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Namib – Secrets of a desert uncoveredAugust 17, 2016
Text and Photo by Ron Swilling
| This article was first published in the Flamingo August 2008 issue. Information has been adapted accordingly.
Perhaps I was already charmed when I turned off the B2 towards Henties Bay and stopped at the beginning of the gravel road. Tables of semi-precious stones lined the way, gleaming with green and black tourmaline, chunky smoky quartz and rounded red garnets. In the distance the Spitzkoppe was competing with the glaring Namibian sun for visibility.
W ith a piece of green fluorite in my pocket, a wood rose adorning my dashboard and three unfamiliar children under a blanket on the back of my bakkie, I made my way along the 30-kilometre gravel road to the granite inselbergs. The children were first surprised and then amused when I kept pulling over to the side of the road and leaping out to photograph the mountain kings. The sinking sun lit up the long grass of the plains and the ochre mountains caught the rays on its smooth slopes. A kori bustard hopped in front of the vehicle, spreading its large wings and fleeing to the grass, where it put down its head and blended into the landscape. Some mountains were ominous with faces and creatures that seemed to emerge from crevices, others were harsh and forbidding. The Spitzkoppe, however, was warm, friendly and nourishingly beautiful.
By the time I had dropped my charges at their school in the Spitzkoppe village, I was smiling. The landscape had now turned into gold, and I looked for a campsite before the dark curtain shut out the day. I followed gold. Looking up from the road, a few large boulders shone as if illuminated from their core and I steered towards the geological treasure.
Nestled among huge boulders and granite slopes, I put up my tent in a small amphitheatre of sand surrounded by shepherd, acacia and butter trees. I surprised a rock hyrax, and it fell to the ground with a surprisingly loud thud before running off. The golden afternoon was full of bird song. Pale-winged starlings flew from tree to tree and rosy-faced lovebirds flashed green and iridescent turquoise as they flew over my head.
Night arrived too soon and I drove to the small restaurant and sitting in the small dining room, I had the feeling I was in Africa far away from the hustle, bustle and first-world demands we place on the day. Walking out into the night, Scorpio greeted me from the heavens, a rich velvet layer studded with diamonds. At my campsite, I rummaged for my star book and went to sleep, pondering the gold of the mountains and the diamonds of the sky, wondering how, with these enduring riches, we can ever consider ourselves poor.
Spitzkoppe is a group of rounded granite mountains situated 60 kilometres north-west of Usakos, en route to Swakopmund. Tolkien-like, they seem suitable for a Lord of the Rings sequel. Climbers may disagree because of the resemblance of the main Spitzkoppe peak to the famous Swiss mountain. A favourite with climbers, the 1 784-metre (5 857-feet) ‘Matterhorn of Africa’ was first climbed in 1946. The group also contains a minor peak called Klein (Little) Spitzkoppe, which extends into a range called the Pondok Mountains. The inselberg (island mountain) Spitzkoppe is approximately 700 million years old and rises 600 metres above the Kaokoveld plains. After good summer rains, long grass blows across the plains and small pools of water collect in the granite pools among the mountains.
Run by the community, the Spitzkoppe Restcamp is part of the ≠Gaingu Conservancy, registered in 2004.
I filled my days with walking and exploring, pulling myself up the chain embedded in the mountain to visit Bushman’s Paradise. I viewed the few remaining San/Bushman rock paintings and marveled at stone sculpted into masterpieces, fashioned by the elements with the patient creativity of eternity.
The late afternoons I spent in leisure in my royal amphitheatre, enjoying the peace, privacy and privilege of a natural campsite stilled in the afternoon lull, as if life had finally transformed base metal into gold and pushed pause.
Starry skies, crickets and silence enveloped me at night like a warm beloved blanket. Under the sky of diamonds and next to golden rock, I stopped contemplating life’s riches and instead, luxuriated in wealth.