African shoestrings – Namibia Day Fifty three – Luderitz

Diamonds were discovered around Luderitz relatively late in 1908. The Orange River and some of the islands off the coast had yielded some good results from around 1866. A chance discovery by a railway worker sparked off a ‘diamond rush’ and the establishment of Kolmanskop.
In its heyday it supported a wealthy, mainly German, population of 300 with a hospital, school, bowling alley, theatre and casino. Its only problem had been water that had to be carted from Cape Town. In 1956 the mines were closed and workers were shifted to Oranjemund 200 kilometres south. The town was abandoned and since then has battled to stay afloat in a sea of sand.

Some of these old buildings had been partly swallowed by the sand dunes, whilst others still stood proudly above the sand.
Wondering around, a black and white picture formed in my mind of well dressed people going about their business, men tipping their hats to the ladies, horse drawn carriages or model T fords honking as they passed by friends, butchers, bakers and barbers.

This image was only partly reinforced by our return later that morning to do the guided tour. What was also reinforced was why the sand had been so successful in claiming some of the town. The wind was painful! Millions of tiny particles of sand stung any bare skin and got into our eyes, ears, and anywhere else there was an opening. The picture I now had was of windblown deserted streets as the town’s residents all stayed inside waiting for these almost daily mini sandstorms to ease.

The journey back to Keetmanshoop on the bus would have been fairly uneventful had we not spotted the worlds only desert horses, some distance from the highway. These horses somehow survive in this harsh environment without aid except for their only source of water, a man made water hole, installed especially for them. They are feral and what’s even weirder is that nobody knows for sure where they came from originally. There are plenty of theories of shipwrecked, or abandoned German cavalry horses.
I liked the theory that they were once stud horses from the stock of a Baron who lived in a castle nearby. The thought of a European aristocrat living in this harsh environment and pretending that he was still in lush green Bavaria or wherever is just so typical of European colonisation.

The bus arrived in Keetmanshoop one hour late, which by African time is actually the equivalent of two hours early! Fortunately that really didn’t impact on us as we still had a two hour plus wait for the overnight train to Windhoek. The train itself left an hour late thanks to a bureaucratic conductor insisting that he checked all tickets at snail like speed as passengers boarded. Had one of his colleagues not intervened and presumably told him in Bantu that he was a stupid prick and to go and do something more useful like tie himself to the rail tracks in front, we would probably still be waiting to board the train.

We had traveled by train in Africa some 4 years before so we sort of knew what to expect. What we had not experienced on these other journeys but had been told about was the videos. A small TV screen sits above the doorway adjoining the next carriage and blasts out the latest movie at decibel level that makes most rock concerts seem quiet. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if the movie had been half-decent! This was California Man known as Encino Man in Australia and some other parts of the world. It was absolute crap!

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The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz

The ruins of the ghost town of Kolmanskop in the Namib desert in southern Namibia, a few kilometres inland from the port town of Lüderitz

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