Walvis Bay, Namibia
Before sunrise on April 7 we docked in Walvis Bay, Namibia. A colony of Germany from 1885, what is now Namibia was incorporated into the British Union of South Africa after World War I. Namibia gained independence in 1990 but did not gain dominion over Walvis Bay until 1994. This was because Walvis Bay is the only deep water harbor in this part of Africa; it was once a haven for the whaling industry. Thus its name, which means Whale Bay.
Eastern Namibia is a very dry place, home to the Namib Desert which is one of the driest in the world. We set out today on a 4X4 expedition that would take us through some of this desert area. We met our driver on the pier; ours was one of a number of individual cars apparently recruited from among the locals that would travel together for this expedition. We were lucky in that our driver spoke very good English. It was a very cloudy & gray morning, although the weather greatly improved throughout the day.
Our first stop was at the Walvis Bay Lagoon, home to a large number of flamingos as well as other birds that migrate here on a regular basis. Flamingos are naturally gray & get their pink color from a dye in the tiny shrimp & algae they eat. You may notice that some of these flamingos seem to be off the standard diet. They submerge their heads in the water to eat because their bills are built upside down: the scooping section is on the top. They are quite something to see en masse, but you can better appreciate their graceful lines individually or in small groups.
We drove north along the coast to Swakopmund, a town founded by Germans in the 19th century. It is supposed to be interesting but we just drove through it on our way to the desert.
The area we visited next is called the Valley of the Moon because of its stark and craggy landscape. We stopped on a promontory and walked around.
On this hill were a large number of Singing Rocks. They look like ordinary boulders, but if you strike some of them with a metal object they emit a musical note like a bell. Each rock has its own tone, probably reflecting its size and the amount of iron it contains. Some of our fellow passengers had a hard time tearing themselves away from playing the rocks to look at the rest of the area.
We descended into the dry bed of the Swakopmund river and drove through the valley for a while. The bumpy drive made photography pretty dicey. There were quite a few impressive rock formations we passed on the way. The weird looking lights in the sky are reflections on the car’s window.
We stopped at a spot known as the Lichen Koppie, a little hill with various colored lichens growing on rocks. They were very flat and drab looking but when one of the guides poured a little water on them from a cup they suddenly unfurled into leafy plants. It was quite startling in the suddenness of the transformation. Apparently this is their lifestyle, shrunken and dry most of the time waiting for just a little moisture to really come alive. Below are some before and after pictures.
Nearby were some desert plants, one looking dead (but not we think) and one with tiny flowers on long stalks.
Next they took us to see a most unusual and interesting plant called Welwitschia. It only grows in this part of West Africa and is known to live upwards of 2000 years, even though it looks like its already almost dead. On the way we passed some more interesting rock formations.
The plant is named after a guy named Welwitsch (how else would it get a name like that), its first European discoverer. It has a deep taproot, maybe 10 – 15 feet depending on age, and only two leaves, which get divided into multiple strands by weather. There are male and female plants, each with distinctive reproductive parts growing up from the middle. A small bug (looks like a beetle but isn’t) called the Welwitshia Bug is often found in the plants and some think it is instrumental in fertilization. We were told the plants we visited were more than 500 years old.
As mentioned above in one of the photo captions, many of the mountain ridges are topped by black rocks that we were told were a mineral, perhaps basalt.
We stopped for lunch at a place in the desert called Goanikontes Oasis. Native people inhabited this oasis in the 18th century (Goanikontes is a Nama word meaning “the place where you can remove your fur coat,” although its hard to imagine why anyone would even have a fur coat in this hot environment). In 1848 Europeans first established a farm here. It is still a farm but also a restaurant and a lodging. We ate at picnic tables under the trees, the most memorable item being Kudu lasagna. You may recall that we ate kudu at the safari lodge, but it was better in this form because the ground kudu isn’t as tough. A peacock walked among the tables while we ate.
Pens of animals were near the picnic tables, notably goats and llamas, and the palm trees in the desert landscape were also interesting.
On the way back to town we stopped at a desert viewpoint. Quite a vista with a mountain in the background.
Our last stop was at “Dune 7,” reputedly the largest sand dune in Namibia and one of the tallest in the world. It is also a recreation area with a parking lot and people cooking on grills. Some folks climbed up the more than 1200 feet to the top, then sat down and slid down to the bottom.
You probably will not be surprised to hear that we did not climb up there. But Rick did climb a smaller portion on the side of the dune that some folks were using as a less steep path to the top. Although smaller it was still a challenging climb through sand.
On the ship that night there was a song and dance performance by a group of young Namibians. It was interesting and the performers put a lot into it; it would probably have seemed much better if we had not just seen the South African group (at least in the opinion of Rick, who liked the South African group better than Mary did).
This was a taxing, though very interesting, day out in the heat of the desert, and as we went to bed we were grateful to have two sea days before our next West African port.