Our guide also details the desert’s little wonders. He points out gerbil tracks, telling us that the straight lines were made by the critter’s tail as he paused to rest in the silky sand. We learn to pick out the paw prints of an African wild cat as well as the train-like markings made by the six legs of the desert beetle as he scurries across the sand.
Despite visiting in June, Namibia’s winter, the temperature is 75-degrees. Instead of climbing Big Daddy, an hours-long task, Abenteuer’s guides suggest we take the easier trek across the base of dune 45 and into Dead Vlei. That’s fine with us.
This “vlei” or pan, once filled with water in the rainy season, has been cut off by sand dunes fashioned by wind currents. The river shifted and the acacia trees died. Their black trunks and twisted branches dot the pan, creating a dazzling contrast to the white limestone laced, dry bottom and the surrounding sea of red dunes.
The Namib’s desert dunes reach to Namibia’s coast near Swakopmund, about 310-miles away. In Swakopmund, Namibia’s eco-adventure headquarters, Abenteuer Afrika Safari hooks us up with Tommy’s Tours for a combination of dune riding and desert exploration.
Tommy drives his Land Rover up and over the sand mountains, jumping out to scoop up what looks like a random handful of soft crystals. When the sand slips through his fingers, he opens his palm to reveal a baby adder snake. Tommy places it on the slope and the snake twirls away from us sideways, making squiggly swirls in the dune.
Tommy reveals scorpions, spiders and chameleons, but our favorite find: the shovel-snouted, sand diving lizard. To show how firmly the critter bites down, Tommy dangles him from his finger and then from his earlobe like an earring. Dubbing this lizard “the Ferrari” of the desert, Tommy lets him go and we giggle as the lizard zooms along the dune in an almost comic-book like rush.
Abenteuer Afrika Safari specializes in custom tailored explorations of Namibia as well as Zambia, and Mozambique. South African Airways provides service from a number of U.S. and international gateways to Johannesburg and into Namibia.