Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Namibia Part II - Walvis Bay, Dune 7, and the Return

On Monday morning we woke up bright and early for breakfast at our hotel, then drove down to Walvis Bay, about 30 minutes south of Swakopmund and also on the coast.  The drive between the two towns is fantastic - on our left there were golden sand dunes rising up into a eerily foggy sky, and on our right was a beach and the sea with grey water and pounding waves.  One of my favorite parts of driving through Namibia is that they have these huge signs with exclamation marks on them.  The first exclamatory signs we saw said "! No Lines" to indicate that the divided road was no longer divided.  We also passed a few that contained nothing but an exclamation mark, which I'm curious about - perhaps these signs are just a general warning?  I took them to mean "Get excited! You're in Namibia! !!!"  Here is one from the drive between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay:

Seems a little obvious when you're looking at sand dunes to your left and a beach on your right that there might be sand on the road, but hey, I'm not one to complain about excessive signage.

We got to Walvis Bay without incident and boarded a catamaran for our next adventure - a cruise and wildlife tour around the Bay.  We had no idea what to expect since we decided to take the boat ride on the recommendation of our hostess in Windhoek, and there was no mention in the guide book or from anyone we had talked to about taking a boat in Namibia.  We literally had written down the phone number and called the afternoon prior to see if there was space for us on the boat.  Thank goodness there was room for us, because this boat ride made the trip entirely worth it!

We walked down a long wooden dock to get to the catamaran, and one of the kids in the group noticed a jellyfish in the water off the dock.  I stopped to look and take a photo of the large jellyfish floating very close to the surface - a wildlife sighting already!  Little did I know that I would see more jellyfish than ever in my entire cumulative life experience on that boat ride - we sailed past pockets of them in the water so thick you could reach in and easily grab four or five in one scoop!  What a sight to see.

Jellyfish off the Dock
Once we got on a boat we were in for a real treat - our guide and our boat captain turned out to be fun-loving South Africans who loved to tell jokes.  Right after getting on the boat our guide picked up some chunks of fish from his cooler and called to two huge pelicans that were off in the distance.  He said "come! come on!" and they flew right up behind our boat!

Pelicans Looking for a Snack

Then the boat started moving at a faster pace, and we got a bit farther out into the bay.  Our guide proceeded to reach off the back of the boat and pick up a jellyfish WITH HIS BARE HANDS!  I couldn't believe he wasn't getting stung, but he explained that these jellies don't sting.  As you can see in the photo below, he had no problem touching its tentacles.  I was too nervous to touch anything other than its head, but it was very cool to see such a huge creature up close and personal.

Walvis Bay Jellyfish

We then sailed even farther out into the bay, and went past acres and acres of oyster beds.  We saw a crew of men hauling the oysters up into a small boat, which looked like incredibly hard work, and we also saw a huge old fishing boat sitting out in the middle of the oyster beds.  Our guide explained that that old boat has had the engine removed and there is one guy who lives on it and watches over the oyster farms to make sure nobody steals the oysters!  What a life.  He goes back and forth in a small boat to the coast, but apparently he lives out there for a week at a time and sometimes he invites friends to keep him company on the boat.

Before long we saw something splashing in the water a little ways away.  As we approached it became clear - dolphins!

There was another boat that looked very similar to ours out for a cruise as well, and the dolphins were following them.  Soon they began following us, and there were at least 15 dolphins in various locations around the boat.  At one point they were swimming right underneath the front of the boat, and we could look over and see them gracefully moving just below the surface of the water.  It was an incredible experience to see them so close!

Dolphins Swimming with our Boat
After hanging out with the dolphins for about 30 minutes we headed towards a large sand bar.  We saw more splashes in the distance and thought at first they were more dolphins, but they were seals!  There is a huge colony of seals that live in the bay, and they know that the boats provide fishy snacks for them so some of them got really excited when they saw us.  They were splashing around in the water and following the boat - one even came up right behind us to check out what was going on.  And then we saw the sand bar - SO many seals!  I felt like I was watching a National Geographic special on them - the sheer volume coming from so many animals was incredible.  We could see the huge bulls making loud, deep noises, and baby seals crying for their mothers, which sounds incredibly similar to "maa".  Some of the seals were fighting for territory, some playing and/or fighting in the water, and some swam up to say hello to our boat.  To top it all off, while we were standing there, a flock of flamingos flew overhead!

Seals - A small portion of the number we could see from the boat.  Wish I had a panorama!
 We started to head off after several minutes commenting on the dramatic plot lines that were unfolding in the seal colony and soaking in the grandness of the scene.  We thought our time with the seals was over, but suddenly our guide was yelling from the back of the boat.  "Come here, Pacho" he said.  As he came around the side of the boat, he said "I want you all to meet my dog, Pacho."  Following behind him ON THE BOAT was a seal!  I was a little intimidated at first, knowing that this was a wild animal and that seals have sharp teeth and massive body weight, but once a few others on the boat willingly reached out and pet him, I did the same.  Pacho turned out to be a very friendly and cooperative seal!  Anything for a free meal, I suppose . . . we even got to pose for photos with him!  Apparently he is the friendliest seal out there, and he knows our guide very well.  Because of that, we could get close to him and he was happy to allow us to pet him, and even seemed to enjoy being scratched on the head and neck like a dog!

Family Photo with Pacho
Apparently there is another seal that follows the boats around who is particularly unfriendly, and the guides have nicknamed him Saddam Hussein.  He barks loudly and has been agressive in the past, and a few weeks ago he bit one of the boat hands on the leg as he was making a repair on the boat!  I was glad not to have that information until after I had my photo op with Pacho!

Such a Friendly Guy!
 After everyone on the boat had their fill of photo ops and Pacho went on his way, they served us a nice lunch of cold sandwiches, fresh oysters, and champagne.  It was such a fantastic experience!  We kept saying to each other "I don't think this is Africa . . . " Feasting on oysters on a boat and hanging out with seals and pelicans were not exactly what we pictured living in Africa would entail :)

Just before we docked we passed a boat signal with a bunch of cormorants perched on it - as we went by, our captain pointed out the birds to us and made a comment about their character - as you can see, he said, they're hanging out in the red light district.

Seedy Cormorants in the Red Light District of Walvis Bay 
 We giddily stepped off the boat and on to dry land, still in disbelief that we had such an amazing experience.  We planned to head back to Windhoek that afternoon, but not before we saw one more sight - Dune Seven.

Ready to Go! (and representing with my Yale sweatshirt on)
Dune Seven is the tallest of a set of huge sand dunes which sit about 15 minutes drive west of where the boat took off.  As you can see from the picture above, it looks like we are about 1,000 miles away from the ocean.  It turns out that as soon as you drive inland the fog disappears and you are in the desert again (reminiscent of San Francisco yet again . . . minus the enormous sand dunes!).  The dune doesn't look so high in the picture above, but if you notice the tiny person climbing up in the background, you will see that it is a lot bigger than it looks!

The four of us started out with an optimistic attitude but by the time we were 1/3 of the way up we were already losing steam.  There were two teenage girls who started at about the same time we did, and one of them bolted up at twice the speed we did, while the other abandoned the cause less than halfway up.  By the time I was 2/3rds of the way up, the slope was so steep that I could only go about five or six steps before stopping to catch my breath.  Some of my companions began using their hands as well as their legs.  We questioned if we should have rented the 4x4 dune buggies they were touting at the base of the hill!  With a little faith and a lot of effort, we made it to the top!

Almost There!
 There was a nice cool breeze awaiting us at the top of the dune, and a wide open view that brought a sense of accomplishment with it.

 What a surreal experience to be shrouded in fog and feeling the chill of the ocean breeze just 45 minutes before we found ourselves on the top of this huge sand dune!

The Easy Part
 We walked along the crest of the dune for a while, and debated whether we should attempt to keep going until we reached the next dune over which appeared to be slightly higher than the one we were standing on  . . . but with a 4 hour drive ahead of us to get back to Windhoek we decided that climbing one gigantic sand dune was enough for one day.

The jaunt down took almost no time at all and felt like a moonwalk - a great reward for such effort climbing up!  by the time I got to the bottom, the cuffs of my rolled-up jeans had turned into sandbags - I actually had to stop halfway down to empty one of them because it felt like an ankle weight!

Driving Away from Dune Seven (on the left)
We drove back with exhausted grins on our faces, happy with an incredibly successful adventure on the coast.

The Almost-Full Moon Lighting the way Home
We spent one last night in Windhoek after an obligatory stop at Joe's Beerhouse again, and set out early the next morning for Gaborone.  I won't go into details about that journey, since it is not nearly as fun of a story, but suffice it to say our 11-hour drive turned into a 13-hour drive again thanks to my driving skills, a big white truck, and getting used to driving on the left hand side, which resulted in us switching out our rental car for another one.

Looking back on this trip, I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunities I have had.  I spoke to some of the hospice staff after returning from my trip and several of them said to me they have never seen the ocean.  It is so important to be able to put things in perspective, and to be thankful for all we are given in this life, big or small.

Until next time!


  1. Oh, this is the best yet, and your conclusion makes me cry.
    Now, I really want to go to Botswanna and to Namibia, too!
    Can't wait to read what's next! Love, Mom

  2. How amazing!!!!
    You are such a lucky girl for doing these awesomely adventurous things on your way to saving lives - while some of us just sit and tap tap tap on our laptops all day ;-)
    I feel energized about Africa now!!

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  4. Amazing review of Walbis Way, Namibia you gave there. Walbis Way is one of my favorite holiday destination in Namibia, South Africa. I visited there in 2011 with my family and looking forward to have another vacation there. The beaches are amazing and hotels are also very good. I also hired a car from Car Hire Namibia Official Site which make our journey very comfortable and enjoyable, because renting a car also gives you a chance of good road trip. Thank you for sharing such an amazing information with us!!!