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Travel Namibia 31 Find a space. Setting up camp in the dunes. over the millennia to the extreme heat and dryness. As we huddled around the fire a hairy-footed gerbil ran between us, eager to pick up our crumbs and even letting itself be stroked in return for bread or rice. Its normal diet is the narra, an emerald-green plant with melon-like fruit and roots that go 40m deep in search of water. There was something almost shocking about seeing such a vibrant looking plant in the middle of the dunes. Close by were piles of shells which, according to Jacques, were signs that the nomadic Topnaar people had stopped here in centuries past to enjoy bounty from the sea. The Topnaar made beer from the sap of the narra fruit or dried the juices in the sand to make sweets which kept for years. They roasted the seeds too, which taste like almonds and are reputed to have antibiotic properties. Jacques had kept the Namib Naukluft’s most beautiful secret until last. The dunes were becoming steeper and taller but as we crested one just after dawn on the third day we saw the Atlantic. Great sand walls form where the sea meets the desert. The shape of these walls constantly changes as the sand cascades down to the beach like a vast waterfall. We turned and started driving back along the coast, picking our way between the walls of sand and the sea where seals and cormorants played. Before long we found the rusty remains of an impressive shipwreck. Inside were the bones of seal pups which had been caught and eaten by the brown hyenas that hide within the sandy bowels of the vessel. The Eduard Bohlen was washed up in 1909 and now, as the desert has encroached on the sea, rests on the sand about a kilometre from the water’s edge. Its captain had beached three ships in the water here and, thus disgraced, fled to South Africa where he became a prominent politician – there’s even a suburb, Parow, named after him in Cape Town. Not all victims of this desert are so fortunate. As we headed back to civilisation, navigating our way along the coast past Conception Bay, we found the bleached and dismembered skeleton of a forgotten miner. Jacques thought he had probably died as he tried to escape the mines, or when the boat he was arriving in overturned in the crashing waves. His remains were a reminder, if it was needed, that without the right precautions the desert is a beautiful, but unforgiving place. n To book a trip in this area of the Namib Naukluft contact Uri Adventures (www.uriadventures.com) The cost of the trip includes guides, communication radios, recovery equipment and food. There is also a donation to the Topnaar people whose ancestral land you cross. “Great sand walls form where the sea meets the desert. The shape of these walls constantly changes as the sand rains down to the beach like a vast waterfall”

32 Travel Namibia Whattodrive: Most of Namibia’s main routes are tar or good quality gravel for which a normal saloon car is perfectly adequate. If you are heading out to the more remote areas of northern Namibia in Kaokoland or to Bushmanland you will definitely need a 4WD to drive the dry river beds, rough pot-holed tracks and occasional deep sand. Some roads flood after the rains in January, February and March and a 4WD might be better if your trip is early in the year. If you do hire one and have never driven one before then consider getting some tuition before you leave. www.landroverdriving.co.uk has a range of courses to suit most itineraries. Try www.be-local.com for lessons on the ground in Namibia. It is worth arranging your vehicle hire in advance as you’ll get the best deals and the best selection. GPS Road signs are great in Namibia but GPS can be useful to find remote campsites or to share information with fellow travellers about viewpoints or where that elusive cheetah is hanging out. It is also useful if you break down as you will be able to give your exact location to whoever is coming to rescue you. A ir conditioning Air conditioning means it will take you longer to acclimatise to Namibia’s high temperatures but it will make your journey much more comfortable. Air con also helps stop everything 4WD or 2WD? inside your car getting covered in the fine dust that the gravel roads throw up. Remember your camera lens will mist up when you first take it outside an air conditioned car. Satellite Phone Mobile phone coverage outside the main towns is limited so consider hiring a satellite phone if you are heading off the beaten track (try www.be-local.com). The Iridium network covers the entire country. www.namibiatourism.com.na has a map detailing the areas where a mobile phone with a roaming agreement will work. R oof top tent If you want to camp on your trip then hiring a roof top tent is a great option. They are fabulously comfortable, airy and very easy to put up and down. Kids also love them. Tyres Before you head out, check the conditions of your spare tyres – ideally you should have two – and make sure you know how to change a tyre and that you have the equipment to do so. Punctures are common. For gravel roads your tyres should be very slightly softer than on tarmac. If you hit deep sand you will need to reduce the pressure considerably. Ask your hire firm for the guidance for your particular vehicle. A basic tyre compressor will come in handy for changing your tyre pressures. The Mechanics