To the vleis!

After having survived the first full day in the desert, it was time to test Gigi again. Gigi turned out to do better that we did. We had a nice breakfast at the bakery in Solitaire and we were off to Sesriem. The road to Sesriem was said to be very bad, so we left early and hoped to arrive before dark, although the distance was not very far. Things turned out a bit different than expected (again). 

The road to Sesriem started very well and just after we had left, we saw some beautiful oryx by the road. We stopped to take some pictures, and that was when they decided to run. It was amazing to drive along them, with a safe distance between us, and see them running through the desert. 

The rest of the road was way better than expected and we even arrived at Sesriem in time for lunch. Sesriem is a little like Solitaire. It is a town built around the gate of the Namib Naukluft National Park, with the road to the Sosusvlei and the Deadvlei. We had breakfast at a shop next to the fuel station, and we were very happy to have found some shade. With the burning sun and the hot wind, temperatures of 40°C felt like fifty degrees and we were seriously feeling like overheating. 

While we were sitting, having lunch and drinking drinks as cold as possible, we were reminded of what tourism in Namibia looks like. A group of over a dozen very well equipped Toyota Hiluxes arrived to fill up at the gas station. They clearly belonged to one group, as all of them were from the same company and a familiar lady stepped out of on of them. We had seen the same group in Solitaire, where they had lunch and left. Clipboard in hand, she checked if everyone of the group had arrived, put up her annoyed face we remembered from Solitaire and made some phone calls. We enjoyed the sights and were very happy with the way we have been doing our traveling for the last few months. 

After our lunch, we went to our NWR campsite. The campsite had quite some negative comments on iOverlander, but we did not have a lot of options. At the reception, we asked if they had a secluded site with some shade. When we arrived at the site, we were positively surprised. The view was beautiful, we had a huge tree that easily fitted our car and rooftop tent and the site was quite a bit away from the other sites. 

We still had the entire afternoon to kill, so we decided to make the most of it. We were staying inside the park, the best part of the NWR campsite, so we decided to already go into the park to check it out. We drove on the only good road in the park (clearly not managed by NWR). The views were stunning. We drove on a very good tarmac road, with amazing dunes towering above us on both sides. We stopped at a view points and some famous dunes to get out of the car. These were much needed stops for Gigi and for us, since we continuously had to watch her temperature. This meant no electronics (no A/C) and eyeing the gauge every 5 seconds. The tarmac was a lot better to drive on than the gravel roads, but the heat was killing. When we got out of the car, we could not stay out for longer than 5 minutes before we went back into the car, with every window and door open, to get some shade. 

The park was beautiful and we drove to the end of the tarmac road. At the end of the tarmac road, there is a sand road to the Sosusvlei and the Deadvlei. Because of the heat and the sun, we did not have the intention to go there, we just wanted to check out the road to the vleis. The 'shuttle', an open game vehicle, was not operational and we found two guys desperate to drive with us to the vleis. They had tried navigating the sandroad themselves and got stuck. Fortunately someone was able to get them out and get them back to the tarmac road, but there was no way for them to get to the vleis now. Too bad for them, they found the only people who drove the whole tarmac road, only to turn around and drive the tarmac road back. We had done what we wanted to do. We had seen the beauty around the tarmac road. The next day, we would be able to drive straight to the sand road, without having to feel the need to stop and see any other dune. We drove back to the camp, mostly focusing on not overheating Gigi. At the campsite, we went straight into the swimming pool. 

We bought some meat for a nice braai and watched the sunset. We still hadn't put the roof back on our tent, so we were able to watch the stars again. The stars were amazing, so we tried our hand at some star photography. This is a whole different skillset, which we obviously need to practice a little bit more. Still wonderful to try it out! Just before we fell asleep, we heard some noises outside the tent. When we looked, we saw a jackal eating something. Apparently, someone had forgotten some food outside at one of the camp sites around. Unfortunately there was still no hyena anywhere, but we liked to see the jackal around our campsite. 

The next morning we had to do everything quickly. The alarm went off early and we immediately broke up our camp. With our roof still not on the tent, this went quicker than usual, which was one of the reasons we had kept it off. Before we knew it, we were outside and in front of the gate that would get us to the vleis. We were the third car, which was exactly what we wanted. All the people outside of the park, still had to wait for at least 45 minutes before the gate behind us would open, and only the people staying inside the park could go through this gate before sunrise. Then, when the gate opened, we were suddenly in a race. The allowed speed in the park is 60 km/h, but with us driving that speed, the cars in front of us quickly disappeared in the distance. Then behind us the cars also started to push, trying to overtake in the pitch black of the night.

It was a strange sensation, driving on this road, in the dark, surrounded by the dunes we knew from the day before. We slightly sped up, but made sure we still felt safe, knowing that there is wildlife navigating the dunes that might cross the road some times. Then we suddenly saw all the cars in front of us turn left at the famous 'Dune 45'. We planned to skip this dune and go straight to the end of the tar road, but here we started to hesitate. When we arrived the day before, there was no shuttle. What if there also was no shuttle today? We did not plan to drive through the sand with Gigi. We wanted to see the sunrise from the dunes and we did not want to risk getting stuck in the sand. We hesitated for a few minutes, as we drove further away from the dune where we saw everyone getting out and climbing the dune. The darkness was already fading and was quickly replaced by red dunes. We might even be too late already. We decided to just continue to drive to the end of the tar road. We would see what happens there. 

Arriving at the end of the tar road, we were lucky! We were greeted by NWR people offering to take us. We quickly grabbed the camera and went into the car. We did not bring any water, and the driver was adamant that we still took some. We thought we would just be there for a short while and we had rushed to see the sunrise, but he convinced us and we got some water. Back in the truck, a family had just arrived and they also wanted to take the shuttle. Everything they did went extremely slowly (arguably even slower than Jeroen), and we had no intention of rushing the entire morning, only to miss the sunrise because we had to wait for half an hour on this family. We said we wanted to go, and they did not mind, knowing very well it would take quite some time for them to get ready. 

All the rushing that morning definitely paid off. We chose a dune without anyone on it and we were in time to watch the sunrise all alone. We spent some time enjoying the sun rise above the dunes and then we just looked around. The views were stunning, too beautiful to get a picture that does justice to this beauty. Of course we still tried to. We enjoyed the beauty of the dunes and we went into the deadvlei. The deadvlei is a pan with trees that died hundreds of years ago. They cannot decay, since it is too dry. Being there, with trees hundreds of years old, was wonderful and most people enjoyed it like we did, in silence. Because we were there very early, the vlei was big enough for the few people there to enjoy the beauty privately and in silence. 

Unfortunately, when enjoying such a marvel, there is mostly someone trying to show everyone how well they speak French. The family had arrived and the three boys tried to have people all the way in Swakopmund hear that they were there. We tried telling them to be quieter, but they only wanted to listen to their parents. Unfortunately, the parents joined their party, shouting from one side of the vlei to the other. We tried to ignore the shouting and to enjoy the beauty. 

When more and more people arrived, we decided to walk back. On the way back, we saw a similar vlei to the deadvlei, but a little smaller, with less dramatic trees, but also without any other person. We walked that way and suddenly we saw the image we had dreamed of. An oryx, all alone in the desert! This was a sighting we had really hoped for, but we were afraid it would not be for us. We should have known, because so far we have been too lucky during this journey. Jeroen quickly changed the lenses on the camera, while Emma got a little closer to make sure to have a good view of the oryx. Then, the worst thing that could have happened, happened. 

The French family decided they wanted to teach us some more French, and followed us. They were of course free to do so, but we definitely did not want them to scare off the oryx with their shouting. Jeroen rushed over to them, to urge them to please be quiet, as to not scare off the oryx. They did their best to listen, and did not shout as much. They did rush to the oryx very fast. The oryx picked up its pace, making it very difficult to take good pictures. We did our best and still felt extremely lucky to have found this beautiful sight. It is so amazing to see life finding its way in the desert. 

Then, suddenly, there was another oryx! We quickly tried to make some extra photographs, but we were too late. One of the French boys had seen it and shouted, for everyone in Namibia to hear, ORYX! This startled the oryx and it ran off. We were extremely annoyed, but also very happy that this didn't happen with the first oryx. We took some more pictures of the dunes, but in the meantime the sun had started to shine fiercely. We had been very happy that we rushed to the deadvlei. We were able to see the sunrise over the dunes, we spent time at the dunes and the deadvlei before the crowds arrived and we had been able to see lone oryxes in the desert. We did not, however, bring any sunscreen with us. In our hurries we had forgotten to bring that and we quickly made our way through the dunes back to the cars. We found the oryxes again, hiding from the sun under a tree, and we went back to the pick-up spot for our way back to Gigi. When we arrived at the pick-up spot, we saw why it was so important for us to be so early and why we were so happy to have stayed at the NWR campsite. There were huge crowds with screaming people arriving. The big tourist busses had clearly found their way for the day. 

Back at Gigi, we carefully drove back to the campsite, stopping a few times to photograph some other oryxes and a marvelous lappet faced vulture, who unfortunately flew away too early. When we arrived at the campsite we went straight back in the swimming pool. With most people at the dunes, we enjoyed a quiet cool off, before we left to go even further south. 

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