How the Curse of the Oryx Horn screwed us again.
05/10/2008 80 °F
Before I begin the blog I'd like to change what I said about the Germans bringing the sausage roll to Namibia. A few nights ago I recalled all the many delicious sausage rolls we had with Skanky in East Africa and it dawned on me that the sausage rolls in Namibia were most likely an Afrikan influence. After traveling extensively with Skanky, our resident Afrikanner, I can say with certainty that this is a culture that values a good piece of meat. Alright - we are free to move on....
I believe we last left off in the German oasis of Swokomund, Namibia. Our adrenaline fully pumping and the bags packed back into the car we headed off for our next destination: Sossusvlei National Park. This is home to the images of Namibia that you may be most familiar with after your extensive Google search of this fascinating country. Enormous coppery red sand dunes melting into jagged rocky hills, salt pans peppered with dead trees, endless rolling mounds of ever-changing desert landscape. Most visitors come for two reasons: to hike Dune 45 and to take in the stunning Sossusvlei. Both of these activities were on the agenda and we were anxious to see what the area had in store.
Free from camping for one more night, we rolled into our accommodations at Desert Camp - individual "tents" in the middle of the desert - and enjoyed a rare couple hours of just chilling out. To be clear, the "tents" at Desert Camp were more like individual chalets. They were about as nice as you can get in the middle of the Namibian desert...or so we thought. The plan was to head to Dune 45 for a sunset hike about an hour or so before sunset.
Dune 45 for you non-Google fans is the only major sand dune you are aloud to hike up in the Park. Its very trendy to climb up at sunset or sundown in order to see the dune's sand go from brown to copper to a brilliant red. Its also quite practical to hike at this time as the dune is located in the desert and you stand a solid chance of burning your feet on the sand or getting a nasty burn if you hike up in the middle of the day. You fans of the Indiana Dunes know exactly what we mean.
Here's something I didn't know about myself: I'm deathly afraid of climbing up extremely steep sand dunes. Who knew? I was all smiles and "lets go gang" when we set out but literally 10 minutes into the hike I was frozen on that hot dune like a dik-dik in headlights. To be fair, it was EXTREMELY windy that day and the strong wind coupled with the pelting sand was enough to give anyone pause. I suppose that's how it got to be a dune in the first place but I wasn't that keen on the whole wind thing. And it just looked so steep! Sure there were 4 year olds running down the side of his "steep dune" but it was still darn scary to me. Col ended up coming back down the dune to coax me down the side and out of harms way. A real desert hero that guy. Fortunately the scare on the dune did not take away from the breathtaking scenery and I was able to enjoy Dune 45 for it's natural beauty. Bravo to the rest of our group who made it to the top without fail and thank you to them for not rubbing it in my face.
That night we were treated to dinner at what is officially the nicest place to stay in the area the Sossusvlei Lodge. They have this fab game meat buffet and Col and I rounded off the gastronomic part of our journey with a couple fillets of impala, hartebeast, kudu and the best of the bunch: zebra. Who would have thought zebra would taste so good? The real disappointment was the Nile Croc tail. Ugh. Like dry fish with a hint of chicken. If you come across it give it the wave on. Not worth the calories.
The plan for the next day was to get up early and make our way to Sossusvlei, an area in the park that is known for it's salt pan, dunes and dead trees. After killing 45 minutes there we would head out to our next destination - Aus. Aus is known for being the halfway point between Sossusvlei and Fish River Canyon and for its great camping and proximity to the only herd of feral desert horses in Namibia. Delightful! Before we did that, however, we tried desperately to book a morning safari walk with this guy Bushman who is known in the area for his fantastic desert wildlife tours. We called and called and eventually cursed and cursed Bushman because he never called us back. We had been looking forward to this desert tour so it was a major disappointment when he didn't call us back. Darn that guy! Oh well...we could just make up our own useless facts about the desert. "Did you know dunes are caused by unicorns? Yes! Their wings cause the sand to fly into the air..."
Arriving in Sossusvlei I immediately noticed that the best way to appreciate the surroundings was to, you guessed it, climb a dune and survey the area. Bummer. Determined to redeem my poor showing on Dune 45, I followed my trusty partner in crime up the Sossusvlei dunes. Well, look at me! There I was making a total mockery of that dune. I was practically skipping up the darn thing! I suppose I owe this surge of confidence to the fact the dune was a lot flatter and there was absolutely no wind to contend with but I like to think of it more as a triumph of spirit. And to the victor went the spoils of some fantastic views of the pan and the surrounding dunes. Really a magnificent place. Even Alex who has traveled to some of the worlds most wondrous spots had to admit that he had never seen any place like it. Well done, Sossusvlei!
Alex, Col and I spent a little more than the allotted time hanging out in the dunes so by the time we got back to the cars only one was waiting for us. The girls (Jo and Lee) had left with James to do a few chores and we were to go back in Annie's car and meet them for a fill up at the petrol station. You may be saying "that's a lot more specific then you've been in the past about your travel plans from point A to B." Yes, that's true but its relevant here because this never happened. We never drove out of the park. When we got to the car it wouldn't start. Dead as the trees in the park. Yikes. A double yikes because we had stayed a little later goofing around in the dunes and didn't notice that all the smart tourists had headed out of the desert before it got blazing hot. Oops. Fortunately there was one car left - a safari vehicle taking 2 Germans on a private tour. After officially proclaiming our car dead the driver offered us a ride back to the gate. You may think this is an extremely lucky turn of events and you'd be absolutely correct. The park entrance was a good 40 minutes by car and the only way to get there was to walk. Some of you may not have noticed but Col and I aren't really "desert people." We would have lasted tops 30 minutes on foot...especially because we only had about 1/2 a liter of water and a few chocolate cookies to sustain us. And really, chocolate cookies aren't made for the desert either.
The real bummer of the breakdown was that the car required a new part not just some simple garage maintenance. Those of you who may have traveled through Namibia are fully aware that there are little, if any Toyota parts distributors in a 300 mile radius of anywhere. We thought we were screwed...until a strange twist of fate came our way. It turns out that the Toyota dealership in Windhoek (the capital city) had one starter motor available for our car. Guess who was in Windhoek and willing to drive the part out that very night? The very man we were cursing not 12 hours beforehand - Bushman! Apparently he hadn't answered our calls because he was away getting his cars fixed. Coincidence? I don't think so. God love that guy.
We were "forced" to stay at the swank Sossusvlei lodge that night and dine yet again on their delicious buffet of game meat while the car was fixed (Editors note: anyone who thought we might come back from Africa down a few lbs will be sorely disappointed). Although it was a super huge bummer that we had to miss out on Aus and spend the entire next day (Lee's last) driving from Sossusvlei to Fish River Canyon it was just as much of a relief that the car broke down where it did vs. out in the bush. I shudder to think.
The next day we headed out for the 9 hour drive to Fish River Canyon. Fish River Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon in size. The goal was to get there in time to view the canyon at sunset. Of course we would have enjoyed a hike down into the canyon but this is no longer an option unless you take a 2-5 day guided hike. Apparently some French guys went down there without enough water and didn't make it out thus ruining the fun for everyone. French guys (editor shakes her head). It was really important for us to get there on time because Lee had actually extended her stay just to see Fish River Canyon. After all of her spills and thrills on the sand dunes at Swokomund the least we could do was see the darn canyon as the sun went down.
Yeah. Didn't happen. The curse of the oryx horn strikes again everyone. The first sign was the late departure. Apparently the mechanic was supposed to get up at 6 to start on the car. I guess 6 to us meant 8 to him. Ouch. We were supposed to leave at 8 but made it out of there at 10. The ole Sossusvlei Lodge starts to lose a bit of its sheen when you are just sitting in the lobby waiting for 2 hours. Once the car rolled in we eagerly popped in the cars and headed out. About 5 hours into the drive one of the tires on Annie's car blew and blew in a way that would lead you to believe it had something personal against us. 45 minutes, one spare tire and a cranky James later and we were back on the road...for about an hour. That's when Annie radioed us to say that she felt the spare we put on was feeling a bit funky. Good instinct Annie. The tire we had just put on had developed a strange case of boils in the short time it had been carrying our load. The thing looked like someone had blown massive bubbles in several locations on the tire. Another 45 minutes for a change...only to realize the next spare was flat. Another 20 minutes to change that one and we were off again. By now the sun was quickly making its way towards the horizon and we were all making our apologies to Lee. Needless to say we arrived at Fish River Canyon in the dark and the thing could have been 10X the size of the Grand Canyon and we'd never know. James, exhausted by the driving and the tire changing decided to screw camping and booked us all into this little mountain self-catering place (a small bonus). We toasted to Lee that night over hastily made spaghetti and meat sauce and joked that certainly the oryx curse was over once and for all.
The next day we woke at 5 and motored to the canyon to see the sunrise. It was, well, a large canyon but quite beautiful in the morning light. I think these are places that are best appreciated with a hike but hey, nothing you can do (editor shakes head at French again). We said our goodbyes to Lee and Annie as the road off into the sunset to the Windhoek Airport. James, Colin, Alex, Jo and I piled into the car for yet another long day on the road. Fingers crossed that the oryx wouldn't have our way with us we began the journey to South Africa. Can curses cross borders? I guess you'll have to stay tuned to find out....