After leaving Dune 45 behind, I was restless with anticipation. Having seen an endless amount of fascinating photos online (including this iconic one by Frans Lanting), I knew our next destination held the promise of being the most surreal and bizarre landscape I would have the good fortune to witness during my trip. Armed with my newly refilled Canon AE1 camera, I was ready for the next chapter in what was quickly blossoming into my favorite travel experience to date.
Deadvlei, which translates to English directly as “dead marsh” (vlei being Afrikaans for marsh), is a clay pan nestled directly below Big Daddy (the tallest dune in Sossuvlei, reaching a staggering 325 meters high), and is characterized by its pitch-black camel thorn trees that have been dead for over 900 years contrasted against a cracked bleached-white floor.
Getting there was as easy as one would imagine. Just a few kilometers ahead from Sossusvlei, we drove to an empty parking lot where we then walked at least another kilometer across the sands leading into the pan. I was filled with enthusiasm, eagerly marching ahead, unbothered by the heat as it began to affect my sister. As we climbed past the final hill and arrived at the clearing, the view was what I can only describe as equal parts haunting and enchanting. It was as if I'd suddenly left Earth and apparated (gold star for you if you made the Harry Potter connection) into what could very well have been a stand in for Mars.
The alien landscape was truly a photographer's paradise, with the surrounding red rusted sand dunes serving as the most striking backdrop to the now barren forest. Similar to the sand dunes beforehand, I’d been given fair warning to get there early. As the sun rises, the heat generated from the sun can become unbearable, with the sand reaching temperatures upwards of 50° Celsius.
Did I take heed to this warning? I certainly did not.
Despite arriving there later than planned, I was so dumbfounded by all of the gorgeousness that time was the furthest thing from my mind. All that I could think of as I explored the beautiful graveyard of trees surrounding me was that I was presently living out another one of my dreams. Because I'd anticipated arriving in good time, I didn't even think twice about the sandals I'd chosen to wear. Let's just say I was in for a very rude awakening.
As time continued to pass and the sun's rays continued to grow stronger and stronger, Thomas began to get concerned. Unlike me, he was familiar with the realities of the desert and knew better than to underestimate the sun (and wear inappropriate shoes into the desert). It was only after his incessant pleas that I finally gave in and agreed to leave, assuming the walk back would be just as easy as the walk in.
I was shocked to quickly discover that the sand, once powdery and luxurious to the touch, was now scorching and unbearably hot. It was as if someone had set it ablaze (duh Lee, that would be the sun). Though Thomas is far too much of a gentleman to admit it, I have a strong suspicion he was hysterically laughing at me internally. If I were him, I'd have smugly shouted "I TOLD YOU SO!!!" at the sight of me hopping awkwardly across the desert sand, almost brought to tears with each dreadfully painful step.
Thank God for the few patches of clay sand along the way that served as little islands of relief. Not to mention Thomas, who was so kind and carefully poured some of our bottled water on my sister's feet (she too had worn ghastly inappropriate shoes).
Finally back on safe ground, we found a desolate spot under a shaded tree to quietly reflect on the day's activities and enjoy a small picnic. Though my feet were still numb from the burning sand, it was quite a pleasant experience to have lunch engulfed in the desert’s silence, surrounded by her astounding beauty.
P.S. – Choosing to shoot most of my trip on my manual camera was a major risk. What a relief it was to see how the images turned out once I was back home and the film was developed. I can’t begin to imagine how devastating it would have been to be go all the way to Namibia only to come back and be stuck with black blobs of nothingness as memories instead. I’d like to think my risk paid off :)
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