The Hendersons Getting to Namibia and two days at Sossusvlei Wilderness
An Unforgettable African Adventure
Sunday, April 1 - Vumbura Plains to Windhoek, Namibia
Once returned to the plane, piloted by Alexi, whom we had previously met, we boarded and flew to Maun where we were to catch a flight on Air Namibia for Windhoek. Maun is quite small and seems to exist primarily to support tourists and staff going to and from the camps.
The flight to Windhoek, aboard a plane that held about 20 passengers, was uneventful. We disembarked and headed for immigration and customs. We were greeted by one of the worst immigration agents we've ever encountered in our many travels - she was surly, rude and officious. She must hate her job. Given that Namibia is trying to grow its tourist business, she isn't a good first impression. Likewise, as we got into the terminal, we saw unsmiling soldiers milling about. This wasn't a good start. Fortunately, they were the exception, not the rule..
We were met by our driver and we were taken, along with another couple, Lynn and Don from Southern California, to our hotel, the Heinitzburg. The airport is about 45 km outside of town, built there, we were told, because it was the flattest place they could find. The hotel looks like a small castle and our room was quite nice. We had a sundowner on the terrace and then had dinner in the restaurant. Dinner was very nice except for the small 'compliments of the chef' - a vile fish broth was was both too salty and too fishy for our taste. Thus far we have found that the fish in Southern Africa has too strong a fish taste. We learned later that Don and Lynn, who had gotten to the restaurant before we did, had the same reaction and they were watching us to see our reaction.
Monday, April 2 - Windhoek to Sossusvlei
We had breakfast on the terrace and then a few hours free time before our flight to Sossusvlei, south of Windhoek. One of the other guests gave us a lift to the downtown area, where we found an internet cafe and checked our e-mail.
Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and has a population of about 300,000. There is a heavy German influence here, as this had been one of the areas colonized by the Germans in the 19th century. Subsequently, the South Africans, principally the Afrikaners, came into Namibia and remained there until the war of independence in the 1980s. There are about equal numbers of blacks and whites living in the city. However, Windhoek is one of the most boring cities we've ever visited - it simply doesn't have much to offer - little by the way of parks, shops or museums. There was an historical museum, given over largely to the war of independence, with a little about the lives of the colonizers. After we exhausted that, we walked back to the hotel, shared a sandwich and were picked up by our driver at 1:30 for the flight to Sossusvlei.
Because the plane we were flying on was much smaller than the one we had flown into Namibia, we were able to leave from the small, downtown airport. We were met by our pilot, Gus - our plane was a 12-seater. We had read the instructions which said we had a baggage weight limit of 20 kg. and the bags had to be soft-side. Lynn and Don had likewise read the instructions. Unfortunately, a couple from Andorra had not. They had two enormous wheeled bags which simply would not fit into the luggage pod of the aircraft. They had to consolidate their belongings into one bag, which then would not fit through the x-ray equipment. Poor Gus - he tried to explain the situation to them, but they didn't speak English and he didn't speak Spanish, French or Catalan. Oh well, eventually it was all sorted out.
We flew over rocky outcrops in the desert and saw ostriches 'grazing' in the grass, and fairy rings - circles of bare sand surrounded by grass in the desert. Because of the meeting of rising hot air and the cold air higher up we had a bit of turbulence, but nothing we couldn't handle. We had one landing near a largish hotel in the desert - it looked rather like a Holiday Inn stuck in the middle of nowhere. The couple from Andorra and another passenger deplaned there. The runway was gravel and very rough and noisy, but the gravel was probably necessary, else the plane would get bogged down in the sand. Then Gus flew us to our lodge, only five minutes by air.
We were met by Dio and Franco, the manager and our guide. A quick ride by Land Rover and we were at the camp - built on a rocky hill above the desert. What a desolate, yet beautiful setting. And hot! During the day the temperatures were about 43 degrees Celsius (around 105 Fahrenheit). At night, however, it cooled down and was quite pleasant, especially when a wind came in off the desert floor.
There are only about 6 huts at this camp - each very private, with a small plunge pool and a deck overlooking the desert. There is a watering hole below the camp, and a light has been installed so guests can see the night time visitors.
There was another American couple at the camp besides us and Don and Lynn. Otto and Nita live in Virginia. We were all assigned to Franco for our drives. Franco took us out to some hills overlooking the desert for sundowners - it was very beautiful.
At this camp we were not escorted to and from our tent when it was dark - the large animals that are possibly dangerous don't frequent this area. So, once we returned from our drive, we were free to go to our tent, clean up and then go to the lodge for dinner. Like Chitabe Trails, the food at Sossusvlei is served buffet style. It was quite good, although we got spoiled at Vumbura Plains.
Tuesday, April 3 - Sossusvlei
The attraction of this area is the sand dunes - said to be the tallest in the world. They are spectacular. It was about a 90 minute drive to the dunes from the camp, some of it over gravel road, other parts black top (in the national park) and the last through some deep sand. By the time we got to our destination, it was getting very warm.
A tour operator offers balloon rides over the desert - I'm sure it would be beautiful, but I'm saving my first balloon ride for Tuscany!
The dunes are so beautiful in a stark way - and the way the sun shines on one side and leaves the other in darkness makes for great photos. Part of the attraction is to climb the dunes - it is difficult going because the sand is very soft and by 10 am, it is very hot. I made it up one of the dunes, but was pretty well out of breath by that time - and I was really nervous that I would fall and break a bone, so I quit at that. Tom, Don, Lynn, Otto and Franco went further up - Nita dropped out before I did and took a nap on the ridge of the dune. She got a kick out of telling people on their way up that 'the view up there is wonderful - it is worth the effort.'
After the dune walk, Franco drove us to a rest area where he set up a picnic lunch. Then we drove back to camp.
That evening, he took us out to a little canyon for sundowners.
Wednesday, April 4 - Sossusvlei to Windhoek
We were told that we'd be leaving the camp at 3 pm, so we didn't want to take a long excursion. We were taken by Felix, one of the guides, to a little cave in the desert where there were a couple of very old cave paintings (very small) thought to be about 20,000 years old, left by the San people, also known as the Bushmen. Felix's brother, Martin, accompanied us, as well as one of the camp managers, Gregory. The caves weren't far from the lodge - maybe a 20 minute drive. We left the vehicle on the desert floor and climbed the short distance up the hill to the cave. It is thought that the San created these little paintings as a record that they were here and that they left, heading eastward, as the paintings were pointed in that direction.
The paintings were interesting, but what was more interesting was the conversation that we had with the three Namibians. It was far ranging - conditions in Namibia (there is no middle class - just the very wealthy and the poor), French tourists (these men, like the others with whom we've spoken, have a very low opinion of French tourists who are generally rude and imperious), the Namibian civil war (one of the issues was that the Afrikaners wanted classes to be given in Afrikaans and the students wanted classes in their native language and English - the same conditions that led to the Soweto uprisings in the '70s). Tom and I really enjoy talking with people from the countries we visit - we get a much better idea of what their world is like than we do if we merely take in tourist sights.
Back at camp, we packed up and then were taken to the landing strip for the flight back to Windhoek. It was a bit rough, caused by a combination of a small plane (this time a six-seater) and the hot winds rising from the desert to meet the cooler winds aloft. No harm, no problems.
Back at the Heinitzburg for the night. Tomorrow we head for Johannesburg.