Sossusvlei

I’d arrived at my campsite the previous night while it was dark. I therefore hadn’t seen that there were evidently lots of thorns, now stuck in my tyres. My front tyre was flat and my rear tyre started leaking air from several places once I removed the thorns. In the end I found 2 leaks in the front tube and 5 in the back. I think 7 simultaneous punctures is some sort of personal best!

It’s amazing the difference good quality patches and glue make. I remember with ones I bought in Sudan, even with painstaking care patches were as likely to fail as to hold. Now, with ones bought in South Africa, all seven held despite taking no care whatsoever

By the time I’d repaired all those punctures it was quite a late start. But the fact there was no headwind made up for that as, once I got moving I was able to ride at a decent pace.

After a junction, the road surface worsened somewhat. There was more sand covering the road, which was more frequently corrugated. Often sections of the road had been washed away by floods, and there was just deep sand for a few metres.

The worst of these was about a hundred metres across, and I had to push the bike through it. Just after that was Betta’s, a petrol station/campsite/shop. The shop was quite expensive, about double the usual prices. I did not buy much, filled up my water bottles, then got back to cycling.

The road was still quite sandy. I could see some bike tracks, but in the deeper sand sections I could see footprints as well; they had been going the other way.

In the evening I made my way through an unlocked gate and set up camp in a dry stream, the bushes and the slight dip in the ground giving some protection from the wind.

It was a very windy night, but I still slept alright and made a reasonably early start. The slippery, bumpy road was made more difficult by the fact I was going uphill into a headwind!

But the wind soon subsided and it was only a short climb before the landscape opened up into a nature reserve. I saw a few zebra and oryx crossing the road.

I saw another specimen much rarer than those, a touring cyclist! I saw him in the distance, stopped by the road. I rode up to him and stopped to talk. It was Robin, a cyclist with whom I’ve been in contact since Egypt. He set off before me and so I asked him questions about borders and PCRs and so on, then I overtook him and started answering the questions instead. I knew he was in Namibia but didn’t know where. It was nice to meet him and chat.

While I spoke to Robin, a car arrived. They told us another cyclist was coming towards us, and after about 5 kilometres I met Jonas. He’d started his Cairo to Cape Town ride in 2019, but had been forced to stop in Namibia due to Covid. He’d recently returned to finish the journey. His setup was half panniers and half bikepacking bags but, like Robin, he seemed a bit envious of my lightweight setup on these rough roads.

A little while after I met Jonas the road got a lot worse, consisting mostly of deep sand. Jonas had told me he’d found it much easier to cycle next to the road instead and I found this to be true.

For the remaining 30km of the day I mostly rode next to the road. Even when it got quite bad, it still wasn’t as terrible as the actual road.

I reached Sesriem, and went to the petrol station/shop/campsite, where I saw two motorcyclists who’d overtaken me just a couple kilometres earlier. We asked to camp here and were told they were full. However, the manager then said he’d sort something out for us. We were allowed to camp next to the petrol station forecourt and use the campsite showers. Because we weren’t staying in a proper camping spot we only had to pay half price which was nice.

The two motorcyclists were Ethan and Sal, two Americans who’d started in Cape Town and are planning on riding up through East Africa and over to Asia. We got on well and spent much of the evening chatting.

The reason the campsite was full is that Sesriem is the entrance to Sossusvlei, one of Namibia’s major attractions. It’s a 60km journey to Sossusvlei, so I decided to hitchhike. I made my way to the park entrance, arriving just before sunrise, when just one car was waiting. I greeted the driver, who was standing by the car. He asked if I wanted a lift – that was easy!

The car’s occupants were Gerhart and Effie, a retired German couple on a two week trip in Namibia. Once the park opened we headed in, drove for a while along the road, then turned off towards one of the area’s many sand dunes. This was the Elim dune, and we set off to hike up it.

We returned to the car and drove to the end of the road, where it turned from tarmac (!) to deep sand. They weren’t comfortable driving in the sand so we took a shuttle. There were several vehicles stuck so it was probably a good call. We then hiked over to the Dead Vlei.

These trees are thought to have died hundreds, possibly a thousand years ago. It is so dry here they do not rot.

After returning to the shuttle, we were next taken to a lake which looked rather incongruous among these dunes. A park employee told us that last year there’d been water there for nine months, but before that it had been dry for the previous decade.

The shuttle bus took us back to Gerhart and Effie’s car, and we returned to the park entrance. They dropped me off back at the petrol station and I spent the afternoon hanging out with Ethan and Sal. A bit of excitement came when we saw a a scorpion! I’d never seen one before. After I left the next day, Ethan and Sal told me it had showed up again. When someone working at the petrol station saw it, they killed it. It hadn’t even occured to me, but I suppose we should have done so earlier. They can be dangerous, potentially lethal if they bite a child.

April 9: 121 km

April 10: 87 km

2 thoughts on “Sossusvlei

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