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Namibia Road Trip Part I: The Eerie and Bizarre

A Photo Essay

By Jenifer NimPublished 22 days ago Updated 19 days ago 5 min read
Photo by Jenifer Nim

My Namibian solo adventure had got off to a tricky start. First, there was no public transport to any of the tourist sights, meaning I’d been forced to do the very last thing I wanted to do and hire a car. Second, apart from four main motorways, all the other roads in the country were made of gravel, ie. tiny, sharp, spikey stones just clamouring to put a hole in my tyres. And third, the tent that I had rented from a camping hire shop was impossible to put up alone, as confirmed by the two strangers I’d reluctantly had to ask for help on my first night.

However, all those difficulties had been washed away by a magnificent sunset, the surreal sight of the bizarre quiver trees, and the taste of delicious German gingerbread.

Photos by Jenifer Nim

I awoke on my second morning refreshed, excited, and slightly disappointed that I would have to change my planned route around the country as I was far too scared to drive down any more gravel roads. Luckily, I was able to take the tent down on my own, even if I couldn’t put it up. I checked the map and, as it was on the way back to the tarmac road, I decided to stop by the Giant’s Playground.

Namibia is an incredible country with some of the most interesting landscapes I’ve ever seen. First, the frankly fake-looking quiver trees. And right next door, the natural rock formations known as the Giant’s Playground, so named because they look like an enormous set of Lego that some long-departed giants had stacked up long ago and since forgotten about.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

After a couple of hours wandering around this unique geological curiosity and taking a thousand photos, I hopped back in the car. My revised destination for today, as I was able to get there on tarmac, was the coastal town of Luderitz. The road sliced through the desert, and all I saw for miles was wave after wave of sand in every imaginable shade of yellow. I passed not a single vehicle, but many wild horses, who stopped and stared balefully at the lone car disturbing the desert peace. I marvelled at them trudging through the sand, wondering what on earth they ate, where they slept, how they could possibly survive in this harsh landscape.

Photos by Jenifer Nim

Just before lunch, I arrived in Luderitz, a strange place with an even stranger feeling. Had I fallen asleep while driving? Did I hit something and fall into a coma? Somehow, I’d been transported from a hot, orange desert into a cold, grey town. And even weirder, I was in Germany in the early 1900s. The whole area is colourless and bleak and known as one of the most inhospitable coasts in all of Africa. The eerie feeling was not helped by the darkening skies and the threat of a storm.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

I parked downtown and found a café with wifi. I really didn’t want to camp tonight during a storm or ask a stranger to help me put up a tent in the rain. I used the internet to find a small guesthouse on the outskirts of Luderitz and headed there for the night.

Luckily, I had found the kindest hosts in all of Namibia. They were surprised to see me, alone, driving myself around their country. When I told them the gravel roads scared me and therefore I wouldn’t be able to see most of the things I’d wanted to see, they told me I absolutely couldn’t miss out and I shouldn’t be afraid of the roads. They taught me how to change a tyre, showed me which routes were safe and which should be avoided, and gave me the confidence I had been missing.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

The next day, I woke up early to take a boat ride from Luderitz harbour. The skies were still dark and sombre, perfectly fitting for the trip past Shark Island, which German settlers had turned into a concentration camp in 1905. It was here that they began to practise the genocidal techniques that they would go on to use during WWII on the local Nama and Herero tribes. The boat also passed Halifax Island, a former guano-harvesting site. Due to the high content of potassium, phosphate, and nitrogen, guano is a very effective fertilizer. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s an island of shit.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

I cheered up once I saw all the shit-producers though.

Photos by Jenifer Nim

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many birds in one place in my life. Bizarrely (a Luderitz theme is most definitely the eerie and bizarre), you can see both penguins and flamingos in the same place.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

On the way back, the captain pointed out dolphins which are unique to Namibia. They were cute little dolphins with distinct patterns and quite unlike any I’ve seen before. They accompanied the boat all the way back to shore, racing ahead of the boat and leaping out of the water in front of us. Little show-offs.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

In the afternoon, I took my second peculiar trip of the day to the nearby ghost town of Kolmanskop. In 1908, a worker putting in the railway line to Luderitz stumbled upon a diamond in the sand. The rail company realised the area was rich in diamonds, and soon German miners flocked to the area and built a fancy town with their newfound enormous wealth.

But the diamonds began to run out, and in the 1920s, the town was already in decline. Over the years, the residents moved to other diamond-rich areas and abandoned their houses and possessions.

Now, tourists can wander through formerly magnificent homes, see the remains of the once-fashionable ballroom, the skittle-alley, the hospital with the first X-ray in the Southern hemisphere, and marvel at the power of Mother Nature slowly taking back her desert.

Photos by Jenifer Nim

The next day I drove to Ai-Ais hot springs at the base of Fish River Canyon. It was a beautiful and tranquil spot, and I had a peaceful, solitary swim in the pool with a view. I was expecting a cool and refreshing dip, but was surprised to find that the water was heated by the hot springs. It was like swimming in an enormous bath and completely surreal on a hot day in the desert.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

Just before sunset, a group of 3 Germans in a proper vehicle suitable for the terrain showed up. It was about time! I had been waiting for someone to help me put up my tent! They marvelled at my little car and my bravery (or stupidity) of driving it through the desert. Being German, and therefore organised and sensible people, they were completely baffled that anybody would arrive in Namibia without having researched and booked everything months beforehand.

They invited me to share their dinner - pasta cooked on a camping stove, a real luxury after 8 sandwiches in a row. I shared with them some fruit and lebkuchen, the latter being an unsurprising hit with the Germans.

The next day before leaving, I took another swim in the giant bath, which was very pleasant in the cool desert morning, and I was on my way again.

Photo by Jenifer Nim

The story continues here: Part II


About the Creator

Jenifer Nim

I’ve got a head full of stories and a hard drive full of photos; I thought it was time to start putting them somewhere.

I haven’t written anything for many, many years. Please be kind! 🙏

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Comments (3)

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  • The Dani Writer18 days ago

    You are the poster child for the intrepid traveler! What a travel destination! Amazing landscapes and what an adventure to have. Inspirational!

  • Love the vivid descriptions of your trip! I had no idea about the disturbing history of a German concentration camp in Africa. Glad to have another installment on your adventures!

  • TheSpinstress21 days ago

    Those abandoned buildings being reclaimed by the desert are amazing! These are some great photos, and your story is fascinating.

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