WRITTEN BY KRISTA BEAUVAIS
It’s often so very hard to access truly isolated parts of the world. It’s harder still to access true desert landscape! It often takes days of difficult travel to get there. Naturally, that begs the question: is it worth all the hassle?
Today is day 5 of our African Overland Camping Safari. This morning we watched sunrise atop Dune 45. I have to say, that has probably been one of the most majestic, tranquil, and life-affirming moments of my life until now. As I descended Dune 45, I was certain that nothing could top it. That’s because I hadn’t yet been to Deadvlei!
Does Deadvlei top Dune 45? Maybe not, but it’s equally as powerful an experience! It is certainly to be sought out. And it is certainly worth the effort to make it here!
Getting to Deadvlei
After lunch at the base of Dune 45, I found myself hiking through the desert of Namibia a short drive away called Deadvlei. It was an optional extra on our tour (R150) that we decided to do. It wasn’t expensive so I’m not sure why there really were very few of us – but that’s how it worked out with our group. It’s not well advertised so none of us really knew what we were getting – or missing.
We arrived at the access point in Big Mamma, our old overlanding truck. We have been driving through desert landscape for the past four days so I wasn’t expecting much. I figured it would just be more sand. It was more sand – but there was also something else, something unlike almost any other location on Earth! None of these pictures do it justice; I really do apologise.
Highway of Desert Sand
Colin, our guide, managed to secure us a place on an open-air safari truck. There are drivers waiting to escort you the 5km there and back (for the R150 we paid). Or you can walk it. We saw some doing this. Crazy! We saw some trying to drive themselves and get stuck. Check our our ‘road’ for 5km. It’s nothing but soft sand and the tires are often sinking about half a foot, making it very difficult for the driver to keep the vehicle under control.
What fun we had! We were in a 4×4 open game drive vehicle swirling our way through the sandy roads, almost rally style, swaying to and fro in the back of the heavy-duty vehicle. Meanwhile, our driver was peeling and eating a hard-boiled egg!
Five kilometers later, we arrived (miraculously, given the egg and the sand) at a casual drop-off zone. Around us, the dunes heaved their drifted red sand in enormous mounds. Everywhere we looked we saw red sand. Red sand and blue sky. Apart from the odd shrub clinging to life, that’s all we saw. Oh, and sun. Hot, baking sun.
The Trek In
I wan’t prepared for this! Did I bring enough water? Exactly where are we going? Where is this Deadvlei? And what is it?
We walked – and we walked. We baked. And we baked some more! There was not even time for the sweat to form on our bodies, for it evaporated at its inception from the depths of our pores.
The First Views
Lizards scurried past. Sun baked our skin. And finally, after what felt like days, we crested a hill. Before us in the valley below was a sight of paralyzing impression. Powerful red dunes encircled a valley. In the belly of the valley, the red disappeared and instead we saw a stark white crust, cracked and patterned as though a lake had once been here.
Black, skeletal trees broke through the pristine white surface, death having taken them decades ago. Their near-petrified bodies still stood at attention, limbs reaching for the rich azure of the cloudless sky above, as though reaching for rain. These trees stood silent and pleading, as though begging for rescue.
I stood. We stood. We all stood and gawked. Speechless. We were looking down upon death held in a pose. Death on display, framed by red dunes and a crisp, happy blue sky, reminding onlookers of what will eventually become us all. These trees, like anchored in cement, were not even granted the dignity of falling to a resting position upon the earth that took their lives. Doomed to a life of continuous servitude, these sacrificial soldiers held their pose. I felt the least I could do was stand in silence and honour their sacrifice.
Everything that happened for the next hour was as though in a quiet, air bubble of a dream. We descended into the valley and stepped onto the stark crust. Fragile though it appeared, it held fast beneath our feet, for it was thick and solid. A dense encasement of cement, holding the legs of these trees firmly in place.
The same silence that befalls someone walking through a cemetery is the same silence that had settled on everyone walking in this valley. I touched the limbs of these near-petrified trees with the same care one would offer a delicate rose. I inspected and admired their splintered flesh, cautious to not be pierced.
These were not little trees. Despite having lost most of their outer limbs, they still towered over me, reminding me that, during life, they had been far superior to me. Yet death still found them.
Was it Worth the Hassle?
Absolutely! For an hour or so we padded silently amongst these relics, held in a trance of impressive proportions. My sense of Wodara in Deadvlei moved me through a rainbow of emotions I shall forever hold dear! We have driven for four days, often through mind-boggling nothingness and an impressive expanse of isolated, African terrain. You truly do feel like you have reached the ultimate in isolation out here!
Upon seeing Deadvlei (for me anyway), gratitude and awe abound. This is a potentially life-altering experience for those who go to the trouble to get here!
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