Sossusvlei Sand Dunes, Namibia

High & dry atop the world's largest sand dunes! Getting lost in the desert is not really funny, but Carrie Hampton shows us the amusing side of strolling aimlessly around the world's tallest sand dunes at Sossusvlei in Namibia.Huge! The largest sand dunes in the world in the vast Namibian desert are awesomely enormous and eerily enticing. In this sea of sand, the rich orange dunes rise tantalisingly to an astonishing 300 metres (100 metres higher than their nearest rivals in Arabia) and just beg to be climbed barefoot.Geologists say that this supreme desert covering most of the 50,000sq km Namib Naukluft Park, could be the oldest in the world and their curves and crests flow with a femininity which seem to invite closer inspection.Visiting this remote region takes some perseverance, as it is 300k's from any main highway and smack bang in the middle of absolutely nowhere. The nearest 'comfort stop' is the aptly named Solitaire, which is pretty sparse on the comfort stakes, consisting of no more than a tree, a petrol pump and a captive puff adder.The closest accommodation to the dune dreamscape is a surprisingly upmarket lodge and downmarket campsite at Sesriem, 65 kilometres away from the Sossusvlei dry oasis to which there is only one bumpy track. The effort of getting that far and the feeling of vastness and space is well worth it.

The Will Power but not the Horsepower

I had the willpower to get all the way to the magnificent Sossusvlei dunes, but not the horsepower. My Combie let me down at the final 5 kilometre mark, where for the last stretch a 4-wheel drive vehicle is a pre-requisite. I was determined to get there if only for a glimpse of the picture postcard scene of a lone Gemsbok by a spikey dead tree towered by a giant glowing dune.Not to be thwarted by a mere 5 kilometres, my friends and I decided to walk but omitted to read the park entry permit's 'Hints To Visitors'. We missed such obvious tips as; wear a hat and shoes, not sandals as the sand gets very hot, take water and, do not go near Oryx as these are fast and dangerous wild animals.Within 100 metres we turned back for one pal to put shoes on his bare (and he thought hardened) feet, and then once again for our single water bottle. We came unstuck on the third 'Hint' later.

Lost in the Dunes

Soft tyred jeeps had formed great grooves in the track, making progress through the soft sand seem like wading through treacle. Even the flat edges beside the road swallowed our feet like quicksand and the track ahead seemed cruelly endless.There is not much passing traffic in this part of the world but we were determined to get to Sossusvlei, so when we spied other walkers way ahead of us, we veered away from the track to cut a more direct route to the path that they were obviously on.After all what fool would leave the track in a desert where each sand dune looks alike and each horizon offers ever more breathtaking nothingness. Fools like us of course! It became apparent that these crazy hikers were doing their own thing and we were following them.For a moment, I felt a nauseous fearful feeling in the pit of the stomach, at being foolishly lost in the desert, and my friends felt more than a little angry since it was my idea.However, I must have had a premonition, or just a little more sense than it appeared, because as we left the path I took note of the position of the sun in relation to the track and was pretty sure I could lead my compatriots back to it. Persuading them to follow me again proved to be a bit tricky.We crossed parched clay flats, cracked and white with salt residue and sank in soft virgin dunes whose colours changed with the light from burned orange, through red to deepest mauve in seconds. The older the dune the brighter the colour from slow iron oxidisation and a zillion minute fragments of garnets.Dwarfed by the sheer size and immensity of the dunes, our footprints looked like insect trails and each step forward formed a mini sand-slide.

Immeasurable Solitude

The solitude was immeasurable and our place in the great scheme of life took on a curious insignificance. Feeling very vulnerable in this vast wasteland, I suddenly realised we were being watched. Quite alone in the shade of a single thorny Acacia tree stood the Gemsbok - the one from the postcard.She stared at us and we stared at her. Taking a few steps closer to this magnificent animal we marvelled at her long exquisitely twirled sharply pointed black horns. We became close enough in fact, to appreciate that we could be in serious danger of impalement at any moment so we skirted cautiously around her while she glared on.We eventually stumbled onto the churned up track and wondered whether to go back or forwards, or indeed which way was back or forwards. Pondering this, a shiny white mirage, resembling a Land Rover Discovery, appeared slowly into focus out of the far hazy heat.The middle aged couple in the front thought we were quite mad strolling through the desert in 40øc and took pity on us. We climbed gratefully into the back and luxuriated in air-conditioned comfort for the remaining 4 kms to Sossusvlei.The looming orange dune was there, so was the single lifeless tree but the gemsbok was missing from the scene - but then we knew where she was. Having eventually arrived at our destination we knew that there was nothing else to do but discard our shoes and tackle the great granular mountain barefoot.

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