Beautiful, desolate Namibia

Travel Destinations — By on August 29, 2008 at 3:05 pm

The southwestern African country of Namibia may not be well-known as a tourist destination, but travelers who have been there often return home raving about the desolate beauty of the place. Elinor Burkett is one of those travelers and she wrote about her Namibian experiences for a recent NY Times story.

As the first rays of the sun pierce the thick darkness of the Namibian desert, sinuous ridges of quartz sand ignite in a firestorm of seared orange. Then the sky lightens to the new day, revealing the sea of sand mountains, their crisp edges and perfect curves wrought and polished by the expert chisel of the Kalahari and Atlantic winds.

With the tracks of yesterday’s visitors to the Sossusvlei dunes burnished by the breeze, you can’t resist trudging — perhaps plodding or crawling — up at least one of the pristine hills, some towering to 1,000 feet, instinctively looking for shimmers of water. But from the top, there’s no sign of the sea; it retreated millions of years ago, back when continents were drifting wildly.

What’s left is a dazzling geological display of possibly the world’s highest sand dunes, extending for 400 miles along the coast and more than 80 miles inland. Those naive enough to believe that a dune is a dune is a dune are faced with a dizzying array of sand configurations: parabolic dunes with dynamic slip faces, long and narrow transverse dunes, dunes petrified by ancient climate change, and star dunes formed by winds that buffet them from all sides…

Such a forbidding panorama hardly seems the stuff of a compelling journey. But Namibia, a country of stark beauty and riveting contradictions, should be at the top of any serious traveler’s want-to-visit list.

The landscape is otherworldly, from the ocean of blood red crests along Dune Alley at Sossusvlei … to the gravity-defying rock formations and petrified forest of Damaraland, in the country’s center. Even beside the main highway, there are enough elephants, giraffes and springbok to satisfy those who can’t imagine a southern African trip without big game.

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