Walvisbaai - Sandwich Harbour
Early start (well, I call getting up at 6.15 a.m. early on holiday) to drive to Walvisbaai this morning for a very special excursion to Sandwich Harbour, an area about 45 km south of Walvisbaai, where high dunes meet the ocean. You can only get there with an experienced driver – no roads here, only dunes. The tour starts from Walvisbaai, so we follow the directions and park right at the small harbour to go to the office of our adventure organisation. “Oh, you’re early!” the lady says. Indeed, we are early, turns out we are booked on the afternoon tour. Small miscommunication from our travel agency. As it’s Mother’s day we do receive chocolates and a small bottle of Namibian liquor, it doesn’t matter that neither of us has kids. It’s my first Mother’s day present ever ☺ And as we are not planning to drive back to Swakopmund, we decide to jump on the catamaran and discover maritime life. There is some time left before the catamaran leaves and around the parking some locals desperately try to sell their souvenirs. It works though, we buy a key hanger and Lesley enters some serious negotiating for two wooden faces, a man and a woman. It is really hard to determine what would be a fair price but she settles a deal and makes the guy’s day.
Unbelievable, but we also spot familiar faces: Birgit and Micheal. Well, we knew they were heading for Swakopmund, but what are the odds ... They hug us like we are old friends and they are also doing a catamaran tour, only on a different boat, so soon we say goodbye again. We board our catamaran and get the surprise of a lifetime when we hear a big bump behind us. A seal just jumps on board, lured by the fish the crew feeds him. I’m not sure I like this whole feeding thing. The seal doesn’t belong here between the tourists, and neither do the big pelican birds. “can I touch him, can I thouch him!” a little boy exclamates. No, you do not touch the animals. The guide explains the animals do bite, and I can’t blame them.
The catamaran follows an easy pace. We see a lot of birds, seals, and even some dolphins. In the distance, on dry land, we spot a lonely jackall looking out for a yummy seal. The guide also explains about the coastline: the big oil platforms are all the work of foreign countries, China for a big part. It seems Namibia is handing out the exploitation of its natural resources to big international players (with disastrous consequences for the environment). Just off the coastline there are also oyster farms. Apparantly Namibia is getting really renowned for its oysters but Europe is keeping the market closed for these African oysters. Later on we are offered a lunch and Lesley tastes some oysters (I think it’s just a slimey product and am not tempted to try). We had no idea this was included in the trip, they serve quite some fingerfood, sparkling wine, ... They like the good life here! A group of Brazilians is attacking the food like it’s their last meal. Really rude.
By the time we reach Walvisbaai Harbour again it’s midday and they’re waiting for us to start the drive to Sandwich Harbour. Our fellow adventurers are a German and a French couple. Our driver is Nicolas – Nico in short – a blonde Namibian guy who gets behind the wheel barefoot. Before we head into the high dunes we stop at Pelican Bay. The coastline is dotted with hundreds of pelicans, what a sight! And then the real adventure starts. Soon we enter a restricted area, no tourist drivers here. The Kuiseb delta consists of a labyrinth of bumpy tracks (African massage according to Nico) and it’s easy to get lost here. Driving in the sand is not for amateurs. Nico knows this environment like the back of his hand. A little bit of a cowboy, but somehow we trust him. The Kuiseb delta is nothing compared to the next part: a drive on the shoreline, in between the high dunes and the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The tide is coming in and we hear Nico asking other guides for advise over the radio. “Rudi, Rudi, Rudi?” Can he drive the shoreline or is it too late? He speaks Afrikaans, so Lesley and me understand the conversation. If the tide is too high and catches the car, we are in trouble. Vehicles have been lost to the sea. And it turns out our drive isn’t completely dry either. Nico has to stop several times for incoming tide and one wave catches up on us. We scream, Nico laughs. “Guess what I will be doing tonight? Washing the salt of the car.” After our shoreline drive we reach a lagoon. Time to stretch our legs, climb a dune, admire the views and enjoy another lunch. Again they offer sparkling wine, but I stick to water. I have a feeling there’s a bumpy ride to come ☺
The best place to fully appreciate the geography of the high dunes meeting the Atlantic Ocean is on top of the dunes. So that’s where Nico takes us after lunch. The first part of the drive was just rehearsal, here comes the serious dune driving. “This is Disneyland in Namibia!!” he laughs while he navigates the car through the sea of sand. We feel like we are in a rollercoaster and the French girl screams. We drive to the top of a very high dune and then he puts the car in the position to go down. It’s like you’re about to drive off a cliff or something. “What? Noooooo!” we shout. He laughs again and starts to drive down slowly. It seems the dunes make a deep roaring sound under our wheels. “Do you always do this after lunch?” Lesley asks. He confirms. The crazy ride brings us to an amazing viewpoint. Sand and ocean. And then it’s rollercoaster time again. Nico decides to go for a big finale. He drives onto a high dune, makes a U turn saying “oh, no, this one is too high”, only to drive down backwards! We scream again. And by the comments on the radio we understand the two other cars are now looking at us in absolute horror. But it seems he knows what he’s doing.
“Do you ever have people saying STOP I WANT TO GET OUT?” I ask him. “Yes, that happens. Then they say they want to walk down the dune.” It’s clear, this guy likes to live on the wild side, he ‘reads the dunes’, this is his office every day. “Waw, you’re all so quiet,” he remarks as we reach the flatter area of Kuiseb Canyon again. I think we all had enough adventure for the day, but what an experience. It’s 4.30 p.m. when we reach Walvisbaai harbour again. We thank Nico for the adrenaline filled afternoon and head back to Swakopmund. I do wear shoes to drive ☺ We end the day with dinner at Kücki’s and pack our bags for our next destination: Twyfelfontein.