Namibia: A Few Small Contretemps…

We have had a few minor setbacks recently. But let’s proceed.

First, happy holidays to everyone at home! We think about you all the time.

We spend Christmas in Etosha National Park. The first few days, we stay at a campground a few kilometres from the park gate. While there, we are lashed by a sudden cyclonic storm that brought down waves of driving rain and gale-force winds.

One of our contretemps

Certainly not what we’re used to recently. Among the casualties: our poor tent now looks like it’s been through the wars, being patched up with duct tape. Also, all of the cables for our electronics were left out and thoroughly waterlogged. Some are damaged beyond repair, like the (one-of-a-kind) charging cable for our laptop. Hence the delay in blog-posting. See you in another life, charging cable.

Anyway, going back a few weeks: we drive up the coast on our way to Skeleton Coast National Park. We go seventy kilometres out of our way to camp in a wilderness campsite run by the Namibian Save the Rhino Trust.

The last few kilometres run along a narrow trail of sharp rocks.

There are no fences.

We take the unusual step of sleeping in the back of the truck. It’s not very comfortable.

On the road to this place, we see a lot of Welwitschia plants. These bizarre plants can be over a thousand years old. They really look prehistoric.

They are also the national plant of Namibia. If you look at the Namibian coat of arms in the previous entry, you’ll see a stylized Weltwitschia plant under the shield.

Sounds like ‘Welsh Witch’ to me

So after backtracking another seventy kilometres to the main road – ‘main road’ being still a generous description – we get a flat tire, no doubt from the sharp rocks of the Save-the-Rhino camp. The tire is ripped to shreds. We can’t figure out how to get the spare out from under the vehicle. Fortunately for us, a South African family pulls over and swiftly changes the tire. The spare is also flattish. Of course, this family has an industrial-strength air compressor. Once again, we are saved by the kindness of strangers.

So we wind up returning to Swakopmund to buy a new tire and get the spare repaired. (It turned out to have a nail in it.) This is not so bad, we get to see the dog Mischa again!

So, we set out again for the Skeleton Coast National Park. Skeletons of ships, that is.

Wreck of the Zeila

According to Shipwreck World:

‘MFV Zeila (L758) was a South African wetfish trawler that was sold as scrap metal to an Indian company by Hangana Fishing of Walvis Bay and got stranded 20km North from Wlotzbaken, Namibia on the 26th August 2008 when it came loose from its towing line while on its way to Bombay, India shortly after it left Walvis Bay.’

We pass Cape Cross, home of the Cape Cross seal colony. There can be up to a hundred thousand seals here.

Just imagine the smell

Because it’s breeding season, there are thousands of cute-as-a-button seal pups around. Unfortunately, there are also hundreds of dead seal pups as well, in varying states of decomposition. We find this so sad that we only stay for a few minutes. See you in another life, seal pups.

Cape Cross is so named because Diogo Cão, a Portuguese explorer, set up some crosses here in the 1480s.

And they’re still here

One of Namibia’s resources is salt. Lots of salt.

Salt of the Earth

Here’s another wreck that’s accessible from the road.

Wreck of the South West Seal

We come across the remains of an old oil rig from the 60s.

Any other contretemps? We had to make a considerable detour to Windhoek to fulfil the requirements of our vehicle rental that it be checked every 10,000 KMs.

All in all, nothing too serious. It’s almost New Year’s Eve – we’ll fill in more intervening activities soon.

Sight or Insight of the Day

Like everyone else, we’ve been getting ready for Christmas Day.

Maria likes the South African method of BBQ-ing, using a combination of charcoal and small bits of exotic African wood. So for Christmas, I thoughtfully gift her a bundle of artisanally-gathered (by me) Mopane twigs.

What every woman wants

In return, Maria’s present to me is a brand-new Hewlett-Packard laptop. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Um, thanks!

Actually, we need it to replace our fancy travelin’-and-blog-writin’ MS Surface laptop, which without a working charging cable – see entry above – is just an expensive doorstop. We have had to replace the oddball MS Surface charging cable 3 times since we’ve had the thing, at a cumulative cost of, well, a new laptop. Curse you, Microsoft.

More Namibia

As mentioned in the last entry, seeing that whale breaching was a real treat.

Whale-watching station

Note the small BBQ to the right. Almost every night, we dine on rib-eyes, T-bones, and fillet steaks, superbly grilled by Maria. Beef is a bargain in this part of the world.

Billboard at Namibian border

So is wine. We’ve been enjoying fine South African wines for half the price we pay in Canada. In fact, prices are very reasonable here (considering the standard of living) compared to east Africa, where prices are appalling (considering the standard of living).

Besides whales, the local waters hold other strange apparitions. We think this is a diamond-mining ship. It’s lit up like a Christmas tree at night.

Mystery ship

We drive around the peninsula to explore other parts.

Including Grosse Bucht, popular with windsurfers. Despite Arctic conditions, Maria insists on going for a dip.

You see a lot of flamingos in Africa. We’ve seen them in Kenya, and Malawi, and several places here in Southern Africa. They like salt marshes.

Escape from the Lawn Ornament Factory

Back in Lüderitz. Some more examples of German influence.




This is the main feature of Namibian tourist brochures and posters – mountainous red sand dunes, blue sky, and not much else.

Destination Sossusvlei

This is a Mecca for lovers of deserts. (Guilty as charged.)

Parking space is not a problem

The red sand gives everything a vaguely Martian look

Some of these dunes are hundreds of metres high.

Maria in front of the aptly-named ‘Deadvlei’

This is all part of the Germany-sized Namib Naukluft Park.

We trudge back from the half-hour trek to Deadvlei.

The Only Living Boy in Naukluft

Our camping location is in nearby Sesriem. There are jackals in the night and oryxes browsing outside the dishwashing area during the day.

Oryxes are found throughout Namibia. Their name comes from the ancient Greek word for ‘pick-axe’.

Also called ‘Gemsbok’ in South Africa

They feature prominently on the Namibian coat of arms.

‘Two Oryx Proper’, in heraldic terms

Then it’s through more desert on the way to the coast.

We finally reach the coast at Walvis Bay. Walvis Bay itself doesn’t look too appealing, so we carry on up the coast to Swakopmund.

The road between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund reminds us of the United Arab Emirates.

Lots of ship traffic at Walvis Bay. It’s Namibia’s main port.

Swakopmond, like Lüderitz, has lots of German-era buildings.

All that’s missing is men in lederhosen and women in dirndls.

We have a good time in Swakopmund. It’s pretty cosmopolitan, compared to Lüderitz. Less remote-feeling. The best restaurant in town is The Tug. We eat there twice. The town has great bookshops.


A few strange memorials in the middle of town. One is for fallen German soldiers of both World Wars. Even though South West Africa was administered by British ally South Africa for all of one conflict and three quarters of the other.

War Memorial

Close by is one even stranger, the Marine Memorial. It’s a memorial to the – relatively few – German soldiers who died in the Herero War of 1904-1907, commonly recognized as the first genocide of the twentieth century. (I always assume that everyone is familiar with this event, but whenever I mention it, I get blank stares. I find this surprising, especially in these days when everyone claims to be an expert in Colonial oppression.)

Sight or Insight of the Day

In Swakopmund, we stay at the Desert Sky Backpackers. It’s clean, comfortable, and well located.

The best thing is the owner’s dog, Mischa. She’s the friendliest dog ever, and soon latches onto us as a pair of attention-lavishing suckers.

Good dog, Mischa!

She follows us around the property. We kind of adopt her, taking her for walks along the beach.

Walkin’ the Dog

Namibia Revisited

That is, we have been here before. We can’t remember which year. Maria thinks it was 2011.

Namibian – South African border

We camp most of the time. Campsites in Southern Africa wouldn’t strike, say, northern Europeans as particularly luxurious. But the humblest campsite here is like staying at the Waldorf Astoria compared to the campsites we’ve been to in East Africa.

Camping is basically a middle-class activity. And in most of Africa, there is no middle class. There are a few rich people – usually politicians – and most everyone else is poor. (Interestingly, the Indian community in East Africa seem to make up the middle class.)

Sheer luxury in Springbok, SA

In Southern Africa, there has always been a middle class for whom ‘the holidays’ meant loading the family into a caravan and staying at the hundreds (thousands?) of campgrounds in South Africa and the surrounding countries. And the tradition continues.

We spend the night camping at the Ai-Ais Hot Springs Resort.

The campsite is infested with baboons. We add a slingshot to our panoply of anti-primate weapons.

‘Then he chose five smooth stones. His sling was in his hand, and he approached the Philistine.’ – 1 Samuel 17:40

There’s something about this country that we can’t get enough of. Our love of deserts is well-known. The wide open spaces, the lack of people, the surviving intact infrastructure (thanks to 55 years of South African administration).

On the Road Again

Next stop: the Fish River Canyon. It’s supposed to be the world’s second largest (after the grand canyon).

Fish River Canyon

It’s a four to five day hike. According to wikipedia:

‘Due to flooding and extremely hot summer temperatures reaching 48 °C during the day and 30 °C at night, permits are only issued between 1 May and 15 September.’

So we won’t be hiking it this trip.


Our next destination is Lüderitz. Along the way, we stop at the slightly-off-the-track remains of Fort Naiams, an old fortress from the short-lived German era.

Apparently it used to look like this.

There are a couple of servicemen buried on the site.

A long way from the nearest bierstube

At the picturesque hamlet of Aus, we visit another final resting place. It’s a Commonwealth War Grave. It’s unusual, because there are both British (South African) and German soldiers buried here. (Aus was the site of a POW camp in WWI.)

Death Don’t Have No Mercy…

Between Aus and Lüderitz, we pass through surreal desert landscape.

There are wild horses here

We arrive in Lüderitz. The town has many examples of stolid Teutonic architecture of the early 20th century.

The Woermann Line was once the main link between Germany and its African colonies.

Strange to see buildings like this surrounded by sand and palm trees.

The old train station

Our accommodation is in the old wheelhouse of a fishing vessel.

Shipshape quarters

Nearby is the ghost town of Kolmanskop.

Large parts of coastal Namibia have been strictly off limits for more than a century. The map describes these areas as the ‘sperrgebeit‘, that is, ‘forbidden zone’. Apparently because of the diamond industry. In the old days, you could pick up diamonds off the ground. Then different mining techniques were used. Now they have underwater diamond mining. Unspecified threats, both legal and physical, are hinted at to trespassers.

It’s all very mysterious.


Like ghost towns everywhere, it’s kind of spooky.

It doesn’t take long for the desert to reclaim its space.

Shouldn’t have left the window open

Sight or Insight of the Day

On a day trip, we visit Diaz Point, 20 kilometres from Lüderitz. Bartholomew Diaz sailed by here in his Africa-rounding expedition of 1487.

Lighthouse at Diaz Point

It’s a desolate, wind-scoured place. There’s a lighthouse (that doesn’t work), what looks like a weather station (that doesn’t work), and a couple of houses (that look abandoned.)

There is a pleasant coffee shop and a campsite that offers ‘sheltered accommodation’.

Windbreaks for campers

Maria loves the place and insists we camp here overnight. Even though there are hefty (and colourful) scorpions around.

So we do. By the evening, we are the only people on the peninsula

Later that evening…

We are looking out over the whitecap-lashed Atlantic when we both exclaim ‘Did you see that?’ A humpback whale leaps out of the water about a hundred metres away. And repeats this performance again and again, as if for our benefit, ten or fifteen times.

(The photo is not ours, it’s by Todd Cravens and was copied from the Unsplash copyright-free photo site.)

Breaching humpback whale – pretty much exactly as illustrated

We can honestly say this is one of the most amazing things to ever befall us, completely by chance. What are the odds that this whale would do his breaching right in our (relatively narrow) field of vision? Divine providence? Or just plain dumb luck?

The Fairest Cape…

At least that’s what Sir Francis Drake called the Cape of Good Hope in 1580.

In his journal, he opines that the Cape of Good Hope “is a most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth“. He said this at a time when the number of people who had actually travelled the circumference of the earth could probably fill a couple of city buses.

It’s one of our favourite cities. The physical location is so distinctive, its skyline is unmistakable.

Panoramic shot of Cape Town

There was an interesting article in The Economist a few months ago about South Africans leaving Jo-burg for Cape Town. Easy to see why.

Here’s another view.

View from atop Table Mountain

In the distance you can see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela cooled his heels for 18 years.

To get here from Blantyre in Malawi, we fly to Cape Town via Johannesburg. Finding ourselves once again in Johannesburg airport is a bit traumatic: this was the scene of our frenzied Fall-of-Saigon departure back to Canada at the onset of COVID in 2021.

But it’s great to be in South Africa, especially Cape Town, after spending a couple of months in East Africa, we undergo the same culture shock we happily underwent going from Egypt to Cyprus. (Was that really only in January of this year?)

We only spend three days in Cape Town, mostly taking care of business. Then it’s up the west coast.

Maria really likes the flora along the way. This is a biome unique to coastal South Africa known as ‘fynbos‘.

We are constantly amazed at the first-worldness of South African infrastructure, despite the inevitable Zimbabwification of the country. Especially if the Economic Freedom Fighters party – with its Mugabe-esque appropriation plans – ever gets into power.

Not a pothole in sight

We stay in beach towns along the way wherever possible.

The wild Atlantic

Lots of commercial activity going on. Vast wheat farms.

Freight trains on their way to transport copper ore from the north.

Where’s the copper ore?

South Africans are serious about their biltong (‘jerky’ to North Americans.) I love the stuff. Maria hates it.

That’s a lot of meat

There are healthier products around. We’re not sure what this crop is, but it’s very green.

We’re ecstatic about heading to Namibia again. It appeals to our love of deserts.

This is my, let’s see, 1982, 1987, four visits together with Maria -my seventh visit to South Africa. My fifth with Maria. And we have never been up this coast before.

The open road beckons

Sight or Insight of the Day

We find a really good deal on a rental vehicle. It has plenty of storage for our camping equipment.

It’s going to be our mobile home for the next few months.

Hey Stu! Get a load of this bad boy.

We name him ‘Dassie’, after the sure-footed rock hyrax.