From Bonnie's Journal:
Friday a.m. I wanted to get to Rhino Park by 7 to get - hopefully - front seats so we could see well. The woman at the hostel said 8 was fine. I was sure it wasn't. I know the routine with mini buses after all. Mari agreed to go along with leaving at 7:15 am. We got there by 7:25 a.m. and though the front seat was gone and the window seats, we could be in back of the front seat. Not too bad. It took until 11:30 for the bus to fill. Finally we were off. As it turned out, fortune smiled on us and the fellow in the front seat got off after only 2 hours, and the bus driver let us move to the front seat. Nice! Our bus made it to Keetman's, but about 2 hours out the
driver stopped to tweek something in the engine - he wasn't getting power. In Keetman's he fixed it - himself - replacing a big metal part. It took 2 1/2 hours. We left on the 4 hour drive to Luderitz at sundown, so drove in the dark the whole way, arriving 11:40 pm at what we thought was the Luderitz Backpackers Hostel, but what is actually now Element Riders Backpackers (a great place!). The wind was howling, buffeting the bus, and there were signs of caution and 60 km/h speed due to blowing sand the last 15 -20 km. On arrival we realized it was a COLD wind. Who would have guessed?! The housefather, Ranier, settled us quickly in a room and we fell asleep almost immediately.
Luderitz is situated in a scenic spot on a bay with a promotory out into the ocean. It exists because of the diamond rich area just to the immediate south. Diamonds were discovered first in 1897, but nothing more really happened until around 1905 when the first big diamonds were found by men from Luderitz. They weren't even sure they were diamonds, but when they found that indeed, they were diamonds it didn't take long for the word to spread. For 2 years or so people, ordinary people, could go search for diamonds. But by 1908 a diamond corporation had been formed and convinced the government to close not only the diamond area but a large buffer zone around it, ensuring no that one but the corporation (and the government) could get any of the wealth. The area was called the Sperrgebeit or Forbidden Zone. Diamonds! tons of Diamonds! The mining operation was headquartered a few kilometers from Luderitz in a company town called
Kolmannkoph (now spelled as Kolmanskop). Kolmanskop was the first hospital in all of Africa to have an x-ray machine because CDM (the diamond corporation) found that workers were swallowing diamonds as a way to get some for themselves. It became a regular thing to x-ray the workers stomachs to be sure they hadn't swallowed any. If they had, the punishment was harsh. With the changes in mining - as areas were mined out, and as the corporations geologists and others realized the biggest diamonds were found farther south, by the mouth of the Orange River - operations moved south. By 1937 Kolmanskop was no longer the headquarters. By 1956 it was a ghost town. Just a few years ago the Sperrgebeit was made a National Park, though only Kolmanskop is actually open to visitors, the rest remains under the jurisdiction of the mining corporation. In part this change occurred due to the fact that land mining ceased years ago when it was discovered that
the diamonds came down the Orange River and were deposited in the sea bed, then washed north by the strong current. All mining became marine mining. (Though a couple of years ago two small land based mining sites were re-opened, but they are very small.) Since mining operation were marine based, and land diamonds were mined out, the mining corporations agreed to transfer the land to the government as a park - with of course the caveat that they still control access to all but Kolmanskop and 3 other places tour companies (with pricey permits) can take tourists. In any case, with a permit from the National Park, visitors can tour Kolmanskop. Guided tours are provided free, or you can wander around on your own, or both. It is definitely worth the trip. The Sperrgebiet is a rocky, sandy, windswept, inhospitable area - a dead zone that no one would want to be in - only the diamonds.
In the morning our host, Rainier, took us, along with a German lady staying at the hostel, on a drive down to Diaz Point. Diaz was the Portuguese explorer who "first" stopped by Luderitz in 1488. There is a big cross up on the high rocks by the bay where he anchored (not the original cross, this one was replaced in 1993). Along the way to the Point, we stopped at several other points of interest: the old whaling station (long deserted), a bay with flamingoes and oyster catcher birds, another with dolphins, a walk to a seaside cave, and Grossbruch, or great bay. All of this was the same terrain as in the Spergebeit - harsh, rugged rocks and sand with very little vegetation, and always a wind (the wind this day was very mild Rainier said). At one point we were right along the fenceline for the Sperrgebeit.
Not unsurprisingly, according to Rainer (he pronounces this "Reina" btw) though he didn't expect it today, a cloud bank that had been hanging on the horizon moved in just about the time we walked to the cave. It was actually kind of a nice thing, misty and a bit of an aura of mystique. By the time we got back to the car it had moved off, and we drove back to Luderitz with clear skies and sunny day as before.
Rainier and his partner in Swakomund have started an extreme sports operation in Swakomund and they plan to incorporate kite-surfing and perhaps other activities in Luderitz into their overall extreme sport tours.
After our drive Mari and I walked around the town following the printed city walk that gave the history of many of the oldest, most significant buildings, including some of the Diamond Mansions, surrounding the church on the highest hill. A few were from the late 1890's, but most of them dated from 1902 - 1918 or so, the heyday of Kolmanskop. They have been well restored, and the result is that Luderitz is an impressive little town. Mari took lots of pic's, unfortunately my battery had died and was charging - lousy timing! Easily managed on foot. It takes a bit to get here, but as with Kolmanskop, it is well worth the time. We both easily could have spent another day here, and if not for my looming early departure date we would have for sure.
The next morning we left by minibus to Keetsmanskop where we would need to find onward transport to the South Africa border.