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Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Swakopmund and the Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Written by Richard Taylor
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We dont have the money,said Wolfgang.

My big genial driver was expounding on Namibia’s lack of infrastructure. He sounded cheerful. Everything Wolfgang said sounded cheerful, even his lamentations.

His case had been made hours ago, when the gravel road had petered out and Wolfgang swerved the rover from side to side, avoiding the deeper mounds of red earth. Happily, we didnt spin our wheels in any serious way, the route upgraded finally and we continued without incident to the Tropic of Capricorn, its marker sign faded after years of sand and wind, further obscured by the stickers plastered on by previous drivers. It surprised me to feel jazzed about a line of latitude. Not your typical bucket list item.

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We reached Swakopmund in the late afternoon, stopping by its lighthouse and adjacent market, where Wolfgang inquired about vacancies and found one for me at the Villa Weisse.

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Spitzkoppe tomorrow?asked Wolfgang.

Maybe. Maybe the day after. Want to look around first.

Very good,” he said and we shook hands.

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There was an impression of a good cycling town, with its pancake flatness and wide avenues and light traffic. On the south side was an equestrian club where riders were trotting their steeds through the dunes and sparse grasses. Beyond that was the Namib Desert. This was Swakopmund, squeezed between sand and sea, although the hotel and street signs BISMARK STRASSE, LUDERITZ STRASSE, HOTEL SCHWEIZERHAUS, HOTEL KAISER WILHELM suggested another country entirely. The main thoroughfares like Sam Nujoma and Daniel Kamho had recently swapped their Germanic monikers for more indigenous tags (Sam Nujoma Avenue was previously Kaiser Wilhelm Street). Within this leisurely grid were handsome outdoor malls, smart little shops and a narrow beachside path lined with palms, while the store fronts and residences had a clean central European chalet-like charm.

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It was a pretty little town in other words, Namibia’s most popular resort, a place to don flip-flops and chill. But I hoped for their sake it wasnt high season, for as the mists curled in off the Atlantic, ’Swako’ was suddenly a cold empty burg; streets, markets, beach near deserted but for flocks of guinea fowl, which had the run of the place. As for chilling, well, one could still do that; the few tourists on view were bundled in parkas and toques, while the market vendor ladies huddled in sixes and sevens, wrapped tightly in blankets.

Until they made a sale.

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Last modified on Thursday, 01 July 2021

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