Monday, January 28, 2013

Oldest and Tallest in the World, along with 120+ temperatures


I am writing this from the privacy of my on room watching 2 springbok wander in the field in front of me along with views of the Sand Dunes and Nauklauft mountain range.

 The morning started at 4:30 with a gentle knock on my door—Sossus Dune Lodge’s version of a wake up call.  The plan was to leave at 5:00 AM so that we would be  at Deadvlei for the sunrise.  We opted out on climbing Dune 45 for sunrise, mostly because we knew the summer temperatures would be rise quickly after sunrise.  As we drove in on the lodge’s private road onto the tarred road of the national park it was still dark.  Driving on a tarred road this morning was a nice treat, seeing that 280K of the 380K driving was on unpaved roads.  The drive to reach Dune 45 is about 45 minutes from the park entrance, and the camping grounds and lodge are just inside the park.  It was dark most of the drive in and I was think the students  will be so surprised at the views on our way back.  As the sky started to get more light, some of the red colors of the dunes were starting to show. (The colors of the dunes are determined by the colors of the sand blown in from the Orange River that borders South Africa and Namibia.) 

Deadvlei is another fifteen minutes past Dune 45, and you actually have to transfer to a 4- wheel drive shuttle for the last 5 km—the road is no longer tarred and so sandy only a 4 wheel drive vehicle can make it through.   
Our 4-wheel vehicle

We were able to hike into Deadvlei, enjoy the coolness of the morning, the amazing sights of trees between 450 and 600 years old, and watch the sun rise over Big Daddy, the tallest sand dune in the world. 
Waiting for the sunrise

We were the first ones to make the 1.1K hike in the morning and had the entire place to ourselves.  Even with our group, the place felt peaceful and without sounding trite, there is something awe inspiring about being in the oldest desert in the world (learned that today) surrounded by the tallest dunes of amazing shades of orange/red (there is a lot of iron in the sand which oxidizes, creating such rich orange colors and standing among black trees that died when the Tsauchab river stopped flowing and providing water to these trees. The trees remain standing because there is not enough moisture for the trees to decompose.
Morning shadows

Some plants have adapted and now grow in Deadvlei relying on dew for a water source.

After having Steve photograph several “group jumping” photos, taking a variety of individual and friendship photos, and marveling at the changing colors and landscape of Deadvlei, we decided to head back to catch the 4-wheel drive shuttle to “Big Mama” (second tallest dune in the park), before the sun became too hot.  We were delayed by one shuttle while a couple of our guides worked on Josh’s 450 year old splinters.  Steve took pictures of each student next to a highly photographed tree, and instead of standing in front of the tree, Josh climbed the tree.   We have great photos, but Josh grabbed the trunk coming down the tree and managed to get a nice arm and hand scrape and multiple splinters.  Fortunately I had brought wipes in my bag, so he managed to do some cleaning of his scrapes, but once out of Deadvlei, Tickey and James use the African style of a thorn from an Acacia Camel Thorn tree to remove the splinters.  After about 10 minutes of working on his hand, Megan produced a pair of tweezers—she was getting something from her backpack and realized she had a pair of tweezers.  This  the accelerated the process and I believe we were able to remove all splinters.

It was about 8:30 AM when we reached Big Mama, and definitely cool enough to climb.  One of the students who had been challenged with stomach issues stayed back, but the rest of us all decided to climb.  It was my first time reaching the top, and as I climbed with all but one student in front of me, I followed the footsteps made by the person in front of me,  reciting a line from the Berenstein Bears, “Slow and steady wins the race.”  It was the slow and steady part that played multiple times in my head.  I was pleased to make it to the top. No one really wanted to leave because there is such a sweeping view of the dunes from the top and from one direction you can look back across to Deadvlei. However the run down the side of the dune was quite exciting too, less scary and more fun than I anticipated.  

By the time we made it back to the gathering point it was after 10.  We decided to drive to Dune 45 for a photo opportunity.  As the group climbed out of the van, they decided NOT to climb the dune.  Steve encouraged them to go up 10 yards for a picture that looked like they were climbing, and all of a sudden they were heading to the top.  Afterwards one of the girls said she didn’t know what happened because she had heard the “No Climb” while climbing out of the van, but then found the entire climbing.  The power of group think I guess.  I do know they were happy to have made another dune climb that was rewarded with great views from a different side and running down the dune,

The students returned back to campsite at 11:30 for a nap, lunch and down time.  Paula, Steve and I returned to our lodge.  We immediately put on our swimsuits, grabbed some snacks and went to the pool.  Many of you know I am not one to hang out by a pool all day, but that is exactly what I did.  I moved between the pool and my shaded lounge chair.  Even with shade, I needed frequent breaks to keep cool. We heard the temperature reached as high as 122 F.    I know I have not been in such hot weather before and even before having the temperature confirmed, I knew it was HOT.  Paula and I chose not to do the  Siersam canyon walk at 2:00 ( pictures from the canyon are interesting, but it was just too hot. The students said they would have been fine without the 30 minute walk, but our guide Tickey wants to make sure students experience everything).  However the students came back just before 3:00 and hung out with us at our pool for the afternoon.  We treated them to cold drinks after their hike and Sonia, a friendly and accommodating day manager brought a “snack” tray-- Meat, chicken fingers, potato smiles, samosas, nuts, dried fruit and tomatoes.  The group devoured the snacks and of course Josh got all the meat he wanted. Later that night when I was talking with a secondary school principal from Switzerland before dinner she told me she was worried when she saw university students arrive at the pool, but then commented on their friendliness, politeness and appropriate behavior.  I definitely felt proud—we had asked them to be respectful of the guests, and not take over the lounge chairs—and they proved to be the perfect guests.

The students left at 5:30 before the large group of 22 Belgiums arrived at the lodge.  They headed back to the campsite to enjoy Tickey’s gourmet meal of Chicken ala King that had multiple side dishes.  The previous night he had prepared game kebobs, potatoes with gravy, vegetables that according to the students were delicious.  This camping excursion for them has been well planned and definitely the way to enjoy camping in Namibia. No matter where we were in the desert this weekend, it was unusually hot—too bad the camp ground’s pool was not well maintained.

This morning I woke up to the full moon off one side of my deck, and colors from the sunrise on other.  What a spectacular way to start the day.  I also like that I brought my computer with me, so my blog was mostly written while I was in Sossusvlei.


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