Oddly, we expected this day to present us with the worst roads of the trip. We were heading for Sesriem and inevitably one ends up on a sandy stretch somewhere. It turned out to be surprisingly mellow and apart from some wet ditches (which were oh so slippery!) it was an easy day on the road. Somehow it even felt a bit cooler than the previous day?
At some point, we stopped for a break next to the road. In the distance, we saw two figures making their way on foot along the never-ending road in our directions. Poor bastards.
After what felt like hours they made it to within a couple of hundred meters from us. Just then a dusty bakkie (truck) approached and screeched to a halt next to them. Much discussion followed after which the two men were promptly loaded into the back - joining what looked like at least 20 other people! The driver attempted to start the old rust-bucket only succeeding to kill the battery completely. Suddenly all 22(?) occupants piled out and started pushing! Mercifully the truck kicked into life with an almighty puff of smoke - just to see everyone bundling into the back again! And off they went.
I could almost not believe my eyes when the driver drove the last 100m towards us, stopped and casually switched off the ignition! I definitely heard some groans emanating from the back! Swift negotiation with us determined that we were of no use to their desperate petrol needs and like magic, they disappeared over the horizon. For some reason, the truck started on the first try.
Sesriem was sweltering and the only thing that saved it from being a real dump was the availability of cold beer. Don't you just LOVE Namibia! It still baffles my mind why in a country with the most advanced constitution in the world (I mean South Africa here - are you listening South Africa?) adults can't decide where and when they want to buy some cold ones!
Apart from the beer, the 'shop'; (I use the term very loosely) was pretty empty. Luckily a friendly local lady told us they bake bread next door (there's a next door?) and set us up with some fresh rolls.
As it was still early we set off towards Sesriem Canyon - walking to a deep cool corner for lunch. Some sweaty tourists ogled us with suspicion as we passed them. Weird thing is that we always get a mixed reaction from other travellers. No people we're NOT bank robbers, this is just the way we dress!
The timing seemed to be all-important for the journey to Sossusvlei and we had it all worked out. We'll leave Sesriem for a leisurely cruise on the delightful newly laid piece of tar to reach the parking area by 4:00-4:30(pm). From there we will hitch a ride with someone or take the Parks shuttle service to Sossusvlei, have a walk around Deadvlei and be back at the car park before 18:30 - leaving enough time to still stop at Dune 45 before sunset. That was the plan anyway.
The car park seemed exceptionally quiet with just 2 other vehicles around. We shed our kit and waited for 'the shuttle'. After 20 or so minutes we asked a German couple nearby when last they saw one, to which the answer was 'been here for 60 min, no shuttle since then'. This is when we realised it's 24 December and for all intent and purpose, no Park personnel would be working this late into Christmas Eve...
Ah well, we're here now so let's take a walk. Surely someone will come past with whom we might hitch a ride? We hit the (sandy) road in the direction of Sossusvlei, knowing only it's about 5km away.
The scenery was something to behold and every now and then we climbed a dune to take it all in. Around every bend, we saw game with some Gemsbok coming very close. And we walked. It was hard going as the sand was incredibly thick and it was still very hot.
We knew we must've been getting close to the end of the road after a good hour or so of walking.
Only one vehicle came past us since we took off - 2 European looking guys who kept a WIDE berth around us - pretending like we didn't exist as we desperately gave them the universal hitching sign. Twenty minutes later they returned and we gave them another universal sign.
We realised that we had reached a point of no return and although there was a very real probability of not encountering anybody else en-route, we did not have any choice but continue towards the vlei.
The slightly harder patches of cracked earth interspersed with some green shrubs was a sure sign that we were walking along the vlei itself and the sight of the 'parking' area was very welcome albeit disappointing.
If it wasn't for those amazing dunes I honestly wouldn't know why on earth anybody would go to Sossusvlei. As we had feared there was not a single vehicle or person in sight. In a way, this was rather surprising as I have heard before how hard it is to take pictures of the dunes without including the hordes of people milling around on them.
The shadows were getting longer and the prospect of walking back to the bike was anything but inviting. However, we didn't come all this way to see some dunes - we had to go to Deadvlei.
The downside of no other people around became apparent when we discovered we had no idea where the famous Deadvlei was! I guessed the general direction based only on Google Earth memory and we proceed to climb the highest dune we saw.
The hope was that we would spot Deadvlei from a higher elevation - and it paid off! It was a good kilometre away and traversing the powdery dunes was quite an ordeal. But what a sight!
We didn't have a watch with us but I estimated sunset to be less than an hour away. We had to really hustle to get back to the bike! To make matters worse we were running out of water. When we left the bike a couple of hours before we had 3 litres and now we were down to about half a litre with a good 6-7km's walking left in thick sand.
As the shadows stretched across the sand, gemsbok and springbok started showing themselves - no longer hiding from the harshness of the sun. (At one point we literally had to walk around some gemsbok!)
We finally made it back to the Tiger with some relief almost as the sun set. Using the last couple of minutes of light we blasted down the black strip away from Sossusvlei.
At times the black fingers of creeping darkness touched us - like we were being chased. We were a rocket ship hurtling through a blurry tunnel - struggling to shake off the earth gravitational pull. Eventually, I had to slow down as the light finally faded - animals alongside the road gave me no choice. This was their backyard after all.
Gates opened like magic and we aimed straight for the wonderful bar at the Desert Camp. The cold beer tasted like liquid gold and we grinned at each other with satisfaction. It was a hard day but a good one.
Distance for the day: 280km's