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Open Features: 10 - In Namibia

"As we approached the true desert, the sands were covered in a fine, silver-green sheen. Looking closely, we saw that it was extremely fine grass, one blade to a plant, widely spaced. It looked like the scalp of a man in the last stages before total baldness – lots of fine hair, and lots of scalp underneath!'' Isabel Bradley revels in Namibia's astonishing scenery.

We left Keetmanshoop fairly early in the morning, and headed west, past “spitzkop” mountains – rather like a volcano in shape, but instead of the crater, they have a flat-topped head, fringed by a sheer cliff. The mountains became ragged and jagged, mixed in amongst the spitzkoppe and flat-topped table mountains. As we crossed the Fish River – which actually had some water in it, in puddles – we tuned the radio in to listen to the German programmes that still play in Namibia. Leon got all nostalgic. He spent some very happy years in Namibia when he was younger and new to Africa.

We passed through many areas where the farmers were lazy, leaving the boulders lying strewn over the landscape rather than scraping them into mountains they way the farmers in the Richtersveld do. The landscape changed constantly – we passed an area where there were huge trees, and crossed a couple of flowing rivers. Suddenly, we were away from the trees, the landscape growing rockier and barren again. In the distance, a lone red dune among the olive-green scrub was spot lit by a shaft of sun peering through the clouds.

As we approached the true desert, the sands were covered in a fine, silver-green sheen. Looking closely, we saw that it was extremely fine grass, one blade to a plant, widely spaced. It looked like the scalp of a man in the last stages before total baldness – lots of fine hair, and lots of scalp underneath! The grasses began to turn yellow, then disappeared, and in the distance a wind lifted a fine dust-haze, making the land fuzzy. We dubbed it “The Desert with the Flaxen Hair…”

Close to the road there were clumps of sparse vegetation. There always is, where the moisture from the emissions of passing cars nourishes seeds that are dropped. However, we also noticed a line of clumpy vegetation some way in from the road underneath the telephone line that trundles from Keetmanshoop to Aus to Luderitz. The lines and poles, of course, are where birds sit – they do their business, probably dropping more seeds in the process, and also nourishing the ground beneath…

The roads were superb – not a pothole in sight. The crows this far into the country were all pitch black, not the common pied crow we live with further south. And never mind road signs warning about “wind” – look out here for road signs warning, “Sand! 60kph.” Fast sand…

In fact, the sands will swallow anything given time. The railroad from Keetmanshoop to Luderitz no longer goes all the way. It winds into and is buried by the dunes, seen escaping a little further along, just to be hidden once more…We did note that a new railway line seems to be in the process of being built – but didn’t manage to confirm this. The desert looks like a huge sand-pit for giant children. Though it is rather grubby. It’s marvellous how nature echoes itself all over the place. Take the dunes and the rocks for instance – the dunes are shaped like huge, breaking waves, hollow on the inside, rounded on the wind side, and if the wind is blowing, the sand spills off the top like spume off the sea. The wind raises ripples in the sand as it does in the water… Near Luderitz, I noticed a rock shaped like a breaking wave, and later, walking through town, another.

We enjoyed our afternoon in Luderitz immensely. After lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbour, we walked through town, looking at the beautiful old German buildings. Some of them, with rooms built out onto their fronts, reminded us of the older buildings we saw in Prague. At home we have a lovely pencil sketch of one of the churches in Luderitz.

It is perched on a rock, and the artist managed to climb high above it to give the picture a unique perspective. Leon and I tried to reach that vantage point, but I’m too much of a wimp when it comes to climbing along knife-edged ridges with a sea-gale trying to blow me off! We did get a couple of good photos from quite high up. It took me a while to gingerly make my way back down the rock and shale…The whole of Luderitz is built on these massive rocks, there’s hardly any soil in the place at all. It must have been bleak, indeed, for those first sailors who discovered the bay.

The bay itself is huge, and well-sheltered from the Atlantic storms – but there is no source of fresh water there, so why Diaz however many hundreds of years ago should have stopped there is beyond me!

Namdeb, the diamond-mining company for whom Leon is working on contract, have renovated one of the old Diamond “baron’s” houses. It is called “Goertz House”, and is open to the public except on public holidays. We were there on a public holiday. Never mind, we climbed the steps outside, enjoyed the huge sundial on one wall, looked at the lovely terraced gardens, no doubt planted with much blood, sweat and toil on someone’s part, looked back over the whole of the old town and noticed a Labrador dog sunbathing on a huge rock in a garden nearby. Many of the old buildings have been painted in bright, even gaudy, colours, it gives the town a huge amount of character when seen from a viewpoint like that.

We walked down the hill, and across the causeway to Shark Island, where there is a small community of holiday cottages, a camping spot right on the ocean, and some very fancy new homes. After making our way back to our guest house (more about THAT later!), we got into the car and drove around the whole south end of the bay, through the Diamond Coast Recreational Area with its lagoons, the Sperrgebiet on our left with appropriate warning signs to keep out. It was a twenty kilometre trip from town to Diaz Point.

We stood on one side of the wooden bridge, over which the breakers were pouring a mist of spray, and gazed up the hundreds of steps on the other side that led to the memorial at the Diaz cross. Just to the right of the mound of rock on which the cross stood was a lower island, on top of which we could see seals moving. I took my photos, and we turned and left, making the bone-jarring, car-rattling twenty kilometre trip back to town. Because he’d given his word to a friend that we’d go there, we drove a further, toot-rattling eight kilometres to Agate Beach, where the wind was straight from the South Pole, the sun was setting, and there was not an agate to be found. Sea shells, yes. Litter, yes. No agates in sight!

Incidentally, the road to Agate beach led us past one of the town’s sewerage farms. Without our air-conditioner, which we’ll only have repaired when we’re back in Jo’burg, we definitely noticed the smell before we realised what these green fields of grass and trees were! Grazing in great numbers on this pongy but lush foliage were herds of springbok and gemsbok, all in glossy good health…


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