Surreal Spitzkoppe and Swakopmund

Our journey from inland Namibia towards the coast to took us through some very unusual landforms. One moment we were travelling through grassy plains, admiring the distant mountains, the next we found ourselves amidst a fascinating range of granite hills and strange rock formations. We wound our way through the hills to Spitzkoppe, an area strewn with large, domed chunks of the 700 million year old granite. In the shadow of these boulders we set up bushcamp for the night.

I really enjoyed camping in this unique setting. We climbed up the hills for a panoramic view of the landscape before settling down for an evening around the campfire. All was going smoothly until someone’s shrieks announced the arrival of some impressive wildlife - ‘a tennis-ball on legs’ had apparently scuttled under a chair! For once, I was glad that I couldn’t see properly, especially when I had to venture to the ‘facilities’ before bed (otherwise known as long grass behind one of the boulders.)

With the last of our bushcamping exploits behind us, the road to regular hot showers, proper toilets and reliable electricity stretched luxuriously ahead. To much excitement, the plan for the next two nights was to stay in a backpacker hostel – the first time since Zanzibar. The location of this treat was Swakopmund, a colonial seaside resort and Namibia’s centre of adventure sports. Many of the group had adrenalin activities in mind but I preferred to ‘chillax’ (to use an annoying word, heard especially frequently in South Africa) and explore Swakopmund, as I knew there would be plenty of opportunities for exactly the same sports (such as sandboarding, skydiving) later on my travels.

The guidebooks describe Swakopmund as ‘quirky’. I would say it borders on the surreal - Teutonic, fairy-tale like architecture, wide boulevards and upmarket boutiques are juxtaposed with the bright colours, palm trees and beaches of a Caribbean resort. To me, it all looks a bit weird. I had to fight the urge to prod buildings to see if they would wobble like scenery on a film set. The centre of town felt perfectly safe, however I took a convoluted route back to the hostel via the beach and felt distinctly uncomfortable with groups of loitering locals watching me. I can only assume it’s not the done thing for a white (foreign) woman to walk around on her own.

Looking more carefully at Swakopmund, I realised that Nairobi-style security measures were back: intruder alarms flashed on every house and there was a constant, rhythmic click-click-clicking in the background that wasn’t insects this time but electric fences, including one surrounding our hostel. I was rattled by this sinister undercurrent given the outwardly cheerful and benign appearance of the town – and it was another reminder that this wasn’t Western society as we know it.
A night out was however pretty normal, apart from the fact that I went into a club carrying a doggy bag of overcooked zebra steak from our earlier meal. Not something I’m likely to repeat in Reading! Unfortunately the night didn’t end too well for all of us. One of the group mistakenly thought he’d been locked out of the hostel and attempted a beer-induced leap over the electric fence, only to be found some time later lying in a heap with a badly broken ankle. Sobering up quickly, we made frantic attempts to find an emergency services number and wake up the hostel’s management but failed on both counts. So one of the guides ran off to find the local police station to get help, and sure enough a police car duly pulled up with music blaring out and policemen looking suspiciously like they were enjoying themselves. Apparently the ambulance hadn’t been able to come because it was ‘in the garage’, so the injured party was lifted into the rear ‘cage’ of the police car and driven off to the local private hospital.

The following day we were all surprised to see him back in the hostel being helped about by others. Apparently the insurance company had dictated that it was too expensive to stay in hospital overnight – so he had to wait around a whole day before getting a taxi back into hospital for his operation. To complete his tale of woe, the decision was taken that we’d have to leave him behind, so we decided to call into the hospital on our way out of town. I don’t think the hospital had ever had 20 people through its doors at one time – especially out of visiting hours! – so we attracted curious, yet not overly concerned, glances by staff. Having said our goodbyes, we were off once again towards the Namib desert.

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