Trouble in desert paradise - Namibia's unique arid lands under threat
By Christian Selz Feb 28, 2012, 3:05 GMT
Henties Bay, Namibia - It's a hazy morning and clouds of mist are sweeping across the wide plains of clay and rock which stretch to the north of the little fishing village of Henties Bay.
The wind is brisk and the clammy cold penetrates the thick ski jacket. Apart from a group of fleeing springboks silhouetted against the bright sky on the horizon the Namib in north-western Namibia seems to offer little solace. 'This probably is the coldest day I've ever been out on,' said tourist guide Rolly Thompson.
Dorob National park is the final link between the Skeleton Coast National Park and the Namib-Naukluft-National Park. Together with the south-lying 'Sperrgebiet' - a restricted area owing to the diamond-mining operations - it runs along the entire 1,572-kilometre-long Atlantic coastline of Namibia with a total of 107,540 square kilometres now under protection from human encroachment.
Those thundering along the straight-as-a-die salt gravel roads along the Skeleton Coast may find it a little hard to understand Namibian enthusiasm for ensuring that this rugged landscape is not tampered with. The age-old tracks were improved using a salt/clay mixture which also renders them dust-free but when the fog comes down they can become slippery and treacherous to drive along.
Dorob, which means 'dry land' in the indigenous Nama language, is the name of the new national park and that seems an apt description of how things look around these parts.
With a stone in his hand Thompson taps out a tune on the metallic-sounding rocks and explains that Africans refer to the nearby rounded elevation 'Koppie Alleen' as the lonely hill.
The name seems to fit except that 'Koppie' is not really alone. Flourishing on its slopes are species of the rare indigenous fine-leaved fynbos plants which seem as out of place here as they are beautiful. The snow-white leaves frame centres in vivid orange and magenta shades.
The journey of discovery continues along a maze of tracks barely recognizable as such to the naked eye and past the ancient Welwitschia trees, the mighty, windswept Namibian national plant, and fields of bitter melon which even the wild game tend to avoid.
'When you are out here your thoughts do tend to wander,' says one guest, his voice piercing the profound silence. How true that is.
People can also easily get lost in this vast wilderness. The park is more or less untamed and there is only one signpost which serves solely to underscore the dry humour of the locals. The sign carries an arrow on each side with the simple legend 'Moer Toe' which means 'Go to hell.'
Fortunately the situation in the southern part of the Darob Nationla Park is not as life-threatening as the sign suggests. Tourists need not find themselves marooned in the dune landscape between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay since the area is only supposed to be entered by those accompanied by a tour guide.
Christopher Nel is one of the pioneers of a brand of dune tourism designed to stress the ecological value of the territory. For five hours at a stretch he peels his eyes in search of chameleons, digs gekkos out of the sand and coaxes coy sand vipers into action. The 42-year-old family man loves the desert habitat and fights for the survival of his unique place of work.
So far the biggest threat has been posed by ruthless quad drivers. The four-wheeled motorbikes are a popular plaything for active adults and their impact on the environment has been disastrous: 'The Namib is the most wrecked desert in the world,' said Nel.
He has taken around 1,000 photographs in order to illustrate the point. The images are fascinating and horrifying at the same time. Even the ruts created by the wagon wheels of the first settlers can still be seen in the lichen fields between the dunes - next to the tracks of pirouetting quads.
The Namib is in urgent need of protection since the arid paradise is endangered. This becomes evident to anyone who spends more than just a few days there. 'The National Park is designed to help,' said Nel although he prefers to await concrete results. 'All they need to do now is catch someone red-handed and use it as a warning to others,' he said, urging the authorities to finally clamp down on the irresponsible rowdies.
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