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The journey across the Namib Desert was wondrous, and a little wacky.
The overnight trip starts out in Windhoek, Nambia‘s capital city, at an old-style train station with gabled windows and a platform partially shaded by a portico. The train covers 260 kilometres, with two stops, before arriving the next day at the German colonial city, Swakopmund.
On that day, the train arrived late.
After the long wait, passengers hurried into the air conditioned cars, which are named after various wildlife indigenous to the country. The compartments are comfortable and well-appointed with wood trim and engraved glass doors, while the lounge and dining cars exude a casual elegance.
As you might expect, this is not really an ‘Express’ train, but rather a sightseeing jaunt that moves along, initially through hills and grasslands, at an unhurried pace.
The Wacky Game Drive
As the light starts to fade, the train stops, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Open air jeeps await to take passengers on a game drive up to the hilltop, Oropoko Lodge. It’s a game drive that was supposed to start earlier, and if there is any game to see, we are driving too fast over bumpy dirt roads to notice. The lodge, however, is lovely and serves up some snacks and sundowners.
Then back to the jeeps because we have a train to catch. Now, we move at breakneck speed, encircled in clouds of dust. Even though it’s dark, we put on sun glasses to shield our eyes, and cover our faces with whatever we have on hand. It’s as though we’ve suddenly been thrust into an episode of the Amazing Race, except we’re dressed like some sort of safari gangsters. It’s madcap, on the verge of danger. But when we arrive at the train, fully intact, we have a story to tell.
The Wondrous Desert
The next morning, the train has stopped again, and this time, we wake up to desolation. ‘Namib’ means open space and that is exactly what we are looking at. Considered to be the world’s oldest desert, it is devoid of surface water. Given the barren land and treacherous coastline, it’s a wonder that anyone decided to settle here. And they almost didn’t, until the Germans colonized the country at the end of the 19th century.
It is a land of shifting dunes, some of them as high as 300 metres and the longest at 32 kilometres.
From the Desert Train, it’s a magnificent sandbox that beckons. It’s time to climb the dunes.
It’s amazing to think that our foot prints are the first to carve a path in the sand that morning, and will be gone again by nightfall. Nature will move the sand, these dunes even, into new and artful shapes and patterns. It’s a beautiful and tranquil open space, calming to the spirit.
For the walk down, the shoes come off. With each step, the sand gives way beneath our feet. It’s not so much of a walk, but a glide.
In no time, we are back at the train and on to Swakopmund, a quaint seaside town, with a curious mix of German architecture, palm trees and sand.
There is still time for quad biking in the desert and some schnitzel.