Climbing the Dunes

Trip Start Jun 15, 2013
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Trip End Jul 17, 2013


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Where I stayed
Neuras

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Woke up at 3:00 for some reason and had a rough time going back to sleep… no nightmares this time thankfully. Then it was time to get up around 5:00 and shower. We departed at 5:30 for Sossusvlei. My group was comprised of Pia (a Swiss girl), Beth (a British girl), Ali (an Italian girl and my current roomie), and myself. We stopped at a "petrol station" near the Sossusvlei Park and picked up breakfast. They had a limited selection on hot foods, so I grabbed a flakey pastry that was filled with chicken and mayonnaise. It was fantastic.

Then we were off to the dunes. We saw Dune 45, the most well known dune, and there were at least six busses of people climbing it. We continued on to the biggest dune, Big Daddy. Matt asked if we were ready and turned on some upbeat “house” music as the gravel turned into a good six inches of sand. It was apparent that Matt was enjoying himself, as it was evident by our laughter that we were as well. He sped through all of the sand, knocking us all over the car, to the music. When one of the Park cars approached, he slowed down and told me that he had to behave himself because he's gotten scolded for going too fast in the park before. All I could think was this must be Africa’s Nascar.

Ali and Pia wanted the hardest hike, so they were sent up an incredibly tall and steep path. Beth and I had learned from our experience at the canyon yesterday and decided we were armatures in the hiking world who also happened to be recovering from very sore body parts, so Matt sent us up a less steep slope.

We had a bit of a walk to get to the start of the dune. I left my shoes in the car (I made the poor choice to not carry my backpack and just my camera instead), so Beth (who wore shoes) had a much easier walk to the dune than I did. Do remember that nothing good comes from any of the plants due to the thorns, burrs, etc., and the ground had plenty of plant-like objects covering it. Thankfully, by some strange coincidence, few of them were actually painful when stepped on.

After a good fifteen to twenty minute walk, Beth and I started climbing the dune. The sand was so incredibly cold, but also the softest sand I’ve ever felt. It was definitely a bizarre sensation. Even for being an easier climb, Beth and I were so sore (she even had a blister) and tired from the previous day’s canyon endeavor that we stopped multiple times to sit, relax, and enjoy the dune view. It didn’t take long for our calves to really start burning, but we pushed through and made it to our goal peak. We were rewarded with a spectacular view of the area that contained all of the preserved dead trees. We also enjoyed watching people “hike” down the dune. We watched a boy run down the dune and kept waiting for him to fall and tumble face first down (which never happened).

It was time to get down off of the dune. We started making our way slowly down to the trees. The sand at the top of the dune was quite warm as the sun had been shining on it all day, but the slope we were going down was shaded and quite cold. My feet and lower legs were almost numb from the temperature in no time. We commented on the ripples that the sand made as we pushed it forward with each step… it was almost like rippling water.

The area with the dead trees was beautiful. We took several photos and then decided to make the hike back to the car.

Of course, a quick hike to the car would be too simple.

Beth and I decided we didn’t want to climb up a small dune to get to the car, so we continued walking along the flat area. We knew we passed at least one other area with the dead trees, so when we got to one, it wasn’t surprising. We continued on, thinking surely we would see people cars at any time. We walked forever and weren’t sure why we hadn’t reached Matt yet. Keep in mind, I was still barefoot during this whole duration, hiking over rocks, through course sand, etc.

At one point I saw a very large insect. I wasn’t convinced it was dead, despite how still it was, so I didn’t stop near it to take a picture. It had to be about 1/3 – the size of my foot, and looked like a cricket with a transparent shell/body.

Eventually, we realized that there were no longer human tracks in the sand and only animal prints (primarily what appeared to be oryx based on what we saw during the drive into the park). We were quite certain we went too far, and this was confirmed when we were surrounded by sand dunes.

On the way back, I kept hearing this awful animal noise. I looked around repeatedly, convinced that it was probably something that was going to eat me, and finally found a crow sitting atop of a bare tree. Phew!

We turned around to head back. I had to stop four times to pick thorns out of my feet. Finally, we heard people, climbed up the little dune we originally didn’t want to climb, hiked the 20-minute walk back to the car, and, an hour later than it should have taken, we arrived at the car and told Matt of our endeavor. He laughed and said we were the first people to get lost.

Only five minutes later, from their much longer and more strenuous hike, Ali and Pia arrived at the car. Beth and I couldn’t help but laugh at how long our detour took (we should have been able to climb another smaller dune before they got back…oops).

Because we all got done with the dunes quite early, Matt dropped us off at a little canyon near the entrance of the park while he paid our admission fees. The canyon was absolutely beautiful and wasn’t a difficult hike (aside from me wearing flip-flops). At one point I saw quite a drop and told the girls I was not climbing down any rocks after yesterday’s climbing session. Turns out that the “drop” actually had stairs that I just hadn’t seen yet. Beth laughed and made a comment about me having canyon-climbing PTSD.

This was also around the time that I learned about a few events that took place while Fiona and I took a different path down the canyon than the others had yesterday. Apparently Sven had stood atop of a big rock/boulder while everyone took a break. The boulder was only about a meter from the cliff’s edge, and, right as Sven began to step off to the side, the boulder rolled backwards and fell several hundred meters down the canyon. Everyone is convinced Sven almost died yesterday. He had no idea it was even happening. Also, Beth slipped and fell a ways down the canyon. I am so thankful I didn’t know any of this yesterday; otherwise I’m sure I would have been certain I was going to die.

We finished exploring the small, pretty canyon and met up with Matt again. It was time to go to the buffet. I had a fantastic pasta salad, a fruit salad, some iffy lamb stroganoff, rice, and some incredible desserts including passion fruit tart and a chocolaty bar of some sort.  At this time I was also able to purchase internet time, check my e-mail, confirm my Chobe safari, and talk with Dorian for a bit. Didn’t have time to post any blogs though, unfortunately. During my internet use, the conversation (which I stayed out of and just listened and laughed inside) switched to countries’ foods. Two British (Matt and Beth), an Italian (Ali), a Swiss (Pia), and American (me!)… oh goody. Ali was bashing England’s food… and then on to American food. Beth was kind enough to defend American food, although I couldn’t have given a care. Pia just sat and listened, just like me. As I mentioned, I found the whole conversation comical.

We headed back to Neuras. The other part of our group (they are going to Sossusvlei on Thrusday) worked on a little craft project. On Friday we are going to Solitaire, which is a cheetah conservation site that Matt and Kate used to work at before they were relocated to run Neuras. Solitaire has several captive cheetahs that live in a large enclosure (so large that we get to track them by their collars in order to see them and check on them). In order to provide them with a bit of fun and exercise, the volunteers make “prey” and stuff it with horse meat. The cheetahs get to tear apart the prey and get into the compartments in order to eat the meat. It is known as “enrichment”. The group that stayed behind (Alison, Sven, Chris, Matt, Maria, Brittany, and Fiona) made an octopus with six legs… so really a hexapus. It’s quite impressive and has 8 compartments for the meat (six legs plus the head and the body). We will make our enrichment creature on Thursday while the other group is at Sossusvlei.

Supper time… we had something similar to macaroni and cheese with mushrooms. It was quite good, but I tired of the texture quickly. This was paired with a salad. Conversation again turned to countries’ foods, and the same arguments arose…. This time it was a bit more dynamic as more people were involved: A German (Sven), two Canadians (Brittany and volunteer Matt), three Americans (Duke Matt, Maria, me), four British (Chris, Neuras Matt, and Alison), a Swiss (Pia), an Australian (Fiona), and an Italian (Ali). Thankfully, the conversation turned to words that Americans and British pronounce differently and quickly Australians were added into the mix. We definitely exploded with laughter and conversation. I have to say that I think my favorite part of my experience at the N/a’an Ku S sites is the conversations we have at supper at Neuras. I laugh so much and feel right at home with these people. Everyone is likeable, and I enjoy being around them.

Now it’s bedtime. I’m quite sore and tired after the dunes. Maybe I’ll read a bit.
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