Swako and the Skeleton Coast

Swakopmund

Reminiscent of a charming German town in the 1800s, Swakomund hasn’t changed much from its former German settlement self and the architecture reflects this in the form of domes, towers, turrets, oriel windows, embellished gables and ornate bay windows.

We took a short ride around town to get us oriented, ending at the museum entrance.  The museum had something for everyone, a lot of information about the local geology with fabulous specimens of various semi-precious stones, petrified wood, archeological finds, and a very interesting room dedicated mainly to the indigenous peoples of Swakopmund.  It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that it also has a lot of taxidermy and a German perspective on the history of the German people who invaded this land.

The museum is on the water, with a scenic shoreline, a boardwalk out over the rocks and a few shops and cafes.  We wandered through the colourful craft market with lots of beautiful wares and fairly aggressive salesfolk who were not unwilling to barter.  Just beyond the market were some feathery Swakopians, guinea fowl and a spotted pigeon:

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There’s also a waterfront aquarium, the Krystall Gallery of local crystals and gemstones a couple of seafood restaurants on a pier over the Atlantic, The Jetty and The Tug, and other restaurants and craft shops.  It was a relaxing day and a nice break from being on the road before we headed up the coast.

The Skeleton Coast

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Leaving Swakopmund,we head north on C34 along the Skeleton Coast with civilization fading away over our shoulders.  The sea takes on a grey appearance and the sand dunes now seem to threaten.  We are halfway between the forbidden diamond territory to the south and the vacant coastline until Angola to the north.

Under the sea lies half a thousand shipwrecks beneath dangerous currents and a hostile shore.  Some of the ships’ skeletons were found far inland over the dunes.   Says a local ranger, “even if you survived the wreck you were probably doomed. You struggle ashore, overjoyed that you’ve been saved, and then realize that you landed in a desert and probably should have gone down with the ship.”

We stopped at a recent shipwreck – when the Namibians won independence, the South Africans literally abandoned ship and this one broke free in a high wind and drifted to this spot along the coast.  The cormorants now call it home.

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Our destination is Cape Cross, where in the 15th century the Portuguese explorer Diogo Cao landed and, as was his practice, planted a cross at this site for navigational purposes.  The cross that remains is a replica – the original stone cross was taken by the Germans and is housed today in the German Historical Museum in Berlin.   However, Germany has agreed to repatriate the monument to Namibia in n effort to make amends for its colonial past.  The plan was for the German museum’s curator to personally escort the cross in August 2019, but so far it appears that has yet to take place.

Suddenly, after all the desolation, life!

Fur Seal
Status:  Least Concern (but trade in pelts and oil)

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There are 24 fur seal breeding colonies along this coast and we stopped at Cape Cross where there are 80,000 to 100,000 seals.  The fur seal,  actually a species of sea lion, is not named “fur” for nothing.  The seal pups’ thick, soft, jet black fur are prized around the world, and the hunt is as contraversial here as the baby seal hunt in Labrador.  Adult pelts are too coarse but there is also a huge market for seal oil.

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The export of seal pelts dwarfs Namibia’s seal oil business—400,000 of them during the past decade—representing one of the largest trades of any mammal out of Africa. Most go to Turkey, where fashion mogul Hatem Yavuz has them made into “wild fur” coats. According to Seven Network, one of Australia’s main television networks, Yavuz controls 60 percent of the global market in seal products.

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We humans kill the seals for fashion, when their natural impulse is to save human life.  In September, 2011, a great white shark bit a man swimming nearby and his mates made a makeshift tourniquet using a wetsuit and two belts to stop him from bleeding to death.   The shark remained and patrolled dangerously close.  Eye-witnesses confirmed that a fur seal circled the men the whole time as they gradually waded ashore with the victim.  The seal kept the shark at bay and the man’s life was spared.

The fur seals in this colony are so populous –

– that the government culls the colony annually; this year’s cull was last week so the animals were more active and aggressive than usual.

Many had also just had their young so we were able to see the adorable babies.

They’re awfully cute, but they do not smell pretty.

They have many predators on land and in the ocean.  We saw a jackal roaming the outskirts of the colony, and saw lots of jackal tracks in the sand.

We stopped to look at the fields of lichen and watched the reaction when a small amount of water is poured on them.  Initially they looked completely brown and dead; add water, and they jumped to life.  I had read at the Swako museum that there are over 100 varieties of lichens in these fields.  The government has taken some steps to protect them, since most people don’t realize how delicate and alive these plants are.

We stopped to look at the fields of lichen and watched the reaction when a small amount of water is poured on them.  Initially they looked completely brown and dead; add water, and they jumped to life.  I had read at the Swako museum that there are over 100 varieties of lichens in these fields.  The government has taken some steps to protect them, since most people don’t realize how delicate and alive these plants are.

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Some industrious locals were selling salt crystals they had harvested on the beach.  One looked like a beautiful ballet-shoe- pink rose.

 

We had to backtrack a bit along C34 to reach C35, the road that will take us inland to the northeast toward the Twyfelfontein area, where we are staying tonite.  The sun came out and the temperature is heating up again.  The pavement also ran out and we are back to the bumpy, noisy, dusty ride we had in the south.  Tomorrow, though, we will journey back 70,000 years.

Best,

Jan

 

2 thoughts on “Swako and the Skeleton Coast

  1. Lovely photos and the lichen is interesting sometimes it is easy to miss the small but still significant things.

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