Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Drive to Walvis Bay via the 'tropic of capricorn'

PHIL: Day 8/22 Feb

Early start to the Sossusvlei dunes about 100km away before the long haul via Solitaire to Walvis Bay. Approach to the dunes is via a wide, flat, valley with sand rising to nearly 300m on each side. At the location itself, however, we were disappointed (but not surprised) that there were coach-loads of tourists being ferried in by 4WD and trekking in long school-like ‘crocodiles’ up the once knife-edge crests. Dead Vlei seemed less frequented so Allie scrambled to the dune top after I gave up with aching calves after only 50m or so climb from the salt-flat crater it surrounded.

Driving on to the coast we stopped at the Solitaire settlement for fuel and ‘apfelstrudel’ for which the place is justifiable famous. We missed the turning to a refuge built be two Germans trying to avoid internment during WWII . Allie showed her frustration at being deprived of a ‘walkschen’ to break the drive by insisting she walked for a kilometre or so along the dusty main highway whilst I waited by the roadside.

Approaching Walvis Bay we had been warned that there might be a sea fog and indeed the place was shrouded in low stratus and we shivered as we emerged into 15deg..Paradoxically a flock of tropical-looking Greater Flamingoes was circling the bay where we  to stay overnight.

Balloon landing on the back of the trailer (day before)
Evening saw us eating at a restaurant on stilts, The Raft, run by two unlikely refugees from suburban Surrey. In this otherwise rather characterless and rather forbidding former whaling port there appeared to be little else.Even the French owners of our guest house admitted that the Brits had transformed the restaurant into a first-class establishment with excellent seafood (from the adjacent Benguela Current) and wine (from the Cape).

ALLIE: DAY 8: Thursday, 22nd February

Into the sand dunes and a scenic drive across mountain ridges to Walvis Bay

Early start again. We are setting out for Sossusvlei National Park. But what a shock when we get there: at least 10 cars and dozens of people are queuing at the entrance to pay their fee and get the permit to enter the park. It rather spoilt our impression that we were the only visitors in the whole of Namibia. Another little but pleasant shock when we drive into the park, are 64 km of tarmac road. The rather expensive fee of 180 Rand (18 €) seems to have been mainly used to built this road which already was in need of repair only after a few months.
The last bit of the journey has to been done by 4-wheel drive shuttle busses. And we realize why: the sand on this track is knee deep. But a few stupid tourists obviously ignored the warning signs and are now stuck in the sands. The drivers of the busses just laugh at them. ”It happens every day. We leave them in there for a while. When they ask for help, we can make some good money!”

The hike up to Devils Vlei proves to be a challenge. One step up and three down. That’s the pace and price you pay for trying to climb up a 250m high sand dune. But its worth the effort. The view is spectacular. For hundreds of miles nothing but sand dunes around us. The contours and changing light conditions of the dunes are stunning and give me a feeling of being on a different plant. Down the steep slope is a white clay pan with a few black and barren tree trunks. A ghostly scene. But after heavy rains this inhospitable place can be transformed over night into a heaven for thousands of ducks and other animals.
Now already being late morning, the temperatures rise quickly and its time to move on and find some breakfast and a cold drink. (The only food we manage to find are salt and vinegar crisps and some sweet cookies).
The rest of the day is mainly spent in our car battling the dusty roads and fighting the heat. The only proper stop we allow us is in a place called Solitaire, which indeed is a VERY solitaire  place. Nothing there but a deserted camping site, a fuel station and a shop that is run by a Dutchman baking the most delicious apple strudel that one can imagine – especially here out in the desert! But we are not the only ones enjoying it. A group of rather overweight Dutch arrive on a coach load and savour the rest of the cake.
We escape driving through two “passes” (Gub and Kuiseb) that turn out to be indeed deep river gorges. The landscape with its always changing rock formations keeps us awake. At last we pass the “tropic of capricorn”, take a picture of me (since I am a goat according to the Chinese calendar), and finally arrive at Walvis Bay at the coast. The weather could not be more of a contrast: deep clouds hang over the sea, the temperature is down to a mere 16 degrees and its drizzling. We could be back to England!
Check in the “Lagoon Lodge” but see nothing of the Lagoon. The probably best thing of Walvis Bay, is the “Raft Restaurant” where we end up having a wonderful seafood dinner and a couple of good drinks at the bar. And indeed meet the owners, who are from Surrey England! Wonder why they have moved all that way only to have the same sort of weather…

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