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Day Eighteen – The Skeleton Coast and ‘Ra’ is a word

10th October 2011

sunny 32 °C

Last nights’ fish was Kabeljou (cod) we eventually discovered as Manuel was relieved from duty by someone who bore no resemblance to Basil Fawlty whatsoever.

Today was Skeleton Coast day. The barren desert stretching from The Swakop River in the South to the Kunene River in the North. The Benguela current rips up the Atlantic Ocean bringing rich pickings for the sea life to feast upon. The sun bears down on everything out with the ocean, as the wind incessantly whips across the dust removing all moisture from the earth. Its barren, occasional patches of lichen survive with tufts of only the hardiest grass and an occasional Welwitschia plant (believed to live up to 1000 years!) The salt pans are the reason anyone lives here and we did our bit by purchasing a large lump of crystalised pure rock salt from an honesty stall at the side of the road. (Imagine the advert: This isn’t just salt, this is finest Namibian Rock Salt hand crafted by the hands of the indigene on the Skeleton Coast in South Western Africa and it tastes like no other salt, oh hang on, yeah it does taste salty...)

This coastline has become the graveyard of many things, but shipwrecks in particular were to be my focus. Somers and Em were still to be convinced but we had time. Over the past three centuries a job lot of ships and their ill fated crews have come to an end on the shallow and rocky shores of the Skeleton Coast, the chances of survival, with no fresh water for hundreds of kilometres and very little to eat were minimal. Many of the wrecks have disintegrated back to the earth, others are buried in the dunes and others are rusting hunks of brittle iron submerged by the tide twice daily.

The first of these wrecks was that of an Angolan fishing boat. It was already scrap metal in 2008 as it was being towed back from Walvis Bay in Namibia to Angola. The tow rope snapped and the boat washed ashore. The Angolans still want it back but the Namibians aren’t soft and are convinced the white man will come to look at wrecks and bring with him the dollar. As I took photos I wondered what kind of tourist comes to look at ship wrecks. The second was a ship called Winston, wrecked in 1970 and there wasn’t too much left, you could make out his shape, some large cogs and docking points and a whole world of rust. The third and sadly final wreck was entitled ‘Unkown wreck to the north of Winston.’ If you can imagine a large rusted iron box with holes in it, stranded on the shores edge with baking hot sun shining down then close your eyes and you could be there too. (I think she’s mostly under the sand so we were only getting the top deck.) Dead seals littered the coast line, their skins preserved in the sun and sand with only bright white teeth left looking healthier than they had been in life.

From here we turned in land. Across the salt pans and finally toward the rocky hills of the Ugab River valley. The grass started to appear after 20kms or so and the road turned into a 4x4 track winding through steep sided rocky hills. The hills themselves appeared like crystalised sedimentary rock turned almost on end. The lines formed by the different layers running uip the hills were extraordinary.
The road continued and our doubts regarding our route increased until we rounded a corner and entered a clearing flanked on all sides by these sedimentary mountains. There were only two vehicles camping at the Ugab Rhino Conservation hut and we were first there. It was a truly remarkable location. I climbed up the hill that our camp spot backed onto for a view of our clearing. Three valleys led into the one area, but there was only one way in and out. Spectacular.

We had our inaugural game of travel scrabble. The rules meant that the word had to be in our travel dictionary, this turned out to be a complete pain in the a?$e as our dictionary only has about fifteen and a half words in it. Emma won by a short head, Laura was second and I came last. Although I’m not at all bitter or annoyed, and definitely not still reeling from defeat, I’m buying a full Oxford Complete English Dictionary the next chance I get, we’ll strap it to the roof.

Posted by ibeamish 09:14 Archived in Namibia

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