Namibia: the country with the world’s oldest desert

Windhoek — We leave the capital, Windhoek, and head out on to the roads, making our way to the city of Swakopmund. 

Both sides of the road down which we travel are dotted with enormous anthills and dry plants. This arid and even parched land stretches as far as the eye can see in all directions. You can tell immediately when you are passing somewhere that has water, as it is always surrounded by green, leafy trees and land sprouting with greenery. As we travel, we pass clusters of homes by the side of the road. After we are far removed from the capital, we notice that there is much less traffic on this road.

The distance between Windhoek and Swakopmund is around 350 kilometers, which takes us around four hours, on a very even, asphalt road. Interestingly, the name of the road that takes us between these two namibian cities is the Trans Kalahari Road. When we get to Swakopmund, we aim to find a spot very popular for famous holidaymakers. We stop en route to Swakopmund to enjoy some hot tea from a thermos and some bread with our friends. After this snack, we take a little walk around the terrain where we have stopped, looking at the very dry topography and at the dried-out trees and plants. One picks up the sense of the desertall around. Worms, birds, trees; everything here is clearly just waiting for the rains to come.

We stop to look at the bird nests sitting in the leafless trees all around us. The nests look beautiful; we decide to count them, and notice that one tree alone boasts some 19 carefully crafted nests.

For a moment we stop to take in the sound of silence, too. There is not a sound in the atmosphere around us; the silence is deafening, pierced only occasionally by the sound of a passing car. There are barbed wire fences strung along the side of the road, which we learn are there to prevent animals from dashing onto the road from the surrounding environs and causing car accidents.

We get back into our car and continue the journey. We begin to see mountains in the distance, but at the same time, there is definitely a diminishing level of plant life, and the trees on either side of the road appear to be becoming shorter and squatter. No question about it; the desert atmosphere is becoming palpable.

Throwing ourselves into the world of sand

We notice a sign by the side of the road announcing “Karabib,” apparently the name of a small town here. We keep going, and soon, we can see Swakopmund in the distance. Rather than heading to the city center, though, we decide to throw ourselves into the world of sand all around us.

And now we are setting foot in the famous Namibia desert, called the “Namib Desert.” The name of the country was derived from this desert’s name. Interestingly enough, the Namib Desert is known as the world’s oldest desert, with enormous sand dunes, sometimes reaching heights of some 400 meters. Of course, the wind has changed the shape of these dunes a lot. In any case, we prepare now for a tour of the world of the dunes in the Namib Desert; as it turns out, we’ll even be able to do a safari.

We head to one of the many spots where you can rent an all-terrain vehicle (ATV), and get ourselves three of these special kinds of cars. The cost for one hour of safari in the ATVs is TL 60. We put on helmets and goggles and get ready to head out into the desert, which is quite cold at this point. Yes, cold; there are winds blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean that make this desert cold — so cold, in fact, that we have to make sure our jackets are on snugly. The level of cold we encounter actually surprises us, as we had not been expecting it at all. While the temperature in Windhoek had been between 35-36 degrees Centigrade, that is definitely not the case here.

In this up-and-down world of dunes in the Namib Desert, our counterparts sometimes disappear heading down one dune, but then suddenly re-appear at the peak of another. It is truly a wonderful experience to take one of these vehicles out into the desert for a safari.

The desert manages to make one feel a bit like one is in outer space. You keep going over dunes, and it sometimes seems like they’ll simply never end. And the desert is just so vast.

We also understand quite quickly that it would actually be quite easy to get lost in this desert. And in fact, the guide warns us about this, telling us not to head off in any direction by ourselves, no matter how easy it might look. He explains that while it is easy to get lost in this endless vista of dunes, it is very difficult to actually find someone who has done this. As for our own safari, not everything goes our way; one of our ATVs gets stuck in the sand. And the sand is variously softer and then harder, depending on where you are. We try to clear the sand from in front of the ATV that got stuck, but to no avail. In the end, we are forced to all push together, and are finally able to move the ATV.

We come across special plants and flowers that live in this desert; one is called the “Welwitschia” plant, and it is the plant after which the rugby team of Namibia is named.


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