Sand Sea & If God Exists, He's Taunting Me

Trip Start Jul 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Namibia  ,
Wednesday, October 3, 2007

After mouldering in Windhoek for almost a week, it was clear I would not be hitching a ride to Sossusvlei. Fortunately, neither would Meg and Liz, two American Peace Corps volunteers, so we decided to rent a car and take matters into our own hands.

Sossusvlei is a part of the Namib Desert. The dunes here are between 200-300 metres high, and sculpted into spectacular shapes. It is probably the most popular tourist attraction in Namibia, and once you have been there, it is easy to understand why.

Our Volkswagen Polo was a definite step up from my last rental - more space, more power, and most important, air conditioning. The drive took us first to Solitaire for lunch, and then onto Sesriem, the staging point for entry into the park. Solitaire is basically a fuel and food stop plopped down into the desert like a movie set. Cactus grow, old cars are artfully abandoned around the site, and Moose, the huge bearded and pony tailed man behind the counter, makes some of the best bread and apple strudel around (in Africa according to some claims). A few shoots, a few bites, a little gas (the car, not me), and away we went.

In Sesriem, the NWR (Namibia Wildlife Resorts) have a campsite right at the gates to the park that allows you to be racing towards the dunes at about 6:00 am. These sites have to be booked in Windhoek, and normally far in advance. The same had been true in Etosha, but we had been able to get a site with no problems, so we decided to chance it. When we walked into the office, I asked if there were any available campsites for the night.

"Sorry, we are completely booked."

"Really? You don't have a little space for two small little tents?"

"Two tents? Well, you can camp next to the bar then."

The space between campsite 18 and the bar was a desolate little no-man's land where others like us were shunted to and where the sun beat down intensely with no shade. No matter.

That night I made an elementary Africa mistake. As I readied myself for bed, I left my sandals outside the tent. Considering the funk they put off, it was an act of self mercy. As I drifted off, the sounds of jackals howling and crying in the night accompanied me to sleep along with the thought I was forgetting something. The next morning when I woke up at 5:10 a.m. to prepare for the sunrise race to the dunes, I zipped open my tent to face the world. Apparently I would be facing it with one sandal. In a wild campsite in Africa, rule number 1 is NEVER leave anything outside your tent. Apparently the jackals were not as offended by the smell of my sandals as the average human. Interestingly (and somewhat unfairly I think), Liz and Meg had left FOUR pairs of shoes outside of their tent, and all were accounted for. Sighing, I pulled on my rotting, falling apart shoes (my hiking shoes having been stolen in Malawi by a human, my cheap replacement African department store shoes were literally falling to pieces after two months wear) and we joined the queue at the gate in our car.

The speed limit inside the park is, technically, 60 kmh. However, when the guard opens the gate, the rush to be first to the dunes and see the sunrise is on, and woe to the man who gets in the way of a seventy year old German with a four wheel drive. Apparently the Blitzkrieg has transferred from a war tactic to a tourism one.

The day was spent sweating, marvelling, and scrambling up and down the dunes. The photos can give you a far better idea of what this incredible landscape is like, and I encourage you to go and look at them. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Back? Ok. Later in the afternoon, the three of us hiked back to our car and returned to camp. When we pulled in, I noticed my tent seemed to be in a different location than it had been when I left in the morning. Actually, it was around the same spot, but turned around. We were scratching our heads over this (probably from all the sand caked in our hair), when a Swiss (I think) camper came over from a neighbouring (read - real) campsite. He had an interesting story to tell.

He was sitting in his campsite, when all of a sudden a massive dust devil (a small tornado) formed at the end of camp, and started down the road. He watched it come down the road, passing within a few feet of his site, following the road through the camp. Suddenly it came abreast of where the three of us were camped, seemed to pause for a moment, and then made a beeline for my tent. It passed within inches of Meg and Liz's tent and then jumped on mine like a fat kid on cake. My tent, with my 30 kilogram backpack and various other items and pegged down, launched up into the air into the tornado's vortex. It then proceeded to roll end over end for about 25 feet or more, the dust devil tossing it like a masochistic salad.

The best part? He had it all on video.

As I watched my tent being whipped into the air and around the campsite, to the great delight of the Pascal (the Swiss camper) and all watching, I became somewhat philosophical. For well over a decade, I have been either an optimistic atheist (I don't believe in God, but it would be nice if there was one), or a pessimistic agnostic (there might be something out there, but it doesn't really matter). However, if there is a God, then I think this is how he gets his kicks.

Want to see the video? So do I. Pascal's camera was tape, but he has promised that he will try to digitize it and send it to me in the future. When I get it, I'll post it immediately.

On the way back to my tent, I glanced out into the surrounding bush. Sitting about 60 metres out in the sand was my sandal. Apparently the smell was too much for even a jackal - how sad is that? What's that old saying? "When God blows away one tent, he returns a sandal stolen by a jackal." Or something like that.

(The bashing about shattered a few segments of my poles, and currently it is tenuously duct taped together, threatening to self destruct at any moment. For the record, this is the second tent that has died on me during this trip. Both are Bushwhacker, two man tents made in South Africa. I can't say I really recommend them.)

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