''Explorer's Africa'' Voyage 7107 Day 4

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Day 4 - March 28, 2011 - Walvis Bay, Namibia

By Olga Stavrakis, Anthropologist

Weather: Sunny, Slight Wind
Air Temperature: 25o C


One of my favorite moments each day, on the Prince Albert II, is taking morning tea in the Observation Lounge. Today with my tea I had a great view of our entrance into the small, busy port of Walvis Bay.

I boarded the bus bound for a scenic desert drive and a visit to the charming little German town of Swakopmund. I had been to Namibia before and had driven around Swakopmund, but this excursion promised something that I had missed in the past: a view of the infinite variety of shapes and forms sculpted out of the rock and sand by millions of years of wind and water.

We headed out of Walvis Bay toward the west onto a gravel road driving though countryside that was deceptively barren of life. A few miles out, large dunes appeared on our left and a mixture of smaller moon-shaped dunes amid a gravel plain flanked our right. At a sign marking “Dune 7” we made a left turn onto a small road that followed along a train track toward the north and entered a countryside that looked barren, lifeless, and homogenous at first glance.

This first impression was soon dispelled however, when Juan Carlos Restrepo, our geologist, explained that the large hill-like dunes were probably a million years in the making and had formed over a ridge that initially trapped the windblown sand.

A few minutes later our excellent guide, Orlando, pointed out two jackals ambling along on our left near the railroad tracks. He then drew our attention to the different colors on the high dunes. Shaped by winds, they appear soft and fluid and the tops of some of the hollows are colored with black tinted sand. Orlando explained that this color was made by magnetite particles that sifted out onto the higher surfaces. Oxidized iron forms patches of reddish sand and small bands of white are wind-deposited clay particles.

Further along we stopped on a high hill overlooking a vast expanse of deeply eroded gravel hills and valleys referred to as the “moon landscape”. Orlando explained these were formed by years of wind and water erosion by periodic flooding of the Swakopmund River which we could see on the northern horizon, and which happened to be in a flood stage today due to unusual and unexpected rains in the last few days.

He then repeated the explanation in Damara, his mother tongue, which is related to the Khoi San languages of the Kalahari and Botswana and includes four click sounds as consonants.

Our next stop was the highlight of our desert drive — the extraordinary Welwitschia plant, a unique inhabitant of the Namib Desert in Namibia and Angola. It is named after the Austrian botanist Friedrich Welwitsch who discovered it in 1859. About almost 2 meters in diameter it looks like a clump of wilted long leaves with dried tips emerging from a cluster of brown woody tissue that hardly looks alive. However, the plant is quite extraordinary for some are over 1,000 years old. They gather moisture from deep within the earth by way of a 30 meter long tap root.

Because of the high water, the river road was impassible. So to get to Swakopmund, which we could see in the distance, we had to detour back to Walvis Bay and take the coastal highway north again. However, a delicious lunch of fish or chicken was waiting for us at the Hansa Hotel and there was plenty of time to walk around the historic little town and visit the crafts market in a little park adorned with exotic palms.

Swakopmund has a German flavor and many of the buildings date to the early 1900s. The town is very clean and the buildings are well maintained, painted in muted shades of tan, pale yellow and pastel green.

At 4:15 we boarded our bus for the return trip to the ship, driving through the township of Mondesa along the way. In the past, the townships represented apartheid but I was very pleased to see that newly painted cement-block houses are replacing the wooden shacks and the wide clean streets give the place a sense of progress and order. In the street, people were extremely welcoming and friendly, waving and greeting us like long lost family.

In the evening, out guests were treated to an elegant dinner in the desert under a spacious tent with superb choices of seafood. Namibia has a rich variety of seafood and an outstanding delicious oyster that is farmed in the cold waters of the Benguela current.

In the evening, here in the desert, where it almost never rains, we were treated to a rare surprise of nature – a spectacular display of lightening accompanied by a very small rain shower.

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