AFRICA'S WEST COAST: NAMIBIA
DAY 94 - 14 APRIL 2023 (SHIP'S date)
ENROUTE TO TENERIFE, SPAIN
Queen Mary 2 World Centenary Voyage
102 days, 31 ports, 18 countries.
Ellen Frazer-Jameson reporting from Queen Mary 2
Walvis Bay, Namibia
Walvis Bay lies some 30 kilometres south of Swakopmund, situated at a wild lagoon with sea birds, pelicans and flamingos. The town has 85,000 inhabitants occupying approximately 29 square meters of land. The bay is strategically located halfway down the coast of Namibia with direct access to principal shipping routes making it a natural gateway for international trade – receiving approximately 3,000 cargo vessels each year. The port’s success is due both to its geography and its mild variation of arid climate.
Despite its scarce population, Namibia is home to a wide diversity of languages – Indo-European. Bantu and Khoisan. The sole official language is English. Following independence from South Africa in 1990, Namibia remained under South African sovereignty until 1994.
Namibia is a young democracy, celebrating 32 years of independence in 2022 – a sign that political stability reigns. The excellent infrastructure within the country allows self-drive and escorted tourists hassle-free travels, whether by camper van, coach or aeroplane. Visitors to Namibia can get around feeing comfortably safe.
Known as a land of contrasts, Namibia offers spectacular landscapes, fascinating wildlife, outdoor activities and a unique blend of African and European culture. Landscapes in parts of Namibia are said to resemble those on the moon. National parks, private nature reserves and communal conservancies cover 40% of Namibia’s surface.
At Walvis Bay where Queen Mary 2 docked, thousands of seals bask on the beaches next to pink flamingo. Namibia has 630 species of birds. The Atlantic Ocean stretches 1,500 kilometres along Namibia’s west coast and four deserts converge. The drive out of the dock gates, leads through large swathes of industrial areas and onwards to developments of concrete block houses all laid out in neat grids on extra wide avenues.
There is a reason the roads are so wide. Each through road is in fact two separate roads with housing on each side. The street is segregated and divided into an ethnic designation of coloured’s and black people. Each population is assigned a side of the street where they are regulated to live. In this urban area, there appears to be no infrastructure, no retail, no restaurants. We drive for half an hour.
Suddenly, like an oasis, a shopping mall arises in the centre of a small desert town. Cruise ship passengers, always game for a few hours of shopping, vacate the complimentary Cunard port shuttle and move en masse to explore the retail plaza, with its large box stores of household goods, home building materials and pet food stores.
Taxi and mini vans drivers crowd the car park offering the tours they were trying to sign visitors up for at the port. Bartering goes on and deals are struck to go on independent tours – and return to the mall in a couple of hours.
A couple from St. Helen’s, Lancashire, Ken and Annette, invited me to share their taxi. They joined the cruise in Cape Town but are regular visitors to South Africa. And know there way around, though not in Namibia. As a threesome we were able to strike a good deal and our new -found friend and driver, Tate, assured us he would take us to all the favourite tourist sights – and deliver us right back to the ship. Annette and I detected a flaw in the plan and we looked at each other, “No mall when we get back?”
“No, said Ken, “and no long wait for a cruise shuttle to take us to the port.” We cheered up. “Done”. Stretching as far as the eye can see; sand, sand and more sand, yellow and white and black.
First Stop Dune Seven, one of the highest dunes in the world rising to the sky. A small settlement beside the highway. A wire fence and a warning – Photographs NOT free.
Only those who are brave and daring enough to climb the wall of sand facing us need to pay. Our entertainment, for free, is to watch people walk up the mountain. How do they do that? There are no trails. A couple of people pay their money and set off up the sand dune. Slipping and sliding and Occasionally turning around to wave. At the top, they are welcomed by others who beat the challenge. Now for some fun. No sandboarding allowed, so half running, half sliding, sand giving way like an avalanche, dust blowing up underfoot.
Rather them than me though it is easy to see the attraction. Everyone completes the course. Onward into the desert, and we stop at a German town Swakopmund. Here the State House backs onto to lighthouse. Anton’s Café, at the top of a high flight of stairs, a perfect place to stop for a coffee. We know we are among friends when the wi-fi password we request to use the internet is EatCakeForBreakfast.
On a dusty patch of land, visible from the restaurant, an African market. Carved animals, printed textiles, hand-made jewellery. Evocative of this huge, ancient land, animals, flowers, trees, rock art, colour, vibrancy. Sitting on the ground surrounded by the arts and crafts, native women, in costumes of beads and feathers, breasts bared and young children pre-walking age, naked or in nappies, hold out their hands to tourists for money.
The glaring noon day sun plays tricks on your eyes and it appeared I was seeing things. I felt like I had woken up in a Disney movie.
A surreal dream scene. In contrast to the rich, ebony black nakedness of the tribal woman, hair braided, bells and rings on their feet, there appeared a beautiful blonde princess in long black gown wearing a tiara. The local Beauty Queen doing her community service, good deed for the day. She held by the hand, a 6-year-old replica, mini Princess, dressed in a pure white dress wearing a tiara. Handing out chocolate. The babies still held in their mother’s arms, stretched their skinny limbs out to the Beauty Queens and cried and screamed if they were passed over in the chocolate hand out. The scene disturbs me still. What did it mean? Was it because it is Easter? Black and white living together in perfect harmony – or a cheap publicity stunt. It would take a lifetime to fathom the secret of this intoxicating land.
Driving through the deserts, on miles of fast- moving highway, surrounded by an unfathomable silence and never-ending sky, myth and magic mingle. Pink flamingos step daintily across a feeding ground in a vast beachside plateau alongside the road.
Mountains of white on the far horizon, we discover, are not sand but salt. A salt factory processes sand that is bright pink having absorbed colour from minerals deep in the ground. All around the reservoir, we walk on salt and sip at pink bubbles to prove the crystals really are salt – waiting to be transported to the salt factory.
Driving past a huge arena offering camel rides, I am persuaded not to go on this occasion. Been there, done that, forgot to buy the t-shirt.
A visit to Namibia produces surprises and exceeds anticipation. All of the senses are engaged but it is in the heart, that the landscape with its contrasts and mysteries imprints its memory. A saying in this timeless county is, “Namibia does not let go of your heart.” I believe that.
Who needs a shopping mall when you’ve got wonder, strangeness and gifts beyond measure in a land as old as time?
Happy Sailing... Ellen
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Back to our Mother Ship - and enroute to our final port of call...Tenerife, Spain...
A sight to sea...as this amazing journey approaches its end... onward !
Current position of Queen Mary 2: Under way from Walvis Bay to Sta. Cruz (Tenerife)
Departure was 3 d 23 hrs 47 min ago. (at 19:00 h local time)
Arrival will be in 4 d 14 hrs 13 min. (at 08:00 h local time)
Traveled distance since Walvis Bay: 1,834.65 nm (3,397.78 km)
Remaining distance to Sta. Cruz (Tenerife): 2,111.89 nm (3,911.22 km)
Traveled distance since Cape Town: 2,618.55 nm (4,849.55 km)
Photo of the day (from the archives of JD Schwartz)
Further updates will be posted as soon as we get them from Ellen onboard Queen Mary 2.