Woke up at 03:50, waited 10 more minutes and first woke up Jason, the assistant, by mistake and then, quite reluctantly, walked to Ndaheya’s tent to disturb his dreams of fat cattle on his family’s communal farm in the Gobabis district.
I needed the truck’s keys to get hold of a toothbrush, notebook and pencil for some scribbling. I deemed these the perfect props to make sense of this early morning madness.
The rest of the group, except young Hunt, are embarking on a 8-am Lüderitz boat cruise. We need to rise at five, jump through a shower, munch some breakfast, embark at six and wake up somewhere in between.
My notepad has become a specimen tray of moths and insects dancing on my handwriting, attracted by the flashlight’s illumination of there operatic performance. I strongly urge anyone spending time in Namibia’s southern regions to set an early alarm and spend 4 to 5-am staring at our Milky Way. Just look up, keep quiet and listen to the veld’s soundtrack.
The sky really seems stretched out like a celestial skin, covering our atmospheric dome and creating proof with a view that we are traveling through the universe. I am trekking back in time with the light of the stars.
Everyone is up and about, breakfast of cereals and yogurt and sandwiches. We have a quick coffee, tea and hot chocolate. The gravel road leading to the camp site at Klein Aus Vista had been damaged and we had to cross a river bed.
And then we got stuck.
Ndaheya tries to go forward and backward in the soft, damp sand, but unfortunately just sinks deeper. A neighbour from the campsite next door stops 50 meters behind us with his pickup and scouts for a detour around us. He will let the farmer know of our predicament and they could bring a tractor to tow us out.
We start digging and collecting large stones. I have been stuck a number of times and remember a useful hint. I ask everyone to pick up bushes uprooted by the flood and I cram them behind and in front of the wheels, laying some flat stones for traction. Eezy, peezy, pie and we’re on our way to the coast for a boat trip, walk around Lüderitz and visit to Kolmanskop.
Lüderitz is a harbour town in south-west Namibia, lying on one of the least hospitable coasts in Africa. It is a port developed around Robert Harbour and Shark Island.
The town was founded in 1883 when Heinrich Vogelsang purchased Angra Pequena and some of the surrounding land on behalf of Adolf Lüderitz, a Hanseat from Bremen in Germany, from the local Nama chief. Lüderitz began its life as a trading post, with other activities in fishing and guano-harvesting. In 1909, after the discovery of diamonds nearby, Lüderitz enjoyed a sudden surge of prosperity. Today, however, diamonds are mostly found elsewhere and offshore, and Lüderitz has lost a lot of this interest.
The harbour has a very shallow rock bottom, making it unusable for modern ships; this led to Walvis Bay becoming the centre of the Namibian shipping industry. Recently, however, the addition of a new quay has allowed larger fishing vessels the dock at Lüderitz. To town has also re-styled itself in an attempt to lure tourists to the area, which includes a new waterfront area for shops and offices.
The town is known for its colonial architecture, including some Art Nouveau work, and for wildlife including seals, penguins, flamingos and ostriches. It is also home to a museum and to the Lüderitz Speed Challenge, and formerly lay at the end of a railway line to Keetmanshoop.
Just outside of Lüderitz lies the ghost town of Kolmanskop. This previously bustling diamond town is now abandoned, and fights a constant struggle against being buried under the shifting sand dunes of the Namib desert. It was named after a transport driver named Johnny Coleman who, during a sand storm, abandoned his ox wagon on a small incline opposite the settlement. Once a small but very rich mining village, it is now a popular tourist destination run by the joint firm NamDeb (Namibia-De Beers).
In 1908 the black worker Zacharias Lewala found a diamond while working in this area and showed it to his supervisor, the German railroad inspector August Stauch. After realizing that this area is rich of diamonds, lots of German miners settled in this area and soon after the German government declared a large area as a “Sperrgebiet”, starting to exploit the diamond field.
Driven by the enormous wealth of the first diamond miners, the residents built the village in the architectural style of a German town, with amenities and institutions including a hospital, ballroom, power station, school, skittle-alley, theater and sport-hall, casino, ice factory and the first x-ray-station in the southern hemisphere, as well as the first tram in Africa. It had a railway link to Lüderitz.
The town declined after World War I when the diamond-field slowly exhausted and was ultimately abandoned in 1954. The geological forces of the desert mean that tourists now walk through houses knee-deep in sand. Kolmanskop is popular with photographers for its settings of the desert sands’ reclaiming this once thriving town. Due to its location within the restricted area (Sperrgebiet) of the Namib desert, tourists need a permit to enter the town.
Upon returning to Klein Aus Vista, we stop 20km outside Aus and visit the feral horses, hoping to find them at a water point. We spot more than 60 in total and I have the opportunity to walk more than 2km, taking photos along the way.
They hold an irresistible fascination: the Wild Horses of the Namib in south-western Namibia. For centuries their origin was shrouded in mystery. Their habitat, the barren plains around Garub on the eastern fringe of the Namib Desert, is no paradise; nevertheless they have managed to adapt to the harsh conditions.
To this day, most of the guesswork probably centres on the origin of the horses. There is agreement only on one point: they are not indigenous, because originally there never were horses in southern Africa. They were first imported by Europeans in the 17th century. Therefore the Wild Horses of the Namib are the descendants of domesticated animals which, similar to the mustangs of North America, have adopted a feral existence.
But how come did domesticated horses stray into this area? And how did it happen that they turned feral? Some theories point to a ship with a cargo of horses and other domestic animals which was wrecked on the Skeleton Coast in the late 19th century. Others refer to the stud farm at Duwisib owned by Hansheinrich von Wolf. However, a farm manager was in charge when von Wolf was absent during the First World War and after he was killed in action. And according to the farm’s bookkeeping no horses were lost until the late thirties, whereas reports about Wild Horses near Garub already appear in the twenties. Furthermore, neither of these theories takes into account that horses do not migrate over large distances but usually stay in the area they know.
According to yet another theory horses were left behind by German colonial forces during the First World War as they retreated from advancing South African troops. Up to 2,000 horses were indeed kept at Aus. But it gets better still. A report, compiled later, says: “In the morning of 27 March the indefatigable pilot officer Fiedler flew to Garub and caused great bewilderment by successfully dropping bombs onto the enemy camp and among about 1700 grazing cavalry horses” (Hans von Oelhafen: Der Feldzug in Südwest 1914/15, Berlin 1923, page 117).
Substantiated biologically and historically, several theories can thus be brought together. The core of the herd probably consists of horses which belonged to the South African army, the German colonial forces and the Kreplin Stud (with connections to Duwisib). Animals which were dispersed or left behind in the turmoil of war gathered in the mountains around Aus, where many natural watering places can be found; in those days there were no fences yet. It is possible that these groups were joined by horses which had been abandoned during the depression and as a result of the automobile’s triumphant progress.
It is probably thanks to the diamond finds at the coast that the horses were not caught again later on. As early as 1908 the German colonial administration established restricted areas which extended about 100 km inland and were strictly controlled. The surroundings of Garub were part of ‘Sperrgebiet II’. Nobody was allowed access, with no exception made for hunters or horse-catchers either. Garub with its borehole and the horse-trough, set up later, became the pivotal point in the horses’ existence.
It was only in 1986 that the Restricted Area II was declared open and annexed to the Namib Naukluft Park. For 90 years the feral horses were able to develop in almost complete isolation and by now may therefore be regarded as a breed in their own right, the ‘Namibs’.
(info from http://www.wild-horses-namibia.com/index.htm)