Paul and Ed are short of time, and need to head back to the capital. Whilst I'm tempted to stay at Dead Man's Vlei alone, the temperature's already rising and realise I run the risk of not finding another ride back to the camp site. I figure I can always return, later or the following day and scramble into the back of their jeep. We drive the 45 minutes back to camp and there I spy my Aussie friends, sitting on their fold-up chairs, next to the jeep, bleary eyed, and drinking Nescafe. Paul and Ed tell me to look them up if I ever make it back to Windhoek and after we've hugged they drive off, back on the long road north. We all agree that we want to see that site again, one day.
I look at my watch – it's not even 9.30 am. But, of course, now its morning the campsite it open and my fellow Antipodeans – Pete, Josh and Jeff - and I can finally pay our money, pitch our tents and settle in. We've come prepared with basic food supplies and endless bottles of water, which we're glugging down greedily, at regular intervals. The heat is truly deadly here in the Namib and in the hottest hours of the day I want to do nothing more than take shelter and conserve energy.
And so the day passes slowly - setting up, stocking up, napping and playing cards in the shade, whilst gulping down water. I'm an English maiden but the boys grew up in Oz and know the perils of dehydration. It's their mission to keep me drinking fluids- the beer, they tell me, we'll start on tonight, over dinner and after our trip out to the dunes.
Yes the dunes. We're off to see them at sunset, in all their glory, when the heat of the day has abated, and when their colours will be at their most dramatic. Dusk, twilight and then sunset will see them at their most beautiful, we have been told. In the meantime, Josh (our self-appointed guide) is reading to the three of us from his travel book...
“The sand here is about 5 million years old. 'Souss' is a gathering place for water, And 'vlei' is Afrikaans for a shallow lake. The reason the sand is red coloured here is due to the iron oxide in its grains. Dune 45 is 80 metres high but Big Daddy leaves it standing at 325 metres...”
I see Pete and Jeff exchange looks. I know the lads are going to get competitive about making it to the top of the 'Big Guy' but they're on their own.
“Count me out of this Extreme Challenge. But I'll take a pieture of you all from the bottom.”
As it turns out, that first evening out at sand dunes, the four of us are so completely struck dumb by what we see that no climbing of any sort takes place. (We'll leave that to another time). Soussuvlei as the sun begins to set is like nothing I have ever seen. The wind is permanently reshaping the sand though, to our eyes, such movement is invisible. This morning, I saw dunes near the vlei that were apricot in colour. This evening, as I stand next to Dune 45, it is a vivid orange.
And then, as the sun sets, I look again, and then look once more for I cannot believe it. The dunes are now red – fire-like red, a deep and powerful red, a red so intense that it burns like a thousand suns. And though water might be scarce, in a climate where temperatures reach 45 degrees by day but drop to freezing at night, there is still life...for as I look down at my feet, I see a tiny lizard run in front of me.
The four of us stand in silence, contemplating Mother Nature in all her splendour. We'll climb and trek tomorrow. For now, all we want is to savour the moment, for a moment like this is truly rare and precious.