Tuesday, 10 September 2013

9th - 11th August - Sossusvlei, Namibia "I Was Looking At All the Life"

We were up early, as we had quite along journey to our next destination.  It was another beautiful morning with clear blue skies, and sunshine, but with that ever cold wind that blew around the rocks.  Once again the fire was very welcome as we had breakfast, and then we were back on the gravel road and heading back the way we came a few days ago.  When we reached the B4 at Seeheim we turned west in the direction of Luderitz, and on a long and straight tarmac road


The distance we would travel was around 460 Km, and while we were on tarmac to start with, the quality did deteriorate and as a consequence the journey took about five and a half hours with stops.  the first of these was in Helmeringhausen, where we had coffee, and filled the Toyota up once again.  After this stop we were on gravel, and at one point we went through gates on the road, that were there to keep the livestock in.

The scenery though was spectacular, and the sky seemed to go on forever.



As we got closer we began to see dunes on either side of the road.



The final part of the journey took us through the Namib Rand nature reserve, and on the plains we would see Oryx and Springbok.  Our lodge for the next two days was a spa, built in the style of a desert castle, with turrets.  The room was huge, with large windows and drapes.  After managing to open the doors, (at times with the aid of banging the hinges with a wrench!),  we found that the terrace area overlooked a waterhole.

The rest of the afternoon we relaxed after some laundry, outside a pair of Ostrich wandered by.



while Oryx would appear from the rocks and wander down close to the lodge.  As the sun dropped in the sky the lower light changed the colour of the surrounding cliffs.  Dramatic at any time they began to become even more spectacular.







So with the sun getting ever lower in the sky we wandered down to the terrace area for the customary sundowner drink.  The bar staff would come and go, and during one go, a family took it on themselves to pour their own drinks, I don't think I have every seen what a quadruple gin looked like before.

The sun set once again in spectacular fashion behind the cliffs to the west, which still felt like the east to me due to the southern hemisphere.



and once it was down, the light changed once again, and the wind picked up, and it became quite cool.  We retired to the bar and restaurant for another drink, dinner and a game of scrabble.  

The next morning we were up early to get to the gates of the Sossusvlei park by sunrise, we were told it was a 30 minute drive to get there, but we did it in 20, and as a result we were second in line.  As we waited for the gate to open, the sun began to appear from under the horizon



No payment was taken as the gates opened, just our details, we were to pay on exit.  So we set off along a very good tarmac road.  It was a 60 Km journey to the vleis, the Afrikaans word for valleys, and initially we obeyed the 60Km speed limit, but soon cars started to pass us, so we picked up speed too.  As we made our way we realised that there were spectacular views before we even reached the end of the road.

On either side of the road huge red dunes were being lit by the rising sun, highlighting one side of the red sand and in contrast darkening the other producing a dramatic picture.


It was as if the dunes were alive and crawling across the horizon, which with the wind they do. The colours and shadows created a wonderful landscape



I can recall seeing pictures of these dunes in books, magazines and on television, and always wanting to come and see them, and at last here I was seeing this absolutely amazing landscape first hand.  Oryx, Springbok and Ostrich could be seen on the flat plains, but the ultimate stars here were the dunes.


We would pull over and stop to take photographs, and cars and trucks would zip past, only for us to catch up with them when they stopped a little further on.

We finally reached the car park beyond which only 4 x 4 vehicles can go as the road is deep with sand.  However we decided that we would walk to experience the desert first hand, it was still quite cool, and we could get a lift back.  I am glad we did as we were able to spend the time taking in the landscape.  There were different scenes at every turn in the track.


As the day wore on the light was changing, and depending on the aspect of the dunes, so were the colours of the sand.  The shadows becoming lighter, and the contrasts reducing.  But this did not take form the scenery, it was still amazing


As we walked through the sand our shoes filled with the very fine red sand.  Ripples ran across the flat areas, and Scaly-feathered Finch fed around and under the bushes. The ripples produced a reflection like scene along with the shadows of the plants



The ripples also added to the distant landscape creating the traditional desert view.



Our walk followed the cars and trucks that were heading towards what we thought was Sossusvlei.  A large dry pan faced us as we walked towards the huge sand dune in front of us.  We could see people climbing the crests of the dunes, and from a distance we could see the dotted lines of footprints on the dune crest, looking just like ants.  We decided to go to an area that wasn't too busy, so we set out across the pan.


We were heading for closest ridge, and as we walked across the dried crust of the pan we noticed the animal prints that were showing, probably mostly Springbok and Oryx, they were quite impressive composition.



The sun was now quite high, and we noticed the warmth as we crossed the white pan, the sun's rays were reflected up from the bright surface.



We set off on the sand, that on the level was not too difficult, but as the gradient increased it became very hard, and tiring, we were not sure if it was easier to walk in others foot prints or virgin sand.  We made it to the crest, and started to climb up.  We were wanting to walk the crest and come down the other side, but very soon it became clear that this was an exhausting task.  I consider myself fit for my age, but this very soon became too much, despite taking several breaks.  The view though, again, was amazing.



In the end we gave up, and Helen slid down the dune to the pan, while I, scared that if I sat down I would never get up, trudged.  halfway I realised that my lens cap and filter had fallen off the camera, so I had to retrace my steps, and fortunately found it at the crest.  When I finally reached the bottom I was exhausted.

We walked towards the car park, and met a guide who told us that over the other side of the dune was Dead Vlei, and that we should make sure we go there.  This was confusing, because I thought we were at Sossusvlei, it became clearer later on that I was completely wrong!  We walked back across the pan, and then climbed a small dune, and down and across to the Dead Vlei.  

A notable feature of Dead Vlei was that it used to be an oasis with several acacia trees.  Then the river that watered the oasis changed its course, and as a result the trees died.  The pan is punctuated by the blackened, dead acacia trees, and they stand in vivid contrast to the shiny white of the salty, sandy floor of the pan, and the intense orange of the dunes.  This creates a fascinating, futuristic, and surrealistic landscape, that appears in uncountable pictures and film sets.

It was busy with tourists, but it was also big enough to find your own space, and the chance to take those iconic pictures, here are just a few.








We took the opportunity to empty the sand from our boots, then we made our way back to the car park to see if we could get a lift back to the truck, there was no way I fancied walking.  There had been little life about this morning.  We had seen some Sparrowlarks and finches as we walked to the Vlei, and also there had been some beetles scurrying about.  This Beetle though stayed long enough for me to photograph.  It is a Fog Basking Beetle, so called because first thing in the morning, when the fog drifts in it goes to the top of the dune, and stands on its head. As it hangs there it collects water droplets on its legs and abdomen.  In a certain light the body is a lovely pale blue



At the car park we managed to get on a truck going back to the main car park.  But as we left I felt we were heading in the wrong direction.  We pulled into another parking area, which it very soon became clear was in fact Sossusvlei.  We were also fortunate that there was a guide on the truck, and this is what we learnt.  The name Sossusvlei is of mixed origin, and roughly means dead end marsh.  Vlei is the Afrikaans word for marsh, while Sossus is Nama for no return, or dead end.  Sossusvlei owes its name to the fact that it is a drainage basin without outflows for the Tsauchab River.  The dunes are partially covered with a relatively rich vegetation, which is watered by a series of underground and ephemeral rivers that seasonally flood the pans creating the marshes.  The are was found by the San, and they see it from on top of the dunes as a pair of lungs, and depending on how the vlei floods, one lung can be green while the other dry.


Finally we made it back to the truck, and after yet another shoe emptying session we were back off down the road to the park entrance.  It was now midday, and the sun was at its highest in the sky, leaving little shadows of definition in the dunes.  We did though come across this group of Oryx in front of the orange dunes and I stopped to get the shot.


we arrived back at the lodge and decided to spend the afternoon relaxing by the pool.  The wind had dropped, and in a sheltered spot the sun was quite war,. and as a result a beer was welcome.  The pool though was still freezing!

As the sun dropped there were groups of Pale-winged Starling that began to gather on the roof above our room.  They would chatter away to each other as they flew from the roof to the water hole.  Up close they are very lovely, if not noisy birds



We found out at sun down that there had been a very strong sand storma t Sossusvlei in the afternoon, so we had been wise to get up early.

The sunset was a less fraught affair tonight, as the wind had dropped.  Bizarrely a grey Heron flew into inspect the water hole, I just can't imagine where it had come from.  There were also quite large flocks of Sandgrouse flying around, in the gloomy conditions it was difficult to identify them, but I think they were Namaqua Sandgrouse by the calls.

The sun sank behind the cliffs to the west, and so ended another fantastic day, one I had dreamed about for sometime, and now I could look back and remember.



That evening after dinner I took some time to try and photograph the night sky, it wasn't easy because there was light around us, with the naked eye you could easily see the milky way, with the time elapse on the camera, you can just make it out along with the movement of the stars, or is that the Earth?



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