After spending a week getting lost along the wet, windy coast of Swakopmund, Namibia,  in a wave of wanderlust and renewed energy we decided to experience even more of Namibia, while we still had a rental car in my possession. We had already traveled north and visited the seals that overpopulate Cape Cross. So we determined that it was now time for a road trip south to Sesriem and  Sossusvlei.

IMG: Swakopmund. Olivier Bruchez. Flickr. Creative Commons

A few weeks before this, you would have found me climbing Namibia’s highest sand dune, Dune 7, at the crack of dawn in Walvis Bay. Not a soul was around to take in the refreshing morning scenery with the cool dew encasing the dune. I was curious to see the second-highest dune, known as Big Daddy. At 325 meters, Big Daddy may be the highest dune in the Sossusvlei area, an area difficult to reach without a car. So a friend and I rented a shiny white Toyota Rav4 and with Kendrick Lamar spinning on repeat, the journey began.  Riding on a full tank and high hopes, we left the capital, Windhoek, for the historic views of this desert and salt pan, famous all over the world for its sky-high gigantic sand dunes – some being the most photographed in the world. What started as a last-minute plan became a crazy adventure.

IMG: !Sand!. Christopher Griner. Flickr. Creative Commons.

A straight shot out of Windhoek slowly became one curve after another, ducking farmscapes, mini-mountain ranges and more to what soon turned into…gravel roads? Fingers crossed and hoping my smile went a long way with the car rental company, we continued. Two hours was definitely not enough! People constantly tell you estimations of how long it will take to get somewhere without considering the types of roads it takes to get there. I am here to tell you – it’s no joke. As a person from The Gambia where very few roads are tar paved, even I could feel the adrenaline rush brought on by driving through mountains on sliding rocks and gravel.

The scenery went from savannah brush and gravel country farms to mountainscapes with greys, greens, purples and quietly crept into the red, light oranges and white sand blends. As we successfully pulled up to the gates of the Namib-Naukluft National Park, the security guard exclaimed, “The park is about to close! Are you camping here?” We looked at each other then back at the guard puzzled – the park was set to close in two hours, not 5 minutes. Accustomed to our confusion, he notified us that it takes about 30-40 minutes to make it to the first dune. “We will be right back,” we tell the guard, and put the pedal to the metal.

IMG: Gate of the Namib-Naukluft national park. jbdodane. Flickr. Creative Commons

Racing to the dunes before the park closes…challenge accepted!

As the sun begins to set over the dunes, creating the perfect photos and the perfect memories, we speed pass curious tourists in their large camper trucks leaving the park. They have no idea – we are on a mission!

After making it to the entrance of Sossusvlei and leaving our car parked, we walk further into the dunes, as the 4×4 tours were over. Taking in as much of the scenery and fresh air as possible, we reluctantly get back in the car and head towards Dune 45, a massive dune on the way back to the park entrance. This dune is no Big Daddy or Dune 7, but it’s still very impressive nonetheless.

IMG: Dune 45. Olivier Bruchez. Flickr. Creative Commons.

Before heading back we have a bathroom and pie run – the Southern African road trip equivalent of a quick snack – at the Sossus Oasis Fuel Station. If you find yourself wanting to camp in the area, this seems like a great option as they have an internet café, showers, pool, and electricity and they’re located directly across from the large entry gate to the dunes.

We hit the road back and with the landscape of the Namib-Naukluft Park fading into the distance, I promise myself that I will return to climb Big Daddy and take my time to experience the million-plus years old sand dunes that hold some of the most important geological histories of our Earth.

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