My first experience in a small 2 seater plane was when I went to assist with managing &Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge.
I am not the most comfortable of fliers currently but I have now got used to the ‘normal’, ‘bigger’ planes. Back then however I was a nervous nelly just going on the plane from Durban to Windhoek! BUT when I arrived at Eros airport I was petrified. I looked out at a sea of tiny planes and saw a rather large plane in the direction of our aircraft.
Feeling such relief. I watched with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as the large plane took off. It revealed a tiny 2 seater plane which the pilot very proudly told me was ours. Panic – I nearly ran back to South Africa! He almost had to shove me into the plane while he did his standard pre-takeoff checks.
What happened next could be fact or it could have been embellished – due to terror – over time. I remember looking out of my little side window to see him hanging on the wing of the plane and kicking the tyres. All that was going through my head was why? Are you checking to see if you need to put on more duct tape? After what seemed like an eternity we took off and headed over the desert towards &Beyond Sossusvlei, my fingers tips white from gripping the sides of the seat.
The views as you fly to the lodge are something to behold. Approaching the lodge you see the red dunes in front of the lodge, the black mountains, the white grass and the blue sky. A place of extreme contrasts and beauty. You can see the phenomena of the fairy circles from the air. You feel the incessant need to find out why there are randomly placed circles where the grass has not grown for no apparent reason, thus creating a spotted effect.
The lodge has 10 rooms which are built by stones collected from the surrounding areas. They are designed to show off the beauty of the surroundings with maximum effect. All with a view of the red sand dunes and the plains. On a clear day, you can see mountains as far as 60km away from the lodge.
The whole front of the room is made of glass, including the loo which can be a bit of a strange experience at first but who can really complain about a loo with a view? There are skylights above the bed so you can look up at the stars and sky. I was there over the full moon and had to close the skylight as the moon was too bright – the things we complain about! There is also a fireplace in each room for the cold winter nights that grip the desert and add warmth and ambience.
I loved taking part in the activities. The scenic drives which are amazing, you really get to take in and appreciate the vast beauty of the desert. I also went quad biking on the dunes. This is not only fun but a wonderful way to explore the area.
Lastly, I went on the Sossusvlei excursion. Wow! What an experience. The drive to get to the Sossusvlei dunes is about an hour and a half. When you are there you see why it is so worthwhile – the dunes are massive and really impressive. We stopped and climbed to the top of one. That was a real work out. When we got to the top one of the guests I was hosting asked how we should get down. The standard method is to walk but she felt that it would be a much better experience to roll down. So we tucked up our cameras and attempted to roll down the dunes. What we didn’t realise is that you can’t roll straight down a dune. You end up going in a curve so every few metres we would have to stop and roll in the opposite direction. By the time we got to the bottom, we were both very sandy and ridiculously nauseous from tumbling down so far. However, the snake-like paths we left down the side of the dune made us proud and we felt like we had done something really different!
Walking back to the picnic site we had to go through the dead vlei. A truly mindboggling place. In some ways, it looks as I would imagine the moon surface would look. Hard, cracked, dry earth with dead trees standing like ghosts scattered around the vlei. Then as you look closer. Between the cracks in the earth about you, you can see tiny, bright little plants with beautiful flowers. The contrasts are remarkable.
After all, that climbing, tumbling and walking, a wonderful and hearty picnic awaited us before we headed back to the lodge.
One of the most wonderful things to do there is to spend time with the resident astronomers. The sky is so clear and untainted by smog and light. When you look through the telescope you truly appreciate the universe on a whole new level. It was awe-inspiring to see with extreme clarity the jewel box (a constellation of stars) and to see the rings around Saturn and a number of its moons. The astronomers will stay with you as late as you need, to explain and explore the universe with you as much as your heart desires.
One of the most beautiful dinner experiences at the &Beyond Sossusvlei Lodge was the fairy circle dinner where each couple or group has their own private dinner in their own private fairy circle. A sight to behold.
After assisting at Sossusvlei for nearly three weeks, I returned to South Africa. I had fallen in love with the magic of the desert. I can’t wait to return one day to feel the magic that I left behind there…..