Friday, March 23, 2012

driving across the desert of the luderitz peninsula

"All I wanted to do now was get back to Africa. We had not left it yet, but when I wold wake in the night, I would lie listening, homesick for it already."
-Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

I was enjoying watching the Europeans slowly turn a delicious shade of lobster pink-red as they baked under the sun. Me, I was of a different breed and had spent enough months trekking the Namib desert that slapping on sunscreen had become a daily ritual and I was now becoming a lovely healthy gold-brown that made me look like I was born on the islands of Phuket.

We were heading for Agate Bay, the beach spot that the little girl Shannon had told me about where you could see more seals. My initial plan the day before had been to try to hike it there, but now I had a ride in the Europeans' truck, and I was glad, because it turned out to be a longer journey that I had been expecting. The route to Agate Bay takes you out of the city, past the townships, past the forbidden zone of the Sperrgebiet (with signs sternly warning DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES TURN RIGHT), and then finally this huge wilderness beach facing the ocean and Seal Island, looking so uninhabited that you'd think that we were the first humans to discover the place - except for the brick braai structures every couple hundred metres.

"This would be an awesome party spot," the boys agreed.

The rhythm of the waves seem to pull us into a sleepy serene trance. Claudio and Alina played tic tac toe in the sands until the waves washed each game away. Lars, ever silent, sat on the shore with his t-shirt over his head in what looked like deep contemplation. Till wandered away. I waded as deep in the cool water as I dared, and feeling the current pull at my ankles, pretended I was in a Mariah Carey music video. There were birds on the island nearby, possibly penguins, watching us with amusement as we played in the water, probably wondering what it is about humans that make them go all daydreamy in the ocean.

Gloria Carey

Alina and Claudio

Eventually we had to leave the wild isolation of this beach, so we piled back in to the truck, the Europeans looking slightly more red then before. Our next stop was Diaz point, on the other side of the peninsula. This was the first part of the area where European explorers had landed on in 1488, a historic moment much better remembered than Shark Island. Also, we had heard there was a cafe there, and we were starving.

It was not easy finding our way to Diaz point, as the signs were not marked clearly, and even our guidebook's maps were ambiguous. The rocky roads seem to blend into the weird moonscape that surrounds Luderitz, so sometimes it was hard to just follow the road. It was almost a test of character, to see who could make it there. To add as an extra challenge, the lands around the road were all surrounded by the diamond-rich Sperrgebiet and more signs warning diamond smugglers against trespassing. And yet it was so easy to accidentally drift into the Sperrgebiet; it just takes one wrong turn off an unclear signpost - and then frantic reversing of the truck.

Eventually, we made it to Diaz Point, where we discovered that the cafe was closed.

As with the rest of Luderitz, there weren't much diversions at Diaz Point to entertain visitors - a rusty playground, a mini-golf course entirely in sand and rocks, and a grave marking the spot where a soldier had died of hunger. Alina drily remarked that we might have been saved from such a fate if the darn cafe had only been open.

what a closed cafe looks like.

there wasn't exactly a food court here.

Instead, like Agate Bay, Diaz Point was more of a quiet contemplation sort of place. We crossed the wood bridge and climbed up to the point where stood a replica of the cross set up by the Portuguese explorer Diaz, who had discovered this place over five hundred years ago. The ocean waves crashed furiously against the rocks and I found myself mesmerized again, like I had been at Peggy's Cove in Nova Scotia. We sat on the steps and watched. There was a small island nearby full of seals, resting on the rocks watching us. I thought about how if one kept going across the body of water I was looking at, we'd hit South America.

seals on the island, watching us.

Till, pretending to be a Portuguese explorer.

Soon enough our hunger became unbearable, so we drove back to Luderitz, across the moonscape, wondering if we had sent home photos of us standing here, could we convince anyone that we had been to the moon? We ordered burgers on toast with milkshakes at the Waterfront's Sea Breeze Cafe, and then at that point I departed from my European travel companions. They were on the hunt for Internet. I knew from experience that it was going to be a hopeless cause.

For dinner I ate a plate of mussels drowned in garlic butter and camembert cheese with two glasses of South African dry white, and turned in at the hostel early. It was still empty. I dozed off on the couch watching too many episodes of CSI and woke up in the morning to the loud honking of my ride, a combie van driver named Auntie Anna. She had a tendency to curse up a storm in Afrikaans but she was absolutely sweet to me. The combie van made about six stops after me, going back and forth between the township and the city, picking up fish at various points. I thought about asking why they didn't make all the stops in the townships at once, and all the stops in town after, but gave up on trying to be a North American ass obsessed with efficiency. The other locals in the van were curious about the presence of an Asian foreigner in the van but were too hot and tired to talk to me, which was what I preferred. It was a long hot ride back to Windhoek. I opened the window a little to let a little air circulate, but it was all hot desert air coming in. We mostly slept in the van and ate little. I tried to ration my water.

It was unpleasantly hot and crowded, but I soon came to realize that I enjoyed these combie van rides. The desert landscape was, as always, breathtaking and the mountains made such strange sharp formations. I've grown accustomed now to sweating through my jeans. As crowded as these rides get, and as hot as the desert gets, I knew I was going to miss these road trips once I got back to Canada.

"Now, looking out the tunnel of trees over the ravine at the sky with white clouds moving across in the wind, I loved the country so that I was happy as you are after you have been with a woman that you really love, when, empty, you feel it welling up again and there it is and you can never have it all and yet what there is, now, you can have, and you want more and more, to have, and be, and live in, to possess now again for always, for that long, sudden-ended always; making time stand still..."
-Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa