An almost-full moon rose to say farewell as we pulled out of Walvis Bay tonight. Such a heart-stopping moment when you see a huge moon sitting on the horizon, especially when there are few lights and an ocean to reflect the moonlight. Truly a stunning way to say good-bye to this wonderful nation.
If you are like me, you barely can find the country of Namibia on a map. I knew it was in Africa and by deduction, knew it would be on the coastline north of South Africa. That leaves some territory to speculate where it might be. I now know that Namibia, up to 1994, was called South West Africa at which time it became a free country from South Africa. Under rule of South Africa since the end of WW1, they too were subject to the terrible segregation of apartheid that is still felt in economic, and I suppose, less-than-outright social terms. It’s still a young country.
What makes Namibia, a country the size of Texas, unique is the extremely low rainfall along the Atlantic coast – they measure total “rain” in the single digits of centimeters. A good portion of this moisture is from the daily fog that covers the area from late afternoon to mid-morning. All living things have figured out strategies to deal with these arid conditions. Insects catch the fog to drink the droplets of water that condense on their bodies; small animals depend on the water in the insect’s bodies to provide their water supply. Plants have very reduced leaves or very thick “skin” to retain the precious water they draw through their roots. Needless to say, there are few who tolerate such hostile conditions in this land of sand and rock.
The Namib Desert runs along the coast for 2000km covered with sand that originates from a river that makes the border with South Africa. The strong ocean current brings the sand north where it gets deposited along the shore. After 80 million years, this desert has a lot of sand with huge sand dunes. This unusual sand is full of minerals so it varies in color from light tan to deep reds, deep rusty orange or to dark black (which is a type of iron that can be segregated with a large magnet – very cool to see.) The dunes were a beautiful sight. Check them out on Google.
I did an overnight camping trip to Goanikontes, which interested me as I wanted to be out in the desert to see the stars. Instead, I found the nightly fog and a full moon blocking most of the hoped for view. But the trip there was worth every penny. We first stopped to see the flamingos in the lagoon, then drove to “Dune 7”, one of the taller dunes, so we could climb to the top – it was quite a hike on a 45 degree slope of soft sand! The next drive took us to a rocky part of the desert where small stones created what looked to be a man-made pavement. Here we found Welwitschia plants – a primitive, cone-bearing plant that can live to be 2,000 years old. (We had some at Cal Poly that had been collected from Africa in the 1950’s so it was exciting to see where they had come from.) From there we drove to a river canyon, which resembled a small Grand Canyon, where we camped in the green oasis at the bottom. The riverbed, like many in California, is dry most of the year as the water flows underground. I was told the river had made it to the sea only once in the past 30 years. The oasis had been homesteaded by Germans in the early 1800’s who farmed the area to provide food for ships who could find shelter in the large harbor at Walvis Bay.
I knew so little when we landed and now feel like I know so much more yet have so much more to learn. There are still tribal people here who maintain a traditional life yet with advances such as cell phones. Women have ornate hair styles with long braids made longer with sinew. A red clay covers other sections of hair while shells or seed are woven in to create very unusual styles. A book of photos taken in 1940 revealed a world I knew nothing about. I only saw two women with this type of hair style – women who were in town to sell goods – and I bought a bracelet so I could gawk without being too obvious about it. Truly a different way to do life.
I’m finishing this up to post on our third day at sea. Once again time has compressed as it seems we just left port a short time ago. In a few minutes, we pass the Prime Meridian – the imaginary line that separates the eastern and western hemispheres and sets the standard for time zones around the world. As I have traveled since my mom died - my kids called her the Traveling Grandma - I have left her ashes in various places around the world. It seems fitting for a woman who was always on the go to remember her in many locations and I must say, I appreciate her companionship during my own travels - we have many conversations. So on this gorgeous day here in the South Atlantic, the Prime Meridian will be her next holiday. I hope King Neptune throws her a big welcoming party!