Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Land of the Orange Sand Dunes

Namibia, despite its tiny population and vast surface area, is a very accessible place to visit. The roads are pretty well maintained, the cars and buses actually work, the towns are modern and sparklingly clean and even budget tourism is surprisingly well established here. It is every inch the efficient German ex-colony! Windhoek, the capital, saw us staying in the busiest and most professionally run hostel we'd come across since touristy Antigua in Guatemala, enjoying a slap up dinner of kudu and crocodile in a Deutsche style brauhaus and browsing around plush department stores. Refreshingly, it didn't seem that these luxuries were reserved solely for the expat community and the tourists we made our way around the country there seemed to be distinctly more money to go around than we had seen in either East Africa or Zambia and reportedly a lot less crime.

It was a flying five day visit (mainly due to a balls up at immigration...Chris!) but we managed to cram a lot in; focusing predominantly on the country's most famous attraction, the giant sand dunes of the Namib Naukluft National Park. Everyone will have seen photos of Sossusvlei and the dead trees (Deadvlei), if only on a Windows screen saver. The river once passed through the dunes on its way to the sea, trees growing on it's banks, but over time the sand built up blocking the water's route to the ocean; the ground dried up and the trees died creating this exceptional natural phenomenon. Protected from the wind by the towering sands around them, these tree carcasses still stand; dotted around the bleached, cracked clay of the river bed, against a backdrop of burnt orange. It is a unique sight on Earth and far more captivating than it sounds; an eerily peaceful  tree graveyard in one of the most remote places on earth. It's a wonder in itself that they were ever found for us to marvel at!

The other main attraction of the park is climbing the sand dunes; pretty hard work even post Kilimanjaro (yep...still banging on about that one!). We determinedly made our way up two of the buggers for both sunset and sunrise. Stair master eat your heart out! Instead of attempting to describe how wonderful the views were from the top I'll let the photos speak for themselves on this one. All I will say is that I could have stayed up there for hours watching the effects of the ever changing light on the face of the landscape. The sheer isolated enormity of it all reminded me distinctly of the Mongolian steppes although the actual terrain itself was unlike anything I've seen elsewhere. Our climbing companion Stuart told us as we reached the top that Namibia is in fact second only to Mongolia when it comes to most remote, and least populated countries in the world so it turns out the comparison was totally justified. Both countries are awe inspiring...the sense of space triggering both feelings of freedom and moments of introspective thought at the same time. We loved it!

Finally, on our way back to Windhoek we were lucky enough to stop in on the Namib Carnivore Conservation Centre (part of the N/a'an ku se Foundation) at the Solitaire Guest Farm where Matt Cleverley, the biologist responsible for running the project, took us on a walking cheetah tracking safari. He explained that cheetahs are naturally very timid animals. Wary of hurting themselves (which would make hunting virtually impossible), they will threaten (hiss and spit at) anyone who encroaches on their space but will rarely attack unless severely provoked. This meant that we could get right up close to observe these incredible animals. Spartacus, a male cheetah who has been on the farm for a couple of years, was particularly comfortable with humans and he let us get as close as a metre to where he was resting in the bushes. Incredible...

Self Drive Camper!
Unfortunately, awesome infrastructure often means less than awesome prices and we simply couldn't afford to do too many tours in Namibia (or in Africa in general). It is such a big country that just getting from A to B is pricey on fuel alone.When you add on national park fess, guides, food and even camping accommodation it gets pretty prohibitive. However, we do hope to come back and sample more of the sights one day when the bank account is replenished a little. Namibia is home to some of the most exclusive luxury resorts on the planet (we visited one where Brad Pitt and Angelina had!!) but I'd even settle for a self drive such as this one!

For more photos of Namibia please click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment