The End of the World: Sossusvlei, Namibia
I don't know where to begin. It's hard to write about Namibia, especially because I've nothing to compare it with.
Namibia in general, and Sossusvlei in particular, is like stepping into a different planet. Mars, to be specific. Everything has a reddish hue to it, the atmosphere seems thin, the sky far away, the distances immense. We could drive for an hour without seeing a change in the landscape.
We arrived to the Namib-Naukflut desert, an otherworldly monstrosity of a landscape. This is the entrance to Sossusvlei, one of the strangest places in the world, where everything seems to have died and solidified in a different age.
The expanse before us was gigantic – a never-ending scene of gravel and jagged mountains. At the end of the expanse: massive red dunes and the sort of resilient life that can survive in this barren place: ostriches. Yes, ostriches.
Namib-Naukflut is a staggering place – that sort of dreary (yet beautiful) scenery you'd expect to find after an apocalypse or massive extinction.
Don't be fooled by the photos – the distances are so massive that I actually lost my sense of perception the whole time we were there. Once we moved into Zimbabwe, everything regained its usual size, which left me perplexed and aching to return to the land of gigantic things.
As I mentioned, Namib-Naukflut is the gateway to Sossusvlei, which in turn houses Deadvlei, one of the eeriest and most amazing places in the world.
Sossusvlei has flown into the radar (as a pretty small dot, I grant you) for being home to the world's biggest dunes. These monstrosities reach up over 300 meters in size and they're a striking red color.
Once you're inside Sossusvlei, they cover the land as far as they eye can see.
Hidden within the dunes is Deadvlei. Deadvlei is a salt pan riddled with petrified trees some couple of centuries old. It's a odd picture frozen in time. It's also the strangest place to which I've ever been. It took a couple of minutes for my brain to adjust to what I was seeing. I'd left Mars and arrived at a forsaken land from which all life had fled.
Once more, the distances are deceptively enormous. The dune behind the trees is Big Daddy, one of the largest in the world (300+ meters high) and the salt pan is about a kilometre across. But in this strangest of all possible worlds, time and distance have lost all meaning.
After crossing the salt pan, glancing back every couple steps, we readied ourselves for quite the challenge: climbing that massive dune.
But we had wandered through Deadvlei until we'd left behind the 'easy' way up, and were left with no choice but to take the dune head on through its steepest side.
An exhaustingly hard climb, but we were rewarded for it. Not only did we avoid the tourists (though, granted, there are very few tourists in Sossusvlei), and enjoy the satisfaction of walking the path least taken... we were rewarded with this view of Deadvlei:
And there was more. Once we began to slide down, the dune emitted a series of odd grunts. The closest thing I can think of is that it sounded like a plane taking off. Since this part of the dune hasn't felt a footstep in decades (maybe even centuries) the iron remains evenly spread. So, as we slid down, it moved with us, causing the dune to literally sing.
Quite a reward for the path least taken.