To the Skeleton Coast
We had been told by other travellers on the road and by locals in small towns where we refuelled that, because of the recent thunderstorms, many of the usually dry creeks were swollen and therefore many of the roads were blocked. There are not many bridges over watercourses in Namibia, and the wide gravel roads simply dip into the creek beds.
So, we headed south and west, with the dark clouds and lightning of thunderstorms all around us, not knowing if detours of many kilometres would be necessary. There were many creek crossings but none presented any problems with only small amounts of water in some and the rest dry. We even threw up dust clouds behind us – the rain hadn't reached here. The wide gravel roads passed through seemingly uninhabited countryside except for the occasional dismal village with but a single shop and a couple of houses. The landscape became increasingly arid, but the dramatic peaks of the Brandberg Mountains towered to our right and we passed other smaller but no less beautiful mountains of tumbled pink granite boulders or of dipped and angled strata of dark slate weathered to resemble layers of pastry.
Small mining shacks dotted the fields. Ricketty, wooden stalls lined the roadside, with Herero women dressed in their voluminous, multicoloured long dresses and with headscarves wrapped and twisted like horns around their heads, holding aloft handmade dolls dressed in the same garb.
And then even the grass and trees deserted the land. Just a few stunted grey-green cushion shaped tufts and spreading, spiny bushes almost deviod of leaves relie,ved the monotony of an almost white earth. Just a single telephone line on wooden poles showed us the way as the road surface simply merged into the surroundings, indistinguishable from the desert, straight as a die but rising and falling over natural undulations. As the sun sank lower, the road surface sparkled with diamond-like flashes from tiny quartz crystal facets amongst the sand.
And then ahead, a strange greyish cloud of mist blanketed the horizon; we were close to the Atlantic Ocean where the cold currents from the south meet the warm air and land here in the Tropics. As the mist rolled in, it dulled the light and turned the colours of the land to soft hues of grey. The sun struggled to shine through, and when it managed to, the ocean waves sparkled and danced with light, lifting the steel monotone. Welcome to the Skeleton Coast.
We turned onto a salt road. The surface of the roads on the coast are sealed with salt mixed with clay to form a very hard base. With virtually no rain, it is also very durable, though recent rain had softened the edges. An expanse of flat, featureless land lay between us and the Atlantic, and we could see the treacherous waves that, together with the relentless daily fog, have caused so many shipwrecks along this coast. However, the fishing here is excellent and we passed many vehicles with enormous fishing rods strapped to their bull bars and rising up into the air, looking just like long straight oryx horns.
The campsite, imaginatively named “Mile 72”, for that is how far north of Swakopmund it is, was about the bleakest place you could imagine. Right on the grey, sandy beach with a constant gale blowing from the south-east, with minimal facilities and no shelter at all! And it stretched away into the distance along the beach, with ugly, yellow, concrete toilet blocks dotting the view. Still, only one night.
The Cape Cross Seal Colony was a delight. How cold is that water that seals can live here in the Tropics! Once you get over the smell which assaults the senses when you arrive, it is easy to spend hours just watching the thousands of Cape Fur Seals, many with small pups, launching themselves into the waves, hauling themselves onto land again, jumping over the breakers or fighting over a rock to bask on. Pups, separated from their mothers, wandered around investigating adults who generally turned them away sharply, leaving the youngsters to move on to the next group. Contented pups suckled while their mother held flippers aloft to make access easy. Large bulls with dark brown fur in stripes around their huge, thick necks fended off jackals or other males who came too close.
And here too is a (replica) stone cross that the Portuguese navigators left when trying to find a way to the East in the 1400s. And a small graveyard from the early 1900s, with weathered wooden crosses and a picket fence lying half scattered on the ground, is a windswept and forlorn final resting place.