2 August 2012
It’s a free day today for both the travellers and more importantly the guides. News at breakfast was not a good one. Our specialized vehicle had more problems. A mechanical or engine part had burst and were awaiting spare parts to arrive. Most of my fellow travellers had planned to do skydiving. There is an assortment of things to do while in town. I choose to get intimate with the desert. A group of us end up with a guide and a FWD and headed into the desert. The trail is almost sandy all the way. It looked totally arid. I can’t imagine life surviving here. Drought resistant plants do survive here. The Dollar Bush is one. Succulent rounded leaves absorb moisture from the air. Nearby was a spindly looking plant. These plants are adapted well to this harsh environment. Rain is very little and sparse. The fog created by the Benguela Current seemed like the only source for both flora and fauna. In a wide valley, the now dry Swokop River supported a variety of plants including shrubs and small trees. These plants survived by throwing deep roots to tap the underground water. The oasis in turn provided wildlife to thrive particularly birds.
Along the Swokop River was a strange and bare landscape called the Moon Landscape. Soft stones had been eroded by the river leaving behind exposed layers of hard rocks. At one spot we walked around some boulder rocks. I was surprised to find black fragments of dried lichens attached to the surfaces. When water is sprinkled onto them, like magic, the foliage moved and crackling sound emerged. From shades pale green to bright green, with black under surface. Looking more closely, there seem to be many types around. The desert is not inert at all. A black ridge of dolerite formed on the backbone of the mountains stretched far. This hard rock had remained as erosion had removed the soft rocks. We continued further on the desert sand roads to the witness a rare plant – Welwitschia mirabilis. These plants are unique to the Namib. Only two leaves are produced in its entire life. As they grow they twist and curl and the edges eventually tear. Its survival is remarkable. Besides the harsh environment, man is assisting its unfortunate decimation. The male and female plants were in flower at this time. The plant also provided a home to a variety of beetles including the tok-tokkie and other colorful insects. In the open planes, wires from telegraph pole stretched to the horizon. Tiny spots of fungus covered vast areas of the arid surface . It is refreshing to witness that the harshest deserts managed to support life in a delicate environment.
Back in town, I wandered along the coast and came across a group of Himba people making a living selling handicraft and souvenirs under a palm tree. The women had their bodies painted ochre and butter dye. They adorned many jewelries and the hair platted in many patterns. They had chosen to live their traditional way. Namibia is made up many ethnic groups but all seemed get along. Nearby was another local tribal market. I met our guide Chris. The truck had not been repaired yet!
1 August 2012
Today we headed out of the heart of Namib Desert in southern Namibia towards the skeleton coast. It was a bright sunny day. The heat can be very testing. I wondered about the animals and people whom call this place home. There is some greenery but sporadically. Fiery mountains ranges seem to float above golden grasses of an arid landscape. Spotting wildlife is exhilarating. A small heard of wildebeest foraged on the short grasses. Some distance away, a decent herd of Springbok nervously looked at the passing vehicle. It is simply amazing to see animals live in a natural environment without fences or borders. With the vehicle bouncing rapidly on the unpaved hot desert roads, one window shattered. Chris managed to get a spare attached. However, it continually dislodged just after several kilometres. The red dust spewed into the vehicle. There was some discontent. At the last breakdown, I mentioned to Chris that I had a duct tape in my pack. This incident had already slowed us down by an hour. All the baggage was removed from the truck and managed to get my tape. This was perhaps our last hope. Thankfully it held. Never leave home without a duct tape.
To survive in the Namib is astonishing. The human endurance is equally amazing. Small outpost like settlement dotted the desert roads providing essential lifeline to travellers – fuel, restocking food supplies and repairs and maintenance. Solitaire was such a town. It looked desolate. Shells of cars lay rusted in the compound. However, the high point here is the best place to sample apple pie in these parts of the world. A bakery dished out some hot steaming pies and other delights. It was a real treat.
We had reached the imaginary line of the Tropic of Capricorn. Under a blazing afternoon sun, we stood at the signage like we had discovered a new country. It was satisfying just knowing. The trail continued pass dried riverbeds at Gaub and Kuiseb pass. Deep rooted trees survived. These are desolate places of rugged hill and canyons. Winding through, we finally reached a paved road. The noise of the tyres against the unpaved roads of the desert became silent. A loud bang brought the vehicle to a stop. We had a flat tyre. This is the fact about travelling in the wild. We joked; the tyres couldn’t handle the wonderful smooth paved roads after days in the bouncy desert roads. Monumental sand dunes, a railway track and a nearby airport kept us company. With the tyres fixed, we reached Walvis Bay on the Atlantic coast in the late afternoon. A decent sized town at last. The views of water, although gray, were soothing. Namib is fascinating, colourful and although arid is certainly alive in many ways. Lesser flamingos feed in the shallow waters at Pelican Point surrounded by manicured gardens, modern housing and a thriving port. On the fringes of town, the in avertable advance of the reddish desert sand lay several feet high against the barrier walls of houses.
After lunch, we headed into Central Namibia to Swopkomund. The town is surrounded by the desert on one side and the Atlantic on the other. It is Namibia’s premier beach resort and has a unique German colonial architecture. Palm lined trees, neat wide clean roads, street markets, a promenade along the beach and colourful architecture greeted us. All the trimmings of comfort awaited us at a hotel. A group of us headed off to a restaurant on the jetty dining of fresh seafood with the waves crashing against the concrete pillars and the long sandy beach. The proximity of the desert, the heat and dust had faded away for now.