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28 Travel Namibia Essential Namibian5 Stop off for Solitaire strudel u The secluded settlement of Solitaire sits in the desert like a pot of gold at the rainbow's end. A town where life's pace is so slow even the tumbleweed, if there were any, would be prosecuted for speeding, writes Beccy Mair. Trucks that have rusted gracefully into desert sands mark your arrival to this atmospheric little stop- off in the middle of nowhere. Solitaire is on the C19/ C14 junction, just on the margins of the Namib Naukluft Park. It is en route to Sesriem from Windhoek and Swakopmund and consists of a fuel station, general dealers and Café Van Der Lee. Between them they offer roadside respite, refreshments, birdsong by the pool, books, traditional jewellery, souvenirs, toilets, a campsite and tyre repairs. And they are all run by Moose, a charismatic gent whose baking is famous throughout Namibia. Your vehicle's dust trail on the horizon is his signal to fill the kettle, put bread in the oven for made- to- order sandwiches and perk up the coffee maker. His monster portions of apple strudel are an unexpected taste- bud revelation in the heart and heat of Africa – thick pastry crusts loaded with generous layers of sticky sweet apple, crowned by a celebratory crumble crunch you'd be mad to miss. n6 Stargaze u The Namib Naulkluft is reputedly one of the best places in the world to study the night sky because it is rarely cloudy and there is so little pollution. Danny Rosen, resident astronomer at Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge, reveals what he can see from his observatory on a clear, moonless night. " Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge has taken steps to entirely shield all the lights at the lodge, so there is absolutely no light pollution. With the naked eye you can see the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, separate galaxies outside and far away from our home Milky Way. And through a telescope I can almost take guests for a walk on the Moon, exploring its craters and mountains. The " oohs" and " ahhs" never cease upon a first glimpse of the rings of Saturn, or the cloud belts and moons of Jupiter. Last night with a family from Germany and a couple from Nigeria we looked at the Great Red Spot, a hurricane- like storm, three times the size of the Earth, raging in the clouds on Jupiter. We also watched the shadow of Europa, one of Jupiter's four big moons, move across the cloud tops of the planet - over six hundred million kilometers away. I then moved the telescope around for a look at Alpha Centauri, one of the two stars, known as The Pointers, which point to the Southern Cross. Like the Southern Cross, these cannot be seen in the UK. To the naked eye Alpha Centauri is one brilliant blue- white star, one of the brightest in the sky. In the telescope, it is clearly seen as a double – two stars gravitationally bound and orbiting each other. The sight of the Southern Cross and The Pointers is enough reason alone to come to Namibia." n4 Search for a thousand- year- old beast q Witness the oldest giant specimen of an ancient fossil plant found only in the Namib Desert, writes Philip Dickson. The giant welwitschia is reputed to be over 1000 years old and, legend has it, so dangerous, that it has been caged in its own high- security compound with a viewing platform provided for the brave and curious. Obtain a visitor's permit with a rather wonky and faded hand- drawn map from the tourist information office in Swakopmund for just under two pounds and take the winding gravel road into the desert. The tranquil wilderness soon becomes eerily silent and empty, apart from the occasional glimpse of a family of ostriches scurrying away at high speed, or a lonely gemsbok striding across a distant sand dune. The 100 km circular route winds through barren rocky moon landscape where swathes of lichen fields are scattered along and around the lush Swakop River valley. Numerous small flowering welwitschias cling precariously on to life in the bare open flats, and then the road suddenly ends where the giant plant lives. At first sight the giant welwitschia resembles a huge coiled beast at least 2m tall and 5m across, lurking rather menacingly behind the wire fencing. Could this be where a man- eating myth comes from? Discovered in 1859 by the Austrian botanist of the same name, the Welwitschia mirabilis survives harsh desert conditions by absorbing and storing moisture from the sea- fogs as they roll in from the Atlantic Ocean. It produces only two strap- like leaves in its long lifetime, which can grow to more than 7m long, coiling around the plant in a labyrinth, becoming frayed and tattered by the searing desert winds. BECCY MAIR daviddaviddavid godny

Travel Namibia 29n7 t Explore Sesriem Canyon Four kilometres from Sesriem Campsite, gateway to Sossusvlei and the world of apricot sand dunes, is Sesriem Canyon, a narrow gorge one kilometre long and thirty metres deep. Carved by the Tsauchab River over millions of years, the small canyon was an important stopping point for early pioneers, travellers and explorers, who paused at its edges to collect water from the depths. Tying together six ' riems', strips of raw- hide, they were able to draw precious water from the pools. The river runs through the sedimentary layers of the canyon after good summer rains, leaving pools of cool water which slowly dry out in later months. Walking through the canyon, it is possible to feel the ghost of a river that periodically rushes down in flood, and has the force to chisel away rock walls. Pigeons and pale- winged starlings watch from above as you journey through time. by Beccy Mair nAMIBIA tORUISM Photographer Reuben Heydenrych took this picture looking south in the Namib. The photograph was taken over ten hours to reveal the circular trail of the stars' light as Earth spins on its axis