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A Journey deep into the Namib Desert


Ritsgaai

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Ritsgaai

Day 3 -  Bethanie to Solitaire (430 km; 8 hours)

 

This was the third and last stretch to Solitaire where we were to meet the guides and other guests for the "Faces of the Namib" tour.

 

Our friendly hostess at Bethanie Hotel & Guesthouse took very good care of us and we can recommend the venue.

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We had an early breakfast and straight thereafter the Land Cruiser was taken to the local panel-beater/mechanic/auto electrician/donkey cart repairer for repairs. :unsure: 

 

Two weeks before departure my son replaced the wet deep-cycle battery in the Cruiser. It was supposed to be a plug-in-and-play replacement. The newly installed Lithium battery that powered all the accessories, (fridge, cabin lights, etc.) was giving problems. Unfortunately the built-in battery management system switched the battery off when reaching a certain temperature. Within about 40 minutes a bridge was installed between the two batteries, which solved the problem. 

 

While waiting, the children found a sandy patch to play... never a problem in Namibia, before, after and in-between destinations. :D

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The shortest distance to Solitaire is 382 kilometers, but we thought it was a brilliant idea to do a little detour, as we only needed to be at Solitaire by 18h00. The scenic D707 road was on our radar. The previous evening a local farmer confirmed that the D425, linking the C14 with the C13, was in an excellent condition. The D425 is 30 kilometers north of Bethanie on the C14 going to Helmeringhausen.

 

No regrets taking the D425 road.

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The enjoyable 58 kilometers was soon over as we reached the T-junction with the C13. There we turned south for 23 kilometers before reaching the D707.

 

The vast plains seen on the C13 just before the D707 turn-off.

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Not withstanding the persisting drought, which was quite evident, the scenic D707 road - known as the Garden of Eden  - was still breathtakingly beautiful. 

 

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Horses in the road close to Betta.

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Lunch was enjoyed in the shade of a huge tree close to the Betta filling station.

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Everybody was relaxed and chilled with no problems in the world but a few hours later the mood changed quite substantially!.. ... .... :huh::blink:

 

Edited by Ritsgaai
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With about 220 kilometers left to Solitaire, we had enough time on hand to admire the beautiful landscape as we traveled from Betta and later through the Namibrand Nature Reserve.     

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xelas

D707 is indeed one of the most scenic roads in Namibia. Lately, some folks were commenting on being very sandy/soft ... what is your take on its surface, @Ritsgaai?

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Ritsgaai

With about 220 kilometers left to Solitaire, we had enough time on hand to admire the beautiful landscape as we traveled from Betta and later through the Namibrand Nature Reserve. 

 

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The much anticipated desert excursion dominated the conversation on the 2-way radios and it was a healthy mix of nervousness and excitement. 

Everybody, young and old, was looking forward to get in the red dunes of the Namib. :P

 

The weather was building up and spoiled us with dramatic panoramas.

 

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The next call on the radio sounded very serious when our son with the Cruiser announced he was stationary with a leaking diesel tank!!!  :huh:

We were a few kilometers ahead of them as we maintained a fair distance between the vehicles in order to let the dust settle a bit so that everybody could enjoy the great views. We immediately made a u-turn and this was what we found... him lying under the Cruiser with his finger plugging the hole!

 

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The moment he took his finger away, diesel streamed out.

 

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The men tried everything they could to stop the flow, but to no avail. My husband even halted the grader to find out if the guy had Sunlight soap at his camp about 10 kilometers south. They thought of trying to make a plug with the soap to fix the hole temporarily, but he did not had any.

 

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It was getting late and we were still about 120 kilometers from Solitaire. The Cruiser needed a proper mechanic to repair the diesel tank before we could tackle the five days into the desert. So we phoned our guide to get his opinion and he arranged with the mechanic at Solitaire to wait on us after hours. With all the lost time spent my son decided it was better to get on his way before the tank ran dry. He was speeding as fast as the road allowed him to and the other two cars followed his diesel spoor, ready to tow him should it become necessary. :unsure: :blink:

 

Gone was all the excitement of earlier on and a lot of uncertain thoughts were running through my mind. :unsure:

 

Later it started to rain for a while - definitely not a common sight in Namibia! There was drama outside with lightning and thunder as well as drama looming in our little group. :(

 

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The Cruiser kept on going, straight past Sesriem without the occupants giving a blink!

 

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The remaining and ever dwindling diesel level took the Cruiser safely to Solitaire to the helping hands of the ever so patient and friendly mechanic of Solitaire, Sakkie. 

 

What would his verdict be?

 

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Ritsgaai
2 hours ago, xelas said:

D707 is indeed one of the most scenic roads in Namibia. Lately, some folks were commenting on being very sandy/soft ... what is your take on its surface, @Ritsgaai?

 

Yes, it has become more sandy in patches, most probably because of the drought, but not excessively so.

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The_Norwegian

Very nice indeed! 

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Ritsgaai

Thank you for reading along, @The_Norwegian.

 

I will do my utmost to start writing regularly again, though I am quite occupied at the moment. Our new granddaughter arrived this week!!! :wub:  We are grateful that she and her mother is healthy and strong. A new addition to the family is always a time of joy, happiness and a great blessing. :D

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Ritsgaai

The first step before Sakkie could do any repairs to the diesel tank was to drain the remaining diesel. 

 

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They discovered not one, but two holes where the baffle plates were torn apart! :ph34r:

The long-range diesel tank was newly installed by a respected and known 4x4 conversions company before the trip. 

Once it was drained, Sakkie welded the one and plugged the second hole with a pop-rivet and epoxy.  He suggested to wait until the next morning before they fill up with diesel again. He finished work after 22h00 and we had to wait till morning to determine if the problem was fixed.

 

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This was the last opportunity to fill up with diesel and water for the desert tour that was due to start the next morning. So the rest of us filled up and did some last minute shopping at the local shop. We also set up camp before sunset as it was our first night camping. 

 

In the meantime the kiddies were enjoying the pool at Solitaire Lodge with no care in the world. :)

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Just before sunset at Solitaire.

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A lovely supper was served in the lodge where we met up with the team and the rest of the group. A kind of nervous excitement was hanging in the air. 

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Ritsgaai

Day 4 - From Solitaire to Kuiseb River Canyon camp

 

At last the first day of the greatly anticipated desert tour dawned and the group departed from Solitaire at 10h00. 

 

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All but two vehicles... us in the Fortuner and the Cruiser - still experiencing a leaking diesel tank after it was filled up the morning!!! This time the leak came from a fresh crack that appeared after it was filled. :wacko::blink: The baffle plates parted by the shear weight of the diesel!

 

We didn't know what the outcome would be. We contemplated all sorts of alternative plans, none which excites anyone or were practical at all.

 

Our ever positive guide, Len, came to the rescue with the following suggestions:

The group would depart on time with the two guides, Lusiano and Johnny taking both the two Hilux pick-ups.

Len would stay with the Cruiser to see if the new leak could be repaired successfully during the morning and meet up with the group at the camp via a short cut from the main road. We had an extra seat for Len in the Fortuner. 

 

Should the repairs be unsuccessful, our son was given 2 options:

1. He could get the Cruiser towed to Walvis Bay for repairs and miss the whole desert trip.

2. Len could arrange for a replacement Cruiser 200 from Live the Journey to be delivered to Solitaire for the family to use for the desert tour and the company would tow his vehicle to Walvis Bay to repair while we were in the desert.

Obviously both the above would come at a great expense. :ph34r:

 

The filled up tank had to be drained once again before any welding could be done - a painstakingly slow process!

 

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We whiled away the long, hot morning under the fans in the restaurant, drinking cold drinks, making phone calls home, eating apple strudel, reading and resting, all the time hoping and praying that our long awaited family adventure would still become a reality.

 

The diesel tank was once again filled up and showed no new leaks. After lunch our two cars left Solitaire and headed northwest towards Walvis Bay on the C14. Regular stops were made to inspect for leaks - so far, so good. :unsure:

 

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Eventually, after about 2 hours, we turned left onto a small road and went through a vast barren landscape.

 

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Len knew this guy and they discussed some farming business.

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Huge red dunes started to appear in the distance.

 

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The road led us closer and closer to the Kuiseb River Canyon where we would meet up with the rest of the group again.

 

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There was still one more chance to order the Cruiser 200 from Walvis Bay should it be necessary, but everything looked good. In a short while we would reunite with the rest of our family and fellow tour members.

 

 

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Ritsgaai

We arrived within minutes from each other at the beautiful setting in the Kuiseb River Canyon where we were to spend the first evening of the desert tour. Both the children and adults were overjoyed to see each other again after the day's separation as young and old embraced each other! :D

 

Everyone selected an open space to set up camp for the night. The guides erected an ablution tent with chemical toilets and wash basin. 

 

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The children had a ball playing in the sand and climbing the rocks.

 

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After dark we had a lovely supper prepared by the guides and enjoyed the brilliant night sky before going to bed to have a well deserved rest after the eventful day. 

 

 

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Ritsgaai

Day 5 - From Kuiseb River Canyon to "The-middle-of-Nowhere"

 

We broke camp and left the scenic location of our first night in the wild. 

 

At long last the group was complete. The convoy consisted  of seven vehicles - two Hilux Pick-ups for the guides (one leading in front and the other covering the rear) and five tour vehicles namely a Toyota Prado, Toyota Land Cruiser 4.2, VW Amarok V6, Toyota Land Cruiser SW 70 Series and Toyota Fortuner 3L. As mentioned before, the vehicles were fitted with 2-way radios for guiding and instructing purposes.

 

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After the first bend, we encountered a herd of horses belonging to the local Topnaar farmers who hold a concession to farm in the dry Kuiseb river valley.

 

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We followed the dry river bed for a couple of kilometers before leaving it for the dunes beyond.

 

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Once we left the river bed, we were amazed by the amount of grass around. Len told us that the region received an unexpected downpour of rain of 150 millimeters over 3 days the previous October. It was localized in a small area in the Namib Nauklauft Park.

 

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We followed the wide dune streets and then crossed one after the other dune...forever heading west and going deeper and deeper into the desert.

 

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We were excited to spot the endemic Dune Lark, apparently a fairly common resident in the sparsely vegetated areas in the Namib Desert dunes between the Koichab and  Kuiseb rivers.

 

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Enjoying the sand at every possible opportunity. :wub:

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As the dunes got higher,  new driving skills were needed. It is important to gain and maintain momentum at high revolutions (3000 rpm plus) when tackling a high dune.

When approaching a long, steep dune, one sometimes needs to gear down, even twice, but very quickly!!! Another vital moment is when reaching the crest. One needs to let go of the throttle not a moment too early or too late. Too early and you will belly on the crest (or even get stuck sooner)... too fast and you will become airborne!!! 

As the day became hotter, the already very loose sand became a great challenge.

 

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Everybody had their fair share of sand groveling... B) with the added benefit of getting one's exercise for the day. :rolleyes: 

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xelas
On 6/9/2019 at 11:22 PM, Ritsgaai said:

Should the repairs be unsuccessful, our son was given 2 options:

Option #3: leave the car among their (t)rusty friends :D (OK, the most costly option).

 

16 hours ago, Ritsgaai said:

Too early and you will belly on the crest (or even get stuck sooner)... too fast and you will become airborne!!! 

There is when the adrenaline start rushing through the veins :blink:!!

 

16 hours ago, Ritsgaai said:

Everybody had their fair share of sand groveling...

Must be the best way to get rid of excess weight, if only in the form of sweat :lol:.

 

 

I was under impression that no rental car company would allow their vehicles off-road, and certainly not inside dunes. Obviously I was wrong. Do you know about an average day cost of renting a vehicle for such a tour?

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Ritsgaai
On 6/11/2019 at 2:38 PM, xelas said:

There is when the adrenaline start rushing through the veins :blink:!!

You are absolutely right... lots of excitement!!

 

On 6/11/2019 at 2:38 PM, xelas said:

 

 

I was under impression that no rental car company would allow their vehicles off-road, and certainly not inside dunes. Obviously I was wrong. Do you know about an average day cost of renting a vehicle for such a tour?

In our group all the vehicles were privately owned. The guides did mention that there are two companies, I think in Walvis Bay, that do rentals for desert excursions lately. You will be able to get more information from www.livethejourney.com

I have no idea what the costs are.

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Ritsgaai

Herewith one of many obstacles experienced during day no 2 in the desert.

 

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On inspection of the photos you will notice that the tracks go down and at the bottom, with a sharp left turn, one go up and over the dune. 

 

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If one does not get it right the first time, one gets stuck at the bottom and then the only way to get out, is at a high speed to the right.

Easier said than done! :o This looked quiet easy, but on the incline the sand was deep  and soft. It normally took several attempts before success was achieved.

 

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It took a lot of sweat and hard work in the sweltering heat.

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The rest of the group could only look down onto the battle of the sands, in anticipation for your turn to go down and hope that you will manage to go through with the first attempt. :unsure:

 

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This was a good opportunity to double check the tyre pressure... another crucial factor for success in the sand. Tyre pressure of 0.8 bar (warm tyres, not cold!) is the norm.

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...or climb a dune to get a better perspective of what is happening down there... :huh:

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... or just for fun...:D

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... and sometimes getting sand in the eyes...:wacko:

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With patience and determination everybody managed to get through... eventually. :P

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  • 2 weeks later...
Atravelynn

The "road" conditions in post #38 are scary.  Those conditions followed your leaky diesel  tank.  What an adventure.  Kids look like they are having a great time throughout it all.

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Ritsgaai - have just joined in - my apologies for lateness,

Beautiful trip -love your pic's -

How nice to take the Grandies :D would love love to do similar myself after have seen Namibia only once.

It is such an awsome destination IMO

Dune driving looks very interesting :) and challenging. Obviously team work is important !!

Thanks Colbol

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Towlersonsafari

Your very own "Ice cold In Alex" adventure-a great fun trip report @Ritsgaai

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  • 3 weeks later...
Ritsgaai

I've been out of circulation for a while but will hopefully get back to finish the report over the next few weeks.

 

@colbol

Thank you for your very kind comments and following along. I can definitely add my voice of admiration for this very beautiful country.

 

@Towlersonsafari

Thank you kindly. As an Afrikaans speaking person I am not familiar with the "Ice cold in Alex" expression. Please define.

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Ritsgaai

We were still heading deeper into the desert and the dunes were getting higher and higher. It was very hot and the sand became very soft and loose during the heat of the day.

 

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The day was not over yet and for some of us there were some serious challenges ahead.

 

Up next, our friends landed into deep trouble as they literally sunk into a deep and soft hole. :o

 

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As if the situation was not bad enough... both the front tyres also came off the rims!! :blink:

 

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The doors on the passenger side was buried under sand and could not open. Everybody was trying to give a hand. Len called the other cruiser and they tried to pull the vehicle out, but without any success.

 

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At one stage the two Hiluxes, two Land Cruisers and the Amarok were all stuck simultaneously!!! 

 

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To me, the LC situation seemed hopeless and I  couldn't even start to imagine how  a recovery would be possible.

The guides suggested to the rest of the party to have lunch while they carried on with the recovery - a mammoth task!!! 

 

We were literally in the middle of nowhere, waiting and hoping that the day will end well.

 

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After about two hours, down came the LC accompanied by the two Hiluxes... all well and back to normal. :D Our respect for the guides reached new heights.We knew we were in good hands for the rest of the trip.

 

Camp was not far and we all were grateful to pitch our tents after the eventful day. 

 

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Somebody lost a mudguard along the way.

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Cleaning and storing the winch rope.

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Playtime

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The most beautiful vistas.

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Edited by Ritsgaai
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Towlersonsafari

Sorry  @Ritsgaai it's a black and white film with John Mills Sylvia  Sims and Anthony  Quayle set in the desert in world war 2 where they have to try to get an ambulance over dunes and hope to get an ice cold beer in Alexandria ! It is a fine film and I can just imagine  you all thinking of that beer as you conquer  the dunes!

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Ritsgaai

Day 6 - From "The-Middle-of-Nowhere" to Olifantsbad Camp

 

After the rather eventful and difficult previous day, I think the first thoughts to enter the minds of a number of people upon waking on the third day in the desert was; ' what would this day bring?' The previous night we were told that this was the day we would enter the really deep and complex dune formations! :unsure: Everybody was on their own learning curve and still building confidence behind the wheel.

 

A big daddy in the distance... beautiful and scary :blink:

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Early morning activities

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Edited by Ritsgaai
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Ritsgaai
50 minutes ago, Towlersonsafari said:

Sorry  @Ritsgaai it's a black and white film with John Mills Sylvia  Sims and Anthony  Quayle set in the desert in world war 2 where they have to try to get an ambulance over dunes and hope to get an ice cold beer in Alexandria ! It is a fine film and I can just imagine  you all thinking of that beer as you conquer  the dunes!

 

Thank you for the explanation, @Towlersonsafari. I would love to watch the film. :)

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Ritsgaai

Soon we headed into the sand wilderness.

 

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We tackled extremely high dunes and the experience of the previous few days paid off, as the drivers had more confidence and started to enjoy themselves.

 

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Father and sons...enjoying the moment! :)

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Despite all the excitement, there were also a couple of challenges to overcome. :huh:

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A tyre came off the rim on the Amarok. 

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No need to panic... B)

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Ritsgaai

The landscape kept on changing and we came to an area with petrified dunes.

 

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The colour of the dunes turned lighter as we came closer to the coast.

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The landscape appeared like a painting in the brilliant sunlight at midday.

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Forever pressing on... up and over the next and the next and the next dune ahead.

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Sliding down one after the other slip-face...closer and closer to camp.

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As the sun was heading towards the horizon, the Namib showed yet another face.

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Edited by Ritsgaai
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Ritsgaai

We reached Olifantsbad camping area late the afternoon.

 

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An aerial view of the camp for the next two nights.

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This dune became the perfect playground the next two afternoons. :D:wub:

 

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Towlersonsafari

Those pictures  of the cars against  the massive dunes  are spectacular  @Ritsgaai

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