British friends joined us on a trip to Namibia. How rewarding it is to share Africa with those who experience it for the first time! Namibia sees a lot of German Tourists, which is not a big surprise as it was formerly a German Colony but British travellers not as frequent visitors to Namibia as the Germans. The direct flight out of Frankfurt, Germany is available every day of the week, but it is seldom that British travellers are on the flights.

Africa is a great place to visit if you have Pounds in your pocket because of the exchange rates. With Brits anticipating cheap European holidays becoming a thing of the past as a result of Brexit, perhaps more will get to experience the wonder of Sossusvlei in the future.

Namibia - a land of the remotest beauty

Namibia’s gravel roads are excellent and are very well maintained by a fleet of grader drivers who set up their semi-permanent camps in the middle of nowhere, in a land of the remotest beauty. They add a sense of real adventure on the way to Sossusvlei from Windhoek airport.

There was a sense of real journeying, of real adventure. Now and then, we passed occasional farmers going about their business, or simply children wandering through the sands and rock seemingly on a mission to nowhere. On the way down to the dunes at Sossusvlei, we traversed the Gamsberg pass at 2330m above sea level. With care, we slowly navigated down the steeply winding road, stopping to capture images of the distant desert sprawled lazily in the sands below the escarpment.

At the Gaub Pass, we were in for a treat as the 'upside down' pass is a huge hole in the ground. There at the bottom of the great canyon twinkled a cool, clean river and round about were scattered thorn trees, majestic and almost impossible in a land so stark. Birds and small animals abounded in the deep cool haven at the bottom of the pass.

Solitaire - famous for apple pie

Moving on, we hit the flats and away behind, the faint blue of the escarpment met a sea of yellow-white grass that escorted us into Solitaire. Miniscule Solitaire is indeed drowsing away peacefully, framed by the miles of yellow grasses nodding towards the red dunes in the distance. The best part of Solitaire is the apple pie.

Famed throughout the land - it is highly recommended and completely scrumptious!

Destination Sesriem

The Sesriem camp in the Namibia National Parks Camp lies about sixty kilometers away from Sossusvlei proper, but here is there a delightful campsite, made even more enticing by the fact that there are a bar and restaurant just next door. Beneath a shady camel thorn we set up our camp, and above the tents hung vast thatched nests of social weavers. Generations of birds had been hatched in those nests, and now they fluttered in and out to delight us.

Our camp was deliberately simple. We had two small two-person tents and a small gazebo for shade. The back of the four wheel drive vehicle was our pantry and a folding table was just fine to sit around and enjoy good company and food under the desert starlight.

Then to bed, as the temperature fell. Night in the desert is cold so we were glad for the down sleeping bags we had packed.

Rain in a Namibian desert

Late in the night, with a rush of wind and a monstrous growl, thunder burst over the camp and wild-eyed with delight we scrambled out the tents to stand in the rain, oblivious of the lightning. Rain in the desert is a rare phenomenon. Our friends from the UK joked that they had brought the rain with them. What an experience that was! The wonderful aroma of fresh rain on African sand left us deeply inhaling for more. Is there anywhere in the world where the smell of rain on dry badlands is quite so aromatic?

Up early, fresh and hungry, we grabbed some breakfast that next morning and were charmed by a pair of crystal bright starlings who joined us for the feast.

Adventure tourism

The road to the Vlei was strung with clumps of grass feebly trying to climb into the red dunes, but they gave up the fight and faded away as we drove deeper into the desert. Red dunes gleamed like silk, yellow dunes swept by like frozen waves and they were all swathed in the colours of the early morning. At every side of us were opportunities to take photographs. Namibia makes an expert photographer of everyone! Even auto point and shoot photos work when everything is so desperately beautiful.

Up high on one dune were sticklike figures of tourists out for adventure. Tobogganing down the dunes they whooshed for hundreds of metres in the soft sand. Tour buses waited at the bottom for the bruised, weary and very sandy people to board and carry on their journey.

We passed on that adventure and continued on our way to find the heartbeat of the desert.

At the main entrance gate, where the sand was thick and deep, with some apprehension and laughter we lowered the pressure in the tyres, engaged low range and pushed on through the deep drifts of sand. But we made it and arrived at Sossusvlei in time to make a pot of tea, eat some food and explore around about.

The utter silence of the Namib desert

The vlei was empty. No standing water gleamed on the dry salty bed, but the big green thorn trees told a story of water beneath the sands. Above the trees loomed the great red dunes. The absolute silence was stunning. But no - it was not silence - it was just the absence of man-made sound.

Slowly we started to hear again. First our own breathing, then our heart beats, the sound of our shoes on the sand, and then the wild things. The beetles made a scratching sound, the birds sighed with their wings outstretched. Antelope stepped daintily on tip-toe as if afraid to break the silence. An ostrich strode by as if out for a very 'important date.'

Soon thousands of weaver birds had scented our peeled oranges and sliced tomatoes and soon we were inundated by the little birds who snatched away our lunch greedily, thirsty for every drop of moisture. Big signs hung round about warning that people should not feed the birds, but the sheer numbers of them brought Stephen King to mind. It was easier to just surrender the food to the mob than fight to the death for a scrap of cucumber.

At first glance, the desert does look as if there is no life, but as we wandered around the sculpted sands and beneath the church-like trees we saw delicate springbok, fussy ostriches, splendid oryx and slithering snakes. Ants scurried, gleaming and precise through the grains of sand and countless lizards scurried into the trees as we walked by. There was it seemed, an abundance in the midst of nothing.

Deserts can be deeply meaningful places

Deserts never fail to hold some deeply meaningful mystery. The mystery is elusive but the mind knows, somehow instinctively that there is a spiritual meaning in the astonishing land of plenty that appears to be dead, barren and bereft of life at first glance.

Perhaps it was the rain, or just being able to share one of my secret African places with my British friends, but this trip to Sossusvlei will always be remembered as special.

British travel - come and discover the best of Africa

For British travellers who like the independence of self-driving, a Google search about Windhoek and Namibia will produce some very good quality hire to drive vehicle companies. Some of them come complete with camping equipment and guidance on stop overs, and other useful information. Come, share the best of Africa - Namibia can proudly boast to be one of the finest destinations on the continent of Africa.