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Published: July 18th 2016
The Namibian coast is subject to heavy fogs due to the interaction of the cold Benguela current from the South and the hot wind off the Namib desert which stretches for over 2000 kilometres to the North of Walvis Bay. It is notorious for the number of shipwrecks - over 1000 - that litter its aptly named Skeleton Coast.
It has more than 180 days of thick fog a year which, while a hazard for shipping, is a vital source of moisture for the desert life. Indeed, when the Astor entered the harbour, the fog was so thick that we could hardly see the coastline. It wasn't until we were almost alongside the dock that the fog lifted enough for us to see anything.
Walvis Bay is the only natural harbour in Namibia. It is a deep water harbour and is rich in plankton and marine life which attract large numbers of southern Right whales. It was originally named Walvisch Baye by the Dutch and then Whale Bay by the English, eventually becoming Walvis Bay.
The city itself is a rather drab place, very hot and very dry. In fact, it is one of the driest places in
the world with an annual rainfall of less that 1cm. It doesn't appear to have any centre. Most of the shops extend along the waterfront.
We got a taxi from the dock to the Post Office as we wanted to send some postcards we had bought in South Africa to Australia. We both do voluntary work at a local primary school and had promised “our” kids that we would send them pictures from Africa.
The queue for stamps was long but the security guard indicated we should go straight to the counter and was quite surprised when we, politely, turned him down and joined the back of the queue but we noticed that irritation from the people in the queue turned to smiles and an attempt to talk with us even though there was a language gap. We noticed all through South Africa and Namibia that, although one of the official languages is English, many people don't speak it and, many of those who do, don't speak it well.
Despite the dry heat, we decided to walk to the Civic Centre which was only a few blocks away according to the map we had been given (the
city is based on a grid system). We had been told that the Town Hall contained a museum and impressive hand-done teak carvings. By the time we got to the general area, however, we discovered that the map was not very accurate and the distance was still a lot further than we had expected so instead we headed for the shopping area to have our daily coffee.
As usual, after coffee, we went on our ritual search for any local material shops but, though we did find a few, they held nothing that Sylvia wanted to buy. The heat had become more uncomfortable as the day progressed and, as it was already early afternoon, we caught a taxi back to the dock, had lunch on the ship and relaxed in the cool interior until we sailed at 5pm.
As we made our way North out of the Bay, wending our way through the drilling rigs that are “parked” off-shore, the fog came down again and there was little further that we could see.
We arrived into Jamestown, the capital of the island of Saint Helena, just before 7am. The island is about 2000kms west of
the southwest african coast and probably best known to most people as the final prison of Napoleon Bonaparte, exiled here after his defeat by the British in 1815.
It is Britain's second oldest remaining territory after Bermuda in the West Indies. What we hadn't realised was that the territory also includes Ascension Island (which we will go to in a few days) and Tristan da Cunha (which is SW of South Africa towards the Antarctic).
The town is sandwiched between steep cliffs and stretches out for quite a distance up in to the hills. It is a listed UNESCO World Heritage site. “Saints”, as the local people are called are mainly descended from European planters and soldiers with a smattering of Chinese and ex-slaves from Madagascar and Africa.
High above the town are the remains of an old fort. This can be reached via Jacobs Ladder, a steep staircase of 699 steps which was used to haul manure up from the town and send goods back down. Once a year people come from all over the world to run up and down the ladder in a timed race. I was exhausted just looking up it, never mind
Up in the hills behind Jamestown is the tomb of Napoleon who died here in 1821 though his body was removed to France in 1840. It has become something of a tourist destination along with the now French-owned Longwood House where he lived.
The ship anchored out in the bay and we were ferried into the port by tender. The sea was quite rough and the landing was quite dangerous. At one point the Captain, who had gone ashore to supervise, suspended the ferry service as he believed there was significant risk of injury – or worse – to passengers as they got off/on the tender. Fortunately the weather improved as the day progressed and we were able to return to the ship easily in time for a leisurely lunch as we sailed off to our next port.
The day after we sailed, an airport was opened on the island. Prior to this, the only access to the island was by ship. Now there will be a weekly flight to/from the UK. Whether this will change the nature of life on the island is a source of great controversy among the “Saints”. Already there are
plans for a new hotel.
P.S. Just so you know, the only material shop on the island was closed as the owner had gone overseas.
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