I pull the Polo up at the boom-gate beside tool-laden four-wheel-drives and battered campervans. My sister, Ro, and I step into the heat and scout our surroundings for the legendary sand dunes of Sossusvlai, but all we can see are the drab grey brown hills and specks of angry vegetation that we have already come to associate with the Namibian countryside.
We stand akimbo in front of the sign: ‘No vehicles beyond this point,’ and then return to the car to retrieve the Lonely Planet from its spot in the passenger door. It outlines our options: walk the last four kilometers to the dunes or pay the five dollars to catch the shuttle.
After so many days in the car, we welcome the exercise. Besides, we don’t want to pay the five dollars. And so we load our daypacks with snacks and water, lather ourselves with sunscreen, pull our caps low over our sunglasses, and stride past the boom-gate.
The road is wide and rough, and as we trudge, it changes from sickly grey to rich ochre. When the mini-bus full of hot but happy tourists zip past, I cover my mouth with my hand, and Ro cloaks her face with a shirt sleeve, the white cotton already assuming a tinge of orange. We plod on, the silence between us voicing mutual concerns that our combined stubbornness might see us dead on the side of a dusty road.
The horizon rises towards us like a giant tangerine, and the orange roadside rolls like ribbons against the blue of the sky. Better, but not inspiring when the sun is so merciless. The shuttle zooms past again, the dust rising behind the wheels like magician’s smoke, and we turn our heads away and pull the necks of our t-shirts over our faces.
A picnic bench sheltered by a conspicuously fleshy tree jumps into view, and the white empty salt pan opens before us. The black skeleton of a second lonely tree dominates the scenery at the foot of the dunes.
Smirking with satisfaction, we guzzle water as we navigate our way across the crust and stop at the base of Sossusvlai Dune 45 rising like a sunburnt tsunami caught in a snapshot.
“It’s pretty big up close,” I say.
“Yep,” Ro agrees. “And this is one of the smaller ones.” She steps onto the sand and starts up the slope. The ridge lines are flawless. The dune folds its particles into the indentations created by her boots, and I shake my head at the fleeting thought that we might be disturbing this place.
Trudging up that sandy giant is exhausting. As I lag behind my sister, my lungs heave, and my legs wobble. I stop and start like a commuter train, and still, my sister strides ahead of me like Sir Edmond scaling Everest. If she can do it, so can I. I had learned long ago that this is not always true – there is plenty she can do that I can’t – but the sun sears my brain to beyond delusional.
Ro stands at the peak, her head high, and her hair whipping behind her, hands on her hips, weight on one leg, and the other knee bent toward the north: an explorer’s pose. She appears majestic against the brilliant blue, while I suck in oxygen and think I might die.
But when I reach her, I, too, stand like an explorer, a conqueror of mighty things, the wind too wild for us to be heard when we yell in each other’s ears about the magic. I survey the red hills and think of camel caravans, mysterious desert dwellers, and Lawrence of Arabia. Okay, so Namibia is a long way from Arabia, but the immensity is mind-blowing. I am on top of the world and invincible.
“You go down first and I’ll take photos,” Ro suggests.
With a double thumbs up, like a parachutist about to launch from a plane at 20,000 feet, I tear down the ridge of Dune 45. This is more like it. I lift my arms like wings, and let the sand carry me, my legs barely moving. It’s like riding a walkalator, a flying carpet, or roller-skating on cotton wool. I slide to a stop and turn to watch Ro power toward me and laugh at her crazy moonwalk.
Reluctantly, I reach the bottom. Ro joins me a second later, grinning with adrenalin. We peer up at the orange mountain, wisps of sand buzzing round the edges like tiny fairies, tempting us back.
I think about the dusty trek back to the car. By the grin on Ro’s face, I know she is not. She glances at her watch, and I know what she’s thinking. And then she says it: “Let’s do it again.”
About the Author: E. M. Eastick worked as an environmental professional in Australia, Europe, and the Middle East before embarking on the writer’s journey. She currently lives in Guam.
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