Wednesday, December 9, 2015

From the San to Skulls – Erich

Continuing our saga through Namibia, after we left Etosha National Park, we headed west. After a quick stop for fuel and groceries in Outjo, we continued through Khorixas. Here we stopped for lunch, a fascinating experience. I had a steakburger, and the steak was made of kudu rather than beef. Syarra got borevors made of kudu as well. The kudu was good. Not tangy like lamb, but a different flavor than beef. A bit harder in texture, too.

Another couple of hours west brought us to the Aba Huab campsite on the side of the dry Aba Huab riverbed. This was not our favorite campsite. The site itself was fine. The showers and toilets were open air. The toilets were what Carver and I called semi-private. No door, but you would have to walk around a corner to see. Still, only one other site was occupied, so we did have pretty good privacy (not to be confused with the encryption system PGP. I do recognize that very few of my readers will even know why this is meant to be a joke.) The troubles we had were mosquitoes and water. The mosquitoes were voluminous and somehow we filled both tents with them. It was a mostly restless night and all of us have several new itchy bumps all over our skin. Hoorah! And then, to make matters even more fun, when we woke in the morning, all of the water in the campground was off. And unlike in the U.S.A., there is not always someone hosting at the campground, so I could find no one to ask about it. We just had to do without.

That day we visited a few locations. First we hit Organ Pipes. It is a shallow canyon, easy to walk down into. And along the sides of the canyon and thousands of dolomite pillars. They make mostly vertical columns. It does look like a large set of organ pipes. Carver thought it looked more like the skyscrapers of a big city and then smaller concentrations that were other parts of town, suburbs, or nearby boroughs. He even named all of the towns.

Organ Pipes

From there we swung by Burnt Mountain. Sadly, we did not get the full effect. It is a mountain made of a black shale that is surrounded by sandstone peaks. Supposedly in the early morning light or the late afternoon light, the black of the shale shimmers with many colors. But our skies were cloudy and we merely saw black against the sandy brown.

After that, we headed over to Twyfelfontein, Namibia's only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, some two to six thousand years ago, the San people (today known as the Bushmen) engraved pictures in the boulders in this area. The pictures show animals; the San were nomadic hunters who followed the herds. And often there is more to the engraving than that. Some of the animals will have indications that they are partly human. Part of the San religion involved the shaman shapeshifting into an animal form in order to heal the sick.
Panel including Lion Man, his tail bends up to a five fingered hand

You follow a guide, both because then you learn more and because they want to protect the site from any sort of vandalism. It was fascinating to hear about the San and why they used the rocks here. Sometimes it was to tell others what animals they had seen, even some that they had seen miles and miles away. For example, we saw engravings of seals and a penguin. Apparently, when the San made it as far as the ocean (which is a couple hundred miles away) they saw seals and penguins. And they recorded it in the rocks when they returned to this site.

Panel including a seal on the right
Panel including a penguin on the left

Sometimes it gave directions. One of the panels has a series of spots marked by two concentric circles. This represented various waterholes where the San would find the game. Today, those waterholes are dried up, so no one can say for sure what the orientation of the map is.

A couple of waterholes on the "map" with an oryx between

Finally, they sometimes used the rocks almost as a chalkboard in a school. Children had to know what various animals looked like.

From this area we went west again, all the way to the coast: the Skeleton Coast to be specific. The Skeleton Coast is the northern half of the coast of Namibia. It is an area with dangerous reefs, shifting currents, and regular fog. Many a ship has wrecked there, giving the area its macabre name. (Speaking of macabre, to enter and exit the park you must pass through a gate and guard house. The guard house at the southern end, called the Ugab River Gate, has a huge display of the skulls of many different animals on shelves outside the door. And the gates themselves are marked with the skull and crossbones you usually only see on pirate flags, in places where there are still pirates advertising their profession with flags.)

If you were shipwrecked on the coast, bad news. You would probably die in the wreck, but if you didn't, you would find yourself pinned between the ocean and the Namib Desert. It's the world's oldest desert and not an easy place to survive. There are several rivers flowing to the sea through this stretch, but they are almost always dry. One of them boasts that it actually flows at least once a year. Booyah!

We stopped at the site of the wreck of the South West Sea. Here, the ship lies in the surf, not much left but the lower part of the hull.

What remains of the South West Sea

We also stopped at the sight of the Winston Wreck, but we couldn't find it. However, we saw thousands of birds flocking and flying up and down together in huge waves.

From there we traveled south down the coast to the Mile 72 campsite. We were the only campers in this gigantic campground. We picked a site near the ocean. We hunted for minerals, which lie out on the surface here. Then we threw most of them into the ocean, because it is fun to hear the splash. Though Syarra kept a pocketful of the best ones.

Today it is onward to Swakopmund where I plan to post these entries.

Is there anything you wanted to know more about? Please, let me know.

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