Onwards to our desert experience, we stopped for a quick photo stop at the Tropic of Capicorn. We then moseyed on down to our Namib Desert-adjacent campsite for the night to prepare for another sunrise adventure.
Back up three weeks… What exactly is overlanding?
Many people aren’t that familiar with overlanding, so I figured I’d explain it now. Better late than never, as they say.
Overlanding is a style of travel where a group of people are taken around in a big truck that carries everything they need from cooking to sleeping to traveling. Dragoman was the pioneer of this style of traveling and remains the largest overlanding company in the world today. Every one of their trucks has its own quirks. Imani, the one we’re currently on, is a gem and you’ve already heard a little bit about her tricks from the Spitzkoppe post.
As a part of overlanding everyone pitches in to help. We’re all assigned truck jobs: sweeping and mopping the truck every night, bag duty, cleaning out the trash, among others. We all have something to take care of.
We also are assigned cook groups, where every three days your cook group has to help Kingston, our chef, with meal preparation and cleanup. But we’re spoiled with him on board. Proper overlanding though doesn’t have a chef. For all trips north of Nairobi, cook groups buy and prepare the meals themselves. It’s a big task, cooking for 20+ people, and I’ve heard rumors that a lot of times the food ends up inedible.
Lucky for us, we have “the king” himself to make sure we’re all very well fed. Kingston is from Zimbabwe, is incredibly hardworking, and once you get to know him, unleashes his sassy sense of humor. We’re lucky to have him and I’ll dearly miss his food.
The night of Spitzkoppe he cooked us a traditional African meal of pap, also known as ugali, which is kind of like a maize-based smooth grits with a stiff consistency. In proper fashion, you eat with your hands. Using pap, you scoop up the various other foods cooked. In our case, it was peanut butter cabbage and vegetables for the vegetarians and a beef stew for the meat eaters.
Now that may sound like the life luxury, having a personal chef, but don’t be fooled. Each day you pitch and tear down your tent. Nights can be rough: too cold, too hot, too windy, too loud. Showers are hit or miss, sometimes there is hot water and other times it’s like an ice bucket challenge. But, no worries, we figured out the groove of things and it all becomes part of an easy routine. With only one night left, we are getting a little sad saying good bye to our new home.
But anyway, back to the trip itinerary! We have a strict schedule to adhere to.
The magic of sunrise on a dune
Another sunrise was on the agenda, but this one stood out as perhaps the best one yet. We woke an hour before sunrise and raced to Dune 45’s trailhead. We scurried up the 80 meter dune to catch the sunrise just a few minutes before it began.
It was a pretty magical moment to see those rust-colored dunes light up when the first rays of the sun hit them.
Exploring a dead forest cut off from the world
Our next stop was a short four wheel drive trip and second dune trek up to get views of Deadvlei and Sossusvlei. Vlei means lake or marsh, dead means dead, and sossus means dead-end or no return.
These areas are a unique landscape. White salt pans stand in stark contrast to its surrounding pinky orange dunes. I walked through the trees, imagining the entire ecosystem that used to thrive there. Now completely cut off by water, the pan remains a tree graveyard.
Deadvlei is surrounded by the highest sand dunes in the world, averaging 350 meters tall. The tree skeletons that rise from the white ground have been scorched black by the sun over the 600 years they’ve been dead. What makes them really unique is that despite not being petrified, they remain standing. These trees do not decompose because they are too dry, a phenomenon that is very uncommon.
Sossusvlei was a little further along the road and shares a similar destiny to Deadvlei, but has yet to be completely cut off from its water supply. Old trees are still struggling to survive and still provide a shade for the sparse ecosystem to exist.
It’s incredibly beautiful to see how nature, specifically these trees, adapted to its dry surroundings over the course of their lifetimes and to imagine a time when the world looked totally different.
Seeing past the tourist moments
This visit in the desert gave me a renewed sense of awe for Namibia. Another huge benefit towards overlanding and what it makes it such a unique form of travel is the literal passing of the country in front of your eyes.
We travel a lot. Long days on the truck can be hard, but it also gives me time to reflect on what I’ve seen and experience the daily bustle of life going on. By taking planes and trains, I would miss the beauty and wonder of watching the country pass me by. I think that’s why there’s something about road trips that makes them poetic.
There’s a lot I just can’t capture. The impressions I form are unconscious and only make their way forward when they are needed. It’s hard to express the true value of travel. It opens up your mind in a way that can’t be replicated.
Ben, our tour guide, said it best at the beginning of the trip. Whether or not you realize it, you’ll learn something about yourself and world every single time you overland. It’s inevitable. I’m grateful for this opportunity to press the reset button on my thoughts and reenergize myself for the opportunities awaiting me after this trip.