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Published: September 17th 2017
September 17, 2017
Episode 4: The incredible Namib desert, flamingos, geckos…..and Germany!
I was giving a lecture at Uni, but when I looked up, all the students were giraffes wearing glasses, craning their necks to see over each other. WTF? Then I woke up, and realised I was simply dreaming. No, I was not back at work, but still here in Africa. We are currently on the road in a hire car in Namibia, having an excellent time.
The country of Namibia is large (about the size of NSW). Unusually for Africa, it is very sparsely populated. Only about 2 million people in the whole country. It is a vast land of striking arid scenery, including the oldest desert on Earth, the Namib, from which the country gets its name. It is a safe and easy country to travel round, with friendly people, unique desert scenery, reasonable roads, little crime and prolific wildlife. During the 18th
century European land grab in Africa, Germany took hold in what is now Namibia (Deutsch-Südwestafrika), although eventually pulling out. So there is a strong German influence here – in the architecture, the language and in the cuisine and booze. This was just
fine by us. Not unexpectedly, most of the tourists here are Germans, enjoying this smattering of Deutschland on the South Western edge of Africa. Perhaps the most widely appreciated German legacy here is Namibia’s beer, made according to Bavarian purity laws, resulting in the good quality Windhoek Lager, Tafel Lager and the premium Windhoek Draught. (I found Tafel the nicest.)
After picking up a RAV4 hire car in Windhoek, we travelled southwest and soon found ourselves in a hot, harsh and arid environment. Endless sandy or gravel plains, dotted with occasional thorny acacias and other hardy trees and shrubs. Incredible other-worldly landscapes of reds, yellow and various shades of brown, with occasional rocky outcrops. We drove for some five hours on well graded gravel roads before arriving at the most popular tourist spot in Namibia: Sossusvlei (pronounced “soss-us-flay”). This is part of the vast Namib desert (Namib-Naukluft National Park). The area is famous for its huge sinuous rust-red sand dunes. The tallest dunes in the world and an incredibly beautiful sight against the deep blue sky. (I understand one of the recent Mad Max movies was filmed here). Along with many others, I walked up the top of “Dune
45” – a hard slog in soft and hot red sand. The views from above were outstanding. Undulating red dunes all around. I could see the the wind blowing the fine sand all along the very crest of the dune, meaning that the dune would be very slowly but constantly moving over millennia. (No, Shane Burke, I did not run naked down Dune 45, as you apparently did. After all, there were people at the bottom still eating lunch). We also walked to the famous Deadvlei, a stark white pan (an ancient bone dry, clay lake bed) that is completely barren, except for some much-photographed 800-year old dead trees, which stand like stooped old men. The pan is encircled by towering rust red dunes. I also climbed one of these dunes. Truly beautiful. In addition, I saw my first oryx (gemsbok). Beautiful black, white and grey desert-adapted antelope with long sharp horns.
At Sossusvlei, we stayed in nice accommodation in the desert (a “tent-cabin hybrid”- see pictures below). We ate good buffet food al fresco under the stars each night at the nearby lodge. What an incredible black sky full of stars, being so far from anywhere. (The milky
way was extraordinary.) At the restaurant, Ross tasted all manner of African wildlife on offer. (He did you proud, Kevin McDonald.) His assessment of how it tasted is as follows.
-The warthog tasted as ugly as it looks.
-The zebra tasted like horse!
- The springbok was delicious as a balsamic drizzled carpaccio, while the ostrich was also very tasty. (Interestingly, ostrich does not taste like chicken at all. It tastes like lamb or beef.). We celebrated Ross’s, um, 39th
birthday there at Sossusvlei, raising our glasses at sunset against a backdrop of red glowing dunes and distant oryx. He was happy.
After Sossusvlei, we again traveled for five hours over gravel roads that passed vast open plains and forbidding rocky outcrops before arriving back in civilization – Walvis Bay on the Atlantic coast. The town itself is dominated by its bustling port, which is not so attractive, but the place is pleasant enough. We got chatting to a South African couple in a local bar in Walvis. They were a hoot. One of the things I love about traveling is meeting new people. This Earth brims with people from all walks of life. People with
amazing stories to share, people to laugh and chat with. People that enrich and inform our own lives with their anecdotes and experiences. The bar that we were in was called The Raft. If you ever find yourself in Walvis Bay, go to The Raft. It sits over the water. We ate excellent food at ridiculously cheap prices, while watching the sun set over a pod of dolphins feeding nearby.
For me, Walvis was a real treat, as there are both Greater and Lesser Flamingos along the town’s shoreline. They were wonderful to watch, stomping about in the water, trying to stir up the small organisms that they filter feed upon. Or, when disturbed, flying off in a flapping cloud of pink chiffon. In Walvis Bay, I went kayaking with young Cape fur seals. This was totally awesome. They were everywhere around us in the water, jumping and frolicking about and they were super curious. Even nibbling on our paddles. A lifetime wildlife highlight for me. However, not one for intimate contact with the ocean, Ross went instead on a half day cruise. He, too, had a wonderful time. He saw colonies of fur seals, pods of dolphins, a
humpback whale and – much to my extreme envy – the very odd looking oceanic sunfish (mola mola). (Google image it, if unsure).
From Walvis bay it was a short hop via a (thankfully) sealed road to Swakopmund, also a coastal town. “Swak” is the most German place in all of Namibia, with many fine teutonic buildings, a prevalence of German food and beer and the guttural tones of the German language permeating the air. We ate at Swakopmund Brauhaus, located in a plaza where we felt like we had been immediately teleported to somewhere in Munich. But you only need shift your gaze into the distance to see the large yellow sand dunes of the desert that encircles this town. Speaking of which, we joined a half day tour of the desert the next day and had an absolutely fantastic time. It was called the “Living Desert Adventure” in a 4WD. The aim of the tour was to teach people about this living, breathing and fragile environment and to dispel the idea that it is lifeless. Our guide was a wonderfully engaging, informative and funny man who looked so much like our friend, Brian Conway. (Are you reading
these blogs, Brian?). His name was Douglas and he had a clear passion for his job. We learned so much about the desert fauna and flora, stuff you would never notice. Douglas could read the small critter tracks in the sand dunes like we would read a newspaper. He coaxed an adder (snake) out of a seemingly smooth-looking stretch of sand, and later dug deep into a small hole to retrieve one of the most beautiful geckos I have ever seen, the wonderful Palmato gecko. (See pictures below). We saw other small things that live in the desert and he then sprayed some water on a fluffy circular ferris-wheel shaped seed pod and it immediately closed up into a ball, soaking up the water in the “belief” that is was rain and hence it would germinate. (In fact, it has not significantly rained here for seven years). We also admired the sand dunes here, quite different to the rust red dunes down in Sossusvlei. Those here on the doorstep of Swakopmund are yellow (like our Aussie beaches) but dusted in dark purple. The purple was magnetite, that Douglas demonstrated by mucking about with a magnet. On the way out of
the dunes, Douglas stopped to pick up beer bottles and chip packets that he said the dickhead dune buggy guys just leave behind. The trip ended with a view on top of the dunes as they fell into the Atlantic Ocean below. Amazing.
Swakpomund is an interesting mix of Africa meets Europe. While in a local supermarket aisle, we passed an elderly Caucasian couple arguing in German about which biscuits to buy. Then we turned into the next aisle to find ten very animated black African women in traditional Himba dress, with bare feet and wearing elaborate leg bracelets from their ankles up to their knees. One of the women was completely topless with a baby on her hip. I guess she was looking for the bra section. After check out, they all piled into an old VW Combie van and chugged off into the distance - presumably back to a village – with the van spewing fumes.
From “Swak”, as they call it, we did a short trip up along the infamous Skeleton Coast to check out a shipwreck and a huge fur seal colony. And I mean huge. Boy did they stink, but the sight of
literally thousands of seals all barking and jostling each other up and down the beach was extraordinary. Check out the pictures below. Lastly, we dropped into the local Swakopmund museum, which was wonderful. All sorts of cool stuff, such as menus from the big old passenger ships that sailed this way in the 1930’s. (Does roast albatross with boiled potatoes take your fancy?)
We are now headed back inland, up towards Etosha National Park. There, I am seeking my last main target species for the trip; Black Rhinoceros. (OK, a Honey Badger up close would indeed be the honey – er - icing, on the cake).
Craig (and Ross).
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