It took six hours of driving rough graveled roads through mountain passes, but the trip from the Skeleton Coast to our Sesreim campsite went smoothly enough. The next morning, we rose at 5am and headed to one of Namibia’s most photographed sites, Sossusvlei, which roughly translated means dead-end marsh.Sossusvlei has some the highest sand dunes in the world. The tallest, Big Daddy, reaches to 325 meters (over 1000 feet). How these red dunes were formed is a convoluted geological odyssey. South Africa’s longest river, the Orange, empties into the Atlantic Ocean at Alexander Bay on the country’s west coast. Red sand sediment is then carried northward by the powerful Benguela Current. Atlantic Ocean waves deposit the sand upon Namibia’s Skeleton Coast where winds carry it inland to form the dunes over time. My favorite dune is called Deadvlei or dead marsh. At one time this was an oasis of thriving acacia trees in a dry land. That was until the Tsauchab River changed its course. What is left now is a Dalí-esque spacescape of wonder. Salt crusted pans are dotted with the black tree skeletons. A backdrop of towering red dunes make this desert dramatic. A windless quiet predominates here, one that is haunting.
Another spot deserving mention is Dune 45, exactly 45 kilometers from the park entrance. It sands have been dated back 5 million years, and wind has piled them up to heights of 80 meters (262 feet). For me, Dune 45 has an attitude. Perhaps it is because feels the need to overcome its pedestrian name. It stands boldly alone in all of its red glory. Just a few trees are rooted around its base, somehow eking out enough water to survive.
By day’s end we roll back into camp at Sesreim and are confronted by flocks of sociable weavers. These pint-sized birds, endemic to southern Africa, are only about 5 inches long and weigh an ounce.
But they are appropriately named. While at camp the weavers were gathering nest material at a frenzied pace. Sociable weavers construct enormous multi-chambered compounds that can house up to 500 birds, self-made condo aviaries. The one nearby our camp was the size of a small car, fixed among the branches of a camelthorn tree.
As the sun went down and the moon rose to the east, I popped another fine bottle of South African wine to ward off the cold winter evening. There was much to contemplate. Sands traveling by river, ocean and overland winds; crimson dunes reaching for the stars; and tiny birds showing that if the effort is made, we can all get along just fine.