We have one more challenge ahead of us before we leave Namibia: conquering Big Daddy, one of the highest sand dunes in the Namib Desert, and maybe even in the world.
We are accompanied on our mission by Alpheus, a desert specialist who was born and raised in the Kalahari Desert. “Our people are used to temperatures of up to 50 degrees,” he says. “We have sand dunes for breakfast.”
Big Daddy lies on the edge of the Sossusvlei, a dried-out lake surrounded by tall sand dunes that is (very occasionally) fed by the seasonal Tsauchab River. We arrive at the site after a six-hour drive, covering the last five kilometres on foot. The dry riverbed is lined with ancient camel thorn trees that survive on the water they collect at a depth of 50 metres.
“This way,” Alpheus says, pointing south. After a few hundred metres we arrive in the Deadvlei, another lake that hasn’t seen water for decades. Here nothing has survived and the trees are withered skeletons on the white cracked earth. It is an eerie atmosphere, almost like walking through a Salvador Dali painting…
“There it is,” Alpheus says pointing at the dune, a towering 240-metre-tall beast. “Shall we do it?” he asks. The sun is burning hot, and the wind is blowing the sand over the dune’s sharp ridge which creates a dramatic ‘smoking dune effect’. “Ok… let’s go,” we say meekly as we look up at the mass of sand.
The only way to climb up a sand dune is to walk over the long and winding ridge formed by the wind. With each step we take, Big Daddy resists, making the sand under our feet slip away. Progress is slow and the sun is beating down mercilessly. It all seems to have no effect on Alpheus who is hiking away at a happy pace. We follow at a distance, sliding our way up and trying to keep the sand out of our eyes and mouth. Halfway up, Anouk takes off her shoes, which are weighed down with sand. This is certainly not a walk in the park.
After a 90-minute battle against the shifting sands, we finally reach the summit. Panting and spitting the sand out of my mouth, I look down victoriously: “Who’s your Daddy now, huh?”