African shoestrings – Namibia Day Seventy One – Swakopmund
Everybody (that is mainly the white population) was friendly and seemed to have either German or Afrikaans accents. Wilma our landlady, a white Namibian of German heritage was a third generation Namibian, But she had been brought up to speak German in school and at home and spoke English with a strong German accent.
Despite our immediate liking for Swako our second day turned out to be quite expensive. We had to send a fax relating to our house to Australia which cost the princely sum of N$31.50. Sue was still not feeling quite right so a trip to the doctor cost N$100 who immediately ordered a blood test (another N$36). Fortunately the blood test cleared Sue of Malaria, which was our main concern. But it didn’t answer the question as to why she was still feeling disorientated. The doc put it down to the Lariam that we were taking. It’s a strong anti malarial drug with a bad reputation for side effects such as disorientation, hallucinations, anxiety and nightmares. The last time we had taken it we had both experienced the latter two but this time I hadn’t experienced any side effects and up until Sue had been sick nor had she.
We had been quiet happy just to laze around Swako for the couple of days that we were there but as always curiosity got the better of us. Swako is at the edge of the Namib Desert, so we had almost done a full circle on our tour of Namibia. This part of the desert holds a few surprises or so we were led to believe by the Lonely Planet and the Swako tourist office. That was enough for us and we were off having a look. In fact it was more of a ‘so what’ tour rather than a scintillating safari into the desert. I say ‘so what’ because unless you’re a botanist or a historian most of the items on the signposted Welwitschia drive mean very little. The Swako tourist office gave us a handout called “The Welwitschia Plains-a scenic drive” with thirteen numbered stone beacons to watch out for. Each of these beacons are positioned at places of interest along the drive. The first stop was at little cluster of lichen; the next was at a couple of bushes called the Dollar and the Ink. So far we’re yawning and wishing that we had stayed in bed.
Oxwagon tracks remarkably preserved from decades ago and just as remarkably almost impossible to see were next and followed by something much more interesting, the Swakop valley moonscape. This dark brown and wheat coloured pitted and crated landscape was formed by 1000’s of years of erosion and is very much reminiscent of the moon’s landscape. Not that I’ve been there of course but those who know this sort of things say it is.
Our interest began to wane again, as more lichen was sign posted. Apparently the lichen of the Namib Desert is the most extensive in the world. I suppose a botanist would find that fascinating but we’re still stifling those yawns. Our interest was rekindled by a much bigger expanse of moonscape. Created this time by a non-existent river cutting it’s way through softer material. Even my imagination was finding it hard to imagine any river flowing through this dry and inhospitable landscape.
A heap of junk left behind by the South African army in 1915 was considered notable enough to be the next point of interest. Somehow I cannot see how even 85 year old broken bottles and rusting cans are a great tourist attraction!
The next two beacons are not even worth us getting out of the car. A couple of ridges of Dolerite (what’s that I hear you say, forget it, it’s in the dictionary) were somewhere around.
Then we had a small patch of vegetation dressed up as picnic spot. Apparently the river that I had trouble picturing earlier actually runs deep underground and in some spots is high enough for some trees and bushes to tap into.
Speaking of vegetation, the Welwitschia drive is named after a unique ‘tree’ that has also been described as a living fossil. The next and penultimate stops are for these strange looking ‘trees’. They are apparently dwarf trees and are related to pine trees but you would never know that by looking at them. They look like straggly low lying semi tropical palms that have had a bad day. In fact if you saw one anywhere else you wouldn’t even stop to have a second glance. The point of interest is however that they somehow thrive in this hostile environment and are totally unique to the Namib Desert and get this; live for up to 1500 years.
Our last stop on this spell binding drive was a let down after the Welwitschia. An abandoned iron ore mine from the 1950’s is really nothing but a hole in the ground.
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