Day 274: Never Assume

Tues. 14th May 2013

Boy and toy!One of my little pet mottos is “never assume”. Sadly, that doesn’t prevent me from falling into that trap every now and again. Just because it has been sunny and (very) hot every day since we left Cape Town, it was wrong to assume it would be like that here in Swakopmund. We’ve read and heard about the fog that comes in from the coast (there is a cold water current that runs off this shore). We’ve even seen the insects who depend on it for their water. As I left the hotel this morning, though, I was more concerned about sun protection than staying warm.

A grey day for boatingIt was a free day today – no early morning start and no loading up into Janis for another African massage. I wanted to see more of the dunes and the wildlife and so I signed up for a quad bike tour out in the desert. This didn’t appeal to Janet, and so she joined some of the others on a dolphin spotting cruise. Neither of us thought to poke our heads out of the door and check the outside temperature. And so we were both underdressed for our activities.

Lighthouse and German-style building (town hall?)Swakopmund is trying to set itself up as the adventure capital of Southern Africa – in competition with Victoria Falls which we get to in a couple of weeks time. Quad biking in the dunes is one of the notable activities here – the quad bikes can cope with the sand and the terrain, and the dunes provide both thrills and wildlife. I opted for the ‘Explorer’ rather than the ‘Adrenalin’ tour in the hope of getting both photo opportunities and thrills.

Sand dunes at SwakopmundEven accounting for the grey skies, the dunes here are much yellower in colour than the rusty red we saw a couple of days ago. The sand is damp – or at least, moist – from the fog and the cloud. I should have known it would be cold bombing around – though at least we only had cloud and not fog so we could see where we were going. I’m joined by three others and it turns out that they are in Nina (Janis’ sister truck) and are on the camping trip that is shadowing us.

Does he have karma?Not exactly a looker!We’ve not been riding long when our guide spots a chameleon on one of the flat plains in between the dunes. I’m not sure how he managed to spot it as it was in ‘disguised as a rock’ mode. It didn’t seem to be fazed as we thrust our cameras at him to get some photos. I hadn’t expected to see a chameleon in Africa (though I have no idea as to where I would have expected to see one) but I was very happy to get some photos of this weird little fellow.

Zooming around the dunesIt was a fun couple of hours zipping up, down and around the dunes. The quad bikes were easy enough to drive, though the manual gearbox was harder work than the semi-automatic that we had had on our bikes in Peru. We also had a turn at sandboarding. The experts treat the sand like snow and use a snowboard. We used a sheet of hardboard that we lay down on head first. Then it is a matter of pulling up the front edge, keeping your elbows off the sand and sliding, toboggan-like, down the dune. Going down was fun and easy – climbing back up the soft sand was less so!

Who's a pretty boy then?Sadly, the one little chameleon was my sole animal spot for the morning. Our guide said that it was too cold and damp – we couldn’t disagree. I had to make do with some photos of the camels waiting to take tourists for a ride in the dunes and of these beautiful and (mostly) friendly blue parrots back in the activity centre. Janet’s trip was based out of Walvis Bay, 30km down the coast, and so I had time for a shower (sand was absolutely everywhere) before she returned. When she got back, she was absolutely bubbling about her morning…

We've just come to say helloEven as we walked down the jetty the cameras were already out photographing a pelican who had come to watch us board a catamaran called Miandri for our cruise around the natural harbour. As we headed off we all went on deck to meet Bubbles a friendly seal who had come to do his party trick of getting friendly with the guests. It was a cold day with the sea mist not clearing and the glass of sherry warmed us up nicely (even if I did take after my aunt!) Drinking at 9:30am is a bit early though.

Bubbles having a playThere was non stop action as we headed towards the lighthouse on a sand spit which housed a seal colony and we watched them frolicking in the sea. Once we had had our fill of seals we headed in search of the local small dolphins but instead found a grey shark, which was not supposed to be here. The skipper was a great chap telling stories and even tried to convince Liz (our new Aussie friend from our Nomad trip) that the white mound in the distance was an iceberg off course. She nearly believed him but it was really salt being mined here.

Its always a good day when you see a dolphin!We also spotted two bottle nosed dolphins which circled the cruise boats to taunt the photographers who were always looking the wrong way. By now it was time for the promised champagne and oysters and finger food lunch. Oysters are not my favourite but these were so fresh I could kind of see the attraction (but I could not sneak one back for Dave). The finale on the way back to shore was the feeding of the pelicans who flew past to take the fish. It is great watching them put their feet down as they come in to land on the water. A great action packed morning and a change from all the sand.

The WörmannhausBy the time Janet returned, I had showered, warmed up and had just about finished my lunch from the supermarket. From the little that we had seen of Swakopmund, it looked to be an interesting little town and so we wanted to take advantage of our only opportunity to have a look round. There was perhaps less to it than we had initially thought but it was still interesting to walk around one of the few German-colonial towns we have encountered on our trip. It was certainly different to see the war memorial commemorate the German soldiers and the Germanic feel to the houses.

Wherever this is from, it isn't Africa!I’m not sure what I was expecting from Swakopmund. The reality is that this is a European tourist (and ex-patriot) centre in the middle of Namibia. With its coffee shops and angular architecture like that in the  Wörmannhaus, it doesn’t really feel like a part of Africa. Tomorrow, we continue north and hopefully will learn more of the African side to the culture and history of this country.

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