Welcome to mass tourism in Sossus Vlei
The contrast and the shock could not be bigger. A moment ago we were still traveling alone in a dreamlike environment with a reduced pulse rate. After a drive over a terrible dirt road (‘African Massage’) we arrived in the Mecca of tourist hustle and bustle: Sesriem.
In the national park, where Sossus Vlei is located, there is a government campsite. In the closer surroundings outside the park are further overnight accommodations. Those who stay in the park receive as a privilege the permission to enter the park one hour earlier and to stay there one hour longer in the evening.
Take it or leave it
Rarely in our lives have we experienced more bored people than the staff here at the reception. Since they are fully booked today, we are offered an overflow campsite. These are right on the road, all share a run down ablution block and are ‘less shady’. So, they offer virtually no shade. The price of 350 NAD per person is not only identical to the regular campsites, but for what is offered it is an absolute cheek.
After a short discussion we decide to book for one night. We would like to go to Sossus Vlei as early as possible, and therefore we value this extra hour in the morning very highly. Provided we get our new battery in time, we can already do a first exploration tour in the afternoon.
Our battery arrived
At about 4:15 p.m. we make our way to the indicated hotel to see if the guide has already arrived with his group. On the way Guido sees a Mercedes Sprinter of the indicated company, and we arrive at the hotel near Sesriem at the same time as the group. The guide is super nice, and we are now in possession of a new, second battery.
After the installation and minor adjustments, we set off at 5:00 p.m. heading to Sossus Vlei. We had to follow a 60 km long tarred road through the desert. At the beginning the road leads through bushy landscapes, but these are quickly replaced by the dune landscapes of the Namib.
Abbruch auf dem Weg ins Sossus Vlei
The light atmosphere was wonderful, and we drove through several small sandstorms. The strong wind created a twilight that created a mystical atmosphere.
After 45 km we reached the Dune 45 which is apparently popular because it is the first dune in the morning that you can climb in the dark, and you arrive with the sunrise on top.
In the evening it seemed unspectacular, and we continued towards the Vlei. Our goal was to still arrive in Sossus Vlei and let the evening atmosphere affect us. Suddenly, the storm became stronger and stronger and from now on, the visibility was below 2 – 3 meters. We were at least no longer able to see the median strip on the road and decided to turn back.
Pink busses and a desert race
Back at the campsite we spent a funny evening with a group of Swedes who traveled with the ‘Pink Busses’. Altogether they carried 46 people and spent two months crisscrossing southern and eastern Africa. We had a good time together and in the morning everyone prepared for the race.
When we arrived at the gate at 4:50 a.m., the Pink Busses and several Overlander trucks were already there. We heard the first ones leaving the campsites around 4:30 a.m.. It is apparently valid to be the first at the gate.
The race to Sossus Vlei
Then, about 20 minutes later, the spectacle began: the gates were opened, and we felt like we were in a desert race. The posted speed limit is 60 km/h. The vast majority drove 80 – 100 km/h, and it turned out that even that only leads to being perceived as a traffic obstacle. Not infrequently, we were overtaken by South African trailer teams at around 120 – 130 km/h.
The virtual knife between the teeth was recognizable despite darkness.
At dune 45 all Pink Busses and Overlander were parked, and we could already see the first people on the dune as we drove by. Everything revolves around being in front. What a spectacle.
The way to the 4×4 parking lot
Arrived in the Vlei, we reduced the air pressure, before we started to reach the final parking place. This is about 4 km from the main parking area and can only be reached by driving through deep sand. 4 Hi is required.
All the visitors who do not have the appropriate vehicle or do not want to make this drive themselves, can use a shuttle service. In between we encountered a Dacia Duster that had dug itself in up to the wheel housings. He got help from a guide, so we drove on.
Suddenly alone in Sossus Vlei
At the final parking lot there was not much going on. All the teams and single vehicles that were so stressed on the drive were all unattainable. It was strange, but we were glad for the emptiness.
With a few others, there were four other vehicles there besides us, we got an overview and started to climb the foredune of ‘Big Daddy’.
Suddenly, the sun slowly started to rise behind the dunes and created a beautiful morning atmosphere. Together with five Brits we climbed meter by meter and enjoyed the view. Undoubtedly, the view from ‘Big Daddy’ must be even more fantastic, but we decided not to conquer this dune anymore and instead descend sideways into Dead Vlei. There was no ‘checklist’ for us to work off, and so we enjoyed the still existing loneliness in the middle of the dead trees in Dead Vlei.
The masses arrive
When we had had enough, we made our way to the parking lot. We were amazed when we climbed the last hill before the parking lot: The place was full of cars and people. Groups gathered everywhere and as if by some unknown referee, the run on the dunes was opened. From now on, hundreds of people started moving and coming towards us.
It was about 7:30 a.m. and we were glad that we had spent the extra money and bought the privilege of the earlier entrance. This had given us time to see what we wanted to see.
Some people had just walked appx. 100 meters in the sand, but they were already puffing like locomotives, and we got scared thinking about how these visitors were going to get on the dunes.
We drove the way back comfortably, inflated the tires again with our compressor and finished the mass adventure Sossus Vlei. These dunes are already unique and nowhere else in Namibia to be found. If you want to experience this, you must join the spectacle and submit to it.
It is just like that when everything is organized. To experience Namibia in 14 or 18 days means stress and the groups drive from one known place to the next. We rather love the unknown, quieter places. That’s what our next stage is about: as participants of the Tok Tokkie Trails we walk for three days in a small group through the Namib and sleep under the open starry sky.