Sesriem is a common name used to refer to the Sesriem Canyon, which like its much bigger brother the Fish River Canyon, is invisible from even a short distance away. Closer inspection brings you to the brink of a sharp drop, but there is an easy path which takes you down into its depths. Located on the edge of the Namib Desert, the world’s oldest – it is easily accessible from Windhoek or Swakopmund.
The canyon has a series of murky pools in which you can join the little fish for a dip if the water is high enough. Sesriem was an important source of water for the early inhabitants of the area, and even during dry times there is water in the upper reaches, where deep clefts in the rock reduce evaporation.
Walking through the canyon takes you on a journey back to 10-20 million years ago, when sedimentary layers of gravel and sand were deposited and cemented together by lime. The ledges are now inhabited by pigeons, raucous pied crows and chattering starlings. But look a little higher and you might see a lanner falcon or the soaring spread of a lappet faced vulture with a wingspan of 2.6m.
An amazing variety of wildlife has adapted to live in this inhospitable place, including lizards that put only 2 feet down at a time, and the black toktokkie beetle, who leans forward to run droplets of morning mist down its body and into its mouth. At night listen out for the haunting cry of the spotted eagle owl, and the far-off yowling of black-backed jackals.
Explorers, transport riders and early travelers used to lower a bucket down to collect the water. It usually took six lengths of thong tied together, hence the Afrikaans name: “Ses” meaning six, and “Riem” meaning thong. The canyon was formed by the Tsauchab River rising in the Naukluft and Zaris Mountains to the east, and flowing through to Sossusvlei.