July 21, 2013

Day 8 (skeletons haunting)

It was on a date, years ago, that I first heard about Sossusvlei and the red sand dunes of Namibia. 


It was the awkward phase where you just throw all of your conversational spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.  So when he said he wanted to go to Namibia to see the famous dunes, I said, "Me too!"  Because, a.) it seemed like the correct response, and b.) those dunes sounded awesome, so why not?  

It's a conversation and person I hadn't thought about in years (a desire to visit Sossusvlei and a mutual friend being the only two things we had in common), but came back to me when we started driving through the Namib Desert.  

Namib Dessert, oldest in the world

We arrived first thing in the morning, just after sunrise, following a night of uncharacteristically warm winds.  The ridges and valleys of the dunes point North to South and never change, either in direction or location, due to a plant that holds the the sand in place.  Because of this permanence, each dune can be identified by name or number, recognizable year by year, decade by decade.  Dune 45 is the one open to the public, and thus the one we ascended that early morning.  

Atop Dune 45

Walking the ridge

The long way down

And I though, "I made it!"  Which was followed by the thought, "I bet I beat that guy here!"  Which was followed by the thought, "Should I try to be less competitive?"  Which was followed by the thought, "Given my reputation for being overly-intense during bus trivia quizzes, probably."  Which was followed by the thought, "Eh, that sounds like work and I'm more-or-less OK with myself as is, so let's just forget this one-sided conversation and move on with life."

So, moving on.  

Climbing the spine of the dune felt precarious, as though a misstep could send you sliding and tumbling all the way back down, Jack and Jill style.  Which is close to what happened anyway.  After an hour or so of playing in the sand, above the world, we descended in a helter-skelter race down the face of the dune. 

Super Dune Race 45!

Pouring the sand from my shoes

After emptying the desert from my shoes and leaving Dune 45, we continued on to Dead Vlei, which roughly means, "the place where water goes to die."  


Dead Vlei is a patch of limestone amidst the tallest dunes in the world, where the Tsauchab River used to drain, way back when.  But it dried out so quickly and thoroughly that there isn't even enough moisture for normal decomposition.  That means that the trees that used to live in the marsh have been desiccated to the point of near-complete preservation.  Timber skeletons haunting an anti-oasis.  A beautiful graveyard.  

And if you're a better photographer than I, then you can see them like this.  

These Sossusvlei pictures are some of my favorites from the entire trip, and perusing through them, I was delighted to see this:

Where did that hat come from?

I had no idea at the time that I was capturing a hat-in-flight, and the sun-glare was so intense that I often couldn't see my camera display anyway.  Perhaps the hat was thinking, "Screw these thousands of kilometers riding on a bus- I'm BREAKING FREE!"

Or perhaps someone was trying to catch a shovel-snouted lizard.  

Photo credit: Irina Chernetskaya
Lizard-catching credit: Mat Dry

Shovel-snouted lizards are endemic to the Namib Desert, and they do a thermal "dance" across the sand to avoid scorching themselves on the burning terrain.  When they see predators (birds) flying above, they dive shovel-snout first into the sand.  And that's how you catch them.  They run to fast to snatch, but if you toss a hat in the air, they'll stop running and burrow several inches into the sand from where you can easily scoop them up.  

Who ever knows what you'll find lurking in those places you discussed so many years ago?  


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