“Where is the 4×4?”, “Check the gear stick!”, “I am, there is nothing.” “Maybe a button?!” “A button? Since when do you put the 4×4 in with a button?”.

When three very proficient drivers cannot find it, chances are that no, the car you hired is not hiding the 4×4 from you, it simply does not have one. And as it is not the Batmobile, chances that it will magically grow a donkey gear when you need it, are slim to none. Considering the roads in Namibia this is really something that one of the proficient drivers should have checked before being two hours away from Windhoek and its Avis office.

After all my dad, my sister, and I had chosen Walvis Bay on the western coast for our New Year’s holidays to drive through the dunes and look for the man in the moon in Namib Desert. None of that is all that easy and sometimes downright impossible without a 4×4. desertII desert

The Moon Landscape, part of the Namib, is aptly named and starred as the real thing in many Hollywood movies. There we manage nicely as the roads are good and any treacherous paths are marked with signs and we just stay clear of them, our journey into the waste nothing begins. Some ostriches, some bokkies, and the famous Welwitschia that can only be described as ugly at the best of times, but is considered a living fossil and can only be found in the Namib. Too late in the year and it has withered completely, a sad sight, but still a tourist attraction for some. Karst and eerie are good words to describe the rest of the landscape. Deserted, but strangely beautiful. If you do not believe yourself to be on the moon, you will believe that you are the last person in a rocky, parallel universe, stillness and heat. Of course I love it for the perfect Bikram conditions. Welwitschia Ostriches Desert

Usually driving through the desert feels like meditation to me, but not with a sister who gets overly excited with each springbok she sees. I still take over the non 4×4 steering wheel, because I don’t trust her to keep her eyes on the road in her wildlife excitement and my dad is happy to be chauffeured around.

Walvis Bay is a little sleepy town with little charm. The charm is found in its surroundings which are sand and water. While not as shapely and well-known like Sossusvlei the dunes all around are impressive. So impressive that someone thought themselves in Seventh Heaven and named one of them Dune 7. There are also glittering salt pans that shimmer in yellow, pink, red, and purple. On the road side little tables are set up with blocks of salt for sale. No vendors, just a price and a little wooden box, functioning as a piggybank. The Namibians believe in honesty. Not to save on a few bucks, but I prefer to get my salt directly from the source. We stop on the road side next to a salt pan where some tourists are already gathered and an older woman directs what I presume to be her grandson to go and got some salt for that nice, young lady. That is me. The nice young lady is excited to have her own piece of salt that looks a bit like a crystal. This salt, without refining, however is inedible as we learn later and even a pinch has been known to make braai meat unfit for consumption, even for a dog. DUNE saltpan

On New Year’s Eve we want to give town another chance and follow our guesthouse’s advice of celebrating at the town hall’s annual Portuguese gathering. And why not, who does not like the Portuguese and their food? I cannot even call it a rookie error in hindsight because there was no way we could have known and there was no alternative anyhow, but the evening is a disaster from the moment they run out of red wine at 10pm. By which time I should mention we still have not seen any food. Portuguese are not very punctual it seems and as VIPs from Angola are expected, everybody has to wait. Once they arrive dinner service starts and we realize to our dismay that we are seated furthest from the kitchen. We are hungry and grumpy and nobody seems to care, we are no VIPs nor Portuguese. Eventually I venture into the kitchen myself, plate three plates for us, and walk out. The volunteers who are working the kitchen are in awe of me, carrying three plates at once, and ask me to come back, which I politely decline, after all I am a guest too, VIP or not.

The food is edible at best and we do not bother waiting for dessert, but take our table decorations i.e. candle lights, after all we have paid for them dearly, and leave. Back at the guesthouse we gather outside our room with said candles, some cheap J.C. Le Roux and Pringles, the highlight in terms of food this night, and toast into the new year.  DSCF6620

The next morning things are looking up when we go the elements meet: Sandwich Harbour. It is also part of the Namib Desert and a UNESCO World Heritage site, most famous for giant sand dunes that run straight into the ocean, making for a unique mix of beach feeling and desert life. It seems this is where heaven and earth really meet, even collide where the dunes roll into the sea.

I guess it was a naïve thought that even with a proper 4×4 in the car we could cruise around in the dunes by ourselves. The fact that none of us has ever driven on sand would haven gotten us stuck faster than we could say sand dune. In hindsight a good thing that the car rental in Walvis Bay was unable to exchange our car and we had to hire a guide plus landrover to take us into Sandwich Harbour. PapaDune carsstuck

Our guide John is your typical Crocodile Dundee adventurer and brings along his little daughter who immediately makes friends with all of us. Off we go into the desert and we all of us agree that it was a streak of good fortune we do not have to do this ourselves. In case you did not know, driving in the desert is an art form involving intricate manoeuvres that not everybody manages even after 20 tries; we see this happening all over the dunes and cars are simply getting stuck for good. Luckily we do not thanks to John and even I manage my very own dune ascent without incident under his guidance. Have I managed that driving in the dunes is like being on a rollercoaster especially if you do not see what is coming and find yourself sliding down a dune backwards in high speed?

essen Ohrring mal anders

On top of a dune we stop for a picnic with sea view and German Neujahrsrapfen before we get a lesson in the area’s flora and fauna. We learn about seals, flamingos, bokkies, and anything that slides and crawls over and under the sand. In a very hands-on teaching approach John catches a small shovel snouted lizard, a cool little creature that swims under the sand when too hot, and I get a living earring for a moment. DSCF6683

The next day we depart and drive back to Windhoek with a quick detour to the Spitzkoppe, a famous climbing area in Namibia. It is overcast and a bit eerie, again. The landscape is not only rocky and karst, but a bit unfriendly, a bit wild. Like all of Namibia it seems to say I do not care what you think of me, I have been here since the beginning of time and I am awesome, just the way I am. And you realize that a country where heaven and earth, the sea and the moon, living fossils and sand swimming lizards meet, really is just that – awesome.

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!