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Friday, May 14, 2010

What? The biggest tourist destination is a dried pond?

Entering Namibia from South Africa was easier than crossing into Canada from the US. Since this was officially our first border crossing, we didn't quite know what to expect. We arrived totally prepared and basically were asked how long we wanted to stay - we said 2 months – the boarder agent issued the 2 month visa and welcomed us to Namibia as he stamped our passports. That was it. We drove off giggling like two kids who successfully robbed a cookie jar. Not that we had anything to hide, but we had read and heard about the horrors of border crossing and were prepared for something way, way worse. One gentleman told us to never leave our car unattended at a boarder. "One of you must stay with the car, while the other goes in with the papers. Otherwise you'll come back to a car with no wheels/headlights/etc." Um, ya.
I am writing all of this so we can go back and revel in the ease of border crossing into at least one African country. We had been told to bring a bunch of 1X1" passport photos to hand over at the boarders, one boarder was said to need 8 of them; apparently when traveling through Africa you are required to leave behind a paper-trail of tiny little photos of yourself. I can see them stuffed in an old tattered box collecting dust, but apparently the entering boarder and the exiting boarder post get together and somehow your little photos reunite, ensuring that you actually left the country. But what if they didn't match up? Would they send out a search crew with your tiny little photo? Are there people who travel through the villages armed with small photos of missing tourists asking, "Have you seen this women/man?" It cracks me up. We actually were required to hand over a couple of our mini headshots to The South African Municipality when registering our car, so maybe it is a good thing that we have a bag of these little guys.
Living in a technologically advanced country makes travel in a not so tec savvy country very amusing.
Our first few days were spent in The Fish River Canyon, Namibia's equivalent of The Grand Canyon. I have to say, aside from the thorn bushes, there were a lot of similarities. Both canyons cut through semi arid deserts bisected by a network of feeder streams. Here most of these rivers were dry, due to the lack of rains this year, but the ravines left behind were just as spectacular. Having LOVED our excursion down the Grand, we wouldn't dream of leaving without checking it out from top to bottom; so despite not having a permit (required of all through hikers, day hikers were explicitly forbidden) we skirted the signs and headed down the rocky path. (Why are rules so hard for some of us?) Of course, I was wearing a denim pencil skirt [think: tight and unforgiving] and wedge healed flip-flops so the boulder fields and chain assisted side walls were kind of a big deal at first. But as the hike wore on I became more worried about the one liter of water we carried between us, the length of the hike and the seriously high potential for a flip-flop blowout along the way. I just kept thinking of our friend Wags and Death in the Canyon, the collected stories of fatal mishaps in the Grand Canyon. This was the book he continuously referenced during our 18 day adventure down the Grand Canyon.
About halfway down I became the water police, rationing Glenn's sips to one or two glugs and no more. It was a seriously long and arduous hike and we are fairly seasoned when it comes to hikes. When we finally reached the river at the bottom we met a group of hikers who felt a little less studly about their feat once they saw a woman in a tight skirt, floppy sombrero and high heeled flip-flops emerge from behind them. They said I should bronze my flippers and have them mounted, but of course, I am always in inappropriate footwear, so this was nothing new.
I cannot remember a swim feeling so wonderful, and as much as we would have liked to have swum for hours, not knowing whether or not crocks inhabit a particular river will generally keep it brief. Of course it didn't help that a little fishy decided to sample my toe as I was wading in…eekkk. We swam it up and headed out.
Our next destination was Luderitz, a small coastal town on the northern edge of Namibia's forbidden Diamond Area (a piece of land the size of New England owned by DeBeers. If you are interested in corruption, look into this little monopoly). In Luderitz we restocked the fridge, picked up some supplies and caught up on email. From there we drove north to Namibia's biggest tourist destination, the Sossusvlei pan, a dry salt lake surrounded by the World's highest sand dunes. According to our traveler's Bible, AKA The Lonely Planet, you are supposed to get up before dawn, charge the park gate and be the first to drive the 60 kilometers into the park before dawn's light casts gorgeous shadows onto the dunes. So, of course we did just this; me driving like a maniac in the pre dawn hours with Glenn sleepily bumping along in our bed in the back. And as good tourists we followed the rules and arrived at Sossusvlei before dawn, but were totally surrounded in dense fog. Humm. Since this is the desert and it is essentially winter here, we decided to wait out the fog. Besides, it was freezing out there.
Around 11:00 we emerged from the camper, fed and caffeinated. Despite being slightly groggy from napping all morning we headed for the sand. The fog had lifted, but of course we missed the morning shadows, so much for the epic shot. About an hour later we summated the top of Big Daddy (which I was calling Sossusvlei the entire time, not knowing that the major attraction was a salt lake, not a big dune). Aside from a few stragglers on some of the lesser dunes, we had the place to ourselves. From the top you could see forever. It was fantastic, but G was barefoot and the sand was warming at an alarming rate so we opted for the steepest pitch down into the real Sossusvlei, the dried salt lake below. I have run headfirst down many a dune, but none of them were quite this tall or this steep. We raced down, laughing all the way.

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