It really does remind you of a scene out of Dune, and at times its like you are on another world. The sand is so fine, but yet its not dusty, its clean. This is the Namib Desert, the oldest desert in the world and home to the worlds largest sand dunes. The tallest of the dunes is over 1000 feet tall, you have to keep reminding yourself that its all sand! These aren't hills with a little sand on the top, this is a moveable work of sand art that is hundreds of feet high and changes all the time.
The Living Desert
To start off our day we went on a Living Desert tour with Tommy, the owner of the company. He had a giant WWII vintage Land Rover (He collects land rovers -- and large belt buckles ) He's fifty something always wears shorts, runs like a bow legged cowboy and has more one liners than anyone I have ever met. He had us all in tears by the end of the tour. "All the desert creatures are just like a beautiful woman, you treat them gently and with respect and everything will be fine" he says with a grin. "When I met my wife, I said I am the head of the household, she said fine, I am the neck you will look where I point you." He was also extremely knowledgeable about the whole desert ecosystem.
You think what desert ecosystem? What lives in a bunch of giant piles of sand where they only get 15millimeters of rain a year? It turns out quite a lot, but you pretty much have to dig up everything out here that is alive. For the first 45 minutes of the trip it was pretty quiet because it was overcast and quite cool, Tommy kept jumping out of the land rover muttering, I just have to check on something. He would trot away up the dune, stop at a seemingly random spot and then scoop his arm down deep in the sand. Or he would run up to one of the dollar bushes and poke around with his sand wedge for a few minutes only to return to the vehicle saying "nothing!"
Finally, one of these little forays paid off, he put his hand behind his back and with a huge grin on his face beckoned for us to get out and join him. Our first specimen was a lizard of some sort that he talked about how it survived by burrowing in the sand, water comes from the fog that rolls in off the Atlantic, just a few drops are all that is required, it turns out it also makes its own water by a chemical reaction with the food it eats. Pretty cool. Then, the showman asks Mary to kneel before him ("I like it when women kneel in front of me" he says) Then he takes the lizard and lets it clamp onto her earlobe with its tiny little jaws. "New Earrings!!" Oh, my, all the women in the group are subjected to this little bit, and we get some great photos.
I ask him, how he knows where to dig, he says "I read the bushman daily newspaper" You see the very top layers of the sand are a combination of sand and magnetite which makes very interesting wave like patterns. Once you learn the signs to look for they are pretty obvious. He's been scanning for sidewinder tracks since the beginning, and although we've seen some tracks, no snakes yet. So, he stops the rover next to a particularly magnetite rich area, and hops out with his hand and something else inside a plastic grocery bag. We follow him a little ways up the dune and he drops down to his knees and proclaims, "now I will show you how we iron the desert." Of course he's got a magnet inside the bag and its picking up tons of the tiny magnetite particles. After showing us some artwork, and dumping a bunch of magnetite on Mary's arm to show us how he can make the hair stand up on end, he asks if anyone would like it? Sure! I'm thinking this would make a great plaything for my office. Now I'm wondering how in the world I'm going to get a tennis ball sized blob of magnetite through airport security!!??
Eventually we find our sidewinder, also buried in the sand, along with a horned viper, a gecko, and tow very interesting chameleons. All in all it was really interesting to see all this life where its pretty easy to assume that none exists. We continue our journey with Tommy finishing up the full morning with a joy ride through the sand dunes in his giant four by four. The scenery in the dunes is spectacular.
The only thing marring this perfect desert landscape is the tents from the Mad Max IV film crew that is running around and apparently doing lots of things they should not be doing in the desert, one of them being messing with Tommy's schedule -- "The idiot, in a match between a Range Rover and a human, who does he think is going to win?"
After leaving the Dunes Tommy dropped us off for the next part of our adventurous day. A Desert eXplorers ATV and sand boarding trip. After the requisite signing of the legal waivers we are quickly outfitted with hairnets and helmets. "Do I really need one?" I ask rubbing my very short hair. Josh's answer is short and practical, "Keeps out the lice Dad" Hmmm. Then we are given a choice between the automatic or manual clutch ATVs. We all wisely choose the automatics. After a few quick instructions about hand signals we are off! Driving through the dunes is amazing, the hardest part is that you really do have to pay attention and follow the leader or else there are lots of places where you could get stuck or end up upside down. As we go along we get more and more adventurous, taking the ATVs way up steep banks and straight down even steeper run outs. Its exhilarating and tons of fun.
After an hour or so of this we stop at a particularly tall and steep dune. This is our sand boarding stop. Sandboarding is done on a piece of particle board that our guide waxes up for us. you lay down on it, pull up the front and away you go, down the dune. Its a lot like going sledding in the winter only a lot drier. Also a lot like sledding is that its not really much fun to trudge back up the dune, your shoes filling with sand and sinking up to your ankles in the sand. Its a lot of work! But we had a lot of fun, and I got my first chance to use our new head cam, to capture my runs down the dune. Cool!
Now we have about an hour of ATV riding through the dunes left, but its getting to be 4:30 so the sun is getting a bit low in the sky and there are lots more shadows now, this makes it all a bit more tricky. We are almost to the very end when our guide suddenly motions us to stop and whips his ATV around and goes racing back. We all crane our necks to see whats going on. Its Ann, she's tipped her ATV over in that last little bumpy patch. Not only is our guide racing toward her but three other guides in blaze orange that were leading other groups have seen the accident and rush to her aid. After a few anxious moments we can see that she's up and walking, her trusty hand bag still still at her side. Jerry says it was a spectacular fall. Ann says all of her orifices are still full of sand. We're all just thankful that she walked away with nothing more than a twisted knee. Its a bit swollen and sore but she's still getting around. This is definitely a day we will all remember for a long time!
We finally get back to the guest house at about 5:15 tired, and very hungry, other than a few little candy bars and some trail mix we haven't eaten anything during the day. The rest of the group bought happy hour supplies and made a 7:00 dinner reservation, so we drink some champagne to toast Gregory and Ann's anniversary. We laugh about the fact that we had two anniversaries on this trip, but both occurred during our stays in decidedly unromantic accommodations! Finally we head out for dinner to the Tug, a seafood restaurant right on the Jetty. We enjoy some good food in a nice warm dry atmosphere before walking back and going to sleep in our somewhat less warm and less dry rooms at the guest house. We remark once again that we've said the same thing about so many of our days here in Namibia, "What a day! I'm going to remember this for a long time"