Continue through changing desert landscapes, keeping an eye out for free-roaming zebra, kudu, springbok, and oryx. Stop in the quirky town of Solitaire for a break before heading out into the countryside. Here we meet a local to this remote region who takes us on a drive and talks about the survival strategies of ancient bushmen who lived in the area. We also search out smaller animal life that manages to survive in these harsh conditions such as snakes, geckos, spiders, and insects to learn how they have adapted to this arid region. After, continue to Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast. Living Desert Tour Swakopmund - Hop into a 4x4 vehicle and set out into the desert. An expert guide will point out signs of animal life and emphasize survival in the harsh desert landscape for both humans and animals.
And we are off to Swapkomund
Today was a long driving day to Swakopmund which is along the coast. After breakfast we were off at 7 a.m.
We stopped along the Skeleton Coast where Dion shared with us the challenges sailors had navigating to sea. There were many shipwrecks because the compasses would get royally screwed up due to the iron ore in the land. We headed off towards Swakopmund and along the way, we spotted wildlife such as an Oryx hanging out on the shady side of a hill. We saw rugged airports with dirt runways and stopped at the hamlet of Solitaire where there was actually a bakery and a petro station. Solitaire was interesting with a small motel and deserted antique vehicles dotting the landscape for excellent photo opportunities.
Our next stop was at Boseman Davids farm "Chare" some 34 km north of Solitaire for our desert talk. OMG this was an extremly informative talk about the desert. I managed to video all of his talks but am not able to upload them on the blog which is very sad. There is an excellent story of this man on the internet from Apil 1 2017- https://pressreader.com>namibia>. At Chare, we all jumped into a huge truck converted into an open concept tourist hauler and at various stops Boseman would jump out of the truck and give us a quick presentation on this or that. It was incredible! and pretty much a highlight of Namibia, believe it or not!
At one time farms in the area were free. Boseman took over this farm and removed fences so the animals could move around. Ostriches apparently can't live in fenced areas. If you see fences around it is to keep the bad tourists out. There used to be tortoises around and the farm workers ate most of the tortoises. There was a neighbor with lots of tortoises who were fed them scraps from a restaurant. Eventually he could not keep the tortoises and Boseman took in 120 tortoises!! Tortoises need dog, hyena or jackal droppings for their shells. Boseman has a Jack Russell for the tortoises and there are no dog droppings to be found.
Although the history of Namibia is rather short in terms of European settlers at only 900 years, the Bushmen have been in Namibia for 30,000 years. That is insane! They are San people. However, sadly by 1918 wild Bushmen no longer existed. Bushmen were very small people - 1.5 meters tall. They had a life span of 50 years. They were yellow in color and could hide in the grass (like lions). They would shoot from the bushes with small poisoned arrows. Their way of hunting was called the 'bee sting of death'. They used poisons from all sorts of natural sources - euphorbia, snakes, beetles, spiders, cactus bushes, beetle larvae and berries. When European settlers (Dutch settlers 360 years ago) arrived, the Bushmen would shoot them. This caused big problems and the Dutch gave these people their name Boseman (Bushmen). The Bushmen could live totally without water. They never thought about water. The water was saved for women and children while the men would get their fluid needs from their hunts - blood, eyes, brains, stomachs. They would eat Ostrich eggs and bird eggs. Anything that had fuid in it they would eat. Yum Yum! This was considered their reward for hunting. The Bushmen did not waste anything in nature - they conserved resources for their future children. For example fires were never big and wasteful. They owned nothing. Women had a skirt and men had a loin cloth. That was it! If the animals moved, the Bushmen had to be able to move too. If they had a successful hunt, they had to move fast since vultures were huge competition for the food. Children would learn their parents footprints and would be able to track them. They would have to leave kin behind if they were old, sick or slowing the mother down. Children would be left behind in hard times. They never looked back if they had to leave a child behind and you never spoke of the child again. In these times women would face the fires so they could tear up and cry, blaming the smoke. They never killed a female animal with young. They always thought of their children. They reproduced slowly, waited until their children were older before having another child and believed you could only raise one child at a time. If there were twins, one was killed. In hard times they would have to move further to the animals. It would be hard for women and children to survive and choices had to be made. Children would be left behind since more children could be produced if the women could walk faster and hence survive. The bushmen would spread the fat of animlas on their bodies as a sunscreen and smudging so animals would not detect them. People were very afraid of Bushmen. Bushmen adapted genetically and had very thick skin on their necks and head to protect them from the sun. They hardly had any hair from being burnt. They somehow genetically mutated to be tolerant to the poisons in their foods (i.e. poisons on their arrows when hunting). The most fascinating mutation they had was the loose skin on their abdomens that allowed them to consume 10 kg of meat at once. This allowed them to survive since they did not have to pack meat over their shoulders and were able to be on the move constantly. Furthermore, animals would not be able to steal their meat and the meat did not spoil in the sun. In the 1850's firearm use was well spread, in fact all tribes had firearms. It was permitted to shoot Bushmen and so they disappeared fast. Bushmen were killed for land. Sadly, there was alot of trophy hunting and rewards for hunting Bushmen with the intent of getting rid of the race up until 1920. Women's breast would be used as tobacco bags. By 1920 hunting Bushmen was not allowed but reporting them to the police fetched a reward. Up until 1953 the Bushmen were hunted outside of Etosha and inside of Etosha they were protected. In 1954 a law was passed declaring Bushmen actual people rather than game at which time they were thrown out of Etosha. Taxidermist have preserved several Bushmen in museums around the world. Ridiculous! These are human beings and they were treated like animals. Often Bushmen would be hunted, everyone would be shot and the children would be raised as pets. Today there are about 30,000 Bushmen left and they are black in color rather than yellow due to mixed ethnicity. Today's Bushmen are displaced. They often suffer from alcohol use disorder and have lost their traditional ways. I guess this story is familiar with all indigenous people no matter where you are in the world. They were a beautiful people but very misunderstood.
European settlers in Namibia
The German people arrived into Namibia from South Africa in the 1850's. The Kaiser's Holocaust is an interesting read about the genocide of local tribes in Namibia. By 1940 the German interest in Namibia waned and by 1975 most German people moved away.
The delicate ecosystem and surviving the desert
Boseman talked about how the desert only appears to be a place of desolation and lack of life when it fact it is abundant with life and very sensitive to precipitation which can be devastating.
Rain is not a friend to the desert believe it or not! Rain every few years is fine and any more frequent is problematic. If it showers it will be dry within 10 weeks. If it rains repeatedly this causes a problem with the balance of the ecosystem. For example beetles will drown. The beetle is critical to the ecosystem as they can collect condensation on their corrugated shells. The beetle is eaten by the spider, the spider by the lizard, the lizard by the snake, the snake by the eagle. Paradise! Boseman David gave us a prime example of how rain can affect an ecosystem- in 2010 there were chameleons everywhere but in 2011 a big rain occurred and they never saw a chameleon again. Sad. There are many plants in the desert that are very sensitive to any bit of precipitation - if they get 1 drop of rain they slowly start to open. If they get a 2nd drop of rain they burst open and shoot seeds in all sorts of directions (via a trampoline system in their structure). If there is no rain the plant keeps seeds safely within. If the plants are allowed to seed, then the roots stabilize the sand. The sand gets hard and can't blow away. Sand storms are very important as it will bring plant material, seeds and insects into the desert. This is food. Without soft sand the animals can't live beneath the sand. Loose sand allows beetles and lizards to bury themselves up to 30 cm deep where it is cool and they are able to breath. The nostrils of the animals are smaller than the grains of sand and hence they can still breath (analogy to humans being in a pool of marbles as we can still breath because there is air between all of the marbles).
12 rules to survive in the desert
Food, water and heat are the most important issues to focus on if you are lost in the desert.
Namibia consists of a long coastal desert next to a cold sea. The sea is only 80 km away and controls the temperature of the desert. The desert never gets colder than the sea. Jan-Feb is the warmest time in Namibia because the sea is at it's warmest. The sand on the dunes comes from 2000-3000 km away including South Africa. There are currents that blow the sand to the sea and vice versa. The white sand is from the beaches of the sea and the red sand is iron laden and from the desert. There is lots of moisture available at night you just need to catch it. Look at the beetle - It will stand with it's head to the sea and gather condensation down the corrugated ridge of it's back. The water will collect and flow to it's mouth. It can collect water equivalent to 24 liters at once for a 70 kg person.
1. Go to the escarpment because once you are at the escarpment you are out of the deser. Voila!
2. Move at night from 5 p.m. to 10 a.m. because it is cooler and safer. Really??? In the dark???
3. Sleep from 10 am to 5 pm because it is safer. Whaaattt?
4. Stay away from trees because it is safer. For example if you see clouds and there is a risk of lightning the lightning will hit the trees and you will die. The trees are also where animals such as Gemsbok and ticks like to hide out. The ticks will numb your skin and then bite you. You can develop tick bite fever, get weak and lost and then die. Pull ticks off!! (we actually witnessed ticks for ourselves - they look like cute little blueberries rolling in the sand ... apparenly they are not so cute!)
5. Stay away from Gemsbok (Oryx)- because they are very dangerous animals, the warmer it is the more dangerous they are. Gemsbok do not move around from 10 am to 5 pm.
7. Stay away from black places - because there is alot of iron ore in the sand which makes it black and hot like iron sheets. Oh and please note - Compasses do not work due to the magnetic fields from the iron ore.
8. Break into small groups because it is easier to survive (on 5 seeds from jackal droppings, just an example)
9. Don't use energy becasue it is easier to survive.
10. Be clever about food - For example you can see lizards in the desert for miles as long as there is no grass around. You can throw your hat in the air and the lizard will dive in the sand where you can find him. Raw lizards are apparently juicy (alas and thankfully I am not going to find that out!). Jackal droppings are an important vector for spreading seeds. The dropping of a jackal contains 15 seeds that can be eaten. The seeds can be peeled like a sunflower seed. These seeds contain 50% oil.
11. Be clever about water (eat lizards and eyeballs I guess).
12. Be smart about the heat. The best place to be in the heat is at the top of a dune due to the winds and head around to the cool side of the dune. The warm side of the dune can actually be 90 degrees!!! When walking, walk in the proper angle to the sun to limit exposure of the soles of your shoes to the sun. The Deadvleit hike can burn the soles of your shoes off but barefoot is not a problem (Gee Boseman- I sort of wish I had met you before my Deadvleit hike - emptying my shoes in Deadvleit was exhausting!).
Dunes never, ever, ever move. A grain of sand never ever leaves it's dune. This is because the winds from the two opposing directions (sea versus mountains) is 50/50. Dune 45 looks exactly the same today as it did 40 years ago. Picture a plastic bag covering a tourist's camera at the top of the dune. The bag gets picked up by the winds that blow over the top of the dune then push the bag to the base of the dune and the current will grab the bag and blow it back to the top. You never need a compass on a dune if you pay attention to the direction of the dune depending on whether it is summer or winter. If you do this you will always know which direction is the sea versus the mountains. In the winter, the winds come from the mountains and the top curl of the dune is towards the sea. In the summer the winds come from the sea and the top curl of the dune is towards the mountains. The sea or mountains will be 90 degrees from the dune.
Tropic of Capricorn, Moon Landscape, Swakopmund
Our next stop was the Tropic of Capricorn. We took the opportunity for a family photo and then Dion provided a great talk on this major circle of latitude. Essentially it is the southern most latitude where the sun can be directly overhead during the December (i.e.sign of Capricorn) solstice. In December the distance of the sun to Europe is longest and it is winter in Europe. An interesting tidbit about the Tropic of Capricorn is it is not a fixed point and is actually drifting north due to a wobble in the Earth. Over 41,000 years, the Earth's axial tilt varies from 22.1 to 24.5 degrees. Currently it resides at 23.4 degrees. This is weird stuff! Dion referred us to a book called Longitude which is about early sailors navgating the Earth. Our next stop was the Moon Landscape which literally looked like we had landed on the moon. This is an area where lava pushed up through the landscape creating an effect much like what the surface of the moon would look like. We saw a distinct fault line in the distance where a line of sand literally ended in the horizon. As we approached Swakopmund we noticed Uranium mines, salt roads and granite mines. We drove past the Walvis Bay airport turnoff, granite blocks waiting to be loaded up on ships, and of course a Mad Max movie set. We arrived in Swakopmund and were hustled into a business selling tours. We listened to the presentation of tours available for the next day, graciously declined since we decided to enjoy the museum and then checked into our lovely Boutique hotel - Zum Kaiser. That evening we had dinner at an Indian restaurant and the food was incredible!
Our last stop was our bed where we hit the pillow hard!