The dry lands of Namibia were inhabited since early times by Bushmen and since the 14th century by immigrating Bantu. A German Imperial protectorate in 1884, it remained a German colony until the end of World War I. In 1920, the League of Nations mandated Namibia to South Africa, which imposed its laws and apartheid policy. In 1966 uprisings and demands by African leaders led the UN to assume direct responsibility over the territory. South West Africa People’s Organization was recognized as the official representative of the Namibian people in 1973. Namibia, however, remained under South African administration. With the exception of Walvis Bay — a harbor town that remained under South African control until 1994 — Namibia obtained full independence from South Africa following the Namibian War of Independence in 1990.
Namibia is 318,696mi² (20% larger than Texas) with a population of 2.1 million, making it the second least densely populated country in the world, after Mongolia. Its capital and largest city is Windhoek. Approximately half the population lives below the international poverty line. About 80% are Christian and in 1990 English became the official language.
Jim and I walked our port of Walvis Bay and found a clean, quiet, simple 1950s ‘Midwest’ town complete with Woolworth. An hour could cover it with time to spare. Fishing, salt mining and tourism appear to support the economy. There is a huge library that seems to house more books than there are people.
Namib and Kalahari Deserts make up a vast expanse of Namibia. Its Coastal Desert is one of the oldest deserts in the world and its sand dunes some of the highest. These dunes are our first destination. Casper, a solidly built South African Boer if I ever saw one, picked us up at the ship in his even more durably built 4×4 Land Rover. We will need all this solid and durable reliability later.
On the road to Sandwich Harbour is a lagoon filled with thousands of Greater and Lesser flamingoes. There are over 40,000 of these happy birds feeding on the algae. In fact, the more they eat pink algae and pink bacteria the pinker they turn as they mature. (I am shocked to learn that is how Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo deceives us little kids into believing in deep pink flamingoes.)
Along the lagoon and coastal waters are thousands of plovers (6-7 species) ducks, cormorants, gulls, sandpipers, white pelicans and oystercatchers. Namibia recognizes its good weather and geographic position as a unique opportunity to capitalize on tourism. They will soon protect the entire 982 miles of coastline, as are much of their interior desert regions. It is a smart and honorable move to protect a beautiful and ecologically interesting region for generations to come.
Walvis Bay’s industry includes not only a huge port and dry dock, but also large saltpans for the mining and shipping of salt to South Africa. These saltpans lay just across a narrow road from the lagoon and all the birds obviously know the life or death difference.
Tides are out as we drive between the dunes and the Atlantic toward Kuiseb River Delta and huge salt-water lagoons. We learn about the garnet and black sands, and the cycle of these huge shifting sands over thousands of years. Winds build the dunes to heights of 200-300 feet in the winter then the summer tides wash at their base until they collapse creating sharp cliffs. Then the winds begin its work again. We challenge dunes 250′ high, our solid Land Rover with under-inflated tires reaching the top for fantastic views of the lagoon and ocean.
Along the beach, we dine on champagne, fresh oysters and seafood while we watched dolphins frolic just a few feet away. It is an idyllic spot and I am very glad Namibia has the sense to protect it. We are fortunate to see Springbucks feeding, a distant ostrich and even signs of the many jackals that inhabit the dunes. We are told the bones are human, uncovered by the sands. In fact, trees, buildings and all stationary things will be eventually covered or laid bare by the cycle of the dunes’ shifting sands. The sculpture and flow of the dunes are themselves works of art.
The best comes after our champagne. The drive rapidly turns exhilarating as we climb into the dunes, reach the top then drop at a 40+ degree angle down the opposite side. We are on the ultimate coaster ride as we plummet down what looks, from our perspective, like straight down and then roar up the other side of the dunes. I am sure Casper is used to the screams. It is great fun as long as you remember Casper loves his Rover and there were no noticeable dents when we boarded. The engine is shut down so we may listen to the Roaring Dunes, sand sliding and shifting below the weight of our tires. A small sandslide flows like a thin sheet of water before us as we slide down the dune.
Our powerful Land Rover careens over the dunes, crests the next ridge to plunge into the lee and pop up on the other side. But we must transverse the road back before the tides overrun it. None of us want to sleep in the dunes and miss our morning adventure.
It is 8 Dec. and we celebrate Judy’s birthday with more thrills – kayaking the bay around Pelican Point. Craig met us and drove past the lagoon with its dancy flamingoes (they kick up brine shrimp on the bottom). Not only do the birds execute a cute circular polka, but when flying they resemble a long thin pencil with wings. An altogether interesting bird. Today we also see jackals lazing along the road and a small pack hunting the lagoon. There are many seals and many dead young so the hunting is easy and good.
We are headed to the fur seal colonies at Pelican Point. This peninsula of sand is growing north at about 300′ a year! On it are several colonies of fur seals. It is estimated there are over 300,000 along the coast of Namibia, a number Casper, a fisherman by trade, would like to cull. At the point is a 1916 lighthouse soon-to-be restaurant and thousands of fur seals with their new babies. How the constant complaints and strong smell will coordinate with the fine dining nearby is anyone’s guess.
We board kayaks and paddle up and down the coast amid the frolicking and loudly protesting seals. They all seem to be complaining about us. Out and about are a few flamingoes, a couple of tail-slapping dolphins, and a jellyfish; the waters are shallow and smooth.
Fur seals lead quite a different life from my local elephant seals. The fur seal mother feeds and cares for her young for 11 months. The baby, from birth, knows how to swim and learns to float around 3 months when it has built up a nice layer of blubber for buoyancy. It seems unafraid of life or water as mother daily feeds at sea. Babies are cute and adventurous, while dad is the typical one-ton aggressor protecting his harem of ladies.
We enjoy the peaceful time floating the bay in spite of the constant seal conversation on shore. I wonder what they are saying about us? Ironically, the discussion quiets down once we leave the water and have our picnic on the beach. Maybe they were making fun of these silly animals so clumsily bobbing on the water.