We almost didn’t get to take this tour. It was truly a lesson in patiences and persistence and not always on my part! We booked this tour through Charly’s Desert Tours…http://www.charlysdeserttours.com The logistics of having a credit card from a US bank, living in South Africa and trying to charge this tour in Namibia had the “fraud alert” department working overtime! I took several emails and phone calls to my bank in Maine to explain that I was trying to use my credit card in Namibia to reserve rooms and tours for my upcoming trip. I must give kudos to Matt in customer relations at Bangor Savings Bank for great follow-up. Also, to Silke from Charly’s Desert Tours for her patiences and continued effort to run the card. The charge was finally accepted and yay!!! we got to go on this tour.
We didn’t do the tour through Charly’s Desert Tours but with Turnstone Tours. http://www.turnstone-tours.com Kai was our guide but Bruno, his dad joined him. Bruno started the tour company some 20 years prior. Kai asked his dad to join him for our tour as it was his birthday and he wanted to spend the day with dad. Sweet sentiments and lucky for us because we got the wisdom about the area from two people!
We were picked up promptly at 8:00 AM. There were a total of 6 of us and our two guides, which was great group for a tour. We headed south towards Walvis Bay. Halfway between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay is the beach community of Long Beach. It is only houses and condos built along the ocean. It offers no schools, stores or medical support. For any of those, one has to go either to Swakopmund or Walvis Bay. It is strictly a resort area that became well-known when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had their first child there.
Our first stop was in Walvis Bay. I already mentioned in a previous post that Walvis Bay is a very important and strategic port on the west coast of Africa and was the territory of South Africa even after Namibia was granted independence in 1990. Only when apartheid ended in South Africa did Walvis Bay become part of Namibia in 1994. Today, the port continues to be expanded and developed. Currently, the Chinese, as well as Zambia and Angola, are working closely with the Namibian government on expansion efforts. Railroads are being built to help expedite the supplies, that come into the port, to the surrounding countries.
An important industry in the Walvis Bay region is producing salt. The salt fields, which cover approximately 8,648 acres (3500 hectares) and produce about 400,000 tons of high quality salt annually. Our tour guides said that the salt works is completely owned by South African company. It was part of the agreement in 1994 of giving Walvis Bay back to Namibia providing South Africa could keep the rights to the salt mining.
It is interesting to note that Walvis Bay is one of the most important wetlands for coastal birds along the west coast of southern Africa. It is considered such a valuable spot that it is listed as a Natural Heritage Site for the various birds that visit it. During the peak summer season, this lagoon supports up to 250,000 birds who are migrating from within Africa and the Palaeartic (the region of eurasia north of the Himalayas) region. It is also well-known for the large number of greater and lesser flamingos that are attracted to this area. It is sea water from the south of the lagoon that is pumped into holding areas to evaporate to create the salt for the salt industry.
In researching this all, I feel that it is a delicate dance that is being choreographed in this area. Walvis Bay harbor is important to the import/export business of the region, the wetlands are important to supporting the migration and life of birds and fish and the salt industry is another factor. With industry, is the disruption of nature. Pollution from fish processing waste, petroleum products, toxic waste and dredged materials is having an impact on this area. Thankfully, I feel, believe, hope that the “powers that be” will keep a close eye on this and try to keep everything in balance.
Another example of man interfering with nature is the diversion wall that was built in 1962 to prevent flooding of the delta of the Kuiseb River. It was built to protect the residences of Walvis Bay. In 1934 there was a major flood that disrupted the drinking water supply for that area. In order to protect from this happening again, the diversion wall was erected. However, with the protection of the citizens of Walvis Bay, the environment has suffered. As we drove toward Sandwich Harbor, Kai showed us the dry, arid land that once used to be flooded and provided with fertile topsoil that allowed plants to grow. Today, it is a waste land.
He was careful to stay on the main tracks and not veer to one side or the other for fear of getting caught in quicksand. I have heard of quicksand and in Florida, saw an area where it was supposed to be but I have never actually seen how it works. This shows how the sand yields to pressure and slowly sucks anything that falls into it. We got him out before he was totally swallowed!
There are a couple of thoughts on how the harbor came to be called Sandwich Harbor. It is one belief that it is named after the 1780s English whaling ship, the Sandwich. It is thought that the captain was the first to map this part of the Namibian coastline. Another, school of thought, is derived from the German word, “sandfishche” which is a type of shark often found in this area.
The only way to reach Sandwich Harbor is in a 4×4 vehicle as part of the route is on the beach. The tide charts need to be consulted before heading into Sandwich Harbor because it at high tide, the beach is impassable.
My pictures can’t begin to convey the beauty of this area!
Kai and Bruno shared with us about the different insects and fauna. This is the Tenebrionid Beetle nicknamed Tok Tokkies because they make a “tokkie” sound when mating. Their back legs are longer than the front because in the early mornings, they do headstands to capture water from the fog that is usually found along the desert coast. Their body captures the dew and it runs down towards their mouth where they drink up to 40% of their body mass.
This little guy is the Shovel-Snouted Lizard (Meroles anchietae). They are often seen moving along the dune where the sand is very soft. If they feel threaten, they dive into the soft sand. In the heat of the day, they can be seen “dancing” across the hot sand on two feet to minimize the heat being transferred to its body. We didn’t seen this as it was still early morning when we were there but we did see them dive into the soft sand to escape!I was surprised to learn that there are Springbok that live in this desert area. These animals have adapted to living with very little water. Their fur is different to control their temperature and the dryness. The utilize the various succulent plants that grow in the desert to get water. Bruno said that twenty years ago, there were only 5 living in the desert. Today, there are approximately 120.
The Topnaar is a black Namibian tribe that lived in the desert. From a paper that I found on the internet, I don’t believe that these people are still wandering the desert but are settled in semi-permanent settlements located on the northern bank of the Kuiseb River.
When they did live in the desert, they survived on fish from the ocean and the !Nara plant. These shells suggest that someone had been here before us….maybe some of the Topnaar people or maybe campers. They might have been left by the Topnaars when they were harvesting their !nara fruit.
This is the !nara plant…the exclamation point in front of the word “nara” is pronounced as a click and then the word nara is pronounced. The Topnaar language uses “clicks” to communicate. These plants are so valuable to the Topnaars that during the reign of Queen Victoria, she approved the division of the plants among the members of the tribe. It is the plant that is property and not the land itself. Families can only harvest from their !nara plants. When the parent dies, the bushes are divided among the children.
The !nara root grows several feet into the ground until it finds a water source. Every part of the melon is used. The skin is fed to livestock, the seeds and pulp are used for food. The seeds contain about 30% protein and approximately 57% oil. They are highly nutritious. The pulp is boiled, rolled thin and dried in the hot sun which they eat after it is dried.
Not only is the fruit of the !nara food but it is believed to have strong medicinal properties, too. They believe that this plant can be used for stomach ailments and the enzymes found in the seeds can be used as skin moisturizer and protection from the sun.
While chatting over lunch, Bruno shared with us that he contracts out with National Geographic to help with photo shoots and as a guide for their staff whenever they are in the area. He is also involved with the environment and wildlife protection. However his shining star in my book was he met Matt Lauer and helped his entourage when Matt visited Namibia for his “Where in the World is Matt Lauer” segment a couple of years ago! I would love to meet Matt Lauer!!! (Lots of laughs!!!)
One final, quick stop to see the ruins of houses where people used to live. Possibly it was for the guano (used for fertilizer) collection project that was attempted in 1930. It didn’t succeed as jackals could cross the lagoon at low tide and scare the birds. Possibly, it was for fishermen who tried to eek out a living in this unforgiving land.
It was a wonderful day, a very informative tour and great company. If you find yourself looking for a Sandwich Bay tour, I would highly recommend Turnstone Tours!