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African Adventure: Part Three

You have a day trip to Kolmanskop, the Namibian diamond mining ghost town, and Luderiz

UFOs on the horizon

Let's wake up early and do such-and-such always seems such a good idea at bedtime, but never as easy at 3.30 am when the alarm rings. Anyhow, when your alarm rang you packed up camp and drove off into the night towards Kolmannskuppe - the abandoned diamond mining town in the desert. Through the flat sandy desert so early in the morning before any hint of dawn on the horizon made on-coming car headlights abnormally eerie; they seemed to float somewhere in the distance, making no advance for twenty minutes of driving, before suddenly rushing toward you and flashing blindingly past. It was a relief after passing the first car and discovering it was not some kink of early-morning roadblock hold-up car-jack checkpoint thingy.

Sunrise at Kolmannskuppe

You arrived at Kolmannskuppe before sunrise at about 5.30 am to find the place quiet and empty, save for two springboks wandering about on the far hill and a jackel. To enter the ghost town at sunrise (before guided tours start) required a special 'photographers' permit. It was rather clear why people would pay for the privilege to take photos there so early: it was magnificent! The sunrise turned shades of grey and pale blues into brilliant oranges and washed reds, which splashed against the crumbling walls illuminating them in raw contrast. The low sun angle shone light straight through the splintered window frames, which hung in the disarray of dilapidated walls, and patterned the ghostly rooms with shadowy lines. The wind had slowed down from a half-gale (until now never ending) to a brisque breeze, which whistled crisply past your ear giving you chilly shivers. The sandy surface was smooth, brushed clean by desert winds, and formed into smooth ripples and mounds around the buildings; your's were the only footprints anywhere to be seen. For a period of 30 minutes as the sun broke, Kolmannskuppe felt to be taking a deep breath and waking up. You made one loop around the town before returning to the 4x4 for breakfast (cereal of some kind) and folding-chair nap. Slowly, cars began to pass by along the distant asphalt road; some turning into Kolmannskuppe restricted area with a load of black diamond-mining workers, and others pulling into the ghost town's visitors car park. You were really glad you had made the effort to catch dawn to see what all the people who'd slept-in missed.

You joined in one of the official town tours, spoken in German since it was originally a German settlement, and were shown about the place by a non-especially-enthusiastic lady guide of German origin. Kolmannskuppe was a town built in the desert 50 km away from the coast for German ex-pats seeking riches. They would be offered a comfortable life and good pay for them and their whole family if willing to move to Namibia and sift through sand for diamonds. As the diamonds continued to surface, the town grew at a phenomenal rate. In 19-- something Kolmannskuppe had a populations of 400 enjoying a bar, bowling alley, gymnastics club, choir, stage hall with musical shows, hospital with x-ray equipment, doctors surgery, bakery, city-loop tram service, power plant, ice factory (supplying free daily ice blocks for fridges), and even a 20 x 20 x 2 meter swimming pool with a diving board atop the town's hill. Imagine the logistics of filling a 800000 liter pool fifty kilometers from a water source in a very dry desert atop a windy hill in 19xx with water: impressive, but baffling effort. It was only in 1918 zee Germans left Kolmannskuppe, and relinquished the colony of Namibia. After the first world war Kolmannskuppe was raided for scrap metal (sold to Japan) and since then has stood bare and silent, filling slowly with sand. The Namibian government made vast areas of desert around Kolmannskuppe restricted land, only open to large mining companies paying xx% royalties on all diamond yields. Namibia is basically funded by diamonds and tourism. The tour ended at the blowing alley, followed by an iced coffee in the cafeteria. At least this place knew what an 'iced coffee' is (unlike stupid Europe). Old pieces of glass and uncovered trinkets were there for sale.

After your shady indoor break you made another loop around town, this time seeing it in the full midday sun; the heat was overpowering. Exploring the buildings had you climbing over sand banks, sand hills, sand drifts and sand slides. There was barely a single uncovered floorboard and most doorways were impassable, the windows used as alternatives. Inside the houses, some spooky and others friendly, the temperature was actually cool to comfortable; you could you could understand people happily living here with all their creature comforts. You made a quick midday visit to the Zebra Room, the sun bearing down like a tonne of burning bricks, and then made tracks.

Luderitz, coastal town

Fifty kilometers from the ghost town on the coast was Luderiz, the most populated and lively town of Namibia so far. It was a bit of a relief that you could get supplies there - canned foods, bread, dried meat - because your fridge was feeling lonely. The town's biltong was really tasty, and good as a driving snack. You visited a beach north of town (after getting lost) past the scrap yards and past the strange pink lake sitting just inside the restricted area. It was windy and cold at the beach, so was less fun wetting your toes than expected - after driving through endless deserts it was unsatisfyingly dreary. You swapped drivers (briefly), tanked up and drove back along the gusty road back to Aus Vista camp.

Sunset hike with jumping rocks

Back at camp you decided to walk the Geisterschlucht hike. It was a lovely trail for the first five kilometers with its dry desert flowers, quarts rocks and crickets, but the afternoon summer heat and lack of shade soon made it hard work. The trail was a lot longer than expected. It toured over and around a hill to some exclusive camping huts, where you'd hope that surely camp is just around this corner..., but for far too long never was. When you finally began down the last slope back to camp, an innocent-looking stone lying on the path jumped. Upon careful inspection it turned out to be a stone cricket - what a unusual find! That night evening at camp the wind died down, and with a big curly sausage and a plastic camping cup of wine in your tummy you slept well - although you did wonder for a while why the salt container had a boy chasing a chicken on it.