namibia: red dunes of sossusvlei
This beautiful, empty country holds a dear place in my heart, as I'd visited it on another overland truck tour nine years before this trip. There is a breathtaking beauty in the quiet solitude of the desert: the colours and shape of the landscape change with the time of day and with the position of the sun. I spent two weeks doing a self-drive on these lonely dirt roads, testing the durability of my little rental car. I would also take to the sky by hot air balloon and small airplane to capture the perspective I'd yearned for when I first visited Namibia. Kolmanskop was a mining settlement near Namibia's port town of Lüderitz. Diamonds were first discovered here in 1908, but depleting deposits and easier access to alternative sources put the town into decline by the 1950s. The settlement was all but abandoned in 1956. The town has a German architectural style, as Namibia was a protectorate of the German Empire between 1884 and 1915, known as Deutsch-Südwestafrika. After Kolmanskop was abandoned in the mid-1950s, the desert encroached on the town wherever it could. The harsh but dry conditions have both preserved and parched the building surfaces. Some of Kolmanskop's buildings have undergone full restorations in response to increased tourism. Gemsbok - also known as South African oryx - are large antelopes that are also depicted on Namibian currency notes and the national coat of arms. They can reach peak speeds of up to 60 km/h. Forty-five kilometres from the main gates of Sesriem's Namib-Naukluft National Park, a star dune composed of 5 million year-old sand looms 80 metres above the road to Sossusvlei. Star dunes grow upward rather than outward, and are pyramidal with slopes that radiate from its peak. Access to Dune 45 is easy thanks to its proximity to the road. The sand's red colour comes from its high iron content, and has rusted over millions of years. With its name translating to 'dead end marsh', Sossusvlei is the drainage basin for the ephemeral Tsauchab River. It is a clay pan, covered in a crust of salt-rich sand. The highest dune in the Sossusvlei area is Big Daddy at a height of 325 metres. It faces a similarly high dune named Big Mama. Deadvlei was once an oasis where several acacia trees grew. These trees died 600-700 years ago, and are scorched black by the sun. The arid desert conditions have prevented them from decomposing. Hot air ballooning over Sossusvlei had been a dream of mine since I first visited in October 2009. It was an unforgettable experience. Everyone, if they have the opportunity, should experience the world from above while floating in the sky with an unhindered view. The Eduard Bohlen ran aground in thick fog at Conception Bay on 5th September 1909, during a voyage from Swakopmund to Table Bay, north of Cape Town. The desert has encroached on the shipwreck, which now lies 400 metres inland from the shore. Cape Cross Seal Reserve, north of Swakopmund, is named after the stone cross padrão erected by Portuguese navigator and explorer Diogo Cão in January 1486. At the time, this was the southernmost point to which any European had sailed down Africa's western coast.