Since returning from my travels through Namibia with my sister (read full recaps here and here), I must confess I've been more than a little anxious. Anxious because I've been unsure whether any words I use to describe my experience would do the staggering beauty that exists within the country any justice. Take Sossusvlei, for instance. Said to be home of the world’s tallest dunes, Sossusvlei houses “Big Daddy", a dune which boasts a height of 325 meters and is situated in Namib-Naukluft National Park (the largest game park in Africa). What words could I possibly conjure up to adequately describe this spectacular natural world wonder? I'm still not sure I'm up to the task.
After interviewing Scott, it was easy to conclude that no trip to Sossusvlei is complete without climbing some dunes and visiting Deadvlei. I then spent an endless amount of hours researching where to stay, what to pack, and any general advice I could find on the area. My research paid off, and I was able to get solid tips from various forums advising that we arrive at the park gates by sunrise and bring a small lunch (loads of water included, of course). I felt prepared.
However, as with any great destination, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the astoundingly beautiful landscape that awaited me.
Our long drive into the park alone was a visual masterpiece as soft pinkish blue skies, delicate bits of fog, and mountainous landscapes surrounded us. What was perhaps the most charming part of the ride in though, was watching herds of oryx cross the gravel road ahead of us as we patiently gave them way. Admiring all the springbok grazing lazily and ostrich running rampant in the horizon were also major highlights I felt privileged to see. Since we decided on a self-drive instead of a traditional guided tour (well, Thomas our insanely resourceful, insightful, and hilarious driver did all the driving), we were able to freely stop and hop out of our car to take pictures and witness everything unfold with ease. I eventually had to curb my urges to make frequent stops for the sake of photos and instead simply take in the serenity of the scenery we were encompassed in. As a photographer (albeit an amateur one), I'm still learning how to identify when best to fully live in and experience a moment versus disrupt it by capturing it.
Every reviewer and local recommends sunrise as the best time to witness the starkly beautiful changes created to the landscape once its hit with slow rising sunlight, so it was a race against the clock to arrive at our first dune upon arrival in the park. All the stops we made driving in almost came back to haunt us, but we were lucky to breeze through to Dune 45 in good time since there was no traffic at the gate. Once there, it became apparent why arriving on time is paramount. I watched in awe as the sand changed from standard browns to rich and vivid reds, with dramatic shadows cast against the side of each dune. It was difficult not to be rendered speechless after witnessing such a rare and spectacular occurrence. Nature has a funny way of reminding you just how small yet significant we all are in the grand scheme of things.
After watching the sweet sunrise and the magic she performed against the landscape, it was time to climb our first dune - Dune 45 – which stands just over 170 meters. As you can imagine, everyone was dressed in either safari gear or workout clothes for the trek up because it’s what is most appropriate for the occasion. As you can see, I decided against this standard uniform of khakis, cargoes, bucket hats, and boots. I’m not sure how many chances I will get in my lifetime to visit such an astounding place, so I figured I’d make my one shot count. After all, I hope to one day have children and grandchildren to impress when recollecting moments like this. I know it's vain to admit, but it's honest. That has to count for something, right?
It was a relatively easy climb up the narrow crest of the dune for me. I simply followed along the fresh footprints made by those ahead, savoring the feeling of the most luxurious and powdery soft sand against my feet with each step. Once on top, I was rewarded with a view that can only be described as otherworldly. With the endless waves of dunes spread over the horizon shifting slowly with the wind, it was easy to want to stay planted on top of what felt like the most magical place in the world. But Deadvlei was next up and again I had to race against the clock. I was still in the desert after all, and the blazing hot sun was sure to soon kick in.
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 :)