Sunday, January 31, 2016

Swakopmund, Namibia, Part 1: Visiting Cape Seals....in Germany??

Doesn't the name "Swakopmund" just scream German?  Fitting, because this town on the Western coast of Namibia is like taking a step into Germany.  All the streets, the buildings, the people, the names - it is super trippy.

After Etosha, we spent the day driving down to the city of Swakopmund.

What It's All About:
Swakopmund is a coastal town in Namibia that is a beautiful, popular vacation spot for many Namibians. It's got gorgeous coast, but is also super accessible to tons of other activities and sights, as it is a part of the Skeleton Coast - named such due to the seal/whale bones that used to wash ashore due to the whaling industry, but more recently because of the number of shipwrecks that have happened on the coast.  As is such, Swakopmund is not only a charming city itself, but you have easy access to things like fishing, visiting the crazy desert landscape of sand dunes, numerous animal colonies (flamingoes, seals, pelicans, etc), etc.   

Swakopmund.....or Munich!??

Since Namibia was a former German colony, you see a lot of German influence everywhere - especially evident in Swakopmund. After days of driving through total wilderness, plains, and desert, it's weird to enter the city and feel like you're in Bavaria.

Main Street

Real talk: and keep in mind this is just my own personal opinion and I don't have nearly the depth of knowledge or experience to comment more in-depth, but I was also a little uncomfy because the town felt very divided to me (Namibia was ruled by South Africa after Germany, so all the South African laws, such as apartheid, were also in effect here).  To this day, there's a pretty big income inequality in Namibia as a result of these laws (Namibia is one of the 5 worst African countries in terms of the discrepancy between rich and poor) - this is evident in much of the country, but I felt it particularly in Swakopmund. For the most part, it seemed like all the hotel/lodge/restaurant/business owners were white, and all the people vacationing were white, and all the workers/employees/service people were black.  I know apartheid and racial inequality are touchy issues, but I noticed it right off the bat without meaning to, and I didn't love that part of it.

Overall though, we spent a good amount of time in Swakopmund and I really enjoyed our time there.

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Cruised from Etosha to the coast to get to Swakopmund. The coolest thing about Namibia is the constantly-changing landscapes.  You can seriously go from leafy green plains, to stunning mountain views, to harsh desert dunes, to gorgeous coast.  It looks like 10 different alien planets rolled into one - all so DIFFERENT and crazy-looking.

Green and mountain-y

Then crazy and desert and empty

On a stopover to a winery, they were roasting this (pig? sheep? goat?) on a spit

We did a wine tasting, but more importantly, the winery had all these adorable pet dogs running around

Puppy on left, old crotchety dachshund on the right (I have a soft spot for old, crotchety dogs seeing as how I used to own one).

  • We arrived in Swakopmund that evening, just in time for sunset!

In true hobo, ghetto backpacker-form, we brought our own wine to drink on the benches to watch the sunset.

And took entertaining sunset photos.

Chun Li, present.

Crooked levitating pose, of course.

Panorama of the lovely sunset looking over the deserted beach

We then went to this adorable, renowned seafood restaurant overlooking the water called The Tug

  • The next morning, Jesse and I took our trusty little truck and drove it a couple hours north along the coast to a point called Cape Cross. Cape Cross is originally named by a Portuguese sailor, and is now best-known for its HUMONGOUS SEAL COLONY.  It's home to a colony of cape fur seals (which are different than regular seals because they have ears! Eee how cute is that!) - around 80,000 to 100,000 of them at any given time. 

Views of the coast on the way up - stunning

And then we arrived at Cape Cross! And were promptly greeted by this seal, who had managed to climb over the seal-proof gate onto the human walkway

Joke is that you can smell Cape Cross before you see it (which is true, the entire place reeeeeeked of seal poo).

They were all just lazing around like beached wha-......seals?

At the entrance to Cape Cross, we were handed a fact sheet about cape fur seals. Apparently breeding season is in December, so the cape was chock full of baby seals. SO MANY BABY SEALS.

The baby seals all bleat like sheep - apparently all mom seals have one baby seal, and they find each other solely based on the sounds of their bleating.

Which is crazy, because how do you find ANYone in this mess?

Pano of all the seals - it's hard to see the sheer number of them, it just looks like tiny black patches


They also have taken up residence under the walkway - as you're walking along it, you can feel and see all the seals bumping around underneath and scooting in and out

This is a former picnic area - which has completely been overtaken by the seals. Under all the benches, tables etc. are tons and tons and tons of baby seals crammed in, which is hard to see because baby seals are jet-black

  • After Cape Cross and its billion seals, we headed back down the coast - on the way, we stopped at one of the many shipwreck sites that dot the Skeleton Coast. Throughout history, there have been a significant amount of shipwrecks on the Skeleton Coast - thick fog usually grounds the boat, and back in the day, sailors would crash their boats on accident and then make it to land, only to find hundreds of miles of empty, dry, harsh desert landscape. Consequently, many of them died searching for food and water. Anyhow, you can still visit some of the shipwreck sites today - it's crazy because a lot of them are prone to the elements and there's ships that look like they've marooned in the middle of the desert, because the strong winds and endless sand quickly cover things over and swallow them up.

This is all you see for hundreds of miles

And this. Desert as far as the eye can see. Looks inhospitable.

This shipwreck we visited is called Zeila - this one ran aground off-shore in 2008

Now the ship just sits and waits for tourists to take cheesy photos with it

  • Arriving back in Swakopmund, we took a walk to the main beach - it was gorgeous and lined with a boardwalk full of cafes and delicious treats (ICE CREAM), and seriously could have been a scene straight out of California.

There's even a picturesque lighthouse

Palm tree-fringed beach

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • ~27% of baby cape seals don't survive to adulthood, due to a combination of drowning, ocean predators, land predators, being stampeded by fellow baby seals, etc.
  • There are more than a thousand vessels whose remains are littered around the Skeleton Coast. Only a handful are visible today.

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