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Meet "Big Daddy" the iconic red sand dune of Namibia
Tucked into the far southwest corner of Africa is Namibia, a recently formed nation. It is ‘way off’ the tourist map, and when Nancy and I talk about our adventures in Africa, and mention Namibia, most folks have never even heard of it.
Regular sized jet planes fly into its capitol, Windhoek, and from there, we hopped aboard a small 4-seater flying south to the Namib Desert, landing on a small airstrip between sand dunes, near Sossusvlei..
We had to remove one seat in the 4 seater plane for Nancy's wheelchair.
The Namib is the oldest desert in the world, and the sand dunes of Sossusvlei are thought to be the highest. It is not their height, but their color that is so remarkable. More about that in a moment.
Despite the remoteness, you are not forced to live in a tent if you don't want to. This place turned out to be quite wheelchair friendly and accessible. A main meeting room serves as a gathering spot/dining room, where we spent pleasurable "down time" and ate some wonderfully prepared meals.
On our first day we left camp around 10AM, heading for the Namib Naukluft park, the largest conservation area in Africa. The terrain around us was so unusual: Huge sand dunes, interspersed with granite mountains, and flat plains stretching for miles. It gives you a pleasantly eerie feeling being here, because there isn’t anyplace like it on the planet.
After several hours’ drive, we reached the “end of the road”, at a place called Sossusvlei.
'Vlei' is the Afrikaans word for a shallow depression filled with water (in this case, a depression that might sometimes be filled with some water!).
First time using motors for Nancy's "Dune Buggy" wheelchair.
As you can see, there isn’t much water here. In fact, this is all that is left after very heavy rains a couple of years ago. Under such conditions, the Tsauchab River, miles away from here, fills up and extends itself through age-old river beds to this point. Here, the large dunes surrounding the area block the water like a dam.
In a few weeks, all this water will have evaporated, and the depression, or “pan” as it is known here, will be bone dry until enough rainfall will allow it to fill again- whenever that might be. Not likely soon, as the average rainfall is less than 3/4 inch per year.
We had lunch under a tree here, and watched trekkers crossing the huge dunes around us. Their shadows made a most interesting “painting” across the landscape.
Not wheelchair friendly, this place, but worth the effort to get here. Having put motors on the S=Dune Buggy made it possible for us to go wherever we wanted, even up the side of steep sand dunes.
It takes only a few minutes to realize the best way to really see this vast area is from the air, and there is an enterprising fellow who has a hot air balloon business nearby. On our way back from Sossusvlei, we stopped by his place to see if he would consider getting Nancy into one of his balloons.
We have been turned away by other operators in other countries, but this fellow, Erik, appreciated what it took for us to get to this place. He thought getting in and out of the gondola might be a bit clumsy, but achievable. We arranged a ride with him, meeting him slightly before sunrise the following day.
Standing in the middle of half a dozen helpers, he personally loaded Nan aboard, then took over as pilot, lifting off so gently we were not aware we were airborne! What an unbelievable view! From our balloon, I took a photo of a sister balloon, also owned by Erik.
Floating over the Red Dunes of Namibia
We landed after several hours of exhilarating flight. As you can see, the ground can be rugged and uneven, so Eric put down in a dry river bed. With fewer people to help get Nan out of the gondola, he figured another way to do so. It actually was not as awkward as it looks:
Nancy was told what to expect, and then four helpers turned the gondola on its side. It was a "piece of cake" to get Nan out. Now clear of the basket, they wheeled her away. I wanted to tell them it would have been easier to put all four wheels down, but they were O.K. with the way things were going.
As is traditional at the end of balloon flights, there was a champagne breakfast set up for us, the perfect ending to a perfect morning.
Champagne breakfast, traditional after balloon flights.
After breakfast and we were saying our ‘goodbyes’, Eric asked if we could come by his place later that afternoon, He told us he had a special treat for us, if we were not busy. We told him whatever it was, we enjoyed his company too much to let anything else get in the way. We arranged to meet again around 3PM.
When we returned to his place, he drove up to meet us in a shiny new "Rhino", essentially a 4-person California- type dune buggy. We loaded Nan into the front seat and off we went, over the dunes, for a personalized tour of the area.
We are city dwellers. Neither Nancy nor I had ever spent any time on sand dunes, much less whip up, over, and down them with a driver who was as happy as a child with a new toy at Christmas.
Too steep for three, I had to get out for the Rhino to climb this dune.
What views! What colors! What steep angles! The dunes took on a surrealistic quality as the sun began to set. Intense colors ranging from black to straw yellow, to orange, and orange-red.
Climbing up an especially impressive dune, Eric came to the top and parked his Rhino on the plateau. He turned to us and told us that with the exception of his wife, sons, his in-laws, and perhaps a dozen others, he had brought no one else to this place.
The ranch is huge- this is the owner's favorite spot, "Hallowed Ground".
He considers it “Hallowed Ground”, and we were honored he though enough of us to bring us to it. He said he did so because we must be very special people to have the spirit, courage, and desire to venture so far from home, into such emptiness. If G_D chose to bring us here, Eric said, then he considered it his privilege to do whatever he could for us.
Namibia and he were remarkable encounters.
Have you checked the most important parts of our website? We urge you to go to the Chapter on Essential Plans. Then, whether they apply to you or not, read the Chapters Airlines, Cruises, Hotels, Taxis, Tours. Finally, be sure you read the Chapter Items to Take. The information in these chapters will make all the difference in the success of your trip.