Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Geology Lessons

Namibia is in many ways set up for tourists with cars. The tourism office offers tons of free detailed maps that show the roads and highlight any possible tourist attractions. On our first day we were driving to Fish River Canyon and decided to stop by to see dinosaur fossils at what we thought would be a cheap roadside attraction, like you might see in Kansas. It wasn’t. We pulled into an empty parking lot next to a small neon green building. Within 30 seconds a pickup pulls up and an old man hops out and signs us up for the next slightly expensive private tour, starting immediately, with him. No backing out.

We follow him in our car up a gravel road through his farm and stop at a grave site of a German soldier killed in a battle with local people in the early 1900s. Then, he shows us the fossils. They were perfect imprints of bones from a mesaurus, a small reptile that pre-dates the massive dinosaurs. Their bones are only found in southern Africa and South America. They lived back when the two continents were connected and covered by a shallow ocean. The animals had fully developed lungs, lived on land and water, and ate plankton through their slender, filter-like teeth. His son found the first fossil 20 years ago, and they have found dozens of others since. In the past six years the man started giving tours of the fossil site and the surrounding geological features to support their farm.

After examining the fossils he took us to an area with naturally formed stacks of square blocks. A similar roadside stop calls it a Giant’s Playground. As well as I can recall, magma was basically pushed up into tubes that eventually cooled and turned into dolomite rocks. Over time the softer sandstone around them eroded away and left stacks that naturally cracked into blocks. Some have enough space between them to create resonance, and the guide hit them with a smaller rock to play songs. The tour guide was quite a character, always cracking bad jokes as he spouted useful information and explained how and where he learned it. (I do like a person who cites his sources.)
Quiver Trees

Tour guide playing music

Growing between the rock piles were scads of bizarre quiver trees. The trees aren’t actually trees, just a large aloe variety. The San people used to hollow out the light-weight limbs to make quivers for their hunting bows. What we thought would be a quick stop actually turned into quite an educational and interesting tour. That’s more than can be said for Fish River Canyon.   

Fish River Canyon is the second largest canyon in the world, and it is quite large. You can book a five-day hike through the canyon, but the parks office here wouldn’t let us because there are only two of us, not three, and we don’t have a doctor’s note saying that we’re healthy enough. We thought we could still do day hikes in or around the canyon, but apparently we can’t.  The Lonely Planet said there was a nearby park with hiking, but it was off by about 150 km. So, instead, we stayed at the hot springs at the end of the canyon (lovely!!!) then went to the view points at the top of the canyon. It’s large and the walls are impressive, but I have to admit it didn’t do much for me. Maybe I’m just over semi-arid, cool geology in tones of brown. Maybe I was just cranky that day. Either way, I’m rather glad we couldn’t do the hike, especially given what we get to do now…. (Just wait!)
Fish River Canyon

We left Fish River and did a pleasant day hike through the desert at Aus before heading to Luderitz. 
View from desert hike in Aus

Lovely desert sky

On the way into town we stopped at a ghost town next to the Forbidden Area. Germans found diamonds in Namibia in the early 1900s. The desert was literally littered with them. At first, instead of mining, the workers just scooted about on their bellies picking them from the sand. Since then a huge chunk of the country has been designated a no-go zone and is controlled by the mining companies and the government. For about 40 years a small diamond mining town proliferated near what’s now a main road then was closed down in the early 1950s. The buildings still stand, but many are derelict and filled with sand from the surrounding dunes. We visited during a wind storm, which made it even more desolate seeming. The tour taught us many things about diamonds and the history of Namibia. We also finally learned that Namibia is in a different time zone than South Africa and we’d been off an hour for three days. Oops….
Dune-filled home in Kolmanskop Ghost Town

Wind storm on the way to Luderitz

Finally, we reached Luderitz, a cute old German town complete with bakeries, colonial-style houses, a penguin colony, and a research outpost for the Ministry of Fisheries. We arrived in town and wanted to find out about boat trips to see the penguins. I had been day dreaming that maybe we could actually go to the island and see the penguins instead of just going nearby on a boat. I thought maybe we could get a lift with a research boat or something. It turns out I was right!! The lady at the tourism office knew a lady at the fisheries office and it turns out boats aren’t going to the nearby island this week, but they are going to research outposts further out. For three days we get to go on the boat and see penguins and many other sea birds and learn about bird monitoring in Namibia. And all we had to do was ask! So now I’m off to look for sea sickness pills (better safe than sorry) and you’ll hear from us when we get back. Penguins ahoy!!!!!!  (Also, this is Anne writing. Jeanette still likes brown canyons, and she doesn’t get seasick. I’m not sure of her opinion on the importance of accurately citing sources.)

1 comment:

  1. Colleen UnderwoodJune 8, 2011 at 12:11 AM

    Sounds so awesome! Can't wait to hear about the penguin adventures!!!!