Being in Namibia almost feels like being in a western country. There are convenience stores and gourmet supermarkets, and everything seems to be functioning efficiently. But, then your bus hits a springbok on the highway and it takes 10 hours for the bus company to resolve the problem and transport you the final 150 km of your journey, and you think to yourself, nah, "TIA" (This Is Africa).
Still, it's an easy place to visit. The capital city of Windhoek is clean and orderly and has a nice selection of restaurants and markets. We were able to rent a car, buy groceries and pull together camping gear in just a few hours and were headed off to the desert the morning after we arrived. Only a few of the main highways in the country are paved, but since you are driving by some absolutely georgeous mountains and desert landscapes, I supposed its nice to have an excuse to drive slowly anyway.
Our destination was Sesriem, the gateway to the Namib Desert and some of the most spectacular natural beauty we have ever experienced. It's the oldest desert in the world and has truly been aged to perfection! The undulating red sand dunes appear to dance as the sun moves across the sky and are a shocking contrast against the cloudless blue sky. From atop of a dune, you can hear nothing but silence, or maybe the wind blowing sand grains to fill in the tracks you had just made. The colors in the desert are so vivid - purples and yellows and reds and whites - but at the same time, the landscape melds effortlessly together, as if there is no end or beginning to anything.
Each dune or vlei (which is a dry valley) we visited seemed even more spectacular than the last. While Sussesvlei is the most famous, we found the Dead Vlei to be even more amazing. Towering dunes surround a dry riverbed covered with chalky white mud that has dried into a million puzzle pieces. The dead trees emerging from the still white sea are black and horrifically twisted, creating a sense that something tragic (or magical) could happen at any moment.
Luckily, the most tragic thing that happened is that we got some sand in the camera trying to slide down the dunes. Or, maybe it was Gil losing his race against an ostrich when driving out of the park (ok, I made him throw in the towel). The most magical thing that happened was us actually making it back to Windhoek in time to purchase our bus ticket down to Cape Town, despite an empty gas tank and a check post police officer who had a hard time believing that Americans write their dates with month first...
In sum, awesome trip and one of our favorite places to date. Thanks to Nathan for being such a fun traveling partner - have a blast in South America!