March 18, 2016

Luderitz, Namibia

Wandering through Luderitz is like a journey through time

Luderitz is known as an up and coming kite surfing destination because of its strong and reliable winds. And on the last day of our voyage, when we were running ahead of an approaching front with bare poles (no sails), and still making six knots, we started to wonder if our choice to come here was a bad one. But since our screeching-tires arrival the wind has dropped and the charms of the place have taken over.

In a certain light this old town is gorgeous. In other light—the kind of harsh illumination most of us live in, it’s simply run down. There are a couple of good grocery stores, an excellent fish market (where the daily buy catch is sold frozen and filleted for a fraction of market cost), a few good restaurants and an excellent data package through Telcom which gets us a week of super high-speed unlimited internet for $300 rand ($20 US).

There’s also the kind of optimistic architecture that makes you think that someone thought this little city was going to be a big deal. Big German mansions—most in need of a paint job—sit above the harbour. Imposing public buildings, including a grand train station, ornate banks and great halls, make each side street worthy of exploring.

The town, built on the wealth of diamond mining, has won us over. It’s found in a rocky patch of the Namib desert—smack in the middle of what’s known as the ‘restricted zone’, the area dedicated to diamond mining which is strictly patrolled and controlled and can’t be entered without a permit.
On one day we did get a permit and headed to the ghost town of Kolmonskop. Once a thriving mining town—with a street of millionaires and a hall that hosted opera singers, it hit a bust cycle when bigger and better diamonds were found further north.

Founded in1908 when railway worker Zacharias Lewala discovered diamonds just sitting on the sand it was abandoned after only a few decades. At its peak 300 German adults, 40 children and 800 native Owambo contract workers lived in Kolmanskop. The first x-ray machine (to track misplaced diamonds) in Southern Africa was found here—as well as a bowling alley, ballroom and school.

These days it’s part living museum, part ghost town. Some of it has been restored, but most of it is being reclaimed by the desert as the dunes shift in the winds.

It was the Namib Desert that drew us to Namibia. And though a couple of writing assignments and that awesome internet are helping to hold us here, exploring the desert—and watching it shift through the day are huge rewards. If you’ve seen the most recent Mad Max you have an idea of where we are; a vast desert that stretches inland from the Atlantic, where you can cross the driest dunes and still make it home in time for the freshest seafood.

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