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Friday 16th June 2017 Cape Town airport is supposedly the No 1 in Africa, we tend to disagree, but as 14 paying guests board our South African airways jet that should hold around 50 passengers we spread ourselves around the seats and before we know it we land at Windhoek, capital of Namibia. As we are 20 minutes early and so few, our luggage is waiting on the carousel when we've eventually cleared customs. This is our 7th flight of this trip around 4 Countries in Africa and we've met all sorts of customs people. The normal like in the U.K. official and nondescript. The singing Gospel preacher at Maun, he was a one off and very funny! But having arrived at Windhoek without being told we needed to fill in forms, were very nicely told by the first customs guy to return to the desk, collect and complete a form then return to him. All very pleasant. So when we did arrive back at the front of the queue, the Boss, a female as unhappy and unpleasant as possible, barked NEXT as we dared to walk forward together as two, a couple. Whooh! No you don't! With beady eyes as she was about to sentence us to 10 years solitary, she growled “I SAID ONE, NOT TWO!!!!” O.K. happiness, Welcome to Namibia! Luggage laden on our trolley, we were happily shown by every other Namibian airport worker, which way to go and when we made our grand entrance through the double doors expecting an array of guides and meeters with white sheets of paper welcoming all nationalities, we saw …………. No one! Not a solitary sole. Totally deflated we pushed the trolley into the empty concourse where just a couple of taxi drivers and shuttle busmen vied for our business and we sat down to hopefully await the arrival of a representative of Asco car hire. We were still early and it is a 45 minute journey into central Windhoek so we waited. After 15 minutes of slightly stressful thoughts of being hopelessly abandoned, I tried for wifi and Peter decided to go walkabout. Then, if by magic who stood immediately in front of me was Gert, Asco’s representative and as Peter was disappearing deeper into the airport I yelled after him and almost frightened two fellow arrivals off their seats! Oh such fun is this travelling lark. We are booked into the Olive Grove Guest House both tonight and our final night in Namibia. It is a clean and tidy stop over for us and it seems that is the norm in Windhoek. It's a place to lay your head overnight before departing on an adventure and that exactly what we are doing. I think both Peter and I are slightly apprehensive about this driving trip. We are both 100% sure it'll be fun and exciting but until we get through the first day we will be on tenterhooks. We've been told of a brilliant bar/restaurant to visit in Windhoek. Joes Beer-house is famous as a lively drinking den by all who travel through this part of the world. We've made a very adult decision that as we are driving 200 plus miles on gravel and dangerous roads tomorrow we will leave a visit to Joe and his beer house until our final night when we will be sans vehicle and without responsibilities. So we can let our hair down and drink and eat to our hearts content, last night style! We are shown our ground floor room at the Olive Grove and it's almost entirely made of stone, but believe me its homely and comfortable but just a bit strange to us. The floor, the bed and headboard, stone, albeit with a thick comfy mattress. The washbasins behind the 6 feet high bedhead, shower and loo cubicles, stone. All painted and finished with luxurious toiletries, white fluffy towels and dressing gowns. It's the loveliest fitted bedroom, but soooo practical and such an idea stop. The opensided restaurant (which has rolldown plastic walls for inclement weather) is in a large corridor between 3 bedrooms (ours included) and the lounge/open kitchen and reception. Also beyond that is a small pool with more chairs and tables to dine at and more bedrooms upstairs. It's a smashing little guest house and the staff are all lovely including our dinner waitress who curtsies as she collects the plates! We spend another great meal chatting to fellow travellers including a retired New Zealand couple who are working their way around every Safari spot in Africa, also a bubbly Irish lass called Mary who is touring alone, but talks for Dublin. I love these trips for the convivial atmosphere we seem to find in every place we stay. When back in our room the staff have left a little silver tray with a small glass decanter of Port, two very pretty glasses and a couple of Chocolates. Hospitality Namibian style. Saturday 17th June. A major part of our retired life is spent visiting and exploring the world. Once a decision is made of where we are going I spend a huge amount of time doing ‘My Homework!’ To be honest I love it. I try to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ to be sure I've covered every eventuality. I like to be totally happy with our choices and know as much as possible about a place so if something goes awry I can fix it. We've done three major long trips before this one and up to yet alls worked out splendidly. Peter had done major checks on car hire firms throughout the internet for our Namibian adventure and we chose Asco because of the great reports we had. Confidence in who you are dealing with abroad makes for happy times, that's what we've always found. Richard the Asco driver arrives at 8.20am and we are breakfasted and packed ready. When at the Asco office we fill in and sign dozens of forms, listen to the briefing film which shows us that there are 50 times more road deaths in Namibia than in Europe ( remember this country is the size of France and Germany combined but with a population of just over 2.5 million!) Speed is the problem and with all their hire vehicles if you exceed the 80km/50mph limit, on gravel roads, a very loud beeeeeep sound is heard. We are shown our 4x4 and are explained all we should know about it so we can travel safely for the next 17 days. She is a lovely Toyota Hiluxe 2.4 GDS (or Beryl for short! Named after a neighbour who is a great driver! Our white Toyota had to have a perfect name) after filling with diesel we drive to a shopping mall opposite to fill our onboard fridge with water and supplies and we drive onto the B1 the main road through the middle of Namibia and our adventure has begun. Gravel roads! We leave Windhoek behind and head on a single carriageway tar road which is superb and very straight. There are a few vehicles and the occasional lorry but not much in the British sense of traffic. We see a few small housing estates as we leave the city but only perhaps 50 houses on each. The terrain turns brown and there are plenty of small trees and gorse bushes but no animals as such, only the occasional herd of huge but beautiful cattle. It's an easy drive thankfully to Rohoboth our first major town we've done about 50 miles and on a tar road for the last time for a couple of weeks we turn right onto bumpy gravel and make our first stop for a drink and swap over of driver and so then I'm at the wheel. (We were advised to drive for around an hour or so each and then swop over to not only give each other a rest, but you just can't view the magnificent scenery when watching for the next pothole!) Our final destination today is Le Mirage hotel and Spa about 180 miles ahead. It's in the Naukaluft desert and surrounded by mountains and we must be there by sunset as driving over here with wild animals wandering around is not done after dark only by lunatics with a death wish! We drive onwards through large villages of 10 houses and small hamlets of 3 tiny shacks. We see Mules everywhere and the Rabos Turf club, Rabos village itself is minute. We follow mountains, see dozens of dried up rivers, spy the occasional farm, a few horses in a field, but onwards we go, changing who drives regularly. We stop to take the odd picture or two but are ever thoughtful of the setting sun and our destination. Eventually the sign we've been waiting for, our hotel sits majestically in the middle of nowhere. Gosh it looks gorgeous. We get a guided tour as we check in and as we are utterly exhausted it's time to get ready for sundowners which means a glass of Vino, usually by an open fire pit, as the sun sets beautifully across the desert sand. Le Mirage is set just off the gravel road just down the road from the Sossusvlei dunes, which are the highest in the world. The biggest in the area is known as Big Daddy is 325 meters high. There are only 30 rooms in the hotel which is set in 3 main buildings all made of stone with huge bedrooms overlooking the desert which is simply stunning from sunrise to sundown. The restaurant is in a separate building and with delicious 5 course dinners there is going to have to be some exercise done during the next few days! We decide on the trips we will participate in, so tomorrow we can have a well deserved lie in and then head off on a Quad bike tour into the desert for the sunset. Then on Monday we will get up at 5 am!!!! Yes Five, have breakfast and join Presley our guide here to visit the sunrise at the Dunes. Le Mirage Resort and Spa Sunday 18th June A beautiful room, fabulous beds, darkness all around, it's a perfect recipe for a perfect night's sleep. The darkness here and especially the stars are unknown in our light world. We can stand here, anywhere around the building and enjoy the sights of the milky way like nowhere else. After a lazy breakfast we sit by the pool and soak up the Namibian sunshine and just relax. At 3.30 we are decked out once more in long trousers, big boots and this time crash helmets. The Quad bikes are garaged near where our Toyota, Beryl is. So just yards from our rooms it's minutes before we are hurtling around a makeshift bike track to check we know what we're doing and then six of us with our guide, Sadrag, drive off into the sandy yonder. Peter and I were last on Quad bikes in the Sinai desert in Egypt and have been missing the fun we used to have careering about like Rally drivers in the desert there. (Kids, memories of Colin Macrae?) Quad bikers!!! We all have a brill time, our guide provides drinks of water and juice and gives us information on the flora and fauna around us. We climb a small dune, on foot to see the Fairy Circles that are endemic to Namibia. They are still unexplained after many scientific studies into why grass and gorse grows all over the desert but nothing grows in the middle of the circles. Maybe U.F.O.’s who's to say. A superb mega dinner gives us back our strength before a short night's sleep as it's once more that silly early alarm. Please someone remind me the name of this tree, it begins with M I'm sure. Monday 19th June 5am!!!!!! Yes the good old Apple iPad heralds the morning in Sossusvlei. It's pitch black outside, the stars look wonderful, but it's morning, not night and as usual I'm not ready to wake up at this ridiculous hour. We sit at breakfast and I cannot face food so after a strong cup of coffee we board our Safari-type vehicle with a family of 3, an English Mum from Southampton, German Dad and son of 21 also our Guide Presley who used to work in Bristol for the N.H.S. Small world. The drive to the Sesriem gate, which is the start of the Nabib-Naukluft National Park, is along 10km of bumpy gravel road. Once inside the park there is a wonderful smooth tar road for about 30km. Either side of this road are mountains and dunes with a border of scrub/gorse for at least 400 yards on each side. After about 10 km Presley stops to give us photo moments of the stunning sunrise and then further on we stop to admire the colours of the dunes which are turning from black to purple and will eventually be pink and rust. But they are huge, ranging in height from 50 metres to 325 metres. At this point Presley walks us onto the sand and kneels down and starts digging, very delicately with his hands by a gorse bush. I am already prepared for something dangerous, the cynic that I am. But I am correct in stepping at least three paces behind the others who are eager to see what he's digging up. The cause of interest …….. look away if you're arachnophobic……….. one White Lady, a spider of 4 inches in diameter (that includes her eight very determined legs) pure white and YES I did look at her and photographed her at length (quite a distance to be honest) I felt I coped admirably, especially when Presley told us they NEVER come out during daylight (unless a guide digs them up!!!) We return, thankfully, to the safety of our vehicle and drive further to Dune 45, this being the parallel it is on and guess what? It's huge, around 85 metres high and we are going to climb it! It's the cooler part of the day, it's 8 am and we have an hour to do what we can and return to our vehicle. Go! Whooooooh! It's flipping hard work. It's soft, shifting sand that goes up like the spine of a very large dinosaur. It's like a four hour step aerobic exercise at your local friendly gym, but with the searing Namibian sun beating down. We walk, we climb, I puff, we sit, we climb some more, I pant and - oh I'm a lady, perspire profusely! Peter and I aren't so young as the Southampton family so as they scoot ahead, we do it gently and do pretty well in our allotted time and love the challenge and feel we have done Dune 45 justice. It's huge fun coming back down, quickly and at times, dangerously. But Presley has drinks ready as we sit and empty our boots and socks of a fare amount of red sand (not quite as deep red as Teignmouth, our hometown on the Devon coast!) We motor onward and the tar road ends at a car park for vehicles who are not allowed to venture onto the soft shifting sands that lay ahead. Our insurance with our hire 4x4 invalidates us if we drive on this part, hence our decision to come with a guide on this tour. We are very glad we did because within 300 yards there are 2 couples in a 4x4 stuck in a deep sand rut. Our guide jumps out of our vehicle into theirs, the two males start pushing whilst the females look guiltily out of the rear windows. Presley soon has things under control by moving their vehicle out of the middle of the main track to the side, but the 2 couples realise how daft they have been and two hours later their vehicle is in the same spot and they are sat under a tree having been precisely nowhere since we left them! They evidently thought the warnings didn't concern them, how wrong they were. We continue on to see Big Daddy the highest dune at 325 metres and Big Momma who is slightly smaller, but for me the most iconic sight is Dead Vlei. Vlei means lake in Africaans and therefore Sossusvlei is the living lake albeit every 3 or 4 years when they get enough rain to put some water into the lake area. But Dead Vlei is self-explanatory. The trees in and around that area haven't been living for many years. The photos you see of it are in every travel brochure about Namibia and I hope you like my own attempt. We head back to the hotel then as we have almost an hour journey to return but make minor stop to see Sesriem Canyon an interesting rock and stone formation which again is minus water due to lack of major rains for many years. The last time the Canyon had substantial water supply in it was in the late 1990’s We spend the afternoon chilling out, sunning ourselves by the pool and preparing for another move tomorrow, once we've survived yet another 5 course marathon. Thank goodness for today's exercise. Thank you Sossusvlei, you've been stunning. I love Oryx!
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