Brrrr…. October 25, 2006Posted by isabelleinnamibia in Namibia, Out of the city, Raaah!.
As my alarm bleeped me into consciousness, I gingerly poked a sock-wrapped foot from underneath my thick duvet and woollen blanket, and quickly withdrew it back to the warmth. I peeked under the curtain to see grey skies, chilling winds whipping leaves across the courtyard, and what I feared most,…drizzle. Yep, that gruesome form of precipitation which completes a London winter (and
Edinburgh summer!), and drains any optimism, hope or happiness from the soul of anyone subjected to it. What is this? Am I dreaming? Am I back in
England? Nope, I was at Henties Bay, along the Skeleton Coast of Namibia.
I was warned it would be cold, ‘take a jumper, maybe a scarf just in case’, I was told. Since I can never pack lightly, I also packed proper shoes, socks, and a jacket ‘just in case’. It wasn’t enough. For the 4 days that I was at the coast, I wore every item of clothing I had with me, day and night. And yes, it was that cold. About 10-15 degrees.
Tuesday morning, I left Windhoek in a tank top and flipflops, commenting how you can really feel it heating up as we hit summer. We had 463km to cover to Henties Bay, for the UNDP GEF Stakeholders Workshop, mostly across desert, and descending from an altitude of 1700m to sea level. And the scenery of the journey fulfilled my expectations. The familiar dappled and sandy mountains of Windhoek fell behind as more dramatic rock shapes grew out of the ever more sandy scenery. The scenery here can change significantly in a matter of minutes, from green to yellow, rock peaks to endless flatness. And it sure is hot in the desert; even the guys from up north who has also hitched a lift with the UNDP commented on it (and the fragrance inside the combi sure reflected it – yuk).But as we dropped the last hill to the coastal town of Swakopmund, we also slid under a blanket of cloud that stretched miles out to sea, and weren’t to see the sun for days. We stopped briefly in Swakop. Keen to stretch my legs, I hopped out in my vest and flippies, yelped and bounced back in the van, savouring the desert heat.
Swakop is a weird little place. The biggest town on the coast and the holiday destination for many Afrikaaners and wealthier Namibians (mostly white), it is literally trapped between the beautiful sand dunes of the Namib desert, and the gravel plains of the Skeleton Coast. The roads are made of salt, the architecture is proudly German Colonialist and it has crap weather. There are regular black people here, but they are hidden at the back of the town, out of the tourists’ vision, in informal housing, known across Namibia simply as ‘Location’.
From here, we headed north, leaving the stunning dunes behind, and ventured in bleakness, only comparable to the moon. It was brown and grey and empty. Oh, and cold. You see, the desert here rides all the way up to the ocean in
Namibia, but when confronted by the Benguela current sweeping up from the Antarctic, there is a climatic argument, creating a cold but humid strip of cloud just along the coast. And the most gutting thing is that if you look inland, about 6km away you can see the end of the cloud, and the sun shining warmly like the way it should in a desert. Cheeky git! And to top it off, there were waves. Not quite perfect, but entirely surfable waves and not a soul out there. On arrival at our hotel, I went searching for a board and wetsuit to hire. I met faces of incomprehension and bafflement. No one here uses the sea apparently, it’s too cold. ‘Er, so is Scotland, which has a massive watersports scene. Try wearing a wetsuit’, I suggest. Sadly that was beyond the locals, and needless to say, I was also taunted by 4 days of killer swell and great waves just steps from my hotel room. But I did see a seal fight a dog, which was certainly a highlight in this cold, dusty armpit of the desert.