Swakopmund: The Namibian Desert

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Imagine a village, quite big, in the middle of the desert. Now imagine that you’re visiting it, as if you were in a German village… Strange, no?


But that’s how Swakopmund is. And in addition to being surrounded by dunes, it’s not too far from the sea.


In this village, which I visited during a tour in Africa in 2012-2013, I met some women from the Himba tribe whom I absolutely wanted to see. They were selling beaded bracelets and bracelets made from recycled plastic materials. Then there was German bakeries close by, luxurious ones at that.


The Himbas are one of the African tribes that were still connected to their age-old traditions. For examples, they are polygamous. Seeing them was like looking at a National Geographic postcard.


The women don’t wear much clothing, just small skirts and coat their bodies with a mix of clay, ochre and plants.


This mix gave them a reddish appearance and turned their hair into red clay dread locks. I spent a lot of time trying to talk to them, playing with their babies. I had to buy some of their bracelets to do so, otherwise they wouldn’t have paid me no mind. They didn’t know much English, except a little to tell the price of their goods.


They smelt like clay. They were so beautiful in my eyes, so unique and well ornamented. Unfortunately, globalization affects those types of minorities.


I hope they’ll be able to preserve their culture. The village of Swakopmund was such a fascinating place, so different from all the other villages we visited in different countries of the continent.


In any case, it was a very interesting place to see animals. For starters, on the outskirts of the village there was a river that runs in the sea filled with flamingos. I spent a lot of time watching them from a distance.


One day in particular, I saw a lot of animals! I started that day by going on a cruise from Walvis Bay. Before getting of the boat, I saw a small enclosures with young pelicans in it. They were orphans found in the area. The people who were working at the docks fed them fish until they were independent enough to leave.


I entered the enclosure to spend some time with them, even though all they wanted from me was food. But since I didn’t have any, they tried to gobble my fingers, my arms or my clothes… without any success. There were a few adults on the outside of the enclosure, they were expecting food too and were trying to snack on my clothes or any other body parts left unguarded.


Luckily, despite their large beaks, it didn’t really hurt. To successfully take pictures of the youngsters, it was necessary to keep their beaks closed, otherwise they wouldn’t stay still. Typical human-raised chick behavior!


Now on the boat, we saw colonies of seals coming from the cape, common bottlenose dolphin and birds such as gannets and even more pelicans. Our tour guide showed us oyster beds in the middle of the sea and gave us a lot to taste.


At some point, an adult pelican flying nearby dove on to us and landed on the boat. It approached the captain with excitement and affection.


Well, they had a long history of love and friendship. Also, several young seals approached the boat, despite them being wild seals, got used to us feeding them fish. They weren’t scared, one of them even stayed on my lap to eat the fish the captain gave it. They stayed long enough to the great pleasure of all the passengers and then left.


Back from the cruise, I stayed some time at the agency selling the fares. It was located in the middle of the desert, there were dromaderies and two South American macaws. These two weren’t leashed and you could see they were used to people. When of them got into my arms to get to the other side, the other one got impatient and kept moving around until I went and get it to bring him where his friend was.


I didn’t expect to do any more tours on that day, but I really wanted to see more wildlife in the desert, so I scheduled a small ride on a 4-wheeler with a guide to go see reptiles. It was the middle of naptime, I had sandals on and when the sand got in them, I really felt my feet burn.


We spent some time spinning in the 4-wheeler, the guide stopped at each plant we passed by to see if there were any animals hiding in the shade. We finally found a diving lizard (there are called that way because they hide in the sand as if they were diving in the water) and a poisonous viper, the viperine from Namibia.


It was truly an unforgettable day: flamingos, pelicans, seals, dolphins, dromaderies, macaws and desert snakes… all that in one day! Namibia never ceases to surprise me with its miles of different sands, remarkable dunes, rocks, mountains… incredible colors and plants.


After that, I continued proving that the desert is filled with life, we just have to know where to look… or have a good guide.


Author: Helena Arroyo

Amelie Delobel

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