Wednesday, 10 June 2015

May 15: Across a vast expanse of desert

Today was a road day, so we were up early in the cold. Breakfast was eaten outside in the 7° sunrise, explaining once again why we brought down jackets. On the way out, we saw a zebra herd (including a baby!) and some kudu on what was to turn out to be a great animal day.

Mountain Zebra, including a baby 
Interested kudu
The day started with spectacular views…

It almost looks green
…and then the road twisted through the mountains for a while.

Into a canyon 
Through rugged dry mountains 
Emerging onto the plateau
We landed at a “town” of 4 buildings truly in the middle of nothing that happened to have a spectacular (and successful) bakery.

The exciting megalopolis of Solitare 
Lawn decorations 
Tractus in the cactus. Or tractors in the cactors. 
Baked goods. Awesome baked goods.
They also had a resident ground squirrel population, which just like ours are dead on the road occasionally. Well adapted for the desert, they have bigger tails than ours because they literally use them to shade themselves when they sit in the sun.

Begging, cheeky buggers. Just like home.
After that it was more barren desert for a while…

And this is a main highway 
…then we stopped to take a guided tour into the desert with a Damarra bushman, who was born and raised as a desert nomad, and learned his bush trade from his great grandfather. He explained to us how rain in the desert is actually bad for the creatures that live there that are adapted to the dry conditions so much that too much water kills them. He showed us how big rains in 2013 had resulted in significant grass growth that turned his dunes from just sand to grassy knolls, and now that the grass was dying off, the dunes were returning to “normal”.

A grassy dune 
The mountains form the eastern limit of the sand desert 
A sandy dune returning to sand 
This was all sand in 2011
The space they use was farmland for a while, selling Persian wool, which is the wool from the pelts of 8-hour old lambs. But the farm didn’t support many sheep, and then the animal rights groups basically killed the Persian wool trade, so the farm was abandoned, and now it is returning to the land as he knew it. The area now has a lot of wildlife including oryx and zebra, and he explained how oryx (a dietary mainstay of the Damarra people) hide in the shade in the afternoons, while zebra move to high ground to stand in the wind.

A carefree oryx 
The herd wanders 
Leaving us behind 
Hiding in the shade 
Zebras on the ridge

He showed us the "small" of the desert, too, finding a trapdoor spider.

The door open, the spider just visible
He talked about how the Damara people hunted, about desert poisons, about how they move around in a bush loaded with things that could kill you, about how their culture was nomadic and if you couldn’t move with the group, you were left behind to die. He explained that if you killed an oryx, you had to cut the tail off to take back to the rest of your tribe to convince them you had killed an animal, then the tribe would go where the animal was killed, quickly so that the vultures didn’t get the kill. He explained how water was obtained and kept in the life cycle of animal to animal. He even told about what happened when European settlers arrived and how the native people (including the Damara, the Himba and San) reacted to their culture and lifestyle being changed. It was a fascinating 90-minute look into the life of a people as well adapted to desert life as everything else in the desert.

By the way, if you’re looking to find them, here’s their road sign.

And the shoes are for... ?
Then it was off again, to…

Guess where? 
Complete with offensive Canadian graffiti
…and more desert.

It's not the middle of nowhere 
But you can see it from here
We crossed the Gaub Pass (not so much a pass as a way to cross a deep river cleft in the desert)

The road goes down... cross this non-river
And then came across something they call the “Valley of the Moon”, which is (a) not a valley, and (b) doesn’t look like the moon. What it is, is a couple of hundred square kilometers of thousands of meters of interbedded sandstones uplifted into a lot of hills.

Endless uplift 
Which goes on for a long, long ways 
Nifty rocks 
Feldspar, mica, quartz 
People for scale
Then it was more high plateau desert…

Just like Saskatchewan. Again. 
It just seems to go on forever
…which, interestingly, was very productive, animal-wise. We found the animals we have come used to: zebra (still the mountain zebra in here), oryx, kudu, ostrich and springbok, often lots of them. It’s interesting to see just how many large animals can survive in this environment.

Springbok on the ridge
Then it was into Walvis Bay; civilization and the coastal dunes.

The coastal fog bank behind the dunes 
Nothing but sand 
Baby dunes
Walvis Bay is host to a hugely significant seaport…

That's a drilling rig way out there 
Ships in the fog
…and coastal wetlands that are home to lots of birds including greater and lesser flamingos, who are incredibly photogenic.

Mostly Lessers 
Lotsa pink 
In flight 
It's that one-legged thing 
Dramatic lighting 
A Greater 
Another Greater. I like the backward-bending knee 
More dramatic lighting
The lagoon they were in was also covered in jellyfish.

Overgrown slimy hockey pucks 
This dude is 2' in diameter 
They just look nasty 
Not a play toy
Then we did the short trip north to Swakopmund, our home for 2 nights.

A strange resort development on the beach 
Repurposed sea cans
On arrival, they sat us down and gave us a “sales pitch” because Swakop is “Africa’s Adventure Capital”. You could go quad biking on the dunes, sand boarding, sand tobogganing, sky diving, go on a dolphin watching cruise, go on a scenic flight, go fishing, or even go for a camel ride.

My experience with camels is that they're unpleasant beasts
I’m not into those things. It was, however, nice to meet their pet parrots.

My bad posture and a cute parrot 
They were actually quite friendly

Today’s Africa Travel Tip: Driving on gravel roads

Namibian gravel roads aren’t like my gravel roads. Sure, in the wrong circumstances, they get washboard-like. But generally, they aren’t actually gravel, but compressed and compacted sand, and so can be quite smooth. Given that the land around the road is sand, too, it can be tough to tell exactly where the sides of the roads begin and end; there are no ditches to guide you, sometime just a pile of sand. Driving at night adds significant challenges.

The roads do, however, develop wheel ruts. Even the busiest of roads, like the C14 we were on, develops ruts. Couple ruts with uncertain edges and many drivers in Namibia drive in the middle of the road. Passing then becomes “interesting” as some of those middle drivers (like these two guys) require you to drive on the “shoulder” to pass

We passed this guy. He didn't move over

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