The knock at our door came at 5:15am. “Good Morning! Here’s your hot water.” We got up and got dressed. Sue made some instant coffee. We went to the dining tent for breakfast. Our driver and guide, Mike, introduced us to Boo and Oliver, from Wales. They would be joining us on this adventure. At 6:15 we were in our 9-passenger Land Rover “paddy-wagon” and bouncing our way on the trail to the world’s third largest national park.
After passing through the park gates we were on a ‘tar’ road for the next 45 minutes. Mike pulled over every once in a while and gave us a little educational talk about rocks and animals and wind and rivers. Rivers? Not here! Not anymore. In the meantime quite a few paddy-wagons full of dune walkers were zipping by us. Oliver finally asked if it wouldn’t make more sense for us to go to the dune NOW while it was still not so hot (that IS why we got up so early,after all). Yes, okay.
This “dune” thing has become such a phenomenon, such a tourist attraction, that the dunes actually have names. Dune 45, Dune 47, Big Momma, Big Daddy, etc. We passed Dune 45 where there was already a long line of trekkers filing up the spine. No, we’re not going there; that is too easy, too gradual and not high enough. Our big ‘bus’ smooshed its way through some deep soft sand and finally parked under the shade of some dusty old trees near Big Daddy. At 359 meters it was positively monstrous compared to Dune 45’s 60 meters. We’ll hike up that one. Yeah, we’re tough.
And so we begin. It’s like walking on a very soft beach with deep sand where your feet sink in with every step–only uphill and along the crest of that hill. Your left foot takes a step, sinks a bit, right foot steps, it slides deeper — so you try to stay right up on the crest as best you can. And the first 100 yards are the steepest. But after that it’s not so bad. And the temperature is fine, maybe even a bit cool at the start.
We go along, single file. Soon Boo, Sue, and I have gone ahead of the rest of our group, although we can hear Robert and Oliver talking as they climb along behind us. We pass a few groups until we are making fresh tracks, ‘breaking trail’, onward and upward. Occasionally we stop and then Sue gets a sense of vertigo and it’s a bit tricky to get going again. But the view is grand, and it’s actually fun, not as difficult as I had mentally prepared myself for.
We get up to a height of about 120 meters and it’s time to decide if we continue on (it looks like the rest of the hike will be steep all the way to the top), or we stop here and “walk” our way down the smooth side of the dune. It’s around 10:00 and the morning sun is now switching to “bake” mode. We’re not stupid. We’ll go down here.
When we get to the bottom we are on the dry bed of a former lake. Now the ground is a pattern of gray shiny crinkly tiles. There are tree-sticks, old dried-out black acacia trees, slowly dying where they once used their 35-meter-deep roots to survive in this harsh environment. We take photos of the gray layer of sand, in front of another big orange dune, and a blazing blue sky with a few wispy clouds overhead. THIS is the Namibian poster shot. Ever since Paul Martens gave Sue one of his fine “dune” photographs around 25 years ago, we’ve wanted to visit this place and see it for ourselves. THIS is what we came here for.
We get back to the bus and have a cold drink. One or two more stops at other dune sites, and then we’re on the way back to the lodge.
Sue had a refreshing swim in the very cold water of the pool. We showered and headed to the mess hall for lunch. Vegetarian lasagna or pork schnitzel? Not bad.
Siesta after lunch. It’s about 40 degrees and WAY too hot to do anything. I didn’t think we’d be able to sleep but we did.
We went back to the main lodge for “afternoon tea” at 4:30. It’ll cool off soon.
Supper was at 7:30. The sun was just setting behind the hills in the distance. Tonight there was a buffet dinner. Tomato soup, potatoes, cauliflower in sauce, and a choice of lamb and beef steak. Not our best meal–the meat was too rare and too tough, but we’ve eaten far too much anyway. We’re not going to bed hungry.
We sat around the table and visited until we were the last ones in the dining hall. Another glass of wine? We went to our rooms at 10:00. Sue washed a couple of my shirts — hopefully they’ll dry by morning.