Monthly Archives: June 2014

SANDBLASTED

P1110144I stood in awe in the doorway, staring at the sand that had swallowed up what must have once been a master bedroom.

“It’s like walking through a Salvador Dahli painting,” I said aloud, Zach agreeing in just as much awe.

“This is awesome,” he said.

We were in Kolmanskop (Coleman’s Hill in German), a small ghost town that had once been a thriving diamond mining community. It had it’s own ice factory, general store, a 200-bed hospital, power station, skittle alley, theater, casino and was the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to have an X-ray machine.P1110159

The town was named after Johnny Coleman who abandoned his ox wagon during a sand storm on the outskirts of Luderitz. In 1909 Zacharias Lewala, a local worker, discovered a diamond in the area. He showed it to his supervisor, a German named August Stauch and thus the diamond rush of the early 20th century began. Back then, diamonds were literally just lying on the surface.

But as with most natural resources, the diamonds were exhausted pretty quickly and by 1954 the town was abandoned like an unwanted newborn. The Namib Desert, one of the oldest and driest deserts on the planet, slowly reclaimed the town as strong winds pushed the sand dunes into the houses, breaking windows, doors and drowning the homes, hospital and anything the sand could get into.

It’s now a major tourist attraction and a great place for photographers seeking that surreal experience. Entrance is $75 Namibian dollars ($7.50) and for an extra $25 ND ($2.50) you can join either the 9 AM or 11 AM tours and refresh yourself with a cool milkshake or whatever beverage fancies you in the old ballroom.

P1110214Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to shower out half the Namib Desert from the crack of my ass.

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BITTER FONTEIN

IMG_4359Bitter Fontein, named for the brackish water of where it lies, lies just off the N7 Highway in the Western Cape of South Africa. It’s nestled in the narrow Hardeveld valley on the Hardeveld Route in the Namaqualand. If you’re driving the almost 5-hour trip from Cape Town, you’ll pass some majestic mountain ranges such as the Ceres range and the Cederberg range before the landscape changes to a what appears to be a clone of the Australian Outback.

I met Maretha at the Multi-purpose Tourism Centre at the entrance of the village. She operates the tourist centre which also has a restaurant that serves traditional and contemporary food in a surrounding of souvenir trinkets, handcrafted by locals, and brochures on what to do in the area.

“The best time to visit us is during the flower season,” she explains, “August-September. That’s when it gets really busy. Of course, that all depends on the rains.”

Other things to do in the area include treks, visiting spiritual sites, watching traditional dances, listening to the local story tellers and just kicking back, slowing down and appreciating a weekend out of the hustle ‘n’ bustle of the rat race.

In winter it becomes cold enough for snow to hang onto the peaks. And it’s warm in the day but don’t let that fool you. The Outback landscape is a deceiving witch, hot in the day and ice cold when the sun disappears over the hills.

Maretha also owns and operates Maretha’s Guesthouse. Made of clay, this perfectly insulated home away from home is the place to stay when visiting the laid-back region.Image

The guest bedroom consists of three single beds and plenty of space. You’ll receive your own key for the bathroom which has a sink fixed over a pile of stones, plenty of books to choose from and a seductive bath to soak in.

Outside, the cactus garden is greener than a rainforest, really sticking out against the red dirt and brown clay of the house. There’s a fire pit and a lot of old, antique appliances decorating the yard.

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“I like to horde things,” Maretha grins. She points out that on the veranda, “There’s a couple of birds that have made their nests here. At 18:00 I always go to the bar for dinner and at 19:00 watch the news there.”

There’s only one bar in town. It’s also where the only other hotel is located with its own liquor store situated in the centre of town.

 

 

The town was dry of any tourists and I was warmly welcomed to the bar by Ice, the owner. But don’t let his name fool you. He’s friendly and has a warm soul. I played some tunes on my ol’ six string in exchange for a few drinks.

Rugby is the favoured sport as the walls of the bar house framed rugby jerseys. The town also has a service station and the train from the mines ends the line in Bitter Fontein, a great place to slow down and remember that life isn’t always about being a rat in a race.

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DESERT BIKERS

P1110005“Oh,” moaned Emmanuel, “so hung over.” He stumbled about, holding his head.

We were standing outside the police station under blue skies. The wind had picked up and was a little chilly. I grinned explaining how I don’t suffer from hangovers. After a breakfast of a peanut butter sandwich, I thanked the officers who had welcomed me in the best way possible to Namibia and hit the B4 highway to Luderitz.

Francois, the captain of San Miguel (the boat I spent five months crossing the Indian Ocean) had a friend in Luderitz called Boy (yup, Boy). I was hoping to meet him and crash at his for a few nights. I stood by the highway, reading my book waiting for a vehicle to drive by.

If the road could have been emptier it wouldn’t be regarded a road anymore. I began to wonder of my chances of reaching Luderitz. After about a hundred pages a bukkey pulled over. “Where are you going?” I smiled at the driver and his passenger.

“Luderitz,” he grinned.

“Can I ride with you?” I asked, hoping he wouldn’t bring up a request to get paid.

“Sure, hop in.”

P1110417The driver’s name was Africa (seriously) and his passenger was Gustav. They both worked for a mining company and had two weeks work in Luderitz. And I guess they both love Michael Bolton who was crooning how he couldn’t live without you from the radio. We drove parallel to railway tracks through a forbidding desert.

It then hit me that I just might be in, “Is this the Kalahari Desert?” I asked.

“Yes,” Africa grinned.

 

Awesome.

“Tell me,” Africa said, “who do you think will win the World Cup?”

“I was going for Spain but they got ripped apart by the Dutch. I’m hoping that an African team will win. Ghana is my favourite.”

Africa nodded in agreement as he attempted to break the sound barrier on the empty road. We passed wild ostriches which had me thinking, where could they possibly nest? Within a couple of hours we had zipped past Kolmanskop, an abandoned mining town famous for the desert sands that pour through the empty houses.IMG_4439

Ten minutes later we reached Luderitz, a small coastal town with two main industries, diamond mines and fishing. It rested on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. I was in awe to see the desert meet the sea.

The houses were brightly painted in blue, green, yellow and red, dotting the barren landscape. Africa and Gustav gave me a quick tour and showed me the harbour and waterfront where I was dropped off.

“When you write a book, make sure you put me in it,” Africa grinned.

“I will,” I grinned back, thanking them. I made my way to a fish ‘n’ chip shop I had spotted.

“Excuse me,” I politely interrupted the conversation between the owner and a customer. “I was wondering if it’s possible to use a phone to call a friend I have in Luderitz?”

The customer offered his. I brought up Boy’s contact details on my phone and showed them to the guy.

“Ah, you are friends with Boy,” he said, punching in the numbers.

“You know Boy?” I said in surprise.

“Yes, he is a very nice man,” the owner joined in. “I went to school with him.”

Boy explained where he lived to the customer. The owner called up a taxi for me. “Don’t pay more than $10,” she said and ten minutes later I was in Boy’s home.

Dreadlocked and tall, Boy, a panel beater by trade, was hung over from the previous night. We sat in his living room watching the highlights of the World Cup in Brazil.

“Should we go see the game at a bar?” I suggested at 16:30.

“Sure,” he said.

IMG_4411 We walked down to the main part of town. A street was closed off and a lot of bikers and spectators were lining the sidewalk, watching some riders doing wheelies and burning rubber.

Literally. One rider shredded his rear tire on his Triumph, smoking up the whole street.

“It’s the annual Luderitz Diamond Rally,” explained Boy. “Bikers from clubs come here from South Africa and Namibia once a year.”

 

“Cool,” I said. I approached the rider that had shredded his rear tire. “That was awesome,” I grinned, offering toIMG_4431 shake his hand. He offered me his index finger, the only remaining finger on his right hand.

I then followed Boy into the bar. It was like a scene from the TV series, Sons of Anarchy. Everybody was drunk, boerwors were being grilled, there was a tattooist on site providing ink, rugby was being watched on the big screen TV in the bar that was dotted with caps and bras hanging from the ceiling. It reminded me of the bar in the Northern Territory of Australia, in a tiny watering hole called Daly Waters. After the rugby game a band hit the stage.

They played incredible covers, some better than the originals including Dire Straits, Money for Nothing (which I’m not a fan of but these guys tore it a new one). I chatted with members of various motorbike clubs including The One Percenters, the Red Devils, The Harley Davidson Group, The Blacklisted, the Desert Hawks and the infamous Hell’s Angels. Everyone was super friendly even though they looked like the kind of people you don’t want to cross paths with.

One guy I met, a Hell’s Angel named Paul, gave me his card. It said that he was a photographer. “I own a bar in Cape Town,” he said after I told him of what I was doing. “If you come down you’ll be my guest.”

“Sweet, man!” I grinned. “Thanks.”

The second band that played were some young guys from Cape Town. The guitarist was Hendrix incarnated. Along with a drunken American kid from Utah and the bartender, I hit the dance floor as we yelled out to the band to play Lynyard Skynyard’s, Freebird. Even the band’s drummer heckled the singer for Freebird.

I pulled out my harmonica and showed it to the band. They threw a mic at me and I wailed to Sweet Home Alabama. They did awesome covers of AC\DC songs and by the end of the night I was smoking a joint with the drummer, watching a huge red-head get into a fight with the bartender who looked like a small figurine compared to the big oak.

I was surprised when the bartender took a swing at him. No fear whatsoever. I don’t know what the fight was about and I stepped back from it when it became physical. I hate violence. Can’t stand that shit. I just don’t understand how people have this urge to get physical with another fellow human. I was standing next to Boy who was also watching the scene as a handful of people tried to break up the fight.

“And yet, marijuana is illegal,” I noted. Boy ‘hmphed’ in agreement.

Boy’s friend drove us home. In the front seat the big red-head sat explaining what had happened in Afrikaans. He turned out to be a nice guy, just misunderstood.

As I lay in my sleeping bag at Boy’s house I couldn’t help but grin at the surrealness of the evenings event. I was watching the World Cup in a biker bar full of Hell’s Angels and other motorbike club members.

In Namibia. In Africa.

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