|The first southwestern Africans were the San people. Living in nomadic tribes, they followed migratory animal herds. The Khoi-Khoi people from the inland region, raised animals on semi-permanent farms. They eventually blended with the San communities, and the loosely defined territories came to be a single kingdom. Thus, the ancestral Khoisan hybird emerged - their descendents still live in namibia, although the ancient farming methods were long ago forgotten.
Africa was always a place of migration and shifting power spheres. The Khoisan culture was deeply affected by several of these, most powerfully some 2000 years ago, when Bantu migrants invaded their lands. Namibia is a stunning place. Dramatic sand dunes tumble across much of the country and the nation's central game park, focusing on the Great Etosha Pan [south of Walvis Bay], is home to a varied array of wildlife. Indigenoius species are surprisingly diverse, and include Bok and other darting antelopes, zebra and the most famous residents of the 'pan' lumbering elephants. The animals survive on water from the few springs that sourround the park perimeter. Most of the basin is empty desert, but occasionally, a rainstorm slips into the valley, and when it does, an incredible array of hidden plant and animal life springs to renewed life. The phenomenon has no earthly parallel, and is the focus of continual scientific investigation.
On March 21 1990, after 106 years of foreign rule, Dr Sam Nujoma was the first president of independent Namibia. Afternoon heat can be exteme with drastic temperature shifts.
We arrived in the port of Walvis Bay at about 4am and commenced our visit by 6 am. We were transported in a Mitsubishi Pergio four track vehicle in convoy for safety reasons. Our guide was called Leonie and before entering the desert we visited Walvis Bay, which is a pretty small, but busy industrial port. Most of the 50000 residents work in the port area, but there is also a sizeable fishing fleet and a local operation extracts salt from seawater. Local history is the focus at the small Civic Centre museum, and the wooden Rhenish Mission Church was built in 1880.
The lagoon south of town is habitat for a large population of flamingos, pelicans, and other marine birds. The town is orderly, with streets numbered from the harbour [1st street is nearest the port], while intersecting roads are perpendicular to the seafront [1st road is southernmost]. Sam Nujoma [7th] Street features the largest shopping centre. Our next stop was Swakopmund, just 20 miles north of Walvis Bay. This is an attractive German colonial relic. Prior to WW1 Swakopmund was a main transshipment point for Windhoek, capital of German South West Africa. Never a very functional harbour, it is too shallow to accommodate most commercial ships. Some import and export goods still pass through town, but Walvis Bay is the main port. Swakopmund is also centre of the popular Namib coastal resort. There are plenty of pleasant secluded beaches in and around town. Depending on wind conditions, air temperatures can range from hot to outright cold, but the water is always cool. Currents flowing northward from the Antarctic [Southern] Ocean are responsible. On favourable days, area beaches fill, but there is never a real "crowd". Rossing Mine is the largest open uranium mine in the world, but we were not allowed to tour the mine for safety reasons.
Before entering the desert I confess I thought I would have little to write about in my journal. This could not have been further from the truth. The Namid desert is the oldest desert in the world and the only one which supports living animals and vegetation. The area is a dramatic mixture of dolorite rocks, dried river beds, mountains and lunar landscape. Its red sand Dunes are over 30 million years old and the red colour is caused by the oxydation of magnetite.
At first glance there appeared to be little life, until our guide shared with us her local knowledge. During our journey we saw a variety of vegetation clinging on to life in a brutal climate [69 degrees celsius] This included the Camel Thorn tree. We saw one tree 650 years old and its root system was nine times as long as the tree was tall. We passed by rocks which appeared to be covered in a brown metallic stain. This turned out to be lichen. When sprayed with water small beautiful green leaves emerged. When local animals become ill they lick the lichen because of its antibiotic qualities. The Dollar plant has small round leaves the size of a fifty pence piece which are covered in wax to protect it from the sun. In times of severe drought local Springbok chew the leaves and drink the water inside [then spit out the leaf]. We travelled far into the desert to see two very rare plants [male and female] called the Welwitschia. These were two and a half thousand years old and the subject of intense interest by botanists around the world. The odd patch of white Eidelweiss could also be seen throughout our journey.
As a result of the government damming the rivers, water in the desert had become even more scarce. In consequence lions and elephant have moved on to the northern territory. Sidewinder snakes lurked menacingly under the sand whilst the odd Springbok and Klipspring ran from hill to hill. The government have also given approval for the extension of mining rights and this will probably mean that animal and plant life will be affected and tourists will be banned from the area.
Sand from other parts of Africa is transported into the sea by local rivers. The sand is then carried North by the famous Vanguala current and deposited on the beach in Namibia where it is blown inland to form the most wonderful sand dunes over 100 feet high.
The beaches further north are littered with ship wrecks and this gives rise to the name 'The Skeleton Coast'. We ate lunch under palm trees at Goanikontes Oasis.
The day was long, tiring and absolutely unforgettable.
We returned to the ship mid afternoon and set sail for Grand Canaria.