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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars

 

Namibia - 1 May, 2001

 

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Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Sesriem (campsite) S2429.077' E01547.983' 792 m
-  Dune 45 for sunrise
-  2 x 4 car park
-  Sossusvlei 3 km
-  2 x 4 car park
Sesriem (campsite) S2429.077' E01547.983' 792 m 141 km
-  Sesriem Canyon
Finish Sesriem (campsite) S2429.077' E01547.983' 792 m 11 km

Total:

38,842 km

18,022 km

 

Weather: Partly cloudy, sunny, and very hot.  Cold at night.  Short rain shower.

 

 

Daily Journal Entry:

We are up while it is still dark as we want to go watch the sun rise over the Namib desert from a top Dune 45.  We skip breakfast and are ready to go shortly after 5 AM.  After about a 45 minute drive, we arrive at Dune 45 - so called because it is 45 kilometers from Sesriem.  We have driven down the Aub River bed - which is dry most of the time.

 

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The dune rises over 120 meters over the surrounding plains and we take the long walk up to the top.  It is difficult to walk on the sand up the side of the dune, but we eventually make it to the top.  We walk along the knife edge that is formed by the wind.  As we walk, our feet sink down into the red sand.  We sit down to await the rising sun.

 

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It is quite cool and we have to wear a jacket to protect us from the wind.  As we sit there, we see a lone gemsbok wander across the plain below.  We are finally rewarded for our patience as the colors in the sky begin to change from a dark blue to a pink to a red and then to the bright harshness of the sun itself.  The dunes around us are all lit up with the warm glow of the newly risen sun.

 

After watching the sunrise, Lars decides to take a short cut and run down the side of the dune.  It is very steep and once you get going, it is hard to stop.  He jumps and leaps his way down the side of the dune.  Once at the bottom, it is a long, but flat and sand-less, walk back to truck along the edge of the dune.  Along the way, we admire the few straggly trees that dot the edge of the dune.

 

We then head on our way to the 2x4 car park.  Only 4x4 vehicles can carry on from here.  We have to park the truck and we are met by the tour operator who will take us into to Sossusvlei.  Sossusvlei is a huge ephemeral pan that is set amid the towering sand dunes (some as high as 200 meters) of the Namib desert.  It is believed that the sand originated in the Kalahari Desert between three and five million years ago, was washed down the Orange River and out to sea where it was swept north by the Benguela Current to be deposited along the coast.

 

Sossusvlei sometimes contains water, which happens when the Tsauchab River has gathered enough momentum and volume of water to push beyond the intervening plains to the sea of sand.  Sossusvlei will one day "die", when the shifting sands cut it off from the river.  Our first stop on our tour is at what is called Futurevlei - the sand dunes are encroaching on each side of the river bed and will one day form a dam that will stop any water flow at this point, creating the "new" Sossusvlei.  It is amazing that you can stand there and actually see how the dunes are forming a dam which will one day doom Sossusvlei.

 

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We continue our drive along the dry river bed.  After a short while, we stop and get and and begin to walk into the desert.  The guide takes us around showing us the different sands (each comes from a different direction depending on how the wind is blowing), the varied plant life and some of the animal life.  It is amazing how many plants grow here in the desert. Some have roots that extend down and out hundreds of meters.  There are even some that die if they get too much water.  We are also blessed with some freshly blooming flowers - there has been some brief rain showers and the flowers have emerged.  They brighten up the desert with their yellow petals.  They were not there a week ago and, unless there is some rain soon, they will not be there in a week.

 

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We continue to walk across the dunes until, when we suddenly come across the sight of a large pool of water and trees and other plant life.  It is amazing, and a wonderful sight, to see this basin of water in the dry desert - it is called Ostrichvlei and it is fed by the same irregular river of water that feeds Sossusvlei.  We wander around the edge of the vlei and then it is time to move on.  We have a choice to get to the next vlei, either around the dunes or straight over the dunes.  Lars chooses the route over the dunes and heads on his way.

 

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At first, it is an easy walk.  The dune is not too steep and the sand is fairly firm - so long as you walk slowly and carefully, you do not sink in.  But as we get nearer the top, the slope begins to get very steep and it becomes a struggle to reach the top - as each foot is put down, it sinks in and down the side of the dune.  After a mad scramble just near the top, we reach the knife edge of the dune.  The view is spectacular.  Behind is Ostrichvlei, sparkling in the sun, and in front is Deadvlei, barren, dry and brown with dead trees jutting out like tombstones.

 

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Deadvlei is the former Sossusvlei, before it was cut off from the life-bringing waters.  The trees in the Deadvlei have been dead for over 900 years - they have been well preserved in the dry desert air.  But they are slowing falling apart and will soon be gone.

 

The Deadvlei pan is covered with a coating of mud, as opposed to sand, that was washed down with the water that used to feed the pan and the trees.  The mud is now completely dry and has cracked, forming intricate patterns.

 

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From Deadvlei, we wander over a dune and around a corner to get to Canyonvlei - another dead vlei.  This one is another astonishing sight - for some reason rushing water has eaten away at the vlei, leaving large gouges that look like canyons.  Some of them are over 2 meters high and we walk and clamber in and amongst the canyons.  You can see the history of the desert in the layers of sand and mud.  The thicker the sand layer, the longer the dry period and the thicker or more frequent the mud layers, the wetter it was.  It was right there for us to read.

 

After we walked out of Canyonvlei, we walked to the top of a dune to admire the view and hear some stories from our guide about the bushmen that lived in the desert.  We also were able to view some of the desert life up close.  There were many beetles scouring about in and under the sand.  We were able to pick them up and take a close look at one of the animals that is able to survive in this harsh environment.

 

We were told stories about how the bushmen survived and found food.  About how they fought of intruders and also about how they got a wife (they would have to go out and kill a gemsboks and bring back the tail). As we walked back to the truck, we passed a dead gemsbok that had died there about three years ago.  Its skin was still there and was as hard as wood.  Once back to the truck, we hope in and head over to Sossusvlei.

 

It is an amazing sight - this large body of water in the middle of the desert.  It sits in the shadow of a steep dune that rises up one side.  We are told that this water has been here since 1997, but that they expect it to be gone in 3 months or so.  We are very fortunate to be able to see it with water.  At its peak after the 1997 flooding, the water level was over 10 meters higher than it is today.

 

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We walk up to the edge and can see how it is quickly disappearing.  The mud near the edge is drying as the water retreats.  We wander around and up one of the dunes on the side for a view over the vlei.  Then our time is up and we have to head back to the truck to meet up with everyone else.  It is an enchanting sight to see.

 

We are driven back to the 2x4 car park, where we meet the truck and the other passengers who did not join us.  It is time for brunch - and we are hungry as we have eaten nothing so far today and have been wandering all over the desert.  As it is Ted's birthday, the truck has been decorated with balloons and other festive decorations.  It is a fine celebration.

 

After packing up, we head back to the campsite at Sesriem.  Along the way, some storm clouds race in and we have a 5 minute shower.  It is over almost as soon as it has begun.  It is what gives life to the desert.  Once back at the campsite, we take a short nap - it is too hot to do anything else.  Shortly after 2 PM we get up and have some lunch. After lunch, we head off to explore Sesriem Canyon, a short drive away from the campsite.

 

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Sesriem, meaning "six thongs", gets its name from the number of joined leather ox wagon thongs it took to haul water from the bottom of the gorge.  We drive up to the edge of the gorge and we find the path down to the bottom.  At the bottom of the gorge, there is a pool of water - it must survive as it is shaded from the heat of the sun.  The water level varies significantly over the years - at the moment it is quite low and the water is broken up into different pools.

 

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We hang out at the water's edge.  Jim and then Gilly begin to climb on the cliff wall of the gorge -we all think they are mad.  Jim makes it all the way around the on both edges.  Gilly decides to jump in.  In the meantime, Lars has changed into his swimmers and jumps in - it is cold!!!  He swims over to the other end and relaxes on the rock.

 

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At one point, Jim does a cannonball dive onto Gilly - big mistake.  The water is not as deep as expected and Jim injures his foot.  Jim needs to be carried out by Paolo.

 

Gilly, Fred and Lars, in the meantime, decide to go and explore and walk in and amongst the rocks.  As we are going barefoot, it is slow progress.  Finally we make it all the way to the top of the gorge, but on the other side.  We can see the truck on the other side.  We head back down and swim over to the other end of the water pool.  After changing, we wander back up to the top of the gorge and to the truck.  Jim is being tended to by the many doctors and nurses on the truck - he is well taken care of.

 

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Back at the campsite, we take it easy until dinner.  We spend some time working on our journals and then we wander out of the campsite to watch the sunset.  As usual in the desert, it is a glorious sunset.  We sit on a fallen tree and watch the whole show from start to finish as the sun sets behind the hills that jut up in the distance.

 

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