Saturday, February 6, 2016

Sossusvlei, Namibia: Hiking on A Very Sandy Mars

We (sadly) left Swakopmund to head to the super-crazy landscapes of Sossuvlei - the highly-visited, super-photographed, amazing red sand dunes you often see associated with Namibia.

What It's All About:
Sossusvlei is a region in the Southeastern region of Namibia, in the middle of the Namib Desert. It is comprised of dozens of huge red-colored sand dunes (they're red because they have lots of iron!), most of which you can visit and climb. It's become Namibia's #1 most-visited place over the years, and you can definitely see why - driving into Sossusvlei and seeing the dunes is like being on another planet. I personally think of Mars, because Mars is red, but I digress - the landscape is almost other-worldly.

Sossusvlei is unreal!

Sossusvlei refers to the dozens of dunes in the area, most of which you can climb - they have ridic names such as Dead Vlei, Hidden Vlei, Big Daddy, Big Momma, etc. They are some of the highest sand dunes in the world.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • The 5-hour drive from Swakopmund to Sossusvlei was stunning - the landscape totally changes from the coast to huge rock mountains to desert. It's like driving through multiple other-worldly landscapes, and the scenery seriously drastically changes by the minute. 

I'm being a ballerina in front of the crazy rock mountains, obviously

A terrible photo of the rando cape zebras that chill by the road

More desert, followed by more mountains

We stopped over at a nearby "town" for the night on the way to Sossusvlei - which turned out to look like this. The entire town of Solitaire seriously consisted of one general store, one hotel, and a gas station.

We stayed at a nearby lodge though, which was amazingly gorgeous.(TRAVEL TIP: When you have camping equipment in Namibia, most of the gorgeous, huge lodges offer campsites for A FRACTION of a price of a room - and they allow you to use all the baller lodge facilities!)

A sample of the baller lodge facilities. I could get used to this.

In fact, this fancy lodge had TWO pools


And the adorbs lodge cat came and plopped itself onto my lap. Paradise.
Due to the remoteness, after the sun went down, a million, trillion stars came out.

And they had a baller buffet dinner. Solitaire Guest Lodge = favorite place I've ever stayed

  • The next day, it was a quick drive from Solitaire to Sossusvlei!  We made it there on the hottest day ever - therefore waited until late afternoon to venture out for a sunset hike on one of the dunes.  We headed to the closest dune, called Elim Dune, for sunset.

Hiking Elim Dune

Hiking in sand is very difficult. And you end up with your shoes filled with sand.

The view from the top of Elim Dune at sunset

Strangest landscape ever. Also, why does this dune have huge tufts of grass and wheat sticking out of it everywhere? No idea.

  • The second morning, we woke up at the crack of dawn (seriously, like 5AM) to go hike another dune for sunrise. We hadn't initially planned on it, but I had a serious case of FOMO when I heard all the other campers driving away at 5AM, so we made a last minute decision to try. Which means by the time we got to Dune 45 (our chosen sunrise dune), we had to hustle up to the top.

Sun is starting to rise over the mountains. This may or may not have been as we were zooming to make it to Dune 45.

As we arrived to Dune 45, the sun was making its way even higher

And here is Dune 45! And here is me zooming up the side of the dune (EXHAUSTING) to make sunrise.

And we made it! Just as we stationed ourselves near the top of Dune 45, the sun started to rise

Dangling over the edge of the dune, looking down

And as the sun started to rise, all the dunes around us turned pink....

.....then red, as the sun got even higher. It was unreal.

One of the most amazing sunrises I've ever seen (never mind that I've seen like, 6 of them in my lifetime).

More views from Dune 45

Oh, just failing to do a yoga pose

The top!

Jesse looks like he's on the edge of the world

  • From Dune 45, we drove deeper in Sossusvlei (which gets crazy - you are required to have a 4WD because you end up driving through sand pits and such) to go climb one last dune before the sun got out of control. We ended up just randomly choosing the dune, which turned out to be Big Daddy (the highest dune of them all).

Um, this dune looks good. And well-traveled.

Jess was not loving this hike. It was starting to get really really hot, and sand is super hard to walk in - it takes twice the amount of effort to hike because you're constantly sinking

But look at these views!

It is 100 degrees and we are surprisingly still alive


  • The most fun part was when we decided to abandon the hike partway through, and then got to run down the side of the mountain. It's super crazy because the dune is really steep, and looking down to the bottom is terrifying - if it was a rock mountain, you'd definitely die going off the edge. But because it's sand, you can basically prance your way down the side of the super-steepness because the sand catches your every step.

Jesse is sand-surfing down the mountain

I half-danced, half-rolled my way down the mountain. Which ended up being a terrible idea because I ended up having sand in every single crevice of my body, including my mouth

The bottom of the dune is even more alien-like - like a total hard shell of desert (I think it's actually salt), with random barren trees all around.

I can't believe this place is real

"Which one of these is not like the other"
Driving out of Sossusvlei - byeeee crazy red sand mountains!

  • Sossusvlei = SO freaking cool. And so extraterrestrial-looking.  It really makes you appreciate and think about how vastly different all the various corners of the world are.  It's one of those places you can't believe is real, and then you visit - and you still can't believe it's real. And then you leave, and you look at photos of your visit - and you still can't believe it's real. 

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • The word "vlei" means "marsh" in Afrikaans. Though I can't imagine why, because I did not see anything even remotely marshy-looking in the area.
  • Namibia is the least-populated per capita country in all of Africa, and the second least-densely populated country in the entire world (after Mongolia!).  
  • Because so much of the terrain in Namibs is so harsh and dry, farmers need a ton more land to be able to support themselves even partially - so the farms and properties are very, very spread out.
  • The Namib Desert (which Sossusvlei is located in), is the world's oldest desert - some of the sand dates back to 80 million years. EIGHTY.

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