23 Apr 2021
When I turn westwards towards Torra Bay and the coast, I revel in the exquisite Damaraland landscape. There are vistas of spectacular red rocky beauty with table-top mountains and small, sturdy shepherd trees. I discover plains of healthy welwitschia, those intriguing two-leaved plants that befuddled scientists for so many years, covering the rocky earth floor. This is arid-land loveliness at its finest.
The road runs parallel to the veterinary fence and leads me via the Huab River valley to the Springbokwasser Gate, the entrance office to the Namib-Nauklfuft Park that monitors this 143km piece of road along the coastline to the Ugab Gate. The woman behind the counter informs me that the Ugab River has water in at the moment and says “If you don’t have a 4x4 you won’t get across”. As I am the only person who has passed through this northern gate today, I am slightly concerned. She kindly phones the Ugab Gate office to check the conditions and conveys the warning that I must cross in the middle of the river, otherwise I will get stuck. Loathe to backtrack, I decide to continue and worry about the river when I get there. I find it always a good philosophy in life not to waste unnecessary energy on worrying - it is something that I am still trying to master. But I do decide to give destiny a helping hand and I give myself a quick 4x4 practice session and trust my robust Namibia2Go Nissan bakkie to do the rest.
Namibia’s ephemeral river courses that bisect the north-western part of the country are dry for most of the year, only flowing in years of good rainfall when their catchment areas fill up. Then it’s a time for celebration as the aquifers are replenished. All life is nourished by the blessing of rain in an arid land.
The Damaraland scenery transforms to desert as I near the coast. When I see a haze over the horizon, I think it to be the inevitable coastal mist, which provides the moisture vital for Namib Desert life, but soon see that it is sand being blown helter-skelter by the strong wind and I’m quickly enveloped by it. It eventually clears and I start to think about this notorious stretch of coastline. The Skeleton Coast is known for whale and seal bones, and flotsam and jetsam, as well as the treacherous currents which have got many a vessel and seafarer into trouble. This has erroneously led to the belief that it is dotted with the remains of shipwrecks. Truth be told however, the first part of the route is through gravel plains and desert, and the ships that have come to grief along the coastline break up very quickly leaving little evidence of their existence. It is only the more recent wrecks that are still visible. And before I reach the Ugab Gate I make a turn at the remains of the South-West Seal, a 90-ton South African fishing vessel that caught fire and was beached here in 1976, its rotting ribs jutting out of the sand next to a crashing sea. It’s the real deal. There are even whale bones lying on the beach adjacent to it.
And then there is no avoiding the anticipated crossing as I approach the Ugab River, like it or not. I have not seen another vehicle on my drive down the coast so am pleasantly surprised to see a bakkie gaining on me. It’s in the nick of time. I step out of the vehicle to discuss the muddy river crossing, but the vehicle veers to the right following the path on the side of the river and the driver gestures for me to follow. There is no time to hesitate as he is moving quicky ahead and I will soon lose his tracks. I have to put foot to keep up with him and have a moment of panic when I find myself sinking into a muddy hole excavated by previous vehicles. The sludge sucks in my fierce chariot and slows it down to a near stop. I quickly change gears and give more fuel and it chugs forward out of the mire. I meet the driver in the office, heed his good (although belated) advice about how to cross tricky muddy sections like this before he says his goodbyes and disappears as quickly as he arrived. I thank my angels and continue through the Ugab Gate, painted menacingly with skull and crossbones.
After my Etosha sojourn and the Ugab River crossing, my bakkie is green-tripping muddy. I’m now on the last stretch down the coast passing fishing holes with Mile markings (denoting the mileage from Swakop as used in times past) and the more outlandish names like ‘Tolla se gat’ and ‘Bennie se rooi lorrie’, marking favourite fishing holes and spots where memorable events took place.
Rust-coloured lichen fields cloak the desert in copper near the Cape Cross lodge and seal colony, and small tables with salt crystals for sale line the roadside. Eventually I cruise into Swakopmund. Instead of the mist I have been expecting, the town is enjoying a glorious sunny afternoon. The Delight Hotel is my destination for my stay and I happily make my way there. There is time for a stroll down to the sea and a walk along the jetty where I love to watch the sun set. Along the way I notice people frolicking in the sea like seals and can’t resist joining them in the fun.
One of the highlights of a stay at The Delight is its delicious breakfast spread that includes champagne and oysters, and I pour myself a glass of sweet bubbly and savour the good meal. On the way back to Windhoek, I realise how I have been strengthened by the delights of Namibia to better equip me for this period when we have been forced to review our lives and recalibrate accordingly.
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