Tropic of Capricorn

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We left Sossusvlei quite early. The journey was through Solitaire, a kind of way station for topping up fuel, using the restrooms and having a coffee. It’s famous for its apple strudel. It’s a strange place in other ways too. The owner of the car repair garage must be an eccentric person who collects broken down vehicles, hence the number of car carcasses adorning the site.

 

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From Solitaire on through Gaub Pass and then Kuiseb Pass was typical of the contrasting geology and vegetation of Namibia. Solitaire to Gaub pass was notable for the flat plains that initially were flanked by the Naukluft range, traversing the Tropic of Capricorn. The plains were an incredibly golden yellow colour of grass. Before Solitaire the predominant grass was tufted off-white oryx grass. It carpeted the valleys and from the distance, it looked as if a soft rug of fluffed up cotton lay on the ground. Now, on the plains, the short grass shone and in the morning light was an aesthetically pleasing sight. This was a change to the red colour of the dunes at Sossusvlei.

Oryx, springbok, and mountain zebras grazed on the golden yellow grass. There was hardly a tree in sight. The gravel road cut a path through the grass and the mountains to the east ranged in tiers, several deep in the distance.

 

At Gaub pass, the hills closed in us and we turned and twisted and were surprised to find the river full and flowing vigorously down below us. The hills were now brown and black where they had been sand coloured and bleached. The hills were domed like a city of a million domes without any spires, seen from the sky.

 

We drove on to the Kuiseb Pass and again over the river, once again full and in speight here. The mountains here were black and grey-blue with marble and in strata and tilted sideways. It was dramatic and stunning.

 

We were now on our way downhill to the Atlantic. The plains were once again yellow and then sand coloured, then the treasured white of beaches except this was desert, pure, arid and barren. Even here there were still oryx and springboks. The only Steenbok we saw matched the green-blue of the mountains and it was squatting by Gaub Pass.

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Into Walvis Bay, we travelled through what can only be described as dirty white sand stained by streaks of black. The plain was featureless and without any flank whatsoever. Next came the gravel plains that had the tint of cement.

 

Walvis Bay was an industrial town and port. It has an infamous history having housed German concentration camps, where Herero and Nama peoples were kept, tortured and murdered for daring to oppose German control of this land. The so-called “final solution” was first perfected here in Namibia before being executed to deadly effect during WW 2.

At one end of the seafront in Walvis Bay flamingoes and pelicans resided. Except, we did not see any pelicans. The flamingoes were nowhere near the number or density of flamingoes on the saltpans of Ethiopia, but they were still worthy for their elegance, their wonderful strutting and the impeccable lines of their flight.

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Our destination for the evening was Swakopmund, a curious town of 50000 or so. It was a mix of Bavarian type housing and modern functional buildings. The traffic was sparse. There were few people about. It was a strained community. Black men hung about either singly or in groups. Whilst they were not overtly threatening, they were obviously desperate. The cost of real estate was astronomical- over 1.5 million Namibian dollars and for not much.

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At the art market there were quite a lot of tacky crafts and a few masks made to order probably in China for the African market- apparently of Chokwe pedigree but a number were pretending to be the white-faced Ibo and Ibibio masks and we were at least 3000 miles down the West African coast from Nigeria. But just across the road were wild guinea fowl with their exquisite royal blue necks.

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In the evening we went to dinner at The Tug, a fish restaurant built on the shell of an old tugboat. It was Valentine’s Day and there was dinner to celebrate this. When we arrived Jan was given a white rose and we were seated in a room that allowed a view of the Atlantic Ocean and of the sunset. I had snails in garlic for starters and grilled Cob, rice with peri-peri sauce. Jan had a salad to start and grilled Cob, fries and lemon butter sauce. The wine was a local Chenin blanc and cappuccino to finish.

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Arnold brought his wife Maria to dinner too, to celebrate Valentine’s Day and, we joined them for our coffee. She was a fair skinned African woman with reddish skin. She had a pleasant, quiet manner and her English was without any discernible accent.

 

Then it was time for bed.

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Photos by Jan Oyebode

 

 

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