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Sand Dunes (Marie Javins)

Sossusvlei from above


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15th April 2012

Wander Woman Marie Javins gets a totally different perspective on Namibia's greatest wonder

"I will work today," I thought with determination when I awoke in my cute room at Dunedin Star Guest Lodge on the morning of my first full day in Swakopmund, Namibia.

Swakopmund is familiar to me, a place that I can stop to catch my breath, and one of several places I've called home for short periods of time over the years. It's also a key place in Marie-mythology, having been the location for an early chapter of my book, Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik, and the site of a life-changing moment for me in 2005, at the beginning of my then No Hurry In Africa blogging.

But when I’d stayed in Swakopmund before, I’d had a kitchen. I didn’t have one here in the lodge, so was forced to take a break from my freelance comic book editing job to head out to find the Out of Africa coffee shop that I'd last been to in 2005.

Gone... 'How long?', I wondered. A new coffee shop had replaced it, but more importantly, the flight-seeing outfitter on the corner had a sandwich board outside.

Ohhhh...there's a seat on a flight-seeing trip over Sossusvlei this afternoon.

I'd hunted for an elusive last-remaining (thus, discounted) seat for the entire month I'd last been in Swakopmund, some five years back. I'd been to Sossusvlei – which is an otherworldly, undulating mass of giant dunes that is really called Namib-Naukluft National Park – in 2001 with Shawn and the Crazy Kudu group, but I'd always wanted to see it from the sky.

Now was my chance, and even better, on my first full day in town. This might not even happen again while I'm here, I thought. I went into the Bush Bird store, booked, and paid.

The German man behind the counter handed me a ticket, told me to come back at two, and reminded me that mum was the word on the last-minute discounted tickets. Which, given that I'd been actively in the market for one having read about the possibility in my guidebook, is kind of an open secret.

I was going over the dunes in a plane.

At two, I joined two older Australian couples in a minibus for the ride out to the edge of Swakopmund, to the tiny airport.

"Try not to get your cameras too close to the windows," the pilot pointed out. "See, they're just plexiglass and they scratch real easy."

Even with that warning, I bumped a few times.

We all put on headphones to both cancel out some of the loudness of the plane's engine and so we could hear the pilot's instructions.

"Do you think the haze will burn off?" I asked.

"Oh yeah, it's just hazy over Swakopmund." Which is frequently how it is in Swakopmund. Lots of mist and haze.

"Where are you from?" One of the Australians wanted to know who was piloting us.

"Hungary."

"Hungary?" I was surprised. "But you spoke German to the man at the X-ray machine."

"I learned a few words. You have to here."

That's true. Swakopmund is full of German-speakers. Some are native, some are retirees, some are immigrants. And not just any Germans – many are Bavarians. This probably hadn't been the right place to lick my wounds in 2005, when I was vanquished by/fleeing a Bavarian.

"Are you here to get flight hours for your license?" I asked.

"No... I'm here to have FUN!"

And we were off.

First we flew over the Kuiseb Riverbed. Which is normally dry. Except it wasn't. The extra rain this year had brought green to the desert. We continued on, above the Kuiseb Canyon.

And we went on, flying over desert and tremendous yellow-orange dunes.

And finally, we reached Sossusvlei, the big dune. It didn't look so big from the sky, and there was a mini-lake of water on Sossusvlei this year.

After buzzing over the dunes, the plane turned to head back to Swakopmund along the coast, passing ruins of diamond camps, shipwrecks, saltpans, and the port town of Walvis Bay before landing back in Swakopmund. More photos are here.

And now it really was time to forget about all the other options in town – sandboarding, quad-biking, horseback and camel riding, dolphin-cruising – and get back to work. I headed to what had been Out of Africa and sat down with a cappuccino and my laptop.

The sugar packets on the coffee shop table featured inspirational sayings. The first one I picked up quoted Gandhi. The other, Walt Disney. I laughed, but both made the same point, one about  following our dreams.

“I’m doing that,” I thought. “But sometimes I forget.”

Over the years, I've learned to accept the drudgery of sitting on minibuses for hours to facilitate my journeys, but what had happened before I'd reached Congo was that the dull repetition of one bus after another had built into a kind of exhausted, spaced-out state in my brain.

I'd initially planned to skip Swakopmund, not sure I could handle its ghosts. I'd had a hell-month here in 2005, the kind of personal experience that leaves emotional scars, permanent cynicism, and provides a crash-course in wisdom.

But then I'd headed here anyway, seeking recovery from the long bus trips in the familiarity and comfort of this charming, atmospheric seaside town. There were no ghosts here. Swakopmund is as lively, atmospheric, and comfortable as it was the first day I’d seen it ten years back during MariesWorldTour.com 2001.

In 2005, I'd woken sweating, my heart racing, from 30 nightmares during the month I'd lived in my Bruecken Strasse flat.

In 2011, the number of nightmares I had in Swakopmund? Zero.

Want to travel the world solo? Check out our solo travel guide. Fancy taking a career break? Here are 7 reasons why you CAN take one.

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