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Barren northern desert, heading to the ominously named Skeleton Coast

We both had a very unpleasant and hot night. It was so hot that it was difficult to get to sleep and it felt as it the sweat was just dripping off us. It had been hot during the day yesterday compounded by the total lack of wind. I think I had fared better than Stef and managed to get some sleep so I left him in bed while I went in search of a shower. When we arrived at the campsite yesterday I had found one shower block which had tiny cubicles and no privacy at all so I had geared up for a Baby Wet Ones shower but a newer block by the bar was a much better prospect.

A large brick wall had been built around a tree to house a toilet and shower. The toilet “door” was simply a large branch that you could put across the opening to let people know it was occupied. The shower had a proper door but with no lock but there is some privacy provided by bamboo screens in case someone opens the door while you are in there. The shower was fabulous. You had a large room with the shower and sink and with no roof you could look up into the tree as you got clean. The cold water was lovely and warm, the hot too hot to use. After a sticky night I felt very refreshed until I had to put on my dusty clothes again to get back to our site. Everything we have seems to just get endlessly covered in dust.

Stef was joining the land of the living when I got back and while he went woke up I set up breakfast and got us going. The stickiness of the night was explained by the clouds all above us and soon it started to rain, fortunately not heavily but enough to be noticeable. While Stef went off to shower I packed us up as much as I could, relieved when he came back that he said he was feeling well enough to drive. I am sure that I would be fine if I had to get behind the wheel but I’d rather Stef drive on the rough bits than me.

We were both uncertain what the rain would mean to the road conditions. We were heading back the same way that we came yesterday so knew there were some sandy bits and some potentially slippery gravely bits. We had only really had a light shower of rain and if anything it helped to keep the dust down. We back tracked on the C39 but kept going westwards heading towards the coast.

About 30km before we hit the sea we hit the parks office of NWP (Namibia Wildlife Parks). Here we knew we had to get a permit to enter the park which would either be a transit permit or an overnight permit. We had no booking for accommodation or a campsite but had planned to go to the Terrace Bay Resort, a place about 60km north along the Skeleton Coast. The chap at the parks office didn’t seem to be having it though. He said you could only book to stay there at the office in Windhoek and that if he let us through it would get him into trouble. I knew he was blagging but it was Stef who sussed that a little money would smooth the way and get us the permit we wanted. We knew that if we got to Terrace Bay and for some reason they were full that we had enough time to head south again so we gave him a little extra and headed on our way.

The road we had followed today had taken us through increasingly dry and arid countryside but nothing compared to what was yet to come. We had seen a few zebra and ostriches and even up to the parks office there had been some stretches of green. It was almost as if the parks office was a manmade manifestation of the change in environment. Within a few kilometres of leaving it we were in totally barren land. There was little to see in either direction other than endless expanses of flat sandy landscape.

As we neared the ocean the wind picked up and I, cautious as ever, remembered the warnings we were given by the car rental place about not driving in sandstorms. This wasn’t really a storm as such but the wind was up and sand was blowing across the road, sometimes making it difficult to clearly see the outline of the road. Up ahead, a road sign appeared out of nowhere, an isolated patch of green in an otherwise brown environment. With sand blowing across the junction it was other worldly looking right and left and just being able to make out the road, not by its surface but by the line of stones that marked the edges.

Our route to Terrace Bay took us northwards so we turned right and headed into the sandy wilderness. For the first time in many months we were back driving along the Atlantic Ocean but this time on the side we had first been on when we left the UK. The last time we had seen these waters was back in September when we were in Canada and we both for a brief time transported back across the waves firstly to Canada and then back further to when we had flown across the Atlantic in May last year.

For the next hour or so we saw little in the way of vegetation. At one point we passed a clump of grasses growing out of the dunes, a welcome splash of green in an otherwise brown, sandy barren environment. Here though there were still a few riverbeds that we spanned that in the wet season take rains from the dunes down to the sea. Road works in one section showed that even here the rains can cause severe damage as crews were out rebuilding the surface of the road, in between their naps in the scoop at the front of the JCB that is!

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At the Skeleton Coast

It was a strange drive up to Terrace Bay. On the one hand we had a real “end of the world” isolated feeling but oddly we passed more traffic here in an hour than we had done in a whole day over the last week or so. There is a quality to the place that makes you feel like you are on the surface of the moon or travelling through post apocalyptic part of the world where warfare has reduced everything to dust and people struggle to survive. It’s hard to believe that anyone can survive here and that is why this area is called the Skeleton Coast. When ships on their way round the cape ran aground here on the sandbanks there really was little hope of survival for their crews. Everywhere you look there are sand dunes and good sources of water are probably over 50km away.

With weariness setting in again we soon came across a small collection of corrugated iron roofed buildings, a small “settlement” that is the Terrace Bay resort. I’ve called it a settlement because as well as the buildings for visitors to stay in there is a small “village” where the people who work in the resort live. In tourist terms, resort is rather a grand name for what is here. There are ten double roomed “chalets” each room having an ensuite bedroom, a couple of self catering houses, a restaurant, the resort office and shop, a petrol pump and then the houses for the people who work here.

We were lucky that they had a room free for us to stay in tonight. Tomorrow they are fully booked and we would have had to turn around and drive another 180km or so to get to the next place to stay. The chap who checked us in seemed friendly enough but neither of us could decipher what he was saying. We just made the motions of going through the usual “check in” routine and it seemed to do the trick. He gave us a key and showed us on a map where our room was and off we toddled.

It’s a fantastically rustic place with a real old age charm. Our “half a chalet” gives us a large room with and ensuite all of which is furnished in 1960’s style furniture. It/s clean and neat and tidy but everything about it is a little bit dated. We have a view out over the sea and with the wind still blowing quite strongly I think we are both quietly pleased that camping is not an option here. Our room rate includes dinner and breakfast so we don’t even need to think about how we are going to feed ourselves.

We parked up, pulled out our overnight bits and pieces from the truck (now finally named Ned (the Nissan from Namibia)) as well as bits to make some lunch and went and settled ourselves inside. In the afternoon we went for a stroll along the beach and blew away the cobwebs of the last few days. The sun was behind us and felt relaxingly warm on my back but we were walking into the wind which had a definite cold edge to it. Disappointingly the beach here is not soft sand despite the dunes around us. Underfoot we walked along very shalely sand until we got close to the water’ edge where large pebbles were the norm. To me the pebble didn’t feel natural and I pondered whether they were some form of tactic against erosion. They seemed to be stacked up neatly along the shore and at right angles to the beach.

Stef had come prepared for his usual dip in the sea. The pebbles made it uncomfortable to walk without sandals on but while he was taking his off he got caught out by a slightly larger than average wave that soaked his feet. A minute or so later he got caught again by a bigger wave that soaked him up to the part of zip off trousers where he could zip them off, but hadn’t yet! I quietly chuckled at his expense and Stef claimed the water was nice and refreshing.

Most people who come to Terrace Bay come for the fishing but for us it was a quirky detour to see what was here and to have a walk up and down the bay. We wandered around for about an hour and then headed back to our room, pulled chairs out onto the patio outside and watched our first sunset over an ocean since we left Canada in early December. The skies did not disappoint and as the sun set it lit up the few clouds that were drifting across a mainly cloudless sky.

In the evening we headed up to the resort’s restaurant for dinner. The restaurant reminded me of somewhere else we have been to on our trip and the closest we could come was the restaurant at St Barbe in Newfoundland where we sat out a very windy day before being able to get the ferry across to Labrador. Dinner here was a buffet affair, simple food, slightly overcooked but washed down with a very good bottle of South African red wine. We got chatting briefly to a South African family who were here for the fishing. Inevitably they told us about places we should avoid and places we should go to, more to add to the never ending list of travel destinations.

We made our way back down the hill to our little chalet and holed up for the night. Inside it felt pleasantly warm but outside it was windy and fresh. As I wrote I could hear the surf crashing on the shore outside which had a strangely hypnotic effect.