Pressure’s back on me. Anne has delivered another superlative blog entry so I must respond in kind. Anyway enough of that and onto the meat of this blog entry which will cover our departure from the St Nowhere Spa through to Lüderitz with the Sossusvlei dunes sandwiched in-between. Our first stop is the Cape Cross Seal Reserve. On the way we pass unmanned tables laden with pink rock salt crystals. An honesty box sits on each table, with each crystal maked with a price. Very trustworthy.
Danie had told us the story behind these pink rock salt crystals. It seems as you head home overseas with your souvenir from Namibia the creatures that give the pink colour in the crystals die, there goes the pink colour! Then the crystal absorbs moisture and turns to regular salt! What a great business that has been running for decades.
The Cape fur seal colony can number up to 200,000 at the height of the breeding season in November and December, which we are close to the start of, with a few thousand seals already established. The strong pungent smell reminds us of the penguin colonies we saw in 1997 when we went to Antarctica. Great for clearing a stuffy nose.
We had seen a jackal earlier and the fact that up to 25% of seal pup fatalities are attributed to the jackal accounts for their presence. As we approach Swakopmund we are driving on tar for the first time since Ruacana, which seems so long ago. No more dust to add to the layers that coat everything in the 4×4. The town has a distinctly German feel, signage, buildings, restaurants and the large number of German tourists. German appears widely spoken in the tourist industry, although it is old German, a little like French in Quebec. As one German tourist put it, “We can only go to Switzerland and Austria and speak German”. This provides a great warm holiday alternative with the tourism issues currently confronting Turkey and Egypt.
The streets are a mixture of tar and dirt, even in the centre of town. I presume cost comes into the equation and residential streets get dirt and commerical ones tar. We also notice a number of shops with an extra metal grill over the door that can only be opened from within. We are told this is to stop robberies in stores where the staff may be at the back of the store – a rather sad state of affairs. Outside Swakopmund is a shanty town where some 4,000 people who have travelled here under the illusion they would find work reside. They are too poor to return home and are trapped in limbo. I suspect some of the crime comes from this source by desperate people.
As we wine and dine in Swakopmund, I notice here as in South Africa, the much lower mark up on wine compared with retail shop prices. In Australia there is such a high markup, but I was wondering if this due to restaurant owners seeking additional profits or the cost of recovering the liquor licence fee imposed by the state governments. If the latter, then another tax by stealth. Anyone know the answer?
We did enjoy eating at the restaurant at the end of the pier, the ocean swells surged below us, giving a feeling of being at sea, even though we could see the land in one direction. The temperature was in the mid teens and we were rugged up for the first time since Cape Town.
We head inland via Walvis Bay, which is the main port for Namiba and was until Namibian just after independence part of South Africa. Claimed by the British in 1884, denied the Germans the only deepwater port location on the South West African coast. Just like those board games of world domination we used play from time to time.
We quickly return to dirt road and as a check of the Namibian road network will reveal, most roads are dirt and tar only connects the main centres. The road is little used and we are surprised to see many cyclists, including families some 30km / 20ml from town. Seems at weekends they take their bicycles out by bakkie/ute/pickup and ride on the good dirt with little traffic to worry about for the children.
The temperature rises quickly and we are soon back to the high 30’s centigrade. We are headed for another must see, but touristy location, Sossusvlei, but first we must stop at Solitaire, a tiny town that makes great apple strudel, so we have been told. The apple is great and the here we see a number of old car bodies used as decoration for the entrance to the shop/lodge/petrol station. As the environment is so dry they do not rust and last for years.
The Sossusvlei is a series of sand dunes running either side of the floodplain of the Tsauchab river which itself ends in the sand dunes some 65 km / 40 ml from the park entrance as do so many westward flowing rivers in Namibia. Located in the Naukluft National Park, they have a quaint system of two gates giving access to the Sossusvlei. The first for those staying within the park opens an hour before the external park gate allowing one to get the best positions for the sunrise over the Sossusvlei. We stayed within the park. As we expected there were probably over 200 tourists there, a huge crowd for us after the last few weeks.
Anne has always loved and admired sand dunes – created by nature, majestic, graceful yet constantly changing and moving. People feel the need to climb the tallest ones, and walk along the thin, sharp but fragile spine. At least nature will have the foot prints removed by the following morning. The dunes crescent shape can actually change direction due to the wind here.
To test my shovelling skills, Anne decides to bog the vehicle in deep sand at the end of the park. As I prepare to do my he-man stuff, well let the tyre pressures down further, a local guide stops and offers to drive the vehicle out without me having to do anything. So easy, saves my energy for another day.
The day we visited the park, the wind was so strong, lighting was not at its sharpest. But the scenery was still stunning. We were also alone as we walked out into the desert to see the dead forest. No other people or vehicles, it’s an eerie but amazing feeling to have all this beauty and solitude to ourselves. We are so lucky.
We travelled out to see the sunrise the next day. A constantly changing vista for us to enjoy while we had breakfast at the side of the road. What could be better than this.
Back on tar we make good progress till we reach about 40km / 25 ml from Lüderitz where we are blasted with sand by a strong wind which seems to only be a few feet / meters high. We later see a car with opaque headlights: it only took 45 minutes for that to occur. Locals advise that vaseline and clingfilm over the lights can mitigate the damage. Bet the manufacturers did not see that use of their products.
Anne heads uphill into the car park for our one night stay with grey smelly smoke billowing from under the engine – even I, a mechanical novice, realise this is not normal. We have a problem Houston……..