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Survival instinct

Along with a group of people I was on my way to one of the bleakest coastlines in the world — Skeleton Coast in Namibia, writes Karen Bowerman.

india Updated: Nov 24, 2009 20:33 IST
Karen Bowerman

Along with a group of people I was on my way to one of the bleakest coastlines in the world — Skeleton Coast in Namibia. It’s called Skeletal Coast because of the large number of ship wrecks that take place here, and low survival rate of the ones who get stuck here. But we dared to trek the dangerous path.

Carving through the Namib
In our Landover we carve our way through the Namib. The landscape’s five million years old, yet it seems like we’re its first discoverers. Ours are the only tyre marks; yellow stripes meandering round gravel plains and rare lichens. We pass small mounds of pale orange sand, blown by the wind.

Without compass or Sat Nav, our guide, Bariar follows a route I can’t make out. He suggests I look for the odd “unexpected stone,” placed as an indication to turn left or right or double back a touch. Our path reminds us we’re guests in a delicate ecosystem.

At the coast, the suffocating heat of the Namib meets its rival in the freezing Atlantic, the cross currents crash over the rocky outcrops, hidden reefs and treacherous sandbanks. Portuguese sailors once called it the gates of Hell. Bushmen in central Namibia still speak of the land God made in anger.

Dare to be here
Our camp, six tents set on a dry river bed, catered for twelve. Visitors are restricted to just 800 a year to protect one of the world’s most fragile environments. The next day, Landover halts at a massive graveyard. The shore is littered with the bones of whales, seals and turtles. The wind shunts me from one set of remains to the next. “And human skeletons?” I shout at Bariar. “Of course!” he shouts back, “It’s the place of a thousand shipwrecks.” Every now and then I catch the glimpse of their (sailors) wrecked boat, craning for recognition above the waves.

Wildlife conservation
We leave the windblown seabirds and scuttling orange ghost crabs and follow the shoreline for miles. Pied crows scatter as we pass. A jackal stops gambolling and flops onto the sand. The air is thick with spray. For much of the year the coast’s shrouded in dense fog. At Cape Frio, fur seals, ten thousand of them, provide light relief. Their noise and smell is almost overwhelming, but their antics draw us close.

The next couple of days are spent closer to camp, hiking through gorges, marvelling at a chameleon which sat blinking onto a hand, and spotting a tok-tokkie beetle sitting on top of his friend, to provide shade.

As we enjoy our surroundings there’s a deeper awareness of the importance of conservation. We learn that our camp has no fences so animals can roam where they please. Neither are there permanent buildings which would have disturbed the land. Wilderness Safaris which runs the operation has won awards for its green credentials, and works hard for them.

Saving the environment
To lower the impact of tourism for the staff heremeans — travelling 60 miles to collect water from a bore hole, when it would be easier to fly bottles in. All rubbish is flown out, and all laundry, even the napkins, is washed elsewhere. So how can I help? By keeping to the paths, using biodegradable toiletries and recycling shower water. I hope I did my bit as a conservator of the environment.