Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

We travelled this week up and down the western coast of Namibia. It’s a odd place, and one of the few in the world where the desert (here, the Namib) actually reaches straight to the ocean. There isn’t a border of mountains, or forest, between desert and ocean. As a result, it’s bleak, but also beautiful.

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From our port town of Walvis Bay (where there is a beautiful flamingo colony you can see here) we took a trip into the massive sand dunes that lay right behind the town. The picture here is of Joe and the rest of our friends climbing Dune 7, which is popular to hike (and then run down screaming) but isn’t even the largest one around.

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We also visited Swokpmund, which is a town built by German colonists and Namibia slaves in the early 1900’s. We learned on the ship about the genocide of the Hereo people here, which many historians consider almost the model for the concentration camps and the Holocaust of World War 2. Germans set up camps here, and slave labor, and about 65% of the local population was killed. It’s a history most of us don’t learn, and it’s a major issue here, with local people divided over issues such as reparations. And yet, if you didn’t know this history, you wouldn’t realize it in the town, which is now a cute tourist beach town…

Most of our time here was spent in Skeleton Coast National Park. It’s a very desolate landscape, with lots of wrecks in the sand. But it’s not only shipwrecks, although there are plenty of those. There are also wrecks of failed human attempts to do something in this barren place, such as abandoned diamond mines, and abandoned oil rigs, just rusting into the desert. Quite eerie.

The area is also home to the seal colony at Cape Cross. How to describe the smell of somewhere between 100,000 and 500,000 Cape Fur Seals in a colony? Astringent, harsh, awful… impossible I think. Even with the smell, this was really a highlight for all of us. We were here during the time when the new babies are still drinking milk from mum, and the experience of seeing them up close was just incredible. In Joe’s words: maximum cuteness! Unfortunately, our lodge (the only dwelling for miles around) was a kilometer away. Why unfortunately, you may ask? Well, the smell doesn’t travel that long, but the dead baby seals do. Sometime has gone wrong with the plankton this year, and more of the babies are dying out. They wash up on the beach, and at times there were 10-20 in view of our balcony. Well, they are there until the jackals and hyenas and gulls come to eat them. I realize nature keeps everything in balance, but it was a little difficult to watch…

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We are now at sea for 12 long days. The mood on the ship is a little down, because there is a lot of work for the students, but also because it’s clear now the voyage is ending soon, with only Morocco and a final stop in England coming up. For our family, that simply means transitioning into our “Europe” phase, but we will also really miss the community here. We’ve all made new friends, as a total living immersion will do, and we will miss them!

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