Wednesday, 13 February 2008

We finally got our flash floods

But more of that later.

We left Windhoek on a very rainy day and decided to head towards Sossusvlei, Namibia’s number one tourist destination. The route took us through yet more stunning scenery. We made a lovely bush camp that evening after a bit of track bashing to find a sheltered spot. The next morning we passed this herd of Oryx (Gemsbok) as we headed back to the road.

In Solitaire we treated ourselves to their famous apple crumble (having read about it in an article about Mike Copeland’s trans-Africa trip). It was really good to enjoy someone else’s cooking. From the entrance to Sossusvlei we could see that there had been a lot of rain in the mountains and there was much talk of a couple of roads being washed out. We took a look at the Sesriem Canyon. This is normally dry and it is possible to walk along the bottom of the canyon, not today though.

We had heard it is best to view Sossusvlei in early morning sun. Considering that the camping fees were £40 (UK) for the night (just a little out of our budget).We decided to camp down the road a bit so that we could make an early start in the morning, it was still a 65km drive in the park to Sossusvlei. We ended up camping on a bit of high ground near to where the road was flooding. We whiled away the time watching drivers decide whether or not to negotiate the crossing. We did not want to go through the flooded road in case the water increased overnight and we could not get back again as it was still raining in the mountains. That was a good decision. The waters rose considerably overnight and at some point during the night we had been completely surrounded by water. At this point, though, we did not know that the same ephemeral river makes it way to Sossusvlei.

Shortly before 6am we packed up the tent and waited for the gate to open at 6.30. Apparently the internal gate opens at 5.30, but plebs like us are not allowed in until an hour later. We bought our permits and we were on our way as the sun rose. But we did not get very far. After 25km we could go no further. Quite a few cars and tourist vehicles had collected watching the torrent of water blocking our way. I took a wade through the first half of it which was fine but the second half- NO WAY. We retired to a hill for breakfast and to wait it out.

While I climbed the nearest sand dune and Gavin did computer stuff and kept an eye on the water level from afar. The water level was dropping and by 10.30 we moved back down to have a closer look. However there was still rapids in the river.

Many people came and went and we did feel that everybody was waiting for us to make the first move. Even at one o’clock the water was still too fast. Eventually at 2 o’clock, when no one was watching, Gavin made his way on foot to the other side. The water level had reduced by nearly a metre since when I first had a look. We decided that if he could walk it then the car could definitely make it, and the old girl performed very well. Not too much water came in the rear passenger doors and we were the first through and no one else knew, so we had the whole park to ourselves. Fantastic.

After another 30km the sand became quite soft, so for the first time we decided to let some air out of the tyres and it really made a difference, especially with the extra weight we carry around. We enjoyed a wonderful few hours exploring the Sossusvlei pan (a clay pan surrounded by huge dunes) and Dedvlei.

When we returned to the car the underside was being besieged by about 20 small finch like birds trying to get to the water trapped in the nooks and crannies. In the evening there were quite a few jackals around but they did not bother us. I think that they help to keep the place clean. Only two more vehicles entered after us

We ended up spending the night there which we think may not be permitted, but there was nothing to say that it was prohibited and we did arrive quite late (bear in mind that we were sold permits when it was already known to park staff that the road was impassable).

In the morning we were up on the dunes before sunrise where it was beautifully still, waiting for the tranquillity to be broken. But no one arrived for another hour and a half. We cannot help but wonder how many experience having Sossusvlei to themselves. We did observe some water covering part of the valley in the distance but we had not brought our binoculars up with us, otherwise we may have noticed that it was moving- it was the water left over from yesterdays flooding making its way to Sossusvlei.

After more people started to arrive we made our way out, only to be met by the water as it made its way to Sossusvlei. It was very surreal to see the water headed straight towards us. We reached higher ground where we had breakfast and re-inflated the tyres. By the time we were ready to leave we heard that the water had reached the pan which was slowly filling up.

We are now in Luderitz, a Bavarian diamond mining and sardine fishing town, on the coast. It is a long, long way from anywhere here and is really rather bizarre. It is on the edge of the desert and there is no vegetation, just sand and rock. We overlook the town and it is reminiscent of a whaling outpost in Alaska (not that I have ever been to one). It is not what one would expect just south of the Tropic of Leprechaun, oops I mean Capricorn. We have not camped near a town for a very long time and it was lovely yesterday evening, just watching everything light up.

From here we will make for Fish River Canyon and then South Africa.