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An Orange-Hued World

Post Date: July 15, 2015 by josiemounsey

P1010157“There’s Big Daddy.  Over there, Big Mama.”  Our guide waves an arm taking in not humans of gigantic proportions, but some of the highest sand dunes in the world.  For this is Namibia, land of contrasts and surreal landscapes.  The sand on these monsters is five million years old – its deep orange hue, caused by a high iron content, casts shadows on the land.  The arduous climb to the top of the 325 metre high Big Daddy reveals the Dead Vlei (Afrikaans for ‘a shallow lake’), a vivid white pan with a high concentration of salt, dotted with dark fossils of camelthorn trees.


Twenty-four hours ago, our party of eight clambered aboard a Desert Air Cessna 208B light aircraft at Eros airport in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia.


From the air, our young pilot, Francois Jacobs, points out striations of colour and contours; mere shadows of what we are to experience.  An hour later, we bump down on to the Aandster landing strip.  Our guide, Lester, meets us at the end of the dirt runway for the 45-minute drive to Wolwedans Boulders Camp.  The sun beats down as our vehicle follows the narrow ribbon of red sand which passes for a road in this wilderness.  Oryx stare as we zoom past.


Massive granite rocks hug the four tented bedrooms, each with separate bathroom, strung out along the edge of the camp.  They are surprisingly luxurious.  Through netted windows heat rises from the silent desert.  A thought washes through my mind:  this is a place where you could live or die in perfect peace.  The desert is already luring me into its tranquil depths.

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A late afternoon drive takes us through a stunningly beautiful orange-hued landscape.  We pass Oryx and Ostrich.  Quiver trees stand like sentinels, festooned with nests of bol-weavels – communal nests sometimes taken over by snakes!  As the sun begins to slip toward the horizon our Jeep lumbers to the top of a sand dune where Lester sets up a table with drinks for that most welcome of Southern African rituals:  sundowners.  The sky deepens to an explosion of orange and red lights.  A dung beetle builds its nest in the sand at my feet.


Warm wind streaks my hair as we speed through the African night, along narrow paths lit only by the flickering headlamps of our Jeep.  Joe points out lights in the valley.  We squint into the darkness.  In the lee of a hill of boulders, chefs are preparing a braai of oryx and chicken kebabs, salads, and a host of other delicious dishes.  The chefs look like miners fresh from the pit, lamps strapped to their foreheads.  We settle at a long table, complete with white tablecloth and hurricane lamps, myriad stars a giant chandelier above.  We pick out the Southern Cross and the planet Jupiter.  Time slips past.  After the last morsels of coconut pudding are scraped from our dishes, we sit back and drink in the majesty of the scene.  Back at the camp, the light from our wind-up flashlight flickers as we stumble along the meandering path to our ‘tent’.  We sink gratefully into the four-poster bed and let the desert weave its magic in our dreams.


And so, after a stunning sunrise flight over the dunes and a 65 km. drive from the Sesriem gate of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, we come to Sossusvlei and stand in awe beneath Big Daddy.  Breakfast awaits in the shade of trees.  At a portable washbasin, we vye for space with small birds taking their morning bath, before seeking the comfort of chairs swathed in, you guessed it, orange-coloured cloth!  Eggs are perfectly cooked, accompanied by bacon, sausages, and an overwhelming array of other items.  The only sound is the slap, slap, as we swat the plague of flies!

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It is after two in the afternoon when we arrive back at Windhoek railway station, where the cool luxury of ‘The Pride of Africa,’ our Rovos Rail train, awaits.


The train has become our home, carrying us 2,227 kms. from Pretoria, South Africa, with stops en-route at Kimberley, Upington, and the majestic Fish River Canyon.  From the comfort of a sofa or while dining on fine food, we have watched the ever-changing colours of Africa roll by.  Tomorrow, we take to the air again to spend a night at Mokuti Lodge in Etosha National Park, before the final leg of our rail journey through the Namib to the 19th Century German Hansa town of Swakopmund on the Skeleton Coast.

For now, glass of champagne in hand, I relax in the warm bubbly waters of the Victorian claw-foot bath in our Royal Suite and relive the magic of the desert.

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