Namibia Part V – Swakopmund, Walvis Bay
Walvis Bay and Swakopmund are home to massive sand dunes, and so this is Namibia’s home to adventure: sandboarding and quadbiking. Both are biggish towns and we could stock up and do repairs (we had been having a hard time with our water taps) here. Swakopmund is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever been too. It was the fourth time I was in the town, and Hugo also visited it a few times on audits just after we had been married.
We opted to stay in the picturesque Swakopmund and drive the 25 km to Walvis Bay ‒ a walvis is a whale in English ‒ for the fun stuff. We found a lovely campsite, Sophia Dale Base Camp, run by a German couple who are here to embrace a more relaxed and family-oriented lifestyle. Swakop and Walvis are home to many Germans; most grew up there, but there are also a lot of new immigrants. Wherever you go you hear German.
Walvis Bay has the only deep-sea harbor in Namibia, which is also being expanded. It is predicted that it will be one of the biggest harbours on the west coast of Africa and will serve many of the land-locked countries in the region, like Botswana and Zambia. It was discovered in 1487 by the Portuguese sailor, Diaz, and was developed into sought-after fishing grounds in the early 18th century.
The town was founded in 1793 by Dutch people from South Africa, and was annexed by a British war vessel a few years later and occupied by the British Crown in 1878.
“In 1884 the German Protectorate included the surrounding areas of the bay Walvis Bay became a British enclave.
In 1910 the South African Union was established and as part of the Cape Province Walvis Bay was integrated into the Union. At the beginning of the First World War the town was shortly occupied by German troops and after German South West Africa had been put under South African administration as League of Nations mandate in 1919, the South African parliament decided in 1922 to assign the town to South West African territory.
However in 1977 the town was reassigned to the Cape Province which was seen as a repeated annexation, especially as efforts for the independence of Namibia were made since the early seventies. In 1990 Namibia became independent. A resolution of the UNO stipulated that South Africa was to hand over Walvis Bay to Namibia, but it never happened. Only with the end of the Apartheid regime the Walvis Bay area was handed over to Namibia in 1994.”
– Source: http://www.info-namibia.com
In a hardware shop we found the children’s “dream” sandboard. I donʼt think they suspected in their wildest dreams that in Namibia a sandboard is just a piece of hardboard, polished with Cobra floor polish and sand (Petronella still smells like an old-fashioned farmhouse’s stoep or porch). The problem is that you have to be old and strong enough to be able to keep the front two corners in the air, otherwise you will fall spectacularly at warp speed. Ask me, I am an expert… Luckily for Sophia, this one had a simple wooden device on it that kept the front bit off the sand.
We went to Dune 7 Adventures near Walvis Bay for the big adventure. The first time we went, they were too busy; a busload of tourists had just arrived. The children were devastated, but Hugo took them to smaller dunes to try out their board. The next day, we were the only tourists and had the whole crew’s attention. We went on wild quadbike rides on massive (okay, maybe a little smaller than massive) dunes first – Gustav was with me and he was very impressed that his mother knows how to ride a bike (so was his mother…). Darn, we do not have any photos as the photographer was busy trying to keep calm and try to remember how to not flip the bike on a steep dune.
Next was the highlight of their holiday to date – sandboarding. I honestly can’t say that I understand how a mouth and underwear and shoes and ears and noses full of sand can be your ultimate dream, but it was fun. There is a video of my little fall, but it is unfortunately x-rated. I also have to mention here that I not only hold the record for the best fall, but also for going the furthest up the next dune. Not at the same time though; Iʼm not THAT good. The best thing about sandboarding with Dune 7 Adventures is that they have bikes that take you back up to the top and you don’t have to waste your adrenaline on climbing back up the dune.
After all this, Gustav felt that he still had enough energy left to climb Dune 7. Hugo was going to join him, but he only had his crocs (yuk – someone please send him nicer shoes) [Ed: Ja-nee wragtag!] with him and the sand was scorching hot, so Gustav decided to do it on his own. It is a massive dune – the highest in the area at 388 meters. A few years ago, when Hugo was still young and full of beans, he climbed it while I watched from the comfort of an air-conditioned car (starting to look like a pattern ‒ this watching-from-the-car thing). He vomited twice ‒ just so you know. Gustav made it in no time ‒ of course ‒ and he did it from the steepest side! He did stop a few times along the way, but he made it. And then he walked to the highest point because he wanted to be on TOP. Coming down took just a few seconds. He told us he got very tired going up but he wanted to complete the challenge. We are very proud of him; not many people can say that they have conquered Dune 7. [Ed: I have, and I didnʼt puke…]
On Sunday, we went on a dolphin and seal cruise with Laramon Tours in the bay of Walvis Bay. This town has a booming oyster industry; oysters were introduced from Asia and the Cape in South Africa and they grow to a bigger size in much less time than elsewhere. As a treat, we had some bubbly with oysters harvested that morning. Usually I donʼt enjoy oysters, but these were really tasty and firm. Not slippery and snotty at all. And we didn’t even have to drown it with Tabasco.
It was freezing the whole time we were on the catamaran, and we unsuccessfully tried to keep ourselves warm with blankets. We had a very smelly look at a large Cape fur seal colony on Pelican Point. Numerous terns roost on the point, and nests of whitefronted and chestnut-banded plovers are found here. Other birds, such as African black oystercatcher, the Eurasian curlew, and both lesser flamingos and greater flamingos are seen here. In the summer months, the bird count at Pelican Point average 15 000 birds. White mussels and other organisms occur in the sand of the surf zone. Jackal are often seen in this area, while Damara terns nest on the elevated parts.
These are the oyster farms:
For the last week or so I’ve had another hankering for crayfish. While we were on the boat, I thought who better to ask than the owner/skipper of the boat? Good intuition – he had a freezer full that he was collecting for his daughter’s wedding, but was willing to sell six to us. This time we were experts with the preparations and grilling – you should wish you were there.
On Monday, 16 March, we packed up after four days at Sophia Dale Base Camp and didnʼt yet know where we wanted to go. It frustrates Gustav no end when we don’t know where weʼll sleep and itʼs already lunch time. He wants to know everything at least a month in advance, but although I share his apprehension, itʼs not always possible on a trip like this. We knew we wanted to go north, so we headed in the direction of a small fishing town, Henties Bay. Hugo previously said that he wanted to travel all along the Skeleton Coast to the north. But by this time, I had had enough of the freezing Atlantic Ocean and its winds. I told him in Henties Bay that I was fairly sure that since we’ve been to Vredenburg (Tietiesbaai, near Cape Town) all the coastal towns on the west coast looked more or less the same and had the same Antarctic temperatures and wind. We’ve seen sand as well, in many different colours; we HAD some sand (everywhere), so please, could we just head inland.
We did. And the temperatures went up and the wind disappeared. Next on Hugo’s wishlist were the San paintings and engravings at the White Lady and Twyfelfontein. Later that afternoon, we arrived at the White Lady painting. Not having done our homework, we werenʼt aware that it is about a three-hour round trip from the parking area to the painting. On foot. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and 43 degrees Celsius. Without making excuses for ourselves, we did not think it was a wise thing to do with the children; we would all have heat stroke by the time we were halfway.
Just a small little something about the White Lady for my future grandchildren who will one day read this:
“The White Lady is a rock painting, located on a panel, also depicting other art work, on a small rock overhang, deep within Brandberg Mountain. The giant granite monolith located in Damaraland and called ‘The Brandberg’ is Namibia’s highest mountain. Its German name is Weiße Dame.
The painting has long been an archaeological dilemma, and several different hypotheses have been put forth on its origins, authorship and dating. It is now usually accepted to be a Bushmen painting, dating back at least 2000 years ago.
It is usually assumed that the painting shows some sort of ritual dance, and that the “White Lady” is actually a medicine man. She has white legs and arms, which may suggest that his body was painted or that he was wearing some sort of decorative attachments on his legs and arms. He holds a bow in one hand and perhaps a goblet in the other. Because of the bow and the oryxes, the painting has also been interpreted as a hunting scene. Apart from the shaman/lady, the other human figures have less detail, and are mostly completely black or completely white. One of the oryxes has human legs. The painting was probably made of ochre, charcoal, manganese, hematite, with blood serum, egg white and casein used as binding agents.”
– Source: Wikipedia (again!)
The friendly people at the site told us that itʼs much easier to see the carvings at Twyfelfontein; itʼs a much shorter hike and there are much more to see. As there was no time to see it that day, we could go early the next morning before the heat would strike. Just before sunset, after driving 405 km for the day, we arrived at Twyfelfontein.