This morning we arrived in Walvis Bay, Namibia. We were here in 2010, but I was sick and unable to get off the ship. This time we were docked overnight, so we had two days to enjoy this port. Here is a picture of our early morning sail in with a bit of fog still in the air. But you can clearly see the sand dunes in the background.
A few quick facts about this port: the first European visitors here were Portuguese mariners seeking a way to the Indies in the late 15th century. Toward the end of the 19th century Namibia was annexed by Germany (except for the enclave of Walvis Bay – an important deep water port.) There is still a huge German influence in this area. When diamonds were discovered, this area became more desirable. German rule ended during WWI, and they surrendered to the S. African army fighting for the Allies. It was not until 1990 when this area gained its independence as Namibia and not until 1994 that Walvis Bay itself was finally transferred to Namibia. So, it is a relatively young country.
Today Namibia has a population of about two million people in 300,000 square miles. 80-90% of the people are Christians and the language is English and Afrikaans.
Doug and I did different tours since he had seen the sand dunes the last time we were here. So, today he did one called Go Local: the Real Namibia. He will write and describe his experience. Unfortunately, he didn’t take his camera, so there are no pictures, but an interesting description of what he saw and learned.
The tour began with a drive to Mondesa Township in the town of Swakopmund, just north of the Bay. This township is a community of 8,000 people, mostly unemployed and extremely low-income families. There are two sections of this town: concrete block houses and wooden houses. The wooden housing section consists of very wide streets laid out in neat rows without either electricity or running water. Wooden houses, made of scrap lumber, sit on large sand lots. People living here were in “temporary housing” waiting to get a loan to build a concrete block house on a similar lot which had electricity and running water. We visited four locations in the wooden home section.
First was the home of a lady wearing traditional African dress of her tribe. It was a puffy, light blue colored flowing dress to the ground. She wore a matching blue triangular hat that was oriented to resemble cattle horns. Everyone in the group sat on plastic stools outside in the shade of the house. She described the fact that she had four children from four different fathers. In her culture, the most important family figure is the uncle. Since husbands may desert their wives routinely, the uncle is the male responsible for the well-being of the family and children. Each uncle, who could himself abandon his wife, in this culture will never abandon the children of his sister.
Our second stop was to visit a medicine woman who gathered local herbs and roots, which sick people paid her for her services through bartering. The township population relied on her services because she was convenient and cheaper than hospital care.
The third stop was a craft “shop” which consisted of two card tables placed near the front door of the artist’s tiny home. With such limited inventory, this was a short stop.
The last stop was at a local bar where drinks and local, traditional cuisine was served. The fare consisted of local beer and bread/dough used to dip in a bowls of spinach and caterpillars (cooked!) Dessert consisted of small berries with very large center seeds, so not much fruit itself – which were actually slightly sweet. All in all, this was not filling! As we left there, four young men performed several songs and dances to entertain us, similar to Paul Simon’s Graceland album.
All sections of the township were surprisingly trash-free. But there was no grass, no trees, nothing green – only sand and wind. As difficult as these living conditions were, all of the children were friendly and smiling. Their parents moved here because the opportunities and education of their children were better than circumstances in the mountains where they had previously lived.
When I last visited Namibia, my exposure was just with the sand dunes and nature. This trip was a great opportunity to meet and interact with the local people of Namibia.
My tour was done independently with a group from Cruise Critic. It is the same one the ship does the next day – the same tour group, same food, same sites, etc. There were only about 30 in our group, and then that group was divided into small vehicles perfect for the sand dunes. I was with the family who have 9 year old Connor with them. I knew his grandparents (Mike and Diane) from the 2010 world cruise, and have gotten to know Connor and his Mom, Tracy. Great, fun people!
It took a long time for the Namibian officials to clear the ship, so we really didn’t get started until almost 10:30 a.m. The tour company was Sandwich Harbour 4×4 and our guide was Naude Dreyer. He and his wife, Katja, bought part of this company from his father a few years ago. He was very enthusiastic about Namibia and the part we were going to called Sandwich Harbour. I would highly recommend this company and for more information you can go to their website – www.sandwich-harbour.com
Our first stop was the lagoon where there are over 70,000 flamingoes! There are other birds as well, but pink is the dominant color here. We saw mainly the Lesser Flamingo, the smaller and more pink species. The Greater Flamingo is larger and more white in color. In the close up one, you can see one in flight near the top left. I didn’t realize how pretty they were when they flew with their black wing tips. It was truly a sight to see . . and really hard to show the perspective of the huge mass of them in any picture. They eat microscopic organisms and microscopic brine shrimp (gives them their pink color) by stirring them up off the bottom of this lagoon with their feet – which also gives them the appearance of dancing.
Our next brief photo stop was the salt mines – one of the largest in the world. They produce 700,000 tons a year, most of which is used for commercial uses (like chlorine) and only 10% of it is used in the food industry. It takes 22 months to process the salt. The evaporation process works well here because of the dryness and the winds.
We drove through some of the tallest grasses in the world (they are in many other parts of the world.) But since most of what we saw today was sand, anything living and green was worthy of a picture. We learned that there is wildlife here, and we passed a Springbok – the only hoofed animals here. (I only could see his behind.) Unlike the ones we saw in S. Africa, these have no predator and so would not last long there. Likewise, the ones in S. Africa would not last long here because they wouldn’t know which plants hold the water they need to survive. The same is true with the elephants. Here, they are a lighter color – although we didn’t see any.
This picture is a good example of much of what we saw as we drove around the Namib desert here. We came to this wire/post fence which separates the desert from the Namib-Naukluft National Park which is the largest in Namibia covering nearly 9,000 sq. miles. The region is entirely desert, but there are many ecosystems here. The desert formed millions of years ago as the cold air above the icy offshore Antarctic current caused incoming storm clouds to condense before making landfall, The sand dunes here are eerily similar to the sea. Some are as high as 1,000 feet (not where we were.)
Our next stop was at a part of the desert where the sand had a reddish tint to it from the type of mineral/rock in it. Our guide put a magnet on the end of pliers and swirled it around in the sand. You can see in this picture how the mineral is attracted to the magnet. When you looked at a handful of sand through a magnifying glass, you could see a lot of different colors. I put some of the sand in a Ziploc bag so I could see it again at home and show the difference between this sand and the ones we drove across and on the dunes (which I put in my used water bottle!)
Also at this stop, one of the guides found a gecko that was so similar in color to the sand, we were amazed he could find it. I think his coloring, especially on his face, is really attractive. He was a cute little guy!
As we drove, we could sometimes get a glimpse of the top of waves in the distance. As we drove closer, we had our first look at the Atlantic Ocean as it came right onto the desert. The swells were high today. [Our guide wondered how it felt on the ship as we came into the Bay – but we didn’t notice it at all. In fact, none of our things moved around in our cabin like the captain had warned, so there was really no need to have put everything down on the floor as it turned out.]
We continued on to our lunch spot – following each other up and down over the smaller dunes. Along the way (and we saw this a lot during our drive) we saw rather fresh animal tracks. These were jackal tracks. The next day, some of the groups saw jackals, but we only saw their tracks. It was amazing to us that so many animals could actually survive on this barren desert.
While the guides set out lunch in the middle of this desert between high dunes and the water, we explored by climbing up some of them. By this time, we were all barefoot and enjoyed the feel of the sand between our toes. It was not that hard to climb up them and the sand wasn’t so hot it burned our feet. As you can see in this picture, our picnic lunch was between tall dunes and the ocean. It is hard to show the perspective of the massiveness of the sand dunes and how tall they were except by putting the vehicles and people in the picture to give a sense of it all. But here are a couple of pictures to show just how beautiful they were.
Before lunch, we all washed up in this communal “sink.” It was like camping again! But the food was far from “camp food.” We had plates of oysters on the half shell, meatballs (our guide said they were beef, but they didn’t taste like beef we’re used to . . I pretended they were Springbok!), chicken, cheese, etc. In addition to the yummy variety of lunch items, we could also have beer, wine, sparkling wine, soda, etc. The name of the sparkling wine was called Orange River Cellars Brut. It was delicious! And a toast to Karen Deacon who organized this tour. After lunch, Connor went to the top of one of the dunes and enjoyed doing what every kid likes to do . . throw sand! It was a sandbox paradise for both kids and adults! Our guide said his kids loved playing on the dunes as well!
After lunch we hadn’t gone very far when there was a bit of an engine problem. This happened several times throughout the day, and since our guide was the owner of the company, we were always there to try to help fix the problem. At one point, one 4×4 was towing another with a rope just to get up the side of the dune! [I found out later that there were no vehicle problems the next day.]
Because the tides were so high, we were not allowed to drive along the beach at Sandwich Harbor. I took this picture from our guide’s book of what can happen to a vehicle if the tide comes in too quickly. While it would have been fun, we were still able to be on top and get a great view of Sandwich Harbour. And this picture is to show I actually made it there – for many wildlife visitors never get to come. This harbour is one of southern Africa’s richest and unique wetlands, wedged between the sea and the Namib Dunes. Potable water seeping from the underground aquifer sustains the freshwater vegetation at the base of the dunes. This picture was taken from our guide’s book as well and shows more clearly how you could drive on the beach with lower tides.
Connor decided to try to walk down to the water, but found it was steeper than he thought and not as easy as it looked. Here is our guide giving him some encouraging words to help him get back up. It actually took his grandfather to go down after him and push him up from behind. All of us on top were his cheerleaders!
Before we boarded back into our vehicles, we saw on the other side of us this white jeep making its way down a very steep dune. You have to look carefully to see it and even more carefully to see the little black dot to its right up on the ridge – one of the passengers who wanted to get out and walk down. I took this to try to show a better perspective of size here.
We made an unexpected stop to see some dolphin playing in the waves offshore. They too are hard to see. Our guide said that normally they can easily be seen in the water, but today showed just how big the swells were since they looked more like dots in the water. I zoomed in on this to try to show it more clearly.
It was near here that we made another stop. There was a very steep dune and we wondered why some of our groups were getting out and walking down this dune. We learned it was because the vehicles were going to go down them, and some guests preferred to walk. I have a video of going down (our guide/driver held his hand out the window and took it for me) but no picture that would show the height of it. It’s described as the 130 foot tall Roaring Dune. I admit, it was a bit scary – but also a thrill and fun!
We had one more surprise thrill. We were at the top of another steep dune we were going down, but our guide hesitated and said he wanted to show us something. I had my camera all ready to take whatever that was going to be. Suddenly, he put it in reverse and we were going backwards down this really steep dune – what a thrill that was. I did manage to get this picture through the window after we got near the bottom. This shows the vehicle behind us who came down the “normal” way! It really was fun!
This green round balls are nara melons and grow in these prickly bushes. They are 70% water so a great source for small animals. And smaller animals live on the stems of these bushes, so it is a very useful plant in this desert.
The next picture shows part of the Kuiseb River Delta, a dry riverbed. It rains so little and so rarely here that when it does, it floods part of this area that can’t absorb it quickly enough. It was the longest stretch of green we saw the whole day. We are standing on top of this sandy dune and on the other side there is a very steep slope. At the bottom of this were a group of Springbok just lying on the sand.
It took us about 45 minutes to get back to Walvis Bay. When we returned to the lagoon with all the flamingoes, I was able to take this picture of a flamingo just flying in with his feet barely above the water. You can really see the black on his wings here. And then suddenly right in front of our vehicle, this flock of flamingoes flew by! It was a “wow” moment!
While I was sorry for our tour to end, there were still some events back on the ship to attend. For dinner, up on the Lido deck around the pool, there was a Biergaretnfest with German food, beer, and a local German band. Since Walvis Bay has a German influence still, this was the theme for the dinner.
We were docked overnight in Walvis Bay, and that usually means the ship features a recent movie release on the big screen in the Queen’s Lounge. Tonight was Les Miserables, so since I hadn’t seen it yet, I went (Doug chose not to go.) It was a fantastic movie – had nothing to do with this part of the world, but it was still great to see!