We never got tired of waking up like that; the great African sun slowly rising above the horizon, bathing our natural wood covered bedroom in a warm orange glow. It was the early morning promise of a new day, full of adventure. Usually, in a situation like this, we would cuddle up and enjoy the moment, extracting the last bit of heat from each other and the duvet. But not on this occasion. We were up bright and early, ready to go within minutes.
We were in the midst of a true desert voyage, spending our days driving across the vast, dusty, plains of Namibia. Barely a moment would pass, where we didn’t marvel at the otherworldly sights on the other side of the windscreen. We had the time of our lives, yet little did we know, that today would be the highlight of our trip.
The morning was still cool as we fired up our 4×4 rental, so much in fact, that we had to turn on the heater. We set off west, straight towards the Namib desert, the oldest in the world. Our goal for the morning was reaching Sossusvlei, and the biggest, baddest dune of them all: The 325-meter mastodont known as Big Daddy. Getting there meant driving directly into the sunrise. Oh, it was beautiful. The land was transformed by an orange filter, and it was like something out of an 80’s movie. The music matched the setting perfectly. No mellow morning vibes were resonating from the speaker, no, they were blasting the song “Africa” by Toto.
It later became known as the official song from our journey. Whenever we hear that song today, we vividly recall our road trip through Namibia.
Soon we found ourselves in a valley of sand. The sun rays lit up the surrounding dunes in deep orange nuances, which were perhaps closer to red. However, as the sun continued to rise, and the vintage film filter effect slowly subsided, we noticed that the colour of the dunes remained the same. They were, in fact, red. It was a fantastic sight. Imagine yourself driving, with your favourite song on the loudspeaker, on an empty road that winds through some of the tallest sand dunes in the world. The tarmac is obsidian grey, and in the distance, the sky is bright blue. On either side of you, red dunes tower above the road… The contrasts were out of this world!
And that’s when you see them. Appearing in the distance, long-horned creatures make their way solemnly through the dunes. You have never laid eyes upon such animals before. Stunned by the sight, you slow down as you approach the great beasts. The car comes to a complete halt, but you almost don’t notice. The road is empty for as long as the eye can see and there is nothing living in the arid land beside you. Except for these. Somehow you have stumbled upon a wandering herd of Oryx, the national animal of Namibia. You let them cross the road in front of you, as if a traffic light had turned red, and you just sit there, quietly enjoying the moment. Eager to stretch out the experience, you turn the volume of Toto all the way down. You don’t want to risk startling the Oryx.
As the engine turns off, not a sound is heard. You exchange a glance with your significant other, both realising that you are in the middle of experiencing something extraordinary. The sensation is impossible to explain, but it’s almost meditative. The moment passes, much sooner than you would wish, but somehow stays with you for a long while after.
Turning the engine back on, you continue moving west without saying a word. You drive in silence, and it will be hours before the music is turned back on.
It’s the height of the day when you finally arrive at Sossusvlei. The air is no longer cool, and you have long since swapped the heater for the air condition. Now is not the best time to go climbing a 325 meter tall sand dune, but you haven’t come this far to let a little heat stroke stop you. First things first, though. The parking lot is several kilometres from Big Daddy, and most people stop here to take a shuttle for the final bit. Of course, you are not most people. You insist on utilising the four-wheel-drive capabilities of your vehicle, even though you have little experience driving on sand and no knowledge of the road conditions ahead.
The first bit is fine. The road changes only slightly, from gravel to a thin layer of fine sand. However, the deeper into the desert you get, the thicker that layer becomes. Before you know it, it’s hard to distinguish between the sand of the road and the sand of the actual desert. You can’t turn back now, though, or you would surely get stuck. This is the time to push on fearlessly. You press harder down on the accelerator, firmly deciding to go for broke. If you have someone sitting in the passenger seat, now is the time to ignore the nervous mutterings.
The sandy road isn’t flat or straight anymore either. Now it is full of natural speed bumps, winding itself in between low bushes and tall green trees. As you take the corners, the rear-end occasionally slides out, and you start to wonder just how comprehensive your insurance actually is. Is off-road driving even covered? Your thoughts are abruptly cut off by the sight of an abnormally large bulge in the road, made of hardpacked sand. If only you had seen it a bit earlier, you could perhaps have driven around it. There’s no way to correct now though, or no way to stop for that matter.
You hit it head-on.
Moments later, you find yourself airborne, inside a massive SUV, weighing several tonnes. “Oops” is the extent to which you have time to think before you again make contact with the ground.
The car trembles from the impact, and you feel it throughout the length of your spine. There is a heavy thud coming from the front end of the Toyota, the sound resembling that of a blunt instrument hitting its target. The car is still moving, though, seemingly unaffected by the incident. Should you stop to assess the damage? Probably not… because now you have nothing to lose. You press on, quietly hoping to yourself that everything is mechanically (and cosmetically) alright.
Finally, you get to the second parking lot. You see cars much smaller than your own and wonder how the hell they managed to make it through the desert. Did they perhaps deflate their tires? You quickly let go of that thought, though, because you have bigger things to worry about. Jumping out of the car, it is with some hesitation that you make it towards the front. What will you find? A broken suspension perhaps, or at least a flat tire?
To your amazement, the car has not sustained any damage. There is not a single scratch. All is good and well! And of course it is, you think to yourself. Why did you even question your own driving? It was perfect, as always.
With that out of the way, it is time to focus on the task at hand. Climbing Big Daddy, one of the tallest dunes in the entire world. The sun is almost at its highest, but there’s no time to waste. You grab your backpack, and your water bottle, and start to make your way into the desert.
The massive dune was clearly visible from the parking lot. However, as you walk directly towards it, you quickly realise it is further away than expected. It doesn’t seem to get much closer. Luckily, you are still walking on level ground, on a completely flat salt plain, in fact, making for easy going. The landscape is spectacular, and you are already taking waay too many photos.
Between the two of you, you debate what the quickest way to the top might be. Will it be the more direct, but incredibly steep route, or should you walk along the softly inclining ridge? You choose the latter.
As you approach the base of Big Daddy, it’s obvious to see how big of a task you have ahead of you. You can see people standing up there on the very top, but they appear to be tiny ants. The sand you have to walk on is loose, and the gradient looks close to 10%. You can’t help but think to yourself: “This isn’t going to be easy…”
Later you realise that you had no idea just how hard it would be.
The initial ascent is particularly steep, leading you from the salt plain to the ridge. However, your legs are still fresh, and you make good progress. You even have the energy to laugh about the small bugs that emerge from under your feet. Your presence is disrupting their peaceful desert-dwelling, and they are utterly panicked about it. As they make their escape, they run too fast for their own little legs to follow. They shoot across the sand, but then they stumble and fall, rolling for many metres down the steep slopes of the dune. It may sound terrible, but you find it hilarious.
As you slowly make your way up, the roles are eventually swapped. You are not even halfway to the top, but the sun is at its zenith, you’ve already run out of water, and you are nearly admitting defeat. Now the bugs start to laugh about you! They see you meagrely dragging your feet, heavy and exhausted from the increasingly deep sand, while they themselves are too light to sink in.
He who laughs last…
This is when you remember one of your favourite travel quotes…
Okay, in your exhausted state you are maybe confusing a 325-meter sand dune with an 8.000-meter peak in the Himalayas… But the point is the same. There is a reason you’ve come all the way to Namibia, and it’s because you want to live a life of adventure. Big Daddy is today’s adventure and damn it if you won’t make it all the way to the top.
And you do!
You drag yourself one, miniature, step at a time but eventually you get to where you need to go. You get to the top. It feels and looks like a proper mountain peak. You have 360-degree views of what appears to be the entire Namib desert, and it’s hands down one of the best views of your whole life. Sitting there in the soft sand, at the top of the world, just the two of you, you are firmly reminded of why you go on these adventures.
You then take a few photos, you know, to share with all the couch-potatoes back home. Of course, you use your favourite pose, which, for some reason, has always worked well for you. Here’s how that looks:
Ain’t that beautiful? Up until this point, you’ve been completely alone at the top, but now some Norwegian vlogger sneaks up on you, preoccupied by walking around blabbering into his microphone. Suddenly noticing you kneeling down like that, he seems startled, then nervously asks:
“Oh, I am so sorry… Were you proposing?”
(No harm done… You weren’t.)
“Ah good,” he says, “This would have been really awkward then…”
After spending a bit more time basking in the sun and the view, you start to get thirsty. You really should be more prepared if you want to call yourself a professional adventurer. Anyhow, that means it’s time to venture back down. Luckily, going down is quite a bit easier than going up. Especially when you are on a massive sand dune. There is a special technique you can use, which will get you down in minutes, if not seconds. It’s surprisingly simple, really.
You just run.
That’s right. You can safely run down the very steepest part of the dune and may we just say this upfront: It is soo much fun! You can thank gravity and the extremely fine grain sand for making that possible. And for making you superhuman. Because that’s exactly how you feel as you sprint down, knee-deep in the sand, all the while precariously close to stumbling over your own two feet. You have never run this fast before, and it’s impossible not to laugh out loud.
Oh, pure childish joy. Not the worst feeling in the universe. And you make it down in a fraction of the time it took you to get up there. The only drawback?
You now find yourself on a completely flat and bright white clay pan. It’s a legendary place. You may already have guessed which one? It’s called Deadvlei. Surely you have seen pictures from here before? It is one of the most photogenic places in all of Namibia, hell, in the whole world. Here’s an example for ya.
You have to walk through the entire length of Deadvlei to get back to your car. You lucky dog. There are so many photo opportunities on the way that it takes you a fair bit longer than expected. And rightly so. This place is truly epic and deserves your attention very much indeed. You could spend a full day here, marvelling at the black trees, standing in stark contrast to the white clay, the bright blue sky and the majestic red dunes. You recall how these camel thorn trees are 900 years old and long dead. And that just makes the whole place that much more impressive.
Alas, life must eventually move on, and the travels continue. That’s okay. New adventures await, and you will always be able to think back fondly on your visit to Big Daddy and the Namib desert. As you pull out of the parking lot after this magnificent day, you’ve almost forgotten about the sandy road ahead. You wouldn’t want to test your luck, repeating the previous “accident” again. However, there’s nothing else to do than swallow the sizable lump in your throat and get on with it. Just like always.
… Then, a few hours later, you find yourself in this situation:
That’s an exploded tire (doh, captain obvious). It doesn’t matter one bit though, because nothing can wreck your mood on this glorious day. You’ve conquered Big Daddy, run like a child down its steep slopes and marvelled at the sight of majestic Oryx. A little adversity means nothing after you’ve reaped those rewards. You would pay that price a thousand times over for such an adventure.
You smile at that thought, knowing you probably will.
If you are considering exploring the amazing country Namibia is we made a short inspirational video based on our short road trip during the summer, we hope it will inspire you to start plan the trip of your life.