data Bisbocci Abroad: The Land God Created in Anger

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Land God Created in Anger

             Some refer to Namibia as the land God created in anger and, by traveling throughout the country, it is easy to see why. The bleak and unforgiving landscapes of Namibia are foreboding, harsh and desolate. From the endless scrubland of the Kalahari, to the rugged mountains of Kunene and from the vast expanse of red dunes at Sosussvlei to Damaraland’s rocky terrain, the land is so inhospitable, that few vestiges of life have found a way to manage survival in this unforgiving and starkly beautiful country.
          Nowhere does this ring more true than along the otherworldly stretch of land known as the Skeleton Coast--a place that Portuguese explorers once deemed "The Gates of Hell."
          The Skeleton Coast more recently got its name from the numerous shipwrecks that are strewn along its shores, as well as from the carcasses of seals and whales that frequently wash up on its beaches.
         It is easy to see how this otherworldly and barren landscape, with extreme variations in topography and geology has been both revered and feared by intrepid travelers and explorers throughout history. Its infinite expanses of land and sky host endless gravel plains, lichen fields and windswept dunes that evoke an ominous sense of foreboding.

          We traveled to the Skeleton Coast at the end of August, shortly after visiting Etosha National Park during my short holiday at the end of term two. Due to time restrains and our skepticism of driving the wild northern regions of the coast in our tiny 2WD car, our tour of the coastline was a bit limited, but we were still able to see some wonderful highlights.
With our little car, we traversed the boundless lunar landscape. The scenery along the road to Henties Bay from the interior seemed to change by the minute. We sat in awe as we watched the mountains and red rock outcrops give way to expansive moonscapes of white and brown terrain.

Skeleton Coast Landscape
The drive made us feel as though we were venturing into nothingness, skimming the surface of the moon and bracing ourselves to drop off its edge at any moment. There was no town to break up the emptiness. No sign of life to relieve the feeling of loneliness and desolation.

          As soon as we hit the salt road along the coast, we headed North—across mirage-inducing windswept panoramas—to the Cape Cross Seal Reserve.
          Cape Cross marks the point where Portuguese explorer Diego Cao landed on the Namibian coast and raised a giant cross in the 1600s. Today, it houses hundreds of thousands of Cape Fur Seals that breed along its rocky shores.
          The stench of the seals is nauseating and the sound almost deafening, but the sight is so incredible that we lingered on the boardwalk in order to take in the extraordinary scene.

Sleeping Cape Fur Seal
Seals at Cape Cross
From Cape Cross, we traversed the coastal landscape to the town of Swakopmund, stopping briefly to snap photos of a shipwreck and to take a peek at the bizarre and brightly colored holiday houses of Wlotzkasbaken.

Skeleton Coast Shipwreck
          My fellow volunteers and I revere Swakopmund as a sort of paradise. We had visited the city over Easter weekend at the end of March and were struck by both its incredible natural setting and its western comforts. To us, it seemed to be an antithesis to Northern Namibia and a break from the chaotic and unorganized rhythm of life in Ovamboland. I was excited to visit Swakopmund again and to indulge in the city’s fine cuisine and familiar atmosphere.
          We spent some time ambling down the streets, admiring the colonial architecture and taking in the ocean views, before heading south toward Walvis Bay in search of the large flocks of flamingoes.
          We drove to the Walvis Bay Lagoon, situated in the Dorob National Park. The lagoon sits neatly between the raging Atlantic and the crests of golden coastal dunes. It is a beautiful setting, made all the more compelling by the presence of hundreds of graceful pink birds.
Flamingos in the Lagoon
          Perhaps God made this land in anger. It is easy to see how such a conclusion could be made after traveling the endless roads across the barren and unforgiving lands of the country’s coastline. But at moments like this, as I stood looking at the lovely birds soaring overhead, I felt that anger could not possibly suffice in bringing about something so beautiful and delicate.
And I couldn’t help but think that the Portuguese explorers got it all wrong when they deemed this stretch of coast “the Gates of Hell.”


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