About 90 minutes after take-off in Windhoek, the pilot has identified the target in the seemingly endless sea of sand and hills and starts landing with the propeller plane in the middle of the desert.
As soon as you have ground under your feet again, you feel a little like Peter O'Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”, when he stands at a well in the middle of the desert and sees a black point in the distance that is slowly falling on him moved towards.
Except that the black dot is not Omar Sharif on a camel, but a ranger in a jeep.
"Welcome to the desert," says the young man in greeting: "My name is Lion." That is of course a wonderful name in Africa, even if there are no lions anywhere else in the area.
Lion works for the "andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge".
It is located on almost 13,000 hectares of private land deep in the Namib, which, at 80 million years old, is not only considered the oldest desert, but also one of the driest and most inhospitable places on earth.
Until the beginning of 2020 it hadn't rained there for seven years in a row.
Many animals live in the desert
There is only one of Africa's Big Five in the Namib: Every now and then a leopard appears, says Lion, but you shouldn't expect to actually get one in front of the camera.
However, that does not mean that there is a lack of animals.
There is the springbok, the gauntlet and the oryx, the ostrich and the bustard, and sometimes you can see a jackal passing by - and, if you are lucky, a pack of spoonbills or a miniature puffin adder that winds its way through the sand in an S-curve .
A dwarf puff adder snakes its way through the sand
Source: Getty Images / Martin Harvey
The plains zebra as well as the mountain zebra are common, whereby the mountain zebra is so shy that it prefers to stay at a distance and is indistinguishable from other zebras for the untrained eye from a distance.
The undisputed star of the animal world is the gold mole from the desert.
Once, Lion dived into a sand dune with a flourish and reappeared with a specimen in the palm of his hand - a cute animal that looks like a cross between a monchichi and a mole, with a velvety golden fur and only a few centimeters tall.
It kicks its legs excitedly, then Lion releases it back into the wild.
Mars could look like the Namib
Despite its cuteness, the gold mole should not be the reason why one sets out on a trip to the desert.
The reason is the desert itself. Its majestic expanse, the tranquility, the way in which it imposes humility on visitors with its relentless climatic conditions.
When Lawrence of Arabia is asked in the film what he likes about the desert, he replies: “It's clean!” You can't argue with that, even though it's mostly rocky here.
To the right of the lodge, one has the impression that someone has unloaded a gigantic pile of shoebox-sized lumps in order to distribute them evenly with a rake.
Source: WORLD infographic
The sea of stones extends as far as a reddish shimmering range of hills on the horizon, while a small pyramid-shaped mountain rises to the left.
In between there extends a wide plain of ocher-colored nothing, whereby the landscape is of course not nothing, there are just no recognizable traces of civilization.
This is what it might look like on Mars, one thinks, which is why it only seems fitting that the lodge is designed like a building in a science fiction film from the 1970s.
A modernist building made of stone and glass with pointed steel elements on the roof, a luxurious retreat in the middle of a hostile outside world.
Germans took action against the San people
Lion suggests walking to the range of hills the next morning.
An indigenous people of gatherers and hunters who used to be called Bushmen and are now called San would have lived there.
In order to survive in this environment without modern aids, the adaptive efforts of the San must have been enormous, but then less adapted people with modern aids appeared and drove them away.
First they were partially enslaved by Dutch settlers, then the Germans took action against them, who as a colonial power had previously committed the genocide of the Herero.
Later, South African settlers contested their habitat.
The path leads along piled stones;
Lion says these are graves.
The San camp itself is located under a ledge that you have to climb a little to get to.
There are wonderful drawings of animals on the walls, some kind of antelope, the view of the plain is ideal.
From up here you can clearly see that the desert is criss-crossed with traces that are reminiscent of pattern sheets.
In fact, they come from animals that go to the watering hole every day.
One would think that the animals would take the shortest route in an area without obstacles, but no, they always walk along a certain track that is strangely curvy and seems highly inefficient.
Oryx antelopes have adapted well to life in the desert, they can do without water for a long time
Source: Getty Images
At some point they seem to no longer like the old track and step out a new one, which is also no more practical.
Because it almost never rains, you can see a hidden object made up of innumerable paths on the desert floor.
The next lodge is tens of kilometers away
On the other hand, you hardly ever get to see people, at least none who do not live or work in the lodge.
There can be no question of crowds anyway: with 24 guests, the resort is already fully booked.
Of course there are other lodges in the neighborhood, but the term neighborhood is generally interpreted a little more generously in the Namib, with tens of kilometers between the neighboring accommodations.
If you want to keep your distance from your fellow human beings in times of Corona, you are in good hands here.
In any case, Namibia has the lowest population density in the world after Mongolia and even the capital Windhoek, with its 350,000 inhabitants, can hardly be described as a teeming metropolis.
So it comes as a surprise when you meet a few more people again after a few days.
Sossusvlei is one of the highlights of Namibia
In Sossusvlei, only a few hours away, this is inevitable.
The salt flat, which gave the area its name, is bordered by high pink and orange sand dunes and is one of the most famous natural spectacles in the country.
It is the end point of the Tsauchab, a river that was supposed to flow into the Atlantic, but never arrives there.
The Tsauchab almost always stays dry.
Only in years with a lot of precipitation does water sometimes collect in the Sossusvlei pan and temporarily create a small lake, which is sensational, but also extremely rare.
Only in years with a lot of precipitation does water sometimes collect in the Sossusvlei pan
Source: Getty Images
The dunes are by far the more reliable attractions in comparison.
The best known is called Big Daddy and, depending on the source, is one of the tallest, if not the tallest, dunes in the world.
It measures between 320 and 380 meters, whereby the difference in height is mainly due to the wind, which sometimes removes or removes the sand.
Maybe it has to do with the tourists walking around on it.
If you like it a little quieter, you should look around near Big Daddy for Big Mama, which is not quite as huge as a dune, but is also not so popular.
In the evening the sky is the attraction
Also next door is the Deadvlei with its grove made of skeletons of camel thorn trees.
The fact that the remains of the trees, which are estimated to be 900 years old, have survived to this day is due solely to the drought.
A bizarre picture: the remains of the trees in Deadvlei are estimated to be 900 years old
Source: Getty Images / Martin Harvey
With their gray wood they protrude from the white clay soil like a greeting from a bygone era and stand out from the red sand of the dunes and the bright blue sky so unreal that one might think that Salvador Dalí was the landscape gardener here.
In the evening the sky is the attraction.
Especially in the NamibRand nature reserve, one of the largest private nature reserves in Africa, which is also the only light protection area in Africa.
The nearest city is 140 kilometers away, so there is almost no light pollution here - except when there is a full moon.
Even the greatest telescope cannot do anything against it.
A few days later things are looking better, in other words: darker, in the “Zannier Sonop Lodge” located four hours to the south.
The sky here is a deep black that is not known from Europe.
Far-reaching views at night: Namibia's desert is perfect for viewing the starry sky
While the Milky Way arches over the desert with its countless celestial bodies, the hotel manager points here and there with his hand and tells enthusiastically about some constellations.
Even if you have no idea what he's talking about, you stare spellbound into the air or into the telescope and try to see order in the sparkling mess.
Quick descent for fear of the hyenas
"Sonop" was opened in 2019 as a kind of luxury tent camp and is located in the middle of the wilderness on a huge rocky hill.
It goes steeply uphill over a wooden serpentine, from above the guests are offered a breathtaking 360-degree desert view.
The lodge's ten tents are furnished in the style of British adventurers from the 1920s, which specifically means all kinds of wood, leather trunk, telescopes, carpets and folding chairs.
Basically you could sit on the hill in front of your tent the whole time and wait for an oryx to stroll by, but because that's not at all adventurous and you are not in the desert every day, it is important to explore it further.
A different kind of safari: bike through the Namib Desert
Floyd, the guide, suggests a tour with e-mountain bikes and as a destination the nests of weaver birds.
The animals are so-called colony breeders.
They build nests so large that there is room for thousands of birds in them, which is why the trees they are hanging on sometimes fall over.
The tree visited today could at least withstand the weight.
In the afternoon there is a climbing party on a small mountain nearby.
“An hour up, an hour down,” says Floyd.
Unfortunately, it takes a lot longer than expected.
The sun is sinking fast.
Fortunately, the leopards mentioned at the beginning cannot be seen.
But when asked about other dangerous animals, Floyd mentions brown hyenas in the area.
Not the shy, but the aggressive variety.
But don't worry, they are nocturnal.
A look at the sky reveals that the sun will set in about 40 minutes.
The way back is in a hurry, a breath of adventure and sweat wafts the descent.
No hyena is spotted until dark.
Luxury in the desert: the tents of the "Sonop Lodge" are furnished in the style of British adventurers from the 1920s
Source: Zannier Hotels
Tips and information
Windhoek is served by Lufthansa and Eurowings from Frankfurt, Condor is planning flights from June.
A suite for two people in the “andBeyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge” for three nights with a flight from Frankfurt, all-inclusive meals and a domestic flight to the desert can be booked from EUR 3995 per person via Gernreisen (gernreisen.de). A luxury tent for two people in the “Sonop Lodge” from Zannier Hotels costs for three nights with all-inclusive meals and flights from 3895 euros per person; Details about the hotels at andbeyond.com and zannierhotels.com.
If you want to spend more time in the desert and have hiking boots with you, you will find the 16-day trekking trip "Namibia - Silence and Infinity" from € 2598 per person at Hauser Exkursionen (hauser-exkursionen.de).
At Geoplan Reisen (geoplan-reisen.de) there is a 19-day round trip in a rental car for self-drivers with pre-booked accommodation from 3230 euros per person.
Corona situation and information:
Corona situation and information:
Tourists are allowed to enter with a negative
test and a firmly booked travel program;
Namibia Tourism Board, namibia-tourism.com
Participation in the trip was supported by gernreisen.de, andBeyond and Zannier Hotels. You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.
Participation in the trip was supported by gernreisen.de, andBeyond and Zannier Hotels.
You can find our standards of transparency and journalistic independence at axelspringer.de/unabhaengigkeit.