Tuesday we left civilization and drove southwest through the Remshoogte Pass in the mountainous Khomas Hochland (Highlands) to Namib-Naukluft National Park, the 3rd largest national park in Africa. The Namib Desert is a vast wilderness, harsh, primeval, almost uninhabitable – and the oldest desert on earth. When we get close to the Atlantic coast, we will see some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. We are spending two nights in this area.
We passed through an ever-changing landscape —
— until we went over a rise and saw below us the dreamy scene of the Namib Desert spread like a banquet of colours below us.
I wasn’t sure if we would see any animals today, but we were rewarded at every turn. The most interesting architecture we encountered were the nests of the Social Weaver Birds. They build their nests together with each bird having a private entrance. When the nest becomes so heavy it is at risk of collapsing, they divide it. Another interesting behaviour is that they will drag a wasps’ nest onto their tree. The wasps don’t bother them, but if their main predator snake arrives to eat the eggs or the young, the wasps attack and kill it. How did they work this out? Ingenious!
Here is a complete list of what we saw on our first day into the Namibian countryside: ostriches, wart hogs, baboons, oryx, a lappett-faced vulture, kudus, 2 springbok herds, termite mounds, steenbok, cardinal woodpeckers, and most exciting were a herd of Hartmann’s Mountain Zebra, including a young colt. Apologies for the poor quality of some of these but I’m including them for posterity. Pictured (in order) are: Springbok, kudus, steenbok, woodpeckers, Oryx and zebras.
Today, Wednesday, we got an early start – 5:15 a.m. – and we were so glad we did – the sun and the moon were both out at the same time.
We started at Sossusvlei, the “Dead-End Marsh,” a salt-clay pan depression with dunes that come together preventing the Tsauchab River to flow any further some 60 kms east of the Atlantic Ocean. We transferred from our cool bus/truck –
– to a 4×4:
and drove about 4 kms and then walked 1.2 km to the basin. A photographer’s dream, the contrast in colours and the graphic dead trees seem a metaphor for the near-lifelessness of the desert and the transience of life itself.
We saw lots of Oryx this morning, and we stopped to see the plant that keeps Oryx alive. They don’t drink water at all, but are able to extract moisture from the plants they graze. Their primary source, however, are from the melons which incredibly grow in this hostile environment on the N//ala plant (that is Nala with a click in there). Tuhafeni picked a used-up dried sample – for the sake of the Oryx, he of course wouldn’t pick a living version.
The sand dunes here are the largest in the world and looked as if they had been painted by brush rather than by wind.
The ever-shifting sands can overwhelm human attempts at order.
Two of our adventurers made it to the top of the renowned dune, “No. 45.”
We saw a number of pretty birds, including a Pied Crow and a Kestrel, and the tracks of a jackal:
Six Rawhide Thongs
This afternoon we visited the stunning Sesriem Canyon, carved by the Tsauchab River in the local sedimentary rock, about a kilometre long and up to 30 meters deep. The name Sesriem in Afrikaans means “six rawhide thongs,” given by settlers who had to join six such thongs in order for a bucket to reach the water. Sesriem Canyon is only two metres wide in some places, and usually has a portion that contains water, but we didn’t see any.
We saw lots of animals today but the most thrilling ones I saw were the ones seen right from my room of our delightful lodge, the Desert Homestead. including a juvenile Oryx, a half-hidden baby in the crowd and an ostrich cooling itself down. It doesn’t sweat, but it opens its mouth wide like the panting of a dog, and opens its wings to the breeze.
The setting of this lodge is spectacular and it will be hard to leave it behind.
After a delicious steak dinner, we got the last minute details of our road trip tomorrow. We will head through Moon Valley, stop at Walvis Bay and reach our final destination, Swakopmund, a former German settlement town on the Atlantic shore.