by Maggi Barnard
The magic that just goes on and on …
Deserts are tough places to get to know, so to say they are magical might sound over the top to many a desert novice.
Those fortunate enough to visit the Namib Desert after the exceptional rains of last year found it transformed into the ‘friendliest’ environment anyone could ever wish for.
The vast plains were covered in rich, yellow grass waving in the wind; herds of springbok, ostrich and gemsbok dotted the horizon; and swarms of birds filled the clear blue skies with their exuberant songs.
If these images still make it hard accept that the desert is a magical place, a visit to the Namib Desert Lodge might just do it for you. Thousands of fairy circles popped up among the tall grass on the infinite plains, as if gigantic raindrops had left their indelible prints on the landscape.
The magic about fairy circles is that scientists are still baffled as to what causes them, despite years of research. This has given them a mystifying and honorary status. It’s not only the fairy circles that will leave you mystified. The archaeological history of the environment goes back millions of years, with the fossil dunes featuring prominently.
Perceptions and definitions of isolation and loneliness take on new meaning when you drive through the desert for any length of time. Arriving at the Namib Desert Lodge after such a journey, seeing a large number of vehicles parked under the huge camel-thorn trees, and entering the bust-ling courtyard where groups of tourists soak up the hot sun next to two refreshing swimming pools, makes the place feel almost like a metropolis.
Namib Desert is one of the largest accommodation establishments in southern Namibia, offering guest accommodation in 55 double rooms. Situated 60 kilometres north of Sesriem and 30 kilometres south of Solitaire, it is convenient for large groups on their way to Sossusvlei.
Nestled right against the foot of the fossil dunes, there is much to discover and experience in the surroundings. In fact, it would be a great mistake to regard the lodge as no-thing more than a stopover from where to visit the giant dunes of Sossusvlei.
A sundowner tour is offered to guests in the late afternoon. Within minutes you go from the hustle and bustle of ‘urban lodge life’ into a magnificent world where the soft golden rays of the sun turn the red of the fossil dunes into deep, rich ochre and the endless grassy plains into gold, with fairy circles as far as the eye can see.
The fossil dunes are part of what is called the proto-morphic Namib. An information sheet at the lodge explains that the red sandstone cliffs are remnants of a dune system similar to that seen in the Namib of today. The only difference is that the fossil dunes were created during a period of accumulation and wind-blown sand that started about 65 million years ago. About five million years ago the Benguela Current began flowing up the west coast of Southern Africa, starting a new period of very dry conditions and the formation of the current dune system.
A good way to explore the fascinating formations on foot is by doing the Fossil Dune Trail of approximately 1.5 kilometres from the rest camp along the riverbed to the dunes and back. The trail will take you past typical features and vegetation of the area. Starting in the dry riverbed, you will come across tracks of small animals, such as lizard, mice and beetles, as well as a widely distributed desert plant, the tsama – a wild watermelon. Along the way there are camel-thorn trees, typical of the arid savannah and desert systems, the smelly shepherd’s tree, the wild green-hair tree, buffalo-thorn tree, blackthorn tree and the bitter bush with its overwhelming not-too-pleasant smell.
The sandstone cliffs of the fossil dunes are home to an interesting variety of birdlife, including Pale-winged Starlings and Black and Bradfield’s Swifts. Rock Pigeons make their nests on small pillars of dung, colouring the rocks a conspicuous white.
There is no better way to end a hot day in the desert on top of a red sand dune with an ice-cold drink in hand, watching the ever-changing show of colours as the sun finally disappears behind the western horizon. Back at the camp a festive atmosphere reigns at dinner as guests discuss the day’s experiences under a clear and beautiful starry sky with a view of the softly illuminated fossil dunes. The conversation dies down as the first springbok carefully make its way to a floodlit watering place not far away.
In the silence the pure pleasure of the good food, quality wine and pleasant conversation is highlighted. This and the countless breathtaking vistas of the past day make it hard to think of the desert as a tough and unforgiving place. The only fitting description you can find is that it’s pure magic!
This article appeared in the Feb/March ‘07 edition of Travel News Namibia.