans and over the silky red sand dunes to get to the Dead Vlei valley with its graveyard of trees, unable to survive the dry saltiness of the ground in which they had been seeded.

The Big Daddy Dune arched above and was a 1 – 1.5 hour hike to complete end-to-end but, with the sand already as hot as it was, there was no incentive to commit to more than a few mid-dune pics for posterity and perspective. No regrets; it’s an awe-inspiring landscape and the magnitude and rugged beauty can be appreciated from any level!

The shuttle then took us across the plain to the smaller curved Big Momma dune, which sheltered a watering hole below. We were able to walk from the parking area where the water was little but a mirage on the horizon, and cross the caked clay to the water’s edge. The driver told us that when the floods come, the entire basin gets filled – way beyond the area where we were currently parked – demonstrating exactly how extreme the ecosystem is.

By then it was past 11am, over 35 degrees and a long time since breakfast, so we jumped back in the car, retracing our footsteps and stopping for the occasional photo as we drove back to the permit office at the Gate for lunch in the adjacent restaurant.

We got back to camp at around 1 and since we’d been admin-forward in ordering a braai kit from reception in the morning (they offered a shopping service where you select meats, veg, salads and breads from a checklist and they deliver in the evening), we had absolutely nothing to do all afternoon besides relax at the clubhouse and enjoy the pool.

We thanked our lucky stars that we had gotten all our sightseeing done early; by now it was baking hot – around 40 degrees – and there was a blustering hot wind. The wind was so strong and so consistent that I had to position myself to sit facing into it to avoid a faceful of hair like Cousin It from Adams Family. It was also so hot that it was like having a massive hairdryer pointing at you. Fortunately we didn’t have to lift a finger because everything would have been an effort!

Once our braai pack arrived, we set about making our fire. The pack included a homemade firelighter that required us to gather dry sticks from nearby bushes to act as kindling for the wooden logs provided.

We had ordered generously, so feasted on delicious Oryx steaks, Namibian lamb chops and local wors, with foil-wrapped potatoes and onions as well as tubs of coleslaw and pasta salad. A fitting finish to a fantastic day.