Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, a thank you

Amazing Deadvlei!


I spent last month working at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.  Sossusvlei Desert Lodge (called Sossusvlei Mountain Lodge before) belongs to the group &beyond.  &beyond run perhaps the best collection of lodges in Africa.  All of them are very upmarket, but still have a super personal touch.

I worked for the lodge just a few months short of seven years, starting at the end of 2000.  We had moved away for a short while when my eldest son was born, but soon moved back.

I worked mainly as a guide, but did manage to get myself to do a little management as well.  But guiding in the area is really my passion.

Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is situated on NamibRand Nature Reserve, on of Namibia's most important private conservation efforts.  Most activities are done on the reserve, but they also conduct trips to Sossusvlei, an area in the Namib Naukluft Park with huge dunes and the famous Deadvlei...a clay pan that has some 80 dead trees standing there for around 600 years.

Sossusvlei Desert Lodge is a 20 bed lodge, with lots to do.  The area is great for kids, with the dunes as a wonderful play ground.  Activities include drives (you would be really amazed by the diversity and quantity of wildlife in the area.)  Oryx are perhaps the cliche animals of the region.  They are large beautiful antelope with long straight horns and an amazing range of behavioral and physiological adaptations to desert conditions.  There are Springbok, special gazelle like antelope, also well tuned for desert life, two types of Zebras, Kudus, Klipspringers, Steenbok, Baboons (deep in the large gorges,) and re-introduced Giraffe, among others.  Jackals are the common predators, but there are a number of larger predators as well, including Leopards and re-introduced Cheetahs.  Lucky guests have had some sightings.  I had about 11 sightings of Leopard in 2008, just to put it in prespective. 

I recorded, with the help of my guides, over 110 species of Birds in the area, from the world's largest bird (Ostrich) to Dusky Sunbirds, to a number of Lark species, to Red-necked Falcons.  Desert specials, such as the Dune Lark, and summer migrants like the Lesser Grey-backed Shrike.  When Sossusvlei floods a host of waterbirds show up.

Then there are other things.  A couple years ago one of our astronomers found tadpoles.  Frogs in the desert!  It was amazing.  Reptiles, including a yet to be described gecko.  Snakes include the tiny Peringuey's Adder, on of the worlds smallest Bitis (Adder) species.  They are often called Sidewinders.  In the warmer months a bid of dedicated tracking often results in finding one of these snakes in the dunes.

Then there are the beetles, perhaps the drivers of the desert's food web.  And termites, and interesting ants, all sorts of curios bugs, with their own way to handle deserts, from sitting out the dry months to having a very special niche.

And scorpions.  We still  don't know to much about them, but think we have around 8 species.

Then there is the scenery.  It's not an exaggeration at all to say it is spectacular!  And its not just the dunes.  The hills, the plains (especially as they are now with the grass cover.)  It's not only the Sossusvlei Dunes (off in the National Park) that are amazing.  The partly vegetated dunes offer the photographer much more interest in a small area than the big dunes.  Each bend, each ridge, each clump of dune grass revels a new twist to these dunes of the eastern margin of the Namib Sand Sea.

The place is interesting for geologists (perhaps the main people who love the dry times, when vegetation doesn't hinder one's study of the rocks.)  And there is plenty for those interested in archeology, including bushman paintings nearby the lodge (a tough walk, but worth it.)  For the fitness enthusiast, bring your running shoes...I promise it will be a memorable couple runs you do in that landscape.  Hiking...dunes, hills, and the areas with larger gorges support pockets of Camelthorn woodland.  The planes are also worth taking a walk on.

And if you need to rev up the adrenaline, a well run ATV trip lets you take quad bikes through a beautiful area of dunes.  The trip is run in such a way that it is as safe as possible and does the least damage to the environment.  I was never to fond of these machines, but made sure in my time as head ranger that we would run the trip as well as possible.  Ironically, on the lodge's web pages there are a number of pics of me doing the quad bike trip!

And there are extra activities.  Ballooning for the romantically inclined.  It's pricey and remember that ballooning is rather fickle...depending on the weather.  On the good days, though, it's a trip of a lifetime.

Scenic flights over the dunes is certainly the best way to get a feel for the scale of the dune field.  It is truly an amazing experience.  I have done the flight some seven times and can't wait for my next opportunity.

Currently they are also offering helicopter flights in the area.  I am sure that it is even better than the flights, but more limited in the number of passengers and it's a few bucks more!

You can do a trip to a wine farm...it's very interesting for those with an interest in wine.

So much to do, but it's also a place to do very little.  Have a massage.  Get out on your own in the planes and just listen to the quiet.  Drink some bubbly on the porch of your stunning room.

At night the lodge turns on the charm.  The lodge has a resident astronomer most of the time, with gaps filled by interested staff.  Spend a bit of time to learn about astronomy and have a look through a huge telescope.

Part of what makes the lodge so special is the staff.  If you are really lucky you will hear the staff choir sing.  It will stay with you for a long time.

Well, that sounds like marketing slosh, but honestly, I believe there is nothing like it in Namibia, and their really couldn't be much like it in the world.  Many travel agents and well traveled guests have commented on how amazing the place is.  And, of course, it's special to me.  Most of my working life has been spent there, both my kids had some time there and were born during our involvement with the lodge.  The fact that I have had the chance to go and work there again was REALLY SPECIAL TO ME!

So, thanks a lot &beyond, Annalie (current GM) and the whole Sossusvlei Desert Lodge team.


The Chefs...they know magic!
















Deadvlei, well worth the 1.3 kilometer walk (it says 1.1 on the sign...it's 1.3...check it out on Google Earth.)
 Singing at SDL...they will blow you away.  Spontaneous and fun it's also really quality singing.
Ah, that's where you find me when I am working there!  Out on the planes, finding the desert's creatures and learning about their lives.
Dune 22, the dune overlooking Sossusvlei.  Get those legs working and enjoy the view.
The dune drive (by the Petrified Dunes) on NamibRand.  This is one of the standard drives.  Sunset with drinks up there is amazing.  Be prepared for a bouncy and exciting drive.
Descending the dune drive after sunset, watching for the night's creatures to start coming out.
Fairy Circles...still a mystery, these little circles are found throughout the Stipagrostis plains.  Prominant scientists have found evidence of termites causing the circles, but not every one agrees, and the mechanism remains a mystery.
The drive up the Petrified Dunes, ancient dunes turned to a sandstone like material, gives you a fantastic view.
The few nights without resident astronomers, Petrus, one of the keen desert rangers, often drives the telescope.  His interest and knowledge in astronomy will amaze you.
The curves of the Sossusvlei dunes.
The lodge at night taken with a long exposure from the obseratory walls.
September sunset.  During the dry season (July to October) the desert's air gets murky.  Photographers, don't dispair, it gives you so much scope for creative photography.  This image has the least touching up of the lot on this page. 
 
You can't tire of photography or simply gazing at the dunes in the early morning light at Sossusvlei.  I believe that I have done just over 900 trips to Sossusvlei in the last 11 years.  I have yet to get tired of going there.  It is a long trip, and at times the place is busy with tourists, but you can always find your peace of solitude and enjoy the majestic lines of the dunes.
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2 comments:

Misty Rain said...

Wow! Amazingly beautiful. Can't wait to see it one day!

At home, these days its a struggle to find a scorpion, think its man's (including mine, when I didn't know better!)effect on the ecology.. very happy that there are places in world working to preserve those little guys!

Pablo (yo) said...

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Thanks,
Pablo from Argentina