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Of Deserts and Sand Dunes – Namibia

Alexander Bonello - Namibia 7

I am more of a cold weather person I suppose. I seem to function much better in cooler climates and even enjoy the extreme cold for short periods of time. On the other hand I simply love deserts. There is something wild and enchanting about them, even spiritual I find. Their magnificent grandiose landscapes are captivating beyond belief. I have often found them to very much resemble the sea in so many ways.

I have been lucky enough to experience several desserts around the world, including the Libyan desert which is truly a wondrous place. In my much younger days I had the enormous pleasure of driving around it quite extensively, allowing me to take in and experience its raw and spectacular beauty, which varies in so many ways from one location to another.

I was therefore quite excited when we decided on a trip to far off Namibia, which is partially covered in desert and where we had the immense fortune of acquainting ourselves to the Kalahari and the Namib Deserts.

From what we saw at least, while the Kalahari was in most places quite flat and featureless, the Namib was far more spectacular, especially with the coastal dunes running down the Southern Atlantic seaboard and catalogued as being amongst the highest sand dunes on Earth, elevating them not only in sheer height but also to World Heritage Site status. Many of them have even been named and have been endowed with a particular gender and also a character of sorts, such as Dune 7, Big Daddy and Big Mama. They rise to well above 1,000 feet, with Dune 7 at approximately 1,250 feet, measuring exactly one and a half times the height of Dingli Cliffs at its highest point from the sea far down below. Their majestic and spectacular beauty is tremendously enhanced by their striking red colour, especially at specific times of day.

 

As there were six of us travelling together, we had arranged for a stunning custom planned itinerary with our own vehicle and personal driver/guide throughout our three week stay. This included deserts and safaris and swimming in the cold Atlantic surrounded by huge bobbing seals.

Our guide’s name was Lefi, a local of fully black African origin and I say this as there are many different looking races and tribes including the bushmen who are very different, as well as many white Afrikaners similar to neighbouring South Africa.

He was exactly what you would imagine when you think of an African athlete. He was tall, very slender, yet sinewy and muscular. They still have to invent a word for this level of fitness and being in his mid twenties he was most definitely in his prime. I could easily imagine him popping up to Cairo and back in a quick sprint for a bottle of milk.

He was sweet and gentle, quite soft spoken and had many dreams. In typical African fashion he discussed his personal life, his feelings and emotions, in their refreshing uninhibited way.

One of the main highlights of our itinerary was Sossusvlei, which is the Mecca of the Namib Desert and where many of the highest spectacular dunes are found. So we left the lodge well before dawn, sipping warm coffee which Lefi had thoughtfully brought in a couple of flasks.

After an hour’s drive or so we finally arrived, just after dawn, at the foot of these magical, enormous, deep red dunes. The rising sun peeped intermittently between dunes, shedding its orange glow over the spectacular endless sea of dunes. We were lead by a lighter than air Lefi, as he hopped along at the speed of greased lightening, or should I say black ice. He darted up and down enormous sand dunes and dashed across hard open spaces, somehow expecting us all to keep up.

The experience was a tremendously dramatic one. However by late morning when we retuned to our vehicle we were all gasping for air and soaked in sweat. While we were desperately trying to catch our breath and guzzling down gallons of water, Lefi was doing press-ups and sit-ups out in the sun just for fun. I imagine he was still warming up after only some 4 hours of backbreaking strenuous exercise, because he still hadn’t even broken out in a sweat!

Now this was January, which is the height of their Summer and it was virtually noon. He carried a thermometer with him everywhere, probably just to scare tourists and sure enough it was exactly 40 degrees in the shade! Yet it was dry, which was most certainly the only reason we survived. But 40 degrees is 40 degrees and we were constantly trekking up and down enormous steep dunes in the sun. And don’t forget that we are talking of very loose sand where with every step your foot sinks in up to your ankle.

I cannot describe our state when we returned, while Lefi looked like he was sitting in a fully air conditioned boardroom of sorts.

This was immediately followed by more walking in the scorching sun, as we experienced the magnificent dry lakes in the vicinity. It was tough going but definitely worth the ensuing fatigue walking through so many surreal landscapes.

That evening however, when we were back at the lodge and comfortably seated at the bar with a refreshing gin and tonic in hand, I tried to explain a few things to Lefi. I spoke about fat, lazy, first-world, air conditioning loving, couch potatoes. I tried to make him understand that his oneness with nature, with this climate and terrain, his extraordinary fitness, his unparalleled tolerance to the heat, his ability of never even drinking any liquids throughout much of the day, was not shared by many. I think the message did get across, as luckily from that day on he was a bit more considerate with us all and slowed things down a notch or two.

Our visits also took us to Swakopmund where we were staying at an ocean view hotel. I had never swum in the Southern Atlantic before and the large bobbing black seals which dotted the breaking waves were not exactly encouraging. But being egged on by the others, and having made a deal with one of our female companions, that she too would jump in if I did, we took a couple of large swigs of whisky and in we leapt.

The water was expectedly cold, due to currents coming up form the Antarctic. It was weird and it was wild and we swam out amongst the seals, who turned their heads towards us, contemplating our unknown looks and accents. However the cold water quickly sucked out the little courage the whisky had bestowed upon us and it wasn’t long before we rather briskly swam back to shore and the safety of our comfortable hotel rooms, not without the admirative applause of our friends.

The last week of our stay was based in Etosha National Park, up in the North of Namibia. In classical safari style, we were driven through the dusty tracks and managed to spot a wide range of beautiful animals. These included elephant, rhino, cheetah, leopard, baboon, giraffe, zebra, hyena, wart hog, ostrich, gazelle, wildebeest and a large variety of antelope.

Every lodge we stayed in throughout our stay was exceptionally comfortable and manned by the most gracious of staff. Windhoek too was rather pleasant and in spite of it being the capital, it had a lovely slow pace and a friendly feel to it.

We chose Namibia because it is safe and clean and relatively organised. Having been a German colony must contribute to its current stability and to its generally high standards. This is most definitely a country I would gladly return to.

 

Written by Alexander Bonello
Alexander Bonello is a writer and a marketing consultant. After having created
and directed a wide ranging number of businesses in various service industries,
he now dedicates much of his time advising others on marketing and related business activities.
He also spends as much time as possible doing what he enjoys best – writing.


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