March 17th, 2018
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We had driven through four landscapes since we left the giant dunes of Sossusvlei. We ambled leisurely through over 120 kilometres down to the coast. Venturing past mountains of rugged rock, more dusty flat pans as far as the eye could see, raggedy, stoned hills covered in tufts of hardy grass, and sporadic, stoic, shadeless, knarled forests in small sections of sandy desert. Driving along the dusty roads and heading for the coast, the orange sands dwarfed any man made structures. Buildings and pipelines simply looked like they had been thrown together with rusty Mechano or sand blasted Lego. The railway repeatedly disappeared under huge, moving, sherbet hills.
As we approached the ocean, some rocky outcrops resembled bubbling paintings by H.R. Geiger; bald, enslaved baby heads almost included in the ancient dynamic formations that just appeared to bubble up out of the exfoliating-surfaced earth. The age of some the odd structures were over 140 million years old (not particularly old for rocks, but you wouldn’t drink wine of that year).
A days drive in mind-melting, sweltering winds, included stops in uncommon shady saunas to stretch legs, visit nature while it called, and eat our sandwiches alongside slightly warm pickles straight from the jar (not common on our trips, but they were requested).
We were shocked to then find that on the coast, sand gives way to a moonscape of hardened volcanic flows and unearthly grey piles of solidified darkness. Ignored and not revered, the impressive rock sits like ruptured, picked scabs on an exfoliated, boiled skin of parched sand and dry, shaley rubble. In comparison to just fifteen kilometres inland, the coast was cold. If it was the UK, even northerners would have put their big coat on! The harsh, stiff breeze was intrepidly uninviting and the oddities just kept on coming.
In the struggling beams of evening sun, a couple of seemingly lost flamingoes dabbled in a spot of terribly-off-balance waltzing. Oblivious to where they were or who was watching them on their spindly, shaking limbs, they stubbornly continued like a couple of wimbledon-loving, aristocratic toffs attempting to dance – still while trying to inhale an invisible bowl of strawberries and cream upside down in the chilling, Atlantic wind through their bobbing beaks.
Situated just a few thrown stones away from the rugged, volcanic coastline nearby to Luderitz, and after visiting Diaz Point (see previous update), Kolmanskop is an old mining town with all the abandoned, eerily-decrepit amenities such as a bakery, a butchers, a hospital, various shops, bar, ice storage, and large commercial kitchens. Luxuries such as a cinema, a skittles alley, a theatre, and a casino were also left behind. The reason for the town was diamonds.
It hosted a processing factory for the mines in the sand. It also had specific houses for its clerks, ministers and town managers, high on the rocky dunes to survey all its movements. It amazes me that this entire town was built for only sixty years of use; purely for the miners to sort through diamonds. There are towns and cities across southern Africa which have been inhabited for centuries, and they still don’t have any of these helpful or luxury installations – certainly ones that don’t work as efficiently! As with all human-invested interests, much like locusts on a field of corn, the purpose of our endeavours ended and now the remnants of our labours stain the desert, albeit rather nostalgically, like a turd on a well polished gymnasium floor.
We reminisce romantically about the lifestyles of the blue collared workforce that endured the sand. Even those who died while attempting to smuggle some wares from the company that stationed them in the gruelling environment are noted in the museum almost comically.
Although entertaining, some attempts were extreme. Even pigeons had the gems stitched into their stomachs to try and fly them over fences. Sadly not to freedom, but presumably to be drastically shot down or netted to retrieve what was in there additional feather-coloured cotton pouch. Either that, or someone had a well trained pigeon coop doing diamond runs a la Great Escape meets Peter Scott meets Gordie Racer (if you get all those references, I’m impressed).
There were some tunnelling attempts, diamonds stored in shoe compartments, knife handles, catapulted attempts, numerous thefts by illegally-paid security personnel, not to forget the common attempts to transport the uncut gems up one’s trumpeting fairy.
Diamonds are still game-changers along the south-west african coastline. Although, and I’m not sure why I think this because there are still plenty of them doing rather well in the area, but I assume pigeons have now been exiled from the smuggling business. Maybe flamingoes won the turf wars.
After leaving the coast and heading south through the desert once more, we stayed in Seeheim. Built in 1896, the construction was used to home to the South West African German Army (German colonial forces).
Converted into a small hotel in the 1920’s, it was a booming spot of ill repute….and some decent repute too for anyone travelling through. In the 1970’s the main road was moved a kilometre away from the railway junction (and hotel) which ended this small village’s run from a busy hub to a lesser used hotel. Now it’s a nostalgic stop off for people who can be bothered to find it on the map. It’s a relaxing and slightly eccentric dwelling.
There is a parrot who inhabits the restaurant and occasionally says a few words. On enquiring its name, the waitress informs us that it is simply called, Parrrrrrt (with a rolling “R”). In fact, he’s just basically called Parrot but it sounds much more exotic in an Afrikaans vs Latin American accent, of which the waitress was proud to speak in.
We indulged in a steak of Kudu before heading off to bed. I had presumed we might camp – as it’s the coolest option without “broken” air conditioning in the desert in November, but I was out-voted and we moved up the forty steps into a rather plush en-suite family room. It would have been delightfully plush but even with the fans on, it was a human oven. I moved my mattress outside onto the balcony in the middle of the night to see if I could catch a breeze. However, I moved back in again after being dined on unmercifully by mosquito’s and being taken by surprise as I spotted the owner of the establishment having a solo-skinny dip in the pool and then wandering through the restaurant naked in the night. Sadly, the vision wasn’t quite as exciting as anything from “Out of Africa”, or as coy as when Kevin Costner gets caught “taking a bath” in Prince of Thieves. Life isn’t what it’s like in the movies….not all the time.. Presumably the nude proprietor went back to his own room, and not for a birthday-suited midnight snack in the kitchens. I only assume he is the health and safety chief in charge of dating with such “hazards”. At least, I think it was the owner. I had only seem him clothed during the day with distracting Parrrrrrrrrt on his wrist.
Next up, the largest canyon on the African continent and second only in size to the North American Grand… Fish River awaits.
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