The Namib

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I was trying to slow down, l really was. The temptation was just too great. I found out there was a day excursion Sam and I could go on to the Namib Desert from Swakup. I decided to go; it would be a good geography excursion. Well, that was my excuse and I was sticking to it.

We joined two older English couples and another German guy in the four-wheel drive vehicle that pulled up outside our hostel. Our driver and guide, Burger, was an ex-waxhead from Namibia. Burger told us in his misspent youth he had walked in his red kudu leather shoes on every beach in South Africa and Namibia. Well, so he claimed, and who was I to doubt him.

South from Swakup, we headed through the desert to Walvis Bay, an ex-British protectorate that had been subsumed into Namibia when apartheid collapsed in 1994, four years after Namibia’s independence. It was now a playground for Namibia’s well heeled; architect designed houses and condos lined the boulevards. The large lagoon was home to vast flocks of flamingos, pink from their crustacean diet. Two large males flashed and flared their tail feathers at each other in an elaborate dance, trying to impress the females in the flock. A long line of pelicans soared over the truck as we passed the salt mine out of town on our way to Namib Naukluft National Park.click tab to read further

Burger clearly enjoyed his job. Heading down the coast, he pulled the wheel hard and we were off road and soon slide-driving onto the narrow beach between the dunes and the surf. Five hundred kilometres of sand, not a dwelling, not a tree, lay on the coastline south. We were on the longest beach in the world, home to the largest diamond field in the world, the backbone of the Namibian economy in the secretive and highly secured mines in the great desert spreading below us.

The dunes hung above us to our left, plunging steeply down to the waterline. Dunes on surf. Their mustard-cream hues were flashed with lines of crimson, where garnets, long broken into dust by the toiling winds, remained while the lighter crystals of other stones were dusted away. The gray sand of the beach was young. As it aged, the iron rich magnetite crystals would oxidise and become a richer, more vibrant colour. Blown up onto the ever expanding and changing dunes, they yellowed, oranged, and reddened over the eons.

The dunes of the Namib were living beasts. Our footprints would be swept away by the South Altantic winds within hours. ‘Dune moulding’ was happening before our eyes. It was relentless. If our truck dared to be left for a day, its wheels would need to be dug out. It was a beautiful but unforgiving vortex, absorbing all and governing all.

Enter, from the back seat, Sam.

‘We are in the desert!’

‘Yes.’

‘It is the oldest desert in the world.’

‘How old is it Sam?’

’55 to 80 million years old.’

Burger raised his eyebrows, impressed. Our geography field excursion, coupled with our earlier Google searches, was being a success.

Prior to lunch, we climbed one of the larger beachside dunes. It took about half an hour to make the ascent. At the top there was dunes stretching along the coast north and south, but also inland as far as the eye could see. Over one hundred kilometres inland, in fact. 50,000 square kilometres of sand, sand, sand. I was reminded of the science fiction movie Dune. I hoped there were no giant sand worms.

Sam pretended to be dying of thirst at the top, and rolled around on the sand. Unfortunately the Vaseline on his face, applied to stop him getting a rash from licking his lips, collected a goatee of sand. Not a good look.

After lunch our truck surfed over the dunes, literally, as Burger cut the engine and let it slid down hundreds of metres on 60 degree slopes, solely using the weight of the vehicle for the descent. Standing on the edge of the dune, exposed skin getting rasped by the flying sand, vertigo was induced by looking into the shadowy valley below. It was the best and most natural rollercoaster ride I have ever been on.

On our way back to Swakup, the vegetation slowly started to reappear. Hardy animals came with it. A lone springbok, a pair of jackals protecting their hidden young in their lair, a dune lark watching over its nest. We were well satisfied with an exhilarating day. Sam was happy he had been brave and had made the difficult climb up the dune. We were heading the next day to the largest and reddest dunes in the world, smack in the middle of the desert at Sossuvlai. We will see how he goes there.