Day 273: I Can See The Sea

Mon. 13th May 2013

Population 92 in SolitaireFrom Hammerstein to the sea at Swakopmund is some 430km travelling over yet more dirt tracks. What else would you expect in Africa? Our first stop is the very small town of Solitaire which according to the sign currently has a population of 92. It is well set up for coffee and specialises in apple pie which looked and smelt delicious but I managed to resist on the basis it was too early at 9am to partake. The bakery had many delicious cakes but as I have still not lost any weight on this trip, I managed to have the will power not to partake. Instead I busied myself taking photos of all the rusty old broken down vehicles around the parking area as well as stalking the ground squirrel.

The wheels fell offOpen seed pod after being drenched in waterNext on the itinerary is a Bushman’s walk, well it was more like a drive but we did cover a lot of ground physically and verbally learning about the local landscape, wildlife and Bushmen. It is quite amazing the species of plants and animals that survive in the desert. The Ostrich plant can last five years without water and the seeds can remain dormant under the sand. Flowers on existing plants remain closed until the rain (or a guide with a bottle of water) comes and when water hits them they open up so the seeds can be dispersed.

Scorched landscapeThe rainfall in 2011 was over 300mm, when it is usually in the teens. All the dormant plants grew and the previously orange dessert turned pale cream colour with all the plants. Nature being what it is, and with the dry atmosphere, when the lightening came it burnt a vast tranche of the plants down. I did not imagine firefighting would be an issue in the desert but when the plants come nature has to restore the balance.

Sociable weaver birds nest from belowThe dirt track took us across the desert and towards a low rocky outcrop where the mountain zebra were sheltering from the heat of the day. Without boring everyone with too much of this amazing nature the sociable weaver bird nest must get a mention. The birds just keep building on the same nest making it over 100 years old. it can be enormous and sometimes can get too heavy for the tree and fall to the ground.

Karkaul skinWe also heard about the farming of Karkaul sheep where the young were killed at eight hours old for their skin to make coats in the 1970’s. Any older and the wool is no longer so soft so you can imagine how many were killed to make just one coat. It became a booming industry leading to settlement in the area including in places like Solitaire. With the decline in fur trade people left the area and the houses remained empty. People are now slowly returning with the advent of tourism in the area.

Beautiful sceneryAs well as telling us about the animals and some history of the bushman our guide for the day explained about why the sand dunes here did not move. Apparently the wind is from east to west 50% of the year and west to east for the rest of the time making the dunes permanent. This wind action also forms the ridge on the top as the loose sand falls once it is blown over the top.

Crossing the Tropic of CapricornAll too soon the tour is over and after a quick early lunch we are back on the road, well bumpy gravel track again. The scenery slowly changes from sand to sandstone to weird rocks at the highest point of the journey. We have a quick photo stop at Tropic of Capricorn. This adds to our collection as we crossed the Tropic of Cancer whilst we were in Taiwan, and Olly gets another outing.

So many flamingosAfter what seemed a very long three hours drive, we finally seethe sea . It was bliss to get onto the tarmac road which had been built to the airport for Walvis Bay. There is much building work going on in Walvis Bay as well as Swakopmund, another area that will be tourist city in a few years time. It is also a busy port and the ships and tankers can be seen heading past one after the other. We made a detour to Walvis Bay where there is a natural bay was full of flamingos dotted along the waters edge. It was also impressive to see them fly by in formation. On the road back up the coast to Swakopmund on one side it was sand, sea and ships, on the other side just sand and more sand.

I can keep my feathers dryOne final stop before reaching our accommodation was the adventure centre to book tomorrows activity. This area is famous for skydiving, sandboarding and especially quad bikes, and Dave just had to sign up for the latter. I opt to leave the sand behind for a while and signed up for a dolphin and seal trip out to sea. There is just time for a short drive around town to orientate us before getting to our B & B. Our accommodation looks very new and is on the edge of the town but the roads are in place for future expansion of the town. It is too far to walk into the centre so in the evening we all bundle back into Janis to go out for a group meal. It reminds us of the long time it takes for a big group dining in a restaurant to be served (the three hours is up there for the record!) and makes us appreciate our usual home cooked suppers on this trip where we all eat promptly and together.

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