Sleepy Head, Sleepy Town


This blog entry about the events of Saturday, April 03, 2004 was originally posted on April 14, 2004.

DAY 168: I was so sleepy for most of the day that I managed to take a nap every chance I could in between the highlights of the day.

To be fair, we were up before sunrise at 5:30 to get ready by 6:30 to drive the ninety minutes to the coastal town of Lüderitz, for a boat cruise to the penguin colonies of Halifax Island.  However when we got there we were informed that overnight in Namibia, we were supposed to set the clocks back an hour in accordance with Daylight Savings Time — which meant I had been awake since 4:30.  Luckily for me I slept the entire way to Lüderitz.

With an hour to kill, Samora drove us to a nearby lagoon to spot flamingos.  However, there was only one there and it didn’t matter to me because I pretty much just slept in the car the whole time.

My drowsiness was also due to the fact that I popped a motion-sickness preventative pill at breakfast as a precaution on the upcoing boat ride.  At the real 8:00 a.m., that boat ride finally started as we were on the Sedina, a touring schooner which embarked from Lüderitz’s newly developed waterfront.  Hydrophobic Samora stayed behind; just walking on the pier with the water underneath made him look terrified.

Along with some British and German tourists, the three of us Chameleon clients journeyed along the coast — the same coast that Portuguese explorer Bartholomieu Dias cruised in the 15th century as the first European explorer to sail the southern coasts of Africa.  On shore, a cross was erected in his name.

The two and a half hour tour took us to Halifax Island, where African penguins had a colony amongst the oyster catchers, sea gulls and other marine birds.  Nearby, African fur seals waved their flippers at us from under the water, and — speaking of flippers — schools of dolphins swam alongside the ship, jumping in and out of the ocean like they were in a show.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CRUISE, Samora picked us up and rushed us the 6 km. to the nearby ghost town of Kolmanskop to catch the tail-end of the 10 a.m. walking tour — the only one on a Sunday.  We managed to hear about the food storage building and the entertainment hall where people used to bowl.  The tour was over just ten minutes after we had gotten there, leaving everyone to explore the empty buildings in the town at his/her own leisure.

Without any historical background, the ghost town was merely just a bunch of old dilapidated buildings in the middle of the desert (picture above) that don’t mean anything.  Knowing this I was sort of upset that the timing of the cruise and the timing of the Kolmanskop history tour didn’t jive well, but luckily I got a lot of background information from the captain of the Sedina who knew our situation.  (I couldn’t turn to my Lonely Planet Shoestring Guide to Africa, because it’s too abridged.)

IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, during the discovery of diamonds in South Africa, no one thought to look in then South West Africa because of the absence of the minerals that produce diamonds.  That all changed in 1908 when a black railroad worker named Zacharias Lewala retrieved the precious gem — by accident and unbeknownst to him.  His boss August Stauch did know what it was and took it from him, and began harvesting the diamonds in the southwestern region in secrecy.  Word got out though and a year later in 1909, the southwestern corner of then South West Africa was declared the Spergebiet, an area restricted to the public and only permissible to the diamond industry.  Nine companies mined the diamond-rich area, most employees living in nearby Kolmanskop, which developed into a full-functioning outpost town with library and hospital.

The hey day of Kolmanskop and the diamond mining industry fell apart during the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II.  Most residents of Kolmanskop left in the 1940s and by 1956 the town was completely deserted, leaving it a ghost town of old buildings where people scavenged for building materials.  Mining came back over time by the Consolidated Diamond Mining corporation, and eventually became NamDeb, which still mines for diamonds today.

The Spergebiet, the restricted diamond area, still exists today; it is clearly marked on any road map of Namibia so there is no mistaking its boundaries.  Even if you enter the zone without taking any diamonds, you are subject to a fine of 6000 dollars — that’s Namibian dollars — and/or six months in prison — that’s Namibian prison, and who knows what happens when you drop the soap in there?  With that said, there went Karen’s hopes of her husband sacrificing a little time for a little gem.

Kolmanskop also still exists today, now as a tourist attraction.  In the 1980s, each building was restored — not to its former glory, but to a safer dilapidated condition so people could wander around at their own risk.  Safe or unsafe, being in a building had a sort of eerie feel to it; where people once lived, sand had taken over.  The frankenhaus (hospital) had a creepy supernatural vibe to it and was reminiscent of the hotel in The Shining.

“It’s funny that you say that because I was doing ‘red rum, red rum,’ and these guys got freaked out,” said Sarah, one of the American girls from Stellenbosch that I bumped into the day before and gave a lollipop to.  She was wandering around the ghost town with Peter and Nina and I tagged along with them for a little bit, visiting the old library, the big old mining carts and the broken walls of former residences.  I eventually split up with them and rejoined Samora, Ben and Karen at the truck.

Samora drove us back to Lüderitz, the former German harbor town which was a step into an old-fashioned Bavarian town in the middle of Namibia, with its old school architecture.  Lüderitz in modern day exists as an important town for the fishing and tourism industries; however on a Sunday, nothing was open except for a couple of coffee shops.  Despite a late-morning cup o’ joe, I went right back to sleep in the truck.

WHEN I AWOKE, we were at Dias Point, the site of the Dias Cross erected in honor of the Portuguese explorer.  After admiring the powerful ocean waves crashing into the rocks, forming foamy white water fireworks, we had a picnic lunch cooked out of the back of the truck.  With all of our coastal activities completed by mid-day, we headed back towards our rental house, picking up a local hitchhiker on the way. 

I went to sleep again.

DESERT HORSES TROTTED IN THE DISTANCE when my eyes opened again.  We had arrived in Garub where wild horses congregated at a man-made watering hole.  These “wild horses” were actually feral horses, formerly domesticated horses now living in the wild.  By 2000, ninety horses lived in the area protected by the Ministry of Tourism and Environment and arrived conveniently at the waterhole for when tourists arrived.  Ben theorized that perhaps the truck ran over a switch that triggered the release of water, but Samora said it was just a coincidence — water was released on a timer.

After yet another nap, we were back at our house in Klein-Aus Vista.  For our final day and night here, Ben and I climbed up one of the mountains to watch and photograph the sunset over beers.  Without a proper filter on my little spy cam, one photo looked like we were watching a nuclear bomb test in the middle of the desert instead.

Immediately after the sun set, a full moon rose in the east, which illuminated the desert brightly enough that we didn’t need flashlights hiking back down to the house.  After dinner, Ben, a naturalist-at-heart traveling with a telescope, set his equipment up to observe the constellations, four moons of Jupiter and the craters on Earth’s moon.

“Well, it’s been a long, but great day,” Ben said, sipping on a brandy and Coke.

“Yeah, I know,” I said, definitely agreeing with the ‘long’ part.  “It started at 4:30.”

I went to bed shortly thereafter.

Next entry: Desert Run-Ins

Previous entry: A River Runs Through It

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “Sleepy Head, Sleepy Town”

  • Wonderful sunset picture - not the bomb one. 

    Sometimes you just need those sleepy days. You gotta do what you gotta do.
    Thanks for doing THIS - this blog is great! Just want to say that once again!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  09:29 AM

  • Yep, the sunset is my new background.. at least until I read the rest of the stories.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/14  at  03:20 PM

  • Nuclear test, but still a great shot!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/16  at  03:48 AM

  • Ditto, great sunset. Still using the salt flats pic….

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  04/20  at  10:39 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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A River Runs Through It


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